“So here it is Merry Christmas, everybody’s having fun / Look to the future now, it’s only just begun.”
Ben McKenzie hated that song. You heard it everywhere in the run-up to Christmas. It was a tradition. They played it all the time at the supermarket where he worked. He couldn’t get the damn tune out of his head. It had been released more than forty years previously. Long before he was born. Before his mum and dad had been born too, probably.
Ben was pushing twenty years old. He was what he dad called “bone idle.” He meant he was lazy. It was true. Ben hadn’t had a proper job since he dropped out of school four years previously. There was work out there, even for unqualified kids. Ben preferred to spend his time playing games on his computer or staying in bed masturbating.
Then a couple of his pals told him about the supermarket where they had started working. It was a “cushy” job, especially in the goods-received department. The money wasn’t bad, and it was easy to skive off and hide from the bosses. There were lots of girls working at the supermarket and they weren’t too particular about who they went out with.
And, Toby his best friend told him there was one other big perk. Thieving.
It seemed too good to be true.
But Toby didn’t tell him about Mr Wolf. Ben had to find out for himself.
The supermarket wasn’t too choosy about who it employed. Workers came and went. Many were sixth-form school pupils or students. Others took jobs while they waited for something better to come along.
It turned out his pals were right. The work was easy; and so were the girls. Ben was a good-looking guy, in a pretty-boy kind of way. He was “cute”, rather than “hot”. In his first week, Tracey, gave him a hand job. They sneaked away and used a disused office at the back of the store. All the kids did it, but it was Ben’s first sexual encounter that involved another person in nearly a year.
It was the week before Christmas. A very expensive time of the year. Presents had to be bought and parties attended. It all cost money. Ben was on wages, but they didn’t go far. Not after his mum took her share for his keep at home.
No problem, Toby told him. Steal the presents from the supermarket. Everybody did it. It was a perk of the job. The bosses didn’t mind within reason. They called it “breakages.” They put an extra penny on the shoppers’ bills to pay for it.
When they first started in the 1950s supermarkets were a place where you went to buy fruit and vegetables and a packet of tea. But by 2015 they had become a one-stop shop for everything you might ever need. They were a thief’s paradise.
“Keep it simple,” Toby advised. “Take things you can hide in your pocket or under your coat.”
That was the first time that Ben noticed a lot of the lads at supermarket came to work in old-fashioned parka coats or beat-up Barbours. They had lots of hidden pockets.
At home one night Ben wrote his Christmas present list. Keep it simple, Toby had said. So he did. A bottle of tequila or some other expensive booze would do for each of his friends. He didn’t know at first what to get his dad, so he settled on cigars. His mum would get posh perfume.
There were only three shopping days left until Christmas. Or three thieving days in Ben’s case. The guys at the supermarket had it down to a fine art. (But, you’ll have to go somewhere else to find the details, this is a moral story you are reading.) Mum and dad’s presents were sorted first. It’s not too difficult to stuff a small bottle of Chanel into your pocket. Especially when your fellow workers pretended not to see you do it.
“Hello, Ben,” the teenager was startled. He hadn’t heard Mr Wolf his boss creep up on him. Mr Wolf wasn’t his proper name. His real name started with “Wolf,” but was long and had a “C” and a “Z” and a “H” in it somewhere. He was Polish or possibly Lithuanian, Ben wasn’t too sure. He wouldn’t know the difference. It was somewhere in eastern Europe, he did know that.
Mr Wolf spoke with a bit of an accent. So did Ben, of course. But they were different accents. English wasn’t Mr Wolf’s first language, but he made himself clear.
“This is your last chance. Don’t do it again.”
And, with that he was gone.
“Don’t worry,” Toby advised him later. “He’s the supervisor, he has to say that. It’s his job”
“So, I can still get the booze? I wanted to take it today when I go home.”
“Yes, you’ll be fine,” Toby smiled reassuringly. But, he knew from his own painful experience that he might be lying.
Mr Wolf thought he was a kind man. Live and let live was his motto. But, when he was at the supermarket, he had his job to do. He was a proud man. He had left his family behind and travelled half way across Europe to find work. He was honest too. He would never steal. God was his witness.
But England was not like home. The young people here were lazy and selfish. They wanted everything handed to them on a plate. They thought they were owed a living. They didn’t expect to work for it.
Mr Wolf didn’t know much about Ben. He was just another typical English teenager. He was one among the hundreds, possibly thousands, who had worked at the supermarket in the two years since he arrived. If the boy stole again, he would treat him exactly the same way he did the others.
It was nearly eight in the evening and Ben’s shift was coming to an end. That bloody song was oozing out of the loudspeakers. “Look to the future now, it’s only just begun.” For two pins Ben would have drowned the whole lot of the Slade pop group at birth, starting with Noddy Holder, the lead singer.
Glancing to left and right to make sure the bosses weren’t around, he skipped into the alcohol hold, grabbed a bottle of tequila and tucked it under his coat. He didn’t break sweat. Nobody cared.
He swiped his ID card at the exit. Home and free.
“Ben,” it was Mr Wolf, “Come into the office.”
He was an angry man. He had given the teenager fair warning. The brat had taken no notice. He had insulted him. Tried to make him look a fool. He showed no respect.
Ben stood impassively in the office as Mr Wolf told him all these things.
“Yeah, yeah, blah, blah.” He didn’t say it out loud.
But he did say, “Who cares? It’s just company property. Everyone does it.”
“Not on my watch,” it was an American idiom, Mr Wolf had learned from the movies. It meant he had standards.
A frown spread across Ben’s bright open pretty-boy face. He didn’t understand what Mr Wolf was saying.
So, his boss spelled it out. He had been warned not to thieve, but he had ignored it. Not only was he a thief, he deliberately disobeyed an order. He had tied to make a fool of him.
“But… “ Ben blustered, not sure what to say.
Mr Wolf cut him short. “I am going to call Security and they will inform the police. You will spend Christmas in jail.”
The teenager felt tears welling up in his eyes. Police. Jail. This wasn’t how Toby said it would be.
“But…” Ben tried again, but still he couldn’t form a coherent sentence.
Mr Wolf glared at the boy, his face like thunder. He had no intention of involving the police. He hated the police. They had been so cruel in his homeland.
Mr Wolf had a plan. He had used it before on young thieves. He would use it again. Back home if a boy stole, his father would thrash him. Even young men in their twenties could expect a sound caning. Of course, such action was seldom necessary. The thought of a whipping was enough to deter them from crime.
Mr Wolf leaned over to a table and opened a drawer that ran along its length. Ben’s eyes followed him as he put his hand inside the drawer and rummaged around. Seconds later he withdrew a straight yellow stick.
Ben had never seen such a thing before. It was a dark yellow and more than three feet long. Black tape had been wound around one end to form a simple handle. It was not quite straight. Constant use had warped it slightly.
The teenager’s jaw fell slightly when Mr Wolf flexed the stick between his hands. It was as thick as a man’s little finger, but it easily curved into a bow. Mr Wolf swished the cane though the air, missing Ben’s face by inches. The boy felt a breeze against his cheek as it whistled by.
“Ha, so you have never seen a cane before.” Mr Wolf was not surprised. None of the young men he had dealt with previously at the supermarket had either. That explained a lot, Mr Wolf thought. They were totally lacking in discipline. The schools had abandoned corporal punishment decades ago. Look what good that had done.
He swished the cane once more, delighted at how much it intimidated the young thief.
“The choice is yours,” Mr Wolf tapped the cane against his own right leg. “The police … or this.”
“But …” Ben had not regained his power of speech. He choked back tears.
“You cannot go unpunished,” Mr Wolf growled. He swiped the cane through the air, terrifying the teenager.
“It’s my way or the highway.” That was another phrase he had learned from the television. It meant he was in charge.
“You should take off your coat.” Mr Wolf spoke gently. He knew that young men about to be thrashed for the first time needed to be guided through the process. He would take it one step at a time.
In the days that followed Ben tried without success to remember exactly what happened in that office. Somehow, unconsciously he had erased it from his memory. What he did know for certain was that his backside had been cut to ribbons. The welts from the cane were so deep and thick it would take more than a week for them to clear. Even then, when he was in the shower and he let hot water pour across his buttocks, thin cane marks reappeared.
Obediently, Ben slipped off his coat and placed it on an old wooden chair.
“Stand by the table.” It was a cheap, topped with Formica and hardly three feet wide.
Mr Wolf studied the boy before him. He was nearly six-feet tall and lanky. His arms fell awkwardly at his side. The teenager’s eyes shone, glistened by the tears trying to force their way through. He had a blank far-away look.
“Trousers down.” Ben was wearing dirty cream-coloured cotton chinos, held at the waist by a wide leather belt. He made no attempt to move.
“Trousers down.” It was a sterner command this time. Still Ben did not move. It was as if he had not heard.
“Pah!” Mr Wolf exhaled air through his half-clenched teeth. He stepped forward and grabbed the boy at the waist. Ben did not resist. In seconds Mr Wolf had the belt buckle loose and the chinos were at Ben’s knees.
“Bend over the table.” This time Ben did hear. As if in a trance, he gently lowered himself forward. He made no protest.
Ben was so tall and the table so narrow that his body easily fitted across the Formica top. Instinctively, for Mr Wolf gave no further instruction, the teenager reached forward and grabbed the two table legs ahead of him. One in each hand.
Mr Wolf had thrashed many of the boys at the supermarket. They came in all shapes and sizes. Some were short and squat, others tall and gangly. Many had too much body fat. The flab on their stomachs spread out beneath their body. Their buttocks were so plump they would wobble like jelly each time the cane made contact with the mounds of flesh.
Ben was leaner. He took no exercise, but was naturally thin. His bodily metabolism dealt with the hamburgers and copious amounts of beer he consumed most days.
Mr Wolf took hold of the tail of Ben’s shirt and tugged it up the small of his back. Just far enough to leave the target area clear. He was wearing loose-fitting boxer shorts, so Mr Wolf spent a moment smoothing them out. He wanted all the creases removed. It hurt a boy much more if the underwear fitted snuggly against the buttocks. It should be like a second skin.
