Notes on the Digital vs Paper Book Debate

Hi there: Wow! A bunch of articles on the value of print books vs digital. Gee, somebody must have some extra time!!!!

The Digital vs Book debate continues to rage. I teach and many of my students are either ESL, second generation English learners or remedial students. My opinion is that ESL, remedial and young students should all have paper books. Digital only if they want them. Why?

Young children, who are learning to read, love to hold the books in their hands, turn the pages, Pat the Bunny (you parents know that one,) and then, read it again, again and again. That is a very common trait with very young readers; they love it repeated. So, let them!

What about remedial and ESL? Anyone who is struggling with reading, the language and comprehension, needs to stop, regroup and then reread the paragraph, passage, page, etc. They will want to ‘mark it up’ and make notes to themselves in the margins. It is common for this group to have a ‘favorite page’ or a ‘reference page’. This might be an actual reference page with things like verb conjugations, verb tenses, grammar forms, etc. This type of study is virtually impossible with a digital book. In addition, publishers to schools frequently ‘rent’ the book for a specific time and then pull the book back at the end of term. Therefore, the student then has no book for reference later.

Lastly – Money, Money, Money makes the world go round. Didn’t I hear that in a movie? Because I’m a teacher and need stuff (!) I currently have 3 computers at home; two that are mine and one from the school. I have an Ipad, a Smart phone, two Kindles that don’t work and two cell phones that don’t work. My excuse is, well, they don’t work do they?

In March of 2020, our school shut down because of Covid 19 and went completely virtual. Many of our students come from low-income backgrounds. Not surprisingly, many did not have computers, proper Smart phones, Internet, cameras, microphones, etc. Therefore, connect the dots gang, they could barely attend classes and many either failed or opted out with incompletes or withdrawals. You don’t have to have two Phd’s to get the point that yes, many people do not have the money to have all the equipment and gear ‘going digital’ requires. Our school is trying to help them out with loans of computers, great, what if they don’t have Internet at home? How about their embarrassment when they have to admit to teacher/costudents they can’t afford these ‘basic’ items.

So, wouldn’t a paper book be easier, just in case all the power does go out at your house? That’s all fer now, Courtney Webb, MA

copyright Courtney E. Webb 2019 – use by permission only.

 

Why you can’t read this article – Online textbooks.

The Problem with Online Textbooks and Why You’ll Struggle to Read This


You will probably struggle to read this. And here’s why.According to research done by Naomi S. Baron, a professor of linguistics at the Department of Language and Foreign Studies at American University, only 16% of people read online text word for word. (Ronsenwald, 2015)

That means there is an 84% chance you are skimming this, bouncing from paragraph to paragraph, scanning for something important to jump out at you. You are probably ignoring most of what you read until you find something relevant, something that pops off the page screaming, “HEY, LOOK HERE! I’M IMPORTANT.”

The fact is most people struggle to read and process text online. There are many possible reasons for this. Neuroscientists believe that one of the reasons could be tied to a lack of spatial memory associated with reading something on a screen. When reading print, one can assign a fact or quote to a particular part of a page which is in a particular chapter, which is in a particular part of the book. There is a physical location associated with the information. This gives a person a feel for where they read it which helps the brain retain this particular piece of information. This linkage to spatial memory is not possible with online texts. (Rosenwald, 2015) (But they’re cheaper.)

Our school district, Fairfax County Public Schools, has been on the forefront of adopting online textbooks. However, two years after “upgrading” our textbooks to virtual copies, the consensus is in. Everyone hates them. Ask any teacher, student, or parent what they think of their brand new state-of-the-art textbook and you will undoubtedly get an overwhelmingly negative response.  (But they are cheaper.)

And it’s not just students at our high school who have a visceral reaction to online texts. In her study, Baron found that almost 90% of college book sales are print versions. This is despite the fact that most of these “digital natives” were given the option of purchasing an online version of the same text. In one study in which college students were given a free online textbook, 25% of the participants went out and voluntarily purchased a paper version. (Rosenwald, 2015).

The problems with our online books are many. The server our book is held on frequently goes down during critical parts of the school year. At the beginning of this year, after two weeks of going in and out, the publisher finally had to take the book offline for the first month of school to “update their server”. Students learned the first week of school that if they wanted to get out of doing a homework assignment, all they had to say was, “the book didn’t work.” The most frustrating point from a teacher’s perspective is that too frequently the student isn’t making this up.

The publishers told us that unlike an old-fashioned textbook, the new one would always have up-to-date information. While they were telling us this, I clicked on the “Secretary of State” icon in the government textbook and up popped a biography of the “current Secretary of State, Colin Powell”. Colin Powell hadn’t been Secretary of State for 10 years.

