Edge was in the jungle, part of a team monitoring the Putumayo River crossings, when Rivera next visited the Green Berets’ Main Operating Base. Martinez was standing on the pan, watching the Cessna Caravan taxi in and he helped her down.
“I don’t know what you did, but Edge seems to have cheered up enormously, since that damned stupid enquiry.”
“I didn’t do anything Thiago, I just listened to him getting stuff off his chest.”
“Do you like him.”
“Yes, I do, I guess. No that’s not strictly true. I like him a lot. He reminds me of a big brother I never had.”
“Do you still think he’s a violent and dangerous man?”
“Yes. I wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, but he is also gentle, kind and patient. I listen to him, he listens to me.”
“A real symbiotic relationship. Have you slept with him?”
“Thiago, for God’s sake! No, I haven’t! It’s not that kind of relationship.”
“OK. Then in that case let’s get down to business. What is Langley’s direction of travel this time?”
“Can we go inside your lair, please.”
Inside the command tent, Wilson was monitoring the radios. He stood up to leave but Rivera shook her head, “No, he can stay and you might as well have your Lieutenants sit in on this as well.”
“Collins is here but Turner’s out in the jungle, watching the Putumayo River crossings, as you requested. Would you go and ask him to join us please, Wilson?”
A few minutes later Collins came in, “Good morning, Ms Rivera. I really enjoyed that show trial a couple of days back. Nice of you to lay on Bogotá’s finest. We never did find out what those security guys were up to, did we?”
“It was nothing to do with me, Lieutenant Collins. I was just observing the proceedings.”
They waited while she fired up her ruggedised laptop and gathered round as she showed them some slides.
“OK, this is just to let you know, we’ve got some visitors arriving tomorrow from Pentagon City from the Drug Enforcement Administration. They are here on a “fact finding” mission to see the steps being taken to eradicate the production and prevent the shipment of Cocaine, north into the Americas.”
“And they want to pay us a visit?” asked Martinez.
“They will almost certainly, yes. On Wednesday. Stay the night in Pasto and then down south to the border area.”
“And they will want to use one of our Hueys?”
“No, they want to drive in two SUVs in order to see as much of the country as possible. Visit a couple of areas where the coca crop has been eradicated.” Rivera told them, looking embarrassed.
Martinez shook his head in bewilderment, “Don’t they know how dangerous the border areas can be?”
“They are going with a CIA protection team, five of them, three agents with experience in the country.”
“That has to be the dumbest thing I’ve heard in a long time,” Collins said, speaking out.
“Who put them up to this?” Martinez asked.
“It’s classic group-think,” Rivera told them, “They are victims of their own, or rather your success. They see the reports that the cartels have been pushed back and have to operate from Ecuador and the FARC has been contained and is being steadily eradicated. Admittedly, Langley puts its own spin on these reports and the Washington set believe the simplicity. It doesn’t help that with Obama, we’ve got one of the most corrupt presidents in history. He’s too busy covering up and feathering his own nest to be fully engaged in South America. If he likes the reports, he reads them. If he doesn’t, his lackies will read them, not understanding a goddamned word.”
She was obviously riled up and the soldiers stared at her.
“You didn’t hear that from me,”
“Well, Ms Rivera, there was us thinking you were an establishment girl. Have you been talking to Edge too much?”
“No. I’m from Puerto Rico and that makes me an outsider looking in. Frankly I’m sick to death of dumb-arsed politicians and their stupid and ill-thought-out directives.”
“So why by vehicle and not a helicopter?”
She looked at the Major and shrugged, “I guess they can see more of what’s happening on the ground by vehicle. It’s not too bad if they stick to the main roads and keep well clear of the Putomayo River and the crossings. That’s what I’ll tell them in the security brief. Could you just make sure when they visit, that none of your troops have just left the showers and are air drying and cooling off their genitalia, please.”
“Perhaps you’d like an honour guard on the pan?” Collins suggested playfully.
Rivera looked at him, “That won’t be necessary, Lieutenant Collins. They will probably be interested in the accommodation, the medical tent, the Hueys and Mr Edge. Could he be available when they visit?”
“Edge? I’ll see what I can do, make sure he’s nicely scrubbed up for them. They will just love his English accent.”
