Cover image for Oyster blues
Oyster blues
McClelland, Michael.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
New York : ibooks, inc. : Distributed by Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2002.

Physical Description:
285 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
X Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense
X Adult Fiction Mystery/Suspense

On Order



This fast-paced and thriller, first published as an e-book in 2001, is about a man, a woman, a boat, the mob, gunds, oysters and a mysterious coffin.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

The seventh bestselling e-book on last year, Michael McClelland's first novel, Oyster Blues, introduces two endearing characters, bookish Florida oyster-shucker Jane Ellen Ashley and equally bookish Happy Harry Harper, who inadvertently get mixed up with the mob and murder as they amble along the path to true romance. A Featured Selection of the Mystery and Literary Guilds, this one may be short on dialogue but serves up plenty of lively exposition. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Jane Ellen Ashley and Happy Harry Harper are a couple of born losers, each on the run from a less-than-perfect past until a chance encounter brings them together, and without a moment's hesitation they sail off into the sunset in a contraband boat with mobster bullets flying around them. Enough already? That's just the beginning. There are the questionable contents of a casket, two murders to solve, a legislator to implicate, and the mob to placate before they can think of living happily ever after. Wacky characters, a breathless pace, off-the-wall dialog, and a plot that skates on the edge of fantasy bring to mind the best of Elmore Leonard; while a Florida setting, environmental issues, and dirty politics call to mind Carl Hiassen and S.V. Date. A former best seller in e-book format, Oyster Blues debuts in print, and well it should, for it is a wonderfully quirky, rib-splittingly funny, slightly preposterous crime novel that mystery aficionados will find perfect for a lazy afternoon. Recommended for all public libraries. Thomas L. Kilpatrick, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Chapter 1 The rum alone would not have been enough to make Harry shoot them like he did. Nor would the heat, the sex, or the simple revolting arrogance of it all. But when Happy Harry Harper woke up that sticky September morning, hung over, hot and irritable, to see two thumb-sized palmetto bugs fucking on the wall opposite his bed, something inside him just snapped. Harry reached under the wadded-up blue jeans he was using as a pillow and pulled out his .38 automatic. He thumbed off the safety and, without taking time to ruin his shot by aiming, pointed and fired. The gun spit fire and thunder, ripping a silver-dollar-sized hole in the weathered gray wood of his rented room. Bug bits and wood splinters exploded out into the steamy Dominican sunshine. Harry grabbed his throbbing head, cursed himself for mixing gunfire and hangovers, and collapsed backwards onto his rickety cot. The cot spun dizzily underneath him, and for a moment Harry thought he might throw up. He took a moment to double-damn his luck and his judgment, then put the gun back under his pillow and went back to sleep. Let's face it. Harry was just not a morning person. The loud gunshot from the upstairs room scattered the chickens she was feeding in the courtyard outside, and Juanita Peron breathed a quiet curse at her yanqui guest. Normally, she let her yanqui tenants stay about a month before calling her cousin Jorgé to run them across the island to the American embassy in Santo Domingo. That gave them plenty of time to drink too many bottles of rum on tab, eat lots of the curried chicken and pork Juanita made especially mild for their yanqui tastes, and get drunk enough to smash several of the expensive-looking pottery vases her sister Eliza made five-at-a-time in her tourist booth at the portside market in Puerto Plata. Jorgé would take the humiliated yanqui to the angry embassy staff, who would advance him cash against whatever U.S. credit he could produce. Then Jorgé would give the embassy men their gri-gri, take out his own 15 percent, and return the rest to Juanita. This particular yanqui , though -- this Harry Hopper -- he was crazier than most. He didn't go with the whores at La Bonita, or chase Juanita herself, and he wouldn't buy the cheap green ganja Jorgé's second son Paulo sold other yanquis by the fistful. He didn't try to take money from the card players in La Bonita's downstairs bar, no matter how hard they tried to make themselves look like stupid islanders. He