At Simon Carlyle’s request, the inquiry into the spate of thefts at the office had been adjourned for an hour so he could consult with Oscar Williams. In fact, Oscar had initially objected that he had no need for an adjournment but one penetrating glare from his boss had swiftly disabused him of that idea. The two of them had retired to Mr Carlyle’s office where the older man was seated in his swivel chair, elbows resting on his desk and gaze fixed upon his agitated subordinate. Oscar was leaning forward in the chair which was placed across the desk from Simon, and his angry flush and rapid speech attested to his strength of feeling.
“I’m not having you drag Marie into this,” he said, angrily. “She’s got nothing to do with it.”
“No,” agreed Simon, taking care not to anger Oscar further. “This is all about you and how you coped with Marie’s death.”
“And I’m not having you make me out to be some sort of nutter, either.”
“I’m not intending to say anything at all about your state of mind, Oscar. All I’m asking is that you tell the inquiry what you told me, that you took all those things as gifts for Marie.”
“How could I give her presents?” Oscar asked with scorn. “She was dead and buried by the time I took them!”
“I know that; the inquiry knows that. But it doesn’t alter the fact that when you stole from your female colleagues you took only things which you knew Marie would like.”
“What makes you think that?” Oscar asked with a feigned contempt designed to deflect his boss’s line of argument.
“Because you told me so,” came the firm but kindly response. It rendered Oscar silent and Simon continued, “You might now regret what you said but I believe you were telling me the truth. And, despite what you think, your motives do make sense to me. Of course, you knew that Marie was dead but you were so upset that you were no longer thinking logically. If I can understand that you took those things in a misguided attempt to assuage the guilt you felt about Marie, then the inquiry will understand and make allowances too.”
It was mention of his guilt which proved the last straw for Oscar. He knew he’d said too much to his boss but he’d been so upset at the time that he didn’t remember precisely how much he’d revealed. The thought that he might face questions, during a formal enquiry at work, into the nature of his relationship with his wife was frightening. To prevent such an outcome he went immediately on the offensive.
“I don’t care if this fucking inquiry sacks me,” he shouted. “I’m not having them ask intrusive questions about my marriage. I’m going back to tell them to proceed, and I don’t need you as my supporter any more.” He got to his feet and headed towards the door.
“You’re going nowhere, Mr Williams. Come back here and sit down.” The tone was enough to stop Oscar in his tracks but he didn’t at once obey the command.
“Why should I?” he asked with a sneer, as he turned to face his boss. It was clearly a challenge but one born of desperation.
Simon knew that the time for conciliation was past and firm resolution was called for. He understood that Oscar’s truculence was merely a cry for help, expressed in the only way he knew how. “Because you don’t want me to come over there and get you,” he warned. “Come and sit down.”
Simon watched as uncertainty, followed swiftly by determination, clouded Oscar’s expressive features before the young man snarled, “Make me.”
Simon responded at once, getting to his feet without breaking eye contact and walking round his desk to head straight towards Oscar. The younger man could not have expressed more clearly his need for his boss to take charge of the situation and Simon wasn’t one to misread the signals. He took in Oscar’s immediate satisfaction at having goaded him into action and then Oscar’s rising consternation as he bore down upon him.
The young man's eyes opened very wide with surprise when Simon showed no sign of halting his advance and, at the last moment, he attempted to step backwards, out of his boss’s powerful reach. But he found himself clasped firmly round the shoulders and then turned sideways under one of Simon’s strong arms. The other arm was lifted to deliver two firm slaps to Oscar’s bottom followed by two equally powerful blows to the top of his thighs. Oscar gasped with surprise and discomfort. It all happened so quickly, he didn’t have time to think of extricating himself from Simon’s grasp but, as he was being frog marched back to his seat, he realised that he wouldn’t have been strong enough to evade the punishment, even if he’d tried.
“Sit there,” ordered Simon, reinforcing the command with downward pressure on Oscar’s shoulders. Oscar sank at once into his seat and immediately squirmed as the after effects of the brisk spanking made themselves felt. He blushed as he felt his boss’s eyes upon him and sat still at once, his hands clasped in his lap and his head bowed. Simon walked slowly round the desk and resumed his seat opposite Oscar. If he’d had any reservations about taking such extreme measures, they were resolved as soon as he observed Oscar’s demeanour.
Although clearly embarrassed, the young man was sitting quietly, his breathing steady and his air of desperation gone. Simon marvelled at the speed and totality of his capitulation. In other circumstances he would have enjoyed exploring the nature and extent of Oscar’s submission but, with the clock ticking, he had to focus on getting Oscar in the right frame of mind to return to the inquiry and present his best defence.
“Now, Oscar,” he began calmly, as though the brief chastisement hadn’t taken place, “let’s think about this again. Would you be able to tell the inquiry what you told me about taking all those things for Marie? It’s your decision but I really think it will help your defence if you could bring yourself to explain some of your motivation.”
I’m not sure I can,” said Oscar with an openness Simon had not observed before. Clearly Oscar did nothing by half measures and, once the barriers were down, he held nothing back. “I don’t really understand what I was thinking when I started stealing,” he explained apologetically.
“That’s okay, Oscar. If you do the best you can, the inquiry will understand. Management isn’t out to trap you. Just try to answer their questions honestly.”
“Will you help me explain? Tell them what I told you?” Although the request was made shyly, there was a earnestness and trust about it which Simon found endearing.
“Of course, if you’re sure. I don’t want to embarrass you or breach your confidence. I know I upset you just now when I mentioned that you felt guilty about Marie.”
“I shouldn’t have reacted as I did,” Oscar said apologetically. “I know you were only trying to help me. I’m just so upset and confused about Marie that I don’t always behave well.” He took a deep breath but ploughed on. “I’m sorry for the way I spoke to you, sir. It was unforgivable.”
