Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

Archive for January, 2007

Maria’s Story Pt.2

Wednesday, January 31st, 2007

When she final­ly went inside after rolling Kenneth Sneed on his side so he wouldn’t die in his sleep on her front lawn, Neto was sit­ting on the couch near the front door.

You heard that?” She asked him.

Maria, what’s going on?”

Neto, I told you to go to bed.”

Does he know who did this?”

Forget you heard any­thing, mijo.”

He shook his head. “This is no good, Maria.”

I know. So, don’t say any­thing. I don’t need you hurt too.”

What’s this about?”

I don’t know, Neto.” And she walked into the kitchen to end the con­ver­sa­tion.

Neto start­ed to fol­low his sis­ter, but turned to look through the screen door at the man passed out on her lawn. A rich man who lived poor. The kind of man their father had worked for his whole life. A gringo with all the pow­er it takes to dri­ve on oth­er people’s lawns drunk and pass out and have no one say any­thing about it, but no one, not even his own chil­dren, trust­ed or liked in him. He went to Maria. She was sit­ting at the kitchen table with a cold cup of cof­fee.

Trying to stay awake for some­thing?” He smiled.

She didn’t quite look at him, but she didn’t ignore him either. “I’m afraid, Neto.”

Of him.” He nod­ded his chin towards the front lawn.

Her eye­brows went up. She was sur­prised at her own answer. “No, not him.”

What?”

Maybe what I’ll dream. Sleeping any­way. Maybe what I’ll wake up to.”

Neto went to the fridge and set­tled on a can of beer and some chick­en.

How can you eat that now?”

How can you drink that now?”

You’re gross.”

You’re weird.”

They glanced at one anoth­er and almost smiled. It wasn’t affin­i­ty or resem­blance that gave them com­fort in being broth­er and sis­ter, but all the rou­tine ways they drove one anoth­er nuts. “You know what I think?” He asked her.

What?”

Neto wasn’t smil­ing any­more. He gulped down some beer and let out a qui­et belch. “I think you ough­ta tell the cops this guy knows some­thing.”

She looked at him, but did not reply.

He knows some­thing. He should say it in court, you know. It ain’t right, him keep­ing it to him­self.”

That’s up to him, Neto. I’m not telling him what to say. You know what he is.”

I know.”

Don’t you say any­thing either. That’s just trou­ble. Big trou­ble. Trot gets in trou­ble. I get in trou­ble. And he,” she point­ed to the front lawn, “hates trou­ble. You get it?”

I get it. I get it.” He ate and drank and then wrapped up what was left of the chick­en and put it back in the fridge. Before he closed the door, he sighed, star­ing into the only light source in the room. He grabbed anoth­er beer. He knew he need­ed it if he was going to get back to sleep tonight. He closed the fridge and turned to look at his sis­ter. She seemed thin, weak in a way he’d nev­er seen. Something had bro­ken in the only per­son besides his moth­er that he trust­ed and loved with­out reser­va­tion. He want­ed to scream at her to get bet­ter, but knew that wouldn’t do a thing. He chewed his lip and stared with her out her kitchen win­dow at the dark trees crouched togeth­er under the night.

Maria, you do what you think is right. But Tomas won’t rest in peace if the per­son who killed him goes free. It doesn’t mat­ter if you’re afraid of that man out there or not. His spir­it, your lit­tle boy, won’t know the dif­fer­ence. His soul won’t sleep.” He didn’t wait for her answer, but went back to bed, know­ing he wouldn’t rest either, not his body and nev­er his soul with his sister’s now so dam­aged.

Maria’s Story Pt.1

Monday, January 29th, 2007

Maria heard the stereo first. She sat in the dark out on the porch because she wasn’t sleep­ing. She wrapped her hands in her son’s favorite t-shirt and smelled him when she could no longer cry. Inside, her broth­er Neto and his wife had gone to bed hours ago, worn out from their own tears and con­sol­ing her. After the twang and thump of coun­try west­ern music she heard the big engine of an old pick­up truck revving her way. She looked out to the road and saw the head­lights between the trees of the near­by peach orchard. How did she know the truck was com­ing to her? It came.

The truck missed her dirt dri­ve­way and pulled up onto the small lawn in front of her small porch, hold­ing her in its lights. The music blared. The engine revved, then chugged, sput­tered, and final­ly gave out. The driver’s side door squeaked open. The music obscured the swear­ing and bang­ing com­ing from the cab of the truck. Neto came to the front door won­der­ing what was going on, still half asleep. Maria told him to go back to bed, she would take care of it. He hes­i­tat­ed, but then went back inside. She saw a shit kick­er cow­boy boot dan­gle out from under the truck door.

How about turn­ing off the lights?”

What?”

YOUR LIGHTS.” It felt good to yell.

Fuck NO.” The stereo vol­ume went down instead. The brights went on.

She shield­ed her eyes with her hand. Though they had nev­er spo­ken before, she knew this man bet­ter than she knew why. “Come on down old man. What’re you afraid of?”

Bullshit.”

She sat down again. She put her head in her hands. She made a wish. He would lose all sense and dri­ve his pick­up over her porch, through her, crush­ing her entire life. She could see the house explod­ing in thou­sands of cheap, old, bro­ken, overused pieces. The trucks lights went out.

