I’ll admit I was madder than a wet hen when I stormed out of the kitchen and climbed into Zeke’s truck. By that time, I was so put out with the whole situation I forgot to take off my apron and had to get back out, untie the knot, yank the apron over my head, unsnagging it after it stuck on my left ear, and hurl it headlong onto the seat, where it landed unceremoniously on top of yesterday’s mail Zeke had forgot to bring in, one sock, twin size, and Augusta’s blue hair ribbon missing since two Sundays ago.
When I jiggled the key in the ignition and tried to jam the truck into drive, Dovie—Zeke’s name for his truck—reminded me of her age and that she was to be handled politely or we wasn’t going nowhere. She was not about to crank with this kind of rude treatment, much less go into gear, unless I straightened myself up and treated her more gently, and with the respect she was due…after all she’d done for our family.
I patted her dash, cracked from so many years of sitting out in the West Virginia sun, and apologized out right.
“Sorry, old girl,” I said. “You always seem to know when Zeke isn’t driving. It’s those kid gloves he treats you with.”
Dovie could be so temperamental I hardly ever drove her myself.
Facing the afternoon sun, I reached up and pulled down the visor to shade my eyes. When I did, two pictures fell out into my lap. One was of me and Zeke, just kids, barely on the other side of nineteen, standing on our front porch the day he finished building our house; and the other was of me and the kids the day I brought Augusta home from the hospital. She was the only one of our kids not birthed at home. She was born by surprise while I was away visiting my cousin in Augusta, Georgia, so that was what we named her.
When I looked at those photos, and thought about how Zeke kept them in the truck with him all the time, my ruffled feelings soothed, and I straightened myself up on the spot.
There were ways to handle things and being mad enough to hit the ceiling and go out through the jagged hole was not one of them, I told myself.
Untwisting my puckered lips, I shook my head at my own impatience, gave the gas pedal a gentle push, and turned the key. Dovie responded. I slipped her into drive, and away we went.
Once I drove through the gate, I cranked down my window and bumped along, calmed by the rhythm of Dovie rising and falling in the ruts and holes of the dirt road we both knew well.
It was over this same road me and Zeke used to ride, dreaming of the day when we would have our own farm, bring up kids who would follow in our footsteps, be a credit to our community, and who knew…maybe change the world or at least our little corner of it.
It was over this road we had hauled the kids to many a Harvest Pageant, carted many a country ham and pot of butterbeans to welcome a new neighbor or to comfort a friend in need, journeyed to many a barn raising, picnic, wedding, or funeral.
And through it all, my Zeke had been a calm, steady presence, never perturbed, always generous, unflagging in his support of me and my various pursuits…some of them way more zany than his banjo lessons.
By the time I reached the Hog Holler city limits, the truck was so full of memories, I wondered if the tires might go flat from the added weight.
So what if Zeke wanted to take up a new hobby and I had to take on a few extra chores? The kids were old enough they were sort of taking care of themselves—the stray sock and hair ribbon notwithstanding. Luke was well on his way to getting married and moving out, and when Amos went to college next year, that would leave only four kids at home and surely one day the twins would stop talking about Glasgow and Robert Burns and rolling their “r’s.” (I’d put my foot down about buying a Highland cow from the get-go.)
I drove onto Main Street, much improved in disposition, and determined to stand by the man I loved. Remembering I’d told Zeke I was coming to town for yarn and canning jars, I parked the truck and headed for the store.
As I got nearer, I spotted two men in suits talking to Gert Slidell. Now, no man in Hog Holler ever wears a suit, except for Big Al Weidemeyer and he is a transplant from Hoboken, so I knew at once they were strangers.
Gert pointed at me and the men turned around to look my direction.
When I reached the gathering, Gert, red-faced, said, “Hey, Maybelle. These men want to talk to you,” and skittered away.
“Me?” I asked. “What’s this about?”
The stern, gray-headed one opened his coat to show me a badge.
“Detectives Sims and Fontana,” he said, nodding in the direction of his partner. “Morgantown Police. We’d like to talk to you about John McMullen.”
“Who?” I asked.
He pointed to the sign taped to the inside of Walker’s Market window, advertising the Grand Opening of WHOO.
“You probably know him as Happy Jack Wilkins,” he said.