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'So what have we got Argent?' Thumb roared over the noise of the hastily bandaged exhaust. His sergeant's mild Newcastle lilt strained to it's limit as he recited the facts of the case. 'The dead men were Victor Eday and Timothy Biscuit. They raced together as Team Victim.' 'They got that right then, eh, Argent?' 'Yes sir. Ironically appropriate, sir. Anyway sir, the race computer was stopped at 9 a.m.- Tim's head hit the exit button when he fell forward. That places the time of death accurately. Dr. De'Ath reckons it would have been instantaneous from that blow. He reckons Vic died at more or less the same time, judging by the state of the wound. They'd both probably been at the club since 8.30- according to witnesses at their apartment block they were seen leaving home at 8.15. They lived together, you know chief.' 'Right. But someone wanted them dead…Why?' 'Well, if the doc says it was a martial arts job, we must assume these eastern assassins really exist. The foreign slot manufacturers are really panicking about Scalextric squeezing everyone else out.' But why choose two guys from West Hamley? Why Vic and Tim? I've never heard of them. No race record worth speaking of.' 'There's another possibility, chief. I was thinking about Vic and Tim's, um, relationship.' 'What on earth are you on about Argent' 'Well, sir, we've already established that Vic and Tim raced together, shared a flat, and were pretty close in most meaningful ways. Well, I found this in their flat.' Argent squirmed frantically in the bare aluminium seat of the Elise until he managed to produce from his trouser pocket a sealed plastic forensic evidence bag. He waved it within Thumb's peripheral vision. Thumb saw immediately what it was and what it meant. He glanced in the mirror, slammed on the brakes and swerved onto the kerb, just avoiding a slot-tram trundling across a junction.

'My God! Who would do a thing like that?' was all Thumb could say after several minutes examination of the contents of the bag. It was the remains- in fact pretty much the entire chassis of a rare limited issue- 1999? 2000?- Thumb couldn't place the exact date- but it was certainly an SCX six-wheel Tyrell. Great car, great model. With original packaging and booklet in mint condition, these days worth several million euros. But this was trash. The upper body had been sliced away by some madman with a razor saw and replaced with a replica of Lady Penelope's Rolls Royce, sprayed in gaudy pink, with Parker at the wheel and Penelope in the back. 'Well. We certainly have the motive' said Thumb with an air of finality. That's a crime against slot-cars. Could drive anyone to murder. Quite justifiably in my view.' 'Er, yes,' said Argent tentatively, 'but what else does it tell us about Vic and Tim? Could it be that we're investigating a "crime passionel"?' Argent's Geordie brogue rather spoilt his tactful use of the French euphemism. Thumb thought he said 'Crème caramel'. 'OK, Argent, if you're hungry there's no point in wasting time here. It's a clear case of justifiable homicide. No judge would convict. Let's go home.'

But Mad Frankie spoilt things for Inspector Thumb. He'd been seen outside the West Hamley club at 8 o'clock on the morning of the murders, then at 9.15 arguing over a mocha lite no-caff acrylic choc-top at Starbutts in Russkit Street. In fact it was the same establishment into which Dan had burst an hour and a half later, screaming 'Murder! Murder!' After a few moments delay while the staff tried to explain that they didn't have a coffee-flavoured synthi-drink of that name, Dan had got his point across and the police had been summoned. Frankie was well known to the staff, who regularly used to spike his beverages with genuine coffee, just as a mindless and cruel diversion to help pass the day. Frankie never seemed to notice, which added to the sour hilarity.

Frankie was a sad case; an old railway modeller carrying a huge chip on his shoulder ever since slot racing had entirely eclipsed his own dearly-loved hobby in the early 21st century. You couldn't find a yard of Peco track for love nor money these days, and Mad Frankie was reduced to wandering the streets with a wild glint in his eye and death in his heart for any Scalextric executive he might bump into. And there were plenty of them about.

Secondly, there was Ryan Brodgers, a West Hamley regular who hadn't been seen since the murders. It was his hand controller that Inspector Thumb had noticed hanging over the track that morning. Was he another suspect, or was he a third victim in some ruthless war being raged against the club? Argent was sent over to search his home, and reported back to Thumb that as well as the expected collection of Scalextric catalogues, his book shelves had also contained several volumes of eastern mysticism and martial arts. It seemed to point towards the first theory- maybe he was a mole, a covert slot assassin, planted by his masters to cause disruption at the first sign of some code word or signal. Whatever the truth, Brodgers had to be found. And then there was the problem of another hand controller found at the crime scene which no-one from the club could recognise. Coxie Cooper-Archer, the club secretary swore that he'd never seen it before.

Then there was the slight problem with the cars. Cooper-Archer and his wife Lil checked off Vic and Tim's regular cars, which they had obviously been running round the track that fatal morning. De'Ath was wrong about what he'd said to Thumb in one significant way. Virtually all the cars were in good order, but some were being serviced. Tyres were off, gear ratios being changed, and bearings lubricated. Only one car was actually broken, and that was the MRRC Foster-Jenkins that they had found at Vic's feet. It was crushed. The body shell was flattened completely and the axles bent. This car would run no more. It was an ex-car. And although Ryan Brodger's controller was there, there was no sign of his car, a Carrera McLaren MP31. And again on the subject of controllers, the odd device that he'd seen at the track suddenly resurfaced in his mind. There were too many inconsistencies about the scene, and Thumb knew it. Too many clues and too many suspects. It was getting messy. One important thing remained to be done,He fingered his mobile and barked into to it ' Argent get me a list of left-handed drivers now '

They brought in Mad Frankie the next morning and he cracked open like an egg. Two minutes in the interview room and he'd signed a confession. He'd walked into the club, seen the two racers, and 'dun 'em in' with whatever came to hand. Well, after a little prompting from the interviewing officers he admitted it was literally his hand in one case and a red hot soldering iron in the other. He was proud of what he'd done and would use his day in court to tell the world about the injustices suffered by innocent railway modellers, deprived of all their joy and love by the Scalextric monster. But he didn't get much sympathy in the papers when the arrest was reported. Railway modelling was largely forgotten in the outside world. There were few left like Frankie, and the public were satisfied that a good old fashioned loony had been found responsible for the gory murders. 'Thumb Nails Killer!', 'Thumb Fingers Culprit!' roared the tabloids the next day. 'Significant Breakthrough by Police in Investigation of Recent Double Murder at West Hamley Slot Racing Club' muttered a very old fashioned broadsheet which actually closed down a few weeks later.

