Miles Kington Remembered: The Sam Spade of the motorway service station

8 November 1990
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The Independent Online

Car-lovers have always been badly served by art and showbiz. There are any amount of great stories set on trains and boats, even planes, but where are the great plays set in a car? Does driving have nothing higher to offer than road movies starring Burt Reynolds?

Today we change all that with the introduction of a new hero, Hank Mogul, the motorway detective...

Hank drew his battered Volvo estate into the filling station at the pork scratchings service area, switched off the ignition, and walked into the little room where they take your money and hope you'll buy crisps and sweets while you're queuing to do so.

"Fill her up," he said to the station cashier.

"It's self-service," said the man, a spotty youth of 20 whose main ambition in life was to go out and get drunk that evening.

"You take your own petrol." Hank stared at him. The World Health Organisation (WHO) had nearly eradicated smallpox, he thought. Why couldn't they do the same for acne?

"Fill her up," he said again.

There was something about Hank Mogul's eyes that impressed the young man. A slightly psychopathic glint, perhaps. Whatever it was, the young man got up, went out and gave Hank all the petrol he wanted. He was going to need it all. He was on the track of an obscene telephone caller – not just any dirty caller but a man who only voiced his obscenities through the emergency phones along motorways. The local car rescue firms were getting pretty fed up with it. The police weren't interested, so they had hired Hank Mogul, motorway detective, to crack it. So far, he hadn't got anywhere.

"Want me to wipe the windscreen and check the oil?" said the youth, sarcastically.

"Yeah," said Hank.

Back on the motorway Hank settled into the slow lane, where he knew you could safely do 80 or 90 between lorries. The police never arrested anyone in the slow lane. He gradually readjusted to the rhythm of the motorway – the lorries flashing lights mysteriously at each other, people inexplicably sitting high up in coaches at lamp-lit tables, the DoT being sorry for any delay – and wondered how the unknown emergency phone pest worked. Probably stopped right by the phone, made the call, then raced off again. Not like that poor bloke, thought Hank, as he passed a man on the hard shoulder trudging along towards him. There was nothing like the misery of the motorist whose little spaceship had suddenly ceased to function.

Perhaps nobody but Hank Mogul, motorway detective, would have registered unease, but two or three miles further on he had become worried. The reason, he suddenly realised, was that he had not passed a broken-down car. That man was not a broken-down motorist. He was just a bloke walking along the hard shoulder. Hank wanted to go back and talk to that man, but the next exit was not for another 12 miles. Damn.

There was, however, another service area a mile ahead...

Hank pulled into the filling station and went into the cashier's room. Behind the till was a 40-year-old man with acne.

The WHO had a big job ahead of it. "What number?" said the man. "Every motorway service area," said Hank, "has two methods of access. One from the motorway. The other through a secret local B-road that the average punter doesn't even suspect the existence of, otherwise they'd all be wanting to use it. I want to use it. Where is it?"

"We never tell people..." Hank pushed across a £20 note.

"It's that little track in the woods over there."

"Thanks."

Hank threaded his way through side roads back to the motorway and there, among the trees, found what he'd half-hoped to find: a parked car with nobody in it. This could be his man.

He went over to the car, opened the door and looked inside. He had hardly had time to register the fact that the owner had more Dire Straits tapes than anyone in their right mind should have when a voice behind him said: "Stay right where you are."

(Want to know more? Buy the first Hank Mogul motorway thriller "Crisps in My Lap". Forthcoming titles include "Twiglets in My Turn-ups;" "Ash on My Arms" and "An Out-Of-Control Juggernaut in My Wing Mirror.")

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