The Boy With the Golden Eyes
by London Lampy
The old man grinned at Jack, showing off a mouthful of greyish broken teeth as he jabbed a punch at Jack's face. Jack dodged the punch easily and ducked away while the crowd booed and cat called all around him.
This had been going on for quite some time as neither of them had landed a single blow on the other one, Pikey George because he simply couldn't move fast enough to hit the youngster, and Jack because he was concerned about the amount of damage he might inflict on the old man.
"SHITHOUSE! FUCKING HIT HIM!" Fletcher's voice shouted from behind him, cutting through the jeering of the crowd. Jack made a half hearted swing at his opponent, his fist easily connecting with the man's wrinkled chest, and it sent him reeling against the ropes.
As Jack stood back to let the man regain his composure the crowd got louder in its complaints and an empty beer glass suddenly sailed through the air and landed on the wooden boards at his feet, shattering into dozens of horribly sharp looking splinters. Jack was abruptly winded by a punch to his ribs and realised that his opponent had taken advantage of his distraction.
He retreated backwards as Pikey George swung at him again, this time the momentum threw the old man forward and he ended up falling into Jack who pushed him away onto the ropes again.
"Shithouse, get over here!" Fletcher called. The blocky boy had now scrambled up the side of the roughly built ring and was trying to get Jack's attention.
"What?" Jack shouted back at him, avoiding another slow punch.
"You need to put on a fucking show or none of us is going to get any money, Smitty ain't going to pay us if all you do is piss off the crowd."
Jack stared at Pikey George, the old man's face looked as if it had been punched a thousand times, his nose was flattened and bent, his teeth were a jagged graveyard, his left cheekbone was dented and his ears were a mass of swollen, wrinkled cartilage. One more punch couldn't make that much difference he reasoned. He thought about his sisters, in particular Jane, who had always been sweet and trusting, knowing that Nanny and her siblings would always be there to look after her, and what was happening to her now Nanny wasn't and they couldn't. How in a very short space of time her sweet, trusting nature was starting to become eroded, and the anger began to build in the pit of his stomach.
Stepping toward the other man he drew his arm back, then put his whole weight behind his fist. As it connected with Pikey George's face Jack felt rather than heard the bone splinter and his opponent dropped straight to the boards, blood streaming from his nose and mouth. The crowd erupted into cheers and whoops while Jack simply stood and stared down in horror at what he had done to the old boxer.
"Shithouse, stop looking so upset, he's been knocked out before, and he'll be knocked out again."
"But I broke his jaw!" Jack protested miserably. The three of them were once again in Smitty's office, Jack having simply jumped over the ropes and out of the ring at the end of the fight, leaving Exit and Fletcher to follow him through the crowd back to the office.
"Then he shouldn't have got in the ring with you, should he? Anyways, I doubt the old bugger has much feeling left in his face, he'll be fine." Fletcher said, sounding exasperated.
"But Nanny told me not to hit people, that I'm too big for fighting and that I'll hurt them." Jack felt horrible, this was exactly what his late guardian had warned him would happen if he got into fights.
"Who the hell's Nanny?" Fletcher asked, drawing his eyebrows together.
"Doesn't matter." Jack shook his head, trying to rid himself of the image of Nanny's disapproving face.
"I'm going to go get our money, please don't let me catch you with your tongues down each others throats again when I get back. I personally don't give a flying fuck what the two of you do when you're alone, I just don't want to ever see you doing it again." With that sentiment Fletcher left the room.
"Your hand's bleeding." Exit pointed out once the door was shut.
Jack scrutinised his knuckles. "I don't think that's my blood." He said after a moment, scrubbing the back of his hand on his shorts to try and clean it. "Shit, I am never doing that again." He lent back against the desk, Exit stepped toward him and wrapped his arms around Jack's middle hugging him, his face pressed into his chest. Jack wrapped his arms around the smaller boy in return and a little of his earlier desire returned.
He ran his hand down Exit's back, tracing his spine with his fingers until he reached the start of his tail. "Do you mind me touching you there?" Jack asked, having no idea about the etiquette of being with someone with a tail.
"No, I like it." Came the muffled reply, so he let his fingertips play over the unfamiliar curve, and he was both surprised and aroused by the small noises of pleasure his actions were causing. A creak of hinges indicated that the door was being opened and jack looked over Exit's head to see Fletcher entering the room.
"For the love of...I asked the pair of you to do one thing." Fletcher grumbled at them. "I'm going to go back out the door then come in again, and I want to see you standing at least two foot away from one another when I do." He quickly backed out of the doorway.
