The Right to Remain Silent

right to remain silent

a short story by

Cole Parker

Rodney Powers was playing a hard-fought basketball game in his gym class.  He was far from the tallest kid on his team, but he was feisty, quick and spry and could dribble well; he was the one who brought the ball down court on each of his team’s possessions—the point guard if you could attach a label like that to such a waif-like figure—and started the offense.  It was a full-court game, and running up and down the floor had all the boys panting and sweating and wishing Mr. McKlusky, the gym teacher, would blow his whistle more often.

And then he did.  Vice Principal Hanratty had entered the gym and spoken to him quietly for a moment.  That brought out the man’s whistle.  He looked around and found his target.  “Rod, you’re needed elsewhere.  Please go with Mr. Hanratty.”

Rod shook his head, frowned, and asked, “Can I take a shower first, please?”

Mr. Hanratty was the one who answered.  “You’re to come now.  Let’s go.”

Rod had been holding the ball when the game had stopped.  Now, he bounced it to one of the other players and trudged across the floor to where Mr. Hanratty was waiting.  The rest of the boys were quiet, watching Rod go.  They saw Rod’s slumped shoulders and Mr. Hanratty tapping his foot, his impatience obvious to everyone.  One boy yelled out, “Good game, Rod,” his voice echoing his support in the silent gym.   Rod forced a smile, looked back and waved.

“I need to change,” Rod said to Mr. Hanratty.  “And shower.  I’m all sweaty and can’t go anywhere like this.”

“You’ll do what I tell you to do.  We’re going to the principal’s office and he’s waiting.  Now no more dawdling and backtalk.  Move it.”

“But I need to change!”

“You come now or it’s another detention for you.”

Rod shook his head.  He began to hope Mr. Hanratty would take him by his arm.  The man had done that once before.  He’d learned not to, learned well, and now just kept glowering at Rod.

Rod didn’t think he’d ever seen him when he wasn’t scowling and so ignored the ugly expression.  “What is it this time?” he asked as they left the gym.

Not answering the question, Mr. Hanratty said, “You never will learn to say ‘sir’ when addressing your elders, will you?”

Rod looked him in the eye, something he’d learned how to do, and said, “You get what you earn.”

Mr. Hanratty and Rod didn’t like each other, and neither made any attempt to hide the fact.

“Someday that attitude of yours will get you in a heap of trouble.  Maybe today’s the day.  I’ve got my fingers crossed.”

Rod thought of several comebacks but kept them to himself.  He had no idea why he was being called to the office.   This time he was certain he was completely innocent.  No point in getting in trouble sparring with Hanratty till he knew the lay of the land.

Mr. Hanratty took him through the door that led directly into the principal’s office from the hall.  Inside were two men: Principal Lewis and a large middle-aged man wearing a suit and tie.  Both were sitting, but the middle-aged man stood up.  He towered over Rod, and Rod had the immediate impression he was supposed to be intimidated by the man’s size. 

Rod forced himself to be calm, but all three men were wearing suits and ties and he was wearing his gym clothes—a tank top, brief gym shorts and sneakers—and the effect made him quite uncomfortable.  The office was air conditioned, he was sweaty, and he started to shiver; he tried hard to stop.

There was a pause, and then Principal Lewis spoke, directing his words at the large man.  “This is Rodney Powers.  He’s an eighth grader, he’s 13, and he’s well-known to the administration of this school.  He’s been in this office many times before this.”

Then he turned to Rod.  “Rodney, this is Detective Reynolds.  He has some questions for you.”

“Have a seat,” the detective said.  He had a bass voice and spoke somewhat louder than the size of the office necessitated.

Rod sat down on one of the straight-backed wooden chairs.  The detective also sat after moving his chair close to face the boy, their knees almost touching.  The principal remained seated behind his desk.  Mr. Hanratty stayed standing, leaning against a file cabinet, locating himself behind the detective so he was in Rod’s line of sight, his eyes antagonistic and boring into Rod’s.  Rod noticed.  More attempted intimidation.  It would have bothered him in the past.  He was stronger now.  He’d learned how to overlook the mind games people, especially adults, tried to play with him.

Detective Reynolds stared at him in silence for a few moments.  Rod sat in silence, too, waiting.  As he waited, he felt his nervousness fade as he got control of his emotions; his mental processes took over.  He’d been in this office before, and he’d had a good measure of successful here.

He stopped shivering, stopped feeling awkward about how  he was dressed.  It was their move, he thought.  Asking what this was all about right up front would show nervousness.  Better to let them begin.

  “I have some questions for you concerning an incident last night.  Where were you at nine o’clock?”

“Why are you asking?” Rod said.

“We’ll come to that.  First, tell me where you were.”

Rod smiled, though the smile didn’t reach his eyes.  “That’s not the way this is done, is it?  I imagine you’re supposed to explain why you’re questioning me.  Otherwise, I’m at a disadvantage, which may be good for you but certainly not for me, and fair’s fair.  I need to know the basis for your question before answering it.  So, again: why are you asking?”

