In this serialized novel set on the Vineyard in real time, a native Islander (“Call me Becca”) returns home after many years to help her eccentric Uncle Abe keep his landscaping business, Pequot, afloat. Abe has paranoid hatred of Richard Moby, the CEO of an off-Island wholesale nursery (and Abe’s ex-wife’s new beau). In recent chapters, Abe caught Moby selling illegal invasive plants and sent a plant-sample to the state authorities to prove it. Response in hand, he is about to confront Moby on Moby’s yacht in Oak Bluffs harbor during the recent Shark Tournament. (Quincas, a Brazilian day-laborer, works for Abe and has befriended Becca.)
Sorry to keep you hanging all week; my bad.
Last I wrote, Abe was glowering beside Richard Moby’s yacht (with Gwen — Abe’s ex — retreating into Moby’s cabin). Abe was opening the official report that would declare Moby was selling illegal invasive plants to an Island nursery.
“Gwen, come out here and listen to this!” Abe shouted at the yacht’s cabin door.
“Hey, don’t yell at my guests, buddy,” Moby said. He flicked a pinky-ringed hand at a handsome thug sitting just behind him. The guy stood up, pectorals flexing. Abe ignored him, and raised one knee as if he would step into the stern of the yacht.
I had finally crossed the street, and grabbed his arm to stop him. “Abe!” I begged, shaking him, still gasping from my kamikaze bike ride.
He was startled enough to step back. But he gently brushed me off and shook the ripped envelope in Moby’s direction. “Fine!” he snarled. “Hide the truth from Gwen. Here is an even greater innocent —” (meaning me) “— to bear witness to your crimes! Two, in fact!” And he gestured grandly behind me, back across the street.
I glanced over my shoulder. There was Quincas, waving! “What are you doing here?” I cried out. I knew he found Abe’s eccentricities amusing, but I couldn’t believe he actually stalked him around the Island hoping for free entertainment.
Ignoring traffic, Quincas darted across the road. Abe had already turned his attention back to Moby and the letter.
“And now at last,” he declared, his voice raised to attract passers-by, “the proof that will bring you down!” He reached ceremoniously into the envelope and yanked out the document. From its upper left-hand corner, the Massachusetts state seal radiated authority.
Richard Moby sat up in his lounger; Flexy-Pecs took a step closer; the other guests in the cockpit leaned in expectantly.
Abe cleared his throat. “Dear sir!” he began reading loudly. People moved around us on the sidewalk to avoid the spectacle. It had nothing to do with sharks, or booze, so it did not interest them. “An examination of the sample you sent has revealed that the plant in question is not Euonymus alatus, commonly called Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush, but Euonymus americanus, or Strawberry Bush. Euonymus americanus is not an invasive and there is no penalty or fee incurred by selling or growing it . . . .” His face clouded with outraged disbelief.
Moby, smirking, relaxed in his lounger. “I coulda told you that, buddy,” he said. “Now get away from my boat or I’ll call the cops on you for harassment.”
Abe gaped in confused shock at the letter. “This is a lie!” he shrieked.
“Wanna call Gwenny out here and finish making an ass of yourself?” Moby asked. I winced; “Gwenny” had been Abe’s pet name for her for 40 years.
Quincas looked confused, so I explained, grimacing, “It says it’s not the bad plant.”
“But it is!” he retorted, amazed. “Abe teaches you and me to know it. That was the bad plant. The letter is very wrong.”
I nodded, but reached for Abe’s arm. “He bought someone off, Abe. Let’s go.”
Moody, stricken Abe stood there with a crucifixion in his face. “I made the mistake of thinking you a quahog,” he informed Moby, with the overbearing dignity of one who has been wronged. “Now I understand: you are a steamer.”
Moby exchanged mocking glances with his guests. “What the hell does that mean?” he asked, laughing harshly.
Quincas understood. He stepped forward and intoned warningly, with sharp gestures and an unnerving lack of Quincas-cheer: “Quahog clams lie there in shallow sand, easy catching with fingers. But steamer clams dig, vanish, and shells can cut you — ouch! To catch the steamer, you must chase, with the correct . . . . ” he struggled for vocabulary, and soberly chose the term “. . .weapon.”
Moby looked more unnerved by this than by any of Abe’s blather.
“So you think I’m a steamer, huh?” he said to Abe, with a forced chuckle.
“I’ll see you at the Possible Dreams Auction,” Abe replied ominously, and turning on his heel, abruptly vanished into the crowd of shark-gawkers.
That auction is next week. Oh, Lord.
On the up side, we finally got some rain.
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Vineyard novelist Nicole Galland’s critically-acclaimed works include Crossed: A Tale of the Fourth Crusade. Visit her Web site, nicolegalland.com.