Monday, January 22, 2007


The Havana Caper – part 40 “Stone Walls and Stoned Captains”

The world was a blur.

But at least it seemed like “the world” again and not an ever-shifting dreamscape upon which this hellish nightmare was playing in five acts.

Slappy blinked his eyes hard in an attempt to peal off the moist fog that enshrouded the room around him as well as the other people in it. By his count the room was populated by himself and three others – Lady Fanny, the beautiful assassin and a large hulking fellow with a massive halberd in his massive hands. (Either that, or he could be a gorilla holding a frozen python. Slappy couldn’t be sure because, as has been pointed out, the world was a blur.)

Slowly, the effects of the drug began to dissipate and the women became aware of Slappy’s return to consciousness. Slappy braced himself as they approached but instead of a dagger in the gut, they both kneeled at has feet and began to massage his thighs each of them allowing a finger or two to tantalize his wedding tackle as they stroked him upward from the knees to the groin.

The drugs had left Slappy sensitive to touch and impulsive in speech. In his aroused state, just about anything was liable to come out of his mouth.

“How about a nice Sapphic floor show?”

The women smiled and quickly focused their sexual attentions on each other with a deep, penetrating kiss.

“Well, Fanny, you’re giving in to my whims almost too easily.”

Lady Fanny broke the lip lock and came up for air only to comment;

“You can always give in to someone you’re going to kill.”

The assassin’s tongue trailed down from just behind Fanny’s left ear across her neck to the center of her throat where she then proceeded downward with little nibbly kisses opening Fanny’s blouse as she went.

“While you are in the giving vein,” Slappy suggested, “why not let my crew go and do with me as you will?”

Lady Fanny’s smile was icy. “Why Slappy, my dear, I am doing with you as I will – even as we provide you with this pleasant distraction, my Captain Stubing is making his way with some of his marines to dispatch a dozen or so of your pirates in a way that is sure to be as unpleasant for them as this is pleasurable to you.” She returned to kissing her deadly protégé.

Fanny paused again when she saw the pain on Slappy’s face. “What’s the matter, Mortimer? Don’t you like girls anymore?”


With Stubing and his marines coming there was no time to make any sort of plan. Ol’ Chumbucket had to improvise.

“Cementhands … I mean, St. Swithin, take the crew down the hall and get them back to the ship. George, Leftenant Keeling, Wellington Peddicord and I will hide in here until they pass and attack from behind – that should give you a chance to get away.”

“I shall lead the people out of darkness!” St. Swithin declared, then he turned and put his hand on Ol’ Chumbucket’s shoulder. “And lo, I am with you always – even unto the end of the world. To quote the boss.”

The crew followed the large saint down the hall away from the pursuing English captain and his men – they had only gone about fifty yards when the corridor came to an abrupt end at a large locked door. Stubing and his men hadn’t even quickened their pace as they knew the Boilers were going to run into a dead end.

St. Swithin pushed on the big door, but it wouldn’t budge. “This is all a part of a greater Plan.” He whispered as he turned and moved through the pack of bunched up pirates to face their pursuers. Young Tharp looked miserable as he tried to explain himself to the pirates.

“They were English. I thought they would help us! I told them that I’m the son of Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorpe Tharp.” He then turned on Stubing, “You’re a captain in the Royal Navy for Chrissakes!”

“Sometimes your enemy looks like a friend, lad.” St. Swithin gently admonished, “And sometimes your friend looks like the enemy. The wise man looks past the trappings to see what courage lies beneath.”

Realization settled on Tharp’s face. He lowered his hands and began walking toward his pirate mates.

“Stop!” Stubing ordered. “Admiral’s son or not, I will shoot you!”

Tharp fixed his eyes ahead and moved toward his friends. St. Swithin smiled and held up his large right hand.

Stubing’s pistol was now leveled at the back of the young man’s head as he walked away.

“For the last time, Stop!”

He squeezed the trigger, but instead of an explosion, water gushed out the barrel of the flintlock and the whole pistol dissolved into liquid in Stubing’s hands.

Ol’ Chumbucket and his team had by now crept out of the dungeon and were stealthy moving up behind the marines. Without weapons, they would have to make quick work of the back four and arm themselves with whatever they could take off their initial victims. But their surprise attack was delayed as they watched St. Swithin welcome young Tharp back to the pirate fold and, with the raising of his other hand, perform his greatest miracle.

The torches in their wall stanchions began to flicker violently as a wind seemed to be coming through both walls and blowing on Stubing and his marines.

To the amazement of all, the stones in the wall seemed to be moving and changing – from stone to storm clouds. Having nothing to hang on to, the torches in their stanchions gave way and fell to the floor, startling the marines who seemed transfixed by the walls’ strange metamorphosis.

