Friday, February 02, 2007


The Havana Caper – 41

Fanny raced down the hidden spiral staircase, her rear guarded by Tasha. The steps wound down the tower eight flights, and by the time Fanny arrived at the guardroom at the bottom she was dizzy from the rapid, circular descent. Throwing open the secret panel, she lurched into the room, which spun before her eyes.

Ensign Jack Jones was seated at the desk, facing the door into the room. This put his back to the panel from which Fanny exploded into the room. The resultant surprise caused him to leap from the chair, spilling his tea into his lap, which caused a rather unfortunate stain in the crotch of his silk breeches.

“What the hell … I mean, who goes there!” he shouted, then drew up short as he saw who it was and how agitated she was.

“Something’s wrong, there was shouting in the corridor outside Slappy’s room! Something’s wrong!” she said, reeling and barely able to stand upright.

Jones saw Fanny’s lack of balance and her inability to focus her eyes and misinterpreted them, assuming the lady he’d pledged his loyalty to had been overindulging in drink or drugs or both. It was, perhaps, an understandable mistake, but it was almost his last.

“Milady, perhaps you should sit down and I’ll get you something for your – condition,” he started to say.

Fanny’s eyes widened in anger. She knew exactly what he was suggesting, and uttered a savage hiss.


Her escort slid a stiletto from her garter and was across the room in a single movement. The point was under Jones’s chin before he had time to register that she had moved, and he found himself against the wall, the sharp blade drawing a single drop of blood.

“Don’t mock the lady,” was all the deadly figure said. Jones nodded, and an astute observer would have noticed that the tea stain at his crotch grew somewhat wider, although it would probably be rude to mention that so we won’t.

“Let him go,” Fanny said. “I think the ensign understands that I’m not to be questioned or condescended to, don’t you ensign.”

Jones again nodded his head and sighed in relief as the blade receded from his throat.

“Now, as I say, something’s wrong. I heard calling and the sound of a clash outside Slappy’s room. There are only two guards there, so I want another squad sent up to the tower now.”

“That will be difficult, milady,” Jones said. “Captain Stubing’s already taken all the spare troops below to handle the next batch of pirate killings. I have only two men at hand in the outer office.”

“Very well, I want one of them sent immediately to the dungeon to recall Stubing. Have the captain return here. Send the other to the barracks to rouse every man out of his stupor. One of those men should be sent to alert our ships, the rest will double all the guards. YOU, I want to go upstairs right now to personally make sure all is well. Send word back here to Stubing on the conditions, but under no circumstances are you to let my special prisoner out of your sight.”

“Very good madam. And where will you be?”

Fanny paused.

“Has the treasure from the Boil all been transferred to The Princess?” she asked.

“I believe that work party finished this afternoon,” Jones said, checking the papers on his desk. “The extra guards and sailors have now all taken posts on The Princess to guard it, and there’s only a skeleton crew on the pirate ship awaiting your decision on how you want to dispose of her.”

“Very good. For tonight, I’ll retire to the ship until we determine what, if anything, is going on. I want word sent to me there the moment you have everything under control.”

“I assure you, milady, all will be well – if it is not already. The plan proceeds apace, and once you’re finished with this pirate riffraff we can continue with our conquest. The various governors who have agreed to join us will make it official as soon as we’ve paid them from the hold of The Princess. Then let the decadent powers of Europe rattle their sabers. Since you now own England’s biggest armorer and her biggest ship building concern – Cutlass Brothers Cannons and Amalgamated Shipwrights – we can effectively prevent them from building a fleet big enough to challenge us. Soon every European map will identify this whole hemisphere with the words ‘Here there be Fanny’.”

Fanny paused to smile over the vision, then shook her head and reluctantly returned to the present.

“Of course they will. That’s the whole point. For now, I simply want you to follow orders or you’ll not live to see that happy day. Send those two men, then get upstairs, make sure Slappy is still secure, and stay there until Stubing sends you for. I’m off to The Princess. Tasha?”

The assassin gave Jones one more icy stare, then turned and followed her mistress out through the office doorway, down through the main hall and out the great arched doorway of Morro Castle.

