Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler

 

Archive for April, 2007

The Gate

Friday, April 27th, 2007

A square cement block jutted up from the side of the canal. The box protected the metal workings of a gate that redirected water from the canal into a lateral irrigation pipe. This pipe fed the Sneed’s orchard. The first dead body Hernandez had seen in Brenlee had come from under one of these gates. A teenager had gone swimming in a canal at night and, not knowing any better or not bothering to look, entered the water too close to an open gate. The powerful suction created as the water rushed through the pipe to feed the orchard had pulled her down to the chain link screen in front of the pipe and she could not swim free. Her name was Jennifer something, something plain and simple that went with her thin unmuscular body and ordinary clothing.

Even though Hernandez could remember the girl’s face without blinking, she had never haunted him. Somewhere beneath the contorted pain and chain link patterned bruises across her cheeks, he sensed that Jennifer-something had discovered some peace in her death. Gabriel Velasquez knew no such peace and the vision of his blood led Hernandez to the Sneed’s irrigation gate, now closed and offering no more danger than any other part of the canal.

He expected the vision of flowing blood to disappear once he was close enough to the irrigation pipe to know why it had brought him here. Instead, the vision persisted. He saw the blood falling in a steady narrow stream from above the water line, dripping from the metal workings that enclosed the top of the cement box and served to open the irrigation gate. He couldn’t see exactly where the blood was coming from, or reach into the machinery from his position in the canal. So, he climbed up the cement side, slipping and sliding on moss and algae until finally he was balanced precariously on the top of the box, one foot against the canal bank, one hand reaching up to grip the wheel that turned the metal rod that lifted the gate. He could hear the blood trickling down into the water. With his free hand he reached into the darkness at the back of the cement box.

The sound of dribbling fluid stopped. He could no longer see the blood. His fingers felt something wedged between the metal top and the cement wall. Rough fabric. Probably canvas. He tugged at it, but it wouldn’t budge. He felt stupid as it became clear that whoever had put this thing here had done it from the other side – the dry side. He hadn’t needed to get wet to find it. “Goddamned visions…” he mumbled out loud as he pulled himself out of the canal.

On the dry side of the cement box, he found a heavy metal bar holding down the top of the box. Once upon a time it had been bolted into the top of the cement wall through the metal sheeting. Now, it relied wholly on gravity to remain in place. He let that same gravity hold him still a moment. He wondered just how insane he had gone, standing here dripping half-clothed next to a dirty canal, believing a now invisible trail of blood had brought him to some piece of valuable evidence. Why, he wondered, am I undoing myslef? Don’t I want to do good? To succeed? Hernandez could almost feel the water evaporating off his skin under the hot sun. His uniform pants would take a good deal longer to dry and would probably never again look quite as good as they did this morning when he left his apartment.

He moved the bar out of the way without much effort and lifted the rusted sheet metal, loose now only on this side of the box. Under the metal, he could see a piece of old faded green canvas. He grabbed the fabric and pulled. Pieces of metal rattled inside what he could see now was a bag. One look inside and he dropped it before it burned his fingers and hands.

Hernandez ran back to where he had left his clothes and gun and then to his car. He would need pictures. He would need to confirm the trail of evidence. He would need to invent some rational scheme of logic that led him to this gate and the murder weapon in that bag. He would need to prove to himself that his ghosts were honest and meant him no harm. He would have to remember Jennifer-something’s last name and hope she could share her ordinary peace with the lost spirit of a little boy or Hernandez would live the rest of his life at that spirit’s whim.

A Man of Visions

Wednesday, April 25th, 2007

Yesterday (Tuesday, right?), he took the call out at the Sneed’s place. He saw the boy’s body, Gabriel Velasquez’s body, murdered somewhere and then carefully arranged in the Sneed’s peach orchard. Small and still.

Last night, after a day of townspeople, county officials, teachers, parents, and Gabriel’s frightened peers, he received a letter from an old newspaper man, written well in advance of yesterday. In that letter, the old man told a story about another murder of another boy committed here in the same town and in much the same way 20 years ago. Friends he has made here in Brenlee knew that boy, saw his body (arranged just like Gabriel’s), and told him of justice gone unserved.

This morning, before he could even enjoy a peaceful breakfast, a man attacked another man after learning about Gabriel’s murder. The man he assaulted was later accused of, at the very least, aiding and abetting the previous murder. He took the attacker to jail and learned little along the way. He went to the morgue to see Gabriel again, to learned just how he had been butchered.

And then, the vision. A peach. Visual and olfactory hallicinations. Simple. Not even a message, as such. But he took it as one. Went where it pointed. The orchard where old Mr. Sneed had found Gabriel. And from Mr. Sneed he learned that the other boy, 20 years earlier, had been found in exactly the same way only a few feet away.

Driving away from that orchard, tracing the path of the person who brought Gabriel and that other boy to rest among those trees, here on the canal bank, another vision. The knife. Its blade still awash in the child’s blood. The metal rattled and pointed him like a compass to the canal.

