Time To Repair

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Chapter 16

Bristol England, Tuesday August 12th 2262

16:06:12 hours

Larry walked happily along the wide path, which also encompassed the redundant road and led to his house. He swung his tatty red toolbox back and forth enjoying the afternoon’s sun as he went. The short walk from the public teleporter on Junction Road to home was never a bind; in a way he wasn’t bothered that their place was too old to have its own teleporter, this way he could chat to the neighbours and enjoy the sights.

He’d had an easy day at work and was looking forward to his first Tuesday night out with Simon and Spencer.

His house was one in a long row of mock Victorian terraced houses that had been built over one hundred and twenty years ago and, against all the odds, had survived the war.

Opposite the row, behind imitation arched top iron railings, which were considered ‘in keeping’ with the area, was a large open expanse of parkland. The lush grassed areas extended as far as you could see, and were only interrupted by the occasional narrow footpath that meandered through it. Children chased each other while adults took their afternoon stroll. A young couple rolled about in the warm grass; he pinned her down and then tickled her sides making her squeal with laughter. Larry looked on and smiled; he fondly remembered times like this with his Tulip.

He reached his house and bound up the six weather beaten concrete steps that led to the blue wooden front door. Its paintwork was old, faded and blistered in places - he would get round to re-painting it one day, but then if he did the door the white stucco walls and bay windows would need doing; and they would then in turn show up his tired looking black railings that ran either side of the steps and along the front.

His neighbour to the left had the perfect frontage, this only served to emphasise Larry’s dilapidated façade. The interfering old busy-body obviously had nothing better to do than be out in all weathers buffing up his railings and scrubbing his steps; no wonder he was single, Larry thought. He placed his thumb on the small pad to the left of the door, his thumbprint was recognised and the door swung inwards revealing a long hallway. The small black and white diamond floor tiles shone in the sunlight that flooded in, dust motes danced above them in the rays that cut through the air.

Larry crossed the threshold and dumped his toolbox at the foot of the staircase with a clatter.

“TULIP,” he hollered. “I’M HOME LOVE!”

There was no reply from upstairs or from the doorway to his left which led to the living area and kitchenette. The white flush door at the end of the hall, which concealed the downstairs toilet, was ajar and therefore empty. She wasn’t likely to be in their seldom used dining room to his right so he wandered into the living area.

He spotted her towards the back of the house in the kitchenette; this was separated from the living area by an outdated laminate counter top. Tulip was in front of the sink with her back to him washing up dishes from last night’s meal and this morning’s breakfast. He guessed she was listening to music via her strap as her head bobbed up and down slightly in time to whatever she was listening to; light from the solar window at the back of the sink set her long red hair ablaze. The sight of her in her short fawn shorts, lacy green floral top and bare feet made Larry’s heart skip a beat. He crept up behind her and slid his big arms around her tiny waist; she flinched slightly at his sudden presence but then stopped her chore and let herself sink into his chest.

“Stop music,” she whispered in her strong Irish brogue.

Larry swept her hair aside and bent his head down and kissed the side of her face; dragging his stubble over her neck in the process. She didn’t mind though.

“Hello lover,” he whispered gruffly in her ear.

“That is you then Larry?” she joked in a serious tone.

He smiled. “Do you have many men in then when I’m at work that slip in behind you for a hug?”

“No…not on a Tuesday anyway,” she retorted with a giggle.

“Glad to hear it!” he said spinning her round and planting his lips on hers.

She reached up and put her hands round the back of his neck. He lifted her up in his usual rough manner by grabbing hold of her buttocks and hoisting her up like he was lifting a heavy sack of rubble.

She swung her slender legs around his waist. “Be Jesus Larry!” she exclaimed. “I’m not a sack o’ spuds you know.”

He laughed. “Is it my fault you’ve got heavier; it takes all my strength to pick you up now,” he lied. “Have you put on weight?” he said putting on a serious face and over-exaggerating a look at her right side. He tried to pinch some flesh on her waist but with her slight figure there was nothing to pinch.

“You rotten ejit!” she exclaimed, pummelling her fists against his chest as she tried to remove herself from his person.

