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.