However, poor functionality is not why students don’t like the online textbooks. Believe it or not they dislike them because they struggle to learn from them. Let’s go back to the value created by the spatial memory associated with paper versions of text. A

Another key reason why students struggle with online text is that they offer way too many distractions. As we will discuss in a later post, adolescents tend to make more impulsive decisions rather than decisions based on logic. (Packard, 2007) If you give a student the choice between doing something mindless that brings them immediate gratification (talking with a friend on social media, scrolling through pictures of their friends’ dinners on Instagram, or playing a game) versus something mentally more rigorous that will benefit them in the long run (reading their textbook), for them, it’s a proverbial no-brainer. They will do the mindless activity a majority of the time.

(Reading is) an activity which requires laser like focus (reading), for a group of people drawn to serial interruptions (adolescents), and you are putting this activity in the lion’s den of distraction (their electronic device). Baron’s research showed that 90% of students “multitasked” (a fallacy we will address at a later post) while on electronic based texts. Only 1% of students multitasked while reading a print version. (Rosenwald, 2015)

The online Washington Post article I pulled this statistic from is a demonstration of why this is- “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print” . T

Regarding sleep, studies have shown that the unnatural light generated by electronic screens actually can disrupt one’s sleep cycle.  It has been shown that people who use technology at night before bed (the time in which most students are getting around to their homework) consequently have a more difficult time falling asleep, and staying asleep.  (Herkewitz, 2013)

So to recap, students who use online textbooks: have difficulty reading them, difficulty retaining the information in them, take longer to complete the assignments in them, and more than likely will have problems sleeping as a result of using them. So why are school systems starting to push them on their students? When we asked a member of the superintendent’s office why, in the face of all this evidence, does our county still insist on using them, she replied, “because students need to learn how to use technology to better prepare them for the real world.” (And digital books are cheaper.)

The reality is school systems like Fairfax are adopting online textbooks and publishers are pushing them for one simple reason, they’re cheaper. Publishers don’t have to print or distribute them and schools don’t have to replace them when they get lost. As one of the publishers who rejected our manuscript told us, “the marketing for a book bashing technology would be tricky because print media is dying ….”

If you’re still reading this, congratulations, you’ve beaten the odds.

Sources:

  • Flatow, Ira. “The Myth Of Multitasking.” NPR. NPR, 10 May 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.
  • Herkewitz, William. “Are Your Gadgets Making You a Night Owl?” Popular Mechanics. N.p., 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.
  • Packard, Erika. “That Teenage Feeling.” Monitor on Psychology4th ser. 38 (2007): 20. American Psychological Association. Apr. 2007. Web. 6 Mar. 2015.
  • Rosenwald, Michael S. “Why Digital Natives Prefer Reading in Print. Yes, You Read That Right.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 22 Feb. 2015. Web. 06 Mar. 2015.

Last little note: digital books are ‘sweeping’ into classrooms across the nation at every level. Eventually, when the academic scores are published and educators (and parents) ‘notice’ the downward trend there will be another trend. Private schools, exclusive schools, the most pricey schools will start to advertise ‘we use original materials’ (paper) and authentic sources (books written by a specific author.) They will roll their eyes and sniff when digital books are mentioned.Once again, the guys at the top will find a way to succeed, the guys at the bottom will flounder and the publishers will take the profits to the bank. cew

AZ POST – Peace Officers Standards and Training Board – an example

I have reported that the State of Arizona makes very public the records on practicing teachers and whether or not there have been disciplinary actions against them. Public records also exist for doctors, nurses, attorneys, CPAs and others, no doubt.

There may not be the exact same system in place for AZ police officers, but the important point is whether or not there is oversight in place for the state police force and does it have ‘bite’ or not. Are they effective in policing their own numbers? Here is a listing of the board members on AZ POST which is the governing board for the state police force. Lastly is a recent article form the Phoenix New Times about the results of these efforts.

For my money, it looks like they are doing a good job. Would love to hear from other states about how these oversight boards either are or are not working for you.

Board Members: AZ PEACE OFFICERS STANDARDS AND TRAINING BOARD

BOARD CHAIRMAN

SHERIFF SCOTT MASCHER

Board Chairman

COLONEL HESTON SILBERT

AZ DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC SAFETY

THE HONORABLE MARK BRNOVICH

ARIZONA ATTORNEY GENERAL

Chief Alan Rodbell

CHIEF ALAN RODBELL

SCOTTSDALE POLICE DEPARTMENT

Director David Shinn

DIRECTOR DAVID SHINN

AZ DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS

ANDREW T. LEFEVRE

GRAND CANYON UNIVERSITY

SHERIFF MARK J. DANNELS

COCHISE COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

DEPUTY CHRISTOPHER PITTMANN

MARICOPA COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

OFFICER MATTHEW MEDINA

PRESCOTT POLICE DEPARTMENT

JAMIE KELLY

JAMIE KELLY

PUBLIC MEMBER

CHIEF THOMAS E KELLY

CHIEF THOMAS E KELLY

APACHE JUNCTION POLICE DEPARTMENT

LEESA B. WEISZ

PUBLIC MEMBER

Jail Commander Don Bischoff

JAIL COMMANDER DON BISCHOFF

MOHAVE COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE

 

AZPOST : Peace Officer Standards and Training Board

28 Arizona Cops Got
Banned From Law
Enforcement Last Year

MEG O’CONNOR | JANUARY 23, 2020 | 6:30AM Phoenix New Times

A Mesa cop arrested and charged for sexual conduct with a minor. A Lake Havasu City officer who repeatedly accessed his department’s bodycam videos and allowed his girlfriend to watch them. A supervisor who, as evidence custodian of the Somerton Police Department, repeatedly mishandled evidence, failed to send it for testing, or failed to preserve evidence in criminal investigations.

