Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
Ted spent a very short time in Jim Palmera's office.
The lawyer had assured him, "As long as you've got the proper licenses and permits, then everything you're doing at the pearl farm is totally legal. No one, no matter how famous and powerful he or she is, has any legitimate reason to bring any charges against you."
Now Ted and Eric Mann were gone from the office. Andalib and Xavier remained there, seated around the lawyer's desk.
"From what I've heard about your case," he told them, "the charges against you would be very hard to prove before a judge and jury, unless one of you stops exercising his or her right to remain silent."
Andalib smiled, "I'm not saying a word. How about you Xave?"
The other suspect shook his head, and put a finger to his lips.
Now Jim Palmera asked, "What about the other suspect? This fellow Quin?"
Andalib told him, "He's keeping W. Parker Harrison as his attorney, but I don't see what incentive he'd have to say anything."
"On the other hand," Xavier smirked, "have we got a case to bring against Mr. Harrison, or at least against his wife."
The man looked skeptically amused. "You want to bring some kind of criminal charge against the television actress, Clarissa Kellington?"
Andalib spoke firmly. "Not criminal Mr. Palmera. It's a civil case. I want to file a lawsuit against her for attempted libel."
"That's right. She told me that she wants to make a movie about my life as 'an alleged pearl thief'."
"Sorry." The man told her, "As long as they make it clear, that everything they're saying is 'alleged', and that the movie is fiction, you'd have no case against her."
"She wants to say that my father sexually abused me when I was a child! That's completely false! Isn't that just about the most disgusting thing you've ever heard of?"
"It certainly is. No doubt about it! The thing is, that as long as they say that the movie is just fiction, there isn't a thing you can do to stop them."
"If we can't stop them, what do we do? What does my father do?"
Now Xavier spoke. "That's not all that's going on. Quin told us that if Andalib doesn't agree, W. Parker Harrison will see to it that we're all charged with that break-in at the pearl farm in Lake Shore; but we had nothing to do with that."
Andalib added, "We were nowhere near Lake Shore. As a matter of fact, we were on the opposite side of Shellfish Shoals, when that happened."
"I see." Jim Palmera asked, "Exactly where on the opposite side of Shellfish Shoals were you, and what were you doing, when the robbery at Lake Shore occurred?"
She and Xavier looked at each other.
She sighed, "Something we just have to exercise our right to remain silent about."
Xavier nodded in resignation.
"Miss Elkart." Jim Palmer spoke. "There isn't enough evidence to convict you, or Xavier, or this Mr. Quin of any involvement in the robbery at the MacKenzie's pearl farm. Anything said about your supposed involvement in the Lake Shore case can be nothing but hearsay. That means you've gotten away with the robbery of a pearl farm, which turned out to be a total failure.
"It also means that you've all been given a second chance."
She said, "That's the same thing that the preacher at your local Church told me on Sunday morning."
"Then if you need someone's help, you should both be speaking with him, instead of me."
Within the next hour, Andalib and Xavier were seated in the office of Reverend David Randolph, Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Shellfish Shoals. Through the window, they could see the three masts of the yacht Venus on the Half Shell, rising above the rooftops beside the marina.
The Pastor was seated behind his desk. Andalib and Xavier sat slouched on an overstuffed couch beside the wall.
He told the two, "The Disciple Peter asked the Lord Jesus, 'How many times will my brother offend me that I must forgive him? Up to seven times?'
"Jesus told him, 'No. Up to seventy times seven times, must you forgive him.'"
Xavier repeated, "'Seventy times seven'? That's 490 times. That means that you and everyone who attends this church are required to forgive Andalib and me, for up to 490 offenses?"
Andalib told him, "I'm sure there's more to forgiveness than that, Xave."
"That's true." The Pastor told them, "Jesus died to take away our sins, not to make it easier for us to keep them."
"Okay." Andalib asked, "Supposing we stop committing all our 'offenses', what happens then?"
"Jesus said there is general rejoicing in Heaven, over one sinner who repents, than 100 who have never strayed."
"Sure." She said, "I think that's great about what's going on in Heaven, but what about all of us down here on Earth? What do the forgiven do, to make a living?"
Pastor Randolph opened a Bible that was on the desk in front of him, and turned to Matthew 6.
He read, "'Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
"'Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him! So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.'"
Andalib said, "That's the same thing that was read during worship on Sunday."
The man said, "I hope you're willing to listen now."
"I was listening." Andalib said softly and thought about how she had dreamed of all the pearls in the town folks' gardens.
Xavier said, "Yeah. We're willing to listen, but we'd like to hear something concrete. It all sounds like good advice, but how do we put it into practice?"
Andalib said, "Well here's something I've been thinking about Xavier. It seems like everybody who lives here in Shellfish Shoals has a little pearl garden of their own, and they use the proceeds to help supplement their incomes. They don't produce enough pearls to make themselves rich, but it's enough to help them get by. Now I'm thinking that we should plant a pearl garden of our own."
Xavier repeated, "Plant a pearl garden?" He couldn't help but laugh. "That'll be something different to what we're used to."
Andalib glared at him, a look that wasn't missed by the preacher. It was the way his wife would glare at him if he did or said something foolish; it was a look lovers shared.
