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.