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A Gatored Community

Summary

Global warming has raised the sea level by 30 feet.  People live in floating communities that rise and fall with the tide.  In the floating community of Shellfish Shoals, a woman pearl thief involves herself with a guy who runs a local oyster farm, where cultured pearls are produced, and an alligatior is used for security.

 

Chapter 1 / Shellfish Shoals

A Gatored Community

By

WIlliam D'Andrea

(MrBillyD)

&

Andalib Marx

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I dedicate this novel to my co-author Andalib Marx, who was unfortunately killed in a traffic accident, during the first weekend in October, 2011.

I consider this a very troubling tragedy.  She was not only my co-author and friend.  While writing this novel, she was also my inspiration, my star and my leading lady.  However, now that this book is finally published, she will always be alive for me upon every one of its pages.

Here’s looking at you Andalib Marx.  We’ll always have Shellfish Shoals.

William D’Andrea

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Shellfish Shoals

1

The MacKenzie family had farmed the surounding fields for five generations.  When Ted MacKenzie’s father Jake was a child, the fields had been covered by endless rows of corn.

"Corn as high as an elephant’s eye.”  Just like the words in that old show tune said.

The farmhouse where his father had grown up remained in the spot where it had been built, but was no longer on its original foundation.   When the rising sea level began to approach, the floor and walls of the basement had been replaced by a hull.  The MacKenzie’s family home was now a houseboat, moored to a series of surrounding pylons, where it rose and fell with the tides.

24 year old Theodore MacKenzie sat alone at the rear of the family dinghy, beside the outboard motor.  He guided the 15 foot long shallow craft through the narrow channels, between thick, putrid, patches of reeds and swamp grass, which grew as high as the rooftops of one-story houses.  He thought of what now lay on the bottom of the water, where rows of corn had once grown, and he chuckled.

The firmly built, dark haired Ted, wearing blue jeans and a short sleeved yellow shirt, softly sang the words of an old folksong.

“When I think of my happy condition,

Surrounded by acres of clams.

 Surrounded by acres of clams?

 Surrounded by acres of clams!”

Clams, he thought.  Yes!  Not just acres, but miles!  And miles of oyster beds!  And shrimp!  And lobster!  And crabs!

“Cockles and mussels!  Alive!  Alive oh!”

And don’t forget all those cultured pearls!

Then Ted called out, “Thank you Lord for Global Warming!  Amen.”

And for the schools of fish that swim in the channels, and the seagulls gliding overhead, carried along by the warm breeze, beneath the hot, heavy sun and glaring blue sky.

He slowly moved the small open craft following the channel, which now turned sharply to the right.  He expected to see the usual houseboats, barges and masts of sailboats that made up his community of Shellfish Shoal.  What he saw made him gasp.  He immediately shut off the motor.

About thirty feet ahead, a bare patch of ground rose a few feet above the water.  A ten-foot long alligator lay stretched out upon the muddy mound, basking under the heavy sun.  The sleeping creature’s jaws were yawned open, with an item hanging from its lower jaw.  The item was a woman’s string bikini top, with one of its strings caught around one tooth. 

Ted held his breath so as not to wake the creature.  He recognized the color pattern of dazzling red, yellow and blue triangles, on the garment’s cups.  He’d seen Doris Sheldon, his ex-fiancée, wearing this bikini top yesterday afternoon.   

As he sat there trembling Ted prayed softly.

“In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I ask God the Father Almighty, to send forth the Holy Spirit, and…”

And what?  He wondered, but just for a moment.

“And keep this creature of yours, who’s already eaten, from eating me too.”

The alligator rose up.  Its jaws snapped shut, cutting the bikini string, dropping the garment to the ground, as Ted tried not to move.

Then the creature quickly slid down the embankment into the channel, turned away from the dinghy, gliding just beneath the surface.  The lines of scales along its back, moved rapidly away from Ted.

The man sighed and relaxed, while whispering, “Thank you Lord.  Amen.”

Chapter 2 / Amberjack

Just before sunset, Ted MacKenzie was having a beer after work.  He was seated at the bar in the Amberjack, a floating restaurant moored along the Main Channel, which went through the center of Shellfish Shoals.

The Amberjack’s dining room was an open-air verandah, with tables and chairs under a thatched roof, where a few patrons were seated at this early hour.  They sat facing across the watery thoroughfare, toward a line of one story tall storefront business barges.  Beyond the storefronts, they saw the slanted roofs of private split-level, ranch style and Cape Cod houseboat homes.  There was also the steeple of a neighboring church, moored among the residential channels.  The sun had just disappeared behind those roofs, casting a reddish orange glow over the entire community.

The strong tangy smell of the channel mixed with the aroma of the beer that dark haired Ted was drinking.  In the heavy heat of late afternoon, he wore a short sleeved, light blue shirt, blue jeans, and rugged shoes.

“Alligator.”  Nick the bartender spoke.  “I said there’d be trouble, when your old man Jake actually brought an alligator into this town.”

Ted grunted with a sigh.

Then he said, “It was his decision, not mine.  Besides, we were assured that nobody would have anything to worry about, once we’d got it properly penned in.  Everyone in town saw the fencing around the oyster farm.  There was no doubt how secure it was.  There was no way that the alligator could possibly escape.  We just didn’t anticipate that the hurricane would send debris smashing through the fence, and make such a large hole for the animal to swim through.”

“I understand.”  The bartender told him, “You’re producing cultured pearls, and you thought you needed some security, but wasn’t that overdoing it?  Wouldn’t a watchdog have been enough?”

“A dog just isn’t as scary as an alligator.”  Ted told the man, “And dogs don’t take to the water as well.”

A blonde woman around Ted’s age was also seated at the bar, two stools to his right.  She snickered.  He and Nick glanced at her for a moment.  She sat drinking a margarita cocktail, while wearing white sneakers and matching shorts along with a tight green halter-top.

She raised her hand, wiggling her fingers at Ted, while giving him a slightly embarrassed smile.

“Oh I’m sorry.”  She said, “I wasn’t really eaves dropping.  I just couldn’t help overhearing your conversation.”

“That’s okay.”  The bartender told her.  “We’re speaking aloud in a public place, about something that a lot of people around here are very concerned about.” 

“Right.”  Ted nodded.  “Besides, it’s better if everybody does know about it.”

Then he turned to Nick.  “Do you ever wonder why they call it ‘eaves dropping’?  Anyone who goes around dropping eaves isn’t gonna be unnoticed for very long.”

Nick chuckled.  The woman laughed again.

Then she spoke.  “So you’re the guy who owns the cultured pearl farm?”

“No.”  Ted told her, “It’s a family business.  My father owns it, and I’m an employee.”

“But eventually the business will become yours?”

“That’s right.”  He looked uncomfortable.  “But while that eventuality has been taken care of legally, it’s something we don’t like to think about, or discuss.”

She looked embarrassed again.  “Boy!  I’m really putting my foot into it today aren’t I?”

“That’s okay.”

The three of them were quiet for a while.

The woman turned around, putting her back to the bar while sipping her drink.  She gazed out across the tables, to the channel, where motor powered water crafts carried small amounts of cargo and people.  She also gazed at the bright redness of the late afternoon sky.

Then she said, “Why, what a spectacular sunset!”

She looked back at Ted.  “I don’t think I’ve embarrassed myself again by saying that, or have I?”

“No.  Not at all!”  He gave her a welcoming grin.  “Everyone praises the sunsets around here.”

Then he quoted a poem.

“The sky is red

The clouds are red

Red sails in the sunset

The beach is red,

As is what we’re fed.

Red snapper caught

in one net.

“The sun is red

And so are the trees.

As are the gulls

Gliding in the breeze.

“Red is the wine

Where we sit and dine,

As is the crowd that passes

Red is the shore

Where one I adore

Says, “Take off those red

tinted glasses.”

She laughed.  He smiled.

How do you do.” He greeted her.  “My name’s Ted MacKenzie.”

 “Hi Ted.”  She told him, “You can call me Andalib.”

They were quiet again for a few moments, but not as uncomfortably as before.

“Andalib,” Ted asked, “how’d you like to join me for dinner?”

“Thank you Ted.  I’d love to.”

The two of them moved away from the bar bringing their drinks with them, to a table besides the waist high railing at the edge of the establishment’s floor, where they seated themselves beside the channel.

“That was an interesting poem.”  She told him, “But it doesn’t really fit does it?  At least not around here.  There are no real beaches around here and no trees either.  It’s all shallow marshlands, with grasses and weeds.”

He nodded.  “Where shell fish live and thrive, and so do we citizens of Shellfish Shoals.”

“Who thrive on the profits from cultured pearls?”

He chuckled, “Well I haven’t heard any of the oysters complaining.”

“Well I’ve just heard someone complaining about your alligator, and I get the impression that he’s not the only one.”

“The alligator’s just a temporary problem.”  He said, “It’ll be recaptured soon enough.  The woman who got eaten was named Doris Sheldon.  She was my ex-fiancée.  I’m gonna be hearing about that forever.”

The waitress Loretta came over and handed them a pair of menus.  Andalib looked over all the items.

“Let’s see.  Lobster, crabs, clams, oysters, and mussels.  Hmmm.  Nothing but shellfish.”

He laughed.  “Well what do you expect in a floating community named Shellfish Shoals?”

She asked, “Is it possible to order oysters, with pearls still inside?”

“Oh yes.  That happens sometimes, unintentionally.  Then whoever orders that oyster, only has to pay what the Amberjack charges for the meal.”

“A diner’s discount?”

“Exactly.  But that rarely happens.”

She smiled.  “Then I’d like to dine on a large order of oysters.”

Ted ordered two orders of oysters with seasoned rice in butter sauce and wine.

On the opposite side of the dining area, two men were seated at a table beside the wall, hardly paying any attention to the clams on their plates, or their glasses of beer.

The older man, who was in his mid thirties, spoke quietly.  “I don’t like the way you’re staring at her Xavier.”

“She’s a fine looking woman.”  Xavier who was about ten years younger than him growled, “What man wouldn’t be staring?”

“You’re not just staring.  You’re glaring, angrily.  That might call attention to you and to me.”

Xavier looked back at the clams on his plate.  About half of the shells were empty.  He still looked angry.

“Look at her Quin.”  He said, “Smiling and laughing, while having dinner with the guy who runs the pearl factory.”

“Relax.”  Quin told him, “There’s no reason to be jealous.  She’s just pumping him for information.”

“What about later tonight?  What else will she be pumping out of him?”

Quin spoke firmly.  “Calm down and keep your voice down.  This jealousy might get in our way.  Wait ‘til you’re alone with Andalib.  Say what you want then, but as for right now, try to enjoy your clams.”

“That’s easy for you to say.  I’m not going to enjoy anything until the job is done.”

“Whether you do or not, hold your temper in.”

By the time Ted and Andalib were served, the sun had set.  Outside the verandah, the channel was now dark.  Most of the tables and chairs were filled with local people and visitors like Andalib, Quin and Xavier.  She looked out into the dark, seeing a few stars twinkling in the sky, while an almost full moon shone above the rooftops.

One of the patrons spoke with a loud clear voice.  “Can’t see if the alligator’s out there.”

Andalib recognized the voice as Xavier’s.  She did not look in his direction.  She had not looked at either he or Quin, since they arrived.

On the plate that was placed in front of her, a half dozen oysters had been cooked open. 

She poked through them with her fork.

“Just mollusk meat.”  She said, “No pearls.”

“Like I said.”  Ted told her, “When that happens, it’s a rarity.”

She sighed, “That’s a pity.”

“But look at the inside of the shell.”  He pointed.  “It’s mother of pearl.  It’s valuable too.”

“Right.”

Then she asked, “Just what do you have to do, to produce a cultured pearl?”  

“The basic idea” he told her “is very simple.  All we have to do is introduce an irritant inside the oyster.  Then the oyster secretes a substance to relieve the irritation, and over time, the substance hardens and develops into a pearl.”

“Over how much time?”

“About two years.  By then the pearl has grown to marketable size.  That’s when we harvest them.”

“I see.  Would I, by any chance, have happened to arrive at harvest time?”

“Sorry.  In the section we’re working in right now, we’re doing just the opposite.  This is seeding time.  Right now we’re in the process of impregnating the oysters.  There’s a different section that we’ll get around to harvesting after we’ve finished what we’re doing now.”

“After you’ve finished ‘Impregnating’?”  Andalib laughed.  “I’ve heard of kinky, but…”

Ted laughed, “That’s just what it’s called.  Believe me, everything we do out there is ‘G’ rated.  Safe to bring your kids along to watch.”

“Really now?”  She told him, “I think that’s something I’d like to see myself.  Since the alligator’s no longer there, it’s probably the safest spot in town.”

“No problem.”

Ted lifted his arm and looked at his wristwatch.

Andalib asked, “Have you got someplace to be?”

“Oh sorry.  I didn’t mean to be rude.  You see, I’m going to be getting together with a few friends of mine in about an hour.”

“Oh.”  She smiled, “A get together?  Would I find it interesting?”

“I’m not sure.  You see, it’s our weekly Bible study.”

She laughed.  “’Bible study’?”

“You find that amusing?”

“Oh, I’m sorry.  I shouldn’t be laughing.  I don’t mean to be disrespectful.  You just kind of caught me off guard.”

“That’s all right.  Would you be interested in attending?”

“Well Ted.”  She told him, “I’ll be honest with you.  That’d be just the opposite of one of the reasons why I’ve come to Shellfish Shoals.”

“You mean it isn’t just pearls?”

“The other reason I’m here,” she gave him a flirty grin, “is that I’ve come to have a fling.  What would you and your friends at the Bible study have to say about that?”

“That depends.  Exactly what do you want to fling, and where and how far do you want to fling it?”

“That depends.”  She spoke with a sultry voice.  “How far do you want it flung?  I’ve come here hoping to get laid.  Just a fling.  Get my rocks off.”

“Listen Andalib.”  He told her, “You’re a very attractive woman, and you probably think this sounds very strange, but I’m a committed Christian guy, and I practice celibacy.”

She looked startled.  “’Celibacy?  You’re right.  That does sound very strange.  You’re a fanatic?”

“Not really.  The key word is ‘practice’.  You know, ‘If I just keep on practicing, eventually I’ll get it right’.”

“Eventually?”  She laughed.  “You mean sometimes you skip practice?”

“Yes.  But not as much as I used to.”

“How’d you like to skip practice tonight?”

He asked, “How’d you like to attend our Bible study first?  We plan to be binding the Devil tonight.”

“’Binding the Devil’?  You mean you’ll be having an exorcism?”

“Not exactly.  In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ll be calling on God the Father Almighty, and asking Him to send forth the Holy Spirit, to restrain the Devil, so that no one else will be harmed by the alligator, or by anything else, here in Shellfish Shoals.

“After that, we’ll see if you still want to have a fling.”

Andalib was startled.  She gazed in confusion out into the darkness of the channel.   Then she looked in the opposite direction, where she saw Xavier and Quin staring at her.

The two quickly looked away from her.  She looked away from them just as quick, and returned her attention to Ted.

She took a deep breath and shrugged.  “Well it would be something different, and I might actually get to know more about you.”

After about another half-hour, she and Ted got up from the table.

Across the room, Xavier said quietly, “They’re leaving.  I think we should follow them.”

“No.”  Quin told him.  “Stay seated.  She’ll let us know what she’s learned when she comes back.  Just be patient. 

Xavier growled, “‘Patient’.  Okay.  I’ll order a stronger drink.”

Chapter 3 / Binding the Devil

3

Binding the Devil

Ted and Andalib moved through the warm early evening darkness, with the lights of the Amberjack Restaurant behind them.  Their feet clopped along the planks of the floating wooden sidewalks, as they passed beneath the streetlamps, the moonlight and the stars.

“What do you think Ted?”  Andalib asked, as she gazed cautiously out along the dimly lit ripples in the channel just beside them.  “Could the alligator be within biting distance?”

“I hope not.” 

“You ‘hope’ not?”

“It probably isn’t.”  He told her, “The oyster farm is a good distance away from town; and I understand that alligators don’t usually move around all that far.  As long as it has plenty of fish to feed on, it won’t have any reason to come searching around here.”

“Well are there plenty of fish for it to feed on, out around your oyster farm?”

“I hope so.”

Around 8:15 that evening, Ted and Andalib were seated at the table in the dining room of Pete and Carol Mantelini’s split level houseboat that was moored along a side channel.  After their fifteen-minute walk from the Amberjack Restaurant, the two had reached the vessel.

Pete and Carol were also in their early twenties.  They sat across from their friend Ted MacKenzie and the woman he’d brought with him.  Each one had a Bible opened on the table, in front of him or her.

Ted told Andalib.  “Nobody else among the regular group is here tonight.  I assume they were all too afraid of the alligator to come over.”

Pete said, “It’s just the four of us tonight.”

“I hope they’re not avoiding me, because of Doris getting eaten by the escaped alligator.” 

He looked at Andalib.  “I need my friends to pray for me tonight.”

Carol told him, “They’re here Ted.   Wherever two or three are gathered in His name, the Lord is in their midst.” 

Now Andalib spoke.  “Do you really believe that?  The Lord is actually here?  Now?”

“That is what He said,” Carol told her, “and I believe what He said.”

“Wouldn’t it be better, if He was out helping people find the alligator, before it can harm anyone else’s ex-fiancée, or future bride, or groom, or whatever relationship they’re in?”

Ted said, “I’m sure He is Andalib.  The Lord is everywhere at the same time, helping all who call upon Him in truth.”

“What about those who don’t call upon Him?”

Carol told her, “He’s ready to help, as soon as they call.  If people don’t call, they put a barrier between themselves and the Lord, which keeps them from receiving His help.”

Pete added, “But the idea of coming face to face with an alligator would be a good incentive to put in a call.”

Ted told him, “Doris came face to face, and she was a member of this Bible study and prayer group.”

Carol sighed.

Pete said, “We’re back to that same question again.  To which there is no satisfying answer.” 

“There is one answer.”  Ted told him, “We are in the middle of an eternal struggle.  God and His forces on one side.  The Devil and his forces on the other.  With every individual, as the ultimate prize, in the middle.”  

They were all quiet for a moment.  Then Andalib looked at Ted. 

She asked, “But what if the thing you need help with, isn’t as bad as an alligator?  Just what help do you expect to receive from God, when you think that your friends are avoiding you, because of what happened to your ex-fiancée?”

“I expect,” He told her, “to receive guidance in dealing with it.  That’s why I’ve come here tonight, in spite of the risk.  I want to help myself and my family to get through this thing, without losing any of our friends because of it.”

“Ted.”  Carol told him, “It says in Proverbs, ‘A soft answer turns away wrath.’”

Andalib chuckled, “But it won’t turn away any alligator.”

“Yes it will.”  He told her, “That’s what happened, when I came face to face with the beast.”

“You came face to face?”

Ted told them all, “I’ve put in a call to the people who sold us the alligator.  They’re sending us a professional alligator trapper.  He’ll be arriving the day after tomorrow.”

Andalib asked, “Day after tomorrow?” 

“Right.  Then it shouldn’t take too long for things to get back to normal around here, and hopefully, over time, I’ll be able to go back to getting along with everyone, the same way as before.”

Chapter 4 / Nightingale

4

  Nightingale  

 

Inside the cramped, narrow cabin of the sloop called Nightingale, Xavier was seated at the table, with a half-empty mug of beer in front of him, and several empty bottles beside the mug.  Quin sat across from him, with an open lap-top computer that was logged on to the socialjustice.com website, along with a partially emptied beer mug of his own.

Xavier asked, “You see anything interesting from your ‘very powerful connections’, who run that website?” 

Quin smugly read what he saw on the screen, in a condescending tone.  “’The Left is right, and the Right is wrong.  The Left is always right, and the Right is always wrong.’”

Xavier told him, “You know that isn’t true, and so does whoever wrote that thing.”

“What is ‘true’?  Quin asked him, “What is ‘truth’?”

Xavier pointed at the lap-top.  “Not very much of what you read from whoever runs that website.”

“Whether it is or isn’t, we’re just supposed to go along with it.”

Xavier snorted in disgust.

“We’d all better go along,” Quin told him, “with whatever they choose to post on this website.”

“‘Better go along’?”

“If we’re ever in need of their help, we’d better.”

“I see.”  Xavier asked, “Beyond ‘The Left is always right, and the Right is always wrong’, is there anything else we’re expected to ‘go along with’?”

Quin scrolled down the page, then stopped and read the headline from the first article he came across.

Floating Communities Endanger the Marshlands

He challenged Xavier, “Tell me that isn’t true.”

“It’s arguable.”

“We don’t argue.  We go along.”

Then he returned to the article, reading it aloud.

“‘When global warming melted the polar ice caps, raising the sea level by 30 feet, it was nature’s way of establishing justice, by reclaiming the coastlands from humankind’s total destruction, and by setting up a natural barrier against any further damage.  The vast majority of the people living along the coastlines did the only enlightened thing, and moved inland. 

“‘However, millions of the backward thinking masses, refused to move.  They listened to the unenlightened saying, ‘When the water’s rising, get in a boat.’

Xavier interrupted, “How is that ‘unenlightened’.  It makes good sense.”

“Sometimes,” Quin again spoke with condescension. “what seems like ‘good sense’ can be the most unenlightened thing that anyone can do.”   

He continued reading. 

“’Then that’s just what they did.   They actually built hundreds of thousands of boats, barges and all kinds of nautical craft, and constructed floating communities just so they could stay where they were, and continue their thoughtless damaging of the environment.

“’The time has come for the Floating Communities of the unenlightened masses to be removed from the Marshlands, so the ecology can finally begin to repair itself.’”

Xavier laughed.  “Remove the ‘Floating Communities of the unenlightened masses’?  Yeah-right.”

“You’ll see.”  Quin told him, “Sooner than you think.” 

Andalib came down the steps.

They both looked at her.

Quin said, “It’s 10 PM.  Do you know where Xavier’s girlfriend is?”

“Hey!”  She glared at Xavier.  “I’ve had enough of your jealousy!  If anyone saw the way you were glaring at the two of us in the restaurant, they might have wondered what was going on.”

He growled, “Quin’s right.  It is very early.  You hardly ever settle for a quickie.  What happened?  Couldn’t you satisfy him?”

She spoke sharply.  “That isn’t what happened!  Believe it or not, he and I just spent almost two hours attending a Bible study!”

Both men looked up at her and chuckled.

Xavier repeated, “‘Bible study’?” 

“Which included a prayer for a ‘Binding of the Devil’, so no one else will be harmed here in Shellfish Shoals.”

“I believe it.”  Quin told them both, “Shellfish Shoals is like any other typical small American Community, whether it’s afloat or on dry ground.  We’ve come to the middle of Yahooland.  Just another benighted Rubeville.”

Now Xavier spoke to Andalib, “So you’ve found yourself a benighted yahoo to play with.”

She said, “Hey!  None of us is here to play!  Tomorrow morning, he’s taking me out to see the oyster farm.  I’ll have all the information we need, by the time I get back.”

Quin asked, “Has he told you anything yet?”

“They’ve hired a guy who traps alligators.  He’s supposed to arrive the day after tomorrow.  The gator could be back guarding the pearls within a few days, so we have to act fast.”

 

Chapter 5 / Oyster Farm

5

Oyster Farm

At 8 o’clock the next morning, Andalib was seated in a dinghy powered by an outboard motor that moved swiftly along the channels through the local marshes.  The craft headed away from the barges, and the houseboats.  They headed away from the sail and motor powered vessels that were moored beneath the glowing blue sky and the hot yellow sun that shone upon Shellfish Shoals.  She was seated alone in the middle of the craft, on one of the slat seats.  Ted MacKenzie sat in the rear, operating the motor. 

“It’s not far!”  He called out, “Just around the next bend!”

Andalib, who was again dressed in shorts and sneakers, but wearing a different halter-top, smiled back at him and nodded.

She’s a nice looking woman and pleasant to be with, he thought.  She enjoyed having dinner with me at the Amberjack last night, and she didn’t seem at all uncomfortable at the Bible study.  She’s not only interested in what I do for a living; she wants to see it for herself.

What I do for a living is help produce cultured pearls.  What woman wouldn’t be interested?  I hope that’s not the only reason.

The craft made a long, leftward turn, following the channel, between two high walls of green marsh grass that swayed in the warm morning breeze.  Then the channel ahead opened up.

Ted called out, “There it is!”

Andalib looked toward where he was pointing.  What she saw didn’t seem all that impressive.  Just a large, rectangular section of chain link fence, rising ten feet above the ripples, surrounding a patch of dark, shallow marsh water, about the length and width of a city block.  Inside the fencing, were smaller fenced off rectangular sections, where narrow, crude catwalks, stretched back and forth across the waves, at regular intervals.  A small wooden guard shack stood at the far left corner of the outer fencing, where it rested upon wooden pylons.

Several men were working in one section, on the opposite side of the facility from where she and Ted moved in the dinghy.   Each man was seated on a different catwalk, with a large bushel basket beside him.

Ted called out to her.  “This is the oyster farm!  It’s divided into twelve sections!  Those men are working in Section C!”

Andalib called back, “In which one of these sections was the alligator working?”

He pointed low, just inside the outer fence, only a few yards from where they were moving.  

“Right here!  It was penned inside these sections!  Sections M, N, O, and P!  Just before we begin the harvest, we’ll guide the animal into Sections E, F, G and H!”

She nodded.

Andalib looked back along the channel through which they’d just sped.  A small, sailing sloop was following them.  It came through the opening, and headed away from the dinghy and the oyster farm.  Andalib recognized the vessel as the Nightingale.  Xavier and Quin were on deck.  Quin was at the helm, while Xavier gazed through a pair of binoculars, focusing on the dinghy and especially on her.             

She faced away from the two, picked up her own binoculars, and looked through the chain link fencing, to the men working in Section C.

“Ted?”  She asked, “Just what are they doing?”

He shut down the motor, and suddenly all around them was quiet, except for the lapping of the ripples against the sides of the boat, and the calls of gulls gliding above them.

Ted explained, “They’re implanting irritants into the oysters.  You see those long chorded lines that they’re pulling up out of the water?  Each chord has dozens of oysters attached to it.  They’re using hypodermic needles to inject a few pieces of grit between the shells.  That’s all you need to do to start the pearling process. Then when they’ve finished the line their working on, they’ll drop it back in, and go on to the next line, and the next line, and the next line, until all the oysters in Section C have been injected.

“After that they won’t have to do another thing to annoy the oysters, until it’s time to remove the pearls.”

She looked at him, with a puzzled expression on her face.

“That’s sounds like awfully boring work.”

“Believe me, it is; but we pay our employees well.  Then when we gather the pearls, it could be just as boring, unless the alligator is returned by then.”

“Well,” she spoke uneasily “since nobody knows where the alligator is, I don’t think I’ll be bored as long as I’m out here.”

“Right.”  He asked, “Do you want to go back?”

“There’s just one thing.”  She asked him, “If you ever do get the alligator back, just how would you coax it, into going from one section into another?”

Ted spoke sharply.  “We shouldn’t have been using an alligator!  It wasn’t necessary!”

“You mean it was overkill?  Oops!  Wrong word to use.  Sorry.”

He groaned with a sigh.  “We had a watchman, but he retired a few months ago, and my father figured he’d save a good amount of money, if he had the man replaced by an alligator, who isn’t paid any salary.”

“So after this, I suppose you’re going to have to hire a new watchman?”

“It looks that way.”

“Well that makes more sense; and your neighbors’ll stop being angry with you.”

“I doubt that.”  He told her, “My father’s decided that the new watchman will also be watching the alligator.”

Chapter 6 / Celibacy Practice

6

Celibacy Practice

The sun had set two hours earlier.  Inside the maintenance shed at the oyster farm, Ted sat in the dark.  He had not turned on the light.  If he had, he wouldn’t be able to see through the windows, and wouldn’t know if anyone came inside the fencing.

“Until we hire a full time guy,” he’d told Andalib, “the temporary watchman will be me.”

After everything that’s happened, he thought, it’s going to take a good amount of time to find someone who’ll be willing to do this job, and we’re going to have to pay him a lot more than we paid the last guy.

If we hadn’t bought that alligator in the first place, and just hired a new watchman, he’d be on the job here tonight, and I could be having that fling with Andalib.

Andalib said she was looking to “Get laid.  Get my rocks off.”

She’d offered to keep me company here tonight, but nobody except employees are allowed inside the facility, so I won’t be skipping celibacy practice tonight.

So no fling for the son of the Pearl King.  At least not tonight, or for the remaining nights while Andalib’s staying here in Shellfish Shoals.  Tonight she’s probably flinging with somebody else, and laughing about me and about the Bible study.

No!  Don’t think that way!

The scripture says, “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power.  Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

It looks like that’s what happened.  Instead of spending the night with Andalib, I’m spending it here alone in the maintenance shack, overlooking the oyster farm, until after the sun comes up in the morning.  This is my victory in the Lord?

So what do I do for the rest of the night?

A laptop computer/satellite TV was open on the desk beside him.  On the satellite TV, he had a choice of almost 1,000 channels, with nothing he wanted to watch on any of them.

He decided to go on-line, and see where the Internet would lead.

He switched on the laptop, went to google, and wondered where to log-on.  Then he had an idea that he hoped might be useful. 

He logged on to, “Security at Cultured Pearl Farms”, and tapped “Google Search.”

The first websites he read were news reports from last week, concerning the escaped alligator, which ate the woman in Shellfish Shoals.  One of the articles actually included the “clever” rhyme by Ogden Nash:

“His lovely bride, they told him later,

Had been eaten by an alligator.

The Professor then could only smile,

And say ‘You mean a crocodile’.”

Ted went on to other websites, about actual robberies that had been attempted or committed.  One particular article caught his attention. It was about a robbery that had taken place about a month ago in Lake Shore, another floating community about 150 miles to the north of Shellfish Shoals, where a pearl farm that had been guarded by an alligator was robbed.

“Lake Shore?” Ted breathed and then leaned closer to read the article.

‘Shock, is the obvious word to use as you stare at the scene of the pilfered cultured pearl farm here in Lake Shore this morning. Shock and dismay as two years of hard work and careful planning have been ruined, says Mr. Daniel Rodgers, owner of the farm whose entire year’s crop was stolen in the space of three hours.

‘It’s the work of professionals. Of outsider people who have done this sort of thing before.’ Rodgers acknowledges as he surveys the destruction of empty lines before him. ‘It has to be. No one else would dare set foot inside the pens. Not with the gator in there. Hell, I’m afraid of the beast and I bought her.’

Rodgers explains that the alligator he bought and kept on the property was kept in the inner pens of the farm where the mature pearls were ready to be harvested in two days time. The alligator, known to all around here as ‘Ole Bessy’, would have been safely herded into the other pens before the harvest where she would have remained for the next eight months until those crops were ready to harvest, then she would have been moved again.

‘We’ve been doing things like this for the past three years. Never, in those years have we had any trouble. The word ‘gator’ scares a lot of people and in the beginning, we had tons of people come and see Ole Bessy, but no-one ever, ever came too close to her, or the pens. I even had to give all my staff raises, just so they would stay!’

Rodgers’ staff are even more baffled. ‘I work closely with Bessy,’ Mr. Joe Harnett says, ‘It’s my job to feed her and make sure that she’s healthy. So I know that, even though she is a darling of a gator, she was also a mean-tempered b**** at times. Just like a woman really, full of mood swings. These last couple of days, Bessy had been acting more mean-tempered than usual. I told everyone around here that she was acting up, so everyone was careful and didn’t go near the interlocking fences. They each in turn told everyone that knows about Bessy to be careful so no-one would come too close and set her off.’

According to reports none of the inner pens’ gates and fences were breached; just the one outer gate, far away from the pens that Bessy was in, was broken open.

Mr. Hank Theodore, night watchman at the farm, claims he heard a strange noise and went to investigate. ‘It sounded like someone singing.’ He smiles, ‘A woman. I figured that somebody was outside with a radio turned on. I went to look and see if I could see anything and as I was on the walkway heading to the inner pens, I - I saw a figure in the water with Bessy. That’s all I saw before I was knocked on the back of the head.’ Theodore was found safely locked in his watch station this morning. ‘Nice of them not to leave a bleeding man lying unconscious out in the open with Bessy there.’ Theodore smiles.

The question of what Rodgers will do now to provide for his family and the families of all his employees remains a mystery. ‘That harvest was going to see us all through until next year, it was the biggest harvest we’ve ever had and now we have nothing.’ Rodgers says and shrugs.

