Archive for February 3rd, 2009

Love Among The Ruins©

(This is another tale from the Adventures of Open End. Valentine’s Day is in the offing. It is only appropriate then to post an episode from the life of  this  scabrous pirate in which he is ready to give a shot at love.b)
It was the month of March. Open End was holed up in Cartegena, Colombia and from the day one it was clear to the pirate those who belonged to the Golden Cockerel were a breed apart. The Golden Cockerel was a club where every member had class.  It was housed in a palace. All the streets led to it and ornate carriages riding on sent swirls of dust and the locals were to accept them as a class apart.And they didn’t care two hoots if they were inconvenienced. Open End of course was not there to acquire any class but to clear a doubt: What made them special?
The palace stood in its solitary grandeur surrounded by a sea of manicured lawn dotted with every sort of tropical plants; and not a plant among them was allowed to be there by accident. They were chosen for its color, fruits and form and they served a purpose. The lush growth of greenery merely tickled the fancies of those chosen few as they drove through its serpentine driveway to be received by a liveried footman. Within the cool halls paved in marble the ones who were admitted could recapture through a fretwork of Moorish design, those bygone glories of Cordoba. Those who had come from their wearied travels to pant before an elaborately carved fountain in the central courtyard perhaps thought of pleasures of paradise to come. Where the senses wearied of every day smells and sounds here was a heaven on earth! It was a paradise, which the Moors longed for. It was an impossible dream but in Cartagena it was an every day reality. Of course for Open End it was a challenge that he could not escape.
At the Golden Cockerel no one lived in the past or for future. They held the glory of Spain in a palace, which was dedicated to uphold the highest ideals of the realm. The Palace of Thousand Ports. Yes those who streamed to its portals would have done business at thousands or more ports of the world. Only the blue blooded darkened its halls and there they lolled all day while an army of lackeys let themselves into a lather dancing to their tune. What was the name of the tune they so brazenly called for? Privileged We Are. It did not matter if it was out of tune but who sang and for whose benefit alone counted. Open End could not believe it. He had taken enough knocks as a pirate and told so many lies to gain an advantage he didn’t think his uppercase was the sole arbiter to his sanity. Whenever he felt confused all those money in his treasure chests seemed to convince him he was as good as those hidalgos whom he had in so many encounters worsted time and time again.  He took a hard and long look at himself. He was low born and lived a low life all through. Or was he under some delusion?
Somewhere some one had goofed. So much so he was certain! Otherwise why would he seek out three months ago the haberdasher by appointment to the King? Did he not tell him, ’Money is of no concern fellow? In reply he grimaced but took order meekly the man who took the measure of kings and fitted him out in clothes, which would have tickled any blue blooded duchess. He had paid in gold for pleasing his tailor who received it in his gloved hand as if it were all a mistake. A bag of silver had seen to his conveyance. The grubby fellow who supplied the carriage with plush cushions and a liveried driver looked at him as if his cat had left him overnight at his door. But the money was real and he had to accept him at its face value. All those accoutrements and money spent for his appearance pleased numerous tradesmen who still seemed not to take him for real. Did he belong to the privileged class? Or was it all a mistake?
What a flood in silver and gold had he let stream forth! He cut every inch a hidalgo of infinite dash and polish, which shimmered up to his ruff. Dressed with the best the money could buy he was as privileged as any. But his confusion didn’t just go away.
The Golden Cockerel set belonged to an exclusive club. The Golden Cockerel surely had sympathy for anyone whose credentials were his own person but the door nevertheless remained shut. No wonder Open End would have been thrown out unceremoniously had he ever tried to get in by his own steam. It was unfair. How the privileged had set themselves a class apart went against his grain so to speak. His ingrained democratic values were in for a shock at what he came up against in Cartagena. It was intolerable. Unknown to him he was privileged as they.
He would have wished to walk in and ask for admission but it was impossible. Only one way was open to him. He was told by those who knew how the system worked to cough up a fortune into the royal coffers. He balked at the idea. Paying Philip II for an entry into the Golden Cockerel was not an option. It so happened he came to know of one who just was heading towards the exclusive club armed with a pass signed by no less a person than the king himself. The abominable pirate only needed to wait for his man to show up. Buena Guerra who had just paid the king a fortune for the honor of becoming a member of the exclusive club had the misfortune of coming across Open End.
Open End was all for playing according to the rules. Having got what he wanted he did not give another thought to the man who lay in the ditch. All men were equal to him. Even dead, he so reckoned. He pored over the pass. It was an ostentatious but scrupulously worded document bearing the seal of the king issued to one Buena Guerra admitting him to all the facilities offered by the club. If such be the rule he belonged to the privileged class. By a royal decree. No less! Having got the parchment by a thrust of his knife under his third rib all he needed was to assume the name of Buena Guerra who was in no position to rise from the dead for the honor of a club membership. The membership of the Golden Cockerel set comprised of well heeled merchants, officers from Casa de Contratación ( or House of Trade) which so many years before, was set up in Seville by the King. Two admirals and two captain generals were among its members. What was common to all of them was their blue blood. Or gold which did not make blue bluer but made red just enough blue to be passed for the real. They were all for furthering the interests of their master Philip II. And in course of their line of duty they dropped in Cartegena representing the king. With one exception. Open End was there representing his own.
They all stayed at the Golden Cockerel.
To Cartagena, Colombia came they in many ships bearing the flag of Spain. There they spent the winter awaiting for flota the treasure fleet to bring silver from the mines of Peru. The year before the pirate had seen for himself the silver being carried by some 200 mules to Portobello, Panama. He had studied the way the King siphoned off the Indians in the Americas. He had to agree it was systematic bleeding the fortunes of the Indians, which was awesome. Yet he cried, Bah! Not that he did not have great respect for their technique but he considered his was much better. The Spanish king was as tenacious as he when it came to plunder. But the king was part of the system while he was on his own. Philip II took merely 50% of the takings, which he could not keep without that unwieldy machinery getting into the act. The Court and Castilian pride.
