I didn’t tell Hansie so, but he was actually very funny on the subject of the state Nick had been in when he came home from Turkey. He complained again, as he complained every time he went round there and Nick was somewhere else, that Nick was neglecting Fran shamefully and Something Should be Done About It (mind you, not even Hansie is stupid enough to interfere with Fran’s life, so this was a generic Something to be done by a non-specific Someone); he then added that Nick was working far too hard, doing far too much, and that he needed a decent break, and that Someone Should Do Something About That Too, because it was a public disgrace that a man with Nick’s dedication to his work should be so abused. I’m not sure if he really can’t see that he’s making contradictory statements. Where Fran is concerned, Hansie isn’t wholly rational. He’s getting over the jealousy, I think, but there’s something else going on in his head now and I don’t know what it is – except that he criticises Nick furiously and unconvincingly. I’ve stopped saying anything about it, largely because I can’t work out what to say. Anyway, I agreed with him that it sounded as if Nick needed a holiday, and suggested delicately that nonetheless we should perhaps mind our own business on the subject, but that we could maybe invite them over some time, and give them a meal. I’ve eaten things Fran has cooked; competent is the best one can call her, and I don’t get the idea that Nick is any better.
It was a bit ‘let’s do lunch!’ although we would have sorted something some time, until we met Nick in town. He was running – said he had been late for everything all day and was losing his grip – and hadn't time to chat, but he looked rather wistfully at us, and said, “When are you guys coming round? We haven’t seen anything of you – well, I haven’t – in weeks. Why don’t you come round on Friday night? We’re going away on Monday, we’re going to Scotland for a week or so. Come round, Hansie, we haven’t had a chance to talk in ages.”
Of course Friday did have to be the day we couldn’t do and. . . and Hansie was saying, to my utter astonishment, “Ja, that would be nice, but Phil and Piet are coming over. You come too, though. We will get a takeaway.”
“No, you come to us. We haven’t had any sort of housewarming, and hardly any visitors. Bring Phil and de Vries and yes, we’ll get a takeaway.”
“If that will be all right with Fran, then yes, that would be pleasant. I will call Phil and Piet, they will not mind. Seven or thereabouts?” And so it was arranged, and I hauled my jaw up off the floor, with a major effort, and didn’t say anything. Not anything.
It feels very odd, standing on what used to be your own doorstep and ringing what used to be your own doorbell. Fran and Nick have arranged the sitting room the opposite way round to how we had it, and that was odd too, but we hardly had time to comment before Piet and Phil arrived. Nick let them in, and started at once to sort drinks.
“Is anybody driving?” (Policeman’s question, I suppose.)
Nobody was; we would go home by taxi. We had brought a bottle and so had Piet, although Hansie expressed a willingness to drink beer with Nick.
“Phil, this is yours. . .”
“Thanks, Nick, so this must be Viper’s.”
Since when did Phil revert to calling Piet ‘Viper’? He did it several times, though, and Piet didn’t seem to find it odd. I opened my mouth at one point to comment on it, and Piet shot me a Look, and the phrase which left my brain of ‘What’s with the ‘Viper’, Phil?’ had mutated to ‘How’s the start of training, Phil? Are you involved with all this dispute about central contracts?’ by the time it reached my mouth. Phil used to complain that Piet did that to him about twice a day. Meanwhile, Piet had spotted the mobile phone on the coffee table.
“A new phone, Fran?”
Nick glanced over. “No, it’s mine. My old one died and I traded it in against this. Wish I’d gone for something simpler, actually. Apparently it will allow me to do my emails and so on, although I can’t for the life of me think why I would want to, and I had to take it downstairs and get one of the cadets to set it up for me. I couldn’t make anything of the instruction book at all.”
Hansie laughed. “When I changed mine, I took it to the rugby club and had one of the fourteen year olds show me how it worked. They just seem to know, hey? They don’t read any instructions at all. Is that one a camera phone?”
“Oh yes, and so far I’ve taken one picture of my thumb, one of my feet and one of the inside of my ear. Very useful.”
Anyway, we talked, and Nick and Hansie were perfectly sociable, and Fran was in good form, and presently we ordered about three times as much food as anybody could possibly want from the Kerala, and ate almost all of it. We were at the comfortable stage where Fran was curled up against Nick, and Phil was leaning on Piet’s legs, when Hansie raised the question of the holiday.
“So where are you going, hey? Scotland, Nick said?”
“Near Melrose. We’d have liked to go further north, but we couldn’t get flights to suit, so we’re taking the car. It’s about eight hours from here, but we’re going Monday lunchtime and we’ll split it, spend the night with my mum, get there the back of lunchtime on Tuesday. Nick’s working the weekend and then he’s actually got ten days’ leave, so we can afford to lose a day in travelling. I found a rather fancy organisation on the internet, one of those ones which specialises in unusual locations or houses, and we booked a gorgeous little thing, a folly in the grounds of a country house. The brochure’s here somewhere – behind you, Hansie, I think. Yes, that one. It’s the first one in the Scotland section.”
Hansie flicked the pages politely, took one look at the illustration – and whooped with laughter. “Nick, you can’t go here! It isn’t safe!”
Pardon? I reached for the leaflet and looked at what was amusing him so. Fran was right, it was charming, a circular wooden structure surrounded by trees, with the glint of water between them. The description sounded good too: the top floor had one large bedroom with a balcony and a bathroom with spa bath, and the ground floor had a single room with one end laid out as a kitchen and the other as a sitting-diner, and a verandah. I glanced up at Hansie again. “What’s so funny? I think it looks lovely.”
“Ach, look at it, Tim. What is it?” I must have looked blank, because Phil reached over to take the brochure from my hand. He plainly saw what Hansie did, because he laughed too. “Well, I wouldn’t go, Hansie. We know what that means. Scream and bolt, Nick, that’s my advice.”
The rest of us exchanged bewildered glances. “I do not know, koekie, and I think Nick is totally confused. What is wrong with this house?”
Hansie giggled again. “It isn’t a house, Piet. It’s a cabin. A cabin in the woods. You should stay home, Nick; I am telling you fersure, nothing good ever happens to a Bottom in a cabin in the woods. You will last ten minutes and then you will be in deep disgrace for trying to go swimming without permission or eating chocolate.”
Fran laughed, and took the picture back for another look. “I suppose it is; I didn’t spot that. Might be fun.”
“Hansie, do not tease Nick; I know what you mean, but I do not suppose he does, and you will worry him. Nick, these foolish boys have been reading pornography.”
Somehow, that didn’t seem to reassure him; he looked decidedly uncomfortable. It can’t be easy for him, the only straight man when we get together. Piet smiled reassuringly again. “Relax, boet, it is not very dreadful. There is a style of story which we know, involving pairings who go on holiday together. Fran, you know these?”
She nodded. “I’ve done illustrations a couple of times. ‘Stripe’ magazine used to carry a holiday story every couple of months. I’d forgotten them – we used to do the pictures in Norfolk. Bloody freezing, it was, but there was a holiday village with those Scandinavian chalets which we used out of season.”
“Oh, those,” I said with some distaste. “I could never get my head round them. Why was it assumed that everybody always went on holiday to a cabin in the woods? Why did nobody ever go to Rome or Amsterdam? Why a cabin, of all things?”
“Oh, I know that,” said Fran, cheerfully. “I asked the same question once. It’s because most of the writers are Americans, and they get tax breaks for a house, so lots of couples actually do own something of the sort. It doesn’t make any sense here because we get taxed more on something we don’t live in full time, not less, unless it’s a commercial let.”
Nick was beginning to relax a little. “Yes, but why should I scream and run? I mean, if somebody Phil’s size is scared of cabins in the woods, presumably I should be hiding under the bed and refusing to go?”
“Ja,” confirmed Hansie. “Very bad idea, cabin in the woods.”
“Why? Mad axe murderer? ‘Blair Witch Project?’ What?”
We hastened to fill him in on the major clichés of slash holiday fiction, and succeeded only in confusing him completely. “Why am I not allowed chocolate?”
“Because it will make you hyper, boet. You will not be allowed coffee for the same reason: the caffeine will make you over-excited and you will do something foolish. You may not have a cup of coffee nor a chocolate bar after three o’clock; you will drink tea all day and then hot chocolate at bedtime, with marshmallows.”
He thought about that for a moment, and put his finger on the flaw in the argument. “How come chocolate isn’t allowed and hot chocolate is? And I hate marshmallows, it’s like trying to eat a pillow. And come on, everybody knows that there’s a fair amount of caffeine in tea, specially in tea the way you get it in a police station.”
Hansie shrugged, and took a turn. “You will go swimming in the lake without Fran’s permission, and it will end badly. She will not allow you to go less than two hours after your meal, and when you do she will be annoyed.”
Nick gave him the sort of look I could imagine him giving a juvenile delinquent with a thin story to explain how he came to be driving the JCB. “If Fran thinks I’m going bathing in a Scottish loch at this time of year, she’s got another think coming. I had to break the ice on the outside pool when I did my lifesaving course, and after that, I decided that if the water isn’t 32 degrees, you can drown for all I care.”
Hansie nodded. “Well, that will probably work. Fran will forbid you to bathe until four o’clock, so when she falls off the jetty, you will not be permitted to go in after her. I don’t remember reading that one, but I’m sure I should have done. What else is there, boys?”
“Interminable standing in corners,” said Phil, gloomily. “Oh, and people getting their mouths soaped.”
“Well, but that is unpleasant,” objected Hansie. “My mother used to do it, and I hated it.”
“My grandmother did it,” offered Nick, “but if you can cope with the meals at an English inner city primary school, soap holds no fears. She never understood why I didn’t complain more.”
“Writing lines, going to bed early. . .” continued Phil.
“I don’t have a problem with going to bed early,” objected Nick. “Sounds like a good idea to me.”
“Brats are always being sent to bed at six o’clock. On their own.”
“Less good. Why are they sent to bed at six o’clock?”
Piet laughed. “Because they are overtired and unreasonable, as evidenced by the fact of telling their Tops that they are not. Arguing with your Top is a sure sign of being overwrought and in need of a spanking and going to bed, as I regularly tell Phil.” He sighed. “Unfortunately, he does not believe me, and he is growing too large for me to enforce my edicts.”
“I am not going to be sent to bed,” said Phil, firmly. “Taken to bed, that’s different. And I’ll negotiate over the spanking. Anyway, the Brat spends most of his time in bed because he has to nap for an hour after lunch, God knows why. It’s hardly surprising nobody sleeps at night. What else is there? Fizzy drinks and junk food, for a start. You aren’t allowed either. No Coke because of the caffeine and the sugar, although why they don’t just drink the caffeine-free diet one I don’t know, and all junk food makes you go mad or your hair fall out or something. Except popcorn, which is compulsory. As is ice cream, about half the time. The rest of the time it’s forbidden. That’s sugar again, you aren’t allowed it except when you are. Oh, and all Brats have allergies, for some reason; got any allergies, Nick?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, I’m allergic to pseudoephedrine. You know, the stuff in decongestants? That actually does make me hyper, stops me sleeping and the rest.”
“And what do you do about it?” I asked.
He stared at me, blankly. “I don’t take decongestants. What else is there to do?”
“You don’t get Fran to forbid you to take them, and then take them anyway?”
“No,” he said, in total bewilderment. “Why would I take something that’s going to make me feel dreadful later?”
“Not a proper Brat, then,” I confided to the others. “A proper Brat would be mainlining Sudafed every time he sniffled, and complaining to his Top about feeling bad. It’s what they do, Nick. There are so many rules about what they aren’t allowed to do or eat or drink that they can’t apply basic common sense to pick out the ones that genuinely do matter.”
Nick considered. “I’m going to have real trouble with this, you know. A detective lives on intravenous caffeine, usually through muddy coffee but canned drinks will do in a pinch, chocolate, cigarettes, doughnuts and junk food. If you ban those, it’s going to do something horrible to our clear up rates, I’m telling you, and there’ll be rioting on the streets from the uniformed branch.”
“Fishing,” I remembered. “You have to go fishing. Fishing’s mandatory. Can you fish, Nick?”
He shook his head. “Can you?”
The only one of us who admitted to ever having fished was Hansie. “Ach, I gave it up after a holiday in Natal. It was salt water fly fishing, you know? And it must have been the spawning season or something, because every wave that came in threw up fish onto the shore. For every fish I caught myself, there were half a dozen just landed at my feet: very demoralising. But you will need to learn, Nick. You cannot go on a holiday in a cabin and not fish. It is probably not legal.”
“I’m not sure I want to go to this cabin at all,” he admitted, half way between laughter and mock-panic. “It sounds totally incomprehensible. I think Phil’s right, I should scream and run.”
“We will look after you,” promised Piet, leaning forward and lifting Nick’s phone. “See, we will put an emergency number on here. There, V for Viper. You will call us and the cavalry will ride to the rescue.” And it all ended in laughter.
It was after we had gone home that Hansie came up with the idea. We were still giggling about Fran taking Nick to a cabin – well, we had drunk quite a lot – and Hansie said something about having been surprised by Piet. “He knew all about it. I would not have expected that.”
“Why wouldn’t he?”
“Piet? Looking at that sort of website? Or magazines?”
“I was more interested in what was going on with Phil. Why was Phil suddenly calling him ‘Viper’ again?”
“Ach, ja, I saw that. It is, I think, because Nick isn’t quite sure how to talk to Piet, hey? He doesn’t like to call him by his first name, have you noticed? And he doesn’t know how else to address him.”
“Ah, I see. So you think Piet has set up Phil to show Nick that ‘Viper’ will do?”
“Ja, I think so. And also that Piet gives Nick a phone number, as you do to your friends: he implies that he expects Nick will at some time call him, that they know each other well enough. You saw what I meant about Nick, though, Tim? He’s too thin, too tired, although he looks a lot better than when I saw him last. He is ready for his holiday.”
“Maybe a week in a cabin with early bedtimes and a strict Top will do him good,” I giggled, sliding under the duvet. “He must have thought we were mad.”
Hansie wriggled over to my side of the bed. “Tell you what, Tim (turn out the light), tomorrow we will track down some of the sillier stories, and email him the links. Or. . .” his voice trailed off, and then I felt the tremor of him starting to giggle. “Tim, I have a lovely idea. Let us give him a Brat Pack to take on holiday.”
It took him some time to stop giggling enough to make any sense, and I had my doubts about it. “You don’t think he might find it. . . well, a bit pointed? I mean, do we know him well enough to tease him that way?”
“Ja, I think so. Whatever you think against him” – whatever I think against him, Hansie? You’re the one who insists. . . oh, never mind – “he doesn’t stand on his dignity. He can take a joke against himself.”
“Yes, but can Fran? Would she be put out?”
“Ach, we can get round Fran.”
“Hansie, I know you’re older than me, but I think we agreed that there were more miles on my clock. I’ve done a lot of odd things, and I’m not proud of some of them, but unlike you, I have never been topped by a woman, and all things considered I’d like to keep it that way.”
“She cannot hurt us, Timmy.”
“Excuse me, but that’s not what you said before. As I recall, when Phil asked if it were true that Fran topped you and what it was like, your precise response was ‘ja, and it stung like fuck’. I do not want Fran pissed off with me. She’s as big as I am, and if she fixed me with that Look, I think my brain might melt and I might do all sorts of things I don’t want to.”
“Ach, Timmy, you are not afraid of Fran?”
“Oh yes I am, thank you very much. And I rather suspect that where Nick is concerned, Fran could be very toppish indeed.”
But he talked me into it. Well, given what he was doing and where his hands were, I would have agreed to anything, just as long as he didn’t stop.
Reasonably relaxed Monday morning. There’s a lot to be said for going away straight after lunch – packing the car isn’t quite such a scramble and you manage to get everything inside in a sensible order. At least that was the plan: get up in good time and do it without a panic. It did at least mean that when Tim and Hansie called at a quarter to eight, we were both up and dressed and onto our second cups of coffee.
“We’re not stopping,” said Hansie cheerfully. “We have a gift for Nick.”
Nick, with some justification, looked suspicious.
“It’s all right, it’s nothing illegal,” Tim assured him. “We just thought that you might not have everything you needed. So this is for you, and you have to promise that you won’t open it until you get to Scotland. That applies to you too, Fran, no opening it because only Nick promised. Scotland.”
“Am I going to regret this?” asked Nick, accepting the box cautiously.
“Only if you open it in public,” smirked Hansie. “Now, we must get on, or we will be late for work. Come, Tim, we will retreat in good order. Send us a postcard, have a lovely time, call us when you come home, ja?”
I don‘t trust Hansie when he looks like that. Tim is generally provided with ample good sense, but when he kicks over the traces he tends to follow it up by smashing the cart to pieces – and Hansie has a most remarkable ability to persuade him to do something. . . unhelpful. Still, we had promised not to open the parcel until we got to Scotland, so it sat in the back of the car like surplus ordnance all through that day. We forgot it later – Nick had never met my mother, and it’s been a very long time since I felt any urge to introduce any of my. . . associates to her. It was a little tense, as such things always are, although they were each primed to like the other. And my mother showed us both into the spare room, the one with the double bed, and even at my age I find that disconcerting.
So by the morning I had largely forgotten about the box; Nick had not. The minute we crossed the border, he was looking for a lay-by, and announcing that it was my turn to drive; the minute I had my seat belt fastened and the car in gear, he was reaching for the box.
“Go on, then, what’s in it?”
“Ummmmm. Well. A great wad of paper on the top, for a start. Hang on, Hansie's written a note on it:
‘Dear Nick, here are some typical examples, just to let you know what you’re up against. (It seems to be printouts of stories.) We’ve provided the usual props, but we couldn’t think of how to give you a carton of ice-cream so there’s a box of chocolate fudge brownie mix instead. You ought to have a horror film which you’ll be forbidden to watch, but there isn’t one on terrestrial TV this week and we don’t know what else you’ll have, so we’ve enclosed a DVD. (It’s ummm. . . something about zombies, from the remaindered bin, at a guess. Yes, look, any 3 for £5.) The nibbly things are, as far as we can tell, composed entirely of artificial additives. (It’s one of those Bombay mix types which looks like remnants from the bottom of an ashtray.) You ought to have a tube of factor 150 sunscreen as well, but we couldn’t see that you would need it in Scotland at this time of year, mildew remover being more likely, so we thought you might get more use of this. (And this is. . . edible massage cream. How thoughtful. With peppermint and lemongrass.) Enjoy your holiday.‘
I tried to keep my face straight. Nick lifted the paper out of the box. “There’s more. There’s. . . a packet of extra high caffeine ground coffee. Six cans of Coke, heaven knows what we’re going to do with them, I hate the stuff. A bar, no, two bars of chocolate, large, one of them with caramel filling. A packet of biscuits. Why a packet of biscuits? Oh, it’s Oreos. I wonder where they managed to find those? Hell, two packets of popcorn, one sweet and one salted. How are you with popcorn, Fran?”
“Hate it. It’s like eating ceiling tiles. You’re welcome to it.”
“Ah. I don’t eat it either, not even at the cinema. Is it compulsory?”
“I believe so, although it’s been a long time since I saw that sort of story. Anything else?”
He laughed. “A set of water wings, suitable for ages five to eight. And a large wooden backed hairbrush.”
“Everything we could possibly need for a week’s role-play.”
“I’d better read this up then, hadn't I?”
“Can you read in the car? It always makes me dreadfully travel sick.”
“Doesn’t trouble me, and the font size is decent, so I should be all right. Hang on, where’s the CD case? Ummmm. . . Roxy Music O.K. for you?”
He read solidly for a hundred and twenty miles, giving occasional snorts of amusement. When he finished the last one, I glanced over.
“I’m telling you, Sergeant Milton, if that’s the best we’ve got by way of witness statements, I’m not happy about taking the case to court. Any halfway competent defence lawyer will have that lot in shreds in ten minutes. Not even consistent. Phil was right, nobody’s allowed any sugar until they’re upset when they all have ice cream and ginger ale. The canned drink thing. . . I don’t actually know any adults who drink that sort of quantity of fizzy stuff, do you? I mean, we don’t have it in the house except as mixers, and I know the IT people at work drink quite a lot but I don’t think there’s one of them out of their teens and it doesn’t seem to hurt them. It won’t do their teeth any good, but there isn’t enough caffeine or colouring or E numbers or whatever to do an average adult much harm, not unless it’s somebody with a very low body weight. What’s behind it, do you know?”
I shook my head. “I read enough of that sort of fiction to get a feel for it so that I could put in appropriate pictures. I wasn’t interested enough to read it for its own sake, but I got the idea that a lot of the fictional Brats are borderline ADHD. It’s never actually said, but I can’t think of another reason for the degree of physical control that they seem to need over their diet and bedtimes and whatnot, or their inability to hold down proper full time jobs with a bit of stress involved. So if I forbid you to drink Coke, do we have a problem?”
“Awwwwww, Fraaaaaaaaaaaaaannn! It’s not faaaair!”
I nearly put the car in the ditch, laughing. “That’s a gorgeous whine. Who taught you to do that?”
“Darling, I arrest about five teenagers a week. I can do a good ‘Aw, MAN!’ too; does that fit?”
“You’re getting the hang of this, obviously. Want to play, then?”
Oh, fair enough. Until he added, sulkily, “And I don’t see what business it is of yours if I do eat Spangles for breakfast.”
I spared a brief moment to fear that we were showing our age – they stopped making Spangles in about 1982 – and simply ran with it.
“Because, young man, boiled sweets are not a suitable breakfast food, and apart from anything else, the E numbers on an empty stomach will make your eardrums explode.”
He gave a snerk of laughter. Fifteen love to Fran. Presently he asked, “Are we stopping for lunch?”
“Sure. You’ve got the map: where looks promising?”
