Friday, April 15, 2005


A Pirate Tale 73 – It never happened

Admiral Percival Winthorpe Mandrake Tharp was not by nature a happy man.

He was not a man who smiled at rainbows, or got warm, fuzzy feelings when watching butterflies dart between wildflowers in a field, which he never did anyway. A basket of wriggling puppies did not evoke more than the briefest of polite smiles, and the joyful sound of children at play on a warm spring day only left him worrying about the state of his well-manicured lawn.

He was not a happy man in general, and standing on the deck of a pirate ship listening to what was obviously pure bullshit erased any feelings of pleasure he had left from winning a sea battle and all but completing his mission.

He had boarded the ship to find a Pieta-like scene on the quarterdeck, with Ol’ Chumbucket cradling the body of a dead Spaniard in his arms. Slappy stood, obviously spent, over the body of Don Juan Diego de la Mercada y Slappista con Carne, who with his demise had left Slappy in sole possession of the title of black sheep of the family. Slightly to the right, completing the picture, was Lady Fanny, who was writhing, foaming at the mouth, gibbering and generally behaving as if recreating Sawbones Burgess's portrayal of Ophelia in the Boil's production of "Hamlet."

It took very little time to sort out the details of the battle and arrange for the disposition of the prisoners. That’s when Tharp began to lose what little equanimity he had.

“What do you mean there are no prisoners?” Tharp demanded of Slappy, pointing to the 18 Spanish sailors who had survived the fray. “Who are those men over there?”

“Just Dutch fishermen, like the rest of us,” Slappy said innocently.

“Oh now really,” Tharp said crossly. At least his tone seemed cross, although in a few moments his voice would take on a tone that made this seem like an expression of glee. “You don’t seriously expect me to believe that.”

“No, true. Just a bunch of Dutch fishermen here,” Slappy said, adding “Waar de haringen?” for verisimilitude.

“And that tall, bearded gentleman who spoke to me earlier,” Tharp said, indicating Don Taco, “the one who offered to surrender his sword to me? I presume he’s a Dutch fisherman?”

“No,” Slappy said. “He’s a Dutch pastry chef. Name of Hansel. We just hired him on board. Working out quite well. Stay for breakfast and try his croissants. Delightful.”

Tharp rolled his eyes. “And if that man over on your poopdeck isn’t the infamous pirate Sir Nigel Pomfrit Couer de Noir, then I’m a Christmas plum pudding.”

“Him?” Slappy asked innocently. “No, he’s a fishing guide, very familiar with these waters. His name’s also Hansel, curiously enough. Causes no end of confusion on the ship. But he’s a wizard with a fly rod. You should see him some time.”

Tharp started getting one of his headaches. He looked about at the carnage and chaos.

“And what happened to cousin Slappista there?” Tharp asked acidly.

“An accident. The monkey shot him,” Slappy said.

“The monkey ...?”

“Admiral Tharp, I give you my word on my mother’s soul, Slappista was killed by an accidental pistol discharge from a monkey,” Slappy said.

This caused Tharp to turn and stare at his unacknowledged brother. One thing he knew, Slappy would never take his mother’s name in vain.

“Very well. Accidental monkey death is how I shall note it on my report. Obviously there’s been a battle here and you’ve won. Our plan worked,” Tharp said. “Now I need to straighten things out, take possession of the treasure and any prisoners and get on my way.”

This is where things started going seriously wrong for the admiral, because as Slappy, Jezebel, Ol’ Chumbucket, Mad Sally and several other sailors from the Festering Boil started explaining the situation. Tharp wasn’t buying it, and said so vehemently.

“Admiral Tharp, I’m telling you the absolute, honest truth,” Cap’n Slappy said, enjoying his brother’s discomfiture. “We put the treasure in that cave in the future, and now with the mountain in full eruption, it seems obvious that when the treasure gets there, it’ll be gone.”

A small tic caused Tharp’s left eyebrow to vibrate as if he were mentally trying to calculate the various angles and forces necessary to bludgeon Slappy into silence without actually killing him.

Jezebel, standing by, offered something she thought might help. It did not.

“When we placed it in the cave, the room seemed intact. So perhaps somewhere deep under the mountain that room will continue to exist and it might be possible to tunnel through a mile or so of solidified magma and retrieve the treasure, but I don’t think the technology necessary will exist for a couple of hundred years,” she said.

“Stop. Just stop,” Tharp said. “Tell me this. Where is the treasure now? Right now, right this minute.”

That brought a silence from Slappy, Jezebel and the various other sailors taking part in the conversation. That was something, anyway. It wasn’t an answer, but Tharp appreciated the silence. Finally, Ol’ Chumbucket cleared his throat.

“That’s a very difficult question,” he said. “Part of the treasure will be in the cave next Wednesday – and if I remember right it’ll be a rainy day .” The others all nodded agreement at this future memory. “But where it IS in a purely physical sense, where it exists in the universe as we know it ...” His voice tailed off.

Mad Sally jumped in. “We know where it will be, and we know where it was. But it seems to be sort of out of the loop of ...” She too gave up.

“The loop of the space-time continuum,” Cementhands McCormack tossed in, drawing a baleful glare from Tharp.

“Alright. Everybody stop. I’ll tell you where the treasure is. It is at the bottom of the ocean with the wreck of the Sabado Gigante, where it will lie until doomsday,” Tharp said. Several listeners tried to object, but he silenced them with a look and plowed on. “It was always on the Sabado Gigante, and any suggestion that it was removed by some supernatural means and placed outside the universe will be dealt with severely. Further, the Spanish treasure ship Sabado Gigante was sunk, unfortunately, by either accidental or intentional mishap on the part of one of her crew. We will never know which because the ship was destroyed with all hands. We have captured its captain, a French fop by the name of Francois St. Claire,” who can shed no light on the affair. And when I say ‘no light,’ I mean his raving story of the treasure disappearing from his hold is obvious sign of his dementia, probably due to injuries received during combat with HMS Susan’s Doily. There were no other ships involved in that combat,” he stared hard at Jezebel as he said this. “In an act of charity, he will not be hung for piracy or imprisoned as an enemy of the British crown, but will instead by repatriated to France, where I believe they want to talk to him about several incidents.”

“Are there any questions?” Tharp cast a stern eye around the circle of listeners. There was a pause, then a chorus of agreement.

“No.” Absolutely, that’s what happened alright.” “Yes, I seem to recall that.” “No question here.” “An excellent summation, old chap.” “Glad that’s all cleared up.”

“Good. I will now prepare my report, in which none of you will appear so don’t go talking about this because it officially never happened. I will then have it delivered to the admiralty and that should end the whole affair. It is unfortunate that the treasure was lost, but not decisive. My orders called for me to stop the arrival of the treasure in Spain. The Spanish government will find it difficult to continue operations against England in its current state of financial disarray. Naturally the British crown would have liked to obtain the treasure for itself, and delivering it would have meant a lot to me personally, but that was secondary. It was also imperative that we stop Fanny’s plot and prevent her from gaining the throne of Spain. Can you imagine what that bloodthirsty she-devil would have done?”

“True,” Slappy concurred. “But how did you know about her plan?”

Tharp smiled for the first time since arriving on the ship. It wasn’t often he knew something that Slappy didn’t.

“We had a paid informant rather high up in the ranks of the plotters,” Tharp said. “The man told us he was a Spanish nobleman. Turns out in that he was lying. It seems he was nothing more than a Dutch pastry chef.”

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