Today's extract contains one of my favourite themes. It is taken from a story by Fidelio called "Community Care", taken from a collection of stories published by AKS books called Sweet Retribution.
The tale is of a Britain in the future where the State has appointed women to the role of Community Disciplinarians. Offences such as vandalism, car theft, joyriding etc. are all dealt with by the CD's and that means the option of corporal punishment to avoid a criminal record. What's worse for the culprits is that they are named and publicly shamed by their bare bottom punishments being shown on television. The story is narrated by the female Chief Disciplinarian, and the action begins when her assistants arrive.
On cue there is a tap on my door and Maxine and Karen come in, smiling and weary, still in their black night coveralls. I pour coffee for both of them and they flop into chairs to make their report - we're not needlessly formal here, that's the way women work.
They'd had no trade, Karen reports, until 5 am when, in the course of a routine infrared scan of a row of parked cars, Maxine picked up heat emanating from a four-seater. Karen had stopped the van a block further on and they'd checked out the vehicle on the police database via secure microwave link. It had been reported stolen at 9 pm the previous night. The two officers had walked back quietly to the car, electric prods in hand, ready to bleep the fuzz if necessary.
Sure enough there were two couples, one in the front seat, the other in the back. When Maxine had tapped on the window the kids had panicked and tried to drive off. The code for the Engine Authority Processor was of course already loaded into Karen's Personal Digital Activator, and, as the car began to pull away she'd aimed the PDA at the rear numberplate and squirted. A second later the engine died as the nullifying code entered the EAP and killed the spark. At the same time the car doors self-locked. The kid brought the car to a halt - there not being much else he could do - and then all four were taken into custody and put in the back of the van. You don't argue with a standard police issue electric prod and these four didn't.
* * *
The girl in Cell 4 is eighteen years old and dressed tartily in a brief lurex skirt and idiotic silver boots with preposterous heels. She wears no stockings, not even pantyhose, and her hair is short and dyed a fluorescent orange. There is a huge silver earring in her left ear and her face is covered in paint. She has been crying and most of the paint has run down her face.
I explain the situation; the felony of car theft; the misdemeanour of curfew breaking; the choice that lies before her of a court appearance tomorrow, or a thrashing within the next half an hour and a clean sheet afterwards. She weeps a little, swallows hard, and asks, what will the thrashing be like? How many strokes? What with? She spews all these questions out in a terrified rush. I tell her; it will hurt you a lot and make you very ashamed; you will receive one stroke for each year of your age, plus one; the implement will be a punishment strap of the standard weight and length for a girl of your age. I don't tell her it will be digitally recorded, or that she will be restrained across the frame. I don't specifically tell her the punishment will be on her bare bottom, but I think she guesses anyway.
She agrees, weeping, and I give her the form to sign.
Then I say, "You will now be left alone for twenty minutes. During that time you will remove all your clothes and jewellery. You will shower, and wash your face clean of that makeup. You will wash the dye out of your hair if you can. I advise you to make full use of the toilet. You will then put on the clothes my staff will supply. You will then sit on your bed and wait until you are fetched. If you then cooperate, and take your punishment bravely, it will be all over very quickly.
" Any questions?"
No, ma'am," says the girl, as white as a sheet.
* * *
We are now ready. I glance at the Punishment Room clock. Ten fifty one. Just myself, Tess Dean and Liz Donohue in the room - Janine is upstairs in my office holding the fort and watching on the monitor.
I say "We'll start with --,"
Tess and Liz are looking at me expectantly. All my girls are qualified to punish, of course, but they only do so at my discretion. Some Seniors hog all the thrashings to themselves and never let their staff polish their skills. Others are bone idle and delegate everything. The ideal, in my mind, lies between the two. I reserve the more serious punishments to my own right arm; this means the majority of canings and nearly all birchings, but when 'lesser' implements are involved - the strap, the tapette, spankings - I often let my assistants try their hand. I don't know how they are supposed to learn if they never get the chance.
Such a moment has arrived and we all know it.
Tess Dean is the best thrasher in my team, save for me, but I may need her this afternoon and, besides, she's already had one turn this morning. Whereas Elizabeth Donohue is new - recently seconded from the police department - and has not yet used the strap in earnest. I smile at her and say "You're on, Corporal Donohue. Nineteen of the best. Don't worry about the cameras, just do your job as you've been taught, and watch your timing. I'll count the strokes. Keep your eye on me in between strokes. Remember the hand-signals? Good. Fetch her in."
Half a minute later the girl from cell 4 appears in the doorway, framed between my two officers. Her face is pale and clean - she has obediently scrubbed off every last trace of that filthy makeup. Her hair is still lurid orange - presumably a fast dye - and damp; but the horrible earring is gone. She is wearing the regulation punishment smock of dark brown calico, knee-length, with short sleeves. No stockings or socks, just a pair of Turkish-style canvas slippers. Her wrists and forearms are already bound together with an elastic bandage. She eyes the room with scared, wide eyes, then stares at me in mute appeal.
