Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
Ted was again seated beside the outboard motor at the rear of the dinghy, heading out along the channel through the marsh grass, away from Shellfish Shoals. This time he was accompanied by Andalib and Xavier, who were seated on the slats in the middle of the vessel.
When either of them glanced at Ted, they immediately looked away. They weren't talking to each other either. Andalib sighed as she looked at Ted, sensing that something within him had changed.
They reached the point where the channel opened up and the oyster farm came into view. The three turned their attention to the facility. Beyond the fenced off property, a distant line of dark, cumulous clouds appeared to be approaching. Inside the fencing, the grid of narrow catwalks was unoccupied, except for a solitary figure, who moved along slowly, peering down into the water.
Ted turned the dinghy toward the facility, where very large, freshly painted signs had been posted, declaring in gigantic lettering to everyone who came near:
"Private Property". "Keep Out". "Watchman on Duty". "Beware of the Alligator".
Andalib looked back at Ted and laughed.
She called out. "Looks like you've learned something from us, haven't you?"
He nodded. "I learned not to be a 'gorgeous fool'! Thank you for the lesson!"
He headed the dinghy alongside the fence, and began to slow down. He came up to the pylons supporting the maintenance shack, where he shut off the engine.
The man out on the catwalks now moved along the planking in a hurry, in the direction of the shack. Andalib quickly recognized him. She asked Ted, "You've hired Eric Mann?"
He nodded. "He's helping us upgrade the security of the pearl farm. It needs a lot of work."
Xavier told him, "I agree. We broke in here -- "
"Xavier!" Andalib hissed and jabbed in the ribs.
Ted pretended not to hear and said, "Right now he's checking out all the fencing, both inside and outside the facility. He will then see to it that all necessary repairs and improvements are made, to prevent the alligator from breaking out, or any thieves from breaking in, every again."
"Good." Xavier told him, "You're gonna need it."
Eric Mann now stood above them on the catwalk outside the shack, and inside the outer fencing.
He looked puzzled at the sight of the passengers inside the dinghy.
"Good afternoon Ted!" He called down. "Now just what the hell are you doing, bringing these two here along with you?"
Ted called up to him, "Hi Eric."
Andalib remained quiet while Xavier simply glared at Eric.
"Eric," Ted again called out. "They're my newest employees!"
"It's an act of mercy!"
The man standing on the catwalk now looked skeptical.
"Mercy? I know that you need the help but -- " he looked at Andalib and Xavier, "Hiring these two will only see you enter the ranks of bankruptcy."
Ted explained, "It's also a favor to the Pastor of my Church!"
"Right." Eric said and looked at Andalib, sort of admiring her for her new tactics.
"You see Eric," Ted went on, "it's this way! Jim Palmera recommended them to Pastor Randolph, and Pastor Randolph recommended them to me! He says that they claim that they've decided to repent of their criminal ways!"
Andalib called out. "I have decided to follow Jesus! Not turning back! No turning back!"
"I see! A very convenient time for repentance, isn't it?" Eric smirked, "Especially after yesterday, am I right?"
Andalib simply took a deep breath and looked at Eric, "The blood of Christ has cleansed me from all sin! I am now guiltless before the Lord!"
"But not before me!" Eric told her.
Ted broke in. "They told the Pastor that they now want to start new lives, making an honest living; and both he and they have asked me to show them mercy!"
"Mercy?" Eric Mann called down and scoffed. Then he asked, "Do you really think these two are deserving of mercy?"
Now Andalib called up to him, "If we deserved it, we wouldn't need it!"
The man on the catwalk sighed and nodded.
"Mr. MacKenzie!" He called out, "It looks like 'Sister Andalib' and 'Brother Xavier' here, are going to be in need of much prayer!"
Ted called back, "So will I, 'Brother Eric'! So will I!"
Andalib and Xavier both added, "Amen!"
Eric opened the narrow gate, which slid open sideways beside the maintenance shack, making an entry just wide enough for the tiny boat to pass through. Ted then brought the dinghy through the opening along with its passengers.
Xavier said, "I had no idea this gate was here! If we had..."
"Xavier!" Andalib put a finger to her lips.
"Right. We've got to be careful with this repentance business."
