Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

Archive for February, 2007

The Part-Timer

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Well, where is he?”

I don’t know exact­ly, Dennis.”

He must have radioed in.”

He did. From the Sneed farm around sev­en. Then again about ten min­utes ago.”

Does he real­ize school has start­ed?”

Yes, I’m sure he does.”

Well, this is his deal.”

He said you could han­dle it. Just fol­low the ques­tion­naire.”

The ques­tion­naire?”

Yes, the ques­tion­naire.”

What ques­tion­naire?”

The one he left on your desk this morn­ing. I typed it up. He made a hun­dred copies last night. They were on your desk.”

Shit.”

Den-”

Sorry. Sorry. I didn’t check my desk this morn­ing.”

Well, Dennis…”

Winnie, is there some­one there that can bring ‘em to me at the school?”

I’ll have Marty run them over.”

Thanks. Tell him to hur­ry.”

What’re you going to do in the mean time?”

I dun­no. Tell these kids what’s goin’ on, I guess.”

Be care­ful, Dennis.”

Don’t wor­ry, Winnie. I’m just gonna talk about the ques­tion­naire, that’s all.”

Good luck.”

Thanks.”

Officer Dennis Plaster looked out at the school play­ing fields one more time. He didn’t grow up here in Brenlee, but a few towns over in Atwater. It all felt famil­iar enough. Just small­er. He took this job for the pay­check not the work, but he had it now. He want­ed a cig­a­rette. No time. Ninety kids and as many par­ents were wait­ing in the Brenlee Elementary School Library. The door opened and closed behind him.

Dennis.”

Yes, Ms. Schmidt.” Ordinarily, he only worked for the Brenlee Police part time.

When will we start?”

Well… I’ll go in and tell them what we’re gonna do.” Hernandez had called him in last night.

What are we going to do?”

I’m going to take each stu­dent aside in the Library office and ask them some ques­tions.” For some rea­son, Hernandez trust­ed him.

With their par­ents present?”

Yes, ma’am. With their par­ents.” Hernandez called him ‘Old Reliable’ because he always cov­ered extra shifts and nev­er bagged out ear­ly.

May I or their teacher also be present.”

Sorry, no. They may have things to say that might get them in trou­ble with you.” He was mak­ing this up, but it made sense. When he was a kid he wouldn’t have said any­thing impor­tant in front of his prin­ci­pal or teach­ers.

Okay. If you think that’s best.”

Yes, ma’am. Yes, I do.” Plaster had no for­mal law enforce­ment train­ing as such. One crim­i­nol­o­gy class in col­lege because he thought it would make a cool elec­tive. A year on the cam­pus secu­ri­ty force and sum­mers work­ing at a sport­ing goods store, some of the time behind the gun counter, pret­ty much sealed his fate.

Well, should we get start­ed then?”

Uh, yes, I was just check­ing in at the sta­tion.” He held up his cell phone. “Marti is bring­ing over some paper­work.”

Oh. Should we wait?”

No. No, need. I can brief every­one about the process with­out the paper­work.” He start­ed for the door, then stopped. “One thing though, maybe we ought to have some kind of activ­i­ty for the stu­dents and par­ents while they wait to go in.”

I’ll set up the TV and DVD play­er. They’ll be hyp­no­tized until you’re ready for them.”

Uh, good.” Plaster could tell the vice prin­ci­pal didn’t think much of him. She had taught his girl­friend in fifth grade and made it clear that she didn’t approve of him. He opened the door to the library for her and fol­lowed her inside. Truth was, he didn’t think much of her either.

Marti arrived with the ques­tion­naires just as he fin­ished telling the kids and par­ents what to expect. “Can you stick around for a while Marti?”

I dun­no, Dennis. I got a guy in the lock up.”

It’s just Foltz. And it’s just like 15 or 20 min­utes while I get this thing going.”

Okay, sure.” Marti was earnest but pli­able.

Just kind of incon­spic­u­ous­ly watch the door while I’m ques­tion­ing these kids.”

You mean make sure no one is lis­ten­ing in?”

Yeah, that and maybe just see who it is.”

Anyone in par­tic­u­lar?”

Parents. Teachers. You know.”

Sure.”

