Staring Down the Barrel

Heidi was standing at the end of a long planked floating dock. Her eyes were closed and the wind flattened her black cropped hair flat back on her head. Sea salt spray misted through the air with each crashing wave. Over the course of the the day, the wind had picked up and the water turned from cobalt blue to a deep churning mossy green. White caps lined the horizon, while the dark gray clouds boiled above and swept inland. She licked her lips, tasting the salt mixed with her deep red lipstick. This was going to be the storm of the century. Or so they said. For Heidi, it was either the beginning of the story, or the end of a bad nightmare.

“Heidi!” a high pitched call barely heard over the waves and wind rang into Heidi’s ears and she turned, her hair whipping around and masking her face. With one hand she brushed the strands from her eyes and held it to the side, peering down the dock towards the Hotel. Palms lined the beach, their fonds wavering in the wind, but standing tall. The white beach front was a wash in wave after wave. Standing at the end of the dock was her business partner, and dedicated land lover, Sarah. For the past few months, Sarah had yet to step into the waters or walk down the dock.

“What?” called Heidi. It was futile to think she could actually hear what Sarah was trying to say. She saw her mouth move and arms flail and flap, but there was no discerning the words. No choice left, Heidi marched down the dock to shore. When she got near enough to Sarah, she saw that she was holding the house phone.

“Phone call!” screamed Sarah.

“I see that,” said Heidi. “Come on, we’ll have to go inside.” They trotted up the beach side and across the lawn, slipping in the side entrance to the Hotel and back into the office.

“Phone?” said Heidi. Sarah handed it over and Heidi engaged the line, “Hello, this is Heidi?”


“Yes,” she said. “Chuck? That you, this line is horrible, I can barely hear you.”

“Yea, it’s Chuck.” A lot of static filled the line, and she could tell he was trying to talk over it. “Look, just saw the news, you sure you don’t want to head out of there? This isn’t going to miss.”

“Chuck, we’ve been through this. I just got the place back, and I am not leaving. It’s been here for nearly a hundred years, it’ll make it another hundred. We’ve got the place battened down.”

She couldn’t hear his sigh, but there was a long enough pause that she knew he was probably swearing under his breath. “Yea, alright. Knew you’d say as much, but I had to check. Look, seeing as you’re staying, be on the look out for a guy in an old pickup truck. Stupid fool is heading that way.”

“What? Why? We’re closed. I can’t take in guests.”

“He was going any way, no plans, don’t think he’d seen the news in weeks. And a northerner to boot. But on good conscience I couldn’t see him head that way and not have some where to escape.”

“Ah, Chuck. Alright, then. I’ll be on the look out. Give my best to Maggie.”

“Will do. You be safe, see you in a day or two.”

The line clicked dead, whether Chuck hung up or the line was down didn’t really matter. Heidi knew that her and Sarah were really on their own from this point anyway. This Hotel was her inheritance, her blood. A family heirloom that had been caught in years of litigation and family squabble. The Hotel had been left to her from her Grandparent’s, but Heidi had more or less, disavowed her family since she turned eighteen. When she did learn that she had inherited the place there were so many lawyers crawling over the deed she wasn’t sure she would ever win her entitlement. But to much of her families displeasure, the deed was her’s and the courts had no other choice but to agree. Time might heal the family wounds, but that time was certainly not in the foreseeable future.
In the mean time, Heidi had been working for three months to renovate the boutique Hotel. Sprawling along the western edge of Key West, the main block of the Hotel featured a two story building, with a bar and restaurant downstairs across from the check in desk. Upstairs were a dozen rooms. The rooms were accessible via a wide winding staircase between the check in counter and the open bar room. An outside veranda surrounded the entire hotel on both the first and second floor, so each of the dozen rooms had access to viewing the ocean from the upstairs decking. The ceiling fans lined the veranda and kept the humidity at bay during the hot summer afternoons. Several bungalows also were part of the Hotel grounds, and featured small one bedroom cottages to three larger suites with two bedrooms, luxury hot tubs and saunas. By modern standards, the Hotel De Palms was not large, it didn’t feature tennis courts, tiki bars, and pools. It was relatively modest, but tended to cater to guests that wanted peace, quiet, and a nice private beach front. There weren’t hoards of children building sandcastles, or old men with metal detectors. The guests that stayed here were typically younger newly wed couples or older retired couples seeking a tropical paradise away from the tourist attractions.