“He can swear with alacrity.” Collins agreed.
“Could you make sure he’s on his best behaviour please,” Rivera asked them, “Where is he by the way?”
“He’s been out for two nights, monitoring the Putumayo River crossings, as per your directive. Turner is with him and eight Alpha guys,” Martinez said looking at his watch, “They should be back within the next half hour.”
“I’m in no hurry to go back to Bogotá so I’ll jump on the evening flight.”
“You can have lunch with us. MRE Le Table du Chef. Ah, the warriors return,” Martinez said as a Huey swept over the tents and flared for landing. Someone was standing on the skid and he stepped off lightly as the helicopter landed. She stared at this person with surprise. She would not have recognised him apart from his rifle. He was covered with a dark camouflage cream, interspaced with lines of green and brown smeared down his face, neck and arms. His equipment and jungle hat were festooned with clumps of grass tufts.
“You look like a scarecrow,” she told him.
“Why thank Yee, Aunt Sally. Nice to see you. Better let me get cleaned up. You don’t want me to get your undergarments all smeared.”
“That’s assuming I’m wearing any,” Rivera said light-heartedly.
Edge grinned. His teeth were so white and his gums very pink in his blackened face, “Why are you here, Clarita?”
“The Major will tell you the good news. I’m going to shoot the breeze with the boys in the mess tent.”
Edge sat on the pan and cleaned his rifle. Always his weapons first, him last. She paused by the flap into the mess tent and watched him. There was something about him that made her feel both safe and a little bit scared. Clarita bit her lip, the thoughts whirling around in her head.
In the mess tent she was the butt of good-natured jokes and she shared their beer with a can of Bud. Edge joined them half-an-hour later after his debrief and a shower and she thought he smelled rather good as he sought her out.
“You’ve done me up like a kipper,” he said to her.
“What do you mean? I don’t understand.”
“A bloody performing clown for the DEA and your CIA chums. This is our token Brit. Isn’t he so cute?”
Edge took a beer and went outside. She cursed that she had upset him yet again. Why was he so easy to rile? She followed him out and found him at the back of the hangar, sipping his can of Bud and smoking a cigarette. He looked at her and half smiled.
“Before you say anything, this is my first for two days.”
“It’s your health. If you want to die prematurely, don’t let me stop you.”
Edge laughed, “Kill myself prematurely? I’ve been shot by a rifle and a handgun. I’ve had a parachute malfunction, spinning at night, Tangled in my own shrouds. Been beaten up in the cells of a German police station and been in close quartet fighting with the Taliban, close enough to smell their bad breath and hear and feel my knife go into their flesh. And you’re worrying that a cigarette will cause me an early death?”
This time I won’t look away. “It’s because I care about you.”
“Yes, and I keep making you pissed with me.”
He flicked the cigarette away, stood up and put an arm on her shoulder, “It’s because we’re supposed to be incognito. We tend to shun the limelight, don’t appear in photographs. It’s not because we want to generate and air of mystique, it’s a vital security function, because the Provos would like nothing better than killing us or our families off duty. And besides, who would want to see this face?”
“You could wear a mask, or we could swathe you in bandages, like the invisible man.”
This time his laugh was genuine, “OK Clarita, I’ll meet them. I’ll even do my cockanee accent and sing My Old Bamboo for them:
Me ol’ bam-boo, me ol’ bam-boo
You’d better never bother with me ol’ bam-boo.
You can have me hat or me bum-ber-shoo
But you’d better never bother with me ol’ bam-boo.”
“You’re an asshole, Mark Edge. Sometimes I wonder if you take anything seriously. Obviously, your job but not your life.”
“It’s too short. You have to cram as much in as possible, which you will find out when you have a family, a husband and babies.”
She went to leave and smiled sadly at him, “Sometimes I feel I’m never destined to find somebody who will love and look after me. I’m sorry I make you angry with me.”
“You don’t, Clarita. Really, I’m just angry with myself. And there is somebody out there for you. You just haven’t met them yet.”
