Chapter 29 – Morrison’s Story
“People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”
Morrison came down to breakfast and looked at the offerings the Pacific Plaza hotel had laid out for their delectation. He baulked at the fried rice and eggs and knew that misery followed the consumption of the freshly peeled fruit on ice. He settled for white rolls and conserve. Even with the air conditioning, it was getting hot and immensely humid and it had rained for most of the night. He saw Mitchell dressed similarly to himself in a dark suit. Opel Canyon Securities insisted that all of its operatives dressed in dark suits for city business and airport runs, a lightweight linen suit for work in the field. Smart professionalism at all times. He joined Mitchell at the table and ordered coffee from the Philippino waitress, slightly puzzled.
“Morning, Harry. I thought you were supposed to be up watching the rooms ‘till I take over at nine.”
Mitchell shrugged, “They told me to piss off, more or less. Said they had business to discuss and the hotel security was just fine.” His accent was Kiwi to the core, a tawse of a man with a number one-cut. This was the third time they had partnered up on a job. They were a good team, known as the M&Ms in Opel Canyon.
“I suspect that it’s the kind of business that involves burying the mutton-dagger, prior to a shower and the airport run to get out of this shithole.”
Morrison tried to visualise the two Americans making the beast with two backs, but found it difficult. The two oil company executives were not exactly ugly, they just seemed very different and sown up. An unlikely coupling. Morrison thanked the waitress as she left the coffee and looked around the hotel’s dining room. Middle-aged German and British sex tourists. Adventurous young Australians. Two American oil executives who had just cut a deal with the main Philippine Petroleum Company and their close protection.
“This place gives me the creeps.”
“Why’s that, mate?” Mitchell asked, pushing his plate away.
“Because I’ve done this job in places where the danger is clear and present. Obvious. Expected, but here the threat can come from nowhere.”
“I know what you mean. Like Bali. A paradise full of Islamic nut jobs who smile as they give you your bourbon on the rocks and then blow you to pieces.”
Morrison looked across at Mitchell and guessed that he was ex-New Zealand SAS. They never asked those kind of questions.
Morrison pondered the e-mail he had received yesterday evening, the one that had kept him awake most of the night, “Do you mind if I ask you a question, because I reckon that you and I have walked in the same cuds, probably on different occasions.”
“As long as it isn’t: “Do you find me attractive in this suit,” then ask away,”
Morrison was very astute. Mitchell had been part of the SAS team, which had cleared Taliban insurgents from the diplomatic quarter in Kabul.
“I’ve had an e-mail from an old comrade. He’s in some bother and wants me to do something for him.”
Mitchell drained his coffee, then asked: “Legal or not.”
“How well do you get on with this guy?”
“I hate his fucking guts.”
“Do you have a bond, an agreement?”
Mitchell pondered this for a while, “Mate, you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t. Sorry, I can’t help you. Anyway, let’s get down to practicalities. Who gets Elmer Fudd and who gets the Ice Maiden?”
They tossed a coin and Morrison called.
“Bollocks,” said Mitchell, “I’ve got Elmer in the front. You’ve got the Ice Maiden, but don’t worry. She’ll be nicely warmed up for you.”
* * *
The cars were pulled round to the front of the hotel at 1030am, two Toyota Land Cruisers with Kevlar padding and armour. The doorman did the niceties of opening the doors while Morrison and Mitchell politely hustled them down to the cars, whilst watching the roofs. Both of them carried briefcases that if a button on the handle were pressed, the case would drop away and they would have access to the Heckler & Koch .45 ACPs. Both carried Glocks in shoulder holsters and Morrison had a Fairburn Sykes knife in a sheath attached to his leg. Mitchell preferred the KA-BAR. Both of them had personal radios with an earpiece and throat mike. All of the luggage had been put in the vehicle, supervised by Mitchell.
Morrison got in the rear Land Cruiser after the Ice Maiden and sat on a fold-down seat so he could watch the road behind. Neither of them noticed the doorman move round the side of the hotel and make a call on his mobile.
“Morning Ma’am. Did you sleep well?”
“Good morning, Mr Morrison. I found it rather hot and oppressive if I’m honest.”
