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A growing group of would-be environmentalists have been protesting against the oyster farm under the mistaken assumption that the activity was harmful to the ecology of the bay. The protest was begun by Sally Wicks a well-meaning, ...
A growing group of would-be environmentalists have been protesting against the oyster farm under the mistaken assumption that the activity was harmful to the ecology of the bay. The protest was begun by Sally Wicks a well-meaning, but ill-informed old time San Amaro resident. Demonstrations against the oyster farm heat up significantly when Jerry Lambert, Sally's ne'er do-well grandnephew arrives in town.
Moyer aided by a young officer, Liam McNamara, assigned as his partner, sets out to discover who killed Garfield. As they get into their investigation of Garfield's murder, the detectives are faced with a series of related crimes including shoplifting, burglary, dope dealing, and political corruption before they finally learn who killed George Garfield.
They assembled again that morning at the edge of the asphalt parking area as they had for the previous seven days, brandishing signs on the ends of sticks or hand-held placards: 'Save the Seals, Stop Killing Eelgrass, Protect San Amaro Bay. Their numbers had swelled over the original five assembled in the early days of the protest. The crowd now numbered at least thirty. A motley gathering: a few carefully dressed and coifed Baby Boomers along with Genxers and Millennials marshaled together through social media. Most were warmly clad with long-sleeved shirts and heavy jackets. New recruits, unfamiliar with the weather on the bay, wore only slogan emblazed T-shirts. One read "Free the Whales" another, "Occupy Wall Street." It wasn't clear if they had wandered into the wrong demonstration or were multitasking protesters. Two anorexic looking teenaged girls, stood self-consciously on the periphery holding placards urging vegans to unite. They grasped their messages, tightly holding them close to their bodies as if fearful some contemptuous carnivore might rip them away.
The scene took place on San Amaro Bay, a narrow inlet on California's Central Coast. The bay widened closer to land where an estuary was formed, fed by freshwater runoff from the hills above the shoreline. Here, where eelgrass abounded, the oystermen tended their crops. A trim white building the size of a double garage stood twenty yards beyond the crowd at the end of the parking lot. Painted letters on a sign spanning the width of its roof read "Mollusks R Us Oyster Farm" Another smaller sign read, "Fresh Oysters Daily."
Just beyond the building a cold fog crept in off the bay, thinly veiling the oyster tanks and processing sheds on the estuary's edge. On the bank of the estuary a crew of three jean clad heavy booted workers were processing the oysters which had been brought in from racks from which clusters of maturing oysters were suspended just below the surface of the water.
The crowd was becoming noisier and more animated. A young man who had worked his way to the front, establishing his position as the ITLαITL protestor, began shouting, "Make noise! Let them know they're destroying the bay," He wore faded jeans and a jacket of gray ersatz leather. A thin wisp of beard hung unkempt several inches below his chin. He was soon joined by another of similar age, clean shaven and sporting a green sweatshirt with "Cal Poly" printed in gold letters.
The two exchanged a high-five greeting and a few sotto voce words before the first continued encouraging the protestors. "Why," he yelled, pointing at the three men handling the oysters, "are we standing here while those people are polluting our bay?"
The putative leader, whose name was Jerry Lambert and his compatriot, Cole Jackson stepped over the property line onto the parking lot. Several of the protesters in the front row began to follow, surging slowly forward. Jackson began chanting, "Save our bay. Save our bay." The crowd immediately took up the chant.
"Come on," the vociferous Lambert exhorted. "We'll stop 'em now!"
Two uniformed police officers, one a white haired Sergeant, the other a young man in his twenties, had been standing next to a squad car parked well to the side of the parking lot where they had been talking to George Garfield, the oyster farm's owner. As the crowd began to surge forward, toward where the oystermen were working, the police officers moved quickly to take a position facing them.
A few in the middle of the pack, either deciding the bay would do fine on its own after all, or recognizing their heads would lose in a battle with police batons, exchanged concerned glances and withdrew to the rear, their signs drooping below their waists.
Leaving their nightsticks swinging in holders at their sides, the police officers raised both arms with hands shoulder high, palms facing the crowd. "Stop," the senior officer, Sergeant Augustus Schott bellowed. The noise of the crowd diminished. He went on, "This is getting out of hand. Back up off the asphalt here." Most of the protesters immediately fell back.
The police officers reached for their nightsticks, removed them from their holders, and held high in front of them with both hands.
The leader shouted, "You can't use those on us. This is a peaceful demonstration. We have a right. It says so in the Constitution."
"Sorry sonny," the senior officer retorted. "We've not only a right but an obligation to keep the peace. So back up ... now."
The young man gave a dismissive upward jerk of his head accompanied by a sneer and with insolent slowness drew back, followed by the others, to where the larger crowd had previously retreated.
"We're gonna have more people here tomorrow!" He spat the words at the police officers. "And more than that the next day. You'll see. We'll close this place down."
George Garfield then walked briskly over from where he had been standing and, faced the crowd. "You simply don't understand," he said speaking loudly, addressing his words to the assembled protesters raising his head and eyes so that he appeared to be looking over the head of the spokesman in an effort at marginalizing the young man's authority.
