~ TALES OF THE KWFL ~
The Tale of the Miami
"Wait a minute, Weasel," said Conch. "You ... did you say your name is t.a. barnhart?"
"Yeah. At least I think it is -- who wants to know?" t.a. didn't sound as if he really wanted his question answered.
"You do computer support, man?"
"Too damn much of it."
"Hey, man, I know you! I know this guy, Weasel. He helped my old lady's daughter when her computer crashed the night before her term paper was due. He even gave her the address of a page that had info on some writer named Jack London. Saved her butt, man."
"So what?" growled Weasel, unimpressed. "So we don't beat him up first, we just go ahead and kill him now?" t.a., adrenalin clearing his head and comprehension of the situation sinking in, but still in the grip of mother Tequila, looked almost grateful.
GreenWoman slowly closed her fingers around her car keys, the only weapon she had at hand, and had resigned herself to going down in glorious defeat when she heard a commotion behind her.
"All right, what's all this, then?"
It was Gator Dave's best imitation of a British bobby. GreenWoman swung her head around and saw Gator Dave, Drifty, Sumo Ken and UnkFrank, with Desdemona in the lead, gathering behind her. Green smiled and looked back at Weasel.
"Let's see," she said, counting carefully with her finger in the air. "There are six of us -- well, six and a half if you count t.a. -- and twelve of you. You guys better go get some more guys."
"Yeah," chimed in Drifty, trying to sound confident. "Don't be messin' with the Key West Foreign Legion!"
"The what?" Weasel, still stoked for a rumble, took a step toward the van.
"The Key West Foreign Legion, man!" Conch stepped up and put a restraining hand on his cohort's tattooed arm. "That's what I was tryin' to tell you -- these guys are OK. I told you about them, remember? They're friends of Jimmy's, man. They got a place down on Key Lime Key, an' they got manatees too."
"So they're all right, dude. So we leave 'em alone." Weasel's expression mellowed a bit.
"You guys got manatees too?"
"Oh yes," we assured him in eager semi-unison. "Very nice manatees. We feed them lettuce. Every day. And we don't let anyone hassle them."
"You fellows know Jimmy?" asked Sumo incredulously.
"Sure," said Weasel. "A friend of mine named Snake used to housesit for him."
Desdemona elbowed Drifty sharply, cutting off his laughter. The backup gang members murmured among themselves, but the atmosphere seemed suddenly distinctly less hostile than it had been. Conch was grinning widely by now. Des cleared her throat.
"Um, Green," she said in a quiet but urgent voice. "The reason we came back up here is that Skip fell in the river, and we need to get a rope out of the van to fish him out with."
"Dammit! I told him to be careful!" GreenWoman sighed. "Did he lose my flashlight?"
"No. The fishing bobber you had tied to it kept it from sinking."
GreenWoman nodded in satisfaction, and made a mental note to thank Whino.
"Mayday went in after him," said Sumo. "Now they're both in the water, and they can't get out because of the retaining wall."
"Hey, no problem, lady," Conch smiled down at Desdemona. "We go swimming here all the time; there's a stairway they can use. We'll show you."
Stepping up to Des, he draped a muscular arm around her shoulder. Drifty moved forward protectively but Des, unflappable as always, merely winked at him before turning her eyes on her new escort.
"Why don't you tell me all about your manatees, Conch?" she drawled as they started off down the path. Four would-be knights of the KWFL looked at each other, mouths agape, before falling docilely into line behind the two and following them toward the river.
Weasel, figuring that Conch had scored so why not he, offered Green an elbow. Green grinned admiringly at the firebreathing dragon that curled around his arm and the rivet-studded black leather cuff around his wrist, but shook her head.
"I think I better stay here and take care of my friend," she said, nodding toward t.a., who was still obviously in distress. Weasel looked disappointed but, checking out t.a. in the light of the street lamp, had to agree.
"Hey, Jones and Roadkill, get that beer outta the trunk and bring it down to the river." He grinned at GreenWoman; a gold tooth caught the streetlight's glow and sparkled in the dark. "When he can walk, y'all come down and join us. Maybe a beer will help." t.a. groaned audibly, but Green just smiled.
"Thanks, Weasel. We will."
