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.