Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

The Whole Project

He spot­ted him from a block and a half away. The round-head­ed man sat in front of the gat­ed entrance to the 80s pre­fab apart­ment build­ing on Walnut Street. He smoked his cig­a­rette look­ing bored but watch­ful. William planned on walk­ing right past him with a sim­ple “Hello.”

The man stopped him. “He’s not home yet, kid.”

William had just raised his right foot to the first step. “Huh?”

You’re here to see Hernandez, right?”

Yeah.”

He’s not home yet.”

William didn’t know what to do and it showed. He looked the man in the face for the first time and real­ized he knew him from some­where.

You’re William Loof, right?”

Yeah.”

You remem­ber me?” Oliveri coughed and stuck out his hand. “Charlie Oliveri.”

William reached out and shook Oliveri’s thick dry hand. “Yeah, from the paper.”

That’s right. Probably had a lit­tle more hair when you were run­ning around town.” The only hair on Oliveri’s head was a thin grey stub­ble along the sides over the ears. “Or at least I tried to have more hair. Couple of years ago, I stopped giv­ing a shit and shaved it off.”

Are you still run­ning the paper?”

Who else?” Oliveri took a long drag from his cig­a­rette and spoke as he let it out, “I fig­ured a long time ago — after my wife died — I was in Brenlee for keeps.”

William passed him a half-heart­ed smile.

Why don’t you have a seat? I won’t keep your bud­dy long.”

William joined Oliveri on the cement steps.

Oliveri waved a pack of Marlboros at William. “You don’t smoke do you? Not these, any­way, right?”

No, thanks.” And nei­ther of them said any­thing for a moment.

Gonna be a nice night. Cooler, any­way, than it’s been.”

Sure.” William looked up and down the street. Across the street and up the block an old­er cou­ple sat out on their porch. Down this side of the street a dog made its way towards them, sniff­ing every tele­phone pole, tree, and bush along the way. “So, you here to talk to Hernandez about today?”

Today? What hap­pened today?”

William smiled at him. “I think you know.”

Do I?”

Everybody knows. I didn’t leave my house all day and I know.”

That’s right. You work at home, right Loof?”

Yeah. How do-”

I think that would dri­ve me crazy.” Oliveri reached over his gut to stub out his cig­a­rette on the step in front of him. “Of course, some peo­ple wouldn’t know the dif­fer­ence. They say I’m crazy already.” He let out a chuck­le.

How did you know I worked at home?”

How did I know you were here to see Hernandez and not the so-called Mrs. Evans on the sec­ond floor or Hernandez’s next door neigh­bor.”

Who’s Hernandez’s next door neigh­bor?”

Maybe that’s none of your busi­ness.”

Maybe it’s none of yours.”

Everything’s my busi­ness. I’m the press.”

No right to pri­va­cy, huh?”

Just because I know things, that doesn’t mean I print ‘em or make ‘em pub­lic.”

Except for Mrs. Evans.”

She appre­ci­ates the adver­tis­ing. Especially to a…ahem…younger demo­graph­ic.”

And Oliveri watched it dawn on William, just what this Mrs. Evans was up to in her upstairs apart­ment and as the reporter laughed, so did William. “You got­ta laugh, kid. Days like today, you got­ta laugh. You for­get how to laugh, then you have to throw out the whole project like old man Bergoyan.”

Old man who?”

Our illus­tri­ous found­ing edi­tor of The Brenlee News. You remem­ber the old guy who ran the paper before me?”

Right.” William had a vague mem­o­ry of a long man with bushy grey hair who smelled of cher­ry pipe smoke.

Oliveri start­ed anoth­er cig­a­rette. “His humor failed him and he quit the whole project.”

The whole project?”

Life, Loof. Life. Don’t tell me you quit it too?”

I’m still here.”

Existing isn’t liv­ing. My wife taught me that.” Oliveri brushed ash from his tie and then looked at the dog still slow­ly mak­ing its way up the street. “Franny was a great teacher.”

I know. I was in her class.”

As Oliveri looked William in the eye for the first time, the sounds of evening seemed to hush for a moment. “Yeah, I remem­ber you, Loof. You’re one of her boys.…”