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.