Wednesday, May 31, 2006


The Havana Caper – 19

Things were moving quickly now. After weeks of planning and preparing and getting in position, it was time to set things in motion. The pirates went over the plan one more time, the armada’s stolen documents spread over the chart table as they made their final dispositions.

They had already picked out several likely targets from the 74 ships that would be sailing up the coast towards them, all based on their position in the fleet and their cargo. It would be a matter of chance and circumstance which offered the best possibility, and that couldn’t be decided until the final moment.

“So you’ll have the starboard watch, Leftenant, 60 men in the two longboats and the pinnace,” Slappy said. Keeling, who was to lead the boarding party, nodded. “Just hit ‘em hard and fast, get the ship turned and get out of there. We’ll meet here,” Slappy pointed to a spot on the Cuban coast. “Right here at the mouth of the Amarillas.”

“I still don’t see why we’re not shooting northwest for Key West,” Dogwatch said. “The sooner I’m away from Cuba the happier I’ll be.”

“That’s exactly what they’ll expect. If there’s any chase, they’ll try to cover in that direction. Down here we’ll be able to transfer the treasure, scuttle the ship, and cruise right past the guns of Havana without their ever suspecting we’re right under their noses.”

The look on Dogwatch’s face made it clear that ‘right under their noses’ was a place he’d never expected he’d be either, so he had to admit there was something to it. Brazenness was Cap’n Slappy’s hallmark, and it had served the crew well time after time.

“Remember the motto, ‘Who needs a cannon when you’ve got balls,” George the Greek reminded the navigator. “Besides, we’ll be here on the Boil with the captain, and if anything looks wrong we’ll be out of harm’s way in no time. It’s those fellows with Keeling that’ll have a nervous time of it.” Chumbucket’s smile as he said this was a clear signal to all at the meeting that he was worried too. But really, is there a safe way for a single crew of pirates to attack a fleet of 74 Spanish ships – galleons and urcas? This would serve as well as anything they’d been able to devise.

“So we’re all set then?” Slappy checked one more time. “Everyone know what they’re doing?”

“I’m staying with you to keep you out of trouble,” Ol’ Chumbucket said, breaking the tension and bringing smiles all around the table. “As long as you remember we’re the decoy, not the main course, everything should go perfectly.”

“Oh, it’s just a security screen of galleons,” Slappy said, only half jokingly. “There shouldn’t be more than 10 ships of the line to deal with. Twelve at most. We’ll be alright.”

“My point exactly,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “That’s why I’ll be on the quarterdeck right next to you, making sure we all stick to the plan.”

“You’re a spoilsport, you know that Chumbucket?” Slappy said, pretending to have his feelings hurt. “Very well then, let’s finish sorting out the men and get the Boil into position.”

With that the meeting broke up, and the business of getting the ship back to sea. There were a small amount of supplies and weapons to be transferred to the pinnace, Lord Shiva’s Eye, and the crew to be sorted out. The starboard watch, led by Red Molly and overseen by Leftenant Keeling, was unloading the last of the supplies they’d need. Slappy stood on the quarterdeck, watching the operation with Strumpet, the monkey, perched on his shoulder.

“C’mon you maggots! Haul that line,” Molly shouted from the hold.

The last two kegs of powder were coming up when Mandrake Tharp came up on deck. For some reason, Strumpet had never liked Tharp, and she showed it now. Baring her teeth, the monkey screeched and scrambled up the rigging, knocking Slappy’s hat off.

“Strumpet! Blast that damn monkey!” Slappy shouted. “Get down here before you hurt someone!”

The monkey dropped from the line, but she wasn’t aimed at the captain. Instead, she landed on Tharp, all four feet digging into his back and knocking him sideways. Alarmed by the sudden shrieking fury on his back, he twisted wildly, teetering on the edge of the hold before throwing himself backwards.

In doing so, he bumped into Keeling, who had been bending over the hold. Without time to counter balance, he went headfirst into the void. There was a sickening thud as he landed.

Slappy leaped from the quarterdeck to the hatch and peered down, kneeling besides Tharp, who was also peering into the dimly lit hold. Keeling was sitting up, but painfully, his right arm clutching his left shoulder. Molly was at her husband’s side, a look of fear on her face.

“Is he alright? Someone get Burgess here on e double!” Slappy shouted.

On the double was not in the doctor’s normal range of gears, and it was 10 minutes before he was down in the hold, gingerly probing Keeling’s shoulder.

“A few scrapes and a good sized bump on the head,” Sawbones called up to the captain. It’s the shoulder that’s the problem. It’s been popped clean out of joint. I can get it back in place and he shouldn’t be too much the worse for wear in a week,” Sawbones told the captain.

“Damn! He’s supposed to lead the boarding party,” Slappy said.

“I don’t think that’d be a good choice,” Sawbones said.

“Nonsense,” Keeling said through gritted teeth. “I’ll be fine.”

“I don’t think so lad,” Slappy said kindly. “I’d hate to watch you scrambling up the side of a ship with one arm. Hand over hand? No, I’m afraid not. You’ll be busy enough on the Boil, helping deal with the galleons.”

Keeling looked crestfallen, but he winced again when the doctor put his hand firmly on the officer’s shoulder.

“I think we’d better head back to my cabin to do this,” Burgess said. “It’s gonna hurt a little. No, wait, I lied. It’s gonna hurt a lot. We’d better put a fair amount of rum into you.”

“But you know I don’t drink spirituous liquor,” Keeling protested.

“You will today,” Sawbones said firmly. “Doctor’s orders.”

Slappy turned back to the quarterdeck where the other ship’s officers waited.

“Damn, we were spread thin enough already. Nothing for it though. Chumbucket? You’re taking Keeling’s place on the boarding party.”

Chumbucket nodded. “I’ll get my gear,” he said, and went below.

“Molly?” Slappy asked. “You’re still leading the starboard watch, correct? I mean, the fact that your husband is banged up and won’t be along doesn’t change things, does it?”

“Of course not, cap’n,” Molly said . “I was looking forward to doing the raid with him, of course. The family that preys together stays together, and all of that. It’s nice when we can share our work. But I wouldn’t miss this for the world. And I’m not the one who fell into the hold, so I’m goin’.”

“Good enough,” Slappy said. “Back to work then.” He watched her go. “The family that preys together? How about, the family that pillages together populates villages together?” Shaking his head, he turned toward his cabin.

“Captain?” Tharp asked as he walked away. Slappy turned.

“No one’s blaming you lad, so don’t worry about that. I don’t know why that monkey hates you, but she surely does.”

“Probably picks up some kind of mood from someone else on the ship,” Tharp retorted, thinking of Slappy’s disdain for him. “But that’s not why I’m here. I want to volunteer to go with the boarding party.”

“Really? But that’s pirate work. I thought you’d be of more use here on the Boil. Your naval experience will come in handy in the fight.”

“The boarding party’s more dangerous, isn’t it?”

“It’s six of one, half a dozen of the other,” Slappy said. “There’s no safe place in what we’re doing. But yes, boarding a Spanish ship in the middle of a fleet is probably marginally more dangerous than tempting a dozen or so galleons into combat aboard a single ship.”

“Then that’s where I want to go,” Tharp said. “I may not have caused Keeling’s fall, but I was part of it, and I’d just as soon go where I can do some good.”

Slappy gave a long look at the young officer, then nodded.

“Very well, get your gear together. The Boil is putting to sea as soon as Chumbucket, Molly and the rest of the boarders can get ashore. There’s treasure to capture.”

Monday, May 29, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 18 “Tales Told by the Fire”

Barely visible in the darkness, the fiery puff of smoke was followed by a loud bang. The cannonball from the big ship whizzed just fifteen yards over their heads and splashed down in the waters beyond them. This was immediately followed by the familiar strains of George’s deep voice, “Goddammit, Chumbucket! If that’s you fire up the freakin’ lantern!”

As he lit the lantern, Chumbucket smiled, “Like I said, lads. It’s good to be home.”

A few minutes later, they were climbing up the rope ladder after lashing Lord Shiva’s Eye to The Festering Boil.

They were greeted by an enthusiastic George the Greek who hugged and kissed each man as they stepped onto the deck. Chumbucket winced, as he always did, at George’s kiss – but that was the Greek’s way. Of course, with the kissing came a chiding.

“I wasted a cannonball getting your goddam attention!” George laughed. “But by the mermaid’s moist coozy it’s good to see ye again!”

“Is the Cap’n ashore?” Chumbucket asked.

“Aye! They’ve been listenin’ to Ol’ Billy Du Boise tell tall tales around the fire all night.” George replied.

Chumbucket smiled. “Barnacle Billy! I haven’t seen that ol’ bastard in years! At least, not in the flesh! I have, however, seen his likeness on many friendly rum bottles and that’s even better because the labels don’t come with that distinctive Barnacle Billy smell.”

George laughed, “Aye! He’s a pungent ol’ gopher, and no mistake! He was tellin’ tales for hours around that fire, then he passed out on drink and the Cap’n took over. You can hear him now.”

George and Ol’ Chumbucket wandered over to the lee side of the ship where they could hear Slappy’s booming voice carried over the sand and surf to the ship; recounting tales of his youth.

Aye, that’s right! Ol’ Billy and meself sailed these very waters with Alfredo Hamnquist – the only Italian Swede pirate any of us would ever know. He was a sailor’s sailor! Not quite as tall as our Cementhands – nor as stout, but ye’d be hard pressed to find a tougher bastard on any of the seven seas! He had no need of a wheel or rudder – he steered the ship by force of will over the winds and an infallible knowledge of the currents in these waters.” Cap’n Slappy took a deep dram from his bottle of Du Boise Rum and held it tightly in his mouth for a moment as if he was baptizing the story in its disinfecting waters. Then, he swallowed and let out a gasp of equal parts pleasure and pain.

He continued; “There was this one time we were attacking a well-armed French merchantman and the damn Frogs got a shot off that slammed into a stack of powder barrels and blew the whole friggin’ ship to smithereens! Now Ol’ Cap’n Hamnquist always loaded up a crate-load of blunderbusses before a battle – his greatest fear was of not havin’ a gun to go ‘BOOM!’ So, he kept ‘em loaded and stacked in that damn box! Well, as luck would have it, he landed in the water between that crate o’ blunderbusses and the nose of the long boat which had broken off and was just floatin’ there, adrift. By Neptune’s unholy trousers! He climbed into the bow o’ that broken boat, dragin’ that crate with him! Ol’ Billy, Chumbucket and meself along with a couple o’ other lads swam up to him, but he just looked at us and said, ‘Ye’ll have to push her, lads! Bring me in close and I’ll get us a new ship!”
Just then, Slappy noticed that Cementhands McCormack had fallen asleep – so he kicked his arse. “Look lively thar, McCormack! I’m tellin’ a bleedin’ story, here, aren’t I?”

