Monday, March 26, 2007


The Havana Caper – 43

This is the way the plan was supposed to work.

It was all about stealth and cunning, retaking the ship and getting it ready to sail before anyone knew they were missing. That’s why all the pirates were ordered not to use pistols – knives and cutlasses only. Ol’ Chumbucket and his small group would take the attention of the English-speaking guard at the stern, yammering at him in ersatz Spanish. Black Butch, the internationally trained ship’s cook of the Festering Boil, would do the same to the Spanish-speaking guard amidships, using a combination of French and English to distract him. Meanwhile, the larger group under the command of Dogwatch Watts would silently swarm over the bow of the ship. When Watts gave the signal, they’d all rush the guards and take control of the ship.

It wasn’t a bad plan, as plans go, and probably would have worked, but ...

This is what actually happened.

The English guard at the stern, whose store of Spanish was only good for starting fights in the wrong sort of bars, was baffled by Ol’ Chumbucket’s very basic smattering of Spanish. To be fair, a Spaniard would have been equally baffled, considering Chumbucket’s rather loose hold of the Iberian tongue. And the main party was silently slipping up the bow cables that tied the ship to the seawall. All well and good.

Where it fell apart was amidships where Butch attracted the guard’s attention and, in flawless French, started telling him the proper way to make a soufflé. The guard –let’s call him Diego although it really doesn’t matter much since he’ll be dead in a couple of paragraphs – was confused – naturally enough since he’d never heard of a soufflé in the first place and had been awake for 36 hours helping to transfer the cargo from the Boil to Lady Fanny’s ship, The Princess. Diego stood at the top of the gangplank staring down at the cook, who was babbling away about something he couldn’t quite make out, although he thought he recognized the word “egg.” He was tired and irritable and didn’t want to hear about eggs, so he called out in Spanish for Butch to shut up and go away, pulling a knife from is sash and gesturing with it to emphasize the point.

And that was his mistake, because even in the dim light, Butch instantly recognized the knife. It had come from his galley, it was in fact part of a set of perfectly balanced chef’s knives that had been made to his exact specifications for him by Lord Remington and presented by the queen in memory of a most splendid banquet Butch had once prepared for the royal couple, back before he’d run off to the Caribbean – but that’s a different story for a different time. They were Butch’s pride and joy. He cared for the knives meticulously, carefully cleaning them after every use, honing them if their blades got even slightly dulled, sometimes even talking or singing to them as he did so. He loved those knives the way some men love their children and others love a particularly enthusiastic prostitute.

And now, here in front of his eyes, this Neanderthal guard pulled one of the knives – Yes! It was his nine-inch carving knife! – out of his filthy sash and waved it nonchalantly around as if it were just any old piece of steel. And – what was this! – the man tried to drive home his command by impaling the blade point first in the wooden railing!!!

It was too much for the pirate chef. He let out a high-pitched scream and charged up the gangplank, leaving his surprised cohort flat-footed on the dock. Diego’s eyes grew round and he snatched at the knife to repel the onrushing chef, but it had become stuck fast in the oak and wouldn’t budge. Diego was reaching for his pistol when Black Butch hit him, plowing into him with his shoulder lowered in a move that, several centuries in the future would have earned him a major signing bonus with a professional football team looking for a fullback on the free-agent market. Diego flew backwards, cartwheeling across the deck like an acrobat and crashing into the opposite railing.

At the stern the English guard whirled around at the noise and, loosening his cutlass in its scabbard, ran back toward the commotion at the gangplank, giving a shrill whistle as he went.

“Well, there goes the element of surprise,” Chumbucket sighed. “Let’s go, men.”

Dogwatch’s group was just assembling at the bow when nine more guards emerged from the forward hatch. They were outnumbered, but better armed and organized, even with the surprise. Dogwatch quickly went down with a wound to the thigh, and his attacker would have impaled him had Wellington Peddicord not intervened with a well-aimed knife thrust.

Meanwhile, Butch had stopped to retrieve his treasured knife from the railing. The other four pirates who had accompanied him stormed up the gangplank and past him to join in the fray followed by Ol’ Chumbucket and his group. But Black Butch had something more important to tend to. He carefully worked the blade out of the wooden rail, but when he lifted it and held it to the light he was horrified to see the tip had broken off and there was a notch on the blade!

