Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for May, 2007

Mose Brenlee’s Missive – 2

Monday, May 28th, 2007

Besides the ghosts, and this is the second thing I have to tell you, I’ve kept a lot of secrets about Brenlee and the people here. Everyone who lives here very long has to keep secrets. I guess out of fear, mostly. Fear of losing what you have. Fear of having to move away and start over. Maybe even for me, fear of never seeing the ghosts again. Well, fear for themselves keeps a lot of people quiet and basic human decency keeps the rest of them quiet because what they know might ruin other people’s lives. Almost definitely would ruin lives.

The biggest secrets I know, the ones I can’t keep inside anymore, have to do with the boys murdered here. The one they found earlier today and the one they found 20 years ago. Both of them pretty much in the same place. Out in the Sneed’s orchard.

You all know I don’t care for Kenny Sneed. We grew up together, more or less, and never did get on together. He had to win at everything and be seen winning at everything and never cared how he won. Anything to do that might have taken his work but wouldn’t amount to his gain, he avoided. Never supported the department. Hardly even came to the pancake breakfasts and teased the people who did volunteer and give us money. I don’t know if you kids remember the time I came home bruised and bloody and didn’t get out of bed for two days. You were pretty little. Kenny went to the hospital. It was only his pride that kept him from pressing charges or suing me into the poor house – either of those things would have meant admitting that I beat him. I’m only as proud of it as a man is proud of killing an animal that eats his stock. Maybe that sounds pretty prideful, but it’s not like a hunter with a trophy. It’s something that had no alternative. It wasted time and brought neither the animal, pest that it was, or the rancher, not a man who makes money from his gun, any real good.

All that to say that I was only so proud of kicking Kenny’s ass. He had it coming, but I wish I didn’t have to have done it at all. You see, he wouldn’t let men working for him, volunteers for the department, have time off for the control burns or training or, even one time – the time that pushed me over the edge, time to answer an emergency call. He started taking away their beepers and walkies while they were at work in his almond huller. As soon as I heard about that and knew it was him at the source, I went to him. We beat each other nearly senseless, but I walked away and he didn’t. I made him call the department for an ambulance and made sure it was the men who worked for him who arrived first. The whole department watched him get hauled away and everyone did their jobs in spite of him. Everyone except Andy Currie, that is. Anyway, Kenny never gave me or the department any trouble again.

None of that’s a secret though. Maybe from you two kids because you were so young, but not generally. No, the secrets in Brenlee run deeper. There’s ones people guess at, like that boy, Boone, who went to prison for killing that boy 20 years ago being innocent. Of course, anyone who remembers that, knows he’s innocent after the boy they found this morning, but not many people said anything at the time or much later. Then there’s secrets nobody even wants to guess the truth about, like the one that follows the truth about the Boone boy; if he didn’t murder that boy 20 years ago, who did? And why’s nobody saying anything? And the answer to that last is fear. People are afraid of knowing the truth, because the person behind it, isn’t just like you or me. That person, a person who would kill a child and leave it like that to be found, butchered and bled out, that person is from Brenlee walking among us and our ghosts, poisoning our town. Too many of us know who that person is and none of us has said a word – but keeping that secret changed my life… maybe Phyllis you’d say, it ruined it.

Part Three – Mose Brenlee’s Missive

Wednesday, May 16th, 2007

Mose Brenlee, in at least one respect, is like most early 21st century Americans, in that he is not much of a letter writer. He loves to receive them, even enjoys writing them, indulges in reveries of their romantic eloquence and lasting importance while watching Civil War and other pre-twentieth century documentaries on television, but Mose, at 63 years old, can think of only two personal letters he has written in the last thirtysome years. He vows to change that, beginning with a long letter to his wife and children whom he has not seen in some weeks due to an uncomfortable and, ultimately, violent exchange with his son regarding the existence of ghosts. Mose believes in them, his son, Rick, does not.

Late in the evening of the day the body of 12 year old Gabriel Velasquez was found in Pickem Sneed’s orchard exactly as the body of a boy named Tomas Coates was found in the same place some 20 years earlier, Mose sits down to explain himself in writing to his family. They must understand why he knows there are ghosts, why he is about to do what he knows he must do the following day, and, most importantly, he must convince them to return to live in Brenlee. He sits at the battered linoleum topped kitchen table in the firehouse with a new ballpoint pen and a pad of air mail stationary (both purchased that afternoon from the new dollar store out on the edge of town) and begins writing.


I have a lot to tell you that I’m afraid you wouldn’t sit and listen to if I tried rambling on about it to you in person. I’ve tried and it just comes out wrong. We end up fighting over things that aren’t the heart of the matter anyway. And someone’s got to know the heart of the matter the way I know it. Someone besides me. A Brenlee should know it because the heart of the matter, the heart of this town I can’t ever leave is the birthright of you kids and your right as my wife Phyllis, our marriage making you a Brenlee too.

So, the heart of the matter is what I’m writing about. But before I get to it, let’s just get a few things out of the way and if you think they make me crazy, well, I hope that won’t keep you from reading this whole letter, because I don’t think the main things I have got to tell you would be called crazy by anybody.

