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Jingle bells

5338 Views 36 Replies 7 Participants Last post by  taxi
In the weeks leading up to Christmas, the atmosphere at West Hamley was full off good beer. I mean good cheer. Well, both really, since we'd got a couple of barrels of Old Pendle's XXXXX Winter Womper installed in the Members+Privilege bar. But to get back to the point. Most of the racers were preparing for the Boxing Day challenge, always a big event in the WHSCC calendar. Some old cars were out, getting a new set of silis bedded in or a new gear ratio tried out. Inspector Thumb had a new motor in his Bentley Speed 8, and was shaking it down with some gentle laps of magenta lane. A few radical new sleds were running trial laps, and Eric's car was billowing smoke in that annoyingly inaccessible spot under the overpass.
Sergeant Argent was in charge of the Christmas decorations again, and he'd decided on a scheme of aubergine and white with silver highlights. So he was busy up a step-ladder looping strands of crepe paper through the rafters. Lil and Coxie Cooper-Archer were in the coffee lounge, stirring the giant club Christmas pudding, adding the traditional handful of spur gears in place of the sixpenny bits you find in non-slot racing puds. The general conversation was of what folks would like to find in their Christmas stockings, and Clint, trying out his red bobble hat and stick-on white beard, wandered to and fro taking notes. For this year it was his turn to take charge of the gift hamper that always awaited the racers on Boxing Day morn. He would have to get the order off quickly to Spendall's Slot Centre if he was going to get it ready in time. A spicy aroma filled the air as Claudia added a drop or two more of wintergreen to the mulled wine, and Mrs H. pulled from the oven the first batch of her special sausage rolls (lumps of sausage meat lovingly shaped into miniature Rolls-Royce Phantoms and baked at gas mark 6). Phi Spector's Christmas album ripped out of the clubroom speakers, and a light snow was beginning to fall.
No-one noticed the first timid knock at the door amid the general excited hubbub. The second was a little bolder, and Bruno looked up from the pit bench where he was fettling his twin-motor flex-o-bar double helix 'death-by-solder' split-frame Autocoast. He strolled slowly over to the entrance, threading his way through Argent's trailing forest of crepe paper, wondering why anyone should bother knocking on club night. The door was open, after all.

A slight figure stood silhouetted against the freshly fallen snow on the yard outside. A cheap fake-fur lined hood covered the head, and a long coat trailed to the ground. It made no move.

'Come in, come in, you're letting the cold in. You here to race?'

The hooded figure stepped forward into the club and sloughed off the hood, allowing shining blond curls to fall over over the damp fur collar. Thick horn-rimmed glasses aimed themselves up at Bruno, and a mist passed over them.
'Oh! I've all fogged up! It's warm in here!'
A small gloved hand reached up, and Bruno found himself staring into the biggest, deepest blue eyes he had ever seen. Flakes of snow nestled on the long, long lashes, melting quickly and turning to diamonds sparkling in the flourescent lighting.
'Aaaaaaah!' said Bruno, involuntarily.
'Forgive me troubling you at this time of night, Mr...., uh...'
'Bruno. Bruno. The name's Bruno. Please, come in, take off that damp coat. What can I do for you? Did you want to join the club?'
'Not exactly, thank you Bruno- maybe later. No- I'm here to ask you for help.'
'Anything-anything! Just name it, Miss, uh, it is Miss isn't it?'
'Lana Lois is the name, Bruno. I've come to the most famous slot car club in the world to throw myself on your mercy on this cold, cold Christmastide.'

'Come through to the lounge, Lana. Let's make ourselves comfortable and we can have a chat. Coffee? Here- let me take that.'

Lana wriggled out of the long coat, revealing a thin cotton dress of very old fashioned design- and very little else. Even Bruno could see it was painfully threadbare, stitched and patched, stretched tightly across her trim upper body and straining at a broad and prominent embonpoint unfettered by undergarments. Flaring from her tight, high waist, the material was so thin as to be almost transparent, and the torn and frayed hem barely covered her bare pink thighs.
'Would you have any hot chocolate, Bruno? I don't take coffee- it makes me over-excited.'
'Of course Lana.'
Bruno called across the lounge for two pints of Belgian double-whip de luxes.
'Now tell me, what exactly is it you want?'

It was at this point that Bruno realised that all activity in the club had ceased. Racing had stopped, pints stood abandoned at the bar, Clint had pulled off his false beard, and Argent had clambered down from his ladder. Everyone was gathered round, listening to what the strange young lady had to say.

'Quite frankly, Mr Buno- I want money.'

