The modern government buildings were located in a new office block off the Avenida Calle 82. Edge was one of the first to arrive and found it shut, so they decamped to a coffee house further down the broad avenue. Edge received some interest from the Bogotá crowds that were heading for work, in his British camouflage uniform and winged dagger beret. The four of them sat in with coffees and outlined their plan of action.
“This is not a legal enquiry and we should push back if they try to apportion blame or try to make it a legally binding enquiry. I suspect this has been instigated by the Brits, specifically their oil company or the security firm.”
“I’m pretty convinced that piece of slime, Charles Medwin will have some hand in this,” Edge told them.
“Who is Medwin?” Martinez asked him.
“He’s the Assistant Military Attaché at the Embassy. He is also a SIS staffer, a spook.”
“Well, we have top-cover from US Southern Command, a Colonel Lopez, no doubt accompanied by his flunkies.”
“And Rivera?” Edge asked.
“Almost certainly yes. She is the CIA representative.”
“Oh great,” Edge muttered.
“Look, we go in there and put our case to them and answer any questions. We’ve done nothing wrong.”
“Just killed eight security contractors. Nothing to see here.”
At 09:00 the building opened for business and they hung around the foyer, continuing to make sure all their recollection of events tallied. Edge handed his Glock to the security guard. At 09:15 a US Colonel with two flunkies came into the building to have a quick conflab with them, particularly Major Martinez. He was also very interested in meeting Edge and called him “The Brit Far from Home.”
“Although this enquiry has no legal authority, The Colombians will make a great show and formalise this, as they tend to do. Obviously, the representatives from the security firm want blood, but you should make great play as to why they were scurrying around in the small hours of the morning.
“I’m afraid you will be called in separately and probably prevented from re-joining your colleagues until after the inquiry has finished. If any of the questions make you feel uncomfortable, then refuse to answer them. That is my advice, for what it’s worth.”
At 09:30 the enquiry started with the chairman laying down some points and the remit. He made an opening statement, outlining the known facts of the case and read out a statement from the head of the security firm.
Major Martinez was the first witness to be called and he went into the large enquiry room without really knowing what to expect. There was a cluster representing the security firm, The officials and a man he didn’t recognise. Of course, Rivera was there and she gave him a guarded smile. The US Colonel sat behind the witnesses with his elbows resting on the desk in front of him. The clerk read out the known and undisputed facts;
“You are Major Martinez, commanding officer of the Green Beret detachment based in St Juan de Pasto?”
“And you were commander of a joint US and Bolivian operation in the Cauca Department of Southern Bolivia on 3rd May this year”
“That is correct.”
“Could you please give us the remit of the operation?”
“The operation was run under the remit of the US intelligence services. Our orders were to do a sweep of the area, as directed by the CIA. To quote my directive, Langley wanted us to take a look, to make sure everyone is behaving themselves.
“This follows a preliminary operation twenty-four hours previously, where we found a village near Chagui that had been burned, the crops and animals destroyed. We also found thirty-four murdered villagers, men, women and children. We buried them and reported this to the national police force. Interestingly, we found in the destroyed village, empty 5.56mm cases, the same calibre of ammunition used by your security contractors.
The representative from the security firm stood up, “That proves nothing. The police use 5.56mm rounds as do the FARC, from weapons captured from the Colombian security forces.”
“Noted, carry on please, Major Martinez.”
“We decided to put a screen along the river. Three fire teams in a frontage of around 2,000 metres, with the reserve and HQ some 2,000 metres behind the screening fire teams.”
“What were you screening?”
“The villages strung out along the Las Mercedes River.”
“And one of the fire teams engaged the British security contractors,”
“Which fire team and where?”
“It may be easier if I indicate the positions on that map, on the wall,” Martinez told him, “And a pointer would be helpful.”
They were presently found and Martinez indicated the positions with the pointer.
“This was where our security screen was located, just to the east of the river. The HQ element was located at this village, with two helicopters of the Colombian Air Force.”
“Could you indicate where the engagement took place?”
“Just here, near the coast, where the road crosses the river.”
