Thursday, 12 April 2007

Chapter 74

As Bill Blunt made his way back across to Cyril Galloway with the drinks, his seasoned, journalist’s brain was working overtime. A stranger from Telford sat in a bar looking out across at Meldew Buildings, coupled with the knowledge that Harry McFry himself was down in Telford just now, would spell ‘s-t-o-r-y’ to anyone. He wondered what those medals were that Galloway had mentioned, and if they were connected in any way to Harry. More small-talk was called for, though, before he could cut to the chase.

Telford, you say? Now there’s an interesting town!” Bill said, as he took his seat.

Galloway looked at him as though he were some kind of alien.

“Interesting’s not the word for it. Try ‘dreary’,” he replied, picking up the gin and tonic Bill had just placed on the table.

Bill looked mock-offended. “You mean to tell me you don’t like roundabouts?” and then he smiled. “I take it that Telford is not your home town, Mr Galloway? Perhaps you have Scottish roots?”

Galloway shook his head. Yorkshire, born and bread. I’m from a little town called Thirsk – although I can’t say that my grandparents might not have been from north of the border. It’s quite probable.”

Bill noticed that Galloway was speaking easily now, volunteering information with the air of someone who hasn’t spoken to anyone for a while, and enjoyed the novelty.

“Very nice part of the country, from what I hear. How long since you moved away?” Bill asked. No one listening would have imagined Bill was interrogating Cyril. It was just a simple chat, the kind two strangers might have when meeting for the first time – and Bill was good at that kind of thing.

“I moved away about ten years ago. The chance to open my own shop came up. It’s doing very well,” Galloway said. He seemed to think for a moment, then went on: “I take it you are a local here, Mr Blunt?”

Bill thought carefully how to frame his reply. There’d been no sign that Galloway had recognized his name when he introduced himself, so the chances were he had never read the Birkenhead Beagle. Time for some cover, he thought to himself.

“Oh yes – at least for the last 20 years, anyway. Before that I was in Lancashire. Oldham, to be precise. I’m an engineer by trade. Or at least I was.”

Galloway seemed to buy it – why wouldn’t he: he had no reason to suspect Bill. “Then tell me, Mr Blunt, have you ever come across a Harry McFry in your travels?”

Even as Bill was inwardly congratulating himself, he was shaking his head. “No … I think I’d recall a name like that – it’s pretty unusual, after all. Can’t say I have. Why?”

“Oh, it’s just that I need to talk to him before I return to Telford, and no-one seems to know where he is,” Galloway replied.

Bill was more certain than ever that he had a story in his grasp. And he was sure the medals Galloway had mentioned earlier were something to do with it. Harry hadn’t mentioned anything about any medals when he’d rung him the previous day.

“These medals you mentioned, Mr Galloway… I take it they have some value, to bring you all the way from Telford to see them?”

As he asked the question, Blunt’s tone was still convivial.

“Yes, very valuable indeed,” Galloway replied. “They’re actually from the Spanish Civil War – one of only two sets issued just after the war. I had the privilege of representing the owner of one of sets when he sold them 25 years ago.” There was a quiet boastfulness about Galloway when he said this.

The way Bill Blunt figured it later, lady luck hadn’t just come in a taxi that lunchtime, she was paying for her own meal, as well. In his mind, he was piecing together what he knew about Jonathan Harcourt, what Harry had asked about the Banco Bilbao, and Galloway’s information about the medals. There were still a few pieces missing, but if Bill Blunt was the respected newshound he thought he was, he’d have that jigsaw finished ready for the Tuesday deadline of the Birkenhead Beagle, or he’d eat his hat.

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