The mystery surrounding the identities of the thieves, as Rodgers feels there must be more than one person involved in a heist of this size, is also a mystery. No physical evidence was found at the scene that could link anyone to the crime. ‘It’s like it was done by ghosts.’ Rodgers says, ‘All the mechanical systems were functioning properly. The only things that aren’t where they are supposed to be is Bessy and the outer gate. That and the oysters with the pearls in them. At least they were considerate enough not to let Bessy out of the farm,’ Rodgers says as he looks at fifteen foot, six year old Bessy. ‘That’s at least one good thing to come of this.’

Ted stared in fascinated horror at the article and shook his head.

What happened here wasn’t thieves, he thought.  What happened was a storm that let our alligator out, to make a meal of Doris Sheldon.

As he continued to stare at the screen, he saw that there were links to other sites, also about pearl farms being robbed while there was a gator on guard.

Going to the links, Ted read article after article about the thieves who had become known as the ‘Gator Bandits’. Some towns claimed it was a couple; others as many as six. The more Ted read, the more he was convinced that the unidentified woman that had let their gator out, was the same woman mentioned in all the articles.

“I can’t believe anyone would actually - “ he broke off when he heard what sounded like a muffled thud from outside.

There was no one else about at this time of night; just him so the sudden sound from outside and the articles Ted had just read set him on high alert. Picking up the buckshot filled shotgun, Ted slowly inched the door open and stepped outside, peering into the night. The moon was sitting high in the sky so it had to be around midnight, a perfect time to get up to mischief, Ted thought and smiled slightly when he couldn’t hear anything but the lapping of the water against the outer walkways.

As he turned to go back into the shed, he saw quick movements on his right and spun in that direction, lifting the shotgun at the same time. Following the fleeting figure as he or she ran along the outer walkway, Ted hesitated, he didn’t want to actually shoot anyone, just scare him, or her.

“Hey!” He yelled, “Stop or I’ll shoot!” 

The figure didn’t stop running and Ted swung the gun away and fired out over the open water, the crashing echo of the shot extremely loud in the dead of night.

The figure instantly fell to the floor and Ted watched as he or she then timidly got up again, hands held high.

“Come over!”  Ted called out but was cut off by a blow to the back of the head.

Chapter 7 / The Raid

7
The Raid


Andalib came running down the walkway.

"Dammit, Xavier!” She exclaimed when she came up to her partner, and found him leaning over Ted as he lay crumpled on the walkway.

“Did you have to hit him so hard?”

“He shot at you.” Xavier pointed out as he held the shotgun in his hands.

“He fired away from me; and It’s filled with buckshot, you idiot.” She hissed and knelt to look at Ted’s injury. “He’s got a cut right to the skull.”

“What can I say?” Xavier smiled, “I don’t know my own strength.”

“Didn’t I tell you to stay with the Nightingale?”

“Quin’s looking after her.” Xavier then pumped the buckshot filled cartridge out of the shotgun and threw it into the water. “I’ll be keeping this.” He said as he looked at the gun.

Andalib glared at him, “Help me get him into the maintenance shed.”

“He’s not going anywhere.”

“That gator of theirs could be lurking around here somewhere.”

“So?”

“So, I don’t want it coming here because it can smell his blood, got it?”
Andalib said and hooked her arms under Ted’s armpits. “Now, Xavier, for God’s sake! We don’t know how many people heard that gunshot!”

“All right!” Xavier hissed and picked up Ted by the ankles. “You can be such a pain in the ass sometimes.”

“I can say the same thing about you.” Andalib grunted and backed into the maintenance shed where she gently laid Ted on the floor, taking care not to bump his head.

“You like him, don’t you.” Xavier said as he watched her hold a towel to Ted’s head. “You actually like him.”

“And if I do?” Andalib asked, her green eyes looking up at Xavier.

“Then you’re getting soft.”

“Ted MacKenzie is a nice guy. Not a phony, pompous ass or an over-inflated windbag, he’s a genuine nice guy and there is nothing wrong with liking someone like him.”

“You got it bad, don’t ya?” Xavier laughed.

“You could learn a lot from someone like Ted.”

“Like what? How to inherit a virtual goldmine? What do you think this guy is going to do with the rest of his life? He’s going to be here, all day and most nights, it’s going to be the same old thing every night. Where’s the excitement in that?”

Andalib was about to answer when Quin came running in.

“I heard a shot!” He exclaimed, breathless, his face red. “Is anyone hurt?”

“Just the pretty boy here. I clocked him pretty good.” Xavier smiled.

“Who’s watching the boat and keeping an eye out?” Andalib suddenly asked. “God, you two are - unbelievable! I said that I would sound the all clear when I got in!”

“Xavier said that he was just going to unlock the gate to the chain link so I can sail in, the next thing I know, I hear a shot! What would you have me do? Leave you here?” Quin exclaimed.

“All right.” Andalib took a deep breath. “Let’s get as many oysters as we can and get the hell out of here. This whole situation is getting out of hand.”

“You wanted to come tonight.” Xavier pointed out.

“That’s because Eric Mann is coming tomorrow to catch the gator. You remember Eric, don’t you, Xavier? He’s the guy who nearly got us caught last year because he recognized you from that ill-fated pearl run.”
Xavier remained quiet and glared at Andalib. “So what? We could have avoided him.”

“Whatever.” Andalib sighed and shook her head. “Right, Quin, back to the boat, Xavier and I will get the oysters. If you see anything and I mean anything, sound the alarm.”

“Okay.”

The three of them left the shed. Quin returned to the Nightingale, while Andalib and Xavier stayed on the walkway.

Xavier knelt down and began pulling up one of the thick, chorded lines to which the oysters were attached.

“Look at the size of these oysters!” Xavier exclaimed as he yanked the first one off the chord. “They’re huge! Can you imagine the size of the pearls inside them?”

“If they’re as big as you think, they’ll fetch a good price.” Andalib agreed, a smile coming to her face as she squatted on the walkway beside Xavier. “At least it’s not all bad news.”

“Yeah.” Xavier smiled and leaned forward to kiss Andalib. It was a rare moment of affection that both relished, even if it was only briefly before Andalib broke off the kiss and glanced away.

“What?” Xavier exclaimed, “I can’t kiss you anymore? We are still a couple, aren’t we?”

“We’ve got a lot of work to do, X.” Andalib sighed.

“You know, ever since we heard about Ted MacKenzie and his family’s pearl farm three months ago, you’ve been acting strange. That’s why you nearly got eaten up in Lake Shore.”

“I nearly got eaten in Lake Shore because you didn’t play a very good lookout now did you? I ask you, how can you miss seeing a fifteen foot gator when it’s full moon?”

“That old watchman came out of nowhere!”

“You got distracted.”

“That’s beside the point. This guy has gotten under your skin, hasn’t he? I bet it was the Bible group. Have you found God all of a sudden Andalib?”

“Not now, Xavier, please.” Andalib sighed as she knelt beside him, grabbing another line of oysters and began hoisting it out of the water.

“Why not now? This is as good a time as any!”

“Do you want to make off with some pearls or do you want to talk about our sh--ty relationship?”

He made a growling sigh.

Andalib suddenly yelled. “I don’t know about you, but I want some money in my pockets by the end of next week! Then we can talk!”

Xavier and Andalib worked in silence after that, barely looking at each other as they went about the strenuous work of lifting the lines and dumping the oysters into burlap bags to be taken to the Nightingale.

After the fifth load was safely on board and they were back for the sixth, Quin’s distinctive whistle broke the silence. Both Xavier and Andalib immediately looked up and saw the distant flashing point of light.

Xavier hastily crammed the last of his scavenged oysters and his tools into his bag before making a run for it, closely followed by Andalib, their padded shoes barely making a sound on the walk-ways.

Looking at the water, Andalib couldn’t help but smile.

“Gator came home!” she called out and saw Xavier look over his shoulder at her, a broad grin on his face. An element of danger had always excited both of them and the fact that the gator was back made Andalib laugh out loud.

“Smart creature!” He replied, seeing that the walkway they were on would soon come to an end.

With a sudden surge of energy, Xavier then took a flying leap to his right, landing with a soft thud on the boat.

“Bag!” He yelled and Andalib threw her bag onto the sloop. “Jump off at the end!”

“Right!” Andalib agreed and focused on the end of the walkway. Quin was speeding up the boat a little so that when Andalib jumped, he would already have turned the Nightingale, that way, he could pick up speed and disappear into the night, behind the tall marsh grass and navigate the small rivulet he and Xavier had discovered the previous day.

As Andalib was nearing the end of the walkway, Ted came staggering out of the maintenance shed, clutching his head with one hand, clinging to the door handle with the other. He then looked over at her and Andalib watched in horror as Ted stumbled along the walkway before falling into the water on the outside of the pens.

“Ted!” She screamed.

Quin turned the corner, easily bringing the sloop level but instead of jumping onto the boat at the end of the walkway, Andalib cut the ninety degree corner and continued to the spot where Ted fell in the water.

“Andalib!” Xavier bellowed and turned to see the lights coming closer. “Andalib, jump onto the boat! We’ve gotta go!”

Andalib ignored him and dived into the water, searching desperately for Ted. The water wasn’t that murky and she could see thanks to the full moon but it was still a difficult job finding Ted. She turned left, right, looked back at the wire enclosure and out at the open water but didn’t see anything. With her heart pounding faster, she swam deeper and spotted Ted’s pale yellow t-shirt.

Ted was motionless; his body was slack and heavy in the water. Using what was left of her strength, Andalib grabbed Ted’s wrist with one hand, her other arm around his torso and swam for the surface, kicking furiously until they reached the surface where she made sure Ted’s face was out of the water.

Gasping for breath, Andalib made for the walkway and reached up, hooking her arm over the wood and pulling herself up with one hand while still gripping Ted’s torso with her other arm. When she was safely on the walkway, she started pulling Ted up as well. That’s when she saw the gator, swimming lazily but with a determined purpose toward them.

“No.” She breathed and heaved with all her strength. The gator was getting closer and still she hadn’t managed to get Ted out of the water.

“Oh God!” She called out, “Please!”

Shutting her eyes, Andalib pulled, her muscles screaming in agony as she lifted Ted’s dead weight out of the water until at last, he plopped beside her. As she started to relax, she saw that the gator was still coming, looking down, she saw that Ted’s right leg was still half-submerged. As she leaned over precariously, Andalib lifted Ted’s leg and swung it out of the water as open gator jaws surfaced.

The startled Andalib punched downward, the signet ring on her middle finger crashing into the leathery film over the gator’s left eye. With a loud, sudden hiss, the gator made an abrupt ninety-degree turn, swimming away from the two people on the walkway

“Bet you won’t forget me, huh?” Andalib smiled as about thirty feet from her, the gator turned, its one good eye coldly staring at Andalib. Then it disappeared beneath the surface.

Beside her, Ted gasped and coughed, spewing water as he regained consciousness; ahead of her, the boat with the lights pulled up and shone a spotlight on her; while behind her, Quin and Xavier silently sailed away with her boat and her pearls.

Chapter 8 / Heartbreak Hotel

8

Heartbreak Hotel

Xavier’s hammer smashed into the first oyster shell he’d picked out of the burlap bag, sending mother-of-pearl shards flying in all directions inside the Nightingales dimly lit cabin.

“Careful there!” Quin shouted.  “You don’t have to strike them that hard.  You could strike somebody in the eye with one of those shards.”

Both men were seated at the table.  Outside the sky was still dark.  The breeze was becoming stronger, and the boat rocked slightly.

Quin controlled his voice.  “All you need is a sharp but light tap.  That’s enough to crack the shells open.”

“Don’t worry.”  Xavier grumbled, “With what’s inside these shells, you could pay for a whole eye operation.”

He poked around the shell fragments and the piece of meat that remained attached to one of the fragments.

“Well not this one.” 

He picked up the meat and its shell fragment, tossing it into an open plastic container in the center of the table, where both men had just begun cracking oyster shells open. 

“Dinner.”  He said, “Hope you choke on it.”

“Hey!”  Quin said, “I didn’t want to leave Andalib behind, but that other boat was coming on fast.”

Quin cracked open the oyster shell in front of him with a sharp, light tap of his hammer.  He spread the bivalve open with his fingers.

Then he said, “No pearl in this one either.  Dinner.”

He also tossed this oyster’s meat and attached shell into the plastic container.

Xavier said, “That wasn’t a harbor patrol boat.  There wasn’t any insignia on it.”

“That doesn’t matter.”  Quin told him, “We have no idea who was on that boat, or if they were armed.”

Both men sat there cracking open oyster shells and poking around for pearls, without saying a word for more than 15 minutes.  The meat container was filling up rapidly.

Quin said, “Not one pearl yet.”

Xavier told him, “And we’ve only just begun.”

Quin said, “I wonder what’s happened to Andalib.”

“Probably under arrest and selling us out.”

“Do you think so?”

Xavier told him, “I wouldn’t blame her if she did.  I’d blame you.”

“She won’t.” Quin assured him.  “She knows enough to exercise her right to remain silent.  She also knows I wouldn’t totally abandon her.”

“Yeah-right.”

“As soon as we’re done with this,” Quin told him, “I’ll send an e-mail that’ll get her all the help she needs.”

“An e-mail?  To one of your ‘powerful connections’?”

“A lot more powerful than you’d think.  They’ll see to it that this Ted MacKenzie and all the other benighted citizens of this buoyant community are going to regret that they ever began raising cultured pearls.”

“What I regret,” Xavier told him, “Is that we haven’t got this boat moving now, and that we’re not getting as far from this floating Benightedville as we can, before the sun comes up.”

Quin asked, “You mean you want me up at the helm, where I can’t see what you’re doing, while you’re down here alone with the pearls?”

“What pearls?”  Xavier pointed at the plastic container containing the oyster meat and shell fragments.  “All we’ve got so far is too much for both of us to eat, and not one single pearl.  Are you sure these oysters we got, came from the right patch?”

At that hour of the night, except for the moon, the stars and the lights on the lampposts along the floating docks, most of Shellfish Shoals was dark.  One of the places that wasn’t dark, was the Harbor Patrol’s Headquarters’ barge.

Inside the barge, Andalib stood beneath the glaring florescent lights, in front of the Desk Sergeant, with her arms handcuffed together behind her back.  She stood between two uniformed Patrol Officers, not looking at them or the Desk Sergeant.

The Desk Sergeant sat typing information onto the desktop computer in front of him.

“Let’s see.”  He said, “’Andalib Elkart’.  Charged with, ‘Trespassing. Breaking and Entering, Armed Robbery, Grand Larceny, Assault and Attempted Murder’.”

“No!”  She looked straight at him.  “I didn’t try to kill Ted MacKenzie.  I actually saved his life.”

“Oh really?”

“Yeah really!” she insisted.  “I pulled him up out of the water, when the alligator was coming straight for him.  Ask him.”

“Oh we will, as soon as he revives.”

“He was conscious Sergeant.”  The Officer on her right spoke.  “I already asked him.  That’s what he said too.”

Andalib asked the man at the desk, “Will that get the charges against me reduced?”

“That’ll be up to the Judge at your arraignment.”

The Officer went on, “Mr. MacKenzie also said, ‘Of all the pearl farms, in all the floating towns, in all the world, she had to break into mine’.” 

Andalib asked, “Can I make my phone call now?  I’d like to call a lawyer.”

“Sorry.  The only one in this town, who handles pro-bono criminal cases, is probably home by now and sleeping very comfortably.  You’ll have to wait ‘til the morning.  If he decides to take your case, he’ll be in the courtroom for your arraignment tomorrow morning at 9.  You can talk to him then.  I’m sorry Miss Elkart, but you’ll have to be sleeping here tonight.”

The two Officers then escorted Andalib through a doorway to the left, into a dimly lit corridor of grey cinderblock walls, with a line of a dozen cells to the right.  They led her to the third cell in from the doorway, and opened the door.  She stepped inside the cell, which had no lighting, and they removed her handcuffs.  The two stepped back outside the cell, then shut and locked the door with a firm loud clang.

They went back along the corridor, and out through the doorway, returning to the world outside, leaving Andalib entirely alone, with no other prisoner in the cellblock.

She looked around at her dark, shadowy, sweltering accommodations.  It was a typical 5 by 12 foot cell, with a narrow, flat wooden board for a bed, with no mattress or pillow, along with a stinking toilet and sink at the opposite end of the cell from the door.

Not the Holiday Inn, she thought.  Welcome to the Heartbreak Hotel Miss Elkart.

They abandoned me!  She thought.  I wouldn’t be here if Quin and Xavier hadn’t abandoned me!  Quin was at the helm.  He couldn’t wait 10 seconds for me to jump aboard, before he pulled out?

Xavier was angry with me, for ignoring him and keeping Ted alive.  And Quin?  Who knows what that guy is really thinking, about anything, ever?

Ten seconds. That’s how long it would have taken me to get on the boat. Ten seconds and they couldn’t wait; even after all I’ve done for them. Selfish bastards.

Andalib sighed and went to stand by the door looking out. Well, this isn’t the first prison cell I’ve had to sleep in and it probably won’t be the last. Once a criminal, always a criminal. At least, that’s what Daddy used to say.

Shutting her eyes momentarily, Andalib thought about her father. The guy who introduced her to a life of thievery after her mother left when she was nine. He was all the family she had and even though he did his damnedest to provide for her in an honest way, he simply couldn’t do it. After all, how many people are willing to give an ex-con a chance?

“Well Daddy,” Andalib whispered, “You can’t say I haven’t had a good run.”

Antony Elkart had been nothing more than a petty thief with high expectations but low results. He stole purses and wallets from passersby, a pickpocket of the grandest scale but he had a weakness; gambling. Most of the money he stole went just like that to his bookies. One day, when Andalib was sixteen, she became aware of just how big a problem Antony’s gambling was. He had to pay his bookie $50 000 within two weeks or they would both be dead. His threat was backed up by the severe beating Antony had received.

Working her shift at the local bar, Andalib thought of ways to get extra money. There was, of course, the obvious choice of becoming ‘one of the local gals’ but none of the men in the bar had any real money on them to pay her. If it wasn’t for that drunk fool, bragging about his pearls, who knows where she would have ended up, probably with a bullet in her head in the water along with her father. It seemed easy. Steal the guy’s pearls and then sell them on the black market. After a few days of careful planning, Andalib set her plan in motion. She would play decoy to the lonely guard while her father stole the oysters. It went off without a hitch.

In those days, Andalib smiled.  They didn’t have gators guarding the damn oysters.  Just a guy with a gun, who’d be easy to work around. Antony had then taken a few of the pearls to a jeweler known for his silence and found out that each pearl was worth a couple of hundred dollars. After paying off the bookie, who was stunned at the ease with which he received his $50 000, plus $5 000 interest, Antony and Andalib went in search of someone who could help them.

Obviously they had needed to be more mobile; their little motor boat was inadequate and they needed someone who could navigate any stretch of water with ease. Quin had been perfect, a true water lover through and through and even now, five years later, he was still perfect. Even though he left me behind, Andalib frowned.

For a year or two the three of them sailed the waters, stealing pearls for a living, their entire life revolved around the ripening pearl seasons. It wasn’t until after people started getting more security for the farms that Xavier came into the picture. Xavier, Andalib smiled, had been a wondrous discovery. He loved the rush of the theft, the thrill of the danger and the touch of her skin. It had been a glorious eleven month run before they were all picked up for the first time.

Evergreen Floating prison was the first one she had been locked up in. The accommodations there weren’t much different than that of Shellfish Shoals. Only difference was, they had all been together then, the four of them. “Ugh.” Andalib whispered and shook her head. For three months they had remained ‘guests’ of Evergreen Floating and it was long enough for Andalib to vow that she would never return, not even if they had the largest pearl farm in the world.

Once they were released, they heard that most farmers now had alligators guarding the crops. “Well, that’s that.” Antony had said and looked at his daughter who had a familiar gleam in her eyes. The others had seen it too but not a word was spoken about it.

For three months Andalib kept to herself, going to the public libraries, surfing the web until the early hours of the morning until one day, she announced that she had a plan to continue stealing pearls and so, the ‘Gator Bandits’ were born. Quin, Xavier and Andalib eagerly embraced the new challenge but Antony did not, choosing to ‘retire with all my limbs’ thereby leaving the foolishness to the young at heart.

X, Andalib thought, what you must think of me now. He didn’t have a problem with the way she did things, he didn’t mind having to ‘share’ her every now and then when the occasion called for her to use more than sly questions to acquire the knowledge she needed for a raid but this time. This time it was different because of Ted.

Ted?  The Harbor Patrol had put him in a marine ambulance that took him to the hospital barge for observation.  I hope he’s not seriously injured and not permanently injured either.  If he is, there’s no way I can avoid being charged with being an accessory in his attempted murder.

That’s not the only reason I don’t want him badly hurt.  I really like Ted.  He’s a real nice guy.  He doesn’t deserve this.  Oh God he doesn’t deserve this!

God? 

Then Andalib prayed.  “Hello God.  I know I’m on the side of ‘the Devil and all his forces’, so I’m not gonna waste your time, by asking for you to get me out of this serious amount of jail time that I’m facing, but I’m asking you to help Ted MacKenzie.  He’s one of your people.  He actually chose to attend a Bible study, when he could have been fu---, I mean having a fling with me instead.

“I’m sorry.  I don’t know how to pray, but please keep Ted safe, and heal him completely of whatever he might have suffered when Xavier attacked him. 

“I don’t know what else to ask.  I hope I prayed the right way.  I think I’m supposed to say ‘Amen’.”

Chapter 9 / Enthroned in Her Palace

9

Enthroned in Her Palace

The following morning Ted MacKenzie lay awake in the bed of his hospital room, beside a window looking out across the rooftops of houseboats and barges, and the masts of sailing boats, all moored along the channels of Shellfish Shoals.

He’d awaken with a bandaged head and a severe headache.  Doctor Mitchell had given him two tablets that eased the pain considerably.  He’d also given Ted a prescription for more tablets that he could purchase after his release, which would occur in a few hours.

The Doctor was gone.  Police Sergeant Frank Torrance now sat beside him.  The uniformed officer was a friend of his father.  Ted had known him all his life.  The man held a pad and pen in his hands.

He asked, “Exactly what do you remember about the robbery?”

“Not all that much actually.”  Ted told him, “I remember being inside the maintenance shack.  I heard some noises, so I went outside.  I’d picked up the shotgun.  I didn’t really want to shoot anybody, but carrying a weapon goes with being a temporary watchman.

“Well anyway.  I stepped outside into the dark.  After this, we’re definitely going to have to improve the lighting at the facility.  I saw someone moving along one of the catwalks.  I called out and fired into the air.  Like I said, I didn’t want to hurt anybody.”

Sergeant Torrance asked, “Did you recognize the person on the catwalk?”

Ted shook his head.  “No.  Sorry Frank.  The person was too far away, and the lighting was too dim.

“Well anyway, I called out something, and then I was struck from behind.  That was all I remember, until I woke up.  I was lying on the floor back inside the maintenance shed.  I stepped outside again.  Then I saw the same person running on the catwalk.  I still couldn’t make out who it was.  There was also a small sloop moving inside the facility.  The outer gate had been opened.

“Did you see who was at the helm?”

“No.  I was dizzy.  I slipped and fell into the water.  I don’t remember anything after that either, until I woke up again.  This time I was lying on the catwalk, and a woman I met the other night at the Amberjack was kneeling beside me.”

The officer asked, “A woman named Andalib Elkart?”

“This town’s just full of gossip, isn’t it Frank?”  Ted went on.  “She didn’t tell me her last name, but how many women have you ever heard of named ‘Andalib’?”

“Is that all you remember?”

“No.  That’s what I remember distinctly.  I have a murky memory of me under the water, and Andalib was beside me, pulling me up above the surface.  Then I remember lying on the catwalk, with my legs still sticking in the water.

“I heard her say, ‘The alligator’s coming.’

“After that I don’t remember what happened, until like I said, I was stretched out on the catwalk, completely intact and unbitten, and Andalib was kneeling over me.”

“Then according to you, you didn’t get a clear look at who struck you from behind?”

“No.  I had no idea anyone was there, until I got struck.”

“You also didn’t see who was at the helm of the sloop?”

“Sorry Frank, and like I said I didn’t get a clear look at whoever was standing on the catwalk either.”

“Then the only one you can identify, is this woman named Andalib Elkart.”

“That’s right, but she did save my life.”

“Then she can still be charged with trespassing.”

“But she saved my life Frank.  How can I bring charges against her for trespassing?”

“That’s not all we’re holding her for.  We’re also charging her with breaking and entering, armed robbery, assault and attempted murder’.”

“How can you charge her with attempted murder?  She did save my life.”

From outside the window, there came the loud roar of a rotating engine, moving low above the hospital barge, and all the buoyant structures in Shellfish Shoals.  Through the window, Ted and Sergeant Torrance saw an amphibious helicopter in flight, a few hundred feet above the channel.  The slow moving aircraft was rapidly descending toward the clear water, beyond where the community was moored.

Frank spoke with annoyance.  “What the hell’s he doing?  It’s illegal to fly that low over a populated area.  He’s stirring up all the water.  Making all the small craft rock dangerously.”

Ted said, “I think that might be Eric Mann.  The guy we hired to trap the alligator.”

“You just said it was back inside the pearl farm.”

“That’s what Andalib Elkart told me.  I didn’t actually see it myself.  It must have swam back in, when the raiders opened the gate to let in the sloop.  We can still use this Eric Mann‘s help, to make sure the beast is properly secured.” 

“Very well.”  The officer looked at what he’d written in his pad.  “Looks like you’ve told me everything I need to know about this case.  So good-bye Ted.  I’m glad to know you’re gonna be okay.”

“Thank you.”

The officer stood up and headed for the door.

“Frank.”

The officer stopped and looked back at the man in the hospital bed.  

“The next time you see Andalib Elkart,” Ted told him, “just let her know that I’m praying for her.”

That afternoon, Andalib was back in her cell at the Harbor Patrol Barge.  She’d had a quick arraignment that morning.  During the hearing, she’d been relieved to hear that Ted MacKenzie was not badly injured, which was just about the only good news she’d received. The bail had been set at $100,000; far beyond her ability to pay, and she was remanded back into custody.

Now she was again seated on the hard wooden bench inside her cell, this time with an upset stomach.  That came from her having just eaten lunch, consisting of foul smelling tuna fish on a stale roll, served on a paper plate, along with a paper cup of lukewarm water.  

“Andalib, Queen of Pearl Thieves, sits enthroned in her Palace?” 

She thought. I would be!  If Quin and Xavier hadn’t whimped out and sailed away like that, I would be!  After I pulled Ted out of the water and away from the alligator, I should have pushed both of them in!  The charge of double homicide would have been worth it!

Now the door to the outside opened.  Two men stepped inside the dimly lit cinderblock corridor and came over to her cell.  One was Sergeant Torrance, in uniform.  The other was dressed in faded, badly wrinkled jeans, and a faded, badly stained wrinkled tee shirt.  He was in his mid forties, had a thick, brown stubble beard, receding hairline, and a heavy tan. 

Both men stood outside the cell, glaring at her with tightly shut lips.

“Miss Elkart.”  The Sergeant spoke.  “Ted MacKenzie told me to let you know that he’s praying for you.”

“Thank you Sergeant.  Could you please tell him that I was praying for him last night?”

“Praying for her?”  The other man chuckled coldly, “She’s gonna need it.”

She grunted in annoyance and said, “Eric Mann.”

“Andalib Elkart.”  He said, “Daughter of Antony Elkart, petty thief and compulsive gambler.  Tell me Miss Elkart, where are your associates Quin and Xavier?”

“I’m not telling either of you anything.  I’m exercising my right to remain silent.”

“They left you behind didn’t they?  They sailed off in your sloop with all the pearls didn’t they?”

“Not a word to either of you.”

Now Sergeant Torrance asked, “What’s the name of your boat?”

She repeated, “Not a word.”

Did he honestly think that she would rat on Quin and Xavier? Yes, they had left her behind but that didn’t mean she would spill the beans. That wasn’t how she had been raised by her father.

Eric Mann told him, “It’s called, ‘Nightingale’.”

Andalib asked him, “Will you tell me something Eric Mann?  Why are you in here?  Ted MacKenzie told me you were being hired to find his escaped alligator.”

“He didn’t tell you everything, now did he? He’s also hired me to find Quin and Xavier.  At least he’s posted a 25 thousand dollar reward, for their apprehension.”

“I see.  Now you’re adding bounty hunter to your resume?”

“That’s right.”  He told her, “Since the ‘gator’s returned on its own, it’ll keep me from wasting my time by making this trip.”

Now the Sergeant spoke.  “One more thing Miss Elkart.”

He pulled out his keys and unlocked the cell door.

“Another thing is that Ted MacKenzie’s posted your bail.  You’re free to go, but not to leave Shellfish Shoals.”

She was startled.  “He’s posted my bail?”

The Sergeant shrugged and swung the creaking door wide open.   “He said you saved his life.”

Andalib nodded.  Then she stood up, and moved out of the cell.  She walked along the corridor, between Sergeant Torrance and Eric Mann the Alligator Trapper and Bounty Hunter. 

They stepped through the doorway, into the Desk Sergeant’s lobby, that was brightly illuminated by the daylight coming through the windows.  There were few people in the lobby.  The only one not in uniform was Ted MacKenzie. 

He was seated on a bench beside the wall, across the floor from the cell block’s doorway, speaking with one of the officers.  When the door opened he looked up.  When he recognized Andalib he stood up.  Frank Torrance and Eric Mann went over to the Desk Sergeant. 

Andalib took a few steps in Ted’s direction.  He took a few steps toward her.  They halted close enough to one another, so they could speak quietly.  She looked away from him.

How do I thank him? She wondered. ‘Thank you’ sounded so – pathetic given the circumstances

They were both silent for a long, uncomfortable moment.  Then Andalib looked at Ted.

She said, “You posted my bail?”

“I purchased a bail bond.”  He told her, “I hope that wasn’t a mistake.”

“So do I.”  She said, thinking that, under different circumstances, she would be on the first boat out of the little s---hole called Shellfish Shoals.

Looking back at Ted, seeing him watching her closely made Andalib sigh and ask, “What do I do now?  I have no money.  No place to stay.”

He asked, “Have you eaten yet?”

“A tuna fish sandwich on stale bread. It was horrible.”

“I’ll buy you a better lunch, and we’ll talk things over.”

“You know I never meant for you –” she paused, seeing the quizzical look on his face, “Thank you Ted.”

The two of them stepped through the front doorway, and went outside the building. 

Andalib was out in the fresh air and sunshine once more, hearing the waves slap against the floating dock beneath their feet. Taking a deep breath of the fresh air, she smiled up at the sun. She wasn’t made for living in a 5 by 12 foot cell.

“Where are we going?  The Amberjack?”

“No.”  He pointed, “It’s a little place, not all that far from here.”

They walked along the dock, passing storefront shops, while people in passing small craft called out to him.

“Hey Ted!  How you doing?  Are you okay?”

“Don’t worry!”  He called back, “The bandage makes it look worse than it is!  I’m doing okay!”

“That bandage does look terrible.” Andalib said and felt a pang of guilt pierce her heart.

After about a two-minute walk, they stepped inside a small eatery named Harry’s Floating Diner. They sat in a booth across the table from one another.  Everyone seated at the counter and in the booths turned and looked curiously at both of them.

“God.” Andalib breathed and squirmed in her seat. “You’d think I was famous or something.”

“You are.” Ted said and stared directly into her eyes as he leaned forward, “You are one of the Gator Bandits, aren’t you?” He whispered.

Andalib stopped breathing, her eyes widening in shock and horror.

“I was reading about you on the Web right before the robbery. Sounds like you’re a busy girl. A brave one too, swimming with gators like that.”

“I – I – ” She took a deep breath. There was no point in hiding it from Ted. He knew.  It was as simple as that. “I’m not the person you were reading about.”

“Not admitting anything, are you?”

“Exactly.”  She told him, “It’ll be easier for both of us, if you don’t ask me about anything.”

She was about to say something else when the owner, a man in his fifties came over with a pair of menus and a concerned look on his face.

“Glad to see you’re doing okay Ted.  I tell you I got sick when I heard of what those bastards did to you last night.  My wife got sick too.”

“I’m doing okay Harry.”  He repeated, “The bandage makes it look worse than it is.”

Now the man asked, “And who is your friend?”

“Harry.  This is Andalib Elkart.  Andalib this is Harry.”

The man looked at her uneasily.

Ted told him, “She saved my life last night.”

“That’s what I heard on the News.  She saved you from being eaten by that ‘gator of yours; the one that ate my daughter Doris.”

Andalib saw the look on Harry’s face and frowned. Was that – judgment or blame?

Harry handed them the menus, and returned to the counter, where people were looking at both Ted and Andalib with curiosity and uneasiness.  The two of them looked away from the other patrons.

