Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Starship Mels

I haven't done as much work on Mels this summer as I'd originally planned. The weather has improved since I started, and I've been spending as much time as possible outside and away from the basement. But, I've squeezed a little model building activity in here and there.
The roof for the dining room is simply a disc with a chunk removed to fit into the rectangular building - it's the disc on the right in the above picture. I had an idea to enhance things a little by adding a 'hat' - part of the saucer section from the starship Enterprise. I used the lower part of the saucer as is shown on the left.
The donor kit was the old Polar Lights U.S.S Enterprise kit. 
Positioning the hat on the main roof in preparation for cutting was done by eye, and a lot of trial-and-error fitting before any cuts were made. Notice that the centre of the dining room roof is not on the corner of the rectangular cut out, but it offset a little.
Once the placement looked right, I taped down the hat and marked the other side with guidelines for cutting.
Cutting started by using a pair of old sprue cutters to nibble out most of wedge.
After the bulk of the wedge material had been removed, various files and sanding boards were used to open up the wedge to the green line. Again there was lots of trial-and-error to get things smoothed and the fit to work. The fit isn't quite perfect yet and I'll need to do some more fitting and trimming prior to installation.
There's lots of open areas inside for wiring. The hat has little plastic stubs for attaching it to its mate on the Enterprise, in this application they will cause it to stand-off from the main roof a little and hopefully I can get some light to shine through that gap to light up the upper roof surface

Friday, August 23, 2013

Philly Friday hops on the Spadina Bus

Wherein we pull the space-time machine from the closet, punch in the year 1986, and ride with the Shuffle Demons on Toronto’s Spadina bus.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

And the award for "Best Use of a Flat Car" in a video goes to...

... The Piano Guys

And in the general happiness category, Kyushu Shinkansen....

Monday, August 19, 2013

Wallowing in nostalgia

My introduction to model railroading was via the August ’73 issue of Model Railroader magazine. That issue set the hook. I don’t buy the magazine as much as I used to, so I thought I could just saunter down to my local bookstore anytime this month to pick up a copy of the August 2013 issue. No such luck. Every bookstore and hobby shop where I’d usually find it only had September issues, and any leftover August issues had all been sent back to wherever they came from. 

There’s a slightly run-down smoke shop a few blocks from our house that I hadn’t been to in a few years that sold some magazines, so as a last ditch attempt I decided to walk over there since it’s summer and the weather is great. Bingo. He had a few June, July and August issues on his shelf. Prize in hand, I headed back home. The irony in all this for me was that back in ’73, I had to walk everywhere I wanted to go, and I bought my MRs at a smoke shop just a few blocks from my parent’s house since there weren’t any nearby hobby shops or other stores that sold model train magazines of any type. 

To say that the magazine has changed a lot in 40 years is merely stating the obvious, but, interestingly, just as there was in the ’73 issue, there is an article in the 2013 one on how to scratch-build a simple HO-scale structure: an old-time water tower in the 2013 issue; in the ’73 issue it was E. L. Moore’s Bunn’s feed and seed

I must admit though that I like the cover of the ’73 issue better. I’m always impressed that often the covers from issues in the ‘40s, ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s had just a carefully composed picture supplemented with a few words to highlight what could be found inside.  Modern day covers certainly explain the contents better at a glance, but they seem less striking than their predecessors. Then again, I don’t work in the magazine business, so I don’t have any insight into what sells in today’s market.

---

Post script

Although I haunted many smoke shops in my youth, I’ve never smoked. Back then those places sold a lot more than just cigars and cigarettes. Amongst all the other stuff for sale, the two near my parent’s house had what seemed like to the youthful me large selections of plastic model kits and hobby magazines, so they were stand-ins for more reputable hobby shops :-)

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Mels gets furniture

I spent some time adding the booths and counter to the circular dining room as well as installing its windows.
The booths and counter are cardboard punch-outs. There's 10 booths, but assembly is straightforward.
They are easily removed from the cardboard carrier, but a sharp knife helps free them with clean edges.
Before I started gluing the booths and counter into their final forms, I hunted up all the clips I could find.
The booth backs are glued up first, following the instructions printed on the card. The clips help hold things in place while the glue dries. That completed booth near the upper left of the picture was put together with double-sided tape. Tape doesn't make for tight bonds, so using white glue as recommended on the instructions is the best approach.
Here's what the booths look like after they're all glued together. Like I mentioned, assembly is easy.
And here's the counter. The seats are printed on the sides.
All the dining room windows are printed on a single die-cut sheet. There's a thin protective film on one side that needs to be removed. It was installing the windows that made me agree with the kit's box that it's a level 3 project. They're a little tricky to install, but they all fit snuggly in the frames. Just follow the instructions and resist rushing. 
Here's the furniture and windows after they're installed. It's not high fidelity furniture, it just gives a suggestion to casual viewing that there's something in the building. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Exit

I got to the office’s main reception desk right at 9 the next morning since Leslie appeared to be the punctual type.  Actually, she’s the full of surprises type. She was waiting there for me to arrive.

“Been waiting long?” I asked her.

“No.”

I turned to the receptionist, signed Leslie’s paper work, and turned to escort her into the building. The receptionist called out to me, “Mr. Bryce, there’s a phone message here for you.” She handed me a little piece of pink paper. It said I was to meet Adams at 9:30 at the hospital entrance and accompany him back here. I couldn’t see why, but he’s the boss. 

I asked the receptionist, “Can you call my group admin to get someone to escort Dr. Warden? I have to leave on an errand.”

“Yes, Mr. Bryce.”

I turned to Leslie, “Someone else will be with you this morning. I have to go over to St. Mike’s and pick up Adams.”

“Ok. No problem. Can we meet for lunch?”

“Sure, if I’m back in the office. I’ll leave a message with the group admin.”

