Andrew Martin

Murder at Deviation Junction

First published in 2007

For J. B. Martin, forty years a railwayman


I would like to thank Charles Morris of the Cleveland Industrial Society; His Honour, Judge David Lynch; David Secombe (for his heroic attempts to explain Edwardian photography to me); Mike Ellison of the North Eastern Railway Society; the Whitby Literary and Philosophical Society; Roy Burrows of the Roy F. Burrows Midland Collection Trust; Kevin Gordon; the Highland Railway Society; the Tom Leonard Mining Museum, and the staff of Wick Library.

All departures from historical or technical fact are my own.

Author's Note

This story is not intended as a depiction of anyone who might actually have lived in the North of England in 1909.


The Mentor Reflex

Chapter One

    'Cut you in half, it will!' shouted the bloke.

    He was talking about the wind coming in from the river.

    He called to me again: 'Step over here, lad,' and I walked into the lee of the five great blast furnaces. They were as big as railway tunnels set on end, and joined by gantries at the top along which ironstone tubs ran. In between stood banks of coke, which made the sound of the wind different on this side, but just as loud. Men worked at the hearths set into the bottom of the furnaces - on this freezing day, men without shirts.

    'I'm looking for a bloke!' I shouted to the bloke. He grinned and looked up; there came a fast upwards roaring, and the sky above the furnaces turned red. The redness held - like a man-made sunset - and when I looked down again, the bloke was closer to me.

    'Name?' he shouted.

    I couldn't bring to mind the name of my quarry, although it was set down on the arrest warrant in my pocket, and I carried a photograph of the bloke there too. I knew him as 'Number Nine'; and I knew his place of work.

    'Hudson Ironworks!' I bawled at the bloke, and he pointed with his right hand, an action that came easily to him, for he had only one finger attached there. He began to smile, letting me see he had no teeth either. Eighty feet above our heads, I could feel the heat descending, and the wind rising again. I looked at that lonely finger, and the bloke shook it, as if to unfasten my gaze, and get it fixed where it ought to have been: upon the roaring Ironopolis of Middlesbrough.

    I began crossing the railway lines half-buried in hot cinders, making towards the centre of this city of blast furnaces. Strange trains criss-crossed in front of me, like black curtains being drawn and redrawn, all towed by short tank engines that looked as though they'd been run hard into a wall and made taller than they were long by the smash.

    Some of the lines were operated by the company that employed me - the North Eastern Railway Company, I mean - and some were not. Over towards the black River Tees, I watched a line of small hopper wagons move forward, and then it was taken up, a little mineral train rising through the sky towards the top of a line of furnaces, brought by the turning of the endless iron rope. The inclined line was mounted on steel struts, and they were shaking in the wind, but the little train kept on. The tops of the blast furnaces were fifty feet high, and the track was - what? one in fifteen for five hundred yards? Men waited for it on the high gantry.

    And then I saw giant Hs painted on a row of three. That would have to be Hudson's furnaces. I moved across the ashfield with my coat wrapped round me blanket-wise. I had entered the iron district directly from the Whitby train, without having fastened the buttons, and now my hands were too cold to do them up. I was in want of a decent pair of leather gloves.

    As I made towards the Hs, I opened my coat to reach in for my pocket book, and the wind came at me. That's pneumonia right there in that single stab, I thought. I fished out the arrest warrant, and my warrant card. The arrest warrant was inside an envelope, and my hands wouldn't work to open it. I thought again of the bloke's name, but no, it wouldn't come.

    I was supposed to lay my hands on Number Nine - orders from Detective Sergeant Shillito, the bastard who breathed beer fumes at me all day long across the floor of the Railway Police office in the station at York. Number Nine was evidently inclined to rowdiness, and Shillito had promised there'd be a Middlesbrough constable to help with the arrest. But no man could be spared, as Shillito had told me with satisfaction just before I'd set off.

    Number Nine was a centre forward; turned out for Middlesbrough Vulcan Athletic (Vulcan being the name of the road that skirted the west side of the iron district). At a game played at York on Saturday last he'd crowned Shillito in a football rush. As well as being my governor, Shillito was captain of Holgate United. But I wasn't being sent after Number Nine on account of that first assault. No, I was to arrest him because he'd then laid out the Holgate United goalie during an argument over a penalty kick. The goalie was called Crowder, and his skull had been split. He was at death's door in the York Infirmary, if Shillito was to be believed.

    I walked on with head down, thinking again that the affair was not, rightly speaking, a railway police matter at all. Yes, Holgate was the railway ground, but neither of the teams had been Company teams. It was Shillito's personal war that I'd been sent to fight.

    I was now directly before the Hudson furnaces. Red molten iron was flowing away from their bases, just as if they were bleeding. Men wearing undershirts or no shirts at all attended the streams with long steel poles as they flowed away into a great building near by.

    I began trying to work my hands. I took the warrant from its envelope. Clegg - that was the footballer's name: Donald Clegg. Nickname 'Cruncher'. I felt in my pocket for the photograph Shillito had given me. Middlesbrough Vulcan Athletic played in a strip that made them look like a pack of

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