Thursday Island
by Carter Fell

Part 3

Chapter V: The Pension Plan

When I got home, I went through all my financial affairs. My current account was seven hundred pounds overdrawn, but I reckoned that if I sold my house and cashed my endowments and insurances, I would be worth about half a million. I looked in the mirror, and told myself that I was a rich bastard. There and then, I decided that I would buy Tina, and that I would get her away from the island.

 On the following Saturday, I went for a drink with Paul. We met at The Green Man in Great Portland Street, and finding a quiet corner, I revealed my troubled heart to him. Usually, he refused to speak about the island, but this time he was at least willing to listen. But he was not sympathetic to me; he said I was a bloody fool to fall for a pony. And when I hinted that I wanted to take Tina away from the island, he was overtly scornful. ‘Does Tina seem happy to you?’ He asked.

I had to admit that she did. ‘Well then,’ he said. ‘Why don’t you just leave her alone?’

Finally, I told him about the birdman, and his bizarre warning. He recognised my description of the man. ‘Oh, yes, I’ve seen him around; I don’t think he’s an owner. Beware of Germans and Turtles, eh? What the fuck does that mean?’ He drummed his fingers on the table ostentatiously, but then turned his thoughts and the conversation to other matters. We parted shortly after, and I did not see him again until we both travelled to Mallaig, two weeks later.

Another of the senior ponies, Laura, met our boat with the dinghy. She collected our tokens, and took us ashore. At the hut she gave each of us a coloured disc with a key attached. Mine was yellow, and Paul’s was red. As we walked up the path together, I asked Paul what I was to do with my key, and he explained. ‘When we get to the compound, you’ll find that all of the public teams have yellow tags on their hobbles. We are nice and early, there’ll be plenty to choose from. You just pick a team; the key will fit any of their hobbles. The red discs have individual keys; mine will only fit my team’s hobble.’

I was awestruck that Paul owned a team of ponygirls; my opinion of him soared. Naturally, I was now determined to acquire a team of my own, although it would be hard to reconcile with the notion of taking Tina away from the island. In the compound, there were eight public teams for me to choose from, all harnessed to rigs. I tried to appear knowledgeable as I made my choice; I felt thighs and shoulders for muscle mass; I spread legs and lifted arms to check for sores.

Almost at the point when I had decided on a likely team, Tina appeared at my side. ‘Not a good choice, Member. Two of them are on blob.’ Her smile just destroyed me.

‘On blob Tina? What does that mean?’

‘They’re having their periods, Member. I’ve put sponges in them, but you won’t get best pulling power.’ She pouted at me. ‘And they might cry when you whip them.’ Now her smile mocked me, and I was defenceless.

‘Oh, Tina. Can you pick a team for me?’

‘Of course I can, Member. I’ve got just the crew for you.’ She led me along the line of rigs, giving me a lesson in ponygirl selection. ‘A good ponygirl is a good distance runner, with a bit of extra weight to balance the rig. She can’t have big tits; none at all would be best. You need to avoid the very young ones; a girl can sprint at eighteen, but she won’t develop endurance until her twenties. Twenty-five to thirty is probably best, thirty-two is better than twenty-two. You can ignore driving whip cuts, they say more about the driver than the pony; but never pick a pony who’s been flogged, deep cuts in the muscle do permanent damage. Look for a good bush between the legs, you men may like a shaved pussy, but it leads to soreness.’

She stopped, and looked seriously into my face. ‘Pulling a rig is all pain, Member. Accepting that, the more comfortable a pony is, the better she will work for you. If you cut her shoulders, they hurt like hell when she flexes them, and that really does not help you.’

I had been reprimanded. ‘Tina,’ I said. ‘I will try to be more economical with the whip. But I would definitely choose a pony who’s been flogged.’

She knew I was referring to her, and a cloud of concern passed across her face. But she did not respond. ‘I think this is the team for you, Member.’ We were standing in front of what looked like a very ordinary team of ponies. Their average age looked to be mid-thirties, and they all had a mass of pubic hair.

