Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Two quick notes

We are making some major behind-the-scenes changes on our Web site, mostly stuff you won't notice although there are a couple of important updates. The downside is, our e-mail will be screwed up for a few days. Patience is the watch word. If you send us an e-mail, we SHOULD get it eventually, but not necessarily right away. If we haven't answered in a couple of days, don't be embarrassed (pirates embarrassed?) about sending again. And again. Hopefully this will be a painless transition.

Sure. It could happen.

Second, the next Pirate Tale installment in the ongoing adventures of the Festering Boil has been delayed. It's my turn to write (Ol' Chumbucket) but I've been sick. In fact, not to get all alarmist, I actually had to have a little surgery over the weekend. Not emergency surgery, but certainly unexpected. you might call the problem a festering boil, as a matter of fact, although it's not. So anyway, I'm still a little high on the pain pills right now and I'm kind of surprised there aren't more typos in this. I know what I want to write and what I want to do, I'm just having a little focus trouble. I should have something up within a couple of days. Now the room is starting to spin again so I'll post this and go lay down again before the Official Lusty Pirate Wench gets out the cat.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


Part 87 - "Aye, I Do: Nautical Knots and Matrimonial Metaphors"

Preparations for the wedding were well underway when Cap’n Slappy remembered the most important preparation of all – Pre-marital Counseling.

“Alright you two! Sit down here and let me counsel ye about the nature o’ the beastie we call, ‘Wedded Freakin’ Bliss.’” Slappy’s tone was fatherly – drunken, belligerent and sarcastic. Classic Slappy.

“Begging the Cap’n’s pardon,” LefTENant Keeling began, “but Father Seamus Casey has been guiding us through this curriculum he developed for young couples in love who want to marry.” Keeling’s tone, in contrast to the captain’s was bright and hopeful. He held out a copy of a book entitled, “So, The Lord Your God Isn’t Good Enough For Ye And Ye’re Givin’ Into Yer Heathen Lusts!”

Slappy’s face was crestfallen – had he, in fact, been wearing a crest; his face would have fallen onto it. Fortunately, Red Molly picked up on this sudden shift in mood and offered this bone, “But of course, our pre-marital counseling would not be complete without actually talking to someone who has had a successful marriage.”

Slappy brightened, “That’s right! Father Seamus may be a know-it-all because he’s married to the church and all them nuns, but I’ve had at least six successful marriages!”

Keeling looked confused and began to ask, “Successful …?” But Slappy continued right over the top as was his custom. “Aye! Six successful marriages! Five successful divorces! And one successful, ‘Sorry Sweetheart, I lost you in a poker game to a Portuguese paint merchant. Fair and square, me darlin'! Fair and square!”

Red Molly and LefTENant Keeling glanced at each other, but neither asked a question –as painful as the withholding of it was.

For the next three hours, while Spencer and Gabriel worked at decorating the ship for a wedding with the help of Strumpet the Monkey, Slappy enlightened the young couple on the finer points of excuse-making, name-calling and resisting the impulse to throw the good crystal at each other. Finally, his lesson came to an end with a demonstration of how to dress quietly in order to sneak away in the middle of the night.

The young couple listened politely and even took notes. Finally, Ol’ Chumbucket suggested they go ahead and start the ceremony, as they would be able to hold the reception on land in a couple of hours.

“Excellent!” Slappy declared. “Are the Seconds ready?”

“Cap’n,” Chumbucket began, “I believe that the term ‘Seconds’ apply to dueling and not nuptials. I think the phrases you’re looking for are, ‘Best Man’ and ‘Maid of Honor.’

Slappy seemed perplexed. “There’ll be no pistols?”

Chumbucket replied calmly, “I don’t believe they are customary, sir. Not even in a pirate wedding.”

Slappy looked hard at the young couple. “Then why did I spend forty-five minutes on close-quarter fighting?”

“I believe it was to illustrate a story you were telling about one of your wives – a ‘Shitty Meg?’” Keeling replied.

“‘Shifty,’ Sweetheart – her name was ‘Shifty Meg’ I believe.” Red Molly gently corrected.

“Ah, yes!” Slappy sighed, “Did I ever tell you about the time Shifty Meg and I were locked in the cellar of a mad French chef?”

“YES!!!” Keeling, Molly and Chumbucket all replied – desperate to keep the story from a third retelling of the day.

“Good times, good times.” Slappy smiled fondly at the unspoken memory.

“Well, I should go get ready and see if my maid of honor has thrown together his gown.” Red Molly quickly excused herself leaving her husband-to-be at the mercy of Cap’n Slappy’s well-meaning advice. Fortunately, the best man, Dogwatch, soon came in with some extra rations of rum he had tucked away as well as a cup of tea for the groom and the four men decided to forego talking in favor of drinking and sitting quietly for a while.

Before long, the wedding party was gathered on deck awaiting the arrival of the “bridesmaid” and bride. Los Mariachi played a traditional wedding march on his guitar and every man aboard stood at attention while Cementhands strolled down the center of the gathered assemblage holding what passed for a bouquet – a single coconut. He looked resplendent in yellow chiffon. Later, he insisted that the color was ‘citron,’ and there was no one who would argue the point.

A moment after he took his position, Red Molly entered from below. She looked stunning in her white silk gown. She even stole attention away from Madam McCormack - not easily done when in the presence of a big man in either yellow or ‘citron’ chiffon.

As she took her place next to the beaming LefTENant Keeling, her face was aglow with glee. Cap’n Slappy nodded to young Gabriel who handed him a book from which he was to read the ceremony and vows. Solemnly, Slappy cleared his throat, opened the book and began:

“A sheepshank can be used to shorten a length of rope or to take the strain off a worn area of rope. The worn area must be in the center turn of the knot so that the tightened outer turns bear the weight.”

Slappy began to tear up and confessed to the gathering, “Nautical metaphors always get me choked up.” He continued,

“Start with three crossing turns that are all in the same direction. Pull the left center crossing left through the middle of the left crossing turn from the front, while pulling the right center crossing right through the middle of the right crossing turn from behind.”

Slappy stopped suddenly and muttered, “I fail to follow the meaning of this metaphor.” He closed the book cover so he could see the title. “Tying Nautical Knots!?” he bellowed as he scowled directly at young Gabriel who began to laugh out loud.

The boys were both laughing in a moment and were joined by everyone in the crew – including Red Molly and LefTENant Keeling. Slappy was, as is his custom, the last one to get it – but soon he was smiling at the trick.

“Very good, lad. Now, be a good boy and hand Cap’n Slappy the book he WROTE!” A moment later, Slappy was checking the cover of another book.

Slappy asked, "Do you, LefTENant Keeling take this wench to be yer lawlessly wedded wife to have and to hold and to cuddle and to 'do the bouncy-bouncy' with from this day forward so long as ye both feel it's beneficial?"

Keeling choked with emotion but replied, "Aye, I do."

Slappy continued, "And do ye, Red Molly, bein' as ye are a fine lass that could certainly do better than this rascal despite all of it, take him to be yer awfully wedded pirate to bicker and to abuse, to cuddle and to 'do the bouncy-bouncy' with from this day forward so long as ye can stomach the sight o' him?"

A single tear rolled down her cheek as Red Molly whispered, "Aye, I do."

At one point the captain asked, “If there be anyone here who knows why this couple should not be bound in unholy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold their wretched tongue.”

Depressed Doug replied, “She probably wouldn’t go out with me anyway. - What's the point in even asking?”

Slappy nodded toward Ol’ Chumbucket who slapped Depressed Doug on the back of the
head. Now satisfied, he began to recite vows that the couple repeated. The rest of the wedding sounded something like this:

I, LefTENant Keeling, take ye, Saucy Red Molly as me Heart, me Soul, me
Good Wench with a stout right hook, the bright dawn of each new day and
the soft bed of each day's night. I promise to love ye and honor ye; to
make ye laugh when yer feelin' out of sorts and pretend to listen to ye
when ye babble on and on about nothin' in particular. I will protect you
from the elements and the elephants should we ever encounter them as it is
my understanding that they can be very large and unpredictable. I will
love thee through scurvy and through fire, in wealth or poverty whether ye
be near or far. And when I speak of treasure, as I am wont to do, everyone
within the sound of me voice will know that what I am really speaking
about is you. All of this will I undertake until there are no horizons
left to chase and the rum is gone.

I, Saucy Red Molly, take ye, LefTENant Keeling as me Heart, me Soul, me
Salty Jack with a crooked smile, the foggy haze of each new day and the
lumpy (but familiar) mattress of each day's night. I promise to love ye
and honor ye; to make ye laugh so hard the rum comes out yer nose and
pretend to listen to ye when ye babble on about nothin' in particular. I
will protect you from my wrath and from giraffes which I understand are
very tall and will sometimes step on people because they are not looking
where they are stepping. I will love thee through scurvy and through fire,
in wealth or poverty whether ye be near or far. And when I speak of
treasure, as I am wont to do, everyone within the sound of me voice will
know that I am day dreaming again. All of this will I undertake until
there are no horizons left to chase and the rum is gone.

“I really don’t drink rum though.” Keeling pointed out.

“It’s a metaphor, son.” Slappy replied patiently.

“What’s it a metaphor for?” Keeling asked.

“The same as every other metaphor, son,” The Cap’n looked him in the eye,

“Cheery.” Red Molly observed somewhat sarcastically.

“Aye!” Slappy replied, “What kind of wedding would it be without a cynical
reference to our ultimate demise?”

“A good one.” Cementhands chimed in dreamily. “But don’t let that stop you from
having your fun.”

Slappy glared at the big man for a moment, then fixed a smile on his face. “By the power vested in me by … well … me, I now pronounce ye Man and Wife! Ye may kiss the bride! – But no tongue – it’s unseemly.”

Thursday, May 19, 2005


A Pirate Tale 86 - Oh What a Lovely Anachronism

The sun pushed its way over the eastern horizon as the Festering Boil continued its journey west. High up in the rigging, Ol’ Chumbucket sat on one of the yardarms of the foremast, his spyglass sweeping the sea.

He liked getting up here as dawn was breaking, It was quiet. Down on the deck there was always work going on and that infernal singing. Sea shanties were all well and good, but after about 15 minutes he no longer cared what to do with a drunken sailor. And then Keeling would try to get them going on show tunes and that was about all Chumbucket could stand. Except Sondheim. He liked Sondheim, he had to admit.

