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.”

Huzzah fer St Swithin!

-Bloody El
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