did drink -- he drank perhaps more than any other yanqui she had ever had, Juanita thought, chasing rum shots with Red Stripe beers and then more shots -- but he drank by himself. Sometimes he went for long walks on the beach down the hill from Juanita's, stumbling along beside the water turned gray and smoky by the gold miners who had come and raped the hillside and fouled the water before admitting there was no gold in Cielo Bay and then leaving. On quiet nights, she could hear him shooting coconuts with that big pistol of his, and laughing and shooting again. She never was sure if he was laughing when he hit them, or laughing because he missed. But he laughed a lot. Mostly, though, this yanqui read books. He would sit for hours under the tangled grape arbor behind Juanita's chicken shed with a book in one hand and a rum glass in the other, or stretched out on the cool concrete of the mine's abandoned loading dock, reading. His books were paperbacks, all old and torn. Juanita couldn't read the English titles -- could not have read them, in fact, even if they had been in Spanish -- but the day she went through the yanqui 's gym-bag luggage while he slept out in the arbor she recognized a certain sameness to the covers. They all seemed to have pretty girls looking frightened, or bodies lying face-down and bloody, or both. And almost always, there was a gun somewhere on the cover. Often it was leaking smoke. The yanquis who ended up at Juanita's end-of-the-line boarding house were usually very angry men -- angry at a woman, angry at the world, angry at themselves -- and Juanita knew how to deal with that. Sometimes, they were sad, usually because of a woman, and Juanita knew how to deal with that too. But despite the drinking, and the shooting, in a strange way it seemed like this particular yanqui , this Harry Hopper, was almost content. And Juanita had no idea at all how to deal with that. It made her very nervous, and anxious to get this particular tenant out of her home as quickly as possible. But Harry Hopper didn't seem to be in any hurry to leave, and he actually had cash of his own, even if it was only Dominican Republic pesos and not the American dollars that were worth far more in both buying power and prestige. He didn't mind when she demanded rent prices twice that paid by the islanders who lived in the much nicer rooms downstairs, and didn't even complain when she asked to be paid in advance. He ate the hottest jerky chicken she could serve up without so much as asking for extra water, and somehow seemed to sidestep all the pottery knickknacks she kept shifting around the house, no matter how well concealed they were, or how drunk he was. He didn't even seem to mind that she kept mispronouncing his name, which she knew damn well was Harper, with an r . Juanita wouldn't deny that Hopper was a fine tenant, and certainly he was good for her pocketbook. Still, he made her nervous. And now, with two other yanquis in town -- nearly unprecedented, at least since the mine closed -- she could easily replace, even double, the income lost if he were to move on. Those other two yanquis , of course, were just as crazy as most Americans who ended up in Cielo Bay. They stayed on their little sailboat up by Tomato Creek day after day, never coming into town. They even tried to cover the boat with branches so no one could see it -- as if no one would notice a thirty-foot-long brush pile with an aluminum mast! -- rather than simply admit they had been blown into Cielo Bay during last week's storm and couldn't sail well enough to get back out. There were a dozen fishermen in town alone who could get those fools out in minutes, but they held off, knowing the true value of a yanqui and respecting the ability of Juanita and Peres (who owned La Bonita, the only bar still open in Cielo Bay) to milk those yanquis dry. The fishermen knew that anyone who ran off the Americans early would suffer Juanita's anger; they knew too that anyone who helped her along would get a little gri-gri. Juanita tossed the last bit of cornmeal to her still-skittish chickens, glanced again toward the upstairs room and shook her head in disgust. Crazy yanquis ! Sometimes she believed God had given them all the money to make up for not giving them brains. Juanita picked up the plastic bucket she used to carry the chicken feed, still marked Blue Bay Gold in fading black stencil, and walked around the corner of her house to the small barn behind it. She noted with satisfaction the fresh hole darkening the side of the upstairs bedroom. She could fix it for next to nothing, Juanita knew, with some scrap wood and a bit of plaster. But the yanqui would not know that. At