There were four of them. Two met at boarding school; the other two had flatted together during their student days. They'd connected through marriage: two â one from each pairing â were married to women who'd been best friends since Brownies. They coalesced in Auckland in the mid-1980s, drawn together by history, a love of games and a shared world view, essentially an in-your-face, you-only-live-once materialism. They were white, well-off, respectable married men who liked letting their hair down in controlled conditions.
It began with a relatively low-key golf weekend in Taupo. They stayed at a mid-range motel, went out for a meal and a few drinks, played Wairakei on the Saturday, had an early night, teed off again first thing Sunday morning, and were home in time for the Sunday night roast. As they were having a sandwich before the drive home, the property developer (Christopher) suggested they should do it again next year. The dentist (Adrian) pointed out that there was more than one decent golf course in the upper half of the North Island. The businessman (Jonathon) said, why limit ourselves to the upper half of the North Island? The lawyer (Fraser) said, why limit ourselves to golf?
They'd had weekends in the three other main centres organized around All Black tests. They'd done the rugby league grand final in Sydney, the Aussie Rules grand final in Melbourne, and the Adelaide Grand Prix. They'd done wine tours of Hawkes Bay and Central Otago. They'd even done a tramp in the Marlborough Sounds, but the decadent variety with husky youngsters to carry their backpacks to the next luxury lodge and a hot bath, a five-course dinner and a soft bed.
There were two rules, which had never been articulated let alone formally adopted: the weekend's main activity, its ostensible
, had to be something which held little or no appeal for the wives so they wouldn't feel they were missing out. Secondly, there would be no shenanigans involving other women, whether as a group or individually. That way, when pressed for details or a few illuminating snippets, they could look their wives in the eye and invoke the principle that what happens on tour should stay on tour.
This year it was the Hauraki Gulf on a chartered launch, fishing optional. They gathered at Westhaven on Friday afternoon. After loading the supplies, they headed up to Kawau where, in keeping with tradition, they got drunker than they'd been since last year's boys' weekend. In the morning they swam to clear their heads, had a late breakfast of whitebait fritters and Bloody Marys, then motored down to Waiheke for a long lunch at a vineyard restaurant.
They rolled out of the restaurant at five, and went up the eastern side of the island to a private bay where one of the businessman's mates had a weekender. They went ashore, lit a fire in the courtyard fireplace, and got to work on the case of Syrah they'd bought at the vineyard.
Over the years, the wine they consumed had got steadily better and their consumption had steadily increased. That reflected a paradox: as they'd become more prosperous,
more secure, more embedded in their circumstances â more content, one might think, looking in from the outside â the boys' weekends had become more of a relief from their everyday reality.
And after a decade and a half of
in vino veritas
without a single breach of confidence, these weekends were also a chance to let off steam, to say out loud things that normally stayed inside their heads. For instance, Fraser, who was now an MP, took the opportunity to tell racist jokes. Like the others, like many Pakeha of his age and background, he was instinctively mildly racist, but in public life and in his infrequent interactions with Maori, Polynesians and Asians, he bent over backwards to present as Mr Multiculture.
The openness extended to their private lives. This tended to mean that the two happily married men â Jonathon and Christopher, the property developer turned consultant â had to listen to the two unhappily married men â Adrian and Fraser â moan about their marriages and brag about their affairs. These bore out the banal truth that proximity is the greatest aphrodisiac â Adrian had been through a string of nurses, receptionists and hygienists; Fraser's late-night trawls of the Beehive had landed a few research assistants and members of the press gallery â although in the telling their lovers were invariably pretty, lubricious, and gratified. Whenever Christopher and Jonathon compared notes back in Auckland, they'd conclude that their friends were full of shit. Their scepticism was borne out when one of the press gallery catch changed jobs to become an unsightly presence on the six o'clock news.
They were sitting in the courtyard drinking Syrah and smoking the Cuban cigars which Jonathon, by some distance the richest of the four, always provided.
