Tuesday, November 29, 2005


A Pirate Tale 119

“Just sail on up to her. Stop being such a pussy,” Abe McIlwain said curtly from the bow of the small fishing smack.

“Sorry, but it’s not natural, us just sailing up to one o’ them,” Charlie Dedman said uneasily.

“Don’t worry about that. Just get us there. I’ve got to report.”

The boat was approaching a large three-masted ship with the Union Jack flying from the transom and a commodore’s swallow-tailed pennant fluttering from the mizzen. The 64-gun frigate was clearly the strongest single ship in the Caribbean, able to outgun any two Spanish galleons and at least any three ships the Brotherhood of the Coast could offer. The fishing smack on which the Bawdy Boys representatives were approaching wasn’t armed at all – in fact, it lacked even nets, as they had stolen it in the dead of night and weren’t particularly concerned with fishing. They didn’t even much notice the smell, as they were fairly malodorous themselves. They had needed to get to sea, and that quickly, and this vessel, small and dirty as it was, fit the bill.

Now Livingood was waving a filthy cloth to attract the attention of the blue-jacketed sailors aboard the warship. He needn’t have bothered, as this ship actually posted lookouts and had been aware of their approach for more than an hour. Which explained the contingent of red-coated Marines lining the railing, training their muskets on the trio.

“Avast! Stand to!” the officer of the deck called out from above. “What’s your name and business.”

Livingood looked back at McIlwain, who hobbled forward on his crutch to answer.

“Our name?” he asked. “We’re here to see the parson.”

“Very likely,” the officer muttered. “I’ve rarely seen anyone who looked like he needed clergy more.” Then, louder, “State your name.”

“Abe!” McIlwain shouted back.

“No, you poltroon, your ship’s name.”

“Oh, uh, the Jellyfish!’ Abe extemporized.

“Jellyfish? Then why does it say Evangeline on your hull?”

“Bleeding know-it-all,” Abe said out of the corner of his mouth to his compatriots. “If he could read the name, why’d he bleedin’ ASK the name?” Then, “Ah, right, yes, Evangeline is the name of our bleedin’ pet jellyfish, don’t ya know? And we named the boat for her, and sometimes we calls the boat one and sometimes the other, interchangeable like. Now, let us aboard so we can talk to the bleedin’ parson!”

“Just stay there. I’ll check.” The officer sent a midshipman off with a terse message. The Marines maintained their aim on the three men below.

The wait was interminable. Meanwhile the trio stood below, sweating heavily both because of the blazing sun and the dozen muskets pointed at them. Finally the midshipman came back and whispered something to the officer, who looked displeased. He stared down into the grimy fishing boat with a look that clearly indicated he’d like to have the Marines open fire and be done with it, but finally snapped, “Come aboard.”

He pointedly failed to notice McIlwain’s limp and crutch and didn’t offer to lower a bosun’s chair, but Abe wouldn’t have needed it anyway. Slinging the crutch over his shoulder he grabbed the boarding rope and clambered up the side of the ship one-legged as if he had been doing so every day of his life, which he very nearly had. When he, Dedman and Livingood were all aboard, he noticed that the Marines had stood down, but were still waiting at port arms, just in case the three of them decided to try to take over the ship. This thought brought a trace of a smile to McIlwain. “If only they knew,” he thought to himself.

“Welcome aboard His Majesty’s Ship Tigershark,” the officer said. “I’m Lieutenant Buckler, and this is Lieutenant Tharp,” he said, pointing to the other officer there. “You’ll forgive us if we dispense with the formalities of a welcoming ceremony.” He said this as if it as a major insult, but Abe just shrugged. The last thing he wanted was to stand around making introductions and listening to a bosun’s pipe.

“That’ll be fine,” he said. “Now, is the parson coming up here and do we go find him?”

“He’s below. Midshipman Brandeberry will escort you.” Buckler emphasized the word “escort” in a way that implied chains and leg irons, but Abe noticed with some satisfaction that they were otherwise unaccompanied as they followed the boy below.

