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?”