Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
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.
"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."
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."
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."
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?"
"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."
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."