Tuesday, December 12, 2006


The Havana Caper – 37

“They’re definitely in there,” Keeling said, jerking his thumb towards the gray bulk of Morro Castle. “The soldiers I overheard at the taberna were talking about a whole crew of pirates who’d been brought in.”

The crew of Lord Shiva’s Eye glanced up at the imposing edifice.

“Well, I suppose a direct assault is out of the question,” Dogwatch said. “So how do we slip in there?”

“Are you all nuts?” Tharp exploded. “Look, I said I’d go along, and I’m all for trying to break out our friends – if it’s humanly possible. I owe Cementhands, Ol’ Chumbucket and the rest something for saving me from the Bawdy Boys. And I hope you don’t think I’m afraid of a fight – but this is suicide! This is a job for the English navy. I recommend we scoot down to Port Royal and see if we can raise Captain Stubing and the rest of the fleet. At the very least we could have the governor send a strongly worded message of protest to the Spanish viceroy.”

“By which time our friends will be dead, including your uncle,” Spencer said. “We don’t have that kind of time. For all we know, they’re already being lined up for execution.”

“Besides, I don’t think the Stubing’s going to be much help. Isn’t that his ship anchored at the other end of the harbor?” Dogwatch pointed out.

“It’s more than that,” Keeling continued. “There was something else those soldiers said. The viceroy isn’t in charge in there. Someone else is, and whoever it is, the soldiers were afraid of him. In fact, they’re so scared by what’s happening that they’re planning to desert and try to find their way back to Spain. And that’s our next step.”

“We’re going to Spain?” Dogwatch asked.

“No. They’re planning to leave tonight, deserting their post while they’re on duty. Then they’re going to sneak down to the harbor, where they’ve hired a fisherman to carry them away on his fishing boat. And I know where they’re meeting him.”

“Did you overhear it?”

“No. We’re the fishing boat they’re planning to use.”

Inside the castle, Benny’s body hung like a grotesque piñata in the center of the stunned pirates.

“Cut that thing down and toss it through the dead gate,” Fanny ordered Ensign Jones. “The rest of you are going back to your lodgings. We’ll all gather here tomorrow for another round of entertainment for your captain.”

“Fanny, for the love of cheese, just kill me and be done with it,” Cap’n Slappy said. “Or just kill us all at once. But don’t drag this thing out.”

“Oh no, my dear Mortimer. This will be much better, you’ll see. After all, I was on that horrible island for months and months, so there’s no reason to hurry now. Thanks to you, I didn’t get the treasure that would have made me queen of Spain, but believe me, I’m going to treasure every moment of the special surprise I have for you. I don’t want to miss a thing, and I don’t want you to miss it either. Now then. Captain Stubing!”

“Yes, milady.”

“All the pirates are to be taken back to the dungeons. No more special treatment for the officers. After all, they no longer have a ship, so they’re not really officers at all, are they?”

“What about my ship?” Slappy said, feeling real fear for the first time.

“You mean The Festering Boil? Oh, no, that’s not your ship anymore. It’s mine. You took my old ship and gave it away. So you owe me one, and I’m taking it. Although I must admit I’m in a quandary. I can’t decide whether it will make a better personal yacht for me, with your head hanging from the bowsprit, or if I should use it as a garbage scow. Or a target for my fleet’s gunnery practice! Wouldn’t that be lovely? So you see, I have lots of thinking to do. But don’t worry my little Slappy. I’ll make up my mind before you meet your horrible, horrible end. I wouldn’t want you to go to your moldering grave without knowing what was to happen to your precious ship.”

“And that reminds me,” she added brightly, as if announcing the next game at a child’s birthday party. “Cap’n Slappy – Oops! I guess I should say Mister Slappy, now, eh? Since you don’t have a ship and all. – MISTER Slappy will not be joining his crew in the dungeon. We have much more suitable accommodations for you elsewhere in the castle. Jones! Take this riff raff away. And Captain Stubing, if you’d be so good as to escort Mr. Slappy to his new quarters. I hope you find them suitable. Until tomorrow, then!”

Lady Fanny began laughing. Not the full-on hysterical crazy laugh of someone in a bad horror movie, although God knows she was bat-shit crazy. It was just the satisfied laughter of a woman who has done her own little bit each day to make the world a more evil, frightening and painful place.

“Oh, a woman’s work is never done,” she said, shaking her head as she left the room.

