Thursday, July 27, 2006


The Havana Caper – 29


Cap’n Slappy snapped his chair forward, his boots hitting the deck with a thud as rum spilled onto the crotch of his pants.

“Raak me doden met een rottende kabeljauw,” he cursed, jumping to his feet.

The sound of excited talking on the deck brought his attention back to the sail sighting and he rushed from his cabin to the quarterdeck. Everyone was staring west.

“Is it Spencer and Lord Shiva’s Eye?” he asked.

“Don’t think so Cap’n,” George said, giving a brief glance at the stain at Slappy’s groin then pointedly looking away. “Not unless he’s graduated to a bigger ship, and a lot of ‘em.”

Slappy turned to larboard and gaped. The sails of at least three ships were converging on the western opening of the bay they were in.

“Let’s get under weigh!” he shouted. “Every man aboard, and cut loose from that sea cow.”

“Already working on it,” George replied calmly, nodding to the ship’s waist where the sailors were rigging the bars on the capstan to raise the anchor. The last barrels of gold from the captured urca were coming over the rail and the pirates were cutting the lines that moored the two ships together. Overhead, other crewmembers had forgotten their daydreams of idle riches and were racing up the ratlines to unfurl sails.

“Any sign of who that is?” Slappy called up to Peddicord, who perched on the highest set of crosstrees and stared out at the interlopers with his spyglass.

“They’re flying an English flag!” he shouted down.

“English? Not Spanish?”

“No sir. Definitely a Union Jack.”

“Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean shit,” Slappy muttered to himself. “We’ve got a whole locker full o’ flags. Dogwatch! Run up a French flag … No, wait, belay that froggy banner. I think they’re still at war with England. Um, Swedish? Russian?”

“How about Iceland?” Ol’ Chumbucket suggested from the railing, where he had just come aboard after supervising the unloading of the treasure.

“Do they have a flag?”

Chumbucket shrugged.

“Oh hell, when in doubt, go Danish,” Slappy ordered. “Dogwatch, run up the Danish flag. And let’s get moving before they cover the eastern channel.”

The three ships at the mouth of the harbor were heading in at an angle that would cut off the Boil if she didn’t get moving quicklyr. Fortunately, the breeze was off the land, which seemed to give the pirates an edge. The ship was moving now, parallel to the coast to gain maneuvering room. Dogwatch was fumbling with a large, green gold banner on the transom.

“What the hell is that?” Slappy bellowed. “The Danish flag is blue, not green.”

“Sorry sir, I couldn’t find it. Cementhands used it for a backdrop a couple of months ago when he directed the shipboard production of Hamlet.”

“Sorry,” McCormack called out from the gun deck, where he was helping charge and prime the ship’s cannons. “Been using it for a bed spread.”

“Well what’s that one?”

Dogwatch peered at the unfamiliar ensign for a moment, ten the light of recognition lit his eyes.

“The Sultanate of Quombodo, one of those Arab kingdoms along the Mediterranean.”

“Where the hell did … never mind. Fly it. It’ll keep ‘em guessing. George!” Slappy called to the first mate. “Bring us up a couple of points to larboard. I think we can get the angle on ‘em now.”

A single gun fired from the lead ship of the squadron entering the bay, and signal flags started going up on her foremast. It looked as if the Boil was going to beat the approaching ships to the channel, although it would be close and they would certainly pass within firing range.

“What are they sayin’?” Slappy shouted to Peddicord, who was still keeping lookout above.

“They want us to stand down and come alongside.”

“Sure. We’ll stand down just as soon as we put few miles of sea between us and them,” Slappy said. “George! Royals, top gallants, my great aunt Tillie’s knickers – every scrap of canvas we’ve got! Let’s go!”

The Boil clearly had the advantage now and would make the eastern channel before the visitors could cut them off. A sound drew Slappy’s attention to stern, where he saw flames leaping up the rigging of the captired urca they had abandoned. He glanced over at Ol’ Chumbucket.

“You do that?”

“Yeah. We were done with her, and I thought it would give those fellas something else to think about.”

“Nice touch.”

Another signal cannon fired from the lead ship and more signal flags fluttered in the breeze.

“She says they want to talk!”

“They can talk to my ass once I’m out to sea!” Slappy said.

The Boil had now crossed the bow of the lead ship, which began turning to port to offer its broadside, although by the time it was in position it would clearly be out of range. The pirates gave a cheer as their ship neared the headland marking the eastern channel to the bay. Another half mile and they’d be clear and showing their pursuers how fast a pirate ship could be.

The cheer died in their throats. Coming around the headland were two more ships, taking position to cut off any escape.

“Shit!” Slappy said. “Where’d they come from?”

Another signal gun brought their attention back to the flags fluttering from the lead ship.

“They’re ordering us to heave to or they’ll open fire.”

“Let ‘em try,” the captain said. “Gun crews, ready the larboard cannon!”

