“It’s a blight on our community and it should be removed!”
Murmurs of agreement came from the crowd, someone called out “How?”
The old man smiled and looked around, “It’s simple, we burn it down.”
A few mutterings of agreement filled the room, Rick banged his gavel against the podium, everyone quietened down and faced him.
“We all know that can’t be done, not again. It’d look suspicious. The last three we had went up in flames. There’s only so much arson that you can commit before you get caught. Any other suggestions?”
“Lean on her some more. She’ll cave and give it up.”
“No can do, we tried that, she just cut the price, trying to make it a fast seller. Besides it’s too late for any of that, she already sold it.”
there was an angry grumble from the crowd, “Now, if no one has any practical, or useful suggestions, I suggest that we move on from this and go onto the next issue.” Whispers filtered through the crowd, but no one called out.
“All right then, onto the next order of business.”
Rick stood to the side of the stage after the meeting, watching as people slowly filtered from the town hall. They were good people, but sometimes they got a little ahead of themselves. One or two would no doubt want to hang back and talk his ear off about it, but he had other things to do. When the place was mostly empty he weaved through the crowds quickly, hoping he’d get away without- “Rick!”
He turned, “Sorry Bobby, I can’t chat now, why not come visit me in my office tomorrow?”
“But it’ll only take a sec!”
Rick had already started to move again, “Tomorrow Bobby, I promise!” And with that he made it out through the doors. The others were already waiting for him, looking bored, Nancy was puffing away at a cigarette. Nasty habit, though she wouldn’t give it up no matter who it was who asked, Rick knew she’d smoke until the day she died. As he approached she took a final drag and stubbed it out, despite the faint breeze the smell of it hung in the air.
“Finally, we thought you’d skipped out on us or something.”
“No, just wanted to let the crowds clear a little.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“How are we going to deal with this?”
“I don’t know, I don’t think there’s anything to deal with really, they’ll get here and hopefully they’ll just become a part of the community.”
“A part of the community? Don’t be so naïve. They’re not like us, they’re not gonna fit in here.”
“I don’t know if I believe that. Hell, look at Mary Gregson, she joined the town about ten years back and now I can’t imagine life without her.”
“That’s different though.”
“How? She wasn’t like us when she got here, she wasn’t a part of the community but she settled in, she became one of us. You trust her with your children for half the day!””
Brian shifted a little uncomfortably, “Yeah, but you can tell, she was like us, even before she came here.”
Rick shook his head, before he could say anything, Nancy spoke,
“I like the idea of just burning it down. Make it look electrical. Surely their insurance would cover it and they’d just go somewhere else.”
Rick shook his head again, “No, we can’t do that, definitely not.”
She looked at him shrewdly, “Maybe we could just wait until their already in it.”
“And what if they survive? I don’t want to make orphans of those children. We’re not going to burn it down, anyone who tries, or succeeds, will be held as responsible as if they’d gone after one of us.”
“Fine.” She pulled out another cigarette and lit it, “Well, we can’t stop em, might as well make them feel comfortable, at least at first. Maybe they’ll end up being our kind of people. We’ll just have to wait and see now, won’t we?”
“Yes we will. Though I suggest we send someone to talk to that woman, make sure she doesn’t try the same thing again.”
“I think we scared her off enough this time so she won’t.”
“Better safe than sorry.”
Nancy exhaled a puff of smoke, “This is all Dickeys fault, why’d he have to go and die? It was just selfish of him.”
Rick didn’t say anything, he, and others, suspected that Dickey and Nancy were going to become a bit of an item, and why shouldn’t they? They were both around the same age, neither were married anymore. They were getting on in years and everyone should have companionship. Nancy inhaled deeply, then stubbed out the remains of her cigarette, “It wasn’t his fault I guess, it was those damn banks. If they hadn’t come in and taken it, we could have just sold it to one of us here and put the money into the town fund.”
Rick nodded, “I think we should try to donate something to the one we have now, in case something like this happens again we can all go in together and buy the house, make it community property or something.”
There were general murmurs of agreement, “When are they supposed to arrive?”
“Day after next I think. Might be a bit later, but definitely no earlier than that.”
“well, I suppose we should start getting ready, the sooner we’re prepared the better, agreed?”
Nods all around, “Then we’ll feel them out. See if they’re like us and if they are, that’s great, and if not, well, we’ll figure something out then.”
The small group separated, each going to their cars. Rick slid into his and turned on the engine, waiting for a few minutes as the car heated up. The others passed him, waving goodbye, he waved back with a little smile. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, getting fresh blood into the town. It had been starting to dwindle just a little bit. He drove out of the car park and onto the small main street, what ever happened, they’d figure something out, they always did.