I turned and left for the subway. Various delays added up to me not getting to St. Mike’s until around 9:45. Adams was sitting in a wheelchair in the main lobby with a nurse’s aide standing by his side. He didn’t look too well.

As he saw me approach the entrance he stood up. When I reached him he had said his goodbyes to the aide and she had turned and was pushing the chair back into the bowels of the place. 

“How are you doing?” I asked.

His right arm was in a black sling held close to his chest. His demeanor was frail. He seemed to have aged a lot in the last few days. 

“Could be better, but I can leave.”

We headed for the street. Adams had the gait of an old man, but the years slowly fell away as we got to the sidewalk.

“Taxi?” I asked as we reached the curb.

“No, I want to walk. I’ve been cooped up in that place and I want to be outside in the fresh air for awhile.”

I couldn’t blame him, we were still having a stretch of fine weather.

Adams elaborated, “Let’s walk over to the Crombie subway station and head to the office from there. I need to pick up some things and fill out some papers in HR. I need you to help me collect my things. Then I’ll be at home for the next few weeks. Home care, doctors appointments, physio, tests and all that.”

We turned and started our walk. Crombie wasn’t the closest station, but it was only a few blocks away.

“I’m sure your daughter will be glad to see you when you get home. I’m surprised she wasn’t here to meet you.”

“I sent her back to Ottawa. She has an important job there and there isn’t anything she can do here fussing over me.”

We stopped for a red light. No jaywalking for us.

Green. We crossed the street with the late-for-workers and tourists. I had a question burning a hole in my head and out in the open was where to ask it. I turned to Adams and asked straight out, “Are you Zed?”

“Yes.”

His lack of hesitation surprised me. We kept walking without missing a stride. He wasn’t offering anything else, so from the choices of who, what, when, where, and why bouncing around in my head, I went with, “Why?”

That stopped him. Then I stopped and faced him. The sidewalk crowd flowed around us.

Adams spit out his reply, “Money. Money, pure and simple. I needed money. I wanted money.” 

I stared blankly back at him. He stared at me, his face taut, ashen, and angry.

He sighed. His expression loosened. He motioned with his left arm that we should keep walking. We did.

“Soon after the fusor papers were presented at that physics conference a couple years ago, I was approached by some men who knew about my money problems. They said that for very little work on my part, I could make a lot of money.”

We came to another red light and stopped again. Adams wasn’t paying much attention. I had to stop him from walking into a right turning car. 

“All I had to do was create some ‘mischief’ in the fusor department. Slow down work, introduce roadblocks, circulate disinformation, raise doubts. Basically, keep it from going forward. Make it seem like a waste of time, set up situations, maybe dangerous ones, to cast it in a bad light, something not in the public good. Nothing that a bureaucrat in my position couldn’t handle. For that they’d give me more money than I’d ever hope to see in my lifetime.”

The light went green and the jaunty little man in the walk-sign beaconed us safe passage. 

Adams stayed put and continued, “I thought I could do it and I wanted the money more than I cared about what was going on in those labs. I figured some other lab somewhere else in the country would eventually figure out this fusor physics, so nothing was being lost.”

Red light again. Time for round two.

“What I didn’t appreciate when I started was my actions might get someone killed and ruin the lives of others. I thought I was pretty smart and could easily be a ‘criminal mastermind’ and pull it off without any problems.”

Adams paused. Walkers walked. The light went green and the little man again asked us to cross. We took him up on the offer this time and walked to the other side. I could see the Crombie entrance sign up ahead.

“Who are ‘they’?” I asked.

Adams turned his head toward me as we walked, “‘They’ are in the energy extraction business. They don’t want any competition. Especially from an energy source that one day might be as free as air.” Adams waved his good arm and tried to grab some.

Adams seemed to be forgetting I was there and was talking to someone else, “I’ve made so many mistakes. That night when we met? That was a mission I screwed up. Hiring you. Another mistake. I thought it would help keep the incident quiet. Keep it in the family and under control.”

I wasn’t thrilled to hear that, but hurt feelings from the likes of me weren’t stopping him now. He was on a roll.

“Constable McMillan being killed? That was due to my mistakes. Mary Smith in jail? Me again. Streetcar highjacking and the human damage? Me. And to make matters worse, there’s more like me in that place. Peons too.” Adams tried to wiggle his dead shoulder. “One of them probably did this. Beats me who.”

We got to the Crombie sign and went down the stairs to the station. I fished two tokens from my pocket and popped them into the turnstiles. One for me. One for him. We headed to the end of the platform. 
We stood there and faced each other.

Adams continued, “Of course there is no solid evidence to prove any of this regardless of what a convicted murderer may have told you. But, I’m sure you and Dr. Warden will try. You’re naive enough.”

Adams seemed relaxed now. His body and face had lost the rigidity they had while telling me his story. The train was entering the station. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do once we got back to the office.

I needn’t have worried.

As the engine roar and air pressure wave made the physical presence of the subway train known, Adams took a step off the platform and into oblivion.

THE END

Monday, August 12, 2013

The Lone Trainmen

This was the kind of evening we dream of all winter long. Not too hot, not too cool. Low humidity. Clear skies. Gentle breezes. Unfortunately I was going to spend the better part of it in a windowless basement.

Leslie and I didn’t speak much on the train back, only to agree to meet on the street outside the St. George subway station at 7 to go see her ‘Lone Trainmen’. I got there a little early to loiter and enjoy the good weather. The cafes and street vendors were doing brisk business. It looked like everyone was getting started on the summer evening of a lifetime. Leslie showed up at 7 on the dot. We walked a few blocks over to a huge concrete building built in the brutalist style. She spoke with the night guard, and we soon found ourselves in a sub-sub-basement corridor. This is a city of hallways.

