In something new for THE BIG THRILL, Barry-nominated author Tim O’Mara, a special education teacher in New York public schools, wrote this great vignette. It isn’t hard to see how his teaching led him to the world of detective fiction, with a series centered around a teacher / ex-cop who often gets involved with cases involving students or former students. —Eds
By Tim O’Mara
There’s something not quite right about the guy sitting across the table from me.
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 open up. If they go silent, it’s my job to pick up on the body language, subtle gestures, non-verbal clues.
After five minutes, I’m starting to think maybe they called in the wrong man. This guy’s as smart as they told me he was. Maybe smarter.
I decide to give him a task. Something to do that requires a set of skills unique to the situation.
He begins easily enough. He may be quiet and hard to figure out, but he’s willing to please. 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, just enough to give me an angle to observe as he continues to do what I asked. The head is still going up and down every three to five seconds. Too much. I complete my arc and stand in front of him. I check out 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.
“When’s the last time you had your eyes checked?”
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 at the table across 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 an issue 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.