There’s an old joke about the two best parts of teaching being July and August. I don’t make that joke myself—I like the challenge of working with kids too much to find much humor in it—but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy the much needed summer vacation. Until recently, my summers consisted of sleeping in until seven, catching up on my reading, going to the movies during the day, hitting the usual bars on the Northside of Williamsburg and discovering new ones on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
Then I met Allison Rogers.
A reporter for a New York City tabloid, Allison doesn’t get much time off. But when she does, she heads west to the ranch her parents own in the middle of Missouri. This explains why there is currently about a thousand pounds of horse between my legs. I usually prefer my transportation to come with four wheels, not four legs, but when in Missouri…
“That’s where the fox got in last night.” Allison’s father is pointing at the hole in the chicken wire. His horse is much bigger than mine, and he sits on it like he was born up there. “Never had this problem before, but it may be time to go with the electric fence the guys at the diner’ve been telling me to start using.”
I nod as if I know what he’s talking about. In reality, I know as much about raising and protecting chickens as Mr. Rogers—go ahead, I’ve chuckled at the name myself—knows about the New York City subways.
“They chew right through the wire,” he explains. “I fix ’em and a few days later they’re back and I’m down another bird or two. Dog does a good job during the day—the foxes smell old Rex—but we all gotta sleep, right?”
I agree with him and with as much poise as possible, dismount and walk over to the latest point of nocturnal entry. As a life-long resident of Long Island and Brooklyn, I admittedly don’t know much about farm life. As an ex-cop, though, I do know more than most about what a wire looks like when it’s been snipped by a cutter and I was looking at one now. Working in a middle school has also taught me the approximate shoe size of your average teenager. I’m careful not to step on the footprints as I turn back to Allison’s dad. He, like his wife and three employees, wears boots. I doubt anyone in the family besides Allison even owns a pair of sneakers.
I look up at Allison’s dad. He’s a proud man, works hard every day and has the worries that all people who make a living off the land have. Doesn’t matter how hard you labor, Mother Nature’s the boss out here and if you forget that, she’ll remind you. That’s what he knows and the last thing he wants to hear is what I have to say next.
“Allison says you got some new neighbors a few months ago.”
“Yep,” he says. “The Rudders had enough of trying to make a go of it and moved down to Florida to be with the grandkids.”
“The new people,” I say. “They have kids?”
“A boy, about fifteen. Likes his four-wheeler a bit too much for my taste, but I’ve been thinking about hiring him for the rest of the summer. Give my regular guys some time off and get him off than darn crotch rocket. Why?”
I didn’t want to come right out and say it. Ranchers—most folks out here like Mr. Rogers—trust their neighbors. You have to. Between the weather and the harsh reality of the rural life, you rely on each other more than most people do. The thought of his neighbor’s kid messing with that trust is not going to cross his mind right away. Me? It’s the first thing I thought of.
“How far away are they, these new neighbors?”
He motions with his head to the north. “About fifteen minutes.”
If the word “Duh” was in this man’s vocabulary, now’s the time he would have used it. “How else we gonna get there, Ray?”
I smile, get back on the horse and spin him around just like I’d been taught.
“Let’s go for a ride,” I say. “It’s about time you offered that boy a job.”
Mr. Rogers gives me an approving smile.
“Allison said you were the kind of guy who gets things done. I like that.”
Without another word, we ride off to visit with the new neighbors. The kid’s first job is going to be repairing some chicken wire a fox had chewed through last night.
You can read more about Raymond in Crooked Numbers, the second book in the “Raymond Donne” mystery series, published by Minotaur. The first book in the series is Sacrifice Fly.
Meet the author
Tim O’Mara has been teaching math and special education in the New York City public schools since 1987. O’Mara was inspired to create the character of Raymond Donne after making home visits while a schoolteacher in a disadvantaged section of the Williamsburg neighborhood in Brooklyn. Further moved by his many interactions with the Youth Officers of the NYPD while he served as a middle school dean — and his brother’s stories as a police sergeant over the years — O’Mara believed that a character with experience in both worlds would make a great protagonist.
For the past 13 years, he has hosted and co-produced a bi-weekly reading series of poetry and prose in New York’s East Village with We Three Productions. He lives with his family in Manhattan, where he currently teaches in a public middle school, and is a proud member of Mystery Writers of America, Crime Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and several teacher unions.
O’Mara’s third Raymond Donne mystery, Dead Red, is scheduled to be published on January 20, 2015 by St. Martin’s/Minotaur Books. He is currently writing Smoked, a crime e-novella available for sale eventually at Bookxy.com, for Stark Raving Group, “a shameless purveyor of titillating short novels at ridiculously low prices.”
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