Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for November, 2006


Wednesday, November 29th, 2006

William walked home in the dark feel­ing stu­pid. In the down­town res­i­den­tial streets of Brenlee, each block had it’s own street­lamp. It was usu­al­ly enough. On most nights like this one — warm and dry, sum­mer or autumn — the sounds of kids play­ing late into the evening or mus­cle cars revving filled the air. Tonight, only the buzz of the high met­al arc lamps and a slight breeze.

Still, down here on the side­walk, it was dark between the lights. It felt dark­er than usu­al. Darker even, than those late nights dur­ing win­ter when the fog is so thick that peo­ple lose their way and walk into tele­phone poles. William could see only the ground before his next step. After leav­ing the walk­way from Hernandez’s apart­ment, he moved care­less­ly along, not try­ing to see his own way. He just felt it. Knew it. He let the grav­i­ty of failed dreams, burnt mem­o­ries, and loss pull him home­ward. That grav­i­ty had nev­er failed him. It didn’t tonight.

He sat on his porch and looked out at the dark­ness, behind and through which neigh­bors, teach­ers, paris­hon­ers, chil­dren, par­ents, and some­one who killed chil­dren and child­hoods moved. Breathed. Slept. Cried. Laughed. Forgot and remem­bered. He didn’t want to cry, but felt he should. He rubbed the cor­ners of eyes. Dry. He couldn’t sigh any­more, his stom­ach couldn’t take it, so he took in only shal­low draughts of the ubiq­ui­tous dark­ness.

Nothing he could do would fix this feel­ing and so he would nev­er change. He had tried run­ning. Leaving Brenlee in the dust. Not even men­tion­ing this tired old town for years at a time. Now he had tried return­ing; he felt some part of him­self gag­ging and strug­gling and fail­ing to emerge into his pol­lut­ed life. It felt stu­pid. Like puk­ing over some­thing he had seen years before. Like not hav­ing puked in the first place. Like going to Hernandez with no idea what he want­ed. Like being so Californian every­where else he went that he could nev­er stop say­ing ‘like’, and so every­where else when he was here that he could only hate it for its beau­ty, size, atti­tude, and mis­us­es and abus­es of lan­guage.

Then, final­ly, William, Billy, Will — this earth­bound, pro­fane three-in-one — stopped think­ing. The dark­ness grew still. He hadn’t noticed it mov­ing before, but would lat­er remem­ber this still­ness and the mil­lion crawl­ing fin­gers of grasp­ing dark that inhab­it­ed that night. He let his eyes close, but he did not sleep. Without try­ing, his breath grew a lit­tle deep­er and a lit­tle calmer. He did not move. He and all his pain, all his mem­o­ries both mis­er­able and won­der­ful, became a pil­lar of ash await­ing the wind, long­ing for and dread­ing that final col­lapse and dis­ap­pear­ance into the fab­ric of the things of this earth, solar sys­tem, galaxy, uni­verse.

He awoke in that chair on the porch ear­ly the next morn­ing. As far as he knew, he had not moved. He did not remem­ber his dreams. He could feel the air grow­ing warmer as the sun rose over the Sierras. He was still here in Brenlee, but for the first time since he returned and buried his moth­er, he knew he would leave and this time for good.

Friends By Coincidence

Monday, November 27th, 2006

So, you gonna eat tonight or what?”

Just like that, you’re talk­ing about din­ner?”

Yeah.” William fin­ished off his beer and turned around to get anoth­er from Hernandez’s refrig­er­a­tor. “Just like that.”

You’re as bad as my grand­moth­er.”

She a big beer drinker?”

Right. Food. Everything is about food. Feel bad? Have some food. Cold out­side? Have some food. Bit by a dog? Have some food.”

William crossed the liv­ing room and fold­ed him­self back into the couch, “So, when do we eat?”

I can’t eat today.” And he turned the game back on.

