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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