But up here in the rigging it was quiet, nothing but the wind in the ratlines and the occasional call of one of the lookouts or the tops’l’men working the sails, especially when the weather was tricky. A man could think up here. Not that there was much to think about these days. They were nearly done with their long voyage across the Atlantic and there would be plenty to do and plan and consider when they got to the Caribbean. For now, it was enough to feel the roll of the boat under him and look down at the little world of the ship some 45 feet below.

The sea to the east was clear. To the west there was not a sail in sight, but the first hint of what might prove to be land. Another hour at most would tell the tale.

Below, the watch was changing as the ship stirred to life and morning routines were commenced. In the galley, Spencer the cabin boy was helping Black Butch get breakfast ready, and asking a question that had been puzzling him for days.

“I still don’t understand why we’ve taken – what’s it been, 12 ships? – in the last two weeks, and we don’t have any gold,” Spencer complained.

Indeed, the pirates had been quite successful in overtaking and plundering ships overawed by the bloody red banner known as “Three-Martini Mick,” but the take had not been the sort that would set a pirate’s pulse racing. Lots of food, lots of wine, fabrics, tools, gunpowder and other commodities that would fetch a nice price in the Caribbean, but there had been little in the way of typical pirate plunder. No jewels or silver, no rum and, except for a few private purses, the only gold coins they had found proved on closer inspection to contain chocolate. That was from consignment of goods from Switzerland. The same shipment had contained a dozens cuckoo clocks, which had delighted the crew and increased the cacophony which drove Chumbucket up the mast each morning.

“Let me try this again,” said Black Butch patiently. “We’re in the westerlies, the wind that’s blowing us west. And the ships we’re overtaking are following that same wind. We catch them because we’re faster. Now, where do these ships get the gold we like to take from them?

“From the New World,” Spencer piped up quickly.

“Right. And we’re traveling TOWARD the New World, right?”

Spencer thought about it, then nodded his assent.

“Okay, so why would these ships be taking gold TO the place where they get the gold? You see, that would make no sense. We’re catching ships on the way to the New World, carrying goods they planned to sell there in the Spanish settlements before loading up on treasure and heading back to Europe. And it might not look exciting to you, but we can sell them for a very tidy profit. We’ll need to get into the Gulf Stream to catch the ships on their homeward route laden with gold, but then we’d never get back to the Caribbean, now would we, because the current and winds would be going the other way. Do ye understand now, laddie?”

Spencer’s face contorted in concentration for a moment. Finally he nodded agreement.

“I see,” he said. “The currents and wind push us either to or away from the New World, depending on which current we’re in. And all the ships we’re likely to meet in that current must be going the same way. I get that. There’s just one question.”

Black Butch braced himself for what he knew was coming.

“Where’s the gold?” Spencer asked.

“Shut up and stir that oatmeal,” Butch replied.

Below in the hold, the changing of the watch caught some sailors heading topside while others coming off watch were heading to their hammocks.

“Any sign of land?” Greta Olsen asked Two Patch.

“I saw nothing,” was his response. “But we should make landfall any day now.”

“Is it true what Dogwatch said? We’re going to make landfall at – Brazil?” Greta’s voice was full of dread as she said it.

“Aye, if his course is true. Until he met with Prof. Droppingham, I’d have bet against it and given odds that we’d more likely end up in Cathy or maybe Moscow. But the professor seems to have turned him into a right fair navigator before he left us.”

“But isn’t Brazil where…” Greta’s voice dropped and her eyes grew wider as other sailors with the same worry crowded around her.

“Where what?” Two Patch said.

“Cementhands said there were monsters there.”

“Oh, aye, Cementhands said,” scoffed Two Patch, one of the few sailors in the crew who’d seen enough of the world to know a fish story when he heard it. “If I had a gold ring for every tall tale HE’S spun I’d need a lot more ears.”

“But you heard him,” Salty Jim added. “A 15-headed monster the size of a boat. Even if he exaggerated the size, 15 heads is far above the normal compliment of heads.”

“Oh, I’m not saying there’s not things to worry about in Brazil, or in other parts of the world. But I’d not be worryin’ about the things Cementhands had to say about it,” Two Patch reassured them.

“What kind of things should we worry about in Brazil?” Greta asked.

“Oh, there’s the natives and the swamps and flesh-eatin’ fish and the spiders, and all manner of other strange creatures. But if we’re stayin’ on the coast - as who shouldn’t if they’re sailin’ in a fine ship such as this - we shouldn’t have naught to worry about except…”


Two Patch looked both ways as if to make sure no one was listening, and his voice dropped to a conspiratorial whisper. The listeners all leaned in as if to stay on camera.



“Volleyball,” Two Patch said. “It’s a game they have there, a fierce, savage game, played by men and women nearly naked” – a shocked gasp rose from the audience – “and they leap into the air and smash the balls into a net or some such thing. And for some reason, Cap’n Slappy is fascinated by the game. If there’s a tournament goin’ on, we might be becalmed there for some weeks. And …” Two Patch leaned in even closer, “The cap’n might - MIGHT I tell you – choose to enter a team from the ship. And then there’s no tellin’ what sort of devilment may come up.”

The crew went to its stations somewhat more worried about the volleyball than they had been about McCormack’s monster.

Elsewhere on the Boil another, more spirited argument was taking place. It was Sawbones Burgess and Cementhands McCormack, still not having settled their dispute over the banner that floated over the ship. This was no surprise, as they’d been arguing over it for years and showed no inclination to stop any time soon.

“Even given that the banner makes sense, and I don’t concede the point, it’s still a stupid name,” Sawbones said.

The doctor had the upper hand in the squabble just at the moment, as he was free of duties while McCormack was working, seeing to the ship’s goats. That didn’t stop him from replying as he bent to his task.

“It’s not a stupid name. It’s a terrific name. The perfect name! As a matter of fact, I have a sister named Mick, and she takes a lot more than three drinks a day. Hell, she takes more than three drinks at a time.”

“But that’s clearly not a martini glass he’s holding on the flag,” Burgess shot back. “With that little paper parasol, it’s obviously a Caribbean tourist drink. If we HAVE to have that flag, and I don’t see why, it’d make far more sense to call it ‘Mai Tai Mick.’ That’s more euphonious. It rolls off the tongue.”

“I’ll roll this goat off your tongue if ya don’t stow it. It’s not a paper parasol. It’s a … a … a butterfly! A butterfly that’s landed on the rim of his MARTINI glass.”

“A butterfly?” Sawbones said, scoffing.

“Or - no - wait. It’s an olive. The pimento in an olive! A really, really big olive.”

“Your brain is a really big olive, you ox. Besides, how can it be a martini glass? Martinis haven’t even been invented yet.”

“Neither have Mai Tai’s,” McCormack retorted. “And gin’s certainly been invented.”

“So has rum, of course, and Mai Tais are made of run, or will be,” said Burgess.

The two men paused to consider the difficulty of being characters in a period piece where the authors have gone out of their way to not specify the exact year of the story, or even the century. In fact, both men were pretty sure the authors themselves didn’t know, had never considered it, and didn’t care. It was a rare moment of cosmological introspection, the kind of thing neither man was good at. It made them both feel lightheaded. Finally, McCormack broke the silence.

“Fuck you,” he explained.

“Bite me,” Burgess theorized.

“Sometimes they sound like an old married couple,” Cap’n Slappy observed from his station on the poopdeck. “Maybe they should room together so they wouldn’t have to stop squabbling at night.”

“Sir, speaking of getting rooms together …” Lt. Keeling broken in.

“What is it Keeling?”

“Well, Molly and I had our bachelor party some months ago, as you’ll recall, and the honeymoon was very nice, if you’ll pardon my saying …”

Slappy nodded his pardon and Keeling continued.

“Well, it strikes me that maybe we could have our wedding now? It’s been a long crossing, and we still have a ways to go to get home, so maybe we could have the wedding.”

“Why certainly, son, if you’re sure that’s what you want to do.”

“Oh yes sir. And Molly insists. So you’ll perform the service for us?”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” Slappy said. “Let’s do it this afternoon, if no other business gets in the way. Have you got a best man?”

“I was going to ask Dogwatch,” Keeling said.

“That’s fine with me, although Cementhands may be disappointed. You know how he loves weddings.”

“Oh, not to worry sir. In the absence of Mad Sally, Molly has asked him to be her maid of honor.”

“Oh Lord!” Slappy said.

“No, really, it will be all right. It’s the least we could do after he got us all out of the trouble at Mossel Bay.”

“Very well lad. Shall we say four bells of the forenoon watch? Will that give you enough time to prepare?”

“Oh yes sir, that will be fine. Thank you sir.”

Another voice cut into the lieutenant’s effusive thanks. It was Ol’ Chumbucket, coming down the ratlines.

“Good timing that’ll be. By then we should be within sight of shore,” he said, pointing.

The two other men looked out and saw the shape on the horizon firming up into the unmistakable form of land.

“Ah,” Slappy said. “Brazil.”

Tuesday, May 17, 2005


A Pirate Tale – Part 85 “Bounding

After a few weeks out to sea, Dogwatch stumbled upon a shipping lane used by Spanish merchants who were plundering the treasures of South America. It seemed only fitting that the plunderers might themselves be plundered by a patch of pirates who really knew how to plunder.

“Let’s show ‘em who they’re dealin’ with, lad!” Cap’n Slappy growled as he handed Spencer the official “Jolly Roger” of The Festering Boil. It was a distinct flag for two reasons; first of all, it was blood red signifying a ship-wide willingness to rain carnage down upon its victims. Secondly, it depicted a black skeleton leaning precariously against a pillar with what appeared to be a cocktail drink in its hand –complete with decorative paper umbrella. Had it been intentional, it might have read, “We’re here for your blood or your liquor and if we are trifled with, we will commence knocking over a pillar – the choice is yours.” As it was, the whole design was a misunderstanding.

Years earlier when Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy were making their plans to begin a life of piracy, they decided they needed a unique flag to signify their fierceness and their determination to become extraordinarily wealthy. They talked about the design with Cementhands McCormack. This was the major mistake.

“We want something that conveys our ferocity and spirit of adventure!” Chumbucket began.

“Something with a skull – or even better yet – a FULL SKELETON!” Slappy added enthusiastically.

“Blackbeard has a full skeleton with a spear impaling a bleeding heart!” McCormack chimed in.

“Yes, well that’s been done then, hasn’t it?” Chumbucket was deep in thought. “My friends, I have it!”

McCormack and Slappy leaned in excitedly as Ol’ Chumbucket described the blood red field and the heroic reference to the Pillars of Hercules as symbol of the many places they would see and a pistol firing to usher in a new age of piracy.

