Edge had assumed the persona of Andrew Poulsom, a child who had died before his first birthday in 1970, his little body buried in Stoke-on-Trent and a copy of a register of birth had allowed Edge to apply for a passport in 2000 and build up a new identity. He was now working for an Anglo-American firm, Ty-ho Bay Securities as a physical security adviser, thanks to the extensive contacts he had made whilst seconded to the US Special Forces. His current assignment was to teach security awareness to Romanian Oil Executives who often had cause to travel to Nigeria for a joint Petron S.A/BP project. The Romanians were keen to increase and improve their off-shore drilling capability in the Black Sea and the BP rigs off Nigeria were an excellent showcase. Unfortunately, Nigeria was on the front line of the Islamic thrust into Africa and was an extremely dangerous place to work. Edge had had enough of the discomfort and dangers of field security operations and the role of advisor suited him down to the ground.
He was woken in the early hours of Sunday morning and he recognised the voice as that of Morrison and listened to the long, one-sided conversation intently. His face betrayed no emotion, but the muscles in the forearm holding the mobile phone writhed like a snake, while the voice on the phone listed the pain, injuries and violations that had been inflicted on his wife. When he spoke, his voice was expressionless.
“I’ll be back on the first flight I can get today, if not, tomorrow,” Edge said.
“Where will I meet you?”
“The Bear, Devizes. I’ll book a room in Calne or Chippenham.”
“Do you want me to have the Inkspots stand-to?”
“No. You and I should be able to deal with it. I should have dealt with it years ago.”
The silence on the other end of the phone was not accusatory. In truth there was little to say. Edge reeled out a list, some items in clear, others coded to avoid the ever snooping ears of GCHQ.
“This is what I think we’ll need. Add anything you think I’ve missed.”
“See you sometime today or tomorrow.”
Edge managed to book a lunchtime flight with Tarom Airways to London Heathrow and he booked a hotel on the outskirts of Devizes whilst waiting at Henri Coandă airport. At London he hired a car and drove along the M4, switching onto the A4 at Hungerford and arrived at the Bear Hotel in Devizes at 18:30. Morrison was waiting in the bar, sitting by the fire reading a copy of Country Life. He smiled at Edge cautiously.
“Want a drink?”
“Beer. Decent stuff please after Romanian pisswasser.”
Morrison returned with a pint of Wadworth Swordfish. He placed it on the table between them and looked at Edge, “It seems like a long time, old friend.”
Edge sipped the dark brown beer and stared at the fire, “Henry, please don’t tell me how sorry you are, because this is all down to me. I kept the peace with Moira for too long and I should have dealt with the situation right from the start. How is she?”
“Edgie, I’m not going to bullshit you,” Morrison said quietly, “She’s a fucking mess. She looks like …. Well you don’t need to get the picture. But she’s strong and Angela is looking after her. And she knows that you’re alive. That kind of gives her strength.”
“Where is she?”
“She has her own place in Okehampton and Angela is staying with her. Your kids are with her mother and father to keep them out of harm’s way. I gave Angela a shotgun… Just in case.”
“Not yet. The armourer will deliver in two days. I managed to track down a buff coat for you, from a firm that provides clothing for costume dramas. I won’t ask why. I’m collecting it and the motorcycle stuff tomorrow. By the way, I’ve booked a table for us here tonight. Get a taxi back to wherever you’re staying.”
“Where are you staying?” asked Edge.
“Here. Four poster bed, but just me to fill it, I’m afraid.”
“You’re slacking. It does have sleeves? The Buff Coat?”
“Err, yes it does.”
The meal was very good and the years dropped away, like Window from a Lancaster, turning onto the final leg to the target. They were back to their hyper-alert state and had settled into a life they thought they should have left behind. The shared triumphs, disasters and shameful episodes came easy, as did the drink. Over coffee, Edge got back to business.
“Where is he?”
“He’s got a place he’s doing up, south of Torrington. Remote and surrounded by trees. Just a single track in.”
“Gone. They’ve realised he’s bat shit mental and don’t want to get dragged down with him.”
