“Why do they call him Viper?” asked Mick.
“Alliteration,” I suggested. Dave gave me a blank look. Nice guy, but doesn’t read because his finger gets blistered and he can’t move his lips fast enough. He’s a prop. Says it all.
“Apparently because he was bloody fast and extremely unpredictable. He was never quite where the opposition expected. That was why he played at so many positions. He was so good that he could have played whatever position he liked, so they put everybody else where they would do most good and Viper de Vries took what was left. He was classy wherever he played.”
Smug git, I thought. “So why’s he coming here?”
“God knows. Just fall on your knees and give thanks. He’s done two seasons as a coach and one as a referee, and he was a player for I don’t know how long, and they’ve offered him big money to make something useful of us, so he’s coming. As I understand it, he gets to name his own title, choose his own team, make his own rules, and if we don’t lift the cup at the end of the season, he leaves again. The sponsors want to be in the final.”
Yes. I wanted to be in the final too. Just not under Viper de Vries. Not in either sense.
Sorry, did you miss that? I play, so to speak, for the other team. I’m fairly out but not utterly out – the guys on the squad know, but they don’t talk, and I have enough female friends who come with me to dinners and so on (probably in the hope of pulling some muscular rugby player) that the sports bod from the local paper hasn’t noticed. I like it that way. I know there are more of us who play rugby, and I know who some of them are, including one or two who pretend they aren’t. I haven’t had much trouble. A couple of the guys tend always to be at the far end of the room from me at shower time, and they don’t turn their backs, but we all pretend not to notice. It’s a matter of good manners, really.
Viper de Vries – I really mustn’t keep calling him that. His name’s Pieter, and his friends call him Piet. We call him sir. My trouble was that he knew who I was, and I would frankly have preferred him not to. He had refereed for us three times last season. He’s good, I don’t deny it. He’s tough, but everybody knows he’s fair, and he has eyes all round. He doesn’t miss anything, and he doesn’t let anybody away with anything. He certainly didn’t let me away with anything. I tend to push a bit, just to see how sharp the ref is, and I found out soon enough with him. If you watch the televised rugby you’ll see that the referees tend to identify us by shirt colour and number, so that it’s “Green Five offside” rather than “John Smith from Thurlow offside”. He called me by number twice, and the third time he called me by name. Damned if I know how he found out. Fifteen minutes in he didn’t know who I was, twenty minutes and he did. He doesn’t stand much nonsense, and he’s the sort who is most horribly polite. When he calls you ‘gentlemen’, it’s time to stop messing about and do as you’re told; he says ‘gentlemen’ like a threat. He called me ‘Mr Cartwright’, and something in his tone sent me to my place with my tail between my legs.
The second time he reffed for us I ended up in the sin-bin, and the third time a couple of us got hauled up for something, and I opened my mouth to argue (which was why I had been called the time before), and he looked at me and said, “Is there a problem, Mr Cartwright?” And that was the first time that I discovered what he did to my speech. He breaks the link between what I think and what I say. The sentence that left my brain was, “Oh, come on, ref, get a grip,” but the one that came out of my mouth was “No, Mr de Vries, no problem.”
So I wasn’t at all sure that I wanted him running the show at the club. I was frankly scared of him. I was sure that we would all learn a good deal from him, but I wasn’t convinced that we would enjoy the experience. Viper was quite a good name for him, but it wasn’t a snake that he brought to my mind. It took me some time to identify what it was, but then I went to Hedingham Castle with a mate who was having a birthday party for his kid, and who called in a load of favours to get enough adults to watch fourteen eight year olds. It was jousting day, with some guys with horses (and the gorgeous one who played the villain, wicked Sir Whatever, disturbed my sleep for a week), and archery, and falconry and all that sort of stuff, and under the castle wall I saw what I had been half remembering. The falconer had some sort of Arabic hawk, a big Saker falcon, a foot and a half tall, with yellow eyes, which watched us all with a cold hard concentrated intelligence, and I thought, “that’s de Vries”. He has brown eyes like me, but whereas mine are peat coloured, his are nearer amber. His bone structure is beautiful, and he has cheekbones you could shave with, but it wasn’t a style I admired. I liked my men softer looking, gentler looking, and blond.