Aw shit.” He was on his hands and knees on her lawn in front of his truck. His expen­sive cow­boy hat, bat­tered and ripped under his right hand and a bot­tle of expen­sive whiskey under his left.

You okay?”

Kenneth Sneed looked at her. The habit­u­al spite and mean­ness in his eyes, the only things unblurred by the liquor. “Hell no.” He sat up on his knees, dropped his hat and pulled a drink from the bot­tle. “How ’bout you?”

What do you think?”

He turned his head quick­ly into the night air to the left and snort­ed, hawked, and spat. ” ‘Scuse me,” he mut­tered. Then he took a del­i­cate sniff of the air. “Peaches, there. Gettin’ old, one more sea­son, maybe two. Those are Trot’s. No doubt.” He turned back toward her and looked at the ground in front of him. She thought he might be sick. “No doubt, he’ll get three good sea­sons out of ‘em. Maybe four. He’s got the touch, that boy. Things just grow around…” He waved his hand in the air. “Not me.” He drank again. “My Daddy’s got it. Son’s got it. Skips a gen­er­a­tion.” He sighed and looked at her almost kind­ly, “Yer’ boy woul­da been a seri­ous busi­ness man, but not much of a farmer.”

Like his grand­fa­ther.”

That’s right.” It was the first time Ken Sneed had ever admit­ted that Tomas was his son’s child. “Maybe not as big a bas­tard.” He drank still more. Maria cringed at the way he gulped the whiskey down. “Definitely not. I’m the biggest around here.” He swayed on his knees. He held the bot­tle up in the moon light. He had worked his way to the bot­tom third. “Nothin’ but tears left. I come here to fight, but all I got left is this. The tears. The bot­tom of noth­ing.” And he drank again, spilling as much down his chest as he drank.

You came here to fight me old man?”

I dun­no.” He slumped over on his knees, one hand in the grass. He wouldn’t be able to hold him­self up much longer. He looked at her and forced his eyes open wide. “You sure are pret­ty though.”

Maria didn’t move even though her eyes start­ed to hurt with the heat of still more tears. They looked across the lawn into one another’s faces until all they rec­og­nized was the reflec­tion of their own grief in the oth­er.

Ken Sneed’s col­lapse was almost com­i­cal in its sud­den­ness. He rolled onto his back and looked into the sky. When he spoke again, his voice was awk­ward­ly clear and loud. “I saw him once. More than once. But one time… I saw him play­ing base­ball. It was god­damned beau­ti­ful. I wasn’t much at sports, but I played hard. And I saw him. He did it the same way, but he hit and went into that base. Better ‘an me, but like me too. I knew he was Trot’s.” He laughed. “No one’s as seri­ous as a Sneed about a game.” And the laugh­ter ran sud­den­ly dry.

Why didn’t you say any­thing?”

I planned to. I planned to…but…” and she thought he passed out. And then he ram­bled, but Maria nev­er for­got it, because it sound­ed so impor­tant to the man. “I know he did it. Got us good. He knew too. Knew about you. Knew about Trot. Cut me in the blood and the dirt. That fuck­er, but he… shit… screwed him­self too. Now I know some­thing, don’t I? Don’t know how cold a bas­tard I’ll be. Cut me. Cut me off in the blood. The dirt too. He’ll feel the one gets him…” And then he was out, lost to the whiskey, his grief, and the night. And Maria could feel her­self crushed under the wheels of his tears, the porch and house explod­ing as he drove those words through her overused and now emp­ty life.

MacDuff Taylor Is Not Dreaming

Wednesday, January 24th, 2007

You up, kid­do?”

Yeah.” Where is it?

You gonna get out of bed?”

Yeah.” Maybe he hid it. Maybe he took it with him.

Mom’s hand on my stom­ach feels good. “You know, you don’t have to go to school today.”

I know.” It doesn’t mat­ter. He’s not dead.

The police are going to be there.”

They know. “Why?”

They’ll want to talk to you and the oth­er kids about Gabriel.”

But…” They know every­thing already. They have to.

They want to find out what hap­pened.” She won’t let me look out the win­dow any­more. Her hand is on my cheek — it feels nice there, except I might cry now. I’m get­ting too warm. “You okay, hon­ey?”

No. I don’t wan­ta go there.” Why can’t I stop? I can’t breathe. I can’t open my eyes.

It’s okay, kid­do. You don’t have to go. You can stay here.” She’s hold­ing me. I wish she could pick me up and car­ry me like when I was lit­tle. I can’t go to school. Everyone will know I was cry­ing.

He’s okay. He’s okay, Mom. He’s okay.”

What hon­ey?”

He’s just run­ning away.”

But hon­ey…”

He’s going… to… um, Mexico.”

Take it easy, sweet­heart. Just breathe. You need to calm down.”

But Mom-”

Calm down, now.”

I need to tell the cops, Mom.”

Mac, I think you need to calm down, hon­ey. Take a deep breath.” She holds my arms at my sides and kneels down next to the bed. “Now look at me. I think you’re con­fus­ing your dreams with what real­ly hap­pened. We do that some­times — ”

No, Mom. I’m not dream­ing. I know what real­ly hap­pened.” She doesn’t believe me. She’s just look­ing at the floor. She’s cry­ing. “I am not dream­ing.” I’ll hide in the shed in the back­yard. I’m so sick of her.

