The side doorbell rang in early afternoon and Don went down to answer it. Only a handful of staff were around the Sanctuary office. Gil, the six foot four accountant, was hacking through the books at one desk. Mike, who is the only one who understands and can communicate with the club computer system, was doing the wages. I was at the third desk, trying to coordinate a security staff rota that would take into account all the holiday time everyone was owed. I could hear Don’s voice downstairs, raised and grim.
“Oh God. If you’re coming in here, you get upstairs and find Ranger. Now.”
Gil, at the desk across from mine, began quietly and accurately to imitate an air raid siren.
Mike looked up at me and grinned.
“You’re owed a break. Take him out to lunch. Please.”
Jamie hooked both arms around my neck from behind in a stranglehold. “Hi gorgeous.”
“I thought you had lectures.” I said suspiciously.
“I did, but the heating’s crashed in the main building. They sent us all home. Even the library’s shut.” Jamie kissed my ear, bit it, and slid around me to sit on the desk. “Will you be long?”
“No.” Gil said without looking up. “NATO just gave him the afternoon off.”
“Ten minutes. Although if you’ve got some time free, you ought to go and see your parents.“
Jamie snored theatrically. I swatted what I could reach of him.
“They’re going to think you’ve emigrated.”
“Where are you living at the moment?” Mike asked.
“At home.” I said flatly.
Jamie grinned at me. “But I’m working on it. Come on man, get that finished. You’re forever nagging me about procrastination.”
I would have taken issue with that, except Mike’s computer made a horrible clunking sound and Mike hastily shut his programme down, scowling at the screen.
“I swear there’s a bug in this somewhere. It crashed twice last night when Don tried to run it.”
“Which programme?” Jamie got off my desk and went to have a look. Mike looked apprehensively at me. I shrugged.
“He’s the one with the degree in applied mathematics, he’ll know more than I do.”
Mike watched him sort through the programme manager for a few minutes, then got up and let Jamie have his chair as the screens began to get more and more technical.
“Anyone want a coffee?”
Gil raised a hand from the depths of the accounts book. Mike went out onto the landing and I heard him call to Don over the gantry rail. It took me another ten minutes to finish the rota, check for any glaring mistakes and pigeonhole the hard copies. Gil got up and stretched, his huge shoulders cracking noisily.
“What happened to Mike and that coffee?”
“He went looking for Don.” I cleared my desk, admiring Jamie still in deep communion with the computer, his fair hair in his eyes, jacket sleeves rolled to his elbows. Gil wandered to the window, glanced down and abruptly dropped his arms.
“Jamie, was that bike in the carpark when you came up?”
“The bloody great Jaguar? Yes.” Jamie didn’t look up. Gil swore and headed for the gantry. “Ranger, do me a favour and look for Mike. If you find him, for God’s sake don’t let him go downstairs.”
I heard him run down the gantry steps. I had a look through Don’s office, what passes for a kitchen and the studio flat at the back that he and Don occasionally use when they work late. No sign of Mike. Jamie glanced up at me as I came back to the office and I shrugged. “No idea. How are you doing?”
“I’ve only heard about these systems, I’m working it out as I go along.” He shrugged, like a small boy over a video arcade game. “It’s good fun.”
Actually it was a highly expensive, complex wages programme, but I didn’t argue with him.
Jamie went on tapping in complex commands that might as well have been in Greek to me, but with that same look of intent interest and the smartie-advert eyes. I stood behind him and massaged his neck, more for my amusement than his, watching the figures scroll across the screen. Mike came in with three mugs of coffee and a tight look around the eyes and mouth that grabbed my attention. He didn’t meet my eyes as he handed the coffee over and went straight to his desk, burying himself in his work. A few minutes later Gil erupted back into the office, took one look at him and flinched.
Mike hunched his shoulders. Gil ran a hand through his hair and then shut the door behind him.
“Look. Give them to me, I’ll straighten it out with him. I’m bigger than he is for Pete’s sake.”
Mike appeared not to have heard him. From whatever part of the programming Jamie was wandering through, the computer suddenly chimed, then meowed like a cat. Jamie more or less chimed back in sheer delight and promptly made the computer do it again. Gil gave him a dark look. “Shut up. Ranger, take him to play somewhere else. Like the M4.”
