Monday, June 26, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 26 “Burn, Benny, Burn!”

“I’ve collected all the red shirts and piled them around the mizzenmast for the red shirt bonfire!” Benny “Barrel Bacon” Postlethwait reported to Cementhands McCormack.

If McCormack had an aide-de-camp, it was Benny. Short, dumpy, stupid and constantly smelling of rotten meat, Benny earned his moniker when he bet McCormack that the big man couldn’t cook bacon on the barrel of a cannon during a sea battle. McCormack, of course, did so, and made himself a nice bacon and egg sandwich which he proceeded to eat under heavy enemy fire. But the name stuck with the man who doubted – Benny.

“And ye’re doing this because Cap’n Slappy doesn’t want any more red shirts on board, correct?” McCormack attempted to clarify just what Benny was up to.

“Aye! I’m gonna burn ‘em for they are like unto witches in their wickedness.” Benny replied with a great deal of dramatic inflection spraying saliva as he spoke – his lispy Ss providing the impetus for most of the verbal moisture.

McCormack crossed his arms as he surveyed the impressive pile of red cloth stacked four feet high around the mizzen. “I’ve got to tell ye, Benny. I don’t think ye’ve thought this one through.”

“Cap’n Slappy says, ‘Benny, them shirts is no good, gather ‘em up and get rid o’ ‘em!’ and I says, ‘How shall I do that, Cap’n Slappy?’ and he says, ‘I don’t care if ye fashion ‘em into one o’ them flyin’ balloons and float away to Zanzibar! I just don’t wanna see another red shirt aboard The Boil by sunrise!’ And I says, ‘Aye Aye! Cap’n Slappy, sir!’ and he says, “Carry on, Benny, ol’ pal! Ye wuz always me favorite!” and I says, “Awe, shucks, Cap’n Slappy, sir! I’m jes’ a sailor what’s doin’ his best.’ And he says, ‘Well, yer best is pretty damn good if ye ask me!’ and I says, ‘I had a good teacher in Mr. McCormack, sir!’ and Cap’n Slappy says, ‘I see. Well, carry on anyways.’ And I says, ‘I will, Cap’n Slappy, sir, thank ye, Cap’n Slappy, sir.’ And that was about it for that.”

McCormack had remained politely silent during Benny’s monologue. He watched as Benny now tried to strike a match.

“Benny, do I smell kerosene?” McCormack asked.

“Aye! Ye can’t expect them shirts just to burst into flames from one match without a little help, now can ye?” Benny’s tone was condescending, but McCormack remained calm.

Benny’s first match broke, so he pulled another and began trying to strike it.

McCormack continued. “Call me crazy, Benny, but I’m thinkin’ there may be a problem with yer burn plan, here.”

Benny broke another match. “Dammit! Well, if’n thar be a problem, it’s because ye didn’t think o’ it first, Big Man! Now, Cap’n Slappy’s gonna be right impressed with me gettin’ rid o’ them red shirts and I’ll probably get a big promotion!” He pulled a third match and began striking it.

The tip of the match finally burst into flame and a big smile crossed Benny’s face. Just then, Cap’n Slappy came upon the scene. Quickly putting two and two together, he grabbed the hand in which Benny held the match and blew it out.

“Great Neptune’s Man-Nipples, man! What the hell are ye doin’?” Then, taking a sniff, Slappy added, “Do I smell kerosene?”

Benny stood up straight and smiled, “Aye Cap’n Slappy, sir! Them red shirts is soaked in it so they burn real good, just like ye said!”

Slappy was clearly confused. “I said?”

“Well, ye said to get rid o’ ‘em – sos that’s what I’m doin’, Cap’n Slappy, sir! I’m burnin’ these devil shirts so they’ll not trouble us again!”

Slappy looked at Cementhands McCormack who made a simple gesture that suggested that this might be a “teachable moment” for Benny, and that Cap’n Slappy was more than welcome to oblige.

“Benny,” Cap’n Slappy began patiently, “Ye’re right! If ye touch fire to them red shirts soaked in kerosene, they’ll burn up real good. Can ye think of anything else that might get burned?”

Benny thought long and hard – for nearly two minutes as Cap’n Slappy and Cementhands McCormack stood and watched. Several times they thought to intervene and just give him the answer, but Benny’s brain seldom got this kind of work-out and they didn’t mind give him a chance to stretch his mental legs.

Without great confidence, Benny made a guess which he finished with a spray of spit. “A walrus?”

Both McCormack and Slappy looked down at their boots as they shook their heads in despair for Benny’s tiny brain.

“Well,” Slappy began, “the fire would have to get pretty hot and the walrus would have to be very close to it – but I suppose ‘a walrus’ is one answer. Here’s another …” Slappy’s voice began to swell as he found himself somewhat frustrated that he would have to spell things out so clearly. “Among the things that might burn in this here bonfire of yours I would include; the deck, the mizzenmast, the boat, all of the pirates on board, all of our stuff as well as any unsuspecting walruses that swim too close to the floating holocaust ye’ve started in an effort to rid us of a few unlucky shirts!”

Benny quickly put his matches away. “Perhaps I should just chuck the whole lot overboard, shouldn’t I?”

“That would’ve been fine before ye soaked ‘em in kerosene, Benny.” Slappy answered. “But as they are, they won’t be very good for our walrus friends, now, would they?”

Benny thought about that for a moment and answered, “No, Cap’n Slappy, sir. I know I wouldn’t like havin’ a bunch o’ kerosene-soaked shirts tossed into my house.”

“So, here’s what I want ye to do, Benny. Cut all them shirts up fore lantern wicks and distribute them amongst the crew – can ye do that without burnin’ down the Boil, Benny?”

“Aye-aye! Cap’n Slappy, sir! I can do that!”

“Then ye best get to cuttin’!” Slappy ordered as he signaled McCormack to join him on the quarterdeck.

“Those wicks will just burn up, Cap’n! They’re no good for lamps.” McCormack pointed out.

“I know that! I was just givin’ Benny a job to do to keep him out of our hair until we rendezvous with Ol’ Chumbucket in a few hours. We’ll take those strips and burn ‘em on the beach.” Slappy replied, “But that’s not why I called ye up here. I wanted to tell ye that I had that dream again.”

“The one where Russian lady with the monkey and a handful of goat cheese is …” McCormack began to guess.

“Goddammit! No! Not THAT dream! A good dream! I dreamt I finally got me hat!”

“The big one?” McCormack asked

“Aye! The big one made out o’ pure gold!” Slappy said dreamily.

“Well, of course, ‘big’ is a relative term. I mean, ‘big’ for yer head is small compared to the actual ‘big’ which is how I would describe my, much larger and handsomer, head.”

This was an ancient quarrel between Cap’n Slappy and McCormack which was nearly resolved at Mad Sally’s Drinking and FloozieWhorehouse Emporium several years earlier when she used a tailor’stailors tape to measure both heads finding Slappy’s to be bigger in hat-line circumference and McCormack’s to be larger in height – when measured from under the chin to over the top of the head.

“Goddammit, McCormack!” Slappy shot back. “Ye know goddam well that my goddam head is bigger than yours!”

McCormack was about to make his customary dismissive coup-de-gras argument when George called from his position at the bow, “Ship Ahoy!”

Nestled in a hidden cove of the island they now circled was a Spanish cargo ship now visible through George’s spy glass. Slappy now hurried to the bow to have a look. He was soon laughing out loud as he handed the glass on to McCormack.

The big man now took his turn and what he saw lightened his heart. Through the spy glass, he could easily see Ol’ Chumbucket, aware he was in view, wearing, of all things, a gigantic hat festooned in gold. He tipped it toward the on-coming Boil in greeting.

“Dibs on the hat.” McCormack chuckled as Slappy tried to regain his composure.

“Hell!” Slappy gasped, “It’s probably too small for my gigantic noggin anyway!”

Thursday, June 22, 2006


The Havana Caper – 25

The captured urca was turning, but the maneuver was achingly slow. Because the Spanish ships had been working against the wind, the sails had been tightly reefed and the pirates from the Boil were struggling through the unfamiliar rigging as musket fire and the occasional cannonball hissed through the air around them. At the helm, Ol’ Chumbucket swore as a bullet tore a hole in the jaunty officer’s hat he had liberated from a jaunty – but dead – Spanish sailor.

“Molly, there’s your target on the starboard bow!” he called to Red Molly, who had organized a group of pirates to man the ship’s cannon. Many of them were useless, as the deck was so crowded with cargo for Spain that the gun ports were blocked. The pirates had only a half dozen on each side to work with.

