Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

Archive for March, 2007

Todo es…

Friday, March 30th, 2007

Is Gabriel real­ly dead?”

I’m afraid so.”

Have you seen him?”

No.”

Then you don’t know for sure.”

Sick today, huh?”

No. Not real­ly.”

Didn’t go to school, though.”

Am I in trou­ble?”

No.”

It’s against the law to skip school.”

Not today.”

Why?”

Plaster didn’t answer. He didn’t make a sound.

Because of Gabriel. Right?”

Yep.”

Did they find his body?”

Yes. Yes, they did.”

The tarp shift­ed and then some­thing met­al under it. Mac Taylor had moved away, fur­ther under the work­bench. Neither of them spoke for a long time. Then Plaster offered, “It’s kin­da nice in here.”

No, it’s not.”

It’s cool any­way.”

You mean like cool­er than out­side?”

Yeah.”

I guess. It gets hot in sum­mer.”

I bet.”

Mac start­ed tap­ping some­thing against the dirt floor. Something met­al. “What killed him?”

Plaster didn’t hes­i­tate. “A knife, prob­a­bly.”

You don’t know?” The tap­ping remained steady.

Not for sure. Not yet. We’re look­ing into it.”

So, you guys don’t know shit.” Tap. Tap. Tap. Tap. Only a lit­tle hard­er now.

Plaster caught half a chuck­le. “A lit­tle more than that, any­way.”

Right.” Tap. Tap. No break in the rhythm. Tap. Tap.

He liked this kid more and more. He played with noth­ing to lose. “What don’t we know?”

Who killed him? How they did it. Where they did it. Why they did it. Shit. All that shit. Todo es chin­ga­do, señor.” Almost bang­ing.

You got that right, kid. Plaster wait­ed and then start­ed with the only ques­tion on the ques­tion­naire that made any sense to him giv­en the sit­u­a­tion, “Where did you see Gabriel last?”

By the canal. Over by that old wind­mill that doesn’t work.” Faster now, but not so hard. Tap. Tap.

What were you doing over there?”

His answer start­ed strong, but devolved quick­ly into a mum­ble. “Riding my bike. Messing around and stuff…” The tap­ping switched from met­al against dirt to met­al against met­al.

Stealing sprin­kler heads.”

The tap­ping stopped.

Is that what you and Gabriel were doing there, Mac? Stealing?”

No.”

Come on. Don’t lie to me.”

We weren’t steal­ing. Not the oth­er day.”

The day before yes­ter­day?”

Yeah.”

What were you doing?”

Just above a mum­ble, “check­ing things out and stuff.”

What? Checking what out?”

The house and stuff.”

What stuff?”

The house and this barn thing.”

By the wind­mill?”

Yeah.”

Plaster wait­ed for more, but it didn’t come. “You two shouldn’t have been over there.”

Mac Taylor final­ly poked his head out from under the blue tarp. He had dark, curly hair all in a mess. He was still in his paja­mas. “We didn’t take any­thing.”

What did you see?”

The boy watched Plaster, looked into his face try­ing to tell him some­thing, but only let­ting out a pre-ver­bal “uhh­hh.” Tears swelled his eyes and he began blink­ing, blink­ing and squint­ing. “Uhhhhh…”

Plaster crouched down, to try to put the boy at ease. “What was it, Mac?”

And the boy bolt­ed from the shed into his house and went straight to his moth­er who was watch­ing from a win­dow in the rear util­i­ty room of her house. It didn’t take a genius to know the boy was cry­ing and wouldn’t have much to say until his moth­er calmed him down. Plaster checked his watch. Not quite 11:45. He need­ed to talk to Hernandez. This wasn’t enough for a war­rant, but cer­tain­ly worth a look around. Kids shouldn’t be this freaked out. Cops shouldn’t have this many sim­ple ques­tions unan­swered.

