Monday, October 23, 2006


The Havana Caper – 35

The sun was dropping behind the city of Havana, setting off a Technicolor aerial display of reds and oranges that would have looked great in a Hollywood adventure movie if only the movie business and indeed the entire movie-making technology and the city of Hollywood itself weren’t another couple of hundred years away, but never mind that, the point is that Sol was settling in the west and creating its typical, extravagantly beautiful tropical sunset, as the small ship sailed in from the east, skirting the forbidding walls of Morro Castle, the huge edifice that guards the eastern approach to Spain’s most important outpost in the Caribbean.

“I don’t like the look of that,” Dogwatch said as he eyed the massive walls of the edifice and the large brass cannon bristling from its battlements atop the 40-foot tall fortifications.

“If you want to stay out of it, keep smiling and waving, and stop speaking English,” Leftenant Keeling hissed. “Remember, we’re local fishermen.”

“You mean ‘Somos pescadores locales,’ I think,” said Ensign Tharp.

“Dios mio!” Keeling said, slapping his forehead and then shouting out to the world in general, “¡Somos pescadores locales! ¿Usted ve nuestras redes? ¡El rey de España es un compañero alegre!”

“Shut up! You sound like a twit!” Tharp whispered.

“You mean, ‘Usted suena como un compañero absurdo,” Keeling corrected him.

“Shut up!” Spencer said. “Let’s just find an out-of-the-way place to drop anchor and figure out our next move.”

The pinnace Lord Shiva’s Eye sailed into the harbor with Spencer, Tharp, Keeling, Dogwatch and two other pirates nervously eyeing the surrounding shipping in the busy harbor.

“So what do we do next?” Spencer asked.

“Well, we can start by finding the ships, which have to be here somewhere. Then I’ll take a stroll around the market and see if anyone can tell us anything,” Keeling said.

“And then what?” Tharp asked. “We’re in the most heavily defended Spanish port this side of Cadiz, and you said the Spanish aren’t even our real problem. You said the Boil was captured by some megalomaniacal person who managed to suborn the British navy. There are six of us. I still don’t see why we’re even bothering.”

The others just stared at the British ensign.

“We’re here to rescue our friends, and we’ll figure out how when the time comes,” Keeling said coldly. “If that’s not good enough for you, if duty to friend and family don’t mean anything, then maybe you should get out now.”

“No. Sorry but I can’t accommodate you just yet,” Tharp replied. “My duty to the Royal Navy commands that I stay and find out what this new threat is. If there turns out to be a way to help our shipmates, I’ll be happy to mention it to you. But I’m here for king and country.”

“And the treasure, of course,” Dogwatch said.


“The treasure. It’s enough to retire on, Keeling said, and it’s not on our ship. It’s on the Boil. And it’s hard to believe that wouldn’t have SOME appeal to you.”

“My first loyalty is to the navy,” Tharp sputtered. “My next is to our comrades IF they can be found and IF we can rescue them without endangering my ability to get word back to England. The treasure … well, the treasure …”

“Is a hell of a lot of money and it’ll be terrific if we can get it,” Spencer said with a grin. “But first we’ve got to find our friends.”

The pinnace sailed into the harbor and the pirates craned their necks, scanning the piers for some sign of the Festering Boil or the ships involved in its capture. They headed to the docks that surrounded Old Havana, but found nothing more than the usual hulks, luggers and urcas that made up a typical merchant fleet. As the last light from the ludicrously beautiful sunset faded, spreading a cloak of dark across the bay, they had circled back almost to the fort. It was now too dark to see clearly, but by the lights shining from the docks they could make out the shapes of several ships much larger than the merchantmen they’d seen elsewhere.

“Men of war, certainly,” Dogwatch said. “But are they the ones?”

“No way to know until the morning,” Tharp said. “We’d better find a place to anchor. Actually, right there against the breakwater would be a likely spot.”

“Right next to the fort? They could hit us with rocks, let alone those big guns on the castle wall.”

“Actually, they probably couldn’t depress the guns enough to hit us, the angle’s too great. But that’s sort of the point. Only innocent sailors seeking protection of the Spanish would choose to anchor so close to their guns.”

“Now you’re thinking like a pirate!” Dogwatch said.

“Thank you?” Tharp said questioningly with chagrin.

“In the meantime, I have some work to do ashore,” Keeling said as he came up from below dressed all in black. “Spencer, can I borrow your jolly boat? I’m going to see if there’s any word of our friends.”

