“Well… that was fun,” Mark said, stepping up to the raised stand where the council members sat in a semicircle. “Are all your council meetings that exciting?”
“Just the past few weeks,” Alex answered, glancing sidelong to where Drew and Noah’s heads were close together in a heated exchange. Alex took advantage of their distraction and spoke low enough to be heard by only Mark. “What did you think?”
“I think I’m going to head over to the county jail and bail out our friend, Abe, and meet you at the restaurant,” Mark said. “But don’t tell the guys that’s what I’m doing. I want their guards down as much as possible this evening. Follow my lead, and cover for me.”
“Always,” Alex answered.
“Gentlemen,” Mark called out with a good-natured friendliness that Alex could tell was fake. “I have a couple of errands to run and I’ll meet the three of you at the Le Canard Enchaine. I called ahead and reserved the private dining room. My treat.”
“Why, thank you, Your Highness,” Drew said with a mock bow.
“Would you like to ride together?” Alex held up the keys to his car, realizing too late that his little Porsche wouldn’t fit all three of them. He suspected they wouldn’t choose to ride with him anyway, but it was fun to watch them squirm.
“I need to, uh, drop these files off to my office and then I’ll take my Caddie,” Noah said.
“I’ll come with you,” Drew was quick to add, stepping closer to Noah.
“Sounds like I’ll meet you at the restaurant,” Alex said, backing away. The more time he spent with them, the surer he was that they were hiding their illegal activity and nervous to be alone with the prince and his advisor.
After Alex parallel parked his little Porsche in front of the restaurant, he pulled out his phone and took a moment to send a text to Krystina. Thanks again for all your help this afternoon. I enjoyed getting to know you.
A text almost immediately followed. You too. How did your meeting go?
Abe Nader was arrested for unruly behavior at a public meeting, Alex texted back.
What?!?! That poor guy.
Mark headed over to go bail him out and we’re meeting for a late dinner in a few minutes with the mayor and Drew.
I look forward to hearing about your meeting,” Krystina texted.
Are you free for lunch tomorrow?
With you? Definitely.
I’ll be at your office by about 11:45 tomorrow morning.
It’s a date, she texted back.
You’re right, Alex thought. It is a date. In answer to her text, he sent a smiling emoji.
Alex tucked his phone in his pocket, exited his car, and clicked the key fob to turn on the alarm system. He was the first to arrive at the upscale French restaurant and told the host that he was with the Sayid party. He was shown to a private dining area where he requested a bottle of red wine, four glasses of ice water, and French bread with oil for dipping. He wanted the guys fed immediately but relaxed and open to spilling the truth about their shady dealings.
Noah and Drew arrived five minutes later, and Mark ten minutes after that. They spoke casually while ordering entrees and an outside observer would suspect nothing but a group of friends getting together for dinner. When the waitresses left the room, Mark leaned forward.
“So… this kook who showed up at the meeting,” Mark started. “Should we be concerned? I mean, the four of us have a lot of skin in the game and if someone in the local government is doing something illegal—as this guy claims—the four of us could be implicated.”
“I think he’s just a crazy guy rambling on about things he knows nothing about,” Drew said dismissively.
“If there was something going on in the local government, I’d know about it,” Noah said with a creased brow. “I am the mayor after all.”
“I was thinking the same thing,” Mark said. “That you would have your pulse on the affairs of the community. Could you maybe look into the claim? See if this guy is crazy or legit.”
“I’ll get right on that,” Noah said. Alex was impressed with his acting skills. “I mean, who is this guy Abe Nader, anyway? Who is he to accuse us of wrongdoing? Our business has added prosperity to this community. We have provided jobs and clean energy, and even the housing market is booming. Am I right councilman?”
“As a real estate agent, I can confirm that the housing market is indeed booming,” Alex responded. Noah answered with a satisfied smile and Alex added a caveat. “But I don’t want prosperity to come at the expense of legality.”
“That’s right,” Drew said, as if he agreed wholeheartedly. “We need to get to the bottom of this.”
“Well, I feel better knowing the three of you will be looking into the claims,” Mark said as if he had no intention of further involvement. “It pays to have friends on the city council.”
“And in the mayor’s office.” Noah held up his glass of wine for an informal toast of camaraderie.
“Here, here,” Drew said, also raising his glass.
Without preamble, Alex and Mark lifted their glasses of wine and touched the liquid to their lips before setting the glasses back on the table. They’d gotten very good at toasting without actually drinking alcohol since the early days of Mark’s coronation as Crown Prince.
Noah and Drew didn’t seem to notice as they each downed half their glass of the expensive wine Alex had chosen. The food soon followed, and the rest of the meal was spent in casual banter and reminiscing about their younger selves. As the night wore on, and the guys finished off the bottle of wine, Alex and Mark gleaned many details about Noah and Drew’s friends throughout the lower levels of the government.
That meal was worth every penny of the hundred- and twenty-dollars’ worth of food and the two-hundred-dollar bottle of wine. Alex had a feeling their town would have some visitors from the Federal Bureau of Investigation in the next couple of weeks.