Monday, May 29, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 18 “Tales Told by the Fire”

Barely visible in the darkness, the fiery puff of smoke was followed by a loud bang. The cannonball from the big ship whizzed just fifteen yards over their heads and splashed down in the waters beyond them. This was immediately followed by the familiar strains of George’s deep voice, “Goddammit, Chumbucket! If that’s you fire up the freakin’ lantern!”

As he lit the lantern, Chumbucket smiled, “Like I said, lads. It’s good to be home.”

A few minutes later, they were climbing up the rope ladder after lashing Lord Shiva’s Eye to The Festering Boil.

They were greeted by an enthusiastic George the Greek who hugged and kissed each man as they stepped onto the deck. Chumbucket winced, as he always did, at George’s kiss – but that was the Greek’s way. Of course, with the kissing came a chiding.

“I wasted a cannonball getting your goddam attention!” George laughed. “But by the mermaid’s moist coozy it’s good to see ye again!”

“Is the Cap’n ashore?” Chumbucket asked.

“Aye! They’ve been listenin’ to Ol’ Billy Du Boise tell tall tales around the fire all night.” George replied.

Chumbucket smiled. “Barnacle Billy! I haven’t seen that ol’ bastard in years! At least, not in the flesh! I have, however, seen his likeness on many friendly rum bottles and that’s even better because the labels don’t come with that distinctive Barnacle Billy smell.”

George laughed, “Aye! He’s a pungent ol’ gopher, and no mistake! He was tellin’ tales for hours around that fire, then he passed out on drink and the Cap’n took over. You can hear him now.”

George and Ol’ Chumbucket wandered over to the lee side of the ship where they could hear Slappy’s booming voice carried over the sand and surf to the ship; recounting tales of his youth.

Aye, that’s right! Ol’ Billy and meself sailed these very waters with Alfredo Hamnquist – the only Italian Swede pirate any of us would ever know. He was a sailor’s sailor! Not quite as tall as our Cementhands – nor as stout, but ye’d be hard pressed to find a tougher bastard on any of the seven seas! He had no need of a wheel or rudder – he steered the ship by force of will over the winds and an infallible knowledge of the currents in these waters.” Cap’n Slappy took a deep dram from his bottle of Du Boise Rum and held it tightly in his mouth for a moment as if he was baptizing the story in its disinfecting waters. Then, he swallowed and let out a gasp of equal parts pleasure and pain.

He continued; “There was this one time we were attacking a well-armed French merchantman and the damn Frogs got a shot off that slammed into a stack of powder barrels and blew the whole friggin’ ship to smithereens! Now Ol’ Cap’n Hamnquist always loaded up a crate-load of blunderbusses before a battle – his greatest fear was of not havin’ a gun to go ‘BOOM!’ So, he kept ‘em loaded and stacked in that damn box! Well, as luck would have it, he landed in the water between that crate o’ blunderbusses and the nose of the long boat which had broken off and was just floatin’ there, adrift. By Neptune’s unholy trousers! He climbed into the bow o’ that broken boat, dragin’ that crate with him! Ol’ Billy, Chumbucket and meself along with a couple o’ other lads swam up to him, but he just looked at us and said, ‘Ye’ll have to push her, lads! Bring me in close and I’ll get us a new ship!”
Just then, Slappy noticed that Cementhands McCormack had fallen asleep – so he kicked his arse. “Look lively thar, McCormack! I’m tellin’ a bleedin’ story, here, aren’t I?”

“Heard it.” The big man said groggily, “The ending lacks something, somehow.” He yawned and made himself comfortable in the sand again.

“That’s because ye’ve never stayed awake long enough to hear it ye giant sloth!” Slappy barked, but continued. “So thar we were, kickin’ to save our lives and pushin’ that half-boat toward certain doom! Hamnquist called the Frenchies out, ‘Heave to ye merlot-swillin’ cheese-dippers! I’m comin’ to take over yer ship!’ The Frogs gathered by the rail and laughed at the sight of this foolish Iti-Swede and his man-propelled craft. Their captain came over and asked if we wanted to surrender and be hanged in a civilized fashion. Well, Ol’ Hamnquist’s response was to fire off that first blunderbuss and blow the Frog Captain’s head clean off! I tell ye, they were frozen for a few moments as he fired off the second gun and took out their first mate! Then, the scramble began! The Frenchies dashed about the deck, loading cannons and trying to hit what must have looked like a dot amidst the debris of our former ship. They fired muskets, but Ol’ Hamnquist always answered back with one of his seemingly endless supply of blunderbusses. And, in sharp contrast with the Frenchmen, his accuracy was deadly. As luck would have it, they left their rope ladder over the side and when we reached their ship, Cap’n Hamnquist tossed us each a loaded blunderbuss and said, ‘After the boom, all ye’ll have is a club – so make those shots count!’ And by God if we didn’t! We climbed that rope in record time under a hail of musket fire and when we reached the top, we unloaded on the Frenchies takin’ them out o’ the fight a handful at a time! Thems what didn’t have stomach for the fight, we made them crew the ship until we could reach Port Royal. We tried to talk Ol’ Hamnquist into sellin’ the merchantman in favor o’ a sleeker ship, but he said, ‘Why the hell should I? I can sail her just fine and besides, she’ll just get blowed up anyway.’ And that was true. For as great a seaman as Ol’ Hamnquist was, he had bad luck with ships explodin’ underneath him – that was the fourth!”