“Seeing as you can’t leave Shellfish Shoals, you’ll need a place to stay,” Ted told her, “As for now I can rent a room for you at a local boatel for a few nights. After that – ”

“I don’t want your charity, Ted.” Andalib said suddenly, her eyes filled with a harsh pride that Ted had never seen before. “I’ll figure something out on my own. Also, seeing as you think that you know who I am and what you think I do, why haven’t you told the cops? What do you want?”

Ted stared at Andalib, his mouth gaping. “I don’t understand.”

“Oh come off it, Ted! Everyone wants something. What is it that you want? You want me to help – relieve some of your stress?” She smiled a cheeky, somewhat sadistic smile. “I swear I can keep my mouth shut so that your buddies at Bible group don’t find out that you’re breaking your vow of celibacy.”

With that, she placed her foot on his leg and started running it upward. “I can be real quiet.” She whispered.

Reaching beneath the table Ted caught Andalib’s foot and held it firmly. “Stop it.” He said softly and stared at her. “Why do you do that?”

“Do what?” She asked softly and seductively, trying in vain to get Ted to release her foot.

“Use sex as a bargaining tool? Isn’t it enough that I simply want to help you?”

“Help me!” Andalib scoffed. “Right, like I want your help.”

“You might not want it, Andalib, but you need it.” Ted said softly, staring at her as she turned to look at him. “And I’m willing to help you.”

“Why?” Andalib asked softly. “Why would you want to help me? After what happened, why don’t you just tell the cops what you think you know and leave it at that? Many, if not everyone here in Shellfish Shoals, sees me as nothing more than a danger to society, a nuisance and - ” She paused, taking a deep breath, “And I don’t blame them.”

“But I don’t think so.” Ted smiled and saw Andalib look away from him as Harry came over to take their orders. Andalib couldn’t help but notice that Harry lingered a little before reluctantly moving away, glancing at her over his shoulder as he went.

They remained silent for a few minutes, while their orders were prepared, both lost in their own thoughts until Ted said, “I can talk to some people who might have a job opening for you.”

“What sort of job? Besides, why would anybody in this town hire me Ted?  The way everyone here’s looking at us, it’s obvious that they all know what happened, and that I was involved.”

“I’ll just have to keep repeating that you saved me from the alligator last night.”

“Are you sure that’d be enough to get me a job and a place to live?”

“Well Andalib, it might also be of some help, if you yourself show some signs of true repentance.”

“Repentance? As in ‘I swear I’ll never do it again, I’m so sorry, I don’t know what came over me’?”

Andalib raised her hand to her face and wiped away an imaginary tear.  “‘Please forgive me!’ I’ve sinned and learned from my mistakes! I’ll never do it again!’”

“That’s not funny.” Ted said flatly, after watching Andalib ridicule everything that he believed in.

The smile vanished from Andalib’s face. “You have got to lighten up, Ted. You’ll be old before your time.”

“Not if I make a mockery of God, I won’t,”

“Ugh. And just how do I appear to be repentant?”

“Well for one thing, you mustn’t ‘appear’ to be repentant, you must actually be repentant. Also, accompanying me to Church this Sunday is a good way to start.”

Andalib looked at Ted. “I haven’t set foot inside a church since I was nine years old, Ted. Not after my mother – ” She stopped and gulped, looking away from him. “I liked your friends who I met the other night.  They’re okay people.”

“Is that a yes?”

Taking a deep breath, Andalib leaned forward, “What if God doesn’t want me in your church?”

“God doesn’t turn anyone away.”

Andalib laughed. “Really now? That’s news to me.”

“At my Church everyone is welcome to attend all our Worship Services.”

Ted remained silent, waiting for Andalib to answer his question.

“OK.” She said shrugging her shoulders, “All right, I’ll go to church with you. I don’t know what I’ll wear but, OK.”

“Another thing.  This town is full of gossip, so it’d be best for both of us, if I keep on attending celibacy practice.”

“I figured you might feel that way about me after what happened. First, tell me something, were you even tempted to take me up on my offer before?”

Ted remained silent.

Andalib smiled, “I’ll take that as a yes.”

“Andalib – I didn’t actually ‘take a vow’ of celibacy.  I – ” Ted faltered then regained his composure. “It might help if you started attending as well.”

“As if! There are quite a few good looking boys around here.” She smiled and looked around her. Still smiling, she turned to see Ted staring at her pointedly.

“All right.” She sighed.  “You take the fun out of everything, Ted! I’ll join, but don’t get pissed if I – falter.”

“Like I said,” He told her, “A sign of true repentance that might help get you a job, along with a place to stay while you’re out on bail.  Then when the case goes to trial, it might help get you a reduced sentence.”

“When it comes to that,” she said, “it might be a much bigger help, if you’d hire a lawyer for me too.”

“Hire a lawyer for you?”  He sighed, “Listen Andalib.  By bailing you out, I might have just made myself look like the biggest fool in all of Shellfish Shoals.  Now while I may be a fool, I’m not an idiot.”

“Oh well.”  She sighed and shrugged.  “It was worth a shot. Besides, when I was planning the heist, I never thought of you as an idiot, Ted.”

“Then how did you think of me?”

“As a gorgeous fool.” She smiled and saw the humor return to Ted’s eyes as he smiled at her.

 

Chapter 10 / Not Exactly Lost

10
Not Exactly Lost

Under the hot and heavy sun, the sloop Nightingale lay at anchor inside a small channel, surrounded by mangroves, far from any floating or anchored structures. Its sails were furled against the mast. Quin and Xavier sat in the rear deck. Each held a fishing rod, with a line tossed into the water. Quin's line was tossed over the stern, while Xavier had tossed his over the port side.

Quin said, "They're just not biting today."

"Why should they?" Xavier asked, "With what we're using for bait? All this spoiled oyster meat would repel anybody."

"That's anyone human. I don't know about fish."

"Well I am one human who's had enough of the stench! It's been four days since the break-in, and now that the fridge has broken down, this whole boat stinks from the rotting meat of cracked open oysters! Why don't we just toss them all overboard, and take this boat someplace where we can get it all cleaned up?"

"What place?" Quin asked him, "Do you know of any place that's close by?"

"Don't you?"

"Not exactly. There's a place, about a two hour sail from here." He pointed, "I think it's in that direction."

"You 'think' it's in that direction? What are we lost?"

"Not exactly."

Xavier groaned and shook his head. "If Andalib was here, she'd know what to do."

"Well she's not. We'll just have to rely on each other."

"That is 'not exactly' a comforting thought!"

"Don't worry. I'll check the charts. The problem is, that as of right now the wind isn't strong enough for us to raise sail, and the fuel we have left couldn't get us to any nearby marina."

"The fuel we have left? You mean that in all the time we were sitting in Shellfish Shoals, you didn't take the time to fill up the tank?"

"Sorry." Quin told him, "It all just slipped my mind."

"And you complain about the people living out here, as being benighted? Whatever you and your powerful elitist friends think about the people out here, they at least have enough sense, to always make sure that their tanks are filled!"

Quin looked up. He saw a low flying aircraft off in the distance. The roar of its engine was growing distinctly louder, as the slow moving airborne vessel approached.

He got to his feet. "I think it's the same 'copter. Now it's coming straight for us."

Xavier said, "And we don't have time to raise sail, or start the engine."

"Even if we could, it wouldn't do any good."

Xavier got to his feet and sneered. "And I suppose there also isn't enough time to send another e-mail to one of your 'powerful connections'."

"That won't be necessary. What I sent was enough. They're ready to give us all the help we'll need, when the time comes."

"The time is now."

"Let's get busy. All the rotting oyster meat might be used as evidence. Let's dump it all overboard."

"At last." Xavier continued to sneer, "And all the fish around here will bless your name."

The two of them ran down into the cabin, went over to the large, broken down refrigerator, and pulled out several large plastic containers, all filled to the top with putrefying oyster meat and shell fragments.

Xavier said, "No. The fish'll be cursing at both of us."

They both carried the stinking containers up the steps, and out onto the open deck. Then they began tossing the contents out into the brackish water, making thunderous splashes that sent the loudly squawking birds around them up into the air.

Now the helicopter was much closer, gliding just above the thick, marshland foliage that surrounded them.

A loudspeaker on the aircraft blared out a male voice. "Ahoy Nightingale! You are about to be boarded! You are hereby ordered to surrender!"

Xavier groaned and raised his hands high for the pilot to see; so did Quin.

Quin told Xavier, "Remember. You have the right to remain silent."

"Hey! I know the rules."

"Good. Let me do all the talking."

Now the 'copter hovered low above the Nightingale. The blast from its whirling propeller blades stirred up the foliage around them, and the water beneath the hull, causing the sloop to rock back and forth and side to side.

Xavier had to shout to be heard above the aircraft's motor.

"What is he gonna drop a rope ladder down, so we'll have to climb up? I'm afraid I'd fall off!"

"Don't worry!" Quin pointed in a different direction, out along the channel ahead of the bow.

 
"We'll be going with him!"

A speedboat had come around a bend in the channel, and headed straight for the Nightingale, plowing out a wide, heavy wake behind itself. As it came closer, the boat slowed down, and continued slowing until it came to a stop alongside the sloop.

One man was seated inside the speedboat behind the controls, armed with a shotgun, and had a cigar in his mouth. He wore no uniform. He also didn't have any badge pinned to his shirt. Quin and Xavier kept their hands raised.

"Good afternoon fellas!" The man with the cigar called out in a mock cheerful tone. "Glad that we could meet again, after so long! Have you heard that law enforcement officers are looking for you?"

Quin called out, "I can ask you the same question Mann!"

"That's 'Deputy Mann' to you Mr. Quin."

Xavier shook his head. With his raised right hand he pointed toward the hovering helicopter, directly over head.

He shouted, "Can't hear a word!"

Eric Mann nodded. He unclipped the cellphone from his belt, turned it on and brought it to his ear. Then he shouted into the device.

"It's okay! You can back off! I can handle it from here!"

The helicopter quickly rose up, and pulled back, about a half mile, where it stopped again, continuing to hover above the mangroves. The boats had stopped rocking.

Eric Mann clicked off his cellphone and clipped it back on his belt.

Now he spoke without shouting. "As I was saying, you're both wanted for questioning about the robbery of a pearl farm in Shellfish Shoals the other night."

Quin told him, "You know the rules Mann. We're both exercising our right to remain silent."

The guy in the speedboat repeated, "That's 'Deputy Mann' to you Mr. Quin."

Quin and Xavier both exchanged a puzzled look.

Quin asked, "You're a Deputy? Who the hell, who knows anything about you, would deputize you?"

"Someone who doesn't know anything about me; or at least all he knows is that I'm a guy who traps alligators. He also knows that I'm willing to collect the 25 thousand dollar reward that he's posted for the arrest and conviction of both of you."

Quin asked, "A reward?"

Xavier added, "Then you're not really a deputy? You're a bounty hunter?"

"That's right. Hired by a civilian. He's the owner of the oyster farm, that you're suspected of robbing; or at least the son of the owner. He's the one who was knocked out cold and went into the water, and would have been eaten by their watch-gator, if your girlfriend Andalib Elkart hadn't pulled him out."

"Andalib?" Xavier spoke sharply. "What's going on with her?

Eric Mann chuckled. "A lot better believe me, than what's gonna be going on with either of you.

"Believe it or not," he went on, "the same guy who got knocked out cold, actually paid her bail, and she's now out on her own recognizance. He said it was 'cause she saved his life. You see gentlemen, sometimes it does pay to help out a person in need of assistance."

"He bailed her out?"

"That's right Xavier. Not only that, but you're girlfriend's now staying in a boatel room, that he's also paying for. That's another thing gentlemen. Sometimes, it pays for a fella's girlfriend, not to be entirely faithful."

Quin spoke to the angry looking Xavier. "In this business, a gal's got to do, what a gal's got to do. You know that."

"Yeah I know that! I understand that, but it doesn't mean I have to like it!"

Quin returned his attention to Eric Mann. "So what happens now?"

"Same thing that always happens, with slight variations." Mann pointed to the hovering helicopter. "He could be flying you back to Shellfish Shoals, or we might arrange to bail you out right here."

"'Bail us out'? Oh, is that what you call it? I figured that. We pay the 'bail' to you the bounty hunter, and the bounty hunter lets us go 'on our own recognizance'?"

"That's right. I figure that the cost of the bail would come to the equivalent, of the value of every pearl that was robbed from that facility in Shellfish Shoals."

Xavier said, "You want us to hand over the entire take to you?"

"If you'd like to make a deal, the equivalent in pearls, of the 25 thousand dollar reward for your arrests and convictions, might be enough for me and my partner up there in the 'copter, to say that we have no idea where you're hiding."

"Forget it Mann!" Xavier spoke with disgust. "You might as well arrest us now. We have no pearls."

The 'deputy' was startled. "None?"

Xavier shook his head, as did Quin.

Quin told him, "There were five burlap bags filled with oysters. When they were opened, not one single pearl was inside."

"You're kidding?" Now Eric Mann laughed loudly. "'The Great Shellfish Shoals Pearl Robbery', didn't net the culprits a single pearl?"

"We've been wondering." Xavier asked, "Since not one pearl was stolen, could any charges against us be reduced?"

The Deputy continued to laugh. "That's something your lawyer'll have to ask the Judge."

Xavier turned to Quin. "Lawyer?"

"It's like I said. The e-mail's been sent."

Chapter 11 / Pearl Garden

11
Pearl Garden

15 minutes before 9 o'clock on Sunday morning, Ted MacKenzie walked beside Andalib Elkart across the open wooden front deck of the barge, on which the First Presbyterian Church of Shellfish Shoals stood. Today the sky was overcast. A steady breeze stirred up the waves, causing all the smaller vessels in town, to rock slightly back and forth where they were moored.

Instead of his usual workday wardrobe of bluejeans, sneakers and bright colored short sleeved shirt, Ted wore dressy black pants, with a white shirt and tie. He also wore a light blue, zipped open windbreaker jacket, and neatly shined black leather shoes.

Andalib wore a modest, light yellow dress and "sensible" shoes. She was also dressed in a jacket of light green. Ted had paid for her new wardrobe that consisted of a few garments now hanging in the closet or lying in the dresser drawer, in her boatel room.

Andalib thought, He's bailed me out of the Heartbreak Hotel, and now he's got me sleeping in a cozy Boatel room. At least for now. It's only a matter of time 'til I'm back in a cell, but until then,

"Enjoy what you've got, while you've got it!"

Of course I've got to be careful not to overdo the enjoying. Like Ted MacKenzie said, I should at least try to look like I'm truly repentant. I just wish that he wasn't trying to look repentant himself. I wanted to enjoy him when I had him in the Boatel room after he paid for my staying there. Unfortunately, he no longer feels the same way about me. That boy just doesn't know what he's passing up.

Yeah he knows. He's passing up the woman who took part in the robbery, in which he almost got killed by an alligator. I wouldn't be surprised if I never see him again. If I was him, I wouldn't want to fuck me either.

And yet, he's taking me to Church with him this morning. Giving me a chance to show a sign of repentance? I'm not sure if I'm truly repentant, but I'll give it a shot. On second thought, maybe I should just see how this all plays out.

Many families were arriving at the Church, in dinghies, or in speedboats, dressed in a modestly casual style, like she and Ted. The members of the Congregation headed across the slightly rocking front deck and through the entrance into the house of worship. It seemed to Andalib that every member was looking curiously at her; the woman being escorted by Ted MacKenzie.

Many, including the Pastor stopped to ask Ted how he was doing.

"I'm okay." He told everyone, "The bandages have been removed. There'll be a little bruising for awhile, but it'll clear up soon enough."

Then he said, "Oh by the way. This is Andalib Elkart. She's the woman who saved my life."

It seemed to her, as if every member of the Congregation, to who she was introduced, looked at Andalib with suspicion. That included the pastor.

The Reverend David Randolph, Pastor of the Shellfish Shoals Congregation, spoke to her.

"I thank you for what you did for Ted, Miss Elkart. We all do. However, all of us also know why you were there in the first place."

She looked directly at him and said, "It's better if I don't say anything about that."

"Miss Elkart." He told her, "'What you intended for harm, God turned to good."

She began shifting around uneasily. "Good, huh? Yeah right. Let's see how good it is when I'm looking at a stint in jail."

"After what you did for Ted, no one in this Congregation would think of condemning you. The Lord is giving you a second chance, and so are we. Turn your back on the life you've been living, and follow the way of the Lord. Then you will receive all the blessings that He wants you to have, in this life and the next, if you will live according to the guidance that is found in His Word."

"A second chance? I'm being stared at by people who have hate in their eyes, people who don't know the first thing about me or my life. You're all judging me, Reverend and most of you are condemning me."

"Andalib." Ted said softly, turning to look at her.

"No." She said stubbornly, "I am a criminal, I don't deny it and I know that what I did was wrong but what would you have me do? Stop stealing so that I can starve to death? So that I can freeze in the winter, fry in the summer? Hmm? Is that it? You know, I once heard someone say if you hold out your hands and put all your prayers in one and shit in the other, take a guess which one will be filled first?"

She then turned and walked toward the edge of the deck, ignoring the looks people gave her.

The Pastor stared at Andalib and watched as Ted walked over to her, stopping next to her and looking at her with a frown on his face.

The Reverend then went inside the Church, puzzled and appalled by Andalib's words.

"Is that really how you feel?" Ted asked as he looked at Andalib.

"About what?" Andalib asked angrily. "About everyone here in town or life in general?"

"About prayers and that obscenity you used?"

"Yes." Andalib said and looked up at the heavens, "You remember when I told you that I hadn't set foot inside a church since I was nine?" Ted nodded. "Well, the last time I was in church, I asked God to bring my mother home to me. She walked out on me, Ted. She just, up and left one morning, walked out on my father and I both and I still don't know why. I went to church and prayed for hours, asking God to answer my prayers and guess what, Ted?"

Andalib turned to him and shook her head, "He never did." She whispered.

"So you gave up believing in God and praying?"

"I've never stopped believing in God, Ted. It just seemed like a fair trade; He doesn't answer my prayers, I don't talk to Him anymore. Simple as that. Instead, I learned to look after myself."

The bell in the steeple above them rang out; its sound spreading out for miles across the waves.

"You better go in, Ted. Don't want you to be late on account of me."

"I'm sorry about your mother, Andalib. It couldn't have been easy for you."

"No, it wasn't." She agreed

"Join me." Ted said. "It can't hurt to be in church, you know. It could make you feel better though."

Andalib hesitated. Finally, she stepped toward the church and entered with Ted and the rest of the crowd. The two seated themselves about midway between the entrance and the pulpit, in a pew to the right of the center aisle. It seemed to Andalib like everybody in the Congregation was glancing at her, then quickly turning away.

After a few minutes, the Pastor and Elder had seated themselves up front, behind the pulpit.
The Worship Service began, with the organist playing the prelude.

Then the Choir entered along the center aisle, joining in song with the entire Congregation, including Ted. Andalib didn't open her mouth, even after Ted showed her the words written in the hymnal. 

"Eternal Father strong to save,
Who's hand has stilled the
Restless wave.
Who bids the mighty ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep.
Hear us now as we cry to thee,
For those in peril on the sea!"


Pastor Randolph offered a few prayers, including one of thanksgiving, for the rescue of their fellow member Theodore MacKenzie, along with a prayer of blessing for the woman who'd saved his life.

Now came the Scripture Reading, from the New International Version of the Bible.

The Elder stepped up to the pulpit, and read from the Gospel of Matthew: Chapter 7: verses 1 through 14.

"'Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

"'Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.

"'Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.

"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

"''Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

"'Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.'

The Scripture reading was done. The Elder sat down.

Andalib stared in front of her, not moving the entire time the Elder was reading. Instead she listened, two verses in particular catching her attention. 'do not throw your pearls to pigs'. Who in their right minds would throw pearls to pigs? She could think of a thousand different ways in which to use those pearls. These are not the thoughts of a woman trying to be repentant.
Andalib smiled and had to lower her head in fear that the Reverend would see her smile.

Scripture reading was followed by the collection of tithes and offerings. The ushers went along the aisles, passing the collection plates back and forth along the pews, where members of the congregation dropped in their tithes and offerings.

Andalib whispered to Ted. "I haven't got anything to contribute."

He reached into a pocket in his light blue jacket, and pulled out a white pearl, about the size of a pea.

"Here." He said, and handed her the pearl.

She looked at what he'd placed between her fingers, with confusion. "You can make that your contribution," Ted told her, "or you can keep it for yourself. The choice is yours."

Now a collection plate was being passed along the pew where they were seated. Everyone dropped something in. Ted dropped in an envelope containing his contribution. Then he handed the plate to Andalib. She saw that people had not only dropped in offering envelopes and loose bills, there were also more than a dozen pea size pearls lying among the papers in the dish.

She looked at the pearl in her own hand, and figured that everyone seated in this pew was looking at her.

Suddenly she looked at the ceiling. This must be Your idea of irony; she thought and shook her head aware that most of the congregation was looking at her now. What a rotten sense of humor
You have there, but I won't be tossing this to any pigs. She thought and dropped the pearl in the collection plate and passed it on the person sitting beside her.

"Repentant enough?" She whispered to Ted who was smiling slightly. "Where did they get all those pearls? You don't hire that many people do you?"

"No." He told her, "Everyone in Shellfish Shoals, has a pearl garden of their own."

"What?" She breathed, making a few people turn to look at her. "You're joking!"

Ted shook his head.

Pearl garden? She wondered, Every private houseboat in town has its own pearl garden? Houseboats in residential neighborhoods, where a lot of children play? No alligators would be permitted there.

A broad smile appeared on Andalib's face. The second verse that she remembered suddenly boomed around in her head.

"'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find'." Truer words had never been spoken.
The collection was completed. Pastor Randolph consecrated the entire collection to the Lord in prayer, including the pearl that Andalib had been given by Ted.

Then the Pastor spoke. His sermon lasted almost a half-hour. By then Andalib's plan had been devised. Worship ended and Pastor Randolph spoke the Benediction:

"The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face to shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace. Now and forever more. Amen."

Every member of the church replied to this with a hearty 'Amen' including Andalib, who was now planning to give herself a "piece" of what was produced in someone's local pearl garden.
As they left the church, Andalib took a deep breath and felt the crisp wind blowing on her face.

"Storm's coming." She said. "Smells like a South-Easter coming in from the Gulf. Are the boathouses all secure around here, Ted?"

Ted remained quiet. There was a change in Andalib. Something he couldn't quite put his finger on.

"What?" She asked and smiled at him. "What is it?"

"You seem different."

"What can I say, you were right."

"About what?"

"About church making me feel better."

Andalib smiled and looked at all the houses.

"Everyone in Shellfish Shoals has a pearl garden of their own". Ted had told her.

"Much better." Andalib sighed and looked out to the oncoming storm.

Chapter 12 / Some things to discuss

12

Some things to discuss

Ted and Andalib headed away from the Church, taking his speedboat back along the main channel, to the Boatel. As they moved along the channel, she looked at the houseboats they were passing, wondering exactly where around their moorings, the pearl gardens were located.

After a five-minute run, they neared the Boatel’s dock. A light drizzle had begun falling. A man stood beside the screen door that kept insects and other pests out of the Boatel’s office. He gripped an unopened umbrella. Today he again wore his heavily stained, rugged pants, this time with a zipped open brown jacket over a red and yellow striped shirt, and had another cigar in his mouth.

As Ted pulled the speedboat up to the dock, in front of Andalib’s room, the man walked over to them at a brisk pace. Ted shut off the motor, and they both remained seated.

The man stood above them, taking the cigar out of his mouth. Then he called out.

“Good morning Mr. MacKenzie! Miss Elkart.”

“Hello Mr. Mann!” Ted called out, while Andalib looked away from him, with an exasperated look on her face.

Eric Mann spoke to her. “So how was Church this morning, Miss Elkart?”

Now she turned her face to him and smirked. “Very enlightening, Mr. Mann.  A lot more than you’d imagine.”

Then she wondered if she’d said too much.

She turned her face away from the bounty hunting, alligator trapper.

The man said, “I think you’d both like to know that Mr. Quin and that fellow Xavier have both been apprehended.”

Ted said, “They have?”

Andalib kept her face turned away from both men. Quin and Xavier didn’t even make a good run. They’d been caught within 48 hours. ‘Idiots.’ Andalib frowned.

Mann went on. “I brought them in last night, and they’re now resting very uncomfortably in one of the cells inside the Harbor Patrol barge. Might be the same cell you were in Miss Elkart.”

She continued to look away from him.

“They’re scheduled for arraignment tomorrow morning. You might both be interested to know, that someone has already agreed to pay their bail, whatever it will be.”

She and Ted were both startled.

She repeated, “Agreed to pay their bail? That wasn’t you, was it Ted?”

“Of course not. Why would I?”

Eric Mann pointed off in the distance, to a marina beyond the far end of the channel, where many boats and yachts were moored.

“You see that big yacht there, the really gigantic one, with the three masts? It arrived late yesterday afternoon. Well whoever owns it is the one who’s ready to pay their bail.”

Ted asked, “You don’t know who it is?”

“Not yet. All I know it’s some celebrity. We’ll all find out soon enough.”

Andalib spoke softly. “’Powerful connections’?”

Ted asked her “What’s going on?”

She looked at Mann, knowing that he was itching to know who it was and serenely repeated, “I’m exercising my right to remain silent.”

Eric Mann spoke. “Excuse me Mr. MacKenzie. There’s now the matter of the reward.”

“Oh sure. I’ll have to check with the Harbor Patrol first, to verify what you said. Then I’ll write you a check.”

“Fine with me Mr. MacKenzie. I’ve got plenty of time with nothing else to do for the rest of the day. Could you tell me, I’ve heard that the place called the Amberjack’s got a good lunch.”

“Best in all of Shellfish Shoals.

“Oh by the way Mr. Mann.” Ted asked, “Were you able to retrieve any of the stolen pearls?”

“Sorry. There were no pearls.”

Ted was startled. Andalib gasped, and looked back at Eric Mann.

“None?”

“That’s right Mr. MacKenzie.” The man looked at Andalib and chuckled. “It looks like you and your partners went through all that work; and you risked your life to save this well respected citizen here; when every oyster you got was taken out of the wrong section of the pearl farm. Not one of the oysters had a single pearl growing between its shells.”

She repeated, “The wrong section?”

He laughed aloud and repeated, “’The Great Shellfish Shoals Pearl Robbery’, has netted the culprits not one single pearl!”

Andalib groaned and put her hand against her head.

“Whoever planned it,” the man with the cigar said, “wasn’t all that smart, was he, or was it she?”

She looked back at him and asked, “So what’s happened with the Nightingale?”

“It’s been seized by officers of the law. They’ve checked it from top to bottom, bow to stern, port to starboard, and couldn’t find a single pearl. They’re now having it towed back here to Shellfish Shoals, where it’ll be impounded.”

She nodded. “Then at least she’ll be safe.”

The rain began falling more steadily. “Unless there’s a big storm.”  Eric mused as he looked up at the dark clouds.

Andalib told Ted, “Let’s get inside. I don’t want to get cold and the company we’re keeping is getting annoying.”

“Right.”

He tossed a mooring line to Eric Mann, who tied it around a pylon. Then Ted and Andalib climbed up out of the speedboat, onto the dock. Mann had opened his umbrella. She ignored him and stepped quickly to the door of her Boatel room. She reached in the cheap handbag that Ted had bought her, took out the key, unlocked the door, and stepped inside the room. Ted went in after her.

Eric Mann was about to follow them inside.

“Hey!” Andalib shouted angrily. “This is my room! You stay outside!”

“We have to talk Miss Elkart.”

“I don’t want to hear another word you have to say!”

“Andalib.” Now Ted spoke. “There is something else we both have to discuss with this man.”

“There is?” She looked at Mann. “Okay. We can discuss it here, with you standing out in the rain, under your umbrella.”

“Good enough.”

He remained standing in the doorway, with the now heavy rain splashing down, and rolling off of his umbrella.

Now she asked Ted, “So what is it?”

“Remember we discussed getting you a job.”

She pointed at Eric Mann. “He’s got one for me?”

“Well you see Andalib.” Ted told her, “I tried my best, but as someone who’s out on bail, you can’t be allowed to have any job in which you’d handle money. Not even sales clerk or waitress. I thought I might get you some work in a restaurant kitchen, but none of their owners wanted to employ you either. Even with my recommendation, there’s not one person in Shellfish Shoals who’s willing to hire you.”

She sighed and nodded. Typical small town hicks. She thought scornfully. Just like Daddy used to say, ‘Ain’t no such thing as a second chance for a criminal.’

Then she spoke to Eric Mann. “Is that where you come in?”

He nodded. “I have an employment application in my pocket, just ready for your signature.”

“What’s going on? How can you hire me? I’m not permitted to leave Shellfish Shoals. You know that.”

“You’ll be working for me, right here in Shellfish Shoals.”

“Doing what?”

The bounty hunter leered and chuckled.

“Forget it!” She glared at him. “I’m not working as a hooker! I never have and I never will! Even if I was, I wouldn’t want you as my pimp!”

“It’s not that!” He spoke calmly. “I’ve never done that kind of work either, Miss Elkart, and I never will. You see, Mr. MacKenzie here has hired me as an outside contractor, and you’ll be getting paid by him, through me.”

“Outside contractor? Doing what?”

“Well,” he grinned, “I am, first of all, an alligator trapper.”

“You want to hire me? I have no experience. What…”

Now Ted spoke. “Andalib. You see. We’re still not sure where the alligator is.”

“Isn’t it back guarding your oyster farm?”

“It might be, but we just don’t know for sure. You see, when you and your partners staged the raid, the outer gate was opened, and the gator swam back in. After it was all over, the gate remained open until the middle of the next morning; so the gator could just as easily have swum out again. So you see, we have no idea where the gator is; and no one in this town is going to be safe, until we’re certain that it’s safely back inside the facility. That’s why I’ve hired Mr. Mann here.”

She asked the alligator trapper, “But what do you want to hire me for?”

He chuckled, “We want you to be alligator bait Miss Elkart.”

She was silent for a few moments. Then she looked at Ted.

She said quietly, “Bait?”

Ted nodded.

“That’s right.” Eric Mann told her, “Once the gator takes the bait, I can reel him in.”

“Takes the bait?” She was again quiet for a few moments.

Then she asked, “Exactly what would my duties be?”

“We’d like you to swim around inside the MacKenzie’s facility, and see if you can stir up the gator. If you do, we’ll know that he’s safely inside, and life here in Shellfish Shoals can return to normal.”

“Stir him up?”

“If he comes for you, all you got to do is jump up onto one of the catwalks, and you’ll be safe from him.”

“But what if I can’t get to a catwalk on time?”

“Then you’ll never have to spend another night in jail Miss Elkart.”

“Forget it!”

Ted spoke. “Andalib.”

She shouted at him. “You’ve agreed to this?”

“For someone who swims with the creatures, you sure sound scared.” Eric Mann teased as he watched Andalib glare at Ted.

“Before this, I’ve always been armed. Now, as someone out on bail, that won’t be possible. It’s not just the gators that I’m scared of, Mann. They’re easy to read – if you know what you’re doing and I most certainly know what I’m doing, at least when I’m armed. What ‘scares’ me, is the fact that you’ll be the one watching my back. You’re even more treacherous than a territory gator when they smell blood.”

“You’ll be paid very well Andalib.” Ted said softly.

“Oh really? And how can you be sure that I’m paid what I rightfully earn? You’ve never dealt with Mann before – I have and trust me when I tell you – he can not be trusted.”

“But you can, I suppose?” Eric smirked.

Ted spoke. “I’ll pay you in pearls myself, Andalib.”

“Why? So you can toss those pearls to a pig?”

“No.” He spoke gently. “You wouldn’t trample them under your feet, then turn and attack me, would you?”

“You sure of that?” Eric interrupted making Ted turn to glare at him momentarily.

Then he turned back to Andalib. “And I’ll be praying for you, just like you prayed for me. Then when your case comes to trial, I’ll speak to the Judge. I’ll ask him if your having done this job, can be credited to your sentence, as your performance of community service”

Now she showed interest. “How many pearls?”

He told her, “I’m willing to negotiate.”

 

Chapter 13 / Arraignment

13

Arraignment

In the floating Community of Shellfish Shoals, the local Courtroom was located inside the Harbormaster's Official Barge, along with most of the local government offices. The Official Barge was moored in the center of the community, overlooking the Main Channel's broadest section.

On Monday morning at 7:30 AM, a Harbor Patrol boat moved along a side channel. The vessel came up and stopped alongside the Harbormaster's Barge. Sergeant Torrance and another uniformed officer disembarked accompanying Quin and Xavier, who were both in handcuffs.  They escorted the two through a side entrance and into the Courtroom.