Up in the tower room, Slappy, Keeling, George, Spencer and Cementhands were turning to leave. Keeling had already taken the cutlass of one of the guards they’d overcome, and the rest armed themselves with the legs of the ruined chair that had recently served as Slappy’s last line of defense. Then they turned and walked out the door.

And directly into the barrel of a blunderbuss held by the second guard, who had come to and armed himself. Ten hands shot into the air.

“All right, everybody just hold it and step back into the room,” he said. “Captain, you step over to the right, and the rest of you face the far wall.”

The pirates all cast a glance over at the form of Cementhands, but he continued to smile his beatific smile and gave a very small, almost imperceptible shake of his gigantic head. Apparently the possessing saint was still in residence, but he had no plan to act just yet. The pirates all backed into the room and separated as they’d been ordered, with Slappy on one side of the room and his rescuers facing the wall on the other.

That was a bad idea, Slappy thought to himself. The virtue of a blunderbuss is that it can take out a clot of men in one blast. Separating them meant if they both went for the guard, he could only get one group.

All they had to do was decide who should get shot. Slappy tensed himself, preparing to spring.

Most of the Boil’s crew was also departing the castle, but through a very different opening than the grand arched passage Fanny was taking. Rather than trying their luck at any of the doorways that might be guarded, they had gone down a level and found the dead gate, the small postern overlooking the harbor through which their executed shipmate Benny had been ignominiously dropped into the water, weighted down with a couple of large stones.

The gate opened about 50 feet over the water. A nearby storeroom yielded a couple of coils of stout rope, and the pirates were lowering themselves down the face of the castle two at a time. At the base of the descent they gathered on the seawall, while Ol’ Chumbucket and Dogwatch scouted ahead to find the ship.

“She’s still tied up there,” Dogwatch said, pointing to the Boil moored to the seawall. “Stubing’s ship had been tied up right alongside, but she seems to have moved off. That looks like her out in the harbor.”

‘I see one, no two watchmen. There’s got to be more, unless – no, that’s probably why the Princess has moved off. They’ve already moved the treasure,” Chumbucket said. “Damn. Alright. Go back and bring the crew along and meet me here. I’ll figure out how we’re going to get aboard.”

Dogwatch ran back towards the castle, while Chumbucket crept closer. He was within a stone’s throw of the ship when he heard a commotion and saw a pair of torches moving down from the castle toward the waterfront. He ducked deeper into the shadows to watch.

Two armed men carrying torches were leading a pair of cloaked figures past the Boil to a small pier farther along the seawall. As Chumbucket watch, they paused in front of the pirate ship.

“I still can’t make up my mind,” he heard a voice he recognized as Fanny’s say. “A garbage scow? A floating bordello?”

The other figure said something in a low voice Chumbucket couldn’t make out, but it brought a laugh from Fanny.

“Yes, perhaps a livestock carrier. Goats and cows crapping all over Slappy’s precious ship. Well, I’ll think on it. There’s still plenty of time.”

The other voice said something again, and Fanny nodded in agreement.

“Yes Tasha, yes. We’d best move along. Let’s get out to The Princess while Stubing and Jones take care of whatever that little flap is in the castle.”

They moved off to a short pier where they boarded a longboat that pulled off for The Princess. Chumbucket inched closer to the ship. The guard at the stern was dressed as a royal marine, one of the sailors from Stubing’s ship, apparently. Amidships there was a man in the colors and pointed helmet of Spain. There wasn’t a sign of anyone else, although there may have been more men below decks. The pirate retreated back to the meeting place, where the crew of pirates was now gathered.

“It looks like a mixed bag guarding the ship – English and Spanish – and not many of them. That could work for us, if they don’t speak the same language. We’re going o break into three groups. I’ll take one to circle around to the stern. Dogwatch, your group will go to the bowlines. Tharp, you take a … where’s Tharp?

The pirates all looked around. The ensign was nowhere to be seen. Dogwatch said he hadn’t noticed him at the gathering place, though he hadn’t been looking specifically for him, and no one could remember rappelling down from the castle with him.

