While Bill was busy in the kitchen, Colin set his camera onto the tripod and positioned it in front of the window, where it was half-hidden by the foliage of the huge aspidistra that sat on a table there. He switched it on, and framed the armchair where he imagined Lillian must sit. Then, he panned the camera across the room, lingering on the faded photographs on the sideboard, before returning it to re-frame the chair.
As he waited for Lillian to return, he wondered who the other guest she was expecting might be, and how much time they’d actually have with Lillian. Bill Blunt had certainly executed his role with charm and poise. He looked again at the photographs, and saw how beautiful Lillian had been when she was younger. There was a certain fieriness in her eyes, a passion that he knew must have been behind her decision to fight in Spain. Not many women had gone there from England; still fewer had been decorated as conspicuously as she. The thought of her medals caused a shudder to run through him, as he wondered how much he’d have to reveal of his own role in selling Jonathan Harcourt’s all those years ago. If confession is good for the soul, then his own had felt much less tormented since he’d admitted his tawdry actions to Harry McFry. He considered whether he wasn’t just here to interview Lillian – whether, in fact, something had driven him to visit her so that he could further unburden himself, and salve his conscience that little bit more? It was possible.
Just then, Lillian re-appeared. She was carrying the flowers, in a cut glass vase, and as she placed them on the sideboard he noticed that she had changed. She was wearing a pink dress and cardigan, and her hair seemed a little softer. As she turned to face him, she caught his glance.
“I thought, perhaps, that if you were recording me for posterity, I had better make an effort,” she said, by way of explanation.
“Oh, this is just what you would call a rough, working recording, Mrs McFry. The proper interview will be done in a studio,” Colin replied, hastily.
She stared at him. “Mr McAllistair: when you reach my age, you have to consider the possibility that every appearance in front of a camera may well be your last one. So, please forgive me if I appear vain. Now, where’s that tea?”
Bill shuffled into the room carrying the tray as she said this. He saw how embarrassed Colin looked.
“Here it is!” he said, placing the tray on the side-table. “I say, Mrs McFry – that’s a very fetching outfit. And perfect for the recording, if you don’t mind me saying so!”
Lillian smiled. Someone who understood the common courtesies of life, at least! She remembered how McAllistair hadn’t even introduced himself when he’d presented himself at her door, despite the fact that they’d only ever spoken on the telephone. She’d let that pass, at the time. At least this Elliot Blunt character had much more of an idea of how things should be done.
“Now,” Bill said, smiling back to her. “Shall you be mother?”
“Yes, thank you, Mr Blunt. Although you’ll understand if I tell you that it’s not a role I’ve had much practice at.”
As she poured their drinks, Bill couldn’t help but wonder whether the tragedy, the forlornness, of Lillian Blyth’s life wasn’t perhaps perfectly captured in the essence of her reply.
“I meant to ask you, Harry. Who’s Ana?”
The question took Harry by surprise. Then, he remembered Laurel had seen the fax cover sheet, and knew she must have wondered at the tone (not to mention the language) of Ana’s hastily-scribbled note.
Danny (thankfully) had managed to tune out of the conversation. He was watching the countryside speeding by outside. He’d got to thinking of Lillian’s role in Spain, and how it must have been for a young woman to be swept up in the excitement of a civil war – and to meet people like George Orwell, for goodness sake! He was spared, then, Harry’s discomfort.
“A former girlfriend,” Harry said. “She lives in Madrid. She was helpful in sorting out a meeting with the official from the Ministry, about the bond.”
“I see,” Laurel said. “But she still thinks a lot about you?”
“What makes you say that?”
Laurel could see that Harry wasn’t comfortable discussing Ana, but it made her even more interested.
“The note she sent you with the DNA results. If you don’t mind me saying so, it was quite – is the word ‘terse’?”
Harry felt cornered. “Well, we meant a lot to each other, once. But I made a mistake, thought I could re-kindle something that must have died years ago.”
“Are you sure of that? In my experience, someone who expresses themselves… well, someone who can find themself using the emotion of hate could equally be masking other feelings…”
Harry hadn’t anticipated being chauffeured to Telford by an agony aunt. The whole idea of dragging up Ana, when he’d spent the last 24 hours trying to rid himself of all thoughts of her, was not one that appealed.
“I’d rather not go there just now, if you don’t mind,” he said, adding, perhaps a little pointedly, “Ana”.
“I see. Then I won’t mention anything more about her,” ‘Ana’ said.
The rest of their journey passed in silence.