“Yes, master, can I have another?” called out Kitty, a woman strapped face-down to a whipping bench in the corner of the room.

At least, the woman said her name was Kitty. But like others at the Fetish Fest, she may have been employing a nom de pain.

While most of the city was outside enjoying Earth Day on April 22, Washington’s sadomasochists and I were spending the day indoors at a very different gathering. At the Edge nightclub on L Street NE, the bondage, discipline, dominance, and submission (BDDS) crowd checked out each other’s wares and tormented their loved ones to the point of ecstasy.

Between lashings, Kitty’s “master,” who identified himself as a defense department employee, caressed her bare behind. Then a female assistant pulled off Kitty’s G-string and the crowd watched her skin turn from rose to poppy.

When he finished the lashing, Kitty’s master rubbed cream over her inflamed derriere. The leather-clad man, who introduced himself as “Christopher,” explained that comfort should be dispensed in equal proportion to the pain. Christopher, in his mid-40s, said being a master helps relieve the stress of his high-pressure government job.

“When I’m the master, I’m in another world,” he explained, while taking a breather at the bar. “If you’re a vanilla—just into regular sex—and you do it your whole life, that has got to be boring. To me, vanilla sex is simply being submissive to society.”

We heard moans and turned to watch as a scantily dressed woman was strapped into a Webbed Redwood Rack. The rack sells for $1,200 and, according to the brochure, can “easily be converted into a beautiful dining room table.” At first, the torture didn’t appear very threatening. A man rubbed what resembled a butter knife on the woman’s thigh, then pounded her leg with a spatulalike instrument. The procedure appeared to be a 13th-century method of eliminating cellulite.

But when the master tried to use two thorned branches to grasp the woman’s nipple, I had seen enough.

On my way to get a drink, I passed a naked man chained to a Saint Andrew’s Cross, a $600 wood-and-chain post that, according to an ad, “could easily be dismantled and transported in most hatchback cars.” (An extra $50 buys a practical polyurethane coating.) The naked man had been handcuffed to the post for more than two hours, and anyone who walked by was able to take a whack at him. Judging from the size of his erection, he didn’t seem to mind.

For protection and moral support, I’d dragged a girlfriend with me. We will call her Kate.

At the bar, a woman convinced Kate to “see how comfortable” she’d be in the Sling Rack, a 6-foot leather sling suspended by chains inside a metal cage. The rack “enables use in otherwise un-thought-of areas,” while preventing damage to walls and ceilings.

“Now move down so your butt’s right at the edge,” the woman instructed. The moment was too ripe to resist: I searched for Master Christopher and begged him to give Kate a good spanking. He obliged. (“This is for the time you wouldn’t get off the phone,” I imagined, listening to the strokes. “And yes, and this is for the time you wouldn’t tape Melrose for me.”)

When I opened my eyes, I expected to find her writhing in well-deserved agony. Instead, she was discussing prices with the salesperson.

As the day wore on, I learned much more about Kate. At first, she’d said that she wanted to accompany me because allergies prevented her from doing anything outside. But pollen was hardly her only motivation: I found that she owns a small arsenal of whips and riding crops.

We struck up a conversation with Lori, who along with her boyfriend Greg creates handmade erotic toys such as whips and wooden punishment sticks. They operate from their home in Herndon, Va., and call the enterprise the Toy Bag. “If you’re a bottom and you’re into being spanked, then the strap is the way to go,” Lori said helpfully. She then produced a photo album with shots of Greg’s ass turning various shades of crimson as it was hit with items from their exotic-wood line.

“This is my favorite photo,” pointing to a picture of Greg’s hairy buttocks. “See how it shows the welt.”

Kate was impressed. She quickly purchased the $48 strap. Greg extolled its lifetime guarantee: “If you break it over someone’s butt, then I want to meet the person who did it.”

The next table was selling Plexiglas paddles. “They’re easy to clean,” said the saleswoman from Stocks and Bonds Ltd., who steered our attention to her best seller: testicle crushers. “Just put the balls in this wooden clamp and then tighten the screws, and from there any touch will send a man into heaven.”

We looked at handcuffs, rope, leather straps, leather restraints, dog collars, ball and cock gags, slave harnesses, rubber whips, wooden canes, thwackers, plastic and metal nipple clamps. I was beginning to tire when an announcement caught my attention: “Lesbo dykes disciplining a BDDS virgin in the side room.”

