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….”