Bo looked around at the crowd. He was on the small stage at the end of the park between Mount View Methodist and the Food Time grocery. At least two hundred fifty people had the little park filled to capacity. He recognized the publisher of the local newspaper and a reporter from the Bristol paper in the crowd. There was also the unlikely presence of four different television crews. Two were from Tennessee, one was from Virginia, and there was even a camera from the Hazard, Kentucky station. When Clyde told Bo that he was going to invite every newsman in a triangle from Lexington, Kentucky to Knoxville, Tennessee to Roanoke, Virginia Bo had shrugged it off. In the entire history of Bartlette County no television reporter had ever come to a campaign announcement – much less four.
Of course, the people on the stage with Bo had something to do with that. Yusif was on the opposite side of the stage from Bo with Clydes's daughter, who seemed to be assigned as his keeper. In between them were two U.S. congressmen, six members of the Virginia House of Delegates, two state senators, and the lieutenant governor. In the last three days, Clyde Mullins must have called in every favor owed him by a bigwig in the Democratic Party.
Clyde might have been responsible for the presence of the politicians and the reporters, but Bo was responsible for most of the local people in the crowd. He, his father, and his brothers called everyone they knew and told them to come to the announcement. As he looked around the ones who stood out were those he played high school football with (and against), his brothers' hunting buddies, and his dad's poker crew. Bo smiled as he saw his dad working the crowd wearing his one and only suit – a seersucker that had been the Father's Day gift all the boys and (mostly) Mom had pitched in to buy him at least fifteen years back. Grady Ross was having a blast. He might not be a sophisticated politician like Clyde Mullins, but he'd drunk a beer with every man in the county over forty and lost at poker to most of them. For every vote Clyde could deliver Bo's dad would bring in three.
Bo wondered whether the Old Man would be able to get as many votes for Yusif. When he told Dad that the plan was to run him and Yusif as a team, the first words out of Dad's mouth were, “You mean that Muslim boy who goes to the Catholic church?”
They were standing on the front porch of Dad's house drinking a couple beers and Bo took a long draw on his while he considered all the things wrong with that statement. He knew Dad was just trying to make sure they were talking about the same guy and the Old Man didn't have a mean bone in his entire body. If you didn't mess with his family, land, cattle, or maybe his weekly poker game, Grady Ross would classify you as “good people” and you had to work hard to get yourself classified as “hateful.” Still, Bo was going to have to have a talk with Dad because he knew if that was how the Old Man was talking to him much more interesting descriptions would be used at the weekly poker game and the barber shop and wherever else Dad hung out through the week.
Before Bo could put his beer back down, Dad went on. “Yeah. I think it's a good match. Anybody else would look tiny next to you in all the photos. It'd look silly. I think that boy might even be bigger than you. And he's good people. He'll probably keep you from doing too many stupid things once y'all get elected, 'cuz I can't see him being scared of you. Outside your brothers, he's probably the only guy in four counties who can stand nose to nose with you, tell you you're an asshole, and not be too worried that you'll flatten him with a single punch.”
“'Course,” Bo watched as a grin crossed Dad's face, “It takes more than three an' I might have to put you back to working the cows to toughen you back up.”
The smile faded and a serious look crossed Dad's face as he pointed at Bo.
“Only problem is, you can't run him under that name. Everybody's got weird last names, so that's okay, but that boy's Christian name is gonna send people runnin'. There are a lot of idiots out there and they hear that name they'll think he's gonna blow up the courthouse – or worse, their trailer.” Dad rolled his eyes. “'Cuz we all know that Bartlette is the center of the universe and all them terrorists just gotta blow up Mabel Taylor's double-wide. Morons ain't got the sense God gave turkeys standing in the rain.”
“Anyway, you need to change that boy's name.”
Maddy stood next to Yusif and watched as Daddy introduced the lieutenant governor. He was absolutely glowing. Never in Clyde Mullins' wildest dreams had he thought there would be a night like this in Bartlette County. They planned this like every other “big” Democratic event in the county and expected maybe thirty of the party faithful along with a smattering of others. Of course, on Monday morning they sent out email invites to every news reporter in Virginia and to a bunch in Tennessee and Kentucky too. They also sent invites to all the major Democratic politicians in the Commonwealth. They did these things every time and nothing ever came of it. Except this time.
By Monday afternoon, the congressmen from Northern Virginia were the first to accept. By five that day, the lieutenant governor had accepted. The next day and a half, every state level Democrat this side of Roanoke sent in his acceptance. The reporters hadn't bothered to accept their invitations; they just showed up. There were camera crews and guys from papers and a woman who showed up with the congressmen was actually from the Washington Post. Every Democratic politician and wannabe from the surrounding counties caught wind of what was going on and they had swelled the crowd to over a hundred people.