The ship was now catching the wind blowing off the starboard beam and as the sails began to fill, she surged powerfully into the larboard turn. To the north, the captain of one of the Spanish hulks, more alert than many of his colleagues or less cautious, had seen the pirate attack on the ship and decided to take action. He had closed the distance to about 500 yards and was trying to block the escape Chumbucket and the crew were trying to put into action.

“Ready!” Molly called to her ad hoc gun crews. “Fire as she bears!”

The opposing hulk had just opened fire with a scattered broadside, none of which hit the ship. As the urca completed its turn the starboard guns now bore on the hulk.

“On the up roll!” Molly ordered.

The first gun to get a clear shot barked, throwing its 4-pound ball of iron through the air at 1,000 feet per second. It hit the bow of the ship, pretty much like a fighter swinging a roundhouse right and clocking his opponent on the nose. The effect was not dissimilar, as the bowsprit tore away in a tangle of splinters, cord and canvas. Moments later four of the five remaining balls also found their mark on the ship, which never fired another volley. Instead the hulk sheared off, as if its captain suddenly remembered urgent business elsewhere.

With Lord Shiva’s Eye leading the way, the captured urca now began weaving a path through the lumbering cargo ships. None turned to give chase, but all kept up a steady hail of lead as they hurried to get out of the way and the pirates sought to make good their getaway. In their haste not to engage the buccaneers, two of the Spanish ships closer inshore ran themselves up on reefs, giving the remaining ships something else to worry about.

Meanwhile, the captured urca was picking up speed, its guns blasting defiantly at the other ships and the pirates up in the rigging answering with musket shots at those firing back. Aboard Shiva, Spencer, Tharp and their crew kept up a steady hail of grapeshot on the Spaniards.

“Ahoy the deck!” Peddicord cried from the maintop. “There’s five galleons to the northeast, about two miles out, but they aren’t closing.”

“Keep an eye on them,” Chumbucket answered, as he maneuvered the ship towards the northwest, away from the shoreline.

Fifteen minutes elapsed, in which time the urca began pulling clear of the mob of shipping. Spencer, at the helm of Lord Shiva’s Eye, dropped back so the pinnace could cover the escape.

Peddicord slid down the ratlines, landing with a thump on the quarterdeck.

“Two more sails ahead, hull up and closing,” he reported to Chumbucket. “But those galleons astern don’t seem to be moving at all. I wonder why.”

“I don’t much care why, as long as they decided to leave us alone.”

On the quarterdeck of the lead galleon, La Espuma de la Indecision, Captain Marquez was in a froth of indecision. His admiral had sent him away from the fight with the pirate ship to support the cargo ships about five miles off. They were apparently being beset by something, although no capital ships were in sight. But before the galleons had covered half the distance, Marquez’ lookouts had reported that two of the remaining ships in the fight against the Boil were sinking, and the third seemed to have closed within boarding range of the pirates.

“Do I go back to the aid of the admiral, or do I go help the fleet?” he pondered. “True, the admiral ordered me back to protect the precious cargo, but now he is beset by those cutthroat corsairs. Should I split our force, and send three ships back and two onward?”

It was too much for the captain. He ordered the ship to heave to and ran up signal flags calling the other four captains to a conference in his cabin. It took an hour for them to assemble.

After explaining the situations, Marquez asked for their advice. Captain Juarez noted for the record that the pirate ship now seemed to be pulling away to the northwest and thus did not appear to be a further threat. But Captain Entrerroscaroja noted that the admiral’s flagship now seemed to be crippled and might need their aid.

“Yes, but my lookouts tell me that the fleet is in a turmoil ahead, so perhaps the admiral should look out for his own difficulties while we go back and protect the king’s cargo,” Captain Bolasgrandes said.

Just then there was a knock on the door. An officer was admitted with a report that the signals from the flagship indicated the admiral was now dead, but the pirates were fleeing.

“Excellent!” Marquez said, beaming. “Then it is no longer necessary to come to the admiral’s aid, being as he’s dead and all. I’d suggest returning to the fleet and destroying anyone who still is intent on attacking us.”

“You may suggest that,” Bolasgrandes said, “but you cannot order it as you are not in charge of the fleet.”

“Who is in charge now that the admiral is gone?” Juarez asked.

“Well, Don Trapo del Asno was second in command, but he was aboard El Gallo Sumiso, which exploded so magnificently earlier today, so I think we can safely exclude him from our calculations.”

As the debate about seniority continued with increasing vehemence, it became clear that four of the five had various reasons for calculating that they were now in charge. The four were on the point of drawing swords when the fifth, Captain Entrerroscaroja, reminded them of their duty as Spanish noblemen to conduct their business in a civilized manner.

“I suggest to you there is only one way a true Spaniard could resolve this,” he said, laying his hand across his heart. The others looked at him silently, then smiles of recognition spread across their faces.

“Of course. Thank you Captain Entrerroscaroja. There is only one way. Gentlemen, it is time for ‘Roca, papeles, tijera.’”

The four men stood as one. Each placed his clenched right fist into the palm of his hand, then began counting – “Uno, dos, tres!”

Back on the captured urca, which Chumbucket was ready to rename The Wallowing Pig in tribute to its sailing characteristics, the two remaining sails to the northwest were growing closer. As Chumbucket had guessed, they were galleons whose job it was to ride heard on the stragglers in the fleet. They now had an angle on the pirates and had separated by about two miles to pin them against the coast.

“Our best hope is to sail inshore as close as we dare and try to beat them to that cape,” Chumbucket said to Peddicord, Molly and Butch as they huddled on the quarterdeck in a council of war. “We get around there first and we should be able to outrun them”

“I don’ see how we can beat them there. They can cover any move we make,” Molly said.

“There’s one thing we have going for us,” Black Butch said. “They don’t know who we are.”

“True, but they know we’re gong the wrong way, so SOMETHING’S up, no matter what,” Chumbucket said.

“No, Butch is right. They see one of their ship’s still flying the Spanish flag, and behind us they see a pinnace. If Shiva fired at us a few times, then took off, those galleons would assume we were just being chased by pirates. They’d try to protect us!”

“Yeah, by blowing Spencer out of the water,” Molly objected.

“Not if he’s smart about it,” Peddicord said. “Shiva should be able to outrun those two.”

Chumbucket thought about it, then reluctantly agreed.

“We’ve got just a few minutes before they’re close enough to see what’s going on. Signal Spencer to come in under our lee.”

Spencer brought the pinnace in close and Chumbucket explained the plan. The youngster looked a little ashen, but he nodded.

“You sure that’s the best way?” he asked.

“It’s the only way,” another voice offered. It was Lt. Tharp, who had been manning the swivel guns on the pinnace all day. “The two galleons are just wide enough apart that if we shoot for the gap, we should be able to get past them and lead them a chase all the way to the Keys.”

“Everyone agreed then?” Chumbucket asked. There were nods all around.

“Then let’s get going. Remember where we’re meeting the Boil. We’ll wait for you there. Just remember, powder only on those volleys, got it?”

Moments later the pinnace dropped back. From the decks of the Spanish ships it looked as if they had tried to board but were driven off, and were now coming around to try again. Suddenly smoke billowed as all six starboard guns on the urca fired at the approaching pinnace, which fired back, then veered away and began dashing north, aiming for the gap between the two approaching galleons.

The Spanish threw their helms over and began converging on the tiny ship, which was shooting towards the rapidly closing gap. From the urca, the pirates could do nothing but watch.

“It’s gonna get dicey for them, right about now,” Peddicord said.

The two galleons had wheeled about to fire broadsides at Shiva, but virtually all the shots missed the tiny ship, which flew between them and took off to the north. Obediently, the galleons turned and began the pursuit.

“Peddicord, take the wheel,” Chumbucket said. “Bring us two points to port. We’re aiming for just around that cape where there should be enough ocean for us to get lost in. Sometime tomorrow we can put our prisoners ashore.”

“Right now, I’m going below to see what we’ve captured. We can only hope it was worth all this trouble.”

Saturday, June 17, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 24 “Red Shirts in the Sunset”

Door krullend de kinhaar van mijn moeder!”

Slappy cursed in Dutch, as was his custom in particularly stressful moments. And moments didn’t come laden with much more stress than this one. A flotilla of Spanish war galleons was closing a circle around The Festering Boil which was having some difficulty getting turned in order to regain the wind. Cannonballs were whizzing over the decks so close to their heads that any literate pirate could read the words, “Producto de Madrid” imprinted on the red-hot orb. To their miraculous good fortune, none of the strikes on the hull of the Boil had done any more than dent the wood or chip the paint, but the sails would soon be in range of the grape or chain shot, and then they would be dead in the water – soon after that, just dead.

