Tuesday, 27 February 2007

Chapter 33

Stepping off the train at Liverpool Lime Street, Colin McAllistair still hadn’t shrugged off that faint feeling of unease that had been with him ever since he’d received the call from Cyril Galloway the previous day. As he made his way to the underground line that would ferry him under, rather than across, the Mersey, his mind was still trying to dash the painful memory of what he’d done in Thirsk, North Yorkshire, all those years ago.

Returning to Cyril Galloway’s little antique shop early on the day after he’d first called there, he’d been hopeful of good news on the medals. He wondered now when the thought first occurred to him that he might take a cut of their value. Had it been a dream, as he drifted off to sleep in the bedroom of the small bed and breakfast he’d found the previous night? It probably didn’t matter. What did matter was that, when Cyril Galloway had welcomed him into his shop, he’d noticed his wide smile.

“Ah … Mr McAllistair! Won’t you come in! I believe I have some good news for you.” Galloway had ushered him into the back room, filled with furniture. “Please, come into my office. I take it you’ve got the medals?”

Colin had nodded, and entered the small office situated just off the larger room, taking a seat that Galloway had pulled up.

“Well, I should perhaps start by saying I could find nothing at all about your Jonathan Harcourt, other than that he was a writer on the Daily Herald. I suppose, perhaps, that you already knew this?” Galloway asked.

“Yes. Quite a celebrated one, from what I could gather,” he’d said.

“I may as well get to the point, Mr McAllistair. After you left last night I made a long-distance call to Madrid.” Colin remembered how he had emphasized the words ‘long-distance’: that’s what people did, in those days. Nowadays, he mused, people thought nothing of international calls. But he remembered he had been impressed at Mr Galloway’s approach.

“I discussed the medals with a collector in Spain. He’s very interested in your medals, Mr McAllistair. Very interested indeed.” Galloway waited for a response from Colin, but when there seemed to be none, he continued: “What would you say if I told you he is prepared to offer … £2,000 for them?”

Colin recalled how he had struggled to hide his astonishment. It was 1970. That was almost enough to buy a small flat in London

“I would say … that’s amazing!”

“Well, I have his authority to buy them from you here and now. They are very important medals, you see. He seems to think that there may only ever have been two sets issued. Of course, it may take a day or two for the money to transfer. But he’s a reputable person, Mr McAllistair, and if he says he wants to offer £2,000, that seems to me a more than fair and reasonable amount,” Galloway had said.

Thoughts of Jonathan Harcourt receiving a handsome cheque from a Spanish museum suddenly seemed to have been displaced in Colin McAllistair’s mind. Instead, he was thinking how, when he left Oxford, he could set himself up with a head start in life. Of course, he would have to give Jonathan Harcourt something. Maybe £500? Still a tidy sum. In what seemed like an age, but was really only a matter of seconds, he had made his mind up:

“I would be obliged very much if you could sell them, then, Mr Galloway,” he found himself saying.

Galloway had studied him. “I would have to charge a commission, of course. I have my living to make. But since this is such a significant sum, I could perhaps agree a reduced amount: shall we say just two and a half per cent?” There was a slight twist at the edge of his mouth as he said this.

McAllistair’s mind did the maths in a trice: £50 - a handsome payment for a simple telephone call, he’d thought, but a price he’d have to pay.

And so, it was agreed that McAllistair would leave the medals with Galloway. And the auctioneer had been as good as his word. Within a week, Colin McAllistair was paying a cheque in the sum of £1950 into his account, much to the evident pleasure of his bank manager. He’d been true to his word to Jonathan Harcourt, too: he drafted off a letter to the old man, explaining how he had been able to sell the medals for the not insignificant sum of £450 (he’d decided it was reasonable to deduct Galloway’s commission from Harcourt’s portion of the money, after all), and enclosing a cheque made out to him for that same amount.

Months had passéd, and many bank statements had been studied, before McAllistair realized that the cheque was not going to be cashed. He wondered, then, whether Jonathan Harcourt might perhaps have died.

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