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.