With a flash of lightning, the clouds burst and a hard rain drenched Stubing and his men rendering their muskets useless as anything but clubs.

Ol’ Chumbucket seized the moment and lunged at one of the confused marines at the back of the column gripping his jaw in one hand and the top of his head in the other and with a violent pull snapping his neck. As the body fell, he pulled both a cutlass and a dagger from the dead marine’s belt.

Picking up their cues quickly, George, Keeling and Peddicord attacked and dispatched the stunned men before they realized they had been set upon. Wellington Peddicord, in fact, had meant to push a marine’s head into the wall, but as it was no longer solid, he launched the hapless fellow into what could only be described as an abyss. The mysterious wall clouds had a spiders web effect at first, holding the victim paralyzed in place before sucking it inch by inch into that world from which the clouds were native. The screams of its victim assured those watching that it was not a good end.

With the only light coming from torches much farther up the corridor, the fight could only be viewed in silhouette by the pirates. Black Butch quickly broke their trance as he charged headlong into the fray with Doc Burgess of all people hot on his heels. In short order, all of the marines had been dispatched and discarded into the dark, billowy netherworld. Only their captain remained.

Stubing kept the pirates at bay with two swords, but his situation was hopeless. Ol’ Chumbucket squared off against him as Stubing backed perilously close to the wall.

Fear took over and Stubing’s voice became high and shrill and all he could muster were curses and babblings about pirates and Lady Fanny and love. All of it nonsensical and none of it worth repeating. Ol’ Chumbucket hesitated on making the kill because it all just seemed too pathetic.

To everyone’s amazement, a slender white cloud extended from the grey and black undulating wall and wrapped itself around Stubing’s torso. Another white cloud appeared above Stubing’s head. The ghostly apparition soon began to take on a human form and in a moment, everyone knew exactly who it was.

A tear rolled down Red Molly’s cheek as she and Saucy Jenny grasped hands. “Benny!”

True enough. Everyone agreed it was Benny. One might suspect that the spectral appearance of a dead mate would be a cause for fear amongst the crew, but even this pack of hardened pirates found themselves universally moved by their simple friend’s other-worldly manifestation. Even Two-Patch had to wipe his … well … patches. The apparition glanced over at St. Swithin who smiled and nodded. The ghost then receded into the dark clouds pulling Captain Stubbing with him. The screams and the struggle had barely finished echoing down the corridor when the walls began to take their original form. For a moment, all was silence, then, Ol’ Chumbucket spoke.

“No. 1, we’ve got to get the crew to the ship. No. 2, we need to see if we can get Cap’n Slappy out of here. Do we know how to get out of here and where the Boil is?”

Dogwatch and Keeling nodded and started to explain, but Chumbucket cut them off. He thought for a moment, then, as if struggling with the decision, said, “Dogwatch, you lead us to the Boil. We’ll get her ready to sail. It’s no doubt under guard, so we’ll have to take whatever weapons we can find along the way. George, Keeling, Spencer – you go with St. Swithin. I suspect he’s our best chance of finding the captain.”

The form of the giant pirate with the saint inside manning the controls just smiled slightly. It was enough.

“All right then. We’ll wait one hour, and then we’re going to have to sail. Find the captain and get back in that time. The rest of us, let’s go.”

“I’m going with them to find e captain!” Tharp said.

“The hell you are!” Ol’ Chumbucket said sharply. “You’ve caused enough trouble for one night.”

“But he’s my …”

Chumbucket cut him off quickly before he could continue.

“He’s not your concern. You don’t think I want to go? Of course I do, but my responsibility is to the ship and the crew, and Slappy would be the first to agree with that. If you can’t follow simple instructions, you’re not much use to anyone. Now let’s move out, and I don’t want to hear another word from you.”

“Take your orders and follow them, lad!” George added. Get back to the Boil and get ready to sail. It’s not like either choice will be a picnic.”

There was no more discussion. The Boilers moved quickly down the hall until it came to another “T,” at which point Dogwatch led the crew left while St. Swithin led the way right.


Although the floor show Lady Fanny and her deadly ward were giving Cap’n Slappy and the ape-like guard was something for which the pirate captain would normally pay handsomely at Mistress Minerva’s Mansion of Extra-marital Meanderings, his heart simply wasn’t in it.

“You know, Fanny, your man-mountain there doesn’t seem to be enjoying this any more than I am.”

Fanny looked up from her most intimate business and replied, “Bo Bo is a eunuch with the brains of goat and you’re enjoying this more than you’re letting on.”

She let out a sharp gasp and then went back to work on the beautiful assassin with a vengeance. The two of them, however, were stopped short by sounds coming from the corridor.

“Pirates! Run for your lives! There are pira …” the word was cut off and replaced with what sounded like gurgling and a thud.

