For security reasons the FCDO advise against all but essential travel to:
the departments of Arauca and Guaviare (except their capital cities)
the department of Chocó (except its capital Quibdó, the whale-watching towns of Nuquí and Bahía Solano, and the tourist site of Capurganá)
the Ariari region of southern Meta (except the tourist site of Caño Cristales – if travelling to Caño Cristales, travel by air to and from the town of La Macarena with a reputable tour company)
the South Pacific, Sanquianga and Telembi regions of Nariño
the Western region of Cauca
Buenaventura in the department of Valle del Cauca
the Urabá and Bajo Cauca regions of Antioquia
the region of Southern-Bolívar
the region of Southern-Córdoba
the Catatumbo region of Norte de Santander
Orito, San Migue, Valle del Guamuez, Puerto Caicedo, Puerto Guzmán, Puerto Asis and Puerto Leguizamo in Putumayo
Cartagena del Chairá, San Vicente del Caguan, Puerto Rico, El Doncello, Paujil and La Montañita in Caquetá
the municipality of Puerto Carreño in Vichada, except the departmental capital
within 5km of the Venezuelan border and within 5km of the Ecuadorian border, except for the border crossing on the Pan-American highway, at Ipiales.
The KLM flight from Amsterdam landed at Bogota El Dorado international airport at 13:40, after over thirteen hours travel time. Edge was one of the last off the aircraft and he went to the baggage to reclaim his multitude of bergens and weapons valise. He grabbed a trolly and headed for the arrivals desk, where he waited while his paperwork and passport were checked.
“Purpose of visit, Mr Edge.” The security policeman hung around after spotting the weapons valise.
“I see and where will you be working?”
“With the American Army.”
He scrutinised the permission to carry arms paperwork several times, as though looking for faults or loopholes. Finally, and reluctantly, he said: “Everything appears to be in order, Mr Edge.”
He trundled his kit outside and waited for a taxi. The driver helped him load his kit.
“Where you go, mistah?”
“Grand Hyatt Hotel please.”
“Niiiice. Sixteen dollars.”
On the journey south to central Bogota, Edge cut the steel wire and seal of the weapons valise, using a Leathermans from a side pocket. He pulled out a holster designed to fit in the small of his back and put it on. Next, he pulled out the Glock and loaded it with an ammunition clip, but didn’t make it ready, applying the slide lock. He put it in the holster and covered it with his shirt. Edge saw the taxi driver watching him in the mirror.
“Just concentrate on the road please!”
It was a ten-minute trip from the airport, through the commercial zone to the hotel. Bogota was a thriving, modern city, a far cry from ten years before, when the state police committed outrages on the civilian population in their war with the FARC. The FARC were still in the country, waging their insurgency in the provincial towns and harvesting the coca and the purified chemical, cocaine hydrochloride, which was isolated from the plant more than 100 years ago. In the early 1900s, purified cocaine was the main active ingredient in many tonics and elixirs developed to treat a wide variety of illnesses and was even an ingredient in the early formulations of Coca-Cola.®
The taxi driver helped him move his bags into the hotel and Edge paid the fare, including a generous tip. He was on MoD expenses and would kick the arse out of the Director Special Forces’ budget.
The receptionist team decided that this customer warranted the attention of the senior receptionist. He bustled across to Edge, dripping obsequiousness like a leaking tap.
“Can I help you, sir.”
“If you would. My name is Mark Edge and I believe that an open-ended stay has been booked on my behalf by the team in the UK.”
He scrutinised the computer screen, “Ahh yes, Mr Edge. You will not be staying for the full duration of your booking?”
“I would rather keep the room available to come and go, perhaps for a couple of months at a time.”
“That’s no problem. Mr Edge, but you will need to pay for the room, even when you’re not staying in the hotel.”
“Understood,” Edge held up the weapons valise, “Could you put this in the hotel safe please.”
It was as though guests with HKG3 assault rifles and 120 rounds, deposited them in the hotel safe every other day.
“And when will you wish to draw it, sir?”
“Any time I need it.”
“As you wish. I will get someone to take your bags up to your room. Enjoy your stay, Mr Edge.”
Edge took the key, “Thank you. I will.”
A porter helped move Edge’s kit, although he preferred to carry his daysack and bergen himself. Up in his room on the fourth floor, he tipped the porter and locked the door after he left. Next, Edge phoned the switchboard of the British Embassy.