"You've simply got to keep your big mouth shut!" Andalib said and stared at him. "About everything." She added softly and glanced at Ted.
Now Ted tied a line from the dinghy around a pylon. Then with Eric Mann's help, all three pulled themselves up onto the catwalk. They then stood beside the alligator trapping, bounty hunter who now gazed out upon the glaring water, within the pearl farm's fencing.
"I've been searching carefully." he told them, "all over this facility, and I haven't found one trace of the gator that you claim you saw here, Miss Elkart."
"I did see him!" Andalib insisted, pointing at the spot where she'd been swimming. "I saw him right there! He was coming straight at me!"
"So you say."
Eric told Ted, "I've been here for hours, waiting to see the gator floating at the surface, which is what they normally do. Gators are amphibious reptiles. They have to come to the surface to breathe at regular intervals. I haven't seen him or heard him yet. I know what signs to look for. I haven't seen any, inside the fencing, which makes me wonder if Andalib had either."
She looked at Ted. "I have Ted. I did see the gator, just like I said I did."
Eric told him, "I have seen signs of the gator's presence outside the fencing Ted. All the signs are close by, but not one of them is inside the fencing."
Ted looked at Andalib. She looked away from him.
He told Eric, "Then we can't yet make any official announcement, saying that the people of Shellfish Shoals are safe from the alligator. We still don't know where it is. Do we Andalib?"
She continued looking away from him.
"You're right Eric." Ted told them all, "We are all in need of very much prayer, and very much mercy."
They were all uncomfortably quiet for a few moments.
Then Ted spoke again. "But we are also in need of very much work."
Xavier spoke, "Now that's something you haven't explained to us Mr. MacKenzie. Exactly what is this work you've hired me and Andalib to do anyway?"
"The only work that I can hire you for." Ted explained, "What that is, is for you to help with the production of cultured pearls. You'll be using hypodermic needle type devices to inject pieces of grit inside the shells of oysters. Then the oysters will secret a substance to relieve the irritation, and over time, the substance will harden and develop into pearls."
"What?" Xavier spoke with disgust. "You don't actually expect us to do that, do you? It's highly repetitive and boring. It's also kind of demeaning; the kind of work that's done by losers."
"Says the loser." Now Eric Mann explained, "What he's asking you to do is called 'honest work'."
Andalib added, "That is the 'mercy' we asked for Xavier, and we'll be paid in pearls. Isn't that right Ted?"
"Exactly. What you failed to obtain through robbery, you will receive through honest work, but not an excessive amount. If you've received salvation, then this is the Lord's blessing upon you both, and you should thank Him for this."
Andalib said, "Thank you Lord. Amen."
Xavier said, "Sorry. I just can't join you in saying that about this."
Eric Mann chuckled. "I was right. These two are definitely in need of very much prayer." He stepped closer to Andalib, "Especially you." He whispered and smiled. "You might have Ted fooled and the Pastor by this 'act', but not me. Not ever. I know you. I know what you're capable
Ted looked at them, frowning.
"Don't worry, Ted." She told him, "Eric and I will get along just fine, won't we?"
"Yeah." Eric said sarcastically, "Just fine."
Now Andalib spoke to Xavier, "I'm thinking that we should contact Quin, and see if he'd like to join us."
"Forget it Andi. I spoke to him on my cellphone last night. He's staying with the Social Justice Movement, and he'll be among the protesters who'll be showing up here this weekend."
Ted said, "Wait a minute! Protesters?"
"That's right Mr. MacKenzie. A very large number of them are planning to arrive here in Shellfish Shoals and stage a demonstration right outside this pearl farm of yours. They'll be protesting your 'tormenting' oysters."
Ted repeated "Demonstration?"
"That's right." Xavier told him, "Big enough to make a really big impression on the TV News. Clarissa Kellington's already arranged for coverage. The whole world'll be watching and hearing their message; so this'll just have to be a major demonstration."
Ted asked, "Just what do you mean by 'major'? They're not planning any kind of violence, are they?"
"Quin didn't say. You know the way these Social Justice people are, Mr. Mackenzie. There's always a possibility that it might get out of hand."
Eric said, "Definitely much more prayer than we could possibly imagine, Ted."