Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

Archive for October, 2006

The Whole Project

Monday, October 30th, 2006

He spot­ted him from a block and a half away. The round-head­ed man sat in front of the gat­ed entrance to the 80s pre­fab apart­ment build­ing on Walnut Street. He smoked his cig­a­rette look­ing bored but watch­ful. William planned on walk­ing right past him with a sim­ple “Hello.”

The man stopped him. “He’s not home yet, kid.”

William had just raised his right foot to the first step. “Huh?”

You’re here to see Hernandez, right?”

Yeah.”

He’s not home yet.”

William didn’t know what to do and it showed. He looked the man in the face for the first time and real­ized he knew him from some­where.

You’re William Loof, right?”

Yeah.”

You remem­ber me?” Oliveri coughed and stuck out his hand. “Charlie Oliveri.”

William reached out and shook Oliveri’s thick dry hand. “Yeah, from the paper.”

That’s right. Probably had a lit­tle more hair when you were run­ning around town.” The only hair on Oliveri’s head was a thin grey stub­ble along the sides over the ears. “Or at least I tried to have more hair. Couple of years ago, I stopped giv­ing a shit and shaved it off.”

Are you still run­ning the paper?”

Who else?” Oliveri took a long drag from his cig­a­rette and spoke as he let it out, “I fig­ured a long time ago — after my wife died — I was in Brenlee for keeps.”

William passed him a half-heart­ed smile.

Why don’t you have a seat? I won’t keep your bud­dy long.”

William joined Oliveri on the cement steps.

Oliveri waved a pack of Marlboros at William. “You don’t smoke do you? Not these, any­way, right?”

No, thanks.” And nei­ther of them said any­thing for a moment.

Gonna be a nice night. Cooler, any­way, than it’s been.”

Sure.” William looked up and down the street. Across the street and up the block an old­er cou­ple sat out on their porch. Down this side of the street a dog made its way towards them, sniff­ing every tele­phone pole, tree, and bush along the way. “So, you here to talk to Hernandez about today?”

Today? What hap­pened today?”

William smiled at him. “I think you know.”

Do I?”

Everybody knows. I didn’t leave my house all day and I know.”

That’s right. You work at home, right Loof?”

Yeah. How do-”

I think that would dri­ve me crazy.” Oliveri reached over his gut to stub out his cig­a­rette on the step in front of him. “Of course, some peo­ple wouldn’t know the dif­fer­ence. They say I’m crazy already.” He let out a chuck­le.

How did you know I worked at home?”

How did I know you were here to see Hernandez and not the so-called Mrs. Evans on the sec­ond floor or Hernandez’s next door neigh­bor.”

Who’s Hernandez’s next door neigh­bor?”

Maybe that’s none of your busi­ness.”

Maybe it’s none of yours.”

Everything’s my busi­ness. I’m the press.”

No right to pri­va­cy, huh?”

Just because I know things, that doesn’t mean I print ‘em or make ‘em pub­lic.”

Except for Mrs. Evans.”

She appre­ci­ates the adver­tis­ing. Especially to a…ahem…younger demo­graph­ic.”

And Oliveri watched it dawn on William, just what this Mrs. Evans was up to in her upstairs apart­ment and as the reporter laughed, so did William. “You got­ta laugh, kid. Days like today, you got­ta laugh. You for­get how to laugh, then you have to throw out the whole project like old man Bergoyan.”

Old man who?”

Our illus­tri­ous found­ing edi­tor of The Brenlee News. You remem­ber the old guy who ran the paper before me?”

Right.” William had a vague mem­o­ry of a long man with bushy grey hair who smelled of cher­ry pipe smoke.

Oliveri start­ed anoth­er cig­a­rette. “His humor failed him and he quit the whole project.”

The whole project?”

Life, Loof. Life. Don’t tell me you quit it too?”

I’m still here.”

Existing isn’t liv­ing. My wife taught me that.” Oliveri brushed ash from his tie and then looked at the dog still slow­ly mak­ing its way up the street. “Franny was a great teacher.”

I know. I was in her class.”

