Time To Repair

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chapter 4

London England, Wednesday August 6th 2262

09:42:06 hours

Hillary Jane had teleported directly into the building today; instead of going via her favourite coffee shop and walking the last few hundred metres. She usually liked to make an entrance through the large black front door into the entrance hall. It paid dividends to be seen and you just never knew who was going to be about from one day to the next. This couldn’t be achieved by teleporting into the basement and taking the back stairs.

Today though she hadn’t wanted to face the ignoramuses she had to work with; she definitely wasn’t in the mood for that. A fortunate decision as it happened. The press were swarming all over the pavement again; like the vile sewer rats that they were. She could hear the foray, as she stepped out of the teleporter, via the basement’s ventilation grills. Sound from all over the building often ended up channelled down here. No doubt the press were here for yet another scandal, or fall from grace that they would have hounded her for an opinion on. One wrong phrase or word when you were caught off guard and you could be the next scandal broadcast to the world’s dat-com straps. Vultures! she thought.

She ascended the backstairs to her floor without seeing a soul and now made her way down the dimly lit oak panelled passage that led from the stairs to the front offices. Her approach was silent, the thick navy carpet silencing her heels. She turned into the large alcove just outside her office. Her secretary, Stephen, was sat at his data-desk studying something on it. He sensed her presence and looked up.

“Good morning Ms Bartlett,” he greeted her with, a smile quickly following.

She just about managed to force out a ‘morning’ in reply as she breezed past him and into her office. He followed her in.

“What’s going on out the front?” She asked bluntly. She stood back slightly from the traditional sash window and peered out. The bomb-proof solar secondary glazing had obliterated the sound of the raucous commotion.

“I’m not quite sure,” Stephen answered. “They’ve been out there for the last hour or so.”

“And you didn’t think to warn me?” She blurted out. “I could have walked right into that foray and it would have been all your fault!”

She glared at him, making him feel uncomfortable. “You know I walk the last part of my journey as part of my morning fitness routine, thankfully I didn’t have time today with my schedule as it is.”

“I’m sorry Ms Bartlett; I didn’t think.”

“No; you never do.” She walked over to her data-desk. “Activate data-desk,” she barked, throwing herself down into her plush black leatherette chair.

Stephen stood there waiting for the verbal onslaught. She eyed him up and down. He was an attractive young man and very good at his job; he wouldn’t have lasted the four years that he had if he wasn’t. He was his usual impeccably smart self. Every day of the week he wore a different suit, shirt and shoes; she admired that in a man. Today it was charcoal grey with a black and grey tartan tie and a lighter grey shirt. His short jet black hair was groomed perfectly and shone like his shoes.

She had always made sure her secretaries were male, attractive and homosexual. She couldn’t risk the potential temptation of mixing ’business with pleasure’. She wasn’t going to be the next scandal. She’d gone through a few before she found one that was actually good at the job too.

She looked down at her data-desk which was now live.

“Perhaps you can go and fetch me a coffee; if it’s not too much bother for you,” she stated with a subtle hint of sarcasm.

“Of course Ms Bartlett.”

“And not the muck from the dispenser here. I want a proper coffee from Luigi’s; he knows how to make good coffee.”

“I’ll order one in now Ms Bartlett.”

“Why don’t you go and fetch it personally, you can find out what’s going on out the front as well then.”

“Oh. Okay,” Stephen said.

“Do you have a problem with that?” Hillary Jane asked, looking up from her data-desk for the first time.

“No of course not,” he reassured her smiling sweetly. “I just thought you would want it sooner than that, it will take me twenty minutes to walk there and twenty back… I will leave straight away, unless you need anything else before I go?”

“Send me your notes on the Russians, I want to add them to mine and read through them before the meeting this morning,” she barked without even looking at him.

“Of course,” he replied.

He turned and left her office. Someone had been in a spat with their boyfriend this morning he thought. How he pitied that poor guy. He’d been a pleasure to meet at the summer garden party; quite attractive too. He deserved a lot better than her. Stephen could tell from that one brief meeting, and the numerous calls he had put in to Norman over the years with her orders, that the poor sod was besotted with her.

He stood in front of his data-desk and pulled in his chair. He was inches from buttocks on tanned leatherette when…

“Stephen!”

He sighed and dutifully returned to the lair. “Yes Ms Bartlett.”

“Keep your mouth shut in front of the press.”

“Of course Ms Bartlett; it goes without saying,” he assured her.

“Does it now?” She spat. He smiled sweetly; good job she couldn’t read minds. Venomous old cow!

He left; this time closing her door behind him, the hinges squeaking slightly as the heavy oak door swung shut.

He located the file that she wanted on his data-desk and forwarded it to hers before he left for Luigi’s.