Cap’n Slappy was frustrated that his exuberance had been the cause of this predicament but he knew there wasn’t time now for self flagellation so he did what he always did when faced with any impossible situation, change the things that were changeable and hope one of them helped.

“Walker! Get over here!” Slappy bellowed at the young sailor who came running up on the double.

The Boil continued exchanging cannon fire with the galleons as Slappy shifted his attention to the young pirate in front of him.

“Aye-aye, Cap’n! Wilton Walker reporting for duty!” The young pirate saluted as he addressed Cap’n Slappy for the first time since coming on board.

“I thought your name was Walter Walker.” Slappy seemed confused.

“No, Cap’n. That’s my cousin. He’s with Mr. Chumbucket and the boarding team.”

Cap’n Slappy choked back his own frustration. How could there be so many people aboard his ship that were easily mistaken for other people aboard his ship! Who does this happen to? It felt like a plot contrivance run amok. But here he was, in the flesh; the spitting image of his cousin. Slappy quickly shook off this temporary thoughtfulness and refocused in the matter at hand.

“Change yer shirt.”

“Begging the cap’n’s pardon?”

“Change yer shirt, lad. Every pirate knows it’s bad luck to wear a red shirt in a sea battle especially if you’re a new pirate on board.”

“But I’m not all that new, Cap’n.” Walker began with some frustration.

“New enough.” Slappy said hoping to end the argument. “Go put on a different color shirt.”

“I’ve been with the crew since we left Port Royal, sir.”

“Which time?” Slappy quizzed.

“What do you mean?” young Walker seemed perplexed.

“Which time we left Port Royal. We’ve left Port Royal a thousand times. Did you join us when we left Port Royal three hundred and thirty six times ago?”

“No, sir.” Walker slumped a little, “Last time.”

“You’re new. Change your shirt.”

“But I wore this shirt in the battle with the Spaniards in the rainforest, sir!” Walker stiffened.

“How many Spaniards did you kill in that shirt?” Slappy demanded.

“Three, Cap’n!” Walker felt himself winning the debate. “It’s me lucky shirt, sir!”

Cap’n Slappy looked at the young man’s desperate face and smiled. “Well lad, I suppose we could use a little luck right about now.”

The word “now,” had just passed Slappy’s lips when he felt the warm, familiar spray of blood splatter on his face. Not quite a Baptist immersion, but more than a Catholic sprinkling. Instinctively, his eyes slammed shut for just a moment but when he re-opened them, he could see the headless torso of young Wilton Walker in a red shirt. The hot Spanish cannonball had so cleanly removed his head and cauterized his veins and arteries that no more blood would be forthcoming. Just a red, meaty wound where a neck used to be.

Walker’s body stood of its own accord for a few moments, even on the pitching ship as she began to catch wind and come about. Slappy stood in stunned silence, still facing the upright corpse.

With the efficiency of a street sweeper removing dead leaves from a gutter, George swooped by as the body began to fall and caught it up like a drunken child bride in his arms as he made for the rail of the ship and tossed it overboard with no more thought to the discharge than one might give a sack of potatoes gone soft with mold and decay. He then returned to Cap’n Slappy’s side and gave him a firm pat on the shoulder.

“You tried to tell him, Cap’n. Red shirts are bad luck in a sea battle.”

With the superstition firmly reinforced and the object of the lesson put unceremoniously over the side, attention turned once again to their precarious predicament. The Festering Boil was finally beginning to regain the wind, but her escape route was in the process of being blocked by two of the Spanish ships; El Cerdo Perezoso, Almirante Antonio Montaña’s flagship, and a war galleon christened, El Gallo Sumiso.

Fortunately for the Boilers, several well-placed cannonballs had opened a breach in El Gallo Sumiso’s hull exposing, as fortune would have it, the area where their barrels of black powder were neatly stacked. Gabriel, Slappy’s cabin boy, was getting a lesson in gunnery from Cementhands McCormack when they spied the opening and the tempting target within. With the patience of a sleeping headmaster, McCormack listened to his pupil calculate the amount of charge he would need and the trajectory of the ball as he carefully lined up the shot. The Boil pitched steadily as she came about, but on the up-swing of one roll, Gabriel touched fire to his cannon and sent a blistering shot directly into the breach. The hope was that a large explosion would upset the gun deck, perhaps disabling some of the guns, but the true result was an explosive inferno of biblical reckoning.

A column of fire shot up from the center of the ship, as though Poseidon himself had thrust a flaming sword up from the depths like an edged-weapons enthusiast excitedly showing off his latest toy. Slappy could imagine the great sea god calling out, “Hey, kids, looky-looky at my fire sword! It burns AND it cuts!”

The two ends of the ship that remained in some semblance of what moments before was an impressive galleon were now gulping water while the shattered center of the ship rained down burning debris on the few sinking survivors. It may have been due to the fact that hey had to shield their eyes from the flash of fire, but no matter the reason, the approaching galleons finally noticed the distress that their distant charges were under along the shoreline and five of them were ordered by the flag ship to reverse course and intervene.

Despite the loss of half his attack force and three of five of his remaining ships being out of commission, Montaña knew that he had the advantage of position on The Boil which now bore down on the Spanish flag ship with surprisingly renewed ferocity.

“¡Almirante! ¡Los piratas están viniendo a la derecha en nosotros!” The lookout on El Cerdo Perezoso called down to his Admiral, who responded calmly.

“Today is ‘Talk Like a Stupid English Person Day’ Estaban! Remember, we all have to speak English – like those stupid English persons!” Montaña admonished in a confident albeit friendly tone of voice.

“Si! – I mean, ‘Jolly Good’ Admirale’! As I was saying, old chum, What-What! Those pirate fellows are coming our way!”

“I know, Estaban! As you can see, I am planning a little surprise for our friends. Like a jack in the box – only instead of a little clown puppet on a spring, my surprise is a volley of cannonballs. And after we fire that volley, we will have time for another volley! Do you not think it is a good surprise, Estaban?”

“Volley Good, Admriale’!”

Montaña frowned, “Do not pun, Estaban! You know how I hate puns!”

The Boil was moving under courses only, with the other sails reefed to provide maneuverability. As the ship came about with the wind on the beam, George looked into the rigging.

“Winds picking up now cap’n,” George said. “You want to spread a little more canvas to get moving?”

Slappy stood on the quarterdeck staring through the spyglass at the flagship in their path.

“Tops’ls and gallants – but hold until my command!” he said, and George repeated the orders in his foghorn voice. Slappy glanced at the Spanish ship gaining on them from behind.

All eyes aboard The Festering Boil turned to Cap’n Slappy as he stood motionless with his eyes fixed ahead.

Leftenant Keeling kept a watch on the on coming ship, Mi Tortuga Curiosa.

“Less than a mile and closing fast!”

“Hold!” Slappy stared dead ahead as a few moments passed.

“Half a mile!”


The crew began looking to George in desperation, but he shook them off with a wag of his head and a cold stare.

“500 yards!”


Suddenly, that first cannon volley came from El Cerdo Perezoso. Most of the crew of The Festering Boil hit the deck and prayed that they wouldn’t meet Walker’s fate. McCormack stood firm and smiled as the missiles approached from the northeast.

With loud bangs in quick tempo, the iron orbs once again bounced harmlessly off the side of The Festering Boil and splashed into the sea. One ball hoping to make itself a nuisance, careened off the deck about three feet in front of McCormack’s big toe in his right foot and took a dramatic bounce high enough to clear the quarterdeck and, having done no damage other than a few soiled britches, sizzled as it broke the surface of the waves.

Almost without paying any heed to the recent excitement, Slappy turned to George and said casually, “Let’s shake out that canvass, shall we?”

“Let fly!” George bellowed.

Relieved riggers quickly released the sails which immediately filled with wind, and The Festering Boil surged forward – even McCormack had to catch his footing.

Mi Tortuga Curiosa had closed to within 300 yards of The Boil, but was unable to turn and show her guns without losing her wind – and her captain knew he had but one job – to chase The Festering Boil into the ever loving arms of Almirante Antonio Montaña.

Dogwatch Watts stood at the wheel taking in the picture that was unfolding all around him. He muttered, “We’re heading into a shit storm!” It was the clearest assessment of the situation.