As Oliveri looked William in the eye for the first time, the sounds of evening seemed to hush for a moment. “Yeah, I remem­ber you, Loof. You’re one of her boys.…”

Charlie Oliveri

Friday, October 27th, 2006

After ten years of try­ing to get out of the pro­duc­tion room and on to the streets report­ing, Charlie Oliveri quit his job at the San Jose Mercury. He and his wife sold their house in Redwood City and used the pro­ceeds to buy The Brenlee News and, with it, Phillip Bergoyan’s old ram­shackle cot­tage, then on the edge of town. Oliveri grew up in a small town out­side of Salinas, so, he knew how things worked in Brenlee before he arrived. His wife Fran taught at the school and for the first five years he did every­thing at the paper him­self.

During their sixth year in Brenlee they learned that Fran Oliveri had only nine more months to live. She had Ovarian Cancer. Charlie hired two stu­dents from Foothill Junior College to help with lay­ing out the paper and report­ing on the local sports and church events. At first, the paper bare­ly broke even, but both stu­dents began sell­ing more adver­tis­ing in order to keep their own jobs and to help out Charlie. Thirteen years lat­er, the stu­dents have gone and been replaced by oth­ers, but the paper does well enough to remain as obsti­nate­ly inde­pen­dent as Oliveri him­self.

Oliveri always wears a but­ton down shirt, slacks, and a bad­ly tied tie. In cool­er months he wears a tweed sports coat. In sum­mer, he car­ries a light­weight tan sports­coat and keeps his sleeves rolled up unless report­ing on some­thing air con­di­tioned to feel like a nordic win­ter. Brenlee’s Editor-In-Chief seems to style him­self after Jim Rockford, except he is five feet-sev­en inch­es tall, fifty pounds over­weight, rarely charm­ing, and bald. Hernandez has only seen him smile twice, once after pub­lish­ing a sto­ry on the front page of The Brenlee News about the may­or pay­ing for a trip to Puerto Vallerta with city funds and the oth­er time after Hernandez told him he thought peo­ple in Brenlee were basi­cal­ly good at heart. Oliveri smiled when he heard the word ‘good’ and not because he agreed.

Today, Oliveri has parked his bald head and nylon slacks on the cement steps in front of Hernandez’s apart­ment build­ing where he patient­ly watch­es the light and col­or fade from the day, smok­ing cig­a­rettes and reread­ing a twen­ty year old let­ter from Phillip Bergoyan about a boy found dead near an orchard. It is a let­ter meant for some­one like Hernandez and, if nec­es­sary, Oliveri will wait all night to deliv­er it.

So He Tried To Kiss Her

Wednesday, October 25th, 2006

So he tried to kiss her. Carefully. Slowly. Gently brush­ing aside her hair, his eyes still closed, at first only rub­bing his unshaven cheek against the soft downy skin of hers and then allow­ing his mouth to fall as if by grav­i­ty towards her lips.

No, Billy.”

What?”

Tamra gripped William’s shoul­ders and leaned away from him. “Let’s not con­fuse things. Not today.”

He looked into her eyes and knew he didn’t have a chance. “Does Chad know you’re here?”

Of course not.”

He tried to look away, but she wouldn’t let him. She pulled at his shoul­ders. She moved her face in front of his. A smile passed quick­ly between them. Their lips part­ed at the same time but he spoke first, “I’m jeal­ous as fuck right now.”

I’m here.”

But only because-”

Yeah, because of Tommy and this boy they found today. And because I knew it might mess you up. Especially after your moth­er and mov­ing back here and your divorce and every­thing else.”

Everything else? There’s more?” She let him pull away from her.

Yes. You’re a messed up guy.”

Hm. I’m a messed up guy. No big deal, William, ‘you’re a messed up guy.’ So, I’m a messed up guy. Uh. Whatever. Lots to work out. Some emo­tion­al issues. I’m a messed up guy.”

Cut it out, already.”

What?”

The sar­casm.”

Who’s sar­cas­tic? I’m messed up. Or am I messed up and sar­cas­tic?” He looked at her.
Tamra crossed her arms and looked out the win­down. She whis­pered, “Asshole.”

Coffee?”

No.”

Suit your­self.” William took his mug of black cof­fee and went to the card­board box on the kitchen table. After a few sips of cof­fee, he opened the box and looked inside.

What’s in it?”

Stuff.” He did not reach in, only turned his head from side to side to bet­ter see its con­tents.

After a few min­utes of this she asked, “Where are your mugs?”

Cabinet right of the sink. Changed your mind?”

