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All Rights Reserved © 2018, Rick Haydn Horst
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This novel contains 50 chapters.
Just as the lunch rush began, and before the rain started, we grabbed a corner table near the window of a warm café, the tiny place filled within minutes. We preferred to sit rather than drift about waiting for someone to either follow us again or receive good news about the ring. Fortunately, the rain wouldn’t hinder the drone. Little, short of a tornado or hurricane, would deter its programming.
It began sprinkling outside, and we could see the discoloration on the pavement in one-pound-coin-sized droplets. Big Ben’s tower struck noon in the distance, as it began to pour rain upon the city. We watched as a colorful symphony of umbrellas burst open above the heads of pedestrians. For Londoners, the inconvenience of rain never deters them from their business; even I learned to cope with it well. Despite the city’s reputation, the rain, typically a slow drizzle, fell infrequently upon London; that day, however, it poured. Over many years, London had witnessed more of the deluge sort, probably due to climate change.
Looking at the menu while ordering luncheon, I noted that several days had passed since I had eaten meat. I found myself not missing it. The chicken sandwich I ordered tasted fine, but I think I preferred Jiyū’s typical fare. Earth restaurants had far less variety, despite all the various cuisines available. What they had was a wide range of flavors, which helped to disguise inferior quality food or enticed the consumer to disregard any thought of nutritional value, and often both. One could find nutritious food of excellent quality on Earth. As a rule, however, it must come from your own home, and only if you have concerned yourself with quality and nutrition, the two things many people couldn’t afford.
A radical change had occurred in Aiden’s eating habits since we first met; I suspected he ate whatever he found available. But I noticed he had begun to scrutinize his food with a more critical eye than he had at the hotel penthouse. He sat there glaring at the delicately cut piece of cod, skewered at the end of his fork.
“Any thoughts about Inspector Le Gal?” David asked as we ate.
“He could be as he seemed,” Aiden said and began eating the fish.
“What do you think about that, Rick?”
I sipped some water. “I detected no indications that Le Gal lied. He seemed sincere and genuine, but then again, he could also be an excellent actor.”
“Don’t doubt yourself, Rick,” said David. “I trust your judgment.”
Pearce, who hadn’t said much since he joined us, spoke up. “I don’t trust him. His sudden appearance seems too convenient.”
“The inspector searched for us through you,” Aiden said to Pearce, “I do not doubt that. The other man following might have been a coincidence.”
“Did I make a mistake rejecting Le Gal’s help?” David asked.
“He knows he has to earn your trust,” I said, “but how can he earn it if we give him no opportunity to do so? Do we not lump him into the same unworthy pile as the likes of Katheryn Elliott, in fearing to treat him as potentially trustworthy?”
“Most likely we, or rather I, did,” David said, then looked at Aiden and myself, “So, do we agree that we will find it in London somewhere, as per Le Gal’s information?”
Aiden and I both agreed, provided Le Gal wasn’t lying or wrong. “I think his credentials give us cause for the benefit of the doubt,” I said.
“What time will Maggie get home?” David asked me.
My eyes lit up. “About three o’clock,” I said.
“We seem to have lots of time on our hands. We can go see Maggie when she gets home.”
“I wish I had a phone to call her and leave her a message,” I said.
Pearce placed a pay-as-you-go mobile on the table and slid it to me. “If you know the number, go ahead.”
“That’s kind of you, Pearce,” I said, “thank you.” I took the mobile and called her. I figured it would go to voicemail, but she picked up.
“Allô,” she said.
“Rick? Where are you?”
“I’m back in London. I know you’re in school. I expected to get your voicemail.”
“I have a lunch break now,” she said. “I didn’t think you would return so quickly. Did you –you know– go there?”
“Oh istanbul travesti yes, and it’s amazing,” I said. “I need to see you.”
“That would be great,” she said.
“How about three o’clock at your flat. There are four of us. Is that okay?”