He laughed aloud, gripping tighter and ran into the living area with her. He dived onto their grubby-white sofa; knocking the clothing and crockery to the floor that had been balanced on its chunky low arm. He pinned her down as she half-heartedly struggled to free herself from under him. He sat up and pinned her arms down to her sides. “I still love ya even if you are a bit chunkier nowadays.” He roared with laughter.

She squirmed under him in a futile attempt to free herself. “You’re an arse Larry Groom!” she blurted out.

“Yeah, but you love me though, don’t ya?”

“I couldn’t possibly comment,” she said with a grin, turning her head to face the back of the sofa.

Larry gently gripped her small chin with his thumb and index finger and turned her head back so she faced him again. “Tell me ya love me and I’ll let you go.”

“Never!” she replied, quick as a flash.

“Oh dear,” Larry said shaking his head. “There’s only one thing for it then… I’m going to have to tickle you until you tell me.”

“You dare,” she teased. “And I… I will… I’ll withhold sexual privileges.”

“You’d deny yourself a bit of the ‘Groom’s broom’ just to be one up on me,” he said, releasing one of her arms so he could grab his crotch through his baggy pink shorts.

She looked up into his eyes as he towered over her, his thick long shaggy hair framed his face and swayed about like it had a life of its own. “Too right I would,” she said as if she couldn’t be bothered one way or another.

“How long for?” he asked inquisitively.

She pursed her lips and rolled her eyes to the top of her head as though deep in thought. “Ooh, it would have to be at least one maybe even two… minutes.”

He guffawed heartily so she seized her chance and shoved him so hard that he lost his balance and fell to the floor. He grabbed at her as he went and they both ended up in a tangle of arms and legs with her on top. They both laughed, he’d banged his elbow on the hard floorboards and rubbed it vigorously; he would, undoubtedly, have a huge bruise appear in the next few hours.

She pulled herself up and straddled his hips, looking into his eyes. “Now I’ll tell you I love ya you fool!”

He chuckled and then thrust himself upwards simulating sex. “You couldn’t deprive yourself for thirty seconds let alone two minutes.”

“Don’t you be so sure,” she said with a wink.

Just then her strap started pulsing, she glanced down at her wrist. “That’s Mum, I told her to call when she knew what time she’d be here tonight.” She looked round their untidy room. “We’ve got a lot of clearing up to do before then.”

She jumped up. “I’ll take this is the dining room; it’s the only one that’s straight enough for her to see right now.”

She scampered off to the dining room leaving Larry on the floor with the realisation that his night out was in serious jeopardy.

How could he of forgotten about his mother-in-law’s monthly visit. He couldn’t recall having had a conversation about it though.

“Damn it!” he muttered, pulling himself up on to the sofa. He had been looking forward to his night out with the boys all day. He couldn’t face being lumbered with two chattering women all night. Perhaps they would rather he wasn’t here; they could have a good old catch up then- just the two of them. He would stay for awhile, just to be polite, and then slip off out and join the boys. Tulip would be fine with that. He was quite relieved, for a minute there he thought he was going to be stuck in all night.

He surveyed the mess of the room; neither one of them was particularly bothered about being neat and tidy. The place was always clean but who really cared if stuff wasn’t put away and left lying about. They generally had a good tidy up once a month; just before the ‘Royal visit’ normally.

Tulip’s mother, Rose, was the only person Tulip was ever concerned about seeing the place in its normal untidy state; closer friends and family took their higgledy-piggledy home as an extension of the wild beauty and character of the couple. Rose had brought up Tulip and her six siblings’ under the strictest of rule; which was probably the reason Tulip was as she was now - a bit of a rebel… well until Rose declared a visit and she then transformed herself into the unrecognisable daughter that she never really was.

Larry decided to implement ‘Operation Rose’, as they called it, and start the mammoth job of tidying up. He would earn a few bonus points then to give him the edge when he mentioned he was going out a bit later. He stood up and surveyed the room again - where to start? He decided on rounding up the crockery that was strewn randomly about the place. He went to pick up whatever he had knocked on the floor when they had dived onto the sofa. He was dismayed to see that his favourite Shayhortz ’58 mug was lying in pieces on top of the plate it had fallen onto. The mug had also split the dirty plate in three. The broken crockery was swimming in the half-a-cup of cold black coffee that had been in the mug since last night.

