I didn’t really think about anything as I left the house, my mind was in such turmoil. I just knew I needed to get away from there until things calmed down a bit so I jogged around the back of the chalets and legged it up the trail into the trees beyond. Moving quickly I slogged up the familiar track until very soon I was out of sight of the buildings. Slowing my pace I continued to climb until I was far enough away, enveloped by the welcome silence of the woods. Choosing a fallen tree log I swept away the top surface snow with my hand and sat down heavily, overwhelmed by what had just taken place. With head in hands I took some slow deep breaths. In through my nose and out through my mouth, over and again until my heart rate slowed and I began to feel normal again. Even though it was a good while since I’d given them up, at that point I could have murdered a cigarette.
Once the adrenalin had drained from my system the returning calmness slipped further towards a familiar depression as I sat there contemplating my position. I was still bleeding profusely and there was an ugly gory mess down my shirt front. I packed some snow into a ball and held it against my battered nose while I gathered my thoughts. Fairly soon the bleeding stopped. I knew the throbbing, physical pain would ease off too eventually but I was hurting far worse from within and that pain was likely to last much longer. Overwhelmed with regret, all I could think about was what Kathleen and I between us had done to Peter. It was unforgivable. I’d been consumed with lust for Kathleen at the expense of my friendship and had nobody to blame but myself. Kathleen had proven herself to be some sort of nymphomaniac and I had been far too weak to resist. What made it seem worse was the certainty that I would act in the same way again given the chance. Few people I had ever known would have been capable of turning down an opportunity like that if they had found themselves in my position. Peter certainly hadn’t been when they’d began their affair back in Germany.
The more I thought about what had just occurred, the deeper my depression became and I had to do something about it before I was overwhelmed. Hopeless! Bloody hopeless. Yet again I had managed to ruin everything. It wasn’t much to cling on to but the only positive note I could think of was that it was far better for Peter to find out what he had got himself into now, rather than after his feelings for Kathleen had become even deeper. But what a way for him to find out! The poor bloke, my dear friend, at that moment would be feeling crushed and the thump in the solar plexus I’d given him wouldn’t have done much to improve his mood either.
I sat there on the log protected from the wind in the shelter of the magnificent trees laden with snow, considering my options. Regardless of my regrets, what was done was done and couldn’t be changed. I now had to think about moving forward and plan what I should do next. One thing was for sure. If there was any chance of rescuing the situation and continuing with my partnership in the business, then I would take it no matter what I had to concede, including my relationship with Kathleen. Although it was still early days I had already come to realise how lucky I was and how generous Peter had been to give me this opportunity. Since leaving the army and coming away I’d loved every minute of my new life and I had envisaged so much more stretching out before me.
Perhaps I really had blown it now but if Kathleen was out of the picture as she surely would be soon, then perhaps I could salvage something from the situation. I needed to at least try and make things up with Peter.
After about half an hour up in the woods I became aware of the temperature and was shaken out of my misery, literally. I was shivering with cold. My clothes were still wet from when Kathleen and I had been mucking about in the snow and in the aftermath of the fight with Peter I’d thought of nothing but getting away quickly before things escalated even further. I’d come out completely unprepared, not even wearing a coat. Sweat from my slog up the mountain slope had dried on my skin and I was bloody freezing. Whether I fancied the idea of returning so soon or not I had little choice but to get back indoors to sort myself out. I knew it was going to be extremely awkward but it was no time to be faint hearted and besides, I’d already come to a decision about what I was going to do next.
It was straight forward. In my view we had all played a part in the making of this bloody awful mess. For a start Peter should never have begun his treacherous affair in the first place back in Germany and certainly shouldn’t have brought Kathleen over to America with him. To top that, he’d kept me in the dark about it which meant that our partnership had been founded on deceit from almost the very beginning. What he’d done to poor old Loopy who I now realised was the only really innocent party in this whole sordid affair, I had done to him. Kathleen was of course at the centre of everything. If only we had all had the self control to keep our pants on.
I got up from my seat, stiff and cold, stamping my feet on the frozen forest floor to try and regain some circulation. The dull thumping of my efforts was the only sound up there, nothing else stirred at all in the still mountain air. The sky was darkening slightly as the afternoon wore on. Regardless of how tentative I was about facing the music, it was time to get moving. I set off back down the slope, not rushing, still turning things over in my mind. The three of us obviously needed some space and time to think, I certainly did anyway.
