Strange goings on in a university bookshop

By Jane Fairweather

“For Pete’s sake, hurry up Elsie, or we will be late”.

“It’s only the Staff Meeting,” came crossly out of the bathroom, where Elsie was fiddling with her makeup.

Susan knew that meant she had several minutes to look at herself in the long mirror that Elsie had put on the knob of the large cupboard on the day that she had moved into Susan’s bed nearly two years ago. Susan always used it to see if anything was showing through her long Laura Ashley skirt. As usual she concluded there were only the faintest shadows to indicate where her blue knickers spread themselves over her long narrow buttocks with a suspender at each side, but her bra was just too visible through her blouse. As usual she laboriously took off her skirt and blouse and put on a full length white nylon slip. She wondered, as usual, why she did not put on the slip in the first place. She wondered too if tomorrow she was finally going to put on one of the pairs of tights that Elsie had persuaded her to buy and put away her suspender belt.

She was just re-buttoning her blouse when Elsie came in wearing (as usual) a white blouse through which her bra was clearly visible and very tight brown trousers through which you could see the shadow of her pants. This always made Susan jealous because she knew everyone else could see them too, not least their boss, Ron Hyde, who was rather too fond of patting Elsie’s behind. She had repeatedly told Elsie that she should not stand for this, but Elsie seemed indifferent, indeed Susan suspected rather liked it. However, she was not going to say it again. Susan wondered (with a touch of superiority) if Mr Hyde realized just how many times she had patted Elsie into a state of ecstasy in the last two years.

“It’s a lovely skirt, Sue, but we ought to go,” said her lover, tossing her long black hair. “I thought you were in a hurry?”

“We ought to be,” said Susan, squirming slightly at being called Sue, but nevertheless liking it, because it made her feel less starchy. It always worried her that Elsie stuck with someone as starchy as she was.

“Come on,” she said, picking up her car keys,

She mischievously pictured Elsie’s tight brown trousers pointing at the ceiling, while a long swishy cane waited to descend. She decided sardonically that provided she was second in the queue she would not mind too much if they were punished for being late. They had used to cane children for being late to school at one time, hadn’t they? It always faintly shocked her that it had happened to her Mother. Her Mother was genuinely such a well behaved person! Much better than she was. Mother would never have got divorced because she was bored, or started playing about with her own sex. She did love Elsie very much, but she always felt guilty about it.

Anyway how bad was the cane? She had wondered that ever since she had watched her brother being caned twenty years before. That had been before her own very well deserved spanking for leading him on. She could remember each one of the four strokes and the contortions of Ed’s buttocks through his grey flannels. It still upset her, though it also had an erotic quality. She wondered if Elsie could be persuaded to play that game? They could do with a new game.

“You’re late again. Just because it’s a staff meeting it does not mean you two can be late.”

Ron Hyde sounded cross. Susan wondered if their lateness was the only reason. She glanced at her watch and saw it was barely three minutes after opening. Normally Ron would not have said anything. Something was upsetting him.

She glanced round the downstairs stockroom, which was in the basement of the University, below the bookshop. Apart from the neat circle of chairs for the staff meeting there were a couple of high stools, where they sat to unpack books, and a lot of boxes waiting to be unpacked, and a lot of cardboard which needed tidying.

As she sat down she glanced round at her fellow members of staff. Anne who was blonde, scatty and nineteen or twenty was wearing a quite respectable (if very tight) white skirt which came (by her normal standards) a surprisingly long way towards her knees. It ought to be a black skirt though if she was going to look proper, and not get the dirt from unpacking on it. Perhaps her usual odd corduroy rag was in the wash. Anne’s pants (like Elsie’s) were clearly visible. Susan felt this was quite disgusting. For some reason it was much worse when pants showed through a skirt. She really ought to have a word about wearing a slip.

Mrs Ross, the rather fat book keeper in her black skirt suit, was looking unpleasantly pleased with herself. It always irritated Susan that Mrs Ross had once been the Headmistress of a private school, and though she had clearly fallen on hard times, nevertheless gave herself airs about her former glory and took a lot of pleasure in being thoroughly rude to the younger women on the staff, including Susan who was thirty-three. However, the fact that Sue was chief assistant meant from time-to-time Mrs Ross wanted something from her, and then she was incredibly oily. To say Susan disliked her was an understatement.

