Two Headed Snake of Key West- Chapter Two

Chapter Two

A cannon thundered  in the distance as the fiery orb melted into the horizon and disappeared beneath the turquoise sea, leaving a warm, orange afterglow.   Cheers and clapping celebrated the close of another day.  Cuban rhythms, rich in brass and percussion drifted over the choppy sea to the thirty-six foot sloop picking its way along the harbor at twilight through the traffic jam of schooners, catamarans, party boats and almost anything else that floated.

Garret manned the helm with muscles tensed, ready for action.  Deep furrows separated his brows.  Navigating Key West’s shallow waters and deadly reefs was intimidating without the added Sunset Celebration traffic.  Liz stood slightly behind him, her back resting in the corner where the stern and starboard rails met.  Thirty years of marriage had taught her when it was time to be silent and this was one of those times.  Her job was to keep watch for the red nuns and green cans that marked the channel to the Key West Byte where they planned to spend a few days.

“Something floating two o’clock,”  she yelled above the drone of the diesel engine.

Garret sighted the white buoy when he was almost upon it and turned hard to port to avoid being caught in the line that ran under the surface to the crab trap below.   Sloopy’s bow spun ninety degrees in its own length and into the path of a Jet Ski that seemed to come out of nowhere.  Before Garret could react, it roared past them, crossing their bow and missing them by inches.

Liz gasped.

“You OK?  Garret asked over his shoulder as he steered them back on course.

“Yup,”  Liz lied.  Her wobbly knees threatened to dump her onto the deck.  She silently gave thanks that they had chosen to motor instead of sail into the harbor.  With sails up, they might not have been able to avoid a collision.

Garret fell into line behind the parade of charter boats that were making their way back to the docks.  The shore twinkled like a diamond necklace.  Cuban music, heavy with brass, beckoned.   Slowly, Liz regained her sea legs and commenced docking preparations.  On each side, she hung a white inflated fender from the mid-ship stanchion where the boat bellied.  Grabbing two dock lines from the starboard, cockpit locker, she moved forward to the bow, careful to grasp the rigging until she passed the cabin roof.  When the lines were secured to the bow cleats, she coiled them onto the deck and moved aft to repeat the process in the stern.

“We’re almost there.  Want to call in?”  Garret called out.

Liz nodded in agreement and went below to the navigation station.  She picked up the VHF radio microphone and selected channel 16.

“Conch Harbor.  Conch Harbor.  Conch Harbor.  This is the sailing vessel, Sloopy.  Over,”  she said distinctly into the microphone.

“This is Conch Harbor switching in answer to 10,”  a voice answered over the radio.

“Sloopy switching to 10,”  she replied.

“Sloopy, Sloopy, Sloopy.  This is Conch Harbor,”  the voice called.

“This is Sloopy.  We have a reservation,”  Liz said.

“We’ve been expecting you, Sloopy.  I have you in sight.  Proceed to the dock directly in front of you.  Your slip is 18.  Someone will be there to meet you.”

“Thank you.  Sloopy out,”  Liz said.

“Conch Harbor switching to 16.”

Liz scaled the four step ladder to the cockpit and pointed to a partially illuminated figure standing on the dock.

“18,”  she said.

“OK,”  Garret replied, steering a course for the empty berth.

Liz went forward, picked up the coiled port bow line with one hand, walked back to midship and grabbed onto a mast stay for support.  As Garret guided Sloopy’s nose into the slip, Liz tossed the line to the attendant on the finger pier, then went aft.  Garret threw the boat into reverse, goosed the throttle and turned the wheel hard to port.  The stern kicked towards the dock, giving Liz an easy step off.  She tied the stern line to the dock cleat and Garret cut the engine.

“Nice job, Captain,” the dockhand said smiling, his white teeth flashing in the dim light.

“Thanks,”  Garret said modestly, unaware that he stood a bit taller after the compliment.

The sandy-haired young man, who appeared to be in his late teens, worked quickly to set the spring lines, bridle line and electrical cord.

“Anything else?”  he asked when he was finished, his puppy dog eyes searching to please.

Although it was dark, Liz noticed the holes in the deckhand’s boat shoes.  There was hardly enough leather to tie.  His yellow collared knit shirt and his khaki shorts were clean, but faded and worn.

