Upon his return Captain Garret the CO called me into his office for a prolonged interview. He seemed like a decent enough chap, for an officer. He looked to be well over fifty which is quite an age for any officer to still be a captain, but I later found out that he’d worked his way up through the ranks rather than passing through Sandhurst after which he would have begun his career as a second lieutenant. Very rare but those I’d met in the past who had succeeded in making it that way tended to be the very best officers in my opinion. Garret made it clear that he’d taken on board everything that Captain Burke had relayed to him before my arrival. He sympathised with the circumstances in my personal life that had led to my behaviour in Bielefeld but left me in no doubt whatsoever that I was on probation and lucky to still have my stripes. He expected me to knuckle down and prove myself. I had no problem with that. Finally the elephant in the room which was the recent attack by the two Irish thugs came up.
“Quite a day,” he began. His tone had altered for the better now that the official bullshit had been dealt with.
‘You could say that,’ I thought but I kept my trap shut. After what I’d experienced over the past few months, it had felt like any other day really. Since my return from the hospital, whenever anyone talked to me about the attack in the vehicle park I sensed that their attitude altered slightly, taking on a more sympathetic tone. I had the feeling that they couldn’t help imagining how they might have coped if it had happened to them.
“Yes, all to do with the ex-wife sir.” I replied. “I’m sure you’ve heard all about it. A bloody nightmare to be honest but I’m pretty sure that it’s all well behind me now. All I want is to put the whole sorry affair behind me and get on with my career,” I answered truthfully.
On the plus side though, I was aware that the incident had given me the beginnings of a reputation which I thought I could exploit to my advantage. I didn’t want anyone trying to get too close to me for a while for obvious reasons. After having apparently beaten the crap out of two known IRA thugs single handedly, a little fear about what might happen to anyone getting on the wrong side of me I reckoned wouldn’t go amiss. Captain Garret didn’t dwell too long on the subject, probably not wanting the interview to become too personal. I left his office with a sense of relief and an enthusiasm I hadn’t felt in a long while.
Over the next few weeks, once things had returned to normal I settled in well in Soltau. Christmas came and went and I cruised into the New Year of 1976 without any more incidents. The workshop was indeed very much under strength as Bruno had intimated when I had first met him so despite my coming in to bolster the complement a little, the amount of work was relentless. I didn’t mind that at all and spent many extra hours after normal knocking off time, working hard to help keep on top of things. I rubbed along OK with the rest of the lads in the LAD, proving my worth as a decent mechanic and good grafter. I had no problem whatsoever adapting to my new role of full corporal and soon gained a reputation as a fair but no nonsense NCO, a little different in attitude to the real Frank Woolf but a persona I was happy to cultivate.
They had a small gymnasium on camp and I spent a lot of time in there, concentrating on bulking up my upper body so that after a short while Loopy’s clothes fitted me perfectly. My idea wasn’t really to make myself look more like Loopy, but rather to look less like my old self. To that effect I kept my hair cropped close to my scalp rather than allow my thick curly mop to re-establish itself. I didn’t go out very often with my new colleagues, preferring to spend any free time on camp, just having the occasional few beers in the NAAFI when the mood took me. My room mate Jack became the nearest thing I had to a friend but after a while even he stopped bothering to ask me to go out on the town with the lads. It was a slightly more subdued social life than I would have preferred but I was just grateful to have been given this second chance. Things would undoubtedly evolve as the months, maybe even years passed by.
My thoughts often turned to the future and my initial plan to leave the army once the time seemed right and move further afield. I’d even had thoughts about emigrating to Australia. However, I was reluctant to commit to any plan. I was enjoying being a British soldier once again and besides that, certain other things had started to gnaw their way into the back of my mind. Things I knew would be best left undisturbed, one of them being a longing to put things right with my family back in England and another being my recent love life.
One day, out of the blue, my new existence unexpectedly brushed against the old. It was late one Friday afternoon and I had just returned from road testing a wagon around the test track. I parked it up outside and was making my way across the shop floor to pick up a new worksheet when someone whistled loudly and called my name from the raised catwalk outside the offices. It was ‘Q’ Muncey. Once he’d caught my attention he beckoned for me to come up before returning to his desk. It struck me as unusual because under normal circumstances he would have wandered down onto the shop floor if he wanted to speak to someone, not wanting to stop people working. I trotted up the stairs to see what he wanted. There was someone else in the office when I got up there, wearing barrack dress uniform with a lance corporal stripe and sat with his back to the door as I entered.
“Someone you know corporal,” said Muncey as he retook his seat behind the desk.
