Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
As noontime approached, Andalib's, Xavier's and Quin's feet clopped along the floating dock of the Shellfish Shoals Main Channel, under a warm sun and partly cloudy sky. They moved along passing the local hardware store, pharmacy, convenience store, combined pearl exchange and bank, along with the boating supply store, where they halted and looked through the window.
Andalib was still dressed in the shorts, halter and sneakers she'd had on earlier. The other two also remained casually dressed. She had calmed down considerably, but was still fuming.
"I had a plan." she told them, "It would have kept us from having to sail away from here, totally empty handed. You see, there's something I found out yesterday. The MacKenzie's facility isn't the only place in town that produces cultured pearls. As a matter of fact, every family in Shellfish Shoals has a pearl garden of their own. They raise them under the water where their houseboats are moored."
Xavier asked, "A private pearl garden?"
"That's right," Andalib smiled, "in the middle of residential neighborhoods, where kids play in the water, and no alligators would be allowed."
Quin said, "But if we tried to sneak into anyone's private pearl garden late at night, the people who live there would hear the splashing right outside their windows. They'd look to see what's going on, and then they'd call the police."
"Not if we stay under the water, and use scuba gear, or at least snorkels." Now she spoke with resentment. "But all our underwater gear is aboard the Nightingale, and that's been impounded."
"You're forgetting something," Quin said, "There's still the matter of the MacKenzie's gator that's AWOL."
"What do you think Mann is doing here?" Andalib asked irritably. "We should have the thing trapped pretty soon."
"We?" Quin asked as they continued on their way along the dock, until they came to the Amberjack Restaurant.
"Yeah, I'm -- sorta helping Mann catch the gator."
"Why would you do that?" Xavier exclaimed.
"Community service." Andalib shrugged, not wanting to tell them about the payment she would receive.
"What aren't you telling us, Andalib?" Xavier frowned and held onto Andalib's arm. "I know you. You wouldn't simply help Eric Mann if you weren't getting anything out of the deal."
"What I'm getting," Andalib hissed as she pulled her arm free of Xavier's grip, "Is less time on my sentence should it come to that." For a few seconds they glared at each other then Andalib smiled and said, "Should we go in or what?"
They then stepped inside the facility, where the tables were beginning to fill up with the casually dressed lunchtime crowd. Andalib recognized many of them, who had attended Church the day before. A few of the younger Church women were now dressed in bikini tops. Some of them recognized her, smiled and waved. She waved back.
A few men were seated at the bar. Ted was among them, sitting on a stool beside Eric Mann. Eric Mann noticed the three, standing just inside the entrance. He tapped Ted who looked over, and waved at Andalib. She smiled and waved back at him.
Now Quin said, "Over there."
He pointed toward a booth along the wall on the left where two people were seated. One was W. Parker Harrison, now casually dressed in an expensive looking yacht-club outfit. He sat beside a shapely, brunette woman in a bikini top, jeggings and high heels, a large pair of dark glasses that hid half her face were perched on the end of her button nose. The two of them held pink cocktails in their hands.
"Not very practical shoes for living on the water, huh?" Xavier whispered to Andalib who couldn't help but smile at him.
The look Andalib gave Xavier wasn't missed by Ted as he watched Andalib's every move from the far side of the bar. Eric saw it too and said, "You gotta be careful of her, Ted. There's no-one in this room; in this whole town even who can con you faster and harder than Andalib."
"I trust her." Ted said and looked at Eric. "She saved my life."
"I know. The question you have to be asking yourself is 'Why?' I guarantee you it wasn't out of guilt or concern for you." Eric watched as Andalib walked between Xavier and Quin toward the table with the lawyer and movie star. "I guarantee you." He said again, more to himself than to Ted.
The three bailed out defendants in the pearl farm robbery case, went over to the booth where they stood looking at Mr. Harrison and his female companion. The woman turned to them, pulled off her glasses and frowned for a moment. They all recognized her face, as did everyone in the Amberjack.
People began murmuring, and softly repeating the name, "Clarissa Kellington."
The attorney in the booth faced the people at who the TV star was frowning, and forced a smile.