“Heard it.” The big man said groggily, “The ending lacks something, somehow.” He yawned and made himself comfortable in the sand again.

“That’s because ye’ve never stayed awake long enough to hear it ye giant sloth!” Slappy barked, but continued. “So thar we were, kickin’ to save our lives and pushin’ that half-boat toward certain doom! Hamnquist called the Frenchies out, ‘Heave to ye merlot-swillin’ cheese-dippers! I’m comin’ to take over yer ship!’ The Frogs gathered by the rail and laughed at the sight of this foolish Iti-Swede and his man-propelled craft. Their captain came over and asked if we wanted to surrender and be hanged in a civilized fashion. Well, Ol’ Hamnquist’s response was to fire off that first blunderbuss and blow the Frog Captain’s head clean off! I tell ye, they were frozen for a few moments as he fired off the second gun and took out their first mate! Then, the scramble began! The Frenchies dashed about the deck, loading cannons and trying to hit what must have looked like a dot amidst the debris of our former ship. They fired muskets, but Ol’ Hamnquist always answered back with one of his seemingly endless supply of blunderbusses. And, in sharp contrast with the Frenchmen, his accuracy was deadly. As luck would have it, they left their rope ladder over the side and when we reached their ship, Cap’n Hamnquist tossed us each a loaded blunderbuss and said, ‘After the boom, all ye’ll have is a club – so make those shots count!’ And by God if we didn’t! We climbed that rope in record time under a hail of musket fire and when we reached the top, we unloaded on the Frenchies takin’ them out o’ the fight a handful at a time! Thems what didn’t have stomach for the fight, we made them crew the ship until we could reach Port Royal. We tried to talk Ol’ Hamnquist into sellin’ the merchantman in favor o’ a sleeker ship, but he said, ‘Why the hell should I? I can sail her just fine and besides, she’ll just get blowed up anyway.’ And that was true. For as great a seaman as Ol’ Hamnquist was, he had bad luck with ships explodin’ underneath him – that was the fourth!”

Chumbucket and George smiled as the pirates around the fire laughed with Cap’n Slappy about Cap’n Hamnquist’s exploding ships.

“But that night in the water, I learned respect not only for Cap’n Hamnquist, but also his weapon o’ choice. In fact, the very same blunderbuss I take into ever battle was the very same blunderbuss he tossed to me as we climbed the Froggy ship! I’m sure ol’ Billy here, still has his – as for Ol’ Chumbucket, he probably sold his to pay off one of his many gambling debts.”

A voice from The Festering Boil floated across the beach in protest. “By Poseidon’s Sweaty Knee-pits, Slappy! Ye know damn well where me blunderbuss is! I shoved it up yer arse seven years ago!”

Cap’n Slappy’s eyes brightened as he recognized the voice of his wayward friend. “When I heard The Boil’s cannon, I figured it had to be either yerself or an overly flirtatious walrus – and dammit! I was hopin’ for the walrus! Send the long boat for me! I’m comin’ aboard!”

Slappy began to make his way from the fire. He stopped to speak to Oscar. “Did you get those stories Billy was tellin’ lad?”

Oscar held up several pages of notes. “He’s a wealth o’ information, isn’t he?”

“Aye, lad!” Slappy replied, “Why don’t ye stay here a few days and record what ye can – a legend like Billy don’t come around too often. We’ll swing back ‘round for ye.”

Oscar wasn’t sure what to say, he just sort of stammered, but Slappy was off. He waded out to meet the long boat – anxious to get Ol’ Chumbucket’s report and tell him the news of their triumph over the powers of darkness and Spanishness thanks to the late, great St. Swithin.

“Why, as I live and breathe!” Slappy declared with exaggerated fondness as he saw Ol’ Chumbucket sipping some of George’s grog. He’d barely climbed aboard when there was an audible commotion on the beach.

“Cementhands is at his ‘Slam Poetry’ again!” Dogwatch said as he looked out at the bonfire in the beach and could hear the familiar refrains of McCormack’s inventive style of poetry which was a challenge to all who listened.

The anonymity of uniformity!
Swollen yellow, like every other fellow
And coming in bunches for all of your lunches
I have a peal and have appeal.

“Are you a Chinese prostitute?” One drunk pirate asked loudly. McCormack first gave him the stink-eye, then, after a moment of thought, swatted him on the head in a patented move he called, “The Wappity.”

“I’m a freakin’ banana, ye infidel!” McCormack declared as he wappitied the idiot once more.

“Just like McCormack! Wait until I’m gone to have a poetry slam!” Slappy mused, but quickly shifted gears. “So, what can you tell me about Spanish shipping, Ol’ Chumbucket?”

“Much!” replied Ol’ Chumbucket, “But I want to hear what happened after we sailed away from the mission – and what happened to The Boil? She looks like a new ship!”

“Well, let’s you, me and George retreat to me cabin and exchanged stories – a condensed version, we must sail with the morning tide! By the by – you were cuttin’ it mighty close!” Slappy admonished.

“I know no better way to cut it!” Ol’ Chumbucket replied. As they moved toward the captain’s cabin, they passed, Keeling, Spencer, Dogwatch and Tharp who were finished with their chores and heading below to bed. Chumbucket stopped in front of them and spoke to Slappy.

“The lads worked hard and are to be commended. Young Tharp here in particular gave good service.”

Slappy approached the young man and placed his arm on his shoulder. “Did ye now? Well. Well done, lad!”

“Cap’n, I’m Dogwatch. Mr. Tharp is over there!” Dogwatch quickly pointed out the Cap’n’s error in identification. Tharp shook his head in disgust. Clearly Slappy was drunk again.

Slappy looked temporarily confused, but tried to recover. “Ah! Yes. Well, it’s dark, you know. And you all did a splendid job, I’m sure! Well done, all of you!” He quickly shuttled Ol’ Chumbucket and George from the main deck below to his cabin. The young men then meandered their way to their bunks. Tharp remained above for a few moments alone.

“The pirate’s life wouldn’t be half bad,” he thought to himself, “if that stupid git Slappy were out of the way and someone like Ol’ Chumbucket took the lead.”

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


The Havana Caper – 17

Ol’ Chumbucket and Keeling were poring over the papers filched from the Spanish admiral and comparing them to Cap’n Slappy’s plans for the raid on the treasure fleet.

“He’s picked just about the perfect spot,” Keeling said. “The current will be just about nil there, and the winds should be right in the Spaniards’ faces.”

“Slappy knows these waters well,” Chumbucket said. “He sailed here with ol’ Cap’n Hamnquist when he first went on the account, and you know the pickings were good then.”

“If Slappy has had so many successful ventures since he started out, why is he almost always broke? I mean, I know he gets money; I‘ve shared in the booty myself. But it seems to run through his fingers like water. I’ve always put a bit aside wth each pay out and have a nice little nest egg put aside for the future, but he never has two coppers to rub together most of the time.”

“You’re the only one on board, I’ll wager, with money put aside,” Chumbucket observed.

“Perhaps. I wouldn’t know. I just know that when the time comes for me to retire from the sea …”

“Why would you do a thing like that?” Chumbucket asked, face twisted in surprise.

“Oh, I’m not likely to do so anytime soon. Love the life of a sailor and all that,” Keeling hurriedly reassured him. “But I am a married man now, of course – Red Molly is putting a bit aside as well – and of course one day there’s a chance we’ll be blessed with children.”

Ol’ Chumbucket’s face was a study as he reacted to “blessed with children.” Fortunately Keeling was looking out to sea when he said it, so no feelings were hurt.

“So I won’t always be a pirate. My investments in Cutlass Brothers Cannons and Amalgamated Shipwrights have been doing very well lately, and the mutual fund provided by the Brethren of the Coast is a nice hedge against inflation. So when the time comes I should be able to set up as a gentleman in …

“Cutlass Brothers?” Chumbucket asked with a puzzled look. “I thought they’d gone under. Last I heard the business was closed and the owners in debtors prison.”

“Well, they did have a rather nasty time of it when they tried to release their new line. The trade don’t want to go in for fancy embellishments that don’t improve the actual firing of the piece. Their line of fuchsia and chartreuse guns designed around the theme of London music hall performers was a dead flop, and no mistake. I have to admit I almost sold my shares at a loss, but as the price had already fallen I held on to the investment, and it’s a good thing I did. The company reorganized four months ago and the new owners have turned it around in a big way. They had a huge order for nine pounders from somewhere and it saved the company.”

“But the Cutlass Brothers?”

“Well, like you said, last I heard they were in debtors prison, but they may have been able to pay off their debts with the money they got for selling out,” Keeling said.

“Well, I hope so. They were always a bit flighty, but three of the nicest chaps I’ve ever met who were involved in creating devices to blow people to pieces.”

“So anyway,” Keeling said, apologetically, “what I was saying before, about the cap’n? How is it after all these years as a successful filibuster, a Top 10 pirate 16 years in a row according to Pirattitude Monthly, he doesn’t have more to show for it?”

“You could ask the same question of me,” Ol’ Chumbucket admitted. “and probably 90 percent or better of the crew. Our lives as buccaneers tend to be rounded with a fair amount of uncertainty, you’ll agree. What’s the point of saving for the future if a well-placed cannon shot could send us all to Davey Jones’ tomorrow?”

Keeling didn’t reply, but his face took on a somber look.

“Oh, I’m not for one minute suggesting it will happen,” Chumbucket said quickly. “Just trying to explain. And Slappy has been around long enough that he knows very well he’s already defied the odds. By all rights he should be dead or retired years ago. Me too, and George and Sawbones, even McCormack. Maybe mostly McCormack. He’s not that old, but he’s certainly crazy, and that tends to put him into some hairy situations.

“So what do you do? You could either get all depressed and brood about it, or take Slappy’s course. He accepts that he’s been living on borrowed time for years, and has adopted a ‘live for today, because we’ll probably all hang tomorrow’ attitude that makes long-range planning more or less an afterthought.”

Keeling looked thoughtful. Finally he spoke.

“So you think Molly and I are wrong for saving for a future we might never see?”

“Oh, no! Far from it,” Chumbucket said. “Yours may be the healthiest approach of all. You recognize the odds, but you’re bound and determined to beat ‘em. That’s one of the reasons I never play cards with you. I’ve always relied as much on luck and being prepared for the unexpected as anything else. Against Slappy it works pretty well. Against someone who’s actually calculated the percentages down to the small decimal points? I’d rather not press the issue.

“Now let’s get back to these files. Assuming all went well with the Boil and St. Swithin’s little sideshow, we should be meeting up with our comrades in the next few days and then it’ll be time to put our plans into action.”

