Friday, June 22, 2007


The Havana Caper – 46

(Authors’ note: We noticed in the last installment that we were calling young Tharp a lieutenant, and we were pretty sure at one point in the story he was an ensign and he obviously couldn’t have been promoted by the navy while on a pirate ship. So we went back and looked and sure enough, his rank has switched back and forth rather indiscriminately. Our curiosity got the better of us and we went all the way back to when the character was first introduced and it turns out he is and always was a lieutenant. So that settles that. Please do us a favor and ignore any references past or present in which Tharp is referred to as an ensign, not that we’re promising we won’t make the mistake again. But hey, that’s hardly the most careless thing we’ve done. Very early in the going we had a character who switched nationalities repeatedly. Okay, on with the story.)

From a half mile behind the action Fanny saw The Festering Boil crash hard into the schooner. She howled with glee.

“We’ve got them! If Reyes can hold her 10 minutes we’ll have them – and God help him if he can’t hold them that long! This really is better isn’t it, Tasha? They think they’re escaping and at the last minute they’re back in my power! Oh, there’ll be some blood spilled tonight! Crowd on the canvas! We’ll be in range in 10 minutes and then they’ll know what I’m really capable of!”

But her joyfully psychotic rant broke off suddenly as she saw the Boil lurch back to port as if bouncing off the schooner, then slowly begin to pull away from the smaller ship.

“Stop them!” she shrieked. “Ensign! Cut across to port! We can still head her off.”

Ensign Rudolph had only agreed to desert the English navy because of his respect for Stubing and friendship with Jones. He didn’t know both of them were now dead, but he certainly knew a bad idea when he heard one.

“To port ma’am? Towards the land?” he asked, hoping he’d heard wrong. “With all due respect, ma’am, the water’s too shallow through there, very treacherous. We have to turn north, then loop around. We can still pin the Boil to the coast if we get around in …”

Rudolph’s suggestion went unfinished because, as soon as he began contradicting Fanny, she had narrowed her eyes, glanced at Tasha and nodded her head toward the ensign. The assassin had slid up beside him and in one deft move sliced through his throat and heaved his still-barely-living-but-only-for-a-few-more-seconds body over the side.

“You!” Fanny said, singling out one of the frightened crewmembers and pointing to the ship’s wheel. “Take the helm. We’re going straight at those pirates, and anyone who doesn’t like it can join Ensign Rudolph.”

The man looked at his crewmates, shrugged, and stepped to the wheel. The other sailors looked at the deck, but no one spoke.

“Well? Look lively!” Fanny shrieked. “There’ll be no hesitating and no turning back! Let’s go!”

The crew all nodded and went back to their tasks, although two of the more enterprising surreptitiously went into the bow chains and began heaving the lead.

“Six fathoms. We should be alright,” the first said. “The charts don’t show nothing except some shoal right at the headland.”

“Aye, but we’re riding lower with all that gold we brought aboard yesterday.”

“I know, Alf. You keep an eye on the lead. I’ll see about finding us a gig.”

“Right Bert, you do that.”

Aboard the Boil, crews raced into the rigging to repair the spars and cordage that had been shot away. The ship had lost its bowsprit along with most of its momentum and the foresail was now flapping in the breeze. The ship was drifting without much headway, and the current as it came around the headland pushed the ship towards the rocky outcroppings of the lee shore.

“Helm! Hard a starboard!” Slappy shouted to Oscar, who had resumed his post at the wheel while George raced aloft to direct the repairs to the rigging.

“Helm’s over, sir, but she’s not coming around!’ Oscar shouted with a trace of panic in his voice.

“Of course not,” Slappy muttered to himself. “We don’t have enough headway to get any bite from the rudder.” Then, at the top of his voice, “George, we need some speed, and quick!”

“Aye cap’n, but it’s a hurrah’s nest up here!” George responded, struggling with the tangle of lines and canvas that had been shot up by the fire they’d taken. “Give me about five minutes!”

Slappy glanced at the white water breaking on the rocks that loomed nearer.

