Monday, February 14, 2005


A Pirate Tale - 31

The pace of work on the Festering Boil’s hull quickened with Cap’n Slappy’s return to health, as if the crew had one less thing on its mind and could now focus on the task at hand.

“He seems almost his old self,” Dogwatch observed to Cementhands McCormack as they pulled on the lines that raised the ship off its starboard side and slowly, carefully lay it down on the port side. “He does get strangely moody – quiet-like – and he’s powerfully hungry.”

“The cap’n’s always been a good eater,” Cementhands observed. “He can eat as much as any man I’ve seen.”

“A whole goat? That’s what he ate last night. A whole goat!” Dogwatch said with a reverential tone in his voice, as if describing a witnessed miracle. “I cooked it myself. Saved the eyeballs for last and popped into his mouth one at a time for dessert!”

“Well, he was out for a week. That’ll give a man a powerful hunger. Watch it, you!” he shouted at a sailor who came close to tripping over the lines. “You want to walk back to the Caribbean?”

“Is that where we’re goin’ then?” Dogwatch asked.

“Not if you’re charting the course,” Cementhands laughed. “But actually I don’t know where we’re headin’ from here. We haven’t’ taken a prize in months, and that means none of us has been paid. So where ever we’re going, there’d better be plenty of fat merchant ships for us.”

“And women!” Dogwatch added.

“And women,” McCormack agreed. “And rum!”

That question was the center of discussion further up the beach as well. (That is, the question of where to go, not the question of rum and women – that was a given.) Ol’ Chumbucket was unhappy about the idea of taking Droppingham with them, but, to his surprise, found the revived Cap’n Slappy much more sanguine about the prospect.

“He’ll be fine,” Slappy said. “He’s not used to people so naturally he’s a little touchy.”

“A little touchy? He’d talk the paint off the cabin walls with his carping and complaints,” Chumbucket said.

“Oh, I like that,” said Droppingham, who was party to the discussion. “I offer some concrete suggestions for improvement, some observations based on my years of experience, and that’s the thanks I get. Name calling, from a person who’s named for a bucket of fish guts.”

“Oh, he didn’t mean anything by it,” Slappy tried to reassure the old man.

“Yes I did!” Chumbucket said. “I meant he’s the most unpleasant person I’ve ever known, not counting the people with swords in their hands trying to kill me.”

“I’m also the only person in the whole world who can tell you where to go if you want to catch up with Fanny. I’m also pretty sure I know her plan. But you’re not getting a word out of me until we’re away at sea. And even then I’ll only tell you enough to keep us going, but never enough for you to put me ashore. I’m not as foolish as the idiot children I had to teach,” The Drip said.

“See, even when he’s asking us to do something for him, he’s insulting us,” Chumbucket said with frustration.

“Now, I think we can make allowances. And he does know where Fanny’s going,” Slappy pointed out.

“How do we know he knows?” Chumbucket asked.

“He showed me while I was asleep, didn’t you professor.”

Droppingham looked a little surprised, but Chumbucket’s jaw hit the beach.

“Oh, I couldn’t pick it out on the charts or anything, but I saw, La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza in my dream, or vision, or whatever that was, pulling into a tropical harbor with other ships. The girls all seemed to be alive, so we have one less thing to worry about.”

Chumbucket wheeled on Droppingham. “What’s all this then?”

“The drug, as I think I told ya, ya git, gives the most vivid dreams and visions. Some people claim they’re prescient. Other people say ‘How the hell would you know they’re prescient? You’re stoned out of your gourd. The argument is far from over.”

“Either way,” Slappy interposed, “I know if we follow your instructions, we’ll find that harbor and we’ll find the girls. So we really don’t have a lot of choice in the matter. We can go to the Indian Ocean and bumble about on our own and maybe run into them, or miss them by two thousand miles. Or we can take Prof. Droppingham here along with us and have some idea of where we’re going.”

“Well, I guess that’s settled then,” Chumbucket conceded sourly. “But see here, Droppingham. Keep your chatter and your opinions to yourself, or you might find yourself walking back to your little farm.”

The crew was returning from the beach now, another long day of labor finished. As they passed the spot where Slappy, Chumbucket and The Drip were conversing, Slappy noticed one figure who seemed more than just tired.

“Is Juan okay?” he asked. “He seems distracted.”

“Och, the wee Spaniard? He’s the gloomiest cuss I’ve ever seen asea,” The Drip pitched in immediately. He’s got a face like a plate of cold beans.”

“Enough from you,” Chumbucket snarled. “I’ve spoken to him today. You’re right. I’m not sure where his head is. But he says he’s fine, and his work certainly isn’t suffering. He may be small, but he’s done the work of two men out there.”

The subject of their discussion passed by unhearing. He continued to put one foot in front of the other up the beach, but his expression seemed a thousand miles away, until he approached the spot where Slappista was leaning against a tree. As he passed, his former captain looked away, but his voice came in a whisper that only Juan heard.

“I think tonight is the night. Are you coming with me?”

Juan paused, then with the slightest nod of his head, whispered, “Si. I will be there.”

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