28.3 Cents A Minute

Wednesday, March 28th, 2007

Dennis Plaster wait­ed behind his desk, watch­ing the large round clock in the small squad room tick off his 28.3 cents a minute. In the first half hour he went through all the ques­tion­naires again. He count­ed 31 ref­er­ences to young Mac Taylor, Gabriel Velasquez’s best friend. Forty ref­er­ences to Gabriel as a ‘nice’ kid or per­son. Two ‘cutes.’ 40 ‘real­ly Mexicans.’ 35 ‘small,’ ‘lit­tle,’ or oth­er­wise diminu­tive. Only one ref­er­ence to the wind­mill and farm, but 26 men­tions of his ‘guts,’ ‘brav­ery,’ ‘courage,’ etc, most­ly for the way he played soc­cer and base­ball (bad­ly, but with spir­it and tenac­i­ty).

Dennis had typed these and oth­er fig­ures into a spread­sheet pro­gram on the ancient com­put­er pro­vid­ed him by the ‘city’ of Brenlee. It remind­ed him of an exer­cise in his junior col­lege American History class. They had been required to read sev­er­al first per­son accounts of the bat­tle of Gettysburg from both sides, by offi­cers and infantry­men alike, not­ing com­mon ref­er­ences in the expe­ri­ence. “From this,” the wiz­ened old pro­fes­sor had explained, “one may devel­op some more objec­tive view of what it meant to serve in that bat­tle.” Why not do the same thing in order to under­stand a per­son you’ve nev­er met? He thought Hernandez would be pleased.

Once he had com­plet­ed his infor­mal index of the stu­dent ques­tion­naires, Officer Plaster looked at the offi­cial clock on the wall. A lit­tle over an hour had passed since his talk with Perry Foltz. Still no word from Hernandez. He knew he shouldn’t wor­ry, but he went out to the front desk to ask Winnie to try rais­ing him on the radio. She did and Hernandez told her he wouldn’t be back for a cou­ple of hours and to have Dennis hang on.

Hang on. For a cou­ple of hours. Just hang on. Plaster went out to the park­ing lot to have a smoke. Before his last drag, he checked his watch, 10:45. If MacDuff Taylor was out sick and his par­ents weren’t pulling up stakes and leav­ing town like a few of their more pan­icked neigh­bors, then the boy should be at home. Sitting behind his desk was a waste of time. Besides, orders are for guys with goals. For Plaster, this is just a job.

Blank ques­tion­naire. Clipboard. Pen. Save the spread­sheet file. Stack the oth­er ques­tion­naires neat­ly on the mid­dle of his desk. Tip of the hat and a “I’ll be back in a bit,” quick­ly and with­out stop­ping before Winnie can get too curi­ous. And he’s on his way. He radios in from the address per the pro­ce­dure, but there’s no point in dis­cussing things now. And Winnie only says, “Okay, Dennis.”

**

Who is this beau­ti­ful woman who answers the door? And how did she land in Brenlee? He feels his face go read as he stam­mers, “Mrs. — Mrs. T-T-Taylor?”

Yes?”

MacDuff Taylor’s moth­er?” How could she have ever birthed a child? So thin and well put togeth­er.

Yes, I’m Mac’s moth­er.”

I won­der if I might speak with him. I know he’s home sick today, but I’ve inter­viewed most of his class­mates and they all say he and Gabriel were close…”

Of course. Come in.”

The house is like a cat­a­log. A nice cat­a­log intend­ed for peo­ple who live some­place oth­er than Brenlee. Napa. Sonoma. Monterey. San Francisco.

Have a seat. Can I get you any­thing?”

No. No, thanks.” He should have let Hernandez han­dle this. Plaster is cer­tain he’ll break some­thing he can’t afford to replace. He sits on the edge of an antique look­ing leather couch.

She stops mov­ing for the first time. Flowing, real­ly. And in this inter­rupt­ed flow she looks both beau­ti­ful and awk­ward. She doesn’t know how to tell him the truth. This dis­com­fort Plaster rec­og­nizes. This makes him feel more at ease. A world of prob­lems? Yes. A world of ease and nice things. No.

Is some­thing wrong?”

I… uh… my hus­band and I… I don’t want you to think we just encour­age him to… it wasn’t our idea. It was his. He likes it back there. Or says he does, any­way.”

Who likes what? Where?”

Mac. He likes hid­ing. At least today. Or any day he’s unhap­py real­ly.” She hur­ries to add, “Which isn’t that often.” She shifts her weight from one foot to the oth­er and then tells him, “Mac’s in the shed.”

The shed?”

Out back.”

