Monday, January 31, 2005


A Pirate Tale 19

Life aboard the Sea Witch was confusing – and a little scary – for Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan. First there was the matter of the crew, which apparently knew nothing about running a ship and weren’t actually needed to.

They learned this the first day, when they were trying to teach a couple of sailor’s knots to Lusty Liz, the first mate. “It’s a handy thing to know when a line has broken and you don’t have a long enough length to tie it off,” Chumbucket was saying.

“It’s a terrific knot, and you’ve done an awesome job of teaching it,” Liz said, “but we don’t have any trouble with the rigging. It just doesn’t break.”

Chumbucket glanced up. The sails were tattered, and the lines looked frayed and dangerous. When the pirate pointed this out, she just shrugged. “They’ve looked like that since I came on board,” she said.

“But what if you run into bad weather?”

“We don’t. We don’t even run into rain unless we need the water. Jezebel takes care of that.”

“How can she do that?” Juan asked. “Does she know where it’s going to rain and have you steer around it?”

“Something like that,” Liz said matter-of-factly, running her fingers through her short, brown hair. “She’s pretty amazing. We – the whole crew – we talk about where we want to go and then we just go there. I don’t know exactly how she does it.”

“I just do,” Jezebel said from behind them.

“¡Bragas de Maria bendecida!” Juan yelped. “Senorita Jezebel, you have given me the fright again!”

“I’m sorry Juanito,” she said. "I suppose I could wear tap shoes on ship so you’d always hear me coming, but that seems so impractical.”

“So how do you explain this,” Chumbucket asked. “Are you, in fact, a witch?”

“I’ve told you, I’m not a witch, and I meant it,” Jezebel said testily. “Witches belong to covens, and I’m not a joiner. All those meetings. It’s like alcoholics.”

“Alco-what?” Chumbucket asked.

“Sorry. Wrong century. The point is I’m not technically a witch. I think of myself as a power-user. There are things I want to happen, like this ship moving east in time to rendezvous with your various friends on time, and I somehow can make that happen. I can do things I want to do and see things I want to see.”

“Isn’t she incredible?” Liz blurted. “She’s just the most awesome captain ever!”

“Don’t you just love her enthusiasm?” Jezebel said. “That will be all for now, Liz.”

“Can you tell us what’s happening with our friends?” Chumbucket asked quickly.

“Certainly, I’ve been keeping an eye on them. Tell you what; I was on my way to the galley. Meet me in five minutes in my cabin and I’ll catch you up. I just need to get some gin.”

“Is gin part of how you do it?” Juan asked.

“No, I just like to get a buzz on around this time of day.”

Five minutes later the two pirates found themselves in the captain’s cabin of the Sea Witch, visibly nervous but eager to find out what was going on. If they had expected something unusual, something otherworldly, they were disappointed (or relieved, or both.) It was in fact a captain’s cabin, with a few furnishings – bed, desk, a table and several chairs. The walls were lined with books, far more than either man had ever seen at one place in his life. While many were typical looking books, heavy volumes with leather covers, others seemed quite unusual, covered in heavy paper with bright illustrations. Juan glanced at them, saw one with a title that referred to a “Goat Boy,” and quickly averted his eyes. He didn’t want to know about a Goat Boy.

On the table was what the pirates assumed was Jezebel’s version of a crystal for gazing. It wasn’t a ball, more of a cube with a glass face that glowed in the cabin’s dim light.

“Now, let’s see. Oh, Chumbucket, you’ll like this. Your shipmates on the Festering Boil have been busy. Even though they are in a desperate search for you, they stopped to capture a Portuguese slaver.”

“Aye, that would be Cap’n Slappy’s style. He hates slavers. Most pirates treat captured slaves as so much cargo to sell, but Slappy and the mates can’t stand it.”

“It was a desperate fight. I’m afraid several of your comrades are now wearing the scars of their bravery. They were heavily outnumbered and lost the element of surprise just moments after swarming over the deck. The hand-to-hand fighting was intense. Cementhands was picking up slavers, swinging them over his head and sending them flying over the rails. And Slappy was a demon with his cutlass, while Lieutenant Keeling – Oh, you pronounce that LEF-ten-ant? – darted nimbly about with his rapier. He’s really quite good with a blade, isn’t he?”

“But what happened?” Chumbucket asked anxiously.

“Well, at first their onslaught had the slavers reeling, but then their sheer numbers started turning the tide. Things looked bad for your fellows, and their backs were to the rail. But Slappy’s cabin boy – A youngster named Spencer? – had the foresight to nip below while the battle was seething. He was able to free most of the human cargo, and they surged up from the hold and assaulted the crew from the rear. Even then battle was nip and tuck, but Slappy carved his way through to the captain and split him from the top of his head to his rectum. The slavers rather lost heart after that, and the battle took just a few minutes more.

“Now Slappy has two ships, and he’s divided his crew between the two, using the former slaves to augment both ships. With just a little bit of training they should do fine, although they don’t have much time. He’ll be meeting up with his prey in just two days, and there are a few surprises for him,” Jezebel said, staring intently into her crystal.

“What’s wrong?” Chumbucket asked.

“Well, first of all, Fanny has gone quite mad, but that’s actually working in your favor. In an orgy of bloodletting she killed several of the men who were imprisoned with you. If she had tortured them she might have learned that Mad Sally was the one who helped you escape. Instead, some are dead and the rest too frightened to volunteer anything. In fact, the whole crew are so terrorized by her bloodlust that I can’t imagine they’ll fight for her now.”

“Good,” Chumbucket said with resolve. “Then we should have no problem overcoming her and rescuing the ladies.”

“Well, it’s not as easy as that. You see, Slappy thinks now that he’s got two ships and an expanded crew, he’ll have the edge. He doesn’t know who his foe is, of course, and he doesn’t know that she’s been joined by three other ships manned by a bloodthirsty crew. Slappy thinks he’s got a 2-1 edge, but he’s actually sailing into a trap, which will be sprung in two days time.”

“We have to get to them, we have to help!” Chumbucket said.

“We’ll be there in plenty of time,” Jezebel reassured him. “But you have to understand, the Sea Witch won’t be joining the fight. No cannons, remember? But don’t worry,” she quickly added. “There are things that we can do. The wind that’s speeding us on our way, for one thing, may give Fanny’s fleet a little difficulty. Let’s see ...”

Jezebel stared at the crystal, then her eyes briefly rolled back in her head. A moment later she glanced at the screen again, a smile breaking over her face.

“Oh look! What a dreadful accident. It seems a stiff wind suddenly came in from an unexpected quarter just as the cook on the Duckier than Thou was serving his specialty, Flaming Spears of Chum.” Chumbucket winced at this news, but Jezebel ignored him and went on. “The wind caught one of the smaller pieces of burning fish and blew it into the hold, where it ignited some bedding. The fire quickly spread to the powder hold, and the ship vaporized in a rather spectacular fireball. Fanny won’t have to worry about renaming it now. So that narrows the odds a little. Unfortunately, I can’t do that sort of thing too often.”

“But what of MY captitan, Juan Diego de la Mercada y Slappista con Carne?” Juan asked.

“Let’s just say he’s not currently in the picture at leave it at that, shall we?” Jezebel said softly.

Juan’s eyes welled. Slappista may have been a dread pirate of horrifying manner, but he was able to inspire a fierce loyalty in his crew. The little Spaniard’s voice took on an edge Chumbucket had not yet heard from him, as he said, “Then we must catch up with La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, for I have a date with Lady Fanny, and a score to settle.”

“Not to worry, young man,” Jezebel reassured him. “We’ll all be arriving at the site I’ve chosen in two days time. Then we’ll see what happens.”

Friday, January 28, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 18 "Battle Preparations"

As the morning broke, Juan and Ol’ Chumbucket found themselves assuming the roles that seemed to be dictated by their current residence – the officers’ quarters. Jezebel’s crew, it turned out, was a rag-tag collection of young philosophers and adventurers, who wanted to see more of the world and by doing so, breathe in a deeper meaning of “Life” with a capital “L” enclosed in quotation marks.

“Where are your cannons for the shootings at the ships and forts?” Juan asked Jezebel.

“Oh,” she said as she put a finger to her chin and glanced upward. “I know we had some around here at one point, but they just got in the way – so we donated them.”

“You donated them?” Chumbucket wondered aloud, “To whom would one donate cannons?” Being around so many intellectuals had elevated his speech – occasionally he would cast an “arrr!” into a conversation for effect, but even that seemed superfluous.

“To whom else?” Jezebel’s tone was characteristically matter-of-fact and two tones away from off-beat. “To The St. Juniper Orphanage and School for the Arts run by the Little Sisters of Blissful Hygiene at Tugula B’twan on the Ivory Coast.”

Chumbucket and Juan nodded as if they understood. “Of course.” They said in one voice. But Chumbucket quickly broke out of this trance. “But what use would cannons be to Catholic nuns and orphans?” he asked.

“Have you ever tried to mount a production of ‘Hamlet’ without a cannonade finale?”

Both men stared blankly. Jezebel continued, “It’s like engaging in a simile without a comparative differential.”

The men blinked twice – in unison.

Jezebel sighed, “Pointless.”

Chumbucket and Juan nodded as if they understood and added, “ahhh.” Juan, however, was quick to throw off the trance of enlightenment. “But how do you defend yourself from those who would do you harm, Senorita?”

Jezebel feigned fear and quickly produced a fan with which she cooled her face. She spoke in an impeccable, but put on, Southern Gentlewoman accent, “Oh, dear, but whoever would mean to do us harm?”

Her mocking innocence was amusing, but the boys weren’t letting on. “Well, what about pirates?” Chumbucket offered. “Aye-Aye!” Juan asserted.

“No, that’s just ‘Aye’ – as in ‘I agree with you wholeheartedly’ not‘Aye-Aye!’ as in ‘yes, sir, I’ll get on that right away – just after I’ve had my coffee break.’ Do you see the difference?” Chumbucket’s lesson in piratical English was delivered patiently.

“Aye!?” Juan said – and immediately looked at Chumbucket to see if he was correct.

“Very good.” Chumbucket patted his comrade on the back and turned to Jezebel, who watched the exchange with pure delight. “Aye, Miss Jezebel, what would you do if you came across some bloodthirsty pirates?”

“Like you?” The look on her face was one of bliss.

Juan growled and gestured a swing of his fist. “Aye, like us!”

“Very good, Juan!” Chumbucket wanted to be supportive of his friend’s attempts at the Anglofication of his pirate personae. Juan smiled broadly and relaxed his body posture immediately, “Really? You didn’t think the growling was too much?” “Not a bit! It was a lovely growl – bloodthirsty, even!” Chumbucket strongly believed in a ratio of four positive comments for every negative – a standard aboard The Festering Boil. If Cap’n Slappy caught wind of someone being overly negative, he had Cementhands McCormack – the ship’s chief taunter - call that person, “Negative Nelly” for a week – that put them back on the happy track.

