Tuesday, September 26, 2006


The Havana Caper - Part 34 "Dinky's Dirty Doings"

The sun beat mercilessly on the captured pirate ship and its brightness forced Cementhands McCormack’s eyes into a tight squint as he was brought up in chains to the deck of The Festering Boil. There, he joined the rest of his crewmates who had been filing onto the deck since they had arrived in Havana harbor. On the other side of the dock, he could see the weary forms of Cap’n Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket, Doc Burgess and George the Greek as they, too, were brought up on deck for the first time in over a week. A mishmash of marines, sailors and thugs guarded the prisoners. One particularly loathsome character decided to take liberties with Saucy Jenny. He forced her backward against the mizzenmast and placed his left hand over her right breast as he tried to force his open mouth over hers.

Wellington Peddicord leaped to her defense, but the four men who stood on either side of McCormack quickly intercepted him and took him down hard to the deck. This momentary lapse in security left Cementhands open to intervene. Chained though he was, he took a run at the would be molester who looked up just in time to see the big man’s head pull back, eyes widened, and then come crashing down with lethal force. McCormack, using the only appendage not encumbered by chains, drove his forehead deep into the offender’s skull that gave way, as would any rotten egg when a sizable stone comes crashing down upon it.

Blood splattered into his face temporarily blinding the big man. Saucy Jenny, quickly distanced herself from the insult and its violent retribution and began to wipe the blood and goo from McCormack’s eyes when another great thud was heard. No shattering of bone, but the sound was one of tremendous impact and McCormack’s eyes rolled up as he dropped to the deck in a state of unconsciousness. Behind him, Jack Jones could be seen following through with the swing of a rifle butt that dropped Jenny’s rescuer.

“You bastard! You fucking bastard!” she screamed as Jones stood over the fallen man in chains.

“Oh, come now!” Jones sneered, “We can’t have that animal loosed to exact his primitive revenge on men whose only crime is wanting to have a bit of slap and tickle with a pirate whore.” He then placed his hand on her throat while his comrades held their bayonets to the rest of the pirates and whispered in her ear. “By the time my men are through with you, the gallows will seem a long lost and welcome friend. And the wheels of justice grind marvelously slow here in Havana.”

Jenny’s eyes were aflame as she spat in Lieutenant Jones’ face.

He pulled a handkerchief from his pocked and wiped the goo from his cheek. Then, as she stood toe to toe with him, he made as if he was going to walk away, but instead balled up his fist and hit her hard in the face, knocking her to the deck. He then spoke directly to his men.

“Bind her hands behind her back. If this viper spits at anyone again, I am to be informed immediately. I will then slit her throat in front of the entire crew. Is that understood?”

“Aye-Aye, Lieutenant!” the men responded with an enthusiastic salute.

Across the dock on the HMS Princess, Cap’n Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket, George and Doc Burgess all winced when they saw Cementhands McCormack take the rifle butt to the head and fall like a large sack of something bulky and immovable to the deck.

“Merrill, I really must insist that your fellows stop their disdainful treatment of my crew. It’s horribly unbecoming.” Slappy worked hard at establishing as civilized a tone in his voice as was possible for him to do.

“That’s CAPTAIN Stubing to you, pirate! And my men have and will treat vermin with all the respect due … uh … well … VERMIN!”

Slappy, Chumbucket, George and Burgess exchanged bewildered glances. Finally, Slappy spoke.

“That was the best you could do? Has the British naval academy abandoned their rhetoric classes? Or are you, as it seems to me, a verbal stumblebum?”

Stubing’s face burned red with rage and he closed in on Cap’n Slappy as near as his courage would let him.

“I know you! I know who you are! You were one of those upper classmen whose idea of the height of self expression was to secretly strap a fellow to his bunk and move the sleeping underclassman to the commons and, while nature and imagination caused him an involuntary stiffening of his … uh … manhood, cruelly and foully play ‘ring toss’ with his fleshy man-peg!”

At the use of the phrase, “man-peg,” Ol’ Chumbucket, George and Doc Burgess broke into howls of jolly laughter. Cap’n Slappy’s face beamed with surprise and joy.