Okay.” Plaster stands up and fol­lows her out to the back yard. They stop a few feet away from the door to a small stor­age shed made of scrap lum­ber and old road signs.

He’s under the tarp.”

Through the door, an old blue tarp is just vis­i­ble, draped down over what looks like a work­bench. And all at once, Dennis Plaster feels as though he knows this kid. Is it the smell of the dust, wood, and motor oil from the shed? Or sim­ply the way the light spilling through the door falls onto the blue tarp? Dennis knows Mac now because he remem­bers or real­ly, has just learned, some­thing about him­self. Something about hid­ing for days on end. The beau­ti­ful moth­er dis­ap­pears. The world is silent. Dennis moves slow­ly to the wood­en struc­ture. He enters and leans against a saw horse. It will be some time before he speaks and then only to answer a qui­et doubt roused from its hid­ing place under that dirty blue veil, “Is Gabriel real­ly dead?”

Empty Hands

Monday, March 26th, 2007

Perry Foltz had stretched out on the nar­row stain­less steel bench in the cor­ner of the cell. They had tak­en his shit­kick­ers from him and his hat. His dirty white socks had holes in the heels. A hat-shaped impres­sion kept his hair from look­ing entire­ly unruly. He hummed a tune that didn’t quite hang togeth­er.

Officer Plaster approached the hold­ing cell of the Brenlee city police sta­tion qui­et­ly, the last smile at his part­ing words with Vice Principle Schmidt only now fad­ing. “Hey there, Perry.”

Perry moved his fore­arm off his eyes and raised his head to see who was speak­ing. “Well, hey there Dennis. Come to work over the pris­on­er, eh?”

Sure. I think we got our­selves a big catch this time. Regular John Dillinger.”

Who’s that?”

Bank rob­ber.”

Perry laughed. “Yeah. Can’t ya see my fan­cy clothes? And all the women cryin’ for me out front?”

Seriously though, Perry, I won­der if I could ask you a few things.”

Perry was still lay­ing down, only just rais­ing his head to reply to Plaster, “The big guy was there the whole time. He saw me do the whole thing. No ques­tions to ask.”

Not about why you’re in here. About a farm around town here. Somebody described it to me, but I don’t know where it is. You grew up here and I fig­ure you might help me place it.” This was a lie. He could find it. He want­ed to know who owned it.

Somebody in trou­ble?”

No.” Before Perry could ask any­thing more, Plaster went on, “It has a wind­mill that doesn’t work. Metal. They use sprin­klers to irri­gate their orchard.”

Perry pushed him­self up on the bench and leaned against the cin­der block wall, his legs still stretched out before him. His smirk was gone.

There’s an old house there. Back from the road.”

Perry turned his head and looked down at the floor of the cell. There was noth­ing there he didn’t know about already. Painted cement formed to a shal­low angle down to a round drain. “I know the place.” He said to the floor, but loud enough so Plaster could hear him.

Good. Just where is that?”

Out on Quarry Road. You know my grand­pa told me that used to be called Dredger Road ’cause there was an old gold dredger out the end of it before they start­ed up that quar­ry in the fifties.”

Near the canal?”

Perry looked up. “Yeah, that house you want’s clos­er to the canal than the road. You’ll see that wind­mill from a mile off in just about any direc­tion-” Perry cut him­self off and squint­ed over at Plaster. “You wan­ta know some­thin’ else. You know where the fuck it is. Whaddya wan­ta know, Dennis?”

Plaster leaned on the cross bar of the cell, his hands and fore­arms inside with Perry. “Who owns it? Who lives there?”

Perry leaned back as though try­ing to fall back through the cin­der blocks behind him. “No sir. Whyn’t you go look it up, Dennis? I got noth­in’ to do with what­ev­er…”

Twice before Dennis Plaster had seen the kind of fear now stran­gling the life and humor out of Perry Foltz, both times the peo­ple who were so very afraid were strapped to emer­gency gur­neys and no one at the scene had the temer­i­ty to tell them ‘every­thing will be all right.’ So, now, with Perry Foltz, Plaster didn’t pre­tend. “Look, Perry, you’re right I could go look it up, but you’re here now and you know.”

No, I don’t.”

Yeah, you do. Look, tell me and if any­one asks, I’ll tell them I looked it up.”

