Monday, February 28, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 43

** On the Festering Boil

“A toast! Cap’n Slappy called out. “Gentlemen, lift your glasses and salute Leftenant Keeling!”

Two dozen tankards of rum rose in the air as the bachelor party toasted the groom.

“Long may he wave!” Cementhands McCormack shouted.

“And to the bride!” Slappy said.

“And her cats!” Cementhands added.

“To the brave crew of the Festering Boil!”

“And to the horse we rode in on!” Cementhands added. “Long may we wave!”

•• On La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza

“LOOK OUT!” a voice screamed as the yard came crashing down on the Spanish pirate ship. The girl barely had time to throw up a hand in defense when it hit her, knocking her to the deck.

“Helen!” Mad Sally ran to the girl who lay prone. She checked her, relieved to see she was still conscious. The injury was obvious.

“Joyce! Help her down to the infirmary. Give her plenty of rum. I’ll be down in a minute to set that bone and splint it.”

“What happened here?” Fanny came over to where Sally was directing the girls to rehoist the fallen yard.

“The line came loose and it wasn’t properly rigged. Even if the line came free it shouldn’t have fallen like that.”

“Was it sabotage?” Fanny asked.

“No,” Sally said sadly. “I’m afraid it was Genevieve. She and Helen had just hoisted it and Genevieve clearly didn’t belay it properly. She’s just not a very competent sailor, I’m afraid.”

There was a long pause. Then Fanny snapped, “I want her clapped in irons for two days in the hold.”

“Irons, ma’am?”

“Irons,” Fanny said decisively, her face growing red. “She’s got to learn that just because she’s my ... that every girl on this ship has to pull her weight. Get her below. NOW!”

“Yes ma’am.” As Fanny turned away, Sally directed two girls to take the unfortunate Genevieve below, two girls she trusted implicitly. Genevieve. Good, thought Sally. That was three of the girls she thought were siding with Fanny – Genevieve in irons, Helen with a broken arm, and Patricia laid up after “accidentally” eating bad oysters yesterday.

Sally did the math. Things were working out well.

** On the Festering Boil

“She’ll be the perfect pirate wife,” Keeling was explaining, “Because she’s a pirate, and she’ll be my wife! Get it?”

“Your logic is impaclabel ... imkerpbubble .., i, ... You’re right of course,” Chumbucket agreed, then raised his tankard. “To logic!”

He drank. Keeling never drank alcohol and instead was sipping water with a splash of lime – to ward of scurvy – but he seemed to be getting something of a contact high, because as he drained his mug he teetered in a way that had nothing to do with the ship’s movement.

“Shteady old man,” Chumbucket slurred, but it was too late. The ship rolled and Keeling didn’t roll with it. Instead he went crashing down, and lay on the floor giggling.

“What happened to the senor bridegroom?” Juan asked from the table, which he was laying on.

“Can’t hold his water, apparently,” said Chumbucket, peering down at the ship’s disciplinarian. “Speaking of holding water, I’d better go find the rail of the ship, because I’d better go find it because I’d better ...” he shook his head in confusion, then staggered off to relieve himself over the side.

** On Madagascar

“So what are you doing here, Mandrake?” Jezebel asked as they finished their meal and signaled the waiter for more coffee.

“Well, I am once again England’s delegate to the Annual Piracy Prevention Symposium,” Tharp started, but Jezebel cut him off with a laugh.

“That again? Oh, be serious Mandrake. England has been sponsoring that for most of the century. There’s always big plans, always rumors about who will be there and who will side with whom, and no nation has ever sent a delegate except England.”

“That’s not true,” Tharp countered sharply. “There was another delegate there 13 years ago. I remember well because it was my second conference as chair.”

“Yes, as I recall Switzerland sent someone that year, but their delegate left after two days when he suddenly remembered his country is landlocked. And why does no one attend?”

Tharp tried to interject, but Jezebel was using her “I’m right and you’re a prat” tone, and there was no stopping her.

“I can think of two reasons,” she continued. “One might be that all of the nations typically invited to this confab are typically at war with one another. Another might be that, during these interminable wars you all keep waging against each other, you use piracy as another tool of statecraft. No, the world won’t be ready to get serious about piracy until the nation-state has developed a little better, and after a couple of cataclysmic wars push you closer to the brink of extinction and thus closer to something like international amity. But, there I go ago, making predictions about things that I already know, which hardly seems fair.”

“I know why they hold it,” Liz offered, somewhat to Tharp’s surprise since she had barely spoken until now.

“Why would that be?” Tharp asked.

“Pirates are cool,” Liz said. “No, really, I’m serious,” she added in response to the look that crossed the admiral’s face. “I don’t mean that the robbing or pillaging or plundering are good things, but in the face of rising imperialism and the growing forces of capitalism reshaping the economic face of Europe, the classic pirate represents an inevitable proletarian reaction. You might say they are the first stirrings of the common man uniting against the aristocracy.”

“Pardon her,” Jezebel cut in. “She defended her thesis just six months ago and glib ideas are still rolling around in her head like so much ticker tape in Times Square – sorry, like so many rats in the bilge of a Spanish galleon. But speaking of Spanish galleons, I think I can guess another reason you might be here for this non-existent conference.”

Tharp was sharply reminded that whenever he spent more than an hour in Jezebel’s company, he inevitably ended up with a headache.

“Whatever do you mean by that,” he said, pulling himself together.

“Just that every time the symposium is convened with Admiral Tharp as the chair, there follows a short time later some incident in which you figure prominently and which advances England’s cause and your career.”

“But ...” Tharp blurted.

“Let’s see. Last year, the ‘conference’ was in Kingston, and you apprehended the Italian consul in the Barbados Affair. The year before that, you met in Copenhagen, and two days later you rounded up the Dutch fleet before they could go over to the Spanish. That got you your knighthood, as I recall.”

Tharp was flustered. “I’d thank you kindly to stop speculating so openly in such a public place. Especially since your speculation so often proves to be correct.”

“All I’m saying Mandrake my peach is that if one didn’t know your natural predeliction for openess and your total lack of guile, one would suspect you of being more than a naval officer but a special agent for the British crown.”

** Aboard the Festering Boil

Cementhands McCormack sat on the floor trying to remember a song. Not a particular song – just any song – but nothing came. Finally he gave up and started making one up.

“Oooooooooo, Jamaica,” he sang.

“What was that?” Dogwatch asked from under the table.

“I said, ‘Ooooooooo, Jamaica’ ” McCormack sang again.

“What about Jamaica?”

“It’s a song I’m writing. Listen.” McCormack paused, then enthusiastically started singing again – if singing was the right word for what he was doing. “Ooooooooooo, Jamaica! It’s so beautiful ... I’ve never been there ... I’d like to go there.”

“You’ve been there a dozen times that I know of,” Dogwatch protested.

“It’s a song. I can’t write a song that says ‘Oooooooo, Jamaica! I’ve been there 18 times. I want to go there.’ That would be stupid.”

“Maybe you’re right. Start over, I’ll be the backup singer.”

The two struggled to their feet, but by the time they got there neither could remember what they were standing for. So McCormack threw his arm around Dogwatch’s shoulder and led him off to the rum.

** On La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza

Sally finished setting Helen’s arm – a difficult business and Sally had to admit she hadn’t been as gentle as she could have been. The girl was a bossy, snobby tattletale and Sally may have let her treatment reflect her feelings.

As she left the infirmary she saw Bastiaan in the passageway. The pirate made room for Sally to walk by. He had been nothing but courteous since the incident in the bilge. Now he turned to her as passed and spoke.

“Two more off duty?”

Sally was caught off guard, as if Bastiaan had read her thoughts. But no, he was just commenting on the shortage of hands. They’d started with 48 girls, a small enough number especially considering how little experience they’d had. Now they were dropping like flies.

“Yes. I’m going to have to rearrange the watch schedule and we’re getting awfully thin. Helen was supposed to take the middle watch with me tonight.”

“Don’t bother. I’ll be happy to take her watch for her,” Bastiaan offered. He gave Sally a long, deep look.

“Why, sure, that would be fine. It solves a problem, anyway.”

“Until tonight then,” he said, and she hurried off.

Bastiaan? That could be interesting.

** On Madagascar

“JEZEBEL!” Tharp shouted. He instantly realized his shout had drawn attention from surrounding tables, and sat back down quickly as his voice dropped to a hoarse whisper.

“Please stop talking about these things so openly. I am here for the conference. Period. There will be lots of people there. The queen of Sweden, for one, is reportedly due to arrive tomorrow.”

“The queen of Sweden is in Sweden,” Jezebel said, smiling, “It’s not her itinerary I wanted to discuss. It’s yours.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Of course not. I just wanted to give you a message.” She waited, and his silence indicated she should proceed.

“You may want to check where you are.” “Tharp looked puzzled, so Jezebel continued. “You might want to head back to your flagship and get under way.” Tharp’s bewildered expression didn’t clear, so Jezebel opted for complete clarity.

“The action will be on the other side of the island, and you don’t have much time to get in the right place.”

** On the Festering Boil

Cap’n Slappy awoke with the sound of snoring in his ears and a headache big enough to kill lesser men. He looked around. He was in his cabin, and he saw golden hair on the pillow to his right, and a pair of feet on the pillow to his left.

“That’s interesting,” Slappy thought. “Did I do something I’ll be boasting about later?” He cast his mind back, but couldn’t remember anything after the 14th toast. He gave the feet an exploratory tickle. The snort that came from the foot of the bed caused him to leap up in alarm. The owner of the golden-haired head and the owner of the feet reacted with equal consternation as all three leaped from the bed with yelps.

Cap’n Slappy, Sir Nigel and Sawbones Burgess eyed each other nervously.

“Boy, I must have been tired,” Burgess said. “Slept like a rock!”

“Me too,” agreed Nigel. “Don’t even remember falling asleep.”

“Does anyone remember anything?” Slappy asked.

Both men shook their heads vigorously.

“We will never speak of this again,” Slappy said.

Saturday, February 26, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 42

Evening had settled on the little port city of Toamasina on the Western Madagascar coastline where Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorp Mandrake Tharp was settling down at his favorite pub, The Rolicking Redhead for a meal of Oeuffs al a Prawn. He was there as the British delegate to the Sixty-fourth Annual Piracy Prevention Symposium, but he had arrived a few days before most of the other delegates because he wanted to get a room at the Excelsior Hotel – where he had heard Princess Matilda of Sweden would be staying. He wanted to get to her before the Australian delegate; the ever-charming Ambassador Bruce Lyttle of Australia could sweep her away with his expert waltzing skills. As he stared into the candle at his table, he saw a vision of the previous year, when Lyttle, who was born the son of a Tasmanian sheep farmer and whose pedigree included a thuggish crime family that had been shipped whole, grandmother included, to Australia from England seventy-five years earlier, danced circles around him with the gleeful princess nearly floating in his arms.