“I’m pretty sure we don’t have five minutes George!”

“We’re going as fast as we can!”

“So’s the ship!” Slappy said.

Glancing astern, the pirate captain could see the Spanish schooner also drifting, and could hear the sound of fighting, with an occasional musket shot still echoing across the water. Then there was a sudden silence from the ship behind them. Slappy grabbed his glass, but it was impossible to see exactly what was happening or who was in charge. All he could do was hope that that part of the plan had gone well. He’d know soon enough. Farther back but closing quickly, he could see the Princess coming up, taking a direct but dangerous line through the shallow waters inshore of the Boil.

“Uh, how’s it going up there George?”

“We’re working on it!”

The churning waters of the rock-strewn coast at the head of the promontory were now no more than 20 yards away.

“Work faster!”

“Aye sir! Faster it is!”

“Cementhands!” Slappy called. The giant pirate was at his side in an instant.

“I don’t suppose St. Swithin’s still in there somewhere to help us with this?”

Cementhands closed his eyes and scrunched up his face, then shook his head. “Nope, he seems to be gone. We’re on our own.”

“Damn. Well, take some men and get those spiked guns over the side, as many as you can, especially the portside. Toss over everything we don’t need.”

“Aye cap’n. Can I start with Oscar there?”

“Don’t bother. He doesn’t weigh more than 100 pounds. We need to lighten the load.”

“You’ve got it!” The big man went to work, and moments later the first of the guns – which weighed about a half ton each – went over the side with a splash. The rocks were now fifteen yards away as the current continued pushing the Boil closer to shore.

Suddenly George was beside him on the quarterdeck and he could hear the sound of sails snapping in the wind.

“That should give us some speed to maneuver with.” The first mate glanced at the nearby shore. “Hope it’s enough.”

“Oscar, helm to port!” Slappy shouted.

“Port?,” George gasped. “Uh, Slappy my friend, that’s where the rocks are.”

“That’s also where the current is and maybe it’ll give us enough momentum that we can get moving.”

George shrugged. “It’s your ship!”

The Boil surged slightly as wind and water combined to give it a burst of speed. The rocks were now just five yards away. Every face blanched as a hideous scraping noise rang through the ship.

“Helm! Hard a starboard now!” Slappy shouted. “George, haul the lee braces and let fly!”

With the additional speed gained by using the current, the ship’s rudder now was biting into the water and the Boil’s bow turned away from the coast. As it passed the largest of the rock, the Boil’s stern banged against the projection, sending a shudder through the ship, and a couple of the pirates were going to need clean britches, but enough weight had been removed that the Boil didn’t catch. Passing the head of the promontory, the ship had gained enough room to maneuver.

Slappy whirled around to view the proceedings behind them. The Princess was in range for her bow guns to open up, and water splashed to the Boil’s side as the first shots came close. The schooner was also under way again, having turned sharply to avoid the rocks. It was now completing the turn and appeared to be setting into a course parallel to Fanny’s ship to take up the chase, the green banner still fluttering from the topmast.

Aboard the Princess Fanny saw the Boil recover wind, and signaled for Reyes on the schooner to take up the chase and pin the Boil against the shoe before it could escape to seaward.

“What’s he doing?” she shrieked as the smaller ship held its position parallel with hers, about a half cable-length away.

“Madam, he’s got to give way or we’ll end up on those rocks,” the helmsman shouted.

“Nonsense, he’ll give way when we head straight for him! Helm to starboard!”

The Princess swung to seaward, but the smaller vessel didn’t budge. The promontory was about two hundred yards away now, dead ahead.

“Bring her around into the wind!” the sailing master shouted and the crew began the maneuver that would halt the Princess.

“Belay that and belay you!” Fanny screamed. Rather than having Tasha dispose of the insolent man, Fanny was at him in one stride, shoving her stiletto through his throat and feeling the exciting, sensuous spurt of his warm blood on her arm. He fell to the deck at her feet, splashing more blood on her skirt.

“Throw that man overboard and keep straight on,” she ordered while brushing hair from her face, leaving a scarlet smear across her forehead. “We won’t catch those pirates by sailing away from them!”