These are some of the things that got 28 Arizona cops banned from working in law enforcement in this state last year, Phoenix New Times learned after reviewing the 12 meetings and four integrity bulletins from the Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board in 2019.

The review also found that an additional 41 police officers and recruits voluntarily relinquished their peace officer certification or were denied a peace officer certification as a recruit.

 

Middle Management – The Weak Link – Policing Police Departments

What do the situations involving George Floyd, the Catholic priesthood and errant school teachers all have in common? Middle Management – The Weak Link

The world has been rocked by the death of George Floyd. More importantly, that the police officer involved had a long history of complaints against him with very little action taken regarding those complaints.

In the last twenty to thirty years, the world has also been stunned by allegations of sexual abuse, particularly of minors by priests and the lack of decisive action by the diocese. The practice was commonly to transfer the offending priest to another parish, where the behavior would repeat itself. In other news; more shockers were reports of sexual abuse of minors by their teachers in schools.

Is the surprise that people who have control issues are often attracted to jobs in the police force? Are we amazed that pedophiles are attracted to professions such as the priesthood, teaching, counseling, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts where they will have access to young children?

Are we stunned to find out that individuals will enroll themselves in long and arduous education and training programs which will then ‘qualify’ them for these jobs? Or, that they can be charming, winsome, and persuasive in their ability to get through interviews and screening processes? Is this so surprising? What is the cure?

In the state of Arizona, where I live, there are a number of governing boards for different professions. There is the State Bar of Arizona for lawyers, the AZ State Medical Board for doctors, the AZ Nursing Board for Discipline; also the AZ teacher Certificate Board for the Department of Education and the AZ Board of Accountancy for accountants and CPA’s. There may be others I am not mentioning.

Each of these professions require tremendous time, energy and education to become licensed or certified to work. Also, each have a duty of care and responsibility to the public and there is an avenue ( the Board) where complaints against the individual can be filed.

Should anyone in these professions lose their license/credential, the result is not just the loss of a single job, they lose the ability to work in that field at all, period. Once an attorney loses his license, he cannot practice law. A doctor or nurse who loses their license cannot practice medicine. For a teacher to lose their credential status, they can no longer teach. There are instances where an individual can regain their license through the governing committee; however, it is usually a long and arduous process and depends on the nature of the offense.

Many of these professionals work in public forums like schools, county hospitals or county law offices. They are therefore, paid public servants. How then are they different from police officers? The police are public employees and go through extensive training and interviews to get the job. They are expected to be professional, to act in a professional manner and are usually paid well.

What similar organizations exist to promote accountability with our police departments? In Arizona there is the AZ POST where officers can obtain an AZ Police Certificate. How much bite does this department have on discipline measures? What about other states?

As a teacher in the state of Arizona, anyone can look up my name and see a history of any disciplinary complaints against me that were lodged with the state. The same system exists in the State of California where I used to teach.

If teachers have that level of accountability, and nurses, lawyers and doctors; why not police officers? We say that things happen when they are ‘under the gun’ and in ‘adverse conditions’. OK, what professions do not operate frequently under adverse conditions?

Maybe it is time for there to be county, State and maybe even national licensing for professional police officers. Also, the ability for the regular public to file complaints with a State agency and not just to the specific police department involved.

I will a bit more blogging about this issue. We’ll compare how different states and perhaps, different counties, deal with complaints against officers and departments. Recent events have shown up that it is clear that departmental discipline measures are not enough. Defunding is not likely to solve the problem. Another system will simply evolve with different names. The issues will remain. A viable system of accountability is what is needed; if that causes some individuals to lose their jobs, maybe that is what needs to happen.

Tracker – Part II

Tracker by Courtney Webb

Tracker-originalAvailable in Draft2Digital.com

#

The trip to Belize went as planned. The tour group stayed at a little discount hotel. It was not as close to the beach as Denise would have liked, but what the heck. She spent time by the pool and sipped exactly one Mai-Tai each evening and enjoyed watching the sun go down. There was time to catch up on her reading and had fun eating dinner with other Americans. Of course, many of them were definitely approaching their golden years at a running gallop, but she didn’t mind, made her feel younger.

There had been one problem on her trip. Denise was in the habit of carrying her ID and money in a little over-the-shoulder bag. One evening toward the end of her trip, she had draped it over the back of her chair and forgot it. She had been speaking with Daniel and Helene, an interesting older married couple. They both laughed like the dickens as she told them the story of buying her ticket in cash. Chuckling, she described the look on the travel agent’s face as they walked her to dinner and found a table.

