Friday, 31 August 2007

Chapter 136

Laurel McFry arrived at Harry’s office just as the Town Hall clock was chiming ten. Danny opened the door as he heard her heels clipping across the floor in the hallway, Harry having nodded his assent to show her in. The room was at least (relatively) smoke free, Danny thought.

She unbuttoned a stylish red overcoat and handed it to Danny, who shook it gently before hanging it on the hook near the door. She moved to take the seat Danny had just vacated, composing herself elegantly as she surveyed the room. She saw the flip chart, and Harry watched her as her speedy glance tried to assimilate it’s contents.

“How was the conference?” she asked, with just a suggestion of raised eyebrow. Harry looked surprised.
“The conference?”
“Yes,” she replied. “Weren’t you were attending a conference on forensic genealogy in Madrid?”

Harry was momentarily stunned, having forgotten all about his supposed ‘cover’ for the trip to Spain: Laurel was a smarter cookie than he’d thought. Maybe it was time to come clean. He wondered how he could best broach the subject, and how much he should tell her straight off.
“Look, Laurel,” he said, not daring to look her in the eye, “I may as well tell you now – there was no conference.”
Laurel tried to look shocked. “Really? Then I don’t expect you’ll be billing me for the flights…”
Harry smiled. “OK!” he exclaimed, gently. “I think we both know I’ll be billing you for more than the cost of a couple of air tickets. Your missing family has proved to be more complicated than just a stray census record.” Danny had pulled up a chair from the wall, and was watching the discussion. He’d wondered himself how Harry was going to play it with Lauren, but they hadn’t had much time to plot the meeting.

It was Laurel’s turn to smile. “Forgive me if I don’t look surprised,” she said.
Harry shuffled the papers on the desk in front of him. “You know – this whole case has been trickier than any of us could have imagined. If I was a solicitor, I would have had the sense to negotiate a ‘no win, no fee’ position.” He watched for a reaction. “And a thirty per cent cut of the winnings.”
“Yes,” Laurel said, enjoying the discussion, “that would have been the smart thing to do. But a deal’s a deal, wouldn’t you say?” She glanced at Danny. “And what about you, Mr Longhurst? Is that how you would have played it?”

Danny blushed. He remembered his own negotiations with Lauren when she’d first asked him to find her missing family – way before Harry was involved. He’d failed to come up with the goods, and had called Harry in for assistance. But Laurel had paid him his modest fee, anyway.
“In retrospect, I guess,” he said.

Harry knew it was time to stop the small-talk and to start sharing their findings with Laurel.
“Just supposing I told you we’d found your grandmother, Laurel. What would you say to that?”
Laurel looked stunned. “Found?” she asked. “Found, where?”
In her mind, she imagined a census reference, or a copy of a birth certificate. Harry was still fumbling with the pile of papers on the desk in front of him. ‘Here goes…’ he thought.
“Found her alive,” he said, his eyes now lifted to hers.

Danny watched in a mixture of shock and awe at Harry’s revelation. He hoped he knew what Harry was playing at, as he saw Laurel’s eyes widen in surprise.
“My grandmother? Alive?” Laurel exclaimed. “I don’t understand! I thought I was coming here this morning to find out about the bond. I think you have some explaining to do!” Laurel had crossed her legs and arms, everything about her screaming a defensiveness Harry hadn’t anticipated. He saw the look of anxiety on Danny’s face, and wondered whether he might have been better warning him how he’d planned, all along, to confront Laurel with the news of her ancestry.

“Yes, your grandmother. Alive and well and living in Shropshire,” Harry said, finally. “For the avoidance of doubt,” he added “I mean your mother’s mother. Colleen’s mother was someone called Lillian McFry – or rather, Lillian Blythe. She was born in 1904, and is still alive.”

He waited, while Laurel processed the news. He saw Danny relaxing a little, like it might be a relief that the news was out, even if it might make maters more complicated as regards the boy’s working relationship with Lillian.
Laurel’s mind was racing. From being all alone in the world, without a living relative to her name, she felt the sudden joy of knowing she might be connected to someone else - a living, breathing link to her past – someone who could answer all the unanswered questions she had about her family.

“I don’t understand!” she exclaimed, just a little breathless with anticipation. “I never knew about her. Nobody every told me about a grandmother. Are you sure, Harry?”
Harry tipped his chair back and smiled. “I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life. Here…” he said, handing her Ana’s fax. “I think you’ll find this makes interesting reading, too.”

Laurel saw the note penned by Ana, but discretely turned the page as if to say she didn’t really need to know what the sender thought of the recipient. But she saw that the country code of the telephone number the fax had come from, and recognised it as Spain.

Harry waited a moment or two while Laurel read the DNA analysis, Danny watching her face all the while for a reaction.
“I think we’ve forgotten something, don’t you, Danny?” Harry said. Danny pursed his brow, while Laurel merely glanced up a second before returning to the report.
“Coffee. Times three, if you don’t mind,” Harry said. “On second thoughts – I’ll sort that out. But if you would, perhaps you can pop down to see if Mrs Shipman’s back yet? This case is going nowhere until we know she’s back in Birkenhead.”


