Friday, October 21, 2005


A Pirate Tale 112

Ol’ Chumbucket was leading Oscar, Saucy Jenny and their new companion – the stranger they had rescued from a mob – back to the Festering Boil via back alleys and dark shadows. They had almost reached the docks and the safety of the ship when they heard a commotion from their left.

Chumbucket quickly dragged them into the shadow of a warehouse until they could figure out what was happening and whether it meant more trouble for them.

Down the major street leading to the docks came a running figure – a huge running figure – followed at some distance by a mob of a half dozen or so sailors. The figure in the lead wasn’t moving THAT fast, they probably could have closed the gap, but for the figure’s habit of reaching into various pockets, pulling out another pistol, and firing it randomly over his shoulder.

“McCormack,” Chumbucket said. Hearing the name of one of her shipmates, Jenny moved as if to help him, but Chumbucket thrust her back into the shadows. “He’s been here before, he can handle it. Just watch,” he said.

Cementhands McCormack cleared the street and turned into the harbor area. It looked as if he was home free when a second group of sailors came boiling out of a side street, cutting him off.

“Now do we go help him?” Jenny demanded.

“Sit still, watch and learn,” Chumbucket said. “Besides, whatever this is about, you can rest assured he deserves it.” All the same, Chumbucket checked his sash to make sure his cutlass was ready.

McCormack stopped dead in his tracks, feinted right as if to try to skirt the mob on the street side, rather than the waterside. This caused them to halt, giving him time to turn, aim carefully with his last pistol, and fire a shot that sent those coming up behind him scattering. The lantern lighting the scene shattered, plunging the area into darkness. McCormack lunged at a pile of crab traps piled at the edge of the wharf and pulled them over, blocking their path as he raced down the dock. Unfortunately, it was the wrong dock. The Festering Boil was tied up at the end of the second pier, some quarter mile away.

With a growl of satisfaction the crowd edged down the pier, where McCormack was calmly removing his boots and dumping something into them. They were about 20 feet away when he finished what he was doing, stood and waved pleasantly at the crowd. Suddenly his wave stopped and his face froze in a grimace. A gurgle escaped his lips and he froze, then pointing beyond the crowd he screamed.

It was an old trick, maybe the oldest in the book, and there’s no way it should have worked. But the crowd paused, and many of them looked back. That’s how good an actor McCormack was. They heard a splash, and when they turned back he was gone.

Torches were lit and the braver of the mob actually dropped into the water to search under the pier. Others tried searching the ships tied up on the dock, but were quickly turned away by the ships’ watch parties.

“Okay, we should be able to make the Boil without trouble now,” Chumbucket said. “Remember, we just got here, we didn’t see anything and we don’t know anyone like the man they’re describing.” He repeated that several times to members of the angry group still searching for the missing man.

Chumbucket had just shepherded his charges back aboard The Festering Boil when he heard a scraping sound. He leaned over and sure enough, there was McCormack, clinging to the side of the ship facing the ocean, slowly and carefully reeling in a line that ran into the water. Chumbucket offered a hand but McCormack just waved and kept pulling in the line. Eventually he had his prize – his boots. Grasping them under one arm, he clambered up the side, landing with a squishy thud on the deck.

“So what have you been up to?” Chumbucket asked casually.

“Oh, not much. Had a nice time at Wonder Wenches and thought I’d take a little swim to clear my head and try to get rid of any body lice I might have picked up.”

“And the crowd that chased you down the dock?”

“Oh, you saw that did you? A little misunderstanding about a dice game. Hold this,” he said, thrusting a sodden boot at Chumbucket.

The boot was much heavier than even McCormack’s large footwear ought to be. Chumbucket looked inside and saw that it was half full of gold coins. Presumably the other was as well. Chumbucket pulled out a handful and held them in front of McCormack.

“Well, yeah, of course I didn’t want to try swimming with all that gold in my pockets,” the big man said matter-of-factly. “I had them tied off to a cord so I could drag them along.”

“And this came from?”

“Fine, if you want the whole story while I’m sitting here soaking wet …”

McCormack’s “whole story” began several hours earlier when he arrived at Wonder Wenches in the company of Cap’n Slappy, Sawbones Burgess, Dogwatch, Black Butch and Two Patch. They all headed toward the parlor where the services both of the kitchen and the boudoir were available. McCormack was arrested by a familiar sound, the rattling of dice in a cup. Ordering a large rum, he waved his friends on and went back to watch.

The players barely looked up when he came into the room, taking a seat in the corner as inconspicuously as a person of his massive size and legendary reputation can. Armed with his drink, he sat quietly and watched for almost 40 minutes. When the bar maid came in taking orders, he asked for another rum, then rose and moved to the edge of the crowd.

