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Blood on the Tracks Part 1

Christmas 2015 had been good. Good enough to keep young Dan Rail from losing his temper as he struggled to extricate his bike from the garden shed. There had to be about ten of them in there; a good few of his own, representing various stages in his development from toddler to acne-ridden adolescent. All had sticky-out pedals, spoked wheels and weird handlebars with cables and levers- just about everything most liable to tangle with other things. Old bikes should be recycled as grappling irons for the S.A.S. thought Dan, who'd been watching too many old war films over the festive season. Still, even as he scraped his shins again, Dan felt happy. Happy to be leaving the muggy cell of his family home for the first time since the 25th. Seven days of computer-enhanced Morecombe and Wise, Fred Astaire and Marx Brothers run back to back on the brand new holo-disc player. Tap dancing and bad puns didn't fit any of Dan's current definitions of a good time. An icicle cracked off the shed roof and slid down the back of his neck as Dan tugged again at his bike. Balanced on the fence post behind him was the one thing that had kept him sane throughout the endless microwave pingings that preceded another plateful of Big Mac flavoured GM Turkey. On the last shopping day before Christmas, Dan had written down the instructions for his Dad very carefully. Go down to MRD models, the huge Superslotmart that had opened up on the site of the recently bankrupted 'Komputers-R-Us', third aisle on the left, 1/32 dept., F1 kits section. And Dad had got it right for once. On Christmas morning, underneath the tree, Dan unwrapped a Moxie-Models Lotus 49 kit. The familiar white card box with perspex window, the detailed race and development history and technical drawings on DVD slotted into a neat wallet beside the hundred and one beautifully cast and gleaming parts- Dan spent the rest of the holiday far away from Uncle Jason, Auntie Kylie and the antique karaoke machine in the living room. Upstairs, he worked day and night, lovingly assembling the working steering, differential and sprung titanium suspension, decalling-up the beautiful gossamer-thin bodyshell, and prising the amazing full-length articulated Jim Clark figure into the cockpit. He doubted seriously whether the movement of his tiny hands on the steering wheel would be perceptible as it shot through the esses at his club track, but he knew it was there, that it would be happening. The tiny Moxie-Meteor, the motor that had exploded onto the slot racing scene only a few months ago, fitted cleanly beneath the replica Cosworth engine, and married up to the transmission with a barely audible click. But those delicate British Racing Green panels hid a few extra secrets that Dan had worked on over the last few nights. The kit was good, even great, he thought. But Dan reckoned he'd made it better. His heart was full.

Another jerk at the bike, a last kick at Dad's one tangled up in the brake cables achieved three things; another icicle slid down the back of his trousers, his bike suddenly emerged from the shed with no operative brakes, and the shoe-box sized package with it's tangle of bungee grips fell off the fence post. 'Oh well', thought Dan, still optimistic in mood, 'One step forward, two steps back'. He was sure the car would be OK. The box was converted from the three-tier Cherries Chocolate Platinum Selection he'd deliberately chosen as his Christmas present to his Mum. The contents had lasted three circuits of the dinner-table, but Dan whipped the empty box straight up to his room, where it quickly became a three-tier pit-box. The top tray, emptied of soft centres, held his hand-controller and various bottled fluids. The middle tray, once home to the liquer selection, now nestled the finished Lotus womb-like in crash-resistant polyfoam. The lower tray, deserted of marzipans, was filled with a rare choice of spare parts, tune-up items and jeweller's tools. Now Dan scooped the box up from the snow-crusted ground and gave it a gentle shake to check that nothing was rattling. He was one step closer to the magical moment when he would first lay his new Lotus into the slot at West Hamley. No-one would be at the club today, New Year's morning. It would be a purely private pleasure.