dinner tonight she would tearfully explain the difficulties of obtaining a carpenter this far from the city, she decided, and see if Hopper would once again reach so calmly into his bottomless wallet. Juanita rounded the corner to the barn door and then stopped dead still. She raised one hand to her mouth, turned backwards so she could bite her knuckles in shock. The grain bucket dropped from her nerveless fingers and hit the bare earth floor with a hollow plonk ! that seemed to echo on forever. Campeón lay on the ground before her, his neck twisted sideways, blood pooling around his mangled head. He lay framed by the light spilling through the open door like Jesus in the paintings at the church in Plata. Majestic, still, silent. Juanita let out a single despairing moan, then rushed forward and dropped to her knees before Campeón. Tearfully, she slipped her small hands under Campeón's still-warm corpse and lifted. He rose easily, lightly, as if there were no weight left in his empty body. His head swung loosely at the end of his neck, and several drops of bright red blood dripped from his open beak to spatter in the dust at Juanita's knees. Juanita closed her eyes and sniffed loudly. Mighty Campeón, her prize gamecock, the king of her courtyard and pride of her heart, was dead. True, the bird had been old, and half-blind and unfit even for stud, and Juanita knew that her neighbors thought her foolish to keep him around. But she still remembered when the gangly rooster had been the undisputed master of the fighting pit, wild, furious, unbeatable and untameable. She remembered watching breathlessly as Campeón destroyed opponent after opponent, shredding them even after they were down and still, unconcerned with the shouts and curses of the men surrounding him there in the makeshift arena in the hills above Cielo Bay. There was something historic and noble about the bird, about the way he fought on and on regardless of the odds against him or how many wanted him to fall. He captured her imagination and then he captured her heart, strutting in the firelight beside the pit, clawing at the body of a downed opponent without a single mark on him. Once, making love with her man Hector after a night at the cockfights, Juanita had called out "Campeón!" at the moment of pleasure. Hector jumped up and cursed her, enraged and humiliated, sweaty, angry, his shiny-wet brown penis already limp. He had gone to Puerto Plata and thrown a three-day drunk. Even though she came and bailed him out of jail and tenderly cared for the cuts he'd won in a barroom fight, Hector never forgave her. He never would return to the cockfights, and when she ignored his order that she not attend either, he left her. Small loss -- Hector was just a man, after all. But Campeón! Week after week she had gone to see him fight, hiking alone the six kilometers to the pit at old Markus's worthless farm every Saturday night. She bet on her Campeón relentlessly, even when the odds against him were so long it was foolish to do so. Even when no one would take her bets, when Campeón was so feared and respected that no one would send a decent bird against him, still she went, just to see him dominate. Campeón's owner, Velente, kept the bird fighting long after he should have been retired, and when the inevitable happened, when a much younger cock slashed a spur through Campeón's left eye and closed the right with a series of sharp pecks, Juanita had stepped in between the two birds and offered a miraculous sum for the fallen champion. Campeón had the run of her courtyard after that. Campeón would kill anything he could see, of course, but since he could hardly see at all and the chickens knew well enough to stay away from him, that hardly mattered. It meant keeping her nameless stud rooster in a wire cage out on the front porch -- even a barnyard rooster would have sensed Campeón's weakness and killed him immediately -- but the only alternative was caging Campeón himself, and that Juanita would not do. She knew her neighbors thought her foolish, and shook their heads at the way she took her hens to the caged stud for service one by one. But they didn't know about her father, who had run off and left Juanita's mother to turn whore in Santa Domingo when Juanita was just a child. They had forgotten old Alverez, who found the orphaned Juanita sleeping on the beach, married her and brought her to Cielo Bay, only to drink himself to death and leave her with his worthless, used-up farm when his dreams of a great hotel died with the gold mine. They didn't think about Hector, or Antonio, or José, or any of the other men who had come and gone, all of them leaving, all of them taking a little