Pedal Power: Part 4

I was able to spend some time helping Ben prepare for his disciplinary hearing because Alfie had no races scheduled for a month or so. He spent the intervening period on standard fitness training and long distance road work. He would go out on the bike, either alone or with one or two team mates, and regularly complete thirty and fifty mile training rides. Unless I wanted to closely monitor their performance, the guys cycled unaccompanied by support vehicles.

When I got a call from the hospital to say that Alfie had been involved in an accident while out on his bike, my heart stood still. He had arrived at the hospital by ambulance and was being assessed in the emergency room. I had no idea how serious his injuries were and the nurse who telephoned wasn’t able to give me any information beyond the fact that Alfie had asked her to call me. That at least confirmed he was conscious and able to give my number as his emergency contact. I wanted to get to the hospital as soon as possible but I had to take a few minutes to recover after hearing the bad news. Even then, I was hardly fit to drive when I finally got into my car. My heart was pounding, my hands were shaking and I felt like I was reliving the ghastly sequence of events which I’d prayed never to experience again.

Everyone knows that cyclists are at risk on the road. Car drivers get far too close and truck drivers often fail to spot cyclists in their side view mirrors. Alfie was always dismissive of the risks although he admitted that he’d been forced off the road on occasion by inconsiderate motorists. He’d set off that morning in high spirits for an unaccompanied training ride. I’d checked that he had sufficient liquid, a supply of high energy cereal bars and a fully charged mobile phone but beyond that I had to trust to his good judgement and the driving skills of other road users. Throughout that dreadful journey to the hospital I could only pray that his luck had not finally run out.

Once I’d found somewhere to park and reported to reception, I was reaching the point of desperation. After what seemed like an endless wait I was escorted to a curtained cubicle and looked down on Alfie who was lying under a sheet on an examination couch. He didn’t notice me immediately and a cold hand of fear gripped my heart as I saw the dried blood in his hair and the swelling round his eye socket and jaw. His brow was creased in a grimace of pain and his fingers were clutching the sides of the couch. I schooled my expression into one of unworried compassion and walked forward into his line of sight. His eyes lit up when he saw me and he held out one scraped and bloody hand which I clutched in both of mine.

“How are you, love? What happened?”

“I’m so glad you came, Brandon. I didn’t want to worry you but I couldn’t use my phone in here.”

“Of course I came. I came as soon as the hospital rang. Did you ask them to contact your parents?”

“I only gave them your name. There’s no need for Mum and Dad to get upset. Perhaps you could ring them later and tell them I’m okay.”

“Let’s see how you’re doing before we make any decisions on that. Has the doctor seen you?”

At that point the curtain was pulled back briskly and the doctor entered the tiny cubicle accompanied by a nurse. I stepped back to give them access to their patient, hoping that they wouldn’t ask me to leave.

“Is it okay if I stay?” I asked. “Alfie is my partner.”

“Are you happy with that, Mr Hayden?” the doctor asked.

“Oh yes,” said Alfie, “I want Brandon to stay with me.”

He stretched a pleading hand towards me, fearful that I might step out of the cubicle. I started to move towards Alfie to reassure him but the nurse got there first. She captured his wrist and returned his hand to his side before pulling back the sheet which covered his body. I saw that he'd been stripped to his underwear and his powerfully muscled torso and legs were covered with cuts and grazes.

The doctor bent over to speak to Alfie. “Your x-rays have come back, Mr Hayden, and there are no bones broken. However, I’m a bit worried by the blows to your head so we need to keep an eye on you in case of concussion. While we’re waiting for a bed on the ward the nurse here will get you cleaned up and we’ll check whether any of these cuts need stitching.” He ran gloved hands over Alfie’s chest and legs. “Actually, I think you’ve mainly got very bad grazing and bruising. I take it you came off your bike and skidded across the road. Your legs seem to have taken the worst of it.”

Alfie seemed to relax when he heard that he had no broken bones. I listened carefully to the rest of the doctor’s report but Alfie shut his eyes and I suspected that he hadn’t grasped the fact that he would be staying the night in hospital. I was conscious of an enormous sense of relief as I finally accepted that Alfie’s injuries were not life threatening. The reaction was so strong I could feel my body shaking with the excess adrenaline still present in my system.