‘Are they a good team Tina?’

‘They are, Member. I picked them for you.’ Once, when I was about four years old, I picked a bunch of dandelions for a little girl in my street, and she picked some buttercups for me. The memory came back to me with the intensity of cheap perfume; I had to turn my head away, so that Tina could not see my eyes.

‘Well thanks Tina.‘ I mumbled. ‘Is there anything I can do for you?’

‘No thank you, Member. I am perfectly happy. But I have to attend to some other members now.’

‘Perhaps I’ll see you later?’

‘Perhaps you will, Member.’ And she hurried off to meet a new arrival. I crouched in front of the hobbled pony and unlocked her. Then I mounted the rig, and drove out of the compound. Tina had really looked after me; the ponies were a superb team. I trotted them all the way to the bottom of Whipper’s Hill, where I eased them back to tackle the climb at a sensible pace. I drifted slowly past the bar; I did not feel like company. The ride was very relaxing, not for the ponies, but for me. I watched those four bare arses swaying to the rhythm of their walk, and I wondered what was going through their heads.

They were not pulling the rig because they wanted to, but because I was sat behind them with a whip. To them, I must seem like a heartless monster. For a brief moment, I thought of taking their bits out, and having a few words with them; but I did not even know if they spoke English. Then I decided that I did not give a flying fuck for what they thought, I only cared about Tina. The circuit curved to the left, into another wooded area. A short way in, there was a turn-off to the right; it was blocked by a chain stretched across the entrance, and a sign said Partners Only. I halted the rig briefly, while I speculated on what I would find beyond the chain, when I could become an owner. I could only hope that the day would not be too far away, but then I reminded myself that I wanted to set Tina free. How could I liberate the girl, and still come to the island as an owner? It did not seem possible.

Beyond the wooded area was open ground between the track and the sea. I pulled the rig off the track, and walked over to gaze at the sea. Lost in my conflicting thoughts, I did not hear Jeff approach until I heard him speak. ‘Penny for your thoughts?’

I jumped a little. ‘Hi, Jeff. I’m wondering how this place was built. Surely all the gravel didn’t come up the slipway?’

‘Christ no, Marty. There’s a landing stage at Partner’s Point, beyond those trees, although boats can only get to it at very high tides now. Actually, most of the track was already built when the original partners bought the island. The island used to be owned by the Ministry Of Defence, something to do with the firing range on the mainland. It’s because of the range that you don’t see any aircraft flying over.’

We were both silent for a while. Jeff pulled a pack of Rothmans from his pocket, offered me one. I shook my head; he lit one for himself with a match.

‘Jeff, ‘ I said. ‘I’ve definitely decided that I want to buy Tina.’

He blew a stream of smoke. ‘OK then, Marty. I’ll put her in the August auction for you.’

‘When I’ve bought her, Jeff, will I be able to ..’

‘To fuck her? Of course you will. An owner can take his ponies to The Hall on Partner’s Point, use one of the rooms there.’

‘Will I be able to take her off the island?’

‘Are you crazy? Of course not. And anyway, you’ll find that when you’ve put your money into ponies, your certainly won’t want to let them go.’

‘Won’t I Jeff? I’m not so sure about that. How could I let someone I cared about be subject to flogging, and God knows what else?’

‘Aw, Marty, Things really ain’t that bad for them.’

I steeled myself for the tough question. ‘Jeff, did you flog Tina?’

Jeff was more amused than shocked. ‘No Marty. Her previous owner had her flogged, I don’t know why. But that’s why I got her quite cheap, when I saw her in the auction she was like a lump of raw meat. It took years for her back to heal properly. Nowadays, floggings have to be sanctioned by the panel; too many guys were buying ponies just to tie them to a post and whip the fuck out of them. And if the panel does authorise a flogging, it has to be carried out by a senior pony, never by the owner.’