“Taking a little memory trip into Rage Ravine, are we, Tharpy?” The voice broke him out of his trance, but in no way reduced his anger.

“Jezebel.” He spoke without looking up from the candle for a moment. Then as he cast his eyes upward he noticed her standing there with a lovely young woman draped on her arm. “Ambi-sexual these days, are we?” His vocal quality was one of observation and not surprise.

“Flexibility is the key to staying young, Darling.” Jezebel smiled, then, remembering her manners introduced them. “Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorp Mandrake Tharp, this is Luscious Liz – Luscious Liz, meet Lord Sir Admrial Percival Winthorp Mandrake Tharp.” Liz extended her hand across the table and Tharpy, ever the gentleman, stood and kissed it. “Would you ladies care to join me for dinner?” he asked.

“What a splendid idea! We’d be delighted!” Jezebel said as she and Liz took chairs opposite the Admiral.

“Well, I won’t mince words, Jezebel – so, what are you doing here? I assume you’re not here for the Piracy Prevention Symposium – does it have anything to do with the international delegates converging on Madagascar later this week? Or are you just slumming it in the Indian Ocean?”

Jezebel politely ignored all of his questions. “And you look wonderfully healthy as well, Tharpy. It’s such a pleasure to see you!”

“Don’t call me ‘Tharpy’ – only my brother gets away with calling me, ‘Tharpy’ and I hate it when HE does it, too!”

“Certainly you don’t want me to spend the evening calling you, ‘Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorp Mandrake Tharp’ do you? Not in light of our history together.” Jezebel’s smile conveyed a familiarity that was unavoidable and her evocation of their, “history,” produced an immediate change in Lord Sir Admiral Percy’s tone.

“How is our son?” he asked.

“Well, and in good hands.” Jezebel replied thoughtfully.

Lord Sir Percy hesitated for a moment and then asked, “Whose hands?”

“A relative.” Jezebel was being evasive but truthful.

Lord Sir Percy was beside himself now. “Oh, Dear God! Not one of your relatives!”

Jezebel replied calmly, “No. I may not be, ‘mother material,’ but I wouldn’t do that to a child. He’s with a relative of yours.”

Lord Sir Percy’s face was horrified, “But none of my relatives know about …”

“…and they still don’t. Calm down and eat your prawns before they get cold.” Jezebel smiled as Lord Sir Percy took another bite of his meal. Then she added, “And he’s learning a trade.”

Lord Sir Percy nearly choked as he realized where their son was – “He’s not with Slappy, is he! For the love of tap-dancing Moses! Slappy’s barely competent at keeping himself alive much less a child!”

“Two children, actually.” Jezebel corrected.

“Two! But you told me we only had the one!” Lord Sir Percy was near panic.

“Settle down Mandrake! - Oooo, I like calling you Mandrake, may I?” she asked, but he was too busy coughing up a chunk of egg to argue.

“The other child is, indeed Slappy’s own – although, once again, he is not aware of the relationship. He, too, is a remarkable boy without a hint of the evil that spawned him.”

Lord Sir Percy could only mutter at this point. “Slappy.”

“The man does have some skills and charm – ‘awareness,’ however, has never been his strong suit. But I tell you, Mandrake, whether he knows of his relationship to the boys or not, that big fool of a man would fight to the death protecting them. We couldn’t have found a better watchdog for our progeny.” Jezebel smiled serenely.

Lord Sir Percy gazed adoringly at her face as the candle flame danced between them. “You are a remarkable woman, Jezebel.”

“That’s what all the boys say!” Jezebel flashed as smile and a glance toward Liz, “And some of the girls.”

Meanwhile, aboard the deck of the Festering Boil, panic was the order of the day. “The winds be against us, Cap’n! Our efforts to head northwest are thwarted by these confoundin’ winds!” Two Patch observed.

“If it’s confoundin’ winds ye speak of – try standin’ downwind o’ the Cap’n after he’s had a couple o’ cucumber and green pepper sandwiches!” Cementhands waved his hand under his nose. Slappy retorted, “And do ye think yer sausage and egg breakfast comes out smellin’ like a Parisian whore – before her night’s work, Mister McCormack?”

Dogwatch braved the winds to get to the Cap’n’s side. “Cap’n, do ye remember the duck on the beach?”

Slappy immediately entered that blissful state – almost trans-like. “Aye, Dogwatch, that I do.”

“Well the duck, sir, went with the wind until it found the current that took it where it wanted to be – perhaps we would make better time if we used the wind to push us into a current a way off to the south.” Dogwatch seemed very sure of this.

“Och! Now I’ve heard everything! Navigation by duck as translated by a dork!” Professor Droppingham registered his disagreement and toddled away.

Slappy stepped back from the wheel and gestured to Dogwatch to take over. Despite the Drip’s nay saying, Dogwatch confidently steered the ship south.

With the decision made, Slappy walked away from the helm where he was immediately met by Lef-TEN-ant Keeling. “Cap’n, sir! I want you to marry me!”

“Well, this is rather sudden – I mean, I’m fond of ye and all, but …” Slappy stammered.

“No, sir, I’m askin’ ye to marry me to Red Molly!” Keeling was smiling broadly – something that Slappy had never seen before.

“Sure.” Slappy agreed. “When?”

“Now, sir?” Keeling was insistent.

“Now, we’re in the middle of a bit o’ a gale, here lad.” Slappy looked at the sails as they bent sharply, now full of the wind at their backs – carrying them southwesterly.

“I know, sir, but aboard The Festering Boil – there are very few ‘opportune’ moments, I thought that perhaps one when we weren’t firing cannons would be better than one when we were.” Keeling’s argument was well-thought-out.

“Alright, we’ve got the groom, who would be the best man?” Slappy asked.

“That would be me, Cap’n!” Ol’ Chumbucket said smiling, he looked as though he had just been in a tussle.

“Dear God, man, have ye been fighting?” Slappy was alarmed.

“No sir!” Keeling explained, “I couldn’t decide between Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan, so I asked them to wrassle each other for the honor.”

“He ahuecado mis testículos!” Juan protested the unfairness, but tried to make himself understood – “He, how you say, ‘Cupped’ my dingly-dangly bits!”

Chumbucket protested, “I told you, that was an accident!”

“If it was a, how you say, ass-dent, how come it felt so good! Hmmm? Esplain that, Meester Esplainer!”

The group of men who stood around just sort of looked at each other – then, they looked at their feet. Cementhands began to speak and lifted his hand in a gesture, but thought better of it and put his hand back down.

“You see?!” Juan now felt vindicated. “You cannot esplain it. Oh, Schumbucket, you are my amigo, but you are a naughty, naughty wrassle-man!”

Ol’ Chumbucket looked chagrinned, “Juan, I apologize for accidentally touching you in a way that made you feel … um … uh …”

Juan helped him out with the best English he could muster, “I believe the word you are looking for is ‘Esstatic’ or perhaps, ‘tingle-tastic.’”

Once again, the men all looked at their feet. Spencer started to laugh, but Slappy smacked his shoulder with the back of his hand.

Juan extended a hand of friendship to Ol’ Chumbucket who gladly shook it and the two men patched their differences.

“And what is the status of our bride and her bride’s maid?” Cap’n Slappy asked Red Molly as she approached.

“I’m not that close to any of the women on board, so I am deciding who my maid of honor will be by holding a contest to see who can answer the most questions about science and nature correctly. It’s now between two contestants.” Red Molly explained and gestured over to where Sawbones Burgess – resplendent in a burgundy taffeta dress was trying to get a peak at Gabriel the Powder Monkey’s paper. “No cheating, doctor!” Molly admonished. He quickly re-focused his attention on his own paper.

“Cap’n,” Molly began, “Would it be legal for a child to be a maid of honor?”

“I don’t see how that matters, Molly.” Slappy replied, “Doc Burgess is a man – he’s a man going through a ‘I feel more comfortable in women’s clothes’ phase, but a man nonetheless.”

“I’m referring to Gabriel, Cap’n.” Molly clarified.

“Oh!” Slappy now understood the problem. “He’s what philosophers call a ‘Midget.’ Now, I don’t know if there are any legal prohibitions against midgets being part of the wedding party, but it’s my ship – so we’ll go by my rules. And I say thar be no problem with it.” They glanced over at the test-takers as they feverishly worked at answering the questions. Slappy spoke, “This may take awhile – what say we schedule the wedding for tomorrow morning at daybreak – we’ll have a bachelor party tonight!”

The men cheered! Red Molly asked, “Well what should I do?”

Slappy glanced at the test takers – “You’ll be scoring the tests.”

Juan looked at the two bent over their papers. “Look at those test takers!” Then, clearly in Chumbucket’s direction, “I bet nobody cupped them!”

The men once again, looked at their feet.

Suddenly Cementhands noticed something, “We’re heading north, northwest again, Cap’n! With the wind at our backs and the current carrying us!”

Slappy looked up at the wheel where Dogwatch was smiling broadly – pleased with himself.

“Well done, Dogwatch!” Slappy called up and then whispered to himself. “And thank you, Ducky.”

“Even a broken clock is right twice a day…” Professor Droppingham muttered as he walked past the group. “Lucky Ducky.” He chuckled to himself as he wandered away.

Friday, February 25, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 41

More than three dozen low lifes – virtually the entire population of Port Elizabeth – sighed as they watched La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza set back out to sea. They were there, of course, for one last look at the crew of young ladies who had brought the ship limping into port 10 days earlier. It had been an amazing 10 days by the squalid settlement’s usual standards.

When the damage to the hull was first discovered, Sally had quickly scotched Bastiaan’s demand that the girls, naked from the waist down, form a bucket brigade to keep the bilge clear.

“Girl’s, pants on NOW!” she ordered. She quickly designated eight of the girls, and ordered the rest topside again – fully clothed.

Bastiaan had gone to the hold to seek “inspiration” before heading for his appointment with Lady Fanny. He felt a little put out that he wouldn’t get to be “inspired” by the sight of the young girls hard at work in the buff.

“But we have to bail out the ship, or we’ll all drown, and the girls can’t work in their usual attire down in the flooded bilge,” Bastiaan said with disappointment.

“Yes, absolutely,” Sally said. “That’s why the ship has a pump. Girls!” The eight girls Sally had designated began working the pump, and the water level started falling noticeably almost immediately.

“We have 44 healthy young schoolgirls. With eight to a team we can run five shifts, with some spare girls, until we make it to Port Elizabeth, which should take, what, the better part of a day? We won’t be drowning anytime soon, will we?”

Bastiaan grinned sheepishly.

