Book Extract: Sliding into Hell
Shelford won again the following week, this time against the Byford Racers, in front of another bumper crowd, leaving them unbeaten at home in the league so far. Jeff Harding continued his unbeaten run but the team-riding skills of Bryce Penrith continued to steal the show.
Belle Vue was the next away trip. Molly's parents lived in Cheshire, so Bryce took his family up in the Mercedes. They would spend a few days with Molly's parents.
Vincent and Lurch went up to Manchester together in the motor home. Just before the meeting, Vincent and Bryce pulled the team together. 'This is not an easy track to come and win at,' said Vincent, 'but it is a wonderful track to ride. If we win, great, but the main thing is for everyone to enjoy their racing tonight. For those of you unfamiliar with the place, believe me, you will think you are going as fast as it is possible to go, and the home boys will still cruise past if you are not paying attention.'
Belle Vue was not Jeff Harding's favourite track. You had to stick your neck out to take on and beat the best of the locals, and that was not something he relished. Nevertheless, he got away well from the start in heat one and hung on to win the race.
The reserves predictably lost out in heat two but Bryce just loved the place and easily headed the local star, Peter Cullen, to win heat three. Reece Sullivan was in heat four. He was trying desperately hard to take the lead when he clipped a back wheel, went over the bars, somersaulted in the air and landed part on his head, part on his back. Vincent sent Lurch out on the track to help. 'Damn these fucking useless legs,' he heard himself saying, before pulling himself back together.
Sullivan was taken to the hospital, unconscious. The rest of the team battled hard but succumbed by four points. It had been a mammoth match in front of yet another huge crowd.
Bryce had glided through the meeting unbeaten without getting a speck of shale on his leathers. Jeff Harding had battled uncharacteristically hard, as had the other riders. Vincent was mighty proud of them. As soon as the match was over, he and Lurch were off to the Manchester Royal Infirmary. The staff at the hospital were unhelpful, but Vincent was having none of that. He and Lurch quickly located Sullivan, who was in a cubicle in casualty and still unconscious.
'Where is the Senior Registrar?' Vincent demanded, and despite efforts of the staff to fob him off, he was soon facing the man. 'Get this man to ICU,' he ordered. 'Now!'. The doctor was not used to being spoken to like this and his hackles started rising. He got as far as 'Now look here...' before Vincent held up his hand. 'A word,' he said pointing. 'In there.'
As soon as they were out of earshot of the others, Vincent said very quietly, but with clear menace:
'If you don't get him up there now, I promise you I shall break you as a doctor. And if the boy does not fully recover, I shall break you as a person. Don't mess with me, you are dealing with the wrong man here.' The doctor was clearly spooked. He was not prepared for such mental intimidation and took the easy way out. He arranged for Reece to be admitted into ICU immediately.
Once the lad had been settled in and wired up, Vincent sent Lurch back down to the motor home to get some sleep. He would bleep if he needed anything. Vincent then settled in by the bedside for a night-long vigil. The night duty nurse started chatting to Vincent as she checked all of Reece's vital signs.
'Younger brother?' she asked. 'I don't know him that well. I am just responsible for his welfare.' 'Oh, I see,' she said. She didn't see at all really but, clearly, the man in the wheelchair cared deeply. 'Can I do anything for you?' she offered. 'You can tell me where I can drain this bag off,' he said lightly, glancing down. She pointed out the disabled toilet and asked if he needed any help. He told her he thought not, but smiled and said: 'If I do, I'll press the panic button!' When he got back to the bedside, there was a cup of tea and some sandwiches waiting for him.
Reece Sullivan regained consciousness just after four in the morning. Even before the medical staff had come to check on him, Vincent had got the lad to wriggle his appendages. All seemed to be functioning normally. He was soon out cold again but this time he was just sleeping rather than comatose. Vincent allowed himself some catnaps from then on but stayed on. The consultant in charge of the unit finally came along to check all was in order in the morning. Reece had a king-sized headache, and there was always a danger of the swollen and bruised brain creating pressure in the skull, but the signs were promising. By nine o'clock. Reece's parents had arrived. Lurch had been hovering outside for some time. He took the parents up to the room and then he and Vincent left.
As the motor home swung out of the car park, Vincent took out his dictating machine.
'Memo: make an appointment with the local BUPA rep for tomorrow.' He couldn't believe he had been so remiss. He had organised extra injury insurance for his riders as soon as he had taken over but he hadn't thought about private health cover.
Given that most speedway injuries happened in the evening, he did not want his boys left to the whims of junior hospital registrars. He wanted consultants involved straight away. He put it a bit more basically to Lurch. 'Why the hell leave my lads in the hands of monkeys because the organ grinder can't be bothered to get out of bed?'
By John Berry
The Backtrack columnist and author of Confessions of a Speedway Promoter is back with his first crack at speedway fiction...
Published November 2005, £8.99, in softback
Order your copy by calling the Retro-Speedway order hotline number - 01708 734 502
This article was first published on 16th December 2005
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