Don’t Do the Crime
By Ronald Cypress
It was a strong chill that came over Cliff, a chill so strong that it awoke him. There were three things that he simultaneously noticed:
Whatever he was lying on was uncomfortable, he was in a cage—this he sensed before actually seeing the bars—and there weren’t any people around.
Cliff slowly rose and began to survey his surroundings. Everything about the dark room suggested that he was in a jail cell, but he didn’t believe at first. It didn’t make sense. He noticed the concrete floor that had sporadic, dark stains covering it. There was the stainless steel toilet that wasn’t far from the bed. And there were the bars. Just looking at them brought about nausea, but they also attracted Cliff.
He rushed towards bars and pressed against them as hard as he could, his eyes moving quickly to locate someone who could inform him about why he in a cage.
“Hello?” Cliff’s voice was shaky.
He cleared his throat and called out the same word again, louder and more desperate.
“The boss will be with you shortly.” a voice came from Cliff’s left side. “Just you hang on. He’ll be coming soon.”
Cliff moved closer to the other cell, keeping one hand on the bars. He looked down the hall. It was a short one. His cell was at the end, and from what he could see there were only two more.
“You woke up pretty late,” the man in the adjacent cell said. “I was wandering when you were going to get up. A young man like you shouldn’t sleep so much. You were pretty drunk when they brought you in, though. You feeling better?”
“What jail is this?” Clifford moved to the edge of his cell and tried to see his neighbor. The man was too close to the joining wall.
“Fairview,” the man said. “Don’t you know where you’re at?”
Cliff thought about it. He remembered that he was driving to visit relatives in Florida. He had stopped in the small town of Fairview to get a break from driving. He remembered stopping by a local bar and drinking.
“I don’t know what I did to get here,” Cliff said. “I don’t remember doing anything wrong.”
“Hmm. Don’t worry. The boss will clear that up for you. He should be coming any minute now. Just take a seat and wait for him to come. He’ll tell you everything you need to know.”
Cliff listened to his neighbor’s advice and sat down on the bed. There was almost silence—his neighbor hummed—for what felt like an hour before the door at the end of the hall opened and someone began to walk towards the cell. Cliff remained seated until he saw a man wearing a police uniform appear before his cell.
“You doing all right in there?” the officer asked.
Cliff stood up and walked towards the bars. “I don’t know why I’m in here.”
“Don’t know why you’re in here?” the officer’s voice got louder. “Well, we’ve got a sign for that. It’s right here. Didn’t you notice it?”
The officer pointed to a sign that was posted to the wall that was parallel to the cell. It was white and written on it in black letters was:
Cliff read the sign a few times before responding to the officer.
“I don’t know what I did. What crime did I commit? What are you charging me with?”
The officer stared at him. Cliff couldn’t read his face. There was slight expression there, but he didn’t know what it meant.
“Just keep reading the sign,” the officer said. “And let it remind you about why you’re here and how to stay out of places like this.”
The officer turned and began to walk back down the hall.
“See you later, boss,” Cliff’s neighbor said as the officer passed his cell.
The officer went through the door at the end. A loud locking sound echoed down the hall after he departed.
“Excuse me,” Cliff said. He moved down towards his neighbor’s cell to speak with the only person he had left to give him an explanation. “But I don’t know what crime I committed. Was it being drunk in public? Do you know anything?”
“All I know is the boss and the deputy brought you in and you was drunk. You kept talking about how you was going to get your lawyer and sue them. That wasn’t too smart. The boss don’t like being threatened. You’re lucky to not be sore right now. Guess he was in a very good mood last night.”
“So, they arrested me for being drunk last night? I should be able to post bail now. When do I get my hearing?”
“Boy.” the man next door giggled. “Boy, you really don’t know where you’re at. Maybe you haven’t woke up yet.
“I have to have a hearing. I need to post bail.”
“Just relax and go with the flow. You’ll be out soon enough.”
“I should be out right now if it was just being drunk in public.”
“Well, you don’t know if it was just that. You don’t seem to know what you did, do you? Maybe it wasn’t being drunk in public. Maybe you did something else.”