We rushed into the crowded room and indeed, two women in black leather were holding down a demure waif and burning cigarettes into her skin. Tina/Victor, a transvestite, quickly pointed out that they were only burning her lightly.

“We are corrupting you, aren’t we?” asked the sensuous Tina.

Earlier, a cross-dressing specialist held a makeup seminar for transvestites using Tina as her model. In less than 20 minutes, Victor, a computer specialist who “likes to fuck girls” was transmogrified into Tina, a leggy blond who “likes to fuck anything as long as it’s 8 inches.”

Sharon, a male retired military officer, wore a pleated yellow skirt and matching tunic. He disapproved of Tina’s 4-inch heels, fishnet stockings, and revealing miniskirt. “I think what he does is an insult to women,” Sharon explained later. “I dress fairly conservative. I don’t try and do the slut look. I don’t think that’s respectful of women.”

By then, he’d changed into a button-down shirt and slacks, and looked for all the world like any other family man. Sharon, like several of the men at the fest, said he was involved in a long-standing monogamous marriage, though his wife didn’t approve or participate in his fetish behavior. After four children and 19 years of marriage, he revealed to his wife his weakness for women’s clothes. She did not take the news lightly. Now, Sharon says, he pretends to keep his habit in the closet, but occasionally sneaks out dressed as a French maid for the thrill of cleaning a friend’s house.

“I know I look like a man in drag,” said the 6-foot-5 man as he scraped Lee Press-On Nails glue off his fingernails with a pocket knife. “But these people in the BDDS community are very sensitive and caring and don’t mind.”

When the demonstrations started again, I decided to investigate. Lainey, the co-owner of Wicked Ways, a sponsor of the event, was burning wax onto the back of a man named Ray. He was strapped faced-down on the rack and wore only a leather G-string.

That was when I noticed Hildegarde. He was crouched on the floor like a dog, dressed in lacy red-silk underwear, thigh-high black-leather boots, and a black Wonderbra, in which he carried his wallet.

“I’m not a dog,” said the 41-year-old government employee. “I’m more like a hamster. You know, one of those animals that are completely useless.”

Just then, Mistress Angelica appeared. The hefty black woman with waist-long braids pulled down Hilde’s panties and spanked him. Afterward, she commanded him to caress and kiss her ankles.

“You stay on your hands and knees until I tell you to move,” she said, then sat on Hilde’s back.

“I’m into humiliation and degradation, especially with a black/white thing—there’s more tension,” he said, looking up at me.

The crowd’s attention shifted to the other side of the dance floor, where Lori had fastened a willing victim’s head and wrists inside a stockade. Lori and another woman took turns whipping the man, who wore only red thong underwear. I suddenly noticed that the other woman was my girlfriend Kate, and that she was wielding the whip like a pro.

Kate stepped aside as Lori undid the stocks, stripped the man and tied a rope around his penis. As Lori dug her spiked heels into his chest and pulled on the rope, he called out, “I love you, mistress!”

“That has got to hurt,” said Steve Nickerson, 30, who decided to come to the fest after Earth Day festivities began to bore him. “It’s one thing taking binder clips at work and putting them on your arm, but it’s another to put stuff like that on your privates.”

I ventured onto the patio for some fresh air and was relieved to meet a kindly Virginia couple. Jim, 39, a home-improvement estimator, and Jane, 40, an administrative assist ant, have been happily married for 14 years. Jane, in a sweet Southern accent, told me she’d found Jim’s sexual appetite too voracious for her to satisfy alone.

Four years ago, they placed a posting on an adult bulletin board on the Internet for a couple looking for a playmate. “We’ve met so many nice ladies,” Jane said, sitting next to their latest find—Margaret, a 37-year-old engineer from Ohio. “We call her a pain slut,” Jane said of her new friend.

When Margaret first came into the picture, Jane was jealous. But after discussing her feelings with Jim, she says she realized that she “had to take responsibility for her own pleasures.”

“Margaret is not bi, so she is basically here for him,” Jane said as she fumbled with her new leather riding crop. “But next time we are going to look for someone who is more versatile.”

When I walked back inside, a man tried to sell me a “pleasure saddle,” a riding saddle with the knob in the “wrong or right place, depending how you look at it.” I figured it was time to go. I searched for Kate, who by now had received several job offers as a dominatrix; men begged to be her slave and clean her house. Before we left she made the final arrangements to buy a $360 whipping bench. The guarantee described it as “slave-tested and master-approved.”

Kate said she’d been offered close to $200 merely to whip men into submission. She’s now thinking of opening her own dungeon.