Gareth Williams, aged twenty-four, junior sales executive, gazed vaguely across the office. It was full of young men just like himself; clean shaven, closely-controlled hair, dark suits, sober shirts. It looked like they had been manufactured in packs of twelve. The office was hot and it was mid-afternoon, he was bored to distraction and there were still two hours before he could escape. The buzzing phone on his desk jolted him back to consciousness. He picked it up. He nodded in response to the terse message he received and replaced the receiver.
Jason Bragg who sat at the desk opposite smiled wearily. Gareth answered the unasked question, “Quarterly performance review?”
Jason nodded, his bright open face registered concern, “First one?”
“Yeah,” Gareth replied nonchalantly.
“Good luck,” Marcus, the only non-white man in the office, drawled.
Gareth rose from his chair. Jason whispered something to Marcus that Gareth could not hear. The pair exchanged knowing looks. Jason mouthed the word, “Ouch.”
Gareth left the office confidently. A performance review, what possibly could go wrong. He had been at Tilotson’s for a little over two months. He wasn’t the best sales executive they had but he thought he couldn’t be the worst. He had a strong opinion of himself. He had been quite a star back at university, they tipped him for great things in the future. But jobs just now were hard to come by and a young man had to start where he could. He wouldn’t be at Tilotson’s for long, he fervently hoped.
It was a short walk to the office of Mr Wilkinson, the sales director. He passed a man about his age and dressed almost identically to him shuffling down the corridor in the opposite direction. His face was flushed and he seemed to be in some discomfort. As he drew closer Gareth saw he was close to tears. They didn’t exchange words as the young man bowed his head and quickened his pace towards the stairwell.
Miss Begg, the sales director’s secretary, was expecting him. Although she was not much older than Gareth, her severely-cut suit, the hair pulled into a bun and the grey spectacles that perched on the end of her nose made her look like a young grandmother. She didn’t greet him beyond smirking, “He is waiting for you. Knock and go straight in.”
Gareth saw no reason not to do so and he breezed to the door, rapped twice confidently and swung open the door. Mr Wilkinson was seated to attention behind a moderately-sized desk. When standing he was a tall man of about forty-five, broad and sunburned, his fair-to-blond hair was clipped close to his large but not ugly head. His steely blue eyes glazed. People meeting him for the first time often assumed he was something in the Royal Navy.
As Gareth entered Mr Wilkinson leafed through a folder of papers on his desk pretending to read although what he said later showed he had already absorbed them. Gareth looked around the office searching without success for a chair to sit on. His boss read his mind, “Stand there,” he nodded to a spot in front of the desk. Gareth edged up and stood awkwardly, he wasn’t sure where to put his arms. Should he stand like a soldier at attention, or lounge casually with them dangling by his sides? He settled for holding them behind his back while standing easy. Mr Wilkinson glared at him as Gareth made up his mind.
There was an uneasy silence. Gareth had enough sense to keep his mouth shut. Mr Wilkinson had called him to the office it was up to him to start the conversation.
Mr Wilkinson once again looked through the report, his face darkening as he went. For the first time that afternoon Gareth sensed an unease. Something – he didn’t know quite what – was wrong.
At last Mr Wilkinson put the report down. He glowered at the sales executive and said, “Your record since you started employment with us has been poor. You have failed to meet targets and your timekeeping record is very patchy indeed.” He paused expecting Gareth to deny his accusation but the young man remained silent. There was very little he could usefully say since Mr Wilkinson was correct in every particular. Gareth’s record was poor indeed.
Gareth was surprised at his boss’s attitude. It reminded him of something that might happen at a school. An idle pupil summoned to the headmaster for a wigging. A telling-off.
Unperturbed by Gareth’s silence, the sales director continued, “It is not the record that we expect at Tilotson’s. We expect our employees to work. That is why we pay them. We have very clear rules here,” he leaned forward across the desk for emphasis, “very strict rules. We expect you to obey them. If you don’t you must face the consequences.”
Mr Wilkinson spoke as if making a speech and in a way he was. Gareth was not the first wayward employee he had dealt with and he wouldn’t be the last. He finished and again waited expecting Gareth to respond. When still he didn’t the boss suspected he was displaying dumb insolence.
“So what?” he told himself silently. “He will change his tune before I’ve finished with him.”
He shook his head and sighed as if some huge weight of responsibility rested on his shoulders. His face was grave, “So I intend to cane you.”
Gareth snorted, unable to contain his incredulity. “What?” he snapped.
Mr Wilkinson’s face clouded, “You heard me well enough Williams. I am going to beat you.”