Hardly had his feet touched in Cartagena he  thought he was as good as any blue blooded Spaniard who jauntily walked past him. He thought for a lark he could hobnob with an admiral or two. Admirals in those times were only found among the Golden Blade set. It was a kind of a wheel within a wheel, the first-among-equals thing which one cannot shake off. All man are equal. In name of course. Rules of the Golden Cockerel Club gave every member the same privileges but always the Golden Blade set got a slice more. Those who were admitted into Golden Cockerel club could call the shots but some were heard before others. You know what I mean?
Next it so happened Open End was also toting a rapier as any other. If the haughty Spaniard stood on ceremonies he had two pages instantly acquired on hire to give his frosty look its correct glaze. His gloved hand concealed rubies and emeralds, which he saw to that others could get a glimpse off too often. He play acted as if he was all for understatement which in effect added to his image considerably. He had the document signed by the king in favor of one Buena Guerra but he brazenly would enter without it. He had his honor to think of.
He as a pirate instantly assume roles and there he was on a fine morning to be admitted into the roster of crème de la crème. He had allowed himself into Golden Cockerel to which an officer of the House of the Trade would not have entered on any other terms than putting down his name and various titles he held in the guest book of the club. He assumed the name Buena Guerra without any title whatsoever appended thereto.
When he was confronted by the Keeper of the Register he said that he hardly cared to affix his titles, which were killing him for their profusion. It was a slow death, he managed to let it be known.
“But it is rather irregular!” “So you want to make it regular,” BG drawled revealing his rapier on the side, as this?” He could feel the parchment tucked within his tunic but he was there to press a point. He was as privileged as they.
Admiral Juan de Benavides would have been horrified had he known that the amusing hidalgo who boasted of his lineage lying astride three empires and related by blood to Magellen on his mother’s side and to Hernan Cortez on the paternal side was none other than Open End a common crook. The admiral laughed uproariously at the shell game he introduced in the gaming room and he endorsed it with all his heart to his fellow Castilians as exciting as a parlor game. Producing a penny from an unsuspecting Admiral’s nose was clever; similarly having the Captain General spit out a farthing, however simulated it was, a trick which made all laugh except for the fact it somewhat bruised their patriotic feelings to be seen coughing up something of the hated English. Another time in the game of tapita (* played with bottle caps. In those days it was played with buttons of ivory.) the admiral lost in a row, which didn’t faze him. What was 150 reals of eight when compared to hobnob with a descendant of Cortez of hallowed memory?
After shooting pools one morning for points the worthies had retired to the refreshment room.
Over mint juleps they talked business where BG showed his distaste as typical of his birth as money grubbing. “I cannot enthuse myself to make more than that lie in the family vaults,” BG said annoyed at the fact that he was forced to touch upon the subject.
“I struck a goldmine in my youth,” he explained,” since then my life was never be the same.”
Against him were arrayed the hotshots who powered the mighty engines of Spanish Unilateralism.
“What is unilateralism, I hear?’ Open End was a trifle impatient after subjecting himself to a vow of silence for half an hour. “It gives unfettered access to every wealth that we can lay hands
on,” Don Juan de Lopez the second in command to Admiral Benavides, explained with pride,” There is none other to split profits with.”
“Pirates must be splitting their sides with laughter” he observed.
When Open End had, some eight months ago, come this side of the Spanish main to see for himself the conditions, he realized Havana would make the  ideal hub of his operations. He had come in touch with a monk by name Orteguilla who gave a boost to the sagging spirits of the pirate; he was not sure if he had belonged to the Dominican or Benedictine Order.
The Indian was a man of many talents among which what was lacking to which his superiors had often alluded but without success, was dogma. He was sent to their Mission in the Far East but all that the heathens benefited from his presence was the use of Cayenne pepper as seasoning to their dishes. He could play lute or compose a madrigal. Well anything except say his pater noster without a mistake. For all that no mistake about it, he was a scholar. He said that he wrote a treatise about The Ninety-nine Uses Of Chili Pepper. “One more to go and I am ready to come into print.” The Indian was hopeful.
There was so much to develop from their mutual admiration. With Dom Orteguilla by his side he just began thinking big and as a consequence he wanted to be in the middle where the action was. The defrocked friar took to himself to equip the pirate with some facts, which were essential for the success of his mission. He needed to make his ship sleek and fast. It was showing his age and needed repair badly. So she had to be hauled to be repaired in the yard where a team of Indians were ever vigilant and seeing to its progress. Had he as a monk only thought of his own holiness he could not have acquired his knowledge of seaworthiness of ships. He had been well connected in the service of the Church and out of it. Open End came more and more to depend upon his awesome knowledge.
As a mark of friendship he gave Open End a snuff-box made of silver and it had a secret compartment into which the wily Indian said that he could smuggle some deadly poison just in case.
“What makes you think that I want to use it?”
“I would not know,” the defrocked friar said,” In my youth I entered into a mystical union with  Christ.”
“You seem to have made a some what similar pact, with Death.” Orteguilla was not joking. Over rum and sweet potatoes and chocolate they were plumbing each other’s innermost depths. For two months while he remained in Havana he took a measure of Orteguilla and knew that whatever be his faults he was way up when it came to loyalty. Since then Open End kept the monk in high esteem.
Open End took a hacienda overlooking the beach where the Indian saw to that he did not get into serious trouble. He was interested in phrenology and in taking measure of the abominable pirate he said there was much to be said for bumps of his cranium.
