A week after I’d posted my letter to Dave I received a reply but this time written in a different hand. It was from Chloë but as her written English was still relatively poor it had been composed with the assistance of Ronnie. I wasn’t sure how much detail Dave had gone into regarding my affair with Kathleen or if he had even mentioned my brief liaison with Moon, but it was obvious that I was going to have to tread very carefully if the two of us were to renew our relationship. Since I’d spoken to Dave the thought of seeing Chloë again had been at the forefront of my mind.
In the letter, the girls expressed great joy and relief about the news of my safe return and they couldn’t wait to meet up again. This fact alone gave me a real boost although I still had strong reservations about any overlap of my past and present life. The consequences of making a mistake and being exposed would be dire.
I knew I could trust Dave Pacey one hundred percent and wanted to think the same about the Müllers but of course, the wider the network of people aware of who I really was, the greater the risk of betrayal. However despite my misgivings, resuming my relationship with Chloë was something I desperately wanted to do and this time I was determined to make it work. There’s nothing like being separated from somebody for a long time to force you to realise how you truly feel about them, good or bad. In Chloë’s case, at that point it was all good.
The letter went on to explain that revealing this unbelievable turn of events to Max or Fräu Müller and the story that had led to my return was out of the question. Despite the welcome I had received into their home prior to leaving Germany, deception or dishonesty was well beyond the limit of their acceptance. Any future liaison between us therefore was going to have to be conducted in secrecy.
There followed a page or two of news about her life, her studies and everything else she had been up to since our parting. She had even thought to enclose a small photograph with a question about whether or not I liked her new hair do. Like it? She could have had it done like Cruella De Vil for all I cared. I was enthralled. The way the letter was written was refreshing, not a hint of suspicion or lack of trust. Dave had obviously done a good job of explaining what had happened. I tucked the photograph into my wallet for safe keeping out of sight but the letter met the same fate as Dave’s had.
In my reply I included the telephone number of the payphone in the NAAFI and suggested a time in the evening a few days later when she could ring me. It seemed like the best plan to maintain contact rather than having the frustration of waiting for days between letters. On the designated evening I settled at a table in close proximity to the phone with a bottle of Amstell lager, waiting in anticipation, not knowing whether the time I had suggested would be convenient or not or indeed if Chloë really was as keen as I was. Bang on time the phone rang and I leapt from my seat to grab the receiver before anyone else could get near it.
I mumbled a tentative “Hello?”
“Peter?” came the reply.
“Yes, it’s Frank. Is that you Chloë?”
The line went silent except for some deep breaths and a few sniffles. She was obviously feeling as emotional as I was nervous. I gave her plenty of time to gather herself before speaking again.
“Es gibt ein großes Loch in meinem Auspuffrohr” I spoke in my very worst ‘Colditz Commandant’ accent.
There was an instant release of tension and from that point the conversation flowed beautifully, apart from the countless questions put to me which I dare not answer for fear of being overheard in the busy NAAFI. Besides that I had never felt very comfortable speaking on a telephone to anybody. Being basically someone who was constantly struggling to overcome a deeply ingrained shyness, the lack of body language and facial expressions always destroyed what little confidence I might otherwise have mustered, especially when it came to girls. With so many sensitive things to discuss it was obvious to me that we had to meet up somewhere quiet where we could take all the time we needed to straighten everything out. For now though, we completed our conversation by agreeing a suitable time for the next phone call a few days later.
While waiting for that day to arrive I did a little research and found what I thought would be a mutually agreeable place for us to get together and the next time we spoke I put it to Chloë. Despite having settled comfortably into my new persona, I didn’t dare spend too much time in the vicinity of Bielefeld or any of the other big garrison towns in the area for fear of bumping into someone I knew or even someone that knew Loopy. The place I suggested was Flügelhorst which is a little picturesque place on the banks of a lake approximately halfway between Bielefeld and Soltau. Probably about three quarters of an hour drive for each of us. Chloë knew the place well and agreed it would be perfect, so we arranged to meet the following Saturday lunchtime.
It was early March. Spring was a short way off but the weather was bright and dry if a little on the nippy side when I parked my car beside the river in Flügelhorst. It was a tiny, touristy village consisting mostly of cafés, bars and chandlery stores. Other small businesses catered for bird watchers, anglers and walkers. The village sat in the centre of numerous marinas where dozens, perhaps hundreds of colourful little yachts were moored, the spring breeze whispering through taught rigging which tinkled pleasantly against the masts. The river led down to a vast lake fringed with a pleasant shingle beach. Just off shore I could see low lying islands where all sorts of aquatic bird species were gathered, feeding amongst the muddy weed covered rocks and dense reed beds.
