It had been Morrison’s idea to set up the “Inkspots Self-preservation Society” to give it its full title. The name came from an old record they found in the Sergeants’ Mess storeroom and the Hermann Rorschach psychiatric test. Both Morrison and Edge had become politically very astute and they could see the way British society was developing. They knew that any governing elite would consider former employees with their skill sets, a dangerous threat and the “War Crimes” witch-hunts were beginning. MoD Civil Servants had already hitched their stars to the ruling elite’s wagon and uniformed Service personnel were already considered by them to be the enemy.
During a spot of mutual leave Morrison visited Edge, Moira and got an itch scratched by Angela. They talked into the early hours, discussing what it was they wanted to achieve, whom they would include and the support infrastructure such as information exploitation, logistics, finances, communications and security. Old friendships went by the bye. Members were chosen purely for their skills and potential. In the end, sixteen were selected in four groups of four, which was better for security and management. The organisation was set up complete with comms, weapons caches, vehicles and criteria for activation. All of them swore a blood oath. The Inkspots Self-preservation Society was then mothballed until needed. The principles used to set up the organisation would form the blueprint for what the zombie government would call the “Insurgency.”
In 2009 Edge was seconded to the US Special Forces. Some unkinder souls maintained that it was to get him out of the way, because he was beginning to piss off some of the grownups. He served on dangerous operations in Mexico and Bolivia and had access to the highest levels of US Intelligence. He learned things about senior political and military officials that if the British spooks had known that he knew, would have earned him a walk in the Oxfordshire countryside with some painkillers and a penknife.
In 2010 Edge conducted his last mission for the UKSF in Belgrade and this time it was personal. He flew home from Bucharest and after debriefing, went on leave prior to his return to his donor unit for resettlement, although his old regiment no longer existed. When he arrived home in Devon, the news was breaking that a former Serbian Warlord, Jakovljević Milorad had been abducted from a Belgrade street and flown to The Hague to stand war crimes trials. Moira listened to the television news and looked at Edge, who was finishing a bottle of Nuits Saint Georges.
“Mark, you know that I’ve ever asked you about what you do or have done, but you were involved in that, weren’t you? Don’t ask me how, but I just know.”
Edge sighed and reluctantly told her about a callow young corporal, who had fallen in passionate and intense love with an older woman called Jozica Marić and how a stupid and thoughtless act by him had resulted in her being tortured to death. He told Moira that she was the first woman he had ever loved and that he would always love her. And yes, he did love Moira but you can still love somebody from beyond the grave. He told her it had been one of his life’s driving precepts to track down Jakovljević Milorad to make him pay for what he had done. Edge told his wife that he would have preferred to have made him suffer for a long time, like he had made Jozica suffer, but if he was ever released, that option remained open.
Moira went very quiet. She remained very quiet for two days and cold disapproval poured off her like the breeze from a glacier. And Edge just couldn’t understand why his wife would seem to disapprove of an affair that happened twelve years previously, two years before he even met Moira. Edge would never understand the jealous stupidity of women and he became annoyed that his wife was drifting round the house like an undertaker’s assistant. Three morning’s later he could stand it no more.
“For fuck’s sake, give yourself a shake, Moira! Jozica is dead. She’s cold in the ground and her earthly remains are lying in a municipal cemetery in Zagreb. On the other hand, your former bit of rough, for clarity Mr Daz Copeland is still very much alive and fucking kicking, isn’t he?”
For some reason this didn’t seem to help calm the situation and the first point of the wedge had been driven into the fissure in their marriage. His date for leaving the Army was looming and he still didn’t have a civilian job. In truth he didn’t need to work. He had made some very useful and lucrative contacts in America, and Horace Cutler, with whom he regularly corresponded, gave him some very useful tips on investments, but he knew he would go mad if he had to stay in Weare Giffard for the rest of his life. Having only an estranged family, Edge could not understand why his wife was so wrapped up and dependent on her parents.
“I will never understand women,” Edge told his reflection as he shaved one morning, “Why can’t they see life the way we do?”
Both Edge and Moira knew that if he worked away from home after a career in the Army, their marriage would be over and Edge still loved his wife and children. Despite being another cat that walks on its own, he didn’t want to be alone in the world. He started to confide in Monty who would stare at him unblinking as though he understood. Monty would stare at his Edge father and wonder why it was that humans made their relationships so complicated and were incapable of seeing what was obvious to him, a cat.