William felt the beer kick­ing in. He need­ed food soon or he would drink him­self sick. He real­ized he real­ly didn’t get Hernandez. He felt like a friend by coin­ci­dence. And, then again, Hernandez didn’t get him either. Maybe that’s what made him start talk­ing or maybe it was just the beer. “Luke and I found Tommy before the cops. I stuck my fin­gers into his throat try­ing to find his pulse the way they showed us in school. No pulse, but some blood. We freaked out. I think Luke punched me in the arm and I know I pushed him down into the dirt. We were foul-mouthed kids so we swore a lot too, but I don’t remem­ber either of us say­ing any­thing that made any sense until we were down at the canal. We ran the whole way. A mile or a mile and a half. I jumped into the canal even though it was pret­ty low and I got more mud­dy than clean, but at least the blood wasn’t on my hand and my head was wet. Luke just watched me. Later, we called the cops and they made us take them back to Tommy. Right up to him, because it was get­ting dark and they didn’t know their way through the orchard the way we did.”

Hernandez had mut­ed the tele­vi­sion and then turned it off dur­ing William’s sto­ry. “Was there a lot of blood? Around the body?”

No. It was dry.”

Was he cold when you touched him?”

A lit­tle. But it was a pret­ty warm day.”

How close to the road was he? Did some­one dri­ve him there or car­ry him?”

I guess maybe they car­ried him. It was after they irri­gat­ed this big Walnut orchard. Maybe a week or two after, so it was dry, but it was also flat not rough and tilled between the trees. It’s almost like pave­ment, you wouldn’t see foot­prints too eas­i­ly.” The mem­o­ry began to make him queasy.

Did you hap­pen to notice his body? The low­er half, I mean. Did it look heavy or bloat­ed? Did his pants look tight?”

William’s eyes were closed and all he could see was Tommy’s face fold­ed down over his knees. “His arms were spread out and he was hunched over. Doubled up. It was hard to see his body that way.”

Did he have his shoes on?”

Yeah. I think so.” His stom­ach twist­ed.

Did his legs look spongy or swollen?”

No. I don’t know. He looked thin and wast­ed. He didn’t have any life left in him. I didn’t want to touch him. Or look at him. Why does it mat­ter? Aw shit.” And he got up from the couch and bolt­ed into Hernandez’s bath­room where he puked up all his beer and what looked like a lit­tle of his lunch.

Hernandez fol­lowed him, wait­ing in the short hall­way con­nect­ing the bed­room and bath­room to the rest of the apart­ment. The bath­room door was open so he looked up at the ceil­ing and kept the beer bot­tle close to his face so he would smell beer instead of vom­it. “You all right?”

Yeah. Sorry.”

Don’t wor­ry about it.”

I nev­er even puked when it hap­pened. I don’t know-”

You got­ta puke soon­er or lat­er.” And he walked away. William heard the front door to the apart­ment open.

After he rinsed out his mouth in the sink and splashed water across his face, William looked at him­self in the mir­ror. He couldn’t shake feel­ing like that 12 year old he was, even though he looked almost noth­ing like him now. He went out and found Hernandez sit­ting on the step where Charlie Oliveri sat a few hours before. “So, you just want­ed me to puke or what?”

After a long pause, Hernandez took his head from his hands and spoke. “Your friend and this kid today were killed and left to be found the same way.”

That means it was the same guy, right?”



It means something’s messed up, William. The whole damn town. That’s all it means right now. Until I know more. The autop­sy reports and every­thing. Until then, it’s just fucked.”

Time For Bed

Monday, November 20th, 2006

They said Gabriel is dead, but they’re lying. They hadn’t shown them any pic­tures. They just didn’t want to tell all the kids they didn’t know where he went.

He went to Mexico. He always said he would. He’s prob­a­bly not there yet, but that’s where he’s going. He prob­a­bly just got to the Aquaduct way over past Livermore. That’s a cou­ple hours in a car, but not as far as the Pacific Ocean. He’s prob­a­bly camped there on the bank or sleep­ing in someone’s barn or some­thing. Or maybe still going.

He’ll walk down the canal until he gets to Los Angeles and then find Jaime’s cousin who will take him to Mexico. He’ll be there next week.

He should have told me. He could have tak­en my old back pack and some of the food at the back of the cup­board mom always for­gets she has.

Why did they tell us he died? That was stu­pid. They should have said he moved away.

Time for bed, kid­do.”

Why is every­one act­ing so weird?

You okay?”

Yeah.” He’s not dead.

It’s been a tough day, huh?”

I guess.” Maybe not every­one knows.

You know, you don’t have to go to school tomor­row if you don’t want to.”

What?” Just the police and the prin­ci­pal.

