Friday morning went by in a flash. I gave Carly a copy of the newspaper article, then Karina said she was looking forward to the History Society meeting, and her Mum had already offered to collect us all and take us home afterwards. When I told her about finding the Brent’s, Margaret’s Grandparents, living in Lavender Road too, she started laughing.
“Is your Mum going to try to get their house back as well?”
I hadn’t even given it a thought. I started laughing back. “OMG, well that’s an idea. We can have one each!”
The whole thing was getting a bit crazy. So here was a whole new subject to research on the internet, like who owned No. 31 and did the Brent’s have any other children or just Catherine? I’d definitely get Mum to check it out at the Library. I could start looking up maps of Canada and planning our trip out there. Maybe we could go after my exams in June? Life was certainly not boring these days, I thought happily. Then, of course, there was next Wednesday to look forward to, and seeing Julian again.
The teacher’s voice was droning on about Neolithic land use and I let my mind wander back to the Library. I could see Barry standing by the reception desk, and I was walking towards him and he turned around, but he looked different, like a lot younger. Then I saw another woman walking towards him and she handed him a piece of paper. I realised that it was my Grandmother, Margaret. He started speaking to her but she indicated that she was deaf. I saw him take a pen out of his jacket pocket and write something down. I tried to see what he had written when,
“Lacy!” Suddenly I was brought back to the present. “I don’t think you’ll find any Neolithic utensils in the school yard.”
Everybody started laughing. “Err, sorry miss.”
“I expect your coursework in by next Monday or else you’ll be staying late after school.”
“Yes, miss.” So then I had to concentrate on the lesson and try not to think about what I’d seen in my daydream, but it was definitely something else to check with Barry.
After the lesson Carey came and spoke to me. “Are you all right, Lacy?”
“Only you had that strange look on your face.”
“That’s normal,” I joked.
“No, I mean like you did in Burger Man, just before you passed out.”
“Really? Well why were you looking at my face anyway?”
Carey blushed. “I still fancy you, Lacy.” He hesitated. “I’m not seeing Lucy any more.”
I felt myself going red, too.
“I’ve got a lot on,” I mumbled, looking down, “what with our exams and everything,” and then I walked away. I was secretly pleased by what he’d said, though. I told Karina about it on the way to the Library.
“Would you go out with him now, Lacy?” she asked.
“No way,” I replied, “I’m thinking too much about Julian.”
It was true, I just couldn’t wait for next Wednesday to see him again. If he didn’t give me his ’phone number, I would give him mine, I decided.
Mum was coming to the Library after work so she wouldn’t be there for a few hours, which gave Karina and I plenty of time to do some more research. Tom wasn’t around so I had to ask Susan for help.
“Hello, Lacy,” she said, recognising me, “your Mum did a great job for us on Wednesday.”
I smiled and asked for her help in finding the electoral registers between 1938 and 1944. I checked the electoral registers for 1938, and this time looked for 31 Lavender Road on the same page I had seen before.
“Here it is.” I showed Karina. “Head of Household, Frederick Brent, then Catherine Brent, Catherine Brent and Paul Brent.”
I quickly opened the 1940 electoral register and found Lavender Road again.
“But in 1940, Paul’s not mentioned. And here’s my Grandmother, only she’s now called ‘Catherine Unwin’ and living at number 25.”
I showed Karina the entries.
“So did Catherine have a brother?” she asked.
“Yes, it looks like it. I wonder what happened to him?”
“He must have gone to war by then.”
“I’ll have to do a bit more research,” I told her.
“I think he must have been over 21 if he could vote,” Karina advised.
We went over to the computer section and I looked on the government website for births, marriages and deaths, but there were lots of Paul Brent’s and I didn’t know whether he had survived the war or not.
“I’ve no idea how I’m going to look for him,” I replied. “I’ll ask Barry what to do next.”
Then we spent some time on Chatbook and I had a message on there from Annabel asking what time I’d be over on Saturday, and I saw that she had posted some more photos of André on there, so we had a good look at them. The time soon whizzed by until my mother appeared.
“Hello Lacy and Karina,” she said as she came over. I saw that she was carrying a bag.
“Did you bring the tin?” I asked.
In answer she gave the bag a couple of taps and a metallic sound bounced back.
“I wonder what we are going to find out today,” she said.
“Well I’ve already found out something – Catherine had a brother called ‘Paul’.”
Mum look surprised. “That’s really good news. I’m determined to find you some real live cousins if it’s the last thing I do!”
We both laughed. In truth it was great to see Mum in such a positive frame of mind, as lately it was as if the fight had gone out of her.
“Are we ready, girls?” she asked.
“Yes!” we both replied, before following her down the steps and along the basement to the Local History Society room.
As we walked into the room Barry spotted us and called another man over to join us.
“David, this is Debra, the lady I was telling you about. And this is her daughter, Lacy, and her friend...”
“Karina,” she piped up.
