Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
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, 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.”
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.