That screeching noise? Why, it's John Key and Steven Joyce, back-pedalling furiously down Federal St, the outrage at the idea the taxpayer might bail out the bloated budget for the already controversial SkyCity Convention Centre ringing in their ears.
From the left and the right and in between, pretty much everyone (oh, all right, except Mike Hosking) summoned up a casino-themed metaphor to explain why the Government should not be shelling out to cover any part of the new construction costs - as much as about $150 million - beyond the original $402 million price tag.
Even the voice of business, the chief executive of the Auckland Chamber of Commerce, smelled a rat. Despite his enthusiasm for the new centre, Michael Barnett accused SkyCity of "intimidation" in threatening to abandon the arrangement.
At the start of the week, the Prime Minister had indicated he was ready to throw some coins in SkyCity's pan. Without a top-up, Auckland might be left with an "eyesore", he said, thinking, perhaps, of the recent erections in New Lynn.
Such aesthetic protestations didn't wash, however, and even National's most loyal advocates were aghast. "I have never seen such overwhelming public opposition and concern at a deal," said Sean Plunket.
He added: "I think this is the biggest mistake John Key has ever made." Even Bill English was muttering disapprovingly about the whole idea.
And so, like a meteor off the Auckland coast, Key came crashing down to earth. He and Joyce arrived at Parliament on Wednesday to say, several thousand times, that coughing up cash to SkyCity is the "least preferred" solution to the problem.
By yesterday, having presumably studied private polling data, Key dialled it back further.
In an interview on More FM, having dealt with the most pressing issue - whether he'd be seeing Fifty Shades of Grey - Key came close to ruling out stumping up cash for SkyCity, saying he was ready to walk away from the deal.
The scrap over a shortfall is bad for both signatories to the agreement. Key and Joyce stand accused of being played - Treasury had already warned the deal was a dog - and of dishing out corporate welfare, while SkyCity risk looking like they're playing the taxpayer for a fool: hardly in keeping with their new campaign, which sells an image of the casino as some kind of cuddly urban youth outreach group.
In many ways, however, it is odd that something so vulgar as a cash exchange should even be entertained - the currency of the original deal was not, after all, a monetary but a statutory payment. At the casino, you swap your dollars for chips; when you want the casino to build a convention centre, you swap your dollars for legislative changes. The negotiations - criticised by the Auditor-General for "lack of attention to procedural risks, and therefore to the fairness and credibility of the process" - culminated in a direct trade: SkyCity builds a convention centre worth $400 million; the Government in turn grants a monopoly casino licence till 2048, permits 230 more pokies, 40 more gaming tables, 240 automated tables, and a freeze on its tax rate until 2021.
So given the current pickle, the prospect of an eyesore and all that, the simplest answer would be just to add, say, 30 per cent to all those numbers. And yet, bearing in mind that Mr Key urged SkyCity at the outset to "think creatively", to "think outside the box", perhaps a different legislative top-up might work better. Here's six, for starters:
1. A new law to lower the legal gambling age - one of the requests SkyCity in fact made in negotiating the original deal.
2. A new law to prohibit wishy-washy arguments about pokies bringing misery to vulnerable people. For example, the Salvation Army would be heavily fined for bleating about "selling legislation ... when problem gamblers and their families will pay the highest personal price", and thus incentivised to stick to their core function: op-shops and buying state houses.
3. A new law to permit SkyCity to install pokies directly into state houses.
4. A new law that would entitle holders of SkyCity gold ambassador cards 30 per cent greater tolerance in speed limits.
5. A new law that would give SkyCity full ownership of Act leader David Seymour.
6. A new law creating a self-governing SkyCity state, a bit like the Vatican City, as part of a full and final settlement.
Chance for surprise pick to star again
At last, after what has seemed like an interminable drought without televised New Zealand cricket (a week and a half), the World Cup begins tomorrow.
In these desperate days I have been driven to watch a meaningless practice match between India and Afghanistan (yes, the official broadcaster graphics are heinous).
I have been forced to return time and time again to the Sky Sport channels showing old World Cup matches on high-rotate. By some witchcraft, whenever I go there, Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq is batting the life out of the hitherto unbeaten Grey Caps of 1992 (there's a superb oral history of that indelibly great and painful Eden Park semifinal on the Herald site, by the way).
This time around, the Black Caps are in unimaginably good form, the entire squad excelling. I've been especially delighted for Grant Elliott, the surprise selection who has proved the doubters emphatically wrong. New Zealand is a real prospect, taken seriously, the plucky upstarts no longer, arriving after a string of splendid performances in glorious sunshine.
There is one missing element in the otherwise faultless leadup. While the squad is well practised in and equipped for New Zealand conditions, we haven't, unlike the other major sides, had any recent experience in Australia. Remarkably, the last time we played a one-day international across the Tasman was six years ago today.
But if the Black Caps do play in Australia in this tournament, most likely it will be in the final in Melbourne, which would be a mighty achievement.
The last time New Zealand contested a one-dayer at the MCG, against Australia on Waitangi Day 2009, we won. McCullum, Taylor, Vettori and Southee all played well. The top scorer, and the man who hit the winning runs: Grant Elliott.