The little pinnace continued to work its way down the coast, fighting fitful headwinds the whole way. By nightfall they reckoned they were about three leagues from the appointed rendezvous.

“Shall we put into shore for the night, or press on,” asked Dogwatch, who had the helm.

“Oh, I think press on, don’t you?” Tharp said.

“We don’t want to miss the rendezvous in the dark,” Spencer said nervously.

“The moon should be up in another hour or so, and that’ll help,” Chumbucket offered. “And I imagine the Boil will have some fires going ashore. If in the morning we found we’ve overshot, it shouldn’t take us long to correct the error. Let’s keep going. I’m going to get some sleep. Tharp, you’ll relieve Dogwatch in two hours, then Keeling, and I’ll take the last watch.”

But there wasn’t a need for a final watch. Tharp had just turned over the helm to Keeling and was heading forward to stretch out for a little shuteye in the sultry night air when the ship rounded the headland of a small island and he caught sight of a fire on the shore, less than a mile ahead.

“Think that’s our friends?” he asked Keeling.

“Could well be,” Keeling replied, adjusting course. “By the way, when did a shipful of pirates become ‘our friends’ to you?”

Tharp stopped, hemmed, then replied, flustered, “Figure of speech. You know what I mean. I just wanted to point out the Festering Boil so we wouldn’t overshoot. That’s all.”

“Right. Very well,” Keeling said, his smile hidden in the darkness. “Perhaps we should light a lantern so they’ll know we’re coming.”

“Hold off on that,” Chumbucket said from the hammock he’d slung in the ship’s waist. The discussion between the two had woken the others on deck. “Let’s make sure she’s ‘our friends’ first. Then we’ll announce ourselves.”

“It’ll be good to get home.”

Monday, May 22, 2006


The Havana Caper Part 16 - "Rendezvous Island"

A large map of the Cuban coastline blocked the view of the actual Cuban coastline as Cap’n Slappy seemed to line up the paper and ink version with the real one trying to identify which island was the one that he and Ol’ Chumbucket had decided on for their rendezvous.

“Your map’s upside down.” Young Gabriel, the powder monkey turned cabin boy observed as he pointed out what he thought might be an obvious error in navigation. He was quickly “Shhhshed” by George the Greek, but Cap’n Slappy felt that this was a teachable moment so he gently pointed out to the boy;

“That’s because we’re looking at Cuba from the north.”

He then went back to work, thinking that the explanation he’d given was more than sufficient.

Strumpet the Monkey perched herself on the young boy’s head and he quickly lost interest in his cartography lesson and ran off to play with the chimp.

“If only the circle I drew on the map somehow appeared around the right island!” Slappy mused to himself.

The thick layer of clouds that had darkened the entire day with the threat of a sever rain storm suddenly offered up a hole and a shaft of heavenly sunlight settled on the northernmost island at the end of a long string of islands – the very island circled on the map.

All eyes turned to Cementhands McCormack.

“That wasn’t me!” The big man offered somewhat sheepishly, having only recently been freed from being possessed by the spirit of St. Swithin – the patron saint of, among other things, weather anomalies.

Guided by favorable atmospheric illuminative conditions, they made their way to the island and, after circling a couple of times in hopes that Shiva’s Eye might already be there, found safe harbor in a quiet lagoon.

A small scouting party went ashore and returned shortly thereafter letting the captain know that a nice freshwater stream was just a few paces into the jungle and everything seemed safe. Water butts were getting low, so they went ahead and began shuttling water back to The Festering Boil to refill her supply.

“Half Leave!” Cap’n Slappy called out once the work was done. This meant, of course, that half the crew could go ashore and frolic about in whatever manner of frolic could be deemed seemly for a pirate, while the other half maintained a vigil on the Boil. Slappy offered his first mate, George the Greek, first leave, but the Greek declined saying, “It’s sand, it’s grass, it’s fresh water – it’ll wait.”

“Suit yerself!” Slappy laughed as he mounted a longboat which took him to the beach. He had his mind on finding a nice swimming hole somewhere and getting to do something that any of them did only rarely – bathe.

Cap’n Slappy stepped out of the boat and onto the beach with a purpose. He marched past the lads playing “Let’s see how close I can throw my cutlass to your feet without cutting off a toe!” just as Mickey “Six Toes” McClintock let out a familiar yelp. Undaunted, he shot straight into the jungle and followed the stream inland. The greenery was thick and brightly plumed birds flew overhead making their “caw” sounds. “Someday,” Slappy thought to himself, “I’m going to retire to a nice little island like this and raise Great Danes.”

Finally, he reached a lovely spot for a swim. The cawing of the birds seemed particularly loud, but that was just jungle music and he was taking in the entire ambiance. Tree branches extended over the water and their hanging vines created a curtain effect. The water was cool and extraordinarily clear. Slappy glanced around to make sure he was alone and quickly proceeded to get naked. In a minute or two he was throwing himself off a log that extended out over the pool and landed with a gigantic splash in the cold waters.

Coming back to the surface, he let out a loud whoop – much like his famed war whoop, only somewhat more joyful. It was met with the sound of tittering. Slappy thought, “Damn those birds – you’d think they’d never seen a man before!” He shrugged off his avian voyeurs and began the arduous process of soaping up his big body. This, of course, required that he sing a wee ditty he’d made up for just such events;

Oh, it makes me very happy
To be scrubbing Cap’n Slappy
Cuz he stinks like a dirty nappy
Yes, he smells like monkey crappy

So scruba-duba-duba-duba-dub – Cap’n Slappy!

Another chorus of bird laughter followed as the now lathered pirate came to a very painful realization and quickly dove into the water creating a cloud of foam which obscured his newly cleansed form. As he resurfaced, he could see the movement of people on the other side of the vine curtain and they were moving quickly. Slappy was never one to let the enemy organize itself so he plunged himself into attack mode. He swam quickly to the log and flung himself, naked, through the green veil and latched onto, without seeing what he was latching, the last of what turned out to be a string of people fleeing the waters after their discovery.

Slappy pulled his opponent under water, maintaining a strong grip on the midsection. However, between his soapy residue, the moistness of the water, and the struggling of his victim, his hand shifted upward to the chest. What he felt there made him release his prey quickly and stand back. Once his head was above water, he could hear the familiar screechings of Red Molly as she yelled, “Cap’n Slappy! Unhand that wench!” Molly, by now had covered herself with her clothes as had the other women who had been swimming with her.

Slappy was stunned. He stood frozen in fear – thigh-deep in water – which, as you might guess, was not deep enough for modesty’s sake. His would-be victim was poor Saucy Jenny, who now broke the surface and gasped for air. Instinctively, Slappy moved to help her – but just as instinctively, became aware of their nudity and froze again. Finally, looking down and realizing just how far out of the water he had come, he turned and rushed to the relative obscurity of greater depths.

“Ladies,” he began in a most conciliatory tone, “I had no idea that you were … well … here. And had I known that you would all be so … very … un-clothed … well, you can imagine my embarrassment, can’t you? I mean, I would never in a million years …”

Molly’s voice was now calm. “Cap’n Slappy. We completely understand, now will you please avert your gaze so we can dress ourselves and leave you to your bathing?”

Slappy spun himself around so as to face away from the shore and the sight of feminine nudity. Still, he stammered on. “Yes! Of course! This has been a most unfortunate occurrence but completely accidental, I assure you. Had I any idea that a group of ladies had already ventured into the jungle for …uh … a refreshing … swim, I would never have … you see … I just thought … Well, lesson learned. From henceforth, we ought to designate a specified time during which the ladies may have their swim … unconcerned with the prying eyes of … well, … fellows who might not be so … at any rate, a bit of organization should be employed to address this … sort of situation and prevent its … uh … repetition. Like I always tell Ol’ Chumbucket. There’s no problem so big as can’t be fixed with sensible policies.” He then paused for a few moments and listened. He heard nothing – not even the birds.

“So, if you ladies would be so kind as to let me know when you are leaving, I would greatly appreciate it.”


Cap’n Slappy stayed in the water for twenty more minutes just listening to the silence until he thought it might be safe to come out.

When he finally re-emerged onto the beach, he saw a cluster of people standing around Oscar. He was reading the current copy of Pirattitude Monthly which he had picked up for eight shillings in an automated news stand painted in the PM colors; orange and black, and sitting in the shade of a cluster of cocoanut trees. The article, written by Oscar himself, was entitled, “The Lamb in Winter: The Underwhelming Exploits of Cap’n Slappy.” The article was particularly harsh about his seeming lack of leadership qualities but praised the crew of The Festering Boil for their unwavering devotion to him and ability to make things happen despite their obvious lack of coherent leadership at the top.

When crew members saw Slappy step back onto the beach they rushed to him with their own copies of the magazine and told him he ought to make an example out of Oscar.

Still stunned by what he would later jokingly call his Flipper Faux Pas, Slappy read passages that were pointed out to him as he moved down the beach toward where Oscar was sitting. When he reached the journalist, the crowd backed up to give him pummeling room, but no such pummeling was in the offing. Instead, he warmly congratulated Oscar for getting his article published and then, pointing to the grove of cocoanuts by the news stand asked, “Are those ripe?”

Hearing that they were, he walked over in that direction only to be met half-way by what appeared to be a lunatic in rags.

“By jigger, by jug!” The hermit-looking fellow called out as he saw Cap’n Slappy approach. “If it ain’t wee Mortimer Slappy! Except he aint so wee anymore, amn’t he?”

The ancient man patted Cap’n Slappy’s stomach which never failed to annoy the captain, shaking him out of his fog.

“Do I know ye, ol’ timer?” Cap’n Slappy asked as politely as he could under the circumstances.

“Aye, lad! That ye do!” The old man said with a nearly toothless smile. “Perhaps ye will recognize me from this!” He then struck a pose as one might if one was posing for a portrait assuming one did portraits of crazy old nearly toothless men with white, wispy hair and a long white scraggly beard.

“No.” Slappy sad calmly “That’s not helping.”

“Perhaps this will!” the old man quickly stopped a young pirate who was carrying an empty barrel and had him set it on the ground. He then put one foot up on the barrel and clenched his fists as if he had just told a very saucy joke and delivered the punch line with actual punches. Something about that position and this man began to ring a familiar bell in Slappy’s mind.

“I will be jiggered!” Slappy said stunned. “Barnacle Billy Du Boise!”

“Of Du Boise Rum fame?” Cementhands McCormack held up a bottle of Du Boise Rum which featured a robust pirate in full gear standing in a most masculine pose, one foot up on a barrel of rum. He then moved it to reveal the image of this frail looking skeleton of a man – but by Poseidon’s great jewel bag, it was the same man!

“Slappy, me boy! I was going to charge your no-goodniks double for the cocoanuts they stole from me, but since ye’re their Cap’n, I’ll take twenty percent off me askin’ price!”