'Aah well. I don't usually go for that sort of thing. I'm sorry- I misunderstood. It's not that I don't find you attractive....'
'Oh dear me no, Mr Bruno. I have things to sell- many things, things that I'm sure will interest you and all your friends. Let me start from the beginning...
I work- I work at... The Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls'

Uproar ensued.
'Those dirty ragamuffins! Those good-for-nothing thieving young tykes? What does she want with us? Money? I'm not giving money to those wastrels, season of goodwill or not! Everyone's trying to take advantage these days. Take your coat and go, young lady!'
A clamour of indignant voices rang in Brunos ears, but Lana caught his gaze in her sensuous blue eyes and something deep within him stirred.

'Wait, Wait everyone- hear her out. She's been brave coming here on this cold night, wearing naught but rags barely fit to cover her tender young body. At least let her finish her hot chocolate and listen to her story before turning her away on this bitter Christmas evening, lads!'
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Interesting start, tx.

Just for a second, I thought my daughter had made it on to SlotForum. " I want Money" then I realised it could not be her as "Lots of it" was missing.

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Great start howmet! Maybe you should take more bromide in your tea, although your descriptions of the female form always make good reading

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'Yes! Please hear me out, gentlemen and ladies!' Lana stood up, pulling the thin cotton of her dress tight across her heaving chest.
'You don't know what those poor unfortunate children are up against- orphaned, abused, unloved- they have had to fight for everything!'

'Yeah- well why do they have to do it in the town centre every night? They should stick to East Hamley where they belong' muttered Clint.

'Well, the Greta Garbo Home in East Hamley has very limited resources- especially now.' Lana was warming to her theme. Her chest still heaved with indignation, but her hands chopped the air, and she flung her head to clear her unruly blond locks from her impassioned eyes.
'Ever since our hard-hearted landlord, Mr Ecclestone, put up the rent by 2,000%- and just in time for Christmas! We are faced with a crisis, gentlemen and ladies of West Hamley. We need money to survive, to keep the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls open at all. If we should have to close our doors, the poor children would be back on the streets, and making even more of a nuisance of themselves in your fine town. But we came up with a plan between us, and that is why I came to you tonight- at the West Hamley Slot Car Club. I'm not asking for charity- I'm here to sell something which I hope you will want.'

'Steady Clint' said Coxie. 'I don't think she's finished yet'.

Lana continued, her flashing eyes catching Bruno's momentarily, and another button bursting from the flimsy top of her dress. 'We too had a thriving slot car club at the Greta Garbo Home. It was one of the few things that the kids had for themselves- one of the few distractions they had from their miserable circumstances. A fine layout, and a good stable of cars. But now we need the money, and the club has to close, so that we can pay Mr Ecclestone his 15,000 pieces of silver. Gloria Mundi has it all outside. If someone could help me in with it...'

'You mean you've left some other poor girl shivering outside in this cold weather?'
said Bruno, with an anxious catch in his voice.
'No- no- I mean our old van. It's a sick Transit. All our old club gear is packed in the back. If you could help unload it- there's an awful lot- perhaps you'd care to buy some of the bits and pieces from us?'

Lana was not short of volunteers. Bruno led the way and held the club door open for Lana, and threw his jacket around her bare shoulders as she stepped out into the snow. A dark blue and rust Transit stood beneath a crisp crust of snow, and the rear door fell off with a tinny crunch as Bruno touched the latch.
'Oops. Sorry.'

But inside, the van was piled high with boxes, grey, anonymous boxes that took the combined effort of all the club members a good half hour to unload.
Eventually the floor of the club was covered completely with grocery crates of various shapes and sizes, bursting at the seams with brightly coloured plastic and shining metal.

Lana stood back and said 'Help yourselves, gentlemen- I've no idea what any of it is worth, but I trust you to make a fair offer on anything you want.'
Eric was ripping at the corrugated card already. He dipped in a hand, and pulled out the first thing he touched. It was blue, an open wheeled car of some age. He turned it over under the club room lights.
'Good grief! I don't believe it! A Bugatti- it- it looks mint!'
He reached in with his other fist and pulled out a rather larger red sports car. A stumpy, agressive looking machine with rather attractive magnesium wheels. 'Cox Cheetah. Very nice. Used to have one of those myself. Always wanted to replace it.' Clint stroked his chin thoughtfully.
Lil Cooper-Archer bent over and had a rummage. The members were quite used to her strange habits. But they were not prepared for what they saw when she straightened herself up. In one hand she had a very nice MRRC Felday 4, in the other, a Scalextric 1/24 Ferrari F1.
Inspector Thumb pulled out his notebook, and started to scribble.
Claudia could hold back no longer. Staring into the open carton, She spotted one of her all-time favourite cars- a Monogram Lola mk.6. She sighed with pleasure as she cradled it in her hands. Quickly all the other club members had all the boxes open, and were scrimmaging through the contents, as new treasures appeared one after the other. A complete James Bond set. Some Russkit originals. A pink Cukras Mura motor, still in its packaging. H.J.Huckstetter jnr's 1969 West Hamley Open winning lexan M8A. Gasps of surprise turned to scowls, as the prospect of an all-out fight became clear.
It was Argent who nearly started it all. 'Ohh! A Scalextric Auto Union! I just love the shape of that car! I had one as a kid. I've missed it so much!'
'Yeah, but I saw it first' growled Spud. 'Not fair!' said Argent petulantly. 'I loved my one- it was just like that. Until some bully stole it from me at school! It even had that same scratch....'

