Adam watched the hills.
The headlights tunnelled cones into the night ahead of the King’s family car, bright on tarseal and rural fencing. Richard eased off the speed and looked both ways. Adam looked both ways as well, stuck in the back, lost in the gloom.
‘Where the fuck are we?’ Scott asked from the passenger side.
‘I think I have it now,’ Richard said.
Scott rattled the map. ‘This is useless. We don’t know where we are.’
Richard ignored him and made a turn. Adam watched anonymous paddocks roll past. Jacob’s turn for a party, and Jacob lived in the middle of nowhere at all.
Scott was messing around with the stereo, trying to get the tape player to work, but it wouldn’t. The rear speakers threw static hiss at Adam as Scott tried the tuner. He twisted through to the nearest clear signal, a voice as keen as the moon right in Adam’s ear: ‘You have joined us for a special evening presentation of interest to you all, a half hour of religion and philosophy…’
‘Shit!’ Scott kept searching. There was only static elsewhere on the dial. ‘Where the hell are we?’
They were in the hills southwest of Lower Hutt, riding along backroads between gigantic ramparts of bush-covered earth. Adam looked out the windows, relying on moonlight to show off the landscape. Fences and sheep paddocks, a black crevice hiding a stream. ‘Calm down, Scott,’ he said.
‘Fuck you.’ Scott kept at the tuner, chasing brief snatches of a guitar. Sometimes he picked up a signal but there was always too much static to make it listenable. The speakers were in the rear, the volume cranked up, and Adam shrunk into his shoulders to escape it.
‘Just leave it,’ Richard said sharply.
Scott threw himself back into the seat. ‘Just get us there, all right?’
Adam stayed silent. He was sitting directly behind Scott. There was no-one behind Richard. The car was out of balance.
More religion and philosophy as Scott went back to the dial, ignoring or forgetting what Richard had said. Static chattered, and then finally another clear signal, a half-dozen voices singing Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, but in Tokelau. ‘Great,’ Scott said. ‘Fuck.’ They all listened to the smooth harmonies, an overabundance of syllables crammed into the familiar tune. Rudolph finished but the music and singing segued straight into another Christmas Carol. ‘It’s a medley! For fuck’s sake, it’s June!’
Richard leaned over and turned the stereo off completely. No-one said anything.
Adam hated it when it got like this. If Dennis was around, he would relax the situation somehow, he’d just say one word or something and it would be okay again. Adam didn’t have a clue how to do that.
‘Here,’ Richard said suddenly. ‘I said we were on the right road.’ They turned down a long driveway between two sloping paddocks, past a life-sized cardboard Chewbacca that was tied to the gate. The house was all lit up below, a half-dozen cars parked by the garage.
Adam was amazed. ‘Jacob comes to school every morning from way out here? It must take hours!’
‘He takes a much more direct route than we did,’ Scott said.
The car grunted as Richard reached the garage and shut off the engine. Jacob’s home was spacious and well-appointed, and the music was incredibly loud, floating out the doors and windows. The smell of fine weed was also on the wind. They let themselves in and found a chilled-out crowd in the living room. The music was too loud for talking so everyone was just relaxing, nodding at each other, sharing alchohol and joints. Jacob wandered over to them, leaning in to be heard over the music: ‘Didn’t think you guys were gonna come!’
Scott shouted back. ‘We took a while to find you. We should have just wound down the window and followed the aroma.’
Jacob laughed. ‘You guys want beers?’ He disappeared into the kitchen. Adam looked around, surprised by the number of people there. Kane and Phil were sitting on the floor with their backs to an oil heater. Phil was rolling a joint, with Kane watching intently. Jacob’s renowned personal crop had been an incentive to get people out this far.
Richard took the last seat on the couch. Adam considered his options, then followed Scott. Kane waved them down: ‘Collins yeeeeeeh not too bad eh.’ Phil nodded a greeting too. Adam watched, at a slight remove.