Half an hour later, Daniel had seated Denise like the lady she was. Grabbing the menu, she looked for the least expensive item she could find.

Suddenly “Oh, my gosh,” she remembered her purse and leapt to her feet. Rushing back to the cocktail table. “Oh, no!” Denise cried. The bag had disappeared. She raised hell with the kitchen staff and the manager. Although they assured her they would do a ‘complete investigation’ nothing ever came of it, the bag was gone.

Denise stamped her foot at the manager. “Fortunately for you, I have another passport in my luggage. Expired of course.”

The manager gave a helpless shrug shaking his head. “So sorry, Senorita.”

Helene and Daniel were so kind and solicitous when she finally came back to the dining room. Helene patted her on the hand. “Do you have enough money to get home, dear?”

Money? Oh, no that’s okay, everything is paid for in advance and I left most of my money in the office safe.”

Helene nodded then spent the rest of the meal clucking comfortably about ‘foreigners.’

Denise was able to get back into the States with the old passport. She had to answer a lot of questions and then immediately apply for another once she was home, but still, she was safe and snug back in her little condo.

She hated when things didn’t go according to plan, but some days…When she went to pickup her new passport she asked the girl “What if my old one shows up?”

There was a pause. “Don’t ever use your old passport again,” the counter agent was terse. “Not unless you want to have Homeland Security officers all over you. The passport has been flagged.”

Denise wasn’t exactly sure what ‘flagged’ meant but she didn’t feel like asking any more questions so she grabbed up her new document and left in a hurry.

Life returned to normal for Denise after this mad-cap week in Belize. She was back to her usual routine as a senior researcher at the science lab. She still drove to the bank every Friday and cashed a check for her weekly spending amount.

She patiently waited in line. Finally, in front of the cashier, he said, “You know Miss Smith; you are probably one of the only customers I have who still uses checks to get money out of the bank.”

Denise laughed and replied, “If you think that is something, guess what else, I don’t have a home computer, a TV or a landline telephone. I don’t even have an email address!”

The clerk gasped, mouth open.

Nope,” continued Denis, “don’t believe in those things. Just more ways for people to get into your pocket!” She didn’t add the part where she also believed it was more ways for people to spy on you too. But, she didn’t want to sound crazy so she shut up. She got her money and left. When she got home, she would carefully place the money in envelopes marked for their uses. She prided herself in going ‘all cash.’

Denise’s life continued seemingly without event. She was totally unaware of the van parked down the street from her condo, tracking her movements. Denise who had rarely had so much as a speeding ticket in her life had come to the attention of the authorities. The famous Men in Grey. It had all started when her passport had been stolen and then marked. While processing the new passport, the agent assigned had noticed a distinct resemblance between Denise and an FBI most wanted poster. A female international spy, wanted and on the run for selling government secrets.

The agent marked the file and sent it to her boss who in turn, sent it on to the agency looking for the woman. The local office opened a file on Denise Smith.

The two agents reviewed the material they had on Smith. Agent Tim Curl read it to his partner, “Denise Smith, age 42 years, not married, lives alone, long time researcher at a drug lab. No credit cards, no ATM cards, no TV, no land line, no computer, no email address, no internet banking. Uses a computer at work but only for company business and never takes any personal messages. Does all her correspondence by mail. Has one cheap cell phone that she rarely ever uses.”

His partner looked at him thoughtfully. “Looks like she is hiding something to me.” Curl shook his head in agreement and they decided to set up surveillance on Denise.

Denise continued getting books and videos from the library and eating top ramin for lunch at work. She loved to read romance novels and to watch old movies. She had decided that all cable company charges for channels were a scam and modern TV programs were a joke. “Give me an old black and white any day,” she said to herself as she checked out her latest selections.

The guys in the van followed her to work a couple of days but couldn’t get close enough so returned to her condo. They felt they would have better reception here if Denise made any phone calls or tried to contact someone. They waited for days with little success.

She’s cagey, that one,” opined Tim Curl. Sandy, his big burly partner grunted.

How do you think she is transmitting the data?” asked Sandy.

Tim shook his head. “I don’t know. She’s not making any calls on that dumb cell phone of hers, there’s no phone in the condo, we checked. Any messages on the company computer are pretty regularly screened by their IT guys and we don’t think she even sends that many at work because she tells everyone ‘I don’t like computers’. He made a little girly gesture with his hand.

Sandy laughed. However, in the end, they were back to staring at their monitors.

Denise looked at her package happily. “Only $39.99 for this new tracking device,” she told Frisky the cat. “And you can wear and it to track your heart rate, miles walked or run and it shows a breakdown of the calories you used exercising. I love this! With this little baby in place,” she waved it in the air, “those last five pounds will be a thing of the past. I can’t wait!” Frisky waved his tail.

