Thursday, September 29, 2005


A Pirate Tale – 104


Keeling was not the only man aboard who was keeping an eye on Oscar, who was “not a reporter.” Ol’ Chumbucket was also curious.

“It should be easy enough to tell if he sailed on the Bloody Scuppers from Carolina to Brazil, as he said,” Chumbucket said to Keeling as the two stood on the quarterdeck, watching Oscar and the rest of the crew work. “I imagine the next issue of Pirattitude Monthly could be expected to carry a story about Captain O’Toole and his gang. If it doesn’t, that doesn’t prove he’s not a reporter, but it doesn’t help. In the meantime, I'm wondering if we can get more information from him about that hat.”

“Well, whether he is or isn’t a reporter, he certainly was telling the truth about his skills,” Keeling said. “He’s obviously not much of a seaman, but he’s some kind of wizard at throwing things together.”

So far Oscar had helped Salty Jim replace two of the ship’s futtocks that had shown signs of rot, re-sewn the gold trim on Keeling’s dress uniform, replaced a torn diaphragm on the ship’s pump, and promised Sawbones Burgess he’d help the doc sort and inventory his collection of drugs and leeches. But first he had just finished helping Cementhands McCormack build a scratching post for Miss Fluffy Paws, the kitten the pirate had brought aboard from Sao Paolo. Chumbucket and Keeling were watching the big man playing with the kitten now, dangling a piece of yarn and chortling with glee as the kitten pounced at it. At that moment Cap’n Slappy walked by with Strumpet the Monkey, as usual, perched on his shoulder.

“Oh, watch this, cap’n,” McCormack called. “Miss Fluffy Paws is a killer, aren’t you little sweetie. A killer. Watch her attack this piece of string. Pretend it’s the Spanish navy now, Fluffball.”

But the kitten had just noticed Strumpet, and the monkey had noticed her. It was not love at first sight. The cat hissed and raised its hackles. The monkey uttered a shriek and took refuge on higher ground, which unfortunately was the captain’s head. With a feline the size of a fist hissing at his ankles and trying to scramble up his leg, and a capuchin monkey on his head, screeching and jumping up and down, Slappy waved his arms to keep his balance, tottering on one leg.

“Be careful of the kitty!” McCormack bellowed.

“To hell with your kitty, get it off me and get it out of sight!” Slappy gasped, groping for something to brace himself on while the monkey leaned forward to scold the cat, covering the captain’s eyes.

Slappy whirled, trying to free himself from the cat that was now at his waist, but missed his footing. He teetered at the edge of the open hold. McCormack’s ham-sized hand shot out and grabbed Slappy’s pants, but all he managed to do was pull them down to the captain’s knees as Strumpet leaped to the safety of the rigging while the cat abandoned ship and dove for the safety of McCormack, who let go of the captain to catch the cat. Slappy, with his pants around his knees and finally able to see, windmilled his arms in the air, then shot over the brink and down into the hold.

Everyone stopped, frozen, as they stared at where the captain had been. Nobody moved. Finally, they heard his voice drifting up.

“Don’t mind me! I’m just laying here on the spare canvas. You all go about your work and I’ll just enjoy myself down here.”

“Captain?” McCormack asked timidly. “Can I help?”

“Oh, don’t mind about me. I’m quite comfortable. You might ask Sawbones Burgess if he remembers how to set multiple fractures, but other than that …”

A dozen sailors were already descending into the hold, rigging a sling and heaving the captain out. Moments later Slappy stood on the deck as Burgess gave him a quick inspection.

“Nothing broken, apparently, but that’s gonna hurt tomorrow,” the doctor finally pronounced.

“Tomorrow? It hurts like hell now!” Slappy said. “Are you sure I didn’t break anything? An arm, both my legs? My back?”

“No fractures,” Burgess said firmly. “You’ve twisted some things in ways they weren’t meant to be twisted, but you’ll survive. I’m prescribing a liquid analgesic to be taken internally, as needed for pain.”

“What?” Slappy asked.

“Rum,” the doctor said. “In fact, if you’d like to repair to your cabin now, I’ll join you for one, purely as a preventative measure in case I fall down the hold myself.”

The two began heading back to Slappy’s cabin, but were arrested by a call from the topmast.

“Sail,” cried Two Patch. “Sail off the starboard beam! Smells like a merchant ship!”

“Belay that rum for now, doc,” Slappy said. “Nothing relives sore muscles like a fat merchantman.”

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