Harpole Column

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 14, 2010


Caribbean ‘pirates’ banned from Gulf island after bathtub explosion

Back in 1981 I crewed on a blockade runner boat involved in the munitions trade supplying various instruments of carnage and destruction to the Contras down in Central America.

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We were forced at one point to seek shelter from a storm at Puerto de Barrios, Guatemala, where we met a young lady there from McNairy County, Tenn.

She wanted to go home, but unfortunately her employer was reluctant to dismiss her from her duties at his bordello.

Captain West told her if she would walk down to the dock at daybreak the next morning we would handle her problem. Well she did at 7:30 a.m., right on schedule. She was doing pretty good at first, but it was about 300 yards to the dock and about halfway down she started to panic and began to run.

This attracted the attention of old  Valdez’s goons who made a run with his old war surplus Jeep “cross country” to head her off at the pass. When Captain West saw this he racked off about 50 rounds from the 50-cal. Brownings about 20 feet in front of the pursuit vehicle.

The results were astounding.

Them old one-ounce bullets kicked up a dust cloud and when the Jeep

reappeared the crew

had abandoned ship.

She made the dock and the Jeep was trundling along unattended. Old Captain West had a wicked sense of humor, and he exercised it by training them guns on the slow moving target turning it into something that resembled the colander that my mother used to can vegetables with.

Then for good measure, West put about a “half-o-chain” into the roof of the cantina to discourage pursuit. We cast off lines, blew the horns and departed forever the Guatemalan Coast, outbound for Isla Perez. As was common when we were inbound, supplies were depleted. We had beer and tequila, sufficient drinking water, canned goods and dehydrated concoctions, but we hadn’t time to resupply our cooking and washing water. As a result we were all pretty ripe by the time we near Isla Perez. (Salt water is detrimental to the washing process.) There is an old, Spanish-style hotel there, and the crew and company checked in for a good soak in one of the lion-claw bathtubs that came with the ground floor rooms. I went across the harbor to locate if possible a pilot willing to ferry a Tennessee ex-patriot to Galveston, Texas.

Upon my return there was total chaos. The local gendarmes and the fire brigade were attendant in profusion, the bathroom door had come through the front plate glass window, the young lady was sobbing hysterically, and Captain West was flushed from embarrassment a deep red that had overcome a Caribbean tan.

What in the name of carnage could a rusty old pirate and a repatriated hooker have done in 20 minutes

to turn the bathroom of a fine, old landmark hotel into a demolition zone?

Well, it all went back to the cargo we had transported on a previous run. There is a small but extremely powerful detonation device made by Dupont Powder Company that resembles one of those cylindrical-shaped cigarette lighters made by Ronson. The device has a ring on one end for the trip wire and when you pull it you have about five seconds to get rid of it. Captain West, being the pirate he was, had “liberated” a few samples for his personal use.

Certain rules of etiquette must be observed even among pirates, among them, “Ladies first.” So while the liberated flower of the night washed most of the equator off in the lion claw swimming hole, the captain was emptying the contents of his pockets on a dresser by the bathroom door. When she toweled off and robed herself, he headed in for his turn.

Just before the captain closed the bathroom door, he heard

a tell-tale “Click.”

She had mistaken that device for a lighter and pulled the ring. The captain charged back into the room, snatched the thing from her hand and hit the front door intending to fling it into the street.

But it was market day and the locals had the plaza covered up with vendors, chickens and burros. He was gettin’ kind of short on time when it occurred to him to toss it into the bathtub and scramble.

As you can guess, it worked. Sort of. Captain had a sizeable bruise on his backside from a flying faucet. The lady and the whole dang (not Harpole’s original adjective choice) crew of the Daisey May were deaf for a few days. Of course, the lion claw tub was a total loss.

I, for one, was unscathed, an abnormality in itself.

The last time I saw her she was boarding an old PBY Catalina for Galveston. I presume she returned to McNairy County, Tennessee to cause trouble for other people. She was a living testament to the old adage, “No good deed shall go unpunished.” After all, in the space of four short days she was instrumental in the destruction of a Jeep, not to mention the shot-up cathouse and, of course, the bathtub.

We didn’t concern ourselves with the Jeep or the bordello. Their prices were prohibitive, anyway. But that dang (again, not Harpole’s original) tub cost us $500 American and we were also advised not to cross the dock in the future.

Sounds like Crenshaw on a Sunday night, don’t it?

Keep your heads down, boys and pray for Oscar,

Ricky Harpole