'Yes' said Inspector Thumb, stepping forward into the light, and flipping his notebook shut. 'All these cars are registered with Scotland Yard's Slot Car Division stolen goods file. They are all nicked. That Blue Bugatti comes from the Queen's own collection at Buckingham Palace. It was stolen three years ago and never traced. That MRRC Merc W154 was part of a haul taken from Spendall's second hand collector's mart last November. And if I'm right, that Lil'Cucaracha was one that you yourself reported lost at the last West Hamley open, Clint.'

'Inspector- you're right! I'd recognise it anywhere!'

'How else would a bunch of penniless orphans acquire a priceless collection of historic cars? Miss Lois- you're under arrest!'

Bruno's eyes darted from Lana to the Inspector. Lana looked shocked. She was innocent, he was sure. He grabbed her wrist, and pulled her roughly to the door.
'Run for it!' he shouted.
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'Give me the keys!' he shouted, forcefully. Bruno dragged Lana out of the club and almost threw her into the passenger seat of the rusty Transit. He heard the unmistakeable sound of the tearing of thin fabric as her dress snagged on the ragged metal. Preoccupied with a quick getaway, he kept his eyes straight ahead and jammed the keys into the ignition. Whine-shudder-bark-cough. He tried again, the sweat beginnnig to form on his brow, despite the sub-zero temperatures. Whine-shudder-bark-cough. Fumes were building up in the foetid cabin. It was like sitting inside Puff the Magic Dragon after a night at the West Hamley Tandoori. Whine-shudder-bark-cough-belch. Then the engine caught suddenly, the twin rear wheels spun in the thin snow, and the sick Transit Gloria Mundi fish-tailed it's way down towards the Difflock by-pass on the way to East Hamley.

If Bruno had managed a glance in the rear-view mirror, he would have seen that his getaway was safe. Inside the West Hamley Slot Car Club, fifty grown men and women, several sharp-eyed kids and Derek the slot racing sheepdog were fighting like cats in a sack over the contents of Lana's boxes. It took a long time for all the cars, track and accessories to be correctly identified and returned to their rightful owners. The entire hoard had been filched from local collectors and racers over the past several years, bit by little bit. The total value was enormous- but most of the West Hamley racers were just glad to have their long-lost favourites back. While some tried to claim some of the more interesting rarities, Inspector Thumb set about the demanding task of making a full inventory, with an eye to a future arrest and prosecution. Which would do wonders for his career.

Five miles out of West Hamley, Bruno over-steered three-quarters of the way around the Little Sheldon roundabout, over-corrected for the East hamley exit and broadsided a high bank of drifted snow. Gloria Mundi coughed, and died. For the first time, Bruno turned to look at Lana, shivering in the passenger seat, gamely clinging to the last tatters of her floral print cotton dress.
'Um- sorry.'
'That's OK. You're doing your best to help.'
'Thanks, but.. I don't know what to do now.'
Lana began to shiver, and finally started to weep a little.
'You've been so good to me Bruno, but everything is lost now! The children have lost all their lovely cars, the Home has lost all its money, and Mr Ecclestone will surely close us down. He wants to turn the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls into a shopping mall. Then where will all my poor children go? I had no idea they'd taken those things. They meant no harm- just wanted something for themselves that they'd never have otherwise. Just a little thing here and there from people who wouldn't miss them, I'm sure. And they had such fun on that track. Now there is no future for them at all. What a bleak Christmas it will be!'
'Come on now, love. Buck up. We'll think of something. How far is it to the Home?'
'A few miles that way. But it's dark, and the snow's getting heavier. We'd never make it. Better to stay put here 'til light- or the snow stops.'
'It might be more comfortable to lie down in the back.'
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Brings back memories of my old Chevy van, like the time....... oops, never mind!