He tossed his cigarette to the ground, and stubbed it out with his boot. ‘Well Marty, I guess I’ll move on now. The auction will be on the first Thursday in August, and you’ll have to bring cash. Don’t let me down Marty; I’d hate to see Tina sold to someone who wants to put her back in harness. She deserves better, and a driving whip could easily open her back up again.’

Alone again with my thoughts, I stared at the restless sea for a little longer, and then I returned to my rig. On my way back to the compound, I passed the construction project. A gang of slaves was tunnelling into the escarpment; I knew that there was a plan to move all stables and associated functions out of sight of satellites. A haulage team was plodding up a narrow track that crossed the main circuit; they pulled a cart laden with spoil from the workings. The cart had no driving seat, the driver walked alongside the ponies, who were harnessed in two rows of four.

All of these haulage ponies were older women; there was plenty of grey hair and worn-out faces. They wore long grey skirts, but were naked from the waist up. The driver’s whip was only a distant relative of the light instrument in my hand; it looked a real meat-cutter. As I sat and watched the cart cross the circuit, the driver raised a hand to me in casual acknowledgement. She was a youngster, a slim girl of perhaps nineteen summers. There was a unique horror here; women spending their declining years as two-legged oxen, driven with a whip by a girl who could have been a daughter to any of them, or a granddaughter to some of them. As soon as the haulage cart had cleared the circuit, I urged my ponies on, anxious to leave the distressing scene behind me.

On the section of circuit running past the training oval, I again trotted my team, and gave them a mild taste of whipcord. Their performance was astonishing; I would previously have thought that a ponygirl rig would be the most impractical mode of transport ever devised. But as the rig sped along, much faster than I could have travelled on foot, I came to a different view, and I knew why the owners would never willingly give up their slave women. A good ponygirl might cost as much as a Ferrari, but she would give her owner immense satisfaction, and no doubt an infinite variety of sexual pleasures.

Arriving back at the compound, I looked eagerly for Tina, but I could not see her. This disappointed me, for I was anxious to show her the fine condition of my team. That run with a good team had taught me a lot about pony driving; the whip could not make a weak pony strong, pony quality was everything. Waiting for someone to take the rig off my hands, I saw Stevie saunter across to me. Verbally, she was always polite to me; she had to be. But she did not much trouble to conceal her dislike for me, and I had no idea why. ‘I’ll take your rig, Member.’ Her blank face looked up at me. ‘The panel would like to see you, please wait in stable four.’ Mute hostility radiated from her.

I dismounted, and walked past Stevie without speaking to her. I would have to find out who owned Stevie; perhaps some correction could be applied. Trudging past the line of stables, I wondered what the hooded creeps wanted of me now. Reaching stable four, I found the door open, and entered. The layout was identical to the other stable I had been in, except that the bunks were tiered three high; all the bunks were empty. At the far end, a domestic was changing bedding. She looked up at me. ‘Can I help you, Member?’

‘No.’ I replied, and she continued with her work. I paced up and down for a while, examining the walls. Some of the harnesses hanging there were quite ornate, but there was little of real interest. I sat on a bunk, and waited. After about twenty minutes, Stevie came in. ‘The panel will see you now, Member. Please follow me.’ Wordlessly, I followed her out of the stable. Past the stables was a cluster of much smaller buildings, she led me to one of them, and opened the door for me.

The floor was bare earth; the walls were not plastered. There was no ceiling; I looked up to see the roof lining. A wooden frame stood against the far wall, it was about seven feet high, and about six across. Vertical and horizontal bars were arranged in a lattice, short lengths of cord hung from it at number of points. On a shelf next to the frame was a broad leather strap, some three feet in length; a short wooden handle gripped one end of it. There was also a whip of the type that I had seen the cart driver carrying. Under the shelf was a galvanised bucket; I could see a large sponge in it.  Every item described its own purpose; no explanations were necessary.