The stunned crew froze.

“Now!” She didn’t scream it, she said it coldly and quietly, the dripping blade still clasped in her hand. Sailors jumped to their tasks.

“Alf,” Bert said. “I’ve got the painter tied up just to port there.”

“Good.” Alf had just tossed the lead again and retrieved it. “Four fathoms. There ain’t five feet of water under the keel.”

“Let’s go,” Bert said. His mate nodded agreement, ad the two scuttled aft to where the dinghy was tied.

“Fire a gun to get his attention,” Fanny ordered as the space between the two ships narrowed. “If that doesn’t work, fire all of them! Gun crews man your stations!”

The shot sent a ball skittering over the wave tops directly across the schooner’s path, but the smaller ship didn’t back off. Instead, the gun ports snapped open and the guns ran out.

The move startled Fanny, but she didn’t freeze. As soon as she saw the gun barrels protrude from the side of the smaller ship, she gave the one word command – “Fire!”

Both ships belched smoke as they fired full broadsides. On the smaller ship the mainmast toppled with a lurch and shivers of oak whistled through the air. Several shots punched holes in the schooner right at the water line. But the Princess also took her share of hits. None were fatal, but it was too much for the man at the helm, who flinched, bringing the wheel hard to port.

“What are you doing? Tasha, take the wheel.” Fanny yelled. It was almost her last command as captain. The ship lurched, then drove straight onto the rocks surrounding the promontory with a grinding crash. The sudden stop sent all three masts swaying and then toppling forward with a long groan, the stays snapping like so many pistol shots.

“We’re aground,” the bosun informed Fanny unnecessarily. “We have to lighten the load before we’re crushed on these rocks. I’d start with the guns, and maybe the gold.”

Fanny looked at the man as if it was he, not she, who was crazy.

“Not my gold! I need that treasure. And not the guns! I need them to sink Slappy!”

“This ship won’t be sinking anyone else,” the bosun said as calmly as a man can when facing a maniac on the deck of a mortally stricken ship. “We’ve got to save ourselves.”

“Nooooo! I’ve got an empire to build!”

The man just looked at her, shook his head, then turned, knowing as he did so that it could be his final moments. He shouted at the crew, “Abandon ship!”

What Fanny might have done can be imagined, but she never got the chance. At that moment a wave lifted the Princess and drove her higher up on the shoals. Coming down hard, the ship’s oak walls were crushed and torn open by the rock-fanged reef. Chests of gold – gold taken by the Boil in its raid on the treasure fleet then stolen by Fanny in Havana – cascaded into the surf as the ship’s keel broke.

Slappy watched from the deck of The Festering Boil, which was now coming back around. Through his glass he could see sailors scrambling to escape the wreck, most of them getting caught in the surf and bashed against the rocks. He watched as the gold chests were dashed against the reef, and imagined what might have happened to his own ship had he been so laden as he passed that point.

“Beware the big one,” he whispered, thinking back to Captain Hamnquist’s warning.

“What did you say?” George asked.

“Nothing,” Slappy said, “just something someone told me once. Let’s get over to the schooner and see what we can do. It appears our friends were successful after all.”

The Boil pulled within hailing distance of the smaller ship, which was floundering. The crew had thrown out a pair of anchors to keep from being dragged against the lee shore, but it clearly didn’t have much longer to live.

“Ahoy Festering Boil!” came a cry over the water. “Got any room aboard for a few sailors in distress?”

“Aye, I’m sending the boats,” Slappy roared back with relief.

The Boil’s longboat was quickly lowered into the water and, with Cementhands at the oars, reached the side of the schooner before it could even lower its boat. The first load of sailors who came back were the wounded, including Keeling, Peddicord and Ol’ Chumbucket, who still couldn’t uncross his eyes.

“I wouldn’t worry about it. You’ll be fine in a day or two,” Sawbones Burgess said after examining Chumbucket. “You’ve had what we in the medical biz call a “thumpcussion.”

