I got shakily to my feet. Every movement was painful. My groin hurt like hell courtesy of Loopy’s boot, the pain pounding in waves up into my lower abdomen. It also felt as though I was burning all down my left side and I assumed I had sustained a cracked rib or two. Even my pectoral muscles on that side appeared to be in a constant state of cramp. My left shoulder wasn’t working normally at all with areas of numbness accompanied by the sensation of pins and needles, partially masked by the agony pulsating from within and spreading right across my back. I suspected that my shoulder had been dislocated. To top it all off, my head was pounding relentlessly like a bass drum keeping time with my heart. I felt dizzy and sick with an overwhelming desire to lay back down and close my eyes but I knew if I did that I might not get up again. I had to keep going, to try and summon a bit of energy and get my blood flowing through my arteries to my bruised and battered muscles. I remembered enough from my boxing days to know that lactic acid would be building up after such a brutal fight. Ideally it would have been flushed away with some sort of cool down regime before the crippling cramps and stiffness made it impossible for me to move at all. Easier said than done in the state I was in.
Like a drunken man I staggered around the clearing, finding some of the items that had been strewn about and discarded in the melee, picking them up and attempting to pack them back into my rucksack with one hand but it was hopeless. Then behind the tree I came across Loopy’s pack, stuffed into a recess between some of the exposed roots.
I stared at the pack for a few moments, my brain still not functioning at normal speed. I was still badly dazed and putting my good hand to the back of my head I felt a firm, hot swelling the size of a mouse. My hand came away wet with a smear of blood. I knew he’d hit me with that lump of wood but it might just as well have been a sledgehammer. I flopped down onto my backside again for a rest which sent another agonising spasm through my shoulder. I knew that it was imperative to sort out the dislocated joint as soon as I could or more damage would be done.
In the army I’d been instructed in first aid and had undergone a basic combat medic’s course which had included putting a shoulder back in. But it had been someone else’s shoulder that I’d been shown how to fix, or rather a plastic dummy. The course certainly hadn’t covered fixing my own injury but I realised that I had no choice, so I tried to get my scrambled brain back into some sort of order and went through the procedure mentally before gritting my teeth and setting about it.
Step one. Sitting on the ground I began by slowly bringing my knees up to my chest but the pain from my pummelled groin became too much and I had to desist. After a few deep breaths I steeled myself and tried again, this time just bringing up my left knee with my right leg stretched out in front of me. This was slightly less painful although not a lot.
Step two. Tentatively I held both hands out in front of me, in line with my shoulders and laced my fingers together to form a tight grip, then placed them over the front of my knee cap with my thumbs pointing upwards. So far so good, now for the really fun bit.
Step three. Slowly and as smoothly as I could, I leaned back and at the same time pushed my knee forward to produce tension on my arm. I remembered being told that smoothness was the key, to avoid further damage to the muscles and nerves. Do it in one shot and don’t piss about! The voice of my first aid instructor came to me as I increased the effort. The pain was bad, really bad but I stuck with it, grinding my teeth and growling like a dog with a bone. As the pain reached a crescendo and I thought it was becoming too much to bear I raised my head to the sky and screamed my best battle cry as I’d been taught in basic training, making a final effort. Adrenalin is wonderful stuff and with relief I felt the shoulder joint pop back into place. My scream petered out and I was able to breathe out and relax. I flopped backwards and lay still, panting like a dog as I stared at the sky. The clouds seemed to snap back into focus and it was amazing how quickly the worst of the pain subsided. Soon even the agony from what I had suspected were broken ribs eased right off.
After a short while I forced myself to sit up again, carefully rotating my shoulder and marvelling at the lack of severe pain. It was going to be sore for a while but nothing I couldn’t cope with. With the pain reduced to an acceptable level my mind cleared a little more and settled upon my situation. I was determined to get down and see if there was anything I could do for Loopy although even from the height from which I’d looked down earlier it seemed pretty obvious that he was finished. Nobody could survive a fall like that but I felt the need to make sure. I also knew that once I was down there it was going to take a major effort for me to get back up again. I decided therefore that he could wait for as long as it took for me to gather all of my kit together before attempting the descent. Regardless of what my earlier plans had been, I knew I was going to have to move on from this location now, albeit reluctantly. I felt I could no longer stay in this vicinity in the aftermath of what had just taken place.