Before I could react at all the seated soldier stood and turned, offering a hand for me to shake. I felt as though I had been slapped hard in the face. I opened my mouth to say something but no words came out.
A quick fire series of expressions flashed fleetingly across the guys face. Firstly the hint of a smile, then his eyes widened in shock and his head jolted back slightly before a confused frown took over. The hand he’d proffered remained stranded in mid air for a brief second before he gathered his wits and spoke. It was a voice I hadn’t expected to ever hear again and it belonged to Dave Pacey!
“Loopy. Good to see you after so long.” I perceived the slightest of nods as he spoke, looking directly into my eyes. I took his hand and squeezed it tightly, returning the stare.
“Don’t call me fucking Loopy,” I growled in my most pronounced Lancashire accent but then couldn’t stop myself from grinning, “I’ll forgive you this time Dave. Anyway, what are you doing up this way.”
“I’ve brought your car up mate. ‘Q’ Smith got fed up with it cluttering up the LAD car park so I volunteered to bring it over, seeing as you never came to pick it up like you promised. It seemed a good idea at the time, get me out of the workshop for the day.”
The conversation was unnatural and very stilted. My mind was racing and I didn’t trust myself to continue so I turned to ‘Q’ Muncey who was shuffling some paperwork irritably on his desk.
“Do you mind if I take a short break ‘Q’?” I asked.
“No, go on. You can finish for the day. It’s only an hour until knocking off time anyway and you deserve an early finish for a change.”
With that Dave and I were dismissed. I didn’t utter another word until we were outside, well away from the workshop. There, parked on the lane leading from the main camp sat Loopy’s Ford Taunus, nicely buffed up despite the winter weather, just how I remembered it from my time in Bielefeld. It was something I’d not given any thought to at all. We both got in and just sat there for a moment with me trying to think of a way to begin my explanation and Dave with mouth agape, looking as though he was in a state of shock. Then we both spoke at once.
“Fuckin’ hell!” followed by another awkward silence.
Dave broke it with, “I even put it through the car wash, not wanting to get a mouthful from Loopy. Jesus Christ, Will.”
I held up a hand to silence him and then gripped his arm tightly.
“It really is great to see you Dave. Look. Firstly, thanks for not blowing it for me back in the office there. The thought of this happening has been my worst nightmare since I got back. Thank Christ it wasn’t some arse hole like Cleary who drove up. That would have been the end of me. Come on, let’s get the fuck out of here. I’ve got a lot to tell you.”
“Too bloody right you have,” he replied.
We drove out of town into the countryside to the outskirts of a village called Am Berge where I knew of a remotely situated Italian restaurant that I’d been to once before. It was pleasant enough and they welcomed soldiers but more importantly it was always very quiet. Dave and I hardly spoke another word until we were seated at a table with a couple of large beers in front of us. It was still early, the evening clientèle hadn’t arrived yet so we were almost the only customers apart from a couple of elderly locals sitting at the bar.
“Fancy the pizza?” I asked tentatively, studying the menu. “My shout.”
“Pizza! Fucking pizza! For Christ’s sake Will what the hell is going on.” One of the staff hovering in the background gave us a look and I raised a hand and nodded to him to indicate everything was all right. Nobody had referred to me as Will for months, it felt strange.
“Calm down mate, all will be revealed and by the way, for Christ’s sake call me Frank.”
After a pause Dave went on in a more controlled voice, “...anyway, I fancy pasta.”
“First off, before I explain what’s happened, which is going to take half the bloody night by the way, it might be best if you tell me what you think you know about it,” I began.
Dave sat there quietly contemplating before he exhaled a breath noisily.
“OK. I’ll start from after you left for England. Well, nobody had a clue about Peter the Kraut having it off with Loopy’s wife. The first we knew of it was after they’d gone off together and Kathleen had left Loopy a note. He went absolutely ape shit. He smashed up their flat, really demolished it. He went totally berserk. The Politzei were called out by the neighbours but they didn’t want anything to do with him so they phoned the camp. It took half a dozen MPs to bring him in apparently. I remember thinking that Peter the Kraut must have been off his head. He knew Loopy as well as the rest of us and must have known that if Loopy ever got hold of him he’d more than likely kill him. Just as well he’d legged it to America. Anyway, all they gave Loopy was a couple of weeks in nick and when he got out he was sent on compassionate leave. I don’t know how Loopy managed it although the CO always had a bit of a soft spot for him, didn’t he? Loopy said his foster father was on his last legs over in Canada and wanted to make the trip to see him before it was too late. So they arranged his posting to take effect while he was away and all his kit was brought up here for him ready for when he got back. But you know all that don’t you?”