When the doctor left, the nurse went to get a small treatment trolley equipped with swabs, antiseptic and an array of shiny surgical instruments. She invited me to take a seat beside Alfie and I held his hand while she busied herself cleaning his cuts and grazes. To judge by the fierce grip he exerted on my hand and his many gasps and grimaces the antiseptic must have stung. On occasion she had to stop and use tweezers to remove gravel from some of the grazes on his legs. Like all competitive cyclists Alfie keeps his legs clean shaven to make them easier to clean and bandage when the inevitable falls onto tarmac mean that gravel gets in the wounds. On this occasion the nurse assured us that none of his cuts required stitching but she closed a couple which were still bleeding with tissue adhesive.

I then sat with Alfie until the porters came to take him to the ward. I tried asking him again about his accident but I got no coherent answer and I didn’t press him. He was still in shock, I think, and I started to become concerned about him getting cold under a thin sheet while we waited for a bed to become available on the ward. I wasn’t permitted to go with Alfie to the ward but I was told I could visit him once they had him settled. He was reconciled to my departure when I told him I was just going home to get his pyjamas, dressing gown, slippers and toiletries. He perked up long enough to add his iPod, notebook and headphones to the list and, although I doubted the wisdom of bringing expensive electrical items to an open ward, I thought having all his favourite gizmos to hand would speed his recovery.

When I returned to the hospital I found Alfie lying with his eyes closed and his dark curls in tousled disarray. His face looked very pale against the pillow, except where bruises were beginning to darken around his eye and on his jaw. I wondered how he had sustained the head injuries. Normally the peak of the cycling helmet protects the face from injury. If the doctor wanted Alfie monitored for signs of concussion then the impact to his face must have been considerable. I wondered also what had happened to his bike. It was a valuable piece of equipment but that was the least of my worries. I was simply wondering whether it would provide any evidence against the driver who had injured Alfie. I presumed the police had taken care of all of that. My only concern at that point was Alfie’s health and welfare. If I had time the next day I would either contact the police myself and see about recovering the bike or ask someone at work to do the job for me.

While Alfie dozed I unpacked the items I'd brought for him and placed them in his bedside locker. I then pulled up a chair and sat silently watching and waiting until he woke up so I could get him out of the backless hospital gown and into a much more comfortable and less revealing pair of his own pyjamas. In the event he was woken by the nurse who came to carry out the next scheduled check on Alfie’s vital signs, reflexes and vision. She pulled the curtain round his bed and helped me get him into his pyjamas, a task which proved more difficult than I’d expected as Alfie seemed unable to help by lifting himself off the bed. He apologised for being a nuisance but it was distressing to see that he hurt all over.

When visiting time came to an end I was reluctant to leave, knowing that Alfie was so uncomfortable and was facing a disturbed night with regular checks for signs of concussion.  As I was saying goodbye the nurse came round again and offered some pain relief which she administered after she had completed the standard checks on Alfie’s level of consciousness. I felt better about leaving him once he had accepted the medication and I promised to be back for visiting time the following day. I checked with the ward sister before I left and discovered that visitors were not admitted until the afternoon, leaving the morning free for ward rounds. I hoped that by the time I arrived the next day Alfie would be cleared to go home. I decided to bring a set of outdoor clothing with me just in case. I could easily slip it into Alfie’s locker without comment if he had to remain in hospital for longer.

Early the following morning I telephoned the hospital and was assured that Alfie had had a good night and was giving no cause for concern. I decided to go into the office for an hour or so to catch up on essential work. I could contact the police from there to obtain details of the accident and the whereabouts of Alfie’s bike. I had just put the phone down after a rather unhelpful conversation with the local police station when a knock on my door announced the arrival of all the team members who were training that morning. Their concern for Alfie was overwhelming.

“How is he?”

“Is he home?”

“Did he break any bones?”

“Can we go and see him?”