Their friends, the officers and crew of The Festering Boil, had enjoyed a quiet day – if enjoyed could be used to describe a day locked in the heart of the Spanish fortress by an unknown enemy. They had been fed, sufficiently if not lavishly, but that was the only break in the monotony.

“Not even a deck of cards so I could win your share of the treasure,” Sawbones Burgess grumbled.

“The treasure doesn’t look like it’s going to be ours much longer,” Cap’n Slappy observed. “But we can play some poker for imaginary stakes if you like.”

“How? We don’t have any cards.”

“I’ve got a deck right here.” Slappy fished around in his pockets and his hand emerged. His fingers were curved as if holding a deck, but there was nothing to be seen in his grasp.

“Imaginary stakes, so we’ll use my invisible deck,” he said.

“Wait, what?”

“Invisible poker deck. I got it from that Haitian voodoo queen when we were in Hôpital. Who’s in?”

Ol’ Chumbucket waved his hand dismissively from the bunk where he’d lain most of the afternoon. “I may not be the smartest guy on the seas, but I know enough to not play cards with you when you’re using you’re invisible deck.”

“Oh c’mon! It’s not like these are marked cards.”

“They’re not cards at all,” said George the Greek. “But it’s probably better than nothing. Deal me in.”

“You in Cementhands?” the captain asked the giant figure on the table in the middle of the room. McCormack’s only answer was a sound halfway between a snore and a moan.

“I’ll take that as a yes.”

Slappy then explained how they’d play with no actual money and a deck of cards only he could see. They anted up and began playing, Slappy taking care of both his own and McCormack’s hand.

An hour later, visibly annoyed, Slappy watched as Burgess raked in another pot.

“You’ve got to be cheating,” Slappy said.

“What do you mean? You dealt me those aces!” Burgess crowed.

If the money had been real, an observer would have seen a large pile of gold in front of the doctor, a healthy haul in front of both George and Cementhands, and the captain down to his last two doubloons.

“Okay, that’s it. I’m all in. Anyone else?”

“Wait! Put your cards up,” Chumbucket said suddenly, alerted to the sound of movement in the corridor.

A key turned in the door’s lock, and it opened quickly, the barrel of two muskets and a pistol being the first thing that passed through.

“Everyone against the wall,” Ensign Jones said. The pirates, having no alternative and nothing else to do anyway, complied, except for McCormack who was still mostly comatose.

“Your presence is required elsewhere,” Jones said. “We’re going to provide these lovely shackles to keep you from getting lost on the way.”

The filibusters were fettered at the wrists and ankles and forced to shuffle down the corridor. McCormack was forced to his feet where he was able to walk along, although he still seemed to be mostly somewhere else in all but body.

In the main hallway they saw the rest of the crew, similarly bound. Several of them started to call out to their officers, but a few rifle butts quickly put an end to any effusive greetings.

“I hope you all brought all your belongings from your ‘rooms,’ because we’ll be moving you to the main prison shortly,” Jones said. “Oh, how silly of me. You have no possessions. How sad. Still, that won’t matter soon. But before we take you to the finest lock-up you’ll ever see – and the last – there’s someone who’d like to remake your acquaintance and explain why you’ve been selected for this very special treatment. If you’ll follow me.”

The pirates were herded down another long, flagstone-paved corridor, then down a steep, twisting flight of stairs and down another corridor. Finally, they were ushered through a heavy double door. One by one as they entered their shackle were removed, so that entering the room took as long as trying to get through airport security when you’re running late. Finally they all passed through the entrance and the heavy doors were shut with a boom. The pirates looked around.

They were in the center of a large room, lit by dozens of flickering torches that barely served to pierce the gloom of the high ceiling. A balcony ran around the room, about 12 feet up. It was manned with soldiers, each training their weapons on the Boils. At the opposite side of the room was a raised platform on which stood an ornate chair. Sinisterly, at the center of the room was a tall chair under a rope, suspended from the ceiling, ending in a noose.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Jones said as he climbed to the dais. “Keep quiet and you’re questions will be answered.”

“How can we ask our questions if we keep quiet?” Slappy asked.

“Shut up and we’ll ask the questions for you.”

“You mean you’re a mind reader?” O’ Chumbucket asked innocently.

“I mean there are some obvious questions that a person in your position would be asking, and we’ll answer them.”

“So you’ll ask the questions, and then who will answer them?” George asked.

“I mean shut your mouths and we’ll explain things. Unless you’d prefer that we proceed to the more entertaining portion of our program, the portion that involves hot irons, whips and sharp implements.”