“Thumpcussion?” Cementhands asked, incredulously. “And where did you get your medical degree again?”

Sawbones just glared at his shipmate, but didn’t rise to the bait.

“Just help get these men below. I’m too busy to argue with fools right now.”

The second longboat came over now, filled to the gunnels with a mix of pirates, Spanish sailors and former Royal Marines.

“Permission to come aboard,” requested Dogwatch from the boat.

“Get up here,” Slappy growled. “And someone explain why I’m making room for all of Fanny’s crew.”

“It’s complicated,” Dogwatch began.

“Not really,” Red Molly broke in. “The ship’s sinking and everyone still alive had a hand in attacking Fanny. So make room on the deck.”

The schooner was now almost awash, only her quarterdeck and the stump of her mast remaining above the surface. On the ship Slappy could see two figures, who poised at the rail, then jumped into the ocean as the ship slid beneath the waves. They bobbed to the surface, then both struck out for the Boil and swam alongside. Eager hands tossed them ropes and helped pull them from the drink.

First aboard was a man wearing the remains of his Marine uniform. He was followed by Lieutenant Tharp. Once they were on deck, Tharp threw his arm around the Marine’s shoulders and led him back to Slappy.

“Cap’n Slappy,” Tharp said, throwing the pirate a salute so sharp it caught him by surprise. “This is Lieutenant Anthony ‘Cheesey’ Davis. He and I were at prep school together. Cheesey, this is my unc …”

“Your uncommonly handsome piratical benefactor,” Slappy said, quickly cutting the young man off before he could spill the beans about their relationship. Tharp blinked hard, but after a moment’s silence he nodded agreement.

“Yes, my uncommonly … what he said.”

“So what happened over there?” Slappy asked.

“It wasn’t pretty, they had us in a crossfire and might have just about mowed us down – your Marines know their business, Cheesey.” The officer nodded his appreciation, but took over the story.

“Tharp here is being modest. He cut his way across the deck toward me and we were toe to toe, sword to sword. I think he’d have gotten the best of me …”

“No, I never beat you at school,” Tharp cut in.

“I think you would have this time. I’ve never seen you better. That overhead feint and thrust? Brilliant move.”

“Shut up, you’d have pinned me like a butterfly and you know it.”

“Whatever. Anyway, we were going at it, hammer and tongs, when we suddenly recognized each other. Next thing I know, he’s dropped his sword and is convincing me to come over to his side. Told me Stubing and Jones were dead and had a plan to get rid of that bitch Fanny. It didn’t take much for him to convince me, I’d never liked the idea of being forced to betray the Crown.”

“Anyway, we brought the ship around, pretended to still be Fanny’s ally, and waited for the moment to open fire.”

“But the Princess could have blown you to kindling,” Slappy protested. “Hell, she DID blow you to kindling! You couldn’t possibly have sunk her.”

“We never planned to. We just needed to keep her inshore and force her up against the rocks. It was just a matter of holding up to her broadside 'til she hit the reef. And that’s what happened.”

Slappy looked at his nephew with new respect. Standing up to a broadside at close range with no real hope of winning the duel had taken more courage than he had thought the younger man had. Finally he spoke.

“Well done, lad. I’m sure … I’m sure your family is very proud of you.”

“Aye, sir.”

“Now why don’t you get below and have Burgess take a look at you, make sure you’re alright.”

“Thanks but no, cap’n. There’s plenty more cut up than me. I’m sure the doc’s busy.”

It was then that Saucy Jenny’s voice broke from atop the mainmast.

“Ship ahoy! Coming in from the northeast, four miles, I’d say. And she’s flying the Union Jack!”

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


The Havana Caper – 45

“And just what do you suggest we do?” Ol’ Chumbucket asked, feigning nonchalance as he quietly counted the gun ports on the pursuing Princess. He was concerned because Slappy sometimes seemed guided less by a cool calculation of the circumstances and odds than by a bellicose sense of machismo that led him into rash acts. In the heat of combat he had been known to ignore the tactical situation and go into full-on berserker mode. The fact that it usually turned out all right – albeit often with unintended consequences – did not markedly improve Chumbucket’s concern.

