We’re less than two weeks away from completion of the Companion’s Kickstarter, and so far we’re still a bit off from the next stretch goal. Just a reminder that if you have any interest in picking up the add-ons, make sure to get those in before the campaign closes, and hopefully we’ll have enough to open up the poster add-on so that everyone who wants it has a chance to get it added to their pledge.
With that said, on with this week’s continuation of the new chapter teases:
“But sir, I’ve tol’ you all I know, I ‘ave.” The old man practically pleaded as he shuffled nervously in his chair. An old, stiff wooden chair, one that pressed into his back painfully after being sat so long, especially in a career that had him bent over and shoveling most of his life. “Honest and for true, I can’t fink of no more to be of any ‘elp to you.”
“So you keep insisting,” Replied the inspector sternly, yet calmly, wiping his glasses down with a cloth as he spoke. “Yet you still have not answered to my satisfaction how such an experienced crew could possibly explode the boiler of a brand new engine on its initial test run.” He returned the glasses to his face, and finally turned his attention fully back on the man across from him, his look intense and unforgiving, in no way made less intimidating by his short dwarven stature. “And I will tell you, you had best start coming up with some satisfactory answers to that question quite quickly. There are powers far higher than either of us coming down on this case, ones that will not be so lenient to complacency.”
As if on cue, there was a quick knock on the door as it was opened, revealing a man in full military dress, clearly a commissioned officer, though neither of the two already present in the room had enough understanding to recognize what rank. He was followed shortly after by his batman, similarly dressed though not as decorated, who carried several log books in hand as well as a brief case at his side.
“Inspector Norris, I presume?” The officer addressed the dwarven man as he extended his hand. The inspector took it in his and gave a firm hand shake, in no way surprised by the iron grip he was met with. “Thank you for your services thus far in keeping our…” He paused as he considered the best word to use. “Guest, occupied. If you will follow my assistant, Mr. Capstan here, out to the other room, he will debrief you. I should like a few moments to speak alone with Mister… “ He paused again and looked to the old railroad worker across the table, indicating for him to give his name.
“Windsleydale, sir.” He replied nervously. “Mr. Arthur Windsleydale.”
“Mr. Windsleydale.” The officer finished. Taking the log books and briefcase from his assistant so that he and the inspector could step out, he set them down on the table and settled down into the seat, hands resting in front of him with his fingers crossed together. While still clearly disciplined, his appearance was much more calm than that of the inspector. Not quite friendly, but still much less harsh, more disarming. He waited calmly until the door clicked closed behind them, and paused and took in a deep breath before he began.
“Now then, Mr. Windsleydale. I am Lord Easton, and I’ve been assigned to this case by high command. My orders are simply to find the truth of what happened to you at Doncaster three days ago. In order to best achieve that, I need you to be calm, clear, and focused.” He paused here to make sure those words set in properly before he continued. “So please, take a moment, clear your head, and when you are ready, tell me everything that happened from start to finish. Please take your time and review every detail you can recall, no matter how small.”
“Y-yes, sir.” Mr. Windsleydale replied, calmer than before but clearly still nervous. He did take advantage of the offer of time to clear his head, something that had not been offered by any of the others that had questioned him. After a few deep breaths he finally seemed to steady himself, and was ready to proceed.
“It was still early when we ‘ad gone out, me an’ ‘ector. Sun was up, but still that damp chill that clings to the bones, so we was bundled up tight. Asides from it bein’ the first test fire, the cold always makes an engine slow to start, so we knew we ‘ad to take our time. One of the tank engine crews shunts us over to take on water, then back to the shed so’s we can get the fire lit. We did all our checks…”
“Please,” Interrupted Lord Easton. “Detail for me the steps you took. I want to know everything.”
“Yes, sir.” He replied. “I starts it out by laying down a bed of wood and gets it lit. We use the wood just to get the fire ‘ot enough to get the coals goin’. Since it was cold, we kept the oil can up in the cab wiff us while it started. Oil don’ like cold, so ‘eating it up first makes it flow better. Me an’ ‘ector warm ourselfs up a moment too, huddled down close to try an’ take some of the damp off.” Subconsciously, he mimed huddling up next to a fire rubbing his hands together for warmth, though Lord Easton refrained from commenting on it.
“While I get the fire going with coal, ‘ector got the pump runnin’ an’ went to do the first part of the grease up. We ‘ad a system for the new engines, we did, ‘e greases first with the thick, brush on parts, I grease the next bits for the compressor, and ‘e greases the last bit with the parts that need grease injected an’ the low wear parts ‘at just need a light oil. Then bowf of us do a walk through together to make sure it’s all been done good an’ proper. All the parts is still new, you see, ‘aven’t been broken in yet. They needs plenty of grease to keep from shaving too much off, they do. Though you always get some shavin’s in the oil the first go.” He paused to make sure he was understood, to which Lord Easton simply nodded for him to continue. “So ‘e does the first greasin’, an’ I stokes up the fire. My experience, them Stirlin’ engines likes a horseshoe in their firebox to get up to steam.”
“I’m sorry,” Lord Easton interrupted. “I’m aware the engine was a GNR Stirling four two two, but I’m unfamiliar with what a ‘horseshoe in the firebox’ means.”
