Saturday, 1 September 2007

Chapter 137

Harry knew they wouldn’t have time to properly explain their findings to Laurel. He was still worried about Bill Blunt, and what exactly he might be up to in Telford that day. But he could give her a flavour of them and, hopefully, enlist her help for the next stage in the proceedings. He’d give her the basics – enough to make her realize why she needed to meet Lillian if they were to ever get the full picture.

Danny was pouring the coffee, now, while Laurel had picked up the medals and was examining them more closely. Harry checked his watch discretely, and saw it was already 10.30am. Still no sign of the certificates he was expecting. He wondered if something might have gone wrong at Southport

“So, these are mine, now?” Laurel asked, eventually.

“Yes. They’re quite valuable, as there were only ever two sets issued. What do you know about the Spanish Civil War?”

Laurel shook her head: “Not a great deal. Why?”

“I think you may know a little more before the day’s out, that’s all,” Harry replied. “Look, Laurel, I’m going to be straight with you: I’m worried that Bill Blunt may be onto this story. I don’t particularly want to see it plastered over this week’s Birkenhead Beagle – and I don’t expect you do, either. He’s in Telford right now.”

Telford?” Laurel asked, as Danny handed her drink across to her.

“Telford’s where Lillian lives, Laurel,” Danny said, as he passed Harry his drink, too.

“And we can’t be sure what he knows, I’m afraid,” Harry continued. “I can appreciate you must think we’ve been holding stuff back from you, but I hope you realize the predicament we’ve been in.”

Laurel looked at Harry and noticed that he hadn’t shaved that morning. It gave him a certain roguish charm, and he reminded her of a Mexican bandit from a TV movie.

“I think I’m getting a sense of how you’ve been operating, Mr McFry,” she said. “I imagine it’s quite difficult playing your pipe to two paymasters. But you seem to have mastered the art quite nicely.”

Harry caught the slightest whiff of sarcasm, like it was cordite from a gun that had just been fired.

“Deceiving someone’s never pleasant,” Harry said, by way of some sort of atonement, “but sometimes, it’s the only option.” Harry wasn’t sure he even believed that line, but thought he’d delivered it convincingly enough. “And I’m afraid I’m going to have to ask you to practice a little deception yourself today, if you don’t mind…” he’d said, tailing off as he checked her reaction.

“Deception? What do you mean?”

“We need to arrange to see Lillian McFry today – just in case Bill Blunt is onto her. And I’d like you to accompany us.”

He waited to see what she said.

“You mean undercover?”

“That’s exactly what I mean. Let’s say you agree to being our assistant for the day. It would at least give you a chance to meet Lillian – your grandmother. And, depending on how it pans out, we may get the chance to introduce you. Properly, I mean.”

Laurel thought for a second or two, as her fingers played with the stiff material of the ribbon of the largest of the three medals.

“I see,” she said, finally replacing the medal beside the others. “So you want my first meeting with a grandmother I never knew to be framed by deceit?”

Laurel – she’s 102 years old,” Harry said, slowly. “It could be, given time, we could persuade her to meet you. But how much time does a woman of that age have, do you think?”

She could see what he was saying. Lillian wasn’t likely to agree to meet up with her, and could even be angry if she knew Danny and Harry had betrayed her confidence. It sounded as though playing it by ear was the best bet.

When it came, her reply was firm. “OK, Harry. I’ll do it. But only on two conditions. I want you to tell me everything you know on the journey down to Telford. And I mean the bond, the medals, Mr Blunt, the DNA tests. Everything.”

Harry nodded. She was making it clear that she was the one paying the piper here. It wouldn’t do them any harm to go through the story again, anyway, and it would be good preparation for the meeting with Lillian.

“It’s a deal. But you said ‘two conditions’…”

“You’ll have to let me go home to change,” she said, with a nod to her red overcoat, hanging by the door.

“If I’m to meet my grandmother for the first time, I’d rather not look like a character from a children’s fairy tale – especially one that might be a wolf, in disguise.”