“Just a minute,”  she said disappearing through the companionway.  In the galley, she slid open the cabinet door over the stove and took out a tan, nonskid boat mug that was shaped like a cylindrical pyramid.  It was chipped and soiled, obviously no longer fit for holding coffee.  From it, she pulled a wad of money.  Choosing a twenty dollar bill, she stuffed the rest of it back into the cup and returned it to the shelf, careful to slide the door closed before returning topside.

“Thanks for your help,”  she said handing the dockhand the tip.

“Anytime.  My name is Ian.  If you need anything, ask for me,”  he said, stuffing the money into his pocket.

“Nice young man,”  Liz noted as she watched Ian saunter down the dock, eyeing each boat for a sign of life like a hawk.

“Twenty dollars?”  Garret asked incredulously.

“He looked like he really needed it,”  Liz said sympathetically.

Garret shook his head.  He knew it was useless to argue when his wife had a spurt of generosity.

Ian chuckled to himself as he smugly made his way to the office.  Fingering the twenty in his pocket, he decided that having a baby face and dressing like he didn’t know where his next meal would come from was really paying off.

Liz coiled the mainsheet and mainsail halyards, then slipped them over the winch located on the cabin top to the right of the companionway, while Garret turned off the electronics at the nav station below.  Moving systematically around the cockpit, she tied up the sheet for the backstay adjuster and the line for the roller furling.  Garret brought the blue sail cover topside from its temporary storage spot on the aft berth.  He climbed from the cockpit onto the cabin roof and tossed it onto the boom like a saddle on a horse.  Without a word, Liz assumed her usual position standing on the cockpit bench and the two worked together to fasten the cover over the sail.

“Beer or hard lemonade?”  Liz asked.

“Key Lime Margarita and conch fritters,”  Garret said with a groan of anticipation.

“You’re on!”  Liz said excitedly as she hopped off the boat onto the dock.

Garret put the washboards into the companionway and snapped the padlock over the hasp.

“Do you really think you have to lock up here?”

“Better safe than sorry,”  Garret said as he leapt onto the finger pier.

Liz shrugged.

“Whatever!  Do you want to take the harbor walk or go straight down Caroline?

“I’m starved.  Which way is quicker?”  Garret asked.

“Caroline it is.”

The two strolled hand in hand like young lovers toward the center of the action, Duval Street.

“How long has it been since we were here?”  Liz asked.

“Too long,”  he replied.

“C’mon, I’m serious,”  she said, scowling.

“Five, maybe six years,”  he answered.

“I go with January six years ago.  It was before we moved Sloopy to Mystic,”  she said.

“Honey, whatever you say.  All I know is that I’m hungry and thirsty.  That trip through the harbor was no walk in the park,”

“I know.  You were stressed big time,”

“Couldn’t help it.  We’ve been here so many times before, but never by water.  I was afraid of straying out of the channel and hitting a reef.

“Well, you didn’t and I wasn’t worried for a minute.”

“Thanks, Babe,”  he said, squeezing her hand.

“Where do you want to start the Duval crawl?”  she teased.

“How ’bout Hogs Breath?”  he replied.

“Not Pepe’s?  It’s right here,”  she said, stopping in front of a white storefront.  The faded awning claimed that it was the eldest eating house in the Florida Keys.

“Let’s save it for lunch tomorrow.  You know how much I love their fish sandwich and Key Lime Pie.”

“Yum!  Good thought! Their Key Lime pie is worth the 1600 mile trip!

Without another word, the couple strolled down Caroline toward Duval Street.  The gentle, tropical breeze rustled the palm fronds overhead.

“I love palm trees,”  Liz said, breaking the silence.  “I want to live where there are palm trees.”

“I thought you loved Mystic.”

“I do, but the winters are cold.”

Liz halted without warning.

“Now what?”  Garret asked with an edge in his voice.

“Isn’t Curry Mansion beautiful all lit up.  It’s so palatial!”

“Yes, dear.  Can we get going?  I’m starved!”

“I’m sorry, Honey.  I’ll pick up the pace.  We’re almost to Duval and if I remember right, it’s only a block or two down Duval and one over on Front.

When they reached Hogs Breath saloon, Garret’s heart sank.  The place was packed and the overflow spilled onto the street.  Island rhythms blared.