Mac. Mac, come back here.”

Out the kitchen door, across the wet lawn, and into the shed, under the work table and behind the tarp that smells like grass clip­pings and gaso­line. “I’m not dream­ing. If the cops think he’s dead, then they don’t know.”

Up Against It

Monday, January 22nd, 2007

Walt Bishop enjoyed the impres­sion he thought his long grey pony tail made on the law enforce­ment squares he worked with every day and was cer­tain it afford­ed him some nat­ur­al hip­pie inti­ma­cy with any offi­cer or coun­ty employ­ee of col­or that came out as a “hey I’m an out­sider too” atti­tude. Hernandez didn’t get it, but he wasn’t above using it.

Hola ami­go.” Walt’s stands and extends a hand across his clut­tered coun­ty issue met­al desk for a soul broth­er grab.

Hernandez plays along. He match­es the hip­pie Assistant Coroner’s grip and says “Hola hom­bre. Que paso?” in a low voice that he knows white peo­ple think is reserved for home­boys.

Hey, man. Sorry to see this thing you’re up against.”

Yeah. It’s the job, right?”

You wan­ta see him?” He jabs a thumb in the direc­tion of the morgue around the cor­ner.

If it’s not too much trou­ble.”

No trou­ble at all, hom­bre.” Walt push­es up his wire-rimmed specs and reach­es across his round bel­ly to dig the keys out of his clut­tered desk draw­er. He leads Hernandez to the morgue. “You want the straight dope?”

What’s that?”

Come on, it’s 6:30 in the morn­ing, bro. I know you’re not out here just to see the kid. You saw him before. You want the dope before it goes through the offi­cial sieve and into the report.”

If you can, hom­bre…”

No prob­lem.” He paus­es before open­ing the door and looks back at Hernandez. “Brace your­self. Kid’s still on the table, bro. None of them TV show sheets cov­er­ing him either. Organs in trays, the whole nine, right?”

Hernandez swal­lowed, he hoped imper­cep­ti­bly. “Alright.”

Walt pulled his lips into a half smile that made his droop­ing eyes seem sad­der still. “Okay.”

The boy’s hands were at over his head and open to the bright floures­cents above him and though it made him long enough for the adult size table, this strange death stretch only made him seem small­er and more frag­ile than in the orchard.

Walt cleared his throat and rat­tled the keys as he clipped them to a belt loop. “Yeah, the arms were in a weird posi­tion when he came in and in the pho­tos, so I thought I bet­ter check under them, you know. Plus it kind of helped open up the chest. Small. Anyway, noth­in’ too weird. He was in good health, didn’t smoke, doesn’t look like the fam­i­ly did much either, though he’d been around it like every­body. He had a school lunch in his stom­ach — if they served hot dogs and tater tots like mine did. You alright, man?”

Hernandez was star­ing. “His hands…”

Yeah, you know, some bruis­es don’t show ’til after death-”

What bruis­es?” The hands looked pale, rough, but unbruised.

Anyway, yeah, he worked hard looks like. Those cal­lous­es there.”

What bruis­es?” Hernandez picked up the boy’s left hand and felt its cold weight in his own. Something, some life force, lighter than breath and dark­er than blood, drained from his chest.

I was get­tin’ to that. Look at the wrists. Real close. You’ll see some slight dis­col­oration there. Usually that’s a big nasty bruise even after a bleed out, right? And then over on the face here, same thing, real light mark maybe from a hand or fist or some­thing that size. More marks on the ankles, but there we got abra­sions and rope fibers. Cheap black nylon shit, prob­a­bly pret­ty old with the size and num­ber of strands. Though it looks like some­body tried to wash all that off. In fact, the whole body was rinsed, prob­a­bly as he bled out.”

Hernandez care­ful­ly set the boy’s hand back on the table. He let go of the boy and focused on Walt, but still felt thin­ner than when he had arrived. “The clothes were clean.”

Right. Here’s what I think. I don’t know what the offi­cial report’s gonna read, but… who­ev­er did it, stripped the body down, no signs of rape or any­thing. Gagged, though. Hung the vic­tim upside down and then cut through the throat, hit­ting both arter­ies, like an old farm butch­er. Then they grabbed the head by the hair back here and let the blood drain out. Body’s prac­ti­cal­ly dry inside. You prob­a­bly noticed there wasn’t any­thing pooled in the ankles at the scene. The way I see it, the blood nev­er went any­where but out the throat. Being upside down caused some prob­lems with the bow­els. Didn’t quite drain ful­ly. The vic­tim was rinsed pret­ty thor­ough­ly but I couldn’t find any traces of soap or sham­poo. According to Shelia on the day shift, the hair near the scalp was still damp when they brought the vic­tim in and the skin was soft and pli­able.”

Then they dried him off and put his clothes on.”

Yeah, looks like they used an orange or maybe peach col­ored tow­el. Lots of fibers on the body.” And Walt’s hand reached down for his keys.

That it?”

For in here, any­way.” He start­ed for the door.