“Pardon my asking, sir,” but do you know what sect the Parson is a member of?” Brandeberry asked as they proceeded through the labyrinth of the ship.

“Sect? What?”

“Sorry sir. I was just curious. He’s obviously not Church of England, and the time or two I talked to him I was very uncertain what group he’s a reverend of, or what exactly he believes. Don’t get me wrong, he’s delightful to chat with when the opportunity arises, although that doesn’t happen often. The one time we rigged for church I couldn’t make heads or tails out of his sermon or the service, so it must have been a good one. But that was early in the voyage. We haven’t had Sunday service in months, not since the captain took to his quarters.”

McIlwain was silent, ducking through a low passageway and trying to get a clear picture in his head of where they were going. It was no use, by now he couldn’t tell if he was headed toward the bow or stern.

“So do you?” the midshipman repeated.

“Do I what?”

“Know the parson’s affiliation? Begging your pardon sir.”

“Oh, druid I think. Reformed Druid. Or maybe it’s Perverse Druid, I can never remember.”

The midshipman’s eyes grew wide. He’d never met a druid before. This was very exciting news he couldn’t wait to share with the other “young gentlemen” of the midshipmen’s berth.

“Here we are sir. The parson’s cabin is just through there. He’s waiting for you. Are you done with me, or would you like me to wait and show you the way back up?”

“No, just beat it. The Parson’ll take care of us.”

Brandeberry took off at a dead run to find his fellow midshipmen. A druid!

Abe knocked on the cabin door. A voice told them to enter.

After the preternatural cleanliness of the deck and the passageways, the cabin had a sour air, a smell of sweat and drink and sordid sex. In the dark Abe could tell it was a largish room. He could make out a tall figure standing to one side, then a match flared and a lantern was lit. And there was his leader, adjusting his trousers.

He was a tall, thin man, well over six feet tall but not more than 170 pounds. His sallow skin seemed stretched too tightly over his features, and his long forehead was framed by lank, greasy black hair. His small, dark eyes were set deeply and rather too close together. His face habitually worse a look that, had he been seen on a city street, would have caused gentlemen to check their purses and mothers to hover protectively over their daughters, even if those daughters were in other countries at the time. Incongruously, he wore a black suit and clerical collar, which totally failed to minimize the danger that hovered over him like the fog over London.

Davey Leech smiled as he took in his visitors. “Ah, Duchess, look, we have company. Get up, throw somethin’ on and greet them. Get them a drink or something.”

This was addressed to the form drowsing under the covers. “Duchess” she may have been called, but she was no nearer nobility than you would be if you passed by a baron on the street while on a summer vacation in Brighton. But she served a purpose and Leech liked having her around and showing her off. She rose from the bed, oblivious of her nakedness. While she threw on a dressing gown Abe frankly admired her generous breasts, full hips and firm thighs.

“Now lads,” Leech said, pulling McIlwain away from his lewd reverie, “what have ye to tell me?”

“The Boil made it out of Port Royal,” McIlwain started.

“Well, that wasn’t a real surprise, was it?” Leech said, “The Spaniards were unlikely to press things in the heart of a British port. They were really there for backup. You were supposed to take care of things on the Bloody Scuppers, but apparently that was wishful thinking on my part. Did the ship survive?”

Abe looked down at the floor. The other two just remained silent. Leech’s eyes darkened for a moment, but his voice betrayed no trace of concern.

“Ah, well, no matter, it wasn’t really vital to the plan. I see you’ve picked up a new crutch. Bit of trouble?”

“Aye. And they killed Dedman.”

Leech glanced at the shorter of the two men standing behind Abe. “My condolences on the loss of your brother. We’ll see if we can give you a chance to get even.” Charlie Dedman’s only response was a curt nod of his head. “We all have to admit he wasn’t the smartest of my employees, although his bulk and muscle were of some use. Will you be able to assume his duties?”

