Kathleen Woolf was bored. She had been bored for quite some time. The austere, violent and dangerous days she had known, with no real prospects of happiness or security had long since been left behind on the streets of Ulster and were gradually being consigned to the back of her mind. She had no regrets about taking the decision to get away rather than accept the alternative which would have involved settling down with some loser back in Belfast. The thought of knocking out a kid every year or so until she was too old and probably getting a battering every Saturday night from a drunken husband sent shivers down her spine. She had no regrets at all. She was proud of herself for having had the guile to do something about it and take control of her future before it had become too late.
Frank had barrelled into her life at just the right time, she’d knocked him off his feet and he’d swept her away from it all for good. Yes she’d had to abandon what few friends she had and desert the familiarity of the strongly bonded community she had grown up in. She’d walked away from everything she’d known but had never looked back, hoping that her new situation as a soldier’s wife would turn out to be a fulfilling, exciting and happy one. Frank had proved himself to be a good man, hard working and caring. But he had smothered her almost from the day she’d arrived in Germany to be his bride. It wasn’t that she minded the army life, far from it and living here in Germany had the potential to be such a joyful experience if only Frank would allow her a bit more of a free rein.
She knew that going back home was not an option, not now that in her family’s eyes she had committed the worst imaginable crime and become a traitor. Running off with any non-catholic Englishman would have been a bad enough sin. The fact that he was a soldier was an atrocity. The chances were that if she was caught then she would be tortured and killed for being a collaborator, if not by her own family then by any member of one of the fanatical groups of morons she’d left behind.
Here though, in this foreign country where she couldn’t speak more than a few words of the language, she was expected just to cater for her husband’s every need and look after their soulless little apartment. Normally a gregarious and lively girl there had barely been a chance to make any new friends. They rarely went anywhere interesting or did anything together. She was bored and she was lonely. If Frank had given her the freedom to build a life for herself she would have been a good wife to him. True, initially it could be said that she had used him to fulfil her own agenda, a means to an end but she would have been loyal and she would have made him happy. However she wasn’t prepared to spend the rest of her life in the role of just another of his possessions.
It was with that thought in mind when quite by chance the opportunity for a little excitement had dropped into her lap and she had grabbed it with open arms, literally. It happened while she was returning from a grocery shopping excursion one day while Frank was at work. The car, a well cared for green Ford Taunus two door saloon which she borrowed from Frank on shopping days if he allowed, spluttered to a halt half way home, right on a busy junction causing chaos. Embarrassed, she got out and stood at the side of the road wondering what to do. Furious drivers impatient to be on their way, blasted their horns at the impassable obstruction she had caused. Looking all around things appeared hopeless. There wasn’t even a sign of a public telephone she could use to call for help. Frustrated and getting worked up by the minute she vented her anger at one of the nearest drivers who continued blasting her horn as if there was no tomorrow. Kathleen strode over to the offending vehicle and yelled as loud as she could into the angry woman’s face through her rolled down window, aware that it would make little difference but knowing it would make herself feel a lot better.
“Do you think that’s going to help!? Do ya? Ya fockin’ eejit!”
The woman sat impassively in her car, obviously not comprehending a word.
Kathleen continued shouting. “Why don’t you get your fat arse into gear and help me push my car out of the way!?”
The woman just rolled her window back up and locked the door. Using her middle finger Kathleen gave the woman the universal salute that she assumed even the most arrogant German would understand. With a face like thunder she turned away angrily, marching back over to her own car to try to restart it. Being such an inexperienced driver she didn’t have the foggiest idea why it wouldn’t go.
Just then a flashy red Opel pulled up on the opposite side of the junction, parking half on the pavement to avoid blocking the carriageway and adding to the bottleneck. The driver got out, crossed the road and approached, raising both palms in submission before Kathleen could give him both barrels too.
“OK, OK.” he spoke gently, obviously offering his assistance. “Let me see, yes?”
The penny dropped as Kathleen recognised him as one of the lads from the army base, a German guy she had met very briefly the day Frank had introduced her to his colleagues soon after she’d arrived in Bielefeld.
“Oh would you? Thanks so much. I don’t know what’s up with the bastard thing. It just spluttered and cut out.”
