Wednesday, July 19, 2006


The Havana Caper – part 28 “Feelin’ Very Piratty Today”

“By the Grand Dam of Mermaids’ left teat, Benny! That’s not how ye carry a treasure chest!” McCormack bellowed at his stubby unofficial lackey.

Benny had balanced a small box filled with doubloons on his head and held the edges of the chest delicately in his hands – it was a trick he had seen done by African tribeswomen with heavy baskets of food sometimes twice their own size. He’d chosen the smallest box he could find to transfer onto The Festering Boil which was now nearly filled to capacity with the gold and jewels taken from the Spanish ship. It was reasoned that even with the load, The Boil would still move faster in these waters without the accompaniment of the hulking, slow urca; laden or un.

At any rate, Benny quickly found that he had neither the grace nor the stamina of an African tribeswoman, but he either refused to shift tactics or simply didn’t know that that was an option. As McCormack made his observation on Benny’s improper chest-moving methods, Benny turned his head to face his tormenting mentor and in so doing, shifted the weight of the chest and his momentum without making accommodation for the travel plans of his feet. Immediately he came crashing to the deck, the lid came off the chest and Spanish doubloons scattered everywhere.

“Do ye see, Benny! This is why I tell ye, ‘Benny, don’t think! Benny just obey!’ But no! You have to go getting ideas and mucking up the plan!” McCormack lectured poor Benny from his perch atop a barrel of rum where he sat in the shade of the mainsail. “And what does it cost ye, Benny-Boy?”

“Tensies out o’ me movin’ fee, Mr. McCormack, sir?” Benny asked as he tried desperately to sweep each doubloon and bauble back into the small box while also trying to avoid being trod upon by other box movers.

“That’s right, me little fillet minion!” McCormack replied with as sympathetic a voice as he could muster. “Ye owe me one out o’ every ten doubloons from yer take. But fear not, me little cumquat! Ye’ll still be the richest carbuncle in all o’ jolly ol’ Portsmouth likely as not!”

Just then, Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket appeared behind McCormack to comment on his little production line.

“So, ye’ve paid some o’ the lads like wee Benny here, to do yer packin’ chores for ye out o’ yer take, have ye Mr. McCormack?” Cap’n Slappy knew the answer before he even asked the question.

McCormack immediately took umbrage with the very notion and made it clear in his reply. “After all the years in yer service, Cap’n and ye would accuse me o’ usin’ me new-found wealth as a means o’ shirkin’ the slightest o’ duties?” He placed his big paw over the area on his shirt where one might assume his heart lay buried if one assumed he possessed such an organ. “I would never use me treasure in such a despicable and cynical way!”

Slappy seemed genuinely embarrassed that he had leapt to such an assumption of his old friend. “Ye have me most humble o’ apologies, Cementhands.” He then turned back to his conversation with Ol’ Chumbucket as McCormack mumbled, “I’m payin’ ‘em off with part o’ yer share o’ the take!”

McCormack knew that he had spoken just loudly and clearly enough to be heard and understood and was, in part, hoping to watch the captain explode with rage – it was just one of his most favored past-times, but instead, Slappy just stopped whatever he was saying to Ol’ Chumbucket and inquired calmly.

“I didn’t fully catch that, Mr. McCormack, could ye repeat that last statement for me?”

“I said, ‘I accept yer apology for friendship’s sake.’” McCormack’s eyes nearly bulged with anticipation of the fireworks to come as he knew lying would only set off Slappy to ever more entertaining heights of apoplexy. He would, however, be disappointed.

“Ah!” Slappy smiled, “Very good, then. Carry on.!” He ambled off to his cabin alone.

“So, what’s crawled into the Cap’n’s hornpipe?” McCormack asked Ol’ Chumbucket.

“I believe he’s sufferin’ from an acute case o’ ‘embarrassment o’ riches,’ or as I’ve often heard it called, ‘poverty envy.’”

McCormack brightened, “So, I’m doin’ him a bleedin’ favour!”

“Aye! But don’t get too charitable with Slappy’s wealth – he’s contemplatin’ retirement.”

Cementhands McCormack sat in stunned silence for a moment. “I can’t imagine The Brotherhood without the Cap’n. It’d be like a night at The Slovenly Slattern without a drunken brawl! Perhaps I should talk to him!”

“He’s not takin’ counsel at the moment.” Ol’ Chumbucket replied. “He’s doin’ what he always does in dire situations – assessin’ the situation and lookin’ for loopholes.”

Ol’ Chumbucket then produced a pipe from a pocket in his vest and began stuffing it with a rich tobacco. “In connection to nothing in particular, I’m just noticing a plethora of quaint and colorful verbiage issuing enthusiastically from your facial orifice.”

