Monday, September 05, 2005


A Pirate Tale – 100: The Time Has Come

“And the winner of the Pirate Paragon Medallion is …”

The voice of Foghorn Benson cut through the air around the fetid stadium, bringing something almost resembling a hush to the motley throng of buccaneers, freebooters, corsairs and misfits gathered there. The approach of the Portuguese Navy to arrest all the members of the brotherhood had cast a pall over the gathering, and there was a palpable sense of gloom hovering over what was usually a wildly festive, alcohol-fueled bacchanal. A pair of frigates had been keeping watch over the harbor mouth, penning up the pirates for the full week. The narrow channel didn’t allow more than one ship at a time to put out, and the two frigates were easily a match for any single pirate ship in port. One more sunrise, and the party would be over, the pirates all captives of the Portuguese.

But this was the Pirate Paragon Medallion, and if it was to be the last one ever awarded, that just made it all the more valuable. Besides, there was nothing else to do in Sao Paolo that night but wait for the morning and the arrival of their captors. The audience settled in expectantly. The last of the games’ competitions had been played out, the last of the medals awarded. Now there was just the big prize, and a closing ceremony that Ol’ Chumbucket had promised would be “unforgettable.”

Chumbucket went over the details again, trying to figure out what he’d forgotten, what he’d missed. There was always something. The plan had been set in motion some hours earlier when he had met with Lily at the temporary headquarters of her corporation, POW! Inc., (Pirates of the World Inc.) He had delivered the contract signed by the Slappy impersonator Cap’n Wideload, and arranged for Wideload to sail out to the Portuguese frigates at the end of the games.

“Why not my ship?” Lily asked. “I’d really prefer it.”

“Frankly, me dear, I don’t give a damn what you prefer,” Chumbucket smiled raffishly. “You’ve already demonstrated that you can’t control the Portuguese fleet. We would prefer to have Wideload safely in their care with, say, a pair of your attorneys, perhaps Mr. Hungadinger and Mr. Hungadinger? They can meet Wideload on the dock at 8:30.”

“Very well,” Lily agreed, trying to appear gracious. “Anything else? What about you? Don’t you want safe passage as well?” she asked with a mocking smile.

“Oh, I know your opinion of me, and believe me when I say your regard is returned most heartily. But I have some obligations with the games this evening. I’ll take my chances on the morrow,” he said.

“It’s your funeral,” Lily said.

As Chumbucket left, he gazed out long and hard to sea. The frigates were still in place. The rest of the fleet, which could sometimes be seen on the horizon, were gone for now. That meant they had continued their regular sweep to the south and would be back late in the middle watch, sometime around 2 a.m. – probably, he reminded himself, assuming they maintained their routine. That was the nice thing about regular navies. They liked routine.

The last competitions were played out, the last medals awarded. It was just about time.

“And the winner of the Pirate Paragon Medallion is … George the Greek of the Festering Boil!!!”

The audience rose to their feet, cheering and looking for George.

“Damn, hadn’t thought of that,” Chumbucket said to himself. Because George wasn’t there. He, Dogwatch, Keeling, Cementhands and Red Molly were already at the waterfront. George was aboard the Festering Boil, making it ready to set sail.

The crowd continued applauding – George was a great favorite among the pirates, a seaman’s seaman – but the cheering grew thin, and a murmur grew among the ranks as he failed to appear to accept the covted medal.

“Go get it for him,” Chumbucket hissed at Spencer.

“Me?” the powder monkey said, his eyes growing big.

“Just go out there and say something. And keep talking. Talk as long as you can!”

The murmur grew as, instead of the swarthy figure of the Greek pirate, a small figure went up to the podium. Chumbucket glanced up at Lily’s box. She was staring down, her lips pursed. She turned to one of her advisors, who shook his head, then rose and left the box.

