I will instruct my sorrows to be proud; for grief is proud, and makes his owner stoop.
The RSM who had told Edge: “I have a feeling that you’ll fuck it up. The only reason you haven’t totally fucked up your Service career, is because the Army is a family and we look after our own,” drank himself to death.
“I’ll give you one piece of advice that’s really important for your life outside the Army and it’s totally free and unbiased: It doesn’t matter how much you’ve been through, or whatever you’ve done in the Army. It doesn’t matter if you’ve won the VC, because the civvies won’t give a fucking toss. And why should they? Don’t waste your time with the “you don’t know coz you weren’t there,” routine. They couldn’t even begin to understand and their eyes will have glazed over before you even tell them about getting on the trooper flight. The only way they can judge you is by the way you get on with them, and if you think barrack life is boring, wait until you’re a civvie. I have a horrible feeling that one way or another, being a civvie will kill you.”
Well it certainly did for the RSM. With his contacts and experience he found a good job that paid very well. But he was surrounded by younger workers with a hunger to get on. The RSM didn’t feel the need to strive and work all the hours because of his Service pension. As time went on he slipped down the sales league. He had his top-of-the-range company car replaced with a run-around and the travelling killed him. He waved goodbye to his wife eighteen months after he left the Army. He started drinking to function, and then as a reason to get out of bed, and then it became the only reason to live.
On a bitterly cold early morning in Staffordshire in January 2015, a dog walker could no longer stand the whining demands of his Border collie and took it outside into the still dark, frozen landscape of hoar frost and glistening trees. The stagnant water at the side of the river had frozen and the frost crunched underfoot. The man and his dog walked past the war memorial opposite the church. The yews were white and so was the figure sitting under the cross, slumped against the rack holding the frozen poppy wreaths.
“Oh Dear God!” said the man and walked towards the memorial. The figure was wearing a blazer complete with medals and the hoar frost dusted his hair and moustache like icing. In stiff, gnarled fingers he clutched an almost empty bottle of Chivas Regal and another empty bottle lay at his feet. His eyes were closed, but a single, frozen tear had solidified as it tracked down his cheek.
The man tied the collie to the memorial gate and fumbled for his mobile phone.
Henry Morrison had a few blissful years, living another man’s life, a man who had died as an infant and enabled Morrison to obtain a copy of a birth certificate. It could have been perfect, but he and Angela were never blessed with children. They moved to Cumbria and Morrison would often disappear off for a few weeks on some “job” or the other. Angela knew from her brother not to ask too many questions and she loved Henry beyond measure.
Angela never knew exactly how old Henry was, but she reckoned he was around fifty when he suddenly announced that he was sick of leaving her and that he would get “a proper job.” The news lightened her heart and even when she found a tender and swollen lymph gland in her armpit whilst having a shower, it couldn’t dampen her spirit.
But then the two of them became engulfed in a whirlwind of doctor and hospital appointments, for scans, biopsies and consultations. Morrison was her constant, her brick and her capable second in her duel with death. He was always optimistic, always positive and he never let her see him weep in his workshop, rocking with grief and hammering his fists on the workbench with frustration, cursing a selfish and capricious God.
The Inkspots provided his support and security at the beautiful church in Hartland, a place that Angela had requested to be laid to rest, because she had come home to die. The primroses were out in a gorgeous early-spring morning, and bumble bees were doing their initial air tests, before the gruelling operational tour of summer.
It was Cooper that spotted the dark saloon, a car with a man and a woman in the front seat that should just not have been there. He and Jarvis sauntered over. Cooper got in the back seat while Jarvis reached into his overcoat and rammed the barrels of a sawn-off shotgun through the passenger window, pointing it at the female undercover police officer’s face.
“You, get out and get in the back. Now!” Jarvis hissed at her. Terrified, she complied while Jarvis slid into the passenger’s seat.
“If you move your hands off the steering wheel, your brains will be all over the inside of this car. I’ve seen it and it’s a bugger to clean up,” he told the driver.
