War Crimes Part 27 – Death in the Algarve

© Blown Periphery, Going Postal 2020

The Transavia flight from Charles de Gaulle Airport, touched down at Lisbon thirty minutes behind schedule. The passenger who had been sitting in the starboard isle seat by the over wing exit, waited for the usual scrum of baggage collection to finish. He wasn’t in any particular hurry and once he had collected his hire car, he thought it would take him roughly three hours to drive down to Portimão, all being well.

He exited the aircraft and headed for the Hertz desk to pick up the hire car, which had been booked in his real name. He would be using another identity when he flew back to the UK, via Germany. But that was a while away yet. The mid-afternoon traffic was light as he followed the A5 motorway, turning off onto the A2 south and the 25 de Abril bridge across the Tagus. The weather was like a cooler, English summer day, a welcome change from the cold February in London and the Oxfordshire Thames. Kimberly had been distraught when he left, but he promised to come back in around six months’ time. Part of him had even meant it.

He had let an apartment in Portimão on a long term lease for around €500 per month. It would be more than adequate until the end of April, beginning of May when he would return to England and kill Ron Gleam. Firstly, he needed the quiet of Portugal out of season to prepare himself physically and mentally. What was going to happen after he took the shot, he wasn’t sure. He had prepared an exfiltration plan, but whether he would use it was another unknown. Part of him preferred the option to take as many police with him as he could. There was a bomb inside his head and the setting on the fuse delay had been forgotten.

It was early evening when Edge picked up the keys to the apartment from a nearby hotel. It was still very warm and had a mind to drop off his kit and drive to the sea. He let himself into the apartment, which was comfortable, minimalistic and well-appointed. On the small table was a note. Edge opened the envelope.

Hello Mr Edge,
I hope you had a good journey and now that you are here, everything is to your satisfaction. Please make yourself at home and enjoy your stay for as long as you wish to sojourn in our beautiful part of the world.
There is a get-you-in pack of bread, cheese and meats in the fridge and of course a selection of wine and beer. There are several restaurants, bars and brasseries within walking distance, which I have annotated on the enclosed map. Sea food is of course the speciality in this part of the world.
I will be around at 10am tomorrow to greet you and show you how everything works; my apologies for not being able to greet you in person this evening. The instructions for the TV and WIFI is also enclosed. You mentioned if it would be possible to have a part-time housekeeper. I have been recommended a nice lady by the name of Bia Vargas, who is looking for extra work. My current cleaner has moved away from the area, so this arrangement may suit both of us. The typical rates of pay are noted below, but I’m sure she would be grateful for your employment and whatever you feel like giving. I will tell you about her tomorrow and she will be in touch within the week. Bia is keen to improve on her English, which is already quite passable
So once again, welcome and please treat this place like your home.
Clément Béringer

Edge smiled and explored the apartment. Owned by a Frenchman who had decided to take the better life south. Why were the Europeans so much more at home in assimilating in other countries than the Brits? An enduring mystery to Edge. Later he took a beer onto the balcony and watched the boats on the Arade and the Caspian gulls wheeling and diving on the unsuspecting, like Stukas strafing a refugee column. That night he fired up his laptop and started to do some research. Later he became suddenly tired and went to bed early.

After he met Béringer, Edge went into Portimão and the out of town retail parks to do some serious shopping. As well as food and drink, he bought clothes and running shoes, a lightweight wetsuit, a sea kayak and a mountain bike. The kayak and bicycle would be delivered in a few days and in the meantime Edge purchased a roof rack and a large scale map of the area to work out training routes. All of the transactions were conducted in cash. He intended to complete each day a run of around 15 kilometres, a cycle ride of 45 kilometres and a paddle of some 10 kilometres. He knew he would have to work up to those distances. He also vowed to read a couple of the classics and do some painting. However, he was unnerved to discover that for some reason, he just couldn’t get the preliminary sketches right and his photography also seemed to be below par. In a fit of frustration he hurled the sketch pad across the room.

