The Thames Valley and North Devon
The endgame and the cat who walks on his own
Edge felt the exhaustion wash over him in the claustrophobic interview room. The two, armed plod didn’t help and neither did the florescent lights. He hadn’t had a good, restful sleep since Clarita had been nuzzled next to him, and now he had the makings of a cold. He grabbed the three chairs, put them in a row against the wall and lay down on them. The policeman and his porky, diminutive female side-kick obviously didn’t like this.
“Sit properly,” the male plod said in an extremely threatening way.
Edge opened his eyes and observed the plod who looked faintly ridiculous in his flak jacket, MP5 and Nitehawk military patrol boots. He had stubble and tattoo sleeves on his arms.
“Fuck off,” Edge said pleasantly.
The plod went to point his MP5 at Edge.
“Let me tell you how this works,” Edge told him like he was a particularly dense student, “You are here to watch me and make sure I don’t do a runner, until the grownups arrive, in this case MI6. I know you’re not going to shoot me and so do you. You may think I’m being provocative and you may have thought about tasering me. I can assure you, that should your hand go anywhere near your taser pouch, I will break it. I can move extremely fast, even though I’m dead on my feet.”
Edge then addressed the female plod, “And I would be grateful if you would hold that MP5 correctly as though you mean it, not like it’s some fashion accessory. Your incompetence worries me.”
He closed his eyes. He could practically hear the plod’s teeth grinding with frustration. After around forty-five minutes the two police officers were replaced by two more and it was as though roles had been reversed. This time it was the plodette who had the sleeve tattoos, but mercifully no stubble and looked like she was itching to shoot him.
Edge addressed the new male plod, “I take it you don’t see too many desperados like me?”
“Oh, you’d be surprised. Rihanna can kick off and as for Adele, don’t ask!”
Edge smiled. A plod with a sense of humour, how unusual.
The male of the couple turned to his female counterpart, “Can you watch Hannibal Lecter for a few minutes, while I powder my nose.
“Don’t leave your gun in the toilet like last time,” she said.
When he had gone, Edge tried to engage the female copper in conversation, “Is this your usual haunt?”
She stared at him and looked away.
“Please yourself,” Edge said and lay down again.
The male copper returned about five minutes later with a large, Styrofoam cup of coffee. He put it on the table with several sachets of sugar.
“This is for you, Hannibal,” he said and stood back.
“He could throw it at us,” his colleague remonstrated.
“I don’t think so. You won’t will you?”
“Promise,” Edge said, “And thanks by the way. That’s good of you.”
Edge emptied three of the sugar sachets into the coffee and stirred it with the wooden stick. It was very hot, but was welcome.
“So, what have you been up to,” the male copper asked while his colleague looked up in exasperation.
“I can’t tell you anything. It is better that you don’t know. The people who will arrive will probably ask you what I have said and if I keep schtum, they won’t have any reason to doubt what you say.”
“I reckon you’ve been a really bad boy,”
“That’s enough, Carl. Listen to what he said. It’s better that we don’t know.”
Edge decided to lighten the mood, “OK, while we’re on the subject of bad boys, what are the most common crimes at the airport?”
To his surprise the female copper answered, “The most common is theft. The pickpockets come to the airport like flies and they find rich pickings among the passengers. They just don’t concentrate and “lose” items of hand baggage. There are gangs in London that have been made rich by this thieving, mainly Eastern Europeans.”
“Drugs,” her male colleague continued. They still try to get through carrying drugs and the dogs can smell them. Even if they’ve been swallowed. They sweat it out. And then there’s the good, old drunken assault and affray. Too long at the bar, the security won’t let them board, so they kick off. You see humanity at its worst in this place.”
Edge finished the coffee and the door to the interview room opened. Five men waited outside, while one of them walked into the bare room.
“Are you Staff Sergeant Edge?”
“We want you to come with us. I have your hand baggage. Are there any other cases?”
