Tuesday morning, and still less than a week since Harry McFry had first learned about Laurel McFry’s missing family. As he turned the key in the door to his office, Harry could be forgiven for suppressing a smile. His initial assessment of Laurel – an amateur family historian who hadn’t looked hard enough for those missing census images had changed over the last seven days, and he now saw her as the unwitting victim of circumstances way beyond her control. He couldn’t feel sorry for her, all the same: she was just about to inherit more money than most families – even if they were called McFry – got to see in a lifetime. And all thanks to an uncle she never knew, a grandmother she’d never met, and the vagaries of the legal system of a part of Spain she’d probably never even visited. The world was a strange place, sometimes…
It was just a few minutes after nine and, though the town was wreathed in the almost permanent veil of thin drizzle, Harry had walked from his flat to Argyle Street, using the time to mull over the gaps in the puzzle that he felt would be filled today. He didn’t pass many people on the street, except at bus-stops here and there, where a few people were huddled out of the rain.
He’d woken, refreshed, not much before eight and after the best night’s sleep he’d had in a long while. He’d guessed, from the fragment of a dream he’d caught when he’d woken, that during the night his mind had processed out some of the trickier details of the case, even if there were still plenty of loose ends to tie up before he could pronounce himself satisfied. A mug or two of coffee, and he’d felt ready to face a day where he instinctively felt it could all come together. It had better: there was an extra urgency, after what he’d learned last night.
When they’d finished up last night, Danny and he had gone their separate ways, Harry stopping off for a drink and to top up his nicotine levels at the Brass Balance across the street, Danny making his way home, tired after the journey from Madrid.
Harry had planned to unwind a little over a few drinks, but shortly after he arrived he’d seen a young girl sitting with her boyfriend in the corner who he vaguely recognized. If he wasn’t mistaken, she worked for the Beagle. A casual enquiry established that yes, she knew Bill Blunt and was, in fact, ‘helping him with a story at the moment’.
“Any idea where he is just now?” Harry had asked, innocently enough.
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I do. He’s covering a story in Telford,” she’d said. That news alone had been enough to un-nerve Harry, causing him to shorten his stay at the pub. He’d caught a taxi back to his flat, ruminating during the journey on what exactly Bill might be up to. Galloway? It was a possibility. Lillian? He doubted very much that Bill would be seeing her, but it was a worry, nonetheless. He knew, then, that Danny and he would have to make a trip to Telford themselves the next day. They’d need to visit Lillian themselves. He'd fixed a post-it note to a blank space in his brain that said ‘Ring Lillian’.
Now, as he pushed open the office door, he saw that the fax was busy churning out pages. It must be the certificates from Southport, he thought, and he raced across to collect them.
When he reached the fax, though, he saw that it was something else. He placed the pages on his desk, pausing only to take off his overcoat and shake off the rain, before sitting down to leaf through the two or three pages of the print-out. The first page – the cover note – was just a few, brief lines: ‘Just in case you didn’t get the chance’ it said, and it was signed, with a flourish, in his brother’s familiar script. The accompanying sheets were photocopies of an obituary for Jonathan Harcourt – also known as John Lawrence. Harry smiled – he’d forgotten to look this one up, and he was grateful that his brother had remembered their conversation in Madrid a few days earlier. He wondered whether it wasn’t also Alan’s way of flagging up a sort of truce between them.
Danny didn’t arrive for another half hour, by which time Harry had opened the office window and managed to disperse most of the smoke he’d created since he arrived. The coffee machine was spitting away as his young colleague dropped his bag on the floor by the desk.
“Morning, Harry!” he said, brightly. “Any sign of those certificates yet? What about that rain?” He nodded to the window.
“I suppose we’re used to it by now,” Harry said, almost philosophically. “No certificates yet. But take a look at this,” he said, handing him the newspaper obituary.
Danny took his seat, and started to scan the fax, but soon found himself engrossed in the detail. It was written by an old colleague who had worked with Harcourt in his early days on the Daily Herald. It spoke of a rare, young talent and a commitment to social justice that had led Harcourt to go to Spain. It gave excerpts from one or two of his reports filed from Madrid, and Danny could feel the power of the words carried down through the decades. “Wow!” he said, pausing from his reading for a second, “I think even I might have enlisted to fight in Spain after reading this kind of stuff!”
Harry nodded. “Yes. It’s pretty dramatic, isn’t it? I thought the same. But what a waste that he stopped writing…”
Harcourt had returned from Spain just before the start of the Second World War. He’d enlisted in the army, and had fought in various campaigns in Africa and Europe, finally in the liberation of France. The obituary recorded how, when he’d returned to England after the war, he’d married Margaret Spears, and settled in North Yorkshire. For reasons the writer couldn’t imagine, he’d decided not to return to journalism, but it was thought he might have been working on his memoirs around the time of his death, in 1982. He had been survived by his son, Dacre, a GP in Yorkshire.
“So that’s pretty definitive that Harcourt was Dacre Lawrence’s father…” Danny said, finally.
“Yes. I think Bill will confirm that with what he’s got from the union. That’s if he’s still playing ball with us, that is.”
“What do you mean?” Danny asked.
Harry told him how he’d discovered that Bill was in Telford, and how he was worried that he may be planning to see Lillian McFry.
“Of course, it could be that he’s looking for Galloway down there – but I don’t like it.”
Danny considered Harry’s news. If Bill Blunt got to see Lillian McFry, he could imagine her clamming up, feeling resentful that someone – either Harry, or he himself – had tipped off a journalist about her medals, or the link to Laurel, or the bond.
“Then, we’ve got to make sure we beat him to her!” Danny said, at last.
“My thoughts exactly. But we’ve got Laurel coming in a few minutes. Maybe you should ring Lillian and let her know we’ll be visiting her today?”
Danny nodded. Although he did wonder why, if he was an equal member of this partnership, he seemed to be getting all the difficult jobs where this case was concerned.