She was professional and polite. Nobody wants to piss off their close protection team and she did love his quaint, British accent. He could have sworn her face had a healthy glow and she seemed less buttoned-up. She was wearing a linen trouser suit, very wise for the flight to Manila and then onward to the States. The next day Morrison and Mitchell would go their separate ways for some leave, their jobs done until the next time.
She started reading some notes taken out of a folder as the mini-convoy left the hotel. Soon the modern multi-storey buildings of Cotabato City became a single-storey jumble of shanty buildings, heaving with humanity on scooters and tuk-tuks. Children yelled and ran after the Land Cruisers, screaming and holding up their wares. After crossing the Tarbeng Creek Bridge the buildings seemed to be more random and dilapidated. Ahead was the Tamantaka Bridge, low on piles with each-way traffic, a water pipeline running parallel with the bridge. The Tamantaka River was a turgid, muddy and populated by a few boats going with the flow.
The Land Cruisers were about fifty metres apart when the lead hit the bridge. A truck pulled out from the right after them, cutting up the traffic and slowing any vehicle that had been following. The traffic on the bridge was light as they headed south to the airport. Too light. Morrison’s Spidey senses were tingling. He glanced at the truck behind.
“Err, Harry, we seem to be making good time.”
It was their code word for possible trouble, so as not to alarm the passengers.
“Roger that,” Mitchell replied in his earpiece.”
Morrison looked over his shoulder at the lead vehicle and caught the glance of the driver, who had also been briefed. There was very little in the way of opposite traffic on the bridge, just then a van that suddenly veered across the central demarcation line and ploughed into the lead Land Cruiser. The explosion swung Morrison’s vehicle around, the windscreen became an opaque mass of splinters, but it held and the Toyota hit the crash barrier on the nearside of the bridge. Morrison dragged the American woman onto the floor and pressed her head down.
“Stay down, Ma’am and stay in the vehicle!” he yelled.
The case was gone and the Heckler & Koch was cocked. His driver was slumped over the wheel, blood coming from his ears. He rolled out of the door and looked ahead. What was left of the van and lead Land Cruiser were entwined, both vehicles burning furiously. Mitchell was crawling out as the pick-up roared up the bridge from the south. It slewed across the road blocking it and four armed men poured out of the back. Behind him, the truck allowed a pick-up to come past from the north then veered across the road. They were trapped on the bridge and the first rattles of the AK47s came from both directions.
Morrison concentrated on the pick-up that had passed the truck, leaving Mitchell to cover the threat from his end. A song popped into his head unbidden in the terror and he started to hum loudly as he laid down short bursts at the windscreen of the approaching pick-up.
Ooooohhhhhh that’s the way a-huh, a-huh, I like it, a-huh, a-huh…
The windscreen went and the pick-up fishtailed to a halt, four men jumping out. Eight against two. Not good. Morrison dropped one and the others scurried into cover behind the pick-up. He turned round to see how Mitchell was doing and the New Zealander was changing magazines when the 7.62mm round blew off his mandible. He remained on his feet and rammed in another magazine firing frantically, no more controlled bursts. His bloody tongue lolled down the front of his neck like a grotesque tie and he must have been in agony. A second round hit Mitchell in the groin and he went down still firing until a man ran up with a grenade and tossed it in the burning Land Cruiser. He was wearing the white of a martyr and Morrison duly obliged. But the grenade went off, destroying the wreck of the Toyota and shredding what was left of Mitchell. Elmer Fudd and the driver were out of the equation.
He turned back to his arc and the three were out of cover and running up the bridge. He heard the dead man’s click of the empty chamber and frantically changed magazines. He dropped a second, but the rest were closer now, taking cover in the steelwork of the bridge.
“Mr Morrison,” the Ice Maiden yelled at him from the back of the second Toyota. She was covered with glass and her face was cut, “I do not want to have my head sawn off for the entertainment of these fucking savages!”
“Me neither, Treacle. Can you swim?”
“You’ve got to be fucking kidding me.”
