EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Road to Nowhere by Paul Robertson (Bethany House Publishers).

January 2, Monday

Time to start. Bang the fool gavel.

"Come to order." Dead quiet anyway. "Go ahead, Patsy."

"Mrs. Brown?"

"Here."

"Mr. Esterhouse?"

"Here," Joe said, and he hated that he was. Wicked, evil business.

"Miss? ... Gulotsky?"

"Please. Just Eliza. I am here."

"Mr. Harris?"

"Here."

"Mr. McCoy?"

"Right here."

"Everyone's here, Joe."

"Thank you, Patsy," he said. "Jefferson County North Carolina Board of Supervisors is now in session."

So many names over the years. Thirty, maybe, or forty. It wouldn't be easy to remember them all. "Motion to accept last month's minutes?"

"I'll move that we accept last month's minutes."

"I'll second that."

He didn't even listen to who said which. It was usually Louise Brown, then Randy McCoy. Now that the meeting was started, he just wanted to be done.

"Motion and second," he said. "Go ahead, Patsy."

"Mrs. Brown?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Esterhouse?"

"Yes."

"... Miss ... Eliza?"

"Just Eliza. I vote no."

"You what?" Wade Harris said, beside her. "You're voting against the minutes?"

"Well, she wasn't even here last month." That was Louise, from the other end of the table. "It's her first meeting."

"Go on, Patsy," Joe said.

"Mr. Harris?"

"I vote yes. For Pete's sake."

"Mr. McCoy?"

"Yes. Sure."

"Four in favor, one opposed," Patsy said.

"Motion carries," Joe said. "Minutes are accepted." Just be done, that was all. "Next is receiving public comment." He raised his voice to talk to the audience. "Any of you have anything you'd like to say to us?"

Nothing. There were only three people sitting in the rows of chairs. The newspaper reporter was sleeping in his corner, and the two others were each there for a reason of their own, and not this.

Those three. Five board members. Patsy, the clerk, at her desk, and Lyle, the county manager, quivering beside her. Just ten people in the whole big fancy room.

And not Mort. Joe couldn't bring himself to look to his left, past Wade Harris, where Mort Walker should have been. Where Mort had been for thirty-two years.

It didn't seem worth it anymore and he was tired of it. There was no purpose to the bickering and anger. Tonight there'd be plenty of that. He looked down at the pages on the table in front of him, a letter as wicked and full of trouble as anything he'd ever seen.

He set his other papers on top of it.

"We'll get on with the agenda. Everyone's got a copy?"

"Left mine at home."

That was Wade Harris. The man could just barely be bothered to come to the meetings. And likely as not, he had some hand in the letter and its trouble.

Patsy handed Wade a copy of the agenda.

"First item," Joe said. "Contract to pave five miles of Marker Highway. Winning bid was Smoky Mountain Paving. We need a motion to award the contract."

"I'll move."

"Second." Louise and Randy again.

"Motion and second. Any discussion?"

"Wait." Wade again, of course. "Which road?"

"Marker Highway," Randy McCoy said. "From Wardsville to past the interstate."

"What happened to Gold River Highway? I thought that was next."

"That's next on the list. It's not funded yet."

"So when does Gold River Highway get paved?" Wade asked.

"Whenever it gets funded," Randy said.

"Any more discussion?" Joe asked. The little there'd been had been more than enough. He didn't know Wade enough to trust him, and he didn't much care to know him better anyway. And tonight he was trusting him even less.

"Voting to award the contract," he said. He wanted the meeting to be over, more than he ever had. "Go ahead, Patsy."