“Dinky! It’s YOU!” Slappy moved to embrace the angry captain, but his wrists were securely shackled. Besides, the look on Stubing’s face indicated that a class reunion was most assuredly not in the offing. His enthusiasm undeterred, Slappy continued, “I’d have recognized you earlier if you’d only dropped your trousers!”

Chumbucket, George and Burgess let loose a womanly “Woooo!” of surprise to which Slappy quickly responded, “Now, now, lads! Thar be nothin’ e’en remotely ‘Nancy-like’ about a saucy game o’ ‘Fleshy Man-Peg Ring Toss’ amongst school chums!” Then, with an ‘understanding’ glance at Stubing he quickly added, “Not that thar would be anything wrong with bein’ a bit o’ a Nancy – ‘Judge Not!’ says me!” He closed his statement with a friendly wink.

If there is something hotter than the sun, we don’t know what it is or what we would call that kind of heat. The same was true for the rage that ran through Stubing in that instant. If a man was ever to spontaneously burst into an all-consuming flame that would destroy life on this and every other planet in the universe, he would have been that man and this would have been that moment. Fortunately for us all, biology and physics were still mostly theoretical and unwilling to ignite the Doomsday explosion – but the very best that Stubing could manage was to point toward Havana; eyes bulging, skin glowing and hair nearly standing at attention; and hope that his sergeant-at-arms would know what he wanted.

He did. And a few moments later, the officers of The Festering Boil were disembarking from The Princess onto the long dock that led them toward a very uncertain future.

As they marched down the dock flanked by soldiers, Ol’ Chumbucket began calling out the steps in their rhythm. Quietly at first, then, with growing authority.

“Heft, heft, heft – ayight, heft!”

When they reached the “T” in the dock that ran parallel to the shoreline, Ol’ Chumbucket gave a conspiratorial glance to his mates who acknowledged with nods of their respective heads.

“Left face – HARCH!”

On cue, the soldiers all turned left and mindlessly marched on while, using their most rigid military movement, the four prisoners wheeled to the right and immediately broke from their escort.

It was working! It shouldn’t have, but it was! All four glanced over their shoulders in disbelief as they moved quickly away. They’d gone about fifty yards when they turned to move forward and ran smack dab into the evil Jack Jones and some very ugly musketeers with nasty looking bayonets fixed to the barrels of some very nasty looking muskets.

“Going somewhere?” Jones asked with a sneer.

“Just seeing the sights,” Slappy said nonchalantly, indicating wth a nod of his head the white sand beaches overlooked by the frowning form of Morro Castle.

“Ah, well, let me offer you the grand tour,” Jones said. “This way. And, if you stray again, keep in mind that my men have orders to shoot you in the knees.”

Within minutes, the pirates were ushered into surprisingly comfortable accommodations in the armory.

The room itself was sparse. Four cots lined the walls and a small table with four chairs sat in the middle of the room. Simple, but nice when compared to the dungeon four flights below where the crew had been locked away without furnishings – only some meager piles of straw that may or may not have been used by previous residents for either a bed or an out-house.

After a few moments in their room alone, George heard keys jingling in the lock. A small contingent of musketeers entered and forced the four to the farthest wall. Then, six more soldiers entered carrying a large table upon which lay the unconscious body of Cementhands McCormack. They were straining under the weight and dropped the sturdy table in the middle of the room.

The lead soldier looked at Doc Burgess and said, “This man needs medical attention. You’re supposed to be a doctor – you look to him.” He then disappeared with the phalanx and locked the door behind him.

Slappy, Chumbucket, George and Burgess rushed to their friend’s side. He was breathing deeply but regularly. Doc examined his head.

“It would have killed any of us, but to him – it’s a bump on the noggin.”

“I’ll bump your noggin!” McCormack said groggily.

“Not particularly witty, but at least it’s a sign of life.” Ol’ Chumbucket added.

Slappy nodded – “And at least this time, he’s not a patron saint of inclimate weather!’

Saturday, September 02, 2006


The Havana Caper – 33

“He threw you overboard? How did you make it here?” Keeling asked as he, Gabriel and Dogwatch sat around the fire they’d lit.

