A King’s Shilling

A drop of blood ran down from the corner of the fighter’s eye. It took a left turn at his cheekbone, rolled over the swollen upper lip of his gaping mouth, and dropped into his beer like a bead of rain on a glassy lake. He didn’t notice. If he hadn’t just boxed the toughest, most gruelling fight of his life, maybe he would’ve. Maybe he would’ve smelt the stench of tobacco rising through the rafters of the tavern, or the lavender perfume of the old lady who sat next to him. Maybe he would’ve heard the faint static crackle of the radio in the background of the football match, or the beautiful blonde singer leaning over the piano and crooning some song just a little over a whisper. Maybe he would’ve seen the security cameras, or the five men in suits hiding behind dancing patrons at the back of the pub. But he didn’t. He sat silently at the bar, taking long, drawn out sips from his pint of Guinness, sometimes pressing the cold drink against his black eye, trying to remember.

The building was buzzing with energy. Three-thousand fans were on their feet, cheering wildly as the two fighters made their way out of the tunnel. All eyes were focused on the twenty square foot ring in the centre of the arena, illuminated by dim yellow floodlights. It was the heavyweight championship bout of the Liverpool City Amateur Boxing Championships, and the winner would qualify for the British Championships next season. All the boxing fans in the city had their eyes on this fight – ten rounds to determine Liverpool’s best amateur heavyweight fighter. The two contenders stepped into the ring. The crowd roared. The fighters moved to the centre of the square, shook hands with the referee, and then with each other. The favourite, Goliath Thompson, raised his hands to salute the crowd.

“THOMPSON, THOMPSON, THOMPSON!” Roared the crowd. At thirty years old, Thompson was a seasoned veteran, a former World Champion, and the defending British title holder. His stature was intimidating to say the least, standing at six feet, seven inches, and carrying with him two-hundred and twenty pounds of pure muscle. He ran his fingers through his jet black hair and turned away from the crowd. The cheering did not die down.

To Thompson’s right was his counterpart, eighteen year old underdog Jackson English, who stood at a humbler six feet two inches, and was more then two stones lighter then Thompson at one-hundred and ninety pounds. He was much less muscular then the favourite, and certainly looked the younger fighter, with his big blue eyes and bright blond hair giving off an air of youthful inexperience. He raised his arm to the crowd, only to have merciless boos rained down upon him from the Thompson faithful.

The referee raised his arm, sent the fighters to their corners, and, to the sound of a monstrous roar from the crowd, started the fight.

The first round started predictably. As expected, Thompson came right out of the starting gates attacking his opponent with merciless agression. The first punch landed square between English’s eyes, and gave a thunderous pop, as if to prove that the powerful jab had made contact with the underdog’s youthful face. The crowd erupted. Thompson came right back, swinging a wide left hook across his opponent’s face before unleashing a savage uppercut to the challenger’s chin. The newspapers had all predicted it to be over before the end of the third round; it looked doubtful now that English would hang in until the end of the first minute. But he did. For all three minutes of the first round, the underdog was under constant duress, with Thompson unleashing blow after blow with cruel ferocity. English, however, wouldn’t go down. With mere seconds left on the clock, Thompson, perhaps cocky after his early domination, opened up a weak spot, and English took advantage, landing a hard jab in between the favourite’s eyes. For a split-second, Thompson looked dazed, partly shocked by the power of the blow, but mainly astounded that his adversary had the capability of landing it.

Spurred on by his momentum swinging blow at the end of the first round, English found his footing in the second. Using speed to his advantage, the blond haired youngster found himself bobbing and weaving to avoid the wild punches coming from his heavily favoured rival, and Thompson began to chase English around the ring. Outsmarting his opponent, the underdog chipped away at Thompson with quick punches and sharp jabs, slowly fatiguing his larger, slower adversary. Like a house fly taunting a german shepherd, English slowly broke down his opponent with speed and technical skill. By the time the fight had reached the sixth round, Thompson was tired and frustrated, and although he hadn’t yet been hurt or punched very hard, the favourite began to throw himself and his wild hooks at his opponent recklessly, exposing weaknesses late in the fight!

