Read Seven Steps to the Sun Online

Authors: Fred Hoyle,Geoffrey Hoyle

Tags: #sf

Seven Steps to the Sun (5 page)

'I would personally, but my friend here, Mr Jerome, I think is a little anxious to know what's been happening to his royalties,' Pete said casually.
'Hmm, you'd better come up,' said the voice.
The two men took the lift to the first floor and strode down a corridor until they stood outside a door with Gilbert's name on it.
'Come in,' came the reply to Pete's knock on the door. Gilbert got up from his desk and came over to greet them.
'Well, Mr Jerome, this is a pleasant surprise. I had understood from Mr Jones here that you were probably dead.'
'Tell me, Mr Gilbert, what would you do with my money if I were dead?'
The man looked at Jerome in amazement, and then laughed. 'Nice way of putting it, very nice,' Gilbert said, sitting down. 'After Mr Jones brought your properties to me, I had to sell them. I did this and we waited for the seven years to expire before you were officially dead. The last year or so was spent searching for some relative to inherit.'
'Did you find anyone?' asked Mike, not liking the man.
'Oh yes, we eventually found someone,' smiled the fat, little man.
'Who?' asked Mike.
'Mr Jerome, there is no reason why I should tell you who got the money. If you are really the right Mr Jerome, then you'll have to prove it to the courts, before you get your money back.'
'What do you mean the right Mr Jerome? Of course I'm the right bloody Mr Jerome,' said Mike angrily.
'Then you should have no difficulty in proving it, should you,' said Gilbert smoothly.
'Who did you give my money to?' demanded Mike.
'Mr Jones, I would suggest you get your friend out of here.'
'How much did she get?' Mike asked menacingly.
'She?' said Gilbert, a little taken aback, 'I didn't say it was a she.'
'No, but I know that it was a she. How much?' said Mike, grabbing hold of the man.
'Not much,' choked Gilbert.
'How much?' said Mike applying pressure to the man's throat.
'A little over twenty thousand pounds,' coughed Gilbert.
'Bastard,' Mike said, not letting go.
'Thump him, don't kill him,' Pete said taking hold of Mike's arm.
'Why bother?' Mike said, dropping the now gasping, sweating Gilbert. 'I'll tell you one thing, Gilbert, you'd better warn your friends that I have every intention of getting my money back. If I can't do it through the official channels, then I'll do it on my own.'
Pete grabbed hold of Mike and pushed him out of the room. 'Man, you can't go around threatening people without proof.'
'Pete, you know as well as I do that Sue got the money, and I'll lay any bet that that little punk took a fat cut,' said Mike vehemently.
'So, what are you going to do?' Pete asked, as they reached the street.
'Wait. If I'm right, they'll be in touch with each other immediately. I have a feeling that they'll make the next move.'
'What can they do?' said Pete thoughtfully.
'Their best bet would be to call the police in and try to disprove my story.'
'Which they will do, without any difficulty,' Pete said.
'Right, but by tonight I'll know where that bloody bitch lives.'
'I don't like it. Look, Mike, why don't you just go to ground?' said Pete anxiously.
'As soon as I know they realize I'm around,' Mike said, with a curious laugh. 'Come on, since I don't seem to have any credit with Mr Gilbert, we'd better see how the old bank balance is faring.'
'And what are we going to do with all this money in the bank?' said Pete, recovering from the interview with Gilbert.
'Celebrate, go on an absolute blinder,' said Mike. Pete's face showed great delight and fear.
The two men danced happily across the road to the bike.
'To the bank, sir,' said Pete, with a little bow, as Mike got onto the machine.
'Quite right, to the bank,' said Mike grabbing hold of Pete's waist in good time. Pete pressed the starter and the bike's engine roared into life.
'Let's go,' yelled Mike, above the noise of the engine. The bike left the pavement in a cloud of rubber smoke.
They wove their way down Regent Street, and into Piccadilly Circus. The circus was now a vast complex of modern buildings standing well back from the road. Eros was still the centre of the circle, but instead of concrete there was almost a field of grass surrounding it. Mike looked round for his bank, but it was nowhere in sight. Pete parked the bike and removed its keys.
'Won't you get done for parking?' asked Mike, as he followed the burly figure in front of him.