He fired two long bursts in either direction, then grabbed her by the collar of her lovely, linen trouser-suit. Rounds were cracking past them as they went over the crash barrier, Morrison holding on grimly to the woman, hoping she had taken a deep breath. He clouted his shoulder off the water pipeline and they went into the muddy water. He had an arm over her chest, dragging her deeper with powerful breaststroke kicks. Ribbons of bubbles followed them down where the insurgents were firing at them from the bridge until he found the current and went with it. She started to struggle bet he held her down for as long as he dared, then they broke surface and he gasped for air.
“Sonofabitch!” she gasped, panting.
“Save it! Ready, down.”
In the brief moments they had been on the surface, Morrison saw the men on the bridge firing down at the river and a second party following them along the southern bank. This time he held her down longer and she had stopped fighting him, allowing the current to take them. The Heckler & Koch had gone but he still had the Glock and fumbled it out of his jacket. When they surfaced a second time, he fired at the men on the bank, those on the bridge being out of range. They scattered into the trees. He saw something about thirty metres away, going on the same course with the current. When they went down again, he kicked towards it, guessing where it would be because the water visibility was so bad. They surfaced just short of the raft of tree debris and rubbish, a brief gasp then down again. This time they surfaced within the mat of debris, next to the corpse of animal, so decomposed and full of putrid gas, it was impossible to tell what it had once been.
“Not a sound,” he whispered at her.
The stench of dead animal was so bad she started to gag.
“Breathe through your mouth.”
“I can fucking taste it!”
The party on the bank were unable to keep up with the current and they were soon out of sight of the bridge around the bend in the river, but they could still see smoke rising from the structure. He felt bad for his oppo and the drivers, but his duty had been to protect the woman. Thirty minutes later they swam for the north bank of the Tamontaka River in a spot that was protected from sight by Punul Island. They walked the three kilometres back to Cotabato City and flagged down the first police car they saw. In the back of the car on the way to the main police station, she started to shake with delayed shock.
“I’m sorry about Mr Ridges,” he said but was thinking about Mitchell and his lolling tongue. He shuddered and she grabbed on to him. I’m alive because of the toss of a bloody coin.
“Morrison, you saved my life. I can never thank you and you don’t know how grateful I am, not to die in this awful place.”
The American Embassy had both of them flown to Manila that afternoon after being questioned by the police. She was accommodated in the best hotel in the capital. Morrison’s was slightly less plush, but she upgraded him to her hotel out of her personal account. That night and for most of the next day, Morrison discovered just how grateful she was.
* * *
Back in Oxfordshire, Morrison made an inventory of his barn conversion near Bledlow. While the shell was safe and secure, there was still much work to be done inside. He had a functioning kitchen, bathroom and living area, but extensive work was needed on the guest rooms, dining area and outbuildings. Mick the builder looked after the place while he was away and helped with the work while he was there. Morrison had never married, something he rather regretted, but he reckoned he would have made a terrible husband and even worse father. Mick had left him a note:
A couple of blokes were round asking after you yesterday. I think they were Old Bill. They asked when you were coming back, but I said I wasn’t sure. I can make it next Friday if you want.
Morrison assumed they were wanting to question him about his Philippine adventure, so he had a few drinks with a meal and went to bed. The next day he didn’t feel like working so caught up with his mail. He didn’t notice the Vauxhall Insignia pull into the front of the barn, so he got a shock when there was a loud, purposeful knock on his door. When he answered it, two men in suits stood on his doorstep. He didn’t think they were Plods for some reason. Spooks?
“Mr Morrison, formerly Warrant Officer One Morrison?”
“Yes, you being?”
“Retired Chief Petty Officer Regulator Hooper and Civilian Investigator Clements. We represent the Iraq Historic Abuse Tribunal and we are serving you with these documents.”
He tapped Morrison on the shoulder with the envelope and handed the envelope over, “Would you please read the documents we have served you with and be available for an interview under caution tomorrow, here at 1100. You may have representation if you so wish. In fact, we would advise that you do.”
“Is this some kind of a joke?
“I’m afraid not sir. Please be in when we return.”
They were gone and he stood blinking in a state of shock. He carried the envelope into the kitchen and put on the kettle, made a strong coffee and started to read.
