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.