Sometimes I'm asked if I feel sorry for the kids in this situation, especially when they look at me like Bambi eyeing the wolf. My answer is: I'm human, too. But the law must take its course: the only way I am legally able to show compassion is to make the punishment as quick and efficient as circumstances allow. There's no sense in adopting a kind persona - that would only confuse the culprit and possibly undermine the psychological effect of the punishment. A calm, neutral manner is always best; it steadies the nerves of all involved. Afterwards, of course, it's a different matter; then one can be as kind as one wishes, or as the former culprit deserves.
"Efficient and quick" means getting on with things, though without overt rush. I nod to the escort and the girl is marched to the frame. In confusion she starts to bend over the padded bar but Corporal Donohue holds her upright while the kneeling Tess Dean wraps another elastic bandage around the girl's knees, taking every other turn around the central post. She stands up and then the girl is bent forwards. Tess goes to the front of the frame and secures the girl's wrists to the ring, pulling the cord moderately tight. With a gasp the girl stoops even lower. She is now bent into a hairpin shape across the bar, her abdomen supported by thick plastic-coated padding, her thighs resting against the similarly cushioned centre post, her wrists fastened to the base. Tess takes off the brake lever and the entire apparatus rotates forward twelve degrees - there is another frightened gasp at this point - until the imaginary line we call 'Ground Zero' is uppermost. The girl's head and knees are now at the same level and her spine is nearly vertical. Tess puts on the brake.
Corporal Donohue has already tied her hair back and removed her uniform jacket; she is holding the strap in both hands, flexing it thoughtfully, keeping well back out of the way. At my signal, Tess grasps the hem of the brown smock and lifts it all the way up the girl's back, where a velcro pad attaches it to a canvas yoke sewn into the shoulder blades. Without haste, she inserts a thumb into each side of the waist-elastic of the brown calico knickers and draws them down as far as the knees. There is a muffled wail of horror from ground level.
I touch the switch that activates the cameras, and glance at the repeating monitor, paging rapidly through all the views - left elevation, right elevation, top-down, and face close-up (from a lens mounted obliquely in the floor at the foot of the 'donkey'). The title comes up - culprit's name, the offence, the date, the time, the instrument, the number of strokes awarded, the name of the punishing officer, and - still blank - the number of strokes administered.
I speak. "You will receive nineteen strokes of the strap. They will be administered at approximately eight second intervals. You may make as much noise as you wish, though if you are abusive you may receive extra strokes at my discretion. The punishment will now begin. Corporal, do your duty!"
You've probably seen the strappings on Channel 99. There's a right way and a wrong way; the right way is for the punishing officer to hold the strap at both ends, while standing one pace back from her mark. She then takes a stride forward with her left foot (if right-handed), at the same time releasing the tip of the strap with her left hand and swinging it back and up with her right - an ascent angle of 35-40 degrees is considered ideal - then as the weight comes onto the front foot, bringing the weapon round and through in a wide, slighly descending arc. If all has been calculated correctly - the positioning of the mark is of great importance - the last ten inches or so of the blade arrive simultaneously across the width of the bottomcheeks with a sharp smack, printing, for an instant, a perfect rectangular flush across the seat. This flush fades rapidly, but should still be evident when the second stroke arrives. Gradually it seems permanently painted, as it were; the target area - between Ground Zero and the upper thigh - becoming an even, and ever deeper, shade of rose, then scarlet, and finally purple if it has been an unusually severe strapping.
Corporal Donohue lives well up to expectation. As is so often the case with girls in our Department, Liz is unusually tall, with a long reach and a lusty swing. And the eye of the excellent tennis player I have heard her to be. The forearm that applies the "swip" again and again, with such accuracy, has no doubt volleyed many hopeful services away into unreachable corners. It is plain the instrument suits her; it is equally plain it does not suit the culprit who, almost from the first, sets up a continuous wailing screech. I glance at the monitor. The close-up shows a wide-open mouth, a waving tongue, and tight-shut eyes from which tears roll freely. I sigh. When she sees the TV recording she'll wish she had made less fuss. But the judicial strap takes many bad girls by surprise.
It's not my practice to remit strokes unless circumstances are exceptional and there is no justification for doing so on this occasion. I let it proceed to the end. Then the girl's knickers are drawn decently up to hide the scarlet bottom, the skirt unhooked and pulled down to conceal the knickers, the frame rotated back to the upright position, the wrists and knees unfastened, and then the girl stands in our midst, howling, her face red and swollen, her skirt clutched to her backside with both hands. I say, "The punishment is over" (as I am legally obliged to do, though I don't think she hears me) and then she's bundled out of the door and back to her cell. She'll be taken home later, after the others have been punished, so she has about half and hour to pull herself together.
Will that be the way of the future for us all?