"Should we do what he wants?" Exit asked against Jack's skin.
"Mmm, I don't really want to let you go but I kind of need my money, and he's got it."
"I'm coming back in now!" A shout came from outside the door so they reluctantly parted, going to stand at opposite ends of the office.
"That's better." Fletcher said nodding, taking in the distance between them then thrusting his hand into his pocket, coming out with a muddle of notes and coins. "Here you go Shithouse, nine pounds one shilling, probably the easiest money you'll ever make." He pressed it into Jack's palm.
Jack stared at the cash, it was more than he'd ever seen in one place in his life, but it was still not enough. "I needed twenty." He frowned at Fletcher.
"Yeah, well, once the bookies got a look at you, and saw who you were fighting, they weren't giving that good odds. I took the best offer I could, but you got to admit, it ain't too bad for ten minutes work."
"Fletch, I really need twenty." He sighed.
"Look Shithouse, I don't know what you want me to do, I can't make money appear from thin air." Fletcher held his hands up defensively.
"How much cut did you take?" Jack's voice was flat.
"Three pounds." Fletcher pulled the cash from his other pocket to prove himself.
Jack slumped back against the desk, even if he demanded the other boy give him his money it still wasn't close.
"Are there any more fights, could you put it on someone else to win?" He suggested.
"It's only the main attraction now, Cobb Thompson fighting some poor punching bag. Cobb's been the unbeaten champion for three years now. I would get less than nothing putting it on him, and I'd lose it all if I put it on his opponent."
Jack closed his eyes and took a deep breath, he could feel the acidic swell of anger inside him, and he didn't want to take it out on Fletcher, it wasn't his fault. Despite having recently broken a man's jaw he was getting the desire to punch something again.
"What kind of odds would I get if I fought this Cobb Thompson?" He asked slowly.
Fletcher stared at him, his eyebrows disappearing into his hair. "About a hundred to one at least, but you wouldn't want to try something that stupid, you'd get pulped."
Jack stood in the ring again and looked out at the sea of faces around him, wondering what the hell he was doing. The spectators were all staring at him, some shaking their heads and muttering, and he could swear that he heard the phrase "bat shit insane" being said quietly from behind him. A disturbance on one side of the ring signalled the arrival of Cobb Thompson, and muted cheers followed the boxer.
Jack watched him approach and climb into the ring, this man was no ancient, shambling Pikey George, this was a solid, muscular man in his late twenties. He wasn't as tall as Jack, but he was at least as wide. His arms were bigger than Jack's, bulging with corded muscles, and he had the neck and shoulders of a bull.
"Oh shit." Jack whispered to himself, as for the first time in several years he was physically intimidated by another person.
The man stepped toward him. "I'm going to give you a chance to back out now if you want, because you need to know, I won't go easy on you on account of your age or inexperience." Cobb stood and stared at Jack, he had hard grey eyes set in a wide jawed face, Jack didn't doubt his word for an instant. "So, what's it going to be lad?"
Jack almost took him up on his offer, he couldn't see any way he could win this, but the money was at stake, along with his pride. He glanced over his shoulder and saw a pair of golden eyes looking up at him, he wasn't going anywhere.
"No, I want to fight you." Jack replied quietly.
"Ten out of ten for balls, nothing out of ten for brains." The boxer said laughing. "When you're ready lad."
Things started out badly, Jack was quickly forced onto the ropes and took a series of sharp blows to his head and chest, eventually managing to get away by throwing himself sideways and lurching across to the opposite side of the ring. Cobb was relentless, although Jack managed to get a couple of decent punches in, one to the side of the man's head that caused him to reel back and look at Jack in surprise, the advantage was clearly with the experienced boxer.
As the fight wore on Jack started to feel his muscles burn from the exertion, and the certainty that he was going to loose set in. When he took yet another punch to his already sore ribs he dropped to his knees coughing, trying to draw breath, hearing the crowd cheer raggedly around him.
The older man looked down at him. "There's no shame in giving up now lad, you've put up a better fight against me than anyone would have expected, if you say the word we'll end this now and I'll stand you a beer."
Jack considered it, he couldn't win, Cobb was offering him a way out that didn't involve him getting injured any further, and minimal loss to his pride too, but no money. He closed his eyes and saw Jane's tear stained face, and he knew he had to try, at least if he lost he would have given it everything, but if he gave up, even honourably, he would still have given up.
"No, thank you." He looked up. "I want to keep going."
"It's your funeral lad." The boxer replied, holding out his hand to help Jack back to his feet. Cobb's words suddenly made him think of Nanny lying dead in a cold hole in the ground on the now deserted farm that had been their home.