Cooper had rammed a silenced automatic into the female copper’s side while they frisked the pair, pulling out warrant cards, driving licences and credit cards.
Cooper handed the documents to Jarvis in the front seat and he looked at both sets, “Well Detective Sergeants Oxlade and Rice. We now know who you are, where you live, some information about your families and we have all your bank and credit cards. It must take a particularly lowlife piece of shit to conduct surveillance on a man who is burying his wife. Let’s go for a little drive. Head towards Hartland Quay.”
From the church door, Edge saw the saloon car pass and head west. The first hymn was starting as he slipped into a pew towards the back of the church. Moira was up at the front next to Morrison and Micky and they were all inconsolable. Edge felt the loss as keenly, but preferred to be alone with his thoughts, trying not to look at the coffin in the chancel. He had to try very hard not to weep at the verse:
Time, like an ever-rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the op’ning day.
Less than 500 metres out of Hartland, Jarvis told the driver to halt near a gate on their right. He got out and opened it and Cooper told the driver to drive through. Jarvis closed the gate behind them and got back in the car.
“Follow the track towards the gorse and the trees ahead of you.”
“Are you going to kill us?” Rice, the female DS asked in panicked horror.
“Right into the gorse and stop when I tell you,” Jarvis said, the shotgun never leaving pointing at the driver’s head. The car was in a very dense thicket of gorse and trees, stunted and twisted by the Atlantic storms. It was on a steep slope, pointing towards a gully, with a drop of a couple of hundred feet down to the swirling sea and rocks below. Jarvis got out.
“OK DS Oxlade. You’d better make sure that handbrake is on nice and tight, then get out.”
“You too, love,” Cooper said, indicating out with his pistol,
“Please don’t kill us,” she said, beginning to hyperventilate.
“Does this ring any bells with you pair of bastards?” Jarvis asked and quoted:
“I do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law. Aren’t you going to ask me how I know that?
“The problem is that you and your sick, corrupt organisation hasn’t done any of those things. And now you are the enemy. You probably thought today was going to be a bit of a laugh. Keeping an eye on bad people, ex-military thickies, enemies of the State, thinking you were untouchable. But now you’re in Shit Street. We don’t play by your rules. We don’t do courts or the criminal justice system. We know we’re all going to die and we don’t fucking care. Most of us have been dead men walking for years, who have seen horrors you couldn’t begin to contemplate.”
“What, like I’ve felt wind in my hair, riding test boats off the black galaxies and seen an attack fleet burn like a match and disappear. I’ve seen it…felt it! You fucking sad, pongo bastards are out of your depth!” DS Oxlade sneered at him. Jarvis smashed him in the face with the butt of the shotgun.
“I thought it was Star ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion,” Cooper observed nonchalantly.
“Smartarse, still he knows his Blade Runner, sad bastard. Get undressed the pair of you. Leave your fucking nose, Oxlade and drop ‘em, blossom.”
“Oh God, no,” Rice sobbed.
“Just get on with it and put your clothes in a pile, then get into the front seats of the car. You in the driver’s seat, Oxlade. MOVE!”
They complied and slid into the car. Rice was shivering with fear as Cooper retrieved two sets of handcuffs from the pile of discarded clothing.
“OK, Oxlade, right arm through the steering wheel, Rice, put your left arm through the other side.”
They did so and Cooper cuffed their hands on the other side of the steering wheel.
“Rice, right hand up to that handle above your head. Oxlade, reach across with your left arm. Come on! You’re going to be nice and intimate for the next few hours…” he paused, “Or days…”
“Or until the handbrake wears out,” Cooper suggested helpfully as he cuffed their other wrists to the suit hanger, ”And do try not to bleed on your colleague.”
They surveyed their handiwork.
“We should be in time for the third hymn,” Cooper observed casually.
Jarvis opened the passenger door and squatted down to speak with DS Oxlade. His tone was even and low and undercut with pure malice, “We now know a great deal about you. By tomorrow we will know more about you and your family than you know yourselves. If what is laughably referred to as the Police Service makes any move against any of us, we will kill your families in front of you. There are a lot of us and we have had enough. We will wage a war on you and the State, that you would not fucking believe.