“Oooh, that was a tough one,” he commiserated as one of the dicers lost a rather large bet on throw that was just one number off. He continued to watch, becoming more vocal, tossing some gold into the pot and offering more and more advice. When a roller won McCormack howled with as much delight as if he’d won. A stranger’s loss brought groans of commiseration. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, he had become not just part of the group, but a major source of the fun everyone seemed to be having, not just the winners. And his action just grew louder and more exuberant the more he drank.

(“And I presume you started acting as referee and judge, along with placing some bets on all the action? Chumbucket said, interrupting the flow of Cementhands’ story. “Well naturally, someone needed to make sure the finer points and lesser rules were observed,” the pirate said modestly. “I happen to have a fine eye for details.” “Details like foot faults?” Chumbucket asked. Cementhands just smiled and said, “Well, as a matter of fact, we’re coming to that.”)

A new roller came to the line and threw an eight – five and a three. Cementhands immediately called out, “Admiral’s Reverse!” No one seemed to pay much attention, but when the roller then tossed a seven, McCormack screamed with glee and immediately passed him an extra five gold coins from the pile on the betting line.

“What are you doing? He lost!” one of the other players said.

“Lost? What are you talking about? He threw a seven on a three and a five!” McCormack said as if that explained everything, or anything. “Admiral’s reverse! Don’t you guys know anything? Three and five are 35, which is the age Tharp was when he became an admiral. Seven fives are 35, which means he wins five times the bet.”

There was much grumbling about this, but McCormack argued long and loud and eventually it was agreed that for the rest of the game they’d follow this “rule.” No one wanted to seem ignorant, which was certainly what McCormack was implying. The game continued, with McCormack periodically explaining some other rule that seemed to have escaped the educational processes of the other players.

After a couple more passes the shooter passed the dice to the next man in line, who, after two passes again threw a three and a five. He looked expectantly at McCormack, who put a large stack of coins on the table. The shooter put down more of his own money down, matching the bet. Several other players also went “all in.” There was more money on the floor than there had been at any time of the evening.

The man threw a seven and grinned, but only for second.

“Foot fault!” McCormack shouted, reaching down for the money.

“What?” the shooter asked.

“Foot fault! You automatically forfeit the bet and half to pass the dice.” McCormack was collecting all the money on the table, irrespective of who had placed it.

“What do you mean foot fault? My feet didn’t do anything?”

“Exactly!” McCormack shouted, starting to put the piles of coins into his many, ample pockets. “You didn’t extend your foot past your knee when you threw the dice!”

“So what? I didn’t do that before and no one called it. I’ve NEVER done that!!”

“Really? I hadn’t notice,” McCormack said, and immediately began sweeping up the rest of the man’s coins. The man took exception and grabbed McCormack’s wrist. Others leaned back, eying the situation warily.

“Look,” McCormack said, grasping the man’s arm with his free hand – which was not only larger than his opponent’s hand but larger than many hams that have won blue ribbons at various church picnics. “You just TOLD us you have been foot-faulting all along. What kind of cheater are you?”

The other men looked at the shooter with undisguised malice. A cheater!

“I don’t know where you’re used to playing dice, but in a place like this we have certain rules …”

“YOU PUT MY MONEY BACK!!” the man shouted at McCormack, who looked offended and turned to the confused onlookers.

“Gentlemen, I don’t wish to continue playing where I’m accused of chicanery just because I made an obvious call. If you want to play with a foot-faulting cheat, that’s your business. But I’m going to bid you all adieu.”

His words confused the issue long enough for him to reach the door before several of the players noticed that they suddenly had no money. It was all in the possession of the big guy who was heading out.

“Hold it you!”

Too late. McCormack had reached the door, stepped through it and slammed it shut. He leaned his bulk against it long enough to wedge a chair from the hallway under it, which gave him just enough time to hit the street before they were after him.

Chumbucket laughed.

“Why do you go to all the trouble? Why don’t you just hit them on the head and rob them as they’re approaching the place?”

“Professional pride,” Cementhands replied. “Look, I’m pirate. I steal stuff from people for a living. That’s my job. This was more …” He searched for the word.

“A hobby?” Chumbucket asked. “A lark? A second career?”

“Something like that,” Cementhands allowed expansively. “It was just fun, getting in there, getting things stirred up, seeing how far I could go. And it’s not like it didn’t cost me anything. These boots are ruined, I lost my coat and a perfectly good pair of loaded dice, and I missed my chance in the Wonder Wenches’ Whoopee Room. I won’t be able to leave the ship tomorrow, because I’m sure those guys’ll still be looking for me.”

“Speaking of Wonder Wenches, where’s the captain?” Chumbucket asked.


“You know, the captain. Cap’n Slappy? Runs the ship?”

“Oh yeah, him. I don’t know, he went inside. I’m sure he’s giving his own idea of a good time.”

I love this story. I can imagine running my own ship and chasing treasures all over the world. Being a pirate is a privilege and something that rarely happens.
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