Chapter 9: Adrian’s visit to the Building Society, a local difficulty with the typing and a trip to Cambridge
I had stopped off at the Tesco Local to get something for supper. Sarah would be back late in the evening and she’d be famished. I had taken the afternoon off. There wasn’t much happening at the office and I had a few household tasks to catch up with. Like re-financing the mortgage and tying down our friendly builder to produce an estimate that was rational.
I left the office at mid-day; cursing myself that I hadn’t been brave and taken the whole day. It would have spared me the tube journey – always “an adventure in time and space” – too long and far too cramped. Also I could have stayed in bed for a while longer, had a soak and a leisurely breakfast and still have had time to tackle some work e-mails and score brownie points.
But...getting into work, even for a useless three hours was the done thing. Done by my over achieving, multi–skilling boss who arrived God knows when before me and left the office when the automatic lighting shut down kicked in.
It was now 1:30 pm and I had the appointment with the mortgage advisor at 2:00 pm. Some wet nosed 20 something with 3 “O” levels and a QVC, or whatever they’re called it, in distance shopping. And he’d sit behind his PC:
“I’ll just bring up your details. Now how can I help you, Mr Proops?”
“Well, you could start by wiping your nose and cleaning the remains of the McBurger you had for lunch from your teeth. Oh, you could also re-visit the letter you sent suggesting that as I was getting on a bit and my prospects of further advancement were limited the bank might reduce my overdraft/credit card limit/increase the risk premium on your mortgage.”
This was going to be a fun encounter. Providing the ideal preparation for my meeting with our builder “Ivan the Incomprehensible”.
There was nothing wrong with Ivan that 20 years in a gulag couldn’t put right. It was my own fault; I was trying to save money and he was cheap. What I hadn’t realised was that he undercut all his competitors by sourcing his materials from Russia. From his brother, actually, who managed to buy up all of the reject production of a Muscovite factory – circa 1954.
He was quick I’ll give him that; but that didn’t compensate for the lamentable finish to his work. Jerrybuilding in deepest Bulgaria had no chance.
But what to cook my lovely Sarah, who no doubt would return with tales of magic and mystery after her visit to the Cambridge College with her boss Peter the gracious and Fritz the freakish physicist. That’s not fair; she’s made herself indispensible after a few months at the Research Council otherwise they wouldn’t have invited her to the University.
I thought that something Spanish might be just the ticket – except I knew nothing other than paella and my last attempt at that dish resulted in both of us being laid up with food poisoning for a week. The mussels weren’t too fresh, or was it the langoustine? Either way, I was warned off all shell fish ingredients.
No, an Indian was the answer. The introduction of spices, chillies and other goodies ensured that whatever the state of decay of the ingredients, food poisoning was unlikely. Severe bowel movements however were guaranteed, as well as agonising stomach cramp and pseudo- heart arrests. But otherwise the meal was mishap proof.
As I was packing the readymade Tesco’s “Finest” Salmon en Croute with Asparagus and Lentils the phone rang. It was Sarah.
“Adrian, how’s it going darling. What did the Building Society say?”
“I’m on my way to the mortgage troll at 2 o’clock and then it’s a NATO exercise with Ivan. How are the boffins?”
I sensed a backbeat in Sarah’s reply.
“Oh they’re fine. You know, lots of e=mc squared and uncertainty, but something rather strange is happening here. Either I’m witnessing the mental breakdown of the Dean of the faculty or an earth shattering event.”
“They could be one and the same thing.”
“Don’t be facetious darling. This is not a joking matter. Frankly I’m scared. Could you come up later this afternoon? I’d really appreciate it.”
I knew she wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t serious. Also, I was intrigued – what could be happening in the backwaters of Arcadia.
“OK, I should be finished by 3:30 -4:00, I could be with you by, say 6.”
“Wonderful darling, we’ve got a few hours to ourselves and then there’s a Christmas party at the faculty. You can met everyone.”
I hung up, finished paying the bill after apologising to the queue that had materialised behind me and headed home.
It takes me less than 5 minutes to walk home and 5 minutes to walk from there to the Building Society. When I got home I placed the food in the fridge – for tomorrow, went upstairs to the bathroom, brushed my teeth, had a quick shower and put on a clean pair of pants, socks, shirt, tie and a smart suit.
I needed to intimidate the mortgage advisor. Miller Harris’s “feuilles de tabac” eau de parfam was sprayed liberally over my body.