Jezebel smiled, “Well, if I should ever come across a pair of bloodthirsty pirates such as yourself, I suppose I would resign myself to your villainous machinations.” She took a pause, “Or, I could dissuade you from your evil intentions by exploring new levels of philosophical thought and inter-social possibility with you in such a way as to form a strong human bond and an alliance of mutual care and respect.”

The two men blinked – twice - in unison.

“Or, I could just cast a charm spell on you.” She was hypnotically charming at this point and the men could only smile. Finally, Ol’ Chumbucket broke free of his smile. “But could we at least teach your crew to fight – in case we are attacked by pirates who are less socially” … he looked for the word, “ … ‘progressive’ than we are?”

“Alright.” Jezebel smiled, “But only if you can find someone who wants to learn how to fight.”


Sally moved carefully past Captain Fanny’s cabin. She was to teach her Natural Sciences section on the eating habits of salamanders to her advanced placement girls in five minutes and was hardly prepared. She watched the girls closely as she had been directed by Lady Fanny – but not for the purpose intended. “It must be discovered,” she thought to herself, “if any of them still have a mind of their own – and any sort of moral compass.”

With great ferocity the door of Lady Fanny’s cabin flew open and she dashed to the open deck of the ship screaming, “All hands to battle stations!”

Sally had come to enjoy the battle drill – it put her at the greatest distance from her former mentor, Lady Fanny, than at any other time in the day. She headed for the galley where she set up her makeshift hospital to tend to make-believe injuries.

The dark fog that had held them in an eerie grip since the evening of the carnage had only lifted slightly leaving cave-like openings of vision. The crew on deck could see that a ship was very close off the port bow. Had this new ship been hunting La Herida que Filtra de laCabeza, their journey would have been at an end.

Lady Fanny waved excitedly at the ship. It was called, strangely enough, Lady Fanny’s Dagger. The captain of The Dagger, was none other than Bastiaan “The Bastard” Slotemaker – the most notorious and callous Dutch pirate ever. Whereas most Dutch people are meticulously polite, Slotemaker almost went out of his way to say thoughtless things or fail to introduce mutual friends at parties because he couldn’t remember their names. That’s the kind of bastard he was.

When they were close enough, she directed one of the sailors to cast a mast line across to Bastiaan, who, with full swashbuckler aplomb, swung from the deck of his ship to within six inches of where Lady Fanny was standing. He took her roughly in his arms and kissed her hard on the mouth. She swooned – momentarily, but fearing that her bliss would be seen as weakness, she quickly regrouped. “Bastiaan, my darling! Everything is going as we planned. How are things on your end?” She reached around and groped his piratical arse.

“All things are in a full state of preparedness.” As he spoke, he gestured to all sides of the ship where they were surrounded by four fully armed frigates. In addition to Lady Fanny’s Dagger she could see; Death’s Folly, The Kill Joy and a particularly menacing ship called, Duckier Than Thou.

Duckier Than Thou?” Lady Fanny’s question was rhetorical, but Slotemaker responded. “We haven’t re-Christened it, yet.”

“It can wait.” Lady Fanny was a woman on a mission. “We have mischief to do.”

“And an armada with which to do it!” Slotemaker was missing her hint.

“Yes, my love.” She kissed him full on the mouth – she was determined to get him back on track. “But first things first.” She took him by the hand, led him to her cabin and closed the door as his pirates took possession of the ship – and the remnants of its original crew.


“That’s a Portuguese Man O’ War, Cap’n!” Lieutenant (pronounced lef-TEN-ant) Keeling was insistent.

“A jellyfish?” Cementhands McCormack had just joined the men who were looking through a spyglass that young Spencer was holding for the Captain. Slappy backed away from the spyglass and gestured for Cementhands to take a look. “That would be a particularly nasty jellyfish, my friend.” The ship they were looking at was about twice the size of The Festering Boil – with twice the guns. After looking through the glass for a moment, McCormack stood back up and his eyes became as large as saucers – “Ooo – that’s a STINGY kind.” Nobody was sure that he wasn’t still talking about the jellyfish.

Sawbones Burgess chimed in, “You know, the jellyfish by that name is the deadliest jellyfish in existence and its venom is …”

“Belay that science lesson, Doc!” Slappy took the spyglass from Spencer, and looked again. Then, he checked the lens end of the spyglass for a cut out of a Portuguese Man O’ War with a raised eyebrow in his cabin boy’s direction. Seeing none there, he looked again. Sure enough, through a break in the fog he could see movement on the deck of the ship – African men and women in chains being exercised on deck for a few minutes before being stuffed back in the ship’s hold.

“It’s a slaver.” Slappy collapsed the spyglass dramatically – it, once again, pinched his hand. “Het stinken de Geur van de Kaas! – That hurts!”

Slappy shook it off as quickly as he could. “Men!” He glanced around and remembered the female members of his crew, “And Women!” And with a glance at both Spencer the Cabin Boy and Gabriel the Powder Monkey he added, “and boy – and you, too, midget.”

Gabriel seethed.

“How do we feel about slavers?” he asked the crew.

As one, they responded, “We HATE slavers!”

“And what do we do to slavers?” he sounded like an evangelist at a tent meeting and his congregation responded in kind.

“We relieve them of their cargo!”

He looked around and suddenly was struck by something. The Festering Boil was never much of a ship, really – so he kept four longboats on deck. Slappy’s crew never numbered more than sixty – so if the ship went down, the four boats would be more than enough to spare all of their miserable lives.

“But what if the boats launched an assault?”

They talked and prepared until nightfall. This was a “do or die” mission – but one that would serve as a test when they finally caught up to Slappista.

“The Slaver has made no evasive action,” Slappy told his crew in a hushed tone as they approached her in the fog, “we move in fog and darkness – silently. They will outnumber us by as much as four to one, but we will have surprise on our side and as even a child can tell you, – a child can tell you … uh …” Slappy seemed a little lost.

Gabriel spoke up, “Surprise is the great equalizer.”

“Exactly!” Slappy pointed at Gabriel with great approval. “Well, if a child can’t tell you, certainly a midget can. Mount up, everyone – and remember the plan.”

“I’m not - !”

“Shhhh.” Slappy cut Gabriel’s argument off, but turned to him and Spencer while the crew loaded themselves into the long boats. “Now, Powder Monkey, as the only adult left aboard The Festering Boil, I am leaving you in charge as temporary captain.” Gabriel smiled broadly.

Now it was Spencer who was disgruntled, “He’s only eight …” Slappy finished for him, “ … inches tall, I know – but he’s the adult and what he says, goes.” He turned to the grinning Gabriel and whispered, “His bed-time is nine-thirty but if he’s behaving himself, he can stay up until midnight.” He shook Gabriel and Spencer’s hands and turned toward the boats. “Oh, and we left Two-Patch here somewhere – but he’s useless in this kind of fight – because, … well … you know.” Slappy covered both his eyes with his hands – as if the boys wouldn’t get it, but added in an odd way that sounded factual, “I think he’s up in the crow’s nest.”

Silently, the four longboats bore down on the Man O’ War. For all of his foibles as a navigator, Dogwatch was the master of the grappling hook and he landed it at the back of the ship with no more sound than a seagull perching on the mizzenmast.

Within moments, the bulk of the crew were aboard their target and the Portuguese night watch on the deck had been dispatched.

Slappy’s blunderbuss was locked, cocked and loaded as were his brace of pistols. His sword would only be used if all else had failed.

One of the Portuguese officers had taken one of the women from the hold and was going to have his way with her on deck, but as they opened the hatch, she screamed at the sight of these strange men and women standing where there was supposed to be no one. She broke free from the officer and ran directly toward Cap’n Slappy who caught her in his left arm as he leveled his blunderbuss toward the officer with his right hand.

The officer fumbled for the penny whistle around his neck, but George the Greek quickly plunged a dagger into the back of his skull. His body slumped to the deck below.

“So much for surprise.” Lieutenant Keeling observed as he readied himself, sword in hand, next to Cap’n Slappy.

The sounds of men mustering and rushing toward the upper deck could be heard and Slappy passed off the young woman to a female shipmate saying, “Find someplace safe for her – it’s about to get messy.”

The door burst open as five Portuguese sailors with swords charged the pirates. Slappy’s blunderbuss roared to life and the five were quickly mowed down.

“Save some for the rest of us!” McCormack bellowed as the fight began in earnest.

“With pleasure, my friend.” Slappy replied grimly.

Killing was never Slappy’s favorite part of pirate life – sometimes, however, it was a necessary evil. The battle was fully engaged and the outcome was, as it always is, in doubt.



A Pirate Tale 17 – The Sea Witch

Ol’ Chumbucket eyed the approaching ship with wariness. It was very different than any he’d seen. Yes, it was a sailboat, with twin masts and a bowsprit and a high castle in the poop. It wasn’t the shape that was wrong. In fact, Chumbucket realized, it wasn’t that the ship was particularly large, not even as large as the Festering Boil, now that he thought about it. But there was certainly something “different” about it which had created that impression, starting with it’s dark, drab colors, the tattered sails, and the fact that in the gloom there was not any light coming from it. In fact, even the dying rays of the sun fighting through the fog failed to reflect off the ship. It was almost a perfect black body, a ship-like hole carved out of the fog. All seemed quiet aboard – no sound of crew or life at all.

Still, despite the chill that ran down his spine as he looked at the ship, Ol’ Chumbucket figured this was the rare case of “better the devil you don’t know than the devil you do.” As his comrade had pointed out, the water was gone, the food was gone, and they were down to the drinking-your-own urine stage. Oh, sure, they could add a bit of novelty to it and spice things up by drinking each other’s urine, but either way, they’d both be dead soon enough. With that in mind, Ol’ Chumbucket raised an oar over his head and waved, calling out, “Ahoy” in an effort to attract attention.

There was no response from the boat, which continued its silent course, crossing their path at an angle, about 100 or so feet across the bow of their long boat.

Juan Garbonzo, his stalwart Spanish companion, also raised his oar wearily and waved, calling out, “¡Hola mis amigos! ¡Ayuda!”

They cried out together several more times, but there was no indication that anyone had heard their calls. No sign of any life aboard whatsoever.

There was only a moment to decide, and the decision was so obvious neither of them even spoke. If they waited just a few more seconds the ship would pass and be lost in the fog. Catching it may not make their position any better, but it certainly couldn’t make it any worse. They leaped to their oars and dug in to catch the ship. At first they seemed to be losing ground, and Chumbucket let out a sound of despair. But his companion said through gritted teeth, “Do not give up my friend. We will catch them yet.”

