- 1988 -
Henry Spencer inhaled a deep breath and, leaning his head back against his car's headrest, exhaled a long sigh. It had been a long, exhausting day. He had been in court, testifying as the arresting officer in a murder case. Court had never been Henry's favorite part of the job. There was too much red tape and it was too easy to cheat the system. And it looked like the system could get cheated again, as it appeared the criminal he had put behind bars was going to agree to a back-room deal, skirting a murder conviction in favor of a lesser manslaughter plea.
It made Henry sick. The guy had murdered his boss in cold blood, but was getting off on a technicality. The D.A. had confided to Henry that he was beginning to fear that their case was crumbling. The day in court had been a disaster. The prosecution's star witness had not shown up, and without her, the case was a lot more circumstantial than it should have been. The guy had committed the crime, of that Henry was sure, and it bothered him to his core that the judicial system could let a guilty man pay less of a sentence than he deserved.
But it was part of the job. And five to ten years behind bars was better than nothing, Henry had to remind himself.
He stepped out of the car, closing the door behind him and took in another deep breath, smelling the rustic smell of Autumn in California, and walked up the stairs to his house. His patience was already thin, and he really needed to just sit down in a comfortable chair, prop his legs up and enjoy a nice cold beer.
He opened the door and what he saw made him stop dead in his tracks. He had to blink several times to make sure that he really was seeing what he thought he was seeing. His son, Shawn, was at the table, actually working on his homework. For many kids, this would have been nothing out of the ordinary, but this was Shawn. This was the kid Henry constantly had to coerce into doing homework. A day that Henry did not have to yell at Shawn to do homework was a good day. And here he was, pen in hand, doing his homework without forcing a confrontation. Something had to be going on; this was just too out of the ordinary.
Henry shut the door and walked over to the table where his son was sitting, trying not to disturb Shawn's concentration. A quick, cursory glance made Henry all the more surprised. He had expected to see a near-identical paper bearing the name Burton Guster somewhere around Shawn's work on the table, but the usual proof of cheating was nowhere to be found.
“Hey dad,” Shawn said, not lifting his head or stopping his writing.
“Hi Shawn. What are you working on there?”
Shawn finally looked up and, to Henry's surprise, actually looked excited to talk about school. Henry was dumbfounded, he had no idea what to think at the moment. “Since it's a presidential election year, our teacher is making us write a review of Ronald Reagan.”
Now Henry was really suspicious. Shawn was never interested in politics. Like most kids, he tried to avoid the subject altogether. “And, what's your opinion of the man?” Henry asked, curious.
“He's my favorite president,” Shawn said. “He's awesome.”
“Shawn, although he might be a good president, don't forget, he's a politician...” Henry began.
“And an actor,” Shawn said, interrupting Henry, who put a hand to his cheek and closed his eyes in irritation.
“Yes, but Shawn, he's still a politician. And politicians are all crooks.” Maybe it was because of the day and the politics that were being played in the courtroom, but Henry had never quite meant the statement like he did at the current moment. He really had quite the respect for Reagan as a politician, but in the end, even the best politicians were never to be trusted. Politics were a shady business.
“Okay dad,” Shawn said, shrugging his shoulders and returning his attentions to the paper.
Curiosity continued to gnaw at Henry as he watched Shawn write feverishly. Finally, it overwhelmed him; he just had to see what had his son so captivated. “Hey, Shawn, do you mind if I look over your paper for a second?”
Shawn put his pen down, and looked back up at Henry. “Umm,” Shawn said, putting a hand to his chin and looking away from Henry, “can I just finish it and turn it in?”
Shawn's reluctance made Henry's suspicions grow even further. “I'd really like to look at it.”
“Okay,” Shawn said as he rose from the table, shoulders slumped, and handed his father the papers.
Henry did not need to read the paper for more than a few seconds before he realized what he was reading. His suspicions had been well-founded. Without saying a word, Henry walked over to the VCR and ejected the tape that was in the machine. It was his old copy of The Killers.
Henry held the tape up so that the title was visible to Shawn. “I don't think this is what your teacher had in mind when he said to write a review of Ronald Reagan.”
Shawn's face fell, “But...”
“But nothing, Shawn. Your teacher didn't want you to write about Reagan's movies, he wanted you to write about politics.”
“But politics are boring, Dad!”
Henry walked over to where Shawn stood and crouched down, putting a gentle hand on Shawn's shoulder and looking his son in the eyes. “Shawn, politics may be boring, but they're going to be a big part of your life when you're older. When you're eighteen, you'll get to vote and decide which politicians you put in office. They'll affect your life in more ways than you realize.”
“But I thought you said they're all crooks?”
“They are.” Henry nodded. “The trick is to figure out which candidate is lying to you least.”