The Colombian Soujourn – Chapter 28

Image by JamesRonin from Pixabay

St Juan de Pasto Main Operating Base and Bogota, the Grange Bar – Venue

The aircrews inspected their helicopters with shock and sadness. The decks were awash with coagulated blood and every one of the Blackhawks had sustained battle damage. Some drank coffee, mechanically without tasting it, others sat on the ground, heads in hands, deeply shocked.

Edge was alone in the hangar, his survivor’s guilt wrapped around him like a heavy cloak. He stared at the line of body bags on the hard and cold, concrete floor. He had already unzipped each one to make a positive identification, hoping that some were still down there, alive. Now he knew that was impossible, so he bowed his head and dealt with his anger and sorrow.

He had seen Lieutenant Collins, the officer who had given him a chance and become a comrade in arms. Nguyen who had taken his scrounging in resigned good humour and of course, the Doc. The father figure who had taught Edge so much about medicine. There would be no medical school now. No mentoring from a fine and kindly man. Edge’s urge to grizzle like a child was overwhelming.

The Major had been watching him from the open hangar doors as he knelt at each body to say a last goodbye.

“I’m so sorry, Edge. He was a good friend to me as well.”

Edge jumped and looked at the Major, “Stupid, isn’t it?”

“No. They were all friends to me as well, even when they didn’t like what I told them to do.”

Edge rubbed his tired eyes, “So what happens now, Major?”

“There’s a team from Fort Bragg flying down sometime today. There will be an enquiry and the buck will stop with me. The Ecuador government is jumping up and down, making great capital of an American armed incursion into their country and the State Department wants blood.”

Edge nodded because it seemed so unfair. The person he blamed had scuttled back to Bogota, “What do you want me to do, Major?”

“Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I want you to go. I don’t want you caught up in any of the fallout.”

“Oh, Major…”

“Your time is done here. You have proved what a courageous, intelligent and complex soldier you are. You are a credit to your regiment and your country and I count it as a privilege that I met you. I want to thank you for everything you’ve done for us and I want you gone before the enquiry team comes here. Your time is at an end anyway and I see no point in prolonging your stay. I have completed a report, which I have sent to the British Embassy in Washington, copied to my superiors in Fort Bragg.”

The Major held out his hand and they shook.

“You should still be able to make the mornings flight and rest for a day or so before you fly home. Thank you, Staff Sergeant Edge. And don’t hate Rivera. It really wasn’t her fault.”

But Edge knew that it was.

He went into the accommodation tent and packed his bag. Some of the troopers were still asleep and the others didn’t seem too inclined to speak to him, locked in their own world and grateful to have survived. He went into the medical tent to say goodbye to Vaughn and Garcia. They were sitting on a bed, looking after some of the bedded down, walking wounded. Edge shook Vaughn’s hand and hugged Garcia. He could tell she was in a state of shock.

“Three have died in the hospital, Edge,” she told him and she started to shake.

Edge looked at Vaughn, “I have to go home, the Major’s orders. I’m really sorry it turned out the way it did, but I don’t know what we would have done without you. Look after each other now and when you get back to the States. So, it’s goodbye, I’m afraid.”

Vaughn nodded, “You too, Edge. I don’t know whose fucking stupid idea the whole thing was, but I’m really pissed with whoever it was.”

“I’ll be speaking with them when I get back to the capital and harsh words will probably be said. Goodbye to you both.”

Edge grabbed his daysack, bergen and weapons valise, then waited for the aircraft, out of sight round the hangar. He felt like he was scurrying off with his tail between his legs.

He got in the back of the Turbo Commander when it came, just wishing to be alone with his thoughts. He looked out of the window as the aircraft made a one-eighty and saw the airport and the helicopters below. It was an awful end to a profitable attachment. He knew that death walked in step with them, but the sheer scale of the losses had hollowed him out. Then the loss turned to anger and recrimination. He didn’t hate Clarita Rivera, quite the reverse, but she must have known she shouldered a great deal of the responsibility. He knew there was someone else in the equation, but he didn’t know what he was going to do about them yet.