The ship stopped gaining on them. Soon they were beginning to pull closer to it inch by agonizing inch, but the light was fading as fast as their strength was flagging. Rowing for all they were worth – rowing for their lives – the two men pulled abreast of the ship. They rowed alongside for several minutes, looking for some way to board. A line descending from the bow seemed the best choice, but getting it would be tricky. They’d have to angle for the bow and one would reach up to grab it while the other tried to keep pace with and avoid getting dragged under the moving ship.

“Juan,” Chumbucket gasped. I’ll keep rowing. You grab the line.”

Garbonzo nodded as they veered toward the ship, continuing to pull on the oars until the last second. Then, with a convulsive lurch, he leaped for the line that dangled from the bow of the mysterious vessel. His fingers hit the rope, slipped, then closed around it. As the bow lifted in the rolling sea it almost raised Juan out of the longboat, but Chumbucket leaped for his legs and held him in. The two of them clung for a moment, then heaved down and the rope gave enough that they were able to secure it to the cleat of their boat, which now dangled from the nose of the ship, clunking precariously along the side.

“That was the hard part,” Chumbucket said. “Now we just have to climb up a single, slippery line with nothing but our hands and feet and no safety line to belay us. Piece of cake. ”

Their palms were blistered from days of endless rowing, so they took what was once Chumbucket’s gaudy purple coat and tore it into strips that they wrapped around their hands. Then Chumbucket worked his way hand over hand up the rope, bouncing painfully against the side of the ship the whole way. He pulled himself up to the bowsprit, throwing one leg over. Then bracing himself, he helped Juan clamber up. The two then dropped down to the deck, where they lay for several minutes, exhausted. Finally they struggled to their feet.

There wasn’t a soul in sight.

“Should we look below deck?” Juan asked.

“Yes, starting with the galley. Those last few minutes took everything I had left. There must be someone aboard, and even if there’s not, maybe they left some food.”

“Si, that piece of cake you mentioned, and agua.”

They found a passage below decks and descended into the gloom. They were clearly in the cook’s area, but it was hard to see. They felt around, and were rewarded with the discovery of a several barrels. The first contained flour – helpful in the long term, they recognized, but not immediately useful. The second contained apples. The third – score! – water. They drank deeply, then began eating an apple each as they scouted around the galley more.

“I know the cook has got to keep some rum around here someplace,” Chumbucket said.

“He does, right above the plate storage,” a voice said.

“¡Sardinas del St. Tomas!” Garbonzo shrieked, as a figure entered, carrying a lantern.

Ol’ Chumbucket was getting tired of being surprised by female voices – first Fanny, then Mad Sally and now this. It was the third time in this story, for Pete’s sake!

In the light of the lantern he could make out very little. It was a woman, he could tell from the general shape and from the voice. Her hair seemed to be a wild tangle of curls, and the garment she wore seemed as untamed and tattered as the sails. But there was no menace in her voice as she laughed and said, “Go ahead and eat, gentlemen, and have a drink of water. You look like you could use it.”

She came further into the room and the lamplight spread so they could see her better. Her hair was a bright and unlikely shade of red, her clothes layer after layer of brightly colored cloths wrapped about her. She smiled around the pipe that was clenched in her teeth and peered forward rather nearsightedly.

“Typically good manners would demand that you introduce yourself first, but you look as if you’d be better occupied with eating – although I’d take it a little easy on the water gentlemen. Small sips, or you’ll get cramps. Besides, I’ve already seen who you are, so I’ll introduce myself. My name is Jezebel.”

“Jezebel?” Juan gasped, his swarthy complexion turning pale. “¡La Bruja del Mar!”

“Well, if that’s what you want to call me, but I’m not really a witch, at sea or anywhere else. That’s simply the name of my ship, which you have boarded and are now on. But you know how people will talk. So allow me to welcome you aboard the Sea Witch.”

“Are you all alone here?” Chumbucket asked. “There’s no sign of a lookout or any other crew.”

“Oh, no. I may be multitalented, but I couldn’t possibly run this whole ship by myself,” she said with a quiet laugh. “No, I have a crew, small but surprisingly efficient. I’m sure you’ll be meeting some of them before too long. They take care of things, although I dare say the ship has looked better. We ran into some weather several days ago and it took its toll. They’re all below in their bunks now.”

“Without posting even one lookout?” Chumbucket asked.

“Well, we won’t run into any trouble tonight. Don’t ask how I know. I just know,” she laughed, a cackle that raised the hair on the necks of both men. “Sorry, I get carried away sometimes. Love the effect,” she said after catching her breath. “I’d have been up to greet you and help you aboard, but the first mate was telling a delightful ghost story and I hated to miss the end. Really quite clever.”

“Wait,” Juan cut in. “You said you know us. How could that be? I’ve never seen you before in my life. I’m sure I would remember you, senora.”

“Senorita, if you don’t mind, Senor Garbonzo.” His eyes widened with surprise as she turned to his friend. “And you, shall I call you Ol’ Chumbucket, or one of the many other names you’ve used? Would you perhaps like me to use your birth name?”

“Chumbucket will do for now,” he said, masking his own surprise and growing sense of unease. “I’m not sure I even remember my birth name.”

“Well, suit yourself. If you ever need to know, I’ll tell you. But for now, I’ll find you bunks below. I know you’re exhausted. There will be plenty to do in the next three days. We’ve got some hard sailing to do to catch up to your friends in time. We have to be 120 miles west of Morocco in just three days time. That won’t be easy, even for this ship.”

They wanted to ask more questions, but she made it clear she was done talking for the night. The two pirates took their apples, jugs of water, and several hardtack biscuits she pressed on them and headed below, following the bobbing lamplight and her tuneless humming. They passed through the crew area where several hammocks emitted snores, and passed on into what – on a normal ship – might be called “officer’s country,” although Chumbucket was fairly certain there was nothing normal about this ship. Finally, she pointed them to a cabin where two bunks awaited. She left the lamp for them, saying she knew her way about the ship well enough without its help, and left them with the word that the ship would stir at the end of the morning watch. “I don’t like rising before 8, it’s uncivilized,” she said as she left.

The two exhausted pirates turned out the lamp and threw themselves onto the bunks. There was a long moment of silence, finally broken by a question.

“Chumbucket, where are we?”

“We’re alive, my friend. We’re alive.

Thursday, January 27, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 16 "Fog"

“Make for that fog bank, Mr. Watts if you please!” Cap’n Slappy voice carried strongly across the decks of The Festering Boil even through the building wind and gathering gloom of a foggy evening.

“Cementhands, my faithful friend,” Slappy began with a hearty man-slap to Cementhands McCormack’s shoulder, “have I ever told you about my good friend, Sir Nigel?”

Now, Sir Nigel’s correspondence with Cap’n Slappy was a thing of epic legend and all the men had not only heard of Sir Nigel, but had done whatever they could to emulate the man widely considered to be “The Swashbuckler’s Swashbuckler.”

“Aye, Cap’n! That I have! Ye bring him up whenever thar be a fog bank and ye tell us, ‘Sir Nigel is the master of using a fog bank as stealthy cover to sneak up on his prey and give ‘em a right good ‘what for!’ – sir.”

“Yes,” Cap’n Slappy said nodding to himself, “but have I ever told you that Sir Nigel is the master of using a fog bank as a stealthy cover to sneak up on his prey and give ‘em a right good ‘what for!’?”

McCormack looked around at George the Greek, Doc “Sawbones” Burgess and Lieutenant (pronounced “Lef-TEN-ant”) Keeling for some help – the others just gazed upward or to the side. Shaking off his abandonment quickly he smiled warmly at Cap’n Slappy and said, “No sir – do tell.” He and his comrades pulled up crates and casks and sat while Slappy extolled the virtues and vices of his adventuresome friend, Sir Nigel. This went on for a good hour and a half as the Captain produced exciting letter after exciting letter – all of which the men had heard more than a hundred times, but Slappy’s childlike admiration for this fellow pirate always endowed the re-telling with life-like animation. “…and that’s how the phrase, ‘Jolly Good Roister’ came to be a part of theWaputi lexicon!” Slappy had now reached the end of the presentation.

Most of the crew had gathered ‘round Cap'n Slappy while Spencer and Gabriel exchanged, Sir Nigel Trading Cards – Spencer gave up his cherished “Chesty, Lusty, Foul-Mouthed Cracked Carrie in full Bustiness” (her rookie card) for Gabriel’s rare “Three-tooth Meg, ‘Wheezy’ Morgan, Blind Bess and The Slovenly Slattern’s All Stars of 1647” cards.

Fog now enshrouded the Festering Boil. Cap’n Slappy doubled the watch. “Keep a weathered eye out, lads – and when we lose what’s left of daylight, keep yer weathered ears open as well.” Billy “One-Ear” Fitzwilliams gave a disgruntled "Harumph!" and dusted off his fog ear-horn.

“What are we to be listenin’ for, Cap’n?” McCormack asked. “Could it be the mermaids’ song what calls men o’ the sea to their doom? – It goes a little something like this.” With that, Sawbones, George the Greek and Lieutenant Keeling joined him in a piratical “barbershop” quartet as they sang their own version of the Siren’s song.(To the tune of “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot) McCormack took the solo as the featured singer.

Come here – (come here) Sweet sea pirate
(Comin’ for ta crash on the rocks)
Come here – (come here) Sweet Sea pirate
(Comin’ for ta crash on the rocks)

We drift through the fog all day and all night
(Comin’ for ta crash on the rocks)
We hope that we find somebody to fight
(Comin’ for ta crash on the rocks)

And while it was lovely and McCormack’s baritone was nicely balanced byKeeling’s heavenly tenor, Cap’n Slappy held up his hand – demanding silence. “Can ye hear that, lads?” Every ear aboard the Festering boil strained.


A dark fog began rolling across the deck of La Herida que Filtra de laCabeza. Dinner was going to be late – the fishermen had attracted sharks who were stealing the catch before they could get it aboard.

“It’s time for a lesson in natural science.” Lady Fanny observed – she turned to the girl at her side, “Go fetch Miss Sally and the girls. I want them on deck in five minutes.”

As their open-air class assembled, Sally could see the four Spanish sailors – the spitting hombres – standing near Lady Fanny. Their feet were shackled and hands were tied tightly behind them and each had a rope tied around his neck.

“Come look, girls, there are sharks feeding off the starboard side of the ship!” Lady Fanny held a cutlass in her hand as though it might have been a yardstick. Her tone was bright and cheerful. “Now, who can tell me why so many sharks have gathered here in one place?”

The girls stood horrified at the gruesome spectacle – but true to their training, they never let it show on their faces. Finally Bridget spoke up. “They are attracted to the smell of blood in the water.”