“Most of the kids who join the military now do five years or less. They can’t hack it. They are weak, feminised and emasculated. We served a lifetime and we learned a lot. And now you will fear us, because we can find you whenever we want. Tell your bosses and political masters that we are coming for them.”
“Why are you doing this?” the woman sobbed.
“For the same reason you decided to pitch up at a funeral, because you think the widower is someone else. You came to intimidate and humiliate. It was the worst mistake you and your bosses ever made. Now I’m going take a photograph of you pair and you have joined our database. If we ever meet again, you will watch your family screaming out their last.”
Jarvis stood up, “And I wouldn’t wriggle around too much if I were you. The handbrake could be a bit iffy and it’s a long way down to the rocks. If any ramblers come across you pair, they’ll have a bloody good chortle and assume it’s all been a sex game that’s gone a bit wrong. I might give the Western Morning News a ring. Mind how you go.”
They threw the clothes into the thickest, nastiest gorse clump they could find and strolled back towards the road. Cooper stopped and lit a pipe.
“You have to be fucking kidding me,” Jarvis said with incredulity.
“I’ve been told that it makes me look trustworthy and distinguished.”
“By whom? Mrs Hudson your housekeeper?”
Morrison had lost his reason to live and went back to his old profession to seek a noble death. He was as anachronistic as Brave Horatius, who kept the gate in the brave days of old. But he was looking for a past that had never existed. His fellow mercenaries were neither professional, nor noble. Most of them he decried as “Walts” or psychopaths. The really good ones, the Kurds, were fighting the resurgent Ottoman Empire in the Iraq, Iran and the Stans. The Russians were protecting Mother Russ in the Caucuses, which left apart from the mentally ill, the brave, the idealistic and hopelessly prepared soldiers of fortune, who needed protection from the environment, let alone the savagery of their Islamic enemies.
He was fifty-five when he ended up in the mercenaries’ graveyard of the Congo, fighting against the spreading Islamic terror from the Sudan. It wasn’t a 7.62mm full metal jacket, nor a roadside IED that killed Henry Morrison. It was a tiny Anopheles mosquito that carried the plasmodium falciparum form of malaria. By the time he realised how sick he was and managed to get to the Catholic Hospital in Kisangani, he was delirious with fever. The doctor and nurses knew there was no hope and a compassionate Indian nurse from Chennai watched over his final hours. They knew he was a mercenary, but they also knew for which cause he had been fighting. Morrison’s fever broke in the small hours and after hours of delirium, he was lucid and at peace with himself. The Indian nurse tried to get him to drink some water.
“I should have remembered to keep taking the Lariam. Bad drills,” Morrison said softly. He looked up at the nurse, who smiled at him sadly, “Do you know, you’ve got the most beautiful eyes. They are just like someone’s I once knew. But by God I loved her.”
He closed his eyes and she held his hand while he died.
Giles “Gary” Gilmore never flew operationally again. His rehabilitation road back to fitness was long and painful. The surgeons, nurses, medics and rehabilitation teams at Headly Court put his body back together, but none of them really fixed his mind. Gilmore vomited before the first time he got back in a helicopter and he came to the shocking conclusion he was terrified of flying. Those very things that had given him so much pleasure, now frightened him to a cowering wreck. He had developed a morbid phobia about heights and going anywhere near the open doors of the helicopter, strop or not, was enough to close his throat with terror.
He couldn’t hide it from his new crew and the squadron commander discretely took him off flying duties. Gilmore may have lost one pillar of his life, but gained another, perhaps more useful to his wellbeing and salvation. He requested a career break from the RAF and with Lorna’s support, both spiritual and financial, he managed to get through the selection board and studied theology in Durham. He was ordained four years later and completed the Commissioned Vicars and Tarts course at the RAFC Cranwell and the padre course at Amport House. Giles Gilmore was as an accomplished military padre as he had been a loadmaster, albeit slightly less cocky.