Perry hands had fall­en open in his lap and he stared into them. “No. No, you tell ‘em if they ask. You tell ‘em it was me. Who’s gonna ask, right? But you tell Andy Currie, I know it’s his land. He don’t live there. I don’t know the man who does, but it’s a man and Andy knows him. Man’s lived there a long long time. It’s Andy Currie’s land though.”

Thanks, Perry.” Plaster wait­ed a moment and then decid­ed to leave this mis­placed cow­boy count­ing his own fin­gers.

Hey, Dennis.”

Yeah.”

Don’t go out there on yer own, right?”

Why’s that, Perry?”

Just don’t s’all. You take some­body. Maybe yer boss or some­body.”

Sure, Perry. Sure.”

The Thin Needle Points Down

Wednesday, March 21st, 2007

Plaster knew her game. He’d been cast as the sec­ond-class ser­vant type for too much of his life to miss the signs. He used to strug­gle with it. Tell them where he’d been accept­ed to col­lege. Tell them his SAT score. Mention his two years of inter­na­tion­al vol­un­teer work over­seas. Whatever white lie would get them to pry open that sec­ond (almost trans­par­ent) eye­lid of con­de­scen­sion and real­ly see him as think­ing, breath­ing, capa­ble per­son. Now, in sit­u­a­tions like these, with the added bar­ri­er of a uni­form and badge, he played it more cool­ly. Not to strug­gle for pow­er or recog­ni­tion can work to imply that you already have or deserve those things.

So, he wait­ed out­side of Vice Principal Schmidt’s office on his feet. The chairs avail­able to sit in might at best acco­mo­date petite junior high school stu­dents. The larg­er you were the more ridicu­lous you would look in those things. Plaster wasn’t small. He want­ed the cig­a­rette he’d been putting off for the last two hours. He hoped Ms. Schimdt had some sub­stance behind her lit­tle game.

After about five min­utes of star­ing at old class por­traits, the door opened and Ms. Schmidt invit­ed him into her office. Instead of some flash­back ver­ti­go of his times in her Atwater counterpart’s office as a boy, Plaster found the whole set­up kind of amus­ing and even cute. Awards for excel­lence on the walls. Pictures of Ms. Schmidt with stu­dents and par­ents. A framed poster for a Carnival fundrais­er from the year she moved from Fifth Grade teacher to Vice Principal. A card­board box of tis­sues out at the edge of her desk avail­able to any dis­traught par­ent or stu­dent.

Please sit down.”

The chair she offered was of adult size, but he declined. “Thanks, but I real­ly have to get back to the sta­tion with these ques­tion­naires as soon as pos­si­ble.” He stood a few feet from her desk. He faced her. Quite still. Quite calm. He kept his has hands at his sides, fold­er in one, air in the oth­er — to have crossed them might con­vey a larg­er sense of intim­i­da­tion than he wished.

Sorry to have kept you wait­ing.”

Well, I want­ed to come by any­way to say thank you for let­ting us con­duct these inter­views here at the school.”

Oh, of course. It’s the best way. Were they use­ful?”

I asked ques­tions. I got answers. But eval­u­at­ing all this,” he held up the fold­er, “that’s Officer Hernandez’s job, not mine.”

Well, cer­tain­ly. But you would know if you heard some­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly rel­e­vant.”

I might, but I’m not as famil­iar with the details of the case so…”

Right.” She picked up her cof­fee mug and changed her tac­tic. “Officer Plaster, I owe you an apol­o­gy.”

He wait­ed. He would have had to fight back a smile but for want of that cig­a­rette.

I shouldn’t have eaves­dropped the way I did or lied about it when you caught me.” She must be at least 60 years old, but she sound­ed 14. More than that, her eyes moved like a teenag­er work­ing at con­tri­tion too.

Well, I accept and appre­ci­ate your apol­o­gy, Ms. Schmidt.”

Good. I’m glad.” She smiled at him.

He raised his eye­brows with a tight-lipped half-smile in return.

So, now I’m just going to come right out and ask. I won­der if I could take a look at those ques­tion­naires.” She held up her hand. “None of the stu­dents will know I did. I won’t pun­ish any of them for school infrac­tions admit­ted to you. I’d just like to have some way of gaug­ing the mood of Gabriel’s peers so I can help them.”