Brandon was looking through a small gap in the curtains, he was fairly sure they couldn’t see him. The family were unpacking a truck, lugging furniture around. They didn’t look like he expected them to, though he didn’t really know what he expected. It was a typical family, two parents, two kids. The eldest, a girl, looked about 16, and she was quite pretty, she’d probably make a beautiful woman. The other, a boy who looked about ten, seemed to be mostly getting in the way. The parents were working quite hard, trying to get everything into the house. The woman was pretty, but didn’t quite cross the threshold into beautiful, the husband had all the elements needed to be considered quite handsome, but somehow they didn’t gel together well enough for it to happen. They were working hard, there was that at least. He felt a bit guilty just watching, like he should offer to help, but he couldn’t, everyone would be relying on him for some of the initial reports. He pulled the phone a little closer, wondering who he would ring first. He picked up the phone, then set it down again, who was that? He leaned over slightly to get a better view, it was Joanna. What was she doing? Why did she have a basket? The parents stopped working, the mother wiping at her forehead, they were all smiling. He couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. Goddamn that Joanna always was a ditzy bitch, what the hell was she up to? The basket shifted slightly and he got a look in. Food, some other things. It was a welcome basket, what the hell was she thinking? He picked up the phone and started to dial. As Joanna was leaving he had already rang three people and filled them in, soon it would filter through the rest of the town. The curtains twitched as he moved forward to get a better view, make sure she was actually leaving rather than going inside. The parents started to bring the basket in. The little boy looked across the street, frowning slightly, their eyes met and Brandon jerked back from the curtain, closing it over, his heart thudding. They weren’t supposed to know he was watching. It had to be done, but quietly. No one would admit to it, but he was sure his other neighbours were doing the same, at least those who were home today. Letting his heart settle a bit, he picked up the phone again. While he was waiting for them to come back out he might as well do something useful.
Rick hung up the phone and sighed, Nancy was always good for filling him in on the latest gossip. He was surprised that someone had gone over, until he heard it was Joanna, she always was friendly. It was good, getting to know them. It was the only way they’d know. Of course the poor girl was going to be villanised for it, at least for a little while. There was nothing he could really do about that, he’d told Nancy he supported what Joanna had done and she and the others were to say the same, but that would only take some of the heat off her. From what was said they seemed like a normal enough family, two kids, no pets. He had expected them to have a dog, in his mind a golden retriever, but you couldn’t get everything right. He suspected that the family were going to be heading to the diner tonight, or at least they would soon, he’d have to get a jump on that. He picked up the phone,
“Hi Sally, it’s Rick-”
“Oh hi Rick, how’s it going? Do you want your usual sent up?”
“No, no I’m fine for food, thank you, I just wanted to ring and give you all a bit of a heads up. I think the new family will be stopping by soon enough for some food.”
“Oh.” Her tone had definitely soured.
“I want you all to treat them like you’d treat any of us, ok?”
“No buts. You do it you hear?”
“Ok. I’ll go tell the others.”
“Good. I expect everyone will be friendly and polite. If I hear otherwise I will be quite angry. Understand?”
Sally hung up without saying goodbye. Rick sighed and put the phone down. He had expected a little resistance but nothing as much as that. Sally was normally so cheerful all the time. He rubbed his eyes, this was starting to get ridiculous. He wasn’t in office when Mary had moved into town, but he didn’t think she had been met with such reluctance and suspicion. Probably because all the men thought they might have a shot with her. Apparently the daughter was quite pretty, that would help, all the boys would probably try and stick up for her if something happened. He had been told that the family were quite friendly to Joanna, so that was a good start, though he wondered what they must think of everyone else in the town. Frankly it was a bit of a disgrace that they couldn’t band together for twenty minutes, just to say welcome. Ok, it might not work out, but the least they could do would be to try and start off on the right foot. The last thing he needed was people telling the family they should move, or be unfriendly to them. The town had avoided suspicions for years and they couldn’t afford to bring any down on them now, not in the age of computers and mobile devices that could record everything. No, they had to appear as a normal, friendly, if a little secluded, town.
Sally watched as the family came in, they were a little nervous, they glanced around the diner and finally sat into a booth. Sally took a deep breath and went over with the menus, plastering a smile on her face, “Hi, welcome to Gracie’s, I’m Sally and here are the menus, do you want any drinks while you look over them?”