‘What are we listening to?’ Scott said as the music hit a quiet patch.
Phil shrugged. ‘Some of Shane’s latest shit.’
‘Shane,’ Kane pointed over at the window, ‘check out his new haircut fucking thing.’
Two figures by the window, and the burly one – Adam blinked hard. Shane was bald, completely bald. His trademark slicked-back hair was utterly gone. It was a jarring sight.
Shane whirled around as Scott went over, grinning and yelling ‘Collins!’ His companion did the same. That threw Adam even further. It was Dennis, shaved to the scalp. His famous floppy fringe was gone. His clothes were different too, more bulk in them, darker. Adam didn’t know what to think.
Shane bobbed back and forth. ‘What do you reckon? Do we look hard?’
‘Oh, yeah,’ Scott replied as Adam strained to listen. ‘I’d run a mile from your ugly faces!’
‘Hear that Den? We look hard! Shit yeah!’
Dennis played right back at him. ‘And how hard are you?’
‘As hard as a nigger’s dick in a white girl’s pussy!’ Shane moaned and pelvic-thrusted and offered Scott the joint he was holding. Adam watched, and started to turn away, and as he did so he thought he saw Dennis glance at him. But he wasn’t sure.
Jacob reappeared and thrust a bottle into his hands. ‘You smoking?’
‘Uh, no,’ Adam said.
Jacob left him to it. Adam went back to the couch, and knelt down beside it. Richard was talking to Sasha and James, who were both supremely stoned. Sasha kept talking about her little dog, a little darling terrier called Mackie, darling little creature’d been hurt by another dog, an evil dog, an evil brute to attack little Mackie… James was smiling with his arm around her waist, not even attempting to speak. Richard looked bemused.
There didn’t seem to be too much mingling going on. One group of girls caught Adam’s eye, a familiarity he couldn’t quite place at first. It took him a moment to recognise the girl who had her back to him.
He leaned over to Richard immediately. ‘Isn’t that Kirsty over there?’
Richard kept looking at Sasha. ‘Yep.’
Adam didn’t really know what had happened between Richard and Kirsty. ‘Do you think you should say hello?’
‘Oh.’ Adam didn’t know what to make of that either. Maybe he should go up and say hello to her himself, just to be polite. But that would mess things up for Richard probably. And besides, she wouldn’t want to talk to him. She’d gone out with Richard and now that was over, and he had no right to go and talk to her like he knew her.
She was sitting side-on now. Her hair was cut shoulder-length, which Adam thought was different to how she used to have it. Wearing tight jeans and a heavy sweater that hid the shape of her waist. Now and then her head turned, but never quite enough.
Adam rose and wandered back over to Scott and Dennis and Shane. ‘How about you, Collins?’ Shane was saying. ‘You like them on their back or on their front?’
‘Whichever,’ Scott replied.
Shane nodded approvingly. ‘Hell, they’ll be unconscious, right, so you can just roll ‘em over if you like, huh?’
‘Unconscious? Say what?’
‘Well, shit, Collins, we all know you not gonna get any play unless you knock the bitch out first, right?’
Adam didn’t think this was the right conversation for him, but it didn’t seem like anyone was particularly keen to talk to him tonight. He glanced over at Kirsty again but she wasn’t looking at him.
‘I prefer them to writhe in passion,’ Scott said.
‘Then just put your hand over her mouth and nose!’ Shane said triumphantly. ‘She’ll be squirming, squirming, to get free and you can just fuck her squirming little hole! And the bonus is that she’ll come and you keep your hand over her mouth so she can’t take in a breath, you know how they take that breath when they gonna come, well she can’t do that and then you get to watch as her eyes, man, they roll back into her head and she dies, man, and shit you just fucked that bitch to death!’ He laughed then, gales and gales of laughter that drew glances from elsewhere in the room. Dennis was laughing too.
Scott shook his head. ‘You oughta be put away, Shane, where you can’t fuck up society any more than you already have.’
