Sunday, 16 September 2007

Chapter 144

Dave Morris and his colleague made their way past Bill Blunt, who closed the door behind them - pausing only to check whether Cyril Galloway might not be making his way up the path. As he pushed the door shut, he thought he saw a curtain twitch in the bungalow opposite. It was that kind of area, he realised: the comings and goings at neighbours’ doors would be the source of hours of speculation for residents in the close. Fine details, such as whether Mrs S had her windows open, or the absence of a car outside of Mr C’s house, would be used to spin vague hypotheses as to their whereabouts, or even their state of health. Fevered imaginations would doubtless be at work trying to establish why so many people were visiting No 28. Lillian probably engaged in the same exercise, he thought – it probably passed as entertainment, hereabouts.

Dave followed Jane up the passageway, wondering quite what to expect. If he imagined he’d find a frail old lady, he wasn’t disappointed, but as Lillian McFry rose to greet them, he saw she was livelier than he expected for someone her age: certainly no invalid. He’d read her medical records – why wouldn’t he have, as preparation for their interview, since Dacre Lawrence had not only accessed them, but had also carefully kept a print out in his desk papers? He knew, then, more about Lillian than she might have supposed. He wondered who the man sitting in the armchair opposite her was.

Jane Tobias scanned the room with a practiced eye as she entered it, her glance catching first of all the most unusual feature – the video camera standing in the window - then taking in McAllistair, the bunch of petrol station flowers and the photographs on the sideboard, before returning to Lillian.

Dave introduced himself and Jane to Lillian who, in turn, felt she had better explain who her other guests were.

“This is Mr McAllistair, from London, and his colleague Mr Blunt. They are making a television programme about me. Isn’t that exciting?”

“It’s a documentary we’re planning,” Colin said, having risen to his feet, “about the Spanish Civil War.”

“Fascinating. I hope we’re not intruding?” Dave asked, more to Colin than to Lillian.

Lillian was quick to respond, however: “Not in the slightest. I am sure Mr McAllistair won’t object if we deviate from his subject just a little. I know you have important business here, Mr Morris. Your secretary explained why you needed to see me. Please, feel free to proceed. I have no secrets from anyone.”

Bill Blunt, hovering at the lounge door, couldn’t help but feel these last words were some of the most unconvincing the old woman had ever uttered in her life. He wondered if she believed them herself.

“Now,” Lillian continued, as she settled back into her armchair. “Perhaps, Elliot, you would be so kind as to bring two chairs from the kitchen, for our guests?”

Bill disappeared on his errand. While he was in the kitchen, he anticipated what his next duty might be by flicking the switch on the kettle. He glanced at the cups on the table, and saw that there were five still left there. As he picked up the chairs, he wondered who the three additional guests Lillian was obviously expecting might be…

“Here you are,” he said, as he positioned the chairs as best he could in a room that already seemed crowded. Perhaps Lillian should have hired a hall for today, he thought, with a wry smile. The visitors took their seats, which were beside each other and, Jane noticed, probably only slightly ‘on-camera’.

“I’ll sort the tea out, Mrs McFry,” Bill said, returning back to the kitchen.

Lillian smiled, graciously. “Your Elliot is such a dear, Mr McAllistair! Perhaps we should dispense with all this formality, though. From now on, please call me Lillian. And I shall call you Colin… and…?” She turned from McAllistair to Morris.

“Dave. And this is Jane.” Jane started to relax, placing her handbag on the floor beside her chair.

“Good! Well, while we are waiting for the tea, perhaps you could tell me why you needed to see me so urgently, David?”

Dave Morris opened a briefcase he had carried from the car, and pulled out a file.

“It’s about Dr Lawrence, Lillian. I work in a national office that’s responsible for monitoring and investigating GPs.”

Colin McAllistair looked puzzled. How did this Dr Lawrence fit into the story – if at all? In the kitchen, Bill busied himself with the tea, one ear to the discussions in the lounge. He, too, wondered whether, and how, Lawrence would figure in matters. He filled the kettle after he’d emptied it into the teapot, and re-arranged the biscuits on the plate, as Dave continued his explanation.

“We suspect, from a diary entry we found at his office, that Dr Lawrence came to see you just last week. Is that correct?”

Lillian nodded. “Yes. But Dacre Lawrence never said anything about being a doctor. He said he was connected to a museum, and wanted to discuss the sale of my medals.”

Jane Tobias was considering whether impersonation was an additional misdemeanour they could tag Lawrence with. For McAllistair, meanwhile, the mention of the medals caught his attention – as it did Bill’s, even as he lifted the tray and prepared to enter the room.

“What medals are these, Lillian?” Dave asked.

As they waited for her response, a couple of car doors slammed in the street outside, and Jane saw three figures beginning to walk up the path, their figure just about distinguishable through the net curtains across the window.

“Looks like you have more visitors, Lillian. Are you expecting anyone?” she asked, before Dave’s question was answered.

Lillian McFry replied slowly and surely: “Oh, yes! There are a lot of people interested in my medals. This must be Harry McFry and his friends. I do wonder what’s happened to Mr Galloway, though. He’s late.”

Bill Blunt was about to enter the room with the tea, when he heard the doorbell ring. With an air of resignation, he took it back to the kitchen, and flicked the kettle on again, ready for what he realised would be another pot of tea that would have to be made. “I’ll get it!” he shouted, as he straightened his tie. Well, if he was playing the part of Lillian’s servant, he might as well look smart when he answered the door.


70steen said...

There'll be standing room only soon ..... can't wait to see this web of intrigue and deception unravel :-)

Anonymous said...

I hope that everyone is going to remember who they are supposed to be. Is Harry still Danny's father? How is Bill going to explain his new name to Harry?
This is excellent reading, TH

Monica said...

Romping to a brilliant finish! The writing's just getting better and better. I'm enjoying this so much - can't wait for the next chapter.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thank you, 70steen and stumped!

Never mind Harry - I think I'm going to have my work cut out remembering who is Ana, Elliot, Laurel and Bill in this one!

Kind Regards


Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thanks, too, Monica!

Anonymous said...

Harry told Lillian he wasn't Danny's Dad in Chapter 63.
I'm reading the whole story again from the beginning.

Simon Abdoredah said...

I had a day off toad today, and spent all day (more or less) reading the entire McFry saga to date in one hit (comments and all).
Absolutely enthralling.
I much prefer the style in the later chapters to the earlier, pastiche, which was well enough observed, but I always find those ‘clever’ similes a barrier to the flow, rather than the wealth of superb imagery that you are able to conjure up at will.
I’m astonished (and delighted) that you can write such a convoluted plot in an incremental way like this, rather than having the whole thing plotted out from the start.
Now I have to join the host of your other readers eagerly awaiting your next instalment.
(I love the contrast of Birkenhead with Madrid - the paseo occurs in Birkenhead, too, but they were all wearing hoodies last time I kept away from it.)

Enumerator said...

The pace is hotting up!

I'm sure you've had a good giggle working through the scenarios, but no doubt a bit of a headache deciding on the right combination.

Very much looking forward to Lillian's Poirot moment, but dreading the end because it will be the end.

Thomas Hamburger Jnr said...

Thanks for joining the readership, simon - and for your thoughtful comments.

Yes, the first four chapters or so are certainly the ones I would like to re-write most. As the whole Harry story started out as something of a spoof, the language is far too derivitive and will benefit from a thorough overhaul.

But first, I guess I've got to drive this all to a satisfactory conclusion!

I'm dreading the end too, Enumerator! It always seems 'just 2 or 3 chapters' away from where I sit!

Lord Likely said...

What a wicked web you weave, sir!