more of her, all of them worthless. She needed them and hated them, all of these men who seemed so fine at the start but turned out undeserving of their own lives, much less of hers. But Campeón never faltered, never failed. Even in defeat, one ruined eye oozing blood and water like a crushed grape, he had stood proud and strong, slashing at empty air in his blindness and anger. Campeón was all the strength of maleness without the foolishness of man. He was masculinity itself, strutting and scraping through his hard life, and he inspired her. Many times, when her bed was empty and her larder was bare, when the gentle waves slapping the shore out in the dark bay seemed to be calling her to come and join them, Juanita had turned to Campeón's memory and presence to find the strength to carry on. As long as Campeón persevered, so could she. But now Campeón was dead. Dead, she slowly realized, at the hand of a drunken, crazy yanqui who fired bullets blindly through her own walls. Dead at the hand of an unseen enemy without the courage to even take Campeón face to face. Dead at the hands of one more rotten, lousy, stinking man. Juanita let Campeón's broken body slip to the ground. She rose slowly and turned toward her bare ramshackle house. She wiped her bloody hands on her cotton apron, and looked up to the quiet second-story bedroom with murder in her eyes. It was time to collect the rent. The courtyard was quiet after Juanita's departure. Dust motes danced in the glittering sunshine, and a weathered wood shutter creaked slightly in the morning breeze. Campeón the mighty lay where Juanita had dropped him, calmly awaiting ascendance or the ants, whichever came first. The sound of a door slamming open suddenly sang out from the upstairs bedroom, followed by a loud and steady stream of expletives shouted in staccato Spanish. As if in response, the uppermost bale on the stack of hay Juanita kept in the barn for her goats began inching forward. It jiggled forward an inch at a time, stopped, and then moved again. Finally it reached a precipitous balance atop the other half-dozen bales, tottered forward, and fell. Into the opening thus created came a very large, somewhat weathered hand, followed by a considerably larger and even more weathered face. Campeón, had he still breath to breathe and eyes to see, might have thought the man some sort of fantastic barnyard apparition, the ghost, perhaps, of discarded scarecrows long deceased. He had an angry shock of red hair tufted atop his huge head, beetle-eyes hidden far beneath his jutting brows, and a series of scars, scabs and fresh cuts mottling his road map of a face. His hands were big as plates, and his fingers, long and thick as immature plantains, were crisscrossed with star-shaped scars. The figure pushed two more bales aside with an effortless sweep of his hand and strode out into the sunlight, six feet-six inches of ugly in a Brooks Brothers suit. He adjusted his blue silk tie, glanced up to where the angry Spanish tirade continued to blister the steamy air, and stood blinking in the bright morning sunlight. He looked like Vulcan fresh emerged from his forge, a misshapen giant not quite sure of how to maneuver in this bright new world. The sunlight also seemed to spotlight his most extraordinary feature, that is, his mouth. It was not the bottomless-pit sort of a mouth normally found on a giant; it was, in fact, ludicrously small. It was a mouth intended for a face half this size, a mouth that would have looked at home on a child. That mouth would have been inadequate even on a small man; on this face, lost amid those acres and acres of weathered flesh, it was almost grotesque. That joke of a mouth was the sole source of the shadowy giant's ill-fitting nickname. His real name, the name given to him by his youthful mother before she abandoned him in a Brooklyn orphanage, was Thomas Theodore Puglowski, but his friends all called him Tiny. At least, Tiny supposed, they would if he had any friends. He didn't; not really. All he had was Big Al, who was more his boss than his buddy, and he didn't really think what Big Al called him was a nickname. He hoped not. "Big dummy" wasn't much of a nickname. Still, Tiny knew that he was lucky to have Big Al to help him along. He needed guidance in life, and Al had been giving him that guidance for as long as he could remember. Well, not as long as he could remember, 'cause he could remember better than most people thought, but at least since that day up in Starke when Al had come up to Tiny in the exercise yard and told him he was gonna let Tiny be his bodyguard. Big Al needed a bodyguard 'cause he was sort of a little guy, and Tiny -- well, like