War Crimes Chapter 24 – Poor Life Choices

Blown Periphery, Going Postal
Photo by Mathieu Stern on Unsplash

Chapter 24 – Poor Life Choices

Part  Two – The Unravelling of Mark Edge

“Then hate me when thou wilt; if ever, now;
Now, while the world is bent my deeds to cross,
Join with the spite of fortune, make me bow,
And do not drop in for an after-loss:
Ah! do not, when my heart hath ‘scaped this sorrow,
Come in the rearward of a conquered woe;
Give not a windy night a rainy morrow,
To linger out a purposed overthrow.
If thou wilt leave me, do not leave me last,
When other petty griefs have done their spite,
But in the onset come: so shall I taste
At first the very worst of fortune’s might;
And other strains of woe, which now seem woe,
Compared with loss of thee, will not seem so.”

William Shakespeare

The Warrant Officer and Sergeants’ Mess at Torres Vedras Barracks on the edge of Salisbury Plain, was a hideous, 1960s structure, thrown up when the MoD embraced “progressive” architecture. Like most buildings knocked up in the 60s, it was ugly, poorly ventilated impossible to heat and riddled with concrete cancer. It had been condemned fifteen years before, but because only soldiers were living in it, it would do for them. Despite starting with a sow’s ear, the mess members made the best of their building, because for many of them it was their home. The mess silver glittered in their cabinets in the foyer and the public rooms were adorned with large and often very good, oil paintings of battles past, a pictorial representation of the Regiment’s prior glories and disasters. It had a comfortable, slightly old-fashioned ostentatiousness of all messes and that night it was a hubbub of noise, loud conversations and laughter.

The Regiment was dining out three mess members. One was being medically discharged after a medical board concluded he was unfit for further military duties. IEDs tended to have that effect on soldiers who were too close to them when they went off. Two had reached their twenty-two year point. One had been offered further Service and declined. The other hadn’t.  Edge had returned for resettlement in his old regiment, or rather what was left of the amalgamation of two regiments.  It would be better for resettlement purposes and was closer to home.  Edge had had enough of killing and the constant strain of Special Forces operations, but in the few months he was with his new regiment, he realised he had nothing in common with them.

A few people spoke with Edge, but it was out of politeness rather than genuine friendship. Staff Sergeant Edge had that effect on his fellow SNCOs. He was like marmite. A staunch comrade on operations, but rather difficult to get on with, during the crushing routine of peacetime home postings. Their Company Commanders, the Colonel and the Quartermaster had been guests of honour and had made speeches about comradeship and service. Some gave anecdotes of past misdemeanours or memorable moments. The speeches concerning Edge were slightly stilted, despite the enormous mother lode of his transgressions they had to choose from.

It was just before midnight and Edge decided he’d had enough. He headed out of the anti-room and decided to go for a piss before going up to his room. In the gents he was relieving himself, still painful after the years and he barely acknowledged the person in mess dress who came in, using the urinal a few spaces away.

“Evening, Edgie. Good turnout. But not for you, eh?”

It was the Regimental Sergeant Major (RSM).

Fuck. “Evening, sir.”

Edge finished and hurriedly washed his hands. The RSM made a show of zipping himself up, as though he were stuffing an anaconda into his trousers.

“Don’t rush away, I’d like a quick word if you’ll indulge me, Edgie,” The RSM washed his hands slowly, like a surgeon, “Food’s getting worse since they got in this contract, don’t you think?”

Edge followed the RSM into the empty snooker room where the table was showing an unfinished game. Someone had left his cue on the green baize, practically a hanging offence. The RSM opened the window and lit a cigar and sat on the window sill. Well he was the RSM. Edge fidgeted with the balls on the table.

“What is it you want, sir?”

“I wanted to say goodbye. I wanted to thank you for your time served and I wanted to say what a pleasure it’s been having you in the Regiment. Well I can do the first two, but I can’t in all honesty do the last. You’re a bloody good soldier, Edgie.  Your report from Two-Two stated that you were courageous, steady in the firefight and a role model for the youngsters.  Sometimes.”

The RSM inhaled deeply on his cigar and blew the smoke out of the window, “But for most of the time when we’re not on Ops or on exercise, you’re a fucking liability. Think about it. After twenty-two years you’re still a Staff Sergeant. Your contemporaries are Warrant Officer Ones or Twos.”
Edge rolled the white ball into a pocket off the cushion. Angles and deflection was his bread and butter.

