Dawn of day five came all too soon and I reluctantly gave up the warmth and comfort of my bed and peered with bleary eyes out of my shelter onto the snow dusted plateau. Satisfied that there had been no unwanted visitor during the night I ate my breakfast, scraping out the last of my stew from my tin mug and eating it cold. Then I crushed the remainder of my pecan nuts with a couple of rocks, picking out the pieces of tasty white kernel from among the shards of broken shell. Not exactly a full English but the nuts were high in protein at least. I went over to the small stream which had helped provide my supper and washed my face in the icy cold water along with my mug and mess tin. Next I packed everything I intended to carry with me back into my rucksack which was just my binoculars and a few other essentials, tucking my axe into my belt. The rest I hid in the same place as before, wrapped in the blanket and disguised as well as possible under rocks and debris.
I had thought long and hard about splitting my supplies but concluded it was the best plan of action. I needed to be able to travel hard and fast and therefore as light as possible. If things went wrong, at least I wouldn’t lose everything and could return to the hiding place. Once ready for off I threaded my way through the cave and out to the lower cliff entrance, descending the bluff quickly and headed towards the trees, close to where I suspected my stalker had spent the night. I wanted to make sure he saw me clearly and then I set off north at a good pace, following an easy path.
It was a simple plan. Diversion and surprise. My intention was to lead him well away from my refuge, perhaps several miles and then, at the best opportunity that presented itself once I found a suitable place I’d conceal myself. I would wait for him to approach and then I intended to ambush and overpower him. Actually I was looking forward to beating the crap out of him. I subconsciously checked the reassuring weight of my axe tucked in my belt which would make a decent weapon when I needed it. The blunt side of the head had the potential to crack the thickest of skulls and I didn’t intend to muck about. The sight of it alone might be enough of a threat to deter any further violence once he was at my mercy. I wasn’t a naturally violent man and certainly not a killer despite what had been going on, so I had no intention of leaving him out here helpless and at the mercy of the wolves and bears. No, what I planned was to give him a decent hiding. Just enough to render him temporarily helpless and take all of his supplies including his boots and I would definitely recover my bayonet. Once satisfied he was no further threat I’d bugger off quickly, still moving north and leaving him in my wake to lick his wounds. He would think that I was continuing my journey but be unable to follow without his boots. As the weather worsened I was pretty sure that whoever it was would take the most direct route back to wherever he had come from. He might get cold feet and he might get hungry but he’d shown himself to be resourceful enough up until now. Most importantly he would be forced to stop pissing me off. After he was out of the equation I would take a long circular route back to my camp in the cliff and settle in for the duration.
I moved away, conscious of being watched. Maybe I was developing a sixth sense, maybe I was just becoming paranoid but I felt the hairs on the back of my neck standing up. Ignoring the sensation as best I could, I continued, mustering as much confidence as I could until I reached a turn in the path. At that point I couldn’t resist looking over my shoulder to survey my back trail before the cliff became obscured by the woods I was heading into. It was just as well that I did because in the distance I spotted him. But the bastard wasn’t following me as I’d planned. Instead he’d ascended the bluff and was entering the split in the cliff face. I just caught a glimpse of him as he disappeared inside the cave like a rat up a drainpipe. Bollocks!
It wasn’t just the thought of him discovering and taking over my hideout, or the fact that he hadn’t taken the bait. My main concern was for my stuff which I’d hidden up there. There was nothing for it. I turned around and angrily made my way back. My original plan appeared to be scuppered but I was going to confront him regardless, this couldn’t go on any longer.
The hunter watched the prey go and grinned. It was so obvious what the bastard was doing as he trotted away that it was almost laughable. Moving in a way that was entirely different to how he’d been moving before, making no attempt at concealment, making no attempt to hide his tracks and not appearing to study his back trail at all. It was as if he wanted to be seen and followed. A decoy leading his pursuer into a trap? Pathetic. Even his rucksack looked empty so he must have stashed the contents of it away somewhere in his camp before he’d set off. Time for the fun to start.
