Thursday, April 26, 2007


The Havana Caper - Part 44 "Greek Fire"

Cap’n Slappy and his rescuers made their way quickly through the stone-walled corridors of the castle. Cementhands McCormack pulled torches from the walls as they passed and handed them to party members as both a source of light and potential weapons.

Keeling’s uncanny sense of direction guided them through the gloomy maze toward the sally port he and the rescuers had used less than an hour before. But just as their egress seemed assured they found their way blocked by ten well-armed guards.

“In here, quickly!” George the Greek whispered as he pulled the team into a side room before they could be spotted.

The room was long and dark – but as they passed their torches through the darkness it became clear what purpose the room had served.

“It’s an archery range!” George sounded childlike with enthusiasm despite the fact that there was a major hitch in their escape.

“Apples!” Spencer’s delight matched that of the Greek as he took two apples from a bowl on a side table and tossed them to Cap’n Slappy and his nephew, Ensign Tharp. Everyone was hungry and immediately went about devouring the fruit – except Cap’n Slappy who paced toward the large targets at the far end of the room while tossing the apple up and down in his right hand; pondering their next move.

George the Greek was too excited to eat. He had found a couple of excellent bows and several quivers full of arrows and was busily stringing a bow as Slappy paced.

“Well, my friends, we’ve come too far just to hole up in this room until Lady Fanny and her delightfully lusty assassin-from-hell come to finish us off. There are only ten of them and six of us – SEVEN if you count McCormack twice – and I always do. And sure, they’re armed to the teeth while between us I count two beat-up cutlasses, a knife and four torches.”

As he said, “torches,” Slappy gave the apple a light toss into the air – it would never return to his hand. A sharp “thwang” heralded the arrival of an arrow that snatched the fruit from its zenith and with a punctuating, “sploosch” pinned it to the bull’s eye on the target just to Cap’n Slappy’s right.

For a moment, the startled pirate captain was speechless. George just smiled confidently and nodded. This exchange of meaningful glances was what passed for communication between the two long-time friends and shipmates. Slappy was about to make a comment when a second apple from Leftenant Keeling’s corner of the room was also launched in his direction, plucked from its trajectory and planted into the same red target spot next to its predecessor by none other than Keeling himself.

“By Cupid’s wrinkly wee scrotum!” Slappy declared happily as he retrieved Keeling’s apple from the target and took a bite, “That’s some fancy shootin’ lads!”

Seemingly unimpressed by the display of archery skills, Cementhands McCormack pulled an old, thin graying tapestry of a classical Etruscan work of art entitled, Dogs Playing Poker from the wall and shrouded himself in it. “Ooogala Booogala Boogala!” he shrieked in a high falsetto. Then he quickly whipped the sheet off and took a reassuring tone. “Don’t be scared! It’s just me!”

The escape plan was now clear to Cap’n Slappy and in a few moments, he was tucked in tightly behind the enshrouded McCormack – it was a really big tapestry – while Spencer and Tharp, who packed as many quivers on their backs as they could carry, stood behind the big man with torches providing a fiery illumination to his cover making him practically glow in the darkness and obscuring the two expert archers who followed behind at a distance.

Panic swept over the men who stood guard at the door when they saw the enormous shadowy form with flames in his wake descending upon their post. They would have fled had it not been for their leader, who brandished a sharp sword and ordered them to charge the apparition. This order was cut short, however, when out of the darkness two arrows suddenly found new homes just beneath his right breast and directly in his left eye. The sudden death of their leader brought about renewed confusion in the ranks, but they managed to send two men with halberds racing toward the fearful sight of the erstwhile ghost.

Their charge, like their leader, was also cut down by arrows that seem to come from the mind of the horrific spirit. The remaining soldiers screamed and tried to flee as one by one they all felt the sting of Keeling’s and the Greek’s arrows. By the time Slappy and his men reached the door, the only work left to do was clear away a couple of corpses and open the door to freedom.

But as Slappy triumphantly pulled to door open, two more halberds were thrust inward toward his head from opposite sides of the doorway crossing each other mid-thrust. With surprising agility the portly pirate propelled his upper torso backward looking very much like a man about to dance under a limbo stick. At that exact same moment, George, who had loaded two arrows onto his bow which he now held horizontally, let fly a dually deadly volley that caught one of the outside guardsmen in the throat and the other in the nose. The subsequent spray of warm blood seemed to tip the captain’s balance and he sprawled backwards on top of one of the bodies he’d just cleared away from the doorway. As he looked up from his prone position, he saw the still-shrouded form of Cementhands McCormack hovering over him;

“This is no time for a nap, Cap’n!” the big man declared as he hoisted Slappy to his feet by the shoulders.

As they made their way out the door, Keeling complimented George on his amazing trick shot.

“My mother once shot four doves out of the sky with a single pull.” The Greek replied modestly. “In my family I’m known as ‘the so-so archer.’ ”

They hurried down the cobblestone streets toward the wharf as the first glow of morning sunlight began to turn the black eastern sky a dark purple.

