The old Officer was wearing his best suit; a navy blue two piece on which he had adorned his medals. He had wanted to wear his uniform but had been refused the request due to the circumstances. A clean, ironed white shirt, a plain red tie and a pair of shined lace up black shoes finished his outfit. He was immensely grateful for the clothes; after calling his wife, he didn’t expect her to arrange and bring them in for him. When she arrived he almost burst into tears until she scolded him for being a useless oaf, a goat of a husband. Smiling, he was in no position to disagree. He held his hands up to surrender but she flung the clothes at him and stormed off, leaving him looking like a human clothes peg. He sat his beret on his weathered and balding head and stared at his reflection in the mirror they had provided him. He looked old, like a pensioner dressing up for a military reunion living past glories while getting insufferably drunk and nostalgic.

Considering his defence for the hearing today; he mentally reviewed what had happened, or at least as much as he could remember following the clattering to the head he took. He had heard what had happened to the men from his jail cell, the guards told him in sombre tones not wanting to upset their visitor. He took it stoically for the benefit of the guards, later berating himself with a flush of anger and tears at his failure to protect his charges. He would see justice served, he vowed. On his mother, father, grandparents and great-grandparents he would see that the men would not have died in vain. The guilt overwhelmed him; where they the men he had tried to recruit? It sounded like Pero had shot them at random, on a whim of merciless finality. He needed to find out more but first he had to face the court-martial. The panel had been chosen; it was to be the Governor, a bigwig from National HQ and someone from the local judiciary. The Governor would see him hang surely; the bigwig would be lenient, a fellow veteran. The local Judge was an eccentric fellow, it was impossible to tell what he might say or do. Prone to outbursts of emotion, he like the Officer came from the countryside. A fellow mud merchant made good, he thought.

He sat down; looking at himself was not the most entertaining prospect. The cracks and fault lines of his face leading to the earthquake that was his nose. No Sir, he was not beautiful or a picture. His features were a landslide and his temper a volcano. He was a walking, talking natural disaster. He laughed out loud at the thought, guards turning puzzled by the good humour. He checked his watch. It was time. After unlocking the door, they placed handcuffs on him and led him away from the cell block. The hearing was to be in a different building and they had to walk to get there. Outside for the first time in a week, the old Officer took in a deep breath of fresh air. At this early hour, Gibil was still sweeping and smoking. Looking up as the Officer passed he gave him a wink and a pat on the shoulder, drawing the ire of the guards who pushed him away. On past the parade grounds through to the main building. Outside, a number of cars and a stray reporter from a local paper. Should he smile or look glum for the cameras, he considered as he was ushered inside.

The room was small, with a table at the front behind which stood three empty chairs. To one side sat behind another table was Pero with three of his men. The Officer was taken to a raised platform with a caged front and handcuffed to it. Sitting in a wooden chair, he looked at Pero and grinned. Pero sneered in return and swore, his men noticing the exchange looked at one another amused. The Officer attempted to salute but couldn’t raise his hand to his head from his seated position and instead half bowed to the Colonel. A crack was heard as the Sergeant on duty struck a desk. “All rise.” Three men entered the Governor with a face like thunder, the bigwig who held a tissue to his nose and sneezed repeatedly as he entered and the Judge. The Judge looked dazed; the Officer wondered if he was drunk. Sliding across the floor dressed in an old black robe over his grey suit, his bushy eyebrows pumping up and down. His face was droopy, thin and gaunt but with jowls that gave it an oblong shape. Clean shaven and with a beak for a nose he took his seat on the left hand side. The Governor took the middle before the military bigwig could get there, paralysed by a bout of sneezing and snuffles in the race to the position of prominence.

The hearing didn’t last long; the only upside being a furious Pero when the Officer compared his manhood to a salamander’s and flicked his tongue. He had jumped from his seat and made for his gun only to be held back by his men. The Governor called for him to be tried for attempting a coup against his superior officer. The old Officer laughed so loud he woke the apparently slumbering Judge who shouted for silence. The Governor tried to continue his speech but the Judge kept telling him to be quiet. The military man felt a demotion to private would suffice and that the evidence for a coup, although compelling would have amounted to nought. The Judge went last, staring silently at the Officer straight in the eye for over five minutes. He scowled, slumped in his seat and whispered his judgement. He was to be demoted to private and rejoin the ranks. His pension and pay reduced with his rank and all privileges of officer-ship rescinded. The Governor made to complain but the Judge stared at him viciously and told him to desist. Released from the handcuffs, he again saluted to Pero and walked from the court room.

Outside the air was still fresh and brisk. The old Officer now Private rubbed his hands together and made for the barrack room; to talk to his comrades and find out exactly what had occurred.

To Chapter Fifty-Three – Now Everyone Is Listening To Pero


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