“And look at that lapel full of medals. More than me eh, Edgie. A lifetime of service, but there’s one you don’t have, isn’t there? The one that a civilian employer who knows his stuff would damn you for. No Long Service and Good Conduct. Because you couldn’t hold your temper and decided to deck a German copper. Three months at Colchester. Was it honestly worth it?”

Edge picked the cue off the table, inspected the tip and put it in the rack on the wall,”It was actually twenty-eight days, Sir.”

The RSM smiled sadly and flicked ash off the cigar, “You’d probably like to wrap that cue round my neck, wouldn’t you? I’ve had too much to drink, but I’m in vino veritas, Staff Edge. I want you to know that I had to bribe your company commander to attend your dining-out, because he hates your fucking guts.”

Edge tried to pot the black off a red and two cushions.

“I believe that you’ve lined up a job with your wife’s father?”

Edge nodded without looking up.

“I’m glad, but 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. And as I’ve already said, you’re a good soldier, Edgie.”

Edge picked up the blue ball and tried to crush it.

“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.”

He threw the cigar out of the window and went to the door, “Must go. Fucking Ruperts to entertain. Good luck, Edgie. It doesn’t matter what my opinion of you is. You now have the sole responsibility for your family. You’re leaving the Army, so you have to look after them. It won’t be easy.”

Edge waited for several minutes then shut the sash window. He sat on the window sill and sighed long and hard because twenty-two years had gone in the blink of an eye. He would never get them back.

* * *

In 2010 Edge had 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 George.

“Mark, you know that I’ve never 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 closed his eyes and re-lived another of those bad dreams…

* * *

In Belgrade, the evening had been warm and a gentle breeze was coming from the Danube. Opposite the park, the Salon 5 restaurant was gaily lit and a hubbub of cheerful noise. A drunk was lying, passed out amid some large wheelie bins, a spattering of vomit coating the front of his coat. A prostitute slunk out of the light and stared at the drunk with contempt, as though his being there was bad for business.

The doors of the Salon 5 opened and a thick-set man in a suit looked up and down the street, before waving for a car. The black BMW pulled up outside the restaurant and the man hurried over to open the BMW’s rear door. The restaurant’s doors opened again and two men came out. One watched the street, staying close to the other man, well dressed in a bespoke suit and Italian shoes. Jakovljević Milorad felt better than James Brown that evening. He had eaten well and pulled off a deal with a German lumber firm for bio-fuel. He even smiled at the prostitute, who sluttishly thrust her hips forward and delved in her handbag. Milorad smiled indulgently at her and then his eyes widened as she produced a Sig with a silencer and double-tapped the nearest bodyguard in the head. The bodyguard holding the car door open went for his gun, but the drunk double-tapped him with a silenced Glock and in an easy action, slammed into Jakovljević Milorad, hurling him to the ground. There was a crack of a high velocity rifle from the park and the BMW driver’s brains were all over the plush interior.

A metallic grey van came up the street, while the drunk and the prostitute cable tied his arms and legs, ball gagged him and dragged a black hood over Milorad’s head. The drunk peeled the plastic vomit off the front of his shirt. The van doors open and the drunk and the prostitute rammed him through the side door, “accidently” bashing his head off the door stanchion. They were joined with a man with a rifle, who got in the front.

“Come on, Gloria, let me help you in. Beauty before age”

“Fuck off!” said the prettiest trooper in 22 SAS.

The van headed north, preceded by a car that joined them from a side street. The van flashed its lights to show all had gone well. They headed north-west to the Romanian border and a remote airfield, where a Falcon executive jet was waiting to transport Jakovljević Milorad to The Hague and his war crimes trials. Once they had crossed the border, the “drunk” sat on the floor next to the hooded and tied man.

“Good evening, Mr Milorad. I trust you had a fine meal?”

There were muffled protests from behind the gag and hood.

“Now you probably won’t remember me, and why on earth should you. But I have made a point of never forgetting you.”

He bend down close to the hooded ear and hissed: “You took something that was so very precious to me. You destroyed my future happiness because of a fucking dog. And now you’re going to die in prison. You said to me a long time ago: I will remember you name, Edge. Well here I am, you bastard and this is for a woman called Jozica Marić.”