Argent's first reactio was to visit Dan and his mum, to check up on their welfare and reassure them of the developments in the case. Mad Frankie hadn't told them anything about Ryan Brodgers, who was still missing, presumed dead. At least with Mad under lock and key, there was no further obvious threat to West Hamley club members. He took the slot-tram to Dan's house and knocked at the door, suddenly hoping it would be Dan's mum who opened it, and realising just why he'd been keen to visit. It was Mrs Rail who opened the door, but not the one he'd left he day before. She was drained of life, eyes red-rimmed, and her yellow hair hung in rat-tails over her sunken shoulders. At the sight of Sergeant Argent her only recently abated tears flowed again down her sallow cheeks. 'Dan's gone!' she choked. 'They've got him!' 'Mrs Rail' Argent whispered in his softest Geordie lilt. 'Come on now, hen. Tell me everything. Sit down here' 'Call me Julie' she croaked as they sat down heavily together on the sofa. 'Yes Julie.' Argent brushed a strand of yellow hair from her cheek. 'Tell me what's happened'. 'Well, after you left yesterday I came back into the house and drank some white wine. Turned a few things over in my mind and let Dan get some sleep. When I went up to check on him later…he wasn't there. Call me Jules, sergeant, please'. 'Of course Jules- but why didn't you call me straight away? But don't frighten yourself- I'm sure there's nothing to this death squad idea. We have the murderer safe under lock and key. I'm sure there's a simple explanation for Dan's absence. Let me look round his room. Is there any sign of…of violence?' 'No sergeant. No violence. But let's stay here just for now, just you and I. I need some support. You're all I have now. Call me Ju-ju, like all my very best friends do.' 'Of course Ju-ju. I'll do whatever you want me to do. If you'll call me Malcolms. But what about your husband?' 'He's watching T.V., Malcolms. We're quite safe. Is that really Malcolms, with an 'S'? Isn't that a little unusual? But please, just call me "darling", Malcolms.' 'Yes, Malcolms with an 'S'. My father was very keen on classical music. But we can't go on like this darling. My wife and children are waiting for me. It's Friday and I have to collect fifteen portions of haddock and chips on the way home.' 'Oh my God, Malcolms, what am I going to do without you, my sweet, my love?' 'Now hang on a minute Mrs Rail'. You've got to sort yourself out a bit. I know you're in a state, but I'm sure Dan's OK. We'll find him. But I've got to go. Please take your hand out of my trousers.' Sergeant Malcolms Argent stood up quickly and the blood drained from his head. He tottered pathetically and lurched toward the front door. He didn't notice that Julie Rail lay still on the sofa, the hand that seconds ago had been groping furiously in his back pocket now twisted uncomfortably behind her back, scrabbling beneath the sofa cushions. By the time Argent got to the door, she was behind him, her shoulders squared and her eyes gleaming.

In fact, Dan was half way across country to Warmington on a half sized bike, while only a little while later his mum was riding a slot-tram to Margate, with the handcuffs she'd swiped from Sergeant Argent's back pocket in her handbag. They were both on a mission. Dad was back at home, still watching T.V., on a couch.Dan had to reach Warmington before the cops. He knew the connection between the two clubs, and why the Warmington boys would want to terminate West Hamley with extreme prejudice. Whether they had the capacity to use slot-assassins to do the job for them he didn't know, but he was going to find out.

His Mum stepped from the tram just outside the Scalextric factory and theme park complex just outside Margate. Looking up at the huge steel and marble edifice she started to search for a railing, a fence, even a bike stand. Groups of tourists were being ushered into the reception area, and uniformed guides strode about purposefully. She adopted the air of a visitor absent-mindedly detached from her tour party, and soon attracted the attention of a burly official. He was a soft touch despite the tough-looking biceps beneath his jacket. She whimpered- he took her by the hand through the security checks. She smiled gratefully- he showed her where the boardroom was, twenty stories above. She stroked his upper arms and admired their development- he indicated a convenient rail where she might rest until the remainder of her party arrived. Then in a split second she had handcuffed herself to the rail and was screaming blue murder. 'Scalextric is the enemy of family life! She yelled, her lungs bursting. 'It has stolen my husband, my brother, now my son is missing! There must be other mothers like me, frightened to tell the truth! You know the torment that follows once Scalextric gets a grip on your family! Let us all start here, today and rid the world of this creeping disease in society! Join me now! Rise up against Scalextric!' A few passers-by stopped in surprise, and Julie Rail began to hope that her plan might work. Soon she would have a crowd, and support for her anti-Scalextric campaign would surely gather pace quickly. Still shouting, she saw many more people moving toward her. A crowd was certainly gathering, but Julie Rail was too distracted to notice that they were all wearing Scalextric Enforcement Uniforms, and leading them was her friend with the biceps, who was now carrying a large pair of bolt cutters

Dan had been riding for three hours. He stopped, retching with exhaustion and sore at the knees, elbows and seat, outside Warmington Slot Car Club. By his reckoning, the first meeting of the new year would be under way in an hour or so. He waited, gathering his strength and wondering exactly what he was going to do. But before he could make up his mind, the two men he most feared turned the corner and bore down on him. Dan struggled to his feet and babbled incoherently for several long seconds. Adrian and Norman, the 6'4" identical twins who were Warmington's champion drivers, bent down slowly and wordlessly, and each with one arm under Dan's, lifted him gently over the threshold of the clubroom and shut the door firmly behind them.

Some fifty miles away, Dan's mum was also pushed terrified and unwilling through a doorway. It led her into an intensely lit room and she shut her eyes tight to stop the searing pain in her pupils. She knew where she was. In the heart of the enemy camp. The nerve centre of the sinsister campaign that had destroyed her family, those two sweet boys at West Hamley, Vic and Tim, and now Bryan Rodgers, too. It would not stop unless she could somehow…but what devilish means would they use on her here in the Scalextric Interrogation Room? Could she hold out long enough to carry out the rest of her plan? She kept her eyes tight shut and determined to keep her mouth likewise, whatever they might do to her. Her resolve lasted until she caught the aroma of hot sweet tea and chocolate Hob Nobs. 'Let's talk this over calmly love' came a soft feminine voice behind her. Unable to resist further, Julie opened her eyes and saw the tea, in a souvenir Scalextric mug, and a whole plateful of biscuits laid on a huge burnished teak table. All around it sat a number of intense young men and women, all dressed in the uniform of the Scalextric Corps. And towering over them all was a huge statue of Fred Francis holding a chequered flag.

