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The Iceman Cometh

Part 5 of the Return of Inspector Thumb

The sensational arrival of the Thumb entourage was eclipsed only a few minutes later when the club doors burst open again, propelled by a blizzard of snow and a pack of panting Huskies. Snow? In West Hamley? In June? Bruno and Clint wrestled the doors closed, and secured them against the icy blast with a couple of scaffolding pipes, only to realise that the blizzard was now inside the clubroom anyway. The swirls of snow slowly subsided to reveal, among the Huskies, the sled, and a pile of beaver skins, the immense fur clad figure of Fergie, the mountainous mountie.
'Hell, it's a long way from Stanstead', he said.
'Couldn't you get a Gatwick flight?' asked Coxie.
'Naw. The cheap flights only go to Stanstead, and according to my map it looked like it would only be a day or so with the dogs along the M74. But then two lanes are closed between Sheldon and the Upper Gilham turn-off and I had to overnight at the Little Difflock Services. Y'know, get the dogs some fresh beer 'n stuff'.
'Well, it's good to see you, Mr O'Halloran, and we're all excited about your entry. Never had anyone from the Yukon in the club before. Please, take off some of your coats and make yourself at home.'
Lil looked askance at a couple of Huskies who were cocking their legs against the track supports, and another pair who were wrapping themselves around Inspector Thumb's legs with energetic humping movements. 'Oh no- not dogs as well. It's bad enough having Argent at me all the time…' 'Oh sir. You are awful.'
Fergie intervened quickly, scooping up the dogs effortlessly in his outspan hands. 'They're meanin' no harm, sir. It was a long flight in the cargo hold. I usually give 'em a little playtime after a long drive. Here. Where can I put my car?'
'Ahh, Mr O'Hall..'
'Call me Fergie, boss. That's what my dogs do.'
'Right, uh, Fergie. Call me Coxie. That's what my wife calls me.'
'You calling me a dog Coxie, you hound?'
'Sorry Lil. Where was I? Ah yes, Mr O', uh, Fergie. Perhaps you'd like to put your car in the paddock here for scrutineering?'
'Hmm. Only one problem with that, Coxie. Anyone touches my car, they're gonna stick to it'.
'Problem with the paint drying in the cold weather?'
'No, t'aint that exactly boss…'
With that, Fergie began to peel back the layers of beaver pelts piled high on the sledge. As the heap grew smaller, a fog of condensation began to rise and form a small cloud. Finally, Fergie threw back the last skin and revealed a small wooden crate, which seemed to be spewing steam from all corners.
'Don't nobody touch this but me, you guys. An' I can only do it with my walrus hide mittens.' Fergie reached in, and pulled out his 1/32nd racing snowmobile. It sat on the palm of his mitten in a pool of swirling, icy smoke.
'Supercooled to within a few degrees of absolute zero. Chassis mostly made from frozen mercury. All moving parts virtually friction-free, and all electrical resistance reduced to negligible amounts. It'll survive outside this here container for an hour or so- gives me enough running time, I reckon. Then things start to soften up. But it's quicker'n an arctic fox in heat chasin' a tasty lookin' vixen down a ski-jump. Reckon I stand a good chance of takin' that there Cat Ass Trophy back to th'old Dominions, eh?'
'But my Friction-free guide…' spluttered Thumb.
'Yup, credit where it's due, Mr Thumb. I saw your design on my computer- some three-armed guy posted it somehow. But I took that idea and kinda ran with it, if'n you know what I mean. Carved a guide out of pack ice. Put it in the slot, flipped it with my finger, an' it did fifteen laps all on it's own. Then I figured super-cooled materials would give me good conductivity AND low friction. And there's plenty super-cooled stuff round abouts the Yukon in the cold snaps. Now here it is in West Hamley, an' we better get a move on before'n my superfast snowmobile reverts to bein' a little soggy pool.'
'But how are we going to marshall it in the corners?' asked Bruno, as always highly intrigued by technical developments. 'If you touch super-cooled material with your bare hands, you stick to it, fast. Your flesh would freeze, circulation would stop- my God- it could be fatal!'
'Don't you worry 'bout that, sir. This thing ain't going to leave the slot. It's so damn slippery it's gonna hunt down the straightaways so fast I'm gonna cruise the curves. An' don't forget, those snowmobile caterpillar tracks give 100 percent traction. This thing gets down and STAYS down.'
By now, the entire club was crowded round the little model, feeling the radiating waves of cold air against their faces, weighing up their chances against this radical machine.
'Back off, boys 'n girls. You all gonna melt the thing afore it gets on the track.'

'Now there's an idea.' No-one heard the soft voice of the slight black-clad figure standing to one side. No-one had even noticed him enter- his ghostly pallour melted into the fine mist given off by Fergie and his dogs, and his slender, hunched figure flitted invisibly across the clubroom. X was on the spot. The journey from Eltham had been traumatic. He hadn't been out of his flat for six years now, and he'd never been this far from his computer screen in his life. But the information he'd downloaded over the past few weeks had given him a determination he'd not felt before. His own friction-free guide was mounted within the super-slippery shape of a Can-Am UOP Shadow, and he had a few more tricks up his sleeve, too. He was going to take the Cat Ass trophy back to Eltham, to revive the glory years of the 70s, when Eltham had last been a centre of slot-car activity. No-one knew yet. No-one in West Hamley had seen or heard of X yet- other than an anonymous 'x' on an entry form- but they soon would.

For sure no-one in West Hamley knew, but far away in the Middle East, lurking in the fortieth-floor computer control room of their custom built sand-dune, the Three-armed man and his cohorts, the Camel-boy and the Fish in a hat; they knew. They were watching everything on their closed-circuit cameras. Monitoring every move of every slot-racer on the face of the planet. Why? Why should he not? Did he have evil megalomaniacal plans for slot-domination? Was he some sort of sociopathic
paranoid with a fixation on the silvery grooves?

No. The Three-armed man just liked to watch a good race. He leaned back in his goatskin recliner, adjusted his swimsuit and simultaneously lit a large cigar while pouring a tall, tall glass of Pimms fruit cup. Winking slowly at the boy and the fish, he repeated his old family motto;.

'Two arms good, three arms better.'

1,889 Posts
Little Difflock Services?
I know it well...It was originally going to have a tunnel beneath the m'way linking the two sides. The contractors started one shaft, but it only went halfway - too expensive to tunnel any further though the hard bedrock. It's a burger bar now, called the Halfshaft!!

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