Friday, April 01, 2005


A pirate Tale 65 - Forward into the past


Slappista was as angry as anyone had ever seen him. It had not been a good eight hours.

It started after midnight, when Slappista’s eyes had suddenly flown open as if on springs. The unformed thought that had been nagging at the back of his brain most of the day, preventing him from truly enjoying the taunting of Fanny, suddenly sprang in his consciousness.

Why was Slappy so confident? What was the reason for his sudden refusal of battle and his flight to Diego Garcia?

Slappista was not a man given to introspection or doubts. But now, in the quiet and dark, his mind kept going back over the conversation with his cousin. What did he mean, “Check your hole card?”

Unable to sleep, Slappista went up to the deck. The Festering Boil was somewhere ahead in the darkness. It was a fast ship, able to take advantage of the light air. Slappista’s ship, La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza, might have been able to keep up – might, Slappista conceded – but Olor Tremendo de Conchita would have fallen behind, and the lumbering carrack, Sabado Gigante, for all its vast expanse of canvas, would have been lost in the distance because of its great weight. Slappista wanted to keep the ships together to preserve his advantage. It made no sense to let Slappy fight them one at a time. Better to hammer him with one massive stroke.

Besides, Sabado Gigante carried the treasure, and Slappista didn’t want that getting too far away.

So they’d have to plod along in Slappy’s wake, but Slappista wasn’t worried. He didn’t doubt Slappy had told the truth when he said he was headed for Diego Garcia, although what advantage he thought that would give him against the combined firepower of the three ships Slappista couldn’t guess. Still, he decided, when dawn came it would be a good idea to double the watch. He was confident, but not stupid.

Lights flickered from the ships in the grey hour just before dawn. Slappista noted with satisfaction that the ships were keeping tight formation. Even Sabado Gigante was right where she should be, only a couple of cable lengths astern. He would not have been surprised to see her quite a bit farther back.

The ship began to come to life as the watch changed, and Miguel, the first mate, found his captain still at the rail. He came up beside him and waited for acknowledgment. Slappista wasn’t someone who liked being snuck up on.

“Ballesteros,” Slappista said. “I want the watch doubled. If Slappy’s up to something, I want to see it before we feel it.”

“Si, capitan.” Ballesteros looked out towards the other ships and grunted in surprise. “Gigante is keeping up? She must be riding light in the water.”

Slappista’s head snapped up. That was it. As he looked, he realized the carrack WAS riding higher in the water – not much, but now that the idea had occurred to him he could see it was true. He snatched his spyglass and counted. Sure enough, she seemed to be riding about two full board lengths higher than she had a few days ago.

“Miguel, signal Stinky that I’m coming aboard. NOW!”

It took minutes to get a party and lower the longboat, more minutes to row Slappista the 400 or so yards that separated the ships, then another minute for him to clamber up to the deck of the giant ship, minutes in which his sense of unease turned to an icy ball of dread. As he climbed aboard, he was greeted by Francois “Stinky” St. Claire, who seemed puzzled.

“Mon cheri, what are you doing back here?” he asked.

“The treasure. Everything is OK with the treasure?”

“But of course. Everything is fine. The holds are all locked.”

Slappista started to breath again.

“The girls must be sleeping, because they did not respond to our pounding on the door of the forward hold.”

“What?” Slappista asked. “Why are they in the hold?” That just seemed wrong to the Spaniard. The answer was worse.

“You told me to put them there, you giant goat dropping.”

“No I didn’t. I told you to make them comfortable and secure and keep your sailors off them or they’ll spoil the merchandise. Maybe you felt the hold was the safest place for them, but I never said anything about it.”

“No, not when you sent them over yesterday morning. But those were your exact words when you were here last night,” St. Clare said, spoiling Slappista’s morning completely.

“I was never here last night!”

“Mon ami, of course you were. Last night. Just after dark. I saw you strolling the gun deck, and when I asked you why you were back you said you wanted to change the disposition of the girls, moving them to the forward hold. You said all the treasure ...”

Slappista wasn’t listening. Sprinting to the gangway, then forward to the hold, he brushed the two guards at the door aside and tried to enter, but the hold was locked.

“Give me the key!” he shouted at the Frenchman, who produced it. He tried the key in the lock, but the door still wouldn’t open.

“What is this?” Slappista asked. He pulled his pistol from his belt and fired it at the lock, but the door was still blocked. “Break it down,” he said.

It took Slappista, St. Clare and two seaman three tries to push open the door, which had been blocked by large, heavy barrels. The barrels were the only objects in the hold, which should have been crowded with chests of gold and jewels and bolts of silk.

Slappista stood gaping as a sharp pain arched across his chest. St. Clare examined the barrels. “Dutch salted beef? We’d better check the other holds.”

The two other main holds of the Sabado Gigante were equally empty.