Dennis Plaster would nev­er play pol­i­tics in Brenlee. He was a part-timer and there were always oth­er part-time jobs. He cared more about doing his job well than he did about keep­ing it. So, Officer Plaster laughed in the Vice Principal’s face. “Oh, you got balls, Mrs. Schmidt. Great big brass ones. I think I’m gonna get a war­rant to search your desk just so I can see ‘em for myself.”

She turned red until she laughed with him. Real laugh­ter. Maybe because no one had actu­al­ly laughed at her to her face since her old­er broth­er died or maybe because she had no real alter­na­tive, but she laughed. “Well, I had to try.”

Sure ya’ did. Sure ya’ did.” Plaster didn’t care if she laughed or not. “Well, I’m going to leave now Ms. Schmidt.” And he head­ed for the door.

Dennis.”

He’d almost made it. His hand was on the knob. Here it came. The nee­dle thin point­er remind­ing him of his place in this town. He looked back at the Vice Principal.

You have some expe­ri­ence in the sep­tic busi­ness don’t you?”

My busi­ness is land­scap­ing and gar­den­ing, but I know a lit­tle about it.”

Through your father’s busi­ness near Atwater isn’t that right?”

Yes.”

Maybe you could help my son-in-law with his sit­u­a­tion.” She didn’t say her son-in-law the rich den­tist who nev­er dirt­ies his hands. She didn’t have to.

Well, you just have him give me a call.”

Oh, thank you.”

And Dennis Plaster laughed as he said, “Sure. Sure. Anytime.” And he laughed and chuck­led all the way out of the school build­ing to his well-used squad car and through his cig­a­rette and back to the sta­tion and his desk and right up until he went to the hold­ing cell to speak with Perry Foltz.

Tagged

Friday, March 16th, 2007

Charlie only made it back up to the the top of the hill before he had to pull over. He returned to the small park­ing lot of the old met­al work­shop.

I’m not equipped for this. I can’t do it Fran. Not kids. Not all these kids.

He felt him­self hyper­ven­ti­lat­ing and lost track of the num­ber of tears in the hot-faced embar­rass­ment of cry­ing in some­place almost pub­lic. He bent his head to the steer­ing wheel, sob­bing now. “I’m too tired,” he tried to say out loud, but the words ran togeth­er like a weep­ing child’s. He became very con­scious of the sounds his lungs, his mouth, his nose, even his eyes were mak­ing. He tried to make it all stop, press­ing his fore­head into the wheel until final­ly the car horn went off. He shot upright. He could see no one near enough to hear.

You remem­ber Johnny, Fran? My broth­er Johnny? The one my moth­er talked about. My father pre­tend­ed nev­er exist­ed. I nev­er told you, he died young. Drowned. In a canal. A canal. Swept into a gate. Three feet of water. If he stood he, if he could have, he could have breathed. I saw him. It ruined our fam­i­ly. Emptied it out. This… maybe I’m at home here because Brenlee’s been emp­ty all these years too…

He lis­tened, but Fran didn’t respond. So many years since she died and still each week, each day he wished for her ghost. Charlie Oliveri would have giv­en any­thing to see her, hear her, even faint­ly on a breeze or in the ear­ly morn­ing reflec­tion of a dim street light off low lying val­ley fog. Nothing came.

The car felt hot and cramped so he opened the door. He began to breathe eas­i­er. Some fast food nap­kins wedged between his seat and the gear shift were the only things he could find to help mop up his face and blow his nose. Stepping out of the car, he paced and sighed, look­ing for some rea­son to be out here oth­er than this maudlin grief for his dead wife and these dead chil­dren.

He walked over to the old met­al build­ing and tried to see through the small, cracked, dirty win­dow on the door. A lit­tle light came through some high nar­row win­dows that ran along the length of this rec­tan­gu­lar space. It looked as though some­one had been using the space for stor­age. Looking down now at the door han­dle, he noticed that the han­dle was clean and the locks in good shape. Inside, box­es and large pieces of equip­ment were cov­ered with blue tarps and while noth­ing looked new, things didn’t look neglect­ed either.

