Wednesday, September 28, 2005


A Pirate Tale – Part 103 – Two Bells into the Middle Watch

It was two bells of the middle watch (one o’clock in the morning as the land lubber sleeps) when a weary Leftenant Keeling noticed a shadowy figure skulking across the empty deck. He could almost hear an orchestra’s violin section plucking out the staccato footsteps of the mysterious person as they seemed to prance from barrel to mast – seeking cover beyond that of the darkness.

Keeling nudged the sleeping Spencer by his side – the cabin boy was trying to earn his keep as a full member of the crew by accompanying the Leftenant on the watch.

“What?” the boy said, sitting up and rubbing the sleep out of his eyes. “Are we under attack?”

“Shhhh.” Keeling whispered, “No, somebody is skulking – and for no good reason as far as I can tell.”

“Why are they skulking?” Spencer asked – his head still groggy from his awakening, but he caught the stupidity of his own question and answered it along with Keeling as he repeated, “… for no good reason as far as I can tell.”

“Should we investigate?” Spencer asked – this time more intelligently.

“That’s what the watch does.” Keeling said as he rose to his feet – the young man followed suit and the two of them made their way carefully to intercept the figure as it moved toward the starboard rail. The two moved stealthily themselves as they kept pace with the shadow.

Spencer tugged at Keeling’s coat sleeves, “Why are we sneaking?” he whispered. “Shouldn’t we just take out your pistol and say something like, ‘Stand and Deliver!’”

“That’s Highwayman talk, lad!” Keeling whispered sharply back. “Do I look like a highwayman to you?”

In fact, in his black great coat, black leather riding boots, tan britches, blousy white shirt and tri-corn hat, that was precisely what Leftenant Keeling looked like – but Spencer gave the correct answer, “No, Leftenant – you look like the ship’s Leftenant.”

Despite his choice of nautical careers, Leftenant Keeling never seemed to wear the title of “pirate” very comfortably. Clearly, he was a misplaced naval lieutenant aboard a pirate ship – no doubt the result of a clerical error at the Acme Seafarer’s Job Placement Agency.

“That’s right lad!” Keeling whispered affirming both his rank and appearance then, stopping short – “There he goes again!”

With mysterious violin plucking accompaniment the mysterious figure bounded for the rails edge and launched a shiny projectile into the air out toward the sea.

Keeling and Spencer sprang into action – they were too late to prevent the tossing of the object, but by God, they would get to the bottom of this!

As he ran toward the shadowy figure, Keeling reached for his pistol and drew it on the run. Arriving at the scene, he tossed his flapping greatcoat aside, leveled the pistol at the mysterious person and spoke with his strongest command voice,


Both Spencer and the mysterious figure – who happened to be the new shipmate, Oscar, stood with mouths agape and questioned Leftenant Keeling’s use of the phrase.

”What?” They said in unison.

“I mean, ‘Hold it right there!’” Keeling was always quick in self-correction.

“I’M NOT A REPORTER!” Oscar blurted nervously staring down the barrel of Keeling’s pistol.

“Stand and deliver?” Spencer couldn’t take his disbelieving eyes off of Keeling.

“Shut up.” Keeling said matter-of-factly to his young companion.

“I’M NOT A REPORTER!” Oscar repeated desperate to have to gun moved away from his face.

“Who are you not a reporter for?” Keeling asked pointedly, gesturing with the gun for additional pointedness.

Pirattitude Monthly Magazine!” the words had barely escaped Oscar’s lips when he followed them up with, “DAMN IT!” He then covered his mouth in order to keep himself from blurting anything else out.

Keeling kept sharply on the line of questioning. “So, that was a bottle you tossed overboard with a message – who is it going to and what does it say?”

Keeling pushed Oscar’s hand away from his mouth with the barrel of his pistol adding, “It will get harder to talk with this (displaying his pistol in order to make his point) in your mouth – I suggest you employ your communication skills immediately.” Feeling very good about his interrogation skills so far, Keeling looked over at Spencer with a smile on his face. The boy simply shook his head and in a questioning tone said, “Stand and deliver?”

Keeling rolled his eyes and re-focused his attention on the ongoing investigation.

“It was a message …” Oscar seemed hesitant and stammered as he appeared to be making things up as he went along. “The message is for my mother … yes! It says, ‘Dear Mum! Have fallen in with the nicest chaps – I think they are cartographers – either that or missionaries of some sort – perhaps an up-beat singing group that has a positive message to share with young people. At any rate, doing well and I miss you and Auntie Bess. Love, Oscar. P.S. By the by, I seem to be blurting out, ‘I’m not a reporter’ when I am startled. Not sure why, as I truly am NOT a reporter for Pirattitude Monthly magazine. Perhaps I should go back into therapy. Yours, once again, Oscar.’”

Leftenant Keeling sighed heavily and turned to Spencer. “Go wake Ol’ Chumbucket and have him wake Cap’n Slappy. Tell them we may have a spy, or a reporter or perhaps just a mama’s boy.”

