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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
First time visitors to West Hamley always ask about the wiggly tapes running round our magnificent eight-lane routed club track. The answer comes, usually, each July, when the club goes Le Mans mad. For years we have been running our event parallel to the real action in France, following all the rules of class, qualifying and racing. The whole town gets into it- the bunting comes out, the Mayor struts around, pavement cafes double the price of their barm cakes, and a vast trickle of slot tourists brings a brief but detectable surge to the local economy.
But to get back to the wiggly tapes. To reproduce the essential, defining chaos of the real Le Mans, Eric Smedley came up with the idea of a sixteen lane track, oh- it must be twenty years ago today, about the time Sgt. Pepper taught the club band to play. And how do you convert an eight lane track to a sixteener? Simple. You rout extra slots that wimble and wamble between and across the main lanes, involving numerous cross-overs on each lap, and dedicate these to the smaller classes- Index of Thermal Efficiency, Junior club racers, etc etc. So the West Hamley 24 hours is the most authentic slot race I know of. Qualify your scratchbuilt G.T. or Prototype, but beware- throughout the race you will be dodging Citroen Saxos and Porsche 911s driven with enthusistic unpredictability, and dogged slowness. It's great! Of course, once the carnival is over for another year, we tape over the extra slots, and the track reverts to its normal eight lanes for our regular bouts of club racing, mystery, murder and intrigue, presided over by our long-serving secretary, Coxie Cooper-Archer, his buxom and energetic wife Lil' Cooper-Archer, and of course the regular team of Inspector Thumb and his right-hand man, Sergeant Argent, of Scotland Yard's Slot Car Division.
Thumb played an unwitting but pivotal role in the unfurling story of this year's race. We missed the July date to run the race in tandem with its Sarthe counterpart because Thumb, Argent and I were unexpectedly diverted in Denmark by a somewhat grisly and breathless adventure, leaving behind us a trail of corpses and broken hearts, not to mention shattered and blown slot cars. But you all know the slot racing game; it's beautiful but it's tough, and someone has to suffer. So very thoughtfully, Coxie agreed to break the twenty year tradition and delay the race until late October, a decision he was later to regret.....
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Well; the rest of it?
We began with the usual scrutineering and practice session. We had entries from as far afield as East Hamley, and North by North West Hamley, which is some considerable distance along the bridle path, so everything had to be dealt with within the spirit of the actual race. That is, our scrutineers 'Anal' Alan Anorak, Millie Metre and Don 'Split' Hares went through the ritual of rejecting all the foriegn entries in the first round. Of course this is an honourable tradition which everyone respects. Those who have entered before take the trouble of building in some infinitesimally small rule infringement just to give Anal, Mille and Don something to pit their wits against. Missing wing mirrors, inauthentic wheel inserts, inaccurate helmet colours, unmatched lead wires- that sort of thing. The trouble is, if you DO manage to produce a car that the scrutineers can't find a fault with, they tend to vent their frustration with the steel stamp. It only says 'Pass', but it is very large, and is struck onto the chassis of a succesful car. With a large hammer.
Coxie sets the rules for 'Index of Performance' and 'Index of Thermal Efficiency' every year, and keeps them to himself. No-one quite understands what it all means, but the prize generally seems to go to the team that has bought him the most refreshments over the race week-end. Ecurie National Belch had a good stab at it one year when they installed a small hot water bottle in the driver's compartment. Coxie later explained that the Index has to be won by a car with French connections, and the Belch team had fatefully chosen a Ferrari 250 as their prototype, even though it was decorated in the official colours of puke pink.
Team Audie-Doodie, Gulf-Tired, Aspirin-Martin, and Doomed-Judd all passed this phase with ease, being West Hamley Teams, all strongly fancied for overall victory. And having treated all the officials to a curry the week before.
With sixteen lanes, sixteen teams were up to qualify. With lots of classes- LMP1 down to 4, GT, GTS, GTT, GTU, everyone is up for some sort of trophy. But in qualifying, the fastest eight teams take their choice of the main lanes, and the remainder take the winding lanes, starting a car's length behind. Their main function is to get in the way of the cocky bastards driving the hot scratchbuilts in front.