Hernandez looked at the boy’s face, calm, emp­ty, but not peace­ful. He jerked his head away and moved quick­ly to catch up to his white-coat­ed guide. “What else?”

I did some research.”

He knew where this would go. “Yeah?”

Yeah, man. You know, any­thing this weird, the guy’s got­ta be kin­da psy­cho, so maybe it’s not the first, right?”

It’s not.”

Walt stopped and held the door open to the hall­way. He looked at Hernandez. “You know?”

Hernandez walked past him into the hall.

Of course, you know. Shit, man. Win said you were good, but-”

Hernandez stopped and looked back at Walt. “Can you get me the details on the old case?”

Not now.” The hip­pie Assistant Coroner looked wor­ried and kept walk­ing towards his office with hard­ly a pause.

Tomorrow?”

Sure, but-”

Don’t tell any­one what you’re doing. I’ll pick it up ear­ly tomor­row morn­ing.”

Early, like now? ‘Cause you know, this is late for me, bro.” Walt sat in his desk, which faced the door­way where Hernandez now stood, but wouldn’t look at him.

Right, bro. Early for you. Late for me.”

After a moment, Walt looked up at Hernandez. “What’s going on?”

Hernandez need­ed Walt on his side, so he did some­thing he nev­er thought he could do with a straight face. “The Man fuckin’ with the inno­cent same as always.”

A mil­i­tant steely-eyed jus­tice pushed the wor­ry from Walt’s face. Hernandez stepped to him, hand out and they held a soul grip tight and solemn over the desk. Walt whis­pered deeply this time, “You get ‘em broth­er. Cut ‘em down.”

So She Smiled

Friday, January 19th, 2007

Even though she could feel the hot water run­ning out she didn’t want to get out of the show­er. She want­ed this pause to last just a lit­tle longer.

She was a bad girl­friend. A bad daugh­ter. An over­weight woman with­out chil­dren. A waster (was that even a a word?) of water. A poor­ly edu­cat­ed home­town girl with­out the where­with­al or the guts to just leave behind the town that judged her so harsh­ly. And she was a slut.

William. Billy. Now her tears were warmer than the water run­ning down her face. He didn’t get it, but he knew that and he didn’t care. He liked her. He always had. Even when they were just friends-with-priv­i­leges back in high school.

Tamra want­ed to smile, but couldn’t.

The water was actu­al­ly cold now. How could it be so cold on such a warm day? She felt a deep shiv­er come up from her feet to her bel­ly and she reached out and shut the water off. She stood there and let the water drip. She squint­ed then squeezed her eyes shut to hold back yet anoth­er round of tears. Her head ached and they fell any­way.

Just keep feel­ing sor­ry for your­self. You’ll get tired of it.” It was her Dad talk­ing, the tired sweet old drunk. Was he even real­ly a drunk? She bare­ly remem­bered him now. Just the smell of cig­a­rettes and beer in the back yard where he tried to repair his col­lec­tion of mis­fit house­wares. When he died — was killed — no one came to clean all that stuff up. His lega­cy. It all just sat there under a blue tarp for years until her step father final­ly took it all to the dump. She caught him cry­ing as he loaded it into the truck. They were friends. The sound of old blenders, toast­ers, dish racks, vac­u­um clean­ers, and lamps being thrown into the back of a pick up truck is that the sound of life suck­ing?

Or maybe it’s the sound of wast­ed water drip­ping off her body. She remem­bered her step father tim­ing her show­ers in high school. Never more than 15 min­utes. “That water costs…” he’d say. His admo­ni­tion fol­lowed her into adult­hood so that she almost nev­er took a long show­er. But today…

Maybe if she knew she loved William things would be okay. Did she love him? No. Yes. Maybe. Partly. In a cer­tain light. More than Chad Hoban, the ass­hole.

But why did she com­pli­cate things by mov­ing in here now? What is she doing? She had stopped cry­ing so she start­ed to dry her­self off. Was it the way Chad act­ed last night? How was he any dif­fer­ent last night than any oth­er? She didn’t want to blame things on that lit­tle boy in the orchard, but… the stitch­ing of spit, tape, and glue that held her life togeth­er sud­den­ly looked so clum­sy and use­less. Things weren’t hold­ing togeth­er at all. Her life was all spilling out in one long wast­ed stream run­ning away into noth­ing.

She wrapped her body in a tow­el and went into Billy’s bed­room. She want­ed to find some­thing there that would make her feel bet­ter about life, him, here, and this stu­pid day. Maybe a book or some piece of cloth­ing. A song. After look­ing around and find­ing noth­ing more redeem­ing than an old lump of cut quartz the size of a fist on his dress­er, she fell into bed. She looked past the rum­pled cov­ers and bent pil­lows to the night stand, half a glass of water, a bot­tle of aceta­minophen, and the old brass sprin­kler head Billy had found in his box of old keep­sakes. He didn’t know him­self any bet­ter than she knew her­self and so she smiled.

No Trouble

Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Bergoyan invit­ed William into the kitchen where he made more cof­fee and a sin­gle soft-boiled egg on unbut­tered toast. When the cof­fee was ready, he brought out a bot­tle of Jameson’s Whiskey to “help the cof­fee.” William did not decline when offered. After he ate his egg, the old man returned to the sto­ry of Tommy’s moth­er as though break­fast were mere­ly a com­pli­cat­ed paran­the­ses, “She went miss­ing, you know.”