After the fifth stu­dent, Marti came in to get the next name to call from Plaster. “She still out there, Marti?”

Yep.”

Same place.”

Yep.”

She know you’re watch­ing her.”

I dun­no. Maybe she thinks I actu­al­ly believe she’s read­ing a Hardy Boys book. She gave me a ‘D’ in English one quar­ter, but I’m not that dumb.”

Ask her to step in and be kind of quick about it, so she can’t put the book down.”

Marti smiled. “Right.”

Ms. Schmidt came into the librarian’s office hold­ing a small paper­back book. She thought she was still in charge, “How can I help you Officer Plaster?”

Plaster didn’t say any­thing for a long minute. He hoped she would sim­ply apol­o­gize and promise to stay out of his way for the rest of the day. She didn’t. He stood up. He was at least a foot taller than this lady. He held out his hand. “Give me the book.”

Ms. Schmidt hand­ed Plaster Hardy Boys #186 — Hidden Mountain with­out blink­ing. “Big Hardy Boys fan, Ms. Schmidt?”

I like to know what my stu­dents are read­ing.”

Maybe. I think you also like to know what they’re say­ing to the police.”

What’s that mean?”

You know what it means. Hell, I did bet­ter lying in front of the prin­ci­pal back in Atwater when I was ten than you’re doin’ right now.”

Are you accus­ing me of lying?”

I thought that was clear. Maybe what’s not clear to you is that if you keep hang­ing around that door, I’m going to have Marti here take you in for inter­fer­ing with an offi­cer of the law in the per­for­mance of his duty.”

You wouldn’t. Officer Hernandez-”

Don’t bet on it. ” Plaster want­ed to tell her a lot of oth­er things too, but none of that mat­tered at the moment. Not real­ly. It was enough to know that he had her cor­nered. “I’m not the right guy for you to play prin­ci­pal with and I don’t think Officer Hernandez is either. So, let’s play by my rules.”

Ms. Schmidt didn’t say any­thing more for a moment and then asked, “Are we done here?”

Sure. Here’s your book.”

Marti snick­ered.

The vice prin­ci­pal took back the book and left the library with­out a word to any­one. Plaster want­ed to call Hernandez, but he wasn’t sure what he would tell him. People are keep­ing tabs on the inves­ti­ga­tion? Old ladies are read­ing Hardy Boys books? Watch out for the 5 foot 1 inch six­ty-plus year old vice prin­ci­pal? Maybe the kids know some­thing? Maybe Ms. Schmidt knows it too?

Evidence

Monday, February 26th, 2007

When Hernandez returned to the car he looked for the peach, but it was gone. He didn’t feel any more at ease than when he first saw it. He closed eyes and pushed out a big sigh. His day had start­ed with a sched­ule. A plan. Simple. Purpose built and pur­pose dri­ven. Now…

Andy Currie…

The old man might be, hell, must be, senile. But he said he would tes­ti­fy. Against a neigh­bor, a boy he had watched grow up with his own. Maybe a vis­it with Ken Sneed would be a good idea. How reli­able and healthy is Pickem Sneed (will he last the year or more it takes the courts to bring some­thing like this to tri­al, even if there is any­thing real to link Currie (Brenlee’s favorite goof­ball vol­un­teer fire­fight­er) to this thing)? And Ken was in the let­ter. The let­ter.

Hernandez reached into the box of evi­dence and removed the let­ter from Phillip Bergoyan that Charlie Oliveri had deliv­ered to him the evening before. He hadn’t entered it in as evi­dence yet. He wasn’t sure he would need to. It didn’t prove a thing. He opened the let­ter. There was Ken Sneed’s name. No men­tion of Andy Currie.

He could fol­low the whole thing up lat­er with lit­tle wor­ry about what he might find except for that stu­pid cow­boy this morn­ing… not so stu­pid. He knows some­thing about Ken and Andy, but I’ll have to hold him for a night or two before he’ll say any­thing. Scare him. Call him into my office tonight and just stare at him for a few min­utes and lock him up again. He’ll spill what he knows. Wants to talk, just wants to be made to talk.

Officer Hernandez returned the let­ter to its enve­lope and put it back in the box of evi­dence. He looked at his watch. The stu­dent and par­ent inter­views would be well under way over at the school. His guys could han­dle it, but he should be there. After that, he would track down Ken Sneed.