A few minutes after 9 AM, the Judge who was seated behind the bench, called the arraignment into session. Xavier and Quin stood behind the defendants' table, no longer handcuffed.

The Judge asked them, "Have either of you counsel?"

Xavier shook his head, while Quin said, "Yes your Honor."

Xavier looked at his partner. "We do?"

The Judge asked, "Who is he? Where is he?"

A male voice called out from among the spectators, seated in the gallery behind the defendants.

"Here your Honor!" His voice was strong and confident.

The man who'd called out, now stood up among the spectators. Unlike most of the casually dressed residents of Shellfish Shoals, the man in his mid-forties wore a very expensive looking suit, tie and vest, in which he sweated in the mid-morning heat. His full head of black hair was neatly combed. He also wore a pair of glasses, giving himself a distinguished look.

He identified himself. "W. Parker Harrison, Attorney at Law. I have been hired to represent both these defendants your Honor."

There was murmuring in the Courtroom.

Xavier whispered to Quin. "One of your 'powerful connections'?"

Quin nodded. "Hired by them."

The Judge, who also sweated under his robes, spoke to the Attorney. "Oh yes Mr. Harrison. I thought you looked familiar. I've seen you often on TV News shows and televised debates. Please step forward."

The Attorney made his way out from among the local people in the gallery, and stood before the Judge.

The man behind the Bench asked, "Are you the owner of that gigantic yacht with the three masts that arrived here on Saturday afternoon?"

"No sir." The man told him and everyone in the Courtroom, "I'm a passenger. The vessel belongs to my wife."

The Judge went through the customary process of swearing in the defendants' attorney. W. Parker Harrison then came over and stood beside his clients.

Now the Judge spoke to Xavier and Quin. "You are both charged with the Crimes of 'Trespassing, Breaking and Entering, Armed Robbery, Grand Larceny, Assault and Attempted Murder'. How do you plead?"

W. Parker Harrison answered, "My clients plead 'Not guilty to all charges.' your honor."

"Very well. Bail is set at one-hundred-thousand dollars a piece, for each of them."

"Your Honor." The Attorney said, "I have been granted authority, by another client of mine, who desires to remain anonymous, to act as his agent, and pay the bail for both of these defendants standing here before you today."

Now there was more murmuring in the Courtroom.

The Judge tapped his gavel. Everyone quieted down.

"Very well." His Honor looked very puzzled. "The defendants are released from custody, but are forbidden to leave this Community of Shellfish Shoals, until the case against them comes to trial."

He tapped the gavel again. "Court's adjourned."

The Judge got up and headed out of the courtroom toward his chambers. The spectators got up out of their seats, and began drifting toward the exit, while Quin and Xavier came over to speak with their Attorney.

Quin said, "I'm honored to meet you Mr. Harrison. I've read every one of your books."

The lawyer shook both Quin's and Xavier's hands.

There was murmuring in the crowd. A few people were heard speaking distinctly.

"His wife owns that yacht?"

"Yeah. Don't you know? He's married to the actress Clarissa Kellington. You know, the one who's on that TV Show 'Desperate Fishwives'."

"Oh? He's married to her? I can't believe it. She's such an airhead."

"No. Not really. That's just the character she portrays. In reality she's very smart. Next time the show's on take a look at the credits on the screen. She actually directs some of the episodes."

Back beside the defense table, W. Parker Harrison laughed slightly. "She's also one of the Producers. How do they think we can afford that yacht?"

The Courtroom was quickly emptied of law officers, staff and spectators. Only Xavier, Quin and their Attorney remained, now seated behind the defendants' table.

"Listen." Mr. Harrison told them, "These charges against both of you are very serious."

Xavier grunted. "Tell us something we don't know, Mr. Celebrity Lawyer."

"Don't talk." Quin said, "Listen to him."

Xavier shrugged and nodded.

The man went on. "They are serious, but they are also very hard to prove. According to the Police report, the only witness to the crimes is a Mr. Theodore MacKenzie, who was unable to identify anyone who actually took part in the raid; except for a Miss Andalib Elkart. Miss Elkart has also been charged, and is now also free on bail, that was paid by the same Mr. MacKenzie."

Xavier growled softly.

"Miss Elkart is the only one who can identify either of you, as taking part in the raid."

"Then there's no problem." Quin told him, "She'll be exercising her right to remain silent. Not gonna say a word against either of us."

"That's good to know." W. Parker Harrison said, "But I'd still like to speak with Miss Elkart."

"Yeah!" Xavier spoke sharply. "So would both of us!"

"I understand" their attorney said, "that she's now staying nearby, at the Langosta Boatel. I'd like you to go and speak with Miss Elkart, and please let her know that I'd also like to speak with her myself. If you and she agree, I'd like to invite both of you along with Miss Elkart to come and join my wife and I for lunch today, at the Amberjack Restaurant. After we've eaten, we'll discuss your case in more detail."

A half-hour later, the bailed out Quin and Xavier headed along the Langosta Boatel's dock, and stopped outside room 16, which Ted MacKenzie had rented for Andalib. They knocked on the door.

From behind the door they heard her muffled voice. "Just a minute."

Then they heard the bolt slide open, and the door opened inward. Andalib stood in the doorway, wearing dark shorts, a light green halter and dark blue sneakers, along with an aggravated look on her face.

Quin said, "Hi Andi. How you doin'?"

She spoke with an aggravated tone. "How am I doing?"

Xavier said, "We already know who."

She shouted, "I ought to slam the door on both of you!"

Quin raised both his hands. "Easy girl. We have to talk. It's important."

She sighed. "Right. Come on in."

They entered the basically furnished room, and she shut the door behind them.

"Whatever either of you have to say to me, be quick about it and leave. I have an appointment to get eaten by an alligator, which I find preferable to being with either of you, for any amount of time!"

"Andalib." Quin spoke in a calming voice. "We both understand why you're angry."

"You understand? I understand that you were too much of a whimp Quin. You couldn't wait a few extra seconds, so I'd have the time to jump aboard, before you pulled out?"

Xavier said, "We were gonna come back for you girl."

"Yeah-right."

"When it was safe. Until then, we were guarding the haul."

She asked, "'Guarding the haul'? What haul? According to Eric Mann, all you hauled were five burlap sacks of oysters, without one pearl inside any of their shells."

Quin said, "The oysters we took came out of the section, where you said we'd find the pearls that were about to be harvested."

Andalib sighed and nodded. "That's where Ted MacKenzie said they were."

Xavier said, "Sounds like this 'really nice' MacKenzie guy conned you, Miss Smart Gal."

"I know." She sighed again. "That's a reasonable precaution that he takes with any stranger who'd ask for details about the pearl farm. He also told me that while he may be a fool, he isn't an idiot. He's right about that. The biggest fool here in Shellfish Shoals is me; and I'm working with a pair of idiots!"

"Hey Andalib!" Quin spoke sharply. "We were following your plans! You've got no business calling us names."

"No? Then how'd you get caught? You couldn't even make a good run. You were caught within 48 hours. Why shouldn't I call you 'Idiots'?"

Xavier pointed at Quin. "Blame him. Mr. Elitist Snob here, who thinks he's so smart, forgot to fill up the tank in all the time we were resting here."

Andalib gagged and sighed, putting her head into her hands.

"Getting eaten by an alligator," she said, "is beginning to look like something I really would welcome."

"Hey Andalib." Quin tried to speak in a comforting voice. "It's not all that bad."

"No?"

"We've all been bailed out."

"Well hooray for us."

"And we've got one of the best Attorneys in the Country representing us."

She removed her hands from her face, lowered her arms and looked back at her partners. "One of the best?"

"That's right. Have you ever heard of W. Parker Harrison?"

"Him?"

Xavier nodded. "That's right. He's married to the actress Clarissa Kellington, who isn't really an airhead."

"Right." She'd lost her anger, but now looked puzzled. "I've heard that she's the one who sailed in on that giant yacht that's down in the marina, on Saturday afternoon. Is she the celebrity who paid your bail?"

Quin said, "Looks that way, but whoever it was wants to remain anonymous."

"What going on?" She asked, "Why would a high priced celebrity lawyer and a major TV star, have any interest in our case?"

"Mr. Harrison didn't say; but he's invited the three of us to meet him and his wife for lunch at the Amberjack. That's when they'll explain everything to us."

"They've invited us to lunch? Me? Andalib Elkart is going to meet Clarissa Kellington for lunch? She's one of the most glamorous ladies in all of show business."

Xavier leered. "Also one of the sexiest."

Andalib screamed, "I haven't got anything to wear!"

 

Chapter 14 / Powerful Connections

                                              14

Powerful Connectons

 

As noontime approached, Andalib’s, Xavier’s and Quin’s feet clopped along the floating dock of the Shellfish Shoals Main Channel, under a warm sun and partly cloudy sky.  They moved along passing the local hardware store, pharmacy, convenience store, combined pearl exchange and bank, along with the boating supply store, where they halted and looked through the window.

Andalib had combed her hair as neatly as she could.  She was still dressed in the shorts, halter and sneakers she’d had on earlier.  The other two also remained casually dressed.  She had calmed down considerably, but was still fuming.

“I had a plan.” she told them, “It would have kept us from having to sail away from here, totally empty handed.  You see, there’s something I found out yesterday.  The MacKenzie’s facility isn’t the only place in town that produces cultured pearls.  As a matter of fact, every family in Shellfish Shoals has a pearl garden of their own.  They raise them under the water where their houseboats are moored.”

Xavier asked, “A private pearl garden?”

“That’s right,” Andalib smiled, “in the middle of residential neighborhoods, where kids play in the water, and no alligators would be allowed.”

Quin said, “But if we tried to sneak into anyone’s private pearl garden late at night, the people who live there would hear the splashing right outside their windows.  They’d look to see what’s going on, and then they’d call the police.”

“Not if we stay under the water, and use scuba gear, or at least snorkels.”  Now she spoke with resentment.  “But all our underwater gear is aboard the Nightingale, and that’s been impounded.”

“You’re forgetting something,” Quin said, “There’s still the matter of the MacKenzie’s gator that’s AWOL.”

“What do you think Mann is doing here?” Andalib asked irritably. “We should have the thing trapped pretty soon.”

“We?” Quin asked as they continued on their way along the dock, until they came to the Amberjack Restaurant. 

“Yeah, I’m – sorta helping Mann catch the gator.”

“Why would you do that?” Xavier exclaimed.

“Community service.” Andalib shrugged, not wanting to tell them about the payment she would receive.

“What aren’t you telling us, Andalib?” Xavier frowned and held onto Andalib’s arm. “I know you. You wouldn’t simply help Eric Mann if you weren’t getting anything out of the deal.”

“What I’m getting,” Andalib hissed as she pulled her arm free of Xavier’s grip, “Is less time on my sentence should it come to that.” For a few seconds they glared at each other then Andalib smiled and said, “Should we go in or what?”

They then stepped inside the facility, where the tables were beginning to fill up with the casually dressed lunchtime crowd.  Andalib recognized many of them, who had attended Church the day before.  A few of the younger Church women were now dressed in bikini tops.  Some of them recognized her, smiled and waved.  She waved back. 

A few men were seated at the bar.  Ted was among them, sitting on a stool beside Eric Mann.  Eric Mann noticed the three, standing just inside the entrance.  He tapped Ted who looked over, and waved at Andalib.  She smiled and waved back at him.

Now Quin said, “Over there.”

He pointed toward a booth along the wall on the left where two people were seated.  One was W. Parker Harrison, now casually dressed in an expensive looking yacht-club outfit.  He sat beside a shapely, brunette woman in a bikini top, jeggings and high heels, a large pair of dark glasses that hid half her face were perched on the end of her button nose.  The two of them held pink cocktails in their hands.

“Not very practical shoes for living on the water, huh?” Xavier whispered to Andalib who couldn’t help but smile at him.

The look Andalib gave Xavier wasn’t missed by Ted as he watched Andalib’s every move from the far side of the bar. Eric saw it too and said, “You gotta be careful of her, Ted. There’s no one in this room; in this whole town even who can con you faster and harder than Andalib.”

“I trust her.” Ted said and looked at Eric. “She saved my life.”

“I know. The question you have to be asking yourself is ‘Why?’ I guarantee you it wasn’t out of guilt or concern for you.” Eric watched as Andalib walked between Xavier and Quin toward the table with the lawyer and movie star. “I guarantee you.” He said again, more to himself than to Ted.

The three bailed out defendants in the pearl farm robbery case went over to the booth where they stood looking at Mr. Harrison and his female companion.  The woman turned to them, pulled off her glasses and frowned for a moment.  They all recognized her face, as did everyone in the Amberjack.

People began murmuring, and softly repeating the name, “Clarissa Kellington.”

The attorney in the booth faced the people at who the TV star was frowning, and forced a smile.

“Welcome Mr. Quin.”  He said.  “Xavier.  I assume you’re Miss Elkart?”

“That’s right.”  Andalib told him.  “I’ve seen you on TV Mr. Harrison.”

Mr. Harrison spoke with a pretend cheerfulness.  “Hello everyone.  I’m sure you all recognize my wife.”

The three were all somewhat flustered, being in the presence of an actual TV star.

Andalib spoke uneasily.  “Hello Ms. Kellington.  I just love your show.”

The woman spoke coldly.  “Thank you.”

Ms. Kellington’s husband waved his hand toward the empty seat, across the table from him and his wife.

“You’re welcome to join us for lunch.  Please be seated.”

Andalib, Xavier and Quin seated themselves, sliding into the booth. 

Clarissa Kellington was beautiful. No denying it. Not with long, bouncy hair, an hourglass figure and confidence that radiated out of every pore in her body. What made her truly beautiful, to Andalib and Xavier at least, were the jewels she was wearing.

The mother-of-pearl necklace around her throat had a dime size centerpiece surrounded by flecks of rubies the size of matchstick heads while the accompanying bracelets on her left wrist had similar centerpieces but were slightly smaller. On her left ring finger was a knocker of a ring, a diamond surrounded by rubies and sapphires in a white gold setting. Andalib’s eyes were drawn to the ring, her mind already calculating its value on the black market but she quickly looked away when she noticed Mr. Harrison watching her.

Xavier, on the other hand, continued to stare. Clarissa smiled slightly as she slowly reached up and fingered the necklace, taking care to show off her matching earrings as well.

“Aren’t they gorgeous?” She whispered huskily and then leaned forward to loudly say, “Stop staring at them, you thieving buffoon and close your mouth, your practically drooling.”  

Andalib elbowed Xavier in the ribs and glared at him as he quickly sat back and turned his attention to Mr. Harrison. Loretta the waitress came over holding five menus, which she distributed to all of them.

She spoke to Andalib.  “I want to thank you for what did for Ted MacKenzie, Miss Elkart.”

Now the TV star spoke, loudly enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear.  “Quiet girl!  You’re here to serve us, not make conversation with us!”

A startled Loretta stormed away from the table.  Many of the patrons, including Ted and Eric Mann, looked equally annoyed.

Now Andalib spoke.  “Mr. Harrison.  Quin tells me…”

“Not now.”  He told them all.  “We’ll speak after we’ve eaten.”

“With all due respect, Mr. Harrison, I’d like to discuss our case now.” Andalib said softly and stared at him directly.

“Well,” Clarissa said, “Park said we’ll discuss it later so we’ll discuss it later, understood?”

Andalib opened her mouth to protest but Quin pinched her under the table and frowned at her so she reluctantly kept her mouth shut. The five all just sat there looking at the menus they’d been handed.  Nobody said a word.

After about two minutes a cell phone lying on the table, to the right of Clarissa Kellington’s place setting, sounded with a loud, melodious ring.  She picked up the phone, switched on “Answer” and put it to her ear.

“Clarissa speaking!”  She spoke with the familiar pleasant tone she used on her top rated TV series, loud enough for her guests and the other patrons to recognize.  She listened with an exasperated impatience for a few moments.

Then she spoke even more loudly, with a sharp, annoyed tone.  “Yes Geoffery!”  (She pronounced the name as “Gee-ov-free!”)  “We’re here!  We’ve taken your advice and come all the way to this sh— forsaken place called Shellfish Shoals!  This town is populated by nothing but yahoo nobodies!”

The other patrons began murmuring.

“What do you mean it’s not that bad?  You ought to see this place!  You have?  Right!  Well you know that place you recommended called the Amberjack?  Well that’s exactly where Park and I are right now!  It’s a dump!  Okay!  I understand!  We don’t pay you to be a food critic!  Everyone pays you to be a piece of sh--!”

Andalib, Quin and Xavier, and the woman’s husband, along with all the patrons, sat there looking uncomfortably irritated.

The TV star looked across the table, as she continued to shout.  “Yeah the whole gang of felons is here!  Having lunch with me and Park!”

Her husband shook his head, while their three guests sat there uncomfortably embarrassed and in Andalib and Xavier’s case, annoyed, as did all the patrons and the entire staff.

The woman looked directly at Andalib and said, “Yeah!  Especially Miss Elkart!  I’ll call you when it’s over!”

The woman clicked off her cell phone, put it down and announced, “Sorry about that!” She said dismissively.  “That was my agent, who’s an overpaid piece of ----!”

Now Andalib asked in a much quieter tone.  “What’s going on?”

Mr. Harrison repeated, “We’ll talk after we’ve eaten.”

“No!”  His wife said, “Let’s get it over with and get rid of them!”

“Right.”

Now the TV star’s husband spoke in a much lower voice, that couldn’t be heard outside the booth. “To answer your question Miss Elkart, I’ve asked all of you here so we can discuss your case.”

Andalib answered with her voice at the same level as his.  “They both told me that you don’t think there’s all that much of a case against us.  The only witness was unable to clearly identify anyone who took part in the robbery.  The only other possible witness they might have is me, and I’m exercising my right against self incrimination.”

“That’s good to know Miss Elkart.”

“Now I have a question.”  She asked, “Why do both of you have any interest in our case?  You’re one of the top lawyers in the Country, and your wife’s a – ” she paused, looking at Clarissa wondering how on earth she had gotten as far as she had with her rotten attitude before saying, “A major TV star.  I can’t understand why you’ve come all the way here to take on our case.  I know that here in Shellfish Shoals it’s probably the crime of the century.  But in comparison to everything else, it’s really a very minor case.”

He told her, “It isn’t just this case that has our interest Miss Elkart.  It’s you.”

Andalib, Xavier and Quin now looked puzzled.

She asked, “Me?”

Quin warned her, “Don’t forget your right to be silent.”

“No problem.”

Mr. Harrison told her, “You may not realize it, but you are famous Miss Elkart.”

“I am?”

“There was a robbery at a pearl farm in Lake Shore, a little more than a month ago.  A few other pearl farms have also been hit over the past few months.  In every one of them, a woman was reportedly involved.  She’s believed to be the leader of the gang, that’s being called ‘The Gator Bandits.”

“She isn’t me.” Andalib said quickly and smoothly, no note of unease in her voice.

“Or any of us.”  Xavier spoke.  “We had nothing to do with any of those things you’re accusing us of.  We weren’t anywhere near any of those places, when those robberies occurred.”

Andalib added, “And the only robbery we’re charged with is the one that happened here, and it can’t be proven in court.  And with the evidence that the police don’t have, I don’t see why a very expensive celebrity lawyer, thinks we need his help.  Any pro-bono shyster who’s passed any kind of a bar exam could get us off easily.”

Now Clarissa spoke.  She also lowered her voice to the same level as the others.  “Come on now. We’re on your side here, you can trust us.” Her smile was brilliant. The smile that millions of people around the world had grown to love and adore; a smile that inspired songs.

Andalib, Xavier and Quin all glanced at one another before Xavier said, “We can’t confess to anything that we had nothing to do with.”

“Really?” Clarissa continued to smile, “You see, it’s not whether any of you are guilty of this or any other crimes that interests us.  What interests us is you, Miss Elkart.  You see, I’m not only an actress, I’m also a Producer, and Kellington Productions is interested in producing a movie, based on the exploits of the Gator Bandits Gang.”

Andalib told her, “Then go talk to them.”

Parker Harrison said, “That’s exactly what we’re doing right here and right now.”

Quin said, “You’re both wasting your time.  None of us is giving up our right to remain silent.”

Clarissa told him, “We’re not asking any of you to do so for nothing.  Each of you’ll be very well compensated.”

Quin asked, “What do you call ‘very well compensated’?”

Xavier said, “Quin?”

“Let’s just hear what they have to say.”  Quin told him and Andalib.  “If all we do is listen, we’ll still be remaining silent.”

“That’s a thin line, Quin.” Andalib whispered and looked at him.

“It won’t be just an ordinary crime movie.”  Ms. Kellington explained.  “We want to produce a picture that promotes social justice.”

Andalib said, “’Social Justice’?”

Xavier explained, “That means it’s a ‘Commie Flick’.”

“Never,” The woman warned him, “never use that term.”

She returned her attention to Andalib.  “We want to explore your background Ms. Elkart; to show the social injustice that led to your life of crime.”

“What life of crime? I’m innocent.”

“I see.” Clarissa smirked, “I like that. All right.”  Clarissa explained, “I understand that legally you’ll have to deny it all, but listen.  We already know that you’re the daughter of a troubled home, and that your mother abandoned you when you were 9.  After that you were raised by your father Antony Elkart, a petty thief and compulsive gambler.”

“Why should I want the whole world to know that?”  Andalib asked.

Clarissa went on.  “Antony Elkart, the child abuser.”

Xavier said, “What?”

“Antony Elkart, the child beater, and child rapist.”

Andalib was horrified.  “What?  Where’d you get that idea?  That isn’t true.”  She pointed to the bar.  “If Eric Mann told you that it’s an evil lie!  If he told you that, it’s the most despicable thing that Eric Mann’s ever done.”

“No one had to tell me that Miss Elkart.”  The woman shook her head sadly and sighed. “According to the most exacting scientific surveys, all women criminals in this socially unjust society of ours, are raped by their fathers.”

“That isn’t true.  I wasn’t.”

Xavier said, “Her old man ain’t like that.”

Clarissa asked, “Isn’t he?” Clarissa looked closely at Xavier, “I bet if you had a daughter you’d rape her.”

“What?” Xavier yelled, “Just who the hell – ”

“Xavier.” Quin said quietly, “Calm down.”

“Did you hear what she just said?”

“Yes but – let’s listen to what is being offered here.”

Andalib asked, “What, are you nuts?  My father never did that to me, and he never would. You know that, Quin.”

Xavier spoke again. “Yeah she’s right.  Her old man would never do that.”

Andalib looked at Quin, who looked away from her.

The TV star insisted, “Yes he would.”

“Why are you saying this?”  Andalib asked, “Because you think that in some perverted way, it’ll promote your idea of ’Social Justice’?”

“Like I told you.”  Xavier said, “It’s a ‘Commie Flick’.  They don’t care who they hurt, as long as it helps bring about their 19th Century Utopian Fantasy World.”

He looked at his other partner in crime.  “You’re a Commie Quin.  I’m right, aren’t I?”

Quin told him and Andalib, “Get with the program both of you.  If you know what’s good for you, you’ll both go along with the script.”

Andalib shouted, “Forget it!  This has nothing to do with any ‘Social Justice’!  She’s just the sleazy star of a sleazy TV show, who wants to produce a sleazy movie!  Well she can do it without me!”

She slid out of the booth, stood up and stamped away from the others, closely followed by Xavier.  Half way across the bar’s floor, Andalib turned to face Quin, “And you,” she said pointing at him, “You stay away from me or I swear, I’ll feed you to the gator.”

“Andalib!”  Quin called out, “Xavier! Wait! Where you going?”

“To perform community service!” Andalib shouted while Xavier left the bar into the afternoon sun.

She went around a peeved looking Loretta, who was returning to the booth, to take everyone’s order.

“Don’t bother, Loretta, they’re all cannibals at that table.”  

Then Andalib came up to the bar, where Ted was seated between Eric Mann and a fellow in his late fifties. 

“Could I have a whisky, Nick. Put it on Miss Kellington’s bill.”

She asked and watched as Nick warily looked at the table in the corner but poured the drink of amber yellow anyway. Drinking it in one gulp, Andalib slammed the glass down and then looked at Ted.

“Hi Ted.” She said in a calm but tense voice. “How have you been?”

He spoke cautiously.  “Good afternoon Andalib. Better than you, I think.”

Andalib chuckled. “You get weird people, Ted. Really weird people, I’ll tell you that.”

“Like people who willingly swim with gators?” Eric smiled.

“I’m not in the mood, Mann. Honestly I’m not so just drop it, OK?”

“Andalib, this is my father Jake.” Ted interrupted and saw the anger leave Andalib’s face.  Ted then turned and spoke to the older man seated beside him.  “Dad.  This is Andalib Elkart.”

Jake MacKenzie said, “How do you do Andalib.  I’m honored to meet the woman who saved my son.”

“Thank you sir.”  She said, “But, I’m not really that honorable.”

“I’m still honored.” Jake said.

“Glad to hear somebody speaking about honor.” She sighed as she looked over at the table she had just left, hearing the unmistakable sound of Clarissa laughing.

Then she spoke to Ted and Eric Mann.  “I’ve lost my appetite.  I don’t want to eat any lunch today, but I think the time has come, for your watch-gator to be fed.”

 

Chapter 15 / Community Service

15

Community Service

Under the heavy mid-day sun, Andalib stood upon the catwalk outside the maintenance shed at the MacKenzie’s oyster farm.  She wore a tight, dark blue, string bikini swimsuit, with light green diving flippers on her feet, and a matching diving mask pushed up above her forehead, while tightly gripping a snorkel in both hands. 

Ted also stood on the catwalk one step to her right.  Eric Mann was on her left, gripping an open shotgun.  Both men were casually dressed, in the garments they’d worn at the Amberjack.

Andalib breathed nervously, looking out across the opaque, glaring surface of the water inside the facility’s outer fencing; at a rectangular patch as long and wide as an entire city block.  She could not see beneath the surface of the waves.  She looked out at the very long and very narrow catwalks, stretching out in a grid pattern across the entire facility, about a foot and a half above the surface.

She spoke in a clear but shaky voice. 

“The watch-gator said he’d enjoyed the treat.

‘Miss Andalib Elkart was fun to eat.’”

She looked at Ted.  “Are you sure I can’t have a spear-gun?” She asked imploringly. “I’ve never swam with gators without one before.”

“Well then,” Eric smirked as he goaded Andalib. “we’ll see how brave you really are, now won’t we.”

“Mann,” Andalib turned to him, “I swear to God, you are by far the most despicable man that has ever roamed the earth.”

“That may be true.” Mann said as he pushed two cartridges into the gun, “But at least I’m not the most despicable person that has ever roamed the earth. You’re still wearing that crown proudly, Andalib.”

Andalib narrowed her eyes and was advancing on Mann when Ted reached out and held her back.

Eric Mann smirked.  “We want the gator to stay alive, so he can go on guarding the facility Miss Elkart. If you shot him, then Mr. MacKenzie’s father would have to go through all the time and expense to purchase a new one.

“I’d like to stay alive myself, but if you’re under the water where I can’t see you, and you’re holding a spear gun, the ‘gator might not be your only target.”

Ted said, “Sorry Andalib.  I have to agree with him about that.”

Taking a deep breath, she turned back to Ted. “So good-bye.”  She told him, “I wish things had turned out better between you and me.”

He nodded.  “So do I.”

“I would have rocked your boat like no hurricane could ever dream of.” She smiled and leaned toward him, pressing her body against his. “Do you believe me when I say that?” She whispered.

Ted uneasily cleared his throat. “I believe you.” He whispered back and saw Mann grinning while shaking his head, so he took a step away from her.

Andalib sighed sorrowfully and looked back at the water, her breathing once again erratic.  Then she spoke again. “You said you would pray for me.”

“I will Andalib.”  Ted assured her.

“Can you pray for me now?”

“Oh yes.”  He hesitated a moment, then he prayed.  “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I ask God, the Father Almighty, to send forth the Holy Spirit and cast out the Devil; so that Andalib will not be harmed in any way, while she’s performing this task.  I ask this in Jesus name.  Amen.”

Andalib repeated “Amen.”  So did Eric Mann.

Then she asked Ted, “You think He was listening?”

“Of course.”  He told her, “He hears both our words and our thoughts, and understands our meanings, even better than we do.”

Smiling she asked, “Yes, I know He heard you but – will He answer your prayer? I am, after all, a sinner.” She paused, “A great one at that too. So, will He answer you, Ted? Will He protect me?”

Ted remained silent for a moment then nodded. “I believe He will.”

“You really believe that? I mean, really, truly believe that? No bullsh--.”

“Yes.”

“OK.” Andalib smiled, “If you believe it, it’s good enough for me.” She then turned to face the water and took a deep breath, “Should I pray?”

“Could we get this over with?” Mann asked irritably.

“If you want to.” Ted said loudly while glaring at Eric Mann.

“What should I pray?”

He thought it over for a few moments.  Then he told her, “You might say, ‘Lord, have mercy on me a sinner.’”

She nodded.  “Thank you, Ted.”

Then Andalib sat down on the catwalk, with her legs dangling over the water, feeling the warmish water on her legs.  She then lowered the diving mask, placing it over her eyes and nose. Turning to face Ted, she smiled at him, placed the snorkel in her mouth, raised her arms with her hands together, took a deep breath and dove forward into the water, making a loud splash.

If the gator’s inside this fencing, she thought as she began descending beneath the surface, that splash would have been loud enough to stir him up.  They are, after all, attracted to the sound of things struggling and splashing in the water. He’s probably on his way over to take a look right now.

Beneath the glaring surface, the water was murky in a greenish, brownish soup color that would easily hide the gator.  She could only see a few yards in any direction, small fish floated around her in an eerie gravity free way that was only known in space and in water.  ‘What I wouldn’t give to be in space right now.’ Andalib thought and then shook her head as she made herself concentrate on the matter at hand.

To her left, was a series of chorded lines, hanging from beneath the catwalk where she’d just been standing.  The lines descended into the murk, where the oysters that were attached to them rested on the bottom.  She could not see any of the oyster lines that hung beneath the catwalk to her right.

She would not be able to see the gator, until it was so close that she wouldn’t have time to move before it began to eat her.

‘Dear God’ she thought, ‘Have mercy on me, a sinner. And, if you don’t want to spare my life, at least make my end quick and as painless as being chopped in half can be. Thanks. Amen. Oh, and Lord, don’t keep the bastard waiting too long before he makes his move. Amen.’

Satisfied with her prayer, Andalib’s thoughts then turned to the pearl gardens under the nearby floating homes of the townsfolk. “Easy pickings.”

Then she thought, Okay Mr. Watch-gator!  Come and get it! I want to check out the nearby jewelers.”

Andalib slowly swam a few strokes forward, then halted, watching and waiting for an enormous pair of jaws to chomp into her upper torso.

Sexy bad girl to eat, she thought.  Long slim legs, slim waist, and a healthy pair of big full boobs that any healthy male would love to chomp his teeth into, regardless of species.

Chuckling, Andalib thought of Ted. He’s a sexy guy and, depending on how this whole swimming trip turns out, I still want to rock his boat. Celibacy my ass. We’ll see how long he can keep from flying the mast once I really turn on the charm. Bad, naughty Andalib.

“Bad girl?” she wondered.  Yeah I’m bad, one of the worst in this region if you think about it but there are others who are much worse; like Clarissa Kellington.  She wants me to falsely accuse my father of sexually abusing me when I was a child?  She thinks that could lead to whatever she means by “Social Justice”?  Bitch. I’ll give her some ‘Social Justice’.

Again she prayed silently, God. Could you feed Clarissa Kellington to the alligator, instead of me?  Amen.

I shouldn’t be praying that way, she thought.  If the alligator did eat her, he’d probably gag! Poor creature.

Up above the surface, Ted MacKenzie remained standing on the catwalk, with his gaze fixed on the spot where Andalib had dove under the water.  He could not see beneath the surface.

He told Eric Mann, “I hate the idea that I’m standing here, waiting to see her blood rise to the surface.”

Eric Mann nodded.

Ted turned away from him and headed back inside the maintenance shed, shutting the door. He seated himself at the desk and thought, I shouldn’t be doing this.

Then he prayed, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

After she saved me from that alligator, he thought, I’m doing this to her? 

Again he prayed, “Lord, if the alligator is inside the fencing, and if it comes near Andalib, please shut the mouth of the beast, or please only feed it fish.  If it’s outside the facility, please feed it only fish.”

Under the surface, Andalib now floated beside a pylon that held up the catwalk, just outside the maintenance shed.  She was ready to grab onto the post, and pull herself up and out of the water, if the alligator came within view.