“Precisely!” Lady Fanny proclaimed clapping her hands. Her glee with all of this was positively child-like. “It looks like Bridget is going to take the prize. And once a shark has had a taste of blood, what does it want?” Lady Fanny’s use of the Socratic Method was normally impeccable.

On this occasion, however, the terror of the setting cast a pal over the lesson. When there was no answer forthcoming from any of the girls, one of the bound men spoke out in defiant broken English. “It want BLOOD!!!” He shouted and followed it with a doubly defiant spit on the deck, narrowly missing Lady Fanny’s shoe. Lady Fanny’s eyes became slits that shifted toward the man who stared back without blinking.

“Who told you to speak?” she demanded. There was only silence. “There will be no talking out in class!” she shrieked as she plunged the cutlass deep into the man’s belly. His mouth gaped open, but he made no sound. In a frenzy of ferocity, Lady Fanny slashed and hacked the man to death. There was no stopping her as she went through and attacked and killed all four men. The final man, knowing his fate was sealed, spat directly into her face before he was cut down.

Nobody – not even Slappista could move or speak. Lady Fanny’s bloodlust knew no bounds. At one point during the carnage, she picked up a severed arm and held it above her head, “Mercy Gracious Sakes Alive! I’ve killed an un-armed man!” She laughed maniacally as she flung the appendage into the sea.

Bridget O'Toole couldn’t help herself. Sally saw her begin to speak, but couldn’t reach her to stop her. As she watched Lady Fanny hack the men to pieces and cast their body parts to the sharks below the words, “Dear God” escaped her lips. Lady Fanny stopped, she looked at the liver in her hand and cast it over the edge of the ship without a thought. She moved like a snake to the side of the girl and looked her up and down – sizing her up. “This is not Theology Class, Miss O’Toole.” She hissed into the girl’s ear. She didn’t wait for any response. “But don’t let me keep you from your independent study!” With that, she grabbed Bridget sharply by the hair and pulled down hard to throw her off balance. As the poor girl attempted to regain her footing, Lady Fanny spun her around and with a violent laugh, flung her to the mercy of the sharks.

Everyone, including Slappista, rushed to the side of the ship but there was nothing they could do – and the sharks showed no mercy. Slappista could stand it no longer. “You have gone too far, Lady Fanny! You have needlessly taken innocent life – and you have gone too far!”

“Have I?” her voice sounded like a groteque mockery of an innocent school girl – one that wasn’t currently being eaten by sharks. She wriggled up in his chest like an evil kitten who has just committed foul mass murder, “Does the big bad pirate capitan want to punish the naughty girl?” She ran her fingers through his beard and down his chest. He looked resolute – but somewhat ticklish. “With that kind of behavior, who knows what the naughty girl will do next?” As she spoke, she fondled the brace of pistolas at his belt and without any hesitation, gripped them firmly, turned them in toward his body and fired. The look of pain and ecstasy that seemed etched into his face faded quickly to a smile. “You have stopped me – but you have unleashed the family fury.” He staggered backward in the fog, and disappeared off the edge of the ship – the sound of a splash, followed by thrashing water and crunching bones could be heard, but mercifully, the dark thick fog obscured the visual feast.

“Ooooogila Booogila” Lady Fanny mocked, "I've been cursed!" then turning to the crew declared, “As your new Captain, I expect this ship to be kept clean – that includes this mess (gesturing to the large pool of blood and entrails). I’m going to go change into something more befitting my rank.” As she walked past Sally she turned and gave her a cold stare, “See to it that the girls maintain order and discipline – no blurting out – I hold you personally responsible.”

“Yes, M’Lady.” Sally knew that this was not the time to challenge.

“Oh!” Lady Fanny stopped, “From now on, call me ‘Captain Fanny.’ And see to it that there is no giggling afterward.”

Sally saluted sharply, “Yes, Captain Fanny.”


“All of this, how you say, ‘Stroke’ it makes you tired, no?” Juan Garbonzo had a look of genuine concern for his first mate and ideas guy.

“Me? No. I’m – as – fit – as – a – fiddle.” Ol’ Chumbucket managed the words between deep gasps for air.

“This ‘fiddle’ of which you speak – it too has the soft belly and wibble-wobble arms? And does it also gasp for the air like a fish going flippity floppy on the deck?” The wry smile on Juan’s face belied his humorous observation.

Chumbucket was now on the defensive, “I’ll have you know that I was the captain of the football club at Eton, my good man, and ran the midfield like a Zulu warrior – without rest for a full ninety minutes.”

“I was unaware that they admitted Zulu warriors to Eton. I was a Cambridge man, myself.” Juan Garbonzo’s accent had completely been exchanged for one of ancient British aristocracy. Ol’ Chumbucket was thunderstruck and sat for a moment with his mouth agape.

Chumbucket managed only two words, “You’re British.”

“No, senor. Don’t go crazy-go-nuts on me all nilly-willy.” Juan’s voice had reverted back to its original thick Spanish accent, “I just have an ear for accents and a, how you say, flare for the dramatic.” As he spoke, a large ship emerged from a nearby fog bank. Chumbucket’s jaw dropped once again. Juan spoke up, “Is this your Festival Bowl?”

“No.” Ol’ Chumbucket managed, “But things are about to get very, very interesting.”

Juan tried to squeeze out the last of the water from the deer-skin that contained it – “Well, I think I will be content with your ‘interesting’ over our ‘urine drinking stage,’ – let’s go say ‘cheerios' to our new neighbors.”

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 15

• Aboard the Arsetilla, somewhere in the Atlantic, Juan Garbonzo commanding:

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!”

¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento!

Two sets of oars sliced through the water as the two sailors from rival ships continued west in the hope of reaching land before running out of food and/or water. Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan Garbonzo, in the longboat stolen from La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, were in a race against time, and the only prize for winning was staying alive.

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!”

¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento!

• Aboard the Festering Boil, Cap’n Slappy commanding

Sun broke over the horizon as The Festering Boil plowed on its way to Africa – or Brazil, there continued to be some dispute over that question.

“So you see, Dogwatch, that’s the sun rising there, in the direction the ship is pointing,” Cap’n Slappy said to his navigator.

“Aye, that it is Cap’n,” Dogwatch Watts replied. “By my calculations we should be sighting land by evening, and we might be ready to cross the bar into Rio’s harbor by morning.”

“But Rio is in the west, isn’t it?” the ship’s doctor, Sawbones Burgess, chimed in.

“Of course it is. Just look at the chart”

“And the sun rises in the east, and we’re heading towards the rising sun right now, or am I mistaken?” George the Greek concluded.

“Ah, I see the difficulty,” Dogwatch said. “Of course the sun rises in the east – NORTH of the equator. But we’re in the southern hemisphere, and everything is backwards here. You three have been forgetting that. Did you know the Big Dipper isn’t even shaped like a dipper down here? And you can’t even see the North Star or Orion or anything. It’s crazy, I tell you. You have to be quite the world traveler to keep track of such things.”

The captain, doctor and first mate just stared at each other. There really seemed nothing more to say, until Sawbones asked, “Cap’n, exactly how did you come to name Mr. Watts here the navigator?”

“You remember what happened when we made him head gunner,” Slappy said.

“Of course I do,” the doctor said with a shudder. “I’ve never been so busy in my life.”

“Enough then, he’s the navigator,” the captain said. “If he wants to think we’re headed for Brazil, that’s fine, let him think that. As long as we head off Slappista in Africa before he can do anything to harm Chumbucket, Lady Fanny, Mad Sally or those girls. Keeling! I want every man to practice hand-to-hand combat three hours a day beginning immediately.”

“Aye aye, Cap’n,” the ship’s disciplinarian said with his customary enthusiasm. “All hands on deck. And bring your cutlasses!”

“I hope everything is all right with the captives,” George the Greek said, crossing himself with a religious zeal uncommon for pirates.

“It’d better be, or my Spanish cousin will have another sin to answer for, and he’d better pray god has mercy on him, because I sure as hell won’t!”

• Aboard the Arsetilla

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!”

¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento!

• Aboard La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, somewhere west of the Arsetilla, Lady Fanny in actual command

“Pardon me, Lady Fanny,” Mad Sally asked the mistress, “Would it be alright if we cut down the remains of Senor de la Cruz? He’s been hanging there for almost two weeks, and while the smell has begun to abate, I think the educational value of his demise is fading as well. And he looks like holy hell.”

“Leave him up just a bit longer, Sally dear,” Lady Fanny hissed. “We’ll be in Tenerife tomorrow and I want to make a good impression when we sail into harbor. Besides, after the disappointment he caused me, it makes me happy to see him up there.”

“It makes me sick.”

Mad Sally looked at where the mortal remains of Cedric del la Cruz hung from the yardarm. Fanny had been so angry about the escape of Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan Garbonzo that she hadn’t even waited for the jailer to regain consciousness. Upon hearing the story agreed to the previous night by Sally and the jailed Spanish sailors, she’d enacted her revenge. When Cedric regained consciousness – briefly – he was already hanging in the gibbet cage, which Fanny had had dipped periodically in ocean for effect. It had taken only two days for him to die, but Fanny let him remain in the rigging as an object lesson to other crewmembers, upon whom the moral of the story wasn’t lost, even though for the first few days they’d had trouble keeping dinner down. The titular captain of the ship, Juan Diego de la Mercada y Slappista con Carne, had remonstrated with his lady love, but as he had already tacitly given over all the authority to her in exchange for “services rendered,” there wasn’t much even he could do. That lesson also was not lost on the crew.

Sally had her hands full, riding herd on 50 healthy young ladies of gentle breeding and refined disposition, who were having the time of their lives learning the trade of being pirates. So she left the question of de la Cruz hanging, as it were, and headed below to supervise a seminar on pirate history for the girls.

“Lord,” she said to herself, “They talk about the free and easy life of a pirate, but I’m busier here than I ever was working that bar in Kingston.”

Lady Fanny watched through narrowed eyes as Sally descend below decks, then signaled to one of the schoolgirl pirates standing nearby.

“Go down and keep on eye on her, would you?” she said. “That’s a dear.”

• Aboard the Arsetilla

“Stroke! Stroke! Stroke!”

¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento! ¡Movimiento!

“No my friend,” Ol’ Chumbucket panted. “I mean I think I’m having a stroke, stroke! Stroke!”

Tuesday, January 25, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 14

With Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan Garbonzo safely away, Sally knew that there would be sharp questioning for the men left behind so she needed a scapegoat – somebody who could be blamed for the escape without bringing unduly harsh retribution to the spiting hombres. As luck would have it, the keeper of the night’s watch was a particularly loathsome devil by the name of Cedric Del La Cruz. As was his custom, he accosted the young ladies with cat calls and drunken whistling. Young Bridget barely escaped his manhandling as she left the hold to serve as decoy to the jailbreak.

