of the night, hold on till morning...."
"What kind of a moron is out in a boat in the middle of a hurricane?" griped a damp Drifty, coming back upstairs from securing the Boathouse doors.
"The usual kind," grinned our bedraggled visitor.
After a moment, our Gypsy remembered that his mouth was open and closed it. In spite of rain thundering on the tin roof, the embarrassed silence in the room seemed deafening. None of us knew what to say. It was Buffett himself who spoke first.
"You're right; Sonja, Phil and Mason here told me it was a stupid thing to do," he said. "But I just bought the damn boat and I was pissed off that the engine already needed work. I really thought I could beat the storm up-coast to the refit place. The wife and kids are out of town, and it seemed like an adventure ... but we threw a rod a few miles south of here and had to limp into the first channel large enough to take us. Didn't quite make it. Serves me right for buying a motorboat."
Desdemona finally remembered our manners for us.
"Well, welcome to the Pirate Parrott Boathouse," she said. "It's very nice to have you as a guest."
"Even if you'll probably be our last one," growled Hoffert.
I winced. "Mojo, make Bill another rum and coke." I looked at our shivering castaways.
"You guys are freezing," I said unnecessarily. "We've got chili on the camp stove in the kitchen, and our 12-volt blender can mix you margaritas, unless you want something warmer?"
"Sounds fine to me," said Buffett. For the first time his eyes started traveling around the room; they came to rest on the painted sign hanging over the bar. "Jimmy's Buffet?"
"It's a long story," I smiled. "You better have that drink before we tell it."
Sonja, Phil and Mason settled on bar stools and dug into the chili. It took some quiet persuasion to get Hoffert to share his Mt. Gay, but eventually Jimmy had a hot rum toddy in his hand, which he sipped slowly as he wandered around the Common Room. By the flicker of the hurricane lamps he checked out the navigational charts on the walls, the mirror with the Players cigarette sailor painted on it, the hula-skirted Barbie doll with the plastic parrot head where the pony-tailed one should have been, and the bulletin board covered with photos, notes and bumper stickers.
Finally he reached the corner table where Dawn and FastMovingAngel had been working on our legal defense. Jimmy eyed the law books, murmured "Pirate Parrotts...." under his breath, and seemed to finally put two and two together and come up with the reason for our subdued welcome.
"This is Key Lime Key, right? You're the guys my lawyers are after, aren't you?" he said.
"Damn straight," said Whino.
"So if you told them to back off, then why didn't they?" Desdemona asked, after Jimmy had recounted his side of the nasty business we were facing.
"Those damn landsharks; sorry, ladies." Buffett nodded apologetically in the direction of Dawn and FMA, but his blue eyes were colder than a Colorado lake. "They must've smelled money in the water and gone ahead on their own. Probably figured I'd thank 'em for it later."
"I'd thank them with a pink slip, if I were you," said Dawn.
Jimmy sighed. "They're only doing their jobs -- and usually, they do them pretty well, although I know it seems like overkill sometimes. It gets weird when you make it big, kiddies; I used to think that when I made it, I could spend my time doing what I wanted to, kicking back and writing or getting out of town whenever I damn well pleased, because I'd have the fun tickets to do it. But it didn't work out that way. Instead, I'm workin' harder than I ever did. Right now, for instance, I'm writing a new book, editing the last one before it goes to press, working with Herman to get the play to Broadway, and planning next year's tour. I've also got to try and write some new songs for you pholks. Even more important, find time to spend with my wife and kids. And somehow, someway, get back out on the water when I can ... get back a little taste of my old life. That's why I took this crazy chance: I wanted to feel young again. I guess I screwed it up, didn't I?" Jimmy grinned, but his shoulders were slumped, and his eyes were distant. I looked at Des; she wore her Wise Woman face.
"You pholks are exhausted," she said gently. "Time for bed. You can use the rooms at the end of the hall to the left."
His crewmates looked at Desdemona gratefully and left the Common Room, but Jimmy stayed where he was, rocking slowly back and forth in my Stickley. Without a word, Mojo took the empty mug from his hand and returned a moment later with a fresh toddy, while Des draped a quilt around his shoulders. Our guest nodded his thanks and stared wearily into the fire.
