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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