Three days after he arrived Edge was coming out of the shower when he heard the apartment doorbell ring twice. Assuming it was Béringer, Edge wrapped a towel around himself and answered the door. A woman was staring at him with an intensity borne out of nervousness. She stood side-on. Like an anxious fighter. She was quite tall, mid-thirties, dark with short hair and captivating shyness that seemed to border on fear.

“Hello. Can I help you?”

“Mister Adje? I am Bia Vargas. Monsieur Béringer, said I should come. You seek a housekeeper?”

The way she pronounced his name, it was like she was describing a weapon.

“Oh, of course, please come in. Sit down while I slip into something more appropriate. Excuse me.”
Edge slipped on a pair of shorts and a t-shirt in the bedroom, marvelling to himself. Béringer had said she was a spinster, like it was a physical affliction. He chuckled because he had imagined a kindly old crone, not this fit and willowy young woman who had turned up at the apartment door. He went into the living area. She was sitting looking out of the apartment window and turned to face him. He was smiling and despite everything, he felt the smile freeze.

Oh Christ! “Good morning, Senhorita Vargas. Can I get you anything?”

The entire left-hand-side of her face was covered with a Capillary malformation that had affected the epidermis and in places her facial skin was puckered. It was as though someone had thrown acid in her face. It was the most severe port wine birthmark he had ever seen. Edge was disgusted. He was revolted with himself and a deep shame burned in his head.

“No thank you, Mister Adje. Do you still require a housekeeper?”

The choice of words wasn’t lost on him, “It depends.”

“Depends on which?” she asked. Was her face combative?

“It depends on what?” he corrected her gently, “Can you teach me to speak Portuguese in a month?”

“No. Can you teach me to read and understand English books in a month?”

“Perhaps not,” he agreed, “Can you cook me one meal a day to eat when I get in and tidy up after me?”

“It depends… On how bad you live.”

Edge smiled at her eyes and this time there was warmth. She looked down shyly.

“Have you just employed me, Senhorita Vargas?” he asked.

“I will come back tomorrow morning same time. If you agree, I can get a spare key from Monsieur Béringer. We can discuss how much you want to give me and my duties.”
“They will be promulgated in Daily Orders.”

“Mister Adje?”

“Never mind. See you tomorrow,”

* * *

Bia Vargas would arrive every other morning usually after Edge had left on his punishing physical schedule and spent about two hours tidying, cleaning and preparing a meal. They would have an hour or so time together where he struggled to learn Portuguese, a language he found counter-intuitive compared to Spanish. Then they would discuss the book she was currently reading. He had found a second hand book shop for the English tourists, and bought a few he thought she would find interesting and help with her English comprehension. They were the usual bodice-rippers and a couple of the classics, one being Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. She seemed to devour them. In time he barely noticed her face and they settled into a companionable, symbiotic relationship.

“Mister Adje, why did Captain Corelli not get back together with Pelagia after the war had finishe?. He did go back to Cephalonia and saw her.”

Edge struggled to remember Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Where had he been when he read it? Ah yes, Kabul 2007, clearing the airport after the Taliban attack. Shit tour.

“Because he saw Pelagia with the little girl who had been abandoned as a baby and thought the child had been hers with another man.”

“So? It was wartime. These things happen. Are men really so stupid to throw away love and happiness for things that always happen in a war? She could have been taken against her will.”

Edge thought about the question, which was uncomfortably close to home, “Some men are I suppose, yes.”

“Then you are fools!”

“I think the book uses an unlikely love affair between two people from different backgrounds and in fact enemies as a metaphor.” She wrinkled her nose, clearly not understanding what a metaphor was,

“Their love affair is really a way the author shows us, the reader, the stupidity of two such closely entwined cultures as Italy and Greece going to war with each other.”

Bia sniffed, “Still, I wish they had got back together as soon as the Germans left.”

“There’s also the contrast between passion and lust and enduring love. Pelagia feels passion and lust for the fisherman, Mandras, but she feels a more enduring and deeper love for Corelli.”

