MR. WOODROW’S SENIOR PRANK
Harper Woodrow gazed at the vista provided for the graduates of Pacifica High School. A platform festooned with blue and white bunting was centered between the goalpost, and rows of white chairs filling nearly half of the football field were filled with black robed seniors. Seagulls rode the thermals over the beach in the distance, and on a quiet night you could hear the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean beyond. The puffs of white cloud against the clear blue sky accented the school colors decorating the speaker’s podium. Harper felt a moment of regret at this ending of his chosen career but quickly balanced that against a long list of small injustices. Harper was the last holdout in a dying Industrial Education program, and the dismantling of his career and program had begun well before his final year.
It was Mr. Woodrow’s final graduation as a high school teacher and he smiled, knowing he was finally going to enjoy one. It was his thirty-seventh consecutive as he had kept the habit of attending the ceremony for his entire career. This time he wore a robe like the graduates, a cowl representing his college, and a mortar board that kept slipping on his balding sweaty head. He sat in the front row in what was intended as a position of honor for himself and three other retirees. It felt more like a position of torture, as he struggled internally trying not to think of going to the bathroom. He knew there was no way to take a break without being seen by over a thousand family members of the graduates. As the endlessly alphabetized list of names dragged on, he squirmed uncomfortably in the metal folding chair. He surreptitiously glanced at his wristwatch relieved that finally the end of his long career was nearly at hand. Behind him he heard a noise rising that took only a moment to recognize. Without looking up he waited for the craft that created the high-pitched sound in three-part harmony. Suddenly, not ten feet above the graduates a familiar trio of drones whizzed by holding their now all too familiar payload. The pride of Pacifica High school, the “Seed & Feed”, rose over the stage to perfectly split the uprights and dart off to the right behind the cover of a grove of trees. The crowd and graduates responded with wild applause as the Science Fair Gold medal project interrupted the ceremony.
As the last name was read and the graduates erupted in a volley of thrown mortarboards, Harper hurried to the gates of the athletic field, dodging friends embracing and parents streaming onto the field to give their offspring one last hug as their child. He planned to circumvent the crowd by dodging into the school and using the restrooms inside. But as soon as he exited the gates and went around the corner of the building, he stopped dead in his tracks. He stood open-mouthed as more people started to gather behind him.
“Woodrow, what’s going on here?” barked the all too familiar voice of the principal, who appeared at Harper’s shoulder.”
“Well sir, if I had to guess I’d say you were the target of a harmless senior prank.” Harper’s smirk wasn’t lost on the man.
The principal glared at Parker with eyes squinted suspiciously. “If I find out you had anything to do with this, I’m coming after your pension!” The portly principal ran towards the administrative parking spaces waving his arms, looking like a penguin finding another bird in its nest.
“Shoo, get out of here!”
Harper stifled a laugh as the flock of birds rose as one into the sky taking flight from their roost. The flustered man slowly dropped his arms in resignation at the sight he beheld.
The next day…
“So, Tucker, could you describe your relationship with Mr. Woodrow for me?”
“Relationship? What exactly do you mean by that?” The senior straightened in his wooden seat. “He was my teacher. Might I add sir, the best teacher in this high school.”
“I’m sure he was. Can you explain to me why you had taken all three of the classes that Mr. Woodrow has on his schedule, yet there you were as a senior, in his class? Again.”
“Sure thing sir. Mr. Andrews, my school counselor, set it up for me and a couple of other kids. Independent Study in Mr. Woodrow’s shop. I needed another full credit to graduate as a senior. Literally one whole credit short.” The gangly teen rolled his eyes trolling for empathy.
“Would not graduating have affected your plans to join the Marines?”
“Oh, yes sir! That would have violated my enlistment agreement. I don’t even know if they would let me in if I hadn’t graduated!”
“I think the military would still have a spot for you.”
“Not as a Certified Drone Operator 1st Class! That’s what I am going to be. I’ve loved drones for as long as I can remember. We even won an award at the State Science Fair in April using drones!”
“Tell me about this award of yours. Using drones, you say?”
“Well, Woody wasn’t…I mean Mr. Woodrow, wasn’t a slack teacher. When he got us, he assigned us a real-world challenge. He wasn’t going to let us use the shop until we had one. But he didn’t give us like, any directions or anything. He demanded this problem statement that told you what the problem was that we were going to solve, and how we were going to do it, and all I knew was that it was going to have to involve drones.”
