“Why am I not surprised?” Alex said after opening the door to Noah’s office to find his secretary, Cheryl sitting on his lap with her arms around his neck. Both of their smiles fell from their faces when Alex and Mark walked in the door.
Noah sat forward in his chair, nearly knocking Cheryl to the floor. “Your Highness, what are you doing here?”
“I thought we were meeting for dinner.” Mark raised his eyebrows and Alex could hear the underlying humor and disgust behind the simple sentence.
“We were supposed to have dinner after the city council meeting,” Noah said as his secretary scooted quickly past Mark and Alex, out the door of Noah’s office.
“Which starts in ten minutes,” Alex said, glancing at his watch. “Perhaps it’s time we head down to the chambers.”
“Right, yes, of course.” Noah hurriedly tucked a small flask from on top of his desk into a drawer, gathered a stack of papers, straightened his tie and slipped his sport coat over his shoulders. By the time he stood tall and confident he almost looked like the upstanding mayor his constituents elected him to be.
Alex bit back his frustration, wondering why he ever supported this man’s campaign. Right. Because they’d been friends for years. If what he suspected was true, that friendship had taken a sharp turn for the worse.
“Shall we?” Mark held out his arm as if inviting Noah to lead the way.
Noah raised his chin and strode past his former college roommates and business partners, the smell of liquor on his breath. Before leaving his outer office, he stopped at Cheryl’s desk. She held out a mint that had already been unwrapped and placed it on his tongue. “Thank you darling.” Noah leaned over and kissed her on her cheek and kept walking toward the council chambers as if nothing had happened.
Alex rolled his eyes at Mark and they fell in behind Noah. This gave them the perfect vantage point to see how others reacted to Mayor Noah Adlin. They all loved him. He was like a celebrity handing out hundred dollar bills all the way down the hall and into the council chambers.
Noah stopped to shake hands and pat people on the back, took a moment to converse with the reporters and camera crew at the back of the room, touched the shoulders of several people in the audience of the chambers before sauntering up to his place of honor as if claiming a throne.
Before taking a seat in the audience, Mark strode to the front of the room to greet their other college roommate, Andrew, where he sat on the council. Drew’s jaw dropped as he shook Mark’s hand, then he plastered an obviously fake smile on his face and a nervous glance passed between Noah and Drew.
Yeah… they were guilty. Now the burden of proof was on Alex and Mark.
The room erupted in whispers as the kook from the previous meeting made his way to the front row near where the podium waited for public comment. Mark raised his eyebrows at Alex, and he nodded subtly, answering in their nonverbal communication that this was indeed the man they’d been talking about this afternoon.
Without hesitation, Mark walked over and took a seat next to the man. “Hi, I’m Mark.” He held out his hand.
“I know who you are,” the man said without turning to look at Mark or lifting his hand in greeting.
Before any of them could react further, the chairman of the council called out, “Let’s call the meeting to order. All rise for the Pledge of Allegiance.”
Alex held his right hand over his heart and recited the pledge along with everyone else in the room, including Prince Marcos Sayid. For the first time it occurred to Alex to wonder which sovereign nation would take precedence if Mark were forced to choose. He was born in the United States yet was recognized as the crown prince of Madain Saleh. Before he could think on it further, the oath was complete, and the members present were seated.
The motion to approve the agenda for the council meeting was passed unanimously and then the chairman nervously invited anyone in the audience who wished to make a public comment to step to the podium, state their name and address, and keep their comments within the allowed three minutes.
There was no surprise when the man in the front row stood and stepped to the podium. “For the record, my name is Abe Nader and I live at 501 North Hightower Road.”
The clerk typed into her laptop as the man spoke.
“I warned you last week that you have illegal activity happening right before your eyes and you didn’t believe me,” Abe said, then held up a packet of papers not unlike the files Alex had been digging through with Mark and Krystina that afternoon. “Here is your proof! I have seen with my own eyes the properties that have two solar arrays where the county records state there should only be one. Is it any wonder that two of the four owners of Domrey, Incorporated sit on this council? Does it surprise anyone that our good mayor is another part owner? And this man as well.”
Abe turned and pointed at Mark, who offered a resigned smile to Abe before the man faced forward again to continue his tirade.
“Why aren’t you obeying the laws you set for the community? Who is pocketing the money coming in from government subsidies? How many people in our city and county government are involved in his scandal? You’re all a bunch of lawless men and need to be removed from office!”
By this time, Abe had raised his voice well beyond what was appropriate for a public meeting and had gone past his allotted three minutes.
“Sheriff,” Noah called out. “Could you please remove this man from our council chambers for unruly behavior?”
As the sheriff stepped forward, Abe called over the excited mutterings of the crowd, “Your lawlessness will bring about the destruction of this community!”
The sheriff placed cuffs around Abe’s wrists.
“Mark my words! Whatever you do to me will be done to you! You bring this upon yourselves!”
With that, the heavy doors to the council chambers closed, carrying the man’s continued shouting down the hall.