Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
"Oink! Oink! Oink!"
Two minutes later, Quin stepped back inside the Amberjack. The place was still mostly empty, except for a few local citizens, the Shellfish Justice People who occupied the two booths, along with Xavier, Andalib and Eric Mann sat with Ted.
Quin came over to Ted's table. He saw the way Xavier was glaring at him, and stayed a few steps back.
Quin said, "I've just called Ms. Kellington like you said, Mr. MacKenzie. I couldn't get through so I left her a message on her voice mail, saying that you've invited them to join you here for dinner."
"Thank you Mr. Quin." Ted told him.
Xavier said, "Looks like you really are 'going along with the program'. Just 'following the script' like the rest of those simpletons over there, aren't you Quin?"
Quin shrugged. "It works for me. I'm exercising my Constitutionally protected right to say, 'The masses are asses', including all of you."
Xavier stiffened angrily, but remained seated.
Andalib told Quin, "We've found a much better program, with a script that works even better for us; and I'm also exercising my Constitutionally protected right, when I say, 'Jesus loves you Quin. He died for your sins, so repent you sinner.'"
Quin smirked. "And you call me a simpleton."
"It works for me." She smiled, "You also haven't forgotten what I told you earlier, have you? You seem to be forgetting that I know you. I know where the bodies of your past are buried."
Quin stepped away from the table and headed back to the booths, where Loretta the waitress was handing out menus to the Shellfish Justice people.
Now Andalib asked. "Are you sure you're doing the right thing Ted? Remember what we heard on Sunday? We were warned, "'Don't toss your pearls in front of pigs'."
"Yes I remember," He told her, "and no. I'm not sure, but sometimes you've just got to take a blind chance about where and when you toss them, as an act of faith."
He faced outside, where Carlton Grabel was speaking with his production crew.
"Mr. Grabel!" Ted called out. "If you still want to have that interview with me, I'll come outside and talk to you there!"
The reporter nodded. "Thank you! Come right out!"
Ted stood up, stepped away from the table and spoke to the three who remained seated.
"Please pray for me now." He told them, "I'm going to need it."
As he stepped away from the table Andalib thought, Ted's just asked me, Xavier and Eric Mann of all people, to pray for him? That really is one major act of faith on his part.
Ted went through the entrance, out onto the walkway and heading over to the reporter and his production crew, who remained standing beside their motorboat.
I'm about to be interviewed on television, by Carlton Grabel? Ted thought, The whole World'll be watching! I'm making one really big mistake. I have no idea what he's gonna ask, and he's on the demonstrators' side. Oh Lord. Please give me the words to say. Amen. Please!
He came up to the reporter and asked, "Mr. Grabel. I've never done this before, and I have no idea what you're going to ask me; so could you please tell me what you're gonna ask, before you begin taping, so I'll be able to figure out what I want to say ahead of time? I don't know if you're gonna ask me something like 'When did you stop beating...somebody?'"
"Don't worry about it Mr. Mackenzie." The reporter assured him, "There's no reason to be nervous. We'll all work together with you. You want a good interview, and believe me, so do we."
"I don't know. I'm really not sure."
The cameraman pointed his camera at the very nervous Ted, and the soundman aimed his microphone at him and Carlton Grabel began to speak.
"Tell me Mr. MacKenzie, how long have you been in the business of producing cultured pearls?"
That's an easy question, Ted thought.
"Well," he said, "my father actually began the business. This area was originally farmland, where my family grew corn and other crops, until the rising sea level inundated the land. Then we converted to raising oysters, so we could continue to make a living off our land, which is now under water. My father decided that we could increase our income considerably, by having the oysters produce cultured pearls."
Ted thought, That was a good answer.
The reporter asked, "What do you say to the members of the Shellfish Justice League, who claim that you are torturing the oysters?"
"We're not 'torturing' them." Ted chuckled, "We're just giving them a little tickle."
"But what do you say to people like the actress Clarissa Kellington, who insists that 'The Shellfish Are Screaming?"
"I don't see how she, or these members of the Shellfish Justice League, can possibly know that for a fact."
"She says that she is an ordained Pagan Priestess, who worships the ancient gods, and that she has received this knowledge from them."
Ted spoke sharply. "Clarissa Kellington is also a very good actress. How do you know that anything she says is true; and why should anybody believe a single word that she has to say, or anything you hear coming from the Shellfish Justice League?"
"Many prominent people do, Mr. MacKenzie."
