Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for September, 2007


Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Sherri Sneed came to the aid of her com­mu­ni­ty in this time of cri­sis. She arranged for the church­es to open their Sunday School rooms for after school activ­i­ties and day care, called par­ents to let them know that they had some place safe to take their chil­dren, called Mrs. Schmidt to make sure that that Mexican cop had arranged for an offi­cer to be present at the end of the school day, and then called Manuel over at Tia Sophia’s (Brenlee’s only Mexican restau­rant) to make sure those peo­ple took care of their own and brought food to the boy’s fam­i­ly.

Sherri’s two chil­dren were old enough now — Tanya, 16 and Jared, 17 — to take on their mea­sure of respon­si­bil­i­ty. She wrote notes ask­ing that the high school allow them to leave school ear­ly today to that they could help pro­vide after school day care for ele­men­tary school chil­dren of work­ing par­ents.

After every­thing that hap­pened, how could she sleep? Besides, there was no sign of her hus­band, so there was no one there to calm her down. Hell, who wants to be calm any­way? Come to think of it, Trot doesn’t calm her, he depress­es her, com­ing off so good. He’s Mr. Solid, a walk­ing tree or some­thing. Yeah, she can see it now, Trot is a tree his grand­fa­ther plant­ed. She feels more now, sees more, than she has in years. It is all so clear. And she didn’t even need any blow.

Of course Andy called. He even stopped by. Too sweet for his own good. The dumb ass­hole. Still, he does what she asks and answers when­ev­er she called which is more than she can say for her father-in-law. Ken will play along, even if he doesn’t know he’s play­ing. She could almost feel bad for him, like play­ing pok­er with a retard or some­thing, except Ken’s no retard and he’s made her life hell. Kept her from see­ing, from feel­ing, from doing any­thing. Now he’ll dance for her instead of the oth­er way around.

Not long after Sherri hears Brenlee’s mid-day siren in the dis­tance, she hears anoth­er siren, an ambu­lance or… police car? No. That’s an ambu­lance. She clos­es her eyes and sees the white and orange box on wheels cut­ting through town and then through the orchards, but it sounds as though it’s turn­ing away and then she los­es it. A heart attack or some­thing, but who lives over that way besides Andy? Plenty of peo­ple are fur­ther out… plen­ty of peo­ple.

It’s clear to her what she must do now, who she must con­tact in this moment, one of the young ones, the boy from out­side who went away and came back. He’s young enough, but big enough and easy enough. Always so nice. An easy boy his whole life. She keys in William Loof’s phone num­ber, it rings twice and a woman answers.

She hangs up. A fly taps against her kitchen win­dow, unable to see the win­dow which it will die hit­ting. Fucking kitchen. Fucking table and chairs, pots and pans, refrig­er­a­tor, oven, microwave, over-size deep freeze, and that god­damned clock and this sono­fabitch phone. And that fuck­ing fly and piece of shit win­dow. With less effort than she expects, Sherri Sneed rips the phone from the wall and throws it through that win­dow. The fly escapes into the silent shad­owy wal­nut orchard that steals her every vic­to­ry from her, but she knows she will die fight­ing it and is, in every way, exhil­a­rat­ed.

Fresno Fragment

Wednesday, September 19th, 2007

Like most old peo­ple, thinks William, old man Bergoyan can’t cope with how pathet­i­cal­ly bor­ing most of his life has become. All of down­town Fresno is his res­pi­ra­tor. A walk up two blocks from his apart­ment build­ing —  inhale, three blocks over — exhale, lunch and still more cof­fee at a nou­veau Armenian cafe (the first of the last of its kind) — inhale, walk to the park — exhale, sit on the park bench — inhale…

Is it any won­der the old man still holds on to his Brenlee life and all that hap­pened around it? From a cer­tain per­spec­tive, the most eth­i­cal thing I can do is offer him a joint. He doesn’t.

Since leav­ing the old man’s apart­ment they have spo­ken of the weath­er, the way Japanese cars last for­ev­er, and, briefly, of this vast valley’s short­age of tru­ly fine poets. In fact, they have not spo­ken now for more than 30 min­utes, the old man hav­ing silenced every­thing, includ­ing the birds, with, “And it is so odd to me, because there is such poet­ry in the peo­ple here. Such poet­ry.”

