Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
Venus on the Half Shell
Ted MacKenzie slowly maneuvered his runabout, carefully making his way along the waterway, passing the sloops and other moderately sized vessels that were tied up beside the Marina's docks. Eric Mann was seated beside him. They were approaching the dark hulled oversized yacht with three masts.
Ted brought his vessel up to the dock, and shut off the runabout's motor, coming to a rest just behind this largest vessel in the marina. The yacht's name "Venus on the Half Shell" was displayed in large red lettering across the stern. Ted and Eric climbed up out of their boat onto the dock, where they tied the mooring line to a pylon. The two moved alongside the yacht, then halted beside its mid-section where a gangway stretched from the vessel, across the water, to the dock.
At the foot of the gangway, a small brass bell hung on a shoulder high post to the right. Eric reached over, and yanked the chord attached to the bell, ringing it twice. It sounded clearly enough to be heard by anyone aboard the vessel.
After a few brief moments, W. Parker Harrison stood on the deck, at the opposite end of the gangway, still dressed in his yacht club outfit.
He called out, "Yes Gentlemen?"
"Good afternoon Mr. Harrison. I am Eric Mann and this fellow is Ted MacKenzie."
Mr. Harrison beckoned with his hand. "Welcome aboard gentlemen."
Ted and Eric climbed up the gangway and boarded the yacht. Park Harrison led them aft to an unoccupied open deck. Here he opened a door to the inside. They followed him in and down a flight of steps, into a lavishly furnished and decorated cabin.
A man in his mid thirties sat beside a table in the center of the room also dressed in an expensive looking yacht-club outfit. He grinned at Eric Mann when he entered with Ted, and Park Harrison.
Eric spoke to him. "Well Quin. Looks like you're doing very well for yourself."
The man replied, "That's Mr. Quin to you Deputy Mann; And it's only gonna be getting better from now on."
"That still depends on what happens at the trial."
"I know." Quin told him, "So I'm gonna enjoy it while I got it."
"Which probably won't be for all that long."
Park Harrison told him, "Don't be so sure of that, Mr. Mann." He waved his hand at the table.
"Both of you please be seated."
Eric and Ted seated themselves in plushly upholstered chairs, at the large rectangular mahogany table, under a crystal chandelier that swayed slightly overhead, as the vessel rocked slightly in the water. Park Harrison sat at the head of the table.
Ted looked around himself, at abstract paintings hung on the dark wood paneled walls, at abstract sculptures set on pedestals and at expensive knickknacks resting on surrounding shelves.
One painting was different. Instead of being abstract, this one displayed the skull of an animal, with a pearl necklace dangling from between its jaws.
Eric said, "That looks like a pig's skull."
Ted laughed, "Look at where those pearls have been tossed."
Eric told him, "A very unique interpretation of Scripture."
Mr. Harrison spoke firmly. "We do not quote Scripture aboard this vessel, gentlemen."
Ted told him, "We'll here in Shellfish Shoals Mr. Harrison we do quote Scripture; and we quote it often. Such as, 'Blessed is the man who does not sit in the seat of the scornful'."
Quin said, "Welcome to the world of the buoyantly benighted, Mr. Harrison."
The lawyer said, "Pardon me Mr. MacKenzie. Don't get me wrong. I've tried to keep an open mind about it. I've tried listening to Evangelical Christian Preachers occasionally, but after about five minutes, as would happen to any well educated man, my mind just goes blank."
Eric Mann asked him. "In just what way does telling us that prove that are you well educated Mr. Harrison?"
"I'm a Harvard Law School Graduate, Mr. Mann!"
Quin laughed. "'The masses are asses, Mr. Harrison."
Eric Mann answered, "Says the man who forgot to fill up the tank on the getaway sloop."
Park Harrison spoke to Eric. "Mr. Quin here just called you 'Deputy Mann'. Isn't it true that you aren't a real deputy, but that you are a bounty hunter, hired by Mr. MacKenzie here?"
"Yes that's true."
The lawyer asked, "Isn't it true, that when you apprehended Mr. Quin here, aboard the sloop 'Nightingale', you offered to release him, along with the other fellow on board? That would have been in exchange, for a considerable amount of the pearls that were taken in the robbery of Mr. MacKenzie's oyster farm?"
