Nigel felt a wave of relief. I haven't been shot, he thought. But if I haven't, who has? He looked over and saw Janine and Tatiana lying on the floor and his heart bubbled with glee. This was too good to be true.
He was right. It was.
Janine sat up gingerly. Whoever had been shot, it wasn't her. Nigel too, she saw, was getting up, looking a bit disappointed. She looked around and saw Tatiana scrambling hastily to her feet.
If not us, then who? And then she saw the prostrate form lying on the carpet outside the bathroom door.
Who was it? And why?
And then, far too late, Tatiana noticed the most terrible smell lingering in the room. No, not lingering, now that she came to think of it, more like battering everybody forcefully around the head.
"Who died?" Nigel asked, covering his mouth and nose.
"Let's get out of here," Tatiana said, suddenly noticing that all the other guests had already left the house.
"What about him?" Nigel jerked his thumb at the body, which still showed no signs of movement.
"There's nothing we can do for him now," Janine said. "He's gone."
"You can say that again," Nigel replied, as they headed towards the door, Tatiana following behind them.
Down but not out
Jamie Spence lay, miserably, where he had fallen. The violence of the eruptions and the overpowering smell that had accompanied them had temporarily caused him to lose consciousness, for which he was extremely grateful.
"Jim," he called feebly. "Help me, Jim. Please help me."
"Jim, please help me," he croaked.
He felt a blanket being put around him and then strong arms were lifting him up and carrying him out of the house.
"Don't worry, Jamie," said the muffled voice of his old army buddy. "We'll get you to hospital as quickly as we can."
As they walked towards the car, a circle cleared around them. Jim opened the back door and put his friend on the back seat. "I'll be up front with the driver," he said. "If I were you, I'd keep the windows wide open."
Jamie nodded his head.
And then a thought struck him that almost knocked him out again. What if Angela got to find out what happened here tonight? Would she really be prepared to be seen with him after the spectacle he had made of himself? Somehow he doubted it.
The feeling of desolation he experienced at that moment was far more painful than anything he had suffered from his stomach that night.
One drink too many
Jeff Cantatos picked up the glass of red wine that was sitting on the kitchen table. He took a sip and walked back towards the living room.
Whoa, he thought to himself. Where has everybody gone?
"Perhaps they're playing a game with me," he whispered. "But they're a bit old for hide and seek."
He took a sip of wine.
And then another.
And then the smell hit - no, battered was a better word - battered him and he was running back into the kitchen and stumbling out the back door, wine glass still in hand.
Once outside, he took deep gulps of air. He felt the sweet smell of suburbia begin to flow into his nostrils and his lungs. Relief washed over him.
With a flourish, Jeff drained the glass and then threw it on the ground.
The empty glass smashed into a thousand pieces - a thousand being the generally agreed standard unit measurement for pieces of anything smashing - and he laughed out loud.
"I may as well go and join the others," he said.
He took a step towards the back door.
Something was wrong. He felt his legs getting weak and unsteady. And his vision was starting to become blurred. The wine hadn't been that strong, he thought to himself. Maybe he was being affected by the smell from the living room, he thought. Or maybe it was beginning to have a toxic effect on his system.
He tried to take another step, but couldn't. He felt weary. He felt sick. He felt nothing.
There were broken strains from a familiar song echoing in his head. A man was singing something that sounded like "I feel good".
Somewhere, he thought he heard another voice laughing at him.
"Why are you laughing at me?" he asked it. "Don't you know who I am? I'm Jeff Cantatos, I'm the president and chairman of Feelgood Enterprises."
But for some reason, it didn't matter any more. Nothing mattered.
Cantatos pitched to the ground.
Unlike the discarded wine glass, he did not break into a thousand pieces. But inside his head, his mind shattered into a thousand points of light, all of them dwindling and fading.
He lay there, puzzled, wondering, until the last light went out.
What has happened to Jeff Cantatos?
Will Angela Callard hear about Jamie Spence's misfortune? Will Jamie keep the windows down? Don't miss next week's At the margins.