Keep it going Howmet!
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Back at West Hamley, Thumb and Argent had moved smoothly into action like a well-lubricated machine, a situation Argent was particularly comfortable with. Thumb had wrapped the place up with those stripey 'scene-of-crime' ribbons, which luckily fitted well with Argent's Christmas decor. No-one was allowed in or out of the club while all Lana's boxes were unpacked and the contents catalogued. Thumb had already used up several official Scotland Yard policeman's notebooks, and had had to send out for more, which had arrived in a fleet of wailing squad cars, which were now parked out in the snow with their blue roof lights flashing. The inspector's pencil was wearing down to the nub, and the pile of reports would have kept Roger Gilham in material for several years. Piles of cars, track, trackside buildings, pit stops, paddocks, LeMans starts and sundry spare parts were scattered all round the club room, which looked like Phil Smith's stock room after a mortar strike.
'How the heck did they manage to swipe all this stuff?' asked Barry in amazement. 'Tell the truth, I'd forgotten all about those Cucarachas I had. Nice to have them back though.'
Taff Rail was gazing mistily at a stack of vintage 50s cars- handcarved one-offs he vaguely recalled from his own workshop. He remembered building them now, but not when or where they'd gone. He was always too busy making new ones to bother much.
Burt Kaempfert ran his finger along the side of a couple of Cox Chaparrals he last raced- ooh- must be five years ago. Put 'em down trackside and wandered off for a beer. Never came back. It had bothered him for a few days, but then he'd been preoccupied with preparing his Cobra for the Farr Cup trophy meeting at the time.
Omar Gould had to be told about the growing pyramid of Ferraris. He didn't even know they'd gone from his private collection- didn't even recognise them at first. Inspector Thumb had to point out the matching reference numbers on his official Scotland Yard Slot Car Division stock lists. Omar had a standing order at Sean Spendall's to send every type and livery of Ferrari produced by any manufacturer- it was a bit of a thing with him. They all went straight into his massive strong room for safe-keeping; or so he'd thought.
Bernd Out was crying with joy, reunited with his fleet of Mercs. He had every racing model in both scales- two of each, one for racing, one for the collection. Checking in with the Inspector, he was a little surprised to find it had been two years since he'd last actually looked at the collection, normally housed in his loft, but now spread out before him on the floor of West Hamley Slot Car Club.

'Well' said Thumb with finality. 'I think we've got enough here to do them for burglary, theft, pick-pocketing, shop-lifting and breaking-and-entering, not to mention fraud, dishonest trading, and numerous slot car offences to be taken into consideration. Let's go get them, Argent!'

'Wait a minute, Inspector' said Claudia, still looking at her gorgeous little Monogram Lola. She was still shocked that she had not missed it. It was such a beautiful model, and she had such fond racing memories of it, but yet... she hadn't given it a thought for years. Not even known it was gone. Until now. It was nice to have it back, of course, but still....
Her thoughts came into focus. 'How will you know who to arrest, Inspector. There are dozens of children at the home. Are they all guilty? Or was it one criminal mastermind organising the whole thing? Or was it just a lot of lively but deprived kids looking for a hobby? You can't just throw the entire Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls into jail, can you?'
'She's got a point, Inspector' said Argent.
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The snow kept falling through the night. As it covered the sick Transit, it slowly insulated Lana and Bruno from the world outside. It grew warmer inside as it grew darker outside, and the snow covered the cab, the windscreen and the side windows. Lana and Bruno got to know each other well.
After Lana had stirred Bruno from his sleep for the fifth time, they became aware of a tapping at the door. A hand wiped the snow away in an arc, and there in the clear morning light was old Mother Madgewick, a tray of tea and hot buttered crumpets in her hand.
The Transit had come to rest right outside her cottage on the Loose Chippings Road. 'Here', she said. 'I've been a-watchin' you two young sports since late last night. Fair reminded me of when I first met Pa Madgewick in that hay-loft back in 1934. You must be starving after all that exertion. You'll be needin' summat warm to wrap up in young miss. Take my old overcoat. East Hamley's just a mile away down the road. You'll be home in no time.'

And so they were. The world seemed a friendlier place, peaceful and snug in its blanket of snow, as they walked arm-in-arm through the morning air. But Lana had a rude shock when they finally walked into the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls at ten in the morning.
Lana was virtually mobbed by a hoard of pale children , dressed in rags and tatters.
'How much did yer get?' 'Did they like 'em?' 'Will we be all right now, Lana?'
The chorus of expectant young voices brought a lump to Bruno's throat.
'And who's he?' they called, pointing rudely in his direction.
'I'm afraid it didn't go quite as we planned' said Lana.
The voices calmed to a murmer.
'You should have told me how you got all those things. They weren't really ours to sell, were they?'
Bruno watched as the children glanced at one another, avoiding Lana's eye.
'We didn't think anyone would know,' said one, from beneath the hood of his sweatshirt.
'They mightn't have- if only Inspector Thumb hadn't been there' said Bruno.

