Wednesday, March 30, 2005


A pirate Tale - 63

“Reporting for duty, sir,” Leftenant Keeling said, throwing a sharper salute than was typical on a pirate ship.

“Keeling!” Slappy said, delighted. “Are you feeling up to snuff? Fully recovered from your injury?”

“Yes sir, tip top. A little thing like a guitar to the skull can’t keep me down for long.”

“Good. We’re going to need all hands soon, and I could sure use you in the fight.”

“You can count on me, sir. But I have one question.”

“What is that, Leftenant?”

“Isn’t it a little warm for Paris at this time of year?”

“I’m sorry, what?”

Keeling looked about him, but clearly wasn’t seeing the deck of the Festering Boil.

“I was strolling by the Louvre this morning and it just seemed unusually hot,” he said.

Slappy waved Cementhands McCormack over, then turned back to Keeling.

“Yes, quite hot for this time of year. Perhaps your head isn’t quite as healed as we hoped. Cementhands, keep an eye on him, will you? I think we’ll still need him for what’s coming, just make sure he doesn’t hurt himself in the meantime.”

Slappy looked back out to sea to assess the situation. The two approaching ships – La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza and Olor Tremendo de Conchita – were now just a mile off and closing in the fitful wind. About a half mile beyond them lay Sabado Gigante, the monstrous carrack that carried the fabled treasure once bound for Spain, and the kidnapped girls. If the Boil somehow survived the two oncoming ships, and Jezebel had indicated that it had failed to do so some 200 times already, Slappy’s crew would somehow have to find a way to deal with the much larger treasure ship.

“Think Slappy, think,” the captain said to himself. “What did Jezebel mean?”

“How do you like the odds, cap’n” Ol’ Chumbucket asked quietly.

“I’ve seen better. But remember that dice game in Liverpool?”

Chumbucket smiled. The captain could only mean the time when he had been down to his last farthing and managed to throw 17 consecutive winning rolls. That had been impossible too.

“Yes, I remember. I also remember there was one hell of a fight when that Portuguese captain figured out how you did it.”

“Looks like there’s going to be another hell of a fight in a few minutes.”

“Maybe not, if this wind doesn’t pick up,” Chumbucket observed.

Indeed, the wind, which for days had relentlessly pushed the ships together to this climax, seemed to have run its course. A light sailer, the Festering Boil now struggled to make headway, and the two approaching ships had lost all forward momentum as the last of the breeze died away, leaving the canvas hanging limply in the rigging.

“Shall we break out the sweeps, sir?” McCormack asked.

“Get them ready, but don’t do anything yet,” Slappy ordered. “Let’s see what our friends are going to try first.”

The three ships, not more than 1,500 yards apart, bobbed in the swell. Sailors on all three hurried up the ratlines to see if there was any way to spread the canvas to catch some wind, but there was no wind to catch.

“We could almost hit them with a long culverin shot,” Chumbucket mused.

“Yes, if we had a culverin, and if firing it wouldn’t be enough to tear the ship apart,” Slappy said crossly. “The only good thing is that they don’t have anything that’ll throw a ball this far either.”

“A word with you Slappy?” The voice belonged to Sir Nigel. Slappy and Chumbucket looked up to see the pirate, his head still bandaged and his arm in a sling, climbing to join them on the poopdeck. Behind him came Mad Sally.

“Nigel, old friend! Are you well enough to be up?” Slappy asked. “Sally, should you have let him out of bed?”

“There was no question of stopping him,” she said. “He insisted he had to talk to you.”

“Besides, old boy, if things come down to a fight, those chaps can kill me just as well here on deck as down below,” Nigel said. “But I had to see you for a moment, and this wind gives us time to do a little thinking.”

“Thinking? What’s there to think about,” Slappy said. “There’s the enemy. If this wind would just come back we could be on them and settle this.”

“Well, if we’re all at the bottom of the ocean, I guess that would settle things,” Sally said. “We’re outmanned about 5 to 1, and outgunned at least 6 or 7 to 1. Why don’t you at least listen to what Nigel has to say?

Slappy gave Sally a long look, but said nothing. Instead, he turned back to Nigel and shrugged, encouraging him to continue.

“As long as Mother Nature here seems to be conspiring to keep us just out of range of each other, perhaps this would be a good time to have a chat with your cousin,” Nigel said.

“A chat?” Chumbucket said, incredulously. “About what? Slappista holds all the cards.”.

“Perhaps he does, and perhaps he doesn’t. He certainly thinks he does, and that might just prove his undoing,” Nigel said with a smile.

Slappy scowled. Riddles made his head hurt.

“Just say what you mean and let’s get on with it.”

Nigel did. At first Slappy looked bewildered. As comprehension grew, his jaw set and he shook his head, adamantly opposed to what his friend Nigel was proposing.

“This is exactly what Jezebel was talking about!” Sally said. “She called it pride. I call it macho bullshit!”

Slappy would never thrive in a military setting. Military rules would have never allowed such insubordination. Instead he gave her another long look, then turned on his heel and seemed to think for a moment. Then he turned back.