He drove away on the access road in order to trace the steps of the per­son who brought Gabriel Velasquez’s body here. With the win­dows down he soaked in the smell of the peach­es as he drove through the orchard. It was a nar­row but smooth road, so his foot went instinc­tive­ly to the brake when he heard some­thing rat­tle and shift in the seat next to him. He didn’t stop the car, but only shook his head and smiled at his own ten­sion. When it rat­tled again, he looked over at the evi­dence box half fright­ened at what he might see and half cer­tain a field mouse must have found its way into the car and then the box. Just the evi­dence and Bergoyan’s let­ter bal­anced on top.

At the end of the orchard he would have to take the car up the short steep climb to the canal bank or turn down the last row of trees in order to reach a paved road. He caught him­self won­der­ing what Andy would do. What would the per­son who brought Gabriel Velasquez’s body here do? Two worn tire ruts angled up the embank­ment a lit­tle to his right. He gunned the engine of the old chevy police car and it made it up, bot­tom­ing out as it crest­ed the bank.

The dirt canal bank ran for about a mile and a half before slop­ing down to con­nect with the road that ran behind Pickem Sneed’s orchard. Stopped at that inter­sec­tion, Hernandez heard more noise from the box of evi­dence and, react­ing to the sud­den noise, looked over. He regret­ted his own instincts because there on top of the let­ter and all of the plas­tic bagged bits of Gabriel’s school­boy desk detri­tus he saw a tar­nished knife, flakes of its own rust adrift in a streak of blood along the dull blade.

Poor News Badly Delivered Pt. 3

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

It’s the same man. No doubt.”

How do you know that?” The whole time they talked, Hernandez kept look­ing at the skin of old Mr. Sneed’s hard, ancient, cal­loused hands and the fad­ed wear of the old man’s cot­ton shirt.

The way he done it. The way the boy was layin’ there.” The old man answered this as he answered every­thing the offi­cer asked, as though patient­ly stat­ing the obvi­ous and with a touch of sur­prise that he even asked the ques­tions.

How do you know it wasn’t some­one who saw the boy lay­ing that way? A copy cat.”

No one saw that boy before me. ‘Cept the one done it.” It was a blue shirt with long sleeves.

Are you say­ing you saw the killer put the body in your orchard, Mr. Sneed.”

I shouldn’t say so, but I’m sayin’ so.” Though thin and light now, it had prob­a­bly begun as a heav­ier, dark­er shirt meant for work.

Did you or do you know this per­son?”

Yes and no.” The third but­ton down had been replaced. The new but­ton didn’t match, but it held the shirt togeth­er all the same.

What does that mean?”

He’s from here. Oh, he’s from here. Family’s before my time.” Someone had tried to scrub away oil and grease stains from the cuffs. The marks remained, but the shirt looked clean.

You seem fright­ened.”

Well, I ough­ta be. You ough­ta be, too. He’s no lit­tle man. Nothin’ like the good-for-noth­in’ they sent away.” All of his fin­ger nails were bent and yel­low, the tips of his fin­gers wide and rough.

So, you’re say­ing you know Mike Boone didn’t kill that boy?”

Every ass­hole knows that.” Mr. Sneed fin­ished his cof­fee. “Sorry, but it’s plain as mud.”

Right. But no one said any­thing.”

No one could.” As rough as the fin­gers and palm of his hands were, the backs looked soft, almost sup­ple with wrin­kles and dark spots.

Why not?”

You got­ta under­stand. We were afraid. Besides peo­ple wan­ta believe some­thin’ that makes more sense.” Someone had patched the right elbow with what looked like the den­im remains of an old pair of jeans.

Makes more sense?”

That Boone boy made more sense.” He rest­ed his hands on the table in front of him, the fin­gers of the left cov­er­ing the ones of his right hand. When he rubbed his hands togeth­er: the sound of paper or sand.

Sure.” Hernandez drank his cof­fee and tried to think of some bit of train­ing that would help him deal with this man and what he knew. Nothing came to him, so he went with the obvi­ous, “Who was it, Mr. Sneed?”