Hillary Jane started to read her notes on the Russians. She couldn’t concentrate though. She had Norman on her mind. Typical of him to jeopardise her meeting with the Russians without even being here!

First the whole incident with her suit, then the ensuing battle; anyone would think he was working for the Russians... She had a fraction of a second’s suspicion and then laughed at herself. What a ridiculous notion. She turned back to her notes once more - thirty seconds later Norman had crept into her mind again.

Damn that man! She would never be able to get on at this rate. She pushed herself back in her chair, banging it hard against the wall, got up and started pacing her office.

Two of the walls were filled with books from floor to ceiling; some of them were hundreds of years old. In the years that she had been here, she hadn’t read one. They were all lined up on bowing oak shelves behind rows of rickety old timber framed glass doors. She loved the look of the books; and that slightly musty smell of the old paper - but not the idea of reading them.

She was definitely one for old fashioned themes when it came to décor and furniture. She and Norman were very similar in that respect. The house in Somerset had been an amazing find.

She walked to the two windows that pretty much filled the wall. Each had a traditional old-fashioned cast iron radiator below it. Purely decorative now though. The press were still out there. Were there more of them now she wondered?

She circled the office once again. Should she call Norman; just to see how he was? That would perhaps put her troubled mind to rest. She lifted her arm to bring up her dat-com strap.

“Call Nor…” she stopped herself. The strap pulsed and brought up an error message on the display.

Unknown contact!

She rarely called him. He would think something was wrong. He did the calling; she liked it that way.

It suddenly came to her. A gift! Why hadn’t she thought of that before? She returned to her data-desk and checked the time on it. There was plenty of time to browse for a gift; then perhaps she could get on with her day. She sat down… now what to get him…?

Somerset England.

It had taken Norman twenty minutes and a strong cup of tea to compose himself following Hillary Jane’s departure. He was now sat at the table in the kitchen with his second cup. His trembling hands had caused him to slosh a lot of the first one into the saucer. He couldn’t stomach breakfast just yet either.

He hadn’t been in such a state for some months. If only he could be as strong as her, he thought as he sipped his tea.

His older brother Terry had tried to call him, his strap had been upstairs in the bedroom so the call had diverted to the entertainment room. He had ignored it; the last thing he needed was a larger-than-life holographic version of his brother to contend with too. He couldn’t let Terry see his little brother in this state. Terry thought he was mad anyway for putting up with Hillary Jane like he did; so much so that he had stopped confiding in Terry as much as he used to about her; he tried not to bring her up at all if he didn’t have to. It bothered him a little, but that was the way it had to be.

He put his cup down and looked out into the court-yard.

Christ! Who was that?

His heart raced for a second before he realised that is was Bill, the old head gardener, walking towards the house, not an axe wielding maniac intent on killing him in his dressing gown.

He let out a deep breath of relief, blowing his fringe up for a second. It flopped back down over his eyes. He brushed it aside as he got up. He tightened his dressing gown cord and went over to open the French doors at the other end of the table.

“Morning Bill,” he said, more cheerily than he felt.

Bill reached the doors, a little out of breath. “Good morning to you to Sir; and another fine morning it is to… I thought I would pop back before next week and see to that oak tree your wife was concerned about; we don’t want rogues climbing over the wall now do we?”

Norman decided not to correct Bill’s mistake on the status of his relationship. “That’s very good of you; Hillary Jane has been very concerned about it, we were only discussing it over breakfast this morning.”

Not exactly true, he thought. “I will get you the keys for the outhouse.”

“Thank you son,” Bill coughed into his clenched fist, steadying himself against one of the open doors.

“Are you okay Bill?” The poor old boy should have retired years ago. His tanned, weather-beaten old face served as a reminder about what the sun did to your skin before sun repellent tablets had been about. He should be taking it easy; he had to be at least one hundred and forty to one hundred and fifty years old.

“I’m okay,” he wheezed. “A glass of water would be good though.”

“Yes of course; I will bring one out to you; unless you want to come in and sit for awhile?” Norman stepped aside and gestured towards the table.

“Err… no thank you son,” Bill replied, squinting to look into the dark room from the brightness of the courtyard.

Norman was a little embarrassed. “Hillary Jane left for work awhile ago,” he confirmed meekly, sensing Bill’s unease.

“I will take it down by the pond in the garden,” Bill replied avoiding eye contact. “On such a lovely day,” he added.

“Okay, get yourself down there, take a seat on the bench, and I will bring it down for you along with the keys,” Norman said kindly.

“I’ve bought young Billy with me,” Bill said.

“Then I will bring a pitcher and two glasses in that case,” Norman said with a smile, young Billy, could only be twenty years younger than Bill himself… if that.

Bill wandered back across the courtyard and slipped through the rusty iron gate that separated the courtyard from the rear garden.