Edge grimaced, “Pity. I’d like to have slotted them as well. Perhaps a project for the future.”
“Do you need me to go in as well?”
“No. Just clean up the site please, Henry. I don’t envisage there being much to clean up, in all honesty.”
“When are you planning to do it?”
“As soon as the stuff arrives, I’ll send some rounds down the pistol to see how it shoots, watch the site for 48 hours and move in at six bells of the middle watch.”
Edge thought about it, “I’ll disappear for a few months.”
They finished the meal and Morrison took care of the tab, while Edge ordered a taxi. They had planned and discussed a violent murder over a civilised meal in a Wiltshire hotel.
Two nights later in Edge’s hotel room, they surveyed the equipment that Edge was wearing and was laid out on the bed. Morrison looked aghast at Edge, “Is this some kind of a fucking joke?”
Edge was wearing the Buff Coat, motorcycle helmet and goggles, hockey mask, motorcycle trousers, boots and gauntlets. He looked like a deranged cavalryman from the English Civil War, sans horse.
“No. It’s deadly serious. I know the fish oil stinks, but it toughens the leather and makes it waterproof, as well as providing ballistic protection.”
“Why not just wear Kevlar?”
“Because Kevlar only protects the core of the body. I don’t fancy pitching up at A&E riddled with shotgun pellets in my face, arms and legs, or spending hours delving in my flesh for shotgun pellets with a set of Spencer Wells and an antiseptic douche. This would have stopped a pistol ball from medium to long range. It should stop deer shot over the ranges I envisage. I can tape some magazines to my legs under the trousers for some additional protection.”
Morrison looked at the weapons on the bed, “One flash-bang, a Walther PPK automatic and forty-five Browning .32 ACP rounds, with five rounds hollow-point expanding head. The armourer said sorry, but short P38s are impossible to find since the Gestapo went out of business.”
“I hope it isn’t reactivated crap.”
“No, it’s ex-RAF aircrew issue. It was “found” when a jet jockey misplaced it in Nairobi airport. Never been used apart from the annual trip to the 25 metre range. Sweet as a nut, the armourer assures me. Not much stopping power though.”
“I don’t want to stop him. I want to incapacitate him and hurt him very badly in the process.”
“By the way, do you know you look like George Roper from George and Mildred, dressed like that?”
“I wonder what happened to the guy who lost the PPK.”
“I expect he’s Chief of the Air Staff now.”
Edge enjoyed the solitude of his undercover hide in the woods. He had stashed his stolen Kawasaki motorbike in an abandoned quarry off the A4132. It stood, nestled in the undergrowth and covered with a painted tarpaulin, which was impossible to spot ten feet away. Over the previous thirty-six hours, Edge had learned a great deal from the comings and goings of Daniel Copeland and was gratified to see that his prey had descended into mental illness and self-induced paranoia.
When Copeland left the previous day in his pick-up, Edge had made a thorough search of the property and found the generator in the outhouse. Now he knew how he was going to kill Copeland and realised that he would have to shoot out a window to get the stun grenade in. That afternoon he sent a single text message to Morrison.
Going in tonight.
He readied himself physically and mentally. He conducted thirty minutes of enclosed callisthenics to speed up his heart rate and limber the muscles and tendons. The armourer had been right, the Walther PPK was as sweet as a nut and he had fired twenty rounds in Savernake Forest, before moving to North Devon. The weapon was ready, and he put on the old-fashioned motorcycle helmet, the ballistic goggles and the hockey mask. He had cut the fingers of the right hand motorbike gauntlet and the Walther PPK was in a tough polythene bag in the pocket of the Buff Coat. At least the stench of fish oil had diminished somewhat.
He had listened to Copeland moving around in the dilapidated house, moaning and shouting to himself and heard a car stop on the road below. The second figure moved stealthily through the undergrowth to his left, near the track up from the road. Morrison was in position.