Every year on a certain date in October, Padre Gilmore would drive to Gloucestershire and leave a single red rose and pray at a simple, white gravestone with the RAF crest carved into it. He would then drive to a small village in the Pennines and go into the graveyard of a pretty little church. Fighting to keep his composure, Gilmore would lay a second rose and stand vigil at the second, simple headstone, the tears streaming down his face. One year, a woman who had recently lost her husband spotted the distressed man at the military grave. She went over to the dejected chap in his long, black overcoat.
“Are you all right dear?” she asked and looked at the gravestone, “She must have been special to you. So young.”
“She told me she loved me, just before she died.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Did you love her?”
“Not then. I was in lust with her. We all were.”
The woman didn’t know what to say.
“She saved my life. They all did,” he was weeping openly now.
The woman put her arm round his shoulders, “Sometimes, dear, life can be a reet bugger!”
Afarin Khan’s luck finally ran out neat Liboi, in the border country between Kenya and Somalia. She was travelling in a car with Timothy, a member of Kenya’s Army Paratroopers, a cover for a British-trained Special Forces unit. Timothy was a Muslim and Afarin was wearing the traditional Somali woman’s garb of a dirac, headscarf and shawl. Unlike Somali women she had forgone traditional underwear and wore her usual assortment of automatic pistol, ammunition and a fighting knife. They had intended to cross into Somalia and recce Bilis Qoogaani, a seething hotbed of Islamic terrorists in the guise of Al-Shabaab.
The billiard table flatness of the arid bush spread for miles every direction, but up ahead was a bus that had been stopped at what looked like an illegal checkpoint. There were armed men with a number of technicals, pick-up trucks which mounted heavy machine guns. The men were wearing black headscarves. It looked like Al-Shabaab had found them.
“No worries,” Timothy said calmly, “We can blag our way through this.”
And they could have done, because they looked just like any other Somalian couple. Afarin’s headscarf denoted that she and Timothy were married. An Al-Shabaab fighter sauntered up to the now stationary car, and AK47 over his shoulder. He was holding the rifle by its barrel. Up ahead more of the fighters were moving the passengers off the bus. Afarin looked away to avoid the man’s gaze, like the modest wife she was supposed to be,
“Assalamu alaikum.” Said the terrorist, peering into the car.
“Wa alaikum assalaam.” Timothy replied.
The conversation was conducted in Somali, “Where you going?”
“Home to Jilib. My second wife wanted shopping in Nairobi,” Timothy raised his eyes as though in resigned frustration, “Gold and fabric.”
“Be sure your first wife is behaving at home.”
“My brother has seen to it.”
Up ahead the passengers had been sorted into two groups. Afarin felt a chill of terror.
“Have you seen Kenyan Army?” demanded the terrorist.
“Only in Nairobi. None since.”
The first gunshots boomed out as the Al-Shabaab started to kill the non-Muslim passengers. They must not act. They had to keep to their cover story and briefing. Their tasking was more important. Timothy looked at Afarin and they exchanged that look. It said “fuck the mission.”
Timothy shot the terrorist under his jaw and the round exited through the top of his head.
“What the fuck,” he said before his legs folded. Timothy was out and grabbed the AK off the man who was still twitching on the ground. Afarin was out of the other door, sprinting to the other side of the bus, away from the killing. She didn’t remember getting the Glock from the garter holster on her inner thigh. Timothy was laying down short bursts and moving position, from cover to cover. The shooting of the passengers was forgotten now.
“Run, Run for your lives,” Afarin screamed at them in English, knowing the Kenyan’s would understand.
One of the fighters was opening the driver’s door of the technical, another on climbing on the back to get to the machine gun. Afarin dropped the man on the back first with two rounds, then shot the driver through the window. She double-tapped him to make sure. While Timothy was keeping them busy, Afarin went round the front of the bus. The stupid ones were still gathering their belongings. The smarter ones were disappearing into the bush. The second technical was reversing onto the road, a gunner swinging the machine gun towards Timothy’s position. She dropped him and shot out the vehicle’s rear tyres. Again she double-tapped the driver. The would-be gunner was screaming, holding his bloody crotch, must have snatched that one and she dispatched him quickly.
