Global warming. Sea level rise. Floating Community. Attempted Robbery at a pearl farm.
A Gatored Community
By William D'Andrea
Global warming has raised the sea level by 30 feet. People live in floating communities which rise and fall with the tides. In the floating community of Shellfish, Shoals, A woman pearl thief, becomes involved with the owner of an oyster farm where cultured pearls are produced, and an alligator is used for security. In the meantime, she and her gang are planning to raid the facility.
I will also be posting this story on the writing website RoyalRoad.
I dedicate this novel to my co-author Andalib Marx, who was unfortunately killed in a traffic accident, during the first weekend in October, 2011. I consider this a very troubling tragedy. She was not only my co-author and friend. While writing this novel, she was also my inspiration, my star and my leading lady. However, now that this book is finally published, she will always be alive for me upon every one of its pages.
So here’s looking at you Andalib Marx! We’ll always have Shellfish Shoals!
The MacKenzie family had farmed the surrounding fields for five generations. When Ted MacKenzie’s father Jake was a child, the fields had been covered by endless rows of corn.
“Corn as high as an elephant’s eye.” Just like the words in that old show tune said.
The farmhouse where his father had grown up remained in the spot where it had been built, but was no longer on its original foundation. When the rising sea level began to approach, the floor and walls of the basement had been replaced by a hull. The MacKenzie’s family home was now a houseboat, moored to a series of surrounding pylons, where it rose and fell with the tides.
24 year old Theodore MacKenzie sat alone at the rear of the family dinghy, beside the outboard motor. He guided the 15 foot long shallow craft through the narrow channels, between thick, putrid, patches of reeds and swamp grass, which grew as high as the rooftops of one-story houses. He thought of what now lay on the bottom of the water, where rows of corn had once grown, and he chuckled.
The firmly built, dark haired Ted, wearing blue jeans and a short sleeved yellow shirt, softly sang the words of an old folksong.
“When I think of my happy condition,Clams, he thought. Yes! Not just acres, but miles! And miles of oyster beds! And shrimp! And lobster! And crabs!
Surrounded by acres of clams.
Surrounded by acres of clams?
Surrounded by acres of clams!”
“Cockles and mussels! Alive! Alive oh!”
And don’t forget all those cultured pearls!
Then Ted called out, “Thank you Lord for Global Warming! Amen.”
And for the schools of fish that swim in the channels, and the seagulls gliding overhead, carried along by the warm breeze, beneath the hot, heavy sun and glaring blue sky.
He slowly moved the small open craft following the channel, which now turned sharply to the right. He expected to see the usual houseboats, barges and masts of sailboats that made up his community of Shellfish Shoal. What he saw made him gasp. He immediately shut off the motor.
About thirty feet ahead, a bare patch of ground rose a few feet above the water. A ten-foot long alligator lay stretched out upon the muddy mound, basking under the heavy sun. The sleeping creature’s jaws were yawned open, with an item hanging from its lower jaw. The item was a woman’s string bikini top, with one of its strings caught around one tooth.
Ted held his breath so as not to wake the creature. He recognized the color pattern of dazzling red, yellow and blue triangles, on the garment’s cups. He’d seen Doris Sheldon, his ex-fiancée, wearing this bikini top yesterday afternoon.
As he sat there trembling Ted prayed softly.
“In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, I ask God the Father Almighty, to send forth the Holy Spirit, and…”
And what? He wondered, but just for a moment.
“And keep this creature of yours, who’s already eaten, from eating me too.”
The alligator rose up. Its jaws snapped shut, cutting the bikini string, dropping the garment to the ground, as Ted tried not to move.
Then the creature quickly slid down the embankment into the channel, turned away from the dinghy, gliding just beneath the surface. The lines of scales along its back, moved rapidly away from Ted.
The man sighed and relaxed, while whispering, “Thank you Lord. Amen.”
Just before sunset, Ted MacKenzie was having a beer after work. He was seated at the bar in the Amberjack, a floating restaurant moored along the Main Channel, which went through the center of Shellfish Shoals.
The Amberjack’s dining room was an open-air verandah, with tables and chairs under a thatched roof, where a few patrons were seated at this early hour. They sat facing across the watery thoroughfare, toward a line of one story tall storefront business barges. Beyond the storefronts, were the slanted roofs of private split-level, ranch style and Cape Cod houseboat homes. There was also the steeple of a neighboring church, moored among the residential channels. The sun had just disappeared behind those roofs, casting a reddish orange glow over the entire community.
The strong tangy smell of the channel mixed with the aroma of the beer that dark haired Ted was drinking. In the heavy heat of late afternoon, he wore a short sleeved, light blue shirt, blue jeans, and rugged shoes.
“Alligator.” Nick the bartender spoke. “I said there’d be trouble, when your old man Jake actually brought an alligator into this town.”
Ted grunted with a sigh.
Then he said, “It was his decision, not mine. Beside, we were assured that nobody would have anything to worry about, once we’d got it properly penned in. Everyone in town saw the fencing around the oyster farm. There was no doubt how secure it was. There was no way that the alligator could possibly escape. We just didn’t anticipate that the storm would send debris smashing through the fence, and make such a large hole, for the animal to swim through.”
