One Night in Jail is now submitted into the America’s Next Author contest through eBookMall. I’m waiting to hear back from them, but I should have a voting page set up soon! To learn more about the contest, click here.
Today’s short story, One Night in Jail, is based loosely on actual events. Is there a moral to the story? Decide for yourself. I know one thing for sure. I wouldn’t want to spend one night in jail.
One Night in Jail by Kirkus MacGowan
Let me tell you a story about the one and only time I spent a night in jail. The reason for the not-so-wonderful stay doesn’t matter. It was years ago and things have changed. What does matter are the little things one hopes to never endure. Lucky for me, this isn’t a horror story. I’d classify it more as a comedy. At least now. Back then, I may have said differently.
This short story has not been edited by a professional
The officer finally removed my cuffs. Dark red rings circled my wrists. I remember thinking he’d placed them too tight but I would have done the same. I’m a big guy after all.
I rubbed at my chafed wrists and took in my surroundings. I sat on a bench in the middle of the station. Cops wandered around, all business. When I’d show them a smile, they’d either roll their eyes or turn away. The stench of bar smoke radiating from my shirt drowned the rest of the odors. The few jail cells I saw held multiple prisoners (I think they’re called prisoners in a county jail). They weren’t anything like you see in the movies. There were no bars, nothing but a small, thick window placed in the cell door, criss-crossed with wire.
To my left, sat a cute blonde girl, her eyes darting side to side.
Not a cop, so I grinned.
The corners of her mouth barely lifted. Her hair flailed when she shook her head. “This is bullshit. I shouldn’t be here.”
Tell me about it. “What happened?” I assumed she wouldn’t answer considering she looked like a lioness about to pounce.
“They’re charging me with drunk driving!” Her voice raised an octave. “All I did was move my boyfriend’s car from one parking lot to another. I was only on the road for a few seconds.”
“You were on the road for a few seconds and they nabbed you? Wow. Crappy.”
Her eyes narrowed and her voice assumed a conspiratorial edge. “Doesn’t matter anyway. I’ll sue their asses.”
I’d like to say I continued with the easy chat, calmed her with my soothing words. I could have nodded my head and told her how sorry I was. Instead, I pictured this little thing suing the police department and the judge tittering in her face. That’s when a laugh burst from my mouth. A nice, loud, healthy laugh.
I’m not sure exactly what she said next, but I know it included the f-word at least half a dozen times. Then tears poured from her eyes as she sobbed.
The female cop sitting at the desk closest to us threw her pen down and rushed to the girl’s side. While hugging the blonde, she shot me an evil glare. Each perfectly enunciated word squeezed through her clenched teeth. “What did you do?”
I didn’t think it was possible, but her glare darkened even more when I began with another round of laughter. Considering the bind I was in, the whole situation felt like a bad joke.
The cop who arrested me happened to round the corner right then. “Let’s go. We need to get you checked in.”
I resisted the urge to comment on the accommodations.
This is about the time I knew my night wouldn’t get any better. Who did I check in with? You guessed it. The same female cop who thought I’d committed some heinous act causing the emotional wreck of a blonde to cry.
It wasn’t so bad. They took my jacket and my boots. I guess they consider steel-toed boots a weapon when in jail.
The big cop grinned as he explained how normally they took only the laces. “Sorry. We have to protect everybody. Don’t worry. Jane here (the female cop’s name wasn’t really Jane) will find you a pair of sandals to wear.”
The sandals Jane found just happened to be two sizes too small. My toes barely squeezed into the end and my heel hung over the back a couple inches. What is it they say about a woman’s wrath?
They escorted me to the nearest cell. The cells were larger than I originally thought, but there were also more prisoners (inmates?) squeezed in than I assumed possible.
The cell’s dimensions were about six foot by twelve foot, with extra space at the end for the toilet. A short cement wall stood between the throne and the rest of the small room. A pleasant surprise after all the movies I’d watched showing the prisoners use the restroom in the center of the cell.
At least a dozen men crowded the cell, tight enough that I didn’t dare raise my elbows. The door closed behind me. I stood at the front of the small group, noting that almost every set of eyes focused on me. Some of the prisoners were short, some tall, some huge. My skin color made me the minority.
“So… What are you all in for?” My stomach flipped end over end as soon as the words left my mouth. The stereotypical saying didn’t sound as cool as it does when said in movies.
After a long pause, they all cracked up. Music to my ears considering where I was.
The rest of the night went smooth for the most part. Over a period of hours, they removed every prisoner except two others and me.
