Ana had to go. “I don’t want Yolanda getting bored by Pablo’s company”, she said, rising from her seat by the window. Outside the bar, the city was going about its usual Sunday afternoon routine. Coaches carrying out-of-towners were pulling up at the entrance to the Retiro.
“Not much chance of that, Ana!” Alan said. “You know she adores him! Well, I guess that just leaves the boys, then. What could be better than a free Sunday afternoon and the company of gentlemen?” Alan wasn’t being facetious.
Harry, for once, wasn’t keen on squandering a couple of hours on drink when he’d just got his teeth back into the McFry case, but was taken aback when Danny stood up and, addressing Alan and him, said: “You two go ahead. Seems like you’ve got a lot to talk about. If you don’t mind, I’ll head back with Ana to the flat. There’s one or two things I wouldn’t mind doing.” Ana said she didn’t mind, and Harry was too surprised to comment. “What time should we meet up again, Harry?” Danny said (better pin this man down to a time, Danny was thinking).
Harry was alarmed. Insofar as he’d planned his trip to
“Sounds good to me,” Danny said, turning to leave with Ana.
Alan smiled. “Look after him, Ana!” he exclaimed, “He’s a dark one, that one – he was out on the town until late last night…”
Ana saw Danny blush, and smiled at him as she dragged him away from the McFry’s: “Don’t worry about us,” she said, after turning back to Alan as she reached the door, “It’s you two we’ve got to be worried about!” And, with a wink, they were gone.
Left to their own devices, the McFry brothers struggled a little, at first. Alan made a stab at talking about what a great kid Danny seemed to be. Harry complimented Alan on winning the fight against drink – “I haven’t won yet, Harry. But I’ve got it cornered,” Alan had replied – and they somehow slowly edged towards the kind of normality you’d expect from a couple of siblings who hadn’t seen each other (alone) for a while.
“You’re really wrapped up with this Lillian McFry case, aren’t you Harry?” Alan asked, as fresh beers arrived at the table. “Are you like this with all your work?”
Harry hadn’t seen it that way. It had been less than a week, after all, since he’d even heard of Laurel McFry. But he knew Alan was right.
“That was a pretty astute point you made about Stuart McFry, by the way,” Harry said.
Alan raised his beer, in a mock toast to Harry: “Thanks. But, like I say, maybe I’m not as close to this as you are. Sometimes you need to step back and look at the big picture.”
Harry realised he hadn’t done that – or not enough, anyway. His younger brother was right (again). He’d got bogged down in the twists and turns of the case, not fully sure how to link Laurel McFry’s ‘missing’ family with Lillian’s medals. Synchronicity, co-incidence: the great unravelling of the universe and its pre-arranged plan. He could take some of that. He remembered when he’d pulled up outside his flat in Rock Ferry for the first time (in the days when he still had his licence), and how Tom Waits was playing out on his car stereo: There’s a Place For Us, from West Side Story. A real, shiver-down the spine moment which had led him to take the flat and, in truth, it had been a good place for him to re-build his life.
When it came to this case, however, he didn’t want to believe the medals and the doctored census was a co-incidence. He said as much to Alan.
“Hmmm…,” Alan replied, clearly thinking through what the link might be, “…sounds to me like Jonathan Harcourt is at the bottom of this. Shouldn’t you be focusing on him? What do you actually know about the guy?”
Harry told him everything he knew – which wasn’t much, after
“Let’s go back to basics here,” Alan said, wanting to unpick the story some more. “Lillian McFry’s still alive at the age of 102. That means she was, what … in her early thirties when she came to
“So, maybe Jonathan Harcourt was a lot younger! Why, yes, he could have been a good 10 years – or more – younger than her.”
“Which means,” Alan said, “there’s at least a possibility that he’s still alive.”
Harry was still trying to process the idea. McAllistair had told him Harcourt was dead – or at least he thought he’d told him that: he’d have to check his notes again. But, then again, he’d tried to give McAllistair the impression Lillian had died, too! For a moment, Harry allowed himself to believe that the elusive Jonathan Harcourt might still be alive.
“Well,” Harry acknowledged, “there’s no death certificate for Harcourt, that’s for sure. But, if he died in
Alan considered for a moment. “You’re missing a trick here, Harry, if you don’t mind me saying. Harcourt was a journalist, wasn’t he?”
“Obituary. Did you ever know a newspaper that didn’t celebrate the life of one of its acolytes, when they died?”
Harry kicked himself: mentally, physically, figuratively and actually. Sometimes, he knew, he wasn’t the genealogical researcher he thought he was...