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The rain slashed across Sloopy’s deck. It was 4 A.M and Liz was wide-awake. As she lay there, trying to fall back into the depths of mindless slumber, thoughts of the last three days pushed their way into her consciousness.
Knowing that the battle to go back to sleep was one that she couldn’t win, Liz wriggled free from the covers. Garret did not budge as she stepped out of the v-berth onto the cold floor of their 36-foot sloop. Liz gazed upon her husband of 27 years, not with the lust of a newlywed, but with the deep love that comes from years of respect, loyalty and true intimacy. Since their semi-retirement the year before, Liz and Garret had spent the majority of their time together, sailing out of their homeport of Mystic, Connecticut.
Liz tiptoed to the galley where she lit the left burner of the propane stove. Surrounded by darkness, the blue flame appeared to light up the entire salon. Liz placed the teakettle over the warm glow and took down a mug from the shelf. She thought of her mother, who had always been there for every crisis with a cup of hot chocolate in hand and the patience of a saint, as she listened for hours. Problems always seemed to disappear, or at least became much smaller by the end of one of those sessions. But, things were different now. Liz was a grown woman and her mother had passed away five years earlier. Remembering Mom’s rich, dark cocoa from scratch, Liz tore open the foil packet of instant mix and dumped the powder into her cup. She filled it with boiling water, then groped along the smooth, heavily oiled teak bulkhead to the settee, where she sat, curling her legs underneath her. Clutching the cup with both hands, she took a sip.
It seemed so long ago since they set sail from Mystic. Liz smiled as she remembered the cruise. The wind was out of the Southwest at 15 knots and the visibility was endless. Garret had gotten up first that morning and listened to a weather report on the VHF radio. Excited by the forecast, he began to sing, “I’d like to get you on a slow boat to China,” from the Jimmy Buffet tune.
“How ’bout it Babe?” Although barely awake, Liz had to giggle as she watched her husband dance around the cabin, singing off-key. “Well, how ’bout a slow boat cruise?’ Garret asked.
“You’re serious?” Liz asked.
“Yes ma’am,” Garret said with a bow.
“And just where do you want to cruise? I’m not in the mood for China today,” Liz said, grinning. She slithered between the covers and pulled the sheet tightly under her chin.
“OK. Would a jaunt to Newport please you, your Highness?” Garret teased.
Liz sat up and kicked off the sheet. “Now that’s a deal,” she replied. “It’s been so long since we’ve been there,” she added as she jumped out of bed with the excitement of a child on Christmas morning. Squeezing him tightly, she planted a quick kiss on his lips.
“Had I known that you would react like this, I would have suggested this days ago,” Garret said laughing.
“C’mon. Let’s get going. There’s so much to do,” Liz said as she rushed to make the bed and pick up the clothes.
“Whoa,” Garret said, taking her hand. “We’re not going anywhere until the Captain has his coffee, so slow down, lady. This is supposed to be a calm, peaceful trip to recharge our souls.”
“You’re right and I’m glad that you thought of it,” Liz said, snuggling into his arms. Garret held her close.
“Are you ready to have a bagel and get this show on the road?” Garret asked, pushing her away so that he could look into her eyes.
“Honey, I’m ready to go anywhere, anytime with you,” Liz answered seriously.
“Right answer,” Garret said giving her a quick hug. “Now. Let’s eat. I’m starved.
Within an hour, Sloopy was ready to sail. Liz untied the lines and stepped aboard as Garret expertly backed the sailboat out of its slip. The mother and father swans led their brood out of the way to safety behind a large powerboat. When the fenders and lines were neatly stowed in the port locker, Liz settled down on the port bench, with her back resting against the bulkhead. Facing Garret, she could observe him, unnoticed, as he steered the sloop between the red nuns and the green cans that marked the channel. He stood at the helm proudly, feet parted for balance, head held high. For years he had nurtured the fantasy to be unencumbered by a hectic schedule and free to sail. Now he was living his dream and the joy was apparent every time he left the dock. Liz shared his enthusiasm, not only because she enjoyed the boating life, but also because seeing his happiness made her happy.
