“Accidental” – Open and Shut, Nothing More and Nothing Less by Tim P. Walker

The kid puked. I can’t say that I didn’t see it coming. Many times I’ve seen it and it’s always the same – the color-drained face, the trickling sweat, the quivering lips, the quick convulsion and the grand finale. A man of solid constitution would be able to choke it back. But most kids have the constitution of a wet paper bag – they’ll puke or cry over damn near anything. This wasn’t just anything this time, but I’ll credit the kid though. He choked it back for as long as he could. He wasn’t crying yet either, but even that was a crumbling dam ready to burst. Still, a kid is a kid, and him being in his early double digits only meant that his constitution consisted of two wet paper bags. So I was glad to have a trash can at the ready.

The kid puked and it was the first coherent thing to come out of his mouth. I was firing questions at him, getting nothing back but a frantic jumble of half composed words mashed together in his mouth as if he couldn’t decide whether to lie or come clean. Occasionally he’d start a sentence with “we were just…” But that train of thought was going nowhere. I could see how his brain was working and that locomotive was going uphill with the tracks falling out from underneath. Nothing was connecting with this kid. If I tried to tell him something, it’d look like he was trying to process what I told him, but then he’d quickly shake it off. He wouldn’t look at me either. No surprise – I never met a kid who could hold eye contact. It’s as if their eyes are magnetically repelled by those of any authority figure, me included. But that wasn’t quite the case with this kid. He was staring intently at something in the room – perhaps something without blood on it – and he barely even seemed to register that I was there in front of him. So when he puked, it was kind of a relief. It meant that something was starting to sink in. Really, it was all he needed to say.

The kid puked and if my constitution wasn’t that of a cast-iron tank, I probably would’ve puked myself. The blood trail began one of the bedrooms. Queen-size bed, oak dresser, no junk on the floor – clearly it was the parents’ bedroom. An almost black puddle in the otherwise spotless beige carpet lay near the door. Smaller drops and streaks led down the hall to what was the kids’ room, where another dark puddle sat dead center on one of the beds and blotted out the printed pattern on the sheets of what were either robots or cars. The trail then took me to the john, where most of the mess had convened. Blood-drenched towels and soggy wads of toilet paper were piled on the floor, where yet even more blood streaks were smeared into the tiles and grout. The faucet was still running when I arrived and a pair of tweezers marked with bloody fingerprints sat on the sink ledge. I’d bet those fingerprints belonged to my little puker. And I’d bet that while he was picking at the wound, he was trying his best to concoct some kind of story, any kind of story that would’ve gotten his ass out of trouble. But kids are kids, and the stories they think are brilliant never really are. He didn’t manage to get that round out either. If that ill-conceived operation were the slightest bit successful, I’m sure I would’ve found some bloody fingerprints smeared all over the box of Band-Aids in the medicine cabinet as well. But I’m sure the brother at some point stopped crying and started to look a shade of pale so ghastly that the puker couldn’t ignore how dire the situation was anymore. The last trail of spots and streaks led to the living room. The last set of bloody fingerprints – found on the telephone.

The kid puked when he stopped shaking his head, when he seemed to realize that I wasn’t lying to him, that I would have no reason to lie to him, that all that was done can’t be undone. But I’d understand his disbelief. In all the movies and TV shows, it’s always body shots and head shots that do people in. You never see anybody bleeding out from their arm. They never tell you that when blood is gushing from your brachial artery that you got to get a tourniquet around that arm or else you’re going to bleed to death. But I didn’t tell the kid any of that. He’d have the rest of his life to figure out that he could’ve done something. No need to hear it from me. Besides, what the hell do kids know about tourniquets and brachial arteries anyway?

Still, the kid puked. The kid puked hard until there nothing left to puke, then he puked some more. When I left him, I couldn’t tell if he was dry heaving or trying to force some tears out sideways. Whenever those tears came – and they were coming all right – I’m sure they were the hardest tears he’d ever have to cry in his life. I guess it’d feel something like pulling a coil of barbed wire through your eye sockets. I’m sure he’ll be pulling at that coil for years to come. And the next time he picks up a gun – well, that’s something I don’t care to think about. Cast-iron tanks ain’t rust proof. The kid puked and that’s all I was going to get out of him. That’s all I cared to get out of him. “Accidental” – that’s what’s going in my report, that’s what we’re telling the press if they bother to ask for any comments. Nothing to it. It’s an open and shut case – nothing more, nothing less. File the report. Close the book. Move on.

Tim hails from Baltimore, Maryland, where if human life were cheap then it would be comforting to know that somebody thinks enough of it to assign it value. His piece "Somebody's Cousin" (a/k/a The One With The Samurai Sword) appears in Out of the Gutter 7. Tim has no blog to speak of, but anybody interested in his occasional two pesos can find him here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/profile.php?id=1140117044.

12 comments:

Mike Miner said...

This story really grabbed me. Everything about it was intense, the language, the action. Excellent read.

ajhayes2 said...

Harder than dog track donuts. Know quite a few cops and pretty much they handle stuff like this the same way. And I'd wonder when I was going to meet that kid again myself. No give at all here, just cold steel pushing back everywhere you look. Cool.

Thomas Pluck said...

Good story, Tim. The detachment and the loss are striking.

David Barber said...

Loved this story, Tim, and with lines like...'I guess it’d feel something like pulling a coil of barbed wire through your eye sockets.' what's not to like?

Very well done!

Sue H said...

An acutely observed piece. Cold, hard, detached - probably the only way to deal with this on a day-to-day basis. Makes me glad I'm not a police officer.
Well done, Tim!

Charlie Wade said...

Excellent. Great pacing and voice. Agree with others about detachment, it must be the only way to do the job and keep sane.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Very good story. The narration was so solid. Not a word of dialogue, which makes it even more impressive. I re-read it, and found even more to like.

Robin B. said...

I read this through a few times, and realized why I like it so much is that the voice and attitude of the narrator are so powerful, I can just about hear him talking. And the way the story ended:

The kid puked and that’s all I was going to get out of him. That’s all I cared to get out of him. “Accidental” – that’s what’s going in my report, that’s what we’re telling the press if they bother to ask for any comments. Nothing to it. It’s an open and shut case – nothing more, nothing less. File the report. Close the book. Move on.

...really sealed the deal for me.

Good, good stuff!

Toastmaster General said...

Really visual, graphic. Sweet.

M. Stang said...

The nit and grit held me through the middle. Great humanitarian perspective.

Tim Walker said...

Thanks again all.

Christopher Black said...

Dark. Very dark and minimalist and put together so well. No dialogue and few details except cold hard facts. You really pull it off.