“We still have four guns ye say?” Slappy asked, his eyes reddening as the lust for battle crept up on him.


“And that’s a ship of the line with, what …?”

“… 36 guns probably, or, no, looks like they’ve got a couple in the bow as chasers, so call it 38.”

Chumbucket’s comment was made in response to the two puffs of smoke that appeared from the bow of the Princess, followed seconds later by splashes 300 yards astern of the Boil.

“She seems eager to get to close quarters with us and trade blows,” the captain observed.

“And well she might, considering she outguns us more than nine to one,” Chumbucket agreed amiably.

“Hmmmm.” Slappy said. “You know what might work here?”

“I am breathless in anticipation.”

“Running like smoke and oakum.”

“We can do that,” Chumbucket agreed with a sigh or relief.

“Then let’s,” the captain said, his eyes resuming their normal hazel color.

The Festering Boil had cleared the harbor mouth and was standing out to sea with sailors scrambling to raise every scrap of canvas that could be found. The Princess was about a half mile behind, just crossing the bar.

“Due north, Dogwatch!” Slappy shouted to the pirate at the helm. “Let ‘em see our heels!”

A brisk breeze was blowing out of the southeast and the Boil surged ahead, sheets of spray flying up from the bow as she cut through the bright blue water. In the maintop, Saucy Jenny and Wellington Peddicord paused after raising the top gallant.

“That’s everything,” Wellington said.

“Aye, unless the captain wants to spread my bloomers up here, and that’d be a different story.”

Peddicord pretended to be shocked.

Behind them, Princess was now out in open ocean and likewise was raising every sail until she looked like a huge white cloud of death riding the wind, driven by Fanny’s wrath at the notion that her prey was getting away. All eyes on the Boil focused astern as the ship slowly began pulling away from the former British naval vessel, now the flagship of what Fanny hoped would be her personal fleet.

“She’ll never catch us,” Slappy said as the distance between the two ships began to grow. He sounded, Ol’ Chumbucket thought, as if he were trying to convince himself.

“Don’t let it get you down,” he said to the captain. “We’ll live to fight another day. Considering where we were 12 hours ago, that’s no small accomplishment.”

“And when we get refitted and rally the Brotherhood, we’ll be back, and then there’ll be a reckoning due,” Slappy added firmly.

“Sail ho!” shouted Peddicord from the maintop.

“Where away?” Slappy hollered.

“Due north, dead ahead, about five miles off!”

Eyes that had been nervously watching the ship behind them swung forward and scanned the sea in front. Sure enough, there was a sail on the horizon directly in front of them and it seemed to be heading straight towards them. It was too far off to get any details, but the last thing they wanted was someone sitting astride their path, especially someone who seemed perfectly comfortable heading towards Havana.

“Dogwatch! Bring us around to a northwest heading,” Slappy snapped.

As the bow of the Festering Boil came around the ship slowed slightly, the wind now directly astern. Behind them they saw, the Princess did the same, only her course was more westerly so she got better advantage of the wind. The Princess wasn’t making up the distance, but she was no longer losing ground. The newcomer, which was now on their starboard beam, also angled to intercept. A mile ahead of them a peninsula jutted out into the ocean.

“It’s just a question of geometry now,” Slappy observed to George. “That was never my best subject in school, but it looks like those two ships will cross – intersect? Was that the word? Yeah – those two ships will intersect our line of travel. We just have to make sure we’ve crossed those points before they do.”

The ship to starboard was now close enough to get a read on. She was smaller, a schooner, very fast and maneuverable and though lightly armed, still she could throw more iron from her broadside than the Boil could at present. Her intentions were clear. Her master, Captain Esteban Reyes, just wanted to get in front of the Boil, He couldn’t know that the pirates were almost defenseless; he had been at sea and didn’t even know for sure who was on this ship. But he knew it was the ship Fanny had ordered captured, knew it had escaped somehow and was being pursued. He was offering his own ship as a sacrifice to slow the pirates enough so that the Princess could close in. And as fast as the pirate ship was moving, he was moving faster. It looked as if his gambit might succeed.