It was shaping up to be a memorable race. With the clock ticking towards four o'clock on the evening of 30th October, sixteen cars waited at the start line. Sixteen drivers stood at the podium, just beginning to get a flavour of how that rather overcrowded and intimate space would- uh- smell- after 24 hours of fevered, adrenaline fuelled activity and snatched and poorly digested meals.
Then the clock stopped ticking. 'Damn' said Coxie Cooper-Archer. 'I meant to have that thing checked at the menders.' 'What do we do now?' said all the drivers and all the teams in unison. 'Not to worry' said the voice of authority. Inspector Thumb reached inside his voluminous trenchcoat pocket, and withdrew his Walkie Talkie. 'I'll call the station. They can count us down to the start. And I'll get them to send the local beat constable round at hourly intervals to give us a time check. You lot are lucky I'm a man of influence. Yes? Hello? West Hamley Nick? Yes. Thumb here. I want P.C. World round here on the hour every hour until this race is finished. Understand? Good. Now what's the time? Four o'clock precisely? Blimey! GO GO GO!'

It was the start. But by no means the end....
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
At the first lane change after three hours of cut and thrust racing, Inspector Thumb was in a clear lead, despite being on the unpopular cerise lane. We figured that it was the old tortoise and hare trick; Thumb was putting the heat on the opposition in attempt to burn them out, whilst Argent would take over for the next stint and cool things down. But it didn't happen that way. When Argent approached the driver's podium Thumb snarled at him. With the Bentley Speed 8 replaced on aubergine, Thumb still held tightly on to his trusty MRRC throttle, a bizarre gleam in his eyes.
During the next stint, the overtaking became perilous. An Isetta bubble car, going for the Index of Inappropriateness award, went belly up under the flyover, causing a multiple pile-up. Somehow, Thumb avoided the carnage at Arnage, and increased his already dominant lead. At hourly intervals, P.C. World checked in on his regular beat and announced the time so that the race officials could keep the charts in order. The club clock remained still, uselessly stuck at 3:55. P.C. World's visits were becoming vital to the progress of the race, as various smoking cars dived into the pits for fettling and major repair work. But the Bentley continued it's relentless pace. Was this to be Thumb's year? The stare of intense concentration on his face grew stranger and stranger- more inhuman with every lap. His body was stiffening, and a slight tremor was evident to the drivers either side of him on the stand. At the second changeover, Argent lifted the car from aubergine lane to magnolia, but couldn't prise the controller from Thumb's hand. Six hours of solid racing- the man was transfixed. Was he going to do the full 24 hours on his own? P.C. World popped his head round the door- 'Ten o'clock and all's well!' 'Thanks, constable' replied Coxie Cooper-Archer from race control. Then another visitor burst into the room. It was the local G.P., Dr. Feelgood. He seemed to be in a bit of a tizz. He rushed toward the podium. 'Inspector- Inspector!' Thumb responded with another snarl, and a twitch that shuddered across his face like a minor earthquake. 'Inspector Thumb! Have you been taking those sinus tablets as I told you?' Dr. Feelgood asked with a trace of panic in his voice. 'Of course' Thumb replied curtly. 'Six tablets every two hours as you said. They seem to be working. I feel terrific!' 'My God! I meant two every six hours, Thumb. And on top of that I gave you the wrong bottle. Great heavens- that means that Motorhead are doing a 50-date tour of Scandinavia on Anadin! Lemmy and the boys will never make it!' With that, the doctor rushed away, leaving the madly twitching figure of Thumb, his ashen skin beginning to pour with sweat, powering a hand-tuned Bentley Speed 8 with monotonous regularity across the path of eight swerving and panicking Porsche 911s.
'Eleven o'clock, lads! Keep it up!' P.C.World made his regular contribution. But just as he left, Adrian and Norman ran screaming into the clubroom. 'The dinner ladies! The dinner ladies! They're all dead! Murder, murder most horrible!'
