Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
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."
The officer stood up and headed for the door.
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, is 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 shithole 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. "Why haven't you said anything to the cops?"
"What makes you think I haven't?"
"I'm not sitting in the jail cell at this very minute, looking at fifty years to life, that's how I know."
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 know who I am and what 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 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 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 whose heart is true."
Andalib laughed. "Really now? That's news to me."
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.