At the airport his Ford GT was where he had parked it and he spent a long time checking under it and the wheel arches. Then he looked at the doors, boot and bonnet to make sure none of the road grime had been rubbed away. Finally satisfied he got in and started the engine. He drove to the hotel and handed the weapons valise in at reception to go in the safe. The Glock he kept in his back holster.

Up in his room, Edge was in the wrong frame of mind to telephone Moira, so instead he had a shower, drew the curtains and got into bed. His sleep was uneasy and he woke at 17:00 and changed into his Kid Creole persona with the skinny jeans, and scarf. He wasn’t in the mood for a meal and went outside to the car park where he repeated the car search routine. Colombia had suddenly become a dangerous place.

He drove south to her apartment building and settled down to watch. The lights were on up on the seventh floor so Edge relaxed and waited. If necessary, he would grab her on the way to work. He’d rehearsed what to say and do to her and had a pretty good idea where to take her so there were no distractions. There was no intent to commit violence, however, he was unhappy with himself, but still extremely angry with her and he needed answers. Violence would achieve nothing, but dislocation of expectations the threat of violence and some shouting just might. If he went up and hammered on her door, she wouldn’t have answered, so a Shanghaiing was the only way.

At 19:00 a taxi pulled up in front of the apartments and her light went off. He saw her leave the building and get into the taxi and Edge followed it at a discrete distance through the city night. The taxi seemed to be headed for an area of the city with lots of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. There were throngs of people on the streets, probably looking for a good time, Edge thought bitterly.

The taxi stopped outside The Grange Bar – Venue, where the resident group that night was a reggae band. Surely not! She paid the driver and went in. She briefly turned to look down the street and he saw that she looked nervy and fateful. Edge found somewhere to park a quarter-of-a-mile away and he hurried back towards the Grange Bar.
Inside, the support band was thumping out Statue Quo cover versions and the venue wasn’t yet full. Edge looked around, now where the hell is she? He wondered if she had given him the slip and left by another door. He checked the restaurant but couldn’t see her in there and went back out to the bar. He ordered a drink and with his back to the bar, scanned the room and then he saw her… Them.

Rivera and Medwin were seated in a corner table away from the stage. Their body language was quite strange. Medwin was leaning back and paying her no attention, while she faced him and seemed to be talking in an animated fashion. He was contemptuously ignoring her, enjoying the band’s rendition of Paper Plane. Edge could guess what this was about. Rivera had been given a bum steer and now she wanted to know why.

He turned to her and laughed in her face, then stood up. Still seated she grabbed his jacket. Edge looked at the unfolding events with disbelief. Medwin drew back his arm and elbowed her extremely hard in the face. Her head jerked back while unhurriedly, he left the bar. She looked up in surprise and pain, with blood running into her mouth from her nose.

You fucking bastard! Edge thought angrily. He looked at her with pity as she pressed a handful of napkins to her face to stop the bleeding. Her tears added to the blood, which ran down and stained the front of her sweater. After about ten minutes she stood up and went to the door shakily. Edge left his drink and followed her to Whatever you Want.

She went out onto the street and leaned against a wall for support. Edge looked around for Medwin, but he’d gone. He walked up to her and reached out his hand. She backed away in terror until he took off his hat.

“It’s me.”

“Go away!”

“I didn’t hit you, your pal did. I want some answers from you, Clarita.”

“Fuck off!”

He went up to her in close, face-to-face, “Guess what I was doing this morning, Clarita. I was counting fucking body bags. I opened each one and said goodbye to the Doc, Lieutenant Collins and Nguyen. They were my friends. My brothers in arms and they’re dead. As far as I’m concerned, you killed them. Twelve of them are dead, Clarita. I want you to come with me, we’ll drive back to your apartment and you will sit down and tell me just what the hell has been going on.”

“Fuck you, Edge!”

“You will get in the car conscious or unconscious, but make no mistake, you are not getting away with this.”

He grabbed her arm high up and steered her towards where he had parked his car. At first, she resisted but he held her arm hard enough to cause discomfort and dragged her along.

“You’ve got no right to…”

“Shut up, Clarita!”

They were about two hundred yards from where he had parked his car when a car on their left seemed to slow until it was keeping pace with them. Most streetwise people can spot trouble and react to it. Edge’s sense of danger was particularly sensitive and honed. He began to react even as the car’s rear door opened. His Glock was out from the rear holster, thumbing off the slide lock in the same movement.