It looked at first as though the old man smiled, but there was no hap­pi­ness in the way his face con­tort­ed. As he bent his head for­ward, Hernandez could see the old dark blue of the shirt on the inside of the fad­ed col­lar. “I wan­ta tell you.”

I want to know.”

So you say. But it… you won’t believe it.” He sighed and mum­bled, “And it prob­a­bly won’t do no good even if you do.” Almost as though he knew Hernandez’s pre-occu­pa­tion with his hands and shirt, he rubbed the palms of his hands across his fore­arms. He gripped his fore­arms and spoke from behind clenched teeth, “It’s Currie.”

Poor News Badly Delivered Pt. 2

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

The old man nev­er stopped shak­ing. He shook as he ush­ered Hernandez through the back door and into the kitchen. He shook as he asked his wife to give them pri­va­cy. He shook as she brought them cof­fee. He shook as he sat across from Hernandez at the kitchen table and he shook as he sipped his cof­fee with milk and sug­ar. Hernandez could not remem­ber him shak­ing the day before or any oth­er of the few times their paths had crossed in the last two years. So before bring­ing up the boy, or more accu­rate­ly, con­tin­u­ing on about the boy, he asks, “Are you ill, Mr. Sneed?”

No. Not sick. Never sick a day in my life.” He near­ly spills cof­fee lift­ing the old bake­lite cup to his lips and after sip­ping adds qui­et­ly, “Not well, either. Not myself.”

Is it the boy?”

The boys. Boys. More than a man ought to ever see.”

Not a word, but a deep sound from Hernandez’s throat. It is all he can offer — an impov­er­ished frag­ment of sym­pa­thy meant to keep the man from drift­ing into too dark a grief.

Pickem sighs and lets his eyes fall to Mable’s home­made rag rug in front of the kitchen sink. Then with­out look­ing up, “You know about the oth­er?”

Yes.”

Who told ya’?”

I shouldn’t say.”

No,” Pickem brings anoth­er shaky sip of cof­fee to his mouth, “you shouldn’t.”

Mr. Sneed, I–”

Wa’n’t Trot or Kenny, I bet.”

Hernandez waits before answer­ing, watch­ing Pickem Sneed. The old man still faces the oth­er direc­tion, his head not quite still, but his eyes slide over to watch him. He knows, though he can’t say why, that if he shows this old man some­thing here, he’ll get more in return — it’s some­thing like a pok­er game. “No, not them.”

Didn’t fig­ure.” Pickem clears his throat and turns to face Hernandez, look­ing slight­ly more com­fort­able, if not tru­ly calm. “You don’t wan­ta know about the boy. That won’t help ya’. You wan­ta know about the man done it, that’s yer job ain’t it?”

Yes sir.”

I don’t know him, but I seen him. Full in the face.”

Poor News Badly Delivered Pt. 1

Friday, February 16th, 2007

He stands where they found the body the day before. He turns slow­ly around, look­ing through the heavy fruit­ed orchard, down the nar­row dirt access road the killer almost cer­tain­ly drove. He stops. What? Something there. Across the road in a tree. A reflec­tion of met­al up in limb. Not high up. Perhaps at the lev­el of his chest. He walks toward it with great care not to lose track of it as the light changes with his move­ment.

A few steps away, he real­izes he has expec­ta­tions of this object unfound­ed in oberser­va­tion or expe­ri­ence. He thinks it must be an old can of some kind. Maybe a cof­fee can con­tain­ing rusty nails or trac­tor parts, left there in the dusk of some late day’s work who knows how long ago. It must be some frag­ment of farmer’s apara­tus or sim­ply a piece of trash lift­ed out of the dirt and for­got­ten. Why would any­thing else feel like bad news poor­ly deliv­ered?

He is next to the tree now, look­ing down at the limb in ques­tion. It is an old can. It is not an old can. It is trash. It is not trash. Not a trac­tor part, tool, or any­thing that belongs here. It is in its intend­ed place as all things like always are. It is a met­al cross tacked to the peach tree limb, made of pieces of alu­minum beer cans, cut and care­ful­ly riv­et­ed togeth­er. The bark of the tree grips it tight­ly and it is plain that it is noth­ing new. Nothing for Gabriel. It is not beau­ti­ful, but for some­one, it is clear­ly the most impor­tant thing for miles. Hernandez bends to look more close­ly at the met­al, seek­ing what? Words. Another sym­bol inside or on to make this give this grand sym­bol some sim­ple con­text. Something was there once, but not now.

