Bill Blunt wasn’t a man to hang around. After he’d rung Laurel McFry, he moved swiftly on to the next name on his list: Cyril Galloway. Thanks to Laurel, of course, he now had a piece of information which he rather thought Galloway might be interested in. He didn’t think he should give away Harry’s whereabouts lightly, though.
He’d rung the number listed for Danny Longhurst, had heard the answerphone message inviting callers to leave their query or else to catch him on a mobile number which was quoted, and had made a note of it. He thought he could perhaps give this Danny a call later – it might be premature to ring him just now. In any case, Harry hadn’t exactly rushed to return his call about Jonathan Harcourt.
He still couldn’t work out exactly what might have taken Harry and his colleague off to Madrid – unless he was researching about the Civil War. Bill began to feel that Spain might be the key to this story – but he wasn’t entirely sure what the story even was. The Bank of Bilbao and their holding in McFry and sons needed a little more digging, he was sure.
Forgetting Galloway for a moment, he turned to his battered contact book, where he found the number for Charlie Attwood. Bill had known Attwood almost as long as he’d lived in Birkenhead. They’d met when Bill had been asked to cover a golf club dinner in his early days at the Beagle. Since then, the bank manager had sometimes advised Bill on potential investments.
He checked his watch – it was a little after 1pm. If he was right, Charlie would have finished his lunch but wouldn’t yet have disappeared for his ritual round of Sunday afternoon golf.
He dialled the number, formulating the pleasantries he’d exchange even as he did so. A few minutes later, when he’d had his fill of Attwood’s family news, he cut to the chase:
“Charlie – I need some information, if you don’t mind. No names, no packdrill, you understand, but it’s about McFry & Sons…”
It was only a few days earlier that Charles Attwood had met with Laurel McFry – a meeting he would hardly forget in a hurry.
“I’d steer well clear of those stock if I were you, Bill – at least for a little while. They’re on the way down just now, and it’s my guess they can go a whole lot lower before they bottom out. Mind you – the company’s solid enough, from what I can see. Someone could make quite a killing if they buy them at the right time and they rebound.” Attwood’s tone was the dry, matter-of-fact one of someone who counted himself a minor expert on the stock market.
Bill wondered how far he could push it with Charlie. “Suppose I were to say I was working on a story involving the Spanish Civil War, a set of medals, the Bank of Bilbao, McFry & Sons and …err… the daughter of the late Philip McFry. What would you say?”
Attwood replied in the same measured tone: “I would say I don’t know much about the Spanish Civil War, and even less about medals. I’d say that the Bank of Bilbao is the main shareholder in McFry & Sons and …” (here, Atwood paused, as if choosing his words with even more than his usual care) “,,,I would say that the daughter of the late Philip McFry is a very beautiful young woman indeed.” Attwood left a second to allow Bill to conjure up the image. “You’ll appreciate, Bill, that client confidentiality dictates that I couldn’t possibly tell you whether I met her on Tuesday of this week, and you’ll understand that any advice I may have given about selling shares she might, or might not, have had in McFry & Sons is information that is similarly confidential.”
Bill suppressed a smile. “Of course, Charles. I understand perfectly. Enjoy your game of golf, won’t you? And do give my love to Evelyn.” He replaced the receiver with a quiet chuckle. Not much skin left on this particular cat now, he was thinking.
Whatever skin the cat still had, it was stubbornly holding onto it. Another half hour of contemplation and mulling over the facts he thought he had, and Bill was starting to realize just how tough this story was proving. It was one thing to know that Laurel McFry had (probably) had to dispose of her shares in McFry & Sons (however many that may have been), but quite another to say he had his story, just yet.
Time, he thought, to ring Galloway. He’d have to be careful with this particular call, he knew. Galloway’s interest in Harry McFry, coupled with the warning that Laurel had told him about, meant he’d need to be on his guard. He reminded himself that he was, when all was said and done, just a passing acquaintance of the Telford auctioneer, someone who had spent an hour or so in a pub with him while the rain beat down outside. He fingered Galloway’s business card again, getting into role as the helpful, but ultimately disinterested, stranger who Cyril had accidentally sat beside on Friday.
He dialled the number, and in a short while was listening to Galloway’s unctuous voice as he picked up the call. “Yes?” was all he said.
“Good afternoon,” Bill said, brightly. “That would be Mr Galloway, I presume?” His question left Cyril Galloway struggling to immediately place the voice, and it took Bill to remind him of their brief, Birkenhead encounter before it clicked.
“Ah yes – Mr Blunt. How are you, and what can I do for you?” he asked, almost distractedly.
“Well, you will remember you were interested in finding this Harry McFry chap? I have some news for you.”
“Oh yes? Pray tell!” Galloway sounded as though someone had nudged him awake.
“I asked around, and found a couple of people who know him,” Bill replied. “Seems he’s out of town right now, taking a holiday, apparently – which might explain why you couldn’t find him on Friday.” (Not true, Bill knew: Harry had been in Telford on Friday, of course, but he’d had the sense not to reveal this to Galloway).
“I see,” Galloway said – his mind racing, now, as he recalled what Colin McAllistair had told him about McFry having already sold the medals. Perhaps this ‘holiday’ was being enjoyed from part of the proceeds of the sale?
Bill, meanwhile, was scanning his notes again. He wanted to get on to the subject of the medals – not the ones that Harry had, but the others that Galloway had let slip he had sold all those years ago. “I was thinking of what you said when we met last Friday. You mentioned another set of medals which you were involved in selling. Did this McFry chap have anything to do with those, as well?”
The auctioneer was caught off balance by the question, and his response was automatic, unthinking: “Oh, no, no, no. Those were for someone called Jonathan Harcourt, over in Yorkshire. He’s long dead, and had nothing to do with Birkenhead or even Lillian McFry. But tell me, Mr Blunt,” (Galloway back on track, now) “where exactly did you say McFry is holidaying?”
“I didn’t. But it seems he’s in Madrid.”
Bill Blunt couldn’t hear Galloway’s sharp intake of breath at the other end of the line – but he sensed it, nonetheless, even as he congratulated himself on the two new pieces of the jigsaw handed to him by Galloway, almost on a plate. The ones with Jonathan Harcourt and Lillian McFry’s name on them.
Bill Blunt had finished his call with Cyril Galloway with a promise to contact him again if he discovered anything more which he thought might be helpful for his new ‘friend’. For his part, Galloway was both counting his blessings that fate had led Mr Blunt to sit beside him in the pub on that wet and dismal Friday afternoon, and at the same time germinating a slight worry that Harry McFry had maybe gone to Madrid to sell the medals. If he did, and he had the box, and its paperwork, with him, then it could well be that McFry already knew its value.
Galloway strained to listen against the quiet outside his window. Was that possibly just the faintest sound of the flapping of wings he could hear? Might they be geese – wild ones, at that – heading in the direction of Lillian McFry’s little bungalow, waiting for him to chase them on Tuesday? He hoped not, even as he realized he had come to hate that woman.