Gareth struggled not to burst out laughing. Only the stern expression of the boss behind his desk stopped him. He gathered himself, he was a strong-willed young man and he showed it now. “You seem to be under the misapprehension that this is a school,” he stated boldly. “I am twenty-four years old and this is an office.”
Mr Wilkinson shook his head sadly. “I heard that you had spent much of the past few years living abroad. Studying mostly I believe?”
Gareth nodded eagerly. He had attended one of the most prestigious universities in the United States. If asked, he would frankly say that he was far too good to be working at a place like Tilotson’s. But needs must, jobs were hard to come by these days.
Mr Wilkinson had not finished talking. “What you fail to appreciate,” he said, “Is that laws have been passed while you were away that specifically allow me to take the course of action I intend. That is to cane you.”
Gareth’s mouth gaped. Could this be true? Before he could ask his question, Mr Wilkinson filled in the details. After Britain left the European Union the country had a new government. The New Democrats were elected on a landslide. High on their ticket was law and order. Especially where it related to young people. “Believe me young man, you are not the only one to come under this law. Schoolboys, students, apprentices and young people more generally can be subjected to corporal punishment for any number of reasons,” Mr Wilkinson lectured.
He paused to allow the full impact of his words to sink in. He saw Gareth’s face blanch. Yes, the twenty-four-year-old now had the full picture.
Since Gareth remained silent, Mr Wilkinson continued, “Your background prior to joining us here at Tilotson’s suggests you could become a very useful asset to the company. I have the authority to dismiss you right now, but I am going to give you a second chance. A short, sharp shock is what you need,” Mr Wilkinson’s eyes narrowed and he looked down his long, thin nose at Gareth, “A short, sharp and very painful lesson is what you need, young man.”
Gareth stood shellshocked. He was dumbfounded. Was this really happening? Could it possibly be an elaborate joke? Were there hidden cameras around him? Were they filming one of those ‘gotcha’ programmes for cable television?
“So there you have it,” Mr Wilkinson rose from his chair and walked around his desk and stood alongside Gareth. “A sound caning should do the trick.” He crossed the room and halted at a tall, narrow cupboard. Gareth watched in shock as his boss put his hand in his trouser pocket and after rummaging around for a moment withdrew a ring containing several keys. He seemed to know immediately which one he needed and he thrust it into the lock on the cupboard. The door fell open.
Gareth’s heart raced. He craned his neck to see what the cupboard contained but Mr Wilkinson’s body obstructed his view. He didn’t have long to find out. Mr Wilkinson reached inside the cupboard creating a dim rattling sound of wood against metal. The boss withdrew his hand and when he turned and faced Gareth he was brandishing a thin, whippy school-type cane.
Gareth’s eyes popped. He had never seen anything like it before. Mr Wilkinson took it in both hands and showed it to the young man, flexing it menacingly. It was about a metre long and as thick as a biro pen. It was dark yellow in colour and Gareth saw it had a number of notches along its length. One end was curved into a handle. Mr Wilkinson let go of the other end and keeping a firm grip under the handle he swiped the cane through the empty air. It made a terrific swooshing sound as it flew. Gareth’s heart skipped a beat.
Mr Wilkinson took three steps across the office and stood close to Gareth. “It’s bit stronger and whippier than the canes they use these days in the schools. It’s designed for the older boy, or young adult. I believe they use canes like this in the new youth detention centres – or whatever it is they call them these days.”
Mr Wilkinson swished the cane once more and looked sternly at the young man standing before him. “Twelve strokes, I think,” he said calmly and with authority. “That should buck your ideas up no end.”
Gareth’s mouth opened and closed like a goldfish but no words came out. What could he say? He was guilty as charged, he couldn’t deny that. Did he have any choice but to obey? Mr Wilkinson quietly reminded him of the realities. “If you do not accept your deserved punishment, you will be sacked. Think carefully about that. You will not be entitled to welfare benefits and you will find it nigh on impossible to get further employment. You will quickly become destitute. Then you will be taken into one of those youth work camps. I wouldn’t wish that on anybody.”
Gareth’s legs wobbled. He steadied himself before he fainted to the floor. A beating. Twelve strokes? That wasn’t a beating, that was a flogging. How could he possibly withstand that?
Mr Wilkinson was a man of experience. Gareth was not the first young man he had encountered in such a situation. There had been many and all of them – every single one – had capitulated to his power. They had no choice. He glared at Gareth as if he was trying to burn into the young man’s soul. “Stand by there,” he pointed his cane at a small desk at the far end of the office. Gareth’s legs were jelly, he couldn’t get them to move.