No.” Somehow, maybe it was the whiskey, William wasn’t thrown by the non-sequiter.

After they found Tommy. Once she was cleared, she left town. No one knew where.”

Why did she come to you?”

She knew some­thing. She went to see Boone in jail and he sent her to me.”

What hap­pened?” William couldn’t help feel­ing that the old man was now secret­ly delight­ed he’d shown up to hear his sto­ry.

He raised his bushy grey eye­brows with more than innu­en­do, “She told me her secrets.”

What secrets?”

She told me about Tommy’s father. Not the man whose name he wore at your school — this Coates char­ac­ter — but his real father.”

Who was that?”

Your friend Tommy was a Sneed.” He made the name sound almost like roy­al­ty.

A what?”

He was Trot Sneed’s son. She had had Tomas two years before she mar­ried Albert Coates. She moved away from Brenlee before the preg­nan­cy showed with­out a word to her true love, but Trot knew any­way. Eight years lat­er, after Coates left her, she moved back to Brenlee with her son and no mon­ey. Nowhere to go. Her fam­i­ly had dis­owned her when she got preg­nant. She found Trot.”

Did he help her?”

He was mar­ried, but yes, he found her a house, a job, gave her mon­ey… His wife Sherri knew noth­ing about it. No one in his fam­i­ly was to know any­thing at all. Especially his father. Ken Sneed want­ed no trou­ble with his heirs. That’s how she told it. ‘No trou­ble.’ He meant no Mexicans — or any­one else inter­est­ing I imag­ine. Trot and Maria had split because of Ken, but Trot didn’t know that.”

What?” William began to won­der if the old man’s sto­ry would be inter­rupt­ed by a soap com­mer­cial. He poured more cof­fee for him­self and an equal por­tion of Jameson’s to help.

The old man smiled with noth­ing like delight, “Kenny Sneed sent Maria Batista away with a thou­sand dol­lars and the strong sug­ges­tion she abort. He scared her fam­i­ly into dis­own­ing her and they moved too. He swore he would ruin them. Get her father fired from the can­nery. Have her broth­ers and sis­ters expelled from school — he was on the school board then.”

Didn’t he know she came back?”

Of course, but he thought the dan­ger of Trot mar­ry­ing a Mexican had passed and he didn’t care about Tomas as long as Maria made ‘no trou­ble.’ Oh yes, he came to her house and warned her away as reg­u­lar­ly as he got drunk. Once a week. For three years, Maria kept Trot’s father’s vis­its a secret from her old love.”

And vice ver­sa.”

Ah, smart boy. Yes, Trot still loved Maria, still came to her in the after­noons, but he didn’t know Tomas was his son. Not at first.”

That would mean trou­ble.”

And it did.” Bergoyan fin­ished his cof­fee and whiskey and his eyes fell to his formi­ca kitchen table, but he didn’t see it, instead the old man looked at an anx­i­ety or pain not his own, some­thing so pow­er­ful and yet so close to invis­i­ble that it drove its own­er mad. “Maria’s secrets…” he whis­pered and William wouldn’t let him­self guess what he meant now.

Till Then Sit Still, My Soul

Friday, January 12th, 2007

Bergoyan gazes into his cof­fee cup remem­ber­ing and then recites, “Foul deeds will rise, though all the earth over­whelm them, to men’s eyes.

Oh good. Shakespeare.” And William flops back down into the couch. He toss­es the year book on the cof­fee table in front of him and it lands with a loud ‘smack’.

Oh, they still teach Hamlet, do they?”

He search­es for a split sec­ond and finds the flip reply he was look­ing for, “Why not? No copy­right.”

Even to History majors at Agricultural schools…”

Been keep­ing tabs on me?”

The old man looks up and makes an hon­est con­fes­sion. “On Brenlee. You’re in the paper, or were, from time to time.”

Sounds like my mother’s doing.”

Bergoyan only smiles. “I tried to for­get. I didn’t want to have any­thing to do with Brenlee after… I sold the paper to Charlie and moved away. I drank. More than I do now, which my doc­tors say is too much. Know-noth­ings.” He dis­miss­es them with a casu­al wave of his hand and a chuck­le that indi­cates he knows his physi­cians have only stat­ed the obvi­ous. “I rent­ed an apart­ment near Bay Meadows. I want­ed to lose all my mon­ey there. I was doing a good job too. Betting long shots and over­weight jock­eys. Staying drunk. Then…”

After a moment William has to ask, “Your con­science?”

The old man rum­bles a short laugh, “Hell no. I won.” He looks at William with wide open eyes, “Big. I was get­ting impa­tient only bet­ting a thou­sand here or a few hun­dred there. I put $10,000 on a thir­ty-to-one old glue sack of a horse with I rid­er I knew first hand was out of his mind on some kind of pills. Well, that was already more than Charlie paid me for the paper. Best laid plans of drunks and news­pa­per­men… I didn’t quit though. My moth­er did not raise me to quit so eas­i­ly.” Bergoyan points his crooked index fin­ger in the air in mock pro­fun­di­ty.