First, or number one, I don’t believe in ghosts. I just know there are ghosts. Like knowing water runs down hill. Simple as that. I have seen them my whole life in Brenlee. It’s not getting old that made me see them, it’s getting old that’s made me less afraid to be honest about what I see around me everyday in this town. Don’t be scared. I’m not one of those TV guys who thinks they can tell us how to win the lottery or something. The ghosts here, I don’t know about other ones or even if other ones exist, but the ones around here, the ghosts of Brenlee, are quiet, in fact, not all of them are even people. They’re things you see and smell and even, one time, taste. I’ve heard them too, but they don’t talk to me, not exactly. They say things or make sounds, but they don’t have a message that’s straightforward like two living people having a conversation.

For a long time, I just figured I was a little crazy, but not so crazy I couldn’t get on with what I had to do to look normal or sane. Then, one day, I helped this lady out on Fraser Landing Road with a kitchen fire. She was old, but in good shape. She saw my name tag and knew my family. She told me she had seen my grandmother the week before walking in town. By that time my grandmother had been dead for twenty or more years. The old lady said, “Oh, but you saw her too, didn’t you? She probably came to town to see how you were doing.” I told her my grandmother was dead so she must have seen someone who looked like her, but she said, “No. She was a ghost. Don’t pretend you haven’t seen them Yosemite Brenlee, everyone in Brenlee sees them sooner or later. People don’t leave Brenlee. Not their souls, anyway.” She told me Brenlee was built on a Miwok burial ground and that was why the souls stayed, it was a place blessed for souls. I don’t know about that and she’s the only one who ever told me any such thing, but I had seen my grandmother that week and lots of people before her and lots of other things too. And these days, everywhere I look in Brenlee I see ghosts, more than ever before, and I think I know why they’re so active. That’s the heart of the matter of this thing. That’s why I’m writing you all, to tell you what the ghosts want me to do.

Noon – End of Part 2

Friday, May 4th, 2007

The Brenlee Volunteer Fire Department has three full-time employees.

Andy Currie pushed the paper work to the people who knew how to do it, kept the list of keys well sorted, maintained and issued the beepers and walkies, made sure the Fall and Spring pancake breakfasts made it onto the city calendar, and generally used his broad lipless smile and cheery demeanor to promote the department in the community.Most people thought Andy was dumb, even slightly retarded, they felt the department humored him by letting him serve despite his physical and mental limitations (he could never keep a straight face, even at the most inappropriate times, like housefires and funerals, and one leg was shorter than the other).Andy has served the Brenlee Volunteer Fire Department for over 30 years. It is the only formal job he has ever had. His modest expenses – clothes from the feed store, a new truck ever seven years, and the like – are all more than amply covered by an inheritance from his grandfather, one of the founders of Brenlee. What he earns from the department, he returns in the investment of new emergency readiness equipment, radios, etc.

Yosemite Hoban Brenlee, Mose for short, tended Brenlee’s large metal shed turned firehouse through every dark night all year. Those who knew him, had only seen him in the early morning or on a late night call. His fifty years of service to the BVFD (he held his first hose at age 14) had netted him more respect and authority among the volunteers and community advisory board than the all of the other members of the rotating set of fire chiefs combined.Once an overgrown beast of boy and young man, Mose had, over the past several years, gone through a period of physical decline. He had thinned out in the belly, changing his eating habits so that few could remember the years when Mose Brenlee made mockeries of eating contests and idle challenges to his status as a true gourmand. After years of wearing it long, he now kept his hair clipped short and neat. All of that had changed years ago, back when Mose became the department night owl, monitoring the radio, tinkering with the engines, pumps, and other equipment that needed maintaining, and keeping the last light in Brenlee lit through the night.Mose Brenlee’s paternal great-great-grandfather, William Brenlee, is that Brenlee, the one who founded this town in 1854. His maternal great-grandfather, Charlie Hoban, founded the BVFD. He had spent his life here and refused to leave when his wife gave him an ultimatum twenty years ago, ultimately taking their kids with her to San Rafael. Mose visited every other week, still madly in love with his wife and wildly proud of his children, the first Brenlees to grow up away from the town of Brenlee in four generations.A last note on Mose: he never speaks to, nor, unless otherwise unavoidable, shares a room with Andy Currie.

Norton was not a person, but Brenlee’s 50+ year old Civil Defense siren. Some clever fireman had named him in honor of Ed Norton of the Honeymooners, not so much for the nature of the character or actor who played him, but instead for its sonic resemblance to the way Jackie Gleason would belt out his fictitious neighbor’s name on that television show. Always begining with a low rumble and building to a powerful boom, “NnnnnoORTON!” never failed to send the dimwitted neighbor running and the audience laughing. Likewise, Brenlee’s Norton had never failed in its duty, never having sounded for any civil defense emergency, it had however announced noon each day to all of Brenlee.

“NnnnnooooOORRTON.” No one runs or laughs. In fact, all of Brenlee is still for moment. Aware, today, of a new unfortunate tension in the air that can come only from fear, like animals startled into a brittle stillness too short to take a breath at the sound of a rifle shot, everyone in town tries to empty their minds of poor Gabriel Velasquez and fails. Quickly then, they retreat into the second half of the day, concealing themselves in the thickets of routine activity and the high weeds of invented differences that fail to truly separate victims and survivors.