I faced a barrage of questions and I tried to give one comprehensive answer. “He’s still in hospital but there seems to be no serious injury. I’m hoping he may be released later today. I’ll let you know whether they’re keeping him in or sending him home after lunch. I’m sure he’d be very pleased to have visitors, either on the ward or at home, while he’s recovering. He’s got a lot of scrapes and bruises and it’ll be some weeks before he’s on the bike again.”

There was a general sense of relief at the good news and plenty of offers of assistance. I decided to take up their offers as it was clear all Alfie’s team mates would be only too pleased to help out.

“Well, if any of you have a bit of free time this afternoon I would be very glad if you could try and find out exactly what happened to Alfie. I haven’t been able to speak to anyone at the police station who knows the details and I want to track down Alfie’s bike.

Danny Jackson spoke for the group. “Leave this with us, Brandon. We’ll go down to the police station and wait around if necessary. It’s always easier to get a result if you go in person. And we’ll find out what happened to Alfie’s bike and bring it back here if we can.”

“Thanks, guys. I need to be with Alfie this afternoon and it would be a weight off my mind to know you’re doing some of the investigation for me. Do you have any idea what happened? Alfie was on a solo training ride yesterday and he wasn’t up to telling me much when I got to the hospital.”

“We don’t know how the accident happened but someone filmed what took place afterwards on a mobile phone. Apparently it’s on YouTube but I haven’t seen it yet.” Danny offered that fascinating piece of information but it appeared to be news to the rest of the guys and none of them had seen the clip.

“Thank you for telling me that, Danny. I’ll just have time to check it out before I have to leave for the hospital. It might give me a bit more information about what happened before I see Alfie. I’ll tell him you were all asking after him and will be round to see him soon.”

“Thanks, Brandon.”

As they left my office they all murmured an encouraging message for Alfie or a word of reassurance for me.

“Love to Alfie. Tell him, ‘chin up’ from the guys.”

“Don’t worry about the accident report. We’re on the case.”

When the last man closed the door I turned back to the computer and went to YouTube. It’s not a site I’ve often visited but it was easy to enter Alfie Hayden in the search box. I was surprised that the search produced a number of hits. I could see from the thumbnails that they all featured him riding his bike, head down in full racing style – all, that is, except one. The most recent clip seemed to show the side of a huge truck and I clicked on it, fearful of what I might see.

I needn’t have worried about seeing Alfie knocked off his bike. The accident had already taken place and the rather grainy image focussed in on his mangled bike. Then the observer panned round to Alfie who was standing screaming abuse at the truck driver who was advancing towards him. It was impossible to make out the extent of Alfie’s injuries but his Lycra jersey and cycling shorts were hanging in strips, giving evidence that his body must have been flung at high speed across the tarmac. The truck driver reached out a hand to Alfie, whether to remonstrate with him or to offer assistance I couldn’t tell. Alfie remained incensed and flashed his middle finger at the driver before turning to point at his bike. The driver reacted badly to the gesture and grabbed Alfie’s arm and the next thing I saw was Alfie swinging a punch at a truck driver built like a gorilla. The outcome of the fight was never in doubt and after the second punch to his face Alfie went down in the untidy heap which spoke of a knockout blow. By then bystanders were rushing onto the scene, some to restrain the driver and others to assist Alfie.

I watched the short clip a couple more times before turning off my computer, locking the office and heading out to the hospital. My mind was in turmoil as I drove. My first reaction was fury that Alfie could start a fight in such circumstances and put himself at such risk. My second thought was that Alfie had been unconscious, if only for a short time, and I wondered if his doctor was aware of that fact. I recalled the lack of response from Alfie when I’d asked him about the accident, a lack of response which I’d put down to shock and pain. Now I wondered if he had exaggerated his reaction to make it easier for him to conceal the truth from me. More to the point, I wondered how long it would be before he told me the real reason for the injuries to his face.

