Posted: August 19, 2011 in Stories

Storran Castle was the ideal venue for a secluded gathering. Two miles down a winding tree-lined lane, its neo-Gothic towers nestled under forested hills and crags. Gravel crunched as cars parked one by one underneath blazing torches outside the main door. A white-gloved flunky nodded and guided each pair of guests indoors along a red carpet, through the archway which bore the new stonework of the family crest. Opulenta per itineris, or wealth through journeys. A toot-toot! echoed from somewhere deep in the forested glen. The private steam-train was being fired up.

Bald and fat, Sir Alan Storran awaited inside, resplendent in Highland dress. His beaming smile was mirrored in the shine of his scalp as he clasped hands and kissed cheeks. Servants circled with trays of canapés and drinks, as a string quartet sawed its way through a selection of light classics, bass and cello notes cutting deeply through the throng.

Snatches of conversation hung on the air.

‘I’m looking forward to the train-ride, Sir Alan…’

‘…Alan you old rogue, how much have you made this year…’

‘…how much did you pay for this place again…’

‘…it’s such a privilege to be here, I’m sure you know…’

‘…good God man, and how much of it did you keep from the taxman…’

‘…is the interdict keeping the right-to-roam scum off your land…’

Storran grinned, smiled and nodded as the answers played in his mind. Enjoy the train-ride, it’ll be better than cattle-class you’re used to. I’ve made fifty million this year. I paid two million for this pile, plus another quarter for the court case. Enjoy the privilege, and remember me after the election. I put most of last year’s income through my charitable trusts. Just let them bloody well try, I’ve got the Chief Constable’s home phone number.

Outside the brassy owl cried again, from its perch upon a distant boiler. Toot Toot! And there was a third toot!, as the uniformed engine-driver clutched at the whistle-chain, falling as a blackjack smacked into his skull. The unconscious man was stripped and gently carried into the woods, where he would be tied up in a sleeping-bag. He was just another minion, after all. Another man shrugged on the engine-driver uniform, before checking the gauges and levers. He looked at his watch. Five minutes to go….

The glasses were dumped in the kitchen for the attention of the minimum-wage staff. Some were half-full, others had lipstick smeared on the rims. Cigar and cigarette ends bobbed in amber and red liquid. The piles of uneaten food were thrown straight into the bin. The staff knew better than to take any. The last person who tried was unemployed and still in prison. Above stairs, the guests walked languidly down the steps towards the miniature railway platform and station, where more ushers awaited, dressed in the railway livery of the previous century. They bowed and curtsied as the rich and powerful lined up in expectation of the train journey around the glen and the small loch, as the summer sun sank in the Highland sky. Then, it would be dinner, fireworks and carriages for midnight, and Sir Alan Storran would be another year older.

The engine puffed merrily, approaching the platform with a wake of smoke. ‘Sally’ was a narrow-gauge locomotive, rescued from a Welsh slate mine and lovingly restored for Sir Alan Storran by a grateful Board of Directors. She was polished and painted green, about half the size of a standard gauge locomotive, and pulled a train of open-top carriages with plush leather upholstery. Each of the dozen carriage had two ice-buckets of champagne and eight crystal glasses, enough for the occupants. The engine-driver tapped the brim of his cap in a salute to Sir Alan as the train drew to a halt with a hiss of steam.  The waiting servants dashed forward and uncorked the champagne, making sure that not a drop was wasted, and they withdrew silently to one side, to let the passengers board the Birthday Train. They settled on the leather upholstery, murmuring with pleasure, and the locomotive drew away in another burst of steam and coal-smoke. Sir Alan stood beside the driver, wearing a top hat, looking back at his guests in childlike pleasure.

The little engine chuffed through fern-lined embankments, trees looming above the greenery. Toot toot, called the whistle. Champagne poured forth and glasses clinked, undisturbed by the gentle rhythm of the train. They circled the northern edge of the lochan, glinting in reflection of the pale summer sky, occasional ripples indicating the rising of salmon and trout from the well-stocked waters. Then the train drew to an abrupt halt, with a prolonged blast of the whistle and champagne spilling into laps.

Sir Alan cursed and peered through the steam-fog. A large object was blocking the line ahead, a fallen tree or a log. ‘I thought I told you twats to check the line first!’

That was when he felt something cold press against the back of his neck, and he saw the half-dozen masked figures creep down from the tree-line. They carried guns.

Someone screamed.

‘Shut the fuck up!’ called one of the masked men, who stepped forwards, brandishing what looked like an obsolete rifle. ‘Get out the fucking train, you fat bastard!’

The engine-driver had pulled on a balaclava, and shoved Sir Alan roughly to the ground beside the rails. It was only a short drop, but it drove the wind from the fat man, who lay there wheezing.

‘Listen up!’ The rifleman strode up and down the length of the train. ‘You’re all going on a short journey, but you will not be harmed in any way.’ He waved the rifle around. ‘Do not try and run. I will be standing at the back of the train. This is an M1 carbine.   It doesn’t make much noise, but it will hurt a lot.’ The look on his face indicated that any pain would prove fatal.

The engineer watched as two pistol-wielding men dragged Sir Alan Storran down the length of the train and then they vanished from site. Once the obstacle had been cleared from the line ahead, the engineer restarted the train, with the rifleman at the very back and three others in the coal-tender, pointing pistols in the direction of the terrified passengers. A couple of the women were crying, tears washing mascara down their made-up faces, beneath the fright-wigs frosted in place by hairspray. A man was crying as well. He looked familiar to the engineer, a banker or businessman. Soon, the train was up to speed again and they were puffing merrily on their way.

No-one was drinking champagne any more.

A thin man in a  tuxedo jumped from the train and ran for the surrounding woods. The rifle barked and he fell down. He didn’t get back up. The guests looked at each other, clutching hands, not daring to glance at the scenery flashing by in case they were perceived as potential escapers. The train curved round the tracks on the far side of the glen, and the engineer relaxed for a moment, looking at the towers and chimneys of the castle in the distance, enjoying the rhythm of the train and the cool breeze as he stuck his head out. They were at full steam, the train was just following the rails and they would be back at the station soon.

The platform was deserted as they rattled past, the servants back at the house, preparing a birthday feast that would not be eaten. The engineer had heard what they were cooking from their household spy. Hog-roasts, venison, platters of smoked salmon and scallops, truffles soaked in brandy, seared steaks, enough food to feed an army, and enough drink to float, or sink, a battleship.

They were past the platform when the engineer glimpsed the figure on the tracks. A fat man, tied across the rails, red-faced with a sprawling kilt, his screams muffled by the sporran rolled and stuffed into his mouth, and a top hat jammed firmly onto his head. A passenger saw the prone figure of Sir Alan and screamed. Then more screams split the night air, but it was too late by then, and the iron wheels cut Storran into three neat pieces in a great geyser of blood. Lower limbs fell to the left, head-and-shoulders to the right, and the severed arms and torso slumped beneath the railtracks. The top hat rolled some distance away. By the time the screams had stopped, the six men and engineer had dropped quietly from the train and had disappeared into the forest, leaving the train steaming happily around on another circuit of the railway, without even a toot-toot of farewell.

Written on the train, inspired by the 8% rail fare rises about to land on out heads, and the £88m trousered by Stagecoach shareholders. Sir Alan Storran is a fictional figure,  but we can imagine plenty like him…

  1. Do you have a Facebook page or Twitter? Would love to follow you there, I’m on my iPhone and love reading your stuff!

  2. blackdogtales says:

    Hello! I’m on @blackdogtales (I think that’s it!)

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