Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

premature fiction

28.3 Cents A Minute

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?”