Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Chapter 61

Elsie Dean was watching the man who had just come into her shop carefully. Just after entering, he had positioned himself near the window, scanning the racks of magazines but, she noticed, now and then glancing out across at Meldew Buildings. He’d picked up one of the magazines, and appeared to be leafing through it, but Elsie could tell he wasn’t going to buy it. After a couple of minutes, he placed it back on the shelf and turned to leave, but paused, as if something had just crossed his mind. He slowly turned round and made his way to the counter, where a strangely nervous Elsie stood. What was it about him, she wondered, that gave her the creeps? He smiled. It was a thin, weak smile, his lips almost transparent.

“Good morning!” he announced, “I wonder if you can help me?”

Elsie was used to people coming into the shop asking for directions, delivery drivers foxed by the one-way system thereabouts. But this man looked different. He was smartly dressed. Carrying a briefcase, he looked more like one of the local solicitors from the Square. Even if one she would go out of her way to avoid, if she were ever to draw up a will.

“I’m trying to get hold of a Mr Harry McFry. I wonder if you know how I can best find him?”

Elsie bristled slightly, her eyes narrowing as if to inspect the visitor even more closely. She knew all about Harry’s financial problems, but it wasn’t for her to point the wolves towards his door. He obviously knew he worked over the road – why else all those furtive glances out of the window?

“Isn’t he in?” she asked, nodding slightly towards Meldew Buildings.

“Apparently not. I tried ringing him earlier, but there’s no answer. I really would like to talk to Mr McFry.” His tone was ingratiating.

“He does pop in now and again, for cigarettes, you know,” she said. “Shall I tell him someone’s looking for him?”

“That would be most kind. My name is Galloway. Cyril Galloway,” the stranger replied. Elsie fancied that if he’d been wearing a hat he’d have doffed it at this point. He reached inside his jacket pocket and pulled out a card. “You could give him this, if you wouldn’t mind. If you see him soon, that is.” He handed her the card, which Elsie studied. Telford Auction Rooms. That was a new one on her.

“Well, if he does come in, I’ll make sure he gets it,” she said, placing it on the cash till.

“That’s very kind of you. Very kind indeed,” Galloway said, and he bade the woman goodbye and left the shop. Elsie watched him move on up the street. She wasn’t sure who this Mr Galloway was, but something told her Harry needed to know about his visit. She pulled her cardigan closed, and walked towards the shop door, pausing only to pick up the ‘Back in 5 Minutes’ sign she used whenever she needed to leave the shop unattended.


For his part, Cyril Galloway was feeling frustrated with himself. Why on earth had he thought, even for one minute, that it was worth hanging about in this dreary, drizzle-bound town, in the hope that McFry would ring him? The guy was obviously off somewhere doing detective work, probably snooping on someone who might, or might not, be having an extra-marital affair. He’d even spent a futile ten minutes in an internet cafĂ©, desperately Googling the name “Harry McFry”, but the results had been meager, to say the least. Nowhere was there a mobile number for Harry McFry. The caretaker at Meldew Buildings had said he hadn’t seen Harry that day. Wherever this McFry character was, he obviously didn’t want to talk to Cyril Galloway. McAllistair had been wrong.

And yet … and yet, he could smell those medals! He was sure they were still in Birkenhead somewhere, whether secreted away in Harry’s office, or maybe in whatever down-at-heel place he lived. Galloway was already building up a mental picture of Harry McFry, a patchwork made of the little that McAllistair had told him, together with the product of his own (sometimes fertile, he would acknowledge) imagination. Harry McFry was a loser, some two-bit private eye who didn’t see a financial opportunity when it was staring in his face. He’d give it until mid afternoon. If McFry hadn’t shown up by then, he’d have to work out another plan. With that thought, he walked into the Brass Balance, where he ordered a gin and tonic, sat by the window, and brooded.

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