Howls of anguish rent the air. Dozens of pale, thin kids wrapped themselves around Lana for comfort. 'Whatever will we do now? Mr Ecclestone is coming round for his rent tomorrow. We'll never be able to pay him! And we'll never be able to have a slot race again!' The last remark brought great sobs and groans from all present.
Bruno felt the sudden need to do something decisive, something that would give the kids hope on this dreadful day. A vague idea formed in his head. It was only half an idea, but it was as far as he could get.
'How much money have you got left, Lana? What have we got in the kitty to save the Greta Garbo Home from closure?'
'I still have the £60 for this week's rent. It'll do no good at all, because Mr Ecclestone is demanding £6,000 for next week.'
'Give it to me. Now' said Bruno. 'I have a cunning plan.'
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I just know it will have a happy ending, with your Cunningham plan.

Happy Christmas John.

Back at West Hamley, the club was still in a mess. Clouds of fingerprint powder billowed to and fro, as Thumb, Argent and a forensic team from Scotland Yard's Slot Car Division dusted 2,142 cars, 1,978 track pieces, 720 trackside buildings and 3,251 sundry items for prints. The entire membership of the club, sustained by a dwindling supply of Mrs. H's pasties, stood in an increasingly fractious queue to have their own dabs recorded and eliminated from the enquiry.
Only Thumb was truly happy, giving orders, taking control of a major crime scene, muttering into his mobile phone, and visualising the citation and promotion at the end of a successfully concluded case. He was determined to nail the delinquent slot-car thieves of East Hamley, whoever- and how many they might be. And before Christmas if possible. 'Chief Inspector' he muttered to himself, feeling the place on his arm where the extra stripes would fit. 'Oh-is he here? I'd better smarten myself up' said Argent. 'No- no. I'm in charge. Get on with the prints' Thumb replied quickly. 'You'd better get a female officer to deal with Lil, Claudia and the other ladies. No- on second thought, you'll do, Argent.'
Coxie was trying his best to keep the members in good humour, but it was difficult. They'd been in the club for 48 hours straight now, and Mrs. H was having to water down the gravy to keep the pasties coming. And it hadn't gone unnoticed. People were looking for a scapegoat, and they settled on Bruno.

'How come he's galivanting off across town with that under-dressed bint, while we're stuck in here?' 'Yeah what's he got going there, eh? We've been set-up!' 'He did take off a bit sharpish, didn't he?''That Lana Lois- she's got something to hide, that's for sure!' 'Well, she wasn't making a very good job of it.' 'And I bet Bruno's found it.' 'Yeah- the dog!'
'If I see another pastie, I'm going to hurl.' 'Yeah- and I bet Bruno's having a nice little cosy breakfast right now- in bed!'

In fact, Bruno was waiting at the no.132 bus stop outside the Greta Garbo Home, reading the graffiti, holding his collar up against the swirling snow, and trying to put the last bit of his master plan in place. He dare'nt go back to West Hamley, he realised that. He had Lana's £60 in his pocket, and he had to do the right thing. It was the last chance for the poor orphans of the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls. He choked involuntarily as he thought of the miserable kids he'd met that morning- Brad Spit, moody and rebellious- but then the poor lad had a lot to rebel against. Acey Diode, orphaned son of the brilliant physicists Prof and Mrs Prof Diode, who'd blown themselves up in that tragic domestic atom-smashing accident. Delroy Cardigan and Red Corpuscle, abandoned love-children of a travelling Reggae band. Des Modromic, misunderstood genius son of the mad mechanic Dick Modromic, killed chasing a loose wing nut down the Mulsanne Straight in '73. All of them felt like his own family already, thanks to Lana's angelic influence.

He pulled his thoughts quickly into focus as the bus slewed to a stop in a spray of slush. He got on board, and bought himself a ticket that would get him to Harry Hobbs' Hobby Heaven in the high street. He prayed that it would be open, and that Harry had the parts he needed. If he couldn't go back to the Club and get his own pit-box, then he just had to do some hard bargaining with Harry.

