The next thing I remembered was being gently woken up by Cass who had a steaming hot mug of tea for me. I sat up and took it from her, sniffing it suspiciously but she assured me that it was just ordinary leaf tea. Outside it was pitch black and I realised that I must have slept away the entire afternoon.
“What day is it Cass?” I asked.
“It’s Tuesday.” She replied, sitting on the edge of the bench seat where I’d slept and smiling at me quizzically. She was very close and I couldn’t stop myself warming to her by the second. She was such a lovely girl and under different circumstances I might have wanted to stay and get to know her and Skip better. But with it being Tuesday night I knew that I had less than three more days to get to Vancouver and catch my flight back to Europe.
“And where are we?”
“We’re near Chilliwack, on a farm. We stay here whenever we’re over this way.”
“He’s outside helping with the food,” she said then left me to finish my tea in peace. When it was all gone I got up and stepped out of the camper van, stretching my legs and enjoying the fact that for the first time in weeks I felt safe, happy and totally refreshed. The sight that welcomed me outside was not what I’d expected at all. There were at least a dozen other vehicles, some of them quite large, parked haphazardly in the small field along with several tents and old caravans. To one side there was a long three sided cattle barn facing into the field and along its length open fires blazed away. Groups of people were milling around, chatting to each other, playing musical instruments and smoking. There were dogs playing in the snow, being chased by curly haired little children with healthy red faces and clothes far too large for them. I spotted Skip talking animatedly to a group of people who looked and dressed just like him so I sidled over to say hello.
“Talk of the devil, here’s the man of the moment guys. Say hello to the mighty Frank Woolf.”
A few of the looks I received were tinged with uncertainty but I didn’t feel any real animosity directed my way. I put the uncertainty down to the fact that Skip must have told them that I was a serving soldier and these people were all of the anti-war, peace and love brigade. There followed a prolonged session of back slapping and confusing introductions, questions and explanations and I found myself relaxing more and more as the evening wore on. The music, mostly folk and protest songs, gradually escalated in volume until it turned into a full on jam session cum concert. People joined in enthusiastically with harmonies and makeshift percussion while others danced as if in a world of their own. A seemingly endless supply of beer, wine and fresh baked food was continually passed around contributing to a fabulous happy atmosphere. Everyone had more than enough and thoroughly enjoyed themselves. Sometime in the early hours of the morning I even contributed a song myself. ′The Wild Mountain Thyme’ is one of the few songs I can sing with confidence as a solo, but I was delighted when someone helped me out by accompanying me on a sitar no less, improvising a far from Scottish melody but somehow it just worked. As I finished the final chorus the sitar continued seamlessly into the introduction of the Beatles ‘Within You Without You’. I consciously avoided all of the reefers that were offered to me, but made the most of the booze and food. It was a magical night which passed in a bit of a blur.
For the second time within twenty four hours I awoke from a deep sleep in the back of Skip and Cass’s camper van, but this time the seats had been converted to a double bed and I had company. Much to my disappointment it wasn’t the lovely Cass who I discovered snuggled up beside me on the cramped mattress but a very large lady who looked about forty five years old. She had a glorious shock of bright silver hair, almost pure white but more noticeably her body was adorned with the most impressive display of colourful tattoos I’d ever seen. They covered most of her skin from her wrists to her neck, all of her back and most of her generously appointed front. I had no clear memory of how we’d ended up together or what had taken place during the later hours of the previous evening but I was in such a pleasant mood that I didn’t much care. Attempting to extricate myself from the bed resulted in her waking up and drowsily pulling me back into her arms. I decided it would be rude to decline so lost myself in her voluptuous warm body for a further half an hour. It was apparent that the philosophy of free love had transcended the sixties and was still alive and well in Chilliwack. I certainly wasn’t complaining. Afterwards she lit a cigarette and sat up, wrapping herself in the mass of bedding we’d slept upon while I got dressed.
“Where’s Skip and Cass?” I asked, hopping about precariously on one leg while attempting to thread the other into my combat trousers. Self consciously I added “I’m sorry, I don’t know your name.”
“No, you’re not very used to the weed are you and the amount you had was enough to keep half of BC stoned for a week. It can make you forget a lot of things. Mind you I think you proved that it does have some more beneficial effects, stamina being one of them.”
She winked provocatively and gave me a wry grin.
“We did get to know each other quite well last night though.”