“And by that time, she’s too old to enjoy it, stupid man. Have you ever felt enduring love, Adje?”

By now he was feeling very uncomfortable under her interrogative stare, “Err, yes, I suppose so.”

“What is it like?”

“It’s a comfortable complacency and you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone. I think we should call it a day now, Bia. I need to do some shopping, so I can run you home.”

The next time he came back to the apartment on one of the days she worked, she was cleaning the bathroom, singing to a song from a radio station on the cable TV. It was James Blunt and Edge winced, feeling like his soul had been run through with a stiletto. Unselfconsciously she was harmonising with James Blunt’s You’re Beautiful, turning a dreadfully mawkish song into something quite moving.

“Thank God he was with us in Kosovo though,” Edge said and Bia jumped guiltily as if she had been going through his things,

“Sorry to startle you. I need to go back out and get something.”

Edge went out and drove to a flower shop. He bought a large and ornate bouquet and went back to the apartment.

“Mister Adje, these are lovely. I’ll find a vase.”

“No need, Bia. They are for you to take home.”

She looked at him and to his surprise and infinite sadness, she burst into tears.

* * *

Edge’s Portuguese was slowly improving, with the help of some school books she brought in for him to read. Bia was having trouble understanding the meaning of the two different stories in the Life of Pi.

“Why is there this second, horrible story about cannibalism and the murder of the sailor and Pi’s mother on the lifeboat? I think the one with the tiger is much nicer.”

“You are meant to. The story is all about struggling to believe. But on a different level, it’s a wonderful story about a boy’s struggle through adversity. I wish it had been written when I was a boy like Pi. Life is a story and you can choose your own version. But above all, the story with Richard Parker, the tiger is trying to tell us that a story with God is a better story.

“Do you believe in God, Mister Adje?”

Edge sipped his beer and thought about it. He knew that one of his foul headaches was on the way. “’I’ve spent most of my life wanting to prove that the existence of a higher being is a primitive superstition. A throwback to the Dark Ages. But my life became so fucked-up, oh, I’m so sorry, became so complicated, that the effort I was expending was pointless. Besides, I was a soldier. It seemed rather hypocritical to beseech God’s help one minute and try and disprove his existence when I was no longer in danger.”

He looked at Bia for an opinion and she touched the side of her face with the birthmark self-consciously, “I think he is a cruel God. To allow children to suffer and for people to fight wars in his name. What God would allow that to happen?”

Edge reached out and gently touched her face, “Apart from you, most of our woes are self-inflicted and caused by our own stupidity. Like my face. Just think how awful the world would be if everyone thought there were no consequences to our actions. It would be hell on earth. We’ll have to start looking for more books for you. I can’t believe how quickly you read them. Now, Bia, you’ll have to excuse me. I have the mother of all headaches and I’ll have to go and lie down in a darkened room for a while. Let yourself out and I’ll see you in a couple of days.”

* * *

When Edge woke briefly, it was still light outside, although the sun was going down behind the blinds. His headache had diminished and he felt rested. She was curled up behind him, knees tucked up behind his, her arm over his chest, hand spread to feel his slow heartbeat. He could feel her breath on the nape of his neck and her breasts warm on his back. Edge closed his eyes and slept peacefully. Later they would share an easy, passionate intimacy, that Bia wished would last for ever, while Edge knew that it couldn’t.

The function of the frontal lobe involves the ability to project future consequences resulting from current actions, the choice between good and bad actions (or better and best) (also known as conscience), the override and suppression of socially unacceptable responses, and the determination of similarities and differences between things or events.

The frontal lobe also plays an important part in integrating longer non-task based memories stored across the brain. These are often memories associated with emotions derived from input from the brain’s limbic system. The frontal lobe modifies those emotions to generally fit socially acceptable norms.