Voices came up the gantry stairs. Mike kept his eyes on his work. Don came into the office, followed by a man about Mike’s age, not particularly prepossessing apart from spectacular biking leathers. He nodded to me and took no notice of Mike or Gil whatsoever. Don waved a hand between us without looking.
“Ranger, Joe Leyton. Joe Leyton, Ranger Garraway. Just taken over as head of the security team.”
Leyton offered a hand to shake. Don left us in the outer office and went through to his own. Leyton glanced at the computer screen, then with rather more interest at Jamie.
“And who’s this? A new secretary? I ought to call on Don more often.”
“James Lewis. Ranger’s partner." Jamie said it without giving any hint of personal information or anything more than frigid politeness. I was startled. He’s usually as friendly as a puppy with anyone and everyone. Don emerged from his office with a slip of paper in hand, which he gave to Leyton.
“Try calling him. If he can’t help you, let me know and I’ll ask a few other contacts.”
“Thanks. Nice to meet you, Ranger and James.” Leyton smiled at me, continued to be oblivious to Mike and Gil and headed for the door, fumbling in his pocket for his keys. He stopped in the doorway and felt through his pockets more thoroughly. Then he turned to Don. Don’s face was already grim. He turned without comment to Mike’s desk and held out a hand. Mike, still with his eyes on his work, took a set of keys, a wallet and a foil wrapped condom out of his pocket and handed them over. I found a vague sense of satisfaction in seeing Leyton blush. He pocketed his belongings, but lingered, and his expression was unpleasant. Don’s voice was quiet: I’d never yet heard him speak sharply or even coolly to Mike even when he was driven to snapping at the rest of us. He took his own car keys out of his pocket and put them down on Mike’s desk.
“Collect your things and go home.”
Mike silently got up and began to put his files away. Don followed Leyton downstairs. Mike passed me to get his coat and I was shocked to see his eyes full of tears.
Gil caught him in the doorway, pulled him around and gave him a hug that must have bruised his ribs. Gil was nearly twice his size and probably three times his weight. “You idiot. Why do you do it? You know damn well what happens.”
“You know why I do it.” Mike pulled away, rubbing at his eyes.
Gil muttered. “One day I’ll knock him off his bloody bike and break his toffee nose for him.”
“Todd would murder you.” Mike said unsteadily. “It’s okay. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Gil pulled him over and kissed his forehead. Mike tousled Jamie’s hair as he passed, gave me a shaky smile and left.
The computer meowed again. Gil gave Jamie an irritated glance.
“I mean it. Jack that in or I’ll wring your neck.”
“I’m done.” Jamie got up and clapped his hands at me for my car keys. “Can we go home? Please? Can I drive?”
“I’m just coming.”
He bounded ahead of me down the stairs with more energy than I can manage without the aid of caffeine. I pulled my coat off the hook and hesitated now I had Gil in privacy.
“What was all that about?”
Gil sat at the edge of the desk and folded his arms, looking down at the carpark.
“Leyton’s a bastard.”
“I got that bit.” I glanced at the gantry, then pushed the door to. “And Jamie was way ahead of me. Who is he?”
“An old acquaintance of Don’s.” Gil shrugged without turning. “I don’t know why Don picked up with him, I think he might be the son of a friend. He was around a lot when Mike turned up. They’ve always hated each other’s guts, it’s pretty mutual.”
“What did Mike do to him just now?”
Gil sighed. “Picked his pockets. He does every single time Joe comes anywhere near him. Does it on principle. Just like Don won’t tell Joe to get lost on principle.”
“Picked his pockets?” I said in disbelief. Mike was such a quiet, gentle boy.
Gil smiled. “If he wanted to, he could get your belt off from under your jacket and coat and you wouldn’t know he’d been near you. He never does it usually, Don hates it, but last year on a charity night, someone pledged cash if he could swipe all the ID cards from the bouncers on duty. They were all warned and it still only took him ten minutes. If Joe hadn’t made such a damn performance about it, Mike would have handed it all over to Don himself. It’s just that once he’s done it, Don can’t let it go.”
I briefly considered my reactions if I caught Jamie pick pocketing, and found myself in full sympathy with that. Gil looked once more down at the car park.