Big Al said, Tiny needed guidance. And it worked out okay for Tiny. Al always had some sort of scheme going, even in prison. Like when Al told people they had to pay a one-cigarette toll to go past his cell after 5 P.M. A toll in jail! Tiny liked that one. Even if he didn't smoke cigarettes. They were a good team, that's what Al said. Tiny liked being on a team, which he had never done before, even if Al got mad and yelled sometimes. Al said he only did it because Tiny was so big and slow and clumsy, and Tiny sure couldn't argue with that. Tiny got so used to Big Al telling him what to do that when the warden said it was time to leave, Tiny asked if he could maybe stick around until Al's sentence was up. But the warden said no, and Al said no, too. He said that he was making big plans for them, and that it was only gonna be a few more months, and that Tiny should get a job and lie low and try and save up a little money. So that's what Tiny did. He got work as a fry cook at a Waffle Hut in Lakeland that was so small he kept banging his head on the pots hanging from the low ceiling. He cooked breakfast six days a week and dinners on Saturday nights, pancakes and sausages and grilled cheese sandwiches and sweet ice tea. And grits. Tiny really liked that job. He liked the smell of bacon and butter, he liked the sleepy customers slurping coffee over morning papers, he liked how eggs looked like big yellow eyes when you fried them just right. But he still quit the day Al walked in and said he'd found work for them with a friend of a friend, even though the Waffle Hut manager said Tiny made the best damn omelet in the history of Lake County and promised he'd find somewhere else to store the big pots. Tiny didn't even worry when Al said they had to fly to the Caribbean and then sail a boat back, even though he'd never been on a sailboat and couldn't swim. He knew Big Al would know what to do. But then Al got sick. He got sick even before the big storm came and blew them into this bay with the dirty, smelly water and the strange black fishermen who would point and laugh at their boat hidden on the shore, but never ever wave. Big Al got really sick. He would lean over the side of the boat for hours at a time, puking his guts out, all the time yelling at Tiny about how to sail the boat, and Tiny would get all confused and do something wrong, 'cause he really didn't know anything about sailing, and that's how they ended up stuck in this dirty little bay. That was almost a week ago, and Al was still sick. He wasn't throwing up much anymore, now that they weren't sailing, but he just laid in bed and didn't look real good. And he was worried too. He knew that they had to get the boat up to Miami soon, and that they were losing time sitting here, but every time he tried to get up to start sailing it just made him sick again, and he'd yell at Tiny for not being a good enough sailor to get them out of the bay on his own. Tiny didn't know much about sailing, but he knew what Big Al needed. He needed a good meal. He especially needed fresh hot soup -- chicken soup. But the only food they had with them was canned stuff, mostly Chef Boyardee Beefaroni and Spaghetti-Os, and powdered eggs. Lots of powdered eggs, which weren't near as good as fresh eggs, but still Tiny doctored them up with everything he could find on the boat, and they weren't all that bad. Al liked 'em, liked 'em and kept eating 'em even after he got sick. But now Al was sick and needed more than just omelets, and still he wouldn't let Tiny go into the little town to get anything else. Al was real secretive. So Tiny just made omelets, and Chef Boyardee, and omelets with Chef Boyardee in them. Big Al stayed sick, and they both worried more and more. Then, last night, Tiny had had a brainstorm. Al hadn't said he couldn't go off the boat, just that they couldn't let anybody see them. If Tiny could just find a chicken without having to talk to anybody... So this morning Tiny got up very early, even before sunrise, and carefully dressed himself in the dark. He put on his best suit; Big Al always said you had to look your best in their line of work. Then he slipped off the boat and up into the hills above the bay. There were a few little farms there, shacks really, and Tiny thought they might have chickens. He was right, too. The very first place he'd come to, hiding in the scrub pines and prickly mangrove bushes, he'd seen a big ol' black woman out in the yard feeding chickens from a plastic bucket. There was a little outbuilding behind the house that Tiny figured might be a chicken shack, and he was right about that too. Trouble was, most of the chickens were out front getting fed, and