17 September 2013

Ambush in Bartlette: Chapter 23

Bo pulled up to the entrance to Dryhook Hollow. It was the Saturday afternoon after the Democratic primary and he and Yusif had won their unopposed elections. Now, they were canvassing as much of the county as they could.

Yusif, in the passenger seat, looked dubiously at Bo. “You can’t be serious. There can’t be many people living up that dirt road.”

“Yeah,” Bo said, “There are at least a hundred up there - probably more like two. That road goes back in there at least fifteen miles and there are houses and trailers along side it the whole way. There’s even a stocked catfish pond up there you can pay twenty dollars to fish in.”

Yusif shrugged and Bo turned his SUV onto the road. Dryhook was a strange part of the county. In a few places it widened out a little and two or three houses and trailers would be on a bit of a field. However, for most of it the mountains hugged both sides of the road and the full growth trees on them made it clear that most of the homes in Dryhook never saw unfiltered sunlight.

Bo wondered, not for the first time, how these people could live without sunlight. Still, there were decent people back here and he and Yusif set about introducing themselves. Actually, most of the people already knew Bo. They fell into a pattern in which Bo would park the SUV, get out of the car and spend the next few minutes glad-handing and introducing Yusif. Per the game plan, everyone in Bartlette County was getting introduced to “Joe” Habib.

After about a two hours they pulled up to a tiny wooden house on the right side of the road. As they got out of the car a woman in her sixties walked out on the front porch. Megatha Marlene Manson, jokingly known as “Triple-M” (not to her face), was a force to be reckoned with in Bartlette County. If she said the people in Dryhook would cast their votes for you they did, although there had been a question in the last election over whether some of them actually made it to the polls or had a thoughtful individual pull the lever for them.

Bo investigated the claims, along with Investigator Kilgore from the Virginia State Police, and they couldn’t prove anything, but they’d come awful close. One old codger, who hated Megatha from way back, had sworn that he hadn’t gone to a voting station for the last twenty years and he “sure as Hell didn’t vote for that snake.” Unfortunately, the man had cancer and died shortly after giving the statement. Without him, they never did develop enough evidence to prosecute.

“Well, Robert Ross, as I live and breathe. Never thought I'd see you up in Dryhook again. What brings you to these parts . . . and out of uniform even?”

There was no doubt that Megatha knew why they were there. This was the eleventh house they stopped at in the hollow and Megatha had probably gotten at least five calls telling her they were coming. Still, Bo had to play the game.

“Afternoon, Mrs. Manson. How you doing today?” She bobbed her head and he went on. “We're going through the holler introducing ourselves and letting everyone know that we're running for office. Me for sheriff. Joe for commonwealth attorney.”

'Joe, huh?” She looked Yusif up and down. “Well, he surely is as handsome as everyone says. No wonder that idiot girl is all tied up in knots over him.”

She turned to Yusif. “What's your real name, boy?” When Yusif paused she prodded him. “C'mon, what'd your momma name ya?”

Yusif looked her straight in the eyes. “My mother calls me Yusif. It's the Arabic word meaning Joseph.”

She looked back to Bo. “I like him. He's got some backbone and he don't put up with any guff about his mother. “ She emphasized the word mother. “Where's he from Robert?”

“He's from here, Ma'am. He's lived here for over five years now.”

She rolled her eyes and turned back to Yusif. “Good luck with that, honey. I married Harold and moved here when I was sixteen. That was maybe forty years ago now. His mother ain't ever forgive me for not being born here in this holler. That old biddy is going to outlive us all and 'til her dying day she'll call me 'that girl from Cincinnati.'”

“Yusif, you come on up here and have a seat. We'll drink a little tea and talk a little about your cluelessness about women. Robert, you go on up the holler and talk to some more folk. Come back in about an hour. Don't you stop at that green trailer on the left though. Momma Manson figures out you're a Democrat on her porch she's liable to shoot you through the screen door.”

When the men paused, she made a shooing motion with her hands. “G'on now. Do as your elder tells ya.”

Bo looked over at Yusif and the other man nodded. With a smile on his face, Bo got back in the SUV. He wouldn't trade places with Yusif right now on a bet. That old woman was going to spend the next hour putting him through a ringer. As he drove away, Megatha's high pitched voice carried part of the conversation he was leaving behind to him.

“So, who was it decided to call you Joe? Clyde's too dumb for that and Robert's too straight to think of it.”

“Grady? Shoulda knew. Y'know that old coot owes me a dinner . . .”

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