Chapter 6

            The day did not follow my usual routine. The morning I was in my office as usual, this time dealing with Warren Taylor, the Nottingham stationmaster (we called him ‘Warry’ behind his back). It was all about three football specials we’d be running next Saturday, and mostly it was just about scheduling, and making sure that at the right time we had platforms free to run them in to. Normally I’d also have been talking to Charlie Fry about crowd handling. We once had one valiant sportsman, blotto to the world, lie down for a deep, refreshing slumber, across the rails of the up main line, while Charlie’s boys in blue just concentrated in keeping them away from the North end of the station, around Platforms 2 and 3, where the electrified live rails were; and they had their hands full even with that. But Charlie wasn’t there that morning, no doubt planning advanced strategy with his forces. Never mind. I knew I would see him that afternoon. And I did.

            That afternoon was somewhat special, for it was the Cricket Match. This was an annual event, closely associated with the railway. It had started away back years ago, under the London and Northern. I think somebody had heard about the Battle of Waterloo being won on the playing fields of Eton. Certainly in our circles there were lots of old, well-worn wisecracks going around about how if you wanted to get to Eton maybe you didn’t go to Waterloo, it was a better service from Paddington, not to mention how the rush hour at Waterloo really did rank as something like a battle.

            Anyhow, the tradition had started that there should be an annual cricket match, and, following the MCC example of Gentlemen versus Players, it would be senior railways officers versus the N.U.R., National Union of Railwaymen: white collar versus blue collar, if you like. And for this sort of thing my collar was definitely white.

            In actual fact, it was always a cheerfully informal occasion, not to say slapdash. It didn’t really matter who won. One of the engine cleaners from Nottingham shed, whose job it was to clean out the boilers and fireboxes of the steam engines, once pointed out that no matter who won at cricket, they always ended up with The Ashes. The really important part of the programme therefore was not so much the cricket match as the booze-up together that followed it in the pub. It was supposed to be very good for staff relations. I don’t know if it was, but everybody seemed to enjoy it, and that was good enough to be going on with.

            The end result of this was that around two o’clock instead of being in my office (I had confidently left Dozie there to run the railway) I was sitting outside the pavilion at the cricket ground in a large park at the North end of the city, up the Mansfield Road, all dressed up in cricketing whites, with my pads on, waiting my turn to go in and bat.

            I am not much of a cricketer, but nobody seemed to mind, it was all just for the fun of the thing, the only real sportsman on either side being Mike Sullivan, the Assistant to the Chief Mechanical Engineer, who seemed to fall back on his expertise as a fast bowler as a relaxation from playing a very rough game of rugby. As it happened, on this occasion, not only was I no great batsman, but also, in this titanic struggle of Officers versus The Men, I was actually batting for the wrong side. The Men, it turned out, were a man short, somebody hadn’t turned up, so could I switch sides and fill in? Which I did. I did say it was an informal occasion! And, given my reputation as a batsman, I had been put down as Number Ten in the batting order, among the tail-enders, otherwise slanderously but realistically referred to as the no-hopers; where, indeed, I rightly belonged.

            As I sat outside the pavilion, waiting and watching the wickets fall – which they were doing quite frequently to the fast bowling – I was joined by Charlie Fry, who had already batted and been caught at mid-on. He shook his head at the memory of it.

            “That’s bowling!”, he growled. “It’s bodyline! Like Larwood!”

            “Larwood?”  My knowledge of cricketing history was not up to Charlie’s level.

            “Yes, Harold Larwood, in the 1930’s. A very fast bowler, though he aimed the ball not so much at the wicket as at the body of the batsman. Hence the term ‘bodyline’. The Australians in particular didn’t like it. I believe his delivery was once actually measured, and they found the ball was going at 90 mph.”

            I couldn’t help the comment. “Hm! Faster than our trains, then!”

            Charlie was looking rather disgusted, so I changed the subject.

            “I’ve been having second thoughts about Major Brown and the rocket trains. He seemed to think that if you wanted to know where the trains could go, you’d have to go some senior executive. But you don’t have to. You can go to the men who have driven them and they’ll certainly know where they went. I don’t say that’s exactly the way a good spy would go about it, but it’s a thought.”

            “That’s a thought that struck me too,” assented Charlie. “Now, how many of these trains are there? It’s three, isn’t it?”

