Wednesday, 7 February 2007

Chapter 17

The long ride back to Yorkshire gave Dr Dacre Lawrence ample time to reflect on his meeting with Lillian McFry. As he watched the Cheshire hills, the Lancashire mill towns and then the west Yorkshire moors speed by through the window, he couldn’t help but think that there was more to the woman than met the eye. He began to wonder who might now have the medals – and, more importantly, the piece of paper that accompanied them. What if the records had been wrong, and Lillian did have a family of her own somewhere? Perhaps she had sold them to another dealer? Or – and here Lawrence visibly blanched at the thought – what if Cyril Galloway had double crossed him? He opened the briefcase on the seat next to him, and began hunting through the papers inside, until he found a card bearing the name ‘Telford Auction Rooms’. Picking up his mobile phone, he dialed the number on the card, punching each digit slowly until he was connected.

“Good afternoon, Telford Auction Rooms, Sindy speaking. How may I help you?” the voice at the other end said.

“Put me through to Cyril Galloway”.

“Who shall I say is calling?” the receptionist asked.

“Don’t!” was Dacre’s response. At the other end of the line, the receptionist was shocked by the tone of the caller’s voice, but she nevertheless located Mr Galloway and put the call through.

“Yes? Who is this, please?” asked Cyril, still holding the leather-bound, first edition book he had been examining.

Dacre Lawrence. Listen Cyril, I think you have some explaining to do. I’ve been out to see Lillian McFry and she tells me she no longer has the medals. I wonder if you can enlighten me as to where they might be?”

Cyril was shocked, but could read the implication in the caller’s question. He wasn’t afraid of Dacre Lawrence, as some people were. His response was careful and precise.

“Now look … I can assure you that I don’t know where they are. I made her the original offer, and then I called you when she didn’t bite on it. If she’s subsequently disposed of them then there’s not a great deal we can do about it”.

Dacre Lawrence paused. “I’m not prepared to give in on this one, Cyril. There’s an awful lot of money at stake here, and I’ve put myself out on a limb to get it. If this particular bough breaks, you’ll be under it to break my fall. I hope we understand each other”.

Cyril assured him that he understood well enough the importance to Dacre of obtaining the medals and the accompanying paper. He thought for a moment.

“There is a chance – just a slim chance, mind you – that I can find out what happened to the medals. Will you be in your surgery later this afternoon?” he had asked. It was agreed that Cyril Galloway would ring Dacre Lawrence later that day.

The call completed, Lawrence settled back in his seat. But even as the car sped along the M62, the questions wouldn’t go away. Did Lillian McFry know she had been sitting on £20 million? He thought again of the old woman, alone in the bungalow. Maybe she was senile, after all? She could just as easily have thrown the medals out in her dustbin as sold them on somewhere. What on earth had she meant by ‘Four plus three is one’? And who would be writing to her, at this time in her life, from France?


*

Lillian McFry pulled the letter out from the envelope, dug out her glasses from the side of her chair and started the slow task of deciphering the words in front of her. She read little these days, and had few letters to worry about other than utility bills. She angled the paper to catch the light from the window, until she could comfortably make out what was written.

“My Dear Lillian” she read, “I know that if you even receive this letter you are old now, but my friends in England continue to tell me that they find no record that you are dead! So, I write again (and will write still more until I learn finally you are gone) in the hope that I can persuade you even now to come home. Your country yearns for you even as much as I do. We have never forgotten you, and have made a place for you even in death. How many years have passed, my love, since you were in my arms? Those who remember are getting fewer by the week. I myself suffer with aches and pains, but they are nothing to the ache in my heart for you. What keeps you there, my love? Must I give up these letters to you, and accept that you are no longer there? Had I the strength you must believe I would travel myself to see you but, alas, my doctor warns against it. Be safe, my compatriot; remember the great times we had. You are honoured by us each day. Yours with my unending love, Philippe.”

Inside the envelope, she found the banknotes. They had changed the design over the years, but she didn’t imagine this mattered. Folding the letter carefully, she took both it and the envelope to her sideboard, where she added them to a pile of similar ones that were stored there. She caught a small tear come from the corner of her eye as she closed the door to the sideboard. ‘Too late for crying now, Lillian Blyth,’ she told herself, and made her way to the kitchen, carrying Dacre Lawrence’s cup and the pile of bourbon biscuits he had hardly touched.

2 comments:

Crofty said...

Ahaaa! The thick plottens.

I intend to introduce you to my wife to explain how it is that I have failed to complete the requisite number of household tasks, instead committing a significant chunk of my afternoon to more of this excellent tale.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

DISCLAIMER

Thomas Hamburger Jnr cannot be held responsible for the failure of any of his readers to complete their requisite number of domestic chores!

Thanks for reading, Crofty: and may I commend your blog to other readers of Harry McFry, too?

Kind Regards
THJnr