“Boom... boom... boom....” Tom whispered to himself with quiet satisfaction as Lucy, pulling closer, squeezed his arm. The fireworks went off one after another over the lake, exploding into the air with a great fusillade of cracks and whistles. November 5. For Tom, there was no more satisfying way of spending money. And if the neighbours saw you dropping 10 Gs on a firework display – well, that couldn’t hurt either.
Across the lake, Harry and Jemima Knuck watched the display coming to an end from the 16-bedroom Georgian pile they’d moved into that spring. And what Tom didn’t know was that Harry Knuck – who had made a cool billion when he floated his dating app Twitch – also loved fireworks. And he had a competitive streak.
“Think he’s done with his whizz-bangs?” Harry said to Jemima as the last trails of red and gold faded in the sky. He smiled, settled into his deckchair, lowered his sunglasses and pressed the big red button (he’d insisted on a big red button). Ride of the Valkyries blasted out from the two hired speaker stacks mounted in the garden; it was so loud they’d be able to hear it in Herefordshire.
Rocket after rocket after rocket went up. Boom. Crack. Whomp. Great weeping willows of light half a mile high. Screaming twisters. Dancing dragons. The finale was a series of dubiously obtained military thunderflashes followed by a custom-designed firework that produced – he was especially proud of this – a beating heart shot through with Cupid’s arrow. Across the lake, eyes still glowing with the magnesium trails, Tom looked peeved. War had been declared.
The following year the collective spend on fireworks doubled. Tom’s Labradors didn’t leave the house for a week afterwards. Tom thought he’d nailed it with the finale, when the giant letters T and L, affixed to the roof, detonated in roman candles and Catherine Wheels, though he had to admit Harry’s American flag was impressive. The year after that, Tom and Lucy cut short their winter sojourn in the Seychelles by 10 days. The saved money went to Tom’s firework fund – and the displays that year were so thunderously noisy the police turned up and there were rumours on Twitter of a terrorist incident.
It was an arms race – and it fell to Jemima and Lucy to broker the peace process. The following year, then, it was agreed. One last blow out and the “loser” would buy the winner lunch at the pub on November 6. Tom happened to be passing Harry’s driveway in the Aston when he saw his neighbour’s fireworks arriving on the back of a low-loader.
“Yonshakudama,” called Harry gleefully.
“Bless you,” shouted Tom.
Harry ignored him. “Biggest firework in the world, imported from Japan – 420 kilos of gunpowder in this bad boy. And you,” he said, pointing at Tom, “are buying lunch.”
Tom’s extravaganza was impressive enough on the night. The sky was so bright for so long that you could comfortably have read a newspaper. The big finale rocket, though, was so heavy it toppled over and, to his dismay, shot off behind the house rather than skywards. But he was soon distracted as Harry’s fireworks got going. There was no question: topped off by the Japanese monster, a tree of fire nearly 3,000ft high, his neighbour’s display bested him.
Ears still ringing, Tom started to dial Harry’s number to graciously accept defeat, only to be interrupted by a colossal whoomp and a giant ball of fire erupting from behind the house and far into the air. Then another. Whoomp. Another. Boom. And then another, four times the size of the first. It looked like something out of a movie.
“Man, what the hell was that?” Harry asked him the next day. “I mean, I thought I had you beat.”
Harry looked mystified.
“So, lunch is on me,” said Tom. “But we may have to take your car.”