At the mouth of the river, Liz took the wheel as Garret hoisted the sails. Sloopy found her groove, lifted and picked up speed, frolicking through the two-foot swells. Liz stayed at the helm until they passed through Watch Hill Passage into Block Island Sound, then set the autopilot.
Just as a toy sailboat, guided by the hands of a child, follows it’s predetermined course in the bathtub, Sloopy was being carried by forces of wind, water and the hands of Fate. Liz and Garret, the unsuspecting passengers, were drifting into a chain of events they could never have imagined in their wildest dreams.
Newport was aglow by the time Liz and Garret entered the harbor. Reflections from shore lit up the moorings, which were crowded with sailboats and motorboats. “Looks like we should have called ahead for a reservation,” Liz said, frowning, as she scanned the area for any empty mooring ball to snag.
“Not to worry, my pet. I reserved a slip on Bannister’s Wharf before you woke up this morning,” Garret announced.
“That’s great, but how could you have been so sure that I would agree to come?” asked Liz.
“Call it psychic powers, ESP or that I’ve lived with you so long, I read you like a book,” Garret replied.
“Well, whatever, I’m glad that you did. It looks like there’s no room at the inn,” Liz said, pointing to the mooring area.
Garret wheeled Sloopy to the gas dock where Liz paid for two days dockage and received the slip assignment. Within a few minutes, they were tied safely in their berth. Garret and Liz plopped onto the cockpit benches, fatigued from the spirited eight-hour sail.
“Shall we cook or go out?” Liz asked.
“Definitely out,” Garret answered.
“Want something light or a full meal?” Liz pursued. She was not about to drop the subject while her stomach grumbled with hunger.
“I’m starved. We hardly had any lunch. What about splurging at the Moorings?” Garret replied.
“The Moorings? I love the Moorings. Let me freshen up a bit, and I’ll be ready to roll,” Liz said without hesitation before he had a chance to change his mind.
Garret stretched out in the cockpit as he watched the hustle and bustle of tourists wandering from boutique to boutique on Bannister’s Wharf. It was difficult to imagine that this was once Blood Alley, a rundown wharf lined with sleazy bars frequented by rough, professional sailors.
“Ready?” Liz said as she climbed into the cockpit.
“Huh?” Garret mumbled.
“Where were you?” Liz asked.
“Back about a century. How do you think I’d look with a gold earring, a patch over one eye and a parrot on my shoulder?” Garret asked.
“Like Blackbeard. C’mon. I’m hungry,” she said swatting him on the leg. Liz stepped onto the finger pier. Garret followed.
“Is that my next birthday present?” Liz asked, stopping to admire the motor yacht that was across from them, tied parallel to the dock.
“That’s quite a ship!” Garret said.
“Any idea how big?” Liz asked.
“It’s got to be at least 100 feet. It takes up the whole wharf,” Garret said.
“I like the helicopter on top,” Liz said.
Liz and Garret walked along the pier, examining the yacht. All the drapes were closed and no one was on deck. As they approached the stern, it opened before them, revealing a runabout. While they watched, it was backed out on rollers and eased into the water where it bobbed, still tethered. From the bowels of the ship, a sandy haired man wearing a navy, collared, short-sleeved knit shirt and khaki shorts appeared. He tied lines and fenders onto the runabout and secured it alongside the mother ship. Over the left breast pocket, the name Party Girl was embroidered in red lettering.
“Hi,” Liz called down, waving.
“Hello, ma’am,” he answered with a trace of Southern drawl.
“What port are you out of?” Garret asked.
“Fort Lauderdale,” the young man replied.
“My name’s Liz. This is my husband, Garret.
“Pleased to meet you, ma’am. My name’s Jason. I captain this vessel.”
“You’re so young to be a captain,” Liz said.
“Twenty-six, ma’am. I passed my 100 ton license when I was twenty-four,” Jason replied, standing a little straighter.
“You should be proud. That’s quite an accomplishment,” Garret said.
“Well, I have to get back to work. Nice talkin’ to ya,” Jason said as he turned and entered the hold.