“You could call me an International Ladies’ Man!” he muttered in his broken English that reeked of tequila, “For I have the Russian Hands and Roman Fingers!” He then groped her body.

Bridget had had enough, “And you have a Jewish head.” This confused the drunken sot – and he told her so. “A Jewish, head? How do you mean, Jewish head?” Before he could even finish his question, she had delivered a devastating head butt that she had learned as a child from a dear friend of her mother’s – Cap’n Slappy.
“Don’t Jewish you hadn’t messed with the wrong girl?”

His unconscious body slumped down the stairs into the brig. Bridget followed with Sally close behind.

With her blood going, Bridget added insult to injury by spitting on Del La Cruz’s face – this was met with approving applause by the hombres who followed her spit of disgust with a chorus of their own expectorated projectiles.

“He is a very bad man!” one of the men said. “He cheats at cards.” Another man joined in. “Also, he is very flatulent and never asks for pardon – don’t you think that’s rude?”

“Yes, very.” Sally agreed. Now men, when they ask you about the other men escaping, just tell them that this poor bastard here got drunk and let them out to cheat them at cards. They jumped him and got away while you all slept – are we clear on this?”A chorus of “Si Senora,” came from the dark cage.

While this was going on, Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan Garbonzo were rowing away from the ship as quickly as they could. They wanted to put as much distance between themselves and The Seeping Headwound as was possible before daylight.

“So,” Garbonzo began awkwardly, “What was your job on The Festival Bowl?”

Ol’ Chumbucket corrected his new mate, “It’s actually, The Festering Boil – and what do you mean by ‘job’?”

“Oh, you know. I was the First Mate aboard La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza – just a heartbeat away from being El Capitan – and now you and I are, how you say, in this up to our nipples in the same shoe. And I am wondering aloud to myself and everyone else who will listen, who is the Capitan of our Shoe?”

“I think you are looking for the word, ‘Ship,’ my friend.” Chumbucket assured him.

“Si, ship.” Juan returned quickly to his question. “So, which of us should be Capitan.”

Chumbucket smiled and nodded; his ambitions didn’t include being the captain of a doomed two-man boat. “I think you should be Capitan, and I shall be your first mate and ‘ideas guy.’ Come to think of it, I guess that is my job aboard the Festival Bowl – I mean, Festering Boil – I’m an ideas guy – I have ideas.”

Juan Garbonzo’s eyes welled up with tears. “You honor me. And as Capitan of this ship – what shall we call it?”
Chumbucket just shot out the first thing that jumped into his mind because he was feeling it on his bottom. “The Surprisingly Painful Sliver.”

“Sliver? What is this Sliver of which you speak? My English does not know this ‘Sliver’.” If Garbonzo was going to take command, he wanted the ship to have just the right name.

Chumbucket stood up, dropped his trousers and after a few moments of confusion as to what he was showing his new comrade, managed to make the sliver clear in the moonlight and with rattlesnake-like speed he extracted it from his new first mate’s arse.

“Ah! Astilla!” Garbonzo seemed delighted at the name – but Chumbucket was inspired anew.

“The Arsetilla!” Chumbucket chuckled to himself.

“You are right, Senor Chumbucket!” Capitan Garbonzo said with great self confidence and swagger, “You are the guy with the ideas. And as Capitan of the Arsetilla, I will endeavor to not bring you down.”

As they rowed off under the moonlight, Garbonzo asked, “How long before we die of exposure?”

“Two three weeks tops.” Chumbucket answered matter-of-factly, “But I wouldn’t worry, we’ll go stark raving mad long before that.”

That same night aboard The Festival Bowl – I mean, Festering Boil – Slappy couldn’t sleep – and when Cap’n Slappy couldn’t sleep, neither could the youngest members of his crew.

“Lad – and midget,” Gabriel winced at Cap’n Slappy’s continuing misconception about his stature, but he quickly dismissed it. Slappy continued, “When I was a lad of only twenty-three – about your age, I think, Powder Monkey.”

Gabriel couldn’t stop himself. “That would be right if you subtracted fifteen years.”

“You’re forty-eight?!” Slappy was truly surprised by this, “I didn’t think midgets lived that long outside the circus –“ Slappy thought he might be going down that road where somebody might get offended, so he quickly turned it into a positive. “I must say, you look absolutely and eternally youthful! – Even ‘child-like’ if I may be so bold to say so.”Spencer made himself comfortable for the conversation that was about to take place.

“Cap’n Slappy, sir,” Gabriel began with a sigh, “I look ‘child-like’ as you say because I AM a child. I am a child of eight years and not a midget. I have never been a midget and God willing, I will never be a midget.”

Cap’n Slappy stiffened his smile and gave the boy a hearty slap to the shoulder. “Well, with that kind of thinking, Mister, you’ll never be much of anything.” Like all his chidings, he kept his tone whimsical and the message to the point. “Even a middle-aged midget such as yourself who must be near-death because he is outside his natural habitat – the circus – and smokes far too many cigars – “ Spencer snatched the cigar out of Gabriel’s hand and smoked it himself. “ – can be anything he wants to be if he puts his mind to it.”

Gabriel stared blankly at the Captain, “Can I be a whale?” he asked without a giggle – although Spencer provided a laugh-track.

“Now that’s just silly – and I had a very nice story for you about a pair of long lost brothers. But if you insist on being childish – “

“But that’s what I am trying to tell you! I am a – “ Gabriel was cut off by Cementhands McCormack who was back in his “man” clothes – although accessorizing nicely with the pink feather boa.

“Beggin’ the Cap’n ‘s pardon – but did ye not say we were bound for Rio?” Cementhands inquired eagerly.

“Aye, Mister McCormack that I did.” Cap’n Slappy nodded toward Spencer as if to say, “That’s how a Captain answers a question, lad.”

“And this Rio of which I speak, Cap’n – is it the same as the Rio that is in Brazil?”
Cementhands continued. A look of concern grew across Slappy’s face.

“Aye, Mister McCormack – THAT Rio, sure.”

“The one with the girls what play beach volleyball by day and give sailors the ‘bouncy-bouncy’ by night?” McCormack pressed

Slappy covered Gabriel’s ears and whispered, “Not in front of the M-I-D-G-E-T.”

“Just to be sure, Cap’n, and by no means meanin’ no disrespect, but if we was to set for Brazil, wouldn’t we want to be movin’ south?”

Slappy gazed upward at the stars – he knew something was wrong. As he watched, a creeping fog began to obscure his view.

“Aye, Cementhands,” Cap’n Slappy began to see the picture more clearly. “South would be the optimal way to go. Although I wouldn’t want to stifle our navigator’s sense of creativity now, would I?””Not a bit, Cap’n.” The big man was clearly onto something. “Not even if that particular brand of creativity took us to Rio by way of the Canary current.”

Slappy took in a deep breath and on the exhale simply said, “Wrong Way Watts.”

“Ah! Beggin’ the Cap’n’s pardon once again, sir,” Cementhands corrected, “We calls him ‘Dogwatch’ now.”

“Well, my friend, the dog that was watchin’ appears to be blind. And instead of the tropical shores of South America, it appears we are destined for a quick stopover on the steamy shores of Africa. Both fine places in their own right, to be sure, but only one of them plays host to Slappista’s Home Port. Can you guess which one of those it would be?”

Cementhands gave what appeared to be far too much thought to the question but finally answered, “Brazil?”

“Right.” Suddenly, Cap’n Slappy remembered a trick that his brother used to play on him when they were children. It involved fake treasure maps left where young Mortimer would find them – these maps invariably lead directly to spiked bear pits, quicksand or off the edge of cliffs. He even began to think that Percival had allowed him to take the scotch as well – but he quickly put that out of his mind as being too horrible a thought.

“Right!” His voice was more determined than ever.

“Then Africa it is – just after a quick stop at The Canary Islands.” He clapped his hands once hard and turned to go to his cabin. As he walked away, he added,
“Give Dogwatch an extra ration of rum on me – Good night, gentlemen and midget.” And as he strolled away, he sang some song which included the words; “don’t ever change.”

Monday, January 24, 2005


A Pirates Tale - 13

Admiral Tharp watched his half-brother, Cap’n Slappy, climb back aboard his own ship, the Festering Boil. His second in command approached him.

“Sir, will the ‘fishing vessel’ be steering clear of our operations then, or will we have to take it into custody?”

“Oh that won’t be necessary,” the admiral said. “True, he’s ready to follow the Spanish pirate to the end of the earth, and he even thinks he took advantage of me. I left the chart out on my desk. It shows the Spaniard’s course heading west to the coast of Brazil. I made sure there was a large red X on the Brazilian coast with the words ‘Slappista’s home port’ very clearly marked.”

“Brazil?” the executive officer asked. “But sir, I thought all our intelligence showed them heading to the Canaries on their way to the African coast.”

“Well, if my bro … I mean, if The Festering Boil thinks the Spaniard is heading for South America, it rather leaves things open for us, doesn’t it?” the admiral said with a smirk. “Wait until they get under way, we'll take half a day pretending we're heading north, then we can set out for Africa and square accounts with that Spanish fellow.”

On board The Festering Boil, Slappy gathered his officers on the poop.

“Well cap’n, what was that all about?” Sawbones Burgess asked. “You were gone long enough, I thought the jig was up. Did they actually decide in the end that we’re a fishing vessel?”

“Well, let’s just say they aren’t impeding our departure,” Slappy said. “I think I convinced the admiral to not get in our way.”

“They must be uncommonly stupid,” Burgess said.

“Well, it was an uncommon conversation, let’s just leave it at that,” Slappy gloated.

“And did you get your money back for the book?” Lt. Keeling asked.

Slappy hefted the bottle of single-malt Scotch he had absconded with. “I think the admiral and I are even, at least on that score. Now, gentlemen, we have a Spanish pirate to chase down.”

“But we don’t know where they went,” George the Greek said. “It’s a pretty big ocean.”

“Well, the admiral helped us without meaning to. He left a chart out on his desk with the likely destination of our quarry marked,” Slappy said. “I want us to head south fora few hours to throw them off the scent, then Dogwatch Watts, chart me a course for Rio de Janeiro, on the coast of Brazil!”

“Aye aye, sir!” Dogwatch answered, saluting with the wrong hand.

While the crew of The Festering Boil prepared to get under way in the early morning hours, the captain’s cabin of La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza was lit only by a single flickering candle.

In the glow of the candlelight, Lady Fanny was rubbing a liberal amount of scented oil into the shoulders and and back of Don Juan Diego de la Mercada y Slappista con carne, who was recovering from the strenuous workout Fanny had put him through in the last hour.

