Friday, 2 February 2007

Chapter 11

Harry McFry was starting to feel more than a little perturbed. Over two hours of patient interrogation of the census database held by had left him bewildered and annoyed. His search for the ancestors of Laurel McFry was drawing a blank, and he had more than once cursed himself for failing to take more details down from the lady when he’d met her in the library that previous evening. ‘Assume’ wasn’t just making an ass of Harry, it was laughing in his ear. And another thing, he'd thought – why hadn’t he brought with him from home his own family history files? ‘You’re slipping, Harry,’ a small voice in the back of his mind was saying.

McFry was not a common name. He was sure that, when he’d researched his own line through the 1901 census back to the 1841, there hadn’t been many more than a couple of dozen McFry’s at each enumeration. That was how come he knew so much about Laurel’s family. Or had thought he did. It had been easy enough, at the time, to take a couple of sideways excursions into the four or five McFry families showing on each census, if only so he could exclude them from his research. Of course, given precisely that the name wasn’t so commonplace, there was a statistical probability that he and Laurel might indeed be related – distant ‘cousins’ as she had put it. But nothing in his previous trawlings had linked the families he had found. It would take much more work in the parish records if that was ever to happen.

He’d promised to report in to Laurel McFry later that day. Now, he was already framing his excuses and preparing himself for feasting on a dish he rarely ate, and hardly knew the taste of: humble pie. He picked up the small, leather portfolio that was on the corner of his desk and examined it again. Whoever ‘DKL’ was, they clearly knew a little about the McFry family. And who had taken the trouble to warn him not to go to his meeting with Laurel last night? These were questions he was still mulling over when the telephone rang. It was his sister-in-law, her pleasantly slow, warm drawl easily recognisable when she said the simple words “That you, Harry?”

“Sure it is, Carrie”. Even as he replied, alarm bells were ringing. Dammit, he’d forgotten that he’d agreed to go to the airport to make sure his young nephew arrived back safely from a trip to Madrid!

“Shouldn’t you not be here now?” she asked – still warm, despite the admonishment in her tone.

“Just leaving when you rang. Any news on the flight?” he asked, trying to sound casual.

“Thirty minute delay. So you should still make it,” she said.

It was at times like these Harry knew he could do with a secretary, someone to help organise his day, make sure he was where he was supposed to be, when he was supposed to be. But the balance sheet of Harry McFry Genealogical Private Investigations wasn’t healthy enough to warrant another member of staff. Of course, as far as the outside world knew, he did have a secretary working for him. She was in her late 50’s, turned up punctually every day for work, and served as the butt of Harry’s excuses when things were going wrong. Doris’ got the blame for just about everything in the office: if he couldn’t find a file, he told his client Doris had mislaid it. A payment overdue? Doris was to blame. Poor Doris was a convenient shield for when things were going pear-shaped. Just a shame she didn’t exist.

His younger brother Alan had met Carrie while they were both at university. Shortly after they both graduated, they’d marred and begun their family, settled into life in a large house beside Birkenhead Park. By the time they divorced, they were a nuclear unit of five, plus an old golden retriever, a couple of cats and a hutch of rabbits at the bottom of the long garden that led down to the park. Harry enjoyed the term ‘nuclear family’ – it always seemed appropriate for a world where divorce increasingly split and atomised couples and their children. Alan had moved out to Spain. He and Harry weren’t close, but they kept in touch fitfully via e-mails and the rare telephone calls Alan made home, usually when he was drunk. Meanwhile, without children of his own from a failed marriage, Harry had grown increasingly fond of his sister-in-law, and closer to his three nephews – the oldest of which he’d promised to collect today on his return from a visit to his father’s. Adam was a bright kid, but just twelve, and the thought of him stepping off a plane and making his way through a crowded arrivals hall with no-one to greet him wasn’t one Harry relished. Carrie worked, and so far as she knew Harry always seemed to be hanging around with time on his hands, so the last time he’d been round there for a meal she’d thought nothing of asking him if he minded meeting Adam.

“I’ll ring you when we’re on the way back,” he told her.

“Thanks, Harry.” He waited to see if she was going to say anything else, but there was silence, so he replaced the receiver with a hasty “No problem.”

As he grabbed his coat to leave – he had an hour to make it to the airport – he seemed to have a second thought and, turning back to his desk he plucked the three medals from the box where they lay, stuffed them in his pocket and left the office.

No comments: