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.