Saturday, 15 September 2007

Chapter 143

It wasn’t Galloway at the door. Instead, when Bill Blunt eased it open, he found a young couple, smartly dressed and looking for all the world like they might have got the wrong house.

“Is… I mean, would Mrs McFry be at home, please?” It was Dave Morris and Jane Tobias, who had arrived at their appointment a little earlier than they’d expected, and who, after some discussion in the car outside, had resolved that it could do no harm to see whether Lillian would see them then. Dave’s voice was hesitant.

Bill, who had been expecting the Telford auctioneer, was momentarily thrown off guard. Who were these people, and what was their business here?

“I’d better go and check,” he said. “Who shall I say it is?”

Dave looked at the smartly-dressed man who had opened the door to the tiny bungalow. Was he a family member, or a visitor to Vale View himself? Surely he wasn’t employed by Lillian? The place looked far too small to have any staff…

He pulled a card from inside his jacket, and flashed it to Bill.

“My name is Dave Morris, and this is Jane Tobias. We’re from the Family Health Services Counter Fraud office. Mrs McFry is expecting us.” Dave was genial in his reply, with just the right shade of officiousness added, for good measure. As Bill left them standing at the door and turned up the passageway, Dave cast a glance at Jane, who was trying to mask a smile.

“Do you think he’s the butler, Dave?” she asked, her lips hardly moving.

“Stop it, Jane!” Dave whispered, trying equally hard to suppress a smile.

Bill popped his head around the door to the lounge. “It’s a Mr Morris and a Miss Tobias, Mrs McFry. Are you expecting them?”

Lillian looked at the clock on the sideboard. It wasn’t yet noon, so they were early. “Yes, you’d better let them in, Elliot.” She wondered where Galloway was.

So did McAllistair, but he couldn’t pretend he wasn’t relieved that his unexpected meeting with the man had been delayed, however briefly. He wondered who Morris and Tobias might be, and was starting to get the uneasy feeling that the woman he had come to interview today had an agenda all of her own. What was she up to? He looked at the frail, but still lively, woman on the chair opposite him, and tried to remind himself that she must have killed many times to get the medals that the Spanish Government in Exile had felt she so richly deserved. She clearly wasn’t a woman you should underestimate.

While Bill returned to the door to collect the guests, Colin turned to Lillian.

“You seem to be very popular today, Mrs McFry!” he said.

“Yes,” she said, a little distractedly. “It’s been a while since I had so many people interested in seeing me.” She would have preferred it if Galloway had kept to schedule and felt, instinctively, that confronting McAllistair with him would open up a chapter in the life of Jonathan Harcourt she hadn’t even dreamed existed until, that was, Harry McFry visited her last week. Still, the very mention of his name had seemed to unnerve the Scotsman. It might not all be going to plan, but she was, at least, starting to enjoy herself.


The enforced silence of the rest of their journey down to Telford at least allowed Harry to mull over how best he might approach Lillian when they got there – once he’d pulled his mind back from the precipice of the unexpected return to Madrid, and all that implied.

There were a lot of loose ends he felt Lillian would be able to tie up. He’d have to let her know about the bond, of course. The man from the ministry had said she’d need her signature to redeem it. He couldn’t imagine her going to Madrid to do that. They’d have to arrange for the bond to be brought over here. Her account of Colleen’s birth and parentage would be crucial in establishing Laurel’s inheritance, even if they might require some DNA evidence from Lillian herself, to seal matters.

He looked at Laurel, now wrapped in a sulky silence as she sat at the wheel. He’d been a little sharp with her, over that Ana affair. But it really wasn’t any of her business – it wasn’t anyone’s business. Not hers, not Danny’s, not his brother’s. So what if he’d screwed things up with her? It wasn’t as if he wasn’t used to failed relationships. But enough of that, Harry - think about those loose ends!

They’d have to get across to see Dacre Lawrence, of course. Maybe later this week? That was one meeting he was looking forward to…

He wondered if Linda had managed to get those certificates through to him. What if she’d been found out? He didn’t like the idea that he might have caused her trouble.

“Hey, Danny – can I borrow your phone?” he asked, turning to his colleague in the back seat.

“Sure,” the boy said, fishing it from his pocket and passing it forward.

Harry punched in the number for Southport, and heard it connect.

“It’s me,” he said. “Everything alright?”

“Alright? What do you mean?”

“I didn’t receive the papers,” Harry said, keeping the conversation as vague as he could.

“Sorry about that. But you should have them there – I sent them ten minutes ago.” Linda didn’t sound alarmed, which reassured Harry.

“I see. I’m out of the office at the moment. Thanks for that, though. I’ll sort everything out at my end in due course.”

Linda had already seen the shoes she planned to buy with the proceeds of the transaction. “I look forward to it,” she said, lightly.

Harry rang off. It crossed his mind whether they might not double-back to collect the certificates, but they were already close to Telford. Who knew what damage Bill Blunt was doing down there? It was a no-brainer that they should carry on with their journey. Whatever bits of the story Lillian couldn’t fill out, the certificates would patch in later.

Harry’s request for the phone had stirred Danny from his day-dream. He saw they weren’t far from the junction where they would pull off the motorway.

“You’re not thinking of…” he started to say. He’d guessed who Harry was ringing.

“No. We’ll wing it, like I said. At least we know they’re waiting for us, when we need them.”

Laurel slowed as they approached the exit.

“A few more directions from here on in, please. I believe this place is a nightmare for roundabouts.”


Across the Pennines, Mabel Harris was wondering what to do. Her instinct was to ring Dave Morris with the news, but she was feeling a little shell-shocked. It wasn’t every day that the police turned up at the Health Centre and asked if she minded helping them with a few questions. After they’d left, seemingly satisfied with her answers, she’d sat quietly in the still of her office for a few minutes. A pale sun filtering through the office blinds, even with the weak heat thrown out from a radiator by the window, was no match for the chill she felt. Outside, she heard whispered voices in the corridor, and imagined other staff wondering what the visit by the police was all about. She’d marked today as a quiet one, no meetings scheduled – just an oasis of time for her to work through some of the mountain of paper on her desk. Budget reports to examine. Staff rotas to manipulate. Maybe a visit to see Dr Lawrence at the hospital. She certainly hadn’t expected this shocking intrusion. Not at all.

If she rang Morris, there would be even more questions. He hadn’t even acknowledged her fax, yesterday. The police had been very interested in her regular visits to see Dr Lawrence, and why she’d asked for his key on Sunday night. She hadn’t mentioned about the certificates. It wasn’t so unusual, surely, that she should help out her employer by collecting some nightwear for him?

Maybe she should tell the rest of the staff, first? She wondered what they were thinking. It might be anything – a death in her family, perhaps? She smiled, wryly. No more visits to the hospital for her, then.

1 comment:

70steen said...

Great distraction during a coffee break in between Saturday domestic chores .... waytogo Tom!!