The last bungee hook scoured the back of his hand as it thrashed back through the frame and caught in the rear light. The bike tyres made satisfyingly clear tracks in the fresh snow and Dan nosed the front wheel tentatively between the tightly-packed citi-cars parked along the street. Slithering along the main road, he enjoyed the unexpectedly quiet, traffic-free vista ahead; river, bridge and town in post-Christmas torpor. He smiled inwardly at the same time as his innards took a lurch to the left- the bike had skidded fractionally on the slot-tram tracks, but the familiar Scalextric logo punched into the metal brought his confidence back immediately. A lonely, virtually empty slot-tram pulled into the high street ahead. 'Excellent beast', thought Dan, and slipped into a short reverie as he coasted a downward gradient with both feet on the icy road. The whole Slot-Tram project had taken only a few years from conception to execution, and had at a stroke solved all the old public transport problems of the 20th century. Dan mentally recited from his end-of -term history exam. Prime Minister Ken Livingstone, a slot racer since his early teens, had proposed a system of electric trams which were effectively giant Scalextric cars with a guide at each end, directed and powered by a single slot and parallel contact strips laid in the roads. Half the cost of laying two conventional tram lines, and as it turned out, many times more efficient. In a bold and much disputed decision, Livingston had awarded the entire contract to Scalextric itself, and the company had grown to become a major worldwide business, presently one of the biggest names on the stock market. Every happy investor rode the trams, and many more played on the tracks. Dan had been ecstatic to receive his free 'Hot One Hundred' set with authentic Hyundai and Daewoo F1 cars, presented by the Scalextric corporation to him and every other boy and girl in the land on their eleventh birthday. Straight away, Dan was into it big time. He saw more of the West Hamley Club track than he did of his bedroom. He lived almost entirely on the charge of arcing commutators and silicone dust. This last seven days away from the club was a record he didn't intend to break, and now he was very nearly as far from his home as he needed to be. At the crest of the bridge he extended his toes onto the road in anticipation of another dodgy looking downhill slope and the right hand bend at the end of it. He stopped, poised in equilibrium, and blew on his pink fingers. He was king of the hill. Lord of all he surveyed. Strapped to the back of his bike was his ticket not just to the annual concours trophy, but the pre-ground effects GP class championship, and even, with that trick Meteor, the open class too. 2016 was going to be his year.

Dan slammed his bike against the iron railings and plucked the bungees off the mudguard. Stopping had not been easy, but a flick of the bars to the left and a body swerve with the right foot flat on the icy tarmac had lined him up nicely with that concrete fence post. The door of the club was only a few feet away. The familiar smell of fast-food and silicone rubber, both well-charred, wafted his way from the partly-open entrance. 'Damn,' thought Dan. Someone's here already. He looked at his watch; eleven o'clock. Late for most, but early for slot-racers. Still, there was no noise, no swooping, frizzing sounds of pinion on spur and wheel on track. Dan thought the best of it; 'someone forgot to close the door last night is all'. He took his pit-box under his arm and turned his back to shoulder the door fully open. Looking down he saw the tracks of an earlier visitor leading away down Russkit Street. 'Well someone's been in since it stopped snowing,' he thought. He entered the club and stood with his back against the wall. He raised his eyes to check the room. What he saw was carnage

Inspector Thumb hit the exit button with emphasis. Case over. Result. The car was genuine, it was the papers that were fake. He knew right from the beginning he'd seen that Auto Union before; same pattern of scratches on the guide pin. Only then it had been in the National Slot Car Collection at Buckingham Palace. The one in the Palace for the last six months had been a ringer, switched by a curator that the gang had put the frighteners on, and this 'previously unrecorded example' had quite rightly confounded all expert opinion that had tried to prove it was a cocktail of rebuilt parts. No-one could fence an item like that without documentation though, and it was the phony certificate printed on sol-film but dated one year before the process had been invented that had blown the scam. Thumb had baited the line nicely, and reeled in the bent dealer by posing as an agent for a wealthy Afghan collector. Sam Squeed was down for ten, and the lights were out in his Burlington Arcade slot shop. What now for Thumb? Promotion, surely, but first a wander down to Scotland Yard's eight-lane for a little rest and recreation; a few laps with the lads to show he still had the common touch. Then a few phials of relaxing juice all round.

But he had to look at his watch first- just a habit, but a fatal one. A message was coming through. 'Two corpses. West Hamley S.C.C. Foul play suspected. Local force in attendance' 'Damn locals!' Thumb thought impulsively. ' Out of their depth before their toes hit the water. I'd better move before they trample over all the evidence.' He slid the desk draw closed on his matched pair of Pro-Slot '05 LeMans winning Listers and heaved himself up. He'd raced at West Hamley many times himself, and winced as the idea crossed his mind that maybe it was the sweet guy with the orange Toyota who had now de-slotted for good. He kicked open the door of Sergeant Argent's office as he fumbled for the keys of his '98 Elise. 'Come with me. It's urgent, Argent,' Thumb thundered as he strode down the corridor. 'It always is,' grunted the sergeant, already sensing the twinges in his backside that invariably came with a ride in that blasted antique Lotus, or 'Thumb's bum numb-er' as was known in the force. He hoped it wouldn't be a long journey.

