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THE TOUGH OF THE TRACK

This last episode (third series) of “The Tough of the Track.” is taken from The Rover No. 1340 - March 3rd 1951

THE FUR COAT PLOT

The street leading to Matkin’s, the biggest shop in Greystone, was silent and deserted until Alf Tupper, the Tough of the Track, came round the corner. On the handcart he was pushing lay the extension-ladder fetched from his employer’s premises.

 

The wheels squeaked, and a big bucket, its top covered by a bit of tarpaulin, clanked as he came along. It was getting on for two in the morning, but Charlie Chipping, the plumber and Alf were having to work at night, as they were repairing the sprinkler system in the store, and business went on as usual during the day. A policeman was standing in a patch of shadow near the back entrance of the building. A special watch was being kept, because there had been a series of mysterious thefts from the shop. The constable, who had seen Alf go off for the ladder, rang the bell for him.

The bar was lifted and one of the night watchmen opened the door. Alf shouldered the ladder, reached for the bucket, advised the policeman to mind his napper as he swung round, and went in.

Three times Alf has been beaten by the mad runner. If Alf doesn’t win this time, he’ll get that knife in his back !

 

The gangways and dust-sheeted counters stretched away into the distance, with light here and there. Charlie Chipping helped Alf to get rid of the ladder, and looked curiously at the bucket. “What have you brought the bucket along for, Alf?” he asked. Alf looked up and down the store. There was no sign of a patrolling watchman, so he twitched away the bit of tarpaulin. Chipping’s pipe shot out of his mouth when he saw Alf pull a fur coat out of the bucket. “I had to get it back here,” the Tough said. “It has a Matkin’s label on it.” “Where did you find it?” gasped Chipping. “In our place,” Alf replied. “I saw a light flash across the window and then a chap came running out. I went after him, but caught my foot in a grating and did a nose-dive. When I went back I found this coat hidden in one of our tanks.” Chipping took off his hat and rammed it on again. “What was the idea?” he demanded. “We’re working here, ain’t we?” exclaimed Alf. “We’re under suspicion, same as a good many other people. When I went out of my way to get the ladder, the cops asked if I’d mind them searching me.” Chipping scowled. “It’d have been awkward for us if the fur coat had been found at our place,” he said. “I reckon it was meant to be found – but not by you or me,” Alf replied. “It’s a pity you didn’t catch the chap,” said Chipping. “He must be nippy to get away from you.” Alf looked at him hard. “I know who it is,” he growled. “It’s the bloke who has beaten me twice on the Granton Hall track. Chipping opened his eyes wide. “Not – not Evan Courtney?” he spluttered, for Evan Courtney, the Oxbridge University half-miler, had twice beaten the Tough on the indoor track at the Granton Hall Athletics Centre. “That’s him; it must be,” Alf said. “Did you see his face?” asked Chipping. “No,” admitted the Tough. “But I’m sure it was him. I’d have caught anybody else.” The plumber rubbed the back of his head with his knuckles. “What are we going to do about it, Alf?” he exclaimed. “The first thing is to get rid of this fur coat,” said Alf. “The fur coat department is upstairs,” replied Chipping. “It’s too risky to go upstairs since we’re not working there,” said Alf. “I’ll stick it under one of these dust-sheets, and let ‘em puzzle it out in the morning.” “Not too near here,” protested the plumber. “I’ll go along to the basement and make us a brew of tea,” said Alf. “I’ll get rid of it on the way.” With the coat over his arm and the tea can in his hand, Alf went off. As he turned a corner, a bright light flashed ahead, and one of the watchmen came towards him. The watchman turned up his lamp to examine a window. It just gave Alf the time to slip into the fur coat. Then he went forward. As he got nearly within range of the beam from the torch he uttered a shout. “Was that a rat running across there, Harold?” he rapped out, pointing to the side. The watchman swung the torch round, and was shining it down the side gangway as the Tough came up behind him. “Are you sure it was a rat?” he exclaimed. “I know there are some about, but –” “No, I ain’t sure, but it’d be worth having a look,” said Alf. The watchman nodded and, shining the torch downwards, plodded away down the side aisle on his rat hunt. Alf slid out of the coat. “I’m going to get rid of my bit of rabbit skin,” he muttered, and lifting up a dust-sheet, pushed the fur coat underneath. It was true it was the counter devoted to the sale of cheese, but the Tough did not worry about that.