You can stay home from school.”


Because of Gabriel. Because of what hap­pened to him today.”

Okay.” Nothing hap­pened. He just ran away.

You want to stay home?”

I dun­no.” Why won’t she just stop act­ing dumb?

Well, we’ll see in the morn­ing, alright?”


You sure you don’t want to talk about it?”

Yes, you wouldn’t get it. “Time for bed.”

Alone, with the light off and the smell of the orchard at the end of the block com­ing through the win­dow, it’s easy to see Gabriel on the canal. He’s walk­ing in the moon­light. He’s not afraid of any­thing. He’s just walk­ing along.

I bet he took it with him. Maybe not. It’s kind of heavy, but it changed every­thing a lit­tle bit. Just for day or two, but that’s what prob­a­bly gave him the idea. If he could go in and take that thing just like that, then why not go to Mexico?

I won­der if his Mom and Dad know. They shouldn’t wor­ry. He’s just fine in the moonlight…walking along…going to Mexico…because he’s not afraid…not anymore…not since the oth­er day…not dead…just gone…didn’t say goodbye…somebody would have told…he just went…in the moon…gone…

Dirty Work

Wednesday, November 15th, 2006

How do you know?”


Neither William nor Hernandez had spo­ken in the last half hour as they sat drink­ing beer and watch­ing the Giants strug­gle against an old pitch­er from Chicago who had no busi­ness doing so well.

How do you know?” Hernandez asked again.

William looked at him, but Hernandez’s eyes remained direct­ed at the TV. “How do I know what?”

How do you know it’s the same guy? How does Oliveri know? How does every­one know so damned much about this mur­der?”

William had nev­er been inter­ro­gat­ed before and it made him uncom­fort­able. He went to the kitchen for anoth­er beer and answered lame­ly across the formi­ca bar sep­a­rat­ing the small kitchen from the liv­ing room. “People talk.”

Another Giants bat­ter struck out and Hernandez turned off the TV. “They talk about the details of a body they haven’t even seen?”

They don’t need the details, the gen­er­al gist is enough. The details might slow ’em down.”

You mean ‘us’. ‘Slow us down.’ ”

William want­ed to leave. “So, it’s an ‘us and them’ thing now?”

No, it’s a ‘all of you and me’ thing now.”

Take it easy, man. You know it’s not that way.”

Sure it is.”

Then why did I come over here? Why did Oliveri? You sound like Luke Bettis.”

At least his ass makes sense to me.”

What’s that mean?”

He wants to keep his dumb white ass out­ta jail. I can respect self-preser­va­tion. What do you guys want?”

William gulped down more beer. “We wan­ta do the right thing. To get who­ev­er–”


–did this to this kid.”

Bullshit. Bullshit.”

Why else would we come here and tell you about Mike Boone and Tommy?”

If you gave a shit about Boone and Tommy you would have spo­ken up a long time ago and so would this old news­pa­per man with his god­damned let­ter. Everybody want­ed things qui­et. You all just want­ed it to go away.”

Some of us couldn’t speak up. I was a kid-”

You’re not now.” Hernandez fin­ished his beer and con­tin­ued qui­et­ly. “And now you want some­body to do your dirty work.”

William looked at Hernandez who was look­ing seri­ous­ly down the neck of his beer bot­tle. He put on his best red­neck accent and squirt­ed a sip from his beer bot­tle the way a good red­neck does before mak­ing a prou­nounce­ment. “Well, ya’ know what they say don’t ya’? There’s noth­in’ like a Mexican for dirty work.” And then he wait­ed, sud­den­ly wor­ried that Hernandez wouldn’t get the joke.

Asshole,” Hernandez said into his bot­tle. And he smiled and shook his head, “That’s too close to the truth, bro.” He chuck­led and looked over at William.

It’s not fun­ny. That’s why it’s fun­ny.”