“If Ol’ Chumbucket hasn’t taken the Boil out to sea yet, I’ll kill him!” Slappy puffed as he tried to keep pace with the younger legs in his party.

“And what if Ol’ Chumbucket HAS taken the Boil out to sea and we’re stranded on the dock?” Tharp asked.

Slappy jogged another ten steps as he considered that possibility for the first time – but concluded that, orders or not, Ol’ Chumbucket would still be there. Finally, he gulped down enough oxygen to reply in a sharp spurt three words long;

“I’ll kill him!”

Cementhands McCormack chuckled under his own belabored breath, “Not if I don’t see him first!”

“Oh no,” Slappy gasped. “You won’t not see him first. I will … or won’t. Never mind! Keep running!”

Moments later they sprinted down the dock toward The Festering Boil and as Ol’ Chumbucket saw them coming, he ordered the crew to raise sell and slip the anchor cable. The ship slowly began gliding along the seawall as the pirates raced along side, grabbing lines tossed to them and clambering up the side, helped by many delighted hands.

Casting his eyes to the now emerging sliver of orange light Chumbucket called out to the late boarders, “For a while, I thought I was going to have to send out engraved invitations!”

As The Festering Boil pulled away from her berth they could see several Spanish ships likewise readying themselves for pursuit.

“Prepare the guns!” Slappy ordered.

“All four o’ them, Cap’n?” Gabriel asked with childlike humor.

“Let’s start with four and work our way through the next twenty!” Slappy replied cheerfully just happy to be aboard The Boil and in command once again.

Ol’ Chumbucket leaned toward Slappy and whispered in his ear. Slappy looked up slowly and shook his head before drawing in a deep sigh of resignation.

“Aye, lad. Let’s prepare some hot shot and move the guns astern. If they give chase, we’ll give ‘em a warm greeting.”

“Aye-aye, Cap’n!” Gabriel set to work lighting a fire in which he would heat some cannonballs. Meanwhile, George stepped forward.

“Beggin’ the cap’n’s pardon, but if it’s fire ye’d like to deliver, Mister Keeling and I might be able to help.” He brandished his bow.

“Aye, that might be just the ticket!” Cap’n Slappy said smiling broadly. The slight pink tint to the sky removed his chilled visage and replaced it with his customary warmth. “Ye’ve got to see this!” He gestured to Keeling and the Greek who began to rip strips of cloth from their shirts and wrap them around the tips of the arrows before dipping them in lamp oil.

Seeing what they were up to, Spencer and Tharp joined in the task, wrapping as many arrowheads as they could in oily cloth.

“Ease us to starboard, Red Molly!” Cap’n Slappy called to the woman manning the helm. “Let’s cut across their arses!”

Molly nodded and The Festering Boil tucked herself dangerously tight to the backsides of several of the Spanish man o’ wars, whose crews were busily trying to raise the sails and catch enough wind to pull free of the docks.

“Closer! I wanna smell what their capitan had for dinner, luv!” Slappy called out to Molly, who gulped, but nodded and brought the ship in even closer.

As The Festering Boil swept past the first Spanish ship, Slappy called for the Boilers to take cover. Spanish musketeers had been dispatched to her stern where they leveled their weapons at the swiftly passing pirates. Just before they fired, however, George and Keeling launched their first barrage of flaming missiles. The distracted Spaniards misfired badly – the only musket ball to hit The Festering Boil did so half way up the mizzen where it sunk into the wood without doing any harm.

The arrows, on the other hand, hit home directly in the billowing canvas of the Spanish sails, setting them ablaze almost immediately. Spanish musketeers were quickly transformed into Spanish firefighting crews as The Festering Boil moved down the line, one by one setting Spanish sails afire as the sun began to rise.

The passes became so simple George took time to give archery lessons to anyone who wanted one. Wellington Peddicord proved a serviceable archer and Ol’ Chumbucket showed that the art of the bow was one of his many hidden talents. Cap’n Slappy didn’t fare well as an archery pupil; pulling his shots up short and, at one point, setting a Spaniard on fire with an errant attempt. But the fire on the unintended target didn’t really matter since the arrow had already killed him.

As The Festering Boil approached the mouth of the harbor, it appeared that they would be home free.

Nothing could be farther from the truth.

Although they had made quick work of most of the Spanish fleet, they failed to notice The Princess approaching from behind until Two Patch called out;

“Ship astern!”

A quick glance through his spyglass was all Cap’n Slappy needed. He could see Lady Fanny in a long red military jacket as she looked through her own spyglass back at him. At her side, Tasha looked ever so imposing in a black leather great coat. He could see Fanny whispering something to her personal assassin.

A moment later, Tasha flashed her middle finger toward The Boil.

Slappy handed his spyglass to Ol’ Chumbucket who took in the view.

“I believe the young woman is trying to tell us that they are ‘Number One!’” Ol’ Chumbucket declared.

“What say we show ‘em that they ain’t even number two?” Slappy replied with a sneer growing across his face.

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