I don’t really want the alligator to eat that sleazy Clarissa Kellington, she thought.  Well, maybe her legs or an arm. Just not the left arm. Not with those jewels. Besides, there’s something much more satisfying that I’d prefer to do myself.  At lunch in the Amberjack the TV star was wearing that necklace, and those bracelets, the rings on her fingers and those earrings, all of them containing precious gems.  There’s really no good reason why I have to confine myself to pearls. Especially after seeing that ring. Marilyn Monroe had been right, ‘Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.’

Right!  I’d like to see if I can get my hands on those rocks.  The TV Star can easily afford to do without them.  I’d feel better about that, than I would if I raided the tiny pearl garden, of one of these local families who’ve been thanking me for saving Ted. The people in this town are raising those peals to just supplement their very limited incomes.  There’s no way they could get rich on the amount they produce. Which means that I couldn’t get rich off the produce either.

Clarissa Kellington says she wants to bring about “Social Justice”, and that’s just what I’ll give her.  I’ll be redistributing her wealth. Then the gator can have her. Andalib thought in retaliation. He can start by chomping onto one of her legs and then –

Andalib swam quickly up to the surface and grabbed onto the pylon, spitting the mouthpiece out of her mouth.

“Eric!”  She shouted.  “Get me out of here!  The gator’s coming!”

Eric Mann quickly reached down and with one strong arm, he lifted Andalib up out of the water, the other arm holding onto the shotgun, finger on the trigger, ready to shoot if need be. Andalib quickly scrambled to her feet, as Ted rushed out of the shed and hurried over to her and Mann.

“The alligator’s here, Ted!”  She pointed toward the water.  “It was coming for me!”

“Are you okay?”  He asked, “You’re not injured in any way, are you?”

“It’s okay Ted.  I’m okay.  Not even a nibble.”

“Oh thank the Lord!”

“Yes Lord.”  Andalib said, “Thank you for keeping me safe.” She paused. “You had them close up that hole in the fence, didn’t you Ted?”

“Yes?” Ted said confused as he saw her staring at the water, a look of dread on her face. “Why do you ask?”

“This gator of yours is smart.”

“Why do you say that?” Mann asked as he looked at the dripping wet woman before him.

“He didn’t make a straight run at me.”

“What?” Mann asked incredulously. “Come off it, they always go straight for their prey.”

“You don’t think I know that?” Andalib fumed. “This isn’t the first time I’ve swam with gators, you know.”

“It’s in their primal instinct to go straight for their prey. It’s been scientifically proven.”

“What does that mean?” Ted asked as he watched Andalib and Mann argue.

Ignoring him, Andalib held her hand up, pointing her slender finger at his face, “I’m telling you, this gator was preparing to swim around and make a sideways attack.”

“They attack straight!” Mann hissed. “They do it to build up speed so that they can knock the wind out of their prey should they miss the first bite. Most times, they knock their prey senseless and then clamp down on them. I’ve been hunting them for years – I know this is fact.”

“Then why don’t you get in the water with this one and prove your theory?” Andalib asked softly. “You can give me the shotgun to watch your back and we’ll see who’s right.”

Mann took a deep breath.

“Look,” Andalib said softly, “I’m not bullsh--ting you on this one, Mann. That gator really, well and effing truly, swam around me in a circle.”

“What does that mean?” Ted asked again, louder than before, agitation evident in his voice.

“It means,” Eric Mann said, “That we had better get the creature penned in tight, because we’re dealing with a devil gator.”

“A – what?” Ted asked quietly.

“A ‘devil gator’ is a term people in the business use for a gator that’s – wise to the world, Ted. One that’s adapted to their environment. That’s completely changed the way in which they’re supposed to act.” Eric said softly and watched as Andalib dried herself off with a towel.

“They’re rare.” She added as she slowly ran the towel down her neck and breasts, making sure that both men were watching her, especially Ted. “I’ve only encountered one other before and – let’s just say, I never want to run into one again.”

“Why not?”

“You know how many people say that gators are at the top of the food chain?”

“But people are – ” Ted tried to say but Andalib cut him off.

“Only because we have guns and other weapons. Without our guns, knives, gadgets and ability to communicate, we’re pretty much at the bottom of the food chain, Ted. Gators and sharks are at the top because they’re cold, Ted. They kill without batting an eye but, and this is important, most gators and sharks only kill when they’re hungry or threatened. There’s nothing more to it than instinct. Their ‘prime objective’ in life is to kill to eat and to survive.”

“Devil gators kill simply because they can.” Eric added and saw Andalib nod in agreement.

“So,” Ted said softly as he looked at the murky water around them, “You’re both telling me that I have a gator that kills for – for pleasure?”

They stood in silence until Andalib nodded, “Basically, yeah.” She then smiled and said, “At least it’s back in the facility, Ted. You don’t need another killing on your hands.”

Ted felt sick. As he watched Andalib pull on a pair of shorts, he realized just how risky it had been to have her swimming with the gator.

“I’ve completed my community service.”  She said, “Now how about my salary, Ted?” She smiled broadly as though nothing was wrong.

“Right.” He said softly, “I’ve got an entire pearl necklace for you, right inside the shed.”

She grinned, “I can’t wait to see it.”

Now Eric Mann asked, “So everything’s okay with the alligator?”

“Right.”  She said, “Now after this, it won’t be harming anybody.”

“That’s good to know.”

She thought, At least I hope it won’t harm anyone, wherever it may be, and I haven’t got the slightest idea where that is.  

Chapter 16 / What a Gal's Got to Do

16

What a Gal’s Got to Do

 

Later that afternoon, Andalib stood beside the bed in her boatel room, again dressed in her shorts, halter top and sneakers.  She faced Ted who stood a few feet away from her, still wearing the garments he’d put on that morning. 

She held up a cultured pearl necklace in front of her smiling face, while moving her right hand along the string, tapping each pearl with her finger while she chanted in a flirty tone.

“Ted loves me—Ted loves me not!”

She looked at him.  He looked very uncomfortable.

“Ted loves me—Ted loves me not!  Ted loves me—Ted loves me not!  Ted loves me—Ted loves me not! Ted loves me—Ted Lo…”

She lowered the necklace and grinned broadly at him.

“Whether you love me or not,” she laughed, “I’ve just got to lay you guy!” 

She slowly and seductively walked up to Ted, easily slipping off her top to reveal a virgin white bikini that emphasized her tanned breasts beautifully. Halting in front of him, she leaned forward, her lips merely half an inch away from his and whispered, “You know, you’ve got to want it too, Ted.” Without moving, she waited, feeling Ted’s husky breath on her lips before he leaned and slowly kissed her.

Within seconds, Andalib threw her arms around him and held him tight, wrapping her legs around his waist while he moved toward the bed. His arms were tight around her, holding her, feeling her flesh in the palms of his hands. As they neared the bed, Ted tripped on the corner of the sheet and unceremoniously fell onto the bed, landing on top of Andalib. “We’re eager, aren’t we?” Andalib laughed tempestuously as she pulled Ted’s shirt over his head, revealing a chiseled physique. “Oh my.” She breathed and stared up at him.

Ted smiled at her haphazardly and leaned forward to kiss her again, relishing the feeling of a woman after so long. Especially a woman like Andalib. Holding her close to him, feeling her hot body under his, smelling the faint traces of her perfume made Ted to skip celibacy practice.

Breaking off their passion filled kiss to undo her bikini top, Andalib smiled knowingly at Ted and said, “I’m about to give you the best effing you’re ever gonna get!” Just as she pulled loose the two thin straps of material that held the bikini in place and wriggled out of the meddlesome piece of clothing to bare her breasts to Ted, there was a knock on the door.

Ted hastily turned and stared at the door, a sudden feeling of panic coming over him.

“Don’t worry.” Andalib whispered, taking hold of Ted’s face in her hands “I won’t answer, they’ll soon leave.” Ted kept staring at the door, “Ted,” Andalib said impatiently, “Look at me, Ted.”

Ted turned to look at her and gasp. She was gorgeous but it was more than that. She was – breathtaking in a way that Ted had only read about in books or seen on TV. “I – you’re – ” he faltered causing Andalib to smile at him.

Without another word, he leaned forward and was about to kiss her again when there was another knock on the door, harder than the first one.

“Damn it!” Andalib growled when Ted abruptly pulled away from her and sat on the edge of the bed.

“Who’s there?” Andalib yelled in annoyance.

“Xavier!” Came the muffled response. “Open up, Andalib!”

“I think you should open the door.” Ted said as he pulled his shirt on. “After you put your shirt back on.”

“God.” Andalib hissed through clenched teeth as she put her top back on and got off the bed. Looking at the necklace she had dropped on the floor when Ted started kissing her, Andalib told Ted, “No reason to throw this in his face.”

Andalib went over to the dresser, opened the top drawer and gently placed the necklace among her few pieces of clothing.

“What’s going on in there? Open up!” Xavier yelled.

“Just a minute!” Andalib yelled and walked over to Ted. “We’ll continue this later.” She smiled and leaned up to kiss him but Ted back away. “What’s wrong?”

“Xavier is right outside.” Ted whispered.

“So?”

“So, it’s – wrong.”

“Says the man who had his tongue in my mouth, barely fifty seconds ago.” Andalib smiled smugly and once again leaned to kiss Ted.

Again he backed away from her and held her at arm’s length. “We can’t do this.”

“We can.” Andalib whispered, struggling to reach him, “It’s easy. I’ll show you.”

“Xavier – ”

“Xavier doesn’t mind.” Andalib said hastily.

“Forget it!  This is too much.  You’re too much.”

“Too much of a woman for you?”

“No.  Too much trouble.  You’re just too much trouble to deal with Andalib.”

“Yeah.  I know.”  She told him, “You’re not the first guy to tell me that.”

Taking a deep breath to calm herself, Andalib shut her eyes and hoped that Xavier wouldn’t notice anything strange about her attitude. She then went to the door and opened it.

Xavier stood in the doorway, with a very aggravated look on his face.

She smirked, trying her best to appear at ease and in control “So no visible tooth marks on you.  Where’s Quin?  Did she eat him alive?”  

Xavier stared at Andalib and saw a familiar look on her face, one that signified she was in the middle of something rated higher than PG. Instantly he was furious and looked past her at Ted. Taking a long, hard look at Ted, he asked Andalib, “So that’s him? That’s Ted MacKenzie?”

She nodded, “Xavier, Ted MacKenzie.  Ted, this is Xavier…”

“So you’re the guy who bailed her out?” Xavier interrupted and stepped into Andalib’s room.

Ted nodded, “That’s right, Xavier.  Andalib saved my life, after – ” he hesitated, “after somebody…”

Looking around, Xavier said, “And you’re the guy who’s paying for this?  For the richest dude in town, don’t you think you could have got her a classier place?”

Ted told him, “I want to assure you that things aren’t the way they look.”

“Really? So finding the two of you, alone, in the middle of the afternoon in her room is – not the way things are?”

“Xavier, this is all innocent.”

“Don’t give me that crap Mr. Rich Guy! You seem to be forgetting that I know Andalib. I know her a hell of a lot better than you ever will so I know exactly what’s going on here!”

“Xavier.”  Andalib told him, “Don’t start with that bullsh--, please. It’s as Ted said, it’s all inno – ”

“It’s okay Andi.  I understand.  ‘A gal’s got to do what a gal’s got to do.’  So I’m not gonna do anything that’ll make things worse, or more complicated, for either of us.  I understand that’s the way things are,” he glared at Ted, “and who’s in charge in this town; but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

Now Ted spoke.  “If you want me to leave, I’ll go.”

Xavier said, “Please do.”

Andalib told him, “That would be a good idea Ted.  He and I have things to discuss, besides, our business here is done.” She stared at Ted and saw the way he looked at her, a pained, somewhat guilty expression on his face.

Xavier frowned at Ted and saw Andalib’s expression. So, it wasn’t all innocent as they had played at. Who did they think they were fooling? Xavier stepped out of Ted’s way as he walked to the door. “Before you go, Mr. MacKenzie, tell me, do you honestly think she has feelings for you?”

“Xavier!” Andalib yelled.

“You wouldn’t be the first guy she’s conned into believing that, you know!” Xavier laughed as Andalib shoved him forcefully. Ted stopped short and spun to face Xavier. The two men stared at each other then Ted slowly turned with a passing glance, he looked at Andalib and left, quietly closing the door behind him.

“Xavier!” Andalib yelled again and slapped him. “You are such an asshole! I can’t believe how we ever got togeth – ”

“Oh stop it!” Xavier said and held her tightly in his arms, “You know exactly why we got together!” He said softly and smiled down at her.

“Yeah well, I’m regretting it now.” Andalib whispered.

Outside room 16, Ted moved away from the boatel, going along the floating dock, headed toward the spot where his runabout was tied up, while wondering what was going on. 

I was about to get laid by Andalib. He thought, She said she wanted to give me a terrific effing, and I was ready for it.  Then that guy Xavier showed up?

Was this a sign from the Lord?

Now he prayed silently.  Lord, I know I should thank you for keeping me from sin, but as of right now, that’s going to be very difficult.  Amen.

No.  I shouldn’t be praying like that. 

I shouldn’t get involved with her at all.  I bailed her out and nothing else.  The one who really matters to her is that guy Xavier.  With me she just wanted to play and nothing else; so it ends now, without any permanent harm to either of us.

He moved further along the dock until he came to the spot where his runabout was tied.  He knelt down to untie the rope when a familiar voice spoke behind him.

“Good afternoon Mr. Mackenzie.”

Ted turned his head and saw Eric Mann standing there.  Then he stood up and turned toward the alligator trapper.

“Hi Eric.”

The man said, “I just got a call from W. Parker Harrison himself.  He wants you and I to meet with him on his yacht, as soon as possible.”

Ted looked off into the distance, at the dark, oversized yacht with the three masts that dominated all the smaller vessels in the Marina.

Eric said, “He’s the attorney of Miss Andalib Elkart, and her partners Quin and that guy Xavier.  He says he wants to talk to both of us about the case.”

“But I already told everything to the Harbor Police.  I thought that’d be enough.”

“You’ll have to ask the man himself about that.”

Ted told him, “It might be interesting to spend some time aboard a TV Star’s yacht;” he laughed, “as long as we don’t have to spend any of that time with her.”

Eric said, “I can’t believe the things she was screaming at that guy over the phone.  She said he was her agent.  That means she’s paying for his services; but I’d never talk that way to anyone who I hired, and I’m sure you wouldn’t either.”

“Right.  If I have a problem with an employee, I take him aside and speak with him quietly, so as not to embarrass him or myself either.”

Back inside the boatel room Xavier was sitting in a chair beside the door, while Andalib sat on the corner of the bed, gazing at each other in stony silence. Finally, Xavier asked, “So how did your ‘Community Service’ go?”

A broad smile appeared on Andalib’s face. “Well.  It was just like you said.”  She spoke in a chanting tone.  “A gal’s got to do, what a gal’s got to do.” She walked over to the dresser, opened the top drawer, reached in and pulled out the pearl necklace.  She turned to Xavier, holding it behind her back. “You know how much I fun I had?”

“Don’t tease.” Xavier said as he got up from the chair, straining to see what Andalib was holding. “What have you got there?”

“So much fun.” Andalib smiled and started laughing as Xavier reached for her. “This gal’s done really good.”

“Andi!” Xavier moaned and finally grabbed her around her waist, holding her fast while his other hand found what she was holding and took hold of it, lifting it so he could see. “Yeah.”  He said gravely as he looked at the necklace, “I understand.  Why steal any pearls, when all you got to do is the guy who owns the pearl farm?”

“That’s not how I got these Xavier.”

“Yeah-right.”

“No listen.” Andalib insisted, running her hand across his chest, “When I said I was going to perform community service, I meant it.  What I did was go back to the pearl farm with Ted and Eric Mann, to verify that the alligator was back inside the facility’s fencing; and that’s just what I did.”

“Verify?”

“That’s right.  I did that by going for a swim inside the fencing, to see if I could stir up the gator; and that’s exactly what happened.”

“You stirred up the gator?”

“Well,” she smiled, “not exactly.”

Xavier beamed. “And what does that mean?” He asked softly as Andalib began undoing the buttons on his shirt.

Andalib remained quiet as she took a deep breath. “It means that not everything is what it seems, X.”

“I see.” He said as Andalib went to lie on the bed, pulling her top off and motioning for him to join her.

An hour later, Andalib was lying in Xavier’s arms, both of them naked except for the pearl necklace Xavier had fastened around Andalib’s neck. “I like to see you wear beautiful things.” He had whispered as he secured the catch.

“Tell me you don’t really have feelings for him.” Xavier said as he ran his fingers along Andalib’s arm.

“Why?”

“It’ll make me feel better knowing that it is just all part of the plan.”

“It is all part of the plan.”

“Then tell me you don’t have feelings for him.” Xavier insisted.

Andalib sat up and turned to face him, “Xavier, I just effed you silly and you’re questioning my feelings for you?”

“Not your feelings for me, Andi. You’re feelings for him.”

Looking down at him, Andalib knew she had to tell Xavier what he wanted to hear, “All right. I don’t have feelings for him.”

“Any feelings?”

“Not – a – single – one.” Andalib said, kissing Xavier between every word. “It’s business, Xavier. You know that.”

Xavier stared into Andalib’s eyes, looking for any signs of deception. When he found none, he smiled broadly and nodded. “OK.”

Andalib relaxed into his arms once more and sighed deeply. If Xavier ever learned the truth – gulping, Andalib forced that thought out of her mind.

“These are really crappy accommodations, Andi.” Xavier said softly as he looked around.

“It’ll have to do. For now.” Andalib said and leaned over to kiss Xavier. “Besides, at least we have this.” She said as she fingered the necklace.

“Yeah.”

“And it’s not all I’ve received.”

“You mean you got something else too? What is it? A pair of earrings?”

“No!” She laughed, “What I’ve been receiving is gratitude from everyone in Shellfish Shoals.”

“Gratitude?”

“That’s right.  Ever since the robbery, a lot of people have been stopping to thank me for saving Ted’s life.  Now after this, they’re gonna be thanking me for risking my life, to verify that they’re no longer in any danger from the gator.” 

“But I thought you had no idea where the gator is?”

“I don’t, but they don’t know that, do they?”

Xavier smiled, “You sly little minx.”

“Thank you.” Andalib sighed as she settled comfortably into Xavier’s arms once more. “You know something, Xavier, hearing people tell me that they’re actually grateful for something I’ve done really feels good.  It’s good to hear people say ‘thank you’ to me, when they’re not just being polite.  That’s never happened to me before.  I’m sure that the ‘Queen of Pearl Thieves’ shouldn’t expect to receive that kind of gratitude from anybody.”

“Yeah.  Why not? You did save MacKenzie’s life.”  Xavier told her, “Enjoy it while you’ve got it, ‘cause it ain’t gonna last too long.”

“Probably not,” Andalib told him, “or maybe it will.”

“Not if you, me and Quin go along with what our crackpot lawyer, W. Parker Harrison told us.  I wouldn’t expect any kind of gratitude from the local citizens, if we do.”

“That reminds me, why didn’t Quin come with you?  Clarissa Kellington didn’t really eat him alive, did she?”

“No.” Xavier sighed, “Just the opposite.  As a matter of fact, she and her hubby actually invited him to come aboard their yacht.”

“He’s aboard their yacht?”

“That’s right.  No surprise.  They and Quin share the same political ideology.  They invited me too, but I’d had enough of listening to them at the Amberjack.  The three of them just kept on repeating all that talk about ‘Social justice’, and ‘Helping those who are exploited and abused’, and ‘redistributing the wealth’.  You know; the kind of talk you hear on TV all the time.”

“’Exploited and abused’?”  Andalib laughed, “Like her agent ‘Geoffrey’; along with everyone else who has the misfortune of having to deal with her?”

“Right.  I’ll tell you where that all involves us.  The leadership of their movement has invented something new, for their followers to add to their ever increasing list of things, to say that their outraged about.  They’re saying that all the oysters behind the fencing at the MacKenzie’s pearl farm, are being imprisoned.”

She laughed.  “You’re kidding! My God, I haven’t heard anything so weird since – since she said my father raped me.” Andalib suddenly stopped laughing. “I should have knocked her goddamn lights out for saying that.” Andalib said softly and menacingly. “Bitch. Where do they come up with that crap?”

“I know.” Xavier said softly, hugging Andalib to him. “It’s complete rubbish. Just like this new thing of theirs.”

“The imprisoned oysters, you mean?”

“Mhmm. They want us to say that we were liberating them from unjust imprisonment.” 

“I hope they’re not serious.”  She laughed again.  “If they want to use that as a defense, W. Parker Harrison would be laughed out of Court.  Then you, me and Quin would be laughed into prison.”

“Don’t laugh.”  Xavier told her.  “They really are serious.  They want to turn us into martyrs.”

“Martyrs?”  Andalib had stopped laughing.  “You mean W. Parker Harrison intends to lose?”

“Exactly.  With them the cause comes before the case.”

“Forget it!  Isn’t it bad enough that they want me to commit slander and say that my father raped me when I was a child?  Then they want us to go along with this nonsense?  Whatever their cause is, it isn’t worth that.  Let’s get ourselves some pro-bono shyster!  We’ll be better off!”

“Right. As soon as Quin comes back, we’ll tell him that we’re gonna be getting a new lawyer; and I mean a good one.  With what you can get from selling that necklace, we can afford a good one; and I’m sure he’d actually be on our side.”

Andalib hesitated.  Then she said “No.”

‘What do you mean ‘No’?” He propped himself onto his elbow and looked down at Andalib. “I admit, seeing you wear that necklace is a great turn-on but – we need the money.”

“I mean ‘Not right away’.  I want Quin to continue to have access to Clarissa Kellington’s yacht.”

“Her yacht?”

“Right.”  She told him, a mischievous smile spreading across her face, “It might be our way to help bring about social justice, by redistributing the wealth of Clarissa Kellington.”

Chapter 17 / Venus on the Half Shell

17

Venus on the Half Shell

Ted MacKenzie slowly maneuvered his runabout, carefully making his way along the waterway, passing the sloops and other moderately sized vessels that were tied up beside the Marina’s docks.  Eric Mann was seated beside him.  They were approaching the dark hulled oversized yacht with three masts.

Ted brought his vessel up to the dock, and shut off the runabout’s motor, coming to a rest just behind this largest vessel in the marina. The yacht’s name “Venus on the Half Shell” was displayed in large red lettering across the stern.  Ted and Eric climbed up out of their boat onto the dock, where they tied the mooring line to a pylon.  The two moved alongside the yacht, then halted beside its mid-section where a gangway stretched from the vessel, across the water, to the dock.

At the foot of the gangway, a small brass bell hung on a shoulder high post to the right.  Eric reached over, and yanked the chord attached to the bell, ringing it twice.  It sounded clearly enough to be heard by anyone aboard the vessel.

After a few brief moments, W. Parker Harrison stood on the deck, at the opposite end of the gangway, still dressed in his yacht club outfit.

He called out, “Yes Gentlemen?”

“Good afternoon Mr. Harrison.  I am Eric Mann and this fellow is Ted MacKenzie.”

Mr. Harrison beckoned with his hand.  “Welcome aboard gentlemen.”

Ted and Eric climbed up the gangway and boarded the yacht.  Park Harrison led them aft to an unoccupied open deck.  Here he opened a door to the inside.  They followed him in and down a flight of steps, into a lavishly furnished and decorated cabin. 

A man in his mid thirties sat beside a table in the center of the room also dressed in an expensive looking yacht-club outfit.  He grinned at Eric Mann when he entered with Ted, and Park Harrison.

Eric spoke to him.  “Well Quin.  Looks like you’re doing very well for yourself.”

The man replied, “That’s Mr. Quin to you ‘Deputy’ Mann; and it’s only gonna be getting better from now on.”

“That still depends on what happens at the trial.”

“I know.”  Quin told him, “So I’m gonna enjoy it while I got it.”

“Which probably won’t be for all that long.”

Park Harrison told him, “Don’t be so sure of that, Mr. Mann.”  He waved his hand at the table.  “Both of you please be seated.”

Eric and Ted seated themselves in plushly upholstered chairs, at the large rectangular mahogany table, under a crystal chandelier that swayed slightly overhead, as the vessel rocked slightly in the water.  Park Harrison sat at the head of the table.

Ted looked around himself, at abstract paintings hung on the dark wood paneled walls, at abstract sculptures set on pedestals and at expensive knickknacks resting on surrounding shelves. 

One painting was different.  Instead of being abstract, this one displayed the skull of an animal, with a pearl necklace dangling from between its jaws.

Eric said, “That looks like a pig’s skull.”

Ted laughed, “Look at where those pearls have been tossed.”

Eric told him, “A very unique interpretation of Scripture.”

Mr. Harrison spoke firmly.  “We do not quote Scripture aboard this vessel, gentlemen.”

Ted told him, “We’ll here in Shellfish Shoals Mr. Harrison we do quote Scripture; and we quote it often.  Such as, ‘Blessed is the man who does not sit in the seat of the scornful’.”

Quin said, “Welcome to the world of the buoyantly benighted, Mr. Harrison.”

The lawyer said, “Pardon me Mr. MacKenzie.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve tried to keep an open mind about it.  I’ve tried listening to Evangelical Christian Preachers occasionally, but after about five minutes, as would happen to any well educated man, my mind just goes blank.”

Eric Mann asked him.  “In just what way does telling us that, prove that are you well educated Mr. Harrison?”

“I’m a Harvard Law School Graduate, Mr. Mann!”

“It figures.”

Quin laughed.  “’The masses are asses, Mr. Harrison.”

Eric Mann answered, “Says the man who forgot to fill up the tank on the getaway sloop.” 

Park Harrison spoke to Eric.  “Mr. Quin here just called you ‘Deputy Mann’.  Isn’t it true that you aren’t a real deputy, but that you are a bounty hunter, hired by Mr. MacKenzie here?”

“Yes that’s true.”

The lawyer asked, “Isn’t it true, that when you apprehended Mr. Quin here, aboard the sloop ‘Nightingale’, you offered to release him, along with the other fellow on board? That would have been in exchange, for a considerable amount of the pearls that were taken in the robbery of Mr. MacKenzie’s oyster farm?”

Eric said, “That’s not true.”

Ted turned toward him.  “Eric?”

The lawyer continued, “I understand, Mr. Mann, that you are known for operating on both sides of the law.”

Ted added, “Both sides?”

Eric looked away from him.  “I have the right to remain silent myself, Mr. MacKenzie.”

Ted asked, “Just what’s going on here anyway?”

“What’s going on?”  Eric now looked at him. “As far as it concerns you Ted, I’m performing the lawful job of alligator trapper, which is what I was hired for.  In accordance with that, I have verified that the alligator is now safely back inside the fencing around your facility.  After this, I will stay on to check out all the fencing both inside and around your facility.  I will then see to it that all necessary repairs and improvements are made, to prevent the creature from breaking out, or any thieves from breaking in, every again.”

Ted told him, “Thank you Eric.  

“Mr. MacKenzie.”  Park Harrison waved his hand at Quin.  “Have you ever seen this man before?”

“Yes sir.”  Ted told him, “I saw him sitting with you at lunchtime today, inside the Amberjack Restaurant, along with Andalib Elkart, and your wife, the actress Clarissa Kellington, and another man.”

“I see.  Can you identify either Mr. Quin here, or that other man who was seated with us, as being among the perpetrators, who raided your family’s pearl farm the other night?”

Ted shook his head.  “No sir.  I couldn’t get a clear enough look, to be able to identify any of them.”

“Good.”  The lawyer said, “That’s all I need to know.”

Now Ted asked, “I have a question of my own Mr. Harrison.  I’ve already told the exact same things to the Police.  You can read the report for yourself.  Why have you asked me to come here and repeat myself?”

The man told him.  “Those aren’t the only questions we need to have you answer Mr. MacKenzie.  My wife also has a few questions she’d like to ask you.”

“Your wife?”  He exchanged a puzzled look with Eric.  “What could I possibly have to say about the case that would be of any interest to Clarissa Kellington?  If it’s anything about pearls…”

Park Harrison told him, “She’s the one with the questions Mr. MacKenzie.”

The host looked over his shoulder, at an open doorway besides the painting of the bejeweled pig, and called out.

“You can come in now Clarissa!”

Ted and Eric again exchanged puzzled looks.

Clarissa Kellington stood in the doorway, dressed in an outfit that startled them all.  She wore ankle length designer slacks, designer shoes, and nothing above her designer belt, except for a pearl necklace, pearl earrings, and a mother-of-pearl bracelet on her left wrist.

Ted wondered, “Exactly where have those pearls been tossed?”

After a few moments Eric asked softly, “’Venus of the Half Shell’?”

The woman laughed loud.  “Hah!  You’ve got that’s right Mister!”

She entered the room and walked over to the table, while running her fingers along the string of pearls.  Ted turned his eyes away from her.

She asked him, “What’s the matter with you fellah?  You’re an adult!  You’ve seen a woman’s naked boobs before, haven’t you?  I bet you’ve played with them plenty.  If you’ve seen any of my movies, you’ve seen mine before!  Now you’re getting to see them without having to pay admission!”

He spoke with hesitation.  “I was always taught that it was impolite to stare.”

“Hah!”  She said, “You’re really old fashioned aren’t you?”

Ted shrugged.  “I suppose so.  Keeps me out of trouble.”

Clarissa smiled, “I bet that Andalib Elkhart will get you into a world of trouble if she ever showed her boobs to you!”

Ted flushed a deep red but said nothing.

Seeing Ted’s reaction, Clarissa laughed heartily. “You’ve already seen them!” She laughed and looked over at Quin, who was staring at Ted with an angry scowl on his face. “That’s so precious!” She laughed and then shook her head. “I wonder, what happened, Mr. MacKenzie? Is she – too much of a woman for you to handle?

Ted remained quiet, as did everyone else around the table. Finally, Clarissa stopped laughing and took a deep breath, “Now,” the actress said, “if you want to keep out of trouble with me, and you don’t want to look, then you’d better listen carefully.”

“Trouble with you?”  He continued looking away from her naked breasts.  “Why should I care at all about what you have to say?”

“Why should you care?  I’m Clarissa Kellington!” 

“You’re in the real world Mrs. Harrison.”  He told her, “To us, the ‘buoyantly benighted’, you’re just an image on our TV screens, that we can switch off at any time, when anything happens that’s more important to us than you.  Like somebody’s outboard motor needs to be fixed.”

She continued stroking the necklace.  “You’re about to find out, just how important I am Mr. MacKenzie.  I understand that you’re the owner of the local pearl farm.”

“My father’s the owner.  I’m the manager.  If you’d like to purchase any…”      

The woman laughed, “Purchase any pearls?  From a nobody like you?  If I wanted to buy pearls I’d have stayed home, and have someone on my staff order them over the Internet.  I wouldn’t have come all the way to this floating Hooterville, full of backwater nobodies, to buy any amount of pearls.”

Ted spoke sharply.  “Then why do you want to talk to me?”

“It’s not about your pearls!  It’s about my book!”

Eric asked, “You’ve wrote a book?”

Quin added, “She’s not an airhead Mr. Mann.  She just plays one on TV.”

“That’s right.”  The woman told Eric, “A book that Mr. MacKenzie here won’t allow to be sold to anyone living here in Shellfish Shoals; or at least any one of them who can read.”

Ted looked puzzled.  “’Won’t allow to be sold’?”

“It’s titled ‘The Shellfish are Screaming’.”

Eric asked, “Just like the author?”

“No!”  She told him, “Even louder!”

Ted laughed, “I’ve never heard a peep out of any of them.”

“That doesn’t mean they’re not being tortured.”

She moved all the way to the opposite end of the table, where she seated herself facing her husband.

“The reason I’m dressed this way gentlemen,” she told them, “is that I am a Pagan Priestess, who leads other members of our faith in the worship of the gods and goddesses of nature.  I commune with the ancient gods, who have revealed much about the natural world to me.

“What they have revealed to me, is that the creatures who you have imprisoned in your oyster farm, along with those imprisoned in every other facility throughout the world, that forces them to produce cultured pearls, are being tortured.”

Ted and Eric both looked puzzled.

Ted couldn’t help laughing.  “Tortured?”

“Whenever you introduce an irritant into one of those unfortunate creatures, causing him or her to produce a substance that forms into a pearl, you are engaging in an act of torture.”

Eric exclaimed, “You can’t be serious!”

Now Park Harrison spoke.  “Yes she is gentlemen, and so am I.”

“My book,” Clarissa went on, “’The Shellfish Are Screaming’ details it all.  I’ve been on a book signing tour, and I was scheduled to be signing copies of the book here today, in your local bookstore.  But not one shipment with a single copy of my book has arrived at the bookstore.  They haven’t received any promotional material either.  Now the manager of the bookstore claims that he wasn’t even informed that I was coming to sign copies.”  

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Ted asked her, “but what does any of that have to do with me?”