The problem with the Mini-Uzi machine pistol, is that in the hands of the inexperienced, the bursts are wild as the weapon pulls up to the right. Edge dragged Rivera down to the pavement and knelt over her as his Glock swept up to meet the threats. A shop window behind them shattered and empty cases tinkled on the road, as the man opened fire with the Uzi.

He was a gangster, inexperienced with a difficult weapon like the Mini-Uzi that wasn’t fitted with a burst compensator. He stopped to adjust his point of aim when Edge’s first round hit him in the chest and the second in his neck. The second threat was the man who came out of the front passenger door, firing his Ithaca 37 shotgun. It was a rushed shot that went low as he got out of the car and Edge killed him instantly with two rounds of his Glock.
The driver had decided enough was enough and leaving his dead compadres on the road, he put his foot down. The car fishtailed on the wet road and Edge methodically pumped rounds at the driver through the side window. The car stalled and Edge stood up. He opened the driver’s door and the driver fell out, moaning in fear and pain. Edge shot him in the head and the same for Señor Uzi and Ithaca Hombre.

“For God’s sake, Edge!”

“Don’t fucking thank me! I don’t want them reporting back to their boss, probably Medwin, to tell him how we’re still alive. Now get up and move!” Somewhere a woman screamed and as he dragged Rivera along, people got out of their way.

“Get in the car!”

On the drive back to her apartment she grizzled and dabbed her nose, which had started bleeding again. She looked at his profile and could tell he was absolutely furious with her. He didn’t say a word, which made matters much worse.

“Edge, please…”

When they arrived back at her apartment, Edge dragged Rivera up the flights of stairs by the collar of her jacket. Every time she stumbled or fell, he would haul her up. She tried to hit him, but he karate-chopped her bicep and her arm went dead. Outside her apartment he slammed her against the door.

“Get you keys… Move!”

She unlocked the door and he pushed her through, looking around quickly, then in the bedroom, pushed her onto the bed.

“Please don’t hurt me, Edge,” she said backing away from him. Her eyes were dark circles of terror.

He massaged his eyes with his fingers and thumb, still holding onto her with his other arm. His face was cold and terrifying, “What would be the point? I could beat it out of you or use the many implements in this flat to cause enough pain for you to tell me. But that isn’t my way and I don’t and would never do that. You would end up hating me and possibly all men. But what’s more important is that I would end up hating myself.”

She decided to counter-attack to save face, “Is this what you do! You tough and brave SAS soldier. Why not give me a good beating? It’s what I deserve isn’t it, a split lip and a black eye? Why don’t you rape me for good measure? Rough me up a bit. It’s what I’ve got coming, isn’t it, Edge! I thought we were friends, you bastard!”

She pulled hysterically at her clothes and was screaming at him.

“Clarita, stop it! For God’s sake get a grip on yourself. I thought you understood me by now.”

She was shaking with fear and he released her arms. He went round the bed and sat next to her, placing his hand gently but firmly on her head. “Clarita, you are in trouble and so am I. Save yourself the guilt and tell me what you have been discussing with Charles Medwin.”

“Don’t hurt me, please.”

“We’ve already established that I don’t want to hurt you and that you’re going to tell me everything you know, because we, particularly you are in the shit. Why do you think those men were passing in the car as you left the nightclub? Medwin classed me as collateral damage. You think a sub-machine gun differentiates between you and me? He meant to kill you as well as me. Fucking look at me Clarita! You could not begin to believe what trouble we are in. Charles Medwin will now try to kill both of us and make sure, so we have to get out as quickly as we can. I reckon you’ve got a forty-eight-hour lead on your CIA pals.

“Grab some spare clothes and your laptop and we’ll stay in my hotel, perhaps move on to somewhere else to throw them off the scent. While we’re there, you are going to put down everything you’ve been up to since your boss went sick.”

“I’ll go to the Head of Station. The CIA will make sure we’re all right,” she said naively.

