out on the Gulf stream
"Hey, Bob's got a boyfriend! Come see!"
Des, Drifty, Mayday and I carried our "sun's over the yardarm" drinks as we strolled across the lawn toward the dock late one afternoon. We had come to inspect the newly-constructed lifeguard tower. It had been decided that Bob shouldn't have to rescue everyone who went into the lagoon, and Emilie, tired of spending so much time indoors making travel arrangements for our visitors, had volunteered to share lifeguard duties with Skip, who we figured went over the railing often enough himself that he was qualified to pull others out of the water from time to time.
When we reached the water's edge, Angel138, Emilie and Skip pointed into the lagoon. Sure enough, there were two manatees lounging there together.
"We named the new guy Jollymon," Angel said.
"Bob and Jollymon," grinned Drifty. "Well, we are in the Keys."
Des elbowed him as I choked, suddenly finding chablis in the back of my nose. But Mayday seemed distracted and missed the joke as he scanned our little harbor.
"Look, there's another one," he said, gesturing to the far side of the lagoon. A gray shape could barely be made out in the shadows of the mangroves leaning far over the green water.
"No, two more!" called Hoffert from the upper deck. "I wonder where they're coming from?"
"I wonder why," mused Mayday.
At that moment, O.C. hurried up behind us. "Hey, Mayday, there's another one of those damn possums in my place. I sat down on the john and heard a hiss ... scared the bejeezus out of me. Get it out of there, will 'ya?"
But Mayday ignored him, scanning the cloudless sky with a narrowed eye. The sun was bright and the palm fronds shone as if they were made of cellophane. A slight breeze ruffled my hair.
"What is it, Mayday?" I asked.
"Go ask Jphat what the barometer looks like," he said. "And get Alan to tune in the Weather Channel."
Des and I looked at each other, and I felt a chill on the back of my neck that had nothing to do with the breeze.
"Hurricane?" Des whispered to me. But Mayday's sharp ears caught her query.
"There's been a lot of wildlife on the property in the last couple of days -- not just more of the usual possums and coons, but wild parrots, and a lot of snakes. I even saw three Key deer walking down our lane this morning. This little island is higher than the ones around it, and our lagoon is sheltered. The critters know it. There's a reason they're coming here, and a storm may be it."
Mayday proved right. All of our guests, and some of the phlock, left for the Mainland. But almost thirty of us remained behind on the property, reluctant to leave or not really having anyplace to go, and began preparations for the big blow that was coming. Hoffert and Grandmommie Parrotthead took my old Ford van into town for plywood and masking tape. Raven made up a list of first aid supplies, while Des and Kim inventoried the kitchen and put together a grocery list. The rest of us concentrated on cleaning up the grounds, taking down windsocks, windchimes and birdfeeders, and moving vehicles clear of the trees. Folding lawn furniture was stowed indoors while the heavier cast-iron stuff was tossed into the old salt-water pool for retrieval later. Blackbeard brought his beloved Conch Queen into the Boathouse, while Drifty, Gardner and a few others sailed the larger La Vie Dansant on up the coast to a marina where she'd be safe.
Des and I were taping up the windows on the ground floor when my van chugged up the driveway. While Hoffert drove around to the other side of the Boathouse to unload, Grandmommie Parrothead jumped out and walked toward us, a bundle of mail in her hand.
"We've got a problem," she announced darkly.
"What?" I asked, worried. "Were they out of plywood? Dammit, Des, I should have thought ahead. A blow was inevitable, and panic buying always empties the shelves."
"No, it's worse than that," said GMPH. "Call a meeting in the Common Room, and make sure that Dawn BB and FastMovingAngel are there."
Des and I looked at each other and at Grandmommie's face. Des went off to ring the ship's bell and summon the crewe to an emergency meeting.
"Oh, for crying out loud," griped O.C. "They can't be serious."
FMA leafed through the papers again. "Oh, they're serious, all right. Jimmy is suing us."
"But we haven't done anything!" I protested. "We've been so careful...."
"What the hell is a 'Prima Facie tort,' anyway?" asked Whino.
"It's not a dessert," warned FMA.
"It's a ploy," explained Dawn, "a catch-all, basically saying you done me wrong but what you did doesn't fit into any of the set categories so we'll use this one. It's a bit of lagniappe they've tacked on in case 'intentional interference with contractual (or business) relations' isn't enough. Normally, that's only charged when someone deliberately tries to take away another person's advantages in a business venture. They must have been planning something like the KWFL themselves, and they're afraid that what we've been doing here, even on such a modest scale, would interfere. They're assuming, of course, that we'd challenge them ... that everyone thinks the way they do."
"I can't believe that Jimmy has anything to do with this," said Des softly.
"Well, if he doesn't know about it now, he will soon enough," said Dawn decisively. "Because we're gonna challenge it. If it means that FMA and I have to stomp into the courtroom with cutlasses stuck in our belts."
"I'll carry the Jolly Roger!" O.C. stated bravely, standing hands on hips and chin thrust out.
"I'll bring the powder and shot!" added Hoffert, rising also to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friend.
"Avast the bulkheads!" "Hoist the yardarms!" "Man the gunwhales!" "Frolick midst the slithy toves!" "Fins to the left!" The crewe was cooking now, lost in the heady heat of impending battle. But I, worried though I was, managed to keep my head.
"Parrottheads!" I shouted. "Parrottheads! Listen to me!" They quieted a bit. "We won't have anything to defend, or rebuild, if we don't deal with this hurricane first! Now, everyone get back to work ... we'll deal with this problem later."
After a few moments, still griping but a bit subdued, the room emptied as the crewe went back to their tasks.
Des and I were left alone to stare at each other, our worse fears unspoken but understood. Although most of our crewe were familiar with the havoc wrought in central Florida by Andrew back in 1992, we older parrottheads found our thoughts haunted by a worse disaster -- the deadly hurricane of September 2, 1935. Nameless, known by its reputation alone, the storm had sent 200 mile-an-hour winds and an 18-foot wave of water across the upper Keys. Over 500 residents were swept to their deaths, many as they boarded Henry Flagler's railroad trying to evacuate. Bodies had washed up in the mangroves for weeks afterwards, and many conchheads were never found. No one who knew the history of the Keys heard the word hurricane without thinking of that terrible Labor Day. While the Boathouse had been built years before the storm, and weathered it because our little Key lay a good ways south of Lower Matecumbe, Des and I were still uneasy. We knew what the wind and the water could do, and we feared for ourselves, our friends, our Key, and our dream.