Detective Reynolds glared at him, and his voice rose, now a bit louder and deeper.   He leaned closer as he responded, looming over the small boy.  “I was told you’d be a pain in the ass.  But I’ve questioned jerks older and smarter that you all my life, and they all talk eventually.  Now, answer the question.”

Rod paused for effect.  He wanted the detective to see his equanimity.  And too, waiting would make the man angrier.  Rod wanted him to be angry.  “Sure, after you answer mine.”  Rod stared at him without expression, showing nothing at all.

It worked.  Rod could see anger building in the man.  “Look, kid, we can do this here—or go downtown.  After you’ve sat in a cell for awhile, you’ll be ready to talk.  Eager, in fact.  Or maybe I’ll book you for obstruction of justice.  You’ll be strip searched, given a paper costume to wear and thrown into a cold cell with the drunks and reprobates for a while.  Then you’ll be begging to talk.”

“Really?”  Rod showed his surprise.  “You’d really do that?  Wow!  Well, OK, why don’t you go ahead?  I could use the money, and believe you me, I’ll get a lot.  I’m 13 and people say I’m cute when I smile, and I’ll look a bit vulnerable sitting in court, and you’re old and ugly, and you’ve been trying to intimidate me, and who do you think the jury will side with?  I guess a little time in a cell would be worth it.  Dad’s been saying I have to earn half the money for my first car, and this will get me enough to buy anything I want all by myself, and it’ll only take an hour or two of my time.  I can deal with that.  I’ll probably get the money about the time I need it for the car, the way these settlements stretch out these days.  What will it be like to be the only kid in school driving his own ‘Vette?  Or a Porsche.  I’ll be famous. You know, you might even be working as a car salesman by then.  Who knows?  So, go ahead.  Take me in.”

Rod stood, sticking his arms out in front of him with his wrists together, presenting himself for handcuffs to be applied.

Detective Reynolds sat back and just looked at Rod.  He was used to suspects being afraid of him, afraid of the situation they were in.  Especially kids.  Kids always folded.  He’d never met one like this before.  Still, he was in charge and knew it.  He wasn’t about to back down.

“You got some mouth on you, kid.  You can save yourself a lot of grief if you just cooperate.  We had report of a sex crime last night on the school grounds.  Indecent exposure.  A couple of boys exposed themselves to cars passing by.  There were reports of two other boys who looked like they were jer. . . uh, masturbating each other.  When a car stopped, everyone ran.  Your name was mentioned as someone to talk to in our investigation.”  He stopped to glance back at Mr. Hanratty, then went back to looking at Rod.  “There, now you know what this is about.  So, where were you at around nine last night.”

Rod stared at him for a moment, then turned and spoke to the man behind the desk.  “Principal Lewis, am I here because you need me here, or am I here because this guy asked you to have me brought in?”

Principal Lewis took a deep breath and exhaled.  He was so glad he didn’t have a school full of students like Rodney Powers, even though this boy had never earned less than an A in any of his classes and was obviously very bright.  The two of them had had many battles, and in truth, he admired Rod’s spirit and spunk and applauded the boy’s intelligence.  The incidents had never been serious, more a disruption of school policy, but they’d had to be dealt with.  Rod had managed to talk his way out of many of the disciplinary actions he’d been given.  The few times he’d lost the argument, he’d served detentions without complaint.  But their skirmishes had been a revelation to the principal; the kid was sharp as a tack and knew how to use words. 

This had been a learning experience for Rod as much as a surprise for Dr. Lewis.  After the first few confrontations, Rod was no longer intimidated by authority and never lost his composure, very rare traits for such a young boy.

There had been many incidents.  Rod was a boy who didn’t like rules, didn’t like to be held in check by what he felt were arbitrary school procedures, and too often simply ignored them.  Mr. Hanratty had no patience for such behavior in anyone and had made it his personal goal to keep Rod in check.  This had meant Rod had had to deal with the vice principal often, and to that man’s dismay, he’d found that Rod could argue a point better than he could.  Mr. Hanratty was thoroughly irked when Rod, on being given detention, often insisted on speaking with the principal.  He was then angered when the principal frequently was persuaded by the boy’s rhetoric and overturned his second-in-command’s discipline.

Principal Lewis had had one trump card to play in those discussions.  The boy had asked him to call him Rod.  The principal never acceded to this demand and insisted on using the full name, Rodney, which the boy hated.  It had been a tactical if minor win for the principal.

 Principal Lewis had found in his many discussions with Rod that speaking truthfully was the only way to deal with him; the kid saw through any dissembling and used it to his advantage.  By this time, they both treated each other with respect, though Rod still created more problems than Principal Lewis liked dealing with.  The boy was all-boy and was irrepressible. 

As Principal Lewis knew that anything but truthfulness led to much greater problems, he answered Rod’s question honestly. 

“Detective Reynolds asked to have you brought in so he could speak to you.  I thought my office would be the most suitable place for that,” Principal Lewis told Rod.

“Thank you, sir,” Rod said, and shifted his eyes to the detective.  “You’re questioning me about a crime you think I may have committed.  Yet you didn’t Mirandize me.  That means I’m not in custody.  As Principal Lewis has no need for me, I’ll be going.”

