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.”

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