She was quite well spoken and very likeable.
“Cass and Skip and some of the others ended up taking over my teepee and rather than chuck them out we came back here. I think it was a good move don’t you? Christ that’s the most exercise I’ve had in years. I’m Silver Moon by the way, people just know me as Moon.”
With that she got up and unashamedly bent over to retrieve her discarded clothing from the floor. The view I was presented with did make me wonder whether it was the reason she’d been given her name, but having said that I appeared to have had a wonderful night so kept my thoughts to myself.
“I don’t remember smoking any joints at all, I don’t even smoke,” I said as she finished dressing, pulling a tie dyed purple and blue kaftan dress over her head.
“It was all in the food you turkey. Come on, I need to go and clear out my teepee. I’m opening for business this morning.”
She pulled on a big coat and woollen hat then slid open the door of the van and hopped out. “Gee it’s cold this morning.”
“Business? What kind of business?” I replied with obvious trepidation as I picked up my stuff and followed her.
“Can’t you guess?” She laughed, turning to me and walking backwards as she bared her chest again to reveal a scaly green serpentine dragon disappearing into her cleavage. “I’m a tattoo artist!”
It had all but slipped my mind but I couldn’t believe my luck. I had expected to have to wait until I got back to Germany before I could see about having my wolf tattoo done, but this was too good an opportunity to miss. Moon must have seen the look on my face so she continued.
“Yeah I’m pretty good even if I say so myself. I do a bit of divination too. Card readings, lithomancy stones, astrology, you know the kind of thing but I make my way mostly with the body art.”
We walked across the field towards one of the teepees, our feet crunching on the frosty snow, nodding a good morning to one or two sleepy people who were beginning to emerge from the collection of vans, buses and tents. I wondered if, had I been lucky enough to run into Moon before I joined Peter down at the Kirby place, I would have saved myself a whole world of trouble. This looked like the kind of life I might have enjoyed for a while. Taking my wallet from my pack I withdrew the dollar bill with the wolf sketch on it and showed it to her. The blood I’d used as ink had dried to a rusty dark brown by now, almost black in places.
“Do you think you could do anything with this design? I want it on my shoulder here,” I said, patting the place at the top of my right arm where I’d seen Loopy’s tattoo as he lay dead at my feet back in the wilderness.
She paused and took the bill, studied it for a moment and replied. “Sure, but I could do it better if you’d let me add a few of my signature flourishes.”
“No, it has to be as close to that drawing as possible, but dark blue and larger than the size that I’ve sketched it, so that it covers my shoulder.” I said. “Could you do it right now? I’ve got cash.”
“You seem pretty specific. What’s the hurry and why this design?”
I didn’t want to lie to her so answered as truthfully as I could.
“A friend of mine died recently. He had this design on his shoulder and I always liked it, especially with my name being Woolf. I want to have it in his memory and it would be great if it was all healed up before I got back.”
“Awww. OK let’s go and sort out my tools, but I don’t want your money,” she replied, kissing me heartily on my lips. “You can pay me in kind later.”
We entered Moon’s teepee just as Skip and Cass finished dressing and they greeted me cheerfully. Poor old Skip had a nasty looking swelling on the side of his head but it didn’t appear to dull his constant chatter. It was obviously why he’d been given the name Skip Stone as he rarely stopped talking and seemed to bounce from one subject to another as regularly as a stone skipping across the surface of a lake.
The interior of the teepee was deceptively large and contained piles of boxes, small chests, side tables and a seat that looked as though it had once served time in a dental surgery. Rugs and blankets adorned the floor and side walls making it cosy and comfortable. I wondered how she managed to transport all of this stuff around the country. Maybe she didn’t, perhaps she was based here more permanently than some of the others. The field they were using had the air of a small village. Whatever, it was no business of mine. While we chatted and made ourselves comfortable with more mugs of tea and some bread and cheese, we unearthed a couple of other bodies in the teepee who appeared more reluctant to begin their day. Once our tea was finished Moon took charge.
“Ok let’s move it, I’ve got work to do,” she said authoritatively, clapping her hands like a school mistress.
The effect was almost instantaneous making it clear that she was one of the more respected members of the commune. Within a few minutes we were alone and she was opening a variety of boxes and a battered flight case which contained a plethora of tattoo equipment and other paraphernalia. I viewed it all with a little suspicion. I’d never undergone a tattoo and probably never would have if present circumstances hadn’t forced me to consider it. One thing I was aware of though was that some nasty things could occur if care wasn’t taken to prevent them. She saw the look on my face.
