Thursday, February 15, 2007


The Havana Caper - Part 42 "The Cementhands of Karma!"

Firearms hadn’t been a source of fear for Cementhands McCormack since his famous charge on the French fort, Le Pantalon De la Soeur, when he managed to single-handedly defeat the entire garrison armed with only a serrated grapefruit spoon and breathtaking chutzpah.

But this wasn’t a mob of drunken Frenchmen who managed to blow up as many cannons as they were able to actually fire. This was a former British naval officer – trained in the use of weapons and tactics who had proven he had no compunction about killing unarmed men and monkeys.

McCormack slowly descended the steps toward the waiting Jones. Jones pointed the pistol in his right hand at the chair leg and fired. What had been a serviceable weapon was now nothing but a mass of splinters. Cementhands was undeterred and dropped the small piece he still held as Jones dropped his spent pistol and produced another one from his belt as he covered the descending pirate with the firearm in his left.

“Come and get it up close, big man! I want to put my pistol right in your gob and watch your head explode!” Jones snarled.

Behind his right shoulder he heard Slappy scuffling to his feet, the empty blunderbuss in his hands. He turned slightly and leveled his right pistol at the pirate captain while keeping his left pistol on Cementhands.

“Ah! Ah! Ah! Captain Slippery! Toss the blunderbuss away! I’m not getting clubbed from behind while executing your behemoth here!”

Slappy sighed the wistful sigh of a child who had been caught thinking of bashing his mother’s brains in with a garden shovel – then, with a grin in the direction of his friend, did exactly as he was told. He tossed the blunderbuss away – barrel first – up the stairwell toward McCormack who reached across his body with his right hand and plucked the missile from the air by the still warm barrel and immediately swung it with the full force of his large body.

He was too great a distance to brain Ensign Jones, but his backhanded swing crushed Jones’ left hand into the stone wall, destroying in one blow the pistol, the lock and stock of the blunderbuss as well as Jones left hand which was instantly turned into an unnatural twisting of broken bones and mutilated flesh.

The high-pitched shriek that erupted from Jack Jones (accompanied by the simultaneous re-soiling of his britches) was quickly drowned out by the sound of his pistol firing in the stairwell.

For a moment – everything was still.

Blood began to trickle down McCormack’s forehead. First a little, then quite a bit. The expression on his face remained the same – calm. Almost blissful.

Jones was too preoccupied with the twisted mess at the end of his wrist to notice, but the big man, though standing, seemed to be a long way away.

With the others behind him, only Slappy could see what was happening – and he didn’t like it.


“Welcome, Charles.”

The voice seemed familiar to Cementhands, but nobody had called him, “Charles” since he was nine years old.

“Do I know you?” McCormack asked.

“You should,” the man replied, “we’ve been sharing a body ever since you drank down that potion in the Incan village south of Maracaibo.”

“St. Swithin?” McCormack asked.

“Yes, my son.” He turned and began walking down the cobblestone street in a lovely seaside village that seemed to be pieced together from McCormack’s favorite places. The big man followed, taking in the view, but still rather confused.

“Is this what I think it is?” McCormack seemed nervous.

St. Swithin put his right index finger to his lips to silence the question as he guided McCormack down an alleyway toward a thicket of trees. When they reached the trees, McCormack could see a narrow trail leading into the forest.

“My travels with you are over, my son. Your path lies before you.” St. Swithin sounded as though he was speaking metaphorically, but there was, indeed, a path in front of McCormack.

“Alone?” For a moment, McCormack could hear his own child voice and felt, for the first time in years, a feeling that he could only imagine was fear.

St. Swithin smiled and placed a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Not alone, my son. Never alone.”

McCormack looked up and saw Strumpet the monkey waiting for him on the path. She held out her hand in a very human-like way.

“So I get to go to hell with a monkey?” McCormack mused. But when he turned to see St. Swithin’s reaction, the saint was gone. “Well monkey,” McCormack grinned bravely, “let’s get on with this.”