Slappy turned back to where Oscar was defending his article to a group of outraged pirates and called out, “Oscar, come here! There’s someone I want you to meet!” He then looked at the frail old man and smiled before turning back to call after Oscar again, “And make it quick!”

Friday, May 19, 2006


The Havana Caper – 15

A pale light was beginning to color the eastern horizon when the lookout on Lord Shiva’s Eye caught a glimpse of movement. Something was coming around the headland of the small cove the pirate pinnace anchored in, and Spencer saw the low shape clearly silhouetted against the brightening sky. Carefully, quietly, he cocked his musket and waited.

The shape approached the ship, and the sound of muffled oars could be heard.

When the interloper was within 25 yards, the young pirate called out, “Who goes there?”

“It’s us,” came the well-known voice of Dogwatch Watts.

“Shouldn’t that be “It is we?’ Spencer heard from a voice very like Leftenant Keeling’s.

“’It is we?’ That can’t be right,” the voice that sounded like Dogwatch protested. “It sounds ridiculous.”

“It may be ridiculous, but it’s also correct,” answered what sounded like Keeling’s voice testily.

“’It is we!’ Sounds like I should be wearing a velvet cape, reciting poetry with a bunch of violets in me hand, and swooning over some minx in a fashionable salon.”

“I don’t care. If you’re using a form of the verb ‘to be,’ then you have to use the nominative case, I, you, he, she, it, we, you, they, who. It’s just standard English.”

That certainly sounded like Keeling, Spencer thought.

“Fuck the nominative case! And fuck standard English!” the other postulated. “We’re bloody pirates! What the hell do we care about the nominative case? We should talk like pirates!”

“Well, we’re certainly pirates, right enough, but that doesn’t mean we have to sound like uneducated poltroons!”

There was a long pause, then the first voice, the one that sounded like Dogwatch, sighed and called out, “Fine. Would you repeat the question?”

Spencer had to think a moment to realize he was being addressed and what the question had been. Finally he called again, “Who goes there?”

There was a pause, then Dogwatch’s voice answered sulkily, “It is we. Dogwatch and Keeling.”

But the young watchman was not so easily assuaged.

“How do I know it’s you? What’s the password?”

Another pause.

“Password?” Keeling finally asked. “What do you mean password? Since when did we have a password?”

By now the boat had drifted to within 10 yards of the ship, and Spencer could see that the two men in the boat LOOKED like Dogwatch and Keeling, but he couldn’t be certain. The Spanish were crafty bastards, he’d always been told, and he’d hate to be the one to cause Cap’n Slappy’s plans to fail by dint of not exercising proper prudence. So Spencer leveled his musket at the boat, which was now just a few feet away. The man at the oars backed water quickly and both shouted out in alarm.

“Spencer! What the hell are you doing?”

“If you were Spanish spies cleverly disguised as Dogwatch and Keeling, you’d know my name is Spencer. Now what’s the password?”

“There is no password,” Keeling sputtered. “We didn’t set one. It would have been a good idea, but we didn’t.”

“Yes we did,” Spencer said.

“No one told us!”

“You were already gone,” Spencer explained.


“I set it last night.”

“Then how the hell are we supposed to know what it is?” Dogwatch said in disbelief.

“That’s not my problem. What’s the password?”

“Spencer,” a voice said from behind him. It was Ol’ Chumbucket – it certainly LOOKED like Ol’ Chumbucket – who had been awoken by the commotion at the rail.

“These guys say they‘re Dogwatch and Keeling, but they don’t know the password.”

“For that matter, neither do I,” Chumbucket said. “I was apparently asleep when you decided to set one. Should I go join them in the longboat?”

Spencer thought a minute, the barrel of the musket dropping. “No, that wouldn’t make sense. I relieved you and have been on watch ever since. I’d have seen if the Spanish had kidnapped you and replaced you with yet another clever double.”

“Very good. Then what shall we do about our friends here? How about this?” Chumbucket leaned over the railing and addressed the suspected Spanish spies. “What’s my mother’s maiden name?”

“Your what?” Keeling said, now totally nonplussed. “I don’t know. Nobody knows your real name, let alone your mother’s!”

“Absolutely right,” Chumbucket beamed. “Come aboard!”

Turning to Spencer, Chumbucket explained sotto voce, “If they were clever Spanish spies they might have been able to research my history and found out mom’s maiden name. Since they didn't know it, they must be the genuine articles. Now go make sure Tharp is awake, then get everybody some breakfast.”

The two returning pirates had by now secured the longboat and were back on deck, both glaring at the retreating form of Spencer.

“Password indeed,” Dogwatch said.

“Actually, it’s not a bad idea,” Keeling allowed.

“Well, it’s an amazingly bad idea if you have a password but don’t tell anyone what it is,” Dogwatch countered.

“Never mind that,” Chumbucket interceded. “What did you learn?”

“Quite a bit,” Keeling said. “First, they won’t be sailing before the end of the week, so we’ve got plenty of time.”

“What about their planned route?”

Keeling smiled. “It’s all in here,” he said, holding out the papers he’d taken from the admiral. “Route, the ships in the convoy and what each carries, their ship’s company and even a general idea of their order and planned formation.”

Chumbucket looked awestruck. “Excellent work, Keeling! How did you pull this off?”

Keeling explained about his foray into Havana, trailing the admiral, and the adventure in the bordello. Tharp was awake by now, and even Dogwatch hadn’t heard the whole story. By the time Keeling was finished with his tale, breakfast preparations were long forgotten as four sets of eyes fastened on the officer with admiration.

“So I jumped through the window and made off into the night. There was an attempt to follow me, but I was gone before they even got their pants on.”

Tharp let out a low whistle. “I’ll admit it, Keeling,” he finally said. “That was an amazing expedition. I never thought I’d say these words, but, well done, pirate!”

“And I never thought I’d say THESE words,” Chumbucket added, “But, thank God for the prostitute’s goat.”

“I heard Cementhands say that once, but I was afraid to ask him what he meant,” Dogwatch said.

That was enough to break the mood. Chumbucket turned back to Spencer and demanded, “Where’s our breakfast lad! These two men have been out all night doing amazing things while we slept. The least we can do is feed them!”

“Coming up, sir,” Spencer said. “It’ll be ready in just a minute.”

Spencer went forward to where he had the oven set and soon was ladling out five bowls of burgoo, a thick, pasty stew of meat, potatoes and cornmeal. Along with it went a hard ship’s biscuit. They settled down to eat.

“Do you suppose the officer you took these papers from will put two and two together and figure out there’s a trap coming?” Chumbucket wondered.

“I wouldn’t think so,” Tharp offered. “He’d more likely think of sneak thief, especially since how you’re presently dressed doesn’t exactly scream ‘Pirate!’ It may scream, ‘Black Jammies Bandito!’ but definitely not ‘Pirate!’ ”

“Even if he thinks something’s amiss, I don’t see him changing his plans very much. He’s unlikely to shift all the cargo around the fleet – that’d take months!” Keeling said. And the formation he’s using is already based on the idea of meeting and defeating pirates, so we should be alright.”

“I hope so,” Chumbucket said. “This is great burgoo, Spencer. What’s in it?”

Spencer hesitated just a moment, not quite sure they wanted to hear. Finally he blurted out, “Goat, sir. Goat. But I’m sure it’s a different one.”

The other four froze, eating utensils poised halfway to their mouths. Then all four began laughing, joined by Spencer.

“No, a different animal altogether, I’m sure, especially since this has been cooking since yesterday morning,” Chumbucket said. He raised his mug of rum. “To the prostitute’s goat!”

“To the prostitute’s goat!" they all toasted.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 14 “The Pirate’s Oath!”

“She’s always been swift!” Cap’n Slappy observed with Salty Jim and George the Greek as he stood on the deck of The Festering Boil as she made her way to the island where they would rendezvous with Ol’ Chumbucket and the crew of the Lord Shiva’s Eye, “But by Davy Jones’ gigantic Johnson, she’s as fast as a clipper!”

It was true. The Festering Boil was now even faster than before.

“You and your carpentry team are to be commended!” Slappy continued clapping Jim on the back for good measure, “By Poseidon’s tap dancing testicles, I order double rations o’ grog for the lot o’ ye!”

Jim was still at a loss as to how the improvements were accomplished, but he was not inclined to turn down a double ration of grog.

With sudden hurly burly and hullabaloo, Cementhands McCormack and Lionel Two-Patch Goatbloater ascended to the main deck from the galley below with papers clinched in their fists. Long gone now was the toga McCormack had worn while he was going through his St. Swithin phase and he was dressed, more or less, in his typically flamboyant pirate togs.

“Gather round ye water snipes and sea enemas!” Two-Patch called to the crowd. He was called Two Patch because, though he only wore one eye patch, the eye it covered switched from day to day – both eyes being equally poor. Cementhands nudged him and spoke low into his ear. After a moment of listening to the big man’s whispering, Two Patch turned back to the crowd and tried to correct himself.

“Ye sea amenities!”

Another nudge from Cementhands followed and he leaned into the whisper for correction.

“Never mind you stupid, stupid git!”

This time the echo rang true and accurate. Two Patch’s ears were of little more service to him than his eyes were.

“As co-chair of the professional development committee, we’ve become keenly aware of the many new faces we have aboard The Festering Boil!” Cementhands began. Of course, they were particularly new to him as he had seemingly been occupied by a 9th century British saint. “And we deemed it necessary to remedy your lack of training with a brief in-service on piratical thought – at the completion of which, we will administer The Pirate’s Oath.”

“I took The Pirate’s Oath on me last ship!” one of the newer pirates, named Bob, protested.

“Well, ye didn’t take this one!” Cementhands declared.

“How many, ‘The Pirate’s Oaths’ are there?” Bob persisted.

Cementhands was beginning to get testy. “There’s only one with which you need concern yourself, Bob! That’s this one!”

“Well, you should call it, ‘A Pirate Oath.’ Because it’s isn’t the only one out there, you know! The article, ‘The’ implies uniqueness. Whereas use of the article, ‘A’ lets the listener know that while this is one of a set, there are others.” Bob crossed his arms, satisfied that he had established a valid point.

Cementhands McCormack rubbed his chin as he moved closer to Bob. He appeared to be weighing his response. Cap’n Slappy and George turned away to shield their eyes from what was about to happen.

“You know, Bob, the use of articles is a constant source of fascination to …” Suddenly, McCormack’s gigantic noggin sprang forward and forehead to forehead met Bob’s unsuspecting brow with a tremendous crack. It was clear that McCormack was holding back because the blow simply staggered the sailor rather than render him a quivering mass of man-goo thrashing about on the deck.

