Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Chapter 38

Harry McFry’s natural suspicion was usually masked pretty well behind an affable demeanour. If he didn’t always take people as he found them, it was because he knew, well enough, how easy it was to hide his own essential character traits from others. But it made him, on the whole, a good judge of people. Listening, now, to Laurel, he was thinking that – apart from her duplicity in hiring Danny to work on the same case without bothering to tell him - she was being pretty straight. Even if some of her dates didn’t seem to add up. He put it down to the stress she was probably feeling. He didn’t need to wonder how it felt to have your livelihood threatened: these last few months, those same thoughts hadn’t been too far from his mind most days. He shouldn’t be feeling sorry for Laurel: an only child, well provided for – she’d had it easy. But he knew, also, that solving this case might just save her from ruin. They mightn’t have much time.

Laurel was still sat across the table from him as he jotted down an aide-memoir on a scrap of paper. He looked at Danny: “Hey, pal – looks like we could all do with another coffee. Do you mind filling the jug? And take your time. There’s something I need to discuss with Miss McFry in private.” Danny stood up, and moved to pick up the coffee jug, leaving his notes on his seat. ‘What kind of partnership was this?’ he was wondering, but he disappeared from the room, nonetheless, closing the door behind him perhaps just a little too obviously.

With Danny out of the room, Harry fixed a stare at Laurel’s deep blue eyes.

“OK, Laurel. I think we’ve got the picture. And I’m starting to think this whole ‘missing family’ business is more serious for you than you might imagine.” He waited for her reaction.

“I know it must be serious, Harry. That’s why I called you in.”

“Then it’s time we discussed my terms. As I said, I want to work with Danny on this one. He’s a good kid. Smart. He knows things about computers you and I wouldn’t even guess. That OK with you?”

Laurel nodded. “It makes sense to me,” she said, glancing at the old PC on the desk between them, wondering whether Harry’s ‘terms’ might mean he could buy himself a new one.

Harry outlined his daily rate for Danny and himself, capped in the first instance at two weeks, to be renegotiated at that point. Reasonable travel and accommodation costs for the two of them. An interim report at the end of week one. And a pool of cash for buying certificates at a rate of £30 each.

Laurel was happy enough with these arrangements, except for one detail – ‘That seems a little high for certificates, Harry,’ she said.

Harry studied her. She was clearly careful with her money. “It may seem high to you, Laurel, but I’ve got connections. I get the certificates I want, and I get them fast. It doesn’t pay to hang around in a case like this.”

Laurel thought for a moment, perhaps thinking of the money she’d have saved if she’d sent for a few more certificates herself, then said:“Of course, you’re right. I agree.” She didn’t have a lot of choice, she realized.

Harry noticed the outline of Danny Longhurst through the frosted glass of his door. He lowered his voice a little.

“Oh, and Laurel. It would help if you could pay half up front. Plus the certificate money. Things have been a little slow around here these last few weeks.”

Laurel was surprised, wondered why his voice had shrunk to a half-whisper. She’d imagined Harry would have a lot of cases on – maybe he just didn’t want Danny to know. If that was the case, that was his business. “That’s all very well, Harry. But I want your word that you’ll be working on my case exclusively over the next two weeks.”

That was an easy pledge to make, for Harry – there was nothing on his books that couldn’t wait an extra couple of weeks. “Sure. I wouldn’t think of anything else,” he said. Laurel reached into her jacket and pulled out a chequebook, picked up a pen and wrote out a cheque for Harry, handing it to him just as Danny knocked on the door and came back in with the jug.

“So, we’ll be in touch in a week, Laurel. But I take it we can contact you in the meantime, if anything serious crops up?”

Danny filled the coffee machine, wondering what arrangements Harry had negotiated with Laurel, and watching as Harry folded the cheque and placed it in his shirt pocket.

“Of course,” Laurel replied, “you’ve got my number.” Harry nodded. ‘Not as such’, he was thinking, but he knew Danny had it. Laurel stood up to leave, and Danny rushed across to get her overcoat for her.

“Oh, and Laurel…” Harry said, almost as an afterthought, standing up as he did so “…you’ve got my number, too. So if anything occurs to you that you think we need to know – however unimportant it may seem to be – just let us know, won’t you?”

Laurel pulled on her coat, smiled, and left the room.


Not three hundred yards from Harry’s office, Colin McAllistair and Stan were still studying the medals.

“How much do you know about the Spanish Civil War, Stan?” Colin asked in his soft Scots burr.

“I’ve just been re-reading ‘Homage to Catalonia’ since I rang you yesterday. It seems to me it was all err … quite complicated", Stan replied.

Colin smiled. Complicated wasn’t the half of it. He’d once given a lecture on the role of the Basque nationalists in the civil war. Logically, they were supporters of the church, and rabidly anti-communist. Yet they found themselves in league with socialist and communist members of the Popular Front, fighting against the rebel nationalist forces. “Complicated isn’t the word, Stan,” he replied. “The whole affair made for some strange bedfellows. It might surprise you to know that these medals weren’t actually issued during the war itself. The date on the back refers to a battle that took place on the outskirts of Madrid in 1937. But these medals weren’t struck until after the war.”

Stan looked confused. “Nothing unusual with that, is there?”

“Sorry, Stan. I should have been clearer. I meant the Second World War.”

Stan considered this a little. “So who actually issued them?”

“Thereby hangs a tale, Stan, thereby hangs a tale. But I can tell you that your initial assessment of them being of some value was not, in fact, correct. They have considerable value.”

Colin thought he caught Stan actually salivating. “Now, I need to know how you came by the medals.”

Stan considered for a moment. “They actually belong to an old friend of mine, Harry McFry. He’s going to be dropping by in a few minutes, so you can meet him. I know he’ll be happy that they’re worth something, anyway.”

Colin thought for a second. “Then it may well be best to leave the subject of their precise value until then. Perhaps, Stan,” he said, glancing again at the mugs in the corner, but hiding his distaste behind politeness, “I will have a cup of tea, after all.”


Danny noticed how much emptier the room seemed after Laurel McFry had left. He lifted the papers on his seat, and took his position over the desk from Harry.

“Do you mind me asking – what was that all about?” he said, an undertone of anger in his voice. They both knew what he’d meant.

“Danny, that was all about business. I’ve just negotiated our fees with Laurel. Now I’ve got to negotiate your fees.” He rubbed his chin, as if ruminating. Danny was fearing the worst, but he needn’t have. “How does 50/50 sound?” Harry was, above all, a fair man, Danny was beginning to appreciate.

“It kinda depends on what it’s 50% of, Harry!” Danny was smiling, now, but when Harry outlined the amount, and said it was guaranteed for two weeks, his smile moved to a grin: “That’s good work, Harry! I never thought it would be so much.”

“Never undersell yourself, Danny. That’s…”

And here, Danny interjected: “Don’t tell me, don’t tell me. That’s the third rule of being a genealogical private eye.”

Harry looked at him. “That’s the fourth rule, Danny. I’ll tell you about number three some other time.”

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