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.