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.”

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