Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
The Shellfish Are Screaming
Andalib and Xavier were now seated together on a catwalk inside the MacKenzie's oyster farm, with their legs dangling over the water. They were each dragging a thick braided chord up out of the water, with a line of oysters attached to each chord. He and she each had a hypodermic needle gun, connected to a long narrow tube. The other end of the tube was hooked up to a container, containing a fluid full of irritants.
Their job was to put the needle gun against each oyster, then press a button on the device, shooting a pre-measured amount of irritant between the shells then inside the creature. They went on and on, performing the same operation on the next oyster, and the next oyster, and the next, while letting the line with the irritated ones slip back into the water. That was all that their task required.
Ted MacKenzie was seated beside them, doing the exact same job.
Xavier spoke. "So this is what you call 'mercy'?
Ted told him, "Considering what I'll be paying you, which is considerably more than minimum wage, I wouldn't be complaining."
"Yeah. Right. Sorry."
Andalib said, "You know, you can say 'Thank you', Xavier."
He spoke with a sarcastic tone. "Thank you Mr. MacKenzie."
Ted said, "You're welcome."
Andalib spoke again. "You know Xavier, if everyone said 'please' and 'thank you', our mothers would all be so proud of us."
He and Ted both chuckled.
The maintenance shed stood at the northwest corner behind them to their right. They sat facing southward beyond the facility's fencing, watching small sail and motor vessels coming out of the channel, a good distance away from the facility and continuing on their way. Eric Mann had returned to moving along the catwalks, gazing down into the water, looking for signs of the alligator.
Now one of the motorized boats that emerged from the channel moved swiftly and turned in the direction of the oyster farm. The three who were seated on the catwalk and Eric Mann all looked at the approaching vessel with curiosity. Inside the boat, one guy was up front at the controls.
Another was seated beside him, and two men were in the back seat, one of them held a large camera, aiming it inside the oyster farm.
Andalib said, "I think that's a TV camera."
The vessel moved up along the western side the facility, and stopped in the shadow of the maintenance shed, alongside Ted's dinghy, which he had tied to one of the pylons.
From out on the catwalk, Eric Mann called out. "I'll see what they want!"
He headed in the direction of the shed.
Ted stood up and spoke to Andalib and Xavier.
"I'd like to hear what they have to say myself. You two stay here, and just keep on doing what you're doing."
He hurried away from them, also going in the direction of the shed.
Xavier repeated, "'Keep on doing what we're doing'. Like there's something else to do."
Andalib smiled, "Well you could always be alligator bait. The pay's a lot better, though I don't know if the gator'd find you as appetizing, as the last person who had the job."
Xavier smiled at her and reached for her hand. Andalib didn't pull away as Xavier's hand enclosed around hers.
"We'll get through this, X."
"I hope so." Xavier said softly and smiled at her. Andalib then pulled away from him and glanced back at Ted who was walking swiftly toward the maintenance shed.
"You're going to have to choose sooner or later, Andi." Xavier said softly, knowing that she understood him perfectly. "Preferably sooner rather than later and preferably me instead of him."
"I don't know what you're talking about." Andalib whispered and reached for another cord of oysters.
"Yeah, right." Xavier said and continued working himself.
"X, I just -- don't ask this of me now, OK? Let's just get back on our feet first."
"Then I can get you on your back again?"
"We'll see." Andalib smiled.
Ted reached the maintenance shed, at just about the same time as Eric Mann. They both looked down at the occupants inside the motorboat. Ted recognized one of them immediately.
He called out, "Carlton Grabel?"
"That's right!" The man seated beside the operator in the front seat called up, "BNN News! Is either of you a Mr. Ted MacKenzie?"
"Yes! That's me!"
Now the cameraman in the back seat, and the man beside him, carrying a long pole with a microphone, both pointed their devices up at Ted.
Mr. Grabel called up. "I have some questions I'd like to ask you Mr. MacKenzie! May we be permitted to come inside and conduct an interview with you?"
"Sorry! No one's allowed inside the fence except company employees! Company rules!"
"So what do you want to interview me about?"
"What about these charges that have been made, accusing you of torturing oysters here inside your oyster farm?"
Ted was startled. Then he called out, "Someone's made charges? Just what the hell are you talking about?"
