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!”

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