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   Chapter 2 No.2

A Girl Named Sandy By Paul Kater Characters: 9885

Updated: 2018-02-11 12:04


The journey

The phone rang and rang. Paul Eric Carmichael was in the taxi, en route to the house of Don Donahue, whom he was trying to pull from slumber since he had been up himself. "Come on, Don. Don't do this to me. Not again, I beg of you."

"Your mate's a heavy sleeper, is he?" the taxi-driver enquired as he steered the typical blue taxi through the mostly empty streets. "I can slap the horn when we're there, if you like."

"Thank you for your offer. I should try ringing the door bell first, " Paul responded, "as to stay relatively friendly with the other people who live near there."

"You're the customer, sir, just tryin' to help."

The taxi stopped in front of Don's house. The street was littered with cars so there was no option but to double-park for the driver. Paul left the taxi with the telephone still at his ear. He rang the doorbell several times in rapid succession. After the fifth attempt a light came on in the hall and then Don, apparently sleep-walking, opened the door.

"P.E. I am sorry." In his defence Don held up his telephone. "It was on the pillow, I swear. Just on the wrong bed, in the wrong room. Give me a few minutes, I'll be ready before you know it."

It would take Don a while longer and Paul knew that, but a half hour later they were in the taxi and on their way to the airport.

***

Once at the airport the stress of finding counters, getting rid of suitcases and passing through what seemed a hundred security checks started. Both scientists hated that part of travelling and the bad news was that this was only the first check as their first flight took them to Heathrow near London, where they had to wait for a number of hours, after which their flight to Detroit caused another round of checks and safety procedures.

Finally they were in the aeroplane and praising the upgrade to business class travel (at their own expenses). After the wait for departure and finally climbing into the skies, they brought out laptops and a tablet to continue their work. Grudgingly they agreed to accept the in-flight food and there also was a moment of tension when they were asked to lower their voices as most people wanted to sleep, but Don agreed that getting some sleep was probably best.

Don switched off his overhead light and was out like that light himself. Paul stared into the darkness, his thoughts revolving around some of the questions they were still trying to tackle. It took him hours to drift off. It was quite a shock when Don woke him up: "P.E., wake up. We're almost in Detroit, you already slept through breakfast, or whatever it was that they served. But not to worry, I saved it for you." Don held up a small package in cellophane which seemed to hold some airline goodies.

Paul stretched his arms, yawned in an undignified manner and once again felt his spine pop into place. "You are a true friend, Don, " he then shared with his friend and work-partner. "Gods, I hate flying."

"Next time you might try swimming, " Don suggested, "but it's a bit late for that now. Or you might try another god."

Paul sighed. Don always had something like that up the proverbial sleeve. Plus he wasn't very fond of swimming.

Once they were allowed to leave the aeroplane in Detroit they had to rush to make it to their connecting flight to Baltimore, from where they were meant to proceed to Annapolis by taxi. Rushing while having to go through customs and more security was a challenge but they made it.

"This went so fast, " Paul uttered, very surprised, "that I wonder if the suitcases made it."

"We have the backpacks with the laptops and the notes, " Don shrugged. "That's the important thing. I can wear these socks a few more days."

Paul looked at his colleague. "Doctor Donahue, has anyone ever pointed out to you that you're a swine?"

Don frowned. "No. Not that I can remember anyway. But you know my memory." They both laughed.

During the short trip from Detroit to Baltimore, they tried to decide who they should hold responsible for this insane trip. Both researchers were convinced that this could have been done much faster but this was probably the least expensive way. After arriving in Baltimore and going through yet another security checkpoint the two were reunited with their luggage which had miraculously made it to the airport as well. Paul was quite relieved to find his suitcase in order. Don and he then made their way to the exit.

Outside the terminal evening was already making itself comfortable. In the semi-darkness they found a taxi that took them to their hotel in Annapolis, where an hour later they were checking in. The two astrophysicists personally took their luggage to the ninth floor as there was no way in the known universe they would allow someone to take even temporary possession of their work items.