The two applauded Ol’ Chumbucket’s vision and McCormack volunteered to draw it up and get it to a suitable seamstress. Two things stood in the way of The Festering Boil having the best freakin’ Jolly Roger ever;

a) McCormack’s inability to draw a pistol that looked even remotely like a pistol and …
b) Bald Becky, the seamstress’ love of the drink.

And these two conditions produced the now-famous emblem of The Infamous Festering Boil that lovingly took the nickname, “Three Martini Mick.”

Spencer looked quizzically at the captain – it had been some time since they had run “Mick” up the flag pole and he had never seen what a recognizable symbol could do. He was about to learn.

Ship after ship gave way without a fight. Some even closed the distance themselves hoping that the crew of The Festering Boil would go easier on the plunder. This always proved to be a sound policy. The less resistance offered, the logic went, the lower the loss of treasure and supplies.

“Why strip an apple tree bare,” Chumbucket opined to young Spencer, “when you are walking through an orchard?”

Ship after ship paid this “plunder tribute” to The Festering Boil as they sailed westward toward the South American coast. On some ships, the merchant sailors held out the most recent copy of Pirattitude Monthly which featured an etching of Slappy, Chumbucket, George, Sawbones and Cementhands on the cover and a seven page story about their exploits in Diego Garcia called, “The Gigante Killers!” The five graciously autographed the cover for them after lightening their ship’s load.

“Low output and high input – the BEST kind of pirate work and we owe it all to Mick.” McCormack observed with a broad smile.

“McCormack! That flag has nothing to do with it and you know it – it could be ANY flag! It could be a flag that pictures a daisy and a bumble bee on it! But as long as they knew it was flying over The Festering Boil, they’d give way!” Burgess shot back still miffed that Chumbucket and Slappy had not asked HIM to design the flag.

“What? Your flag would only say, ‘we’re pansies and we’re too lazy to sting anyone.’ That would be a stupid flag!” McCormack fired back adding only as an afterthought, “Is that what they teach you in Oklahoma?”

“Tennessee – you artless bastard!” the good doctor’s rage was showing as was that huge vein in his forehead.

By now, Sir Nigel, who had been remarkably quiet for several days stepped into the fray. “Fellows! The full effect of your emblem is to wrest, as it were, riches from the passing stranger without the loss of blood. But what are we? Are we bankers? No. Are we accountants? No. Are we public relations specialists?”

Here there was a pause as more and more of the crew gathered around and while they generally agreed that they were not bankers or accountants – there remained some speculation that they might, in fact, be public relations specialists.

“Well, I say ‘No!’” Sir Nigel was now going to make a speech to appeal to the more bloodthirsty nature of pirates in hopes of position himself to take over the captaincy of The Festering Boil when he was interrupted by Don Taco (whose words were naturally accompanied by Los Mariachi on a guitar he had taken from a passing Spanish sailor.)

“Well, I say ‘Yes!’” A general stunned-sounding, “whoa-what?” went up from the assemblage. Don Taco continued, “Si! We are reaping the benefits of the good reputation established by the founding fathers of this sheep.”

“Ship” Los Mariachi corrected without missing a beat.

“Ship” Taco self-consciously put his accent in check and continued. “When you became pirates you did so to become rich with booty, did you not?” The crowd cheered. “You didn’t embark on this adventure in hopes of dying.”

Depressed Doug whimpered, “I hope to die.”

Don Taco answered him and continued, “And you shall my friend, you shall – but first, the riches in booty!”

Even Depressed Doug joined in the cheer this time. Sir Nigel could see his political gambit would not pay off today.

“We really need to get Sir Nigel his own ship.” Slappy whispered to Ol’ Chumbucket who nodded in quiet agreement.

The ship was moving very swiftly and there were no ships on the western horizon. “She’s really bounding over the main.” Slappy observed as he felt the boards beneath his feet rise slightly and slap back down as The Festering Boil skipped across the breakers.

Gabriel overheard this comment and asked, “What does BOUNDING mean and what exactly is THE MAIN?”

Slappy looked puzzled but that had never stopped him from speaking before, “Well, BOUDNING is like BOUNCING only with a D instead of a C. And as for THE MAIN… well … do you see how the MAINsail wobbles in the wind?” Here it was clear even to wee Gabriel that the captain was bluffing his way through the answer.

Fortunately, Salty Jim was passing by on his way to remodel the crow’s nest, when he overheard Slappy’s weak definitions and couldn’t help but interject. “The word ‘bounding’ comes from the Greek, horizon kyklos, quite literally meaning a ‘the boundaries of a circle.’ So, technically, the movement of the ship could be as smooth as ice and we would STILL be ‘bounding’ so long as we are heading toward the horizon. The word ‘main’ is from the Old English, ‘maegen’ meaning ‘power, strength, force’ it can be used to describe an expanse of either land or sea – in our case, sea.” And with that, he tied a timber to his back and began the climb up to his work atop the mizzenmast.

“So, let that be a lesson to ye, lad!” Slappy said smiling at the young man. “Learn your Greek and Old English root words as well as your Latin and Dutch invectives.” And with that, he strode off to stand at the bow and bounce up and down singing, “Bounding, Bounding Over the Bounding Main …”

Saturday, May 14, 2005


A Pirate Tale 84

The Festering Boil was a day out of Mossel Bay, nearing the invisible demarcation between the Atlantic and Indian oceans, and the crew was in a funk. Their shore leave had been curtailed from the promised three days to a few frantic hours, and they hated getting chased out of any port, even if running were the obvious, logical thing to do.

There was nothing to be gained by lingering, and a lot to be lost. But it stung the pride. “Perhaps if we’d had a few more men,” Cap’n Sappy thought to himself as he stood on the quarterdeck where George the Greek was steering the ship before a brisk wind. But he didn’t allow himself the luxury of the thought, and turned to his companion instead.

“George, in all the excitement, I forgot to ask you how your reunion with your old friend went,” Cap’n Slappy asked his first mate.

“Oh, aye, I met up with him. There was a lot of drinking, and neither of us appears to have killed the other. At least I don’t think so,” George said, his hand stealing surreptitiously to his left forearm where the long but shallow cut was already healing. It probably wouldn’t even leave much of a scar, he decided.

“It went all right then? A proper reunion of old friends?” the captain asked.

George chuckled darkly, recalling the flash of knives in the dark smoky room, and muttered something in Greek while his hand gripped the wheel, knuckles whitening. Slappy realized that even though he’d sailed with George for years, he knew very little about the man. George was the most able sailor on the ship, a good man to have beside you in a fight, and usually affable and friendly, a good companion. But knowing him for any length of time, you realized there was a wall inside the man, and behind it something dark that he never let out.

“So who was this man? What happened?”

George was silent for almost a full minute, and Slappy assumed that his question was going to go unanswered. But suddenly George gave a slight shake to his head, turned, and spoke.

“Take the wheel for a moment, would you? I have to get something if I’m going to tell the story.”

Slappy did and George went below. When he came back he was carrying a small, unadorned wooden box, maybe six inches long and three inches square. He set it on the rail.

“The man I met is now known as Nick Peters, master gunner of HMS Susan’s Doily. He had a different name – Nikos Petros – when we grew up together on Skiros. We both worked on the fishing boats. We were close, as close as brothers really. We talked a lot about getting a boat of our own one day. That didn’t happen.”

“My sister was in love with him. All the girls were,” George said with a distant smile. “But he seemed to return my sister’s affection. Everything seemed perfect. Too perfect.”

“I won’t go into the details, but it all changed in a matter of a few weeks. We had been saving money, and my father had taken out a loan against his boat to help us buy our own fishing boat. That summer Nikos and Sarah were to be married. But by the time summer arrived, my sister was dead, and the money he and I had saved was gone, and my father had lost his boat and was a broken man. He had pledged his boat and his family honor, and both were gone. Nikos was gone. He spread the word that I had falsely accused him and was fleeing for his life. The town took his word and held me in jail until he could make his escape. But he also took something else, my father’s ring, which was how I knew he was guilty. He disappeared and I’ve been chasing him ever since.”

Slappy’s eye had grown large during the telling. “How long did you know he was on the other ship?” the captain asked.

“I spotted him when we first ran across the Doily five months ago. But I was pretty sure he’d be there. All these years, I’ve been keeping an ear out for reports of him. So when we made port for shore leave, I had already made my plans.”


In Mossel Bay two days earlier, George had waited at the gangplank of the Doily, knowing he wouldn’t be allowed aboard, but guessing that his quarry would stay on the ship. He sent a message inviting “Nick Peters” out for a drink.

Half an hour passed before the familiar figure appeared. He was older, of course, and bore a long scar across his forehead and the signs of a burn creeping up his neck from beneath his shirt. He looked wary, and was accompanied by a large seaman with a nasty leer and a cudgel tucked into his belt

“Ah, my old friend,” Nick said with a smile that stopped at his lips. “To what do I owe this pleasure?”

“You said it yourself – old friends,” George said.

“Well, ‘friend’ might be an overstatement,” Nick allowed. “We did not part on good terms.” A finger traced the scar on the man’s forehead.

“After all these years and all these miles, when old acquaintances meet in the far corners of the world, they put bygones aside and remember old times.”

“Bygones? Old times?” Nick said, the cold smile disappearing. George noticed that his hand had dropped to the front of his shirt, swiftly grasping an object that hung under the fabric from a chain around his neck. Excellent, he thought.

“You will understand, George, if I’m not entirely convinced of your sincerity.”

“Yes. But here I am in a strange port, with the one person above all others who remembers the old times – and most of them were good– and who might want to see if this town has ever heard of ouzo.”

“Ouzo?” A smile lit the man’s face, a genuine smile this time. “Rum, I’m sure you’ll find aplenty. Gin too. But ouzo? No. Searching for ouzo will be a fool’s errand.”

“And how many times have you called me a fool, you old fool,” George said. “Come, let’s be a couple of fools, for old time’s sake.”

The man paused, considered. Finally he jerked his head towards his companion. “You don’t mind, I suppose, if McCarthy comes along with us? I find his presence - comforting, shall we say?”

“Mr. McCarthy is more than welcome,” George said. “Let us introduce your friend to the glory that is ouzo.”

“Which we will not find, I am certain. Come.”

McCarthy grunted, and the three headed into town, the two Greeks walking together, McCarthy following a pace behind, directly behind George, who affected not to notice.

They did not find ouzo in the first tavern, nor in the second. That’s not to say they didn’t find anything to drink, and the camaraderie between the two men seemed to deepen a bit as they moved on to a third tavern and a fourth. It was in the third that Nick encouraged the silent McCarthy to have a drink of Scotch whisky with them. It was in the fourth and fifth that he accepted. Three drinks later they headed toward a sixth establishment, this one a small, filthy hole of a bar at the edge of the docks, almost hidden among the warehouses.