“You say…us…when you speak of this assignment. Who is us?”
“Oh, that’s my buddy Wyatt. Wyatt Jones. He heard about the sweet deal I got with independent study, and asked if he could get in on it, as prospects were bleak that he would graduate on time. Wyatt’s smart, but he had to take care of business on the family farm a lot, so he missed too much school. I was stuck on how I was going to use my drones to solve any problems, but then Wyatt had an idea that would help his farm. A great idea, actually.”
“Mr. Woodrow? I’d be half the man I’m growing into without Mr. Woodrow.”
“Wyatt, tell me about this…problem statement that Mr. Woodrow assigned to you.”
“Well, one day I was out in the fields at home. I was thinking while riding the tractor watching the seeder pitch seed. That’s the mechanism that spreads the seed into the furrows in the soil. Well, I was thinking that this must be one of the most boring jobs on the farm. Then I started thinking about how much gas we used up seeding an entire field. That on top of my time seemed like one big waste.”
“So, using drones was your idea?”
“I guess so. My friend Tucker has always been nuts about drones and I went to Mr. Woodrow with our idea and asked if we could work together on the problem project.”
“What was Mr. Woodrow’s reaction to that?”
“He was excited. He said the idea could be a gem, or a worthless piece of glass, depending on what we did with it. That’s how Mr. Woodrow would say things, comparing one thing to another thing. Anyways, luckily Tucker and I had taken Mr. Woodrow’s Computer Aided drafting class as sophomores. With that and the new 3D printer he got with some technology grant, we were able to design and build a seed spreader that worked kind of like the big one I used at home. Only this one was way lighter, and of course, smaller. But unfortunately, it didn’t work. The idea was that the spreader would be suspended between the two drones that Wyatt had, but it just wasn’t strong enough. That’s when Mr. Woodrow brought in a third drone that he bought with his own money. We were able to stabilize the spreader and synchronize the flight of all three drones.”
“Wow, that’s quite an idea. You were going to drop seeds from the air, using drones? So, it was Mr. Woodrow’s idea to add a third drone?”
“No, it was our idea, he just bought the thing so that we could do it.”
“So, you then built this thing in Mr. Woodrow’s shop, and won an award for it at the Science Fair?”
“No. I can truly say that it wouldn’t have won any awards if we hadn’t met Charlie Pratt.”
“Good morning, Charlie. Mr. Pratt, I appreciate you bringing him in on such short notice.”
“What do you want from him?” The man in the camo truckers hat asked with a suspicious tilt of his head.
“We just wanted to ask Charlie some questions. Questions about Mr. Woodrow and the drone that you boys built.”
“It was three drones, and we didn’t build them.” The seventeen-year-old junior sat cross armed and defiant in his seat next to his father. “Tucker had two of his own and Woody bought the other.”
“You mean, Mr. Woodruff? You called him Woody?”
“Everybody called him Woody. I remember him saying that it used to bother him when kids stopped saying mister, and he preferred Woody to the disrespectful Woodrow. So that’s what we called him.”
“Let’s get back to your project. I see you joined Mr. Woodrow’s class in the second semester?”
“Independent study. They finally got me out of that bitch Everly’s English class.”
Not missing a beat Mr. Pratt gave Charlie a quick backhand to the chest, accompanied by a threatening stare.
“Okay! So I was kicked out of English class so I had nowhere to be. They took me to Woody’s room, and I waited in the hall. I overheard my dick couns…my counselor “, he corrected himself as both hands raised protectively. “I overheard my counselor tell Mr. Woodrow that “maybe you can do something with him”.”
“So how did you get involved with the drone project?”
“” Seed & Feed”. It was called “Seed & Feed”. Mr. Woodrow let me use the computers, and Tucker and Wyatt were always running around the shop, excited about something they were building.”
“And that was “Seed & Feed?”
“Yeah, only they didn’t call it that yet. After a while I had a good idea what they were doing.”
“And you thought you could make it better?”
“I knew I could make it better!”
“My boy knows computers!” Mr. Pratt interjected.
“Oh yes, I know Charlie knows computers. Let’s see, suspended in 7th grade for changing all the kids’ names on the teachers seating chart to Mario Brothers characters. Suspended in 8th grade for inserting a full-page picture of himself into the proofs of the yearbook that was sent to the printer.”