“Bugger,” he muttered to himself as he picked up the pieces.

While Tulip continued her call with Rose he spent ten minutes collecting crockery from the living area and other rooms in the house; piling it up in the sink as he did. He then set about gathering the clothes, his and hers, that were sprouting up in abundance everywhere. Typically Tulip’s white top that had gone over with the Shayhortz mug had been clean and was now streaked with coffee. He mopped up the coffee puddle on the floor with it and left it there to serve as the start of the pile for the laundry that needed washing. He sniffed at garments to check for freshness; clean got piled up on the sofa and dirty went on the floor on top of the wet white top. He was sniffing one of Tulip’s bras when she reappeared in the living area. “Shall I get mum to bring one of hers?” she asked. “They’re a lot bigger than mine.”

“Gross!” he said, over exaggerating the sniffing of the pink cup. “Just checking it’s clean,” he said wrinkling up his nose and then pretending to gag.

“You cheeky git Larry, that was washed three days ago!”

He grinned. “That’s why it’s going on the clean pile.” He dropped it onto the growing pile on the sofa.

She was pleased to see he had taken the initiative to start ‘Operation Rose’ without her.

“Mum will be porting into Junction Road at 19:12:12 hours so that gives us plenty of time to get this place straight and change ready for the meal.”

She picked up the dirty washing, took it to the laundry unit and started shoving it in.

Larry’s ears pricked up. “Remind me about the meal.”

Tulip stopped loading the laundry unit. “Are you for real Larry?”

He knew that tone. What was he supposed to have remembered? “No, I mean where is it we’re going?” he lied. He wracked his brain for the answer; he still couldn’t recall any conversation about Rose let alone a meal out with her.

“She wants to go back to that place in Italy she likes; we’re going to meet up with the rest of the family there.” Tulip continued loading the laundry.

“Oh yeah, I remember now,” he lied again. Why were they going out for a meal? They didn’t usually take the stuck up cow anywhere. He could see the chances of slipping out with the lads later getting slimmer by the minute.

“Did you record a message for her holo-card?” Tulip asked, appearing back in the living area briefly for the last bits of clothing.

“Not yet,” he admitted with a false grin. “Where is it?”

“It’s upstairs on the drawer unit in our bedroom,” she replied from the kitchenette.

She slammed the door to the unit shut. “Short wash and press cycle,” she ordered.

The cycle will complete in four minutes and eighteen seconds,” the unit confirmed as it started.

Tulip appeared at his side. “Please come up with something a bit more meaningful than you did for her last birthday.”

She picked up the clean laundry and headed for the stairs, pausing in the doorway. “I don’t think To Rose love Larry really melted her heart last year.”

A mewing kitten clinging for dear life to the snapping limb of a tree wouldn’t melt her cold heart, Larry thought. “I’m a man of few words, you know that,” he said instead.

Tulip gave him one of her looks.

“Okay, okay!” he said. “I’ll record something that will move her close to tears.”

“Just put a little effort into it,” Tulip said as she left the room and climbed the stairs.

“And make sure you shower and do something with that hair before you do,” she hollered from the landing. “I’m not having Mum’s friends think I’ve married a caveman.”

Larry sat on the arm of the sofa. How could he not remember an entire conversation about the birthday? Thankfully he had covered his lack of memory. The thing was now he was unsure if he was going to get out or not. If she was coming over at 19:12 hours they would be porting to Italy within thirty minutes or so and by the time they had finished the meal and got back it would be 21:30-22.00 hours. Could he still go out then?

He was still sat there pondering when Tulip reappeared.

She came up to him and kissed his forehead; a little concerned about her caveman comment. “You know I wouldn’t change how you look for the world don’t you?”

“Sure,” he said, ruffling her hair with his hand. Now was his chance. “Did I tell you last week about Si’s new job.”

“Yeah, the promotion to that posh new museum in Norwich.”

“Northampton,” he corrected.

“How’s he getting on?” she enquired, sitting down on his knee and swinging her feet up to rest on the sofa.

