By the time I returned to Budgie’s place, the sun had dipped below the hills behind the property, splashing the low clouds deep orange. A lone star peeked out above. I drove slowly up the driveway, to hear the gravel crunch beneath the immense tyres on LaShawn’s truck. There was a car parked in front of the house. As I approached the front door, I heard voices inside.
“What the f**k is a ‘Parthenon Special’?”
“It’s just a name.”
“Yeah, but what’s on it? That’s what I want to know.”
“Well give me a second and I’ll find out.”
“Sounds like a kinky sex act.”
“It’s ridiculous. What does the Parthenon have to do with anything?”
“It doesn’t. They just pick some well-known Italian reference and use that.”
“The Parthenon isn’t Italian. It’s Greek.”
“Remember Spud Conway? What was that sex position he reckoned he always did? It was physically impossible.”
“Oh, here we go… Salami, capsicum, onions… Looks like it’s just a supreme but with feta cheese on it.”
“Gross. They can keep their Parthenon. What else is there?”
“How about a Turkish Firecracker? That does sound like a sex act.”
“Good grief. What’s on it?”
“What was that sex move Spud Conway always talked about?”
“I don’t know who Spud Conway is. It’s basically lamb and jalapenos on Turkish bread.”
“Who invents this stuff?”
“You remember Spud Conway—he had the jet ski.”
“I’ve never met anyone who owned a jet ski. I’ll just get a meatlovers then.”
“Hmm… No meatlovers. Hold on—they have a Sicilian Butcher Boy.”
“You never knew Spud Conway?”
“Nope. What’s a Sicilian Butcher Boy?”
“Sausage, pepperoni, onions, bacon, mozzarella, barbecue sauce.”
“That’s a meatlovers. I’ll get that. Why can’t they just call it a meatlovers?”
“It’s a sales gimmick. Jazz up the name.”
“It’s bloody annoying.”
“You’re just jealous.”
“You’re jealous. You know you couldn’t come up with a name as good as Sicilian Butcher Boy.”
“All right, beat it then.”
“Rename the meat lovers.”
“Okay. That is better.”
“Damn right it is. And you can tell Spud Conway I said so.”
“Ah, shut the f**k up.”
I rang the doorbell. LaShawn answered.
Rory and Nils were there.
“Hey Nils,” said LaShawn, “you remember Miles, from earlier?”
“Huh? Oh, uh, yeah that’s right. How’s it going?”
“Good to see you again,” I said. “Hey, you shaved your beard off. You look years younger.”
Nils just grunted and went back to reading a takeaway menu. Something was askew. He looked different, sure—the beard was gone, and, I noticed, so was the long scar on his bald head—but it was more than that. It was the vibe I was getting. When I had first met him, he treated me like an old friend, but now I seemed to irritate him. It had to be the diary. When he arrived, he would have gone upstairs to check on his stuff, and then… I must have left a dirty fingerprint on the pages or something. Now he knew I had read his diary. Sh**.
“We’re ordering pizza,” said LaShawn. “What do you want?”
“Supreme,” I said.
“All right, one Colosseum Deluxe for Miles.”
“Don’t ask,” muttered Nils.
“Where have you been?” said Rory.
“I went to see Ezra. He’s doing all right.”
“Did he say if he was coming to the party?” asked LaShawn, fixing his eyes urgently on me.
“Um… yeah, he said he would be here.”
“Thank God for that,” said Nils.
LaShawn blew a relieved sigh. “All right,” he said. “We’re on track.”
Pizzas were ordered, beers were opened, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was put on the turntable, and we sat around the green felt table in the games room and played poker.
As LaShawn dealt the third hand, Rory got up to get the next round of beers.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked him. “You look kinda pale. Almost yellow.”
“Yeah, I’m okay,” he shrugged. He stopped next to me. “Hey, you remember Spud Conway, don’t you?”
“Hmm, no. The name sounds familiar though.”
Rory scratched his head and went to the bar.
“Hey, no one go getting too pissed tonight,” said LaShawn. “We need everyone right for the party tomorrow.”
We all agreed it would be best to drink in moderation.
“Hey, check this out,” said Rory, taking a bottle from the shelf. “Budgie has Schnapps. Who wants a shot?”
“What flavour is it?” I said.
“I’ll take one,” said LaShawn.
“You get the shots,” said Nils, getting up from the table, “I’ll get the beers.”
Conversation flowed freely and loudly after that. Nils lightened up—he had a quirky sense of humour—but I still felt he didn’t quite trust me. Rory was off his game; usually he is the best poker player, but this time he couldn’t win a hand.
The intro to “A Day in the Life” played over the stereo, and we all paused to listen. Once John Lennon started singing about reading the news, conversation recommenced, and Rory finished dealing the next hand.
The doorbell rang.
“Pizza’s here,” said LaShawn.
“What do we owe?” asked Nils, reaching for his wallet.
“Yeah. They don’t deliver out this far, so we had to pay extra.”
I took some cash from my pocket and tossed it on the table. Rory reached for his wallet, but Nils insisted on paying for him, since he had spent the last six weeks in a New Zealand gulag.
“Oh, hang on,” said LaShawn. “My wallet’s upstairs. Get the door, will ya Miles?”
“I’m on it,” I answered.
As I stood up, the floorboards shifted beneath my feet and the room rotated sixty degrees, or so my alcohol-basted brain told me. I paused to summon my balance, and then headed out front.
I turned on the porch light and opened the door.
There was Budgie, standing on his own doorstep, dressed in a neat brown suit and holding a leather briefcase.
“What are you doing here?” I blurted. “You were supposed to… the song, the plan… What happened to ending communism?”
He smiled. “It’s done.”
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