“Now that was a good picture you have to admit.” Mr. Pratt said, palms to the ceiling and shoulders shrugged.
The officer stared deadpan at the pair. “Then finally, this first semester, Charlie thought it funny to rewrite some of the Shakespeare poems that Ms. Everly had prepared to assign to her students.” Both father and son dropped their eyes, but Charlie couldn’t hold back a snicker, remembering how popular his “revisions” were with his fellow classmates.
“So, Charlie, where were you Sunday afternoon?”
Mr. Pratt interrupted before his son could answer. “If you would have done your detective work better, you might know that Charlie was right there at graduation. Sitting in the stands with the band the whole time. I’m right tired of this place and the ocean front fakes that are running this school! Not a one of them lives east of the school and wouldn’t be caught out among us farm people.”
“Yeah, that’s another thing that Mr. Woodrow was mad about. Did you know that next year there won’t be any more shop classes?” Charlie glared at the officer across the table. “Did you know that next year where the shop was, where we invented an award-winning project, there will be indoor parking? Uh-huh, but not just any old parking. It’s “safe” parking for school administrators. I guess safe meaning they can sneak away at a moments notice in their Porsches and Audis. How’s that for progress?”
“You say that Mr. Woodrow…was angry?” The detective leaned his elbows on the table and interlaced the fingers of his hands in front of his chin.
Charlie thought for a moment that it looked like the cop was praying that he would say something. Praying for something that would get Mr. Woodrow in trouble! Charlie sank back into his chair and sullenly refused to answer. The detective, staring at the boy across from him, felt he had a thread and he wanted to keep pulling.
“Let’s get back to the project. How was it that you made it better, and ended up sharing the award with the other two boys?”
“They practically had the thing working when I got there. The seeder worked fine, the hopper payload was acceptable, and the third drone gave it not only more power but more stability. There was still one huge problem as I saw it.”
“Well, tell him what you did son!”
“The problem as I saw it was one simple drawback that they had overlooked. They actually had to fly it!” Charlie gave his best “tada” expression, waiting for the officer to respond. After a moment he rudely repeated the gesture.
“Don’t you get it? There was no reason that they had to manually pilot that craft over any field at all! After a little research we found that farmers are already using drones to spread pesticides, so I knew the technology I wanted was out there. After a bit of…digging around, I was able to tailor that program to meet our needs. One flyover to photograph the field in its entirety was all that was needed to get started. I downloaded the photo establishing GPS waypoints so that now old man Farmer can go back to the barn if he wants to and milk his cows. His field is being seeded automatically. The only glitch was hopper capacity and we solved that with a docking port attached to the grain silo. The thing even senses a low load and returns for a refill automatically.”
The detective sat staring at the boy, undersized with a dark blue tee shirt, an Angels cap holding in an unkempt hat full of hair. He stared at the boy for a while, wondering when we had started making kids like this. He shook his head but looked deep in thought.
“After all is said and done, you, Tucker, and Wyatt were all at the graduation ceremony when the…crime I’m investigating occurred. Mr. Woodrow was also there, for the entire ceremony. During that ceremony your “Seed & Feed” spread birdseed over a very specific area. The Administration’s parking area. What happens Charlie, when you dump a large amount of birdseed outside?”
“You get birds?” the boy quietly offered.
“You get birds. I imagine the first seagulls to the scene hurriedly phoned a friend, because quickly, there was a flock. During that ceremony the flock turned into a…a…migration!”
He appealed to the more mature Platt present. “Sir, what is bound to happen when a migration of seagulls go into a feeding frenzy while perched on nine cars?”
The father of Charlie Pratt couldn’t hold back at a chuckle. “Why officer, I believe those birds might eat their fill, but before they fly home, they’re going to paint those cars a whole new shade of white!” The older man bust out into a laugh at his own punchline.
The detective reached out and pressed STOP on the tape recorder that had been recording the interview. He sighed, but a smile slowly spread across his face.
“I’m afraid I have to inform the school board that we are dropping the investigation, due to a lack of evidence. Their accusations that Mr. Woodrow and you boys were in some way responsible for this…natural phenomenon, are” he winked at the boy and his father, “for the birds.”