Saturday, 9 June 2007

Chapter 101

It was an unusual Sunday morning when Bill Blunt didn’t spend an hour or two in his study, marshalling his thoughts in readiness for the fray of the week ahead. The deadline for the Birkenhead Beagle was Tuesday, noon, so it always helped to have a plan ready for the next day.

The modus operandi of the seasoned journalist was very different to that of someone like Harry McFry. Lacking the intellectual rigour of a training in history, Bill relied, instead, on his instincts, and on his knowledge of what he thought made men – and women – tick.

He had, he thought, the measure of his friend Harry. From the vantage point of a man who had scaled a mountain, with a forty year marriage behind him, he could see Harry picking over the boulders down in the valley below, never managing to get much beyond the foothills before he had to return to base camp and start all over again. That, he knew, was just how some men were. Sometimes, he could envy them their regular forays up and down the low hills of relationships but, for the most part, he felt a certain accomplishment on his own part. He hadn’t scaled the highest mountain in the world when he married Mrs Blunt, but at least he’d got there, stayed the course, and could claim some kind of superiority over many men he knew.

When it came to a case like the one Harry was working on, Bill suspected his journalistic skills – honed over decades – were more than a match for Harry. He knew they worked differently. To write a newspaper column, you skimmed the lake of life, picking off tiny insects that were floating there. Just occasionally, a nice juicy one would present itself for dinner, but you rarely had to dive much below the surface for your feast. Someone like Harry spent his time in the furthest depths of the lake, lurking and investigating the darker recesses, where the pickings were slim, even if bigger, and more satisfying, when caught.

He’d rather hoped that Harry McFry would have been in touch with him, by now. After all, hadn’t Harry seemed more than a little interested in the real identity of the journalist, Jonathan Harcourt? Surely Telford hadn’t detained him over the weekend – unless Harry had developed a fascination with roundabouts he hadn’t told his old friend about, that is. It was a puzzle, to Bill, why Harry hadn’t got back to him after he’d left his message for him on his answer phone. He’d subsequently tried the mobile number he had for Harry a couple of times, but on each occasion the call had been picked up by someone called Steve, who professed to know nothing at all about any Harry McFry. His angry insistence that he should ‘stop (expletive deleted) ringing for McFry!’ had led Bill to think he must have made a mistake in recording Harry’s number.

He skimmed through the rough notes he’d penned for himself on Friday, an aide-memoir of his conversation with Cyril Galloway and the facts he’d gleaned from the National Union of Journalists about Jonathan Harcourt. His mind was trying to process what few bits of information he had into some semblance of a story, but it wasn’t really working…

One thing Harry would be interested to learn, he was sure, was that Jonathan Harcourt hadn’t died in Spain. That much, Bill had established. The NUJ had records of his membership subscription being paid until well after the Second World War, even if they were at a much reduced rate. This must mean, he knew, that Harcourt had ‘hung up his quill’ – he’d stopped being a professional journalist – but had elected to stay a part of the union, possibly because his continued membership promised him some benefits, perhaps as he approached his retirement…

It had been a while, he ruminated, since trades unions looked after their members in the same way they had when he, himself, had first entered journalism. As he scanned his notes anew, his eye was drawn to the few paragraphs he’d drafted about Cyril Galloway. There must be more to those medals than he’d first supposed, he guessed. What if he called Galloway? There couldn’t be any harm in it. He could imply he’d located Harry McFry, could suggest he knew that Harry had those medals, and see where that got him…

He wasn’t sure where the Bank of Bilbao fitted in. But a bank, to Bill Blunt, spelled money. Especially a bank which, he had discovered, was the majority share holder in the McFry family business. Bill knew, of course, that Harry wasn’t part of that McFry dynasty (he’d asked Harry that very question soon after they met and, let’s face it, if he was part of that particular empire he’d hardly be plying his trade from a two-bit office in Birkenhead). He had to wonder what Harry was doing nosing around in the affairs of the McFry family, though. What if – and he could only speculate here, he realized – Harry was working on a case for another member of the McFry family? Now that, he thought, would be interesting…

Old Philip McFry had died a few years ago, he remembered. He’d been well enough known in the town - why, Bill himself had written his obituary for the Birkenhead Beagle. He couldn’t, just now, recall who had inherited from Philip, but seemed to think it may have been his daughter. What was she called again? He pulled a telephone directory from the shelf, had just started paging through it when he heard the brusque voice of his wife calling him through to the kitchen, for breakfast. He left the directory open for his return since, if Bill had learned anything over the course of his marriage, it was that it was better (all things considered) not to keep Mrs Blunt waiting.