“Another bump, I am afraid, will be a knock-out!”
“As an infant I was always falling off.” Open End mused. “The past can’t be helped,” Orteguilla commented,” See to that you don’t fall into fresh trouble.”
One morning he saw a vision of a merchant ship bearing its course to the haven where they sat. Open End was idly watching it grow larger before his eyes. It was from Spain and thrown off its course from other ships by a storm. It made what were merely nebulous thoughts of a ship coming to him bearing gifts as three magi to a babe, crystallize. Perhaps it did bring a fortune and cast it to his lap. No wonder he had daringly hatched a plan at the snap of fingers as the passengers came to the haven in many boats. He saw among the many a woman of twenty wearing a mantilla and a fan in her hand. Her eyes were jet black sheltered under two sharply drawn eyebrows. Her dress was silk with a sinuous band of lace peeping out of ermine thrown daintily like a boa over her compact figure. The points of lace were shimmering under the liquid sunlight, which jelled all his thoughts into one. Her bearing and her dress made no mistake in stating her station in life. And her image was as clear as the point of her shoes, which made its print on the wet sand. He thought she was a white dove, which just found its rest. Right before his eyes. Open End was sure it wasn’t rum that made his head reel. She was followed by her entourage, which came in all sizes. There were servants dumpy and small who scolded a pair mulatto boys in hoses and who wore gloves while passing on items demanded of them. They were of Creole and Indian origin and they merely served to cast attention to the one who could hold them all together. The girl with the mantilla was the star. Her whole deportment spoke of her privileged position. May be of royal birth. It didn’t put him off. He was in love.  Almost. He was certain.
He came to know later on Doña Inez was her name. She was accompanied by a woman whose plain dress and mien showed a woman who was stuck with one who was born to be a mistress. She was beautiful in a different sort of way. If the charm of Inez was in ermine and silk which set off the translucent skin to advantage the companion’s grace was that of an adder making its way along a sandy dune. Two lovely visions merging into one. Open End was in a fix. So little time, he sighed. To cut the matter of delays required in planning different approaches he took the easy way out. He fell in love with both.
The vision of a pretty well turned out foot was as heart stopping as its impression on the wet sand. Open End cherished that vision of Doña Inez who had just paused at the edge of the beach to remove a grit from her fancy shoe, and it had sealed his fate. She was heavenly. ‘Ivory is coarse in comparison’, he was beginning to feel he was a connoisseur on feminine form especially concerning foot. If her instep was so shaped he was sure that her toes must be just right for reverence. He dreamt that he drank gallons of rum from those tan colored shoes tipped with a fancy buckle and could still ask for more.  He was hopelessly in love. Meanwhile back of his mind was another image less heavenly though somewhat in simple elegance, it did not compete with his image of the dove. He knew the maid who carried merely a silken purse had long fingers which if they ever caressed his nape and asked for his head it would have been a trifle. He had already lost it. Twice over. Orteguilla advised extreme caution since love of a woman made the life of a pirate very vulnerable. But to fall for two at the same time was to give death unfair advantage.
“In whichever way I look at it,” the Indian was certain. “Tell that to my heart!” Open End quipped.
Open End did early rising to walk as a man possessed along the calm strand, which did not cure him; He let himself immersed in big wooden casks filled with cold water. His friend assured that he could make a poultice from certain herbs and cure him of his affliction if he really was in pain. While his messengers cooled their heels to report of the progress of the dry docked ship he was sighing or in a daze. He did not ask to be relieved of his misery he only wished to be left alone to revel in them. It was sweet rapture of misery, which passed for love!
Love was for him like a pneumatic drill worked on his heart. He hated the silence much more than   the wave of vibrations that pervaded all over. He sent Orteguilla to get some particulars as to the name of the enchantress. He soon had the address of her lodgings and where she was heading.
“So Doña Inez is an heiress and is visiting her beloved in Vera Crux where he is a captain general.” He mulled over the facts. “And the other?”
“Lucienta is from the same village where her parents are in the service of Admiral Don Juan de Lopez. She has not married and has not much except what the Admiral might settle on her. Unfortunate uh? The admiral has orchards, acres of olive oranges and vineyards. I think she need not expect much.”
“So the Admiral is a bit of miser. Well!”
Open End had plenty of time in his hands. He was in a curious way relieved he was free to pursue the affairs of his heart. He had his galley under  repair and the carpenters were fitting the rotten parts of the hull as good as new. ‘Let them take their time’, he mused. He was in love and Inez was first in his list of priorities. The fact that she was betrothed to another did not deter him. He let love take a turn for the better with a little help from him. “My heart is apt to get lost following the charms of a dream girl as Doña Inez.” He sighed at the intensity of his feelings. He was not deterred. Curiously Lucienta held some sort of directions to get him out if he were stuck in a limbo. As a lover he was all for desperate measures.
As luck would have it Lucienta had not missed a love sick fool; neither did her mistress. He had made himself often stick out like a lover, sick with passion in their line of vision. At first they thought the hombre with a sickly smile and a gait ill matched for a man whose fortune supposedly sprung from bloodletting and piracy was forever losing directions. From the way he mooned, rolling his eyes and smiling inanely, Lucienta was aroused to convince that here was free entertainment. She convinced her mistress not to miss the spectacle that was put on for her benefit.
In two weeks time Lucienta was knocking before his door asking him to help a damsel in distress. She came in a sweat and extreme fear saying that she was carrying a valise full of precious stones and papers that enemies to the court of Spain was after. “Can I rely on you? she asked her cheeks suffused in crimson.
“If it is caution you are looking for, I am your man!” the pirate said with a deep bow. Tongue in cheek he ad-libbed,” Unfortunately Abundant Caution is out of my hands!” He did not know but her sharp penetrating gaze plumbed his innermost depths and love made him as if he stood over live coals too long.
