Friday, 6 April 2007

Chapter 68

Although she had little reason to be, Mabel Harris was feeling just a little nervous as she followed Jane Tobias into Dr Lawrence’s office. She hadn’t really expected the visitors from Cardiff to return that day, and when they had done, and she had parked them in Lawrence’s room, she had rung a friend who worked as a practice manager in a nearby surgery to find out a little more about the Family Health Services Counter Fraud Operation, their powers and their remit. Of course, ‘fraud’ could take many forms in the health service, and it wasn’t beyond the realms of possibility that Dacre Lawrence, with his flashy private car and driver, might have had his fingers in the till somewhere along the line. But Mabel was sure she would know about it. As practice manager, it was her business to know. Much as she shared the general dislike of other members of staff for Lawrence, she couldn’t work out what he might have been up to. But it must be serious, for these two visitors to stay overnight and spend a second day at the surgery. She thought of Dace Lawrence, a prisoner in his own body, and wondered what exactly it was he might have been up to.

There was talk – only talk, of course - when she had first joined the practice twenty years ago, that Lawrence had a ‘working association’ with that odious fellow who ran an antiques shop in Thirsk. Nobody quite knew what it was, but she dimly remembered people joking about never letting Dacre Lawrence anywhere near your sideboard. But that was a long time ago, and the shop had closed down not many months after its owner – what was his name? – had left the town.

In the short walk from her own office to Lawrence’s room, she reminded herself how little she owed the doctor. In fact, if truth be known, he might even owe her his very life since, if she hadn’t found him that night, had not had the foresight to check why his light was still on, he might well have died in that room.

And yet … she couldn’t help feeling just a little on edge. With only two more years of work before her pension was due, she wondered whether these visitors might spread their investigations beyond Dacre Lawrence. Just suppose they turned their attention to the practice drug budget. Would they notice, she wondered, that her authorisation of certain expenditure co-incided with the visits of one particular drugs rep?

As Mabel entered the room, Jane Tobias took a seat near the desk by the window, and Dave Morris turned to greet her. “We won’t keep you very long, Mrs Harris,” he said. “Please – do sit down.”

Dave wasn’t trained in interview techniques, but Jane’s police background meant that she remembered, later, how nervous Mabel looked as she sat on the only free chair in the room.

“Just a couple of quick questions, if you don’t mind. We’ve been looking at Dr Lawrence’s diary for the last couple of weeks, and there are some names you might be able to help us with,” Dave said.

“I’ll help you in any way I can, Mr Morris. I don’t know what Dr Lawrence is supposed to have done…” Mabel replied, leaving her question trailing, in the hope that Dave Morris would enlighten her. When it was clear that he wasn’t about to, she went on “but I can assure you, whatever it was, we weren’t aware of it.”

Dave noticed her emphasis, and realised their visit had already been discussed – perhaps informally – amongst other practice staff.

“Who is Stephen Garbutt?” he asked – his question sharp, and to the point.

Mabel visibly relaxed. “Stephen Garbutt was a trainee who worked with us a couple of years ago. Not a trainee doctor, you understand. Just a teenager. Someone who was on a Government scheme. I think he had been out of work for a while, and needed a place where he could brush up his skills.” She seemed to grimace a little as she replied, Jane noticed.

“So what exactly was he doing?” Dave asked.

“General office work. He did a spell on reception. Not very good with his social skills, I’m afraid to say. And his dress sense – well, it was a little too informal for our practice,” Mabel replied. She seemed to pause for a second, as if she was wondering if she was being a little harsh on the young man. “But he was very good at IT,” she continued.

“In what way?” Jane asked, thinking that perhaps Dave might miss the line of enquiry.

Mabel turned to Jane, replying: “We don’t have a computer expert on our staff, I’m afraid. When Stephen came, he was able to do quite a lot to sort our systems out. I suppose they learn all that kind of stuff at school nowadays. But we weren’t able to keep him on, I’m afraid. We just don’t have the budget.”

Dave had another line he wanted to pursue. “When did Stephen leave?”

Mabel looked up to the corner of the room, seeming to compute.

“I’m pretty sure it was two years ago. We haven’t had any trainees since then.”

“Can you think of any reason why Dr Lawrence might have had a diary appointment with him just two week ago, Mrs Harris?” Dave asked.

Mabel appeared genuinely surprised at the news. “None whatsoever. He never mentioned it, and we don’t keep our doctors’ personal diaries, I’m afraid. We have quite enough on our plate with their patient appointments.” Mabel folded her arms across her chest, Jane noticed.

“Quite,” said Dave, “I understand. And what about Cyril Galloway? Do you know who he is?”

Mabel looked as though she had just worked out the answer to a cryptic crossword: a quick smile of achievement that said ‘Of course!’ broke out on her face.

“Yes! I can tell you that Cyril Galloway used to run an antiques shop in the town many years ago. Dr Lawrence and him were very good friends,” she said, almost relieved that Dave Morris had mentioned the name. Maybe the gossip had been right, after all!

“And you didn’t know that Lawrence saw Galloway earlier this week?” Dave asked.

“No. Not at all. I know he booked a day out of the office, and that’s why I was surprised to find him back in the surgery, when I did … when he’d had his stroke. I didn’t expect him back that day.” Mabel sounded relieved, Jane noticed: hers was the voice of someone who was hiding something, but was glad that the subject had turned to safe ground.

Dave nodded. “I just have one more question, before you go, Mrs Harris. Was Dr Lawrence interested in family history at all?”

It was a strange question, Mabel thought. Dacre Lawrence, who never mentioned anything about his parents, who had never (so far as she knew) married, who had no siblings she knew of, and certainly no children (did he?) – why would anyone imagine, for even one minute, that he had an interest in family history?

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