Colin McAllistair arrived at reception looking flustered, but a little tidier, at least, than he’d appeared to Bill Blunt just twenty minutes earlier. He found Bill sitting in one of the two small seats wedged against the wall in the tiny foyer, leafing through a tabloid newspaper. He’d showered and shaved, and taken a couple of couple of aspirin and four or five glasses of water. His headache had started to lift, but not to the extent that the piped musak in the room didn’t jar on his ears as he pushed open the door and hauled his hold-all through.
Bill Blunt caught him out of the corner of his eye and folded the paper away, leaving it on his seat as he stood up.
“Better, Mr McAllistair. Much better!” But he was looking at the historian’s suit.
“It’s linen. It’s meant to be like this,,,” Colin said, by way of some weak explanation.
“I see. Well, it will pass muster, I’m sure. The good news is, I’ve asked someone about breakfast, and there’s somewhere in the centre of town we can go. Here,” he said, reaching out his hand, “give me your bag. Drop your key off and I’ll take this out to the car.”
Colin had the impression he was being organized, but he was happy enough to be reminded not to walk away without leaving his room key. He dug it out of his pocket and dropped it onto the counter, while Bill carried his bag to his car.
As he walked out to the car park, McAllistair reflected what a friend Bill Blunt was turning out to be. It would be useful to be ferried to Lillian’s and, from what he recalled from last night, the journalist already knew quite a few things about Lillian McFry’s story that might help lever out a different aspect to the documentary he planned. He’d have to re-assert himself at some point, though – remind Bill that he, Colin, was in charge here: the programme would have to take priority.
Bill was already at the wheel, and as he belted himself in the seat beside him, Colin noticed a folder on the dashboard. Catching his glance at it, Bill said “Take a look. You might find it useful,” and he pulled the car slowly onto the main road.
The first few pages were certainly interesting! They included a few of Bill’s notes, and copies of Jonathan Harcourt’s NUJ records, from which it was clear that he was actually called John Lawrence. Plus, the obituary, which had been sent through to Bill by the union archivist, along with his membership records. Colin scanned it quickly, the only pertinent fact he wanted to find not immediately obvious. “This is helpful, Bill – thanks!” he said adding, not quite as nonchalantly as he’d hoped “Do you happen to know when the obituary was written?”
Bill Blunt wondered why he might want to know this, but didn’t think it wise to question Colin. “No – but it’ll be at the end. Here – let me take a look.” And he snatched the sheet from Colin, navigating the traffic now with one hand, and only half an eye on the road. The final paragraph, which had the date of his death, was blurred, a victim of the faxing process.
“Hmm – can’t read it. Looks like 1980-something, to me. Here, though – it says he was working on his memoirs at the time of his death. Wonder what happened to them?”
Colin went pale. If Harcourt had indeed been working on his life history, he hoped he hadn’t mentioned the sale of his medals by a young student who had interviewed him just before his death. ‘Wonder what happened to them’, indeed!
“Here we are!” Bill said, pulling up outside a pub. “This should do us nicely.” For the next half hour, the two of them enjoyed a hearty breakfast, and Colin relaxed a little so that he’d almost forgotten about what Harcourt’s memoirs might have said, or where they might be located. They’d be seeing Lillian within the hour, and he knew she’d know more about his time in Spain than anyone else living, or dead.
Lillian was sitting in her lounge when the telephone rang. It was Danny Longhurst. Harry had walked Laurel down to her car, leaving his colleague in peace to make this most delicate of calls. “Ah … I’ve been expecting to hear from you,” she told him, warmly. “I hope it’s to tell me that you’ve found a way to get the medals to Laurel?”
Well, it was true: Laurel had the medals so, technically, his commission was done.
“Yes. She’s got them now, Mrs Blyth,” he told her. But Lillian froze, as he said this.
“I see,” she said. Danny picked up the change in her tone. “So she knows all about me now?”
Danny was perplexed. Why would Lillian think this?
“No!” he exclaimed, fearful that he’d (somehow) accidentally undermined Harry’s plan for the day. “Not at all.” He knew he wasn’t very good at lying, and changed tack.
“Look – would it be difficult if we came to see you today?”
Lillian considered the question. McAllistair, Galloway and that man from Cardiff were already expected. Now, it seemed, Danny Longhurst and Harry McFry would be coming, too. “Please do. What’s an extra couple of people at the party? What time shall I expect you?”
“Well, we were thinking of setting off shortly.” He paused a second, bracing himself for the next lie. “Harry was wondering whether we could bring an assistant along with us?”
“An assistant? Are you sure it isn’t your brother, Mr Longhurst? Or maybe Harry’s?” Lillian didn’t often get the chance to deploy sarcasm these days, but she enjoyed it when she could.
Danny winced. “Certainly not! She’s just joined the firm. Her name’s…” (and he struggled to think of something suitable, here) …”Ana,” he said, finally (and stupidly, he later thought).
“That’s a nice name. Yes, bring her along with you, if you like, why don’t you? I’m sure I’ll have enough cups. Although I’m starting to wonder whether perhaps I shouldn’t have brought some caterers in.”
As she rang off, Lillian was wondering at Danny’s little slip of the tongue. Harry and he had obviously been doing a little digging into her own history, she knew: why else had he called her Mrs Blyth? Well, at least by the time the day was out she’d know what they’d been up to – and, who knows: maybe they’d found out a little more about Jonathan, along the way…