She poured her­self some cof­fee, found sug­ar and milk and stirred them in, but said noth­ing.

William did not turn around. “You don’t love him though, right?”

She sipped her cof­fee loud­ly, lean­ing against the counter next to the kitchen sink. “You talk­ing to me or the box?”

Funny.”

So, are you gonna ask me about the boy? Or are we going to keep pre­tend­ing this is all about you, me, and Chad.”

William set down his cof­fee and reached into the box. She could hear him shift­ing things — papers? — around inside. “We’re the only ones here, so it has to be a lit­tle bit about us, right?”

Why can’t ‘us’ just be us being friends?”

Because Chad’s a dick and you don’t love him. You might not love me, but you sure as hell shouldn’t be with him.” William took an old tar­nished brass sprin­kler head from the box.

He was in the exact same posi­tion as the way they found Tommy.”

William looked at her. He want­ed a drink, but set­tled for his cof­fee.

Everything was the same, Billy. And nobody said any­thing.”

What about Hernandez?”

They put him in charge of the case. Why?”

Probably because he doesn’t know what hap­pened. Or they don’t think he does, any­way?”

But why aren’t they talk­ing about it?”“Old Mike Boone sit­ting in jail for killing Tommy.”

Why do you have a sprin­kler head in your hand?”

William sat down in one of his mother’s old green vinyl and stain­less steel chairs. “The ques­tion is, ‘Why was it in the box?’”

William’s Day

Monday, October 23rd, 2006

After Luke Bettis left, William gath­ered all his things from the porch and went inside. He took a show­er so he he wouldn’t have to hear the phone if it rang again. He got out only after he had used all of the hot water. As he dressed he kept repeat­ing “Goddamnit” under his breath, over and over again. Looking at him­self in the mir­ror, same old blue jeans, plain black t-shirt, too thick around the mid­dle, and hair with no direc­tion he said, “I’m not even sup­posed to be here.” He didn’t know where he was sup­posed to be instead, but his parent’s house in Brenlee, California, was cer­tain­ly not it.

He knew it wouldn’t help, but he smoked anoth­er joint any­way. He want­ed to be con­fused. He ate a large bag of tor­tilla chips, drank a beer and fell asleep on the couch lis­ten­ing to Pablo Casals tak­ing care of Bach. The dig­i­tal clock on the TV cable box read 3:12 when the phone woke him from his nap. He didn’t answer it. A few min­utes lat­er he went to his office to check his voice­mail. Three peo­ple had called, but none of them left mes­sages.

He real­ized now that he was just killing time before he went to talk to Hernandez and, not want­i­ng to do any­thing else, for the first time in six months he thought about call­ing Clara. Maybe just to prove how mis­er­able his life was, or maybe because they had once been friends and she might have some­thing use­ful to say. He would have to explain about Tommy though and that he couldn’t do. Not to her. Not now. And he relaized for the first time (wouldn’t his ther­a­pist be hap­py to know?) that he could nev­er explain any­thing that mat­tered to Clara. Their rela­tion­ship was sim­ply too far gone.

He looked out the win­dow of his office and saw that the street was not as emp­ty as before. Now there were par­ents walk­ing chil­dren home from the school, a car or two pass­ing, and old peo­ple water­ing their lawns. He went to the kitchen to make cof­fee and wake his ass up before speak­ing with Hernandez. On his way to the kitchen he stopped at the hall clos­et. From the top shelf he took down an old card­board box which he took with him to the kitchen, set­ting it in the mid­dle of the kitchen table. He stared at it while he wait­ed for the cof­fee to brew.

What’s in the box?”

He jumped and looked to his left. Tamra stood in the kitchen door way. “Shit. You scared me.”

Sorry. You said last time to just let myself in.”

You said last time was the last time.”

Yeah.” She wore jeans and a loose but­ton down shirt, prob­a­bly an old men’s dress shirt. Her eyes looked tired from cry­ing.

I guess you heard about the kid.”

And so did you. Been med­icat­ing?”

How’d you guess?”

Stinks in this house.” She opened the win­dow over the kitchen sink and then the win­dow near the kitchen table.

Sorry.” He looked down at his feet. “Want some cof­fee?”

Tamra’s feet appeared right in front of his. “Decided to wake up, huh?”

I have to go talk to Hernandez.”

You going to look at me?”

