How Alarming!

A continuation of Getting (it) with the Program

Claire trudged up the stairs to her cube, yawning and relieved. It had been a long night in the lab. There were a lot more samples than she had originally assumed, she thought grudgingly, dreading the reaction of the analytical folks when all the little vials would be dropped on their doorstep. She had known her experiment would take a long time, but if she had known just how long her boss would have insisted that she arrange to have someone else come in for a while so she could get some sleep. As it stood, she hadn’t thought that far ahead, as usual, and had been stuck there for nearly twenty four hours pulling samples. As the newest employee in her group, she often got stuck running the longer studies that required late nights, but there were still limits.

In her exhausted state, she could almost hear the sound of her alarm as she approached her floor. I must be going nuts, she thought, it’s most certainly time to get to sleep, not wake up. As she wrestled open the fire door at the top of the stairs her stomach sank. The music had grown louder, and was coming from her desk.

In a panic, she flew the cube farm to her desk, and fished her cell phone out of her purse. Sure enough, she had forgotten to disable her alarm, and it had been blaring it’s dissatisfaction for the last twenty seven minutes as loudly as it could. It took a few moments for her get the thing to turn off. ‘Why did I insist on enabling the math problem feature rather than a simple snooze button?’ she wondered as she often did around this hour. It usually didn’t take her that long to puzzle through them, but she usually had the benefit of at least some sleep.

No sooner had she wrestled the battery out of her phone and slumped into her chair than she looked up to see Mike standing over her.

“Care to explain what happened?” he asked.

“Not particularly,” she snapped. She knew he meant well, but was not in the mood to be mentored just now.

“Very well. Let’s try this again- say around 5pm on Friday? Same room as last time,” Mike said calmly as he turned to leave.

Claire’s stomach sank. She knew this discussion would not end well for her bottom. Too late to worry about that now, or perhaps too early. Either way, there was nothing else she was in any fit state to do here, so she shot off a quick e-mail to her boss explaining how the night had gone and excusing herself for the day before heading home to catch some sleep.


Friday afternoon didn’t drag on nearly as long as it did the last time she’d had an after-hours appointment with Mike. Instead, it seemed to fly by much faster than usual. Claire was almost grateful; even on an uneventful Friday, the afternoon seemed interminable. If it weren’t for the fact that she knew he would be bringing a rather large paddle, she might have considered finding ways to have these meetings every Friday to bring the weekend on a bit faster.

At five minutes to five, she shut down her computer and made her way over to the conference room, wishing her departing coworkers a good weekend and promising them not to stay too late as she desperately hoped they wouldn’t be able to guess the reason for her late night at the office.

Just like last time, Mike was already there. “Care to explain now?” he asked as soon as she shut the door.

“I guess,” Claire replied, taking a seat across from him and staring down at her hands.

“I’m waiting,” Mike prompted.

“I’m sorry,” Claire started. “I guess I forgot to turn off the alarm on my phone I promise it won’t happen again.”

“You think this is about your phone?” Mike asked with a quick laugh. “That kind of thing happens all the time. You should have been here last April- Mr. Watkins left his phone at his desk. He kept calling it repeatedly for an hour before Josh finally went over to his desk, dug it out and answered the thing. You should have heard it- Mr Watkins went off on him, thought he was talking to a thief who’d stolen the thing. Took nearly ten minutes before Josh could get a word in edgewise to explain that he’d just left it at his desk and offered to drop it off on his way home.”

Claire giggled and looked up to meet Mike’s eye for the first time since entering the office. How was it that he always manged to help her relax when they both knew this meeting would be anything but easy for her?

Mike continued gently, “That kind of thing is obnoxious, yes, but hardly unheard of. Plus, it was so early that no one else heard it- only I and a few others from my team were in at that hour. So let’s try this again- care to explain what went on that night?”

“I’m not sure what you mean,” Claire replied, genuinely confused. “My study took longer than I though, and I wound up stuck in the lab all night. What else went wrong?”

“Getting closer,” Mike hinted. “I know of two things that went wrong, just based on that statement. Any guesses?”

“I know I should have planned my time more carefully, but it was the first time I’d done a study like that. How was I supposed to know?” Claire’s voice rose. She didn’t like being punished when she deserved it,  never mind for honest mistakes.

“Understandable,” Mike said, trying to reel her back in. “I know this was new for you, but do you think no one here has ever done anything similar? Did it ever occur to you to ask for help when you were setting up the experiment, to ask if anyone else had any suggestions, or even if they had an estimate for how long it would take?”

Seeing his point, Claire blushed and stared at her hands. “I guess not,” she murmured.

“Well, I guess we’ll have to make sure you remember for next time.” Claire started to rise, but Mike raised a hand to stop her before he continued, “I’m not done yet; I said there were two things I wanted to address. Any ideas on the other?”

Claire shook her head again, hoping he would get to the point.

“Along the same lines as asking for help preparing for the experiment, once you realized how late it would run, did it occur to you to call someone else in to assist you?”