The assistant manager John Bell was sitting there quietly in his grey suit and anonymous tie. It was hard to say why he was assistant manager, except that he was the only available male and the company were never very keen on women in senior positions. Everyone in fact came to Susan for decisions, including John on occasions. He was a nonentity. Ron Hyde was not a nonentity, but nor was he in Susan’s view a very good manager.

“We’ve got the new stock control cards in, and John is going to run you through them.”

She had in fact already taken Anne and Elsie through them the previous week, and she doubted if John understood them. Sure enough he did not. Several other equally pointless things followed.

“Its nearly half past nine,” said Ron. “John, would you run upstairs and open up please? There are a few things I want to say to the girls by themselves.”

John vanished, clutching the shop keys and the till. The door of the store room shut.

“We’ve always been a very happy team,” said Ron rather hesitantly. “It’s quite rare to get a bookshop staff that stays together for three years. However, since Mrs Ross came here she has been pointing out to me that our till is nearly always down. If we were up a few times I would not mind so much. I thought at first we were just making the sort of silly mistakes that people make, not least me. However Mrs Ross always sorts those out and it makes it even more glaringly obvious that we are still down. It is all too clear there has been fiddling on a large scale and I am sorry to say that the evidence suggests that all three of you are guilty.”

“What evidence?” Said Sue with quite genuine indignation. “I have never stolen anything in my life and I doubt if the others have.” She realized as she said it that she was by no means sure about Elsie and Anne. They were shockingly underpaid and while stealing was stealing, they did have some excuse.

“I am afraid it is only too clear. We have kept a log for the last couple of weeks of who was on the till and whether it was up or down. There are two times when we cannot account for the state of the till, Mrs Hamilton, except to assume that you took on one occasion five and another ten pounds.”

“But I didn’t,” said Sue, sensing from the use of her surname that she was in deep trouble. If it went to court they would start saying she was Chief Assistant, quite a lot older and must have led the others on, and she might well get a bigger sentence. Did they send you to prison for things like this? She was not sure, but it would certainly make getting another job difficult. But what evidence could they possibly have when she at least was innocent? She realized Ron was nattering on.

“With Miss Combes we are talking of seven or eight occasions. That’s right isn’t it Mrs Ross?”

She realized vaguely he was talking about Anne. All this use of surnames was very confusing. What had Ron said about Elsie? She had not been listening. She would be Miss Smith, of course.

“Oh yes,” said Mrs Ross. “I’ve got it all written down here. It would stand up in court I am sure.”

“But you know how easy it is to make mistakes on the till.” Susan exclaimed.

“Yes Mrs Hamilton,” observed Mrs Ross lugubriously. “Without a book keeper this shop has got very slack, which is why you’ve all been getting away with it.”

“You are a fucking cow!” Said Susan, totally losing her temper.

“Really Mrs Hamilton, that does not help at all,” said Ron very crossly. “Anyway, the question is what to do. As far as I am concerned the case is proved. We can go through the evidence if you want, but with each of you there is at least one case of diddling that is absolutely clear. It is Company policy in this situation to dismiss the guilty employees and call the Police, and quite frankly if I called them you’d all be in front of the Magistrates within twenty-four hours, who would take a very dim view. The only thing stopping me is that we are a good team who’ve been together for nearly three years, and possibly it’s at least partly my fault for having taken so little notice of the till until Mrs Ross came.”

“That’s big of him,” thought Susan. “I bet he’s more worried about having to explain it to Head Office.”

“You are not going to call the Police are you? Please don’t!” Said Anne desperately. “My father would kill me!”

“Mrs Ross has made a very sensible suggestion,” said Ron, “which would get us all off the hook, but you will all three have to agree to it. Shall I ask her to explain it?”

Susan wondered if they were all going to have reduced wages for a couple of months. But how could it be kept from Head Office? Perhaps Mrs Ross thought she could fiddle the books in some way.

