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The Apos Trophy

The Apos Trophy is one of the quirkier events on the West Hamley race schedule. Founded by 'Frenchy' Fry, the late but much-beloved English master and slot racing enthusiast of West Hamley Preparatory College and Pleasure Palace (motto 'Boys 'r Us'), the qualifying rounds are in fact based on the submission by each team of a two page piece of creative writing. Starting positions are based on grammar, style, spelling and imagination. It is a six-hour endurance race, open class- any enclosed wheel sports car, but no technical limitations beyond overall size and track clearance. The rules do, however state that the teams should be of two members each, and once racing has started, the club is closed. The six hours of racing, in honour of the many memorable class detentions 'Frenchy' Fry imposed on his high-spirited pupils, takes place in one closed session, during which no alcohol or tobacco may be consumed, and meals are provided by Ethel and Mabel Dysentery, the school dinner ladies. So it is a true endurance race. Nevertheless, it always attracts a high entry, mainly because of the prize money. While 'Frenchy' Fry was abstemious in his habits, as befitted a humble English teacher, his pimping activities generated a huge income, all of which he laundered and invested wisely, the interest from which now provides the annual prize fund for the race.
All the West Hamley racers take the event seriously, and plan their teams, tactics and cars months in advance. Outside teams also send in entries, and after the nasty occurrence back in '84, when one of the qualifying essays turned out to have been ghost written by a professional hack, the articles are all required to be handwritten and countersigned by a priest or convicted terrorist. Pole position was won last year by Jim Beam and Johnny Walker, two popular local racers who happen to be recovering alcoholics. Johnny is a leading driver, Jim an ingenious constructor. They usually link up for team events. Their emotional account of two weeks in a rehabilitation clinic, although illegible in places, was thought to be the outstanding qualifying essay. They lined up as popular favourites. Everyone was well aware of their personal circumstances, so the race conditions- six hours dry, with no liquid refreshment other than Mabel's cauliflower tea, was seen as a particular test of their resolve. Pole position for the race gives an overall ten lap advantage over the last place qualifiers, who last year were Don van Vliet and Tom Waits, whose story 'Swordfishtrombones in Trout Masks', was a little too surrealistic for the race referees.
The race itself went pretty well as expected, and was not the most memorable, to be honest. Apart from Don and Tom continually barking noisy encouragement at each other and indecipherable orders at the corner marshals, Jim and Johnny cruised off into a lead that was never really challenged. Their car was totally vice-free; well run-in and handling beautifully. A not half bad replica of an interesting prototype, the 1978 Toj SG 206 raced by Joerg Obermoser, it had a nicely balanced Mosetti style chassis powered by a carefully chosen Cheetah motor, fully rebuilt and balanced by Johnny for smooth, under-stressed revving. Other cars were faster in short bursts- particularly the Ford C100 of Dave Dee and Dozy (Beaky and Mitch failed to make the cut that year; their essay entry 'Karakarorum ka Sgagerak' was totally incomprehensible, and Titch couldn't find a partner as usual). That had a very interesting and powerful motor made out of various bits, that ran powerfully but too hot. After consuming three bearings, two endbells and four sets of gears in the race, the two ex-popsters limped in last, although with fastest lap to their credit. Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill made the best of their second place qualifying essay, an African adventure entitled 'Two Weeks in the Bush' to keep their Lotus Cortina in the hunt throughout, although the adapted Fly front engined chassis and standard motor needed all the help it could get from Germaine's superb driving skills, and it wasn't the ideal choice of model, to be frank. Julie Burchill can certainly talk a good race, but her driving is terribly inconsistent, and her stints usually dropped them a few places. There were a few other teams in with a brief shout, but they never mounted a serious challenge. Ian Duncan Smith and William Hague tootled around at the back of the field, only making an impression when their Bentley Mulsanne (home-built inline chassis with Evo-4 motor) ran on the outside lane, leaning it's tail on the Armco all the way around. The three other teams had their minor battles in mid-field, but no-one really noticed. Especially when Jordan was on the podium. Anyway. Jim and Johnny survived the eleven o'clock rock cakes, the lunchtime Lamb Poulteney and the afternoon tease provided by Ethel and Mabel, and crossed the line after six hours racing with a twenty five lap winning margin over Germaine and Julie.
