Oh, hi reader.
Don’t worry, I’m not going to make a habit of breaching the fourth wall to address you directly. But I’ll do it just this once. I wonder in what kind of neighborhood that you live in. Me, I live in 39th street, NYC, together with my family and best friend, John ‘Cookie’ Dutch. He bought our houses there with mobster money he won in a poker game about ten years ago, but that’s a story we have referred to so many times now, we’ll let you look it up. I’m done pointing out crap.
I’m glad you asked.
It concerns my neighbor, the – by now – infamous Barry Michaels, and his tendency of hating my guts.
This time because I was actually being helpful.
It was a warm day in june, 2020. We’d been dealing with COVID19 for about three months and even though ‘Murica and especially Manhattan were hit hard, not everyone abided by the rules set by our local government to stay indoors. Instead, some got fed up with social distancing and decided that they didn’t need to be careful, since they had a health care plan and loads of money to spend on it. One of those ‘someones’ was Barry.
Apparently, Michaels took up a vacation. Well, I suppose you can’t really call it a vacation if you don’t work, but still. In the aftermath of the stressful launch of the most recent Dragonmaster game (which thankfully was a huge success) I was in dire need of some peace and quiet. If Michaels wished me anything at all, it would have been the opposite of that. Maybe that played a role in him organizing a wild beach splash party in his backyard. Nadia and me weren’t invited, of course. Cookie was. Michaels did like to gather influential and important people around him. Cookie fit that bill since he is the CEO of the world’s biggest video game development company. But that doesn’t make it feel right to me and thus I tried to talk him out of it. He insisted on going, saying that it was the perfect opportunity to hand over a peace offering on my behalf. That would be a good idea, wouldn’t it? Furthermore, he, as the other neighbor, felt bad because of the hostilities between me and Michaels.
I still don’t know why, but I caved and reluctantly agreed. Maybe I was getting tired of that ‘making eachother’s life miserable’ attitude that had been between me and Michaels for over a decade. Don’t really want to end up in one of those shows where one has to make up with their neighbors in front of a camera. Being in the vicinity of an erupting volcano would be more preferable instead of being near me, in that case.
Anyway, John would be attending the party. It only took one glance over the fence that separated my modest backyard with Michaels’ huge, turned-into-a-beach-for-the-occasion estate that the preparations were well underway. Near the house I could see a huge amount of fireworks being prepared. They were more or less fencing the house in by encasing it in some sort of framework for the show. This was going to make Disneyworld look like a matchstick being lit in comparison. There were also a lot of beautiful women practicing their serves and smashes for the beach volleyball tournament that was apparently being held. I couldn’t suppress a snort and a grin. You didn’t have to guess after Cookie’s real reason for wanting to go. It wouldn’t surprise me if Jay-Jay was also invited and he had somehow known of that beforehand.
I shook off the thought as fast as it had entered my mind. True, Cookie was devious when it came to women, but he also didn’t think that far ahead for only one in particular; especially since Michaels had undoubtedly mentioned the beach volleyball tournament to reel him in. It couldn’t hurt to keep an eye on things, though. The company only barely escaped a potentially devastating lawsuit after Cookie’s panties-themed stunt with Jay-Jay and I could not unsee the unimaginable amount of possibilities for a lawsuit on Michaels’ estate. I decided to go all Mr. Wilson on their ass and stationed myself behind the fence, beer in hand. If I was going to babysit Cookie, I could as well enjoy the view comfortably.
It didn’t take long for the first invitees to show up. Cookie was among them, obviously. Then there was the mayor, a few political big shots, the CEO from Microsoft, CEO from Google, CEO from Sony Computer Entertainment… Michaels had spared no expense. He saw me watching, grinned and theatrically held aloft a glass of champaign as if saying ‘cheers’. I could only imagine what he really thought, but instead of taking the bait, I met his gaze, grumbled ‘cheers’ in return, raised my bottle of beer and sank back behind the fence.
A few hours later, loud cheering woke me from my slumber. After blinking a few times, I realized it had gone dark. I threw the empty beer bottle that occupied my belly aside and clumsily slipped out of the hammock to see what all the ruckus was about. I’d woken to the sound of the large crowd gathered on Michaels’ estate counting down to start the fireworks. ‘His lordship’ stopped the count at five to build up tension with a few anecdotes from his jet-set lifestyle. He had the crowd on his side (well duh, he paid for all the fucking drinks), which encouraged him to keep talking.
I was just about to turn away and find the peace and quiet of my bedroom before the fireworks would start, when I saw Cookie moving around the house and away from the crowd. He appeared to be rummaging with the wiring from the fireworks alongside one wall in particular.
If you know someone for over 25 years, you get to know their behavior a bit. And Cookie’s behavior was shifty, at best.
“John”, I hissed, “what are you doing? John!”
Whether Cookie had heard me or was simply ignoring me, I couldn’t tell. He had rewired all of the fireworks and my gut told me that this wouldn’t end well when Michaels lit the fuse.
Since shouting and hissing didn’t seem to work out, I climbed the fence Peter Griffin-style. After I’d gotten on my feet again and spat out some of the sandy beach that had found its way into my mouth, I made my way towards Cookie’s handiwork. The countdown had resumed and I knew there was little time. Too little. To my left, Cookie had launched himself into some socially distanced shrubs and was snickering like a madman. To my right, in the center of the garden, Michaels enthusiastically pushed the detonator down with both hands.
I shouted the two-lettered word that no married woman accepts from her man at any given time from the top of my lungs, but it was too late.
From the top to the bottom, the front to the back, colorful arrows shot into the sky and a lot of noise mingled with the cheering of the partygoers. Michaels looked at me questioningly and raised his hands to shoulder height, palms up, in a ‘what’ gesture. The ‘what’ came two seconds later. One side of his house lit up like a light bulb and instead of firing arrows into the sky, the forceful detonation almost blew out the entire side of the house. Panic arose among the attendees and Michaels screamed loudly, grabbing his hair with both hands, not knowing what to focus his attention on. I decided to hop back over the fence before anyone would get it in his head to look my way for an explanation.
Feigning ignorance over the chaos next door, John was lying in my hammock like he’d been there the whole time already and handed me a beer. Still shocked, I clinked my bottle with his in a toast.
“Summer, Gene!” He loudly squealed from pure joy and took a long sip from his beer.
The fireworks, once set in motion, wouldn’t stop. The flames on the damaged side of the house disrupted the programmed pattern completely. The crowd was panicking even more now and some of the beach volleyball women jumped the fence. It took Cookie three seconds to put his arms around them, guide them the hammock and offer them a beer.
I cautiously peeked over the fence, then looked back at Cookie, who was now surrounded by beautiful women, all waiting to be reassured by him and handed a drink from my fridge. The light in my bedroom suddenly went on. Nadia would be down here in a moment, demanding an explanation for all this.
I took a swig from my beer while handing out ‘cheers’ to the women around Cookie with an uneasy smile.
Michaels had lost only one wall tonight. I was lucky if I still had one by tomorrow.