“He seemed like a nice, young man,” Liz said.
“You just like to be called ma’am,” Garret said.
“Maybe I do. What’s wrong with a little Southern courtesy?” Liz asked.
“If I talked like that up here, I’d probably get punched. Northern women think ma’am is for their grandmothers,” Garret replied.
“Actually, you’re right. Let’s go. I’m really starved now,” Liz said as she put her arm through his.
They walked past Sloopy, up the wharf to America’s Cup Street. It was a Friday night, so the streets were clogged with cars and pedestrians. Lines were already forming outside the popular rock clubs.
“Alongside Party Girl, Sloopy would look like a pilot fish on a whale.” Liz said.
“Are you still hung up on that boat?” Garret said.
“I just can’t imagine what it would be like to have that much money. Can you imagine having anything that you ever wanted?” Liz asked.
“I have everything I ever wanted, right here,” Garret said squeezing her hand.
“Gar, I know, but don’t you ever wonder what it would be like?” Liz asked.
“Truthfully, no,” Garret answered.
“Look at the line at the Moorings,” Liz said, pointing to the waterfront from the road.
“Let’s go down and see how long the wait is,” Garret suggested.
“If it’s longer than 30 minutes, I’m out of here. We could make reservations for tomorrow night and find something to eat on the boat tonight,” Liz said.
“It’s a deal. I can’t wait much longer, either,” Garret agreed.
Liz and Garret made their way through the parked cars to the entrance.
“I’ll wait out here,” Liz said sitting on a three-foot brick wall that edged the parking lot.
Garret disappeared through the crowd at the entrance.
“Good Evening,” the hostess said, smiling.
“Good Evening. How long is the wait for two, nonsmoking?” Garret asked.
The hostess frowned as she scanned the list on the podium before her. “An hour. We have quite a few on the list ahead of you.”
“Are you taking reservations for tomorrow night?” Garret asked.
“I’m sorry. We don’t take reservations during the summer, especially Friday and Saturday nights,” the hostess said sweetly, her well-rehearsed smile never changing.
“Excuse me, ma’am. Excuse me, sir. Excuse me, coming through,” a familiar voice sounded through the crowd.
Before he was sandwiched in a corner to let the group pass, Garret turned to see Captain Jason parting the sea of faces.
“Mr. Boswell’s table is ready. Follow me please,” the hostess said, leading the entourage to the inner sanctum.
Disappointed and angry, Garret fought his way outside past the crush of people waiting for a table.
“Well?” Liz asked as he approached.
“They don’t have a table for an hour and they don’t take reservations, but that group got seated immediately,” Garret grumbled.
“Of course. They’re off Party Girl,” Liz asked.
“So?” Garret asked belligerently.
“When money talks, a lot of people listen. Did you get a look at them?” Liz asked.
“No. The only one I saw was Jason before I was shoved into a corner. Then, I was face to face with a fern ’til they went by me,” Garret said.
“There were three of them. I think they were father, mother and daughter. The girl didn’t look anything like her father, but she was the spittin’ image of her mother. They both had the most beautiful curly, red hair,” Liz babbled.
“I don’t care who they are or what they look like. The hostess refused a reservation from me, but they apparently had one,” Garret fumed.
“Want an ice cream? There’s a shop right over there.” Liz asked, indicating one of the storefronts on that pier. Changing the subject usually calmed him down.
“I’d love anything about now,” Garret admitted.
Liz took him by the hand and led him to the store. Like excited kids, they picked out their favorite flavors and sprinkles for their waffle cones. Within minutes, they wolfed down the sweet, cold treat. Satisfied, Garret and Liz spent the evening poking through the shops.
“Had enough?” Garret asked.
“Yeah. I could drop right here,” Liz said.
“Then I think we’re both tired enough to fall asleep despite the rock bands,” Garret said.
“How late are the bars open?” Liz asked.
“Two,” Garret answered.
Liz grimaced. “With all the sun today, and all the walking tonight, we shouldn’t have problem,” she finally said with conviction.