He could smell her hair, prac­ti­cal­ly feel the warmth of her body she stood so close to him. He did not want her to move away. “I can see your feet.”

She wait­ed and then said, “William Loof, look at me.”

If I do that, I’m afraid what will hap­pen next.”

I’m not.” She put her arms around him and he looked up, drop­ping his arms from his chest so that he could hold her in return, stroking her hair and cry­ing into it.

I’m a wreck,” he whis­pered.

But a per­fect wreck.” She told him and for the first time all day, his mind began to race, try­ing to fig­ure out if this was com­fort, love, or some­thing else entire­ly.

Not Much Of A Toy

Friday, October 20th, 2006

Was he at school yes­ter­day?”

Yes.”

The whole day?”

Um, yes.”

When he left did he tell you or did you over­hear him telling some­one else where he was going?”

No.”

Did he have friends in the class?”

Yes. A few. He was old­er. We held him back a year, so some of his friends were in the sev­enth grade. Even though it’s not usu­al­ly allowed, we let him spend his recess­es with the old­er boys.”

I see. Do you know their names?”

Yes. I think I may even have their home num­bers from the emer­gency con­tact lists.”

Could you get those for me? I mean, the whole list. We may need to con­tact all of the chil­dren in this year’s and last year’s class­es.”

Oh, sure. They’re right… you want them, now?”

Yes.”

Let me see.” Andrea opened one of the low­er draw­ers of her desk and began flip­ping through the fold­ers in it. “I can copy these for you in the office.” She set the two sta­pled sheets of stu­dent infor­ma­tion on her desk.

Hernandez remained focused on the note­book in his hand, writ­ing some­thing down. He mum­bled an absent-mind­ed thank you with­out look­ing up.

Andrea wait­ed and then final­ly asked, “Would you like to see Gabriel’s desk?”

Hernandez looked up from his note­book. “Mmm, yes.”

She showed him the desk. “I haven’t touched any­thing. I don’t think any­one has. It’s just the way he left it yes­ter­day when he…”

Good.”

Hernandez opened the desk, quick­ly begin­ning a writ­ten inven­to­ry of its con­tents in his note­book. Andrea felt as though she had sud­den­ly dis­ap­peared. She watched him begin remov­ing the books and papers, sort­ing Gabriel’s school work from his com­ic book style draw­ings of strong men and ter­ri­fy­ing beasts, not­ing where he found cer­tain draw­ings, if they were in school books, etc. She caught Hernandez crack­ing a small quick smile at a draw­ing of a giant man in a wrestling mask crush­ing some sort of cock­roach like mon­ster under his foot. At the same time, dot­ted lines from the giant wrestler’s eyes shot down an air­borne bee­tle across the page. That flash of a smile made Andrea feel sud­den­ly close to Hernandez and if not exact­ly under­stand him, at least like him a lit­tle.

Um…I’m going to go copy these sheets for you then. While you…”

He didn’t look up from Gabriel’s things. “Thank you.” Then he called out to her when she reached the door. “Ms. Lawson.”

Yes?”

What was this for?” He held up the tar­nished brass sprin­kler head.

It’s a sprin­kler head.”

Yes, but why did he have it?”

I don’t know. Maybe he was play­ing with it.”

Not much of a toy.”

Gabriel was very seri­ous and very imag­i­na­tive. I don’t know that I ever saw him with any toys.”

Right.” He looked down at the sprin­kler and then back at Andrea and she saw some­thing in Hernandez at that moment.

Did you ever know a boy like that?”

He looked her in the eye from across the room and that sud­dden inti­ma­cy tick­led the inside of her stom­ach. “Yes, but not a boy. A man. My father gave me lots of toys, too many, but he could make a toy out of any­thing.”

Then you know a lit­tle about Gabriel already.”

She took her time going the school office, mak­ing the copies and walk­ing back to her class­room. She found Hernandez ready to take away the con­tents of Gabriel’s desk in sev­er­al clear plas­tic bags. She hand­ed him the copies of her par­ent-stu­dent con­tact sheets and returned the orig­i­nals to her desk.

He said, “Thank you,” and made his way to the door, opened it and stopped.

After a moment she asked his back, “Do you need any­thing?”

He turned and looked up at the win­dows along the wall behind her desk and then back to Andrea, “Just thanks for uh… for car­ing.”

