|“C’mon, mama. Buy it. Dis
necklace is perfect for you,” Thady said, making sure to lay on his Caribbean
accent as thick as possible for the tourists, who drank it up as eagerly
as they did the local pineapple and coconut libations.
“Oh, I don’t know…I mean, it is exquisite, and absolutely unique, but it’s coral. I thought I saw signs in the airport that said buying coral is illegal or something,” the woman said, more to her husband than to Thady, but it was the latter who interjected.
“Nah, don’t worry ‘bout none of dat, mama. De law ain’t gonna hassle a pretty lady like yourself.”
Thady glanced at the husband, who was eyeing Thady warily. Thady smiled and winked, as if the two men shared a year’s long camaraderie instead of having just met moments before.
The wife continued admiring the silver chain adorned with the pink and orange heart-like coral formations, but was interrupted when her husband impatiently protested, “Make up your mind, honey. We’ve been at this market all morning, and I want to get back to the resort so I can get some practice time in before the kayak races this afternoon.”
The wife stalled, then said, “I want it, but I’m sure I saw a sign saying something about coral. And we’re on foreign soil. I don’t want to break any laws and get thrown in jail here.”
Thady eyed the policeman lurking among the stalls off to his left and moved to hurriedly try and close the deal.
“Jail? As long as you got money, pretty lady, you don’t go to jail. Not in dis part of de world.”
“I’m sure the man’s right, honey. That’s how everything works down here. Justice is just a matter of how much you can afford, so don’t worry about it. If you like the necklace, say so and let’s get going.”
“I don’t know…”
Wanting to spare the lady any further battle with her morals, and seeing the policeman had now positioned himself within earshot, Thady said quickly, “Ah, it’s like de mon said, mama. Money get you out of everythin’. Don’t worry ‘bout none of dat. Like I said before, no lawman gonna hassle a pretty lady like you.”
The husband flashed Thady a polite smile before asking his wife in an even more impatient tone than before, “What’s it going to be, honey?”
She shilly-shallied for one more second, then nodded up at her husband.
“I want it.”
Her husband took thirty dollars from his wallet and handed it to Thady, who in turn handed the necklace to the man’s wife. No sooner had she accepted it than a black hand encircled her white wrist. She looked up, astonished and shocked, her eyes growing even wider when she saw who held her: a man clad in a gleaming silver bobby, blue pants, and a smart white shirt with a badge fastened over his heart. And gripped in the policeman’s other hand was Thady by the collar.
Manneville immediately disliked them. For one thing, they epitomized the picture perfect couple all Americans seemed to idolize. But it was more than their looks that irked him. Manneville didn’t appreciate their manner, especially the husband’s. He was too smug, looked through Manneville, like he thought Manneville didn’t exist at all, while at the same time exuding an air that implied that even if Manneville did exist, he was of no consequence. Unfortunately, it was a common tourist attitude to which Manneville took great offense -and one he was forced to endure on a daily basis.
He refocused his attention on the necklace laid out on the table that separated him from the Americans.
“I demand to know why you’ve arrested us,” the husband said. Which pleased Manneville. He learned long ago the advantages of not breaking a silence first.
Choosing to speak with a more cultured British accent instead of his native Caribbean one, Manneville answered, “In St. Lucia, buying coral is a crime.”
Manneville waited, pleased by the beads of perspiration popping up on the man’s forehead, even though the office was comfortably air-conditioned.
“But we didn’t know that! How were we supposed to know that?” the husband raged.
“Ignorance is no defense, sir. Taking coral from St. Lucia’s reef is a very serious crime indeed. Between the last two hurricanes and all the tourists picking away at it over the years, the reef won’t survive if we don’t strictly enforce the law.”
“But we weren’t the ones who took the coral from the reef in the first place!” the wife protested.
“That doesn’t matter. You bought it. Which encourages further destruction.”
“What about the man we bought it from? He had other pieces on him. Why waste your time with us instead of pinning him?”
“Ah, Thady, yes. Bit of a regular around here, I’m afraid. Don’t worry. He’ll be dealt with appropriately.”
The man’s face turned sunburn-red, and it was obvious he was forcing himself to speak with measured control.
“I’m not worried about him. My only concern is for my wife and myself.” He paused, then through gritted teeth added, “Listen, I know how things work down here. You’re not going to put us in jail.”
“Oh?” Manneville asked, raising an eyebrow.
“No. Not if we can make it worth your while.”
“Jeremy, please! We don’t need to add bribery to the list of things they can put us away for.”
“Shut up, Rebecca. Let me handle this.” The man turned his attention back to Manneville.
“So? How much is this little infraction of local law going to cost me? Fifty bucks?”
Fifty dollars? The man was crazy. Manneville had never let anyone off that cheap, and certainly never anyone who had so little regard for St. Lucia’s laws.
“Do you know the fine for taking even this small piece of coral?” Manneville asked, nodding at the necklace on the table.
The man shook his head.
“Five thousand. Minimum.”
“Five thousand! I don’t have five thousand dollars on me!”
Manneville laughed to himself. That certainly got the arrogant man’s attention.
“Which is why you’ll agree what a bargain six hundred is.”
“You can’t be serious?”
“Did I mention the jail time? You don’t want your wife’s memories of your vacation to St. Lucia to be of the penal system, do you?”
“My wife?” the man asked, confused.
“Why, yes. She was the one I caught Thady handing the necklace to, so she would be the one arrested-”
“Jeremy!” the woman howled, close to tears.
“You’re not going to jail, Becca.” The husband squeezed his shaking wife’s knee and glared at Manneville.
“Fine. You win.” He reached into his wallet and started tossing bills onto the table. At two hundred he stopped. “I only have traveler’s checks left.”
“Four hundred dollars worth?”
Jeremy sneered at Manneville, then added four hundred dollars in traveler’s checks to the booty on the table.
“Is that it? Can we go now?” Jeremy asked, seething.
The wife wasted no time in springing to her feet.
“Wait a sec, Becca,” her husband said before she could open the door.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” the husband asked Manneville.
Manneville furrowed his brows, pretending to be confused.
“I don’t think so.”
“You want it back?”
Manneville read the man’s narrowed eyes as a yes.
“I’m sorry,” Manneville said, shaking his head. “I can’t do that.”
“What?” the husband roared.
“Forget it, Jeremy. I don’t want it anymore anyway.”
He redirected his fury on his wife.
“Oh no, you’re not getting out of it that easy. After what that necklace just cost us, I’m not leaving without it.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to,” Manneville said.
Dumbfounded, the man gaped at him. A minute later he said, “Oh, I get it.” He reached into his wallet and held up two more fifty-dollar traveler’s checks. “Will this be enough?”
Manneville shook his head. “If I give you back the necklace, what evidence will I have against Thady?”
The husband turned a new shade of scarlet.
“I can’t believe this is happening,” he said, his hands clenched into fists at his side.
After a moment, and apparently realizing the fruitlessness of any further argument, the husband grabbed his wife’s arm, opened the door, and ushered her down the hall, pausing momentarily when they reached a windowed-office, where, inside, Thady sat alone. After one last scowl at the man who had caused them so much grief, the man led his wife out of the station and back into the bright Caribbean sun.
“How much did you get for de necklace this time?” Manneville asked, abandoning the British brogue now that he was once again amongst a fellow countryman.
“Thirty. And you?” Thady asked, semi-sarcastically.
“Six hundred,” Manneville answered, tossing the necklace into Thady’s lap. “Just a few more like dat, and your fine for scalpin’ de coral will be all paid off.”