“I will welcome any friend of yours, Rick. I’ll see you then.”
I never intended to force her into anything she hadn’t wanted to do. When I invited her to join us, if she said no to me, even for no other reason than because I don’t want to, I would have accepted that and moved on. I just wouldn’t have wanted a financial obligation to her grandmother to cause her to deny herself the opportunity.
Aiden told us that we could look forward to intermittent rain for the next few days. It nearly stopped at about one o’clock, so we hurried as best we could. We couldn’t take the subway due to the higher concentration of CCTV cameras, so we walked to Knightsbridge. It began to rain again halfway there, so we ducked into a market to wait it out, and it stopped altogether about fifteen minutes later. It took ninety minutes to get to Maggie’s block of flats. We hung about in front until she arrived.
“Your flat is over there, isn’t it?” Aiden asked me. “I thought I recognized the building.”
“I chose it to live close to Maggie,” I said.
“She must be a special woman,” he said.
“She is,” David said. “She’s smart, funny, and she cares about people. She’s one of us.”
I smiled at David.
“So, where in London would we find the moldy old hovel?” I asked Aiden.
“City of London,” he said.
“Well, that’s pretty posh,” said David. “Surely, you weren’t living in a moldy old hovel there.”
“You could call the area a bit posh,” Aiden said, “but you’ll find my flat in the least posh building there. It had lots of problems when I moved in, and mold grew in the plaster of every room. The flat remained unoccupied for some time. I had it refurbished, but that escalated into a major renovation when some of the plaster came down in the kitchen and baths, which caused my financial trouble. I never meant to imply I lived in Hackney or anything. As incomes go, I made good money, but keeping up a place like that will make you poor. The whole building needed renovation, and I paid a million before the flat’s reno. I ended up with a flatmate to help with the bills, and things improved for several years. Then, when he ran off and got married, it put me back where I began.”
Pearce stood there in his private little world, staring off into the distance. I had never seen anyone with the Foundational Enhancement that looked as bad as he did, even his skin seemed off-color. I wished we could do something, but I got the feeling that only time or the clinicians at the temple on Jiyū could help him.
“Are you okay, Pearce?” David asked.
He didn’t seem to hear him, his face locked in a vacant expression. I could tell David worried, we all did, but only he knew Pearce’s usual personality. Then suddenly, he snapped out of it and acted relatively okay again.
When Maggie arrived at her building, she ran to me, hugged me, and commented about my hair growing back. She wore a black wool cloak with an ivory silk lining. Beneath this, she wore her work clothes, a dress in her favorite shade of green. Its demure style seemed too stuffy for her, but appropriate for a teacher of sixteen-year-olds, however. She hugged David, who then introduced Aiden and Pearce.
She leaned into me, asking about Pearce, whispering, “Is he okay?”
“In time,” I said.
Having accepted the invitation to come up, Maggie welcomed us into her flat. As a superlative hostess, she offered refreshments and a seat. Once Aiden made the necessary sweep of the flat for surveillance, we had a chat. I provided the eagerly awaited description of Jiyū and informed her of what had occurred since we saw her last. Only then, had I gotten to the heart of our visit.
“The instant you left Sunday, I regretted saying no,” she said. “I want to go, and since then, I have searched for a solution should you return. I know you; I knew you would return. You looked so distraught and disappointed when you left, and I felt the same. I think of you as my older brother, and I love you; I want you in my life, but other than selling the flat, I don’t know how to fix the problem.”
“Don’t worry about the flat,” I said, “I didn’t have the time to sell mine either. How much money do you send your grandmother? And can she handle money well?”
“Two hundred euros a month, and she’s istanbul travestileri known for her frugality,” she said.
“Do you think she would do well with roughly twenty-five thousand euros for the rest of her life?” I asked.
“She’s quite old,” said Maggie, “that’s probably more than enough. Do you have that kind of money?”