'Nope, the traffic situation is so bad the authorities don't really care too much,' Pete said, with a wave of his hand. He led the way down a subway, and along a passage until they came to a large underground shopping centre. They walked down a Burlington-type arcade until they were standing outside Mike's bank. It didn't look big from the outside, but once inside the place was vast. The two men walked across the marble floor to the nearest teller's window.
'Good morning, I would like to see my statement,' said Mike cheerily.
'Over there,' said the teller, hardly looking up.
Pete pointed the room out and then left Mike to look at the ticker tape machine. Mike typed out his request to see his statement, read it and destroyed the information in a waste paper shredder. He returned to the teller for a new cheque book and withdrew two hundred pounds from his account. With his money safely in his wallet, Mike pulled Pete away from a second ticker tape machine which was churning out the stock market results. From the bank they made their way back into the carbon monoxide fumes.
'Where to now?' asked Pete, as they reached the bike.
'Let's pick up a drink then I'll find out where Sue lives.'
'Man, I agree with the drink part, but leave well alone. Surely you've got enough cash to be going on with,' said Pete, in distress.
'Maybe I should leave it alone, but it's the principle. Why should they get away with stealing?'
'I agree, but the story you told me won't get you anywhere. You'll be shut up in a nut house.'
'AH right. I'll tell you what I'll do. I'll find out where she lives, and then I'll leave everything until she and Gilbert make a move,' said Mike.
'I still don't like the idea,' said Pete, getting on the bike. Mike got on behind and they shot off back to Bayswater. They left the evil machine outside the house, and walked round the corner to Pete's local.
'You know, I think I'll go and live abroad,' Mike said as they walked. 'But the question is—where?'
'The old problem,' laughed Pete as he pushed the door of the pub open. 'What about Africa for a nice villa and year-round sunshine?'
'And long rolling warm sea waves,' Mike murmured.
'Morning, Pete,' said the barman.
'Two whiskys,' said Pete.
'Are all pubs like this?' said Mike, in disgust, at the sight of all the chrome and glitter.
'No, there are still some old-world pubs in the country, but with all the rebuilding that's been going on, the breweries decided to go all-American, and turn pubs into bars.'
'Two whiskys,' said the barman, putting the glasses on the bar.
'How much?' asked Mike.
'This is on me,' said Pete to the barman.
'Not at all, how much?' said Mike.
'One pound fifty five,' said the man. Mike almost whistled, but managed to control himself and paid for the drinks. They moved over to a corner table. 'That's good,' said Mike, sipping his drink. 'Mike,' said Pete thoughtfully, 'you know, you mustn't rush back into your old way of life.'
'Sorry?' said Mike in surprise.
'Look, you mustn't go around saying that you're back. People are going to think it's a funny business, What you've got to do is to slowly ease yourself back, almost as if you've never been away.'
'I know. It's just that I'm really so excited to find that I'm a reality, I forget that it will seem strange to other people.'
'Hmm. You know, your story still worries me?' said Pete, finishing his drink and signalling the barman for two more.
'Pete, the whole thing is just as alien to me as it is to you. What can I do about it?'
'I don't know. If you looked forty-two instead of thirty-two, you could have any story you wanted, but it's the way you look.'
'Therefore, I mustn't tell anyone what happened me, just leave them guessing.'
'Your drinks,' said the barman, putting two full lasses down.
'Thanks,' said Pete, and waited for the man to eave. 'You should write this up as a book.'
'Christ, I was going to write this idea up as a TV programme, not as a personal experience.'
'But what if it isn't?' said Pete, looking earnestly at Mike.
'What do you mean?'
'You might be in limbo, between two living realities.'
'Pete, do you still believe in reincarnation, and all that crap?' laughed Mike.
'You can laugh, and disbelieve, but there are greater things going on in this Universe than either you or I can understand.'
'What about God? Where does He fit in?'
'There's always good and evil in whatever one's talking about. God is the good image of the Universe.'
