Somerset England, Wednesday August 13th 2262
Hector Humphreys had been gone less than twenty minutes and Hillary Jane still hadn’t come up with a plan how to get herself out of her mess… and keep her exemplary reputation and her career intact.
She paced up and down her long hallway. Her head pounded, she should never have drank so much revivify; she couldn’t think clearly. She was annoyed with herself, angry with Norman and most of all incensed with Hector Humphreys. That vile little rat was going to gain from her downfall if she wasn’t careful. If only Tamarah Stein had turned up to the bar in New York; then she wouldn’t be in this awful situation. Hillary Jane stopped at the foot of the stairs. That damn irritating stupid bitch! She was to blame for all this.
Hillary Jane gritted her teeth as she seethed with anger. She could have left the bar before Simon arrived had Tamarah had the decency to call. She would call Tamarah and tell her exactly what she thought of her when she had the time.
Hillary Jane picked up a taupe antique, ceramic bud vase that dated to around 2150 from the centre of a traditional half-moon cherry console table. The vase’s crazed shabby, almost grubby appearance added to its charm. It held dried miniature sunflowers; and was a much loved relic of Normans. She threw the vase and the flowers with as much force as she could muster down the hall.
“AGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!” she screamed as the two flew through the air and hit the front-door with a loud thud. The vase exploded into hundreds of pieces and showered down onto the floorboards like hailstones. The sunflowers remained mainly intact and settled over the shards like flowers scattered over a new grave.
Hillary Jane looked over the mess in front of the door and felt marginally better. It dawned on her then that the person she needed to speak to was in fact Albert Stein. She had paid him handsomely for his advice over the years. His ability to ‘sort out problems’ was also the only reason after all, that she endured the contemptible bitch he was married to. She recalled the number of ghastly dates she’d had to tolerate with Tamarah Stein over the preceding months.
Hillary Jane strutted to the kitchen and sat herself down at the head of the table with a loud frustrated sigh. The sun streamed brightly through the French doors causing her to shift slightly in her seat to avoid the glare.
“Call Albert Stein, audio,” she barked into her strap.
A few seconds later the call connected… “Hillary Jane! A delight as ever,” Albert Stein greeted her with.
He was reclined in his office in a dashing bright green silk robe tied loosely with a black sash; his bare feet were perched on his data-desk. He was waiting for Tamarah to bring him his breakfast.
“Hello Albert,” Hillary Jane responded coldly.
“I guess you are calling about last night,” Albert stated, looking at his toenails and wondering when Tamarah had last cut them for him.
What did he know, who had said what? Hillary Jane thought in a panic.
Albert continued. “I’m sorry about spoiling your girl’s night out with Tams. I’d had a rough day and wanted a bit of company.”
“That’s fine,” Hillary Jane said, sounding as though it was far from fine.
“It was way too late to call you when we realised we hadn’t,” Albert replied. “Tam’s took my mind off it; she has a knack of doing that,” he added with a suggestive chuckle.
Hillary Jane shuddered at the mental picture he had just placed in her head.
“Let me make it up to you,” Albert offered. “Why don’t I book a table on The Eiffel Tower for the four of us; what do you say girl?”
“I…” Hillary Jane started.
“I hear they’re having a Russian cuisine evening next Thursday; rather fitting don’t you think? What with your marvellous achievements recently. When is best for you? Eight or nine?” he insisted.
“Albert!” Hillary Jane said sharply. “I need your help.”
“Oh…” Albert said, a little stunned. “I didn’t realise this was a business call. What can I do for you?”
“I’m in trouble Albert and I don’t know what to do about it.”
“I’m sure it’s something I can sort out; don’t I always?” he said with a smile. Where was his breakfast?
“This time I’m in serious trouble; the press know about it and I have less than two hours before it goes public and ruins me.”
“Jeepers!” Albert exclaimed, throwing his feet to the floor and sitting up in his office chair. “What have you been up to girl? You had better tell me quick. I need the whole truth mind if I’m going to sort this for you; I don’t want anything coming back to bite me on the ass somewhere down the line.”
He was right, he needed the truth; no matter how difficult it was going to be for her to relay. Hillary Jane closed her eyes briefly and sighed heavily before she began.
Twenty-three minutes later they had devised a plan between them.
“Now this is only going to work if you proceed as we have agreed; and obviously you will need Norman onside too,” Albert concluded.
“He’s refusing to speak to me at the moment, let alone stand by me for this.”
“Hillary Jane this won’t work without him. You need him. I suggest you port over there and see him face-to-face.”
“They have blocked me porting to the apartment; I already tried that, as well as calling him countless times.”
“Well I suggest you port into the neighbourhood and walk, knock the brother’s front door down if you have to. You have no choice; I’m sure I don’t need to remind you that the clock is ticking; to coin an old-fashioned phrase.”
“You’re right Albert,” Hillary Jane agreed. Her mind buzzing with the plan that had been hatched, this might just work. “I will speak to you later.”
“Oh, one other thing before you go,” Albert said quickly before she could end the call.
“Were there any witnesses?” he asked.
“Only the other patrons in Obama’s…oh, and the barman.”
“They shouldn’t be a problem.”