“It’s simply this,” said Mrs Ross. “I caned a fair number of girls when I was a headmistress. It is a real punishment and extremely painful, but on the other hand it is quick. I’ve brought in a couple of canes at Mr Hyde’s request. We can do it now, or wait until after work. It’s up to you, but a sore backside, and you all keep your jobs seems fair enough to me.”

“You don’t have to accept it at all,” added Ron. “But what we can’t do is call the Police for one of you and not the rest. It would just be too complicated. I think we should give them five minutes to discuss it, Mrs Ross. Come on, let’s leave them a minute. We will be back soon, girls.”

The door shut. The three girls looked at one another.

“I just don’t believe this is happening,” said Elsie.

“I have not taken a penny,” said Susan. She refrained from asking the others if they were guilty. She was fairly sure they were.

“Does it really hurt?” asked Elsie.

Susan remembered that Elsie enjoyed a light spanking, but found it hard to take anything more.

“I’ve been walloped with a hairbrush”, observed Anne. “That hurts. I bet this does too.”

“My Mother’s hand on my bare behind used to really hurt too,” said Susan. “It used to go on and on. But look, I don’t suppose we have very long. We’d better make up our minds. Are we going to take this, or go to court?”

“I expect we would lose our jobs anyway,” said Elsie. “Whether we are found guilty or not, that is.”

This seemed true.

“I wonder how much real evidence they have got?” Said Susan. “They can’t have got much in my case. I haven’t done anything.”

“Oh Sue, it is so unfair,” Elsie exclaimed. “You really ought to plead not guilty. Anyone who knows you would realize you could not have done it. It’s that bitch Mrs Ross! She’s framed you, because you are the only one who stands up to her!”

Susan noticed however with distinct unease that neither of the other girls joined in her declaration of innocence.

“It sounds to me,” she observed rather coolly, “as if both of you are guilty as hell. And quite frankly, Anne, if it was just you I’d take my chance in court and leave you to swing. However, I don’t want Elsie to get a police record, so if you both want to take the cane, I’ll go along with you.”

“I am not sure about the cane,” said Elsie. “I bet it really hurts. And I don’t suppose we will go to prison for a first offence.”

“Sue might just,” said Anne. “She’s supposed to be in charge. Bet they will think she put us up to it.”

Susan came back with a bump to her earlier thoughts.

“To be brutally frank,” she asked. “Are we talking a lot of money or a little? I won’t repeat it outside this room.”

Anne and Elsie looked at one another.

“I just took a bit,” said Elsie blushing. “Mainly for your rent.”

“That was big of you! And you Anne?”

“It was more than a bit. I’ve got into debt.”

“A lot more than a bit?”

“Yeah, I suppose so. I’m always buying things I shouldn’t.”

“Enough to sound really bad in court?”

“Yes. Sorry, I feel really ashamed.”

“It’s a bit late for that now Anne. Well I suppose we will all have to have the cane because of you.”

“Suppose so,” said Anne, bursting in to tears.

Elsie said nothing. Susan wondered why she was the one who always had to take the decisions. She wondered if she was going to end this relationship, she knew she was going to find this very hard to forgive.

***

It was all of half an hour later. Ron Hyde and Mrs Ross had still not reappeared and no one had been quite brave enough to go and say they would take the punishment. After five minutes of increasingly hysterical chatter Susan had briskly told the girls to do some unpacking and stop talking about their woes. Now they were sat side by side on two tall stools chattering ten to the dozen about some celebrity wedding or other, while Elsie unpacked the books and Anne dealt with the invoices. Susan guessed they were hoping that the storm had blown away as quickly as it had arisen, and yet they sounded hysterical. For herself, it felt much more like the calm before the storm and she was increasingly on edge. She was sure she was going to get it worse than the two girls, a lot worse, and she was not sure she could take it. Besides she felt incredibly guilty that she had not realized what was happening.

She set herself to bundling up some of the cardboard that had accumulated from the previous day’s unpacking. As she did it, she found herself looking up at the clear outline of the two girls’ buttocks as they sat on their stools. Elsie’s were tiny and perched at the top of ridiculously long legs. Anne’s were bigger and rounder and her legs were a much more sensible length. She suddenly seemed mysteriously attractive and Susan was not sure why. She certainly had no intention of falling for Anne.