Charlie walked around the build­ing. Weeds were dying all along its the base of the walls, except where a small cement ramp had been poured under a large slid­ing door, now locked, but also recent­ly used. In the weeds along the back, high­er and more vig­or­ous than those along the sides, he found a sign for one of the workshop’s now defunct busi­ness­es.

Art’s Furniture and Cabinets. The first busi­ness in the space that Charlie had report­ed on. Art had re-done the cab­i­nets in Charlie’s house and done some work over at the news­pa­per office too. About ten years ago Art closed the shop and went to work for anoth­er fur­ni­ture shop. He still owned the build­ing and the lot and Charlie sus­pect­ed that he had kept the sign because he always intend­ed to reopen his place again some­day. The sign only part­ly cov­ered some old spray-paint­ed graf­fi­ti. What would Brenlee kids spray?

With some effort and the bet­ter part of all his bal­ance, Charlie man­aged to tip the sign away from the wall of the work­shop and read what was writ­ten behind it. It had none of the art or style of urban graf­fi­ti, but all of the des­per­ate need to claim some rel­e­vance and iden­ti­ty in a place that strives to for­get its poor­est and least rep­utable peo­ple.

Boone Rules.

Next Of Kin

Wednesday, March 14th, 2007

Charlie Oliveri rubbed his bald head. He had only slept three hours since yes­ter­day morn­ing. He sat in his ’95 Honda Civic at the top of the steep hill run­ning down to the riv­er and the poor­est hous­ing in Brenlee. He had parked in the small park­ing lot of an aban­doned work­shop made of cor­ru­gat­ed alu­minum sid­ing. Since mov­ing to Brenlee, he had writ­ten sto­ries about ten dif­fer­ent busi­ness­es open­ing with high hopes of suc­cess in this loca­tion. Inevitably, they closed or moved to a bet­ter loca­tion.

Mike Boone grew up at the bot­tom of this hill. More accu­rate­ly, Mike Boone grew up in prison. He came of age and mis­spent his youth accord­ing to the tra­di­tion of his Arkansas fam­i­ly here on Ferry Street. He cat­fished off the old fer­ry land­ing, swam in the riv­er, drank stolen beer and wine cool­ers under the scrub oaks, took his father’s (and mother’s) beat­ings, and learned to elude the local police by float­ing calm­ly and qui­et­ly down­stream to the last jagged remains of the old train tres­tle, blown up but not entire­ly removed back in ’85. Charlie like to tell him­self, that Mike Boone was the kind of kid who might have turned out all right if he had ever learned that there was more to life than Ferry Street and Brenlee, California. He didn’t quite believe it, but he knew leav­ing ear­ly would have been Mike Boone’s only chance.

Charlie checked his watch. A lit­tle after nine AM. Had the prison called the Boone fam­i­ly yet? Probably not. Why would they? They would prob­a­bly just send the body home with a note. He start­ed the car and drove down the hill. He parked in front of an old Chevette up on blocks, weeds grow­ing through the grill and near­ly hid­ing entire­ly the bare wheels and axles. A twist­ed, half-rot­ten apri­cot tree pro­vid­ed lit­tle shade for the fad­ed car and just enough fruit to add some­thing sweet to smells of 30 weight oil, rot­ting card­board, and mildewed press-wood fur­ni­ture.

Charlie had been to the Boone house before. He knew the drill. No one would be up yet or those that were would be too para­noid to show them­selves, but a dog would come out. Barking. It came as direct­ly and loud­ly as pos­si­ble to the driver’s side door. It was a mutt with one bad eye. The news­pa­per­man wait­ed and watched the dog until he heard some­one from the house yell, “Who’s out there?”

Charlie Oliveri. From the paper.”

Skynard. Shut the fuck up.” The dog stopped bark­ing. “Get over here.” It went back towards the house and stood under the win­dow from which Mrs. Boone did her own bark­ing.

Oliveri stepped out of his car and walked towards that same win­dow. He stopped in the yard, stand­ing on an old tri­an­gu­lar piece of ply­wood. “Good morn­ing, Mrs. Boone.”

Yeah?”

I had some news.”

Well, that’s yer job.”

About your son, Mike.”

Something met­al creaked inside and Mrs. Boone’s face became vis­i­ble through the win­dow screen. “What about him?”

