Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Good For Your People

I’m glad it’s you who come. Boy needs one of his own.”

Officer Hernandez want­ed to tell old Mr. Sneed that the boy couldn’t tell the dif­fer­ence between Hispanic or sun browned American. Not now. Instead, “Anyone who cares might just as well be one of his own right now, Mr. Sneed.”

The old man still seemed lost, unable to ori­ent him­self to the boy’s dusty, rum­pled body. Eventually he replied, “That’s kind. But it’s good you’re here, all the same.”

Thank you.” Hernandez went back to the squad car for the dig­i­tal video recorder, detached it from the dash and began record­ing the scene. Mr. Sneed stepped back­wards and down into the Almond orchard, stop­ping near one of the young trees. He pulled on one of the short branch­es and rubbed its leaves between his fin­gers, eyes yet fixed on the boy.

After mak­ing a first cir­cle of the scene Hernandez told him, “You don’t have to stay out here. You can go on inside and with for the coun­ty inves­ti­ga­tors. They’ll be here soon. Their work’s not…” He almost said ‘pret­ty’, but that seemed too obvi­ous.

This morn­ing, I come out to col­lect the props. Good yield this year. Used every board I own. Another peach and a more than a few of these trees would have lost a limb. Or split in two.”

Mr. Sneed had told him this when he arrived. People often repeat them­selves when they unex­pect­ed­ly dis­cov­er a dead body. He was old, but every­one behaved this way. It remind­ed Hernandez of the three years he worked in San Jose and the two in East Palo Alto before that. He want­ed to steer the old man away from talk­ing about the boy. He said, “It was a good year.” Or so he’d heard.

Good for your peo­ple, too.”

Hernandez held back a sigh and began record­ing the boy’s posi­tion in close up. Did Sneed see any­thing oth­er than the name on his badge, his skin?
“Your fam­i­ly, I mean.” Hernandez stopped mov­ing but didn’t look at Sneed. “I know your uncle. And your aunt. Knowed him since we picked togeth­er. First farm I owned. This orchard here, mat­ter of fact. No more pick­ers here, now. No pickin’ nuts.” The old man looked at the tree whose branch he held for the first time.

Hernandez stood upright, for­get­ting to stop the cam­era. “I didn’t know you knew them.”

Sure. Good peo­ple.” Finally, Pickum took his eyes off the boy and looked at Hernandez. “Good peo­ple,” he repeat­ed qui­et­ly. “It’s good you’re here. Right man for the job.” And the old man let go of the young tree branch in his hand and walked back to his house. Hernandez could hear cars com­ing fast down the near­by road, the coun­ty would be here soon, and the farm become a crime scene, the boy a vic­tim, the old man a mate­r­i­al wit­ness, he an offi­cer, and, all of them, one care­ful step removed from being peo­ple.