Monty’s attitude to life was simple. The thing he had loved most in the world, Snowflake was dead. Moira mother looked after him, fed him and took him to the horrible place of pain and suffering, every year or when he got into scrapes. He loved Moira mother and would and almost did give his little life for her. Sara and Francis he also loved, but Francis could be annoying when he teased him with a ping-pong ball. But Edge father he loved the most, although he was probably the most stupid of all of them. Edge father used to come home smelling of killing, which Monty found interesting, because cats would never kill each other. They would communicate on a similar level, although his human father was mostly too stupid to fully understand.
Against both of their better judgements, Edge took a menial job in Moira’s father’s firm. His bête noire was now his line manager and it was as though Moira’s father had arranged this situation to deliberately humiliate him, which he had. Edge was no fool and he suspected that a long trip down to Saint Ives, dropping off some tractor bits and pieces and animal feed, plus the overnight stay was to keep him out of the way. On his return, Edge’s suspicions were confirmed when he saw some bruising on Moira’s breast and inner thigh.
“Been walking into doors, Moira?” Her panicked look was all the confirmation he needed. With the absolute certainty of someone who couldn’t be more wrong, Edge was on the slippery slope that would lead to his family leaving him, a criminal conviction for actual bodily harm and his illegally possessing a firearm, namely a .308 Ruger hunting rifle. It was a toss-up what would do for him first, the vast quantities of alcohol he was consuming or a shoot-out with the police. Edge would have preferred both options running concurrently.
Edge should have seen the frayed wire section of the hawser winching up the pots, but he was distracted by the seagull that had taken Biff’s sandwich. Devvie who was watching the hawser coming off the winch should have spotted it, but he was laughing at the herring gull, perched on the gantry, its peristalsis trying to force down a corned beef sandwich with lots of English mustard. Jose was waiting for the pots to come up and missed the fun. The frayed steel hawser ripped through Edge’s glove and the meaty part of his palm and the blood started so soak through his left rigger’s glove.
“Fucksake!” Edge exclaimed and pulled off his glove to inspect the damage. There was a ragged cut, fortunately not too deep, but untidy and bleeding profusely.
The bridge door banged open and the Skipper yelled, “Mr Edge. Please be so good as to stop bleeding into my catch and get below. Devvie, stop courting that gull and take the helm, while I amputate Mr Edge’s hand.”
The Waning Star was a boat of just under sixty feet, specifically a trap setter, registered in Plymouth, her home port being Bideford. She had seen better days and her name reflected the decline of the North Devon fishing fleet, a direct result of the EU’s common fisheries policy and the Laissez-faire attitude throughout the decades of politicians of all hues. Fishing ports were seldom bellwether constituencies.
Edge went below to the main cabin, which was their rest area, mess deck, galley and had two bunks either side. He put his bleeding hand over the sink and rummaged in the cupboard until he found the bottle, and poured vinegar over the cut, grimacing with the pain. He became aware the Skipper was in the bridge ladder door, watching him.
“Are you some kind of masochist, Mr Edge?”
“Military medics were using vinegar clean wounds and stop infections as recently as the First World War.”
“But I’ll dress it with stuff from the first aid kit until we dock,” The Skipper inspected the wound, “Nasty, not too deep, but I reckon you’ll need some stitches.”
Edge let him dress the wound, and a good job he made of it, “No when we dock tomorrow morning, you go to hospital for them to look at it. Not the pub. Understand?”
Edge nodded. He had no intention of going anywhere near the hospital. He would suture it himself when he got home. Afternoon probably. The session in the pub would anaesthetise him.
“You’re on light duties ‘till we dock. The other lazy sods can pick up the slack. Sit down, Edge, I’ve been meaning to speak with you,” The Skipper looked out of the porthole at the heaving waters of the Bristol Channel, “Things are not getting any better. I though the catches would pick up, but there isn’t enough out here for the few of us that are left and the fucking Spanyards… Well you know about them fuckers.”
Edge nodded. He could tell how difficult it was for the Skipper, “There’s not enough to pay four of us, and since I was last in, I’m first out.”
The Skipper’s face was drawn, “I am so sorry, Edge, but the lads have families and…”
“And my family are so terrified of me, that they pissed off to stay with Moira’s parents, in a nice house that they don’t have to share with a psychopath.”
“Please, Edge. This is bloody hard enough as it is.”
“Don’t worry, Skipper. I may sound it, but I’m not bitter. I know I’ve done some stupid things, but there were reasons.”
The Skipper pulled out a battered cigarette case and taking one himself, offered the case to Edge. He lit the two with a flameproof lighter.