He took the primate by the hand and the two of them headed down the forest path. As they moved through the woods, the seasons seemed to change – from summer to autumn. The reds, yellows and oranges of the leaves seemed to glow with inner sunlight. McCormack had never been keen on the woodlands, but this was the most beautiful forest he had ever seen – and the monkey made good company – at least, quiet company.

Before long, the path opened into a field teeming with flowers and lush grass. McCormack couldn’t be sure, but the colorful flowers appeared to be making noises – like a choir singing. Whatever apprehension McCormack had felt began falling away as he realized where he now was.

“Welcome to the Elysian Fields, Cementhands.”

A smile crossed the big man’s face as he recognized the voice behind him – although he had never heard it brimming with so much strength and confidence. He spun around and confirmed his assumption.


Sure enough, there was Benny looking young and vital. Suddenly, Cementhands McCormack felt a deep shame.

“I wasn’t able to avenge you, Benny. He … he … Bested me.”

Benny began to laugh.

“Stow it, mate! Revenge means nothing here. So many things born of anger and hate mean absolutely nothing here. But I have a surprise for you.”

McCormack looked his friend in the eye. Benny continued;

“You’re not done yet. In fact, in a moment, you’ll find yourself in the fight once again – not for revenge – but for karma.”

“Karma?” Cementhands had never heard the word.

“Aye, my friend. Ensign Jack Jones has done an awful lot of evil in the world, and you are the hand his karma has called out to balance it. Not for rage or hate – but because the scales must be balanced. Your work isn’t done. It’s time for you to go back.”

Cementhands looked around. He drank in the beauty of the place for a moment. “I kind of hate to leave.”

“You’ll be back – but not yet. In the meantime, I’m building a ship for you.”

McCormack was child-like in his excitement. “One with green sails? I’ve always wanted one with green sails!”

“The greenest.” Benny smiled.

“Forgive me, my friend,” McCormack began, “but you seem smarter somehow.”

Benny replied, “Well, I have had ninety-seven percent of the mysteries of the world opened up to me.”

McCormack laughed. “Only ninety-seven percent?”

“Aye,” Benny said in all earnestness. “I learned enough to know that you should leave some things unknown.” He paused as he thought. “There should always be a mystery.”

McCormack nodded.

“One more thing!” Benny could see that McCormack was fading so he had to make it simple. “Duck and pluck!”

“Duck and pluck?” McCormack’s face showed confusion even as it disappeared.

“Aye! Duck and pluck!” Benny called after him as Strumpet perched herself on his shoulder and waved goodbye.


Everything in the stairway had frozen – with the exception of the writhing Ensign Jack Jones who was still reeling after having his left hand smashed.

Cementhands McCormack’s face issued a river of blood from his hairline, but his eyes remained open, although his left eye moved from side to side independent of its mate. The barrel of the now-denuded blunderbuss remained firmly gripped in the big man’s right hand, but hung without offering defense, at his side. Apart from the moving eye, he seemed to be staring into eternity. His comrades remained still – not sure whether he would fall or fight.

Jones now made a move for the saber on his hip. Seeing this, Slappy lunged at him, but despite his pain, Jones was too nimble and avoided the captain’s charge. He countered with the butt-end of the hilt of his sword to Slappy’s already battered noggin. The pirate captain tumbled backwards down the next flight of stairs.

This sudden burst of action awoke the four transfixed pirates up the stairs who began a charge of their own, but they were frozen in their tracks when Jack Jones quickly pressed the blade of his saber against the throat of their statue-like friend.

“Not another step, you dogs!” Jones commanded – his eyes wild with rage and menace. “Stay where you are or I will be forced to do something drastic – LIKE THIS!”

On that remark, Jones pulled back his sword to strike a decapitating blow to McCormack’s neck. Tharp, George, Spencer and Keeling all seemed to reach forward to try to stop the inevitable, but they were too far away to be of any help. Jones threw his entire weight into the blow which seemed to move in tragic slow motion – as if this horrible moment might go on forever.

Suddenly, with the blade well on its way, the light in McCormack’s eyes rekindled and with cat-like quickness uncommon in a man so large, he dropped into a squatting position as the saber swooshed through the air above him and crashed into the stone wall on the other side.