“Godammit, McCormack!” Sawbones Burgess swore as he rushed to aid the stunned pirate Bob. “When will you learn that nowhere in the rules of debate does a head butt substitute for rebut!” The doctor assisted poor Bob below.

“We’ll administer The Pirate Oath to the two of you later, then!” McCormack called after – almost apologetically.

Turning back to the assembled crew, McCormack shook off the unpleasantness and began his presentation.

“Every pirate must know the difference between his,” then, with a glance at one of the female pirates, McCormack lifted an eyebrow in flirtation, “or her, tools and instruments. The basic difference being that a tool is something you hit things with and an instrument performs tasks that cannot otherwise be accomplished through the effective use of violence. A sextant, for instance, is an instrument. It measures distances between celestial objects thereby assisting the navigator in ascertaining his,” with another flirtatious glance toward one of the women, “or her, position on a navigational chart – which is also an instrument. A spyglass is also an instrument. And as with so many instruments, you could us it as a tool, but that would render its instrumental usefulness substantially impaired.”

“My iron bar, however, is a tool. I cannot navigate with it. I cannot make out objects at a great distance with it. I cannot make a stack of flapjacks with it.” Here, he paused for polite laughter. “What I can do with it, is hit things very hard. When things need hitting, my iron bar is just the tool I need.”

Cap’n Slappy pulled his pocket watch from the depths of its hiding place and glanced at the time, wondering how long it would be until either McCormack’s lecture would come to an end or he would feel the merciful taste of Death’s sweet release.

“The captain’s pocket watch is a fine example of an instrument!” McCormack said while he glowered at Slappy for checking the time. “I’m told it keeps excellent time. If it did not, it would be neither an instrument nor a tool, but rather an ornament.”

McCormack then took the time to spell the word ornament for those over-achieving pirates who were taking careful notes.

He continued. “The captain’s pocket watch is also engraved with the phrase, ‘Until That Day We Sing GREENSLEEVES Again Let The Hours Drift Away.’ It was, I believe, a gift from His Majesty’s Naval Academy glee club – The Troubadiers. But remember, while engraving may enhance the ornamental and personal value of an item, it does not distinguish the instrument from the tool. Cap’n Slappy’s cutlass, a tool if ever there was one, is likewise engraved and reads thusly, “We Parried, We Thrusted While Slappy Just Cussed-ed.” This was a gift for his work with a children’s buccaneer fantasy camp for wee ones with directional deficits.”

A hand was raised by an anonymous pirate in the crowd. “When are we going to learn about how much share of the booty we can expect and how to increase our share of the booty and what to do with booty when we get it?”

McCormack gave the pirate the stink eye for a long moment before speaking. “It’s in the agenda. Didn’t you bring your training agenda?”

The pirate looked at his feet in shame.

McCormack called out to the assembled group. “Who can tell Mr. With-it here when we will be getting to issues involving booty, treasure, loot and swag?”

Five hands went up – each clutching their copies of the training agenda. (Incidentally, they were also the pirates who had been taking notes.)

“Red Molly, would you enlighten those slovenly pirates who failed to keep themselves abreast of training dates when we will be touching on the afore-mentioned subject of bountiful gain?”

“That would be the afternoon of day five of the month-long symposium.” Molly replied cross-referencing the information from the agenda to her personal day planner.

The crowd moaned audibly while Cap’n Slappy and George mouthed the words, “month-long symposium” to each other in disbelief.

Ever the showman, McCormack was quick to pick up on the general resistance and hastily announced, “Yes! A month-long symposium – but it’s spread out over the coming decade!”

Sighs of relief could be heard while at the same time, personal planners were being feverishly erased.

“And now the recitation of The Pirate’s Oath!” McCormack gave this line the sound of finishing to which almost everyone was looking forward. “Repeat after me!”

“I, state your name, do hereby pledge to be a ruthless bastard and a naughty little piss-pot. While my chief loyalty shall be to myself, I will extend said loyalty to me mates what I trust and feel have something to offer me. If mates prove unworthy of my affections, I swear by Great Neptune’s erect man-nipples, I will smite them mightily with any number of tools at my disposal.”

Here, Cementhands gave the assembled crowd that, “See? I was just talking about tools and there it is, right in The Pirate’s Oath!” look that he was so keen on giving whenever his point was proved.

“But I will save my chief smiting for thems what stand between me and the riches I so richly deserve be they French, Spanish, Dutch or of any other nationality that has the misfortune of shipping goods and services in my path. – But mostly the French. And the Spaniards. And not because I am a racialist, because I’m not – but because foreign people just make me sick with their various traditions and the fact that they have more stuff than I do.”

“Furthermore, I will not succumb to the treacherous temptations of villainous vices unless they are very fun indeed and nobody gets hurt – with the notable exception of the French … and perhaps the Spaniards.”

“And if, in future, my national loyalties change, I promise to re-take this oath removing new friends and substituting them with whichever national enemies suit my fancy.”

“But mainly, I’m in it for the gold, the rum and the easily disposable sex partners. Now and forever more. Amen.”

Thus finished, McCormack waited for the assemblage to repeat after him. A few tried and got as far as, “I, state your name, (which they said precisely with a dead-pan solemnity rather than filling in their own personal names) am a piss-pot …”

Frustrated, McCormack called them to order.

“I can see we will need to take this a little bit at a time. So repeat the following phrases after me; I, state your name.”

“I, state your name,” the crew intoned as one.

McCormack thought briefly of having them start over and actually state their own individual names where he said, “state your name,” but quickly decided against it as impossibly complicated and pressed forward.

A few moments later, every man-jack (and woman-jack) aboard The Festering Boil was a duly sworn in pirate. What would come of it all? Only time would tell. And Cap’n Slappy had just the instrument to keep track of that.

Monday, May 15, 2006


The Havana Caper - 13

The Plaza de Armas, the center of Havana, lay cloaked in darkness. A pair of watchmen made their rounds from the cathedral to the government buildings, but this late at night there was none of the usual bustle that marked the plaza. The square was all but deserted.

Had they been more alert the guards might have heard the tiniest of rustles. Had their eyesight been better they might have noticed the dark figure that clung to the deepest shadows of the spaces between buildings.

Leftenant Keeling listened, waiting for the watchmen to move on. He was dressed unusually for a pirate, whose typical fashion mode was flamboyant to the point of gaudy. Keeling was covered from head to toe in black, with most of his face covered as well. It was a costume he’d picked up years ago on a voyage to the Far East. He had few opportunities to wear it in his job as ship’s disciplinarian and general plunderer, and was reveling now in the near invisibility it gave him. Typically a pirate wanted to be seen, to put on such a ferocious and outlandish display that people quailed when they saw him and got out of the way. Now he needed secrecy.

He was deep in enemy territory, the principal city of Spain’s empire in the New World. Lord Shiva’s Eye was anchored in a cove some five miles away, and Dogwatch had rowed him in almost under the guns of the fort guarding the harbor. He was looking for information on the treasure fleet, and he’d seen his most likely target head this way.

The watchmen moved on, and Keeling flitted across the square towards the two-story building he’d seen his man go into. His prey was an officer who had come ashore from one of the many ships anchored in the harbor.

Keeling crouched low at the window of the building and chanced a quick glance. As he’d suspected, it was a tavern. His man was seated in a corner talking to another man. The pirate slipped around to the side of the building and found a door. He tried it and it opened. Keeling found himself in a storeroom, separated from the main room by a curtain. He timed the barkeep’s movements, and when the man turned away Keeling took his chance, rolling under a table near where his prey sat.

The other man was consulting some papers on the table. “We were fortunate the storm hit while most of the ships were in harbor. The last two that straggled in should be seaworthy again by the end of the week. We should be able to depart any time after that.”

“The other ships are now refitted?” Almirante Antonio Montaña asked his subordinate.

“The repairs are all done. There’s apparently a delay getting some supplies from the shipyard, and non of the ships has enough line, powder or shot.”

“Is there some reason?”

The man glanced at his papers again. “Looks like typical shipyard crap. They’ve got it and they don’t want to give it up because then they won’t have it.”

“Why do perfectly reasonable sailors turn into children when you put them in charge of a ship yard?” the admiral sighed. “Get back to the ship. Tomorrow I want to push the governor for more supplies for the crossing. And we’ll see if we can get that dockmaster moving a little faster if we singe his heels.”

“Very good sir,” the man said. “Aren’t you coming back to the ship too?”

“Later. I have an appointment upstairs with an attractive young woman who has some interesting skills. It will be a long voyage, and I want to make the most of my time in port.”

The other man smiled knowingly, rose and saluted. This time the admiral responded with perfect military courtesy. Then he too rose, pulled together his papers and headed for the stairs, calling out, “Rosalita! Your sailor boy is ready for you!”

Keeling already had some important information, the rough sailing date of the fleet. But his interest was piqued, particularly by the papers the admiral was carrying.

The hour was already late, and only two customers were left in the tavern. One tried to order another round, but the barkeep scowled and told him it was past closing. With a curse the two men rose and staggered unsteadily out the door. Keeling waited.

Sanitation was lower on the barkeep’s list of priorities than getting home, so the sounds of his closing up ended quickly. Keeling emerged from beneath the table and crept cautiously up the stairs, keeping close to the wall to prevent creaking. At the top he found a long corridor lit by candles in wall sconces, with doors along one side. At the end was another staircase going down, with a large, armed man seated at the head of it. Apparently that was the main entrance for the facilities, Keeling concluded, with some kind of parlor below. The man at the head of the stairs was apparently a guard to make sure the customers didn’t cause trouble. It must have been a slow night, because Keeling could see his head bob, then fall to his chest as he succumbed to Morpheus’ spell.

“Now which room did he go in?” Keeling asked himself. Several were open – apparently unoccupied. Those that were closed he stopped and listened at. Pressing his ear to the first closed door, he heard the sound of snoring. Probably not his man, he decided. He hadn’t had enough time to be finished, especially if the woman had special skills.

At the next door he heard fairly typical sounds of lusty exertions, and marked it in his mind for further study. The same with the next. At the third closed door he heard a masculine voice calling out in a falsetto, “Oh yes master, I’ve been naughty and I must be punished.” Keeling thought about it, decided it didn’t sound like the admiral, and moved on.

At the next he heard a woman’s laughter, a man’s excited outcry, and the bleat of a goat. Keeling pressed his ear closer. Yes, definitely a goat. He marked that door for no further exploration. The next door yielded what was clearly the satisfied sounds of one man and at least two women. Keeling lingered at that door for a moment, then was disturbed by the sound of laughter – male and female – from below. Someone was coming up from the front of the building, and the guard at the top of the stairs snapped awake. Without thinking, Keeling plunged into one of the open, empty rooms.