He decided against filling her in on the teleporting incident of last week. “Yeah, very well; he’s even got the chance to do some much sought after evening work at the place.”

“Cool,” she replied, running her fingers through his hair.

“Typically he’s been put down for every other Wednesday night; which sort of screws up our lads night out.”

“Can’t he change to another night?”

“No, the woman he’s under is a complete cow; he came close to losing the whole gig when he suggested it.”

“Shame,” Tulip said unsympathetically. “You guys will have to switch to another night then.”

“That’s what we’ve decided,” Larry confirmed. “Every other week we’re going to do a Tuesday instead.”

“All sorted then,” she said with a smile. She kissed the side of his face and stood up. “I’m going to start on the bathrooms,” she declared, heading to the doorway.

“The other two are meeting up this evening,” he said hurriedly.

Tulip stopped in her tracks and turned to face him.

“I know we’re taking your mum out tonight so I thought I would just join them later on for a last drink or two,” he said coolly. “I don’t want to miss your mum’s birthday,” he added with a grin.

“Mum’s birthday is tomorrow,” She said coldly. “We’re only going out tonight to avoid your Wednesday night out. I’ve planned the whole evening around YOU.” she added, starting to wind herself up.

“It would only be for a swift one when we get back later love,” he said, trying but failing to keep the peace.

Tulip stared at him; with one of her looks that sounded alarm bells in his head; one that he knew too well. He considered suggesting that they rearrange the meal for tomorrow evening; but decided it wasn’t worth the risk of an explosive Tulip eruption.

“Okay,” he said with a sigh. “I’ll call Si and tell him I probably won’t be able to make it.”

She continued her look, but with slightly raised eyebrows.

“I’ll tell him I’m not coming,” he corrected.

“I’m going to clean the bathrooms now.” She announced again with a stony face. She turned and made her way to the stairs.

Damn it! Larry thought. He was going to have to break the news to Si and Spendy now.

He went over to the living area door and shut it. He plonked himself down on the sofa with a huge sigh.

He would just call Si, he couldn’t face a ribbing from them both with a tri-call… and it was after all Si’s fault that he couldn’t make it.

“Call Simon Kingsley, projection.” He placed his hands in his lap and waited for the call to connect. Within seconds a holographic image of Simon appeared in front of him, projected from his dat-com strap. Simon was standing in his office, a section of his data-desk showed behind him.

“Laz!” Simon exclaimed excitedly. “How are you mate?”

“Not bad mate, and you?”

“I’ve been in a department meeting all afternoon chaired by Chilly Poxy but, even so, this week’s been a lot better than last week so far.” Simon answered with a sigh. He sat on the edge of his data-desk.

“Oh yeah; any developments on your teleporting doppelganger, has the mystery been solved yet?”

“Not as far as I know,” Simon replied. “I think it’s been put down to a technical glitch for now; I obviously can’t be in two places at once.”

“No mate; not even you could pull that off.”

They both chuckled.

“What happened about the GPA? Your security guy had to report back to them?” Larry asked.

“Nothing. Hayes, our security head, called me the next day to tell me he had filed his report with them, but I’ve not heard a thing since. No one has stopped by to apprehend me as yet.”

“See,” Larry said thinking back to Simon’s frantic call to him last Thursday. “I said it would all blow over.”

“You say that about everything mate,” Simon countered.

“Well, I was right for once then,” Larry said with a grin.

“There was another security incident that looks like it may be linked to the first one.”

“Oh yeah?” Larry interrupted.

“Yes, there was an old man in a grey suit reported by a colleague of mine to have been in a traversoll with her around the time of the breach. Maybe this guy could be the one that broke into Chilly Poxy’s office.”

“Who is he then? And how did an old guy defy the buildings security measures and get in to an office halfway up the building?”

“If I knew that mate I wouldn’t be in this mess,” Simon sighed. “The guy hasn’t been identified as yet; he sounds too old to be working here and doesn’t match any staff records.”

“So could he be the one that somehow cloned your details and teleported in as you?”

“Maybe. There is no evidence to support that theory; or proof that he was responsible for the break in either. The guy just seems to have vanished into thin air. He could well be a visitor for the day and be as innocent as me in all this. Anyway he wasn’t in the best of health by all accounts so I’m not that convinced he’s connected to either incident.”