Lady Fanny sprang to her feet and quickly gathered what articles of clothing she could. Her assassin seemed more focused on readying herself for a fight, but Fanny beckoned her to a book shelf where she seemed to be rearranging her library.

“No Tasha, come!”

The beautiful woman immediately obeyed. The bookshelf swung open revealing a secret passageway. Before Lady Fanny and Tasha disappeared behind it, she left one last order for Bo Bo.

“Kill the pirate, Bo Bo! Kill the pirate!”

The bookshelf closed and Bo Bo set his sights on Slappy.

“Now, now, big fella. Let’s discuss this shall we?” Slappy struggled to free his hands, which had been tied to the arms of the chair during his dream, all the while trying fruitlessly to reason with the behemoth. But there was no stopping Bo Bo in his duty and Slappy could barely make out what was happening. His eyes were still having trouble focusing. But he could see the large pole axe lifted dangerously over his head.

Slappy shoved off on his right foot sending himself and the chair rolling away as the blade crashed into the stone floor. He managed to get his feet underneath him and began to scamper around the room with the sturdy chair firmly attached to his elbows and wrists. The scene looked something like a mouse with a tortoise shell running wildly away from a hausfrau who was intent on smashing it with a broom – only this broom was an axe and this hausfrau was a human wrecking machine.

“Ahoy you pirates! I’m in here!” Slappy called out. “Chumbucket! George! Cementhands! HELP!”

“Slappy, is that you?” It was George’s voice.

“No!” Slappy called back both out of sarcastic disgust and in fear of the next impending blow from the halberd. “I’m a bleedin’ wee schoolgirl named Betty! Who in Davy Jones knickers do you think I am?”

On the other side of the locked door, Spencer was busily trying keys in the lock but stopped when he heard the response. “I think that’s the Cap’n!”

Slappy was now trying to parry the blows of the pole axe with the legs of the chair, but he had to look at what he was doing in a nearly upside-down position – this, coupled with the after effects of the drugs made him a bit loopy again. But he couldn’t help but admire the sturdiness of the chair. There were few things in life Cap’n Slappy loved more than a sturdy chair.

At one point, he charged the big man with the legs of the chair – Slappy had never charged backward in a bent over posture whacked out on whatever it was he had been given, but his little maneuver took the giant by surprise and for a moment, Slappy found himself sitting upright in the chair on top of his opponent. This was to be only for a moment as the big man underneath bench-pressed the seated pirate captain into the air and tossed him into a corner of the room.

Slappy was now flat on his back and unable to roll out of his current predicament, like a turtle whose time is clearly up.

“Fellas! Now would be a good time to burst through the door!” Slappy called nervously toward the entry way.

“Or now!” He watched as Bo Bo slowly got to his feet and picked up his weapon.

As Bo Bo positioned himself in front of the now reclined and trapped Slappy, he watched the captain’s eyes fix on the doorway with a look of relief. He spun around and saw nothing – only the sound of keys jingling in and out of the lock. He turned back to his prey who looked a little embarrassed for fooling the big guy like that.

“Made you look, Bo Bo!” Slappy said impishly. Then, when he saw the halberd raised into the air he tried another tactic. “Do you like gold, Bo Bo?”

Bo Bo’s face contorted with confusion. “Shiny gold?”

Slappy smiled, “Very shiny gold!”

Bo Bo’s face now looked almost childlike with excitement. This quickly shifted, though and he replied, “Lady say kill!”

Without missing a beat Slappy shot back, “Yes, Bo Bo, but Lady didn’t say WHEN! Kill Slappy AFTER you get shiny gold!”

The logic of this made sense to Bo Bo who began to smile.

Suddenly, the door burst open and in rushed the rescue team. George’s throwing knife was already cocked and ready to be flung when Slappy called out, “No, George! Don’t kill him!”

George stopped for a moment, then shrugged and let the knife fly – but rather than sinking the blade into the big man’s throat as he had intended, he bounced the butt end off Bo Bo’s forehead and sent him crashing unconscious to the floor.

Keeling quickly cut Slappy free. Cap’n Slappy rushed over to the bookshelf and started pulling books desperately off the shelves, but it was no use.

“Looking for a good book?” George asked. “Seems an odd time to take up reading as a hobby, but that’s your call I guess.”

Slappy just sighed and turned back to his rescuers. “She got away again!”

Keeling interjected, “I hate to be the one to point this out, but we haven’t gotten away yet. Perhaps we should get going?”

Slappy took one last glance at the bookcase then shrugged and nodded. “Yes. But I’m taking that chair with me!”

Before anyone could argue, Slappy went to pick it up, but it crumbled in his hands.

“Great Neptune’s Man Nipples!” He tossed the shattered pieces back down in frustration. “Well, lads – that’s that, let’s go!”