the few that were in the shack, well, he just couldn't catch them. (David Tony, who was his manager in Brooklyn when Tiny was boxing as Gino the Giant, back before he got his ear problem and lost his balance, always used to say that Tiny's problem was that he was real big but also real slow.) Finally, though, he found one he could catch; in fact, it just stood there waiting for him. But when he reached down to grab it, it jabbed him, hard, with its pointy beak. Really hard, hard enough to draw blood; then it opened its wings, flapped real hard and charged right at him. Tiny didn't know much about chickens, but he knew he didn't want to get pecked again. So he reared back and kicked that damn bird just as hard as he could. It went flying across the barn and slammed into the far wall. Then it bounced to the ground, stood up and took a few steps, even though any fool could see that its neck was broke and it was already dead. Finally it flopped its way out to the middle of the little barn, fell over on its side and stopped kicking. Tiny walked over to pick it up, already smiling about how much better Al was going to feel once he got some good hot chicken soup in him. That's when he heard the gunshot. Tiny figured the owner of the farm had seen him and was mad about the chicken. He ran to the back of the barn and got behind some hay bales, even though he wasn't real sure hay would stop a .38, and he knew that sound; it was a .38 for sure. He stayed there for a minute, and when nothing else happened he figured the farmer had the barn door covered and was just waiting for him to come out in the open. He was still hiding behind the hay a few minutes later when the lady feeding the chickens walked in. He was peeping out real careful between the bales and saw her when she picked up that dead chicken and started crying. It made Tiny feel bad, like maybe the chicken was her pet or something, but when she ran out again he thought of poor Al puking his guts out and knew he had to have that bird, pet or not. So when he heard the lady upstairs yelling in Spanish, he figured he'd better make his move. Now that he had a good look at that chicken, though, Tiny wasn't so sure. It was the ugliest damn chicken he'd even seen, and scrawny too. Tiny started to get an uneasy feeling that maybe he'd screwed up again, and maybe Big Al wouldn't be so happy after all. Then he saw the row of nests back along the sidewall of the barn. There were eggs in some of them, and Tiny smiled in relief. He put the dead chicken in the coat pocket of his extra-extra-large gray flannel Brooks Brothers suit and loaded up his hands with eggs. Then he started out the barn door and -- wham! -- walked right into the doorjamb, headfirst. Tiny bounced off the door, shook his head real quick a couple times, and smiled. That hadn't been such a bad one, and he hadn't cracked even a single egg. The manager of the Waffle Hut in Lakeland used to bet people that his fry cook could hold a dozen eggs in one hand, and he'd win, and Tiny was glad about that now. 'Cause maybe he didn't know much about chickens and he sure didn't know much about sailing, but Thomas Theodore "Tiny" Puglowski made the best damn omelet in the history of Lake County. Harry had just about gotten himself back to sleep, nestled there among the sticks and ticks of his straw mattress and the scratchy denim of his makeshift pillow, when the bedroom door slammed open and a furious figure charged in. His first instinct was to grab his gun and leap up into the shooter-ready position, both arms straight out, legs spread for balance, finger on the trigger. His second impulse was to collapse back into bed, grab his aching head and puke out as much of last night's rum and Red Stripe as possible. He didn't get the opportunity to do either one. He had barely got to his feet when his landlady Juanita, completely mindless of the fact he was doing his best to point a loaded .38 in her general direction, whacked him hard upside the head with a plastic bucket swung by its curved metal handle. He abandoned the pistol in favor of raising both arms protectively above his throbbing head. Juanita's second blow caught him flat on his crossed elbows, sending him backwards onto the rickety bed. The bed in turn collapsed with a mighty crash, spilling him onto his knees before his furious, bucket-wielding attacker. Harry didn't understand much Spanish at the best of times, and Juanita was peppering her diatribe with plenty of Cajun, a few choice words in English and a dialect or two Harry didn't even recognize. Still, it seemed to him that it more than likely involved money, so when Juanita stopped swinging and cursing to catch her