He could hear a discussion at the head of the stairs while he surveyed the room. A large bed, a dressing table, and an armoire in which he could hide if he had to, but then he’d be trapped for however long this fellow took. Footsteps were coming down the hallway and of course they lingered at the doorway of the room in which Keeling had hidden. He leaped to the open window and crawled out, standing on the narrow ledge as he plastered himself to the side of the building.

Apparently he wasn’t noticed, because the couple inside immediately plunged into the business at hand without preliminaries. Keeling assessed the situation. There wasn’t a tree close enough to climb down. He was only on the second floor and could probably jump, but the cobblestones would make for a bad landing and the last thing he needed was to turn an ankle. He looked down and realized the ledge on which he perched extended the length of the building, running back towards the tavern. If he could get to the rear, there was a cover over the tavern entrance that he could climb down from. He started sliding carefully towards the rear.

At the first window he paused and glanced in to make sure he wouldn’t be seen. No, the man and two nubile women were definitely occupied. He watched a little longer – just to make sure the timing was right, he told himself – then quickly passed before it became too difficult to stay pressed face-first to the window. The next room was the one from which he’d heard a goat and he ruled against looking. The next window was open, which gave him a moment’s pause, but the sounds from within made it clear the occupants had their minds on something else. He glanced in.

It was the admiral. Keeling couldn’t actually recognize him – face down in the bed, his wrists fastened to the bedposts with leather thongs. But that was clearly an admiral’s uniform spread across the chair and floor. And that was clearly a sheaf of papers on the table by the door.

Keeling watched closely. The woman was doing something across the admiral’s back with a lit candle – Keeling couldn’t quite tell what, but the light flickered and bobbed as she moved the candle back and forth drawing gasps and satisfied moans from the man. Her attention was firmly on her customer.

The pirate waited. The admiral wasn’t going to be a problem, tied to the bed as he was. But Keeling didn’t stir. Whatever she was doing, it couldn’t take forever.

As it turned out, it only seemed to take forever. Keeling’s calves were beginning to ache as he clung to his precarious perch. Finally he heard the woman say something to the man, something low that Keeling couldn’t make out, and the admiral chuckled wickedly. The candle went out and the bed creaked as it took the woman’s weight. Perfect. Keeling slipped in through the window.

He had to let his eyes adjust to the room’s darkness before he made his move. The admiral was firmly involved in whatever the woman was doing to him. He moved stealthily towards the door, timing his five steps to the rhythmic creaks from the bed. He had just reached the table when the creaking stopped and the woman shouted, “Who the hell are you?”

He turned and saw the woman was turned towards him. A match flared and the guttering light of the candle suddenly illuminated him. The admiral had no idea what was going on and simply resented the break in the activity, but the woman didn’t hesitate. Leaping naked from the bed, she reached under the mattress and drew a small pistol, cocked it and fired. The wall six inches from Keeling’s head threw a small cloud of dust as the ball just missed him.

Keeling leaped towards the room’s armoire and grabbed the top of it, pulling it down with a crash between himself and his assailant as she scrambled for her second pistol. The woman let out a shriek and the admiral bellowed with surprise and fright as Keeling jumped back to the table, grabbed the papers and threw open the door.

The guard at the far end of the hallway had been startled by the shot and the noise of crashing furniture, and was more so by the sight of a black clad figure leaping into the hallway. Doors all along the hall were opening and frightened faces peering out, then leaping back as they glimpsed Keeling.

The guard was quick. He reached for his weapon, and Keeling had time to notice it was a blunderbuss before the hallway exploded with noise and shot, knocking most of the candles from the wall and making the hallway that much darker. Keeling barely had time to jerk back into the door from which he’d just emerged, but the woman behind him now fired a second time, this ball scattering the papers he still held clutched in his right hand. Keeling grabbed those that he could and then jumped back into the hall. Looking up he saw the guard reach for a heavy cutlass and charge down the hallway at him. Keeling reached for his knife, but at that moment the goat, startled by the noise, came dashing out of one of the opened doors and tangled with the feet of the guard. The guard hit the floor with a crash. The goat bleated and ran.

Keeling didn’t waist a moment. He plunged down the hallway towards the back staircase from which he’d come up and hurtled down it. The door to the tavern was locked but Keeling didn’t bother with it, leaping through the window in a shower of glass. He stuffed the papers he’d been able to grab and disappeared into the dark as shots echoed from the windows above.

Thursday, May 11, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 12 “Campaign Kisses and Well-mended Seams”

A morning mist rises from every living thing in the jungle as the ruddy rays of sunrise force shafts of light through the broad leafs on the branches above the rooftops of the village. Cap’n Slappy and George the Greek moved through the silent camp like two men with a focused purpose. The steam rising from their moist greatcoats gave them a ghostly appearance as they approached the still sleeping Cementhands McCormack and Wellington Peddicord – both of whom had been among the last celebrants of the previous day’s victory to embrace the night’s sleep.

“Uppy Uppy, drain the Guppy!” George chimed in a sing song morning voice as he poked Wellington Peddicord’s boots with his own.

Cap’n Slappy laughed. “That’s new. Very poetic! ‘Drain the guppy!’ – very good.” He then turned to the sleeping McCormack.

“Awake, St. Swiggon!”

“Ah, a drunken saint reference – timely and laced with shame. Well played, Cap’n!” George said cheerfully.

Still dressed in his toga, the big man roused to life. “Great Gretchen McCormack’s Goiter! Can’t a man finish a dream involving a dozen or so women of questionable virtue with a point to prove about who can orally satisfy a man the best without being bothered by a wild boar dressed in pirate clothes?” Then, taking a closer look at who roused him he relented. “Oh, I’m sorry Cap’n. I didn’t mean to say anything that might be taken as an offense – to a wild boar.” McCormack was a well known “morning taunter.”

Slappy sloughed off the slight. “I know one little boy how had a visit from The Grumpy Fairy last night.” His tone was particularly paternal and condescending and McCormack would have responded in kind had his bladder not had urgent business with a bush in the jungle a few paces away. He quickly joined Peddicord who was also on his way to gain morning relief.

“Mind the boa constrictors, lads!” George called after them as they moved into the underbrush.

“How will I be able to distinguish it from Welly’s ‘man-tackle’?” McCormack called back.

“The snack won’t leave you with a profound sense of jealousy and awe.” Peddicord shot back.

“When you’re through with the meeting of the Mad Exaggerator’s Club, lads, I’d like you to go around kicking boots until we get everybody up and going – I want to be back on the Boil and ready to sail with the morning tide!” Slappy ordered.

Father Bracca approached Cap’n Slappy and George the Greek. In his hands he held two half-cocoanut cups filled with a steaming liquid.

“Sweet Snapping Turtles!" Slappy began, “Is that the Padre with – dare I believe it – coffee?”

“The Tupani grow it – and they make it strong, probably stronger than you’re used to.” The priest replied.

Cap’n Slappy took a sip and his eyes bulged. “Whoo! That’ll pop the pennies off the eyes of a dead Irishman!”

The chief signaled for the priest to come over so, Father Bracca left Slappy and George alone to drink their coffee. The pirates could see the chief give the Jesuit several lengths of thin hemp with gold medallions dangling from them – moments later, as the other pirates began to muster for the march out of the jungle, the Chief approached with Father Bracca serving as interpreter.

The villagers also gathered – all of them smiling as their Chief spoke loud enough for all to hear.

“He wants you to remember the Tupani – and to show the world that you are Tupani of the elite warrior class – Harkufu.” Father Bracca translated.

Suddenly, the chief took the hemp twine between his thumbs and placed his hands on either side of Cap’n Slappy’s face. The string pressed into the captain’s throat, just under his chin – not alarmingly, so, but the string was taut. Then, with both hands on the captain’s ears, the chief brought his face down and kissed both of Slappy’s eyebrows before flipping the string up over his head and letting the beautiful gold medallion rest – dangling on the captain’s chest.

“This medallion,” the priest continued his translation “depicts the god, Jukiki, who comes to the Tupani in the form of a monkey. He is a trickster, but he is very brave and while you wear the medallion, nothing evil can harm you.”

“Of course,” Father Bracca continued off script, “You’d be much better off with the Crucifix of our Savior, but I wouldn’t say that to the chief just now – he’s having a moment.”

The chief continued the presentation with George and as Cap’n Slappy watched, the villagers each presented the entire crew with beautiful gold medallions and accompanying requisite eyebrow kisses.

“Father, will you tell the chief, ‘Thank you!’ for us?” Slappy asked the priest.

The priest thought for a moment. Then he said, “Shu-shu” to the Chief who immediately laughed out loud and eyebrow-kissed the captain again.

“‘Shu-shu’” means ‘thank you’ in Tupani?” Slappy asked.

“No.” Father Bracca explained. “There is no word for ‘Thank You,’ or any form of gratitude among the Tupani. Gratitude is not spoken, it is lived. It is the unspoken way they feel about life everyday – there is no special form for gratitude.”

“So, what does ‘Shu-shu’ mean, Padre?” Slappy pressed.

“Father.” The priest replied.

“That would explain the extra eyebrow kisses, then.” Slappy mused to himself as he smiled at the chief.

A few moments later, Father Bracca was escorting the pirates toward the mission. By night fall, they would be back aboard their beloved Festering Boil.

“Cap’n” George whispered as they walked together along the narrow path overgrown with thick tropical foliage. “We left Jim with just a couple of men and more work than we could hope to do in three days – much less two. We may be somewhat delayed in readying her for the sea.”

Slappy nodded. With St. Swithin now gone on to wherever it is saints go when their mission is accomplished, his trust in miracles and wonders was substantially reduced. “Perhaps. But I don’t want to keep Chumbucket waiting too long. There’s no telling what sort of mischief may befall them with ‘Little Lord Snifflebritches’ in tow.”

Father Bracca came up alongside Slappy and George. “The Chief gave me eight more medallions for the other members of your crew and told me to tell you that you must observe the rite of eyebrow kissing or the mischievous powers of Jukiki will turn ugly against the wearer.”

“Ugly mischief?” Cap’n Slappy seemed alarmed by the prospect.

“Yes. It could be anything from having all of your internal organs turn into stone while you die an agonizing death to slipping on a wet, mossy stone in a way that others find humorous.”

“That’s quite a range!” George observed.

“Yes.” Slappy added thoughtfully. “And almost entirely ‘stone-based.’ We must, in future, be wary of stones and rocks, George.”

“Aye-aye, Cap’n!” George pulled out a small notepad he kept in his jacket and made a note of it – “Wary of stones and rocks” he mouthed as he wrote down the words.

“Tell me, Padre,” Slappy turned to the priest. “If the chief is called, ‘Shu-shu’ and that means ‘Father’ what do they call the ‘Father,’ Father?”

“They call me, ‘Nikiti.’” The priest answered somewhat sheepishly.

