Men, huh? Can't live with 'em. Can't strip 'em and spank 'em. Well actually, you CAN, in this little corner of cyberspace. Around here, fully grown males are at constant risk of humiliating bare bottomed correction - hence the 'humblings' of the title.

Tuesday 30 April 2013

Firm Discipline

"It's not about the money, Stuart. It's a question of trust."

Miranda Wells - fifty-two, sharply suited, severely beautiful - sifted through the collection of expense receipts before her.

"Lord knows," she continued, addressing the young man standing awkwardly on the far side of her desk, "on a good day you're already making more profit for this company in ten minutes' work than this little lot amounts to. You certainly have the talent. But then I think it's fair to say - especially at your tender age, especially at the start of your career - that I'm paying you handsomely for it."

Stuart Freeman - twenty-two, expensively coiffured, boyishly good-looking - said nothing. He studied the carpet at his feet with apparent nonchalance, although he was somewhat betrayed by the flush rising to his cheeks.

After a few seconds Miranda stopped shuffling and began to lay out the incriminating sheets of paper in a neat row, face up, with the solemn formality of a fortune teller dealing from a tarot deck. Each was turned towards Stuart as though to encourage him to think on his betrayal; each foretold a gloomy future.

Miranda carefully straightened up the last sheet. Then she leaned back in her padded leather chair, folded her silk-sleeved arms across her ample bosom, and let her cool gaze rest on her newest and youngest employee for a long, long moment.

"So," she said presently. "Promising future, enviable salary, and yet..." - she waved an elegant hand dismissively above the offending paperwork - "And yet, this. The question is, Stuart... the question is, why?"

Stuart's mouth tightened a little and he offered a small, apologetic shrug - a gesture that had served him well during the schooldays to which he felt himself suddenly transported.

Miranda waited. She studied her fingernails. She let the silence build. Then she sighed. "I have a theory, if you'll indulge me. It's not enough for you to be young and successful and rather pretty, is it? No, you're one of those young men who's happiest when he's breaking the rules. Playing the chancer. Being a bad boy. Are you a bad boy, Stuart?"

That produced something dangerously close to a smirk.

"I'd straighten that face if I were you, young man," said Miranda, "because otherwise I'll happily do it for you." She drummed her fingers briefly on the desk. "Oh, and I'm still waiting for an explanation, but since I've plenty of paperwork to do here then I'm also happy to keep you standing there all morning if need be. What's more - since it's company time you're wasting - every minute you do stand there is another minute you'll be sat at your desk this evening making up for it."

She peered at him over the steel frames of her spectacles. "Assuming, that is, that you're lucky enough to have a desk to go back to."

That, at least, had some effect. Stuart cleared his throat.

"Miranda, I..."

"...mmm sorry I falsified my hotel claims?"

"Well, yes, but I..."

"...never imagined I might get caught?" Miranda retrieved one of the receipts and glanced at it briefly before holding it out towards her young underling. "You know, considering how much Mummy and Daddy must have spent on your top-flight education, you can't spell for toffee. It's been a while since I stayed at the Hilton, but I'm pretty sure that the last time I did they were still only writing the name of it with one L."

Stuart's face reddened further. "I was going to say that I... made a mistake, it won't happen again. And I need to be getting on with that report."

Miranda continued to regard him evenly as though he hadn't spoken at all. Then she reached across, slid open a desk drawer and began to extract its contents. Stuart watched as a pen holder, a glass paperweight and a pocket calculator appeared on the desk before her.

"You know," Miranda was saying as she worked, "there are many different approaches to people management. Some bosses, for instance, are rather squeamish about discipline. Theirs is a warm, fluffy world where incentive is all about praise and reward - the proverbial 'carrot'. Personally, I've always been more of a..." - and here she retrieved what she'd been hunting for, and laid it flat upon the desk - "...stick girl."

Stuart gazed in confusion at the pale wooden paddle. It was about eighteen inches long, drilled with a neat grid of circular holes and coated in a thick varnish that gleamed under the flourescent light. It held his attention all the time that Miranda was uncrossing her long legs, rising from her chair and stepping out from behind her desk to stand behind him.

It distracted him so completely that he jumped a little when she spoke again.

"The fact is, I'd been thinking of awarding you a little bonus after the way you turned around the Williams account last month. But sadly it now seems rewards are not appropriate." She paused to pick a fleck of lint, real or imaginary, from his shoulder, and as she did so her mouth came within an inch of his ear. "No, it seems you've already been a greedy little donkey," she said. "No carrot for you."

Miranda took a step back and was busy rolling up her sleeve when Stuart summoned the courage to turn his head and glance behind him. Miranda caught his gaze and said, "Take off your jacket and hand it to me."

He opened his mouth to say something, to be the bad boy, but nothing came out of it. Instead he slipped the garment from his shoulders, passed it into Miranda's oustretched hand and watched as she deposited it on a coat stand in the corner of the office. As she turned to retake her position behind him he found himself unable to meet her eye, and faced the desk again. He felt a little dizzy, and pressed his fingertips against the cool wood to steady himself.