William wants to believe he knows what the old man means, but can’t see, or more accu­rate­ly hear, any poet­ry com­ing from the peo­ple of Brenlee or Fresno. It is all so painful­ly pro­sa­ic. He looks out on the too sun­ny play­ground, an acre of burnt grass between their par­tial­ly shad­ed park bench and its emp­ty swings, more burnt grass on the oth­er side of the des­o­late slides and dirty sand and then piles of pale stuc­co and card­board hous­ing, 10 years over­due its whole­sale dis­pos­al and re-devel­op­ment. This land­scape is the hope for Brenlee held out by more than half of the men at Grady’s break­fast counter, the men with the pow­er to at least try to make it hap­pen. What poet­ry could lurk in such hearts?

So, who did it? Who killed Tommy?” William asks.

The old man does not look at him. “You won’t believe…”

Drying Off

Monday, September 17th, 2007

By the time Hernandez gets back to his squad car, the low­er half of his pants are dry. He bags the knife he found in the canal gate as evi­dence. He makes notes for the report he will have to file on its dis­cov­ery, try­ing to come up with a plau­si­ble expla­na­tion for the way he found it as he does.

Investigating like­ly routes into the Sneed farm by sus­pect or sus­pects or any who may have aid­ed in the muti­la­tion and lat­er place­ment of the Gabriel Velasquez’s body… like­ly route to the body’s ulti­mate loca­tion would have tak­en the dri­ver of the vehi­cle through the orchard — back­track­ing this route, came to canal bank… there, stopped car to look for tire tracks up or down the bank that might resem­ble those truck tire tracks found near vic­tim… walked canal ser­vice road in search and stopped at irri­ga­tion gate (get num­ber) where some­thing caught my eye…

Something caught my eye? Better come up with some­thing bet­ter than that for court.

At this point, Brenlee’s mid-day siren goes off. Noon. His sched­ule is com­plete­ly blown. This whole side trip to the Sneed’s and the swim in the canal has used up his morn­ing. He puts his note­book aside, but­tons his uni­form (decid­ing not to tuck it into the still wet waist­band of his pants) and straps on his belt with radio, flash­light, small first aid kit, and gun. He puts on his shoes and takes a last look around the imme­di­ate area. This must be where the killer came down from the canal access road.

He pulls the car up the steep embank­ment, bot­tom­ing out, but mak­ing it and dri­ves to the irri­ga­tion gate where he found the knife. It’s num­ber is just bare­ly leg­i­ble in the cement box, 092 B.I.D. Hernandez jots down the num­ber in his notes and dri­ves along the canal bank until it inter­sects with Quarry Road. He won­ders if he should con­tin­ue along the canal bank or turn right and head back into town to put on a dry pair of pants.

He picks up the radio to check in with Winnie when he hears a loud, slight­ly mud­dled sound­ing, pop — a shot­gun. A few hun­dred yards in front of him, a small flock of mud swal­lows swirls up into the sky head­ing to his right and away from the direc­tion of the shot. The squad car clunks into Drive and rolls down the easy grade to Quarry road. Down on the back top road for a brief moment he feels how low the val­ley real­ly is, earth and all her crea­tures at the mer­cy of the tallest things here, the trees. We are held in their shad­ow. He dri­ves quick­ly up the grade on the oth­er side of the road to rise up those few feet of the embank­ment and regain some sem­blance of com­mand over the area. Proceeding cau­tious­ly, Hernandez reminds him­self that, tech­ni­cal­ly, fir­ing a gun is no crime out here on the edge of town. Farmers do it all the time, rid­ding them­selves of squir­rels, skunks, and unwant­ed birds.

His squad car rounds a bend in the canal, turn­ing in the direc­tion of an old, defunct met­al wind­mill pok­ing up out of the orchards to his left. He hard­ly notices the wind­mill because parked there on the access road in front of him is one of Brenlee’s two oth­er squad cars. He speeds over to the car, but before he can radio in his posi­tion, over­hears Plaster’s call in to Winnie. It’s a 914s. Suicide.

Then anoth­er of today’s strange thoughts, none of them com­ing in ways he is famil­iar or com­fort­able with think­ing, pass­es into Hernandez’s mind: Too much blood runs for this water.

Expert Work

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007

Plaster radios Winnie at the sta­tion. He knows there is a code for this. He knows the code, some­where in his mind he knows the code.

One-sev­en are you there?” She asks. “Dennis?”