“Oh, Slappista,” she purred. “You know you’re my guiding Northern Star, the sole comfort to a lost soul adrift in a lonely sea, trying to find the way home. Can't you give me this one little thing?

“Ah, mi pequeño gatito del amor,” Slappista said contentedly. “But we can make more money if we sell the girls at the market in Africa, rather than my sailors.”

“Oh, I think you underestimate the value of those big strong, strapping men. And you must admit, my girls have been excellent additions to the crew. Remember that trap Slappy laid for you? Your sailors would have been captured in a moment, but my girls were immune to the lure that would have snared your crew, and they captured Chumbucket pretty neatly.”

“True, they are shaping up as fine pirates,” Slappista said. But an all-girl crew? It just isn’t done … Yeewwooogrrrr,” he added, as her hand did something very creative to him. “Do that again.”

“What, this?”

“No. That other thing … Yeewwooogrrrr!!” he said.

“So you’ll indulge me just this once, you special lubba lubba lubba mollete? And you’ll give me Ol’ Chumbucket for something special before we get to the mainland?”

“Anything my love.”

And now, in deference to good taste, we close the curtain on the scene in the captain’s cabin and travel down below decks, to the brig, where Chumbucket is trying to square the face beneath the hood with the memory of where he had seen it last. He had expected to see a swarthy pirate. He did not.

“Surely you’re one of the students of Slappy’s school,” Chumbucket said to the teen girl who had come into the room. “Didn’t I see you at that sporting event he made us attend last year?”

“Of course you did,” Mad Sally said. “Bridget is captain of the field hockey team, and I believe she scored nine goals that day Slappy brought his crew to the game.”

“Ten Coach, not that I’m bragging, but strictly for accuracy’s sake, I scored 10 goals.”

“And now you’re aboard a Spanish pirate ship, doing precisely what?”

“Well, I captured you, sir, if you don’t mind my mentioning it. Not that that’s what we were planning, but you fell directly into our boat when we were trying to get away from your trap,” Bridget O’Toole said. “It was a pretty obvious trap, by the way.”

Chumbucket, for one of the few times in his life, didn’t have a clue what to say, so he opened and closed his mouth soundlessly several times, as if practicing for when he might want to talk again.

“Look, it’s very simple,” Sally said. “Lady Fanny secretly arranged with Capitán Slappista to raid the town, raze the school and take all the girls, plus her and me, on board his ship. Within days we had control. Fanny has him in her power, and those sailors had no chance against well-bred girls of gentle rearing, who had been raised on the old-school tradition and hardened on the field hockey pitch. My team, you will recall, has won the Caribbean Inter-Island All-Schools Championship three of the last four years.”

“And we’d have won it all four if I hadn’t broken my ankle,” Bridget said hotly.

“Anyway, I think I've shown I'm more than just the bar wench you claim to love. So we’ve become a pirate crew, and the girls love it. I mean, it’s a lot more interesting than school and etiquette. It’s a much more open life. But I’m worried. I don’t know what Fanny’s up to, but I don’t think she just means to give the girls a little vacation. Once we’ve learned all the seamanship that goes into running the ship, I think she’s planning something awful. I don’t think even Slappista’s safe. And you definitely aren’t. Which is why I’m getting you out of here.”

“That’s why I came down here, Sally. The ship is beginning to stir.”

“Damn, we’ve gotta hurry,” Sally said. She quickly unlocked the cell door. “We can’t take all of you, she said to the Spanish sailors imprisoned with Chumbucket. “I’m sorry, it’s a very small boat. But I do think one of you should come to help, and that would be you, my charming Latin friend.”

Juan Garbonzo bowed gallantly and turned to the other sailors. “Do not worry, my compadres. I will return to set things right aboard this ship. You have my word. And you,” he said, turning to Mad Sally, “Have my undying devotion for the opportunity for escape, adventure, and the chance to return and free my comrades.”

“Bridget, you get back up on the poop and keep your eye out. I’ll be right there.”

“You’re not coming with us, Sally?”

“I can’t leave the girls. If you really care for me, go find help and come back for us. The ship is stopping at the Canaries, then going on to the Sierra Leone. I don’t know what happens next.”

“Senorita, we will return for you though all the navies of the world stood in our way, and we will rescue you from this plight,” Garbonzo said, leaning over her hand again.

“Enough of the knuckle slobbering, my friend,” Chumbucket said. “Let’s go.”

With Sally leading the way, Chumbucket and Garbonzo silently filed up the stairs and began making their way to the back of the ship, where the longboat and freedom awaited.

Saturday, January 22, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 12

“You bastard!” Slappy declared, splashing his glass of port into the Russian tapestry, “You’re lucky the bar is between us, or you know I’d kill you!”

It was true, Lord Sir Admiral Percival had, in fact, positioned himself behind his lovely, fully stocked bar – the finest at sea – before confessing his own indiscretions with Lady Fanny; knowing full well that Slappy’s respect for the sanctity of liquor would prevent any violent outburst.

“Now look here, little brother,” Tharp used a tone of voice, simultaneously defensive and aggressive, “staining that tapestry was just gratuitous target practice on your part. Besides, there isn’t an officer in the fleet that little trollop hasn’t boarded on more than one occasion.”

Slappy approached the bar. “Take that back.” His tone was low and menacing. “Never.” His elder brother matched him tone for tone and continued. “Her proclivities are well known and have been parlayed into a large fortune as well as friends in high places. From princes to pirates she’s had them all and the one thing they’ve – we’ve had in common is that at some point we’ve been useful to her.”

“But” Slappy protested, “she told me that I was special.” Tharp joined him on the word, “special.” Slappy winced at him but continued bravely. “She said I was her – (again, he was joined in unison by the Admiral) – Lubba Lubba Lubba Muffin.” “Stop that!” Slappy demanded. Tharp only smiled sympathetically as his half-brother continued. “She said to me that I was her …” Tharp joined in word for word in perfect cadence, “… guiding Northern Star, the sole comfort to a lost soul adrift in a lonely sea, trying to find the way home.”

“Dammit!” Slappy tried to toss the contents of his wine glass at a collection of antique books – fortunately for bibliophiles everywhere, he was out of ammunition.

“Alright. She’s a trollop. Ol’ Chumbucket was right all along.” Suddenly Slappy stopped short, slammed his fist on the bar and declared, “De Faecaliën van de hond!” took a bottle of ancient single malt scotch and shoved it into his haversack as he made toward the door. He looked like a man on a mission. “Where are you going?” the Admiral inquired.

“I’ve got a friend to rescue and I have wasted too much time already.” As Slappy opened the door four well-armed marines blocked his way.

“She isn’t worth it.” Lord Sir Admiral Percy contended.

“Oh, I know.” Slappy said, “But it’s not her I’m coming for – it’s me ol’ pal Chumbucket.”

“The Marquis?” Tharp asked.

Slappy looked momentarily confused, then, something returned to his memory and he smiled, “Aye, - the Marquis.”

“This really is a job for a professional navy, not a rag-tag collection of Dutch fishermen.” Tharp smiled at his own warning – as he waved off the guard.

“Aye,” Slappy nodded in agreement, “but we’re bad-ass fishermen.” With that, he marched out.


“Darling, you’re going to wake the children and they’ll be spitting mad!” Chumbucket looked over his shoulder at the puppy pile of Spanish sailors if full snore.

“Shut it!” Sally demanded. “Do you think this is funny? Do you think this is a game?”

“I can think of a game I would like to play with you – let’s call it, ‘Angry Headmistress and Truant Schoolboy.’ It starts with you letting me out of this cage. And then you’re very cross with me so …” Chumbucket was starting to really get into describing the game when she cut him off with a sharp punch to the face.

“I said, ‘Shut it!’” He staggered backward, stunned. He rubbed his jaw line, looking for a fracture. “Oh, baby – her tone shifted immediately to a very tender, loving lullaby, “did I hurt you, baby?”

“Aye, you did. A wee bit, but I’ll live.” Chumbucket replied.

“Damn and Blast!” the rage in her voice woke the other men who scrambled to the corner with variations on the theme, “No! Senora Sally Loco! Ella nos matará y comerá nuestros testículos.”

“No, my brothers – she will not make a snack of your dangly orbs of joy.” The voice of Juan Garbonzo came from the dark corner of the cell. “For she is in love with the Markee of Sauce Pans. Only a woman in great love will give so savage a beating to a man who wants to play ‘Angry Headmistress and Truant Schoolboy’ with her. Why else would she be here? Why else would she struggle so much with her emotions so nilly wooly?”

“Nilly Wooly?” Sally’s face was contorted with confusion. “Who the hell are you?” Her tone was less of disgust than curious attraction.

“Juan Francisco Gustavo Garbonzo at your service, my lady.” She reached her hand through the bars and he kissed it gently as he bowed.

Sally turned her attention back to Ol’ Chumbucket who, by now, was getting a little tired of the “Romantic Latin” thing. “I am letting you all out – there is a small dinghy off the stern with enough food and water in it for two days. And I am only doing this because Juan Francisco Gustavo Garbonzo knows how to talk to a woman." She shot a death glance at Chumbucket who simply rolled his eyes and shook his head.

“Now,” she said as she began unlocking the cage, “you must …” she was interrupted by the sound of footsteps coming toward them in the darkness. She quickly ducked behind some crates.

The approaching figure was holding a candle but a hood masked any identity until proximity made it clear to Chumbucket’s surprise who was standing before them.

Friday, January 21, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 11

Slappy’s voice all but dripped honey as he said innocently, “Ship? You want me to say The Festering Boil was trying to lure another ship? Why, that would be the same as confessing to piracy in court, which would be a pretty stupid thing for me to do in an admiral’s office with his pretty pictures on the wall and all.”

“Look old fellow, I’ve been sent out here to put a stop to this piracy,” Tharp said. “But you know I couldn’t bring you before the dock.”

“Not with what I know about a certain parlour maid and a young ensign who grew up to be a famous admiral. I understand my nephew is quite the spitten image of you now and has even joined the Royal Navy. Like father, like son?.”

Tharp turned red and a vein began to throb prominently on his forehead. Slappy stared at it with fascination. Was it actually going to burst? No, apparently not. With a visible effort the admiral regained his composure. His lips pressed thinly together, he hissed, “The other ship. Who was it?”

“And why should I tell you, admiral?”

“Because,” Tharp said, “I may not be willing to arrest you and make you stand trial for your life, it would kill our sainted mother, but that doesn’t mean I am powerless against you. I have a job to do out here. You will help me do it. OR,” he said, his voice rising over Slappy’s protest, "I will have my marines remove your crew from your ship and let my gunners use it for target practice.”

Slappy’s eyes narrowed, but his voice never rose. “You were a pushy kid and now you’re a pushy admiral.”

“Power has its uses,” the admiral admitted.