He gasped and said inanely, “So your mistress is related to the King?” “Not exactly,” she managed to explain,” Her father is in position of trust. So he asked his daughter to carry some items which he could not trust himself to carry.”
Open End looked at Lucienta and sighed. Lucienta blushed unable to stand the direct onslaught of a lover’s gaze. Open End thought Inez was his dream come true with pearls and amethyst freely thrown in. But as Lucienta stood there, she stood for herself. It was for real he convinced himself.
“Tell your mistress that I am at her command.” Bowing as gallantly as he could, he promised he would give them both his protection. She was full of thanks half expressed, for the gushing adoration of his dare devil attitude, which took her breath away. He took a signet ring knotted with a blood red ribbon and offered to the go-between. “Here take this,” Open End took hold of her delicate hand in his swarthy hands, ”your mistress only need to show and I shall move heaven and earth to fly to her side.” He was too involved in playing his part to notice her frown. “You will tell her what I feel for her from what you feel now.” He planted a slobbering wet kiss on her hand and almost fell over her. He thought he was killing two birds with one stone. What he failed to see in his recipient was her frown, from which one could have read anything: from disgust to murder.
Before long Lucienta had on behalf of her mistress entrusted him with a valise, which was heavy. Open End didn’t need to be told what it contained. ‘Diamonds and rubies!’ and he was burning with passion. He wanted to check their value. If priceless, he was for replacing them with something almost similar and imitation jewelry. ‘She may never know the difference’. He stopped suddenly in his tracks and realized he was thinking like a very stupid fellow. ‘If I woo her and gain her hand all these would be part of her dowry!’ he rubbed his hands in glee,’ and a castle in the country with vineyards as far as eyes could take in’. He knew how little did he know of life and of love. He was playing by rules of freebooters which  marked him outright bumpkin when he applied to love. “Yes I am in love!” and he shuddered to have almost blown his chance. Visions of domestic bliss brought a tear or two in the villain’s eyes. With inhuman self-control he left the valise under his bed.
A few times she came on various errands and she was given free run of his apartments. He compared her as an antelope as she ran up or down the cool steps and dodged herself always from his reach. Every time. She had become rather friendly but never let herself to be handled. Never a moment did he peek into her to know what made her tick. She took time out to indulge in flirting a little but it was all in his mind. Impetuous he was always pressing his luck and novice that he was in the game, never for once he saw her grimace or make faces at him and damn him to perdition with the sweetest smiles. He thought of offering some doubloons or pieces of eight to make her more interested in the game. But she laughed to his face. ‘She knew her price’, the villain was convinced. He did not up his offer. He was not that kind of a lover: nothing cooled his ardor as the idea of throwing money away over a girl. While he was saying sweet nothings he was thinking of her mistress and her castles in Spain.
He on his side filled her with some details as she showed some curiosity as to what brought him there. One day she let it out known that she had to be in Cadiz for two months.
“I take it that your mistress also shall be there?”
“Naturally,” Lucienta said with a laugh, “ We have a masked ball and the Admiral, father of my mistress invites for the occasion every officer of the House of trade and delegates from foreign parts. Every evening we keep a Open House at the House Pleasant Vistas which anyone coming to the city cannot miss. It is where Doña Inez receives the guests before the beginning of Lent. She is particular that you come this time since it is the last time she can invite whom she choose to.”
On another day she announced that she was accompanying her mistress to a certain place and Doña Inez would like to thank him personally. “Will tomorrow be convenient?”
“Oh No!” Open End cried in disappointment. ”I have a meeting with one who is down on his luck. He threatens to blow his brains out if I do not save him by buying his ship off his hands. You know what Castilian pride is, dearie?” “Of course,” she replied,” I am a Castilian myself.” Later Open End would wonder at that peculiar expression she wore when she said it. Lucienta said she understood that his ship was being fitted out. Showing her regrets at losing a prized gallant she left. To his intense joy she returned later in the day with a message her mistress would like to see him personally that very night around 10 o’clock and thank him for his services. “Is it too much to ask if you would be kind to bring the valise? It is rather heavy.”
“Where would you like that it be delivered my girl?”
“The house number and other particulars are written here.” She took out a slip of paper folded and sealed. She said it was from her mistress written in her hand. There were her crest and initials within a cartouche. It still carried the smell of lavender. She blushed to see that he was staring on goggle eyed as she took the missive from inside her blouse. He sighed rather pointedly.
Late that night Open End was dressed to kill and surrounded in a cloud of anticipations he strutted along the cobbled lanes towards the Bucks and Reals an inn where the establishment offered many kind of distractions none of which was the kind one could write home about. It was a locality steeped in infamy to say the least. There was an old woman who stood guard at the entrance and looked enquiringly. She sensed that he needed her services. She knew who was in demand and for how much and what was her specialty in the trade circles. She was taken aback when he asked if she would show where House of Warblers stood.
“It is silent now,” She pointed to the house in shadows across the street. She moped her brow, ”In my youth there were birds of paradise and warblers making music as much,” she peered at the stranger from the end of her shawl,” such as you never hoped to hear on this side of paradise. ”
She came towards him, “If the senor gave me a piece of silver I shall tell who lives there.”
Open End looked hard at the toothless crone to  show he was a hard nut to crack. “No point in paying for information I already have.” He laughed and strode off. He dreamt of taking a close look at the foot of Doña Inez before the night was out. He had already that opening line ready to bring all her defenses crashing down.