“Oh, ‘at’s the shape the coal gets shoveled in. Pile it ‘igh ’round the outer edges, with space at the front so’s you can shovel in more. Every engine’s differ’nt, they ‘as their own sweet spots where they likes the heat, temperamental like a cat some of them are, takes time to learn what each one likes. But a fireman’ll find there’s a few shapes that tend to work, and the horseshoe is mine for the Stirlin’s.”
“I see.” The officer replied, making a mental note. “Please, continue.”
“So once the fire is built up an’ we’re startin’ to build up steam, ‘ector swaps wiff me, I do my go at the greasin’ while ‘e eases the steam in, bleeds off the air in the boiler as it ‘eats up and cuts the pump off once the steam is flowin’. While I work, ‘ector says the pressure gauge looks to be comin’ up slow, but then ‘e pops the vent ‘ose and it comes right up. Not that strange for a new engine, the springs in the gauge is sometimes wound a bit tight before they starts to move. I get back, ‘e says it all looks normal to ‘im, I do my check over it while ‘e goes to do the rest of ‘is greasin’, and it all looks right to my eyes. I keeps the fire built up, opens the steam to the dynamo so’s we ‘as ‘lectric lights, and finish up wiff bleedin’ off the water from the compressor an’ top off the oil injector. I ‘op off the footplate an’ we do our walkabout, an’ it all looks right, so we make to move it out of the shed.”
“Through this whole process, was there anyone else present with the engine?” Lord Easton inquired.
“There’s always somefink goin’ on at the shed, some bloke always goin’ to or from a job. But none that I saw wiff our engine while I was on the footplate.” His tone dropped a bit as he continued. “Though I will admit, sir, ‘at I could not see the whole time we was doin’ our walk about. I did not notice anyone by our track at the time, but I was not lookin’ for anyone either.”
“Understood, please carry on.”
“Since this was a new engine, we didn’t ‘ave any ashes to clear, so we just rolled ‘er slow to the turntable an’ then to the test siding. We give it a vent to make sure the valves is clear, an’ we start to put ‘er through ‘er paces. Test the controls, get a feel for ‘ow she responds, an’ it all seems normal.” He paused a moment here, seeming to get a bit choked up, to which Lord Easton simply waited. “We back up to some trucks to test ‘er wiff a load, I ‘op down to couple us up. I was at the back of the tender when I ‘ears poor ‘ector yell, though I could not ‘ear what. I pop my ‘ead around to see what’s ‘appening, an’ afore I can move, next fing I know, I’m knocked flat on the ground, dazed an’ confused, wiff my ears ringin’. I fank ‘eaven I was behind the tender, saved me from the boiler explodin’, it did. But ‘ector… poor, poor ‘ector…” He simply trailed off quietly here, staring into the distance.
“My condolences to you. I know what it’s like to lose a comrade.” Lord Easton said sympathetically. He truly did understand what the man was going through, and did genuinely feel for him. However, duty did not allow overmuch for mourning when there were mysteries to be solved. “Please, I do need you to concentrate here. You said you were putting the engine through its paces. Exactly what motions did you go through?”
The old fireman took a moment to compose himself and to think hard. “We ‘adn’t got very far. We came off the turntable, ran the distance of the siding and stopped ‘afore the trucks, slow running to get a feel. We did a backwards run an’ stopped ‘afore the turntable, an’ did a forward run faster an’ put the brakes ‘ard on at the end to test them. That all went smooth, so’s we went to turn ’round to couple up to the cars. The turntable was bein’ used then, so’s we used a wye to face the right way ’round.”
“And made a three point turn when you did so. And three stops going forward and back with your tests.” The officer nodded, clearly suspecting something but not giving away any hints as to what. “Think hard, were there any other stops you made prior to that point? Specifically any other patterns of three?”
Mr. Windsleydale closed his eyes shut tight as he tried to go back in his memory. “Nofink else wiff the tests, I can promise you that.” His tone revealed that he was quite certain in that regard. “Though we did ‘ave a bit of trouble getting balanced on the turntable. Not so surprising, that, ‘appens all the time. But yes, now that I fink of it, it was ‘free times there. Overshot forward, overshot back, and got it on the ‘fird try.”
“Three sets of three…” Lord Easton nodded and trailed off.”That would be what they’d use for a trigger now, wouldn’t it?” He asked the question openly, though clearly it was not intended for anyone present in the room. “Not enough to prove it with just that, but certainly there’s a pattern.”
Mr. Windsleydale just stared at him confused, not certain if he was supposed to say anything here or not. Finally, the officer shook himself from his musings and stood, extending his hand to shake that of the fireman. “Thank you for your assistance, sir. I do not believe I will have any further questions for you, but please remain within our protective custody for the time being. We’ll see to the needs of yourself and your family until this is settled.” And without any further explanation, Lord Easton picked up his belongings and walked out of the room quickly, moving with a purpose.
Arthur Windsleydale simply sat back and breathed heavily. If he were a younger or more adventurous man, he might have asked more questions, tried to figure out what exactly this was all about and why all the secrecy and high level involvement. But he wasn’t a young man, and age had long ago taken the adventuring spirit from him. So instead, he contented himself with sitting back and thinking about how nice retirement sounded.