At the end of the race, though, things started to happen. Coxie Cooper-Archer stood up beside the elaborate Apos Trophy Silver Cup and traditional attaché-case of neatly stacked fresh, crisp banknotes to make the formal presentation. 'Please come forward, this year's winners Jim and Johnny. Respect due.' Coxie paused, and before reaching for the cash and the trophy, stood back and spoke again. 'But to make the award, we have a special surprise guest. Please welcome that distinguished friend of West Hamley Slot Car Club, Inspector Thumb of Scotland Yard's Slot Car Division.' Johnny went white. And Jim said 'Waaaarghrt' and collapsed, stone dead.
'Well, well well. What's all this then?' were Thumb's first words. His next were 'Nobody move. Touch nothing. I've dealt with this sort of thing before.' Thumb whipped out his mobile and dialled feverishly. After several renditions of the theme from 'The Sweeney', he finally found the call out button, and summoned Sergeant Argent and Dr. De'Ath to the scene. While they waited, Thumb began to take notes. He spent a good half hour examining the cars, in fact, especially the winning Toj. There were a good few aspects of that chassis that he liked, and would certainly incorporate into his next project. And Dave Dee, always an innovative motor man, provided Thumb with further food for thought. The motor set-up in the C100 was all wrong for enduros, but could be useful for sprints. He took more careful notes. His concentration was interrupted by the arrival of his Sergeant and the police pathologist.
De'Ath didn't take long with the corpse. 'Time of death, ooo, about half an hour ago, I'd say.' 'I know that you idiot. I was here.' 'Cause of death…Arsenyde poisoning. Tell-tale yellowing of the eyes, purple blister on the tip of the nose, hands clutched over stomach- I expect he said 'waaaarghrt', or something very similar, as he keeled over.' 'He did, in fact,' said Coxie, 'say precisely that.' 'Very characteristic. I have no hestition, in that case, of attributing death to arsenyde poisoning.' 'O heck!' said Coxie. 'That's's the ninth fatality we've had at the club this month. Murder again, I suppose?' 'Yes,' said Thumb. 'Arsenyde is a painful way to go. Very seldom self-administered. Also very interesting action, eh De'Ath?' 'Yes. It takes precisely two hours to work it's way to the vital organs.' 'So we can safely say that the poisoner carried out the deed at, what? 2:30 p.m. The club was at that time closed to outsiders. So the murderer is still here.' A gasp went up around the clubroom. 'But how did he do it? As I understand, everyone ate from the same dish- the food prepared by Ethel and Mabel. And the only drink was the cauliflower tea. The poison can't have been prepared with the food or you'd all be dead. Let me think… Coxie. Let me see the lap charts. What was the position at 2.30.? Ah. I see Jim was driving, and Johnny was in the pits. That at least puts Jim in the clear. He couldn't have poisoned Johnny while he was driving. But who did do it then? No food or drink allowed in the pits. Any witnesses to what happened in the pits at 2.30.?'
The whole thing was beginning to look very suspicious to Thumb. It was a set up. Someone had planned this very carefully to give themselves an alibi. Johnny was clearly on his own when the poison was taken, and there was no obvious source of food or drink that wouldn't have been shared by everyone else in the club. A classic murder mystery. Thumb had to think. Johnny was in the pits when he took the poison. That's where he had to look first. 'Which is Johnny's pit box?' 'Here', said Coxie. 'Hmm. Let me have a look through it. The usual equipment, I see. Tools; allen wrenches, all sizes, watchmaker's screwdrivers- complete set, modelling knife and spare blades, needle files, soldering iron and miniature blow torch, with multicore solder and baker's fluid. Several bottles of adhesives; superglue and accelerator, quick set epoxy, PVA. Spares; tyres, wheels, axles, guides, braids, gears-spurs and pinions, various axle spacers. Hmm. Bottles. Interesting. But nothing drinkable. He opened the cap of all the plastic containers and recognised tyre goop, Tiger milk, oil of wintergreen, lubricating oil… 'Very neat. Very efficient. A place for everything and everything in it's place,' he said at last. 'But there's two things bothering me. What on earth is this for?' He unrolled a metre and a half of plastic tube from a large compartment in the pitbox. One end had a curious fitting which he did not immediately recognise. 'And there's something vital missing!'
'How do you know?' asked Sergeant Argent, uncertainly. 'Just take a look, Argent. And think. What's missing from this pit box? What fitted in this neat compartment here? What is it that all racers keep with them…except, apparently, Johnny Walker?'
Suddenly everything slipped into place within Thumb's agile mind. The oldest trick in the book. Every schoolboy knows how to smuggle booze, and drink it without detection…. He whirled round. 'Search Beam', he shouted. 'I've got a torch…will that do?' asked Argent. 'No, you idiot! Search Jim Beam! He hasn't had time to dispose of anything… He must have it!'
