The Last Newspaper in the World
5 December 2014
18 HARRY GETS SERIOUS
I felt great as I walked up the path to the café, ready for the day ahead. Is this how the jockey felt when he crossed the line on Amber’s Gold? Was he smiling at me or just, smiling? Was this how Diana feels when she meets one of Harry’s editorial deadlines and files a tough story? Is that why she is so into it and rather derisory of my efforts? Would I ever be into it in the same way? As I arrived at the café, I looked again at Diana, and how intensely she was focusing on what was being said. I couldn’t as I stood at the café door looking in. She wasn’t rapt as such, more focused – more, into it, like I was as the swell lifted me for a wave.
‘Shot Bill,’ Neil said quietly to me as I squeezed in between him and Diana. Angelique was leaning over pouring Harry a coffee. They looked up at me and said something I didn’t quite catch. She squeezed his shoulder and they both laughed, Harry shaking his head as he took a sip. Angelique came and stood behind me, close to my back.
‘Bonjour, what does monsieur want for breakfast?’ she said, pressing her stomach into my back. I looked around, Neil was studiously stirring his coffee; Diana was looking straight at me, every hair in place, make up perfect.
Harry had decided we should have this breakfast meeting to discuss where we were going with the Brand murder story. This was a first, and a bit of a surprise, as he wasn’t at his best at breakfast. I knew. Often I would come in from a dawnie surf feeling like I’d been re-made as a person, chilled. Harry would be sitting at the kitchen table, dressed for a day at The Last Newspaper in the World but loitering over a large coffee. He’d look at me and, just when I thought he’d frown or make a smart arse remark, he often just slightly smiled and jerked his head slightly up. This morning we were at Gordon’s and he was all business. Angelique was right, Gordon didn’t usually open for breakfast in the winter, so the ‘Closed’ sign remained on the café door. Two elderly ladies, looking remarkably healthy in their track suits, jackets and beanies, knocked on the door. Harry waved, I thought, rather imperiously for them to go away but one I recognised as Mrs Ferguson, a teacher who had helped me through a bad patch at school. She was tall for an old chick and her red hair was tucked under her hat, although a couple of greying streaks fell loosely down her neck. She waved at me when I turned and I looked at Harry, who rolled his eyes in the direction of the door. He may have been regretting his decision for a breakfast meeting. I went over and unsnibbed the locked door.
‘Hello there William is Gordon open for breakfasts now?’ she asked.
‘No Mrs Fergusson, sorry, we are just having a meeting here this morning.’
‘That Gordon, he could at least put up a ‘Private Function’ notice.’
I didn’t think Gordon ran to private function notices but smiled and told her I’d pass the message on.
‘So William, how are you going working with Harry on The Last Newspaper in the World? It must be exciting for you? Why are you meeting here?’
I wondered that myself and look around to see Harry signalling me to hurry up.
Agreeing with Mrs Ferguson that I’d talk to her students about a career in journalism, I closed and locked the door. As I walked back to the table, where Angelique was placing my breakfast, I wondered how I could tell anybody about this work. I’m in a career? I asked myself. I looked at the others around the table with Harry. Glen, Neil and Diana – each one applied themselves more greatly than I ever could. Even as I sat down, I was vaguely mournful as my seat faced away from the window. I could not see the morning sun running across the sea to light up the dunes across the road.
I hadn’t ordered but Angelique had made me my favourite, La Forestière, a crêpe with mushrooms in a sauce, with an extra of bacon. Diana leaned over towards me. I could smell her perfume as it battled with the aroma of the mushrooms breaking free as I cut through the thin package.
‘Special treatment for William then,’ she said not so quietly as the others couldn’t hear. They all laughed, apart from Harry who just frowned.
‘Enough of this you lot,’ he said. ‘I want us to get more of a grip on this story. We have been ahead in spite of the police ban on us but we are now in danger of falling behind even with the police ban lifted. Glen can you give us an update on what’s happening with the strands of this story?’
About this time I glanced at the wall behind Glen’s head. He was starting his round up of events so far when I looked at a picture Gordon had screwed on to the wall. The scene was one of those ones where a stormy sea breaks on boulders. The picture sat like a prisoner in a frame behind glass. The storm was silent and the waves were frozen in anger. As I looked at the picture, I saw two figures walking across the boulders into the sea. I realised the glass was reflecting Mrs Fergusson and her friend walking down the path away from the café. Looking closer I could see the dunes across the road and a touch of cool, calm sea, above which the clear winter sky was sharper relief. The two women walked down the path and for a moment I wondered if they were going to pass through my reflected beach to the stormy scene of the picture.
‘Bill, are you with us? What do you think of what Glen said about Brand?’ Harry said, clicking his fingers as if to wake me up. ‘We don’t really know enough about him, do we? You know, what sort of person he was? has he got any enemies? that sort of thing.’
‘Ah, Harry,’ Neil said before I could say anything. ‘I do think there was more to him than we know.’ He looked at me and I nodded so as to encourage Neil further. ‘Well, from what I can tell Mr Brand seems to have been very much a full time mayor. However, records show he was a director, or shareholder, in a number of companies.’
