New York, Mexamerica, Tuesday August 12th 2262
15:46:14 hours (local time)
Hillary Jane sat alone on a high-backed, electric blue glass stool at the bar in Obama’s. She sipped at her glass of Romanée Conti and to everyone around her she had the demeanour of being relaxed and appeared to be enjoying the tranquil atmosphere; inside though she was fuming. She placed her wineglass on the glass-topped bar in front of her next to Tamara’s silver papered gift box. She checked the time on her strap once again. Tonight she had donned her favourite one; its delicate silver band secured it to her wrist, the diamond encrusted face confirmed that Tamarah was late -over fourteen minutes late. She was the one that was supposed to arrive late. Stephen always made sure that guests, unless they were very important, arrived six to seven minutes before she did.
It was unlikely that Stephen would have got the port times wrong, but then again Tamarah had never been late before either.
Hillary Jane had been at the bar in Liberty State Park now for eight minutes. If Tamarah was late then there had better have been a death in the family at the very least. She smiled politely at the barman as he went about his business.
Tamarah had been right about how exquisite Obama’s was; it had that distinct high class feel to it and was definitely somewhere she would bring future business guests. The bar was just the right size, any bigger and the intimate feel it had would have been lost, any smaller and it would have felt overcrowded. A selection of classical and operatic music played ranging from three or four centuries back, right up to the more modern sonnets of the present day. The tall electric-blue glass furniture featured throughout, lending the area a cool calming quality that extended onto the tiled front aspect which boasted the most splendid views over the north side of the park.
Hillary Jane observed several groups of well-to-do patrons through the solar glass frontage enjoying their evening. She was the only one, inside or out, that was sitting alone.
“Is everything okay madam?”
Hillary Jane turned in her seat to face the navy suited, elderly looking barman, and smiled sweetly. “Everything is fine thank you, my companion is just running a little late I fear.” She chuckled politely.
“Can I get you another?” The barman asked in a fine upper-class English accent, pointing to her near empty glass.
“Oh yes, please do.” She smiled again as the barman took her glass away to replenish it.
So the barman had noticed that she’d been stood up, who else had spotted her alone and pitied her? A quick scan of the room revealed that no one appeared to be paying her any more attention than usual.
Hillary Jane was finding it increasingly more difficult to conceal her fury, a call to Stephen was in order; perhaps he could shed some light on the missing Tamarah.
“Call Stephen Baxter, audio,” she said softly into her strap. After a minute the call dropped unanswered. Stephen’s recorded message began to play in her ear requesting that she leave a message.
“End call,” she said sternly. Why wasn’t he answering her?
“Call Stephen Baxter, audio,” she repeated. After a minute his recorded message started to play again, she ended the call once more.
On the fourth call Stephen answered, trying not to sound frosty and to keep his voice low too. “Ms Bartlett, I’m at a theatre in Italy with Richard.”
“What time did you arrange for Tamarah to arrive?” she barked under her breath, trying to keep her own volume down, completely ignoring his statement. He was never off duty as far as she was concerned.
Stephen sighed. “Tamarah should be there, from memory she was due to arrive nearly seven minutes before you.”
“Well, she hasn’t shown up; clearly you have made some mistake somewhere. Have you sent the bitch to a different wine bar?”
“Certainly not!” Stephen declared, annoyed that he was being blamed for Hillary Jane being stood up.
“If you check my memo on your strap Ms Bartlett, you will see all the port details that I sent you earlier this afternoon,” he paused. “Now I really must go, we are in the middle of our play.” He ended the call before she could say anything else; something he would probably regret doing when he saw her at the office in the morning.
Hillary Jane stared in disbelief at her strap. Stephen had just cut her off. She was livid. He was going to pay for that tomorrow; how dare he!
The barman placed a full glass of Romanée Conti before her. She wasn’t prepared to do pleasantries anymore so pretended not to notice. As he turned to walk away she picked it up and took a long swig from it. She called up Stephen’s memo on her strap; wishing that she’d thought about doing it instead of calling him. The port details confirmed that he was right, both hers and Tamarah’s ports were to Obama’s. Tamarah should have arrived six minutes and forty-two seconds before she had.
Hillary Jane decided she would give Tamarah the time it took to finish her glass to arrive, or to call with an apology. If she did neither then she was going to leave.
15:46:14 hours (local time)
Zara’s bar was a hive of activity; the place was packed with people of all ages. If you liked loud music and a party atmosphere this was the place to be. Simon was seated at the bar on a tall fluorescent-pink high-backed stool. There were people sat on both sides of him up and down the length of the long bar. He had just finished his first large lager and now carefully sipped at the frothy head of the second. He put it down on the glass-topped bar in front of him that rapidly flashed an entire spectrum of vivid colours. He checked the time on his strap - Spencer was late, nearly eighteen minutes late. This was most unlike him. If it had been Laz he wouldn’t have given it a second’s thought; it was a surprise if Laz was on time. At least half of Larry’s monthly teleportation bill must have been made up of unused port slots. Spencer was the exact opposite, he was always punctual. Simon had that niggling feeling that something must be wrong; surely Spencer would have called him if he had missed his port slot.