It’s for the boy.” The offi­cer turns to see old Mr. Sneed watch­ing him from the access road. From twen­ty feet away, he can see the elder­ly man shak­ing and blink­ing too much to be well.

I didn’t-”

The oth­er one. You know about the oth­er one?”

A lit­tle.”

Found him here too.”

Here?”

Right there. That’s his tree. Moved the road…” He waves his hands in an attempt to indi­cate rough­ly a shift of the access road in his direc­tion. “Whole damned road. Used to be that cross was low down on that tree, but it grew. Ya’ see, it’s old­er than the oth­ers. Not much fruit, but it pro­duces. Sure it does.”

Mr. Sneed, I’d like to ask you about that boy.”

Sure ya’ would.” And the old farmer turns and walks toward his home. Hernandez fol­lows, sur­prised each time the man steps and doesn’t dead-leaf crum­ple to the dirt.

Another Way To See Things

Monday, February 12th, 2007

An arrest, a trip to the morgue, and the pave­ment only just begin­ning to warm under the morn­ing sun, but Hernandez knows even with so much of it still ahead, his day won’t get any bet­ter. Before start­ing the squad car to leave the coun­ty morgue park­ing lot, he glances in the card­board box sit­ting in the pas­sen­ger seat. It con­tains all of the things he col­lect­ed from Gabriel’s desk yes­ter­day and…

…a peach.

His hand drifts from the igni­tion. He looks again.

A large, per­fect peach rests on a plas­tic evi­dence bag con­tain­ing a brass sprin­kler head. For a moment, he resists reach­ing into the box. It might not be real. He can’t smell it, but the tex­ture, the shape, the almost imper­cep­ti­ble limb scar on the top are all so sub­stan­tial. How would it get there? He knows he locked the door and he knows it wasn’t there before he went inside. The only pos­si­bil­i­ties he can con­sid­er: on the one hand he’s los­ing it and on the oth­er some­one had access to his car and the evi­dence.

He reach­es for the peach and it dis­ap­pears. He is not sur­prised. Almost relieved. Just a lack of sleep. He starts the engine and turns around to guide the car back out of the park­ing space. Once out of the space, he turns to face for­ward and sees that the peach has returned.

You’re not there.” He puts the car in dri­ve and tries to ignore the fruit. The sun is at his back as he makes his way south­west to Brenlee through new hous­ing devel­op­ments, then cow pas­tures whose few remain­ing bovine res­i­dents chew cud obliv­i­ous to the visions of sub­di­vi­sion any pass­ing fool sees over­layed across this land. The inte­ri­or of the car grows slow­ly warmer as he dri­ves and after ten min­utes of pas­ture he sees the almond and peach orchards mute­ly seek­ing refuge at the out­skirts of Brenlee hud­dled togeth­er on the hori­zon. He reach­es to turn up the air con­di­tion­ing and smells the peach. As he approach­es the orchards the scent grows stronger.

Hernandez turns off the air con­di­tion­er and rolls down the win­dow. It is only in the high 70s out­side. The wind whip­ping through the win­dow keeps him cool but does noth­ing to dis­si­pate the sweet dusty rich odor of that peach stow­ing away in his box of evi­dence. He checks his speed. 65 miles per hour. Too fast to be sleep­ing.

His grand­moth­er would call this a vision. “But it is no saint Abuela, just a peach.” He can hear her answer, ‘Con estos bueyes hay que arar.’ Right. You have to plough with the bur­ros you have. Like she ever touched a bur­ro or ploughed any­thing. “And rose gar­dens don’t count Abuela,” he tells her. Still, she has a point.

A peach. Not a sin­gle peach, but the smell of hun­dreds maybe thou­sands of peach­es — it was every­where around the boy’s body. So, instead of fol­low­ing his head and his plan and going to the sta­tion to orga­nize the inter­views with the kids and teach­ers at the school lat­er that morn­ing, he returns to the orchard. As he parks his car near the scene, left­over yel­low plas­tic crime scene tape sag­ging from a near­by tree, he looks over at the box of evi­dence and the peach has gone but the beau­ti­ful real smell of ripe fruit sur­rounds and cov­ers him with a small sense of calm that comes of know­ing he has arrived where the dead boy most needs him.

