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.”

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