The quiet murmur of conversation at the table ended abruptly as Councilman Baxter stepped into the chamber and closed the door behind him. Despite the fact that it was mid-afternoon at Town Hall, the isolation of the council chamber made the space feel timeless and detached from the rest of the world.
“Thank you all for meeting on such short notice,” Baxter said as he walked to his seat at the head of the table.
He sat down and cleared his throat. “I know you all know why we’re here today,” he continued. “And I understand you are concerned. I share your concerns as well.”
The other members of the council watched him cautiously, but he didn’t reflect that concern on the surface. If anything, he knew he looked unruffled.
“Even if this crusade to ‘solve’ the curse picks up any more steam than it already has, it doesn’t have enough community support,” Baxter said. “Iris Davies is a joke. Roman Beckett isn’t going to do anything. I’m not even sure what exactly Andrew Harris’s current connection to the town is. Dr. Degas’s apparent involvement is concerning, but it doesn’t change matters. She’s a smart woman, she knows that the physical is the problem of the physical and the metaphysical is the problem of the metaphysical.”
He looked at the member to his left, a small woman who shrank back under his neutral gaze. “I don’t want to hear any more gossip coming from this council or anyone connected with it, understood? Our influence in this town isn’t unbreakable. Just because contested elections are rare doesn’t make them impossible. And I know that each and every one of you has something riding on your position here. So if you care about your permit or your sister’s business or whatever it is that you took this position on the council to protect, keep protecting it. Don’t say a word about the curse. Don’t talk about it with your spouse, don’t let Facebook trolls goad you into engaging with them. For God’s sake, the curse isn’t our problem. Is it terrible and inconvenient? Obviously. But don’t let them tell you that it’s the government’s problem to solve. It’s not.”
Baxter looked at the silent faces in front of him, despising them all for just a moment. “Let it lie,” he said.
He waited a moment, letting them squirm in their seats. Some actually were squirming a little. Others gazed straight ahead or down at the table. One looked as though she wanted to say something. He made eye contact with her and she immediately wilted.
“This nonsense has gone on for long enough,” Baxter said. “If there is something happening that is impacting the residents of this town, then that is their problem. If that sounds harsh, I’m sorry. But we don’t go paying people’s rent for them, do we? Or mowing their lawn? Our job is to govern and that’s what we do. So let it lie, stop indulging it.”
He picked up his papers and leafed through them. “Alright, before we leave, is there any new business to discuss?”
Half an hour later, Councilman Baxter was alone in the chamber. The rest of the council had shuffled out after a few half-hearted discussions of upcoming road work and permit requests. Now he was alone, the afternoon sun slanting into the room and cutting across the long table.
Of course Amalia Degas was working with Iris now. Degas had been a thorn in his side since she’d taken over the medical center twenty years ago. Always demanding more resources, more money, more doctors. Like New Winslow had the money for that. Or the need. Like he’d said to her multiple times, the budget was exactly the same as all the other towns around them and they all did just fine. Even if they didn’t have the curse, they certainly had their own problems to deal with.
Iris was a joke, he hadn’t been lying about that. The psychic with the psychic shop. She’d been a pain in his high school classes and she remained a pain now that he was retired. He didn’t know where her fixation had come from, but he didn’t care for it. And it was clearly being exacerbated by Beckett. Baxter had some sympathy for the man. Twenty years was a long time to stay in one small town. But his medical issues were not the council’s problem.
He would keep pushing that angle on the rest of the council. This is not our problem. It was never our problem and it will never be our problem. Personal situations should be solved without the interference of the government. He had clearly convinced them of that, and he’d very nearly convinced himself at points.
Though he knew that if they got too close to the cause of the curse, he’d be ruined. And that concerned Councilman Baxter a whole lot more than extra funding or local gossip.