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.