McCarthy seemed more relaxed and the other two were now singing as they entered the unpromising premises, lit only by just a pair of lanterns and candles burning low on the tables. A few heads turned up as Nick roared out, “Ouzo!

To his surprise, the man behind the counter nodded and brought out a bottle. Nick’s jaw dropped, and he rushed forward to collect the treasure.

“Ouzo!” he shouted again, and put the bottle to his lips. After a small, exploratory sip, his eyes widened and he took a much longer pull at the bottle.

“Wow, that’s a coincidence, finding ouzo way down here,” Slappy said.

“Not at all,” George said. “I had took the last two bottles I’d been keeping in my sea locker and left them there.”

Slappy nodded his understanding. George continued.
“I feel like a drowning man who just took his first breath of air,” Nikos said, handing the bottle to George who also took a sip of the pungent, licorice-tasting liquid. “Three glasses, bartender! McCarthy, you are about to discover why the Greeks are blessed among all the people on the earth!”

They settled at a table in the corner and the liquor began to flow. Nikos quickly fell under the influence and his talk grew expansive.

“It's not the ouzo but who you drink it with that makes the experience,” he explained to McCarthy, who seemed to have developed an instant taste for the stuff. “You eat, you talk, for hours. Life becomes very beautiful and you attain an amazingly calm presence of mind as you sip slowly and eat mezedes.”

Nikos talked of sipping slowly, but he was actually drinking rather a lot. McCarthy, too, was drinking as if he had just discovered the purpose of his life. Only George held back, sipping slowly and smiling a deep, satisfied smile. He guided the conversation back to the old days as he ordered a second bottle to the table.

“We were men then, eh George?”

“No more than boys,” the pirate said.

“True. But who is more manly and alive than a young man about to enter the prime of life? Didn’t you feel you could do anything in those days?”

“True, George agreed. “I have never felt stronger, more capable, more able to lift the world onto my shoulders than in those early years.”

“And yet, as strong as you were, never strong enough to best me, you must agree.”

Nikos’ collar was more open now as the alcohol warmed him, and the chain about his neck showed more, but George still couldn’t see what hung on the end. He wagged a finger under the other man’s nose.

“Perhaps not then, but I wager I could take you now. You’ve been living a soft life on that British ship, while I’ve been hard at work on a real ship.”

“Soft life??! You pirate bastard!” Nikos said, laughing. “No man works harder than a British seaman. Why, I could lift one of our cannons by myself!”

“Oh, yes,” George sneered back. “You were always good at showy heroics, but when real work required real muscle, it was always me who did the lifting.”

Nikos pushed back his chair, opened his sleeve and thumped his elbow down on the table, hand up. “Let’s see then,” he slurred. “You’ve never beaten me before. Let’s see what you can do now.”

George smiled and extended his own hand, locking wrists with the other. McCarthy smiled stupidly. Forearms tense, the two men looked at each other, for a moment becoming the boys they had been.

Nikos threw his weight onto the other man’s arm a second before shouting “Go,” but he didn’t catch George by surprise. It was his old trick, the same as always. George was tensed to meet him, and the two arms moved hardly an inch.

They stared at each other as their arms wavered slightly, a grin on George’s face and a grim stare on Nick’s. Slowly, George returned the arms to the even position, then began to gain the advantage. The cords of Nikos’ neck stood out as he fought back, arresting but not reversing George’s progress. George’s expression didn’t change.

“You know you can’t beat me. You never have,” Nikos said through clenched teeth. George just smiled and increased his pressure.

George saw Nikos gathering himself, ready for a major push. He waited and it came - Nikos’ hand going back over the top and pushing George down slightly. And in that burst of energy George saw it. The chain popped out from Nikos collar and dangled in front of him. At the end was a tarnished gold ring.


“Wait!” Slappy said, interrupting George’s story. “Why would he still have your father’s ring? And why would he bring it with him when he knew you would be there?”

“Who knows,” George said. “Maybe he’s worn it there so long he’d forgotten exactly what it was. Or maybe he felt safe with his bodyguard, or just wanted to taunt me if things developed differently. Whatever the reason, he had it.”


With one convulsive effort, George threw all his weight into the match and slammed Nikos hand to the table, shifting his elbow so that it pinned the other man’s forearm. In the same movement he drew a knife from his boot and threw it, catching the lumbering McCarthy in the throat before he grasped what was happening.

Nikos eyes grew large. He heaved up, turning the table over into George as he leaped to his feet and tried to make the door. George caught a stool and tossed it, catching the man in the back of his head, stunning him momentarily.

But he was soon back on his feet and whipped out his own dagger, a curved, ugly blade. He lunged at George, but the alcohol made him overbalanced and he fell past him. George caught at the chain as he passed, breaking it but unable to hold on. It fell to the floor with a clink. George quickly strode to McCarthy, putting one foot on the dead man’s chest as he freed his blade. Turning, he saw Nikos scrambling for the ring. George leaped, but Nikos got there first, grabbed it and rolled away, slipping the ring on his finger.

“This is what you came all these miles over all these years for,” he said in an ugly snarl. And now you’ve lost it again.” He lunged at George, slicing him along the forearm. The blade snagged on the cloth of George’s shirt. He dropped his own knife, gripped Nikos right arm with his bleeding left, and wrapped the fingers of his right arm around the man’s throat. Nikos eyes bulged, his left hand pounding on George to try to break the iron grip choking the life out of him. He kicked, but was unable to free himself as George remorselessly forced him back against the wall. He looked at the others in the bar, but no one lifted a finger to help him. He closed his eyes, but was surprised when the grip shifted and George threw him to the ground, kicking him once, hard, in the teeth. He tasted blood.

“I promised my father I wouldn’t kill you, because father believed I’d be consigning myself to hell, a belief I don’t share. But I promised him I’d get it back and send it back to Skiros, where he is buried. And I didn’t promise you wouldn’t pay for what you did to my family.”


“So you left him alive?” Slappy asked.

“Well, I’d planned to drop him at his ship, missing a few parts, but the clamor of the home guard interrupted. I had just enough time to do what I had to do, but let no one say that I caused the Doily to sail without its master gunner. I believe he still a live, if not in the best shape of his life.”

“And the box?”

George handed it to him. Slappy opened it. It was packed with something white - salt, Slappy realized. He brushed a little aside and saw it. A simple but heavy gold ring with some Greek characters faintly engraved in it. Of more interest, the ring was still on a finger, which was beginning to dry nicely in the salt. He also saw two ears and a nose.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


A Pirate Tale – part 83 "A Dicey Situation"

After the general laughter died away, Genevieve stamped an angry foot onto the thick wooden floor of Hinrich’s House of Hasenpfeffer clinching her fists tightly at the end of her two rigid arms that ran down her rigid waifish sides. “I demand to be taken home at once – to Britain!” Her gaze was fixed sternly on Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorpe Mandrake Tharp.

Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthrope Mandrake Tharp stood slowly and straightened out the creases in his pristine uniform. “Your affection for our home island is touching, little miss, but your impertinence in your ‘demand’ as you call it, leaves me disinclined to acquiesce.”

“Do you know who I am, sir!?” Genevieve demanded.

“Aye,” the admiral replied calmly, “You are a naughty little girl who has been given her way too often and is need of both a right good spanking and a sharp ‘heart-to-heart’ with an older and wiser woman.”

“No!” by now, there was fire in Genevieve’s eyes.

“No?” Lord Sir Admiral Tharp shot the exclamation, as a question, back into her court as if it was a flaming tennis ball.

“No.” Genevieve was calmer now and smiled like the proverbial cat who had just swallowed the proverbial crate of proverbial marshmallow canaries. “My Aunt Fanny taught me to build contingencies.” At this point, she clapped her hands and twenty-five well-armed men burst into the room with rifles loaded and hammers cocked. They leveled these guns at the men in the room who, having been drinking for some time, were too slow to arm themselves and mount a defense. Genevieve continued, “Admiral, may I introduce you to the Dutch Home Guard – a rag-tag, but well-drilled militia dedicated to the protection of their South African sovereignty and the eradication of piracy. I believe the prudent course of action for you would be to ‘acquiesce’ to my request and call your men to the ship forthwith.”

“What about these other men?” Admiral Tharp showed genuine concern for his brother’s and his brother’s men’s safety.

“They will be dealt with according to the prevailing laws of the land. I believe Dutch policy toward pirates is pretty much the same as the English – I leave it to you, Admiral, to draw the necessary conclusions.” She gazed coldly into Lord Sir Admiral Percival Winthorpe Mandrake Tharp’s face. “Now, if you would be so kind as to accompany us helpless young ladies to your ship so that we may settle into what accommodations you may have arranged for our comfort and privacy.” And with that, young Lady
Genevieve established herself as a force with which to reckon as she turned and marched out of the establishment.

The Dutch Home Guard moved quickly to disarm Slappy and his men. Tharp looked at his half-brother with a strong sense of foreboding, but Slappy just smiled and directed the admiral toward the door with his eyes. The admiral followed the young ladies to his ship and they departed within two hours.

By dawn the following morning, almost the entire pirate population had been rounded up and was being held in a makeshift cage in the town square just a few yards away from where a large gallows was being constructed. The female pirates were being held in the town jail – but the men were exposed to the elements and the abuse of angry passers-by.

“Do they have us all?” George asked.

“I haven’t seen McCormack.” Ol’ Chumbucket observed.

“Well, if he was here, ye would have seen him.” Slappy seemed perfectly comfortable sprawled out on the cobblestone floor.

“I’m glad to see the Cap’n is not taking this lying down!” Burgess snapped churlishly.

Slappy replied, “The Dutch are notorious for the fairness of their judicial system. They have no evidence of piracy and we have done no wrong either in their town or in their waters. I have every confidence they will soon be setting us free.”

“Not to haggle with the Cap’n’s logic,” Dogwatch began, “but if you are so confident in their sense of justice, why are they already building a scaffold?”

Slappy thought for a moment and almost sat up as he glanced at the large gallows being erected. “They are just – but they are also thrifty. Perhaps they have heard of our theatrical skills and will use it as a stage for a command performance if they don’t hang every man-Jack of us.”

“And what of the non-man-Jacks among us?” Keeling asked with a special concern for Red Molly. “Will they hang them as well?”