“You bastard!” he shouted at Diego.” You Philistine! You heartless, depraved atrocity-committing swine!!” Butch stalked towards Diego, who was still shaking his head, trying to clear his vision and defend himself from whatever it was that was attacking him. He could see someone approaching him, waving a knife and shouting something incomprehensible. Unfortunately, because of the blow to his head, Diego saw three of them. Aiming his pistol as carefully as he could under the circumstances, he decided to try for the one in the middle. It was a good guess, but it was wrong. The bullet flew past Butch’s right. Clutching his knife carefully in his left hand, the chef swung a right uppercut with all his might, connecting with Diego’s jaw, which slammed shut with an audible click as the punch lifted the Spaniard off the deck, dropping him senseless several feet away.

Diego’s lights were out, his head spinning. The last thing he saw – or thought he saw, it didn’t make much sense – was his attacker carefully laying the knife to one side, whispering something to it that Diego couldn’t hear. Then the Spaniard felt himself being lifted high overhead and swung around through the air. The hands released him and he had an interesting sensation of flying, but could tell he was headed down and probably wouldn’t like the landing. His last thought before he landed in the harbor was that signing on with Lady Fanny might have been a mistake after all.

Diego’s exit from our story, accompanied by a rather loud splash, helped even the odds a little. The pirates had been hemmed in along the bow, but the arrival of the two other groups behind the attackers soon finished them off.

“Alright then, let’s get this ship ready to sail,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “Dogwatch, check the sails and rigging, see if we can move her. Molly, check the armaments. Wellington, take a group below and make sure there are no more visitors aboard, And check the hold. See what Fanny’s left us!”

“Begging your pardon, Chumbucket, but I don’t think I’m the one to go aloft,” Dogwatch said through gritted teeth. “Got a little problem with the leg.” He nodded his head toward the appendage, which Sawbones Burgess was examining.

“I don’t think he’ll lose it,” the doc said, “but he’s not going to be climbing any time soon. Looks like he missed the artery, but the blade went deep into the muscle. If we’ve still got my needles and gut I’ll sew it up.”

“Do your best doc,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “Jenny! You take a group aloft and get ready to haul canvas. I want us ready to go the second the captain and the others get here.”

“What if they don’t get here?” Salty Jim asked. The eyes of every pirate within earshot focused on him accusingly.

“I’m not saying they won’t,” Jim said, flustered. “I’m just wondering what we do if they don’t. How long are we supposed to wait? What’s our fallback plan?”

“We don’t have one,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “They’ll be here. Now get to work. Jim, you go below and make sure we’re seaworthy,”

They had the ship ready to sail in short order. Their captors hadn’t taken any of the canvas or cordage because Fanny hadn’t decided what she was planned to do with the ship. Most of the supplies were still aboard, and the hull was still tight as a drumhead.

But that was the end of the good news. As Chumbucket had guessed, the treasure they’d taken from the Spanish treasure fleet was gone. Worse news came from Red Molly.

“We’ve got plenty of powder and balls,” she said. “But damn little to shoot ‘em with. The bastards spiked the guns.”

“All of them?”

“Almost all. Twenty of the twenty four,” she said.

Ol’ Chumbucket sighed, then shook his head.

“Well, it’s not like we were going to fight our way out of here anyway. There’s too many of their ships and too many big guns in the fort. Speed and silence are what we need. Let’s get ready to sail. The others should be here any minute.”

But any minute passed. In fact any number of minutes passed, and the missing Boils stubbornly continued to be missing. The sky wasn’t brightening yet, but every man and woman on the ship knew that the first grey streaks of dawn couldn’t be more than an hour off. If they hadn’t cleared the harbor mouth by sunrise, they probably wouldn’t at all. Ol’ Chumbucket leaned on the taffrail, staring back toward the fort, when Sawbones Burgess approached him.

“Well,” Sawbones said. “You and I both know that Cap’n Slappy would order us to go, would insist that we think of the crew and not just a handful of individuals, right?”

“That’s right,” Chumbucket said with a nod of his head.

“And you and I both know if we all get captured again and executed and meet up with Slappy in hell, he’s going to kick our asses harder than the devil for not getting out while the getting was good,” right?”

“Right again,” Ol’ Chumbucket said, smiling.

“And you and I both know that we’re not going to leave without them, are we.”

“That’s three for three,” Chumbucket said. “We can wait a bit longer.”

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?