Pirates of Pensacola by Keith Thomson Excerpt
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apoleon bonaparte hid in the darkest corner of the balcony. Hand characteristically tucked into waistcoat, he peered into the night. Suddenly one of the doors swung open, loosing sounds of a party inside. Napoleon froze, until seeing it was Moses. Coast clear? Moses asked. Yeah, Napoleon said. Cool, said Moses. He stepped out, the familiar pair of stone tablets tucked under an arm, and he carefully shut the door. Napoleon then withdrew his hand from his coat. In it was a joint. Moses set down the Commandments and shed a Zippo from his robe. Of note, the day was Saturday; the date August 13, 1976, and the occasion the twenty-ninth annual Costume Ball at the Shore Havens Yacht Club in Cape Bantam, Florida, about fteen miles down the coast from Pensacola.
Construction of Shore Havens was completed in 1924. Still, the palatial limestone clubhouse, with its vast pavilion, colonnaded portico, and topiary-sprinkled grounds, could have been dropped into the Palais de Versailles neighborhood and, as the architect had promised, not stood out a bitexcluding, of course, any attention drawn by an eleven million pound building being dropped. While sharing the joint, Moses and Napoleon surveyed the broad cul-de-sac two stories below. At the foot of the marble staircase that spilled down from the entrance, a diamondbedecked Queen Elizabeth I was hoisted from a Bentley by her chauffeur. Nice touch, Moses said. I dunno, Napoleon said. She died four hundred years before they had cars. Atop the steps the guard, clad as a British beefeater, tended to a plump rendition of Harpo Marx. Name please, sir? he asked. By way of response, Harpo pantomimed, holding forth one hand, then pointing skyward with the other. The beefeater, a Shore Havens security man forced to work overtime and sweltering beneath a two-foot-high black fur hat, regarded him blankly. Additional pantomime served only to anger Harpos wife, a Salem witch. Hanson, she explained to the beefeater. Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Hanson. The beefeater crossed out their names on the scrolled guest list and waved them in. Decent concept, Moses said. Eh, Napoleon said with a ribbon of smoke. The duos attention was drawn to the bay behind the clubhouse by a little motorboat buzzing toward the dock. In it sat a man in pirate garb. Now that, Napoleon said, is clever.
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Inside the clubhouse, in the lofty Grand Ballroom, a sixteen-piece orchestra dressed as eighteenth-century Quakers belted out a boisterous brand of swing. Dancing, drinking, and gossiping to the beat was an historically costumed crowd of some four hundred of Cape Bantams social and economic elite. Among them an ordinarily jovial Henry VIII glowered at his wife, whod come as Joan of Arc. A few cocktails earlier shed admired from afar the sturdy left pectoral muscle exposed by Zeuss toga. Now she was squeezing it. Henry snatched her by an elbow and dragged her toward the exit. Darling, he hissed, you shouldve come as Jack Daniels. He steered her clear of the bayside terrace door, enabling the pirate to enter. Joan, meanwhile, batted her eyelashes at Harpo. In response Harpo enthusiastically honked his bicycle horn. But by then Joan was transxed by the pirate. He was a man in his late thirties, of average height and weight, but, like a ships rigging, his muscles and tendons were xed, trim, and taut. One strong forearm bore a tattoo of a dagger, the other, a three-masted barque. Yellow-blond hair peeked from beneath a black bandanna onto which was sewn a white silhouetted hourglass. His gold hoop earring, blouse, breeches, brass telescope, and sword all had a worn authenticity, but his sea blue eyes comprised the most convincing element of the ensemble. They shone from beneath his black mask and sang of the sort of spirit that relished swinging aboard an enemy barque and crossing blades with all comers. A sailor! Joan gushed. I think hes supposed to be a pirate, dear, Henry said, attempting to tug her onward. She stayed rmly in place. The pirate stepped aside to let Queen Elizabeth I pass, then acknowledged Joan. Good evening, madame, he said, and, with a tilt of the head Henrys way, he added, Your Highness. A pirate! Joan gushed. Aye, the pirate said.