We walked down a dim staircase to get there. At the far end was a door with intense light blazing from the frame gap. No name plates or numbers on it, just a poster of a streetcar levitating above a section of track with the words ‘I Want to Believe’ emblazoned on the bottom in big white letters.

No secret password or handshake to get inside. Leslie had a key.

Holy Toledo! Or maybe I should say, Holy Toronto! I put my hands over my eyes to cover them from the blazing light. But I had to put them over my ears to block out the thunderous din. My poor fight-or-flight system was on overload. I settled on squinting with my eyes nearly shut, walking forward with my hands over my ears, and cracking my knee on a concrete post. In a few seconds though, my problem was solved. The lights went to normal, so did the sound.

I had walked into was a support post of a double Cadillac long control panel fronting an elaborately detailed model railroad layout that stretched as far and wide as the eye could see. This was one big basement. 

There was a large glowing yellow button on the control panel labeled Pause. It pulsated in anticipation of being pushed and un-pausing the show. Beside it was a young woman with smoked goggles tilted up on her head and ear mufflers around her neck. She was hugging Leslie.

After they exchanged hellos, Leslie did the introductions, “Mary, I’d like you to met Special Investigator Ed Bryce from Scientific Investigations; Ed, this is Professor Mary Ellesmere.”

Professor Ellesmere and I shook hands.

“Well, what do you think?” asked Prof Ellesmere extending her right arm and sweeping it in the air over the vast miniature empire.

“It’s incredible Professor Ellesmere, but what is it?” I asked following the arc of her arm.

“Please call me Mary. It’s a model of more-or-less the entire transportation network of New Toronto and the adjacent areas.”

“Holy crap,” was all I could muster in the presence of such awesomeness.

“Holy crap indeed,” smiled Mary.

“What’s it for?”

“Mainly for simulating transportation problems and trying to fix them. Flow control, InterTrak routing, scheduling, congestion. Lots of stuff in architecture, social science, lighting, sound, aerodynamics, ecology too. It’s always being used for something.” Mary paused and said with a smile,“And sometimes that something is simply fun.”

“What are you using it for tonight?”

“Just some maintenance. Would you like a tour?” replied Mary.

“As much as I’d like to, I think we should get down to business.” Mary seemed a bit crestfallen that I had thrown cold water on the tour, so I added a quick, “but I would like to come back for one in the future.” That returned things to an even keel, and I wasn’t lying, I did want to take a look around, but under better circumstances. To move things along, I switched over to the business at hand, “What are you two going to do with the raygun?”

“We’re going to take it apart and try and figure out who made it. Mary has microscopes and radiography equipment we’ll use. Her lab has also got the tools we’ll need to open it up without any damage,” explained Leslie.

Mary looked at Leslie and continued, “It’ll probably take a day or two. I think we should have a preliminary look tonight to see if there’s anything else we’ll need. If there is, I can try and round up stuff tomorrow. You brought it with you?”

Leslie nodded.

That sounded ok with me, but I explained, “Leslie needs to be back in our office tomorrow, so she could possibly start working with you the day after?” That was a question I directed to Leslie in case I had overstepped some scheduling boundary.

I was glad to hear her reply of, “That’s works for me.” 

I had one last question before I left them to their work, “So, who are these Lone Trainmen?”

Leslie starred at Mary. Mary starred at Leslie. They laughed hilariously. 

The next instalment can be found here.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

The visit

Two hours later we pulled into the station attached to the pen’s main building, and after some vetting and credentials checking, we were ushered into the prisoner visiting room. Visiting room, what a term. It was a big rectangular box built completely from massive stone blocks. No windows, just a few steel doors, and a thick, continuous, floor to ceiling glass partition that ran the entire length of the room: visitors on one side, prisoners on the other and some phone handsets for communicating. No tables. No chairs. No sitting. No leaning. Everything designed to minimize interactions and make everybody as uncomfortable as possible to hasten the desire to leave. 

A few minutes after we entered, a disheveled figure in a dingy gray coverall was escorted into the other half of the room by a guard. The guard stood back against the stone wall. The figure advanced to the glass partition and picked up a receiver. 

No speaking was necessary. Leslie’s face said it all. She recognized Donna immediately. 

So did I. 

Donna dropped her head and started to cry. She kept holding the receiver to her ear.

Leslie picked up hers, “Donna?” I picked up mine. Donna sobbed softly.

“We’ve only got 10 minutes,” was my gentle reminder to Leslie.

“Donna?” called Leslie in a low, disbelieving voice.

Donna sniffled and stopped crying. “Yes,” was her meek reply. She stared at the floor. She didn’t raise her head. 

I don’t think Leslie knew what to say. She had thoroughly convinced herself that whoever we met in this place wasn’t going to be her old colleague, but she tried, and got right to what concerned her, “What happened? Did you kill that man?”

Donna didn’t raise her eyes, “Yes.”

Leslie gasped. 

We were all quiet. We were waiting. For what, I don’t know.

I placed my hand on Leslie’s shoulder, “We’ve only a got a few minutes.”

“Why’d you do it?” asked Leslie.

Donna spoke to the floor, “I was offered a lot of money. It was supposed to be just play acting. They gave me one of our old rayguns and I was supposed to fire it at the guy who got out of the car. It was supposed to have been fixed at illuminate and he was supposed to be wearing a suit under his clothes.” She took a depth breath after this was out.

Leslie looked at me, “A suit to slow the burn-through. We made those too.”

“She shot the wrong guy,” was my re-joiner.

“Who asked you to do this?”continued Leslie to Donna.

“They called him Zed. He had a deep voice.”

“What did he look like?”

Zed? A deep voice? I could guess what he looked like. Leslie wasn’t the only one who couldn’t believe where this was going.

“I only spoke to him once on the phone. Some other people set things up. Will you help get me out of here?”

