Tuesday, August 01, 2006


The Havana Caper - part 30 "Can Ye Swim?"

“That’s a pretty, pretty Princess.” Cementhands McCormack said admiringly as he tried to get some idea of what was going on aboard the English flagship.

“Aye!” Dogwatch Watts replied, “and there are many stories told of her romantic voyages!”

McCormack’s left eyebrow raised as he pondered whether or not to seek details of these romantic voyages or let the reputation of the British navy speak for itself.

Just then Benny could be heard huffing and puffing as he scampered up the steps to the quarterdeck.

“Cap’n McCormack! I’ve got that crab sammich ye ordered!” Benny held out a very expensive piece of china upon which rested a gorgeous sandwich stuffed with crab meat and dripping with mayonnaise and mustard. “I made it meself, Cap’n!” Benny added hopeful of some appreciative gesture.

“Cap’n?” Dogwatch began but was immediately hushed when the big man raised his hand – the sign given when the captain desires silence.

McCormack lifted the top piece of bread and wrinkled his nose.

“I thought I told you to have Black Butch make this for me. Did I not?”

Benny began to get nervous.

“Well, Mr. Butch was busy so I thought …”

“What is it I’m ALWAYS telling ye, Benny? Hmmm?” Now, both of McCormack’s eyebrows were raised like a headmaster asking a prodigal student a question from the previous day’s lesson.

But Benny immediately knew the answer. “Don’t think, Benny! Just obey!”

McCormack started to grin. “Well done, Benny. But why is there mustard on this sammich?”

“On account o’ Mr. Butch bein’ low on dill due to a special request for his cucumber and dill dipping sauce.”

McCormack smiled broadly. “Oh! That’s right! Tonight’s fondue night!”

An idea sprang from wherever ideas spring from in Benny’s body and his face immediately lit up.

“I can take this back and make another sammich for ye, Cap’n McCormack!”

McCormack quickly snatched the sandwich off the plate and took a large bite out of it. With a mouthful of bread, crab, mayonnaise and mustard he said, “No, thank you, Benny. You’ve caused enough confusion and mayhem for one morning. Now go below and move my things into the Cap’n’s cabin but keep an ear out for my call if we should see him returning and ye’ll need to move it back on the double. You got that?”

“Aye-aye! Cap’n McCormack, sir! It’s a pleasure serving you, sir!” With that, Benny turned around and scampered back to the galley to wash the dish.

Dogwatch remained silent until McCormack was about to take the last bite of his sandwich. Then he asked again, “Cap’n? Cap’n?!? What the hell, Cementhands?”

McCormack chewed on the last bite for about a minute, but lifted a finger to indicate that he would get to that question when the opportunity presented itself. Finally, he swallowed the bite, then dabbed at the corners of his mouth with a pristine white handkerchief he kept in his britches for just such a purpose.

“Ye see, Dogwatch, my boy, Benny – and all the other little Bennys of the world, hate a leadership vacuum. If it feels like no one is in charge they get all nervous and sweaty – ye don’t want Benny gettin’ more than his usual sweaty, now, do ye, Dogwatch?”

Dogwatch tried hard to follow Cementhand’s chain of thought, but when confronted with the question, there was only one answer. “No.”

“Then I suggest ye embrace the new paradigm – or at least the temporary one.”

Cementhands put the spy glass back to his eye and looked across the water at the HMS Princess. “Damn!” This oath was immediately followed with, “Benny, belay my move!”

He looked again. Several long boats were en route from the flagship back to The Festering Boil. As he scanned them carefully, he saw no sign of any of the officers so he called out, “Belay that belay, Benny! Continue my move!”

He immediately heard the unmistakable sounds of bumbling below decks.

“What the hell are they doin’?” McCormack muttered to himself.

As he watched, one long boat pulled away from the HMS Princess followed by another, then a third. All three of them packed with marines and all of those marines coming toward The Festering Boil.

Gabriel climbed the steps to the quarterdeck, walked up behind McCormack and tugged on his shirt. Even without looking, McCormack knew who was behind him.

“What it is ye wee squid?” the big man mumbled.

“Benny wants to know where you want him to put the picture of your mum.”

McCormack was far too distracted to concern himself with interior decorating issues. He searched the surroundings for escape routes.

“Boyo! How far would you say it is from here to that point of the island, yonder?”

Gabriel was used to McCormack’s impromptu gunnery lessons and gauging distance was always a part of that.

“I’d say about four hundred yards.” Gabriel always tried to present his answers in as confident a tone as possible.

“Aye, ye wee midget. Can ye swim that far?”

Gabriel’s face scrunched at the question and he choked back his indignation. “First of all, I’m not a ‘midget!’ Secondly. Hell yes, I can swim it! Sweet Neptune’s man nipples, McCormack, you taught me how to swim! You should know that you great sea cow!”

McCormack smiled. He may have taught the boy to swim, but his cursing skills were clearly vintage Slappy.

“Don’t curse. It’s unbecoming for midgets.”

The boy was about to protest but McCormack continued. “Look lad, if all hell breaks loose here when those marines come aboard, I want you to come running to me – do you understand?”