Edge stood up slowly, and pulled the bagged Walther from his pocket, wrapping tape round the polythene bag, securing it to the gauntlet. This would collect the empty cases. He pulled the large, cylindrical stun grenade from his left pocket and slowly moved out of cover. Daz Copeland was in the left hand, ground floor sitting room. Edge made out his form from the flickering television, slumped on the sofa, a shotgun across his lap. Edge moved to the left of the window, crouched down and with the stun grenade between his knees, pulled the pin with his left hand, tricky with the gauntlet, stood up and fired at the window. He had loaded the magazine with an ACP round first, then five expanding head rounds with a final ACP. He thrust the stun grenade through the shattered window and ducked back down into cover because Copeland was on his feet.
The boom and screaming from the stun grenade reverberated around the wooded Torridge valley and the brilliant flash lit up the trees with a blinding light. Edge moved away from the house so he could cover the door and the windows. The front door was wrenched open and Copeland fired one barrel of the shotgun blindly into the night. He was silhouetted in the door frame by the light from inside the house. Bad mistake.
The hollow point round mushroomed and flattened itself against Copeland’s anterior cruciate ligament just below his right patella. His right leg folded and Copeland slumped against the door frame, but he stared in terror at what looked like a cavalry man from the English Civil war, complete with boots, Buff Coat and some kind of helmet and face covering. Bellowing with pain, Daz raised the shotgun and fired at the figure.
Edge reeled at the hail of buckshot that mainly hit his chest and left arm. The stinging pain was exquisite, but the Buff Coat had done its job. He fired at Copeland’s left kneecap and the shot went slightly left, raking the top of his fibula and destroying the lateral collateral ligament, before burying itself in the wall of the hall. Copeland bawled and went down. He would never get up again.
The figure was unhurried as it slowly walked towards him. Daz looked backwards over his shoulder, whimpering in pain and terror.
“Top tip. Bird shot is only good for birds. You should have used deer shot.”
“Who are you?”
The figure removed its helmet and face mask, while the extremely stubby and truncated automatic pistol inside its bag was pointed in the vicinity of Daz’s crotch.
“You’re dead! You’re fucking dead!”
“I’m a ghost. Where are your car keys?”
He put a motorcycle boot on Daz’s bloodied right kneecap and applied moderate pressure. He waited for the screeching to stop.
“I won’t ask nicely again.”
“Kitchen… Hanging up.”
It took a long time for Daz Copeland to stop screaming as the heat finally destroyed his larynx, by which time the outhouse was burning fiercely and the flames had spread to the rest of the house. Edge walked down the track, knowing that Morrison would already be sanitising the site. He reached the quarry and stuck the hockey mask and bagged pistol in a side pannier. He starter the bike and drove to a pre-agreed lay-by near Down St Mary, where he put the mask, pistol and unused rounds in a holdall and left it behind the large bin. He had intended to head north and dump the bike in Leicester, then get the train to his home in Ely, but on a whim, Edge swung off south west towards Okehampton.
It was nearly daylight when he pulled up near the White Hart Hotel and looked up at the flat across the street. The lights were on in the apartment and Edge was racked with indecision as he stared forlornly at where his wife and family had made a home without him. He even pulled off his helmet and went to walk to the street level door, but he stopped. He was tortured by the thought Moira had met someone else, perhaps a better man than he and he couldn’t have stood that. Like the foolish and cowardly version of Captain Corelli, he walked back to the Kawasaki, started it up and headed for the M5.
A week later he was on a British Airways flight from London Heathrow to Windhoek in Namibia. He had a letter of introduction from Horace Cutler to a South African gentlemen, with a rough idea of a plan that whilst not being strictly legal, could prove to be extremely lucrative.
Like all the best laid plans of mice and men, things hadn’t gone totally to plan and a chastened Mark Edge took some time off to reflect and brood. He was able to place the South African adventure in the “shit happens” pigeon-hole, but the missing part of his life and the lonely emptiness wasn’t as easy to categorise. Edge went to Ely Cathedral and sat unobtrusively at the back during evening prayers and rather hypocritically asked God what he should do and God seemed to say to him, Isn’t it obvious, you stupid woodentop?
