OPINION: I've lost count of the number of people who've asked me about Angela. It's either two or three.
"Joe," they've all said, "whatever happened to the cross-dressing Bulgarian hit-man employed by the Vatican to rub you out? Has he gone back to Bulgaria or what?"
"What, I imagine," I say. "Angela was never one to be predictable."
"We miss him," they say.
And I do, too. But the moment that the city council agreed that the imaginary rocks threatening my house were imaginary rocks, Angela left. He didn't even stop to shave his legs. He just took down his Uzi, rolled up his pantyhose, stuffed both in a bag and minced down the road. Since then I've seen neither frill nor flounce of him.
Until this week, that is, when I rang the council about my rates demand. I wanted to ask whether any of the strings of zeroes was a misprint.
"Christchurch City Council," said the receptionist. "You're speaking with . . ."
"Angela," I said.
"Boss," exclaimed Angela, "Mwah mwah."
"What on earth are you doing?" I said. "Have you gone over to . . ."
"Ssshhh," said Angela, "walls have ears. Let's do lunch tomorrow."
We met in one of the little Bulgarian speakeasies that have sprung from the rubble. "How lovely to see you," I said as we sat back with a bottle of plum rakia. "I thought you'd gone home. Then when I read about the head of the CIA resigning because of an affair I presumed you'd gone to Washington. But here you still are. How's the new job?"
"My employers are honeys," said Angela. "The council's got all sorts of PC policies about diversity and giving outlaws a second chance, so as soon as they saw my CV the managers were just clamouring to get their hands on me. And there are hundreds of managers. I've never felt so wanted."
He paused to spear a kebapche and slide it between carmined lips.
"They've given me a little patter to say," he said, adopting his best pinched telephone manner. 'Christchurch City Council, you're speaking with Angela. To complain about the CEO's salary, press 1, about the CEO's salary increase, press 2, about the CEO's reluctance to pay back the salary increase, press 3, about the underinsurance of council assets, press 4, about slow processing of building permits, press 5, about being hounded by private detectives, press 6, and if you own a building that has stood up to 10,000 earthquakes and you've just been hoofed out of it because it might fall down in an earthquake, don't even bother to press anything cos them's the rules, OK? Thank you for calling the Christchurch City Council.' Beats being a hit man, I can tell you. I've never been so happy. How about another bottle of rakia?"
"Is that wise?" I said. "I mean you've got to spend the afternoon on the phone."
"Relax," said Angela, beckoning the waiter, "I've taken the day off. We get so many days off I don't know what to with them all. Didn't you read Sweetypie's announcement?"
"That's what I call the CEO. He's given us all an extra day of paid leave every month."
"All of you?"
"Yes all 2000 or more."
"But that's 24,000 days off. It'll cost millions."
"No," exclaimed Angela. "That's the beauty of it. Sweetypie has said that it won't cost a bean. We'll be so refreshed from our days off that we'll all work a bit harder."
"How do you work a bit harder if you're answering the phone? I mean, if you take the day off, won't that just mean there's one person fewer on the switchboard? What do the councillors have to say about this?"
"Our elected representatives."
"Oh," said Angela, "the Irrelevants. I don't think they knew about it. And quite right too, sticky beaks the lot of them, poking their noses in where they're not wanted, interfering with the smooth running of Sweetypie's organisation. Frankly I don't know why we keep them on. They got rid of them at ECan, you know."
"Look, Angela," I said, "I've no doubt things have been tough at the council. But it's been tough for everyone, and half the stress at the council has come from the people's resentment of your Sweetypie. Are you sure he isn't using ratepayers' money to get the staff on his side as insurance in the event of a stoush? Are you sure Sweetypie isn't just buttering you up?"
"Sweetypie buttering me up!" exclaimed Angela.
"Now there's a delicious thought."
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