Thirteen children, and they all disappeared somewhere into the house the instant the dishes needed to be cleaned. Valentina washed and Ivan dried and it still took an hour to clear it all away. Fifty minutes into it and the kids starting coming back into the kitchen area, sniffing for sweets.
There were all the usual dramas. Ivan Jr didn’t know about the cute girl he’d met online, Natasha was ready to give up her job as a horror movie make-up artist and little Stevie had been arrested again by the British police for dressing up as a ninja and going after muggers.
'Do you have any idea how hard it is to find criminals on a Thursday night in Bath?' he asked Valentina. She just shrugged and wondered when he was going to find the right boy and settle down.
The kitchen was spotless, so the kids went for the ice cream. There were nine flavours, all imported from Italy, and Valentina painfully watched the dishes pile back up again.
She decided to ignore the problem and check in with somebody. It would be rude to call N'buli while he was at dinner and Dave was lost in his geek world, but she hated to be out of the loop on any LOVE operation, and knew she could pick up some good gossip somewhere.
She patted her pockets.
'What the hell did I do with my phone?'
Stevie was sitting next to her, but had just spooned some tiramisu into his mouth and could only shrug helplessly.
N'buli had just about ran out of new stories, just as Mrs Goodson cleared away the last of the meal's dishes and piled them up for her husband to do later. After moving through into the living room, the two men talked about sport for half an hour while she did some knitting. They were just getting into a genial argument over the greatest cricket player in history when N'buli started yawning.
Mr Goodson grinned broadly. 'Keeping you up, Mr MacGregor?'
'Getting old, Mr Goodson.'
Mrs Goodson didn't look up from her knitting. 'Leave N'buli alone, you damn bully. He just finished telling you about travelling all over the world, and you're keeping him up to talk about stupid sports.'
'Sport isn't stupid,' said N'buli.
'He's right,' said Mr Goodson. 'Sport is just a great big metaphor for anything.'
'Whatever,' said Mrs Goodson. 'Tell us about the Egyptian op. I understand there were lesbians involved.'
'Oh yeah?' said Mr Goodson, visibly perking up, only to wince as his wife playfully jabbed him in the ribs.
N'buli explained how the operation had went down, paying particular emphasis on the details.
The Goodsons always liked to hear the details.
Dave almost pissed his pants in excitement when he finally found that last issue of Swamp Thing he had been looking for since he was 12.
He had owned issues on either side of this particular comic for more than 20 years and had agonised over his inability to fill that hole for all those decades. He could have bought it over the internet, but that was cheating, and it was something to look for every time he walked into a new comic shop.
He had been to more than 300 around the world, and had looked for this issue in every single one of them, but it had never been there. And now it was in his hands, hidden in the pile of back issues that Jeremy kept out the back of Metropolis Comics.
It was, without any irony, the highlight of his week, and things only got better when Jeremy showed him the latest box of back issues he had got in from his supplier.
'Jesus,' said Dave as he went through the pile and found odd Strange Tales comics from the sixties and issues of World's Finest from the 1950s in pristine condition. 'How much for this stuff?'
Jeremy looked it over. 'Two bucks each.'
'You're kidding. Seriously. This stuff is worth way more than that.'
'I know, but that's the deal with this supplier. He lets me have them insanely cheap, but I have to sell them for a cheap price. Otherwise the whole deal is off. I go see him every month and I’ll allowed to buy 100 random comics from this insanely huge warehouse.'
'So what's his deal? How does he make his money?'
'Beats me. Every time I see him, I ask him the same thing too. All he tells me is that it's his obligation to spread the love, and nothing spreads the love like old comic books. Besides, sometimes he gives me good deal on the big stuff, like the first appearances, and I'm allowed to sell those for anything I like. But he has stacks of this stuff that '
'That's.... weird,' said Dave, feeling the need to scratch the mental itch that had just cropped up. 'Who is your supplier?'
Jeremy’s eyes narrowed suspiciously. 'Why? So you can cut me out of the loop?'
Dave sighed dramatically and started blinking in that special way N'buli had shown him one day. The subliminal technique meant anybody he focused on couldn't help telling the truth, as long as they were friendly in the first place.
'No, I'm just interested. Who is this guy?'
'Some guy who operates out of Philly. Independent dude. Weird name, got to be some kind of marketing thing.'
'What? What's his name?'
'Goodfun,' said a smirking Jeremy. 'He's called Mr Goodfun.'
Mr Goodson's smile looked a bit too creepy, the suburban night was just a little bit too sharp, his feet suddenly seemed very far away and N'buli realised he was a bit drunkerer than he thought.
'I'm a bit drunkerer than I thought,' said N'buli as he stumbled down the front steps of the Goodsons' house. The couple stayed in the doorway, arms around each other.
'You'll be fine,' said Mrs Goodson.
'Taxi is here,' said Mr Goodson.
N'buli turned around to see the cab pull up at the kerb. 'That's convenient!' He weaved across the front lawn. 'That five years-old port was fucking awesome.'
He pulled open the cab door and was about to get in when Mr Goodson tapped him on the shoulder. He couldn't stop himself from jumping as he spun around.
'Here,' said Mr Goodson, brandishing a $100 note. 'For the ride home.'
N'buli smiled and tried to keep his eyelids open. 'You're good people, Mr Goodson.'
Mr Goodson leaned in close and whispered in N'buli's ear. 'You think so? You’re wrong. On both counts.'
'What?' said N'buli, but he was already being bustled into the back of the cab. 'Did you...'
'Bye N'buli!' said Mr Goodson, slamming the taxi door. 'Come again next week! That’s as long as you’re still here, seeing as how you're the harbinger of the apocalypse, obviously. And if you deal with any more lesbian terrorists, remember to get pictures this time!'
'What?' said N'buli. 'Huh?'
The taxi pulled away and N'buli scrambled around in the back seat. The Goodsons were both standing on the pavement in the silent night, waving him off.
He cracked open the beer he’d stashed in his jacket pocket during dessert. The driver complained, but N'buli kept giving him money until he shut up, and then gave him his tie.