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.”

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