When I got to the hospital Alfie was much livelier than he'd been the night before, although the bruises on his face were now livid shades of blue, purple and yellow, and ugly scabs had formed on his many grazes. He was waiting for the doctor to come back with his discharge papers and his first question was whether I had brought him clothes to wear. I left him to dress while I went to waylay the doctor before he reached Alfie’s curtained bed. The doctor accepted without query my statement that Alfie had been unconscious before arrival at the hospital. He didn’t seem unduly concerned, assuring me that if any damage had been done to Alfie’s brain, signs of a bleed would almost certainly have become apparent by then. He accompanied me back to Alfie’s bed and I listened carefully to the doctor’s instructions about care of the patient’s cuts and grazes and the need to summon assistance quickly if Alfie began to vomit, suffer blurred vision or lose consciousness. I then helped Alfie gather up and pack his belongings into the sports bag I had brought with me and we walked slowly out to my car.

On the journey home, Alfie sat in uncharacteristic silence. I made no attempt to engage him in conversation. I was struggling to cope with my own emotions. Foremost amongst them was huge relief that Alfie was safe, on the road to recovery and travelling home with me. Set against that one fact, everything else paled into insignificance. I could so easily have lost him. If he had gone under the wheels of the truck his body would have been a mangled wreck like the bike. I'd seen the damage a heavy vehicle could do to a frail human body and I shuddered at the memory. I had a warm, breathing, beautiful, loving and lovable man sitting beside me. It was such a blessing, such a joy, I couldn’t hold on to my anger.

Nor could I sit in judgement on Alfie’s behaviour after the accident. He would have been suffering from shock at the time. Judging by his many cuts and grazes, he must have been in considerable pain. His furious reaction was an entirely understandable response to a driver who had nearly killed him. Whatever Alfie said or did to the truck driver, nothing excused the ferocity of the response he encountered. I would be engaging the very best lawyer to make that point very forcefully in court. No, if I was still angry, it was an anger born of fear; fear of what might have happened; fear that I could so easily have been alone and in mourning yet again.

On reflection, I realised that Alfie had hardly had the opportunity to describe his accident in detail. It was even possible that he didn’t remember precisely how it had happened. As for the altercation with the truck driver, Alfie was probably waiting to get home where we would have the time and the privacy to talk without interruption. I strongly suspected he was rehearsing his account on the journey home. He sat with his head bowed and in my peripheral vision I could just see his hands twisting in agitation on his lap. If that agitation sprang from plans to deceive me, I didn’t intend to give him the time or the opportunity to dig himself into a hole. I hoped he would come clean fairly quickly, if not I would tell him that there was film of the accident on YouTube. I reckoned that would get him talking.

Once we arrived home I got Alfie straight into bed. There were no arguments so I reckon he was more weakened by his injuries than he’d realised when lying in a hospital bed. He'd also been woken at intervals throughout the night so I wasn’t surprised when he fell into a deep sleep and only came to as evening fell. I was able to interest him in a light supper which I went to prepare as he picked up the phone to ring Danny. I asked him to keep the conversation short but I shut the kitchen door to avoid any temptation to eavesdrop. If he wanted to tell Danny about the truck driver before he told me then that was his choice and I didn’t want to overhear the conversation. If Danny mentioned the YouTube clip, then maybe that was all to the good. The last thing I wanted was to catch Alfie out in a lie. I didn’t ask him any questions about the accident, though. I wondered if he noticed and thought it strange.

For the next couple of days Alfie stayed in bed and his parents and friends came round to keep him company while I went to work. When he felt up to getting dressed and spending the whole day downstairs I rang the sports centre and asked if one of the staff would take my coaching session. I felt that Alfie needed my presence at home and he did indeed remain close to me, following me from room to room, but without his customary good humour and exuberance. Finally I sat him down with me on the sofa and gave him a hint that I knew what was worrying him.

“I think it’s about time you told me what happened to you and the bike, don’t you, Alfie?”

“What do you know already?” he asked a trifle nervously.

“Well, I’ve seen the YouTube clip, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

He breathed out slowly as though he’d been holding his breath. “That makes things a bit easier then,” he said, with a touch of his old humour. “It’s a wonder you’ve kept quiet for so long if you know about that.”

“I’ve been waiting for you to feel well enough to tell me.”

“Did you think I wasn’t going to tell you the truth?” he asked perceptively

“Were you planning to tell me lies?” I countered.

“It crossed my mind,” he admitted and laughed. It was then that I knew with absolute certainty that he had never intended to deceive me about the source of his injuries.

