of Trouble in Paradise
lost and found,
was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas
that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your
nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a
fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their
husband's necks. Anything can happen."
GreenWoman sat on the dock of the Piratte Parrott Boathouse, Beach and Bar, soaking the angry red bug bites on her ankles in the cool water of Gilligan's Lagoon. Bob the manatee surfaced at her feet, blowing bubbles and begging for lettuce, but got no reaction. Green's mood was as foul as the haze of brown smoke which had drifted down the Florida peninsula from the wildfires in the northern counties to hang oppressively in the air of Key Lime Key.
Fire season in Los Angeles had always been like this. But GreenWoman was over 3,000 miles and several years removed from the Santa Anas she had once known so well -- those famously malevolent winds that periodically blasted down out of the high California desert to scour Los Angeles with wildfires that scarred the hills, unforgiving heat that wilted gardens and spirits, and static electricity that ambushed the nerves with every touch of a car key or a doorknob. Three thousand miles -- yet the high-wire tension and eerie feeling of impending doom that Raymond Chandler had ascribed to the winds of L.A. seemed somehow to have reached Key Lime Key as well, evaporating the sweetness from the fruit and sharpening the thorns on the little island's namesake trees.
The Master of the Boathouse was gone -- the big cypress doors were shuttered, and La Vie Dansant and the Conch Queen, little-used these days, thumped gently against their bumpers in the dark. The upper deck of the PPBBB still hosted nightly parties, but the crowd had thinned, the old carefree atmosphere and boisterous joy seemed subdued, and some familiar faces were missing. Sumo Ken played A1A over and over again on the sound system, hoping to not only mellow the mood but also to avoid complaints about Jimmy's later music. Gardner's annual battle with TicketBastard was heating up, not just for the usual reasons but also because it seemed that this year, the yearly order for a big block of seats had been changed to requests for a number of smaller groups, separated from each other. Gator Dave was gone to Europe, and the sounds of giggles, sighs and other suggestive noises that usually issued from the BathHouse and Massage Emporium had given way to a quiet that was not serene.
Through both unhappy accident and malicious design, trouble had crept subtly into Paradise. And although most of the SAWs and SAMs tried to maintain a cheerful mood, somehow, the margaritas now seemed flat, the strings of lights were on the fritz, there was algae in Gilligan's Lagoon, and sand fleas infested the beach.
As if sensing the mood of her biped friend, Bob the manatee nudged GreenWoman's toes, rolling on her side to fix a weak but seemingly sympathetic eye on the face of the landlubber sitting on the dock. Green leaned forward to scratch the big mammal, and was rewarded by an amoebic bubble which rippled lazily upward from the manatee's broad stern to burst fragrantly on the lagoon's surface. The woman wrinkled her nose.
"I know, Bob," she murmured glumly. "Life stinks,"
As if to add insult to injury, the whine of combustion engines invaded the sultry silence. It grew into an ear-splitting howl as three jetskis rounded Key Lime Key's outrider isle and roared into the murky waters of the lagoon. Bob disappeared beneath the greenish surface with as much speed as a manatee could muster. GreenWoman jumped to her feet and shouted an angry epithet as the wildly colored, noisome intruders blew raucously across the glassy water. One of the barbarians, a young long-haired blond, lifted his finger in an ageless gesture and swung close to the dock; the rooster-tail sent up by his prop soaked GreenWoman from head to toe. Without looking back, the intruders disappeared behind the mangroves at the other end of the inlet and were gone, leaving gasoline fumes hovering in the still air.
Des, BobRob and t.a. ran up just in time to see the wakes slapping against the cypress piering. Hoffert and O.C., armed with key limes, and Whino, brandishing an almost empty long-neck, leaned over the railing of the upper balcony. Disappointment and frustration at their failure to launch their missiles in time was evident on their faces. Others soon joined a bedraggled GreenWoman on the dock.
"That's the fourth time this weekend," t.a. said angrily.
"Did you get their registrations?" called Dawn the Beach Bitch.
"We'll sue their speedo'd butts right off those infernal machines!" Steph vowed.
"You know we can't do that," GreenWoman reminded them. "The channel is a public waterway."
"Maybe gates with No Trespassing signs would keep those bastards out of here," growled Mayday.
GreenWoman hung her head. "We can't do that, Mayday!" she said again. "We don't have the right to gate the lagoon."
"Green!" Several voices registered their shock and disappointment. "How can you say that?" "They're ruining things here!" "Jeez, Green!" "What if they hurt Bob?"
"GreenWoman's right," said jeff. "They have a right to come through here."
"Oh, no," gasped Desdemona suddenly, pointing at a pinkish stain in the water.
Hastily, everyone scanned the lagoon for manatee noses. "Over there!" shouted Calaloo, as she spotted Bob on the other side, in the shadows of the mangroves.
Mayday, Jumper and FMA were arcing into the lagoon in the next breath, swimming strongly. Their heads circled Bob's for a moment, then FMA called across the water, "It's OK! He must have hit a gar. Bob's all right."
"You see!?" Angry voices surrounded GreenWoman. "We've got to stop them." "They're ruining things here!" "Don't you care?"
"Of course I care!" she retorted. "And we'll complain to the authorities. Apart from that, all we can do is do our best to ignore them."
"Yeah." "Right." "Ignore them." The Legionnaires dispersed, disgruntled, angry and upset.
Desdemona found GreenWoman sitting on the widow's walk on the roof of the Boathouse later that night.
"Whino thought you'd be here," Des said. "He sent you a present." She shoved a large margarita with very little ice into GreenWoman's hand. Green regarded it morosely.
"Wouldn't ElRoi have a field day if he saw this?" she said wryly.
"It's for medicinal purposes," her friend replied. "Cap'n Ron mixed it, and Raven ran the blender." She smiled, but GreenWoman did not.
"What are we going to do, Des?" GreenWoman murmured as she sipped her drink. "It seems things are different around here lately. Everyone is edgier than long-tailed cats in a room full of rockers. Misunderstandings turn into fights, apologies become soap operas, some people draw lines in the sand, other people leave ..." She looked up at her friend. "I wanted this to be a place where everyone could come to get away from it all. But the carnival is stopping, Des. And I don't know how to fix it."
Des, ever one to look on the bright side, patted Green's shoulder. "Maybe it will fix itself," she said reassuringly. "You know those mens ... sometimes it seems they're hard-wired for posturing and one-upsmanship, donchaknow. And we wimminfolk have our share of built-in bitchiness." Des smiled sadly. "These jetski jokers and sand flea trolls just seem to wear everyone's good humor down. But after all, like the Man says, some of it's magic, and some of it's tragic, but we've got a good life, all the same. Try not to worry."
"I can't help it," mourned Green. "I just feel as if I have to do something."
"Well," said Des, "actually, I have an idea." Her eyes twinkled.