Danny found Harry in the small kitchen up the corridor from his office. “She’s back, Harry…” he told him. Harry was filling the coffee jug, and pulled three mugs from the cupboard before turning to Danny.

“Then it looks like everything’s going to plan!” he said. “Here – take these through and organize the coffee, if you don’t mind. I’d better go see Ma Shipman.” With that, he disappeared down the corridor, leaving Danny to negotiate his way back into the office, with the jug and the mugs.
As he turned the handle with his elbow, he found Laurel leafing through the flip chart pages.

She turned as she heard him come in.

“Well, Mr Longhurst – I can see you two have been busy this week!”
Danny nodded, and smiled. “You could put it that way.”
“Well, don’t you worry: if what Harry told me about this mysterious bond is true, I’ll make sure you’re both well rewarded for your efforts – but please…” she said, archly, “don’t mention it to Harry. He looks kind of cute when he’s anxious, don’t you think?” And she winked at Danny.

She crossed to take her seat again, lifting the fax from the desk. “Who’s Ana?” she asked.
‘Here we go again!’ Danny thought, as he poured the water into the coffee machine, his back to her now.
“Just a friend of Harry’s,” he said, perhaps a little unconvincingly. Laurel could sense his discomfort, even though she couldn’t see his face.
“Hmmm... quite a useful friend, by the looks of things. Even if she seems to have an ‘interesting’ view of him. You know, I get the impression your trip to Madrid must have been quite an adventure!”
Danny turned to her. “Not the kind of adventure I’d want to repeat in a hurry,” he said, leaving her to read between the lines.

Harry came back into the room just then.
“Adventure?” he asked, with a grin.
Laurel was composed. “Oh, we were just … chatting. Now, Mr McFry. I’ve read this report. But I think I need your help in interpreting it. And I’m not referring to the cover page…”

Harry moved to sit behind the desk, ignoring her last comment.
“OK. Before we went to Madrid we took a sample of your hair.”
Laurel’s eyes widened. “From your hairbrush. Yes, I know we should have asked, but I think you’ll understand why we didn’t when you’ve heard me out. But first of all, I want you to look at these…” Harry reached into his trouser pocket and pulled out the three medals that belonged to Lillian. He placed them on the desk in front of Laurel.
“These are the medals Mr Blunt mentioned, I take it?” she asked, before continuing “The one’s Danny said he knew nothing about?”

Danny had set the machine to make the coffee, and had sat himself down to watch the proceedings. He couldn’t help but admire Laurel’s style, even if he would have preferred if his botched attempt at deception hadn’t figured in the discussion.
Harry took the comment on the chin, for both of them. “Yes. We couldn’t let you know about them at that stage, because Danny had been employed by Lillian McFry to find you, and to give the medals to you. But she’d said she didn’t want you to know who they were from.”
Laurel considered this latest snippet. “So you’re saying that Lillian – my grandmother – didn’t want me to know about her?”
It wasn’t the nicest news to learn. Not when you’d just discovered a blood relative you never knew about. Harry looked for some spin.
“She had her reasons, I’m sure, Laurel. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t out of any sense of malice. When you hear about her life, I think you’ll understand.”

Would she, though? Harry was pinning his hopes on something he couldn’t really be sure of, and knew the risk he was taking in breaking the news to her. He was hoping, too, that Lillian McFry would understand his brokerage role. If she didn’t, there’d be a lot of egg on his face, and maybe even blood on the carpet. He’d have to deal with that one later…

“Would you like to meet her?”
“I imagine that rather depends on whether she’d like to meet me!” Laurel replied, and she looked at Harry as if she thought he might not know the answer to that one.
Danny, too, was more than intrigued. He wondered what Harry had up his sleeve, but he was also wondering about the medals.

“Where did you hide them, Harry?” he asked, pointing at them.
Harry shrugged. “Hide them? It wasn’t a case of hiding them. Let’s just say I put them in safe-keeping.” But Danny was ahead of him.
“Safe-keeping? You mean Mrs Shipman, don’t you?”
The discussion was lost on Laurel, who was looking at the three pieces of be-ribboned metal more closely now.
Harry laughed. “Yes. Let’s face it, could you think of a safer place?”
Danny smiled back. “Not in a hundred years.”


70steen said...

I sat down with a sandwich and a cuppa (in the middle of domestic goddess stuff) and there was Harry... what a pleasant lunch break and great chapter

the domestic minx said...

And it has been a charming end to my day...
I am enthralled.
Bring it on!!!


Theresa111 said...

Wonderful chapter, Thomas! I didn't want it to end.

Lord Likely said...

I shall be greatly saddened when we reach the end, sir.

Excellent work, my man.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thanks, everyone. I seem to be getting my second wind.

But hey - who said anything about the story ending just yet?

We haven't visited Bayonne yet!

Kind Regards