Half an hour later he was home, with a fist-full of motors, some axles and some gears. All of Lana's money was gone. There was no way back- he had to make this plan work. At least the bit of it that he'd thought of so far. He scouted around his workshop, and pulled the things he wanted- dremel, soldering iron, router, casting resins- ticking off a mental check list, he piled it all into a trunk, and dragged it across the icy pavement. Another 132 was providentially waiting at the bus stop. He'd be back at the Home by lunch time, he thought.
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I really enjoy these stories, I just know this is going to end really well.

At the club, the atmosphere was turning dark. The smell of pasties, the clouds of fingerprint powder, the endless queues to put an inky dab on a Scotland Yard Slot Car Division file would try the patience of a three-toed sloth. Two whole days had passed without a wheel turning on the track, while Thumb endlessly processed, filed and recorded the heaps of precious slot racing equipment scattered across the floor. What was even more frustrating to the members was that most of the stuff was theirs- old cars lost and forgotten long ago, discarded sections of track, obsolete chassis and tired motors. They wanted to get their hands on their own stuff, pack it away and get home for Christmas. But the ever-officious Inspector Thumb and his crew of cronies wouldn't let them. 'Not one piece of evidence leaves- or enters this room until I have got this case tidied up, and names to put on the arrest warrant!' he barked.
The knives were well and truly out for Bruno. To the rest of the club, he was a traitor, an opportunist. His pit box and a little stack of cars was gathering dust in the corner, and several jealous members had implied the ever present danger of an accident involving a blow-torch and the unattended pit-box.
Coxie reckoned it was time to try and defuse the situation. 'Derek! How about your Karaoke routine? We havn't seen that for a long time. Let's get a party going!'
Derek did not need asking twice. Loping up to a high stool at the corner of the Members+ Bar, he jumped up, tucked his tail neatly under his back legs, and sparked up a filter-tip. With the first blow of tobacco smoke stinging his eyes, he pulled the mike off the stand, and held it close to his snout, at the same time flicking a switch on the karaoke machine with his left paw.
'Ladeez an' gennulmen' he said in a low mid-atlantic growl which he cultivated for these performances. 'I'd like to sing an old, old favourite of mine, first recorded by a great admirer of sheepdogs, 'Gennulman' Jim Reeves hisself. I hope you like it. I know my first girlfriend did. We have the pups to prove it.' He gave a mild, hiccupping bark that pased for an ironic laugh, and broke into song just as the soft saxes finished their taped intro.

'Put your sweet lips a little closer to my bone
Let's pretend we're together...'

'Oh! I love the sound of that!' squealed Sergeant Argent, fanning fingerprint powder in all directions. 'Gaaah! What are you doing, Sergeant! That's twenty five different liveried Fly Marcos' we'll have to dust all over again!' yelled Thumb. 'Stop this. Stop this now! We have work to do! You'd ALL better start taking this seriously if you want us to nail those delinquent kids from the Greta Garbo Home for once and for all!'
Claudia turned slowly to the red-faced Inspector Thumb. 'Do you know, Inspector? I don't think I do.'
So saying, she calmly reached forward, picked up her beloved old Monogram Lola Mk6 G.T., blew the fingerprint powder off it, and ripped her way through the protective Police Crime Scene tape to the front door.
'Happy Christmas, everyone. Don't forget it's the season of goodwill, guys!' she called over her shoulder as she strode off towards town.
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Good old Jim Reeves! I'll have to play some to my missus although I doubt she knows who he is.
My Mum's got a box set of Jim's albums somewhere; yep vinyl ones!!