They moved toward the door but Slappy stopped by his sleeping foe. He reached into his pocket and pulled out two shiny gold coins and placed them on the floor next to Bo Bo’s head so that when he came to, these would be the first things he saw.

“Thanks for sparring with me, big man! I think you got me sobered up – now let’s see if I can’t get back to me ship and remedy that situation.”

Monday, January 15, 2007


The Havana Caper – 39

Five soldiers marched along the seawall toward the sally port on the harbor side of Morro Castle, their armored breast plates and helmets gleaming, their swords clanking menacingly at their sides, pikes swinging from their shoulders in perfect precision. Indeed, if it weren’t the dead of night they’d have made a martial display worthy of any battlefield in the world, though one of them was significantly shorter than the others, and the second in line kept bumping into the leader.

“Would you watch your step?” the leader hissed after another collision.

“Sorry,” Dogwatch said. “This helmet thingy keeps slipping over me eyes. I can’t see a thing.”

“Then take it off for now.” Keeling admonished.

“But we’re supposed to look like soldiers.”

“But it’s night and there’s no one out here who can see us. Put it back on when we get inside.”

“Both of you shut up and keeping looking for that sally port,” Tharp muttered. “Now, forward, march.”

The quintet of pirates, including cabin boy Gabriel, set off again in stride, keeping cadence with a chant that sounded for all the world like a sound that would be used a few centuries later to sell a brand of cookies.

Oreo – Yoooo Huh!
Oreo – Yoooo Huh!



“Shut up!”

High up in one of the castle’s turrets, Cap’n Slappy continued his drug-induced vision – the horseback ride through hell. The images of tree branches like bone closed over his head, the way narrowing until they clutched at him from all sides like fleshless fingers, plucking at his clothing, tearing at his hair. Then, suddenly the phantom horse stopped dead, and Slappy was almost thrown from the back of the beast.

Looking ahead through the eerie, green light that suffused the vision he realized his mount had stopped at the edge of a river – but not any river the pirate had ever seen before. It oozed sullenly between its fetid banks, the color was all wrong and the smell was overpowering.

“What the f …” he started to say, and then he realized. This was a river of warm blood, its reek clogging his breathing like a hand closing over his throat. He reeled back and grasped the reins more firmly trying to pull his spectral steed back, but the thing he was riding chose that moment to fling itself forward, and Slappy found himself wading into the foul stench. The river was deep, and as the horse-thing swam, Slappy found himself up to his armpits in the disgusting ooze. Retching, he clung to the demon beast’s back for dear life as it plunged through the miasma.

It finally reached the opposite bank and drove on through the ossified forest, both beast and rider leaving a horrid trail of blood behind them as the ghostly gallop continued. The thudding of the hooves and the whistle of the wind couldn’t keep out the shrieks of murdered children and the screams of tortured men that filled the air, turning the pirate’s marrow to ice.

Slappy was beyond wondering what the purpose of this ride was, beyond remembering that his body was really sitting in a chair before a warm fire in Morro Castle. Horrified, he clung to the beast, whose flesh had shriveled until it was more skeleton than living thing. Up ahead was a light glimmered through the trees, and the beast plunged toward it faster than a real horse possibly could. Whatever was up ahead, Slappy was pretty sure he didn’t want to see it, but he was powerless to slow the mad dash. Amid the rush of the wind and the howl of the demented, tortured souls, Slappy realized there was another sound.

His own screaming.

And then all noise stopped, and the horse stood still at the edge of the circle of light thrown by a bonfire in which doomed souls were being consumed. And Slappy saw her.

Lady Fanny.

In the vision, Cap’n Slappy fainted.

Outside the castle walls, the pirates had found the sally port.

“Okay, everyone at attention. Make sure your armor’s rig and your helmets hide your faces,” Keeling all told them. “Gabriel, try to look a little taller.”

“I’m just a kid,” the cabin boy protested, peering out from under a conquistador helmet that he could have used as a canoe.

“Well, grow. All right, this is it! I’ll do the talking. And remember I’m speaking Spanish, so even if this gets written in English, I’m really talking Spanish.”

“Si,” Tharp, Dogwatch, Spencer and Gabriel all said, preferring not to deal with the existential issue of their dialogue being written for them.

Keeling knocked on the heavy postern door. They waited.

And waited.

“Maybe you should knock in Spanish,” Tharp said.

“¡Silencio!” Keeling said as he knocked again.

There was a sound of footsteps, then a grating sound as the small window opened and a face looked out at them.

“What’s the password?” the man asked in Spanish.

“Ah, the password, yes, a clever idea, passwords,” Keeling said, stalling for time as he tried to remember what Pascal had told him.

