Sunday, 18 March 2007

Chapter 51

Thomas McFry’s death certificate should have proved to be most useful for Harry and Danny’s immediate investigations. It showed that Thomas had expired from a coronary thrombosis at the age of 68, at 22, London Road, Telford, Shropshire, on 15 July 1970. A trades union official when he died, the death was registered by Lillian McFry, his wife, of 28, Vale View, Telford. That was enough to set Harry wondering. They’d need to find out about this 22, London Road. It might be a private address or, just as likely, something like a nursing home or an institution of some kind. It wasn’t unusual to find a hospital listed under a street address on a death certificate. But at least there was a link to Lillian McFry. Even if Danny had been unable to find a marriage reference for Lillian Blyth to Thomas McFry or, indeed, any marriage of a Thomas McFry to anyone at all between 1935 and his year of death.

Harry was mulling this information over in his mind, when the telephone rang. As he reached to pick up the phone, he instinctively grabbed his pack of cigarettes, ignoring Danny’s slight – but noticeable - grimace.

“McFry, GPI,” he answered, lighting the cigarette. He’d tried hard not to smoke while Danny was around, but a telephone call to Harry was almost Pavlovian in its association with a smoke.

“Well, now, Harry, my friend.” It was Bill Blunt. “What would you like first?” He didn’t wait for Harry’s response. “How about McFry and Sons? Seems that the majority shareholder is – and has been for a number of years – the Banco Bilbao. Not an insignificant operation, if you don’t mind me saying so. Over 70 million customers across Europe. How’s that grab you, Harry?”

Bill was reading from the crib sheet prepared by young Julie, in his office.

“Any idea why the share price might be falling, Bill?” Harry asked.

Blunt squinted at the notes he’d been given. “Looks to me like they’ve been offloading shares for the last month. Maybe they know something you don’t, Harry?”

Harry thought about Bill’s news. He’d heard about the Banco Bilbao – knew it’s reputation for aggressive buy-outs of smaller banks and building societies across Europe. Only last year, they’d acquired a major British bank, as part of this same strategy.

“If they know something I don’t know, Bill, they’re in a long queue,” was his response. He thought he heard Blunt stifle a laugh at the other end of the phone. A small, quiet voice in Harry’s brain was saying ‘Follow the money, Harry! Follow the money!’

“Bill … who actually owns the Banco Bilbao?”

There was a silence at the other end of the line, while Bill Blunt scanned the notes Julie had passed him. “Not sure, Harry. Something we need to look into later, maybe.” Harry didn’t like the sound of that: it sounded as if Bill might already be putting a story together.

“I do, however, have a little bit of news for you about your Jonathan Harcourt. I don’t mind saying, he’s led me a merry dance. You’re on the ball with Spain, though - we’ve got some copies of his articles in the archives here. You have to admire his style. It almost had me reaching for my passport and signing up to defend the Republic! But that’s all I found. Nothing at all after 1937. Have you considered it might be a pen-name, Harry?”

Harry hadn’t, but he was certainly considering it now. If Jonathan Harcourt was a nom-de-plume, that might at least explain why Danny hadn’t been able to find a birth reference for a Jonathan Harcourt across the three decades between 1890 and 1920.

“I don’t think I can find that out for you definitively today, Harry. But if you give me a day or so, who knows?” Bill was thinking he’d contact the National Union of Journalists. The newspaper industry had been a ‘closed shop’ for most of its history, and he felt sure that the NUJ would be able to identify who this Jonathan Harcourt really was.

“That would be helpful, Bill – thanks,” Harry said.

“Do you think he died in Spain, Harry?” Bill asked.

“No. In fact, I know he didn’t. I was talking to someone this morning who met him in 1975. He may have died not long afterwards, but he was certainly alive then,” Harry said, hoping he hadn’t given too much away.

“In that case,” Bill replied, “just give me a couple of days, and I’ll sort him out for you,” and he’d hung up, leaving Harry wondering how Jonathan Harcourt was linked to the Banco Bilbao - co-incidentally, the precise thought that was going through Bill Blunt’s mind.


Mabel Harris eventually had to leave the hospital, and return to work. She’d expected ‘’situation as normal’ back at the surgery, rather than what she found. Barbara, on reception, was holding off two smartly-dressed strangers, telling them that Dr Lawrence wasn’t available this afternoon. Could they come back tomorrow, perhaps?

As it was, they said they couldn’t, so Mabel had to take them through to her office, at the hub of the health centre, sensing that they were a cut above the normal parade of drug reps she spent her life dismissing.

“You’ll have to excuse me,” she said, taking their coats and hanging them on a hook on the back of her office door, “but we have a bit of a crisis on at the moment.”

Dave Morris pulled his wallet from his coat, as he handed it to her. “Crisis?” he asked, flicking the wallet open. “We’re from the Family Health Services Counter Fraud Offices,” he said. He always enjoyed saying those words, felt they dressed him in an authority not easily found in a uniform. He saw that Jane Tobias, the young officer he’d particularly asked to join him on the case, seemed to relish his description, too.

They’d had an easy enough rail journey, without delay, to Northallerton, North Yorkshire, and he’d shared with Jane the data ‘Gilbert’ had unearthed. Her background as a policewoman meant she appreciated the detail. A short taxi journey later, and they were in Thirsk, at the reception window at Dacre Lawrence’s practice. An unannounced visit.

‘Well done, Barbara’, Mabel was thinking. “Now. I wonder if you can tell me why you are here, Mr… Morris?” She asked, staring him full in the face. She could think of a thousand reasons why someone might investigate ‘her’ practice, but was feeling slightly nervous, nonetheless.

Dave Morris unzipped a file he’d carried into the room. This Mabel Morris didn’t seem as concerned as she should be. Maybe she was in league with Lawrence?

“We have some data, Mrs Harris, that seems to suggest that Dr Lawrence has been accessing the medical files of quite a few people who we’re not exactly sure he has the authority to do so. I wonder if you might ask him to join us?” Dave asked.

“Normally I would have no problem with that. But it is quite out of the question at the moment, I’m afraid, “ Mabel said. “You see, he had a stroke yesterday. I’m afraid he couldn’t join us even if he wanted to.”

Dave Morris saw that Jane Tobias looked alarmed.

“We’ll need to look at Dr Lawrence’s computer, Mrs Harris. Just to be sure, you understand,“ Jane had said. ‘Nice one, Jane’, Dave thought, as he continued to check Mabel Harris for signs that she may not be telling the truth. But Mabel Harris wasn‘t about to sacrifice her NHS pension for Dacre Lawrence.

“Of course. Please do what you need to do. I can tell you his password, if it helps,” Mabel said.

“It will help us a great deal, Mrs Harris. A great deal indeed,” said Jane, catching Dave Morris’ glance as she did so. They already knew every password Dr Dacre Lawrence ever used, but it was as well if they pretended they didn’t….

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