Mr Wilkinson sighed noisily, “It would be better if you followed my instructions. Let us get this done and dusted with the minimum of fuss.” It took a superhuman effort for him to get his legs to obey his brain but at last Gareth stood where instructed.
“Good,” Mr Wilkinson tucked the cane under his arm, rather like a sergeant-major on parade duty. “Now I want you to take down your trousers.”
“But. No, but,” Gareth couldn’t help himself. He had to complain. He couldn’t do this. Not trousers down.
“Young man,” Mr Wilkinson made no attempt to supress his sneer. “Up and down the country people such as yourself are being ordered to drop their trousers and their underpants,” he paused to let that sink in. Then, he continued as if demonstrating his benevolence, “I do not require my lads to bare their backsides. I believe that is a little too immodest. I’m sure you would agree.”
Gareth hated his boss’s oiliness. The bastard had complete control. There was not one thing he could do to stop him. He had total power. He was the master. Gareth was the subordinate. No, more than that: Gareth was the slave.
“Take down your trousers please, Williams,” Mr Wilkinson slipped the cane into his hand and swished it through the air. “I would be so much obliged.”
Gareth’s trousers were snug fitting and needed no belt. All he needed to do was to pop the catch at the waistband and tug the zipper and they would hurtle to his feet. His hand shook beyond his control. He couldn’t get a grip.
“Would you prefer that I undid your trousers for you?” Mr Wilkinson said and before Gareth who was now in deep shock could furnish an answer, his boss had taken hold of the young man’s waist and unbuttoned him. The zip fell swiftly and the trousers slithered down Gareth’s thighs and bunched at his knees. He stood humiliated, his head buzzed and he was certain his face was on fire.
“Bend over the desk,” Mr Wilkinson spoke with great authority. He was the boss; he was in charge. He expected to be obeyed. He knew from experience he would be obeyed. No young worker in the past had dared to disobey.
Gareth stood unsteadily, the room seemed to be spinning. The floor was where the walls should be and the walls pulsated. He shook his head vigorously to try to regain some sense. Mr Wilkinson flexed the cane thoughtfully, studying the young man before him. He repeated his order, “Bend over the desk. This instance.”
Gareth looked down at the desk. It was tiny and might have been made from a kit from Ikea. It was low and he was quite a tall young man. Bend over. How was that done exactly? Should he lay flat across the top with his legs dangling over the ends? Was he supposed to rest his stomach on the edge and stretch his arms to grab the far end of the desk?
Mr Wilkinson had seen it all before. Young men called to his office for their first thrashing rarely knew the protocol; the correct procedure for presenting their bottoms submissively for the attention of his whippy cane.
“Place your elbows on the desk, arch your back and stick your bottom out. Open your knees but don’t stretch your legs too far,” Mr Wilkinson gave precise instructions and Gareth, now on some form of auto-pilot obeyed. “It helps if you grip the sides of the desk,” Mr Wilkinson said kindly, “when the beating starts,” he added softly.
Gareth was in position. Mr Wilkinson tucked the cane under his arm and walked to the far end of the office. By doing this he was able to get a full view of the young man. Gareth was thickset and had until recently been something of a soccer player. Mr Wilkinson noticed the muscles rippling beneath Gareth’s shirt. His buttocks were beefy and bent over as he was they filled out his cotton shorts. His legs were hairy and, Mr Wilkinson supposed, his buttocks were much the same.
Gareth’s breathing was uneasy. He closed his eyes tightly in a useless attempt to pretend he was anywhere but bent submissively across the desk in his boss’s office waiting to receive his first-ever caning. He sucked down on his bottom lip. Perspiration seeped from his scalp and within moments the back of his neck was drenched.
Mr Wilkinson let the cane drop back into his hand and slowly approached Gareth, all the time watching the young man’s beefy bum twitching in anticipation of the ordeal ahead. He stood for a moment to Gareth’s left side. He could smell the young man’s fear. Gareth wore a smart dress shirt and its tail was long and hung over his bottom. Carefully, as if handling a priceless relic, Mr Wilkinson took hold of it between finger and thumb and gently raised it away from the seat of the young man’s shorts. He folded it back exposing a few centimetres of bare, hairy flesh.
Mr Wilkinson was almost ready. He took a stand a metre or so to Gareth’s left and carefully placed the cane across both buttocks, aiming at the fleshiest part of the bum. He tap-tap-tapped it softly and was delighted when Gareth’s whole body tensed. “Twelve strokes,” he announced as he lifted the cane away from the meaty cheeks. He held it at about shoulder height and let it wobble for a moment. Then, with a twist of his body – rather like a golfer taking a swing – he unleashed it at great speed and power and slashed it across Gareth’s backside. A thin line where the cane struck immediately showed across the tight underwear.