Dan too stood with his eyes shut, waiting for a good kicking. Or worse. He knew what he would see if he looked; the inside of Warmington Slot Car Club. It was the reason he'd ridden fifteen miles over abandoned railway tracks on an unfeasibly small bike. Now that he was in the unflinching grip of the Warmington twins, he guessed he would probably never see his old club, his Moxie-Model Lotus 49 with the custom modifications, or his mum ever again. Adrian and Norman were mad. And 2016 was going to be a very short year.

Dan knew that Vic and Tim had done a terrible, terrible thing to Warmington. Something that had driven the twins to take extreme measures, to send for the legendary slot assassins. The assassins. Dan's stomach clenched every time he thought about them. A sinister force, often talked about, but never before seen in this country aside from the incredibly popular 3D Playstation 10 hologame at which Dan himself had been ironically most proficient. They were experts in martial arts and silent death, striking like lightning at the enemies of slot racing then disappearing past the eastern reaches of the Scalextric territories like snow off a soldering iron. But if you collected enough points in your first ten games you could open a new weapons cache and use the nine blade stealth detector to eliminate their force field before they reached your power transformer.

It all started innocently enough a few years ago, when West Hamley and Warmington at that time two perfectly friendly clubs with a long history of closely fought but good humoured tournaments had been selected to appear on the immensely popular 'Changing Clubrooms' with Sir Llaurence Llewelllyn-Bowen. It was to be the old man's final series as it turned out. Adrian and Norman had been given a week with Carol Cheesie to transform the West Hamley clubroom from the old vacuum-cleaner warehouse it had once been, and Vic and Tim had joined forces with Sir Llaurence himself to modernise Warmington's converted Internet Café.

Adrian and Norman had worked like dogs for those seven days, helped only by Handy Andy and his variegated grandchildren. With yards and yards of MDF board and the facilities of the local copy shop, they had turned the West Hamley clubroom into a convincing replica of the McLaren F1 pit garage, circa 1999. Hearts soared and spontaneous cheers rent the air when the West Hamley boys, a younger, clear-complexioned and excitable Dan amongst them, were ceremoniously led into their transformed club by Carol Cheesie. It was great Television, it had to be said.

Around the race control centre was a life-sized appliqué of Ron Dennis debriefing Mikka Hakkinen after a practice lap. Hanging from the ceiling was a spare MP14 nose section, cunningly fashioned from MDF. Chrome spanner sets, cut from sticky backed plastic, covered the wall behind the driver's podium, turning it into the nearest thing to a disco ball West Hamley had seen since 1975. All along the remaining walls were pit benches for repairs, tuning and equipment storage. And above the pit bench was the piece de resistance, a dummy refuelling rig, hinged to swing out and back from the wall, carrying not a fuel nozzle, but the most vital piece of equipment in any slot pit; a powerful soldering iron. It was on a cleverly extended flex designed to reach any part of the club room where it might be needed, with the aid of the pivoting gantry. It was a triumph. Even if it all started to peel off a week later.

But when Sir Llaurence sliced through the bin liner to allow Warmington club members their first glimpse of what Vic, Tim and himself had created in their club, a very different reaction followed. Grown men wept. Small boys blinked with incomprehension. Women giggled. Sir Llaurence threw the most dramatic hissy-fit ever seen on 3DTV and stormed off to his neo-gothic mock Tudor post-modernist Viking-style high-rise wattle-and-daub manor house in Shropshire to live out his few remaining years in solitude and contemplation.

But Vic and Tim looked defiantly pleased as they guided the bemused few that stayed out of sheer schadenfreude around their vivid recreation of the set of 'The Wizard of Oz'. Warmington Slot Car Club had been transformed into a shrine to Judy Garland, a triumph of tinsel and ribbon. Unforgivable.

Dan still had his eyes closed, waiting for the 'Nin-Ko' blow on the back of his neck. But after a while the terror began to wane. He'd heard Adrian and Norman shuffle away and, he thought, sit down at the trackside. He wasn't being beaten to a pulp, but then he didn't think he would actually feel the silent Nin-Ko punch that would finish him. He really didn't want to open his eyes anyway, because the sight of the Tin Man waltzing with the Cowardly Lion behind the high-speed banking was not the one he wanted to take with him into eternity.

After a while, he heard more shuffling, and felt a warm cup of tea being placed in his hand. 'It's a bad do right enough' said Adrian and Norman simultaneously, and only slightly out of phase. 'You must be dead shook up, Dan lad.' They sounded friendly enough. And the aroma of hot steamy tea did wonders for his knotted stomach. Dan took a gamble, and opened his eyes. Whitewash. Of course. What would anyone else do? And it looked quite old and respectably dirty. It had been up for ages. 'Do you want to race here now?' asked the twins. 'It must feel right creepy round West Hamley these days. Poor old Vic. Poor old Tim. Good racers. Bad taste in interior design, but fast thumbs. We'll miss 'em.' 'But what they did to your club…?' Dan finally stammered. 'That? Oh we reckon it was that Laurie Welly-Bone did the damage really. But we soon had it put right with a lick of paint. Scalextric sent round a few gallon drums the next day and a couple of tecchies to help with the spray guns. Plus the TV company put a few extra euros in the club kitty.' All this came out in duplicate, like a dodgy stereo or one of those old Pink Floyd tracks Dan's granddad was always playing, as the twins spoke in near unison. 'Knock back that cuppa, lad and have a spin with our new skate. We just finished it. We was going to run it against your lot in the pre-ground effects F1 class this season, but I guess West Hamley won't be fielding a full team now. Shall we join forces, Warmin'ton 'an West 'Amley against the rest?' Dan looked from their relaxed faces to the start line of the track, where a car lay poised on blue lane.