Warrant Officer One D Morrison (complete with Service number) is accused of being party to the unlawful killing of a Mr Muhammad Al Jazari on the 28th October 2005 in Amarah in Maysan Province Amarah. Warrant Officer Morrison was a member of a team, which did unlawfully open fire on Mr Al Jazari without issuing a verbal warning, in contravention of then current Rules of Engagement outlined on Card Alpha.
Mr Al Jarzi was unarmed at the time of the shooting and at no time during the event did he engage in any violent action towards any British troops. Given these circumstances it is deemed that Warrant Officer Morrison’s actions transgressed any definition of the use of reasonable force. While it is acknowledged that Warrant Officer Morrison did not personally open fire on Mr Muhammad Al Jazari, as the senior non-commissioned present, he bares ultimate responsibility for the conduct of the operation. In addition, Mr Anah Ahamad and Mr Jamail Hamdani are seeking recompense from the Ministry of Defence (MoD) for mental trauma, caused when Mr Al Jarzi was unlawfully killed in front of them.
Morrison was sorely tempted to have a drink, but knew he had to keep a clear head. He thought again about the e-mail he had received and had not as yet responded to. He left a long note to Mick the builder and once it was dark, drove six miles southeast into the Chiltern Hills. He was very close to Air Chief Marshall “Bomber” Harris’s old stomping grounds when he parked the car and went into the beech woods.
He found the tree and the hollow in the bole and dug. He came across the ammunition box, retrieved the money and documents, put the steel box back and backfilled. Like most of the men and women in their former teams, they had decided that people with their knowledge were a danger to the deep state and she was a fickle mistress. Two days later, Morrison was a different person with a different look and identity. He booked an early holiday in the sun with a travel agent, “To get away from the awful British Weather.” The nice young lady in the travel agents had smiled her understanding.
“You lucky thing,” she said.
* * *
The Hospital Particular do Algarve was close to Praia da Rocha in Portugal and it boasted that it was equipped with modern facilities and the latest technology. The hospital certainly looked the part and the white building hurt his eyes in the bright sunlight. At the reception he tried his passable Spanish, but for some reason, the two ladies chose not to understand him, so he gave up and reverted to Pidgin English.
“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 the 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.
“I’ll take the shot for you,” Morrison said and tried to stop himself from bursting into tears…
* * *
It was an unseasonably warm and balmy May Bank Holiday, late morning in the Thames Valley. A gentle but firm breeze swayed the willows on the river banks and the water meadows. The matriarchal moorhens were taking their broods up and down and across the river. Their passage was marked by gentle wakes as the fluffy, little birds followed mum like gunboats following a destroyer. The ducks had lost most of their early offspring due to bad parenting and voracious predators. Their second and third broods would fare better.
A keen pair of rowers in a skiff pulled hard up current and nodded to the man on a sit-on lawnmower, who was giving his sloping paddock down to the river its second cut of the year. The man with the tinted glasses and the ponytail, avoided the soft ground near the bank, just up from the boathouse. The mower chugged back up the gentle slope, the driver ducking to avoid the bright green, willow fronds.
The boom of the rifle made the lead oarswoman of the skiff miss her stroke. The flattening .308 round hit the mower driver in the centre of the parietal bone, slightly left of the tied ponytail and exited out of the right eye. Ron Gleam’s skull split open like a melon and brain matter spread up the sloping lawn in a pinkish-grey fan. His body slumped forward and the Yamaha mower assumed a gently turning course, heading back down to the river. The mower tipped into the water and the body pitched into the river, a dark stain moving down-current from the ruined head. The body and accompanying stain rotated and headed inexorably towards the weir. The screaming from the house started a few minutes later.
He moved position immediately after the shot, a slower moving bush against the hedge on the flood meadow. His green coverall purchased from a market stall selling military clothing, was festooned with jute and hessian strips, cut from bags purchased at a garden centre. And just like Just William, his face was streaked with burned cork and slimy mud. The burned cork was aromatic and kept the midges at bay. He munched on some fruit and nut chocolate to help the tablets go down and waited. He had the beginnings of a headache, probably caused by mild dehydration because he had been waiting for days, mainly immobile and moving position at night. Twenty minutes later he heard the sirens.