I turned my attention back to Loopy’s rucksack, struggling with the buckles for a moment because I was still trembling a little. I opened it up and was pleased to find that it still contained some cans of food along with several chocolate bars. One of the cans contained high protein biscuits which I recognised as the same ones we were issued in our ration packs before embarking on exercises back in the army. Really sweet and made with oatmeal, a couple of them was sufficient for a decent breakfast. They could be crumbled, mixed with milk or hot water and eaten as a rich porridge. But eaten dry as a biscuit they were great for giving you an instant energy surge when you needed it on the march. As well as the biscuits there was a can of strong hard cheese and a few others too. Things were looking up. In the bottom of one of the rucksack pockets I found two army issue tin openers, the little pressed metal fold-up ones about two inches long. A brilliant piece of design they instantly conjured up memories of good times away on the exercise ranges of Germany, living out of the back of an armoured fighting vehicle, sharing a meal with the best mates a bloke could ever wish for. Things were certainly a lot different now. I would have given just about anything at that moment to be back there with the security of my army comrades at my back.
Feeling the weight of depression settle onto my shoulders I allowed myself the luxury of letting my mind dwell on good times. Seconds ticked by and turned into minutes. Time became meaningless and my eyes began to droop. I could have easily just curled up and gone to sleep right there and then, but that would have been a catastrophic mistake and I knew it. I was obviously concussed. I had to snap out of the lethargy and force myself to keep going.
With deliberation I carefully opened the tin, extracted a biscuit from its paper wrapper and took a bite, munching on it slowly and meticulously to extract every last calorie from each morsel. While I ate I rummaged through the rest of the rucksack’s contents. There was some extra clothing, a torch which was larger than mine with seemingly plenty of life in it and spare batteries taped to its side. There was some washing tackle and even a decent Wilkinson Sword double edged razor in a little plastic box with some spare blades. It appeared that Loopy had come a lot better prepared for a jaunt in the wilderness than I had. Inside the large map pocket was a fat waterproof wallet containing his passport, army ID card and a fair wedge of cash all in Canadian dollars. There was also a return plane ticket from Frankfurt to Vancouver. Studying the ticket through eyes that still hurt like hell every time I swivelled them, I could see that Loopy had flown out from Germany about three weeks earlier and his return flight was scheduled in just over a week’s time.
Opening the passport the photograph of Frank Samuel Woolf stared back out at me defiantly. The image was two years old, taken when he was at my age. It was like looking into a mirror. The army ID card had a photograph slightly older, the younger facsimile of Frank looking less intense and a little more innocent, his whole life ahead of him but of course oblivious of how short it was going to be. I felt a rush of sympathy well up inside me looking at that photograph, despite what he’d done and had planned to do to me. There had been a damaged zone within his brain behind a barrier that nobody could breach and now indirectly because of it, he was gone for good.
I sat for quite a while contemplating the situation until, with the image of Frank and our uncanny likeness burning into my befuddled brain, there was a flicker from my inner light bulb. It sputtered on and off a couple of times as if struggling to be noticed from afar in a thick fog. Finally it began to glow steadily, lit up my consciousness and all of a sudden what I needed to do was very apparent. Yet another plan began to form in my head. I had been presented with an obvious way out of this nightmare and at last I had finally twigged it.
