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.”

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