Chapter 28 – Edge, the Long Fight Back to Humanity
He came out of the water at the side of a lake, near where a small river joined the main body of water. The air was cool and fresh with the scent of the pine forest and the surrounding mountains were dusted with snow. It felt like early spring. Edge thought he could hear a woman’s voice calling in the distance, so he followed the left bank of the river through the trees.
In this section the side of the river opened up to a small meadow, which was flecked with spring flowers such as bluebells and snowdrops. The beauty of it all was sublime.
“Hedge, you came.”
She emanated out of the trees like a spirit of the forest, a long, diaphanous garment hiding the movement of her feet in the long grass. But it didn’t look like she was walking. She was exactly as he remembered her, but more serenely beautiful. He felt like weeping.
“Jozica. I thought I would meet you once before, but…”
“But Minty stopped you. I know. He is here as well.”
Edge turned away in anguish, “Jozica, I’m so sorry I killed you.”
“You didn’t, Hedge. He was going to kill me anyway. But as long as he lives, I torture him during his sleepless nights, driving him mad in that small but luxurious cell of his,” she looked at him and smiled, “All that guilt, bitterness, fear and anger that you carry. Get rid of them. Don’t carry them for me.”
They both looked at two swans on the lake, their necks entwined in courtship. A gentle and sudden breeze ruffled the still water.
“Jozica, am I dead?”
She sighed softly, “Well you’re here with me. What do you think?”
“Good. I can be with you.”
“It is not that simple, Hedge. Your wife Moira is beautiful and despite your unkindness to her, she wants you back. You have caused much unhappiness and yet you are capable of such random, kindly acts. Please be kind to Bia Vargas and don’t let her love you too much.”
“Where’s my Mum?”
“Waiting for you. But there’s something you must understand, Hedge. This isn’t your time. There are things for you still to do. There is somebody you must save because your lives are interconnected. You must go back.”
“I don’t want to!”
“You must. If you don’t go back, you will have died alone in that cottage by the river. The woman you are about to see will be the continuation of your earthly existence and you must save her life to save yours. There is no element of free involved,” She embraced him, “I will always love you, Hedge and I’ll be here when it is your time. I’m sorry, but the rest of your mortal life will be one of difficulty and some pain, but bear for us.”
She gently placed her hand on his forehead and the bomb went off inside his brain again and he was screaming with pain.
* * *
“We’ve got him back,” said the anaesthetist the head of his body. Although the woman was speaking in Portuguese, Edge could clearly understand her.
He was looking over the shoulder of a surgeon who was performing a craniotomy on his skull. Skin flaps had been opened and the surgeon was now drilling out a bone flap on his frontal bone.
Well thanks a bunch Doc. That’s going to look a right old fucking mess now, isn’t it?
The surgeon finished cutting with the high speed cranial saw and stepped back through Edge to allow the theatre nurse to aspirate the wound. He felt the sudden chill and shivered.
Don’t worry, Doc. I have that effect on people.
The anaesthetist was monitoring the blood pressure, O2 sats and heart rate like an anxious parent. They had already lost Edge twice, once in the ambulance and once in the ER. The out of body Edge felt himself being drawn backwards towards a tunnel in the corner of the room. There was somewhere else to go and somebody who needed his help.
“We’re losing him again…”
“I think we have done enough for this man,” the Neurosurgeon said pragmatically.
“Please. This man is a fighter. Let us give him his last chance.”
The surgeon sighed, “Very well. If we are all in agreement, we’ll give him his last chance.”
Catch up with you later, perhaps…
He came out of the light in a confused state. He had been looking down at himself being worked on by the surgical team, but now he seemed to be sitting on the top of a cheap wardrobe in an insalubrious bedsit. He was looking at a girl slumped across a bed…
* * *
Edge finally woke up fifteen days after they had put him in the medically induced coma. Every day they would check his intracranial pressure and drain the fluid from inside his skill with an intraventricular catheter. They were also constantly monitoring for signs of bacterial meningitis but although the NHS was the envy of the world, hospital acquired infections were much lower in Portugal and the Hospital Particular do Algarve was a very good hospital. Most nights Bia would sleep just outside the HDU suite on a camp bed and Edge would watch her in his ethereal state, both humbled and saddened by her devotion to him. It would have been much easier for him if she had just left.
He was bored endlessly wandering through the hospital corridors, desperately trying to find the route back to the meadow beside the river. He suspected that as long as the machines were keeping him alive, that route was barred to him. The day of his awakening, the out of body Edge was dragged back to his flesh, blood and bone version and the pain was back. The nurse doing the 15:00 Obs saw him looking at her, she smiled in genuine joy and surprise and went to page the neurosurgeon. She came back and gently wiped the dribbles away from the tubes. As he regained full consciousness, Edge started to gag and with the help of a senior nurse, they removed the airway tubes. The neurosurgeon came in with some sheets of paper and sat on the bed next to him.
“Good afternoon, Mr Edge. We are so glad to have you back. How do you feel?”
“Rough,” he whispered hoarsely.
The surgeon checked his pupils and their reaction to light, “Do you know what day it is?”
“It’s a Friday because I can smell fish.”
“And what is this,” the surgeon asked holding up a picture.
“It’s a car.”
“What colour is it?”
“No it’s red, but don’t worry. You will probably get a few things mixed up until your brain rewires itself. Of course, some things you may never get back. Mr Edge, you are a tough man. You will need to be on your long road to recovery. God has given you a second chance.”
