"As long as we just pay our taxes and shut up—"

That was enough. Joe tapped his gavel. "As there is no further discussion, I think we're ready to vote." He'd have given them two more minutes if they'd stayed civil.

Louise patted Randy's arm. "It's only fair," she said.

The reporter wasn't even looking up, just writing. He'd have his article finished before the meeting was. Always sat in the back corner.

"Go ahead, Patsy," Joe said.

"Mrs. Brown?"

"Yes."

"Mr. Esterhouse?"

"Yes."

"Eliza?"

"I vote no."

"Mr. Harris?"

"Yes, yes, yes. Yes!"

"Mr. McCoy?"

"Well ... yes. But I still don't think he's necessarily the best person."

"We couldn't find anyone else, anyway," Louise said. "Thank you, Mr. Carter. We really do appreciate that you're willing."

"I'm glad to, Mrs. Brown."

"That's four in favor, one opposed," Patsy said.

"Motion carries," Joe said. Louise was right. Taken two months to find someone willing. "Next item."

This was the one.

If he'd felt like it, and if he'd had time, he'd have called someone in Raleigh to ask a couple of questions. Or he might have just ignored the letter and never said a thing about it. But there was a chance good might come of it. It was likely evil already had.

He took the letter out from his pile, as wicked evil as anything he'd ever seen.

It was about a road.

There was no trouble like there was with a road. A whole year of strife in one letter from Raleigh, and that would be for any road. This one would be worse.

"'North Carolina Department of Transportation has announced a limited one-time grant program to complete highway projects meeting certain criteria.'" He was reading the first page. "'The program is intended for high-priority projects of long standing.'" He glanced at Wade, but the man looked as ignorant as ever. "We would need to vote to apply."

"I'll move," Louise said.

Randy was frowning. "What project would we be applying for?"

"I'm sorry," Louise said. "Does that have to be in the motion?"

"It does," Joe said. "There's a pile of rules. We only have one project on the county plan that qualifies."

"What would that be?" Wade asked.

Joe leaned back and said the words. "To bring Gold River Highway over the mountain into Wardsville."

And that did it.

Everyone acted up together, even Louise. Even Patsy and Lyle. Right away there was a hubbub and people sitting up straight and the few of them in the room sounding more like twenty, like a chicken coop with a snake at the door. And that's what it was, anyway.

"Where did you get that?"

It was the reporter, from the audience, shouting over everyone else. Joe tapped
his gavel.

"We need that road," Wade said.

"Read it again," the reporter called.

"Patsy will make copies after the meeting," Joe said.

"Good gravy," Randy said. "You don't mean they actually might build it?"

"Why not?" Wade said, turning on Randy.

"Well, that's not what I'm saying," Randy was saying, "not that it shouldn't, it's just that I don't think we've ever really expected it. Joe, wasn't that on the plan even before you were on the board?"

"No, it wasn't." Even Gold River Highway wasn't that old. He could remember the hand-drawn maps and the engineer up from Asheville presenting them. "It was added in 1967."

"Lot has changed in thirty-nine years," Randy said.

"You bet it has," Wade said. "Like four hundred houses built in Gold Valley.  I'll second that motion."

"Her motion didn't count," the reporter said.

"I don't think it did," Louise said.

"Then I'll do it," Wade said. "I move that we apply for this grant, whatever it is, to get Gold River Highway put over the mountain."

"Second?" Joe said.

"I'll second," Louise said.

"Now we can discuss it."

The reporter had moved up to the front row.

"What's to discuss?" Wade said. "That road is the most important project in Jefferson County."