"Welcome Mr. Quin." He said. "Xavier. I assume you're Miss Elkart?"
"That's right." Andalib told him. "I've seen you on TV Mr. Harrison."
Mr. Harrison spoke with a pretend cheerfulness. "Hello everyone. I'm sure you all recognize my wife."
The three were all somewhat flustered, being in the presence of an actual TV star.
Andalib spoke uneasily. "Hello Ms. Kellington. I just love your show."
The woman spoke coldly. "Thank you."
Ms. Kellington's husband waved his hand toward the empty seat, across the table from him and his wife.
"You're welcome to join us for lunch. Please be seated."
Andalib, Xavier and Quin seated themselves, sliding into the booth.
Clarissa Kellington was beautiful. No denying it. Not with long, bouncy hair, an hourglass figure and confidence that radiated out of every pore in her body. What made her truly beautiful, to Andalib and Xavier at least, were the jewels she was wearing.
The mother-of-pearl necklace around her throat had a dime size centerpiece surrounded by flecks of rubies the size of matchstick heads while the accompanying bracelets on her left wrist had similar centerpieces but were slightly smaller. On her left ring finger was a knocker of a ring, a diamond surrounded by rubies and sapphires in a white gold setting. Andalib's eyes were drawn to the ring, her mind already calculating its value on the black market but she quickly looked away when she noticed Mr. Harrison watching her.
Xavier, on the other hand, continued to stare. Clarissa smiled slightly as she slowly reached up and fingered the necklace, taking care to show off her matching earrings as well. "Aren't they gorgeous?" She whispered huskily and then leaned forward to loudly say, "Stop staring at them, you thieving buffoon and close your mouth, your practically drooling."
Andalib elbowed Xavier in the ribs and glared at him as he quickly sat back and turned his attention to Mr. Harrison. Loretta the waitress came over holding five menus, which she distributed to all of them.
She spoke to Andalib. "I want to thank you for what did for Ted MacKenzie, Miss Elkart."
Now the TV star spoke, loudly enough for everyone in the restaurant to hear. "Quiet girl! You're here to serve us, not make conversation with us!"
A startled Loretta stormed away from the table. Many of the patrons, including Ted and Eric Mann, looked equally annoyed.
Now Andalib spoke. "Mr. Harrison. Quin tells me..."
"Not now." He told them all. "We'll speak after we've eaten."
"With all due respect, Mr. Harrison, I'd like to discuss our case now." Andalib said softly and stared at him directly.
"Well," Clarissa said, "Park said we'll discuss it later so we'll discuss it later, understood?"
Andalib opened her mouth to protest but Quin pinched her under the table and frowned at her so she reluctantly kept her mouth shut. The five all just sat there looking at the menus they'd been handed. Nobody said a word.
After about two minutes a cell phone lying on the table, to the right of Clarissa Kellington's place setting, sounded with a loud, melodious ring. She picked up the phone, switched on
"Answer" and put it to her ear.
"Clarissa speaking!" She spoke with the familiar pleasant tone she used on her top rated TV series, loud enough for her guests and the other patrons to recognize. She listened with an exasperated impatience for a few moments.
Then she spoke even more loudly, with a sharp, annoyed tone. "Yes Geoffery!" (She pronounced the name as "Gee-ov-free!") "We're here! We've taken your advice and come all the way to this sh-- forsaken place called Shellfish Shoals! This town is populated by nothing but yahoo nobodies!"
The other patrons began murmuring.
"What do you mean it's not that bad? You ought to see this place! You have? Right! Well you know that place you recommended called the Amberjack? Well that's exactly where Park and I are right now! It's a dump! Okay! I understand! We don't pay you to be a food critic! Everyone pays you to be a piece of sh--!"
Andalib, Quin and Xavier, and the woman's husband, along with all the patrons, sat there looking uncomfortably irritated.
The TV star looked across the table, as she continued to shouting. "Yeah the whole gang of felons is here! Having lunch with me and Park!"
Her husband shook his head, while their three guests sat there uncomfortably embarrassed and in Andalib and Xavier's case, annoyed, as did all the patrons and the entire staff.