The storm raged outside, but around our fireplace, all was peaceful. For a moment.
"Shit!" The shout came from the end of the hall. "Boss, they got rats here!"
Mayday and I looked at each other and tried not to convulse in laughter as we headed off to do possum patrol.
For the rest of the night, the walls of the Boathouse shook under the ferocious battering of the wind. A tremendous crash on the land side of the Boathouse lured Whino and Gator back out to the upper deck, where our spotlight revealed that the 'Keet Coop would need a new roof. Trees snapped like gunshots in the darkness, and coconuts bobbed in the water that covered the lawn and the parking lot. But the vehicles, though hubcap deep in water and sporting a few dents and broken windshields, still seemed relatively safe. And although the big room downstairs was awash, the Boathouse was standing firm.
By 3:00 in the morning, Jimmy Buffet was sleeping peacefully on the couch. The rest of the Common Room furniture and floor was draped with semi- and outright unconscious Parrottheads. Desdemona and I, though, stayed awake and talked long into the night.
The next morning dawned bright and clear, the sky washed clean and the sun blazing, unconcerned with the destruction on the land below. We wandered downstairs and out the Boathouse doors, blinking and a bit unsteady, to survey the ruins of the property. Trees were down everywhere, and the ground was spongy and treacherous. Moms carefully watched their 'keets who, as always, loved having their world turned upside down and raced everywhere marveling at the changes that Jimmy the storm had wrought. The rest of us wavered in mood between despair at the work that faced us, and gratitude that it hadn't been worse than it was. While the 'Keet Coop was roofless, water had invaded some of the bungalows and the ground floor of the Garcionniere, and Gardner and I grieved at what the storm surge had done to the landscaping, the buildings and vehicles overall seemed to have weathered the storm without too much damage.
Jimmy's new motorboat had not fared nearly as well; pieces of it were wedged in the mangrove roots and others blocked the channel. It was clear that the yacht was a total loss. Buffett seemed relatively unconcerned, though, flashing that wide smile and shrugging as he viewed the wreckage.
"It's a boat ... it can be replaced. I just hope it didn't tear up those mangroves too badly." And all of us were thrilled to see Bob bobbing in Gilligan's Lagoon again, mellow as always and wondering where the lettuce was.
The small bridge to the Key was washed out, so Blackbeard offered to take Jimmy and his stranded crew back to civilization on the Conch Queen. As our sturdy little workhorse vessel chugged out of the Boathouse doors, Jimmy's eyes grew wide. "What a great boat!" he exclaimed, jumping easily from the dock to her bow and helping Blackbeard check her over as the rest of us sat, bare feet in the water debris-filled water, paying Bob her expected tribute. The Queen's proud captain shot a pointed glance at Drifty, who pointedly ignored it
After a breakfast of powdered eggs, Spam and biscuits and gravy a la Sterno, it was time to say goodbye, but Jimmy seemed reluctant to leave.
"Listen, pholks ... about this lawsuit thing. Forget about it ... I'll get it cleared up when I get home."
Des and I smiled at each other.
"It's okay, Jimmy," said Desdemona. "We've got it covered, doncha know."
He gave us a quizzical look, but Des and I just grinned. Our pirate shrugged, and that wide grin we loved so much crept across his face, pushing the corners of his mustache almost to his twinkling eyes.
"Well, thanks for everything," he said warmly. Taking Desdemona's hand, he bowed and kissed it; to her credit, she didn't fall off the dock. There were hugs and handshakes all around for the rest of our crewe before our castaways boarded the Conch Queen for their trip home. We watched the little boat wend her way carefully through the tree-trunks and the pieces of Jimmy's yacht as she headed up the channel and out of sight.
"What the devil did you mean by 'we've got it covered'?, you two?" asked Whino. "We could've had the whole thing settled right then and there!"
Des and I faced the curious and concerned looks of those around us with confident and confidential smiles. "Believe me," I told them, "what we have in mind will be a lot more fun."