The pair walked hand in hand past the boutiques and restaurants on Bannister’s Wharf to the dock.
“That v-berth is looking pretty good about now,” Garret said.
“What’s that?” Liz asked.
“What? The cars, the boats, the music from the club across the slipway?” Garret asked.
“Shh!” Liz said, furrowing her forehead to concentrate.
“Do I hear a piano?” Garret straining to listen.
“Yeah and it’s coming from Party Girl,” Liz said.
The two walked closer to the motor yacht and paused to listen.
“Whoever’s playing is good,” Garret said.
“Really good,” Liz agreed.
“I’m going to bed. Are you coming or are you going to stand here and eavesdrop all night?” Garret asked as he headed for Sloopy.
“In a minute,” Liz answered dreamily. Standing alone on the dock, she closed her eyes to listen. A feeling of sadness swept over her like a wave breaking onshore. In her mind she saw the young woman with the cascading, strawberry blonde curls crying as she played. Startled, Liz opened her eyes. No one was in sight. Deciding that she must be overtired, Liz hurried to the security of Sloopy and the warmth of Garret’s arms.
The boat rocked and swayed, chugging on with purpose between North and South Dumplings. The four-foot chop made the ride uncomfortable, but Tony’s only passenger never complained. He would never complain again. The tide was slack but the wind persisted at twenty knots, whipping the seas in the Race to eight feet. Tony took the boat out of gear and busied himself with the task at hand. Without forward motion, the small boat rolled violently from side to side. Assuming a wide stance, Tony grasped the gunwale and worked his way aft.
Out on the deck, propped in a chair, was his prize- a recent Annapolis graduate, dressed in his spotless, white uniform. The brass buttons radiated moonlight. Tony walked toward the motionless figure, stopping three feet in front of him. Tony scanned the physically fit specimen methodically from head to toe, careful to commit every detail to memory.
Tony moved closer and crouched in front of his lover. Passion throbbed throughout his body as he stroked the sailor’s cheeks and progressed downward along the powerfully built shoulders to the firm chest. He caressed each brass button, enjoying the feel of the insignia with his fingertips. Horizontal grooves provided a background for the profiled eagle, perched upon its anchor above three cannonballs. A row of stars, outlined by ships’ line edged the piece. The intoxicating scent of after-shave heightened his pleasure as he fondled his toy. When play-time was over, Tony stood. Lovingly, he held the officer’s face in his hands as he kissed his right eyelid, then the left, finishing with a lingering kiss on the lips.
“That is good-bye, my sweet,” whispered Tony as he pulled a black trash bag from the port locker. Removing the hat first, he placed it into the bag, careful not to soil it. Next, he snipped each button from the jacket, beginning at the collar, working to the waist, ending with the sleeves and slipped them into his left pants pocket. Tony removed the remainder of the uniform, shoes, socks and underwear with the same precision while his guest sat immobile and helpless, drugged into unconsciousness. He donned his foul weather gear, grabbed the filet knife and joined his stripped visitor on deck.
The moonlight was dazzling as it danced on the waves. Tony scoured the horizon, searching for another boat. To his relief, no one was in sight. Lifting his face toward the starlit sky, Tony closed his eyes to negotiate with God. Raw, salty spray stung his face as his chest rose and fell with the rhythm of the sea.
Tony untied the lines that held the young officer upright. He pulled him onto the deck by his ankles. Dropping to his knees, Tony raised the knife overhead with both hands and looked towards heaven. The horn at Latimer’s Light blasted a warning of danger. Glistening in the moonbeams, the razor sharp blade was poised for evil. Taking a deep breath for strength, Tony plunged the knife into his victim with everything he had. As he remained slumped over his prey, the euphoria began to overtake him. Feelings of pride and power coursed through his veins. Transformed, Tony dropped the weapon beside the lifeless body and slowly rose to his feet. He wanted to shout, to tell the world what he had done. He felt invincible. Tony leapt onto the gunwale, a superhero in his own mind. As his foot landed, the boat lurched abruptly. Tony gripped the slick teak trim of the cabin roof, barely saving himself from the churning water. Fear pounded in his ears as he realized how close he had come to joining his sacrifice.