Edge reached for Milorad’s testicles and crushed them. He screamed and was still groaning with agony as he was dragged onto the aircraft. Captain Gardner had never told Edge about the note crammed in Jozica’s mouth. If he had, Edge would have killed him.

* * *

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.

* * *

It had been a terrible first year after leaving the Army for Edge. On the second of January he was arrested in his house at 06:00 for causing an affray and actual bodily harm. The arrest related to an incident that had taken place in the Hoppers Inn and County Hotel just outside Bideford in North Devon. It was during a New Year’s Eve party that Moira’s father had been involved in arranging for all of the firm’s workers, a bolt-on to another event that was already taking place at the venue. It had been quite a boisterous affair and the drink had been freely flowing. Edge had made an early start at lunchtime in the pub and needed little in the way of encouragement to delve deeply of the Hoppers Inn.

It started as all these things do, innocuously enough. Edge wasn’t a Devonian but Moira was and even when they married she had refused follow him on his postings “like some baggage or chattel,” as she had put it, “My family lives here and here I want to stay.” So they had bought a house on the river, south of Bideford before the house prices started to go through the roof. Edge had spent ten years of unaccompanied tours, commuting from places like Germany, the Midlands, Scotland and Wiltshire, paying a Mortgage and living in the block and then the mess. They had two children, a boy and a girl, but how they had managed to find the time was a miracle.

* * *

Since leaving the Army, life was relatively easy. Too easy, but monstrously difficult. It was impossible to know where the lines were, because they seemed to change all the time, constantly shifting like the Goodwin Sands. He would say something one week and people would laugh, but the next week there would be a complaint. Never to him, but to a line manager, a union rep or a “good friend.” And on a long, boozy, New Year’s Eve he crossed the start line in the Hoppers Inn and County Hotel. There would be no going back.

And the problem was Moira was still gorgeous and she had been there, stayed there, while he had been in assorted shitholes around the world. And Daz, who had been in North Devon, stayed there. Stupid name. Daz the line manager and Moira’s Dad’s right hand man. The same Daz who had his left arm lightly draped around Moira’s neck, his index and middle finger neatly tucked in that interesting little depression on her upper sternum, the xiphoid process, just before the plunging valley between her still amazingly pert tits. And he had a knife, an agricultural knife with a rubber handle, and Daz was going to kill Mark Edge that night, for the humiliation in the forest and Edge’s mate who had attacked him at the wedding, but most of all, for taking Moira away from him and she was his.

“All right, Daz?”

He looked up and gave a smile, or was it a sneer, “All right, Mark?”

“I was wondering, Daz, if I could sit next to my wife.”

“Plenty of room either side, Mark.”

Moira gave him that: Oh don’t make a fuss look. It’s just Daz being Daz. But in reality he had showed her the knife and ahe had a pretty good idea about what he was going to do with it. He would take her later at a time of his choosing.

Edge nodded almost thoughtfully, “Oh, I see. All right then Daz. Let me put this another way, if you don’t stop feeling my wife’s tits, I’m going to rip your fucking face off,” Edge said in a low, almost pleasant voice.

It was that walk into the saloon, through the swing doors moment. That moment when the piano stops playing and the boy runs to get the Sherriff. All conversation round the table stopped.

“Mark, for God’s sake stop it,” Moira hissed up at him. Across the room, her father looked up as though this were predestination.

“Look, mate, you’ve obviously been having a stressful week. You’re not in the Army now. See, all those years in the Army have made you paranoid.”

Edge put his glass down slowly on the table, “I tell you what, Daz, why don’t we step outside so that I can show you just how fucked up the Army’s made me?”

Daz was a big man in his prime, slightly running to fat. Edge was small, stocky and well past his fighting fitness. Daz was at least eight inches taller than Edge. Daz was going to fuck Moira Edge, nee Tremain tonight, after a little heave-ho in the hotel car park with her drunk of a husband. He undraped his arm and grinned up at Edge, “Lead the way, dickhead. “I’ll see you in a minute, Moira.”