Frustrated with the lack of penetration, Almirante Antonio Montaña ordered his cannon crew to increase the charge for their remaining volley. But when they touched off the cannons, The Festering Boil had already sped past the projected point of impact and the balls that flew from El Cerdo Perezoso slapped mercilessly into Mi Tortuga Curiosa stopping her dead in The Boil’s wake and opening a gaping hole in her bow allowing sea water to begin filling her hull. The only chance for any of the crew to survive was to try to turn her back to the two disabled vessels before she slid beneath the surface.

And then there were two.

“Pirate up!” Slappy ordered as the crew scrambled for their boarding weapons. Slappy began loading his faithful blunderbuss.

Marines aboard El Cerdo Perezoso began peppering the deck and the rigging with musket balls. Here and there, a few pirates fell, but The Boil came on.

With the heavy crunch of wood, like a sledge hammer crashing through a door, The Festering Boil’s bow landed sharply in El Cerdo Perezoso amidship and with the percussion of Cap’n Slappy’s blunderbuss as the starting shot 50 pirates streamed onto her decks in a torrent of mayhem and destruction.

Antonio Montaña was accustomed to a good sea fight and he, too had a marvelous blunderbuss. In his red shirt, he was easily identified and Mario led a pack of pirates to within yards of the Spanish admiral.

“Say ‘Hallo’ to my little friend!” Montaña declared cheerfully in his best English accent as it was still, Talk Like a Stupid Englishman Day and nothing was going to deter him from participation.

The shrapnel from his thunder gun cut deeply into the flesh of all the oncoming pirates, but one was undeterred. Mario was a woman dressed as a man on a mission.

Blood spilled from the wound in her cheek as she launched herself with dagger and cutlass at the admiral. Montaña fended off the first assault with his now-empty gun, but quickly tossed it aside and drew his own saber and reached for his boot knife. This proved to be a fatal mistake because as he stooped down to retrieve the knife, Mario moved quickly in and plunged her, or rather, his dagger between Montaña’s ribs.

With a look of devastation and horror, Antonio Montaña looked her in the eye, and knowing a woman had just killed him on Talk Like a Stupid Englishman Day, asked, “Pardon me, miss, but what hideous thing did I ever do to you?”

The life was quickly draining out of him, but Mario took his face in her, or rather, his right hand and made him look at her. A realization suddenly grabbed him as he looked at his killer’s face carefully. “Oh.” He nodded, “Right – Jolly Good.”

With the death of the admiral, the Spanish crew quickly surrendered and they were brought to the center of the deck. McCormack took a small work crew and began spiking their guns as Slappy addressed the crew.

“Normally, I would speak to you in your native language, but since today is Talk Like a Stupid Englishman Day and my Spanish is abominable anyway, I will, rather, address you in an exaggerated English accent complete with over the top idioms, Jolly Good?”

“Jolly Good!” the Spanish crew called back as one.

Slappy then explained that they would be free to return to their pleasant little armada as soon as their guns were spiked and half their sails were commandeered.

“Additionally, we will be helping ourselves to a spot of your splendid tea – and by ‘splendid tea,’ I of course mean that chest of gold my men found in the admiral’s quarters.”

When the work was done, The Festering Boil began to sail away. Doc Burgess met Cap’n Slappy on the quarterdeck to give the casualty report.

“Several wounded, but mostly superficial – I’ll sew ‘em up and they’ll be good as new.”

“And the dead?”

“Six. No! Seven counting young Walker.” Burgess hesitated. “And they were all wearing red shirts.”

“That’s it! I’m declaring Crazy Eddie’s Red Shirt Emporium in Port Royal off limits! I don’t care if his prices are so low he must be insane! I don’t want to see another red shirt on The Boil!”

And with that, Cap’n Slappy wrote himself a note reminding him to put the new “No Red Shirt” policy on the agenda for next month’s staff meeting.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


The Havana Caper – 23

Five eyes squinted into five spyglasses as the pirates stalked their prey among the urcas and hulks pressed in close to the shore.

“That one’s close, and she looks like she’s in trouble,” Spencer said, eyeing a target. “We could be on her in no time.”

Ol’ Chumbucket gave her a long look before dismissing her. “She’s giving too much leeway. She’ll be on the reef before we could get to her, and then where would we be?”

“How about that one?” Tharp said, drawing their attention to a ship a little farther out.

Red Molly gave the lumbering hulk a long, appraising glance.

“I don’t know,” she said doubtfully. “We’ve got to sail away in her, and that looks so slow we’d have to get out and pull.”

“That’s the one,” Wellington said, his eye on a third ship. The other four swung their glasses to her. The ship in question was about a mile offshore, struggling into the wind. She rode low in the water, obviously laden with something heavy and hopefully precious, but wasn’t wallowing. And she looked in somewhat better shape than many of the other ships.

“I like it,” Chumbucket said. “We’ll have to slip by a couple of ships and things could get dicey, but I think you’re right, Mr. Peddicord. Let’s go get her.”

The five pirates clambered back into their boats and Chumbucket, from the stern of Spencer’s pinnace, Lord Shiva’s Eye, called across the water to the two longboats, each containing 20 well-armed buccaneers manning the oars.

“You know what to do, lads! Nothin’ fancy!” he shouted. “Straight at ‘em, then hit ‘em hard and fast! Let’s go!”

The pirates leaned into their oars and began pulling towards the ship. With sails fully set and 14 men on the sweeps, Shiva surged out ahead. Chumbucket took a moment to scan to the northeast, where the Festering Boil was offering itself as bait to the galleons that were supposed to be protecting the cargo ships.

“In and out, Slappy, just like a trip to Madame Svetlana’s” Chumbucket said to himself. “Don’t try to fight ‘em, just in and out.” He couldn’t see the Boil, but the distant line of galleons was swinging in well-ordered precision. “Somebody over there knows what he’s doing,” Chumbucket fretted. “If Slappy’s not careful those ships on the south end of the line might get the wind of him.”

But there was no point in worrying, and nothing he could do to help anyway. He turned his attention back to the business at hand.

The sound of cannon fire echoing across the water from the distant battle kept most of the Spanish sailors’ attention to the north, away from the shore and the approaching pirates, so the three-boat flotilla went unnoticed at first. Shiva crossed the bow of the first urca just as she ground hard onto the reef, as predicted, and even if someone aboard had spotted them for what they were, he would be too busy for the next few hours to care.

The pirates were beginning to draw some attention now. Sailors manning the rails of the Spanish ships to watch for reefs were pointing and calling out. It would be only a matter of time before someone figured out what was up and opened fire. The pinnace had now covered about half the distance to the prize, the longboats somewhat less.

“Bring her up a little to port,” Chumbucket told Spencer, and the young man at the helm complied. Ships had spotted the grounded urca and were slowing, whether to help or avoid making the same mistake wasn’t clear and didn’t matter.

“Getting a little crowded in these waters,” Chumbucket said with forced nonchalance.

Spencer, taking his cue from the more experienced pirate, nodded and said with affected casualness, “I HATE it when the pleasure boaters are out.”

Shiva had about a quarter mile to go when the first shots rang out. A hulk that had passed them to the south was now trying to turn to offer a broadside, but wasn’t yet able to bring its guns to bear. Small arms fired at them from the rigging, but at that distance it was nothing to worry about – yet. Some of its rear guns opened on the longboats trailing Shiva, but the splashes were far beyond the pirates, almost striking a cutter that was coming up from the other side to cut them off. The interloper sheared off and the longboats gained precious distance on the small ship.

Gun ports on the prey were now opening and a handful of cannon being run out. Sailors were racing up the rigging with muskets, and the captain seemed to finally be making some effort to defend his ship. Musket balls were smacking into the railings, and the men on the sweeps crouched lower as they pulled closer. It was easier on them than those in the more exposed longboats as the cannons offered a ragged volley.

Aboard the first longboat, Wellington Peddicord kept his crew focused.

“Straight at ‘em!” he shouted. “Don’t mind the guns, they’ll never hit us!”

At that moment a four-pound ball whizzed overhead close enough that, had anyone been standing they’d suddenly be a lot shorter. A second shot raised a geyser of water just feet to larboard. The boat’s bow came up out of the water, then slammed back down with a thump. Nineteen ashen-faced pirates stared accusingly at Wellington, who just shrugged and urged them on.

“Alright, I lied! Guess we’re gonna have to get to that ship and spike the guns. ROW, you sons of bitches!”

The longboat surged forward as the pirates found new inspiration for getting to the target as quickly as possible. Noticing their pale faces, Wellington chuckled to himself. “One of the many advantages of being black apart from my naturally good looks,” he thought to himself. “They can’t see I’m as scared as they are.”

This was the hard part, Chumbucket thought as they neared the prey, ignoring the flying lead and keeping on. The small-arms fire had grown like a swarm of bees, and glancing into the waist of the ship he could see several men had fallen from their oars with blood staining their shirts.