Struggling back to my feet I was caught out by a bout of dizziness and stumbled but I was aware of the sugar rush from the biscuit and a little strength seeping into my muscles a couple of calories at a time. Tapping into the welcome although minuscule increase in my energy level I resumed my search of the plateau, picking up everything else I could find and packed it away into each of the two rucksacks, ensuring every item retrieved went into the correct bag depending if it was Loopy’s or mine. Once I was certain that I had missed nothing I sat down again, mentally going through everything I needed to do and reassuring myself that the plan I was about to carry out was the right one. I then took some of the items from my pack such as my mess tin and mug, the gas burner and a few other odds and sods and distributed them around to make my camp look like it had been in use and that I’d been attacked completely by surprise. I double checked that I was leaving behind my passport, discharge papers and whatever other personal items I had with me. Finally I leaned my axe against a rock near the firewood stack and left it there.
Leaving my pack and its contents beside the burnt remains of my fire, I picked up Loopy’s and entered the cave for the last time, carefully picking my way into the darkness. Switching on my new torch I took my time, realising that even a minor mishap at this point might not be easy for me to recover from, so fragile was my condition. With relief I passed through the eerie cavern safely and took the few final steps into daylight, emerging from the lower exit on the bluff below the towering cliff from which Frank and the black wolf had plunged. Still very unsteady I concentrated on watching my footing, moving from boulder to deadwood to boulder, supporting myself with outstretched hands and slowly made my way down to where the bodies had fallen. But when I got to where I’d seen Frank spread eagled earlier and looked up from my feet there was nothing but a few scuffs in the dirt and residual snow. Frank was gone.
In shock I whirled around, expecting him to come at me again from behind but there was no one there. I saw no immediate sign of him at all until I spotted a smear of red on one of the stones protruding from the snow a short way off and then looking carefully I could see more blood beyond. Following the faint trail for a few yards over to some scrub, with relief I spotted a booted ankle protruding from beneath a bush.
“Frank?” I called softly, but there was no response. Moving closer I bent and gently shook the foot but it was unnaturally heavy and limp.
“Loopy?” I tried again, still nothing.
I don’t know why I bothered. Perhaps instinctively wanting to do what I could for him but more than likely because I had to be certain that he was no longer a threat, I tugged on the ankle with my good arm and with a real struggle managed to drag Frank a yard or two back out into the open. I turned him onto his back and stood over him, panting from the effort. I could see horrendous damage to his head and suspected that his neck was broken. How he’d managed to drag himself across the scree from where he’d landed I’ll never know, but he wasn’t going any further. His lower jaw had been crushed and was skewed at an angle giving his face a hideous leer, his unfocused eyes staring blankly into space. There were huge puncture wounds to his throat and neck but the blood flow had stopped. He was as dead as a doornail.
I walked back to the black wolf. He looked to be at peace with his massive shaggy head resting on a lichen covered rock, eyes fully closed, intelligent features relaxed and serene. The huge Bowie knife had been hammered right into the wolf’s neck to the hilt. There was very little blood indicating that he’d died almost instantly. He must have fallen directly onto the handle of the knife when he’d hit the ground after the fall, driving it in right up to the hilt. I grasped the handle and tried to pull it out but even with a boot braced against the wolf’s huge neck my one good arm was still too weak. The blade was stuck fast like Excalibur in the stone. I wasn’t feeling much like King Arthur at that moment so I left it where it was.
I sat down yet again for a further five minutes or so, staring from one wolf to the other. I was still fighting the urge to close my eyes and sleep, still incredibly weak and my body was stiffening up, hurting with every movement. I knew though, that sooner or later the helicopter was bound to cover this area and the corpses would be spotted easily from above if the snow held off. I had no intention of wasting what little strength I had left attempting to hide either of them. In actual fact I realised that their discovery was an essential part of the plan that had occurred to me, but before that happened there was work to be done. I had to get myself moving.
Rising to my feet, totally unexpectedly my stomach screwed into a tight knot and I doubled up, retching violently, spewing out what little food remained in my stomach, but it was mostly saliva. The convulsions continued until there was nothing more than gobs of evil tasting bile in my mouth which I spat out desperately, rinsing it away with a handful of snow. The impromptu vomiting left me feeling even weaker than before and it was several minutes before I was able to continue with my work.
I stripped off my clothes, every last stitch, folding it all up neatly and placing the lot on a nearby rock, performing the habit of a lifetime without realising. As naked as the day I was born, there in the cold mountain air I inspected my battered body, particularly my torso and groin area. Livid scrapes and dark purple bruising had already begun to show in defined patches resembling hefty boot prints. Stretching my back and bending from side to side didn’t produce the agony I would have expected from broken bones but I suspected I’d be pissing blood for a day or two. I’d taken a real hammering. I was glad that I’d been blissfully unconscious while most of it had been dished out, particularly the kicks I’d received to my bollocks.
Pretty soon I began shivering uncontrollably from the cold which snapped me out of the bout of self pity and urged me to get dressed in some of the spare clothing from Loopy’s rucksack. Once dressed in all but his boots I moved on to my next more gruesome task which was to strip Loopy’s body completely. Again I removed every last stitch including his dog tags, hanging them around my own neck. Dragging the woollen pullover over his mangled throat and face was the worst part, trying not to get too much blood on it. Once I’d got him totally naked I stood up to rest my back. It was then that I saw the tattoo.
There, at the top of Loopy’s right arm just below the shoulder, completed in dark navy blue ink, a face stared back at me. It was an incredibly well designed image of about five inches by four, formed with sweeping flame like strokes which flowed together to form a stylised portrait of a wolf’s head. With just those few marks the artist had not only created an attractive design but also managed to portray the beauty, intelligence, courage and strength of the fabulous creature. My admiration of the tattoo design was tinged with frustration. Even though it was obviously not freshly done I’d never noticed it before, not that Loopy and I had ever been close enough friends that I would have seen him in the buff. But if we were to exchange identities as I planned, then the wolf’s head might present a small problem. I didn’t have any distinguishing marks on my own body but on my discharge papers there was a box where any scars or suchlike were supposed to be recorded. I wasn’t certain if it covered tattoos or not but was worried that somewhere in the army’s archives there would be a file with a box which mentioned Loopy’s tattoo as a distinguishing mark.
Rummaging around in the pack I found an old ballpoint pen but despite vigorous scribbling I couldn’t get it to work. Further searching went unrewarded so there was nothing for it. Using the dried up pen I dipped it into the blood which had oozed from Loopy’s neck wound and as best I could, carefully painted the wolf design about half sized on to one of his Canadian dollar bills. If I ever made it out of this wilderness I was going to have to get myself tattooed at the first opportunity. My crude reproduction would serve to help get the design as accurate as possible.
Satisfied with my rendition and thinking that it looked better in red, I went back to Loopy’s body to decide what to do about the tattoo. I’d found my bayonet which he’d stolen from me, tucked into the inside pocket of his parka and had replaced it in its sheath on my own webbing belt. Testing the edge with my thumb I found it was still razor sharp so I set about my grisly task.
I removed a big lump of flesh from Loopy’s arm which incorporated the entire tattoo and I made sure the edges of my surgery were ragged and uneven. Gagging uncontrollably as I worked, I took another lump from lower down his arm too, to make it appear that his body had been predated upon which it surely would be if it was left long enough out here. Once I was satisfied with my butchery I walked over to the bushes and hurled the gruesome pieces of flesh as far as I could.
I redressed Loopy in my own rather smelly attire, a lot harder to do in my weakened state than I’d hoped. Eventually, panting from the effort I stood back up. I had completed the exchange of every item of our clothing, including our boots which were a surprisingly good fit. One last task was to rip and tear at the sleeve around the areas from which I’d removed the flesh, going through all of the layers of clothing and making sure they were suitably bloodied. Next I made a final check of the ruck sack, making certain that I now possessed everything of Loopy’s including his passport and wallet, but nothing of mine. I left what money I had been carrying in US dollars with him and also very reluctantly replaced my bayonet in its sheath around his waist.