‘Okay, okay, you don’t have to fuck the bitch dead,’ Shane said. ‘Just knock her out, right? How about that one over there, see her? Just say you’ve got some dak in the bedroom and when she’s in there with you pick up a golfclub or something and whack her on the head! Like Dennis did on that bogan motherfucker at Julian’s!’ Shane was pointing a fat finger at the girl he was talking about. Scott looked at Dennis, who was laughing harder now, and slapped Shane’s hand down. Adam took a step back. Scott didn’t seem in a good mood any more. Adam wondered what to do, and he saw Scott and Dennis lock eyes just for a moment. He glanced away, and found himself looking right at Kirsty. She smiled at him but he was too surprised to smile back.
Shane leapt to his feet. ‘Different music!’ he yelled, reaching for the stereo and delivering a whine of feedback as he switched tapes around. ‘Awright I’m putting on some dope shit for us all because we is all hung like rogue baboons! You hear that ladies? I’m a baboon, and Dennis is definitely a baboon, and Kane and Phil are baboons, and Jacob is very very certainly hung like a rogue baboon, so here is some rogue baboon music!’ He hit play and the beats rolled out.
Adam was back at the couch. ‘Rogue baboons,’ Richard said. ‘Huh.’
‘Uh, she just smiled at me, Rich. Are you trying to ignore her? I thought you two were still being friends?’
Richard sighed. ‘Yeah. I guess.’
Adam kept watching Kirsty. Shane bopped through his field of vision. He wanted to tell Richard to get up and go and talk to her, but he didn’t. Richard wouldn’t listen to him anyway.
Dennis came over and Richard hailed him. ‘New look?’
‘Shane and I got done together.’
‘Well, it suits you better than him.’
Dennis grinned. ‘So what’s up? You two all right?’
‘We’re okay, right?’
‘Yep,’ Adam said, bringing back a glance.
Dennis looked where it had been and nodded. ‘So what’s between you and Kirsty?’
Richard looked defensive. ‘What, you as well?’
‘You guys talking?’
Dennis left them and strode over to where Kirsty was. She was chatting to an Asian girl who Adam barely knew. Richard watched as Dennis deftly inserted himself into the conversation, earning wide smiles from both girls. The Asian girl rubbed his bald scalp and he grabbed her hand playfully, using his other hand to start rubbing her hair. She squealed, and as she tried to wiggle free he was always a step ahead of her, and suddenly they had moved away and Kirsty was standing there alone.
Richard put his hands up. ‘All right, all right.’
Adam watched as he went over and they started to talk. Kirsty’s face became completely different, but it still didn’t look relaxed. That was no surprise really, Adam figured. It must be weird. But it was good, that Richard was over there, getting her to smile. Kirsty had a nice smile.
Two meaty palms slapped down on Adam’s thighs, and he found himself eyeball to eyeball with Shane, who was laughing with an edge of mania. ‘Adam Curtis! You tall bastard!’
Adam looked around for support, but there was no-one who could come to help him. ‘Um,’ he said.
‘Um! Um um um um!’ Shane lifted one hand, turned it into a pointing finger and stuck it right up against Adam’s nose. ‘How’s it going Adam Curtis? You’re not smoking! You’re not drinking! What is the explanation for this?’
‘But I’m drinking,’ Adam said, holding the bottle up. It was still mostly full.
Shane rolled his eyes without moving his finger. ‘Sure you’re drinking, but listen, you’re not drinnnnnnnking! Don’t move, you stretchy fuck-monkey, I will collect for you some real liquor!’
‘I’m okay with this for now, I’ve got work in the morning.’
‘Bullshitty no no! How do you know you won’t like it if you won’t try it? Come on, Adam Curtis, what’s the worst that will happen? The worst that will happen is you’ll start doing stupid shit, embarrass yourself in front of everyone, then collapse in a pool of your own vomit! And trust me, all that shit is fun!’