From where Simon was positioned at the bar, he had a clear view of the bank of four teleporters against the far wall across the small dance floor. The door of the one with a blue jazzy number three above it popped forward and slid open. Simon looked over expectantly and was almost disappointed to see a tall scantily clad girl step out. Her long, ginger hair bounced about off her large breasts as she skipped to the bar to meet up with a party of girls. She greeted each of her five friends with an enthusiastic hug and a kiss. Were those breasts for real? Surely she had undertaken capacity injections, Simon thought, as he got a slight stirring in his underwear. He liked to see young girls get affectionate with each other. Her breasts squashed up against each of her friend’s breasts as she greeted them. He continued watching them, his mind imagining all sorts of naked scenarios as he took several long swigs from his lager. His thoughts were interrupted when his strap pulsed against his wrist. He glanced down at it to see Spencer was calling him. Quick as a flash he jumped off his stool, picked up his drink and started squeezing his way through the patrons on the busy floor; Spencer would never hear him over the loud music.
“Answer call, strap display,” Simon commanded when he finally got out onto the quiet veranda, the sliding solar glass doors having silenced the loud music completely. He stepped off the veranda onto the grass so as to speak to Spencer with a little privacy. He faced what must be the stuffy wine bar in the distance that Spencer had mentioned earlier.
“Hey Spencer what’s up mate? Where are you?”
Spencer’s ashen face appeared on Simon’s strap. “Oh Si, I think I’m dying; I’ve never felt so ill.”
“What’s wrong with you?” Simon asked. Spencer was known for being a bit of a hypochondriac, but he didn’t look great right now.
“It must be the prawns I had for lunch, they’ve poisoned me; I’m going to die!” Spencer wailed.
Simon rolled his eyes. “Spendy no one has died from food poisoning for a hundred years. You’re not going to die no matter how poorly you feel. What has your strap diagnosed?”
“Clostridium botulinum... Si, it’s one of the worst; I’m dying, I know I am.”
“How long have you felt ill?”
“About thirty minutes. I was all ready to port to New York when it struck me down!” Spencer sobbed. “I should have listened to that old man.”
“What old man?”
“There was an old grey haired man in a grey suit stood at the entrance to the restaurant when we arrived there at lunchtime. Bridge and I nicknamed him ‘The old grey man’. He seemed a bit odd and very emotional. If only I had listened to him... I would be there with you now instead of lying here on my deathbed.”
Simon remembered his mum mentioning an old man in grey when she had called him. “What did he say then?”
“He said that the food in the restaurant would kill us and to avoid the place... We took no notice of him though!” Spencer sobbed. He just seemed too weird and was on the point of tears... We thought he was some crank with a vendetta... How did he know Si? He stood outside and watched us for ages before our waiter got rid of him… his prediction is coming true Si, I’m not going to make it; I just know I won’t. How could he have known? Why didn’t we listen to him? ”
“Calm down Spendy, you are going to be fine with the right medical help. Have you sent the strap diagnosis to your doctor?” Simon asked.
“No, I don’t have the strength, I can barely move, my muscles hurt and I ache all over.”
“Spencer you need to send it and soon. You are just going to get worse otherwise. The doctor can port you over whatever medication you need and you can be back on your feet in an hour or so.”
“I’ve called Bridge... she is coming over to help me... She will have to do it,” Spencer groaned.
“She’ll be here in a few minutes.” He coughed weakly to emphasise how bad he felt.
Simon was relieved to hear that his mum was going over. She would sort him out.
“That’s great, she will look after you. Call me later and let me know how you are getting on.”
“Okay Si, I will... if I can find the strength.”
“Stay strong mate,” Simon said, and then ended the call.
He drained the remainder of his lager while he thought about what he was going to do now. He didn’t fancy spending the night by himself; he had never been one for drinking alone. He wandered back over to the veranda and placed his empty glass on an unused table. He stopped in his tracks as he heard some familiar music. He turned and faced the distant wine bar where the music emanated and tried to work out what was being played. The music was very faint and was being carried over on the light breeze that was providing some pleasant relief from the high temperature. The voice was female. He caught a few more of the words and realised that it was Andrea Zuvich singing ‘All I Ask of You’. A shiver ran up and down his spine. He hadn’t heard this song since the day he had moved into his new office at the museum. He pivoted round and looked through the solar glass frontage of Zara’s, and then back to face the wine bar. Somewhere that played such wonderful music surely couldn’t be that bad. He felt drawn to the wine bar, he had to go and check it out now. Perhaps just the one drink there before he returned home.
He set off on the short trek towards the bar. As he got closer the music got louder and clearer. He could now see the blue lit sign at the front - Obama’s.