“… which means …” Slappy gestured for him to finish the thought.

“Which means, ‘Little Fella.’ It’s their name for a beloved child who seems to be a little slow. They think my ‘One God religion’ lacks complexity and nuance, but it is very cute.” The Jesuit was clearly at a loss as to where to go from here.

“Well, St. Swithin there must have been some help to you.” George said hopefully.

“Oh, yes!” Father Bracca brightened for a moment. “They were very impressed that my ‘One God’ would send such a mighty warrior.” His tone then shifted. “Then, after the battle, St. Swithin was gone and we had this rather naughty fellow who drank more than anybody and became inordinately flatulent. Also, he made a ‘suckling child’ face at the bare-breasted young women – who all found that somewhat off-putting.”

Cap’n Slappy sighed. “All the things that make him a deity to us are always ‘off-putting’ to everyone else.”

The mood was grand when they reached the mission. Father Bracca asked them to spend the evening, but as there was still enough daylight to examine the ship, Cap’n Slappy insisted that they return immediately.

“You will always find safe shelter here!” Father Bracca said as they shook hands in farewell.

“Thank ye, Padre. We may take ye up on it some day.” Cap’n Slappy replied.

When they reached the beach, they could see The Festering Boil cast in a lovely silhouette against the evening sky. Salty Jim, who had seen them coming from a distance, was waiting on the beach with a long boat to ferry the first group, which would include the captain and George, back to the ship. His normal reserved demeanor had given way to, what passed for on him, unbridled excitement.

“Cap’n! You’re never going to believe how much we’ve accomplished!” Jim’s voice barely stayed within its register. “She’s ship shape! No! She’s BETTER than ship shape!”

“Her seams are mended?” Slappy asked

“Better!” Jim declared with excitement. “She’s BETTER than new! And Cap’n …” Jim looked like a man who had seen ghosts – but the ghosts had given him a treasure chest of gold and jewels, “She’s at least three yards longer than she was before.”

The moment Slappy was on board, he paced the deck of The Festering Boil from stem to stern and back again. True enough! She was exactly three yards longer. Her interior rooms seemed larger – including the captain’s cabin – despite the fact that Jim said they never worked there.

“Care to enlighten us as to the cause of this miracle?” Slappy asked Cementhands McCormack who seemed as dumbfounded as everyone else.

“Clearly,” the big man explained with a false sureness, “This is the work of pixies.”

After the initial shock wore off, Slappy directed McCormack to perform the medallion ritual on Jim and his team. McCormack, still dressed in his saintly robes obliged with lingering eyebrow kisses and fake Tupani words. He added what could only be described as an interpretive dance, but Slappy figured that would only amuse a god of mischief, so all was right.

“Alright, McCormack!” Slappy said to the big man as he closed out his performance with the ‘song of the howling dog,’ “Time for you to don your pirate togs and doff you saintly robes – we need our Cementhands back.”

“Aye-aye, Cap’n!” McCormack saluted and began to head down to change clothes.

“Off to bed with the lot o’ ye! We sail with the tide come morning! I’ll take the first watch and come wake someone to replace me when I get tired.” Slappy was visibly happy to be home. He took all the watches that night and spent them strolling the decks – admiring that pixie workmanship. As morning came, the soft first rays of the sun made the medallion around his neck glow and feel comfortably warm. “Whatever may come of the other medallions,” Slappy thought, “this one will never leave my neck.”

Monday, May 08, 2006


The Havana Caper - 11

The sun had long gone when Keeling, aboard Lord Shiva’s Eye, noticed the lights to seaward. He roused his sleeping comrades and the five of them stared out to sea, where they could see the glimmer of lanterns a couple of miles out.

“One ship, kinda big,” Keeling suggested.

“Maybe two smaller ships in formation, really close to each other,” Dogwatch suggested.

“That close together in the dark?” Spencer scoffed. “They’d have to be awfully careful in that tight a formation at night.”

“Only one way to find out,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “Let’s get closer and take a look.

He turned to tell Tharp to unfurl the ship’s small mainsail, only to find that the lieutenant was already up the mast doing that very thing. “Not bad,” Ol’ Chumbucket thought to himself. “He might never be a real pirate, but he’s sure a seaman.”

The ship had been lying in close to shore with just enough canvas spread to maintain headway, with one man at the wheel while the others stretched out on the deck in the sultry night air. Now, with no lights lit, she angled out into the current. The breeze, steady from the northeast, filled the sails and she quickly closed the distance. Tharp remained in the rigging, eyes piercing the dark, while Chumbucket took the helm. Dogwatch, Spencer and Keeling quietly and carefully loaded ship’s two swivel guns and stood ready in case of trouble.

The pirate pinnace crept closer to the source of the lights, drawing to within half a mile.

“It’s one ship alright,” Dogwatch agreed, “and a damn big one.”

The ship appeared to be a galleon, its high castle distinct and black against the softer black of the sky.

“And you’ll notice,” Keeling said, “It’s not sailing towards us. It’s headed northeast, just like us.”

“You’re right,” Chumbucket said quietly. “I couldn’t put my finger on what was wrong, but I would have suspected it to be coming down the strait, not back towards Havana.”

There would be time later to puzzle that out, and they all ended up agreeing that the ship had either been blown south by the previous week’s storm or else had been sent out to collect ships that might have been scattered. Either way it was a good sign. Apparently the fleet still hadn’t come out from Havana and there was plenty of time for the Festering Boil to come out and lay its trap.

“A little closer, I think,” Chumbucket hissed. “Dogwatch, get those nets out just in case we have to look like fishermen.”

Aboard the ship that floated ahead of them, the watch was mostly facing forward, and none were particularly alert. Chumbucket was able to bring the pinnace up within two cable lengths. Perched in the mast, Tharp was peering through a spyglass trying to make out the name by the light of the stern lantern when there was a sudden stir on the ship. A voice came over the water.

“¡Alto! ¿Quién va allí?”

The pirates froze.

“¿Quién va allí?”

“Say something,” Chumbucket hissed to Keeling, the only one of their number who spoke any Spanish.

“Pescadores,” he said. “¿Usted ha visto atún?”

They had now drifted close enough that they could hear the murmur of Spanish voices on the deck discussing what to do.

“¿Qué nave es usted?” the voice called.

Keeling paused, making sure the Spaniard was asking the name of his ship before answering.

“El Molly Rojo,” he said at last, reassuring the galleon of their harmless nature. "Somos pescadores, buscando el atún. Visto cualesquiera?"

"Ningún usted tonto,” the Spaniard answered, warning them, “El claro o nosotros del buey le subirá."

“Sí, estamos fuera de aquí. Adiós,” Keeling answered.

Chumbucket didn’t wait for anymore. He brought the helm over hard and Lord Shiva’s Eye darted away towards land, taking advantage of the following breeze to put distance between the two vessels as quickly as possible.

The pirates all breathed again.

“What did you tell him my boat was named?” Spencer asked.

“El Molly Rojo – The Red Molly. Sorry, I have no idea how to say Lord Shiva’s Eye in Spanish. It was the first thing that occurred to me.”

“Speaking of names, did you get the name of that ship, Tharp?” Chumbucket asked as the naval lieutenant slip down the ratlines.

“It looked like it said El Cerdo Perezoso or something like that,” he said. It as hard to tell in the dark, and I don’t speak their language, the papists.”

“Some kind of pig, I guess,” Keeling said. “Not that it matters much. I imagine we want to stay well out of their way.”

“True enough,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “We’ll stay in towards shore. I think we can get around in front of them before the sun rises and then we’ll just want to stay out of their sight.”

“Why?” Tharp asked. “I thought we were supposed to find the Spanish. We found them. Let’s head back.”

“Not so fast, junior,” Chumbucket countered. He saw the look of anger flash across Tharp’s face and cut him off. “I know, I know. But when you act like a junior I’m calling you that. We’ve seen one Spanish ship, a big one, sure, and that probably means the treasure fleets out there ahead of us. But we’ve got to know. So we’re going on. Leftenant?” he asked keeling. “Did you bring that black outfit you got in the Orient?”

“Aye, that I did,” Keeling said eagerly.

“Good. We’re about two days out of Havana. When we get there I think we’ll want you to take a look around.”

Astern of Shiva, the first mate of El Cerdo Perezoso was surprised to see the captain come out on deck. He snapped to attention and threw a salute, which the captain returned.

“What was that shouting all about,” Almirante Antonio Montaña asked.

“A fishing boat looking for tuna,” the mate replied. “As if we were a tuna.”

“You warned him off?”

“Si, almirante,” the mate replied. “If he’d tarried we were ready to encourage his departure with a couple of cannonful of grapeshot. But he took off faster than I knew a fishing boat could sail.”

The admiral thought about that for a moment, then grunted.

“Very well. We’ll be passing this way again in a week and we won’t be so neighborly. Orders will be to fire on any ship that approaches. So it’s just as well you put the fear of God in him.”

Saturday, May 06, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 10 “Jungle Battle”

Slappy looked down and noticed that his fine pirate clothes had been replaced by a baggy one-piece denim covering under which he seemed to be wearing a plaid flannel shirt.

“Dad burn it!” He mumbled and when he caught himself saying, “Dad burn it!” He cut loose with an even fouler oath.

“Great Grandmammy McSlappy’s Bloated Testicles! It’s happening again!”

Suddenly, he couldn’t breathe and the world shifted with a remarkable suddenness.

His eyes were open now and he realized that the sun was just beginning to break above the jungle – Cementhands McCormack’s huge calloused hand covered his mouth and nose.

“Wakey wakey” the now recognizable form of St. Swithin in the body of McCormack whispered. Sawbones Burgess was by his side.

Slappy realized that he had been dreaming out loud. He nodded to let McCormack know that he was under control and that he would like his breathing orifices returned to his control.

Burgess shook his head, “The tomato dream again?”

“Aye. Damn tomatoes!” Slappy grumbled

“What did they say this time?” the doctor pressed.

“Just more gossip – it’s always gossip with tomatoes!” Slappy shrugged.

“I still think it’s about sex.” Burgess asserted.

“I hate to be a dream buster,” St. Swithin began, “but we’ve got many Spaniards to kill today and only a few minutes to get into position.”

Cap’n Slappy rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and pulled himself to his feet.

It was a scant mile and a half walk to an area where the jungle dropped downward into a small bowl-like valley that had once been the site of the children’s village. The charred remains of huts dotted the floor of the mud-red valley. The hills surrounding the village were thick with trees and jungle foliage.

“They will be here soon.” St. Swithin began after he gathered the pirate leaders beneath a cluster of trees overlooking what was soon to be the scene of the battle.

“I have developed a battle plan that I think will serve us well – if I may?” St. Swithin looked at Cap’n Slappy – as if asking for permission to take the lead on this expedition.