* * *

He was cutting through the water with easy strokes, the paddle seemed to be dripping with molten silver, as he powered the kayak through the swell. Edged loved the simple monotony of paddling and knew that this time he was really pushing it. He thought of Bia and how she approached sex with the same all-consuming quest for knowledge as her reading. Edge couldn’t wait to get back to the apartment.

He thought about killing and his discussion with Bia about God. Everything he could ever want was here and he could fade into gentle and blissful obscurity, with someone who took him for what he was. And for his part, Edge loved perfect beauty, but he could see beyond it to the perfection of the whole person. He thought about that James Blunt song, particularly the bittersweet last few lines.

“But make the most of it, Edge!” he said out loud and chuckled.

The kayak rounded the breakwater and he felt the full force of the swell from the open sea. Edge headed for the shore to run parallel to it, just out from the hardy paddlers and swimmers. The water was Baltic. He would leave his kayak at the water sports club at Praia Três Irmãos and transfer to his bike for the final leg back to the apartment, to enjoy a shower, a meal and a great deal of Bia Vargas.
Edge both smelled and tasted a sudden acrid tang at the back of his throat and in his head. It was like saltpetre on a medieval battlefield, with the coppery taste of blood. He rested his paddle on the cockpit, suddenly feeling disorientated and dizzy. Without warning he vomited.

Shit, must have overdone it today. He gently paddled towards the shore and when he reached the shallow water, the headache hit him like a brick on the front of his head. He ripped off the spray-deck and half fell out of the kayak. Edge stumbled back onto his feet and tried to pull the kayak onto the beach. The sun had a peculiar halo around it and people were looking at him strangely. A bomb went off in his head and he was enveloped in the brightest light he had ever seen.

* * *

“I thought you said the Algarve would be hot.”

“Well it is bloody hot compared to Southport,” They were sitting in the beach, his wife wrapped in a cardigan, watching the boats, “Besides, I needed a holiday away from bloody Lancashire Care NHS Foundation Trust and the sodding North West Ambulance Service.”

His wife of twenty years shaded her eyes with the Puzzler magazine and watched a man staggering as he tried to drag a canoe to the shore, “You’d think that people would have more sense than to play about in the water when they’re pissed.”

“I’m not sure he is,” The man stood up just as the figure struggling with the canoe fell face down into the water. He threw his mobile phone at his wife, “Phone 112 and ask for someone who speaks English! Tell them someone has collapsed at Praia de Rocha. Tell them it’s serious.”

He ran down the beach as two children tried to heave the body’s head out of the water. He yelled for help at two men by the breakwater and the three of them dragged the body out of the water and up the beach. They fetched a towel and he put it behind the unconscious man’s shoulders to open the airway. He was fairly sure there was no C-spine injury. He checked for at least ten seconds for breathing but there was nothing. He frantically waved to his wife to come over, then he checked for a carotid pulse, which was faint and ragged. He opened both of the man’s eyes and saw that the left pupil was blown.

“Is there an English speaker yet?” His wife handed him the phone, “I have an adult male of approximately forty years. He is not breathing and the pulse is weak and irregular and he has tachycardia. He has a fixed and dilated left pupil and I suspect a head injury or a cerebral haemorrhage. We are on Praia da Rocha, two hundred metres west of the breakwater. I am commencing CPR.”

* * *

Edge watched the off-duty paramedic working on him and felt an irrational surge of national pride. Good lad, but you’re wasting your time. I’m toast. A child ran up to the body on the sand to get a good look, actually running through Edge. He must have felt the chill of death, because he turned in shocked surprise and looked round although he saw nothing.

He concluded that his body was a pretty unedifying sight as the paramedic pumped his chest to Nellie the Elephant. Shouldn’t that be Staying Alive? Edge was pretty sure that’s what he had been taught. And he had even remembered to carry his own Guedal mask for the inflations. This chap was a man after his own heart, but the collection of flesh and bones down on the sand, seemed to have outlived its usefulness. He heard the siren in the distance and moved away towards the sea. A bright sphere of light opened up about ten metres from the shore and Edge went into it.

© Blown Periphery 2020