“Duck and pluck!” the squatting giant called as he reached his big left hand up into the still-moist stain on Ensign Tharp’s britches, grabbled his unprotected dangly-man-bits and gave them a vice-like squeeze.

Jones’ soprano scream now reached such notes as would not appear on any piano keyboard. In fact, the pitch was nearly inaudible to the human ear, but outside the castle, a pack of dogs bayed mournfully in innocent empathy to what was clearly a cry of pain. The sound even roused Slappy back to semi-consciousness on the landing below.

Like a coyote in a trap, Jones pulled violently away feeling a distinct snap in his nether region. McCormack released his prey and again stood to face his foe.

This move emboldened his comrades on the stairs above, but he stopped them with two words that are sacred when pirates are in battle;

“He’s mine.”

Despite the mangling of two essential body parts, Jones still had his sword and McCormack was armed only with the thick barrel of the broken blunderbuss – plus he had been shot – not so much IN the head as ON it.

Jack Jones took an en garde’ stance and sucked up his pain. McCormack, likewise, took up the defensive posture with the thick, brass cylinder in his big hand.

With surprising fluidity, Jones launched his offensive. Each thrust and slash, however, was blocked with a hollow clang as McCormack managed to hold his opponent at bay. The fight spilled out of the stairwell into the stone corridor allowing the four witnesses to descend to the next landing and retrieve their captain. Once they were rejoined and Slappy was on his feet, the pirates stepped into the corridor to see how their friend was faring in the fight.

Suddenly, McCormack stumbled on a stone in the floor and began losing his footing. Jones smiled and moved quickly to skewer the big man while he was off balance. Panicked, Slappy tried to lunge forward to intervene, but George held him back; “Cementhands has claimed him, Cap’n! We cannot intervene.”

Jones couldn’t help but laugh as he drew back his saber and began plunging it toward McCormack’s liver – but just as suddenly as the big man had lost his footing, he moved the blunderbuss barrel to catch the tip of the sword in mid-thrust and used the barrel as a scabbard to sheath the blade. Then with a twist of his wrist he wrenched the sword from Jones’ grip and sent it clattering across the cobblestone floor.

Jones eyes widened as he realized the advantage was now lost. He tried to make a sprint toward his weapon, but McCormack’s big left hand now had a hold of the front of his shirt – he wasn’t going anywhere except where Cementhands wanted him to go – which was to hell.

McCormack swung Jones around and held him to the stone wall. He pushed upward so that Jones’ feet were lifted from the floor a few inches. Jones tried to flail himself free, but McCormack was having none of it. He brought the muzzle of the barrel around and held it to Jones’ sternum.

Cap’n Slappy and the other pirates gathered around as McCormack applied more and more pressure with the blunderbuss barrel to Jones’ chest. The ensign spit and struggled, but McCormack slowly pushed the brass barrel toward the wall.

Jones started his high-pitched scream, but he wasn’t able to inhale enough oxygen to sustain it. He flapped desperately against the wall – like a butterfly being pinned to a collector’s board. McCormack’s face showed no emotion – just the businesslike countenance of a man who had a job to do.

The cracking of Jones’ sternum could be heard echoing up and down the corridor. The spitting and struggling eased and his eyes bulged as he seemed to try to say something to his executioner. McCormack shook his head slowly and said,

“Benny wanted me to tell you, ‘Ain’t karma a bitch?’”

Whatever air remaining in Jones’ lungs was now expressed as his bowels and bladder released.

Seeing this, Slappy commented, “Again?!? The man must have had a freakin’ ten gallon bladder!”

“The stairway is going to be crawling with guards any moment! We’ll have to find another way out!” George advised.

“I know a way! Follow me!” Tharp started down the corridor.

McCormack was still pinning Jones’ corpse to the wall with the barrel of the blunderbuss. Slappy put his hand on his friend’s shoulder and said, “It’s time to go.”

“Right!” Replied McCormack as he released the body, which crumpled to the floor. “Let’s go.”

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