“Well it’s got you off the hook for now mate and that’s all that matters,” Larry said scratching his crutch.

“I wish I was as sure as you about that,” Simon replied, averting his eyes from the projected image of Larry in front of him scratching at his privates like a primate.

“Well the GPA obviously isn’t bothered mate so don’t waste your energy fretting over it,” Larry replied sniffing at his fingers.

“You may be right mate,” Simon said with a frown.

“Can I have that down on paper in ink mate?” Larry chuckled. “Not like you to admit I’m right.”

“I’ll stop by the Communications section and pinch an artefact or two; there must be a ball point and a sheet of A4 I can use there,” Simon said with a grin.

“A what and a what?” Larry asked.

“A pen and paper you clown!”

“Well if you had just said that in the first place instead of your fancy museum jargon.”

They both laughed.

“Anyway on to more important matters,” Simon said. “What are the arrangements for tonight? Have you spoken to Spendy?”

“Mate I can’t come,” Larry said getting straight to the point.

“What? Why?”

Larry spent the next few minutes filling Simon in on his conversation with Tulip. Simon moved over to his leather sofa and sat down. The projection of Larry moved as Simon’s strap did and now he appeared sitting on a section of his grubby sofa in front of Simon’s data-desk.

“No worries mate, I understand,” Simon sympathised. “I’m disappointed but it is my fault… Is there no way you can slip out later on when the mother-in-law has gone home?”

“Not if I want to keep my balls where they are at present,” Larry said with a sigh.

“Have you told Spencer yet?” Simon asked.

“No, I thought I would leave that one for you. I’ve got to help tidy this place up before the mother-in-law arrives. Would you mind breaking it to him?”

Simon closed his eyes and screwed up his face into a grimace for a second. “I suppose it’s the least I can do, he’s probably not going to take it very well.”

“I know mate. Look I’ve gotta go now and defrost Tulip a bit, or tonight’s going to be a lot worse than it’s already looking.”

“Okay, I’ll call you tomorrow sometime. Enjoy the meal.”

They both grinned and the call ended.

“Right,” Larry said aloud as he stood up. He strode across the room and went upstairs to go and make the peace with Tulip…

…he walked happily along the wide path, which also encompassed the redundant road and led to his house. He swung his tatty red toolbox back and forth enjoying the afternoon’s sun as he went. The short walk from the public teleporter on Junction Road to home was never a bind; in a way he wasn’t bothered that their place was too old to have its own teleporter, this way he could chat to the neighbours and enjoy the sights.

He’d had an easy day at work and was looking forward to his first Tuesday night out with Simon and Spencer.

His house was one in a long row of mock Victorian terraced houses that had been built over one hundred and twenty years ago and, against all the odds, had survived the war.

Opposite the row, behind imitation arched top iron railings, which were considered ‘in keeping’ with the area, was a large open expanse of parkland. The lush grassed areas extended as far as you could see, and were only interrupted by the occasional narrow footpath that meandered through it. Children chased each other while adults took their afternoon stroll. A young couple rolled about in the warm grass; he pinned her down and then tickled her sides making her squeal with laughter. Larry looked on and smiled; he fondly remembered times like this with his Tulip.

He reached his house and stopped at the bottom of the weather beaten concrete steps that led to the front door. A really strong sensation of déjà vu washed over him. He leant against his railings for a second; a little spooked by the phenomenon. He shook off the shudder that ran up his spine and clambered up the steps to the front door. He placed his thumb on the small pad to the left of the door, his thumb print was recognised and the door swung inwards to the right revealing a long hallway. The small black and white diamond floor tiles shone in the sunlight that flooded in; dust motes danced above them in the rays that cut through the air.

Larry crossed the threshold and dumped his toolbox at the foot of the staircase with a clatter.

“TULIP,” he hollered. “I’M HOME LOVE.”

There was no reply but he could hear noise from the living area through the door to his left so wandered in.

He spotted her towards the back of the house in the kitchenette; this was separated from the living area by an outdated laminate counter top. Tulip was in front of the sink with her back to him washing up dishes from last night’s meal and this morning’s breakfast. She was banging the dishes about a bit in the sink so perhaps she hadn’t heard him call out when he had come in.

