Chapter 4

            As often, I had underestimated British Transport Police Inspector Charlie Fry. The phone rang the very next day. And now the Flavor of the Month was déjà vu. He wanted me to come down and meet somebody who was in his office.

            “Is this Inspector Barrett again?”

            “Oh no, Frank, just come down and you’ll see.”

            So I did.

            This time it was a small, slim, wiry man, with a neat military moustache. Charlie did the introductions.

            “This is Major Brown. He’s just come down from London to talk to us.”

            That figured. He was wearing a tweed sports coat, what looked like a regimental or school tie (the only one I know is Old Etonian, and it wasn’t that), and cavalry twill trousers pressed to a knife-edge crease. All in all, the kind of costume a Home Counties habitué would put on when he was bound for the barbarian boondocks of the North and didn’t want to stand out among the unsophisticated natives. Presumably he had left his bowler hat and rolled umbrella at home. And I seemed to remember that I had read somewhere of a maneuver practiced by guardsmen and called “sitting at attention.” He was doing it.

            Charlie explained.

            “Major Brown has come down here because of…er,…well, let’s say, a matter of national security.”

            I jumped to wrong conclusion.

            “I see. You’ll be Special Branch, then?”

            “No, actually, I am a civil servant.”

            “A civil servant connected with national security? You mean you are, say, MI5?”

            “No comment.” Then, evidently feeling he needed to do the decent thing, he expanded into more articulate discourse.

            “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say.”

            That was no great improvement. Mercifully, Charlie again came to the rescue, as he often did.

            “Major Brown has come because of that burglary in your office. I mentioned it in various circles, and it eventually got through to, shall we say, the people he represents.”

            Well, this was a new one. At least it was a change from guards getting coshed and thrown off trains. I looked with renewed interest at Major Brown, though with some reservations; for I bet myself that wasn’t his real name; I bet they had a whole rota of false names, Major Brown, Major Green, Major White, Major Black, Major Grey, Major – oh no, they’d never have Major Yellow!

            “So, Major, what can I do for you?”

            “I’ll come straight to the point.” Good! I mentally marked him up one.

            “It’s about the rocket trains.”

            What? In God’s name, what were we getting into?

            “You know about the rocket trains, of course? The ones stationed at Catterick Camp?”

            Of course, yes, I did. The rocket trains were a military weapon, run by the army. They consisted of a missile, a rocket with a warhead, carried on a flat wagon, and they could be taken by rail to a number of deployment points, elevated to the vertical, and fired off to bring woe and despondency to whatever bunch of international villains the British Army had it in for. The trains were kept stored at Catterick, near Northallerton. We had a spur line into the camp, and occasionally we would take some of the trains out and run them around, just for practice and training the soldiers who handled the missiles. I believe the Americans had a similar rail-based missile, called the Minuteman.

            “Yes, I do know about the rocket trains, but what has that to do with my burglary?”

            Major Brown coughed discreetly.

            “You see, these rockets and their trains have a considerable military significance. Now, once they are out and running on your railway lines, can they be deployed anywhere in the country, anywhere on the British rail network?”

            Now this was something I could answer.

            “No, they can’t. It’s the same with all trains. You can’t just send any train anywhere. Actually, it’s not so much the trains that are the trouble as the engines. Some lines are prohibited to engines of a certain type and class. They are too heavy for the bridges, or maybe along the line there isn’t enough clearance at tunnels or platforms, and they’d hit them. Our big 2AP’s, for example, are pretty well restricted to the main line, they can’t go down branches or even most of our cross-country routes. As I said, usually the train itself is not a problem. You just have to use a smaller engine, or maybe two of them coupled together, if necessary. But the rocket trains are different. The rockets themselves are very long, lying flat, so the truck carrying them is very long too. That means it can’t go round sharp curves, it would overhang and maybe hit something, perhaps even a train on the other line. It might even jump off the rails. So there is a definite list of places where the rocket trains can go and where they can’t. Their movements are actually quite restricted.”