And Hernandez final­ly laughed hard. Too hard. “This fuck­ing sucks. This is the worst god­damned day…”

The Perfect Downtown Location

Monday, November 13th, 2006

By the time Oliveri left Hernandez’s apart­ment the street lights down­town had come on. He walked down 5th street and turned right on Oak Street and stepped into one of those lights. In any oth­er town Oak Street would be called Main Street, but Main Street in Brenlee was res­i­den­tial except for a church or two. In two blocks he would walk past The Brenlee News store front. He would turn right down the alley between the News build­ing and the phar­ma­cy, walk up the iron stairs on the side of the build­ing and go to work in his office in the back cor­ner of the build­ing. The clut­tered old office had a view of the defunct train sta­tion and rail yards in one direc­tion and the town hall, police and fire sta­tions in the oth­er. Old man Bergoyan or who­ev­er chose this loca­tion for the paper, knew what they were about. Between the editor-in-chief’s office and the store front, lit­tle of any sig­nif­i­cance could hap­pen with­out some­one at the paper know­ing.

The only busi­ness­es still open on Oak Street tonight — the piz­za par­lour, the video rental store, and the Duck Inn Bar — all looked qui­et and emp­ty. He saw a car parked in front of the News build­ing, some light blue American thing attempt­ing to look wind resistent and big at the same time. Who was it and how long would they wait to see him? He checked his watch. Almost eight o’clock. His quick errand to Hernandez’s place had tak­en the bet­ter part of two hours.

How many times had Hernandez asked him, “What am I sup­posed to do with this?” Five times? Ten? It felt like twen­ty.

He asked at least three times before Loof took a guess, “Don’t go along.”

But that didn’t do it. That cop kept right on ask­ing, “What am I sup­posed to do with this? What does he want me to do?”

What could he do? Loof’s reply was ada­ment, if not use­ful. “Don’t lock up some­one inno­cent. Again. Don’t let ’em rail­road some­body like Luke Bettis.”

That kid would lose a lot of card games before he learned not to show his hand so ear­ly and Hernandez would win a lot with his ter­ri­fy­ing eyes and springloaded anger. Oliveri mum­bled out loud to him­self as he passed the video store, one block from his office and his guest with the light blue American car, “I shouldn’t have opened by big mouth.” But he had to help Fran’s boys.

So, he spoke to them like he was some wise old codger in a Frank Capra film, “Luke Bettis could no more kill a child, then he could hold a steady job for more than a month. His whole prob­lem is he lacks any pur­pose or what peo­ple call ’self-dis­ci­pline.’ Besides that, he’s a thief and a cheat. There’s no mon­ey in this for him.”

Hernandez sound­ed con­fused. “Bettis wasn’t even on my list.”

And Mike Boone wouldn’t have been either.”

Who’s Mike Boone?”

The one they locked up the last time.”

They locked some­body up for it?” Hernandez sat down on the edge of an worn wood­en-armed reclin­er with cush­ions cov­ered in Mexican blan­kets. He looked out of breath. He scanned the let­ter. “Why doesn’t he say that?”

He moved away before the case was closed.”

Before they even arrest­ed Mike.”

Hernandez leaned back in the chair and looked at the ceil­ing. “Shit.”

Oliveri went reflex­ive­ly into inter­view mode. “I guess they didn’t tell you about Mike Boone down at the sta­tion?”


What did they tell you?”

Hernandez glanced at him. “Now’s not the time for your sto­ry. This is all off the record.”

Fair enough.” And he could have left it there. Could have let them work it out. Might have head­ed back to his office and not found his vis­i­tor wait­ing for him on the iron steps up to the out­side door to his office. But he didn’t leave. He had to ask one more ques­tion, “Hernandez, what are your ambi­tions?”

My what?”

You aren’t the typ­i­cal Brenlee cop. You have a col­lege degree. You worked on a real city police force for a few years. You don’t want to be a reg­u­lar cop for­ev­er do you? Even if you do, you must be smart enough to know you won’t be. This case is already a pro­mo­tion for you.”

I get it.” Hernandez cut him off.

And Oliveri stood in front of iron stair­case and wait­ed for his vis­i­tor to speak or to move. The light bulb over the out­side door of his office cast strange shad­ows down the woman’s face. “Are you the edi­tor?” She asked.


Good.” The woman stood up. She wore a slight­ly rum­pled busi­ness suit and looked the kind of attrac­tive Oliveri always asso­ci­at­ed with expen­sive shoes and city primp­ing.

How can I help you?”

Something about the way she dust­ed off her hands and squared off to face him told him she was a lawyer. She took a legal doc­u­ment and pen from her purse. Oliveri and the woman were the same height, so she looked him in the eye. “Mr. Charles Oliveri?” Her voice was low and hard.