Gareth heard the crack of cane on cotton-covered flesh a mini-second before he felt the pain. “Arrrrggg,” the response to agony escaped through his teeth. It felt like his boss had laid a red hot wire across his bum. His hips wriggled and his head shot up and shook about wildly. He gripped the edges of the desk as if his life depended on it. It had been a good tip from Mr Wilkinson. Only by holding on tight did Gareth stop himself jumping to his feet and hopping around clutching his burning bottom.
“Steady.” Mr Wilkinson tapped the cane once more. This time a little lower than he first strike. It landed in the undercurve of the bottom; on the sensitive sit-spot. Gareth howled. His knees buckled and he collapsed across the desktop, whimpering like a little whipped puppy.
Mr Wilkinson stood back to admire his own handiwork. “You felt that,” he said pompously, “Good. That is the point young man. I wish to ensure that this is the first and the last time I have to do this sort of thing. I don’t expect to see you back here again. Now, lift that bottom of yours.”
Gareth forced himself back into position. Mr Wilkinson tapped the cane, took aim and let fly with slash number three. This one went high and it seemed to Gareth that the whole of his backside was ablaze. Was this what it felt like to be forced to sit in a vat of boiling water? Tears flowed uncontrollably. His throat was raw. His head ached terribly. The room continued to spin.
Pain is a strange thing. With three stokes delivered and nine still to come, Gareth, if he had any capacity for thought at that moment, might have expected the pain to increase exponentially (as the mathematicians would say) with each new lash so that it got worse and worse until the agony was beyond endurance and he fell into a dead faint.
But no. The pain seemed to reach a plateau. It was bad, terribly bad, but it got no worse. Was this what was meant by a ‘pain barrier’? Each successive stroke was landed with energy and vim. Mr Wilkinson never let up. He was a man with a mission. Gareth thought his bum had swollen to twice or three times its natural size. It ached like crazy, but after about the fifth stoke it also had gone unaccountably numb. It throbbed. The buttocks pulsated. They burnt. Thick welts weeped beneath his cotton shorts. The surface of his bum now had the consistency of leather. But, the pain did not increase.
Twelve strokes of the cane across the underpants is a severe punishment, even for a twenty-four-year-old and Gareth was a virgin to corporal punishment. He cried quietly, tears rolling down his face. He tried to suppress it but was unable to stop the sobbing. And he couldn’t stop the sniffing nor the noise in the back of his throat as he strained to gulp in the air his lungs needed. He tried to keep as quiet as possible but his whimpering seemed to echo around the large office.
Mr Wilkinson stood impassively observing Gareth gasping for breath like a beached whale. He allowed himself a sardonic smile. A job well done, he congratulated himself silently. This young man would work harder in future. He would observe the rules. Mr Wilkinson assured himself Gareth would become a model worker. After all was said and done, the young man had very little choice.
“Stand. Get dressed. Go. And I don’t want to see you back here again.” Mr Wilkinson was sharp. He had no qualms thrashing the backsides of errant employees, but he always found the final scene of the little drama awkward. He preferred his victims to get out of the office without undue delay.
Gareth gripped the sides of the desk and using his elbows as levers he struggled to get his body into an upright position. His knees wobbled and he fell backwards landing on his savaged backside. He yelped with pain and rolled onto his side. He scrambled to his knees and then hanging onto the desk for support he climbed to his feet. He bent double his head between his knees as he swallowed down lung-fulls of air. His heartrate slowly recovered, but his head was still light. The room didn’t spin so much now. With trembling hands he found his trousers and hoisted them up. The cloth aggravated the welts across his bottom when he pulled the waistband tight and buttoned up.
Mr Wilkinson was at the other side of the office, back at the cupboard, replacing the cane. Back in its home, until the next time. Gareth wiped a gob of snot from under his nose and with great difficulty waddled towards the door. The cuts on his lower bottom chafed as he groped towards the exit.
He made it through the door. Outside in the corridor he stumbled and held onto the wall. The coast was clear, nobody was about. He could not be seen. His hands gently massaged the terrible burn in his backside. He knew that sitting down would be out of the question for most of the day. He did not yet know it but by the next morning he would still be sore but the worst would be gone. The stripes would go from red to black and then yellow during the next few days but it would be almost two weeks before the marks disappeared completely.
He composed himself as best he could and slowly, agonizingly shuffled back towards his office. As he stumbled along he saw another young man almost identical to himself come from the stairwell and pass him on his way to the sales director’s office.
Picture credit: Sting Pictures
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