“One more minute and we’ve got ‘em!” Chumbucket yelled. “Swivel guns ready?”

“Aye!” Tharp shouted from the starboard rail where the two small cannon were mounted.

“Steady on!” The rain of balls was now pelting the small ship from two directions, as another of the urcas turned to offer support to the targeted ship.

“Damn, this is really getting annoying,” Chumbucket said to Spencer, whose jaw was locked in grim determination as he kept the ship’s prow pointing steadily at the looming bulk of the prey. Chumbucket saw a man aboard the ship level a musket at the ship and hesitate, as if seeking a target. The hesitation was his undoing. Chumbucket whipped his pistol from his belt and fired. The shot went wide, but not so wide that it didn’t give the would-be marksmen pause, and his head ducked back below the rail.

“Almost there!”

The ships were now less than a hundred yards apart. Chumbucket’s lone, vain pistol shot had so far been the only response to the hail of lad from the larger ship. The pirates could see two of the cannon run back out, their gun crews having reloaded and ready to fire again.

Seventy yards. Fifty.

“Hard a port! Mr. Tharp, open fire!”

As Shiva slued alongside, offering her broadside, the two swivel guns barked and sent a rain of grapeshot over the other ship. At that range it was deadly. Men staggered back from the railing of the Spanish ship and those pirates not pulling an oar added their muskets to the carnage.

“Bring her in!”

The distance closed. The buccaneers dropped their oars and readied their lines. As the ship’s collided – Shiva’s bow to the Spaniard’s stern – a dozen grappling hooks sailed over the railing, followed by pirates storming up the side.

First to the top was Walker, who leaped to the rail and fired his pistol into the mass of Spanish on the quarterdeck. From the pinnace it was impossible to see what or who he’d hit. But as he reached for his cutlass, he toppled backward, a musket ball lodged in his brain, and fell back to Shiva’s deck.

“The fool!” Chumbucket said. He was now halfway up the side, and could see that the other pirates were following the safer practice – if there could be a safe practice in boarding an enemy ship against unknown odds. They hurdled over the railing and got themselves on the deck rather than making targets of themselves while perched dramatically on the railing. Chumbucket reached the top.

“Here goes Old Mother Chumbucket’s boy again,” he breathed, and vaulted the splintered railing.

Hitting the deck, he rolled, and a good thing too, as 30 inches of Toledo steel split the deck where his head had been. Chumbucket reached for his belt and his second pistol, and a moment later his second shot of the day had found its mark and a Spanish officer lay dying on the deck.

A roar from below signaled a second volley from the swivel guns and Tharp’s gun crew had cleared the waist of the ship just as the two longboats came up alongside. The pirates heaved their grappling hooks, and soon the embattled Spaniards were pressed in from both sides.

Black Butch the Dutchman, who had been part of the contingent on Shiva, found himself squaring off against a man in a heavily ribboned uniform. They traded passes, the Spaniard with his rapier and Butch with his heavier, shorter cutlass. The man lunged, the point of his steel aimed at the pirate chef’s heart, but Butch was able to parry the thrust to his right. He continued the move, spinning clockwise while his left hand reached into his sash and drew his cleaver. Completing the spin, his cutlass again flashed against the officer’s blade while the cleaver flew through the air and embedded itself in the man’s chest.

Just like that the Spanish crew was without its captain. Butch put his boot on the man’s torso and tugged out the cleaver. “I’ll be needing that to make tomorrow’s dinner,” he apologized to the corpse.

As the pirates stormed aft from the bow, there was little fight left in the Spanish sailors. Red Molly cut down one man who tried to rally the crew, and Wellington placed a pistol shot down the throat of a man who took a swing at him wth a ramrod.

The Spaniards were pressed towards the middle of the ship, death on either side. As they fought, the pirates kept repeating a phrase they’d been taught – “¡No le pagan bastante! ¡No le pagan bastante!”

The ship’s bosun faced off against Molly, who raised her cutlass and shouted it again, “¡No le pagan bastante!” The man looked at his feet, where a member of his crew lay with Butch’s paring knife sticking out of his eye socket. They were right. He wasn’t paid enough for this. The man dropped his weapon and raised his hand. “¡No mas! ¡No mas!” he shouted. His shipmates quickly followed suit.

The Spanish sailors were herded below and the pirates immediately sprang to the task of turning the ship. The other cargo ships had seen what was happening and were beginning to close in.

“Molly! Can you give me a half dozen guns on the starboard ready to fire?”

“Aye aye!” she shouted, and quickly assembled a score of pirates and put them to work getting the guns ready. Peddicord, meanwhile, led a dozen sailors up the masts where they began working the unfamiliar rigging to bring the ship around.

“Spencer!” Chumbucket yelled down to the pinnace. “Do what you can to discourage that fellow! She’s showing a little too much interest in us!”

Spencer, Tharp and the four crewmen left on Shiva quickly hacked away the lines tying the two ships together, and the smaller vessel turned into the breeze, challenging the much larger but ungainly urca. Tacking across the freight ship’s bow, Shiva unloosed another salvo of grapeshot and the unwanted visitor flinched, sluing to starboard.

Pirates were still tossing bodies over the side as Chumbucket took the helm. He gave it a heave and she answered. “Well that’s something,” he said to himself, as he heaved the wheel to port. Then much louder, “Mr. Peddicord! Let’s shake out some canvas. I don’t want to be here when those galleons come back.”

“Aye sir, we’ll be under way in five minutes!”

“Make it two!” Chumbucket shouted as a volley from another nearby ship splashed into the water fifty feet away.

The canvas finally began sheeting home and filling, and the ship began turning, but it was ungodly slow. Shiva dodged under the stern of the ship and headed towards another urca that seemed inclined to dispute possession of the prize, and more cannon balls fell, some striking home against the sides of the ship.

“Molly, those guns ready?”

“Aye! Give me something to shoot at!”

“Steady on! As we come around you’ll have a target in just a minute! Just fire as she bears!””

Suddenly, there came a roll of distant thunder. Heads jerked up and turned to the source of the sound, to the northeast. Even in the bright sunlight they could see a stab of flame and a column of smoke beginning to rise about five miles off.

“What the hell was that?” Butch asked.

“We’ll find out when we find out,” Chumbucket said grimly. “Right now we’ve got a little more work to do.”

Sunday, June 11, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 22 The Reach Around

“Let me get this straight.” Young Dogwatch began, trying to make sense of the strategy even as he steered The Festering Boil toward the flotilla of Spanish ships, twenty-two urcas (slow-moving cargo ships laden with gold and treasure) and ten swift war galleons, heavily armed and itching for a fight. “We’ve sailed around the armada to the north so we can attack from the northeast with the wind at our shoulder. We’re trying to draw their galleons into a fight so they’ll send the urcas toward the island for cover where Ol’ Chumbucket and his boarding party will commandeer one or more of them and sail away before the Spanish know what hit them. Then, we’ll avoid the fight we invited and escape to rendezvous with Ol’ Chumbucket at a pre-determined location somewhere off the coast of Cuba?”

The gathering of senior officers and crew stood in amazement at Dogwatch’s grasp of the situation.

“You, sir, have a talent for exposition! Have you considered the possibilities of a career in summation or perhaps abbreviation?” Cementhands McCormack asked thoughtfully.

Cap’n Slappy cut through the teasing, “Yes, lad! We are employing a strategy I call The Reach Around.”

This was met with a look of dumbfounded blankness by the young navigator, so Slappy continued with an illustration.

“Let’s say you’re dancing with a nice young woman – Mr. McCormack, if you and the good doctor would be so kind as to illustrate my point.”

At the captain’s request, Cementhands McCormack snatched Doc Burgess up in his arms and began to dance a schottische with him around the deck while George, Salty Jim and the others assembled began humming a tune in spirited time.

“Must you always lead, McCormack? Perhaps someone else wants to be the man for a change!” Doc Burgess protested, but McCormack’s eyes were closed and he was lost in the moment. Slappy continued.

“As the mood heats up, what began as a lively folk dance now becomes a slow dance.”

The hummers now change their tune and, in his deep, gravelly voice, George the Greek begins singing these words;

As time goes on – I realize – Just what you mean – to me. And now
Now that you’re near
Promise your love
That I’ve waited to share
And dreams
Of our moments together
Color my world with hope of loving you.

“Now observe as Cementhands enfolds the good doctor in his loving arms making him feel safe and secure.”

He did, and Doc Burgess looked increasingly alarmed with the level of man-on-man affection.