Cliff looked at the sign that was on the wall across from him. He tried to remember what he had done the previous night. The last thing he remembered was being at the bar. He recalled that there weren’t many patrons there.
“I think I can remember stepping outside,” Cliff said. “I think I can remember leaving the bar. I hope I didn’t pee outside. I really hope I didn’t do that. I got in trouble for that before. A long time ago. Do you think that could have been it?”
“The boss don’t like people peeing on his town’s streets. That could have led to you being here.”
“But that’s not a serious crime either.”
“Well, serious or not is kind of up to the boss. I know some men had hard times making babies after the boss caught them peeing on his street, if you know what I mean.”
“There was a woman,” Cliff said, suddenly recalling that he had encountered a woman on the street. He wanted to say that he had stopped to talk to her, but he couldn’t completely remember the encounter. “I think I spoke with her, but I can’t remember. That couldn’t have been it, though. It’s no crime to talk to a woman.”
“No? The boss don’t like some types of men talking to certain types of women, especially if it involves flirting. Drunk men tend to be flirty and much worse when it comes to women. You think you did wrong with that woman?”
“No. It was just a passing encounter. I’m almost sure of it.”
Cliff grabbed the bars and rested his head against them. He thought about the things he had done since arriving in Fairview. He must have done something wrong the night before. It was the alcohol that made him do it. Cliff hadn’t planned to drink much, but he had kept going after just a few beers. He should have stopped.
Cliff stared at the sign and thought about how his crime needed to be explained to him. It wasn’t lawful to just lock a man away and not tell him why he was being caged.
“What kind of place is this?” Cliff asked.
“What kind of place is Fairview? It’s a pretty small town, right?”
“Yep A good ole American town. Been here my whole life.”
“What’s your name?”
“I just go Boy.”
“Boy? You don’t sound like a boy.”
“I pretty much was when I got the name and it stuck.”
“You been in here a lot, Boy?”
“Longer than I like to admit. First got in here when I was about twelve years old. You know, that same sign was hanging up when I first got here.”
“What was your crime?”
“Can’t remember. Wish I could tell you, but I sure can’t remember.”
“Maybe there was no crime at all. Maybe they just locked you up.”
“Well, that wouldn’t make a lot of sense. Wouldn’t be right.”
“It seems like it could be right and acceptable in a town like this.”
“Well, sir. I intend to find out why I was locked up, and they better have a very good reason for doing so.”
“Oh, the boss always has a reason for doing what he does. You’ll see. The boss is always right.”
Cliff went back to the bed and sat down. There wasn’t anything he could do until he was able to speak with the officer again. All of his power had been taken away. Aside from the man in the next cell, there was no one else with whom he could communicate. He had been caged in a small room without much light, and there wasn’t anything he could do to be free.
The time passed and the same officer came and went. Cliff asked for an explanation about why he was still being detained, but the officer just pointed to the sign and left him without hope. He and his neighbor were fed and provided with a minimal amount of supplies to upkeep their hygiene. The officer never let them out of their cells, and he never offered them any information about when they would possibly be able to leave.
All they were left with was the sign. While Cliff refused to believe that he had actually committed any crime, his neighbor was satisfied with accepting that he must have done something wrong that warranted him being kept behind bars.
“I bet we’ll get another neighbor soon,” the man told Cliff one evening.
Cliff had lost track of time by that point; he estimated that he had been in the jail for almost five months.
“We got one more cell here. I bet the boss is going to want to occupy that one, too. Then we’ll have more company. That could be good for us. Give us someone else to talk to. Of course, you never know who he’ll bring in here.”
Cliff was sitting on his bed and staring at the sign. “I think we have a pretty good idea of what type of person they’ll be, Boy.”
“I bet you’re wondering what their crime will be.”
“No. I think I already know that also.”
It was true. As he stared at the sign, Cliff was remorseful for himself and others. There was some comfort in knowing that a select group would be able to get away with committing the same crime. They would never come to Fairview or other places like it. When he thought about that Cliff figured that there was still some justice out there, and if he were patient enough it would eventually come to serve him.