Harry needed a drink. Although it was comforting in some way to be back in the familiar surroundings of Birkenhead, he couldn’t shake off the feeling that he’d left a whole lot of business unresolved in Madrid. Like an actor auditioning for a play who’d learned the lines for the wrong production, he felt the director had humoured him by listening to his performance, but the job would never be his.
Danny had dropped him at his flat, and they’d agreed to meet up back at the office in a couple of hours. He’d filled the kettle for a coffee, and then pulled a bottle of whisky from a cupboard, pouring himself a long shot. Collapsing in the chair, more tired than he’d imagined, he saw that darkness was beginning to fall outside. Streetlamps started to spray their light, illuminating the steady and remorseless drizzle that had welcomed the travelers back to their home town. He opened a fresh pack of cigarettes, drawing one out and pausing just a second before lighting it. His mind was addled with trying to play over the discussions he’d had with Ana, Yolanda and Alan. He wondered, for a moment, whether they might have conspired together to confuse him, to twist his reality a little. But he realized, finally, that they’d need a motive for that, and it was just too hard to imagine what that might be…
He thought about flicking on a table lamp, and putting some music on, even rifled through a few CDs. But there was something about the gathering darkness and the silence, broken only by the few cars that spun past outside in the rain, that Harry found appealing, and he decided to savour it.
He knew he needed to get a grip. This whole business about his ex-girlfriend, her sister, and his brother had perplexed him, and threatened to throw him off course. Now, sitting in the gloom of an early February Monday evening, he knew what he had to do.
He had a case to solve. He might think he knew what Laurel McFry’s missing family was all about, but there were too many loose ends – too many things which just didn’t add up. He took another slug of the whisky, just as the shrill whistle of the kettle sounded its alarm. He lifted himself from the chair, and as he did so, caught sight of the blinking red light on his answer phone. ‘Better get that coffee, Harry – this might be a long night!’, he thought.
For his part, Danny Longhurst was starting to have second thoughts about his own research. After dropping Harry off, he’d headed back home to his parents’ house. They were relieved to see him: he might be nineteen, but he was their only child, and they chided him for not contacting them while he was away. “Anything could have happened to you,” his mother had said, fussing over him. He’d been embarrassed and ashamed in equal measure.
In the refuge of his bedroom, he pulled his notepad out and started flicking through it. Something wasn’t right, he could see, about Dacre Lawrence’s parents. He’d spent hours in the internet café in Madrid trying to untangle it, but he’d forgotten that he’d already done some research into them, even before then. How had he managed to do the same research and yet come up with two different answers? He hoped Harry would be open able to unravel it all when they met at the office – if he’d stopped worrying about Ana, that was. He wondered quite how a woman could throw someone off kilter quite so much, make them blind to the obvious. He couldn’t believe Harry had thought that Ana had been married and, even then, found it quite amazing that he’d apparently never even discussed it with her. Wasn’t she supposed to have been the ‘love of his life’?
Whatever you would want to say about Bill Blunt, you couldn’t say he wasn’t dogged. He hadn’t given up hope of a story by Tuesday, even if he knew he’d have to dig a little more to get it. That’s why he found himself in the unfamiliar surroundings of a Travelodge, not far from Telford, just as darkness descended. He hated those places, with their utilitarian ‘sameness’ that meant he could as easily be in Thurrock as Telford, but he hadn’t been able to clear the trip with his editor, so thought he’d better err on the side of caution where expenses were concerned.
After mulling over the unexpectedly-terminated call with Harry on Sunday night, he’d returned to the fray with a renewed vigour the next day. He was at his desk by 8am, making notes from his notes, distilling what he had into something tighter, in the hope that something would jump out at him. When other staff had started to appear, he’d enlisted the help of the young girl from advertising who had helped him last week with his query about the Spanish bank. She was bright, he knew, and maybe one day she’d switch across into the editorial side.
“I need to find out about someone called Lillian McFry. She was awarded some medals – I suspect in the Spanish Civil War. Do you know what that was?” he’d asked her, after summoning the girl to his desk.
“Err… no, not really… I mean, I’ve heard of it, but I don’t really know much about it,” she’d said. Alison Gibson had worked at the Beagle for the two years since leaving school. She enjoyed her job, and liked it when the journalists asked her to help out on their stories. But she wasn’t afraid to admit gaps in her knowledge. Bill had invited her to sit down, and told her what little he himself knew about the civil war.
“So,” Alison said, when he’d finished, “these medals were awarded to two English people who were fighting in Spain – for the Republic?” She was trying to get it clear in her mind, he’d noticed. He’d liked that.
“Exactly. Harcourt’s dead, of course. And I’m pretty sure Lillian McFry must be, by now – we’re talking about someone who would be in their nineties, at least, if she was alive,” Bill had said. “Just see what you can find, Alison – but quickly, if you don’t mind. This is for tomorrow’s deadline.”
For Bill, the struggle was unpicking who all these McFry’s were. Well, he knew all about Harry (or he thought he did), and he was starting to get a better picture of young Laurel, following his research over the weekend – but this Lillian McFry: she was a different matter altogether. Bill Blunt had never taken much of an interest in family history, whether his own or anybody else’s. He knew this was where Harry would have the edge, but that didn’t mean he couldn’t beat him. It just meant he’d have to be smarter – and quicker – if he was to do so.
All his instincts told him he should find Galloway. And, if finding him meant he had to stay the night in a tiny, dismal, soulless, roadside hostel, then so be it. There was at least enough room to swing an as yet un-skinned cat, he thought, ruefully, as he unpacked his overnight bag.