Monday, 12 February 2007

Chapter 22

Danny Longhurst was sitting having a coffee, reading through the notes he’d taken that day, when he felt his mobile phone vibrate in his jacket pocket. He left his notes and the cup of coffee on the table of the library café – it wasn’t busy, and they’d be safe enough – and stepped into a quiet alcove to take the call.

The voice at the other end was all he expected: cool, unruffled. “You asked me to call you. About the medals.” It was McFry. Danny collected his thoughts, quickly. “Yes, that’s right, Mr McFry. Seems I might have some explaining to do. I wondered if we could maybe meet up and compare notes?”

McFry was puzzled. This wasn’t the same voice that had left the message – it was younger sounding, more hesitant. “Wait a minute,” he said. “Who is this?”

“My name is Danny Longhurst, Mr McFry. If you were expecting someone older, I can explain that, too, when we meet. It’s absolutely imperative you see me. I hope you don’t think I’m being over-dramatic here, but it could even be a matter of life or death”.

McFry was quick in his response: “Yours, or mine?”

“Neither. But someone’s going to die soon enough, so time is of the essence.” Danny liked the legal ring of that phrase. “When can we meet?”

Harry checked his watch and did a quick calculation. He didn’t think he’d be able to do much about Laurel McFry’s little problem – he’d have to fess up and admit to her that he needed more time, or else wheel Doris out as part of some lame excuse. In any case, he knew the medals were somehow connected to her, and just now it seemed important to try to tie this particular loose end up.

“How about now?” he said.

“That’s great. Should I come and see you at your office?” Danny said, watching, out of the corner of his eye, a waitress passing by his table, wondering whether she should take the half-empty cup away. Harry thought for a moment. He needed a drink. “No – meet me in the Brass Balance in half an hour. I’ll be carrying a copy of Your Family Tree magazine, so you should have no trouble recognizing me.”

Danny smiled – he might have known that Birkenhead’s foremost genealogical sleuth would subscribe to Britain’s best family history periodical. “I’ll do the same – see you in half an hour, then?” Danny was about to hang up, but a thought occurred to him: ”And I’m sorry about the portfolio, Mr McFry. I wasn’t sure you’d ring me, so I thought it best to get it back. I’ll bring it with me, though – you might find it interesting.”

Harry replaced the receiver and sat back in his chair. Danny Longhurst. He knew that name, but he couldn’t remember exactly where from. It nagged at him, even as he pulled on his overcoat, lit a cigarette and made his way out of his office for his appointment.

He was still thinking about Danny when he left the building, crossed the road and entered the little newsagents just a few doors up from the pub. Behind the counter, an elderly woman bustled about tidying newspapers and magazines. She looked up as Harry entered, a cheery smile erupting on her face: “Harry! Where’ve you been these last few weeks? I’ve seen you coming in and out of your office almost every day, but you haven’t called in to see old Elsie”. She narrowed her eyes a little. “Anyone would think you owed me money!” She was still smiling.

Harry remembered, with a jolt, that owe her money he did. He reached for his wallet, pulled out a note and handed it to her, saying “Sorry about that, Else. You know how it is. A man gets busy, and things slip his mind.”

“I’ve got this month’s here, Harry. You want to take it now?” She fished a magazine from a pile under the counter.

“Yes, thanks. I’ll try to be a little more organized in future. It’s Doris, you know – I ask her to remind me, but she never does!”

“I’d get a new secretary if I were you, Mr McFry. She doesn’t deserve a nice man like you as her boss. There are plenty of people out there who would die for an interesting job like that. My niece is always saying she’d like a change of jobs. You could do worse, Harry.”

“I’ll bear it in mind, Else. Thanks.” As he scooped up the magazine and turned to leave, he caught sight of a book on the top shelf, beside the magazines. Wild Wirral Women – a history of rebellious women who’d made a name for themselves on the Wirral peninsula - and he remembered, now, where he knew the name 'Danny Longhurst'.

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