Eric said, "That's not true."
Ted turned toward him. "Eric?"
The lawyer continued, "I understand, Mr. Mann, that you are known for operating on both sides of the law."
Ted added, "Both sides?"
Eric looked away from him. "I have the right to remain silent myself, Mr. MacKenzie."
Ted asked, "Just what's going on here anyway?"
"What's going on?" Eric now looked at him. "As far as it concerns you Ted, I'm performing the lawful job of alligator trapper, which is what I was hired for. In accordance with that, I have verified that the alligator is now safely back inside the fencing around your facility. After this, I will stay on to check out all the fencing both inside and around your facility. I will then see to it that all necessary repairs and improvements are made, to prevent the creature from breaking out, or any thieves from breaking in, every again."
Ted told him, "Thank you Eric.
"Mr. MacKenzie." Park Harrison waved his hand at Quin. "Have you ever seen this man before?"
"Yes sir." Ted told him, "I saw him sitting with you at lunchtime today, inside the Amberjack Restaurant, along with Andalib Elkart, and your wife, the actress Clarissa Kellington, and another man."
"I see. Can you identify either Mr. Quin here, or that other man who was seated with us, as being among the perpetrators, who raided your family's pearl farm the other night?"
Ted shook his head. "No sir. I couldn't get a clear enough look, to be able to identify any of them."
"Good." The lawyer said, "That's all I need to know."
Now Ted asked, "I have a question of my own Mr. Harrison. I've already told the exact same things to the Police. You can read the report for yourself. Why have you asked me to come here and repeat myself?"
The man told him. "Those aren't the only questions we need to have you answer Mr. MacKenzie. My wife also has a few questions she'd like to ask you."
"Your wife?" He exchanged a puzzled look with Eric. "What could I possibly have to say about the case that would be of any interest to Clarissa Kellington? If it's anything about pearls..."
Park Harrison told him, "She's the one with the questions Mr. MacKenzie."
The host looked over his shoulder, at an open doorway besides the painting of the bejeweled pig, and called out.
"You can come in now Clarissa!"
Ted and Eric again exchanged puzzled looks.
Clarissa Kellington stood in the doorway, dressed in an outfit that startled them all. She wore ankle length designer slacks, designer shoes, and nothing above her designer belt, except for a pearl necklace, pearl earrings, and a mother-of-pearl bracelet on her left wrist.
Ted wondered, "Exactly where have those pearls been tossed?"
After a few moments Eric asked softly, "'Venus of the Half Shell'?"
The woman laughed loud. "Hah! You've got that's right Mister!"
She entered the room and walked over to the table, while running her fingers along the string of pearls. Ted turned his eyes away from her.
She asked him, "What's the matter with you fellah? You're an adult! You've seen a woman's naked boobs before, haven't you? I bet you've played with them plenty. If you've seen any of my movies, you've seen mine before! Now you're getting to see them without having to pay admission!"
He spoke with hesitation. "I was always taught that it was impolite to stare."
"Hah!" She said, "You're really old fashioned aren't you?"
Ted shrugged. "I suppose so. Keeps me out of trouble."
Clarissa smiled, "I bet that Andalib Elkhart will get you into a world of trouble if she ever showed her boobs to you!"
Ted flushed a deep red but said nothing.
Seeing Ted's reaction, Clarissa laughed heartily. "You've already seen them!" She laughed and looked over at Quin, who was staring at Ted with an angry scowl on his face. "That's so precious!" She laughed and then shook her head. "I wonder, what happened, Mr. MacKenzie? Is she -- too much of a woman for you to handle?
Ted remained quiet, as did everyone else around the table. Finally, Clarissa stopped laughing and took a deep breath, "Now," the actress said, "if you want to keep out of trouble with me, and you don't want to look, then you'd better listen carefully."
"Trouble with you?" He continued looking away from her naked breasts. "Why should I care at all about what you have to say?"
"Why should you care? I'm Clarissa Kellington!"
"You're in the real world Mrs. Harrison." He told her, "To us, the 'buoyantly benighted', you're just an image on our TV screens, that we can switch off at any time, when anything happens that's more important to us than you. Like somebody's outboard motor needs to be fixed."
