Wednesday, March 09, 2005


A pirate Tale - 51

Readers may be having trouble tracking all the shipping presently in the story. Hell, the authors do and we’re writing it. So let’s take a moment to sum up.

There’s the Festering Boil, commanded by Cap’n Slappy, east of Madagascar and west of Diego Garcia. There’s the flotilla commanded by Admiral Tharp (Slappy’s brother, half brother or adopted brother depending on who’s telling the story) aboard his flagship, HMS Susan’s Doily. His other ships are HMS Dauntlessly Brave, HMS Dangerously Reckless and HMS Suicidally Insane. The English fleet has apparently just stumbled across the Festering Boil.

They are chasing Lady Fanny, Mad Sally and the 40 or so kidnapped schoolgirls aboard La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, about a day’s sail to the east. Fanny’s ship has rendezvoused with Don Taco aboard Broche de Presión as well as his other two ships; the Crujido and the Estallido, the ships that are supposed to help her capture the Spanish treasure ship, Sabado Gigante, part of her plan to become queen of Spain and extend her reign of insane evil across the entire continent.

What they don’t realize is that their other ship, Olor Tremendo de Conchita, has been captured by Slappista, Slappy’s lookalike cousin/Fanny’s husband (she thinks she killed him weeks ago.) He knows about the plot to capture the treasure ship, and his new confederates, led by Francois “Stinky” St. Claire have already captured the Sabado Gigante and are now lying in wait for Fanny and Taco. They are accompanied by three schooners tied up at a place called Slappista’s Atoll, although for the purposes of getting a crude joke in, we’re calling it Slappista’s Asshole. The three schooners do not yet have names.

There’s also the Sea Witch, commanded by Jezebel. What they’re doing is a mystery, even to us. Is Jezebel a witch or sorceress, a time-traveler, an alien? Or what? She can make things happen, that’s for sure.

Oh, and don’t forget legendary pirate Sir Nigel, who is singlehandedly sailing the pinnace Sir Nigel’s Revenge, somewhere between the Slappy and Fanny, loaded with black powder. He’s intent on revenge against the mutineers who took over his ship the Yew Anchor, which thank God was sunk last week because who needs one more ship in all this? Nigel has professed a devotion to Mad Sally, although Ol’ Chumbucket, aboard the Festering Boil, also seems attached to her and mentioned weeks ago that there was something he and Jezebel knew about Sally that no one else did – even Sally.

Sally, by the way, just had a lusty interlude with Taco’s lieutenant, Ernesto, who everybody calls “Entrerroscas De cuero” or, in English, “Leather Nipples.” Don’t ask. Then she told him she might have to kill him later although it doesn’t seem to have affected their relationship. It’s that kind of story. To add one more twist, Sally has just been imprisoned aboard Taco’s ship.

Count it all up. That’s 16 ships and at least five different sides or motivations. Did we miss anybody? 16 ships.

Hmmm. That’s a lot of ships, a lot going on. How do we get some control, impose some semblance of order back into the plot? Hell, how do we get a plot? There must be some device, some tool of the writer’s trade, that can help impose a little order on all this. What to do, what to do?

“Typhoon!” yelled the Festering Boil’s lookout.

Slappy, with his monkey Strumpet on his shoulder, had been boarding the Boil’s longboat for a trip to his brother’s ship. He had been ordered to meet with Tharp, and was counting on the monkey to annoy him. But the cry from the masthead changed that. Slappy stopped and eyed the line of clouds that loomed menacingly over the horizon, closing fast from the southwest.

“Screw my brother!” he shouted. “George! Run up the signal flags telling him we’re running before the storm. And if we have a ‘Good luck,’ run that up too. Keeling! Batten the hatches and shake out the canvas. Dogwatch! Make the heading due east until the storm hits. Then we’ll reef the sails and let her take us wherever she wants to go.”

The storm had also been spotted aboard the HMS Susan’s Doily. It would have been impossible to miss, as lightning crackled from under the roiling clouds that raced towards them. The heavier English warships would ride the storm well, but their high castles in the stern would make maneuvering in the winds difficult, so they all turned into the storm in the hopes of riding it out. The ships were soon scattered.

Slappy had the Festering Boil come around to the northeast just as the storm hit, and the waiting crew quickly trimmed the sails as the wind howled through the rigging and rain lashed the sailors more vigorously than Keeling’s cat o’nine tails ever had.

With that done, most of the crew retreated below, with a storm-watch on deck to man the helm and keep the sails trimmed enough to maneuver.

“Well, we should be able to ride this out now,” Slappy said to Chumbucket as they listened to the gale beat on the ship. “But God knows where we’ll be when this finally breaks.”

Aboard Broche de Presión Don Taco also saw the storm coming. (It was a big damn storm.) “We’d better prepare for a bit of weather,” he said, issuing orders to his crew and making sure that Mad Sally was escorted below. “Treat her courteously and with respect, but don’t let up on deck,” he ordered his sailor. To Sally he added, “With this weather that’s coming, you won’t WANT to come above decks. I know Fanny is very proud of her all-girl crew, but they’ve never faced a storm like this one. Few have. So I’ve ordered a complement of sailors over to assist.”

