Monday, April 04, 2005


A pirate Tale – 67


The Festering Boil sailed north in the hope of flanking the oncoming vessels and regaining the wind, while Tharp maneuvered HMS Susan’s Doily south to avoid getting pinned against the island. Slappy stared at the ships through his spyglass, waiting to see whether they took the bait.

A signal flag flew up the mast of the lead ship, and it veered north to cover Slappy’s move. He noted with satisfaction that the ship moving to intercept him was La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza..

“Excellent, here comes Slappista,” Slappy said, collapsing the scope and handing it back to Spencer. Spencer stopped, awestruck.

“Your hand,” he said, his eyes growing bigger.

“What about my hand?” Slappy asked.

“You didn’t hurt it. You always pinch it in the spyglass. You ALWAYS pinch it in the spyglass, and this time you didn’t.”

Slappy stared at his palm. “Son of a gun, you’re right.”

The sailors in the vicinity stopped what they were doing and stared. Slappy became uncomfortable.

“What’s the big deal? I closed my spyglass.”

“But you ALWAYS pinch your hand with it,” Spencer said again. “I mean, every single time. But now you didn’t. Is it some kind of omen? And if it is, what kind of omen? Good? Bad? What does it mean?”

Slappy saw the other crewmembers watching him with concern., He couldn’t have this. Not now.

“It means I’ve finally gained enough coordination to close a silly spyglass, that’s all.” He took the spyglass back from Spencer, opened it and closed it again, pinching his palm in the collapsing tubes.

“Dit is te stom zelfs voor mijn moeder in wet!” he cursed. “There. That’ll be enough of this nonsense. Let’s go kill something.”

The surrounding crew members smiled and went back to their tasks.

Slappy returned to the poopdeck, where George the Greek manned the wheel and Chumbucket watched the ship.

“Wind’s coming around a bit to the northeast,” he observed to the captain.

“Good. George, let’s try swinging around to a southeast heading. No point in giving him all the wind advantage.”

The two ships were now on headings that would bring them together and into firing range within about 15 minutes. Time seemed to stand still for the 50 pirates – men and women – aboard the Boil. Gunners poised over their cannon, slow matches held over the touch holes of the 24 guns ready to throw four-pound balls of iron into the lives of the enemy now easily within sight.

Minutes passed, during which each sailor became lost in his or her own thoughts and preparations. Ol’ Chumbucket stood to one side by himself, thinking he was calm but unaware he was idly swinging his cutlass back and forth as if to make sure his arm was loose and limber. Dogwatch Watts leaned forward against the railing, doing stretching exercises to prevent muscle pulls during the coming fray.

While Cementhands McCormack recited dirty Irish limericks, Juan Garbonzo paced restlessly in his small space at the bow. Lieutenant Keeling, his head bandaged, hummed show tunes. While his eyes seemed to be focused elsewhere, his body was tensed like a spring and he clearly was ready for action.

Sir Nigel was still trying to decide if he would be better served with his left arm, still in a sling, bound tightly to his body or hanging loose at his side. “Probably too late to do anything about it now,” he told himself. “I suppose this will work. I just wish the sling didn’t mar the line of my suit.”

Don Taco, about to do battle with a crew that until days ago had been under his command, chattered incessantly about past battles to anyone who would listen. Unfortunately for her, Red Molly was the closest person to the Spanish grandee and wanted to yell at him to shut up, but was afraid that if she opened her mouth a hysterical shriek might come out. Mad Sally stood motionless, but the constant tap-tap-tap of her long dagger against the cannon beside her revealed her inner tension.

Sawbones Burgess was one of the few on the ship with work to do in the interval, spreading sawdust on the floor of his medical area – the ship’s galley, which during battles became the medical ward – and laying out his instruments. He looked at the accumulated rust and blood on the saws and knives and decided to sterilize them, so he quickly wiped each off on his smock. He was assisted by Black Butch, the ship’s cook, who doubled as orderly. Though consigned to medical duties, Butch also was armed with both a cutlass and a large meat cleaver in case the opportunity arose to get some action. Butch’s cooking knives, in contrast to Burgess’s medical ones, were almost antiseptically clean.

At the helm, George the Greek steered the ship impassively, but a gleam in his dark eyes gave away his own lust for battle. Beside him, Cap’n Slappy leaned forward with a grim grin lighting his face. He couldn’t know it, but his adversary and distant cousin, Slappista, bore an identical expression and posture on the approaching ship.

“We’re about a long musket shot away,” George told the captain.

“Keep closing. I don’t want to open fire until we’re much closer,” Slappy said.

“500 yards,” Miguel Ballesteros said at the wheel of the La Herida que Filtra de la Cabeza.

“Closer,” Slappista said. “Much closer.”

The wind picked up and the two ships continued to converge, their paths like two lines plotted by a schoolboy in a geometry class. Sails taut, lines creaking, the two ships carved through the rolling sea with an inevitability that could lead to only one conclusion. Black flags flew from the mizzens of both ships.

“300 yards,” Ballesteros said on La Herida.

“Gunners, ready!” shouted Slappy to the crew of the Festering Boil.

On both ships, gunners leaned over their cannon, and the others on the gun teams readied their worms, ramrods and cartridges. The battle was rarely won on the first broadside, but in the race to get off a second. Musketeers tensed in the rigging, checking their flints one more time and shouldering their firearms. Unlikely as it would seem for two crews of pirate ships, more than a few silent prayers were uttered.

“Half a musket shot distant!” George said tautly.

On both ships the same command came simultaneously.


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