Midday in Birkenhead, and Bill Blunt found Laurel McFry easily enough in the telephone directory. There were only a handful of McFry’s listed, and as soon as he saw her name he recognized it as that of the daughter of the late Philip McFry.
He wondered, for a moment, how best to approach the call. Cradling the receiver, he finally thought of a way in. He dialed the number, and was only slightly surprised that the call was picked up after just a couple of rings. He didn’t know how someone like Laurel would spend her Sundays, but hadn’t expected she’d be sat next to the phone. In fact, Laurel was relaxing in her lounge after returning from a run through the park.
“Hello. Is that Miss McFry?” he asked, tentatively.
“Yes. Who’s this, please?” Her voice was soft and warm, Bill thought.
“My name’s Bill Blunt. I work for the Beagle. I’m sorry to disturb you on a Sunday lunchtime, but I wondered if you had recently had any contact with a Harry McFry.” Bill stressed the word ‘Harry’, to let her know he didn’t think he lived with Laurel.
The question was unexpected for Laurel. She hadn’t told anyone Harry (and Danny) were working for her, and the call had taken her off guard.
“Can I ask who told you about Harry?” she asked (a little pointedly, Bill thought, but he was prepared for it).
“I work with Harry occasionally, Miss McFry. We help each other out with bits and pieces. The thing is, I seem to have lost his mobile number, and I need to contact him urgently about a case he’s working on.”
Laurel relaxed a little: “I’m afraid I only have his home and office number – and I presume you have those, Mr Blunt? What is this regarding, anyway?”
Bill wasn’t sure which tack to take here – Jonathan Harcourt, the Bank of Bilbao or Galloway’s medals. His instinct, though, led him towards the medals…
“Harry’s got something that someone’s looking for. They need to contact him quickly,” he said, finally.
Laurel wasn’t exactly sure about this. If this Bill Blunt – and the name, she realized, was one she remembered from somewhere, even though she didn’t read the Beagle religiously – if he was working with Harry, then it was just possible he was working on her case.
“Harry’s in Madrid just now, Mr Blunt. If you wait a moment, I can get you a contact number for his colleague.”
Bill smiled to himself. “That’s very kind of you, Miss McFry. Thank you.” Courtesy cost nothing, Bill knew. Laurel was being more than helpful. As she disappeared to look for the number, Bill wondered how much she knew. And Harry – in Madrid! That was a turn-up for the books. What was the old rogue up to there, he wondered?
A few moments later, and Laurel was back, although she’d had a further thought while she was away.
“I have the number here, Mr Blunt,” she said. “But, tell me… you mentioned someone who was looking for something that Harry had. Who is that, and what exactly are they looking for?”
Bill was a little taken aback. She was a smart cookie alright, this Laurel McFry. She was proposing a trade for the number. Well, he didn’t owe this Cyril Galloway so much as a bean – it couldn’t harm things if he told her his name, and what he was about.
But, when he did, he wasn’t prepared for the sharpness of her reaction, and sensed he’d touched a nerve somewhere – one that hadn’t been near a grill, either.
“Mr Blunt. I don’t know what your connection to Harry really is. But I have already been warned against this Galloway fellow. I’m not sure I want to trust you with Danny’s number at all. I hope you understand.” With that, Laurel had rung off, leaving Bill Blunt to scratch a few more notes on his foolscap paper: ‘Harry in Madrid – with ?Danny?’ – he underlined ‘Danny’ - and ‘Laurel McFry fears Galloway’.
This was going to be a tougher nut to crack than he’d imagined. But Bill Blunt didn’t win North West Journalist of the Year (1998) for nothing. He wasn’t about to give in without a fight on this one.
Laurel McFry had finished the call from Bill Blunt with more than a degree of alarm. The words in Dacre Lawrence’s letter were still ringing in her ears: ‘There is a man named Cyril Galloway who I fear is after what is rightfully yours’. She’d thought about that letter a lot since yesterday morning, when Harry had visited her. Harry hadn’t seemed particularly interested in it. It was as if nothing in its contents was a surprise to him. Maybe she would need to make some enquiries of her own – find out who this Cyril Galloway was and, more importantly, who the ‘D Lawrence’ was who claimed to be a relative of hers? That would have to wait until Monday, though.
Instinctively, she felt she should ring and let Harry know about Bill Blunt’s call. Before she did, however, there was something she needed to look for. She didn’t read the Birkenhead Beagle, but she knew she had a copy dating from when her father died. It was filed away in her bureau and, if she could just find it, she’d be able to establish whether this Bill Blunt character was exactly who he said he was.
Bill Blunt wasn’t a man to hang about until Monday, when things needed to be found out. He didn’t want to ring Galloway – at least, not just yet. He’d picked up something a little chilling in the way Laurel’s mood had changed when he had mentioned Galloway’s name, and this had made him think again about the auctioneer and his quest for those medals. He wanted to do a little more digging before he made that particular call.
Although he had two more days before the Beagle deadline, he was beginning to think he might struggle to piece a story together by then. He felt like he was playing a game of Battleships with a complete stranger. He knew he’d picked off a couple of their subs and sunk a few of their smaller vessels along the way. But their destroyers and their aircraft carrier … well, they were stubbornly still in hiding somewhere.
Onwards and upwards, Bill! He turned his attention to this ‘Danny’ Laurel had mentioned. He wondered if she’d even realized she’d given him that lead? Harry had never mentioned anything about a colleague before. He was strictly a one-man band so, if he was working with someone else, the case must be a serious one. He knew he had to speak to Harry, and the only link he had was this Danny fellow. Think, Bill, think! Anyone who was working with Harry could only be a fellow genealogist. He grabbed the telephone directory again, and found the business section. Turning quickly to ‘Genealogical Researchers’, he rapidly scanned the few entries that were there. Sure enough – there was a listing for a Daniel K Longhurst, in Birkenhead. “Bingo, Billy Boy!” he exclaimed to himself, smiling again: “There’s more than one way to skin this cat!”