“That being the case, let me suggest that I get back to running this ship and keeping my girls out of trouble, and you get back to your main employment, servicing Fanny,” Sally said, her eyes narrowing as she moved closer to the Dutch pirate until she was almost nose to nose with him. “And if I ever catch you touching, disturbing or otherwise troubling any of these young girls again,” her voice sank to a dangerous, hoarse whisper, “I will cut off your private parts and feed them to the sharks. Do I make myself clear?”

Bastiaan gulped.

“Let me be even clearer,” she continued, trembling with rage. “I work for Lady Fanny, and watching out for these teen-age girls is my one and only job responsibility. I take care of them for her, and if you in any way get in the way of my duty to Lady Fanny, you will pay the price accordingly. Got it?”

Bastiaan’s head jerked in a nod of agreement.

“Then get out of this hold!” Sally shrieked. Bastiann backed away, then slowly left. As he climbed the ladder back to the deck he glanced back at Sally with a look that mingled fear, respect, and desire.

Sally watched him go, then slowly sank to the bench, trembling. One of the girls at the pump looked over to her.

“Are you alright, ma’am?” she asked.

“Yes,” Sally said, forcing a small smile. “I’m just glad he didn’t call my bluff.”

The girls wore male garb when they brought the ship into Port Elizabeth, but word quickly spread that some four dozen beautiful young ladies had sailed into port. That they were wearing pants instantly gave everyone ashore the wrong idea about them. No sooner had they tied up than men were crowding the docks, and a couple of the braver souls tried forcing their way onto the ship. They were smacked on the head by belaying pins as they attempted to climb aboard, and unceremoniously dunked into the harbor. Sally fired a pistol shot over the crowd’s head, but that didn’t have much affect either. It wasn’t until Bastiaan ordered the swivel guns loaded with grapeshot and trained on the dock that a semblance of order was restored.

Port Elizabeth was not exactly a thriving metropolis. It was more a canker on the gum of southeastern Africa, one of those out-of-the-way pockets that collect the flotsam and jetsam of seafaring that happens to drift in. It possessed three bars, a barbershop, and the most remote outpost of the British East Indies Company, whose single representative did almost no business, since almost no one traveled to Port Elizabeth on purpose and the desolate surrounding country offered little in the way of trading opportunities.

For once Bastiaan, Fanny and Sally were of one mind, though their reasons varied. The girls had to not only stay on ship but as much as possible stay out of sight. For Sally it was a matter of protecting her girls. For Fanny it was a matter of preserving her crew. For Bastiaan, it was a matter of protecting his ship and keeping his options open.

Bastiaan had to go into the town to find his shipwright uncle, who turned out to be under one of the tables in the second bar the pirate captain looked in. He brought him back to the ship, where he picked three men from among the drunks and reprobates to assist him. Bastiaan then picked another 10 men from the dockside crowd – the biggest and least offensive smelling – and paid them to guard the approaches to the ship. Fanny met with each of them individually and they left with wide eyes and an appreciation for what might befall them if they failed to keep the rest of the crowd off the ship.

Bastiaan’s uncle, “Oom David,” accepted the story of the “sarwhal” with a look and a shrug, and went to work patching the hull. The shipyard lacked the appropriate timbers to affect the repairs, but that wasn’t a problem. Bastiaan and the ship’s guards took a late-night (technically, very early morning) stroll along the waterfront and when the sun rose, the repairs were under way and two neighboring ships were sitting on the harbor floor.

The work proceeded quickly, but every day was an adventure, with the town’s denizens finding new and inventive ways of trying to get on board and get to the young girls. Dinghies were rowed up to the seaside of the ship, but the boarders were repelled. Swimmers tried going under the hull and coming up from the other side. They only tried this once. Cannon balls dropped on them from the deck had a way of dissuading them. They approached the dock in the guise of insurance salesmen, agents offering luxury vacations to listen to a sales pitch for time shares and as a Jehovah’s Witness. Actually that last one might have been legit, but the guards shot him before anyone could find out.

What little traffic worked the sordid port came and went with sightseers cramming the rails, trying to catch a glimpse of the girls. One, a Portugese brigantine outward bound for Lisbon which had been chased into the port by a storm, lost three sailors who fell from the rigging when Genevieve stuck her head out the hatch for a breath of air.

The air below decks was stale, hygiene rudimentary, and the atmosphere tense. The girls bridled at being kept cooped up and, while they showed a healthy respect for the unseemly crowd that daily gathered around the ship, some also clearly enjoyed the attention and attempted to display themselves whenever possible, prompting several riots. It was a major relief when, after a week, Oom David reported that he was done. Now it was just a matter of getting the ship under way again.

The guards were paid off handsomely enough and cowed once more by Fanny so that they agreed to maintain their posts on the dock while the girls came out to get the ship moving again. With Bastiaan and Sally manning the swivel guns, lines were cast off and the girls climbed the rigging to unfurl the sails while the entire population of the town sighed and surged toward the waterfront. As La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza moved slowly and silently from the wharf, the crowd lost control and overran the guards who dropped all pretense of guarding and also rushed the ship. They were dissuaded by blasts from the swivel guns, and the ship was out to sea.

The sails caught the wind and the ship moved lightly and swiftly back into the ocean, headed northeast towards Madagascar.

“We have to be there in five days. We absolutely have to be,” Fanny said nervously.

Bastiaan shrugged. “It won’t be easy. It’s typically a six-day sail. If we crowd on the canvas and get good winds, we might be able to make it.”

“’Might’ isn’t good enough!” Fanny shrieked. “We simply have to be there in five days or the plan will be in jeopardy. We’ve risked too much not to make it now. At the end of the trail is a crown for me and more wealth for all of us than any of you can imagine. Get me there, or I will not be happy.”

Sally and Bastiaan simply nodded assent. They could tell from the tone in her voice and the look in her eyes that Fanny meant it, and could guess if Fanny were to “not be happy,” the rest of them would definitely be miserable.

Several hundred miles to the southwest, there was excitement on the Festering Boil. The day had started with the spotting of a sail coming towards them. It had been a simple matter to overtake the ship, a Portugese brigantine, board her and quickly overcome any opposition. The ship’s cargo proved to be of little value, but the information it yielded caused a stir on the poopdeck.

“They were in Port Elizabeth! We could be there in a day and a half!” Chumbucket said.

“That was three days ago,” Cap’n Slappy cautioned. “The fellow said they’d been there a week. It’s anyone’s guess whether they’re still there.”

“The question,” Sir Nigel observed, “is whether we head for that stinking hell hole that calls itself a port, or keep heading on our course and hope to waylay them. Either way, we’ve clearly made up ground.”

“Damn yer a canny lot,” Droppingham spat out. “What do ya think? They’re just sitting there waiting for ya? Morons!”

“What do you recommend then?” Chumbucket asked with exasperation.

“Stay on the course I’ve charted, ya simpleton!” The Drip said caustically. “I know where they’re headed. I’m absolutely certain. If they stay in Port Elizabeth for much longer, we’ll pass them and arrive first. If not, we won’t be more than a few days behind, a week at most. At least that’s my advice. Take it or not as ya see fit.”

Droppingham turned and stormed off. The gathered pirates looked at one another for a few seconds, then Chumbucket spoke.

“Damn, I hate it when he’s right.”

Slappy laughed. “You know, he may be the most unpleasant person I’ve ever met, but he really is a good sailor, really quite accomplished. Maybe he was right all along and he SHOULD have been put in charge of a ship. In either case, it is the best solution. Keep us on a north northeast track. We’re either headed to Madagascar – and that’s a natural pirate stronghold the likes of which the Caribbean has never seen – or else we’re going straight on to India. Either way, we’re catching up.”

“And bloody good thing we’re giving Port Elizabeth a miss,” Nigel added. “Not a single decent restaurant or anywhere to get my nails properly buffed. Totally uncivilized, the place is. And speaking of restaurants, does anyone happen to know what’s for dinner?” He asked the last in an innocent tone, and there was just a hint of a gleam in his eye as he said it.

Chumbucket just stared at both of his colleagues for a moment, then said, “I’ll get us under way again. North northeast, and we’ll shake out the canvas.”

Thursday, February 24, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 40

“Vloek!” Baastian spat out his morning tea upon hearing of the leak below deck and headed below to see the damage for himself.

Lady Fanny told Sally to gather all of the girls on deck – someone was going to have to explain this act of sabotage. “Why would anyone want to slow us down when we are so close to reaching Madagascar and the prize? What kind of villain would do that?” Lady Fanny’s brow was knit into cruel furrows of contorted rage. She began loading a pistol, talking calmly to herself as she worked, “Well, somebody’s going to have to get shot in order for everyone to learn a lesson – that’s just the way it’s going to be.”

The girls shot panicky looks back and forth – mostly in Sally’s direction. Sally stepped forward.

“Lady Fanny.” She curtsied politely – although, by now, it had been weeks since she had even seen a dress.

“Not now, Sally – your heroics won’t save one of these girls from her fate. Somebody caused that hole to happen and she is going to pay for it – I’ll probably use her body to plug the hole. Now, who could it be?” With the pistol loaded, she waved it recklessly pointing at girl after girl as each stood as still as she could – not wishing to draw attention and Lady Fanny’s fire.

“Could it be little Mary, who always says less than she knows? Or perhaps it’s our dear Harriet in whom everyone confides.” She pulled Harriet out of the line and pressed the barrel of the gun to her temple. “Everyone talks to Harriet, don’t they? I’ll bet you either know who did it or are responsible for doing it yourself!”

Harriet’s breathing quickened, but if someone had, in fact, confided in her, she wasn’t saying who it was. She braced herself for the explosion.

Sally broke in, her tone was strong and clear. “Your Ladyship is mistaken. None of these girls caused the leak. Of that I can assure you!”

“Of that I can assure you!” Lady Fanny’s tone was an evil mockery. “What assurance can you offer, Sally? Can you tell me who our saboteur is or produce evidence that there was none? Can you explain why, suddenly, there is a breach in our hull leaking water that wasn’t there yesterday?”

Sally stood silently for a moment. Then, she took a deep breath and replied, “Yes, I can.”

Every eye shifted toward Sally now. Murmurings and whispers began wafting up onto the winds from this gathering on deck. Finally, Lady Fanny intervened.

“Stop your infernal murmuring! You know how I hate murmurers!” Her screeching brought silence to the deck of the ship. “Well, Sally. If you can explain the leak …” Lady Fanny cocked the hammer back on the pistol which she kept close to Harriet’s head “…now would be an excellent time for an explanation.”

Without blinking, Sally said just two words. “Narwhal attack.”

“Narwhal attack?” Lady Fanny almost laughed; her face was a mix of incredulous delight and bloodlust. “Did you just say, ‘Narwhal attack?’?”

Sally was resolute and steadfast. “Yes, Narwhal attack.” She continued, “Clearly the damage was done by something on the outside trying to break through – what else could it be?”