Maria’s Story Pt.4

Wednesday, February 7th, 2007

He had come to her before. The bushy grey-haired man from The Brenlee News smelled of stale cof­fee and cig­a­rettes and a made a point of her call­ing him Phil instead of Bergoyan. He was the only per­son from town who had said any more than ‘Sorry’ to her about her son. Most act­ed as though she didn’t speak English and/or avoid­ed her entire­ly. Tomas’ teacher and Ms. Schmidt paid her vis­it, but they sim­ply wept with her.

Phil Bergoyan, for his part, want­ed to offer Maria Batista more than tears. His sym­pa­thy, the town’s sym­pa­thy, soft words and sad eyes, all these things felt cheap and dis­pos­able. She and her son deserved some­thing more. He hes­i­tat­ed before words as grand and over-bloat­ed as Justice, but it was the thing most lack­ing and the only thing one might offer as real con­so­la­tion.

The first time he vis­it­ed her house, Bergoyan asked her sim­ple ques­tions about Tomas, his father, and her­self. It was the day after they found her son mur­dered in the orchard and the facts seemed clear and dev­as­tat­ing enough. Three months after she buried her son, Maria buried her broth­er and Bergoyan came a sec­ond time.

My broth­er drank too much.”

Did he always drink too much or only since Tomas’ mur­der?”

Maria sim­ply did not answer. Bergoyan moved on, stick­ing to the facts, keep­ing things clear and dev­as­tat­ing enough again.

Six months after Neto’s death, Bergoyan returned to her. Mike Boone had been con­vict­ed in an unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly brief tri­al. The pros­e­cu­tor claimed that Boone had tried and failed to molest Tomas and killed him out of frus­tra­tion. When Boone took the stand and mum­bled, “…but I liked him,” too scared and too sim­ple­mind­ed to under­stand how to speak up for him­self, the jury took it all for shame and found him guilty.

No one proved any­thing and no one cared.” Bergoyan told her.

When he wrote an edi­to­r­i­al crit­i­ciz­ing the ver­dict, Bergoyan was called a ‘bleed­ing heart’ and a ‘sick soft-head­ed old man’ from a dozen of Brenlee’s fif­teen pul­pits, all down the Grady’s break­fast counter, and in the City Council and School Board meet­ings. He drank more than usu­al and sold The Brenlee News to a younger man who still believed words could mat­ter.

So, on his way out of town he went to see Maria Coates one more time. This time he smoked his unfil­tered cig­a­rette in front of her, some­thing she had nev­er seen him do before. “Ms. Batista. I’m leav­ing town.”

I read that in the paper.”

My leav­ing is the hap­pi­est news in a long time for this town, I’m afraid.”

Probably.”

I’m going to be rude.”

Excuse me.”

Do you know why some­one would want to kill your son? Do you know who killed him? Do you know any­thing?”

She looked at him. “You know, no one ever asked me that before.”

That’s not exact­ly an answer.”

She smiled at him. “You don’t know any­thing about the $5,000 left in my mail­box the oth­er day?”

He did not return the smile. “If you ever want to answer those ques­tions, I hope you’ll find me.” And he start­ed down the porch to his car.

That’s not exact­ly an answer either.” She called after him.

He stopped at his car and spoke loud­ly and very seri­ous­ly, “You should leave town. Start a new life.”

Would it be any bet­ter?”

And Philip Bergoyan drove away to try to ruin him­self once and for all, soon to fail at even that igno­ble task.

Maria’s Story Pt.3

Monday, February 5th, 2007

Neto did not stay out of it. He did not keep what he’d heard to him­self. He made, or tried to make, trou­ble for Ken Sneed.

The trou­ble he made didn’t amount to much. By the time he went to the sher­iff with what lit­tle he knew, they had already picked up Mike Boone and built a case against him as the mur­der­er of Tomas Coates. The sher­iff knew Ken Sneed. He didn’t like him, but he didn’t care to cross him on the word of a dis­traught Mexican who did not even reside in his coun­ty. He sent Neto away and told him to keep his sto­ry to him­self.