“Don’t worry Frank, I know what I’m doing. See that little generator in the corner there? Take that out the back and get it going while I fire up my stove and heat this baby up.”
She’d taken out what looked like a pressure cooker from one of the boxes and carried it over to a dual gas hob.
“This here’s a hospital grade Autoclave. After about half an hour in this everything will be completely sanitised. While that’s going I’ll see about making up a transfer for your design.”
I did as I was asked and carried the generator out of the tent. After checking there was plenty of fuel, it burst into life with the first tug of the pull cord starter. I uncoiled some cabling and trailed it back into the tent where Moon had been busy setting up a workstation. We chatted to each other while we waited for the Autoclave to do its job. Sometimes it’s easier to unburden yourself to virtual strangers when you have a lot on your mind and need to talk to somebody. I found myself tempted to relate my entire story to Moon and get it all out in the open. She seemed to have a sympathetic ear and I already sensed that I could trust her but for now I resisted the urge. Even I realised that it would be foolish to take any chances having only recently extricated myself from such a desperate situation back over the border in Washington State.
I was fairly vague with my answers to her questions and she didn’t press me for too much detail. I found out that she spent long periods of time here on the farm in Chilliwack which was owned by friends of her family and had done so for several years. Others like Skip Stone and Cass came and went as they pleased. She did own a pick-up truck and trailer though and whenever the mood took her she would spend some time on the road travelling or attending festivals where she would set up her teepee and earn enough money to keep her going throughout the year. It struck me as being a pleasant way to get by but times were changing rapidly and I wondered how long her chosen way of life would last.
I hadn’t realised the amount of equipment required to be a tattooist but there were several machines, she didn’t like it when I referred to them as ‘guns’, each very different to one another as well as inks, packets of needles, bottles of bleach, rubbing alcohol, green soap, dressings, you name it. She worked on my design as we chatted until with a flourish she proudly showed me the transfer she’d made. I have to say it was pretty impressive considering she’d been working from my hastily drawn sketch on the crumpled dollar bill. Moon selected what items she needed and laid it all out on a paper cloth covered metal tray like a surgeon preparing for an operation. A powerful spot light was connected to the cabling along with the machine she’d chosen and very soon we were ready to go.
The estimate for completion was about two hours as it was a relatively simple design, although fairly large and I wanted it bold. It wasn’t a bad guess and I arose from the barber’s chair well before midday, very pleased with my new emblazonment. It appeared to me to be a fairly accurate replica of Loopy’s tattoo from how I remembered it, certainly it was close enough. I was already thinking that perhaps it wouldn’t be my last. For now though my shoulder was dressed with a skin coloured adhesive gauze and I was given strict instructions not to interfere with it for at least a week.
I tried again to offer payment for the tattoo but Moon would have none of it. Instead, she asked if I’d take a look at her truck as it was badly in need of a service and tune up. I was more than happy to do that. She owned a fairly comprehensive tool kit and once I’d spent a couple of hours on the truck, despite not having much in the way of spare parts, I’d overhauled the brakes and clutch and had the engine purring like a Rolls Royce.
I spent that night in the teepee in comparative luxury compared to what I’d endured over the past weeks, although I didn’t get a lot of chance to sleep. It appeared that the truck wasn’t the only thing that hadn’t been serviced properly for a long time, but I was in no way complaining. Regrettably however the following day had to be the last I could spend with my new found friends. My scheduled flight back to Europe was looming. I had been advised that I could catch a bus to Vancouver from Chilliwack and a phone call to the depot confirmed that there was one leaving late that very afternoon. The journey was about two and a half hours give or take and I intended to spend my last night in Canada being pampered in a hotel before I faced the customs and security officers at the airport. I wasn’t looking forward to showing them Loopy’s ticket and passport while attempting to project an innocent demeanour.
