Killer Field Trip
Drafted to co-lead a homeschool field trip to walk in the footsteps of the young George Washington, Jeanine looks forward to a fun spring excursion with Justin's history class. Unfortunately, she has to coordinate with Susan Perry, a woman so obsessed with our first president that she drives a red, white and blue car and comes to class dressed like him.
Susan proves hard to rely on. Even so, Jeanine mourns when Susan is found dead and Ann falls under suspicion. To make matters worse, a sudden blizzard traps them in the area with the killer.
Jeanine must overcome her squeamishness about snow to uncover the truth about Susan’s death and learn what young George Washington prized above gold.
Soccer did it to me again. Here I was, stuck a couple hundred plus miles from home, looking down on a decidedly dead foot.
I guess it wasn’t soccer directly, no more than it was last time, but it got me here all the same.
I’ll explain. My name is Jeanine Talbott. My wonderful husband, all those miles away, keeping the roof over our heads is Captain James Talbott. He’s a career Army officer, and I adore him. He thought it was cute when we started dating that both of our names started with “J” so we continued the trend. My eight-year-old daughter and lover of all things Nancy Drew is Josie.
“Sorry, Mom,” Justin apologized for the umpteenth time.
Justin is my ten-year-old soccer fanatic. (The only other “J” would be Jelly, our slobbering bulldog. He’s back at home with James.)
“It’s not your fault, sweetie,” I said putting my coat over his shoulders. I said this even though part of me thought it was. He didn’t need to go taking the blame for listening to his teacher and trying to help. He had tried to do the right thing. I had tried to do the right thing. But now my best friend guarded a corpse, and Justin’s friend Mitch was hurt.
And this was not just some random corpse. I had spoken to this person. That made it even creepier in my book.
Through chattering teeth he’d said, “This would never have happened if I hadn’t wanted to go on the field trip with G-SEFH.”
G-SEFH, pronounced Gee-sef, was Justin’s latest passion. It stood for Gentle Springs Educators for Home and was a homeschool co-op. The co-op began through the efforts of Elizabeth Arthur, a homeschool mom of six who had enough energy—without coffee—to power an entire city. She was also the driving force behind their history curriculum and loved early American history as much as the kids and I did. In truth, more than the kids and I. But I’m digressing.
When Justin found his soccer team in Gentle Springs, he discovered that the two other homeschoolers on said team took classes at G-SEFH. They raved about it. They bragged about the fun between classes. They exulted in the time to spend with other homeschoolers. They especially touted the organized outings and field trips.
“Mrs. Arthur arranges the coolest field trips,” Mitch had told Justin. “Sure, it’s history. But it’s always weird history or neat history. Sometimes we go for two to three days. And we get school credit for it without working. It’s fun!”
“Yeah,” agreed Josh. “And because it counts as school, my mom lets me have a break in all my other studies.”
That sold Justin. He’s a good kid and a smart one. But “doing school” doesn’t motivate him like it does Josie. Fun school to get out of “regular school”? That was almost as good as soccer, taxidermy, or video games.
‘Taxidermy?’ you ask. Yes, thanks to my dad, Justin adopted the hobby. I love Dad dearly, but I do wish leaving home meant I left that smelly business behind me. Unfortunately, the lure always drew Justin to my dad’s hobby shop out back whenever we visited. Justin was six when Dad helped him process his first squirrel. Twinkle, as Justin dubbed him, became an unusual security blanket. He still drags him around by the increasingly de-furred tail whenever he feels unsettled or unhappy.
I’ve been meandering.
We joined G-SEFH for Justin’s sake. He signed up for the Early American History class in hopes of those field trips. He also signed up for a Christian-focused martial arts class as a way to perfect his soccer kicking abilities. (He called it cross training. He said all the great athletes do it. I thought, “Who is this young man, and what did you do with my boy?”)
Josie went along with the endeavor and offered to sign up for a drawing class. Evidently, Nancy Drew had some serious drawing skills that aided her investigations.
“It might come in handy, Mom,” she said. “Especially if we have another case.”
“Heaven forbid!” leaped out of my mouth. I watched her face fall. In spite of the fear and the danger we had experienced several months ago when we found the body of Rick Folger, she hoped for another mystery. I could understand. She enjoyed having a way to prove her skills and test her abilities. But I knew there had to be better, safer ways to do that.
“Josie,” I tried to comfort her. “God did help us through all that when we moved in. He gave us grace and wisdom to deal with the situation. But He isn’t likely to do that to us again. People don’t routinely encounter dead bodies.”
She still signed up for the drawing class. I wish I didn’t know who my kids inherited their stubborn streak from.
But rather than confusing you with more random details, let me go back to where this all started.
Co-op began on a snowy day in January. All day long it dusted and melted. It wasn’t enough to close anything down, which only takes about an inch in all parts south of the Mason-Dixon Line, but enough to look pretty and make me nervous. In spite of an early assignment (before kids) with James in Germany, I’d never mastered winter driving.
“Maybe they’ll postpone,” I told the kids as I looked out the window.
Josie laughed. Honestly, you’d think my girl would be a bit more sympathetic. “The roads get wetter than this when it rains, Mom.”
I stared at her, not sure if I needed to scold her for her tone or praise her for her wisdom. Before I could choose, my eight-year-old snuggled up to me and patted me on the shoulder.
“You’ll do fine, Mom.”
I couldn’t let her get away with the role reversal.
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” I replied as sincerely as I could. I pulled her closer into a hug. I felt her relax. I quickly pinned her arms and began the tickle barrage.
“Not fair!” she gasped between giggles.
“Just reminding you…” Each word found a new place to tickle my squirming girl. “That I’m the mom.”