“But no one was around!” Clare protested. “It was the middle of the night; who was I supposed to ask?”

“You mean to say that you don’t think anyone here would be checking e-mail at night? Or better yet, you don’t have any phone numbers for your colleagues? I know very well you had your phone at work that day.” Mike scolded as Claire again became very interested in the patterns on the table surface. “You know any number of us would have come in to lend a hand. We’ve all been there, we know how tired working all night can make a person, and it’s better that two people miss some sleep than one person stays up all night. It’s not efficient, and it’s not safe. Do you understand?”

“Yes, sir,” Claire admitted, knowing that she had sealed her fate. “I know, I was good for nothing the next day. I drove home as soon as I could and slept.”

“You what?” Mike shouted, startling Claire. He took a deep breath to regain control of himself before continuing, “Listen carefully. Never, ever, drive yourself anywhere if you’ve been up for that long. Ask for a ride, call a taxi, but do not endanger yourself.”

“Yes, sir” Claire squeaked, still taken aback by his outburst.

“I mean it,” Mike said sternly. “Not only is it a huge liability for the company, but you could have been killed.”

“I won’t,” Claire promised, becoming more worried about what she had coming.

“Alright. I know we’ve covered a lot today, and I know you will learn from this. So tell me, how many do you think you deserve today?” Mike asked as he dug the paddle out of his bag.

Claire eyed it and shuddered. She had taken ten last time. Ten for barely missing a deadline. Ten for a single, minor offense that none but the two of them knew about. That punishment had left her sore for days, but what would today’s do? She had committed what, three offenses in Mike’s eyes? In her eyes as well, she admitted. Two were fairly minor, though that last. . .he was right she could have been killed.

“Fifty,” she whispered.

“What was that?” Mike asked. He thought he had heard, but certainly thought she had more sense than that.

“Fifty,” she said more clearly. “Ten for each of the three offenses, and then twenty for endangering my life.” She still didn’t look up at him, not wanting to know how he would react. Was fifty enough? She hoped so, though she wouldn’t blame him if he disagreed. A single tear made its way down her cheek as she continued to stare at her folded hands.

Mike said nothing for a moment. “That’s quite a hefty sum. I don’t think we can do all that tonight, not for only your second paddling. I can give you thirty now, then we can work out the rest later. Deal?”

Claire nodded slowly. Having half a punishment hanging over her would be just as bad as anticipating any meeting with Mike. Perhaps worse, since she’d know exactly what was coming with no hope of reprieve. Still, if he said she wouldn’t be able to take it all at once she had to trust his judgement.

“Very well. Stand up, you know the drill.” Claire rose slowly at his command and lowered herself over the table, taking her pants and underwear down to her knees.

She closed her eyes when she saw Mike move around the table to take up his position behind her. She didn’t have to wait long before the first stroke made her gasp. He wasn’t hitting as hard as last time, but with thirty swats on the way, she knew the pain would build considerably.

She did her best to keep still, knowing that he could have made this much worse for her. She managed to hold position for the first fifteen strokes before she began to fidget, desperate to get away from the growing burn. Mike laid a hand on her back to help keep her still. It worked rather well, at least for the next ten strokes or so until a much harder swat caught the top of her thighs, causing her to bounce a bit before settling down.

“Keep still, five more. You know you deserve this,” Mike scolded gently.

Each of the last five strokes was harder than the last. While at the beginning of the paddling she’d thought he was taking it easy on her this time, now she knew that the ten strokes she had received at their previous encounter were far from full strength.

By the time Mike finished administering the punishment, Claire was crying uncontrollably. Softly, he lifted her from the table and brushed her hair from her eyes before giving her a hug.

“I’m so sorry,” Claire wailed, still struggling to control her crying.

“I know. You took that very well,” he said gently once she had calmed enough to hear. “Tell you what,” he said as they broke apart, “you can take the last twenty on account for next time. If we need to get together again within the next month, you’ll take those twenty plus whatever else you have coming. However, if you can keep yourself out of trouble for the next few weeks, we can wipe the slate clean. Sound fair to you?”

Claire nodded, unable to speak through her renewed tears. Mike gave her another quick hug before handing over a tissue.

Once she had calmed down and reassembled her clothing, Mike gathered his things and lead her over to the door.

“I hope you don’t think I was too hard on you?” Mike asked, sounding concerned.

“Not at all,” Claire assured him. “I deserved that. And more, probably.”

“You want to go back and try again?” Mike asked with a raised eyebrow. “We could always tack on those last twenty tonight if you think it would help.”

“Oh, no!” Claire gasped. “I’ve learned. I promise.”

“Good,” Mike chuckled. “Are you able to drive home, or do you need a lift?”

“Thanks, but I think I can manage just fine today. I got plenty of sleep and even remembered to throw a pillow in my car, albeit for a different reason. I can always pull over if I get tired on the way,” Claire laughed as the parted.

To be continued

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