My plan was that before I faced the others I’d return to my chalet as unobtrusively as I could and pack everything I needed for some time away on my own, maybe as long as two or three weeks. I had a bit of money put aside and there was plenty in the account back in England if I needed it. But regardless of that I would have to leg it the ten miles into Macadam as there was no movement at all on the highway now. Asking Peter or Kathleen for a lift was out of the question obviously. Once I got to Macadam I’d get myself on a bus and bugger off. I had decided that I would travel north, over the border and into Canada to take a break there. I’d fancied going up to Canada at some point anyway and there couldn’t be a better time than now. While I was away Peter and Kathleen would have the opportunity to work things out between themselves. Peter might forgive her but I doubted it. More than likely he would pack her off back to Europe and wash his hands of her completely which was probably for the best. From what I’d learned about Kathleen’s past, her options were limited. She would have to stay well away from Ireland and probably Germany too but I had a feeling she would be OK once she got to England. To help ease my conscience I would lend her some of my money to get herself settled and keep in touch to make sure she was.
If she did go there was a chance that Peter and I could repair the damage done to our partnership. We had been good mates before Kathleen came on the scene and although things might never quite be the same, perhaps we could at least go back to being business partners. We had a lot going for us. As a last resort, if the situation was irretrievable I would consider going back to England, but I didn’t fancy that at all. I was going to have to wait until my return from Canada and see how things had panned out between the two of them before I could decide what to do. But firstly I needed to pack my stuff and prepare for the journey. Not until I was completely ready to be off would I go and find the others, hopefully avoid another punch on the nose and tell them where I was going before heading out.
Before long I found myself approaching the point where the trees thinned out and I could see the highway and buildings displayed below me. The first thing I noticed was that our old pick-up truck was nowhere to be seen. I had no idea what had happened to it but realised why Peter had caught us completely by surprise, obviously returning on foot. I emerged from the woods and hurriedly crossed the short distance of open ground behind the chalets, thankful that there was no sign of anybody else around outside.
There were no raised voices coming from the house which I might have expected as Kathleen was not the sort of person to capitulate without a whimper. I hoped that it meant that the worst was over and they had calmed down. Perhaps they were already discussing what they would do next to resolve the situation. But I was in no mood for another confrontation so soon after the fight with Peter so I walked directly towards my chalet and entered, closing the door quietly behind me.
Firstly I discarded my bloodied wet gear, chucking it on the floor near the shower, it could wait until my return to be laundered. I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and moved nearer for a closer inspection. Apart from a few smudges of dried blood and a bit of discolouration, my nose didn’t look too bad although it was quite swollen and mighty painful. Perhaps the bone had been cracked after all. I washed my face gently and dressed in some warm dry clothes which made me feel better immediately. I buckled up my webbing belt complete with bayonet and sheath that I always carried with me nowadays. It was second nature and I felt naked without it. The next thing was to prepare myself for the ten mile hike into Macadam. It wasn’t all that far but only a fool travelled on foot out into this country at this time of year without some amount of survival gear.
All of the kit I usually took with me on my trips out into the mountains was already packed and ready in a rucksack leaning against the wall in a corner of my room. It didn’t take a minute to check over the contents which included my little burner stashed away neatly within my mess tin. I refilled my water bottle and rinsed its metal cover which doubled as a mug, stuffed a few extra bits of food into various pockets on my pack to supplement the left over rations from my previous hike. All I had handy though were a few biscuits and some chocolate bars, better than nothing I supposed. I had a long journey ahead and needed to make sure I had something with me to help keep my spirits up. With that in mind I also put in the remains of my last bottle of whisky which had been languishing in one of my bedside cabinet drawers waiting to be finished. I looked forward to a nip or two of that on my way down to Macadam.
Clothing wise, I decided I would buy some more gear once I arrived in Canada. I didn’t want to have to carry too much all that way down the road so just donned my usual, warm hiking gear and pulled on my parka. From the other drawer in my cabinet I unearthed my passport, my army discharge papers for ID and my wad of cash along with a few other odds and sods and stuffed them in my pockets. I paused for a moment to think if there was anything else I should take, hoisted my rucksack onto my back, inhaled a deep breath and then left the chalet to go and face the music.