POLICE SEARCH

It was getting on for six o’clock in the morning when Alf and Chipping trundled the handcart down Gas Street, where the plumber had his shop. “What are you doing to-day, Alf,” Chipping inquired. “Same as usual,” said Alf. “I’ll have my sleep, and go along to Granton Hall in the afternoon.

I’ve heard rumours that the professor blokes will soon be packing up.” During the winter the indoor arena had been used for a series of experiments in athletics, and upon athletes, by Professor Hugo Dane, and Professor Lee-Latham. Alf wasn’t much interested in the scientific side, but he did appreciate having the use of the track. Chipping unlocked the door and put on the light. They were just inside the shop, which was really more of a storeroom, when there were footsteps on the pavement. Two burly men in soft hats and overcoats came in and blocked the doorway. “Lummy, two fairies from the pantomime,” exclaimed Alf. “We’re police,” said Detective-Sergeant Smyme. “We’ve reason to believe you may have stolen property on these premises. Have you any objection to our making a search?” “If I do object, I suppose you’ll get a warrant,” grunted Chipping. “You’re welcome.” The two detectives made a thorough search of the premises, disturbing a considerable amount of dust, but finding nothing. Apparently satisfied, they left the shop. “That could have been awkward,” growled Chipping. Alf nodded. “If I hadn’t been a bit suspicious, searched round, and found the coat, we’d be on our way to jail now,” he said. “The cops must have been tipped off,” exclaimed the plumber. “It’d be Evan Courtney, I suppose – trying to throw suspicion on us.” Alf agreed with a nod. “Yes, he wouldn’t know I’d found the coat, even though I chased him out,” he said. “It was tucked right down in that galvanized tank.” He pointed up at a tank, one of the first things which the detectives had examined. “What are we going to do about it?” Chipping muttered. “I don’t know,” replied Alf. “But I’m sure Evan Courtney is the thief.” “I’ll tell you what,” Chipping said. “Have a word with Commander Churcher about it.” He referred to the permanent Warden of Granton Hall. “You could talk to him.” “You’ve had worse ideas than that,” replied Alf.

THE TESTS IN THE TUNNEL

When Alf arrived at Granton Hall that afternoon, the first person he saw was Frank Hamilton, the track coach. “Is Mr Churcher about Frank?” he asked. “He’ll be in later this afternoon,” Hamilton said. “I’m glad you’ve turned up, Alf. There’s some big news.” “What’s that?” the Tough exclaimed. “You’ll get it from the professors,” stated the coach.

