After Noreen had paid once again with her magic card, the two of them left the bar and strolled out into the night. It was now clear and cool and, Bertie thought, remarkably quiet for bar rush on a Friday night. There were a number or cars going up and down Hollywood Boulevard, but the vast majority of them were nearly silent.
As they proceeded back up the street in the direction of the theater Noreen explained, “My car is parked in a lot just across the street from the theater.” She gave a little embarrassed chuckle. “It’s not much to look at, it’s only an old ’21 Tesla, but it gets me where I want to go.” She paused and then corrected herself. “In the city that is. I’ve got another car for long distance trips and rough country expeditions. That one’s my pride and joy. It’s a ’32 Gemstar Power Van. It’s the absolute latest in Philippine technology. It’s got everything, including two 50-gallon gas tanks. When fully opened up it gets up to a cruising speed of over 80 miles an hour with 450 horsepower. “
“Wow,” said Gil. “That’s totally amazing.” This was something he could appreciate.
They reached the parking lot without incident and she quickly found her car and unlocked it with her electronic key. She opened the passenger side door for Bertie and he slid in, marveling at the efficient-looking compactness of the dashboard. As he watched, she turned a key in a slot and the dashboard and the dials thereupon lit up immediately. But the only sound emanating from the vehicle was a soft, nearly inaudible hum like the motor of some distant refrigerator.
She maneuvered the car out towards the exit, pausing at a booth to pay the parking fee. This accomplished, she rolled out of the parking lot and turned west on Hollywood Boulevard.
“Let me see that address again, Bertie,” she said.
He fumbled in the pockets of his lucky brown corduroy jacket, finally coming up with the note from Gil. “Here it is,” he said.
Taking the paper and looking at it, she remarked, “Hm! He lives in a great part of town. Wish I could afford an area like that.” She gave a little shrug. “But then I guess he’s got all the money in the world, so why shouldn’t he?”
Bertie shrugged his shoulders likewise. He couldn’t argue with that.
Within about fifteen minutes they had reached the intersection of La Brea and Sunset and were proceeding south on La Brea. Within a few more minutes Noreen pulled up at a large new-looking apartment building. Bertie could see that it had all the bells and whistles—gated courtyard, hint of a cabana and swimming pool in the back, carefully manicured lawn with precisely trimmed hedges, and several pieces of statuary that looked to be made of marble, including a large fountain with water spraying out into a huge multi-colored basin.
“Well, I guess this is it,” Noreen said. But as Bertie opened the door and started to get out she called to him, “Hey, wait a minute. I’m going to see you tomorrow night at the theater, right?”
Bertie found himself at a loss. He had been running all evening on pure instinct and, being used to being ordered around by Natalie, had let Noreen take the lead. Now he said, “Well, I guess that’s up to, uh, Uncle Gil.”
“Well, I’m sure he’ll give you another free pass. Just remember, it’s a triple feature tomorrow night. The first one starts at six.” Then she looked as if she had an idea. “I know.” She reached into her small purse and pulled out what looked to Bertie like a small calculator. She motioned Bertie to move closer as she held the object up to him.
“I’ve got VR on my mobile,” she explained uselessly to Bertie, who had no idea what she was talking about. She pressed a button on the device and its tiny screen lit up. “Just say your name clearly and distinctly in your normal voice.”
Mystified, Bertie nonetheless did as he was told. Clearing his throat he intoned, “Bertie Hallenbeck.”
She pressed another button on the device and a second later Bertie was startled to hear his voice in perfect reproduction emanate from it. “What is that thing?” he asked.
She gave a hearty laugh. “It’s a phone, silly. Don’t they have them up in Canada?”
Bertie shook his head. All the handheld phones he had seen were big bulky things with long retractable antennae which had to be extended to make the thing work at all. “Not like that,” he replied. “And what is that you said, VR?”
“It’s a voice recognition app,” she explained patiently. “Here’s how it works. You can call me from any phone. When you hear my phone start to ring, just say your name and I’ll know the call is from you. You don’t even have to use a particular phone, just say your name. I’m putting you” —here she began pressing more buttons— “on my Preferred List. That means that even if I have my phone turned off your voice will activate it and I’ll know it’s an important call.”
“Wow,” said Bertie again. He seemed to be doing a lot of wowing lately. He thought to himself, Boy, I could sure use that in my line of work. But instead he merely said, “What a fantastic invention.”
She ignored this and said seriously, “So call me tomorrow afternoon. Let me know what the situation is. If your uncle Gil is such a skinflint he won’t get you in for free, let me know and I’ll get you a ticket. Even though it’s Saturday night and he’s wildly popular, there must be a few seats left. And oh,” she added, “also let me know if you need a ride to the theater. If you call by four-thirty I can come and pick you up and we’ll still be able to get there in time for the first film. You don’t want to miss it.”
“No,” said Bertie, overwhelmed. “I guess I don’t.” Not knowing what else to do, he stuck out his hand and said, “Uh…well, gee, Noreen… Uh, thanks for the drinks and everything…”
She took his hand and shook it, a warm smile suffusing her face. “Don’t mention it,” she said. “I’m always on the lookout for interesting people.” She gave a little snort. “I’m sort of between men now anyway.” Then she brightened. “As a patriotic citizen I feel it is my duty to help foster friendly international relations.”
Puzzled, Bertie released her hand. “International relations?”
She shook her head in mock exasperation. “Well, duh, you’re from Canada, right?”
“Oh, uh, right. Yeah, I see what you mean. Okay, I’m all for friendly international relations too.”
“Good,” she said. “Now run along. I’m sure your uncle is waiting to meet you. How long’s it been?”
Bertie tried desperately to remember what his story was. “Well, actually,” he said after a moment or two, “We’ve never met. But I’m sure looking forward to it.” He was, too.