John D MacDonald – Barrier Island

“Let me make sure.” Bern opened the middle drawer of his desk and took out a yellow legal pad. He leafed back through several pages. “Here we are. Seventy-four. That doesn’t mean that many buyers. Almost all of them took two half-acre lots.”

“What’s the most expensive one we’ve processed?”

“Two hundred and ten thousand for a full acre. A high piece, near the marina.”

“Got the total so far?”

“Five-point-one-eight mil. Which at one-and-a-half percent negotiated commission is seventy-seven thousand seven hundred dollars for this splendid organization called

Rowley/Gibbs Associates.”

“I stood there in warm water halfway to my knees, Bern, and I looked north and I couldn’t see any part of the mainland. Not any part of it. And then I thought about water supply, sewage disposal, fire and police protection, dumb stuff like that. And I thought about the dredging that would have to happen before barges loaded with building supplies could get close enough to unload onto the island. I thought about grocery shopping and health care and all the permissions Loomis would have to get. Don’t you think about things like that? Ever?”

“Every time I read one of those big think pieces in the Courier Journal by your old pal Brud Barnes. Otherwise not too often, partner. Developers are visionaries. They take big risks to make big profits. Name of the game, isn’t it? Listen, Tuck has good contacts with a lot of rich people here and in Florida and Alabama and Louisiana. Rich people like seclusion. There’ll be a little airstrip and a helicopter pad on the island. He’s going to use some kind of new Swedish waste disposal system. He’s going to generate his own electric. All those things are his problems, not ours. A lot of people thought Parklands was a bad idea. Look at it now. He’s a responsible man, Wade. He’s done a lot for this area.”

“I’ve got some more questions.”

“It figures. I’ve heard them before, right?”

“He has qualified people working for him. He’s got his own broker’s license. He could have processed all these deeds. How come he made us a gift of seventy-seven thousand?”

“I guess his people were busy on other things. Or he didn’t want to be bothered.”

“If those buyers are so rich, why did they pay him such tiny little down payments?”

“Didn’t you read the fine print? Interest and mortgage payments start when all the required permits have been granted, and the first phase of road construction starts. If the project can’t be started, the down payments are returned with ten percent interest.”

“What exactly did Dawn do on these deeds?”

“Tuck’s office sent me a fact sheet for every purchase. Name, address, lot number, price, down payment, mortgage terms and so on. We put the deeds on disk, and Dawn filled in the data in between the boilerplate. She ran the required copies, and they went back to Tuck’s office. His notary verified the signatures. They came back here and Dawn went down and recorded them, and in the next couple of days they would show up in the news of record.”

“With our name?”

“We’re the real estate agency involved.”

“Not very involved.”

“How involved can you get for one-point-five percent?”

“How did we get the commission?”

“In the mail. A check drawn on Loomis Development and sometimes on the Bernard Island Corporation.”

“And we’re the agency of record.”

“Don’t keep saying it and making it sound so sinister, for God’s sake.”

“Listen, we started fourteen years ago. Just the two of us in that phone-booth office in the old West Bay Citizens Bank building. Now we’ve got eight full-time employees, plus those part-timers Frank Mettler works with. A clean operation, Bern. We haven’t had to tuck ourselves under the wing of one of the national franchises. We’re a class act. Sometimes things get a little thin, but we always make out somehow. I’m not crazy about this arrangement.”

“I know you aren’t. You keep telling me. That’s why we had Rick Riker check it all out. He’s happy with it.”

“You mean he couldn’t find anything particularly wrong with it.”

“When he can’t find anything wrong, he’s happy, isn’t he?”

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