When Ren arrives at the staff club he is appalled to see that Tyson is drinking a glass of wine, and has a wine bottle in front of him. Who the fuck bought him that?
‘Tyson? Are you allowed to drink on your medication?’
‘What medication?’ says Tyson. ‘I’m not on any meds.’
‘I heard your wife mentioning earlier that she was going to the pharmacy, so I just assumed…’
‘She’s the one on meds.’
‘Any idea where she is? She’s been gone a long time.’
‘She’s probably gone crazy by now,’ says Tyson, knocking back his wine and pouring himself another, as though, with his wife gone, this is the last ever chance he’ll have in life to get loaded. ‘She gets like that if she doesn’t have her meds.’
Am I really supposed to babysit this mad fucker, wonders Ren. And his possibly, or possibly not, mad wife, if she ever turns up again? Can I, a junior squirt, tell a venerable and distinguished professor that he’s not allowed to drink? Ren notices that the Continentals have come to the staff club and are keeping their beady eyes on Tyson, just waiting for him to create some more juicy gossip.
‘Perhaps you should go easy on that,’ tries Ren. ‘It’s been a long day.’
‘Listen sonny, I’ve run departments, chaired prestigious committees, edited the best journals in the world, testified to the White House, advised three US Presidents, and won the Dalkeith medal for outstanding intellectual achievement. You’re not going to tell me that I can’t have a goddam drink after giving a talk. How many Dalkeiths have you won?’
‘None, but how many times have you had to be committed?’ is what Ren is tempted to say, but he just goes off to get a beer instead. When he comes back he is unsure of which conversation to join – the after-seminar party is a big one tonight, with plenty of people from outside the department in attendance.
‘Did you hear Tiddles is off to East Anglia?’
‘Poor chap. Is he taking something for it?’
‘Tyson, you can’t surely be serious about dropping the law of lesser consequences?’
‘No law is safe from me. I’m a law unto myself.’
‘If the Dean’s wife won’t put up with him anymore I don’t see why we should either.’
‘I heard she clocked him one. Giving you any ideas?’
‘Well, if I hit him in the same spot there’ll be no evidence.’
‘I swear it was the same food they serve the students. Pigswill’s too good a word for it.’
‘Did you see the Continentals taking notes at the talk?’
‘Notes? I bet they had a secret camera recording the whole thing.’
‘No-one told me Frank was going to give a talk to the grad students. How do they feel about it?’
‘Not happy, because now they’ll have to waste time reading his stupid book in advance to have a clue what he’s on about.’
‘Would you say Tyson is more mad or less mad than last time you saw him give a talk?’
‘I would say the talk was slightly less mad, but the eyes look slightly more mad.’
‘He did rather put Alan’s nose out of joint, so he’s done one thing right.’
‘If we’ve got rid of Alan on top on of getting rid of Sadler then that’s a result.’
‘Never heard of him, but I hear there’s a famous guy in Chemistry who’s just as mad as this guy. Wasn’t your supervisor a bit loopy too?’
‘Only on Monday mornings and Friday afternoons.’
‘Have you heard Raven’s lunatic plans about taking over a Scottish University and connecting them up with a solar-powered rail link?’
‘The guy’s insane. If I had a wife that looks like his I’d be spending all my time in bed instead of dreaming up megalomaniac ideas.’
Ren sits down, uneasily, on the edge of the group. He can see at a glance that Derek is in a malevolent mood after his treatment by Tyson, and that George is shitting himself over what Tyson might do when provoked by Derek.
‘What was that fat guy on about, huh?’ Tyson is saying. ‘Calling me a degenerate medievalist. I’d like to get medieval on his fat ass.’
‘What fat guy would that be?’ asks George.
‘The fat guy who was fat. And a guy,’ says Tyson.
‘I don’t remember a fat guy, Tyson,’ says George. ‘And no-one called you a degenerate medievalist. Or a degenerate modern. Or a degenerate anything.’
‘The hell. The fat guy at the back with the dirty T-shirt. Where’s the organiser?’
Tyson looks around and finally spots Ren. ‘You. You must have seen him. The fat guy at the back. Greasy hair. Nasal German voice.’
‘Right’, says Ren. ‘Fat guy. Don’t remember him.’
‘Course you do.’
‘Perhaps his comments were so worthless that my memory of him was immediately erased by my brain,’ Ren says in a lame attempt to lighten the mood.