“No.” George replied. “When we took them on as crew, I gave them a workshop on ‘pleading their bellies’ in the event of arrest and imminent execution. If they stick to their training, they should be out of there in a few months.”

This provided LefTENant Keeling some relief, but only the momentary kind.

The Mayor of the town complained bitterly to the General of the Dutch Home Guard about keeping the prisoners in such inhospitable conditions with the hot days and cold nights, but the General was more interested in his game of dice in which he seemed to win at every roll.

“General.” The Mayor pleaded, “You cannot keep these men in the square like dogs or goats or pigs or cows. I have a warehouse you may use where they will be out of the heat and protected from the night’s cold.”

Annoyed, the General snapped back. “I will keep them here like any animal waiting for slaughter – close to the slaughter house!” The rolled the dice again – “Another win for me!” he shouted.

“But General.” The Mayor insisted, “There has been no trial – no verdict – no set date for the execution. These things take time and …”

The Mayor was cut off by the uplifted hand of the General who stood up and moved quickly to the side of the cage. He then went into the motion of playing three parts, an attorney, a judge and a jury.

As Attorney: “Your Honor, I will prove to this court that these vermin here in this cage are pirates!”

As Judge: “Well, you’ve proven it to me. What says the Jury?”

As Jury: “Guilty!”

As Attorney: “I object!”

As Judge: “Over-ruled!”

As Jury: “We recommend hangings for everyone!”

As Judge: “Far be it from me to rule against a jury of their peers. (at this point, the General produced a black handkerchief he kept for just such occasions) You, the defendants, having been found guilty of piracy by a jury of your peers are hereby sentenced to death by hanging to be carried out …”

“When will the gallows be finished?” The General broke out of character to call to the head carpenter. The carpenter replied, “Tomorrow by mid morning!”

As Judge: “…blah, di, blah, di, blah … death by hanging to be carried out at noon tomorrow!”

And with that, the General gave a flourish and a bow to the applause even of the pirates in the cage who all appreciated a good one-man-show.

The Mayor was less than enthused by this mockery of the judicial system. “What’s to become of their ship?”

“Naturally,” the General began, “it will become the property of the Dutch Home Guard and specifically the executive in charge. Unless someone wants to have a roll of the dice with me over it?”

The Mayor, having seen the General’s success at dicing would have nothing of it – nor would the townsfolk who looked on. None, that is, except for a very large woman who now raised her hand and sheepishly called out, “Yoo Hoo, Mister General! I’ll take that wager. But I have one condition.”

The General was shocked that anyone would want to challenge him and his own dice. He looked at the woman in disbelief. Part of his disbelief was based in her audacity and the rest was firmly rooted in her remarkable size, but he comported himself nicely and asked what ‘condition’ she may have.

“If I win the ship, I win the crew – I’ll need them to sail it for me, as I am but a poor widow.” The woman’s voice cracked on the word, ‘widow’ giving it a graceful, tragic tone.

In the cage, Slappy stood next to Ol’ Chumbucket and muttered but one word. “Jesus.”

Ol’ Chumbucket went to work straightaway on the padlock that secured the cage door. He had hoped to wait until the cover of darkness, but now there was no time to lose.

Spencer approached Cap’n Slappy along with Gabriel, both boys asked simultaneously, “Isn’t that …” But they were stifled by the Cap’n’s finger pressed firmly to his lips and a long, yet quiet, “shhhhhh.”

“And what is your wager, madam?” the General asked the woman.

“My wager?” she seemed confused.

“Yes, madam. My wager is that ship and its crew – what, pray tell, is your wager in this bet?” the General spoke slowly – as if to a child.

“Oh!” she gasped as if surprised. “My wager will be this box.”

The General laughed, “That’s a very nice box indeed! But I hardly think it is of equal value to that ship and these …”

The woman opened the box to reveal that it was filled with gold pieces.

The General’s eyes nearly erupted from his head. “There must be anywhere from eight to ten thousand Guilders in there!”

“How’s that lock coming?” George whispered nervously to Ol’ Chumbucket.

“They must have picked it up in Switzerland!” He muttered under his breath as he continued to struggle.

“Alright!” The General declared, “I’ll wager that ship and this pirate crew – including the pregnant ladies in the jail against your box and all its contents.” He reached for his dice and began shaking them in his hand. “One roll. Winner take all.” His motion became more brisk.

“Wait!” The woman cried. “I think it only fair that if we’re using your dice, General, I ought to be the one to roll.”

The assembled crowd of townspeople grumbled in agreement – as did the pirates in the cage.

At first, the General’s face was a picture of distorted anger, but he smiled and said, “Very well. Here are my dice. I call seven to win – if any other number comes up, you win. Now, that’s more than fair, don’t you think?”

The woman smiled broadly – her eyes as big as rather impressive saucers. “The General is more than fair.” As he handed her the dice, she fixed her gaze over an beyond his left shoulder, “Oh! Dear me! Whatever is that Duck doing?!?” she shrieked.

The General spun around to see what was going on behind him, but he saw nothing. “I don’t see any duck!” He snapped as he turned back to the widow who was already rolling the dice in the palm of her big leathery hands.

“I must have been mistaken.” She said as she fixed her eyes on the board upon which she would roll the dice. After a couple of vigorous shakes, the woman threw the dice which came up double-ones. “SNAKE-EYES!” She hissed in victory.

The General couldn’t believe his eyes. He grabbed the dice and examined them closely. They looked to the entire world like the dice he had been throwing all day. Even his men believed that. He dare not accuse the widow of cheating for why would he think that unless he knew how the dice SHOULD roll?

Reluctantly, he ordered the pirates released to their ship. When the sergeant came to unlock the cage, he found a very satisfied Ol’ Chumbucket twirling the open lock around with his finger in the air. “Clever,” he said to the sergeant, “but I’ve yet to meet a lock, Swiss or otherwise, that I can’t pick.” With that, he slapped the lock into the sergeant's hand and went on his way - whistling.

The Mayor, feeling badly about the mistreatment of their guests, ordered provisions be loaded aboard The Festering Boil at no cost. The women were released from the relative comfort of their jail cells.

Everyone was anxious to be underway, but the “widow,” was being scrutinized by a now-wary General.

“Where do you live, widow?” He asked.

“Amsterdam.” Cementhands McCormack declared as he moved quickly toward the ship – afraid that he may have overplayed his character.

“What brings you to South Africa?” the General pressed – feeling the charade slipping away.

“Business.” Cementhands muttered now in full-on scurry mode.

“What KIND of business?” the General now demanded in a stern voice that was only to be overcome by the next voice heard.

“THE FACKIN’ LORD’S BUSINESS! YE RACIST SCUM!” Seamus Casey’s brogue filled the air as he took “the widow” by her gigantic hand and aided her up the gang plank.

Being the last two aboard, it provided him a moment to preach to the General and others assembled dockside as the gang plank was pulled up.


McCormack, still resplendent in his dress punctuated the priest’s admonition with a loud falsetto. “Aaaaaaaa – Men!”

In moments, The Festering Boil was pulling out of harbor and away from the African coast.

Monday, May 09, 2005


A Pirate Tale 82

The dock at Mossel Bay was a riot of activity as sailors from The Festering Boil, Juan’s Blood Oath and HMS Susan’s Doily surged down the gangways for shore leave. The pirates eyed the Royal Navy sailors with some suspicion, but having shared so much over the last month, they broke through their natural enmity and soon it was a single mass of sailors roistering into the small town, intent on enjoying the pleasures of the busy trading port.

Sir Nigel wended his way through the crowd of happy, laughing, swaggering sailors, intent on his own mission. As soon as his ship had warped into the dock he had left his invitation to Sally to join him at 10 that evening at Hinrich’s House of Hasenpfeffer. Besides having the best menu in the small seaside town, Hinrich had “blind” gypsy violinists and private rooms, and Nigel was on his way to reserve one of each. He hummed a tune as he swerved past a pair of British sailors and a Spanish pirate negotiating with a local wine merchant, and dove through a mixed mob of sailors crowding around a dark-haired beauty who danced to a song played on Dogwatch Watts’ pennywhistle.

Slappy watched McCormack complete his shore-going preparations – eight or nine specially prepared pair of dice went in various pockets, along with several decks of cunningly marked cards, two dirks, his special blackjack made of Spanish leather, a very large hip flask on his very large hip, and an enormous wheel of malodorous cheese tucked securely under his jacket. Then he started looking for a place to store his “lucky soda crackers,” but found he’d used up all his storage space. He turned to Slappy and held the box out with a flourish.

“Cap’n, “I’d like to make you a gift of these saltines.”

“Why thank you, sailor,” Slappy said with gravity. He watched the sailor hurry down the gangway to catch his shipmates already fanning out into the town.

“Well, we know what McCormack will be up to for the next 36 hours,” the captain observed to George the Greek. “How about you?”

“I’ve got plans,” George said. “An old friend is master gunner on the Doily and I’m going to look him up. We’ll either get drunk together or one of us will kill the other. Maybe both. Too soon to tell. You going into town?”

“Yes, as soon as I take care of a couple of details. Chumbucket’s gone ahead to scout things out. I just have to set the watch.”

“Who’s staying aboard?”

“Keeling and Red Molly volunteered to keep an eye on things,” Slappy said.

“It’s not ‘things’ they’ll be keeping on eye on, it’ll be each other,” George said with a wolfish grin.

“Oh, let the young people enjoy themselves,” Slappy said. “You know, we really need to get those two properly married. They’ve had the bachelor party and the honeymoon, but we never had the wedding ceremony.”

“It’s often better that way,” George said before he saluted and headed ashore. As Slappy watched him go, he noticed one of the girls from Juan’s Blood Oath approaching. It was the little one, Slappy noticed.

“Message for you, Cap’n,” she said.

“Thanks, sweetheart. What’s your name again?”


“How old are you, Elizabeth?” he asked.

“Twelve sir.”

“Well, 12-year-old Elizabeth,” Slappy said. “Do you need to wait for a reply?”

“No sir. I have others to deliver.”

“Just so. Thank you.” He gave her a shilling for her effort, and watched her scamper away. Then he glanced at the paper she had handed him. Breaking the wax seal, he unfolded the note. It read, “Join me at 10 p.m. sharp at Hinrich’s House of Hasenpfeffer.” It was signed by Mad Sally.

“Curious,” Slappy thought. And the girl had more to deliver? Perhaps Chumbucket could shed some light. Slappy headed into town where he was to meet his old friend at The Grog and Gristle for a quick whistle wetter.