“I only need to trade in some of our gold and wire the money to your grandmother’s account. The exchange said they would take whatever we wanted to trade in, and they can wire larger sums to a bank account.” She rushed over to hug me.
France had an astronomical gift tax; in this case, they took fifty-five percent off the top. So, to leave her grandmother the amount we wanted, I rounded up to fifty ounces of gold, so we counted out two hundred of the quarter-ounce rounds.
David insisted we all go in the van to make the exchange. Maggie and I made the transaction in her name. We had no problems, and they wired the funds to her grandmother’s bank account in Maggie’s hometown of Béziers in the south of France. She called her to provide the details and the confirmation code. Her grandmother had such gratitude that she wanted to thank me herself, and although we both spoke French, the crying made understanding her an unusual complication for my line of work. She seemed sweet, though, and I understood why Maggie felt so loyal to her.
Aiden and Pearce rode in the back of the van again on the return to Maggie’s flat. They didn’t like it; it became hot and stuffy back there. Out of Aiden’s earshot, my curiosity forced me to inquire. “What do you think of Aiden?”
“He looks handsome,” Maggie said, “and as your friend, he must be nice.” She turned to stare at me. “You are playing the matchmaker.”
“She’s not even seen Jiyū yet, Rick,” David said.
“I know,” I said to him, “but she and I have spoken at great length on the topic, and I know what she likes.”
“What do I like?” she asked.
“Trust me, you’ll like Aiden,” I said.
“Tell me his best quality.”
“He hasn’t let any of this go to his head. He’s a great guy.”
“Would you have me give him, as the British say, ‘the time of day?'”
“As someone who knows you well, I would say that if you didn’t, you would miss out on someone worthwhile.”
“And your opinion of this?” she asked David.
“Always good to get a second opinion, eh?” David asked. “I think I trust Rick when he says he knows what you like. He tends not to exaggerate these things.”
“Thank you,” I said to him.
“However,” David said, “the decision is ultimately yours. Whatever else we might think on the matter, you must do what feels right for you.”
“As if I would disagree with such a reasonable statement,” I said. “That said, though, Maggie, you know me.”
She thought for a moment. “I will give Aiden a perusal. That’s all I can say.”
“I could ask for nothing more.”
We returned to Maggie’s flat a little after five, and we ordered Chinese food delivered. I observed Maggie as she watched Aiden scrutinizing the contents of his plate as he then tended to do.
“I’m tired,” Pearce said.
I wished I had thought of it, but no doubt, he had jet lag and had not slept well of late. He needed to sleep soon.
“We have put it off long enough,” I said, “the time has come to examine our options for sleeping arrangements. For the record, David, I will not sleep under an overpass.”
“Why not sleep in the penthouse?” Maggie asked.
“Surely, they’re watching our places,” I said. “We had chanced enough just parking near my flat. Also, they probably turned our flats over, making them uninhabitable without a great deal of tidying up.”
“Men.” –Maggie rolled her eyes and shook her head– “I found nothing wrong with yours yesterday afternoon.”
“You went there?” David asked.
“I didn’t know when you would return. So, yesterday I emptied the refrigerator and took out the garbage, to prevent the flat from smelling. It looked the same as always, and you have two beds there.”
“How thoughtful of you,” I said, “and yes, I have two beds there, but one is twin size.”
“Give Pearce the single, Rick,” said Aiden. “I wouldn’t mind sleeping on your couch.”
“I have two chairs and a love seat,” I said.
Aiden shrugged. “I’ll sleep on the floor.”
“No. No.” Maggie shook her head at the whole idea. “I won’t have anyone sleeping on the floor; we are not children. Aiden, I have the daybed for just such occasions. You can stay with me.”
“Are you sure?” travesti istanbul he asked. “You hardly know me.”
“You have Rick’s Seal of Approval,” she said, “and that’s good enough for me.”