The light from the solar window at the back of the sink set her long red hair ablaze and the sight of her in her short fawn shorts, lacy green floral top and bare feet made Larry’s heart skip a beat. He crept up behind her and slid his big arms around her tiny waist; she flinched at his sudden presence and then stiffened. She slammed a plate down on the ceramic drainer and started scrubbing at another one.

“What’s up lover?” He whispered gruffly in her ear.

She spun herself round and pushed him away sharply with her wet hands. “YOU!” she bellowed, leaving wet hand prints on his green T-shirt.

Larry stumbled and reached out for the counter top behind him to steady himself. What had brought this on? She was fine when he had left this morning; she had even been up for a bit of ‘morning fun on Groom’s broom’ as she liked to phrase it. What had happened since this morning? They hadn’t spoken since then.

She stormed past him, headed into the living area and started rounding up the crockery that was strewn randomly about the place.

Larry followed her and stood by the chunky low arm of their grubby-white sofa. “Tulip love, tell me what’s up?”

She stopped for a second. “YOU AND ONE OF YOUR SICK TWISTED FRIENDS. THAT’S WHAT UP!” she screamed and then resumed collecting the dirty crockery.

Larry was shocked; what on earth could she mean. Which friend of his had done what to upset her so much?

She pushed by him and headed into the kitchenette again, dumping the crockery down piece by piece on the side with a bang. He picked up the plate that was on the floor by the side of the sofa and followed her into the kitchen. He put it down next to the other dishes with a fraction of the noise she made.

“What has happened between this morning and now that I don’t know about?” he asked. “And which friend of mine are you on about?”

She turned round to face him. “Don’t act all innocent with me Larry Groom,” she spat.

“Honestly Tulip I don’t know what this is about.”

“How can you use the word honestly?” she snarled. “Hypocrite,” she added as she slammed her last plate down and stomped by him again. He followed her this time and by the time she got to the sofa he grabbed her arm and spun her round. She fought to get away, stumbled and grabbed at the sofa arm as she fell, knocking Larry’s prized Shayhortz mug from the ’58 tour to the floor. It bounced on its base and toppled over spilling cold black coffee over the boards. Larry kicked it to one side; surprised that it had remained intact. A good job he had moved that plate mere minutes before.

He grabbed Tulip’s other arm and lifted her from the floor as if she was as light as a rag doll. She fought back screaming and kicking. He threw her on the sofa and jumped on top of her before she could kick him again. He sat on her legs, restricting her movements as she writhed about vehemently in a futile attempt to free herself. He pinned her arms down to her sides which had been lashing out trying to punch and scratch him.

He was starting to get a little irritated with her now; she had got in a few blows with her feet before he had restrained her. His elbow had received a hefty kick; it throbbed painfully. He needed to rub it vigorously but faced further injury if he let go of her wrists; he would undoubtedly have a huge bruise appear in the next few hours.

“Believe it or not I don’t have a clue what all this is about,” Larry said sounding a little annoyed for the first time. “Tell me, and then I’ll let you go.”

She looked up into his eyes as he towered over her, his thick long shaggy hair framed his face and swayed about like it had a life of its own. Could he be telling the truth? She had her first niggling doubt about her suspicions. Her anger subsided and her eyes started to gloss over; she turned her head to face the back of the sofa. Larry risked letting go of her right wrist and gently gripped her small chin with his thumb and index finger and turned her head back so she faced him again.

“Tulip love, talk to me,” he said softly, melting a little as he looked into her unhappy eyes. He let go of the other wrist as a small gesture of some sort, unsure exactly what he hoped it didn’t turn out to be stupidity.

“A guy called me earlier this afternoon and said for reasons he couldn’t explain I had to let you go out tonight,” she said meekly, then added. “He said it was a matter of life and death.”

“What?” Larry said with a look of astonishment. “Why would anyone do that? This doesn’t sound right, tell me exactly what happened.”

He got off of her legs and she hitched herself up and sat in the corner of the sofa against the back and the arm. Larry sat beside her and rubbed his sore elbow.