It took only a moment to lift the latch to a wrought iron gate and enter within the grounds. He stood at the porch and knocked. Somewhere the bell sounded its mournful chimes breaking the tomb-like silence with a titter of sorts. Then he heard footsteps coming down a creaking staircase. He peeped through a jalousie and in the gloom all he could see was a part of the hall and the vestibule. While his heart raced the lights from a candelabra came bobbing as some one descended the steps. There were two he decided. Through the chink he saw two pairs of feet in shadows and these took a pause before a heavy half closed damask curtain parted a little. One moved behind the heavy curtain and stopped. Open End took a deep breath and moped his forehead with a bandanna.
The door opened silently.
A figure stood concealed within the shadows. The lighted torches seemed to come from deep within.
The voice said mysteriously, ”Hush!” Open End was thrown off his guard. The voice said archly, ”My mistress shall reveal herself. Do not be surprised if she is veiled and cannot show herself.” Open End could understand.
“Have you brought her valise?”
“Here, I have it.” Open End handed it over.
The pirate was watching the figure who received the valise. She was in the shadows. His eyes only moved to take in a pair of feet as well shaped as that of Lucienta. He could not be sure. She had thrown a veil and the darkness lay thick on her. The voice and the figure seemed to match but was not entirely convincing. Last time her feet was sheathed in a long embroidered hose. Her shoes were leather and daintily adorned with a filigree work. But here he could see the foot was so unlike that of a maid. If Lucienta did come really hairy as the figure who just turned, well, he was a dupe of a girl who would stop at nothing. He had lost his heart for a slut! Had he the time and more suited place he would have caterwauled in utter dejection for his misplaced love. The hand that rocked the cradle of love was as hairy as her foot. In deep dejection of being trifled with he was all for rudely stopping her. Before he got to that he felt something hit him. Everything went blank.
When he opened his eyes he saw Orteguilla peering into his eyes. Light of the day flooded into his eyes. He had no idea what he was doing there.
His trusted friend said, “Here is a note.”
“Caution!” Underneath was scrawled in a different handwriting,” Abundant Caution!” They seemed to say something vague. His mind had gone complete blank! The past was completely wiped out.
Open End remained under the care of the Indian for a month. He treated him with every skill that he possessed to bring back the past. One week after at a lucid interval he recognized Orteguilla. All that he remembered was of being in Havana.
“Admiral Don Juan de Lopez!” he mumbled,” What has he to do with me?” Two days later he remembered the vision of Doña Inez. He recalled meeting her. That evening he sat up and said he had a rendezvous with a beautiful woman in Cadiz. When and in what context he did not know yet.
Slowly his memory returned in bits and pieces. He knew that his object of adoration had a father whose trail was not hard to miss. News was brought by his friend that Admiral Don Juan de Lopez  was at the moment stationed in Cartagena, Colombia. It was a tiny window opened in his psyche.
Before Open End boarded a vessel bound for Havana Orteguilla had come to see him. He offered two native boys to attend to his needs.
The Indian informed the pirate, “Doña Inez could not have made the assignment herself. That night.”
“Why not?”
“Doña Inez had left two days before with her entourage,” Orteguilla replied, ”Besides she never stayed in House of Warblers.”
“The house was taken in the name, which I am sure was an assumed name. One acting in proxy for another. “Moxy seems balderdash,” Orteguilla wrinkled his eyebrows unable to fathom the mystery of names as supplied by his informant. “Whoever it is had bought the services of Lucienta.”
“What for?”
“Why would she stay back and move to the house which stands in a place of ill repute. Why would she risk her dowry and other benefits which she could have expected from the Admiral?”
“Yes,” Open End sighed,” she bought her freedom too dearly.”
“There were two strangers who looked as if they were in service of the Ottomans. They were seen loitering around these parts on the day of your misadventure. That is what I could find out.” Open End could not say but stare at the note where two lines were scrawled in different hands. What it meant was beyond him. His mind was totally blank!
Watching the blank expression the Indian clued him in,” I can’t say what was their game; Lucienta or whatever her real name is, was on their pay.”
“ At least Doña Inez did not play with my feelings.”
The Indian did not reply. Open End felt that the news gave him a pick-me-up effect. Orteguilla said,” Lucienta is poison. Watch out for her!” He knew that the next time he came across Lucienta she would have hell to pay.
It was what brought Open End to Cartagena. No sooner had he landed than he was going under the name of Buena Guerra. In following the leads he came to the conclusion that he had an appointment with Destiny.
Nonchalantly he entered the Golden Cockerel and became a member of the Golden Blade set to which Admiral was also a member. He was certain of his noble rank and birth. A bump on his had erased his humble origin and it showed: if he in the past was somewhat tardy in picking a quarrel except where he could dispatch an unsuspecting victim with stab on the back here he was for strictly following with the rules of the game. He had a chip on his shoulder, which he believed was put there solely on account of his blue blood. He was ready to pick a quarrel and draw his sword as if he were born with the skills of a swordsman. The more he behaved outrageously to strangers the more friendly and effusive they were proving to be.
The more he was feted and made as one of their own in that gilded existence of privileges he felt a keen disappointment. He could not understand why. He threw dice and shot with pistols inlaid with mother of pearl in ebony which sent waves of pleasure to the members who took their loss as some kind part of a winning game. They could leave for posterity that they were rather on intimate terms with a descendant of Magellan. He cheated over the cards and spilled Madeira that the golden blade set took it as his matter of right. One day he slapped a waiter who was less than brisk in attending to his order. Before evening not less than four of the illustrious members of the club had followed the fashion of the day. In fact the Admiral had taken him under his wings and whatever he did became a pattern to be imitated.
‘Buena Guerra is a man after our hearts’, they all drank to his health. To counter this all round approbation that was anathema to the pirate, he had to keep his fragile mind focused on a few pieces of information that was all he had to go on.