The pirates were herded out of the room and back down to the depths of the dungeons with little fanfare. The one attempt by a Boil to call out to Slappy before he was led away resulted in Wellington Peddicord being knocked senseless to the ground by a savage butt stroke from a musket. Two of the pirates were then ordered to carry him back to the dungeon below.

“I hope you like it,” Jones said. “We had some brand new filth brought down from the stables just for you.”

The pirates were crammed into two rooms barely big enough for half their numbers. True to Jones’ word, a recent delivery had been made by stables. The offending material was shoved as best as the pirates could manage into one corner of the bare rooms, and the pirates hunkered down on the stone floor to wait – for what, they weren’t sure, but they couldn’t imagine it would be good. And, while they had most of the ship’s officers back, they all wondered the same thing:

What had the bitch done to Slappy?

Night fell with no answer to that question, and scarcely any dinner or water. Between the foul, fetid air and the lack of space, it was almost impossible for anyone to sleep. But as there was nothing else to do, and the next day promised to be trying, they mostly fell asleep.

The air was almost equally ripe where Keeling and Dogwatch waited for their rendezvous.

“Why did you tell them you’d meet them in the fish shed?” Dogwatch asked.

“Not fish shed,” Keeling hissed, his sibilance increased by the two “sh” sounds forced together. “I told you, it’s ‘vertiente de los pescados.’”

“I don’t think it is. That sounds more like a schoolbook phrase than something people would actually say. Where did you learn your Spanish?”

“From a schoolbook,” Keeling grudgingly admitted. “But it’s still a hundred percent more Spanish than anyone else on the ship knows, so let me do the talking. I told them my friend is a mute, so you keep your mouth shut.”

“Fine,” Dogwatch said sulkily. “Just keep it short and simple. The more you talk the more obvious it is that none of us is Spanish.”

“I’ll do … ssshhh! Here they are.”

Keeling stepped out of the shadows and gave the password they’d agreed on earlier.

“Los cerdos vuelan en la medianoche.”

“Sí, sino no fuera de mi nariz.”

“Excellente! ¿Usted tiene el dinero?”


“Entonces déjenos van. Rápido y reservado.”

The four uniformed men followed Keeling and Dogwatch to the edge of the pier and into the longboat. The two pirates rowed them out to the a quiet corner of the busy port where Spencer had brought the pinnace. Eagerly, they accepted Keeling’s offer to climb aboard the small boat.

As they came down the other side, happy to have escaped from Morro Castle, they turned to find themselves staring down the barrels of two pistols. From behind them, Keeling said, “Ahora, déjenos hablan de cómo nos rompemos en el castillo y rescatamos a nuestros amigos.”

Friday, December 01, 2006


The Havana Caper - Part 36 – “The Bitch is Back!”

Lady Fanny stared coldly into Cap’n Slappy’s eyes; looking for some sign of fear or at least mild surprise. A long frozen moment passed and she decided to move on.

“I’m so glad you asked!” Fanny’s words dripped from her lips like the excess toxin from a serpent’s fangs. Her icy enthusiasm for story telling sent chills down the listener’s spine.

“When you marooned me and left me to die on that God forsaken volcanic island of death in the middle of the Indian Ocean I couldn’t help but feel that I, myself, had been partially responsible for my fate.”

Cap’n Slappy winced but defiantly held up his right hand, thumb and index finger half an inch apart denoting his agreement that she may, in fact, be correct in her assumption of guilt.

“But then, one evening when I was sucking the marrow from the bones of a stray puppy that had foolishly befriended me when I was in a state of near-starvation I realized that the woman I had become was the woman you had made of me.”

A gasp of disbelief went up from the pirates. Those who had witnessed Lady Fanny’s cruelty first hand were aghast at her brazen audacity – but none of them were in a position to argue that she was, in fact, the most evil person to walk the face of the earth in five hundred years.

Ol’ Chumbucket noticed that her once-platinum blonde hair was now a shocking white and she, herself, was ghostly pale as if color couldn’t attach itself to her flesh.

She continued. “For a while, I was truly hateful.”

Unable to contain himself anymore, Cementhands McCormack erupted in a single blast of laughter. “HA!” Suddenly, all eyes were fixed on the big man. Lady Fanny rushed to stand in front of him. Her black eyes blazed red-hot. Seeking his mentor’s approval, Benny commented out loud.

“That was funny, Mr. McCormack!”