Enough of this. You get the idea. Piet de Vries was a scary individual and I was not looking forward to the season.
It started fairly well; better than I had expected. Viper oversaw a couple of training sessions, and worked us harder than we had ever been worked before, but we saw results at once. He talked good sense, and even when he did the pop psychology stuff, you could see a solid basis for what he wanted. Then he said that he wanted to talk to us individually, and he began to call the squad one at a time to spend a couple of hours at his house. Naturally the captain went first, and equally naturally, we all wanted to know what they had talked about. “About how I feel about the sport and about the team, and about what I think are my strengths and my weaknesses, and the team’s strengths and weaknesses. And what I think I should do about them. And stuff like that.”
Three days later, the vice-captain went. He came back looking shaken, and didn’t say much about the whole thing, but we noticed that he was taking much more interest in the planning aspects of the matches afterwards than before. I rather expected to be called next, but I wasn’t. Dave went next, and he became very concerned about his weight and fitness all of a sudden. It would be me next.
It was Clive next, and Clive’s notorious problem with his punctuality ceased to exist. It would be me next.
It was Ryan. Ryan was practising his kicking. It would be me next.
Only it wasn’t. It kept not being me. It was everybody else, including the substitutes, and everybody came back with a specific task or problem to address. Some of them liked the Viper and some of them didn’t, but everybody did as they were told. I asked Ryan about it. “What did he say you should do?”
“He said my kicking was good, but it could be better. He said I needed to practise more.”
“Oh, he didn’t threaten or anything. But the way he put it, I could see it was true, and when he said that he was sure I would put in the hours, it seemed like a good idea.”
In the end, I was last, and I was fairly pissed off about it. I fancied myself one of the better players and I thought I should have been called earlier. Looking back, I suppose the problem was arrogance: I just fancied myself. And I was about to learn better.
He called me in the end. Thursday evening, eight o’clock, his house. I went.
I parked my car in his drive at five to eight, and rang the doorbell. When he spoke from behind me, I was so startled that I nearly fell off the step. “Nice timing, Mr Cartwright. I saw you from the end of the street. I was posting a letter. Come in.”
He led me into the most masculine room I had ever seen. It was like those gun rooms you see in National Trust houses, if you know what I mean. He had bookcases all round the walls, and I would have loved the chance to explore and see what he read. I’m always fascinated by other people’s book collections. Then he had a huge desk, with a computer and a scanner and all the gadgets, and an enormous leather chair, and an old fashioned leather couch, like you imagine a psychiatrist’s couch to be, only dark red. It was a testosterone temple. He pointed at the couch, and I sat, and he asked, quite calmly, if I wanted coffee, and I didn’t. When I’m nervous, I get clumsy, and I was nervous in that room. I didn’t need to drop a cup of coffee into my lap. He was wearing gloves, and he took them off as I watched. He caught my eye.
“I broke my hand in my last playing season. I find that if my fingers get cold, the break hurts.”
I smiled feebly. “I broke my pelvis when I was at school. I can’t swim in the sea because it’s too cold and it gives me backache.”
He shuddered. “Too cold to swim in the sea in this country anyway. Your pelvis doesn’t interfere with your rugby?”
“No. It was a motor accident. A clean break, and I was young enough to get away with it.”
“Good. Let’s talk.”
So we talked, and we talked, and he paid out the rope, and in due course I hanged myself. I talked myself, out of sheer arrogance, into a hole that embarrasses me to think of even now. Frankly, I’m not going to write down what I said, because it still makes me sweat and blush. It was the self-centred conceit of twenty-two, and that’s all you need to know.
And he laughed! He laughed at me! And of course that made it worse, because I suddenly heard what I sounded like, and I tried to rescue the situation because I hadn’t the natural wit to sit still and shut up.
“No,” he said, quite gently. “No, I don’t think we can have that. You have a lot of talent, Mr Cartwright. You have more raw talent than any of your team mates. But you have very little skill. You are wasting your talent, and you are wasting your time, and you are wasting my time. You have no self-discipline and you need to learn some very fast.”