            Major Brown smiled.

            “Exactly! That’s what our people though, though they weren’t completely sure. We’re not really army, you see, and sometimes liaison isn’t what it might be. Anyway, you can appreciate that this information, where the missiles can be deployed and where they can’t, could be of great interest to a foreign power. Furthermore, from various sources, on which I need say no more, we have reason to believe that agents of a foreign power are working on this very point.”    

            “You mean the Russians?”

            “I’m afraid I’m not at liberty to say. Let’s just say, a foreign power that we believe to be inimical to the best interests of this country.”

            My word! Maybe he really was a civil servant , talking like that. I offered my own helpful hint.

            “Next time you see these foreign agents, have a good luck at them. They probably have snow on their boots.”

            I didn’t even get a smile.

            “So how does this fit in with my burglary?”

            “You see, from our sources – which I need not go into – what we hear is that these agents are expecting to make a breakthrough, to acquire access to the desired information. We don’t know how, but it occurred to some of our people that technical information of this sort must be available to the railway authorities as well as to the military. And you have just confirmed that it is so. However, we thought that in a railway administrative office security would probably be much less stringent, less rigorous, than at Catterick Camp, so perhaps they might channel their efforts rather in that direction. And when we heard, fortuitously I may add, through Inspector Fry, that your office had been broken into, it seemed best that I should come here and speak to you. This may seem all a little sudden and sensational, but no doubt you have even been wondering what of value there could be in an administrative office to attract such interest.”

            I confirmed his guess.

            “Absolutely. To the hilt. I couldn’t understand it at all. I came in one morning and found my files all over the floor. I could think of no sensible explanation, but of course you’re right. I do have the listings for the availability of rocket trains tucked away somewhere. I’m not even sure where, it’s two years since we’ve had them out on the rails, but I have it somewhere. It’ll probably be in a memo, an addendum to the Working Timetable. And of course you’re right about security. We have none at all, not in the offices. Inspector Fry here usually has one of his men on the platform when there’s a mail train coming in, and we have a safe for all the money in the booking office, but that’s about it. I don’t think I always even lock my door when I leave in the evening. I’m sure that’s not how the army does it!”

            Major Brown nodded.

            “Quite so, quite so. That’s more or less what we expected.”

            A though struck me, however.

            “But there’s a difficulty, isn’t there?”

            I got a lift of the eyebrows.

            “Whodunit? Who on earth in the spy trade” – Major Brown winced – “Who would think of going to the administrative offices of a British Railways Region, and how did they think they would ever manage to find what they were after?”

            “In the first place,” replied the Major, “it would probably be an educated guess. The rail link out of Catterick connects with the Central Region, and the home base of the Central Region is Nottingham, so that’s where the material would likely be. Of course, we are guessing too. There are various other sources from which they might acquire the information. I only came here because you had a burglary. No more than coincidence, perhaps, but following up. So here I am.”

            But that didn’t cover the whole of it, did it? I pressed further.

            “That’s as may be, but it still doesn’t answer my other point. How did they think they would be able to find it all? I can’t see Jamesovitch Bondski hunting around an entirely unfamiliar railway office in the hope of uncovering some file or memo that would give him what he wanted.”

            “Indeed,” the Major agreed, “it would have to be an inside job.”

            “You mean a railwayman? But how would all that work out? I’m sure none of our staff here are secretly colonels in the KGB.”

            I secretly grinned at the thought of a KGB colonel spending all his time trying to timetable our electric suburban trains to Sheffield so that they did not get too much in the way of main line traffic. Try explaining that away to Moscow!

            Major Brown corrected me.

            “No, that’s not how it would work. The foreign agent would persuade, or maybe force, some local man to do the dirty work for him, someone who was quite legitimately a porter, or an engine driver, or somebody like that. Somebody who could get into the office.”