The outside of West Hamley Slot Car Club was a mess. A mess worse than the pre-dawn crowd at the Millenium Dome Swapmeet. Police warning tapes were strewn across every vertical surface, and control vehicles were slewed at all angles across Russkit Street. Dr. Dick De'ath, the police pathologist, had only just arrived, Thumb deduced from the presence of his sad Sunbeam Citi-car, whose 'show-room chameleon' self-adjusting paint job was still slowly adjusting itself to slush-brown from the frost-white it had probably been only a few minutes ago. Thumb revved the engine of his Lotus to announce his arrival, made more effective by a loud clang as the exhaust pipe dislodged itself and hit the tarmac. The engine noise tripled in volume and dropped several octaves. Heads turned, the level of activity gradually slowed, and relative quiet descended on the scene as Thumb turned off the ignition. 'Damn' thought Thumb. 'I'm not getting out of this tree foot high machine with all those uniforms staring at me.' He used his usual plan B, which was to make Argent get out and marshal everyone off under the pretence that Thumb needed to insect the crime scene in peace and solitude. Ten minutes later he was finally out of the car with only a thin horseshoe of ice on his backside to show that he'd briefly made contact with the pavement on his way to pedestrian status. And the solitude was useful. The snow was melting rapidly, and with it all the tracks and traces of the fatal comings and goings . He took it slowly, mentally bracing himself for whatever lay inside.Dick De'ath barred his way, his put-on concern barely masking a snigger of contempt. 'You're not going to like it in there, Thumb. Messy. Quite distressing. I'm quite aware of your, uh, sensitivities'. He nearly managed to hold it in, but he broke up his last, well prepared line with a loud guffaw. 'There's a lot of broken cars in there.'

There were. Thumb assessed the damage while he scanned the room, putting off for as long as possible the moment when he would have to look closely at the sheeted form on the floor. An old re-liveried Scalex Cadillac, several home-builts, a couple of MRRC Foster-Jenkins, and inevitably a swathe of vintage Fly P4s were strewn about the floor. 'De'Ath might know about corpses', Thumb reflected, 'but he doesn't know about cars.' Several important facts were filed away in Thumb's archival mind, some deliberately, some subconsciously. He gave only a flicker of attention to a hand controller that lay draped over the track. Something was odd about it. But he'd check it later. He finally dropped to one knee to examine the real damage. The vaguely human outline of the sheeted form was disturbed by a vertical projection in the area where the chest would be. De'Ath gleefully twitched away the cloth. 'There, Thumb. An unusual cause of death perhaps, but not difficult to diagnose.' From between the ribs on the left side of the prostrate form emerged an eighty-watt soldering iron. The flex twisted round the corpse's left arm. Thumb's gaze followed the lead to the three-pin plug, wrenched from its socket and snagged in the edge of the trackside workbench, which was now sagging drunkenly from the wall.

Thumb fought with his digestive system as he rose to his feet. 'I thought there were two' he said firmly. De'Ath gestured dramatically. A second sheet covered a less identifiable shape in a corner of the room concealed by a painted screen- Thumb recognised the image of Ron Dennis incorporated into some sort of race track scenario. De'Ath crossed over and repeated his stage-conjuror's gesture as he flicked away the sheet from the second body. It was slumped over the race control desk, and a thin trickle of blood had darkened behind the right ear. 'Diagnose that, Dick,' Thumb breathed with alliterative emphasis. 'Certainly' responded De'Ath brightly. 'A trained assassin's blow. The killer hit the nerve synapse on the right anterior cartrix. I believe it is known to the T'am-iya death squad as the "Nin-Ko" strike. Only a light but accurate pressure is needed. Death is instantaneous and nearly always fatal.'

Dan was still trembling from the shock. Lying in his bedroom, his pit box wedged tightly under his arm- the nurse couldn't dislodge it. His mother sat with her back to the worktable, upright and stiff, careful not to disturb the matrix of tools, tiny wheels and strips of plastic, piano wire and brass that lay across it. She watched his deep, gulping breaths and swore silently that one day the Scalextric corporation wouyld pay for hat it had done to her family. The handsome policeman (Sergeant Ardent, had he said his name was?) stood patiently by the bed, waiting sympathetically for his moment to ask the long list of vital questions in his notebook. Mrs Rail's stood up and walked to the door, brushing the Sergeant's arm lightly as she went by. 'I'll just fetch a cup of tea. I think that would help, don't you?' Argent smiled warmly and nodded vigorously. 'Oh yes madam, that would certainly do the trick I should think' he said, his warm Geordie accent sending an unexpected thrill through Mrs. Rail's deepest places.

