Felix had already done odd jobs for the firm; he was a serious young man and his work had always been satisfactory. When he heard that we needed temporary workers during the summer holidays, he called me to ask if he could have a job for two or three months while he was waiting to got to university, and I agreed.
He had been working for us for ten days when I asked him for some details about pay slips. He was happy to help me, and just as I was about to leave he said, "You know, there's something I need to ask you. My biggest weakness is that I easily get careless; for instance, I arrive late in the morning and then I have to stay on after work in the evening to get everything done. I need strict discipline, I need someone with a firm hand."
I was a bit surprised at such an open confession, but I didn't let it show. "Thank you for letting me know. I'll see what I can do."
My office is right next to the main entrance and I like to leave my door open, so that my colleagues know they can come and see me, and also so they know that I'm there. And of course it lets me see when people arrive and when they leave. Naturally, after Felix's confession, I kept a close eye on him. Soon I got the impression that he was deliberately showing me how careless he could be, and I wondered if he was trying to provoke me. After a few days I rose to the challenge: that morning he arrived late for a team meeting, and came directly from home instead of from his office. I asked him to stay after the meeting.
"Felix, stay where you are, we have something to discuss."
The others left. Felix and I were left sitting opposite each other.
"Felix, this is the second time you have been late for this meeting, and this time it looks as if you just got out of bed. What do you have to say for yourself?"
"I don't want it to happen again. I expect you to do your job properly." He looked at me without saying anything. His stubbly beard and dark eyes seemed to be daring me to go further. "If I have to, I shall take appropriate action. Don't make me do it!"
"I understand, sir."
Of course he would make me; that was now clear. I had to go on a business trip for two days, and when I got back, I asked Felix's group leader how he had been behaving. When I found out, I told Felix to report to me immediately.
"Felix, as you can imagine, I have asked about your performance in the last couple of days and I'm not satisfied. On two occasions you have missed a deadline for a job. And on another occasion you actually refused to do a task assigned to you. Have you anything to say?"
"No sir, except that it's true."
"I can't go on turning a blind eye. It's clear to me now what you meant before when you spoke about your carelessness, so I think it's time you suffered the consequences."
"Yes, that's how I see it too."
"Do you want me to fire you?"
"No, no! I really want to go on working here."
"Good. But my patience is exhausted. I'll let you know what I decide."
"When will you tell me ... what you're going to do with me?"
"I would like you to come to my apartment at 8pm this evening, then I'll tell you."
"Yes sir. I'll be there."
"I hope so."
Of course, I had already decided what I was going to do with him; whether I would do it that evening depended on his reaction. But I made the necessary preparations. He arrived two minutes early, and I couldn't hide my surprise when I opened the door.
He said, by way of an excuse, "I went home quickly so I could shower and change."
"So I see. Come in."
He was wearing an old T-shirt and tight frayed denim cut-offs that hardly reached down to his thighs. The outfit showed off his muscular body: he was a powerful, good-looking youth hardly twenty years old. And, as he walked past me and into my flat, I noticed the black handkerchief tucked into his right-hand back pocket. I knew he was willing to take a sound thrashing.
"Some wine?" I asked. He nodded, and he looked around the room, paying particular attention to my black leather couch. I didn't ask him to sit down. I opened the wine bottle and poured two glasses, then made myself comfortable on the couch, while he stood before me. "Bring us the glasses," I told him.
He handed one to me. "It's strange," he said, "I feel as if I'm standing in front of my father."
"Can you imagine me as your father?"
"I don't know yet. Ask me when it's time for me to go."
"All right, then let's get down to business. You said you needed strict discipline. What exactly did you have in mind?"
"I don't know, sir. I leave that entirely up to you."
"But you have to accept the discipline, otherwise it won't work. What are you willing to take?"
"I really don't know."
Felix stood uncertainly before me, spun the wineglass in his fingers, shifted uneasily from one foot to the other. I was enjoying the little game. "We're not getting very far: what do you understand by discipline?"