“Goddamn it!” Ol’ Chumbucket snarled. “We don’t have time to go back and look for him. Goddamn it! Butch, you take five to the boarding plank. Wait for my signal.”

Black Butch, the ship's cook, nodded in agreeement.

The pirates quickly ran over what each group would do, then moved out.

Up in the castle, the guard kept a wary watch on his prisoners.

“I don’t know where you gents thought you were going, and I don’t know how you got out from below, but the lady would be very unhappy to lose you. And I think she’ll be pretty pleased to see I’ve captured the lot of you. There’ll be a little somethin’ in it fer me, and that’s a fact.”

“Oh, she was done with me,” Slappy said. “Just before she left she told me to run along and …” the captain’s face twisted in surprise. “What the hell is that behind you!”

“Aw, I’m not so stupid as all that,” the guard said with a grin. “You just turn your face to the wall and we’ll all wait here for the next watch. Ya hear me, ya git? Turn around!”

“No reason to get rude,” Keeling said, turning from the wall to face their captor. “A simple request will… Omigod! What’s that!!” he shouted, pointing over the soldier’s shoulder.

“Now look. let’s knock off the games and get back to …” It was unclear what the guard wanted them to get back to, because at that moment his voice caught off in a gurgle and blood poured down the front of his uniform. He toppled to the floor, his throat cleanly severed by the long knife Ensign Tharp had been carrying. The interloper wiped the blood from his hand on the back of his victim’s coat, looked up and said, “C’mon then. The ship won’t wait all night.”

No one had time to argue or express any shock or surprise. They rushed to the door, Slappy pausing to pick up the man’s blunderbuss, and they started down the stairs.

It took Chumbucket’s group ten minutes to slip around through the waterfront, and they now approached The Festering Boil from the rear. Moving quietly and keeping to the shadows, they pressed against the wall some twenty feet from the stern lines.

Ol’ Chumbucket stepped out closer to the ship and gave the signal, a low whistle and the call sign: “¡Hola! ¡Hombre Británico del marinero!”

Led by Cap’n Slappy, the group of pirates hurried down the main stairs. At first they crept slowly and quietly, but emboldened when they failed to find anyone to challenge them, they began to hurry.

Armed with the blunderbuss, Slappy took the lead. Trotting down a flight of a dozen steps to another deserted landing, he turned and without pause started down the next flight of steps.

Only to go sprawling on his face, the blunderbuss flying from his hands, as he tripped over the outstretched leg of Ensign Jack Jones. The blunderbuss hit the floor at the bottom of the steps and went off with a roar, embedding a fistful of grapeshot into the wall directly above where Slappy had tumbled to stop.

“Well, well, well, it looks as if her ladyship was right. There was something afoot,” Jones said. “So happy that I was able to stick my own foot in just in time.”

The other pirates had stopped just above the landing, faced with two pistols held by the ensign. Slappy woozily pulled himself into a sitting position, thinking to himself that, what with one thing and another, this hadn’t been a good day for his head. Or any other part of him, now that he considered it.

“Jones, you goat buggering turd,” Slappy muttered. “Nice pants. Having a little trouble with your bladder?”

Jones glanced down at the stain on his pants and scowled.

“Never mind my pants!” he snapped. “Slappy, you’re heading right back up to your tower. And you,” he pointed to Keeling, McCormack, George and Spencer, “Three of you are going to rejoin your friends in the dungeon after watching me shoot your friends right in the heads. Let’s see, perhaps the young one, and you, you big oaf. Maybe you’re ready to join your stupid friend, the one we were entertained by earlier today. We’ll let you be the first to go out the dead gate and join him.”

The figure of the giant pirate took a step forward.

“Swithin?” Keeling asked in a low voice.

“No, it’s me,” Cementhands said. “The saint checked out for a while. But before he left he told me he was giving me the pleasure of taking care of this guy on my own.”

“Stop right there,” Jones said, raising his pistol and his voice. “Guards! On the double! Guards to the west staircase!”

“Oh calm down boy. It’s just you and me, and you’ve got two pistols and a sword. All I’ve got is this chair leg – and a powerful hate for you.”

Cementhands McCormack took another step down towards Jones.

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