“And Staff Sergeant Edge of the British SAS was in command of this team?”
“Yes, he was.”
“Why do you have a British soldier in your company?”
“He is on secondment from the British Special Forces.”
“Is this normal?”
“It’s not totally unusual. Special Forces personnel serve time with the units of other nationalities to improve and share skills.”
“Is Staff Sergeant Edge good at his job?”
“He is first rate and has fitted in well.”
“Is he trigger happy?”
The colonel behind Martinez went to stand up to protest.
Martinez looked at the questioner angrily, “That is a damned impertinent question, given that Edge is not here to defend himself. I refuse to answer the question because this is not a goddamned court of law.”
Martinez transferred his anger to Clarita Rivera, who looked down as though ashamed. It was an emotion he didn’t think she possessed. The damage had been done. She knew Martinez had lost his trust in her organisation.
“Very well, Major. What were the circumstances surrounding the engagement?”
“I wasn’t there, however, Staff Edge gave me a full report when I de-briefed him.”
“Why did he open fire on the security contractors?”
“Because his fire team was engaged first and they returned fire.”
“That is a matter of interpretation, Major Martinez.”
“No. It is a matter of fact.”
The chairman of the enquiry spoke at this point: “I think your testimony covers what we knew. I have finished hearing your version of events. Could I please ask you to leave the building and not have any contact with the other witnesses?”
As he stood up to leave, Martinez looked at the Colonel who nodded approvingly and as he passed her, he gave Rivera a cold stare.
Lieutenant Paz was the next to be summoned upstairs, leaving Lieutenant Collins and Edge drinking constant coffees.
“What do you think, sir?”
“I find all of this rather unnecessary. I’d love to know who instigated this.”
“I reckon it was Medwin from our embassy.”
“I don’t know yet, but I’ll find out.”
There was something in Edge’s voice that was sinister and cold. Collins looked at the British soldier, “You don’t like him, do you?”
“No, I bloody well don’t.”
Lieutenant Paz’s testimony didn’t last long and Collins was summoned next. Then at 12:30, much to Edge’s fury, the enquiry adjourned for lunch. He wasn’t allowed to leave the building and had to make do with a snack from the vending machine. Although he could speak Spanish, Edge couldn’t read it, so he made do with looking at the pictures of car magazines. By the time they reconvened at 14:00, he was in no mood to take prisoners.
He was escorted up to the enquiry room and asked to sit down. Edge carefully looked around him. Medwin had a blank expression, Rivera was looking at something interesting on her skirt; only the American colonel smiled at him. The representatives from the oil and security companies were looking at him with a hostile expression so Edge stared back at them. He was obviously intended to be the star turn of the afternoon. They kicked off and soon got well into their stride.
“Are you Staff Sergeant Edge of twenty-two SAS Regiment?”
“Two-two, for the record.”
“We don’t say twenty-two, the regiments are always two-two or two-three.”
“Oh, I see.”
It’s an important distinction, for the record.”
“I see. Thank you, Staff Sergeant Edge.”
“And you may refer to me as “Edge”, to move the proceedings a little quicker. You see, I’ve been kept kicking my heels in the reception while you gentlemen and lady,” he said looking at Rivera, “Had your lunch. I hope you’re sated.”
This seemed to confuse the Clerk who lost his place in the notes. Edge chuckled to himself, keep them disoriented and on their toes.
“You are on secondment from the British Special Forces?”
The representative from the security company took over the questioning, “Were you leading a fire team on the night of 3rd May?”
“And you gave the order to open fire on gainfully employed security staff from the British Fuel Consortium?”
“I gave no order to open fire. I didn’t have to. Your contractors opened fire on my fire team first.”
“There is a survivor who disputes that version of events. He says you fired a rocket flare at them first.
A survivor, damn, “You don’t fire rocket flares at people. You fire them into the air to illuminate the battle area. They go up to around 300 feet and burn on a parachute for around a minute.”
“I see. But firing a rocket is surely classified as a hostile act?”
“Not to professional soldiers, no.”
