St Juan de Pasto Main Operating Base, The Pan American Highway North-West of Ipiales
When Edge got back from Bogota there were eight Blackhawk and two Apache helicopters sitting on the hardstanding in front of the hangars. The antique Hueys had been moved to the grass behind the tents, which seemed an unfair relegation to Edge. There were less Colombian troops about, diverted further north to aid in the battle to the west of the capital in the jungle. It seemed as though the whole operational effort was changing, taking a new direction while the Colombian forces dealt with the FARC. Edge went to find his cot and said hello to the few Green Berets hanging around the accommodation area,
“I see you’ve got some new toys to play with,” he said to Lee.
“Yeah, they pitched up the day before yesterday, while you were schmoozing with Rivera.”
“She’s in the States.”
“Is that anything to do with the Blackhawks pitching up?”
“Anyway, the Doc’s pleased.”
“He’s got a new, inflatable medical treatment facility, totally air portable and two pharmacist’s mates, to pander to his every whim.”
Edge smiled, “Blackhawks and a mobile treatment facility. Things really are happening at the moment.”
Edge went to find the Doc and two pharmacist mates were in the ward, one male, a Master Sergeant and a Sergeant female. He said hello to them and they looked at his beret.
“You must be Edge,” the female said with a smile.
“That’s me. I hear you’re increasing our medical footprint.”
“We most certainly are,” the Master Sergeant said in what to Edge seemed a rather pompous manner, “You’re a combat medic, right?”
“I’m a Blade first and foremost. Sniper is my speciality with a side-line in medicine. I would of course bow to your expertise.”
“You’re selling yourself short, Edge,” said the Doc from the doorway of the tent, “It’s good to have you back. How is the lovely, Clarita Rivera?”
“I don’t know, Doc. She was in the States, Virginia is what she said.”
“Langley. The Blackhawks and now these two fine individuals. I rather think that we’re going to be busy. Best check your kit, Edge.”
“Where are we going? Well, tomorrow morning, you and I are going to the University Hospital Department of Nariño in Pasto. We’re going to check out their ER.”
“Why’s that, Doc?”
“Well now, did you notice that when we had to rescue our unfortunate DEA officers from the devilish clutches of FARC, a surgical support team was flown in to help us, plus an Evac flight?”
“Sure, Doc. I remember.”
“Well, Edge, the old cynic in me reckons that as this is a military undertaking, now two pharmacist’s mates and a blow-up tent is all that’s required. Not that I’m denigrating these two fine, upstanding examples of the cream of American society.”
The female sergeant smiled good-naturedly while the master sergeant looked slightly pained. It was the Doc’s way Edge had learned and he could tell that the medical officer was beneath the flippant exterior, slightly worried.
“Do they know we’re coming?”
“Yes, I phoned and made an appointment earlier this morning with a Dr Andres Gómez.”
“And before I forget, Edge, Major Martinez wants to see you.”
“Any Idea what it’s about?”
Edge dropped his weapons valise off with Nguyen and went to the command tent. As he walked past the medical tent, he could have sworn her heard: “Blade? Who the fuck does he think he is?”
At the command tent he coughed politely and went in.
“You wanted to see me, sir?”
“Staff Sergeant Edge, come in and sit down.”
The Major gave him a mug of coffee and pulled a sheet of paper from a folder. Martinez had been dreading this moment.
“This came in yesterday as a flash e-mail. As you can see, it’s marked as confidential.”
Edge read the sheet of paper that had originated in the Pentagon. He was annoyed, but could see the reasoning behind it, “Well, sir, it looks like I’ll be sitting on the substitutes’ bench.”
“I’m sorry, Edge, but you won’t even make the team. Try to look at it from their point of view. Wherever it is we’re going, they don’t want a Brit involved. Not because we don’t rate you, but because they are thinking about national sensitivities. I guess they just don’t want you to go where we’re going.”
Edge knew they were going into Ecuador. They had done enough tinkering around the edges and now they were going to strike the head off the serpent.
“It’s OK, sir. I get the picture. I get to lurk round here until you lot come back for tea and medals.”
The Major looked at him, “I have to say, Edge. You’re taking it rather well.”
Edge looked at the sheet again, “I understand the reasoning behind it, sir. I’ve been profoundly grateful to have operated with you. If the big boys in Washington don’t want me to play on your next mission, then it’s pointless carping about it. I will be thinking about you all and rooting for you.”