Alf headed towards the small lecture hall. Several of the athletes who had been assisting with the tests were already there. Evan Courtney, hands in his pockets, strolled in just after the Tough. His eyes had a glassy glint under the lights, but this was because he was short-sighted and wore contact lenses. Alf did not want to give away the fact that he in any way suspected Courtney. “How do, Evan?” he said. “When are you and me going to have another run?” Courtney shrugged. “You’re a glutton for punishment,” he replied. Hugo Dane a man with a massive head, came in with Lee-Latham, who was sharp-featured and pallid, and the conversation died away. “I’ve an important announcement to make, but by way of a beginning I want to say something about oxygen,” Dane said. Alf was just mildly interested. He used oxygen when welding. He also knew it was in the air. That was about all. “To put it in a nutshell, oxygen conquers fatigue,” Dane went on. “It is energy! The greater your oxygen intake, the greater your energy. The brain, muscles, and heart must have oxygen.” Alf felt ready to doze off. He had had only about five hours sleep after his night’s work. “When you run, you breathe deeply, you draw in all the air you can,” Dane went on. “But in the air there are four parts nitrogen to one of oxygen, and the nitrogen is no good for you.” Then he held up a challenging hand. “Now, suppose the atmosphere was half-oxygen,” he said. “What would the result of that be?” He answered his own question. “It would raise your oxygen intake a lot, and you would be able to expend energy at a greater rate.” Alf’s sleepy eyelids were closing. “That’s what we are going to do,” boomed Dane. “We are going to provide you with an atmosphere that is half oxygen in which to run.” “We anticipate there will be some astonishing results,” chipped in Lee-Latham. “We might even record a three-minute mile.” Alf jerked up. That remark had aroused him. A”A three-minute mile? No, that’s a daft notion,” he muttered. “Some of you have seen the excavations at the back of the house,” stated Dane. “A tunnel has been built to give us a circular track two hundred yards in circumference. As a matter of fact, the greater part of the tunnel was formerly a channel for an underground stream. This has now been diverted into the reservoir, and we only had to make a short connecting link and do some concreting.” Those of the audience who had not heard about the project were listening eagerly. “I’ve sprung this on you suddenly because it wasn’t anticipated that the work would be completed in time for our present series of experiments,” Dane said. “But it has been finished. The plant for pumping in oxygen has been installed and has passed its tests. It has been an expensive project, of course, but the tunnel is to be used for many purposes other than athletics.” “We have an impressive list of tests for you on our schedule, but this afternoon we should like to show you the tunnel,” Lee-Latham exclaimed. The professors led the way out of the room. A short distance from the house was a concrete archway. Steps led downwards to a metal door. “We can only go through two at a time,” Dane said. “It’s an air-lock.” He stepped inside with Lee-Latham and closed the door. A red light shone from a glass disc above it. In a few moments the light changed to green. “That’s the okay,” Cal Marrow exclaimed. Alf pulled up the handle and opened the door. Marrow stepped in with him into a small chamber. A similar metal door faced them which could not be opened until the outer door was closed and sealed. They went through and then down a few more steps, into a brightly-lit curving concrete tunnel. By jumping, Alf could have touched the roof. At a guess it was about six feet wide. A track surface had been laid. In an alcove at the side of the tunnel was the control panel, with numerous handles and gauges. The air-lock doors opened and closed until everyone was in the tunnel. Alf saw there were markings on the walls to indicate the distances. Thus, the 220 yards mark was twenty yards past the starting line. Dane gave one of his big chuckles. “The air probably feels just the same to you,” he said. “As a matter of fact, it is one-third oxygen at the moment. Who’d like to run?” Alf, though he was in jacket, grey flannels, and boots, as compared with track-suits and running shoes of some of the others, promptly shouted that he would run. “In those boots?” asked Hamilton. Alf cocked a foot over his knee and tugged at the lace. “I’ll soon have ‘em off, Frank,” he exclaimed. Evan Courtney, Cal Marrow, and Alf, in his bare feet and his jacket off, got down on the line for a 220 yards race. Lee-Latham called out “Stop,” and they stood up straight again. “We’ll take a time,” he said. “Just a few moments while I switch the timing apparatus on, please.” “What’s a smart time for the two-twenty, Frank?” asked Dane. “Twenty-two seconds is a good time,” Hamilton answered. Lee-Latham turned from the switches. The timing clock was now in operation. “All right now,” he exclaimed. Hamilton told the three runners to get to their marks. “Get set…Go!” he shouted, with the snap of a starting gun. Away along the curving tunnel sped the three runners. Alf, his trouser legs flapping round his shanks, could feel no difference in his breathing. He had the impression they were getting along well, but knew the confined space and the curve must heighten the impression of speed. Running underground was a strange experience. Marrow, on the inside, had the slight edge on them as the start had not been staggered. Alf kept very close up, and out of the corner of his eye he could just see Evan Courtney. With no need to conserve energy for a long race, the three of them pounded along till they had a glimpse of the tape ahead. Alf ripped into an all-out spurt. He got a stride in front of Marrow and sped in. His bogy-man flashed past him. With his hands flailing high. Evan Courtney just beat him to it, and went through the tape to win by inches. Dane’s booming voice went echoing down the tunnel. “You’ve run the fastest two-twenty of all time,” he roared excitedly. “What was the time?” Hamilton called out. “Seventeen point five seconds,” exclaimed Lee-Latham. “Say, I didn’t think we were moving any faster than normal,” Cal Marrow said. “You breathed in more oxygen,” Dane said. “Therefore you had more energy. Greater energy produced an increase in speed.” “We shall get some most valuable information when we have the tunnel in full working order,” Lee-Latham said. Dane pulled at a handle. A valve opened, and there was a rush of oxygen into the tunnel. “Who’s going next?” he asked, and Frank Figgis and two others were quick to grab the chance. Alf stooped to put his boots on. He scowled in the direction of Courtney. “He blooming well pipped me again, Frank,” he growled. “I don’t know that it was a fair test,” Hamilton replied. “You had no track shoes, and your pants would be a hindrance.” Alf shook his tousled head. “They made no difference,” he said. “It narks me, but I’ll run him before I’m finished with him.” Other astonishing times were set up, but the seventeen point five seconds was not beaten. When the time came to leave the tunnel, Alf found out that Commander Churcher had come back, and was in his office.