It was a Moxie-Models Ferrari 312, 1967 spaghetti-exhaust version, Chris Amon in the cockpit. All Dan's fears were wiped away in an instant. He jumped up to the trackside and squatted down again, nose pressed to the track and eyes drinking in every detail of the car. He wondered briefly if he should have asked his dad for one of those, but no- his Lotus was more beautiful. And it had Jim in the cockpit. 'You've left the mirror lenses off!' he exclaimed involuntarily, and immediately regretted throwing the twins unexpected friendliness back in their faces. But that gorgeous model all the love and pain and effort that the Moxie-Models engineers had put in, and Adrian and Norman couldn't be bothered to finish it up right. 'Aw Dan, We'm got fingers like football boots. We can't do that fiddly stuff like you'm. We can make the damn thing go though. Watch.' Adrian grabbed the throttle while Norman stood beside him, his thumb twitching in unison with his brother's. The car took off and Dan kept his nose close to the crash barriers, studying it's performance, watching it's reactions as it stood on it's guide at the end of the main straight, twitched left, right and left through the esses, accelerated in a controlled crescendo through the long double apex and onto the shorter straight that led into the banking. Dan saw with heartfelt satisfaction, that little Chris Amon was indeed sawing away at the steering wheel, his blue and red striped helmet flicking from side to side with each change of course. A few more spiralling curves, the flyover and an almost endless downward spiralling section took the scarlet car back over the timing strip. '7.4 seconds from a standing start' said Adrian 'And that beats the club record for a flyer' said Norman, hanging up the throttle that had unaccountably found its way from his brothers hand to his during the course of the lap. 'Best car we ever drove. An' the tastiest looking.' Dan thought about his Lotus, still back at home and without a wheel turned in anger. It would thrash this Ferrari for sure. However good the model, it had to be put together right. And the twins didn't have Dan's set-up secret. But now he decided. He owed them. He'd badly misjudged them; they were no more capable of putting out a contract on someone than sticking the lenses in a pair of polished white-metal racing mirrors. A voice started to make itself heard inside Dan's head, a voice of reason and maturity. He'd been transformed himself, a little, by the experiences of the last few days. He felt older and wiser. No-one commits murder over a duff room décor. It was only TV. And this slot assassin business was crap. They didn't exist. It was just a Playstation game. He had been a kid. Now it was time to be a man.

He stood up, a couple of inches taller now than he had been when he enetered the club. He gestured towards the car. 'I can give you an extra half second a lap. Easy' It was an unfamiliar voice, with hints of authority, decisiveness, and a few extra semitones in the lower register. 'What? Break the 7 second barrier? Cain't be done', said the brothers. 'Yes it can. Have you got a screwdriver and a paperclip?' The twins came up with the 'driver quickly enough, but turned the club upside down looking for a paperclip while Dan dismantled the car. 'It's OK, any old bit of stiff wire will do.' 'Aaaah, right, came the simultaneous reply, followed by two identical lengths of piano wire which the brothers extricated from their surgical underwear. 'Now it took me three nights to figure out how to do this on my car,' said Dan while he bent one wire into a complicated triangular shape with curious hooks at one corner. 'But now I've figured it out, it's quite quick to do.' No sooner had he finished speaking than he flipped the car over and on to the track. 'Try it now'. The twins eyed each other, wordlessly acknowledging the fact that their car now had its wing mirrors in place, too.

Adrian picked up the throttle again, and Norman positioned himself by his side, hand poised and thumb twitching. The car flew down the straight, already noticeably faster than before. It took Adrian by surprise, and he flinched in anticipation of their title challenger launching itself over the first turn and into the wall. But the crimson blur was already halfway through the esses. Through the double apex Dan watched the brother's faces. Norman had the throttle. How had that happened? But the twins faces wore identical expressions of amazement. The car was already over the line, but they kept going, lap after lap. For twenty minutes more they hammered it, rapt concentration making their bodies rigid, swaying in tempo with the swooping course and the rhythmic accelerations and decelerations of the tiny car. Every time Dan looked up a different hand held the throttle, but he never actually saw it move.

They were cruising in the mid 6s when it finally occurred to them to stop and ask Dan what he'd done. 'Well,' he responded, testing out the satisfyingly low harmonics of his extended vocal range. 'You know about that adjustable magnet that Moxie-Models give you in the kit? Well, you'd set it at about the right average height for this track- best straight line speed and cornering grip, but when I built mine I thought, why compromise? I was reading up about Jim Hall and the flipper wing Chapparals of the last century, and I thought, what about a flipper magnet? Here. Let me show you.' Dan picked up the car and turned it over. 'See- I've loosened the motor mounts and used this wire as a spring cam to slide under the magnet mount here. Now what happens is that with the motor under acceleration, the torque forces the magnet into it's highest position, giving less downforce and less drag. So faster acceleration and top speed, yeah? Now here's the trick. When you brake, you shut off power to the motor and the wheels start to turn the motor rather than the other way round. The torque effect is reversed and the spring slips the magnet down to its lowest setting. Instant anchors and maximum downforce through the turns. Get it? I reckoned it would be worth half a second a lap on any track, and you guys have proved it. I havn't had a chance to try it out myself, though. I was going to that morning when I … when I found…when…' Dan's self control gave way again. He hadn't had his new voice long enough to control it fully, and the conflicts of emotion and sheer exhaustion that had been building up within him over the last few days finally got the better of him. He crumpled up like an empty crisp packet on the club room floor.

'Well, we don't need his help any more' said the twins, and buggered off.

'Tell us exactly what's troubling you Mrs. Rail' The attentive members of the Scalextric Corps spoke in a soothing chorus. Julie sprang to life, spluttering Hob-Nob crumbs in all directions. 'Troubling me? I'll tell you what's troubling me! I've stood by for too long watching the mess Scalextric has made of this country and my family. When I met my husband he was a fine pro racer. Ex-champion of the schoolboy league. Then he got into the national team. Four years of intense training, sacrificing everything for his slot racing, and I supported him through it all. I didn't see him for months on end during the world tours, and what was he doing? Substitute! Sitting on the reserve driver's bench at one event after another from Ottowa to Osaka. Was he ever called to the track to race? No. Never. And at the end of the four years they let him go. Destroyed. Now he sits at home and watches T.V. Day after day after day. My brother…he's the same. He never even made it to a club contract, but he still thinks he'll make it one day. For God's sake- he's a grown man! Sitting tinkering with toy cars all day, waiting for the call from the England squad. It won't come now. He's 47.