He waited until the coast was almost clear and then began the ascent of the bluff to investigate the split in the cliff from where the bloke had emerged, knowing that the prat would be coming back for his stuff once he realised his ploy had failed. The man entered the cave, illuminating his way with a cigarette lighter. Finding the cavern within was an unexpected revelation. He couldn’t help exhaling a whistle of breath, in awe of what was revealed in the flickering light. No wonder the bloke was reluctant to abandon this place, it was a perfect sanctuary. He moved stealthily through but despite the care he took he still managed to disturb a pile of loose stones in the narrow passage. Then he realised they had been placed there deliberately and guessed their purpose. He carefully replaced them, smiling to himself. The bloke was getting better at this game day by day.
Emerging from the cave’s top entrance he crept over to the cliff top and lying prone, surveyed the scene below. Lo and behold, right on cue there was the object of his attention on his way back, moving fast and looking really pissed off.
I climbed the bluff and moved steadily towards the cave entrance, building myself up for what lay ahead. At the entrance I hesitated, sniffing the air and listened intently before entering. The darkness inside the cave enveloped me like a cold cotton sheet, swallowing me up instantly. Like any prey animal I had a natural dislike of darkness which served to intensify my concentration further. Soon my night vision improved and my senses became more keen. Holding my axe in front of me like a club, not able to use my pen light to help me to see as I’d left it behind, slowly and carefully I made my way further into the cavern. Silently I crept through and up towards the top entrance, carefully avoiding my stone piles as I made my way but when I emerged into daylight I could see no sign of the man. A cursory glance towards where I’d stashed my excess kit revealed that nothing had been disturbed. I spent a good few minutes in the hollow basin at the top, crouched and ready, surveying the immediate area. There were fresh tracks in the snow, the same size tens as before which led off towards the trees. Tentatively I followed the way he’d gone. Then bang!
The blow to the back of my head was so sudden and so violent that the fight was over before it had really begun. There was very little pain, just a roar in my ears which turned to a high pitched ringing that rattled my teeth. My legs turned to jelly and melted away as I went down. I didn’t even have enough control or strength in my arms to break my fall. I was aware of a fusillade of hard blows, mercilessly thumping into my ribs and my torso, delivered with size ten boots and accompanied by an equally violent tirade of cursing. Seconds later I descended into total oblivion and that’s how I remained. Unfeeling, unmoving and unaware for how long I do not know.
I was warm, warmer than I’d felt for days and there was a rich golden light which glazed the surrounding shrubbery, tinged with crimson. I heard a shrill cry and looking up I saw an eagle float serenely across the sky directly above me, its pure white head and tail catching the sun. Without so much as a single wing beat, the majestic bird wheeled in a perfect arc and then accelerated like an arrow from a bow, over the high tree tops to the north and disappeared towards the far away mountain peaks. I watched the huge bird go. When I lowered my gaze from the sky and looked back across the clearing, a person had appeared and stood opposite me beside the rocks. It was a woman, at first glimpse a beautiful one. I couldn’t quite make out her face as whisps of hair played across it, wafted by the warm and gentle breeze. Dressed in a chunky white woollen figure hugging sweater over blue jeans tucked into heavy duty leather boots, she looked completely at home in the surroundings. The woman self consciously brushed away the unruly locks of hair from her face, looked across at me and smiled a gorgeous smile. Recognition dawned. It was Chloë. I smiled and raised a hand towards her but pain erupted in my side and speared through my shoulder causing me to drop my arm again. As the temperature plummeted back towards freezing I couldn’t hang on to the beautiful vision, screwing my eyes tight shut and holding my breath until the pain subsided. When I looked again the hallucination had faded away and with it so had Chloë.
It had been early morning when I had set off after breakfast, picking my way along the trail through the thin mist. Now as I opened my eyes once more, this time fully conscious with things sliding gradually into focus the mist had drifted away completely and there was a watery sun midway in its low arc across the sky attempting to illuminate the clearing at the top of the cliff. As weak as it was, reflecting off the snow the sun might just as well have been a welding torch pointing at my face, judging by the excruciating pain it was causing behind my eyes. I squinted in an attempt to reduce the harshness of the light. Accompanied by a blinding headache my senses reluctantly returned and I forced myself to try for full vision again, opening my eyes a little more fully to survey my surroundings. I was lying on my side on the ground below the old tree. The tree from behind which my attacker had concealed himself I presumed. Rolling over slightly in an attempt to get up resulted in a bombardment of unbearable pain and involuntarily I let out a gasp, collapsing back to my previous position.
