They Need To Learn

“Fourth offence.” The Chief rapped one heavy hand on the desk, a ring clunking against the dark-stained wood.

“Thought it was only his third,” Crosby said. He raised his voice at the end, turning it into a question.

“Fourth. He did the same to Robinson last week. Four times in ten days. It’s unacceptable.”

“I agree, Sir.”

“We have to take a stand here. Can’t let them think we’re soft.”

“Tribunal?” That should have been after the fifth minor infarction, but the Chief pushed things. He said it kept them on their toes. They needed learn about uncertainty. And to accept that they weren’t in control.

“The toe-rag would only do it again.”

Crosby nodded, making a mental note not to repeat the Chief’s words to anyone else. Calling them toe-rags‌—‌well, it was fine within these walls, but the bleeding-hearts outside would be up in arms. They’d start on with the institutional abuse nonsense, and call for the Chief’s resignation.

Of course, that wouldn’t happen. His methods were extreme, and he upset people, but he got results. Nobody could deny that. And results were all that mattered.

“No,” he continued, “we need to come down hard. He goes into solitary.”

Crosby coughed. “Isn’t that a bit extreme? It’s only the fourth time…”

“…‌only nothing! He’s toying with us. He reeks of rebellion. We don’t put a stop to this now, it’ll only get worse. You remember Pressman?”

Of course Crosby remembered Pressman. Every time he bent his arm right back, the wound pulled. And that had happened straight after the lad’s tribunal.

“But solitary’s…”

“…‌exactly what the bugger needs!”

“His father won’t like it.”

Crosby knew he was making excuses, but that man was influential. He had the ear of the governor, and he was well-respected. Rumour has it he had friends in high places.

“His father’s nothing but a slimy back-stabbing piece of crap. And don’t look at me like that, Crosby. Get past the smiles and the handshakes, and you know what he’s really like.”

“He’ll kick up a fuss, though.”

“While praising his kid’s ‘individualism’. He’ll make a noise, but he won’t do anything more.” The Chief smiled then, and reached into a desk drawer, pulling out a sheet of paper. He slammed it down in front of Crosby. “Not even his greasy lawyers could find a loop-hole in this.”

Even with the text upside-down, Crosby recognised the now-standard consent form, and knew it gave the Chief the legal right to do what he was talking about. And the father had signed it. Crosby even remembered some speech he’d made, about how this would transform the town from the ground up. The usual political hot air, but it was on record, so he couldn’t deny it. Accusations of nepotism, even if he argued them away, would stick like mud.

“So how long in solitary?” Crosby thought the Chief might go for a couple of days. That would be enough to break most of the hooligans they had to deal with.

Like everyone else, Crosby had done his stint working solitary. The Chief had thrown out the comfy chairs and the computers, and left bare walls and hard flooring, with grills covering the windows. He’d thrown out any notion that it was a place for ‘cooling off’‌—‌solitary was punishment.

After the first load of injuries, there had been complaints. Bloody fists and heads never looked good. Some said there should be padding. The Chief argued that the miscreants could always choose not to throw themselves around. Others called for cameras, but the Chief laughed in their faces. Most of the little runts were after attention, so why the hell would he give them an audience?

Again, the results spoke in the Chief’s favour. Threaten solitary, and most of the toe-rags fell in line.

Most of them.

“A week in the hole. That should do it.”

Crosby shook his head. “Too long, surely!”

The Chief raised one eyebrow, the scar on his forehead peaking. Crosby had seen him use that look on some of the worst scumbags, and it had worked far better than a show of force. The threat that exuded from the man was enough.

“I mean, isn’t that a bit extreme?”

“He’s one of yours, Crosby. What’s his influence like?”

Crosby shrugged. “Hangs around with Jameson and Lannard most of the time. But others look up to him. Probably because of his father…”

He trailed off, because the Chief was nodding slowly.

“Others look up to him,” the man behind the desk repeated, stressing each word. “And there you have it. We deal with this too lightly, and we’re giving a green light for others to follow his lead. We give them the slightest crack, and they’ll prise it open.” He eased back in his chair, the leather creaking. “This isn’t about one person. We’re dealing with a pack. And we can’t allow someone like this to lead the pack.” He arched his fingers, and looked pointedly at Crosby. “You know why we have to do this, don’t you?”

Crosby nodded, remembering the mantras the Chief repeated in so many meeting. “Hard love. We punish to teach them. We come down hard so that they learn to control themselves.”

“We do.”

But deep down, Crosby shivered. He wondered if this was too much, if the Chief was losing his grip. He wondered if their wards would come out not the well-adjusted citizens they aimed for, but bitter, scared ghosts.

His own school days had been nothing like this.


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