Tuesday, 6 February 2007

Chapter 16

Harry caught Adam’s grin as he rounded the corner into the arrivals hall. He was carrying only one bag, and trying to look older and relaxed, even though his face showed the excitement of a twelve-year old who had completed his first solo plane trip. Harry liked Adam – he was a smart kid, easy to be around.

“Good trip?” he asked, as he shouldered the boy’s bag.

“Cool.” Adam had replied, as they made their way to the rank of phone booths near the exit. Harry called his sister-in-law to let her know he’d arrived safely, then the two of them headed out to catch the bus.

“How’s your Dad?” Harry had asked, when they were seated on the shuttle and waiting for other passengers to climb aboard. He looked carefully for any reaction, but there was nothing immediately discernable. “OK. He said to tell you Ana was asking after you.”

They didn’t speak much after that, Adam reading a magazine he’d slipped from his bag, and Harry’s mind off down an avenue he rarely explored these days. It wasn’t that he didn’t think about Ana, it was just he had learned it was easier, all round, not to let himself lapse into painful recollections. But now, with only the prospect of a rail ride to Birkenhead to excite him, he found himself replaying scenes from a Madrid hotel room over again in his mind.

Harry had met Ainhoa at a conference organized by the Société des Historiens Sociaux in Paris, seven or eight years ago – a time Harry often referred to as ‘my previous life’, when he’d been a lecturer in social history at a provincial university. ‘6 BG’ he might have termed it, a mocking reference to that time in his life that pre-dated his career-switch into full-time genealogy. She was beautiful alright: he had watched her as she delivered a paper, in French, to a workshop at the conference, and fallen straight away for the way she seemed to keep her head bowed as she read from the paper, nervously pushing strands of her shoulder-length black hair back over her ear every now and again. When she did pause to look up at the room of faces in front of her, she blushed a little, then seemed to return to her theme with a greater vigour. Harry had understood hardly a word she said. French wasn’t his strong point, anyway, but her heavy foreign accent hadn't helped and, well, the view was a little... ‘distracting’. He had checked her details in the programme: Anhoa Magunagoikoetxea Zornoza - the kind of name that would make a Scrabble Champion salivate. Back then, he knew little about Spain, and it even crossed his mind that she might be Hungarian. When they’d become more intimate, they had agreed on ‘Ana’ as a name they were both comfortable with using, but it was the more formal Senorita Zornoza that he’d used when, on the pretext of discussing some finer point from her paper, he had persuaded her to meet him for a coffee later that day. The move towards ‘Ana’ did not take long. She liked his apparent shyness, and the way he seemed interested in her, so unlike the Spanish men she’d known, so lacking in that arrogant machismo she had come to detest. So, a dinner, a few drinks and a walk arm- in- arm through the bustling, late-night streets off the Boulevard St Michel (so natural, it seemed, to be holding each other that way!) was the prelude to their first night together. Harry remembered the smell of her hair, so fresh and inviting, even now. 'How did you manage to screw that one up, Harry?’ he asked himself, silently. The same voice replied: ‘It’s a skill, Harry. Let’s face it, if there’s a relationship to foul up, you’re the man for the job’.

That’s how Harry came to be in a slightly melancholy mood as the train pulled into the station near his home, not helped by the dreary rain that was still falling, making the streets seem dull and lifeless. The short walk to his flat was a bleak one, a boulevard of broken shopkeeper’s dreams, the boarded-up windows a testimony to the nightmare of mortgage foreclosure. When they finally reached the house, he’d said: “You may as well wait down here, Adam,” and gestured to a low bench in the hallway. “I won’t be long.” Harry climbed the stairs with practised haste, took the key from his pocket and opened the door to his flat. Quickly, he filleted the low bookcase by his bed of the files he thought he’d need. Turning to leave, he caught sight of the dull, red light blinking on his phone – a message which he’d better take, as he wouldn’t be back for a few more hours yet. It was short and to the point. The same voice that had called him at work the night before: “I need those medals back, McFry. Ring me and we’ll talk about it” – and the caller had reeled off a number before hanging up. Harry jotted the number down on a pad beside the phone, pulled off the sheet and stuffed it in his pocket. And then he was out of there.

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