“Tell me what you remember about the accident first, then.”

“I can’t tell you exactly, it all happened so fast. I was cycling on an empty, straight stretch of road. I heard the truck come up behind me and I would have been perfectly visible to the driver. As the cab came level with me I was aware that it was very close to my shoulder and, as it passed, the truck swiped my handlebars and the bike just went from under me. I think it must have gone under the back wheels of the vehicle but I was flung clear and ended up sliding across the road.”

My expression must have registered some of the horror I felt at how close Alfie had come to death. It frightened him and he tried to defend himself, in a panic that I would blame him for the accident.

“It wasn’t my fault, Brandon. I was going fast but in a perfectly straight line close to the kerb. It wasn’t my fault. I don’t think the driver was paying attention. He must have heard and felt the impact and looked in his mirrors to see me spin across the road. He pulled up a bit further along and walked back.”

“It didn’t look like that in the video clip, Alfie,” I observed gently.

“No, I’ve puzzled about that.”

“So you’ve looked at it too.”

“Yeah, when I was sure you’d gone to do the shopping,” he confessed with a grimace.

“What exactly did you do immediately after the accident?”

“I seem to remember I got up very quickly. I didn’t want to lie in the middle of the highway and be hit by oncoming traffic. I don’t remember feeling any pain, just shock that my clothes were torn to pieces. When I saw the bike I went to pick it up. I was so upset to see it all mangled, and angry at the fucking stupid driver who had done the damage. I think I dragged the bike along with me to have a go at him. I wanted him to know how much it had cost and how much it meant to me… I don’t know why I got so worked up about a bloody machine. I could have been killed.”

Alfie had said exactly what I’d been thinking from the moment I saw the clip on YouTube. His understanding defused any anger I might have been feeling and also helped me come up with an explanation.

“I think you knew you’d just had a close call. If your body had fallen the other way it would have been you and not the bike under the wheels of that truck. Your anger was just triggered by a hormonal reaction to the life threatening situation you’d just survived. It’s understandable, love.”

“But I shouldn’t have hit him.”

“No, you most certainly should not have hit him. Did you give any thought to his size and strength? There was no way you could ever win a fist fight with that man.”

“I wasn’t thinking, Brandon. It was just instinct. I don’t remember anything after I landed the first punch.”

“That was probably because you were unconscious. Do you remember when you came round?”

“I think I was in the ambulance because I remember looking up at faces and someone was putting a neck brace on me.”

“Well, that’s standard practice with a head injury. I suppose the paramedics weren’t to know you’d been in a road traffic accident and then engaged in a bout of fisticuffs!” I grinned at him and I saw his shoulders relax. He seemed relieved and much happier when he asked the question which he must have been pondering since the accident.

“Are you going to punish me? Are you going to spank me for fighting?”

“You certainly deserve to be spanked within an inch of your life for such reckless behaviour.” The words were out of my mouth before I realised what I’d said. Alfie had been within inches of losing his life and we had both just acknowledged that fact. I wished I could take back my hasty words. Hearing Alfie describe the accident had also released some of my own tension and anxiety and I suddenly felt overwhelmed by all the pent up emotion. “I can’t bear to hurt you, love,” I confessed. “I nearly lost you and I can’t bear to spank you.”

Alfie looked worried and confused by my distress. I tried to pull myself together for his sake and take the firm line which I knew would make him feel better about what he’d done. I didn’t want him looking at me too closely either until I’d got my emotions back under control. “I need a bit of time to think about the appropriate penalty and you can spend it standing in the corner.”

It was no wonder he looked surprised. It wasn’t something I’d asked of him before and it wasn’t a penalty we had discussed or agreed upon. I reckoned it would do him no harm, though, and he could usefully spend some time thinking about the importance of self control. I stood up and guided him to the one corner of our sitting room not filled with furniture. He moved without resistance and I placed him with his nose inches away from the paintwork and his hands at his sides.

“Stand there, Alfie. Don’t move.  Face the front. I want you to think about the risk you took when you attacked that driver. No matter what the provocation, you never throw a punch. Is that understood? I want to be very certain that you will never do anything like that again. You can spend some time standing here in silence and reminding yourself to think before you act.”