“How was Bogota?”
“She wasn’t there, Major. She was in the States at Langley when I phoned her.”
“I reckon you’ll be going to commit ultraviolence fairly soon, sir.”
“And I think you’re right.”
Edge stood up and handed the sheet of paper to the Major.
“Thank you for being so understanding.”
Edge smiled ruefully, saluted and left.
It was getting dark and Edge was smoking his first and last cigarette of the day, round the back of the hangar. He saw a figure moving in the darkness and immediately knew that it was a female by the shape and gait. She had been making a phone call and as she walked past, she paused and looked down at him.
“Hello, Edge. It is an unusual name, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, Sergeant…?”
“Garcia, Emma Garcia.”
“Good evening, Emma. I love the evenings in the mountains as it gets dark. Sometimes I watch the bats. I think they’re called Bonneted Bats.”
“You’re that English SAS guy, aren’t you?”
“I am. But I’m not all bad. Only around the full moon.”
My fiancée said he’s worked with the Brit SAS in Afghanistan. He’s a crewman on the Blackhawks.”
“Is he one of the crews that came down from the States?” Edge asked.
“No, he’s still out there. They do eight months at a time.”
“You can sit down here if you like. I promise I won’t bite.”
“You Brits are nuts,” but she sat down next to him.
“How come you’re here?” she asked.
She peered at him in the darkening evening, “I’m not sure I understand.”
“I’m here to learn the latest techniques in jungle warfare. That’s the official line.”
“What do you know about this operation that’s coming up?”
“Very little. I was told earlier today that I’m not going to be part of it, whatever it is.”
“You should be glad, but you’re not, are you?”
“I’ve been around long enough to know how these things work.”
Edge threw his cigarette away and looked up at the three-quarter moon.
“We’re like fish out of water,” she told him, “Two days ago we were working in the aviation wing’s medical treatment facility. And now we’re here. The Doc’s nice, but I think he was expecting a more sizable medical contingent. I’m quite nervous and so is Vaughn.”
“My master sergeant. I’m sorry he acted like an asshole, but that’s to cover up that he’s scared.”
“Are you scared, Emma?”
“Yes. A little… Well, a lot actually.”
“Don’t worry. They are not going to put you in harm’s way. The combat medics will be with the troops to deal with any immediate emergency care. You’ll be in the second echelon I should think.”
“Do you ever get scared, Edge?”
“Yes. Only a damned fool would say they don’t feel fear. A fool and a liar.”
“How do you cope with it?”
“I whistle a happy tune.”
She giggled. It was a most alluring sound in the quiet of the evening. She stood up, “I’d better go to bed. Corporal Nguyen has put up a cot for me in the medical pharmacy. Thank you, Edge.”
“Listening without laughing at me.”
Edge stayed until it was dark and then he stood up stiffly. He was coming to the end of his gainful employment here, and while part of him ached to go home, a lot of him would miss his comrades in arms, and a very special comrade, the Lady of the Lake.
The next morning as soon as it was light, Edge was woken by the ground crews preparing a Blackhawk for an early sortie. He watched in surprise as the Major, Lieutenant Turner and six force protection troops went out and clambered on board and the helicopter took off and headed south. He went and found the Doc, who was with the two pharmacists’ mates. Emma smiled shyly at him. Master Sergeant Vaughn found a pile of disposable bedpans to be absolutely fascinating.
“Good morning, Doc. Where are the grown-ups off to?”
“There’s been some kind of incident on the Pan-American highway and the Federal Police have asked for assistance.”
“Are we still going to the local hospital?”
“Of course. No long weapons please, just sidearms carried covertly. Grab some breakfast first. Do any of you two want to come? Being able to speak Spanish is a good idea.”
Vaughn shook his head, but the sergeant looked eager, “I can speak a bit of Spanish, sir.”
“OK then, see you out at the Humvees in forty-five minutes.”
Edge and the Doc were early and they sat in the vehicle chatting.
“I don’t know where you’re all going, Doc, but I’m going to have to sit this one out.”
“Because the Pentagon has decided that it’s a no Brit show.”
“We’ll see about that. I need you at the forward operational base for if there are any casualties. I’ll speak with the Major when we all get back.”
“Do you know where you’re going, Doc?”
“It’s into Ecuador, isn’t it?”
The Doc stared at him, “How the hell do you know that?”
“I guessed and I’m not a fool. That’s why the Pentagon don’t want me to go.”