“No. I travelled light.”
Edge stood up and looked at the two police officers, “Thanks for the coffee and it was good to meet you.”
The five men hemmed him in and they walked towards the main exits and the road outside, where two cars were waiting, black and anonymous. Edge was told to sit in the back of the first car with one of the men, while two got in the front. The other three got into the second car and the small convoy headed off and got on the M4 Motorway heading west. Nobody spoke in the car and Edge would have been disconcerted if he wasn’t so tired.
The cars took the A404 and got off at Marlow and then headed towards Henley-on-Thames, following the river. They drove up to a gatehouse with automatic iron gates, which opened and they drove straight through them. Down a short drive was a genteel house, surrounded by well-maintained grounds that swept down towards the river. The cars stopped in front of the house and Edge was escorted out and into a library, and a table with several chairs. Three people were already in it, a woman and two men. Edge was invited to sit down. He guessed this was a Security Services’ safe house and de-briefing centre, so there was to be no shouting and rubber hosepipes in a dingy cellar… Yet.
One of the men led the questioning while the woman took notes and watched him carefully, “Staff Sergeant Edge. It would appear that reports on your untimely death were much exaggerated. Do you mind if I call you Mark?”
“Do you know why we detained you at the airport and have brought you here?”
“Yes. Why is there no representative from the Directorate Special Forces here?”
“You will be aware that one of our officers has gone missing in Colombia.”
“Yes, have you read the files on the flash drive I sent to the head of security at Vauxhall Cross?” Edge asked.
“Yes, we did. When did you last see Charles Medwin?”
“Two nights ago, on a mountain road in the Andes.”
“Did you kill Charles Medwin?”
“Did you harm him in any way?”
“Can I ask what you did to him?”
“I hit him in the face with the butt of my gun, made him strip naked and told him, Arauqueta was about eight miles away. It was in fact three miles walk away from where I dropped him off.”
“What did you do with your weapons?”
“I put my rifle and Glock in a left luggage locker in Bogota’s railway station. I threw Officer Rivera’s Sig in a river in Venezuela.”
“And do you think Medwin is still alive?”
“I’m certain of it.”
“Where has he gone?”
Edge thought about this for a few moments, “I think he has headed south into Ecuador, where he will be looked after by Camilo Hernández. He will then move further south into Chile or Argentina.”
“How can you be sure?”
“I can’t, but it’s a reasonable assumption given his dealings with Hernández.”
“Why do you think that?”
“Because CIA Officer Rivera told me. She had enough evidence of his dealings with the drug cartels, in order for him to kill her and guarantee her silence. I suspected he was rogue and using her to find the American plans, so that he could conduct business in a different place. He fed her titbits, like the airfield, which we attacked, but to me it seemed too off pat.”
“Why did he decide to run instead of staying in Bogota and fronting it out?”
“Because the CIA were on to him. They want him for the murder of Clarita Rivera and they hold him responsible for the deaths of the Green Berets in Ecuador. They know the whole thing was a set-up, instigated by Charles Medwin.”
“And what’s your part in this, Edge?”
“I initially suspected him of cultivating Rivera’s knowledge and access to the American Military for his own ends. I didn’t trust him. In the end she knew and was distraught. And he killed her, that beautiful, kind and caring woman, gunned down to die in a bloody ditch. I felt it my duty to keep Clarita Rivera safe, but in the end, I couldn’t even do that. She died in my arms.”
The questions went on well into late evening, to see if Edge would tell them anything more, but he stuck resolutely to his version of events. It was obvious that after all the events in Colombia and the travelling he was exhausted.
“Mark, I think we should call it a night. There is a room for you upstairs. You may come and go anywhere you wish within the house and grounds, but please don’t try to leave the grounds. There will be a breakfast for you downstairs in the dining room from 08:00. We will resume at 09:30.”