“Anything ye need, just say,” Dedman replied quietly. “And if there’s anyone who needs killin’, just let me know.”

Leech smiled. It was not a smile that would warm hearts or convey humor. Other men who had seen that smile sent their last few seconds of life trying to remember if their insurance policies were all paid up.

“Oh my, there are plenty of people who need killing, starting with that bastard Buckler on deck. He’s been nothing but a pain in the ass since I got aboard. But not just now” he added quickly as Dedman had turned and started for the door. “I’ll let you know when the time is right. For now we have a little cruise ahead of us. Buckler doesn’t matter. He’ll do what the captain tells him to do, and the captain does what I tell him to do. Which reminds me, it’s just about time for the captain’s medicine.”

“So we’re to …” McIlwain began to ask.

“You’ll stay aboard with me. Just try to stay out of the way of the Navy. We’ve reduced their numbers somewhat and enough of our men are now aboard. But we need to be Royal Navy for a little bit longer. This ship will pass Maracaibo easily, and we should have no trouble taking Gibraltar. Then it should be an easy march to the Inca city.”

“What about the Festering Boil, sir?”

“Oh, I don’t think they’ll trouble a 64-gun navy first-rate, do you? They’re pirates, they’ll steer clear. What earthly reason would they be looking for HMS Tigershark? Besides, I expect their first move will be to look at our old digs on Devils Rock, to see if we’ve left any clues of our plans there. If they do look past the ‘harmless fishing village’ that’s there now, I think they might get a nasty surprise.”

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


A Pirate Tale – Part 118 “The Sick Monkey, The Suspect Sweater and The Sex Talk”

Cap’n Slappy stood at the bow of The Festering Boil contemplating his next move and exactly what he might do in Tortuga amongst the Tortuganaughts when he felt two pairs of familiar hands land firmly on his right shoulder.

“Thar ye be, Strumpet, ye cheeky monkey! Ye’ve been makin’ yerself practically invisible of late. What sort of rapscallionistic mischief have ye been about?”

“Chatting with the monkey again, Cap’n?” Cementhands asked as he approached from behind.

“Aye!” Slappy declared with confidence, “It’s the only chance I have of any intelligent conversation on this tub.”

“Ye’ll get no argument from me, Cap’n. That’s one smart monkey, I can tell ye! Why, he escaped the confines of the whole African continent replete with native fruits and food stuffs only to suffer the privations of scurvy, dysentery and other malefactions aboard this floating museum of medical oddities and deprivation.” Cementhands crossed his huge arms over his chest sincerely satisfied with the loquacity of his observation.

Slappy just blinked and looked at him for a moment. Finally he spoke. “You’ve been studying the ‘Powerful Pirate Prattle’ section in your copies of Pirattitude Monthly, haven’t ye?”

Cementhands simply smiled. Slappy continued.

“So, you’re saying … if I understand you correctly … which no doubt I do not …that ‘Monkey on a ship is …’ what, exactly?”

“Bad for Bonzo, Cap’n.” Cementhands said without hesitation. “Healthwise.”

Slappy shrugged, “Her name is ‘Strumpet,’ and she’s as fit as a Chinese acrobat!” Then he turned to the primate on his shoulder, “Aren’t ye, ol’ girl?”

Strumpet looked deeply into Slappy’s face, then coughed.

“Nothing that a nice knit sweater won’t fix. I’ll get Two-Patch on it right away. Do you remember that Sweater he knit for Ol’ Chumbucket last Christmas?” Slappy asked.

“Is the Cap’n referrin’ to the tiny one with the arms coming out of the ‘tummy’ area?” Cementhands inquired.

“Sure, it had its flaws, but nothing that couldn’t have been stretched out if Ol’ Chumbucket had just worn the damn thing.” Slappy insisted. “As I recall, the sleeves were the right length – and that’s very hard to get right!”

“Aye!” Cementhands agreed, “They were the correct length for Mister Chumbucket’s arms all right!”

“See?” Slappy said with a victorious tone.