I answered that one, “You did kill someone. Frankly, I’m surprised they didn’t give you the injection.”

“The lawyer they got me said if I pleaded guilty and then remained silent, they’d make sure I just went to jail,” Donna started to cry again.

Smart move by whoever was behind this. Death penalties always come with loud public outcries and intensified media attention. This way everything is nice and quiet.

Leslie marched on with the questions, “What happened when we were at the store?”

The guard started to walk over to Donna. 

Leslie looked at him, then back at Donna and continued, “I’ll be coming back soon.”

The guard stood behind Donna. Our time was up.

The next instalment can be found here.

The hole

When I woke up the next morning I found a sticky-note clinging to my leg. Its message was simple: Meet me at Confederation at 9 - Leslie. It was 8:30. I had to run.

And run I did. No time to wait for streetcars and subway trains. I gathered myself together, ran right out the front entrance, dodged some homeless guys still asleep on the subway air-grates, and made a beeline for the station.

No time for tickets either. I’d pay on the train. I ran for the Hastings-Bancroft platform. Not many people were heading out to the sticks at this time of day, so it was easy to spot Leslie. She was looking as calm and collected as usual bearing a striking resemblance to a Land’s End catalogue model from the ‘Missy is on her way to the Hamptons’ pages. I on the other had was striking a pose from this year’s Columbo collection, which is what you get after sleeping in your clothes all night on a couch.

Leslie held her tongue and we boarded the train with just formal pleasantries. The coach was nearly empty and we had our choice of seats.

After we had settled down, Leslie handed me a ticket,”You owe me 50 bucks.”

“I’ll give you 25 and the rest after I’ve submitted my expenses.”

Leslie frowned. I fished 25 dollars from my wallet and handed it to her, “Have you ever been out there?”

“I don’t tour prisons when I go on vacation.”

“No of course not,” I said seeing the error of my ways. I should have stopped there, but in the morning my brain is all rev’ed up and it runs pretty much on auto-pilot until I’ve had some coffee, “But this one has got some strange history. Back in the last century some mining promoters discovered what they thought was a big iron ore deposit there. They dug a huge open pit mine and hauled the ore out by rail and sent it down to Lake Ontario. Turns out the deposit wasn’t as rich as they thought, and in a couple of years there wasn’t enough high grade stuff left to make a buck, so they closed it down. 

“A couple of years later the government is looking for a place to build a penitentiary for the worst of the worst criminals. Those mining guys wanted to get rid of the pit, so they pitched it as the ideal place for a jail: a solid iron hole in the earth that just needed to be outfitted with cells. They’re well connected, so within a year the feds have a new, pre-excavated jail site. Turns out it wasn’t that easy to build a jail out of a hole in the ground, and it became a big scandal because it went way over budget and there was lots of cronyism in the contracts. 

“At that place, when they say they’re putting someone in the hole, they’re not talking euphemistically – they literally mean it. The more punishment they figure you need, the deeper in that place they put you. Murderers go pretty close to the bottom. I don’t know how they still get away with running that place.”

Leslie was thumbing through the breakfast menu in the seat pocket, “Thanks for the history lesson, but I’m not interested in sightseeing if that was your plan. I just want to see with my own eyes that it’s not Donna and then leave.”

I hoped it wasn’t her either, but my eyes saw something in that missing persons report. “Agreed.”

We turned our attention to ordering some food.

The next instalment can be found here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

The patient

I hate hospitals. Don’t get me wrong, they can do good things, but to me they’re Death’s waiting room.

Adams was in the burn centre’s ICU. I took the elevator up there. There was a big desk and terminal station just a few steps from where the elevator dropped me off. Luckily for me visiting hours weren’t over. The nurse at the desk was friendly and helpful.

“I’d like to see Zachariah Adams,” I asked her.

The nurse looked around her desk and reached for a yellow clipboard. She flipped a few pages and read for a moment. “That’ll be fine. He’s in bed three.” She glanced to where he was resting. “He’ll be glad to see you. You’re the first.” She glanced at the clipboard again and read aloud. “His daughter is coming down from Ottawa in the morning. He’s leaving ICU tomorrow and transferring to the neurology centre. He’s to spend the day there, and if all goes well, he’ll be released the next day to a home care program for a few weeks.” She looked up from her clipboard, “Take your time.”

“Thanks, I won’t be long.”

“A visitor will be good for him, but he still might be a little groggy.”

I thanked her again and walked over to Adams’ bedside. His eyes were closed and I wasn’t sure if he was asleep. “Zachariah, it’s Ed, Ed Bryce.”

After a moment he stirred and his eyes opened.

“Hi sir, it’s me, Ed Bryce.”

“Yes, you’ve said. Thanks for coming.” His voice was distant.

“How are you doing?”

“Not so good, but they say I’ll live. I can’t move my right hand.” Adams, struggled a bit and sat up,”Doctors say I’ll need a lot of therapy to see if it’ll come back.”

I’m sorry to hear that.”

Adams closed his eyes for a few seconds and then reopened them, they were more focused

“Thanks for coming to see me,” he repeated.

“Is there anything I can do?”

After a brief silence, “Arrest Constable Williams.”

“Who?”

“He was taking minutes at the meeting.”

“Right. Will do, but why?”

“He might have set it up when he left for coffee,” was Adams’ weak reply.

“Ok. Dr. Warden and I are going to the jail tomorrow to see if Mary Smith is Donna Martin. Anything you’d like us to ask if it’s her?”

Apparently there wasn’t. Adams nodded absently, slowly closed his eyes, and soon started to snore. 

Whatever they had pumped into him, I could use a shot.