I sat in the Taunus and took in the scene. It appeared to be the perfect place to meet where we could get some lunch before going for a long walk in the countryside while we talked. Ten minutes after I arrived I spotted a white VW Beetle pull into the car park. It cruised around briefly before deciding upon a space, it was her. I got out and trotted over, grinning like a loon. We hugged each other tightly and then chattered like teenagers as we made our way across to a likely looking gaudily painted shack with some rustic wooden furniture placed around it. I’d not had any breakfast that morning, feeling too nervous to eat when I got up so was feeling ravenous. I ordered a Halbes Hähnchen, a half chicken well smothered with paprika and served with chips and mayonnaise. Chloë went for a plate of Frikadelle and said she would share my chips. The food was excellent and in the end I didn’t get many of my chips as she demolished them before I got the chance. We didn’t speak much while eating but once finished we set out on a raised board walk which led to some woodland across the reed beds.
I broke the awkward silence by removing my coat, pulling my arm out of the sleeve of my jumper and showing Chloë my new tattoo.
“What do you think?” I asked, flaunting my shoulder proudly. I had to admit that now it was properly healed I was very pleased with my Wolf design and had been considering getting another one done.
She considered it carefully then her nose wrinkled a little to show a hint of distaste before she answered in much better English than I’d remembered her being capable of, “Well it will help you to remember your new name.”
I was aware that in Germany tattoos were less popular than in the UK so wasn’t surprised at the reaction. ’Ah well, can’t win ‘em all,’ I thought to myself but at least it broke the ice and I went on to explain the reason why I had found it necessary to get it done. That subject led nicely into a description of my brief time in Chilliwack and the friends I had made there, glossing over the more intimate details. There was little reaction from Chloë who understandably was more keen for me to explain in depth the circumstances surrounding the death of my friends and in particular the young cop and what had happened over the following weeks. I decided then and there to leave nothing out. If we were to make any kind of a go at things then she was going to have to know it all and I felt it would have been dishonest to hide the truth about Kathleen and me. If she couldn’t accept what had happened between us then it was better for me to know sooner rather than later. I began though, by emphasising how as far as I knew Chloë’s and my relationship had never been all that serious and how I had assumed it was well and truly over by the time I began my affair with Kathleen. How it was only after the traumas I’d come through later on in America that I’d realised how much Chloë had really meant to me and how I regretted ever leaving Germany. I went over it all in great detail even though I was sure she had already heard it all from Dave. It wouldn’t do any harm for her to hear it again from the horses mouth. I concluded with the incident involving the O’Brien brothers and how I’d since found out that they had been murdered along with Kathleen’s father. It had been reported in all of the English papers I’d read at the time.
The conversation petered out and I began to sense a slight change in atmosphere. It was understandable of course but I was glad everything was now in the open and felt sure we would be able to build a more solid relationship from that point.
“You have changed Peter,” she said and I winced at the use of my real name but didn’t say anything as she continued. “You seem harder.”
“I suppose I am,” I replied. Anyone would be if they’d had to go through what I have. But I’ll get over it I’m sure. It’s just going to take a little more time. Please, give it time.”
She smiled, took my arm and we made our way in silence out of the woods, across the board walk and back towards the cars. It had been about four hours since we’d met and the afternoon was darkening. We had covered a lot of ground and I decided it would be best to leave things there. I was hopeful that after that first meeting, once it had all had a chance to sink in then things would move forward in a much more positive way. I had no idea where it would lead, especially because our renewed affair had to be conducted in complete secrecy as far as her friends and parents were concerned.
We kept in touch by phone and letter for a few weeks but due to my workload and Chloë’s ongoing studies we didn’t get the opportunity to meet up again. When we did speak, conversations were a little stilted and I sensed that the magic might be wearing slightly thin. Conducting a relationship at long distance was never going to be my forte so I concluded that the romance was bound to fizzle out if I didn’t do something about it. I was desperate to arrange another proper meeting before things cooled off beyond the point of no return. After one particularly awkward conversation on the telephone I was relieved when Chloë handed over the receiver to Dave who happened to be visiting the Müller family that day. We had a prolonged bout of lively banter but once it dissipated I expressed my concerns about the difficulty I was having. We both agreed that it would be great to all meet up together next time.
“When would be a good time and place then Dave?” I asked. There followed a muted hubbub of conversation in the background before he came back on.
“How about that Italian restaurant we went to before on that day I brought Loopy’s car over. It was good there and nicely out of the way. I don’t mind having a drive out for a change. I think I’ll be able to find the place OK. We can all come in my car. Tell you what, why don’t you book a couple of rooms somewhere locally and we can make a weekend of it. I’ll settle up with you when we get there.”