Chumbucket and George smiled as the pirates around the fire laughed with Cap’n Slappy about Cap’n Hamnquist’s exploding ships.

“But that night in the water, I learned respect not only for Cap’n Hamnquist, but also his weapon o’ choice. In fact, the very same blunderbuss I take into ever battle was the very same blunderbuss he tossed to me as we climbed the Froggy ship! I’m sure ol’ Billy here, still has his – as for Ol’ Chumbucket, he probably sold his to pay off one of his many gambling debts.”

A voice from The Festering Boil floated across the beach in protest. “By Poseidon’s Sweaty Knee-pits, Slappy! Ye know damn well where me blunderbuss is! I shoved it up yer arse seven years ago!”

Cap’n Slappy’s eyes brightened as he recognized the voice of his wayward friend. “When I heard The Boil’s cannon, I figured it had to be either yerself or an overly flirtatious walrus – and dammit! I was hopin’ for the walrus! Send the long boat for me! I’m comin’ aboard!”

Slappy began to make his way from the fire. He stopped to speak to Oscar. “Did you get those stories Billy was tellin’ lad?”

Oscar held up several pages of notes. “He’s a wealth o’ information, isn’t he?”

“Aye, lad!” Slappy replied, “Why don’t ye stay here a few days and record what ye can – a legend like Billy don’t come around too often. We’ll swing back ‘round for ye.”

Oscar wasn’t sure what to say, he just sort of stammered, but Slappy was off. He waded out to meet the long boat – anxious to get Ol’ Chumbucket’s report and tell him the news of their triumph over the powers of darkness and Spanishness thanks to the late, great St. Swithin.

“Why, as I live and breathe!” Slappy declared with exaggerated fondness as he saw Ol’ Chumbucket sipping some of George’s grog. He’d barely climbed aboard when there was an audible commotion on the beach.

“Cementhands is at his ‘Slam Poetry’ again!” Dogwatch said as he looked out at the bonfire in the beach and could hear the familiar refrains of McCormack’s inventive style of poetry which was a challenge to all who listened.

The anonymity of uniformity!
Swollen yellow, like every other fellow
And coming in bunches for all of your lunches
I have a peal and have appeal.

“Are you a Chinese prostitute?” One drunk pirate asked loudly. McCormack first gave him the stink-eye, then, after a moment of thought, swatted him on the head in a patented move he called, “The Wappity.”

“I’m a freakin’ banana, ye infidel!” McCormack declared as he wappitied the idiot once more.

“Just like McCormack! Wait until I’m gone to have a poetry slam!” Slappy mused, but quickly shifted gears. “So, what can you tell me about Spanish shipping, Ol’ Chumbucket?”

“Much!” replied Ol’ Chumbucket, “But I want to hear what happened after we sailed away from the mission – and what happened to The Boil? She looks like a new ship!”

“Well, let’s you, me and George retreat to me cabin and exchanged stories – a condensed version, we must sail with the morning tide! By the by – you were cuttin’ it mighty close!” Slappy admonished.

“I know no better way to cut it!” Ol’ Chumbucket replied. As they moved toward the captain’s cabin, they passed, Keeling, Spencer, Dogwatch and Tharp who were finished with their chores and heading below to bed. Chumbucket stopped in front of them and spoke to Slappy.

“The lads worked hard and are to be commended. Young Tharp here in particular gave good service.”

Slappy approached the young man and placed his arm on his shoulder. “Did ye now? Well. Well done, lad!”

“Cap’n, I’m Dogwatch. Mr. Tharp is over there!” Dogwatch quickly pointed out the Cap’n’s error in identification. Tharp shook his head in disgust. Clearly Slappy was drunk again.

Slappy looked temporarily confused, but tried to recover. “Ah! Yes. Well, it’s dark, you know. And you all did a splendid job, I’m sure! Well done, all of you!” He quickly shuttled Ol’ Chumbucket and George from the main deck below to his cabin. The young men then meandered their way to their bunks. Tharp remained above for a few moments alone.

“The pirate’s life wouldn’t be half bad,” he thought to himself, “if that stupid git Slappy were out of the way and someone like Ol’ Chumbucket took the lead.”

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