The guy, who didn’t seem to understand a word she said, opened the driver’s door, leaned in and released the handbrake then grabbed the steering wheel with one hand while bracing his shoulder against the door pillar. With a big heave and with Kathleen’s assistance he pushed the stricken car expertly away from the junction and into a convenient bus stop lay by, well out of the way so that the snarled up traffic was able to rumble back into motion. When the woman with the over active hooter drove past, Kathleen gave a final one finger salute but this time accompanied by a smug grin before turning her attention back to her rescuer. He had already popped open the bonnet and soon afterwards declared to Kathleen’s embarrassment.
“Das benzin ausgeht.” She had run out of petrol.
“Kommen Sie mit.” he went on. “You need petrol. I take you there.”
With that he walked back across the road to his own car, opened the passenger door and beckoned for her to get in, smiling cheerfully. Kathleen didn’t need asking twice, trotted over and slid in, making sure her new friend got a good eyeful of her glorious long legs in the process.
“I am Peter.” he stated “and you are Loopy’s wife yes?”
“Yes, that’s right. I’m Kathleen. I thought I recognised you from the army base. Thanks again for stopping, I didn’t know what to do but I swear I might have throttled that bloody woman if you hadn’t come along.”
Peter gave her a blank look of incomprehension then together they drove to the nearest petrol station where she bought a jerry can, filled it with fuel and travelled back to recover the car which started almost straight away once the petrol had been poured in. So relieved to be on her way again, Kathleen invited her knight in shining armour back to the flat for a coffee. With a bit of a leer he accepted. She hadn’t doubted that he would, they always did.
Happy to have someone to chat to, even if his English was less than good, the lonely Kathleen got along with Peter immediately. A hysterical argument took place about the correct term for the petrol cannister which Peter insisted was a ‘benzinkanister’ but Kathleen tried to explain was known to her as a jerry can. Her explanation about its origins as a German army helmet had them both in stitches and when he got up to leave about half an hour later she found it only natural to put her arms around his neck intending to give a peck on the cheek to thank him once again for his help. Peter misread her intention and so instead she found herself embroiled in a steamy long kiss. It was to be the first of many.
So that’s how it had begun. After that day they made arrangements to meet often. In total secrecy they had embarked on a passionate affair, getting together whenever Frank was working late or had to be away.
From Peter’s perspective, he couldn’t believe his luck. Never in his wildest dreams had he imagined that such a stunningly attractive woman would be interested in him. The fact that she was married didn’t really bother him, after all it was only to an Englishman and he’d never really liked Loopy Woolf anyway. He was well aware of the consequences should the affair be discovered but as long as absolutely nobody ever found out or even suspected anything was going on, he decided it was worth the risk and it would be a shame not to make the most of it. Over the following weeks and months, he certainly did just that.
One late summer’s evening, knowing Loopy was working overtime on an urgent job, Peter called around to see Kathleen as arranged. He hadn’t been relishing the prospect as he’d decided that it was time to let her know that very soon he would be emigrating to America and their affair would be coming to an end. She didn’t have an inkling and Peter realised the revelation might come as a bit of a blow. He’d kept it to himself for as long as possible because he knew how much their relationship meant to her and besides that he was reluctant to snuff the affair out any sooner than he had to as he had enjoyed every minute of every clandestine liaison. But it had to be done. He’d spent a lot of time planning what he was going to say and how he would say it, reciting it over and again into a mirror, trying to perfect the best facial expressions.
Breaking the news to her as gently and sympathetically as possible, given his limited vocabulary, he began to carry out his strategy. He’d expected her to be a bit disappointed, maybe even a little upset but verdammt noch mal! she went ballistic! He couldn’t comprehend the entire tirade, delivered at high speed and even higher volume. There were a lot of words he hadn’t heard before, even from the soldiers at work, but he got the gist of it. His carefully composed speech went right over her head and straight out the window. She picked up the nearest object to hand and hurled it at him with incredible ferocity. The object was an ashtray, made from a cast metal hub cap liberated from a Saracen armoured car on Frank’s last Ireland tour. Highly polished to an attractive finish it weighed a good couple of pounds and might have killed Peter if it had connected with his head as intended. Fortunately it missed and just took a lump of plaster out of the wall instead.
Concerned that the neighbours would hear the disturbance and somebody might come to see what was going on, Peter made a great effort to calm Kathleen down, showering her with promises he might not be able to keep. Unknown to Peter at the time, the final promise he made to Kathleen about taking her with him was one day to have the most devastating consequences imaginable. At the time though he he had been prepared to say anything to pacify her. He guided her onto the sofa, doing his best to get things back on an even keel. Once he felt the slightest yielding and her verbal onslaught began to diminish, his attentions became more amorous. As she capitulated he took the plunge and once again made love to her furiously right there on the couch.