breath, he scuttled across the floor, reached under the torn mattress and grabbed his wallet. He flipped the wallet open, turned it to reveal his dwindling cache of bills and, still on his knees like a supplicant before a priest, offered it up to Juanita. But the sight of money did not have the pacifying effect on his landlady that Harry expected. If anything, it increased her rage. "Money? Money?" Juanita sputtered. " Le mata Campeón! Le mata mi querido Campeón! " She swung the bucket in a murderous uppercut that missed Harry's head by inches but nailed the proffered wallet dead-on. Harry watched in surprise as all the various parts of his life scattered upward in a multicolored explosion of paper. Money, credit cards, university ID card, brand-new plastic-coated P.I. license, all went knifing skyward and then came flipping back down again, captivating Harry's confused and bleary mind. All this paper, all his life, like so much confetti in the wind. Harry was entranced. Then Juanita hit him with her backhand. The bucket whacked into the side of Harry's head with a reverberating plasticized thonk! Harry spun around backwards, tried to rise and, holding his vibrating cranium, pitched forward onto what remained of the bed. The crippled cot fell over sideways, dropping Harry once more to his knees. It also catapulted the loaded .38, sitting on the far corner of the bed where Harry had dropped it, clattering to the hardwood floor. Harry and Juanita both watched as the pistol skidded across the floor like a hockey puck on home ice. It rotated slowly as it slid, once, twice, and then came to rest four feet away from poor hurtin' Harry, right at Juanita's feet. Both combatants stared at the gun for a moment, each contemplating in the sudden silence how this new development had changed things. Then Juanita looked at Harry and Harry looked at her -- and Juanita smiled a wicked, wicked smile. Harper, ol' buddy, Harry thought to himself, it's time for you to leave. Things had not improved appreciably for Happy Harry Harper an hour later. His hangover had subsided only marginally, his bare legs and feet were scratched and bleeding from his flight through the mangroves around Juanita's boarding house, and his stomach was growling with hunger. He had fled wearing only what he slept in -- a torn cotton undershirt and University of Michigan-Detroit campus exercise shorts -- and the yellowflies were chewing him up. Worst -- worst by far -- Harry had had the time to translate some of the things his furious landlady had said, and he was deeply concerned. Happy Harry Harper was beginning to believe he had committed murder. "' Le mata mi querido ' -- 'You murdered my lover,' right?" he wondered as he walked. "'You murdered my lover Campeón.'" Was it true? It was possible. He didn't remember doing anything brutal the night before, but then again, he didn't remember much of anything from the night before. He remembered drinking extra Red Stripes with that damnably hot chicken at supper. He remembered reading Mickey Spillane, re-reading, actually, by lantern light in his room, knocking back warm rum and dreaming of cold Cokes, and he remembered staggering down to La Bonita, which at least sold warm rum-and-Cokes. He remembered walking along the beach, singing, under a sliver of a moon. He remembered -- Harry came to a sudden stop, his feet digging into the hot white beach sand. He remembered this morning, those damn roaches, the .38 cold and angry in his hand. The bullet went right through that paper-thin wall, he remembered. If there had been someone outside, say down in the courtyard near Juanita's barn... "I think I'm going to throw up," Harry said. And he did. He felt a little better when he was finished, though in truth there hadn't been much in his stomach to begin with. But he was no less despondent. He'd killed someone, someone innocent and unsuspecting, some happy young islander in the prime of life. A young man, coming over to visit his lover for a morning tryst, shot down by a careless bullet striking like lightning from a clear sky. How could he possibly live with that? And, come to think of it, how could he live at all? He was stranded in a foreign land far from home, with no friends, no phone, not even much clothing. All the money in the world was in the hands of the enraged woman whose lover he had just sent to an early grave, the woman who emptied his own gun at him as he fled from her home. Juanita was no doubt calling in the local constable at that very moment, that is, if she decided to call in the law at all. Maybe she'd just get together a lynch mob and come after him. Harry hadn't exactly made many friends in his time in Blue Bay, and