Open End by force of events accepted the fact: that Castilian hauteur with which the noble scions judged him was real. He was a peer of the realm. How they doted on him! One day he promised Admiral Don Juan to read his mind, which had an electrifying effect on him. The older man instantly followed him to his suite of rooms.
“OK Admiral.” The pirate began casually, ”You are the moment going through a bit under the weather.”
“In what sense?”
“ The Ottoman empire has cast its net far and wide.” Open End paused at looked at him for clues.
“You are a man incorruptible! The king has complete trust in you. So have I.”
“Well, go on,” said the admiral drawing his chair closer to the abominable pirate.
“Since the spies cannot get at you they are after your daughter. ”he hissed. The admiral gasped which the pirate took as a good sign. “Did you leave some papers with your daughter?”
“Yes,” The admiral waved his hands to him as if saluting his uncanny powers. “Your daughter is Doña Inez is it not?” “Formidable psychic powers!” The admiral looked at him as if his jaw had     dropped. “Oh it just comes to me out of the blue,” replied the villain showing embarrassment,” it is nothing, really!” He added, “I must warn you though.”
“Her maid senorita Lucienta is not to be
trusted,” Buena Guerra was emphatic, ”she has been led astray by the spies sent by the Turks.”
“How uncanny!”, he exclaimed. ” My daughter caught up with me here. During her stay she had conveyed her suspicions to me. Now that you say it I can well believe it. It came all a big shock to us.”
“Is your daughter still here?”
“She left just two days before you landed here. Extraordinary.” Open End felt something breaking right within. “By the way did you get the papers from your daughter?”
“No, she said that it was found missing from her safe.”
“Of course Lucienta is at the bottom of this,” Buena Guerra insisted.
After a couple of days Buena Guerra wanted hurriedly to leave the place on a mission which he said had to do with catching up with two spies sent by the Sultan. “One always says ‘caution’ and the other keyword is  Abundant Caution.” Buena Guerra said with distaste, “I intend give chase to them and run my rapier through their foul hearts.”
He stood up to declaim,” The world was better rid of Abundant Caution, and Caution.” He gave a pose which was dashing to say the least,” By God’s Blood I intend to do it.”
“How do you intend to achieve it, Excellent BG?”
He quickly sketched his plan. It was simple. The Admiral Don Juan de Lopez whose admiration knew no bounds was dying to oblige him even if the plan was the most preposterous one he had ever heard in all his life. “The most admirable and excellent Buena Guerra intends to lead those two devilish spies in to a trap with a galley full of gold!” He had raised some objections half heartedly. He was for simulating rather than placing the real into jeopardy. Buena Guerra was adamant. He would not throw wool over his illustrious forbears by faking an attack with anything other than a Spanish ship and their gold. It needed a genuine bait to land the genuine desperados who were for destabilizing the might of Spain. The admiral could see the point.
Don Juan de Lopez had never taken part in a sea battle and his position only came through his position of influence. Whereas the man who titled himself as BG looked every inch a sea captain a dare devil and a man with uncommon psychic powers.
After he had wrangled a safe conduct and a sealed order that absolved him from all wrongdoing he could sit back and say that he was in hot pursuit of his two enemies. He was Destiny’s Child. He had the official order signed by the admiral that gave him the unquestioned authority to attack even a Spanish galleon if it came to that, with impunity. When he read through the passage preceding that clause he had to laugh. It ‘restrained every hand from interfering with the actions of Buena Guerra which might seem inimical but are not.’ The wording he thought was a stroke of genius. If the admiral said it was so, no two ways about it existed let alone being open to interpretation. The order was phrased and signed by the representative of the King. The admiral hoped that Buena Guerra would give a good role model to his seamen by his excellent qualities. The ship Gudalquivir weighed 75 tons and was manned by 25 seamen. It had plenty of storage space and cannons. It had an excellent sea captain, del Cano who did everything to win the approbation of his superior. It was at the disposal of Open End alias Buena Guerra.
All his grand ideas came all of a sudden even as he was in the thick of a doubtful skullduggery he would up his ante merely on a whim. To tease fate thus mercilessly was to invite hubris, so Orteguilla had said when he looked him up in Havana. The Indian appraised him of his ship which was ready for his pleasure. He promised to come back as soon as he had pulled a last one.
After having arranged his matters to his satisfaction Buena Guerra ordered del Cano to parley with the treasure ship, which was coming to join with those part of the flota already moored along Cartagena. Del Cano instantly signaled the Catalana, the ship, which BG had marked to separate from rest of the fleet to come around its broadside. In response Catalana sent a scout ship to investigate. Captain del Cano held discussions with del Munto the captain of the scout ship, who was lower in rank and waited for his order.
“Simple,” del Cano said, ”Do as the Order tells. Transfer the cargo from the Catalana to Guadelquivir.” The Order made the captain take it all in good grace. The king had willed it so. Never in his career had he come against anything like it. But who was he to object? He ordered him immediately to have the Gudalequivir filled to its maximum capacity. Over the night it was done.
Gudalaquivir was released only after Open End had transferred his booty to his ship, which was refurbished and sea-worthy.
Before he sailed towards Cadiz he wanted  Orteguilla to meet him in Cadiz before the beginning of Lent. “You can enquire at ‘The Loaded Dice’. It is run by a Venetian whose name I forget.” The next moment he turned and said with a smile, ”Bozo is his name, before I forget!”
The Indian pointed out to him that he was improving. “Some details of the past are catching you up.” He said.
“Why to Cadiz?”
“There I have an unfinished business to attend to.” He said. Before they parted the Indian gave an address and said, “Be sure to look up the address.”
Open End stared at it. It was the name of a house in Cadiz. A date also was scrawled there. ‘House of Pleasant Vistas’.
Open End enquired where he had found it. Orteguilla explained how he had gone through the House of Warblers thoroughly.