Spencer started talking, but even with the megaphone his voice piped out so thin that he could barely be heard at all. His voice was barely audible, his words, though apparently enthusiastic, unintelligible. But his face was expressive and his hands flew through the air to illustrate whatever point he was trying to make. Foghorn tried to take the megaphone back, but Spencer kicked him in the shins, snatched the cone back and kept talking.

Molly and Dogwatch were with Cap’n Slappy, standing under a lamp at the dock, watching the approach of Hungadinger and Hungadinger,

“I don’t have to pee my pants do I,” Slappy whispered to is comrades.

“Ya do if you want them to believe you’re Wideload,” Molly hissed back. “And you’ll be clean soon enough.”

“Damn Chumbucket and his plans,” Slappy muttered.

The lawyers entered the pool of lamplight, hands outstretched in greeting. Slappy let go with his bladder. The lawyers recoiled.

“Yes, well, Mr. Wideload,” the senior Hungadinger said.

“CAPTAIN Wideload!” Slappy bellowed.

“Shall we repair aboard the the Bellona?” the lawyer said, indicating the frigate out beyond the breakwater. “Perhaps there you can repair your, er, well, they might have…”

“Let’s go,” Dogwatch said, climbing aboard the tender.

“I thought we’d take our ship,” the lawyer said.

“This is packed with all Wideload’s worldly goods, including his spare trousers,” Dogwatch said. “Unless you WANT him to not have spare pants?”

“No, no, this will do fine.” And the two lawyers, Molly and the ersatz Cap’n Wideload clambered aboard the small vessel, which seemed to be packed to the gunnels with barrels and trunks. The two lawyers glanced at all the gear but said nothing, thinking to themselves, “Theater people.” The small ship set out.

At the same moment, Keeling, Cementhands and the real Wideload approached the hotel where Lily’s people were staying and demanded to see the lawyers. They were shown into a room where the remaining two lawyers sat.

“What seems to be the problem?” Schmidt asked. He noticed the growing stain on the pants of the big man and said, “Wideload? You were supposed to meet Mrs. Hungadinger and Hungadinger on the docks 10 minutes ago.”

“Change of plans, Keeling said. “A Portuguese patrol arrested the real Cap’n Slappy and we thought it best to get off the streets. We need you to get Wideload here to the frigate immediately.”

“But our lawyers …”

“Are down at the jail right now trying to sort things out. We’ve got a ship and no time. Let’s go.”

Keeling fingered the handle of his cat o’nine tales. The two lawyers gulped, looked at each other, then grabbed their coats and headed for the door. Moments later they, too, were on a small vessel packed with “all Wideload’s earthly goods” and heading out of the harbor.

In both cases, the lawyers aboard didn’t notice the low, dark shapes pulling away from the bank and shadowing their small ships.

In the arena, Spencer continued his tale. His enthusiasm was so great and his words so inaudible that many of the pirates were enjoying it immensely, hooting and clapping at his animated face and his fantastic gesticulations. Every time Foghorn went to recapture the megaphone Spencer dealt him another kick to the shins, and the swabbie from the Moby Duck had decided it was probably better to just let him talk.

At opposite sides of the harbor entrance the two small ships had approached the Portuguese frigates and tied up along side, stout lines passing from the men o’war to the little boats. At the insistence of the Festering Boil crew members the lawyers had gone aboard first to make the arrangements. Dogwatch aboard his small craft and Keeling aboard his began to light ship’s lanterns and, at the sound of eight bells, dropped their small torchs into the tub of slow match, which began hissing away.

Spencer finally finished his story, which had taken a good 20 minutes, took George’s medallion and headed back to the stand where Chumbucket waited. “What was that all about,” the pirate asked him?” “I was just telling about George and some of the things he’s done aboard the Boil,” Spencer said.

“Good enough,” Chumbucket said, glancing at his pocket watch. “It’s show time.” He went to where Foghorn was waiting with the megaphone. As he approached, he could see a handful of pirates, about a dozen from each ship, begin filtering out of the stadium at the pre-arranged signal. He took the megaphone and turned to the now hushed crowd.

