Wednesday, June 22, 2005


A Pirate Tale – 90

Sails dotted the waters around the Festering Boil all the way to the horizon, as pirate ships from all over the globe converged on Sao Paolo for the Annual Pirate Olympics and Women's Beach Volleyball Extravaganza. Meanwhile the Boils continued to work on their plans to free the captain from his predicament – if in fact it was a predicament he was in.

“So, he’s been kidnapped, after a fashion, and he’s being threatened with blow guns and spears and being forced to make sure his ex-wife wins the games,” Don Taco said. “But he had already agreed to do so, albeit under the threat of those blow guns, and he IS a pirate after all, so I’m not sure we need to worry about any threat to the purity of his soul.”

“And if he’s being tortured, sign me up for some of that,” said Sir Nigel, who had been watching the goings on in Shifty Meg’s boat with interest, not to mention some jealousy.

“That’s not the point,” George the Greek said sternly. “He was taken off our ship against his stated intention. We just can’t have that. It’s bad for business.”

“Damn straight,” Ol’ Chumbucket echoed. “How would it look if we let our captain be taken away without putting up a fight? We’d be the laughing stock of the Caribbean! Every sloop, xebec and pink in the ocean would be howling with mirth when we came upon ‘em.”

“Oh, quite right. It would never do,” Nigel conceded. “I was just saying the situation isn’t quite so dire or pressing as to require immediate action on our part. In fact, considering the ‘attention’ Slappy is getting from the women, he might object if we rescued him too early. Let’s get into Sao Paolo and get the lay of the land. As to reputation, right now I’d say he’s going to come out of this with quite a good reputation in some respects.”

There were knowing smiles from all the crew members who possessed spyglasses and had observed some of the action that had been going on aboard the large canoes of Shifty Meg and her Pentari pals.

Meg’s fleet of small boats was working north close to the coastline, while the Festering Boil had had to put out farther to sea to avoid reefs, shoals and other obstructions. It put the ship on a more direct course for the harbor, since the canoes would have to work around the headland that guarded the bay. So the Festering Boil dropped anchor off Sao Paolo long before Meg’s flotilla arrived.

While concerned for their captain, much of the crew was also excited about the prospect of competing in the games. Despite Slappy’s fascination with the sport, the Boils didn’t make much as a volleyball team and didn’t think they stood much of a chance. But several crewmembers were looking forward to the pirate competitions. Leftenant Keeling, for one, was the defending medalist in the interdisciplinary disciplining contests, and bookmakers ashore had instantly rated him as the odds on favorite as soon as they’d seen the Festering Boil drop anchor. Black Butch had never been bested at either culinary arts or cleaver combat, and Two Patch had hopes of placing in the ratline climbing contests, while Don Taco was eager to test his Spanish School fencing in the rough and tumble of the game’s swordsmanship contests. Sawbones Burgess, the ship’s surgeon, was thinking of entering both the amputation and the leech linking events, while Dogwatch Watts – thanks to the late Prof. Droppingham’s expert tutelage –considered himself a strong dark horse in the navigation competitions.

The ship was a buzz of activity as Salty Jim prepared his poison inoculation, the crew members limbered up for the games, and Ol’ Chumbucket oversaw the loading of a cross section of plundered goods into the ship’s longboat. The array of wine, silks, spices and finished goods taken from Spanish merchants en route across the Atlantic, while not as sexy as gold and jewels, would provide each member of the ship’s crew with a healthy financial stake.

“Do you want to come ashore with me to help sell the booty,” Ol’ Chumbucket asked Sir Nigel, who stood at the rail, moodily starting at the city.

“No, I think I’ll stay aboard ship for now,” he said. “Not really feeling up to shore leave today.”

“Look, if you’re worried about reporters asking how you lost three ships in three months …”

“Worried? Nonsense!” Nigel said quickly. “No one would dare ask such a question of me, not if he expected to live.”

“Quite true, I’m sure,” Chumbucket said. “But look, stuff happens, and you don’t want to give the impression you’re hiding away from the press ... ” Chumbucket held up a hand to still the objection Sir Nigel seemed about to raise and went on. “I’m not saying that’s what you’re doing. I’m just saying I could use a hand selling this merchandise we obtained, and you of course, as a temporary member of the Boil’s crew, are due a share. My estimate is that your share ought to set you up pretty nicely with a new starter ship, especially since the harbor is so crowded and an awful lot of these pirates will either be drunk or will lose enough money wagering that they’ll take any offer you are to make. Hell, if you want to go in with Don Taco, you might well be able to afford any ship in the harbor. Then let the press crow. You can answer them with a broadside of nine-pounders.”

Sir Nigel smiled at the prospect.

“As to going in with our Spanish friend, I think I’d prefer to go solo,” Nigel said. “A divided command is always trying on the best of friendships. And really, though he’s really an extraordinary cook and an excellent swordsman, his propensity for nonstop chattering and constant self-aggrandizing gets to be a little hard to bear.”

