Norman was late to arrive at the party in Garden Furniture. Adam had spread drop-sheets over all of his beloved display tables and chairs and though he seemed happy, there was a sub-strata of worry every time someone put a drink down.
Only a month earlier, Norman thought, Ms Shan would have balked at the idea of using the Handy Pavilion as the base for Zorbar's buck's night. Now, she not only gave her blessing, but invited herself. Wellsey – who, like many old rebels was a traditionalist at heart – objected to a woman attending a buck's night. But Fiona and Belinda also ended up on the invitation list, and then Zorbar's fiancee Carol announced she was coming. With that, any chance that the evening would involve strippers vanished in a puff of smoke, so Wellsey had had to grin and bear it.
Norman surveyed the scene. Zorbar sat at the head of a huge long table. Perhaps in deference to the fact that he had to dress up nicely the following day, Carol had allowed him to come to his party dressed in nothing but a piece of zebraskin wrapped around his slim waist. Carol sat across from Zorbar, talking to Belinda and Marlon.
Axel – who had been looking more than usually haunted lately – had converted the café counter into a cocktail bar and was serving up drinks like there was no tomorrow.
"Have an Ouzotini, Norman?" Axel said.
"Why, because I'm Greek? That's kind of rac—hey! This is pretty good!"
Wellsey had brought a case of his famous home-brew for those that didn't care for cocktails, and Mrs Lebeau from the Super Centre management had just 'happened' to turn up with a some champagne from Emile's Vintage cellar. She sat at what she probably thought was a discrete distance from Ms Shan, which made Norman roll his eyes and feel jealous all at the same time.
And Buck was there, and the MacGregor sisters and Ali and Donna, and people who worked in obscure departments that barely rated a mention were all there, talking to a bunch of former employees who'd been friends of Zorbar. Some hipsters who sat in a corner playing with their phones were surely friends of Carol's, while a table that sat a couple of uncomfortable looking rich boys sharing a table with two chimpanzees and a lowlands gorilla presumably held Zorbar's family.
Drink in hand Norman took a seat next to Zorbar, who was drinking something out of a coconut that turned out to be coconut milk.
"You not drinking, Zorbar?" Norman said.
"What happen last time Norman too drunk?" Zorbar said.
Norman gave a little laugh. "Ended up standing on a table with me shirt off, yelling at everyone… trying to start fights… Oh."
"Yeah, now Norman get it," Zorbar smiled. "Zorbar stick to water."
"Fair enough mate," Norman said. "So… tying the knot, eh?"
"Carol not like other women Zorbar know," Zorbar said. "Always need rescue from sacrifice altar. Carol not like that. She wear boot. Good ankle support. Not sprain during escape."
"Yeah, but that's not all of it, is it?"
"No," Zorbar said. "Not all. All Zorbar will say. But not all."
Norman laughed. "Just looking out for you, mate."
Zorbar cut a piece of overcooked steak with his hunting knife. Norman could only imagine the number of compromises that the primal ape-man and his excessively PC hipster fiancée had needed to make to survive as a couple, but it looked like Zorbar had managed to avoid the perils of vegetarianism – although he did pick up the chunk of flesh with a paper napkin rather than his bare hands.
"How Pavilion going?" Zorbar said.
"It's stuffed, mate," Norman said. "Going down in flames. Ms Shan still thinks we can turn it around, but you know what those corporate types she works for are like. They probably won't even tell her they're closing this place until the last minute. Bastards."
"Where you go?"
"Well, not to the fucking DIY Barn, that's for sure," Norman said. "Other than that, I don't know. I'm a pretty good barista and technically I have café management experience but…"
"But you want work power tools," Zorbar said. "Zorbar understand. Like working with Carol. Love Carol, but indoors all time. Zorbar think maybe he go TAFE, study landscaping…"
Zorbars words were swallowed by a huge echoing metallic clang coming from the great delivery bay doors. The partygoers looked around in confusion before the clang repeated itself. Norman looked to Ms Shen – for guidance, this time. The manager stood from the table, wiped her fingers and walked towards the roller door. Norman followed, along with most of the rest of the staff.