“Hello,” said the other man to my Mum. I studied him carefully. He was an elderly man dressed in a suit, and wearing a Fedora hat. “Barry’s told me a lot about you. I understand you’ve had some issues with Councillor George Duncan. I used to work at the Council so perhaps I can help?”
“Oh yes,” my Mum replied. “We’ve been trying to trace my mother’s family history, and Councillor Duncan’s name has come up. It appears that he put her into an orphanage and changed her name and address so that nobody knew she was there.”
“I can quite believe that,” he replied. “It does sound like his modus operandi.”
I looked at Barry blankly.
“It means the way he worked,” Barry explained kindly.
“For example,” the man continued, “he could always claim that he had misheard, or that somebody had misunderstood him, if he wrote things that were nearly right, such as a date of birth back to front, or a name misspelled; that kind of thing.”
“Shall we all sit down?” Barry led us over to a large table surrounded by chairs in the centre of the room.
“How did he get away with it for so long?” I asked.
“Well that’s a very good question. But you see, during the War the Council were given complete control over the civilians in their area – they were responsible for housing them, feeding them, burying them – in short, everything. It would have been very easy for somebody in that position to misuse their power for personal gain, as you claim happened in this case. He would have had access to all the lists of dead and homeless or missing people, and he would have known which houses were bombed.
It would have been all too easy for somebody with dishonest intentions to take advantage of the situation.”
“So what did the Council do after a house was bombed?” Mum asked.
“If the house was considered to be void and no living persons came forward to claim the property, the Council was allowed to take it over and repair it. In fact, about ten houses down Lavender Road are still owned by Wadham Council to this day.”
“Including numbers 25 and 31?”
“Yes, that sounds about right. It was all perfectly legal at the time, no laws were broken.”
“But what if there was a living relative, such as my Grandmother, who was too young to do anything about it?” I asked.
“Ah yes. Well, I’ve looked into your claim and I’m afraid I have to be the bearer of bad news. I have here Margaret Unwin’s death certificate.” He opened his briefcase and pulled out a black-framed piece of paper. “You can’t possibly be her daughter.”
We gasped and stared at the certificate on the table.
“But she wasn’t dead.” My mother got out the green box and opened it up. “This is her photograph, and these were her parents. You see, they are standing outside number 25 Lavender Road.”
Mr Pritchard looked at the pictures.
“That’s not exactly conclusive,” he replied. “It could have been taken anywhere.”
“This box was handed in by her rescuers to the hospital, and she was given it by the Orphanage on her 16th birthday,” Mum continued.
“I see. So you can prove that this photograph is of your mother, but you would need to prove that your mother was Margaret Unwin. And as she was officially dead and buried in 1944, I don’t know how you are going to do that.”
“Would this help?” Mum got out the lock of hair tied in a ribbon, and pointed to the photograph.
“No, I don’t think it would. This could be anybody’s hair.” The man looked at me. “I see your daughter has blonde hair.”
“Take that back!” My mother stood up. “This is my mother’s hair!”
The old man looked flustered.
“Now, now, Ms Clark, I’m only repeating what any court would say to you.”
“Is Councillor Duncan’s son still working at the Council?” I asked.
“Derek? No, he retired six years ago. It was nothing to do with him, anyway. He wasn’t in the housing department, he worked in the CCTV unit.”
I froze. I looked up at Mum, but she obviously hadn’t made the same connection as I had.
“What if we have proof that Councillor Duncan falsified the burial records?” she asked, still standing.
“Now that’s a very serious allegation. Obviously, that would be a criminal matter, and you would have to go through the proper channels.”
“You mean the Police?”
“Yes, of course.
Mum picked up her bag. “Well, in that case, there’s no point in us being here any longer. Thank you very much.”
I looked at Barry pleadingly. There was so much that I still wanted to ask him. In particular, whether he’d ever met my Grandmother.
“Come on, Lacy and Katrina, we’re going!”
We stood up to leave. Barry apologised as he followed us out.
“I’m very sorry, Debra, I should have realised that he would stick up for the Council. And, of course, he was quite pally with Derek Duncan.”
“It’s not your fault,” Mum replied. “You were only trying to help.”
I wanted to ask Barry about my Grandmother, but I just couldn’t. I would have to telephone him another time. Karina gave Sheila a quick call and she said she would be right round to pick us up. Mum was still fuming as we waited.
“The cheek of it! Trying to make out we are pulling a fast one.”
“Sorry?” I asked.
“Insinuating that we are making up stories just to get our hands on that house. I won’t have it!”
“So what are you going to do now?” I asked.
“I’m going to see the Citizens Advice Bureau on Monday to hear what they say. And then, Lacy, I’m going to the Police.”
Karina gave me a look. “I think that’s a good idea,” she said.
After Karina’s Mum had dropped us off home, I heard Mum talking for a long time on the telephone to Tom. It seemed to work, because eventually I heard her laughing and she calmed down to her usual self. Meanwhile, I pondered on the news that Derek Duncan had worked in the CCTV unit. And he would have known when the annual maintenance contract was taking place. Maybe Karina was right, and it was good thing that we were going to the Police.