For a sec­ond there, I thought you were going to say ‘For giv­ing a shit.’”

He smiled. “I was.”

Hey,” she shrugged, “that’s my job.”

And Hernandez left her in that emp­ty class­room with Gabriel’s desk still open, but now emp­ty. After every­thing, though she knew she ought to, she could not cry for the boy.

They Did It All Before

Wednesday, October 18th, 2006

Welcome par­ents and stu­dents. Thank you for attend­ing this last minute assem­bly. By now, most of you par­ents already know that we have lost one of our stu­dents…” Hernandez watched the Principal and Superintendent of Brenlee Elementary School District speak to the assem­bly with­out real­ly lis­ten­ing to him. Mr. Yaeger’s jaw tight­ened as he spoke, fight­ing a los­ing bat­tle to seem togeth­er and steady against the pull of the bags under his eyes and loose shake of his sag­ging cheeks. Hernandez watched the face of a man unac­cus­tomed to los­ing, to feel­ing cheat­ed by forces beyond one’s own con­trol, col­lapse under the strain of the cir­cum­stances. He felt sor­ry for him.

Principal Yaeger could change the bus sched­ule, find more fund­ing to fix the school yard fences, and hire bet­ter teach­ers, but he couldn’t relate to the locals. This round-head­ed blonde man had grown up over on the coast some­where removed from the Okie farm­ers and stern German ranch­ers who peo­pled the Valley. He knew Mexicans over there on the coast, but they didn’t stay long, only long enough to pick the let­tuce and gar­lic as it came in. Now, Yaeger didn’t even live in Brenlee and every­one liked it that way. To a great extent, respect here came in pro­por­tion to a person’s per­ceived dis­tance from the com­mu­ni­ty. And peo­ple need­ed to respect the school Principal.

When Yaeger fin­ished, Vice Principal Schmidt said a few words, quick­ly calm­ing and reas­sur­ing the assem­bly of her cur­rent and for­mer stu­dents. She was one of them. The daugh­ter of a fam­i­ly of cat­tle ranch­ers, her hus­band owned and oper­at­ed a dairy, and her grand­par­ents had helped found the town. She knew everyone’s sto­ry. As much as Hernandez liked Yaeger, he knew bet­ter than to rely on him for specifics about the peo­ple here in Brenlee, for that, he would speak with Vice Principal Schmidt as he had every time some minor local mys­tery (why the Miller boys kept fight­ing with the Langford boys, why park­ing a truck in front of the Hillard prop­er­ty was con­sid­ered an insult, etc) had stood in his way of keep­ing the peace.

Vice Principal Schmidt intro­duced Win Kady who kept things short and end­ed by point­ing to him. He stood up and approached the podi­um, try­ing to ignore the com­ments of some of the locals. He could see that as many were in favor of him for the wrong rea­sons as were against him for the same rea­sons, but togeth­er they only amount­ed to a hand­ful of peo­ple. Most peo­ple in Brenlee just want­ed to know some­one who cared would be work­ing on the case. He hadn’t planned on speak­ing, so he arrived at the podi­um with a long pause to start things off.

As Inspector Kady said, my name’s Officer Ed Hernandez.” Someone out in the audi­ence whis­pered ‘Eduardo’ loud enough for every­one to hear.

Yeah, that’s right. Eduardo. Officer Eduardo Hernandez.” People grew qui­et. “I, for one, don’t like being up here. The whole rea­son we’re all here is a bad one. I live here. With you. We shouldn’t have to have assem­blies like this. And it makes me sick that this could hap­pen here. I’m gonna get the one who did this. That’s my promise to each and every­one of you.”

The assem­bly was qui­et and as Hernandez turned to go back to his seat some good old boy said, “Give ‘em hell, Eddie.” And almost before any­one could react, “Sorry for cussin’ Ms. Schmidt.” A few peo­ple clapped and Principal Yaeger returned to the podi­um to close the assem­bly and send every­one home.

Hernandez remained in his chair as they left, many par­ents nod­ding his way in what he hoped was encour­age­ment. The teach­ers, staff, and prin­ci­ples lin­gered with Win Kady, all talk­ing among them­selves and leav­ing Hernandez to him­self for the moment. After most of the familes had left the gym, Hernandez noticed one man atop the back row of the bleach­ers, look­ing down at him. He rec­og­nized him almost imme­di­ate­ly, Luke Bettis. Luke came down the bleach­ers quick­ly, mov­ing towards the door. Hernandez went to cut him off. Luke stopped at the bot­tom of the bleach­ers, let­ting Hernandez catch him.

