Wednesday, July 05, 2006


The Havana Caper – 27: Beware the Big One

Slappy had expected – well, maybe ‘hoped for’ would be the better expression – a good haul from hitting the treasure fleet. He was in no way expecting what he saw when he climbed aboard the captured ship.

As Slappy clambered up the side from the longboat, he was greeted by a crew of pirates, none wearing less than a chain of gold around his or her neck. Most were much more ostentatious. Somewhat to Slappy’s consternation, Wellington Peddicord had found a bosun’s whistle and piped him aboard with full honors, and the pirates actually saluted, completely flustering the buccaneer.

“Now stop that!” he shouted at the smiling crew.

“But it’s only fitting,” Ol’ Chumbucket protested, holding the salute. “I mean, there’s not a captain in the English navy worth more than you today. There’s also no captain in the English fleet worth more than your cabin boy, as near as I can figure.”

“Put down yer hand and tell me how we did,” Slappy demanded.

Chumbucket held the salute, rolling his eyes up, then waggling his elbow a few times and sort of nodding his head. Slappy sighed.

“Oh, shit. Alright. Just this once.” He returned the salute, a fairly ragged gesture in which his fingers barely touched his forehead, then dropped his hand quickly in embarrassment. The crew, surprisingly, dropped their salute with a precise snap that would have done the Prussian army proud.

“We’ve been practicing that most of the day,” Chumbucket said.

“What the devil did you do that for?” Slappy groused.

“Because you are a very rich man today,” Chumbucket said. “I haven’t completed the full accounting, but every single member of the Festering Boil’s crew could probably return to his or her hometown today and buy it. The whole damn town.”

Slappy’s eyes opened wide.

“Just how rich are we talking here?”

“Rich enough that I imagine a lot of the crew will be retiring from the life and settling down to a long career of counting money. Here’s a chair.”

The last comment was because Chumbucket had anticipated Slappy’s knees getting weak somewhere around here and had brought a sturdy chair from the captain’s quarters for that purpose. Slappy sank down into it.

“Alright you seadogs – excuse me, You very rich seadogs! Let’s get back to work!” Chumbucket shouted. The crew returned to their task in the hold, all smiles.

“You alright?” Chumbucket asked Slappy.

“I’m fine. Just enjoying this sturdy, comfortable chair. Yessir, nothing like a good chair to make a man feel like a king. And speaking of which, just exactly how rich would you say I am?”

“I haven’t done all the math, and there’s the conversion rates and such to figure, but in round terms, the answer to the question ‘How rich am I?’ would be, pretty damn. See that barrel there?” Chumbucket asked, pointing at one of several posted by the railing.

“Yes,” said Slappy.

“It’s full of silver. Newly minted Pieces of Eight. There’s 200 of them below. That makes, very roughly, a barrel and a half of silver for each of us. As captain, your share is a tad larger, of course.”

Slappy’s eyes grew a bit wider.

“See the smaller keg there?” Chumbucket continued, pointing to a stack of roundlets nearby.

Slappy nodded.

“Full of gold. I have so far counted 180 of them. Again, about a barrel and a half each, in very round figures. What with the stack of gold bars in the stern, and the crates that were full of these – “ Chumbucket reached into his pocket and withdrew two of the biggest uncut emeralds Slappy had ever seen and dropped them into the captain’s lap – “plus the specie in the captain’s cabin, plus a few other trinkets I haven’t even gotten around to calculating yet, I’d say ‘pretty damn rich’ is a fair appraisal.”

Slappy slumped back farther in his chair.

“Beware the big one,” he mumbled.


“The big one. Beware the big one.”

“What are you talking about?”

“It’s something old Cap’n Hamnquist said when I was a wee pirate,” Slappy explained. “Every pirate goes on the account for a chance at the big one, the one big prize that will make his fortune. But when his fortune’s made, his life changes. Why even remain a pirate? Why not go ashore, buy an estate and stop worrying about the hangman?”

“Why not indeed?” Chumbucket said.

“Yes, but every pirate who does that loses something, loses the freedom that made his life worth living! Every pirate should chase the big one, but cursed is he who finds it.”

“Truth to tell, I’ve been contemplating what to do with my share, wondering what I’ll do now that I can do anything,” Chumbucket said.

“You? You can’t be serious!”

“Oh, don’t worry, no decision yet. It’s awfully tempting though. I could go back into politics. Or – Do you remember my mentioning once how I got thrown out of university? I might be able to go back and buy it now. I’m not going to, no money in education. But you see what I mean. And you’d better believe every man jack on the ship will be wondering the same thing. I’ve heard some conversations already. Even McCormack is going to have to ask himself the question, what do I do now? This is not ‘spectacular shore leave’ wealth, even for Cementhands. Even for you. This is life changing. The only advantage I can see is that at least we’re in a position to choose how our life is changed, rather than have fate or the hangman choose it for us.”

Slappy heaved a huge sigh. He slowly rose from his very comfortable chair.

“How long do you figure it’ll take to transfer the cargo to the Boil?” he asked.

“Well, we’re going to have to sling a line from the yard and hoist ‘em out of the hold and over, because these are not light barrels. And it’s gonna take some work getting them stored properly below so it doesn’t ruin the ship’s sailing characteristics. I’d be surprised if we were done before this time tomorrow, assuming we work through the night. Probably more like a day and a half.”

“Well, then we’d best get to work,” Slappy said with resignation.

“Cheer up,” Chumbucket encouraged his friend. “Things could be worse.”

“How could they be worse? Not that this is bad, but how?”

“This wasn’t the biggest ship in the fleet, just the closest. We might have ended up a whole lot richer than we did.”

“That’s somethin’, I suppose,” Slappy said with a shake of the head. “Thank God for small favors.”

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