True enough, we made it to the first day of co-op. I crept along, hitting a maximum speed of twenty-five miles per hour and frustrating about a dozen drivers on the two-lane stretch of 125 South. I couldn’t tell whether my driving speed or the double line in the middle of the road irritated them more.
One of those cars followed me into the parking lot of Gentle Springs Fellowship on church row. I hoped the driver didn’t realize that I’d been at the front of the caravan.
As soon as I’d put the jalopy in park, Justin and Josie bounded out of the car to find their classrooms. I saw the other car’s driver coming over to me through the rearview mirror. I stayed put. I’d rather have a car door between me and someone else if I were going to get a scolding.
I rolled down the window.
To my surprise, it was Ann Selkirk. Ann lived on the same street as I did. Her daughter, Megan, and Josie had become best friends when we moved in. Ann had also jeopardized my kids in the hunt for her family’s treasure several months ago. God had helped me recognize how Ann’s pain led to the desperate act, and to forgive her. She had since joined our church and was working on her community service hours to atone.
“Ann, what are you doing here?” It didn’t come out as I meant it to.
She still smiled. “Aren’t I allowed to be here?”
I sputtered. “That’s not what I meant. You know I enjoy seeing you. It’s just, what are you doing here? In this place?”
“So Megan didn’t tell Josie. I bet your daughter will be surprised, too.”
I opened the door to my car as I rolled up the window. “Let’s get in where it’s warm and you can tell me all about it.”
Gentle Springs Fellowship met in a long, low building that had housed an industrial warehouse at one point. Whomever the church had hired had done well with what they had to work with. They divided the storage space into cozy rooms and used the section with the most windows as the sanctuary. Even on this snowy day, the light from the easterly facing windows landed on the polished wooden cross behind the podium, making it seem alive with warmth. On a sunny day, I imagine it sparkled.
At the rear of the sanctuary, they had carved out a small kitchen and coffee shop. Here, the moms who didn’t have a class to teach congregated. One of the other moms, Nora something or other, attended the church and offered to run the coffee counter on co-op days. I paid $2.00 for a large latte, a bargain under any circumstance, but more so since I hadn’t made my usual pot of sustenance that morning, and joined Ann at a table.
“Do you ever forego coffee?” she joked.
“Not if I can help it,” I admitted. “Now tell me.”
She took a deep breath, preparing herself to explain whatever it was. “Megan has been having trouble in school.”
“Trouble? But she’s such a smart little girl.”
“I know. That’s what bothered me about it. The teacher tried. She worked with Meggie after hours, arranged for tutors and special testing, reassigned her to a seat in the front. But with twenty-five students, she couldn’t give her as much in-class attention as she would have liked. Ever since she started third grade, my girl kept falling farther and farther behind.”
I nodded sympathetically. I took a sip of my coffee waiting for her to finish. Oh, it was so good. Maybe I should ask for a deluxe coffee machine for my birthday. I’d been relishing the flavor while watching her face for quite some time. “And?” I prompted.
“And I’ve watched you.”
“Me?” I couldn’t imagine she saw much worth watching in me.
“Yes, you. I saw you homeschooling your kids. I’d never thought about it. Sarah did so well. Sure, she had glitches, but the teachers and schools always worked out for her. She had her friends, too. Still does. She’d disown me if I took her out of high school. But Megan never quite fit. Not until she met Josie.”
“I’m glad Josie’s her friend.” I kept her attention as I savored another mouthful of the sweet latte. Maybe it was a good thing I didn’t have one of these machines. I drank too much coffee anyway.
“But it was more than that. Josie’s definitely a bright girl. But she moved slower than the kids Meggie knew from school. She could see things, ponder things, and understand what Megan understood. I figured if secondhand homeschooling could help Megan fit in, maybe first-hand homeschooling would help her grow.”
“Yep. We took the plunge. Dan and I talked a lot about it. My service hours are almost over. If we have a conflict until then, Dan’s willing to forward his calls to home to monitor her work until I get back.”
“Or you could have her join us for an hour or two,” I offered.
Ann jumped up, ran around the table, and hugged me. “I hoped you would say that. I didn’t want to ask, but I hoped you would say that.”
My friend had joined the ranks of homeschoolers.
As she sat back down, an odd smile crept over her face. “In return, maybe I could help you with something.”
“Yep. I could homeschool you.”
“Me? What do I need homeschooling for?”
She buried the smile and quipped with a straight face. “Winter driving.” Then she laughed like it was the funniest thing in the world.
Question 1: What East Coast state has gold in the iron-pyrite belt?
Answer 1: Virginia
Question 2: When did George Washington begin earning his livelihood as a surveyor?
Answer 2: Age 16
Question 3: What virtuous reputation of George Washington endured from his childhood to present?
Answer 3: His honesty and integrity
Question 4: What land did Lord Fairfax own in the colonies?
Answer 4: Over five million acres between the Rappahannock and Potomac Rivers.
Question 5: Today, how would we define Lord Fairfax's land?
Answer 5: Thirty-five counties in Virginia and West Virginia.
Question 6: What, other than the Bible, did George Washington live by?
Answer 6: The Rules of Civility
Question 7: Biblically, what is the root of all kinds of evil?
Answer 7: The love of money
Question 8: At the height of its production, where did Virginia rank in gold output?
Answer 8: Third among all states at the time.
Question 9: Why did most gold mining stop in Virginia in the late 1800s?
Answer 9 The mines were destroyed during the Civil War.
Question 10: Why do spring storms have the potential to drop a lot of wet snow?
Answer 10: The predominantly warm, wet air.
In this book we catch up with Jeanine Talbott from Homeschooling can be Murder and her two children. This time they're all off on a field trip in the...