Yeah, we have uh… uh… we have an appar­ent Nine-four­teen ‘S’ out at the Currie house.”


It’s not Andy.”

Static hiss­es, breaks, and hiss­es again. Winnie hasn’t any words to send.


I’m here.”

It looks like Mose.”

More hiss­ing and then Winnie speaks con­fi­dent­ly, sound­ing like a voice from a TV cop show, “Unit one-sev­en, main­tain your posi­tion. Emergency ser­vices are on the way. Over.”

One-seven…uh…staying put. Over.”

Dennis has heard that peo­ple will often throw up when they see the results of a shoot­ing at such close range. He hasn’t yet. Instead, he won­ders at how expert­ly Mose chose the stick to push back the trig­ger and how he knew just the right posi­tion to bal­ance the weapon — butt against the side of his boot, foot pulled up close to his body in order to push the bar­rel against his nose and eye sock­et. The man knew exact­ly how to use a shot­gun to com­mit sui­cide. Most peo­ple don’t. In his short tenure as a police offi­cer, Dennis has been called to four sep­a­rate failed attempts (nine-four­teen ‘A’s), all of them clum­sy and most of them caus­ing more dam­age to the home than the per­son.

On Mose’s lap is the let­ter he wrote to his fam­i­ly ear­li­er that morn­ing. Dennis Plaster’s head throbs as he bends over to pick it up. It’s then that he smells the man. Mose’s liv­ing smell — cof­fee, laun­dry deter­gent, the fire­house, body odor — fad­ing into the smell of his blood and bod­i­ly flu­ids. Now, Dennis is sick. He heaves up his own cof­fee and break­fast at the base of anoth­er tree. He turns back to Mose’s body and looks at the man’s ruined face. “You fuck­er,” he whis­pers and walks back toward the house to greet the Emergency Service vehi­cles.


Monday, September 10th, 2007

This headache. This dark­ness. Something cold and a mas­sive heat over it. Where is his body? Where is he?

Dennis Plaster brings a hand to his fore­head. He rubs. His face is wet. He tries open­ing his eyes and catch­es them between his thumb and fore­fin­ger, pinch­ing the bridge of nose. Why can’t he hang on?

He is cough­ing and try­ing to sit up. His hand has a hard time keep­ing track of his face in all that move­ment. Finally, he is sit­ting up, elbows on his knees, his head hang­ing in the shade his own body makes. He looks at the dirt and ragged grass beneath him. The sun, that mas­sive heat, feels good on his neck.

What an ass­hole,” he mum­bles for and to him­self. His clothes and hair are wet, though his shoes and the bot­tom of his pants are dry. His gun is still hol­stered, though he has lost track of his radio.

He could look up to see exact­ly where he is. He could even get up. But Dennis Plaster feels no urgency. He’s been had and he’s been beat­en. By what, he can’t say. Before he goes on, he wants to know just how stu­pid he has been and just how long he has been out. For all he knows, it could be months. Feels like weeks. The headache stretch­es time for­ward and behind. He looks at his watch. Fifteen min­utes since he approached the house.

He lis­tens. Someone is walk­ing away, he can just bare­ly hear the foot­steps in the dirt. He looks up and around, but as he squints through the sun­light, he sees only the barn, the farm­house, and all the things he saw before. He can’t hear the foot­steps any­more.

His head throbs when he stands. He finds his radio on the porch. Someone has set it upright there and turned it off. Near it there is a dis­charged fire extin­guish­er, bits of white pow­der lazi­ly falling from the frost­ed cone at the end of its noz­zle. Around what used to be his patch of ground a few feet away, more of the pow­der is caught in the grass and weeds. Some of it still sticks to his cloth­ing. That’s the smell. Plaster spits and runs a hand through his hair. Covered with the shit. Reminds him of a time in high school when he and friend ‘dec­o­rat­ed’ someone’s ex-girlfriend’s small pick­up. He can’t even remem­ber if it was his girl­friend or his friend’s. He’d shake his head, but the headache keeps him still.

He debates radio­ing in this whole thing, fil­ing a report, the whole mess… but knows he has to do it. He sighs and picks up the radio. The speak­er pops when it turns it on and as he absent­ly checks the fre­quen­cy, anoth­er, loud­er pop from the orchard behind the barn. No, loud­er but more muf­fled than a pop. It makes no sense to him, but he knows the sound. A shot­gun.