Edge came out of the ablution tent and saw Rivera talking to the pilot, on the far side of the aircraft standing. She was facing him and he waved, but whether she didn’t see him or chose not to, she didn’t wave back. By the time he put on his “duds” the Cessna was taxying out to the runway. He watched it take off and suddenly felt a strange sense of loneliness, which for whatever reason, annoyed him.
Breakfast was a choice of packaged 24-hour MREs and Edge took one of the boxes, which was supposed to sustain him for the next 24 hours. There was plenty of coffee and he filled his insulated mug. The breakfast menu was maple sausage, granola, milk, blueberries, fruit, butter and apple. He also took beef patty, grilled, jalapeno pepper Jack, hash brown potatoes with bacon, peppers and onions for lunch.
He made his way to the command tent and said good morning to the eight Colombian Special Forces, checking their equipment. They were fully armed up, their faces and hands smeared with camouflage cream. They looked at him with interest as he went inside.
“Debe ser el commando ingles.” Their officer remarked to his men.
Inside were the Major, Lieutenant Collins, a runner and Wilson who was manning the comms. Edge was surprised to note, Wilson was a Master Sergeant. Wilson grinned at him.
“Morning, Edge, welcome to my command post. The major thinks it’s his, so I humour him.”
“I see you’ve met Master Sergeant Wilson,” Lieutenant Collins said laconically.
“We’ve now been properly introduced.”
Two aircrew pushed into the tent, arguing in Spanish. For a moment Edge felt like he was part of a war that had been fought fifty years ago. They were dressed in the same way as the Huey pilots of the Vietnam war, down to their body armour.
“Good morning, gentlemen.”
The Colombian aircrew gave a half salute, “We are at your service, Major.”
They were joined by the officer and SNCO from the Colombian Special Forces group waiting for the briefing.
“Glad to hear it. I’d like to do a reconnaissance mission to Tangaria. We’ve been told that the FARC have been active in this area.”
He gave them a full briefing including the current situation, the mission, command and signal and logistics support. Obviously, the timings and execution were up to them and the major concluded the briefing, “I don’t know if you’ll find anything, but our friends from Langley think it’s a possibility. Be careful, you just don’t know what you’ll be dealing with, if anything. Good luck.”
Lieutenant Collins buttonholed him after the briefing, “You and me on last, Edge. We’ll be first off while the Alpha boys will form a screen. You stay with one multiple, me with the others. Relax and enjoy the ride. Depending on the threat, your multiple will look after the chopper. Ever been on a Huey before?”
Collins smiled, “They’re a bit basic compared to the Blackhawk and some say the ride is uncomfortable. Mainly due to the twin rotor blades, but they’re reliable and rugged, which is why the Alpha boys won’t get rid of them.”
They went out to the pan as the Colombian commandos were embarking. Edge pulled off his jungle hat and stuffed it in a cargo pocket, the one on the opposite side to Mr Skippy.
The Colombian troops were on board, two manning the M60 machine guns in either door.
“Right, let’s go,” said the Lieutenant.
Edge got in on the starboard side and sat in the seat behind the pilot, facing the rear. He made a point of putting on the lap strap, having no wish to be flung out if the helicopter manoeuvred quickly and violently. He had known it to happen, a stupid way to die in an already extremely risky job. The co-pilot turned round to check the passengers, said OK to the pilot and the engine started, the blades swinging round slowly at first. The nearest Alpha trooper offered him some gum and Edge took it. He was always nervous in helicopters.
The blades were soon turning faster, beginning to bite the air and the airframe was vibrating heavily. Then they were up and airborne, nose pitching down to provide thrust. Edge fumbled in his pocket for a set of ear defenders, rolling the foam up and pushing them into his ear canal.
The Huey turned and headed north-north-west and edge saw the runway below and the parked Heuys. They were soon over the Andes and the jungle, the helicopter blades struggling in the thin air of the mountains. The air was cold and bracing, the jungle a beautiful patchwork of greens, with the silver of streams and rivers running through it. There were a few, wispy clouds coming off the crests of the mountains and once he fancied, he saw an Andean condor, far below, catching the thermals and the lift from the hills.
He looked round at his fellow passengers, tough men, the cream of their nation, a country blighted by the growth of the Erythroxylon coca. They were staring out at the mountains and jungles, Edge passing from man to man, wondering what stories they could tell. And then he noticed Lieutenant Collins staring intently at him and Edge knew why. He was the unknown quantity. Could he be trusted? How would he react in the fire-fight? Don’t worry, Lieutenant Collins. I’ve done this endless times, usually in a helicopter that isn’t a museum piece.