Edge went upstairs and fell into the bed. He slept soundly for four hours, woke up and it took over an hour for him to fall back to sleep. He awoke at 07:30 and had a shower in the room’s en suite, He lay back on the bed, staring up at the ceiling, wondering how they would kill him. He discounted a car bomb and drugs overdose. It would be a headshot from a sniper rifle, today, this week or even in a few months’ time.
There was nothing he could do about it, so he went down for breakfast. A steward took his order and he read one of the papers that were laid out on a table. At 09:30, the woman from last night’s interrogation came into the dining room.
“Good morning, Mark. We can carry on in the room from last night, or if you’re willing, go for a walk in the grounds.”
Edge looked at her. She was attractive, mid-thirties with a slightly off-blonde hair, not too short but practical. She wore spectacles, which gave her the air of being a senior librarian, but he thought the glass in them was plain and not a prescription. It was part of her disguise. Edge suspected she was running the show, probably some counter-espionage specialist at Vauxhall Cross
“It looks like a pleasant morning. Let’s go outside.”
There were rhododendrons and Japanese maple near the house and down near the river, willows. They followed a path onto the lawns and she started the questions again.
“Why did you feel the need to make sure Officer Rivera was safe, Mark?”
“Because I suspected she was in mortal danger from Charles Medwin.”
“How can you be so sure, Mark?”
“I saw Medwin elbow her in the face and I had to dispose of three hired killers he had employed to kill her. He sent six more men to wait for us outside the hotel and one of them shot Clarita, fatally. I found a mobile phone on one of the dead men and called the number on it. Medwin answered.”
“What was your plan for officer Rivera?”
“To get her out of the Americas to Europe, where she could ask for political asylum. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Have you any idea what it’s like to have the woman you have vowed to protect, die in your arms?”
“No, I can’t begin to think what it would be like. That was very noble of you. Why bother with her? Why not just come home? None of this had anything to do with you.”
“Because she was my friend. She was there for me when I was sick after being lost in the jungle.”
“How well did you get to know each other?”
“Very well, but there was always a part of her she kept hidden.”
“Did you like her?”
“Yes, I loved her.”
“Did you make love with her?”
“No. And that is an impertinent question.”
“Why didn’t you have a sexual relationship with Ms Rivera?”
“Because I was torn, you have no idea how difficult it was. We had been thrown together by circumstances, but she was under my protection. She asked me to make love with her, but it was just not right. I could not have lived with the guilt. But every fibre of my being was screaming yes, you want her, she wants you”
“Really? Who would have known?”
She looked at him in surprise. He was an unlikely heroic lover, but there was definitely something about him, a kind gentle sadness juxtaposed with harsh brutality, and obviously an iron self-discipline.
“Did you kill Charles Medwin?”
“I told you last night, no.”
“But he was responsible for the death of someone you loved. Why didn’t you kill him?”
“Because I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life running and hiding from you lot, although I probably will anyway. What is it you want from me? I could keep going round in circles, but the facts and events won’t change.”
“And what would you do if you met him again?”
“Would he still be employed by MI6?”
“Let’s assume not.”
“Then I would kill him. Your organisation had better not make a nice cosy pact with him, if he comes home. It won’t save him.”
“And you’re convinced he is in Ecuador.”
“For now, but he knows the Americans are after him. If he’s lucky they’ll kill him quickly.”
They watched a single racing boat come upstream in the middle of the river. The rower rested on his oars as a family of ducks cut across the boat’s path. Edge was struck at the kindness and humanity of the oarsman, respecting the river and its creatures. It made him feel a warmth in humanity.
“Do you know that around fifteen people a year drown in the River Thames? What’s your name?” Edge asked the woman.
Edge smiled at her, “It isn’t but it will do.”
“Why do you want to know my name, Mark?”
“Because I believe I have the right to know the name of the person who will order my death.”
She looked at him in shock, “You surely don’t think that of us?”
“Who knows? This country has become so screwed-up, I would believe anything now.”
