Bill Bailey hooked a five-foot nurse shark off the fantail of his ratty old houseboat. “Turkey of the deep,” he called it and sent out Thanksgiving invitations to the disparate flotsam and jetsam who resided on sailboats, houseboats and assorted other craft in the anchorage at Key West, Florida, a piece of geography that served to the edification and amusement of tourists who often stood and gawked at us from the seawall.

I lived on my 17-foot sailboat Gandalf what time I wasn’t sailing the Caribbean or the Gulf. The reason Key West was known as “the wackiest anchorage in the world” became apparent by the quality of guests who began to assemble at Bill’s houseboat in the late afternoon of Thanksgiving Day. The only landlubber present was my six-foot-tall stripper girlfriend from the Pirates Den.

Bill Bailey, gaunt and burnt like a fish in the sun, wore a pair of cutoff jeans with the fly agape and a straw-like beard and shaggy matching hair. His girlfriend Jeannie was a brunette chatterbox. Whenever they had a fight on a quiet night, Bill and his cat Scavenger took off on the surfboard he used for a dingy. Soon, Jeannie was out on the fantail singing at the top of her abundant lungs.

Oh, won’t you come home, Bill Bailey?

Won’t you come home?

I know I’ve done you wrong. . .”

Bill and I once appeared on an episode of the TV series Key West in a mob of “Conchs” storming the courthouse.

The two manly and man-hating dykes showed up after extorting a case of beer, one Bud at a time, from sailors at the dingy dock. Pay the tariff or Big Sue tossed you in the drink.

The Kraut left Europe four years ago to solo-sail around the world. He reached Key West, dropped anchor, and hadn’t moved since.

Dolores with cerebral palsy lived on a sloop with her older boyfriend, who had to lift her in and out of their dingy whenever they went ashore or to another boat. She developed a crush on me. Sometimes at night above the gentle lapping of the incoming tide, her plaintive wail echoed across the water.

“Chuck? Will you come sleep with me?”

I ducked into my cabin. All over the anchorage you could hear the other residents sniggering.

Anticipating Bill’s “Turkey of The Deep” Thanksgiving, people clung to every available space on his ramshackle old houseboat—guzzling beers, lining up at the curtain behind which a bucket served as the head (toilet), jumping into the warm water. . . Only one resident of the anchorage did not come to Thanksgiving.

A rusted old Kris Kraft was moored over by the mangroves. None of us could recall ever having seen the occupant. The boat never moved, the boarder was never seen on deck, and there were never visitors. Every night, however, shortly after sundown, he began to play guitar, the saddest, most haunting melodies imaginable.

The guitar played now—Red River Valley—as we started to eat. Everyone fell silent. Jeannie began to weep. The Dykes came down with sniffles. Dolores and my stripper bowed their heads. Bill Bailey zipped up his fly. The Kraut wiped his eyes.

“Amen,” murmured the defrocked priest when the number ended. “Happy Thanksgiving, brother, whoever you are.”

 

A Thousand Years of Darkness may be best-selling author Charles W. Sasser’s “most controversial new novel of the season,” a political action thriller for today’s uncertain times. Available in Kindle or trade paperback at Amazon.com, Nook or trade paperback at BarnesandNoble.COM, other websites and at fine bookstores.