Thursday, August 10, 2006


The Havana Caper – 31

The officers of the Festering Boil were shown into the captain’s cabin of the Princess, a large, surprisingly light and airy room for a man o’war. The Atlantic waters sparkled through the wide transom window that formed the back wall of the room.

Captain Stubing waved his guests to seats around the oak table that stood at the center of the room. Ol’ Chumbucket was rather surprised to find his posterior resting in the most comfortable chair he’d sat in since the days – under a different name – that he’d sat in Parliament.

“Gentlemen,” Stubing said. “First, let me toast you on your success!”

“I’m always ready to toast, especially if it’s to me,” Cap’n Slappy said, “but first we’d have to have something to toast with.”

“Of course, how silly of me. Excuse me just a moment.”

Stubing opened his cabin door and called, “Jones!”

The ensign entered and snapped a salute.

“Tell Isaac to bring the special rum. Then commence the next part of the operation.”

Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket, George the Greek, and Leftenant Keeling exchanged glances, but said nothing. Sawbones Burgess apparently hadn’t noticed the comment, delighted as he was at the prospect of rum. They passed a quick look of agreement and the almost imperceptible nods of the head before Stubing turned back to them with a smile.

“So tell me how your brush with the Spanish went!”

Eyes all turned to Slappy, who took a deep breath before beginning. His natural inclination was to not trust any officer of the crown, even the ones he was related to. Especially the ones he was related to.

“Well, we met their fleet out in the strait, took one of their ships, sank a bunch more and got the hell out of there. That’s pretty much it. Kind of dull, really. Not much more to tell.”

“Oh, I think you’re being modest. There have never been fewer than 50 ships in the treasure fleet and you attacked them single-handedly, with just a single ship? It must have been terribly dangerous. There must be plenty of tall tales of swashbuckling adventure and heroics to report. Isn’t that what you pirates do? Sit around telling stories of your amazing exploits? Certainly 50 ships against one is a tale worth telling.”

Slappy just shrugged.

“All in a day’s work, really. Just another day at the office.”

“Oh, don’t forget Spencer and Lord Shiva,” Burgess blurted out.

“And who might that be?” Stubing asked, turning to the doctor, who missed the widened eyes and slight head nods of his crewmates.

“Young fella, used to be Slappy’s cabin boy, now he’s grown into quite a sailor and scallywag.”

“And this Lord Shiva you speak of? A foreign member of the crew?”

“Ship’s dog,” Ol’ Chumbucket interjected. “One of those mongrels that haunt the docks. Spencer took a liking to him. He used to leave turds all over the poopdeck, which is probably funny if you think about it. Attacked a Spanish officer and just about took his hand off. Sadly, he was lost in the fight, but at least there won’t be any more messy cleanup details. Right guys?”

The other pirates all nodded their heads vigorously, adding things like “Oh yes,” and “Quite a dog!” and “Shame about losing him,” while Burgess stared with surprise at them.

A look of pique crossed Stubing’s face and he turned as if to question the doctor further when the conversation was interrupted by the arrival of a small cart wheeled in by a black sailor in a pristine uniform. He saluted the captain, then turned smilingly to the pirates. Instead of saluting them, he snapped the fingers of both hands and pointed at them with his forefingers, pistol fashion.

“Can I get you fine gentlemen some rum?” he asked, his smile sparkling.

Rum, everyone agreed, was just the thing everyone wanted. Isaac poured copiously, emptying the first bottle with drinks for Slappy, George, Chumbucket, Burgess and Keeling.

“Sorry, captain,” he said to Stubing, I’ll have to get the second bottle for you.”

“No problem at all Isaac, our guests should come first.”

“None for me, thank you,” Keeling said, who was seated between Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket. “You go ahead and take mine Captain Stubing. I never partake in spirituous liquors.”

“No, now, that can’t be right. You’re a pirate, and if there’s one thing the world knows about you pirates it’s that you drink rum.”

“No, I assure you. I never indulge. It dulls the senses and prevents me from enjoying the full flavor that real life has to offer.”

“That’s true,” Burgess said, already halfway through his tankard. “He’s a fighting demon, but when it comes to booze, he’s a pussy.”

“Ah, well you really should try this then. Smooth as silk, and enlivening without inebriating,” Stubing said liltingly. “Really, you should try it.” His voice took on a harder edge. “I insist.”

Keeling looked from Stubing to Slappy and back, then with a shrug, accepted his tankard and took a sip, trying to hide the look of wincing disapproval that crossed his face. Tasted like rum to him.

By now Isaac had filled Stubing’s mug from the second bottle and, giving a salute and a double finger-snap-point, backed the drink cart to a corner of the room, where he stood waiting.

“So gentlemen, I drink to the success of your mission, death to the Spanish, confusion to all other authorities and success to the Brotherhood.”

Startled expressions passed around the pirates. That was certainly not what they expected to hear from a man in a navy uniform – although Slappy noticed for the first time it was unlike any uniform he had ever seen on his brother – and his brother had risen to the rank of flag admiral.

The pirates all raised their glasses and drank, buying time while they wondered what was going on. Finally, Slappy spoke.

“Let me get this straight. You WANT the Brotherhood to succeed?”

