Thursday, October 27, 2005


A Pirate Tale 114 – The Plot Thickens

The morning watch came and went and there was little sign of life on The Festering Boil. Most of the crew had gone ashore the night before leaving only a skeleton crew of a dozen sailors and George the Greek. Many of them, but by no means all, had staggered back in the early morning hours, their hearts and their purses much lighter. None were in much shape to take over any shipboard duties any time soon.

Ol’ Chumbucket had relieved George. He and Cementhands McCormack, Oscar, Saucy Jenny and the newcomer they had rescued the previous night were taking care of what little needed to be done. Mostly this involved making coffee, eating, and occasionally helping a late-returning pirate make it aboard the ship without landing in the harbor. The deck was festooned with sailors sleeping off prodigious amounts of alcohol.

By four bells of the forenoon watch (10 a.m.) Chumbucket was getting restless. He had a few things to take care of in port and didn’t want to wait all day to do them. The ship was supposed to sail in less than 24 hours, but not without information Chumbucket was seeking.

Five bells came. Nothing. The first sign of life came when Sawbones Burgess stumbled onto deck, blinking in the sun and walking as if he had a hernia. Oscar started to address him but the ship’s doctor waved a hand peremptorily, stared at him with a gaze that would have stunned a walrus, then lurched to the railing where he promptly leaned over and began puking.

“Get him some coffee, he’ll probably live,” Chumbucket told Oscar.

Minutes later the sound of singing brought them to the dockside of the ship, where Dogwatch Watts was returning. He was not alone. His four lovely companions from the night before were escorting him, and a lively show it made, as Watts wore nothing but bed sheets and was dancing and singing. He spun and faced the wenches.

“Farewell my loves, I must be shipping out but I will carry the memory of last night’s passion play with me always! I sail with the tide, but my body will forever burn with …”

Sadly, no one learned exactly what his body would burn with because he chose that moment to make an extravagantly sweeping gesture, throwing himself off balance and into the harbor. Cementhands was ready, this not being the first time Dogwatch had executed this maneuver, and he and Chumbucket quickly fished the sodden sailor from the water and deposited him with a squishy thud onto the deck.

“So long ladies! Perhaps I’ll see you tonight!” Cementhands called to the disappointed trollops.

“You’re not going anywhere,” Chumbucket reminded him, “not if you don’t want to be caught by your dice partners from the night before.”

“Quite right,” McCormack agreed. He turned back to the wenches and asked, “Do any of you make house calls?”

Chumbucket left Cementhands to his haggling and went to the stern of the ship. It was now six bells and Ol’ Chumbucket felt had waited long enough. He knocked firmly on the cabin door.

He waited, then knocked much louder. He heard a sound from inside, but nothing remotely like a person waking and getting out of bed to answer the knock. Chumbucket pushed the door open.

There was a large lumpy shape in the captain’s bed.

“Excuse me, sir, but it’s six bells and …”

“Go to hell,” part of the lump said.

“Let me put this another way,” Chumbucket said, “It’s going on noon, and some of us have work to do which we can’t because others of us haven’t come on deck to take charge of things.”

“Trying to make me feel guilty won’t help,” the lump said. “Who are you? My mother?”

“No, I’m Ol’ Chumbucket and I have some things I need to do. Where’s Spencer? I’ll have him bring some coffee.”

“Spencer?” the lump paused. Parts of last night’s activities were coming back. “Spencer isn’t here just now, but your call is important to us. Leave me a message and I’ll be sure he gets it. By the way, I think it’s time to promote the lad. A young man of 16 is probably ready to taker on full-fledged piratey duties instead of …”

“Instead of taking care of a drunken old sot like you,” Chumbucket said, whipping off the blankets. “Oh, excuse me. Let me just put these back in place.”

It turned out the lump was composed of both Cap’n Slappy and his old friend and parliamentarian Madame Svetlana. It further was plain that neither of them was wearing anything except a couple of horsehair wigs, and the wigs were not on their heads. The blanket quickly flew back over them.

“Sorry. Never mind me. I’ll just be on deck fuming about the lost time. And please, whatever you do, don’t explain about the wigs. I’m sure it’s perfectly unseemly, and hellishly expensive.”

“And worth it!” Slappy roared.

“I’ll have someone bring in some coffee. TWO cups,” Chumbucket said, backing out.

“I thought he’d never leave,” Svetlana said.

“Never mind. Now what were you saying about attaching a rider to an amendment that’s on the table?”