“Yes, they’re terrific devices.,” the inquisitor agreed. “Keep out the riffraff. Now what is it?”

“Oh yes, I remember: Ahhhh, wait, it’s on the tip of my tongue.”

The window started sliding shut.

“King Phillip’s sucks donkey dicks!’ Dogwatch shouted in English.

“Correct,” the voice said in Spanish.

“Er,” Keeling said in Spanish. “Remind me again why the password is in English.”

“Because we’re Spanish folks and it’ll fool the English pig dogs, who’ll never expect such cunning from us. Now get in here. You boys are late, and I want to get back to the barracks and get some sleep before the killing starts tomorrow.”

“Yes, the killings. And who exactly are we killing again?”

“A handful of those pirates the lady captured, of course. Unless you don’t get in here and get on duty quick, because we could always substitute you, instead. The lady doesn’t care much who dies, she just likes watching.”

“No problem, we’re here. Just open the door.”

Within minutes the pirates were ushered through the portal, the guard had been changed and the pirates were handed the massive ring of very heavy keys. Soon they were alone.

“All right, so far so good,” Spencer said. “Now where’s that staircase we’re supposed to go down to find the dungeon?”

“Esteban said it would be off to the right,” Keeling said.

Dogwatch turned to look for the opening.

“No, Dogwatch. The other right.”

“Oh, of course. Sorry.”

“Before we go any farther, could I just point out again, for the record, that this is insane?” Tharp said. “We could still get out of here and sail off to find the fleet.”

“We could, except you heard that guard, the killing starts in the morning. Besides, we traded Spencer’s boat for the uniforms and information,” Keeling said. “We’ve got nothing to fall back on except our own comrades and our belief that we will prevail because of the pureness of our hearts.”

All four pirates stared at Keeling for a second. It was Gabriel who broke the silence.

“We’re fucked.”

“Pure hearts are all well and good,” Tharp said, “but a couple of dozen more men with pure hearts and, oh, maybe pistols, swords and knives would make me feel a lot better. We’re four men and a midget.”

“I’m not a midget!” Gabriel said, aiming a kick at Tharp’s shin. It was just as well that he missed because the shin was armored and that would have hurt.

“Right, right, you’re a kid, I get it,” Tharp said sulkily.

“Just don’t you start,” Gabriel muttered.

“Leave off,” Keeling hissed. “We’re supposed to be Spanish soldiers guarding the fort. Now let’s all stick together and find our friends and get them out of here. Let’s go. I’ll take the lead, then Spencer, Gabriel and Dogwatch. Tharp, you take the rear. Let’s go.”

As the faux footmen started off to heroically rescue their friends, Cap’n Slappy found himself, in his mind, seated on a cold hilltop, the stars hard and bright points of light. Somehow the fire and the ghostly forest and even the spectral horse had vanished. Now he was alone with Fanny.

“You know, Mortimer my love, it took me a long, long time to decide exactly how I was going to kill you,” Fanny said.

Still quaking from his nightmarish ride, Slappy didn’t even have the energy to protest the use of his name.

“Fortunately, I had LOTS of time to think, thanks to you. Lots and lots of time to think about skinning you alive, or feeding your entrails to a goat while you watched, or burning you alive, or … oh, just so many wonderful reveries. Well, there were so many choices I just couldn’t decide. And then it hit me, the perfect end to your sorry life. Guess. Go on, guess how I’m going to kill you.”

Slappy said nothing. Fanny’s voice took a harder edge.

“I said guess. Now Guess! Guess! Guess! Guess! GUESS!” With each repeat of the word Fanny reared back and slapped the pirate in the face, finally making a fist and punching him on the last, shrieked, “GUESS!!!!”


“Oh, you were always such a spoilsport! Never willing to play my little games. Well, fine. Be that way. But I’m going to tell you anyway, because I don’t want it to be a surprise. You knowing exactly what is happening is the best part. Not just the humiliation, but the complete loss of every thing you’ve ever thought about yourself and whatever anyone else thought as well.”

Slappy’s eyes flicked up towards her.

“Slappy my dear, I’m going to kill you with kindness.”

Keeling held up a hand to warn his comrades to slow down. They were approaching an arch. According to their information, they’d see a pair of guards right around the turn and they’d have to deal with them one way or another.

“Are we all set,” he hissed. “I’ll greet them in Spanish. If I say ‘cumquat,’ that means we have to take them out as quietly as we can. Spencer, you and Dogwatch take the one on the left, Tharp, you and I … Where’s Tharp?”

The pirates all looked around. Tharp wasn’t there.

“Where the hell did he go?”

“Who saw him last?”

“He was right behind me a few minutes ago.”

“Should we go back and find him?”

