“Now’s your chance, before our other guest arrives,” I continued, hoping he’d make the connection. I could tell he knew I was trying to get something across, but it looked like it would take him another hour or two to regain higher cognitive function. I gave up and turned towards her.
“He’s obviously too hungover for the subtle approach. Here’s how it is. The guy you were going to the ball with last night-”
“The freak with the bowel control problem?”
“...Yeah. He dumped his girlfriend of two years to go to the ball with you, and she stayed here last night because she lives quite a way out of town. Do you want to be in the same room with her?”
“He what?” her surprise and outrage obviously not feigned, which probably helped.
“He dumped me. For you.” Hannah is a very smart person, and had obviously had a lot less to drink than James; her anger was palpable, and I didn’t especially want to be there when it erupted. Considering my proximity to the blast zone, there was only one option. I more or less dove between them.
“Look, stop, stop. Listen for a moment. You guys both got burned by someone else, ok? He fucked things up and if you two keep fighting, you’re just going to make it worse. Now... just, sit down, have some pancakes. If you two really insist on fighting, hold off until I can get a vat of jelly and a crowd of paying spectators, but I think you two have more in common than you know. Uh, Mary, was it? I think you said something at the party last night about how much you like the Beatles?” I guided them to their seats at the breakfast table. What I’d said wasn’t actually that important. It just served to break the natural flow of the confrontation.
I headed back to the kitchen, where the pancake I’d been pouring when Mary walked in was beginning to get a little crispy, which made me chuckle a little to myself. James asked me why, and I explained in a mutter, keeping one ear on the tones of the girl’s voices. When they reached the right level, I handed James two of the plates, and took two myself, grabbing the carafe of coffee with my other hand.
“Oh, yeah, and he always farts when he comes.”
“Oh my god, I noticed that too! It completely grossed me out the first time, but after the third...”
“Yeah, I really can’t remember why I stayed with him for so long.”
“And so we make progress,” I muttered to James.
“I really didn’t need to know about that particular habit,” James replied.
“So you and... I’m sorry...” Mary began.
“Will.” Hannah supplied.
“You and Will are together now?”
“Oh, no, we’re far too close as friends for that.” I winced a little, but I’m kind of used to hearing that now.
The conversation drifted around for a while, and I let it. James is good at small talk, but for me, it’s big talk or nothing. When the talk zeroed in on stories of our exploits, though, I had to join in. James never gets the details right.
“So all we had to do to change the chimes was switch CDs -”
“Tapes. It was tapes. Which meant I had to go into the attic and find an old cassette player to make the recording.”
“Ha, yeah! You came out covered in cobwebs!”
“I looked like our town council were supposed to. I mean, tapes? I bet they even use fax machines...”
“So yeah, we got the tape, went in there one night -”
“I had to pick the lock so we’d be able to shut the door after us, took me ten minutes while James stood watch with a flask of brandy for the cold...”
“I shared it with you!”
“The last mouthful, maybe. Anyway, we changed the tapes, locked the door again and bolted.”
“Next morning, all over the town at the quarter hour you could hear it. Everyone was humming it for days. Took the fire brigade four hours to break in... what was it you did, Will?”
“A speck of thermite in the lock, melted everything into a big lump.”
“You guys use thermite?” Mary interjected, a shocked look on her face; evidently she’d heard of it, or seen an internet video of a baseball-sized lump of it going through a car’s engine block.
“Oh, yeah, the recipe’s all over the place. Handy stuff.”
“Go on,” Hannah said, eager to get to the punchline, “Tell her what you changed the song to.”
“Well, every quarter hour you got two more lines, starting with ‘It’s astounding...’ and all the way up to ‘And the void would be calling’, and the hour was counted by repetitions of ‘Let’s do the time warp again!’”
“You do realise you don’t actually have to sing it, right?” James told me, interrupting my enthusiasm. “Anyway, everyone got the song so stuck in their heads that the seventh form that year learned the whole dance so they could do it at the ball.”
“Like you guys did the Macarena this year?” Mary asked, apparently in all innocence.
“Um, well... actually...”
“We all learned it at primary school,” Hannah interjected, coming to James’ rescue.
“Deep psychological scarring,” I agreed.
Eventually, breakfast was finished, and the girls departed; Hannah had forgiven Mary for what was, in hindsight, probably a good idea in any case, and was going to show her the hot springs on the other side of town. I was scrubbing the dishes, and James drying, when the phone rang.
“Uh-huh, yeah... Sure... Yeah, he’s here... uh, yeah... well, uh, of course. Glad to. Anything we can do to help.” James hung up the phone and beamed at me, filling me with dread.
“Who was that and what have you got me into?” I asked, knowing the important questions from long experience.
“That was the Professor,” James replied, “He’s offered us a job looking after a foreign student next year. Basically we get paid to do what we were going to do anyway.”
“He said we just need to go to class with him – he’ll be doing the same courses we are – and keep an eye on him, help him get used to kiwi culture. There’ll be some sort of training course in Taupo this summer, and we get five hundred bucks a week, each.”
I wasn’t exactly convinced that this wouldn’t lead to carnage, but since our plans in any case had a decent chance of causing trouble, it wasn’t like I could complain. Besides... it was the Professor. I trusted him as much as I trusted my parents. Certainly I trusted him more than I trusted James not to have scored us some sort of gig as drug mules.