I went back to the sofa and tried to get myself under control while I watched Alfie stand rigidly to attention. There was something about his stance, something about the set of his shoulders which reminded me so powerfully of Tony who had often occupied that very same spot. Over the previous days, when Alfie had needed me to look after him, I had firmly put to the back of my mind how close I had come to reliving the tragedy of Tony’s death. Suddenly I was overwhelmed, but whether it was with grief about Tony or relief about Alfie, I couldn’t say. I put my head into my hands and the tears fell unchecked.

The next thing I was aware of was the gentle touch of Alfie’s hands in my hair. I sat upright quickly, schooling my expression into one of stern disapproval.

“I didn’t give you permission to leave that corner, young man.”

Alfie wasn’t fooled and my red eyes and wet cheeks rather undermined my strict tone of voice.

“I don’t need your permission when you are so obviously upset. What’s the matter? Is this because I was nearly killed?”

“Partly,” I admitted.

“And partly because…?” Alfie waited expectantly for an answer.

“I’ll be okay. Just give me a minute or two.”

“And partly because…?” he persisted.

“Partly because of things which happened before I met you,” I admitted reluctantly. I didn’t want to go down this route with Alfie. “I was just reminded of some very bad times but I don’t need to burden you with any of that.”

“So this honesty business is a one way street, eh? I have to tell you what’s worrying me but it doesn’t apply in reverse. You can keep secrets from me but I have to tell you everything. Is that how it works?”

Put like that Alfie left me without a leg to stand on. “No, Alfie,” I conceded. “It doesn’t work like that.”

“So tell me why you’re so upset.”

He sat down beside me on the sofa and took my hands in his. He looked at me with compassion but a certain resolution which would have made me laugh in other circumstances. He obviously wasn’t going to let me off the hook and suddenly it felt right to share with him the details of the worst thing that has ever happened to me. I’d been behaving dishonestly by keeping him in the dark and justifying it to myself on the grounds that I didn’t want to upset him. He deserved better treatment in a partnership of equals. I turned towards him and braced myself to tell the truth.

“I’m upset because I nearly lost you. When that call came from the hospital I was hardly in a fit state to get in the car I was so frightened. I drove all the way imagining the worst. You see, Alfie, I’ve been through all this once before. I should have told you but I didn’t want to upset you. My partner, Tony, was killed when he was knocked off his bike… He was younger than you… I was out with him… I saw it happen.”

I struggled to tell Alfie the basic facts. It wasn’t something I ever spoke about. It felt like I was dredging the words up from the depths of my being and all the time, at the back of my mind, was the worry that Alfie wouldn’t cope well with hearing about the only other serious relationship in my life. I glanced up expecting to see shock, disappointment or anger on his face but as I caught his eye he pulled me towards him and held me in a tight embrace.

“Oh, Brandon. What a dreadful thing,” he whispered. “When did this happen?”

“Oh, nearly ten years ago. I’m over it really.” I pulled out of his arms and tried for a more self possessed manner. “It was just that your accident brought it all back.”

“I can’t imagine anyone would ever get over something like that. I suppose you just learn to live with it.” Alfie had depths of empathy and understanding I had never fully appreciated. “Tell me exactly what happened,” he insisted.

Slowly at first and then more confidently as Alfie encouraged me, I described seeing Tony hit the windscreen of a speeding vehicle, the nightmare journey with him in the ambulance and the dreadful news I received at the hospital. I relived the horror of summoning his parents and then sitting with them, holding his hand as life slipped away from my partner’s broken body. When my recital came to an end I couldn’t hide my tears.

“I’m sorry, Alfie, it’s just… it’s just… I can’t come to terms with the waste of that young life.  I’m over my grief but sometimes there are still tears, just for the tragedy of it all.”

“And you miss, Tony,” said Alfie gently.

“I’m with you now, Alfie. I love you. I don’t look back. You and I have a future together and I couldn’t be happier than I am with you.”

“I know that, Brandon,” Alfie said with calm assurance. “But you loved Tony too. Tell me about him. If you loved him he must have been a very special man.”

“Do you really want to hear about him?”