Spencer didn’t question why he should wake Ol’ Chumbucket and have HIM wake the Cap’n – there were only two men aboard the ship who knew how to wake Slappy from a sound sleep without incurring injury and only one of them, Ol’ Chumbucket could be awakened without incurring injury – the other was Cementhands McCormack and one might as well attempt to wake a sleeping crocodile by giving it an enema as try to wake McCormack when he is soundly sleeping.

A few moments later, Ol’ Chumbucket, George and Cap’n Slappy were all gathered on deck with Leftenant Keeling, Spencer and the prisoner, Oscar.

Cap’n Slappy spoke first. “So, Oscar. Your name is ‘Oscar’ is it not?”

“Aye Cap’n.” Said Oscar – trying to sound calm.

“So Oscar,” Cap’n Slappy continued. “Leftenant Keeling here tells me you’re a spy.”

Keeling cut in – “I never said he was a …”

“Shush!” Cap’n Slappy ordered and turned back to Oscar. “Are you a spy?”

Oscar laughed nervously, “Heaven’s no! No!” He looked crestfallen and confessed. “I’m an investigative reporter! I freelance mostly, but I’m working on a piece for Pirattitude Monthly – ‘Ready to Burst!: Life Aboard The Festering Boil.’ It was going to earn me a “Putzler” award but I can kiss that ‘goodbye’ now, can’t I?”

“A Pulitzer?” Ol’ Chumbucket asked, correcting the young reporter’s mispronunciation.

Oscar looked at him – puzzled. “No. A PUTZLER.” He pronounced it carefully. It’s the annual award given to writers who cover pirate-related topics. What’s a … how did you say it, ‘PULITZER?’”

Everyone looked quizzically at Ol’ Chumbucket who just shook his head and said, “Never mind.”

“And you were really hoping for that Putzler, weren’t ye, lad?” Cap’n Slappy said sympathetically.

“Aye, Cap’n. That I was.” Oscar replied sadly.

“Well, it’s just us what knows ye’re a reporter – how about we all agree to pretend we don’t know in exchange for free tickets to the Putzler Award ceremony when ye win?” Slappy suggested.

“Wouldn’t you rather pretend not to know in exchange for a flattering story, Cap’n?” Spencer suggested.

George put his hand on the boy’s shoulder – “Lad, real pirates don’t care what anyone writes about them – just so long as they spell their names right …” and with that, he glared at Oscar. “Ye WILL spell our names right, won’t ye?”

Oscar knuckled his forehead in salutation as he had done the day before, but quickly remembered that that was the wrong move aboard this ship and George’s slap his knuckled fist to his forehead emphasized the point. “Yes sir! Names all spelled correctly – YES SIR!”

“We’re agreed then!” Slappy said as he, Ol’ Chumbucket and George turned to head back to bed – they were stopped by Leftenant Keeling.

“What if …” he began as they all rolled their eyes and turned back around, but Keeling continued steadfastly, “Just … what if this is a cover story and he is actually a spy?”

Slappy’s face turned grim and he turned back to Oscar. “Are ye a spy?” he asked pointedly.

“No. Cap’n! I’m not a spy!” Oscar replied with more than a little trepidation in his voice.

Slappy looked at Leftenant Keeling as if that was more than enough evidence for anyone. “See? He’s not a spy.” They turned to leave again.

“How do you know he’s not lying?” Keeling insisted.

Again, with his sternest face Cap’n Slappy turned back to Oscar. “Are you lying?” He asked in his gruffest voice.

“No, Cap’n Slappy, I am not lying.”

Cap’n Slappy lifted his hands in a gesture that said, “What other proof do you need?” to Leftenant Keeling who felt duty bound to question once more.

“What if he is lying about lying?”

Slappy face showed his weariness, but he appreciated how thorough his chief of ship’s discipline was being. He put his hand on Keeling’s shoulder and said, “Look, we could be at this all night what with all the permutations of ‘Are you lying about not lying about not lying, et cetera, et cetera – but he told me just as recently as yesterday …” Then turning to Oscar asked, “It WAS yesterday wasn’t it?”

“Aye, Cap’n Slappy, it was yesterday.” Oscar replied.

“He told me as recently as yesterday that he would never lie to me – and I figure you’ve got to take a man’s word until he gives you good reason not to.”

Keeling nodded in agreement and Cap’n Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket and George the Greek turned back toward their cabins. After a moment Keeling called after them.

“Permission to keep an eye on the ‘reporter,’ Cap’n?”

Ol’ Chumbucket turned around smiling – “Keep a weathered eye on him, Mister Keeling – keep a weathered eye.”

And with that, the executive council returned to their cabins. Spencer returned to his nap, Oscar returned to his skulking about and Leftenant Keeling kept a weathered eye open for the rest of this otherwise uneventful middle watch.

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