To demonstrate he could not be so easily sidelined, the young man sneered, "What's to understand, asshole."
Garfield realized unless he could engage clearer heads in the group in rational conversation, he would be fighting this battle ad nauseum. "We really need to talk this whole thing out. If you'll agree to a meeting Monday night, we can discuss the entire issue. I'll arrange to use the auditorium at the Community Center, and I'll be there at 7:30 along with an expert on the subject of aquaculture. I'm sure we can have a fruitful discussion."
"We don't need to talk about ..." The vociferous leader began, before his friend interrupted, "Cool it for a while, Jerry. Let's take him up on his offer to talk."
The suggestion was met with mumbled agreement from a number of the assembled protesters.
"Okay, but it won't be worth jack shit. I'm outa here."
The crowd melted away, assuring one another they would be attending the meeting on Monday.
"They're here again. Smaller crowd than Saturday." Carlos Olmeida, Farm Manager of the Mollusks R Us oyster farm, was on his cell phone talking with his boss, George Garfield.
"The cops there yet?"
"Same as Saturday, the sergeant and another guy."
"What about our people; has everyone shown up for work?" Garfield asked. "Couple of them yesterday were pretty shaken up."
"Everybody's here and we've got a crew out on the water. Long as this mob stays on the other side of the line, it won't interrupt our work. I thought after they agreed to the meeting tonight, maybe they wouldn't come today."
"Bastards! Bent on keeping the pressure on. They're totally irrational, so don't know if our meeting will solve anything. Regardless, we're not going to knuckle under to a bunch of uninformed assholes who refuse to look at the science. I'm getting together with Ted Condon this afternoon to discuss tonight's meeting and then I'll head on home, so you won't see me until tonight at the meeting."
"Sure thing, George. Hope this whole mess gets cleaned up before our people begin to think about moving on elsewhere."
Carlos turned off his phone, looked over at the demonstrators and shook his head in puzzlement. In his twenty years working in oyster framing, the second generation Californian had never witnessed this kind of confrontation, although he was aware one of the Marin County oyster farms had recently had a similar experience.
The promised meeting was scheduled at 7:00 p.m. Dr. Ted Condon, an environmental biologist from Cal Poly in nearby San Luis Obispo who was working with George Garfield and his people, was scheduled to address the gathering to explain why the activities of the oyster farm did not, in fact, have negative effects on the bay's environment.
By four o'clock Carlos, who had been busy overseeing the day's labor, was pleased to note the ranks of the protestors had diminished, leaving only a handful. The leader of the Saturday protest was not among them. All had remained behind the cordon tape delineating the oyster farm's property.
The shooter waited. Dusk was turning to darkness when he saw the man arrive at his usual time and turn his pickup truck into the driveway. There was no one else on the street or sidewalk. The targeted man alighted from the cab of his truck, briskly shoved the door shut and, walking around the front of the truck, faced the unseen shooter. He was about to turn toward the steps leading to the front door of the house when the shooter carefully squeezed the trigger. The silencer on the rifle produced a chirping sound that would unlikely to be heard by anyone over fifty yards away or anyone indoors with their windows closed against the January chill. The bullet found its mark dropping the victim to the pavement. The shooter watched to see if there was any movement from the body. There was none. The street and sidewalk were still empty of traffic. The shooter's job was done.
Ten minutes before seven-thirty a near capacity crowd filled the Community Center meeting room. A block of folding chairs in front were occupied by oyster farm protestors who had arrived early. Later arrivals were scattered among the general audience, most of whom were there to support the oyster operation, which in its five year existence had helped revitalize a community that had experienced tough times after a major employer, Coast Electric Tool Company, had fallen victim to automation and cheap foreign labor.
At the front of the room next to a speakers' platform with a dais and microphone, Carlos stood shifting his weight from foot to foot while looking with intensity beyond the crowd toward the room's entrance. Recognition crossed his face as Dr. Ted Condon entered the room and made his way to the front.
Condon was a stout man in his mid-fifties of average height with closely trimmed graying hair combed above a high forehead. His light blue eyes were assisted in their task by wire framed glasses with large round lenses. He was wearing jeans and black T-shirt under a tan corduroy sport coat.
Before Condon reached him, Carlos spotted George Garfield's sister, Peggy entering the room, her ash blonde hair in a single long braid falling over her left shoulder.
"Where's George?" Peggy asked when she reached the rostrum where the other two were standing.
"I thought he'd be here," Condon answered. "We met from three to four this afternoon. When he left he said he was heading home to get a bite to eat before the meeting."
"That's figures," Peggy said. "He always likes to eat dinner at six-o'clock I was tied up in the gallery, so I skipped dinner and came directly here. How about you, Carlos, have you heard from him?"
"No. He said he'd check in with me this afternoon sometime, but he never did. I figured he forgot to charge his phone battery."
"I know. He does that. It's aggravating," Peggy said, nervously pulling at the hem of a heavy white wool sweater that hung well below the waist band of her black twill slacks. "He surely should be here by now. George simply never runs late. I hope nothing serious has happened."