“There’s a big junction in about another fifteen miles, and where there’s a junction there will be a burger place.”
“But Fran. . .”
“No. We are not stopping at a burger place. We can get off the main road and find a pub, or stop in a village and buy a sandwich. No burgers. No chips, no fizzy drinks. No.”
He managed a very creditable flounce, in the style of Vivian Leigh, and allowed his lip to protrude. “I want a burger.”
“I’m beginning to think that what you want is a spanking. Sandwich or pub. Choose.”
He considered. “Both. Let’s find a pub and have a small something. I don’t want a big meal at this time of day.”
“You’d have been properly sunk if I’d agreed to the burger. You hate burgers.”
“I don’t hate proper home made ones. Those ones Hansie did for us on the barbecue were good. I just don’t like fast food ones, they give me indigestion. Look, if you turn off here. . .”
We arrived at the Roundhouse at about three, collecting the key from the main house and bumping down the unmade road for another mile. It was as pretty as it had been in the brochure, and Nick eased the car to a halt at the door.
“Let’s get unpacked and have a cup of tea first, I’m gasping.”
“No, I want to go down to the water! I want to see!”
“I’ve had about enough of this, young man. You can just take that key and go inside and find yourself a corner, while I bring the cases in, and then we’ll have a little talk about your manners. Take that box with you.”
He cast me a glance, lifted the box, and his own case, and went. I stopped to stretch the kinks out of my spine before following him, and met him in the porch, helpless with laughter.
“We’ve got a problem, Fran.” He ushered me into the main space of the Roundhouse with a sweeping gesture. “No corners.”
It was true. The inside was as round as the outside, and the furniture had been placed away from the walls. Not a corner to be seen. What’s a Top to do?
“Bugger. Get the kettle on and I’ll think about it. Actually, have we got anything to make tea with?”
He went to explore in the kitchen. “Yes, look, there’s a welcome pack. Tea, coffee, milk, bread, butter. You make tea, I’ll get the cases upstairs.”
He came down again looking smug. “The bath is something from a porn film. We’ll both get in that, no problem.”
“Any corners up there?”
“Not good ones, but yes, because the bathroom’s closed off the way the kitchen isn’t. And the view from the balcony is to die for. Listen, what have we got to do this afternoon? Do we want to shop?”
I had been looking through the pile of brochures and local information on the kitchen worktop. “There’s a big supermarket in the town, late night opening. Let’s make the most of the daylight and shop later. We can get something easy to eat tonight.”
He came up behind me, snuggled against me and kissed the back of my neck. “Stuff the daylight. I thought I was supposed to have a nap in the afternoons?”
“Well, yes, there’s that. . . tea first, though.”
“And what about a biscuit? What did I do with that box?” He ripped the packet open, and passed me an Oreo, taking one himself. I turned round in time to catch his expression as he took a bite. He chewed and swallowed before gazing at the remnants with a look of some suspicion. “I have got this right, haven’t I? Americans eat these?”
“I believe so. Why?”
“You eat it.”
For once his control was better than mine. I retrieved a piece of kitchen roll, and spat, inelegantly. “That has got to be one of the most disgusting things I’ve ever tasted. Here, look, the welcome pack has some digestives.”
“Shall I just bin these?”
“Yes. . . No! No, keep them.”
His look of suspicion deepened. “Why?”
“Easy alternative to mouth soaping.”
“Oh, you bitch!”
“Thank you. Now, about your nap. . .”
He flounced again, and turned a shoulder on me. “Don’t want a nap. I want to go out.”
“You know quite well that if you don’t have a nap now, you won’t be fit for mad mink sex at midnight. Now get up those stairs before I decide that you need a spanking as well.”
“I beg your pardon?”
“I don’t want to!”
“Did you just stamp your foot at me, mister? I think you need reminding that you don’t speak to me that way. And you don’t say ‘no’ to me, either. I’ll just. . .”
“If you’re looking for the hairbrush, I left the box under the table to be out of the way.”
“Oh, thanks. Right, where was I? These stairs are too narrow for me to hold your ear all the way up, you’ll just have to take it as read. Go on, that’s. . . good grief.”
“It is, isn’t it? The only bed I’ve ever seen bigger than that is Phil’s.”
“When did you see Phil’s bed? Should I be worried about this?”
“No, it was that day I went running with him. The Viper took me up to the bathroom and the spare towels were in their room. Their bed is about the size of Glasgow. Do you want me to stamp and sulk again?”
“No, I want you to get those jeans off while I draw the curtains.”