Cautiously, Tony eased himself into the safety of the cockpit. It was time to bid his friend farewell. He rolled the corpse into a homemade rubber sling. With the help of a winch, he hoisted the dead weight overboard. The angry sea hungrily swallowed the remains.
“Yes, Mother. I’ll clean up my mess. No one will ever know,” Tony said as he stared into the companionway.
Tony went to work, scrubbing the deck until there was no visible trace of his ritual. The work was physical, but satisfying, no more difficult than cleaning up after a fishing trip.
When everything was shipshape, he went forward to the wheel and started the engine. The night was crystal clear, but the wind had escalated to thirty-five knots. Docking the boat would be tricky tonight, especially single-handedly. The seaworthy craft through the waves in Fishers Island Sound to Noank and the mouth of the Mystic River. Tony pulled back the throttle, reducing his speed to five knots, the limit in the channel. Without the aid of a spotlight, he cautiously picked his way up the winding river between the green cans and the red nuns that marked safe water. No one heard the boat approach the dock. The powerful Northeast blow roared relentlessly, slapping the halyards against the forest of aluminum trees and straining each boat on its lines. Tony expertly guided her bow into the slip, tied up and collapsed into the quarter berth.
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.
“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.
“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?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.
Garret’s Key West Margarita
Fresh squeezed juice of 6 Key Limes
1 jigger of silver tequila
1 jigger of Triple Sec
1 jigger of Rose’s lime juice
Shake vigorously. Pour over ice.
Float ½ jigger of Grand Marnier on top
Enjoy! Repeat as needed!
Two Headed Snake of Key West, the third of the Liz Adams Mysteries, will be published in September. For Garret Adams’ secret Key West Margarita recipe, fill out the comment page at marilyndallavalle.com and I will send it to you. YUMMY!
The words pierced her heart as they had so many times in the past. Where had the man gone who vowed to love and cherish her, she seethed, slamming the phone on the desk. A tear hit the notepad and bled into the fibers of the yellow lined paper. Had Edward’s passion been another woman, Margaret would have known how to retaliate, but his lust for power and money was his mistress.
Exhausted, Margaret collapsed onto the sapphire, velvet desk chair. Leaning onto the desk, she studied her reflection in the polished mahogany surface. A drawn, haggard face with lifeless eyes met her gaze. Horrified by the sight, she covered her eyes. Unchecked sobs echoed throughout the empty Georgian mansion. Her body shuddered with sorrow until she had no more tears to cry.
Through the open door, she could see the dining room table set for two. White tapers and a Waterford crystal vase filled with fresh red roses added a touch of romance. It looked exactly like she had envisioned. Everything worked according to her plan. The cook was at a concert. Edward’s favorite, chicken marsala, was in the warmer . She had hoped that maybe a couple of glasses of wine, soft music and the house to themselves would rekindle the magic. But, again, he disappointed her. She was tired of the pretense and of eating alone. It only underscored the absurdity of their relationship. Edward insisted that they dine formally, although he rarely ate a meal at home. Night after night, she had her dinner, seated at the head of an ornate, 15 foot, hand carved table. She hungered for the days when all that they had were their love, hopes and dreams. Thoughts of peanut butter sandwiches on the beach and candle-lit spaghetti dinners curled the corners of her lips ever so slightly. She longed to be held and kissed by the man who picked flowers in the park and told her that their beauty paled in comparison to hers.
Appetite gone, all she wanted was to lay her head on her pillow and put an end to another miserable day. Had she the courage, she would go to sleep and make sure she would never wake up.
She flipped the switch to the right of the dark stained paneled door and shut it behind her. The foyer’s grandeur, with its imported, Italian marble floor, magnificent mahogany stairway that wrapped around two thirds of the room and the five foot crystal chandelier hanging in the center, escaped her. All she saw was emptiness and loneliness. Barely noticing the coolness of the stone beneath her bare feet, she shivered from a cold that penetrated her bones.