By three in the morning a full moon floated high over the river, looking down at its reflection shimmering in the ripples caused by lounging manatees. The Legionnaires and the locals had bonded over many beers and tales, tall and otherwise. Except for t.a., who was doing the Jonestown sprawl on the grass, we sat shoulder to shoulder with our legs dangling over the retaining wall, gazing up at the moon and down at the manatees in the water below. Both sets of mammals, we who had left the sea millions of years ago and they who had returned to it to spend those millennia happily embraced in the salty mother waters, shared the peaceful moment in sleepy contentment.
"Hey, Conch," GreenWoman asked quietly, "why do you folks like the manatees so much? Why do you care about what happens to them?"
Conch pulled a tuft of clover from a cleft in the concrete wall and tossed it into the river, where a grateful beast slurped it up. He was silent for a moment, while they both listened to the soft sounds of manatee chewing, before he turned large brown eyes on his new acquaintance.
"They're our homies, lady," he finally explained. "And we take care of our own."
"I understand." GreenWoman tossed more clover into the water, expecting no further explanation. But Conch spoke again, with a quiet reflection that was surprising coming from behind that street-hardened face.
"You know, sometimes I come down here and and just sit and watch them, floating and farting and being totally cool, and I envy 'em, you know? I figure, they got a pretty good life. I kind of wish it was mine."
In the cobalt sky, the everlasting moon shone on.
Mail call at the Boathouse, and everyone was lounging around the great room as Salome doled out the mail that Hoffert and Grandmommie Parrotthead had brought back from town.
"MangoHombre, you may have already won a million dollars," she announced, handing him a thick envelope with Ed McMahon's picture on it.
"Wow," he said, grinning widely. "'Ritas on me, gang!"
"Nope," countered Cap'n Ron. "Sorry. My envelope says I'm the winner. And everyone should be grateful to hear it ... I make much better margaritas than you do."
"Well, I could pay you to make them for me," Mango shot back.
"Trevor," smiled Salome, here's something from FBama. Trevor sprang to her feet, snatched the envelope and disappeared into one of the upstairs bedrooms.
"American Bird Society Magazine ... FMA. Gardner, a letter from your lady in Orlando, and a postcard from your kids. They're having fun at Disney World. Odo fanzine for GreenWoman. Letter from Chris, Des. Drifty ... Victoria's Secret Catalog? Copies of the latest Coconut Telegraph for all. I'm keeping the bills." She shuffled through the dwindling stack.
"Hey, Mayday! You've got a letter from Dave Barry!"
Mayday looked up from his copy of the Manatee Project newsletter. "What?"
Salome handed him the envelope, and the rest of us crowded around. "It's in a Miami Herald envelope ... open it, Mayday!" urged Desdemona. The rest of us joined in.
"Aw, it's a joke. One of you guys did this, right?" he presumed as he slipped his finger under the flap, tore the envelope open and unfolded a computer-printed letter with a scrawling signature.
"Read it, Mayday," said Dawn eagerly.
"Okay." Mayday cleared his throat.
" 'Dear Jim 'Mayday' Maday,'
" 'I heard from my friend Jimmy Buffett recently that you raised some bucks for The Manatee Project. I'm sure that if there were any places in the Miami River that they could go blow it all on pinball and beer, the manatees would appreciate the effort. The Project will probably use it for something more practical, like socks and underwear, and bandaids big enough to cover propeller gashes. But be proud of yourself, buddy ... nice work, even if the critters, like most kids, aren't bright enough to appreciate it.'
" 'I heard from another mutual acquaintance by the name of Conch that you and the Key West Foreign Legion dropped by their 'hood recently. He said you weren't interested in doing business with them, you just wanted to see the local manatees. Conch said to tell you that any time you guys have any trouble in Miami, you just let him know, and he'll take care of it. I might mention that Conch has offered to take care of trouble in Miami for me before ... we both had to get lawyers later. But I promised to pass the message on.'
" 'Just wanted to let you know that I'm proud to have a reader like you. It makes me look good. You might not think that would be too difficult if you'd ever gone to a book signing with me, but I mean it. And I am not making this up.'
" 'Sincerely, and angling for an invitation to a barbeque on Key Lime Key,'
" 'Dave Barry.' "
Mayday slowly got to his feet and walked over to the bulletin board. He ceremoniously pinned the letter in an empty space and turned to face the rest of us, who watched in respectful silence.
"You know what this means, don't you?" he said.
"Without a moment's hesitation," O.C. replied, "Of course. Party."
"Big one," added Whino.
"Very big one," we all chimed in, laughing.
Out in Gilligan's Lagoon, Bob and Jollymon bumped manatee butts in blissful contentment.
larger than life, made from holy water,