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The air conditioner was broken at City
Hall, and the smell of warm salt air drifted through the windows from the beach across the street. Morgan Cleary fanned herself and wished she hadn't dressed up. She might have known that no one else would. The mayor sat in shorts and a T-shirt that advertised his favorite beer.
One of the city councilmen wore a Panama hat and flipflops.
Sarah Williford, the newest member of the Cape
Refuge City Council, looked as if she'd come in from a day of surfing and hadn't even bothered to stop by the shower. She wore a spandex top that looked like a bathing suit and a pair of cutoff jeans. Her long hair could have used a brush.
The council members sat with relaxed arrogance,
rocking back and forth in the executive chairs they'd spent too much money on. Their critics---which included almost everyone in town---thought they should have used that money to fix the potholes in the roads that threaded through the island. But Morgan was glad the council was comfortable. She didn't want them irritable when her parents spoke.
The mayor's nasal drone moved to the next item on the agenda. 'I was going to suggest jellyfish warning signs at some of the more popular sites on the beach, but Doc Spencer tells me he ain't seen too many patients from stings in the last week or so---'
'Wait, Fred,' Sarah interrupted without the microphone.
'Just because they're not stinging this week doesn't mean they won't be stinging next week. My sign shop would give the city a good price on a design for a logo of some kind to put up on all the beaches, warning people of possible jellyfish attacks.'
'Jellyfish don't attack,' the mayor said, his amplified voice giving everyone a start.
'Well, I can see you never got stung by one.'
'How you gonna draw a picture of 'em when you can't hardly see 'em?'
Everyone laughed, and Sarah threw back some comment that couldn't be heard over the noise.
Morgan leaned over Jonathan, her husband, and nudged her sister. 'Blair, what should we do?' she whispered. 'We're coming up on the agenda. Where are Mama and Pop?'
Blair tore her amused eyes from the sight at the front of the room and checked her watch. 'Somebody needs to go check on them,' she whispered. 'Do you believe these people? I'm so proud to have them serving as my elected officials.'
'This is a waste of time,' Jonathan said. He'd been angry and stewing all day, mostly at Morgan's parents, but also at her.
His leather-tanned face was sunburned from the day's fishing, but he was clean and freshly shaven. He hadn't slept much last night,
and the fatigue showed in the lines of his face.
'Just wait,' she said, stroking his arm. 'When Mama and
Pop get here, it'll be worth it.'
He set his hand over hers---a silent affirmation that he was putting the angry morning behind him---and got to his feet. 'I'm going to find them.'
'Good idea,' Morgan said. 'Tell them to hurry.'
'They don't need to hurry,' Blair whispered. 'We've got lots of stuff to cover before they talk about shutting down our bedand-
breakfast. Shoot, there's that stop sign down at Pine and
Mimosa. And Goodfellows Grocery has a lightbulb out in their parking lot.'
'Now, before we move on,' Fred Hutchins, the mayor, said,
studying his notes as if broaching a matter of extreme importance,
'I'd like to mention that Chief Cade of the Cape Refuge Police
Department tells me he has several leads on the person or persons who dumped that pile of gravel in my parking spot.'
A chuckle rippled over the room, and the mayor scowled.
'The perpetrator will be prosecuted.'
Blair spat out her suppressed laughter, and Morgan slapped her arm. 'Shhh,' Morgan tried not to grin, 'you're going to make him mad.'
'I'm just picturing a statewide search for the fugitive with the dump truck,' Blair said, 'on a gravel-dumping spree across the whole state of Georgia.'
Morgan saw the mayor's eyes fasten on her, and she punched her sister again. Blair drew in a quick breath and tried to straighten up.
'The Owenses still ain't here?' he asked.
While Morgan glanced back at the door, Blair shot to her feet. 'No, Fred, they're not here. Why don't you just move this off the agenda and save it until next week? I'm sure something's come up.'
'Maybe they don't intend to come,' the mayor said.
'Don't you wish,' Blair fired back. 'You're threatening to shut down their business. They'll be here, all right.'
'Well, I'm tired of waiting,' the mayor said into the microphone,
causing feedback to squeal across the room. Everybody covered their ears until Jason Manford got down on his knees and fiddled with the knob. 'We've moved it down the agenda twice already tonight,' the mayor went on. 'If we ever want to get out of here, I think we need to start arguin' this right now.'
Morgan got up. 'Mayor, there must be something wrong.
Jonathan went to see if he could find them. Please, if we could just have a few more minutes.'
'We're not waitin' any longer. Now if anybody from your camp has somethin' to say . . .'
'What are you gonna do, Mayor?' Blair asked, pushing up her sleeves and shuffling past the knees and feet on her row. 'Shut us down without a hearing? That's not even legal. You could find yourself slapped with a lawsuit, and then you wouldn't even have time to worry about jellyfish and gravel. Where would that leave the town?'
She marched defiantly past the standing-room-only crowd against the wall to the microphone at the front of the room.
Morgan got a queasy feeling in her stomach. Blair wasn't the most diplomatic of the Owens family. She was an impatient intellectual who found her greatest fulfillment in the books of the library she ran. People were something of a nuisance to her, and she found their pettiness unforgivable.
Blair set her hands on her hips. 'I've been wanting to give you a piece of my mind for a long time now, Fred.'
The people erupted into loud chatter, and the mayor banged his gavel to silence them. 'As you know, young lady, the city council members and I have agreed that the publicity from the 20/20
show about Hanover House a few months ago brought a whole new element to this town. The show portrayed your folks as willin' to take in any ol' Joe with a past and even exposed some things about one of your current tenants that made the people of this town uncomfortable and afraid. We want to be a familyfriendly tourist town, not a refuge for every ex-con with a probation officer. For that reason, we believe Hanover House is a danger to this town and that it's in the city's best interest to close it down under Zoning Ordinance number 503.'
Blair waited patiently through the mayor's speech, her arms crossed. 'Before we address the absurdity of your pathetic attempts to shut down Hanover House just because my parents refused to help campaign for you---' Cheers rose again, and Blair forged on.