I went back to the track the next day and man­aged to lose $45,000 dol­lars before it hap­pened again. Or near­ly so. This time it was worse. One of my new track friends told me I could lose mon­ey faster with an exot­ic bet.”

Like a tri­fec­ta?”

Exactly. Exactly. Only mine was more races. I don’t even know what they call it.”

A Superfecta.” William remem­bered los­ing $10 on a trip to the track with a girl­friend all too fas­ci­nat­ed with Charles Bukowski. He’s watched $100 run away far away over the hills.

I put down thou­sands of dol­lars on all sorts of ran­dom com­bi­na­tions. This time… this time, my friend, I knew what I had only sus­pect­ed the day before, God and the Devil were laugh­ing at me. Gambling is their game, not ours.”

You won again?”

I went home cry­ing drunk. And rich­er than I had ever both­ered to dream.” At this, William actu­al­ly begins to wor­ry that the man might start weep­ing now as he feels him­self tear­ing up for no rea­son he can explain. “There was no shak­ing this mon­ey. And as I came to the door of my very expen­sive apart­ment, who do you think I saw there wait­ing for me?”

Charlie Oliveri?”

Ha. No. Miserable guess. But I see your think­ing.” Old Man Bergoyan’s voice drops now to whis­per, a for­got­ten news­pa­per slid­ing over pave­ment on a small wind, “It was a woman. A young woman. Only a lit­tle old­er than you are now. Quiet. Angry. Alone. Her dark eyes held some caus­tic heat that is the ancient sacred trust of moth­ers only.” He held two fin­gers up to his face and, mov­ing them, indi­cat­ed a line from his own eyes to William’s. “They burned at me. In an instant I was sober. It was your friend Tommy’s, Tomas Coates’, moth­er.”

Sand And Stone

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

You were friends with the boy?” Old Man Bergoyan asks through his great grey mous­tache — full, long, and some­how liv­ing with him more than grow­ing out of him.

Tommy? Yes.”

He only nods and says, “Hmm” with the sound of some­thing rum­bling beneath the Earth’s crust. Bergoyan’s eyes moist­en and all of his many wrin­kles grow tight.

I didn’t know the boy yes­ter­day.”

He was a good boy.”

You knew him?”

Bergoyan could not reply hon­est­ly with­out reveal­ing to this young man that, yes, he did know this boy, but only as a ghost. So he lied. “I spoke with Charlie. Charlie Oliveri. He told me.” He shook his head and sipped his cof­fee to keep from cry­ing. “All about it.”

William picked up the small pea green 70s era gro­cery store mug from the cof­fee table. After mak­ing William wait out in the hall for 10 min­utes as he looked up his pic­ture in a 20 year old Brenlee Elemenary School Year Book, the old news­pa­per­man had let him in and then insist­ed on mak­ing ‘real Armenian cof­fee’ for his guest. It was strong and if William fin­ished it, the already wan­ing affects of his morn­ing joint would be noth­ing but a tired play­thing under his caf­feine buzz. Bergoyan had left the year book open on the cof­fee table. Young Billy Loof looked up with a star­tled smile at old William Loof and two rows up, Tommy Coates looked as though he was laugh­ing at all the changes of adult­hood he’d been spared and William endured.

The old man reached over and closed the book. “I shouldn’t have left that out.”

That’s okay. It’s why I came, sort of.”

You think you want to know what I know?”

I guess. Yeah.”

You don’t.”

Look, I need to know what hap­pened. No one ever thought Mike Boone did it any­way.”

The old man shook with some­thing like a chuck­le, but deep­er and joy­less, “Mike Boone couldn’t think his way through a stop­light. He didn’t kill that kid. At least they can’t even hide from that now.”

I know, he’s in jail. He couldn’t do it.”

Jail? He’s dead. Yesterday.”

What? How? What hap­pened?”

Did you think you were going to prove his inno­cence and get him out? Sorry, Loof, twen­ty years in the California Penal System does not inno­cence make.”

That’s pret­ty cal­lous. Mr. Bergoyan-”

Drop the ‘mis­ter’ busi­ness. I’m cal­lous because Mike Boone made me that way. I vis­it­ed that boy for months and he did noth­ing to help him­self. ‘Making the most of a bad sit­u­a­tion’ is what he called it. Finally, he wouldn’t even see me. They picked him because he was too damn dumb to help him­self when he could.”

William could feel the caf­feine com­ing on and he kept sip­ping at his cof­fee. He need­ed more than bit­ter­ness from this old man. It wasn’t Mike Boone that had brought him here. He decid­ed not to say any­thing, to wait the old man out, as impos­si­ble a task as that seemed. Bergoyan was made of some desert wind carved stone and William mere sand, but he would wait.

Minutes and then a quar­ter of an hour passed with only the sound of the two of them sip­ping cof­fee. When William final­ly fin­ished his cof­fee, he picked up the Year Book. He turned to his class page and like some ancient Asian proverb it came to him, sand will not defeat stone in silence.