“No, there’s no time,” Keeling said. “We can’t waste hours looking for him. He knows where we’re going, he’ll just have to catch up. I just hope he doesn’t mess things up or alert the garrison. Right now, Gabriel, you’ll stick with me if we have to take out the guard on the left. Just watch yourself. Let’s go.”

Gabriel nodded, his eyes as big as the mouths of two cannon. The pirates stood and walked through the archway, turning right.

In the vision, Slappy’s eyes goggled at Fanny as she smiled a self-satisfied smile.

“You’ll kill me with kindness?” he finally said.

“Oh yes. It will be wonderful. For the next month you’ll have the finest food, the most sumptuous lodgings, warm comfortable clothing, and eager, talented young women to see to your every carnal desire. You will lack for nothing except sweet death, which I won’t give you. And you’ll hate every minute. Do you know why? Of course you do, but I’ll tell you anyway. Because while you’re wallowing in luxury, your friends and shipmates will be living in miserable squalor, deprived of every necessity for life including simple dignity. They will be starved and subjected to horrid, random tortures. They will die in agony. And you will watch.”

“The hell I will.”

“Oh, you will. This is the best part! Every day they’ll be dragged out to the courtyard and three or four will be chosen at random and executed in some creatively excruciating manner, while you stand beside me on the balcony, smiling and watching. You won’t be able to help yourself because of the drug you’ve been given. They’ll think you’ve abandoned them to save your own skin, and they’ll die hating you. And when they’re all gone – Oh, this is the best part of the best part. When they’re all dead, I’m NOT going to kill you! No!!! You’ll be set free! Isn’t that wonderfully awful? I’ll have spread word of your treachery ahead of you. Wherever you go, people will believe that you traded your crew’s life to save your own. Everyone – EVERYONE – will hate you, think you’re a loathsome coward. In the end, you’ll kill yourself in despair. Isn’t it wonderful?

Slappy couldn’t bring himself to look at Fanny, because she was right. It was the most awful, most diabolical thing he’d ever heard of – ever. He could face a firing squad, or alligators or torture. But she’d picked the one thing that he couldn’t bear.

“Fanny, you’re the most evil, horrible being an inattentive God ever allowed to be spawned on the face of the earth.”

“Thank you Mortimer! I love you too.”

The two guards were easily dispatched, Gabriel supplying the coup de grace to one on the left. Now the four pirates descended the staircase to the lower level of the cell block.

“When we go through the door, there’s a guardroom on the left. Dogwatch, you slam the door shut and lock it with this key.” Keeling handed Dogwatch one of the heavy iron keys from the ring. Three other guards will be posted down the corridor. We’ll have to take ‘em one by one. Our friends are in the big cell at the end of the corridor. Let’s go!”

They dropped down the last few stairs and hit the floor running. Dogwatch threw the door closed and leaned on it as he shoved the key in the lock and twisted. Just moments after the bolt shot home he could feel the shoulders of the surprised guards inside hit the door and try to open it, but it was too late. Most of the company was trapped.

Dogwatch heard a clatter and looked up to see one soldier fall, Spencer driving his blade through the man up to the hilt. Keeling was engaged with two others a few paces beyond, but the surprise had been total and both men fell in moments. The pirates paused just a moment, but besides the thump of the trapped guards trying to get through the door, the castle was silent.

“Gabriel, keep an eye on the stairs. We’ll rescue the crew.”

“Aye sir.”

“Which key did they say it was?” Keeling muttered as he raced to the door.

Inside, the crew of the Boil had been alerted to something going on in the hall. They could hear the sound of a fight, then the sound of footsteps and the scratching of keys in the lock.

“Who is it,” Sawbones Burgess asked Wellington, who had his ear to the door.

“Can’t tell.” He listened closer, then smiled.

“That was Keeling’s ‘damn’ or I’m a Barbados whore. Keeling? Is that you?” he shouted, stirring the rest of the pirates.

“Wellington? Hold on all of you. We’re here, but I’ve got about thirty keys here and I can’t figure out which one it … wait! I’ve got it!”

They heard a creak and a snap and the door flew open, revealing Keeling, Dogwatch and Spencer spent over the lock.

“Good work, lads!” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “Where’s the exit? We’ve got to get most of the crew down to the ship, but we still have to find Slappy.”

The rescuers didn’t get the chance to ask Chumbucket what he meant or why the captain wasn’t there, because at that moment Gabriel came flying down the hall.

“Leftenant! Chumbucket! We’ve got a problem!”

They looked down the long passageway and saw a figure. In the flickering light, they realized it was Tharp. The problem was, his hands were in the air and he wasn’t alone.

Behind him, his pistol pointed at Tharp’s head, was Captain Stubing, followed by a dozen armed marines.