It's a young man's game, slot racing. And now my son's gone too. I tried to keep him away from it, but once you lot got your hands into him with your free presentation set, the way you get all the kids in this country under your control…I wanted to tear it out of his hands. I should have done. But I could see in his eyes that he wanted it. I didn't have the heart to stop him. But I've seen this game from the inside. It's not for him. It'll chew him up and spit him out, just like it did to his dad. Dan's not professional material. He can build a pretty car, make it go well, but he hasn't got the reflexes or the thumb development for a top driver. He had nothing to look forward to, nothing but the scrapheap, and now he's disappeared!' The intensity of Julie's speech had spent itself. She sat down, emptied out, a crumpled sack. The soft, female voice spoke again behind her ear. 'You didn't mention your sister, Julie. What happened to her?' 'My sister?' Julie muttered, 'How do you know about my sister?' A hand slowly turned the office chair she was seated in. 'Because here I am, Julie. There's a few things I think I need to explain to you.'

Thumb was rattled. Belt and Cokeville had taken his Elise away to fix the exhaust, and he was sat alone in his bachelor home, drinking his favourite supermarket lager and listening to his favourite Serge Chaloff track. Bebop baritone saxophone thundered around the room, but it was not working as it usually did on Inspector Thumb's finely honed mental processes. The case was running away from him. 'Ice-cream truck backs into moss-coloured G.P. winner. Seven letters.' He couldn't even get one across in the morning paper. There was only one thing to do in this situation. He called Argent to come and pick him up and take him down to the Scotland Yard track for a few runs. 'Bring one of your sad little rally cars with you, Argent, and we'll sort things out over a few laps.' Argent protested that he'd find it easier to hop on a slot-tram, but Thumb was in one of his legendary moods, and there was nothing to do but follow orders. In half an hour they were on the track in the top floor at Scotland Yard. Off-duty officers were running informal races, or just making tuning runs on the outside lanes. Thumb's Lister was creaming Argent's Skoda with monotonous ease.

But as it shot past the driver's rostrum for the forty-second time, another car appeared beside it, as if from nowhere. Thumb couldn't place it immediately. It was completely black, and seemed to have no wheels. Which was odd. His race rhythm disturbed, Thumb lost it on the flyover and shouted coarsely at the poor constable who was on marshalling duty that evening. As he hammered it down the straight again, now only a frustrating twelve and a half laps up on Argent's Skoda, the black car came past him again. This time a row of LEDs flashed along it's side. It spelt out the words 'We have to talk'. Thumb glanced across the driver's rostrum, but there was no-one there except for Argent and himself.

The mystery car was running on blue lane, but the throttle socket was empty. He felt the need to build up at least another lap cushion on Argent though, and returned his attention to the track. Then the black car flashed by again. This time the LEDs spelt out 'By the door'. Thumb glanced up from the track and noticed for the first time a young couple who acknowledged him with an almost imperceptibly curt nod. All the time, Thumb was pulling away from Argent, with four more laps to go. Again the black car shot past, this time with the odd legend 'X-iles' illuminating it's flank. Thumb checked the couple by the door again, and noticed that the man seemed to be manipulating a wrist watch. He reeled off the remaining laps, pulled his contoller, and with barely a smile to Argent, who wasn't exactly expecting a slap on the back anyway, pocketed his Lister and headed toward the door. The two strangers were not there. Thumb walked out, and immediately felt a hand on his shoulder. 'In here.' An American voice issued from a broom cupboard. Pressed against a mop bucket was a demure redhead, dressed in a tight, split-sided skirt suit. Her partner held himself braced against a shelf of cleaning fluids. He was dressed in a similarly sharp suit, but with trousers rather than a skirt. They were all three suddenly pressed nose to nose, as the man pulled the cupboard door shut. Thumb found himself rather enjoying the close proximity of the redhead, and began thinking immediately of ruses to get rid of the man, whose aftershave was overpowering at short range. 'I'm Fox,' stated the man slowly. 'And I'm Cheetah' said the woman, staring deep and unflinchingly into Thumb's eyes. 'Uh, interesting car' was all Thumb could think to say. 'I've never seen one of those before.' 'F.B.I. issue. Linear induction motor. Remote wrist control' answered Cheetah, in a low monotone, still maintaining her electrifying gaze into Thumb's eyes. 'We're here because we're no longer safe in the States' she continued. 'We race wherever we can find a track. So we call our little team the 'X-iles'. But we have to be very discreet at all times.

We are being watched. And we have come to hear that the watchers may be making some moves here, too. We call them- The Others.' She uttered the word 'others' with a strange emphasis and a swift look from side to side, which in the confined space had the result of wiping each of her ears in turn against the end of Thumb's nose. Which Thumb enjoyed. 'We think West Hamley may be their calling card' cut in Fox. 'Yes. I'm afraid so,' Cheetah continued. 'We just took a look in your mortuary-' here Thumb shuddered- 'and I've had a close look at Tim's wound. Here.' Cheetah squirmed, with delightful effects on Thumb's physiology, and pulled several 10"x 8" 3Ds from inside her jacket. Thumb retched, and Fox and Cheetah jerked as far back as the space permitted. The holopictures were off the nasty bit of Tim's head, and Cheetah persisted in holding them right under Thumb's nose. 'This wound was not made by a human hand' she said.

'Look at this', she continued, ready for Thumb's incomprehension. 'We've made a cast of the wound itself.' Cheetah wriggled again and produced a tiny resin moulding from the inside pocket of her blouse. Thumb had never realised that women's blouses had inside pockets, and the idea interested him. But it seemed more polite to focus on the object Cheetah was holding. And a shock of recognition ran through him. 'I see what you mean', he said. 'This is certainly no human hand.' 'Holy batpans- you mean you've seen one of these before?' Fox gushed. 'This is new even to us. We thought it might be the first physical evidence we've ever had of…the Others. See how the structure of the hand is quite alien. The bones are incredibly thin, and I think we can say we some certainty that there are only three knuckles.' But Thumb was no longer concentrating. He had to get away. Things were falling into place in his mind like marbles in a really well constructed and complicated marble run game. With really tall towers and those whirling vanes that send some of the marbles off down a different tube and… stuff like that. He looked at Cheetah and reflected that each case he had been involved in had brought him frustratingly close to a beautiful woman, only for their relationship to be thwarted at the last moment. Was it to be the same again? Was it worth the chase? He looked at Cheetah's shining red hair and decided it was. 'I have to take you back to my home where we can talk safely' he said. He was thinking quickly but not especially well. 'But I think my house is being watched by, er, the Others, so I think it would be a good idea if you, Fox, waited outside and kept a look out, while I explain to Cheetah here what's going on. It's complicated and it might take some time. In fact it might be a good idea if you were to stay at a hotel round the corner for the night, Fox, and keep looking up at the sky rather than down the road at my house because up in th esky is weher the Others, I think, are coming from.' 'Check, dude' was all Fox said, and Thumb led the way to the car park with a spring in his step.