Joan giggled. Then, to the pirates surprise, she began to tickle the rounded brass pommel of his sword hilt. With a pained sigh, Henry attempted, once more, to haul her off, but she clung to the pommel, unwittingly drawing the entire sword from its scabbard. The steel blade ashed like a recracker as she teetered beneath its unexpected heft. Christ, Henry yelped, leaping out of the way, that things real! The pirate leapt to Joans aid, stabilizing her and reclaiming the sword. Then he said to Henry, Of course its real. Im here to plunder gold and jewels. If I run into any opposition, Im better off with a real sword than a plastic one, right? Joan laughed. Henry, pointedly, did not. Well, Captain, Joan slurred, you certainly picked a good night for gold and jewels. Ive seen three queens here. And its still early. The pirate grinned, displaying teeth that often drew comparisons to sugar cubes. His reaction was due mostly to the fact that the diamond necklace seen seconds earlier around the neck of Queen Liz now resided in his breeches.
Shortly thereafter, in Shore Havens oak-paneled Tap Room, Henry was attempting to lodge a complaint to the head beefeater about this reckless pirate jerk and his lethal weapon, which surely violated a dozen house rules. Henry was stymied because the clubs complaint-lodging procedure involved rst writing a letter to the Rules Committee, but he continued to whine long enough that the commodorettingly costumed, he felt, as Admiral Nelsontook up the case. He suggested that, for starters, they establish the pirates identity. Its denitely not Dickie Cregan, he said. Dickie Cregan was the reigning club champ in debauchery. It wasnt until three years after the renovation that they discovered the two-way mirror hed bribed the contractor to install in the ladies changing room. Dickie, continued the commodore, came as Pope Pius. The head beefeater, who was the clubs chief of security, weighed
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in. None of the boys or me think we seen any pirate coming in, he said, but its hard to say for sure. His lack of certitude, he felt, vindicated his protest to the Event Planning Committee that he and his men would be encumbered by the beefeater costumes, particularly the two-foot-tall hunks of fur for hats. Taking his side, one of the committee members noted that, historically, such caps were worn not by beefeaters but, rather, by palace guardsmen. The conict was settled when the majority of the members expressed the opinion that the hats looked neat. More importantly, theyd already been paid for. Sure enough, throughout the party the security men had battled to keep the brims from sliding over their eyes. The inquiry in the taproom took a decided turn when a ushed Queen Elizabeth I ran in, leaving a trail of tears.
A moment later the music in the ballroom ceased, and a hush seized the crowd. Spears in hand, two beefeaters charged toward the pirate, who was meandering back to the bayside terrace. As if unaware of them, the pirate stopped at the buffet table, ladled himself a cup of fruit punch from the large pewter bowl, and took a sip. He found it pleasantly tart. He was considering complementing it with an clair when the beefeaters caught up to him. Sir, the head man said, we need to ask you to step outside with us. The pirate turned toward the beefeaters, and, nding no one standing between them and himself, he gave the appearance of surprise. You mean me? he said. The head beefeater nodded. What on earth for? If you dont know, then you got nothing to worry about. The beefeaters then started out, until realizing the pirate wasnt following. He was still at the buffet, nishing his punch. At the same time, he was sneaking a look at the service exit. It was blocked by a third beefeater. The windows? All shut. He mulled his
options. Then, in one blazing motion, he drew his sword, leapt at the beefeaters, and slashed their spearswhich were plasticin two. Okay now, he said, with unusual calm, everybody, back off. Startled guests scurried aside. The pirate then had a clear path to the terracebut only for a moment. The beefeaters stepped into the way. The pirate claried, When I said everybody Abruptly, he ceased clarifying, because theyd drawn guns. Beefeaters, he protested, arent supposed to have those. Okay, now, lower your sword down onto the oor, pal, the head man said. Nice and easy now. To his relief the pirate complied. The other beefeater then jammed his gun into the small of the pirates back and tried to prod him out. However, the pirate remained planted by the buffet table and laughed. Come on now, boys, the sword thingit was just part of the act. What do you say we have us a drink and forget all about this? I dont think so, said the head beefeater. Well, the pirate said, with seemingly misplaced nality, I insist. At once he jerked free of his captors, snared the big pewter punch bowl, and slung it at them. Its tart contents stung their eyes, momentarily blinding them. He used that moment to lunge for the silverware on the buffet table. There are martial artists who can throw everyday playing cards with such velocity that they serve as lethal weapons. Demonstrating a variation on that theme, the pirate, with a unique sidearm throwing motion, sent a pair of stainless steel spoons ying, one after the other, much, much faster than anyone else present would have imagined possible. The rst spoon drilled the head beefeater in the wrist, costing him his grip on his rearm. It clattered to the oor and skipped underneath the buf