Her husband spoke.  “Mr. MacKenzie, have you done anything to persuade the owner of the local bookstore, one Victor Taylor, to keep ‘The Shellfish Are Screaming’ from being sold in his shop?”

“No.  I haven’t heard anything about the book until now.  Even if I had, why would I do that?  Vic Taylor sells books.  I sell pearls and oysters.  We run two entirely different types of businesses.  What reason would I possibly have to interfere with what he does?”

“What’s written in my wife’s book might interfere with your business Mr. MacKenzie.  It might persuade people to stop purchasing cultured pearls.”

“Mr. Harrison.”  Ted told him, “If anyone in this town read your wife’s book, it’d just give him a good laugh.”

Clarissa now bellowed, “A good laugh?  Is this town is full of sadists?  Do you laugh at animals being tortured?”

Ted asked her, “You don’t actually expect anyone to take what you’re saying seriously, do you?”

Now Quin spoke, “It’s like I said, Ms. Kellington, the masses are asses.”

She told Ted, “No one in this town may take it seriously now, but all of you will, sooner than you think.”

“Mr. MacKenzie.”  Her husband said, “If copies of my wife’s book aren’t for sale in the local bookstore, within 24 hours; I will be going to court with a petition charging both you and the proprietor of the bookstore with violating my wife’s right to freedom of expression.”

“Me?  I haven’t said a word to him about it.  I don’t understand why you’re including me in this ‘frivolous’ lawsuit.”

Clarissa said, “This is just the beginning Mr. MacKenzie, of putting you, and every other oyster farm owner, who produces cultured pearls, out of business.”

Ted exchanged a startled look with Eric.

“Mr. MacKenzie.”  Park Harrison said, “If copies of my wife’s book aren’t on sale in the local bookstore, within 24 hours, you will be charged with multiple acts of cruelty to animals, each of which, upon conviction, can lead to a very lengthy amount of jail time.”  

Chapter 18 / Naked and Fu...

18
Naked and Fu...


"She's a 'pagan priestess'? She worships the ancient gods and goddesses?" Ted spoke with confusion as he and Eric Mann headed away from the gangway and the three towering masts of the "Venus on the Half Shell". The two were headed back toward Ted's runabout. "Then there's that bizarre painting? And the way she was dressed, or only half dressed?"

Eric said, "It's because she's rich and famous. She thinks she can do and say anything she wants, and get away with it."

"Still." Ted said softly and cast a backward glance at the large vessel.

"Right." Eric told him, "She can get away with being, what people around here would call a 'Devil Worshiper'; and the yacht is named after a certain being, who many would call a 'Devil Woman'.

"'The Shellfish Are Screaming'? I didn't even know that she'd written a book! How could I 'persuade the owner of the local bookstore' not to sell the book when I didn't even know about it?" Ted wondered, "And I'm facing a 'lengthy amount of jail time'? I've been 'torturing' the oysters?"

"She's an actress Ted." Eric told him. "Putting on a good act. Following the script. Who knows if she actually believes what she was saying, or if she even understands it?"

"I'm sure that her husband understands it." Ted told him, "While she's just making a lot of noise, I'm sure he's not. I know it sounds ridiculous, but I actually might be in some very serious trouble with the law."

"Probably not." Eric told him. "But it still might be a good idea Ted, if you got yourself a lawyer."

"A lawyer? Well the only one in town is James Palmera; but he's just the guy who handles the filling out of wills and other legal papers. You know, two guys disagreeing about where the boundary of their neighboring property is. That sort of stuff. He helped my father make out his will. He also helped us when we searched out the legalities of having a watch-gator at the pearl farm; and he's helped us with licensing matters. Just the usual legalities that any business is required to deal with. I can't remember if he's ever actually had to argue a case in Court."

"Licensing matters?" Eric said, "You're running a licensed business?"

"Of course we are. We've got all the licenses and permits that are necessary, just like any legitimate business. That's all we need."

"'Legitimate business'? So you have paperwork - legal paperwork, to back you up?"

Ted thought for a moment. "That's right. I'm running a totally lawful operation. If they try to shut me down, they'd be wasting their time."

"Maybe not." Eric said, "W. Parker Harrison is one of the top lawyers in the Country. He's 'a Harvard Law School Graduate'. He's a guy who attends luncheons with the President! I'm sure the man hasn't come all the way here to Shellfish Shoals, just to blow smoke."

"I'm torturing the oysters?" Ted shook his head. "That's just too bizarre to be taken seriously."

"That doesn't matter to those people in the Social Justice Movement. One word from W. Parker Harrison, or Clarissa Kellington, and they'll be coming after you, from now until the end of time."

Now Ted checked his wristwatch.

"It's getting kind of late. I don't know if Steve Palmera would have the time to see me today. I'll have to go in and speak to him in the morning."

Eric said, "Then this might be a good time for you to go have a talk with the owner of the local bookstore."

"Have a talk with him? I hope you don't think that Clarissa Kellington and her husband were right when they accused me of forcing him to cancel shipments of her book? If I ever tried to go ordering any of my neighbors around like that, believe me, every one of them would laugh in my face. Then I'd be getting laughed at by my old man for trying to order them around."

"That's not it." Eric told him, "What I meant was that you should warn him and everyone in Shellfish Shoals. Clarissa and her goons are the ones who want to go ordering all of you around. Then anyone in this town, who was caught laughing at them, would be in very serious trouble."

Two hours later at the Langosta Boatel, Andalib and Xavier were lying breathless and happy in her bed in room 16. "Well, we haven't had sex three times in one afternoon since -- " Andalib paused, "we were holed up in that little floating hotel. What was its name again? Can you remember?"

"The Love Boat." Xavier smiled.

"It was not called the 'Love Boat'!" Andalib laughed and took a deep breath. "I loved that show by the way." Andalib sighed. "Everyone was always happy and even when things didn't go according to plan, it always turned out to be a happy time."

"Pity life isn't like that, huh?"

"Says who? Anything is possible, X. All you need to do is believe in what you want and that you can do it. Other than that -- " she shrugged, "You hope that you find someone foolish enough to do all the hard work while you sit back and reap the rewards."

"Someone like Ted MacKenzie?" Xavier smiled. "You still haven't told me exactly why you chose the MacKenzie farm for this job."

"Is it really that important to know, Xavier?"

"Yes. I want to know that it wasn't simply about Ted."

"We've discussed that already, X. I don't have feelings for Ted." Andalib said as she got out of bed and walked toward the bathroom. "Don't you believe me?"

"Andi, you could talk a blind man into buying a pair of binoculars, so, forgive me for not believing you so easily." Xavier smiled ruefully and held his breath as Andalib walked back to the bed still completely naked.

"I chose Ted because he's a young guy that would easily fall for me."

"Bet you weren't planning on him being like a monk or something." Xavier laughed.

"Ted isn't a monk. He practices celibacy, that's all."

"Sounds like a drag."

"Besides," Andalib said trying to change the subject, "When I said to find someone foolish enough to do all the hard work while you sit back and reap the rewards, I was talking about you."

Xavier jumped out of bed and chased her, easily catching her in the corner and pinning her there, easily picking her up and carrying her back to the bed. "That wasn't very nice." He said softly.

"I know. But I'm not nice, you know that." Andalib smiled and reached for him.

Now there was a knocking at the door.

"Oh crap." Andalib called out, "Who's there?"

A muffled voice came through the door. "It's Quin! We have to talk!"

Xavier groaned. "Oh not now."

She called out. "Do you want to come back in about an hour Quin?" Then she said quietly, "We're naked and fucking."

They heard muffled footsteps walking away, outside the window where the blinds were drawn.
"When will he be back?" Xavier asked.

"Not for an hour." Andalib smiled. "More than enough time for us to make it four times in one afternoon."

Nearly an hour later Andalib got out of bed once more and got in the shower. "After we've spoken to Quin, I want you go leave, OK?"

"Really? And why is that?" He asked already pulling on his clothing.

"We can't been seen together so much. I still have to get Ted to trust me completely. After the little fiasco with the botched oysters, we have less than nothing to set us up for a while."

"We have that necklace."

"And how long can we survive off it?" Andalib called.

"OK, I get it."

"Also, I want you to keep an eye on Quin."

"Why? He's in deep with those highflying idiots. We should be looking out for ourselves, no-one else."

"I still want those jewels, Xavier." Andalib said softly. "Especially that ring." She whispered.

"What?" Xavier asked not hearing her.

"Nothing."

When the knocking came again, they were modestly clothed. Andalib went over and opened the door. Quin stood in the doorway smirking, still dressed in the yacht club outfit that he'd worn aboard the TV Star's yacht. A patch displaying the photo of a naked Clarissa Kellington, along with the words "Venus on the Half Shell", was sewn on the breast pocket of his vest.

"Okay Mister!" Andalib demanded, "Give me one good reason why I shouldn't slam this door on you, and never talk to you again?"

He asked, "What are you angry with me for?"

Xavier now stood beside her. "I can't believe you don't know."

She said, "You want me to 'go along' with that bitch? You want me to say that I was sexually abused by my father, when you know that isn't true."

"Andi," he asked her, "can you prove that it isn't true?"

Xavier took a step closer to him. "I ought to beat the crap out of you right now!"

Quin raised both his hands. "Relax folks. I was just trying to fit in with our hosts. I went along with them and got welcomed aboard their yacht. I was hoping to get a good look at where Clarissa Kellington keeps her jewelry."

"Oh?" Andalib said puzzled. "You seem to fit in perfectly."

"Sure." Quin grinned. "Just what did you think I was doing?"

Xavier nodded. "Lapping up that bullshit and spreading it."

"I was 'pretending'." Quin emphasized. "Am I welcomed in now?"

"Sure." Andalib replied uneasily but let Quin in anyway. "Welcome as always."

He stepped into the room and she shut the door. He sat in the chair beside the door.
They all remained silent until Quin said, "Well, it's not going to be easy. When she's not wearing the gems, they're all locked in a safe, deep inside the yacht, with all kinds of security alarms set up from bow to stern."

"I see." Xavier said, "How about when she's wearing them?"

"Wearing them?"

"That's right." Andalib said, "I've been thinking that we should get her alone. Then we kill her and grab the stones; or I'll grab the stones while you two throw her to the gator."

Xavier said, "Sounds good to me."

Quin said, "You can't be serious. I know you're angry 'cause of what she wants you to do but..."

"Angry doesn't begin to describe it, Quin." Andalib said menacingly softly. She stared at Quin unblinking for a long time until Quin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Satisfied that her point had gotten across, Andalib chuckled, "A gal can still dream, can't she?"

"Your dreams Andi," Quin told her quietly, "got us all arrested."

"No Quin!" She told him, "It was your incompetence when it came to carrying out our plans!
Because of you, the Nightingale is now impounded and in a dry dock! We wouldn't be able to make any kind of a getaway."

"Since that isn't possible," he told her, "then we'll all just have to go along with whatever Clarissa Kellington wants."

"How many times do I have to say no?"

"If you want to get close enough to her, so that you can grab her stones and toss her to the gator, it shouldn't take all that long, if you only say yes."

"Forget it. Even if I did say yes, we still wouldn't be able to make a getaway. Even if we could, who do you think would be the first suspects?"

Now Quin asked, "What else do you suggest we do, while waiting for our trial to begin?"

"Well," Andalib told him, "you could perform community service like I did. It might be good for you to perform the exact same service that I performed. At least I'd feel good about it."

Xavier told him, "We both would."

"Listen!" Now Quin spoke firmly. "You don't have any idea who you're dealing with. Clarissa Kellington and W. Parker Harrison are both members of the Social Justice Movement."

"Just like you?" Andalib said, "Except that they're actually successful."

"I'm just a dues paying member. Those two are among the ones who give the orders."

"But I'm not a member" she said, "so I don't have to take their orders, and neither does Xavier. We've decided to get ourselves a different lawyer. One who is not gonna force us to plead guilty, and say that we were 'rescuing the oysters from imprisonment'. Maybe that's what some members of the Social Justice Movement might be willing to go along with, but we're not members."

Quin told her; "No guilty plea will be made, if you just go along with whatever Clarissa Kellington wants, when it comes to promoting social justice."

"That's why we're getting ourselves a different lawyer." Andalib asked, "How does me committing slanderous libel and saying that my father raped me when I was a child, promote social justice?"

Quin got up out of the chair beside the door and said, "If you want to avoid being charged with the break-in at the pearl farm in Lake Shore, you'll keep W. Parker Harrison as your lawyer, and go along with whatever he and his wife tell you."

"Lake Shore?" Xavier said, "You didn't tell them we were involved in that? Did you Quin?"

"No. That's what they told me. I'm saving my own skin by doing whatever I'm told. When you're a member of the Movement, you'd better not argue with the people who give the orders."

Andalib spoke. "Then I know what I have to do."

"Go along with helping to promote social justice?"

"No!" She said, "Get myself a lawyer who isn't totally nuts!"

Yanking the door open, Andalib grabbed Quin by the front of his shirt and pushed him out.

"Now stay the fuck away from me!"

Chapter 19 / A Devil Gator?

19
A Devil Gator?


That evening Ted sat alone at a desk in the cabin of his bachelor's sloop, wondering. Just what the hell is going on?

He prayed silently. Lord. Just what is going on anyway? This has been one very strange day. I actually had Andalib swimming in the oyster farm, to stir up the alligator? Lord, have mercy on me a sinner. Then I almost had sex with her, but I didn't because that guy Xavier showed up.

He's obviously an important part of her life, while I'm just a guy she wants to play with. Is love just something that happens to other people, but not me?

Now, I'm suddenly surrounded by all these people, who might be called...what? What should I call them? Should I call them "criminals"? "Suspicious characters"? What should I call Andalib; or Xavier, or that guy Quin? "Suspected of involvement in the robbery at the pearl farm"? That's right. That's what they are.

What about Eric Mann? Did he really try to demand a bribe from Xavier and Quin? Andalib says that I shouldn't trust him. How much should I trust Andalib?

Then there was that totally bizarre meeting aboard the TV Star's yacht? She was acting all bizarre and threatening. Her husband on the other hand, was not bizarre, but his threats were even worse; and what's with all this business about us torturing our oysters?

Why is this happening, Lord? In your Word the Apostle Paul, or was it Peter, wrote; "Be sober. Be vigilant. Your enemy the devil like a hungry, roaring lion, stalks about seeking who he may devour."

The Devil is like a lion? How about like an alligator? A 'devil gator'?"

Is this all happening because we brought in the alligator for security? That's what a lot of people here in Shellfish Shoals are thinking. Even before Doris Schaffer died, they were warning us there'd be trouble. Do you want us to get rid of the 'devil gator', like everybody else here does, Lord?

If we do get rid of it, and ask Eric Mann to transport it back to the alligator farm, what will we do for security?

Ted then softly quoted scripture. "'The Lord is our strength, our shield and our fortress'?

"Please be the strength, shield and fortress for us, Lord. Amen."

Then he wondered, What about Clarissa Kellington, and W. Parker Harrison? They won't be as easy to handle as any devil gator! And how do I handle Andalib and her gang? And what about Eric Mann?

He remembered another scripture. "Resist the devil and he will flee from you."

Ted switched on the lap-top computer on the desk in front of him, and logged onto a Bible website. He went to Ephesians, Chapter 6, and read:

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take the up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the saints.

"Pray also for me, that whenever I open my mouth, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it fearlessly, as I should."

Ted sat there for a long moment, looking over the text. He focused on the phrase, "...the helmet of salvation..."


Yes. A helmet, to keep my mind from being injured by Clarissa Kellington and W. Parker Harrison; along with Andalib, Xavier, Quin, and even Eric Mann.

There are just too many of them. I can't handle them alone.

"Lord." He prayed, "Have mercy on me a sinner; and on all us sinners who call to you, from here in Shellfish Shoals."

At 8:45 the following morning, Ted MacKenzie arrived at the dockside Office of James Palmera, Attorney at Law. The office was not yet opened for business. Eric Mann had arrived with Ted.
They were not the only people waiting here. Andalib and Xavier also stood outside the door.

Eric Mann looked amused. "Look who's here Ted."

Ted asked the two, "You two have got one of the top lawyers in the Country representing you, and yet you're looking for the services of a different one?"

Andalib said, "Any barely competent shyster mouthpiece would be better for us than Park Harrison. He wants to deliberately loose the case, in hope of promoting the agenda of the Social Justice Movement."

Eric nodded. "God save us from those who would save us."

Ted and Andalib both said, "Amen."

Xavier nodded.

Now a man spoke behind Ted and Eric. "That's the first time I've ever heard myself called a 'mouthpiece'."

The two turned to see the man, who was in his mid forties, dressed in a white, short sleeved shirt, light blue tie, and dark pants. He carried a briefcase and had an amused look on his face.

"Good morning Jim." Ted greeted him. "This is Eric Mann. Everyone, this is James Palmera. The lawyer who we all hope will give us his assistance."

Andalib looked at the man, taking in every detail. He looked back at her and smiled. "I see why you've caused quite a stir around here, Miss Elkhart. I can assure you though; my competence is far beyond 'barely'."

Andalib looked at him. "Are you competent enough to handle the defense in a criminal case?"

Ted asked, "Or explain why producing cultured pearls, isn't a crime?"

Jim Palmera had taken out his keys.

"Very easily." He said, "Even against any overpriced celebrity 'mouthpiece', with an Ivy League education."

That morning, beneath the heavy sun, the passing vessels, the splashing waves, and all the other sounds of the harbor's regular activities surrounded them as background noise. One of those sounds was the roar of a rotating, airborne engine, which suddenly increased in volume.

They all looked up into the sky, in the direction of the flying vessel.

Ted looked at Eric. "I thought the helicopter you hired, returned to its base?"

The bounty hunter shook his head. "That's not the one I hired."

Eric reached into a pouch on his belt, and pulled out a pair of binoculars. He put them up to his eyes for a closer look at the copter.

"That's not the pilot I hired either. This one's got an insignia." He told everyone. "'BNN News'. The Buoyant News Network."

Andalib asked, "BNN News?"

"That's right. Right now you've got a Major TV Star and her celebrity Attorney husband, anchored right here in Shellfish Shoals, making a fuss about the oysters being tortured. That's a TV News Event. The kind of News that's gonna change your badly bungled break-in at the pearl farm, from a minor case, into a major event, in which everyone living here in Shellfish Shoals might end up being involved."

From where they stood, outside James Palerma's office, they saw the helicopter circling around the community, carefully keeping a safe distance from all the moored structures, so as not to stir up the water. The aircraft moved a short distance away from the community. Then it stopped to hover.

Ted spoke. "He's hovering over the pearl farm."

Eric said, "Probably taking pictures "

"But there really isn't all that much to see. Everything that's happening is going on under the water, and watching oysters producing cultured pearls is boring."

"But an alligator" Eric Mann told them all "is exciting to watch, even when it's lying totally still. I'm sure they'll find something they consider 'newsworthy'."

Chapter 20 / 490 Times

20

490 Times

Ted spent a very short time in Jim Palmera’s office. 

The lawyer had assured him, “As long as you’ve got the proper licenses and permits, then everything you’re doing at the pearl farm is totally legal.  No one, no matter how famous and powerful he or she is, has any legitimate reason to bring any charges against you.”

Now Ted and Eric Mann were gone from the office.  Andalib and Xavier remained there, seated around the lawyer’s desk.

“From what I’ve heard about your case,” he told them, “the charges against you would be very hard to prove before a judge and jury, unless one of you stops exercising his or her right to remain silent.”

Andalib smiled, “I’m not saying a word.  How about you Xave?”

The other suspect shook his head, and put a finger to his lips.

Now Jim Palmera asked, “What about the other suspect?  This fellow Quin?”

Andalib told him, “He’s keeping W. Parker Harrison as his attorney, but I don’t see what incentive he’d have to say anything.”

“On the other hand,” Xavier smirked, “have we got a case to bring against Mr. Harrison, or at least against his wife.”

The man looked skeptically amused.  “You want to bring some kind of criminal charge against the television actress, Clarissa Kellington?”

Andalib spoke firmly.  “Not criminal Mr. Palmera.  It’s a civil case.  I want to file a lawsuit against her for attempted libel.”

“Libel?”

“That’s right.  She told me that she wants to make a movie about my life as ‘an alleged pearl thief’.”

“Sorry.”  The man told her, “As long as they make it clear, that everything they’re saying is ‘alleged’, and that the movie is fiction, you’d have no case against her.”

“She wants to say that my father sexually abused me when I was a child!  That’s completely false!  Isn’t that just about the most disgusting thing you’ve ever heard of?”

“It certainly is.  No doubt about it!  The thing is, that as long as they say that the movie is just fiction, there isn’t a thing you can do to stop them.”

“If we can’t stop them, what do we do?  What does my father do?”

Now Xavier spoke.  “That’s not all that’s going on.  Quin told us that if Andalib doesn’t agree, W. Parker Harrison will see to it that we’re all charged with that break-in at the pearl farm in Lake Shore; but we had nothing to do with that.”

Andalib added, “We were nowhere near Lake Shore.  As a matter of fact, we were on the opposite side of Shellfish Shoals, when that happened.”

“I see.”  Jim Palmera asked, “Exactly where on the opposite side of Shellfish Shoals were you, and what were you doing, when the robbery at Lake Shore occurred?”

She and Xavier looked at each other.

She sighed, “Something we just have to exercise our right to remain silent about.”

Xavier nodded in resignation.

“Miss Elkart.”  Jim Palmer spoke.  “There isn’t enough evidence to convict you, or Xavier, or this Mr. Quin of any involvement in the robbery at the MacKenzie’s pearl farm.  Anything said about your supposed involvement in the Lake Shore case can be nothing but hearsay. That means you’ve gotten away with the robbery of a pearl farm, which turned out to be a total failure.   

“It also means that you’ve all been given a second chance.”

She said, “That’s the same thing that the preacher at your local Church told me on Sunday morning.”

“Then if you need someone’s help, you should both be speaking with him, instead of me.” 

Within the next hour, Andalib and Xavier were seated in the office of Reverend David Randolph, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Shellfish Shoals.  Through the window, they could see the three masts of the yacht Venus on the Half Shell, rising above the rooftops beside the marina.

The Pastor was seated behind his desk.  Andalib and Xavier sat slouched on an overstuffed couch beside the wall.

He told the two, “The Disciple Peter asked the Lord Jesus, ‘How many times will my brother offend me that I must forgive him?  Up to seven times?’

“Jesus told him, ’No.  Up to seventy times seven times, must you forgive him.’”

Xavier repeated, “’Seventy times seven’?  That’s 490 times.  That means that you and everyone who attends this church are required to forgive Andalib and me, for up to 490 separate offenses?”

Andalib told him, “I’m sure there’s more to forgiveness than that, Xave.”

“That’s true.”  The Pastor told them, “Jesus died to take away our sins, not to make it easier for us to keep them.”

“Okay.”  Andalib asked, “Supposing we stop committing all our ‘offenses’, what happens then?”

“Jesus said there is general rejoicing in Heaven, over one sinner who repents, than 100 who have never strayed.”

“Sure.”  She said, “I think that’s great about what’s going on in Heaven, but what about all of us down here on Earth?  What do the forgiven do, to make a living?”

Pastor Randolph opened a Bible that was on the desk in front of him, and turned to Matthew 6.

He read, “‘Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

“’Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.’

Andalib said, “That’s the same thing that was read during worship on Sunday.”

The man said, “I hope you’re willing to listen now.”

“I was listening.” Andalib softly and thought about how she had dreamed of all the pearls in the town folks’ gardens.

Xavier said, “Yeah.  We’re willing to listen, but we’d like to hear something concrete.  It all sounds like good advice, but how do we put it into practice?”

Andalib said, “Well here’s something I’ve been thinking about Xavier.  It seems like everybody who lives here in Shellfish Shoals has a little pearl garden of their own, and they use the proceeds to help supplement their incomes.  They don’t produce enough pearls to make themselves rich, but it’s enough to help them get by.  Now I’m thinking that we should plant a pearl garden of our own.”

Xavier repeated, “Plant a pearl garden?” He couldn’t help but laugh. “That’ll be something different to what we’re used to.”

Andalib glared at him, a look that wasn’t missed by the preacher. It was the way his wife would glare at him if he did or said something foolish; it was a look lovers shared.

“Yes.” She said tight-lipped, “It would. It won’t make us rich, but it’ll be enough for us to get by on, and it’s completely legal. So the cops will be off our backs for once.”

Smiling, Xavier leaned toward her, but she simply looked at him and he nodded.

“Right.” He hissed.

Andalib turned to the Pastor.  “What do you think?”

The man nodded.  “It’s a lawful activity that the Lord has not forbidden.”

She chuckled.  “I’m so glad to hear you say that.”

“But” he warned “planting a pearl garden alone will not make things right between you and the Lord, unless you also repent and ask the Lord to help you resist all temptation.”

“I’ve tried that.” Andalib breathed and looked at Xavier. Their passion filled afternoon of the day before still fresh in her memory.

“Yes.” The Pastor said and looked at Andalib and Xavier in turn. “That is one of the many temptations for which you should ask the Lord to help you resist.  Pray that He will turn your carnal lust into marital love.”

“Marital?”  A startled Andalib and Xavier both looked uneasily at each other.  Then they looked away from one another.

Andalib told the man, “Let’s just stick to one sin at a time, shall we?  How about we concentrate on the ones that have gotten us in trouble with the cops first, huh? Then we can concentrate on,” She again looked uneasily at a very uncomfortable Xavier for a moment. “the others.”

Silently, the Pastor again flipped through the Bible, and then read from the first letter of John.

“‘This is a message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all.  If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.  But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”

Now the Pastor repeated, “‘the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.’”

Xavier told him, “There are lots of people like our partner Quin, who say that anyone who accepts that teaching is ‘unenlightened’.  They call what you’re teaching, ‘The Religion of Benighted Rubes and Yahoos’.”

The man said, “Jesus’ original disciples were also what could be called ‘benighted rubes and yahoos.’  He also said that the thieves and harlots would be among the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, because they were among the first to repent at His teachings.  On the other hand, the intellectual snobs not only refused to repent, they were the ones who had Him crucified.

“As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be.  Amen.”

He continued reading.  “‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.  If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Andalib asked uneasily, “Confess our sins?”

Xavier said, “If we do that it’s ‘Bye-bye pearl farm.  Hello Heartbreak Hotel.’”

The Pastor said, “A silent confession from one who is truly repentant, would be sufficient before the Lord.”

Andalib told Xavier, “And Jesus died for our sins, that means He took the punishment we deserve upon Himself.  Our sentences have already been served, by His going to the cross.”

She asked the Pastor, “Is the Cross our ‘Get out of jail free card’?”

“Not exactly.”  The man told her, “It’s a ‘Stay out of Hell’ card; but only if you actually accept Jesus as Savior.  Then you will be totally absolved of any and all guilt; but that’s only before the Lord.  With human justice on the other hand, there might still be consequences; but if you live your lives as people who’ve accepted Salvation through the Cross, that might help get your sentences reduced.” 

Andalib asked, “Might?” Looking at Xavier she asked, “Reduced by how much?”

“By whatever a judge decides.  When it comes to that, I suggest that you speak to James Palmera again.”

Xavier spoke.  “I’ve got another question.  It’s about us starting this ‘pearl garden’.  It’ll take a good amount of time for the pearls to fully develop.  My question is, what’ll we do to make a living, while we’re waiting for them to develop?”

Andalib smiled, “It looks like one of us, or both of us will just have to get ourselves an honest job, Xavier.”

“No kidding.” He smiled, “And just who in this town’d be willing to hire either of us?”

She said, “Ted MacKenzie might.  After all he did hire me for a special job.”

She and Xavier both glanced uncomfortably at the Pastor, who looked puzzled. “Is this something I should be made aware of?”

“No.” Andalib said softly. “It was – business of sorts and maybe even a little payback.”

“Payback? You mean ‘revenge’?”

Andalib nodded.

Pastor Randolph asked himself, “Ted MacKenzie?” 

She told him, “Everyone believes in revenge, Pastor.”

“I’ve known Ted MacKenzie for many years; and he does have a definite dark side.  It doesn’t come out all that often, and when it does, he puts a stop to it before things get out of hand.  It looks like you Miss Elkart have brought it out again.  Hopefully, before things got out of hand.”

“You’re right about Ted. He kept it under control, but I’m not Ted. I didn’t grow up protected from the ugly side of the world. I grew up where it’s either eat or be eaten, kill or be killed, lie or be lied to, eff or be effed.”

The Pastor stared at Andalib with annoyance evident on his face.

Xavier nodded. Growing up on the marshland-boats in dire poverty would make anyone hard and hateful.

He then took a deep breath and said, “But that’s over Andi, and us being the prime suspects in the robbery of his pearl farm...”

She said, “As a committed Christian, Ted MacKenzie is required to forgive us ‘up to 490 times’.”

“That’s ‘forgive’ us.  It doesn’t mean he has to hire us, or trust us, does it?”

“No,” She said, a slight frown appearing on her face as she thought, “But we can always ask him.”

Now the Pastor looked up.  He faced the open door to his office.  Ted stood in the doorway.

He asked Andalib, “You can always ask me what?”

Xavier said, “It looks like we just can’t avoid running into each other, doesn’t it?”

Ted nodded.  “This is a very small town.”

The Pastor said, “There are no coincidences where the Lord is involved.

“Good morning Ted.”  He went on, “Andalib and Xavier claim that they are seeking forgiveness for their sins.  They say that they want to turn away from lives of crime and start making an honest living; but they are going to need someone who is willing to help them begin.  Andalib thinks that you might be the only one here in Shellfish Shoals, who would be willing to help.”

Ted asked, “I would?”

“Ted.”  Andalib asked him, “Will you have mercy on me a sinner and on Xavier too?”

Chapter 21 / Honest Work

21

Honest Work


Ted was again seated beside the outboard motor at the rear of the dinghy, heading out along the channel through the marsh grass, away from Shellfish Shoals. This time he was accompanied by Andalib and Xavier, who were seated on the slats in the middle of the vessel.
When either of them glanced at Ted, they immediately looked away. They weren't talking to each other either. Andalib sighed as she looked at Ted, sensing that something within him had changed.

They reached the point where the channel opened up and the oyster farm came into view. The three turned their attention to the facility. Beyond the fenced off property, a distant line of dark, cumulous clouds appeared to be approaching. Inside the fencing, the grid of narrow catwalks was unoccupied, except for a solitary figure, who moved along slowly, peering down into the water.

Ted turned the dinghy toward the facility, where very large, freshly painted signs had been posted, declaring in gigantic lettering to everyone who came near:

"Private Property". "Keep Out". "Watchman on Duty". "Beware of the Alligator".

Andalib looked back at Ted and laughed.

She called out. "Looks like you've learned something from us, haven't you?"

He nodded. "I learned not to be a 'gorgeous fool'! Thank you for the lesson!"

He headed the dinghy alongside the fence, and began to slow down. He came up to the pylons supporting the maintenance shack, where he shut off the engine.

The man out on the catwalks now moved along the planking in a hurry, in the direction of the shack. Andalib quickly recognized him. She asked Ted, "You've hired Eric Mann?"

He nodded. "He's helping us upgrade the security of the pearl farm. It needs a lot of work."

Xavier told him, "I agree. We broke in here -- "

"Xavier!" Andalib hissed and jabbed in the ribs.

Ted pretended not to hear and said, "Right now he's checking out all the fencing, both inside and outside the facility. He will then see to it that all necessary repairs and improvements are made, to prevent the alligator from breaking out, or any thieves from breaking in, every again."

"Good." Xavier told him, "You're gonna need it."

Eric Mann now stood above them on the catwalk outside the shack, and inside the outer fencing.
He looked puzzled at the sight of the passengers inside the dinghy.

"Good afternoon Ted!" He called down. "Now just what the hell are you doing, bringing these two here along with you?"

Ted called up to him, "Hi Eric."

Andalib remained quiet while Xavier simply glared at Eric.

"Eric," Ted again called out. "They're my newest employees!"

"Employees?"

"It's an act of mercy!"

The man standing on the catwalk now looked skeptical.

"Mercy? I know that you need the help but -- " he looked at Andalib and Xavier, "Hiring these two will only see you enter the ranks of bankruptcy."

Ted explained, "It's also a favor to the Pastor of my Church!"

"Right." Eric said and looked at Andalib, sort of admiring her for her new tactics.

"You see Eric," Ted went on, "it's this way! Jim Palmera recommended them to Pastor Randolph, and Pastor Randolph recommended them to me! He says that they claim that they've decided to repent of their criminal ways!"

Andalib called out. "I have decided to follow Jesus! Not turning back! No turning back!"

"I see! A very convenient time for repentance, isn't it?" Eric smirked, "Especially after yesterday, am I right?"

