Monday, July 11, 2005


94 – The Wide World of Pirate Sports


“Scurvy dogs and salty wenches, let the games begin!”

The opening of the Annual Pirate Olympics and Women's Beach Volleyball Extravaganza was nothing if not ceremonial. Trumpets blared as the hopeful contestants marched, strutted or staggered into the arena – a slightly less muddy patch of ground along the river, surrounded by rickety bleachers. There was no “Olympic village,” since the pirates were mostly staying on their own ships, but the area around was packed with tents and ramshackle huts serving as bars, bordello’s and pawn shops.

Ol’ Chumbucket and Sawbones Burgess had picked out a spot where the mud and slime were a little less prevalent and were watching the contestants enter. Their running commentary, as they recognized old friends and enemies alike, was not unlike what would pass for sports analysis several centuries hence, only with more honesty and less hyperbole.

“Here comes the crew of the Bloody Scuppers, Burgess said. “And right out in front is their captain, Felix O’Toole, the so-called ‘Irish Gentleman.’”

“If he’s a gentleman, I’m an albatross,” Chumbucket said.

“Aye, he’s a right bastard,” Burgess agreed. “Ye remember at the games two years ago, when he took exception to the judge’s ruling that gave the keelhauling prize to ‘Blood Eye’ MacGirk?”

“That’s right. Whatever happened to that judge?”

“No one knows, and O’Toole’s not tellin’,” Burgess said.

“Look,” Chumbucket exclaimed, “It’s Angus Bogg and the crew of the Polliwog! And Salty’s still with ‘em.”

“If Bogg didn’t feed him to the sharks six years ago when he got his foot caught in the chamber pot and cost them the ‘smartest ship’ medallion, he’s never gonna do it,” Burgess opined. “Angus has a soft spot for that lad. It’s almost unnatural.”

“What kind of a name is Polliwog for a pirate ship anyway?” Chumbucket asked.

“That was the name of the ship when he took it from the British East India Company, and he never got around to changing it. It wasn’t frightening at first but he’s given it quite a fearsome reputation since.”

“Do ye suppose Buckle will be taking part in the cannon-tossing competition this year?”

“Probably,” Burgess nodded. “He’s won twice in a row and he’s just reaching his physical peak. But there! Do ye see ‘em? Staggering in from the wrong direction? It’s the crew of Moby Duck!”

“Who’s their captain now?” Chumbucket asked. While virtually all pirate crews elected their own captain, Moby Duck was the only ship that actually scheduled the elections annually. It seemed odd, but it must have something going for it because they never suffered a mutiny.

Burgess shrugged.

“Ya know, “Chumbucket continued, “the Moby Duck crew is as fierce and savage a bunch of pirates as I’ve ever seen, but they drink so much they almost never get anything done.”

“Aye. Remember the year they set out for Panama and ended up in the Arctic Ocean?”

“Claimed they were lookin’ for the Northwest Passage,” Chumbucket laughed. “As if they were explorers instead of scurvy bunch of ale-swilling, quail-chasing sea dogs! Did you know they once filled …”

He was silenced by Burgess, who had seen the next group enter.

“Okay now, here comes Red Rita and her mob. Where did she find that set of blackguards?”

Coming from Burgess, who had seen more than a few blackguards in his time, that was quite a condemnation.

“I don’t know,” Chumbucket said, “but isn’t that Keelhaul Weatherford skulking along behind her?”

“Oh, Keelhaul is it? Then she must have scoured the Kingston Gaol to come up with that lot. Oh for the love of … Who decided that Shifty Meg and her Pentari warriors should follow Rita in? That’s just askin’ for a fight!”

Sure enough, the trailing edge of Rita’s crew where beginning to mix with the leading elements of Meg’s tribesman, and the authors don’t mean that in a “high school dance” mixer kind of way. Weapons were being brandished and blows exchanged before the parade marshal – a nervous little man named William “Tweed” Thistleboom, came between them. The combatants fell apart, overcome with laughter at Tweed’s attempt to assert his non-existent masculinity.

“Now this is interesting,” Chumbucket said. "Who are these fellows?”

Burgess consulted his program. “Ah, these must be that Asian crew that sailed in, Cha O Li of the Shanghai Surprise. This crew is supposed to be bloody deadly, the current record holders in the South China Sea.”

“China did you say?” Chumbucket asked, his face looking thoughtful.

“Look, keep your Eurocentrism to yourself,” Burgess admonished.

“No, no, you’re absolutely right. It’s just this might come in handy.”

Finally all the competitors were in place, including a contingent from the Festering Boil led by Lieutenant Keeling and including Dogwatch Watts, Cementhands McCormack, Red Molly, George the Greek, Two Patch, Gabriel the Powder Monkey, Don Taco and Sir Nigel. In all it was a thousand of the most evil looking (and smelling) men and women to ever sail the seas. They stood fidgeting uncomfortably while the game’s organizer, Mad Spanky McFadden, gave the traditional opening salute – with his middle finger – and introduced the judges, which brought a mutter of disapproval from all the pirates.

Front and center in the judges’ box was Cap’n Slappy, wearing his “Head Judge” badge. He looked somewhat bilious. In fact, the whole gathering was uncharacteristically gloomy, as the pirates couldn’t miss Lily sitting in a “luxury box” at the top of the bleachers – the luxury being that it was upwind from the stench of the arena. The threat of Lily’s approaching fleet, her plans to take over the Brotherhood and the fact that every time someone objected she had her lawyers slap an injunction on them had definitely dampened the mood of the games.

Even when “Three Fingers But Can Still Play the Fiddle Good As You Please” Hoskins released the ceremonial doves and the pirates opened fire on them, bringing down several birds and winging Hoskins, the mood remained glum, and that was usually the highlight of the opening ceremonies.

What most of the pirates didn’t know – and Chumbucket didn’t want them to know – was that Lily was willing to drop the hostile takeover providing she could take over Cap’ Slappy. He was to disappear at the end of the games and become on of the prime holdings in her multi-national corporation. Chumbucket worried that if the bulk of the pirates knew about the offer, they’d sacrifice Slappy to his ex-wife’s plan without a second thought. He had told Slappy not to worry, to enjoy the game and to leave the scheming to the Boil’s group of plotters. But while the captain had bucked up slightly, Chumbucket in reality didn’t have the ghost of a plan. He gnawed at a ragged thumbnail while his eyes scanned the crowd. Suddenly he stopped.

“Okay, there’s no way that will work,” he said to himself. “Which may mean she won’t expect it.”

“What are you blabbering on about?” Burgess asked.

“Nothing, not yet anyway,” Chumbucket said, with the first glimmer of hope in his eyes. “There’s still too many loose ends. But we have a week to worry about that. For now, just enjoy the games. I’ve got some people to talk to, starting with McFadden. But if this works, this could be the best pirate games ever.”

Burgess glanced up at the box where Lily was seated. “It’d better be, or it’ll probably be the last,” he said.

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