Monday, January 17, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 7

The officers of the Festering Boil bent over the recumbent form of the sleeping sailor and pondered.

“If I may sir,” the cabin boy ventured. “By all means,” Cap’n Slappy replied.

Spencer dropped the tray of empty glasses he was carrying and they fell to the floor with a crash. Cementhands didn’t stir.

“Something more vigorous, I think,” George the Greek said, grabbing a mop bucket and hurling its contents - mop and all - at McCormack. It doused him thoroughly, and the bucket clanked hollowly off his impressively large skull, but Cementhands merely rolled over with that smile that indicated he’s gotten to the good part of the dream.

“Perhaps if we set fire to his trousers?” Dogwatch Watts suggested. “Not on a wooden sailing ship, if you don’t mind,’ Slappy replied, quashing the idea. An uneasy moment passed.

The ship’s doctor broke the silence. “Amateurs,” Sawbones muttered. He knelt down beside McCormack and whispered briefly in the sailor’s ear. McCormack snorted, batted his eyes, shook his head and leaped up, running from the room with a cry of “Hot diggety!”

The group stared in awe, then turned to Burgess. “What did you say to him,” Slappy finally asked.

“Dinner,” Burgess replied.

“Well, it certainly worked,” Chumbucket said. “There’s Tharp’s book, looking none the worse for wear, or at least not much. It’s still readable anyway.”

Ol’ Chumbucket picked up the book and handed it to Slappy.

“If memory serves, I think the plan you want will be found on page 27,” he said.

Slappy quickly turned to the page and began scanning the text and pictures, his lips moving as he did so. A smile split his face.

The next 24 hours passed in a haze of preparations as the crew readied the ship for Plan 27. The physical changes to the ship were accomplished overnight under cover of darkness. The physical changes to McCormack took the full day. But the effort was soon rewarded. Now, as dusk approached on the day after the strange vessel had been spotted on the horizon the two ships were almost within hailing range, and all was ready. In the golden light of sunset, as the last rays of Sol painted the sky for a final moment before plunging out of sight over the western rim of the world, Cementhands McCormack – the giant of a pirate whose fierceness in battle was a tale that made grown men quake with fear, whose very name was used to frighten children, whose portrait had been condemned by Pope Sixtus the Seventh and hidden in the depths of the Vatican as “a thing of the devil” – stood in the bow of the Festering Boil, a vision in pink taffeta, silk and organdy ruffles, a parasol clasped firmly in his massive paw, a sun bonnet covering the wisps of the blonde wig covering his head, his visage smeared with the latest goo from the makeup houses in Paris.

Actually, to men who’d been at sea for months, he didn’t look that bad.

The ship was similarly arrayed, with bolts of brightly colored cloth festooned in the rigging and other colorful embellishments added throughout. It had brought tears to Cap’n Slappy’s eyes, but Admiral Tharp’s Plan 27 was very specific. And Slappy was a man who stuck to the plan.

Sawbones Burgess leaned against the gunnels as he regarded the vision and asked Cap’n Slappy, “How’d you get him to put on the dress?”

“Told him it was the latest kilt fashion in the Highlands of Scotland,” Slappy said, laughing to himself.

“And where did you find it?”

“Had the sail makers whip it together out of all the finery we took from that French vessel.”

“Why is he swinging the parasol around like that,” Burgess continued.

“We had to tell him it was a weapon from the South Seas,” Slappy said.

“And the makeup?”

“War paint,” Slappy said, laughing out loud now. “Very subtle war paint.”

“Well, we should know pretty soon if this plan will work,” Burgess said. “Here they come.”

“It’ll be fine as long as everybody sticks to the plan,” Slappy said.

The terrible black ship rode the swells about a mile away now, and through the spyglass Slappy could see the crew making ready the longboat. Once again he looked back to the stern of the ship, and saw the name painted in blood red letters upon the transom – La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza. That was it all right. The ship they’d been chasing for days, the ship that he had chased in his dreams for years. The ship of his distant cousin, the evil, Don Juan Diego de la Mercada y Slappista Con Carne. He scanned the deck again, then snapped the glass closed, pinching his right hand.

“Ow! Damn! All hands! Prepare to implement Plan 27. This should work if everybody sticks to the plan! Chumbucket, are you ready?”

“Aye. that I be,” said Ol’ Chumbucket from amidships, where he was dressed in clothes that were, while not feminine, at least nearly as flamboyant as those worn by McCormack. The russet waistcoat and brown breeches he typically wore had been replaced by a suit of purple and gold so vibrantly colored as to hurt the eyes. He wore gold chains around the collar, which was open to his navel. He usual weather-worn tricorn had been replaced by a broad-brimmed hat of matching purple that kept slipping down over his eyes.

“Just you stay out of sight, cap’n,” Burgess reminded Slappy. “One glimpse of you and the jig will be up. That’ll be the end of Plan 27, and probably of us.”

Slappy crouched down behind the gunnels. “Here they come,” he said.

The longboat from the other ship pulled within range. Chumbucket leaned over the railing and called out, “¡Hola amigos! Soy un hombre que procura a mujeres para usted. Recepción a mi burdel flotante.”

There was no response from the small, wiry sailors aboard the longboat, who were shipping their oars as the boat drew near the Festering boil.

“Hola!” Chumbucket called again, as his hat fell once more into his eyes. Still there was no response.

“Something’s wrong,” Burgess said. “Most sailors would be clambering up the side of the ship by now. They don’t look at all right.”

Slappy raised up over the gunnels and drew out his spyglass. One glance told him there was a problem. At the same moment that he looked, two of the sailors in the boat below caught sight of him, and seemed to say something to their comrades. The oars came out and the boat began to turn.

“Quick!” Slappy shouted to his sailors crouched below the railing. He was about to command them to leap into action, but in slamming the spyglass closed he once again pinched the fingers of his right hand.

“Damn!” Slappy shouted, and hurled the malignant optical device. Unfortunately, he wasn’t careful where he threw it. It struck Ol’ Chumbucket in the back of the head, knocking him unconscious. Chumbucket fell over the railing, landing directly in the longboat. The sailors in the boat immediately began pulling on their oars.

“Bring us about!” Slappy ordered.

“I’m trying sir, but the rudder seems to be jammed by a bolt of silk!” George the Greek shouted from the wheel.

“Run up the sails! We’ve got to save Chumbucket!” Slappy shouted.

“We can’t sir, the lines are all fouled with taffeta!” Dogwatch called. “And there’s crinoline all over the bow, we’ll never get any speed up in these conditions.”

As the Festering Boil’s crew scurried to clear their ship of several hundred yards of fine French textiles, the longboat reached the other ship, where the crew was seen shaking out the sails and preparing to turn. In the last flickering rays of the setting sun they could see the other crew lifting Chumbucket’s still unconscious form to their deck as La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza turned nimbly and began to put distance between itself and the Festering Boil.

“Damn,” Cap’n Slappy said. “That wasn’t part of the plan.”

Night fell.

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