Then the Rosses arrived – and more than doubled the crowd with a herd of good ol' boys, their women, and kids of all ages. Some of them even showed up with hand drawn signs proclaiming “Vote Bo and Joe.” The politicians went into a feeding frenzy. Up to that point they had all agreed to speak for five minutes and clear the stage. However, after realizing the size of the crowd, none of them had spoken less than ten and the second congressman had gone over half an hour telling the crowd how important diversity was and how impressive it was to find it in the mountains. It came across as patronizing and Maddy translated it as “It’s good you lily-white, ignorant, mountain hicks have seen the light.” Thankfully, as Maddy looked around the crowd she saw that most of the regular folk had tuned out that clod and were talking among themselves; only the political diehards were making a show of watching the speech.
The Lieutenant Governor was doing a good job of bringing everyone’s attention back to the stage. The congressmen had been younger men with the lean, hungry look that young politicians often have. They were sharks. The Lieutenant Governor was an orca - a giant, graceful killer whale. His tone and sing-song manner caught the ear and he engaged the crowd. Somehow he knew the names of several locals and he even pointed out Grady Ross, praising him for wearing a suit bought by his children. “At least your kids buy you things you can wear in public. I’ve not yet found the *ahem* proper opportunity to wear the purple and green sports coat my kids bought me.” Pause for laugh - move on. The man’s mastery of the podium was amazing to watch.
After about ten minutes of reeling the crowd back in the Lieutenant Governor turned to the point of the night.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he paused meaningfully and hooked a thumb over his shoulder while he winked at the crowd, “and politicians,” another pause for the crowd to chuckle, ”this night is not about us. This night is about the two amazing men who are going to be your next sheriff and commonwealth attorney.”
“I get asked to introduce a lot of political candidates and every time I get told how that person is a big man in his community. However, it isn’t usually quite as true as it is today.” He glanced back and forth at the two men towering on opposite ends of the stage while the crowd laughed. “At six foot two, it isn’t often that I have to look up at anyone I’m introduced to, much less two people in the same day.”
More chuckles. Now, he had everyone's attention as he waved the two men in toward the center. “I'm told that nobody has to introduce Bo Ross. His family has been in Bartlette County since before there was a Bartlette County. He has been a law enforcement officer since he could pass the height requirement – which judging from the looks of him must of been about the third grade. He's good people and he comes from good people. We all know he's the best man for the job.”
“And then there's Joe Habib. His family chose to come to America because they believed in the American dream and they worked hard to live up to that dream. Through his parents' hard work and sacrifices, they were able to send their son to college and he did so well there that he was able to go to law school. He worked as a private lawyer for a few years, but he gave all that up and came to Bartlette County to serve its people. He wasn't born here, he chose to come here and now his heart is anchored right here in the place he has chosen to live with the people he has come to love.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, Bo and Joe!”
“Bo and Joe! Bo and Joe! Bo and Joe!”
The chant seemed to go on forever.
Bo stood next to Yusif at the podium. They had decided to do their speech together in a mutual recognition that while Yusif was a far better speaker, the crowd would be there for Bo. It also played into the mutual campaign strategy that had been cooked up.
“Hi, I'm Bo.”
“And, I'm Joe.”
“And, I'm a-grinnin'.”
The crowd roared in laughter, much to Bo's surprise. He had argued against starting the speech with that. After all, how many people under fifty had even heard of Buck Owens and Roy Clark? It was Yusif who insisted on including it; Lord knows where he had ever seen Hee Haw. Bo lost the argument when his father weighed in on Yusif's side. Those two met for the first time on Tuesday morning and hit it off right away. Dad was outraged that Brad Dollerby fired Yusif on Monday and pretty much adopted the man into the Ross family. Right off the bat they started plotting political strategy. The only thing they argued over was calling Yusif “Joe.”.Yusif said it made him sound like a Lebanese used car dealer. The Old Man asked Yusif what he thought a politician was if he wasn't a used car dealer and they both laughed. Yusif resisted for a while longer, but Dad had won the moment he got that laugh. And now Bo was on a stage filled with politicians delivering the two person speech those two had cooked up.
Maddy watched in horror as the two most important candidates the Democratic Party of Bartlette had come up with in the last two or three decades did a comedy sketch in front of the most important politicians to ever set foot in the county and a reporter from the Washington Post.
They introduced Mary Ross by comparing Bo's marriage to big game hunting. “Well she came out here from Boston looking for elk, but couldn't find none. So she decided I was big enough that she would settle for mounting my head on her wall instead.” They joked about Mabel Taylor calling the Sheriff to report that a giant Arab was walking down her street and going to blow something up. “Now, I don't blame Mabel. I'd only been here a couple weeks at the time and no one knew – and Mark over there can testify to this – that I am terrible with any kind of mechanical thing. Mark's seen the condition of my car's engine – more than once – and he can tell you I can't change a sparkplug, much less build a bomb. Too many wires and springs and such.” They joked about Yusif not being married. “Here he is folks, a giant Arab man who can't even build a bomb. No wonder he can't get a woman. He ain't got no skills.”