Andalib simply took a deep breath and looked at Eric, "The blood of Christ has cleansed me from all sin! I am now guiltless before the Lord!"

"But not before me!" Eric told her.

Ted broke in. "They told the Pastor that they now want to start new lives, making an honest living; and both he and they have asked me to show them mercy!"

"Mercy?" Eric Mann called down and scoffed. Then he asked, "Do you really think these two are deserving of mercy?"

Now Andalib called up to him, "If we deserved it, we wouldn't need it!"

The man on the catwalk sighed and nodded.

"Mr. MacKenzie!" He called out, "It looks like 'Sister Andalib' and 'Brother Xavier' here, are going to be in need of much prayer!"

Ted called back, "So will I, 'Brother Eric'! So will I!"

Andalib and Xavier both added, "Amen!"

Eric opened the narrow gate, which slid open sideways beside the maintenance shack, making an entry just wide enough for the tiny boat to pass through. Ted then brought the dinghy through the opening along with its passengers.

Xavier said, "I had no idea this gate was here! If we had..."

"Xavier!" Andalib put a finger to her lips.

"Right. We've got to be careful with this repentance business."

"You've simply got to keep your big mouth shut!" Andalib said and stared at him. "About everything." She added softly and glanced at Ted.

Now Ted tied a line from the dinghy around a pylon. Then with Eric Mann's help, all three pulled themselves up onto the catwalk. They then stood beside the alligator trapping, bounty hunter who now gazed out upon the glaring water, within the pearl farm's fencing.

"I've been searching carefully." he told them, "all over this facility, and I haven't found one trace of the gator that you claim you saw here, Miss Elkart."

"I did see him!" Andalib insisted, pointing at the spot where she'd been swimming. "I saw him right there! He was coming straight at me!"

"So you say."

Eric told Ted, "I've been here for hours, waiting to see the gator floating at the surface, which is what they normally do. Gators are amphibious reptiles. They have to come to the surface to breathe at regular intervals. I haven't seen him or heard him yet. I know what signs to look for. I haven't seen any, inside the fencing, which makes me wonder if Andalib had either."

She looked at Ted. "I have Ted. I did see the gator, just like I said I did."

Eric told him, "I have seen signs of the gator's presence outside the fencing Ted. All the signs are close by, but not one of them is inside the fencing."

Ted looked at Andalib. She looked away from him.

He told Eric, "Then we can't yet make any official announcement, saying that the people of Shellfish Shoals are safe from the alligator. We still don't know where it is. Do we Andalib?"

She continued looking away from him.

"You're right Eric." Ted told them all, "We are all in need of very much prayer, and very much mercy."

They were all uncomfortably quiet for a few moments.

Then Ted spoke again. "But we are also in need of very much work."

Xavier spoke, "Now that's something you haven't explained to us Mr. MacKenzie. Exactly what is this work you've hired me and Andalib to do anyway?"

"The only work that I can hire you for." Ted explained, "What that is, is for you to help with the production of cultured pearls. You'll be using hypodermic needle type devices to inject pieces of grit inside the shells of oysters. Then the oysters will secret a substance to relieve the irritation, and over time, the substance will harden and develop into pearls."

"What?" Xavier spoke with disgust. "You don't actually expect us to do that, do you? It's highly repetitive and boring. It's also kind of demeaning; the kind of work that's done by losers."

"Says the loser." Now Eric Mann explained, "What he's asking you to do is called 'honest work'."

Andalib added, "That is the 'mercy' we asked for Xavier, and we'll be paid in pearls. Isn't that right Ted?"

"Exactly. What you failed to obtain through robbery, you will receive through honest work, but not an excessive amount. If you've received salvation, then this is the Lord's blessing upon you both, and you should thank Him for this."

Andalib said, "Thank you Lord. Amen."

Xavier said, "Sorry. I just can't join you in saying that about this."

Eric Mann chuckled. "I was right. These two are definitely in need of very much prayer." He stepped closer to Andalib, "Especially you." He whispered and smiled. "You might have Ted fooled and the Pastor by this 'act', but not me. Not ever. I know you. I know what you're capable
of."

Ted looked at them, frowning.

"Don't worry, Ted." She told him, "Eric and I will get along just fine, won't we?"

"Yeah." Eric said sarcastically, "Just fine."

Now Andalib spoke to Xavier, "I'm thinking that we should contact Quin, and see if he'd like to join us."

"Forget it Andi. I spoke to him on my cellphone last night. He's staying with the Social Justice Movement, and he'll be among the protesters who'll be showing up here this weekend."

Ted said, "Wait a minute! Protesters?"

"That's right Mr. MacKenzie. A very large number of them are planning to arrive here in Shellfish Shoals and stage a demonstration right outside this pearl farm of yours. They'll be protesting your 'tormenting' oysters."

Ted repeated "Demonstration?"

"That's right." Xavier told him, "Big enough to make a really big impression on the TV News. Clarissa Kellington's already arranged for coverage. The whole world'll be watching and hearing their message; so this'll just have to be a major demonstration."

Ted asked, "Just what do you mean by 'major'? They're not planning any kind of violence, are they?"

"Quin didn't say. You know the way these Social Justice people are, Mr. Mackenzie. There's always a possibility that it might get out of hand."

Eric said, "Definitely much more prayer than we could possibly imagine, Ted."

Chapter 22 / The Shellfish Are Screaming

22
The Shellfish Are Screaming

 

Andalib and Xavier were now seated together on a catwalk inside the MacKenzie's oyster farm, with their legs dangling over the water. They were each dragging a thick braided chord up out of the water, with a line of oysters attached to each chord. He and she each had a hypodermic needle gun, connected to a long narrow tube. The other end of the tube was hooked up to a container, containing a fluid full of irritants.

Their job was to put the needle gun against each oyster, then press a button on the device, shooting a pre-measured amount of irritant between the shells then inside the creature. They went on and on, performing the same operation on the next oyster, and the next oyster, and the next, while letting the line with the irritated ones slip back into the water. That was all that their task required.

Ted MacKenzie was seated beside them, doing the exact same job.

Xavier spoke. "So this is what you call 'mercy'?

Ted told him, "Considering what I'll be paying you, which is considerably more than minimum wage, I wouldn't be complaining."

"Yeah. Right. Sorry."

Andalib said, "You know, you can say 'Thank you', Xavier."

He spoke with a sarcastic tone. "Thank you Mr. MacKenzie."

Ted said, "You're welcome."

Andalib spoke again. "You know Xavier, if everyone said 'please' and 'thank you', our mothers would all be so proud of us."

He and Ted both chuckled.

The maintenance shed stood at the northwest corner behind them to their right. They sat facing southward beyond the facility's fencing, watching small sail and motor vessels coming out of the channel, a good distance away from the facility and continuing on their way. Eric Mann had returned to moving along the catwalks, gazing down into the water, looking for signs of the alligator.

Now one of the motorized boats that emerged from the channel moved swiftly and turned in the direction of the oyster farm. The three who were seated on the catwalk and Eric Mann all looked at the approaching vessel with curiosity. Inside the boat, one guy was up front at the controls.
Another was seated beside him, and two men were in the back seat, one of them held a large camera, aiming it inside the oyster farm.

Andalib said, "I think that's a TV camera."

The vessel moved up along the western side the facility, and stopped in the shadow of the maintenance shed, alongside Ted's dinghy, which he had tied to one of the pylons.

From out on the catwalk, Eric Mann called out. "I'll see what they want!"

He headed in the direction of the shed.

Ted stood up and spoke to Andalib and Xavier.

"I'd like to hear what they have to say myself. You two stay here, and just keep on doing what you're doing."

He hurried away from them, also going in the direction of the shed.

Xavier repeated, "'Keep on doing what we're doing'. Like there's something else to do."

Andalib smiled, "Well you could always be alligator bait. The pay's a lot better, though I don't know if the gator'd find you as appetizing, as the last person who had the job."

Xavier smiled at her and reached for her hand. Andalib didn't pull away as Xavier's hand enclosed around hers.

"We'll get through this, X."

"I hope so." Xavier said softly and smiled at her. Andalib then pulled away from him and glanced back at Ted who was walking swiftly toward the maintenance shed.

"You're going to have to choose sooner or later, Andi." Xavier said softly, knowing that she understood him perfectly. "Preferably sooner rather than later and preferably me instead of him."

"I don't know what you're talking about." Andalib whispered and reached for another cord of oysters.

"Yeah, right." Xavier said and continued working himself.

"X, I just -- don't ask this of me now, OK? Let's just get back on our feet first."

"Then I can get you on your back again?"

"We'll see." Andalib smiled.

Ted reached the maintenance shed, at just about the same time as Eric Mann. They both looked down at the occupants inside the motorboat. Ted recognized one of them immediately.

He called out, "Carlton Grabel?"

"That's right!" The man seated beside the operator in the front seat called up, "BNN News! Is either of you a Mr. Ted MacKenzie?"

"Yes! That's me!"

Now the cameraman in the back seat, and the man beside him, carrying a long pole with a microphone, both pointed their devices up at Ted.

Mr. Grabel called up. "I have some questions I'd like to ask you Mr. MacKenzie! May we be permitted to come inside and conduct an interview with you?"

"Sorry! No one's allowed inside the fence except company employees! Company rules!"

"I understand!"

"So what do you want to interview me about?"

"What about these charges that have been made, accusing you of torturing oysters here inside your oyster farm?"

Ted was startled. Then he called out, "Someone's made charges? Just what the hell are you talking about?"

Eric raised his hand. "Don't say another word Ted. I know how to talk to reporters. I'll handle it."

Ted said quietly. "But I have to say something."

Eric called down to the reporter. "Can you arrange for a meeting later, after work? Mr. MacKenzie will answer all your questions then!"

Carlton Grabel called back. "Good enough. Where and when later?"

Ted called down, "The Amberjack Restaurant! About 5:30!"

"Good enough!" The reporter asked the man beside Ted, "By the way, what's your name?"

"Eric Mann! I'm a professional alligator trapper!"

"Oh yes! I also have some questions about that alligator! There's a report that it escaped from this facility and ate one of this community's residents!"

Ted replied, "Ask me whatever question you have at 5:30, when we're inside the Amberjack!"

"Good enough!" He then looked over at the two people seated on the catwalk. "Are those your only employees?"

"At the moment, yes." Ted said and glanced at Andalib and Xavier.

"And their names are - ?"

"'The Amberjack' and 'five-thirty'." Eric smiled and stared at the man.

"I see." Carlton Grabel nodded. He then made a quick motion with his hand and the boat's operator started the motor, turned the boat around, heading it south, back toward the channel.

Ted and Eric now moved out along the catwalks. They both came over to Andalib and Xavier, who continued to shoot pearling irritant into one oyster at a time. They were also looking out beyond the facility, at a large sailboat that had come out of the channel and was now stopped outside the southern fencing. There were about a dozen people aboard.

"Here comes trouble." Andalib whispered to Xavier and pulled her hat further over her face.
Xavier did the same and covertly they both watched the scene before them.

The BNN News motorboat now turned toward the sailboat, came over alongside the larger vessel, and halted. Eric reached into the pouch on his belt, took out his binoculars, put them up to his eyes and looked at what was going on aboard the sailboat.

"They look like demonstrators." He told the others, "It looks like they've got a bunch of picket signs lying on the deck."

Ted asked, "They're here already?" He asked Xavier, "I thought you said they'd be arriving this weekend."

"That's what Quin told me."

Eric who was still looking through his binoculars now chuckled.

"And just speak of the devil. Just who do you think's standing on deck with them?"

Andalib asked, "Quin?"

Eric nodded. "Working for the Devil Woman herself."

Andalib groaned in disgust. "I should have known." She hissed and got to her feet.

Xavier said, "It figures."

Eric went on, "He's actually talking to Carlton Grabel. The reporter's still sitting in the News boat. He's holding a microphone up to him, and they're talking back and forth."

"He's talking to a reporter?" Andalib said. She looked at Xavier. "After he told us to keep our mouths shut!"

Glaring out over the water, Andalib made out Quin's figure and shook her head.

"I trusted him." She said softly and then ripped her hat off her head, waving it frantically back and forth.

Andalib reached for her cellphone that was clipped to her belt. She tapped out a number and put the device to her ear.

Eric said, "Quin's got a call on his cellphone. He's putting it to his ear."

"Quin!" Andalib screamed into her phone at the top of her voice. "Quin! Keep your mouth shut!"

Quin abruptly pulled his phone away from his ear and turned to look in Andalib's direction.

"That's got his attention." Eric said.

"Good." Andalib said breathlessly and took another deep breath, "You remember one thing, Quin!" She screamed again. "I know all about you!"

She then smiled broadly and calmly clicked off her cellphone, put her hat back on, stood up and walked to the maintenance shed.

"Ha!" Eric smiled, "He's gone pale!"

"He should." Xavier said grimly, "Andalib's got the drop on him."

"What does that mean?" Ted asked while looking at Xavier.

"It means, if there's one person Quin can't afford to piss off -- it's Andalib!" Xavier said and smiled at Ted. "I told you -- you'll never know her like I know her. She's done things; knows things that will make your skin crawl."

He then followed Andalib to the maintenance shed and disappeared inside.

"Well." Eric said, still watching the boats, "She sure knows how to get a guy's attention, doesn't she?"

"Yeah." Ted said thoughtfully and took a deep breath.

"Look, I hate to bring it up again but -- are you sure hiring those two was such a good idea? You heard what Xavier just said. Andalib's done things that would make your skin crawl. She's -- " He paused and took a deep breath, "She's been in the life since she was a kid, it's all she's ever known."

"She said she's accepted Salvation, and asked me for mercy. She does deserve a second chance."

"You feel that way about the devil too?" Ted looked over at Eric. "Make no mistake, Ted. She claims she wants to change her ways and -- that's great but -- don't ever forget that deep, deep within her, Andalib will always be a criminal."

They stood in silence.

Then Ted asked, "What's going on now?" As he saw movement on the boat.

The passengers aboard the demonstrator's sailboat began picking up signs, and chanting. The cameraman and soundman aboard the Network News' motorboat now pointed their devices at the chanting demonstrators.

A woman's voice came through a bullhorn. "Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!"
Everyone aboard the sailboat repeated her words in a chant. 

 


"Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!
Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!
Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!..."



For a full five minutes the chanting continued while Ted and Eric stared at them in disbelief.

Ted said, "They're calling us "'Murderers' and 'Nazis'? Maybe I'm the one who should bring a lawsuit, charging them with libel."

"Maybe you should." Andalib said quietly. Turning, neither Ted nor Eric had seen her or Xavier approach again, and the look on Andalib's face was one of anger and disgust.

Another voice came through a different bullhorn. "The shellfish are screaming!"

Xavier said, "That sounds like Quin."

About half the demonstrators now repeated those words, in counterpoint to the first chant. 

"The shellfish are screaming!
The shellfish are screaming!
The shellfish are screaming!..."

Xavier told Andalib, "If we'd gone along with Clarissa Kellington, we might be among them like Quin, instead of doing this."

She asked him, "I hope you're not sorry we didn't, are you Xavier?"

"Not as long as we get paid as well, as Mr. MacKenzie here says we will."

She looked up at Ted. "So what do want us to do now?"

"Just keep right on doing what you've been doing."

He sat down again beside her and Xavier, picked up the chord with the oysters that he'd been working on and resumed implanting them with irritants. Andalib and Xavier did the same. Eric Mann headed back out along the catwalks, searching for the alligator.

The demonstrators in the sailboat continued chanting, "Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing the oysters!" and "The shellfish as screaming!"

After about ten minutes, the chanting suddenly ceased. Andalib looked up and saw the camera pointed at the three of them as they went about doing their work. Carlton Grabel was saying something into the microphone, motioning at the oyster farm with his arm. Xavier put down the needle and then held his right arm up high, his hand a fist, except his middle finger, which was extended, making sure the camera caught his act on tape.

"Maybe that'll help." He smiled and then resumed his work.

Shortly after that, the protesters put down their signs. The BNN Network News boat's motor turned on. It sped away from the sailboat and the facility, and back along the channel toward Shellfish Shoals. Then the sailboat with the now quiet demonstrators began to move, also heading back along the channel toward Shellfish Shoals. All was quiet again in and around the MacKenzie's pearl farm.

Andalib said, "There's no way I'm gonna miss watching the Evening News tonight, Xavier. I want to see what Quin had to say for himself and that bunch of idiots. Who knows what he's told the world about us."

"Right. We might actually be in need of the services of that Mr. Palmera, much more than we thought."

Eric Mann said, "You know they're gonna be coming back, and they'll have a lot more people with them. Especially since Xavier here showed them what he thought."

Xavier asked, "So what are we gonna do about that, Mr. MacKenzie?"

"Yes Ted." Now Andalib asked, "What are we supposed to do, as repentant Christians?"

He thought it over. "Well, Jesus did say, 'Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for His sake."

Xavier asked, "'Love them'?"

"That doesn't mean we're supposed to have 'a strong feeling of affection' for them. He did say we should pray for them."

Andalib asked, "What should we pray?"

"I'm not sure." Ted told them, "I suppose we should ask the Lord to prevent them from doing any damage."

"Damage my foot." Andalib said softly, "We should pray that their tongues fall out."

Xavier laughed, he couldn't help it. Eric smiled and turned away while Ted looked at Andalib.

"That's not very Christian of you, is it?"

"No," Andalib confessed, "but I'm just a newbie." She smiled and picked up another cord of oysters.

Chapter 23 / None of This is Personal

23
None of This is Personal


Ted arrived at the Amberjack Restaurant, a few minutes after 5 that afternoon, accompanied by Eric Mann, Andalib and Xavier. At that hour there were very few regular customers in the place. Most of the people who came here for dinner usually began arriving a few minutes after 6.

There were also about a dozen non-residents, seated in a pair of back to back booths along the rear wall. These visitors were all in their late teens or early twenties; some wearing tee shirts with the name and insignia of the "Shellfish Justice League" printed on them.

Eric said, "Those are the demonstrators who I saw through my binoculars."

One man in his mid-thirties sat among the college age visitors. He was Quin. He looked at Andalib and Xavier and hesitantly waved. Xavier looked away while Andalib stared at him, no trace of a smile on her face at all.

Xavier said, "With what's going on, we are gonna have to talk to him."

"Not while I'm eating." She said.

She, Xavier, Ted and Eric Mann sat at a table besides the waist high railing along the establishment's front, with the floating walkway between them and the main channel. They each ordered a beer.

A giant flat screen TV hung from the ceiling above the bar. It was turned on and tuned to the Evening News. The now quiet demonstrators sat in their booths calmly watching the report, along with Quin, and the local people.

Up on the screen the Anchorman spoke.

"Animal rights activists have arrived in the floating community of Shellfish Shoals, protesting what they call the 'tormenting' of oysters in a local oyster farm, where cultured pearls are produced. BNN News reporter Carlton Grabel is on the scene."

The visitors in the booths now showed excitement, but remained relatively quiet.

The TV News Show presented a videotape taken earlier that day, of the demonstrators who'd stood upon the sailboat outside the MacKenzie's facility, while they'd chanted, "Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing the oysters!" and "The shellfish are screaming!"

They held signs displaying similar words.

Carlton Grabel's voice said, "The day long demonstration, by members of the Shellfish Justice League..."

Ted repeated, "'Day long'? They were only there for about 20 minutes, and they were only chanting like that for as long as the camera was on. Then as soon as the show was over they left."

On the TV, Carlton Grabel told the viewers, "A spokesman for the group had this to say."

On screen, Quin was shown being interviewed by Carlton Grabel, with the demonstration in the background.

Off screen in the Amberjack, both the League members and townspeople, all turned their attention from the videotaped Quin, to the booth where the live Quin was now seated. He looked away from them all.

On the screen he was saying, "It isn't only the tormenting of oysters that we of the Shellfish Justice League, along with all the members of the Animal Justice, and every Social Justice Organization are protesting. That's just a small part of the problem.

"You see," he went on, "All these floating communities are endangering the marshlands."

The visitors in the booths all nodded or spoke softly in agreement, while the local citizens all rolled their eyes and moaned softly.

On screen, Quin went on, "When global warming melted the polar ice caps, raising the sea level by 30 feet, it was nature's way of establishing justice, by reclaiming the coastlands from humankind's total destruction, and by setting up a natural barrier against any further damage. The vast majority of the people living along the coastlines did the only enlightened thing, and moved inland."

It was at that moment that Andalib's voice could be heard on the TV, calling out to Quin as he continued to talk to Carlton Grabel. Everyone in the Amberjack remained quiet, Quin looked uncomfortable but did nothing. Expecting to hear the rest of Andalib had said earlier that day, the visitors remained quiet but were delighted to see that major editing had been done on the footage.

"However," Quin continued as though nothing had happened, "Millions of the backward thinking masses refused to move. They listened to the unenlightened saying, 'When the water's rising, get in a boat.'"

"Excuse me." Carlton Grabel asked, "How is that saying 'unenlightened'. It sounds like good sense to me."

"Sometimes," Quin spoke to the TV audience, "what seems like 'good sense' can be the most unenlightened thing that anyone can do; and that's just what the masses did. They actually built hundreds of thousands of boats, barges and all kinds of nautical craft, and constructed floating communities just so they could stay where they were, and continue their thoughtless damaging of the environment.

"The time has come for these floating communities and their unenlightened masses to be removed from the marshlands, so the ecology can finally begin to repair itself."

Again the visitors nodded, speaking softly in firm agreement. Then they saw the local customers looking very annoyed with them. The visitors quieted down.

On the screen, the picture again focused on the demonstrators while they continued chanting.

Inside the Amberjack, Xavier shouted, "Hey Quin! Those are the same words you read to me, off your laptop last week!"

"That's right Xave!" His former partner called back. "It's unfortunate that the unenlightened masses have to keep having the same message repeated to them, over and over! It's also unfortunate that you and Andalib have chosen to be among them!"

"I ought to beat the living crap out of him!" Xavier began to stand up.

Eric Mann raised his hand. "No. Stay down. Don't start trouble."

Andalib said, "You'll forfeit your bail!"

"Right." Xavier sat back down. "I'll wait 'til there're no witnesses."

Smiling, he called out, "Unfortunately, the news didn't show you wet yourself after what Andalib told you over your cellphone, during your demonstration today."

Again, Quin paled but said nothing as the picture on the TV changed, showing Clarissa Kellington seated upon the open deck of the Venus on the Half Shell.

Carlton Grabel's voice-over said, "The Emmy Award winning television actress Clarissa Kellington, who just happens to be spending a few days docked aboard her yacht in Shellfish Shoals, is a strong supporter of Social Justice."

Ted said, "What do you know. She's fully clothed."

The TV Star was saying, "It's caused me a lot of soul searching, but I've come to the conclusion, that I will no longer be wearing any jewelry that contains a single pearl. From now on, I intend to see to it, that nobody I know, nor anyone else who cares about social justice, will be purchasing a single pearl."

The visitors in the booths spoke in agreement. "That's good. That's right."

The local people were startled. They all looked over at Ted.

"What is she doing?" Ted spoke. "She's putting me and my family out of business! She's putting everybody who produces cultured pearls out of business! Everyone who sees this'll be too afraid these "Social Justice" thugs to buy any cultured pearls from now on!"

On the TV, the News Show went to a commercial break.

"Oh please!" Andalib shouted, "She was wearing pearls the first time we met with her!" She glared at the town's visitors. "A great big pearl necklace and matching bracelet! You remember, don't you Quin?"

Outside the Amberjack, the BNN News Motorboat now came along the channel, and stopped beside the floating sidewalk, across from the restaurant's entrance. Carlton Grabel was seated in the vessel, along with the same crew that had accompanied him to the MacKenzie's facility, and covered the demonstration.

Xavier said, "Now I am gonna beat the crap out of this guy, and I don't care if I get thrown back in the clink!"

Andalib put a hand on him, "Well I do." She smiled at him and then instantly removed her hand when she heard Ted's voice.

Ted told them, "He's come for the interview I arranged with him."

Glancing at Andalib and Xavier he saw their close connection but said nothing. There was nothing he could say or do about that.

Inside one of their booths, a Shellfish Justice League member shouted, "Here he is!"

Then all the League members, including Quin, quickly slid out of the booths, hurried across the floor and out onto the floating sidewalk. They gathered around the News Network boat, where Carlton Grabel, his cameraman and soundman, had climbed up onto the sidewalk.

The reporter, his two technicians and all the members of the League were now outside the Amberjack. They moved over in front of the spot where Ted, Andalib, Xavier and Quin were seated on the opposite side the railing.

The camera and the microphone were turned on, and the League members began chanting again.

"Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing the oysters!" and "The shellfish are screaming!"

Carlton Grabel faced the camera and spoke into a microphone he was holding. "This non-violent demonstration has been going on all day, all over the floating community of Shellfish Shoals."

At the table, Andalib turned to Ted. "You said, that we're supposed to 'love them' and 'pray for them'?"

"That's what Jesus said." He thought it over. "The Bible also says, 'If your enemy is hungry feed him. If he is thirsty give him something to drink.'"

Ted got up from his seat and stood besides the railing, where he beckoned to Carlton Grabel. The reporter came over to him.

Ted asked him, "Is there some way I can talk to these people?"

The man held up his microphone. "I can switch this over to amplify, but I don't know if it'll do you any good."

"Well I can try."

The reporter tapped a button on the mike, and handed it to Ted.

Eric warned him, "Forget it Ted. You'll just be making a fool of yourself."

"We'll see."

Now Ted spoke into the mike. "Hello everybody!"

The sound of his voice, coming through an amplifier aboard the motorboat, was just about equal to the volume of the crowd, who all quieted down for a moment.

"My name is Ted MacKenzie!"

A woman among the chanters called back. "We don't want to hear anything you have to say!"

The others began jeering.

Ted asked, "Have any of you eaten yet?"

The jeering stopped. Everyone in the crowd was startled by the question.

One of them called out, "No! We've just been having drinks!"

Now Ted asked, "Are any of you hungry?"

Some of the crowd members nodded their heads.

"Then if you want to stop this demonstration and come back inside, I'll buy dinner for all of you!"

They all looked at Quin somewhat puzzled.

Quin spoke to Carlton Grabel. "We've done enough demonstrating for the camera today, haven't we?"

Now the crowd moved away from the spot where they were standing, and returned through the entrance into the Amberjack. They quietly headed back toward the booths where they'd been sitting.

Ted sat down again and spoke quietly. "Andalib. Remember at the Bible study last week? Carol quoted the scripture, 'A soft answer turns away wrath'. It looks like that's what's just happened here."

Quin remained standing outside the entrance, beside a puzzled looking Carlton Grabel.

From her seat besides the railing, Andalib called out. "Hey Quin you commie atheist! The Bible says, 'A soft answer turns away wrath'!"

Inside the Restaurant the woman who'd told Ted, that they didn't want to hear anything he had to say, came over to his table. She looked uneasily at him, Andalib, Xavier and Eric Mann.

She spoke uneasily. "I just want you to know that none of this is personal."

"'Not personal'?" Eric Mann spoke, in a voice loud enough for everyone inside the Amberjack to hear. "You want to destroy this man's livelihood, along with a major part of the income of every member of this entire community, and you say it's not personal?"

"Well you can all apply for Government Assistance."

"And you call us 'unenlightened'?"

Now Ted looked out at Quin who remained standing on the walkway beside Carlton Grabel and the Network News motorboat.

"Mr. Quin!" Ted called out to him, while remaining seated at the table besides the railing. "Will you please call Clarissa Kellington on your cellphone? Tell her that I'm inviting her and her husband to join us here this evening for dinner, and that I'll be paying for it all!"

"What?" Andalib exclaimed. "Ted, that's -- "

"That's what Christians do." He smiled.

Chapter 24 / "Oink! Oink! Oink!"

24
"Oink! Oink! Oink!"

 

Two minutes later, Quin stepped back inside the Amberjack. The place was still mostly empty, except for a few local citizens, the Shellfish Justice People who occupied the two booths, along with Xavier, Andalib and Eric Mann sat with Ted.

Quin came over to Ted's table. He saw the way Xavier was glaring at him, and stayed a few steps back.

Quin said, "I've just called Ms. Kellington like you said, Mr. MacKenzie. I couldn't get through so I left her a message on her voice mail, saying that you've invited them to join you here for dinner."

"Thank you Mr. Quin." Ted told him.

Xavier said, "Looks like you really are 'going along with the program'. Just 'following the script' like the rest of those simpletons over there, aren't you Quin?"

Quin shrugged. "It works for me. I'm exercising my Constitutionally protected right to say, 'The masses are asses', including all of you."

Xavier stiffened angrily, but remained seated.

Andalib told Quin, "We've found a much better program, with a script that works even better for us; and I'm also exercising my Constitutionally protected right, when I say, 'Jesus loves you Quin. He died for your sins, so repent you sinner.'"

Quin smirked. "And you call me a simpleton."

"It works for me." She smiled, "You also haven't forgotten what I told you earlier, have you? You seem to be forgetting that I know you. I know where the bodies of your past are buried."

Quin stepped away from the table and headed back to the booths, where Loretta the waitress was handing out menus to the Shellfish Justice people.

Now Andalib asked. "Are you sure you're doing the right thing Ted? Remember what we heard on Sunday? We were warned, "'Don't toss your pearls in front of pigs'."

"Yes I remember," He told her, "and no. I'm not sure, but sometimes you've just got to take a blind chance about where and when you toss them, as an act of faith."

He faced outside, where Carlton Grabel was speaking with his production crew.

"Mr. Grabel!" Ted called out. "If you still want to have that interview with me, I'll come outside and talk to you there!"

The reporter nodded. "Thank you! Come right out!"

Ted stood up, stepped away from the table and spoke to the three who remained seated.

"Please pray for me now." He told them, "I'm going to need it."

As he stepped away from the table Andalib thought, Ted's just asked me, Xavier and Eric Mann of all people, to pray for him? That really is one major act of faith on his part.

Ted went through the entrance, out onto the walkway and heading over to the reporter and his production crew, who remained standing beside their motorboat.

I'm about to be interviewed on television, by Carlton Grabel? Ted thought, The whole World'll be watching! I'm making one really big mistake. I have no idea what he's gonna ask, and he's on the demonstrators' side. Oh Lord. Please give me the words to say. Amen. Please!

He came up to the reporter and asked, "Mr. Grabel. I've never done this before, and I have no idea what you're going to ask me; so could you please tell me what you're gonna ask, before you begin taping, so I'll be able to figure out what I want to say ahead of time? I don't know if you're gonna ask me something like 'When did you stop beating...somebody?'"

"Don't worry about it Mr. Mackenzie." The reporter assured him, "There's no reason to be nervous. We'll all work together with you. You want a good interview, and believe me, so do we."

"I don't know. I'm really not sure."

The cameraman pointed his camera at the very nervous Ted, and the soundman aimed his microphone at him and Carlton Grabel began to speak.

"Tell me Mr. MacKenzie, how long have you been in the business of producing cultured pearls?"

That's an easy question, Ted thought.

"Well," he said, "my father actually began the business. This area was originally farmland, where my family grew corn and other crops, until the rising sea level inundated the land. Then we converted to raising oysters, so we could continue to make a living off our land, which is now under water. My father decided that we could increase our income considerably, by having the oysters produce cultured pearls."

Ted thought, That was a good answer.

The reporter asked, "What do you say to the members of the Shellfish Justice League, who claim that you are torturing the oysters?"

"We're not 'torturing' them." Ted chuckled, "We're just giving them a little tickle."

"But what do you say to people like the actress Clarissa Kellington, who insists that 'The Shellfish Are Screaming?"

"I don't see how she, or these members of the Shellfish Justice League, can possibly know that for a fact."

"She says that she is an ordained Pagan Priestess, who worships the ancient gods, and that she has received this knowledge from them."

Ted spoke sharply. "Clarissa Kellington is also a very good actress. How do you know that anything she says is true; and why should anybody believe a single word that she has to say, or anything you hear coming from the Shellfish Justice League?"

"Many prominent people do, Mr. MacKenzie."

"That's because they're intimidated by the Shellfish Justice League, into pretending that they agree, when in reality they don't. They're afraid that if they say anything in disagreement with them, then Justice League thugs, like the ones we've got demonstrating here, might do them serious harm."

"I see. You call people who are exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest, 'thugs'?"

"That's what I call people who harm anyone who disagrees with them. I've been told that they're planning to stage a demonstration here on Saturday, in which they plan to do serious damage."

"Really? That's the first I've heard about it. Who told you?"

"Forget that! I'm not helping you target anyone for the Justice League to do physical harm.