Hernandez meant to drive away and ignore this vision, to get on with his day and the serious business of investigating this murder in some way that might hold up in court. The knife rattled and then as he drove away from the canal, stopped rattling, disappearing entirely.

Most people would have been relieved.

Hernandez wasn’t.

Like an empty riverbed, the knife’s abscence left bare a path to its source. It appeared when and where it did for a reason. Hernandez turned back only two blocks from the police station, less than a minute from resuming his day as scheduled, and returned to that canal bank. He radioed his location with strict instructions for no one to know where he was for the next two hours. He parked the squad car in the Sneed’s orchard and walked back up up the canal embankment. Shirt, gun, radio, shoes, ankle holster and spare .38, belt, everything but his badge and his car keys, he wrapped up in a bundle and tucked into the crook of a tree.

Only 10AM but it must be well over 80 degrees out. Even the water in the canal looked sleepy and warm. The entire world felt oblivious to itself, which, he reflected for the first time, is pretty much the normal state of affairs. The steep cement banks of the canal made it tricky to wade in, especially with all the moss making the slides so slick. How did he do it as a kid? Just jumped in, probably. Always with cheap sneakers, shorts and shirt on too. Shoes would be a good idea. There’s always glass and metal in the muck on the bottom. He’ll have to step carefully.

“Okay, let’s just do it, asshole,” he tells himself. And Officer Hernandez steps to the edge of the canal, where the cement holding in the water rises slightly over the dirt embankment holding up the cement. He crouches down and slides feet and ass first down the mossy cement into the slow moving irrigation water, going completely under before getting his footing on the muddy bottom. It is a Brenlee Irrigation District canal and small, just over five feet deep and maybe 20 feet wide at the top. The water smells of frogs, moss, and silt and now so does he. He looks out over the surface and without waiting long, his dementia, or whatever it is in charge of things now, obliges him with a vision. A red stream within the stream twisting at and then past him looks like a long thin strand of smoke dividing a dead starless night strangled by moonlight. He moves, half swimming, half walking, towards the source of all this blood.

Never For Maria Did Maria Weep

Wednesday, April 18th, 2007

The old man’s story short circuits here. He stops talking. It is not a pause, so much as a failed connection. Mind and voice, emotions and logic cannot reconcile. The logic of an otherwise simple system fails. His lips freeze separated by the narrow width of the breath required to utter a short phrase. He stares into his story unable to look away or even take the small necessary internal step backwards into detached observation.

William says nothing. He approaches the silence as a Zen riddle, knowing that herein lays the end of Maria’s story. He must hear the inaudible, listen for a slower, deeper wave of sound, the very frequency of meaning, a vibration to equal the mystery of the human heart.

William knows before the old man rises to leave the kitchen. He could not guess at the time passed between the last word spoken and his understanding of what the silence means. He feels, not clever and perceptive, but emotionally obtuse and personally clumsy.

Pain without conclusion is her entire story and it keeps any one daring to love her from telling her story through to the end.

Without waiting too long, William followed Bergoyan into the living room to ask, “How?” He needed to know.

“What?”

“How did she do it?”

“You might just as well ask how many times did she try? The first few times she did not want to succeed. She could not have. We are too fragile, too easily destroyed. She wanted all of her scars to finally appear on her body. And so they did. That wasn’t enough. Of course. How could it be? Each morning, still she wept. Her brother. Her son. Never for herself. Truly, never for Maria did Maria weep.” Bergoyan looked up from where he sat on his couch.

William leaned against the wide archway entrance to the living room. He could think of nothing to say and was glad he couldn’t.

“They put me away for a few months after… six months… a cousin of mine found me. I don’t know how. A good man. He could have taken all I have, but refused. My life… an embarrassment of riches, of friends, of family, of life itself in all its stubborn persistence. I watched her die. Life fighting to hold her, to punish her for simply living, until her last breath.”

William felt desperate for some sunshine. The old man’s apartment felt darker than it could really be. “I need some air.”

Without saying anything, Bergoyan followed him down to the street where they began walking through downtown Fresno, seeking and finding comfort in the mundane arrangement of mundane lives in a mundane place.

Maria’s Story Pt. 5

Friday, April 13th, 2007

Maria had rules for everything and for everything she had a rule. As a lifelong bachelor this caused great consternation for Bergoyan, but he also took some pleasure in seeing all the shoes lined up just inside the front door, the kitchen free of newspapers and books, and a pair of clean hand towels always neatly folded over the rack in the bathroom.

After an intense arguement over whether or not and when to use coasters (rather than books, magazines, newspapers, or nothing at all), Bergoyan wondered, “Just how did you move in here, anyway?” By that time she had been living in his spare bedroom for three months. Somewhere in those months he had cut his drinking to two glasses of whiskey after dinner. Maria had not asked this of him and she had not stopped smoking pot.

“You asked me to move in, old man, that’s how.”

“Must have been drunk.”

She whipped her head around and looked him in the eye, her face framed by her dark falling hair. “Must have been lucky.”