The phone on the desk went. The chattering stopped. Susan picked it up, very aware the two girls were desperately hoping it was not going to happen. She was much more worried the police were being called after all. She could feel her mouth go dry.

“Sorry not to come back to you before,” came Ron Hyde’s voice. “But we’ve had a rush of customers. Have you made up your minds? Sorry to hurry you.”

“Why does the B man have to be so apologetic?” Susan thought.

Aloud she muttered, gulping as she said it: “Yes. We will agree to it. We would rather get it over please.”

“Did you say ‘Yes’?”

“Yes!”

“I will send Mrs Ross down.”

“Aren’t you coming down yourself?”

“No, we are still quite busy up here.”

Susan very shakily put the phone down.

“Mrs Ross is coming down,” she announced.

“I wonder where she’s got the cane,” said Anne with a rather hysterical laugh.

“I wonder if people who are going to be hanged make silly jokes,” said Elsie in a rather similar tone of voice.

“It’s called ‘gallows humour’,” said Susan and they all laughed.

The store room door opened and the rather large figure of Mrs Ross entered. She had a typed piece of paper in her hand.

“Ah, the sentence of execution duly signed.” Susan exclaimed, continuing the previous banter. “I am glad to see everything is being done in the proper manner.”

They all burst into giggles. Mrs Ross looked at them as if they were mad.

“I hope you are not trying to be funny, Mrs Hamilton. It is simply a note admitting your guilt and saying you accept your punishments. I need all of your signatures please.”

They all signed, looking very reluctant. Susan doubted if it was legal, but what alternative was there? She found herself thinking about Anne’s question, ‘Where was the cane?’ Perhaps Mrs Ross had forgotten it altogether. Perhaps.

However Mrs Ross was extricating something from under the Manager’s desk. It was a rather odd long bundle of brown paper, done up with sellotape. Mrs Ross was fiddling with it. Mrs Ross finally produced two long, supple rattan canes. Susan found herself shaking at the sight of them. It was horribly like when her brother was caned. The cane had emerged from under her parents’ bed on that occasion. Then he had had to bend over and touch his toes…

Mrs Ross briskly picked up the chair behind the manager’s desk and turned it round.

“You first, Miss Coombes. Put your hands on the seat of the chair and stick your bottom out. I want your skirt as tight as we can get it. If we don’t get it tight enough your skirt is coming off, so I should do your best to do as you are told.”

Anne was very subdued and in tears. She approached the chair, put her hands on the sides of the seat and rather self consciously stuck her bottom out.

“No, not tight enough! Walk nearer the chair.”

Anne took two steps forward. It looked to Susan as if the seams on the girl’s already tight skirt were going to burst. There seemed to be almost no distinction between pants, tights and skirt. She almost giggled at the grotesqueness of it, then thought it was not quite proper to giggle, then looked out of the corner of her eye and saw Elsie was also having a tremendous struggle not to laugh out loud.

“Right you are going to have five strokes and you are going to count them. Is that clear? Well, is it clear girl?”

“Yes, Mrs Ross.”

Mrs Ross removed her black jacket, rolled up the sleeves of her blouse and purposefully swished the cane. Then she moved across the quite wide store room at something approaching a trot (run would have been an exaggeration), jumped in the air and brought the cane down extremely hard with a loud whack. Susan realized with a shudder just how deep the stroke had bitten into Anne’s soft full buttocks. The bottom jerked forward and then back. She realized Elsie had grabbed her hand and was shaking.

Anne said, almost inaudibly: “One stroke, Mrs Ross.”

Susan could hear the sobbing had turned to uncontrollable weeping. The next three or four minutes seemed like hours to Susan. Mrs Ross was remorseless; insisting after every stroke that poor Anne’s bottom was in exactly the right position. Then waiting long enough to get the victim really worked up. Then delivering each stroke with remorseless efficiency. Anne took the second stroke with a moderate yelp. When it got to the third she started to shriek. By the time it got to the fifth the shrieks were very loud indeed. Elsie was gripping Susan’s hand very hard.