“From you?” I asked rudely. I don’t know what possessed me. It was obvious to the meanest intelligence, i.e. mine, and even to the props, that Viper de Vries had self-discipline to the nth degree.
The smile was gone. It hadn’t been much of one to begin with, but his face was hard and cold. And scary. “From me. I can make you, in one season, into a player with a future. Or you can play at this level for another few years, and then you can go and be a banker.”
I think he said ‘banker’.
I got up from the couch. There was something going on, and I didn’t know what it was, but it felt raw and primitive. Power came into it somewhere. Status. “Well? How are you going to do it? If you can.”
If my mother had heard my tone, I would have been confined to my bedroom until I drew my pension. I meant to be rude. He heard that, too.
“I can. If I want to. But you need to want it, too. I’ll break you. But then I will rebuild something better. You will need to want very much to be great. Not just good, but great. I can make it happen. If you will submit yourself to me, completely, I will make you great.”
The power thing again. I heard it in his voice. “Submit how?”
“You will submit to my discipline. If you cannot discipline yourself, I will do it. You will find it painful and humiliating. At the moment, you behave as if nobody can curb you. I can curb you. I will curb you physically. If you break one of my rules, I will put you over my knee, and spank you soundly.”
For half a minute I was speechless; I made a goldfish mouth at him. Then I exploded. “That’s what this is about! You’re one of those weirdos who gets off on pain! And if I say no, then what? You’ll force me?”
I didn’t even see him move. This was why they called him the Viper. Before I realised that he was touching me, I was upended and over his knee. He trapped my legs between his thighs, and grasped my wrists against my back, and nothing I did – neither fighting nor swearing - made any difference. But he did no more: he just held me still and spoke.
“I could, Phil. I could. Can you get up? No? Are you frightened? You should be. If I wanted to, I could beat you until you bled, and you couldn’t escape me. I’m bigger than you, and faster than you, and stronger than you, and much, much smarter than you. Am I frightening you?”
He was, but I wouldn’t admit it. I fought in a silent rage, and to absolutely no effect. “Am I frightening you?”
At the third repetition, I broke. “Yes! Let me go! Please, let me go!”
At once, he did. “Quite easy, you see. Politeness gets you what you want.”
I slid off his lap to the floor, and scooted back, away from him. He didn’t attempt to hinder me. “Don’t ever suggest that I would force you, Phil. I’m well aware that I’m big enough and solid enough to get what I want without paying for it. I’ve never done it.”
I sat on the floor and gasped. I had never been so scared. Curiously, I wasn’t scared of what he might do to me: he hadn’t hurt me. No, I was scared of him, the way one is scared of a dangerous animal even when it doesn’t move. But there was a thrill of vulnerability as well: knowing that if he had wanted to force me, he could have done. “Am I going to give you a career? Or are you going to be a banker?”
Definitely ‘banker’. I got up. My body didn’t fit properly, and somebody had issued me with the wrong legs. I came forward.
“I don’t want to be a banker. But I can’t accept that you would… hit me.”
“Not hit you. That’s too emotive. Spank you. It’s a punishment. You would have to accept it. I won’t force you. I could: you’ve seen that. But I won’t. You’ll come to me willingly, or not at all.”
“Not the right word, perhaps. I don’t mean enthusiastically. I mean that you will accept my judgment, and submit to me of your own free will. Accept that the consequences of error include a spanking. Take it and move on. But I’m not talking about a couple of taps and a sexy sting. I’m talking about you having a smart hiding that you’ll remember. Yes? Or no?”
“If I say no…”
“The door is behind you.”
“And if I agree?”
“You come here to me, and we begin at once. You have been rude, tonight. I will punish you for it.”
I could neither stay nor go. He sat motionless on the couch, the long legs extended towards me, and the pale eyes watching me. He didn’t speak again. I looked over my shoulder at the door; I looked at him again. I shifted from foot to foot. It was as if the air thickened round me, and there was slightly too little oxygen, and I had to remember to breathe. I must have stood there for two full minutes. He did nothing to help me: if he had spoken again, or held out his hand, I would have… I don’t know. I don’t know if I would have gone to him or fled from him. He did nothing to help. Eventually, slowly, horribly slowly, I crossed the room to his side.