“I wish Don would stop letting Leyton in here.”
That still puzzled me. I could understand Gil wanting to save Mike a spanking, but he was clearly upset and I had the feeling there was more to this than met the eye. One day, I’d sit Gil or Don down and beg for the entire story on Mike.
“Oh-“ Gil said as I opened the door to go. “The rota. Todd asked me if I’d pick up a copy.”
“There’s one in my pigeon hole. Help yourself.”
“He wanted one emailed across, so he had it on computer.”
Mildly annoyed, as he could have asked me at any time while I had the computer running, I logged on again, found the rota and did as he asked.
“Done. And I’ve got to go.”
“He’s chatting to Don, I’ve got him in sight.” Gil gave me an infectious smile across the office. “Think I’d keep you up here with Jamie on the loose?”
Don looked almost as hassled as Mike. Jamie was perched on the bonnet of my car, knees under his chin. At times, I feel I ought to be arrested for consorting with a ten-year-old, never mind the fact he’s masquerading as a fully-grown man. He glanced up at me with his sledge-hammer smile, that single, artless look that still weakened my knees after several months together.
Don gave me a brief nod. “Could you not leave your property wandering around the carpark?”
Jamie laughed. I hesitated by the car.
“Do you need a lift anywhere?”
“I’ll get Gil to drop me home when he’s finished the accounts.” Don ran a hand through his hair and gave me a wry smile. “Not that I’m looking forward to it. Thanks.”
Jamie unlocked the driver’s door. For all he begs to drive my jeep like a kid with his learner’s licence, he’s a qualified driver and far more skilled at it than I am. Except the idea of leaving him in a car without supervision concerns me more than slightly.
“I left Gil hoping Leyton comes off his bike somewhere on the Newbury bypass.” I said as Don moved out of earshot. Jamie turned the engine over.
“Don’t worry. He won’t get that far.”
Some sentences strike terror into your heart.
“He won’t make it to Newbury.” Jamie said mildly.
I turned the engine off and took the keys out of the ignition. “Why not?”
Bright, sweet eyes looked straight into mine, totally unfazed by my tone which was becoming more menacing by the minute.
“I screwed up his computer thing.”
“WHAT computer thing?”
“On the bike.” He waved a hand vaguely. “I don’t know the name. The diagnostic thing that records faults and functions and service records and so on. It’s a brand new model, highly complicated.”
“What on earth did you do with it? JAMES! What’ll happen?”
Jamie thought about it. “I don’t know exactly. The programme wasn’t too different to the one on Mike’s machine; I just changed the sequence of a few basic codes. A good Jaguar shop should fix it in ten minutes.”
“What’ll it do to the bike?” I said grimly. Jamie shrugged.
“I expect the engine’ll cut out eventually. Once it does, the ignition won’t work. The old mechanical bikes were far better-“
“What if you make him crash?” I demanded. “What if the engine cuts out on a motorway?”
“I wouldn’t have thought it’ll affect the brakes or steering.”
“You could break his neck!”
“A leg at the most.” Jamie said reasonably. “Probably just bruises. It was a beautiful bike, I’d never have done anything irreparable.”
I sat back, speechless. Jamie gently took the keys out of my hand.
“Want to drop in on my parents?”
I got out of the car, took Jamie by the collar and pushed him ahead of me back into the club. Don was standing on the stage, hands on his hips, surveying lighting rails while one of the technicians adjusted the spots. I recognised the other man leaning on the edge of the stage: Todd. Gil’s other half. An old and close friend of Don’s, and the sleeping partner in the club’s ownership. He gave me a friendly smile, taking in Jamie’s expression of perplexed virtue.
“Donal, forget the rigs, this looks far more entertaining.”
“Do you know where Leyton was headed?” I asked Don. He looked at me blankly.
“Yes. Probably home. Why?”
At that point I was too worried and too angry to be embarrassed.
“Because this raving maniac has sabotaged his bike and I’m worried that the least that’ll happen is that Leyton will break down somewhere.”
Todd’s eyebrows lifted. Don didn’t argue, just headed straight for his office and the phone. I shook Jamie by the collar.
“How did you do it anyway? Don was in the carpark with you, Gil had his eye on you the whole time!”
