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Last Train To Lime Street

Last Train To Lime Street

Book excerpt

Chapter 1

The Wedding

Saturday, 15th December 2005 would long live in the memory of Detective Constable Derek McLennan. It was, after all, his wedding day and as he and his bride, nurse Debbie Simpson walked out of the Cotton Exchange Building on Liverpool's Edmund Street into the crisp winter sunshine, having tied the knot in front of their families and friends, Derek considered himself the most fortunate man in the world. He and Debbie had met when he was hospitalised after being shot while attempting to foil an armed robbery of a jewellery store during his off-duty hours. Now, he stood nervously, wearing a brand new navy-blue three-piece suit specially bought for the occasion, while Debbie was dressed in a beautiful, cream strapless, knee length silk dress, with a lace overlay. She wore a Chantelle Lace bolero over her dress, which she could remove for the reception, letting her feel like she was wearing a different dress. In her cream, 3-inch stiletto peep-toed shoes to match her dress, Derek thought she looked like a fairy tale princess. Her ensemble was topped by a waist length veil, removable for the reception, held in place by a simple tiara. She carried a small bouquet of her favourite flowers, cream and pale lemon Gerbera Daisies and Carnations. Debbie had a nice surprise for Derek for later, too. Her slim legs looked stunning in ten denier stockings, (he didn't know they were stockings of course), which were topped off with a lacy blue garter. She planned to make their wedding night very special for him.

All too quickly, the happy couple had exchanged their vows and were promptly declared man and wife, to the delight of their small group of guests who applauded as Derek kissed his new wife in time-honoured fashion.

Debbie had been one of the team of nurses who had helped Derek in his return to health after being operated on to remove the bullet that had lodged in his chest. As he endured the inactivity forced upon him by his time in hospital, she had spent many of her off-duty hours sitting and talking to the young detective until, almost inevitably, romance blossomed between the young couple and by the time Derek was discharged from hospital he had faced his biggest fear to date; proposing to the pretty young nurse who had stolen his heart. He later confessed to his colleague, D.C. Lenny (Tony) Curtis, that he was more afraid of being rejected by Debbie than he was when confronting the armed robbers, unarmed, on the day he was shot.

Following the wedding, the happy couple and their guests, including their families and most of Liverpool's Specialist Murder Investigation Team, headed for the reception at the Adelphi Hotel, where Tony Curtis, his closest friend on the squad, delivered the traditional best man's speech. Some of the team had expected Curtis to produce a flippant and jocular speech that fitted in with his usual daily persona, but instead, Curtis delivered a masterful and almost tear-inducing speech that focussed on his friend's dedication to duty, his willingness to put himself in the firing line to protect society in general and his colleagues in particular. Much to Derek's surprise and embarrassment, Curtis made a great and impassioned reference to Derek having received the Chief Constable's Commendation for bravery following his selfless attempt to foil the jewellery store robbery, finally leading to an injection of humour by saying,

“I've seen some weird and whacky ways of guys trying to meet the girl of their dreams, but Derek just had to take it to the nth degree. I mean, who else goes out and gets themselves shot just so he can meet a gorgeous, sexy nurse and fulfil almost every man's fantasy?”

This was greeted by a round of polite laughter with Derek, seated beside his best man, managed to surreptitiously, playfully thump his best friend's thigh in a successful attempt to shut him up. Derek's ploy worked for a moment, until his best man delivered his final embarrassing fact relating to the groom.

“Of course, we all know just how committed Derek is to the job, don't we? Who else would stand in a back alley, snogging a sergeant, just to provide cover for a spot of covert surveillance?”

Curtis was referring to their last case, when Derek and the squad's on-loan German detective, Sofie Meyer had played the part of a courting couple in an impromptu attempt to obtain a visual sighting into the rear of their suspect's home while the rest of the team converged on the front. Derek still blushed when he recalled Meyer saying, in a voice not to be denied, “Kiss me Derek.” Debbie had laughed when he'd related the incident to her later, telling him how brave he was and how proud she was that her husband-to-be was so dedicated to his job that he'd risk a slap from his fiancée in order to catch a criminal. For a minute, he'd thought she was serious, but then her face crumpled in laughter and Derek joined in, still slightly embarrassed by the whole thing.

Finally, Tony Curtis came to the end of his speech, wishing the happy couple a long and happy life together. As he sat down, the assembled guest gave him a rousing round of applause, and, unusually for him, he blushed. Truth be told, he'd been absolutely terrified at the prospect of delivering his best man's speech and was relieved it was over and that he hadn't managed to make a fool of himself.

