HOME SCHOOLING - R.J. SPEARS
Father and son, they sat in a dark nondescript van as rosy cheeked children strolled through the crosswalk on their way to school. The father, both hands on the wheel, was just the other side of forty, with a rugged face like a lumberjack. A thin white scar ran along the edge of his chin, parallel with his mouth but was almost entirely hidden by dark stubble. The boy, riding shotgun, was fourteen and shared his father’s woodsman good looks only sans the scar and five o'clock shadow.
“Look at those kids,” the father said. “What do you think they’ll learn today in school?” He looked over at his son. “Not a helluva lot. Not as much as you learn with me in a day. Right?”
“Right, pop,” the son replied.
The light was about to change and a couple gangling, teenage boys raced to beat it. The father continued, “They’re locked all day in school while you’re out with me learning firsthand what the world is really like. I say one day of the real world is worth any month spent in a classroom. I read in a magazine that they call it experiential learning -- learning by doing something rather from a book. You know what I mean?”
The son nodded in agreement. The light changed from red to green and father navigated away from the school driving onto a main thoroughfare with only light traffic which eventually took them into a small downtown shopping district. The streets were lined with a variety of luxury cars and high end sports utility vehicles that advertised the status of the shoppers. They passed through the shopping district and into a residential area of mammoth houses with spacious park-sized lawns. The father cruised with one hand on the wheel and the other leisurely hanging outside the window of the van. The boy took in the opulent houses and mini-mansions.
“Okay, let’s check out my home schooling technique,” the father said. “It’s time for a pop quiz. That house coming up on the right,” he said pointing. “What kind of architectural style is that?”
The boy gave the house a quick visual inspection as they drove by and said, “Tudor.”
“Right,” the father replied. “Now, ask any of those egg heads back at the school if they can spot a Tudor. I bet that can’t.”
They drove down a couple blocks and stopped at an intersection. To their left, a large white colonial sat like a stately manor in the center of a well-manicured lawn with a retro-styled gazebo positioned to the right of the house. A Latino gardener pruned the hedge just the edge of the sidewalk of the neighboring house and paused to look up at the two of them in the van. The father gave him a “Hi, how are you?”abbreviated wave and drove on. “Okay, what would you say that house was worth?” the father asked.
“Three-fifty, maybe three seventy-five.”
“That’s pretty close. I would say closer to four twenty-five. I bet if they have kids, they don’t even know what the house would go for, but you, at least, can make an educated guess.” He flashed his son a quick smile.
The father took a right at the next corner and said, “We’re almost there now. You ready to learn some more?”
They drove down half a block and the father turned into large stone driveway that lead up to a sprawling suburban mansion, complete with a tennis court, heated pool, and four car garage. The father navigated under a large iron gateway past the front of the house and circled around to the back where he killed the engine and they got out. The boy paused for a moment waiting for a cue from his father on what to do next.
“What do you look for first?” the father asked.
“What about if you don’t see a dog outside?”
“A chain or a dog bowl.”
“That’s my boy.”
The father walked around the side of the van and opened the sliding door. He retrieved a couple sizable canvas tool bags and handed one to the boy. He pulled out a two pairs of light weight leather gloves from the van, handing a pair to the boy and they took a moment to pull them on. The father stood rigid for a moment. The pose made the boy think of a hunting dog sniffing the air for prey.
The father peered around the neighborhood and exhaled loudly. He gave his son a quick look that said, “Let’s go,” and they walked to the house.
They stopped as they reached the back door. The father chuckled and said, “You know I hate this, but I can never remember the code for these alarms.” He stuck a hand into his front pants pocket and retrieved a small sheet of paper. He showed it to his son. “And this piece of information only cost me fifty bucks.” He examined the paper then punched in a series of numbers on the keypad beside the door. He gently grabbed the doorknob, holding his hand on it for a moment, then turned the knob and they entered.
They stood just inside the back door in a short hallway that led to a cavernous kitchen as the father listened for a moment. He moved into the kitchen and the boy followed. An island stove was stationed in the middle of the room, shiny copper pots and pans hung from a circular ring attached to the ceiling just above it. To the right of the island was a large oak table for those who wanted an informal place to have a morning bagel and cup of coffee.
“Yoo-hoo, anyone home?” the father called out. His voice echoed off the walls, but died out quickly as it carried deep into the house. No response came.
“Now, why’d I do that?” the father asked.
“To see if a relative is staying over unexpectedly. Or if a maid is using the place as a rendezvous for some mid-morning delight,” the son said in a tentative voice.
They waited and when no one responded, they made their way into the house, stopping in the dining room. “Okay, what can we look for in the dining room?” the father asked.
“Yes, but in most cases what do you find?”
“Good. Let’s head for the gold mine.” They headed out of the dining room and passed through the entertainment room, complete with the latest home theater system with enormous surround sound speakers. The father asked without pausing, “Why do we pass these rooms up?”
“You don’t get a good return on electronics.”
“And?” the father said stopping to look over his shoulder at the boy who had frozen in mid-step.
The boy was caught like a deer in the headlights, his expression blank but also guilty.
“The stuff is too heavy to carry,” the father said, slightly exasperated. He started moving again, “You don’t want to throw out your back and have to crawl out of the place. Or worse, have to lay like a snake with a broken back until someone comes home.”
They found themselves in the foyer standing at the base of spiral staircase that led up to the second floor. The carpet throughout the house was plush and luxurious, muffling their footsteps. “Where are we going first?” the father asked as they ascended the stairs.
“The master bedroom,” the boy replied.
They got to the top of the stairs and paused for a moment.
“Right,” the father said. He then led them down a hallway with numbered prints on the wall that reminded the father of spilled paint. He swiveled his head from side-to-side taking quick peeks into each room. He led them into the master bedroom with a large cherry sleigh bed covered with a paisley comforter. On each side of the bed were his and hers matching cherry dressers.
“You take hers, I’ll take his,” the father said and the boy moved around the bed to the woman’s dresser.
“And why do we come to the bedroom first?” the father asked while he sized up the top of the man’s dresser.
“Aaaa, jewelry,” the son responded.
“Right,” the father said, opening a drawer. He reached in and pulled out an ornate golden watch. “Rolex,” he said, holding his bounty aloft for the boy to see.
“And why do we go for jewelry?” the father asked.
“It’s easily portable and most of the time easily fenced unless it’s a one of a kind item.”
The father stopped what he was doing, turned from his son and his face held an expression of pride. “Tell me you would have learned that in school? Okay, let’s get to the bigger picture. A little philosophical, you know, the topping on all my home schooling of you. What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?”
The boy paused just as he was about to place a jewelry box into his canvas tool bag, looked at his father with a sly smile and said, “Crime pays.”
BIO: R.J. Spears is a filmmaker and mystery writer who lives in Columbus, Ohio. His short story “Skeletons Out of the Closet” placed second in the Indianapolis Murder and Mayhem short story contest in 1997 and he is currently trying to find an agent to represent a P.I. novel set in Columbus.