With the doors to the rooms securely locked and the two men not tired at all they went

to the hotel bar and engaged in a battle of wits, over a few glasses of wine for Paul and scotch for Don, until they felt the alcohol taking a grasp on their mental capacities.

"We should try to sleep, Don, the first day of the conference is tomorrow, " Paul suggested. "We have the disadvantage of the jet-lag on our side, no need to make it worse."

Don agreed. As he got up he said "You have another disadvantage, P.E."

"Oh really? Which is?" Paul wondered what his friend would bring up.

"You're from Wales."

Paul sighed. "Your view of advantage and disadvantage, my dear man, is entirely muddled up because of the sorry excuse for scotch you have been drinking, " he declared as they made their way to the lift. They would never agree on that point of course and wished each other a good night once they reached their rooms.

As he lay in the strange bed, in a dark room with unfamiliar smells and muffled sounds from outside, Paul stared at the ceiling where the little red light of a smoke detector was blinking hypnotically. It took a while before he drifted into a light slumber that would never qualify as sleep.

***

Waking up wasn't easy either. The telephone, which was just out of reach, kept ringing. Paul stumbled out of bed, grabbed the telephone and was informed that this was his wake-up call. The clock told him that it was 6:10am. He slammed the phone down a bit harder than needed to give air to his feeling. It did not improve the situation.

"What idiot arranged this?" he wondered. Going back to bed was no option, though. He knew he'd not wake up before late afternoon if he did, so he staggered through the room, collected some things he would need and headed towards the shower. At least that would wake him up for the hours to come.

Just as he came back into the room, someone was impatiently knocking on the door. "Dammit, what's next..." Through the spy-hole Paul saw that Don was waiting in the hallway, all dressed and apparently very awake. He opened the door. "What happened to you?"

Don looked at his colleague. "You look as if you had no sleep."

"Thank you. Come in, so I can finish getting dressed. How is it that you are so awake and cheerful?" Paul asked as Don entered.

Don shrugged and dropped himself in a chair. "I wouldn't know, except perhaps for my good-humoured disposition and dazzling looks?"

Paul closed the door and turned to look at his puny fellow researcher. The short hair, the immense glasses, and ears two sizes too large. "Yes. You look dazzling." He finished dressing and collected what things he wanted to take with him to the conference.

"We can come back for that, " Don pointed out.

"I'm taking them with me, " Paul insisted, so they left the hotel room and went to look for a place that could supply them with breakfast. Paul carried two bags while Don carried his dazzling looks.

After breakfast Don went back to his room to fetch his conference material, while Paul remained seated to enjoy some more tea. They had taken their time, and it was around nine in the morning when they went in search of a taxi that would take them to the conference hall.

"I hope I can stay awake all day, " Paul grinned as the taxi turned into the parking lot in front of the Loews Hotel where the conference was being held.

"Don't worry, P.E., " Don said. "I am here, I shall keep you awake."

"That statement just thoroughly undermined the don't worry you started with, Doctor Donahue." They paid the taxi-driver and went into the hotel.

"Crikey." Don stopped and stared. Paul knew what the man meant - the Loews hotel was several steps higher up the quality ladder than their hotel.

"Hello, gentlemen." A young lady, her brown hair in a bun on her head and charming blue-rimmed glasses on her nose, came up to them. She had a computer tablet and a plastic bag with her. She shook their hands, looked up their names on the tablet and then dug out a few badges which they were supposed to wear during the conference. "My name is Megan Reynolds, I am with the Annapolis University and if there is anything you need assistance with, just ask me."

Don grinned. "He's from Wales, he'll be asking you a lot, " the man said as he pointed at Paul.

Paul thought it below his dignity to give his friend a slap on the head. After all, they were here on official university business. Megan Reynolds pointed out the important areas for the next three days, told them where they were expected to sit at the beginning of the conference and then handed them over to another woman who guided them to a restaurant for coffee, tea and cake. As they walked along, Don and Paul noticed that there was more than this one conference going on in the hotel. Everywhere they saw people with badges, and most of those people did not look like they were into astrophysics. Once they were in the restaurant, stocked up on tea, the waiting began.

***

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