Well, Mrs. Boone Mike died yes­ter­day.”

Mrs. Boone moved away from the win­dow with more creak­ing and her face seemed to fade into shad­ow. The dog got up from where it had been lay­ing in the grass and pushed its way under the house. Charlie could hear it scram­ble up into the room inside through the floor. He didn’t know how long to wait.

I’m sor­ry Mrs. Boone.”

No, you’re not.”

I am. I know Mike didn’t kill that boy.”

No shit.”

He wait­ed. He knew she was cry­ing and knew she wouldn’t let him know it. Her silence said all of that. She had the pride of her grief, if lit­tle else.

Mrs. Boone, before I go, I won­der if there’s any­thing you like to say for the paper.”

She cleared her throat and then Charlie saw the flame of a cig­a­rette lighter through the screen and smelled the smoke of her cig­a­rette. She spoke qui­et­ly, her voice nev­er much above a grav­eled whis­per. “Yeah. You tell ‘em… tell ‘em I’m glad my son is dead. You tell ‘em I’m glad his blood’s on their hands. Tell ‘em that’s three boys they killed and peo­ple know it. I know it. Come an’ get me, fuck­ers.”

No Grace For Part-Timers

Wednesday, March 7th, 2007

Instead of anoth­er stu­dent, Andrea Lawson stood in the door­way. “That’s it for the kids, Dennis. Did you want to talk to me, too?” As the boy’s teacher, she had tak­en it on her­self to man­age the flow of kids for Plaster after he sent Marti back to the office.

Well… you’re not on the list.” Andrea Lawson had grown up with, Joanne, Plaster’s girl­friend and they still called one anoth­er friends, though it seemed like they always had to make an effort to see anoth­er or just hang out. Andrea had gone to a ‘real’ col­lege, had a Master’s Degree and owned more books than clothes. She was quick to talk pol­i­tics and slow about sports. Nice and smart and always a lit­tle dis­tant. Joanne always made an effort to include Andrea and Andrea did her part to play along, obvi­ous­ly appre­ci­at­ing that some­one gave a damn that she might be lone­ly. “Maybe Ed wants to talk to you him­self.”

We spoke a lit­tle yes­ter­day.” In the end, what­ev­er was wrong or off about her was for­giv­en in Plaster’s book, because she cared about peo­ple and did what was right with good rea­sons.

Yeah?”

Nothing too spe­cif­ic.” Truth was, the teacher made him feel ner­vous. Just like Hernandez. Peers who felt just slight­ly more grown up and decent than him. He admired them, respect­ed them, called them friends even, but didn’t, couldn’t feel quite like an equal and he real­ized with sit­u­a­tions like this one, he was learn­ing that he was okay fol­low­ing. “It’s good that he’s here, isn’t it?”

Lucky for me, any­way. I’m just a part-timer, you know?” Plaster stacked up the ques­tion­naires and slipped them into a plain file fold­er.

Andrea opened a small smile for him. “You do all right.” To top it all off, Andrea was more than pret­ty.

Yeah?” He stood up and looked around to be sure he hadn’t for­got­ten any­thing. He used the sleeve of his uni­form to dry off the wet spot on the desk where the skater kid had set the sprin­kler head.

You man­aged to keep Mrs. Schmidt out of here with­out draw­ing your gun.”

Yeah. Well, thanks. Be sure to tell Joanne that when she com­plains about all the extra hours-”

The phone inter­rupt­ed him. “Should I get that?”

Andrea stepped over to the desk. “I’ll take it. You can go.”

Okay.”

Hello.”

Plaster was almost out the door, clear and free-

Wait. Dennis. It’s Mrs. Schmidt. She wants you to stop by her office on your way out.”

Tell her I’m on my way. See ya’ Andrea.”

Bye.”

His clear­est and fastest path through the small library would take him between the kids and the tele­vi­sion blar­ing a video about ocean life. Could he just float through the sharks, seals, coral, and alien squirt­ing, crawl­ing, crea­tures unno­ticed or should he try to pick a slow awk­ward path around the back? He decid­ed to tear the band-aid off at one go and made for the door.