“Awake at last are yer. About bloody time!” A voice, sounding distant and hollow but one I vaguely recognised entered my consciousness from close by.
Steeling myself I made another attempt to rise and this time was able to shuffle into a sitting position, my back against the tree, panting from the effort. Opposite me, sitting on a boulder and rummaging through my rucksack was the unmistakeable figure of Frank Woolf. My axe was on the floor by his feet and also a four foot lump of wood, thick at one end and tapering away to the other like a baseball bat which I assumed he’d brained me with.
“Loopy.” I exclaimed weakly. “What the fuck are you doing here?”
He looked at me from under his parka hood and nailed me with eyes blazing. He had the bearing of a rabid animal, I’d never seen anyone or anything look so malevolent.
“I’m visiting my foster parents in Canada,” he hissed quietly.
With that he stopped what he was doing, got up swiftly, strode across the clearing and kicked me hard in the ribs. I almost passed out again from the pain but fought to retain my composure.
After a pause he continued, “...and don’t call me fucking Loopy.”
As if nothing had happened he returned nonchalantly to the boulder and sat back down, continuing with the search of my rucksack. Then he let out a grunt of frustration and threw it across the clearing to land close to where I lay.
“Where’s my fucking bedding?”
I didn’t see much value in being evasive and didn’t fancy another kicking so with resignation I nodded towards the cave entrance and replied, “Under those rocks over there, just inside the cave.”
He got up again and tramped over to where I’d indicated, studied the rocks for a moment and then retrieved the blanket and sleeping bag from its hiding place along with my other stuff. He brought it all over and sat down next to me, pushing back the hood of his parka. There was silence, a very uncomfortable silence which after a couple of minutes I felt compelled to break.
“How could you kill her Loo...er Frank.” I corrected myself nervously.
“I mean, Peter the Kraut I can understand after what he did but Kathleen never deserved that.”
He tilted his head upwards to look at the sky and I studied the profile of his face. There was a hint of a tear in the corner of his eye which slowly welled up in volume as I watched it before tumbling down his stubbly cheek. He made no attempt to wipe it away.
Loopy looked back at me and said “Do you know what she did? Back at the garage after I’d done the Kraut and gone and found her still in her pit?”
Another fat tear joined the first, ran down the same track and dripped off his chin, falling onto his chest. He paused again before continuing.
“She sat there bold as brass, gave me that sexy grin of hers and offered it to me, as if nothing had happened.”
I waited until I was sure he’d finished.
“Offered what to you?” I asked stupidly.
“It! The same fucking thing she’d been offering to the Kraut and god knows who else since I dragged her out of the gutter in Belfast and married her. The same fucking thing she’d been giving you every time the Kraut turned his back. Don’t deny it! ” He was shouting now.
“Don’t think I didn’t see the pair of you, banging away every five minutes like a pair of stray dogs you bastard. I’ve been watching you for ages. How do you think that made me feel! Seeing you two hard at it out in the woods. I was this close to doing the pair of you there and then while you were on the job!”
He made a sign with his finger and thumb, indicating that I’d been an inch from receiving the death I’d often joked about wishing for, apart from the fact I was just twenty three, not eighty five. Bloody hell, I thought. How many people had been watching Kathleen and me out in the wilderness making love. We might as well have sold tickets and been done with it!
“Are you listening?” he shouted.
Before I could answer he dug his elbow hard into my ribs, thankfully this time on the opposite side from the earlier kick, choosing one of the few places on my body that wasn’t already racked with pain.
“When she said that, I totally lost it and gave her the same as the Kraut.” said Loopy.
“So what are you going to do then?” I asked quietly. “The police are out here you know, searching for you. Helicopters, dogs, it’s only a matter of time.”