“I've got a joke for you,” said Adrian, who now spent most of his working life in Sydney maintaining the ivory grins
of newsreaders, models and trophy wives. “It's a fucking classic.”
“Is it dirty?” asked Fraser.
“Not really,” said Adrian. “But there's more to life than dirty sex, you know.”
Jonathon laughed. “Coming from you.”
“Exactly,” said Fraser. “And, anyway, who says there's more to life than dirty sex?”
“The Pope?” suggested Christopher.
“Well, he would, wouldn't he?” said Fraser. “You know why the Pope showers in his undies? Because he doesn't want to look down on the unemployed.”
Adrian groaned. “Oh, please. You know how old that joke is? I heard it from my scoutmaster. He was trying to seduce me at the time.”
“When you say âseduce',” said Jonathon, “that implies some reluctance on your part.”
“Au contraire,” said Adrian. “He just wouldn't take yes for an answer.” The others guffawed. “Now, you want to hear this fucking joke or not? Okay. A businessman rushes up to the ticket counter at some American airport. He's in a panic because the last plane to Pittsburgh is about to depart. As he opens his mouth to speak to the woman behind the counter, he notices that she's superbly endowed in the knocker department. âYes sir,' she says, âwhat can I do for you?' The guy's still eyeballing her stupendous norks. Without looking up he says, âA return ticket to Tittsburgh please.”
“Half an hour later, on the plane, he's still mortified by his faux pas. The guy in the next seat can see he's a bit uptight and asks if he's okay. âI just had the most horrendously embarrassing experience,' he says, and explains what happened. âTell me about it,' says the other guy. âI know how easy it is to get your words mixed up when you've got
something on your mind. At breakfast this morning I meant to say to the wife, âDarling, would you pass the marmalade,' but you know how it came out? âYou fucking cunt, you've ruined my life.'”
The joke met with a mixed reaction. Jonathon shrugged as if he didn't really get it; Fraser emitted a low, appreciative chuckle; Christopher spluttered a few times then let out a roar, like a motorbike kick-started on a cold morning.
“Settle down,” said Jonathon. “It wasn't that bloody funny.”
“Actually, I wouldn't have thought it was your sort of joke,” Fraser said to Christopher. “Twenty-five years of married bliss and all that.”
Christopher dabbed his eyes. “You like racist jokes, but you're not a racist â or so you keep telling us. And since when was I going on about wedded bliss?”
“Maybe not this time,” said Adrian, “but you'd have to admit it's been a bit of a theme over the years.”
“Yeah, well, that was then,” said Christopher.
“If I didn't know better,” said Jonathon, “I'd say that sounds like trouble at mill.”
Christopher shook his head crossly. “I thought I married the girl next door, not bloody Wonder Woman.” He stood up. “The shithouse calls. I might be some time.” He went inside.
“Well, I'll be fucked,” said Fraser, eyebrows aloft.
Adrian said, “Are you two thinking what I'm thinking?”
“I'm not thinking about sex,” said Jonathon, “so probably not.”
“I reckon he's got something going on.”
“What do you mean?”
“A bit of stray,” said Adrian, “a bit of crutch, a bit of what makes you throb in the night.”
“You think he's having an affair?” said Fraser.
“Don't be daft,” said Jonathon.
“You've got to admit,” said Adrian, “that was way out of character. Like a whole different person.”
“Give the man a break,” said Jonathon. “His life's been turned upside down â that's got to take a bit of getting used to.”
“Jesus, it's been awhile now,” said Fraser. “Besides, what's the big deal? It wouldn't take me too long to get used to my wife making a shitload of money.”
“Nor me,” said Adrian. “Then she could fuck off and fend for herself. There's something's going on there, you can put the ring around it. You guys see more of him than I do so maybe it's harder for you to pick up, but I sensed it the moment I laid eyes on him at Westhaven.”
