Wednesday, 7 March 2007

Chapter 40

As Cyril Galloway made his way through the Cheshire countryside, he could see clouds on the horizon. It was a pleasant enough drive, even in January, and a pale sun cast crisp shadows on the fields as he drove past. He would take it easy – no hurry, as he wasn’t due to meet Colin McAllistair until 12.30pm. He wondered what Dacre Lawrence was up to. When he’d called him, at around 4.30pm the day before, he sounded in a foul mood. He knew Lawrence suspected he’d already organized the disposal of Lillian McFry’s medals. But did Dacre Lawrence really imagine that he’d still be plying his trade in the auction house at Telford if that was the case?

Their relationship went back a long way. It was disheartening to think Lawrence didn’t trust him. Of course, their working friendship had started off harmlessly enough, Lawrence then a struggling, single-handed GP in the same Yorkshire town where Galloway himself ran a small antique shop. It was while Dacre Lawrence was paying one of his many visits to the shop that the idea had occurred to him. As a GP, he was in a position to visit many elderly people in their homes, and to see what possessions they had on display. What if he could strike a deal with Galloway, somehow? It would be an easy enough matter, visiting some old dear who had amongst her furniture or other items anything of significant worth, to ah … ‘recommend’ … a good antiques dealer.

He put the idea to Cyril Galloway, and it was soon agreed that the two would split the difference between the ‘real’ value of the item and the (much lower) estimate that Galloway would give. It began to work like this: Lawrence would spy out a suitable piece of Victorian, or even earlier, furniture, while doling out a prescription or two to the unfortunate victim. “Do you know, Mrs Smith,” (or Harris, or Foreshaw … who they were was immaterial) “my father had an identical piece to this, just sitting around like yours. I managed to get a pretty good price for it for him from a dealer that I know.” Lawrence developed a fair idea, himself, of how much items might be really worth. “Oh, I should think you could get at least £500 for this. Imagine what you could do with that money?” Lawrence would ask. And if you couldn’t trust your doctor, who could you trust? It was only rarely that the victim failed to ring Cyril Galloway at his shop, and arrange for the piece to be inspected. Rarer still that they refused his offer (always slightly over Lawrence’s initial suggestion, as extra bait).

Over time, their ‘business’ increased, so that Galloway and Lawrence were, between them, netting a fair deal of money each year from their arrangement.

It had been a pity, Galloway mused, that when he had moved away from Thirsk, their working arrangement had ceased. It simply wasn’t practical, at such a distance. Nevertheless, the additional money that had come his way in Yorkshire had paved the way for him to buy his way into a partnership in a much larger shop in Telford. He had to be thankful for small mercies.

And when, out of the blue, he had received an invitation to view a set of medals from a little old lady in the town, even though it had been many years since he had dealt with Dacre Lawrence, it had seemed, somehow, ‘natural’ to think of a reversal of roles. This time, it would be Dr Lawrence who could step in with a better offer.

There was no doubt whatsoever that the medals were valuable. Fate had worked in fickle ways many times in Cyril Galloway’s life, but never quite so felicitously as to ensure that he would be the only auctioneer to see two sets of identical medals, even though they were a quarter of a century and 175 miles apart. But this time, there was more at stake than the medals, and it irked him that Dacre Lawrence might think he had been double-crossed. They needed each other for an operation like this. It was hardly his fault if Lillian McFry had already disposed of the medals. And shouldn’t Lawrence have been delighted to learn that he had, against the odds, located the medals once more?

As he passed through one village, then another, the sky was darkening, until spits of rain started to fall. He could see the dark clouds over the Wirral peninsula as he switched his windscreen wipers to flick across. He could hardly believe his luck, of course. Much, much more than the value of the medals might be at stake. And fortunately, he had Mr Colin McAllistair ’working’ for him, now. Perhaps he would put a call in to Dacre once he’d met up with McAllistair? It might cheer the good doctor up, at least. He was starting to feel just a little peckish. Not long till lunch, now.

No comments: