Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl 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, pleasant gal 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!"
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."