Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

Up Against It

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.”