Gavin grasped the bridge of his nose, squeezing until it hurt. “Look, could you all just please sit down? We need to sort out the details for this thing. The party’s only two weeks away.”
Rob was standing in the kitchen with his arms crossed. “Sorry, mate I want to get to the bottom of this first.”
On the benchtop, several sheets of newspaper lay unfurled. On top of the newspaper were chunks of broken glass. From where he was sitting, Gavin could see shards with the letters “HUN”, “ATIO” and “OW” on them.
“As I was saying, I got back last night and I couldn’t find my beer mug from home. Opened up the bin and there it was, smashed to smithereens. And now I’ve got to ask myself: was this just extreme carelessness, or was there malicious intent ?”
“For fuck’s sake, Rob,” Charlotte said, “it was just a mug. And although I didn’t break it, I’d like to be the first to say I’m glad it’s gone. Bloody coal-powered eyesore.”
“In Huntly,” Rob replied in a raised voice, “we’re proud to supply 31% of the country’s energy needs.”
“Well if you like it so much, why don’t you go back there then?”
“Guys,” Gavin called. “Can we not – Look, whoever broke Rob’s mug, go tell him in private and buy him a new one. Now we need to decide if we’re doing it here or somewhere else.”
“Here, obviously,” Charlotte came out of the lounge space and took a seat at the dining table. “I mean, this place is the whole point, right? Why should we leave the house for our de-eviction party?”
A few months back, their landlord had given them 90 days’ notice, announcing he was putting the Karori house on the market due to “favourable conditions.” But just a week before they were scheduled to move out, there had been the builder’s report. It turned out that one side of the house had unstable foundations, putting the whole thing on a slant. According to the builder, repairing the problem could take months, and the costs would likely run into the hundreds of thousands. A couple of days after the builder had been round, Gavin got a call from their landlord, cancelling the eviction. They were all now very welcome to stay on.
“Such a funny turn of events.” Oscar, dressed in his usual corduroy jacket and sitting on the sofa on the other side of the room, had been quiet up until now. “You know, it reminds me of an anecdote, told to me once by my close personal friend, Allen Curnow-–”
“Oscar, once again, no one, cares about your ‘friendship’ with Allen Curnow,” Charlotte said. “None of us even know who he is.”
“Actually, I looked him up the other day,” said Rob, sitting down at the table as well. “.”He’s a poet, isn’t he Oscar? ‘He frowned. “Although now that I think about it, I could have sworn Wikipedia said he was-–”
“Well you’ll all be meeting him at the party in a fortnight,” Oscar said. “I’ve already invited him, and he replied to let me know he’d be delighted to attend.”
“Great, so it’s happening here and Allen is on the guest list,” Gavin scribbled in his notepad, “No objections to Allen, I assume? Good. Who else are we inviting? What about Shane from next door?”
Charlotte made a throaty sound. “Not too sure about how things stand between Shane and I. Had a word with him last week about some of his hives sitting on our side of the boundary line. He denied it of course, but that’s not the kind of thing you can get past a quantity surveyor.”
“It never pays to cross a beekeeper,” Rob said solemnly.
“I say we invite Shane.” Gavin added his name to the list, “it’ll give you two a chance to patch things up.”
Charlotte no longer appeared to be listening. She stood up from the table and wandered towards the kitchen. “Look at that. There’s a hole.”
“A hole in what?” Oscar called from the sofa.
“In the newspaper. Something’s been cut out, I mean,.” Did somebody cut something out of the paper?”
The room was silent.
Charlotte turned to look at them. “In that case, I’d say it’s a safe bet that whoever broke that mug also mutilated the paper beforehand. And as you all know, I don’t bother with the bloody news.”
“It’s true,” said Rob evenly. “You’re always out in the garden. What about you, Gavin? You’ve always got your head in the paper” He leaned forward in his chair, making it creak, “Is there anything you’d like to tell me?”
Gavin sighed. “No Rob, I didn’t break your glass. Now can we just get on with planning this thing?”
The weather on the day of the party turned out fine. Most of the twenty or so invited guests had turned up, and people were congregating in little bunches throughout the living area and hallway. In the kitchen, a white-haired man wearing spectacles was in the middle of telling an anecdote to half a dozen enraptured listeners. Gavin walked up to Oscar, who was standing off to one side and watching the man admiringly.
“Looks like Allen is popular.”
Oscar smiled proudly. “Indeed he is. You can always count on Allen to deliver.”
Gavin glanced around them before continuing. “By the way. This fell out of your jacket the other morning” Reaching into his pocket, Gavin produced a small square of newspaper and held it out to Oscar:
Do YOU closely resemble Allen Curnow? (See image below for reference). I am seeking a discreet individual able to convincingly impersonate Allen at a social gathering on Sunday, 3rd March between the hours of 1-4pm. For anyone unfortunate enough to be unfamiliar with the biography, works and personal characteristics of Allen, I will be more than happy to arrange a briefing session which will, like the gathering itself, be generously remunerated. Call 021782345
Oscar snatched the paper from Gavin’s hand and stuffed it into his pocket. “I trust-–”
“Don’t worry, your secret’s safe with me. But did you really break Rob’s mug as well?”
Oscar hesitated. “Well, you know, I’ve always thought that mug was in rather poor taste. And I just dreaded to think what Allen-–”
“For God’s sake,.” Gavin walked off.
Over on the sofa, Charlotte was sitting squeezed in beside their neighbour Shane.
“Now, a man’s got to be able to admit it when he’s wrong,” Shane was saying. “I thought I had those hives right up against the boundary line, but when I checked again -–” he threw up his hands. “What can I say? The lady is a quantity surveyor. I’ll move them right back tomorrow.”
“Very gracious of you, Shane, I must say,” Charlotte said, reaching for her glass of wine.
Above the hubbub of the party, a crashing sound was audible.
“What was that?” Gavin asked.
Several people rushed over to look out of the window.
“Looks like a couple of hives have fallen over,” Rob said.
Sure enough, two hives were lying sideways on the grass. The lawn underneath them seemed to have sunk by several feet.
Charlotte came over and looked out of the window. “Hmm. Looks like part of the exit tunnel. Thought I’d filled that bit in.”
Gavin turned to her. “What do you mean ‘exit tunnel’?”
“Don’t look at me like that.” Charlotte shrugged. “Once I heard our landlord was planning to sell, I knew there’d be a builder’s report. Since none of us wanted to leave, I decided to undermine things a little. Literally speaking. So I had a bit of a dig. Not enough to break the house, mind. Just enough to put us on a bit of slant.”
Gavin pressed the heels of his palms against his eye sockets. “Jesus fucking Christ, Charlotte.”
‘Allen’, who had come over from the kitchen with the others, was now hovering hesitantly beside Gavin. “So sorry, I’m loath to interrupt. But can anyone else hear that buzzing?”
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