“By all means.” Slappy replied. “Who,” he thought to himself, “am I to question the military strategies of a ninth century saint?”

“George, take your command over there and Wellington, you stay here with your group – Cap’n Slappy and Father Bracca will be in the center with the largest force and you will all attack the Spanish in the center on my signal.” St. Swithin’s plan was beautiful in its simplicity – but Cap’n Slappy had one strategic question.

“Where will you be that we can all see you at the same time?”

St. Swithin pointed to the heart of the village – the exact center of where he said the Spanish would be in just a few minutes.

“I will be there. The signal will be my first blow to a Spanish head.”

Cap’n Slappy was almost apoplectic. “Splendid! Good plan! How about we come up with something that doesn’t get you immediately killed?”

St. Swithin placed one of McCormack’s large leather hands on top of Slappy’s head – he immediately became light-headed. “They won’t kill me. They won’t be able to.”

Fighting off the dizziness, Slappy replied, “So, you’ll be armed with a fork or perhaps a particularly serrated grapefruit spoon?”

The big man smiled beatifically. “I go unarmed.” Then, before Slappy could argue he held up his right hand and glanced upward through the leaves of the trees above them. Shafts of morning sunlight formed a mosaic of light as it passed through the leaves and rested on his face. He continued, “And yet, I am protected.”

The moment was shattered by the crack of musket fire in the distance.

“They’re coming. Quickly, gentlemen – to your positions and may the Almighty guide your hand. As it pleases Him, dispose the day.” St. Swithin waved his hand over them in blessing.

Cap’n Slappy was having second thoughts about this whole adventure. “Loyalty to friends – even insane or possessed ones – will be the death of me.” he mused to himself.

“My son, you seem troubled.” Father Bracca placed his hand on Slappy’s shoulder as St. Swithin walked into the valley to confront the Spaniards.

“I can’t imagine why, Padre. One of my oldest, dearest friends believes he’s a saint and is walking off to near-certain martyrdom. I’ve brought the bulk of my crew into the jungle to die fighting Spaniards without so much as a doubloon to show for it and I just suddenly realized that I may have let my subscription to Pirattitude Monthly lapse and they’re doing a feature on Sir Nigel Blackheart this month!”

“This thing you do, today, my son, this will absolve you and your crew of all their sins. And, if it makes you feel any better, I suspect that I’ll be getting my issue of Pirattitude Monthly today – I’ll let you read it when we return to the mission.” Father Bracca pulled out his machetes and hunkered down behind a bush as the first Spanish soldiers became visible in the valley below.

“Are you fighting with us, today, Padre?” Slappy asked.

“I’m a Jesuit, my son. We kick ass.” The monk replied.

George and his crew had just taken up their position when St. Swithin stepped into the clearing in the village and raised his hands. The Spanish soldiers, as was their custom with unarmed delusional missionary-looking giants, raised their muskets and prepared to fire.

“Goddammit!” Slappy cursed, “Why did McCormack make us leave our muskets?”

“Patience, my son.” Bracca replied.

Slappy could see the smoke of the muskets being fired before he heard the crack of powder being ignited. He winced as he looked at McCormack expecting to see several musket balls ripping through his body – no such sight awaited him. The dirt all around the big man kicked up as the balls fell harmlessly off to the side, in front and behind him.

The Spanish captain began abusing his musketeers and ordered them to reload. McCormack lowered his arms and as he did, the sky’s immediately darkened as clouds filled the air and rain began to pour – rendering their firearms useless.

The order was given to “fix bayonets.” A charge quickly followed as a dozen or so soldiers charged the unarmed saint. When they were within fifty yards of St. Swithin, a lightning bolt shot down from behind the big man’s right shoulder and struck the spongy ground at the point of attack sending bodies flying in all directions. Only two soldiers were able to continue the charge. They reached McCormack at exactly the same time – their bayonets aimed directly for his belly. With cat-like swiftness and bear-like strength, McCormack caught both gun barrels, one in each hand, and nearly impaled the two charging soldiers on their own weapons. The two Spaniards fell to the side as McCormack drew back and slapped the two muskets together – they disintegrated in a cloud of splinters and metal parts leaving only the two long iron cylinders in his meaty hands.

“He’s got himself McCormack’s weapon of choice!” George observed as he signaled his fighters to be ready to charge.

It was true. Gone was St. Swithin’s gentle, thoughtful face – the big man with the iron bars was all-McCormack and his comrades could see a countenance of ferocity and glee – battles always made him happy.

The two dazed Spaniards regained their footing and reached for their swords. McCormack awaited their final charge. He spun his body to meet the first with a devastating backhand that shattered his head like a water-balloon. He continued his spin and brought the other bar down in an overhand blow that caved the Spaniard’s head in from the hairline to the chin.

“Now THAT’S a signal!” Wellington Peddicord called out as he led the charge of his fighters down the hill toward the Spanish ranks.

Unknown to the pirates, St. Swithin had also arranged for hundreds of indigenous archers to take up positions in the trees. As the three groups of pirates began barreling down the hill, a tremendous WHOOOSH filled the air as arrows began adding to the precipitation of the rainy day battle. Several dozen Spaniards fell in an instant. Several more turned to make a desperate run back to the mouth of the valley – but they were cut off by warriors of the very tribe they were coming to destroy. No mercy was accorded their retreat.

The Spanish captain pointed his men toward Cementhands McCormack as if to choose him as the cause of all their troubles and the army surged forward toward their intended revenge against this giant. Another volley of arrows further thinned their ranks and their captain ordered them to a double quick step. McCormack grinned as he watched the Spaniards approach. His comrades were not yet close enough to defend him, yet, he showed no sign of concern. In fact, he twirled his bloody gun barrels in his fingers like a dandy would twirl his walking stick as he waited for the onslaught.

Another volley of arrows took down a few more dozen Spaniards and Cementhands McCormack could see the fear in their eyes as they saw the pirates’ warlike faces just a few paces away bearing down hard. Cementhands McCormack gripped his bars and began moving quickly toward the enemy. If his water soaked robes slowed him down, he showed no sign of it as he launched himself into the heart of the Spanish forces – his bars spinning like a meat grinder.

Moments after McCormack’s penetration, the pirates converged on the army and a full-blown melee had begun. George quickly sized up the Spanish captain and challenged him with sword and dagger – the two spun away from the throng and fought some yards away from the fracas. George the Greek could see his opponent’s disgust at having to fight pirates on land when this was supposed to be a simple massacre of tribal people. The captain had a very aggressive style of fighting, a very artistic style that kept George in retreat for most of their confrontation. What the captain didn’t realize, until George plunged his dagger into his neck, was that he was accommodating the aggression and the art until the moment for decisive action was secure. George was never one for fighting fancy – just fighting well.

Cap’n Slappy, in contrast to his first mate, George, was a chatty fighter. He was prone to taunting – for which he had some degree of talent, but he would also give his opponent “pointers,” during the heat of battle. “Keep yer long sword hand forward and up, lad! Hide that wee dagger back there like a snake – don’t let me see it too soon, son! Ye’ll spoil the surprise!” And after he killed his student, he moved on to the next. “Ye call that a lunge? Me Great Grandmammy, Gabby McSlappy could out-lunge the likes o’ ye with her arthritic right arm tied behind her hunched back!”

At one point, Slappy was so enjoying his taunting that he failed to see the young Spaniard with the long sword sneak up behind him and take a swing at his neck. He surely would have lost his gigantic head had it not been for the quick thinking of Saucy Jenny who blocked the blow with her cutlass, kicked the Spaniard directly in his huevos rancheros and plunged her sword into his back as he doubled over in pain.

“Well done, lass! Ye kept me noggin in place and for that – an extra ration o’ rum for ye when we get back to the ship!” Slappy declared as he gave her a supportive slap on her behind. Of course, Slappy realized immediately that he’d done something wrong – but he was just reacting to her as if she was a man – which she most definitely was not. There was an awkward moment where neither knew what to say. Finally, Slappy broke the tension. “Yes! Definitely outstanding fighting! Well done, Jenny.” Another pause. “Sorry about the …” and he motioned the butt-slap but away from her so as not to repeat the same mistake.

Jenny had never seen Cap’n Slappy being awkward. He typically avoided the women in his crew and had no idea how to treat them – other than treating them like a man – which certainly was not always appropriate. But even as they stood there and awkwardly exercised the moment, Spaniards would come out of nowhere only to be dispatched by either Cap’n Slappy or Jenny. It hardly broke their moment.

Finally Jenny said, “Thanks for the extra ration, Cap’n. I’m just going to go fight over there for now. Bye.”

Still feeling awkward and foolish Cap’n Slappy replied, “Yes! Splendid! Oh, and thanks again for saving my head! … Fight on, pirate!”

He turned back toward the battle as another soldier attacked him – he plunged a short curved dagger he’d picked up in Hindustan that he called his “disemboweling cutlass,” into the belly of the soldier and performed the task he had ascribed in naming the weapon. But the whole time he was mentally kicking himself. “Fight on, pirate? – Stupid, Stupid, Stupid!”

Father Bracca also had his share of kills. He had made a name for himself among the Spanish military and was therefore somewhat a target. He never strayed too far away from Cementhands McCormack who literally pounded away at the center of the Spanish force. Father Bracca’s machetes were drenched with blood and his wool robe was soaked as well.

It was Wellington Peddicord who first realized they’d run out of Spanish soldiers to kill. “Is that it? Are we done?”

They were. The bodies of hundreds of Spanish soldiers lay around them in the muddy field.

By now, Slappy had shaken off the earlier awkward moment and was ready to assess the damage. “Group leaders – casualty report.” He had already accounted for every member of his attack squad – none were lost and only a few had minor injuries.

“We’re all here! All well!” Wellington Peddicord reported. “Same here!” George echoed. “Not a single serious casualty!”

Slappy couldn’t believe it. Not one man – or woman, lost in the action! It was a … miracle. He looked at Cementhands McCormack who now had no aura of sainthood about him.

“What?” The big man questioned. “And what the hell am I doing wearing a toga in a jungle battle? Was this some kind of drug-induced new interpretation of Julius Freakin’ Caesar? And if so, why am I not directing it?”

Doc Burgess leaned into Slappy’s side and softly said, “He’s Ba-aa-ack.”

Father Bracca was speaking with one of the tribal warriors who, it turned out, was the head of his tribe. “He wants you all to come join him for a feast and celebration this evening.”

Slappy started to say that they were in a hurry to return to their ship, but the look on Father Bracca’s face told him that this would be an insult to their hosts, so he conceded on the condition that they return first thing in the morning.

“Yes. Of course! First thing. I think you will be surprised at how well your ship repairs have been coming along!”

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