The pretty little seaside town had been plagued by gangs of bikers, drug dealers and hooligans all summer long and the local people were worried, frightened and angry. The Mayor protested that he’d no authority to instruct the Police and the police claimed they had no proper powers to act appropriately.
In the park nearby, where the leader of the council took his lunchtime stroll was, as usual, the friendly man selling his sweets and ice creams. He stopped by the van to chat and bought one of the famous ‘extra special’ ice- creams to cheer himself up from his troubles. He looked around at the excited crowd of kids running and playing in the sun, and he couldn’t help but notice their delight at the sight of the gaily coloured van and how they rushed and jostled to buy as soon as they heard the chimes.
“You know, these really are magic,” he remarked, as he tucked in enthusiastically.
“Very special secret family recipe,” replied the ice-cream man, “can’t beat ’em.”
So they soon got to talking about how the community felt intimidated, abused and terrorised by these awful gangs and that the councillor didn’t know how to deal with the problem either. He so dearly wished he had a workable solution and explained at length how nothing had so far been resolved by the powers that be.
The man listened carefully and finally offered his help, “I have ways that you wouldn’t believe to persuade and encourage troublesome folk to go,” he said.
Somewhat surprised but now rather desperate, the councillor wondered if there was really an opportunity here to (a) solve the problem, and (b) improve his standing on the council and gain some much needed votes in the upcoming local elections. Taking a chance, he made an executive decision there and then.
“You know I happen to be in a position to offer you a substantial financial reward if you can clear out these rough-necks from our lovely town. What d’ya say?”
“I could certainly arrange to move them on and ensure they’d never come back, if that’s your brief?” was the confident reply.
“Well, if you’d like to come to my office tomorrow at three, we can discuss the details with the board… and your name is?”
“Tim, Tim Whistler at your service,” he smiled.
“Well Tim, pleased to make your acquaintance and I have every confidence of a successful outcome,” he puffed, feeling that he’d made a good move.
“Just ask for Joe Palmer.” So saying they shook hands and parted.
The next morning the council offices were a-buzz with excitement as the leader introduced Tim who told them about his project and how he had previously achieved a very successful outcome in another town in the north. He explained that though his plan was confidential it would be provided on a strictly ‘no win, no fee’ basis. All were delighted at the prospect and so keen to action it that the proposed large remunerative sum was voted through without question. Apart that is from the Finance clerk, a man always somewhat reluctant to spend even if it wasn’t his own money. Ever aware of costs and balances though, the Mayor took him aside and managed to sweet-talk him into agreeing.
“It’s not a problem, don’t worry I’ll see to it when the job’s done,” he assured him privately, giving him a wink.
So the stage was set and the deal arranged for the following weekend when the town would be awash with visiting hordes for the annual Firework Display on the Saturday night. The very night when there had often been quite a bit of disruption from incomers in the past. The only condition from Tim was that all the children should be safely home in bed by 11.00 at the very latest in case of any trouble, which made good sense as the towns people had already chosen to stay indoors after dark since the problems.
Saturday evening arrived with a bang and the ‘family entertainments’ and displays passed off with little trouble; but as the events finished and the night drew on there were pockets of scuffles and the pubs began to swell with unruly drinkers. The townsfolk quietly withdrew and firmly shut their doors as the next ‘fireworks’ seemed likely to be of a completely different kind. The marketplace was overrun by rowdies and drunks until the town clock chimed midnight, but it then seemed to go on chiming for far longer than was usual. It’s old mechanism appeared to have jammed somehow and the chime had changed it’s usual note to a slightly sinister minor key. An hour later, though it was finally silent and the streets were completely deserted, except that is, for the gaily coloured van and gentle Tim who was making his way home.
Sunday morning brought peace and sunshine to the central square and a self-satisfied smile to the face of the council leader who could hardly believe what he saw. Once cautious locals spilled out on the streets to find their little town clean and tidy and apparently free from the scourge which had made them all so unhappy ’til now. This was the place as they knew and loved it and a cheer went up from the gathering crowd. The whole day was spent enjoying the restoration of the happy, untroubled atmosphere of old. The Councillor’s delight with the resulting success knew no bounds.
Monday morning however, Tim was seen leaving the Mayor’s office with a far from happy look on his face. Rumour had it that the Mayor, in an attempt to take credit for the success of the operation, had stepped in and withdrawn the payment approval as excessive, effectively reneging on the whole agreement. Most of the rest of the council also voted with the Mayor, judging that the improvement was now complete and that such a large payment would be better kept for the town’s own coffers. So following the Mayor’s announcement of a public holiday to celebrate the return of the town to it’s former happy state, preparations were promptly set in train and the big day was fixed for the first Sunday of the next month. There was to be a fairground in the park, with rides and carousels, ‘gallopers’ and a ghost train were ordered. Street food stalls were to be permitted, subject to council regulations of course and a marquee and beer tent for the adults.
The excitement was rising as the big day grew closer and finally the dawn broke bright and clear and all was ready. At 10.00 o’clock, the Mayor stood up on a plinth in the marquee and made a long speech to the assembled crowd about the splendour of the town and it’s loyal and trusted populace. Most of the children got bored and had sneaked away to the fairground hoping to be first in the queue for the rides. As the day wore on, the most popular one seemed to be the ‘Ghost Train’ and squeals of delight emanated from it each time it ran. By teatime all the kids were lined up to take the last trip of the day, desperate not to miss out. All aboard and the little train chugged towards the first tunnel and as the last carriage slid in, the chime of the ice-cream van could be heard on the hill across the park.
“Oh dear, they’ll miss their ice-creams,” shouted one parent. “I’d best run and buy one for my little’un, he’ll be out soon,” and she rushed off towards the sound. Several others stayed behind to wait for the returning train, while another small group of mums followed, only to see the ice-cream van driving away still chiming it’s enchanting little tune, but sounding strange and slightly off key. Disappointed and somewhat out of sorts they returned to the fair to find a state of utter chaos outside the Ghost Train. Parents were running around in hysterics and everyone was talking and shouting at once.
What’d happened nobody really knew, but the little train had completed it’s circuit and returned to the entrance – EMPTY! No children to be seen or heard. Pandemonium broke out. Crazed dads plunged into the tunnel shouting and calling, but there was no response. Not one child, nor any sign of one to be found.
The Mayor and the police were called and the park was searched from top to bottom, no stone unturned, but still no children found. The blackest mood of doom fell upon the whole town and accusations began to fly. At the council offices a very different mood hung over the building. Where was the Mayor? Where the councillor? Who had arranged the deal? Where was Tim? Was it his fault? Who had cheated on the payment and why had no one been held to account?
Eventually the Mayor resigned and the councillor lost his job. He often spent his time in the empty park, now deserted of children, where the silence hung as heavy as the rusty swings. Years went by and the sorry town sank under the weight of it’s pain. Many people moved away to forget their misery and the town grew silent and joyless. No cheerful laughter or delighted squeals of children ever enlivened the near empty streets. No visitors came to this gloomy town, not even the hooligans who could find nothing doing in this, the saddest of locations. The playground stood deserted, the tennis courts were overgrown with weeds and the climbing frame had fallen apart. Sometimes a hopeful movement in the bushes was only revealed to be a solitary dog as he searched the shadowy greenery for his playmates. A stiff breeze through the chains of the swings sometimes brought a jingling, chiming sound rather like an ice cream van to the Councillor’s ears, but maybe it was just his imagination he thought…