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.

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

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