Saturday, 9 June 2007

Chapter 102

It wasn’t that Harry McFry had stopped thinking about Laurel McFry, or her problem with her missing family. It was just that, for the moment, his thinking time was being overburdened (just a little) by ‘other’ things.

Now, as he stood outside Madrid’s old Post Office, waiting for Ana to arrive, his mind was playing over the conversation he’d had with Yolanda, over breakfast. The rhythm of the morning was starting to assert itself in the city, as tourist buses in from the provinces began to disgorge travellers ready to embrace the culture, gastronomy, architecture and – of course – the shopping, that made a place like Madrid such a conspiracy of pleasure, even on a relatively chilly Sunday morning in February.

So. Yolanda thought, it seemed, that he was weak, and undeserving of the love she’d only hinted that Ana might still have for him. But she had been prepared, nevertheless, to help her sister get Pablo out of the way so that Ana and he could get on with their ‘business’, as she had put it – in her typically conspiratorial manner. But Harry couldn’t see a way through the fact that Ana was married. His own divorce, the pain and anguish of it, made him reluctant to wish a separation on anyone. Particularly if, as it seemed, Pablo had so comprehensively replaced he himself in Ana’s affections.

The streets were getting busier around him but, somehow, through the throng he saw Ana, walking towards him. Even at a distance of many hundreds of yards, he could tell it was her, as if a spotlight had picked her out in the highest tiers of a theatre. Her movement, though quick enough through the crowds, looked to Harry to have a little hesitancy about it, as she stopped here and there to let an older couple, or a mother with a buggy, cross her path. She looked wonderful, Harry thought. And just a little pre-occupied, too, he could see, as she got nearer to him.

He stubbed out a cigarette he’d lit before he spotted her, and checked the pocket inside his coat for Lillian McFry’s bond, as Ana drew nearer. Harry’s eyes seemed drawn to the ring she was wearing.

There was an immediate, and quite foreign, sense of discomfort between the two of them, like a couple that had met the previous night on a one-night stand who had agreed to meet later the next day, each of them having thought better of it, but neither wanting to appear dishonourable by not showing up. Ana, who had been glancing up at Harry as she approached the steps of the building, now looked at his shoes.

“Everything alright?” she asked – subdued in her tone, Harry thought.

“Yes. How about you? You managed to get rid of him, then?”

She shot a harsh glance at him: “I said I would, and I did. I’m here for you now, aren’t I?”

At the same time, they must have both decided to declare a mental truce at that point, as if Harry’s apparent flippancy and her curt response were quite enough, since that was as bad as it got between them before the meeting.

“Follow me – the Ministry’s just around the corner,” Ana said, and Harry walked beside her as she briskly descended the steps.

In a few moments, Ana was pressing a buzzer on a wall beside an imposing door in one of those solid, grey buildings you would imagine housed an embassy of some sort. The security guard, having been told to expect visitors at this time, opened the door to them and ushered them inside. They found themselves in a huge reception hall, as the guard closed the door behind them and led them to his desk to take their details. He spoke a few words over the phone, replaced the receiver, then spoke to Harry (in Spanish). Harry nodded, guessing they’d been told to wait, which Ana confirmed, with a whispered translation.

The two of them sat beside each other on a wooden bench against the wall, scanning the grandeur of the interior, both of them marveling at how quiet it was, with no hint of the busy bustle of the city outside its walls.

A minute or two passed. “So, where is your Danny?” Ana asked. Harry realized Yolanda couldn’t have told Ana that his brother was hosting his colleague this morning. He whispered his reply: “He’s with Alan.” He paused a moment, as if considering something.

“You know, I never realized Alan kept in touch with you quite so much as he did after I … err … left you.”

“Why shouldn’t he have? It was a good job he did. He’s a changed man – a better man – since he met Yolanda,” she said. They were both of them staring straight ahead at a grand staircase as they spoke.

“How so?” Harry asked, genuinely curious (and not a little surprised) that Alan might have changed.

“Well, he doesn’t drink so much, for one thing.” Another dispatch from abroad that had somehow never reached Harry. It went some way to explaining why the drunken calls from his brother had dried up over the past year or so, at least. It had never for a minute crossed Harry’s mind to ring Alan, even if just to ask him why he’d stopped ringing so often. That would have been too easy, of course. His brother’s drinking had been big factor in the break-up of his marriage to Carrie, he knew. She finally had enough of it, and their separation had become inevitable the night he never came home and she received a call from the police to ask her to post bail for him against a charge of being drunk and disorderly.

Ana must have sensed the thought that had just percolated Harry’s mind.

“People can change, you know. It’s entirely possible.” She was thinking about how Harry might have changed. How intimate was he, now, with Carrie, she wondered?

Before she could find the words to frame a suitably discrete enquiry that might tease out an answer from Harry, she heard a door open at the top of the stairs, and a man began to descend towards them.

“This is him, Harry,” she said, nudging him as she whispered. “Someone is about to become very rich!”

4 comments:

Theresa111 said...

I feel as if I too am sitting next to Harry and Ana, waiting for the man to reach the bottom of the stairs. What a good story!

LT said...

Tom
So glad that even on your jolly hols you have spared thought for us 'Harry Junkies' who were on major dettox for the days you are away (if I would fly Betty Ford would have been having a visitor!)..... the sunshine is obviously doing you good... as ever (& I wouldn't ever expect otherwise) a briliant knife twisting, heart wrenching turn of events for our lack lustre detective :-)

the domestic minx said...

Tension eases in one area - and tightens in another...
beautiful...

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thanks, Theresa - but if I had to choose to sit anywhere I don't think I'd want to be between Harry and Ana just now!

lt: Harry's lack of lustre is becoming legendary. I may have to discover a redeeming feature for him!

Thank you, domestic minx. We just have to keep an eye on that tension, and who it mounts...