He thought about the saying attributed to the Avro Shackleton: ten thousand rivets flying in close formation. The contra-rotating Nissen hut. This Huey was like that. The vibration had given him a headache, and the wallowing and pitching in the mountain air was making him feel airsick. Edge discreetly reached for an oiled paper sick bag that had been tucked down the side of his seat. Please God, not here, not now.
The Huey went lower as they left the mountains behind, and rattled along the course of a river.
“Where are we?” Edge yelled at the Lieutenant and he pointed on a map, careful to keep it out of the slipstream. They were following a river that snaked below, sometimes hidden by the jungle canopy and then circled a peasant village, surrounded by a few subsistence crops. Collins tapped the pilot on the shoulder and gestured that he should land. The helicopter made a circuit of the village, curious children and adults watching the Huey as it flared and landed in the long grass at the side of a dirt track.
Edge was out and pushing away from the Huey, taking up position at the five o-clock quarter of the aircraft. Lieutenant Collins and the Alpha NCO walked towards the village, at first inundated by children and then met by a delegation of the village elders. From where he was lying, Edge couldn’t see the exchange, but it was genial enough with the Colombian NCO interpreting when Collins got bogged down with his Spanish.
“We are mounting routine patrols of this area.”
The village chief nodded.
“Have the FARC been here?”
No, no FARC. Usually east of the mountains, not here. But we have heard that a village near the ocean was attacked.”
“Further west on the river. Some of the villagers came through here. They said they came at night and killed the men. Burned the village.”
The chief shrugged. It could have been any tin-pot organisation in a country awash with weapons. Collins looked at the NCO and raised his eyes in a question.
“Difficult to say, Lieutenant. The FARC may be spreading their area of operations. We should look for it… The village.”
“OK. Thank you for the information.”
Back at the Huey, Collins told the troops to remount and then looked around. Where the hell was Edge?
“Edge!” the Lieutenant yelled.
Less than ten feet away from him, Edge stood up, grinned and pulled the clumps of grass off himself. Less than ten feet and Collins hadn’t seen him. He could have trodden on him.
“All right, Mr Disappearing Edge. On the helicopter if you please.”
Back in the cab, Collins spoke with the pilot, “Follow the river and head west. If we come across something it will be a hot dismount and move the helicopter out of danger.”
They followed the river and flocks of glebes scattered as the Huey rattled above them. They smelled the smoke long before they flew over the gutted village, a mixture of rancid smoke and the horrible, sweet, sickly stench of dead livestock.
“All off this time. Edge, take the right flank and we don’t want the river separating us.”
The Huey flared in the long grass, the rotors swirling the leaves like waves. And then it was up and away, to loiter safely out of range. When its sound was a distant wop-wop, they stood up and went forward cautiously, weapons at the ready. Edge moved in a half-crouch, his HK in the fire position, the safety off. They pushed through the long grass to the subsistence cultivation around the village. There were dead pigs and goats in the detritus of smashed farm equipment and the pens, and now Edge was moving from cover to cover. He trod in the entrails of a dead pig, disturbing swarms of bluebottles that had been gorging and frantically laying eggs in the putrefying viscera.
The SAWS gunner was in position, covering the village and the Alpha troopers pressed forward, Edge maintaining his position on the extreme right flank. He went into a crouch as they came within his periphery of view, Collins bringing up the rear.
“Edge, you and two men sweep the buildings. We’ll take the buildings on the left. As far as the river.”
“Roger,” Edge acknowledged.
He moved towards two buildings near the river and checked the first doorway for booby traps. He turned to the Alpha trooper covering him.
The trooper nodded.
Edge went in and swept the first room, the living and cooking area. A dead dog was splayed near the long-dead fire. Part of the roof had gone, burned away, the bright skies overhead an antidote to the obscenities of this place. Second room, the sleeping area. He was overwhelmed with the horror. Dead man half in the doorway. A bed. A woman, a mother who had tried to protect her children, lying on top of their bodies. Dried blood, black in the gloom, spattered up the wall. Edge felt both sickness and anger and pushed out of the building. The trooper made the sign of the cross and followed him.
In the second building the Alpha trooper went in first. This was worse. In the bedroom, a baby dispatched by a machete. A man hanging from the rafters by his neck, his wife spreadeagled and raped on the bed, blind eyes staring at a revulsion she couldn’t begin to understand. The trooper covered the woman’s body with a burned blanket and went out. Edge turned to follow him then noticed some items scattered on the rush floor. He picked them up and put them in his trouser cargo pocket.