“I don’t blame you for lamping Daz Copeland, Edge. He’s an evil bastard that had it coming. There’s a lot of people who wished you had killed the fucker!” The Skipper’s face was harsh and Edge felt surprise, “Now do you mind if I talk to you man-to-man? Not in a condescending way, ‘coz I reckon you’ve walked some strange paths, but in the way of someone who knows this part of the world and its people.”
“Bideford and Barnstaple are big towns, but we still have a small village mentality. We put up with the Grockles who come and go, but we take note of someone, an outlander, who marries into one of the richest families in the district. People know a lot about you, Edge. Sure you were in the Army, but we aren’t fools. I’ve known loads of men who was in the Army, but they aren’t like you. They sometimes get a bit loud and gob off, but you terrify people, Edge. The way you dealt with Copeland, sure they cheered you, but part of them asked, could it be me next if I happen to piss him off?
“And Copeland has a lot of friends who will do things for him, not coz they like him, but coz he knows things about them. He knows all about Frank Tremain’s backhanders to the right people such as the planning department. He knows about how much some senior police officials like young girls, very young girls. He organises the parties they like to attend and provide the “fresh meat,” he calls it. He is very much like a man who used to live in Much Marcle and Gloucester and they all have similar tastes, if you catch my drift.
“The police are terrified of you. They are going to fit you up and make sure that you go away for a long time. They will make sure that you never leave that prison alive. You were saved by a lady magistrate who stood in because the lead magistrate was taken ill that morning. Perhaps your military blazer and them medals, particularly the MC swung her, but it won’t happen again. They know you are a danger to them. They are going to get you, before you get them.”
Edge dropped his cigarette end in an abandoned coffee mug on the mess table, “What do you suggest I do?”
The Skipper lifted two clean glasses from the rack, produced a hipflask and poured two generous tots of rum into the glasses.
“I thought it was always dry on the boat, Skipper?”
“This is medicinal, Mr Edge. Now what would I do if I were you? I’d get the hell out of this place and live somewhere else. Make a new life for myself, and if your spoiled little frippet of a wife wouldn’t come with me, well sod her.”
Edge leaned back and looked at the deck above, frowning with the effort of taking all of this in. His hand started to throb.
Alone in the cottage during the late summer, he suddenly understood just how deep into self-destruction and despair he had fallen. His beloved Moira had gone and taken the children. His father had died and his uncle had died two years after his mother. He had no family apart from a sister that he unfairly regarded as worthless. He was constantly being harassed by the local police and had been forced to defend himself against two knife wielding associates of Daz Copeland. They had come after him in a late-opening supermarket car park, after he had been stocking up on essential supplies that came in bottles. He had dealt with them with his usual understated subtlety and both would require medical attention. He told them to let Mr Copeland know that there was a disused barn, piano wire, bolt cutters and a blowtorch with his name on them, should a similar incident occur. What shocked him the most was that two coppers in a police car had witnessed the entire incident and had done absolutely nothing. The Skipper had been right, they were out to get him.
For highly trained military personnel, post-traumatic stress disorder is not in most cases the result of witnessing or being part of a single, catastrophic event. It is like events dripping onto scales that finally tip the balance. In a short space of time Edge had been convinced his wife was having an affair, he had committed a violent act, lost his job, lost his wife and family and his father had died. He had lost the support network of the Regiment and his comrades. Because he was drinking so heavily to deaden the pain, his body and mind had not been able to re-boot. The final event that pitched Edge onto the path to suicide, was the notification by the Iraq Historic Abuse Tribunal that he was being investigated, at the behest of a shyster firm, the Community Legal Notaries for war crimes. Edge read the paperwork several times, though about his life and how pointless it had become. He thought about blowing a hole through his head with a home-made pipe bomb, but that would be unfair on the people who would have to deal with his body. He knew that drowning was a bloody awful way to go, an overdose was likely to be unsuccessful, so he decided to deaden the pain as he slipped into oblivion. He arranged the bottles on the table and began the process of drinking himself to death.
He was saved by a humble (if cats can ever be humble), tabby cat called Monty and the strange ghost of a cat that only Monty could see. Poor Monty was in a dreadful state, and having another living creature to care for and look after, pulled Edge back from his namesake. He found a new purpose in life and it could have been so good for everyone, but Edge wanted vengeance and his hatred was consuming him. He would give those bastards from IHAT the run around the following morning, then he would find out what his uncle had buried in the highlands. But first he had a cat to tend to. He walked himself sober to Bideford and bought kitten food, reckoning that Monty’s battered little body would tolerate it better. Back in his cottage, Edge lit the wood burner and pulled Monty’s basket closer to the heat. He had stopped drinking but for the wrong reasons.
