Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Chapter 39

“So when did Thomas McFry die, Danny?” Harry asked, looking him square in the face. Danny shuffled through his notes. “Err… 1970 – no… that is 1964… I mean, we don’t really know. We’ll have to check it.”

Harry was pleased Danny had at least spotted the discrepancy in the years Laurel had given the two of them for Thomas McFry’s death.

“OK – here’s the plan. We’ve got about twenty minutes before we’re due across at Stan’s shop. We’re going to draft up a list of all the certificates we need. With a bit of luck we’ll have all the information want by the end of the day.”

Danny looked incredulous. “It’s taking at least a week to get certificates through just now, Harry. You must know that.” Ordering certificates from the General Records Office at Southport had become something of a lottery, Danny knew, ever since the BBC popularized family history with its “Who Do You Think You Are?” series. Sometimes it seemed as if every last man and woman in England were tracing their family tree, so popular had the ‘hobby’ become. Getting a certificate in even a week was doing well.

But Danny didn’t know Harry. The pressure all these new enquiries had put on the GRO had led them to draft in extra staff to cope with the demand, Harry knew. A problem to one person was someone else’s opportunity and this, for Harry, had been an opportunity he didn’t want to miss. He’d hung around the staff exit at the Southport office one afternoon, looking for someone who looked as if they might have just come out of an interview for a job. They were easy to spot – it’s hard to hide the relief someone feels when the stress of an hour long interview has just finished. They were the first to reach for a cigarette when they stepped out the building. That had been the cue for Harry to approach one of them – a young girl in her late teens, he thought – and proposition her. Not in that way, of course: but over a coffee in a café on Southport’s bustling Lord Street, he’d outlined a proposal that any young girl, in her first (albeit temporary) job after school might find attractive.

And so it was that Harry came to have his own mole in the GRO – his own ‘Deep Throat’. Now, whenever he needed a certificate he’d simply ring through to Linda and whatever he wanted would be on his fax in a couple of hours. At £20 a certificate, it was useful, extra money for Linda, paid direct by Harry into her bank account. And for Harry, it was time saved, and time was money in the world of genealogical investigation.

He wasn’t about to reveal all this to Danny, of course. It would be a while before he could trust him with a source like that. “Don’t worry about the how, Danny. Let’s just get started on the list of what we need.”

He pushed the mouse next to the computer on his desk, and the screensaver vanished. In seconds, he was opening up the Births, Marriages and Death indexes on Ancestry. “Now – where should we start?” he said.


Laurel McFry left Meldew Buildings and walked for a while through the drizzling rain, until she found a seat in the corner of Hamilton Square. She was sat in the far corner of the square, thinking over how Harry McFry had expertly filleted the information he’d wanted from her. Could there really be a connection between the sliding price of her shares in McFry and Sons, and the disappearance of her family from the census? She had another appointment with her bank manager that afternoon, and after thinking about his suggestion of selling the shares overnight, she was still no closer to knowing what she should do. He would want a decision from her, one way or the other.

It seemed an odd thing to have to do, disrespectful even, to sever her ties with the family firm. Her five per cent holding didn’t give her any real influence over the company, she knew, but those shares were a tangible link to her past. To her father, and to all the McFry’s who had built the company up. But Mr Attwood had made the situation clear. Despite the drizzle, she pulled out a sheet of paper he’d given her before she left their meeting yesterday. The figures on it told a sorry story, no matter how many times she looked at them. If she sold the shares today, the cash generated would be just a third of what would have been realized if she’d done the same this time last year. Laurel McFry wasn’t a gambler, but she did wonder about the consequences of holding onto the shares. They might slide still further, which would be calamitous. Or then again, they could just as easily reverse direction. If Harry was right, and there was a connection between the shares and her missing family, then the sooner he solved the mystery, the sooner the value might start to climb. Suddenly, she saw that Harry’s fees might have proven to be the best investment she had ever made. Provided, of course, he was as good as everyone said he was.


Harry deputed Danny to continue the task of noting down the reference numbers they would need to ‘order’ the certificates, saying he would be going out for a few minutes as he needed to get Laurel’s cheque into the bank. Harry dragged on his coat and pulled on his hat, stopping at the office door only to say: “If there are any calls, just take a message. And if anyone asks for Doris – she’s off sick, OK?” Danny looked quizzically back at Harry. “Sure, Harry, but…”

“Don’t worry, Danny, I’ll tell you all about Doris later.” And with that he left.

Taking the fire escape route out of Meldew Buildings, Harry emerged at the side of the building, checking that there was no-one he knew. As he emerged onto Argyle Street, he glanced up briefly, to make sure that Danny wasn’t looking out of the window out onto the street. Dodging the cars as they sped past in the rain, Harry headed towards the bank on the corner of the street, the path taking him, inexorably, past the doorway to the Brass Balance pub. He lit up a cigarette, shot another look up at his office window, and quickly entered the pub, the stale, warm air enveloping him as he did so. ‘Just enough time for a quick one, Harry’, the voice in his head was telling him.

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