The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (novel)
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The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1973) is a thriller novel by Morton Freedgood, writing under the pen name John Godey. The novel's title is derived from the train's radio call sign. When a New York City subway train leaves to start a run, it is given a call sign based upon the time it left and where; in this case, Pelham Bay Park Station at 1:23 p.m.
It starts as a normal day on a subway, but the normality is interrupted by the hijacking of a subway train, the number 6 train. Four men armed with submachine guns detach the lead car of the train and take it and 17 hostages into a tunnel. The hijackers are led by Ryder, a former mercenary; Longman, a disgruntled former motorman; Welcome, a violent former Mafia thug; and Steever, a powerful, laconic brute. They threaten to execute the hostages unless the city pays one million dollars in ransom.
While the city rushes to comply, transit police try to puzzle out the hijackers' plan. They don't realize that Longman has figured out how to bypass the "dead-man's switch", allowing the car to speed along the track by itself (with the police chasing it while driving on surface streets) while the hijackers escape through an emergency exit. That emergency exit is actually a long abandoned Local platform (18th Street) which was closed in 1948 when the City undertook a massive Citywide platform lengthening project for Local stations. (From 5-car to standard 10-car train-lengths for both Local & Express.) Being so close to the 14th Str. stop it proved supernumerary/too close and was closed.) That location then 'ideal' for the point in the tunnel where the crooks planned to make good their escape is actually well setback from the sidewalk proper in Union Square, and out of the way enough not to arouse much interest from otherwise blasé NYC pedestrians passing by, this while on the tower board at Grand Central and the master display at TA HQ in Brooklyn, likewise inconspicuous. A major hole in the plot is the hostages abandoned in the head car as its throttle is set to "full." Once reaching speed going through the s-curve 14th Str, platforms the "timer" signals would have sensed it going too fast and tripped the train - this nonoverridable feature was in play here and several other stops between 14th Str. and Brooklyn Bridge - where the local tracks end in a loop. (They'd never have reached South Ferry loop which is only accessible from the Express tracks.)
As they prepare to leave, however, Ryder and Welcome begin to argue, ending with Ryder fatally shooting Welcome. The delay allows one of the passengers, an undercover police officer who jumped off the train as it started to speed away, to shoot Steever. Longman escapes while Ryder shoots the passenger. As Ryder is about to administer a fatal head shot, he is himself shot dead by DCI Daniels of Special Operations Division. The novel ends with Longman's arrest.
The novel has been adapted to film and television on three occasions:
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974)
- The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1998)
- The Taking of Pelham 123 (2009)
Realizing that it would become too much of a reminder to the public, after the 1974 movie adaptation of this book was released, the New York City Transit Authority, for many years, barred its planners from scheduling a train leaving Pelham station at 1:23 AM or PM. Eventually this policy was rescinded, but in a kind of superstition, the dispatchers have generally avoided scheduling a Pelham train at 1:23.
Godey, John, The Taking of Pelham One Two Three, New York : Putnam (1973). ISBN 0-399-11094-1