William looked at Bergoyan in his cush­ioned chair, con­tent to slow­ly crum­ble here. Content to let every­thing crum­ble beneath him. He slammed the year book shut, stood up and waved it at the ancient jour­nal­ist and his large mous­tache. “You have to tell me what you know. You kept this year book. You left Brenlee, but you didn’t leave Tommy or Mike or me or any­one there. You breathe in dark, poi­so­nous, guilt every­day. I know, I breathe it too. Tommy’s mur­der tor­tures you and I think maybe it’s ruined me. So god­damnit old man — Bergoyan — you’re going to tell me who sent Mike Boone to jail and every­thing else.”

The Car In The Orchard

Friday, January 5th, 2007

Hernandez turned the squad car out of the Grady’s park­ing lot and looked in the rear view mir­ror. Perry Foltz’s tears and laugh­ter cooled to a dull sim­mer. The cow­boy was calm­ing him­self down. Hernandez decid­ed to take the long way around to the sta­tion. He turned off the the main route through town, onto a side street with more orchards than address­es.

Ya’ gonna take me out and teach me a les­son pachu­co?”

Where’d you learn that word?”

I dun­no. Too much TV, maybe.”

My name is Hernandez. Officer Hernandez.”

Okay. So, you gonna take me out and teach me a les­son in one of these orchards here, Officer Hernandez?”

Foltz’s eyes held Hernandez’s glance in the rear view mir­ror. “I could.” He slowed the car. Foltz didn’t look wor­ried. He turned right down a nar­row dirt road only slight­ly wider than the reg­u­lar spac­ing of the rows of almond trees. Once hid­den from the main road by the trees, he stopped the car and turned off the engine. Hernandez undid his seat belt and turned around to look at Foltz through the plex­i­glass divider.

Okay, jefe. You’re startin’ to wor­ry me.”

You should be wor­ried if I decide to search you.”

Foltz shift­ed for­ward in his seat. “I don’t know what yer talkin’ about.” Hernandez only sus­pect­ed he was hold­ing before, but now he knew it. But he’s not as dumb as he lets on, this cow­boy.

Hernandez took a piece of cin­na­mon gum from the pack on the seat next to him.

Hey, howz­about you slide me one of them pieces through an air hole here, Officer, sir?”

I’ll give you one at the sta­tion.”

Foltz leaned back in the seat. He was sit­ting on his hands now. Hernandez smiled. “Don’t both­er.”

What?”

Your hands, put ‘em behind your back. There’s no point, Foltz. We prob­a­bly won’t keep you long.”

Ya’ know what? You’re over­ly sus­pi­cious, that’s your prob­lem. I’m just a lit­tle uncom­fort­able here, that’s all.”

Hernandez’s tone changed. “I’m not sus­pi­cious enough.” The bull­shit was over. “And you know it.”

Foltz sat for­ward and moved his hands behind his back again. All traces of his habit­u­al smirk closed and went away for the dura­tion.

Hernandez didn’t look away. He seemed hard­ly to breathe in the moments he didn’t speak. “You had me fooled. Right up until you did that skip step.”

Foltz didn’t blink. “I don’t know what yer talkin’ about.”

Sure.”

After a fat, dis­tend­ed minute of star­ing at one anoth­er, Perry smirked again.

Hernandez con­tin­ued at last, “If you had want­ed to hit Buedall, you would have gone right up to him at the start. You want­ed Andy. Or maybe me. But I think you want­ed Andy. You bare­ly know me.”

Now, why would I wan­ta hit good ol’ Andy Currie?”

You tell me.”

Foltz leaned back in the seat and looked to his left down a long row of trees. He shook his head. “Uh-uh. You bet­ter just take me out and kick the shit out­ta me here or what­ev­er you wan­ta do…or…or run me on in to the sta­tion for what­ev­er you got. I’m ready. Whatever.”

Hernandez did not move.

Foltz looked at the offi­cer and badge and then out the win­dow again. “I’m just a drunk, stu­pid cow­boy is all. I got noth­in’ against Andy Currie. I’ve known him my whole life. Andy knows it, too.”

You’re not drunk. Not that drunk, any­way.”

The smirk departs again and Foltz is blink­ing back tears, but not from grief this time. Or booze. When he speaks again, it comes from the back of his throat, a deep whis­per that reminds Hernandez of a school­yard bul­ly sur­ren­der, “What would I have against Andy? Andy Currie…he’s a good man. A god­damned angel. Whole family’s a bunch of angels. And Kenny too. Goddamned angels.”

Hernandez shifts in his seat. “You’re afraid.” He’s whis­per­ing too. Surprised.
Foltz turns to him and looks him in the eyes. His voice is more ragged still. His eyes look burnt red. “You bust me down or what­ev­er. But you tell ‘em, I didn’t say noth­in’ but they’re good men.” He looks down at his boots. “Because they are…good men. Kenny’s good…Andy is a good man. I’m just a drunk, stu­pid cowboy’s all.”

You’re not stu­pid, Perry.” He could have wait­ed some more, but Hernandez knew Foltz was too tired and bent — maybe too bro­ken — to make a stand. A kid like Perry Foltz might nev­er be able to say what he knew, but he’d done what he could. He took his swings in the moment and gave Hernandez some direc­tion to go look­ing and two men to watch for along the way. He drove him to the sta­tion, but nev­er searched him or booked him. Andy nev­er filed a com­plaint.