“Then, subtly, without fanfare, he reaches around and takes a handful of his dance partner’s bottom and gives it just a little squeeze.”

Cementhand’s big calloused hand took a fist-full of Doc Burgess’ buttocks and began kneading it like bread.

“Why, I know of ONE doctor who’s been working out!” Cementhands said in his smarmiest voice.

Burgess’ southern gentleman was in fully offended mode, “Unhand me, sir, at once!”

As the fondling continued, Sawbones reacted by first burning bright red with rage, then beating the villain on the chest like the heroine in one of McCormack’s famous melodramas performed once a fortnight for the enjoyment of the crew.

“The erstwhile dance partner is now an enraged hornet of sexual repression whose only recourse is to blindly attack the groper.”

McCormack released the doctor who then proceeded to chase him around the deck sputtering makeshift obscenities and threatening to do things no man of medicine could ever morally do.

“The fact that we are flying our pirate colors and charging an armada of heavily armed Spanish ships without a care in the world will so offend their Spanish sensibilities, they’ll have no choice but to go all Burgess on us and forget who it was they had come to the dance with – the urcas.”

Hearing his name used as an adjective meaning engorged with rage and flailing about, the doctor regained control of his senses. “I hope my performance lived up to the captain’s expectations!” he said stiffly.

“More! More!” Slappy shot back cheerfully. “In fact, your performance was so convincing, I’ll be giving you a captain’s share of the booty!” Burgess smiled at the promise of untold wealth

“That is,” Slappy continued, “assuming we don’t get sloppy and end up holding our own ass! Now, let’s take our stations – Beat to quarters!”

With that call and Dogwatch’s ensuing drum roll, the crew of The Festering Boil sprang into action.

She was, in fact, bearing down quickly on the Spanish line and, as predicted, the urcas were being sent for the shelter of the island’s shore line while the galleons turned to meet the threat – but they were sailing into the wind and had some difficulty making headway.

Slappy stood on the bow and watched the galleons attempt to maneuver against the wind. “Not all Spanish captains are created equal.” He thought to himself aloud.

“Captain, I have a request.”

Even without looking, Slappy knew the voice. It was Mario – the female pirate who disguised herself as a male despite the fact that she had been rescued from drowning and found out – invited to be a part of the crew as a woman seeing as The Festering Boil was an equal opportunity pirate employer – the first of its kind and last, but certainly not least, despite the fact that she was the worst disguise artist in the history of cross-dressing. Hell! McCormack made a more convincing woman than “Mario” did a man – still, the choice had been left to her – or rather, “him,” and Slappy had decided to go along with whatever she, or rather, “he,” decided.

But her naturally husky voice would not have been an issue either way – it was the best natural part of her deception. (The worst, being her remarkably buxom cleavage tucked tightly into a shirt ready to burst with breasts.) Unfortunately, she occasionally tried to over-emphasize the manliness of her voice which had the effect of causing that pain one feels when one sees someone attempt something so badly one can’t help but feel embarrassment for them.

“Captain, Sir! That galleon in the center there …” Mario began, “That’s the El Cerdo Perezoso is it not?”

“Correct!” Slappy said smiling. “I know one young ma - … uh, pirate who’s been reading the Know Your Spanish Galleons section of Pirattitude Monthly. Very good!” Slappy tried to make eye contact, but when his eyes weren’t drawn to her ample bosom, they were fixed steadily on her “mustache” which seemed to be nothing more than some soot that had been smeared on her upper lip – some days, she added a small patch of soot under her lower lip and above her chin – but that was a fashion statement more than anything.

“Aye, Captain!” it was clear that Mario was building up to something, but for the life of him, Cap’n Slappy couldn’t figure out what it would be. “She’s Almirante Antonio Montaña’s flagship.”

There was a pause, while Cap’n Slappy waited for some piece of information that seemed to be in the offing. Hearing none, he cut to the chase.

“… and this is of import to me because …” Cap’n Slappy was not in the habit of drawing out information, but Mario left him no choice. Finally she, or rather, he spoke with clarity and conviction.

“I need to kill him.”

Cap’n Slappy looked at Mario – this time, her, or rather, his cleavage and phony mustache did not get in the way of the deep sincerity of that sentiment. Mario, did, in fact, want to kill Almirante Antonio Montaña and Slappy was left with only one question.

“Apart from his general Spanishness, may I ask, ‘why’ you need to kill him?”

“Would you believe me if I told you that he was once the military adjunct who slaughtered the people of my village while looking for rebels who challenged his dominance and made fun of his little dog?” Mario’s left eyebrow was lifted in expectation that this explanation would suffice.

“No.” Slappy replied matter-of-factly. “No, I wouldn’t believe that story, but it doesn’t matter. We’re not boarding any of these galleons – just doing a little ‘reach-around’ and getting them to chase us for a bit – perhaps disable a few of them with cannon fire, but we’re not ‘getting personal.’ So, there’ll be no vendetta completion today. Sorry.”

Reach around? What’s a ‘reach around?’” Mario’s disappointment in Cap’n Slappy’s answer was distracted by this strange tactic he was describing. Just then, Saucy Jenny approached the bow.

“It’s like this,” Cap’n Slappy began as he asked Saucy Jenny to dance – she blushed but complied. He continued, “Let’s say you’re dancing a schottische and then it turns into a slow dance …”

Suddenly the surface of the water exploded in a spray of brine that soaked the three of them to the skin and swept Mario’s soot mustache completely off her face. This was followed by the rumble of cannon fire from the distant deck of the Spanish flag ship. Slappy released his dance partner and ordered them to their stations.

“Hard to port!” he called up to Dogwatch who was still at the helm. “Prepare to return fire!”

The Festering Boil came hard to port and unleashed a savage volley of her own which landed directly on the deck of the galleon to starboard of El Cerdo Perezoso. One or two of the well-placed cannon balls made quick work of La Cabra Infeliz’s mizzenmast. A great cheer went up from The Festering Boil as the tall centerpiece of the Spanish galleon came crashing to her decks leaving her at a severe mobility disadvantage.

“Did everyone get a nice feel of Spanish bum?” Cap’n Slappy called to his crew in exhortation. They answered as one, “Si! Is Very Nice!”

“Then, let’s bring The Boil about and see if our port guns can cop a feel as well!”

Dogwatch brought the ship around just as the Spanish had fired in the space where she was headed. One errant cannonball did, however, strike the side of The Boil causing a tremendous crunching sound. Cap’n Slappy rushed to the rail to see what damage had been done.

“By Neptune’s fishy bottom!” Slappy declared, “Salty Jim, come here!”

The ship’s carpenter obliged and was treated to a remarkable sight – remarkable only in that the only visible evidence that a cannonball had struck her side was a slight discoloration in The Boil’s paint job.

“Great Poseidon’s fleshy love handles! A direct hit and nothing but a scratch!” Slappy patted the carpenter on the back.

“But Cap’n!” Jim protested, “I don’t remember doing anything to that section of the hull.”

Slappy didn’t have time to argue, he was trading cannon fire with nine Spanish war galleons so he kept his compliments short and to the point.

“Still!” And with a word and a wink he was off to direct the next volley.

As they came about, the sails began to droop.

“He gets so exuberant during a sea battle without Ol’ Chumbucket here to moderate his enthusiasm.” George said wistfully to Dogwatch who showed great concern at their loss of momentum. “He sometimes loses the wind.”

“FIRE!” Slappy ordered and the deck of The Festering Boil roared to life in smoke and flame as the port side guns launched a furious volley toward the Poco de la Madre Caja del Apretón. It was another strategic success utterly destroying her rudder and leaving her to the whims of the current and the wind.

There was no time for celebration, Slappy knew that his emotions had gotten the best of him and they now had to tack about to get the wind behind them. The Spanish, however, were now making good time and signals from the flag ship were easily read aboard The Festering Boil. Of course, the Spaniards didn’t care. They had no need of secrets. They had overwhelming numbers.

“The eight remaining ship are maneuvering to box us in.” George whispered in Slappy’s ear.

“Aye,” the captain replied, “It appears the Spanish are showing us their own version of the reach around.”

Monday, June 05, 2006


The Havana Caper – 21

“Anything?” Ol’ Chumbucket asked.

“Not yet,” Red Molly said from high up in the palm tree, her spyglass focused on Lord Shiva’s Eye, cruising about two miles offshore.

“Damn,” Ol’ Chumbucket sighed. “They should be here by now. I don’t mind going into battle against impossible odds, that’s all in a day’s work. But this waiting is going to kill me.”

“Heads up!” Molly called, and Chumbucket barely had time to duck out of the way before a coconut plummeted out of the tree and missed his head by inches.