Thumb seemed unmoved, transfixed by the progress of his Bently around the track, swooping past slower cars and maintaining a stranglehold on the race. It was Argent who took control of the scene in the canteen. 'It's a hideous sight, sir. It's Mrs Wilson, Kepple and Betty. They seem to have died of multiple stab wounds. Although it's hard to tell. They were serving tomato soup and chicken tikka masala at the time, and the pans have split all over them. It's a mess, sir. You can't tell the food from the... You know what I mean. But the worst thing is the lobsters.' 'What do you mean, Argent?' asked Coxie. 'The lobsters, Mr Cooper-Archer. They were going to be the main course tonight. They were being kept alive in that big tank behind the counter. Betty must have grabbed it as she went down. Pulled it over, and spilt the lobsters. They must have crawled all over the bodies with their big pincers snapping, tearing- excuse me- I feel faint. All in all, there's not a lot left for Forensic to piece together, sir.'
Thumb stirred briefly from his trance-like state. 'Shut up, Argent. There's a race to win. Arrest the Vicar and let's get on with it.'
'The Vicar sir? He's driving on peuce lane!'
'I know that you fool. But look at his boots! Take him down, Argent.'
'Eleven o'clock, gents!'
P.C. World's inocuous face appeared again at the door. 'We need your handcuffs, Constable' said Argent. 'Arrest the Vicar!'
'Blimey! But why?'
'Yes, Inspector Thumb' interrupted Coxie '... why the Vicar?'
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Thumb growled again. 'I told you. His boots. Arrest him quickly before he does any more damage.'
Even as he spoke, the veins on Thumb's neck were throbbing, and his complexion white. Yet still he wouldn't yield his controller as his Bentley whistled on into the night, headlights blazing and scaring the bejasus out of the weaving Morgans and Renaults in the smaller classes.
Everyone glanced at the Rev. Counter's 16-hole Doc Martens. The vicar calmly thumbed his own XJR, trying to look unselfconcious.
'Look at his boots!' yelled Thumb. 'The toe-caps! There's ketchup all over them. Retractable blades in the toe-caps. An old dodge.'
'Hah! So I spilt some ketchup! What of it? And I need the toe cap blades for self defence. The Sunday Evensong congregation can get pretty nasty. Standard issue for priests these days. Didn't you know?'
'AAAAAAARRRRRGGGH!' screamed Lil Cooper-Archer. 'The lobster! Look at the lobster!'
A large blue crustacean was crawling up the Rev. Counter's leg. As we stared in disbelief, it's waving pincers suddenly made contact. The left sliced cleanly through the vicar's controller lead. The right sunk into his soft undercarriage.
The vicar took his turn to scream. As 'Big' Mal Function removed the giant shellfish with his extending lever-action marshall's grabber, the Reverend broke down.
'All right, all right! I did it. But they had it coming- the witches! If I've told them once I've told them a thousand times about serving meat on a Friday!'
At that moment, P.C. World arrived on his regular hourly check-up. Before he could say a word, Argent had his cuffs on the vicar, and was escorting the triple murderer and the constable out of the club. 'But sir!' called World, as he ducked into the patrol car, 'I've some important information- it's about the clock, sir!'
'Later, World. Just take the vicar to the cells. And throw away the key!' Barked Thumb, his right thumb still bouncing to a manic rhythm on the plunger of his MRRC. 'One less car to beat' he muttered to himself.
True enough. The 'Holy Rollers', the team the vicar ran with his curate, Rev.Vell, was now well and truly out of the running.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 ·
It took some time for the debris to be cleared up in the canteen. Partly it was the queue of ambulances, partly the queue of hungry slot racers needing refuelling. Early in the morning is when the hunger pangs hit, and a few of the teams were showing signs of weakness. But not Thumb. He ploughed on remorselessly, his Bentley diving through the traffic, the blinding walls of headlights swerving this way and that down the straights proving no obstacle to the eyes of the Inspector, which were by now reduced to needle-thin slits. His teeth were grinding audibly, making a noise like a knicker-salesman's Vauxhall Astra. 'Get me my pills, Argent' he yelled.