“My thoughts too,” Hillary Jane agreed, desperate to end the call and get on with things.
“I feel a little guilty Hills,” Albert went on. “If I hadn’t stopped Tams going out last night none of this would have happened…” he paused for a moment. “No charge for the advice this time.”
“Thank you,” Hillary Jane replied. It was his fault, she surmised, odious little wretch.
“Good luck,” Albert finished with. You will need it, he thought, as he ended the call.
Hillary Jane left the kitchen and strode down the hall to the library. She flung the door open and marched in. The musty smell of the old books on the original rickety rosewood shelving found her nostrils and gave her a sense of homeliness. The books surrounded her completely, from floor to ceiling, much like her office in New Downing Street, but on a far greater scale.
“Activate data-desk,” she announced.
The data-desk transformed from its rosewood façade to its Plasmorph display area in seconds.
“Good morning Hillary Jane,” the data-desk greeted her with.
“Open Norman’s file,” she snapped, quite confident that he wouldn’t have password protected his file on her data-desk since the last time she had opened it.
Hillary Jane scoured his sub-files within the file; she had done this numerous times without his knowledge so knew what she was looking for.
“Open address file.”
There it was, Terry’s address in Rugby.
“Copy the address to my strap and locate the nearest public teleporter to the address.”
“Details sent,” the data-desk confirmed.
“Close all files and deactivate.”
“Goodbye Hillary Jane,” the data-desk said serenely.
Hillary Jane checked her strap, the latest upload was displaying on the strap. She was pleased to see that the block of apartments also had its own communal teleporter; she wouldn’t have far to walk after all. She crossed the creaky floorboards and was half-way to the door when she noticed something unusual perched on the arm of the leatherette Chesterfield arm-chair. The flat black object stood out against the tan arm of the chair. Why hadn’t she spotted this on her way into the library? Or last night when she had been showing Simon round?
She strode over to the chair and scooped it up. As she did she realised what it was. It was the leather-bound writing set that she had ordered for Norman the previous week; the gift she had bought him following their row over his negligence towards her black suit.
She went back over to the data-desk, placed it on the surface, popped apart the press stud and opened the set; letting the front leather face flop onto the data-desk. Written on the first sheet were the words…
Hillary Jane, I love you. Norman
Hillary Jane read the words a second time. Her heart sank. She had virtually destroyed the man who was so utterly devoted to her, the man that would literally do anything for her. Did he still feel the same? Had she lost him this time? Would she ever see him again?
She swallowed back the knotted lump of grief that stuck in her throat; now wasn’t the time to let her emotions take over. An idea sprang into her mind. She was going to amend Albert Stein’s plan very slightly.
She took the writing set to the other side of the desk and sat down in the rigid tan leather chair behind it. She carefully lifted up the first crisp white page with Norman’s words on it and folded it back at the gummed section along the top; his words were now out of emotional sight against the surface of the desk. She pulled the fountain pen from its leather loop and carefully removed the top. She knew Norman well enough to know that if he read a handwritten letter from her he was more likely to be won over than if she faced him in front of his brother. She thought for a few minutes and then started to write, she couldn’t remember having written on paper before.
Twelve minutes later she had written the letter, placed it in an envelope and had teleported to Terry’s apartment block in Rugby. She was a little surprised at how nice the block was as she walked up the three flights of stairs to Terry’s apartment. The open corridors and public areas were spotless, the residents here obviously took pride in their home; either that or the communal sections of the building were seldom used because each apartment had its own teleporter. How could Terry afford to live in such an up-market area? How was he making his living lately?
Hillary Jane turned left round the final corner; his apartment was the second one down on a row called Avon Street. She approached his front door quickly and quietly.
“Oh,” she muttered to herself. This was something she hadn’t considered. How was she going to get Norman’s letter actually into the apartment? Unlike her own front door, this modern apartment door had no letter-plate. There was no need for them; there hadn’t been since the Royal Mail delivery service had fizzled out over one hundred and thirty years ago. What little actual physical mail that was still about back then was teleported.
“Blast,” she said to herself as she futilely searched for any opening in or around the fabric of the door that she could slip the letter through. There was no gap to the sides or underneath and the solid blue plastiwood door’s surface was unyielding also; its frosted solar glass panel was securely sealed into the surround too. Hillary Jane tried to peer through the obscure panel, putting one hand to the solar glass to shield the glare from the sun. The frosted style permitted no view inside.
There was only one thing for it. She placed the envelope on the ground in front of the door; face up with Norman’s name written neatly on it. She rapped sharply on the glass three times with her knuckles and then made a quick retreat. She stopped just behind the corner on the landing and gingerly peered round. After a few seconds the door opened, a moment later she saw a hand appear and pick up the letter. Terry then stepped out in his night wear with the letter in his hand. It always spooked her a little to see him as he and Norman looked so alike. She had often fantasised about a night in bed with them both.
Terry looked left first, down the landing, and then right, straight towards her. She pulled her head back hurriedly; had he seen her? She didn’t hang around to find out. She descended the stairs swiftly and rushed to the teleporter on the ground floor. She just hoped and prayed that Norman would actually get her letter… Everything depended on it.