The next day was a Saturday and dawned bright and beautiful. Denise woke up and went through her usual routine, eager to try out her new tracker on a short morning run. She popped a multivitamin and mixed up the green energy drink. It was supposed to be good for you, so she tried hard not to look at it while chugging it down. She had no overtime this weekend so her time was her own. She didn’t want to run too far, hard on the knees. But she could drop down to a walk by the time she got to the park and cool down that way. “Maybe a coffee in the park,” she poured kibble into Frisky’s bowl. With a twinge of conscience she had splurged on Science Diet for her ‘best cat.’

That Friday Tim and Sandy had gotten reamed by their boss. “I thought you said this one looked good!” he shouted. “We have gotten Intel that another data transfer is about to happen, this weekend and on your watch!” he yelled some more.

Boss, boss,” Tim had his hands up, placating. “We are watching her, we have the stolen passport, and we know she was in Belize at the same time and same place as when the last data was delivered. She is the right age, right height, right color; she fits all the profiles. We think she is the one, we haven’t been able to get her doing anything yet,” he pleaded.

Great, great,” said the big guy. “But, by the way, you are both on duty this weekend, got that!” and he stormed off. They looked at each other glumly.

Saturday morning, bright and early, Tim and Sandy were parked inside the van drinking strong coffee and eating Dunkin doughnuts. They had moved the van closer to Denise’s condo.

I can’t help thinking that she is going to do it this weekend. We have got to keep her close,” said Tim. Sandy was adjusting his headphones.

Inside, Denise had suited up in T-shirt, spandex ¾ length pants with the little zipper in the back for keys, and running shoes. The new ones that she had splurged on; Nikes. “With complete arch support,” she reminded herself. She proudly clipped on the little tracker device on her T-shirt so that it could get an accurate reading. She went out the door and carefully locked the lock and zipped the keys into her pocket. She stopped at the bottom of the stairs and hit the button on the tracker to start it. She stretched a couple of times and then started a slow jog to the park.

Tim hit Sandy in the arm, “That’s it!” he said excitedly.

What’s it?” Sandy queried through half chewed doughnut.

It’s that gadget on her shirt. It must be a low frequency, so we are not picking anything up. Get your gun,” he said to Sandy quietly getting out of the van to follow Denise.

Denise jogged while checking her watch occasionally to see if she was making good time. She tried reading the tracker upside down but decided it couldn’t be done and it would have to wait until she stopped. She jogged about twenty minutes and started her slow down walk as she entered the park. She checked her pulse a couple of times to see if she was getting it high enough. After walking a bit she decided to get that coffee at the vendor stall in the park, cheaper than Starbucks. She was getting her Americano, hot to go, when she stopped. There was the older gentleman whom she had met on her trip to Belize.

Mr. Marshall, Mr. Marshall, hey it that you?” she held out her hand for a shake with the older guy when she got tackled and knocked to the ground. Sandy had done his job with a nice flying tackle and had grabbed her before she had a chance to hand off the data stick attached to her shirt to her contact person. Mr. Marshall, the contact person, took off running in a surprisingly fast fashion for such an old guy.

Back at their headquarters, Denise was explaining over and over again that she was not who they thought she was. Tim and Sandy had by this time confiscated the tracker device and had given it to one of their own IT guys who confirmed that it was indeed nothing but a heart rate and calorie counting device. They at long last had come to the realization that Denise was not, in fact, ‘their girl’ but they still had a lot of questions about the man she had met at the coffee carrel and why he had run off.

Denise gave them as much information as she could and by data tracking through the AAA club records and airline records they were able to confirm that Daniel Marshall and his wife Helene had been on the trip to Belize. Denise was able to identify them both and the agency confirmed that Daniel and Helene were actually professional ‘transporters’ of information.

A couple of hours later Denise was released. They had fed her with high calorie doughnuts and terrible coffee. She was sure her diet was ruined for a week.

But, why were they interested in me?” she had asked them.

It was your passport they were after,” Tim replied. “You may not have noticed it but you are the same age, height, and weight and hair color as Mrs. Marshall.”

But she is so much older than me,” Denise said.

Play acting and makeup,” said Tim “mostly to get your confidence.”

Didn’t you have a drink with them of some kind the evening you lost your passport?” asked Sandy.

Denise considered a moment. “Yes, I did. I was going to order my regular Mai Tai but Mr. Marshall insisted that I try some kind of local drink, forget what he called it. Too strong.”

Right,” said Tim. “They either put something in your drink or got you to talking so much that you forgot your bag on the chair. ‘Marshall’ escorted you to dinner and she went to powder her nose and circled back and snatched up your bag with the passport before you knew what had happened.”

But why did she want it?” queried Denise.

She needed a new name to get through customs. Customs officials were alerted to both of them and have been on the lookout for any of their aliases. Also, stolen passports are very expensive to buy so this was quick and cheap.”

Denise shook her head, she couldn’t believe it. Nothing like this had ever happened to her. The agents had been extremely solicitous of her and were literally trying to brush her off when their boss came in and stopped them.

We appreciate your help Ms. Smith. These are really bad people selling some pretty valuable stuff and we would love to catch these guys. Your assistance is of course helpful and we are so sorry for any rough stuff.” He glared at Sandy.

But, but……” Denise struggled with what to say. “Why me, why did you think I was involved?”

