Chapter 32: A Spanish Harbor
It took the Italian Riviera about an hour to steer toward the Spanish town of Torrox. This town sat on top of a bluff that overlooked a modest harbor with only the most rudimentary of wharves and piers. The Italian Riviera was somewhat too large and too deep to make it all the way to these piers. One Eye decided that they should anchor offshore and use the lifeboats to reach land. Enrico found it odd that a man such as Prince Harry A who had gained wealth and power through the sea would choose such an inaccessible port for his home.
“The Prince keeps apartments in Malaga, Valencia, Barcelona and Madrid but his palace is here in Torrox,” the gypsy leader said and then pointed to a sprawling villa to the east of town. “That’s where Prince Harry A resides.”
Pappy looked at the beautiful complex and felt its incongruence with everything else around it. The rest of Torrox had a sleepy, impoverished atmosphere while the Prince’s villa was resounding in colors, landscape and architecture. It was made up of two large manors that could have easily been set in Vienna or Genoa. There were monuments, statues and fountains to be found all over its terrace. It would have taken a lot of money to erect such a place. It was a grim reminder to Pappy about how powerful a man Arrigo must be. In his mind the elf likened the Prince to what his impression was of the Baron of Castelo Branco – a ruthless man who is a fell usurper of those that are weaker than him. The prospects of dealing with such a man could be flirting with disaster.
“If he has all these apartments all over Spain how can we be sure that he will be here now?” Enrico puzzled.
“The Prince is a Christian and it is the Christmas season. Where else would one be at this time of year besides home?” the gypsy leader said with a trace of sarcasm.
“Home at Christmas. Those words flow together, don’t they?” Pappy sighed. There was nothing on this Earth that he wished for more than to have these words be true for him and especially this Christmas when Mammy would be giving him a new child.
“Aye, they do!” said One Eye.
“Do you have a family, Captain Damiani?” Pappy asked.
“I married the sea, Merek. When she is your mistress, you put aside desires for children.” He looked out onto the waters that surrounded them. His eyes grew teary and in a low voice he said, “When the sea is your bride you become her child.”
Pappy knew that he hit a soft spot with the skipper. One Eye was not as completely committed to the sea as he was letting on. There was or had been a woman back in Genoa that he would have betrothed many years ago had it not been for the savage carnal appetites of Paolo Castrillo. But now that the terrible man was dead there could be a chance for One Eye to rekindle his romance with Madelina, if she lived as Pappy prayed that she and Talla Bobbs did.
As the Italian Riviera pulled into the harbor of Torrox, a Spanish voice called out to them over a megaphone asking them to identify themselves and to state their business for coming here.
One Eye looked at the gypsy leader. “What do I tell them?”
“The truth,” the gypsy said.
“We are the Italian Riviera from Genoa. We bring shipment for Senor Alexander Arrigo.”
Pappy could see the harbor master leafing through his bills of lading in the tower that overlooked the bay.
After a few moments, the harbormaster’s face was hidden behind the conical megaphone and a second later his voice reached the ship. “I’m sorry, gentlemen. I have no record of any expected shipments for Senor Arrigo coming from the Port of Genoa. Are you sure that you have the right port? Senor Arrigo does most of his business in Malaga, which is only twenty miles from here. I’m afraid that we don’t have the facilities to handle a vessel of your tonnage here in Torrox.”
“He is certainly an informative man,” One eye commented to the gypsy leader.
“What do we do now? Go to Malaga?” Enrico wondered.
“Are you crazy, Frenchie? You should know that Malaga is teeming with imperial soldiers. A city of that size that is so close to Gibraltar would be a key area to conduct intelligence and surveillance. If we must go to shore, it has to be here in a small town where few eyes can see us,” One Eye said through tight teeth.
“I have an idea,” the gypsy leader announced and told the skipper what his plan was.
A moment later One Eye was speaking through the ship’s megaphone. “We have two sick crewmates on board that require immediate medical attention. We request that we be permitted to come ashore and search out a physician.”
“They are not wounded from battle, are they? We don’t want to get ourselves involved with any fighting. We want to be a neutral port,” was the harbormaster’s reply.
“No, we are a merchant ship, Harbormaster. We try to keep ourselves out of the war as well. Our two men are not wounded. They are sick with a delirium and a fever that we cannot understand and only hope that some physician will be able to remedy.”
“Why not take them to Malaga? It is a big city. There are a lot of doctors there. It’s only twenty miles from here. You will be there in two hours at most.”
“I do not know if we have that time available to us. These are very sick men and I fear that any further stay on the sea will aggravate their agony. Please, I beseech you in the name of mercy, to permit us harbor here in Torrox so that our men may have a chance to survive.”
“Nice touch,” the young gypsy whispered to One Eye. The Genoese skipper had to bite his lips to keep himself from laughing. It was not that he found it funny. It was just that he was so nervous and that was the way that his body decided to handle his tension.