How could he put work ahead of her on their fifteenth anniversary? He had promised to take her to Bermuda for a few days, just the two of them, away from calls, texts and email. Knowing the answer, but not wanting to confront it, she gathered the strength and ascended the stairs. Her suite, consisting of a bedroom, bathroom, dressing room and sitting room, was at the head of the stairs on the right. Edward’s was on the left at the other end of the hallway. Two guest rooms with baths separated them. It had been months since Edward paid her a conjugal visit. They were strangers living under the same roof.
When she reached her rooms, she swung open the door, but did not enter. The sitting room was perfect, decorated by the best designers, or at least, those in vogue. Washington’s elite used them, so Edward followed the pack. The furniture was French provincial with rosy, satin brocade upholstery. The pieces were not covered in clear plastic, but they made her feel uneasy as if they were. Margaret imagined the room filled with fluffy, oversized chairs, the kind she could curl up in, and her grandmother’s afghan thrown over the back of one, for those chilly nights. She missed being surrounded by things that reminded her of home.
Margaret thought of the two story Victorian doll house she loved as a child. Two white rockers sat on the wraparound porch for the mother and father. They would meet to chat when the kids were in bed for the night. Margaret’s favorite childhood pastime was to bring her dolls to life. She created loving interactions as she maneuvered her family through every day scenarios, never doubting that her doll house world would be her life when she grew up. There would be a father. She would be the mother. They would have a son, a daughter, a dog and a cat. Margaret’s chest heaved a heavy sigh. The harsh reality is that Edward and she had become the plastic people that were able to sit, stand or lie down, but not to feel. She was no longer able to craft the loving relationship that she wanted. Almost robotic, their occasional conversations had been reduced to the polite bantering of strangers. Her life was out of her hands, a runaway train that she could not stop or control. Edward had set the course, launching her on a path with no return. Sleep and alcohol had been her only escapes. Fearing addiction, she battled the drinking and worked out every day for the last two months. Tonight, her hopes that Edward would notice were crushed with a mere phone call. There was nothing more she could do. She had lost him. The marriage was finished. She would just have to resign herself to the fact.
Margaret ventured over the threshold. The ruby red carpet was almost sensuous between her toes as her mere 110 pounds sunk into the pile with each step. Unbuttoning her blouse, she made her way to the dressing room. Sleep would not come too soon. Spent, she no longer wanted to face her failures. Margaret pulled her clothes off and tossed them into a chute that led to the laundry room below. Naked, she stood alone, surrounded by six images of herself, every one Margaret, bared to the soul. All the eyes bore the pain that she felt. She turned around and around. Each image was pretty, petite, a few weeks shy of 40 years old. None had the stretch marks of giving birth. Their breasts were firm, their abdomens flat and their buttocks tight, still in great shape. And yet, she stood on the edge of a bottomless black hole, rejected by the only man she had ever loved. If she allowed herself to slip into the abyss, she may never be able to climb out.
Margaret lifted a thick, white, fluffy, terry robe from the hook on the back of the door and slipped into it, wrapping the belt tightly around her waist. As her hand clasped the bedroom doorknob, the partially packed suitcase on the luggage rack in the closet caught her eye. The new bikini she bought for Bermuda was on top, the bright Caribbean print screaming for attention. She picked it up and admired it. Edward would have been shocked, maybe a little embarrassed, when she wore it in public, but she was desperate to win him back. She thought that if she turned a few heads, maybe he would pay attention. A selection of new lace teddies and silk nightgowns completed her arsenal. Throwing the bikini back with the rest, she thought about what a waste of time, effort and money it all was.
“Dammit,” she yelled, slamming the suitcase shut.
The rage rose within her until she thought her head would explode. She stormed into the bedroom, yanked the phone book from the bottom shelf of the nightstand and threw it onto the bed with such force that it slid across the pink and green flowered satin bedspread to the other side where it teetered on the edge. She tossed the cordless phone beside it. Belly flopping onto the bed she flipped through the yellow pages until she reached the listing for cabs, and then punched the number onto the keypad.