Edge had no intention of having an unseemly brawl outside with this swaggering, piece of shit. Edge had learned over twenty years ago that those who play by the rules end up hurt or dead. As Daz stood up he was level with Edge, but pinned by a table in front and the seat behind. Edge drove his head and neck forward with such violence and force that he split his forehead open on Daz’s nasal septum. He felt it shatter like an eggshell. Edge would have a headache for two days and have to stitch his forehead in front of the mirror with sutures from his survival first aid kit the next day, after dousing the wound the previous night with white vinegar. But it wouldn’t stop oozing blood. Daz would wake up in the North Devon District Hospital the following evening. The criminal compensation pay-out would pay for the extensive bridgework on his upper front teeth, but he would never breathe through his nose again. He never got to fuck Moira again until much later, but then again, neither did Edge.
Predictably he lost his job, hardly surprising as Edge suspected that Moira’s father had been angling to get rid of him for months. The thing that hurt him the most was Moira’s coldness towards him and her siding with the man who had been attempting to seduce her for the past fourteen years. What kept him awake in their now permanently separate beds, or in his case a sofa bed, was the terrible, nagging doubt that this was no New Year’s Eve silliness; this had been happening all those years while he had been serving in assorted shitholes.

Things became worse when the story was front page of the North Devon Gazette, and the details of a short, albeit severely violent fracas in a hotel bar were given spin and polish by an otherwise bored shitless journalist. He had hit the jackpot. No more red diesel shenanigans, no more farm health and safety breaches. A Mr Mark Edge, former, disgraced soldier, (somehow the hack had found out about his time in Colchester and Edge suspected Moira’s father), had uncharacteristically (or maybe not ran the backstory) erupted violently at a family function on New Year’s Eve. Mr Daniel Copeland had suffered life-changing injuries as a result of the assault. There was even a nice picture of Daz looking wan and helpless in a hospital bed.

Edge was taken in for questioning. During his two days and nights in Barnstaple Police Station, Edge said only eleven words:

“I will make no comment to you. I want a brief.”

The duty solicitor quickly became exasperated with Edge and his stubborn silence, “You have to meet them half-way, Mr Edge. You are facing a serious charge of assault.”

Edge who had successfully completed the full Conduct After Capture Course or SERE as it is now called in the Forces, said absolutely nothing to the two detectives He just continued to stare at them in a detached, contemptuous manner. He was released on bail paid out of his Service Gratuity and appeared in Barnstaple Magistrates Court two weeks later. Edge wore his Regimental tie and medals and was reprimanded by the female magistrate, that despite his service to his country, no one was above the law. He pleaded provocation, was fined and given a community service.

He managed to get jobs as a deckhand on the crabbers sailing out of Bideford. The pay was dependent on catch and most of the pond-life in the area wouldn’t have got out of bed for the money he earned. But he liked the hard work in the open air, and became friendly with the skippers who didn’t give a toss about his predilection for ultraviolence. He did his job and became stronger and fitter, but he was drinking astonishing amounts on his days off. Once in a supermarket car park, two associates of Daniel Copeland attempted to even the score, regarding Daz’s nasally snuffle. Edge broke one of his erstwhile assailant’s thumb, sprung a rib with his boot and displaced the right kneecap of the other. The police were either uninterested this time or more likely uninformed. Probably because Edge explained to one of the men on the floor, that he should return to Daz and tell him that if anything like this were attempted again, Daz would be strung up by his bollocks from the rafters of a remote, desolate farmhouse they both knew.

Just before Easter, Moira wanted to have a “long chat” with him regarding their future. Edge was drinking enough and yet not enough to know that they had no future.

“Mark, I don’t know who you are any more. You’re not the person I married.”

And that was the problem in a nutshell. He was exactly the person she had married. But she wasn’t. She was older, perhaps wiser and had moved on with children. He hadn’t. His children seemed to skirt round him, as though he were a stranger in his own house.

“It’s not me, it’s you, Mark.”

Well that was a novel take on things.

“We can’t go on like this. Dad was really good to you and you just threw it back in his face.”

Edge tried to remember just how good Mr Tremain had been to him while he had been driving his poorly-serviced, clocked delivery lorries.

“And I feel for the safety of the children, after your violent escapade. Do you know they’ve been saying to them at school, that your Dad’s a nutter?”

“Is that because their nutter of a father stopped their mother making a fool and a trollop of herself?”
There was silence. He heard a jet fighter rumble overhead, a distraction in their court of misery.