When he got there he found Ol’ Chumbucket deep in conversation with an elderly man who looked somehow familiar. In this particular case, being deep in conversation seemed to mean Chumbucket listened to the torrent of words spilling from his companion and nodded periodically.

At Slappy’s approach the white-haired elf of a man leaped to his feet, delight on his face.

“Captain! A pleasure to meet you again. I’m Seamus-fackin’-Casey I am – formerly the Fackin’ Bishop o’ Galway! For Fack’s sake!”

“Ah, bishop! Wonderful!” Slappy said, recognizing the clergyman they had rescued back in chapter 24 and sent off to return the freed slaves home. He realized now why Chumbucket was having trouble getting a word in edgewise. “What in the world …”

“… brings me to this facking godforsaken hole of pestilence at the far facking corner of the world?” Casey supplied. “Well, after I delivered King Kimoni and his people back to their homeland I had a go at convertin’ the whole fackin’ tribe. But it was no good. They have their own fackin’ religion and they seem to like it fine. The church, don’t ya know, with its emphasis on celibacy and no fackin’ pre-marital fackin’, was a hard sell to them. Didn’t make much sense to ‘em. Frankly, there’s something’ in what they said.”

The cascade rolled on as the bishop described his long, eventful walk from the Ivory Coast to this southern African outpost. The two shipmates found they could converse between themselves under the current of Casey’s words; their talk didn’t slow him a bit.

“I received a similar invitation,” Chumbucket replied to Slappy’s question. “I don’t have a clue what it’s about.”

“Well, no doubt when the time comes all will be clear.”

“I’d planned to spend time with her in port, but I’d rather hoped for less company.”

“Not to worry, my friend,” Slappy said. “I know how and when to make myself scarce. You’ll have your privacy.”

They spent the afternoon drinking and enjoying the music of Casey’s non-stop tale of his ramblings. As evening came on they decided it was time to find Hinrich’s. That turned out to be more difficult than they’d imagined. Scanning the signs before the various dockside watering holes failed to turn up an establishment of that name. Finally they asked several local ladies on the street, and after several offers to engage in some intriguing recreational activities, offers not diminished by the presence of the still-talking bishop, they finally learned the establishment they sought was five miles north of town.

“Why such an isolated place?” Slappy asked as they plodded along. “We’ll barely make it in time.”

Indeed, the distant village clock was striking 10 as the winded sailors entered the restaurant. The owner, Hinrich Mueller, apparently was expecting them, because as soon as they announced themselves they were ushered through the dining room to a door in the back. They entered.

They were surprised to see Don Taco (accompanied, of course, by Los Mariachi, picking out a tune that sounded for all the world like the Jeopardy theme,) Sawbones Burgess, and Admiral Tharp, all seated around a glum-looking Sir Nigel. The others each looked up and when they saw the two new arrivals, and held up their own identical invitations.

“You too?” Nigel said. “I suppose you’re all wondering why I asked you here. A joke, I did not ask you here. I don’t want you here and I don’t know why Sally did. We’ll have to wait for her answer as she’s not here yet.”

The men ordered drinks and low, nervous talk prevailed, accompanied by the ticking of a clock.

At precisely 10:05, the door opened again, but it wasn’t Sally who entered. It was Genevieve Rubette, Fanny’s erstwhile niece, accompanied by three other girls, including Elizabeth. Sullenly, Genevieve produced a large envelope addressed to Chumbucket.

He opened the letter and read aloud.

“By the time you receive this, we will be gone with the tide.

“When the ninja ship attacked, what was the first thing Cap’n Slappy said? You probably don’t remember, because it seemed perfectly natural to you. He shouted at Sir Nigel, ‘You have the women – make a run for it and we’ll hold them off.’ That was the last straw. No, wait. Nigel deciding that “protecting us” was his first priority was the last straw. Slappy’s was the penultimate

“In case you he-men failed to notice, we sailed this ship from Tortuga around the cape to Diego Garcia, took our lumps and our prizes, fought battles, and never complained about it being unladylike. But as soon as Fanny was out of the way, you men gave away our ship – the ship that had been our home – and told us you’ll take care of us by sending the girls home to mommy and daddy.

“Well, you didn’t ask what WE wanted. The girls and I have had several long talks and voted unanimously on our course of action. (The four young ladies who delivered this note were either too young or chose not to go. Except for Genevieve. We just don’t want the little bitch along. Can’t trust her. Admiral Tharp can play nursemaid and see them home. We are taking the ship (and renaming it: Not because we didn’t love Juan – a brave and valiant man – but didn’t any of you notice that people will start calling the ship Juan’s B.O.? Hardly an appropriate epitaph.). We are off to seek our fortunes as pirates.

“Tell Slappy and Nigel – who probably will have to sail with you for a while – that you are welcome to chase after us if you’d like, as long as you realize that you won’t ‘take’ us. You can join us, if you can find us. It’s a big ocean. Our paths will cross again, I’m sure, when we’re all back in the Caribbean. And you’ll hear of us before then, if the information I have is right. But I think I’ll let that hang there mysteriously for now.

“Chumbucket my chum, I do love you and want to be with you. But at what price? If I had followed the plan, deposited the girls at their homes and returned like the dutiful little woman (after spending months putting up with Nigel’s attentions,) what would have been my place on the Festering Boil? Chumbucket’s lady friend? His main squeeze? I don’t think so. When next we meet some months from now we will meet as equals. That’ll be much better for both of us.

“Until then, know that I love you and remain,

“Yours – not obediently yours, but yours all the more because of that,

“Mad Sally – Captain of The Poison Pearl”

There was a shocked silence, broken after a lengthy pause by the sound of laughter. It was Slappy. Admiral Tharp jumped to his feet as if to try to head back to his ship, but Slappy put his hand to the admiral’s shoulder and forced him back into his seat.

“Well,” Slappy said, “now we know the reason for the isolated rendezvous. With our sailors all over port, it’ll take a full day to get our crews back together and set sail. And why? I'd suggest we let them go. Sally’s right you know. We didn’t ask.”

Sober nods all around. Sawbones raised his glass.

“Gentlemen, I give you Captain Sally and the Poison Pearl.” All of them drank the toast.

Slappy moved over to Chumbucket, who was silently re-reading the letter.

“Are you alright?”

“No, but I will be.”

“She did say we’d see them again, eventually, in the Caribbean,” Slappy said.

The two looked at each other, then a grin broke over Chumbucket’s face.

“I’m more worried for Nigel,” he said.


“When Pirattitude Monthly hears of this, Nigel will be in the records again. This is the third ship he’s lost in as many months. Fourth if you count the pinnace.”

Friday, May 06, 2005


A Pirate Tale – Part 81 "Liar, Liar, Brothels on Fire!"

“Oooo his eyes are as big as saucers!” Red Molly observed as she leaned in closer to her young husband, LefTENant Keeling.

“That’s your sure sign that he is going to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth – so help him, God.” Keeling whispered back, his uncharacteristically soft voice filled with awe and wonder.

Slappy and Chumbucket overhearing this exchange disbelieving glances, rolled their eyes, and folded their arms over their chests – waiting for this story, so familiar to them, to be told yet again.

“I wonder what he’ll add this time.” Chumbucket muttered.

“A fifteen-headed sea serpent, I’ll wager.” Slappy replied.

“Well, of course, it was up to fourteen heads last time but I distinctly remember when the actual event took place, it was nothing but an ill-tempered grouper.” Chumbucket reflected.

The incident flashed through Slappy’s mind and a haunted expression stretched across his face. “There’s just no reasoning with a grouper.” He muttered softly.

“The story o’ how Cap’n Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket, Sawbones Burgess and meself met is a tale of mystery and intrigue.” Cementhands began. “Therefore, prepare yourselves to imagine the unimaginable and to endure the unendurable!”

He waved a big hand over the gathered group just as Sawbones walked up and joined Slappy and Chumbucket. “McCormack’s telling the grouper story again, isn’t he?” the good doctor inquired.

“Aye.” Chumbucket replied – “But it gets better each time.”

“Thar I was.” McCormack’s voice warbled with trepidation. “A wee lad just mindin’ me own business and tryin’ to do a good turn for the elderly and the infirm …”

Slappy, Chumbucket and Burgess all mouthed the word, “wee” in collective disbelief.

“… when all’s a sudden, I’m snatched from me trainin’ for the priesthood by two o’ the most desperate and despicable pirates ever to do vile things upon the sea!”

The assembled crowd turned around to glower at Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket who just smiled sheepishly and waved politely. Chumbucket tried to explain that Cementhands had, in fact, been a debt collector for a loan shark but McCormack just talked over him.
“I was giving some poor soul the sacrament o’ confession and what not when these two blighters tempted me aboard their tub with talk o’ bringin’ salvation to the godless heathen o’ the jungles of South America.”

“You were shakin’ down the Governor’s son and had to get out of Nevis as quickly as possible so you stowed away – ye great gassy windbag!” Slappy shouted.

Cementhands just held up his great right hand as if to silence the critic and then, with lamb-like innocence, made the sign of the cross in the air – several of the crew followed suit. He continued, “Hush Sinner! I have long forgiven you – ‘tis time someone forgave himself …”

Slappy’s mumbled, “Oh, for the love of God!” was drown out by the “shhhshing” of the crew. McCormack continued with renewed vigor.

“After a week at sea, the palm on my right hand began to bleed to the bafflement of the ship’s doctor and I realized that this stigmata was a sign from God Almighty!”

“Aye!” Burgess chimed in. “It was a sign to cut back on the self abuse!”

“The good doctor’s medical degree in veterinary proctology from Cow Shit University in Dustview, Oklahoma doesn’t make him qualified to render judgments on a miraculous sign placed on a servant of the Almighty, does it?” McCormack demanded, but quickly continued, “It was naught but a skeletal crew in those days with them three and George the Turk leading a rag-tag bunch of nincompoops.”

George the Greek joined in at that point – “I was Greek then, but they thought I was Turkish because of my rakish youthful good looks.”

Continuing, McCormack took on an ominous tone. “There were monsters in the deep in those days – horrible, terrible monsters! They may be legends to ye now in these ‘Enlightened’ times, but we saw them with our very eyes and fought them with our very hands! There was the gargantuan sea-bunny of Bermuda who was covered with white fur and an enormous fluffy cottontail of death! Fortunately, he had a taste for Spanish sailors and left us alone, but we saw him leap upon and consume a galleon full of explorers bound for Belize!”

The crowd gasped as the gallery of Slappy, Chumbucket, Sawbones and George shook their heads quietly – McCormack was in fine form this evening and would not be heckled from his story.

