"Are you flat crazy?" he finally said.

Joe tapped his gavel. "Any more discussion?"

Louise had a question. "Joe, why only four weeks? I've never heard of such a short deadline."

"The letter came back in October."

"Nobody saw it?" she asked.

"It came to Mort," Joe said. Then he had to wait a minute. "He was the county contact for the Department of Transportation. It was out at his house. I only saw it yesterday." He glanced out at the audience, at the one person who hadn't yet said a word. "I think we'll vote now. Go ahead, Patsy."

"Wait a minute!"

Joe was already plenty angry without the fool reporter interrupting every two minutes. "The board is not accepting public comment," he said.

"You can't just vote!" the reporter said. "Nobody even knows what you're doing!" "There's no requirement to schedule public hearings before we apply. Go ahead."

"Mrs. Brown?" Patsy said.

"Joe, you're sure we'd vote again if it's approved?" Louise said.

"That's what it says."

"Well ... I'd want to think more about it. But to apply, I'll say yes."

"Mr. Esterhouse?"

"Yes."

"Eliza?"

"I vote no."

"Mr. Harris?"

"Yes, so it passes. Good."

"Mr. McCoy?"

"Well, it's already passed, so it doesn't matter."

Patsy waited. "Are you abstaining?"

"What? Oh. Well, I really don't think we should apply, and even more I don't think we should build a road, but I hate to vote no and seem contrary when something's already passed."

"What are you voting?" Wade asked.

"I suppose I'll say yes, since it doesn't matter anyway. But I know it won't get approved."

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

"Motion carries," Joe said. "Lyle, you'll make sure someone in the office fills in the forms?"

"I will, Joe." Lyle would probably do it himself. He was about all the engineering staff the county had. Patsy would check it over to make sure it was done right.

"And if it does get approved, somehow," Randy was saying, "I think a lot of people will have a lot to say about it."

"You bet they will," Wade said.

"There will be time for public comment," Joe said. "Everybody will have plenty of opportunity to say their piece."

"But it won't get accepted," Randy said. "So it doesn't really matter."

They'd know soon enough. Joe put the papers back in the envelope and handed it to Lyle. He might still call Raleigh, or he might just wait. There was nothing he could do to head off the fight they'd surely just started.

Roads were a mess, and this one would be like nothing any of them had ever seen. The reporter would stir it up even worse. That's what the man thrived on. He already had another page filled with his scrawls.

And it wasn't just that people here in the county could fight with each other. This would have people outside fighting, too. That made Wade worth watching.

Or maybe it wasn't worth anything, not anymore. Just let the lot of them have their way and do what they wanted.

He was still hating being here. Because now was time for the last item, and the hardest one. Not hard for the others—just for him, and maybe for Louise. "Final item. Proposal to put up a suitable monument in the flower bed outside the courthouse in honor of Morton Walker and his service to the county."

Silence. For this, not one of them dared to say anything. None of them had any right to say a word, even Louise. For thirty-two years Mort had been on this board, a better man than these two schoolchildren arguing over every blame thing.

Everyone in the county had known him, and not a one would have even run against him for respect of what an upright man he was. Not a one, but her.

Who knew how the idea had got into her head ten years ago. She'd run in every election she could since then, and never gotten more than a dozen votes. She'd run last November against Mort, an insult to the whole county, but nothing to even take notice of.

Then Mort had died three days before the election.