“What d’ya think?  Liz yelled over the din.

“Wanna try Kelly’s?”  Garret shouted.

Liz nodded in reply and they continued another block to Whitehead.

When they rounded the corner, Garret scrutinized the street like a man on a mission.

“I see the sign, Kelly’s Caribbean Bar, Grill and Brewery.  Only two more blocks,”  Garret piped, quickening his pace.

Liz laughed as he took her in tow.

Kelly’s was hopping, but with a quieter, more sedate crowd.  Light jazz piano drifted from the lounge that separated the indoor diners from those seated on the patio.  Liz and Garret opted for an outside table under the trees.  With a swish of emerald silk splashed with orange brush stokes that matched her cascading curls, the hostess led them past the airplane wing bar to their table on the deck.

The surrounding palm trees and low, flowering shrubs gave the illusion of an isolated tropical paradise.  The twinkling white lights added to the romance.  Liz took a sip of her margarita and leaned back against the white resin chair.

“It’s hard to believe that this is a backyard on the corner of a busy intersection,” she noted.

“I have to agree.  They do a lot with what they have.  The main building is no larger than the average house.

“It helps to have incredible weather year round.”

“It’s more than that.  With all the competition in Key West, they’re still filling the place.  Look, almost every table is taken.”

Liz surveyed the neighboring tables.

“You’re right.  Their reputation for great food and microbrewery beer on tap must be as good as it was the last time we were here.

Carrying a large tray on his shoulder, a waiter dressed in a crisp, white shirt and black pants bustled down the stairs from the main building.

“I think these are ours,”  Liz said, placing a white linen napkin on her lap.

The waiter placed the steaming plates before them and was gone in a flash.

“Now this is living,”  Garret said as he picked up a crispy golden fritter.

Liz and Garret stuffed themselves with two orders each like they had not seen food in days. . Unable to eat another bite, they declined dinner and asked for the check.

“I’ll be right back.  I have to hit the head,”  Liz said pushing away from the table.

“Ok.  I’ll wait for you here,”

Liz wound her way through the maze of tables to the two stairs that brought her to the level of the main building.  Unable to see any signs pointing the way to the ladies room, she stopped at the bar to ask directions.  There was not an open seat along the aluminum wing and the bartender’s back was towards her as he pulled on the tap to fill an icy mug with beer.

Unable to wait, she turned to snag a server.

“Liz?”  A tentative voice beckoned.

She turned to see a familiar, smiling face behind the bar.

“Jonathan, I can’t believe it’s you!”  she shrieked almost scaling the bar to give him a hug and a kiss.  “What are you doing here?”

“I work here.”

“I can see that, but what are you doing in Key West?”

“Long story, but this isn’t the time or place,”  he said perusing the patrons who lined the bar.

“Gotcha.  Wait ’til I tell Garret.”

“Tell me what?”  a voice behind her asked.

Without a word, Liz stepped aside.

“Jonathan!  I can’t believe it’s you.  What are you doing here?”  Garret asked as leaned over the bar and pumped the bartenders hand.

Liz and Jonathan burst into laughter.

Garret looked from one to the other, his brow wrinkled in confusion.

“What?”  he finally asked, frustrated that he didn’t understand what was so funny.

Composing himself, Jonathan explained,  “It’s just that you did it again.”

“What’d I do?”  Garret asked, puzzled.

“Remember when I’d tease the two of you because you said and did the same things?”

“Yes,”  .

“The two of you haven’t changed a bit.  You just repeated verbatim what Liz said when she saw me.  It’s spooky.  But seriously, it’s great to see you guys.”

“It’s great to see you, too,”  Liz said sincerely.

“How long will you be here?”

“We just tied up and we thought we’d play it by ear,”  Garret said.

“Tied up?  Don’t tell me you sailed Sloopy all the way from Mystic,”

“Yup,”  Liz said beaming.

“I don’t believe it,”

“Slip 18 at Conch Harbor.  Check it out,”  Liz said defiantly.

“My boyfriend has a boat on the same dock,”

“Boyfriend?”  Liz questioned.

“I’m sorry.  That just slipped out.  I really have a lot to tell you.  Can we get together some time before you leave?”

Liz looked for approval from Garret, who was nervously jingling the change in his pocket

“Sure.  How about tomorrow on the boat?”  Garret asked.

