Edge was in the command tent with Martinez, the two Lieutenants and Master Sergeant Wilson. The boiler sent a fog of steam into the cold air and they were all drinking coffee.
“Well, we’ve handed it over to the National Police now and at least we know who they were,” Martinez said.
Edge was quiet and thoughtful and Collins picked up on it.
“You knew one of them?”
“About four years ago I had just come back from Iraq and I was tired. It was a difficult tour, involving hostage rescue of an RAF Crewman the JAM was going to kill. Like your contractors, whose bodies were hung on display outside of Ramadi. We got him out but I was shot in the house, on the front plate of my body armour. It was a woman and I killed her, then found her kids in bed upstairs.
“My bosses put me in the Selection and Training Cell for a few weeks to keep an eye on me, to make sure I wasn’t going to Go Postal in a Hereford supermarket. This Guy from The Rifles was applying for SAS selection. He was found to be an immature dreamer and declared unfit for Special Forces duties. His name was Mike Garside. I don’t know what happened to him once he was returned to his unit, but the sad individual ended up working for a security firm and died in the Colombian bush. I may have been the one who killed him. Who knows?”
There was silence as they listened to the Englishman and Martinez put his hand on Edge’s shoulder, “These things happen. They shouldn’t, but they do. Maybe he was looking for some excitement once he left the Army. Some guys just can’t let it go.”
“Where do we go from here. Major?” Lieutenant Turner asked.
“Let the State Police deal with it, while we go back to the war on cocaine. OK. Let’s go about our tasks and prep our gear.”
“Major, can I have a word with you in private, please?”
They went for a walk across the pan, past the helicopters.
“Major Martinez, you do realise I will have to brief the Assistant Military Attaché in the British Embassy, particularly as a British national was involved.”
Martinez shrugged, “You have to do what you have to do.”
“Do I have your permission to go back to Bogotá for a couple of days?”
“Sure. Getting sick of camp beds and snoring?”
“No. Your bloody MREs are bunging me up. I hope the Bogotá sewerage system is up to the job.”
“Is there anything you want me to leave out of the briefing.”
“No and thanks for asking, Edge.”
“Very good, sir.” Edge turned to leave.
“Thank you for leading your troops. They did well.”
Later that morning, Edge managed to get a lift on a Colombian Air Force IAI Arava, that was going to Medellin before returning to Bogotá. The aircraft was empty apart from freight and he got in next to the pilot. By now Edge’s colloquial Spanish was good and he could converse with the pilot, who told him he was having mother-in-law problems. Edge could truly sympathise and they spent the time discussing why mothers-in-law should be given a taste of the ducking stool. It was a portent of what was to happen.
At Medellin the Arava was unloaded and some more kit for Bogotá loaded. There were no passengers and they completed the short flight to the capital in fifty minutes. Edge ordered a taxi to take him to his hotel and he offloaded the rifle and ammunition with the reception staff to put in the safe. In his room he stripped off and had a shower, then phoned the embassy to make an appointment to see Medwin. The embassy phoned him back and told him Mr Medwin was available at 14:00 the next day.
He decided to phone Moira which was perhaps a bad idea. It took her ages to answer his call and she seemed distracted. Finally, he asked her what was wrong.
“Mum and Dad visited yesterday. My mother was critical about the house, dirty, cluttered and untidy she said and she said I was doing the wrong thing regarding baby Francis, I was feeding him wrong and I was letting myself go.
“Then they started on you. “He’s never at home. Totally useless. Does he have a bit on the side” and then Daddy said there is no British involvement in Colombia. Is he on holiday, having a good time while I was at home with the kids?
“I got cross at that because I know you’re brave and do a difficult job and if you’re in Colombia there must be a pretty good reason.”
Edge sighed because he could tell Moira was crying.
“Moira, one day you’re going to have to tell your parents to fuck off.”
“I can’t say that to them.”
“Why not? You’ve said it to me often enough. Go and speak to Angela. She’ll understand and it will be someone to talk to until I come home.”
“But you will come home? You may have gone off me since I’ve got stretch marks and tits like a Friesian.”
“So, it’s not all bad news, is it? And of course, I’m coming home. I love you, Moira. That’s why I’m phoning you, instead of spending the night in bed with Jennifer Lopez. You’re doing just fine at bringing up the kids, so don’t pay any attention to that rancid, old witch.”
“It’s easy for you to say. Please come home, Mark.”
“Nothing else planned. Don’t worry.”
After the call ended, Edge lay on the bed and massaged his eyes. He felt totally alone and lonely, even though he was a loner. In need of human company, he suddenly thought of someone and made a call.
“Hi, Clarita, it’s me.”
“What the hell do you want, Edge? I’m still at work.”
“Are you free tomorrow evening for a meal?”
“I don’t know. I’m very busy. Are you in Bogotá?”
