Friday, February 04, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 23

Cap’n Slappy emerged from his interview with his cousin with a grim face. As he climbed to the quarterdeck, his hands shook visibly, Sawbones Burgess noticed.

“Cap’n, you’ve let yer blood sugar get low again,” the doctor said sternly.

“What? No, stop playing doctor,” Slappy snapped testily. “We have serious problems.”

“What’s up,” Cementhands McCormack asked.

“Seems we haven’t been pursuing my cousin at all. This mad chase across the ocean has been Fanny’s plan all along, I fear for Mad Sally and the girls. And while Slappista was able to escape her murderous plot by the expedient of throwing himself overboard onto some conveniently passing flotsam, he doesn’t know her location. But he does know she’s up to something awful.

“And to add to the confusion, Chumbucket is no longer aboard the ship, He escaped somehow. So do we try to chase Fanny and rescue the ladies somewhere along the African coast, or do we backtrack and try to find our friend in the vastness of the ocean. It’s an impossible choice, either way.”

“Cap’n,” Dogwatch said. “What do we do with our guest?”

“Our prisoner,” Slappy said firmly.

“Our prisoner then. After all, he’s your spitten image. What shall we do?”

“Well, first of all, I’m the one with no bullet holes. So that’s one way you can tell us apart. And second, he’s the one who, even as we speak, is being clapped in irons. And third, you’ll notice my beard is full and flowing, while his is trimmed in one of those weenie, pointy things. Doc, while you’re treating the prisoner’s wounds – and it wouldn’t break my heart if they didn’t heal for months – I want you to make sure that Slappista maintains his sartorial elegance. Under no circumstances is he allowed to grow his beard out.”

“Aye, cap’n,” Burgess said.

“But now, which course do we take?” Slappy mused. “Either way it’s a desperate gamble.”

“Ships ho!” cried a voice from above. “Four ships on the horizon, due west. They’re dead in the water and showing no colors.”

“Cementhands!” Slappy barked. “Signal Keeling to make for those sails. I’m not sure who has ships in these waters, but if they aren’t our prey they may have some word of them. Then get the men aloft and shake out the canvas.”

Aboard Chumbucket's Charge, Keeling and George the Greek had spotted the distant sails at the same time, and already had their enthusiastic but untrained crew scrambling into the rigging to unfurl the sails. Even as the canvas slid into place, the sails crackled in the sudden breeze that sprang up about the ships.

“That’s odd,” Keeling observed. “It was almost dead calm. Where did this wind come from?”

I don’t know, but we’ll take it,” George the Greek said. “Unless those ships take flight, we should reel them in before the watch changes. I’d get those gun crews of yours ready.”


After an uncomfortable night in the cramped cells of La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, Mad Sally and the girls in her charge were brought on deck into the sun. The fog had burned off and there was no wind. Sally looked around in shock.

Most of the forward rigging had been pulled down or bundled to the side and the sails were shrouded. Sally wasn’t a sailor, but she’d entertained enough to know that this was unusual, possibly suicidal. She and the girls were herded amidships and were surprised to see the gun ports vacant. The larger pieces had been manhandled to the side and lashed to the railing. The smaller guns, she saw with bewilderment, had been stacked at the bow of the ship as if to form a platform or altar. Wood had been stacked on top of that, with a pole extending up from ... No! It couldn’t be, Sally thought.

But it was. Even as she grasped what she was seeing, two of the Dutch pirates, looking spent from the exertion of creating the ersatz execution post, dragged forward a man in a torn robe, his tonsured scalp dashed with blood from the cut on his head. They tied him to the post, then retreated to their positions.

“Welcome to the first ever seagoing public execution by burning at the stake,” came Lady Fanny’s voice from behind. Sally swiveled and saw Fanny standing on the poop, flanked by a worried looking Bastiaan Slotemaker. Even though he had acceded to Fanny’s demand and had made his pirates labor all morning to make it as safe as possible, the Dutchman was pretty sure it was a bad idea.

“Hello there, Sally!” Fanny shrieked. “Ready for the fun? I hope so, because after we dispense with the padre here, I have something even MORE exciting for you and the girls!”

“Fanny, what are you doing? I thought the plan was to have an all-girl pirate crew as part of the school’s curriculum. This is insane,” Sally said, instantly regretting her words.

“Insane, am I? Tell me I’m insane when in two years I’ve taken my place on the throne of Spain!!!” Fanny’s eyes grew wilder. “Then I’ll ally with France and we’ll conquer England once and for all! Oh, wait. You won’t tell me anything in two years, because none of you will see the sunrise. Shame, that. But now, on to the afternoon’s entertainment. Ready, Father Riley?”

The gagged priest struggled at the post.

“What’s that? I’m afraid I can’t hear you. Well, ta! It’s time to start the festivities. Bastiaan darling, would you signal our ships to use the missionaries’ boat as target practice? And when their pathetic tub is sunk, that’ll be the signal to light the bonfire.”

The ships – Fanny’s Dagger, Killjoy and Death’s Folly – moved slowly in the light air toward the barque that had carried the missionaries. At a range of 200 yards the first in line opened fire.

“Ships!” Called a voice from the mizzenmast. “Ships approaching from due east!”