“We don’t have enough medical assets, Edge. Me and two pharmacists’ mates at the forward base. We need you as well. They may not let you go forward, but you will be a great asset in the MTF.”
“But at least Emma’s keen,” Edge told him.
“Who the hell is Emma?”
“The nice-looking pharmacist’s mate. She’s engaged to be married and she’s scared, but she’ll do OK.”
“How do you know this, Edge?”
“She told me last night.”
“My God, you really are in touch with your feminine side.”
“Not really, Doc. I listen and ask the right questions.”
They watched the lady in question walk out towards the Humvee. She was wearing a helmet that looked too big for her. Edge got out and held the front door open for her, then got in the back.
“Do you have a soft hat?” the Doc asked.
“Yes, sir. In my pocket. Do you want me to put it on?”
They pulled away from the hangars and headed out of the airport, taking the southerly road towards Pasto.
“Are we nearly there yet?” Edge asked.
The Blackhawk followed the Pan-American Highway south at about 200 feet, low enough for its shadow to undulate across the fields and scrub beneath them.
“The police have stopped all traffic until we get there.”
“What is it, Major?” Turner asked.
“I don’t know, but the Federal Police Chief sounded upset.”
In the distance, the co-pilot pointed a myriad of flashing blue and red lights as they flew over a long traffic jam heading south.
“Up ahead, sir.”
The helicopter started to slow and went nose up as it flared for landing, on an area of scrub land off the road. As it landed, Martinez looked at a large billboard on the other side of the road with the police around it.
“Oh Jesus Christ!”
The six protection troopers went out, four to protect the helicopter and two accompanying Martinez and Turner. A colonel of the National Police (Policía Nacional de Colombia) was waiting for them. His face was pale and his eyes were haunted. Martinez saluted him as a courtesy and then looked towards the billboard unwillingly. The sight was appalling.
Seven naked bodies were hanging from the billboard, some by the hands and others by the feet. They were men, women and two children. They had been alive when they were strung up and then they had been used for target practice with small calibre weapons, to ensure they didn’t die too quickly.
“Who are… Were they?” asked Martinez.
“The local mayor and his family. They were abducted two days ago and killed last night.”
“Any idea who did it, Colonel?”
“Camilo Hernández. He left his calling card. All the males have been castrated.”
“The bastard is goading us,” Turner said bitterly.
“Colonel, I will need to take some photographs for evidence to send to the States and when I’ve finished you can cut them down. God have mercy on their souls and I really am so sorry.”
Martinez took a number of digital photographs, including close ups, then said to Turner: “For the Pentagon and Rivera. We need to move fast to stop this bastard, permanently.”
“When will we know?”
“I’m hoping in the next couple of days. We’ll see if the son of a bitch still feels safe when we go and get him.”
“You were telling porky pies, Emma,” Edge said to Sergeant Garcia as they drove away from the University Hospital Department of Nariño, “Your Spanish is better than mine.”
“Perhaps the name “Garcia” is a little giveaway, Gringo? And just what the hell is a “porky pie,” Edge?”
“it’s Cockernee rhyming slang. The second part rhymes with what you are trying to say. Apples and pears, stairs, porky pie, lie. In a moment I’ll be getting out my old bamboo.”
Edge started to sing: “It’s a jolly holiday wiv Maryeee.”
Garcia looked at the Doc, who shook his head.
“What did you make of the hospital’s ER, Edge?”
“Not too bad and as good as any in my country, with its crumbling, Stalinist, centralised National Health Service. They only have four intensive care beds, so that could be a pinch point. Good access to land a helicopter, but a long way from the airport, for onward movement of casualties.”
“And Dr Andres Gómez?” asked the Doc.
“You spoke the most to him, Emma. What do you think?”
“I think he was slightly worried that he would be inundated with casualties.”
“Let’s hope that doesn’t happen,” the Doc said quietly, “I will make sure that Major Martinez knows that we need you, Edge.”
Good luck with that, Doc.”
“I can be most persuasive. I’ll need to be.”
That day, four F16C fighter/bombers, a C130H Compass Call Radar jamming aircraft and a C17 with support troops and equipment, landed at Buenaventura airport in southern Colombia. Clarita Rivera had just stepped out of the shower when her cell phone rang.
“The meeting is in two days’ time.”
The person at the other end hung up, but Clarita had recognised the voice.
© Blown Periphery 2022