Norman got a metal tray from one of the base cupboards and a large pitcher and two glass tumblers from the wall cabinet above the fridge. After a seconds thought he put the tumblers back and swapped them for two green plastic beakers; his life wouldn’t be worth living if either of the gardeners broke one of Hillary Jane’s glasses. He filled the pitcher with lemonade, from one of the taps in the fridge, and added ice to it from the freezer. Following a quick rummage around in the messy drawer, full to over flowing with the odds and sods that had no real home of their own, he found the outhouse keys. An old-fashioned concept using a flimsy metal key for a door he thought, and far from secure, but living in a listed building you had to go with the existing technology and look at it as part of the charm and character of the place. He dropped them on the tray with everything else and slipped upstairs to change.

He dropped the dressing gown on the bed; kicking his slippers off as he did, and stood there examining his wounded arm.

He could see that the bleeding had stopped under the Plaster-gel, it looked a lot worse than it actually was. He wandered over to the dressing room, opened one of his drawers and pulled out a pair of baggy white shorts and a light blue tartan vest-top. He dressed quickly and then donned his dat-com strap as he ambled back down to the kitchen.

The red block paving felt a little too warm under Norman’s bare feet as he made his way steadily across the court-yard with the tray. It was a relief to cross the threshold and step on to the slightly cooler grass. Bill and Billy were sat facing the pond on the little wooden bench. They looked up as Norman reached them with the tray.

“Here you are guys,” Norman announced. He placed the tray on the small square wooden table in front of them.

“Thanks’ son, much appreciated,” Bill replied. Billy nodded; he had never been known for his long meaningful conversation or witty banter.

Norman poured each of them a beaker of lemonade. “The keys are here on the tray; I guess you will need them to get the things you want from the outhouse?”

“That we will,” Bill agreed. “We shall be needing the scissor platform and the large laser saw to cut the limbs off that beast.”

“You guys be careful up there,” Norman said with genuine concern in his voice.

“Don’t you be worrying about us, we will be fine on that platform,” Bill paused to take a long swig of lemonade. “We will have to cut the bigger limbs in sections, when we’ve stripped the smaller branches from them,” he wiped his stubbly mouth dry with a grubby shirt sleeve. “That new platform’s big enough to take a lot more wood than the old one; we can probably do it in three goes and be finished in a few hours.”

“I will be about for a couple of hours so just shout if you want another drink,” Norman offered preparing to leave.

“Sure will,” Bill replied. “A nasty looking gash on your arm there,” he added.

“Yes, I can be so clumsy at times,” Norman lied, feeling his face flush. He headed back to the house not wishing to divulge the cause of the injury or fabricate some unbelievable story either.

Norman spent the next twenty minutes tidying up the bedroom and removing his blood from the floorboards. He then sent Hillary Jane’s suit off to be cleaned; he had paid well over the top to make sure it was sent back before she returned home. She was worth it though. He cleared away her breakfast things and his cups. He still couldn’t face eating anything just yet.

He decided to call Terry back before Terry called him.

He plonked himself down on their bed and called Terry from his strap; audio only.

Terry answered after a few seconds with his distinct gravelly voice. “Hello little brother.”

“Morning big brother,” Norman replied.

“Why audio only bro?” Terry enquired. “I thought you would want to see my new flat?”

“I’ve only just got out the shower,” Norman lied. “I noticed you had tried to call so called you straight-back; I’m sure you don’t want to see your little brother naked… well, your not so little brother.”

Terry chuckled. “You went ahead with those much needed lengthening injections then?”

“Yeah right; like I ever needed those,” Norman quipped. “I’ve often considered reduction surgery though.”

They both laughed.

“That was a long shower bro; it’s been well over forty minutes since I called.”

“I was in the garden sorting out the gardeners before the shower, you must have called then, my strap was beside the bed.”

Norman wasn’t comfortable telling his brother half-truths so quickly changed the subject. “How are things with you anyway, any luck in love lately?”

Terry sighed. “No, destined to be a bachelor forever.”

“What happened to that girl you was seeing from Scotland then?”

“That was over weeks ago! Come on, keep up,” Terry sighed. “She just got too clingy too soon; puts me right off a girl that does.”

“You never give anyone long enough or even a slight chance bro,” Norman replied.

“Maybe, how’s Hillary Jane doing, looking after you I hope?”

“Of course… she’s fine.”

“Has she still got that big meeting with the Russians today?” Terry asked.

“Yes, but you don’t know that remember?” Norman reminded him abruptly.

“I know bro, take it easy man, my lips are sealed.”

“Good, she would kill me if she knew I confided in you so much,” Norman fretted. “She has been more than a little stressed about it lately, nothing she can’t handle though.”