They came two days later, two dark SUVs and pulled up on the pan. There was a Huey and Cobra, crews standing by, ready for inspection. There were eight of them, two male and one female bodyguard and two females and three males from the Drug Enforcement Administration. Rivera was in tow with them while the drivers remained with the vehicles. Their first port of call was the command tent, where Martinez gave them a comprehensive brief, outlining their mission and reiterating the dangers of the border area. Then they were free to wonder round the detachment and speak to anybody with Collins and Turner hosting them.
They were interested in the accommodation tents and the rows of camp beds and smiled politely as they mechanically ate bags of MREs. Edge was suited and booted, waiting in the medical tent with the Doc, when they visited. His medical bergen was open and laid out, together with his equipment and rifle. He was wearing his MTP camouflage and worn and faded beret, shaped properly, unlike the American monstrosities with the ribbons dangling down at the back, like a French sailor.
Lieutenant Collins made the introductions: “This is our MTF headed up by Captain Anderson, our Medical Officer.”
The DEA officials asked if he had a bedding down capability and the ability to do surgical procedures. He showed them the compact operating theatre and the ward and answered the questions regarding the most common ailments. Then he introduced Edge.
“This is Staff Sergeant Edge, who us on secondment to us from the British Special Air Service. Among his many other disciplines, Edge is a combat medic.”
“I see you have quite a lot of medical equipment. Do you go into combat with it?”
“Yes, Ma’am, with my personal kit, weapons and ammunition. All up, around sixty pounds.”
He could tell straight away that his accent was intriguing them. Rivera grinned at him from behind the visitors and gave him the thumbs-up.
“And what is the role of a combat medic?” A male member of the DEA asked.
“To administer immediate emergency care to a casualty, once the firefight has been won and fought through. A combat medic provides care within the treatment timelines that will hopefully sustain and keep a casualty alive in order for them to reach a higher echelon of medical care, surgery here or in a local hospital. Once a casualty has been stabilised, they are generally evacuated back to the States by air. But the most important thing to remember is that a combat medic is primarily a soldier, who must win the firefight first.”
“Can you treat the locals?”
“To a very limited extent, sprains, burns, childhood ailments and sickness. Obviously, obstetrics and gynaecology are a non-starter.”
The woman from the DEA looked almost disappointed.
“Ladies, Gentlemen, we must be getting on,” said one of the CIA bodyguards. Edge was amused to see that they wore earpieces and dark glasses.
“Thank you, Master Sergeant Edge, most informative and thank you, doctor.”
As they filed out, Rivera sidled up to Edge, “She wants your babies,” she told him. The Doc looked at the pair of them and raised his eyes.
The visitors looked round the Huey before climbing into their transport, to take them back to their hotel. Once they had gone, Martinez and Rivera breathed a collective sigh of relief.
“Thank you, Thiago. They were impressed. I just hope the rest of their visit goes as smoothly.”
“Aren’t you going with them?”
“No. I’ve got a department to run. I’ll take whatever intelligence they gather and then hopefully will make some sense out of it. I’m flying back to the capital on the evening flight.
“What about the danger of visiting that area?” Martinez asked.
She shrugged, I passed it by Langley and they said it will be OK after doing a risk assessment. They didn’t seem too worried, so why should I be?”
She caught the flight back to Bogotá and decided to do some work at the office, even though it was getting late. She dealt with the trivial, but time-consuming matters that kept the department running. A security pass for the female officer that would be joining the department next month and a log-on for the secret terminal. Rivera was disappointed the new officer would be a woman; she craved male company, but was glad of an extra pair of hands. She checked her e-mails on the classified terminal, but there was nothing that demanded her immediate attention.
On her personal account was another e-mail from her sister, which she deleted without reading. Then she went home, had a shower and opened the windows to dry herself naturally. As she lay on the bed, her thoughts wondered and she imagined herself on a battlefield, injured and her body being worked upon by Mark Edge. She thought of his cold, grey eyes staring at her, his hard hands on her body and she sat up with a shudder. For Mark Edge to be working on her, she would have to have been shot or caught in a bomb blast. She just wasn’t that brave.
Clarita pulled on her night dress, opened and heated a can of soup and watched the TV while she sipped the soup out of a mug. This is it, she thought. This is the sum total of my shit life. Eating soup in a miserable little apartment, alone and frustrated. She dumped the empty mug in the sink, turned off the TV and got into bed. In the darkness, she sobbed.
© Blown Periphery 2021