“My brother pirates,” he said. “It’s been a fine week of competition and I’m sure we’ve all had a good time. But the hour of reckoning is upon us, and I think, without further ado, we need to be back out to sea where we can ply our trade.”

Aboard the Bellona,” the senior Hungadinger leaned over the railing, “All is set,” he assured the pirates. “Wideload can come aboard and his safe conduct is guaranteed. You two, however, are asked to come aboard and be the first to submit to Portuguese justice.” A body of marines leaned over the railing, muskets cocked and aimed at Dogwatch and Red Molly. Slappy climbed up the side of the man o’war and stepped up, balancing on the railing.

But at the top the ersatz Wideload gave a lurch, as if thrown off by the roll of the ship, which was in fact negligible. He teetered on the railing, flailing his arms as if fighting for his balance, then fell overboard with a loud splash. Dogwatch Watts turned to the officer of the deck and blurted out, in well-practiced Portuguese, “O almirante não pode nadar!”

Dogwatch kicked off his shoes and stood poised at the railing. “Eu encontrá-lo-ei. Mantenha meu navio amarrado acima de firmemente aqui.”

And with that admonition to keep the tender tied tight to the hull of the frigate, he and Molly leaped into the water.

A similar charade had been enacted at the second frigate, only this time it was Wideload who plummeted from the railing and Cementhands and Keeling who plunged over the side to rescue him. They too managed to swim off, leaving their smack tied up to the Portuguese ship.

“We’ve been penned up here too long,” Chumbucket’s voice echoed through the arena. “There’s plenty of fat merchantmen out there who need pillaging. We all have about four hours to clear the harbor and get under way before the bulk of the Portuguese ships arrive.”

The pirates could see one ship already raising anchor and preparing to leave, the Festering Boil. They rose as one to rush to the harbor.

“Wait! Wait!” Chumbucket shouted, over the growing clamor. “I have two more things to say before we take our leave. First, this escape was made possible by the sacrifice of Cap’n Slappy! He is out there now, dealing with those bastards, on deck of one of the frigates as I speak.” At this, there was a moment of hushed silence. “That’s how he wanted it,” Chumbucket said. “He wouldn’t give up his freedom, but he couldn’t let you get caught in a trap.”

Watts was beginning to tire as he swam toward the shore, but the sight of the low, dark canoes nearby gave him fresh strength. He pulled up alongside of the nearest, and a strong arm pulled him from the sea.

“Strike out for land, boys,” Cementhands hissed urgently to Shifty Meg’s crew of Pentari natives. “We’ve got about 10 minutes to get out of the water.” Dogwatch glanced over at the other canoes. In one, he thought he could make out in the dim light the shape of Meg “welcoming” Cap’n Slappy back. Or it might have been Wideload.

In the arena, there was confusion among the bulk of the pirates, who hadn’t been filled in on the plan.

“But what about the frigates at the harbor entrance,” a plaintive voice called out.

“Yes, before taking to your ships, you might want to sit back and enjoy this,” Chumbucket said. He nodded to Cha O Li and Shanghai Jack, who put the slow match to their fuses.

Rockets streamed out from the specially built stand, flying in all directions, bursting in multi-colored star patterns in the sky above the stadium. Then the fuses on a dozen extraordinarily large rockets lit, and they flew straight out towards the harbor. It didn’t seem possible that they could fly so far, but Li had promised they would. Several fell short, but at least half sailed out in the general direction of the Portuguese frigates. As the soared over the breakwater, the fuses aboard Slappy’s tender reached the end of its sputtering trail, in the barrels lashed to the deck.

The ship, and the frigate which had so obligingly tied up to it, went up with a roar. Pieces of timber, cordage, sail and lawyer fluttered down in an area covering more than two square miles.

From the stadium, the onlookers said the only thing they could.


A second fuse reached its goal as the rockets splashed into the waters; a second massive explosion shook the harbor. A second frigate disappeared in a hellish blast.


The pirates rose as one man and rushed down to their ships and freedom.

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