The late summer drought had been no friend to southwest Virginia. Endless days of crops roasting in ninety plus degree days as air conditioners strained to take the edge off of the raging inferno. There was no immediate hope for any cool Canadian air to swoop in from the north.
Hope Schowalter wiped the sweat from her brow as she closed the door behind her. She fumbled with her keys before she found the one that would lock the back door to the restaurant on Court Street in downtown Hillsville. The rest of the Mennonite women who worked with her had already gone home for the day and as usual she was the last to leave.
The fourteen or so miles to her home in Volunteer Gap seemed longer than usual as the air conditioner in her ancient Ford van sputtered as only tepid air was driven out of the vents while the fan blew on high. She soon reached over and cranked all the windows down and felt the some relief that provided.
Hope was anxious to get home as her daughter Hannah was staying with a neighbor since she was sick when Hope had left for work in the morning. Hope thanked her lucky stars that her neighbor Louise Bennett was retired and was very fond of Hannah.
Her van strained as she drove up the driveway to the A-frame that she called home. Little clouds of blue smoke came out of the rusty exhaust pipe as the engine coughed to a stop. Hope sat for a minute before she looked toward her neighbor’s house to see Hannah running toward the van with a smile on her face.
“She has been delightful to be with today”, Mrs. Bennett yelled across the grass as she stood in her doorway. Hope waved as she replied, “My young child seems to have made a remarkable recovery today if I do say so! Thanks again Louise for helping. You are a blessing!”
Louise Bennett waved and smiled as she went back into her house. Hope handed her house key to Hannah, “Now go unlock the front door as I gather my things in the van.” Hannah took the key and skipped all the way to the front door.
Hope turned and gathered her shoulder bag from the passenger seat. She looked over the driver’s seat and stared at the back bench seat. She soon realized that the cash box with the all of the cash and checks from the restaurant was not in its usual place. Within a moment she was on her knees looking to see if the box had fallen to the floorboard.
“Why are you on your knees Mother? She asked with a quizzical look on her young face. “Child your Mother made many mistakes today. Most were small and overlooked. But what I’m looking for my dearest child is the money box from the restaurant.”
“Oh Mother you must be really tired as you never forget the money box.” Hannah offered as she put her finger to her lips and smiled. As Hope stood she looked at Hannah, “I hope Mrs. Bennett fed you well cause we need to go back to the restaurant for that box.”
Hope was not smiling as she climbed back into the driver’s seat and snapped the seat belt closed. Even though it had been over two years since the restaurant was broken into by local druggies, she knew that since then the cash box was never left at the restaurant.
She lost some of her angst when she looked at Hannah who had strapped herself into the passenger seat and rolled her window down. “Ready to roll my favorite co-pilot? she asked. Hannah gave her the thumbs up signal and smiled…from cheek-to-cheek.
* * *
The seventeen year cycle for the cicadas had ended. The hot and humid evening sky was serenaded as the cicadas suddenly found their voices. Felix “The Duke” Estrada didn’t hear a one as he shut the door to his Ford F-150 pickup truck. Rogelio Medina, simply known as Roger watched form the passenger seat.
Estrada slowly walked telephone poles on Court Street and threw a pair of red “Chuck Taylor” All Stars up and over the low hanging telephone wires. He watched as the laces caught the wires and dangled and swung back and forth in the slight breeze.
Roger watched and gave him the thumbs up. Four other eyes watched from another truck that was hidden in the alley. Tony Esquivel and Luis Solis rechecked their weapons but paid close attention to the long knives and butcher knife on the seat between them.
Esquivel checked his watch and knew that the expected prey was due in fifteen or so minutes. The Duke had arranged to meet with Bobby Joe Turner and Frankie Badgett who were the leaders of local redneck drug peddlers in Carroll County, Virginia who controlled the market along the North Carolina border in Carroll and Grayson counties and beyond.
The recent uptick in Latino activity did not sit well with the resident dealers who were quickly losing market share. Within the last six months Turner and Badgett had directed hits on several Latino players who were killed. The locals lost many dealers in their distribution channels as the Latino’s sought deadly revenge.
None of that mattered to Estrada at the moment. His only concern was to kill Turner and Badgett as to do so would wipe out any effective leadership the locals had
* * *
Hope drove slowly down Court Street. Hannah peered up into the sky and saw the red sneakers dangling from the telephone wires. She had never seen anything like that before. She turned to point them out to her Mother as Hope parked in front of the restaurant. With the approaching sunset all Hillsville’s sidewalks were quickly rolling up.
In reality Hope would have been as curious as her child if she would have seen the sneakers on high. In her Mennonite world she was far removed from the harsh realities of the drug epidemic in the area. She would not have recognized that the sneakers drifting back and forth in the evening breeze was a signal of an impending drug encounter.
Hannah followed her Mother into the restaurant She saw the message light blinking in the on the restaurant phone. She resisted the urge not to listen—but not for long. As soon as she picked up the phone Hannah went to the back of the restaurant. She stopped near the back door as she thought she heard voices in the back alley.
Outside Estrada and Medina approached Turner and Badgett who had parked in the alley. After some moments of small talk Turner and Badgett relaxed as they believed the other two were alone. They never saw Esquivel and Solis spring from their hiding places.
Who did see them was little Hannah Showalter who had stepped out onto the back porch to see who was talking in the alley. Hope, who by now had gathered the money box and saw Hannah on the porch, moved silently toward her daughter as she saw the men in the alley.
No sooner had she reached Hannah before Turner and Badgett were stabbed by Esquivel and Solis. Within a moment both men lie motionless on the street. Estrada took the butcher knife from Solis and with two quick swipes cut off both on their heads.
Hope was terrified as she tried to cover her daughter’s eyes. She tried to back in off the porch into the restaurant but was frozen in place from fear. She prayed that they wouldn’t be seen. Her prayer was short lived as Hannah spun and hugged her.
The movement caught Estrada’s eye. He turned to see both Hope and Hannah standing on the porch. It took him a moment to digest what he was seeing before Hope spun Hannah around and backed off the porch and back into the restaurant. She fumbled to
lock the door behind her.
Estrada and Solis quickly moved toward to door but could not open it. They started through the alley toward the front of the restaurant. They stopped in tracks as they saw a Carroll County Sheriff’s Department patrol car come up Court Street. They stood still before quickly retreating toward their trucks.
Once the patrol car had passed both trucks sped off in different directions. Medina drove as Estrada looked straight ahead. Medina spoke first, “Duke do you know who those women were?”
He wiped the blood from his hands before he replied, “They were the religious people who run the restaurant. The tall woman had the little white cap on her head.”
Medina looked straight as he drove. “What do we do about that Duke? After all they saw us.” Estrada slowly looked at Medina, “we find them my brother and we kill them!”
Copyright © 2015 by C. David Gelly
All rights reserved.
C. David Gelly is the award winning author of the bestselling novel “Fancy Gap”. In addition to over 146 Amazon reader 5-Star reviews, it was serialized for over a year in the weekend editions of the Galax, Virginia Gazette newspaper. He is currently working on the 3rd novel in the “Gap” series “Volunteer Gap” which follows the plight of the Mennonite community in Hillsville, VA who come under attack after a horrific murder. The author lives in Winston-Salem, NC as well as the mountains of southwest Virginia. Print and Kindle versions of the novels are available on Amazon. Follow him on Twitter: C. David Gelly @FancyGap.
Gelly comes to CCD from Winston-Salem Writers. Find out about this vital local organization HERE.