The paddle tugged at his gaze, but he made himself concentrate on a large painting hung behind the chair that he had never studied before. It featured a somewhat familiar depiction of a Biblical scene: to the left were Adam and Eve, falling prey to temptation; to the right, the same couple being banished from the Garden. "The Fall of Man, by Michelangelo." Miranda was at his ear again. "Somewhat appropriate, don't you think?"

She placed a proprietary hand against the small of Stuart's back, and used it for support as she leaned past him - one firm breast brushing his arm as she did so - to separate the papers on the polished walnut desktop. She arranged them in two columns, with a space between them the width of a man's torso. "As I'm sure you're aware," she was saying, "You're two weeks from the end of your probation period. And you were doing so well, too. I think it's possible you still have a bright future - yes, even in my employ. But that does depend upon us understanding one another."

Stuart braced himself as she leaned further, stretching to reach the paddle before turning it over appraisingly in her hand.

"It'd be a pity to lose you, Stuart," said Miranda.

Janine Peters - twenty-seven, bespectacled, vacantly pretty - sat at her computer in the outer office, ignoring the thirty-four unopened emails in her inbox but paying rapt attention to the telephone conversation she was having with a friend. She held the receiver expertly under her chin so that she could paint her nails while she talked. "Yeah, he's in there now... yep... oh, he said to discuss his salary. Yeah, he's a cocky one - told me he'd mailed Miranda this morning to set up a meeting - told her that she could either pay him an extra ten thousand or watch him walk. Funny thing is, I checked her calendar this morning? And he didn't make that appointment. She did."

She switched the receiver to her left ear and began to work on her other hand.

"What's that, Kel? Oh yeah, he's pretty cute. If he gets that extra ten thou then I might just let him take me out to... wait, hang on a sec."

Janine held her breath and listened, one nail half-painted, the brush poised in mid-air. Yes, there it was again - somewhat muffled by the thick office door, but unmistakable. Like a firecracker being let off in the next street.

Janine shifted her bottom on her chair, as if at some uncomfortable recollection. "Kelly," she said, "I have to go. No, I'll call you tonight. No, really. Kel... later. Later. Bye. Bye." Janine hung up the phone and cocked her head, mouth slightly open, for a few more seconds. Then she turned back to her computer and started to work, harder than she'd done in weeks.

Within the office, Stuart's customary smirk was long gone. Had you been able to see his expression - and you'd need to have positioned yourself carefully, since his forehead was pressed against the desktop and his formerly perfect fringe was in disarray around his eyes - then you might have called it a grimace.

Miranda's features, by contrast, were set in a serene smile as she drew back the paddle again and cast an approving eye over the tight trouser seat to which she had already applied it, five times, good and hard. Thirty years in executive roles had given her an appreciation of a well-cut suit.

"Burns rather, doesn't it Stuart?" she smiled. "At least, that's what they tell me."

Stuart said nothing, but panted his agreement. Sucking air through his clenched teeth, he lifted his head just far enough to allow a small double-nod - also just far enough for him to bump it against the polished wood as Miranda swung again, the shock of the impact propelling him momentarily forward onto his toes and taking his breath away.

Miranda watched patiently as he absorbed the agony, fingers clenching and unclenching, knees flexing unsteadily.

"I hope we've cleared up any misunderstanding," she said. "I employ you to take money from our clients. Not from me." Then she gently placed the paddle back onto the desk next to her prone employee. "Alright, up you get. You may go back to work."

When Miranda's office door opened again, Janine made sure that she could be seen tapping diligently at her keyboard. However it was Stuart who emerged, red-faced and somewhat dishevelled. Closing the door carefully behind him, and with the briefest of glances in Janine's direction, he made his way - somewhat stiffly - past her desk.

"Get that raise?" asked Janine, not too loudly, and with a barely suppressed smirk.

"She's... thinking about it," replied Stuart, a little more shakily than he'd intended. "She says I..." He stopped, for the door had opened once more behind him.

"Janine, while it's fresh in my mind," said Miranda, "I'd like you to make some adjustments to Mr Freeman's salary this month. One day's pay deducted... no, better make it two. Just add a note against the alteration - 'Company time and materials wasted'. Oh, and Mr Freeman's expense claims have been rejected for this month. All of them."

Janine shot a glance at the young man, who had stopped in his tracks. He did not return her gaze.

"Oh, and Stuart," Miranda continue from the doorway. "If I have to do this again... bare bottom next time."

Miranda made to turn back into her office, but was struck by another thought. "Oh, and Janine - the phone bill arrived this morning. I'd have thought you'd remember our little discussion about private calls on company time. But if not, I'll be happy to repeat it."

Then she turned on her heel, leaving her employees to exchange astonished looks, and closed the door behind her.