After a brief struggle, Jim Beam was pinned to the floor and frisked. Thumb dipped his hand into a bulging pocket, and withdrew it triumphantly. 'Just as I thought!' 'Of course,' said Argent. 'Lighter fluid. Essential for cleaning commutators on a long race like this!' 'No, Argent, not Lighter fluid- despite hat it says on the can.'
Unscrew the nozzle. Take a sniff. But don't, whatever you do, taste it.' 'Good heavens, sir. It's gin!' 'Actually, Argent, if you look carefully, you'll see an olive floating in there. It's martini. Which could also be used to clean the commutator if need be. Observe this plastic tube. One end is adapted to fit over the nozzle of the lighter fluid can. The other end has clearly discernable tooth marks. My belief is that Walker emptied out the lighter fluid and topped up this can with martini this morning, and prepared this tube to slip up inside his shirt sleeve and out of his collar. Whenever he visited the pits, he dropped one end, concealed in his left hand, over the can nozzle, slipped the other end discreetly into his mouth, and refreshed himself.' 'But that's against the rules!' gasped Coxie. 'And fatal, too,' responded Thumb. 'Look also at this hole punched into the top of the can. Necessary to allow air in whilst Walker sucked at his cocktail. But also allowing access for this!' Thumb delved quickly into another of Jim Beam's pockets, and withdrew a small hypodermic needle. 'I'm pretty sure Dr. De'Ath will find arsenyde in this needle. Because it's what you used to poison Johnny Walker's martini, isn't it, Beam?' 'No-I-but-wait-'
'Come on, Beam. You did it. You injected the poison into Walker's secret martini supply- you were the only one who knew about it. You poisoned it during your first pitstop, so that Walker would drink it during his turn, while you were driving at 2.30. You also knew that death would occur at 5 o'clock, while the club room was still closed, leaving plenty of other suspects in place. What you didn't know was that I would be here to present the awards. That's where your plan went wrong. You didn't have time to dispose of the incriminating evidence- the can, the hypo, the plastic tube. Confess, Beam. It will go easier for you in court. But there is one thing you can tell me. Why? Why did you kill your old team mate?'
'Alright, alright. It's a fair cop.' 'I'm dark-haired, actually' interrupted Thumb. 'Well, used to be. Just a touch of grey these days…' 'No- I mean you got me. Fair and square. I would have got away with it if you hadn't turned up. All I had to do was chuck those bits and pieces in the tip, and no-one would have been any the wiser. We've been racing together for years, me and him. Well, not exactly racing together. I build the cars, he races them. Takes the trophies, lines his cupboards, takes the credit. The only time I can drive is in these team events, and then he's quicker than me. Well. I was preparing a new car. A new car with the potential to win everything outright. And it wouldn't have needed Johnny to drive it. I could have driven it myself, and picked up the cups myself for a change. But he wasn't going to let me.' 'What exactly was this new car, Jim?' asked Coxie. 'Well, I won't be racing it myself now anyway. I might as well tell you. A friend we met at the clinic, well he works at the European Space Research Lab. Works with big magnets, actually. Big ceramic magnets installed in satellites to control positioning. He told me he had access to fancy new magnets and grinding equipment that could shape the magnets into anything. So I worked out this design, and he fabricated it for me in his tea breaks. It's a flexi-chassis, made entirely out of one single hi-power ceramic magnet. It sticks to the track like superglue. And the attraction is over the whole surface area. No matter how out of shape you get it on the track, it'll still stick. Unbeatable. I got this one sports chassis made, then this bloke's boss found out what he was doing with the lab equipment in his spare time. So he sacked him. There'll never be another car like this built. And Johnny was going to take it from me. I couldn't allow that to happen, Inspector. But you spoiled it all. I guess I'll get what I deserve.'
A few moments later, Jim Beam and Inspector Thumb were alone in the back of a police car. Thumb turned to Beam, and asked, pleasantly, 'Unbeatable, you reckon. This new car of yours. Only one in existence? Could do well in something like, say, the New Scotland Yard Annual Cop's Challenge Cup?' 'Well, yes. It would go well anywhere. All you have to do is mash your thumb down hard at the start and keep it there.' 'Hmm. Wouldn't have any trouble against something like Argent's Citroen Saxo?' 'You're joking, aren't you? Leave that for dust, it would.' ' Listen to me, Beam. The evidence against you is rather circumstantial as it stands. Especially since the can and the hypo have got my fingerprints smudged all over them too- silly me, forgot to use a cloth. If the case should, er, fall apart due to a technicality or something, how do you feel about forming a new team…?'
 
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