Seven o'clock had come and the assemblage was becoming impatient. Jerry Lambert, accompanied by Cole Jackson, was the most vocal of the protesters. He stood up from his front row seat shouting, "Where's Garfield? He wanted this meeting. What kind of bullshit games is he playing?"
Carlos strode up to the man saying, "Cool down. George says he'll be here, he'll be here."
"He'd better get here in the next five minutes." Lambert shrugged, turned his back on Carlos and returned to his seat, whispering something to Jackson who occupied the adjoining chair.
Carlos rejoined Peggy and Condon. Peggy said, "Don't you think we'd better get started without George. These people are all getting antsy, including those who side with us. What about it, Dr. Condon, do you want to begin? They need to hear from you."
She again looked nervously toward the entrance wondering what could have held George back from a meeting he had so much wanted to hold.
Condon walked up to the rostrum and flicked the microphone with a finger to assure it was live. "I'm sure Mr. Garfield will be here shortly," he began. "Meanwhile we can get started. George asked me to come personally to explain to everyone here what I have written about over the past year or more, namely the science behind the effects of oyster farming on the eelgrass in the San Amaro Estuary."
"What about the seal pups? You're killing them!" Someone shouted from the audience.
The outburst was followed by calls to let Condon speak.
"Please!" Condon said, "I'll get to the seals before I'm finished. Right now I'd appreciate your listening to what I've got to say about what we've learned through careful scientific research about the eelgrass. After that I'll get to the matter of how the oyster operation affects the seals.
"Now, let me begin by saying that the oyster operation actually promotes eelgrass growth. The reason for this is ..."
Condon was interrupted by a young woman seated in the second row, "What about the fact that we see more eelgrass washed up on the beach than we used to before the oyster farm was there?"
Ignoring the grumbling coming from the bloc of protestors in support of the woman's question, Condon replied, "That's a good question. However, I'll answer it in due time. Again, let me finish explaining the process."
The grumbling became louder, but failed to deter Condon, who, with raised voice, continued his explanation. "Oysters require clean water every bit as much as the eelgrass does."
Before Condon could get farther into his explanation, a loud buzz of voices erupted as a uniformed police officer strode quickly to the front of the room and whispered something to Peggy Garfield, who immediately stood and followed the officer to the door at the rear of the auditorium and out into the foyer. Within seconds a loud anguished cry from beyond the doorway caused the buzz of conversation to become even louder as the audience began speculating about what this development might signify.
Carlos concluded the cry, which related to George not having shown up on time was a harbinger of tragic news. He headed toward the foyer to learn exactly what that news was. If as bad as he suspected, he would have to announce it to the assembled citizens and call an end to the meeting.
When Carlos stepped into the foyer, he found a police Sergeant talking to a distraught Peggy Garfield while two additional uniformed officers stood quietly several feet away. Upon seeing Carlos, Peggy stepped toward him and grasping his arm said tearfully, "It's about George. He's dead. The police sergeant says they believe he was murdered. These crazy demonstrators have killed my brother!"
Blake Moyer retired from Los Angeles County Sheriff 's Office after twenty-five years of service, the last fourteen as a sergeant in the Homicide Bureau. Fourteen years of dealing with murder on an almost daily basis had increased his inherent cynicism. He embraced that cynicism as one of life's more dependable defense mechanisms. It meant you didn't get disappointed too often. By age fifty-seven he had enough murder to last a lifetime. He felt it was time to retire. He was in good health which he attributed to running a half-marathon four or five times a year and training regularly between runs.
He had no family in L.A., having divorced fifteen years earlier. The divorce rate for cops is off the charts, so he never considered remarriage. With no murders to deal with, he spent his first year of retirement visiting his two married daughters and their families, Sue in Denver and Emily in Chicago. He enjoyed his grandkids, but had to admit the conversation wasn't overly stimulating.
After a year of aimless retirement Moyer realized he'd have to move on with his life. He decided a return to police work in a small community, where murders were the exception rather than the rule, sounded like a good antidote for boredom He'd always liked the Central California coast, and when he heard about an upcoming opening for a full-time detective in the fourteen-officer San Amaro Police Department, he decided to apply.
His final interview went well. The Chief, William Wakefield, seemed excited about having a candidate with his background. "Moyer, you've had more experience than any detective we've had on the force since I can remember. Don't mean to disparage Ernie Collins, he's held the detective's job for five years and done a fine job. Earned his retirement.
"We don't have many murders. The ones we have had were pretty straightforward, no great mystery about them. According to everything I've been able to learn, you had a hell of a good record even before you got into homicide. You sure you'll be happy on a small force like ours?"
"I've had enough homicides to last a lifetime. A city like yours is exactly what I'm looking for."
"Then the job is yours." The Chief stood and extended his hand, "Glad to have you on board."
Excerpted from Death of an Oysterman by PATRICK IAN O'DONNELL. Copyright © 2013 Patrick Ian O'Donnell. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse.
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