“Just after 14:00 hours I had someone call on my strap.”

“Wait a minute,” Larry butted in. “You say someone like you don’t know who it was?”

“Well I didn’t know who it was; it just showed call on the screen.”

“Hang on!” Larry interrupted again. “How can someone call and stop their details coming up on your strap. It’s impossible.”

“Are you calling me a liar Larry? I know what I saw… or more what I didn’t see.”

“No of course not,” he said quickly in a bid to stop her erupting again. “Ok let’s just say someone did manage to illegally block their details somehow. Then what?”

“Well unsure of who it was exactly I answered the call. I heard the voice of an old man he…”

“Whoa!” Larry exclaimed, interrupting a third time. “So it wasn’t one of my friends then; I have no friends, male or female, that much older than me.”

“It had to be,” Tulip insisted. “And I wish you would stop interrupting me.”

Larry remained silent.

Tulip continued. “It took me awhile afterwards to work out, but it had to be a friend of yours; or someone you know. I’d been quite worried up until that point.

Larry waited a moment to make sure she had finished. “So he didn’t introduce himself then as a friend of mine?”

“No.”

“What did he say exactly, from start to finish?”

Tulip thought for a moment. “He said ‘the boys are meeting up tonight not tomorrow. For reasons I can’t explain you have to let Larry go. It is a matter of life and death for us all. It would be in everyone’s best interests if he missed your mum’s birthday meal tonight.’”

Larry sat there stunned. “I just don’t get who would concoct a story like that and why? What did you say to him?”

“Nothing; he ended the call before I could say anything.”

“Something isn’t right about all this,” Larry said looking worried. “I’m not saying you’re wrong or you’re lying, but it just doesn’t add up.”

Tulip looked at him now not knowing what to believe. “So have you planned to meet up with Simon and Spencer tonight?”

Larry looked her in the eyes. “Well yes, sort of,” he said awkwardly with a sigh. Tulip’s face reddened.

Larry quickly continued. “Simon now has to work every other Wednesday night at the museum so last week the three of us agreed to do Tuesdays on those weeks.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Tulip blurted out. “Why get someone to do your dirty work and come up with some cock and bull story; just so you don’t have to go to my mum’s birthday meal?”

Before Larry could answer Tulip’s strap started pulsing, she glanced down at her wrist. “That’s mum now, I told her to call when she knew what time she’d be here tonight.” She thought for a moment “Ignore call.”

“I was going to tell you,” Larry said, feeling a little awkward. “I just hadn’t got round to it…and as for getting someone to call you; well you should know me better than that.”

Larry stared her straight in the eyes. “I didn’t and never would get anyone to call you to ask if I can go out,” he paused a moment for his words to sink in. “And as for your mum’s meal…I’m sorry but I don’t know anything about that.”

“You liar Larry, I told you last week about the meal!”

“Well if you did; I don’t remember you telling me,” he said dismissively.

She started to get herself wound up again. “I told you last Wednesday when you got back from your boy’s night out in Cornwall about tonight’s meal. I told you I’d been to see Daisy about it.”

“Well I was a bit worse for wear last Wednesday when I got back, if you recall, the antihol hadn’t properly taken effect. I remember now that you had been to see your sister; but that’s about all I remember of the conversation.”

Tulip thought back to last Wednesday, she remembered Larry stumbling in the front-door; it was a good ten minutes before the antihol had worked completely. Perhaps he was telling the truth… then something else dawned on her. “So if you are telling me the truth, and you didn’t know about mum’s meal, how did the old man know? You must have told him.”

“How could I have told him when I couldn’t remember myself?” Larry said indignantly.

“Well you’ve just admitted you hadn’t told me about switching to Tuesdays every other week.” Tulip began. “So how the hell do I know about tonight then if you hadn’t discussed it with me? You say you hadn’t told anyone about tonight’s meal but someone knew about it because they called me today with that horrible message.”

Larry sat there in silence, his mind in a whirlwind of unanswered questions. Tulip was right; how could she possibly know? How could anyone else have known about the meal when he didn’t? Was one of his closest friends capable of making a creepy call like that? His heart sank at the mere thought of it.

