Lars Olafsen had been Chairman of the Town of Washington for going on twenty years, and a member of the town board for five years before that. He was a dutiful man, and a public servant in the old fashioned sense. He had earned the respect of his constituents through his fairness, his honesty, and his innate, steady, Scandinavian calm.
But Lars was beginning to feel the wear of so many years at the beck and call of his fellow islanders, and had begun to yearn for a reprieve. His children and grandchildren lived downstate in Milwaukee, and his wife was continually urging that they spend more time there. And Lars, though he was only in his early seventies, was beginning to feel his energy wane, and his enthusiasm for the job with it.
The major consideration, however, was one he would never admit to anyone, not even to his wife. Although his feelings were complicated, secretly Lars still glowed with a feeling of heady triumph after his out-maneuvering of Stella DesRosiers last spring in her mean-spirited attempt to drive her neighbor, Ms. Fiona Campbell, out of town. He had stooped to political blackmail, no doubt about it, and he had suffered many moments of doubt about what he’d done. Had it been a violation of the public trust that disqualified him for continuing in office, or a valiant stroke for the public good? Lars had struggled with this question, but he always returned to the conclusion that it had been no more than Stella deserved, and an act of natural justice. Stella had been bullying her fellow citizens for years without any repercussions other than her unpopularity. And while he continued to wonder whether it was wrong to feel proud of it, his career, Lars felt sure, could reach no greater achievement. “Might as well go out on a high note,” he thought.
And so, one Wednesday night at Nelson’s Hall, when a quorum of his regular circle was in attendance, Lars Olafsen announced his retirement. He was immediately surrounded by a jovial, back-slapping throng, and shots were thrust into his hand in rapid succession.
“Lars,” said Paul Miller, his childhood friend, “you can’t retire. We’re too young.”
“You’ve been an asset to us, Lars,” said another old friend.
“You run a tight ship, Lars. Those meetings will take twice as long without you.”
But the real concern was the one voiced by Jake, who had a reputation for cutting to the heart of every discussion. “You can’t leave. There’s nobody who’ll take your place.”
This was true, as everyone at Nelson’s well knew. Being Chairman was a thankless job, and few people wanted to be bothered with it. There was a slew of paperwork and arrogant State officials to be dealt with, not to mention the unceasing need to wrangle volunteers for committees and other public work, and the inevitable squabbles—both petty and potentially fatal. No, particularly in these days of escalating state bureaucracy, you’d have to be a fool to want the job. And the Island was remarkably short of fools, unless, of course, you counted that new woman, Fiona Campbell.
Fiona would have been shocked to know her reputation. Her intelligence, wit, street savvy, and seriousness of purpose were not things shown to good advantage in a small town. Add into the mix her city polish and lack of practical knowledge of rural life—and the evil rumors that Stella DesRosiers had very particularly and intentionally spread—and an average observer might have an impression of a flighty young woman who wore impractical shoes, was oblivious to the first principles of survival and sensible living, and whose morals were, well, not what one would hope.
Fiona was, in fact, far from being a fool, but this didn’t stop the locals from thinking her one. Many of them—particularly the men—had come to feel a mixture of pity and admiration for her, a circumstance that Stella’s rumors had unwittingly created, and one which frequently worked in Fiona’s favor. In this instance, however, Fiona was exactly as oblivious as her neighbors thought, and it may have been just as well. She went about her business utterly unaware of her many critics, observers, and secret admirers.
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