I walked away, headed back to the nurse and asked where I could find a phone. She pointed me to the visitors lounge just outside the ICU. There were a few wall mounted phones in there. I called our police liaison to inform them that Constable Williams was a person of particular concern, and then called a couple of contacts to set up an interview with Mary Smith in the morning. Finally, I called Leslie to tell her it was on. She wasn’t at her friend’s, but was to be back in a few minutes, so I left the lounge number and plopped down on a couch to wait for her call. 

Well, my intentions were good, but ‘lev lag was more powerful, and I fell dead asleep.

The next instalment can be found here.

Aftermath

In a partial daze Leslie and I, along with whoever else the authorities found littered in the hallway carnage, were scooped up and corralled into separate interview rooms on the first floor for questioning.

After hours of being harassed by what seemed like every cop, administrator, manager, bureaucrat and lawyer in the building about what had happened in the corridor on the 30th floor I was released to the light of day. Or what was left of it that could make its sorry way down this dreary hallway from the street facing windows.

I was sitting on a black leather bench, staring at a coffee machine wondering if the caffeine would help settle my nerves. I wasn’t thinking straight. I’d had enough for one day, but I had to wait for Leslie. I was supposed to keep an eye on her. That was rich. Me keep an eye on a skilled lock picker and escape artist who had kicked the crap out of me as soon as she had the opportunity. 

My numb brain had just about decided that a twenty-five cent cup of machine-made coffee was a good idea when the door to interview room four opened and Leslie walked out and over to where I was sitting.

“The said they wouldn’t figure out how to arrest me if I let you keep track of me. Some choice, but I’m not going to jail. Let’s get out here.”

Yeah, great. Her confidence in me warmed my heart.

She didn’t stop to chit chat. She stated her position as briskly as she walked by and made a beeline for the exit. I jumped up and followed her out to the lobby and into the street. She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk, faced me and looked me straight in the eye.

“I’m starving. And I need a drink.”

“There’s a place just down the street,” I offered, gesturing she follow me to a cafĂ© I knew.

“No way,” as her emphatic reply. She turned and looked down the street. There was a streetcar heading toward us,”We’re going to a place I know. “

We got on as soon as it pulled up and rode for a couple of kilometers. It was late afternoon and the rush hour was just cranking up. ‘lev lag was kicking in big time. I was dead on my feet.  I didn’t know how to read Leslie. We got off outside of a club called Rick’s. 

We went in. Rick’s was in some kind of 48-odd year time warp. I didn’t know any of these places still existed. Low, jazzy music, over-stuffed plush furniture, filled with guys and dames seemingly pulled straight from the screen of a post-war movie. 

Apparently the maitre’d couldn’t believe his eyes and hustled over to us as soon as he saw Leslie.

“Miss Warden! So nice to see you again. It’s been a long time,” he cooed in complete awe of her presence in his little establishment.

“It’s good to see you Andre. Is my usual table available?”

Andre looked around, “You’re in luck. This way please.”

Andre headed into the dining room and we followed him to a vacant semi-circular booth in the back.  Leslie apparently chose her dining arrangements Al Capone style: in the back, poorly lit, but facing the entrance with a good view of the entire room.

Leslie took off her blazer, tossed it on the booth seat and then sat down. I slipped into the booth and sat on the opposite side of the table.

“A drink?” Andre asked Leslie.

“My usual, and one for him too.”

Leslie slumped back into her seat. I think I could read her now. Her vibe was definitely, I’m fed up.

“Do you have a pen?” she asked.

I reached for one from my jacket pocket and handed it to her. She took it and starting writing on a napkin.

As she wrote she gave me some pretty clear instructions, “Let’s get one thing straight: you’re not tagging along everywhere I go. This is the address, phone and terminal numbers of where I’m staying. I’m at a friend’s, and she lives near here, so I’m easy to find, and you can contact me any time. Just don’t follow everywhere I go. Got that?” She handed me the napkin. 

I put it in my pocket. “Got it. Don’t worry, I’m not even staying for dinner. I’m going to St. Mike’s to visit Adams.”

Leslie seemed to ignore me and continued, “You need to check me into your office the day after tomorrow. I’m supposed to be back for more questions and you’re my minder. Meet me in the lobby at 9.”

“Ok. No problem. I need to be there too. The police have taken over this case now that there’s streetcar hijackings, assaults and attempted murders. They’re going to go over everything in my old case files. We’re just the helpers now.”

“Well, you do have one thing that’s still all your own.” Leslie reached over to her blazer, pulled out a raygun and placed it on the table.

“That’s evidence. You need to turn that over.”

“Yes, eventually, but not right now.”

“They’ll need it and can charge you if you don’t hand it over.”

“Look, what do you think happened to the other one?”

“Somebody took it.”

“Somebody who was one of you guys. Somebody who popped out of one of those rooms, took it, and disappeared in the confusion,” insinuated Leslie.

Andre arrived with our drinks. Straight whiskeys. The aroma told it all: good stuff. Leslie knew what was what. I took a sip and replied, “There’s more traitors there than I realized. Well, regardless, you need to give it to the police.”

“Not until I’ve opened it up. In the lab we made all these things by hand. Before we tested any we did an informal inspection to see if they had any obvious problems. After you’ve seen enough of these things you can usually tell who built which ones if you look closely enough. Everybody’s got some construction quirk they leave behind. I bet that I can figure out who made this once I’ve opened it up. Not everyone knows how to make one of these things, and it’s probably someone from the lab. They might cough-up another piece to this puzzle.”

“You can do that at your friend’s place?”

“No. I need to go see the Lone Trainmen.”

“The Lone Trainmen?”

“They’re physicists I know who’re members of the U of NT’s model railroad club. My dad founded it, and they’ll get me access to the equipment I’ll need. I’ll go see them tomorrow.”

“Ok.”I checked my watch, “Look I need to go before visiting hours are over, but there’s one thing before I leave. I went and found the report the police filed after you reported Donna might have been kidnapped. Turns out, Donna might have been the person who killed Constable McMillan.”

