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.