I had you beat, Ed.”

You have anoth­er kid, Luke?”

Well, my kids still vis­it on week­ends, you know.”

Sure.”

That was some promise you made.”

I meant it.”

Sure.” And Luke turned to leave.

Hernandez grabbed his arm, “What’s that mean?”

Let go of me.”

What’s that mean, Luke?” Luke didn’t answer so he let him go.

After a few steps, Luke turned back to face Hernandez. Now skip­ping back­wards towards the door, he point­ed to the teach­ers, Principals, and Sheriff’s per­son­nel, “Don’t let them make a liar out of ya’. They did it before.” And he bolt­ed out the door.

Officer Hernandez.” Ms. Schmidt called his name, stop­ping him before he could fol­low the noto­ri­ous waste of time that was Luke Bettis.

Inside Gabriel’s Desk

Monday, October 16th, 2006

It wasn’t until lunchtime that Andrea Lawson, Gabriel’s teacher, heard the rumors. Seventeen of the 632 chil­dren in Brenlee Elementary were absent from school that day and only two were unac­count­ed for by Vice Principal Schmidt who had called all of the fam­i­lies her­self: Gabriel and a lit­tle girl in the sec­ond grade whose fam­i­ly was rumored to be liv­ing in the reser­voir camp­ground. Ms. Schmidt told the teach­ers to bring the stu­dents to the school gym for the final peri­od of the day when she would explain things to the chil­dren and their par­ents in an assem­bly. The Sheriff and town police would be there along with the may­or.

After the impromp­tu lunch fac­ul­ty meet­ting, Ms. Schmidt took Andrea aside. “We’re almost cer­tain it’s your boy.”

Okay.” She could see Gabriel’s small round face watch­ing her from his seat, strug­gling to under­stand the things she said.

Andrea, I need you to han­dle this with your class very care­ful­ly.”

Of course.” She felt a lit­tle dizzy.

If you think it will help, we’ll bring in a coun­selor from the coun­ty.”

For the class?” She couldn’t focus.

And for you. Andrea, look at me.”

She looked into Ms. Schmidt’s face. The woman who had been her own fifth grade teacher twen­ty years before. Something sad­ly calm in those eyes held her.

Yes, Ms. Schmidt.”

Good. Now the police will want to talk to you about Gabriel and to look through his things. I can ask to sit with you dur­ing that, if you like.”

Why did that feel wrong? Why wouldn’t she want Ms. Schmidt there? But she didn’t. She need­ed to speak for Gabriel on her own. She knew him best and things should be clear. “No. No, thank you. I’ll speak to them on my own.”

Good. I think that’s best. Call if you need any­thing.”

Yes, of course.” And instead of return­ing to the fac­ul­ty room to fin­ish her lunch, Andrea went to her class­room. She had no appetite. In her room, she locked the door behind her and left the lights off. The sun was high over­head and no direct light came through the great wall of win­dows oppo­site the door which shone so bright­ly in the morn­ing.

Gabriel’s desk was near the back of the class­room, close to those win­dows. She touched its cool met­al edge and scratched formi­ca top. She lift­ed the top of the desk and looked inside. Two pen­cils, an eras­er, a paper clip and a met­al wash­er were in the pen­cil tray. He didn’t chew his pen­cils, but carved his name into them with that paper clip. His books and papers were piled inside almost neat­ly, cer­tain­ly he knew where to find his things. Wedged between the piles of books she saw what looked like a met­al sprin­kler head. Because it made no sense there she smiled. Was he fix­ing it, steal­ing it, or just play­ing with it? She closed Gabriel’s desk and went back to her own where she looked out the win­dow at the oth­er class­room build­ings, the sounds of lunch recess from out­side her door, until the bell would ring and she could find her­self teach­ing again.

No One Could Help Him

Friday, October 6th, 2006

Mr. Sneed’s grand­son, Trot, iden­ti­fied the boy as Gabriel Velasquez, the youngest broth­er of Jose Velasquez, a man who had worked for him every­day for the past three years. He lied to Hernandez and told him he didn’t know where the par­ents lived. Truth was, they had no papers and lived on his father’s land.