            I objected.

            “No, it couldn’t be a porter or the like. Porters don’t know their way around the offices and filing cabinets of the bosses. It would much more likely be a senior executive.”

            I stopped, pulled up short by the possibility that it could be one of my close colleagues, in the row of offices in the administrative wing. They at least could make an attempt at finding their way through my files.

            “Perhaps, Superintendent” – it was nice of him to call me that, usually around the station I’m just ‘Frank’ -, “perhaps. Anyway, all this is conjecture, guesswork. May be nothing in it. Though, since we have come this far, do you know if any of your colleagues have, shall we say, left-wing political sympathies or connections?”

            There followed a pregnant silence. You don’t rat on your friends, but the call of duty proved too much for Charlie Fry.

            “Frank, didn’t John Halliday use to be a Socialist? Went to Left Wing meetings, that kind of thing?”

            I explained.

            “John Halliday is the Civil Engineer. I believe he did use to be involved in, let’s say, Socialist politics, but that was a long time ago. I haven’t heard him talk that way, oh, for years now.”

            That was enough for the Major.

            “Then he might be what we call a sleeper. You understand what I mean by sleepers?”

            I fought down an insane desire to tell him, yes, I know all about sleepers, they were very heavy coaches and greatly increased the load of the train; there were regularly five of them marshaled into the tail of the Ulsterman, behind the restaurant car. But instead I made a serious rejoinder.

            “You mean an agent, or fellow- traveler, who is lying dormant and waiting for orders to activate him. But that won’t work. John Halliday is our Civil Engineer, that’s to say he’s in charge of everything connected with what I may call the roadworks of the line. It’s him that decides speed limits, the permitted weight over bridges, and so forth. In short, he’s the man who would have determined the route availability of the rocket trains in the first place, where they could go and where they couldn’t. So he wouldn’t have had to burgle anybody to get the information, it’s all there in his own office, and it’s actually him that decided it. So rule him out as the burglar.”

            Even Major Brown couldn’t come up with an answer to that one.

            “Well, it was no more than suspicion, a faint possibility, if that. If anything more does come up you can let me know, through Inspector Fry.”

            “Of course, I will contact you, should any event eventually eventuate.”

            That should fix him as a civil servant. He squinted sideways at me, as if he suspected I was taking the mickey out of him, which of course I was. In a spirit of reconciliation I offered to see him off on his train back to London.

            “Coming in here I saw on the Departure Indicator that the 4.35 is reported fifteen late, so you can still catch him, Platform 5.”

            Charlie and I accompanied him over the footbridge, just indeed as the belated 4.35 (more work for the punctuality drive!) was running in. There was just time for a final display of Northern hospitality. I asked him what ticket he had. It was, as I had suspected, Third Class. Civil service accounts do not usually rise to the lofty heights inhabited by private industry. I called over the traveling ticket inspector and introduced him to Major Brown,

            “This gentleman is going through to London. He has a Third Class ticket but will be traveling First Class, as a guest of the Company.”

            The collector, an elderly man who had plainly been brought up under the London and Northern, got the point, and, with a smile, shook hands with the Major.

            “Glad to have you aboard, sir. Have a nice trip!”

            A minute or two later the driver got the right away, blew off his vacuum brake, eased forward on his drain cocks, and opened the regulator, giving her the steam. Slowly the 4.35, with a parting whistle, began to move out, and I waved cheerily to the Major, who was looking out of a First Class window. He didn’t wave back. Maybe he still didn’t know quite what to make of me. Not entirely his fault, perhaps. People often don’t, though I get on well enough with the ordinary railwaymen on the job.

            Climbing over the footbridge I turned back, almost bumping into a passenger in a white raincoat, to talk to Charlie Fry.

