Friday, 27 July 2007

Chapter 127

Harry had gathered all the papers he wanted while he was waiting for a cab he’d booked into Birkenhead. After ringing Laurel, he’d made a call to his contact at the General Records Office, but this time to her home number. Could she organize some more certificates for him, early the next day, as a matter of urgency? Linda hadn’t sounded very confident.

“I’ll do my best, Harry. But there’s been some kind of audit last week and they’ve found a discrepancy between the number of certificates printed out and the revenue that’s come in. There was a meeting about it yesterday.”

“Do they know it’s you?” Harry was worried he might have put her job at risk.

“Hell, Harry – I’m not the only one at it! There must be half a dozen of us taking kick-backs. You genealogists all seem to want stuff by ‘yesterday’…”

“You know I appreciate what you’re doing, Linda?” Harry had told her, turning on his charm tap. “I was going to invite you out to dinner sometime…”

“Leave it out, Harry,” she’d replied, laconically. “Just make sure you get the money in the bank, and I’ll do what I can,” and he’d reeled off the references she’d need to sort the certificates for him.

And then, there’d been the call from Ana. In his attempt to erase the events in Madrid from his mind, he’d almost forgotten about the DNA tests. It had, inevitably, been a stilted call.

“Did you get back OK, Harry?” she’d asked.

“Seems that way. No physical damage, anyway.” His tone was cold, his emphasis precise.

Ana had paused, as if she was trying to work out what he meant. “I’ve got the DNA results here. What do you want me to do with them? Should I fax them to you?” That’s right, Harry had thought: keep it purely to business – it’s the best way.

“Yes. At my office, if you don’t mind.” He’d given her the number.

“Harry … are you… alright?” There had been a genuine concern in her voice.

“I’m fine. As I suppose Alan, Yolanda, Pablo and you are. Now, if you don’t mind, I’ve got some work to do.”

And he’d hung up on her. For the first time in his life.


Colin McAllistair spent early Monday evening on a train heading north, his second trip that way in a week. He was leafing through a magazine, but not really concentrating fully. In the seat opposite him, a young couple spent most of the journey deep in conversation, recalling how they’d met and fallen for each other, as if theirs was the first love story every told. He tried to filter it out: he was thinking about Lillian McFry and Jonathan Harcourt. He’d packed his digital video camera, hoping Lillian would agree to him recording their conversation. If he was to persuade any of the producers he knew that there was a programme in Lillian’s story, it would help if he had a few rough pieces to show them.

McAllistair had that rare knack of being able to visualize things in the future. Some might call it day-dreaming, but others would see it as the skill and ability to conceive something, and to take it through to fruition. He’d found, often enough, that if he thought about how something might look, how events might pan out, even down to the tiniest detail, he could make them turn out that way. As he’d written his thesis as a student, he’d been driven by the image of himself walking up on stage to collect his degree, and could even have told you the colour of the Dean’s eyes. Now, he saw grainy, black-and-white images of Spain, dissolving into old photographs of Lillian and Jonathan when they were young, cutting to a distinguished academic (himself, of course) succinctly summarizing the tortuous politics of the Spanish Civil War. It wasn’t too long before he was sitting in a huge hall, dressed in a dinner jacket, gripping a card he’d jotted a few notes on. His ‘Thank You’ speech would go down well, and he’d probably be wishing his mother had been alive to see him as he collected his award for Best Historical Documentary. Maybe Lillian McFry would be at the table, when he got back there, so that the spotlight would pick her out as he reached across to hand her the gold statuette, and embraced her?

“Next stop, Telford!” the conductor said, rousing McAllistair from his reverie. He dropped the magazine and checked a map in his folder on the table in front of him, before stuffing it into his bag on the seat next to him. Not worth getting a taxi to the Travelodge, he thought – he could walk it in five minutes.


70steen said...

You know...... not for the first time & probably not the last, I want to get hold of him by the scruff of the neck and give him a good shaking...... excellent Tom!!

70steen said...

when I say him .. I hope you realised it was H not Colin btw!

the domestic minx said...

Oh he needs more than a good shaking!!!