Edge shook her angrily and decided she needed a very firm wake-up call, tough love, “No They won’t, you bloody fool! You’ve been passing information to a foreign power’s secret intelligence service. You would disappear and so would I. They will want to find out how much information you’ve been passing and I reckon, because of the scale of your stupidity, they will do it the good, old-fashioned way, no drugs, just lots of pain. More than you thought you could ever endure, but you’ll end up screaming your guts out in some remote, Colombian cellar. You are a CIA officer, so you must have heard about the School of the Americas. The CIA was a good teacher in the latest and most advanced techniques of applying pain to the human body.

“Understand this, torture is the ultimate act of perverted intimacy. The torturer invades the subject’s body, pervades their psyche, and possesses their mind. Deprived of contact with others and starved for human interactions, the prey bonds with the predator. “Traumatic bonding,” similar to Stockholm syndrome. It’s about hope and the search for meaning in the brutal and nightmarish universe of the torture cell.

And that’s the worst thing, not the agony and degradation. You will form a bond with your torturer. In the beginning you will hate him, but as time goes endlessly on, you will grow to love him, especially when he stops the pain. He will learn more about your body than you could ever know. He will play tricks with your mind until you beg for the release of death.

“All trace of you would be gone and nobody would know that you ever existed. Either that or you’d be found dead of an unfortunate cocaine overdose, in a car over a cliff. They would keep you alive long enough to make you addicted to the Colombian marching powder, then it’s so long and thanks for all the fish. Do you get it now?”

“They would never do that to us,” But she thought about the young, Colombian mother, her screams of pain and her begging for them to stop the agony, tortured and dumped dead in a drainage conduit.

He looked long and steadily at her, not saying a word. She burst into sobs that shook her entire body so forcibly she struggled for breath.

“I’m sorry, really sorry. I know I’ve been fucking stupid, but I didn’t want anybody to die. He… He told me it would be easy, bomb the place then move in to grab intelligence… The Doc, Lieutenant Collins, Nguyen all dead and all the others because of me! I will never be forgiven. Death is what I deserve, a painful, long slow death…”

She put her head in her hands and continued to sob. Edge’s heart went out to her and he cuddled her like a child, until she stopped. He looked around the room and saw a framed watercolour of mountains and a tree-lined lake. The anger dissipated and he kept her in a tight embrace, his face buried in her hair.

“Stop it, Clarita. We need to think quickly.”

“Please don’t hate me, Mark!”

He put his index finger on her lips, then went to get a couple of sheets of kitchen roll from the little kitchen. When he got back, she looked at him, red eyes, tears, blood and snot on her face.

“Give your face a clean-up, then go and pack a small bag with absolute essentials, that is your laptop and any electrical media, flash drives, anything to do with any correspondence you had with that MI6 bastard. You’ll need a change of clothes, underwear, wash stuff and your passport. Take your Sig and everything you’ll need for a week or so. We can always buy some more stuff if you miss anything. How much fuel is in your Ford?”

“It’s just off full.”

“Good, we’ll take that. My car is a bit conspicuous.”

“Why don’t you just go? Leave me here for whatever I have coming,” she said mournfully, “You could be out of the country in a few hours, you’d be safe.”

“Because you’re my friend, my comrade. Because you looked after me when I was sick and you gave me hope when I was looking for suicide by FARC.”

“Oh God, that’s the last thing I would have thought of you. I wish I could make you understand just how sorry I am,” she sobbed.

“Now isn’t the time for recriminations. Move your arse, Clarita because this is the first place, they’ll come looking for us. I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, when we get to my hotel.”

She put the laptop in its bag with some documents a couple of flash drives and a dongle. Edge was keeping a watch out of the window in the sitting room with the lights off. Finally, she took his painting off the wall and tried to get it in her bag.

“You can’t be serious,” Edge said from the doorway.

“You painted it for me and it reminds me of you, of us. I want to take it.”

“Then take it out of the frame and roll it up. Sometimes I wonder about you.”

“It is precious to me. Every time I looked at it, I thought of you… Of us by that lake. It was the first time in months I had been truly happy.”

“Come on, Clarita,” his voice was much gentler now, “We need to do a lot of damage limitation. My hotel first to collect my stuff, then we’ll move somewhere else. We need to get you out of the country.”

“Not the States!”

“Don’t be wet! Give me your car keys. I’ll drive. Have that bloody Sig ready. Now is the time for you to grow a pair.”

© Blown Periphery 2022