The woman grasped his hand, “We simply need to know what happened to our officer in Colombia. You have uncovered a plot and corruption that is off the scale and we are as shocked as you are, or were. You’re a good, honourable man, Mark Edge and we are not evil. I am deeply sorry for the murder of someone you loved and you had every right to kill Charles Medwin. It would have saved our organisation a lot of trouble. You tried to do your best for Clarita Rivera and I hope you find peace.”
She watched the rowing boat move steadily round the corner of the river, “What do you intend to do once you leave this place?”
“Go home and see my wife after three months of being away. I will also give a great deal of thought to resigning from the Army.”
She looked at him in surprise, “I am shocked to hear that, Mark. I have read the citation about you that the US Military handed on to the FCO. They regarded you with high esteem.”
“High esteem doesn’t help you sleep at night.”
“Let’s go back to the house.”
In the library one of the men from the night before was waiting for them. Edge noticed that the woman imperceptivity shook her head at the man.
He looked at Edge, “Mark, have you told us the exact truth with no omissions?”
“Yes, I have been completely honest with you.”
“Well, Mark. I think our time together is at an end.”
He must have spotted something in Edge’s eyes that said: If you try anything, I’ll take you two with me, because a shadow of uncertainty, or was it fear, crossed his face.
“We were going to drop you off at the nearest main-line railway station, but apparently there is a very persistent gentleman waiting for you at the gate house.”
“He is my insurance policy.”
“Goodbye, Mark Edge,” the man said, holding out his hand. Edge shook it.
“Goodbye Ma’am,” he said to the woman.
“Goodbye, Mark. You have done nothing wrong, but we had to know. On a personal note, please do not resign in haste.”
Edge left and the two of them sat at the table. She took off her glasses and dropped them carelessly on the table. They looked at one another.
“He’s all in. He hides it well, but he has nothing more to give. His paranoia is off the scale.”
The woman nodded but you could hear the empathy in her voice, “He survived alone in the jungle to rescue his comrades, he saw his unit decimated and a woman he loved murdered in front of him. He thought we were going to have him killed.”
“Poor bastard. What do we do about Charlie Medwin?”
She thought long and hard, then said: “We find him and ask a team of Edge’s colleagues to tidy up the loose ends. I would rather we did it, and not the Cousins.”
Edge left the house and as he walked down the drive, he expected a shot to take him out the whole time. It felt like the longest walk of his life before the gates opened and he was out of the grounds. There was a black Bentley Continental and a man who had become like a father to him.
“Mark my boy. You look bloody terrible.”
“Hello Mr Cutler. How on earth did you find this place?”
“I have friends in the FCO, that pointed me in the right direction. What are you going to do now?”
“I just want to go home Mr Cutler…”
“How many more times? Please call me Horace.”
“I want to see my family. I’m so tired of all of this, Horace.”
The Bentley made a turn and headed back towards the M4. It was late morning and the traffic was heavier around Reading, but cleared and they headed past Hungerford.
“You have a remarkable propensity for getting into scrapes, Mark. I read all of those files and the personal one you added at the end. I must confess, it brought a tear to my eye. The poor girl.”
Edge stared out at the countryside and felt his eyes getting gritty, “She was a stupid young woman, but I loved her so much. The fact that I couldn’t save her will haunt me for the rest of my life and the manner in which she died.”
“You must not let this dehumanise you, Mark. You still have a family and a career and you must put all thoughts of this Charles Medwin to somewhere secure, never to be opened. Let the SIS deal with their own, although I rather suspect the CIA will get there first.”
“Family goes without saying,” Edge said thoughtfully, “But a career… I’m not sure.”
Cutler looked across at him sharply, “Mark, when we met all those years ago at the Courts Martial suite in Germany, I asked you to promise two things. One, that you would keep me appraised of your life and two, your career. With less than a couple of years left in the Army, I would be extremely disappointed if you resigned now. I realise that promotion is not possible for you, but I fear you would regret for the rest of your life, not completing your engagement.
