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.”



“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.”


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.


“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.”


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


“Same place.”


“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?


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?”


“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.”


“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.”


“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?”


“Who was it? Trot?”


“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.