Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

They Did It All Before

“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.