“You’re a bastard, Mark. You always have been. There’s something missing in your head. Poor Daz can’t…”

“Fuck him! If I ever see him again, I’ll kill him. Fuck Daz, fuck your father and fuck your entire family.”

He’d wanted to say those things for about fourteen years and now he had said them, he could never put them back. She was gone in less than thirty minutes. When he returned the next afternoon well-oiled (the boat had docked at 1100), all her clothes and possessions had gone. The childrens’ bedrooms were gutted. It was like his life had been wiped off the slate. He lit the wood burner and cried a few, dry Merlot tears that were as salty as the wounds in his hands and just as wretched. Self-pity did not sit comfortably with Edge.

* * *

Edge’s father died in August on a hot, stormy day when the swallows were dipping over the wheat, twisting like fighters in the warm afternoon. His sister phoned him to tell him, sounding just as disinterest in life and him as she always was.

“Thing is, Mark we’re so busy and it’s not as though you have a proper job now, is it? Ronnie and I can’t get the time off and you’re the male heir, so you’ll have power of attorney. We’ve already been to the house, when he went into the hospice. There’s nothing really left that we want.

“Why didn’t you tell me he was dying, Anne?”

“Well, because he didn’t want to see you. Sorry, Mark but that’s how he felt. You never really got on.

I’ve got the address of his solicitor. The housing association want the house cleared as soon as possible.”

“So you’ve grubbed through it and taken what you wanted and now I’m supposed to clear up?”

“You always resented me, Mark. It’s about time you did something. You were away for years, swanning around in the Army, while I had to pick up the pieces when Mum died. It took you all your time to be bothered to turn up for the funeral.”

“The RAF flew me back from Belize in a specially arranged repatriation flight. If I was late, it was because I’d spent twelve hours flogging across the Atlantic and into Coventry Airport.”

“I’ll post everything to you. Stuff from the solicitor.”

“When is the funeral?”

“It was last week, Mark.”

He stared at a watercolour above the hall table. It was a kingfisher, nicely executed, its bright blue plumage reflected in the water. The seconds drew out.

“We thought that it would be for the best, as we didn’t want a scene.”

The kingfisher was Edge’s work, which was probably why Moira hadn’t taken it.

“Anne, I’ve never really told you this before and I really should have done a long time ago. Your husband is a mincing caricature of a man and he’s been having homosexual liaisons with men in public lavatories throughout Warwickshire. This is supposedly while he has been away on business. You however, are what you have always been. A mean-spirited, grasping, heartless bitch.”

She hung up. He smiled grimly to himself. As unlikely as it was, Anne was such a twisted person that she would believe it and tonight, she and her husband would begin their transit through hell.

A large, brown envelope was waiting for him a couple of days later. It contained legal papers as it would appear that he was the executor of the will and a set of house keys. As it was a housing association property, they wanted it cleared as quickly as possible. Edge decided to drive up to the Midlands next Monday.

He had decided not to stay in his father’s house and booked a cheap hotel nearby on the internet. He also phoned a couple of house-clearance companies in the area for the cheapest quote. He set off from Weare Giffard at 0400 on the Monday morning and within a few miles, just after crossing the Torridge Bridge, he was stopped by a police car that had been following him since Bideford. It was the thirteenth time he had been stopped by the police since January.

“Good morning, officer. What’s the excuse this time?”

“This time, sir? Excuse? I have stopped you because I have been following you for the past three miles and in my professional opinion, you were driving erratically and did not come to a full stop at a stop sign.”

Edge chuckled, “OK, so the same reason that you personally stopped me on Friday May 24th.”

“I don’t believe that I’ve made your acquaintance before sir.”

“Well officer, I have made yours, not only in May but also twice in April, twice in March but not in January of February. Spot of leave was it? Well not to worry, your other three colleagues more than adequately took up the slack. In fact, officer, since the 14th March, I have made your acquaintance on nine occasions. Five when you’ve been on duty and the four times I’ve noted you while you were off duty, or at least not in uniform. You see officer, I’m extremely observant and sometimes you may not notice me, but I notice you. Shall we get this charade over with?”

It almost sounded threatening because it was and the copper contemplated arresting him. It was as though Edge could read his mind.

“You had better have very good grounds officer. And who knows, my PTSD may kick in and I may resist arrest. Do you really want to start with all the paperwork so close to going off shift?”