“And what would you have done in similar circumstances, Edge?”
“I would have frozen, gone to ground and waited to ascertain the situation.”
“Yes really. It’s what professional soldiers do.”
“Do professional soldiers murder eight non-combatant contractors of a British oil company?”
“Only if the enemy is armed and firing at you, with effective fire.”
“I see. Staff Sergeant Edge, would you describe yourself as a violent man?”
“No, I deal in violence but I use minimum force as directed on my Card Alpha, which states: I am obliged to use the minimum force, proportionate to the threat. Nothing in the rules of engagement limits my right to take appropriate action if I or my unit is threatened. Hostile fire may be returned effectively and promptly to prevent a hostile act.”
“That’s very impressive, Edge. You obviously know your legal obligations with regard to the laws of armed conflict, so you don’t lash out indiscriminately at enemies, real or perceived. Unless of course they are American allies. Isn’t that so, Edge?”
“You’re clutching at straws. You don’t know the full circumstances of past events and I refuse to answer further questions on this subject.”
Edge stared at Medwin who stared back without expression, then at Rivera who had the good grace to look embarrassed.
“Your contractors opened fire illegally on Colombian troops and they returned fire. A village had already been attacked and its inhabitants murdered in an appalling way. Women had been raped and mutilated, almost certainly by your contractors and for the record, they got what they deserved.”
“You have no proof it was our contractors, Edge.”
“They were not going about their lawful business. They were covertly approaching a village under the protection of troops of the Colombian Special Forces. They were all foreigners and they died violently, the same way as they lived. I could not care less about them and refuse to answer any more of these self-aggrandizing questions, that have no legal basis.”
As Edge left the room, the American Colonel smiled at him. Edge was glad to collect his weapon and get out to the dusty and windy streets. Major Martinez greeted him.
“How’d it go, Edge?”
“I was the bloody star turn, Major.”
“Same with me in the morning session.”
“In future, they can ram their fucking enquiries up their collective arses!”
“The plane’s not until lunchtime tomorrow, so you can have a lie-in. You’re welcome to join us for a meal tonight.”
“After today’s debacle, I just want to be alone tonight. Please don’t think me rude, but I’d be bad company.”
“OK, Edge. As you wish. See you tomorrow at around 12.00.”
“Thanks for staying behind for me, Major.”
Edge walked back to his hotel, picking up a couple of street kids on the way, who marched in step with him, swinging their arms with exaggerated show of juvenile military precision. Edge grinned and tried to speak to them, but they giggled shyly and continued to follow him. He felt like the Pied Piper and stopped at an ice cream booth and bought two cornets. He gave one to each of the kids and said to them: “Now you must vamoose, go away, perderse, entiendes?”
They were still tailing him when he arrived back at his hotel and he went to the reception.
“Could I order a meal in my room tonight?”
“Certainly, sir. Room service is from 18:00. Just phone the reception with your order, after 18:00.”
Edge showered and lay on the bed, lonely and frustrated. He felt betrayed by the SIS, which was only to be expected. What was worse was Rivera being in on it, when he had regarded her as a friend. It left a bitter taste in his mouth. He wasn’t in the mood for speaking to Moira, because in her eyes, everything he did was wrong. He decided the only place he felt as though he fitted in, was the Green Beret main operating base. Life was less complicated there, and then he thought about the FARC woman he had killed in cold blood. Whether she had wanted him to end her suffering or not, the fact was he was covered with her blood and brains. She was the second woman he had killed and he could have cried out with anguish.
At 18:20 he ordered a dinner of club sandwiches, a fruit cocktail and half a bottle of red wine. It came about thirty minutes later and he enjoyed the wine more than the sandwiches. He finished the fruit and contemplated ordering a second bottle of wine, a full bottle this time.
There was a knock at the door and he drew the Glock and answered the door with it pointing through the gap.
“What the hell do you want?”
“Is that a pistol in your pocket, or are you pleased to see me?” she said in her best Mae West voice.
“Get lost, Rivera.” He said with rancour.
“Please, Mark. I had nothing to do with that today.”