“Don only came a minute before you did!” Jamie protested. I looked at Todd and we caught on at about the same moment. Todd started to laugh.
“Which makes my poor boy an accessory after the fact. James, you are going to be as much of a corrupting influence as ever Michael was. Would you kindly go upstairs and ask Gil to come down?”
Jamie went, obligingly, as if none of this was anything to do with him at all. Todd put a restraining hand on my arm.
“Joseph Leyton is a prat. Much as I deplore the means and the end, I can understand the motivation. Gil is very fond of Mike and Don.”
“That doesn’t excuse Jamie.”
“You told me yourself, Jamie is far quicker on the uptake than most of us mere mortals. And therefore refuses on principle to think with his head.”
Gil and Jamie came down together, Gil looking far guiltier than Jamie did. Todd gave him a sweet smile.
“I presume you stood at the window and watched this dreadful child reprogram Joseph’s bike?”
AND stalled me to give him the time to do it.
I didn’t say it. Gil put his hands behind his back.
“And it didn’t occur to you to stop him?”
“Oh dear.” Todd said mildly. Gil choked, then apologised as I glared at him. I appeared to be the only one taking this at all seriously. Don came down the gantry stairs, paper in hand.
“Joseph is stranded three miles away. The bike, thankfully, just slowed to a standstill.”
Todd lifted his eyebrows at Gil. Don gave Gil a grim look.
“You had better go and collect him, and take him wherever he wishes to go. Most likely to a repair shop. He gave me directions.”
Gil radiated a distinct lack of enthusiasm, but went. Don turned on Jamie.
“And if you ever again damage anything on club property-“
Jamie’s eyes went wide. Todd patted Don’s shoulder.
“Donal. Why don’t you go home and deal with your own domestic troubles and leave everyone else’s alone? I’m sure Ranger can deal with this.”
Jamie shouldn’t be studying maths at all; he ought to be a lawyer. Trying to convince him that he has done anything wrong, never mind getting him to admit it, is a task that makes you want to bang your head slowly and repeatedly against the nearest wall. Todd and Don were both locked in combat while I struggled on the telephone with a furious Joseph Leyton and the phone payment for the repairs to his bike. Neither of them were getting very far.
You have two options with Jamie. Either you argue with him: in which case the arguments can go on for several hours and he will win hands down. Or you can refuse to argue at all. In which case he will co operate in a way that makes you feel like a brute, and politely point out to you as he does so, with the face of an early Christian martyr, that he doesn’t understand why he should be punished when you won’t explain it to him, or when you can’t supply an inarguable reason why. (Supply a reason and he moves straight to option one.)
He genuinely does have a distorted idea of morality. Partly through being brighter than virtually everyone he meets. Sometimes I think the world to him must be a frustrating place, too slow and laborious to be stood without the armour of total lunacy. He is also appallingly spoilt, as he can charm, manipulate or talk most people into doing exactly what he wants. He was sitting on his hands on an office chair while they took it in turns. It had begun as flat out scolding. They were now reasoning with him. A lot more quietly. Jamie had obviously decided on the strategy of Divide and Conquer- Don was still frowning, arms folded, but Todd’s voice had radically gentled. Jamie’s eyes were lifted to his face with little-boy sincerity, apparently hanging on his every word.
“It’s no good, Don.” Todd was saying firmly as I came back to the office, “There’s no point in shouting at him, he doesn’t understand.”
“Yes he does,” I interrupted. “Perfectly. And if he doesn’t take that smirk off his face, I may take a belt to his backside.”
Todd gave me a mildly reproachful look. Jamie’s eyes frankly laughed at me. There is no malice in him at all. He finds my disapproval just as amusing as he finds people’s gullibility, and he knows exactly how much it annoys me. I glowered at him, stifling the urge to grab him here and now, and make sure he found nothing funny for some time to come.
“He was only defending Mike.” Todd said pacifically, “Joe Leyton’s been getting on my nerves for years-“
“Vandalism and risking someone’s safety is not justifyable.” I glared at Jamie, who’s head dropped under my gaze: whether through real emotion or to continue to prompt Todd’s sympathy I couldn’t be sure. “Leyton could have been seriously hurt.”
