Friday, 15 June 2007

Chapter 104

When Snr Guttierez told Harry the value of the bond, it was the first time he really believed the true value of the piece of paper held by Lillian McFry, and the potential windfall that might be heading in Laurel McFry’s direction. A part of him – that rueful part that all of us have – fleetingly wondered whether he shouldn’t have booked himself into a five star hotel in Madrid, instead of staying at his brother’s, on the strength of an expenses claim he guessed Laurel would be more than happy to pay. What Harry couldn’t fully understand was why the combined expertise of an entire department of the Spanish Government had been unable to locate Lillian McFry… but then, he knew how elusive some of the McFry’s had been when he’d been looking for them himself. He was still sat alongside Ana and Snr Guttierez in the boardroom. He had another question which was nagging him:

“Why would this document specify that the bond would be passed down the female line?” To Harry, it seemed just a little odd.

Before Snr Guttierez could reply, Ana spoke in what seemed, to Harry, a strange dialect of Spanish, addressing herself to Snr Guttierez, who smiled and nodded, before turning to Harry.

“As your colleague so correctly reasons, Mr McFry, we can assume that this bond was issued according to the precepts of Basque law. In our province,” and here, Snr Guttierez nodded gently towards Ana, “it is quite usual for property to pass down the female line.”

Harry pondered for a second: “That makes sense – since we know Lillian was in Guernica during her final months in Spain.”

“Do we assume that Stuart McFry and Lillian Blyth were in some kind of ‘relationship’?” Snr Guttierez asked.

“It’s possible. He accompanied her out of Spain. They escaped via Bilbao. With a young baby girl,” Harry explained.

“Ah … so she would inherit the bond?”

“From what you say, this was theoretically possible. But she died in 1981.” Harry was working without notes, but he remembered the detail of Colleen’s death from the interrogation of Laurel.

“She did, however, marry, and had a daughter, Laurel McFry.”

Snr Guttierez was struggling to work this out. “All these McFry’s everywhere. Tell me, who did she marry?”

“She married Stuart’s younger brother, Philip,” Harry said.

“Your Lillian seems to be remarkable fond of the McFry’s, doesn’t she?” Snr Guttierez replied, almost rhetorically.

“My guess is that it was the other way around. Lillian Blyth was a very beautiful woman – still is, in some respects. She seems to have had no shortage of admirers.”

Here, Snr Guttierez smiled towards Ana and said a few words in that same, strange dialect which Harry thought he recognized, now, as Basque. He saw Ana blush and lower her head.

“Well,” he went on, switching back to his precise English, “I think we know what we need to do now. I can take the bond from you and give you a receipt. We will store it for you safely. We will need to get a signature from Lillian Blyth to redeem it in full, of course. And we will need to draw some reserves to pay it.”

Suddenly, a thought occurred to Harry (maybe prompted by the mention of money, again). “Tell me, Snr Guttierez. Who holds the money to pay these bonds, as you discover them?”

“Oh, we hold it in the Bank of Bilbao, of course. The government is a major shareholder in the bank.”

Harry had just completed another corner of the jigsaw, and he allowed himself a wry smile.


As they made their way out of the ministry building, Harry having left the bond with Snr Guttierez in exchange for the receipt, the noise from the street outside hit them as if they’d turned on a TV where the volume was set just a little on the high side, and it took a moment or two to adjust to the bustle.

Ana paused a few yards from the corner of the street, Harry pulling out his cigarettes and lighting one.

“You seem very pleased with yourself, Mr McFry!” she exclaimed, smiling. And why wouldn’t he be? He’d just secured the future of his client – with spades.

Dragging the nicotine deep into his lungs, his mind was working overtime.

“I just tied up another loose end. Laurel McFry’s income was dependent on shares she held in the family firm. About 5% of the company, I think she said,” Harry explained. “Just last week, she had to sell those shares because the price was falling. My guess is that the Bank of Bilboa, who are the principal holders of McFry stock, has been steadily unloading them onto the market to fund the repayment of the government bonds by Snr Guttierez.”

Ana smiled again, the irony of ‘poor’ Laurel McFry’s situation not lost on her. The very thing that had threatened her fortune was the prospect of an even bigger fortune.

“Then she will have reason to thank you, Harry. I hope you are on a percentage fee for this case!”

Harry shook his head (today was Ruing Sunday for Harry, it seemed): “Not really – shame about that, I know. But maybe she’ll be happy to be a little more generous when it comes to paying my bill.”

He changed the subject, quickly: “How long do you have?”

Ana checked her watch – it was coming up to midday. “Oh, maybe another couple of hours. I don’t want to push my luck with Yolanda – you know what she’s like.”

“It’s a little early for lunch,” he said. “How about the Retiro?” he asked, tentatively.

The day was mild, despite a few grey clouds bubbling on the horizon. Ana thought a walk in the park with Harry might be pleasant, a chance to discover exactly where they were up to, with the plot. Harry hailed a passing cab, and in a short time they were entering the Retiro. En route, Harry asked Ana what Snr Guttierez had said to her to make her blush. She blushed anew, as she told him: “He said if Lillian McFry was half as beautiful as I was, he could understand why she might have had so many admirers.”

As they entered the park, they weren’t to know it, but their path took them past the very place where, seventy years earlier, a young English nurse made love to a young English journalist, weaving a history both peculiar in its sadness, and wonderful in its persistence through the years.


Fanton said...

I have had a lot of catching up to do - but it's been a pleasure to read. And to watch - the interlude was very good indeed as well. Keep it up, Mr. Hamburger!

70steen said...

Beautifully written Tom :-)

Theresa111 said...

I don't know if I would have left the bonds myself. What if Lillian wanted to keep then for old times sake. Shouldn't Harry have phoned her?

Theresa111 said...

A question. What does Oh…Bollox or Bollux or Ballax mean?

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thank you, fanton. I'm glad you caught up (and hope you enjoyed the break!)

70steen: you are making me blush!

theresa: Hmm - a fair point, except that Harry might be getting nervous holding all that 'money' about his person - after all, he came close to losing it earlier!

As for 'Oh ... Bollox' ... this is a quaint English euphemism for 'Oh, dear' (but I'm not sure where the reference comes from!

Lillie Ammann said...

I just have one request: write faster! I'm really enjoying your story and don't want to stop reading so soon.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thank you, Lillian! It's been great that you've been able to stick with Harry from his early days - and will hopefully be in there when he completes the jigsaw!

the domestic minx said...

Absolutely beautiful...

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thank you, domestic minx!