It was good to just listen to Dave’s voice again. I realised I’d missed him a lot. I didn’t interrupt him, allowing him to continue.
“The last thing Loopy did before he went on leave was to ask me to look after his motor, saying he’d pick it up sometime after he got back. He didn’t want to leave it at the airport. I didn’t mind really, a small price to pay for seeing the back of him to be honest. So it’s been parked outside the LAD ever since but he never got in touch about it. As I said earlier, ‘Q’ Smith wanted it shifted so I volunteered to drive it up here this weekend. I suppose I should have rung up but to be honest, I didn’t want to have to speak to him if I didn’t have to after everything that’s happened. I’d hoped to just leave it at the LAD, hand the keys to someone and bugger off back to Bielefeld on the train. It was your boss Muncey who insisted I stay to have a chat with you. He mentioned something about you having been through the mill lately and a friendly face might do you good. What was all that about then?”
“I’ll tell you in a minute, bear with me. So what happened next?” I prompted.
“Well, after Loopy had gone off on leave, maybe a month or so later I get hauled into the office and get a grilling from a couple of plain clothes MPs. That’s when I found out that Peter the Kraut and Kathleen had both been murdered over in America and that you were on the run. I couldn’t believe what they were saying. I didn’t get any real details but it was obvious that they were convinced that you’d done it. They wanted to know whether you’d been in touch, what with everyone knowing we were good mates. I told them it was all news to me and believe me, I told them in no uncertain terms that no way were you capable of doing anything like that, for all the good it did. They virtually threatened me, if I heard from you and didn’t report it I was going to be right in the shit. It was a bloody shock to me I can tell you.”
“It must have been. Then what happened?” I said, trying to urge him on.
“I couldn’t get my head around it at all. Nor could Ronnie and especially Chloë. Jesus, you should have heard her. Neither of them believed what was being said, we talked about nothing else for weeks after.”
The mention of Chloë’s name stopped me in my tracks. I’d been trying not to think about her at all since returning but had been aching to get in touch although I’d realised I could never risk it.
“Go on,” I said, knowing there would be plenty of time to ask about Chloë later. “Did they mention anything about me killing a local copper as well?”
“Eh? No they bloody didn’t! You killed a copper? For fuck’s sake! How many more bodies did you leave in your wake!”
Dave was getting over anxious again. I glanced across to the bar but the staff didn’t seem too concerned about his outburst this time, they were just nonchalantly standing around chatting with the two old boys at the bar and polishing some glasses.
“Calm down mate, I didn’t kill anyone I swear.... erm well, maybe the copper but I’ll tell you exactly what happened in a minute. I just need to know what’s been going on since I’ve been away and what everyone thinks occurred.”
Dave took a long swallow of his beer before continuing, “Well, a couple of weeks later I got hauled into the office again. This time they tell me they’ve found your body. Killed and half eaten by a bloody great wolf. The MPs were absolutely certain it was you. The US cops had eye witnesses, the lot and they even wired over a couple of photographs of your corpse to confirm it. I saw them myself. Difficult to tell with half your face missing but I was pretty certain it was you. I must admit, up until that point I was convinced that they had got it all wrong and sooner or later the truth would come out, but the pictures proved it. That’s just about it really. I couldn’t tell them anything they didn’t already know but it was down to me to break the news to Chloë. It was the last straw. She’s been a bloody nightmare ever since.”
A second mention of Chloë and it had the same effect as the first.
“How is she?” I couldn’t stop myself, I had to ask.
“Well, how do you think? First off, the bloke she’s finally admitted she’s been in love with since she met him, buggers off to the other side of the world without a care in the world, apparently never to return. Then she finds out that he’s become a double murderer and the object of an all out manhunt. Before that’s had time to sink in, as if that’s not enough, a few weeks later just to top it all off, she’s told not to worry because now they’ve discovered you got eaten by a giant wolf.” Dave drained his beer and put his glass down firmly.
“In love with me? Well that’s the first I’ve heard. When we went our separate ways she seemed quite happy about it, had her future all mapped out for her and it didn’t include me.”
“Do you know Pete, erm Will, I mean Frank..., whatever. You can be such a pillock. Anyway, that’s it. I’ve told you all I can. It’s your turn now. Explain to me what the hell has been going on. Everything. I want every last detail. The absolute truth and no fucking about.”