"Well, when I was at school, it usually meant a thrashing. Either I had to bend over in front of the class, and the teacher would pull the seat of my trousers really tight and then cane me, or he would make me stay behind after school, and then I had to take my trousers down."
"I find that hard to believe nowadays."
"I was at a private boarding school, abroad. It was quite usual for the boys to be beaten, very severely."
"But don't you think you're too old for that now?"
"Do you think so?" Felix challenged me. He was blushing deeply, sweat was trickling down his face, he couldn't take his eyes off me. "I suppose it depends."
"On the other person."
"So, if I were to thrash you, you wouldn't think you were too old for it? You could imagine this room being your old classroom?"
"I wouldn't think I was too old for it, quite the opposite. If you do it right it could help me for quite a while."
"And how many strokes do you think you deserve?"
"For the two deadlines I didn't meet, twenty-five strokes each. And for refusing the other job, at least double that."
"You're severe with yourself. That makes a hundred strokes."
"I need severity, sir, I think I told you that."
"You did. And I will be severe. Bring that packing case over here. Then I'll deal with you."
Felix put down his wineglass, and dragged the heavy packing case over to where I was sitting.
"Take your shorts off."
He did as he was told, though not very quickly. Finally he was standing there in just his T-shirt and gym shoes. "Is that all right? Should I bend over or lie on the case?"
"First I want to take a good look at you. Bend over the case and get your backside right up." He obeyed like a well-brought-up adolescent. He was enjoying the preparations as much as I was. "All right. For the first twelve strokes you will bend over and hold on to your ankles. And don't try to get up, otherwise I shall start again from the beginning."
The boy bent over half-naked, ready for punishment; his feet were set widely apart, his knees straight. His muscular legs were thickly covered in dark hairs, his buttocks more sparsely, except in the cleft. His backside twitched slightly. Was he nervous?
I had placed a cane behind the curtains, and a thick belt next to the couch. First I took up the cane, made a few practice swings, then brought it down hard. No reaction. I made the second cut even harder: still no reaction. After the third he gasped a little. And the gasps became louder as stroke followed stroke. I took longer and longer pauses between the cuts, until finally the twelfth burnt across his naked arse. His buttocks were covered with angry weals, from the top down to the thighs.
"May I stand now, sir?" he asked quietly.
"Yes. You can also rub your backside if you want to."
He straightened up and began desperately to massage his buttocks. "Oh God, I need that, but it hurts so much. I haven't had stripes like that for ages. You know how to use a cane."
"It took you long enough to show me how you appreciated it."
"I didn't want to make a sound, but in the end I couldn't help it."
"Well, shall we go on with the discipline, or do you want a break?"
"Since you ask, sir, I think a break would help."
I made him stay standing to attention in front of me and tell me the faults he needed to be punished for. When I told him he had five minutes left, he looked at me and said, "It hurts like hell, but I want it, I need it."
For the next dozen he had to lie on his back on the packing case with his legs above him. This time he writhed and kicked after the first few strokes, but I held him tightly with my free arm. He even tried to rub his buttocks during the caning! He got through this dose with a lot of yelling and crying.
Another break. He didn't ask if he could sit down, and I wouldn't have let him. He had to stand in front of me again, naked from the waist down, and answer my questions about his misbehaviour.
For the rest of his punishment, Felix had to lie over the packing case while I pushed his neck down and lashed him with the belt. The strokes came in quick succession, so that he twisted and kicked. He lost his self-control entirely and began to yell and to cry. But he took his thrashing.
When it was over, he stood before me and promised that his work would improve. Then he gave me a sheepish smile and asked innocently, "But how did you know what I needed?"
I laughed. "Now that it's summer, lots of young lads like you go around in these tight shorts. When I see someone of your age in Bermudas or gym shorts or cut-offs, I know they want to tell me something. They dress like that deliberately."
"What do they want to tell you?"
"They want to say that they're not too old for a good thrashing. They want to say that they're looking for someone to take them in hand. So if you misbehave again at work, you can be sure I'll take your shorts down again and give you what you need. Understand?"