I came closer.
He unfastened my belt, in a perfectly matter of fact way, undid my trousers and slid them to my knees. My briefs followed. Then he took my wrist and pulled gently, and I collapsed across his lap. No part of my body felt familiar. I was light-headed with terror, and I think he knew it, for he stroked my back, over my bottom and down my thigh, like someone gentling an animal.
“Relax. This will hurt you, but you don’t need to fear me. I know what you can stand.”
Really? How could he possibly know? I didn’t know myself.
With the first smack, I knew that I had made a dreadful mistake. I had to get up and stop him, but I couldn’t get away. I was pinned like a museum specimen, by nothing more than his left hand lightly placed on the small of my back. He was resting none of his weight on me, just the flattened hand, but it held me as securely as if I were tied. No, I couldn’t get up. I would just have to let this happen, and then say that I had changed my mind and I couldn’t do it. Keep as much of my dignity as I could manage. No wriggling. No squealing. No begging. I knew how to deal with pain.
And there was enough of it to deal with. He was hurting me. Each spank, and the noise itself was enough to terrify me, made me jerk and gasp. I could feel him setting light to my backside. Could I feel it! He had said he was strong and he hadn’t lied. Each smack was carefully placed where it would do most good, and he was plainly very experienced. I hadn’t known that a spank placed low down hurts much more than a similar one higher up, but I learned and understood. He varied his timing: he would give me three or four in quick succession on the same spot, followed by seven or eight slower ones round the curve of my bottom.
But I knew how to deal with pain. I had learned, the time I was in hospital. A broken pelvis is very uncomfortable, and a pleasant Antiguan nurse on the nightshift, faced with a distressed teenager, had taught me the use of poetry to distract the mind. I still use it when I can’t sleep: learn by heart some piece of verse. I like the ones with lists, myself.
Smack. ‘For he is of the tribe of Tiger.’ Smack. ‘For the Cherub Cat is a term of the Angel Tiger.’ Smack. ‘For he has the subtlety and…’ Smack. No. ‘For he has the subtlety…’ Smack. No. Can’t remember. Something easier. Smack. ‘With a cargo of ivory,’ smack, ‘and apes and peacocks,’ smack, ‘sandalwood, cedarwood,’ smack, ‘and sweet white wine.’ SMACK!
I squealed. I wriggled. The hand on my back never varied its pressure, and the other hand, the punishing hand, worked around and under and “Please! No more! Please stop! I’m sorry! Please!”
He stopped. I was shaking and gasping, and he turned me, lifted me, helped me resettle my clothes, let me go. I dragged my hand across my tear-stained face and gave a huge hiccup, and just stood, not knowing what to do next. I had forgotten my notion of “I’ve changed my mind”. My body was sending up messages of “behave nicely; don’t give him an excuse to do that again”. He came close, produced a handkerchief and dried my face very gently; I quivered under his touch, and quite automatically turned my cheek against his hand, and felt – well, something like a lightning strike, unmistakeable and instantly recognisable. He froze, and our eyes met, and he disengaged from me. But the balance of control in the room had shifted, and we both felt it. I glanced deliberately downwards, and then back up to meet his gaze. There was the evidence, on both of us. Viper de Vries plays for my team too.
“Don’t worry,” he said, in an odd tone. Bitter? “That isn’t part of the deal. I told you. I don’t take what isn’t offered.”
“Do you never ask? Does someone else always have to offer?”
He snorted, but he didn’t answer me. The air was thick again, but not, this time, with fear.
“If I offer?”
He still didn’t answer. I put out a tentative hand, touched his face, ran a finger down his chest, felt him snatch for breath.
“Are you telling me you don’t want me?”
He did. I was sure he did. I turned my hand, cupped and pressed, and confirmed it. He didn’t try to stop me, but he didn’t encourage me, either.
“Your body says you’re a liar, Piet.”
The bitter smile again. That got a response. “Phil, I’m twenty years older than you. I’m in authority over you. And I’ve just shocked and hurt you. Go now, before you say something you’ll regret.”