Between the door and the frame a table had been set up, and my hooded friends were sat there. I wondered if they carried that table with them everywhere. But no, they would have some unfortunate creature carry it for them. There were a few plain words I would have liked to say to them, but I had to be careful. I could not risk being barred from the island before I rescued Tina.

As always, centre hood spoke. ‘We have concerns about you. It seems that you are suffering with your conscience.’ His voice did not sound quite right to me.

Oh, shit. Jeff had betrayed my confidence. I might as well speak up now. ‘Yes, I do have a conscience. Today I passed the construction site; I saw fairly old women worked semi-naked under the lash. I don’t think that’s fair, and I don’t think it’s right.’

‘Well, you’ve been working entirely naked women under the lash. What’s the difference?’ Centre hood definitely had a different voice; there was a hint of a flat northern accent. Was it possible that the leadership was rotated? Perhaps I would find out.

 ‘I haven’t been working elderly women.’ I saw the logical path he was taking, and it would be very difficult to counter him.

‘So it’s just a matter of age, is it? What would you suggest as the maximum age then?’

‘I can’t say. But women of that age should be allowed some dignity, and some kindness.’ I was doing my best.

‘Those ponies you drove today, they get a year older every year. There will be a time when their joints start to stiffen, and they just can’t trot in harness any more. We could kill them, would you like that? But we don’t, we find them useful work to do, for as long as they are able to do it. That’s our pension plan.’

As he was speaking, I noticed that the hood on his left was wearing white gloves. It struck me as being strange and slightly effeminate. But I thought no more about it, although I should have done.

Centre hood paused, to see if I would respond. I did not, so he continued. ‘Nobody is given any work that is beyond their capabilities, nobody. There are all kinds of work to be done, because a pony team needs a lot of support. There are dozens of maintenance and logistics tasks. We also provide proper health care, and total security; I can tell you, there’s not a lot of security in the world. And we protect them in many ways; we’ve clamped right down on corporal punishment in the last few years. That cart whip,’ he jerked his head towards the shelf,  ‘has not been used in six months or more.’

‘So why use it all then?’ I asked. ‘I’ve seen the scars it leaves.’

‘Because it is our ultimate sanction. We can’t fine them, and they are already imprisoned. If the seniors can’t get a pony to respond to a touch of the strap, then the cart whip is used. It has to be that way.’

It has to be that way. I sighed, and said ‘I freely admit that I have enjoyed driving ponygirls. But the rest of your system, well, I just don’t know if I can go along with it.’

Centre hood spread his arms out wide, to show me what an open and friendly guy he was. ‘I fully understand. At the moment you may be thinking that you will never come back here, but many men have thought that, and they have all come back. Why? Because owning and driving ponygirls combines the two most addictive drugs of all, sex and power. I don’t think you can turn your back on the island, and in any case, it isn’t so bad for the ponies as you obviously think. You can prove that to yourself. How would you like to be resident member for a week?’

‘Resident member?’ I echoed oafishly.

‘Yes, there is always at least one member on the island, just to keep an eye on things; the place really runs itself. Will you give it a go for a week? You’ll have total authority, and you do need to see more of the picture, to take a more balanced view.’

My mind was racing; there would be nothing to stop me leaving with Tina, I would rescue her from slavery. Even at that stage, I did not countenance betraying the whole operation. It is probably true that my mind had accepted the principle of holding women in bondage; I just did not want the principle applied to Tina.

I nodded. ‘Yes, I’d like to do that.’

Centre hood stood up, as did his sidekicks. ‘Good.’ He said. ‘Be in Mallaig for noon on Sunday. Good day to you, Sir.’

When I arrived at the slipway, I was told that Paul had left on an earlier boat, no doubt because I had been delayed with the hoods. I travelled home alone, and fell into a deep sleep on the train. In an unpleasant dream, I was back on the boat on my first visit to the island. One of the Germans struck up a conversation with me, an entirely harmless conversation about flower arranging and cricket. As I left the boat, he gave me a death certificate; I could not read the name on it.

End of Part 3