Edge had a solitary meal in a pub restaurant, went home and had an early night. The next morning he was on the A14 heading west to pick up the M6 then the M5. He had booked a room at the White Hart Hotel, insisting on one that overlooked Fore Street. Six hours later he lay on the bed in his room and waited for the night. He felt more frightened than at any other time in his life and had become a voyeur, spying on his own family.
His view of the flat was limited as it was offset diagonally to the hotel, but he caught glimpses of them through the binoculars. Sarah was now a woman, which was a profound shock to Edge. Francis was as tall as Moira and he had seemed to have turned into a teenager who was incapable of normal locomotion. He finally saw Moira as she drew the curtains and his heart ached. She was still as beautiful as he remembered and he felt twice as forlorn.
“But she left me,” he said out loud and petulantly.
The sounds of the traffic in the town faded and the revellers headed to bed, leaving the town to the creatures of the night. It was after 01:00 when Edge slipped out of the hotel and headed across Fore Street. From the shadows he watched a single police car diligently patrolling an empty and quiet town centre. He discounted the street-level door because although he could pick the lock, it would likely be bolted and made a recce of the back of the shops and properties.
Using the cover of the vegetation surrounding the East Okement River, he found a way in accessible by a single story garage on a property to the rear. He made an undignified wriggle up onto the outhouse roof and then up a drainpipe to the partially open bathroom window. He pulled it open and found the windowsill was cluttered with multiple bottles of potions and jars. I’m too bloody old for this. He removed all the clutter carefully and placed it down on the sloping roof. It took him three trips up and down the drainpipe. Bloody women and bathrooms. He slipped in and dropped lightly onto the bathroom floor. A night light was on in the hall.
She was awake when she heard a noise from the bathroom and the hair on her arms and neck bristled. The temperature in the room plummeted. Her breath misted in front of her face. She had one thought that almost loosened her bladder.
Moira reached down for the carving knife, its handle pointing out from between the mattress and the bed.
He came into the room and pulled back the covers and slid in next to her. His heat was burning cold. He gently ran his finger from her forehead, down her nose and across her top lip.
“Moira, I’ve been so stupid. Please forgive me.”
“Mark?” She let go of the carving knife.
“Moira, I’m so sorry. I wasted the best years of our lives.”
“I knew you were still alive.”
He smiled sadly.
“Because we’re human and fallible.”
She hit him open-handed across his face.
“Nine years. Nine years, you bastard!”
“What do you want me to say?” That I’m sorry?”
She hit him again, harder this time and a trickle of blood came from a nostril.
“You can keep it up all night, but be quiet. I don’t want to give Sarah and Francis a shock. What would you have me do?”
“Give them a shock?” she hissed, “Give them a fucking shock? Sarah says that I’m mad to keep believing that you were still alive.”
Moira started to sob, “You killed him, didn’t you. You burned him to a crisp, didn’t you?”
“Yes. Shall I go?”
“No! I’m glad he’s dead. I should have let you get rid of the evil bastard years ago, because I bet it wasn’t just me or rather us, whose lives he ruined. No, of course I don’t want you to go. I want you back and have done for nine, bloody years. You’re a complete arsehole! And I’m bloody angry because you were right all along.”
They went into each other and Moira was taken back to a time eighteen years previously. She had no dreams and woke up to an almost forgotten scent and a bloody imprint on the pillow. When she went to pee the flow burned, jogging a memory of a Bristol hotel bedroom, so many years ago. He told her he would come back at 09:30 once the children had gone to school, but she didn’t believe him and hugged the bloodstained pillow.
They stared at each other. “I’m sore. It’s been a long time, Mark. I expect you’re a dab hand at pleasuring the ladies by now, aren’t you?”
He didn’t rise to the bait. She looked at him across the table while their coffees cooled. “Why is your forehead so light?”
“It’s a skin graft. They had to cut a hole in my skull to reduce the pressure of a bleed on my brain. I died. Twice apparently. They took the graft from my arse.”