Fanny’s stare quickly fixed itself on poor Benny who seemed temporarily stunned and confused. He wisely went silent.

After a moment, Lady Fanny took her eyes off Benny and gave a knowing glance to Ensign Jack Jones. He nodded his understanding and she went on with her story.

“Days passed and I began to realize that there was not an inexhaustible supply of trusting puppies on Diego Garcia, so I learned how to catch crabs in tide pools.”

Slappy desperately wanted to say, “Well, I know for a fact that it’s not the first time you’ve caught crabs!” but he feared what she might do in retaliation – so, instead, he gave a “man-nod” to his partner in depravity, Ol’ Chumbucket. Fortunately, Lady Fanny’s immersion in her story kept her from noticing their private joke.

“Before long, I was fashioning weapons and tools from crab shells, puppy bones and the odd albatross beak.” A smile crossed her face that almost looked warm had it appeared on a less ice-sculpted visage. “I became quite the little spear fisher, I tell you!”

The pause that followed showed that she expected some sort of response from her assembled audience. Ol’ Chumbucket began a polite round of applause. As ovations go, this one may have been forced to stand, but its enthusiasm would have been a better match for a group of people reclining on soft cushions and about to fall asleep.

“And at this juncture in the story, I really must thank your captain for my inspiration. My motivation. My raison d’etre!”

There was another pause as she stared, once again, at Cap’n Slappy. This time, he spoke.

“Hurrah for me.”

The pirates exploded in a wildly enthusiastic cheer that served as a counterpoint to their polite applause the moment before.


The scowl on Fanny’s face told them that there would be hell to pay for that outburst, but for the moment, every pirate in the room felt it was worth it.

Fanny shrieked. “You may mock my pain now, my darlings, but very, very soon, you will gain a personal understanding of it and then …!” Fanny seemed to lose her way in the making of this threat. She tried again. “And then … !” Nothing. She paced back and forth for a moment, like a wild hyena, caged for the first time in its life. Then she stopped and appeared to be perfectly calm.

“You will, all of you, soon know what it is to despair.”

She took in a deep breath and breathed it out slowly. Then, like a schoolmarm pounding out a rhythmic sentence with emphasis she soldiered on.

“But I was telling a story and will not allow these interruptions!”

She calmed herself again. “Now where was I? Ah, yes. I had learned to survive, but I needed to get off the island in order to facilitate this happy reunion we’re enjoying today. As Fortune would have it, a beautiful, kindly fisherman was passing the island and saw me standing in the surf, stabbing a shark with my crab-claw knife – relishing the moment when its hot blood gushed forth over my naked body. I realized at once, that my isolation had all but destroyed my innate delicate maiden sensibilities but managed, after a moments exchange of awestruck glances, to shield myself from his lustful gaze by employing my prey as a shield and lowering myself into the frothy, blood-filled waters.”

“My gallant fisherman, pulled his skiff through the surf onto the beach a few yards away and retrieved a large blanket from the boat and placed it on the warm sand. Then, ever the gentleman, he turned his back and allowed me to wrap my nakedness in its warmth in modest privacy.”

“I wanted to thank him. After so many weeks of solitude, I wanted to touch him and hold him and feel human again. I wanted him to see me as a woman. But sadly, what we want and what we need seldom align. And what I needed. What I really needed was to get off this island and the only thing between that need and this opportunity was that man – standing just a few paces up the beach with his arms folded over his chest and his eyes cast inland. I glanced into the boat to see that it had everything I would need to sail back to Madagascar - a compass, charts, food and water – even a jug of rum. It was as if Christmas had come and Saint Nicholas had taken a few steps away from his sleigh tempting a desperate child.”

“With my crab knife still in my hand, I crept up the beach toward my benefactor. From what I was able to see of his profile, he had a kind face. In fact, for a moment, I thought about simply asking him to take me off the island with him – but I quickly imagined that he would take advantage of a helpless, poor woman at sea or worse, make me fall in love with him only to find that he had a wife and fifteen children and this thought stiffened my resolve.”

Fanny’s face was awash in euphoric glee as she described the moment she plunged the makeshift knife into his neck from behind and the look of disbelief on his face as he spun around – grasping at the claw – trying to pluck it from his throat. Between orgasmic moans, Fanny told how she took the meaty part of her palm and drove the crustacean dagger upward into his brain – how the whites of his eyes turned red with blood and glazed over as he fell backward into the sand – gurgling out his last breath.