'I'm not going to argue the point. We've talked around this subject for years, but as far as I'm concerned, I am normal flesh and blood, and that's substantial enough evidence for me.'
'I hope you're right,' said Pete, frowning.
Mike looked at the deep lines in the dark face. He'd always been fascinated by the supernatural, but he'd only looked on with objective interest. Pete, on the other hand, had become very involved. Mike again suddenly felt overwhelmed as the reality of his new-found world slowly vanished leaving him swimming in the middle of nowhere.
'Hey man, take a look at what's just walked in,' said Pete, breaking into Mike's thoughts. He turned to see two very elegant women walking into the pub. They went over to a corner table on the far side of the bar and sat down. Mike was just wondering whether he should go over and introduce himself, when he saw something that almost stopped his heart. Sitting at the same table was a very tall, very thin man.
'The professor,' said Mike, under his breath.
'What did you say?' asked Pete, leaning forward.
'You see the man sitting at the same table as those two women who just walked in? Well, I'm damned sure that's the professor I was telling you about.'
Pete turned to study the table, and then turned back to Mike. 'Are you feeling O.K.?'
Mike looked at Pete in amazement. 'Of course,' he id.
'There's no one at that table except the two women,' Pete said quietly. Mike looked hard across the room. There was the professor. 'Are you looking in the right place?'
'Sure, over there where the two peaches sat down.'
Mike shook his head and closed his eyes. He had be dreaming. He opened his eyes to see Pete standing in front of him.
'You don't look too well to me. Come on, I think a lie-down will do you good.'
Mike obediently got up from the table, and followed Pete. As they reached the door he looked back. There as no man. He looked quickly round the pub but the professor wasn't anywhere to be seen.
'I'm sorry, Pete, but I could have sworn that there as a man sitting at that table who resembled the professor,' said Mike as they walked along.
'Maybe you did, my eyes aren't as good as they used o be. Anyway, I don't think it would be a bad idea to go home, we both seem to be a little tired.'
Mike was about to protest, but if Pete hadn't seen the man, maybe he hadn't. If he hadn't seen the man in the flesh, then why should he suddenly see an apparition? Pete marched him into the flat and once inside pushed Mike into a chair.
'Now listen to me, Mike. You obviously have had a nasty shock and maybe your mind is still confused by events, but for God's sake, pull yourself together. If you need a trick cyclist then I'll get you one, but you've got to live with the reality that ten years have gone by, and you can't explain it,' said Pete, exploding with emotion.
'Pete, I promise I won't mention the subject again,' said Mike with a winning smile.
'That's good, that's very good.'
Mike could understand Pete's fear. The experience he'd had couldn't be explained in rational terms. This only left the supernatural as far as Pete was concerned. Pete poured a couple of stiff Scotches and they drank in silence.
'Well, I think I'll take a little nap,' said Mike, feeling this might soothe Pete's disturbed mind.
'Good idea, you put your feet up, and I'll just potter around for a while,' said Pete, in a very fatherly way. Mike half finished his drink, and then collapsed on the couch. In his own mind he felt that the appearance of the professor wasn't an apparition. It must have some meaning, but what?
Sue and the Professor. He must try to locate them both. His mind went on working away at the problem, until he fell into a light sleep.
Mike was awakened suddenly by the sound of someone screaming. He swung his feet off the couch, and looked round. Guy was standing by the front door one arm in her coat. Mike started to move towards her when he saw Pete, standing holding his head.
'You're evil, you're bloody evil,' yelled Guy. Mike turned round to Pete, who was now down on his knees. Then Mike saw it, hovering on the wall. The blob of light twinkled and sparkled like a small star. He heard the door bang. His mind filled with tiny darts of light increasing in intensity and he slowly crumpled to the floor in a dead faint. Pete tried to struggle to his feet, but suddenly he screamed in agony. He hit the wall with a ferocity that snapped the bones in his body.

 

4
‘When in doubt, tell the truth’
Mark Twain

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