Anne seemed totally dazed and kept holding on to the chair, even though the punishment was over. Then she stood up and staggered about the room clutching her bottom as if she was not quite sure of where she was. Susan found herself wondering just how big the bruises were. She had wondered the same question with her brother years before and never found the answer. Mrs Ross ignored Anne’s perambulations, except that she paused and stood there with the cane in her hand. Susan kept wondering if it was going to be her or Elsie next. She felt very hysterical.

Anne had staggered out of the room, she realized, presumably to the loo. Mrs Ross turned the manager’s chair back round, so the seat pointed towards the desk.

“You next, Miss Smith. Bend over the back of the chair. I want your backside right up in the air as high as you can get it.”

Susan gave Elsie’s hand what she hoped was an encouraging squeeze and detached herself from it with some difficulty. Elsie took a deep breath, then walked across to the chair and bent over the back of it. Her small brown-trousered bottom rose high in the air and Mrs Ross began to move across the room. Susan was just waiting for the inevitable swish and whack of the cane and then there was a knock at the door. If there was a knock it could not be a member of the Bookshop staff: They would have just walked in.

“Wait!” She found herself saying. “We don’t want anyone else to know about this!”

She walked to the door as slowly as she decently could. Mrs Ross slid the cane under the desk. Elsie jumped up after a brief hesitation. Susan opened the door. It was one of their most trying customers, Professor Johnson-Blake of Social Studies. Susan had never known him not have something to complain about. She wondered what it was today.

“Susan, isn’t it?” Said the fat bumbling man in the gravy-stained suit.

“Yes, Professor.” She put on what she hoped was an ingratiating smile.

“Its just that I heard some very odd noises from your store room as I was coming down the stairs. Is something the matter? An accident perhaps?”

“Well, to tell you the truth Professor, we were just giving Elsie her birthday bumps. She is nineteen today.”

“Oh happy birthday, Elsie,” said the Professor, putting his face into the store room. “I hope the bumps weren’t too hard, you sounded a bit worked up.”

“I was just putting it on. It was fun really.”

“Oh well, I will leave you to it.”

The door shut.

“Thank goodness he did not see Anne staggering about,” said Susan. “We will have to come back after work, Mrs Ross. We cannot take the chance of anyone from the University finding out what is going on.”

“I’d really rather not.” Elsie cut in. “I’d just got myself in the right frame of mind to take it.”

“I’d rather go on.” Said Mrs Ross.

“I think it is mad to!” Said Susan. “The University would regard it as totally illegal. There could be all sorts of complications.”

There was a reluctant acquiescence.

***

“Mrs Ross can use her keys to lock up the store room when you have finished.” Ron Hyde sounded edgy. Susan suspected he was regretting his decision to not call the Police and was wondering if this irregular corporal punishment route was going to land him in trouble. He had looked worried from the moment he had heard about Professor Johnson-Blake’s intervention. However, it was obviously difficult for him to stop the punishment now. Susan reflected that watching Anne’s punishment had been so upsetting that she felt punished already. She wondered if Elsie felt the same. In Ron’s place she would have declared an amnesty, but Ron had never been notable for brave decisions. Anyway, it was 5.35 pm and John and most of the University staff had left the premises and Ron was about to.

Her mouth had been very dry all afternoon. And she still felt incredibly angry with Elsie. She had not said anything because she did not want to make the situation worse, but when they got home she and Elsie were going to have a discussion. If it ended with Elsie leaving her life she would not be too upset, one half of her said, but ‘I do love her,’ said the other half. She glanced at Elsie, who was looking tired and worried and hanging her head. She suspected Elsie knew only too well just how angry she was, and what the likely consequences were. They were standing outside the store room door, waiting for Mrs Ross who was in the loo.

“I will leave you to it then,” said Ron, and vanished through the basement door.