“We are a small village, Italian Riviera. We have only one country doctor and even he does not know the pox from a broken leg,” the harbormaster replied.
“Will you have it on your conscience that two people died because you wouldn’t allow a ship to come to port?”
“But we have nobody here that can help them!” There was a strain in the harbormaster’s voice. The gypsy leader’s tactics were working.
“What about Senor Arrigo?” One Eye called through the megaphone. “Surely a man of his wealth and privilege would keep a personal physician in his household!”
“I do not know if Senor Arrigo has a physician or not,” the harbormaster responded. “It is not in my position or yours to presume upon the gentleman even if he has a doctor.”
“These two sick men are sailing on board a vessel that is carrying cargo that belongs to Senor Arrigo. If he is a decent fellow and I believe that he is he will allow his personal physician to examine these men.”
“I cannot speak for Senor Arrigo. I am sorry.”
The harbormaster was definitely a bureaucrat. What difference should it make to him that the Italian Riviera anchor off in the bay? There’s plenty of space for other vessels to come and go. And what should the harbormaster care if two unscheduled patients disturb Arrigo’s doctor? The man and the elf were starting to get perturbed at this insignificant, tawdry official.
The gypsy leader took the megaphone from One Eye. “Listen,” he yelled into the speaker. “I’m going to speak for Prince Harry. We have two sick men onboard and we’re going to take them ashore and that is all there is to it!”
Turning to One Eye, he asked, “How do you drop anchor?”
The skipper released a winch. Thick linked chain began to uncoil out of a spool. A moment later there was a loud splash as the anchor fell through the water.
“Italian Riviera hoist anchor!” the harbormaster ordered from the shoreline. “You are not permitted anchorage in this harbor. You must take your vessel elsewhere.”
One Eye was about to make a reply when the gypsy leader told him not to bother. They were going to shore.
Pappy’s stomach was in knots. This wasn’t going to be the quiet, secretive shoring that he and the others had hoped. He did not know how powerful of a man the harbormaster was. His shoreline threats might be nothing more than mere bravado. Maybe he was just doing the things that he had to do like any civil servant? As long as he could say that he had followed procedure and protocol then it did not matter to him what the outcome would be. But what if this was more than just threat? What if this barking dog actually bites? There was a war going on, afterall, and Torrox was situated in a somewhat critical zone just inside the Gibraltar bottleneck. Someone like a harbormaster would have to be extremely careful as to whom he permits access to the harbor. And in order to enforce his authority, he would have to be given sufficient arms to keep potential adversaries at bay or out of the bay.
The harbormaster continued issuing his officious threats through the megaphone. Pappy tried to shut his ears to these words just the way that the gypsies, Enrico and One Eye seemed to be doing. They were busying themselves with furling the sails and battening the hatches and doing whatever had to be done to leave a vessel the size of the Italian Riviera in anchorage.
The remaining lifeboat was lowered into the water. A rope ladder hung suspended above it. From below deck came Enrico and the younger gypsy. Each was carrying one of the convalescing patients. The gypsy leader was standing at the bow of the lifeboat with his arms stretched out to reach first Dominic de Sousa from the other gypsy and then Fender Apple from Enrico. The two comatose individuals were awkwardly placed on the boat’s bottom. After the Frenchman and the younger gypsy descended into the boat, Pappy monkeyed his way down the rope ladder and into the awaiting rowboat.
The only one that was left on board of the Italian Riviera was One Eye Damiani. The Genoese skipper’s unhooded eye was heavy as he looked about the ship that had been the pride and property of his enemy, Paolo Castrillo. Pappy could see in the skipper’s face an oblique sadness. Most of his life was marked by his enmity and rivalry with Castrillo. They might not have been pleasant memories but nonetheless they were the memories of his life. A chapter had closed in it now that Castrillo was gone. This boat, the Italian Riviera, could be his now if he wished.
“Come on, Captain!” Enrico called, trying to hurry One Eye along. Pappy felt his own teeth grate. Sometimes the Frenchman seemed to lack all sensitivity. He should understand and appreciate the turmoil that the skipper was experiencing inside. Pappy almost felt like suggesting that One Eye stay with the ship and sail it back to Genoa. They didn’t really need him for this last leg and One Eye did not stand to gain anything by accompanying them. But the Italian Riviera was too big of a vessel for the skipper to handle by himself. He was too far from home and the Italian Riviera was a ship that might be under the French’s suspicion. One Eye Damiani was safer to remain with them than to go it alone. Pappy felt sorry the man.
After a minute or so had lapsed since Enrico tried to rush the Captain, the Genoese sailor ambled down the ladder to the awaiting shore launch. The gypsy leader and Enrico manned the oars and the launch jerked itself away from the surfside of the Italian Riviera. They were hidden from the view of the harbormaster whom Pappy could still hear inciting directives against the Italian Riviera. The elf had not paid attention to what this official had been saying but now that he was he felt his stomach knot. He didn’t expect it to come to this.