For three weeks after Neto’s death, Maria would won­der if Ken Sneed knew her broth­er had spo­ken to the Sheriff. Could Sneed have had some­thing to do with the way her broth­er died? Was it real­ly an acci­dent? But how could Ken Sneed make a truck roll and catch fire with­out any­one know­ing? How could he make Neto dri­ve drunk? And how would he know that Neto had gone to the Sheriff?

The sher­iff didn’t believe Neto, but he did think Neto believed him­self. He used to hunt with Ken Sneed. Used to. Ken was an ass­hole. An ass­hole with booze. An ass­hole with mon­ey. An ass­hole with his wife, his chil­dren, and his mis­triss. An ass­hole with his gun and to the men who car­ried guns with him. So, one-on-one, in the fam­i­ly room of Ken’s bat­tered old stuc­co farm­house, recent­ly out­fit­ted with a new oak bar and a cus­tom made pool table, the sher­riff con­front­ed Ken with what he’d heard.

Who told you that Tim?”

I’d rather not say Ken.”

Ken straight­ened from the pool table and looked at the sher­iff, his big, clum­sy, too-nice-of-a-guy-for-his-own-good, child­hood friend. He looked at the man’s Wrangler jeans and dark green golf shirt with the golf course logo on it and knew how how much his cam­paign had cost and how many votes he had all but pur­chased. “Well, why not?”

Ken, there’s a lot of upset peo­ple over this thing around here-”

And I’m one of them.”

That’s right and…and upset peo­ple don’t always think straight- Let me fin­ish here, real quick. And it doesn’t do any­body any good to have this become some kind of thing.”

My name’s brought up to the coun­ty sher­iff, it’s already a thing, god­damnit.”

Only if you make it one, Ken. Only if you make it one.”

Fine.” Ken took his shot and missed. “Your shot.” He went to the bar to pour him­self anoth­er drink.

And the sher­iff leaned over the table to line up his shot, won­der­ing as he did if he should risk ask­ing Ken if it was true even though he knew already that Neto hadn’t lied to him. He heard Ken slam down his glass on the bar behind him and then three steps across the floor. Ken was run­ning. He felt the slate under the pool table’s expen­sive red felt crack as his fore­head slammed down against it. Ken’s pool cue pressed against the back of his neck, hold­ing him there.

Before he could reach back and try to work him­self free, Ken kicked his legs out from under him and shout­ed, “You god­damed dumb­fuck. What the fuck do you think this is, Timmy boy? Did that lit­tle bitch tell you this? Did she?”

No.”

Who was it? Trot?”

No.”

Who?” Ken kneed him in the ribs.

The broth­er. Her broth­er.”

The sher­iff felt Ken bear­ing down on his neck and he knew he had for­got­ten about his legs. He found pur­chase and stood up and back with a sin­gle thrust. Ken was small­er and drunk­er and gave way more eas­i­ly than he expect­ed. The sher­iff took his pool cue from him and threw it across the room. Then he worked Ken Sneed over the way he’d always want­ed to, the way that would destroy every part of his life that men like Sneed had bought and paid for, and he hit know­ing that he would walk away the los­er even if the win­ner could not stand of his own pow­er.

Ten days lat­er, Neto was dead. Taking a tight turn too fast, his truck had crashed through a barbed wire fence in the foothills out­side of Brenlee. He was drunk and had appar­ent­ly lost con­trol. The truck had gone over a bare, steep ridge and rolled down to the riv­er. They found him because Andy Currie and anoth­er vol­un­teer fire­man had smelled the smoke and lat­er spot­ted the flames.

Three weeks lat­er, the sher­iff went to Maria’s house. He didn’t intro­duce him­self or explain why he’d come. He told her about hunt­ing with Ken Sneed and about grow­ing up with a mean, weak lit­tle boy who would one day have all the pow­er. Then he told her about play­ing pool at Ken’s house.

The sheriff’s term end­ed that June. He had cho­sen not to run again. He had lived his entire life in Brenlee, but moved away. He nev­er came back and the few peo­ple in town who ever caught up with him, said many of the same things: he hadn’t set­tled any­where long, nev­er took anoth­er reg­u­lar job, and he was not the man they knew.