“Or I could tell ye about the flying razor octopi of Auckland whose body was like the head of a man with a huge gaping mouth and razor-sharp teeth and they would run, in packs of twenty or more, on the surface of the water and make their attack by spinning wildly through the air cutting off heads with their razor-sharp testicles!”

Slappy corrected him, “I think you mean ‘tentacles,’ Cementhands.”

“What did I say?” McCormack demanded

“You said, ‘testicles.’” George clarified.

“Bollocks!” McCormack shot back.

“Well, that’s another way of putting it.” Chumbucket chided.

“I MEAN …” McCormack fought to regain control, “They had razor sharp Bollocks!”

A gasp went up from the audience. Dogwatch slipped his hand between his legs for a brief self-examination and a moment of reflection on the possibilities razor-sharp ‘dingle-dangles-of-joy’ presented.

“… AND razor sharp tentacles!” McCormack’s addition seemed to reduce the anxiety among the crew. “They flew through the air – rotating their TENTACLE-BLADES and attacking man and beast with spinning cutters of death!”

The chorus of the four hecklers let out a falsely-alarming “Ooooo!” in falsetto – which Cementhands ignored as he reached the dramatic conclusion of his story.

“These were but trifles when compared to the fifteen-headed sea-serpent we battled three hundred miles out to sea from the coast of Brazil.” The assembled crowd gasped. Slappy held out his hand to collect his wager – a shilling a piece from Chumbucket, Sawbones and George.

“With great snapping sharp teeth …”

“Were they as sharp as flying octopi testicles?” LefTENant Keeling inquired with a grin.

“Even Sharper!” McCormack shot back. “HUGE teeth – the size of pub door – but more tooth-shaped – that is the kind of teeth that is all sharp and pointy! So frightening was the sight that Sawbones soiled his britches and our fearless Cap’n passed out!”

“Now be fair!” Burgess demanded, “I had dysentery and The Cap’n was drunk.”

“I was?” Slappy asked sincerely. “Why am I not drunk now?”

“Oversight.” Chumbucket replied.

“One quickly remedied.” George chimed in and handed Slappy his flask.

Slappy took a deep drink as McCormack stood, arms folded over his chest – waiting to continue. “If you four nervous Nellies are quite finished, I’ll get to the good part.”
The “Nellies” insisted with a chorus of, “Don’t mind us!” and “Please, please fabricate away!”

“With the crew incapacitated I was left alone to face this hideous hydra of hell armed only with my courage and a spork.”

“A spork?” Red Molly questioned if it was even a word.

“It’s a utensil, half spoon – half fork, I invented it for eating particularly meaty clam chowder.”

The assembled listeners let out a gasp denoting how impressed they were.

“Using my strength and cunning – as well as my spork – I managed to jam the monsters many heads into the open mouths of fifteen cannons. It struggled and hissed in the way evil monsters of Satan will, but my determination was too much for it. Once each of the… uh …sev… eight …”

“FIFTEEN!” The chorus of Nellies offered a reminder.

“Once each of the FIFTEEN heads was securely stuck in each of our fifteen cannons it was up to me to fire him back to the pit of hell from whence he came. I carefully lined up the cannons and remembering my skill as a world class archer, used a flaming arrow to simultaneously ignite all fifteen and blasted the vermin to kingdom come!”

The listeners applauded enthusiastically as McCormack finished with a large flourish.

Black Butch was not satisfied. “That’s all well and good, Mister McCormack.” Sounding his dissatisfaction in the coming questions. “But HOW did you meet Cap’n Slappy?”

McCormack thought for a moment, but Slappy chimed in. “We met one night when we both escaped from the same burning building.”

“What building?” Red Molly asked.

“A brothel.” Slappy responded matter-of-factly.

You would expect a shocked gasp from a sewing circle or a ladies temperance league meeting, but not a group of blood-thirsty pirates, but, there it was.

“But I thought you were training for the priesthood!” Molly demanded an explanation of the big man.

“I was!” he asserted. “I was WORKING in the brothel!” Every eyebrow on the ship was now in the fully raised position. McCormack continued – “AS A MISSIONARY!”

“That’s a hell of a parish!” George observed.

“Good work if you can get it, though.” Chumbucket grinned.

“So, when I rescued Cap’n Slappy from the fiery flames not only of the brothel but also hell itself, we became fast friends.” He concluded.

“But I thought he snatched you into a life of piracy and villainy?” Dogwatch asked.

“Yes!” McCormack consented. “And THEN we became fast friends.” He proceeded to pull a pendant from around his neck and swung it pendulum-like in front of his audience. “You are all now growing sleepy and have no need to further question Cementhands McCormack on his remarkable story …”

He repeated this several times as the crew toddled off to bed.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


A Pirate Tale 80

As the last of the daylight failed, Africa was a dark smudge on the northwest horizon, backlit by the dying sun. By the time the crew of the Festering Boil rose to change watch at the forenoon watch, it rose up before them, a dry, golden-brown parapet dominating the horizon, not more than a half dozen miles distant.

“We’ve made good time,” Slappy observed from the poopdeck. “What do you think, another two or three days to Mossel Bay?”

Dogwatch Watts was finishing his calculations, then looked up. “A good guess, cap’n. I’d put us about three days out from the bay if the wind holds.”

Ol’ Chumbucket grunted. “One thing you can count on down here is that the wind will hold. It may not always blow the direction you want it to, but it’ll blow.”

For now, they couldn’t have asked for a better wind, strong and coming off the rear quarter, just where the ship seemed to like it. The Boil danced over the water. For the first time since they had started the long procession back from Diego Garcia, the Boil was overtaking Juan’s Blood. The Seawitch hadn’t been seen in several days, not that that surprised anyone. As usual, HMS Susan’s Doily was bringing up the rear, hull down on the horizon.

“Another day’s hard sailing and we might lose the navy once and for all,” Dogwatch said hopefully. “Maybe we could capture a passing merchantman or bark or something?”

“Maybe,” Slappy said doubtfully, “but it would probably be just as well to wait another week until we’re out in the Atlantic and he’s turned safely for home. I don’t want to press things.”

“But out in the Atlantic we’re unlikely to run into anything for weeks, until we get up into the shipping lanes,” Dogwatch said, sounding for all the world like a six-year-old whose just been told there will be no ice cream after dinner. “Couldn’t we just take a little ship?”

“I understand completely Dogwatch,” Slappy told the navigator. “But this is a case where we really are better off biding our time, especially since the ship behind us is a 74-gun frigate with a no-nonsense admiral.”

Dogwatch pouted. It wasn’t a pretty sight.

“Look, we’ll be in Mosell Bay soon and everyone will get shore leave. So that’ll be something. We haven’t been in port in months,” Slappy said.

The sailor did appear to cheer up at the news, so Chumbucket thought it best not to mention that the British Navy’s sailors would almost certainly be enjoying the freedom of the port as well, and there might well be trouble between the navees and the pirates. Or not, Chumbucket considered. They’d been through a lot together. Hell, with luck they might pick up a few strays to round out the crew, which had become somewhat depleted in the long adventure in the Indian Ocean.

Up ahead, Sir Nigel turned his spyglass from the coastline to the ship coming up fast behind him.

“The Boil seems to like this breeze. She’s apparently going to make a race of it into port,” he observed to Mad Sally, who was with him on the quarterdeck. She failed to respond to his conversational gambit.

“I say, Sally, what do you make of the Festering Boil’s chances of beating us into Mossel Bay?” he asked, a little louder. Still no reply. Instead, Sally stared off at the coastline as if studying the lay of the land for a pop quiz, but not actually seeing it at all.

“Sally, your hair is on fire,” Nigel offered a bit louder.

“I’m sorry, did you say something?” she said, stirred out of her reverie.

“Never mind what I was saying. What are you thinking, love,” Nigel said.

Sally waved a hand as if brushing the thoughts away. “Nothing. Just kind of lost for a second.”

“Day dreaming of your beloved on yonder ship?”

“No. Yes, but no, at least not the way you mean. Mostly I was thinking of something Slappy said the other day.”

Nigel thought for a moment but couldn’t recall anything Slappy had said recently that required deep reflection, and said so.

“That’s kind of my point. You wouldn’t have noticed either,” Sally said. “ But never mind. I’ve got to get the girls to their stations. They’ve got work to do.”

“Yes, and a damn good job they do of it, too,” Nigel said. “I never thought this ship could outpace the Boil, but they’ve got her practically flying, don’t they?”

It was true. The girls had resumed working the ship as they had during Fanny’s tenure, leaving little for the small band of Spaniards who accompanied Nigel and Don Taco to do. Nigel had to admit, the ship was as tautly run as any he’d ever served on.

“Will you join me for dinner tonight in my cabin?” he asked, moving a calculated distance closer to her. “Don Taco says he’s planning something wonderful wit the last of the eggs.”

“Now don’t start, Nigel,” Sally said, spinning away. “I’m sure it’ll be lovely and you’re a great guy, but I’ve got work to do now, and I promised the girls I’d share mess with them tonight. We have some planning to do to get ready for their homecoming.”

“Well yes, true enough. If these gently bred young ladies return to their stately homes in England without a few crash courses in civility, there could be havoc at the old homestead, eh?”

“Yes, something like that,” Sally said. “I don’t care if they don’t remember which fork to use with the fish. I’d like them to remember to use forks. Well, I’ve got work to do.”

Nigel watched her as she headed toward the bow where the girls were waiting for her. A damn fine woman, he said. Fiery, funny, and could run a ship nearly as well as he could, he had to admit to himself. She apparently was still pining for Ol’ Chumbucket, but he was on another ship with another destination, and it would be a long, long voyage up the coast of Africa to jolly old England.

Nigel smiled to himself. He had time on his side. And plans for a very special night in Mossel Bay.

The two ships were abeam of each other as the night began to fall, and the wind was still holding. It would get tricky as they rounded the cape, but for now the wind came relentlessly from the southeast, and the ships surged towards landfall.

At the bow of the Festering Boil, the first watch was gathered around trading sea stories. Cementhands McCormack had just finished telling a tale of a trip so far north that the lines had frozen in place and the sails couldn’t be reefed despite the howling winds. Faster and faster, the ship had gone, McCormack told the rapt listeners, until they had crashed on the ice. He and a few others had been rescued, he said, by Eskimos, who taken care of the shipwrecked sailors through the long arctic winter before they could be rescued by a fishing ship in the spring.

“The night was so cold and so long that the sun never rose, literally it never rose,” McCormack said, as Keeling, Dogwatch, Gabriel and a half dozen others leaned forward. “And that’s why, if you travel north toward the pole, if you land at the right spot, you’ll find a whole lot of young Eskimos who look an awful lot like me.”

