JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Most people might balk at the idea of a cop-turned special ed teacher, but since my husband is a trail attorney-turned special ed teacher, I perked up my ears when I first heard about Tim O'Mara's Sacrifice Fly. In this debut mystery, a former cop, bounced from the force when his knees blow out, has become a teacher in Brooklyn. He thinks his investigative days are over, until one of his eighth graders stops showing up for class...
Tim was inspired by his own time doing home visits as a Brooklyn teacher, and by his dealings with NYPD Youth Officers as a middle school dean. Today, he proves that detecting isn't just something the law does.
He knows it. I know it. But he’s not talking.
That’s why they called me. I have a rep for being good at getting guys like this to talk. To open up. If they go silent, it’s my job to pick up on the physical clues. Body language, subtle gestures, something in their eyes.
Right about now, I’m starting to think maybe they called the wrong man. This guy’s as smart as they told me he was. Probably smarter.
I decide to give him a test. A task. Something to do requiring a set of skills unique to the situation: some observable, others less so.
He begins easily enough. This guy may be quiet and hard to figure out, but he’s willing to please me. Most of them are. That’s what I count on. The quicker they give me what I want, the quicker they’re rid of me. That’s what they think, anyway.
I watch him for a while. I ease up out of my seat and walk to the back of the room. There’s usually not much to see from back here, but I give it a shot. I notice his back’s nice and straight. The head goes up and down more than it should, but that could just be a physical tick.
I move around to the side. Not in front of him, just enough to give me an angle to observe as he continues to work on what I’ve assigned. The head is still going up and down every three to five seconds. Too much. I look at his hands, his shoulders, his face.
And there it is. In the eyes. Poker players call it a “tell.” I call it squinting.
“You wear glasses?” I ask.
“No,” he says, careful to avoid my gaze, still plodding through the job.
He shrugs, and mumbles to the paper. “I don’t know. A few years ago?”
That’s too long, I think. Especially for a seventh grader.
I take a seat across the table from his parents. They’re nervous: part of them wants to hear what I have to say. The other part does not. That’s the way it is in my business. I teach special ed.
“It’s a vision thing,” I say and watch as they both let out a sigh of relief. I slide a piece of paper across the table. “Call these guys. They’re good at what they do.”
A few days pass and I get a phone call. Turns out I was right. The kid’s vision is twenty/twenty. The problem is visual tracking. It’s been a problem for a while, but the kid stayed shut, afraid he’d need glasses. He doesn’t. His eyes wander too much when he’s reading, either from the board or a book. The good news? It’s treatable with therapy. His mother tells me he’ll start next week and thanks me for my efforts.
“You’re welcome,” I say and then apologize for cutting the call short. I’ve got another kid waiting outside my room.
Did you have a teacher that inspired you? Brought out the best in you? Did you have a teacher that you swore was telepathic and had eyes in the back of her head? Tell us your about your most memorable educator, and two lucky commentors will win a copy of Sacrifice Fly.
Tim O'Mara has been teaching math and special education in the New York City public schools since 1987. He has written several short stories and is currently writing his second novel, Chin Music, another Raymond Donne mystery acquired by St. Martin's Press. For the past twelve years, he has hosted and produced a bi-weekly reading series of poetry and prose in New York's East Village. You can find out more about Tim and Sacrifice Fly at his website and on his Facebook page.