“I understand.” The bartender told him, “You’re producing cultured pearls, and you thought you needed some security, but wasn’t that overdoing it? Wouldn’t a watchdog have been enough?”
“A dog just isn’t as scary as an alligator.” Ted told the man, “And dogs don’t take to the water as well.”
A blonde woman around Ted’s age was also seated at the bar, two stools to his right. She snickered. He and Nick glanced at her for a moment. She sat drinking a margarita cocktail, while wearing white sneakers and matching shorts along with a tight green halter-top.
She raised her hand, wiggling her fingers at Ted, while giving him a slightly embarrassed smile.
“Oh I’m sorry.” She said, “I wasn’t really eaves dropping. I just couldn’t help overhearing your conversation.”
“That’s okay.” The bartender told her. “We’re speaking aloud in a public place, about something that a lot of people around here are very concerned about.”
“Right.” Ted nodded. “Besides, it’s better if everybody does know about it.”
Then he turned to Nick. “Do you ever wonder why they call it ‘eaves dropping’? Anyone who goes around dropping eaves isn’t gonna be unnoticed for very long.”
Nick chuckled. The woman laughed again.
Then she spoke. “So you’re the guy who runs the cultured pearl farm?”
“No.” Ted told her, “It’s a family business. My father owns it, and I’m an employee.”
“But eventually the business will become yours?”
“That’s right.” He looked uncomfortable. “But while that eventuality has been taken care of legally, it’s something we don’t like to think about, or discuss.”
She looked embarrassed again. “Boy! I’m really putting my foot into it today aren’t I?”
The three of them were quiet for a while.
The woman turned around, putting her back to the bar while sipping her drink. She gazed out across the tables, to the channel, where motor powered water crafts carried small amounts of cargo and people. She also gazed at the bright redness of the late afternoon sky.
Then she said, “Why what a spectacular sunset!”
She looked back at Ted. “I don’t think I’ve embarrassed myself again by saying that, or have I?”
“No. Not at all!” He gave her a welcoming grin. “Everyone praises the sunsets around here.”
Then he quoted a poem.
"The sky is red
The clouds are red
Red sails in the sunset
The beach is red,
As is what we're fed.
Red snapper caught
in one net.
"The sun is red
And so are the trees.
As are the gulls
Gliding in the breeze.
"Red is the wine
Where we sit and dine,
As is the crowd that passes
Red is the shore
Where one I adore
Says, "Take off those red
She laughed. He smiled.
“How do you do.” He greeted her. “My name’s Ted MacKenzie.”
“Hi Ted.” She told him, “You can call me Andalib.”
They were quiet again for a few moments, but not as uncomfortably as before.
“Andalib,” Ted asked, “how’d you like to join me for dinner?”
“Thank you Ted. I’d love to.”
The two of them moved away from the bar bringing their drinks with them, to a table besides the waist high railing at the edge of the establishment’s floor, where they seated themselves beside the channel.
“That was an interesting poem.” She told him, “But it doesn’t really fit does it? At least not around here. There are no real beaches around here and no trees either. It’s all shallow marshlands, with grasses and weeds.”
He nodded. “Where shell fish live and thrive, and so do we citizens of Shellfish Shoals.”
“Who thrive on the profits from cultured pearls?”
He chuckled, “Well I haven’t heard any of the oysters complaining.”
“Well I’ve just heard someone complaining about your alligator, and I get the impression that he’s not the only one.”
“The alligator’s just a temporary problem.” He said, “It’ll be recaptured soon enough. The woman who got eaten was named Doris Shaffer. She was my ex-fiancee. I'm gonna be hearing about that forever.”
The waitress Loretta came over and handed them a pair of menus. Andalib looked over all the items.
“Let’s see. Lobster, crabs, clams, oysters, and mussels. Hmmm. Nothing but shellfish.”
He laughed. “Well what do you expect in a floating community named Shellfish Shoals?”
She asked, “Is it possible to order oysters, with pearls still inside?”
“Oh yes. That happens sometimes, unintentionally. Then whoever orders that oyster, only has to pay what the Amberjack charges for the meal.”
“A diner’s discount?”
“Exactly. But that rarely happens.”
She smiled. “Then I’d like to dine on a large order of oysters.”
Ted ordered two orders of oysters with seasoned rice in butter sauce and wine.
On the opposite side of the dining area, two men were seated at a table beside the wall, hardly paying any attention to the clams on their plates, or their glasses of beer.
The older man, who was in his mid thirties, spoke quietly. “I don’t like the way you’re staring at her Xavier.”
“She’s a fine looking woman.” Xavier who was about ten years younger than him growled, “What man wouldn’t be staring?”
“You’re not just staring. You’re glaring, angrily. That might call attention to you and to me.”
Xavier looked back at the clams on his plate. About half of the shells were empty. He still looked angry.
“Look at her Quin.” He said, “Smiling and laughing, while having dinner with the guy who runs the pearl factory.”
“Relax.” Quin told him, “There’s no reason to be jealous. She’s just pumping him for information.”
