Tuesday, 9 October 2007

Chapter 150

While Harry and Laurel had been cooking up a way to neutralise Bill Blunt, Lillian was continuing the account of her life. Before her guests had arrived, she’d been clear in her mind what she’d say – and what she wouldn’t say – about Jonathan, the McFry brothers and her subsequent life in Telford. She hadn’t expected Harry’s question about who she thought Colleen’s father was, and it had un-nerved her more than a little. She also realised, with some anxiety, that she couldn’t recall precisely how much she’d told Harry and Danny when they’d visited her last week. She wished, now, she’d made some notes. It was one thing to decide to tell your story; quite another to be forced to reveal those parts of it you didn’t think anyone needed to know. What if she accidentally gave something away?

She’d been surprised at all these ‘plus ones’ who’d turned up, too. Elliot Blunt seemed harmless enough, but why on earth Harry and Danny had needed to bring along an assistant, she couldn’t work out. And those visitors from Cardiff looked like they hadn’t a clue why they were being forced to listen to her life story. Meanwhile, she was conscious that her real prey, Cyril Galloway, hadn’t materialised. She’d felt confident of her safety so long as her guests were there, but what if he arrived after they’d gone?

All of these thoughts were conspiring to make Lillian feel uneasy, and sat awkwardly in the corner of her mind as she moved on with her account.


With Bill Blunt effectively neutralised, even if he didn’t know it, Harry felt more relaxed returning to the lounge with Laurel. Lillian turned to them as they entered, but didn’t interrupt her flow. They slipped to their seats with the practised ease of habitual latecomers to a film, Harry noticing that Dave Morris was looking even less comfortable with himself than before they’d left – if that were possible. He might have been wondering whether his trip to Telford had been a waste of time, and seemed to be struggling to make sense of the plot. Here was one member of the audience Harry wouldn’t be asking to bring him up to speed with Lillian’s story, then.

Bill had glanced up as Harry and Laurel returned from the kitchen. There was something about Harry’s beautiful assistant that was … well, rather familiar… but he just couldn’t put his finger on it right now. He’d guessed they’d been up to something out in the garden, as he knew even Harry didn’t need a smoke every ten minutes.

“So, you see, I didn’t really have any choice,” Lillian was saying. “We never did marry, in the end.” She looked tired, Harry saw. Not for the first time, he reflected on what an undertaking this was for her. Maybe she’d raked over the embers of the McFry family plenty of times on the evenings she’d sat alone in this very room, but doing it in front of an audience – even one she’d assembled herself – was a different matter.

Lillian had been relating how she’d come to live with Thomas McFry, and had explained, Harry guessed, his peculiar proposal, and its caveat. Harry wished, for a moment, that Laurel had been there to hear the account, but knew he could fill her in later. Just for now, though, he felt Lillian could probably do with a break. He turned to Dave Morris.

“If you don’t mind, Lillian,” he said, “I’d like to ask Mr Morris a few questions.”

Lillian shook her head. “That’s alright, Harry,” she replied, “I think my voice could do with a rest. And David certainly looks like he could do with a rest from listening to me!”

Dave Morris roused himself. He’d been desperately trying to work out how Dacre Lawrence fitted into Lillian’s story – what had prompted him to travel across the Pennines to meet her, and why he’d accessed all those records. Then, there was the matter of the census details he’d paid Stephen Garbutt to alter.

“No, no … Lillian. I was just thinking of something else to do with Dr Lawrence, that’s all. Your story is … fascinating.” Dave managed to make his reply sound convincing enough, he thought. He turned to face Harry. “What can I do for you?” He still wasn’t entirely certain what Harry McFry’s interest in this whole saga was, exactly.

“Did you get any idea, when you were in Yorkshire, about why Dacre Lawrence was accessing the McFry medical records?”

Dave turned to Jane. She gave a swift nod, her eyebrows raised, as if to say ‘Go ahead – we’ve got nothing to lose by sharing this.’

“Not really,” he said. “Except that we discovered he had employed someone to alter some online historical data.”

“Census records?” Harry asked.

Dave seemed surprised – as did Jane. “Yes – how do you know?” Danny was watching Harry carefully, wondering how much he was about to reveal. He guessed it was ‘cards on the table’ time, and he wasn’t wrong.

“Danny and I were first engaged to find out who had been manipulating census records relating to a number of McFry families scattered across the country. That’s how come we got involved with this case. When we learned about Lawrence’s interest in Lillian’s medals, we naturally suspected he might be behind the alteration’s the census data.”

“You’re professional genealogists?” Dave asked. Part of him was thinking about those certificates he’d received from Mabel Harris. Maybe Harry and Danny could make sense of them?

“In a manner of speaking, yes,” Harry replied. “But we take family history one step further – people commission us when there’s a problem that’s a little more out of the ordinary.”

“Well, you’re right about the census data. He paid someone with IT expertise to do it. Apparently, it was a relatively simple matter. But why did he do it, that’s what I don’t understand?”

Galloway is the answer to that one. We know he was more than a little interested in Stuart McFry’s bond…” Harry said. He glanced at Danny, pleased to know that their initial suspicions had been confirmed.

Suddenly, Colin McAllistair chipped in: “You’re right, Harry! He was more interested in the bond than the medals. He kept asking me whether I’d seen the paper that accompanied the medals. I didn’t realise the significance at the time.”

Jane Tobias stirred and pricked her ears as he uttered those words. It was clear that Colin McAllistair had more than merely an ‘academic’ interest in Lillian’s story.

“Well, he had a good right to be. The Spanish Government decided, a few years ago, that they’d honour the bonds issued by the Republican Government in Exile, and they’ve since been redeeming those bonds as and when they’ve been presented. What were, for many years, worthless bits of paper – apart from their historical significance – were suddenly very valuable.” Harry waited, while the significance of what he was saying dawned on everyone. Including Lillian, who was listening to him, even though she was staring ahead at the wall above the fireplace.

She was laughing. “Ha! Poor Thomas! If only he’d lived to learn all this!”

“I don’t get your drift…” Harry said. Lillian turned to face him.

“Stuart McFry invested his inheritance in that bond. Thomas didn’t know that, until later. Can you imagine how he felt when he discovered all that money – money that would, in the natural course of events, have come to him when Stuart died – was now just a worthless bit of paper?”

“But, if it was so worthless, how come Galloway and Lawrence wanted it so much?” It was Jane Tobias, again. Harry had noticed how Jane Tobias seemed to always know the right question to ask, at the right time. He was warming to this stranger.

“I’m sure when we meet Mr Galloway, we’ll discover that he probably read about the Spanish government’s search for the missing bond. After all, it’s worth in the region of £20 million. It must have made the financial pages of the press, if nothing else.”

Only Danny and Laurel’s jaws didn’t drop when Harry left this sentence hanging in the silence, which was broken first by the snapping of Bill Blunt’s pencil (perhaps because he was underlining such a significant sum of money just a little too vigorously), and then by the shrill ring of a mobile phone.

1 comment:

70steen said...

Along time coming but worth the wait Tom