Open End said he would expect him for a masked Ball at the house of the name as given in the note.  It probably would solve the mystery he was looking for. The Indian before parting said a strange article he found in the House of Warblers. “There was a valise which was filled with nothing but rubbish.” Open End could not remember it.
He told the Indian he had to find the mystery of those two who had tricked Lucienta to rob her mistress which was an insult to his noble name. He had appended his name to be her protector did n’t he? His pride as a hidalgo from Castile was tarnished somewhat. It was not serious as to shed someone’s blood but just enough to follow a lead.
“Caution?” the defrocked friar asked. “Why then Abundant caution?” He could not explain why.
One morning Open End asked his valet to fill his silver snuff box. He had found the habit of particular interest since he could strike a pose while he went through the motions of dusting back of his hand and took a sniff. Jack Boots his second in command always watched the way he dusted his shirtfront after his constitutional, which the man from Memphis ( who was his boatswain) said, was princely. Standing on the deck the pirate received his snuff box and shook. Nothing happened.
After two attempts he showered some invectives, which he knew were calculated to raise the image of pirates a few notches higher, at whichever port these were said, he waited for his valet. He mumbled and said, he thought ‘it made a brilliant pepper shaker.’
Oh, furious he was. He tongue lashed at his valet and his second in command, and said he would do the task himself. “What this world is coming to? Open End could not believe,” I ask for snuff and I am given pepper instead!” Next moment he froze and let out a laughter so hysterical that Jack Boots  came in a hurry.
“Ho Snake-eyes, remind me,” he said in mirth,” When Dom Orteguilla comes to meet me.”
“What master?”
“Just say Chili Pepper dust.”
His steward looked at him as if he had finally cracked.
The House of Pleasant Vistas was well known to the denizens of Cadiz. It was a grand manor once upon a time, a jewel and meant to impress all the visitors to the port city of the wealth, which the owner had at his disposal. King’s Walk led to an imposing archway with a giant gate more calculated to give impression of lavishness than security. It was something of a bygone age where it was opened for a king who wanted to express his favor on the House of de Lopez, whose wealth had funded his little wars; at present had his descendent called on the occupants to do the same the Admiral would have been reduced to beggary. As keeping with the times he took a job; a honorary title of admiral was one way of saving the face of the ‘King’s provider’ as the first Lopez was honored by the king himself. Don Juan de Lopez was second in command to the fleet of Philip II along the Spanish main. The mansion was still imposing and whenever a ball was given under its vaulted arches and painted ceilings, great many flambeaux lit up ‘the ruins of eternity’ as a poet described the House for the great many artifacts transplanted from the New World. Had any one remotely connected to the Incas, Aztecs or Mayans did ever land in its midst in a time warp would have instantly felt at home.
A masked ball was given every year before Lent and it was for the young blades time to catch up with news had they by some reason missed them. Behind grotesque masks the aged showed their sweetest smile excusing their little indiscretions for stepping over the toes of young bucks or burping violently over the punch bowl. A few took refuge in clean dresses to hide their frayed collars and cheap cambric that were many times stitched over. Open End was sporting a devil’s costume the redness of which was unusual. The housekeeper who peeped from the service yard to take the cavorting guests was struck by his costume. The mulatto woman suspected that ‘de debil hem gone away with dem ole drapery’ and she knew that a similar one was for ages thrown over a giant stone Olmec head in the hall. Had she checked it she would have known that it was so indeed.
Open End had the drapery at hand. He could not have bothered the trouble of hiring a costume but would make do what the house provided free. A red drapery. Only he made it into a poncho. A tote bag from a corner served as a mask for which he had to work a little. He ripped with his knife across and two holes he made a little above. He looked at his handiwork. He knew it would fit him. All he needed was to stick his head into it. It was terrible but what the heck he thought. The liveried door men only let the fellow who strode in as a buccaneer. Had he seen him now would not have believed his eyes.
Open End had his own idea of himself whether real or playacting. Having donned his instant costume Open End checked with his friar. ‘I am in a devilish mood,’ he said. Orteguilla took that tote bag and only added two knots and stuck it back on his companion’s head. The reworked bag looked a mask, a devil’s mask. The friar had added to it a more verisimilitude of two horns. When Open End grinned through the big tear it was as if the devil had just lost his wits. The friar let himself past figures in their swirling costumes, which were weaving all around. He wanted to keep two of the guests in his line of vision. Caution. And Abundant Caution. Who they could be?
Open End in the meantime was busy. He traipsed past the guests and he knew that his heart was racing with excitement.
He had just missed the chiseled noble features of the man who just past him by. He was betrothed to Doña Inez who was feeling thirst and he had promptly gone to fetch a glass of sherbet for her.
Doña Inez looked lovelier than Open End had ever imagined a woman could ever look. She was tired and she had seated herself in an alcove, discreetly away from every eye. She had her feet thrown over a cushioned prie-dieu. Open End felt his head reeling. The foot of his beloved was there in all its glory for his eyes to feast on. In one bound he had changed his role to that of a professional gallant and he knelt by her side to profess his undying devotion. But that perfect rounded calf melting to a foot so divine in shape choked his passion. Instead of words that died half formed in his throat he just snuggled close claiming his prize. He threw his arms around her ankle. He was wondering whether he should kiss her calf or her toe. He did not notice a cry of alarm. He could not decide if it came from Doña Inez or from a man who was jumping about him as if he were a dice and needed to be rattled.