            “No, four, on this Region at least. As we said, they’re regularly kept at Catterick camp, and we last had them out for a run about two years ago, all four of them.”

            “Before my time, Frank. I hadn’t been transferred here yet. So, four. Let’s just add up how many men would have been handling them. As I make it, each train has an engine, with a driver and fireman, total, eight!”

            “And a goods guard, total, twelve,” I amended his arithmetic. “That is not counting the soldiers, of course, who actually handled the missiles.”

            “So each train would have three men who knew where it went. Not counting the soldiers, yes, but they wouldn’t have known.”

            “They wouldn’t?” I queried.

            “No, not likely. From what I know of the army, you got on a train, or a lorry, or whatever, when you are told to, and get off when you are told to, and that’s it. The officer in charge would know, I expect, but not the others. They wouldn’t care either.”

            I didn’t know how far I could rely on this, but for argument’s sake I went along with it. I wasn’t likely to turn my nose up at anything that directed the accusing finger away from my colleagues and friends.

            “But now,” objected Charlie, “would that give you an overall, comprehensive view of where the rocket trains could go, I mean, each driver might know where his own train went. He wouldn’t necessarily know about the others.”           

            “Oh, I’ll bet he would, just. An ordinary goods train, maybe not, that’s part of the usual routine, but a rocket train, once in two years, they’d be talking about it in the canteen, ‘Well, Bill, where did they send you to, eh?”!

            “Hm, yes, Frank, I can see that. It would be a special trip so it would get talked about. Fair enough.”

            I had an afterthought. “Especially in view of what happened to the Sheffield one. That would start the tongues wagging if nothing else did.”

            Charlie looked at me blankly.

            “What happened?”

            “Of course, I forgot, you weren’t here yet, so maybe you wouldn’t have heard about the Sheffield Shambles. Round here it’s famous as the only time a steam locomotive knocked out an ICBM.”

            If it were at all possible, Charlie looked even blanker.

            “An ICBM was knocked out by a steam engine?”

            “Yes, a 2AP. ‘Walpole’, to be precise. The 2AP’s are all named after Prime Ministers.”

            I decided to be magnanimous and told him the whole story.

            “This was a trial exercise, for practice. There were four rocket trains, all from Catterick, and running to different sites where the missiles could be deployed. One of them was at Parley Siding, just North of Sheffield, a long siding running alongside the main line. Besides the engine – a little 15J 0-6-0 – little, but they’ll pull anything – and behind the tender came first a non-corridor passenger coach, to carry the soldiers; then came the rocket itself, on a flat-bed truck; then a closed van, carrying a generator and supplies, tools, anything they might find useful for launching the rocket; and, at the end, a goods brake van.

            “They got to the launching site, stopped on the siding, and the soldiers got out and prepared the rocket as if launching. When they’d finished, there it was, tilted upright on its base and pointing at the clouds, but still sitting on its railway wagon. Then the military changed their mind. Could we go a bit further and look at another possible launch site? I don’t know why, but that’s what they asked.  Anyhow, no problem. The other site they wanted to try out was on the Dowslake branch, a line we hardly ever use, it was getting overgrown, but it wasn’t far away. You went along Parley Siding for, maybe, a quarter of a mile, and then you could get on to the branch line. One of the soldiers told the engine driver what they wanted, then told the guard, back in his brake van, that they were ready to go. So he waved his green flag to the driver, the driver whistled, and the train moved off. And in all of this they forgot two things…”

            Dramatic pause, for comments or guesses from Charlie, but there weren’t any, so I carried on.

            “Mistake number one. I know, it’s wholly incredible, but it happened, in broad daylight. They didn’t lower the rocket to its normal horizontal position. They left it pointing straight up, some thirty feet or so of it. Of course, the guard or driver ought to have spotted it, but although the rocket was very long, it wasn’t very wide, so that looking along the side of the train you couldn’t see it. The driver was unsighted by the passenger coach and the guard was unsighted by the closed van. The rocket, so to speak, was invisible, sandwiched between the two. As for the soldiers, who were supposed to be in charge of it, they had to compete with a very powerful distraction. The Cup Final, no less. Somebody had brought a small radio and they were all crowded round it, listening. While the train rolled on, with the rocket pointing its head high up above it.”

            Charlie had a go at guessing.

            “This second mistake they made. It wouldn’t be a bridge, would it?”