Aiden just looked at me with his kind eyes and pleasant smile with an inquisitive expression. With the Foundational Enhancement having cleared up his skin and eliminated the necessity for glasses, Aiden did look quite handsome. But for all that Aiden had going for him, he didn’t compare to David in my eyes.
With all that settled, David requested the bug tracer to check my flat, as we knew a bug lay hidden there. Aiden knew to inform us via Iris if any changes to the drone occurred.
While Maggie went to her closet for the blankets to her daybed, Aiden drew me aside, whispering. “What have you said to her?”
“Do you not like her?” I asked.
He nodded in ambivalence.
“I know you hardly know her,” I said, “but you can work on that.”
“She has your Seal of Approval, too, I suppose.”
“She most certainly does,” I said, and with that, we gave them hugs before leaving for my flat.
Earth has five and a half fewer hours per day than Jiyū. After having embraced twenty-nine and a half hour days for only a few planetary rotations, it made life on Earth seem fast-paced and a bit hectic. The sun was going down before I felt it should. Sure, both planets had “only so many hours in a day,” but one would have to experience the difference to appreciate how wonderful it felt to have that extra time. I contend it made life much less stressful on the nerves. Couple that time to a culture that had no time clocks or bosses lurking over the shoulders of employees, and you would realize how much more people accomplished while leaving everyone less stressed at the end of the day.
We remained quiet when we entered the flat, and David swept the guest room first. He found no surveillance there, so we put Pearce to bed, reassuring him that we would go nowhere without him. I closed the bedroom door, and David proceeded to sweep the rest of the flat. We found it in an electrical outlet in the living room. We used a case knife to remove the cover and discovered the clever little bastards had it built-in, allowing the outlet to provide it with permanent power. It had deactivated once we removed it from its power source. I would never have guessed.
The instant we cleared the proverbial coast, David took me into his arms and kissed me. “I’ve wanted to do this all day.”
“I have wanted you to do it all day,” I said. “I can’t wait until we’re home again.” He kissed my neck and held me to him. David was a loving and passionate man. Several hours later, we slept intertwined for the rest of the night.
Aiden had no call to awaken us; nothing had changed. Light seeped around the room’s blackout curtains far too soon. According to the clock by the bed, we had slept until eight in the morning. Cheers to the long nights on Jiyū, which provided both a full night’s sleep and several hours one could devote to any pursuit, including those of an amorous nature. The familiarity of my bed and sheets pleased me. It always relaxed me to have the familiar beside me, but of course, David calmed me most. I always wanted to wake up with David there and think to myself how lucky that made me. I wanted my intense feelings for him to last forever; I had experienced nothing else like it.
Pearce knocked on our door, which awoke David from his slumber. He was hungry, and I didn’t doubt it. We had usually eaten every few hours ourselves, but many hours had elapsed since our last meal. David contacted Aiden to ask if he and Maggie would like to join us for breakfast.
I noticed it when the sun went down so early the previous night, but after having slept, I had a distinct sensation of time compression. David and I had never been slugabeds, but the late wake-up caused me to coin a name for the condition and an obvious colloquialism. The phrase “Portal Lag” for the more technical terms sympíesichronosis and aposympíesichronosis. The condition occurring from either the compression or decompression of time that resulted from travel through the portal.
On our way by 8:45, we found it sprinkling outside once again, foretelling of another wet, dreary day. We brought our bags to Maggie’s flat to keep them in safety. She had a secure building so we could leave them there. Maggie and Aiden appeared at the door, all hugs, smiles, and eager to eat.
“Nothing to report on the drone,” said Aiden. “It’s doing well, and for as quick as Laurel’s team built it, it’s a workhorse.”
“That doesn’t surprise me,” said David, “its construction didn’t involve the lowest bidder.”
The drone hadn’t found it, but if scanning all of London took two days, the drone should find it that day, and for all our sakes, I wanted it to happen early.
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