“This really doesn’t concern you. It’s something quite personal. In fact, I suspect you don’t want to know what’s going on.”

“You always say that when in truth it’s you that doesn’t want me knowing what’s going on.”

“Are you sure you want me to tell you?” Slappy asked.

“Yes, of course I want to know. I need to know to do my job properly.”

"You’re not going to like it,” Slappy said.

“The boat,” Tharp said.

“Are you sure?”

“Dammit Mort, what was that ship you were trying to lure in?” the admiral roared.

“Very well, if you must know, that ship is captained by none other than our cousin, Slappista,” Slappy said, noting his brother’s widening eyes. “And he’s made off with Lady Fanny.”

Tharp’s complexion went ashy. He mouthed the word “Fanny?” and sank to the desk, his head in his hands, sobbing.

“I told you you wouldn’t like it,” Slappy said with a gentle smile.

Things aboard the Spanish pirate’s vessel were quiet, but it wasn’t a peaceful or comfortable silence. It was the silence of 21 men trying to sleep on the filthy floor of a ship’s brig designed for, at most, a half dozen. Ol’ Chumbucket had slept in some crowded conditions before, but never anything quite like this.

He and his fellow prisoners had been awake far into the night trading information about their circumstances, starting with a rather involved explanation of Chumbucket’s name.

“So you see, I wasn’t exactly lying when I said I was the marquis. I did use that name briefly, back during the time after I was thrown out of the seminary and before I was elected to Parliament. During my banking career, it was helpful to have people think I was a French aristocrat. I don’t think the real Marquis d’Saucypants ever found out. If he did, I never heard him complain. So do you understand?”

Juan Garbonzo, the erstwhile first mate of the Seeping Head Wound, pondered for a long moment, trying to follow the explanation. Finally, he shrugged and said, “I don’t understand and I no longer care. We have a saying in my country, ‘Cuando el agua está sobre la presa, la trucha ninguna nadada más larga.’ When the water is over the dam, the trout no longer swim.”

“How true that is, my Iberian friend, how true that is. But what of you? How did you and your friends come to be in this pass?

“It was that infernal Fanny’s fault! ¡Ella es un diablo entre mujeres!”

“Si,” Chumbucket agreed, “A very devil.”

“Slappista told us we would take the women and sell them in the markets of Zanzibar. But when they came aboard, it was not like he said. The young maidens, with their sticks for the field hockey, quickly took possession of the ship, and Slappista let them! I think that Donna Fanny has some kind of spell on him, for he does her every bidding. These fellows here with me were among the crewmembers who protested. Some were hit on the head and thrown overboard to the sharks. They were the lucky ones, I think. The rest of the men serve alongside the senoritas, under the watchful eye of Lady Fanny.”

“What about Mad Sally?” Chumbucket said. “Did she take part in all this?”

“Si, she is Fanny’s right hand, but I cannot say if her heart is in it.”

Thinking back over the conversation, Chumbucket found himself worrying that that he hadn’t seen Sally in his brief time on deck.

The long night dragged on, but sleep wouldn’t come. Not with one sailor’s toe in Chumbucket’s ear, another laying spread-eagled across his leg, and two or three snoring so loudly in the tiny cell that Chumbucket half expected to see the walls pulsing in and out with their breathing. Except they weren’t snoring in rhythm of course. No, that would make it barely possible to fall asleep. The snorers staggered their efforts, making it impossible for Chumbucket, despite his weariness and potentially fatal concussion, to drift off.

Which is how, in the early grey hours of the morning, his ears were able to detect the sound of someone stealthily approaching the crowded pen. He waited, ears straining, and soon was rewarded with the sound of a very soft voice whispering his name, a voice he was sure he knew.

“Sally, is that you?” he breathed back, his pulse quickening.

“Chumbucket?” she said. “Ol’ Chumbucket?”

“Ah, Sally me love! It’s so good to hear your voice.”

“You bastard!” she said quietly but firmly. “You’re lucky there are bars between us, or you know I’d kill you.”

Thursday, January 20, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 10

“At the moment, I’m just wiping seagull poo off my Italian boots.” Lady Fanny dragged her boot down the back of Ol’ Chumbucket’s ornate purple coat. “Wonderful!” She remarked as she stepped away from the still-prone captive, “There are so few ‘Firsts’ in my life anymore and this is the first time I’ve used a ‘Marquis’ as an actual doormat.”

Chumbucket lifted himself from the deck and brushed off the wrinkles on the front of his resplendent costume (there was nothing he could do about the seagull poo – there never is) and with a dignified defiance, looked coolly at Lady Fanny as she hung on Capitan Slappista’s arm, “Is your Ladyship sure about that? It seems a woman with so many doormats must be able to find at least a couple of Marquises in one of her many doorways somewhere.”

Slappista nodded to the field hockey stick wielding pirate and when Chumbucket came to, he was back in the cell with Juan Garbonzo and the others.

“Well, my friend,” Juan began, “this is a fine collection of apples for you to enjoy, is it not?” Chumbucket rubbed the back of his head which now sported two large lumps. “Apples? What?” he muttered his disorientation. One of the other sailors, looking closely at the head bumps exclaimed, “Diablo!” Juan calmed his Spanish comrades by assuring them that Satan was not, in fact, in their very presence – just a poor unfortunate sailor, like themselves, who had fallen afoul of the evil machinations of Lady Fanny.

“Slappy’s not gonna like that his girlfriend has taken up with his evil Spanish cousin.” Chumbucket muttered to himself. He had marveled at Slappy’s continued devotion to a woman who clearly used him, and every other male, to enrich her wealth and status. Perhaps she was just trying to ease the boredom of her patrician lifestyle. She used men like some women used excuses not to have sex with Cap’n Slappy – liberally and with slight regard. Even Slappy knew that his affections were poorly placed, but he had always been fatalistic about romance. “Villainous women shall be the ruin of me, my friend.” Slappy had said often to Ol’ Chumbucket just before falling asleep in a pool of his own “ick.”

“Aye, sir, that they will.” He muttered softly to himself as his hands gripped the bars of the cell. As he regained his bearings, he turned to Juan for answers to important questions. “Listen Pedro, is there another woman aboard – a dangerously attractive woman with flaming red hair, large heaving breasts and full, pouty lips?”

“Who is Pedro?” Juan asked.

Chumbucket replied quickly, “You, whatever your name is – is there”

“My name, is not Pedro.” Juan said matter-of-factly.

“Right,” Chumbucket pressed on “What’s your name?”

“Well, it’s not Pedro – if that’s what you think.”

“I didn’t think it was Pedro – I just used that because I didn’t know your name.”

“You never asked my name, did you?” Juan seemed genuinely hurt.

“Yes, I did, I just asked you what your name was.” Chumbucket was growing impatient.

“Not before you started calling me ‘Pedro’ all ‘nilly-woolly.”

“Nilly-woolly?!? What kind of - !” Chumbucket stopped himself and took a deep cleansing breath. “Quite right. I do apologize for impolitely calling you ‘Pedro’ when that is clearly not your name. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Ol’ Chumbucket. What, my good friend, is your name?”

Juan took a deep breath of his own and paused. “We’re not such good friends after all. We only met today – and you told me the fibber!”

“What ‘fibber?’” Chumbucket inquired with as much patience as he could muster.

“The fibber about you being the ‘Markee of Sauce Pans.’ Do you make the friends with the people by lying into their faces like so much spittle from a burro with bad breath?” With that, the other men who stood behind Juan spat on the deck simultaneously. “See?” Juan continued his chiding as he gestured toward his friends. “You make the hombres spit-as-one with disgust at your lying fibbery chains of deceits!”

Chumbucket winced as another volley of group projectile phlegm splattered violently and randomly on the deck at their feet. “Stop that! We’ll have to sleep here!” Chumbucket protested, but quickly took a conciliatory tone. “Look, we seem to have gotten off on the wrong foot …” And with that, the men all spit simultaneously on his left boot. “ENOUGH! I’m trying to say I’m sorry! Do you have something against someone saying they’re sorry?!”

The men hocked up – readying themselves for another shower of saliva – when Juan Garbonzo held up his right hand. “No spit.” The men obeyed. Juan waited silently for a moment and thought.“Now, swallow.” Again, the men followed their leader’s command.

“Ewww!” Chumbucket caught his initial disgust – held it – and swallowed it like so much nose-goo. Then he continued. “My name, my real name – or at least the name my friends use – is Ol’ Chumbucket. What’s yours?”

“I am Juan Francisco Gustavo Garbonzo, formerly the first mate of La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza and not a man to be trifled with – I’ll have you know. I was relieved of my position and placed in this cell with these fine, albeit spit-filled, men when that Mujer Malvada – that Lady Fanny Woman took control of Capitan Slapista’s mind and wanted him to sell the young ladies into slavery in Zanzibar.”

“Yes,” said Chumbucket, “I can see her doing that. Now if you don’t mind, I was wondering if you know the whereabouts of the woman I was describing earlier – dangerous beauty, flaming red hair, heaving breasts, full pouty lips…”

“You mean Sally Loco.” Juan said – knowing exactly whom he meant.

“Si.” Chumbucket’s heart was racing with excitement. “Mad Sally.”

Meanwhile, in the Admiral’s quarters of the H.M.S. Susan’s Doily …

“It’s my ship, Mortimer, the question is, ‘What in blazes are YOU doing here?’” Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorpe Mandrake Tharp had difficulty hiding his annoyance with his half-brother.

“It appears I’m drinking all of your good port your Lordship. Besides, I wouldn’t be here were it not for the friendly marine escort you provided.” Slappy continued, “And don’t call me ‘Mortimer,’ Lord Sir Admiral if you please. I consider it my ‘Slave Name.’”

“It’s the name our father gave you!” Lord Sir Admiral Percival Tharp bellowed.

Slappy shot to his feet spilling the glass of port onto the Admiral’s priceless Louis the Sixteenth gold inlay upholstered armchair, “YOUR FATHER! NOT MINE! I’m the bastard son! The product of an affair our mother had with a devilishly handsome genius Irish landscape architect and poet!”

“He was a second assistant gardener, Morty – and he was only half Irish and the only so-called ‘poetry’ of his with which I am aware begins, ‘There once was a lady from Cork…’”

Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorpe Mandrake Tharp’s condescending tone made Slappy’s blood run cold. But he calmed himself and re-poured himself a glass of port. “What is it you want with me, Tharpy?” The familiarity of the nickname made the Admiral cringe, but he HAD started it with “Mortimer” and upped the ante with “Morty.”

“I don’t want anything with you! The lads saw a ship on the horizon and set sail for it. When we arrived we found naught but some Dutch fishermen whose idea of speaking Dutch is to say, ‘Yaagen Hoogen’ over and over. Honest to God, man, you have the worst pirates in the world!”