Maybe it was a life lived rife with bad tim­ing, maybe his unlucky star ris­ing in the east, maybe an innate clum­si­ness sprout­ing from sim­ply try­ing too hard, or maybe Plaster wouldn’t access the art of grace for years yet to come, but as he passed in front of the tele­vi­sion a jel­ly­fish stung and killed a small tiger fish. One of the kids gasped ‘Nemo’ and the part-time peace offi­cer turned to see 60 small faces strug­gling to bal­ance the tears and shock of wit­ness­ing that sud­den act of all-too-nat­ur­al vio­lence against all the usu­al rewards of their instinc­tive curi­ousi­ty. Plaster paused and said almost too qui­et­ly to be heard over the bur­bling ocean in the tele­vi­sion behind him, “It’ll be okay. We’ll be okay.”

Shredding As A Second Language

Friday, March 2nd, 2007

She had tiny fin­ger­nails paint­ed cot­ton can­dy pink at the ends of tiny hands. She was skin­ny with dirty blonde hair, and braces that looked new and painful. “You should talk to Mac. He liked Gabriel. They sat by each oth­er.”

*

Plaster had been to the boy’s house and the boy remem­bered him — his par­ents had a domes­tic dis­tur­bance habit that came nat­u­ral­ly with all their oth­ers. Big for his age, he wore men’s hand-me-downs and used workman’s clothes. His voice and some­thing about the way his mouth moved made it plain that even though he hat­ed speak­ing, mak­ing any sound at all, he trust­ed Plaster. “Gabriel was cool. And tough. He took me to his house once. Mac came too. They were like best friends, I guess.”

*

This one knew she was the smartest kid in class, but seemed inca­pable of brag­ging about it. Plaster knew her fam­i­ly too. Dad was just this side of a vet­eri­nar­i­an with a degree or two in some­thing about live­stock and her mom ran Brenlee’s County Library Extension. She was qui­et and had clear­ly been cry­ing. “Is Mac dead too? They were friends. They were nice to me.”

*

He didn’t look like much of a talk­er. His mom had dressed him like a Gap Kids skate­board­er, prob­a­bly at the start of the school year, but he had already worn in the clothes to some­thing more gen­uine­ly skate rat — pant cuffs torn to fringes; can­vas shoes writ­ten on, spilled on and glued to; a t-shirt that had expe­ri­ence mul­ti­ple encoun­ters with a thick per­ma­nent mark­er; and a wrist band that looked like he’d made it with sta­ples and an old swim­suit. He stood slight­ly turned so that he could see the door the whole time he met with Plaster in the librarian’s office. “Gabriel was nice.”

What’s that in your pock­et?” His left pant leg was wet and droop­ing from the weight of some­thing in the over­size pock­et.

Nothin’. School stuff.”

Show me.”

He took a tar­nished cop­per sprin­kler head from his pock­et. “Here.” It went down on the desk with a clunk and water dripped from the stem.

This from out in the play­ing field?”

Righteously indig­nant. “No.”

Plaster decid­ed to wait and stare. It didn’t take long for the kid to stop look­ing at him and focus sole­ly on the door. He squirmed and then he spilled. “We all took one. Well, they did. Gabriel and Mac and them. I wasn’t there or I would’ve. But Gabriel did it first. That Mexican could shred. Not on a skate­board, but on every­thing else. He would try any­thing. He wasn’t ever afraid. That’s prob­a­bly why they got him.”

Where did you get this?”

The same place they did. Only I had to go deep­er ’cause they took all the ones in the first row.”

You stole it from an orchard.”

Yeah.”

Where?”

He looked at the door and the sprin­kler and then, “I’m in trou­ble, huh?”

Maybe.”

All the punk angles of the lit­tle skater began to wilt, “It’s this farm on the canal. Not where they found Gabriel, but fur­ther up the canal. They rode their bikes there. It’s hard to take your board on the dirt, so, I wasn’t there that time. It’s an old house, like light green. It’s haunt­ed, I think. And a met­al wind­mill that just creaks. I think it’s stuck.”

Plaster had dri­ven past that orchard and that wind­mill. He had nev­er seen the house. He knew he should con­fis­cate the sprin­kler head and return it to its right­ful own­er, but he also knew the kid would go back for anoth­er one. “Okay, you can go, but we may have to talk again. Take that with you.”