“What, like ‘take me to bed, Piet’?”
“Yes, like that. You’re very attractive, Phil. Perhaps too attractive. I think, perhaps, this deal won’t work for you. We’ll think of something else. I told you: I can make you great, and if you want me to, I will. Not this way. This was my mistake and I’m sorry. We’ll think of something else.”
“We bloody won’t. We had a deal. I didn’t like it, but I agreed to it, and I made a down payment; you can’t change it now. I’m going to be rightfully famous and you’re going to make it happen. That was the deal you offered me and I accepted it. That’s independent of anything else. Now I’m offering you a deal. Take it or don’t, but… but if you won’t, tell me why not. Is there someone else?”
“No. Not now. You’re too young, Phil.”
“I’m twenty-two. I’ve left home. I can vote. Drive. Go into the army without telling my mother. Expect to be served in pubs. Get married… well, no, maybe not that one. I’m past the age of consent.”
“All right. Then I’m too old.”
I touched him again. He flinched from me a little, but he had too much dignity to move away or stop me.
“Too old for what? It all seems to be in working order. Take me to bed, Piet. Please. I’m offering.”
He backed away a little, despite himself. “I don’t know how we got here!”
“I don’t either. If you had told me at seven o’clock that I would be standing here with my arse on fire trying to seduce Viper de Vries, I’d have said you were mad. Help me a little: I’ve never had to seduce someone unwilling before.”
He groaned. “I’m not unwilling… God, no. I just can’t think it’s a good idea…”
I stopped his mouth, ran my hands up his chest, felt him tremble, felt him give way to me. I was shaking, too, and when his hands slid round my waist and down, I jumped and squeaked against his tongue. “That stings!”
He smirked at me. “Good.” Then his mouth was back against mine, and he was pulling at the shirt he had helped me tuck back into my waistband, sitting on the red couch and drawing me down to settle sideways on his lap.
“Phil, are you really sure that this is what you want? I’m too old for you, you know I am.”
The voice was discouraging but the body wasn’t; his hand was inside my shirt and he did the speech trick again: my brain sent down “Give it a rest, it isn’t a problem” and my mouth said, “Please, sir, put on the glove.”
What? Do what? Please? Why was I saying ‘please’? And ‘sir’? Since when did Phil Cartwright call the man who had spanked and kissed him, ‘sir’? And the glove? My head came up off his chest in horrified surprise and I looked into the golden eyes. I had surprised him too, I think. “The glove? Fetch me the glove.” And he set me on my feet. I looked down at him for a moment, and his expression changed slowly to the fierce one he had worn earlier, and even though I no longer feared it, I walked to his desk and brought back his gloves. He put the left one down on the couch and slowly eased the other onto his right hand. Then he gathered me back to his lap, and I felt the coolness of the leather as he began to stroke my face again. I shut my eyes.
He eased my head back against his arm, and stroked my neck. I began to tremble again, and then his head came in under my chin, and I felt his teeth nip my skin, quite gently. At a visceral level I knew what it was: there was one Alpha male here, and it wasn’t me. My period in charge had been genuine, but it was over. I showed him my throat, and submitted. His hand began to roam, slowly, gently and utterly irresistibly. I could have stopped him. We both knew that. He took nothing that wasn’t offered, but I was offering it all. I felt the flat of his hand on my thigh and chest, and the rib that was the seam of the glove over my cheek and mouth. I had my eyes tightly shut and the hand moved from place to place, never touching me intimately, but inducing intimacy with every touch.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
I opened my eyes, startled. The atmosphere was broken again, and I didn’t understand why. How could he still be asking? How could he doubt it? I suddenly got it. “There was someone else who wasn’t sure. Who didn’t want it. That’s it, isn’t it?”
He looked away. “Yes. He was young, too. Your age. I thought he was willing, and it was only when he began to cry that I understood that he wasn’t.”
I sat, motionless, not knowing what to say, hurting for Piet, for this other man, for misunderstandings… “Did you… had you…”
“No. I was lucky. It wasn’t too late. But it scared me so much that I swore it wasn’t going to happen again. No more very young men who don’t know what they’re doing.”
