Monday, 2 April 2007

Chapter 65

Harry McFry wasn’t to know it, of course, but Colin McAllistair really did want to find Lillian Blyth / McFry for academic purposes. A living testimony of the Spanish Civil War was a rare commodity in the twenty-first century, and he couldn’t easily let go of the idea that he might capture her for posterity. He could see it all in his mind – right down to the lighting, the titles and the theme music. Perhaps he had spent too much time as an advisor to those history programmes, or maybe he genuinely believed that Lillian should be allowed to tell her story?
There was too much that just didn’t add up from his phone conversation with Harry the day before, McAllistair was thinking. If Harry McFry wasn’t related to Lillian, how come he had her medals? He didn’t want to believe his claim that she was dead, although he realized that, with a woman of her age, it was quite possible that she had in fact died in the short time since Cyril Galloway had visited her.
He had found her number easily enough from Directory Enquiries, McFry being quite an uncommon name, particularly in Telford. Now, he contemplated the slip of paper where he’d jotted the number down. It was late morning, and he wondered if he should call the number now? That would, at least, answer the question as to her mortality. He decided to make himself a coffee, and think how best he should approach her. Probably best, all things considered, not to mention Galloway. Maybe he could tell her he’d found her via Harry? That way, he’d find out what exactly their relationship was.
He was conscious how heavy the burden of what he’d done to Jonathan Harcourt’s medals was for him: wished, if he could rewind the personal video player of his life, he could erase that brief passage entirely. But, what was done was done. If he could somehow persuade Lillian McFry to tell her story, then maybe he could make amends for his appalling actions all those years ago?
As the coffee trickled through the filter and into the jug, another thought came to mind. Cyril Galloway. Maybe he could put him off the scent, tell him he’d spoken to Harry, that the medals had been (somehow) disposed of? He poured himself a cup of the steaming brew, and began to mentally write the script he’d need if he was to convince Galloway that the medals, and the certificate, really were gone. He found Galloway’s mobile number, and slowly keyed it into his phone.
Well, it seems like a lot of folk were busy making phone calls that morning.
Bill Blunt had discovered exactly who Jonathan Harcourt was. A call had come through from the union archivist with good news: he’d found Harcourt’s membership records, and they detailed clearly enough who he was. There was even a photograph attached, a copy of the one that Harcourt would have used for his press credentials. A few minutes after the call, Bill was examining a fax print out with all the information the NUJ had about Harcourt. From his office at the Birkenhead Beagle, Bill dialled Harry’s number. It took a while until the tape on the answering machine clicked in, time enough for Bill to figure out his strategy. There was a story hiding behind this Jonathan Harcourt character, and he knew it. He wasn’t about to give the details up to Harry without at least a hint of what was behind his old friend’s quest. “Harry, boy,” he said, “It’s Bill. I’ve got chapter and verse on Harcourt for you. Give me a ring back when you get this, and we can meet up, to discuss. Keep taking the medicine, Harry!” With that, Bill hung up. He checked his watch and, with midday approaching, decided it was time he adjourned to the corner seat of The Letters to partake of some ‘medicine’, himself.

Over the other side of the Pennines, Dave Morris was checking in with his manager back in Cardiff. “We’ve definitely got all we need to build a case against Lawrence,” he told Tom Gauntless, the phone pressed close to his mouth, and his voice quiet, to prevent anyone overhearing him. He was sat in Dr Lawrence’s clinic room at the Chapter Road Health Centre, Jane Tobias his only company, the door closed to prying ears. At the other end of the line, Gauntless was relieved. He was still worried that maybe the whole ‘Gilbert’ project was going to be an expensive white elephant, and he knew that if fingers were pointed from higher up, they’d be pointing at him. “How much more time do you need, Dave?” he asked.
“We’ll probably be able to wrap it up here today. There are a few loose ends we need to tie up, but I’m confident we can do it today.”
“A report by Monday morning, then?” his boss asked. ‘Bang goes the weekend!’ Dave thought, even as he replied “Yes – no problem.”
After Dave hung up, he went back to examine Lawrence’s diary. “Do me a favour, Jane. Check the practice records for these people, will you?” And he scribbled a couple of names on his pad, tore off the page and passed it to her.
“Did you want to see Lillian’s record? “ she asked.
“Lillian McFry?” The way Jane spoke, it made it sound as though they were on first name terms.
“That’s just the point, Dave. There’s a Lillian, living at 28, Vale View, Telford on the national system alright – but she isn’t a McFry at all. She’s down as Blyth. It must be her, though.”
Dave was thinking hard what this might mean. There was no doubt that Lawrence had accessed the records for all the McFry’s he could find all over the country. And there was the diary record from earlier that week, showing an appointment with Lillian McFry.
“Well you’d better check to see whether he’s accessed her records too, hadn’t you?” Dave said, still trying to make sense of it all.
“I’ve already done that, Dave. The answer’s no.” Dave appreciated that Jane was one step ahead of him: always the sign of a good co-worker.
“Then I think we need to have another chat with our Mabel Harris, don’t you? Can you see if she’ll join us for a minute?”
While she went to fetch Mabel, Dave looked again at the names on the sheet he’d handed her earlier. They might just be patient appointments – but then again, no doctor he’d ever known had bothered to record individual appointments in their diary. They just didn’t do that sort of thing. His betting was that Mabel Harris could help them here, and he composed himself, waiting for Jane to bring her in, even as he wondered whether he’d really get that report done by Monday.

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