“What about later tonight? What else will she be pumping out of him?”
Quin spoke firmly. “Calm down and keep your voice down. This jealousy might get in our way. Wait ‘til you’re alone with Andalib. Say what you want then, but as for right now, try to enjoy your clams.”
“That’s easy for you to say. I’m not going to enjoy anything until the job is done.”
“Whether you do or not, hold your temper in.”
By the time Ted and Andalib were served, the sun had set. Outside the verandah, the channel was now dark. Most of the tables and chairs were filled with local people and visitors like Andalib, Quin and Xavier. She looked out into the dark, seeing a few stars twinkling in the sky, while an almost full moon shone above the rooftops.
One of the patrons spoke with a loud clear voice. “Can’t see if the alligator’s out there.”
Andalib recognized the voice as Xavier’s. She did not look in his direction. She had not looked at either he or Quin, since they arrived.
On the plate that was placed in front of her, a half dozen oysters had been cooked open. She poked through them with her fork.
“Just mollusk meat.” She said, “No pearls.”
“Like I said.” Ted told her, “When that happens, it’s a rarity.”
She sighed, “That’s a pity.”
“But look at the inside of the shell.” He pointed. “It’s mother of pearl. It’s valuable too.”
Then she asked, “Just what do you have to do, to produce a cultured pearl?”
“The basic idea” he told her “is very simple. All we have to do is introduce an irritant inside the oyster. Then the oyster secretes a substance to relieve the irritation, and over time, the substance hardens and develops into a pearl.”
“Over how much time?”
“About two years. By then the pearl has grown to marketable size. That’s when we harvest them.”
“I see. Would I, by any chance, have happened to arrive at harvest time?”
“Sorry. In the section we’re working in right now, we’re doing just the opposite. This is seeding time. Right now we’re in the process of impregnating the oysters. There’s a different section that we’ll get around to harvesting, after we’ve finished what we’re doing now.”
“After you’ve finished ‘Impregnating’?” Andalib laughed. “I’ve heard of kinky, but…”
Ted laughed, “That’s just what it’s called. Believe me, everything we do out there is ‘G’ rated. Safe to bring your kids along to watch.”
“Really now?” She told him, “I think that’s something I’d like to see myself. Since the alligator’s no longer there, it’s probably the safest spot in town.”
Ted lifted his arm and looked at his wristwatch.
Andalib asked, “Have you got someplace to be?”
“Oh sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. You see, I’m going to be getting together with a few friends of mine in about an hour.”
“Oh.” She smiled, “A get together? Would I find it interesting?”
“I’m not sure. You see, it’s our weekly young adult Bible study.”
She laughed. “’Bible study’?”
“You find that amusing?”
“Oh, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t be laughing. I don’t mean to be disrespectful. You just kind of caught me off guard.”
“That’s all right. Would you be interested in attending?”
“Well Ted.” She told him, “I’ll be honest with you. That’d be just the opposite of one of the reasons why I’ve come to Shellfish Shoals.”
“You mean it isn’t just pearls?”
“The other reason I’m here,” she gave him a flirty grin, “is that I’ve come to have a fling. What would you and your friends at the Bible study have to say about that?”
“That depends. Exactly what do you want to fling, and how far do you want to fling it?”
“That depends." She spoke with a sultry voice. "How far do you want it flung? I've come here hoping to get laid. Just a fling. Get my rocks off.”
“Listen Andalib.” He told her, “You’re a very attractive woman, and you probably think this sounds very strange, but I’m a committed Christian guy, and I practice celibacy.”
She looked startled. “’Celibacy? You’re right. That does sound very strange. You’re a fanatic?”
“Not really. The key word is ‘practice’. You know, ‘If I just keep on practicing, eventually I’ll get it right’.”
“Eventually?” She laughed. “You mean some times you miss practice?”
“Yes. But not as much as I used to.”
“How’d you like to skip practice tonight?”
He asked, “How’d you like to attend our Bible study first? We plan to be binding the Devil tonight.”
“’Binding the Devil’? You mean you’ll be having an exorcism?”
“Not exactly. In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we’ll be calling on God the Father Almighty, and asking Him to send forth the Holy Spirit, to restrain the Devil, so that no one else be harmed by the alligator, or by anything else, here in Shellfish Shoals.
“After that, we'll see if you still want to have a fling."
Andalib was startled. She gazed in confusion out into the darkness of the channel. Then she looked in the opposite direction, where she saw Xavier and Quin staring at her.
The two quickly looked away from her. She looked away from them just as quick, and returned her attention to Ted.
She took a deep breath and shrugged. “Well it would be something different, and I might actually get to know more about you.”
After about another half-hour, she and Ted got up from the table.
Across the room, Xavier said quietly, “They’re leaving. I think we should follow them.”
“No.” Quin told him. “Stay seated. She’ll let us know what she’s learned, when she comes back. Just be patient.
Xavier growled, “‘Patient’. Okay. I’ll order a stronger drink.”
#1. 2 Amberjack
ID #919794 entered on September 4, 2017 at 4:22pm