Sunday, 8 April 2007

Chapter 72


After a pint or two in The Letters, Bill Blunt was – almost - ready to return to the fray. As he left the pub, his path took him past Meldew Buildings, so he thought he’d call in to see if Harry McFry had got his message about Jonathan Harcourt. He found Henry cleaning out a drain outside the building.

“Mr Marchant!” Bill boomed. Everyone called Henry Marchant ‘Henry’, so the janitor was momentarily surprised at the name. As he stood up, Bill slapped him on the back: “How’s old Ma Shipman doing, Henry?” he asked. “Still collecting the rents?”

Henry smiled. He liked Bill Blunt – it was hard not to. He was part of the furniture of Birkenhead, his articles in the Birkenhead Beagle always something the locals turned to first when they picked up the paper.

“Oh, you know how she is, Mr Blunt,” he said, still smiling.

“And what about Harry? Have you seen him today?” Bill asked.

Henry knew Harry trusted Bill. He’d seen the two of them disappearing together into The Letters enough times to know they were friends.

“Not since early this morning, Mr Blunt. He’s down in Telford just now. You want to leave him a message?”

Bill Blunt seemed to consider the offer for a moment, even as he wondered what business had taken Harry off to Telford.

“No, it’s OK, Henry. I left a message for him earlier, that’s all. I’m sure he’ll get it when he gets back,” he said, turning away.

“I’ll make sure and tell him to check his messages!” Henry shouted, as Bill made his way across the road. He saw Bill look at his watch when he got to the other side, before he disappeared into The Brass Balance. ‘Some life those journalists have got!’ Henry thought, as he returned to his task of clearing the drain. ‘Some life, indeed!’

*

‘No sense rushing back just now, old son,’ Bill had thought, as he found himself outside The Brass Balance. The Beagle only published weekly, and then on a Wednesday. Half an hour here or there didn’t matter, on a Friday. As he entered the bar, he acknowledged half a dozen people he knew well. It was busy: Friday lunchtime had become the new Friday evening, he reflected, a lot of people starting their weekend early. As he ordered his drink, he scanned the room for someone – anyone – who might just be a story for him. It wouldn’t be the first time he’d found a scoop on his doorstep. But he recognized almost everyone there – a lot of them solicitors from nearby Hamilton Square… not much news fodder there, he thought. Then, he caught sight of a stranger – sat by the window, glancing out occasionally at Meldew Buildings. He looked – Bill thought – somehow ‘out of place’, even tense. There was a seat vacant on the table next to him, and Bill made his way across.

“Still raining out there!” Bill exclaimed, as he sat himself next to the stranger. Cyril Galloway contemplated the steady drizzle outside, and wondered why he’d bothered hanging around this god-forsaken town waiting for the arrival of Harry McFry. He seemed surprised at the intrusion, but mustered a polite “Quite,” in response.

Bill Blunt sensed the stranger’s hostility, and thrust out his hand:

“I’m Bill,” he said, adding “Welcome to Birkenhead – you’ll get used to it!”

Galloway shook his hand, a little uncomfortably.

“So what business or pleasure brings you to our fair town?” Bill asked. He was in his ‘hail fellow well met’ persona that had stood him in good stead for many a story before now.

“Strictly business, Mr …? “ Galloway replied, He wasn’t about to give anything away to a total stranger, after all.

“Blunt. Bill Blunt,” was the response. “And you are?”

Galloway. Cyril Galloway.”

Bill couldn’t place the name. “Well, now, Cyril. I think I know our town well enough to realize that you are here on business. We don’t get many pleasure seekers hereabouts. What’s your line?”

Bill Blunt could disarm a regiment with his avuncular tone, and Galloway found himself relaxing. He took a sip of his gin and tonic. Maybe it wouldn’t harm to pass the time by chatting with a local?

“Antiques,” he said.

“Got your eye on any local treasures?” Bill asked, It still sounded like small talk, which had been Bill’s plan.

“Oh no – it’s not like that. Actually,” Galloway said, glancing briefly across at Meldew Buildings. “I was here to see some war medals.”

Bill’s ears pricked up. He’d seen Galloway’s glance. ‘Keep it sociable, Bill’ he thought. “Really? That must be interesting. And have you traveled far today?”

It was an innocuous question. “Only from Telford,” Galloway replied, almost absently. Bill shifted closer to his quarry, positioning his pint on the table next to Galloway’s nearly empty glass,

“Let me get you another drink, Mr Galloway,” he said, rising from his seat. He was pretty confident, as he did so, that he’d get this one past Accounts, as ‘expenses’.

2 comments:

Miriam said...

Congratulations on your Blogger of the Day Award!

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thanks so much, Miriam.

Kind regards''THJNr