Harry leaned forward.
‘What sort of companies?’ he asked.
Neil, who before this had been drawing a cartoon I couldn’t quite make out, pulled a sheaf of papers out of his shoulder bag.
‘There are things like the Brand Pastoral Farming Limited and other companies that look like family holdings.’
Just as Harry was going to open his mouth, Glen interjected: ‘That’s to be expected, Harry. Putting the family farming interests into companies helps separate out his interests from those of the council. There is more though. Go on Neil.’
It occurred to me then that Glen had been helping Neil. Maybe I should try it some time.
‘In the past year, Mr Brand and interests associated with him have been involved in some new companies,’ Neil said.
‘Again, what sort of companies are these – fig farms or hedgehog harvesting?’ Harry said, a little sharply but he couldn’t help himself.
Neil shuffled his papers, pushing the documents relating to farming interests below a new set.
‘Now these are quite different. They seem more likely to be involved in property of some sort or tourism businesses. At least that’s what I can tell from the titles.’
‘What’s in a name?’ Harry said and glumly passed a hand over the remaining spikes on his head. ‘Come on Neil, what more have you got? We can’t do much with this lot.’
‘Harry, take it easy,’ Glen said, holding up a hand. Neil took a sip of his coffee, and I heard Diana taking a breath beside me. ‘Look, he’s dug out some interesting stuff right?’
‘Maybe, but anybody could get it.’
‘Well they haven’t and I’d like to see if we can take it further,’ Glen said.
‘Fine. Anything else?’ Harry asked Neil.
‘Not too much, but one of the properties is that place where Bill’s friend works.’
I looked sideways at him and then quickly over to Harry. ‘Which friend?’ we both asked at the same time.
‘You know, that woman with the big car who works at the Captain’s Table.’
Emily, I thought. Harry and I looked at each other, his hair seeming to bristle.
‘So our dead mayor just happens to own a property,’ said Glen, quickly. ‘Does it really mean anything?’
‘Yeah, of course,’ Harry said, reluctantly I thought. ‘Still, not just any property is it?’
‘Sure, but I think we have to be careful about making too much out of this stuff,’ Glen said.
‘True but sometimes a bit of a beat up will get things running.’
‘Come on Harry, the guy’s dead. I think we have to be a bit sensitive how we handle it,’ Glen said, just quickly looking around Neil, Diana and me.
Harry was quiet for a moment. ‘Sensitive. Like did the mayor have a policy on ethical investments and so on?’
‘You might not like it but brothels are legal in our part of the world, if the council approves,’ Glen said.
‘How very twenty first century,’ Harry said, a little grumpily I thought.
Glen ignored him but told Neil to go through some of the other names involved in any of the companies and properties.
‘Brand’s funeral is today,’ Diane interjected into the momentary silence, ‘and Stead has told me we should be there to take some pics.’
‘We’ll be there,’ Harry said bluffly. ‘I don’t need that feller telling me what to do.’
‘What pics in particular?’ Glen asked.
‘Well that’s the thing. He was pretty specific, saying to get pics of the group but also a guy who might seem out of place. Just said we’d know him when we see him. He might be close to the family but out of place.’
‘Is that it?’ Harry said, swore under his breath. ‘Stead tells a good story.’
‘Harry, it might be worth something,’ Glen said.
‘Okay, Diana you go to the funeral. Bill I want you to take the pics.’
I just heard that last bit, because I was handing my empty plate up to Angelique.
‘Me?’ I said, and I couldn’t believe how squeaky my voice sounded. ‘Ah, me? Diana’s going, so can’t she take the pics too?’
Harry looked at me hard. ‘Nah you take the pics. Okay, let’s get back to the office. Pay on your way out. Glen can you take my car back? I’ll go back with B.B.’
Generous as ever, I thought, invite us all out for breakfast then make us pay. As the others filed up to pay Gordon, Harry asked Angelique for a couple more coffees. I glanced up at the picture on the wall. Movement in the sun had obscured the view of the beach. The storm was once again frozen in two-dimensions and I could just see a reflection of Diana’s blonde hair light up as she stepped outside.
The coffee came for Harry and I, then Angelique joined us with her own cup. ‘This is a bit confusing,’ I thought, as Harry slowly stirred his coffee but didn’t drink from it. Angelique looked at me and smiled. Gordon walked past our table to click open the café door.
‘So how was the surf?’ Harry asked. I knew then this was going to be personal. Dad was usually so direct and only usually edged around the personal stuff.
‘Good. Look, what’s this about? I’ve got a funeral to go to, remember.’
Angelique lifted her fingers off the table. I loved how expressed they were in their smallness.
‘Okay, where are you going with all of this?’ Harry said, raising his hands out wide.
‘Let’s not have this conversation now, dad. You’re too busy.’
Published by BMS Books
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The Last Newspaper in the World
Copyright © 2012 Mick Stone
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