As soon as he was seated, and the applause died down, Derek leaned across to him and whispered in his ear, “Thanks a lot mate. I'll fucking kill you later, shall I?”

Curtis laughed and replied, “What else did you expect when you asked me to be your best man?”

“True. I should have known you wouldn't be able to resist putting the knife in and making me look a right pillock.”

“Ha-ha,” Curtis laughed. “Lighten up man, they loved it, and you are the luckiest copper in Liverpool. Debbie's a real cracker mate. I envy you, and that's a fact.”

Smiling, Derek turned to his friend, shook his hand and said in a heartfelt voice, “Thanks, Tony. I mean it. From the day I joined the squad, you've always had my back.”

“Aw, shut up, man. You do the same for me and everyone else on the team. That's why we work so well together.”

Soon afterwards, with all the speeches over, and before the dancing began, Debbie's father, John Simpson stood up and asked everyone to join him at the hotel's main entrance, where he announced, a special present awaited Derek and Debbie. Nobody had noticed when Debbie's brother, Neil, had quietly left the room while Tony Curtis had been making his speech. It was his job, arranged by him and his father, to bring the surprise present to the front of the hotel. As Derek, Debbie and their guests dutifully gathered at the Adelphi's entrance, a quizzical look on their faces, a gleaming, black, beautifully restored Ford Zephyr 6, Mark III, familiar to fans of the old TV show, Z-Cars, pulled up right in front of the entrance, and out stepped Neil Simpson. Debbie's father placed a hand on Derek's shoulder, and said to his new son-in-law, “We know you love classic cars, Derek, and you know Neil earns a living restoring old vehicles, so we thought you and Debbie might like this.”

“It's for me? I mean us?” Derek beamed with delight.

“All yours, son,” said a smiling John Simpson. “Enjoy it.”

Neil walked up to Derek, shook his hand and handed him the keys to the Zephyr.

“All the best to you both,” he said as Derek took possession of the keys to the finest wedding present anyone could have given him.

“Thank you, Neil, and you too John. God knows how much it must have cost you to restore her, but she's beautiful.”

“Only two owners since she was first registered in 1965,” Neil said, proudly. “It was a pleasure doing her up for the two of you.”

“Are you happy to be seen in this old thing, Debbie?” Derek asked as his wife stood smiling beside him.

“Of course I am, you twit,” she replied. “I told Dad and Ian how you're mad about old cars, and they planned all this without a word to me, but just look at it. It looks like it's brand new. How could anyone not want to be seen in it?”

“Here's a set of keys for you too, Sis,” Neil said as he presented a second set of keys to his sister. “Just don't fight over who's going to drive it now, will you?” he laughed.

“No chance of that Neil. Derek will be using it more than me. It's got one of those old-fashioned column change gear sticks. Not my thing really. I'll stick to my little old faithful mini, thanks.”

Debbie's brother laughed, and then, beckoned by Derek, he joined his brother-in-law and together they proceeded to take a quick drive to Lime Street station and back, finally driving around to the hotel car park, where they parked the car for the time being.

“Will you take care of it while we're on honeymoon?” Derek asked as he parked his wonderful wedding present from his in-laws.

“Of course,” Neil replied. “It'll be waiting for you when you get back from Majorca.”

“Thanks, Neil, for everything. I couldn't have wished for a better present, or a bigger surprise. Debbie knows I love these old cars, and if anything proves how much your sister loves me, it's that she suggested this to you.”

“She thinks the world of you, mate,” Neil told him. “Thinks the sun shines out of your arse, she does. I'm sure I don't have to tell you to take care of my little sister, do I?”

“You've got no worries there. She means the world to me,” Derek assured him.

“I kind of realised that from the way you look at her. I really hope you'll both be truly happy together, Derek, and if you get any trouble from the car, you let me know, okay? Don't be going to no garages or service stations, promise?”

“I promise,” Derek replied. “I wouldn't dream of letting anyone else handle her.”

“Good, that's settled then. We'd better get back to your reception before Debbie thinks we're run away together with the Zephyr.”

The two men, both ardent car enthusiasts, laughed together as Derek locked his precious car and the two of them returned to the wedding reception.

Before long, the clock approached the time for the happy couple to make their way to the airport to catch the flight that would carry them to their honeymoon destination.

One by one, Derek's colleagues came and wished the couple happiness and prosperity. D.I. Andy Ross and his wife Maria were first to wish them well, followed by Detective Sergeant Izzie Drake and her husband, Peter. They were soon followed by Detective Constables Nick Dodds and Samantha Gable, and their German colleague, Sofie Meyer. Derek was delighted that his former colleague, D.C. Keith Burton had accepted their invitation to the wedding. Keith had been shot soon after Derek, while on the job, but his injuries had been more severe and he was currently reassigned to a desk job within police headquarters. It was not known if he'd ever be fit enough to return to his previous role, but they all lived in hope.

