Thursday, August 11, 2005


A Pirate Tale – 98


Red Molly was mad enough to spit nails. In fact, she did spit a couple of nails as she railed against what she saw as the injustice of the judging, being as she was engaged in helping Salty Jim, the ship’s carpenter of the Festering Boil, build a stand for the closing ceremonies to be held the next day.

“Bronze??!?” she fumed. “BRONZE!!! How could they give us the bronze when we clearly were the best singers there? Hell, we were the only singers with music!!”

She spat another nail, this one with enough force to bury it almost an inch deep into the wooden scaffolding they were building. Fortunately it was in about the right spot, so Jim tapped it twice and drove it into place.

Earlier that day Red Molly had led the Festering Boil’s singers in the finals of the pirate glee club competition, one of the highlights of the Pirate Olympics and Women's Beach Volleyball Extravaganza being held in Sao Paolo. They had been the final group to perform, and Red Molly had been drilling them ruthlessly ever since the ship had left the Indian Ocean. They performed Henry Purcell’s opera, “Dido & Aeneas,” the full hour and 30-minute production. She wanted them to be flawless, and they were, not a note missed.

Sadly, a hall full of pirates is perhaps not the best audience for such entertainment, and the few who were left were almost all asleep by the time the singing concluded. Even the judges had been seen and heard sawing logs. Molly was so angry she took the score, ripped a chunk out of the middle sent it flying toward the judges’ stand, which may explain why today only half of the opera is known to exist.

“We were PERFECT,” she hissed to no one in particular. “We deserved the gold. And who did they give it to?” she asked rhetorically.

“To someone who kept ‘em awake,” Salty Jim muttered to himself. In fact, first prize had gone to the crew of the Polliwog, which had sung a rollicking musical tribute to every seaman’s favorite disease, scurvy, which clocked in at a tidy 2 minutes 20 seconds. Silver had gone to the crew of the Moby Duck, which had regaled the crowd with “Bell Bottom Trousers,” a bawdy tune about the maid at The Prince George Hotel. The Boil had managed to grab the bronze only because the other finalist was the crew of the Bloody Scuppers, and the cabin boy brought in at the last minute to replace the man whose jaw Molly had broken had experienced a pubescent voice change at precisely the wrong instant.

“We deserved the gold,” Molly continued, “Those PHILISTINES!!!”

“Look, let’s all agree that the Boil’s glee club was perfect, that you deserved the gold, and get on with work. Those Chinese sailors will be here inside of an hour with the fireworks we’re supposed to install, and this rig isn’t half ready,” Jim admonished her.

Molly agreed, but her mood wasn’t improved as she realized Jim was subconsciously singing to himself, “Bell bottom trousers, coats of Navy blue. Let ‘im climb the riggin’ like his daddy used to do …”

“How come it’s facing this direction?” Molly asked snappishly. “If the fireworks are for the closing ceremony, shouldn’t this actually face the stadium?”

“I imagine it’s a safety thing,” Jim said. “After all, the ‘stadium’ as you call it is mostly made of dry timbers and creosote. One wrong spark and it’d go up in flames.”

“But they’ll be aimed right at …” Molly started.

“I know,” Jim said. “But Ol’ Chumbucket was absolutely insistent, and he’s in charge of the closing ceremony, so we’ll do it his way.”

Molly shrugged acceptance and went back to work, but a moment later dropped the board she was holding, snatched up a hammer and began chasing Jim, who without realizing it had started singing, “When there’s scurvy, on your pi-rate ship, eat a lime – EAT A LIME – eat a lime …”

Nearby, at the Bloated Hog, a different discussion was taking place, albeit one that was not a whit happier.

“So it didn’t matter whether you were delivered up to Lily or not,” George the Greek grumbled into his rum. “The Portuguese are planning to round us all up anyway.”

“That’s about the size of it,” Cap’n Slappy said. “And now, thanks to my quick thinking, I don’t even have the luxury of riding off into the sunset with Lily. That’ll be Wideload’s privilege, may it do him any good.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Ol’ Chumbucket said with a wave of his hand. “The plan always called for us passing him off as you. I thought we’d have to trick Lily into it and had a scheme all ready, but if you were able to talk her into taking him, so much the better. I guess there’s something to be said for the direct approach. It’s the Portuguese I’m more concerned with. I never really believed Lily when she said the fix was in, but it would have been a lot easier if they weren’t in the picture.”

“Well, let ‘em come,” George roared defiantly. “There are enough of us here to give ‘em one hell of a fight. Besides, they’re just the Portuguese. It’s not like it’s the Spanish Navy or the English.”

“Maybe,” Chumbucket said hesitantly. “But there are problems. You’ve seen those two frigates at the harbor mouth. They’ll pick off any ships that try to come out one by one. We wouldn’t get the chance to face the Portuguese fleet in strength. And the rest of the ships are standing off, but not far. They still outnumber us, and they’re regular naval units, used to working together. We’re more …”

“Freelancers?” Slappy offered.