“I will admit that sometimes life can be cruel and fickle to you, but you are more of a man by dealing with these events and not becoming overwhelmed. I beg of you, don’t do anything in haste. Don’t let grief define your life.”
Edge rubbed his eyes, “OK, Horace. I promise I won’t do anything rash.”
As they drove along the Somerset Levels, Cutler asked if he wanted to stop for lunch.
“To be honest, I’m not particularly hungry, but if you want to stop…”
“I realise that you just want to get home.”
“You must come in and meet my new baby,” Edge said wistfully, “Have a meal.”
“Mark, that is very kind, however, I need to go to Yeovilton on a spot of business. A Navy helicopter crewman has been rather naughty. The authorities have put together a lazy and inaccurate case against him and I intend to get the scrote off all the charges. You must come up to Lincoln after a week or so of your leave. It’s a nice part of the world, although the locals can be rather web-footed. Thank goodness for the RAF and their contribution to deepening the local gene pool.”
After Yeovil, Cutler took the A361 through Devonshire and at Great Torrington, Edge knew and felt like he was home. They went down the hill into Weare Giffard and stopped on the lane outside the cottage. Edge turned to Cutler, suddenly feeling tearful.
“Thank you so much, Horace. I… I’m so sorry…”
Cutler put his arm around him and embraced him, “It’s perfectly all right, Mark. You’ve been through a lot. Please give my warmest regards to Moira. You’re home now, home and safe.”
Edge grabbed his daysack and walked through the gate and down the drive. He turned and waved at the Bentley and Cutler waved back. He engaged Drive and headed north to Bideford. Edge paused and looked around his home.
Moira heard the powerful engine on the lane and looked out of the window. He was walking towards the kitchen door and she gave a yelp of loving surprise and ran out to meet him, holding him tight as though never to let him go. She was crying with gratitude and looked at him.
“Oh, Mark, what have they done to you…?”
Moira had led him upstairs. The baby was sleeping soundly and she had over an hour before she had to pick up Sarah. Now she lay on the bed with the rumpled covers while her sweat dried. Ladies might have glowed, but after an episode of sex with Mark, she sweated. Her vitals had taken the battering of childbirth and were settling down. Now they faced the Mark Edge pommelling although he had been tender and she felt the familiar tingle that reminded her of a hotel room in Bristol. Post operational lovemaking was always a thrill where it seemed as though he was possessing her. Not rough or nasty like that bastard Daz’s choking and anal shit, but firm, as though he was re-enjoying her. The next morning it would be quiet, slow and gentle, but this afternoon he had been resolute, as though he was getting something out of his system.
She got up on her elbow and stared at him. He was lying with his eyes closed, although she knew he was awake. It was his way. She could have wept when she saw his body, bruised and battered with angry red marks on his side, like someone had put cigarettes out on him. He was thinner, but somehow stronger in mind and body.
“I love you, Mark Edge,” she said gently.
He opened his eyes, rolled onto his side and smiled at her, “And I love you, Moira Edge. Thank you for keeping it together and looking after the kids while I was away.”
He put his hands behind his head and stared up at the ceiling. He was lost in thought.
“When I was a child, I had Airfix models hanging from my bedroom ceiling. Dust traps my mother used to call them.”
It was one of the very few times he talked about his childhood.
“And I had a Dakota kit and tried to put a couple of little parachutes coming out of the para door, but they just looked crap, as I’d made the kit a Silver Cities Airways version. All because I didn’t have any olive drab paint. When I was sticking my fingers together and getting high on the glue, I never dreamed that one day I’d be doing it for real.”
Moira looked at him, not wanting to interrupt his train of thought. Perhaps he was trying to tell her something. She may have been naïve when they first met and got married, but now she was astute and in-tune with his moods and emotions. This was the man she had given herself to, forsaking all others. She loved him in a way nobody else could understand, the good bits as well as the bad ones.