“No, actually it was the persuasiveness of your anaesthetist and the spirit of a Croatian forensic anthropologist called Jozica Marić, whom I killed with my stupidity.”
The surgeon smiled uncertainly, “You are bound to feel confused for some time. I will be back later this evening to see how you are.”
“Did you operate on me?” Edge asked, grabbing the surgeon’s sleeve.
“I was part of the team which saved you, yes.”
“Thank you, sir. I’m sorry I made you shiver when you stepped back in the operating theatre.
The neurosurgeon looked at Edge uncertainly. On the way back out he spoke with the senior nurse,
“Keep a close eye on the English patient and make a note of what he says. “You do speak English?”
“Not very well,”
“All right, ask one of your colleagues who does. He seems to be out of the worst, but some things he said are a little worrying. We will need to know how well his higher faculties are working after his brain injury.”
That evening Bia visited him and hugged him to death and cried on him, “Oh Adje, we thought you were dead.”
“I bloody well will be if you don’t let me breathe,” She held his hand and he smiled lopsidedly, “Tonight I want you to sleep in a proper bed, not a camp bed. Got that?”
“How did you know?”
“My guardian angel told me. Thank you, Bia for staying with me, but I’m getting better, so a good night’s sleep for you. Keep the bed warm for when I get out. Can you do me a favour please? Bring my laptop and Inside my bag in the bedroom there is an internal pocket on the side away from the straps. Inside it there’s another cell phone and a notebook. Could you please bring them tomorrow with the laptop?”
She nodded, but seemed reluctant to leave, “Go on, Bia. Sleep well and don’t forget to bring the stuff I asked for. How did you get here?”
“I drove your car.”
Bia finally let go of his hand and went to leave, “Night love. Bye the way, the story with Richard Parker the tiger, is much nicer.”
The following day Edge put the phone on charge from the laptop with a USB cable. There was only one telephone number in the phone’s number log. Edge called it and left a message. He switched on the laptop and sent a short e-mail.
Sent: 24 March 2013 at 1854
Subject: Stand To
FAO Inkspot01. I am in extremis Portugal Hospital Particular do Algarve, Faro, Portugal. Please join me with all haste.
Edge asked if it would be possible to see the hospital’s dermatologist and a small, darkly intense man visited him and he explained his problem through an English-speaking nurse.
“Sir, this is a photograph of my housekeeper,” the nurse smiled knowingly at that before translating, “She is dear to me and I would like to repay the kindness she shown me. I have considerable financial assets, and I am asking you if the lady’s birth mark can be treated. I don’t care about it at all, but she is very self-conscious.”
The dermatologist looked at the photograph Edge had taken, unknown to her. He looked at him and smiled sympathetically, “I’m afraid Mr Edge that there is no guarantee that any procedure could make the unfortunate lady’s facial blemish less noticeable. Laser treatment has very limited success as I believe that the epidermis is affected. Surgery could well make the disfigurement much worse and I would caution against it. I’m sorry that this isn’t the answer you wanted but I have to be fair to you and her. On the other hand, I could perform a skin graft on your head to disguise the wound to your forehead.”
He gave Edge his card and left. The nurse patted Edge’s arm. “God bless you, Mr Edge.”
* * *
The receptionist looked at the impossibly handsome man, who for some reason wanted to visit the English patient.
“Ha yes, Meester Hedge,” The lady made a telephone call and a nurse clip-clopped into the reception. He was grateful she looked like a nurse wearing white clothing that was clean, rather than scrubs.
He followed her into the bowels of the hospital to the high dependency unit. In the HDU, Edge was still connected to many machines that went beep.
“Ten minutes,” the nurse said sternly and left.
He was shocked at his state. It was like half of his face was slumped with a rheumy, half-closed eye that looked red and sore. Edge opened his good eye and looked at him.
“What have you done, Edgie?”
“Thanks for coming,” he whispered hoarsely.
Edge said and told him about everything that had happened from his leaving the Army, to the discovery of the rifle and the war crimes investigation. He told him about living rough in London and following Ron Gleam. He also told him about Bia and how they had formed an unlikely relationship. Morrison told him about his life.
“Edgie, we’ve both been done up like a couple of kippers,” Morrison concluded.
“Who do you reckon it was?”
“Don’t know, but when I find the bastards, I’ll kill them.”
Edge gave him a flash drive with his good hand, “It’s all in there. Where the rifle’s hidden. Where that bastard Gleam lives, his family and movements. Photographs and plans, maps of the area. Ways in and out.”
“I’ll take the shot for you,” Morrison said looking at Edge’s lopsided face and tried to stop himself from bursting into tears.
“Did she ever come back, Henry?”
“The Persian Princess with those lovely eyes.”
“No, mate. She never did. I’ll be back to see you before I go and then to let you know how it went.”
On the way out, Morrison saw a young woman heading for the HDU ward. She turned away from him, looking down at the floor. Morrison stopped and looked at her.
“Excuse me, are you Bia Vargas?”
She turned side on to him, with a hunted look, “Yes?”
Morrison hugged her, “Thank you, Bia. He isn’t the easiest person in the world to like. He can be a bastard, but there’s always something else. You’ve probably discovered it.”
When Bia went in to see Edge, she was furious, “How did you describe me to him?”
Edge sang in a cracked and croaky voice, a verse from You’re Beautiful.
“He said you could be um bastardo, Adje,” but she hugged him nonetheless.
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