Moving away from the bodies over to the shelter of some large boulders I spread Loopy’s map out in front of me and studied it carefully. My flight had taken me all over the place in my attempt to outpace and outmanoeuvre the police and ultimately Loopy. By my reckoning I was way over towards Mount Lago, surrounded by high peaks and valleys. There looked to be a reasonably navigable pass heading due west from my position which would take me over to Pasayten River which I could follow north, pick up Robinson Creek and the Pacific North West Trail. I’d be back close to an area where I’d hiked before on one of my longer forays into the wilderness from the Kirby place. From there I reckoned it was about ten miles north to Canada.
The Canadian border is obviously a long one and looking at the map I could see that a huge proportion of it passed through remote, deserted countryside which couldn’t possibly be patrolled very efficiently. As far as I knew, people crossed more or less as they pleased in both directions but with a manhunt going on a few miles south, security would undoubtedly be stepped up. To my advantage though, if I headed north east I’d be crossing in what looked to be a totally unpopulated area and as long as I continued in that direction at some point I would cut across the Similkameen River and soon afterwards I would find the lowest loop of southern Canada’s Crows Nest Highway.
It was approximately twenty miles to the border and perhaps another ten or twelve north east to reach the highway on the Canadian side. It didn’t look too challenging a journey looking at the map but this was tough country and after the beating I had endured I didn’t for one minute assume it was going to be easy. I was hoping I might hitch a lift or preferably catch a bus once I reached civilisation and a hundred and forty odd miles later I ought to be at the airport in Vancouver. I had about a week to get there and catch my plane to Frankfurt in Germany. Safety and familiar territory was a pleasant prospect but then the fun would really begin.
From this moment forward I was Corporal Frank Woolf, serving soldier in the British army, returning from an extended compassionate leave from Canada to my unit in Germany. Multiple murderer Peter Williams, the desperate object of an American police manhunt, now lay behind me having received his comeuppance at the hands of the black wolf.
Setting off, my thoughts turned to how my parents and brothers back in the UK deal with what had just happened. As I’d already been thinking about before, by now they would be aware of what I had been accused of. Mum would be horrified. Unable to face the neighbours she would find it impossible to even leave the house. Now it wouldn’t be long before, if all went to plan they would be getting another visit to be informed of my grizzly demise at the hands of the black wolf. It was a depressing train of thought and to make it worse, now that I’d assumed Loopy’s identity there was absolutely no way that I would ever be able to clear my name and put things right.
Meanwhile I was still in trouble here in the wilderness, but at least I now had a good plan to follow which gave me a little hope. This was definitely my final plan and I mentally committed myself to live or die by it no matter what happened. My morale clawed its way from the deepest depths to a level that I could cope with. Firstly I needed to adjust my mindset to that of the hard done by Frank Woolf, to get inside his head and practice being him until it became second nature. I was confident that I knew enough about him and his background, as much as anyone else did anyway. I’d picked up quite a bit from Kathleen over the past weeks about how they had met and about their life together. Most importantly I had the physical resemblance in my favour and his Lancastrian accent came easily to me. It had always been a part of my life, it being the same dialect I had grown up with. My brothers and I had spent a good deal of time imitating our father in our adolescent years, always out of earshot of course or we’d be told to “...stop actin’ the leather pig or I’ll cotter ye one!” There was always a high risk of getting “ower ’ide tanned in ower ’ouse!”
With the new posting awaiting me once I returned to BAOR, as long as I avoided anyone who knew Frank well, and I didn’t think many people fell into that category as Frank was the absolute epitome of a loner, I should be able to carry it off. With that in mind I continued on my way slowly, still unsteady on my feet. I paused to take a last long look at the tragic scene I was leaving behind on the bluff then turned north and walked straight into a tree trunk, adding yet another graze to my already battered face and causing the throbbing pain in my head to escalate to an unbearable level. I couldn’t stop myself from swearing out loud, screwing my eyes up and standing still, hoping the agony would subside a little.
“Thad mek a berrer doer thun a winder!” I said to the tree, scowling at it.
It was another phrase I recalled from childhood on the numerous occasions I’d got in my father’s way as he tried to watch the football or something on the telly. Apparently I’d make a better door than a window. It brought a hint of a smile to my face as I gritted my teeth and moved on.