“Yes. I’m getting my arse reamed by our man at the embassy, tomorrow afternoon.”
“How about if I give you a call at six tomorrow evening? I’m not promising anything.”
“Only if you’re free. I could always show you my etchings…”
“You’re an asshole Edge. I’ll phone tomorrow.”
Edge didn’t fancy a meal in the hotel’s dining rooms, so he went for an evening walk and found a fast-food joint within walking distance of the hotel and sat in for some pasta and a glass of wine. Most of the clientele were young couples and Edge felt very old and decidedly single, as couples met, kissed and embraced and barely gave the Englishman with a battered face, a second look. Feeling morose, he went back to the hotel.
The next morning after a leisurely breakfast, he decided to hit the culture trail and ordered a cab to the museum district. The Museo del Oro, the Gold Museum, is perhaps the most famous museum in Bogotá and Colombia. It has one of the most spectacular exhibits of pre-Hispanic art, culture and tradition ever displayed. More than 55,000 pieces of gold artefacts – most of which were discovered and excavated in Colombia – rest inside the museum, with descriptions and historical facts about each one in both Spanish and English. He then went to the Spanish-colonial neighbourhood of La Candelaria is a few blocks away from the hotel and he enjoyed the Spanish architecture from a bygone age.
According to the FCO website on travel advice, British nationals were advised that Colombia is unsafe for travellers, particularly those on their own. Edge maintained a watchful eye and he was familiar with danger, just careful. He walked with purpose and not like a dawdling tourist. The weight of the Glock in the small of his back gave him comfort and he scanned the people and vehicles for threats as he walked along, back to the British Embassy. It was further than he thought and he had to jog to maintain his 14:00 appointment.
“And you’re sure they were security staff for the oil company, Edge?”
“How do you know they weren’t FARC?”
“Because they were dressed in the black coveralls of the contracted security company, and this was confirmed by the Comando de Operaciones Especiales, or COPES.”
“I am fully aware of COPES. I am the Military Attaché!”
“Oh, I’m sorry. There was me thinking you are the Assistant Military Attaché… Sir.” The sir was drawn out, as though it was begrudged, because it was. Edge was beginning to realise Medwin was an arsehole.
“It’s disappointing that the Americans saw fit to notify COPES and the National Police. I would rather this had been kept in-house.”
You mean buried and forgotten about, Edge thought cynically.
“Why didn’t you issue a warning, prior to opening fire?”
“The rocket flare was the warning. Although with hindsight, I should have moved out of position and asked them nicely to put their weapons down.”
“I don’t need to hear you bloody sarcasm, Edge.”
Edge who had been kept standing, looked at him. The contempt was difficult to hide.
“Are you certain that there was a British man killed in the shootout?”
“His name was Mike Garside and I knew him. He applied for Selection, but he was a Walt.”
“What do you mean, Walt?”
“A Walter Mitty. He was pinged on the Army Rumour Service website, that he was applying for security jobs by passing himself as Ex-Special Forces.”
Edge placed the man’s security pass on the table, “Two Ukrainians, a Tajik. Three Russians, a Canadian and of course, Mike Garside.”
“You have rather a high opinion of yourself, don’t you, Edge?”
Where did that come from? He kept quiet and stared impassively at a photograph of the River Wye. Eventually he said: “Would you like to look at the photographs on my camera again? You remember, the one with the baby killed by a machete and the raped and mutilated woman. They take them for tobacco pouches, you know.”
“There is no proof that it wasn’t the FARC.”
“And none that it was. It just seems rather a coincidence that they were heading for a village, less than five miles away from the village that was destroyed a few nights previously.”
Medwin swivelled his chair to look out of the window. He spoke without looking at Edge.
“You know that you are under my OPCOM.”
“I’m quite aware of that, sir.”
Therefore, I expect to be fully briefed as to what the Green Berets are doing in their area. Particularly with regard to British interests.”
“I have fully and honestly briefed you, sir. However, I am operating under a need-to-know basis. The Americans tell me everything I need in order to carry out my mission command. Which with respect, also means you are operating under their need to know. If they don’t tell me, I can’t tell you.”
“I expect you to go the extra mile to find any information of interest to HM Government.”
“I won’t spy on them, sir. If I do, I will lose their trust and I would be relegated to stacking shelves in their supply tent, rather than with them on operations.”
Medwin decided to be conciliary, just as Edge had suspected he would.
“I realise this is quite difficult for you, but try your best please, Edge.”
You think I’m just another thick Pongo, don’t you? “I’m fully on it, sir.”
“Before you go, I’d like those photographs you took.”
“I’m sorry, sir. You can’t have them. They’re evidence.”
Medwin’s face darkened with anger. Edge was enjoying himself. He looked at a photograph on the wall.
“The river Wye, similar to the Torridge. That’s a good salmon fishing river.”