All day the pirates had watched from the edge of the jungle as the ships – including their own Festering Boil – conducted a cursory scan of the shoreline without actually sending a landing party ashore. As the sun began to settle they watched the ships sail away. Only then had they dared to light a small fire in the sheltered spot several hundred yards inland.

“Dogwatch and I swam here,” Gabriel said simply.

“Don’t let him tell you that,” Dogwatch interjected. “I was struggling, about to drown, but I knew if I came up for air they’d riddle me with bullets. This tyke had the sense to pull us back towards the ship, where they weren’t looking for us. We clung to the Boil’srudder for the better part of two hours before they raised anchor and got under weigh. Then we were able to swim here without being seen.”

Keeling nodded. He’d been lucky, he realized, and might have taken a lesson from the cabin boy on his right and saved himself a torturous underwater swim during which he had almost given up hope of surviving.

“How about you? How’d you escape,” Dogwatch asked.

“Once again I find myself in debt to mother, who made me promise as a lad to abstain from spirituous liquors,” Keeling said. “Stubing fed us doped rum. I can’t claim I knew it was a trap, although it certainly seemed odd. I took mine and found a way to dispose of it.”

“In a flower pot?”

“No,” Keeling said, a smile breaking out on his face. “In Cap’n Slappy’s boot.”

The others stared at him wide-eyed, then all three laughed, the first laugh any of them had had since the day had gone so horribly awry 18 hours earlier. Unfortunately it was little enough to laugh at, and soon they were all staring glumly back at the small fire. Finally, Gabriel broke the silence with a quiet question.

“What if it weren’t doped rum? What if it was poisoned? What if they’re dead?”

“I don’t think so. They were dragging them off to chain them below in the bilge, which I don’t think they’d bother doing if they were dead. But it’s not good, whatever it is.” Keeling recounted for them Stubing’s increasingly fevered ramblings about “a power in the west” and someone bold enough to use that power.

“Whoever it is, he seems to want Slappy and the crew personally, and it doesn’t sound pleasant.”

“So what do we do now?” Dogwatch asked, getting back to business.

“Well, when the morning comes we ought to see about finding water and food. Then it’ll depend, I suppose, on whether Spencer and his crew find their way back here. They were overdue this morning, and the last we saw them they were heading for the Keys with two galleons on their heels.”

With this sobering appraisal of the situation the three pirates drew lots to see who’d stand first watch and tend the fire, then Keeling and Gabriel settled down as best they could in the sand and fell asleep.

When morning came it found Gabriel standing last watch, his head down on his knees, but the fire still going. Dogwatch scouted down the coast of the small island which lay at the mouth of the bay and soon came back with news that a stream ran into the cove with plenty of clear water. Keeling foraged among the trees and came back with an armload of cocoanuts and some tropical fruit. They decided to keep the fire down to bare coals, not enough flame or smoke that it would give them away in these hostile waters, but enough heat and fuel nearby that they could fan it into life if anyone came along they did want to notice them.

Then they waited.

And waited. Sometime after noon Dogwatch got up and started walking east along the beach.

“Where are you going?” Keeling asked.

“Just taking a walk, getting the lay of he land. Stretching my legs.”

“Well don’t go too far,” Keeling said. “When Spencer gets here we want to be able to set sail directly.”

“Don’t worry. I just can’t sit here all day.”

“Well don’t go too far. Tell you what, don’t go beyond that bend in the beach. And don’t stand on any logs. They’re very unstable and a wave can roll one right over you. And don’t get too much sun.”

Dogwatch just stared at the lieutenant, who blushed.

“Was I sounding like my mother again?”

Dogwatch smiled. “No, you were sounding like MY mother. I mean, you never met her and she died more than 15 years ago, but you really captured her tone and inflections. That’s really amazing. Now do Slappy’s mother.”

“Go! Walk! You great prattling popinjay!” ” Keeling said.

“Perfect! I’m sure that’s just what she sounds like!”

Laughing, Dogwatch ducked the piece of cocoanut shell Keeling threw at him and headed east down the beach. Within 15 minutes he had rounded the bend and was out of sight.