For the first time in years she felt she had control over her life. It was time to make some decisions. She dressed quickly in a pair of lightweight pale yellow slacks and a white short-sleeved cotton sweater with a matching cardigan. Her lined hunter green trench coat topped the outfit to protect her from the early Spring chill until she reached the airport. After that she planned to need nothing more than a bathing suit, a sundress, shorts and a tee shirt.
She closed the three suitcases she had packed and shuttled them one at a time to the front door. By the time she dragged the last one down the stairs the cabby was leaning on the doorbell.
“Airport?” he said in a thick accent she couldn’t identify.
She nodded, unable to speak. As he loaded the bags into the taxi, Margaret turned to say good-bye to the empty house. A tear trickled down her cheek. There was not a living soul there, not one that would miss her. Vindictively, she walked out of the house leaving the front door opened wide and smiled at the thought of Edward running from room to room checking to see if any of his precious possessions had been stolen. The harsh reality was that it would probably be days before he noticed her absence.
The cold wind slapped her face and tugged at her coat as she rushed to the waiting car. Without looking back, she climbed through the open door held by the dark-skinned driver wearing an orange knit ski cap. The door slammed behind her. Burying her face in her hands, she silently sobbed, unable to control the violent shaking that overtook her body.
The cabby opened the door to the driver’s seat and positioned himself behind the wheel. Checking his rearview mirror, he saw the crumpled woman in the backseat and regretted grabbing another fare for the night. He could have gone home to his small, 5th floor apartment that he shared with his wife and four children, popped open a beer, stretched out in his recliner and left this nutty, rich lady for someone else. Had the address not been in the wealthiest part of the city where all the big tippers live, he would have done just that. Just his luck, this wacko would probably stiff him.
Fearing that she might do something crazy in his cab, he asked, “Miss OK?”
Margaret nodded without looking up.
Shrugging it off as a woman’s monthly emotional problems, he put the idling automobile into gear and drove down the circular, tree lined drive to the street. Within minutes they were on the freeway, heading to the airport.
When the chills subsided, Margaret leaned back and rested her head against the seat. She closed her eyes and breathed deeply, trying to relax and regain self-control. Now that she had made the decision to leave, she was determined to be strong, able to stand on her own two feet as she had before she met Edward. If she were to go back now, he’d never know that she had gone, but that would be quitting, taking the easy way out because she was scared to make it on her own. No! She had to do this. She couldn’t face another miserable day in his world.
The tires hummed as they rolled over the highway, thumping at regular intervals where two sections of pavement met. Lulled by the sound and the gentle sway of the cab, Margaret drifted into a deep, relaxed state, one of peace and well-being.
She was young, brimming with optimism as she bustled around the apartment in search of a make-shift table. Maggie and her roommate rarely invited anyone to their stuffy, cramped room overlooking Jake’s junkyard. Both of them were working their way through art school and barely had the essentials. Two futons draped with mismatched comforters from the Goodwill Store pulled double duty. They were beds by night and sofas by day. One quilt bloomed spring flowers in pastel tones, the other was a muted Southwestern design in dark earth tones. Bold strokes of yellow and green hand painted daisies covered the white sheet that draped the only window in the room..
Maggie lifted the books out of the orange crate and piled them on the floor in the corner by the bathroom. She turned the crate over and frowned. Dried ooze caked the bottom. It will never scrub off, she decided. Ready to can the idea, she surveyed the room for alternatives. The answer popped out of the laundry pile. All she needed was a tablecloth. The beach towel from Key West would do. It was bright, cheerful, but most of all, clean. With a quick snap of the wrist, the crate was masked in vibrant Caribbean color.. One problem solved, she crossed the room to the dingy, yellowed metal cabinet over the sink. Sorting through the dinner plates on the shelf, she found two that matched and set them on the counter for inspection. They were chipped and cracked, remnants of a bygone era If they fit, they will do, thought Maggie. She shuffled the treasures within the raised wood frame that edged her Japanese style table until they both lay flat.
“Perfect,” she said aloud.
Excited, she returned them to the counter.