"Why did you have to go and die?" Jack whispered to himself as they started again. "Why did we have to come to this shitty place?"
He dodged a punch, then blocked another. "Why are the nuns so fucking evil? We're just a bunch of orphaned children, not convicts."
He started to move toward his opponent purposefully. "Why punish us for every little thing?" He landed a blow on Cobb's shoulder, then on his chest.
"Why are my sister's being picked on?" He was totally unaware that he was talking out loud now, and he began to attack the man in earnest. "Why make Jane cry? She's done nothing wrong, she's just a sweet little girl." Each one of his punches connected, his anger at everything that had happened over the past few days was now totally focused into his fists, and every time he threw another blow he felt vengeance for himself and his sisters. He didn't notice that the room had become completely silent, or that he was now on his knees pummelling an unconscious man, the next thing he was aware of were several pairs of hands grabbing him and pulling him backwards, away from his now silent opponent.
"I'm so sorry." Jack said, his whole body starting to shake as the adrenalin began to leave his system. He was looking down at a very bloodied and bruised Cobb who was lying on a cot in a back room that Jack guessed was used for treating injuries as there was a muddled assortment of bandages, towels and bottles of iodine on a small table in the corner,
"Apology accepted lad, but if you ever hit me while I'm on the canvas again I'll have you barred." After the fight had ended Jack had been swiftly ushered through to this back room by Smitty along with Cobb, who had only briefly lost conciseness, and followed by Fletcher and Exit.
"I'm never going to fight again." Jack stated, looking at Fletcher and Smitty, but avoiding Exit.
"You just beat the undisputed champion of the city and you're never going to fight again?" The boxer asked, wincing as he touched a deep cut above his right eye that was dripping blood down his temple and onto the metal frame of the cot. "Are you fucking insane?"
Jack was very much afraid he might be, he couldn't remember the last few minutes of the bout, or being led in here through the shocked crowd.
"I just need my money." He nodded to Fletcher.
"Ah, well...you see Shithouse, about that..." Fletcher ran a hand through his dull black hair.
"Didn't you put the bet on?" Jack's emotions began to go into free fall.
"Yeah, I said I would, didn't I? It's just that the bookie didn't have enough to pay out the full amount."
"How much?" Jack asked, meaning how much cash had Fletcher been able to get.
"Nine hundred, give or take, said you'd get odds of a hundred to one, but I've got your twenty if you want that." He scooped a handful of money out of his pocket.
"That's all I need." Jack sat down on a chair beside Cobb, his legs no longer able to support him. Nine hundred pounds, he found it hard to imagine that so much money could exist in the world, and impossible to imagine it could be owned by him.
"He said he'd get it to you eventually." Fletcher continued, while Smitty snorted. "Look." He held out a crumpled slip of paper. "He wrote you an IOU."
"I don't care, I just need the twenty, that's all." Jack repeated.
Cobb stared up at Jack from his prone position. "You really are fucking insane, aren't you?"
Jack lay down on Smitty's couch utterly drained, it turned out that Fletcher's father's business partner lived in a small flat over the fighting arena and had told Fletcher that the three boys could spend the rest of the night in his living room if they wanted. Jack ached all over from the punches he had taken and his body wanted to do nothing more than shut down and sleep.
"Jack, you can sleep there." Fletcher pointed to the couch, ignoring the fact that Jack was pretty much asleep on it already.
"I'll sleep there." He pointed to an elderly armchair in the corner of the room. "And you." He looked at Exit. "Can sleep..." He looked around Smitty's tatty living room but that was it for soft furniture. "On the floor, I guess."
"He can sleep on the couch with me." Jack mumbled.
"No way." Fletcher bridled. "I'm not listing to the pair of you snogging, or worse, all night."
"Fletch, I can hardly move, I don't think that's going to be a problem." Jack protested.
"Perhaps you could sleep on the floor, and I could sleep on the chair." Exit suggested to Fletcher with a small smile.
Fletcher frowned. "All right, sleep with Jack, but any hint of snogging and one of you goes and sleeps on the floor, got it?"
"Yes." "Mmm." They consented, Jack almost asleep now. He felt a warm body climb on top of him and he put an arm around it, when his hand came into contact with its tail again he seriously considered ignoring Fletcher's edict, but he really was too tired.
"When we get back." He murmured, patting the tail and giving the ass beneath it a squeeze for good measure.
All may not have been totally well with Jack's life, but he had the money he needed to pay Elodie off, and better still he had the person he wanted cuddled up with him, and for the first time since Nanny had died he felt somewhat happy.
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