ExtractRead the first chapters of the novel Virtually

A silence formed between them, with just the music murmuring in the background and the percussive accompaniment of Sorensen, still clattering about in the kitchen. It was an easy silence. It felt very comfortable. Seemed to fit almost snugly. And somehow, that was wrong. He was completely at his ease, if a little nervous, wanting to fidget, and that was wrong. The gory blast of death, that he had experienced earlier and had hoped to re-experience, just wasn't happening. His comfy feelings were keeping it at bay.

Did it matter? As he shuffled closer to her, topped up her wine glass, returned her smile, he told himself no, it didn't matter, he didn't need it, nor want it. The company of Anne-Yvonne was all he really desired. So what if his aims had been subverted? They were ugly aims.

But it was too late. Doubts had been sown. Began to grow. His intentions had been seduced by Anne-Yvonne's grace and charm and beauty and he had let them be seduced, a cowardly action, preventing him from straying down dark abandoned corridors and chancing on that attic room in his mind and its hoard of secrets. Hadn't that been the most important thing in his life, overshadowing all else?

There was no getting round it: whichever way you looked at it, the evening was a wreck, an unmitigated disaster. Still, she seemed to like his hors d'oeuvres.

He took up the platter and offered her more.

"Lovely," she said, catching crumbs deftly in one hand. She tried to mask a faint shiver, didn't quite manage it, smiled politely and commented, "Bit chilly in here."

He explained about the heating system. "It would be easier," he admitted, "to simply buy a new unit. Cheaper too. But I have a passion for things antique. I'm a Luddite at heart."

"So I noticed," she said, glancing about the room, craning to look back into the kitchen, where Mr. "won't even know I'm here" Sorensen had just let out a string of expletives. "It's what intrigued me earlier," she said, her voice hushed and soft, intimate. "Your invitation. I'll cook. What would you like? I didn't realize people still did that, cooked for themselves. Except, of course," she added, discomposing her features with a look of automatic disgust, "those that have to, Third Worlders and the like."

When bony Death....

The words, unbidden, came rudely to mind, momentarily disrupting his stream of thought and throwing it off track. He shunted them aside.

"It's not the style any more," he admitted, "but I like it. Much more satisfying." He prepared himself for a polite and subtle attack on his values, his way of life and living, marshalling the usual arguments that were trusted for having been so well tried. They didn't come. She seemed to be mellowing - the wine? the ambience? - all vestiges of her cool aloofness melting as the temperature dropped. He stalled by offering her more wine, then went on, "I don't like the way people have become. Grabbing, grasping, wanting everything and wanting it now. The chop-chop age as I call it. A social disease. And though I try my damnedest, even I'm not immune to it. This morning, for instance. I downloaded the complete works of Bartok, a mountain of digitized data. Days of playing time, it amounted to. Ten seconds it took to download it."

"Yes," she said, the warm flush of her voice suggesting genuine interest - or was she merely toying with him? - "the system was a bit slow, wasn't it?"

"Exactly. Just what I thought. And -"

When bony Death has chilled her gentle blood....

"- um...." What went next? Chilled her gentle blood... but what did it matter? Where the hell had that thought come from? "It's ridiculous," he continued, a little vexed though doing his best not to show it. "You expect it instantly, because usually an instant is all it takes. But thirty years or so ago, or even twenty, or even as little as ten, it would have taken ages to download that volume of information, all day perhaps. And even then, you couldn't have done it. Didn't have the computer power. The storage capacity. And then take transport. Imagine hopping on a plane and spending hours in the air. Imagine not getting there instantly."

Obligingly, she shuddered. "Perish the thought."

Available for purchase now

Buy the e-book version of Virtually online via Amazon.co.uk (UK readers), and Amazon.com (North America).

The paperback version is available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk and in North America from Amazon.com.


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