The copper breathalysed him to save face, but Edge wasn’t stupid enough to have been drinking the night before. The constable decided to try once more to establish moral authority: “Before I let you go, would you mind telling me where you’re going this time of the morning?”

“Well officer, as this country isn’t quite a police state yet, yes I would mind telling you. But you better get on the blower to your pals in the West Midlands and let them know a shockingly bad driver is heading up to their manor.

The copper watched him drive off and bagged the breathalyser in an evidence bag for his report. “We will get you, you bastard.”

* * *

It had been a large village when Edge had left it in 1984. Now it was more or less a suburb of Nuneaton and Coventry. The house had the same carpets, wallpaper and paintwork as it had when he was at school. The garden was overgrown’ the entire neighbourhood was shabby and run down and women shrouded in black scurried past with their entourages of assorted offspring. Inside the house was a shambles. It was as though it had been visited by burglars who had decided to wreck it, because everything inside was so shabby. His father’s clothes were scattered across an unmade bed. A picture of his mother had been kicked under the bed. Edge went downstairs, sat at the kitchen table and put his head in his hands.

He was angry, not just at his appalling sister, but with his father as well. His Dad had worked all his life in the car industry, in a time this neighbourhood had been prosperous. His father was prosperous, he smoked big Castella cigars and they went on holiday twice a year, Spain and Wales. Car manufacturing earned some people a lot of money, until the shop stewards like the Red Robbos and superior Japanese cars destroyed the industry. They got greedy at the wrong time and his father had been too stupid to buy the house. Whatever had been half-decent in this house, his sister had taken it.

It took him most of the day to speak to the solicitor, a clearance company, a gardener and to realise that his legacy amounted to some old Shoot Annuals that had been his and a shoebox full of correspondence and paperwork from his now also dead uncle. He kept these on a whim. His uncle had never been close to their family, but he had a soft spot for young Mark. Edge knew that like him, his uncle had been in the Army and was one of the main reasons he hadn’t followed his father into the factories as an apprentice, but joined the Army instead as a boy entrant. His father had despised that decision. Uncle Jack left the army and became a gamekeeper in Norfolk and a Ghillie up near Perth. Edge had last met him at his Mum’s funeral, a frail man and old before his time. He died two years later.

In the afternoon, Edge handed over the keys and money to the house clearance cowboys, went to the solicitors to sign some paperwork, before heading to the hotel, via a supermarket to buy food, cider and wine. He had two shoeboxes of papers, a few books and some football annuals to show for forty-three years. On the way out of the Tesco car park, he spotted a minaret between the dilapidated houses. To him it seemed like a symbol of decay and oppression.

That night rather than watch televisual gaga, Edge made inroads into the cider and wine, reading through his uncle’s paperwork. Letters to Dad when Mum had been ill, but more interesting about a hundred pages of typed A4, with lots of corrections. It related to the time when Jack Edge had been a corporal in the Support Company of the 1st Battalion of the Royal Leicestershire Regiment from 1951 to 1952, during the Korean War. Uncle Jack had been in the sniper platoon.

“Well bugger me,” he said out loud, “So that’s why you became a Ghillie.”

Edge became engrossed with Uncle Jack’s account of the Korean War. The story was in places rambling, incoherently written, but was the honest reflection of a man whose life seemed to mirror his own. Jack had been disenfranchised by the 1950s, “Never had it so good”. Well he certainly had in a more honest time. “The Swinging Sixties.” Poofs in flamboyant clothes, a million miles from the woods of Norfolk and the Southern Highlands of Scotland. Edge was chorizo and cheesed out, not to say pissed by the time he came across the OS Map number, the eight-figure grid reference, plus the intricate, hand-drawn tactical map. It showed a distance in pacing from the corner of a wood and a back-bearing in Mils to a high-tension electricity pylon. There was a position marked with a simple annotation: “Cache.”

Edge laughed, “Ah Harr,” he said in his best pirate accent, “X marks the spot, eh Uncle Jack? You and me both eh?”

He put the papers back in the shoe box, finished the second bottle of Merlot, fell asleep and forgot most of what he had read. By the next morning he had a thumping headache and had to wait until the afternoon before he was in a fit state to drive. By the time he reached the M5, his childhood, school days and family had gone. He was alone in the universe.

© Blown Periphery 2020

The Goodnight Vienna Audio file