“Of course. Do you think it’s going to upset me? I wasn’t a virgin when I came to you. I know you must have had other relationships too.”

“My only other long term relationship was with Tony and there was no one after him until I met you. It took me a long time to get my life back on track after Tony’s death and since then I’ve thrown all my energies into my job. That’s the truth, my love.”

“So tell me about him.”

I smiled as I tried to recall the essential Tony so I could describe him to Alfie.

“He was a darling, a minx… a real handful. He had little impulse control and no sense of time or place. That meant he could be an hour late and wander in as though no one had been kept waiting and he could behave outrageously in the most inappropriate settings. He was always laughing, he loved life…  and he was a great cyclist.”

“You’re remembering the good times now, aren’t you?” Alfie observed perceptively.

“Yeah, we had some great fun together. I forgot that for a while after he died. I was so devastated I couldn’t do anything. I resigned from my job and spent a long time on my own here at home. Now the pain is in the past and I can remember our time together with pleasure. I can laugh at the memory of some of his antics.”

“And you sorted him out, eh?” he enquired shrewdly.

“Well, yes…” When Alfie started to laugh I protested. “It wasn’t as you think. He asked me to discipline him. I wasn’t at all sure to start to with. He had to coach me the first time I spanked him but he was right. It worked for us both to be in a discipline partnership.”

“So now I know who to thank for your ability to set my bottom ablaze.”

Alfie was laughing but I replied seriously.

“I only suggested a similar arrangement with you because in some ways you’re very like Tony. I thought you’d respond as he did to firm discipline. I suppose I was attracted to you in the first place because you reminded me of Tony but don’t go thinking that you were some sort of replacement for him. I wasn’t looking for that and you don’t look in the least bit like him. I’ll find you some pictures of him later. I need to look at them myself these days to remember exactly what he looked like. Now I love you and only you.”

“I love you too, all the more so now I know what you went through with Tony.” Alfie paused and then seemed to come to a decision. Adopting a more formal tone he said, “So, Mr Gates, with all your experience of managing wayward partners, what penalty have you decided on for the offence of punching a truck driver?”

There was a deliberate challenge in Alfie’s eyes and it brought out the appropriate response in me. Maybe that was what Alfie intended. I put thoughts of Tony to one side for the time being and concentrated on dealing with my young partner who was clearly expecting to be punished.

“I seem to remember that the penalty began with corner time… a penalty which you evaded, young man. So you can get your nose back in that corner and I don’t want to see you move or hear you speak for the next twenty minutes. You can spend the time contemplating the error of your ways.”

“So that’s fifteen minutes corner time, in fact, because I’d already done five minutes before I came to talk to you.”

I suspected that the provocation was deliberate; Alfie was suppressing a grin. However, I wasn’t playing games and my response was calm but firm. “No. That’s a total of twenty five minutes with penalty time included for trying to reduce the punishment you’re due.”

If it had been possible for Alfie to growl he would have done it. I think five minutes had already convinced my active young partner that corner time was a very unattractive option.

“You said that was the first part of my punishment. Are you going to spank me then?”

“Not this time, but you can be very sure that if you ever raise your hand to anyone else you won’t be sitting comfortably for a very long time. No, this time you’re going to be grounded for two weeks. That will be another new experience for you. You will stay within my sight at all times. You'll go nowhere and do nothing without my permission. And permission will not be given for the use of electronic entertainment of any kind. You’re going to discover what it’s like when I need to closely supervise your behaviour.”

If Alfie was ready to growl about corner time, he looked ready to bite something when I told him about the grounding. I actually thought the time he would have to spend in my company would be a good experience for us both, giving us an opportunity to talk and reconnect after the trauma of his accident. Alfie wouldn’t be fit to get back on his bike for at least two weeks and he would be far better coming into work with me than moping around the house. I would be able to find plenty of tasks to fill his time.  I had no intention of sharing my reasoning with him, however. I was rather glad that I had hit upon a punishment which he seemed to regard as particularly unpleasant. It would drive home the message I wanted him to remember and make him feel he had paid the penalty for giving me such a fright. I had learnt when I was with Tony how to manage young men of Alfie’s temperament.