“But what about Cap’n Sla …” the boy began but he was immediately cut off by McCormack.

“Do you understand, boy? I don’t have time to explain! Tell me, do you understand or not!?”

Gabriel looked more stunned than hurt – but he looked a little hurt as well.

“Aye. I understand.”

McCormack breathed out a sigh. “Good midget. Now get below and tell Benny to hide my gold.”

“Aye-aye!” Gabriel scampered away.

Dogwatch gave the big man a hard look. “Don’t ya think you were a tad hard on the boy?”

“I don’t like marines.” McCormack answered matter-of-factly. “They shoot first and fail to ask questions later.”

A few minutes later, McCormack was welcoming those same marines aboard The Festering Boil. Ensign Jones ordered McCormack and Watts down from the quarterdeck as the marines encircled the rest of the crew on the main deck.

As they reached the top of the steps on the quarterdeck, McCormack whispered to Dogwatch, “Can you swim?”


With a slightly louder, more frustrated voice McCormack asked again, “Can you swim?”

Dogwatch turned and gave Cementhands a quizzical look, but as he did so, the big man hefted him into the air and threw him at two marines standing at the rail. The three of them went tumbling over the rail and into the water. McCormack then flew down the stairs as he saw Gabriel running toward him. Another marine at the rail raised his musket and pointed it toward the water – getting a bead on the now floundering Dogwatch Watts.

“Cannonball, lad! Cannonball!”

McCormack called to Gabriel who now leaped toward his mentor and as he did so, tucked himself tightly into a human ball. McCormack caught him by his britches and the back of his shirt and spun sharply like an athlete preparing to fling the hammer at a track and field event. He launched the lad, feet first, at the aiming marine and, true to form, Gabriel straightened out his body a moment before impact spearing the man in the back with his feet. The two of them joined the others in the warm waters below.

McCormack turned to continue the fight, but as he came out of his spin, he found three bayonets positioned perilously close to his throat.

“I was told by someone who knows you very well that you might be trouble.” Jack Jones sneered at the frozen McCormack. He brought his face as close as he dared to the big man’s face – then, with the confidence of a cobra ordered, “Shackle him.”

Three marines rushed over with ankle and wrist shackles and quickly secured Cementhands McCormack. “And the chain.” Jones added.

The marines now ran a thick chain between his legs and wrists and cinched it in such a way that made McCormack stoop as his hands were pulled closer to his feet. The chain was then padlocked and Jones slipped the key into his pocket.

“Shoot the pirate and the boy in the water.” He ordered coldly.

“But sir!” one of he marines protested, “That pirate is wrestling with one of our lads out there – we might shoot our own man. Besides, the boy – well, he’s just a boy!”

Jack Jones drew his pistol as he walked over to the questioning marine. Without comment and without so much as a blink, he shot the man in the head. He coldly began reloading his pistol. Black Butch, Wellington Peddicord, Salty Jim and Two Patch made movement toward Jones, but they were immediately confronted with menacing bayonets.

“You four.” Jones said as he glanced at four other marines along the rail. “Fire at once.”

By now, Dogwatch and Gabriel were close together and struggling with the three marines. Gabriel looked up to see the marines taking aim and, grabbing Dogwatch by the hair, pulled him under the water. Dogwatch, in turn, pulled a couple of the marines under with him.

Even under water, Gabriel could hear the pop of the gunfire and he saw two of the marines contort in pain.

On deck, McCormack was allowed to move to the rail to watch the execution. He saw the group go under and the marine on the surface take a mortal wound. A few moments passed and he saw the bodies of the two other marines float alongside their mate. The water filled with blood and became murkier by the moment.

One of the men in the firing squat puked over the edge of the ship – disgusted at the thought of slaughtering his own.


The marines quickly obeyed.


Another volley slapped the water around the corpses. Still, no sign of Dogwatch and Gabriel.


Again, the marines quickly reloaded their muskets.


Small white explosions of displaced water rained down on the same spot.

Four minutes had passed and still there was no sign of the pirate and the boy.

“Good shooting men. You punctured their lungs and they sank like stones.”

Just then, Strumpet the monkey could be heard screeching in the rigging. She had become upset when Gabriel went overboard, but now was in a fit from the shooting. Jones saw her and quickly drew his pistol and fired. The monkey evaporated in a haze of blood and fur.

Strumpet’s lifeless body hit the deck with a thud.

“Pirates and their pets.” Jones said with disgust. “Toss that vermin overboard.”

One of the marines moved to obey but Jones, who was already reloading his pistol stopped him.

“Not you!” he snapped, “Make one of them do it!”

Saucy Jenny stepped forward, tears welling up in her eyes as she scooped the small monkey’s body from the deck. The pirate crew snapped to attention as Jenny held Strumpet’s body over the rail. After a brief moment of silence, she let Strumpet fall into the sea.

Jones finished reloading his pistol and approached the chained McCormack. “I’ve always found it fascinating what you pirates get emotionally attached to; monkeys, children and …” scanning he big man from head to foot, “all manner of beasts.”

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