He shot up off the sofa. “I’m going to make some calls; starting with Simon and Spencer… I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

Tulip got up too, picked up her white top, which had been on the arm of the sofa for last three days, along with her pink bra from the coffee table, and headed for the stairs, pausing in the doorway. “I don’t want to be near any of your so called mates right now.”

She left the room and climbed the stairs. Probably better if she wasn’t around for the calls, Larry thought.

“And make sure you tell them exactly what I think of them!” she hollered from the landing.

He went over to the living area door, shut it and then plonked himself down on the sofa with a huge sigh.

“Call Simon Kingsley, projection.” He placed his hands in his lap and waited for the call to connect. Within seconds a holographic image of Simon appeared in front of him, projected from his dat-com strap. Simon was standing in his office, a section of his data-desk showed behind him.

“Laz!” Simon exclaimed excitedly. “How are you mate?”

“Not good Simon,” Larry said bluntly.

“What’s up Laz?” Simon asked noticing that his friend had called him by his name, something that seldom happened.

“Did you call Tulip this afternoon with a sinister message?” Larry demanded.

“What? Mate I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about,” Simon was stunned. “I haven’t had time to call anyone this afternoon; certainly not Tulip with any message, sinister or otherwise.”

There was something about the way Simon looked that made Larry want to believe him; he’d known him all his life after all.“Tulip said someone called her just after 14:00 hours and told her it was in her best interests to let me go out this evening.”

“Well it wasn’t me mate,” Simon declared. “I’ve been in one of Chillipoc’s department meetings all afternoon with the rest of the wing. There are fifty-six people here that will vouch for that.”

“Right,” Larry said coldly.

“Mate I’m more than a bit disappointed you even considered I might do something like that?” Simon countered with a troubled look on his face. He moved over to his leather sofa and sat down feeling stunned. The projection of Larry moved as Simon’s strap did and now he appeared sitting on a section of his grubby sofa in front of Simon’s data-desk. He went on. “As far as I know you are coming out anyway tonight; we discussed it last Wednesday when we were in Cornwall.”

Larry was now sure Simon couldn’t have been responsible. He felt a little bad that he had doubted his friend. Tulip knew about the switch to tonight though; the only other two that knew were Spencer and Simon and he hadn’t told either of them yet that he couldn’t make it. Larry’s head started to pound with the quandary.

“Larry?” Simon said when Larry failed to reply.

“Si I don’t know what to think, Tulip is in a right state she thinks I plotted this with you or Spencer or lord knows who else just so I could get out of her mother’s birthday meal tonight.”

“Well that’s the first I’ve heard of a meal, you never mentioned it last Wednesday when we changed the night, or Thursday when we last spoke,” Simon pointed out.

“I didn’t know until just now,” Larry admitted. “Apparently she told me when I got back from Cornwall.”

“Well if you didn’t know how the hell was anyone else supposed to know?” Simon exclaimed.

Larry remained silent.

“And don’t think that Spencer had anything to do with this either,” Simon added. “He’s been in New York all day shopping with my mum.”

Larry looked down at his lap and started circling his thumbs round each other.

“Have you checked the call log on her strap?” he added.

Larry looked up again. “No; there’s no point. The caller managed to stop his details coming up; she didn’t know who it was when she took the call.”

“Larry there is something really odd about all this; you can’t make anonymous calls.”

“I know Si.”

“So it could have been anyone.”

“It’s looking that way,” Larry agreed. “Si I’ve gotta go; needless to say I won’t be out tonight.”

“No worries mate, I understand… You just enjoy that meal.” Simon added with a sly grin

Larry smiled for the first time during the call.

“Have you spoken to Spencer about it yet?” Simon asked.

“No, can I leave that one for you, would you mind explaining?”

Simon closed his eyes and screwed up his face into a grimace for a second. “I suppose so; he’s probably not going to take it very well.”

“I know mate. Look I’ve really gotta go now and defrost Tulip a bit, or tonight’s going to be a lot worse than it’s already looking.”

“Okay, let me know when you get to the bottom of all this,” Simon insisted.

“Will do.”

The call ended.

“Right,” Larry said aloud as he stood up. He strode across the room and went upstairs to go and make the peace with Tulip.

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