“Anything else!” Lady Fanny was actually enjoying this – her years of studying life sciences were about to pay off. “Narwhals are native to the Arctic – not the Antarctic – and even if they were, they’re still thousands of miles from cold, friendly waters. You might as well have told me that we had been sabotaged by a gang of Czechoslovakian Cranberry growers!”

Sally doggedly stuck to her story. “No, M’lady, I tell you it was a Narwhal!”

“It wasn’t a Narwhal!” Lady Fanny’s patience had just about expired – and so, Harriet feared, had her life expectancy.

“It might have been a Narwhal …” Baastian cut into the conversation. All eyes turned toward him as he emerged from below. His pants were sopping wet and his shirt open, revealing his muscular chest. The young ladies all gasped. “But that would be silly – there aren’t any in these waters.”

“See? I told you so!” Lady Fanny nearly stuck her tongue out at Sally, who stood still with a defining grace.

“It was probably the Narwhal’s lesser-known cousin, the ‘Sarwhal.’”

“Sarwhal?” Lady Fanny and Sally seemed equally surprised.

“Aye!” Baastian explained, “They were thought to be hunted to extinction by Argentinean Pygmies two centuries ago. They were bigger, meaner and had longer horns than their northern brethren – also, much more reckless which explains why a bunch of midgets from South America could have whipped them out.”

“Wiped them out.” Lady Fanny corrected.

“Whipped/Wiped – What’s the difference?” Baastian questioned this English lesson in front of the girls.

“I’ll show you later.” She whispered to Baastian – then, in a much louder voice to the women on deck, “Alright, grab as many buckets as you can find and start bailing! We make for …” She glanced at Baastian for the nearest emergency stopping place.

“Port Elizabeth – I have an uncle who owns a shipwright shop there.” He pointed in the direction they should head.

“Port Elizabeth! Harriet, be a dear and grab a bucket.” Fanny’s voice was once again, sickeningly sweet.

“Yes, Lady Fanny.” She moved quickly out of harm’s way.

As the young ladies approached the steps to the decks below, Baastian stopped them. “Leave your britches here – they’ll only get wet down below.” He smiled at his own double entendre.

The girls looked at Lady Fanny who glowered at Baastian – but thought better of it. “Quite right!” she said, “One mustn’t go wetting one’s trousers needlessly – it wouldn’t be lady-like.”

Once again, the young women hesitated.

“STRIP!” Lady Fanny screamed her command. They quickly complied and ran half naked into the darkness below.

“There, was that enough titillation for you, my darling?” She whispered in Baastian’s ear.

Through a laugh he replied, “That’s a start – now, take me back to the cabin and explain what is the difference between this wiped and this whipped.”

Night had settled on the Festering Boil. Strumpet was keeping Slappy awake, so he decided to take a stroll on the deck and check the watch. As he passed what he thought to be some crates covered with a tarp, he heard groans and saw movement.

Strumpet, sitting on his shoulder, started to squeak – but Slappy quickly covered her mouth. He slowly pulled a pistol from his belt and moved toward the undulating mass.

“Stow-aways” he thought to himself. “We were far too lenient on the Dutch and a couple of them have hidden themselves aboard in order to join the crew without going through the proper application process.”

Carefully, he reached the edge of the tarp and pulled it back sharply to reveal the identity of these two refugees.

A very startled-looking Lef-TEN-ant Keeling and Red Molly scrambled to cover themselves with a mix and match set of his and her clothing. Keeling still had his cat o’ nine-tails clinched between his teeth.

“Oh, excuse me!” At first, Slappy was startled, then, he became a bit more playful. “Is this where I might find the symposium on the place of ship’s discipline in stemming the occurrence of fraternization between the officer and able seaman classes? Or did I just interrupt a wee bit o’ the ‘Bouncy-Bouncy’?”

Keeling quickly regained his comportment. “Yes, sir, Cap’n – that would be the latter?”

Molly added, “And we weren’t quite done, Cap’n – so if you don’t mind …?”

Slappy smiled – he always enjoyed seeing the young people ‘enjoying’ one another.

“Of course – I beg pardon for the interruption.” He said most sincerely and re-covered them so they could continue their open-air romp.

As he turned back to the quarter deck, he saw Sir Nigel at the helm smoking a pipe. He was laughing at the site of Slappy’s accidental discovery.

“Stumbled into Cupid’s garden of delights, did you not?” Sir Nigel observed as the two men looked out over a black sea.

“Ah, to be young and in love.” Slappy opined.

“Or, at least to get some well-deserved roistering done.” Sir Nigel shot back. “God, I do miss a bit o’ the ‘rumpy-pumpy’ after a night of heavy drinking at the Slovenly Slattern.”

“Aye,” Cap’n Slappy agreed, “But that’s many miles and months away.”

Further up the deck, they could hear Professor Droppingham offering his critique to the young lovers; “Och! Ye call that ‘FORNICATIN’? I’ve seen Burmese Dung Beetles with more skill in the carnal arts!”

Both men stood silently listening to the hushed groans below and sighed.

Wednesday, February 23, 2005


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A Pirate Tale - 39

Silvery moonlight played on the dark waters of the Atlantic as the Festering Boil glided south. Lounging on the forecastle keeping watch, three sailors reviewed the day’s action. In just the short time since the events elapsed, the stories were already growing more elaborate.

“Did you see me take on those four sailors all at once, singlehandedly?” Dogwatch asked. “I swung over the railing, with my cutlass in my teeth, and was battling on the gundeck when I was cornered by four of the ugliest Dutch burghers you’d ever want to lay eyes on. They thrust, I parried, they thrust, I parried!” Watts began acting out the action. “I was able to slip under the guard of the biggest one and dispatched him with a stroke, but I lost my sword and the other three closed in. I dodged one swordstroke and leaped onto the railing when ...”

“Didn’t you see me with the one Dutch guy in my right hand, another in my left, and TWO more with their necks pinned between my knees?” Cementhands asked. “Oh man, I knocked the first two guys’ head together and just sort of launched them over the railing ...?”

“How could I see you doing that when, like I told you, I was ducking the one guy and then leaping onto the railing ...”

“You should have been below decks with me,” Leftenant Keeling said. “It was too crowded for cutlasses, so it was all knife work down there.”

“But no, seriously, these two guys just FLEW off the ship like some kinda ... some kinda ... FLYING thing. It was so cool!”

“Speaking of flying,” Dogwatch interjected, “I leaped to the railing ...”

“What railing?” a new voice cut in. It was George the Greek, who had just ambled forward for a smoke. “What are you guys talking about?”

“The action today! There were these four Dutch burghers ...”

“You mean those four old men Sawbones Burgess had to help? Yes, that was rather sad. Seems their hearts couldn’t take the stress. That was one of the reasons they surrendered so quickly.”

“No, but these two guys were just FLYING ...”

“The ones who fell from the rigging?” George remembered. “That had to be the worst-trained crew I’ve ever seen.”

“But no, the fighting on the gun deck, when I leaped ...”

“What fighting?” George asked. “Both ships struck colors as soon as they saw us coming. We didn’t even get to fire a warning shot. They saw us loading the bow chaser and it was heave to and strike colors before we got the slow match to the powder.”

“Yes, well,” Cementhands McCormack said. “They were pretty tough customers, and they needed a little ...”

“Tough customers? That tiny band of shell-shocked ancient mariners?”

“Yes, that’s true,” Dogwatch said defensively. “But they’re Dutch, and those wooden shoes can give you nasty splinters if they kick when you’re not looking.”

“I suppose,” George said. “Anyway, it was a good day’s work. The silver is safely below and no one was hurt. It’s the first pair of prizes we’ve taken in months. But before this voyage is over I think we’ll be even happier about the 60 barrels of salt pork and the 100 barrels of flour. That’ll give Black Butch something to work with in the galley when the supplies run low.”

They all stopped and sighed thinking of what Black Butch, their 5-star chef, might be able to do with 60 barrels of salt pork.

“But what are you doing here?” George asked Cementhads. “Wasn’t it your turn to relieve Dogwatch on the Nigel’s Revenge?” The captain had set a rotation for the four men manning the pinnace.

“It was,” “McCormack said. “But Chumbucket asked to trade with me. Said he wanted a little quiet. I think between The Drip, the monkey and Noisy Sir Nigel he just need a little time out.”

Aboard the smaller ship, Ol’ Chumbucket was also reviewing the day’s events. Taking the silver had been good, and the food stuffs might prove providential in the unfamiliar waters of the Indian Ocean. He’d been amused more than anything else by the drawing “Fancy” Frank Filigree had dashed off of Sir Nigel in the thick of a battle that hadn’t happened, battling swordsmen who’d thrown down their swords before the ship could be boarded. And he, as all, had been fascinated by the news they’d learned from the captain of the larger of the two Dutch ships.

It seemed they’d been part of a trio of ships beating their way back up the coast after a trip around the horn. Three weeks earlier the tiny armada had been attacked by a pirate ship. The first two were able to run for safety, but the straggler was cut off and taken.

And lookouts aboard the surviving Dutch merchantmen described a pirate ship that could only be La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza. And the pirate ship apparently hadn’t pursued the two ships after dispatching its cousin, even though they must have known they were rich prizes.

“Which means someone is enough of a hurry to let a couple of fat prizes get away, but for some reason isn’t sailing as fast as that ship should be, because we’re making up a little time,” Cap’n Slappy had reasoned. “Could they have been damaged somehow in the fighting? Or did they dally on the coast, or is there something with the crew?”

The Drip had taken the information from the Dutch seamen and pored over the ship’s charts. Clucking with satisfaction, he had told Cap’n Slappy to make for the cape, and wouldn’t give anything further.

“Och, no. I know how you whelps operate. If I tell ya where we’re goin’ and how to get there, I’ll find myself marooned on the first available spit of land,” the old man said. “Oh, I remember how you ungrateful brats would treat each other at the naval school. I have no intention of winding up standin’ on the beach watching you sail away. I’ll lead you to Fanny, but I want to be there when you finally settle my daughter’s hash.”

Now, sitting on the bow of the pinnace with Juan astern at the helm and the two other sailors asleep on the deck, Chumbucket stared out to sea, thinking of Mad Sally and hoping she was all right.

As a matter of fact, things were going rather well for Sally and the girls aboard Lady Fanny’s ship. Fanny still didn’t trust anyone, nor should she, but she’d been impressed with the sea skills the girls were showing and their pirating prowess under Sally’s tutelage. With Bastiaan growing moodier and moodier after learning he had cause dhis brother’s death, Fanny, against her will, found herself leaning more and more on Sally’s ability.

“Sally, will you be holding another domestic arts class with the girls?”

“Yes, Captain Fanny,” Sally said. “We’re making it a practical lesson, mending the sails.”

