Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Chapter 24

Harry had already drunk his first whiskey sour, and was ordering another when he noticed a young man entering the pub. The place was comparatively empty, just a few hardened drinkers propping up the bar, and a couple of kids playing a fruit machine. Danny Longhurst was carrying, perhaps a little too obviously, the magazine: Harry had his tucked in his coat pocket, its masthead nevertheless visible to anyone who needed to see it.

“Drink?” he said, as Danny ambled across, slightly hesitantly, to stand beside him. Harry reached out his hand, an open gesture, and his new companion shook it. A surprisingly firm grip, Harry thought.

“Yes, thanks. I’ll have a vodka.”

Harry added the vodka to his order, and when the barman had served up the drinks he carried them across to a table by the window, Danny taking the signal to follow him. He sat side-on, so he could see the door to Meldew Buildings out of the corner of his eye, Danny sat opposite. He tried to get a sense of the young man, who looked bright enough: anyone who had written two historical reference books by the age of 19 would have to be, Harry thought. He could see he was nervous, though. The portfolio, he noticed, was tucked under the magazine that was now resting on his lap.

“Well, I suppose I better ask what this is all about,” Harry said.

Danny Longhurst shifted a little in his seat, and took a drink. ‘This is going to be complicated, Harry – I can tell’ – the voice at the back of Harry’s head, alerting him to concentrate.

“About two weeks ago, I got a call from a woman in Shropshire. I don’t know if you know, but I do a little amateur genealogical research for people as a sideline to my writing,” and he’d reached into his jacket and pulled out a card. Harry read it: ‘Danny Longhurst, Author, Family History Researcher’ and the same mobile number he’d rung earlier. “She’d seen an advert I placed in a couple of local newspapers down there, and wanted help finding her grand-daughter”. Harry smarted a little inside, but didn’t show it. ‘That’s the way to drum up business,’ he was thinking – maybe if he’d done a little more plugging of his own, Harry McFry Genealogical Private Investigations would be on a sounder footing.

“I arranged to go down to see her. A sweet old thing – quite a sharp mind for someone her age. She had some medals that she particularly wanted to pass down to the grand-daughter. No other surviving relatives, you see. The curious thing about it was she knew the grand-daughter would know nothing about her. She’d never even met her. That was sad, to think she’d lived her life never having met her own grand-daughter.”

Harry was warming to Danny. The boy had a sensitivity rarely found in people of his age.

“She gave me a few details, a name, approximate age, place of birth, and left me to get on with it. She asked me to call her when I found her.” Danny was getting into his flow, but Harry had a question.

“How come she knew all about her if she’d never bothered to even see her?” Danny’s response was quick,and to the point: “Families can be strange, Mr McFry. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that”. Danny took another drink from his vodka which, Harry noticed, was nearly all gone.

“The thing is … and I am a little bit embarrassed to say this … I already knew the woman she was looking for,” but Harry could see from his sheepish look that he was quite a bit more than a ‘little bit’ embarrassed. “I decided not to tell her that, though – if I’m honest, I needed the money.”

There were worse motives, for worse deeds, Harry thought. It was a hard world out there in family history research: too many people chasing too few commissions. He’d have done the same in the boy’s shoes, he was sure.

“And I take it that the grand-daughter is Laurel McFry?” Harry asked – already knowing the answer.

“Yes. You see, as soon as she said the name, I remembered I’d met Laurel at a family history group meeting in Birkenhead last year. In fact, just a month ago she asked me to help her find some of her family on the census. I tried my best, Mr McFry, but they weren’t there. That’s when I told her to contact you.”

Sometimes, Harry thought, it would help if a client gave you the whole picture. He needed time to think this through. Rising from his seat, he took Danny’s glass and said: “Another?”

The young man protested – it was his turn at the bar, and he wasn’t about to be patronized. Harry over-ruled the protest. For his part, he wasn’t about to let Danny Longhurst know he needed a double.

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