I sat on the stone bench with my arms crossed, leaning back against the cold wall. I pondered the evening’s events and my actions.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m a big guy, yet the black man sitting nearby dwarfed me in comparison. He kept looking at me. I pretended not to notice. I thought maybe my frazzled nerves played tricks.
A mouse of a man sat in the corner by the cell door, arms on his knees and feet tapping. I guessed he was Hispanic but I wasn’t sure, as he wouldn’t look in my direction.
I hope my description of the two men doesn’t offend anybody. Plenty of my friends are black or Hispanic. I often ask what they prefer I call them if it came up in converstaion. I’d rather use names than labels, but considering where I was, asking prisoners their names wasn’t a top priority.
So there I was, thinking about how big of an idiot I was for putting myself in the current circumstances. The black man cleared his throat. I looked up from my rumination. He pointed to the floor next to the tiny man.
I looked at the cement floor, then back to the giant. “What?”
He tapped me on the shoulder and gestured to the floor.
I figured he didn’t know English and this was his way of asking me to move. The time was late and we were all tired. Dark circles ringed our bloodshot eyes. At least sleepiness caused mine. I had no idea if either of the other men were there for drug charges.
With a nod, I slid to the floor and resumed my cross-armed cogitation. I’m not sure what might have happened had I not agreed to move. He seemed like a nice enough guy.
Three in the morning rolled around and I passed out on my sandy bed for the night, psychologically exhausted from the evening’s events.
Something tapped my shoulder. Adrenaline raced through my system and I shot up from the floor, fists raised. The black man snored on the bench. To the side, the Hispanic man cowered in the corner barely meeting my glare.
His whispered words didn’t reach my ears.
“What’s that?” I softened by bearing. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear you.”
“Papalera!” His finger shot toward the black man.
“Si. Si. Papelera.” He pointed again.
High school Spanish class popped into my head. Papel meant paper. I looked toward the black man again. Behind him on the bench sat a roll of toilet paper.
“You want the toilet paper?”
He nodded. “Si. Toilet paper.”
I reached behind and removed the roll. After handing it to the extremely thankful man, Spanish rolled from his mouth in a rush. The word “gracias” stood out in the mix.
I leaned against the wall and slid down until seated. A few deep breaths calmed my nerves, allowing relaxation to set in. I closed my eyes.
That’s when it began. A low moan echoed through the cell. My eyes slowly opened. I searched for the strange sound, barely audible over the black man’s snores. I heard it again right before the splash of water.
Toilet paper flashed through my mind, along with the current location of the Hispanic man. An hour and a half this went on. I wish I were kidding. Snores, moans, a putrid odor… And don’t forget about the occasional splatter of water.
I really didn’t sleep after that. If I did, it wasn’t more than seconds at a time. Eventually, the snoring stopped and the black man sat up with a wide grin. No words were spoken after the “papelera” incident, and none were spoken until breakfast.
The space on the bench opened up again so I took a seat. I’m not sure what time, but it was early, a cop entered with three small brown paper bags. He handed one to each of us and left.
I peered inside to see an orange, a kid’s size box of Frosted Flakes, and a tiny carton of white milk. Starving at this point, I tore open the cereal and dug in. The orange stayed in the paper baggy, waiting for me to consume it as dessert.
We ate in silence, minus the swishing of the paper bags and the crunching of our cereal. When finished, I placed the empty carton and box next to me on the bench. No sooner than I sat them down, the black man said something to me. I say “something” because I have no idea what it was.
My earlier suspicions about him not speaking English were correct. Whatever it was he said, he pointed at my paper bag. I responded as I had all night. “What?”
The grin he’d wore upon waking appeared again. He reached into the bag and pulled out my orange. A few more unintelligible words escaped his mouth and he began peeling the luscious fruit.
I said, “You’re welcome,” and resumed my place on the floor.
I sensed the end of the frightful night nearing. Also, I read the wall clock outside the cell. My dad had been the only person I called the night before. He’d be there in minutes.
A bit after nine in the morning, a cop opened the door. Before I stepped out, I turned to the two men in the cell and in my best Arnold Schwarzenegger impersonation said, “Hasta la vista.”
Both men waved, the tiny Hispanic man showing more courage than he had the night before by actually standing while he waved.
Anxiety shortened my step. Sweat rolled between my shoulder blades despite the cool air circulating through the station. My biggest fear lay before me. The disappointment sure to cover my father’s face.
They gathered my jacket and other goods, including the steel-toe boots. I almost laughed when I saw how pointy my feet appeared from the tight sandals. The female cop from the night before was nowhere to be found. I thought I’d at least tell her thanks.
I stood before the final door to the outer chamber. The jet-black strands resting on my father’s head were on the other side, visible through another small wire-crossed window.