With that Dave shouted up a couple more beers and we ordered some food, then I began to tell my side of the story, lock stock and barrel. He listened intently as he ate, neither interrupting nor asking questions. I was grateful for that and the further I got into it the better I began to feel. It was like a huge weight was being lifted from my shoulders. Not having an opportunity to speak candidly to anyone or share any of what had happened over the past months had become a massive burden. The pressure of always having to be so careful about everything I said had become so intense that at times I’d felt fit to burst. Now, sitting with my closest friend who I’d never expected to see again, it was as though flood gates had opened. The words flowed in an unbroken stream and I didn’t hesitate to include every last detail, unbelievable though some of the episodes sounded even to myself as my story unfolded.
I began with my flight from London and my arrival at the Kirby place, finding Kathleen there and Peter’s version of events that had compelled him to bring her with him. I told of my forays out into the wilderness and meeting Ned Clayton. How my affair with Kathleen behind Peter’s back had developed, my discovery of their bodies, the arrival of the police, everything. I described the police shoot out twice, emphasising that what had happened to the young cop had been a freak accident with him falling and splitting his head on the tree stump. Yes I’d knocked him over in my panic but I was certain nobody would have given me a chance to explain, therefore I had no choice at all but to go on the run.
“They didn’t give me a chance. They were going to kill me, I’m in no doubt about that,” Dave just nodded and waited for me to carry on.
The entire story took the best part of the evening to relate and by the time I’d finished Dave and I had consumed well over a gallon of beer between us. I finished with the recent fight in the back of the 432 and the discovery that it had been Kathleen’s brothers known to have PIRA connections, who had tracked me down. At that point I dried up and waited for a fusillade of questions from Dave but only one came.
He just looked at me seriously for a moment and then asked, “So this fat bird with the tattoos, do you think you’ll keep in touch?”
I was flabbergasted. After all I’d told him the only thing that appeared to have made any impact was my brief liaison with Silver Moon and the other hippies in Chilliwack. Before I could express my disappointment he held up his hands as if in surrender and went on,
“Just kidding. But seriously, do you think you can pull off the deception? Stay in the army? What if you meet people who knew Loopy really well? People he was with before he came to us in Bielefeld. There must be hundreds of them out there, he got around quite a bit didn’t he?”
“To be honest I don’t think that’s going to be a problem. He was always a loner so nobody knew him all that well and you have to admit, I do look like him. I think I’ll be safer staying in the army. When have you ever heard of anyone being posted to a unit that they’ve been attached to before? It just never happens and the longer I carry on, the less chance there’ll be of being found out.” I was working hard to convince myself.
“Don’t get me wrong mate,” said Dave, “I believe everything you’ve told me. Jesus, if you were going to make up a story you’d have come up with something a lot less crazy than that lot. It’s just that at some point I’m convinced I’m going to have to pass all this on to Ronnie and I need to know how you feel about her hearing everything, warts and all. Perhaps I ought to be a bit selective about what I tell her. I could leave out the bit about the hippies. She won’t want her sister being hurt any more than necessary.”
I could see where he was coming from and I understood. He wouldn’t want to lie to Ronnie but the thought of the truth being told to anyone else at all made me extremely anxious.
“Well this is just it. I think it’s too dangerous to let anyone else know anything,” I replied. “It’s all so fucked up but believe me I’ve given it a lot of thought. If you hadn’t turned up out of the blue I’m sorry but I wouldn’t even have got in touch with you mate. I’ve got to leave everything as it is. I have to accept that my old life is over and I’m now Frank Woolf, full corporal in the British army, two years older than I was and twice as ugly. This is the only way forward. I have to build a new life from this point on. I don’t even dare get in touch with my family back home. They already think that I murdered three people and I’m now dead. I can’t think of any way of letting them know different. I know them. They’ll want to trust in the law and expect that justice will prevail but I can’t do that. If I get sent back to the USA to stand trial I don’t think I’d stand a chance in hell. They’ve still got the death penalty in Washington State too, just to put the icing on the cake.”
Dave still looked unconvinced.
“Will, I mean Loopy, bugger it. Frank, I can see all that but it’s me you’re talking to, not just anyone. Me and Ronnie between us, we’ll be able to help a lot and you know you can trust us. I’m going to have to let Ronnie know the truth. If she ever found out for herself and knew I’d kept it all secret from her, well we’d be finished and I can’t risk that. She’ll trust me and believe me Chloë will do the same. They’re good people, you know they are, all of them. I’m just going to have to be careful how I explain things to Ronnie, and perhaps it would be best to leave it for her to break it to Chloë.”
I didn’t much like how he’d used the phrase ‘all of them’. Without doubt Dave was already considering Max and Mrs Müller. Where would it end? I took a deep breath and decided not to think too far ahead. Dave was right though, now that he was fully aware of what had happened. He was going to have to bring Ronnie on board, and Chloë too.
“It’s going to be difficult and it may take a long time but things will work out, I’m convinced,” he said.