none of those fishermen in La Bonita looked like they would balk at stringing up a murdering yanqui . Harry groaned and held his head. After a minute, driven by guilt and the swarming yellowflies, he decided to walk a little farther. Harry didn't know, of course, that Juanita had more menace than murder in her tired soul, and was no more capable of shooting him than he was of shooting her. The gunshots he'd heard as he dove into the thickets outside her home were simply her exacting her revenge on the only thing she knew Harry cared for. She fired point-blank into Harry's UM gym bag, reveling in the way each shot sent pieces of paperbacks flying into the air. But eventually the bits of torn pages drifting back to the floor reminded her of feathers, of Campeón's feathers, and Juanita gave up the shooting to collapse into her grief. Harry also didn't know, couldn't know, that at that very moment a pair of white squirrels were happily nibbling away at the thick pulp oozing out of a gourd hanging from a vine twining through the tall mangrove tree fifty feet away from his bedroom window. There was a large hole on each side for the squirrels to nibble at, each large enough for the squirrels to stick their nimble paws into and extract more of the sticky goo. Nor could Harry know that when the sated squirrels left, the ants and beetles would move in, cleaning the inside of the gourd right down to the last syrupy seed. Months later, after the gourd had dried and hardened in the steady Caribbean sun, a female doctor-bird hummingbird looking for a place to nest would find the .38 caliber holes a perfect doorway for her and her mate. Weeks later, the sight of the young hatchlings flitting around her courtyard, their colorful tails already much longer than their slight bodies, would help bring Juanita out of the months-long funk engendered by the loss of her beloved Campeón. Inspired by the energetic hummingbirds, Juanita would puncture, clean and hang nearly two dozen additional gourds of all sizes. When Walter K. Gentry Jr., insurance broker and vice-president of the Omaha Bird Watchers Association, awoke in Juanita's guest room a year later to find that his watch, his wallet and his Puerto Plata hooker were all gone, Juanita's courtyard would have become an avian rainbow. There were tall green cotica parrots, tiny manuelitos, sprightly querebebes, gaudy great hummingbirds, the doctor-bird hummingbirds, and a dozen more species and sub-species flitting back and forth among the bougain-villea vines and hand-carved gourds spidering through Juanita's courtyard. Despite his unexpected troubles, Walter would be entranced. The trickle of middle-aged Nebraska birders who started drifting into Cielo Bay the following summer would be delighted to find that settling silt had made the once-brown water once more true to its name, and that their vice-president's somewhat dubious story of a hidden birders' paradise was not, as some small-minded gossips had suggested, merely a cover story. Walter would buy a new watch, convince his wife his wallet really had fallen overboard on a sightseeing cruise, and humbly accept his fellow birders' insistence that he take over as president. Juanita, who would be delighted to learn that in Nebraska everyone pays in cash and in advance, would no longer have much time to mourn her murdered rooster. During the day there were meals to cook, gourds to hang, pottery to replace. And, judging from the way the handsome young carpenter who was adding on a second upstairs room kept looking at her, Juanita guessed her nights too would soon be busy. Still, there were those moments, when the full moon glittered like a pitfire in the sky and the night heat sent sweat trickling down her brown arms like rivers on a muddy hillside, when Juanita would remember her fallen Campeón. She would think of that foolish macho bird who refused to stop, no matter what the odds, and then look around at her growing tourist empire and smile. Always, too, she took a moment to wonder whatever became of the crazy yanqui who sent Campeón to his final rest. Nothing good, she hoped. That was, in effect, exactly what Juanita was thinking that hot September morning as she sat on the floor of her upstairs room steadily tearing each and every remaining paperback page into long thin strips while, miles away, a troubled and torn Harry Harper stumbled down the dirty beach. She was hoping, with all her saddened heart, that nothing good would happen to that murdering yanqui . And she was getting her wish. Copyright (c) 2001 by Michael McClelland Excerpted from Oyster Blues: A Novel by Michael McCelland All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.