Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
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 Nightingale's 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 open oyster shells.
"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."
"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."
"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; which was 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 T
And what of Ted now? 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!
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'."