“Exactly,” Chumbucket agreed. “I’ve talked to a dozen captains here in the last week, and they all want to stand and fight, but they also have a dozen different ways to do it. I’m afraid when the Portuguese arrive they’d scatter like a school of cod when a shark arrives, unless we can do something to scatter the Portuguese first.”

“And where or what is the shark?” George asked.

Before he got his answer, there was a commotion at the doorway, with loud cheering and singing. The pirates from the Festering Boil looked up from their dark table and, squinting into the sunlight that flooded through the door saw a crowd of sailors flooding into the room, with one of their number carried aloft.

“Well avast!” Chumbucket said, looking up. “Is that Sir Nigel?”

Indeed it was. The other pirates had him on their shoulders and carried him around the room twice, cheering so loudly that Slappy couldn’t make himself heard to shout, “What happened?” Finally, they deposited him on a table where he stood and accepted their “three cheers” with a smile and a wave of his perfectly manicured hand. It wasn’t until he had drunk a toast to their health that he noticed Slappy, Chumbucket and George and came over to greet them.

“Ahoy, ye swabs,” he said. “Notice anything different?”

The three good-naturedly gave him the once over, pointedly ignoring the gold medal that hung around his neck.

“No, can’t say I do,” George said. “You smell a little better than usual, could that be it?” Chumbucket asked, grinning slyly.

“No, ye poltroons! I won! I’m “fanciest-dressed sailor of them all!” Three games in a row, I’d add. And I just got word that Tiger Pirate Beat is going to name me “best smile” winner again.”

His audience of three gave him round of applause, unenthusiastic but perfectly sincere, as he drew up a seat and leaned in confidentially.

“And there’s some better news,” he added. “I’ve got a ship.”

This drew a more interested response.

“Aye, she’s a beauty,” Sir Nigel continued. “With my share of the prize money from our romp across the Atlantic, I was able to make a deal with Lord Bullocks for his brig, the Italian Ice. She a sweet ship, practically sails herself, and mounts 20 four pounders and a pair of nine-pound bow chasers. Got to come up with a new name, of course. I had been thinking of Triple Gold, for my three gold medals, you understand, but that doesn’t sound sinister enough. Any ideas?”

“Why are you asking us?” Slappy said. “We sail on a ship called the Festering Boil, for god’s sake. But we’ll think on it, my friend. In the meantime, let’s get another round at the table!” Slappy shouted for the bar wench. Ol’ Chumbucket turned to George and said quietly, “Well, that’s one down, one to go,” referring to the talkative Don Taco, who had been part of the Boil’s complement for some time now.

The rum came, the rum was drunk, more rum came, more toasts were made. Much of the discussion focused on the last day of competition, with the Boil represented in a smattering of events. Black Butch had the finals of the pirate bake-off, but it was a foregone conclusion that he’d win. Two Patch, Dogwatch Watts and George were likely to medal in the morning’s final of the ratline aerial routines, and Don Taco, to everyone’s surprise, had made the finals of the swordsmanship competition.

But what had all Sao Paolo talking, besides the approach of the Portuguese Navy, of course, was the cat o’nine tails competition, which would decide the gold in the interdisciplinary disciplining category. The Boil’s Lieutenant (pronounced lef-TEN-ant) Keeling (pronounced KEE-ling,) five-time gold medalist in the category, may have met his match. Shanghai Jack of the Chinese ship was actually ahead of Keeling on points, which had never happened before. Keeling seemed rattled and distracted. He could still pull it out, but it would take a perfect performance and a mistake by his opponent.

After much discussion, Chumbucket excused himself to find the privy, which in the Bloated Hog’s case was a tree out back. The influx of sailors for the games had not been kind to the oak, which looked like someone had set fire to its trunk. Having relieved himself. Chumbucket was adjusting his garments when Slappy lurched out, whistling “Drunken Sailor” as he took more bark from the suffering tree.

Slappy turned to Chumbucket and chortled. “I drink, therefore I piss,” he said.

As he retied his drawstring, Chumbucket looked at him strangely.

“You know,” Chumbucket said, "having Lily take Wideload instead of you solves one problem. But she’s the one who’s caused all the other trouble, and I for one hate to see her get anything out of it. She can’t keep her end of the bargain, so I don’t think we should keep ours.”

Slappy, weaving slightly, shook his head.

“Forget about it Chumbucket,” he said. “We’ve got enough trouble. If Lily wants to take Wideload and pass him off as me, I say let her.”

“And reward her for the mess she’s made of things? I don’t think so,” Chumbucket said vehemently. “Tomorrow night will be busy enough anyway. Why not add one more task that will help with the Portuguese and pay Lily back as well.”

“What are you talking about?” Slappy asked.

Chumbucket smiled. “Why, the death of Cap’n Slappy, obviously. Both of them.”

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Very nice work on your blog, It was fun to read! I am still not done reading everything, but I bookmarked you! I really like reading about seaman and even created a seaman blog of my own if you are interested!
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