“On the contrary, you’re completely forgiven; your behaviour and words are forgotten.”
“It’s not as easy as that,” Oscar protested.
“Yes it is,” said Simon lightly, seeking to explain what had just taken place between them. “You paid for your misbehaviour so I can’t hold it against you now.” For a moment Oscar looked confused and then understanding dawned and he dropped his gaze in embarrassment. “Hey, there’s no need to feel ashamed,” Simon continued. “If apologies are due, I should be the one saying sorry for warming your backside like that. You won’t find corporal punishment listed in the company’s disciplinary policy but I needed to find a way to get through to you.”
“There’s no need to apologise, Mr Carlyle. I admit I was being deliberately provoking. I can’t explain why when you’ve been trying to help me all along. I think I wanted to push you into… into... I’m not sure what but I…Anyway, I’m not about to make a complaint over the way you treated me.”
“Then I wish I’d known before today that you’d be so amenable,” observed Simon, with a grin. “There’ve been a couple of times in the past when I could happily have spanked you!”
“Oh,” gasped Oscar, as curiosity overcame his discomfiture. “When was that?”
“Well, that time you mislaid the plans for the MacMillan contract, I could happily have turned you over my desk then and given you what for.” It was uttered in a bantering tone but Simon couldn’t mistake the flare of interest and arousal in Oscar’s eyes, hastily disguised as he averted his gaze. It gave Simon pause for thought and and confirmed an opinion which he was beginning, rather uncertainly, to form about his colleague.
“So that’s why I got all the scut work for the following three weeks,” murmured Oscar, demonstrating the good humour and resilience which Simon remembered from happier days.
“But I couldn’t do without you in my department now,” Simon responded sincerely, “so let’s concentrate on making sure you keep your job.”
“Do you really think there’s a chance I won’t be sacked?” asked Oscar with dawning hope.
“Yes, I really think there is a chance, so long as you cooperate with the panel and keep your cool. Now, what are going to say when they ask you why you took all those things?”
“I’m going to say that I wasn’t thinking straight when I did it. That really is the truth, Mr Carlyle,” Oscar added earnestly. “I don’t want to make excuses but I honestly didn’t take anything for myself. I just saw things which I thought Marie would like and, somehow, I felt better when I’d got them for her. I know that doesn’t make sense. I knew that I couldn’t actually give her any of the things I’d collected for her. That’s why I kept them in my locker at work. I couldn’t take them home.Don’t you see? That really would have been insane. I just stuffed them in my locker and didn’t look at them again. I didn’t want to be reminded of what had happened, what I’d done…” Oscar trailed off, unable to explain further.
“Don’t worry, Oscar. I said I’d tell the panel what you told me. I’m sure they’ll understand you were under considerable pressure when you took those things. But you have to accept that there will be a penalties for what you did. Some of those women incurred substantial costs and...”
Oscar cut in at once. “I’ll pay them back, Mr Carlyle. I’ll cover all their losses.”
“I’m sure that will be one condition if you’re to retain your post. You’ll have to apologise to your victims as well.”
Oscar winced even as he began nodding his head. “I know. I’ve been thinking about that. I don’t know how I’ll be able to face them. I took their personal belongings, things I had no business touching, let alone taking. It’s so embarrassing but... but, I will do it.”
“Well, you’re lucky that your female colleagues are very understanding. They’ve all indicated that they’re willing to accept an apology and compensation for their losses. But you needn’t worry about that just now. We’ll have to await the decision of the inquiry and then there’ll be time to plan what you’re going to say.” Simon hesitated and then decided to warn Oscar about other possible penalties. He wasn’t privy to management discussion of the case but his conversation with the managing director had given him some inkling of the decision the panel was likely to reach. “I think you should prepare yourself for a period of suspension, Oscar, with the possibility that management might offer you access to professional counselling.”
“What?” demanded Oscar at once. “I told you that I won’t be labelled as a nutter.”
“Calm down, Oscar. Nobody’s talking about mental illness. If the company is prepared to pay for one-to-one counselling then that’s a measure of how much they value you as an employee. It’s a gift, not a punishment, and you should be grateful.”
“I’m not and I don’t want it,” Oscar insisted.
“Well, your wants don’t come into this,” said Simon firmly. “This is a case of providing for your needs and it’s pretty obvious to me that you could do with some professional help. Quite apart from the thefts, which are totally out of character for you, you haven’t been yourself since Marie died. Your grief is entirely natural and normal but I blame myself for not recognising sooner that you needed proper bereavement counselling.”
“My private life is nothing to do with you.”
“When your private life impacts on your ability to do the job then it’s got everything to do with me.”
“Have you arranged for me to have this counselling?” asked Oscar suspiciously.
“No,” replied Simon, honestly, “I don’t have that authority. But if it’s offered, I want you to accept with good grace.” Oscar still looked mulish so Simon adopted a more conciliatory tone. “Look, if you find it’s of no benefit you can always end the arrangement but I would like you at least to give it a try. You may find that it helps to talk things through with a trained professional, someone who can provide impartial advice and support.” He hesitated and then added, as tactfully as possible, “There are clearly some issues you need help with.”
Oscar ignored all reference to his mental state and focussed purely on the practicalities. “Would this counsellor report what I say back to the company?”
“Of course not. It would be an entirely confidential process. If the company offers counselling it will be on the same basis as the provision of private health care for employees. It’s in everyone’s interests to have a fit and healthy workforce.”
“Okay,” said Oscar grudgingly. “If they say I have to have counselling I’ll give it a go, so long as I can drop out if I don’t like it.”
“That’s all I’m asking, Oscar, that’s all I”m asking. Now, are you ready to go back upstairs? We don’t want to keep the panel waiting.”