The woman looked directly at Andalib and said, "Yeah! Especially Miss Elkart! I'll call you when it's over!"
The woman clicked off her cell phone, put it down and announced, "Sorry about that!" She said dismissively. "That was my agent, who's an overpaid piece of ----!"
Now Andalib asked in a much quieter tone. "What's going on?"
Mr. Harrison repeated, "We'll talk after we've eaten."
"No!" His wife said, "Let's get it over with and get rid of them!"
Now the TV star's husband spoke in a much lower voice, that couldn't be heard outside the booth. "To answer your question Miss Elkart, I've asked all of you here so we can discuss your case."
Andalib answered with her voice at the same level as his. "They both told me that you don't think there's all that much of a case against us. The only witness was unable to clearly identify anyone, who took part in the robbery. The only other possible witness they might have is me, and I'm exercising my right against self incrimination."
"That's good to know Miss Elkart."
"Now I have a question." She asked, "Why do both of you have any interest in our case? You're one of the top lawyers in the Country, and your wife's a -- " she paused, looking at Clarissa wondering how on earth she had gotten as far as she had with her rotten attitude before saying,
"A major TV star. I can't understand why you've come all the way here to take on our case. I know that here in Shellfish Shoals it's probably the crime of the century. But in comparison to everything else, it's really a very minor case."
He told her, "It isn't just this case that has our interest Miss Elkart. It's you."
Andalib, Xavier and Quin now looked puzzled.
She asked, "Me?"
Quin warned her, "Don't forget your right to be silent."
Mr. Harrison told her, "You may not realize it, but you are famous Miss Elkart."
"There was a robbery at a pearl farm in Lake Shore, a little more than a month ago. A few other pearl farms have also been hit over the past few months. In every one of them, a woman was reportedly involved. She's believed to be the leader of the gang, that's being called 'The Gator Bandits."
"She isn't me." Andalib said quickly and smoothly, no note of unease in her voice.
"Or any of us." Xavier spoke. "We had nothing to do with any of those things you're accusing us of. We weren't anywhere near any of those places, when those robberies occurred."
Andalib added, "And the only robbery we're charged with is the one that happened here, and it can't be proven in court. And with the evidence that the police don't have, I don't see why a very expensive celebrity lawyer, thinks we need his help. Any pro-bono shyster who's passed any kind of a bar exam could get us off easily."
Now Clarissa spoke. She also lowered her voice to the same level as the others. "Come on now. We're on your side here, you can trust us." Her smile was brilliant. The smile, that millions of people around the world had grown to love and adore; a smile that inspired songs.
Andalib, Xavier and Quin all glanced at one another before Xavier said, "We can't confess to anything that we had nothing to do with."
"Really?" Clarissa continued to smile, "You see, it's not whether any of you are guilty of this or any other crimes, that interests us. What interests us is you, Miss Elkart. You see, I'm not only an actress, I'm also a Producer, and Kellington Productions is interested in producing a movie, based on the exploits of the Gator Bandits Gang."
Andalib told her, "Then go talk to them."
Parker Harrison said, "That's exactly what we're doing right here and right now."
Quin said, "You're both wasting your time. None of us is giving up our right to remain silent."
Clarissa told him, "We're not asking any of you to do so for nothing. Each of you'll be very well compensated."
Quin asked, "What do you call 'very well compensated'?"
Xavier said, "Quin?"
"Let's just hear what they have to say." Quin told him and Andalib. "If all we do is listen, we'll still be remaining silent."
"That's a thin line, Quin." Andalib whispered and looked at him.
"It won't be just an ordinary crime movie." Ms. Kellington explained. "We want to produce a picture that promotes social justice."
Andalib said, "'Social Justice'?"
Xavier explained, "That means it's a 'Commie Flick'."
"Never," The woman warned him, "never use that term."
She returned her attention to Andalib. "We want to explore your background Ms. Elkart; to show the social injustice that led to your life of crime."
"What life of crime? I'm innocent."