Later in the day. . . what? Mind your own business. Later in the day we went into town to look for the supermarket, and on our way out again we passed the coffee shop. Nick glanced in, and then stopped short. “Wait a minute, Fran, I’ll be right back. . .” And he was gone, towards two uniformed officers who were calmly drinking coffee. I leaned on the trolley, putting together a brief and pithy statement to issue on the subject of Men Who Can’t Leave Their Work At Work, and watched as he spoke to them, flashed his warrant card, and then sat down with them. One of them produced a notebook, wrote for a couple of minutes, and then tore out the sheet, passing it to Nick, who rose, smiling, and came away.
“This had better be good.”
“If you want to know the time, ask a policeman. Or, these days, if you want to know where to eat. . . Best Chinese takeaway locally, best Indian, best Thai, best Greek, best chip shop, names of three good pubs. Go on, be impressed.”
“I am impressed; I’m very impressed. Come on, help me get this stuff into the car. I am sufficiently impressed that I will offer you a reward.”
“A reward? I thought I was more likely to be told off for mixing with police types.”
“I’ll do that later if you like. No, before we came away I did a little research and I found an event. Even in Scotland they play, you know, and there’s something called. . . hang on, I printed it off. There’s a big venue called the Aerodrome, miles out of town, apparently, and a do this weekend. Want to go? Something called Lightning Strikes. I think it might be quite a big deal.”
He thought about it. “Go and. . . do what?”
“Whatever we like. Play, if we feel comfortable. Watch, if we don’t want to play. Come home early if we find it scary. It’s quite specific for people like us, it’s not a mix and match event like that one in Poison, but I think it’s fairly serious. Not if you don’t like the idea, but we’re a good long way from home if you wanted to try branching out a little.”
He spared me a glance from the traffic. “I haven’t brought a white shirt. Or my collar.”
“I packed both for you. And a selection of toys too. And I believe they have an equipment fair in a side room, so we might pick up something new.”
“Do you want to go?”
“Not if it’s too much, or too soon for you. I’ve been to that sort of thing before.” I thought he was going to refuse, for a moment, but he was smiling.
“And you promise you’ll keep me safe from scary Tops with candlewax and razors?”
“I’ll mark you as my exclusive property and no one will dare touch you.”
He shuddered pleasurably. “I’d like that.” He would, too. Neither of us is one for piercings or tattoos, and branding turns my stomach, but I know the notion of being marked as mine turns him on. I’ll have to think of a way to do it. I can put a tag on his collar, but it’s a bit obvious.
There was time when we got back to sit out on the verandah with a drink. The light was nearly gone, but what there was reflected off the water behind the house, and I could hear bats in the trees. I was just thinking of going back inside when Nick eased an arm around my shoulder, and without warning dropped two ice cubes into my cleavage. My shriek startled some large and noisy bird out of the undergrowth and Nick vaulted the railing and fled from me along the path, choking with laughter.
“Dominic Stanford Maitland, get back here this minute!”
He stopped and turned big eyes on me. “Oooh, you can’t do that,” he said in a shocked tone. “Proper Tops don’t do that. It said so in the book of words.”
I advanced upon him threateningly. “What, precisely, do Proper Tops not do?”
“You shouted at me,” he explained accusingly. “Proper Tops don’t shout. I’m sure it said so. You have to be calm and reasonable and behave at all times as if you had major scaffolding up your. . . as if you had been constructed by McAlpines.”
“Oh, do I?”
“Yes, and I don’t think you’re supposed to pull my ear like that either, it wasn’t – ow! – mentioned that I can – ow! – remember.”
“Up those steps. I’ll show you proper topping. Face that wall and get your jeans down.”
“There isn’t a soul here, and at this time of night there isn’t likely to be. Jeans down. Pants too. I’ll be back in a minute.”
He strained to look over his shoulder as I went back out among the trees, so I turned and called, “Eyes front!”
“You’re shouting again, you’re not supposed to shout.”
“If you don’t stop giggling I’ll make you laugh the other side of your face.”
“Yes, random threats, that’s better. What are you after, a switch?”
I came back up behind him. “Certainly not. Now, don’t turn round. Back away from the wall. A little further. Now bend over, hands against the wall, don’t move. Where shall I start? So many choices. . .”
“Indecisive, a Proper Top isn’t that either. I just knew you weren’t doing it right, I shall ask Hansie to get you a set of instructions. Here! That tickles! What is it?”
“Did I say you could move?”