Saturday, January 06, 2007


The Havana Caper – Part 38 – “A Fighting Chance”

One of the Spanish soldiers burst into tears. It was clear that he had been under stress for some time and having pirate guns shoved into his face was simply more than he could bear. His comrades moved quickly to comfort him. One spoke in broken but defiant English to his captors.

“Why are you be so nasty? We tell you anything! Everything! You no need push pistols in our noses! Look what you do to Pascal!”

Keeling was taken aback by how fragile these men were and firearms were quickly tucked out of sight. A sleepy boy’s voice interrupted the scene;

“What’s going on?”

He approached the soldiers – he had never seen a grown man cry before but he felt compassion for the poor fellow. Pascal, seeing the kindness on the boys face clutched him close in embrace, like a child hugging its teddy bear, and wept even harder onto Gabriel’s neck while the boy instinctively patted his back.

“There there?” Gabriel looked around to see if he was doing it right. Spencer nodded approvingly.

“Now see here, my good fellow. We’re not going to harm you. You’re safe now. We were perhaps overly heavy-handed in our introduction, but we couldn’t possibly know where your allegiances lay, now could we?” Tharp began to explain, but he was interrupted by the Spaniard who spoke earlier.

“We tell you we want be away from castle! We thought you get us away and then you go all Joaquin Gorrión on our Spanish asses!”

“Joaquin Gorrión? Who the hell is Joaquin Gorrión?” Dogwatch asked.

Another of the Spaniards answered, “Joaquin Gorrión is a very famous Spanish pirate! He would kick your English asses, I can told you that two times!”

Keeling was agog. “Wait a minute! Do you all speak English?”

“Si.” They all responded in unison.

“With varying degrees of proficiency.” Pascal, the sobbing Spaniard had composed himself enough to speak – with a perfect English accent. “Look here my saucy fellows,” he began, “If you are foolhardy enough to want to get into that castle, we’ll give you our uniforms and I’ll draw you a detailed map but we want something in exchange..”

Gabriel backed away shaking his head.

“No, my young friend, not you – we want this ship. It will give us a fighting chance at seeing our homes again. What do you say?”

All eyes turned to Spencer.


As they moved through the shadowy corridors in the dim light of the occasional torch, Cap’n Slappy could feel the hateful stare of Captain Stubing.

“Oh, for the sake of Neptune’s salty man-nipples, Merrill – just freakin’ say it!”

“Don’t call me that! It’s Captain Stubing! Captain Stubing, damn your eyes!”

Slappy stopped and looked directly into Stubing’s eyes. “You haven’t changed one bit since the academy, Merrill. You still sound like a shrill charwoman when someone jerks your chain.”

“Stop it! Stop it! I want to kill you! Why won’t she let me kill you?” Stubing’s piercing voice would have broken glass had any been in the vicinity.

“Excellent, Merrill!” Slappy’s tone was pure condescension. “Doesn’t that feel better?”

Stubing went back to glaring and they moved on in silence for a few moments more, Slappy’s inner tension growing as he pondered what horror of torment Fanny might have in store for him that was worse than the dungeon his crew was in. As they reached a large door, one of the guards pushed a key into the lock. The door was opened and Captain Stubing motioned Slappy to enter. As he did, he stopped in the doorway and turned to his jailor.

“You know, Merrill, as much as Fanny hates me, she still loves me more than she will ever love you.” Slappy could see the truth of that statement slap Stubing hard across his face and for a moment, he felt sorry for him. “Isn’t that just the shit?”

The door slammed closed and the lock was turned once again.

“Welcome Cap’n Slappy.” A deeply sensual woman’s voice floated across the room and turned Slappy around in a slow pivot.

She stood near a roaring fireplace dressed in a long, sheer robe with fur trim strategically obscuring most of the mysteries of her tall, athletic body. Her thick auburn hair cascaded over her shoulders to the center of her back. But it was the beauty of her face that set the pirate back on his heels. Even at a distance, her emerald eyes had a hypnotic effect and there was something about the shape of her mouth that made the observer think only of kissing her – it took all of Slappy’s self-composure to remember the body mechanics of walking when she invited him to come sit by the fire and enjoy a nice glass of rum with her.

Sitting in the comfortable chair with eyes fixed on this vision of perfection, Slappy was ready to succumb to whatever fate Fanny had in store for him – but thoughts of his ship and, more importantly, his crew fought to restore his wits. This woman wasn’t a prostitute – not even one of those famous, “kissin’ whores of Buenos Aries” that Cementhands McCormack had spoken of so fondly during their many long nights at sea – when stories became legends. She moved like a dancer and carried herself with the confidence of a queen. Slappy now knew the truth.

“You’re an assassin.”


“You’re an honest assassin.” Slappy replied with a laughing smile. “I don’t suppose you’d be willing to give me a fighting chance. Would you?”