He wanted to say ‘this seat is taken’ just for giving a full expression to that devil may care attitude he had thought expressed him best.  He felt two strong hands lifting him. Only after he was thrown unceremoniously out of the door he realized that the hands belonged to a giant of a liveried foot man. He was for calling that man who ordered the gorilla to treat him roughly, to a duel. “It is a question of honor!” he said trying to save whatever dignity remained in him. There were two other footmen glaring at him. He thought the mansion had something going for the footmen by their sheer numbers who now converged to stare him down. He was about to make an exit but one in the costume of a footman clobbered him and he heard him say, ’Caution!’He could not decide if he did imagine it. He felt mercifully blank.
Orteguilla who lifted him up was the most concerned. The Indian thought that he had completely passed out and his memory was a goner.
Two footmen came to him to give him a hand. In an apologetic tone one said,” Two fellows ran out into the street!”
One said, ”Caution!” The other just added, ”Abundant Caution!” He was not then imagining things.
Turning to Orteguilla Open End said,” Proxy and Moxy just repaid an old debt.” He added, ”We are quits now.”
“How is your memory?”
“Absolutely fine.” Open End said,” I got back every little thing I had lost. The second knock out was perfect.” As they reached the gate a footman came running to claim the red drapery he still had on.
“This belongs to the House!” he said.
“Here take it, man” the pirate said, ”A tip for your pains,” He threw him a doubloon. A shiny gold  doubloon. Overcome with this windfall he ran back.
“You are expansive tonight!” his companion said.
“It was a dud, ”Open End exclaimed, ”Never fear that I kiss the foot that kicks me.”
He had the satisfaction he still had a precious souvenir for his visit to House of Pleasant Vistas. He was feeling serene and he held the red drapery as some kind of a security blanket even as he went back to the ship.

The Snake-eyes was waiting for the pirate. Seeing them together the second in command said, “Chili pepper dust!” “Orteguilla,” said Open End, ”I found the hundredth use for chili pepper!” “What is it?”
“To throw chili pepper into your victim’s eyes in order to temporarily blind him. ”The abominable pirate was jubilant,” What do you think?”
After a pause the Indian gave a sweet smile in appreciation. He thanked him and asked, “ May I use your name as a contributor, on the title page?”
“Well if that pleases you, well- yes!”
The End

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This story is inscribed for my grandchild Ilse who is turning 10 today.


Easy Come, Easy Go ©

Grandma Doris had a cottage by the water’s edge. No water-rat around Harper’s Fork lived in such circumstances as she lived. From ceiling to the floor every inch of space was taken up to house her collection. Obviously she was a water-rat of some means.
All day she seated herself on a rocking chair by the river. Watching the blue skies did not fill her heart with gladness; neither did she care to make small talk with fishes or herons which went about their business all day. She did not care to watch the sun rise or go down. All day long she sat there watching the river. If something caught her eye immediately she would dart a large pole with a hook at the end. Only when she lifted her hand one knew she had found something new. Of course that added to her collection.
Her house was kept by Jamie. He was her grandchild.  She loved him as only a grandmother could love. She let him admire all that she possessed. “I love to live surrounded by beautiful things,” she would tell him with a glint in her eye,”but the most beautiful object has a name.”
“What is it, grandma?” Jamie the water-rat would ask. “Oh, the object of my affections has a tail and throws up sparks. Always goes off with a bang!”
“ Ah I know.” Jamie was very clever.
“Tell me what it is?”
“A comet!”
“No, silly boy!”Grandma Doris would reply,”it is you.” How often she prided in the fact!
Whenever she sent Jamie on errands she was however careful to warn,”mind your hands, and tail.” She knew Jamie was very lively and full of fun as water-rats of his age. So she never forgot to add, “Don’t bang the door hard as you go out. Thank you!”
Jamie always came home late which she did not mind as much as he often missed half the items on the shopping list. Whenever she thought she would take him to task he always knew how to put it off.
One day Jamie came home and that freshly baked bread she had particularly wanted was soggy and bad. Before she could holler Jamie said,”Grandma Doris I bet no one has a cork as beautiful as the one over there!” Instantly she looked at the object he referred to. She smiled and she waited for him to finish. Jamie said,”It is from a bottle of port. From Portugal, I dare say.”
Laughing broadly Grandma Doris said,”Yes indeed.”She held it out for him to sniff but he had fled. It amazed her that she was talking to empty air. Jamie always knew when to make an exit.
Next day as usual Jamie came to ask if Grandma Doris wanted anything done in town. But she was rooted to the ground peering into the sky. She held out her hand to mouth,’Shh!’. ”Perhaps it may rain.” she said in excitement.
“Showers of pretty pennies,”she added and put on her apron to catch them all if it did come. She saw a puff of cloud appearing at a distance. Immediately she wagged her forefinger and shouted,”Get all the buckets you can find in the shed. Those may come handy.” Jamie knew his grandma too well to argue.
He brought three buckets and placed it by his grandmother’s side. Grandma Doris seemed to have completely forgotten him. So he ran to the backyard and rolled a cask to the front and waited.
The wisp of cloud now bellowed into a monstrous size and went on growing. From black clouds that filled the sky a lightening shot out like a tongue of fire. KRRRAAGHHH! An ear-splitting noise and the massive cloud melted into million drops. A shower such as that Jamie had never seen before.
Pitter-Patter! Pitter-Patter! Drops fell. Non-stop they beat a tattoo on the river.
Before Doris could realise what was happening the river had overshot the banks. “Jamie look out!”she cried loud from water which had come up to her chin. Jamie rushed towards her and said,”Grandma get into this cask!” No sooner had they taken shelter in it than they were tossed high into the air by a wave. The cask fell far with a ‘plop’ sound and they were furiously pushed farther and farther.
Grandma Doris peeked at the spot where her cottage stood. Her cottage was gone! It was broken into so many bits and pieces; so were all her collection. “Grandma Doris,”Jamie tugged at his gradndma and said, “Lucky to be alive eh?”
Grandma Doris could only snort in dismay.
The End

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