"Who is it?" Ms Shan asked.
"Open the fucking door!" came a voice from the other side. The voice seemed doubly distorted, first by some sort of megaphone and second by the door. But Ms Shan seemed to recognise the speaker anyway, visibly relaxing as she pressed the button. A terrible metallic clanking came from the door actuator mechanism, echoed by a terrible metallic clanking beyond. By the time the door was high enough for Norman to see out, the clanking outside had finished. There was nothing there but that old concrete truck that was always parked outside of the Pavilion.
Then Norman gasped. "Look!" he said. In the passenger seat a man was sitting. It took Norman a moment to identify Karl Wintergreen, since his hat was missing and a huge red patch was spreading over his trademark white suit.
Zorbar sped forward and opened the door. Norman elbowed through the crowd to help the big man maneuver Karl's body from the cab.
"Don't move him!" someone yelled.
"No, that's back injuries. Looks like he's been shot."
"Could be stabbed."
"Shut the fuck up!" Norman said. "Does anyone here know any first aid?"
A few people put their hands up, but Zorbar shook his head. "Better! There doctor in house."
Adam rushed forward, to lay a cushioned sun-lounge cover on the ground just inside the loading bay. Zorbar and Norman lay Karl on the ground. Carol rushed over to grab her fiancé around the waist. Norman glanced at Ms Shan and saw that she was holding hands with Mrs Lebeau. He suddenly felt very lonely.
The crowd parted, allowing the lowlands gorilla to knuckle his way through. Norman knew it was a 'he' because of the silver markings on the ape's back. What do you know? He'd learned something useful in high school geography.
The ape poked at the wound on Karl's chest. Zorbar grunted at the creature, which grunted back. "Someone get Dr Kagrat sharp knife and pliers," Zorbar said. "Also maybe call ambulance."
"I did that!" said one of Carol's hipster friends.
"Me too, except I used the ambulance service app," said another.
Axel appeared with a Stanley knife and a pair of needle-nose pliers, which he disinfected by pouring tequila over them. The gorilla took the tools and tore Karl's white jacket open with his bare hands. With a kiss, Zorbar released Carol and knelt on the floor, physically holding Karl down. Norman wondered why, until Dr Kagrat cut into Karl's flesh, and Karl began screaming and struggling in Zorbar's iron grip. Norman, feeling helpless, leapt in and grabbed onto Karl's legs. This had the unfortunate effect of leaving him facing directly towards the operation.
"Come on! Come on! Give them some space!" Ms Shan said, shooing the partygoers away from the makeshift operating theatre. It took a while to get everyone moving, but Ms Shan was not someone to be ignored. She got them moving just as a horrible metallic scrape told Norman that Kagrat had found the bullet with the point of his knife.
"It's the Barn," Ms Shan said. She said it low, relying on Karl's screams to make her words inaudible to anyone but Mrs Lebeau, but Norman's superb hearing caught every word. Thanks, Dad! he thought. At least you gave me good ears.
"I sent him there," Ms Shan said. "God help me. I sent him to find out what they were up to. It's a miracle he's alive. This is my fault!"
"Shush, love," Mrs Lebeau said. "It's not your fault. It's theirs. They shot him."
There was a long pause. The gorilla, a look of absolute concentration on his dignified face, reached into the hole in Karl's body with his pliers. There seemed to be a couple of false starts before the jaws bit, but then he had hold of something. With powerful, sensitive fingers, he started pulling it out.
"You're right," Ms Shan said. "You're right. They did it. Okay. No more bullshit. No more faffing about. No midnight pranks, no wait and see. They want a war? They've got one!"
Involuntarily, Norman's back straightened and his chin came up. Up until now it had all been killer robots and magic meteors and Phantasms and, for all Norman knew, gypsy curses. Now it was war and, God help him, Norman would go anywhere, anywhere that Ms Shan ordered, do anything Ms Shan told him.
"I need a girlfriend," he said to himself.
But no one heard him over Dr Kagrat's grunt of satisfaction as, with a jerk, the bullet cleared Karl Wintergreen's body.