Like every member of the Deerton City Council, Linda Soderquist had a day job. When she wasn’t in the mayor’s office, she was running her business: the gas station with an integrated Subway restaurant out by New 313. Visible from the highway, it was a mecca to travelers headed north who needed an acceptably clean restroom and a sub that bore a passing resemblance to what was on the menu, since both were being maintained by cheap high school students earning $4 an hour since they could theoretically be tipped. The station was Linda’s pride and joy, and overseeing it was the closest thing in Deerton to printing money.

Overseeing it from a distance and by phone, that is. That place reeked.

Linda was checking the official city email account when an unfamiliar woman wearing a low-key business casual skirt and heels entered, carrying a manila folder. “Your notes for this evening’s meeting, Mayor Soderquist.”

“Oh. Thank you, Jane,” Linda said taking the folder absently. Then she looked up at the messenger. Jane was a blonde, or at least dyed an approximation of the shade into her beaten locks. This woman was a brunette. “Where’s Jane?”

“Oh, Jane had a family emergency, didn’t you see the email?” the woman said. “I’m her temporary replacement, from the agency.”

“Oh yes, of course,” Linda said, embarrassed to have been caught out for only skimming official mail. “The agency, yes. I suppose I’d better get city payroll on the phone, Mrs…?”

“Ms. Margrave,” the woman said with a light smile. “That won’t be necessary. The agency will take care of everything, and poor Jane needs the money more than I do.”

“Ah, wonderful,” Linda said. “What’s on tonight’s agenda?”

“Some modifications to the town charter to bring it into compliance with federal regulations, a vote on the library bond measure, and a discussion of the final preparations for Tuesday’s election.”

“Oh good,” Linda said, relieved. “You know, if it weren’t for Jane–she’s the only permanent employee here at city hall, you know!–I would be completely lost!”

“Don’t I know it,” Margrave said. “I can only succeed, never replace.”

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