The Boss sighed a bit, “Miss Smith, you matched the description of one of the people we we were looking for. You were also at the right time and the right place for what we believe was the last stolen data transfer point, that being Belize. Also,” he paused, not sure he should say this, “you are so, well, off the usual grid of most people, it made us somewhat suspicious.”

Denise stared at him trying to grasp the significance of his meaning. He smiled at her and excused himself from the room. She accepted a ride home from the two arresting agents and they smiled and waved goodbye in good PR fashion. They were hot to get after the Marshall’s.

Denise let herself back in the condo. They had given her the Tracker back but it was hopelessly pulled apart now and of no use. They had given her a form to fill out to make a replacement claim.

She sat down at her kitchen table, a little stunned by the events, thinking. Finally, she said out loud to Frisky the cat, “Well, maybe one ATM card wouldn’t hurt.” Frisky looked thoughtful.

The End

 

 

 

 

Tracker – Part I

by Courtney E. Webb

 

Buzz, buzz.

Denise stirred. Buzz, buzz, the sound continued. A soft, vibrating movement on her side.

She rolled back and forth a couple of times and her eyes popped open. The buzzing sound continued. She focused for a moment then hit the little tracker resting in her pajama pocket and sat up. Denise wiped the sleep out of her eyes and pulled the tracker out of her pocket. It read: 7 hours and 42 minutes.

Hum, she thought to herself. “Well, it’s not exactly eight hours of sleep but it’s probably okay,” she mused out loud. After taking a pee, she came back to her scales and stepped on; 146 pounds. She frowned. “Damn vacation!” She was up two pounds and she had been working so hard too.

Stepping off the scale she sighed, Guess that’s the price for fun, huh? Going over to her desk, she pulled out the sugar monitor and pricking her finger, put a little sample of blood on the test strip. After several seconds it read ‘94’. She smiled. Her blood sugar was doing great! And the new diet plan emphasized low sugar levels to get the weight off. She was working toward her goal nicely.

In the kitchen, Denise hit the start button on the coffee maker. Regular black, no special coffees or sugar additives. She opened a new box of Special K cereal and retrieved the non-fat milk from the frig. Slicing half of a green banana into the cereal, she started to eat.

Back at her desk she sliced open the envelopes with an antique ivory letter opener. A gift from her Scottish grandmother. Opening her mail, she began to check bank balances.

Hum.” she saw that one checking had a $5,000 balance and the other one was at an all-time low of $1,000. “That vacation again. Whew! Just wiped me out!” Frisky, the cat, sitting close by, looked concerned.

Savings had a nice $25,000 balance and her 401k was rocking along smoothly. Denise felt proud of herself. As the daughter of a welfare mother and humble beginnings, she was doing pretty well for herself.

However, thinking back, she had had to fight and fight with that travel agent to get them to take payment for the trip in cash.

But everyone pays by card,” the woman had said pleading, trying to push the bills back at Denise.

Denise skillfully pushed the bills back toward the travel agent.

I’m very uncomfortable using ‘cards’.” Denise smiled beatifically. “This is how I do business.”

The woman shook her head, mumbling and then reluctantly snatched up the cash and clumped over to her boss’s desk. The young woman handed the cash off to him and soft mumbling followed. The travel agency manager, was a chubby little guy, who didn’t do much, as far as Denise could tell, except eat and play games on his cell phone all day.

She had been to this same agency before and she wondered if he remembered her. They had gone through the same song and dance last time. The clerk was leaned over her boss’s desk, her back to Denise. The little fat guy stole a glance at her around his employee. She smiled back at him. She knew what was coming. He heaved himself up from his desk, reluctantly and cautiously approached her.

He smiled first. She smiled back.

Miss Smith,” he ventured, looking down at the agency document in his hand. The clerk lingered in the background, uncertainly. Denise, nodded helpfully.

Miss Smith,” he repeated, “we don’t usually work with cash transactions. They can be…” he searched manfully for the proper words, “they can be difficult to…trace.” He smiled again hoping to hell that she would understand without causing a fuss.

Denise was ready, they had in fact had the same conversation over a year ago.

Oh, yes, I totally understand, Mr… ?”

Shin.”

Mr. Shin.” She repeated carefully. “I absolutely understand your position but,” she smiled, “I don’t like using credit cards because of all the interest and banking fees. I know that’s how most people do it, but can’t you make an exception this time? Besides, you did it this way over a year ago.” Mr. Shin’s eyebrows shot up.

He’s probably surprised he let a woman get the drop on him before, she thought with a smirk.

The man stared at her almost a full minute then shook his head and waved for the girl to continue. He turned around and took the wad of cash back to his desk. With a look of almost disgust, he pulled out a metal box and stuck in the cash. He snapped the box shut with a scowl. Shin frowned at his cell phone.

Probably means an extra trip to the bank, Denise thought to herself. Oh, well!