“’Yaagen Hoogen’ is low Dutch for, ‘How much is that slab of pork shoulder, my good man?’” Slappy responded without blinking.

“No, it isn’t.” The Admiral was at his wits end. “What am I going to do with you, brother?” he asked, quite exasperated.

“Grant me your title and lands and recognize my royal claim to the Irish throne. That would be a good start.” Slappy was ready to negotiate. Lord Sir Percival took in a deep breath and stroked his clean-shaven chin. “For the first part, the answer, as ever, is ‘no.’ And as for your claim to be a direct descendent of the High Irish King Brian Boru …”

Slappy cut in – “I am. I have his eyes.”

“Then you should give them back.” Lord Sir Admiral Percy said without missing a beat and waited for some appreciation of his wit.

No appreciation was forthcoming. Slappy waited for an explanation as to why he was here.

“Well, this is awkward,” he continued, “my men saw a ship festooned in garlands of taffeta and silk and simply assumed – well … you know.”

“What do I know?” Slappy now felt he had the upper hand.

The Admiral pressed on as best he could, “Oh, come now, Mortimer, you know very well they thought it was a – ship of … ill fame. They could even see a conga line with a big beautiful woman – graceful as a bird, leading the festivities.”

Slappy shot to his feet again – again spilling the remnants of his second glass of port onto the Admiral’s hand-woven antique Oriental rug depicting the famous battle of Ping Tu. “The Festering Boil is nobody’s ‘Bouncy-Bouncy-Boat!’”

“Well it looked like one!” Lord Sir Admiral Percy’s temper was beginning to flare.

“Because we were following the directions in your het uitvoeren van een geslachtshandeling op een geit book!” Slappy yelled loud enough to bring four marines, with bayonets fixed, into the Admiral’s quarters. Without paying the armed men heed, Slappy reached into his haversack as the soldiers cocked the hammers on their muskets, and pulled out the life-ring-shaped book and tossed it to his half brother across the cabin.

“Stand down, gentlemen.” Lord Sir Admiral Percy said calmly and then gestured for them to leave with a wave of his hand. “It’s perfectly alright, men. In a moment, I will ask you to return Captain – ‘Slappy’ was it? (Slappy nodded) – to his Dutch fishing vessel, but I would like one or two more moments in private with him.”

The soldiers filed out of the room.
“I want my money back for that blasted book!” Slappy demanded.

Lord Sir Admiral Percy pinched his fingers together in the air and made a short sharp buzzing sound signalling his younger brother to stop talking.

“You were implementing plan 27. The ship you were trying to lure in turned and ran as we approached.”

He walked over to Slappy and in a deep, quiet tone of voice that demanded an answer asked, “Who were they and what do you want with them?”

Slappy poured himself another glass of port, took notice of a gorgeous Russian tapestry hanging on the wall nearby and sat back down.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005


A Pirates Tale - 9

Juan Garbonzo tensed, waiting for the knife thrust that never came. Slowly, Chumbucket relaxed slightly.

“Senor, I was just trying to see if you were alive. You’ve been lying on the floor there for hours,” Garbonzo stammered.

Chumbucket released the frightened sailor, who slumped gratefully to the floor. Gingerly he felt the back of his head, where a lump the shape and approximate size of Portugal throbbed dully. He wasn’t sure what had hit him, but he could guess. In any case, it hadn’t been part of the plan. His gaudy pimp suit, designed to attract the attention and lull the suspicion of the Spanish sailors, was slightly torn and disheveled but just as garishly purple as ever. His gold chains, he noticed ruefully, were missing.

Satisfied that he would live, although not certain he wanted to, he examined his surroundings. The dim light that filtered in from above revealed a spare, filthy room divided by bars. The motion of the flooring below him told him he was aboard a ship, and he had a pretty fair idea which one.

“So I’m your prisoner, is that it?” he asked the Spaniard.

“¿My prisoner?” the man asked with a bitter laugh. “Senor, perhaps you did not notice, but we are on the same side of the bars as you. ¡Madre del queso! ¡We have been in this filthy hole for days!”

Chumbucket noticed several other swarthy men in the hold with them. The room, or cell if that’s what it was, was actually quite crowded. Realizing that discretion might be the better part of valor, he withdrew the knife and nonchalantly slipped it back into his boot. Forcing a smile, he held out his hand and helped the man back to his feet.

“I assume that I’m aboard The Seeping Head Wound, or as you call it, La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza. There seems to be an awful lot of you down here,” Chumbucket said.

“Si, there are veinte compadres down here, locked up by … “ Suddenly Garbonzo stiffened. A scraping sound reverberated through the cell as the hatch above was pulled open and footsteps began descending towards them.

“Listen, Senor Markis Pheeleeps or whatever your name is,” Garbonza hissed into Ol’ Chumbucket’s ear. “I think they take you upstairs for judgment now. Do not make them angry, for they have punishments you have never dreamed of.

The newly arrived sailors opened the cell and stepped back.

“You, Chumbucket, get out here and on deck. The captain wants a word with you.”

Chumbucket spun around, shocked to hear his real name. Unfortunately, his injured head continued to spin and the dimly lit room swam before his eyes so that he could not make out his captors.

“Chumbucket? No, I am Le Marquise Phillipe’ D’Saucipants. As a French person I am allied with your country of Spain, and a fellow papist as yourself. I insist you take me to your capitan at once.”

The guards gave a low chuckle. “Don’t worry, you’ll see the captain soon enough,” the lead one said. The hands that pulled him roughly from the cell were surprisingly strong considering the sailors were not terribly large figures. There wasn’t a Cementhands in the bunch, but in his weakened condition the prisoner was unable to resist.

Garbonzo’s eyes grew wide. “¿Shumbucket?” he hissed. “¿Then you are the man known as Viejo Cubo de Intestinos de los Pescados?”

“A mix up, I am sure,” Chumbucket said.

“No talking,” one of the guards said, rapping Garbonzo smartly on the head with a strange cudgel. He slumped to the floor, but managed to fight his way back to his knees as Chumbucket was dragged up the stairs.

“¡Shumbucket!” the first mate laughed. “¡Goce de los palillos del hockey del campo!”

Drat those Spaniards and their inability to speak the King’s English, Chumbucket thought. That sounded like it might have been important. He was practically dragged up the stairs, through a passageway and out into the sunlight. He had just a moment to blink, catching the ring of frenzied faces that fenced him in before being cast face first to the deck.

“Mind the head!” he shouted crossly, attempting to rise. “I’ve already been beaten quite sufficiently, thank you.”

A boot stepped between his shoulder blades forcing him roughly back down. Shrieks and hoots filled the air. Suddenly, the cries were cut off. As frightening as the shrill chorus had been, the new silence was even more ominous. Footsteps approached the prone prisoner. They circled him, ending at his head.

“Well, well, well. Ol’ Chumbucket,” a soft, feminine voice said. “Fancy meeting you here. Love the suit. They tell me you’re French now. And how are things aboard the Festering Boil?”

“Things,” if the truth were known, were not at all well aboard Cap’n Slappy’s ship. In fact, “things” were a mess, and no mistake. The web of fabrics that had left her dead in the water had almost been cleared, and the spontaneous dance and pity party that had broken out on deck had been quelled at last through the efforts of Lieutenant Keeling and an extra dose of saltpeter for everyone aboard. But the crew remained sullen and its attitude was not improved by its growing hunger. Slappy, laboring under the mistaken belief that Chumbucket was the ship’s cook, had ordered the galley closed, even though Black Butch the Dutchman, formerly head chef at a five-star hotel in Kingston, had been in the midst of whipping up a soufflé that was to die for. Even worse, the Spanish ship had fled into the night and no one could even guess which direction it had gone.

Now, a new ship had been spotted, and was drawing alongside. And not just any ship. This was a 300-ton English man o’war, it’s gun deck bristling with cannon and its forecastle and rigging lined with red-coated Royal Marines, each training his firearm on the crew of the Festering Boil, who were becoming positively sulky.

“Things” sucked.

Slappy turned to First Mate George the Greek and opened his mouth.

“Bbrrrraawwppp!” he belched. “That was a good one! Sorry about the smell. I found some day-old chili in me cabin. Have to keep my strength up, whether Chumbucket is here to cook for us or not.”

“Aye sir, that was a good’un,” George agreed. “But Chumbucket’s not the cook. If ye’ll recall, we have a perfectly good cook who’d be delighted to cook for us right now if you’d let him.”

“Not in Chumbucket’s galley!” Slappy roared. George sighed and gave it up.

“Right now we have more pressing problems sir. If I might ask, what are we planning to do about the Royal Navy here? Looks like they’re sending a boatload of soldiers over.”

“Did we strike the Jolly Roger,” Slappy asked, glancing up into the rigging.

“Aye, first thing when we spotted ‘em. But they’ve gotta suspect who we are, or at least what we are.”

“Remind the crew, when these guys come aboard, we’re a Danish fishing boat that’s lost our compass and are just looking for herring. Oh, and hide the compass,” Slappy ordered. “And find the Danish flag. I know we’ve got one around here someplace. And get someone acting like he’s mending a net or something fisherly like. And have everyone speak Danish!"

“Aye aye sir,” George said, and went forward to pass the word.

Slappy watched with foreboding as the longboat came alongside and the company of marines came aboard. Papers were passed. Papers were read. Presently George the Greek returned to the bridge where Slappy waited nervously and Lieutenant Keeling leaned on the rail, watching the smartly turned-out squad with a look of pure envy.

“The ship over there is the H.M.S. Susan’s Doily. They’re leaving a squad of soldiers here, and you’re ordered to head back over there and meet with their captain,” George reported.

“Well, I’d be happy to,” Slappy replied. “Unless there’s been a recent change in commands, Susan’s Doily is commanded by none other than Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorpe Mandrake Tharp, author of the book from which we took that stupid Plan 27.”

“What an unbelievable coincidence!” Keeling marveled.

“Yes, isn’t it just,” George agreed dryly.

“Coincidence or not, I want to go over there and demand my money back for that stupid book,” Slappy said.

Some minutes later Slappy was aboard the longboat heading back over to the British warship. With grim resolve he climbed to the deck, then strode back under escort to the cabin of the famed admiral. The escort knocked, and a voice called “Enter.” Hearing the voice, Slappy permitted himself a smile.

“That will be all,” the carefully starched and coiffed admiral said. “You may leave us.”

As the door closed, Slappy, with insolent ease, threw himself into a chair.

“Hello admiral,” he said pleasantly. “How’s mom?”

The officer’s ramrod straight back managed to stiffen even more.

“You leave our mother out of this!” he snapped.

They couldn’t know it, but separated by hundreds of miles of ocean, both Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket chose that very instant to both say the exact same words to their interlocutors:

“What are YOU doing here?”

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