Monday, February 07, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 25

“Voor de liefde van haringen!” Bastiaan cursed at his crew. “Can’t you sink a two-masted garbage scow from point-blank range?”

As La Herida que Filtra de la Cabez fled south, away from the battle, the Dutch pirates looked back ashamedly at the target they had just failed to sink. The two figures on the tiny boat were still standing defiantly, middle fingers thrust skyward.

“Die duivels!” one of the pirates shouted. “Do you see what they do with their fingers! Bastiann! Let’s bring her about and pound those jerks into muesli!”

Bastiann looked as if he were about to give the order, but a quick glance at Fanny made him think twice.

“Bastiann! This ship is not turning around,” she shrieked. “It’s bad enough your fleet is now so much Purina Squid Chow because of Slappy. We can still salvage the plan if we keep our heads – and our lives. There’ll be no wasting time and powder for a little macho display trying to prove your belaying pin is bigger than theirs! Forget them. They’re a couple of idiot sailors who don’t mean a thing to us!”

Bastiann “The Bastard” Slotemaker hesitated. Fanny glowered at him. He coughed lightly. Her eyes narrowed. He said, “Yes, well, er ...”

The crew had had enough. The majority of them headed first for the galley, where they took as much food and water as they could carry, then to the longboats, which they began lowering over the side.

“Hey, guys, c’mon,” Bastiaan wheedled the crew. “It’ll be alright. We’ll just going to run south for a little way. But we’ll come back and clobber them in the end, really.”

“No way, Bast,” their leader shouted. “First we turned tail and fled when we had a 2-1 advantage. Then those two ships killed our friends and we kept running. Now we’re running away from a leaky pinnace with a popgun for a cannon. I could have stomached all that – I wouldn’t like it, but I could stomach it. But those two assholes are giving us the finger! Look! They’re STILL doing it! Nobody gives me the finger! You may be getting something from Fanny that makes it worth taking the finger, but we’re sure not. We’ve had enough. We’re leaving!”

And with that, all the Dutch sailors but the captain loaded into two longboats and headed off for what they hoped would be the Canaries in two days time. They took their bearings and headed east, a course that, coincidentally, took them into a growing fog bank.

“We may have a problem, Fanny my love,” Bastiaan said. “We don’t have enough sailors to run the ship. I don’t see how we’ll manage without a crew.”

Fanny stared icily at Bastiaan for a full minute. Then, through gritted teeth, she snarled, “We’ll use the girls again. Tell Sally I need to speak with her.” Fanny turned on her heel and left him alone.

“Shumbucket,” Juan asked as the Festering Boil approached their sailboat, “Why do you think Jezebel was so insistent about us reaching the battle at a specific time? Maybe I missed something, but it looks to me as if the battle is over.”

“I don’t know, Juan. I thought we’d be arriving in time to save lives or something, but I can’t see that we’ve accomplished anything,” Chumbucket mused. “Jezebel seemed to think it was important that we be at this spot at this time, but I don’t see why.”

The little ship pulled alongside the Festering Boil. Chumbucket grabbed the line tossed from the ship while the crew crowded the railings as word spread of the prodigal’s return. The little boat was drawn in and the two seamen clambered aboard.

Juan Garbonzo hung back as Ol’ Chumbucket was mobbed by his shipmates. Suddenly a stern voice broke through the celebration.

“Chumbucket!” Slappy roared. “What happened to that purple suit we lent ya? It’s from the ship’s theatrical supplies and I want it cleaned and pressed before our production of Hamlet, or it’s comin’ out of yer booty!”

Chumbucket turned to the captain with a cool look. “Well what in blazes have ya been doing with our ship? Been drivin’ her up on the rocks again?”

“If ye’d been aboard instead of lollygagging across the Atlantic on a joy ride, you’d not have missed a fair good scrape,” the captain said, climbing down to the gun deck.

The two men stared at each other for a long moment. Then smiles split their faces as they pounded one another on the back.

“Good to have ye back, lad!” Slappy laughed.

“Lad?” Chumbucket retorted. “I’ve got 10 years on you. Still, good to be back.”

Slappy turned to Juan, who stood at the railing, his eyes wide. “And who is this?” the captain asked.

“¡Mi capitán! ¿Cómo está usted aquí?” Juan asked in confusion.

“Mistaken identity,” Slappy said. “No soy Slappista. Soy Cap'n Slappy. I’m told there’s some family resemblance.”

It was a too much for Juan. The Spaniard staggered back and fell. Cementhands McCormack snatched him up just before he hit the deck.

“Take him to my cabin,” Chumbucket said. “He’s a valiant fellow; I’d not have made it without him. Slappy and I have things to talk about.”

After Chumbucket had changed into his own clothes (“A man never feels right when he’s wearing someone else’s pants,” the pirate said as he dressed hurriedly.) he retired to Slappy’s cabin where the two talked far into the night, bringing each other up to date. When Chumbucket related his adventures on the Sea Witch, Slappy let out a whistle.

“Jezebel, eh? Not many trifle with her and come away unchanged, the stories say. Still, she saved yer life, and that’s something,” Slappy conceded.