"I see." Clarissa smirked, "I like that. All right." Clarissa explained, "I understand that legally you'll have to deny it all, but listen. We already know that you're the daughter of a troubled home, and that your mother abandoned you when you were 9. After that you were raised by your father Antony Elkart, a petty thief and compulsive gambler."
"Why should I want the whole world to know that?" Andalib asked.
Clarissa went on. "Antony Elkart, the child abuser."
Xavier said, "What?"
"Antony Elkart, the child beater, and child rapist."
Andalib was horrified. "What? Where'd you get that idea? That isn't true." She pointed to the bar. "If Eric Mann told you that it's an evil lie! If he told you that, it's the most despicable thing that Eric Mann's ever done."
"No one had to tell me that Miss Elkart." The woman shook her head sadly and sighed.
"According to the most exacting scientific surveys, all women criminals in this socially unjust society of ours, are raped by their fathers."
"That isn't true. I wasn't."
Xavier said, "Her old man ain't like that."
Clarissa asked, "Isn't he?" Clarissa looked closely at Xavier, "I bet if you had a daughter you'd rape her."
"What?!" Xavier yelled, "Just who the hell -- "
"Xavier." Quin said quietly, "Calm down."
"Did you hear what she just said?!"
"Yes but -- let's listen to what is being offered here."
Andalib asked, "What, are you nuts? My father never did that to me, and he never would. You know that, Quin."
Xavier spoke again. "Yeah she's right. Her old man would never do that."
Andalib looked at Quin, who looked away from her.
The TV star insisted, "Yes he would."
"Why are you saying this?" Andalib asked, "Because you think that in some perverted way, it'll promote your idea of "'Social Justice'?"
"Like I told you." Xavier said, "It's a 'Commie Flick'. They don't care who they hurt, as long as it helps bring about their 19th Century Utopian Fantasy World."
He looked at his other partner in crime. "You're a Commie Quin. I'm right, aren't I?"
Quin told him and Andalib, "Get with the program both of you. If you know what's good for you, you'll both go along with the script."
Andalib shouted, "Forget it! This has nothing to do with any 'Social Justice'! She's just the sleazy star of a sleazy TV show, who wants to produce a sleazy movie! Well she can do it without me!"
She slid out of the booth, stood up and stamped away from the others, closely followed by Xavier. Half way across the bar's floor, Andalib turned to face Quin, "And you," she said pointing at him, "You stay away from me or I swear, I'll feed you to the gator."
"Andalib!" Quin called out, "Xavier! Wait! Where you going?"
"To perform community service!" Andalib shouted while Xavier left the bar into the afternoon sun.
She went around a peeved looking Loretta, who was returning to the booth, to take everyone's order. "Don't bother, Loretta, they're all cannibals at that table."
Then Andalib came up to the bar, where Ted was seated between Eric Mann and a fellow in his late fifties. "Could I have a whisky, Nick. Put it on Miss Kellington's bill." She asked and watched as Nick warily looked at the table in the corner but poured the drink of amber yellow anyway.
Drinking it in one gulp, Andalib slammed the glass down and then looked at Ted.
"Hi Ted." She said in a calm but tense voice. "How have you been?"
He spoke cautiously. "Good afternoon Andalib. Better than you, I think."
Andalib chuckled. "You get weird people, Ted. Really weird people, I'll tell you that."
"Like people who willingly swim with gators?" Eric smiled.
"I'm not in the mood, Mann. Honestly I'm not so just drop it, OK?"
"Andalib, this is my father Jake." Ted interrupted and saw the anger leave Andalib's face. Ted then turned and spoke to the older man seated beside him. "Dad. This is Andalib Elkart."
Jake MacKenzie said, "How do you do Andalib. I'm honored to meet the woman who saved my son."
"Thank you sir." She said, "But, I'm not really that honorable."
"I'm still honored." Jake said.
"Glad to hear somebody speaking about honor." She sighed as she looked over at the table she had just left, hearing the unmistakable sound of Clarissa laughing. Then she spoke to Ted and Eric Mann. "I've lost my appetite. I don't want to eat any lunch today, but I think the time has come, for your watch-gator to be fed."