Eric raised his hand. "Don't say another word Ted. I know how to talk to reporters. I'll handle it."
Ted said quietly. "But I have to say something."
Eric called down to the reporter. "Can you arrange for a meeting later, after work? Mr. MacKenzie will answer all your questions then!"
Carlton Grabel called back. "Good enough. Where and when later?"
Ted called down, "The Amberjack Restaurant! About 5:30!"
"Good enough!" The reporter asked the man beside Ted, "By the way, what's your name?"
"Eric Mann! I'm a professional alligator trapper!"
"Oh yes! I also have some questions about that alligator! There's a report that it escaped from this facility and ate one of this community's residents!"
Ted replied, "Ask me whatever question you have at 5:30, when we're inside the Amberjack!"
"Good enough!" He then looked over at the two people seated on the catwalk. "Are those your only employees?"
"At the moment, yes." Ted said and glanced at Andalib and Xavier.
"And their names are - ?"
"'The Amberjack' and 'five-thirty'." Eric smiled and stared at the man.
"I see." Carlton Grabel nodded. He then made a quick motion with his hand and the boat's operator started the motor, turned the boat around, heading it south, back toward the channel.
Ted and Eric now moved out along the catwalks. They both came over to Andalib and Xavier, who continued to shoot pearling irritant into one oyster at a time. They were also looking out beyond the facility, at a large sailboat that had come out of the channel and was now stopped outside the southern fencing. There were about a dozen people aboard.
"Here comes trouble." Andalib whispered to Xavier and pulled her hat further over her face.
Xavier did the same and covertly they both watched the scene before them.
The BNN News motorboat now turned toward the sailboat, came over alongside the larger vessel, and halted. Eric reached into the pouch on his belt, took out his binoculars, put them up to his eyes and looked at what was going on aboard the sailboat.
"They look like demonstrators." He told the others, "It looks like they've got a bunch of picket signs lying on the deck."
Ted asked, "They're here already?" He asked Xavier, "I thought you said they'd be arriving this weekend."
"That's what Quin told me."
Eric who was still looking through his binoculars now chuckled.
"And just speak of the devil. Just who do you think's standing on deck with them?"
Andalib asked, "Quin?"
Eric nodded. "Working for the Devil Woman herself."
Andalib groaned in disgust. "I should have known." She hissed and got to her feet.
Xavier said, "It figures."
Eric went on, "He's actually talking to Carlton Grabel. The reporter's still sitting in the News boat. He's holding a microphone up to him, and they're talking back and forth."
"He's talking to a reporter?" Andalib said. She looked at Xavier. "After he told us to keep our mouths shut!"
Glaring out over the water, Andalib made out Quin's figure and shook her head.
"I trusted him." She said softly and then ripped her hat off her head, waving it frantically back and forth.
Andalib reached for her cellphone that was clipped to her belt. She tapped out a number and put the device to her ear.
Eric said, "Quin's got a call on his cellphone. He's putting it to his ear."
"Quin!" Andalib screamed into her phone at the top of her voice. "Quin! Keep your mouth shut!"
Quin abruptly pulled his phone away from his ear and turned to look in Andalib's direction.
"That's got his attention." Eric said.
"Good." Andalib said breathlessly and took another deep breath, "You remember one thing, Quin!" She screamed again. "I know all about you!"
She then smiled broadly and calmly clicked off her cellphone, put her hat back on, stood up and walked to the maintenance shed.
"Ha!" Eric smiled, "He's gone pale!"
"He should." Xavier said grimly, "Andalib's got the drop on him."
"What does that mean?" Ted asked while looking at Xavier.
"It means, if there's one person Quin can't afford to piss off -- it's Andalib!" Xavier said and smiled at Ted. "I told you -- you'll never know her like I know her. She's done things; knows things that will make your skin crawl."
He then followed Andalib to the maintenance shed and disappeared inside.
"Well." Eric said, still watching the boats, "She sure knows how to get a guy's attention, doesn't she?"
"Yeah." Ted said thoughtfully and took a deep breath.
"Look, I hate to bring it up again but -- are you sure hiring those two was such a good idea? You heard what Xavier just said. Andalib's done things that would make your skin crawl. She's -- " He paused and took a deep breath, "She's been in the life since she was a kid, it's all she's ever known."