“By nightfall, I was well on my way to Madagascar and freedom. Once there, I contacted the English consulate and informed them of your savagery. From there, it was a long series of sea journeys that brought me back here – to my home.”

“Great Neptune’s man nipples, Fanny! You’re ‘home’ is Bristol – it’s where you got your start in prostitution!” Slappy was defiant now.

“SILENCE DOG!” With that outburst, Lady Fanny’s armed thugs aimed their muskets into the crowd of pirates. She calmed herself at once. “Havana is my home now, Mortimer Slappy. And you are now going to have a brief taste of my hospitality.”

Lady Fanny shot a glance at Ensign Jones who took several men with muskets to open up the crowd in front of Cementhands McCormack. He snarled at the big man who simply stared back dispassionately. Jones then made a quick move to the side and plucked Benny from the crowd and pulled him up to the front. While Lady Fanny continued to speak, Jones bound Benny’s hands behind his back and forced him to stand on the tall chair beneath the noose which had been hanging ominously from the ceiling since the pirates entered the room.

“I am a tolerant woman as prone to the frailties of emotion as a dandelion is subject to a foul wind. And like that dandelion, once its seeds are scattered my emotions cannot simply be reattached to where they once were – they’ve moved on. All that’s left is for nature – and Nature’s Gardener, to do what they’ve always done.”

By this time, she had strolled to where Cap’n Slappy was but his focus was on the preparations for what looked to be a hanging. He hoped to draw her wrath away from Benny.

“Do you know what Nature’s Gardener has always done, Dear Slappy?” Fanny stared at him – insistent on an answer.

“Based on what you’re doing right now, I’m going to guess, ‘Jabber on spouting some bat-shit-crazy nonsense until she has the good sense to fling herself off a cliff.’ Am I close?” The wrath that Slappy hoped to bring down on himself was not forthcoming. It was as if she hadn’t even heard him.

Fanny continued, “That’s right! Weeding! The Caribbean is my garden and you are all a bunch of dandelions just aching to be weeded out – one by one.”

By now, Benny was trembling as he stood on the chair with the noose cinched around his neck. He was terrified and kept looking at Cementhands for some clue as to what to do. The back of the chair faced the assembled pirates and Benny’s whimpering gave the impression of a frightened puppy that had been removed too soon from its mother.

“But I am a slow weeder. I like to watch it whither and die – inch by inch. And so, we’re going to hang this pirate who thought he could be cheeky – but he’s not dying because of that. No. For that he has only one man to thank.”

“Fanny you’re a fucking whore!” Slappy bellowed. She charged over to him – protected by her musket-wielding entourage.

“You can’t make me kill you yet, Slappy! No! You are going to watch while each of these pirates of yours dies slowly and painfully for your sins!” She now addressed the crowd. “Do you hear that? You are all going to die because of your beloved Cap’n Slappy! Slowly! Painfully! Today it’s McCormack’s pet monkey – tomorrow it could be friendly ol’ Doc Burgess or that bitch, Red Molly! It could be any one of you, but I promise you this, it will be slow! We’re just going to ease this one off the chair and watch him kick at the air – gasping and grasping at Life – but it will tease and evade him and after much suffering, he will die!”

“Mr. McCormack! What should I do?” Benny called out in despair.

“Step up on the back of the chair and jump, Benny! Just jump!” McCormack shouted back.

Jones moved to pull the chair smoothly away so that Benny’s body weight would choke the life out of him, but all those months of diligently obeying McCormack’s orders made Benny a step faster than his executioners. With a strong step up on the back of the chair, Benny leaped into the air as the chair moved out from underneath him. At the height of his jump, he looked Cementhands in the face and smiled – satisfied that he had finally learned how to follow directions. For that one moment, Benny was truly proud of himself and he could see that his mentor and friend felt the same. The rope violently stopped his fall and Benny’s neck snapped. His lifeless head slumped down onto his left breast but there was no suffering – it all happened in an instant.

Fanny was furious, but didn’t let on.

“That will be all for tonight. But I assure you, there will be even more entertainment tomorrow night.”

With muskets and bayonets, the prisoners were escorted from the room while Benny’s body swung from the beam.

“You did the right thing, my friend.” Doc Burgess said with an assuring tone to McCormack. “You spared him a great deal of suffering.”

McCormack just stared ahead.

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