Wednesday, 31 January 2007

Chapter 9

Laurel McFry was sipping a café latte in the coffee shop tucked away at the back of her favourite bookshop, whiling away time before an appointment with the bank. She was one of those rare and fortunate individuals sometimes encountered in life who didn’t need to work for their living. When her father died, Laurel inherited from him shares in the family business, a large house by the coast and income from a capital sum which, if invested sensibly (her father’s solicitor had assured her), would be more than enough to meet her needs. She had not been spoilt as a child, so had grown up knowing the value of money as well as the price of everything, something her father had been keen to teach her after her mother died when she was just seven years old.

She thought about her meeting with Harry McFry the night before. He’d been younger than she’d expected, from his telephone voice. She knew his reputation, of course. Had seen the write up of the Hartshorn case in the local papers, and felt if anyone could work out what had happened, Harry could. But she hadn’t liked the way he’d dismissed her telling him they were related. She knew she was only a ‘dabbler’ in genealogy when set beside someone with McFry’s expertise, but from the start her approach to researching her family history had been meticulous. She felt sure all her work was accurate – those hours spent poring over census records and microfiche, wheedling out tiny facts that helped piece together exactly who Laurel Blyth McFry was. Maybe Harry McFry wasn’t as smart as he liked (or liked other people) to think he was? Or then again, maybe she hadn’t been as diligent as she’d thought? Yet, when she’d first seen Harry as he entered the local records room, her instinctive thought was ‘I know this man’. She knew that, if she was right, she shared only a tiny fraction of the DNA handed down from their common ancestor. Perhaps it was the gene for doggedness, she mused.

Laurel had been driven to start her family history studies shortly after the death of her father. Here she was, alone now in the world without siblings or even aunts and uncles to turn to. She’d needed all the strength of character she developed as an only child to cope with the grieving, and like so many others in her position, the first, tentative need to know more about her parents, their lives and their ancestry, had grown to become almost an obsession. She sometimes imagined herself at a support group, standing in front of a circle of people and exclaiming ‘My name is Laurel McFry, and I’m a genealogist’.

Fortunately, her private income gave her plenty of opportunity to develop her new interest. Yet, she was careful in what she spent. Someone else in her circumstances might have merely hired a researcher to go off and complete her family tree for her – but that wasn’t Laurel’s way. Her father’s death may have been the spark that ignited her interest, but there were other drivers, too. Of her mother, she knew less than you might imagine. Her father, in his grief, had been reluctant to talk about her to Laurel. As the young girl grew up, she sensed his reluctance and held inside her all the questions she wanted to ask. She learned to lock them away, and only occasionally as a young woman did she pause to think who Colleen McFry was. She remembered the beautiful, warm woman who had played in the kitchen with her, taken her to school, fussed over her when she was ill, fed ducks with her in the park. These were memories from which her father was strangely absent - a time when Philip McFry had been busy tending to the affairs of the family business, so her first bond was with Colleen.

She remembered, of course, the funeral. All those strange faces, everyone dressed in black including, for the first time in her life, herself – a peculiarly itchy, black dress, she recalled. A day or two before, in the period that was a daze of grief, her father had somehow found time to take young Laurel to the huge department store in town to buy it for her. Trying it on and looking in the mirror, she had been fascinated by how grown-up it made her look. Then, standing on a wooden board beside the grave, watching as the box her mother was in was slowly covered by handfuls of soil as the mourners passed by.

Another sip of her coffee: it was cold now, and Laurel realised that somehow, another half hour of her life had been spent indulgently reminiscing. It was time she headed to see her bank manager.


Intrigued as Harry was by the three medals in the cardboard box, he knew they’d have to wait. No accompanying details, just three beribboned medals, with the inscription ‘LB, 1937’ on the back of them. Maybe he’d get a call from someone asking if he’d got them, apologising for forgetting to include a letter explaining what they wanted Harry to do with them? That was one of the pleasures of being a genealogical private eye – there was always something interesting around the corner. For now, though, he had work to do. He logged onto his account, dragged a cigarette from the pack on the desk, and set to work hunting out his namesakes.

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