It was then that a pointy policeman's helmet poked around the door. But it was not P.C.World's. 'Evening all,' said Constable Nandrilone. 'Where's World?' asked Argent. 'Oh- he's gone off duty now. But he told me about the race. I'm to check in and let you know the time on the hour, every hour until four this afternoon, right?' 'That's about it, constable' Argent replied. 'So what is the time?' 'Two o'clock and all's well.' The cheery bobby tipped his helmet, saluted and left.
Just as a hydroplane lurched off the River Ickx at high speed, shot up the slipway across the road from the clubhouse, and flew past the track, it's shrieking propellors clawing at thin air and a crew of stubble headed thugs in spurious military uniforms loosening off AK-47s in all directions. A grappling iron shot out and wrapped itself around the track supports, but it didn't slow down the progress of the flying speedboat. The entire track jolted, the legs now flattened, and slid crazily to floor level. Miraculously, the cars kept running. Thumb retained his lead, while a flurry of Ferraris slammed into the wall at White House.
The hydroplane continued it's arc through the clubroom and slammed through the opposite wall, finally crashing down onto the Great Hamley-Pendle canal on the other side of the road. The powerful motors, finally finding water to kick against, threw up a wall of claggy stagnant water that seemed to freeze in position like potter's slip. The boat shot off in the direction of Lower Gilham, the throaty cries of the crew in gutteral foreign tones merging with the gunfire, and a final thump as they dropped a mortar shell on the church hall.
'What was that all about?' Coxie Cooper-Archer seemed momentarily confused as he returned his concentration to the lap charts. 'Team Slot-Pigs- that's Inspector Thumb and Sergeant Argent, are now two hundred and fifty five laps ahead on magenta lane, although I have no record of a driver change. Are you alright there, Inspector?'
'Shut up and pass me those pills....'
Whatever Thumb was going to say next was drowned out by a roaring sound above. A dark patch appeared in the now poorly-supported clubhouse roof and began to smoke. Then a circle of flame burst through, and an athletic-looking man in a dinner suit and personal jet-pack landed in the infield.
'Forgive me', he said, as he unbuckled his equipment and made unbridled love to Lil Cooper-Archer. 'The name's Pond, James Pond. Has anyone seen a boatload of terrorists pass this way lately? It would be rather convenient if I could catch up with them before they detonate the nuclear device they have hidden under the Guagemaster warehouse.' 'Yes, yes!' squeaked Lil. 'They went thataway! Take me with you, please!' 'I'm sorry, my dear. There is only room for one in my jet pack. But I shall return.'
With that, he strapped his afterburners on again, and disappeared the way he entered, leaving the shattered and smoking shell of West Hamley Slot Car Club shuddering on it's foundations.
'Morning all. Six o'clock, as I live and breathe.' It was the cheery voice of P.C. Nandrilone. 'Oh dear oh dear. What's been going on here then?'
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
'Well, as it happens, Team Slot-Pig are still in the lead, with three hundred laps on Audie-Doodie on magnolia lane. We have three retirements, the Isetta of Team Ing, the Girl-power team Spice, and the Holy Rollers- due to a triple murder charge. And it seems as if Inspector Thumb is intending to do the full 24 hours solo, without any refreshment or relief.' Coxie snapped his attention back to the lap charts, leaving P.C. Nandrilone somewhat bemused. 'I was thinking more about the charred roof, the two blown out walls and the fact that the track seems to be resting on the floor- I seem to remember it was about waist height last time I checked in.'
'I wouldn't worry about that, Constable. We're on a record pace, and if your man's Bentley stays in one piece, we're about to make history!'
It has to be said that Inspector Thumb's driving began to get a bit erratic at this stage. He was by now in a semi-delusional state, believing that everything was in fact perfectly normal, the club was in one piece, and the interruptions had been a figment of his imagination. But the real result was that the Bentley's lead was ebbing away, and team Audie-Doodie, with their carefully planned race strategy of changing drivers, tyres and braids every now and again, might actually pay off. If there were no further interruptions, they might yet take the prize.
