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.”

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