“She will no doubt have them eating out of the palm of her hand by this afternoon and signing all sorts,” joked Terry.

They both laughed.

“The reason I called was that I’ve bought my little brother a present,” Terry announced.

“Wow! Great!” Norman exclaimed, excitement evident in his voice. “You know it’s not my birthday for a few months yet don’t you?”

“I know when your birthday is Normie,” Terry chuckled. “You have been good to me just lately, helped out a lot financially when I was desperate. I wouldn’t be in this new pad without your help. I just wanted to make it up to you now that I’m in a position to.”

“You know you don’t need to but… are you going to tell me what it is or do I have to guess?”

They laughed again.

“Well, I heard about this new place that has just opened in Northampton so I bought us both a ticket...” Terry waited.

“Well go on then,” Norman said impatiently.

Terry chuckled. “It’s called The Northampton Museum of Humanity, one of the biggest in the world, right up your street.”

Norman was stunned. “It’s certainly sounding impressive so far.”

Terry continued. “I have bought us tickets and reserved port slots for an open evening next Tuesday around 1900 hours. The tour is about four hours long, I think, with a buffet thrown in.”

“I can’t believe it,” Norman gasped. “Thank you soooo much!”

“As I said,” Terry replied, feeling the warmth from his brother. “It’s just a little gesture for all your help and support. It’s also been far too long since we spent an evening together. We can have a drinky or two afterwards and you can crash at mine; it will be just like old times.”

Norman’s heart skipped a beat - would Hillary Jane be okay with him spending the night out with his brother?

“Are you still there little brother?” Terry asked, puzzled at the silence.

“Sorry Terry, I’m just lost for words, I’m so happy.”

He had a week to find the right time to announce it to Hillary Jane; surely she couldn’t mind him spending the night with his only brother?

“That’s what I like to hear! I will send over all the info to your strap, check out the place before next week, they have a virtual site you can experience; it will look amazing in that entertainment room of yours.”

Just then Norman’s strap pulsed. He glanced down at his strap. Someone was trying to set up a teleport to the house.

“I’ve got to dash,” said Norman. “Someone wants to port in.”

“No worries bro, I will catch up with you before next Tuesday.”

“Thanks Terry, love you.”

“Softie!” Terry ended the call. Norman sighed happily as he got off the bed. He checked out the details of the requested port as he made his way swiftly downstairs to the port room. A company called Write Time had requested to port a parcel to him. He opened the port room door. The display on the teleporter panel was flashing the requested incoming details. He placed his thumb on the panel.

“Accept port request,” he announced.

Within seconds the panel started the countdown from eleven seconds. Norman hadn’t heard of Write Time and didn’t have any clue as to what the parcel could be. The door popped forward and slid to the left with a hiss. On the floor of the teleporter was a large sealed brown paper bag with the company name and logo on it. Norman bent down and picked it up, it was heavier than he expected. He strolled back to the kitchen and placed the bag on the end of the breakfast bar, still puzzled by its arrival. It must be something Hillary Jane had ordered; unlike her though to forget to mention that she had a parcel coming. She normally got Stephen to remind him at least once.

Norman was about to leave it for her to open when he noticed his name printed on the white label. On seeing that he tore open the top of the bag, put his hand in and pulled out a large black leatherette bound writing set. He popped open the sturdy press stud, which was set into a small strap which held the front and back together, and turned over the leatherette front face to reveal luxury white writing paper. To the left of the ream, hooked into a leather loop sat a beautiful fountain pen. Typed onto the first page was

HJB

x x

Norman’s mouth fell open. Hillary Jane had sent him this gift. It must have cost her a fortune.

He was stunned again, for the second time in a matter of minutes. What had started out as an awful day had suddenly transformed into the opposite. The tears of happiness welled up in his eyes, he fought them back. She had forgiven his stupidity and wanted to make things right between them. He looked back at her simple note, well the words that had been printed onto the page. They were so her. She never had been good at expressing herself. He carefully pulled the top page from the rest, folded it in half and placed it in the sleeve that was set into the reverse of the front behind a number of white envelopes. You would never know it was in there.

He pulled out the black fountain pen and removed the top. The nib was gold and above the breather hole, Parker was etched in the smallest of letters. It had been years since he had held a writing implement of any sort, and never one as prestigious as a fountain pen.

He had been taught to write in schooling, like everyone else, but never on paper. It was such an outdated concept now that he was surprised Hillary Jane had found somewhere that sold it. He placed pen to paper and wrote

Hillary Jane, I love you. Norman

He put the lid back on the pen and slipped it back into the leatherette loop. He waited to make sure the ink was totally dry on the page and then closed and fastened the front to the back again.

He had to call her straight-away to thank her for such a lovely gift. His heart was swimming with happiness as he activated the call.

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