Monday, 5 February 2007

Chapter 15

The curator of the North of England Museum of Labour History would, if he existed, have been delighted to acquire the medals that were now securely stored away at the back of Stan Redfearn’s safe. Shortly after Harry McFry had left his shop, Stan had contacted the only person he knew who might know enough about the Spanish Civil War to be able to shed light on their provenance. Stan himself had a little knowledge: he bought and sold memorabilia from any theatre of war, and the war between the republicans and nationalists was popular among certain collectors. Instinctively, when Harry had shown him them, he had felt they were special. These weren’t the kind of mass-produced affair that were dished out right, left and centre – they were a cut above that. Even so, precisely how special they were, he had yet to learn. Colin McAllistair had made the Spanish Civil War his lifetime’s study. He could discourse in detail on the finer points of the campaign, had interviewed many of its veterans and had published widely on the subject. McAllistair wasn’t a man to court publicity, however, and it had taken Stan the best part of half an hour before, via his publisher, he had found his contact telephone number. Stan began his conversation with a little trepidation, explaining how he ran a small military memorabilia shop, and how a customer had that day brought in some ‘interesting’ medals. McAllistair had been polite enough – he received similar calls once every month or so, but usually they were from people who had little or no knowledge of the war, who had perhaps found their grandfather’s medals in amongst the possessions they had inherited. He bristled at Stan’s initial statement that he ‘felt they might be worth something’. “I can assure you that every medal issued in that campaign was a medal earned, Mr Redfearn. And that goes for whichever side issued it.” His warm, Scots brogue sounded colder in rebuke. Yet he sensed that Stan Redfearn hadn’t really meant it that way, and was relaxed about spending time discussing his query. After Stan had described each of the medals, there was a brief pause, after which he replied: “And you say your shop is in Birkenhead? Then, how would it be if I popped up to see them? I’m very interested in them, Mr Redfearn. You are quite right in supposing that these are Republican medals. But if they are what I think they are, they are one of only two sets issued after the war by the Republican Government in Exile. You should keep them safe, as I believe we will discover they are of international importance.” With that, they agreed a time when Colin McAllaister could visit the shop the next day. “Meanwhile,” he’d said to Stan, “I’ll see if I can’t find out a little more about ‘LB’ for you. But you can be assured that, whoever it might be, their contribution to the Republican cause was amongst the greatest ever made.”

That afternoon, Stan Redfearn spent a couple of hours re-reading a dog-eared copy of George Orwell’s ‘Homage to Catalonia’, dug out from a stack of books on the groaning shelf in his back room, and found himself lost (as he had the first time) in the internecine, labyrinthine politics of the POUM, the Anarchists and the Communists that made the story of the Spanish Civil War such an intriguing, yet ultimately tragic one.


The occasions when Harry McFry regretted losing his driving license were few. A stupid decision to take to his car after he’d had a drink one night had cost him dearly these last two years, but he’d also come to appreciate the sense of freedom that came without having to worry about where to park, or whether his car would still be where he’d parked it when he got back. But the 40 minute journey out to the airport was not one he relished – a change of trains, then a shuttle bus - even if it gave him time to think through the Laurel McFry problem. He’d make sure to drop by his flat on the way back, he thought, and pick up those files he should have taken that morning. With a bit of luck, there would be enough clues in his old notes to ensure he could at least provide the lady with something. The medals – they were a different story. He’d have another look at that envelope: see if it didn’t have any secrets to give up – maybe even ask Charlie to look at the postmark, his ‘professional’ eye probably better at deciphering the smudged print.

As he got down from the bus - filled, he noticed, not with passengers, but instead with a phalanx of air stewardesses looking trim and dandy in their long, blue raincoats and perky little hats, and by another group of assorted airport staff who might be cleaners – he caught a glimpse of the huge logo for the new John Lennon Airport. He gave a wry smile as he saw the text printed beneath: ‘Above Us Only Skies’, a quote from the former Beatle’s most famous solo song. He remembered how, on his last visit to the airport, he had lost (or had stolen?) his mobile phone. Perhaps they should change the strapline to ‘Imagine No Possessions’? Instinctively, he felt for his wallet and keys and realized, to his horror, that he still had his handgun snuggled deep in it's shoulder holster. ‘Not a good idea at an airport, Harry!’ he thought to himself. All the extra security these days meant he might have awkward questions to answer if, for whatever reason, someone chose to search him. Dismissing the thought as best he could, he glanced up at the arrivals board, and saw that the Madrid plane had landed around 20 minutes ago. Perfect – in a few minutes, Adam would be out of the baggage hall, into Arrivals and the two of them could retrace his steps back to town.

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