“So the wax effigy and the pins did work. I expect your arse has improved your common sense no end,” Edge chuckled and Moira looked down as she composed her thoughts, “Mark, this isn’t going to be instant happy families you know. I’m a different person and it took me all my time to let you anywhere near me last night, I mean this morning. Especially after what happened. Sarah has grown up without you and Francis hates your guts for leaving us and “dying.” He’s at that awkward stage and the last thing he or I need is for you to blunder in and start laying down the returned father law.”
“Mark Edge is dead. I’m Andrew Poulsom now. I’m not going to come back straight away, but I’ll always tell you where I am. That’s if you want me to.”
Moira reached across the table and held his hands, “In our own time, carry on.”
The talked of different things and Moira told him that she had read in the North Devon Gazette that Cynthia Penrith had passed away and the grisly circumstances of her death. Edge’s face was grim, “Did the paper mention if there was a dead cat in the property? She was looking after Monty.”
“No. Oh poor Monty. No, nothing about a cat and that’s the sort of thing they would dwell upon.”
Edge looked upset then thought out loud, “Under the reciprocal arrangement we drew up with the solicitor, now that Ms Penrith is dead, both our old cottage and hers belong to you. She had no relatives and she was living off the proceeds of letting our old cottage. Plus there’s the money I left you that came in eight years after I died.” Have you been spending it wisely?”
“I haven’t touched it. I thought it was dirty money. Did you kill that human rights lawyer, Mark?”
“No. Henry did it for me, because at first I was in an HDU in a Portuguese hospital and then could barely walk. I really wanted to though. Henry added a nice touch, he got away. I would have stayed and played with the plod.”
“Why the bloody hell couldn’t I have married someone, nice and uncomplicated.”
“Because you were a spoiled, little brat and must have been something bad in a previous life. Come on. Let’s get our old home back. You’ll need to go in and speak to the solicitor and get the keys. Don’t take any nonsense from them. Both of those properties are now legally yours.”
The trees were more overgrown and the hedge line he had worked on was now a tall bocage, overhanging the lane. The state of their empty cottage was dismal. It looked dilapidated and uncared for. The garden was overgrown and Edge noticed tiles missing from the roof and weeds growing in the gutters. Inside it smelled of damp and neglect and they were glad to be back outside in the cold, late autumnal air.
“Bloody hell,” Moira said, her voice heavy with despondency.
“It looks worse than it is. We’ll get the fires up and running to dry out the inside, fix the paint outside and inside and repair the roof. Don’t be downhearted, love. The garden can be your project once I’ve cut back the undergrowth. Cynthia’s cottage is in a better state and with a little work, we can either sell it or let it out.”
“It smelled funny.”
“I’m afraid that was death. We’ll need to air it, obviously.”
Moira sighed, “So what’s the plan, Stan?”
“I’ll move in here and start work. You can move back in with the kids in your own time. And no, I’m not expecting a Railway Children ending. Just ask them to try to understand, which won’t be easy as I don’t understand myself sometimes.”
They were silent for a while, Moira supporting Edge who was still using a stick. He hadn’t bothered to tell her that it was a swordstick. In that close relationship they had refined over the years together and apart, they seemed to have developed identical thought processes and both said the same thing at the same time.
“I wonder what happened to Monty.” Moira started to cry and Edge felt the back of his throat closing.
“He probably died years ago, he was getting on,” Edge said, but it made neither of them feel any better.
They turned round, startled at the familiar cry. An elderly tabby cat pushed through the undergrowth under the hedge. It was very thin, bedraggled and limped towards them, meowing a baby cry and yowling indignantly. A jagged, white scar ran from its right eye down to the cat’s nose and it had a long-healed tear in its ear.
“Monty? Could it be you?”
Edge picked the cat up and wrapped it in his coat, so only the little head showed. Moira was rubbing him gently between his ears. They had all come home and they were all crying, apart from Edge who had something in his eye. They went back inside the cottage then Edge found some wood and lit the wood burner. He knew in his heart that they were going to be all right, provided they were left alone.
“I’ll go and get some kitten food,” Edge said, “It won’t be the first time…”
© Blown Periphery 2018