"She said she's accepted Salvation, and asked me for mercy. She does deserve a second chance."
"You feel that way about the devil too?" Ted looked over at Eric. "Make no mistake, Ted. She claims she wants to change her ways and -- that's great but -- don't ever forget that deep, deep within her, Andalib will always be a criminal."
They stood in silence.
Then Ted asked, "What's going on now?" As he saw movement on the boat.
The passengers aboard the demonstrator's sailboat began picking up signs, and chanting. The cameraman and soundman aboard the Network News' motorboat now pointed their devices at the chanting demonstrators.
A woman's voice came through a bullhorn. "Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!"
Everyone aboard the sailboat repeated her words in a chant.
"Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!
Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!
Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing those oysters!..."
For a full five minutes the chanting continued while Ted and Eric stared at them in disbelief.
Ted said, "They're calling us "'Murderers' and 'Nazis'? Maybe I'm the one who should bring a lawsuit, charging them with libel."
"Maybe you should." Andalib said quietly. Turning, neither Ted nor Eric had seen her or Xavier approach again, and the look on Andalib's face was one of anger and disgust.
Another voice came through a different bullhorn. "The shellfish are screaming!"
Xavier said, "That sounds like Quin."
About half the demonstrators now repeated those words, in counterpoint to the first chant.
"The shellfish are screaming!
The shellfish are screaming!
The shellfish are screaming!..."
Xavier told Andalib, "If we'd gone along with Clarissa Kellington, we might be among them like Quin, instead of doing this."
She asked him, "I hope you're not sorry we didn't, are you Xavier?"
"Not as long as we get paid as well, as Mr. MacKenzie here says we will."
She looked up at Ted. "So what do want us to do now?"
"Just keep right on doing what you've been doing."
He sat down again beside her and Xavier, picked up the chord with the oysters that he'd been working on and resumed implanting them with irritants. Andalib and Xavier did the same. Eric Mann headed back out along the catwalks, searching for the alligator.
The demonstrators in the sailboat continued chanting, "Murderers! Nazis! Stop torturing the oysters!" and "The shellfish as screaming!"
After about ten minutes, the chanting suddenly ceased. Andalib looked up and saw the camera pointed at the three of them as they went about doing their work. Carlton Grabel was saying something into the microphone, motioning at the oyster farm with his arm. Xavier put down the needle and then held his right arm up high, his hand a fist, except his middle finger, which was extended, making sure the camera caught his act on tape.
"Maybe that'll help." He smiled and then resumed his work.
Shortly after that, the protesters put down their signs. The BNN Network News boat's motor turned on. It sped away from the sailboat and the facility, and back along the channel toward Shellfish Shoals. Then the sailboat with the now quiet demonstrators began to move, also heading back along the channel toward Shellfish Shoals. All was quiet again in and around the MacKenzie's pearl farm.
Andalib said, "There's no way I'm gonna miss watching the Evening News tonight, Xavier. I want to see what Quin had to say for himself and that bunch of idiots. Who knows what he's told the world about us."
"Right. We might actually be in need of the services of that Mr. Palmera, much more than we thought."
Eric Mann said, "You know they're gonna be coming back, and they'll have a lot more people with them. Especially since Xavier here showed them what he thought."
Xavier asked, "So what are we gonna do about that, Mr. MacKenzie?"
"Yes Ted." Now Andalib asked, "What are we supposed to do, as repentant Christians?"
He thought it over. "Well, Jesus did say, 'Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you, and pray for those who despitefully use you, and persecute you, and say all manner of evil against you falsely, for His sake."
Xavier asked, "'Love them'?"
"That doesn't mean we're supposed to have 'a strong feeling of affection' for them. He did say we should pray for them."
Andalib asked, "What should we pray?"
"I'm not sure." Ted told them, "I suppose we should ask the Lord to prevent them from doing any damage."
"Damage my foot." Andalib said softly, "We should pray that their tongues fall out."
Xavier laughed, he couldn't help it. Eric smiled and turned away while Ted looked at Andalib.
"That's not very Christian of you, is it?"
"No," Andalib confessed, "but I'm just a newbie." She smiled and picked up another cord of oysters.