“I don’t know why you came back, Monty. I’m a cuckold, a drunk and a fucking war criminal.”
“Meow,” the cat seemed to agree.
Predictably after his second run-in with the Pod from IHAT, the police arrived at the end of October at 0530 in two police cars and a riot van. They searched his property for six hours and took away a standalone computer, an old digital bridge camera, assorted CDs and DVDs and an MP3 player and an old Nokia phone. Edge was impressed at just how much on the button the Skipper had been. He could tell that they were terrified of him and were treating him like a hardened criminal, rather that someone with a record for ABH. They were going to fit him up, but he was going to make his move first.
The unmarked police car conducting surveillance on him and his property, promptly fucked off when Edge took out two mugs of cocoa on a tray to the occupants. He waited three days and went down to the river at night to check if his laptop, cameras and other equipment was still safe under the overhanging tree root system. The Torridge was still in full flow, but they were out of the water, well secured and tucked back into the bank in waterproof diving bags he used when on the boats. He retrieved some paperwork with a view to going through it. Some of it was the stuff from his uncle, the golden lode. Edge withdrew a lot of cash from various accounts and went shopping around the West Country.
A few days before he left for Scotland, Edge had a strange experience that had all the trappings of déjà vécu. He was hedging the bounds of his property for some exercise, he became aware of an elderly lady watching him from the lane. She lived about four properties away. She had keen, little eyes and twisted, grey hair sticking from under a waxed bonnet. Edge wondered how long she had been watching him.
For some reason this old lady fascinated him and although he barely paid her any attention in the past, he knew that she had been a beautiful and troubled young woman. Against his better judgement, he invited her into the kitchen where they drank many mugs of tea and smoked most of Edge’s cigarettes.
“We’ve met before, you know,” she told him.
“I don’t recall that.”
“It was April 1977.”
Edge scoffed, “Don’t be so bloody daft, I was only seven and I lived in Nuneaton with my mum and Dad.”
She sucked on the cigarette, “You looked exactly like you do now. Hair a bit longer, more suntanned, but you had that bloody big scar on your forehead. That’s how I recognised you. It frightened me. You frightened me, but you saved my life. I could have loved you, you know.”
“You’re off your head, with respect,”
“Right, now listen! The rifle fires one or two more rounds, then stops again. Come on! Cock, hook and look. No for fucks sake, that’s the IA drill for the SLR. We’re on the L85. The clue is one or two more rounds then stops again. It’s a fucking gas stoppage. What are you going to do?”
Edge put his mug down on the table, his hands shaking slightly, “How do you know that?”
“Because you told it to me in 1977, to keep me awake and stop me falling into a junkie coma. There are many things in heaven and on earth that we don’t understand. Just accept that they are,” she pushed her chair away from the table, “It’s been nice talking to you, Mark Edge, former Staff Sergeant 22 SAS. Let me know when you want me to look after your cat.”
After she had gone Edge sat at the table in stunned silence. Despite the fact she hadn’t introduced herself, he knew with absolute clarity that her name was Cynthia Penrith.
The Ruger .308 hunting rifle was on the table, its gunmetal parts gleaming with the gun oil and the woodwork wiped clean with turpentine. The bolt action was smooth and precise. Next to it the Winchester rounds were cleaned, in their loading clips and vacuum packed. Next to it were a couple of hessian sacks and rafia string. Edge would cut the hessian into strips and tie them around the weapon and telescopic sight with the rafia to break up its outline, then it would be vacuum packed with the rounds, to go in his cache in the tree roots down at the river. He had a lot of work to do before he would need it again.
Monty jumped up on the table and sniffed the rifle, recoiling slightly from the pungent oil. The hessian sacks had a much more interesting and had an earthy smell. Edge cradled the cat’s head between his palms and gently massaged Monty’s jowls.
“Monty, you have been a bloody good cat. An outstanding ratter, a faithful family member and your paws have walked through our lives. You saved my life and stopped me from going mad. You will be well looked after, I promise you, by that mental old lady who lives up the lane. I know you like her and she likes you. I know you will hate me, but I will miss you so much. I wish I could take you where I’m going, but I can’t. Please forgive me, Monty.”
The cat slowly blinked and turned his back on Edge.
© Blown Periphery 2018