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Bruno's trunk wouldn't fit on the bus, though. He shielded his eyes against the glare of the snow and surveyed the road back to the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls. It was a long haul. He slid his belt off, lashed it through the handle of the trunk, and began to pull. Once started, it wasn't too bad on the crusted ice. He trudged forward, his breath forming great clouds before him, his stomach gnawing from hunger, the trunk slithering behind him. By the time he passed Monogram Avenue, icicles had begun to form on his eyebrows. At Carrera Street, his earlobes were throbbing. Past Ninco Gardens, the stabbing pain in his forehead became almost too much too bear. Cars swept past him, spraying him with fresh ice and slush. As he turned the corner of Fly Street, the full force of a blizzard caught him chest-on. Only the thought of Lana's arms, and the poor, poor slot racing deprived kids waiting at the home kept him going. They were depending on him. He was their last chance. He urged himself onward. What would the great Fergie of the North do? he pondered. This was his sort of territory. Disembowell a walrus and warm himself in it's pelt, probably. He looked around. No walruses. A stray dog cowered in an alley off Revell Close. Probably a friend of Derek's. He couldn't possibly...
But it was thoughts like this that kept Bruno going until he finally reached the Greta Garbo home, snow and ice six inches thick covering his whole body, his teeth chattering uncontrollably, and icicles like garden rakes hanging from his eyebrows.
Lana and the kids gathered round him excitedly. 'What did you do?' 'What have you got?' 'What is your plan?'
Pumped with testosterone, Bruno flexed his tired muscles one last time and cracked off his thick coating of ice. 'My plan? My plan is to get this place going again! Trust me kids. I need two work parties. Hey- Brad! Brad, you round up some of the kids, get down to old Gloria Mundi, and strip her. We want the batteries, all the electrical system, any aluminium and steel panels you can rip off the bodywork- anything you can peel off her. She's had it, but she can still play a part in the Home's revival. OK Brad? Get going!' 'Sure, Mr Bruno. All I needed was a purpose- an aim in life to keep me out of petty crime and vandalism. I'm on it! C'mon guys!'
'Great stuff. Now I want another crew to help out here. You lad- what's your name?'
'My name's Jack, and I live in the back..'
'OK, OK- Jack, round up some more kids and come with me.'
Bruno started wandering around the Home, tapping the walls and scratching with his fingertips. 'Here. This'll do nicely. Solid MDF. Already got a nice thick coat of grey paint. Jack- I want this partition wall down. You'll need crowbars, jemmies...'
A kid with funny old hair piped up. 'Got plenty of those, boss. I keep 'em under my bed for breaking and entering. But that's all behind me now- you've inspired me to follow the straight-and-narrow, sir!'
'Good man!' said Bruno.
Lana looked at him, puzzled. 'Bruno- are you sure you know what you're doing? You've taken the last of our money, now you're pulling the place down- will this really save the home?'
'Trust me, Lana. I do know what I'm doing. Well at least half of it. But I'm too busy to talk now. We've got work to do- Hey- you, you with your hands on your head! Can you handle a router? And you- what's your name- Melody Mend? You sure look pretty to me. But do you think you can lay your hands on a whole lot of aluminium cooking foil? Anyone here know any geometry?'
A skinny looking lad pushed forward through the crowd. 'Yeah. I'm McGoolies. Always had a knack for geometry, so they call me Helix. Helix McGoolies. What can I do for you?'
Bruno scratched out a rough diagram on the lino floor. 'Something like this, I think.' Helix McGoolies' eyes widened with delight. 'You got it boss!'

By the evening, Brad Spitt had returned with his wrecking crew and all the parts of poor old Gloria Mundi in a couple of wheelbarrows, to find a six lane raceway already up in the rec room. All it needed was the power from Gloria's battery. And some cars.
'Man!' said Brad, high-fiving Bruno with enthusiasm. 'But what we gonna race?'
'That's where you come in, Brad. In my trunk you'll find a lathe, a dremel, everything we need. Those bits of Gloria's bodywork will make up into some good chassis. We can turn up some wheels from this aluminium bar... I'm going to teach you kids that you don't need money to go slot racing! We can build it all ourselves! All that expensive gear, all those collector's ready-mades you left at West Hamley? You don't need it! Here- half-a dozen Puma Evo-12s, some 36 tooth gears- that's the only thing I got at Harry Hobbs'- but it's all we need!'

'Are you sure, Bruno?' A breathy voice came from the hall. Everyone turned to see Claudia Schiffer framed in the doorway, her glossy PVC trenchcoat collar still turned up high and white snow on her shoulders after the long walk from West Hamley. 'I think this might help you fellows...'
She held in her hand her precious Monogram Lola G.T.
'What were you going to do for bodyshells? Tyres?'

'Claudia, Claudia! Thank heavens! It's so good to see you!' Bruno yelled, and kissed her on both cheeks. Lana's eyes narrowed. 'Yeah- I have to admit I was a bit stuck on that one- I havn't really got the WHOLE plan worked out, but that's fantastic! May we?'
'Of course. Go ahead.'
In a few seconds, Bruno had popped the top of the Lola and stripped it down.
'Acey- in my trunk... a couple of cans of silicone rubber- and those catalyst bottles. Now I'll need some help here. Lana- any mixing pots we can use in the kitchen?'

The next day they were racing again. The whole of the Greta Garbo Home were back at the track, as if the last week had all been a dream- or a nightmare. Six little resin cast Lolas sped wheel-to-wheel on their freshly moulded silicone tyres, powered by the hot little Puma motors in steel flex-o-floppy chassis of a design cooked up between Bruno, Helix, and Acey Diode. The track, until recently the wall of the canteen, was propped up on old trestle tables, and provided a fast, but challenging course with plenty of radius changes and some wonderful long tail-out curves. The kids were happy. So Lana was happy. So Bruno was happy. Claudia? Well, Claudia could get back to modelling any time she wanted, earn the money to pick up another Monogram Lola, but somehow she didn't feel the need. Here was good. She'd done a good thing. What a Christmas!