“Seems like we’re going to have to fight after all,” Chumbucket observed to Slappy.

“Good,” Slappy said, his eyes beginning to go red again.

“What’s the plan?” George asked.

“We can’t let them hold us,” the captain said. “Dogwatch! Aim the ship as close to the headland as ye’ dare without running us aground. George, put the four working cannon on the starboard side, all as far forward as possible! Grapeshot in all of them. And run out all the guns on the starboard side, whether they work or not! Portside guns go over the side. Chumbucket, get a boarding party ready. Thirty men ought to do it. Then everybody find a safe place to hunker down. This is going to get hot.”

Everyone went to their tasks with a will and the preparations were quickly made. Chumbucket assembled the boarding party in the ship’s waist and Slappy looked them over. There was Lieutenant Keeling, and Peddicord, and Red Molly, and Saucy Jenny and Dogwatch, which surprised Slappy since the latter was supposed to be at the helm. He looked back to the quarterdeck and was surprised to see Oscar nervously gripping the wheel under the close watch of George the Greek.

“You understand, we can’t stay to fight,” Slappy told the boarders. “We’re going to blow right by them and keep on moving. We can't have her grappling on and slowing us down, so that ship will be your ride home. Chumbucket knows the rendezvous point. Everyone understands? There’s no shame in saying you don’t want any part of this.”

That was a lie, and everyone knew it. No one would ever say anything to a man who backed out of the raid, but no one would ever look at that man quite the same way again. Everyone of the boarders nodded, their eyes set grimly.

“As far as that goes, I don’t know that staying here is any safer,” Chumbucket said with a smile. “If this doesn’t succeed, I don’t fancy your chance of breaking away from Fanny.”

“Fair enough,” the captain said. “Each man to his task, then, and good luck to us all.”

The sloop was closing fast now, angling in at about four hundred yards. Billowing from the mainmast was a banner featuring a large white cannon on a green field.

“We’ve seen that flag before,” Slappy observed to Ol’ Chumbucket. “Off Diego Garcia.”

“Aye, Fanny’s banner. What’s she on about with that, anyway?”

“Who knows? You may have noticed, Fanny’s crazy.”

“Oh, aye, that she is,” Chumbucket agreed, shaking his head with a smile.

“Let’s not risk finding out just how crazy any time soon, alright?” Slappy said to his friend. “Just take the ship and get the hell out of here. I wish I was going instead of you.”

“You’re the captain. This is your place.”

“I know, but sometimes it sucks. You’re not taking Cementhands?”

“He wanted to go,” Chumbucket said, “but this will rely on speed, not brawn. Besides, almost everyone volunteered, and I had to leave you somebody.”

“And you are taking Tharp?”

“Aye. I know he’s a pompous jackass, but he’s good in a fight and he volunteered.”

“Alright then, but it’s your funeral.”

“I certainly hope not.”

A puff of smoke from the bow of the approaching ship was followed seconds later by the splash of a cannon ball in front of the Boil, but the pirates showed no sign of heaving to and striking colors. The captain of the sloop waited sixty seconds, then ordered his crew to unleash a broadside. Eight cannon barked from the side of the ship.

“Everybody down!” Slappy shouted needlessly as his crew took shelter behind the gunwales, spiked guns and whatever else they could find. Moments later the air was rent by the sound of balls slapping into the Boil’s stout oak sides as shivers of wood flew like shrapnel.

“Hold!” Slappy shouted. “Wait for it!”

With luck the other ship would be in range before it had a chance to complete a reload, but luck wasn’t holding today. Less than a cable’s length away now, a second broadside was fired into the side of the pirate ship. Spars and cordage rained down, along with three or four pirates who hadn’t picked lucky places to shelter.

The continued silence from the pirate ship unnerved the crew of the approaching sloop. They could see all guns had been run out, knew there must be some crew aboard her. But there was still no sign of life. They went about the task of reloading, but nervously with one eye on their jobs and one on the silent ship. Men crowded the railings to see what was going on as they drew near the pirates.