As if. No further interruptions, I mean. Just before noon, there was a yelp from the driver's rostrum as the Ecurie Team Scuderia Equipe de Frimley got in some anticipatory retaliation on the Sad-U-Like Panoz driver to his left. The Panoz was at the time skidding under the Dunlop bridge sideways and upside down- although admitted it is hard to tell the orientation of a Panoz under the best of circumstances- just as the Frimley Fahrt-wagen arrived at the same place on one of the more notorious cross-overs. Two plastic and steel projectiles became one, and the Frimley driver applied the necessary correction- an elbow applied briskly to the nose of his rival.
Coxie was called in to separate the warring teams- nerves by this time were shredded all around- and sent the two rivals into the changing rooms to cool off.
All the time, team Audie Doodie were eating into Thumb's lead, slowly but surely, as the Inspector's car would stop dead in the middle of the Mulsanne, then suddenly jerk away into a sickening slide through the chicane. How it stayed on the track no-one could explain, but no-one by now was taking bets on its survival, let alone final victory. Thumb appeared to have an entirely different and smaller circuit in his head to the one he was actually driving.
Shortly after P.C. Nandrilone popped into announce the passing of two o'clock, enquiries began to be heard concerning the non-reappearance of Lee Shore, the Sad-U-Like driver whose nose had come into contact with the Frimley driver's elbow earlier. The Panoz was back on track, in the hands of another team driver, but 'Box' Stan Dard was nowhere to be seen. Until his dead body was found in the gent's toilet, that is.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
'He's been garotted' said Argent, grimly. 'Poor Box. His nose was a bit out of joint, but there was no need for Lee to strangle him', said his Frimley co-driver, for everyone assumed immediately that it was Lee Shore who'd done him in. Lee was the last person to be seen alive with Box, had previously been arguing violently with him over a track incident, and now seemed to have done a runner. Thumb's preternaturally sharp criminal brain would not be needed on this one. And that seemed to be the first stroke of good fortune to hit the club since the meeting had started, because Thumb was out of it, big time. He was standing at the driver's rostrum, shuddering- to all appearances undergoing cold turkey, yet still somehow keeping his Bentley Speed 8 circulating on peuce lane, while the menacing Audi in second place narrowed the gap with each succesive lap.
All Argent needed to do was call West Hamley Police Station and put out an APB on Shore- or simply wait for P.C. Nandrilone's three o'clock check-in. But then Lee Shore wandered into the shattered club room as casual as custard.
'All right, Shore. That's pretty darned cool, but you won't get away with this' said Argent in his sternest voice. 'Get away with what? Going out for a quiet smoke?' Shore replied, making a convincing go of sounding innocent. 'You know very well, Shore. The murder of Stanley Dard, commonly known as 'Box'.'
Lee's face was a picture of shock. 'Box? Dead? I only left him a few minutes ago! We had a little chat about our track incident, shook hands on it, and I left him dangling his nose over a basin. He couldn't have bled to death from that, could he? I know I caught him with my elbow, but I did give him a handkerchief.'
It sounded convincing to Argent. There was indeed a handkerchief embroidered with the initials 'L.S.' clutched in the dead man's hand. Maybe there was more to this case than met the eye. He needed help, and Thumb wasn't in a state to give it- unless... There were still a few of Dr. Feelgood's pills left in the bottle. Argent shook them out and took them over to Thumb, who was twitching like an overstimulated flea.
The effect was almost instant. The inspector relaxed immediately, and his driving became smoother. The gap between the Bentley and the Audi increased once more, and more importantly, Thumb was able to solve the case without dropping the throttle. 'St. John's' was all he said, cryptically, indicating with a glance the uniformed first-aider on duty by the door.