“Good afternoon. My name is Staff Sergeant Edge of Two-Two Special Air Service Regiment. I have an appointment with Mr Medwin, the deputy military attaché tomorrow morning. My aircraft was early and I was wondering if I could bring the meeting forward to this afternoon.”
“I’ll check if, Mr Medwin is available this afternoon. Please hold.”
Edge was subjected to a poor recording of Greensleeves and as he waited, he looked out of the window at the bustling city below, modern skyscrapers dwarfing Spanish colonial buildings.
“Hello, Mr Edge? I’m afraid that, Mr Medwin has left the office for the day. You are booked in at 11:00 tomorrow.”
Edge thanked her and hung up.
He decided to have a shower and took the gun and holster in with him, putting them high above the shower head. He treated himself to some of the hotel smellies and enjoyed the feel of hot water. To finish he turned the tap to cold, to wake him up and make his skin tingle. Back in the room he lay the holster next to him and looked at the time. It was 16:00, which made it around 22:00 in the UK. He remembered his promise to phone Moira and he rang her. She must have been in bed because she answered the phone quickly.
“Mark? Where are you?”
“Bogota, Colombia. I promised I’d phone.”
The delay was disconcerting
“Is the hotel nice?”
“Too good for the likes of me. A good view over the city.”
“How do you feel?”
“Tired and hungry, oh and lonely as well.”
“You’d better stay that way, lonely I mean. Those shield things have helped no end. It was a good idea.”
He smiled because she was too hung up to say “nipple” over the phone.
“Just wait till he gets his first teeth, he’ll be chomping away on them.”
“Oh God. Thank you for that. How often will you phone?”
“At least once a week. It may not be at the same time.”
There seemed little more to say, so they passed some more banter and Edge said: “I’d better be going, Moira. Love you and miss you. Remember to call on the help of Angela and your parents, should you need anything.”
“Goodbye, Mark. I wish you weren’t so committed to your job…”
“It’s my life, as is my family. Speak to you soon. Miss you. Bye.”
After the call. Edge stared morosely out of the window to the lengthening shadows of the city below. He felt bereft where once there was a time when he looked forward to starting a new job with new challenges. He lay on the bed, then proceeded to do around two hours of Spanish. He could understand it more than he could speak the language, but he was getting better. At around 19:00 he changed his chinos and a shirt and put on the holster. He decided that he wasn’t in the mood for the hotel’s award-winning sushi and elected to go to the grill. He bought a half-bottle of Colombian red wine and went and sat at a window table. The lights in Bogota were coming on and he stared out of the window, waiting to order his meal.
Edge hadn’t noticed the young woman in the reception, reading a magazine. She had followed him through to the grill and sat near the bar with a white wine spritzer. She watched Edge intently as he ordered a starter of fried octopus. While he waited, he scanned the people in the bar and restaurant, then looked out of the windows. Bored, Edge decided to do some people watching, putting together little stories about the people in the grill. Affluent European couples, Colombian businessmen with their “secretaries” and lone travellers like him.
And then there was that woman at the bar. She wasn’t people watching, she was watching him. He checked by looking down at the menu then quickly looked up. She was staring at him and she looked away guiltily.
Who the hell was she?
He ate his starter that was a little salty for his taste and double checked. She was still there and she was definitely watching him. She was dark complexioned and had long, black wavy hair framing her almond-shaped face. She wore a light linen suit and pumps. Edge decided to go on the attack. He went up to the bar as though to order something, then quickly diverted and stood in front of her. She gave a surprised start.
“Good evening Ma’am. You seem if I might say so, inordinately interested in me. Have we met?”
“I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Mr…”
“I’ll tell you my name if you tell me yours, or better still, come and join me for a meal.”
“I don’t do cheap pickups with total strangers.”
“No, you just stalk them. My offer stands, no strings attached, Ma’am.”
To his surprise she followed him to his table and he sat her down opposite him, then asked a passing waiter for a menu. She watched him cautiously and the wine waiter came over. She looked at Edge’s half bottle. With his limited Spanish he realised she was ordering a half-bottle of white wine and another of red for a refill for him.
“Por favor, déjeme media botella de vino blanco y otra mitad de tinto para el caballero. Estoy listo para pedir mi plato principal.”
The food waiter took her order of chicken and palm hearts and poured her a glass of wine when he had taken the order.
“Thank you for the additional wine. Are you trying to seduce me Ms…?”
She sighed, “Are you Mark Edge, Staff Sergeant of twenty-two Special Air Service Regiment?”
“I’ve seen your photographs. They do you complete justice, Mr Edge.”
He held up a finger, “Now your turn. Who the hell are you?”
“My name is Clarita Rivera and I am your civilian/military interface. I have been selected from a cast of one to accompany you to Pesto, where the Green Berets have their main operating base and introduce you to Major Martinez.”
“So, you’re in the intelligence agency of the CIA. You’re what we call a spook. Are you a Colombian, Ms Rivera?”
“No, I’m from Puerto Rico. What the hell happened to your face, Edge?”
“A German policeman took an instant dislike to me.”
“What happened to him?”
“I made sure he’d never walk again without a stick,” Edge said quietly.
Her chicken arrived and Edge proposed a toast, “To strangers meeting in hotels.”
“What are you eating, Edge?”
“The pork. It’s very nice.”
“You’ve got a bit of a reputation, haven’t you?”
“For eating pork?”
“Don’t be an asshole and answer the question, SEAL Slugger.”
“I don’t go around looking for trouble.” He said gently looking her in the eyes. She suddenly looked away. It was as though he was angry, those dead, grey eyes burning into her.
“But it finds you. I’ve never eaten here before. The chicken is very good.”
“That policeman beat me with an iron bar, before I dissuaded him by smashing his knee. That SEAL got one of his own men killed, because he panicked and wouldn’t admit it. When I pointed this out, he went for me with a knife. He’s extremely lucky that I didn’t kill him.
“There is a Serbian warlord that I would very much like to meet again, because he murdered someone very dear to me.”
“Would you describe yourself as a violent man, Mark Edge?”
“Just stick to Edge. It’s what everyone calls me. And I don’t believe in gratuitous violence. Sometimes we have to do it. That’s the nature of the beast. I’m a professional soldier and I have been for nineteen years.”
She changed the subject and they passed the rest of the dinner in companionable chat, about why she had elected to join the CIA.
“Because I’m good and work hard. There was nothing for me in Puerto Rico. My father went not long after I was born and my mother died of cancer two years ago.”
You’re on your own and feel the world can be overpowering. Also you’re not that good, Edge thought to himself, If you were trying to do surveillance on a bad guy, you’d be slotted.
They finished their coffee and Edge asked for the bill.
“I’ll meet you at the airport for the flight south. Just tell me where and at what time. I’ve got to report in to the British Embassy first.”
When the bill came, she put her AMEX card on the plate, “My treat on my expenses account. Uncle Sam’s got this one. Give the queen a break. There’s no need to make your own way to the Embassy, I’ll pick you up in the department run-around at ten.”
She stood up to leave and smiled at him. “See you tomorrow, Edge.”
“I look forward to it and thank you, Clarita Rivera.”
He sat down and watched her leave. He was forced to conclude she was an extremely good-looking woman, albeit somewhat underconfident. He had noticed the edge of her shoulder holster as she leaned forward to shake his hand.
Edge slept well despite the wine and the large meal. He went through the morning ritual of a shower and shave, accompanied by his Glock and then went down for breakfast. There were plenty of fruits laid out, but Edge had found to his bitter cost that those who prepared the fruit, were not always the best at hygiene. He elected for bacon, eggs and toast and continued to people-watch over his coffee cup.
There was no sign of the unfriendly lady spook from last night’s dinner, but she had promised to pick him up at 10:00. He pondered about her. If she was military/civilian interface, that put her as working for the CIAs Intelligence spine. Yet she seemed so… It was difficult to put his finger on it but she seemed, the nasty part of him would say, bloody useless. And her covert surveillance was crap, unless she had intended to be seen. A warning?
After breakfast he went to the reception and reclaimed his valise from the hotel safe, then went up to his room. He changed into a lightweight MTP disruptive pattern combat clothing and filled his camelback with water from the bath, which was potable, then secured it to the side of his daysack. He placed the Kevlar kneepads in position then fastened them with Velcro straps. Finally, he went into the valise and put the six magazines of 7.62 ammunition in his body armour’s pouches. He hung the morphine autojet round his neck and pulled out the HK G3 battle rifle out of the valise. He topped the ensemble with Mr Skippy his talisman koala Bear stuffed toy, which went in an inner pocket of his smock, a floppy bush hat and Kevlar combat gloves. He looked at himself in the mirror.
