"Mrs. Brown?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Esterhouse?"

"Yes."

"Eliza?"

"I vote no."

"Mr. Harris?"

"What if we all vote no?" Wade asked.

Randy answered, "I'll be voting yes."

"I mean, what if the board votes no?" Wade said. "The road doesn't get paved?"

"Lyle," Joe said, and Lyle startled. The poor county manager was as jumpy as a rabbit, anyway. "Explain what happens if we don't award the contract."

"Uh ... Joe, when we sent out the request for bids, we said the contract would be awarded to the qualified low bidder. If you don't award it, they could bring a lawsuit."

"So why do we even vote?" Wade asked.

"The county can't enter into a contract without the supervisors voting," Lyle said.

"So we have to vote, but we have to vote yes. Whatever. I vote yes."

"Mr. McCoy?" Patsy said.

"Yes," Randy said.

"Four in favor, one opposed."

"The motion passes," Joe said.

Why was she voting that way? Every vote she'd be reminding him that Mort wasn't here.

The reporter was awake and scribbling.

Keep going. "Next item." There'd be more bickering about this one, too.  "Nomination to a county board. Mr. Stephen Carter has agreed to serve on the Planning Commission, to fill the open seat." Joe checked his watch again. He'd give them five minutes for their squabble. "You see his qualifications. Is there a motion to appoint him?"

Wade Harris stifled a yawn. "I move we appoint him."

Louise. "I'll second."

"Motion and second," Joe said. "Any discussion?"

"Joe." Randy McCoy was shaking his head. "I'm not sure about it. Mr. Carter certainly seems to be a nice man, and real smart, and I appreciate his willingness. But I just think someone should live here in the county for a while before we appoint him to the Planning Commission."

Carter himself was in the audience. "How long have you lived here, Mr. Carter?"

Joe asked.

"Five years, sir."

"How long do you think he should have to live here?" Wade asked.

Randy frowned. "Well, maybe longer than that. Especially if he doesn't live
right here in town."

Wade frowned back at him. "Now, that's your real problem, isn't it? He doesn't live right here in town. Your problem is that he lives in Gold Valley." He held up five fingers. "We've got five places on the Planning Commission. One's empty, that we're filling, and one's Duane Fowler, and he lives in Marker." He folded down two fingers. "And the other three are Ed Fiddler, who's your next-door neighbor, and Humphrey King, who's your cousin, and you." He pointed right at Randy. "Well, I think it's about time there was someone from Gold Valley on the commission. It's as much a part of the county as Wardsville."

Joe just watched and waited.

With Mort and Louise on the board, there'd been three of them with a lick of
sense and they'd get done what they needed. Without Mort it would be different. But even just the two of them would most often be enough. It would be tonight for appointing Carter.

"Now, Wade," Randy was saying, "it's not that he lives there in Gold Valley, which I know is part of the county, that's not what I'm saying. I'm only worried that, if he hasn't lived here but a couple years ..."

"Five years."

"... that he might not really have a good feel for how people do things here."

Joe checked his watch. He knew Randy plenty well and didn't trust him, either. Three more minutes.

And after this, they'd take up the letter.

Wade was getting hot. "And since I've only lived here four years, what's that supposed to mean exactly? None of the rest of you has ever lived in Gold Valley for a week, and it's as much a part of the county as Wardsville. In Raleigh the Planning Commission was divided by districts so everyone had a representative...."

"You aren't in Raleigh anymore, Wade," Randy said.

"You don't need to remind me. It is really obvious...."

"And you really don't need to remind us about Gold Valley being part of the county, because like I just said—"