Three hours later Keeling was standing, peering anxiously for any sign of his shipmate.

“He should be back by now,” he said, fretting.

“Do you think he’s been captured or something happened to him?” Gabriel asked, nervously looking up the shore in the direction Watts had disappeared.

“I don’t know. I fear he may have run into trouble. Let’s retreat into the underbrush just a bit and make sure there there’s no sign of us on shore if anyone comes looking.”

It took only a few minutes to remove any trace from that sand that they were there, and Keeling and Gabriel were lying in the underbrush. They’d picked a place that gave them as good a vantage as you could hope for while lying in the foliage. Still there was no sign of Dogwatch. Another hour passed before Keeling crawled out from under the palm fronds and stood, stretching to relieve his aching muscles. Gabriel joined him and together they stared east.

“There are so many dangers possible it’s hard to know what might have happened or where he is,” Keeling said.

“Should we go looking for him?” Gabe asked.

“I don’t think so,” said Watt’s voice from behind them. They both jumped.

“If you went looking for me then you wouldn’t be here when I got back, and I’d take off looking for you and we’d be walking around this island for days.”

“Don’t do that!” Keeling shouted, while the fingers of his right hand felt for his pulse in his left wrist. “That could give a man a heart attack!”

“Where did you come from?” Gabriel asked.

“It’s an island, remember?” Watts said, squinting at the sun to get its position. “As it turns out, not a very large one. About four hours have passed based on the sun. I usually walk at about four miles an hour but because of the beach conditions, probably more like three. So that would make the island about 12 miles around. If it were a circle – which it’s not, that’d make it …” Watts appeared to be doing calculations in his head, a feat Gabriel considered even more amazing than the time he’d seen Cementhands McCormack eat a whole roast goat single-handedly. “… about two miles across.”

“How did you figure that out?” Keeling asked.

“I looked at it on the charts while we were still on the Boil. I’m the navigator. Remember?”

Watts ducked as Keeling heaved another piece of cocoanut shell at him.

“Perhaps a walk will do you some good,” he said. I’m going to start weaving a fishing net out of vines, just in case we’re waiting here a while. In the meantime, we’ll have to start thinking about what we’re going to do if Spencer doesn’t show up.”

“Spencer will be here,” Keeling said grimly. “He has to be.”

Keeling was right, of course, but Watts had his fishing net almost half finished and they were all heartily sick of cocoanut before they knew that. It was their third morning on the beach when they spotted a sail at the mouth of the harbor. Gabriel scurried up a tree, and called down that it looked like Lord Shiva’s Eye. Keeling and Watts immediately started tossing fuel on the fire.

Aboard the pinnace, Spencer, Lieutenant Tharp and the four other sailors aboard were scanning the bay looking for some sign of the pirate ship.

“Are you sure we’re in the right place,” the misplaced naval officer asked the young pirate.

“This is the place. I’m sure this is the bay Slappy told us to meet him at.”

“Then where are they?”

“I don’t know.”

“Are you sure they didn’t leave? I mean, assuming they weren’t sunk or captured, they must have made a pretty good haul hitting the treasure fleet. Maybe they decided not to cut us in, and took off without us.”

Spencer stared coldly at Tharp.

“That’s not what Slappy would do. He’d wait for us. Pirates don’t let each other down.”

“Pirates also don’t bathe that often, but I’ve seen even Slappy clean up enough that you could bear to be downwind of him.”

“He’ll be here, or he was here and something happened. Let’s move in and see what there is to see.”

Just moments later they noticed a column of smoke rising from one of the islets that ringed the bay. Cautiously, with their guns charged and ready, they approached. They were a couple of hundred yards from shore when they saw the three figures on the beach dancing and waving and hollering. As the ship approached they all ran into the water and started swimming toward Lord Shiva’s Eye. Ropes were tossed and the three clambered aboard, where they were met by a barrage of questions.

“What’s going on? Where’s the ship? What happened? Where’s the rest of the crew.”

Keeling silenced them all.

“We’ll tell you while we travel Right now, set a course for Havana.”

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