Thursday, 22 March 2007

Chapter 53

It had been a busy day in Birkenhead, all things considered. Cyril Galloway and Colin McAllistair had finished their meal on cordial enough terms, agreeing to contact each other if either heard anything more from this Harry McFry (but with Galloway had nonetheless pledged to himself that he would contact this McFry character if he heard nothing himself within the next day). After paying the bill (another part of his debt expunged, he reasoned), McAllistair braved the drizzle to walk the short way down to the ferry terminus, where he joined a straggling line of tourists waiting to have their every last illusion of the romance of the ‘Ferry Across the Mersey’ comprehensively squashed. A wind was whipping up the grey waters of the estuary, so Colin took a seat inside, his mind playing over the conversation he’d had over lunch as he watched the squat forms of Liverpool’s ‘Three Graces’ getting closer. So far as he was concerned, he had discharged any duty he owed to Galloway. It wasn’t pleasant to be reminded of his role in disposing of Jonathan Harcourt’s medals, a shameful part of his past he had tried to bury. There was no doubt about it, the money he had gained from the transaction with Galloway all those years ago had served him well, allowing him a degree of freedom in terms of the work he did and the commissions he took on. But he was not fundamentally a crooked man, and the memory of his misdeed wounded him acutely. Perhaps it was seeing Galloway’s weasel face again, and sensing his hunger for money, that led him to begin to think that perhaps he could redeem himself by somehow preventing Galloway from getting his hands on Lillian Blyth’s Civil War medals?

Whatever the reason, by the time the short journey over the river had been made, McAllistair had resolved to do two things: contact Harry McFry to warn him about Galloway’s interest in the medals and (more particularly) the paper that accompanied them; and to find Lillian McFry, who could surely only be Lillian Blyth. Galloway had said she was over 100 years old, which would make her one of the oldest surviving veterans of the International Brigade. He could tell her story, expatiate whatever vestiges of guilt he still felt about Jonathan Harcourt. Maybe there was even a documentary in it?


That same afternoon, Laurel McFry saw her bank manager and signed the papers to dispose of her shares in McFry & Sons. She’d have a precise account of their value the next day, she’d been promised, but it was a concerned and worried Laurel McFry who made her way back to her house, unsure, still, whether she had done the right thing.


In the offices of the Birkenhead Beagle, Bill Blunt had been musing some more over Jonathan Harcourt. After his call to Harry, he’d rung through to the national offices of the NUJ, where he spoke to the union’s head archivist. He’d surmised, correctly, that the NUJ would keep records of all the aliases used by its members: how else could they have prevented non-union members from writing for newspapers? The archivist would be busy the rest of the day, he’d said, but hoped to be able to check the records tomorrow. As soon as he had anything, he promised, he’d ring Bill back.


Cyril Galloway, meanwhile, was reluctant to leave Birkenhead. He’d rung through to the auction rooms in Telford to check whether he’d had any calls from a Mr McFry. When told there hadn’t been, he let it be known that he wouldn’t be returning to the office today. Should he call McFry? Maybe that would give too much away – he didn’t want him knowing the true value of the package he had. First of all, he’d better appraise Dacre Lawrence of the situation, he thought. And so it was while sitting in his car, in the shadow of the town hall, that Cyril Galloway first learned that his colleague had been disabled by a stroke.

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