“What? I don’t believe it!”

“Well, I’m not certain either, the report is locked up with Adams’ other stuff the police seized, but we need to visit the woman who killed Constable McMillan and see for ourselves.”

“When? Where is she?”

“I’ll make some calls tonight and try and try to pull some strings to see her tomorrow. Better put off your meeting with the ‘Lone Trainmen’ until the evening. She’s in the Moramar Maximum Security Penitentiary. I’ll call you later tonight once I’ve set things up.” 

With that, I drained my glass and headed for St. Mike’s.

The next instalment can be found here.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Blue light special

What seemed like an eternity later the elevator let me off at the 30th floor. There was one of those linebacker-sized constables trying to look tough while sitting in a kindergarten-sized chair outside the meeting room. He recognized me and let me knock on the door.

“Come” was the Vader-ized response. Apparently Adams was back to his old self.

I opened the door, stuck my head in, and asked, “Could we speak for a moment?”

“Please excuse me” was Adams polite reply to Leslie as he got out of his chair and moved to join me in the corridor.

After Adams had closed the door I jammed the envelope into his hands, “Take a look at this.”

Adams carefully opened it and read silently for a few moments; then came the analysis, “Curious. No husband, boyfriend, mother, father, sister, brother, aunt, uncle, cousin, or significant other of any kind. Impossible. Some rather poor police work.”

“Yes, that’s strange, but look closer at the picture. Doesn’t that look like Mary Smith?”

“I don’t see the resemblance. With different make-up and hairstyle, possibly. We’ll have to get an artist to have a look.”

“Well, it looks close to me. That’s not a face I’d forget.”

“Ok. I’ll get one of our artists on it right away.” Adams put the file back in the folder. “I think we’ve done all the questioning we can for this morning. We’ll take Dr. Warden down to the cafeteria for lunch. Maybe a little walking and some food will do these proceedings some good.”

Adams looked down at the seated constable, “Please join us. We wouldn’t want Dr. Warden to think she can take her leave when we’re being so hospitable.”

“Yes sir.”

Adams and I went back in the meeting room.

“Dr. Warden, I think we’ll take a break at this point. Would you join us for lunch?”

“I imagine that’s not actually a question, but, yes, lunch would be good.” Leslie collected her things and prepared to leave.

Adams placed Donna Martin’s file on top of the other papers at his place. “Constable Williams, would you drop off these files with my secretary and then join us in the cafeteria?”

“Yes sir”

Adams, Leslie and I stepped into the corridor. Constable Williams got up, scooped up Adams’ files, and bundled them on top of his.

That was the last time I felt like myself. Once we stepped into the hall time seemed to slow down to the crawl of a cheap fx movie.

The first thing I recall was a beam of blue light was bouncing off Adams’ chest and burning a hole in the wall across from us. That light didn’t come from nowhere, but from a crouched man in front of the elevator doors at the far end of the hall. Another raygun.

Adams looked down at his chest in disbelief.

Good thing the linebacker believed. He leapt from his tiny chair, and in one smooth action pulled a big gun from his shoulder hostler and fired a deafening shot into the raygunner. The blue light special was over. Cleanup on aisle 30.

Time started to speed up for an instant.

Adams reached into what was left of the charred jacket pocket over his heart and pulled out the silver cigarette case. It was dangling by a thread. “And they say smoking isn’t good for you.” 

The shot didn’t go unnoticed. Doors up and down the corridor sprung open. Lookie-loos poked their heads out to see what the ruckus was about. Some particularly stupid ones ran into the hall.

They say second-hand smoke is just as deadly as smoking them yourself. The same holds true for death rays.  A second beam pierced Adams right shoulder and burned into the ceiling. 

There was a second raygun man behind us squatting in front of the elevators at the other end of the corridor.

I pushed Adams out of the beam. He crashed into the wall and slumped to the floor.

The linebacker couldn’t shoot this time. Too many people in the hall.

Leslie had no such barriers and ran full steam into the second raygun man. Her shoulder connected with his chest so hard that his body broke the cheap drywall as she hit him.

The linebacker punched the wall alarm and the hall filled with electronic wailing.

Some ran to one raygunner, some to the other. 

Constable Williams and I went to Adams’ aid.

Leslie sat on the floor leaning against a wall massaging her shoulder.

Chaos is held a bay in most places in this city, but here the mask had been ripped off for all to see.

The next instalment can be found here.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Return

Editor’s Note: presented below is the first of the last 8 episodes in this series. There will be 1 or 2 new episodes published each day, with the shocking conclusion to be revealed on 13 August. In light of the intensity of the experience to follow, our staff recommends that you fasten your seat belt, keep both feet on the floor, and firmly grip your reading device with both hands. If you're reading this while driving your car, pull over immediately. Those with heart conditions may want to have a nurse and a defibrillator standing by. Madams. Monsieurs. Without further adieu, join me now as we return to mean rails of New Toronto.

I ran from the food court back to the escalator. I ran down the escalator back to the subway level. I ran the three blocks through the underground concourse back to the office tower elevators. I stopped at the sign in front of the express elevator that said, Out of Order. Shhh……! 

It was either the stairs or the regular elevator. Our office was thirty floors up and there was no way I could walk up those stairs, let alone run, without having a coronary at about the third floor. Looks like I was taking the milk run on the regular elevator. Shhhh……!


The doors opened. I squeezed in with a wave of people. Somebody punched 30 on the panel. I tried to look nonchalant and not gawk at all the beautiful women while I tried to calm my racing thoughts. Instead I feigned an intense interest in determining the exact number of holes in the ceiling tiles. That didn’t seem to make me appear less creepy, so I was relieved when the muzak segued into the daily episode of starDate and let me focus my mind on something interesting and blankly stare ahead at the elevator doors.
“starDate, June 15. Today on starDate: the El Camino Estrella.