He looked at the glass of rum in his hand and held it up to the light of the fire in the off chance that any poison therein would reveal itself.

“It won’t kill you, Cap’n Slappy, I can assure you of that. Lady Fanny doesn’t want you dead, yet. She just wants you more … malleable.”

Slappy took a long look at this angel of death then lifted his glass in salute.

“To my malleability.” And with that, he slugged down the contents of the glass.

Almost immediately everything in the room started to slow down. The woman moved to him and took the glass from his hand and kissed him gently on his forehead as he sunk deeper into the chair.

Everything went dark.

Slappy was now looking within his mind’s landscape. A full moon cast a blue haze over the branches of trees heavy with frost from a frozen fog. Slappy’s boyhood hands gripped the reins of a horse and he could hear the crunch of frozen turf under each hoof-step.

His conscious brain tried to rebel, “I haven’t been on a horse in more than twenty years! I never even liked horses – they seem to always be keeping secrets!”

The pace began to quicken. Trot became gallop as the open scenery gave way to a path shrouded by frozen bare tree limbs forming a cave-like canopy over his head. The reflection of moonlight on ice and wood gave the impression of a tunnel of interconnecting bones and the horse was hell-bound to drive itself and its rider to whatever lay at the end – but the ride appeared to be endless. Finally, the speed blurred the surroundings into blue-gray wind punctuated by pounding puffs of steam that exploded like cannon smoke from the steed’s nostrils.

Slappy lowered himself on the horse’s back as if racing with this dream.

He whispered in the horse’s ear, “I really wish you would tell me where we are going.”


The morning air illuminated the steam from the stench that wafted upward from the floor of the fetid dungeon and despite the crowded condition, the crew of The Festering Boil managed to give one of their company a wide berth.

Ol’ Chumbucket glanced at George and cast his gaze over toward Oscar who, in a miserable multitude was by far in the most misery. The two made a none-too-subtle show of moving over to the ostracized journalist and standing on either side of him. Oscar’s eyes grew wide – for a moment, he thought they had come to wreak vengeance upon him – but instead of slaughter, they smiled.

“How are you holding up, young man?” Ol’ Chumbucket’s voice was friendly and casual as if he was simply passing him on the deck of the ship.

“I meant no betrayal, sir! Honestly!” Oscar was desperate to get these words out and for the first time, it seemed someone was willing to listen to him.

“We know that, lad.” George said. “Lady Fanny’s affection for mischief-making is boundless. She was just looking for a wedge to drive between us and your articles provided her with just enough to do that.”

The distance between Oscar and his comrades lessened as their leaders set the example.

“Yeah, don’t worry, Oscar. We’ll get out of this situation somehow! I just know it!” Saucy Jenny said with heartfelt enthusiasm – she really believed it.

“How do you know?” ever the inquisitor, Oscar wondered where she found her confidence.

“Because, lad,” Doc Burgess chimed in, “We always do. When you’ve cheated death as many times as we have, you kind of build a sense of entitlement about it.”

“I don’t want to appear to be ungrateful for your forgiveness and acceptance, but I just don’t see it. I mean, if we were outnumbered in a fight at least we would have our weapons and a plan – I mean, that’s why they call it a ‘fighting chance!’ – but we are here just waiting to be slaughtered. This isn’t a ‘tight predicament,’ this is a dead end – with us, being dead – in the end!”

Across the dungeon, Cementhands McCormack stared blankly at the heavy oak door.

As the discussion of their chances or lack thereof, of survival continued in the far corner, a change moved across the big man’s face like a cloud moving past the sun to allow its rays free passage to earth. He couldn’t stand up straight because of the shackles that bound his hands and feet.

Oscar could be heard continuing his reservations about unrestrained optimism.

“I’m sorry to say this, my friends, but as bleak situations go, this one is the bleakest – it would take a miracle to save us now.”

By the time he reached the end of that sentence, all eyes had shifted to the big man as he stretched his chains between his massive arms – spreading them wide. Cementhands turned his head and spoke directly but kindly in Oscar’s direction – but while the voice was familiar to everyone, it wasn’t Cementhands’ voice.

“Oh, ye of little faith.”

“Saint Swithin?!” Ol’ Chumbucket managed to gasp in surprise. But there was no answer, just a focus on the task at hand.

McCormack’s face showed no sign of strain, but his body flexed as he pulled the heavy chains apart. The links creaked under the pull of the big man’s limbs and with a snap they seemed to shatter like glass – freeing Cementhands’ arms and legs. His smile was a curious mixture of demon and saint, but it was clear from the look on his face there was a blood debt to be paid.

Ol’ Chumbucket smiled at Oscar. “How do you like our odds now?”

Oscar grinned, “I’d give us a fighting chance.”

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