Here was his chance. By the time Thames Valley Police had conducted their safety assessment and moved in, he could have dumped his rifle, clothes and ammunition in the deepest part of the river and have been in Reading, waiting for a train back to Devon. But his anger was burning out his soul, so he waited. Florescent jackets started to move in the properties the other side of the river. An hour later a fallow deer and calf approached to within twelve feet of where he was hiding, the mother sniffing the air cautiously. Their simple beauty made him screw his eyes shut. He watched the pair sadly, until the helicopter caused them to disappear into the undergrowth, their white tails bobbing insolently.
There were three crew inside the Eurocopter that swept in from the east, its rotor downwash shaking the trees and dappling the surface of the river. It flew slowly north to south above the river, the infra-red camera in the pod under the fuselage scanning the cover in the water meadows. The helicopter was a force multiplier, which was a primary threat. He wouldn’t stand a chance while the helicopter remained over the combat area, because he now considered himself to be at war.
The observer in the left hand seat glanced over the trees and hedges with a pair of powerful binoculars. There was a loud bang from the bottom of the door and his left thigh exploded in a welter of blood and debris. The cockpit was filled with gore and screaming, the pilot snatched on the cyclic and the nose went down as the helicopter clawed for safety behind the houses. The operator in the rear cabin glanced into the scene from hell that was the cockpit.
“Get him straight to hospital!” he yelled at the pilot and had the presence of mind and discipline to attempt to tie a tourniquet fashioned from the strap of his daysack, around the screaming observer’s thigh.
The man in the meadows didn’t bother to watch the retreating helicopter. He was on the move down to the river. He waded into the strong flow, holding the camouflaged rifle above his head, his powerful legs kicking him towards the opposite bank. In five minutes he was in his secondary position, where he could watch the water meadows and most of the westerly bank. He could hear vehicles and movement behind him from the houses, but knew that the threat wouldn’t be from this direction for some time. An hour later he saw the riot van moving off the road behind the hedges. A few minutes later, the four police marksmen and their spotters pushed through the hedge, spread in a line, about ten metres apart. They were wearing dark blue boiler suits, baseball caps and high quality body armour.
He grinned to himself. Obviously they had missed the lesson on why things are seen. Shape, shine, silhouette, spacing, movement pattern and thermal IR signature. He needed to tie as many up as possible. He thought about the humiliation and laughter in the police station, of someone trying to have a piss, the difficulty, the pain and the hand pushing into the back, against the urinal in mid-flow. The first round at these new targets blew off the man’s kneecap second from the right and the second round fired less than a second later hit the marksman third from the left, dead centre of the front ceramic plate of his body armour. The first policeman folded, the second flew backwards as though he was attached to a speeding car. The energy of the disintegrating round spalled upwards, but the ceramic plate dissipated the energy of the flattening round and kept the policeman alive. The purple bruise on the centre of his chest lasted for eight weeks. But one of them was switched on and the cracks of rapidly fired rounds passed dangerously close to his position.
He broke cover and headed for the dense, beech hedge that surrounded a property, wriggling through the thick roots at the base of the hedge. Two more rounds cracked past, merely worryingly close. As he tracked up the hedge, a policeman in a florescent jacket appeared round the corner of the very nice house. He fired from the hip and a chunk of brickwork atomised the brickwork close to the copper’s shoulder. The florescent jacket disappeared back round the corner and he risked a look.
They hadn’t pushed the cordon that far back yet, and behind the blue and white tape closing the road, he saw a film crew hiding behind their van, the camera and sound equipment abandoned in the process of being set up. Coppers were one thing, so-called journalists from the BBC were another. He destroyed the camera with one shot and the windscreen of the van with the second. As he sprinted for the next property, he rammed in a clip on the run.
The adrenalin was surging through his system and he realised he was enjoying himself too much. The leylandii was hard work through to the next property. As he skirted another extremely nice house, a yummy mummy came out of the French doors onto the patio. They both stared at each other and she opened her mouth to scream.
“Ssssshhhhhh,” he said putting a finger to his lips, “Go back inside. There’s a bit of an incident going on.”
She needed no second bidding, scooping the child as she fled indoors. He transited three more properties heading north with the river on his right. He could clearly hear sounds of pursuit coming from behind and sirens and flashing blue lights from the other side of the river. Soon there was the sound of a second helicopter and he was glad to reach the cool shade and the mud under the boat house.