This sounded much more promising, despite him referring to Loopy in the third person but I let that ride. Good old Dave! After a little more discussion we agreed on a date. I put the phone down and crossed to the bar to order another beer, vigorously rubbing my hands together and laughing to myself as I went.
“You’re looking pleased with yourself Frank,” said the barmaid who I’d come to know reasonably well during my short time in Soltau. She was known as Rusty, I never did learn her real name. With bright copper coloured frizzy hair and a complexion like the surface of the moon, she was a hefty and unattractive lass but was blessed with a wicked sense of humour. An essential quality in that environment.
“I’ve every reason to be,” I grinned, unable to keep a straight face. “At long last I reckon my love life is back on track.”
“Oh yeah? Who is she?”
“Mind your own business you nosy cow. That’s for me to know. Actually, it’s someone I met years ago. She can’t bear for us to be apart any longer, so you and I are finished.”
“Well, just as well. I was going to dump you any way. You’re far too ugly for me, it’s embarrassing, I don’t know what I was thinking,” she cackled like an old witch as she placed my beer in front of me.
“But good luck, you deserve it.” she said and to be honest I really believed I did.
When the weekend arrived I threw a couple of things in a small holdall and drove out towards Am Berge, stopping off at a florist’s along the way to buy a handsome bouquet of roses. I remembered Chloë’s remark about my having become harder since I’d been away and to be honest I agreed with her entirely. I had definitely changed, some might have said matured but living with my new identity day and night, especially now that I had a bit of rank meant me being a lot more assertive and I’d had to discard some of my natural carefree tendencies. I was however determined to make every effort to prove that I was still the same guy underneath it all. This weekend was a prime opportunity for me to get everything back on an even keel and I intended to make the most of it. I’d booked a couple of double rooms at a small Gasthaus in the village and a table for the evening in the Italian restaurant where Dave and I had gone after that first meeting.
I arrived at the hotel early. It was a pleasant enough looking place, a rambling two story traditional wood framed building surrounded by attractive ornamental gardens and rockeries. Spring was in the air. Colourful blossom festooned the shrubbery and bulbs were blooming all around. There were only a couple of cars in the car park but neither of them were Dave’s so I parked up and checked in at the reception. After dropping off my bag in my room I found my way to the bar and settled on a stool where I had a good view out to the front of the building, ordered a bottle of beer and waited.
An hour and three bottles later I was still waiting. There were a few more cars in the car park by this time but still no sign of the others and I began to fear the worst. Had Chloë bottled out? I didn’t think so. She or Dave would have let me know somehow. More than likely they had been held up in traffic. Some of the roads in the area were notorious for getting clogged up by army convoys travelling to or from the ranges, especially at this time of the year.
I remembered that I’d left the bouquet of roses in the boot of my car thinking the cooler temperature would keep them fresher than if I left them indoors. To give me something to do more than anything I decided to retrieve them and see about finding a vase to take up to the room instead. Crunching across the gravel to my car I had just opened the back and was reaching in to pick up the bouquet when somebody very close behind me spoke. It startled me, I hadn’t heard any footsteps approaching.
“Don’t turn around. Get on your knees and put your hands behind your back. Do it now.”
The voice was soft and controlled. It wasn’t a familiar voice but I immediately recognised a broad Northern Irish accent and my blood ran cold. I was about to twist to face him when a heavy hand roughly clamped the top of my trapezius muscle on my right shoulder. A thumb dug hard into my occipital nerve and an excruciating pain shot up my neck, radiating over the top of my head. This bastard knew what he was doing.
“I said on your knees boy!” These words hissed like the warning from a snake, urgent and threatening. The grip tightened alarmingly on my shoulder. It was like a vice and I winced as I complied, dropping to my knees on the gravel. He had used only one hand and I had no idea what the other contained but assumed he had to be holding some sort of a weapon.
Hoping he was a mugger but knowing almost for certain otherwise I said, “What do you want from me you bastard!”
I immediately regretted it as he dug his thumb even harder into my neck causing the pain to increase twofold. Then he grabbed my belt and lifted. The man was as strong as a bull and somehow within a second or two I found myself face down in the boot of my car with him now gripping both my wrists in one massive hand while he struggled to tie them with the other. In my peripheral vision I saw a pair of thick plastic cable ties fall to the ground as I writhed and twisted, trying to get free.
“Bollocks!” he cursed.
