Sunday, 11 March 2007

Chapter 46

There aren’t too many fine restaurants in Birkenhead, but of those there are, you can bet that Cyril Galloway knows them. His travels as an antique dealer took him all across the north west of England, and he was familiar with some of the better places to eat in most of the towns he passed through. When he’d rung Colin McAllistair the day before, he’d suggested they meet up at noon in a small restaurant he knew just off Hamilton Square. He booked a specific table, knowing it would allow them to have a discrete discussion. He arrived a couple of minutes early, parking his car on the square, and had soon taken up his station at the table, awaiting McAllistair’s arrival, watching the lunchtime parade of office workers heading, through the persistent rain, for one of any number of sandwich bars that were to be found nearby.

When a middle-aged man carrying a zipped document holder pushed open the door, Galloway recognized the now much older face of the man he’d only met once before, in his shop in North Yorkshire. McAllistair had to scan the room before he saw the portly frame of Galloway, his weasly face older and more creased, but still unmistakably the man he’d met all those years ago.

Courteously, Galloway stood up as Colin approached: “It’s been a long time, Mr McAllistair!” he said, a thin smile breaking out as he shook Colin’s outstretched hand. “Yes. Twenty five years is a long time, Mr Galloway,” Colin replied, taking his overcoat off and hanging it on a nearby hook, before returning to sit opposite his ‘guest’.

“So kind of you to offer to buy this lunch, by the way. And you must call me Cyril. After all, we’re possibly going to be doing business again.” Colin had felt obliged, when Cyril had first suggested that they meet for lunch, to offer to pay. But whether that sense of obligation was due to a feeling that Galloway was the only person connected with the shameful affair of the disposal of Jonathan Harcourt’s medals, the only person who knew Colin’s part in the drama, I’m afraid only Colin McAllistair himself would know.

The waiter came, and the two men chose their meals. Colin noticed that Galloway already had a glass of red wine, and ordered one himself. Galloway leant across the table, his face etched with what looked to the academic like a troubling anxiety to know something: “Tell me, Colin … how did you fare with the medals this morning?”

Colin looked sheepish. He didn’t have a very positive report for his ‘colleague’. “Not too brilliantly, I’m afraid to say. The medals are most definitely the companion set to Jonathan Harcourt’s, and they are certainly those which were issued to a Lillian Blyth.” He waited for his companion’s response, but it was clear that Galloway was waiting for more from Colin. “The bad news is that the owner doesn’t appear to want to sell them. and they weren’t in their box when I saw them.”

Cyril visibly blanched. “Then where was it? Surely the medals would have been put back into the box?” His tone was harsh, like he was responding to a physical blow.

Colin wondered why Cyril was so insistent on knowing about the box. “I can only tell you that there was no box and there was no certificate. Just the medals, and when McFry left he just put them in his pocket.”

“Did you say McFry?” The question was sharp - Cyril was like a tiger now, his eyes alight. He scented something here, and was wondering if Dacre Lawrence had been wrong all along – Lillian McFry did have surviving family!

“Yes. Someone called Harry McFry has them. And as I say, he doesn’t seem too interested in selling them. He’s a private eye of some sorts, working hereabouts.”

Cyril considered this new information. Maybe this Harry McFry character didn’t have the box at all? Maybe little old Lillian McFry still had it, and with it the piece of paper both he and Dacre Lawrence coveted so much? He’d have to meet this Mr McFry, one way or another. But he started to sense that it wasn’t going to be as easy getting his hands on the box, and its contents, as at first he’d thought. For his part, Colin McAllistair was wondering what was so important about the certificate. There hadn’t been one with Harcourt’s medals, and they had still fetched an awful lot of money.

Their food came and, for a few minutes at least, Cyril Galloway seemed to forget about the medals, and the box, and the certificate. They made small-talk as though they were the best of friends, and not former co-participants in the grubby theft of Jonathan Harcourt’s mementos of his time as a fighter in a war no one much seemed to care to remember these days.

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