There was nothing alive in this place. Partly to forget the ghastly sights. Edge took the entrenching tool out of his webbing and started to dig in the soft earth, well-clear of the river.
“What are you doing, Edge?” Collins asked.
He looked up, “I’m digging a pit to bury these poor bastards in.”
The lieutenant nodded and went to the long grass and threw a green smoke flare. The Huey appeared, landed and Collins indicated they should shut down. By this time, Edge had been joined by most of the Alpha troops, while the SAW and two other troops kept stag. When it was finished, the pit was around four feet deep and twenty feet long. Next came the grizzly task of dragging the bodies out of the houses to the pit. Most of them tied a scarf around their noses and mouths and sang, while the awful job was completed. They stood a while with heads bowed and made their way to the helicopter. Collins put his hand on Edges shoulder as they walked along.
“Sorry you had to see that, Edge.”
“It’s OK, Lieutenant, “It doesn’t matter where it is, Iraq, Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. The innocent die and some bastards make themselves rich in the process.”
It was quiet in the helicopter on the return trip, men alone with their thoughts. It was their lot, no point in getting out the sackcloth and wailing. The Huey landed back at the airport and shut down, hot metal and oil tinkling in the cool, afternoon air. Edge could see the advantage of the Huey over more modern helicopters. It was rugged, simple to service and relatively easy to fly. He patted the fuselage as he walked to the tents.
“The old birds have that affect on people,” Collins said to him, “I’d like you to come in on the debriefing, in case I missed anything. Grab a coffee and bring it in with you. One for me as well, please.”
In the command tent, Wilson had been replaced by another sergeant called Reyes. Major Martinez put the situational map where they could all see it. They went through the preliminaries and Collins recounted the first village they landed at. He pointed to it on the map, then went on to describe the slaughter and destruction at the second village.
“How many killed?” Martinez asked.
“Thirty-four,” Edge told him, “But we buried them in a relatively shallow grave if the authorities want to do post-mortems. Autopsies as you would say. I marked it with GPS and posts.”
“So far west. Has the FARC operated this far from the mountains?”
“Not that I’m aware, sir,” Collins told him, “And I’ve been here four months.”
“Sir, can I ask a question?” Edge asked.
“What weapons do the FARC usually field?”
“Soviet and Chinese hardware. The AK 47, RPGs and the RP 46 squad weapon,” Collins told him, “They love the rugged simplicity of the old AKs.”
“OK, sir. Why then would I find these in one of the buildings?”
Edge pulled some objects out of his trouser pocket and put them on the table. There were three 5.56mm standard NATO rounds, all fired and smelling faintly of gunfire residue.
They all stared at him and the empty cases on the table.
Clarita Rivera was quiet on the flight back to Bogotá. The aircrew knew that her moods changed like the English weather, so if she didn’t want to talk, that was fine by them. The pilot had enjoyed dinner with her in the hotel the night before, so he didn’t expect much and she seemed to have a lot on her mind. It was a pity because Rivera was in his words, exceptionally fuckable, but she was an American CIA operative and an aloof, unobtainable individual, like jars on the top shelf of a sweet shop.
She barely registered the flight because she was thinking of the dour, silent and watchful British soldier she had left behind. She thought about his cold eyes and that battered face, eyes that seemed to stare into her soul. She bit her lip because something told her that Edge could cause a great deal of trouble and this frightened her.
At Bogotá the Cessna was put into a holding pattern, while the airport dealt with some larger, intercontinental jets. They held until the dangers of wind shear from the passage of the larger aircraft had dissipated and the Colombian pilot made his final approach. It was cold and raining in the capital as the Cessna’s tyres hissed along the wet runway. At the military area, the pilot shut the Cessna down, Rivera thanked him and made her way to where she had left the 4×4 Ford. She performed a desultory search under the vehicle, which Edge would have disapproved of. For fucks sake, stop thinking about Edge!
She threw her daysack in the back of the Ford and headed out of the airport towards the commercial district and the American Embassy. The CIA had been located in a building a quarter-of-a-mile away, but this was now undergoing refurbishment, so it had been decided in Langley to move the Agency location to the US Embassy. This had immediate advantages and disadvantages. It meant the CIA was at the heart of American Government affairs in Colombia, but at her level and being the only Agent in the building, Rivera received more of the government bumf that she should have done. But she had no boss to deflect the detritus.