“Tickling isn’t fair. Aw, Fran, it’s not fair!”
“Now who’s a Proper Top? Eliciting the traditional response of ‘it’s not fair’?”
He gasped, as the tickle converted itself, as I knew it would, to a sting. “What the hell’s that?”
“Nettles. Proper Tops don’t need switches, they can improvise. Ordinary stinging nettles, applied very lightly to the bottom, and the inside of the thighs, and. . . here. . .”
“That should do it. Jeans up, don’t touch. No rubbing, no scratching.” He was already a little wild eyed; in ten minutes, that would itch so much that he wouldn’t be able to keep still. “Now, there’s a first aid box in the car with anti-sting spray in it – but you can’t have that until you’ve been spanked. With the hairbrush. And you’ll have to ask me nicely for the spanking. Not a Proper Top indeed. I’m all the Top you’re ever going to need.”
He came to hug me, wriggling against me in a manner which interested me extremely. “You are. You’re my Top. SuperBitch. Oh God, that was sneaky. That stings, Fran! Stop laughing! Proper Tops don’t laugh at distressed Brats!”
“This one does. Let me know when you’re ready to be spanked.”
“No, I don’t feel like doing it yet. And that’s not asking nicely, is it? I think we’re looking for begging, here.”
“You can stand in the corner with your hands on your head and an Oreo in your mouth, you know.”
I kept him waiting twenty minutes by which time he was incoherent with itching and laughter, and then I made him grovel, and then I spanked him thoroughly and coated him with some sort of witch hazel spray. He seemed grateful.
“Come on, bedtime.”
“I thought I was being promised mad mink sex?”
“The two aren’t incompatible, are they? Are you going to behave like this all week?”
“Like a Brat. I don’t mind if you do, I’d just like enough warning to get a notebook in for line-writing and so on.”
“Well, I don’t mind the rest of it – except the Oreos, I think those are forbidden under the Geneva Convention, I’d rather have my mouth soaped – but I think we could skip the line-writing. It might be quite fun to be allowed to behave unbelievably badly.”
“I think the point is that you aren’t allowed.”
“Same thing. Not lines, but I’m up for all the rest.”
“You are, aren’t you?”
And some time after that... what? No, I told you, mind your own business. Some time later, we were curled up together watching the moon through the skylight, and a vague idea wandered across my mind.
“Nick? I’m not sure you can have a cabin holiday without lines being written. I think you have to take the whole package, you can’t just pick bits out of it.”
He came up onto one elbow to look at me doubtfully.
“I’ve got an idea.”
We should really have been at ours for Friday night, not Piet and Phil’s, but Phil had a late session somewhere out of town and got caught in traffic, and since we knew he would want to shower and change before he came out, Hansie and I picked up the takeaway and went over there again. Well, it didn’t make a lot of difference, anyway.
Chinese, we had this time, and we were just at the stage of picking the last cashew nuts our of the foil and not quite finishing the noodles when Piet said conversationally, “I had an email from Fran today.”
Phil looked up. “Are they back, then?”
“No. They sent me a mail from Nick’s mobile phone. The spelling was not as good as Fran’s usually is; I think it is not an easy thing to do without a proper keyboard. I did not fully understand what Fran was telling me: what precisely was this joke you played on Nick?”
It was a rather confused explanation because we both kept collapsing in giggles, and once Phil picked up what we had done, he fell about too. Piet was stone-faced, with that contrived look of extreme gravity which he puts on when he’s actually dying to laugh.
“I see. Well, from their mail, they are enjoying their holiday very much and they have used, one way or another, everything in your box. They fed the ducks with the popcorn, and apparently after they opened the chocolate, they had to find a launderette for the sheets.”
Hansie looked a little shaken. “I don’t think I needed to know that, Piet.”
“No? But Fran says that for the sake of completeness, there is something we need you to do.”
By now, both Hansie and I were looking suspicious. Piet gave us his shark smile, and leaned over to the worktop behind him, from which he retrieved two pads of paper, and two pens.
“Hansie, write this. ‘It is not wise to tease another man’s Top’. Tim, ‘Not all Hansie's ideas are sensible’. And you may continue to write it, while Phil and I will clear the table and make some coffee. I have an envelope in which you may send your completed impositions to Fran, and thus Nick will be freed from the necessity to write lines, which would be a most unreasonable thing to require of him while he was on holiday.”
I swear they were on a go-slow in the tidying up. Phil thought it was hysterically funny.
“Well, you’re catching up with Hansie, Tim. She’s topped you too.”
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