            “So, Charlie, what do you make of that little lot? Do you think one of our senior officers is a Communist spy? Heavens, last week we had a down goods train that was supposed to drop off half a dozen wagons at Sheffield, somebody forgot to uncouple them, and they ended up in Darlington. If the Kremlin had heard of that I expect they would have sent in their tanks- right, Charlie?”

            “Maybe, Frank, but then what would they have done when they heard we had a guard murdered on a named express?”

            “Oh, they would have pressed the nuclear button. But seriously, now you mention it, do you think there could be any connection between the two, the murder and the burglary? After all, they were both highly unusual and they both happened on our Line.”

            “I can’t see it. Of course, if the murder really was the result of blackmailing, then I suppose the burglary could have been what he was blackmailing somebody about. It all seems a bit extreme, though.”

            Now that I was prepared to grant. Smash somebody over the head because, a week ago, he had been looking through my files? A likely story: One thing I was sure of, though.

            “I’ll say this, Charlie, I’ll be glad when Larry Fineman gets back, and we can dump all this on to him. After all, it affects the reputation of the Line, and as an old London and Northern man he’ll take that seriously. No disrespect to you and your professional abilities, but if he was here now he’s be on the phone right away to the Home Secretary, and to-morrow we’d have the half of Scotland Yard arriving on the Pullman to sort it all out.”

            Charlie put his finger straight on the mistake. Sometimes he does think like a railwayman,.

            “The Pullman doesn’t stop here. He’s a non-stop London to Sheffield. You’re slipping, Frank.”

            “Oh, they’d stop it. Pull the communication cord and refuse to pay the Five Pound fine on grounds of national security.”

            Charlie grinned.

            “I wouldn’t put it past them. By the way, Larry Fineman- when does he get back?”

            “He should have been here yesterday. It’s not like him to be AWOL, but he may have got tangled up with something in France, I don’t know.”

            “Well, we’ll see when he gets back. By the way, is there anything that occurs to you as a possible avenue of enquiry, a stone that we ought not to leave unturned?”

            The answer was plainly No, so, with nothing to offer, I waved good-bye to Charlie as he turned away towards his own office, on No. 4 next to the bookstall.

            “Nothing here that won’ keep, Charlie. That’s it for to-day.”

            He waved to me over his shoulder.

            “Bye, Frank. See you on Thursday.”

            Thursday! I had almost forgotten about it. Sure, Thursday, then. I was mentally kicking myself as I backed out the Morris- thank God they had at least moved that damn brake van so I could squeeze out without scratching on its buffers, though I still had to do a bit of backing and turning to avoid a green Vauxhall that had parked itself on the other side of the forecourt. Illegally, at that. I dived out into the Nottingham traffic, and headed for home down the A60. Wait a minute, maybe I should stop somewhere and buy a present, for Thursday. I still  had two or three days, of course, but I didn’t like leaving Joan’s birthday present till the last minute. Well, there was a stationer’s. I could at least get her a card, so I’d be sure of that. I pulled over to the kerb, dodging a truck, two trolleybuses, and a green Vauxhall, and got out. With the card in my pocket, off I went again. I got into the traffic stream, my mind still full of our spy story. I suppose that’s why I got into a bit of a tangle at the traffic lights, what with a Vauxhall that had parked by the kerb pulling out and in behind me.

 

Comment by the Murderer

            I suppose that’s luck for you. I reckoned I’d had bad luck with the parcels, and the fishplate being found, and now I’ve had good luck with this business of the rocket trains. It has certainly got their minds turned on to something else, other than George Carey, and as far as I am concerned, the thing just happened. Honestly, I had nothing to do with it at all. True, although it put a damper on the guesswork about the death of Carey, it did bring up again the question of the office burglary, and I could have done without that. There was even the point about it having had to be done by an insider. Let’s not follow that one any further! That could be dangerous. But I think it was a good idea to get that brake van moved, before Frank got too interested in it. All it took was an angry phone call to the inspector in charge of the marshalling yard: one of the perquisites of being a senior officer.

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