“Explain this to me like I’m a two-year-old,” Mark said, helping Aaron knock down his block tower so they could stack them in the playbox. “How did you figure out this kook’s claim had validity?”
“I list and show houses and businesses all up and down the Valley, right?” Alex had only been a real estate developer for three years and already had a reputable hold on the market. After helping Prince Marcos find the perfect home in accordance with his wife’s vision, he learned there was a need for dedicated agents who catered to high-end clients. “I see things. My brain catalogs things.”
“What do solar arrays have to do with real estate development?” Mark asked, closing the lid to the toybox and patting Aaron’s backside as he skipped over to the kitchen where Hazel had lunch ready for him.
“I’m interested in the long-term success of our investment in Domrey,” Alex said, referring to their joint venture. The business had taken off in the three years since they’d opened the doors and started the assembly line to manufacture solar panels. The local economy was booming with good-paying jobs because of Domrey Incorporated, and the citizens had embraced the four young college graduates who swept into town with deep pocketbooks and fanciful ideas. “I often get involved in overseeing the development and installation of the solar arrays.”
“You have more time on your hands then I do.” Mark chuckled and glanced in the direction of his pregnant wife, who was casually adding bits of food a little at a time to the tray on Aaron’s highchair. Hazel caught his gaze and winked at Mark.
“Okay, seriously, can you guys wait until I’m gone before making bedroom eyes at each other?”
“You’re the one who showed up at our house,” Mark reminded Alex. “As long as you leave before naptime, we’ll get along just fine.”
“Anyway…” Alex shuddered. “There are lots of hoops to jump through in order to install one of these solar arrays; purchase of land development rights, pulling permits, applying for federal government subsidies, hiring contractors and installers, reporting the completion to local government in order to pay required taxes, etc. Not to mention the manufacturing and human resources. There are a lot of moving parts.”
“I understand all of that,” Mark said, dismissively, making a funny face at Owen, who was still bouncing in Alex’s arms. “What makes you think this guy’s claim has merit?”
“I found at least one location where there are two arrays on a property where the city records only show one,” Alex said. “If I found one property out of compliance without researching too deep, chances are there are more.”
“So, what’s our next step?” Mark asked.
“Register of deeds office, I guess,” Alex said. “I’ll use my rights as a law-abiding citizen, and city councilman, to request records of every property where an array has been installed, create some detailed maps, study aerial photos, and then have you fly your drone over those areas to confirm that what the property records show is what is really on the ground.”
“Do you think Noah and Drew are involved in something shady?” Mark asked.
“I can’t see how they could be so closely linked to the situation and not know about it, maybe even the brains behind the operation,” Alex said.
“We need to keep this extremely close to the chest until we know something for sure,” Mark said. “If they get wind that we’re suspicious, they’ll cover their tracks. Plus, I don’t want to accuse someone of wrongdoings if they aren’t doing anything wrong.”
“True.” Alex considered his next move. “I’m going to head to the courthouse.”
“Maybe it’s time you and I take our old college roommates out to dinner or something,” Mark suggested. He reached into the pocket of his jeans and pulled out his cell phone. Without waiting for an answer, Mark touched his contacts list and scrolled down to Noah’s office phone number. He turned on the speaker phone as it was ringing.
“Mayor Adlin’s office, this is Cheryl, can I help you?” a mature woman’s voice answered.
“Good morning, Cheryl. Prince Marcos Sayid to speak with the mayor please,” Mark said in his most professional voice.
“Right away Your Highness,” she said. The line clicked over, and they only had to wait about fifteen seconds.
“Your Highness,” Noah’s voice boomed into the living room. “How’s married life treating you?”
“I could ask you the same thing,” Mark said. “You get moved into the mansion yet?”
“Nikki is shopping for furniture as we speak,” Noah answered. “We’ll have to host a barbeque after we get settled. That is, if you are able to drive down from your palace on the waterfall to mingle with us commoners.”
“That’s actually why I called,” Mark said. “I’m coming to town this evening and wanted to get the gang together and take you all out to dinner. Perhaps after your city council meeting. Drew will be in attendance, right?”
“He’s on the council,” Noah said. “I would count on him being there.”
“Well then, it’s settled,” Mark said. “I need to meet with Alex this afternoon, so I’ll be in town for the meeting as well.”
“That’s… great, Your Highness.” Noah’s voice squeaked and he cleared his throat. “We’ll see you this afternoon.”
“You can count on it,” Mark said, then hung up the phone.
“Poor kid’s probably downing some antacid right about now,” Alex said. “You’re not going to show up wearing a crown or anything, are you?”
“Heck no,” Mark said. “It’s just a lowly council meeting. I’m not visiting with the governor.”
“You know what they say, all politics is local.”
“Unless you’re the crown prince.” Mark didn’t bat an eye.
“Good point, Your Highness.” Alex reached over to hand Mark his baby then stood and smoothed the wrinkles from his suit pants. “I’ll go do some research and see you later. Have a good afternoon.”
“I’m sure we will.” Mark’s voice dropped an octave.
“Ugh, get me outta here.”
“Someday your uncle Alex will understand,” Mark baby talked to his little boy. “When he’s all grown up and married.”
“I’m leaving,” Alex said.
“Wave bye-bye to Uncle Alex,” Mark said, holding Owen’s hand up and waving it back and forth playfully.
Alex waved to baby Owen then headed over to the kitchen nook where Hazel was placing another little handful of diced fruit on Aaron’s highchair tray. “Bye, little buddy.” He leaned down to place a kiss on Aaron’s tousled head.
“Bye Unca Alex,” Aaron said with a full mouth of slimy, partially chewed grapes. His sleepy eyes reminded Alex that his welcome at the Sayid’s tree house was almost worn out. He reached for a hug from Hazel. “Nice seein’ ya, cuz.”
“Stop by anytime,” Hazel said in a friendly voice.
“Uh… not likely.” Alex glanced at Hazel’s growing belly then stepped into the foyer. Slipping on his muddy Oxfords, he reminded himself to swing by his townhouse for a change of clothes before heading back to the office. “Maybe in a few years when y’all are done… procreating.”
“Jealous?” Mark called from the floor of his living room where he was still playing with his baby.
“Maybe,” Alex grumbled, then pulled the door shut and hurried down the cobblestone sidewalk to where his silver Porsche waited in the driveway. Settling into the fine leather seat and clicking his seatbelt into place, he whispered, “Definitely.”