“Dressed to kill,” he muttered.
Edge went down to the lobby and waited for his lift and tried to look inconspicuous in the pot plants. At just before 10:00, the women strolled into the foyer and looked around for him. She was making no effort to be inconspicuous. Her hair was pulled into a single ponytail and she was wearing a camouflaged baseball cap. She was wearing close-fitting chinos with desert boots and on the top a t-shirt and lightweight body armour. She had a Sig Sauer P228 in a thigh holster. She spotted Edge behind the pot plants.
“I can see you’ve been in the dressing up trunk. What are you pretending to be today?”
“A Japanese sniper. Nobody told me the war was over.”
“Nice gun. I’m glad there are no SEALs about. Who knows what could happen?”
“It’s not a gun, it’s a rifle. Tell me with this doll, where did the nasty Englishman touch you?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, you’ve obviously had a bad experience with your damned colonial masters.”
“Our colonial masters were Spanish. The car’s in the parking lot. Shall we go?”
The transport was a Ford 4×4, heavy but Edge guessed, unarmoured apart from the run flat tyres. He took off his body armour and put the rifle on the back seat, with the body armour covering it. She helped him lug it over the seat.
“That stuff weighs a ton. How can you fight, carrying all that extra weight?”
“Because I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog, although the altitude did surprise me. Those ceramic plates give me additional protection. Your, Gucci flak jacket looks nice but wouldn’t stop a high velocity round.”
They pulled into the traffic of the commercial district and Edge was struck with a thought, “Ms Rivera, have you ever met an Englishman before?”
“Just your people from the embassy. But you talk different to them. No accent.”
“We don’t all sound like Dick Van Dyke,”
“I guess not. You’re funny, Mark Edge.”
Edge slipped into his best Joe Pesci voice:
“You mean, let me understand this cause, ya know maybe it’s me, I’m a little screwed up maybe, but I’m funny how, I mean funny like I’m a clown, I amuse you? I make you laugh, I’m here to friggin’ amuse you? What do you mean funny, funny how? How am I funny?”
She laughed and risked a look at him. He was relaxed with his right foot up on the dashboard, “I like your hat. Could you get me one, please?”
“Do the Green Berets have bush hats?”
“Yes, but not like yours. They have big floppy brims.”
“In that case, have mine, if I can get one of your guys’ hats.”
He threw the hat and it landed on her lap. She was delighted and grinned. He pulled on his beret and she said:
“Wow, now that is a hat.”
“Sorry, you can’t have this. Only people in the regiment get to wear the winged dagger.”
“We’re getting close to the embassy. It’s ahead on the right.”
Edge was disappointed, “An office block? I expected colonial elegance.”
“I can’t park outside, but I’ll find somewhere to pull in. Call me when you’ve finished.”
“What’s your number?”
She handed him a card from her breast pocket and he looked at it. It was plain white with a blue circle containing a shield and an eagle. It said: Officer Clarita Rivera and a cell phone number.
“I knew you were a spook.”
The car stopped outside the embassy and Edge took the Glock out of the holster and showed her, “The weapon is loaded. It is not made ready and the slide lock has been applied.”
“Put it in the glove box. I’ll loiter somewhere until you’ve finished, then it’s off to the airport.”
Edge got out and walked to the entrance of the embassy. He was closely watched by a pair of security guards and one swept him with a hand-held detector for metallic items such as guns. If they were surprised to see a member of the SAS in their embassy, they didn’t show it and when they were finished, he went up to the reception desk.
“Excuse me, I am Staff Sergeant Edge and I have an appointment with Mr Medwin at 11:00.”
“Take a seat please, Mr Edge and I’ll phone him. Could you please leave your mobile phone in that box on the desk, and any other electronic devices you may have.”
Edge sat in the reception and looked at a pair of old prints of The Queen and Prince Phillip, either side of the Union Flag. On the opposite wall was a set of photographs of the Embassy staff. There was no photograph of Medwin, just the Military Attaché.
After about ten minutes a middle-aged woman came from inside the Embassy and said: “Staff Edge. Would you like to come with me?”
© Blown Periphery 2021
The Goodnight Vienna Audio file