‘Fuckin smartass. You can remember. You’re just being a prick.’
‘Maybe, ah, maybe you’re remembering another talk you did recently?’
At this Tyson looks furiously at Ren, but says nothing. He pours himself another drink, and takes a big swig. After a few moment’s uncomfortable silence, Derek, in full-on mischief-making mode, says, ‘I’m surprised you’re not still at Randolph University, Tyson. That’s where you made your name. I thought they loved you?’
‘Fuckin Randolph,’ says Tyson. ‘I’d like to take the dirty slug-sucking cockroaches and strangle them with a horse’s cock.’
Talking of horses’ cocks is clearly thirsty work because Tyson pours himself another glass from someone else’s bottle (his is now empty). George kicks Derek under the table, but to no avail.
‘Didn’t they offer you enough money, Tyson, is that why you left?’ Derek says, before getting up to go to the bar, well away from any fallout that might occur now.
‘Keyholes,’ says Tyson enigmatically. ‘That’s what it all came down to. Keyholes. I’ll say no more. You get a good perspective on things by looking through keyholes. They’re like looking into other Universes. Philosophical kaleidoscopes. Most of my best work has been powered by the keyhole. Meditative. Enlightening. I want to go back there to keyhole space.’
While Tyson is expounding on the metaphysical poetry of keyholes, behind him Derek is miming the actions of someone who has crouched down to peer through a keyhole, while simulating, in exaggerated fashion, the having of a furious wank. Suppressed titters can be heard, which confuses Tyson.
‘Coburn and those other cunts couldn’t understand it,’ he says, by way of explanation. ‘A fucking chemist in charge of the place. Saw everything in the basest way.’
‘Well, that was predictable,’ whispers Ren to Compton, as Niall Raven, the Vice Chancellor comes into the room. ‘You never see him when you need him…’
‘What do you mean? He’s never needed,’ whispers Compton.
An angry, bespectacled forty-something man in an immaculate suit walks over to Derek, who is still bent over and carrying out his impression of Tyson, with his back to the VC. The sight of the VC’s determined strides causes the mood in the group to abruptly change, which confuses Tyson even further.
Raven puts his hand firmly on Derek’s shoulder.
‘I’m not sure that’s setting the best example to any guests who may be in the club tonight, Dr Lucas,’ says Niall, in a severe tone of voice, a tone which Fourier analysis would reveal to contain the coded message ‘You’re getting sacked in the morning, wanker’.
‘Argh,’ shouts Derek, who in his shock falls from his crouched position onto the floor.
Tyson turns around to see what was happened, and sees Niall standing over Derek.
‘What have you done to him, you greasy goose fucker?’ he shouts.
‘It’s all right, Tyson,’ says a panicked George. ‘He’s the Vice Chancellor.’
Tyson grabs George by the shirt and shakes him. ‘They’re all the fucking same, these chemists,’ he shouts. ‘Don’t you see? Give them a bit of power and they start fucking us over.’
‘Really, it’s all right,’ whimpers George, who is getting more crumpled by the second.
Tyson lets go of George, who sags and shrivels, and turns to Raven. ‘Leave him alone, you maggotty slimeballing shitscreen.’
‘I don’t know who you are,’ says Raven, ‘but that language is not acceptable. You’ll have to leave.’
‘Not this time, chemistry man,’ Tyson shouts. Then he screams, ‘It’s payback time.’ He picks up his empty wine bottle and hurls it at Raven. It misses him, but hits the wall behind, making a tremendous smash, and glass splinters everywhere.
Then Tyson tips his table over, taking George with it, and screams, ‘Open the cages! Free the animals! Everyone out! RUN!’
Tyson runs at Niall, and mimes throwing a punch at him. Niall cringes and shields himself from the blow that doesn’t come, which gives Tyson the opportunity to kick Niall’s legs out from under him.
‘No more bars,’ shouts Tyson. ‘Ever.’ He runs to the door. ‘I’m never coming back to your little world. Free yourselves or die like gooses.’
Niall, Derek and George are all lying on the floor amongst the debris. George is clutching his chest. Before anyone can say anything, Tyson puts his head back through the door.
‘Sorry, geese,’ he says.
With a heavy heart Ren decides that as seminar organiser, and as the youngest and fittest departmental member, he’d better be the one to chase after Tyson. Someone else will have to look after George.