You know, Trot we have to talk to them if we’re gonna have any chance of catch­ing who­ev­er did this.”

After see­ing the boy, Trot had kept his back to Hernandez and the coun­ty inves­ti­ga­tors busy­ing them­selves over the boy’s body. He answered him loud­ly, clip­ping off his words over his shoul­der. “I told you. They’re not around. They wouldn’t know any­one around here any­way. Talk to Jose.”

Sure.” Hernandez wrote some­thing in his note­book and looked at the back of Trot’s head. “You know what obstruct­ing jus­tice is?”

Oh, this is bull­shit. A lit­tle boy’s dead and you’re comin’ after me.”

No. No, you’re not help­ing me.”

Trot turned back to him, weep­ing tears hoard­ed away in 40 years of terse emo­tion­al dis­tance from all those he knew and loved. He was a man who could no longer find secu­ri­ty in the con­straints of shame. “And you know I can’t, Eddie. You know that.”

Hernandez whis­pered, “yeah.”

Gimme a minute. Jose’s gonna be here soon.” Trot Sneed spit into the tilled dirt and then turned to walk deep­er into the peach orchard.

Local Boy Murdered

Wednesday, October 4th, 2006

The fol­low­ing selec­tions appeared in The Brenlee News, first week of September, 1986. The arti­cle ran next to a three col­umn pho­to of an old clap­board house cap­tioned “Sneed home. Mr. Sneed found the boy’s body in his orchard yes­ter­day morn­ing.”

Brenlee, California — The body of a 12 year old boy was found in a peach orchard on the north­east edge of town yes­ter­day morn­ing. Mr. Pickem Sneed, a local farmer and own­er of the orchard, dis­cov­ered the boy’s body while tend­ing to his orchard. Mr. Sneed imme­di­ate­ly called the police and Officer Richard Hoban arrived on the scene, alert­ing coun­ty author­i­ties to the mat­ter. The sheriff’s depart­ment homi­cide squad have tak­en over the case.

In a brief writ­ten state­ment, the sheriff’s depart­ment iden­ti­fied the boy as Tomas Coates, who moved to Brenlee three years ago to live with his moth­er, Maria Batista. The boy’s father, Albert “Bert” Coates, lives in Livermore, California, but for­mer­ly attend­ed school in Brenlee where he met the boy’s moth­er.

The sheriff’s state­ment revealed no details of the crime, in the inter­ests of releas­ing only the most accu­rate infor­ma­tion and to avoid tip­ping off the killer as they con­tin­ue their inves­ti­ga­tion. It is thought that the killer is not local to the Brenlee area, though par­ents of chil­dren under the age of 16 are advised to keep their chil­dren close by and to avoid let­ting them play out­side past dusk.

Local reac­tion to rumors and news of the crime has been var­ied. At the Ebbert’s Chevron Station, cor­ner of Main and Evans, we inter­viewed Barbara Stubbs, who was tak­ing her two young chil­dren to stay with her moth­er in Stockton. “I nev­er thought I’d have to take my kids away from here. But I ain’t gonna risk. Working my hours at the canary, I just can’t keep an eye on them in the after­noons.” She intends to bring them back to Brenlee, though she says when depends on how soon the sher­iff appre­hends the killer and how soon the can­nary lays off its sea­son­al employ­ees.

Tomas Coates attend­ed 7th grade at Brenlee Elementary where he did well in sci­ence and art class­es. He most enjoyed play­ing soc­cer and played all year, not just dur­ing the local recre­ation sea­son. Margie Phelps, his soc­cer coach, said “Tommy loved soc­cer. He wasn’t the best, but he nev­er quit and I know we won games because of him, even if he didn’t score that many points.” Though his teach­ers described him as qui­et and reserved, Tommy was a boy and could get into trou­ble like most boys. “I near­ly kicked him off the team because he kept kick­ing that soc­cer ball while the oth­er kids took bat­ting prac­tice,” said Principle James, also his Little League coach. “But he was the best sec­ond base­man we had and when it came to the games he nev­er quit. He was per­sis­tent no mat­ter what he did, bad or good.”