The giant leaned back with satisfaction as his audience digested this bit of information, then chuckled as they realized its full import. All except Gabe the powder monkey, who looked puzzled.

“I don’t get it,” he said. “How come just because the night is long a lot of them would look like you?” This brought another round of laughter. The pirates decided it wasn’t the right time or place to fill in that part of the youngster’s education. Time enough for that when they were on shore leave, they thought. Instead, the changed the subject.

“Tell me, Cementhands,” Black Butch asked to cover the embarrassed silence. “How long have you sailed with Cap’n Slappy?”

“Oh, it must be 15 years now,” he said, trying to calculate in his head.

“How did you meet him?” the cook asked.

“Now THAT’S an interesting story. Sit down and let me tell you about it.”

Monday, May 02, 2005


A Pirate Tale – Part 79 “Pirates Versus Ninjas”

Hours swept into little piles of days. Those piles became large mounds of weeks and before a mountainous month could pass, they were nearing the cape – the southern tip of Africa. Not one to let things get dull and risk insurgence, LefTENant Keeling had organized the entertainment evening by evening. Part of the pre-show fun was found in the betting pool that George the Greek had organized around what form Keeling’s “Variety Show” would take on each particular evening. George was joined by Cementhands McCormack who seemed to know what every evening would hold ahead of the game, but spread rumors that it was something else.

For instance, on the evening when Keeling was giving a dramatic reading of his own poetry, McCormack would let it slip in certain circles that the evening’s entertainment would involve a “Lady Fanny Look-Alike Contest.” Once the bets were in and the show began, George and Cementhands would divvy up the profits which, coupled with the disappointment on the part of many Lady Fanny Look-Alike hopefuls who had to spend the evening sitting politely and listening to LefTENant Keeling’s epic poem, “Ode to Well Worn Cat,” caused no end of crew disgruntlement.

Not all the evenings were a complete loss, however. The McCormack Follies, featuring the big man’s penchant for dressing like a woman and warbling a catchy tune, were a major theatrical victory. Chumbucket whispered to Slappy during that particular performance, “I don’t care how many times I see him perform in drag – it’s always damnably entertaining!” Sawbones Burgess’ female impersonation was less well-received but was encouraged by Slappy’s standing ovation and shouts of, “Bold Choice, Sawbones! A VERY BOLD CHOICE!”

But for every evening swimming in sequins and spangles or the charming magic and ventriloquist act performed by young Spencer and the midget-like Gabriel, there was a re-enactment of a philosophy lesson that Seneca may have given a young emperor Nero on the teachings of Aristotle as performed by Keeling and Red Molly whose “concept” was that the show should be done as marionettes and spoken completely in Latin. This was made even more difficult by the fact that Red Molly did not speak Latin, but chose to respond in “Pig Latin.” At one point, she seemed to give up, simply repeating over and over, “I-ay Ave-hay oh-nay dia-ia, uht-way, ooo-ya, r-ay, ayin-say!”

So, as they approached the Cape, a deeply concerned George approached Cap’n Slappy as he talked with Ol’ Chumbucket.

“Cap’n the men are gettin’ a bit itchy for plunder,” the first mate whispered.

“Perhaps they would be less itchy if you and Cementhands hadn’t lifted all their scratch.” Slappy observed – pleased with his play on words, he looked at Ol’ Chumbucket for affirmation of his cleverness. He counted Chumbucket’s long sigh as clear approval.

“Aye, that might be,” George conceded, “but McCormack and meself cheated ‘em out o’ their ill-gotten gain fair and square.”

“Aye, that ye did!” Chumbucket countered, “And yet, here we are with such a high rate of disgruntlement.”

“B.N.F.T.T.S.S.W.C.Q!” Dogwatch’s voice ripped the air and brought about everyone’s attention.

Slappy scratched his head, “What the hell is he on about?” he asked.

“It’s the new code.” Ol’ Chumbucket explained. “Since we are within shouting distance of Juan’s Blood Oath, The Sea Witch and The HMS Susan’s Doily, Dogwatch has developed a secret code that no one else can decipher.”

“Well, who among us can decipher it?” Slappy asked.

George and Chumbucket looked at each other in confusion. Finally George spoke. “Dogwatch can.”

“Well, of course, but when he calls out this new code, to whom is he calling? Who knows what B.N.F.T.T.S.S.W.C.Q. means.”

“Dogwatch knows.” George answered matter-of-factly.

“Yes, but he’s yelling it – to whom is he yelling? Who is it, other than himself, who understands the code?”

Chumbucket and George looked at each other and looked around the deck. Suddenly, young Spencer and Gabriel came running up with the captain’s spyglass. Breathlessly, Spencer sputtered, “There’s a British Navy Frigate to the South/Southwest closing quickly.”

Slappy, Chumbucket and George took the letters in Spencer’s message and began counting on their fingers. Finally, Slappy asked enthusiastically, “Do you speak Dogwatch’s code, lad?”

“No sir, Cap’n.” he said, “I can see it through your spyglass.” He handed it to the captain and pointed in the general direction.

Slappy checked the end for a cardboard cut-out as had become his custom and peered toward the area in question. Sure enough, a frigate, flying the colors of the British Navy was coming hard at them. His momentary alarm caused him to curse, “Besmette koude pijnlijke plek!” and close the telescopic instrument on his hand – pinching it hard.

But as he looked around, he remembered that his flotilla included a British Navy ship and would provide all the protection they needed.

As she closed in to intercept them, they finally caught sight of her name, The HMS Startling Turn of Events. Before Slappy could consult the latest issue of the weekly magazine, Conscripted Sailors Salvo, to find out the latest on this unfamiliar ship, she had come alongside the Juan’s Blood Oath and signaled The Festering Boil to her other side. Not wanting to appear inhospitable, Slappy ordered the ship ahead and within moments he and Sir Nigel were standing face to face aboard the deck of this strange British frigate.

They stood alone.

As their respective crews peered over the rails into the higher resting frigate that seemed to be deserted, the two wondered aloud what could be going on.

“What do you think is going on?” Sir Nigel asked.

“I have no bloody idea.” Cap’n Slappy replied. “But whatever it is, I don’t like it much.”

With that, the two turned and began moving toward their own ships when a voice came from the bow of the ship.

“Reaving so soon?” the voice and the accent were unmistakable. The rolled “r’s” where regular “l’s” should be, It was Hamish Takanawa, the half-mad, half-genius, half-Scottish, half-Japanese, half-pirate, half-ninja full-time notorious pirate hunter. “Och, I kennaught berieve how rucky I am! Sirrrr Niger AND Cap’n Srappy in one ferrrr swoop!”

Somewhere between disgust and annoyance, it occurred to Slappy and Nigel that Takanawa was alone, so they pulled their pistols and fired in his direction. He disappeared before the smoke had cleared.

The silence was broken with the high-pitched war scream of the ninjas. Slappy called to Sir Nigel, “You have the women – make a run for it, and we’ll try to hold them off.” Although he was loathe to run from a fight – especially with ninjas, Sir Nigel knew that protecting the girls was his first priority. They turned and began running toward their ships – both calling for their crews to set sail. Sir Nigel nimbly made it back aboard, but Cap’n Slappy was not so lucky. Out of the rigging, two ninjas swooped down and knocked him off his feet before he could reach the Boil. Within a moment, Slappy was joined by Ol’ Chumbucket, George and Cementhands McCormack who had developed special “Ninja-whacking Technique” years earlier and relished this style of fighting.

As Juan’s Blood Oath pulled away, several Ninja’s dropped onto her deck from the rigging, but they were quickly dispatched by Sir Nigel, Don Taco and Mad Sally while Los Mariachi played exciting fight music. At one point, Mad Sally’s sword ran through two Ninja’s at a time creating something she called, “Double Ninja on a Stick.”

But hundreds of ninjas rained down onto the deck of The Festering Boil from their perches in the rigging. That fight was only beginning as the crews of The HMS Susan’s Doily and the Sea Witch watched helplessly at a distance, unable to aid their “Dutch Fisherman” comrades with cannon fire for fear it would blast both friend and foe.

Cementhands McCormack, employing the use of a cricket bat, caught several of the black clad martial artists mid-air and batted them into the sea. George the Greek reached for his pistols first, then cutlass and dagger – eschewing for the moment a mop.

However, the scrubbing lesson had not been lost on young Spencer who took mop in hand and began to attract the attention of the ninjas with the swiftness of his hands and the ferocity of his blows. He twirled the mop deftly around his body with the skill of – well – a ninja.

Three of the kung-fu fighters closed in on him and things looked grim, however their ninja skills didn’t seem to include seeing a sneak attack of cannonballs lobbed in their direction from young Gabriel and a monkey named Strumpet.

As the momentum of the fight turned in favor of the pirates, multiple “hissing” sounds could be heard from all corners of the deck and thick red smoke engulfed the ship. Chumbucket found some of the flares used to create the ruddy fog, but they were difficult to reach as the smoke gave off a strong whiff of sulfur and the best that could be done was to throw a few of them overboard.

By the time the smoke cleared, there was no sign of Hamish Takanawa, his ninjas or his ship. All had vanished, as if by magic. All, that is, except two ninjas who were badly injured and left behind to the mercy of the pirates.

Black Butch and Sawbones Burgess took them below to tend their wounds as Cap’n Slappy and the crew checked the ship for damage. Apart from a few “throwing stars” stuck to masts, Cementhands’ cricket bat and one in Spencer’s mop, there was no damage and no serious injury to be found.

“Hamish must have been using his B-Team.” Chumbucket observed with a smile.

But Slappy wasn’t laughing. “I don’t like ninjas – with their black jammies and their defiance of the rules of gravity.” He shuddered, “They creep me out.”

“Well, they’re gone now – all but the two below being tended to.” George said.

“Yes, but for how long?” LefTENant Keeling asked with a voice thick with mystery.

“Don’t do that.” Chumbucket ordered shaking his head.
“Do what?” Keeling asked.

“Don’t do that, ‘voice of ominous mystery’ thing.” Chumbucket replied.

“But we don’t know how long …” Keeling continued at half-mystery-voice.

“Seriously. Stop that.” Slappy sided with Chumbucket on this one.

Keeling looked crestfallen.

“Oh, all right. Get it out of your system.” Slappy relented.

Brightening up, Keeling cleared his throat to allow for full mystery voice resonance, “Who knows when the ninjas may return?”

Chumbucket cupped his hands over his mouth and made a scary “Ooooo” noise.

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