There were steps on the stairs. It was Anne, who was still looking tear-stained and shaken. Elsie had muttered something about rubbing some cream into Anne’s welts at one point. It had made Susan even angrier. She felt in some perverse way that should have been her prerogative. She would have liked examining Anne’s welts and rubbing cream into them. She found Anne’s bottom interesting and it would have been a chance to examine it. She resented Elsie doing it.

“How are you two getting home?” Asked Anne.

“Driving, of course!” Snapped Susan.

“If it’s as bad as it was for me, you just won’t feel like it. Why don’t you let me drive? I am just about up to it now. I’ll wait for you.”

“Of course I will be able to drive!”

“She’s right!” Said Elsie with unusual decision. “Please let her.”

“Oh! Alright!”

She immediately resented being helped by Anne, but any further discussion was ended by the return of Mrs Ross from the loo.

“Come on, lets get it over with,” said Mrs Ross. “This has gone on far too long.”

She led the way into the store room, and Elsie and Susan followed her. Anne hesitated and then came in anyway. Mrs Ross locked the door and pulled the window blinds down. She did not switch the lights on either, which left the room in semi-darkness. Elsie turned the chair round herself and bent over it. Presumably she wanted to get it over with, Susan decided. She felt slightly irked at not seeing her lover walk across the room shaking, which she had been rather looking forward to. Still, the dark shape of Elsie’s small behind pushing through her trousers towards the ceiling gave her a certain pleasure. She realized Mrs Ross had extricated the canes from under the desk and was standing on the other side of the room. Mrs Ross began her run. In the near dark the noise of her shoes on the floor was much more noticeable. There was a tremendous shriek from Elsie and her bottom jerked wildly. Afterwards, that was what Susan remembered; the sound of the shoes and the shrieks and the thrusting. The memory always gave her so much pleasure. At the time it was more complicated. She was simultaneously worrying that Elsie was being really hurt, feeling that Elsie was having a very well deserved punishment, and being incredibly excited.

Then it was over. Elsie was in hysterics, Anne was very sensibly asking if she could have the key to the store (which Mrs Ross had put in her handbag) to take Elsie into the loo and clean her up. Mrs Ross was opening it for her and then locking it again. It was Susan’s turn. She suddenly began to shake. What was she going to get? It had to be more than the others. She was the senior assistant. She felt she deserved it for not spotting what was going on, even if she had taken nothing. She realized Mrs Ross had picked up one of the tall stools that they sat on to unpack.

“Haul your skirts up and get your arse on top of that,” said Mrs Ross abruptly.

She complied, feeling extremely exposed. She wondered where to put her hands, then reluctantly reached down to the legs of the stool and gripped them. She could feel her knickers absolutely tight across her bottom. She was going to have almost no protection.

“I promised Mr Hyde no bare bottoms,” said Mrs Ross grimly. “But this should be almost as good. And incidentally he did agree to nine strokes. Three of them are for your persistent rudeness to me over the last few months.”

Susan gritted her teeth. There did not seem to be much else to do.

She heard the sound of the shoes and the swish of the cane. And then there was a tremendous wave of pain. After a while she felt as if she was drowning in pain.

***

It was two staff meetings later. The three girls came in together. Anne was now renting the spare room in Susan’s flat and there had been certain developments between the three of them, which all of them were enjoying, though they would not have discussed them with anyone else. Susan noticed Mrs Ross was not there. John had been off for several days with flu. Perhaps Mrs Ross had caught it.

“In case you are wondering,” said Ron Hyde. “Mrs Ross has been dismissed. Firstly, it appears that Professor Johnson-Blake complained to Head Office that she appeared to be taking the leading role in the bullying of other staff. Luckily he stated specifically Susan appeared to be led on by her, so should not be blamed for the misbehaviour. She might have got away with that, but unluckily for Mrs Ross at the same moment an internal audit suggested that her work as a book keeper was rather less than perfect and the combination led to her dismissal. If I had known the problem was her poor book keeping what we all know happened would not have happened. I can only say I am sorry and hope we can leave the matter there.”

The three girls all looked at one another. They all knew two of them were in fact guilty.

“I think,” said Susan with a determined air (trying not to think of her lingering bruises), “all things considered, it would be better if we left it there.”

There was a general nod of agreement.

The End

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