She parked at her apartment and walked the quarter mile to the Embassy, showing her pass. The door said: CIA no admittance unless on business, but someone had been in and taken a tin of coffee and a hole punch. Rivera fired up the unclassified computer terminal and stared in horror at the fifty e-mails waiting for her. They were mainly dross, overdue fitness test dates, signing the classified file folder and a departmental barbecue and sports afternoon on the playing fields (weather allowing). She put her head in her hands, overwhelmed by the uselessness of most government communication.
“Hi, Clarita,” said a voice from the door and she turned round.
Oh fuck! MacDonald. She knew he held a candle for her and could be a real pest during social functions, which is why wild horses wouldn’t have dragged her to the Embassy staff function on the playing fields. She prayed for a tempest.
“Hi, Mac. I’m kinda…”
“Yeah, sure. I just stopped by to say I borrowed a tin of your coffee. I’ll replace it, honest.”
“Any time Mac. You’ll have to excuse me, I’ve a thousand and one e-mails to wade through.”
“Yeah, sure. Catch up with you sometime when you’re less busy.”
She smiled at him, “Thanks, Mac.”
Jesus! She locked the door and went onto the secret terminal, direct from Langley. She was looking for one e-mail in particular and it was the most up to date communication from the Agency
Ryan Campbell remains in ICU in Bethesda hospital. He is still suffering from an inflamed liver and spleen and a very low platelet count. The medical staff have not given up hope and neither should we.
I hope you will understand that while Ryan remains in hospital, it would be wrong for us to appoint a replacement. I ask you for your ongoing fortitude at this difficult time and wish you the best.
Head of Intelligence.
Rivera put her head down and cried a few bitter tears, then shut off the secret terminal. She went back to the unclassified terminal and flipped the programme to show her personal e-mails. There was one from her sister, which she deleted without opening it. Then she saw the top e-mail which she opened.
He was inviting her to dinner, well not quite an invitation, more of an instruction. She knew it would be unwise to turn him down and sighed. Rivera decided that she would achieve little in the office that day, and made her way to her apartment, the Conjunto Residencia Galileo. It was a modern residential block near one of Bogotá’s busiest roads. She climbed up the stairway to the seventh floor and threw her gun and daysack on the table. It may have been cold outside, but her apartment was too hot. She threw open the windows, stripped off and lay on the bed, thoughts whirling through her mind. She was taut with stress and needed release.
She thought back to the geeky, little Puerto Rican kid from Caguas and the older girls in the class. They were forever at it according to them. Sister Mary Ignacia had told them it was a mortal sin to touch oneself, leading to infertility and madness. How the girls laughed and giggled during mass and watched Father Amatez. The nuns were perfectly safe with him, as long as he had his retinue or young altar servers. She had been shocked when she heard this, but never believed the mortal sin bit and she was mad anyway.
The first one was a lecturer in the college, a psychology professor. He was handsome and he knew it. He chased the girl away and from then on, she was the woman from Caguas. Then there was the instructor at the CIA training. Very bad, a relationship with a trainee, but she enjoyed it and so did he. She groaned. Oh God, how they had enjoyed it. The muscles in her lower stomach were pulsing and her breathing was faster. Her neck was flushed,
And Ryan, newly divorced and those long, sultry afternoons in his bed and she saw his face smiling at her. She was getting close now… And Ryan’s suntanned face changed, metamorphosising into a hard, broken face with cold, grey eyes, staring at her with contempt, because she was a self-abuser and she came very hard, crying out with release and frustration. And Clarita Rivera was disgusted with herself. For Chrissake, I’ve just spanked the burro thinking about a British soldier called Edge. She went into the shower and tried to scrub the impurity from her body and the thoughts from her mind. They were all older, the father figure she never had, kind, protective and understanding.
But what was it about Edge?
According to the website, Harry Sasson, Colombia’s most famous chef brings Latin American, Japanese and European flavours together at his eponymous flagship establishment, a regular feature on Latin America’s 50 Best. It was too ostentatious for a girl from Puerto Rico, but he loved it, like he had shares.
Rivera was wearing a smart, yet functional ensemble of casual jacket and womens’ trousers, pleated and comfortable. Strictly business. The thought of sex with him made her flesh crawl. As she was shown into the dining area by the maître d’hôtel, she saw him sitting in a quiet corner and wondered what the hell it was about the Brits. He was much younger than she preferred, a preening, vain man who because he went to Cambridge and worked for MI6, thought himself superior to most mortal men and women.
He stood up politely and pulled a chair out for her and nodded to the maître d.
“Good evening, Clarita. Delighted you could join me,” said Charles Medwin.
© Blown Periphery 2021