After shaking hands with everyone in the commune, receiving hugs from many but by far the most passionate from Skip, as the afternoon darkened Silver Moon drove me in her pick-up truck into Chilliwack. I asked her to stop off somewhere on the way before the stores all closed so that I could buy some more presentable clothes. I was thinking, although I didn’t mention it to Moon of course, that I didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself especially at the airport. My assortment of scuffed and shoddy army kit had served me well in the wilderness and on the road but wasn’t going to cut it in down town Vancouver. We pulled in at a store with a big window displaying men’s casual wear and I got myself a pair of jeans, a denim shirt and a pair of desert boots as well as socks and underwear. I kept the new clothes on under my parka and stuffed my dirty gear into my rucksack. Perfect. Then we continued on our way to the bus depot. Moon stayed with me while I bought my ticket and we sat in a waiting room with a coffee each awaiting my ride. She smoked cigarettes and asked me to stay longer, trying to persuade me to contact my unit and tell them I was too ill to travel. I must admit I was tempted but I had a plan and a schedule to stick to so with regret I politely declined.
A little later than scheduled, unsurprising because of the wintery weather, a big Greyhound coach in pale blue and white livery pulled into the depot. The uniformed driver left the engine running while he gathered his stuff together and changed places after a few pleasantries with an identically turned out new guy. Silver Moon and I hugged and kissed like parting lovers do, even though I had only known her for a couple of days. I promised to get in touch once I got back to Europe but we both knew I wouldn’t. Soon I was slouched in a window seat inside the old bus, waving goodbye forever to my friend as it pulled out of the depot towards the Trans Canada Highway heading for Vancouver.
The journey passed without incident or interest, being very dark outside. The constant slowing, stopping and restarting on our way through the suburbs and into the city meant the journey became extremely tedious and I dozed off, sleeping fitfully until we arrived at the Greyhound bus depot in Vancouver. Once there I found a cab and asked the driver to take me to a reasonably posh hotel closer to the airport but where there were likely to be vacancies. He seemed surprised that I hadn’t asked where the nearest doss house was, given the state of my battered parka and rucksack but shrugged his shoulders and got on his radio. After a conversation with his dispatch office who called some hotels to check room availability, we set off for Richmond and soon afterwards pulled up outside the Esprit Radisson Hotel. Standing on the pavement outside the attractive honey coloured sandstone building and looking it over, I wondered if I might have overstepped my budget but thought sod it. I still had the equivalent of about eighty quid of Loopy’s money in my wallet and didn’t really want to keep any of it, so I paid the cabby and gave him a good tip. I took off my coat and stepped into the foyer, making my way to the reception desk.
After depositing my passport and booking an alarm call for seven thirty the following morning, I was shown to my room which was about as luxurious as I could have hoped for and after chucking my stuff on the floor beside the king sized bed I made a beeline for the adjoining bathroom. Up to my neck in hot water and sweet smelling bubbles I lay and soaked blissfully for at least an hour, scrubbing myself clean but taking care not to disturb my new tattoo. The last vestiges of my aches and pains seemed to be flushed away along with the dirt and grime and after I was done I dressed in a thick white towelling robe with ′Esprit Radisson′ embroidered in red across the breast. Then I settled in front of the television to catch up on the news, feeling like a new man.
The bulletins were varied. A shooting had occurred at a school in Ottawa where an eighteen year old student had opened fire on his classmates before killing himself. Seatbelts had been made mandatory in Ontario. General Franco had died and King Juan Carlos was expected soon to take the throne. President Gerald Ford, who had survived two assassination attempts within seventeen days in September was testifying at the trial of the woman who had tried to shoot him. There was no mention of a manhunt or the discovery of a murderer’s corpse in the Northern Cascade Mountain wilderness. I surmised that the news of my death had killed off the story although maybe the agencies over the border in the USA were still talking about it. I put it out of my mind and called room service from whom I ordered a twelve ounce sirloin steak with all the trimmings, some apple pie with cream plus a bottle of good red wine, polishing off the lot with relish. Then I went to bed and slept like I’d never slept before.
The following morning I went down to the hotel restaurant for breakfast, passing through the foyer where I noticed that there was a florist already open for business. On a whim I went in and ordered a huge bouquet of flowers to be sent out to the farm at Chilliwack for Silver Moon. I suspected that she might have preferred a bottle of Jack Daniel’s but that couldn’t be sent by Interflora. The florist got the address after I showed her the location on one of the hotel’s tourist maps and on the accompanying card, rather than write a message I sketched out a facsimile of my wolf tattoo and left it at that. Feeling happy about the gesture I went into the restaurant and consumed enough bacon, eggs, sausages and tomatoes to feed an army. Then I checked out of the hotel having spent more than half of Loopy’s money in one day.