“I’ve got something else I’d like sewn up,” Fanny said, handing a sketch to her subordinate. “It’s a new flag for the ship.”

“A Jolly Roger?” Sally asked as she picked up the scrap of paper.

“No, no. Much better than the boring old skull and crossbones. I want it made of green fabric.”

“Green? Not red or black?”

“Green. I’ve always thought green was the color of action. And instead of a silly skull – who’s frightened by some old bones? – I want a cannon.”

“A cannon?”

“Yes,” Lady Fanny said, her eyes glowing. “When we sail into St. Mary’s on Madagascar next week I want to send a message. And the message is ‘We’re ready for action, and we have a cannon.”

“Excellent, captain. I’ll get the girls working on it at once.”

Sally turned and left, noting that Fanny had not demanded the curtsy or backing away that had been required for weeks. “The old girl is definitely losing it,” Sally told herself. “A green pirate flag? Still, don’t get ahead of yourself Sally. She may be nuttier than a filbert orchard, but she’s still as dangerous as a hyena.”

“Great,” she thought. “I’m dealing with an insane hyena.”

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 38 "Silver"

A Pirate Tale – part 38

After three days on the ocean, Cap’n Slappy was pleased with the amount of water they had covered and he made so bold to say so. “I’m pleased with the amount of water we’ve covered!” he said, boldly. For the past twenty minutes, the monkey on his shoulder had been rubbing her crotch on a bit of jewelry that was dangling from Cap’n Slappy’s long hair.

“I’ve seen dead whales tangled up in tuna nets make better time.” Professor Droppingham observed. “Two furlongs to starboard and we’d be in a current that would increase our speed by at least seven knots.”

Slappy was relentlessly cheerful and changed course to accommodate The Drip’s suggestion. “Capital thinking, Professor! I couldn’t have said it better myself! And I didn’t!”

“You handle a ship like drunken schoolboy trying to undo the milk maid’s bodice with ten hot German sausages for fingers!” Droppingham pressed on.

Without a hint of annoyance, Slappy shot back, “Yes! Yes, I do!”

Exasperated by his inability to rattle Slappy, Droppingham gave up and went below to the galley to bother the cook.

“Only thing to do with a naysayer, isn’t it?” Sir Nigel Observed.

“Come again?” Slappy seemed confused.

“Well, you were just being completely agreeable with that completely disagreeable chap there – killing him with kindness, eh what?” Sir Nigel had joined in the spirit of cheerfulness.

“Not at all, me good ol’ pal! He was quite right on all accounts and I make it a point to always take heed of those who tell me the truth – even when it isn’t pretty.” Slappy kept his hand on the wheel as they entered the current. “See? We’ve picked up a few knots, haven’t we?”

The two men stood and looked out over the deck where the hands were busily at work. Ol’ Chumbucket approached and nodded to Slappy who returned the nod, happily. “Yo Ho! Ol’ Chumbucket! Last night’s dinner was a complete success – ye’ve simply out-done yerself again!”

“Cap’n,” Ol’ Chumbucket began, “Ye know right well that I am not the …”

“The type to take compliments, I know – ever the picture of modesty, ye be! But I’ll say it nonetheless – outstanding effort on the sautéed halibut almandine and the crème brulee was first rate! Don’t ye think, Sir Nigel!”

“Top drawer, all the way!” Sir Nigel smiled knowingly at Ol’ Chumbucket.

Ol’ Chumbucket continued on – “Sir, the reason I came up here was to tell you that young Spencer has spotted sails on the horizon to the south and wants you to come take a look.”

“Excellent!” Slappy exclaimed “We’ll make an able seaman of that boy yet!” Slappy gestured toward Ol’ Chumbucket. “Would you be so kind as to take the helm for me here and keep our guest company while I look to whatever it is that young Spencer has for me?”

“Certainly Cap’n” Ol’ Chumbucket said as he took the wheel.

“Oh!” Cap’n Slappy stopped as if he had just remembered something, “And whatever it is between the two of you, I suggest you resolve it before I have you sit in the corner with your arms around each other for an entire evening. – and don’t, even for a minute, think I won’t.” Slappy smiled warmly at both of them. “Excellent! Thank you, gentlemen!”

The monkey was still humping away on his shoulder as he walked toward the bow. On the way, he came across Gabriel the powder monkey. “Good morning, Cap’n Slappy!” Gabriel saluted – one of the few members of the crew who ever bothered with such a formality.

“Good morning to you, my diminutive friend! I trust you are as happy to be back at sea as I am!” Cap’n Slappy vigorously shook the boy’s hand.

“Aye, Cap’n! That I am!” Gabriel’s natural child-like curiosity compelled him to stare at the primate atop Cap’n Slappy’s shoulder. Slappy answered the question even though it hadn’t been asked – “It’s a monkey. Sawbones told me it was a ‘cappuccino’ or a ‘chimichanga’ monkey or some such nonsense. But it’s definitely not a chimp – although I prefer to call it a chimp.” Gabriel finally asked his real question. “What’s your monkey’s name?”

Cap’n Slappy looked at the miserable creature and finally realized what she was up to. He named her the first thing that popped into his mind – “Her name is ‘Strumpet.’” Then he formalized the introduction, “Strumpet the Naughty Monkey, it is my great pleasure to introduce Gabriel the Powder Monkey to you.”

Always well-mannered, Gabriel extended his hand to shake hands with the simian; Cap’n Slappy squatted down to accommodate the meeting. Not so secretively, he ‘whispered’ to the monkey – “Gabriel is a midget, try not to make a big deal of it, though.”

Gabriel cut in – “I’m not …” But that was as far as he got before Slappy cut him off with, “… the kind of person to let something like being a tiny, tiny Lilliputian get in the way of doing his duty! – That’s right! Good man!”

After the handshake, Slappy stood up to continue his trek to the bow, but before he went, he looked at Gabriel with fatherly affection – “You should probably wash that hand.”

As he approached his destination, he looked back to see Ol’ Chumbucket and Sir Nigel having what appeared to be a pleasant enough conversation.

He found young Spencer leaning on the rail with his spyglass fully extended. “What do ye have for me, Lad?” Slappy asked.

“One, maybe two Dutch Merchant Ships, Cap’n! Take a look!”

Spencer handed over the small telescope and Slappy, with one eyebrow lifted in caution, checked the lens for paper cut-outs of Dutch Merchantmen. Finding none, Cap’n Slappy nodded toward Spencer who smiled innocently back and looked through the telescope.

Years of piracy gave Cap’n Slappy a sense of what the cargo of a given ship might be based largely on its location and the way it moved through the water.

“Two ships – both heavy with silver! Outstanding!” Cap’n Slappy was beside himself with excitement.

“Dogwatch! Plot a course to intercept …” Cap’n Slappy was cut off by his young cabin boy – “Dogwatch is on board the Nigel’s Revenge, Cap’n.”

“Ah! Yes! So he is. Of course, I knew that. I was merely testing your knowledge of current crew assignments – well done, lad! Well then, you, m’lad – plot a course to intercept those two ships!”

“Aye-aye! Cap’n!” Spencer was excited. This would be his first course plotting. Fortunately, he had been learning his navigational skills from Cementhands McCormack and not Dogwatch Watts.

As Cap’n Slappy moved from the bow down the length of the ship, he bellowed, “Prepare for action!”

When he reached the wheel, Chumbucket asked, “What is it, Cap’n?”

Slappy looked at his friend thoughtfully – “How many years have we sailed together, Ol’ Chumbucket?”

“Well on five and twenty, Slappy – ye know that!” Chumbucket replied.

“And what does one give another for a twenty-fifth anniversary prezzie, Ol’ Chumbucket?” Cap’n Slappy inquired.

The three men stood thoughtfully for a moment, gazing at the southern horizon – then, in a dreamlike state with one voice said the word.


Monday, February 21, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 37

The last of the stores and gear had been wrestled down to the beach; the food and supplies stored in the hold of the Festering Boil, the cannon returned to their place on the gun deck, the sailors’ personal belongings in their various compartments and cubbyholes.

“Now there’s just one decision left to make,” Cap’n Slappy said to the assembled crew. “Slappista! For your treachery you have been given a choice – you may travel with us as a prisoner in the hold, with no promise as to how or where or even if you are released, or you may remain here, alone, in this isolated spot on the coast of Africa.”

“How very kind of you, my cousin,” the prisoner said with sarcasm. "It would help if I had some more definite idea of WHERE on the African coast we are.”

“Prof. Droppingham, perhaps you could help in that regard?” Slappy asked the dyspeptic retiree, who had been living there in isolation for five years.

“What’s the matter, ya whelp? Can’t do simple navigation? Forgotten the first lessons we taught? Well, it wouldn’t surprise me. In fact we’re on the southwestern edge of the great desert, north of the golden horn. If ya want to walk, and lord knows the exercise would do ye good, ye’ll find the Moorish city of Casablanca just up that way to the north, about 600 miles. There’s a great expanse of desert between here and there. If ye’d prefer to go south, you should run into the city of Dakar eventually, about 500 miles south. Of course there’s a fair amount of impenetrable jungle and hostile tribes on the way, not to mention animals so ferocious ye’d wet yerself just thinkin’ of ‘em, so I’m not thinking ye’d ever actually see Dakar.”

“And have you seen much in the way passing ships who might rescue a stranded sailor?” Slappista asked.

“I’ve lived here five years and seen a few ships, slavers passing by on their way to and from markets. But this is the first ship that ever stopped here that I’ve seen.”

“Well, I have never been known as a contemplative man in search of quiet and privacy in which to consider the mysteries of the universe,” Slappista said, his voice heavy with irony. “I have always been un hombre de la acción, more used to being in the fray, or causing the fray. So I suppose I shall have to accept the offer of your hospitality aboard your ship and hope for events to eventually deliver me. And it’s a comparatively generous offer. Were I in charge and our positions reversed, I’d weigh the alternatives and save myself the trouble by having you bound head and foot and tossed over board.”

“Yes, but you’re not in charge, so I think we’ll do things my way. And now, let’s get aboard.”

As the last of the shore party clambered aboard the long boats, Slappista had one last moment on the shore. He looked back at the jungle, then out to sea.

“No,” he said quietly to himself, “No, I’m not in charge. At the moment.” Then with a jerk of his chains he was led to the boats.

As the last boat pushed off through the surf with Cap’n Slappy, Sir Nigel, Ol’ Chumbucket, Droppingham and Sawbones Burgess aboard, Slappy noticed a flash of movement on the shore. His hand was reaching for his blunderbuss as he realized what it was.

“My monkey friend!” he said. “C’mere boy! Come join us!!”

“No, not that foul little beast!” Droppingham said. “For five years he’s pestered me. In fact, it was him I was shooting at when I hit you with that dart! I hate the thing.”

