The Ten Weeks: Week Nine (7-13 February): A Little Corporal Punishment for the Road

The setting of the novel The Ten Weeks was exactly forty years ago. This is one of a series of excerpts from the novel, one for each week (except for Weeks Two and Three, which were combined).

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Coleman reviewed the police file that Bancroft had assembled and handed it to his deputy. He turned and faced the two boys, his girth blocking their view of the deputy taking notes.

“Where were you about 2100 last night?” Coleman asked.

“Uh. . .I think that was when I got to the tavern, the Flying Dutchman.”

“Alone?”

“Why does the church care about that?” Jack asked.

“You better answer him,” Rick said. “He’s figured it out.”

“Your friend is wise again,” Coleman said. “Just to educate you on our system here, the Ecclesiastical Constable has jurisdiction over all matters relating to the Church—internal discipline, unlawful religious activity, truancy and other serious matters in school, and of course theft and abuse of church property. Every now and then the King’s officers will deputise us to handle matters that we have some interest in. This is what has happened here. You would probably be sitting in their room rather than mine if you hadn’t exercised the poor judgement of using the sexton’s truck of the Church of St. Mark’s to go ‘bar hopping,’ as you Verecundans like to say, with Miss Denise Kendall. But now the entire matter— including her admission of unlawful conjugal activity—is in my purview.”

“I didn’t do anything! She never said that!” Jack exclaimed.

“I’m afraid she did,” Coleman said. He handed Jack a copy of her confession. The two boys read it in shock.

“She’s lying!” Jack said. “It’s her word against mine. She hates me, that’s why she did this.”

“I have no doubt that Miss Kendall hates you, and for good reason,” Coleman agreed. “But we have several other witnesses that have informed us that you did not leave the Flying Dutchman until after midnight, that you rented and paid for the room she came out of unclothed two hours later, and that you left your seed on the bedsheets for good measure.” He showed Jack the Polaroid photograph of the last piece of evidence.

“She did it with somebody else! I just rented the room because she was drunk and almost passed out.”

“So why didn’t you just take her back to the guest house, like the knight in shining armour you claim to me?” the deputy asked. Jack had no comeback to that last question.

“I want to speak with my ambassador! And why did you guys release her anyway? It takes two.”

“Miss Kendall carries a diplomatic passport,” Coleman reminded Jack. “Your ambassador came round last night to handle that crisis. As a practical matter, although I am no expert on Verecundan politics, I would think that your attempts to get either assistance or sympathy from your government would fall on deaf ears, if you know what I’m talking about.” Jack knew exactly what he was talking about when he said that.

“Now, as I see it, we have two choices. You can be formally arrested and charged with unlawful conjugal relations and your unauthorised use of Church property.” He turned to Rick. “And you can be charged as his accomplice, since you allowed his use of the truck. Both of you can find yourself fighting these charges in a system that does not have habeas corpus and which is subject to royal decree should His Majesty, in consultation with our dear Bishop, decide that he is tired of dealing with barnacles like you two. Or, you can admit your guilt, allow me to administer a little corporal punishment, and be on your way. In your case,” he looked at Jack, “that will be straight to your boat in Drago and out of our country for good.”

Jack thought for a minute. “I was kinda hoping to be Reverend Langley’s acolyte at early Communion tomorrow before heading back. For old times sake.”

Coleman thought about it. “All right, if both of you will take your beating, we’ll do it. The Drago constabulary will be watching you like a hawk and, of course, you’ll be in the church close, so you’ll still be under my jurisdiction. And, of course, by that time the burden of your sins will be intolerable, I can assure you.”

Jack and Rick looked at each other and nodded in assent. “It’s a deal,” Rick said. Coleman’s deputy got up and left the room with the paperwork, and returned with Coleman’s razor strap. Both Jack and Rick’s eyes widened when they beheld this, the favourite instrument of punishment of the Ecclesiastical Constabulary for younger offenders.

“Take your clothes off,” he said. They both stripped down to their underwear. “All of them!” he barked.

“Huh?” Jack breathed.

“It’s the way they do it up here,” Rick explained. “That’s the way Athena’s mom beats her.” They complied with this.

“Mr. Arnold, you’re first. Bend over on the chair,” Coleman said. Jack knelt on the floor and bent over with his elbows on the chair. Both Rick and the deputy stood back as Coleman assumed his position, doubled over the razor strap, drew back, and lashed the strap across Jack’s hind quarters.

Jack had felt his father’s belt from time to time, but the pain he felt from Coleman’s first blow was far more excruciating than he had ever felt before in his life for any reason. He tried to count the strokes, but somewhere in the process he lost consciousness and fell onto the floor. The deputy simply pulled his body out of the way and Coleman proceeded to administer Rick the same punishment, albeit with fewer strokes because his offence was less.

Coleman finished Rick’s beating and admired his handiwork. “Get dressed,” he ordered Rick. “And get his clothes on, too,” he said, pointing at Jack. Both Coleman and the deputy left the room, closed and locked the door behind them. Rick got dressed while trying to hold his composure, but when he got a good look at the damage Coleman had wrought on Jack, he began to cry, a sobbing that became more intense as he horsed Jack’s clothes on him. When Rick finished that task, he dried his eyes the best he could to conceal his sorrow, then he beat on the door.

“We’re ready. Get us out of here!” he shouted. The deputy opened the door and, seeing that Rick was having trouble manhandling Jack, helped him carry Jack to the St. Mark’s truck. They spread out a blanket and put him face down in the bed. He showed a little life but not much.

“The deputy will follow you back to Drago,” Coleman said. “You’re paperwork is clear. Don’t you ever let this kind of thing happen with church property again.”

“No, sir,” Rick promised. Rick got into the truck, which was painful for him to sit in, started it up, and pulled out into the road that led him back home, the deputy following him all the way through Fort Albert and back to the parish close at St. Mark’s.

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