Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


premature fiction

Local Boy Murdered

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.