'Yes, Julie. It's me, your sister, Lola Judd. National Schools Individual Scalextric Champion. Gold Medallist at the first Olympic Slot Race in Bogota. First Class Honours Degree in Slot Technology at the University of Barcelona. Triple World Champion, Sports/Saloon, Grand Prix, and Sports/Prototype Classes. Now I'm here, chair of the board at Scalextric International, Margate. And how do you think I feel? Pretty good, thanks. But you don't talk about me, do you, Julie? Your real problem is not that Scalextric has ruined your family, but that everyone has made such a success out of it- except you. Let's face it, jealousy is your problem. Your husband was one of the all time great team drivers. He never left the substitute bench because he knew that the rest of the team were handling things OK. It was his choice- loyalty to the team was his priority. But he wasn't idle. He was working out race strategy from the bench, engineering successes out of stacked odds, encouraging team mates with the right words of encouragement, but mostly the kind of moral support you could build a city on. And he never shirked his turn at marshalling either; the octopus we called him. He has the respect of every pro slot racer that ever was. He's earned his down time, Julie. He just needs your respect too. Tell him you understand. Tell him you need him. But make sure you tell him while the advert breaks are on. Watching TV is a totally valid lifestyle choice. And that kid of yours, Dan. Well he's been through a hard time, but he'll come good. Not as a driver, but as a designer, an engineer. He's not a Hakkinen but a Newey. Not a Clark but a Chapman. That boy has genius. Even your brother, he's happy. He's never achieved his ambition, but how many in this world do? He still has hopes, aspirations. Julie… Come and join us. Be our Non-executive chair of youth outreach co-ordination and multi-aspect developmental research policy parameter determination. It's a post we've created especially for you. Please Julie, come and make things happen for Scalextric, and the future of the youth of this great country. We have a uniform ready for you, a seat on the board. Here- live with it, love it, stop fighting it.'

Do us a favour said Julie and walked briskly out. When she got home she found the house empty, but a note pinned to her husband's vacant TV couch. 'Meet us at West Hamley Club as soon as possible. Love Dad and Sergeant Argent.'

Just as Thumb, Fox and Cheetah arrived at the lift to the car park, Dr De'Ath emerged from the opposite corridor. 'Ah, Thumb,' he called. 'I have to speak to you.' 'Sorry, I have urgent business with these aah…' He turned to gesture towards the F.B.I. agents, but they had evaporated. There was no door, no window, no exit as far as the eye could see, but the eye couldn't see Fox or Cheetah. 'Whatever are you talking about, Thumb? Someone's been messing about in my mortuary. Disturbed my model trackside dioramas of great racing accidents.' 'Thanks heavens I won't have to look at those again, then,' responded Thumb. 'No, the damage wasn't that great, but Johnny Herbert's and Olivier Panis' legs have got all mixed up. Who's been in there, Thumb, playing with my bodies? Anyway, Thumb, there's something else. I have the post-mortem report on Vic, and it's not what we expected.' 'In what way' asked Thumb wearily. 'He died at least an hour after Tim.' 'Great heavens! That means we have two killers. Vic wouldn't have stayed there calmly soldering lead wires while his partner lay dead at the race control. Mad Frankie is covering for someone else, and Brodgers is still in danger! Dan too. We have to find them!' Thumb's mental game of marble run was suddenly spilling little glass balls all over the carpet.

When Thumb got anxious about a case, there were two things that generally settled his mind. Playing baritone sax and slot racing. He'd been trying to do both at the same time for many years, in an attempt to speed up his crime solving, but with little success. He was resigned to doing one thing at a time. So he went home and played a Gerry Mulligan solo, twice, badly, then he drove over to West Hamley. Still closed to the public, he made his way into the dark room and turned the power on. He drove his antique Monogram Lotus 33, one of the most sensitive cars in his collection, forty times round the circuit, five laps on each lane. He squatted down at the far end of the straight and took sightings along the track towards the race control at the other end. Then he checked the club room over very carefully, and picked up two items which he placed in his car box next to his Lotus. He made one last survey of the club, including a close examination of the 'refuelling rig' hinged against the wall, then switched off the power and left, sealing up the club one last time. Then he drove off towards Warmington.

He arrived as a race was in progress. Just two drivers, insensible of Thumb's presence, deep in thrall to the rhythm of three cars sweeping smoothly round the track. At the end of the race, which Thumb had unobtrusively marshalled for the last few laps, the three people left the club and crawled into the Elise. It was difficult, but in the circumstances, no big problem. The extra passenger wedged between the two seats operated the brake pedal and gearlever. Before dropping the clutch, Thumb called Argent to arrange the final meeting at West Hamley Slot Car Club.

In a complicated way which is far too boring to describe here, all the protagonists of the story so far managed to get themselves seated round the track at West Hamley S.C.C. before Inspector Thumb and his two passengers arrived. 'Something tells me this is a post-scalextric take on the traditional Agatha Christie country-house denouement', whispered Dr Dick De'Ath to his neighbour. Dr. De'Ath had come equipped, as instructed, with his medical bag, which he hoped meant there might be some extravagant blood-letting on the afternoon's agenda. Next to him sat Julia Rail, tight -lipped and anxious for her son's welfare. Nevertheless, her arm was wrapped affectionately around her husband's shoulders. In return, his hand rested on her lap while his eyes were focussed on the race control computer which was running a screen-saver programme of last year's International Slot Finals from Lusaka. Sat close to him were Adrian and Norman, visibly in awe of the legendary Trev Rail and his sister-in-law Lola Judd, the chair of Scalextric Global Inc. and past world slot champion so many times they had lost count, who sat on the other flank. Mad Frankie, in reality not at all mad, but merely justifiably upset with the way things had turned out in general sat several feet away, sulking. Both Thumb and Argent had finally realised that his 'confession' held no water at all, not meeting the known facts of the case in any realistic way, and had released him that morning. He was present at a slot car club against his will, but as a condition of his bail on the charge of wasting police time. Fox and Cheetah were in some ways there, and in some ways not. Fox was peering up at the skylight with inhuman intensity, while Cheetah was more a sort of smouldering presence, not actually making any movement or sound. Sergeant Argent wandered round the room trying to assert his authority by remaining upright, but unable to disguise his deep anxiety about what Thumb was about to do. Whatever it was, experience told him that it would be a complete cock-up.

