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.”


Mates may I join ya............
I be a lady jezzabelle..........
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?