“They ain’t looking for me mate. Nobody knows I’m here,” he said smugly. It was as if his mood had switched again from the murderous violent thug of a few minutes ago, to the old army mucker I used to know.
“As far as the army’s concerned I’m on six weeks compassionate leave, visiting my dear old foster father who’s dying up there in Canada,” he continued, thrusting his chin in what I assumed was a northerly direction.
“No, they ain’t looking for me mate. They’re looking for you, you thick bastard.” he laughed.
While Loopy appeared to be in a better mood I thought it a good idea to try to connect with him mentally. I could tell he was off his head. I was hoping to get him to come back down to earth at least long enough for me to get away. Otherwise I knew I was on shit street.
“Sorry to hear that mate, about you’re step father I mean,” I said with as much sympathy as I could muster.
“Don’t be sorry,” he continued quite gently. “I couldn’t give a shit if he’s dead or alive and besides, I haven’t got a clue where he lives. Canada’s a big place. No, it was just an excuse to get me across the pond on compassionate leave. Then I found a quiet place to cross the border and tracked you bastards down at that garage place. I’ve been watching you for weeks.”
He went on to tell me what had happened back in Germany, beginning with the day he’d discovered that Kathleen had left him and he’d smashed up his flat. How he’d been locked up despite the CO’s sympathy for him but had kept his stripes. He went on for a long time telling me how he’d had his sergeant’s course cancelled and been given a posting to a new unit in Soltau for when he returned. He finished by explaining how he’d put two and two together regarding Kathleen and Peter, what with how Peter having been banging on about his move to the States how easily he’d found us. It was quite surreal the way Loopy appeared to be enjoying my company and we chatted away for a while like old friends. I was beginning to think that the bloody good kicking I’d already endured was all I was going to get and to be honest I was quite OK with that considering what I’d done. But then he went quiet again and I sensed his mood turn as icy as before.
“No, it’s you they’re after. It’s all worked out like a dream. That old nut case in the Indian outfit turned up at the garage straight after I’d topped ’em both so I gave him a good squint at my face and left him there to call the cops. Pissing his pants he was. He thought I was you. I was going to leave you to take the blame while I buggered off back to Canada and then after a few days holiday shoot off back to Germany. They’d have banged you up on death row before you’d even sussed what was happening if it weren’t for you fucking off like you did. I had a good view from up in the trees. What a laugh that was, watching them take pot shots at you when you legged it. You should have seen your face when you and that copper ran into each other,” he was grinning and quite enjoying himself again now.
“He never got up you know, you must have brained him good and proper. I reckon you must have killed him. I started off following you so that if necessary I could draw the cops in once they got their arses into gear but then I got to thinking. What if you actually managed to escape completely? There was a good chance of that out here. They’d probably bring in the FBI and Interpol, especially now you’re a cop killer. They’d shut down the borders and make it a bit awkward for me getting back to Europe. They’d start looking into things a bit harder and might suss everything out eventually. So I thought I’d let you drag it out for a few days. Give you a chance to dig yourself into the shit a bit deeper. Make them move a load more resources in before I took you out and made it look like an accident. Job done. That way there would be no dodgy trial so you wouldn’t be able to wheedle your way out of being fried. They’ve still got the death penalty here you know. Besides, you deserve the same as those other two bastards. Especially after nearly losing me in that bloody forest.”
His voice trailed off as if he’d lost the thread but then he continued.
“You surprised me there you clever little shit. It was pure luck I got back on your trail. That could have fucked it all up. I’ll feel a lot better about everything once I’ve done you as well.”
This wasn’t sounding good.
“If you kill me, they’ll know there was someone else out here.” I said, trying to sound convincing, even conspiratorial but I was obviously clutching at straws.
“No. They won’t find a trace of me, I’ve made sure of that. You’re going over,” Loopy continued.
“Over the fucking cliff. Where do you think!” he was getting angry again.
“It’ll look like you fell, like an accident. It’s nice and open down there at the bottom too. They’ll spot you from the helicopter easy, piece of piss. Meanwhile, I’ll be on my toes.”
He got up and stood in front of me with his legs spread evenly, moving from one foot to the other, beckoning.