“What’s wrong? We heard a shriek!” Chumbucket said as he and Juan ran up to Jezebel and Liz on the poopdeck.

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Jezebel said reassuringly. “I’m afraid I wasn’t watching where I was going and spilled my gin and tonic on Liz here. Are you alright dear?”

“I’m fine, but the ice went down my collar and startled me,” Liz said. “I’m afraid the gin got all over the pages of my Plato, but that’s not the first time THAT’S happened.”

“Now what brings you gentlemen here in such a hurry, other than your naturally chivalrous demeanors?” Jezebel asked.

“We have company,” Chumbucket said, pointing to the fog bank from which the masts of a ship could be seen.

“Goodness!” Jezebel said, chuckling. “They talk about the lonely life of the sea, but this is as crowded as Grand Central Station. Sorry, wrong century again. As crowded as Newgate Gaol. Better? And who could this be?”

“I’m afraid it’s Sir Nigel.”

“Who is Sir Nigel,” Liz asked.

“A 4-foot-8 fop who has somehow convinced Cap’n Slappy that he’s the greatest pirate in the history of the sea,” Chumbucket said with a scowl.

“Really?” Jezebel asked, a trace of a smile flickering across her face as she led them into her cabin.

“Alright, 5-foot-3 – with boots,” Chumbucket conceded ungraciously. “He’s lurking in that fog bank over there, which is no surprise since in my experience of him, lurking in a fog bank is what he does best. I’ve seen him lurk in one for weeks.”

“Whatever should we do?” Jezebel continued in a voice of mock bewilderment.

“Nothing, I suppose. It’s just that, if you’re correct, we’re on top of the action now, and Sir Nigel is – unpredictable. The only thing you can say for sure about him is, if there’s a woman about, she’ll find him trying valiantly to board her, begging pardon” he added as he noticed the look that passed between the women.

“Well if it makes you feel better, he’s here by chance,” Jezebel said, glancing into her strange crystal. “He’s on his way to the Indian Ocean where, I should add, there’s a good chance you’ll see him, if you survive the next 18 hours.”

This was too much for Chumbucket, whose nerves were taut.

“If we survive? Just get me within boarding distance of Fanny’s ship, and we’ll see who survives!” he snapped.

“Well, as to that, that should happen in about two hours or so. Won’t that be nice? Old acquaintances reunited. It makes one positively misty,” Jezebel said, her eyes twinkling.

Chumbucket ignored the jibe and went for the heart of the matter.

“So what happens when we get there?”

“First,” Jezebel corrected him, “Let’s talk about who ‘we’ are. The Sea Witch won’t be going much further. If you like, we could pause here and ‘entertain’ this Sir Nigel. You make him sound rather fetching to a single woman such as myself. Grrr. But as to you, we have the pinnace we’ve been towing that will do nicely for getting you into the action. Even if you travel alone,” here her eyes flicked to Juan, “you’ll be able to handle her just fine.”

“He does not go alone,” the Spaniard said. “In this matter, Ol’ Chumbucket and Juan Francisco Gustavo Garbonzo are as one in mind and spirit. Shows us to this little boat of yours and we will, as you say, ‘take it from there.’”

In the next half hour Chumbucket and Juan, with Jezebel at their side, inspected the small, two-masted pinnace and saw that it was more than adequate. They had no gear with them of course, but Jezebel made sure there were provisions aboard. To their surprise, the trim little ship was equipped with a pair of three-pound cannons in the bow, and a small supply of powder and balls. There were also two cutlasses and a brace of pistols.

“Well what do you know, we had some weapons after all,” Jezebel said. “Thanks for taking them away.”

“Thank you for supplying them when we needed them,” Chumbucket replied. “Somehow I can’t believe that was an accident. Well, these cannon won’t be much use for fighting ship to ship, but they may do damage if we can get in close,” Chumbucket said,

“Just remember that nothing is certain until it actually happens,” Liz called to Chumbucket from the Sea Witch.

“I’ll remember. But with Fanny, whatever happens is likely to happen fast.”

Jezebel moved to the railing to return to her own ship. “Well, there are ships visible now and you have the wind of them, so I think I’d better get back aboard the Sea Witch and let you cast off. No goodbyes, please. I’m quite certain we’ll meet again, if ...”

“Yes, I know. If we survive the next 18 hours.”

“17, now,” Jezebel said.

Ahead lay open sea and clear skies and, in the not-very-great distance, a rendezvous with adventure and death – possibly his own. Behind him in the last of the fog lurked the ship that probably belonged to Sir Nigel. Chumbucket turned to slip the tow cable, but Jezebel stopped him with a question.

“Back on deck you said Slappy thinks Sir Nigel is the greatest pirate ever. You clearly have your doubts, although your tone implied there’s something personal in all this.”

Chumbucket dismissed the thought with a shrug and a distracted wave. “It was long ago,” he said. “And in the end I got the girl, so it doesn’t really matter.”

“But I’m curious,” Jezebel pressed. “Just who DO you think deserves that title – Greatest Pirate Ever?”

Chumbucket looked offended that the question would even be voiced.

“Why, Cap’n Slappy, of course.”

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