“And in accordance with the contraband writs of 1804, any alien vessel that violates the domestic waters of a port during a decreed period of hostilities shall expect to be fired upon until sunk to the seabed by the harbormaster or any other official of equal or higher authority sixty seconds after warning has been given if said alien vessel has not given any sign of compliance to the regulation. It is now fifty seconds since I have officially given warning. Fifty-five. Fifty-six.”
The launch carrying the passengers from the Genoese ship was now pulling out from around the Italian Riviera’s bow. Pappy at once could see the harbormaster making his countdown through the megaphone. Beside his tower there was a stationary artillery cannon that was being attended to by two uniformed men. The harbormaster was going to …
The aft of the Italian Riviera exploded in a tearing, splintering cacophony. Fragments of shorn timber showered over a wide circle. Some of it fell down on the scurrying launch. The ship shook like an old man from the blast but it was able to withstand the blow. The shore launch strove furiously to increase the distance that separated it from its mother.
“Fire once more!” the harbormaster bellowed. Another cannonball hurtled across the air. This volley fell on the flight bridge, collapsing it upon its ramparts and tearing away a large sweep of foredeck before the cannonball burst through the hull just above the waterline.
“She’s going to go down,” One Eye said solemnly and would not look up to regard the crippled vessel.
Two more volleys were issued in rapid succession. The first blew apart the gunwale on the leeside and the upper third of the midship hull. The second toppled the aft mast onto the main mast. Yet after four incisive blows the Italian Riviera was holding her own.
The men and elves were now about a quarter of the distance to shore. “What’s the matter with him?” Enrico grumbled. “Why is he so bent on preventing us from coming to shore?”
No one gave Enrico an answer. They felt so helpless in the launch. No one had thought of bringing along any weapon. Not even One Eye was toting a pistol. All of their arms were sitting upon the beleaguered vessel that was drawing all of the harbormaster’s fire. Once he was through with the Italian Riviera he would place his attention on the struggling lifeboat that was coming shoreward.
“Blast it!” Enrico cried. “Why didn’t we bring our guns?”
“It was your fault Frenchie!” the gypsy leader wheezed. “If you hadn’t been in such a hurry to leave the Riviera we would have been sure that we had taken everything that we needed. Now it’s all on that boat just waiting to sink to the bottom. Come on Rico! Keep time with me. Stroke! Stroke!”
“If I hadn’t hurried us along that would have been our bones and guts that were splattering in those cannonades! Don’t blame me with the fact that we’ve got to face a trigger happy and jittery harbormaster! It’s not my fault! Stroke! Stroke!”
The fusillade from the cannon on shore flashed yellow and white. Smoke poured from it. There was an explosive roar coming from the Italian Riviera’s midship. The Genoese vessel split in two like a cracked eggshell. Both halves bobbed a few seconds on the water top as if each were trying to be a ship on its own. The sea would have nothing to do with this. It swelled into each, engulfing them and claiming them for her own. Only a few fragments of the Italian Riviera remained on the surface. The rest had settled on the bottom of the Torrox harbor.
With the sinking of their ship, all of the members of the company knew that they were now completely committed to the shore. There was no going back. Their launch rose and sank with the surf. They were completely unprotected. They were completely at the mercy of the whim of the harbormaster. The Spaniard could fire at them at his liking. They were sitting ducks. Yet the harbormaster was not aiming his cannon at them. He was allowing them to come in.
Enrico and the gypsy leader kept a continuous rhythm to their oaring. Both men were just as confused as the others on the launch as to why they were not drawing fire. They had come into the range of muskets and rifles and still the air remained quiet from the report of artillery.
Pappy’s eyes never left the harbormaster’s station and the man who controlled their fate. The elf could see the field glasses looking in their direction. The harbormaster was watching them come in.
When they reached the halfway point to the shoreline the harbormaster suddenly lifted his megaphone again. Pappy’s breath was caught in his windpipe, as he feared a new warning and reprisal from the man. But the words that the harbormaster spoke were not the ones that the elf expected.
“Bring your launch to Wharf A, which is the one the furthest to your starboard, the one that is directly below my tower.”
The two oarsmen followed the harbormaster’s instructions. They brought the launch to a rest at the timber dock that sat at an upset angle on top of the water. It was an old pier that had deteriorated a great deal. It teetered with One Eye’s weight. The skipper was the first to leave the lifeboat. He took the bow and stern lines and proceeded to tie slipknots into the rings.
Once the lifeboat was secured the others poured out of it. The two gypsies carried the two comatose members of the crew. The dock pitched and yawed with their movement but all of them managed to keep their balance as they approached the land. Waiting for them on the grassy knoll from which the pier had jutted out from was the harbormaster and his two subordinates.
When Enrico saw them he stormed, “Why did you blow our boat up? That can be construe d as an act of war, you know!”