For just a moment he was dumbstruck by her sad, somehow inevitable, beauty. “Lucky,” he managed to reply.

“Yes, lucky.”

He set his coffee on the cork backed picture of Fisherman’s Wharf that she had insisted he use and smiled up at her, “Luckiest day of my life.”

She didn’t expect that. Maybe she even wanted more fight from him than that, but after she blinked at him in disbelief, she snickered. She knew where his thoughts had run. No man hid desire well and old men like Bergoyan had no hope of concealment before young women like Maria. She spoke quietly from behind a laugh, “It would kill you old man.”

Bergoyan simply smiled.

“I’m just a young girl,” she told him.

“Hardly a girl.”

“Too young for you, anyway.” And she wandered away, leaving him to his coffee and his newspaper.

“I’m not convinced.” He called after her.

“You will be.”

They shared another year together before the jokes became something more: something confusing and too free from the burden of future considerations. Though the sharper pains of their loneliness were then somewhat soothed, each morning before sunrise, as she always had done, Maria found her way to the kitchen table to weep for her lost son.

Another Inner Strangeness

Monday, April 9th, 2007

William couldn’t feel the tip of his nose anymore so he switched to coffee, no whiskey. Bergoyan looked and sounded steady. He had stopped telling Maria’s story some time ago and the two had sat drinking together with the muted, yet recognizable, sounds of morning television news coming through the ceiling and a large square of sunlight moving from left to right across the kitchen tile.

The old man noticed that William didn’t sweeten his coffee with the Jameson’s and asked, “How are you now Loof?”

William felt jet lagged and thoroughly displaced. The story, the dope, the booze, and the deep, even river of the old man’s words had screwed with his sense of time and place. “Maybe I need a drink of water.”

Bergoyan brought him a glass of tap water with ice.

“Thank you.”

“Did you eat this morning?”

“Yeah.” He gulped down half the glass of water and felt a bit clearer, if not truely refreshed. “It’s still morning?”

“For another hour.”

“I think I need a taco.”

“A taco?”

“Pretty soon. But I can wait. Don’t wanta rush it. Tacos change things.” Wow, was he still high or what. From the way the old man watched him, William knew that he had revealed his inner strangeness too abruptly, too nakedly – as usual. Instead of trying to cover anything up now, he only said, “Maria,” which only made him feel all that much more odd.

After a pause though, the old man took up his story again. “She was easy to fall in love with and quite impossible to love….”

Blind Initiative

Wednesday, April 4th, 2007

Did Plaster know too much or not enough to be frightened?

He parked his car on the canal bank next to the orchard surrounding the old farm house and radioed in to Winnie at the station.

“You shouldn’t be out there,” she told him. She would know. Born and raised in Brenlee.

“I won’t be long.” Plaster thought her concern was over the time he would lose, that he wouldn’t be back in time to meet up with Hernandez.

“Dennis,” most of the emotion that ever came through these radio conversations came through in pauses and Winnie floated a long one here before continuing quietly, “we could use you here.”

“I’ll be back in twenty minutes, okay? Over.”

“Twenty minutes. Over.”

Did Dennis Plaster, not quite thirty years old, have any idea what really drew him to this place?

He found no walkway, driveway, or other entrance into the property, as though the owner had buried the house deep inside the orchard and given up on it. The decrepit windmill, a rusty, otherwise useless landmark, served as the only means of orientation.

He noticed as he walked into the orchard that the ground was not quite level and ran down at a gentle grade toward in the direction of the windmill and presumably the house. Most land along the canal banks had been at least partly graded to allow for flood irrigation, but here the owner had chosen to use sprinklers instead. He didn’t have to go far into the orchard before he felt completely hidden by the great ancient looking walnut trees still in full leaf and their nuts not yet harvested. “Smells old,” Dennis mumbled to himself. And it did.

What did Officer Plaster want to find in that orchard?

He didn’t like the house. Small and oddly shaped, someone had added a porch onto the front and a windowless room to one side. It looked used but not quite occupied. There was a barn, or more accurately, a large shed, nearby, but Dennis wanted to start with the house. The barn felt like a needless delay. He would have to take on the house sooner or later anyway.

The porch complained about his weight with sharp crack and a hundred tiny creaks. Dennis expected no better. When he knocked on the wood frame of the screenless screen door it, in turn, knocked on the door frame behind it. No one answered any of these knocks. “Hello?” he called out. No answer.

Dennis looked back at the barn and around the side of the house before deciding to go in. No warrant. No cause.

Before his eyes could adjust to dark interior, a light, a hot light, hit him. He didn’t have time to call out and hardly time to raise his hands to his face before his lungs lost their air and his feet the ground. If there had been enough porch behind him to support the full length of his body maybe he would not have lost consciousness, but as it was, he flew across that shallow porch, the back of his head skipping down the worn wood steps to the hard dry ground. In his senses last slippery moments of use his face felt hot, his stomach heavy and cold, and breathing impossible. He saw nothing. Not the one who had done this to him, not the eaves of the broken down house, and not even the hot sun in the dry blue sky.