He was imperfect, quiet and hidden as thought he was bottling up things too terrible to let out. A man defined by violence and what would be considered toxic masculinity, but also a husband, lover, father and breadwinner. Even now he made her stomach tingle, when she looked at him. There was nothing of the Beta Male in Mark Edge. You simply got what it said on the tin, with the warning: should be handled with care. Her life when he was home would be considered an anachronism. The man is the defender, the woman is the nurturer, and your children are your legacy. She could imagine the women at that dreadful Mother and Baby group going into meltdown, but they weren’t married to Mark Edge.
Edge sighed, “Life was so much simpler then. I could never have dreamed of what I’ve seen and had to do, over the years. And all of a sudden, it seemed to become pointless. All the killing for what reason? Do you know I can still see the faces of those boys going out on foot patrol? Foot patrol, the Army’s ultimate stupidity. In a country where the favoured weapon is the victim activated IED, let’s send the boys out on fucking foot patrol. And scurry back to the patrol bases at nightfall, so the Taliban can lay a few more IEDs for the next day’s foot patrols. Those kids who were sick before going out will never have a life, while the bastard who sent them, grows rich and is the darling of BBC and Sky news? Want an opinion? Ask Blair.”
Edge shut his eyes and his body seemed to slump. Moira knew there was more to this than remembering the past. He had been battered physically as well as mentally. But he would bounce back. He always did, didn’t he?
To her shock and infinite sadness, a single tear tracked from his closed eyes and down his cheek. She didn’t know if was because of his mother or the emotions of what he had been through. She buried her face in his chest because she was crying as well. They clung together like shipwreck victims, until he started to stroke her hair.
“I’ve noticed that the grass and vegetation by the hedge, onto the river meadows is getting rather unkempt. When you go for Sarah, I’ll get the scythe out. Francis can stay in bed, until he starts yelling.”
“There’s no hurry, Mark.”
“There is, love. I have to start living.”
Monty the Edge’s tabby cat was upstairs, an area he rarely visited. He had looked in on Baby Francis, who was kicking his legs and gurgling at the mobile above his cot. Moria Mother’s and Edge Father’s door was closed. He wondered what they got up to, because Moira Mother seemed to do a lot of shouting, agreeing to something over and over again. She had called for the supreme being at the end. It all sounded very alarming, but she always seemed in a good mood afterwards and smelled of him. It was odd. He waited for his human mother and father in the kitchen. When they came down, she went to pick up Sarah while Edge Father grabbed the thing with the long blade from an outhouse. While he sharpened it, Monty went to his OP on top of the garden shed.
That blade was dangerous to a little cat, so Monty satisfied himself with watching Edge inexpertly scythe away the grass and weeds. It was a pity because that long grass was good cover. Edge father stopped to say hello to Sarah when she came home with Moira Mother in the car. She showed her father some pictures she had done at school and he hugged her and she scampered off.
When he had finished, he put the scythe away in the outhouse. Moira Mother brought him a bottle of beer and he sat on the bank, facing down to the meadow and the river. The cat jumped down and sniffed the cut grass, then went up to Edge with his tail vertical, like a large-sterned East Indiaman. He scented Edge with his cheeks and felt the unhappiness and grief of his human father. The cat parked himself next to him and they sat together as the afternoon sun lengthened the shadows and turned the river to molten gold.
Edge Father must have lost someone very dear to him, which was confusing. Moira Mother is dear to him, but I thought they only loved one person, like I loved Snowflake. Perhaps it was a different kind of love. But this person was no more and he felt bereft. How strange that humans can love different people in different ways. I love Moira Mother because she feeds me. I love Edge Father because he is so much like me. One day I know I’ll be gone. I hope they don’t grieve for me, just bury me next to Snowflake, under her tree.
Sometimes living is hard and takes a conscious effort. Even cats know that.
© Blown Periphery 2022