They all heard the screech of the Elise outside, the low burble of the engine and the repeated gearbox scrapings as Thumb strained the car's limited steering lock into what was really quite a generous parking space outside the club. But no-one was prepared for three people to walk through the door. Julia Rail sprang immediately from her chair to embrace her son Dan. Adrian and Norman struggled to conceal their surprise at the entrance of Ryan Brodgers followed Dan into the clubroom. Finally Thumb himself swept triumphantly in, revealing as he turned to close the door behind him a dirty crescent of slush on the seat of his trousers. Unaware of this threat to his dignity, he struck a pose in front of the assembled audience. Arms crossed high on his chest, rocking slightly from heel to toe in the way all policemen are trained to, he cleared his throat. And wondered what he was going to say. 'I expect you are all wondering why I have gathered you all here today' Dr De'Ath broke in with mock gravitas segueing into an exaggerated snigger. Thumb recovered himself well. 'Yes. Exactly. Thank you Dick. Er. Aah.' 'Have you cracked it, Chief?' asked Argent encouragingly. 'Yes indeed Sergeant. I expect you're wondering how I did it.' 'You did it?' yelled everyone almost simultaneously. 'Why?' 'You dirty rat!' 'Grab him

before he tries to get away!' 'Take him down, Danno'. From beneath a pile of struggling bodies, Thumb finally made it clear that that was not what he meant. 'I did not do it myself, but I've found out who did' he screamed at last, in utter frustration. He struggled upright, and in the process of dusting himself down located the unpleasant crust on his pants bottom. Things were not going well. 'And he's right here amongst us,' he added, for the sake of impact. The women in the group immediately looked wildly round at the men. Cheetah poised, knees bent and with both hands on her semi-automatic, sweeping it's barrel in slow arcs around the room. The men all did their best to cultivate that look which you get when you know you havn't done anything, but you have to try and look even more innocent than you really are because the guilty person is obviously trying to look innocent too so you have to look more innocent than them without letting people think you are putting it on and you might actually be guilty anyway so it's totally counter-productive. Sort of thing. Except for Dr. De'Ath, who merely looked disappointed that the brief scuffle with Inspector Thumb had not resulted in any torn limbs or fatal sanguine gushings. He looked sadly at his medical bag and consoled himself with the thought that there was still time.

Thumb coughed. 'Yes, the killer is here. But I can't arrest anyone. No-one is going to jail. Because the killer is not human.' At this, Fox, still staring upwards at the skylight, smiled thinly and slid his fingers around the barrel of Cheetah's weapon

'Let me say that the best part of my job as a police inspector is standing up in court to deliver my evidence, with everyone hanging on my every word. I get respect, attention, and no interruptions. So very different to everyday life. This case has in fact cheated me of that day in court, so I'm going to do my bit now. With all of you as Judge, Jury and counsel.' Sergeant Argent groaned and held his head in his hands.

'Allow me to tell you all the story of that tragic New Year's Day, 2016. It began early. Vic and Tim woke from their bed with a purpose.' 'What was a fish doing in their flat?' Adrian and Norman interrupted. Together. 'Shut up. This is my speech. And a porpoise is a mammal, not a fish.' 'But what was it doing…' 'I said shut up or I'll do you for contempt of court. Where the hell was I? Oh yes, they woke up with a porpoise. They had some intensive practice to do in preparation for the new season's racing at the club. Much like you, Dan. They had two new cars, and some special developments to assess before the club got too busy. According to witnesses, they left their apartment at 8.30 a.m., and my guess is that they were at the club no later than 8.45. They started running laps with Tim at the race control and Vic driving. Tim had some new tyres in his box, sent during the Christmas break from Spendle Race developments. They were a new and secret compound, extremely hard and long lasting, but offering new levels of grip. I have had this confirmed by Sean Spendle himself, and the tyres themselves have been analysed by out forensic lab. I fouind the empty packet and postmarked wrapper on the floor of the club during my investigations. At a certain point, which he himself will clarify, Mr. Ryan Brodgers arrived. He too had a new and secret strategy which he wanted to evaluate in private. The three men were surprised to see each other. Each one expected the other to be incapacitated on New Year's morning, like the rset of the population. However, they all agreed to continue their testing after vows of confidentiality had been exchanged. At 9.30, Tim turned off the race control computer. He did not have to die to do it. That is what has been confusing our investigation. We assumed that the switch was pressed by his forehead when he fell forward at the time of his death. In actual fact, the computer had already been down for an hour when Tim died. His reason for switching it off was to ensure that no lap times were recorded for what the three men did for the rest of the morning. Vic was doing tyre developments. We now know the compound of the new tyres, and the analysis of the condition of the tyres proves conclusively that they had had at least one and a half hours of wear. Absolute proof that Vic and Tim were in the club, alive, for at least that time, long after we had falsely assumed they were dead. That immediately invalidated Mad Frankie's confession. He had unwittingly provided himself with an alibi for the actual time of death.

We now also have Mr. Brodger's collaboration of my hypothesis, my friends. To turn to Ryan, if I may, his work that morning was also intended to remain clandestine. But I had already formulated an idea of what it might be. And now I am proved right, yet again. My speculation was at first based on the evidence of the left-handed controller that was left at the scene of the crime. Yes; it was a left-handed throttle, customised with a large assymetrical aluminium heat sink making it impossible to hold in the right hand. I immediately asked Sergeant Argent to check if there were any left-handed drivers at the club. When his researches proved negative, my hypothesis was strengthened. Mr Brodgers was training himself in the mythical and dangerous art of simultaneous driving. In a bid to double his chances of seizing the club championship in the coming year, he had taught himself to drive two cars at once, using a controller in each hand.

This technique requires much mental development, using oriental meditation methods. The practitioner enters a kind of trance-like state, relying on rhythm and tapping into the deep levels of animalistic spatial awareness concealed in the cerebral cortex, to sustain perfect control of two cars on different parts of the track. The eyes also have to be trained, by tedious and disciplined exercise, to track independently, each remaining focussed in different directions. The art is difficult, and it is dangerous, as Ryan well understood. Few drivers have perfected it and lived. During simultaneous driving, let me say with emphasis, one is not entirely responsible for all one's physical actions.' At this point a faint sobbing came from Ryan Brodgers. All eyes turned in his direction.