Harry and Danny both smiled, but neither of them was quite sure whether it was the relief that Laurel had agreed to join them, or the sharpness of her joke, that had caused the smiles. Now all they had to do was engineer the trip to see Lillian. Harry noticed Danny psyching himself up for the call, even as he threw another sideways glance at the fax machine, stubbornly still and silent as it sat on the filing cabinet, against the wall.

*

As they left Cardiff en route for Telford, Dave Morris and Jane Tobias were discussing what they had on Dacre Lawrence. And they – or at least Dave – was starting to feel less confident than he had just last week.

The previous afternoon, they’d taken a call from Mabel Harris at the Chapter Road Health Centre. She had, she explained, some information which she felt might be relevant to their enquiries. Could she fax it through to him? When it arrived, about ten minutes later, Dave had called Jane into his office.

“Take a look at these…” he’d said, handing her a sheaf of papers, all copies of births, deaths and marriage certificates.

As she’d leafed through them, Jane had sighed. “Wish I’d done that family history course at night class now!” she’d exclaimed. “How are we expected to make sense of all this?”

Dave had smiled at this. “I know what you mean. Mabel Harris pulled them from Lawrence’s study. Said she thought they might be important. The thing is, they probably are, if we had the time and the ability to put it all together.”

Jane had looked at him. Neither of them really understood the first thing about genealogy – it wasn’t something that had featured much in their training, after all. “So what should we do with them?”

Dave’s shrug had spoken volumes: “We’ll just have to keep it on file, for now. Maybe there’s someone in the office who knows a bit about family history. It’s possible we’ll need it to stack a case up against Lawrence.”

As they headed, now, towards Shropshire, Jane was at the wheel while Dave was leafing through his notes, trying to suppress a feeling of anxiety that had troubled him since he woke up that day.

“You know, I think Tom’s right. This could end up as small beer,” he said. “He’s going to love us if all we can establish is that Lawrence spent a couple of grand of his practice budget paying some computer nerd to tinker with a database.”

Jane had been thinking about this, too. Tom Gauntless might even enjoy their failure.

“You’re missing the point, Dave,” she said. “It’s not just about money. I know he wants us to show all that investment in the project has been worth it, but there are principles involved here, too.”

They turned onto a motorway, slowing as the rush-hour traffic laboured along.

“Look at it this way. We design a national patient record system to make it easier for GPs to access records when patients transfer practices, for instance. Not to allow them to pursue a hobby...”

Morris looked more alarmed than ever. “Is that what you think this is about? A GP abusing his position to further his interest in family history?”

As the car in front came to a halt, and she slowed and applied the handbrake, she turned to him. “You didn’t let me finish. Remember, we’ve both got a gut instinct that there’s more behind this than a doctor with an interest in genealogy. This woman we’re going to see now – I suspect she’s the key to it all.”

“I hope you’re right, Jane. Otherwise it’s going to look like we’ve wasted more than a bit of time. I just wish we had something more tangible than Lawrence paying to have a few census images altered.”

“Stay cool, Dave!” Jane said, as the cars started to move again. “At least we get a day out in Telford. And, if I know old ladies like I think I do, I suspect we’re in for a treat.”

“A treat? What kind of a treat?” Dave asked, even as he appreciated his colleague trying to lift his spirits.

“Oh, well - my money’s on a slice of Battenberg!”

6 comments:

70steen said...

A chapter of Harry for breakfast along with a couple of buttermilk pancakes drizzled in acacia honey and a cup of Earl Grey... great start to a Sunday

Monica said...

And so all the strands are woven together...

Can't wait for Lillian's day as master of ceremonies!

This just gets better and better. That holiday obviously did you good.

Stumped said...

Much more likely to be a bourbon biscuit!
I hope you're going to put up a family tree at the end. I'm getting confused

Jackie said...

I award you the "Creative Blogger Award". See details on my blog. http://thevegandiet.blogspot.com/

I trying to catch up with your posts after my holiday but you appear to write faster than I read LOL

Lord Likely said...

Battenberg! What a delicious way to conclude another delicious chapter, sir.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Hmm, all this talk of buttermilk pancakes, bourbon biscuits and battenberg cake is making me hungry!

Thank you, 70steen, monica, stumped, lord likely and jackie!

I'm very flattered byt he Creative Blogger Award, too!