She noted down what they wanted, smiling all the while, then went off to get their drinks, already she could tell they wouldn’t fit in. That girl was too stuck up by far. Sally carried out their drinks then left to give them a few more minutes to decide. Honestly, if they were this indecisive about food there was no way they’d ever fit in here. She took their orders and gave it to the kitchen, then she busied herself doing other things. Everyone was friendly enough, sure some people would slyly look at them, but could you blame them? Of course they wanted to know something about the new people, it was all anyone was talking about really. She made sure to keep an eye on them and their drinks, she didn’t want it getting back to Rick that she wasn’t doing a good job. She made idle chit chat to them, listening as they told her they were from wherethefuckever. Nodded and smiled at the right places, commiserated with how difficult it was to move, she even pretended to like that stuck up girl, Francie, or Fran or something like that. Sally didn’t think it was her fault she couldn’t remember the girls name, after all the girl herself wasn’t all that memorable, pretty enough if you liked that sort of thing but barely said two words, Sally had to carry most of the conversation. They were polite, which was something, they even left her a nice tip when they finally left. As soon as they were gone the diner was abuzz with discussion, dissecting everything that had just happened. Not that it mattered to Sally, she had a front row seat, soon she’d get on the phone and tell a few select people what had happened and her thoughts on them, but if anyone talked to Rick, they would be able to say she had been nothing but kind and attentive. She cast a quick glance around to make sure everyone was ok, then she went straight to the phone.
Rick pushed the ashtray towards Nancy, he always kept on in his office for her. He opened the window slightly, she took a drag on the cigarette, “it looks like they’re settling in quite well. They seem friendly and I think they’d fit in quite well.”
“I’ve only talked to them briefly, but I have to agree, I think they might be a good fit here. How should we do this?”
“I don’t know. We’re going to have to bring them in carefully, if they stumble across anything to freak them out then it’ll be over.”
“I think we should try to bring the parents in first, then see how that goes. If it goes well the children can be brought in too. Maybe we should meet with them together and test the waters a little, if they seem favourable to it we can bring them in fully, what do you think?”
Nancy tapped some ash off the end of her cigarette, “Yes, it’s a good plan, we’ll have to do it quickly though, so they don’t start getting all suspicious.”
Rick nodded, “Ok, good, so it’s decided. I’ll phone the others and let them know.”
Rick and Nancy walked down the sidewalk, arms looped together, she seemed to be getting a bit frailer, but Rick didn’t want to say anything. The death of Dickey had taken a lot out of her. Still she was in good spirits, the dinner had gone well, very well. She paused for a moment and started to root through her bag, a moment later her hand emerged with a packet of smokes. “Those’ll kill you you know.”
Nancy laughed, “I don’t have many vices, but I don’t intend to get rid of any of those I indulge in. I’m already on my way out, why try to make it unpleasant for myself?” She placed a cigarette between her lips and lit it, inhaling deeply, then they started to walk again.
“I bet you’re pretty pleased with yourself?”
“Yeah, you proved us wrong, we all wanted to keep em out and you said no, that we should try and you were right.”
Rick shrugged, “You were all just caught up in the worry of it. I could have just as easily been wrong about it. Luckily no one did anything drastic.”
Nancy nodded, “yeah, there was some talk of burning them out or chasing them away, I put a stop to that as best I could. We need to spread the word quickly, that shouldn’t be too hard, I know most people are waiting to hear how it went. They’ll be safe once everyone knows they accepted.”
“I was a little surprised when they mentioned how friendly everyone had been, I thought that people were only doing the bare minimum.”
“A few people made the effort, mostly because they were afraid of what’d happen if they didn’t. Did you hear her go on about how they hardly knew their neighbours in their last place? They’re just getting used to the small town way of life. Once they’re settled they’ll look back and think everyone was avoiding them.”
“Well, they wouldn’t be far from the truth.”
They reached Nancy’s driveway, “I’ll say goodbye here, no point in you seeing me to the door.”
Rick looked wounded, “I’m a complete gentleman, I would never abandon a woman out here on the mean and lonely streets.”
Nancy chuckled and kissed him on the cheek, “You’re kind, but go on, Gloria’ll be waiting with bated breath to hear how it went, it’d be better if she heard it from you. You know as soon as I’m in the door I’ll be nattering away on the phone.”
“Speaking of, Gloria wanted me to invite you to dinner this weekend if you’re free.”
“That’d be lovely, it gets a little lonely cooking for one.”
He gave her a quick hug, “Gloria will ring to let you know what time, but if you need anything before hand, don’t be afraid to give me a ring.”
She smiled at him, “Thanks, night Rick.”
He watched her for a moment, until she was on the porch, then he started to walk himself. The night was pleasant but he kept a good pace, Nancy was right, Gloria would want to hear the good news from him. Maybe they’d have a bottle of wine to celebrate. Nancy would take great pleasure in letting everyone else know, so he’d leave that to her. The faster he got home the longer he and Gloria would have, no doubt the phone would start ringing soon with people wanting to either congratulate or to complain. It was always hard to tell with some of the towns folk. Still, it was a good night and he wouldn’t let them bring him down.