The Governor had visited him.
Earlier that day Pero had been inspecting the men; the old Officer had them assembled and deflected their complaints. It was not his problem; take it up with the new Colonel he said. He was sick of fighting; his nose already broken once by the corporal and again by a sergeant, it looked as though it was trying to escape his face. He didn’t blame it, who’d want to be a part of his old face anyway?
His wife had gone too and now his nose was trying to leave him. He wondered what it might take to convince his nose to stay; perhaps treating it more kindly might help.
Pero walked around with that lash of his; bawling the men out over their new arm insignias. Two were taken to the shed. Pero had a small building, known colloquially as the shed to the men. In there, men would be beaten and humiliated for the slightest infringement. Pero’s own men, militia and the new ones, the drug runners; they did the punishment. Whatever Pero said, they did.
Most of the officers had fallen onto Pero’s side apart from him and a couple of other old timers. Pero told the Officer to walk with him. They went to the shed. Inside were eight-ten-twelve men chained to the wall; there was blood everywhere. Pero took the Officer to the closest one, a boy of around seventeen. Head or foot? Pero asked him closely into his face, breathing heavily. The lad whimpered; Pero asked him again. The boy said foot and Pero told a guard to take out his pistol and give him justice. He complied and shot the boy in the foot. Pero went round all the rest pointing out what had already happened; hand, hand-hand-foot, hand-foot, foot.
The Officer walked out and solidly marched away. When out of eye shot of the men, he vomited. He swore he would try and protect his men. He needed to see the Governor, and if he wouldn’t listen; the media. Pero said they did this in the militia; it taught respect. He called it ‘whipping the bull’.
The old Officer rushed to his office; only to find the Governor awaiting his return. The Officer was still shaken from what he saw; he didn’t realise the Governor wanted to see him about something else. The politician had received a complaint from Army HQ that the soldier wasn’t following orders. He was to cease causing trouble immediately or be demoted or even court-martialled.
The Officer spluttered; he stumbled over his words as he tried to describe what Pero had just shown him. The Governor grew angry; he had thrown everything off his desk, kicked over his shelf. He told him straight; no more warnings.
The old Officer picked up all the mess; corrected the shelf and sat down. He needed a drink. Calling next door, he saw an old comrade, like him, a fellow refuser. He had whisky and a sympathetic ear; but unfortunately he couldn’t help; Pero was unstoppable. The Officer looked at his comrade a-new. How much? He breathed hotly, his lungs on fire from the whisky. How much did Pero pay you?
His ex-friend told him to get out; screamed at him, called him old country curses.
Back in his own office, he sat down head in hands. He wanted to ring his wife and ask her; but there would be no answer other than his sister-in-law’s insults.
He was powerless and if he said anymore, demoted or in prison. He couldn’t help his men that way and they needed protection from that monster. He sat back, his neck tense and collar chafing. What could he do?
He looked at his fists. This couldn’t be solved by them this time. He cursed himself for being born into a family more famous for brawn than brain. So, brain we are going to have to talk are we? His brain was decidedly silent on the matter.
Ach! What can he do? The old Officer looked at his desk, the mess the Governor had made. Out of the corner of his eye he spotted something he hadn’t picked up; the book about his ancestor and the trip to the Plateau. The book had fallen on the spine, losing his place but opening to his favourite part; the spine warped from smoothing and reading the same passage.
He got up and retrieved the book; sitting back in his chair, he pondered over the familiar words:
“One of the idiots lost a foot today…”
He smirked; that was his ancestor alright, an idiot like him. No brains and now no foot. His feet tingled as he read on.