"Yes." She said tight-lipped, "It would. It won't make us rich, but it'll be enough for us to get by on, and it's completely legal. So the cops will be off our backs for once."
Smiling, Xavier leaned toward her, but she simply looked at him and he nodded.
"Right." He hissed.
Andalib turned to the Pastor. "What do you think?"
The man nodded. "It's a lawful activity that the Lord has not forbidden."
She chuckled. "I'm so glad to hear you say that."
"But" he warned "planting a pearl garden alone will not make things right between you and the Lord, unless you also repent and ask the Lord to help you resist all temptation."
"I've tried that." Andalib breathed and looked at Xavier. Their passion filled afternoon of the day before still fresh in her memory.
"Yes." The Pastor said and looked at Andalib and Xavier in turn. "That is one of the many temptations for which you should ask the Lord to help you resist. Pray that He will turn your carnal lust into marital love."
"Marital?" A startled Andalib and Xavier both looked uneasily at each other. Then they looked away from one another.
Andalib told the man, "Let's just stick to one sin at a time, shall we? How about we concentrate on the ones that have gotten us in trouble with the cops first, huh? Then we can concentrate on,"
She again looked uneasily at a very uncomfortable Xavier for a moment. "the others."
Silently, the Pastor again flipped through the Bible, and then read from the first letter of John.
"'This is a message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin."
Now the Pastor repeated, "'the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.'"
Xavier told him, "There are lots of people like our partner Quin, who say that anyone who accepts that teaching is 'unenlightened'. They call what you're teaching, 'The Religion of Benighted Rubes and Yahoos'."
The man said, "Jesus' original disciples were also what could be called 'benighted rubes and yahoos.' He also said that the thieves and harlots would be among the first to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, because they were among the first to repent at His teachings. On the other hand, the intellectual snobs not only refused to repent, they were the ones who had Him crucified.
"As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen."
He continued reading. "'If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Andalib asked uneasily, "Confess our sins?"
Xavier said, "If we do that it's 'Bye-bye pearl farm. Hello Heartbreak Hotel.'"
Andalib told him, "But if Jesus died for our sins, that means He took the punishment we deserve upon Himself. Our sentences have already been served, by His going to the cross."
She asked the Pastor, "Is the Cross our 'Get out of jail free card'?"
"Not exactly." The man told her, "It's a 'Stay out of Hell' card; but only if you actually accept Jesus as Savior. Then you will be totally absolved of any and all guilt; but that's only before the Lord. With human law on the other hand, there might still be consequences; but if you live your lives as people who've accepted Salvation through the Cross, that might help get your sentences reduced."
Andalib asked, "Might?" Looking at Xavier she asked, "Reduced by how much?"
"By whatever a judge decides. When it comes to that, I suggest that you speak to James Palmera again."
Xavier spoke. "I've got another question. It's about us starting this 'pearl garden'. It'll take a good amount of time for the pearls to fully develop. My question is, what'll we do to make a living, while we're waiting for them to develop?"
Andalib smiled, "It looks like one of us, or both of us will just have to get ourselves an honest job, Xavier."
"No kidding." He smiled, "And just who in this town'd be willing to hire either of us?"
She said, "Ted MacKenzie might. After all he did hire me for a special job."
She and Xavier both glanced uncomfortably at the Pastor, who looked puzzled. "Is this something I should be made aware of?"
"No." Andalib said softly. "It was -- business of sorts and maybe even a little payback."
"Payback? You mean 'revenge'?"
Pastor Randolph asked himself, "Ted MacKenzie?"
She told him, "Everyone believes in revenge, Pastor."
"I've known Ted MacKenzie for many years; and he does have a definite dark side. It doesn't come out all that often, and when it does, he puts a stop to it before things get out of hand. It looks like you Miss Elkart have brought it out again. Hopefully, before things got out of hand."
"You're right about Ted. He kept it under control, but I'm not Ted. I didn't grow up protected from the ugly side of the world. I grew up where it's either eat or be eaten, kill or be killed, lie or be lied to, fuck or be fucked."
The Pastor stared at Andalib with annoyance evident on his face.
Xavier nodded. Growing up on the marshland-boats in dire poverty would make anyone hard and hateful.
He then took a deep breath and said, "But that's over Andi, and us being the prime suspects in the robbery of his pearl farm..."
She said, "As a committed Christian, Ted MacKenzie is required to forgive us 'up to 490 times'."
"That's 'forgive' us. It doesn't mean he has to hire us, or trust us, does it?"
"No," She said, a slight frown appearing on her face as she thought, "But we can always ask him."
Now the Pastor looked up. He faced the open door to his office. Ted stood in the doorway.
He asked Andalib, "You can always ask me what?"
Xavier said, "It looks like we just can't avoid running into each other, doesn't it?"
Ted nodded. "This is a very small town."
The Pastor said, "There are no coincidences where the Lord is involved.
"Good morning Ted." He went on, "Andalib and Xavier claim that they are seeking forgiveness for their sins. They say that they want to turn away from lives of crime and start making an honest living; but they are going to need someone who is willing to help them begin. Andalib thinks that you might be the only one here in Shellfish Shoals, who would be willing to help."
Ted asked, "I would?"
"Ted." Andalib asked him, "Will you have mercy on me a sinner and on Xavier too?"