ALF ASKS ADVISE

“I’ve something pretty bad to tell you, Mister Churcher.” Alf began when he was alone with the Warden in his room, which had many sporting pictures on the wall. Churcher, who had run for the British relay team, looked inquiringly at Alf. “What’s your bad news, Tupper?” he asked. Alf’s expression was grim. “I’m sorry to tell you that Evan Courtney is a crook,” he said.

Churcher jerked upright in his chair. “What are you talking about?” he asked testily. “Well, I’ll tell you,” growled Alf. “What I’m after is a bit of advice.” As he gave his account of what had happened at Matkin’s Store, and of his midnight chase through the streets, the Commander’s face grew sterner and sterner. He was a man of wide experience, and had been a Naval officer for over twenty years. “You seem convinced about Courtney,” he said. “I’ve run behind him so often I couldn’t be mistaken,” replied Alf. “No, you get to know a rival’s style,” agreed the Warden. “Just the same, Evan Courtney has no need to try and add to his income by stealing from a shop. He’s well off.” Alf shrugged. “Just the same, the dirty blighter tried to put us in bad with the cops,” he said. “He’d know Charlie and me were working at Matkin’s, because I’d talked about it up here. Maybe that started him off. He’d see a way of using us as cover, and sticking the blame on us if the heat got turned on.” “Will you leave this to me for a day or two?” Churcher asked, after a brief pause for thought. “What articles d’you say are missing?” “Quite a lot of silver stuff, according to what the watchman told us,” Alf answered. “I’ll see if we can find it,” Churcher replied. “I’m glad you came to me first instead of telling the police.” “We thought it was the best thing to do, as he’s staying at Granton Hall,” said the Tough.

RACE AGAINST DEATH

That evening, Alf and Charlie Chipping walked towards the store. They were without the handcart for once, as there were no extra tools or equipment to bring along. The plumber listened intently to Alf’s account of his talk with the Warden. “Maybe he has had a University education, but that don’t mean much,” Chipping grunted. “A chap can have a string of degrees behind his name and still be a bad egg.” “That’s a fact,” said Alf.

 