What would I say? Would he understand why I did it? How do I explain this? Those and a hundred other questions streaked through my mind in the few seconds it took the door to unlock.
The thick steel door clicked and opened.
“Please pass through,” a voice said from the intercom overhead.
I stepped into the jail’s welcome area (I could find twenty other names more fitting). My father stood in the center, hands in his pockets. The early morning sun shot a glare across the waxed floor behind him. He looked as if he’d stepped out of a movie scene where the bad guy appeared in the perfect sunset, or perfect dusty alleyway. Slowly, he shook his head back and forth.
The moment of truth. Would I ever hear the end of it? Would he forgive me? I opened my mouth, hoping to beat him to the verbal onslaught. The victory was his, but the words he spoke shattered my previous conceptions of the man.
He said, “How’d you get caught?”
At the request of Mr. Tom Stronach, I’ve added a prequel. I wish I could say it’s some grand story to tell my children one day. Unfortunately, it’s more of a wrong place at the wrong time type of story.
The music eased down to nothingness. Fluorescent lights flashed on, emphasizing every negative attribute the girl in front of me had to offer.
I said a quick goodbye and began the search for my brother. Last time I saw him, his lips were locked on some woman I swear was twice our age. Spring Break in Myrtle Beach mixed with the mass consumption of alcohol has that effect.
People cleared out within minutes. In the bars I’m used to, bouncers physically force everybody out. My brother stood by the door, hands in his pockets, glazed and bloodshot eyes waving back and forth.
I grabbed his shoulder. “Hey, Johnny.” (Not his real name.) “You’re not going home with Grandma tonight?”
His fist punched my arm. (I never saw it coming. Another disadvantage of alcohol.) “Whatever, man. At least I wasn’t dancing with some huge guy’s girlfriend.”
My heart skipped a beat. “What do you mean? Was I?”
My brother shook his head and guided me out front. The blind leading the blind. “You didn’t see the guy with his arms crossed staring at you half the night? You’d think his three friends doing the same thing would have given a clue.”
We began our trek away from the tiki-themed bar. I set a quick clip in case my brother wasn’t kidding about the big guy. A block away, a group of ten men or so, stood in a circle yelling and cussing. I prayed it wasn’t the same group from the bar.
We circled around. They didn’t notice us at all. I thought we were in the clear. And we were for another block until a glowing white light seared my eyes.
I yelped and covered my eyes, spinning away from the spotlight. “What the hell is that!”
A booming voice answered. “Myrtle Beach Police Department.”
Turning toward the megaphone, I shaded my eyes and found my brother doing the same. A police cruiser had stopped in the middle of the road. The brightest spotlight I’d ever scene shined on us from a rolled down window.
“Can you see anything, Johnny?” I asked.
“Yeah. A giant fucking spotlight.”
This was the turning point. One of those moments when you look back and think, “Why couldn’t I leave well enough alone?”
“What did you say!” As fast as my brother’s fist had punched my arm, a second officer leapt from the vehicle and sprinted to us with his hand held on his sidearm. He pointed a smaller version of the spotlight from hell directly in my face.
The cop repeated the question. My brother did the smart thing… Nothing. The flashlight flipped back and forth between our faces a few times before I answered.
I said, “A giant fucking spotlight?”
“What?” If he were a dog, he would have growled.
“You asked me what I said. I said a giant fucking spotlight.”
“Don’t get lippy.”
Through the glare, I saw my brother wore a smile. I looked back to the cop. “I’m not getting lippy. You asked what I said, so I told you.”
“That’s it. Turn around.”
Being the law-abiding citizen I am, I did as told. The cartilage in my wrists may have crunched when the handcuffs went on. I say may have because my brain said it should have with the amount of pain I felt.
The smile on Johnny’s face disappeared. “What are you taking him in for? He didn’t do anything.”
The great white beam settled on my brother’s face.
“Shut up or I’ll take you in too.”
My brother held his arms up and stepped back.
“Now get out of here.”
Johnny wanted to say more. The way he held his shoulders all scrunched up spoke for him.
Leaned over the cruiser, I felt as close to the cop as I had to the girl I danced with most of the night. Asked if I had any weapons, I said, “Only my credit card.” He finished the pat down and placed me in the back seat.
I almost cheered when he read me my rights. I’d seen it on television so many times, it was cool to hear it in real life. The current situation notwithstanding.
On our short trip to the station, we listened to the golden oldies. I don’t really know if that’s what it was, but I’d never heard of any of the bands playing.
I asked my last question before making it to the jail. “I don’t suppose you gentlemen would mind playing some country music?”
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