“Captain! I think I recognize a couple of those ships!”


Peddicord hurtled down the ratlines to the quarterdeck and pointed.

“The ship to the east? I’m certain that’s the Red Dog. And that lead ship is English navy or I’m a French tart.”

“Cap’n, this might be a good time to find those ‘papers’ that English captain forced on you back in Port Royal,” Leftenant Keeling suggested.

“Papers? What papers? Oh, shit, that letter of marque,” Slappy said, recalling the ignominy of being a privateer instead of an honest pirate. “Gabriel!”

The captain’s cabin boy appeared at his elbow.

“Get below to my personal privy and see if we’ve still got the letter of marque. I just hope I didn’t use the thing. Get moving lad!”

Gabriel made a face and dashed below.

“That ship to port of the frigate looks like the Sunny Delight, Cap’n,” Peddicord said, pointing.

“Brotherhood ships? Very well, George, heave to. But gun crews, don’t stand down.”

The Boil turned to starboard and her momentum came off. The pirates maintained their vigilance as they watched a longboat set out from the frigate. It took some 15 minutes for the sailors to pull across to the Boil, covered the whole time by the pirates’ guns. Finally she pulled up alongside.

“Permission to come aboard?” a voice called from below. At that moment Gabriel returned, an official looking piece of paper fluttering from his fingers.

“Found it sir! It was under the latest Pirattitude Monthly.”

“Good thing Sawbones hasn’t been able to cure my constipation,” Slappy said. “Permission granted! Come aboard!”

Dressed immaculately, an officer scrambled up the side and presented himself to the quarterdeck.

“Ensign Jack Jones of HMS Princess, sir,” he said, saluting crisply. Slappy gave a short nod to acknowledge it, and the young man dropped his hand. “Captain Stubing’s compliments sir, and he desires you and your officers to come aboard the flagship for a discussion.”

“Stubing? I thought he was taking you lot to Panama?”

“Yes sir. About half the ships did sail to Panama, but he got a message ordering him to Havana to support your operation. So here we are.”

“Support our operation? Our operation went flawlessly, thank ye,” Slappy said. Suddenly a glimmer of hope rose in the back of Slappy’s mind. “Say, you don’t think he intends to take the treasure from us under the terms of our letter of marque, do ye? Blast. Then we won’t be incredibly rich gentlemen and we’ll have to stay on the account, maintaining our pirate lifestyle. Darn, there goes that life of ease I’d been hoping for. But, if it’s all for king and country, then I suppose …”

“Oh no, no sir, he didn’t say anything like that,” Jones replied, dashing Slappy’s hope. “But he is most eager to discuss details of your operation and a follow-up that he has in mind.” Slappy’s face wrinkled in displeasure at the notion of following up with the navy, but he didn’t say anything.

“Anyway, he asked that you and your officers accompany us to his flagship, where we’ll hold a council of war.”

Slappy had to admit he liked the sound of a council of war, as long as more rum was involved, so he nodded to Ol’ Chumbucket.

“Watch the ship ‘til I get back.”

“No sir,” Williams interposed. “Stubing wants you and all your officers. He specifically asked for” – the ensign pulled a slip of paper from his blouse pocket – “the crew members known as Ol’ Chumbucket, George the Greek, Leftenant Keeling and Sawbones Burgess.”

“If we all go over, who’ll run my ship?”

“Not to worry. I’m sure you’re crew can handle things. We’ve no need to be anywhere just yet. And a few of my men will be coming aboard to help out in your absence, which shouldn’t be that long.”

Slappy looked skeptical, but at that moment another signal gun fired from the Princess drawing attention to the new set of flags fluttering from the foremast. The pirates also couldn’t help noticing that the gun ports on all five ships were still open, and they were maneuvering into firing range.

“Apparently they’d like us to hurry, sir. If you’ll follow me?”

The pirate officers looked at each other, then nodded grimly. In a matter of minutes a dozen Marines from the longboat had gone aboard the Boil and the pirates were sitting in the stern sheets of the longboat, which pulled back towards the flagship.

“Any idea what this is all about,” Ol’ Chumbucket asked Jones.

“An idea sir, but only that. You’ll really have to wait for Captain Stubing to explain things.”

The longboat ground against the side of the frigate, and with a request that they wait just a moment, Jones scrambled up the side. A ladder was lowered and a bos’n’s pipe squealed.

The pirates climbed onto the deck, where they were met by a Marine detachment at port arms forming a lane for them to walk down. The bos’n’s pipe squealed again. Led by Ensign Jones, the pirates walked between the two rows of Marines towards the quarterdeck.

Standing on it was a short man in a crisply starched, white uniform, his epaulets shining with gold braid. The beam of his smile was matched by the gleam of the sun off his mostly bald head.

“Gentlemen,” Jones said. “Allow me to present Captain Merrill Stubing

“Come aboard,” the man said. “We’re expecting you!”

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