I checked the phone for messages; nothing except a call from my mother wondering when she’d see us again. Oh and could I send a photograph as she’d forgotten what we looked like. I made a mental note to e-mail her.
On arrival at the building society I went to the enquiry desk. A very attractive young woman smiled at me as I explained that I had an appointment with a mortgage advisor.
“Mr Proops, yes I see you are booked in for 2 pm. Please wait while I tell them you are here”.
The décor of the building society was the usual crushing drabness.
“How appropriate,” I thought “Given the crushing debt we land ourselves with.”
“Mr Proops?” I turned “Mr Proops, I’m Mysha Basi – your mortgage advisor?”
The question at the end of the sentence was so attractive. As was she. Where was my spotty 20 year old reject? Not here most certainly.
“Yes, that’s me Adrian Proops.” I answered confidently. And I followed her clicking heels as she led me to one of the consulting booths. I hoped she liked the smell of Rive Gauche café houses.
The interview went well. OK not great, there was the small question of an outstanding loan and an unhealthy looking balance on one of the credit cards. Oh, and a slight wobble in my employment record. She was thorough, those new affordability rules were kicking in.
“Mr Proops, we prepared to extend a further £120,000 – I hope that’s not too much of a disappointment.”
She said it so sweetly how could I quibble – after all it was only £80,000 less than we’d planned for. A “Thank you.” squeezed past my tongue.
I signed the necessary paper work and she showed me to the door of the interview booth. I shook her hand.
“The funds will be in your account within the next five days.” I smiled weakly and walked out into a depressingly drab High Street.
This presented me with quite a problem since Ivan the Incomprehensible had made it plain that the work we expected him to do would cost at least £100,000. Leaving little scope to pay the architect, project manager and sundry legal hyenas. No, my meeting with Ivan the Implacable was not going to be fun.
“Mr Proops, it is not possible, I have cut my cloth to under my armpits – I can do no more.”
Ivan knew when he was on solid ground which was surprising for someone brought up in St Petersburg.
“OK, I’ll see what I can do, but we have to make changes – the money’s simply not here.”
I did not go into the details of my meeting with the building society. With that the interview ended. Ivan would continue with his plans for our plans and either I would have to find the extra cash or sabotage his plans.
I strapped myself into the car with a very heavy heart as I headed for Cambridge.
Luckily I missed the rush hour at 4 pm; the M11 was its usual boisterous self, inflicting untold misery and cost on my ancient Ford Escort’s suspension. I had prospectively secreted some of the re-mortgage funds into an “Adrian’s new car” account. Not a chance now; so the 18 year old Escort would have to do for a while longer – a long while longer.
I had just passed the Stansted turn off when my mobile rang. Being incapable of driving and talking coherently into a mobile phone simultaneously I came to stop on the hard shoulder.
“Adrian, it’s Harry, can you talk?” It was my boss.
“Yes, I’m stopped on the hard shoulder on my way to Cambridge, what’s up.” I answered, wondering why the blazes he was phoning.
“We have a bit of a crisis, I’m afraid.”
I wanted to say how that was possible – I’ve only taken a half day, instead I replied. “Not the Fletcher interview?”
“I’m afraid so. He’s furious, he claims we misquoted him and he wants a correction and apology as a minimum.”
Harry sounded worried which was so unlike him. Besides his ability to eat up work at a prodigious rate, he was exceptionally savvy and had a nose for trouble – he’d usually came up with a counter blow before the first punch was thrown.
“You did check the text of the article with him?”
“Of course, I e-mailed it to him last week; he replied the beginning of this. He made a few changes but nothing substantial and I was able to incorporate them with no problem. Why don’t you check my e-mails, Alison can do that for you.”
“OK, I’ll do that. What about the copy that went to press?”
It was an obvious question.
“I checked it before it went – again Alison can check the e-mail with the text I sent to the printers. By the way what is the misquote he’s worried about?”
There was a short silence at the other end.
That’s the strange bit,” said Harry.
“We have him saying "death was final. No religion could address that finality.”"
“Good God, that’s awful! We have the head of the Roman Catholic Church in the UK saying that...!”
Harry cut in “I thought you ought to be aware of the situation…don’t want you to be surprised when you hear it on the news – all the channels are carrying it. There’s nothing you can do now. But be ready for a hail storm tomorrow morning. See you.”
And with that he rang off.
The rest of the journey was conducted in a rather sombre tone. I turned on the radio and sure enough “PM” on Radio 4 had it as their main story, so did Five Live, Radio Cambridge and Radio Essex. How could it have happened?