It was more than an hour later that Slappy finally emerged. Like Sawbones before him, he winced as the sunlight shot bolts into his head, searing his retinas and burning holes in the back of his skull. He walked forward, tottering like a man with no strength in his legs and a very good reason for not being able to straighten up.

“So what did last night’s adventure set you back?” Chumbucket asked.

“All of it,” Slappy said.

“ALL of it? Your whole two shares of the booty?”

“Ahh, if you want to talk about booty, let me tell you, it was the best gold I’ve ever spent. You wouldn’t believe …”

“Probably not,” Chumbucket cut him off. “But that’s neither here nor there. I take it that Spencer accompanied you to Wonder Wenches and when we eventually see him it will be time for his 'today I am a man' speech. Very well, while I’m in town I’ll see if I can scare up another cabin boy.”

“Who was that who brought me coffee?” Slappy asked. “Tall black young man?”

“Ah, yes, I hadn’t had a chance to tell you about him. His name’s Wellington Peddicord. We met up with him last night under conditions that were rather trying, for him.”

Chumbucket explained about finding him in the midst of a mob intent on stringing him up, about Saucy Jenny’s impetuous plunge into the fight and the eventual rescue of the black man.

“Even Oscar drew blood, so there’s hope for him yet,” Chumbucket said. “Under the circumstances it seemed better to take him with us. He already has more friends on this ship than he does in all of Port Royal.”

“Runaway slave?” Slappy asked.

“Hardly. He was born, so he says, in Bristol, and once you hear him talk you’ll have no trouble believing that. No, he apparently was a little too successful at cards – swears he was completely honest, just a run of good luck and he doesn’t know how that ace got there – and didn’t have Cementhand’s resourcefulness in extricating himself. The color of his skin gave an ugly crowd one more reason to be even uglier, and he had no shipmates to back him. If we hadn’t happened by, he’d be washing ashore on this incoming tide. I told him he could sign on with us if he’d like, and he jumped at the chance. He served six months before the mast in the Navy, that’s how he got here, and sailed on a variety of fishing smacks and packets in the channel since he was a kid.”

“Sounds like a good man.”

“I think he’ll work out. We could always use a good hand. There’s another thing, and it gives me something else to check into while I’m in town. He landed in Port Royal about a year ago when he left his naval ship.”


“Not exactly. It wasn’t exactly a mutiny, either, but there was something of a change of command and a change of mission aboard his ship. He was sailing aboard HMS Tigershark.”

“My nephew’s ship?”

“Aye. And there’s a bit more. His story dovetails with something I read in Oscar’s notes. I’ve got to go into town to check it out. I trust you can look after the ship, even in your weakened condition? After all, you still have your playmate in the cabin, but somebody has to keep an eye out for young Spencer, or perhaps I should just say Spencer now. I just hope he didn’t go and marry the girl.”

“I’ll take care of Spencer,” Slappy said, growing impatient. “Just tell me what this is about.”

“I think it has something to do with some old friends of ours, who by all rights really ought to be dead. I certainly thought so, but it looks as if I was wrong about that.”

“Christ on a crutch! Would you explain yourself or have you been reading too many mysteries again? I hate this dragging the story out until you can close the chapter with some dramatic pronouncement. You always have to have the last word and drop it in at the last second for maximum effect.”

“Fine,” Chumbucket said, a trifle annoyed that the captain had caught on to his dramatic literary device, of which he was rather proud. “I’ll just say it. I think there’s something afoot, and it’s all the work of …”

A shot rang out.

Chumbucket and Slappy looked up, startled.

“Sorry,” Oscar said. “I dropped my pistol.”

“Careful with that, you idiot!” McCormack shouted. “You almost hit Miss Fluffy Paws.” The giant pirate held out his tiny kitten to show everyone she was all right. There was a general sigh of relief.

“Everyone settle down,” Slappy roared, his head aching. “Just finish your story Chumbucket and get on your way.”

“Right. Sorry. I think this is the work of …”

A muffled drum roll started from nearby.

“What the hell is that?” Slappy snapped.

“Sorry sir, just thought I’d get in some practice,” Dogwatch said from the fo’c’sle, where he was bent over his drum kit.

“Jeez, what a ship! Just go ahead Chumbucket.”

“Right. The people behind this are …” Both Chumbucket and Slappy looked around to make sure they weren’t interrupted, then Slappy nodded at Chumbucket.

“The Bawdy Boys.”

“Shit,” said Slappy, satisfied at getting in the last word.

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