“Yes. I see. You don’t take what isn’t offered. I know what I’m doing. Shall I prove it to you? I know what I want.”
“Do you? Are you sure?”
“Piet, I’ve done it before. I’m not a virgin. I know what I want to do, and what I want you to do. I’m willing. Believe me, I’m willing. Are you?”
He hesitated, and offered “too old” again, almost in a whisper. I hated that. It wasn’t natural for him to be submissive at all, specially not to me. That wasn’t where we were going. The right answer wasn’t to comfort him – it was to provoke him.
“Come on, old man, you can do it if you try. Or can’t you remember how?”
It startled him, and then he gave a bark of laughter and swept me up in his arms, with frightening ease (I’m not small), to carry me upstairs. “Brat. I give in. I’ll show you who’s an old man. At least at my age I know what I’m doing.”
And he did. It was true that I wasn’t a virgin, you understand, but I wasn’t hugely experienced either. I had no idea that it could be like that. I had no idea that it could take that long! He controlled me in his bed as clearly as he had controlled me in his study. He did nothing for about fifteen minutes but kiss me. I liked kissing – I always had liked it – but it had always been an appetiser for me. Good fun but let’s get on to the real stuff. For Piet de Vries, kissing was as real as anything else, and he was good at it. There’s very little that he does at which he isn’t good (he’s a lousy cook, and he sings flat), but he can kiss for anybody’s national squad. By the time he was ready to move on, I was having trouble focusing. And he knows how to touch. With the damned glove, and without it, and all the places one really wants to have touched, and several that in my case at least hadn’t even occurred to me. It was all so slow, so unhurried, so gentle. There couldn’t have been a greater contrast with the walloping he had given me (and which I could still feel!). I whined with lust, and breathed his name, and begged. “Sir. Sir.”
He was amused. “You call me ‘sir’?”
“Not if you don’t like it…”
“Oh, I like it. I like it a lot. I think I’ll make you do it some more.” I had always been silent in bed: you know, some of us are screamers and some aren’t. I never went further than the occasional “oh, yes, oh, yes”, but for Piet, I was giving it the full Meg Ryans.
He was decidedly in charge; he was controlling, and I was controlled, and it pleased him to have me uncontrolled. Oh, that sounds clinical, which wasn’t it at all, but he certainly did know what he was doing. He went to a great deal of trouble to see that I enjoyed myself. I wondered vaguely if I would die of pleasure; I’m still surprised that I haven’t. I had to fight a little to be allowed to return the favour, but when he gave way to me, it was completely.
His standards are high, and I pay for that. If I fall below his expectations, he takes my trousers down and turns me over his knee. If I fail him badly, I take my own trousers down and he canes me. That’s much worse. Never fewer than six, never more than twelve, and always on the bare. But only ever that. No slipper, no strap, no paddle, no standing in the corner. Make no mistake, this is punishment, not foreplay. I don’t enjoy it, but I take what I have coming. He doesn’t scold (well, I get the same changing-room bollocking as everybody else, but no more), he simply tells me what I have done, or not done, and why it was wrong, and what’s going to happen to me, and he does it. But the best of it is that afterwards, Piet comforts me, always, and his comfort is like nothing else, like nobody else can do.
The worst of it is the marks: the other guys have seen them, and know what they mean, and they don’t cut me any slack in terms of teasing. Part of the penalty, I suppose. It has been made plain to me that I take the whole penalty, from threat to lasting smart. Piet caught me once using aloe vera after-sun cream to cool my backside, and gave me a second spanking for dishonesty, with the promise that if he caught me doing it again, he would cream my rear himself, only with Ralgex. He would, too. Don’t think I’m complaining. We’ve already had the unofficial nod that my place on the national squad next season is secure. Piet masters me, but I know what it’s worth. There is nobody else for him. He does this with no one else, for no one else, to no one else. He has learned to trust my consent just as I trust his control. He does give himself up to me, and I can always tell. He masters me in English, but when he lets go, he loses his English vocabulary. His orders are always in English, but his endearments never are. I have a tin ear when it comes to languages – I can’t even order a beer reliably abroad – but I can make love in Afrikaans.
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