Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

The Thin Needle Points Down

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.