As he unlocked the door to his small office, Harry McFry thought he already knew how the day would pan out. He carried with him the small, leather portfolio he’d picked up the night before, during his encounter with the glamorous Laurel McFry – no relation, he was sure, despite her claims. He’d have a quick check on the census records, where he was pretty confident he would find the woman’s ‘missing family.’ McFry had learned the hard way that, when it came to a census, there was no such thing as a missing person. They were always hiding there somewhere. Sure, their name might be miss-spelt. An age could be year or two out, or an index might be so inaccurate as to be laughable. But they were always there, waiting for him to dig them out. They couldn’t hide from Harry McFry.
Pushing open the half-glazed door with the words ‘Harry McFry, Genealogical Private Investigations’ etched into the glass, a brown envelope that had been slid underneath it caught his eye. He picked it up and tossed it casually into his in-tray, where it sat with all the other unopened rent demands from his landlady, the redoubtable Mrs Shipman. Time was not only running out for McFry Investigations – it had grabbed his lame excuses by the hand and jumped into a cab, destination: ‘Bankruptcy’. When he’d set himself up as a genealogical private eye two years ago, his hopes had been high that he could make a go of it. Here was something which brought together his two passions in life: family history research and crime investigation. But, with the exception of the Hartshorn case, the results of which made front page of the Birkenhead Beagle, he had come to rely on bread-and-butter stuff. There were only so many BMD look-ups a guy could do before he went insane.
Moving across to his desk, Harry pulled out a pack of cigarettes from his coat pocket. It was cold in here again. He’d leave his coat on until the old radiator in the corner warmed up the room some more. He fingered the portfolio, pulling open the silk cord that fastened it, lit up his first filter-tip of the day, and sat back in his chair. Drawing deeply on the cigarette, he started to leaf through the papers. Lists of births in the
An uneasy feeling began to creep over him. Whatever was going on here, it didn’t make sense. A mystery call warning him to stay away from the library. Laurel McFry’s insistence that she and he were cousins, and her fanciful notion that her family had been ‘stolen’. And now, this. One thing was for sure, this might not be the open-and-shut case he thought it would.
He stubbed out his cigarette and switched on the old IBM that took up most of his desk. A solid, powerful machine that in spite of its age did everything Harry wanted it to.
“Come on there, my beauty – we’ve got work to do!” Sometimes Harry thought this heap of plastic and wires was the only real friend he had left in the world.
Just as the machine powered up, a buzzer sounded in his office. Visitors, Harry thought – things were certainly getting busy round here just now. He pressed an intercom button on his desk. “Yep?” he said.
“To be signed for, Harry. You’ll have to come down.” It was ‘Charlie the Post’. Harry had known Charlie a long while, drinking buddies from the time both their marriages had been foundering on the rocks inside their bourbon glasses. “OK, Charlie – I’ll be right down”. And with that, Harry made his way out of his office, down the corridor and out to the lobby of Meldew Buildings, checking carefully for any sign of Mrs Shipman as he did so.