"That's because they're intimidated by the Shellfish Justice League, into pretending that they agree, when in reality they don't. They're afraid that if they say anything in disagreement with them, then Justice League thugs, like the ones we've got demonstrating here, might do them serious harm."
"I see. You call people who are exercising their constitutionally protected right to protest, 'thugs'?"
"That's what I call people who harm anyone who disagrees with them. I've been told that they're planning to stage a demonstration here on Saturday, in which they plan to do serious damage."
"Really? That's the first I've heard about it. Who told you?"
"Forget that! I'm not helping you target anyone for the Justice League to do physical harm.
"And another thing." Ted went on, "These demonstrators don't know who they're dealing with. We are People of the Marshlands. We are 'those in peril on the sea'. We deal with all kinds of serious storms, squalls and hurricanes; and right now we're searching for the alligator that ate my ex-fiance last week! If we can deal with all of them, believe me, we'll have no trouble handling any bunch of so called 'enlightened' thugs!"
"Oh? It sounds to me, Mr. MacKenzie, that you're challenging these protesters to cause some damage."
Ted was taken aback.
Oh Lord, Ted thought, give me the right words to say!
He told the reporter, "If none of them start trouble, neither will any of us."
Now Ted asked, "Is there anything else you want to ask about?"
What am I doing? He wondered, I'm asking for more of this?
"Very well." Carlton Grabel asked, "I understand that you're employing certain individuals, who are suspected in the recent robbery of a pearl farm that is run by a competitor of yours, in the neighboring community of Lakeshore."
"Yes Mr. MacKenzie. Is it true that you've hired a certain Miss Andalib Elkart, and a man who goes by the name of Xavier, to work in your pearl farm?"
"That's true." Ted told him, "but they haven't said anything to me about any criminal activity."
"Now some people may wonder," the reporter told him, "if you'd also hired them to stage that totally destructive raid on your rival's pearl farm in Lakeshore."
"What are you accusing me of?" Ted told him, "That isn't true. You're making a wild accusation! I can sue you for libel!"
"Very well, Mr. Mackenzie. There's no reason to bring any lawsuit. We'll edit out that last part, but one thing I'm sure our viewers would like to know, is why did you hire them in the first place?"
Ted told him, "It was an act of mercy."
"That's right. They are also suspected in the raid upon my own pearl farm that occurred here last week, when I was knocked unconscious."
"Yes. I've read the police report, and transcripts of the arraignments. They've been released on bail, but you, who were physically attacked, actually paid the bail for this Miss Elkart?"
"Yes. You see Mr. Grabel, Miss Elkart saved my life. I was inside the maintenance shed at the pearl farm when the robbery occurred. I heard some noises so I went outside. I saw people moving, but I couldn't identify anyone clearly. That's when somebody who I didn't see struck me from behind and I fell into the water.
"The next thing I remember is Andalib Elkart pulling me up out of the water. Andalib Elkart saved my life. She showed me mercy, so I had mercy on her and I paid her bail."
Now Carlton Grabel asked, "Is that the only thing you paid her for, Mr. MacKenzie?"
Ted spoke sharply. "That's all I'm gonna say about it! And that's all I'm gonna say to you about anything else either. This interview is over Mr. Grabel."
Ted now turned away from the reporter, and went back inside the Amberjack.
He returned to the table where he'd been seated and spoke to Eric Mann.
"You were right." He said, "I have just made a complete fool of myself, in front of who knows how many millions of people, who are gonna be watching that videotape on TV."
Ted sat back down and asked Andalib, "Of all the pearl farms, in all the floating towns in all the world, why did you have to break into mine?"
"Your defenses weren't exactly up to scratch and we needed the money." She said simply and smiled at him. "Ted, don't worry. Everything will work out fine."
"Oh? And how are you so sure about that?"
"Faith, Ted." She smiled and took a deep breath. "I have faith."
"Yeah, right!" Eric scoffed and stared at her.
Andalib stared back at Eric before finally saying, "Also, in all honesty Ted, I don't know why I chose your farm. I've been asking myself the same thing ever since we first met."
He sat there quietly, finishing his beer. The place remained relatively quiet for about 15 minutes, while a few more local residents entered the Amberjack. About a quarter of the tables inside the establishment were now filled with customers. Loretta had just finished serving the orders of all the Shellfish Justice League members.