It went on and on and on. It was a nightmare. She was certain everyone in Virginia, no, everyone in the country would see this on YouTube. Her father's face was frozen in rictus. She could see the shock in his eyes. The congressmen had retreated behind frozen smiles and the other politicians were following their lead. The Washington Post reporter was madly scribbling something on her ipad with a stylus.
It was a fiasco. The two of them had refused to run their speech past her or her father and now she understood why. They would have never allowed this travesty. Finally, it ended and the Lieutenant Governor stepped between them, grabbed Bo’s left hand and Yusif’s right, raised them skyward, and led another chorus of “Bo and Joe!”
As the yells finally died away everyone on the stage exchanged a series of polite, but stiff, handshakes and the politicians left as quickly as they could without looking too unseemly. They were rats fleeing a sinking ship and Maddy could see her father’s spirits being crushed as the most important night of his life ended with all the important people brushing him off and distancing themselves from the evening’s events.
Yusif sat across the table from Maddy at the Olive Garden in Bristol. Things were definitely not going well and he wasn’t sure why. As promised, he had shown up at six and picked her up. He had been concerned that she would wear something fancy, so he wore his best khakies and a dress shirt. He even had a jacket and tie hanging in his car - just in case.
It turned out that he was the one who was overdressed. She was wearing a blue sweatshirt, black jeans, and granny shoes. Her hair was even up in a bun. On top of all that, she had barely spoken more than fifty words so far during the forty-five minutes it took to get here and the next thirty while they waited for their food.
He tried yet again to start up a conversation. “So, you graduated from Virginia Tech?”
“You must be a football fan then.”
The table fell back into a sullen silence. Yusif had pretty much run through all his conversation starters and everything got the same sort of flat, disengaged answers. He was through trying. This evening was over as soon as they finished the meal. He had tickets for a play at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, The Last Train from Tazewell, but there was no way he was spending three or four more hours sitting with this walking cold front.
He was through with this. At first he thought he had done something to upset her, but he ran through everything that happened over the last week and she had nothing to complain about. He agreed to run for commonwealth attorney out of a sense that things were going wrong in the office. Then he showed up on Monday morning and found all his diplomas and personal items from his desk in a cardboard box outside his office. He didn’t know how Brad found out so fast, but the message was clear. He took the box and walked right back out of the courthouse. He dedicated the next two days to making sure the rally on Wednesday went well and it did. The crowd ate up every bit of the speech Bo and he gave in tandem. The Lieutenant Governor had even pulled Yusif and Bo aside afterwards and complimented them on it. Over the last couple days, everywhere he went in the county people he had never met before were calling him “Joe” and repeating some of the jokes he and Bo had told back to him. He had done everything she could have possibly expected when she asked him to run last Sunday.
And maybe that was it. She got what she wanted so she no longer had to persuade him. The more he thought about it the more certain he became. The only reason she came to his apartment last weekend was to get him to run for office. The sexy dress and the date were just ways to manipulate him - and they worked. As soon as she finished picking at the twenty dollar steak she had ordered, but did not seem more than slightly interested in eating, she was going home.
What the Hell? Maddy looked around at the road they were on. He’s driving back to Bartlette.
She knew he had tickets to a play. He’d called her on Thursday night and told her that. However, this was not the road to Abingdon. This was the road home. And she hadn’t noticed until they were a good half way there.
What should she do? She glanced at her watch and realized that even if they turned around they would never make it before the play started. So, she sat in silence - trying to figure out what to do next.
She hadn’t really thought it through completely before. The basic plan was to make him realize that he had screwed up and then forgive him. She would have probably started the forgiveness by holding his hand during the play or maybe even cuddling around his arm. The explanation of what he had done wrong would come on the way home and any wounds caused by that would be healed with a good night kiss.
As she was thinking things through she realized that he had turned off into Saint Minas and were about a minute from her house. She started thinking furiously. She could probably still salvage the night when he walked her in. She could talk to him about how he had embarrassed her father and what they could do to fix it. And any wounds from that conversation could still be healed with a good night kiss - or maybe a little more.
They pulled up in front of her house and Yusif walked her to the front porch. Then he turned and walked away, wishing her a good night as he walked briskly back down the sidewalk. He made it back to the car before she could react.
“Wait, you’re just leaving?”
He paused with the door open. “Yeah. Don’t worry though, I’ll keep running. You got what you wanted and I got the message.”
With that he got in the car and drove away while Maddy stood on her porch stunned.
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