“All the more reason to bring him along,” Chumbucket said, laughing. “Anyone that can get under YOUR skin is someone I want along, if I must be burdened with your company.”

The monkey paused at the waterline, unwilling to enter the surf. Slappy leaped off the boat and waded back the short distance to the shoreline, where the monkey quickly scurried to meet him. Reaching his outstretched hand, it quickly scrambled up to the captain’s shoulder, where it perched as naturally as if it had lived there for years.

“Well, make yerself at home,” Slappy said with a laugh. “Wave goodbye to yer old home old boy, we’re on our way.”

Slappy waded back to the boat and handed the monkey to Burgess while he climbed back aboard.

“Careful with my chimp there,” he said.

“Not a chimp, I think,” Burgess said. “There are many varieties of the monkey family, but the chimpanzee is much larger than this little fella. He could never perch on yer shoulder like that. I’d guess, without having a book to look it up in, that this is a capuchin monkey. And,” he continued his examination,” I’d say this is a lady, not a male.”

“Doc, I’m sure you’re all smart and book learned and stuff, and if you say my male chimp is a female cappuccino, then you’re probably right,” Slappy said. “But if you think I’m going to stop calling him a chimp, then you haven’t been sailing with me nearly as long as I think you have.”

“Stupid git,” The Drip muttered.

They arrived at the Festering Boil and climbed aboard.

“Good to be home,” Chumbucket said.

The crew was already up in the rigging raising the sails, and Cementhands McCormack led a party at the capstan raising the anchor. Similar preparations were going on aboard the pinnace “Nigel’s Revenge,” which they had decided to take along with them.

“The wind’s off the shore and the tide is running, so we won’t need to man the sweeps,” Slappy said. Calling across the water to Dogwatch Watts, who was in charge of the crew on the pinnace, “Dogwatch! Lead us out of here!”

Turning to the man at the helm of the Festering Boil, he ordered, “George, let’s get her back to sea!”

Cap’n Slappy assumed his typical spot at the rail of the poop, watching his crew fall back into their natural seagoing habits. Chumbucket was nettled to see Sir Nigel standing at Slappy’s shoulder, in the place he usually occupied.

“I’ll go forward and watch for rocks,” he said, departing for the bow.

“Yes, keep a sharp eye out,” Nigel said encouragingly.

“We made astonishing time getting ready for sea,” Slappy said, rubbing the spot where he’d been hit by the dart some weeks ago, “Especially considering that it wasn’t exactly uneventful stay. Still, that’s a three and a half week head start Lady Fanny has on us. If Droppingham really knows where she’s headed that might make the difference, because otherwise I don’t see how we can find her.”

In fact, at the very moment that the Festering Boil was rounding the headland that protected the cove and entering the ocean, Mad Sally had her charges on the deck of La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, practicing their navigation.

“It’s really all just the same as a math class, only with very practical uses,” Sally told the girls as they shot the sun with their astrolabes, which they had constructed as part of a wood shop class.

The girls labored with their numbers, and finally came up with their answers. Sally gathered the results and with a smile reported, “Well done! You’re mostly all within a reasonable range. I think it’s safe to say this must be the correct answer and you’ve now fixed our position reasonably well. Congratulations! If these numbers are correct, and I see no reason to doubt them, you have just left the Atlantic and are now sailing in the Indian Ocean. You are dismissed. I must report this to the captain.”

Sally left the girls to clean up after the class and made her way back to the poop, where Fanny sat watching the girl at the helm and buffing her long, cruel fingernails.

“Yes, Sally?”

“I’m pleased to report the girls have done quite well at their navigation lesson. They’ve almost all come in with roughly the same result – latitude 34° south, longitude 018° east, more or less and with a fair variety in the exact minutes. So that smudge of land to port must be the Cape of Good Hope, and you are now officially in the Indian Ocean.”

“Excellent,” said Fanny. It should be only another couple of weeks to our destination on Madagascar. Then the real work will begin. And I promise to fill you in completely at that time, m’dear. It’s really quite an exciting prospect. But,” a vexed look crossed her face, “You said ‘almost’ all the girls got the answer. Who did not?”

“Well, two or three of the girls were within a couple hundred miles – Helen, Joyce, Patricia,” Sally said, knowing she was naming girls who had shown an inclination to side with Fanny. “By far the worst, I’m afraid, was Genevieve Rubette. I haven’t checked the charts, but I believe her answer puts us somewhere in the vicinity of Berlin, rather far inland for a sailing ship. Shall I have the girls disciplined?”

Fanny paused for a moment, then breathed, “No, not this time, I think. I find arithmetic quite tedious, don’t you, and certainly understand that they might not have their hearts into it. They have other qualities I think I can bring out in them. That will be all for now.

Sally curtsied and turned away, making a mental note on her list of who could be trusted and who could not.

“It’s not all that different than keeping tabs in a public house,” Sally said to herself. “Who owes what and who’[s likely to pay. But there’s always a bill to be paid in the end, isn’t there.”

Saturday, February 19, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 36

A Pirate Tale – part 36

“The girls are doing wonderfully, don’t you think, Baastian?” Lady Fanny was sunning herself on the quarterdeck as Mad Sally feverishly drilled the girls through their battle station and rigging maneuvers.

“Yes, my darling – they are … what is your phrase for it, ‘Sprightly!’” Baastian looked through his spyglass in order to ogle the bustier girls more closely – then his eye caught sight of a ship. Baastian leaped into action.

“Prepare for action!” he ordered as he took the wheel.

The young women were expert in their preparations and acquitted themselves nicely as their ship gained ground on what appeared to be a Dutch merchantman.

Lady Fanny loved to watch her man as he steeled himself for battle – she couldn’t resist running her hand over his muscular shoulders and he steered the ship toward its fate.

“Oh, Baastian – I love it when you get all ‘Killy.’ It is such a turn-on to see you with blood in your eyes. Promise me you won’t just blow them up this time – like you did with Sir Nigel and his Scourge of the Seas. There wasn’t even a whole corpse to fish out and hang – even as an effigy! I am so in the mood for some executions!”

Baastian said nothing, but gave Lady Fanny a promissory kiss – hard on the mouth. His blood was up. He, too, wanted to see someone suffer – and with whatever cargo was in the hold of that fat merchantman, he was going to buy his lover something nice – perhaps a porcelain Dalmatian dog. Or maybe one of those beautiful paintings of dogs playing poker – at any rate, it would be dog-themed. It didn’t matter that they flew the flag of his countrymen – his loyalty was to plunder and his allegiance was pledged only to Lady Fanny – at least for now.

As they reached cannon range, he again brought the ship about, getting off two disabling volleys – from both the port and starboard sides, but this time, he didn’t blow up his prize and the young women under Sally’s leadership, fixed their bayonets to their muskets and waited until they came along side.

With the loud crash of wood and the constant pop of fire arms, Sally lead the first boarding party and sliced her way through the merchant marines. These guns for hire lacked the discipline and ferocity that the women under Lady Fanny’s constant threat of dire punishment displayed during the fracas.

Sally, especially, showed remarkable skill and courage under fire. At one point, she had stuck a sailor so hard with her bayonet that she pinned him, screaming in agony, to the mast. Of course, she was unhappy having to kill seemingly innocent people to enrich the likes of Lady Fanny and Baastian Slotemaker, but the survival of her girls depended on her full commitment to the task at hand – and she didn’t hesitate or show any sign of regret. Her job, like that of her opponent, was simply to do what had to be done – kill or be killed. She was determined that on this day, at least, she was not going to be killed.

Upon losing her weapon, she picked up a saber and a dagger that had been stuck into one of the Dutch tradesmen who had unwittingly booked passage on this merchantman in hopes of starting a new life in Johannesburg. His meager life savings – a few coins and his life’s blood– dropping like rain and snow mixed together from his pockets onto the deck. Later, his body would be looted, but for now, he was little more than a rotting armory – one of convenience for the now disarmed Mad Sally.

With blood splashing on her face and shirt, she slashed her way through the Dutch lines. Resistance fell. The seven remaining Dutchmen surrendered to this army of women.

Lady Fanny clapped her hands with glee as the seven prisoners were paraded in front of her. Baastian barked orders at them – one of the men, in particular, seemed confused. He seemed to recognize Slotemaker – at least he recognized a Slotemaker.

“You! You are Dutch – are you not? I know you, don’t I? We met at the Governor’s Ball!” The man was desperate to make the connection, “Slotofucher? Slotodoer?”

“Slotemaker!” Baastian declared – wishing to get on with the executions.

“Yes! Yes, of course!” The man seemed relieved. “You are Bleeker Slotemaker, are you not? The Captain of The Scourge of the Seas?”

“What are you talking about, old man?” Baastian demanded. “The Scourge of the Seas is the ship of that notorious English pirate, Sir Nigel! It’s right here!” He produced a two-year-old copy of Pirattitude Monthly and leafed through to find the page that supported his claim.

The man looked at the cover which featured a photograph of Sawbones Burgess in a lovely pink chiffon dress under the headline, “Gender Bending in Amateur Pirate Theatrics Reaches New Heights!” He laughed, “This is very old. Did you let your subscription lapse? Here, let me show you the PM from last June.”

The old man reached in his haversack and produced the newer issue which featured a cartoon depiction of Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorp Tharp in sad clown make-up juggling three globes under the headline, “Is the British Navy Spread Too Thin?” He handed it to Baastian who quickly found the article he dreaded. To his horror, he realized that he had been the very instrument of his own twin brother’s death.

He quickly drew his saber and began hacking the old man to pieces as the six other prisoners stood in horror.

“Save some for mommy!” Lady Fanny laughed as she took the exhausted Baastian’s sword away and ordered the next prisoner to kneel before her. The young man looked around – but realized there was no where to run and knelt down.

Lady Fanny let out a frightful howl and began slashing at the poor lad’s neck – he tried to remain upright, but soon collapsed and she just continued slashing his bleeding body with the sword – then she simply attacked the next man in line. Still unable to decapitate her victim, she moved on to the next – this time asking Baastian what she was doing wrong.

“Is it my technique? Do I lack wrist strength, or do these silly heads just want to stay attached so badly they won’t come off?”

Most of the girls stood stoically by, some of the more debased appeared to be excited by the proceedings. By the time they reached the last prisoner – a marine of some thirty-three years, Lady Fanny was exhausted and covered in blood.

One of the younger girls was trembling by now – Fanny saw this and decided to make an example of her. She handed the poor dear her bloody saber and said, “You do the last one, deary.”

The girl’s hand was shaking so badly she could barely hold up the sword. The brave marine tried to calm her. “Don’t worry, little miss,” he said, “you send me to a better world.” He stared straight at Fanny as he said these words.

