The flat was a gloomy place in the days following Duncan’s departure. The maverick Chuckie Egg ace had wasted no time in completing his nuptuals with Ellie, abandoning his degree, and jetting off to Belgrade to pursue his American uncle’s dream of becoming an auteur, thereby leaving his erstwhile flatmates to fill the void of his unanticipated absence. Duncan, you might have said, was the adhesive that held Rob and Poopbert together, or the chives in their bacon and cress sandwich. Two such diametric personalities, with such distinct priorities in life, might easily have been at each other’s throats were it not for the quietly calming influence of that noted Duncan, he who, owing to an unfortunate accident at the fresher’s fair, had been known affectionately for some months as ‘Chicken Bum’ (that was until the remarkable sequence of events earlier recounted had led to his being rechristened ‘The Jammy Git Who Inherited £300,000’).
They knew this and, knowing this, were resolved to be scrupulous and meticulous in the interviewing process for prospective replacement flatmates. The process didn’t begin as auspiciously as it might have, though, with the first candidate barging into the flat without knocking, almost giving Poopbert a cardiac incident as he hung up his underpants.
“What was your name again?” Poopbert asked, composing himself.
“Dalton” came the reply, “Timothy Dalton.”
“You scared the living daylights out of me. Alright, take a seat, Timothy.”
It soon transpired that Dalton was never destined to replace Duncan. There was just no rapport there, and Poopbert saw clearly that they were never going to bond.
After dismissing a dull economics student called Jake A. Galbraith, the next candidate – one Bartle McClocken, a bespectacled astrophysics MA student from the West Country – chanced his arm. Owing to his anchoring in the material sciences, Rob was predisposed firmly in his favour, to begin with. But, as they progressed from concerns quotidiennes to the more auspicious questions, their potential amity quickly began to fizzle and evaporate. As if coming down on the opposite sides of the pivotal Arnie/Stallone divide wasn’t bad enough, they were furiously at loggerheads in consideration of who was better looking out of Tulisa and Tina off of Coronation Street (a dispute that might well have come to chivalrous fisticuffs had Poopbert not improvised the canny expedient that Ms. Keegan was more beautiful, but Ms. Contostavlos was sexier). To little avail, though – when Rob opined that Paul ‘Tonka’ Chapman, rather than Michael Schenker, was UFO’s greatest ever lead guitarist, things soured irremediably between the aspirant scientists.
“Why don’t you just get ‘moron’ tattooed on your forehead, and have done with it?” smirked McClocken, “you’d save people a lot of time.”
“WHAT?!” bellowed Rob.
“You know, I’m just saying” said McClocken, now grinning quite infuriatingly.
“OK” said Poopbert, standing up and offering his hand, “I don’t think this is going to work out. Thanks for coming, hope you find somewhere.”
“Suit yourselves” said McClocken cheerfully, “ciao.”
And with that, he left the flat.
“Have you ever heard the like?” fumed Rob, “did you hear what he said to me?”
“Don’t worry about it” said Poopbert, “just rise above it.”
“‘Moron’, he calls me. No Place to Run was a great album.”
“It was” nodded Poopbert sympathetically.
Their discourse was cut short by another crossing of the flat threshold. This time, however, it was not a potential cohabitor, but their landlord, the thrice worthy and eminent Mr Shaggadonki.
“Oh man” groaned Poopbert, “we haven’t got the rent yet. We haven’t even got our flatmate yet!”
“Take it easy” said the short, bald former chip pan fat entrepreneur, “I was just say hello. Can’t a guy say hello?”
“Hello” said Rob sulkily.
“So” said Mr Shaggadonki, taking a seat on the sofa, “you still no found a flatmate, then? How it goes?”
“Not good” said Rob, “they’re either unbelievably boring, or unbelievably rude.”
“It’s true” nodded Poopbert, “we’ve had some right ones in. Actually, the last guy – you probably saw him on the stairs – really insulted Rob.”
“Yeah, I can see you’re upset” said Mr Shaggadonki, “why you take things to heart? Why you no just take it easy?”
“That’s easy for you to say!” boomed Rob, “you didn’t hear how he spoke to me! He said, ‘Why don’t you just get “moron” tattooed on your head, and save everyone some time’ – just because I like Paul Chapman more than Michael Schenker.”
“You like that idiot who shot John Lennon?” said Mr Shaggadonki, “Sheesh. You scare me sometimes.”
“I said Paul Chapman, you idiot, not Mark Chapman – the guitarist from UFO.”
“They’re a British hard rock band . . . never mind.”
“Oh. Well, it was pretty rude of him. Very rude. You know what you should do? Demand satisfaction of him.”
“Yes” whispered Rob, as if struck by a bolt of inspiration, “satisfaction – that’s what I need.”
“Hey” guffawed Poopbert, “the theme tune from Record Breakers!”
“That was ‘dedication’!” exploded Rob, “God, you people – why is everyone I know so thick?!”
“Oh yeah” mumbled Poopbert, “’mm, dedication’s what you need’, that’s right. Oh my God. Guys, this is amazing! You know what Duncan’s uncle left him in his will? An authentic pair of Civil War-era duelling pistols!”
“There you go” said Mr Shaggadonki, snapping his fingers, “satisfaction, just like the old times. You don’t have to take that moron tattoo shit. You be a man. Call the clown out, see how much honour he have.”