“If this were a British naval vessel I’d have to have you flogged,” he said. “Fortunately, it’s not. So instead, I can say, you’re right. I don’t know how Jezebel did it, but it’s worth considering. You really think this will work?”

Nigel shrugged. “It’s impossible to say. It seems like it should. If this works, you get the gold, you get the girls, all without firing a shot, and you even get a chance to settle the score with Slappista and Fanny later, if you still want to.”

“Oh, that’s a given, my friend. That’s a given. But for now, what is it exactly I should say to my cousin?”

Minutes later a single cannon fired from the Festering Boil, drawing attention to the signal flags that were being raised. Moments later an answering signal flew from the rigging of La Filtra Herada de la Cabeza.

“George, be so good as to put the longboat over the side, and maybe you’d like to accompany me,” Slappy said. “I have to go hold an impromptu family reunion.”

The torpor that had stalled the ships and delayed the coming battle was widespread enough that HMS Susan’s Doily also found itself becalmed. Unused to delay, Tharp paced the bridge anxiously.

“Damn this doldrum,” he said. “If Jezebel was right we’re still half a day’s sail from where the Boil is to meet the Sabado Gigante.”

The orderly timidly asked the admiral, “I’ve heard things about that ship sir. They say she sank a dozen frigates in one battle.”

“They say all kinds of things,” Tharp said to the boy, not unkindly. “Some of them are true and some not. The only way to find out which class this falls into is to meet her in battle. I’ll take my chances. Besides, we won’t be completely alone. My bro ... I mean, that Slappy chap, may be a pirate and a ruffian, but he’s a fairly resourceful fellow in a fight. Believe me, I know.” Tharp smiled as he remembered back to boyhood scrapes where his younger brother had gotten the better of him.

“Sail sir, two points off the starboard bow,” called the lookout.

“Sail? Who is it?”

“Hard to say, sir. We can barely see her on the horizon, hull down. But she seems to be running in the same general direction as us.”

Aboard that distant ship – a small but expensive and extremely well armed yacht – a dowdy woman stood with a small dog clenched under her arm. She wore a grim expression as she lashed out at her captain.

“I don’t care about the wind. I don’t care how big this ocean is! You find Admiral Tharp for me right now! NO ONE stands up the royal princess of Sweden and leaves her stranded on Madagascar for two weeks!”

As Slappy’s longboat approached Slappista’s ship, he noticed an unusual addition to the bow of La Herada Filtra de la Cabeza. Alighting on the deck, he commented on it to his cousin.

“We meet again, Slappista. Nice figurehead.”

Slappista glanced forward to where Lady Fanny was bound to the bowsprit. She had mostly screamed herself out in the first hour, but could still be heard fitfully yelling, “Liar! Liar! You stinking liar! You said even Steven!”

“Shut up, you snake!” Slappista called to her. “I’ve told you before, you can call me liar as many times as you like, as long as I get to watch you die.”

“You know of course that won’t stop me from firing at you. In fact, she makes a lovely target,” Slappy said.

“Oh, I just wanted her to have a bird’s eye view. But enough chitchat. Why are you here?”

“I just wondered if you’d like to make a bargain.”

A wide grin broke over Slappista’s face. “No, no, no. Bargains are for those on the long side of the odds. But I’m curious. What is this bargain you seek.”

“Very simply, you turn over the girls and we leave without harming you,” Slappy said.

“My dear cousin, you seem to misunderstand. Why should I make a deal? I have everything, the girls, the treasure, and three ships capable of sending you to the bottom of the ocean. As soon as the wind picks back up we will blow you out of the water.”

“It certainly seems that way. But I frankly like my position. It’s a bit stronger than you think.”

“Now you’re bluffing, cousin,” Slappista said with a smile. He glanced up at the rigging where the a breath of air seemed to stir the canvas. “Whatever else you have to say, say it quickly. I think Naturaleza De la Madre is about to take a hand again. Are you, perhaps, prepared to beg for your life?”

Slappy’s eyes narrowed and his face reddened, but for once he maintained his calm, remembering Mad Sally’s stinging rejoinder. “No deal, then?”

“No, Slappy. No deal. I’m sorry to have to kill you soon, for you are a worthy adversary. I’ll try to make it quick, though.”

“You’ll have to make it happen first,” Slappy said.

“You have more wind than this sky today. You have nothing. I have everything.”

Slappy looked amused. “Oh do you? Very well. If you find your position isn’t quite what you think it is, you will find me back at Diego Garcia. I have something important to do there.”

“Running?” Slappista said, mockingly.

“Call it what you will. I’ll be waiting at Diego Garcia. You might want to double check your hole card.”

Slappy returned to his longboat and the sailors began rowing him back to the Boil. He noticed some new signal flags flying from La Herada. As he climbed the ladder back to his own ship he saw return signals from the carrack, followed by a flurry of activity as the wind freshened. It blew west, towards Diego Garcia.

“Shake out the canvas,” Slappy ordered. “We’re faster than any of them, but we absolutely HAVE to get there first.”

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