“Wait for my signal,” Slappy said. The onrushing ship drew closer – a hundred yards, fifty. Twenty.

Slappy stood up from behind the railing and shouldered his blunderbuss.

“Fire!” he shouted, suiting the action to the words and letting loose a hail of lead balls.

The four guns at the bow belched smoke and fire, sending a sheet of death at the foe. Sailors lining the railing were cut down by the hail of grapeshot as if a giant scythe had swept through them. Horror stricken, Captain Reyes looked down from the quarterdeck to see what looked like half his crew lying in a twisted wreckage of flesh and blood; what had been a tidy, shipshape gun deck suddenly transformed into an abattoir.

The Spanish captain shook his head to clear the gory vision. He still had a ship, he still had a crew – albeit a much smaller one – and he still had an enemy to stop.

“Get those English lobsterbacks formed up amidships, now!” he shouted to his aide, who directed the squad of former Royal Marines Stubing had assigned him. They may have been renegades, but the twenty former marines were wonderfully disciplined and drilled and they quickly formed up to meet what could only be an impending attack.

The two ships were just yards apart now, running nearly parallel, marksmen on both sides looking for targets on the other’s deck. Slappy gauged the distances, then shouted to the helm, “Hard a’ starboard, NOW!”

Oscar hesitated just a moment, then began turning the wheel, not nearly fast enough to suit George who grabbed the spokes and yanked down hard. The Festering Boil lurched starboard, ramming hard into the sloop almost amidships. The collision knocked half the Boils and all the Spaniards off their feet.

“Boarders away!” Slappy shouted, and with a wild shriek the thirty hand-picked pirates flew over the bulwarks and down to the deck of the smaller ship.

“Hard a’ port! Mind the shoals!” Slappy commanded when they were gone.

The Boil’s boarding party crashed onto the forward deck, quickly overwhelming the sailors who were trying to sail the ship in the middle of the carnage. But as they started stern, they met the onrush of the former Marines, who advanced in steady line, bayonets leveled.

Ol’ Chumbucket saw the approaching Marines and leaped from the forecastle into the waist of the ship. His cutlass in one hand and a pistol in the other, he had no hand free to catch himself when his feet hit the bloody deck and shot out from under him. The pirate executed a maneuver that several centuries hence would become a staple of Saturday morning cartoons, going horizontal into the air then slamming down onto the deck.

Stars exploded in his head as it thonked against the planking. His vision blurred and a roaring filled his ears. In fact, the slip had been a lucky thing – as he fell the Marines fired a volley that passed just over his head. As it was, it tore a hole in the line of onrushing pirates, dropping 10 to the deck, including Peddicord with a ball in his shoulder and Keeling with one in his thigh. All Chumbucket was sure of was that his head hurt like it hadn’t since the morning after Keeling’s bachelor party and the ship seemed to be spinning as if caught in a whirlpool.

Shaking his head failed to clear his vision, and Chumbucket scrambled to his knees, his hands groping for a weapon. Looking up through his blurred vision he saw a line of red – the advancing Marines with bayonets at the ready. The closest, as near as the pirate could see, had selected him as a target and was lunging forward.

Before Chumbucket could brace himself for the blow, the man reeled back, a scarlet fountain spurting from his forehead. The pirate shook his head again, trying desperately to clear his vision, but the scene refused to come into focus. As he did so, a form leaped over from him from behind, lashing out with a cutlass at another of the Marines.

It was Lieutenant Tharp. Plunging into the fray he stood over the prostrate form of Ol’ Chumbucket and lunged once, twice, three times. Each blow scored, sending another opponent to the deck. With the way clear for a moment, he turned and looked down at Chumbucket.

“You alright?”

“I will be. I’m just having a little trouble seeing, or standing,” Chumbucket said through gritted teeth.

“Don’t worry about it, we’ll have them cleared out in no time.” The younger man turned back to the action.

Chumbucket shook his head again. Was it his blurred vision, or were Tharp’s eyes glowing redly?

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