“You’re right” said Rob, shaking his head, “you’re absolutely right.”
“I’ll get on it right away” said Poopbert, firing up the computer, “I think Dunc’s got a break in the filming schedule soon.”
“Don’t get me wrong” said Rob, a few days later, “I’m grateful for the pistols, and everything. But I still say he’s got some kind of nerve coming back here. The bastard stole my girlfriend!”
“God, how many times” groaned Poopbert, “she was never your girlfriend.”
“No” sniffed Rob, munching from a bag of Fridge Raiders, “but I saw her first!”
“Alright, stop whinging, I hear something – I think it’s him!”
Duncan made rather a spectacular entrance into the flat, replete with cape and cane. His former flatmates weren’t sure whether that was what an auteur was supposed to look like, but he looked like something, that was for sure.
“No Ellie?” asked Rob, his tone thick with significance.
“No” said Duncan, “she’s busy in Belgrade.”
“How’s she doing?” asked Poopbert, “has she finished her Masters?”
“No!” cried Duncan, “she’s exploring new avenues – actually, she’s in the movie!”
“Really?” snorted Rob disdainfully, “I didn’t know she could act.”
“She can’t – not really.”
“So what’s she doing in the movie?”
“She plays ‘Nude Woman #3’.”
“Sounds like a meaty role” said Poopbert, “or a fleshy one, at any rate. Anyway, are those . . . the articles?”
He was pointing to a dusty black box that Duncan cradled carefully.
“Sure are” nodded Duncan, “I had quite a time getting these babies through customs, I can tell you – had to say I was going to an auction.”
“Loaded?” asked Rob.
“As Herbie with Lindsay Lohan” smiled Duncan, “and as good as new.”
“Right” said Rob, “so we’re all set – let’s do the email.”
“OK” said Poopbert, jumping on the computer, “fire away.”
“Dear Sir” began Rob, theatrically, “I am writing in acknowledgment of the gross insult that you flung so viperishly in my direction.”
“Acknowledgement?” whispered Duncan, puzzled.
“Acknowledgement!” bellowed Rob, “ . . . viperishly in my direction. OK. I trust that I do not have to elaborate, but that the mere mention of the words ‘moron’ and ‘forehead’ will refresh your memory on this point, in the unlikely event of its having lapsed on such a singular instance of . . . of . . . ”
“Base scurrility?” suggested Duncan.
“ . . . a singular instance of base scurrility” nodded Rob, satisfied, “Touched to the quick by this damnable insult, I have in my procurement two authentic Civil War-era duelling pistols, and hereby declare my demand of satisfaction. If you are a gentleman in any shape or form, you will meet me in St. James’s Park at five o’ clock, on the morning of Tuesday July the 5th. If you decline this courteous petition, or fail to present yourself at the appointed hour, I will take it as read that you are nothing but a . . . a . . . ”
“Scurvy dog?” suggested Poopbert.
“A scurvy dog and a scoundrel!” cried Rob, “ – perfect – and will not hesitate to publish to the university and the wider community, this incontrovertible evidence of your constitutional perfidy and fundamental toadishness. Cordially yours, Robert J. Truncton.”
“OK” said Poopbert, “shall I hit send?”
“Go for it!” said Rob, jumping up and down, “this is going to be great!
“Sho” said Rob dramatically, a cigarette trailing from his lips, even though he’d never smoked in his life, “ya made it?”
“Wouldn’t have missed it for the world” grinned McClocken – the repugnance of that grin! – proffering his hand.
Rob shook it; a firm, manly shake. The sun came up over the park as the two bands of brothers faced off. Birds cheeped languidly in the trees, adding a touch of faint verisimilitude to an otherwise dimly evoked scene. With McClocken was his second – a simpering poet by the name of MacRennie, whose debut collection, After Blake: Songs of Guilt and Inexperience, had been published to moderate acclaim – who could indeed easily have been taken for his brother. Also not missing it for the world was Mr Shaggadonki, whose respect for his Scottish tenant had skyrocketed since he’d issued the bold challenge, and Duncan whose professional ambitions obliged him to pay special attention to the human interest of the peculiar spectacle. Last but not least was Poopbert, who had, without hesitation albeit somewhat reluctantly, accepted the position of Rob’s second.
One jogger had already been spotted doing the rounds in the park, apprising the party of the fact that they could not tarry for one moment in their fulfilment of the clandestine engagement.
“OK, fellows” announced Mr Shaggadonki, who McClocken and MacRennie were happy to accept as referee in spite of his personal connection to Mr Truncton, “ten paces, turn, and fire. Couldn’t be simpler. Ready?”
Back to back, pistols in hand, the impetuous young pair nodded as one. Their friends watched breathlessly as they paced slowly and steadily away from each-other. Turning sharply on the tenth step, they fired. Rob discharged his pistol’s load straight into the ground, while McClocken’s volley hit its target full in the chest. Rob staggered for a few seconds, groaning, and then tumbled to the ground.
“Rob!” cried Poopbert, rushing to his side, “Rob, are you OK, man?”
“It was” strained Rob, through sheer force of will, “a fair . . . errt!”
With that, his head hit the ground with a dull thud.
“He’s . . . dead!” whispered a pale Poopbert.
Rob’s funeral was a sombre affair.