“So,” I said to Alberto, “if I were to go through your book bag right now I wouldn’t find Amanda’s cell phone?”
“Nope,” the sixth grader said, confidently sliding his bag over to me with his foot. “Why’m I gonna steal her bootleg phone for anyways?” He reached into his pocket and took something out. “I got my own.”
“That,” I said, looking at his phone, “should be turned off and in your locker. If Amanda followed that rule, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
I’ve learned from too much experience over the years that kids who steal from other kids usually have a reason why they didn’t steal. And it’s almost always the same reason: “I don’t need her fill-in-the-blank.” It’s the ones who are unjustly accused—the ones who wouldn’t think of taking another kid’s stuff—who don’t have a reason; they just say they didn’t do it. End of story.
I looked down at Alberto’s book bag and knew what I’d find if I opened it. Or rather what I wouldn’t find.
“What if I wanted to check your locker?” I asked.
His eyes widened for the briefest of moments. When he got them under control, he said, “You can do that?”
“Don’t you, like, need a warrant or something for that, Mr. Donne?”
There’s that law degree from the University of TV and Couch. Everybody knows his rights. Or thinks he does.
“That’s for the police,” I said, making sure I sounded like the cop I used to be. “We teachers can pretty much do what we want.” I shook my head and pretended to think of something. “I can’t remember the last time a parent accused me of violating their kid’s constitutional rights.”
He pondered that for a few moments, as I stayed quiet. Alberto wasn’t a bad kid. He was just an eleven-year-old sixth grader who saw an opportunity and took it. Along with another kid’s property. It’s not like he woke up this morning planning on stealing another kid’s cell phone. There he was sitting in Social Studies looking over at the seat next to his, saw Amanda’s phone in her opened book bag, and got caught up in the moment. Now, he was just caught. I could tell by the look on his face that he felt pretty crappy about the whole thing and wished he could find a way to turn back the clock and undo what he’d done. My job here was to give him a way out without giving him the idea that robbery was a possible career path. But I needed his help.
“Here’s the situation, Alberto.” I made a point of looking at my watch and letting out an exaggerated deep sigh. “I’m really busy for the next couple of hours. I have to meet with two parents, fill out some suspension paperwork, and touch base with the principal. Then I have lunch duty. So…I’m not going to have time to check your locker until the beginning of seventh period.”
He blinked a few times, swallowed hard, and said, “Okay.”
“If,” I paused for effect, “Amanda’s phone somehow shows up before then—heck, maybe it’s under all that stuff in her book bag—I obviously won’t have any reason to check your locker. I’ll check in with Amanda before I pick you up from your seventh period class. How’s that sound?”
He got out of his seat and grabbed his bag off the floor. “Sounds good, Mr. D.”
“I’ll see you later, Alberto.”
“Yeah, right. Seventh period I got Math. And, uh, thanks, Mr. D.”
After struggling for a few seconds, he realized didn’t have an answer for that. “Just thanks.”
He left my office and hurried off to lunch. Or maybe his locker. I’m sure I’d find out in a few hours.
You can catch up with Raymond in Dead Red, the third book in the “Raymond Donne” mystery series, published by Minotaur. The first book in the series is Sacrifice Fly.
About DEAD RED
New York City school teacher Raymond Donne had no idea how bad his night was going to get when he picked up the phone. Ricky Torres, his old friend from his days as a cop, needs Ray’s help, and he needs it right now in the middle of the night. Ricky picks Ray up in the taxi he has been driving since returning from serving as a Marine in Iraq, but before Ricky can tell Ray what’s going on the windows of the taxi explode under a hail of bullets killing Ricky and knocking Ray unconscious as he dives to pull Ricky out of harm’s way.
Ray would’ve done anything to help Ricky out while he was alive. Now that he’s dead, he’ll go to the same lengths to find out who did it and why. All he has to go on is that Ricky was working with Jack Knight, another ex-cop turned PI. They were investigating the disappearance of a PR giant’s daughter who had ties to the same Brooklyn streets that all three of them used to work. Is that what got Ricky killed or was he into something even more dangerous? Was there anything that Ray could’ve done for him while he was alive? Is there anything he can do for him now? Filled with the kinds of unexpected twists that make for the best crime fiction and with secrets that run far deeper than loyalties, Dead Red is the most thrilling mystery yet in Tim O’Mara’s widely acclaimed series.
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. 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 recently finished Smoked, a crime e-novella that will be available in early 2015 at Bookxy.com, for Stark Raving Group, “a shameless purveyor of titillating short novels at ridiculously low prices.”