Wednesday, April 06, 2005


A pirate Tale – 69

Dogwatch Watts put his slow match to the touchhole. There was a sizzle as the primer caught, then a tongue of red fire shot from cannon with a roar, one of 12 guns that fired from the larboard side of the Festering Boil. At the same moment, 10 guns from La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza barked in near unison, and the two ships were suddenly immersed in smoke. Where two sailing vessels had been a moment before, there was now a huge white cloud with the tops of mast and rigging projecting out of the maelstrom.

The three-person crew that had just fired the gun had little time to admire their handiwork or even duck for cover as onrushing balls pounded into their own ship, sending splinters flying. Victory, and life, lay in getting the piece ready to fire again as fast as possible. Faster than the opposing gunners.

As soon as the cannon had bucked back with a force that, had it not been tied down, would have sent it flying across the deck and through the gunnels, they leaped into action. Red Molly ran her worm down the barrel, corkscrewing out the last smoking remnants of the cartridge. Then Two Patch ran his wet swab down, extinguishing (they all hoped) the last of the burning cinders from the contained explosion.

Molly then carefully lowered the cartridge – a cloth bag with a pre-measured amount of coarse powder – into the mouth of the cannon and drove it down the barrel with her rammer. Two Patch followed that with the ball – four pounds of iron about three and a half inches in diameter – and some cloth wadding. Molly rammed that home. Meanwhile, Dogwatch jabbed his piercing iron through the touch hole, ripping the cloth bag open and spilling the powder. He poured a small amount of fine-grain powder down the hole and the three of them shoved the heavy gun back into position.

Dogwatch sighted along the barrel into the cloud, aiming for a spot under the masts he could see above the smoke. Satisfied, he blew on the slow match, then brought it down to the touchhole.

Another sizzle, another stab of fire, another roar, and a second ball was hurtling towards the enemy at about 1,000 feet per second. It had taken just over two minutes to load and fire the second shot. Eleven of the 12 guns managed to fire within about 20 seconds of each other, but Dogwatch was proud to note they’d been first. But he had no time to gloat. They had to reload.

On La Herida, Slappista knew that his crew, though tough veterans of dozens of fights, were not the homogenous, tightly-knit crew his cousin Slappy commanded on the Boil. They had been brought over from Conchita and Sabado Gigante to take the place of the girls who had been running the ship and hadn’t had much time to fall into rhythms and learn to work together. He didn’t even have enough men to manage every gun in the battery, and had been able to fire only 10 of his 14 starboard pieces.

Knowing that they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace of the Boil’s gunners, he had to rely on maneuver to buy time. As soon as the guns fired he had his mate, Miguel Ballesteros, throw the helm hard to port to break contact and hopefully circle around and engage again with a full broadside. If the Boil kept a straight heading or turned to starboard, it would work. It was a gamble, but it had worked before.

It didn’t work this time. As soon as Slappy saw the target veer off, he ordered the crew to luff sails, and the Boil’s speed dropped off as George the Greek brought the ship just slightly to port. In the two minutes it took for the crews to reload, La Herida had gotten part way through her turn and lay with her stern fully exposed. While four of the 11 shots went wide at the narrowed target, the other seven all slammed home, splintering the rudder and shattering the ship’s high castle.

George threw the wheel over harder as the crew in the ratlines tautened the lines again. The Boil surged forward, coming alongside La Herida’s starboard side again. Marksmen in the rigging of both ships rained shots down on the decks.

“Larboard guns, you’re turn again!” Slappy roared over the din. “Starboard crews, prepare to board!”

Slappy had thought this over carefully. First, he was relatively certain his crew outnumbered the crew of La Herida. Second, Jezebel had said she had seen Chumbucket take a fatal wound in a fight on the deck of the Boil. The obvious solution, he decided, was to get his old friend off the ship and onto the enemy’s deck. Chumbucket, with Juan, Don Taco, Keeling and Cementhands right behind, clambered to the rigging and prepared to swing across. The ships were close now, and they weren’t as worried about chain shot in the masts. The guns would be aimed at the hulls.

“Fire!” A third volley from the gunners on the port side slammed into the now stricken La Herida. But her gunners had also had time to reload, and their return volley was almost as devastating. Railings were smashed, holes punched into the hull near the waterline, with Salty Jim rushing through the carnage below decks to try to plug them. One shot slammed directly into one of the Boil’s cannon, killing the crew instantly and knocking flat the crews of the guns on either side.

But the Boil’s third volley had been equally effective, and the decks of La Herida were a mess of blood, bloodied men and torn wood.

From her vantage on the poopdeck with Slappista, Fanny screamed. She loved violence, loved the spilling of blood. But it was her spilling other people’s blood that appealed to her. Helpless victims were what she craved, not an enemy who will fight back and can claw harder than she could. She had no taste for this.

“Get us out of here!” she screamed.

“I’m afraid that may not be possible just now, my love,” Slappista said through clenched teeth, as he drew a pistol and with calm deliberation shot a pirate out of the Boil’s rigging. “We may have a little scuffle before we’re through here.”

Fanny stared at Slappista, her mind reeling. “Fuck you! First you lose my lovely treasure and my crown. Now you're losing my ship! Give me a weapon,” she shrieked.

“I don’t think cutting me is going to help right now,” Slappista said.

“No, you fool! They’re about to board us. I'll kill them now. I’ll take care of you later.”

A musket shot from the Boil struck Miguel’s knee and he writhed to the deck. Slappista leapt to the wheel, but realized it was useless. The steering was gone. He reached down and relieved the mate of his cutlass and handed it to Fanny, along with his other pistol.

“I believe you know how to use this,” he observed with cold irony. They exchanged a look, then turned to face the attack.

From the poop of the Festering Boil, Slappista looked down at the carnage with satisfaction. He turned to his crew who watched him eagerly. He gave the command.

“Boarders away!”

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?