“He wasn’t.” Don said briefly. “What’s happening with the bike?”
“Three technicians are trying to undo James’ work. Leyton is furious. If the work takes more than an hour Gil intends to bring him back here and I will take him home. Which will give James the chance to apologise.”
Jamie had done a good job on these two; even Don gave me a glance that suggested that was a bit harsh. I was watching Jamie, the picture of abject disgrace, and this time I saw his lips twitch. He’d have Leyton eating out of his hand in two minutes flat and he knew it. That, more than anything else, finally snapped my temper. This wasn’t merely silly, this particular prank had been downright dangerous, not to mention criminal if Leyton decided to press charges.
“Allright sunshine, come here!”
Jamie eyed me rather more warily. He’s known me long enough now to recognise the threat in that particular sentence, but from the lightness of his answer I could tell he didn’t believe I’d cause a scene in front of witnesses. He thought he had some time yet before he needed to be really careful.
“I didn’t really damage anything-“
That is the one tone of voice that makes him take the little-boy-lost look off his face. He moved, losing all the certainty from his face.
I grabbed him by the wrist and yanked him to me. “Drop those jeans, right now!”
He stared up at me in shock, and I saw it finally dawn on him that I was serious and he was in real trouble. Don folded his arms with grim satisfaction and propped his back against the window frame. Jamie swallowed.
That particular tone works only in the privacy of a bedroom when I’m not furious enough to wring his neck.
“I said drop them!”
He looked expressively at Todd and Don. Don looked right back at him with uncompromising interest. I shook my head.
“You wanted to involve them, you’ve been cheeking them for the last ten minutes. Jeans!”
Jamie flushed bright red. I waited, too angry to bail him out. Eventually he unbuttoned his jeans and slid them down over his perfectly curved behind without enthusiasm. I continued to wait. Jamie lost the last vestiges of self possession and very unwillingly pulled his briefs down after his jeans. I sat in Mike’s deserted chair, took his wrist and yanked him down over my knee. He is, from every angle, an incredibly beautiful boy. And an incredibly naughty one. I ran a hand over the soft, supple skin of his bottom and felt him twitch, his fair head ducked into the shelter of my leg. He must have been painfully aware of Don and Todd’s eyes on him.
“You” I told him, “are a subversive, manipulative, badly behaved brat. If I ever catch you play acting like that again, I’ll take a belt to you and I don’t care who’s watching!”
Todd murmured something mildly along the lines of a protest. I took no notice. I pinned Jamie still over my lap and slapped his bare behind hard enough to make him yelp and jerk.
No chance. Not a hope. By the time I was finished with him, he’d be taking Leyton’s bike very seriously indeed.
I put my left arm more tightly around his waist and solicitously covered every inch of that exquisite little backside with swats hard enough to turn it scarlet and make him squirm. He was wriggling and gasping across my lap when I let up, shook out my stinging hand and pulled him to his feet.
“Get over there and stand against that wall. And don’t even think about pulling your jeans up.”
Jamie’s jaw dropped in sheer outrage. I took his arm and steered him to the grey, painted wall, jerked him around to stand with his face to it, and swatted his bare rump sharply.
“Stand there, stand still and be quiet, I’ve had enough from you for today.”
He stood still, but his entire body radiated indignation. I turned my back on him. Todd got up off the corner of the desk.
“Donal, if you intend hanging around for much longer, you’d better ring Michael.”
“I can’t.” Don said tiredly. Todd gave him a quick look of sympathy.
“That’s quite a risk to take.”
From Don’s expression, it was obvious that he knew that. A car sounded it’s horn in the carpark. Don waved me back.
“No. I’ve known Joe a long time and he is as Todd says, undoubtedly a prat. Let me deal with him. And then I’m going home.”
“I may join you.” Todd paused in the doorway to admire Jamie, who was standing anything but passively against the wall, jeans at his knees, his bare bottom still scarlet. “Mmn. Gil is simply going to have to hope I don’t take to the colour scheme.”
I waited until I heard the front door slam, and the beginnings of voices in the carpark. Then I sat on the desk and eyed Jamie. His arms were folded and his entire body vibrated with fury.