Parents of Tommy’s friends declined to let their chil­dren be inter­viewed for this arti­cle. Reverend Loof spoke briefly on behalf of chil­dren and par­ents, “Today is a lit­tle soon. It’s still sink­ing in. Maybe next week after we have all griev­ed at the memo­r­i­al ser­vice.”

Contrary to all expec­ta­tions, The Brenlee News nev­er print­ed a fol­low up arti­cle about the mur­der. Not the next week, month or year. All record of the boy’s death was left to the larg­er papers and oth­er media cov­er­ing the crime. Perhaps this was because the town had had enough of reporters or per­haps, as was rumored, that after 32 years in Brenlee, Phillip Bergoyan had had enough of report­ing on this small California town, its peo­ple, its tragedies, and all the dark shame it hid under the scorch­ing cen­tral val­ley sun. Whatever his rea­sons, Bergoyan stopped writ­ing all but the most pedes­tri­an of sto­ries and sold the paper six months lat­er. The for­mer edi­tor-in-chief was said to have moved back to Fresno, where he drank, smoked, and told sto­ries with the old Armenian men who were his boy­hood friends.

Winchester Kady

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Win kept his eyes shut and his body still last night, but he nev­er tru­ly slept. His mind kept work­ing over minor details from the office, the grow­ing col­lec­tion of nag­ging pings and bangs com­ing from his car engine, the mon­ey his daugh­ters need­ed in order to be teenagers, the atten­tion his house need­ed in order to remain a house, and fuel­ing it all, the antic­i­pa­tion of the the next day’s work.

And here it was, out in Brenlee, the town where his wife grew up. The whole rea­son he applied for his job with the coun­ty; so she could live clos­er to her ail­ing moth­er. A lit­tle Mexican boy.

Win didn’t hear his own molars grind­ing until he moved close to the fold­ed over body, hop­ing it would spring up and run off with the fool­ish laugh­ter of a kid’s stu­pid hoax. No move­ment. No laugh­ter. Just that creak­ing fric­tion under his ears. He squat­ted down and tried to breath. His eyes fell shut. Now, his body told him, now it is time to sleep and dream.

Sir?” It was Hernandez, the only real offi­cer Brenlee had. Why did he move here, any­way? The God-fear­ing types like his moth­er would say for this boy, now. And there was no doubt that this child was luck­i­er in death to have such a good man attend­ing him than he ever was in his small life. But all of this work, all the years of lost sleep, told Win Kady that there were no such plans for the inno­cent and the dead. They are always the vic­tims or the bene­fac­tors of the deci­sions of the rest of us, the guilty liv­ing.

Hernandez,” he said it with a deep­er smoker’s rat­tle in his throat than usu­al. “Good work here.”

Thank you, sir.”

Win stood and looked at Hernandez, a young fit, upright, light-skinned Hispanic, hard­ly more Mexican than him­self, a pot-bel­lied mid­dle-aged anglo-Irish gringo. Yet, this far north of the bor­der, the lines between Spanish, native, and Mestiza are blurred by the com­plex­i­ties of lan­guage and the sim­plic­i­ty of racism. “I’ll be ask­ing a lot of you for this case,” Win told him.
Hernandez looked down at his boots.

Not just because you speak Spanish. Though that’s a fac­tor. But most­ly because we’re over worked and you’re the most com­pe­tent offi­cer in the imme­di­ate area.”

What about Deputy–”

Win spat into the orchard. “Hell, I’ve known Chad Hoban since he was born. Nice kid. Couldn’t count the laces on his shoes with­out los­ing track.”

Hernandez shift­ed, but didn’t even smile. “Yessir.”

We’ll give you a copy of the Coroner’s report.”

Thank you, sir.”

Win looked down at the boy’s body again. “Goddamnit.” And he walked as quick­ly as he could into the orchard to throw up behind a tree.

Hernandez didn’t fol­low him, but after he fin­ished asked, “Are you alright, sir? Can I get you some­thing?”

Win tried to spit his mouth clean. “Call me Win.”

Okay.”

I’ll clear your extra hours with your boss. You hang around here a while. But not too close. Probably ough­ta take the day off when we’re done.” Hernandez cleared his throat and put the back of his hand to his lips, but Win Kady spoke before he could, “Fine don’t. But don’t pre­tend you can stand it. You don’t wan­ta end up wrapped too tight to sleep.” And the Chief County Inspector walked away into the orchard to smoke in pri­vate.