Thursday, 1 February 2007

Chapter 10

As Danny Longhurst sat staring at a microfiche reader in the local records room at Birkenhead Library, he was finding it harder and harder to concentrate. He was worried – worried that maybe Harry McFry wasn’t taking Laurel’s story of a missing family seriously, and anxious that he’d made a mistake in sending him the medals so soon. What if McFry didn’t make the connections? So far, he couldn’t even be sure that Laurel was safe. But he knew Harry’s reputation as a genealogical private investigator. He’d have to relax – let time take it’s course. Not easy, when you knew what Danny knew. He pulled himself back to his task in hand – researching a book on the history of illegitimacy in Birkenhead. He already had a working title for the book, something suitably alliterative that his publisher had initially baulked at, and was almost finished his research phase. Taking up his pencil, he pulled himself closer to the microfiche screen – co-incidentally, Harry McFry’s favourite – and continued the steady, slow slog of taking notes from old copies of the Birkenhead Beagle.


Lillian McFry was starting to relax as Dacre Lawrence began to outline how he had known her husband.

“I can’t tell you the impression your husband made on me, Mrs McFry,” Lawrence told her.” He watched her carefully for reaction.

“When I was at university, I was quite the political activist. Thomas McFry once came to speak at the Oxford Union. He was a great orator, as I’m sure I don’t have to tell you” - and he emphasised the ‘you’ with a slight lift of his tea cup, almost as a toast to her – “he could hold an audience like no-one I’ve seen since. It’s such a shame he died when he did. Nowadays, we’re accustomed to politicians hanging up their hats when they reach their ‘50’s. In those days, that would be the age many entered parliament.”

He paused as he saw that Lillian had shrunk a little. It was painful for her to recall how her husband’s dream of becoming an MP had been cut short by his untimely death. She seemed to drift off for a second, her mind elsewhere.

“Yes, there’s no doubt that his was a career cut short before it’s time. He had the same heart condition as my father, you know”. Here, Dacre saw that she had focused on him again. “Did you know they were cousins?” He was pushing all the buttons, now.

“I never knew my husband’s cousins,” Lillian said. “And if I did, I’m afraid that I just don’t recall them now. I’m 102, you know!” There was a tetchiness in her voice which alarmed him. In an instant, he retorted:

“Yes, I do! It’s hard to believe it, though, when I look at you. I see so many patients who are twenty years younger who are in much worse health. You’re clearly made of strong stuff, Mrs McFry. It’s quite remarkable that you are living here alone, at your age.” He hoped he’d softened her again. He was impatient to get the business of his visit over with.

“I wonder, Mrs McFry, whether Thomas ever mentioned anything about his campaign medals?” He raised an eyebrow, quizically, placing his cup back on its saucer.

So that was it, thought Lillian - he was after her medals! “I wonder, Dr Lawrence, how you come to know about the medals?” she asked, fixing him with a stare.

Dacre Lawrence had been prepared for this, but even so, as he looked squarely at the old woman with her cataracted eyes, he was reminded how his father used to look at him – as if he was a worthless creature, sullied by an obsession with money. How much did Lillian McFry really know about the medals and, more importantly, what else was in the box they were stored in?

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