McCormack lifted an eyebrow toward Ol’ Chumbucket and flinched a bit as he struck a match on the side of the barrel upon which the big man sat. “And, prithee what in me prattle has attracted such an observation from a man as well versed in the communicatory arts as yerself?”

The bowl in Ol’ Chumbucket’s pipe glowed red as he drew in its smoky issue. He then blew three perfect smoke rings, each larger than the one before and placed them in the air to form what appeared to be an archery target. “Your speech is more than usually laden with such piquant phrases as ‘ye’ and ‘me’ in a fashion one might describe as stereotypical of a person in our chosen profession but not, as an individual, idiosyncratic to your normal banter.”

Cementhands McCormack offered a conspiratorial smile and signaled for Ol’ Chumbucket to lean in closer. He did so, and the big man whispered, “I’m just feeling very piratty today.” He then punctuated the secret with a hushed, “Arrr.”

Ol’ Chumbucket smiled, “Aye. And with good reason.” He then hopped up on a nearby barrel and joined Cementhands McCormack in supervising Benny’s work.

Cap’n Slappy sat quietly at his desk in his favorite sturdy chair and pulled a cigar out of the small humidor he kept next to a small portrait of his mother. The great windows of his cabin that overlooked the stern of The Festering Boil presented him with a panoramic view of the open sea broken only by the frame of the window, the slight imperfections of the glass and the anchor line that now held his precious ship suspended in this one place and, to his way of thinking, in this frozen moment.

He bit off the end of the cigar with his teeth and, after moistening the now wounded wrapping with his tongue, struck a match on the side of his desk where he had tacked some sandpaper for this purpose. He focused the match delicately on one end of the cigar as he puffed and turned the stogie with the other hand in order to achieve an even burn. Once the cigar was ablaze, he shook the match and tossed it into his cuspidor.

After inhaling once or twice deeply, Slappy poured himself a small glass of rum from a decanter that seemed to have always been on his desk. After judging the volume in his glass, he poured a little more. As was always his custom when alone, he tilted the rim of the glass toward the picture of his mother and said, “Cheers, mum!” before taking the first sip. This time, however, his traditional salute was followed not so much by a sip as by a gulp and he found himself in need of another pour – which he genially obliged.

With a glass of rum in one hand and a cigar in the other, Slappy pulled a drawer that sat at shin level part of the way out of his desk and pushed himself backward in his chair in order to recline and view the sea in complete comfort. He compensated for each roll of the ship by pushing and relaxing his legs against the drawer in the effortless rocking of a man accustomed to this world and no other. His face and the focus of his eyes would have given an observer no clue as to whether he was looking at the waves or the glass in the window had there been anyone there to observe him. There wasn’t.

Above the captain’s cabin, powerful, clear voices could be heard, even through the stout timbers that served as the quarterdeck’s floor and Slappy’s ceiling. Slappy knew the one voice immediately; it was that of his long-time friend and first mate, George the Greek. The second voice took some guess-work, but after a few moments, he realized that George was talking to Wellington Peddicord.

“So what’s a rich man such as yerself doin’ mannin’ the helm?”

“Makin’ damn sure all these other rich lads and lasses live long enough to spend some o’ their wealth and keepin’ a weathered eye out for Young Spencer and his crew. They’re overdue.” As always, George’s voice was friendly but businesslike.

“Hence the spyglass ye keep lookin’ through.”

“Aye! And if one o’ ye young fellars had a mind to be o’ some help, ye could scamper up the mizzen and take a look-see for me.”

It was the following laugh that made Slappy recognize Peddicord’s voice. “So rich a man as meself?”

“Hell, lad! Look around ye! Ye’re surrounded by as rich o’ men as yerself – even poor Benny – but I’d not ask him to climb the mizzen as the lethal combination o’ ropes, gravity and his tiny brain would do nothing but enrich his heirs – or McCormack if he got to Benny’s personals first.”

“I’ll tell ye what, Greek! I’ll climb the mizzen and see if I can’t spot our young scallawag’s tub, but don’t expect any special treatment at the bordello I buy with me share o’ the loot!”

“Welly, what the hell do ye know about runnin’ a bordello?”

“Who said anythin’ about runnin’ it? I’m just goin’ t’ buy it and never be lonely again!”

Slappy heard Peddicord’s laugh grow faint as he climbed the mizzen. For a few moments, is cabin was silent but for the creaking of the timbers and the splash of waves against the hull. His eyes closed and he seemed to drift with the movement of the sea. Suddenly, the peace was broken by Peddicord’s booming voice from above.

“Sail ho!”

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