Argent followed his glance, and knew almost immediately what had happened. The first-aider was none other than Barry 'Single Cell' Organism, the stupidest man in West Hamley by some margin. He liked a uniform. Told to dress up as a paramedic, he would stand motionless and out of harm's way for days on end. It was a good tactic usually. But Argent noticed his tie was crooked. Argent approached him. 'Barry. Did you treat a patient in the toilets just now?' 'Oh yus, Mr Argent, sir. My first job. I done it good, Mr Argent sir.' 'And what exactly did you do, Barry?' 'Well, Mr Argent sir, I found this gentleman in the toilet, sir, suffering from a bleeding nose. So I remembered my first-aid, and applied a tourniquet to stop the bleeding.' 'And how did you apply the tourniquet, Barry?' 'I used my tie, sir. Around his neck. It worked good. Stopped his nose bleed.' 'Thank you Barry. You can go home now.' 'Oh thank you sir. Could you just point me in the right direction?'
For the second time in under 24 hours, Inspector Thumb had solved a suspicious death without leaving the track. And the effect of Dr Feelgood's pills seemed to be settling him down into his regular fast driving rythym. To the extent that on the next lap, he pulled into the pits and began to spruce up his beloved Bentley, confident that he could make up the time lost to the Audi and still win the race comfortably. There was over an hour to go- P.C. Nandrilone had not yet called in for his three o'clock check-in. When he did, Thumb was still polishing the windscreen of his Bentley, having changed the braids and rear tyres and reconnected the lights so that his winning laps would be done in a blaze of glory. The first time in West Hamley history that the 'ronde infernale' had been completed by one, unaided driver.
In fact, by the time Nandrilone called the time, the pursuing Audi had swept into a brief lead. But it was slowing. At five past three, a wisp of black smoke appeared from its tail as it swerved through the Porsche curves. A couple of feet later there was a bang, and the motor lost its armature. 'Damn' said Gray Rewinder, team Audi-Doodie's chief engineer. 'I could have sworn I got that right. That motor was tuned to run exactly twenty-four hours and five minutes at 14 volts. I'm sure I got the rewind perfect. That shouldn't have happened for another hour.' 'Bad luck, Gray. You've completed more laps already than the winning total last year. You would have been on for the record by quite a margin' chipped in Coxie, but it didn't seem to satisfy Gray. Inspector Thumb's Speed 8 continued on it's way, now in an unchallengeable lead, and showing no signs of distress.
Sure enough, after what seemed only a few more minutes to the over-excited mood of the crowd, who'd seen more drama over the last few hours than in a whole mini-season of Schwarzenneger movies at the West Hamley Gaumont, P.C. Nandrilone arrived, fob-watch in hand, to count off the seconds to four o'clock on that October Sunday afernoon. Applause and whistles shook the few unsteadily remaining walls of the clubhouse as Thumb's Bentley swept across the line for the last time, and the driver raised his hand, with some difficulty, in acknowledgement of his unparalleled achievement. 'Not only a solo winner, but a new record holder' Coxie announced. 'It would have taken at least twenty five hours for last year's winner to have covered the distance you've made, Inspector. Unbelieveble!'
'It did take twenty-five hours.' The exultant crowd turned towards the door, where P.C. World stood, tapping his watch. 'I tried to tell you sir, but with all those murders and terrorist incidents- well, I couldn't get a word in. But the clocks went back this morning. We're on Winter time now. You've all had an extra hour's racing.'
Gray leapt to his feet. 'So the race should have ended at three- when I was in the lead!' 'Ah yes- but Inspector Thumb only pitted because he thought he had another hour to go. He was the clear leader at five to three, and at four o'clock for that matter' responded Argent.
'Well this presents us with a problem' said Coxie. 'There's only one solution- we'll have to go again. Gentlemen- to your driving positions. The re-run of Les Vingt-Quatre Heures du West Hamley will commence in ten minutes!'
Thumb's neck creaked audibly as he turned to Argent. 'Trot down to Dr Feelgood's and get me another bottle of those pills, Argent. I'm going to need them.'
 

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Brian Ferguson
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Howmet,
as always! You know.... if you put as much into actual slot cars as you do into writing.... you'd be UNBEATABLE! No, wait.... don't!.... the rest of us wouldn't have a chance! You are the Michael Schumacher of slot fiction!
 
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