the sheet in as we ride on the wind...."
The phlock continued to grow as the weeks passed. Although Drifty, O.C., Gardner and a few others continued to complain that we didn't have a "real" boat ... a boat that depended upon the wind and a sailor's skill to take us out to the deep blue water ... we had just about everything else a nest of parrottheads might need.
Hard work had brought many changes to the KWFL property. Drifty had the boathouse in fine order, and Gator had claimed a corner for his dive shop. Bob the Mermaid had her reservations about this "improvement," but remained good-natured about the bubble-spewing, flipper-footed guests now appearing regularly in her territory. Blackbeard had transformed The Conch Queen into a party boat, with a fire-engine-red paint job that matched her slip-mate, the Bateau Rouge, jaunty peppermint-striped tarping, new bumpers and shiny brass cleats, and her name in bright yellow across her stern and on her bow.
EC Jester and his volunteers had finished repairs to the Boathouse, and reinforced the upper deck to hold up under the lively parrotthead parties that seemed to spontaneously kick-start themselves each evening. Takeitez had become our historian, and he and Raven both regularly posted trivia questions on the bulletin board in the Common Room. Sumo, another recently surfaced lurker whose background was in radio, had taken charge of the loudspeaker system we'd installed and kept music by Cap'n Jimmy and other similarly-beloved troubadors playing all over the property. Mayday did critter patrol, relocating the bolder possums, raccoons, snakes and other "neighbors" who occasionally invited themselves into quarters intended for bipeds only. Emilie and Salome worked to create a tour package for our guest parrotheads, and our legal crew, FastMovingAngel and Dawn BB, applied themselves to the paperwork required to ensure the security of our venture. Gardner McKay, a degreed horticulturist, had taken over groundskeeping from me (although I had refused to give up my greenhouse) and had carefully logged and labelled the native flora, as well as planting Key Limes in handy proximity to the Boathouse kitchen steps. Des had networked all computers in the bungalows and the Boathouse to the outside world. Jhat, Jhnjb, Angel38, MangoHombre and his lady NiteOwl were tireless, lending their hands to anything that needed doing. Hoffert and O.C. supervised everything from their lawn chairs, tossing suggestions and directions at all of us and, occasionally, Key Limes at each other across the Mason-Dixon line of tire planters O.C. had constructed between their bungalows.
Desdemona and I usually met at twilight down on the dock, enjoying the glow of Skip Wiley's party lights on the water and listening to the happy sounds of the phlocking on the upper deck as we reviewed the daily business of the KWFL. It was one such early evening, as we sat playing with the baby possums that Drifty had found in the winch housing and demanded Mayday evict, that our attention was drawn to a quiet chugging echoing through the mangroves that lined the channel which led from our lagoon to the Gulf waters.
"The Conch Queen is tied up in the Boathouse," said Des, a puzzled look on her face. "And it's close to dark ... who on earth is that?"
"I think I know," I said, smiling. Pulling possums from my lap and handing them to Des, I got to my feet as running lights appeared out of the dusk and the boat that bore them drew closer. The tall, bearded man at the wheel maneuvered the craft skillfully in the small space of the lagoon until she nudged the dock gently. I caught the line he threw and secured it to the cypress piling.
"Des," I said happily, "meet Johnny4tlk. He's brought us our boat."
The crewe hung over the railing of the upper deck as our new arrival leapt lightly to the dock. "Hey, is that a Herrishoff?" "A Herrishoff Schooner? Wow!" "Hey, she's beautiful!" "Green, is that ours?!"
"Well, John? Is she?" I asked.
"Yes," he said, grinning. "Your friends might not be so thrilled when they see her in full light ... she's a bastard cousin of the Malibar and the Marcomolo, not a true Herrishof. I found her in a marina in Tampa ... a design pirate sort of took the basic build of the schooner and ran with it, then got in a spot of trouble and let her go. She's been tied up untouched for quite a while, and she'll need a bit of work. But you said you trusted me, so I went ahead and got her for you."
As the crewe spilled down the steps and onto our new flagship, all I could do was smile. "If you say she's the boat for us, I trust you, all right. You'll stay and help us, won't you?"
My friend shook his head. "I'm a busy fellow, I'm afraid. Your gang can handle it. I've got to head north again tomorrow."
"Ah. Well, come and eat some dinner, anyway, and stay the night. There's jambalaya on the stove, after-dinner margaritas on the deck, and an extra bed in the Garcionnaire."
A broad grin split the beard. "Sold," he said.
The next morning, Johnny4tlk wheeled his BMW off the schooner and walked it to the driveway. He kicked the cycle's engine into purring life, tipped his Irish cap and headed off down the driveway, scattering bleached clamshells from beneath his tires. Des gave me a knowing look which I chose to ignore, and we walked back to the dock to view the newest addition to our fleet. The members of our crew who were seaworthy were already exploring her, assessing the work that needed to be done.
"All right, pholks," I announced. "Before we touch a thing, we have to name her. Post your suggestions on the bulletin board upstairs, and we vote tonight!"
A rousing cheer went up. We had a boat which could ride the wind ... to carry us over the deep water, to teach our 'keets about the sea, to share with our guests, and to complete the dream that we all had worked so hard to realize.
And we named her....