No one signed Perry Foltz out upon his release that night. A small book­keep­ing error that made the moment of Perry Foltz’s diap­pear­ance feel to Hernandez slight­ly more than nat­ur­al, slight­ly less than hon­est, and entire­ly inevitable.

Grady’s pt. 3

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

Adderley whis­pers over a fork full of drip­ping, syrup sod­den pan­cakes, “He’s still cry­ing.”

Oliveri replies qui­et­ly, ignor­ing his intern’s whis­per, “Yeh. He’s in pret­ty bad shape.” He loads the cor­ner of his wheat toast with egg and leans over to take a bite before it all ends up back on his plate.

Chew. Gulp. Chew. “Why?”

A sip of cof­fee and the mem­o­ry of his wife’s patient face remind­ing him to be more patient and kind than he thought wise. “He’s exhaust­ed, Adderley. And…”

What?”

I don’t know. Maybe there’s more to Perry than we thought.” And they con­tin­ue eat­ing in silence.

From the front of the din­er the sound of Grady ring­ing up one of the cus­tomers and then Perry clear, loud, and sharp, “You son of a bitch.”

Mr. Buedall, the well dressed real estate agent replies a lit­tle shocked, “What?”

Oliveri turns around in time to see Perry step­ping back off his stool. “I called you a son of a bitch. Maybe you ough­ta clean the shit out of your ears before you sit down to break­fast, ass­hole.”

Above the grum­blings and come on Perrys pass­ing along the break­fast counter, Buedall says “I think you have me con­fused with some one else, friend.”

I ain’t your friend. You’re the devel­op­er, right? Real Estate man? Bue-dall.”

Yes.”

Then I say you’re a son of a bitch, ass­hole.”

It was a threat and every­one wants to know what Buedall will do about it. Maybe if Oliveri could see the split sec­ond of pan­ic in the realtor’s eyes as he sizes up the sit­u­a­tion — three city coun­cil mem­bers includ­ing him­self, a large German man to his right behind the counter, a Brenlee city cop behind Perry, and a Volunteer Fireman between them — he would hear some­thing besides sure­ness in his slow, care­ful reply. “I’m not the one cov­ered in shit, cow­boy.”

Perry looks down at his own boots and stomps his right one so that pieces of dried mud and shit fall over the linoleum tile. When he looks up again, Oliveri sees the floures­cent light glis­ten­ing against the streaks of tears on the cowboy’s cheeks, betray­ing some­thing painful behind the broad smile he wears. “You’re fun­ny. Ain’t he fun­ny, Andy?”

Andy says noth­ing, only puts up his open hand. The Volunteer fire­man is as clean and fresh-faced as Perry is dirty and tired. His jeans and his pale yel­low golf shirt look new. There is lit­tle of note about Andy Currie. Oliveri has nev­er both­ered to fig­ure out why and how Andy is in Brenlee in the first place, but like most peo­ple he feels gen­er­al­ly glad he is around. Andy fits here.

And then Perry’s boots shuf­fle quick­ly against the floor as he pre­pares to run at Buedall. Andy stands in his way, putting his hands on the cowboy’s chest. Oliveri catch­es Hernandez’s face out of the cor­ner of his eye as it hap­pens. He looks like some­one who has cho­sen incor­rect­ly in a game of three card monte.
Perry yells, “Don’t you fuckin’ touch me Andy.”

Easy Perry. Relax.”

Fuck you.” And Perry hits Andy with an upper­cut to the gut and then comes down hard with more elbow than fist across the taller man’s face as he bends over in reac­tion to the blow to his stom­ach. Perry could push him aside and go for Buedall, but instead he rears back in order to kick Andy’s legs out from under him. As the Volunteer Fireman goes down, Perry doesn’t seem entire­ly sur­prised to feel Hernandez grab his arms from behind and shove him against the counter.

Good work, Hernandez.” Buedall doesn’t both­er to hide his relief. Oliveri smiled.

Get him out of here.” Grady is tru­ly dis­gust­ed.

Before Andy can get up and before any­one can say or do any­thing more, Hernandez push­es the cow­boy toward the door. As they pass the reg­is­ter, Perry twists around with a strength that sur­pris­es Hernandez. He lurch­es toward Buedall, “Just ’cause I didn’t get to hit ya’, don’t think I like ya’. Asshole.” And he spits in the realtor’s face.

Hernandez yanks him away hard, push­ing him into and through the door before the real­tor can return the favor.

When Andy returns to his seat to take an ice pack from Grady, Perry is in the back of the squad car laugh­ing or cry­ing, it’s hard to tell which from inside. Hernandez returns. He leaves mon­ey near the reg­is­ter and tells the restau­rant, “If any­one wants to press charges just come on down to the sta­tion lat­er and fill out a report. Meanwhile, I’ll lock him up until he sleeps this off.”

It is Andy’s voice that stops him on his way out, man­gling his words past the tow­el full of ice on his face, “He isn’t drunk.”

Hernandez turns and looks at the Volunteer Fireman. Another man would reach for words and maybe suc­ceed in putting all these men at ease. Hernandez didn’t have those words. Not today, any­way. But Andy sees into the officer’s eyes. They catch him off guard and he looks away. Hernandez leaves the din­er and takes Perry, laugh­ing, cry­ing, or both into the police sta­tion.