The tea was hot, milky and sweet, and came with the last of the Marks and Spencer Christmas cake. Soon Dan, his Mum, and Sergeant Argent were talking more or less freely, with a hint of nervous excitation in both Dan's and his mum's voices. Argent spoke coolly, encouragingly, and soon had discreetly opened his palmtop, and was making notes. Dan was anxious about his bike, the club; how were the dead lads going to be replaced fro the nationals team? Argent smiled at Mum. 'Shock', he murmured behind her left ear. 'Perfectly normal to get your priorities a little mixed up after something like this. His mind is editing out the unpleasantness for now.' Mum fluttered her eyes at Argent. Many thoughts ran simultaneously through her hyperactive mind.'He knows. He understands. He is a good man. He smells good. He could help her. Together they could clear up this grisly case and bring about the end of the insidious corporate control of everything- the sinister power subtly wielded by the Scalextric Company from their massive fortified complex in Margate. The accumulated damage they had done to her family was immeasurable…. But then her reverie was dispelled by an urgent trill on the door bell. The letter box rattled and a gruff voice echoed down the hallway. 'Argent! What are you playing at? We've got dead bodies and an Oriental assassination squad to trace. We have to get to Riko Headquarters before the trail goes cold!' The young sergeant stiffened and threw back the last mouthful of tea, copping all the soggy crumbs from the gingernuts he'd been dunking in it. 'Sorry madam. That's the boss. I've got to go.' He threw Mrs Rail his most comforting smile and gripped her shoulders in what he judged was a formal yet sympathetic embrace. Their eyes met, and held each other's gaze just a fraction too long.

When Dan's mum followed the policeman down the stairs and closed his bedroom door behind her, Dan threw his legs off the bed and leaped to the window. Wow! A '98 Elise! It squithered off down the icy road with an intestinal roar, and Dan set to thinking. He'd never seen anyone dead before, and that smell of charred meat… OK. Enough. He opened his pit box and laid his lotus carefully on his worktop. It would not be racing for a little while yet. There were more important things to do. Someone was trying to wipe out he entire West Hamley club, he was sure of it, and he thought he knew why. That cop mentioned an assassination squad. So Tim and Vic had been killed by hit men. But those pointy heads wouldn't recognise a trained slot-assassin if he wore an official uniform and made a top ten holo-single. But he could. He'd been top scorer on the Slot Car Massacre Playstation 10 game. He knew how to deal with slot-assassins. Besides he knew something about the club that morning that 50,000 flat-foots with electron microscopes wouldn't have spotted.

Mrs Rail was still waving pathetically at the place where the sweet little sports car had disappeared around the corner several minutes ago. Dan ran out of the back door unobserved, and seized the first available bike. It was one he'd grown out of six years ago, but it seemed to work OK. Hurling it over the back fence and scrambling after it, he mounted and took off across the golf course, his knees knocking his elbows at every pedal stroke.
 

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What a bloody great mystery! Loved it. When are we going to see the next instalments? Will there be a "Fly" in the ointment?
Sorry, couldn't resist.

OOPS! I guess I should have scrolled down the forum and read more posts!


Cheers,
Mark.
 

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Hi Mark

Anyone who guesses the correct solution wins ten pounds of fresh garden manure in a five pound sack. You've got plenty of time- this thing could go on for ever. Look out J.K.Rowling.
Anyone who guesses the solution to the hidden crossword clue wins my sympathy. There's got to be better things to do.....
 

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QUOTE Anyone who guesses the correct solution wins ten pounds of fresh garden manure in a five pound sack

Oooeeuww! Not sent through the fax machine again I hope howmet? Only, just finished scraping off the biscuit crumbs from your last compo!
 

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Good news JP... I've just finished my SIMPLE HOME MADE STAR TREK MATTER TRANSPORTER BEAM- It's just an old vacuum cleaner connected to a photon beam transducer. That garden manure could arrive at any time! And from any height! So get busy on your competition entries.
 

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Ingenious howmet tx, simply ingenious


Had you thought of developing this into a fully blown SIMPLE HOME-MADE WORM HOLE GENERATOR?

Such a device would be of great help to Inspector Thumb. He could travel back through time and space and easily solve, nay, WITNESS all of those mysteries. And, just think what this could do for your lap times too!

In my estimation you would need a rusty old twin tub washing machine and something with a magnetic field strong enough to induce a major distortion into the space-time continuum so bending the very fabric of time, space and the universe itself - I reckon an old Mabuchi 16d can might do it.

Anyway tx just making a suggestion here. If by any chance you do get it to work perhaps you could post a "how to" in Master Classes sometime last year.

 

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QUOTE (howmet tx @ 14 Jan 2004, 01:59 PM)Hi Mark

Anyone who guesses the solution to the hidden crossword clue wins my sympathy. There's got to be better things to do.....
Would the solution be "Vanwall"? No, I've nowt better to do at the moment...


Mark.
 

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Congratulations, Mark. You win my sympathy. No, really. Don't you realise there's a whole world out there- women, adventure, booze, hangovers, taxes, pollution, armed conflict? Actually it is quite nice indoors, isn't it?

And JP, you anticipate the plot line of another West Hamley story currently in gestation. Well, it is raining out. And there's naff all on the telly. Apart from the documentary about Richard Seaman t'other night. That was good.
 
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