Monday, 26 February 2007

Chapter 31

Time was running out for Harry McFry, and he knew it. As he lit another cigarette and leafed through a file on his desk, he was aware that the clock was ticking down to the day when it would become illegal to smoke in public places in England. That would include, he supposed, his office. He’d be consigned to grabbing a quick smoke on the pavement outside Meldew Buildings, just like those office workers he often saw huddled in doorways. Well, Mrs Shipman would have won again: she never liked the idea of Harry smoking in his office, but she hadn’t been smart enough to alter the lease before he’d signed it: ‘one up to you, Harry’, he’d thought, at the time.

Harry was looking at notes he’d taken some years ago when researching his own family tree. There was enough there (just) for Harry to piece together the trail of where his search had taken him, but he was annoyed with himself for not having kept much in the way of references. Sure, those were his first forays into family history, and he’d since learned to keep meticulous references to save himself the awkward task of repeating searches he might have done before, but that didn’t stop him feeling a little bit foolish. What was clear from his notes was that, once he’d located the Shropshire McFry’s, he hadn’t followed Laurel’s branch down from James McFry. But he did have a note from the 1881 census, showing James and his wife Amelia, living in Bridgnorth and running a haberdashery, even if he hadn’t had the foresight to jot down a census reference number.

He turned to his computer, and pushed a few keys to interrogate the Ancestry database. No sign of James and Amelia in 1881. A few clicks later, and he was searching the same census index on Family Search, the site operated by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. The result drew the same blank. So, Laurel McFry had been right all along – her family was missing. And it was starting to look as though young Danny Longhurst was right, too. Someone, somewhere, had excised all references to James McFry from the census.

Harry had given Danny something of a dressing down last night, before they left the bar. If they were going to work on this case together, it was better that Danny knew from the start who was in charge. Harry recalled, for a minute, the young man’s discomfort when he’d asked him whether, if they were going to be working together, he planned breaking into his office to steal things again.

Danny had been suitably embarrassed, but he’d come back, quickly enough: “That was a mistake, Harry … but I just wasn’t sure what you were going to do next with the medals. I knew you must have picked up my notebook at the library, and I couldn’t be sure at that stage that you were on side” Harry had decided, there and then, that Danny had probably been right - he’d have done much the same, in the circumstances.

“OK, Danny,” he’d said. “Let’s just make sure there are no more secrets if we’re on this case together.”

Now, Harry had a couple of calls to make. He picked up the phone and punched in a few numbers, listening as the call rang out. A few seconds later, an answerphone clicked in.

“Julian? It’s Harry here. I wonder if you could do me a favour? I’m looking for a James and Amelia McFry in Bridgnorth in 1881. I can’t find them on Ancestry, but I wonder if you could check them on the microfiche down at the library. Get back to me if you can.” Julian lived in Devon, far away from any of the established McFry families; if Danny was right, the microfiche copies of the 1881 index held by his reference library would not have been doctored.

Next, he rang Stan Redfearn. “Any news on the medals, Stan?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact I’ve got somebody coming in to see them this morning. Why don’t you come over around eleven, and you can meet him?” Harry agreed he would.

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