Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


premature fiction

The Gate

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.