Thumb coughed, loudly. He didn't like losing the audience's attention. 'Another interesting discovery I made at the club is that there is a slight inconsistency in the track, approximately half way down the main straight. I ascertained the effects of this by driving my own car, a particularly sensitive Lotus 33, on each lane for several laps. Now,' Thumb paused slightly for emphasis. 'Now we come to the fatal moment. Picture it. Tim is sitting at race control, the computer switched off. Vic is checking the state of his tyres on the pit bench. Ryan is driving two cars simultaneously; two very different cars with completely incompatible handling characteristics. A Top-Slot McLaren MP27 and an MRRC Foster-Jenkins. Pay close attention now. I knew what had happened as soon as Miss Cheetah here showed me the casting she had made of the wound on Tim's neck. She assumed, because she is American and therefore completely batty, that the wound was made by an extra-terrestrial being, whose small, spindly, three-fingered hand was represented by the shape of that casting. But I recognised it immediately for exactly what it was. The nose of a Top-Slot McLaren MP27, the three alien knuckles in reality being the nose and endplates of the front airfoil of the McLaren. Now, return in your imagination to the scene. Vic is at the pit bench, the soldering iron hot and ready in the gantry above his head, as he fits a new pinion gear onto a motor. Tim is crouched over the race control, studying Ryan's radical driving technique. In his semi-trance state, Ryan has one car approaching the esses, another entering the back straight. He is pushing the speed of both to their limits, each in entirely different track conditions. He can't cope completely. He has not yet fully mastered the technique. He forgets to lift for the bump on the straight, and the McLaren takes off and flies like an arrow straight at Tim. Tim is watching the Foster-Jenkins at the other end of the track, and the McLaren spears into his left anterior cartrix. Instantly, Tim slumps over the computer, quite dead. By an unfortunate stroke of fate, his head comes to rest on the off switch of the computer, complicating our investigations considerably. In the confusion, Ryan loses control of his other car, the Foster-Jenkins, which skids over the retaining wall and lands at Vic's feet. Ryan calls out in despair. Vic turns to look, and sees his partner slumped and inert. He leaps up, treads on the Foster-Jenkins and loses his balance. Grasping for support, he finds only the flex of the soldering iron. Falling sideways, he keeps his grasp on the flex, which in turn jerks the swing gantry over his head, the red-hot iron swinging dangerously. The flex finally reaches it's full extension, and the iron shoots violently out of it's housing, and straight through Vic's heart. Could happen to anyone really. I prefer a gas torch personally, for that very reason. Anyway. What of Ryan?' Ryan is now in full flood, sobbing plentifully into Lola Judd's lap. 'Ryan, still in a heightened mental state, anticipates balme for this double tragedy, and feels guilt, panic, and a strong urge to run. Which he does, quite naturally, stopping only to pluck his McLaren from the back of Tim's neck, as he can see it is still quite raceworthy, and his best controller, so the left-hander is abandoned at the track. So too is the Foster-Jenkins, squashed completely flat by Vic's foot, and unrepairable.

These were the vital clues that led me to my solution to this mystery, ladies and gentlemen. However, back to the scene. Ryan runs from the club, only minutes before Dan's arrival. He runs straight down Russkit Street, up Revell Road, and non-stop to Warmington, where he hides under the track for three days, worrying, sleepless, only getting up for a quick thrash around the track now and again. It is only the chance arrival of his trusted friend and West Hamley team-mate Dan Rail which draws him out of this feral existence, and that is how I found both of them earlier today, returned to health and sanity by doing what comes most naturally; slot racing.

I knew I would find them there. When I made my initial inspection of the West Hamley Club I was very impressed with the décor. I remembered racing there when it was but a drab and unremarkable place. Now I was impressed with the depiction of the McLaren Formula 1 garage, circa 1999. But one thing struck me as odd. On one wall panel was a list of McLaren team race successes, which I checked carefully for correctness. Only one line seemed to be wrong. The last inscription read WSCC 2014. Well I know as well as anyone that the only time McLaren won the World Sports Car Championship was 1997, with the terrific Gordon Murray designed F1, powered by...' 'Oh do get on with it, you prize bore!' shouted De'Ath, in an understandable moment of impatience. 'To continue. There obviously had to be another explanation. WSCC had to be a reference to Warmington Slot Car Club, and this was ineffect, the artist's signature, not a McLaren race victory.

There was obviously a connection between the two clubs, and Warmington held the key to subsequent developments in the case. I was proved entirely right, of course, since my visit there revealed the two missing persons in this fascinating little mystery. In conclusion, Dr De'Ath my dear sir, I'm sure that your palm-top DNA tester, which I presume is in your medical bag which I instructed you to bring with you, will prove beyond doubt that the microscopic traces of blood still manifest here on the front wing of Ryan's miniature McLaren make a perfect match with that of poor Tim.

Spontaneous applause echoed round the room. Sergeant Argent reeled in amazement. Thumb had pulled it off. His unfortunate habit of trying to talk like Sherlock Holmes when describing a case did nothing to lessen his achievement. Argent was for once lost in admiration for his boss. Butthen one thought did strike him. 'Sir', he ventured once the cheering had died down a little, 'You said at the beginning that the killer was here…but the whole thing was just a dreadful accident!' 'Yes, my dear Argent. You are quite right. The killer is….This 1/32nd scale plastic driver sitting in his model McLaren!' More applause and laughter swept the room. 'Come my hearty fellows!' Beamed Thumb. 'Let us celebrate the conclusion of this adventure in the best possible way - an eight-lane knockout challenge!' In no time the track was filled with cars, and the driver's rostrum fully populated. Even Julie Rail, on blue lane, nursed a sheepish smile. Thumb was given the honour of flagging off the first heat, and was about to press the famous computer start switch, when he reeled back in horror. 'What's up, chief?' asked Argent anxiously. 'Is it the blood on Ryan's front wing?' demanded De'Ath. 'No!' Thumb thundered. 'What is that monstrosity on red lane?' He pointed with a shaking finger at the start line. 'that's ours,' said Adrian and Norman. 'It's an old Scaley Vanwall. We painted it up with pink stripes like a Neapolitan ice-cream. Just for a laugh. We call it the Ice-cream Vanwall, hur-hur.' Thumb frowned momentarily and walked to the door. 'Sorry. I have to go home. I just remembered I have a crossword puzzle to finish.'
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