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.”