I couldn’t be so sure. I was aware that he was just trying to give me hope but having come this far I knew there was no going back. I concluded that I was going to have to trust his judgement. We talked a lot more over the remainder of the evening, me enjoying the opportunity to catch up with news of the rest of the guys but Dave constantly wanting to pick away at every last detail of what he’d learned. Despite that, it was the most relaxed and enjoyable night I’d spent for what seemed like an eternity. It was past twelve o’clock before we called it a night and drove back into Soltau, both half pissed but relieved to have been able to enjoy each other’s company once again. I smuggled Dave into the barracks and found him a bed for the night, promising to drive him back to Bielefeld the following day in my ‘new’ car. We both had to report for duty on Monday morning.
Despite the amount of beer I’d consumed I didn’t sleep too well at all that night, my over active mind unable to switch off. Tossing and turning I found myself dwelling on the possibility of renewing my relationship with Chloë, wondering if she would be able to accept the affair I’d had with Kathleen, hoping that the news of my safety would tip the scales in my favour.
There was no contact from Dave for almost two weeks. I didn’t have direct access to a telephone apart from the well used but none too private payphone in the NAAFI and although Dave was welcome to use the phone at the Müller household, there was no way that I could contact him there until the situation with Chloë and Ronnie had been resolved. Neither of our respective LAD bosses would have appreciated a stream of private phone calls coming in to their offices during working hours that was for certain, so any communication between us had to be done by mail.
When a letter arrived for me from Bielefeld my first thought was one of relief. Dave had actually managed to remember to address the envelope to Corporal Frank Woolf. I’d had my doubts. I waited impatiently until early evening when I was alone in my room before opening it, reluctant to read the contents in case they revealed bad news but at the same time flushed with anticipation. Any fears I might have had were immediately alleviated. In the neatest hand writing I’d ever seen and written with what must have been a top quality fountain pen, Dave informed me that he’d eventually managed to choose the right time to broach the subject with Ronnie. In fact she had known full well something serious had been playing on his mind and had just been waiting for him to get around to telling her what it was.
Everything about the letter was typical of Dave. He was forever the perfectionist and after due consideration, without fail seemed able to make the most appropriate decisions, unlike myself. I had always been one who jumped into any situation with both feet and dealt with the consequences as they occurred. It’s probably one of the reasons why we got on so well, the opposite areas of our respective personalities complimenting each other with the help of a common, strong sense of humour that we both shared. However at times he could be too honest for his own good, never able to keep a secret and would probably have been the world’s worst liar if if I had forced him to be untruthful. I realised I had done the right thing by taking his advice and allowing him to speak to Ronnie. The cat would have been let out of the bag at some point regardless.
The letter went on to say how long he and Ronnie had spent debating the best course of action regarding the other Müller family members, especially Chloë. Ronnie was thrilled that I was safe and well, sent her love and was confident that Chloë would be equally happy but not certain how she might react to the news of my affair with Kathleen. With a little frustration I realised that at the time of writing at least, Chloë still remained in the dark regarding my return from the dead. As if reading my mind, Dave went on to advise me to trust Ronnie’s instincts about how and when to go about informing Chloë because the news was likely to hit her like a freight train. The remainder of the letter was padded out with trivia relating to the goings on in the Bielefeld LAD and how one or two of the local bars appeared to be struggling to make ends meet in my absence. Cheeky bugger!
As far as I could tell, apart from the hint of a possible reaction to my inability to resist any chance of a shag that presented itself to me, in fact Ronnie had quaintly referred to me as a Lothario according to Dave, there was little in the letter to quash my optimism. After reading it for a third time I sat down and carefully composed my reply. I’d never been comfortable expressing my feelings whether in writing or vocally but I searched out my very best Biro and set about making an effort. Although I was addressing Dave I was well aware that my letter would be passed around so I made a point of expressing how my affair with Kathleen had only served to put in perspective how strong my feelings were for Chloë. That I genuinely missed her but had thought it too late to change the course my life was taking. Reading it back, that passage of my letter seemed a little over the top bordering on condescending but I struggled for alternative words. I finished by stating that under the circumstances I had no regrets bar one and that was my decision to leave Germany and the army in the first place. I asked Dave to thank Ronnie for her belief in me and left it at that.
There was a postbox at the entrance to the accommodation block which was emptied twice a day and its contents taken to the mail room. I stuck the flap of the envelope down firmly and posted it straight away before I could dwell on the contents for too long. On a whim, I hurried back to my room and flushed Dave’s letter down the toilet. I wasn’t about to risk anybody having a rummage through my stuff and finding it.