Four years ago today in 19c2, the Gen-Chry-Fo-Mo Corporation released the El Camino Estrella. The Estrella was a stock 'c2 El Camino outfitted with a powerful refracting telescope mounted to its pickup bed by a patented Hooke-Whammo visco-elastic vibration isolation system. Five hundred units were initially built and offered for sale at selected dealerships throughout west Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and parts of southern California. The Estrella was immensely popular and sold out within two weeks of hitting the market.

Unfortunately 19c2 was both the first and last year for the Estrella. It turns out that a mobile telescope that is great for examining the heavens is equally great for looking inside people's residences at inopportune moments. The Estrella was the most stolen car in the summer of 'c2, primarily by teenagers joy riding with peep-and-run on their minds. Concerned parents groups successfully lobbied for the cancelation of the Estrella.

Today only four examples remain. The most recent one was discovered two years ago in a cave in Carlsbad, New Mexico. It sold at a London auction house last year for a stellar $6.2 million.

For starDate, I'm Vin Air. starDate is an homage to the outstanding 'Star Date', produced by the University of Texas at Austin's McDonald Observatory."

The next instalment can be found here.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Back again

I successfully performed the black door kabuki one more time and got back inside the police records department. Luckily I didn’t have to stand in line in the records delivery room, only take a number. Mine was 63. The overhead ticker showed they were processing number 60. The room was empty.

The problem was the counter clerk didn’t see it that way.

“Number 61? 61?”

The clerk scanned the wide open space of the waiting room. I scanned it too, to confirm that it was indeed devoid of life forms.

Silence.

“Number 61?”

More silence. No tables or chairs jumped up to claim to be #61. The clerk scanned the room again just to make sure,

“Number 62? 62?”

Maybe one of those empty chairs or tables was actually holding ticket #62. One couldn’t be too sure.

Silence. No furniture budged.

“Number 62?”

After a cautionary silence, finally the clerk spoke the words I longed for, “Number 63? 63?”

I duly handed him my ticket, and after carefully examining it for traces of forging or doctoring, he disappeared through a squeaky door to a back room.

After a few minutes the door squeak heralded his return with a rather thin 8 ½ by 11 envelope. I signed for it and headed for one of those empty chairs to have a quick look before returning to the office.

I’m glad I was sitting down. I pulled a file folder out of the envelope and opened it to the first page. The photo staring back at me with a glare that made you feel sorry you were breathing air on this fine planet was Ray-gun Girl. 

That’s a face I’d never forget. 

Ray-gun Girl was just my sunny pet name for that ruthless killer who turned a fine constable into a lifeless, blackened slab of bio-matter with a beam of light. Her real name turned out to be a completely respectable and ordinary Mary Smith. If Mary Smith was Donna Martin, and Donna Martin was Mary Smith, it was no wonder the cops couldn’t find her because she was doing life in jail. Jeez, the guys that run this records office need to be less concerned with lines and stamping and punctuality and more with cross referencing their files. 

This was no time for whining about the nature of the levels in Dante’s bureaucracy. I had to get back to Adams.

The next instalment can be found here.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

E.L. Moore’s legacy in the 21st century: A start

I’ve been thinking for some time about a series of posts on E. L. Moore and what his articles and projects might mean here in the 21th century. I figured I’d make a start as a prod to get me to write the rest. Here goes.

E. L.  Moore was one of the most prolific writers in the model railroading press in the mid 20th century. Although he wrote on a number of model railroading topics, his specialty was articles on how to scratch-build model buildings in HO-scale. His first article about constructing model buildings appeared in the July 1955 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. In the 1960s and 1970s – the mid and late periods of his career - Mr. Moore published 59 articles in Railroad Model Craftsman, 30 in Model Railroader, along with 5 in Railroad Modeler. During his prime in the 1960s, his yearly output was quite impressive. For example, in 1966 he published 8 articles in Railroad Model Craftsman, and followed that up in 1967 with 9 more in Railroad Model Craftsman and 3 in Model Railroader.  For most, if not all, of the articles he wrote, as well as writing the text he designed and built the model in question, took the photographs, and drew the accompanying plans. His output tapered off throughout the late ‘70s, and his last article, A firecracker factory, was published posthumously in the July 1980 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman.
I’m in the process of documenting and annotating Mr. Moore’s complete publication history. What I’ve got so far is listed in the spreadsheet I’ve posted here (to read it you'll probably need to download and then magnify it). I’ll be updating it from time to time as I learn more and figure out the missing pieces. I should point out that this compendium makes use of the excellent work that has been done by numerous gentlemen at this Railroad Line Forum discussion thread to compile lists of all published E. L. Moore articles known to exist. I’ve also drawn on Model Railroader’s 75th Anniversary Collection as well as my own collection of model railroading magazines.

In terms of model buildings and structures available for model railroads, Mr. Moore’s era was quite different from where we sit in this part of the 21th century. Today we have a vast array of kits engineered to very high standards, but back then there was far less choice, and, for the most part, the quality was quite different from today’s offerings. Mr. Moore’s articles filled an important need in the hobby, and he did it with skill, imagination, flare, and a style all his own. He showed readers how to build a vast array of model buildings using relatively simple, and readily available, low-cost materials.

Why would anyone build models from balsa, card, paper, strips of wood and various pieces of household ephemera these days? There’s really no compelling reason to given the large number of highly detailed kits, manufactured from all sorts of media, that are available these days. We live in a golden age when it comes to availability of great kits to build. I can only offer that it can be rather fun to make something from scratch from simple materials. 

Frankly, fun is the most important attribute of the whole enterprise. There are more mundane reasons, although they certainly aren’t as compelling as just plain fun. 

