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.”

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