Jack and his dog made Key West just after five in the evening. The old truck was starting to wear down, and Jack could feel some power loss and had been watching his oil pressure carefully the last few miles. It bounced around a bit, but the temperature didn’t budge much, so he didn’t get too concerned. But he knew the engine was just getting tired and needed a good servicing. He had noticed a few new oil leaks over the past few days, and oil consumption had seemed to increase which meant some possible blow by in the cylinders. All in all, for a 1952 truck, she was holding together marvelously and these kind of issues are just part of owning a vintage vehicle.
Jake had his head out the window, panting, but enjoying the cooling breeze. Temperatures had certainly fallen a bit for a normal Florida September, all preceding this storm, and at this stage it was hard for Jack to not notice the looming darkness out over the souther horizon. Despite all this, Jack was not ready to acknowledge the absolutely ridiculousness of this journey. He was still too focused on the moment and the next bend in the road. He didn’t want to think about the last thousand or so miles and what he had left behind. And as far as he was concerned, that past had nothing to do with this moment, and could be completely forgotten – redacted out from history.
They drove further south and came across the Key West airport. The place was completely deserted. Only a couple small planes and one helicopter lined the tarmac, tightly tied with rope to moorings in the pavement. Windows of every building on the airport and around the city were boarded up with ply-wood. It was like driving in the apocalypse. Jack didn’t see another vehicle on the street, but he continued heading south, following rough directions from the bearded man back in Key Largo. Not knowing why, but Jack felt that Chuck had given him at least a direction and reason to continue, and that was to get to this Hotel de Palms. Perhaps arriving there, Jack could finally come to terms that the journey was over and then he could start making new decisions, and face a new beginning.
Jack found himself down a narrow palm lined street. The sign ahead said “No Outlet” but he passed by in second gear, shifting into neutral and letting the truck coast to a stop at the end of the road. A small sign next to a gravel driveway said Hotel Entrance. Behind that was a row of palmettos and palms and about a hundred yards down the drive a large gray clad two story building.
He shifted into first and let the clutch out, the old truck jumped and shook a bit, then its tires felt their way from the pavement to the gravel and marched on down the drive. Jack pulled the truck, muscling the truck into a small parking lot next to the Hotel de Palms.
Jake barked twice, then leapt out the window and circled the truck three times before racing over to a row of palmetto’s and lifting his leg. Jack got out of the truck, rolling up the windows and grabbing his bag from the bed, slinging it over this shoulder.
“Come on boy, and be good. We don’t know if they like the four legged kind yet.”
They walked down a path, saw the office entrance, but Jack decided to walk on out down the lawn and look at the beach first. Jake raced ahead, seeing the waves on the beach and instantly became fascinated. He leapt into the surf, all thirty pounds of Blue Heeler, was forced back into the sand and having his legs swept out from under him. Flipping up, and barking, he leapt back at the waves, trying to bite them. Jack laughed and smiled. Then he noticed the sky and started to feel a little worry. It was getting so dark off shore, and every indication was that line of clouds and weather was heading straight for them.
“Maybe this wasn’t the best of ideas,” he muttered under his breath.
Looking around, the place looked quiet and vacant. He couldn’t tell if there were lights on inside the Hotel or not since the plywood covered every piece of glass.
“Jake! Come on, boy. Time to see if any one is home.”
A couple barks and Jake rushed over to Jack’s side, wet and covered in sand.
“You’re officially a mess, dog.”
Woof! and then Jake rushed out and headed for the wooden dock.
“Jake! Come back here!”
Jack dropped his bag on a bench and headed down to the wooden dock. He knew Jake wouldn’t go far, he never did. This dog was loyal to a fault. So Jack didn’t feel the need to rush. The wind was blowing steady, and it felt good, almost cool, filled with salty mist in the air. He stepped up onto the dock and saw Jake sitting at the end of the dock peering up at a woman with short cropped black hair, black t-shirt with sleeves removed and white shorts. She stood before the dog, arms at her side. She must have been talking to him. Jake seemed enthralled by the lady, hanging on her every word, tongue out and ears alert. Jack had no idea what she was saying, but he felt a little embarrassment for his dog disturbing this woman’s peace. Jack stepped into a jog and headed up the long dock.
As he approached the pair, he called out, “So sorry! Jake. come here.”
But the dog stayed put and looked back at the woman.
“Sorry,” said Jack, “Jake. Come.”
The woman laughed. “He’s a bit stubborn, isn’t he.”
“Not usually,” Jack stated, honestly. “Name’s Jack.”
“Hi Jack,” the woman said looking at the dog.
“No, I’m Jack. He’s Jake.”
“Well, that’s not at all confusing.” She smiled, wet jet black hair blown across her face.
Green, piecing eyes stared right at Jack. For a moment he felt his knees a little weak, and he swayed, catching himself on the railing. Then realized he was standing on a floating dock, and blamed the incoming waves for his lack of balance.
The lady picked up a half empty bottle of scotch and a single glass. “Look boys, we better get ourselves off this dock before we have to swim to shore. And you two look like maybe you can use a drink.”
“Come on Jack and Jake the Dog, welcome to the Hotel de Palms. I’m Heidi, your proprietor for at least the next 24 hours before the storm washes us all out to sea.”