'The orchestra played on while the ship went down, eh?' A rasping little voice cut through the excited atmosphere like an electric carving knife through a turkey. Bruno spun round and saw no-one. Then he felt a tug at his waist band, and he looked downward. A tiny, gnarled, grey-headed old man in wire-rimmed spectacles glared up at him.
'Rent's due tomorrow. If you don't have it, the bulldozers will be in on the 27th. Just thought you needed a little reminder.'
'Mr Ecclestone! No! You can't do this! Have you no heart? Can't you see the love the children have put into all this?' Lana was on her knees, sobbing.
'The answers are yes, I can, no, and no. It is of no consequence to me.' £6,000 tomorrow.... or the Greta Garbo Home for Wayward Boys and Girls is history!'
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I'm eagerly awaiting the finish, Howmet!

Why do I keep thinking about weasel soup?
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'It's alright, Mr Ecclestone. Bruno has a plan. We're not really worried.' said Lana, getting off her knees. 'Havn't you Bruno?'

Bruno shifted a little uncomfortably. 'Well, uh- half a plan to be absolutely precise.'
'What are you talking about, Bruno? You took our money, tore down the walls- exactly which half of the plan are we dealing with here?'

'Well, Lana- I could see the kids needed a track- you can't have Christmas without slot racing, can you? I mean that is the most important thing in life, isn't it? The bit about Mr Ecclestone closing down the Home and turning it into a supermarket- well. Um. I don't know how you're going to cope with that one, actually.'

Lana started sobbing again, and Claudia put her arms around her for comfort. In the embarrassing silence the gang noticed that Ecclestone was muttering to himself, and fussing idly with the cars on the track. 'Huh. Slot racing. Complete waste of time and money. I owned a whole chain of raceways in the 70s. Came to nothing. Had to close them all and turn them into coffee shops. The most pointless activity I ever encountered.'

'WHAT DID YOU SAY?' roared Bruno, incensed. 'Slot racing- pointless? And and and- it was YOU that closed down all my favourite raceways? YOU? You little runt! Why- can't you see what a few days with these cars have done for these poor, sad deprived kids? It's given them a sense of purpose- team work, skills, friendly competition. They've achieved things they'd never thought themselves capable of- creating things- not thieving them for a change. There's been no graffitti spraying or hubcap stealing in West Hamley for the last week, I'll guarantee that Mr pea-sized Ecclestone!

'Hah- you self-deluding fool! You think this puny little track would keep them off the streets for more than a few days?' Ecclestone retorted. 'Why- my raceways were the finest imported American tracks, eight lanes, high banking, 180 feet. The people couldn't keep their interest in them long enough for me to even triple my profits. It's all a passing fad. there's no money in it.'

'Money? Profits? Is that all that concerns you, Mr Ecclestone?' Bruno was on a roll now. He'd never thought of himself as an orator before. Still didn't now. 'Why, this is all about Love, Mr Ecclestone, not profit. You have to nurture it, let it blossom, let it grow, give it time, and something to strive for. Why, these children are just beginners now, but with patience and dedication... You know, I've just thought of- I mean remembered part two of my plan. We're going to challenge West Hamley at their Boxing Day Open Meeting. I was going to train these guys up into the hottest race team in Countyshire, cream those blinkered old fools at West Hamley and invest all our winnings in new track and equipment!'

'Hah! Not much of a plan, Mr Bruno. For one thing- your team of ne'er-do-wells don't have ten pound note's chance in hades of beating the most experienced team in the whole country. And for another thing, your track here is going to be running bulldozers, not slot cars, tomorrow!'

'We could take 'em, Mr Ecclestone. We have the passion- the hunger! Don't we kids?'
'Yeah. I fink so.' said young Des Modromic from under his hood.

'Is that the best you can do?' Ecclestone was almost laughing now. 'Tell you what, Mr Bruno. 'Just for my own entertainment- and I really want to see this- here's my personal challenge. I'll hold off my buldozers until the 27th. And you take on West Hamley- on their home track- at their Boxing Day Open Meeting. If you win, this dump is yours to keep. I take my 'dozers home and hand you the deeds. No more rent. You will never see or hear from me again. If you lose...' here the diminutive grey figure unleashed a deep throated roar of demonic laughter that seemed to come from the very bowells of hell itself- 'If you lose, you are all mine! Mine for all eternity!

'You're on!' said Bruno.
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