By now, Ben had closed his eyes tightly shut. It seemed to Mr Wolf that the boy was determined to take his just punishment without a fuss. He hoped so.
He was distressed when a young man couldn’t take his beating passively. Sometimes one would refuse to bend over and there would be an unseemly fight with Mr Wolf, The boss was somewhere in his forties, but he had worked hard all his life. Youngsters were astounded when he was able to force them face-down over the table. He kept some small pieces of rope in the drawer. They could be used to tie the wrists of the boy to the table legs.
Ben’s breathing was shallow. He had remained almost entirely silent from the moment the two men had entered the office.
Mr Wolf tapped the cane across Ben’s buttocks, just to get his aim. The bum cheeks responded by tightening, as if preparing themselves to ward off an almighty battering.
Thwip! It was a wicked slash. Mr Wolf might have been beating a carpet. The cane broke through the surface of the boy’s cheeks and through the sheer force of the slash continued onwards into the meat of Ben’s bum. A thick white line appeared across the centre of Ben’s boxers where the cotton had been disturbed. Mr Wolf knew from experience that a thick red line would already have formed in the flesh.
Ben’s yelp confirmed that the cut had bitten deep. It was agony. The teenager kicked his legs back as the pain seared through his backside. He stamped his feet up and down and gripped the table legs as if his very life depended on it.
Mr Wolf was not a cruel man. He delivered punishments, not torture. But, a beating had to hurt otherwise what was the point of it all?
Ben received the second cut surprisingly well, Mr Wolf thought. It was slightly harder than the first and landed a half inch or so lower. Ben repeated his military dance and his hips wriggled from left to right. His yelp was more intense and his shallow breathing was heavier now.
Mr Wolf heard footsteps approach from outside the office. Then they stopped. The door was closed, but not locked. The visitor had hesitated. Mr Wolf’s reputation was well-known among his fellow supervisors. Rather like the shop-floor workers, they preferred to turn a blind eye.
Slashes number three and four cut the lower part of Ben’s buttocks to shreds. The yellow-coloured boxer shorts had turned orange in places. Blood was seeping from the wounds inflicted by the mightily-effective cane.
Ben bounced his forehead up and down on the table top. It was a natural reaction to the intense suffering he felt. Tears flowed freely and his throat was full of bile. He choked the vomit back down, provoking a fitting cough.
Yes, the boy was taking his thrashing rather well, Mr Wolf thought. When he had dealt with Ben’s friend Toby last month the boy howled the office down after only two strokes.
Mr Wolf gave Ben a few moments to settle. His throat was now clear and he was ready for number five.
Although the thief prostrated before him was a tall young man, his buttocks were quite small and tight. Unlike with the fat, almost obese, youngsters Mr Wolf often caned there was not much to aim at. It was inevitable that at least one cut would land on a weal, extending the already deep cut and intensifying the agony.
Mr Wolf had not meant to do it. It was a hazard of the job. Ben positively screamed. Instinctively he jumped to his feet jumping up and down on the spot while rubbing away furiously at his behind. It did nothing to relive the pain. Instead by pressing down on open wounds it intensified the soreness.
Then, Mr Wolf watched in astonishment as Ben did something that no other youngster had ever done before. Unbidden, the nineteen-year-old thief lifted his shirt clear of his underwear, before leaning forward across the desk and submissively offering himself for the sixth and final stroke.
Mr Wolf had not intended to land the fifth stoke across an existing welt. Not so the sixth. This was what Mr Wolf thought of as his “trademark.” He repositioned his cane so that it aimed from the lower half of the left buttock across to the top half of the right. Then he let fly. The swipe landed diagonally across all previous five cuts.
Ben was on his feet again. Howling and howling. He ran on the spot, doubled up like a pocket-knife and then ran again. Nothing could extinguish the intense agony in his bankside.
There was no reason for him to compose himself and go back over the Formica top. It was over. He had taken his punishment. It was, Mr Wolf believed, what the English used to call “six-of-the-best.” That was in the days when schools still believed in discipline.
Kindly, Mr Wolf handed the punished boy a fistful of paper handkerchiefs. Ben was composing himself. The tears had eased to sobs and would quickly dry altogether. The agony in his buttocks had turned to an intense throb. He did not yet realise how scarred his buttocks were. He would find out soon enough when he returned to his home.
Mr Wolf gave Ben a few minutes to recover and sent him on his way, clearly understanding the consequences of any future thieving.
Ben had barely left the office before Mr Wolf picked up the telephone and called Ben’s dad to tell him what he had done to his son. Mr McKenzie listened impassively, thanked his caller and waited for his son to arrive home.
Ben hobbled through the goods-received section towards the exit. That flaming Christmas song was still coming through the loudspeakers.
“Look to the future now, it’s only just begun.
“Merry Christmas everybody!”
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More stories from Charles Hamilton II are on the MMSA website
Charles Hamilton the Second