“Well that doesn’t sound entertaining to ME,” Chumbucket said.

“No, perhaps not, but I’ll laugh my ass off,” Jones said with a snarl.

A door at the back of the raised area opened. A diminutive figure in a pristine white uniform entered.

“Ensign, are the prisoners ready,” asked Captain Stubing.

“They’re being as mouthy and troublesome as you’d predicted sir,” Jones said.

“So someone here IS a mind reader,” Ol’ Chumbucket said.


One of the armed soldiers at the front of the room advanced toward Ol’ Chumbucket and with a swift, vicious stroke of his musket butt sent the pirate toppling to the floor. The pirates surged forward, but the marksmen on the balcony above cocked and aimed their firearms at the crowd, and the soldiers ringing the floor leveled bayonets at them. Chumbucket rose to one knee.

“I’m okay. Don’t give them an excuse to attack,” he muttered through the blood streaming down his face.

“Before I introduce you to the visionary leader who has brought us all to this moment in history, I’d like you to meet the person who has helped us keep track of you all this time while you sailed back and forth over the ocean on your busy little buccaneer business while we, under our leader’s guidance, were planning no less than the shift of power from the thin-blooded aristocracy of the Old World to the vibrant, ruthless new order of the West.”

The door at the back of the dais opened again, and a figure came out, hesitantly, wide-eyed and frightened.

“Oscar!” many of the pirates shouted in a mixture of shock and anger.

“Yes, his reports on your activities made amusing reading in the pages of Pirattitude Monthly, but they also helped us keep close tabs on you, to reach out for you when we were ready. Our leader has decided now is the time, so we sent a ship back to Nuestra Señora de la Sangría Eterna de la Nariz to fetch him. Well done, Oscar.”

Oscar’s eyes grew wide as he surveyed the crowd of angry pirates who looked like they had found a subject on whom the entertaining portion of the program might entertain them as well.

“But enough There will be a reunion later, but now there’s much more important business. Finally you will meet the mastermind behind our organization, and understand why we can’t, unfortunately, invite you to be part of it. Our leader has a much more interesting role for you to play – as screaming, terror-filled victims.”

The door opened once again. A figure emerged.

Shock was written on all the faces of the pirates. There was a general gasp. Chumbucket muttered, “Oh shit,” and Red Molly turned to Wellington and said “We’re totally fucked.”

Cap’n Slappy’s blood turned to ice and he was pretty was sure his heart had stopped. But he sounded completely cool and unimpressed as he looked up into the wild, maniacal eyes of his captor and said, “Oh, hello. How’d you get here, Fanny?”

Ahoy, Cap'n Slappy and Ol' Chumbucket!
I've a problem that only you two gentlemen of fortune can solve. When I'm ashore, I am a student. And piratical students are very good at one thing... procrastination. Now, fer the last couple of months I have been procrastinatin' dilligently whilst followin' the adventures and capers on this here blog. In that time I have read the entire tale -- all 147+35 posts. An in that same time, each of you have posted once.
Now, hold of on that beatin'... I don't want to be feelin' yer fists and foreheads beatin' me to a pulp fer me impertinance.
But by the beard of me ship's goat... how am I supposed to procrastinate now? An' how am I supposed to concentrate on me studies if I don't know whats to become of the crew? Me curiosity about how fanny came to be in Havana is going to kill me faster than me latest bout of scurvy! I need yer help, lads!
Thank ye kindly...

Bloodie Ellie
Ah, Ellie, me bloody lass! You're absolutely right. You've caught us in port with no canvas on the yards. We've been working hard on a couple of other projects and have let "The Havana Caper" slide. Our bad.

Here's a promise from the Pirate Guys. We may be a little slow working on the story through the rest of 2006 but we'll get at least another couple of installments posted. And, come the new year, we'll get back on schedule and see this through to the rousing finish, complete with Erik Korngold trumpet fanfate!.

I'm interested to learn how Fanny got to Havana meself! It was Slappy's idea, he said he wanted to bring her back, so pretty much everything that's happened so far has been leading to (the fictional) Slappy's line, "How'd you get here, Fanny?" What, if anything, me writing partner has in mind is anyone's guess and I can't wait to see what he come up with. But it may be just a tad longer a'fore we know, 'cuz I'm not sure he knows yet himself!

But we both are absolutely delighted that you've enjoyed the stories enough to follow all 200,000 plus words and then demand that we keep going. It's a lesson to us, and that's a fact.
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