By now, it was clear that the girl would fail in her directive. Lady Fanny lifted her hand as a signal. Eleven young women cocked their muskets and pointed them at the trembling girl. She looked around – it was clear that she was hoping this sailor would take her to this new world with him. Sally stepped out of the crowd with a pistol, the eleven girls pointed their loaded muskets in her direction.

At first, there was a thought that she might shoot Lady Fanny, but she quickly turned and fired a shot into the head of the marine who slumped quickly to the deck. Dead.

Before Lady Fanny could say a word, Sally spoke, “Clearly this girl’s lack of training and readiness is my responsibility. If your ladyship wishes to punish me, I submit myself to your will. But please allow me to finish the training I have begun – such a display will not be repeated.”

Perhaps it was her exhaustion or the satisfaction of watching the once tender-hearted Sally murder a man in cold blood, but Lady Fanny dismissed any thought of harshness she may have had toward this act of bloody insubordination. Instead, she helped the grieving Baastian off the deck and spoke to him in baby talk. “Did mommy’s little boy kill his twin brother, then? Poor baby – poor, poor brotherless baby boy.”

She walked the tearful man back to their cabin. As she left, she ordered, “Clean this mess off the decks and pillage what you may from the merchantman. Sally, chart a course for Johannesburg – we should reach the Cape of Good Hope in just a few days – and then, the Indian Ocean.”

As she disappeared into their cabin, Sally heard her remark, “Baastian, you have to help me with my backhand stroke!”

Friday, February 18, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 35

The Festering Boil bobbed proudly on the water as the crew stood on the shore and cheered. Her hull was freshly patched and pitched, her masts rerigged and her canvas patched and sewn. It was now just a matter of moving all the goods and gear back on board and stowing them away.

“She’s beautiful, isn’t she?” Cap’n Slappy asked. “We should be able to leave with the tide tomorrow afternoon. And I’m sleeping aboard tonight.”

“It’ll be nice to be asea again,” Chumbucket said. “This whole ‘walking on land’ thing is alright for a diversion, but it’s not natural.”

“Let’s get another hunting party out before dark and see if we can’t get a little extra fresh meat before we go,” Slappy said. “And I want every barrel topped off. We’ve got a long journey ahead of us.”

“But tonight, a last celebration in what has turned out to be an excellent harbor,” Chumbucket said.

Dinner that night was a festival as the sailors enjoyed themselves one last time. Once back out to sea their lives would be regulated again by the rhythms of ship’s life. Tonight they ate and drank with abandon.

Ol’ Chumbucket found himself seated with Slappy, Dogwatch Watts, Leftenant Keeling, Juan and Cementhands. They were watching Sawbones Burgess try to dance a native dance he had picked up on a previous voyage, but in this case he seems to have picked it up the way you’d pick up a social disease, and the onlookers roared with laughter as he contorted and shook while dressed in a grass skirt he’d made.

“Is he well?” Juan asked, watching the doctor carefully. “Are you sure he’s not enfermo o loco o ambos?”

“You know, he actually looks surprisingly good in a dress,” Watts said. “I’m not saying ... I just mean I didn’t think he could possibly carry it off.”

“Well, he’s certainly got the legs for it,” Ol’ Chumbucket said, setting off another round of laughter.

Two of the crew members, Greta Olsen and Red Molly, joined in the dance, cavorting around Sawbones and undulating rhythmically, somehow finding a consistent beat in the randomly spasmodic gestures of the ship’s doctor. The rest of the crew cheered in appreciation.

A sour voice piped up from the fringes of the crowd. “I’ve seen people with St. Vitus Dance who looked more graceful.” It was The Drip, sitting off by himself. As the officers glanced over at him, he raised his glass in mock salute and smiled, a sickly sweet smile that contorted his face.

“Gentlemen, and I use the term loosely. I look forward to the dawn and my return to the high seas.”

The comment caused most of the group to glower, casting a pall that not even Sawbones’ convulsions could penetrate.

“Can you imagine four or five months confined at sea with that?” Keeling asked.

But Slappy seemed to remain unaffected. “He and I have had a talk. He understands the effect he sometimes has on people and has promised to keep to himself. I’ve arranged a schedule of times he can come out on deck, and for the rest of the time he’ll be remaining below. Besides, he isn’t nearly as hard on the crew, he actually seems to admire them quite a bit. It’s only the people in charge he can’t stand.”

“And boy can he not stand us,” Cementhands said.

Two figures approached from the beach. It was Sir Nigel and George the Greek, who had been examining the pinnace that Nigel had decided to set off in.

“Sir Nigel! Does the little ship look adequate for your needs?” Slappy called out.

“Indeed she does,” the pirate captain said with satisfaction. “I’m renaming her Nigel’s Revenge, as she is the first step in my tracking down and eventually exacting retribution from those dastardly mutineers. This will be a story that becomes legend wherever pirates gather and share an old sea yarn.”

“So you really intend to leave us? We could use your skills in our quest to the Indian Ocean,” Slappy said.

“I’m afraid so, my old moss-encrusted bean pot,” Nigel replied. “The honor of the Pomfrit Coeur de Noir O'Houghlihan family demands that I sail after those miscreants. Perhaps you’d like to come with me? It’ll be a grand adventure, and it never hurts a pirate’s reputation to be on the edges of one of my stories.”

As ever, Sir Nigel’s braggadocio had a mixed effect on the crew. Some looked enthralled by the prospect of accompanying him, while others snorted and rolled their eyes at his style. Ol’ Chumbucket and Cementhands shared a look that said as clearly as if they had spoken, “Listen to this guy!”

“No, my friend, tempting as the offer is, our duty calls us to the Indian Ocean,” Slappy said.

“But why out there? It takes forever to get there, it’s hot, it’s uncivilized, the worms bore holes in your hull faster than you can patch them, and there’s no decent news service to carry news of your exploits home. I must confess I don’t understand the purpose at all.”

“Perhaps,” The Drip said, “if you had listened to others half as much as you talked about yourself you’d know. This ship is on a mission to rescue a group of kidnapped women and right a terrible wrong, although God help the ladies who depend on this lot to save them,”

“That’ll be enough,” Chumbucket said, trying to cut off the old professor before he said too much. “Don’t bore Nigel with our plans. He’s got a vital mission of his own to attend to.”

But it was too late, the single word “ladies” had piqued Sir Nigel’s interest.

“Kidnapped women, you say? Tell me more.”

In as few words as he could manage, condensing down the 48,000 words that comprise the story so far into a few simple sentences, Cap’n Slappy explained the situation with a brevity your authors would do well to emulate. Two words seemed to have an electrical effect on Sir Nigel.

“Mad Sally? She’s in danger? She’s at the heart of this adventure? That certainly casts this mission in a new light,” Sir Nigel said.

“No, no, I’m sure it’ll be nothing,” Chumbucket chimed in hastily. “A minor dustup, not even worthy of a footnote in a saga such as yours.”

“No, my friends, this changes everything. The romance between Mad Sally of Barbados and the dashing pirate Sir Nigel is all part of the legend.”

“The last time she saw you she broke your nose and threatened to castrate you,” Chumbucket said.

“Yes, she’s a spirited girl. In an experience of women that has spanned five continents and more conquests than any man has a right to expect, I have never met anyone who captured my heart as Mad Sally has. Cap’n Slappy, I must announce a change of plans. I, Sir Nigel de Pomfrit Coeur de Noir O'Houghlihan, and his band of followers will join your expedition to liberate these ladies from the evil clutches of Lady Fanny.”

“Excellent,” Slappy said. “So our numbers grow and I feel certain that success will crown our exploits! Now all we have to determine is the fate of my cousin, Slappista. I must admit I’m inclined to take him along. You never know when a pawn in chains might come in handy, and even if he’s left alone in as isolated a spot such as this, it’s impossible to calculate the deviltry he might get up to. But I promised in a rash moment to give him the choice of being marooned or our prisoner, so I suppose I must put it to him.”

“Very good, my friend,” Sir Nigel said. “Gentlemen and ladies, I propose a toast. To the expedition of Sir Nigel and the crew of the Festering Boil! And to Mad Sally, who as ever impels me onward!”

Glasses were raised with varying degrees of alacrity. One person was particularly slow in drinking the toast, and even as he sipped, there was a dark look on the face of Ol’ Chumbucket.

Thursday, February 17, 2005


A Pirate Tale - part 34 "It's Not Personal"

Slappista listened at a distance as Sir Nigel told his tale – but something didn’t make sense. “Senor Nigel, I read in Pirattitude Monthly that you sailed aboard The Scourge of the Seas – did you not?” Sir Nigel moved up the beach to the trees where Slappista was kept in shackles, “Aye. That WAS my vessel – but it hasn’t been for over two years! I sold it to a Dutch spy … someone named, ‘Slotodoer, or Slotofucher, or Sloto - …”

“Maker?” Chumbucket inquired?

“Aye! That’s it exactly, my man – Slotemaker!”

“Not Baastian Slotemaker!” Doc Burgess interjected with some trepidation.

“Baastian the Bastard?” Slappy clarified.

“No, no, no” – Sir Nigel assured them – “he would have noticed the worm rot – I sold it to his twin brother, Bleeker – the spy. You could read all about it in last June’s issue Pirattitude Monthly.” Here, Sir Nigel shot a shameful glance at Slappista, “…if you kept your subscription up to date.”

Slappista looked at his feet in shame.

“Aye! Quiet, you!” Slappy added with some guilt that he had let his own subscription lapse.

After a hearty meal of delicious oyster stew in which they all sat transfixed by Sir Nigel’s tales of his feats of courage and skill, the party broke up and the men found nice, comfortable mounds of sand upon which to sleep. As they walked away from the fire, Sir Nigel caught up with Ol’ Chumbucket.

“Wonderful stew, my man! First rate!” Sir Nigel’s praise was gregarious – and suspiciously generous.

Ol’ Chumbucket just kept walking along. “I’ll pass your compliments along to the cook.”

Sir Nigel hesitated. “But Slappy told me you were the cook.”

Chumbucket stopped up short and turned to Sir Nigel. “Among the many things that make Cap’n Slappy a unique individual,” Chumbucket explained, “is his ability to be willfully and consistently wrong about people.”

“Examples?” Sir Nigel inquired.

Ol’ Chumbucket was careful with the moment – but now was his chance to get something off his chest. “For one thing, he insists that I am the ship’s cook when we have a five-star gourmet chef trained in Paris. For another, he doggedly persists in referring to his 8-year-old orphaned nephew, our powder monkey, as a “midget.” And finally, he has spent years operating under the mistaken impression that you, in fact, are the world’s greatest pirate!”

Winded from his tirade, Ol’ Chumbucket began to walk away. Sir Nigel called him to a halt.

“Now let me get this straight.” He began – almost confused. “You DON’T like me?”