They ties were already looped together and just required slipping over my wrists and pulling tight. I was well aware that if he succeeded in securing my arms with those I would be completely helpless. He had made no attempt to take my wallet but the keys to my car were still dangling from the lid of the boot. Whatever his plans were it was obvious to me that this wasn’t going to end well. Yet again I found myself fighting for my life with everything I had, doing my best to back head butt him but missing my target.
“Hold still or I’ll break your fucking neck!” he growled and I had no reason to disbelieve him.
At that moment my assailant was knocked violently sideways, struck in the midriff by about twelve stone of flying Dave Pacey who had hurled himself at the giant Irishman, causing him to release his grip on my wrists. Dave wasn’t a particularly big man but at full throttle a rugby tackle from him was sufficient to take any normal person down. But this wasn’t any normal person. In a flash the Irishman was back on the balls of his feet and delivered a brutal kick to the side of Dave’s knee followed by a vicious straight fingered jab to his throat. Dave went down choking, desperately fighting for breath but before the attacker could move in to finish him off I launched myself full length at him from the car boot. Coming at him from a raised elevation my tackle hit him high on his neck and I simultaneously drove a knee into his ribs with all the power I could muster. He was badly winded and my impetus knocked him off balance again. I used every ounce of my strength as we wrestled, hanging on for grim death before we both crashed to the ground in a heap. I was on his back with all of my weight on my left forearm, forcing his head into the gravel, furiously trying to get control of one of his arms with my right before he could shrug me off. He was far too powerful for me but Dave had recovered sufficiently enough to throw himself back into the fray, driving the heel of a boot into the guys head then grabbing the other flailing arm. With both arms pinned to his back the big guy thrashed around like a bucking bronco beneath us, causing us all to roll into a flowerbed. It was only a matter of time before he got free and the pair of us would be pulverised. Without the element of surprise we were no match for him.
“Grab the cable ties!” I shouted to Dave and indicated with an exaggerated nod to where they had fallen on the ground beside him. He was quick enough to comprehend immediately and between us we got them over the guy’s wrists and pulled them tight. Even then, with both arms secured behind his back the Irishman refused to give up. With legs and head thrashing dangerously he rolled violently from one side to the other, ejecting both Dave and me from his back as if we weighed nothing at all and attempted to rise. He got as far as his knees before I picked up a hefty lump of rock from the rockery and drove it into the side of his head. He just roared louder so I hit him again and again until he collapsed to the ground, semi-unconscious. I used a vicious boot to finish the job and at last he lay motionless. My blood was up and I delivered another kick, hard in the ribs this time and made as if to give him another but Dave grabbed me by the arm and pulled me away.
“Leave it Will! he’s done.”
“Get off me!” I shouted angrily at the top of my voice and shrugged him off roughly.
The scene went eerily quiet, just mine and Dave’s rapid panting breaking the silence as we fought to recover our breath. Dave was looking at me, shocked at the level of violence I’d used and how I’d almost turned on him. It was then that my eyes settled upon Chloë and Ronnie standing a few yards away, both with expressions of absolute horror on their faces. I looked from them to our attacker and back again. He remained unconscious with blood oozing freely from the wounds to his head which trickled into a slowly expanding pool on the ground. It was a gruesome sight. Ronnie was first to snap out of her trance, running to Dave and flinging her arms around his neck, speaking animatedly in German way beyond my level of comprehension.
“It’s OK, I’m OK,” said Dave, trying to extricate himself from Ronnie’s embrace. Turning to me he said, “Who the hell is this little fellow? He certainly took a shine to you,” always the master of understatement was Dave.
“I haven’t a bloody clue,” I replied, beginning to calm down. I quickly searched our prisoner’s pockets to make sure he wasn’t concealing a weapon.
“He jumped me while I was getting something out of the my car. He came from nowhere.”
I stood back up and reached into the car boot still gaping wide open beside where I stood and slowly took out the bouquet. Not a single bloom had survived, crushed beyond recognition with just a few sorry looking petals clinging pathetically to a dozen broken stalks.
“Bugger!” I exclaimed, throwing them back in and slamming the lid shut. At that point I looked over at Chloë and realised that a bunch of flowers wasn’t going to fix anything. She hadn’t moved, rooted to the spot with her hand covering her mouth, eyes transfixed on the comatose body on the gravel, obviously in shock.
“One of us had better go in and phone the police,” I said, then looking at the expanding pool of blood surrounding the guy’s head I added, “...and an ambulance.”
I walked over to Chloë with the intention of hugging her close but she shied away from my bloodied hands with obvious fear and revulsion. It was in that instant I knew that everything between us had unravelled. She’d seen a violent side of me that she hadn’t known was there. In fact prior to a few months earlier, I hadn’t known it was there either. Having only just come to terms with all that I’d been involved with recently, this incident was a step too far for her and I feared that I’d blown it for good.