She continued stroking the necklace. "You're about to find out, just how important I am Mr. MacKenzie. I understand that you're the owner of the local pearl farm."
"My father's the owner. I'm the manager. If you'd like to purchase any..."
The woman laughed, "Purchase any pearls? From a nobody like you? If I wanted to buy pearls I'd have stayed home, and have someone on my staff order them from some catalogue. I wouldn't have come all the way to this floating Hooterville, full of backwater nobodies, to buy any amount of pearls."
Ted spoke sharply. "Then why do you want to talk to me?"
"It's not about your pearls! It's about my book!"
Eric asked, "You've wrote a book?"
Quin added, "She's not an airhead Mr. Mann. She just plays one on TV."
"That's right." The woman told Eric, "A book that Mr. MacKenzie here won't allow to be sold to anyone living here in Shellfish Shoals; or at least any one of them who can read."
Ted looked puzzled. "'Won't allow to be sold'?"
"It's titled 'The Shellfish are Screaming'."
Eric asked, "Just like the author?"
"No!" She told him, "Even louder!"
Ted laughed, "I've never heard a peep out of any of them."
"That doesn't mean they're not being tortured."
She moved all the way to the opposite end of the table, where she seated herself facing her husband.
"The reason I'm dressed this way gentlemen," she told them, "is that I am a Pagan Priestess, who leads other members of our faith in the worship of the gods and goddesses of nature. I commune with the ancient gods, who have revealed much about the natural world to me.
"What they have revealed to me, is that the creatures who you have imprisoned in your oyster farm, along with those imprisoned in every other facility throughout the world, that forces them to produce cultured pearls, are being tortured."
Ted and Eric both looked puzzled.
Ted couldn't help laughing. "Tortured?"
"Whenever you introduce an irritant into one of those unfortunate creatures, causing him or her to produce a substance that forms into a pearl, you are engaging in an act of torture."
Eric exclaimed, "You can't be serious!"
Now Park Harrison spoke. "Yes she is gentlemen, and so am I."
"My book," Clarissa went on, "'The Shellfish Are Screaming' details it all. I've been on a book signing tour, and I was scheduled to be signing copies of the book here today, in your local bookstore. But not one shipment with a single copy of my book has arrived at the bookstore. They haven't received any promotional material either. Now the manager of the bookstore claims that he wasn't even informed that I was coming to sign copies."
"I'm sorry to hear that," Ted asked her, "but what does any of that have to do with me?"
Her husband spoke. "Mr. MacKenzie, have you done anything to persuade the owner of the local bookstore, one Victor Taylor, to keep 'The Shellfish Are Screaming' from being sold in his shop?"
"No. I haven't heard anything about the book until now. Even if I had, why would I do that? Vic Taylor sells books. I sell pearls and oysters. We run two entirely different types of businesses. What reason would I possibly have to interfere with what he does?"
"What's written in my wife's book might interfere with your business Mr. MacKenzie. It might persuade people to stop purchasing cultured pearls."
"Mr. Harrison." Ted told him, "If anyone in this town read your wife's book, it'd just give him a good laugh."
Clarissa now bellowed, "A good laugh? Is this town is full of sadists? Do you laugh at animals being tortured?"
Ted asked her, "You don't actually expect anyone to take what you're saying seriously, do you?"
Now Quin spoke, "It's like I said, Ms. Kellington, the masses are asses."
She told Ted, "No one in this town may take it seriously now, but all of you will, sooner than you think."
"Mr. MacKenzie." Her husband said, "If copies of my wife's book aren't for sale in the local bookstore, within 24 hours; I will be going to court with a petition charging both you and the proprietor of the bookstore with violating my wife's right to freedom of expression."
"Me? I haven't said a word to him about it. I don't understand why you're including me in this 'frivolous' lawsuit."
Clarissa said, "This is just the beginning Mr. MacKenzie, of putting you, and every other oyster farm owner, who produces cultured pearls, out of business."
Ted exchanged a startled look with Eric.
"Mr. MacKenzie." Park Harrison said, "If copies of my wife's book aren't on sale in the local bookstore, within 24 hours, you will be charged with multiple acts of cruelty to animals, each of which, upon conviction, can lead to a very lengthy amount of jail time."