“Come here, you.” I said eventually. He turned and glowered at me. I shook my head at him, unswayed. If he ever finds out how much that expression gets to me, he’ll get totally out of hand.
“Don’t say a word. You’ve already got a spanking coming, my lad. Don’t add to it.”
He abandoned the glare. He’s far too sweet tempered to sulk well anyway. “What?” His voice lifted, becoming frankly plaintive with shock. “But you already-“
“That was for stringing Todd along. Now we’re going to discuss Joe Leyton’s bike and what you don’t do to it when I’m not looking.”
“But I didn’t hurt him.” Jamie pleaded.
“You might have done.”
“About as much as Don will hurt Mike for picking his pockets.”
“That is not a valid reason for risking a man’s neck!” I leaned over the edge of the desk and opened the drawers. This was Mike’s desk. I was unsure of what I was looking for until I found it. A light, leather paddle. Jamie’s eyes widened and he put his hands behind him. He’d come to accept that if he annoyed me far enough, things became painful, but I’d never yet used anything harder than my hand.
“Oh no. Ranger no, please-“
“Vandalism and intent to harm? Yes. Definitely.” I reached for his hand and waited until he very reluctantly came to me. I pulled him off balance, down over my knee once more. He wriggled, not exactly struggling, but not at all happy. I put a hand over his back, caught his wrist and held it firmly. “Tell me why you’re getting spanked.”
Jamie squirmed. “For reprogramming the bike computer-”
He sounded mildly defiant as though he still didn’t see why I had a problem with this.
“Allright, because it was dangerous, but not THAT dangerous-“
I brought the paddle sweeping down against his already tender bottom with a brisk snap. Jamie yelped in surprise.
“That’s the last backchat I’m taking from you, young man, I don’t want your opinions over this. If you want to live with me you’re going to have to pay attention to my rules, and I say you don’t touch other people’s property without their knowledge and permission. And you do NOT take risks with injuring people, no matter how much they happen to annoy you! Do you understand me?”
I punctuated the sentence with another hearty swat. Jamie bucked over my lap and tried hard to get his wrist free.
“I said, do you understand me?”
“Yes! YES! Ranger that hurts!”
Absolutely no comment. I held his hand firmly and set about reddening his entire bottom soundly and thoroughly from hip to hip and from tailbone to thigh with that paddle, snapping it briskly enough to make him yell. He kicked and twisted and squirmed, but he’s slightly built and I was getting well practised at managing him in this position. He was in tears long before I was finished.
He went on lying over my lap for a while after I stopped, gradually calming down. I stroked his back and his scarlet bottom, feeling the heat against my palm and his winces whenever I touched a particularly tender spot. Eventually he slid to his knees and buried his face in my lap, still sniffling.
“I’m sorry. Really.”
And that is his genuine voice, his genuine face. Beautiful and artless.
“It’s allright.” I stroked his bent head and leaned over him to put the paddle back. “All you have to do is swear to me you won’t sabotage anything, anywhere, ever again, and we can forget all about it.”
He crossed his heart, giving me a very unsteady smile. I had doubts whether his promises would withstand temptation for very long, but he was trying. I turned his chin up and kissed him before I shut the drawer. “Okay. It’s over. Lucky for Mike that Don left that here. Not so lucky for you.”
“Don looked worse than Mike did.” Jamie wiped his eyes on my jacket. I smoothed his hair back off his forehead, shaking it into something resembling neatness.
“I presume Don will half kill him when he gets home. I saw the state Mike was in.”
“That’s just it, Don won’t.” Jamie got to his feet and gingerly pulled his jeans up before he searched my pockets for a handkerchief. Once he found it, he pushed against me, burrowing until I put my arms around him. He leaned against me, still sniffing.
“He never spanks Mike. Not unless he really has to. Gil told me. That’s what Mike’s so upset about.”
“Is Mike a sub?” I demanded over his head. “Or does Don just resort to CP when all else fails?”
“He is a sub. But he shouldn’t be.” Jamie said haphazardly. His hands slipped behind him, rubbing gently at his denimed backside. “It’s complicated.”
I glanced at my watch. The carpark should be clear by now. I gave him a hug and a gentle shove towards the door.
“If we’ve got the afternoon free, you’ve got plenty of time to explain.”