‘And now, Ladies and Gentlemen,’ announced Colonel Coombes, into the microphone which had been lowered from the ceiling of Faysgarth village hall, ‘it is indeed my pleasure to introduce – or present – to you, now, the final bout – or contest – of the evening. As many of you present will know from previous years, at this point in the proceedings we select a member of the audience to do battle with one of our finest contenders.’
The usual derisory applause greeted the short-sighted Colonel’s characteristically long-winded address, for – as was his custom when nerves took hold during public pronouncements – the hopeless chemistry dolt was tiresomely dispensing synonyms like unwarranted detentions. ‘As is customary,’ he continued, ‘I shall now ask – or request – that the hall lights be lowered so that I might pick out – or select – the volunteer with my flashlight!’
Skimpton, who had already seen off his opponent in the middleweight division inside the first two minutes, had showered and changed briskly, and was seated in the audience between his chum Jack Varley and a rather lumpy fifth-former by the name of Tubby Malkin. With a trophy already under his belt, Skimpton was content to be excluded from the concluding contest, which usually provided an amusing finale to the evening’s activities. The young sports supremo was consulting his programme gleefully, trying to ascertain which of the evening’s successful pugilists was down to tackle the unlucky volunteer, when the lights flickered off.
‘Just one moment, everyone!’ cried the dim-sighted professor as he searched for his flashlight. ‘I’ll be just a moment!’
Ninety pitch-black seconds later, amid good humoured cat-calls, the hopelessly myopic chemistry man located the switch on his torch and directed its beam across the excited crowd. After dithering briefly on various boys, all of whom unvaliantly pleaded ineligibility through ill-health, the light finally settled on an uncomfortable Tubby Malkin, squirming in his seat beside Skimpton. ‘But sir!’ pleaded the podgy youngster, ‘I can’t possibly fight, I’m far too fat!’
‘Nonsense,’ retorted the Colonel amid howls of delight, ‘dispatch yourself to the changing rooms immediately and climb into your togs!’
‘But sir, I haven’t got any!’
‘Then borrow some, you fool! Now get on with it before I’m tempted to issue you with lines for unmanliness!’
Tubby Malkin was an unpopular boy, mainly because of his disgusting personal habits and pusillanimous nature. Indeed, some even thought him quite the most repulsive young man ever to pass through the gates of Faysgarth, and as a result, he had been bullied mercilessly since his arrival at the school. Quickly set apart as something of a loner, he made friends in his third year with a German boy who was later withdrawn by his parents to join a group in his homeland known as The Edelweiss Pirates, a particularly gruesome division of the Hitler Youth which specialised in interrogation methods for the under-nines.
Since that brief, yet intense, liaison, Malkin had succeeded in antagonising his schoolfellows with his irritating attempts to ingratiate himself into their company, to such an extent that many had taken to ignoring him completely. Indeed, on one occasion when the youngster was trapped up a tree in Dead Man’s Wood, his pleas for assistance fell on deaf ears for a day and a half. Wilf, the groundsman, finally took pity on Malkin and accommodated the youngster in his growlery for a week of strenuous convalescence.
It was as a result of one of Malkin’s pitiful displays of grovelling that the fleshy fifth-former had contrived, at the night of the Boxing Championships, to place himself in the seat next to Skimpton. His hope was that, as the most well-liked boy in the school, some of Skimpton’s popularity might rub off on himself. To no avail though, for as the sports champion propelled a reluctant Tubby in the direction of the changing rooms, it was amid as raucous a chorus of disapproval as the unpleasant youngster had ever experienced.
‘Look,’ said Skimpton, manhandling his writhing charge through the doorway, ‘just protect yourself as best you can and wait for an opening. Your opponent is a particularly beastly individual named Spate, one of Marcus Dent’s pals. Now, he’s likely to try various underhand tricks, but he is a flyweight, so you should have no trouble using your not inconsiderable bulk to repel his attack.’
‘But Skimpton,’ pleaded the flabby yellow belly, ‘I’m not used to violence, I’ve only ever utilised it against animals, and then only very small ones!’
‘Rubbish,’ came the stern reply, ‘put these on.’ Using safety pins, Skimpton had constructed an enormous pair of trunks from an old Union Jack which was lying about, and was now looking around for something with which to fashion a singlet.
‘But Skimpton,’ protested Malkin weakly, ‘can’t I wear your kit?’
‘Not a chance. It would never fit you. Besides, I don’t relish having to clean the resulting mess from my togs once Spate has burst those abominable facial lesions of yours. Now here, put this on.’ Skimpton held out a section of carpet from which he’d chopped a hole for the boy’s head. Tubby gave out a rancid-smelling sigh and pulled on the appallingly improvised vestment.
‘I thank you for your assistance, Skimpton,’ said the fatty, passing wind nervously, ‘but I am really not sure if I can go through with all this.’
‘Nonsense. Look, if you back out now the Colonel will be livid, and there’s no telling what he might do to you in that kind of mood. How about if I pledge you a topping feed if you win, what do you say to that?’
‘I think I should rather starve.’
‘Don’t be a silly chump. Now put this round your waist.’ Skimpton helped Tubby loop a length of string around the dilapidated remnant, securing it tightly about the youngster with a double reef knot.
‘But Skimpton,’ gasped Tubby, ‘I can hardly breathe.’
‘Don’t be a sissy. This way, you see, your carpet won’t get frayed during clinches.’
Spate was already waiting in the ring, dancing about and punching the air daintily, when Tubby Malkin appeared. The crowd whooped with hilarity as the combined strength of five burly sixth-formers struggled to hoist the bloated contender onto the canvas. Sullenly, Malkin made straight for his corner and placed his enormous behind resentfully onto the stool, breaking it in half.
‘Now look,’ said Skimpton, arriving at his side, ‘there may be quite a bit of barracking from the crowd, but try to take no notice. Just do as I have said and you will be alright.’
‘But Skimpton,’ argued the monstrous coward, ‘Spate hates me – you can see it in his eyes!’ Skimpton found it difficult to disagree, for there, only three feet away, was his malevolent opponent, perfectly still, glaring menacingly at Malkin. Although slight of frame, Spate made a convincing boxer with a compact frame, muscular arms and a powerful neck, some three inches wider than his head. He was a sinister fellow at the best of times, who carried about him a seething violence which surfaced spectacularly once he had removed his school uniform and donned the togs of a pugilist.