The familiar knock of a short, a long, two shorts and a long sounded on the door. Flustered, she checked her watch. As usual, he was punctual and she was the one who had lost track of time.
She rushed to the door and flung it open to find Eddie ready to rap with one hand and the other toting a daisy. The mischievous blue eyes and cocky, boyish grin tingled her loins.
“Hi,” a seductive voice purred.
Eddie moved closer, his breath like Sahara wind. Passionate arms pulled her close. Electricity sparked when their lips met.
She closed her eyes and basked in the strength that enveloped her. Pressed against his firm body she felt safe and special.
“What’s for dinner?”
“Honey, I hope you’re not starved. I’m running a little late so dinner won’t be ready for an hour or so.”
He released his grip and stepped back. With a slight bow, he extended his arm and offered her the flower.
“For you, my love. I come here not for food, but to be with you. I’m sorry it’s not a dozen red roses, only a mere daisy, but I promise, someday I will buy you a dozen dozen of flowers, any kind you want.”
“Where would I put one hundred forty-four flowers?” she giggled.
“In the castle I build for you,” he said, his eyes dancing with merriment.
Maggie whispered a kiss on his cheek.
“I love your imagination. C’mon if you don’t get in here, I’ll never get dinner made,” she said tugging at his shirt.
“You don’t believe me,” he mumbled as he followed her inside. “Mark my word. It will happen.”
The cab screeched to a halt, throwing her forward and then slamming her back against the seat. Roused from thoughts of a happier time, she opened her eyes to find that their destination was directly ahead.
“Airline?” the driver asked, relieved that she woke on her own.
Margaret froze. This was the part of the plan she hadn’t worked out. The cab darted between lanes working its way toward the one marked departures.
“Airline?” he asked, a bit louder. All he wanted was to dump this woman, collect his fare and go home.
Hearing the edge in his voice, she knew she had to make a decision. She looked up at the sign and picked the first listed.
“Delta,” she said with much uncertainty.
Without giving her a chance to change her mind, the cabby turned the wheel towards the curb and double parked, leaving the engine running. He hit the pavement running. By the time Margaret scrambled out of the cab, her luggage was stacked on the curb. The two transacted their business in the street. Within seconds, the cab morphed into a yellow streak with red tail lights and was swallowed by the night.
Lost and disoriented, Margaret froze in her tracks.
Tires squealed. A horn blared.
“What’s the matter with you? You got a death wish? Get out of the road!” a gruff voice barked.
Dazed, Margaret turned to her left to see that a mini-van had missed her by inches. The driver, a beefy man with shoulder length gray hair and scraggly beard was shaking his fist and shouting obscenities. Unfazed, she wandered toward her bags on the curb.
“Do you need some help?” asked a burly black man.
“Yes,” a weak voice answered.
The Sky Cap loaded the luggage onto his hand truck and waited for her to lead the way. Moments passed, but she stood like a wax figure.
Realizing that she had no intention of moving, he gently nudged her arm. “This way ma’am.”
The glass double door parted, and she trailed behind. Margaret stood in awe. People were rushing in every direction, some with a cell phone pressed to an ear, but all with a plan. She had no plan and no place to go.
“What airline, ma’am?”
She looked around to find the longest line. It would give her time to think. They were all about the same, so she picked her old standby, Delta. At her request, the porter deposited the baggage beside her and took his leave. Loneliness gripped her heart as she read the computer list of departing flights. She understood the feeling of being alone in an empty house, but to experience it in a crowd was a shock.
The counter staff was more efficient than she liked, but her confidence grew as she inched closer to the counter, sliding the suitcases along one by one. Time ran out. She had to make a choice. The closest attendant motioned her forward. She slid the bags to the counter and hoisted them onto the steel platform.
“Hi. I’d like a ticket to Key West,” she said confidently.
“We can get you as far as Miami tonight, but you’ll have to wait until morning to fly down the Keys,” the clerk said as her fingers flew over the computer keys, her eyes glued to the monitor.
“That’s fine. I have all the time in the world,” she said calmly, a peace filling the space where doubt had been.