“Yeah, course not,” He went to shut the door on her.
“Mark, I’m sorry. Please let me in.”
He sighed and opened the door to let her in.
“Do you want a drink?” she asked.
“I don’t want dinner. I’ve eaten.”
“No, downstairs in the bar. I could do with one. I saw you buy those kids an ice cream. It was so cute, them marching behind you. Despite all your tough, hard exterior, you are really kind man. You’ve proved it to me when I was at my lowest ebb.”
“You bloody followed me?”
“Yes. I wanted to make sure you were OK, and keep my hand in at following someone.”
“Did you tell that joke of an enquiry about the SEAL in Afghanistan?”
“No, Mark. I swear that wasn’t me.”
“If you’re telling the truth, it means it was that bastard Medwin.”
“Come on Mark Edge, let’s go to the bar. Don’t worry about getting changed.”
Down in the bar she ordered a white wine for herself and a large scotch on the Rocks for Edge. They toasted each other.
Edge sat back in his chair and let his body thaw, “So you’ve met Mr Medwin, Deputy Defence Attaché and spook, our man in Bogotá.”
“Yes, he was sitting next to the contractors at today’s debacle.”
“Oh, was that him?”
Edge looked at her curiously, trying to decide whether she was being deliberately obtuse, “Yes, that was him.”
Edge spun the ice and scotch in the glass and took a large sip. He looked up at the ceiling, lost in thought.
“Mark, are you all right? You seemed so angry today.”
He looked at her and she was genuinely concerned. She put her hand on his arm, “What’s wrong?”
He lowered his voice, “We were in the jungle two nights ago. Burning a small plantation of coca and destroying the labs and processing plant. I shot a woman FARC, but she wasn’t dead. A young woman, more of a girl. She was in agony and begged me to end her suffering. I put a bullet in her head. I’ve only ever killed two women and it affects me. I feel; felt like a bastard, like I will never be forgiven.”
“Mark, thirty per-cent of FARC are women. They would kill you as soon as blink. You must stay strong.”
“I used to think the Regiment was my family, my home from home. Now I see the young, keen soldiers and feel as though I have almost nothing in common with them, apart from the same ideals, the brutality of selection and the same line of business. I feel like a stranger looking in.
“I have a friend back in the Regiment, he is having his own crisis of confidence. He fought in Africa, Sierra Leone and Rwanda and thinks life was so much easier then. He has a point. He was very popular with a lovely Russian cleaner we had in our patrol house in Kabul, so popular he made love to her, but that’s Jarvis. He always was a ladies’ man. And then she was abducted and killed. No idea who did it. It could have been the Taliban, but there are so many potential enemies in a place like Kabul. She was just another little victim, but it erodes your soul.”
Rivera felt deeply sorry for this man who clearly thought too much and those thoughts were eating him away. But the Major had told her how professional he was at his job, careful and not taking excessive risks, but here alone in his hotel, his demons were threatening to overwhelm him. Maybe he missed England, his home and family. Oh Mark Edge, I wish I could help you.
He seemed to pull himself together, “I’m sorry Clarita, you have your own problems. When is your boss’s replacement coming in?”
“I don’t know, Mark, but I’m getting a newly qualified officer next month.”
“I’m astonished that the CIA allows gapped posts in a strategically important area such as South America.”
“I don’t run Langley,” she told him, “I think their focus is on the Middle East.”
“No help to us, is it?”
Us? What did he mean by us? “I guess not.”
He finished his whisky and smiled at her, “I’ll get you another drink if you like. I’m not having any more. I’ve already drunk too much.
“No, I just came to see if you’re OK.” I could help you feel OK, Mark Edge, but I don’t have the courage and I couldn’t bear rejection. Perhaps one day I will find the courage and you could let me into your life.
She stood up, “Thanks for not slamming the door in my face, I swear that the Enquiry was nothing to do with me.”
“I know who it was, Clarita. Thanks for coming and listening to my maudlin crap.”
She kissed him on his cheek and headed out into the night. He watched her go and smiled.
© Blown Periphery 2021