“That’s correct.” Chumbucket replied using an economy of words.

“Seriously, you really DON’T like me?” Sir Nigel seemed confused by the concept.

Chumbucket opened his eyes wider and gave one nod of the head – as if he couldn’t think of how to make it any clearer.

“Well this is a puzzler.” Sir Nigel pondered for a moment.

“What have I ever done to you, Ol’ Chumbucket?” Nigel asked.


“Then why don’t you like and admire me like everyone else?” Sir Nigel seemed deeply hurt and confused.

“I just don’t.” Ol’ Chumbucket remained matter-of-fact and added, “It’s not personal.”

“It is to me.” Sir Nigel sounded a bit defensive now.

“You know, when you think about it, nothing is personal.” A voice from a few feet away cut into the conversation – it was Cementhands McCormack. He continued. “Interpersonal relationships – and therefore all of human connectedness are based on a complex series of needs assessments and the subsequent attempts to have those needs either satisfied and gratified or create more comfort or sense of meaning within the individual through the process of achieving distance or proximity. Closeness provides validation and distance lessens perceived pain and threat – but it really isn’t about the other individual. It’s all about our internal struggle for either sublimation of meaning making as we travel, ultimately alone, on this journey we call, ‘Life.’”

With that said, the big man wished them both “Nighty-night,” patted them both on the back and walked up the beach to find a nice comfortable sand dune in which to sleep.

“Did you understand any of that?” Sir Nigel asked blankly.

“Not a word.” Ol’ Chumbucket replied, “He just does that sometimes.”

“Do we have a quarrel?” Sir Nigel asked.

“No. I think we have an understanding.” Ol’ Chumbucket responded.

“That you don’t like me.” Sir Nigel reviewed the topic of discussion.

“It’s not personal!” McCormack’s voice carried down the beach.

Everyone went off to sleep.

Wednesday, February 16, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 33: Old Friends

Night settled on the nameless African cove where the Festering Boil lay. The crew slept nestled high on the beach under the shelter of the few trees that straggled down from the hills. After another hard day’s work scraping and patching the hull followed by a full meal around the campfire, the sailors had retired to their spaces to fall asleep while the sunset provided another spectacular, Technicolor display. Stars in the thousands now wheeled overhead.

In the hours after sunset all but a very few of the pirate crew were fast asleep. One of those for whom sleep proved elusive was Juan Garbonzo. The Spaniard lay in the darkness near the other sleeping forms, his mind working overtime as he tracked the movement of the two guards and listened to the sounds of the night. Finally, when he was certain that all was ready, he quietly rose from the sand and trotted down to where the ship lay beached. Arriving, he looked around, but seemed to be alone.

He whistled softly.


He whistled again, a little louder.

“Silencioso, Juan. No despierte cualquier persona,” Slappista hissed, coming from around the bulk of the Festering Boil.

“I won’t wake anyone,” Juan said softly. “No soy un tonto.”

“Very good,” Slappista said. “The pinnace is just down the shore, where they’ve anchored it every night. There is no guard, and I made sure that I drew the watch from the hills tonight. We won’t be bothered.”

The two men moved quietly down the shore to where the small sailboat lay bobbing on the swell.

“The tide is almost at the height, so we should have no trouble making it over the rocks at the entrance to the bay. By the time the sun is up and they realize we’re gone, we’ll be well out to sea and bound for Spain. By the time we get there, my beard should be grown back,” Slappista said.

Juan stopped and looked back up the shore to where the crew lay sleeping. Slappista saw his action, and turned to reassure him.

“Don’t worry about those pirates. They have been useful in our desperate need, but they are not our countrymen, not truly our friends. When we get back home we should have no trouble raising a new crew and ship, and when we meet my cousin again, we’ll be ready to deal with him once and for all.”

Juan shook his head but resumed walking.

“It is not that simple, of course, Captain Slappista. When you have shared hardships, when you have faced death, with a crew, it is not so simple to turn your back on them.”

Slappista laughed. “What about the many times we have faced death together? I say again, they are not your countrymen. They saved your life, but you saved theirs as well. They would not protect you when selling you out will save them, and they certainly won’t do anything to save me. Sometimes a man does what he needs to do.”

Slappista began wading out to the pinnace, which floated a dozen yards from shore.

“That certainly is what you have done before,” Juan said with an edge on his voice. “And many brave men who trusted you now sleep at the bottom of the ocean.”

“I have told you how it was. If the plan had gone right we would have all been rich men. You were a fool to doubt me, Juan,” Slappista said as he reached the side of the small boat. He looked back and saw with some surprise that Juan still stood on the beach.

“And perhaps you were equally foolish to trust me,” Juan said, drawing his pistol.

“Yes, I think perhaps my cousin was rather foolish,” came Slappy’s voice from the ship.

Slappista turned with alarm to see several figures rise from the pinnace, guns leveled at his head. Along with Cap’n Slappy there was Ol’ Chumbucket, Dogwatch Watts, Lieutenant Keeling, George the Greek and Sawbones Burgess.

“You were right all along, Juan,” Chumbucket said. “We were too trusting with our old friend here.”

“Well, that stops right here,” Slappy said. “I think Slappista will be enjoying the rest of his stay with us clapped in irons, and when we depart, we’ll give him the choice of remaining our guest in the hold or staying here all by himself. You might want to think that over. Cousin. We’ll need your answer in less than a week now.”

Slappista looked for one moment as if he was considering the odds on trying to run for it, but realized quickly he couldn’t make it, and that there was nowhere to go if he did. He turned back to Juan.

“Is this how you repay your countryman for all the years we’ve spent together?” he asked in a voice filled with hate.

“No, this is how I repay my betrayer and the betrayer of my many comrades who died at his hand. You may be my countryman, but these are my friends, and my comrades.”

Slappista was herded back to shore and manacled, then led back to the shelter of some trees where the irons were locked into place. He’d watch the remaining work from a vantage in the sun where he could contemplate his decision.

In the next few days the pace of the work quickened as the pirates could see the end in sight. Never happy in such a defenseless position, they longed to get back to the open sea.

“Another day, two at the most, and we can shift the supplies ashore and be out of here," George said in summing up the day’s work. “Have you thought about where we’re going?”

“There’s nothing to decide,” Chumbucket said. “Lady Fanny has the girls in the Indian Ocean. We’ve got to follow them.”

“Well, as to that, we are pirates, after all. Rescue and derring do are not our usual line of work,” George said. “I’m not denying a strong desire to settle Fanny’s hash, but I’d just point out that the crew signed on for plunder and loot and a chance to retire rich. They might not take kindly to a wild goose chase.”

“True,” Slappy said. “But there’s certainly plenty of chances for booty among the ships of the Grand Moghul and the British East Indies Company. I don’t think anyone will complain if that’s the direction we head. And if we happen across our friend Fanny, all the better.”

”Then we’re bringing The Drip with us?” Chumbucket asked.

“Aye, I think we have to if we want our best chance at rescuing Sally and the girls,” the cap’n said. “But what’s this?”

The captain pointed to the mouth of the bay, where his keen eyes had picked out a longboat, much the worse for wear, rowing in towards shore. From the distance there appeared to be a handful of men aboard.

Chumbucket turned to the lookouts posted in the rocks above, who signaled, “No sails,” indicating this was a lone boat, not the forerunner of a larger visitation from someone inconvenient like the navy.

Sailors formed up on the beach waiting as the boat neared the shore. Suddenly Slappy’s face split into a smile.

“Why, it’s none other than my old friend Sir Nigel!” he said, then roared in greeting, “Ahoy Nigel! What are you doing here, and where’s your ship?”

The figures on the boat waved tiredly, but were apparently too spent to answer. Finally the boat crunched into the sand and willing hands helped the passengers aboard.

“Slappy, is that you old chum?” came the voice of the pirate.

“Nigel, you look like hell,” his friend said. It was true, the man who was typically as well known for his sartorial splendor as his pirating skills looked exhausted, and his usually immaculate suit was in tatters.

“What’s going on?” Slappy asked. “Where’s the Yew Anchor?”

“Well, I’ll give you the short version for now if that will hasten a meal. We’ve been without food for a week and down to our last drop of water today.”

“Of course,” Slappy said. The new arrivals were taken in hand and quickly arranged about the fire, where dinner was already waiting.

“In a nutshell, my old persimmon, the Yew Anchor is under new management,” Nigel said when he’d had something to drink and began eating. “We’ve had a most amazing series of adventures, probably nothing like it in the annals of the seas, and I’m sure it will make a rousing good read for my many fans when I get back to England. But the long and the short of it is, we took a prize and I split the crew between the two ships. That was maybe two months ago, one loses track of time when one is clinging heroically to life. Anyway, when I split the crew, I perhaps didn’t choose as wisely as I should have in who stayed aboard the Yew Anchor.”

“Mutiny?” Slappy asked, looking grim.

“Aye, the very thing. We lost the prize ship in a fog bank. Two days later my crew aboard Yew Anchor with me decided they’d rather visit the Indian Ocean without my company. We’d gotten into a bit of a dustup over the difference between a strumpet and a harlot. I’m afraid I had to kill a couple of men in the melee that followed, and when it was all said and done, the decided they could do without me. They were jolly good about not throwing us overboard, but I can’t say much else in their favor. Not only did they take my ship, they even took most of my extensive wardrobe. I imagine anyone spotting them from a distance would think there was a whole shipful of men looking just like me aboard.”

Nigel fell into a moody reverie. The expressions around the fire fell into three categories – those who were furious at the notion of a mutiny, those who stared reverentially at the well-known pirate, and those who rolled their eyes.

“Anyway, these lads stayed loyal to me, and have shared my harrowing escapades as we made our way to this dark continent and have painstakingly worked our way up the coast, snatching what food and drink we can along the way. What a heroic band we’ve made, almost martyred to the evil intent of our former shipmates.”

Nigel paused to introduce his fellow castaways – there was his personal chef, Dubious John, “Fancy” Frank Filigree, his personal sketch artist, Wheezy Morgan, his personal tailor and hairdresser, and Daft Mick, a rather simple-minded sailor who had meant to stay aboard with the mutineers but had gotten confused about which was the ship and which was the dinghy.

“There was also a goat aboard, but we ate him rather early in the going,” Nigel said.

“Well, my old friend, I’m just glad we were here to help,” Slappy said. “We’re headed towards the Indian ourselves, and we could bring you along when we set sail in a couple of days. Or you and your friends could take the pinnace and make your own way in your own swashbuckling style. We also have an old friend chained to that tree over there who you may want to say hello to.”

“Is that Slappista?” Nigel said with surprise. “Well, you seem to have had some adventures of your own. But perhaps we can wait to exchange the full stories tomorrow. I think I and the crew might do best with a little sleep.”

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