            “Exactly, Charlie. Before they got on to the branch, still on the siding, they had to go under a bridge. The rocket, of course, wouldn’t fit under it. There was a hell of a bang. The driver stopped. The rocket truck and the van were derailed, though they didn’t tip over. They just bounced along on the sleepers for a bit. As for the actual rocket, that tipped over sideways and fell with a loud ‘clunk’ across the main line. And, of course, wouldn’t you know? Murphy’s Law was fully vindicated, for coming along the main line was the Northern Scot, behind a 2AP. Fortunately the Scot wasn’t going too fast, he was still accelerating away from the Sheffield stop, but he was close, when the missile fell right across his track in front of him. And the Rules try to cover anything that’s liable to happen, but they don’t tell an express driver what to do when he’s in collision with a ballistic missile.”

            Charlie snorted. “I’m not surprised. So, was it a bad accident?”

            “No, they were quite lucky with that. The Scot driver rammed on his brakes, a full emergency application, and even reversed his engine, but that was about all he could do. With the brakes he got all the train’s wheels locked solid, skidding along the rails, and kept his whistle going. And then he was into the missile. There was a big bang, and, wonders will never cease, the engine wasn’t derailed. It stayed on the rails.”

            “It did?”

            “Yes. Well, a 2AP and tender weigh about 140 tons, and it was helped along by 450 or so tons of train behind it, like a battering ram. As for the missile, I don’t know its weight, but it’s nothing like as heavy as that or it would never get off the ground. When the 2AP hit it just disintegrated, smashed up into pieces.”

            “They’re lucky it wasn’t armed!”

            “Actually, Charlie, some of the soldiers thought it was, young national servicemen, you know. It wasn’t, of course, it was a dummy warhead, just for exercise, but apparently that had not been made clear, at least not to all of them. Result, let’s say, scenes of animated panic. Thank goodness the two guards, from the Scot and the rocket train, kept their heads and ran off to place detonators, fog signals, that is, on the line, as an emergency way of protecting their trains in case anything else was coming.”

            “Were there many hurt?”

            “Oh yes, some, but not nearly as bad as it might have been. As I said, the engine and tender of the Scot stayed on the rails and so did the first three or four coaches. The restaurant car came off and dragged the coaches behind it off too, but luckily they stayed upright. The brake van of the rocket train was fouling the main line so they hit it a glancing blow, windows broken and the like, but nothing serious. We were very lucky.”

            Charlie drew from it all an appropriate observation.

            “If the Russians want to know all about our rocket trains and how efficient a deterrent they are, I’m sure this is information they would like to have.”

            “Oh, but I’m sure they already have it. It was hardly a secret. An accident to the Northern Scot, that’s news. It was all over the front page. One paper, I think it was the Mirror, ran its headline like a football score, ‘British Railways, 1, ICBM, Nil.”

            Charlie laughed.

            “Ah,” I added, “but that’s not the whole of it. I’ll give you just one guess. Who do you think was the guard of the Northern Scot?”

            “Just one guess?”

            “Yes. I think that’s all you’ll need. How many guards do we have that you know the name of, and how many of them are working express trains?”

            Charlie got it right, a hole in one.

            “George Carey?”

            “Right! Go to the top of the class!”

            “Well, I suppose that’s interesting, but I’m not sure that all this has anything to do with our present problems.”

            “Maybe not, Charlie, but it does two things. First, it brings to light a scandal connected with those rocket trains that Major Brown was so exercised over. Second, it establishes a firm connection between them and George Carey. We hadn’t got that before.”

            “True as far as it goes, Frank, but I don’t see that it brings us much further forward. Exactly what is that connection? Are you suggesting that perhaps Carey was up to something, something crooked, likely, concerned with the accident?”

            “No, it’s all very slight, as evidence goes. You see, for what happened in the accident, I’ve given you the official account as it came out in the enquiry. And that may be a hundred per cent true. But there were one or two quiet rumours going round, that there may have been some sort of cover-up.”

            “A cover-up? Frank, you’re not suggesting that the enquiry covered something up?”

            “Oh no, Charlie, certainly not. The enquiry was straight. They always are. But I’ve often wondered if one or two of the railwaymen giving evidence may not have got together beforehand to agree on their stories and may not have told things exactly as they really were.”