Outside the establishment, a speedboat came along the channel, greatly exceeding the speed limit, causing all the small craft that were tied up along the floating docks to rock back and forth. The speeding craft came up and stopped in front of the Amberjack, directly behind the BNN News' motorboat. W. Parker Harrison was at the controls, again dressed in a stylish yacht club outfit. Clarissa Kellington sat beside him. Her outfit was chicly casual. He shut off the motor and they both jumped up onto the dock.
Carlton Grabel had moved in their direction, camera on and filming, microphone at the ready. The two brushed past him, and stamped through the Amberjack's entrance. All the customers were staring at the angrily glaring actress, who glanced at Ted and the others at his table, for only a moment. She stamped over to the booths where the Shellfish Justice League members were seated, and had just begun to eat.
She stood fuming in front of the League members, who all put down their knives and forks.
Clarissa Kellington screamed, "You call yourselves 'Activists'? You say you're dedicated to putting an end to the sadistic practice, of creating cultured pearls? But what are you doing? Instead of continuing your protest, you're actually sitting here, eating a meal paid for by him!"
She pointed behind herself, at Ted Mackenzie. He looked away from her, while Andalib smiled, raised her hand and wiggled her fingers at the people in the booths. So did Xavier and Eric Mann.
"His cold blooded greed" Clarissa went on "has earned him the money, with which he is buying your dinner, and your cooperation!"
Quin spoke up. "We're not selling out Ms. Kellington, we're just..."
"You shut the hell up! You don't say anything to me, or to anyone else, unless we say you can! After this, that may not happen again!"
Loretta had stepped out of the kitchen, holding the check for the League members' dinner. She halted when she saw who was yelling at them. Some of the members looked at the waitress; so did Clarissa.
She asked the waitress, "Is that the check for this dinner that you've served to these pieces of crap?"
Loretta hesitated to answer.
Clarissa asked her, "Who's paying for it?"
She pointed toward Ted. "Mr. MacKenzie is."
"No he is not!"
The waitress moved toward her with the check. "Are you paying for it now?"
Clarissa screamed with outrage. "Me pay for these back stabbing pieces of sh--? You give it to them! They'll be paying for it with their own money!"
Now Xavier called out from Ted's table. "Hey Quin! You're not just gonna sit there and take that from this prima donna bitch, are you?"
Quin remained silent.
Clarissa now came over to Ted's table. "All of you mind your own business!" she said.
Xavier said loudly, "We were minding our own business until you came along with your Social Justice bullshit and spun us all together!"
Now Andalib called out. "Jesus loves you Clarissa Kellington!"
She looked at the League members in the booths. "And He loves all of you too! He died for your sins; so repent you sinners!"
Clarissa screamed at her, in her shrillest tone. "You shut the hell up and mind your own business, you thieving slut!"
Andalib answered, "Jesus 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 teaching. But the intellectual snobs" She pointed "like your husband here..."
Clarissa reached in her handbag and took out a pearl necklace that she slammed down on the floor. She told Ted, "This is what you can do with your cultured pearls!"
She began stomping on the precious gems with her designer shoes, trying to crush them into dust.
Andalib spoke. "Oink! Oink! Oink!"
Clarissa Kellington stamped out through the doorway, and hurried over to her speedboat, where she sat fuming.
Now W. Parker Harrison spoke to the League members, in a calm but firm voice.
"Do not listen to what she just said!" He pointed toward Andalib. "What she just told you is nothing more than benighted superstition, which anyone who is properly educated automatically rejects. I don't want any of you listening to it. More importantly, I don't want any of you repeating it. If any of you do, it will be reported to your professors. That will have a negative effect upon your grades, along with a negative effect upon your future employment."
Then he went out through the entrance. He again brushed past Carlton Grabel, then got back in the speedboat beside his wife. They sped quickly away, again exceeding the speed limit, going back the way they'd just come.
Back inside the Amberjack Ted called out, "Loretta! Forget what that woman just told you. I'm still paying for their dinner!"
Eric called out to Carlton, "Glad to see you got all of that on tape, Mr. Grabel. It'll make one hell of a story!"
Now Quin slid out of the booth and came over to Ted's table.
He spoke to Xavier. "I have to just sit there and take it. She's the one who paid my bail. If I don't go along with everything she and her husband say, they'll put me back behind bars."
He returned to the booths with the other League members.
Andalib called out behind him. "Jesus loves you Quin! I'll be praying for you!"
The remainder of the evening was relatively uneventful inside the Amberjack, and throughout all of Shellfish Shoals.