Chumbucket turned away, pretending to attend to the loading of the boat, so that Nigel wouldn’t see the grin that had flashed across his face. If there were any pirate on the seven seas more given to blowing his own trumpet than Sir Nigel, Ol’ Chumbucket had never met him, heard of him or dreamt him up in a rum-induced stupor. Finally, he felt well enough in control to turn back to the pirate.

“Well, Nigel, I was hoping that while I took care of the commerce, you’d be willing to go ‘get the lay of the land,’ as you said earlier. Salty Jim is working on his concoction but says it won’t be ready for a few days. So we’ll have time before we swing into action to get the lay of the land and come up with the best plan. And the crew of course will want the time to enter the games, so I think whatever we’re going to do, it’ll have to wait for the medals ceremonies at the end.”

“Ah, good choice there,” Nigel agreed. “There’s always a lot of confusion and drinking. That’s the time to strike all right. Okay then, I’ll go have a look around. Who knows, maybe Shifty Meg actually will be the best and a clear winner of the Pirate Paragon medal and all of this will be unnecessary. But we’ll have to assume otherwise. So I’ll do it.”

They parted company at the quayside, as Chumbucket went to haggle with the merchants while Sir Nigel went into the city to scout out possibilities for rescuing the captain, “If he really wants to be rescued,” he mumbled to himself.

It was hours before Chumbucket had haggled for the best price – which was an awfully good price even though he had been forced to deal with the kind of merchants who didn’t demand to see bills of sale and other such pesky details. There was a shortage of all these goods in Sao Paolo, a shortage the Boil had directly caused by stealing so much of it before it could arrive in the new world, and the merchants were just happy to get their hands on goods they could sell for a big profit. Pleased with himself, Chumbucket returned to the ship where he supervised the unloading of the holds. It wasn’t until later, when he was arranging with George to disburse the crew’s shares, that he realized Nigel hadn’t returned yet.

“Where could he be?” Cementhands McCormack said. “If he was just scouting, he should be back by now. It’s not like we don’t all know the streets of Sao Paolo.” Cementhands had been more than typically grumpy, since he’d been denied both the chance to “scout” Sao Paolo himself, or to help Salty Jim collect the female urine needed for the antidote.

Before anyone could answer, the pirates saw a dinghy approaching the ship. It was rowing as fast as its two drunken oarsman could propel it across the water, and their inebriation was such that it was purely a matter of chance that it arrived at the side of the Festering Boil at all instead of rowing on out into the ocean. Seated in the bow, yelling at the two-man crew of the watering taxi to “bloody watch where yer going!’ was Sir Nigel.

He scrambled up the side of the ship and strode up to the quarterdeck, where Chumbucket, George, Sawbones Burgess and Don Taco were waiting for him.

“Well, me hearties, things are certainly getting interesting, and no mistake,” he said by way of preamble. “Meg and her crew got into town late this afternoon and are holding Slappy for now in a tent on their camp site near the place where the games will be contested. I might add that he’s being guarded by women, but at some point they’re going to have to let him out so that he can judge. But the games officials have seen the Boil, so they know he’s in town, but assume he’s with us. They’re very eager to have him be head judge again. But that’s not the most interesting thing.”

Nigel loved telling a story, especially one in which he figured prominently, so he gave a dramatic pause. When no one on the audience, he knew him well, said, “Oh, no! Really? What IS the most interesting thing?” he went on as if someone had.

“The REALLY interesting thing is who I ran into on my way back to the boat. Or, who ran into me, you might say.”

“WHO?” no one said breathlessly, so Nigel continued as if they had.

“I was trying to find a boat to get back here, and someone heard me mention the name of the ship. The next thing I knew, I was set upon by six swarthy fellows who insisted, after a serious struggle, that I come with them.” The audience noticed that Nigel’s usually impeccable suit did not look the least bit “pecced,” but said nothing.

“Well, who did they bring me to but –Red Rita!”

This, finally, got the reaction Nigel had been hoping for.

“Rita!” Burgess said. “I thought she was dead!”

“Well, not nearly as dead as we’d been informed, I guess,” said Ol’ Chumbucket, who was grudgingly impressed.

“But she went down with the Crusty Capricorn four years ago, and there were no survivors!” George objected.

“Well, at least one survivor,” Nigel said.

“And that shipwreck wasn’t the only thing she survived,” Burgess said. “She also survived her marriage to Cap’n Slappy. His second ex-wife, I believe.”

“And you’ll never guess what she’s doing here or what she wants,” Nigel said.

All of the listeners knew very well they’d believe it, since they saw it coming as clearly as the readers do.

“She’s here to compete in the games. She wants to use Slappy’s influence as head judge to make sure she wins the Pirate Paragon medal,” Nigel said.


“Or she’ll deliver to the admiralty enough information about Slappy and his brother Admiral Tharp to put both of them in gaol for a very long time - if they’re lucky.”

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