Friday, April 28, 2006


The Havana Caper - 7

While McCormack and his inner saint continued their chat with Padre Bracca and Peddicord, Slappy directed the refitting of the two storm-battered ships. Or, more accurately, he directed George the Greek and ship’s carpenter Salty Jim, who directed the work.

When Jim had inspected the forepeak of the Festering Boil, what he saw made him blanche.

“We almost lost the whole front end of the ship,” he told Slappy, pointing to the seams which had split open and the strained futtocks. “Much more pounding from those waves and we’d have had some serious trouble.”

Slappy had to agree. Losing the bow of the ship in a storm couldn’t be a good thing. Jim got to work repairing the damage, which even in his expert hands would take a couple of days. They also had to rig a new bowsprit and re-rig the jib. A variety of other tasks would occupy the crew for the next couple of days as well.

Damage to Lord Shiva’s Eye was less severe since her crew has gotten her out of the water, and Spencer and his crew had already taken care of most of it. All that was left was to reseal the hull with pitch and oakum and the pinnace would be ready to sail in the morning.

“This would be as good a time as any for you to head north to do some scouting,” Slappy told Ol’ Chumbucket when he had returned from the mission, leaving Peddicord and Cementhands closeted with the priest. “The storm probably scattered the treasure fleet pretty badly, so I expect they’ll be up around Havana waiting to reform up before heading out. Get as close as you can and figure out which route they’ll be taking, then head back and meet us here,” he said, pointing to the end of a chain of islands along Cuba’s north shore. “We should be just a couple of days behind you. Then we’ll set up for them.”

Ol’ Chumbucket agreed.

“How many men are you taking?” Slappy asked.

“I shouldn’t need more than four or five,” Ol’ Chumbucket said, drawing a nod from his friend. “Besides Spencer, of course, I’d like to take Dogwatch and Keeling – you keep George with you to finish up refitting the Boil. How’s Cementhands?”

Slappy just shrugged. He had no idea of what to make of their erstwhile saint.

“Right,” Chumbucket said. “Then I’ll take Tharp.”

“That prig? Why on earth would you take him on a small boat where you can’t even get away from him? Why not take Wellington, or Oscar, or Saucy Jenny or Red Molly? Anyone but him.”

“Partly because he’s a good sailor. Partly to get him away from you – you two can’t help picking at each other. And partly to see how he does in a smaller company. You need your best crew to fix up the ship. I feel bad enough taking Dogwatch and Keeling, but I need them. I know Tharp can be a right prat, but then there are times like when he plucked Mario out of the ocean during the storm. I just thought this would be a chance to see him in a different setting. Maybe figure out what’s wrong with the kid.”

“Nothing wrong with that kid that a kick in the ass wouldn’t fix,” Slappy muttered. “It’d sure make ME feel better, anyway.”

“Well, that’s part of what I was thinking,” Chumbucket said.

“And the ship’s in good shape? Do we want to beef her up a little?”

“If you mean add a couple of cannon, I don’t think so,” Chumbucket reflected. “She’s got a couple of 1-pounder swivels, which will work well enough for when we take a ship. Anything bigger and I’m afraid we’d swamp her. Even if she could carry a couple of 4-pounders, I’m afraid firing them would shake her apart.”

“Alright,” Slappy said doubtfully. “But you know me. Don’t use a pop gun when you’ve got a big one at hand.”

“Well, this time we’re going to have to trust the pop gun, plus speed and agility and the good sense not to get into anything we can’t get out of. Besides, you’re the one who’s likely to be going up against any frigates they might have. You’ll want all the big guns you can get.”

Slappy conceded the point, and the rest of the time was spent making sure Shiva’s Eye had all the provisions they’d need for a couple of weeks. By the time the sun began to fade, Salty Jim had finally pronounced himself satisfied with his repairs and had put a crew to work closing up the planking of the bow. That and sealing would take another day, and they’d still have to replace the jib. Three days work, all told, the carpenter told the captain, adding that he wouldn’t really by happy until they could take the Boil into a shipyard and really strip her down and put her back together proper.

“She’s never really going to be right,” Jim said.

“And where do you think the nearest shipyard is, Jim?” Slappy asked.

“Probably Havana,” he replied.

“And you can see why maybe that’s not a good idea? I mean, besides the fact that the Spanish would hang us all if we sailed into port, and we’d have to sail through the treasure fleet to get there, which would sort of tip them off? Kill the element of surprise?”

Jim thought about it and agreed that those were significant drawbacks.

“You’re just going to have to do the best you can. That’s always been more than good enough,” Slappy reassured him. “There’s not a sounder ship on the ocean and you’re the reason why.”

Jim smiled and thanked the captain, then went back to work resolved to make the Boil as fit as humanly possible. Chumbucket was planning to leave with the morning tide, so he left to go over Shiva’s Eye one more time with Spencer and help load any supplies.

It was just as Slappy was heading to the galley to see what Butch had whipped up for dinner that he was hailed. Turning, he saw the longboat returning with Peddicord, Cementhands, and Padre Bracca.

When they climbed aboard they went immediately to the captain. Peddicord by this time was so impressed with the saintly spirit apparently inhabiting his huge friend that he had taken to acting as its spokesman and chief acolyte.

“Cap’n, Saint Swithin has a task for us.”

“Great, I’ve got a task for him. It involves getting to work so we can sail out of here,” Slappy said.

“You don’t understand,” Wellington said. “He’s sending us on a short quest. There’s an injustice that needs righting.”

“No, you don’t understand. There’s a ship that needs fixing so we can get out of here in three days. There’s too much work to do. It’s gonna take all hands working ‘round the clock to get her ready to sail.”

The face of Cementhands – whoever was using it at the moment – smiled beatifically. Peddicord interpreted.

“I don’t think that’s going to be a problem,” he said.

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