“Come on, get up.”
I was petrified and helpless and Loopy was without doubt insane. I needed to think of a way to get him talking again but my mind was blank.
“I can’t move, I’m fucked,” was the best I could come up with.
“Get up!” he screamed.
I did my best, getting my shaky legs beneath me and made it into a crouching position. Then I slumped back down onto my backside and looked at him pitifully.
“It’s no good mate, you’ve busted my ribs,” I said, offering my good arm up to him. I reckoned my only chance was going to be to take him by surprise. I hoped he’d be forced to make an effort to drag me to my feet, thinking I was completely helpless. Truth be told I wasn’t far short but if I could lure him into reaching down to take my arm I hoped I might be able to pull him off balance as I rose. Then give him a good knee in the bollocks and take it from there.
“Get up you tosser! he screamed again, not falling for it and remaining too far out of reach.
Plan ‘B’ it had to be then.
I tried to summon a trace of strength from somewhere to make one last effort, knowing I didn’t have a chance but refusing to give in. I struggled back into a crouch and balancing myself as steadily as I could, tensing my thigh muscles I prepared to launch myself directly at him like a missile. My hastily put together plan ‘B’ was to hit him hard under the chin with my head and to hope desperately for some luck. He was only just within range but in his anger he moved fractionally closer. I gathered myself before I let loose, visualising my forthcoming action in the same way that an Olympic sprinter might before getting on his marks.
In the instant that I went for it, several things happened almost at once. From the entrance to the cave I heard the sound of some stones clattering. Loopy heard it too and spun to look in that direction. I launched myself at him but was too dizzy from concussion and stumbled pathetically. He turned back quickly and swatted me away like a fly with a back hander to my jaw. As I staggered away I caught a blur of movement from my left in my peripheral vision and before I had a chance to realise what was happening a huge black shape swept in out of nowhere, hurling itself upon Loopy as he stood just a couple of yards from me. It was a wolf! There was a guttural blood curdling snarl and the huge black animal clamped its teeth around Loopy’s throat right under his jaw, crushing bone and sinew, shaking him violently like a puppy with a rag doll.
Give Loopy his due, he managed to stay on his feet but staggered backwards under the weight of the great beast and the ferocity of its attack. My stagger from Loopy’s blow carried me just a yard or so and I was bent double trying to regain my balance as he was swept away and out of my reach. I watched helplessly as Loopy, shocked and wide eyed with terror, withdrew a massive Bowie knife from his belt and in desperation thrust it hard into the neck of the creature, finding the joint between its jaw and skull before driving it home. The horrifying canine snarl changed instantly to an agonised scream but the wolf refused to release its hold on Loopy’s throat. Instead its shaking and thrashing became more frenzied. Blood flew into the air in a crimson arc and splattered on the tree behind me. For an instant the two of them danced and wrestled furiously like a scene from a horror movie until they disappeared over the edge of the cliff, locked in a deadly embrace. The fight had lasted no more than fifteen seconds.
A moment later the sound of the life or death struggle halted abruptly as the two of them smashed onto the rocks below the cliff. I was left alone in the resulting silence, gawping like a goldfish at the space in which the brief battle had raged, still frozen in the position I’d taken up for what I’d assumed was to be my last action on earth. I sank back onto my haunches, shocked and shaking uncontrollably and then flopped down onto my backside again.
“Bloody hell,” I muttered and there I remained for a while, breathing deeply and trying to get a grip of myself. Eventually, perhaps with the aid of the adrenalin still coursing through my system I was able to summon enough strength to crawl painfully slowly across to the cliff edge and look down.
I didn’t know what I would have preferred to see. I certainly didn’t want it to be the enormous black wolf staring back up at me, badly wounded and even more angry than before. Despite everything I also found myself hoping that Loopy might somehow have survived the attack and that I might be able to get down there and help him. It turned out that neither scenario awaited me. Way below, spread eagled on the rock strewn surface lay Loopy, flat on his back with his arms outstretched like a macabre crucifix. A couple of yards away from him lay the black wolf with the hilt of the big knife protruding from its neck. Neither of them was moving.