It was close enough to midnight when he stopped checking the clock, switched off the brass salon light, and turned towards the companion way. Reaching for his flashlight, he used his other hand to loosely hold and guide himself up the creaky teak ladder. Stepping out and into the dark, a curtain of humidity and stillness greeted him. Drawing in a slow deep breath, he pulled his shoulders back, rolled his neck slowly to one side, and casually appraised what he believed to be every sailor’s idea of paradise; the Florida Keys. Exhaling, his senses had already finished collecting and processing the moment: it was a pungent infusion of outgoing tide; exposed mangrove roots, seagrass beds, and millions of crusty barnacles on every piling – from Key West to Miami.
He looked upward, along the mast. Confirming Maria’s anchor light was shining bright, his curiosity ascended to the dome of brilliant stars that seemed to exist, if only for the sake of this one particular harbor. Noticing the absence of any wind, his gaze settled onto an imaginary line of a hundred or so other swaying anchor lights – Maria’s neighbors. It was a field so to speak, of nautical wheelers…Magic, Namaste, Wanderer, Free Bird.
The music of Santana, wafting from Dockside had just stopped, signaling closing time and last call at the bar. If he hurried, he might reach the dinghy dock in time for a Captain Morgan and coke. Not his usual habit, but tonight it made sense. He’d order his drink, and then check the worn corkboard located at the end of the bar for thumbtacked notes scribbled with the name, Maria. Between the bartenders taking phone messages for the live-aboards, and the coconut telegraph, information got around. None of the boaters in Boot Key Harbour seemed to miss or need a phone. Consider it one less string attached.
Pleased there were no new messages, he tipped his glass to drain the last bit of vanilla infused rum when the glass sliding door signaled that Dockside was done for the night. Stepping outside onto shadowed planks, he watched the last of the last fumble into their dinghies and putter home to their boats. Smiling and very much awake, in spite of the late hour, he walked over to an outlying bench, sat down, and waited for her to arrive…any minute.
Minutes multiplied to an hour. At least a dozen pair of approaching headlights had danced among the palms, growing brighter and brighter; each time, he watched and hoped it would be her car rounding the corner. Where was she? If she left work as planned, she would have had plenty of time to make the drive from Miami. Yes, he barely knew her, but at the same time he really liked her…last time they spoke, she was looking forward to a visit to snorkel Sombrero reef. Digging in his pocket for quarters, he made his way to a payphone, dropped the necessary change in, and dialed her number.
Hours and hours overdue, and no answer to his calls, he drove north to retrace the only route linking the Keys back to Miami. Stopping ever so often to feed another payphone and leave another urgent message on her answering machine, the night had suddenly gotten very long and confusing.
Early dawn, her abandoned Toyota 4Runner was found. At a convenience store where the 18 mile stretch becomes north Key Largo. The guy working the night shift confirmed he saw the red Toyota pull in and park near the door, during a particularly strong down pour. A lady with long hair was driving. What he knows is that after the rain let up, no one came in, the car remained in the same spot, but she was gone. That was quite a few hours earlier.
It didn’t occur to him until now, that he probably should have called the police.
to be continued…
18 Mile Stretch (Part 1) https://seamorenauticalspirits.com/2017/04/05/the-18-mile-stretch-1992/
Three years ago, I set out to write a short story about a particular event. I thought after the first story was posted, the second piece would come about rather quickly. But that’s not what happened. And that’s ok. When I woke up this morning, I had no agenda but to first enjoy my coffee. Within five minutes I was fixing breakfast for Captain Chameleon. Sometime between that second cup of coffee and drinking a glass of fresh squeezed Florida orange juice, the energy, the desire, the ability to sit down and create part 2 happened. It’s not polished but that’s ok also, because I fear if I were to sit on it…it would be another three years. These challenging weeks, this month especially, I really need a diversion from 2020. So I hope you enjoy a blast from the past…1992
Seamore Nautical Spirit is isolating on a boat in Tarpon Springs, Florida.
Prayers that you, your family, and friends are well, and that we find ourselves on the other side of this great challenge, as stronger, kinder, and more in love with life.
Seamore Nautical Spirits