The best dressed man in the stadium was wearing a slim black suit, polished black shoes, and a black bow tie. In the inside compartment of his jacket was a golden pocket watch, and his lapel sported a single red carnation. He was exceptionally fit for a man of fifty, and his bronze skin and dark buzz cut hair gave him a darker completion then most in the arena. His face was expressionless and stoic, though his dark brown eyes gave his face a hint of sober thoughtfulness, and his protruding brow bone a touch of gallantry. He turned to the man next to him, stared for a second as if carefully contemplating his choice of words, and warily opened his mouth to speak.

“He’s going to win it.”
“What’s that sir?”
“He’s going to win the fight.”
“You think so sir?”
“I hope so.”
“Well we’ve been watching him for his whole life, it’d be a real shame if he were to lose now.” “Certainly.”
“Do you think he’s the real deal sir? Do you think the things people say are true?”
“The things people say?”
“That he’s the next one sir. That he’s got it in him. That he’s gonna be the best in the King’s

Service.”
“That depends.”

“On what?”
“On whether he can win.”

The air in the stadium smelt like suspense. Something important was about to happen, and everybody watching seemed to know it. They had not the slightest clue of what was about to happen, only that they were sure it was coming. As if some force had pushed the spectators to the edge of their seats, all eyes focused back on the twenty by twenty ring in the middle of the arena. There was not a sound. There was not a movement. For a split second, there was only silence. The fighters stared into each other’s eyes, and they knew. Both of them. They both knew it was over. Right then and there, they knew. And one punch later, so did everybody else!

The fighter was wearier now then he was before. So much remembering takes its toll on a wounded man. He brought his glass up to his swollen lips, and choked down the last sip of his beer. He heard a faint clink from the bottom of his glass, as if a bell was waking him out of his remembering like the final bell brings him out of a round of boxing. He looked soulfully down his empty pint, and was astonished to see a shiny silver shilling lying in the bottom of his glass. He stuck his index finger to the bottom of the pint and pulled the coin up against the side of the glass. Holding it in his palm, he examined it carefully. On the front was engraved a crest – much like that of the English football team – with three lions, paws outstretched under the engraving of a crown. It must have been a relatively new coin, for when he flipped it over, the face of the newly coronated King was engraved on the back. It read, “King William V, Rex, 2017.” The fighter looked around the pub, but almost everybody was gone now. It was as empty now as it had been full a mere hour ago. Slightly confused and not sure of what to do, the fighter shrugged his shoulders and stuffed the shilling into his change purse.

Out of nowhere, a man wearing a slim black suit, polished black shoes, and a black bow tie appeared. He had a red carnation in his lapel and a golden pocket watch inside his jacket. Sticking his hand out to the fighter, he introduced himself.

“Ian Willingham, British Secret Service. Station Chief of the Company of His Majesty the King.” The fighter was flustered. “Uh, well, I’m…”
“I already know who you are. Jackson English, twenty-two years old, born in Knowsley,

Merseyside to parents Paul and Elizabeth English. Your father died when you were five years old. You’re six feet two inches, one-hundred and ninety pounds, and your favourite football team is Everton. You graduated with top of class grades but never went to college, you’re the fastest man in Merseyside County, and as of very recently the Liverpool Amateur Heavyweight Boxing Champion.”

“How do you know that? Why are you here?”

“Under orders from His Majesty, King William V. I’m here to offer you the chance to be a spy. A member of the British Secret Service in its most prestigious branch – the Company of His Majesty the

King.”
Astonished, only one word popped into Jackson English’s head. “No.”
“I’m afraid that’s not an acceptable answer.”
“What do you mean, not an acceptable answer?”
“Courtesy of that,” said the man, motioning to the security camera above the bar, “the British

Intelligence Agency has video evidence of you accepting a shilling after an amateur boxing fight. That can be interpreted one of two ways: either you accepted professional payment for your boxing victory – an action which, if the British Amateur Boxing Association is notified of, would result in your disqualification in all future events – or you accepted your first salary as a member of the British Secret Service. Considering that with tonight’s victory you qualified for the British Amateur Championships, I strongly suggest you choose the ladder.

English stared at the man in bewilderment.

“I’m very sorry Mr. English, but I’m afraid you’ve already accepted the King’s Shilling. Welcome to His Majesty’s Secret Service.”