“There,” Molly said. “Something to worry about besides when the Spanish are going to get here. Now quit yer fussin’. Ho, now what’s this?”

She looked up and through the glass saw a signal flag flying from the pinnace.

“Never mind, she’s comin’ in,” Molly reported.

An hour later Lieutenant Tharp and Spencer were wading through the surf, the pinnace bobbing at anchor a hundred yards offshore. They headed towards where Chumbucket was splayed out under another palm tree – he wasn’t going to risk sitting under Red Molly’s perch again – with a bottle of rum in one hand, the other clutching half of the coconut that had almost struck him. It was now split open, emptied and filled with a tangy seafood concoction cooked up by Black Butch, the chef of the Festering Boil. Most ships had cooks, and their crews were lucky if the person holding the job could cook salted beef. The Boil had a chef, formerly the head chef of a five star Caribbean restaurant who had signed aboard to escape the tedium of landlocked life.

“What are we eating tonight?” Spencer asked. “Smells good.”

“It is good, if you can teach yerself to forget that a conch is a kind of sea slug,” Chumbucket said. “I was doing fine with it until you talked and reminded me. It’s gonna take me a minute now to be able to choke down any more. Either of you want this?” He held up his coconut bowl. Tharp looked hesitant at the word “slug,” but Spencer happily took it and started slurping it down. He’d lived virtually his whole life at sea, and wasn’t going to be squeamish when there was good conch to be had.

“We had a message from the Boil,” Tharp said. “Slappy said there’s still no sign of the treasure fleet, they’re cruising north again as soon as it gets dark but they plan to be back by morning, and would we please send Black Butch back because Cementhands is trying to cook and it doesn’t bear thinking about.”

Chumbucket grinned. “Next time you see him, remind Slappy HE was the one who assigned the starboard watch to this mission, and that includes Butch. Sorry. We‘re keeping him. Besides, Butch told me he left plenty of ‘Pig Trotters Helper,’ so McCormack shouldn’t be having THAT much trouble.”

“Where’s Molly?” Tharp asked. Chumbucket pointed up into the neighboring tree.

“Keeling sent her a message. Says he’s doing fine and not to worry about him. He’s completely over the hangover and is back on light duty. His shoulder is still bound, so he’s one-armed, but he’s feeling better and hopes to be back in action by the time the Spaniards get here.”

“Speaking of which,” Tharp continued, “when ARE they getting here? We’ve been on this beach four days now. This waiting is getting hard.”

Chumbucket put his forefinger to his lips and signaled for Tharp to be quiet. “You want to watch that, boy, or you might get a coconut in yer ear.” He glanced significantly at Molly in the nearby tree. “You two get something to eat. Spencer, can I send yer pinnace out with a couple of the other men while you rest?”

“I’ll take another couple of crewmen if Tharpy here wants to rest, but I’d feel more comfortable going out with my boat. It’s all I own.”

“Aye lad, that’ll be fine. Tharp, yer off duty. Pull up a piece of beach and get some rest. After a bowl of this delicious conch stew.”

Tharp made a face, and went off to see what else Butch had cooked up for their dinner.


The morning was much as the evening had been, with a Technicolor sunrise substituting for last night’s Technicolor sunset, and a breakfast of cackle fruit and conch fritters substituting for dinner’s conch stew with mixed jungle greens. Black Butch was well on his way to completing his latest cookbook, “Savory Slugfest: Fifty recipes for Serving Conch.” Wellington Peddicord had replaced Red Molly in the tree, spyglass fixed on the horizon as he scanned for a signal from Lord Shiva’s Eye, which was now out of sight but bound to return shortly.

On the beach, Ol’ Chumbucket was organizing the crew, making sure each man’s weapons were at the ready, cutlass, pistol, boarding axe and knives, along with many personal, individualized items of mayhem. That was the worst of the waiting, he thought. Everyone lolled on the beach drinking rum, forgetting about business. They’d been here four days and already this idiot sailor had forgotten where he’d left his pistol.

“Do you suppose it got up and walked off by itself?” he asked the man, whose normally savage face now bore the bewildered look of a six-year-old who’d misplaced his shoes.

“Uh, no, I reckon not sir.”

“Very well then, where was the last place you remember having it?”

“Over by them coconut trees, sir?”

“Why is that a question? Why are you asking me? DID you have it over by the coconut trees over there or not?”

The man screwed up his face, thinking hard. Finally he nodded. “Yes sir. Over there under them trees.”

“Then I suggest that’s where you begin looking.”

“Aye sir.” The sailor jogged off.

“Holy leaping sea serpents!” Chumbucket exploded to no one in particular. “Walker has got to be the dumbest sailor on anyone’s ship!”

He was turning to a group of pirates who were still patting themselves down to make sure they all had their weapons and wouldn’t be subject to Chumbucket’s scorn when a whistle split the air.

“Sail ho!” Wellington called. “It’s Spencer!”

Chumbucket ran over to the tree where the lookout perched. His eyes scanned the ocean but could make out only the barest break on the horizon to indicate where a sail might be approaching.

“Can you make anything out?” he called up into the tree.

“Not yet. She’s hull down, but heading straight this way. Not much to tell yet. Give it half an hour or so.”

It was a long half hour. All the pirates were gathered on the beach or up in the trees, trying to get some glimpse of the approaching ship. Ol’ Chumbucket paced. There was little talk.

Finally, it was Wellington who broke the silence. He was in the tallest tree and had the ship’s best spyglass.

“It’s Shiva’s Eye alright. She’s flying some kinda signal, but I can’t make it out. The wind’s right at his stern, so the flags are streaming straight at us.”

“What color are the flags?”

“Can’t really tell. Wait, she’s tacking, hold on.”

A long, long five seconds passed.

“YELLOW SIR! She’s flying yellow flags from the mast and bowsprit.”

The tension was released with an explosive shout from every pirate on the beach. The yellow flag was the signal that the Spanish were on their way.

“Alright lads! Let’s get ready to go!” Chumbucket shouted.

But there was still plenty of time. Lord Shiva’s Eye would be a good two hours ahead of the Spanish treasure fleet, of which there was as yet no sign on the horizon. An hour later the pinnace was drawn in close to the shore and Spencer was splashing through the surf at a dead run.

“They’re coming!” he shouted. “We were up the strait right at dawn, tied up alongside the Boil, when we spotted the sails. By the time we’d turned to run back there were dozens of ‘em. The horizon looked like a city afloat! It was amazing.”

Walker came running up to Ol’ Chumbucket.

“And look sir! I found me pistol!” the pirate said excitedly. “Right under the tree where I thought it was. It’s cleaned and ready to go!”

“Excellent!” Chumbucket turned to the assembled crew. “Alright everyone! There’s time for a good meal, then let’s get to the boats. We want to be just off that headland when they get here, and we won’t be eating again until afterwards.”

There was a roar from the sailors, notwithstanding the fact that the good meal Butch was preparing undoubtedly was more conch.

“We’ll be in action before the sun goes down!” Chumbucket shouted. To himself, he added, “And before the sun goes down, most of us will be rich but some of you will be dead.”


The Festering Boil was running north. They were out of sight of the Spanish for the moment, but soon they would swing back around and fall on the fleet from the northeast.

“Ready, George?” Slappy asked. “It’s about time to see if they take the bait.”

“Aye,” George the Greek agreed. “I’d just be happier if we weren’t the bait.”


Aboard the royal galleon El Cerdo Perezoso, the flagship of the treasure fleet, Almirante Antonio Montaña, was in his accustomed place on the leeward side of the quarterdeck. He was a fighting admiral, one who had won several gallant battles for his king. He hated this convoy duty, herding a fleet of fat, ungainly urcas and hulks across the ocean like so much cattle on their way to market. Still, it was an important job and one that might earn him a title when he got back to Spain with the treasure to bolster the kingdom’s faltering finances.

Several hours ago his lookout had spotted a sail to the north, but the ship had disappeared over the horizon before it could be identified. Probably a smuggler or merchantman, his officers had concluded, not eager to run into such a large fleet. Still, Montaña was unhappy. Nothing had gone quite right since the fleet had assembled off Havana. First the storm, then the incident with the sneak thief in the bordello. The constant headwinds that they’d fought for a week, making progress slow. Now a sail. Probably nothing. Probably insignificant.

But Almirante Montaña hadn’t risen to his present rank, let alone survived a very active life at sea, by ignoring that tickling feeling in the pit of his stomach, the buzz in the back of his mind that something wasn’t quite right.

“Esteban, run up the signals. I want the galleon screen to shift to the northeast and the freight ships to tack towards shore.”

A signal cannon from the flagship alerted the others to the signals. With uncanny precision, the 10 leading galleons each in turn threw their helms over and brought their line into a new bearing.

“It’s probably nothing, but then again …” Montaña thought to himself as his ship took the lead on the new tack.

Friday, June 02, 2006


The Havana Caper – Part 20 “The I LOVE YOU GUYS Stage”

The sharpened scissors caught the light from the lantern and bounced it into Leftenant Keeling’s eyes. “Is this absolutely necessary?” The young pirate wearily swayed back and forth on the operating table.

“By Gawd, young man!” Doc Burgess shot back testily. “Do I tell you how to go about givin’ a shirker a good flogging?” He snapped the scissors shut several times making a crisp metallic click each time.

Keeling couldn’t take his eyes off the flashing cutting instrument and replied with uncharacteristic sheepishness. “No.”

“Well then brace yerself, lad! Ye need to trust me! I am a friggin’ doctor, y’ know!” Burgess punctuated this statement with an eerie moment of gleeful giggling.

“And he’s not a half bad barber!” Cementhands McCormack, who had been seated in the barber chair receiving his customary pre-raid haircut, declared in support of the good doctor’s many skills. He glanced into a hand held mirror and remarked to Burgess, “Ye missed a spot by me left ear, Doc.”

“Oh, so I did!” Burgess was always cheerful when performing his duties as ship’s barber. He was known to jokingly remark, “Barberin’ is just like doctorin’ – just with twice the cuttin’ and only forty-seven percent o’ the bleedin’!” He gave his patient, Keeling, an impatient glance. “Lad! Ye’ve got to take all yer medicine before I finish McCormack’s haircut because he’s got a battle to fight and I need his help to reset yer damn shoulder!”

Keeling looked at the amber liquid as he sloshed it around in the bottle. “But thish bottle of rum ish half full!”

McCormack smiled, “That’s the spirit lad! I look at that bottle, and all I see is that it’s half empty! You’ve got a tremendous ‘Can Do’ attitude! And if I’m not mistaken, it’s paying off – your S’s are startin’ to leak! Ye’ll be ready for a good shoulder poppin’ soon!”

“Shave today?” Burgess asked McCormack as he dropped his scissors and comb into a jar of blue liquid which sat next to another jar containing blood sucking leeches and picked up a razor which he began dragging across a heavy leather strap.

“I think not.” The big man answered, “The stubble makes me look fierce yet approachable.”

“Eshes don’t leak!” Keeling argued McCormack’s point about the letter S and drunkenness. “Thatsh jusht shtupid, Schementhandsh!” Then, suddenly hearing himself, a stunned look gripped his face, “Ish that my voicsh?”

“By Davy Jones’ ball sack!” McCormack looked amazed, “We’ve completely destroyed his ability to speak with what? Three drinks?”

“He’s only had two by my count.” Burgess said in a tone that clearly was a challenge to the young pirate.

“It’sh jusht becaushe!” Keeling heard the sound of his own voice and began to think hard and pronounce his words carefully. “I am not a drinking fellow. I do not normally conshu- consh – I do not normally drink alcoholic beveragesh – beverage – I do not drink liquor!”

McCormack and Burgess looked on admiringly as Leftenant Keeling tried to steer his way through the English language without the use of the letter S. Of course, it was the verbal equivalent of watching a pinball game.

“Watch thish!” Keeling shook off that mistake and tried again, this time more simply. “Watch!” He put the bottle to his mouth and tilted it up and began swallowing. After four or five swallows, both Burgess and McCormack sprang to the table to pull the bottle away. As it was removed from his mouth, Keeling gasped as a man plucked from certain drowning in the sea. A fine mist of rum shot from his gob and coated the big man and the doctor in its spray.

Keeling’s eyes were bulging but the intoxicating effects of the rum were quickly taking over.

“We’ll reset his shoulder when he reaches the ‘I love you guys’ stage!” Doc Burgess winked knowingly at McCormack.

“But first,” the big man replied, “let the weeping begin.”

And it did.

“You know.” Keeling began as his eyes welled with tears. “I know you guysh – you men don’t think much of me ash – by way of being a pirate!”

Burgess and McCormack just looked at each other as Keeling continued.

“Don’t try to deny it! You look at me and what do you shee?” Ignoring his own flattened S, Keeling soldiered on answering his own question. “A fucking Dandy! That’sh right! I shaid FUCK! Capital F – Capital U – Capital Shee – Capital …” (here, Keeling seemed to lose his way and broke down in tears) “What wash I shaying?”

“K” both men intervened sympathetically on behalf of the partially spelled word, but Leftenant Keeling had moved on.

“You probably think me very dandy-like becaushe I cry great big man tearsh, but you might jusht be shurprished to learn that real men cry!”

“A defiant crier!” McCormack chortled, “This is splendid.”

“Shhh!” Burgess admonished his big friend for interrupting what promised to be an entertaining chain of thought. “Please Leftenant, continue.”

“The Good Book even shaysh that the Baby Jeshush cried – and not when he wash a baby, but big man, Jeshush! And if you are impugning the manlinesh of the Baby Jeshush, well, shir, I am afraid I will have to ashk you to shtep outshide!” Keeling wobbled as he sat upright on the examining table. At one point, they thought he would topple onto the deck, but like an inebriated marionette he always righted his balance almost to the point of engaging in an act of defiance to the laws of physics.

“He’s past the tears, do you think we’re at the stage where he expresses unfocused outrage at perceived slights?” McCormack asked hopefully.

Taking a practiced and professional wait-and-see approach, Doc Burgess measured his words carefully. “It all depends on what he says next.”

“YOU DON’T KNOW!” Keeling pointed an accusatory finger at the good doctor who nodded his affirmation to McCormack with an exaggerated wink. “OH! YOU THINK YOU’RE SHOOOOOO SHMART! I’ll bet you prancsh around here all day doing your I’m Shmarter Than Anyone Dancsh! Don’t you!” With that, Keeling hopped off the table and showed them what he thought the I’m Smarter Than Anyone Dance might look like if it were performed by Pinocchio on a serious bender. He even added a little ditty as he moved about the infirmary.

“I’m shmarter than anyone caushe I’m a freakin’ Doc-tor!
I know about medicine and what you ushe a cock-for!
I buy my apparel at the leather apron and shmock-shtore!
I’ll teach you to barber yesh I’ll be your freakin’ proc-tor!”

McCormack was feverishly writing down the words as they escaped Keeling’s lips but he was interrupted by Burgess.

“Would you please put down that pencil and help me get the patient back on the table before he dislocates something else?”

“But this is golden! I don’t want to miss a word – he’s going to love hearing about this later!” The big man argued as he scribbled down the last few words of Keeling’s song. Once that was safely tucked away, he walked up to the slumping patient and gently put his big hands around the Leftenant’s mid-section – careful to avoid the oddly dangling disjointed arm. As soon as his big hands touched the dancer-singer, Keeling wheeled around on McCormack.


McCormack nodded with bulging eyes and a big smile – hoping it was something devastatingly quotable.

“I jusht want you to know that … well … Dawb Gobbit! I LOVE YOU, BIG MAN! I LOVE YOU AND I DON’ CARE WHO KNOWSH IT!” Then, smiling at the Doctor he reiterated, “I LOVE YOU GUYSH!”

McCormack positioned his big hands; one gripping Keeling’s dangling bicep and the other bracing the shoulder for the sudden violence that was about to follow. He looked at Doc Burgess like a runner at the start of a race – waiting for the signal to go. With a nod of Burgess’ head, the loud but familiar crunch of bones, tendons and tissue ripped through the infirmary followed by the requisite scream – more surprise than pain – from the patient. The crunch stayed in the room, but the scream shot out of every opening onto the decks above.

At that very moment, Cap’n Slappy was bidding a farewell to his friend and colleague, Ol’ Chumbucket. His eyebrows raised in mild disbelief.

“That’s the fastest they’ve ever reached the ‘I Love You Guys’ phase!”

Ol’ Chumbucket nodded in agreement but added, “Of course, Keeling couldn’t have offered much tolerance. It would most likely take you a week to get that drunk.”

They laughed and shook hands. Two Patch called from the rigging that the Spanish ships were now in sight. As Ol’ Chumbucket turned to take up his position, he was joined by young Tharp.

Cap’n Slappy, who had already taken a couple of steps toward the helm turned back and called out to both men. “Ahoy!” They responded in kind. He quickly followed that up with, “I love you guys!” Laughed and turned back to his business.

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