“You know what I don't get?” Jonathon asked Adrian. “If things are that bad at home, why don't you just split? Okay, she'll walk away with half, but you're the most expensive fucking dentist in Australasia: you'll make it all back and more in ten years.”
“Fuck that for a game of soldiers,” said Adrian as Christopher rejoined them. “I haven't sweated my balls off all these years to hand the bitch half of everything I own on a silver platter. And I don't want to work for another ten years either. In five years tops I want to be an ex-dentist kicking back in Noosa.”
“Suit yourself,” said Jonathon. “Don't get me wrong, I'm pleased you don't want to do that because I happen to like your wife. But if the relationship's as poisonous as you make out, you could retire to the Riviera and still be unhappy.”
“He's got a point,” said Fraser.
“Pity this isn't America,” said Christopher. “You could just look up Dial a Hitman in the Yellow Pages.”
Adrian extended his arm across the table for a high-five. “Right on, brother.”JOYCE
St Heliers, Auckland, six years ago
It all boiled down to self-discipline. Sure, being organized helped, but a lot of what people called organization was really self-discipline: having a structure to your life; sticking to your plans and routines regardless of what circumstances and other people threw at you. Having a few brains helped too, but less than you'd think. Look at her: nobody's fool, no question about that, but certainly no Einstein. She came across plenty of people who were brighter than her. For that matter some of her employees were brighter than her. So how come they worked for her and not the other way round? How come she was more successful than all those brainboxes out there? Two words: self-discipline.
She did her stretches at the bottom of the drive, glancing up at the dark mass of the house.
Where would their lovely home be without her self-discipline? Gone west, that's where.
Self-discipline had got her through a degree while holding down a full-time job. Self-discipline had enabled her to raise two well-adjusted, high-achieving kids while working part-time. And self-discipline had been the key to building a thriving business from the ground up when their comfortable little world was on the verge of falling apart.
It was 5.59 a.m. She shook the traces of sleep-stiffness from her arms and legs, set her watch and eased into a jog. Within twenty-five metres she was moving at the brisk tempo she'd maintain for the next three quarters of an hour.
Self-discipline had enabled her to roll back the disfiguring effects of childbirth without resorting to cosmetic surgery, like some people she could mention. To heck with that: this
body was all her own work. And pretty darn trim for fifty-one if she said so herself, as she often did when she inspected it in the full-length mirror in her walk-in wardrobe.
Self-discipline got her out of bed at 5.40 every second morning to go for a run. Even on mornings like this when the chill turned your nose red and your fingers white and it would be so easy to sink back into that big, soft bed. Even if she'd been up late getting on top of her paperwork, or cleaning up after a dinner party while her husband was upstairs snoring his head off. Assuming he was capable of negotiating the stairs. Even if she had a rotten cold, because you couldn't let a little bug rule your life. Every second morning, without fail, she was down at the gate stretching by 5.55 and on her way by six. You could set your watch by her.
Her route never varied. What was the point? It was exercise, not sight-seeing. Mind you, she'd be doing the old eyes-right when she passed a certain house that had just gone on the market, a snip at $8.7 million. Dream home was right. Dream on. Not that they couldn't have done the deal. Since the business took off, getting money out of the bank was the least of her worries â they were almost offended that she didn't want more. Once bitten, twice shy, though. She had nothing against bankers â well, nothing much, anyway â but she didn't want them owning a chunk of her home. When you own it outright, no one can take it away from you.
If it was up to her husband, they'd be moving in next week. He still didn't get it even though it was his over-confidence and, let's face it, lack of self-discipline that had landed them in the poop in the first place. Oh well, he was what he was and that leopard certainly wasn't going to change his spots. Besides, she wouldn't have fallen for him if he'd been a different person, more like her. They were a classic case of
opposites attract. No, it wouldn't happen next week, but it would happen. And the first he'd know about it would be when she tossed him the front-door key and said, ever so casually, “Darling, you know that house in Lammermoor Drive that we were so keen onâ¦”