“And those flies I spend hours tying, are for bloody trout.”
Edge smiled disarmingly, “I find trout has too many bones. Just spread a net and the salmon come to you. Please excuse me, sir. Major Martinez asked me to get him a couple of bits of shopping. I think they may be for his wife.”
Medwin was barely controlling himself.
“Until next week, sir. Would you like the briefing on PowerPoint?”
Medwin looked at him, “Goodbye, Sergeant Edge.”
“It’s actually Staff Sergeant. All these military ranks can be confusing, can’t they?”
Medwin paced the office until he cooled down sufficiently to stop shaking with indignation. He sat behind his desk and made a phone call. It rang a few times until she answered it. She sounded tired.
“Clarita, I wonder if I can call in a favour?”
She sighed, “What is it, Charles?”
Edge collected his automatic from the embassy security staff and went out into the warm afternoon. He had had enough of walking and hailed a taxi.
“A donde señor?”
“El hotel Hyatt.”
Back in his room, Edge had a long shower. It was as though his meeting had made him feel dirty. He read a book of short stories of the Vietnam War, finishing one story and starting the next. He looked at his watch, 18:30 and realised Clarita couldn’t make a meal. He was just leaving to go to the bar, when his phone went off.”
“Edge, I’m sorry but I’ll be a little late. I have to get changed and have a quick shower.”
“Powdering your nose?”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll be in the foyer.”
“Just one thing, Edge. I don’t want to eat in the hotel. Too stuffy and formal.”
“Pity. I was looking forward to eating sushi off you. I think it’s called Nyotaimori.”
“Asshole! I’ll choose where we’re going, no drinks because I’ll have a cab outside. See you.”
Edge hung up and smiled. For some reason the sushi idea stayed with him. He ordered a small glass of red wine, then sat down in the foyer to wait for her.
At 19:10 she walked in and Edge did a double take. She was wearing a sheer, deep, emerald green dress that matched her olive complexion perfectly. Her hair was wavy, cascading down each side of her face and she wore minimal make-up. She didn’t need it. She had a clutch bag, which he suspected had her gun in it. He stood up politely.
“Ms Rivera, you are looking decidedly beautiful tonight.”
She sighed, “Don’t you think it’s a little early in the evening to start jacking me off?”
“If no one has ever told you how beautiful you are, that is a tragedy. I am not “jacking you off,” I am paying you a compliment that is true and heartfelt.”
“The cab is outside. Let’s not waste time in petty joshing.”
As he followed her outside, Edge shook his head. And they thought the British were bad at taking compliments.
They both got in the back, Edge maintaining a good distance from Clarita. The taxi drove a relatively short distance to a brightly-lit place called Pajares Salinas, clearly the hang-out for Bogotá’s bright, young things. It was a tapas bar, extremely popular judging by the steady flow of customers. She paid the driver and the taxi disappeared into the drizzle.
“I thought we could have tapas to start with here at the bar, then sit down on the tables for a pizza. We could share one if you like. They’re very big.”
“It sounds like a good plan, Ms Rivera.”
She looked at him with a slight smile, as though appraising his choice of clothes, noting he hadn’t made a good job of brushing his tousled hair, which was much longer than an American soldier would be allowed to get away with. She found it appealing, like a little boy.
“I tell you what, Mark Edge. You can call me Clarita if you promise to behave yourself.”
“Can’t promise that,” He said with a smile that was genuine and disarming, “Being a dumb, humble soldier in the company of such beauty, I may not be responsible for my actions, “I however, look like my face was on fire and someone put it out with a shovel.”
She shook her head gently then looked him in the eyes, “You may be many things, Edge, but being a dumb soldier isn’t one of them.”
She hardly noticed his face, it was part of him, natural and gave him an air of vulnerability. But she wasn’t fooled. She noticed he had positioned himself facing the door and his eyes scanned everyone in the room and those coming in. When he smiled, it lit up his face, but when he was thoughtful, those eyes were cold, hard and calculating. It was strangely appealing.
The tapas were served with chilled and very dry sherry. He went for the potatoes cooked in tomato with chorizo. She was nibbling calamari, and ham on unleavened bread. They both made inroads into the olives.
“This place is pretty decent, Clarita. Nice, relaxed and informal. The sherry is particularly good.”
“I like it, we often…”
“Yes,” she looked down.
“Sorry, Clarita. You obviously miss him.”
She looked up and smiled at him. He thought it was slightly strained.
“What have you been up to, Edge?”
“Oh, this and that. Assimilating. Learning Spanish. Seeing the way you guys do it. Learning a lot and I flew for the first time in one of those museum pieces, a Huey. Nobody was playing the Ride of the Valkyries, unfortunately.”
This went right over her head. She was probably too young to have seen the film.
“Were you involved with those security contractors?”
Edge’s face hardened as he stared at her, a piece of chorizo sliding off his bread and onto the plate, “How do you know this?”