I am here to inform you that Michael Jesse Boone, for­mer­ly of Brenlee, California, died this after­noon by his own hands in San Quentin State Prison. If you could please sign, date, and note the time where indi­cat­ed on these doc­u­ments. There are three copies, two for me and one for your records. Thank you.”

Haunting Old Man Bergoyan

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

He makes out the grey shapes on this small black and white tele­vi­sion only with some dif­fi­cul­ty. He tries to think of it as an enhanced radio. When it is off, he hears only the sound of his drip­ping kitchen sink. He hoped he would die before he had to fix it again as he had hoped to die before repeat­ing many things. Now. This boy. Another boy tak­en in Brenlee. Phillip Bergoyan turns off his tele­vi­sion and cries.

To stop the tears, he begins whis­per­ing ques­tions to him­self. “Will the Italian pass on my let­ter? Will the man call? Does any­one remem­ber?” That last only brings fur­ther tears because he knows they all remem­ber, but will not retrieve the mem­o­ry, will not share it, will not help the boys. This boy will sure­ly find him soon enough and share in the haunt­ing with the last one. It will take only that class pho­to shown on the evening news for the image of the two of them to ruin what lit­tle sleep is left for old man Bergoyan.

He tries to turn his trem­bling into a shake in order to pull him­self togeth­er. He looks around the kitchen, so care­ful­ly cleaned by his niece last (and every) Wednesday. He wants to get up from the table and remove him­self from the place where he saw this boy, dis­ap­pear from the room where he learned the news, and hide with a bot­tle of cheap wine in the liv­ing room.

He moves slow­ly in his old age and by the time he escapes, the boys are wait­ing for him in the next room, gen­tly sway­ing where they stand in front of the book­case that holds his old favorites. They reach for him, but do not speak. The killer has cut away their voic­es. Their small hands make qui­et snap­ping sounds as fin­gers rubbed against palms, attempt­ing and always fail­ing to grab some­thing fly­ing out of reach; a moth, a spider’s web on the wind, or some word only old man Bergoyan knows.

He shakes his head and moves as quick­ly as he can for the wine bot­tle and glass on the end table by the sofa, try­ing to ignore their word­less pleas as he pass­es. They will not fol­low him. They know the pow­er of their posi­tion, guard­ing the Blake, Twain, Shakespeare, and papa Saroyan. Soon enough Bergoyan will be drunk and make the mis­take of com­ing to them. Reaching for a book he will feel their small hands and fin­gers flut­ter­ing in his chest and look down to see their eyes like dark stones reflect­ing his fear. Again. Again. Again. No word he knows will ever end their grasp­ing. Together, none of their spir­its can know peace.

The Dog Would Not Stop Barking

Friday, November 3rd, 2006

This is for you. From my pre­de­ces­sor.”

Hernandez looked at the old dusty enve­lope. It was addressed “The Next Investigator.” The return address was a sligh­ly off kil­ter rub­ber stamp that said “The Brenlee News” and under it, the paper’s down­town address.

I don’t get it.”

Read it.” Oliveri want­ed to see Hernandez’s reac­tion to the let­ter.

Have you read it?”

No, I don’t need to.”

Why not?”

The old man told me what it said.”

Why don’t you tell me what it says.”

First, I don’t know exact­ly, and sec­ond, a promise is a promise.”

Hernandez start­ed walk­ing to his front door. Oliveri and William fol­lowed. “What’s that mean?”

William piped up. “It means he promised the old man he would give you the let­ter and not tell you what it was about.”

That’s about right.”

The short train of men stopped at the front door to Hernandez’s apart­ment. Hernandez hes­i­tat­ed. Open the let­ter now? Open the door? Send Oliveri away? Bring them both in? Why was every­thing such a pain in the ass? He unlocked the door and brought them both in, Oliveri stood near the door and William relaxed into the couch.

Just a minute.” Hernandez went to his bed­room and changed out of his uni­form and into jeans and a t-shirt. He heard William ask about the for­mer own­er of The Brenlee News. Oliveri said he was liv­ing in Fresno, but didn’t get out much. He returned to the liv­ing room with the let­ter.

Hernandez asked Oliveri, “Why now?”