First, there’s the pop-sci neurological argument that being engaged in an activity that relies on strong hand-eye-brain coordination gives your brain a rather good work-out and generally strengthens it much like other now old-fashioned activities like writing in script, drawing, painting, playing the piano, solving math problems with pencil and paper, crossword puzzles, and other such activities do. 

There’s the “getting back to the roots” of model building argument that working with the most rudimentary of tools and materials gives one deeper insight into the use of modern methods. 

There’s the “it’s good to learn new techniques argument because you’ll never know when they’ll come in handy” argument, which isn’t that silly for a ‘serious’ model builder.

There’s the “it’s a cheap-and-cheerful introductory lesson in how to make models of things you see or make up”, which to me goes hand-in-hand with fun. Sometimes I think that the most durable part of his legacy might not be the projects themselves, but the intangibles he brought to each one, which when taken as a whole, point towards an alternative direction for both the serious modeller and beginner: the ongoing creative use of humble materials.

No doubt there are more such utilitarian arguments that could be made, and they have their merits, but don’t use them to convince a child to give them a try to make something.

As a kid, The first article of Mr. Moore’s I came across was Bunn’s feed and seed plant in the August 1973 issue of Model Railroader. I tried to build it back then, but many parts of it were too involved for my limited skills. However, it whetted my appetite, and I eagerly bought and tried whatever Mr. Moore published in the model railroading press for the next few years. A particular favourite was The RMC Paper Company in the April 1974 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman. Although, having limited funds in those days, I improvised the brick with a technique I had read about in the November 1973 of Model Railway Constructor. Objectively, my efforts weren’t anything spectacular, but the cost-efficient immediacy of building things from everyday materials kept me going.  They were a good introduction to scratch-building for an enthusiastic beginner.

I got back into model railroading a few years ago, and although there are all those great craftsman kits out there, I wanted to try some of those old E.L. Moore builds. At first it was simply for nostalgia, but as I progressed, I wanted to see what he had written before my first discovery of his work back in the summer of ’73. 

At this blog I’ve written about the E.L. Moore projects I’ve built. Naturally, Bunn’s feed and seed plant was my first, and it was soon followed by Jones’ Chemical Co..  I went a bit further and built a replica of a Volkswagen truck that often appeared in pictures accompanying his articles to give my projects added ‘authenticity’. I even tried my hand at his brand of droll tall-tale narrative as a prelude to an E. L. Moore-esque build of my own concoction :-) But, in the end, those projects were plain and simple nostalgia builds. Hopefully, my next nostalgia build will be Cal’s Lumberyard published in the April 1973 issue of Model Railroader – which was a project I discovered in ’74 in the local library’s small collection of ‘old’ Model Railroader magazines. Next came Uncle Charlie’s Bookery, and Moe Lass’ Old Sorghum Mill. They were my first forays into his backlog. I should mention that they were chosen because they were physically small projects that would fit into my current layout, and because I found I had some affinity to Mr. Moore’s articles about them. They aren’t representative of his larger building projects. 

From those builds, and reading about many others in his articles, I’ve come to appreciate his legacy more, and what it might mean for today. Basically, I think it’s more significant than just seeing it as a large collection of dated – from today’s perspective – scratch-building projects. 

I never met or corresponded with Mr. Moore; I only knew him through his published works. So, I don’t have a record of personal reminisces to illuminate this story, but I think that’s okay since if the articles are significant in some way, they should be able to stand on their own merits. I found I could approach his articles from several different angles: subject matter, design, construction methods, the ‘serious’ question, model building genres, projects for beginners, mid 20th century model railroading, story making, Maker ethos, and economy. He was also an early performance artist of sorts, but that probably wasn’t completely appreciated back in the day! And there’s no doubt that there are some angles that I still haven’t recognized until I’ve delved a little deeper. These will be the subjects of future posts. I just need some quiet time to write them. If I can get my act together I’d like to post an article in this series at least every other month over the course of the next 12 months – I’ll keep my fingers crossed and my pencils sharp :-)

Note: The second instalment in this multi-part series can be found here.

The 3rd instalment can be found here.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Exit

“You’ve got to realize that back then I was very angry about the lab and my situation. And with Donna kidnapped I was scared too.”

Adams didn’t respond, just lit his cigarette and took a drag.

“Michael and I drove home after the police left. We had a big fight that started in the car and kept going long after we got back to our apartment. He eventually stormed out and went somewhere.”

Adams tapped some ash into his coffee cup. Leslie continued, “We’d been fighting for months. Leaving my government job was too much. Michael was against it: ‘It ruined our Life Plan’. That, and the day with Donna, was the last straw.”

Leslie paused and took a long draw from her cigarette. “When I got up the next morning I noticed that Michael had come back while I was asleep, but it looked like he didn’t stay long and left for work early.”

Leslie took a languid puff, gently exhaled some smoke and watched it drift to the ceiling, taunting the disabled smoke detector.

“That was it for me. I stuffed everything I thought I’d need to travel into my backpack and left a note. After I locked up the apartment on my way out I pushed the key under the door. I wasn’t coming back. I didn’t know where I’d go, but on my trip down to the lobby, the elevator muzak was playing Galveston. I’d never been there, and didn’t have any associations with that town, so that seemed as good a place as any to hide out. I went to the bank, withdrew as much cash as I could, and then headed for the train station.”

Leslie stubbed out the remainder of her cigarette and absentmindedly ground the ash with the filter.

She gave Adams a three-mile stare. “Do you remember the poem that starts something like ‘there are many strange things done in the midnight sun by the men who moil for gold’?”

Adams put down his cigarette and replied encyclopedically, “Robert Service; The Cremation of Sam McGee; ‘the arctic trails have their secret tales that would make your blood run cold.’”

“Believe me, there are tales from the Gulf of Mexico that can make your blood run just as cold as those from the Arctic Circle.”

The next instalment can be found here.