Wednesday, 4 April 2007

Chapter 67

The ringing of Lillian’s phone gave Harry McFry a chance to collect his thoughts. Danny was still in the doorway to the small lounge, so that it seemed natural for Harry to stand up, collect together the cups and say: “I’ll go and rinse these through, while you take that, Mrs McFry.” Lillian made no protest, and reached to pick up the receiver as Harry left the room.
“What’s going on Harry?” Danny asked, in a hushed tone, as Harry ushered him into the small kitchen at the back of the bungalow. Harry placed the cups and saucers in the washing bowl, ran the hot tap and turned to Danny.
“Who was that on the phone?” he asked.
“It was Henry. Did you give him my number?”
“Yes, I had to. My mobile’s out of action at the moment. What did he have to say?”
“It seems that Cyril Galloway is still in Birkenhead. He called in Meldew Buildings this morning, after you’d left. And was asking across at the newsagents about you.”
Harry smiled – he knew all about Henry’s little ‘thing’ for Elsie.
Dropping the smile, he asked Danny whether Henry had told Galloway where they were (already knowing, in truth, the likely answer).
“No. He said he told Galloway he hadn’t seen you. And Elsie said pretty much the same, he said.”
“Good. We don’t want Mr Galloway knowing we’re in Telford. Now…” he said, his voice still hushed as Lillian continued her call in the room over the corridor, “Lillian just told me she had a visit from someone called Lawrence earlier this week – about the medals. I’m still not sure she trusts me entirely. She’s a tough cookie, that one.” Harry rinsed the cups as he spoke.
“Organise some fresh drinks, Danny. When you get back in there, I want you to ask her about Spain. How she lost contact with Jonathan Harcourt. I need some thinking space.” He heard Lillian ending the call, and the click as the receiver was replaced. “I’ll go back in there now – you bring the drinks in, when they’re ready.” He left Danny searching for tea bags and coffee, and walked back into the lounge.
“I’ve asked Danny to make some more tea, Mrs McFry – I hope you don’t mind?” Harry said, as he took his seat by the sideboard again.
Lillian looked at him carefully, as if it was the first time they’d met. “Make yourself at home, Mr McFry, why don’t you?” But it had been the right thing to do, because she went on “And while you are doing so, you may as well call me Lillian.”
She seemed more relaxed, Harry noticed. “Then please call me Harry,” he said.
Lillian waited a moment - wondering, Harry imagined later, whether she should tell him about the phone call she’d just had.
“Well, Harry. Here’s a turn up for the books for you,” she said. “That was your Mr McAllistair on the phone just now. It appears that he had formed the impression – from something someone had told him – that I might be dead.”
Lillian left the words hanging, while Harry felt his shirt collar tightening again. ‘You’re going to have to confess, Harry!’ he was thinking to himself. But how best to do it? He needed to let Lillian McFry know the full picture – without, of course, mentioning how he was working for Laurel.
“I can explain that, if you’ll let me. About twenty five years ago, Colin McAllistair interviewed Jonathan Harcourt – or whoever he really was, as part of his academic research on the Spanish Civil War. Jonathan entrusted him with his medals, and McAllistair sold them for him, via Cyril Galloway.”
Lillian seemed to be struggling to follow Harry’s explanation. The words ‘twenty five years ago’ were like another dagger in her heart. This meant that Jonathan had not only survived the war, but that he had lived long after it. Surely he would have tried to find her?
Harry continued: “When Galloway viewed your medals, he realized they were the same as the ones he had sold for McAllistair, on Jonathan’s behalf, all those years ago.”
He wondered if she was still listening, but persevered, nonetheless. “When you gave the medals to Danny to pass to Laurel, he brought them to me. If you don’t mind me saying so, Lillian, I’m glad he did.” As he said this, he saw Danny appear at the door, carrying the tea tray.
Lillian seemed to be jolted back to the present with Danny’s return to the room. She had been listening to Harry, even while she had been wondering how it was Jonathan had never tried to find her.
“Then how did Dacre Lawrence come to visit me – can you explain that, please?”
The little voice inside Harry’s head was saying ‘Thank you – I’ve got a name!’ “I can’t be sure. But I do know that McAllistair was contacted by Galloway shortly after he’d been approached by Stan, who owns the military memorabilia shop where I took the medals to be valued.”
Danny handed a cup of tea to Lillian, and Harry reached over for his coffee. He’d only half over-heard the conversation while he was in the kitchen, and was wondering exactly when he was supposed to interrupt and start asking Lillian about her time in Spain.
For her part, Lillian was beginning to suspect a wider web of intrigue – that, somehow, Lawrence, Galloway, McAllistair and now, maybe even this Stan character, were all out to get their hands on her medals.
“I got a call from McAllistair yesterday,” Harry continued, taking a sip from his coffee. “Galloway was in Birkenhead, and had lunch with him there earlier that day. It seems they were working together, but McAllistair claims he’s had second thoughts. But I didn’t want to risk exposing you to him. So I told him you were dead.”
Lillian took a drink of tea. “You know, one of the pleasures of reaching my age, Harry, is that I do believe I have no enemies in life.”
Harry walked right into her trap. “Why’s that, Lillian?” he asked.
She paused, as if she had rehearsed the lines in her head a thousand times, before replying: “Because, Harry … I outlived them all.” She chuckled as she said this, and both Harry and Danny saw a light in her eyes and, as they smiled in response, they both knew that Lillian had, finally, stepped up over her barricade to put herself in the firing line. However uncomfortable this new place was for her, she had determined she would work with them in the distasteful task of digging over the past of the McFry family. The rest of their discussion would be relaxed and amicable, even if sometimes emotional. By the time it had finished, Harry had at last formed an idea about why someone might go to the lengths they had done to hide Laurel McFry’s family.

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