Richard and Kirsty were still talking, walking towards the door together. Scott and Dennis were off talking, oblivious. Adam didn’t want Shane to go and get him a drink, but he didn’t know how to communicate that to him, Shane only ever heard what he wanted to hear –
Shane grinned ferociously. ‘Adam Curtis, do you masturbate?’
Adam couldn’t even make a sound in response to that question. He went red silently. Sasha and James both looked at him.
‘How much is normal?’ Shane jabbed Adam’s nose a few more times. ‘Because I masturbate, Adam Curtis, all the fucking time, and I don’t think it’s healthy. How many times a day do you masturbate? More than two? Huh?’
This was about the worst moment of Adam’s life. More people were now watching Shane’s performance. Girls were watching. He couldn’t say anything, frozen to the spot. He shut his mouth, his eyes wide.
Shane stared at him, unable to do anything with his silence. He gave the same scary grin, and this time pointed down at his own crotch. ‘Do you want to see my little devil? Ar ar ar ar! Awhooooooooo!’
As he howled, he spun away. Adam sunk down into the corner, humiliated. This wasn’t promising to be the greatest ever Saturday night.
The car skidded as it took a corner entirely too fast. ‘Shit!’ Scott said over the music. ‘Hey, driver!’
‘Rich?’ Adam said. Richard wasn’t paying any notice. The rev counter stayed high as they lurched around another corner, drifting screeching across the road. Richard’s eyes were like coal. Trees and bushes rushed out of the way as the car sped onwards, a tiny lightning bolt in the blackness. Adam leaned back and tried not to think about how the road was disappearing under the bonnet almost as fast as it came into view. Something had obviously gone a bit wrong with Kirsty. Why had he sent Richard out there? He was such a fool sometimes, he should have known better. It was all so confusing and he had just tried to do the right thing. Richard needed to calm down and slow down, that was the thing. What could he say?? How could he fix what had happened?
Adam stopped breathing. His eyes locked with the beams, orange light filling his vision, all-encompassing the peripheral awareness of movement in the front seat the driver acting and suddenly being thrown forward the seatbelt catching him head snapping couldn’t concentrate to breathe to breathe breathe
Engine noise. Everything had stopped moving. Adam lifted his head, sharp ache, and he saw trees right in front of them, a metre away, or even closer.
Richard turned and looked out the rear window.
Then the screech of wheels and their car was reversing, scrabbling on the gravel at the roadside and on the tarseal again, and the car they’d almost hit had stopped, its occupants emerging, and Richard put his foot down hard and suddenly they were accelerating away and the car was behind them and further behind them and gone.
This wasn’t right. None of this was right. ‘What are you doing?’ Adam asked.
‘Whoa, Rich, hold up,’ Scott said shakily, ‘there’re rules about these things…’
‘No-one hit anyone. Nothing happened.’ They wheeled around a corner, faster than ever. Adam cried out in surprise. He struggled to find the right words, but it seemed like anything he’d say would make things worse. It didn’t seem real. He’d almost – they could have really been hurt –
Scott raised his voice, fear into anger, ‘Fucking hell, slow down! You almost fucking killed us!’
‘Shut up,’ Richard said, sounding almost calm, that temper that Richard sometimes had, it was so powerful everything just broke against it. Adam tried to say something but no words came out. Scott was yelling again now, and Richard was shouting to drown him out and the car was full of their fury, and Adam grasped on to the seat and wished he could disappear into the earth.
As if that would make things right.
Suddenly Richard shifted his foot on to the brake. They screeched to a halt, the wheels locking and skidding on the road. Adam was caught by his seatbelt again. He looked at Richard, who wasn’t looking at anyone.
‘Fine. We’ll drive slower.’ Richard’s voice was flat. ‘Nothing happened, and we’re going home.’
Adam knew this was wrong. Someone had to do something. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.
The car rolled forward carefully. There was silence the rest of the way.