The Intelligence Officer’s Tale
Out of Ashford Barracks
in an unmarked van the new squad
of undercover men, bound for the six counties,
pilgrim to Canterbury for a last dry run.
Dropped in the street like navvies
watched from hidden points
they separate to make dead letter drops,
stalk quarries, reform in the house of God.
Follow the rogue recruit.
Though he adheres to his disguise –
fast-tracked from the Engineers –
even now he’s lanced by doubts
which will unravel him in time
so he spills secrets of a dirty war.
Yet with senses finely tuned
he sets out on his tasks, taking
the surreal course between facades
as he’s been taught, so when it seems
that stooges stalk him, he sprints playing fields,
darts through a toilet block, climbs
from a rear window, doubles-back
and waits under an oak tree,
replica against his palm, until he’s clear.
Weaving like a manic orienteer
he finds orders in a park bin,
meets his source, uncovers a fake cache,
flushes with success, turns home on time.
But when he enters the drab precinct,
sees his shadows lost by the cathedral gate,
and in hushed aisles novices
in donkey jackets gather,
the keen mask falls; leaning on a pillar,
chill between his shoulders and adrenalin
still breaking in his gut, now drills are past
he can’t believe he swallowed
the recruiting officer’s slick line:
this is a true man’s service.
All he has been trained in seems
a kind of madness, and not soldiering.
Where he is bound, the charge
to set up, infiltrate and turn,
takes lethal form; it’s an insidious campaign,
to fight an enemy beyond the law.
In a moment he will be defined.
He hesitates – but in these ranks no man turns back –
and steps out to be counted; now
as he will be attacked, he must attack.
Nick Burbridge © 2016