At Slappista’s Asshole, the Conchita and Sabado Gigante rode the storm out at anchor. They were on the leeward side of the atoll and were protected from the winds. The crews worked the anchor chains, paying them out and drawing in to keep the ships pointed into the wind as the storm blew over them. It sounds easy, but try doing it for two days.

The three ships hidden on the other side of the island, however, (for discussion’s sake let’s give them names, although they won’t be with us long – Arabesque, Brioche and Calamari.) were forced from their anchorage and had to run before the wind. Arabesque finally made landfall at a remote island paradise teeming with verdant jungles and enchanting wildlife. Unfortunately, the island was populated by cannibals and the sailors never had a chance. Tough luck, that.

The Brioche and Calamari were able to stay together until they foundered off the coast of India. The sailors made it ashore and used the timbers of the wrecked ships to build a luxury hotel that did quite well until the panic of 1893, which killed the tourist trade and forced them into bankruptcy. Their heirs then used the hotel’s timbers to build a new pirate ship and went back to sea, but that was years after this story ends.

“Sail, ho!” called a sharp-eyed lookout.

In the heavy weather they were fighting through, it was no surprise that the small ship had been able to come this close before being spotted. It had passed La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza in the dim light and now stood a scant 50 yards from the bow of Broche de Presión. The waves were nearly washing over her as its lone figure tried to work it through the storm.

“My God, that’s Nigel!” Don Taco exclaimed. In the flashes of lightning they could make out the pirate as he struggled. The little pinnace had lost one of its two masts and provided very little shelter. It was dwarfed by some of the waves that broke over it.

“Throw that man a rope,” Taco called. A sailor heaved a line to the small ship and scored on the first throw, but Nigel cast it away. Taco looked non-plussed, and ordered a second. This too was discarded by Nigel, who was now almost on top of the larger ship. Taco ordered the smaller ship to be brought alongside and sailors swarmed to the side with gaff and grappling hooks. Sir Nigel tried to fend them off, but there were too many. Two sailors dropped to the deck of the pinnace, Nigel swung at one and sent him reeling, then reached for the hurricane lantern that was his only illumination. Jumping to the top of one of the barrels that crowded his deck, he raised the lantern over his head.

The second sailor swung his gaff, connecting with Nigel’s knees, and the pirate went down hard, the lantern skittering overboard.

“Take him below and lock him up,” Taco said of Nigel’s form. “Have Crujido take his boat in tow. Set a light on it so we can steer by it. I want Crujido and the Estallido to take the lead. Fanny and I will bring up the rear. We must try to stay together in this storm.”

The rain continued to lash the ships as Taco went below to see to his prisoner. He wanted to question Nigel, but the pirate was unconscious, barely alive. It was about half an hour later that the Spanish grandee went back topside to see that his orders had been carried out. Crujido had taken the lead, towing Nigel’s Revenge. The Estallido was following close, trying to keep sight of the lead ship through the rain. Through a spyglass, Taco was able to see a sailor aboard the pinnace struggling to light a signal fire. That would help, Taco thought.

The sailor struggled with a match over the lantern.

“Come on, come on,” Taco muttered. “Get a light going there.”

He saw the sailor strike, strike again, and finally succeed. He quickly thrust the match into the lantern, which sputtered to life. But the heavy seas caused the boat to lurch, and the lantern fell into the pile of barrels on the deck, it’s glass globe shattering.

“Damn!” Taco said. He could see a small pool of spilled oil ignite and spread while the sailor hastily moved to stamp it out. There wasn’t enough time. The first barrel went off with a roar, taking the other 14 with it, lighting the sky. The force of the explosion obliterated Nigel’s Revenge, sheared off the bow of Estallido and the stern of Crujido. Taco stared, numb, as half his fleet went down in one titanic blast. “Shit!,” he said.

For two days the winds blew and the rain poured down before the storm finally broke. When a peaceful dawn finally arose on the third day, it looked down on a calmer, and somewhat more tidy, ocean.

Navigators went topside and took readings.

“We’ve been blown off course, but not badly,” The Drip informed Slappy. “We’re northwest of Diego Garcia. We should be able to make it in two days.”

“Well,” Don Taco asked his own navigator, who replied, “It’s not too bad sir. We’re about two days south of Diego Garcia.”

Taco looked about him. His remaining two ships were battered but afloat. “Clean up this mess and let’s move out,” he ordered.

Slappista and Stinky had lookouts in the masts searching for the missing ships.

“Well give them a day, then I’ve got to be off for Diego Garcia to meet up with Fanny. That will take about a day. The plan can still be salvaged, whether they show up or not.”

Admiral Tharp looked about him at the empty expanse of sea.

“Where the hell are we?” he asked aloud.

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