Rod turned and took a step toward the door.

“Hold on young man!   I’m not done with you!”

“I can’t leave?”  Rod’s surprise was evident.  “If that’s so, then I must be in your custody.  You really should tell someone that, especially someone as young as I am.  It’s easy to misinterpret one’s situation.  OK, I’m in your custody.”  He turned back and sat down again.

“That’s better.  Now, finally, tell me where you were!”



Rod shook his head.  “You like steamrollering people, don’t you?  Especially kids.  I’ll bet you stomp up and down on their rights all the time, don’t you?  Huh?  Yeah, I’m sure of it.”

“You will answer me!”  The detective was now showing a red face.

“No, I won’t.  I have the right to remain silent, even if you neglected to tell me that.”

“I only have to tell you that after I’ve arrested you!” 

Rod’s voice rose.  “That’s bullshit, and you know it.  You have to Mirandize suspects before you take them into custody, and even more importantly before you interrogate them.  You’ve already screwed that up.  You’re interrogating me, I’m in custody, and you have no right to do what your doing.  You’re also not treating a minor as required by law; there must be a parent or guardian present before you begin any interrogation at all.  You’ve totally messed up here.  In any case, I’m exercising my right to remain silent, and you can go jump in the lake for all I care.”

“Rodney!”  Principal Lewis frowned at him.  “Please keep a civil tongue in your mouth in my office.  And no swearing.”

Rod nodded.  “Sorry, sir,” he said, not sounding a bit contrite.

Detective Reynolds sat still, trying to calm down.  He would not let this little kid have his way with him.  He was a detective, for crying out loud.  He wasn’t going to let this kid off the hook.

“OK, kid, let’s do it your way, a way where I’m fully within my rights as a police officer.  I’m arresting you on suspicion of involvement in a crime and not cooperating with a police officer.  You have the right to remain silent.”  He went on to recite the entire warning, then asked Rod if he understood.

Rod ignored the question.  “I’m exercising my right to remain silent.  I won’t talk to you without a parent and my attorney present.  Also, the arrest is spurious: you have no evidence to support it and no warrant.  And I still have my rights, even if under arrest.  Prisoners are allowed one phone call, and I’d like to request, in front of two witnesses, that I make the call here and now.  You have no legitimate grounds to deny that request.”

“You have an attorney?”  Detective Reynolds couldn’t believe it.  The kid was 13!

Principal Lewis smiled.  Mr. Hanratty scowled.

“Sure.  My father.  He teaches law at the college here and has an outside practice as well.  He specializes in police misconduct.  Gets large settlements.  I already have several instances of your misconduct to talk to him about.  Principal Lewis, may I use your phone?”



“You’ve got to stop doing this,” Rod’s dad said on the way home.  He’d come to the school, and, under his supervision, Rod had answered the detective’s question: he’d been home doing homework and watching TV all of last evening before going to bed well after nine, a statement verified by his father. 

“Doing what, teasing a cop?”

“Well, that, but it’s more about making me leave a class in the middle of a lecture.”

“Wasn’t my fault that they called me into the office during your criminal-law class.”

“Why didn’t you just answer the guy’s question?  This all would have been over in two minutes.  He’d have let you go, then talked to me, and I’d have backed up your alibi.  Why do things the hard way?”

Rod smiled.  “Why do you think?”

His dad laughed.  “Knowing you, you had a reason.  But I can’t guess what it was.”

“Well, think about what happened.”

“No, just tell me,” his dad insisted.

“OK.  OK.  When I went into the office, it was obvious the guy was going to grill me, rake me over the coals, investigate the hell out of me, no stone unturned, that sort of thing, and in the most obnoxious, demeaning and disparaging way he could.  He’d ask all sorts of invasive questions.  And I couldn’t have that.  So, I led him astray, got him angry over how some kid was making a fool of him and taking him far away from what he was investigating.  The more I resisted, of course, the more he thought I was guilty.  When you arrived and I finally talked, he felt so triumphant: he’d succeeded!  Then, he was utterly defeated when he learned I wasn’t involved in what he was investigating.  I gave him a smug smile then that just made him angrier and hastened his departure.  That was it.  Over and done.”

“And why couldn’t you have him asking you more questions?  Were you trying to hasten his departure?”

Rod grinned.  “Aha!  You’re catching up.  That’s exactly what I was doing, getting him to leave early after being satisfied that I wasn’t guilty.  Why did I want him out of there?  Because I know who did it.  Paul, my boyfriend, was one of the ones there.  They were going through an initiation.  No one did much of anything—it was kid stuff—but knowing the what and who and why of what happened, I wasn’t going to admit anything to the police.  If I’d been asked questions I didn’t want to answer, I’d have been obstructing justice, which is at least a misdemeanor, possibly a felony, as you darned well know.  So, I led him down the garden path instead.  Got him mad and suspicious of me so he wouldn’t stay calm and focused on the case and wouldn’t ask what I couldn’t answer.”

“At some point, you’re going to go too far.”

Rod laughed.  “That’s what that jerk Hanratty told me today.  But I’m covered: I have a great attorney!”

The End


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