“One o’clock ok?  Jonathan replied.

“Perfect.  We’ll see you then,”  Liz said, kicking Garret’s foot lightly.

Garret reached across the bar, shook Jonathan’s hand and said,  “What do you drink now so I can be sure to have it onboard.”

“Water, ice tea or lemonade,”

Garret screwed up his face in disbelief.

“Really,”  Jonathan assured him.

“Jon, I need a couple of drinks,”  a waitress called from the service side of the bar.

“Got to go.  See you tomorrow,”  Jonathan said, smiling, before he hustled back to work.

Liz and Garret walked through the foyer and down the front steps in silence.  They were almost a block away before Liz dared to speak.

“What do you think?”  Liz asked.

“About what?”

“Don’t give me that.  You almost dropped your teeth when Jonathan said he had a boyfriend.”

“Guilty, but when I thought about it, I wasn’t that surprised.  He never invited any women to the boat.  I think the Skipper even hinted at it few times in casual conversation.  Truth is, I was more shocked when he said he drank water, iced tea or lemonade considering what a lush he was.”

“Well, tomorrow we’ll have a better idea how he’s really doing.”

“He’s doing just fine.  Why wouldn’t he be?  He’s living and working in paradise

Exhausted from the day’s sail, Liz and Garret opted for an early bedtime.  The pair strolled back to the Key West Bight without stopping at any of the bars, bistros and boutiques that lined the streets.  They passed musicians sitting cross-legged in darkened doorways of closed shops strumming and singing for whatever the audience would toss into the opened instrument case and mime performers who handed out lollipops to draw the crowds.

Leaving the craziness of Duval Street, the walk down Caroline Street was like entering another world.  The stately Victorian mansions radiated a warm glow of hospitality from their man-sized windows trimmed with ceiling to floor drapes.  It was quiet and peaceful.

Liz and Garret were too tired to expend any energy on conversation.  Arms entwined, they made their way along the dimly lit street towards the Conch Harbor Marina and their sloop home.  Nearing the docks, music and laughter reached over the stillness of the water like tentacles.  The Schooner Wharf Bar was packed and rocking.  Their three blocks of serenity had only been a tease, virtually an island in a boiling sea.

“I guess sleep’s out of the question,”  Liz sighed.

“Either we fight ’em or join ’em.  Want to go over for a drink?”  Garret said, pointing to the open-air pub along the docks.

“I feel like I’ve been in a fight and down for the count.  I’m going to bed.  If I can’t get to sleep, at least I’ll be horizontal.”

“How about a little something to help you sleep?”

“No thank-you on both counts.”

“Both counts?”

“Booze and sex,”

“I only meant a nightcap, but since you brought it up.”

“Forget it.  I’m going to bed. Liz marched towards their dock with determination.

Garret trailed, taking his time to admire the vast array of docked boats.  There were charter fishing boats, trawlers, sailboats, center console runabouts, wooden schooners and high speed catamarans.  The sea and the vessels that sailed her had been his passion since boyhood.  Finally, at fifty, he was living his fantasy.  He was living and cruising on his own sailboat.

When he stepped aboard Sloopy, a familiar sound reverberated through the cabin.   Liz was curled up on the port side of the v-berth, sawing wood with every breath.  Garret grinned.  After all the fuss about the noise, she couldn’t keep her eyes open for ten minutes.  He leaned over and whispered a kiss on her forehead.

Garret slipped out of his clothes, tossed them onto the settee and climbed into bed beside his wife.  As he lay on his back, looking up at the mast that loomed over the opened Plexiglas hatch, he thought of what they had accomplished as a team in the last four months.  Liz not only encouraged him to pursue his dream to sail the Intercoastal Waterway to Key West, but offered to crew.  Without her beside him, he would have chickened out long before they ever untied the lines in Mystic, Connecticut.

He rolled over, slid his left arm under her pillow and wrapped his right around her, holding her tightly.  Gently, he kissed the back of her neck.  Liz stirred slightly, mumbling unintelligible phrases, then resumed the slow rise and fall cadence associated with deep sleep.  Knowing it was no use to fight his fatigue, Garret closed his eyes and drifted off to join her.

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Posted on June 1, 2013, in Key West, mystery, reading, Uncategorized, writing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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