"And another thing." Ted went on, "These demonstrators don't know who they're dealing with. We are People of the Marshlands. We are 'those in peril on the sea'. We deal with all kinds of serious storms, squalls and hurricanes; and right now we're searching for the alligator that ate my ex-fiance last week! If we can deal with all of them, believe me, we'll have no trouble handling any bunch of so called 'enlightened' thugs!"

"Oh? It sounds to me, Mr. MacKenzie, that you're challenging these protesters to cause some damage."

Ted was taken aback.

Oh Lord, Ted thought, give me the right words to say!

He told the reporter, "If none of them start trouble, neither will any of us."

"I see."

Now Ted asked, "Is there anything else you want to ask about?"

What am I doing? He wondered, I'm asking for more of this?

"Very well." Carlton Grabel asked, "I understand that you're employing certain individuals, who are suspected in the recent robbery of a pearl farm that is run by a competitor of yours, in the neighboring community of Lakeshore."

"Certain individuals?"

"Yes Mr. MacKenzie. Is it true that you've hired a certain Miss Andalib Elkart, and a man who goes by the name of Xavier, to work in your pearl farm?"

"That's true." Ted told him, "but they haven't said anything to me about any criminal activity."

"Now some people may wonder," the reporter told him, "if you'd also hired them to stage that totally destructive raid on your rival's pearl farm in Lakeshore."

"What are you accusing me of?" Ted told him, "That isn't true. You're making a wild accusation! I can sue you for libel!"

"Very well, Mr. Mackenzie. There's no reason to bring any lawsuit. We'll edit out that last part, but one thing I'm sure our viewers would like to know, is why did you hire them in the first place?"

Ted told him, "It was an act of mercy."

"Mercy?"

"That's right. They are also suspected in the raid upon my own pearl farm that occurred here last week, when I was knocked unconscious."

"Yes. I've read the police report, and transcripts of the arraignments. They've been released on bail, but you, who were physically attacked, actually paid the bail for this Miss Elkart?"

"Yes. You see Mr. Grabel, Miss Elkart saved my life. I was inside the maintenance shed at the pearl farm when the robbery occurred. I heard some noises so I went outside. I saw people moving, but I couldn't identify anyone clearly. That's when somebody who I didn't see struck me from behind and I fell into the water.

"The next thing I remember is Andalib Elkart pulling me up out of the water. Andalib Elkart saved my life. She showed me mercy, so I had mercy on her and I paid her bail."

Now Carlton Grabel asked, "Is that the only thing you paid her for, Mr. MacKenzie?"

Ted spoke sharply. "That's all I'm gonna say about it! And that's all I'm gonna say to you about anything else either. This interview is over Mr. Grabel."

Ted now turned away from the reporter, and went back inside the Amberjack.

He returned to the table where he'd been seated and spoke to Eric Mann.

"You were right." He said, "I have just made a complete fool of myself, in front of who knows how many millions of people, who are gonna be watching that videotape on TV."

Ted sat back down and asked Andalib, "Of all the pearl farms, in all the floating towns in all the world, why did you have to break into mine?"

"Your defenses weren't exactly up to scratch and we needed the money." She said simply and smiled at him. "Ted, don't worry. Everything will work out fine."

"Oh? And how are you so sure about that?"

"Faith, Ted." She smiled and took a deep breath. "I have faith."

"Yeah, right!" Eric scoffed and stared at her.

Andalib stared back at Eric before finally saying, "Also, in all honesty Ted, I don't know why I chose your farm. I've been asking myself the same thing ever since we first met."

He sat there quietly, finishing his beer. The place remained relatively quiet for about 15 minutes, while a few more local residents entered the Amberjack. About a quarter of the tables inside the establishment were now filled with customers. Loretta had just finished serving the orders of all the Shellfish Justice League members.

Outside the establishment, a speedboat came along the channel, greatly exceeding the speed limit, causing all the small craft that were tied up along the floating docks to rock back and forth. The speeding craft came up and stopped in front of the Amberjack, directly behind the BNN News' motorboat. W. Parker Harrison was at the controls, again dressed in a stylish yacht club outfit. Clarissa Kellington sat beside him. Her outfit was chicly casual. He shut off the motor and they both jumped up onto the dock.

Carlton Grabel had moved in their direction, camera on and filming, microphone at the ready. The two brushed past him, and stamped through the Amberjack's entrance. All the customers were staring at the angrily glaring actress, who glanced at Ted and the others at his table, for only a moment. She stamped over to the booths where the Shellfish Justice League members were seated, and had just begun to eat.

She stood fuming in front of the League members, who all put down their knives and forks.

Clarissa Kellington screamed, "You call yourselves 'Activists'? You say you're dedicated to putting an end to the sadistic practice, of creating cultured pearls? But what are you doing? Instead of continuing your protest, you're actually sitting here, eating a meal paid for by him!"

She pointed behind herself, at Ted Mackenzie. He looked away from her, while Andalib smiled, raised her hand and wiggled her fingers at the people in the booths. So did Xavier and Eric Mann.

"His cold blooded greed" Clarissa went on "has earned him the money, with which he is buying your dinner, and your cooperation!"

Quin spoke up. "We're not selling out Ms. Kellington, we're just..."

"You shut the hell up! You don't say anything to me, or to anyone else, unless we say you can! After this, that may not happen again!"

Loretta had stepped out of the kitchen, holding the check for the League members' dinner. She halted when she saw who was yelling at them. Some of the members looked at the waitress; so did Clarissa.

She asked the waitress, "Is that the check for this dinner that you've served to these pieces of crap?"

Loretta hesitated to answer.

Clarissa asked her, "Who's paying for it?"

She pointed toward Ted. "Mr. MacKenzie is."

"No he is not!"

The waitress moved toward her with the check. "Are you paying for it now?"

Clarissa screamed with outrage. "Me pay for these back stabbing pieces of sh--? You give it to them! They'll be paying for it with their own money!"

Now Xavier called out from Ted's table. "Hey Quin! You're not just gonna sit there and take that from this prima donna bitch, are you?"

Quin remained silent.

Clarissa now came over to Ted's table. "All of you mind your own business!" she said.

Xavier said loudly, "We were minding our own business until you came along with your Social Justice bullshit and spun us all together!"

Now Andalib called out. "Jesus loves you Clarissa Kellington!"

She looked at the League members in the booths. "And He loves all of you too! He died for your sins; so repent you sinners!"

Clarissa screamed at her, in her shrillest tone. "You shut the hell up and mind your own business, you thieving slut!"

Andalib answered, "Jesus said that the thieves and harlots would be among the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, because they were among the first to repent at His teaching. But the intellectual snobs" She pointed "like your husband here..."

Clarissa reached in her handbag and took out a pearl necklace that she slammed down on the floor. She told Ted, "This is what you can do with your cultured pearls!"

She began stomping on the precious gems with her designer shoes, trying to crush them into dust.

Andalib spoke. "Oink! Oink! Oink!"

Clarissa Kellington stamped out through the doorway, and hurried over to her speedboat, where she sat fuming.

Now W. Parker Harrison spoke to the League members, in a calm but firm voice.

"Do not listen to what she just said!" He pointed toward Andalib. "What she just told you is nothing more than benighted superstition, which anyone who is properly educated automatically rejects. I don't want any of you listening to it. More importantly, I don't want any of you repeating it. If any of you do, it will be reported to your professors. That will have a negative effect upon your grades, along with a negative effect upon your future employment."

Then he went out through the entrance. He again brushed past Carlton Grabel, then got back in the speedboat beside his wife. They sped quickly away, again exceeding the speed limit, going back the way they'd just come.

Back inside the Amberjack Ted called out, "Loretta! Forget what that woman just told you. I'm still paying for their dinner!"

Eric called out to Carlton, "Glad to see you got all of that on tape, Mr. Grabel. It'll make one hell of a story!"

Now Quin slid out of the booth and came over to Ted's table.

He spoke to Xavier. "I have to just sit there and take it. She's the one who paid my bail. If I don't go along with everything she and her husband say, they'll put me back behind bars."

He returned to the booths with the other League members.

Andalib called out behind him. "Jesus loves you Quin! I'll be praying for you!"

The remainder of the evening was relatively uneventful inside the Amberjack, and throughout all of Shellfish Shoals.

Chapter 25 / Those Who Would Save Us / Part 1

25

Those Who Would Save Us                 

Part 1

The following morning, Andalib and Xavier were back at work inside the MacKenzie’s oyster and pearl farm, again injecting irritants inside the shells of oysters that were tied onto chorded lines.  The two sat together on a catwalk beneath the heavy sun and glaring blue sky, facing the channel toward the south.  A few cumulous clouds were in the distance.  Ted again sat working beside them.

Andalib asked, “So what do you think Ted?  Are we really just giving these oysters of yours ‘a little tickle’, or are we actually torturing them?”

He shook his head.  “I haven’t the slightest idea, but whatever we’re doing with them, I can’t believe that anyone in his right mind would be carrying on like Clarissa Kellington and all those people in the Shellfish Justice League.  It’s such an obviously phony political publicity stunt.”

“I agree Ted.”  Andalib told him, “All this phony outrage is just an excuse to intimidate people.”

Ted went on, “I also don’t believe that God has any objections.  After all, the Bible does state that there are twelve ‘Pearly Gates’ to the Heavenly City.  Each one of those Gates is made from a single pearl that is almost 200 feet high.”

Xavier said, “I feel sorry for the oysters that produced those pearls.  I’m sure those ones didn’t just tickle.”

Ted and Andalib chuckled.

She said, “Imagine getting our grubby little hands on one of them, X. We’d be set for life!”

Both Andalib and Xavier laughed while Ted looked at Andalib, not knowing what to say.

“I’m kidding, Ted.” Andalib said and sighed. “You know, you really have to learn to loosen up just a little bit.”

Now Xavier asked, “Do you see that?”

He pointed off across the marsh grass to where the channel was hidden from their sight.  Three towering, dark sailing masts moved above the surrounding reeds and grasses, toward where the channel opened out just south of the pearl farm.  The vessel’s sails had not been unfurled.

Ted said, “It’s the Venus on the Half Shell.  I hope they’re leaving town.  I’ve had enough of them all, and so has everyone else here.”

Xavier said, “If they’re leaving with Quin aboard that means he’s jumping bail.”

“Quin’s not that dumb. No, they’re not leaving.”  Andalib said, “If they were leaving town, they wouldn’t be coming here to the pearl farm.  It looks like Clarissa Kellington herself is gonna be directly taking part in all the demonstrations after this.  After what she was saying last night, I think she’s decided to keep a close eye on all her people; just to make sure they do exactly what she tells them.”

Now the BNN News’ motorboat came out from behind the marsh grasses and headed toward the facility.

Ted said, “If Carlton Grabel wants another interview, I told him he can forget it.”

She told him, “He doesn’t want to talk to you, Ted. He’ll want to talk to Clarissa again. Hearing that woman speak makes me want to shatter my ear drums – just to be rid of that voice.”

The motorboat turned again and moved along outside the south side’s outer fencing, where it came to a complete stop.

Now the entire, enormous dark bulk of the Venus on the Half Shell emerged from behind the marsh grass and came into plain view.

Ted said, “Whoever’s at the helm had better not come too close to the fencing or they’ll run aground.  The water under this entire facility is just too shallow for a vessel that size.” 

The yacht majestically glided along, at a safe distance from the fencing, until it was about halfway between the east and west sides of the oyster farm.  Then the vessel came to a stop, with its motor still running.

Ted had a pouch clipped on his belt containing a pair of binoculars.  He took them out and gazed through the lenses at the people aboard the yacht.  Most of them stood upon the open rear deck where a large pile of signs lay stacked.

He said, “I see the same people who were in the Amberjack last night.”

Andalib asked, “What about Quin?”

“I’m not sure.  Parker Harrison is at the helm.”

Xavier reached over.  “Can I take a look?”

Ted handed him the binoculars.

“I don’t see Quin.”  Xavier told him, “But speak of the Devil…Woman!  It’s Clarissa Kellington herself!  She’s pointing and yelling orders, like a drill sergeant.”

“I’ll bet.” Andalib said softly as she glared toward the yacht.

Now there was movement aboard the Venus on the Half Shell.  People picked up their signs.  They spread out along the entire side of the yacht facing the facility and resumed chanting.

“The shellfish are screaming!…”

“Murderers!  Nazis!  Stop torturing the oysters!…”

Ted asked, “Don’t these people have any imagination? You’d think they’d get bored, endlessly repeating the same things over and over again.”

The voice of Clarissa Kellington now blared out from a loudspeaker aboard the yacht.

“Don’t worry oysters!  We’re coming to save you!”

The demonstrators now picked up these words as a new chant.

“Don’t worry oysters!  We’re coming to save you!  Don’t worry oysters!  We’re coming to save you!  Don’t worry oysters!  We’re coming to save you!…”

Andalib said, “Well that’s something new at least.”

The TV star’s voice again blared out.  “Two species, united, will never be defeated!”

The chant now changed to, “Two species!   United!  Will never be defeated! Two species! United! Will never be defeated!  Two species!   United!   Will never be defeated!…”

Ted said, “Now that chant is a variation of something very old.  A secular ritual chant they use, in which they hope to drive away what they consider secular evil spirits. It’s mostly to convince themselves that they are invincible.”

Xavier asked, “You mean against us?”

Ted nodded.  “They call it ‘courageously defying the powerful’.”

Xavier laughed.  “’Powerful’?  You?”

“Actually, that describes what we’re doing to them.”

Andalib looked at Ted, with her hand on her hip. “So what do we, as repentant Christians do, to drive away the evil spirits that are jeering at us now?”

He said, “I’ll pray.  In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I ask God the Father Almighty, to send forth the Holy Spirit, and cast out the Devil, so that no one, inside or outside of this facility, will be harmed.  In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.”

Andalib asked, “Do you think that’ll be enough?”

“We’ll have better luck with stones and grenades.” Xavier declared.

Now another speedboat came out along the channel, from behind the marsh grass, and sped toward the facility.  This one did not join the Network News’ motorboat, or the massive yacht.  Instead, it headed north, outside the eastern fencing, where the depth was too shallow for any larger craft.

Xavier used Ted’s binoculars again, to look at the speeding boat as it approached the maintenance shed.

“It’s Eric Mann,” he said, “and – what the –? Quin is with him!”

Andalib said, “Told you he’s not that dumb.”

She, Ted and Xavier all dropped their lines with the oysters, stood up and moved quickly along the catwalks toward the shed, where Eric Mann brought his speedboat to a stop just outside the narrow sliding gate.  When they reached the shed, the alligator trapper called out to them.

“I’ve called the Harbor Patrol!  All of you’d better get yourselves out of there now!  According to Quin here, this pearl farm of yours is about to be invaded and destroyed!”

Ted called back, “Invaded and destroyed?”

Across the southern fencing, the chanting aboard the Venus on the Half Shell ceased.  The BNN Network News’ motorboat began to move.  It headed west along the entire length of the pearl farm’s south fencing.  Then it turned north, moving along outside the west fencing, until it came near the northwest corner, where it halted.

Xavier said, “That’s just outside the main gate, where we brought the Nightingale in during the raid.”

Now the Venus on the Half Shell began moving again, also heading west, at a safe distance away from the south fence.  The yacht then turned north, moving at a far distance away from the facility.

Andalib called out to Eric.  “It looks like Quin was wrong again!  They’re leaving town!”

Xavier shook his head.  “I don’t think so Andi.”

From aboard the yacht, Clarissa Kellington’s voice again sounded over the amplifier.

“This facility must be collapsed!  We will collapse this facility today!” 

As they watched, the gigantic dark bulk of the TV star’s yacht now turned facing east, and continued turning, until its bow was pointed straight at the main gate of the MacKenzie’s facility.  The BNN Network News’ motorboat backed up a good distance; clearing the way for the yacht.

Now the people aboard the yacht resumed chanting, with their voices amplified.

“We’ll collapse this facility today!  We’ll collapse this facility today!  We’ll collapse this facility today!…”

Inside his speedboat, Eric called out again.  “Will one of you open this gate for us?”

Ted who stood watching the oncoming giant yacht approach, now slid the narrow gate open sideways, allowing Eric to bring his boat in alongside the shack.

Xavier spoke to Quin.  “So you’ve finally decided to stop ‘going along’ with whatever these ‘enlightened’ members of the Social Justice Movement order you to do, huh?”

Quin told him, “I’m not gonna be forfeiting my bail.  What they want isn’t worth it, and Clarissa Kellington isn’t worth it.  Last night the woman called me a piece of crap; but Andalib here said that she’d pray for me.”

“I bet there’s more to it than that.” Andalib said as she looked at Quin, a silent understanding passing between the two of them.

“Well – yeah.”

“God works in mysterious ways, doesn’t He?” Andalib smiled.

Now Eric Mann shouted, “All of you get in the boat!  Now!  I’ll bring you someplace safe!”

Andalib asked, “’Someplace safe?  They’re about to destroy everything Ted has!”

Ted told her, “It’s okay Andalib.  The entire facility is totally insured, and Eric’s called the Harbor Patrol.”

“No Ted!”  She told him, “It isn’t okay!  You can’t let them defeat you!  They’ll be defeating Xavier and me too.  You’re the only one in this Town who’s been willing to hire me and Xavier.  If you let them destroy this facility you’ll be able to rebuild, but what’ll happen to the two of us?”

The yacht was now much closer to the main gate and gaining speed.

Ted called out. “There’s no time to leave!  Everybody get inside the shack now!”

He, Andalib and Xavier rushed inside the shack.  Eric and Quin jumped up out of the speedboat, following them into the shack.  Ted shut the door.

Now Andalib prayed aloud, quoting the lyrics that she hadn’t sung on Sunday.

“Eternal Father strong to save,

Who’s hand has stilled the

restless wave.

Who bids the mighty ocean deep,

Its own appointed limits keep.

Hear us now as we cry to thee,

For those in peril on the sea!”

Now the massive bow of the Venus on the Half Shell rammed into the chain-link fence gate, with a loud, grinding roar, sending it flying open.  Adjoining catwalk planks also went flying.  The entire fencing and all the catwalks, throughout the entire facility, shook slightly but remained standing.

The maintenance shack also shook slightly.  Inside the shack some items on the shelves trembled, but the structure remained standing.  No one was hurt.

“It’s okay.”  Ted told them, “All the pylons and fence posts are anchored in concrete.”

Now through the window, they saw the yacht continue to move forward into the oyster farm.  Then the vessel jerked to a sudden stop.

“They’re stranded.”  Ted told them. “It’s like I said.  The water’s just too shallow for a vessel that size.”

Eric Mann reached into the pouch on his belt, and took out his own binoculars.  He went over, opened the door and peered through them at the vessel.

Eric said, “They don’t care about that.  People are coming down from the yacht and spreading out along the catwalks.”

Ted said, “Can I see?”

Eric handed him the binoculars.  Ted looked at the activity around the grounded yacht.

“They’re carrying serrated knives!  They’re sawing through the lines with the oysters attached!”

Now Andalib grabbed the binoculars and took a look for herself.

She asked, “What are you gonna do Ted?”

“We’ll have to wait for the Harbor Patrol.”

“What?” Andalib glared at him, “You know Ted, sometimes I think you’re too soft. Those people are out there destroying your property – ruining your family’s life long work, and mine and Xavier’s jobs; and all you can say about is ‘We’ll have to wait for the Harbor Patrol’!”

“What else can we do?”

Quin sneered, “Any Biblical quotations about how to handle this, Mr. MacKenzie?  Offering to buy them dinner ain’t gonna work this time. Not with Clarissa out there.”

“Wait!”   Andalib distract them, “All we have to do is distract them.  We should do something that will take their attention away from cutting the ropes, until the Harbor Patrol arrives.”

Ted asked, “Like what?”

“Well.”  She smiled, “One thing that each of you guys will admit, is that I can be very distracting.  And the biblical quotation hasn’t changed.  It’s still ‘A soft answer turns away wrath.’”

Andalib reached up on a shelf, grabbing a bullhorn.

Then she said, “Well, maybe not all that soft.”

Now she ran out the door and headed quickly along the catwalks in the direction of the stranded yacht and its disembarked, knife wielding passengers.

Everyone in the shack stood watching her run. 

26 Those Who Would Save Us / Part 2

26
Those Who Would Save Us / Part 2
 

Andalib hurried along the catwalks, in the direction of the stranded yacht, while singing.

"I have decided to follow Jesus!
I have decided to follow Jesus!
I have decided to follow Jesus!
No turning back!
No turning back!"

Back inside the shack, Xavier shouted, "Well don't just stand there! Go after her!"

Then he, Ted, Eric Mann and Quin also rushed out of the shack, following Andalib at a considerable distance along the catwalks, while she continued singing.

 
"The World behind me, the Cross before me!
The World behind me, the Cross before me!
The World behind me, the Cross before me!
No turning back!
No turning back!"


Within two minutes she'd come within ten yards of a person kneeling down, while sawing a serrated knife through a chord on which oysters were tied. This person was Clarissa Kellington. The actress looked up at her.

Andalib felt the planking beneath her feet sink down slightly. All the catwalks in this section had been weakened when the yacht smashed through the gate. She halted. Then she took a few steps back, to where the planking was firm, about thirty feet from Clarissa.

Now a guy seated on a nearby catwalk called out. "It's the pearl thief woman!"

Andalib looked around, at what was going on in this section of the facility. Most of the people who'd come on the yacht, were now spread out along the adjacent catwalks. They had halted the work of 'liberating' the oysters with sawing blades, and now sat where they were, watching Andalib and Clarissa.

I was right. She smiled. I've got them totally distracted. They've stopped cutting the lines.

Andalib also thought, I'd better stand still, and not get any closer to the knife wielding Clarissa Kellington. If I move closer, the weakened planking might give way beneath me, or she, or one or more of her demonstrators might also throw his or her knife at me, or both.

On the catwalk to Andalib's right, Carlton Grabel was speaking into his microphone, his excited voice carrying to where Andalib stood.

"The actions of Clarissa Kellington and her band of volunteers, as they crashed through the twenty foot fence, risking injury to themselves and sacrificing their yacht to help the oysters, is nothing short of heroic!"

His cameraman then panned to his left and saw Andalib and Clarissa staring at each other. Hastily, the soundman aimed his amplified microphone, hoping to catch the two women's words.

Andalib thought, I have to keep holding the demonstrators' attention, until the Harbor Patrol arrives.

She resumed singing.

 

"Though none go with me, I still will follow!
Though none go with me, I still will follow!
Though none go with me, I still will follow!
No turning back!
No turning back!"


Clarissa called out to Andalib, "What do you think? You can stop us with a bullhorn?"

Andalib put the bullhorn in front of her mouth; smiling she pointed it at the stranded yacht and spoke calmly.

"Jesus loves you!" She announced to W. Parker Harrison who stood at the helm, and seemed to be the only person still aboard the vessel. "He died for your sins! So repent you sinner!"

Everyone seated or standing on the surrounding catwalks remained still, staring at her.

Clarissa said, "What are you doing?"

"'I have drawn near to God," Andalib expressed her faith, quoting the Bible through the bullhorn. "and He draws near to me! I resist the Devil and he flees from me! I've put on the full armor of God, and taken up the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God'."

"The 'Word of God'?" Clarissa asked, "You mean the Bible?"

"It is our Manufacturers handbook, containing all information necessary for the proper use, maintenance and repair of these lives He's given us! You've probably heard the saying, 'When all else fails, read the instructions'!"

She pointed the bullhorn at the halted demonstrators and sang again.

 

"Will you decide now, to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now, to follow Jesus?
Will you decide now, to follow Jesus?
No turning back?
No turning back?"

 

The voice of W. Parker Harrison now boomed out from the yacht's loudspeaker. "Don't listen to this woman! Get back to work!"

Andalib pointed the bullhorn at the TV News Crew on the opposite catwalk and again spoke calmly. "Jesus loves you! He died for your sins! So repent you sinners!"

Carlton Grabel, his cameraman and soundman, along with everyone on the catwalks remained halted, staring at her.

The yacht's loudspeaker again boomed out, "I told all of you to get back to work!"

Clarissa laughed. "If God does exist, what has He ever done for you, huh? When your mother left, did He answer your prayers? When your father introduced you to a life of crime and raped you, did He help you?"

Now Andalib pointed the bullhorn at the actress, 30 feet away from her. "I was going to say 'Jesus loves you Clarissa Kellington! But if I did that, I'd just be tossing pearls to a pig!"

Now Clarissa rose up from her crouching position, raised the knife she was holding, and screamed in outrage.

"Don't talk to me about that! I don't want to hear another word!"

She began to move in Andalib's direction. After she'd taken two steps the weakened planking under her feet tilted sideways, and she tumbled off the catwalk, hitting the water with a loud, erupting splash.

Some of the halted demonstrators on the catwalks began to laugh.

Clarissa swam to the surface, still looking outraged.

"What are you laughing at?" She screamed at her own people. "You pieces of sh--! If you've you forgotten what we're here for, I won't be forgetting any of you!"

The demonstrators had stopped laughing. Now a woman among them pointed toward the water, at a spot a few feet away from Clarissa.

"Watch out!" She screamed. "The alligator!"

Clarissa looked where she was pointing. The alligator's head and lines of scales along its back were moving rapidly in her direction.

Now Clarissa screamed in horror, flailing her arms as she desperately tried to reach the catwalk and pull herself up.

"Stop splashing!" Xavier yelled as he ran to Andalib's side.

The demonstrators were now frozen in horror at the sight.

The creature kept swimming toward Clarissa before making an abrupt turn and chomping its deadly jaws into the TV star's shapely figure. The woman screamed; a blood curdling scream of agony as the gator's jaws locked around its prey before it began whirling around, sending her arms and legs flailing, while its enormous tail whipped around in all directions. Then, the creature was gone from sight -- along with any sign of Clarissa Kellington.

"Death roll." Xavier said softly as he put his arm around Andalib's shoulders. To his astonishment, she wasn't shaking and didn't even flinch as the water turned red where Clarissa had been a little while ago.

"Andi?" He said softly and looked down at her.

Ted, Eric and Quin had come up along the catwalk and now stood beside Andalib, all looking at the grizzly sight of the red water. "Andalib, are you ok?" Ted asked softly.

"She's in shock." Xavier said as he continued to stare at Andalib's face, seeing her stony expression but reading something else entirely in her eyes.

"It's okay Andi." He told her, hugging her to him, "It's okay."

"No it isn't." she told them, as she turned to stare down into the water. "The alligator ate her."

She looked at Ted. "I told her that Jesus loves her, and she went into a screaming rage; like she really was a devil woman!"

"Well -- " Eric began. He stopped, when in the distance they heard the sound of a police siren. "It's the Harbor Patrol. Now they come."

The voice of W. Parker Harrison again boomed out from the yacht's loudspeaker. "Listen carefully. This is what you're going to tell the police! Tell them that Miss Andalib Elkart, a woman with a long criminal record, grabbed my wife and shoved her into water, where she knew the alligator was lurking. I'm accusing Miss Andalib Elkart with the premeditated murder of my wife!"

"What?" Andalib said, "'Murder'? I was standing here. She was standing over there, 30 feet away from me. It was an accident! She fell into the water!"

She pointed across the water to the catwalk, where Carlton Grabel, his cameraman and soundman continued recording the incident.

Andalib went on. "It's been seen live, by millions of people, and it's all going on videotape. So, say what you want, Mr. Harrison, this time I'm innocent!"

W. Parker Harrison's voice boomed again. "Remember! Miss Andalib Elkart murdered my wife!"

Now Quin said, "Oh forget it!"

He grabbed the bullhorn from Andalib, raised it in front of his mouth, aiming it at the demonstrators, who were now looking uneasily at the Harbor Patrol boat that had just emerged from the channel, and was now approaching the MacKenzie's oyster and pearl farm.

Quin's voice blared through the bullhorn. "Forget it everyone! It's over! The publicity stunt is ended! For your own good, don't go committing perjury! It's time for all of you to get yourselves good lawyers; and I mean good ones, who're not gonna plead you guilty, to earn brownie points with the Social Justice Movement! That's what this guy Harrison, who's been running the show, would be doing to you, just like he was doing to me!"

He now lowered the bullhorn and handed it to Ted.

Ted now asked, "How are you doing Andalib?"

"I don't know." She said as she faced him, trembling. "Tell me Ted. Is this a judgment of God? Is this a victory for the Lord?"

"If it is, it's not one I'd want to celebrate."

He looked at her, Xavier, Quin and Eric Mann.

Now he told Andalib, "When it comes to the judgment of God, and other difficult questions like that, I think we should ask Pastor Randolph."

Now the Harbor Patrol boat had come up and stopped alongside the Venus on the Half Shell. Ted recognized the voice of Sergeant Frank Torrance, booming out from the loudspeaker on the Patrol Boat.

"Attention everyone aboard the "Venus on the Half Shell". You are about to be boarded and everyone on board is hereby ordered to surrender!"

Behind the yacht's helm, W. Parker Harrison now raised his hands.

Sergeant Torrance's voice boomed again, "Good morning Mr. MacKenzie! Are there any unauthorized persons inside your facility now?"

Ted lifted the bullhorn to his mouth and replied. "Everyone who is not standing here beside me is trespassing! These four people, have either been hired by me, or are here at my invitation! All the others are trespassing!"

"Everyone inside the fencing of the MacKenzie's property, without his authorization, is also ordered to surrender!"

The demonstrators standing on the catwalks all now tossed their serrated knives into the water, and then raised their hands.

"Oh Lord," Ted prayed, "have mercy on all us sinners who are here in Shellfish Shoals. Amen."

Chapter 27 / Saint Andalib? (new)

27 
Saint Andalib?


Around six o'clock that evening, Ted, Andalib, Xavier and Eric Mann, were again seated at a table inside the Amberjack, along with Quin.

"Eric." Ted spoke to the animal trapper, "I spoke to my father, and he's agreed. Now that the gator's finally been located and penned in, we'd like to have it sent back to where it came from. From now on, the MacKenzie Oyster and Pearl Farm will go back to hiring watchmen for security. No more gators."

Eric told him, "And I'm sure all your neighbors will be grateful. The Lord might be too. "

Andalib said, "This whole thing is crazy. What Clarissa Kellington was doing was wrong. She might have received a considerable amount of jail time, but she didn't deserve to get eaten."

Ted told them, "Neither did Doris Sheldon."

Xavier asked, "Does that mean that you're not sure if it was the Judgment of God?"

Now Loretta came over, bringing them their menus.

She told them, "I just want to thank all of you, for everything you've done for us. The Lord has blessed us by bringing you here now, when help was truly needed. You have fought the good fight."

She stepped away from the table.

Xavier asked Ted, "We've 'fought the good fight'? I know Andalib did, but all the rest of us did was stand around and watch as those morons cut the ropes with the oysters. How were we fighting the good fight?"

Andalib wondered. "Are we an Army of the Lord? Look at us; a group of 'shady' characters, along the very timid guy who hired us, an Army of the Lord?"

"Only you Andalib." Xavier told her, "Only you."

"I want to thank all of you." Ted spoke, "I am truly grateful for all the help you've given me when I needed it; especially you Andalib. Whatever anyone else says about you, everyone here in Shellfish Shoals will always call you blessed."

She told him, "You're very welcome Ted."

Now Eric asked, "Folks around here 'will always call her blessed'? What has she suddenly become, 'Saint Andalib'? Truthfully, that's asking a bit much."

"For once," she told them all, "I agree with Eric Mann."

Now Eric told her, "Thank you Miss Elkart."

Ted spoke. "And I pray to the Lord that none of us will ever need this kind of help again."

Eric told him, "And all the people will say 'Amen', Ted."

Ted, Andalib, Xavier and Quin all said, "Amen."

Then Andalib added, "But you can't say that it wasn't fun." 

 

END OF STORY

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

Tribute to my Co-Author


As I said in the Dedication, my co-author Andalib Marx was unfortunately killed in a traffic accident, during the first weekend in October, 2011.

About a month earlier, she posted an article in her own blog, which she titled "I Would Do Anything for Love".

Here is a copy of my reply, which is my tribute to Andalib:

{/size}

======================
You'd do anything for love? Well how about this?
======================
The orchestra begins and he sings to Andalib.

"You'd be so easy to love
So easy to idolize all others above
So worth the yearning for
So swell to keep all the home fires burning for.

"We'd be so grand at the game
So carefree together that it does seem a shame
That you can't see your future with me
'Cause you'd be oh so easy to love."
(Written by Cole Porter, 1936)


Now the orchestra plays the rich elegant arrangement; while he and Andalib dance across the floor, with graceful elegance.

Applause! Applause! Applause!

===================
Andalib's Reply:

That's so sweet MrB!!!
==================

You've just read my tribute to her; our wonderful friend who we have lost.
Here's looking at you Andalib Marx. We'll always have Shellfish Shoals.

 
William D'Andrea 
(Yesmrbill)