Chipping took his pipe from his mouth and pointed it at Alf. “He won’t break into our place again,” he stated. “I’ve put a new lock on the door.” “What about the window?” Alf asked. “I’ve stacked cisterns up behind the window,” said the plumber. “If he touches ‘em they’ll come down and crown him.” The watchman let them into the shop. “How’re you getting on, Harold?” exclaimed Alf. The watchman gave a shake of the head. “There’s more trouble,” he said. “A fur coat was found mixed up with the cheese this morning.” “How did it get there?” Alf inquired. “I wish I knew,” growled the watchman. “Anyhow, it wasn’t pinched. But do you know how much stuff is missing? Over five hundred quids’ worth.” “What are the police doing?” Chipping asked. “They haven’t told me,” said the watchman. “No, cops ain’t talkative till they get into the witness box,” replied the plumber. Chipping and Alf put in a hard night’s work without any fresh alarms. Alf returned to the old tool shed – on the allotment – that he now used for a home, unrolled his mattress, and had a good sleep. He had some fish and chips for his dinner, as the shop was open, and then headed as usual for Granton Hall. He was thinking that despite everything, he had kept in better training that winter than any previous, and this must mean that he would start the new season, when it came, in top form. As he went walking up the drive towards the house, Evan Courtney, in his track-suit, strolled out of a side passage and turned his glassy gaze on Alf. “What are you thinking of doing?” he asked in a friendly manner. “I’m going to have a run round,” Alf said. “We can use the tunnel if we like,” drawled Courtney. “I’m feeling energetic. How about having a race?” Alf wasn’t going to miss that chance. “Give me a chance to get into my strip and I’ll be with you,” he said. No one else was in the dressing room as he went to his locker. In two or three minutes he was out of his clothes and into his running kit. He hurried out to rejoin Courtney. They walked to the tunnel entrance and passed through the air-lock. Courtney switched on the lights and went first down the steps. It was silent except for the distant thud of pumps. Their voices echoed hollowly. “What shall we run – how about the mile?” asked Alf. Courtney unfastened his track-suit and stepped out of it. His voice rang out in a strange harsh way. “A mile?” Then from his lips came a peal of sinister laughter. “I’ll catch you before you’ve run a mile.” Alf backed away. His fists were clenched. Courtney’s eyes looked glazed – but the Tough suddenly realised he was not wearing contact lenses. When he saw the wild glare in Courtney’s staring and enlarged eyes he knew what he was up against. “Gosh, he’s potty!” Alf muttered. “He’s off his head!” With a snatching movement, Courtney’s hand came away from his waist. There was a flash of steel and a pointed commando knife glittered in his grasp. “You set them on to me, Tupper,” he snarled, “and this will be your last race.” With his dagger hand raised he made a lunge at Alf. There was no chance of getting in close to tackle the madman. All the Tough could do was run. He broke into a sprint down the tunnel. For fear of losing speed, he dare not look back, but he heard the patter of Courtney’s speeding footsteps close behind. Alf was racing for his life, speeding through the tunnel with the crazed runner who four times had beaten him, chasing him with a knife. The Tough strode on. Once he felt Courtney so close behind him that he spurted desperately, expecting to feel the knife in his back. Courtney fell back a little. The footsteps were not quite so near. He sped on round and round the track, sped on till he was soaking in sweat. From behind him he could hear Courtney’s harsh breathing. The footsteps drew up close to him again. Alf hurled in every ounce he had left to get away. For a full lap Courtney was running madly to catch him. The Tough, demanding everything from his big heart and lungs, held him off and then drew a bit further ahead. Alf heard muffled shouts. He had a blurred glimpse of Commander Churcher, Hugo Dane, and Hamilton rushing down the steps. A gasping cry burst from Courtney. The Tough at last snatching a backward look, saw the knife fall from Courtney’s hand, tinkling on to the track. Courtney staggered two or three paces before, with all his energy burned away, he collapsed in a crumpled heap on the floor. Alf slithered to a stop. He put his hands on his thighs, hung his head down, and pumped for breath. “I run him,” he panted. “I beat him at last.” He raised a grin. “I blooming well had to!” “It’s just as well you did beat him,” exclaimed Churcher. “He must have waylaid you and tricked you into coming down here alone with him.” “He challenged me to a race,” admitted the Tough. “We found a hoard of stuff he must have taken from Matkin’s hidden in the house this morning,” said Churcher. “I had questioned him once about it – and his manner, to say the least of it, was peculiar. Hugo Dane and Hamilton lifted Courtney. He hung limply between them, and his face was as white as paper. “It’s medical treatment he needs, not punishment,” Dane exclaimed. “I’ve known cases like this before. The lad worked too hard to pass those University exams of his. It’s a mental breakdown – and I should say that, in time, rest will cure him.” Alf antagonism drained swiftly away. He had had a very narrow escape, but the chap was ill, dreadfully ill. “I reckon you’re right, Mr Dane,” he exclaimed. “Swotting would send me off my head.” Alf had a lot to tell Charlie Chipping when they went to work that night. “They’ve taken Courtney away to a nursing home,” he said. “Mr Churcher got into touch with Matkin’s, and a manager came along to collect the stuff he’d pinched. There wasn’t even a spoon missing. He’d just hidden the things.” “I’d like to know how he got in and out of the shop,” exclaimed Chipping. “From the dust on his overalls they reckon he came over the roof and crawled down through the ventilator,” said Alf. The plumber looked hard at his mate. “You must have hopped it to keep out of his reach,” he said. “I didn’t half,” replied Alf, and a big grin spread across his face. “I’m the holder of the world record for the mile. The timing apparatus was working, see, and clocked me. “What was your time, then?” asked Chipping. “Don’t forget, I was sucking down oxygen, but I done the mile in three minutes twenty seconds,” said Alf. “It was a good job you did or else,” grunted Chipping. “What?” asked Alf. “I’d be buying you a wreath,” said the plumber.

 

THE END

 

 

The Tough of the Track (1st series) 32 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1244 - 1275

The Tough of the Track (2nd series) 30 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1295 - 1324

The Tough of the Track (3rd series) 10 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1331 - 1340

The Tough of the Track (4th series) 12 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1350 - 1361

The Tough of the Track (5th series) 20 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1404 - 1423

The Tough of the Track (6th series) 22 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1434 - 1455

The Tough of the Track (7th series) 13 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1460 - 1472

The Tough of the Track (8th series) 22 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1503 - 1524

He’s in the Army Now (9th series) 31 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1543 - 1573

The Tough of the Track (10th series) 22 episodes appeared in The Rover issues 1646 – 1667

© D. C. Thomson & Co Ltd 

Vic Whittle 2006