The explosion of passion had the desired effect, it was one of the things that Peter knew he was good at. The hysteria subsided, the ecstasy took over until finally, much later, a calm post coital melancholy enveloped them both. He took the opportunity to leave her while he could, hastily getting dressed, tidied up some of the mess and was on his way out before she had a chance to kick off again.
In the rush, Peter forgot to retrieve his car keys that were no longer where he’d left them on the coffee table. Fortunately Kathleen spotted them on the floor where they’d fallen as she’d swept the ash tray up and hurled it at his head. Picking them up she followed him to the door as he left the flat and shouted after him.
“Hey! You won’t get far without these.”
The instant that he turned she threw the keys to him, not giving him much chance at all to react. She threw them hard, some of the smothered anger from earlier returning. Ducking quickly Peter caught the bunch of keys as they ricocheted off the wall close to where his head had been just a millisecond before. Pausing, it was at this point that he noticed the key fob had gone missing from where it normally dangled on the key ring. He went back into the flat with Kathleen to find it, searching high and low but it was nowhere to be seen. By the time they gave up the search, time was pressing on, Loopy was due home at any moment and eventually Peter decided to leave the flat while it was still safe, hoping that the key fob had been lost elsewhere. He made his way stealthily around the block to where he’d discretely parked the Opel, keeping an eye open for the imminent return of Loopy. Once in the car, relieved that he hadn’t been seen he drove home with mixed feelings, pleased that he’d managed to get the deed done even though it had turned out a lot more traumatic than he’d hoped, and hoping that Kathleen wouldn’t be taking what he’d promised her too seriously.
The sound of radios cheerfully playing and the rich aroma of evening meals cooking, permeated the pleasantly humid late summer air as Loopy Woolf returned home to his small rented flat in Bielefeld straight after work. He was late as was often the case. The pale terracotta coloured paving slabs on the street had absorbed the heat of the day and were gently releasing their warmth into the balmy evening. He never tired of the typical domestic atmosphere that he experienced each day in this quiet and friendly neighbourhood. A far cry from the depressing streets of Greater Manchester where he had spent his youth, that was for sure. He always looked forward to greeting his lovely wife Kathleen after work. After a hot bath to expel the ground in grease and filth from his skin they would prepare a good meal together and later they would snuggle up on the sofa for the evening, listening to good music with a glass or two of beer or wine. It was a blissful home life.
They kept themselves to themselves. He loved Kathleen more than anything or anyone he had ever met. Often he found himself just staring blankly at her as his mind wandered, not quite comprehending how he could have been so fortunate, especially after experiencing such a traumatic and miserable childhood. The army had saved his life and Kathleen had saved his soul. All was pretty much perfect and he was never going to allow anything to spoil things, especially where Kathleen was concerned. He had noticed how the other blokes from the LAD had looked at her on the rare occasions they socialised. He imagined how if given the chance, some of them might try it on. Even the merest thought of her with another man stirred up angry feelings deep within which simmered and threatened to erupt. The feelings never really left him. Woe betide anyone who dared to push their luck.
It had been a long hot day in the workshop and Loopy had had to work late to get the job he was working on completed. It was a staff car with a blown head gasket which was required urgently for duty first thing in the morning. Never one to shy away from hard work he had got stuck in and finished the job alone while everyone else cleaned up and went off for their tea. It was this attitude that he hoped would help speed up his progress through the ranks, despite his lack of education. He’d served seven and a half years of the twelve he’d signed up for. Fairly soon he hoped he would be going off to attend a sergeant’s training course and after that? well he would probably sign up for a further ten years service. He wanted to go all the way and leave with the best pension possible.
As he walked up the steps and approached the entrance to the apartment block, something caught his eye, shining brightly amongst the dried leaves, accumulated litter and cigarette butts in the corner by the door. He bent and picked up the object. It was a black leather key fob with an attractive silver and red enamel horizontal lightning flash insignia. There were no keys attached to it, the leather had worn away and split where the keyring would have threaded through, but he recognised it as an Opel badge. Slightly puzzled, he put it in his pocket and had forgotten about it by the time he went inside.