Slappista was turning red. “Stinky, you perverted papist, what did you do with my treasure?”

“It was here yesterday when I locked the girls below at your orders.”

“I told you I didn’t give such an order, and I wasn’t here last night.”

“Of course you were. In fact,” St. Clare said, suddenly remembering, “you gave me this, and told me to return it to you next time I saw you.”

St. Clare reached into his waistcoat and pulled out an envelope. Slappista stared at it. He knew, he just knew, what it was going to say. He tore it open.

“I told you to double check your hole card,” he read. The message was signed with a large S.

“WHERE THE HELL IS MY TREASURE!” Slappista roared.

Miles to the west, the Festering Boil was gliding into Diego Garcia, approaching the small ship that was waiting there.

“The Sea Witch,” Slappy said. “And who’s that on the beach?”

Chumbucket looked out and recognized Liz, waving her arms to get their attention. The crew disembarked, with Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket, Juan, Sir Nigel and Mad Sally in the first boatload to pull ashore.

“Hurry,” Liz said as they landed. You don’t have a lot of time, although time turns out not to be a huge problem today. You’re about six hours ahead of Slappista. We need to get to the top of the island. You’ll want about 30 of your strongest crew members.”

“And I assume Jezebel ...” Slappy started to ask.

“She’s waiting for you at the top. I’ll show you the way.”

It took little time to organize the crew and send them on their way up a jungle path to the right, while Nigel, Keeling and a skeleton crew remained aboard the Festering Boil. Nigel kept a wary eye on the sea and guns at the ready, not knowing how long the rest of the crew would be gone. He was quite surprised when the first members of the crew returned half an hour later down a second path to the left and sank to the sand as if exhausted. They were accompanied by 40 young girls.

Nigel left the ship under Red Molly’s command and waded ashore.

“That was the damndest day I’ve ever spent,” Cementhands McCormack said to him.

“What do you mean? You’ve been gone less than an hour.”

“It’s very confusing, and we were there. You’ll never believe it,” Slappy said, leaning against a tree for support.

“The cave is a wonder, like nothing you’ve ever seen. If you’d have told me, I wouldn’t believe it,” Chumbucket said from the sand where he lay, spent.

“Slappy, what’s going on?” Nigel demanded.

“Okay, Nigel, in a nutshell. We arrived at the top of the hill after a five hour walk.” Slappy said. Noticing Nigel about to protest, he added, “I know how it seems. I know how it is. Just believe me. We walked uphill for five hours. When we got there Jezebel was waiting at the mouth of a cave. Inside was ... I don’t know how to describe it. A huge chamber with portals and a glowing ball and crystals everywhere. Even I was afraid of it, but Jezebel seemed to know all about it and had figured out how to make it work.

“Now, this is the hard part to understand. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say we were able to see into the treasure hold of the Sabado Gigante. Not the way it is, but the way it was last night. And here’s the crazy part – we were able to pass INTO the picture and be in the hold. We could see the cave on the other side, with Jezebel standing there. At first I went alone, and went out on deck. It was night – LAST night.”

Nigel’s eyes goggled. He had known it was possible, it had been his idea, but it made his skin prickle anyway.

Slappy continued. “I believe it’s been remarked that Slappista looks just like me. What he failed to notice is that I look just like him. And when I talked to that rogue Stinky St. Clare – Slappista has him in command of the ship. I should have known. The old French bastard is in love with my cousin, I swear it, and is the only one Slappista would have trusted with the treasure.

“So I told him to move the girls to the forward hold. ‘We’ll keep all the treasure in one place,’ I told him. Had him place guards at the entrance to each hold to keep everyone away.

“Then we started working, unloading the entire hold. It took five hours ... No, really. It took five hours. Then we went back to the cave – then back to the cave at a different time ...”

“Last Thursday,” Dogwatch added, to Nigel’s dismay.

“Last Thursday,” Slappy agreed, “went back to the ship last night and emptied the middle hold. It was larger, took six hours. We were working in shifts. Finally we went back to a different time ...”

“Next Wednesday,” Chumbucket supplied. “It’s going to rain.”

“Yes, next Wednesday, and emptied the rear hold. Then Jezebel brought us back here and we came down the mountain by a different path. She seemed to think if we ran into ourselves coming up, it might cause a problem.”

Nigel just stared.

“It’s all true,” Dogwatch said. “In the last hour we’ve hiked for 10 hours, and worked for almost 20. Slept a little. But we’re all fairly tired.”

“And where is the treasure now?” Nigel asked.

“When is the treasure, would be the better question,” said Jezebel, emerging from the jungle.

Everyone paused to consider that. Finally, Mad Sally offered, “We put it in the cave next February.”

They all thought about it. It couldn’t have sounded more wrong, but that’s how it was.

“If this catches on as a method of travel,” Nigel finally said, “we’re going to need some new verb tenses.”

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