“I’m a spook. I know everything I need to know.”
Her answer was too off-pat, practiced almost. Edge had been in enough interrogations, both on the giving as well as the receiving end, to realise she was hiding something from him. He felt angry enough to shock her.
“Did your source tell you about the village that was destroyed? About the children killed by parangs, and the dead women with their breasts lopped off.”
“No,” she said, bit her lip and looking away from him, “Mark. Please don’t be angry with me. I’m just doing my job.”
“That’s what Medwin said at the embassy. Like a good little SS Obergruppenführer. I am just obeying orders.”
“Forgive me. It was insensitive. If you were involved in the fighting with those security contractors, I’m sorry.”
“Are you sure you haven’t met, Medwin?”
“I told you. My boss knows him quite well, knew him…”
“Don’t give up hope. Sometimes it’s all we have.”
She looked at him. His face was gentle and genuine, the frightening Mark Edge had gone. It was amazing the way he could slip into and out of anger. She wondered if he was a psychopath. She looked at him over the rim of her glass. Edge smiled at her. Lying little bitch, he thought, but that was the world she operated in.
“Shall we sit down and order a pizza. Any particular topping?”
“Good idea. Would you order some wine please, red for me? A margarita is good. I enjoy most toppings. What about that table.”
“I’ll have the red too. Goes well with pizza.” She said and he politely pulled her chair for her. She ordered from the waitress and when the wine came, it was naturally given to Edge to try.
“What do you think?” He said giving her his glass.
“Cabalié, berries, raspberry and a hint of spices. Nice wine.”
“You are Jilly Goolden and I claim my five pounds.”
“I don’t have a clue what you’re talking about, Mark.”
“It doesn’t matter. Just we Brits’ quirky humour.”
Her eyes shone in the candle light from the table and she leaned forward, “I would love to go to England, well Britain actually. What’s it like?”
“Have you noticed how obsessed with the weather we are? It’s because we’re located just off Europe and the Gulf Stream and Jet Stream brush our islands. We can have four seasons in a day,” He began to warm to his descriptions, “The countryside is green and pleasant and it goes from wild moorland and mountains or rolling arable and dairy countryside to the Fens. The seas can be gentle but deceptively treacherous. The country is surrounded by wrecks, including ships from the Spanish Armada.”
He paused when the waitress brought their order. She had been right; the pizza was huge. It had been cut into portions for them. Clarita thanked the waitress.
“Go on,” she said to Edge.
“There are four countries in the United Kingdom and they all have very much got their own national characteristics. “
“She thought about asking him about the “Troubles,” but decided against it, guessing he had served in Northern Island.
“What about the towns and Cities? London?”
“Forget about London. It’s a cess pit overrun with third-world detritus, run by a bumbling, incompetent fool, who can’t keep his trousers zipped. There are much better places to visit, Exeter, Bath, Norwich, Ely, York and Edinburgh. If you like architecture, the cathedrals and churches were built before the Spanish came to Puerto Rico.”
“Where do you live, Mark?”
“When I’m on duty, anywhere in the world or in a barrack block in a camp outside of Hereford.”
“And when you’re not?”
Edge took a sip of wine, “Very nice, Clarita. I live in a cottage near a river in Devon.”
“Are you married, Edge?”
“Yes, with two kids, a little girl and a baby boy.”
“Do you miss them when you’re away?”
And she skated towards the thin ice, “Would your wife mind you having a meal with me.”
He looked at her and laughed gently, “Of course not. You’re a friend, looking after me in a city a long way from home.”
“Am I?” she asked rhetorically. She wasn’t too sure about that.
“Why don’t you tell me about Puerto Rico?” he asked, so she did.
The chat between them was easy and light-hearted and she found him to be surprisingly good company, attentive and self-depreciating. She looked at her watch and found it was 21:40.
“It’s nearly ten. I’d better be going. Thank you, Mark for a lovely evening.”
“I’ll order a taxi, sorry cab for us. I’ll drop you off at your place and then go back to the hotel.”
It meant he would find out where she lived. Did it matter? She supposed not.
Edge asked at the bar if they would call a taxi. It arrived ten minutes later and he opened the door for her. She gave the driver the address and fifteen minutes later they were outside a modern block of flats. She squeezed his hand as he opened the door for her.
“Thank you, Mark. Are you going back south?”
“I’m sorry I can’t give you a lift. I’ll be at work.”
He asked the driver to wait, until he saw the lights go on in an apartment seventh floor then relaxed in the seat.
“Hotel Hyatt por favor.”
In the apartment, Clarita removed her makeup and pondered a companionable evening. He had been a thorough gentleman, which rather disappointed her. She would have enjoyed shooting him down if he made a pass at her. She was glad to have avoided any awkwardness… Or was she?
© Blown Periphery 2021