How we change what others think, feel, believe and do
As an experienced teacher, you know, I believed I had seen every trick in the book and could smell them coming a mile off. Until recently, that is, when I got a first-hand lesson in finesse. An A-grade masterclass in subtlety where I became the unwitting victim.
I didn't realize it at the time, but it started in a corridor, with Jenny Tait telling her mates about her Dad. I'd seen him briefly, picking up his kids in the Porsche. Teacher envy. How could I ever afford one of those?
So little miss tarty Tait was bragging about the house in Boulogne and the new deal her Dad was setting up and how it was going to make them all rich. Chance would be a fine thing.
Sometimes chance does smile and I caught a glimmer that afternoon, and hung on. Jenny was lounging near my old Rover in that meaningless way that only year ten kids can.
"Mind yourself, Jenny." I said. She flashed a brief smile and moved slowly aside.
"Waiting for your Dad?" I enquired.
"Mmm." She said. That smile.
"How is he?" I asked. I remembered him from parent's evenings. Friendly guy.
"He does deals and things, doesn't he?" I caught my breath at the audacity but she didn't seem to notice. By the time I left I knew a few interesting things about the deal. Like a sure-fire pound-on-the-penny profit.
The next day she was packing up in the classroom as the others left. This time it was me who loitered. Briefly, you know. Teachers and girls - you have to be careful.
"Is your Dad picking you up today?" I ventured. Nice, innocent question.
"Nah. He's abroad." No smile.
'Doing the deal?" I said.
'Yeah. Seein' people." Year ten brevity. It comes out in the essays, too. But teachers know how to get to the truth, and it seemed the deal was about some old guy in Eastern Europe quietly selling off the family jewelry.
And so the conversation went on, in dribs and drabs through the week. Almost like a game. Innocent and daring. And I found that he was quietly letting a few people in on the deal, like a couple of Jenny's friend's Dads.
"You know, I wonder if your Dad is looking for more partners?" I asked on Friday, as I handed her a generous mark for a moderate piece of homework.
"Thank you sir!" she said, "He's back for the weekend. I'll ask him." Big smile.
The game went electronic the next week. Jenny brought me an email address and then ducked out of the loop. I was glad. It was getting serious and not a place for kids. Especially teachers and kids. I'd already stuck my neck out more than enough.
And it did seem like a game. Mr Tait, Jeff, he didn't reply at first. And then there was a flurry of little messages from wherever he was in the world. He wasn't sure, but Jenny spoke well of me. The deal was lucrative, but it was nearly closed. And I cajoled, I offered ready money. I might even have pleaded. Hotmail became the hot place for me that week, but by the weekend I was flagging and on Sunday it all went quiet.
And I had actually scraped together a couple of grand. Not serious enough, I glumly told the mirror. But it was serious enough for a struggling teacher. I imagined it turning into two hundred grand. Maybe even a quarter of a million. Million. What a wonderful word.
In school I passed Jenny, who had gone back to giggling with her friends. A flashed smile as we pass. Oh Jenny. Just tell your Dad. I'd really like a Porsche, too.
And then, on Wednesday lunchtime, when I dropped into the library to depress myself yet again on the net, there it was. A message from Jeff. The seller had pumped the price up by a couple of grand. He was stuck out in Sofia. If I wanted in, it had to be quick and it had to be cash. Could I be quick! You bet!
By the evening it was all arranged. I would give the cash in a sealed envelope to Jenny, who would be joining him at the weekend. It had to be kept quiet as he wanted to avoid any problems with customs. But with luck I would get a truck-load of loot in a couple of weeks, once he had sold the gems.
It was scary, but it all went to plan. I gave Jenny the well-taped-up package, who said her Dad had told her I was sending a book. Neat. And then I crossed my fingers. And everything else. The end of term was near and I had just bet our summer holiday.
On Monday I sought out Jenny.
"How is your father?" I asked, trying not to sound anxious.
"Oh, fine." she smiled, looking over towards her approaching friends.
"He says thanks for the book." And she was gone, chattering.
I emailed Jeff. More message flurries. Slight delay. Going well. Nearly there. Done the deal!! Got the goods!!! Back next week. More delay.
And so it went on. Term was ending next week and I was both excited and desperate. I saw little of Jenny except in lessons and she was always with her friends.
More messages. Going via Amsterdam. Got past customs ok. Finding buyer. Meeting soon. And then silence.
It was the last day of term and I was desperate. I looked up her address and went around to the house. Guess what? 'Sold' sign. Empty.
The last I ever saw of Jenny had been a couple of days before that. It was in the car park. Friends and parents hanging about. A car roared up. It wasn't her Dad. Just as well. She jumped in and only as they passed me did she turn. And smiled. Bastard!!
--- o ---
The hapless teacher, the victim, is just another mark. An ordinary guy who is trying to get by in life. He's got a wife and two young kids and an old Rover that goes ok but says it all. Humdrum. When the opportunity to make a killing appears he does worry about it, but goes for it anyway.
Jenny Tait, on the other hand, is going places. At sixteen, she is smart and streetwise, but not a street kid. She has been brought up in an affluent family where her parents are always busy working, her Dad is often abroad and they regularly move to keep up with her Mum's high-flier career. So she has to make her own fun. Life has been easy and the looming notion of real work is distasteful. At ten, she teamed up with some older kids on some playground scams and got the taste for the thrill of the game and the easy money at the end. Being smart, she swotted up on it, practiced her skills and by thirteen was a real pro. Moving school (and even country) became a bonus. Leave your troubles behind, as they say.
~by David Straker~
And the big