“That’s not the typical attitude of the naval officers I’ve met,” Chumbucket threw in.

“Oh, most men in the navy lack foresight, they lack vision,” Stubing said. “Most officers in the English Navy are concerned only with their careers, how to rise until they can hoist their own pennant and then retire as Sir Fatbottom or Lord Rottencrotch. Careerists, imbeciles, unworthy of the rank, unaware of the possibilities of power.”

Slappy shook his head as he listened in surprise. It was too bad he’d already had the two tankards of rum in his own cabin, he thought, because this seemed to have gone straight to his brain. The room swam just a little. And – what was that? Did his foot feel wet? Slappy hoped he hadn’t lost control of his bladder. Under the circumstances that could be embarrassing. He glanced down at his lap and his crotch seemed dry. Looking back up caused his head to swim more.

“A fleet of war ships isn’t just something that looks grand for a regatta or to sail by the palace on the queen mother’s birthday,” Stubing continued, warming to his subject. “A naval force is about only one thing – power, and how you extend that power to accomplish your mission for whoever is strong enough and bold enough to use it! That’s what I have spent my career looking for and I’m glad to say I’ve finally found it.”

“What do you mean you’ve found it?” Chumbucket asked, finding it difficult to say what he meant. “You’re in the narvy - the ner - you’re a sailor in the navy. Your boss is the same kind of royal ra … a bloody broyal oaf – a king, just like all the other navies in the world.”

Chumbucket felt like he was looking at his host through the wrong end of a telescope. Stubing was still seated, but he appeared to be receding into the distance. He could see Stubing peering closely at him with a smile on his face.

“Oh, I am still nominally in the employ of the navy of England, but that’s only because I haven’t bothered to submit my resignation yet. I and several of my brother officers have found a new employer more to our liking. A few of your Brotherhood of the Coast ships have joined us as well, and several others have been dealt with.”

Stubing’s voice rose as he continued.

“No, England will find out about power and its application when the Home Office realizes it no longer controls its colonies in the New World. And the same with Spain and France. A power is rising in the West smart enough and bold enough to consolidate the power of the New World as a separate entity from the tired old world of Europe.”

George the Greek glanced over at Sawbones, who was already snoozing. He shook his own head. Maybe it was the stuffiness in the room, maybe it was the potency of the rum, but he’d never felt a drink hit him as quickly or as hard – and he’d been raised on ouzo. Something was wrong. He rose from his chair, reaching for the pistol in his belt. Isaac, from the corner where he’d watched the proceedings, casually stepped behind the pirate and kicked him in the knee. The pirate fell hard, striking his head on the table. Chumbucket and Slappy were trying to struggle to their feet but couldn’t seem to rise. Between them Keeling sat with his head sagging to his chest, a glassy look in his eyes.

“The Brotherhood is being offered the chance to take part in this brave new world.” Stubing’s voice sounded as if it was coming to him from a long way away. “Sadly, that offer will not be made to you or your crew of miscreants. The power for whom I work has very definite plans for you. I’m afraid I have to say I suspect they won’t be terribly pleasant, but we’ll save that for another day.”

Slappy slid to the floor, struggling to maintain consciousness, but he could tell it would be a losing battle. His head landed on Keeling’s empty tankard, sending stars exploding through his brain. The last thing he saw was Ol’ Chumbucket laying on the floor motionless except for his hands clenching and unclenching. Then they too were still, and Slappy’s last hold on the world was the voice of Stubing, now very far away, calling for guards to come clean up the mess on his floor.


Stubing was back on his quarterdeck now, using his spyglass to scan the pirate ship two cable lengths away. He saw his men go aboard, a small scuffle and some bodies flying over the side. A fusillade of shots was fired over the railing, then nothing. Moments later a single shot rang out, then all was quiet. The captain snapped his spyglass shut.

“Excellent. Let’s get under weigh.”

Down below in the cabin a detail was dragging the unconscious forms of Slappy, George and Chumbucket towards the door.

“Leave those two here,” the officer in charge said of Keeling and Sawbones. “Higgins, keep an eye on them, we’ll be back in a minute after we’ve got these below in the bilge.”

“They’re going to have some serious headaches tomorrow,” one of the sailors said.

“At least they’ll have heads. I’m not sure how long they’ll keep ‘em after we get to Havana.”

They dragged the prostrate pirates down the passageway, taking no heed for how hard or how often they struck their heads and limbs against obstructions.

They were below, chaining their captives in the bilge’s fetid darkness, and thus didn’t hear the cry or the shot or the crashing noise that brought Stubing rushing back to his cabin accompanied with a squad of formerly Royal Marines. Entering the cabin the smelled the acrid smoke of gunpowder and saw the body of Higgins, a gory hole now taking the place where the back of his head used to be. Sawbones Burgess was still unconscious, now lying near the window instead of propped in his chair, but Keeling was gone. The great rear window was a mess of shattered glass and broken mullions.

Looking through the ruined window, they saw a shape in the water, now about a hundred yards off, making toward the shore. Two of the guards leveled their muskets and fired, and more shots were heard from the poopdeck above them. The distant figure disappeared below the waves.

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