“Perhaps, Chumbucket said, “But I doubt we’ve seen the last of her.”

Slappy was happier to hear that Sir Nigel has been spotted. “Ah, if we run into trouble he’s sure to come to our aid. Things are never so black that a strong dose of Sir Nigel can’t fix ‘em.”

“Yes,” Chumbucket muttered to himself. “Like a strong dose of the clap.”

Slappy either didn’t hear the remark or else chose to ignore it, because he turned to more pressing issues. “We’ve got other fish to fry. We still have to chase down that blackhearted, betrayin’ she-devil Fanny. But before we can, we’ve got some serious work to do just to stay afloat.”

True enough. Though Slappy and his crew had defeated their adversaries, they were in trouble. The stout hull had held against the Dutch cannonading, but the seams were sprung and leaking badly. Only by keeping crews on the pump ‘round the clock could they stay ahead of the incoming water. Much of the rigging had been shot away. More ominous, 10 of the crew had been killed. Of the 50 left, fully half were wounded. Sawbones Burgess was the busiest man aboard.

Slappy himself was not immune. His left arm was bound to his side to protect the cracked bone he received when a foe had lunged at him with an iron bar. Slappy killed the man with a single thrust of his cutlass, but the arm was temporarily useless.

“I hate to let Fanny get a head start, but we can’t make much speed as we are. I’m thinking we should run straight for the African coast and make repairs. Getting the crew off the ship will be good for their health as well,” the captain said.

Chumbucket agreed. “It maddens me to think of Sally and the girls in Fanny’s clutches, but we haven’t much choice. We won’t do them any good if we drown.”

So the Festering Boil turned eastward and began beating a painful course to Africa. Ten days passed – days of constant pumping of the bilges, short rations and three more burials at sea as sailors succumbed to wounds. During this time Juan became an integral member of the crew, though it was determined not to let him see Slappista, confined below.

On the tenth day, the coastline was before them and they limped south looking for a suitable inlet. On the third morning after landfall they found a bay that would serve. Its treacherous opening would provide some safety during the days when the ship was beached to repair the hull.

In contrast to the Festering Boil, the pinnace from the Sea Witch had been easily repaired. Chumbucket was now aboard her, picking his way through the rocks to lead the larger ship into the cove. With Greta Olsen swinging the lead to find bottom, George the Greek’s steady hand at the helm, and all hands at the railing to watch for rocks, the Festering Boil made her way through the dangerous channel and into the calm waters of the small bay.

“It’s perfect,” Slappy said, surveying the scene. The bay was perhaps a mile and a half across, sheltered from the weather and prying eyes. The shoreline ran up into lightly wooded hills. More importantly, a small stream fed into the bay. “As private as a gentleman’s privy. We can water here, and should be able to find food. We’ll wait for high tide, then run her ashore as close as we can to the stream.”

Chumbucket took a party of a eight ashore in the pinnace to scout. By the time the currents brought the Festering Boil in and she was secured as high on the beach as the crew could manage, they had returned with a dozen game birds and two wild boars they had shot. The dinner that night was festive, roast meat and local fresh fruit they had picked. It was the first full meal anyone had eaten in months. As the men and women sat around the fire eating their fill, Sawbones Burgess watched approvingly. “Nothing like solid ground and full bellies to cure a crew of everything from scurvy to knife wounds,” the doctor observed with a smile.

“True enough, and they’ll get plenty of good, healthy exercise starting tomorrow,” the captain said. “We’ve got to empty the ship, lay her on her side, scrape her down, stop those seams and do any other repair work, then flip her over and do it all again on the other side. That’d usually take over a month. I’d like to cut that in half, or as near half as possible.”

“You’re asking a lot,” Sawbones protested.

“We need a lot,” Chumbucket said, siding with the captain. “Every day we’re beached is a day Mad Sally and the girls get farther from us. Not to mention we’re rather defenseless, even in this secluded place.”

“When we take the cannon off tomorrow, I want ‘em up in those rocks, just in case,” the captain said.

“What do we do about our friend, your cousin?” Sawbones asked.

“We’ll put him to work,” Slappy said. “If I can work with this arm, Slappista can manage with his wounds. We’ll put him on his best behavior. Besides, where’s he going to go? But what about Garbonzo?”

“I trusted him with my life, and that worked out,” Chumbucket said. “Besides, he was thoroughly betrayed by Slappista, and I don’t think that’ll be easily forgotten. I promise you, Juan Garbonzo is not someone you’ll have to worry about,” Chumbucket said firmly.

Juan heard his name from across the circle around the fire and rose, approaching the captain. He stood before the pirate chief and said, “Capitan Slappy, I say this: You have injured your arm. I, Juan Garbonzo, will be your left arm until you recover. I pledge my life to the crew of my compadre, Viejo Shumbucket.”

Slappy stared at the man, overcome with the power of his sincerity. Then he laughed, and said, “Well, let’s not go getting married just yet. But you’re welcome. Pull up a bit of beach and tear off more pork. We’ve got work enough for all hands, starting at first light!”

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