Denise, smiling, completed her trip arrangements to Belize with the girl and got her confirmation paper. She left the agency smiling, happy when she got people to see things her way. She had learned long ago that the banks were the biggest rip off artists in the business with their interest rates and fees on top of fees. Better in my pocket than in theirs, she thought grinning.

She got into her little economy car and started the engine. It was an uninspiring grey green color that she hated; but what the heck, her brother, the used-car salesman, had gotten her a super discount deal, so – no complaints.

Now,” she mused. She rummaged through her purse and found what she was looking for. She had some coupons in her envelope that were about to expire. Needed to get over to the store pick up those items while they were still good. She sped off full of her next mission.

#

Miles away, two heads leaned together and whispered in furious tones.

“No, it has to been then, we must get ready!”

The other person sighed and slumped back.

End of Part I

Thailand – Part V – Conclusion

Part V – Conclusion from Storyteller – Courtney Webb 

#

That night Bill and Sam pulled into the dirt lot at the complex at the edge of town. Mr. Sing had given Bill directions and they got there without incident. Both men went in and were greeted by Mr. Sing who invited them to his office.

One of Sing’s bodyguards tried to pat them down and Bill put up a very large hand. “Back off buddy if you don’t want me to break something.”

Mr. Sing waved his hand and the guard backed away. “You have the money?”

You have the kid?”

Good faith, gentlemen. Good faith.” Mr. Sing smiled.

Right, bring him up here now or there is no deal.” Sam wasn’t smiling.

Certainly, certainly. Can I offer you men something to drink while we wait?” They both shook their heads no at the same time.

Well, you can at least sit down for a moment.” Sing spoke to the guard in Thai and the guy disappeared.

Sam sat down. Bill took a position in the corner facing the door, arms folded across his chest.

So, how long you been running this scam, Mr. Sing?” Sam inquired lightly. “This entrapping stupid young American kids in your….” he waved his hand around the room. “Whatever you call this thing you’re running.”

A young Thai girl came in and placed tea in front of Sing. He offered it again to Sam who again shook his head.

Sing poured himself some tea. “Americans, Danish, German, French. We don’t discriminate here, Mr. Sam. Whoever, we don’t care. The operative words are young and dumb as I think you put it.”

Well, however you put it, someone should close you down.”

And who would that be, Mr. Sam? The government? No, no. They are too busy with their own cover ups to worry about a little small-time operator like me. Plus,” he sipped his tea and smiled, “they love the taxes I pay them to do business.”

Sam grunted and shook his head.

The door opened, and the hefty guard came in pushing a much skinnier Peter in front of him.

Ah, here we are. Peter, how are you?” Sing smiled affably.

Peter glared at him.

Sam waved to Peter. “Go stand over there,” he motioned at Bill.

Now in case there are any problems,” Sam pulled the gun out from the back of his pants. “I have brought my friends Smith and Wesson to the party.” He put the gun on his lap.

No need, Mr. Sam. No need.” He laughed waving his hands in front of himself. We are not savages here like your wild west. No, no. Just the money and everyone is free to go.”

Fine, and I want that slip back too.”

Certainly, certainly.”

Sam pulled up his shirt and unzipped the money belt. He counted out ten one thousand-dollar bills. Mr. Sing reached in his drawer.

Slowly, Sing. Very slowly.”

Sing put up his hands again in mock horror. “Just the slip, Mr. Sam.”

I’m waiting.”

Sing pulled out a small metal box, opened it and pawed through the contents a moment. He pulled out a slip of paper and handed it to Sam.

So, there you go. All done.”

Sam nodded curtly and said, “You can have your guy back away from the door now.”

Sing gestured with his head and the guard moved over to Sing’s desk.

Out the door, boys,” Sam was curt. He walked backwards to the door, went out and closed it behind him. There was a chair next to the door. He leaned it against the door and shoved it under the door handled. “Let’s go!”

Bill grabbed Peter’s skinny arm and the three hustled out of the casino as fast as they could go.

Jumping into the jeep, Bill started it, backed up, did a quick 3-point turn and splayed gravel bits around in an arc as he peeled out of the dirt lot. He hit 60 mph in a nano-second and didn’t slow down for five miles. Sunlight flickering through tall banana leaves as they zoomed by. The lush green was dotted with riots of color and the warm, moist air blew through Sam’s hair as they raced on. He kept one hand on his gun and the other on the roll bar. Glancing back, it looked like they were alone on the old dirt road.

Back at the hotel Sam had Peter call his mother. He could hear sobbing on the other end. Taking the phone away from Peter he said “We’ll fly out tomorrow morning, Phyllis. We’ll see you in the evening sometime.” She was still sobbing when he hung up.

Sam was sitting back in Phyllis’s kitchen having a cup of coffee. It was late, and he was bone tired. He had packed Peter off to bed where the young man had fallen exhausted without argument.

He’ll have to go to rehab, Phyllis, no question.”

Rehab?” Phyllis seemed shocked. “But surely this was just a mistake. A foolish mistake like what young people do sometimes…”

No, Phyllis. Your kid is a to the bone addict.”

Addict! What kind of addict?”