Because of what hap­pened today.” The edi­tor-in-chief took out a cig­a­rette, but didn’t light it.

William told him, “It hap­pened before.”


Twenty years ago.”

That’s what’s in this, then?”

Oliveri waved his a cig­a­rette in one hand and his lighter in the oth­er. “That and some oth­er things, I imag­ine.” He turned to William, “What are the chances I can smoke in here?”


Hernandez stared at the enve­lope in his hand.

You gonna read it?” Oliveri asked.

If I do, I might not tell you what it says.”

Sure, but you might.”

Don’t you have a paper to get out?”

It’ll wait.” The news­pa­per­man smiled at the cop and William watched and wait­ed.

Hernandez opened the let­ter. From where he sat, William could see that it was a one page type-writ­ten let­ter, sin­gle spaced and signed at the bot­tom. Hernandez looked but found noth­ing else in the enve­lope. The two men watched him read it. They heard the front door of the upstairs apart­ment open and close and muf­fled foot­steps cross the car­pet. Outside a dog start­ed bark­ing, prob­a­bly the one they had seen wan­der­ing down the street.

Inside, they couldn’t hear Hernandez breath­ing. His only clocks were dig­i­tal — the cable box and the microwave — so there was no tick. Time seemed to pass around rather than through them, the dig­i­tal num­bers watch­ing and report­ing on some­thing out­side. William remem­bered col­or pho­tographs he saw in a mod­ern art muse­um, por­traits of lives frozen in a too real world, rich in col­or and all the peo­ple watch­ing some­thing beyond the frame of the pic­ture. The shud­der would not close, the dog would not stop bark­ing, time would not move through this apart­ment again, until Hernandez fin­ished read­ing.

The Boy Who Stopped Breathing

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

Hernandez looked at his desk. He didn’t want to leave. He didn’t want to work. There was no more work to do today, any­way. Everything would hap­pen tomor­row.

Tomorrow he would have a coroner’s report and a report detail­ing all of the oth­er evi­dence from the crime scene. He would know what make of tires were on the vehi­cle that brought Gabriel to the orchard, he would know more about what mate­r­i­al the per­son used to cov­er his or her foot­prints (the inves­ti­ga­tors could iden­ti­fy pat­terns in the way the fine dust along the side of the dirt road had been moved around), he would know the size and like­ly shape of the knife used to slice through the boy’s throat and whether or not that cut had killed him, he would know how much blood the boy lost, what he ate last, and what kind of rope had burnt his small wrists.

Tomorrow he and two oth­er offi­cers would begin call­ing the par­ents of Gabriel’s class­mates. How well did your son or daugh­ter know Gabriel? Did you know Gabriel? What did you think of him? When was the last time you saw him? May we speak with your son or daugh­ter? Yes, you may be present, though we would pre­fer to inter­view him or her indi­vid­u­al­ly. If he was lucky, they would begin inter­view­ing the kids tomor­row.

Tomorrow the coun­ty would release a full state­ment to the press. He would receive a dozen or more phone calls and who knows how many emails request­ing a state­ment of his own. He would point them to anoth­er tomor­row and they would wait.

Tomorrow he would track down Gabriel’s par­ents, prob­a­bly in the evening, in plain clothes. Someone would help him find their house. Maybe one of the oth­er offi­cers. Maybe one of Gabriel’s friends or some­one like William. Maybe, though he doubt­ed it, they would find him. Everything they said would be off the record. He would not report them. He couldn’t. No one in Brenlee would ever trust him again, even the ones who said they were tired of all the ‘ille­gals.’

Tomorrow he would wake up grog­gy from the sleep­ing pill and shot of Jack Daniels he would need in order to sleep tonight.

Tomorrow he would call Theresa and tell her what hap­pened. She would be angry at first, com­ing off 24 hours at the hos­pi­tal, but she would under­stand. She would prob­a­bly wait to remind him that he should have stayed in San Jose. All of this would nev­er con­vince her that being togeth­er would be worth mov­ing to Brenlee.

Tomorrow maybe he would eat some­thing final­ly and stop think­ing of Gabriel’s open hand reach­ing across the dust and dirt of that orchard, reach­ing, he thought he knew, for him. And maybe tomor­row he would at last feel able to clear his throat and take the full deep clean breath that had elud­ed him since see­ing the body that was once a boy.