A burst of fire showered her with glass from the bus’s windscreen, so Afarin peered round the front of the bus and fired three rounds at a fighter who was torn between firing at Timothy or this new threat, that was frankly so un-Islamic. By now Afarin had learned to count her rounds and fumbled between her legs for a fresh magazine, the empty one dropping onto the dusty road. Her body was in cover, only the Glock and her right hand was visible.
The 7.62mm round hit the body of Afarin’s Glock on the top slide, just above the trigger housing and by a bizarre quirk of ballistics, the flattened round ricocheted off at right angles. The tumbling round had demolished the pistol and her hand, entering her lower arm just above the scaphoid bone. It tracked upwards between her radius and ulna bones, shredding the radial and ulna arteries and lodged near the neck of the radial bone. Afarin grunted in agony and went down on her knees. The Al-Shabaab terrorist came round the front of the bus, raised his AK47 and fired a burst at Afarin and at least two rounds hit her in the chest. She was blown backwards by the impact and stared up at the sunlight coming through the acacia tree above her.
She heard the rounds thwack through the terrorist’s body before he could make sure. But she was losing peripheral vision. Soon the view of the tree was like looking through the wrong end of the telescope and then she went blind. As she fell into herself, Afarin heard Timothy tell her gently that she was going to be all right. Liar, she thought.
Timothy worked quickly through the protocols. The primary survey was easy. The remaining hazards were dispatched quickly and dispassionately and he ruthlessly ignored the remaining panicked and wailing passengers from the bus. He performed the jaw thrust to open her airway and Afarin coughed bright, red blood into his face and he tasted her ebbing life. She only groaned weakly when he twisted the hair above her ear and she did try to pull her good arm away when he pinched the web of skin between her fingers. That gave a GCS of six, which wasn’t good. Her airway was clear but already her neck was twisted and displaced from the pneumothorax. Her breathing was fast and shallow because of the air being trapped within the pleural cavity. Her pulse was fast because not enough air was being oxygenated. Afarin’s lips were blue, her lower right arm was shattered and shredded and he had no means of tying off the blood vessels, so he applied a tourniquet because she would lose the arm below the elbow anyway. Timothy ripped open her dirac and saw the two purple-ringed entrance wounds, bubbling blood. The first a few inches above her right nipple, the second slightly higher. He gently rolled her over and found the single exit wound, big enough to put his fist in it. He could see the whiteness of shattered ribs and the lung bubbling with frothy blood.
Timothy ran for the car and dragged out the trauma kit, a roll of black bodge tape and some plastic sheeting. He went through the trauma kit and found the coagulation powder that would help to stop the bleeding. Then he applied the powder and a Celox haemostatic wound dressing to the exit wound, covering it with a cut square of plastic sheet and taped it in place so that it was airtight. A second square of plastic sheet was taped over the entrance wounds, not so easily this time because of the contour of her breast. It was only secured on three sides. The theory being, when she breathed in, the lungs would swell and expel the air trapped in the pleural cavity. When she breathed out, the patch would seal, preventing any more air getting in. In theory anyway. He didn’t feel confident enough to insert a chest drain. The trauma kit didn’t have a Seldinger chest drain kit and he doubted he could find her fifth intercostal space anyway, let alone cut into it. Because she was unconscious he didn’t want to administer morphine. If she woke up screaming, he would. But at least her breathing had slowed a little, the cyanosis around her lips seemed less and her neck displacement didn’t seem as twisted.
“Come on, Afairin, fight for me please.”
She needed top trauma care in a specialist unit. He could radio for a military helicopter, but that could take hours and they wouldn’t have the necessary in-transit care. Nairobi was 200 kilometres away, at least two hours. Timothy gently lifted Afarin and carried her to the car, laying her on her wounded side on the back seat. He jammed her unconscious body in as best he could with their kit and then he drove west like the devil was chasing him.
© Blown Periphery 2018