You name it. He’s got it. Drugs, alcohol, gambling, maybe sex.”

Phyllis was shaking her head. “I can’t believe it.”

Believe it, Darling.” He bent over and kissed her on the cheek.

Got to go. I’m trashed.”

She led him out to the front door.

Thank you, Sam., I don’t know what….”

It’s okay. Happy to help. But remember what I said. Next time, I might be…. busy.”

Phyllis gave a little nod as he went out the door.

#

Sam drove over to Kristie’s to give her the news.

Kid’s a complete junkie.”

Kristie frowned and shook her head.

So, that’s taken care of and I need sleep.” Sam yawned.

Thanks, Sam. I love you.”

I love you too, Darling. But I wish you didn’t have so many friends with problems.”

Kristie laughed and kissed his cheek.

The End

 

 

Thailand – Part IV

Thailand – by Courtney Webb

(Previously, Peter Farringwell got himself to Thailand with some funds from his dad. He made fast drinking friends with some co-workers and ended up, alone, at a gambling establishment. With the help of some scotch and a few lines of coke, he has managed to run up a hefty bill. He is now a ‘guest’ of the casino while someone comes up with the money.)

#

Kristie was puttering around in her garden when she got the hysterical phone call from Phyllis.

Slow down, Phyllis. I can’t understand you.” She listened attentively, frowning. “It’s alright, Phyllis. Don’t cry. I’ll get Sam and we will be over.”

She called Sam on her cell. “Hon, Could you meet me at Phyllis’s pronto?”

Whatever you say.”

Sam and Kristie were in Phyllis’s kitchen and she was roaming around looking distracted. She had on a mismatched shirt and pair of shorts. That and her shoes didn’t match. Kristie knew it was bad.

And this man called me, I don’t know who he is, and he told me they had Peter. I said I didn’t believe him and then they got Peter on the phone and he talked to me and…” At this point she started sobbing. Kristie put an arm around her shoulder.

Just get it out, Phyllis,” Sam said calmly. He was sitting on a stool and poured himself a cup of coffee.

He owes them money, gambling or something. Ten thousand dollars! They aren’t going to let him go until they get paid and then the man…laughed and…”

Sam said to Kristie. “You want to make her some tea? With honey.”

Kristie went to put on the kettle. Sam turned back to Phyllis.

And what, Phyllis?” Sam asked.

And, and…they wouldn’t hurt him too much if they got it soon,” she finished in a whisper and grabbed a napkin for her eyes.

Sam glanced at Kristie. She reached into the cupboard and got cups and tea.

Do you believe them, Phyllis?”

Phyllis nodded dumbly, eyes down, holding the counter for support.

Just sit down, Darling and we’ll decide what to do,” Sam spoke calmly.

Phyllis sat on one of the bar stools and tried to compose herself.

Sam asked, “Do you have the money?”

I can get it,” she answered in a low voice.

Kristie asked “How did he get over there, Phyllis? I thought you told him no.”

His father. His father gave him the money.” This brought on a fresh batch of tears. “That idiot!”

Okay, Phyllis. It’s a little late for that. We need to think.” Sam looked at Kristie. “Phyllis, you need to call your ex and get him involved in this. He’s the one that gave the boy the money. Then, someone needs to go and get your son.”

Kristie looked at Sam in a dazed way. “Sam?”

Sam nodded. “I’ll go.”

Sam called an international phone number.

Hey, Bill. It’s Sam Reynolds.”

Yeah, Sam. Long time buddy.”

Yeah, me too. Listen, I need a little favor.”

You’ll get paid, you old dog. I need you to get me a little present. I’ll pick it up in Thailand after I get through customs.”

Present? You know, our favorite kind.”
“You’ll meet me? What a pal. Yeah, here’s when I get in….”

Two days later Sam got off the plane at Suvarnabhumi airport. Stepping off the plane he was immediately encased in warm, moist air. There was a soft flowery scent on the breeze and the sound of cicadas humming. Vivid green plant life surrounded the airport. He went through customs in the super luxe airport and went out to meet his friend Bill.

Pretty, he thought to himself. Too bad it’s such a crime infested…

Sam!”

He saw a long tan arm waving. His buddy at 6’4” was hard to miss.

Bill!”

They gave each other hugs. “Too long buddy.”

Don’t you know it. Did you get it?”

In the jeep per your request.”

Great. Let’s go.”

The two men went out to the jeep and drove away from the airport. When they were far from traffic, Bill pulled over to the side of the road and stopped. He pulled a cardboard box out from under his seat. Sam opened it. A Smith and Wesson 45 sat inside packed around with rags. A back-up of extra bullets was next to it.

Is it clean?” Sam asked.

Is it clean? Ha! This is Bangkok, Asshole. What do you think?”

Sam shrugged.

Okay, let’s get you to the hotel and we’ll talk. Then we’ll get some dinner.”

When do you want to hit the road and do this thing?”

ASAP. These people are getting impatient and I don’t trust them as far as I can throw a cat.”

Bill nodded and drove back into traffic.

 Continued in Part V