But this tropical paradise was under threat from a large hurricane, and despite the confidence that Heidi had in the hundred year old gray wood clad structure, Mother Nature did often find a way to clear the playing field when she was in a bad mood. Heidi had to admit to herself that the chances were high that the Hotel could withstand some damage, maybe enough to wash away all the hard work she had put in to make the place her own, leaving nothing left but wooden planks in the sand and faded memories of great happiness.

Heidi walked out of the office and around the check in counter and over to the long mahogany bar. She helped herself to the top shelf single malt scotch and grabbed a small clear tumbler. Pouring herself a good three fingers, she set the bottle down, leaned on the counter and sipped. Every window had been boarded up, and barely any light shown through. Power was still on on the island, but she knew that would only last a few more hours at most. Sarah and her had prepped the place, though, equipped with a back up generator in the shed back behind the hotel as well as several hundred electric battery lanterns and torches. The pantry was stocked and the blast freezer cold enough, that if the power was out for a couple days and they minimized trips in and out of it, it wouldn’t get too warm. Most importantly, the bar was full, having no guests to help consume the rows of top booze and wine.

Ironic. Heidi had the hotel now only for half a year, the first several months spent in court battling the estate. The last couple renovating. The place was only open for actually a week under her management, and she has had nothing but cancellations since notice of the hurricane. Even the guests that had booked for the following week or two had called to cancel, unsure if the island would still be there in the end and unwillingly to bet their earned vacations on the wish that paradise would return so soon.
On the bright side, should the hotel stay standing, there would surely be damage throughput the Keys, and every hotel would be booked solid while workers came in to clean up the mess. And no doubt, that lot would clean out her bar in a few nights hard drinking.

“Here’s to the ditch diggers and road crews.” Heidi held her glass to the ceiling, then chugged the last of the liquid down her throat, slamming the glass on the bar. She poured another round as Sarah came into the bar, sitting down on the stool across from her.

“What did Chuck want?”

“Tell me to leave, us to leave.” Heidi reached for another glass and poured Sarah a double.

“Scotch really isn’t my drink.”

“Well, hurricane’s aren’t my idea of a fun Saturday night. So here’s to new adventures for us both.”

They clinked glasses and smiled.

“Oh,” said Heidi, “He also said some mad fool is driving down here in an old truck.”


“Dunno, but Chuck wanted to make sure the fool had some place to stay.”

“Our first guest?”

“Sure, but he doesn’t get the storm rates! Charge him extra. That is if he manages not to get blown off the bridge. I am going back to the dock, and I am taking the bottle with me.”

“Well, I am going to my room. Still have a few things I want to pack.”

Sarah had been putting all her things in those vacuum travel plastic bags. She was a bit fatalistic in some ways, figuring the worst, so Heidi presumed that she expected to pack all her undies in plastic in hopes that some rescue diver might truly find Victoria’s Secret scattered across the reef. A trail of pink and lace that lead all the way back to the hotel.
Heidi walked down the beach to the dock and out to the end where she sat on the iron bench and put her feet up on the railing. The sky was filled with gray and the surf had picked up a good deal in just the last half hour. Waves crashed on the dock and spray washed over Heidi, soaking her from head to toe. Her t-shirt clung to her body and her white shorts became so saturated that her purple bikini bottoms could be seen through the thin cotton. But she didn’t mind, the water was warm, the breeze a moist current, and the liquor was flooding her veins. She just sat and smiled, getting wet with the waves, and feeling the salt spray sting her tanned face.

The storm was still fifty miles off the coast, having just skipped around Cuba, where it had lost a little steam. But now back over the tropical waters, it started building and letting the pressure fall. It’s sights set on Key West, and the lady sitting on the dock, just staring down the barrel.


Just a guy, happy with life, happy with my wife, dogs, antiques, and a passion for aviation, classic cars, and writing.

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