I worked for a monthly lifestyle magazine. We positioned ourselves at the top end of the market; so as well as clothes, cars and coitus we tried to provide some intellectual stimulation. I was in charge of “projects” – anything not covered by the 3c’s.
I’d come up with the idea of a series of interviews with leading scientists and religious leaders on the nature of science. Not original, I grant you, but it received the go ahead from the editorial board and I set up 6 interviews. Cardinal James Stewart Fletcher was the second in the series; after Lord Martin Rees, Astronomer Royal and President of the Royal Society.
I knew the piece I sent to the printers had the correct text. I’d checked it myself at every stage. I knew the interview off by heart. The Cardinal was very clear and he ended on a quite optimistic note. What did he say, towards the end? “Death was not final. No, religion can address that finality.” One word and a punctuation mark missing that’s all. But I didn’t miss that.
It took me a while to find the college, but by ten past six I was driving into its grounds. I’d phoned Sarah when I reached Cambridge and she met me as I parked the car.
“Darling, I’m so pleased you’re here – how was your journey.”
I told her about the interview with the Cardinal and the misquote. I also described the outcomes of the interviews with the building society and Ivan the builder.
“I think the expression is “Three strikes and you’re out.” I said.
Sarah then began telling me about her day and of her talk with the Dean and his fantastical theory about the information flows between the universes.
“He seriously believes that the whole purpose of the project is not to develop a super quantum computer but to reverse the malignant effects seeping into our universe. He's certain that things have been going from bad to worse since about 1600 years ago and that’s because the other intelligent universe is annoyed at us – our universe – for not responding to its overtures. Really!”
“Wait a minute,” I said “There’s an intelligence in another universe that’s got it in for us. Why?”
“I don’t know why, I don’t think the Dean knows either, but according to him he’s got evidence both historical – documents, accounts by eye witnesses, that sort of thing – and scientific observations, astronomical, geological and biological. He’s fully convinced.”
“The thing is, the whole “Boltzqubit” project is itself quite fantastic – the theories they are coming up with to explain what’s happening are not so far removed from the Dean’s own. So that’s why I wanted you here. It is quite scary.”
“What does Peter think?” I asked.
“Oh, he thinks they’ve hit on something quite extraordinary – whether it’s a super computer, the generation of these huge energy surges or both. It’s “pay dirt” for him and the Research Council – he’ll go along with whatever is on offer.”
“Well it does sound hugely important, I mean for science, for industry and for the UK.”
“Yes, but what if the Dean is right, that changes everything for us, the world – for the universe. And what will be the effect of these benign information flows.”
I could see that Sarah’s thoughts were racing ahead.
“Imagine, Adrian, heaven on earth – the gods walking amongst us. I think that’s what the Dean believes can happen.”
“And if the malignant energy flows aren’t stopped and reversed, what then?”
“Oh, that’s quite simple, frightening darkness, soul-less emptiness and hell on earth.”
I knew she believed every word she said. And now I was getting scared.
Just then my mobile rang. It was Harry again.
“Adrian, have you a moment?”
“What is it?”
“Sorry, bear with me; I’ve had the strangest last hour. We checked all you’re e-mails; the text that was sent to the printers did not include the wording that appeared in the published interview. The printer checked the text that he used to print the article. Nothing wrong with it.”
“So how did it happen?”
“I’m getting to that. I asked the printer to run the interview again, using the same text that you’d sent him and we’d all checked. What we found was the same wording as in the published interview.”
“That can’t be. That’s impossible.”
“That’s what we all said here, so we’ve got an IT expert in to see what could have happened. Maybe a minor glitch in the program; who knows. But it’s really spooked us. I’ll see you tomorrow and if anything else turns up tonight I’ll let you know.”
With that he cut the connection. After I’d described my conversation with Harry, Sarah simply said “Minor quantum perturbations. I think it’s time for us to join the party.”
As we went up the steps to the main entrance the image of Sarah’s arse being faxed to her two hundred clients from the estate agent’s popped into my mind.
Chapter 10: The Real Dead disappears, Rabbits by the million and Dave and Adrian exit Dead World.
“What has Sarah to do with this? How can she be responsible for this energy flow? It’s nonsense.”
Adrian was not happy, I could tell. I tried to calm him down – not very successfully, I’m afraid.
“I’m not saying she’s directly responsible. She’s the common factor. It’s as if because of her all this is happening.”
That set him off.
“Thanks, Dave what you’re saying is that without my wife none of this would be happening.”……….