Tuesday, 20 February 2007

Chapter 28

While Danny Longhurst was getting the drinks, Harry was wondering whether he’d better not put a call in to Laurel McFry. They’d left it that she would ring him, but he wasn't planning to go back to his office just yet: he had a few ideas he wanted to run past young Danny first. Then he realized he’d never even taken her number down when they met last night!

He stood up and walked across to the bar, where Danny was paying the barman. “Hey, Danny – have you got Laurel McFry’s number by any chance – save me going back across to the office?” (‘Nice cover-work, Harry!’ he thought). Danny fished into his pocket and pulled out a slip of paper. “Are you OK if the two of us meet up with her tomorrow morning – say ten o’clock?” Danny nodded: “Sounds good to me,” he said, as he took the drinks back over to their table.

Harry turned to the payphone at the edge of the bar, and dialed Laurel’s number. After half-a-dozen rings, she answered: that voice again, like it was wrapped in silk: “Hello…”

Harry cut straight to the point: “Miss McFry, it’s Harry. Are you able to come in to see me tomorrow morning? We need to talk”.

A pause, as though she might be checking her diary. “That shouldn’t be a problem. What time are you thinking about?”

“How does ten o’clock sound?”

“That’s good.”

Harry waited a second: “Oh, and Miss McFry … I hope there won’t be a problem if a mutual friend joins us,” and another slight pause, before he continued: “He’s called Danny. Danny Longhurst.”

Harry could sense her embarrassment at the other end of the phone, imagined her pale face blushing.

She responded quickly enough: “Perhaps I should have told you about Danny. That was naughty of me.”

“Let’s just say you should have been more upfront from the start. Looks like there’s more to your missing family than meets the eye,” Harry said, “and if we’re going to get to the bottom of it, there’s got to be no more holding back.” Harry felt like a schoolteacher reprimanding a pupil. He hung off, and headed back to join Danny. While he was at it, he might as well put young Mr Longhurst in his place, too.


The evening was drawing in around Vale View, the small plot of bungalows on the outskirts of Telford where Lillian McFry made her home. After making herself a light tea, she’d settled down for the evening, comfortable in her favourite chair, the low drone of a radio her only company. She was thinking about Dacre Lawrence, and his visit there earlier that day. There was something about the man – she wasn’t sure what, exactly – that she recognized. He was a crook, there was no doubt about that. And in league with that odious Mr Galloway from the auction house, she was sure. She marveled that they had presumed her medals had belonged to Thomas McFry – an easy assumption, for who would imagine that little, frail old Lillian had ever fought in a war, had ever killed oh, it must have been over fifty men? Galloway was a fool if he thought that piece of paper with the medals was a certificate, and Lawrence a bigger one still for accepting the auctioneer’s assessment. And yet, she couldn’t shake herself from the view that she already knew Dacre Lawrence before he turned up today – something, perhaps, about his eyes that seemed familiar? He was handsome enough, for his age, and he had a certain charm. What was it he had said – his father and Thomas had been cousins? She didn’t remember Thomas mentioning cousins, but then she knew, nowadays, how her memory was wont to lead her down paths that ended at the edge of a cliff, overlooking a sea of nothingness.

She wondered if Laurel had the medals yet. That was a good thing to do, she thought. She imagined the young girl – not so young now, she thought, opening the package and seeing them for the first time, a tangible link between the two of them. She’d have to call that young man, Mr Longhurst, tomorrow, to see whether he’d delivered them to her yet.

She remembered seeing the young Laurel McFry at her daughter’s funeral. Had anyone stopped to think, she wondered, who the old woman, standing at the back of the family group, was? It had been a strange feeling, playing so many roles at once – mother, grandmother, aunt – yet not to be recognized. And all the while, trying not to stare at the little girl in the black dress.

How, she wondered, had a night of passion in a park in Madrid led to so much complication? One, wonderful night under the stars, and a love, she mused, that few people ever experienced. All served up with a lifetime of regrets, all mangled by a war that no-one even remembered. Sometimes she wished she had never met Thomas McFry.

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