Ronnie came over and led her younger sister away while Dave trotted into the reception of the hotel to see about calling the police. I stayed to keep an eye on the Irishman who was slowly regaining consciousness, groaning and swearing under his breath. I opened my car boot again and took out the wheel brace from where it was strapped to the side, brandishing it in his face in case he decided to have another go. I wouldn’t have put it past him. Dave trotted back a few seconds later.
“The cops are on their way, the receptionist saw everything from the lobby and called them. Jesus Christ Will! erm... Frank. I can’t leave you alone for a minute, can I? Trouble seems to find you wherever you are, you’re like a bloody magnet.”
Yet another slip of the tongue and I pinned Dave down with a stern look. The Irishman had probably heard him too. How hard could it be for him to get used to calling me Frank, but again I let it go. There was little doubt that Dave had saved my life.
“I’m just glad you turned up when you did. The bloke’s a bloody tank! He came out of nowhere. I reckon he must have been waiting for me in the bushes. I haven’t a clue who he is but I’ll tell you one thing, he’s from Belfast.”
“How many brothers did Kathleen have then for Christ’s sake?” I could tell that Dave was still high on adrenalin, as was I.
“No, he’s not one of her brothers. But I bet he’s something to do with them. He was trying to get me into the boot of the car when you turned up. Jesus I don’t like to think what would have happened if he’d managed it. Come on, let’s get him up, see if we can find out who he is before the Polizei get here.” I made as if to haul the Irishman to his feet but Dave stopped me with a hand on my arm.
“Leave him Frank, he’s not going anywhere and he’s not likely to say anything to us is he.”
He was right of course. The huge man had now struggled to a sitting position, leaning back against the wheel of my car with arms still secured behind his back, unable to do anything about the wound to his head which continued to pour with blood. He was still groggy but his eyes glowered at me with pure hatred. I’d seen that look before on another Irishman’s face, way back when I’d been involved in the shoot out with the terrorist gang at the farm outside Derry.
“What are you staring at you bastard!” I spat the words and moved towards him wielding the wheel brace threateningly. “You’re fucking IRA aren’t you!”
“Leave it mate,” said Dave, grabbing my arm again. The cops will be here any minute. Do you think you ought to call your place while you’ve got the chance? Get the MPs out here before we’re dragged off by the Polizei?”
It was a good idea. I handed the wheel brace to Dave and said loudly so that our captive could hear me clearly, “If he tries to get up, use this on the bastard. Don’t muck about.”
With that I headed into the reception to use the telephone. When I got inside, Ronnie and Chloë were sitting together at a table. Chloë was obviously still upset by the violence she’d witnessed. I made as if to join them but Ronnie shook her head, warning me off. I took the hint and went to see the receptionist.
While I was speaking to the duty guard commander back at Bournemouth Barracks, I could hear approaching sirens and moments later an ambulance swept into the car park. I repeated my location and told them to get someone out here as soon as possible before I ended my call. Then I jogged back outside just in time to stop the paramedics from cutting the injured Irishman’s wrists free.
“Warten Sie! er ist ein sehr gefährlicher Mann!” I yelled at them in my best German, trying to warn them that he was a dangerous man. I don’t think they fully understood me but Dave stepped in from where he’d been observing and told them to wait for the police before they did anything else. Thankfully two Polizei squad cars hurtled into view before the medics could argue.
“You’d better do the talking to start with,” I said urgently to Dave as the cops piled out of the cars with weapons drawn. “For some reason the Krauts around here never seem to understand a word I say.”
“That’s because you sound like that bloke off Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. Verree interestink, but stoopid,” replied Dave.
“Cheers. I never realised I was that good.” I replied. We were both trying to take the edge off our nerves.
We faced the police with hands raised behind our heads, not taking any chances as the cops surrounded us. They pushed and shoved and shouted commands neither Dave or I could comprehend. It was scary. Rumours had always been rife in the NAAFI about the German police and their willingness to shoot first and ask questions later. Thankfully the girls rushed back outside and took control.
The big Irishman was cuffed properly before the paramedics were allowed to treat him in the ambulance under the scrutiny of an armed policeman. Ronnie did most of the talking on our behalf and I got her to explain that Dave and I were both British soldiers and that I suspected the prisoner was an IRA terrorist. Also that the MPs were on their way. It was about twenty minutes before the army turned up. By that time Dave and I had been taken over to the squad cars and locked inside while the cops proceeded to take statements from the witnesses in the hotel as well as from Ronnie and Chloë. I’d never been so pleased to see those Redcaps.