            “And what, then, would they be covering up?”

            “What indeed? There doesn’t seem to be any possibility of the people on the Scot needing a cover-up. They did nothing wrong, and couldn’t have. They were the innocent parties. But on the rocket train, why, if they had a train with a rocket sticking up out of the top of it and tried to drive it under a bridge, that’s gross negligence at the very least, however you look at it, so heaven knows what else they could have got up to.”

            “Such as?” queried Charlie.

            “Such as, say, the guard never having given the right away. Or maybe the guard wasn’t in his brake van but was hunched up with the rest of them over the radio, listening to the Cup Final instead of doing is job. Even worse, suppose the driver was with the radio crowd, wasn’t on his engine at all, and the train was being driven by his fireman, alone on the footplate. They were only expecting to go a few hundred yards to their new site for deploying the rocket. Of course, all this is pure guesswork on my part. As to what really happened I have no idea, no more than anybody else has.”

            “I see what you mean, Frank. So there might have been something going on about the rocket train that was well worth covering up. And if George Carey wasn’t himself involved, but saw what they were doing, that might well have given him the potential for blackmail!”

            I had just got that far myself. The whole thing was of course an impossible mess, but Carey had been there, on the spot, and was himself completely in the clear. That gave him ideal leverage, if he saw or heard something that he could use. Just the same, I couldn’t see him contacting the Russian embassy to see if he could sell them the information about the rocket train and what had happened to it. They already knew. The whole sorry story had already made the front page of the British press. So it meant that if he was blackmailing somebody it would be a fellow railwayman, almost certainly one of three men, the crew of the rocket train, and hence that’s who killed him. It also meant that there was no connection with the burglary of my office, so we were dealing with two completely separate crimes. I put this viewpoint to Charlie Fry, and he nodded agreement.

            “Yes, that’s right. If that is the real explanation, then it means that your burglary is a non-starter, nothing at all to do with George Carey’s death. So we can stop worrying about what possible motive it could have had. We forget about it from now on. I think we did say earlier on that if we could find out why your office was burgled we’d know what Carey was blackmailing about, but now it looks like that’s out. Always assuming, of course, that there really is a connection with the Sheffield Shambles, as I think you called it. Anyway, it’s a line for us to work on.”

            True enough. But as Charlie grew up and strolled off, in the general direction of the bar, no doubt either in search of inspiration over George Carey or to recover from his experience of the fast bowling, that left me to watch the progressive debacle out in the field, where two more wickets had fallen even as we were talking. I pondered the issue a bit further. It did lift one particular weight off my mind. I didn’t have to worry about it being one of our senior officers, my own close associates. There were one or two weak points to be looked at.

            For one thing there was the time delay. The Sheffield Shambles was two years ago, the last time (I think?) that the rocket trains were out and running. So why should Carey have been killed only now? Had he been making blackmailing demands for all that two years? If so, why had his victim waited so long before striking? Maybe it was a slow build up and it took that long for him to be pushed over the edge? Or perhaps for some reason the victim had been unavailable until now, maybe after the Rocket Ruckus he had been posted away somewhere else. Certainly after the Shambles the driver was likely assigned to driving local shunting engines that never went outside the goods yard. At least, he damn well should have been. But where? Or maybe he left the railways altogether? Something perhaps to be followed up and investigated.

            Mind you, I could be wrong and all this could be a complete red herring, and have no connection with the guard’s murder. I’d leave that to Charlie to sort out. It did at least mean that in the meantime I could meet all my colleagues with an easy conscience, and not have to worry about whether one of them sitting round our dinner table was the killer. Which was all for the best in view of Joan’s upcoming birthday.

            My reflections were interrupted by a concerted shout. The ninth wicket had just fallen, the stumps flying in all directions, and I was on, in to bat.

 

 

Comment by the Murderer

            Out of the mouths of babes, sucklings, and Chief Traffic Superintendents: Frank himself has said it. Maybe there is no connection at all between the burglary and George Carey’s death. So there! Confusing, isn’t it? But as for the Sheffield Shambles, he’s got that all pretty straight, in so far as I heard about it – and most of us did. For the cricket, on the other hand, of course I was not in on his conversation with Inspector Fry, but I could see they were having a long and apparently serious talk, and I was suspicious of it. Maybe I should do something about that, if I got the chance. You can’t be too careful.

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