Missing from his colleagues in the Specialist Murder Investigation Team were Detective Sergeant Paul Ferris and the team's admin assistant Kat Bellamy, left in charge of the team's squad room. Anything could and often did happen during daylight hours in a city the size of Liverpool, and someone had to man the desks while the wedding was taking place. Ferris was represented by his wife Kareen and his young son, Aaron, who had survived a kidney transplant at a young age and was now growing into a strapping young lad, almost the spitting image of his father. At 9 years of age he could easily be mistaken for a boy at least two to three years older. Kareen hugged both the bride and groom and planted a kiss on Derek's cheek, and Derek hugged her back and made Aaron's day by shaking his hand as he would a grown man and telling him to pass the handshake on to his Dad later. Aaron Ferris positively beamed his pleasure and Debbie McLennan felt a surge of love for her husband for helping to make the lad feel important.

When the 'cab' to take them to the airport arrived, Derek was surprised once more as the car that awaited the couple was a silver Mercedes, driven by no less than a fully-liveried chauffeur, who Derek easily identified as Stan Coleman, the former D.I. and now owner of one of the city's largest cab companies. Coleman had been helpful to the squad in helping to track down the killer in their last major case and now he was here to drive Derek and his bride to the airport to catch their honeymoon flight.

As the car pulled away, accompanied by much cheering and waving, the guests drifted back into the bar where some continued to party into the night. A few left early, ready to fall into bed, happy and tired, knowing that work was never too far away. They were right of course, though nobody knew it at that moment.

Chapter 2

Last Train to Lime Street

Sixty-year old Bob Fraser had grown up with a single-minded ambition. As he proudly replied to anyone who asked the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” he'd say, “An engine driver.” From the age of five, he'd been obsessed with trains and the railways in general. Driving a train was his single-minded obsession and nothing would prevent him fulfilling his sole ambition. He'd fulfilled his ambition by the time he reached his twenty-fourth birthday and in the intervening years, he'd driven virtually every type of locomotive seen on the railways of Britain.

Now, he sat at the controls of the last train of the day from Manchester Piccadilly to Liverpool Lime Street. The Type 155 'Sprinter' diesel multiple unit, built by Metro Cammell, and capable of a maximum speed of 75 mph, was one of the most frequently seen locomotive units on the British Railway system and though not quite as large and powerful as some of the locos he'd driven over the years, he was happy in his work and no matter what he was asked to drive, as long as he could feel and hear the vibration and the 'clickety-clack' of the train as it moved along the permanent way, Bob was in his element. In all his years at the controls, he'd never had an accident and was confident he'd reach his impending retirement with his perfect record intact.

Now, just four miles from Lime Street, he had slowed his train as he passed through Mossley Hill station, bang on time. As he cleared the platform he increased speed slightly as he approached the bridge that carried Rose Lane over the railway just a few yards from the station. Suddenly, in the locomotive's headlights, designed for illuminating the tracks directly ahead of the train, his eyes caught a momentary sight of an object falling from the bridge, directly in front of his train. With little or no time to apply the emergency brakes, Bob did so anyway, in a forlorn hope of avoiding disaster. A sickening thud quickly told him he'd been wholly unsuccessful in his attempt. As the train slowed, Bob felt the awful sensation of the thing that has fallen under his train being dragged along under his locomotive for at least a quarter of a mile as he brought the two-coach unit to a halt. Despite not having had a clear view of the falling object, Bob's instincts told him he had just struck a human being and dragged the body along under his train.

As the train came to a halt, Bob took a moment to compose himself before daring to open the driver's door to inspect the damage his train must have caused to the unfortunate person who had fallen under the wheels of his train. As he stepped down from the cab, he was joined by Ray Warren, the conductor, who'd guessed their train had hit an obstacle, and who'd leapt from the rear carriage the second the train stopped. Ray had shouted to the thankfully few passengers on the train to stay on board as he attempted to ascertain the cause of the hold up to their journey. He had to hope they'd obey his instruction.

“What the fuck was that, Bob?” he asked the driver.

Even in the dark, Ray could see that the driver's face was ashen, and it looked to him as if Bob was about to be sick.

“I think we hit someone, Ray,” he managed, before falling silent as he felt the bile rising again. “I saw something fall from the bridge and then felt the thump as we hit it.”

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