“What do you mean, can I drive?” he said. “Course I can drive. I got more motors than you can shake a… wand at. I collect cars, man. I got a Cadillac Escalade –with the tinted windows – a Jeep Wrangler, a Ferrari 612 Scaglietti… and that’s only for starters. And don’t get me started on the motorbikes.”
“I won’t,” said the Angel. “By the way, we don’t do wands – that’s wizards, my man. Our thing’s wings. As you see, I myself am sporting Archangel Wannabees with the peacock-feather insets. I sure be bling-blinging it tonight!” He spun around in order that the footballer could fully appreciate him in all his glory. “And all for your sake, my man. In the hope you’ll agree to my little plan.”
“Nice!” said the footballer, genuinely impressed by the Wannabees. He recognised quality when he saw it. “But what was it you were saying you wanted me to do?”
“Drive an ice-cream van from here in Edinburgh to a muddy field Norfolk, please.”
“I would. Anything to oblige. But here’s the thing – I gotta give an after dinner speech in this hotel in ten minutes or so. It’s a charity dinner. Her Indoors talked me into it and you gotta keep on the right side, know what I mean? People are paying to hear me saying loadsa stuff about – you know – football. I only came out for some fresh air – get my courage up. To be honest it’s not my thing, this public speaking. It’s the voice, you see.”
“I hear the voice, my man. Little on the high side. Somewhat at the squeaky…”
“Yes, OK, OK. I know. I ought to, after all I was born with it. On the pitch it’s not a problem…”
“On the pitch, my man, you is master of all you survey. I’ve watched your games with awe!”
“You watch TV in heaven?”
“Set not required, man. Just look down – see everyfing. You’d like it. Now, you is the greatest British footballer ever, Mr B.”
“Well, I don’t know about that. And there’s the voice. It doesn’t exactly match…”
“… your sun-tanned splendiferousness? Your footballing fantasticality?”
“Well, I wouldn’t… I mean, there was Georgie Best and…”
“You a modest man, Mr B, for all the bling-bling-bling. But – back to ice cream project.”
“But I mean, why? What’s so special about this van, man?” He glanced across at where the angel appeared to have abandoned the giant white-and-strawberry vehicle, on the double yellows, half on and half off of the pavement, next to a damaged parking meter.
“I’d keep an eye out for traffic-wardens. I’ve heard the Scottish ones are like Rottweilers.”
“No sweat – it’s invisible.”
“It isn’t. I can see it.”
“That’s cos I wanted you to see it, man. Ain’t you worked this thing out yet? Thing is, you gotta come to Norfolk. My boss – his pappa has need of it. His name’s Sepp. Short for Giuseppe. His old van’s toast at the mo. Kaput. In a field. In Norfolk, somewhere.”
“Somewhere? You mean you don’t know? Then how am I supposed to find it?”
“GPS, man. State of the art. This baby’s top of the line – got everything. Couldn’t get lost if you wanted. Besides, I’m hitching a ride with you.”
“Flying? You joke with me, bro! Think I’m gonna stress out a pair of Archangel Wannabees with the peacock-feather insets flapping four hundred miles to Norfolk on a night like this? Case you hadn’t noticed, man, it’s snowing!
The professor had been sitting like this for a long time, staring at the flickering screen in front of him. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing, simply couldn’t believe it. The Theory of Everything.
After all these years. All these years of fighting against an illness that was supposed to have killed him within two but had crippled him instead. Living inside his head, tirelessly, obsessively searching for this very thing, a Theory of Everything.
How many times had he stared at a miasma of numbers and symbols that made sense only to him and a very few others. How many times, late at night like this, had he willed just this to come forth. The Theory of Everything.
Outside, the snow was falling faster. He could hardly turn his head but could just make it out from the corner of his eye, white flakes in the orange lamplight. He wondered what it would be like, to cast aside this massive, electronic beast of a chair; just for once to be able to walk out into the street, look up at the starry sky, feel snowflakes landing on his face.
It didn’t do to think like that. He returned his attention to the screen, and as he watched the numbers began to resolve themselves into – what? What was that thing with wings? And what was that music? Too much coffee, he thought. Nervous exhaustion, perhaps. Overdone it. These past few weeks he had pushed himself to his limit, working ridiculously long hours in his darkened study.
What am I going to do now, he wondered, a flat mood suddenly replacing the rush of euphoria. What am I to do with the rest of my life now I’ve solved this, the greatest of all the problems? Maybe there won’t even be a ‘rest’. I’ve survived to the age of seventy-three when by rights I should have died two years after diagnosis; and what has kept me alive all this time apart from… apart from this very thing? The search for the Theory of Everything.
“What is this music? What is this I’m seeing? Where are you taking me?”
“A journey, professor. We are going on a journey. Not far – Norfolk. It’s time to pay a visit to a mutual friend.”