He reached for the air tank, buoyancy compensation device and weight belt from where he had stashed it three nights before. He kitted up, checked the regulator and gently pushed out into the middle of the river. The current caught him and with judicious juggling of the buoyancy setting, he drifted with the current, about four feet below the surface. Sadly, he let Father Thames claim the rifle plus remaining ammunition and re-adjusted buoyancy. The coolness became coldness as he swept on his way towards the sea.
He left the river in the woods south of Medmenham. He stripped off the ghillie suit and the dry suit and placed all of it including the scuba kit in the dry suit, then slipped it back into the river. He had an enormous piss against a tree bole. It hurt. He was wearing lightweight trousers and jacket and put back on his wet boots with a dry pair of socks. By the time he reached the car parked in Marlow, it was as though the entire Thames Valley Police Service had been called-up. He was glad to reach the M4 and headed towards London.
* * *
Very heavily armed units of the Devon and Cornwall Police raided a property south of Bideford three days later. The cottage was empty, but a police spokeswoman said they were searching for a Mr Mark Edge, a former soldier with a history of violent offences, who was also being investigated for war crimes committed in Iraq, specifically the murder of an unarmed man. They showed the mug shot of Edge taken following his arrest for assault the previous New Year. The split forehead, crudely sutured made him look totally thuggish, like a typical neo-Nazi. Both the BBC and Sky News covered the police statement as lead news item.
“Following additional information from Devon and Cornwall police, Thames Valley Police have announced that the shooting incident at Ruger-on Thames on May 3rd is now being treated as terrorism.
“I’d like to thank the police officers at the scene for the heroic and professional way they responded to this incident – as we have seen on a number of occasions in recent years – unfortunately the prominent human rights lawyer, Ron Gleam was murdered with a high velocity rifle. Despite an extensive gun battle, no other members of the public were injured.
“My thoughts are with the two officers who have sustained life changing injuries.
As the police have said, this is a timely reminder that the threat from Far Right terrorism in the UK remains severe. The perpetrator is still at large, however, the police, together with the security services, are doing everything they can to protect the public and they already have an enhanced policing plan to keep the public safe, including a crackdown on hate crime on the internet..
“It is important we are all alert but not alarmed. Please report anything suspicious to police confidentially on the information hotline, the number is at the bottom of the screen. In an emergency always call 999.
Terrorists who seek to harm us and destroy our way of life will never succeed. This country stands more united than ever and Far Right hatred will never sow division in our society.”
“Mr Edge,” the spokeswoman went on to say, “Also had a history of right-wing extremist views and an obsession with the Nazi Party.” They came to this conclusion because of the 765 books and magazines found in the property, they came across Das Reich by Max Hastings and Fighter Aces of the Luftwaffe in WW2 by Philip Caplan. “Mr Edge was extremely dangerous and without morality as he had murdered prominent Lawyer Ron Gleam and shot and maimed two police officers, during a desperate shoot-out.” There was speculation that Mr Edge had drowned in the River Thames, although no body had as yet been found.”
* * *
It was early evening and the crickets were revving up to full chorus before the night. The breeze from the sea was cool, blowing away the oppressive afternoon. The man sat down on the bench next to Edge.
“Thanks for taking the shot for me.”
To the man’s horror and sadness, he saw a lazy tear roll down the slanting face, “No worries. The bastard had nailed me as well. Besides, I’m a better shot than you ever were.”
“Bollocks! What you doing now?”
“I’ve been working for a couple of American firms. Protecting oil workers mostly. Bunch of fucking cowboys. Are you going to get better, Edgie?”
“Physio recons so. The doctors think it was caused, or started when I head-butted that bastard who was shagging Moira.”
“See that fucking temper of yours,” he stood up to leave.
“Come back please. Sometime eh, Morrison?”
“I’ll come back once it’s done and at Christmas. Promise. That’s if the fucking Septics haven’t got me killed. You got someone looking after you, haven’t you?”
“Yes, Bia is less complicated than British women. More realistic in her outlook.”
“Then make sure you don’t fuck it up this time, Edgie.”
© Blown Periphery 2020
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file