“That’s right – All three sleeves were entirely the correct length!” Cementhands admitted.

Slappy thought for a moment. “I thought that third one was a … never mind.”

“What, Cap’n?” Cementhands insisted.

“Well,” Slappy began sheepishly, “I thought it was a … how do I put this? I thought perhaps it was meant to be a ‘Tackle Tube.’”

“A what?” Cementhands seemed genuinely confused.

“You know!” Slappy insisted. “A codpiece cover!”

Cementhands shook that off, as if he had no idea to what the Cap’n might be referring.

Slappy finally lost his patience! “A Penis Pocket! A Crocheted Cock Cozy! A Wang Warmer! A Junk Jumper!”

Cementhands smiled warmly. “No Cap’n. That was just an extra sleeve.”

“Oh.” Slappy stood thoughtfully silent for a moment. Strumpet coughed lightly.

Cementhands broke the silence. “It did hang mighty low, though.”

“That’s what I thought?” Slappy said quietly.

“And it does speak well for Ol’ Chumbucket that you thought …” Cementhands continued.

“Well, he’s a man who sits in high regard.” Slappy agreed wholeheartedly.

There was yet another moment of silence that was finally broken by McCormack. “Does he sit so high to keep it from scraping the floor?”

“Alright!” Slappy declared bursting into laughter. “That’s quite enough out of you!” He turned to go and nearly ran over young Gabriel who had been waiting to find out where his closest friend Spencer had gone.

“Gabriel, my boy!” Slappy said with genuine surprise, “How long have you been standing there?”

“Just after ‘Crocheted Cock Cozy’ and just before ‘Wang Warmer’ but I have an important question Cap’n. Where is Spencer?” The young boy’s big eyes were filling with tears just at the question.

Slappy squatted down while Strumpet repositioned herself on top of his head.

“He’s fine, lad. Really. He just …” Slappy noticed Cementhands trying to slip away. “Not so fast, Mister McCormack! I may need one of those large words you’ve been hoarding.” McCormack sheepishly returned.

“You see, lad,” Slappy cleared his throat nervously, “Sometimes boys grow up and become men and even though you didn’t notice it happening … uh … there it is!” Slappy clapped his hands as if to knock off the dirt of this task – thinking it done.

“So, do you understand?” Slappy asked, expecting to be done with this unpleasant chore.

“Not really.” Gabriel answered honestly.

“It’s like this, lad.” Cementhands broke in, thinking he could tell it better. “As the wind blows the sails of this ship, men, too, are blown by an unseen force that propels them onward. Well, young Spencer who, as the Cap’n points out is now a man, was blown by a wind of destiny that landed him in Eve’s garden of earthly delights!”

Gabriel squinted and tried to shake the imagery out of his mind.

“That’s not the way to tell the boy!” Doc Burgess chimed in. “Lad, it’s like this. Bees go from flower to flower and as they do, they bring the pollen from one to another and by so doing supply each flower with a mixture of pollena – …”

“You’re confusing the boy!” Chumbucket broke into the conversation which was now drawing quite the crowd. “It’s very simply, Gabriel. Forget bees and winds and whatever the Cap’n was saying. It’s about what happens between birds – they form a bond and in so doing, naturally, the nesting instinct takes over and – …”

“For the love of God, let a woman do this!” Red Molly stepped in. “Gabriel, do you remember Lieutenant Keeling before he met me? He was emotionally stifled and unable to free his chi, remember?”

“There was nothing wrong with my chi!” Keeling protested.

“Lad!” Dogwatch wedged his way into the fray, “Do you know what I mean when I say, ‘shagged a harlot?’ or ‘lost his perspective?’”

At this, the lesson turned into a “no-holds-barred” debate on the relativity of the role of sex in establishing and maintaining cultural status quo and the validity of mandated expectations based solely on gender.

Finally, George’s gravelly voice broke through the din of the assemblage.

“IF YOU PLEASE!!!” The crowd fell silent. “If I may have a moment alone with the boy, perhaps I can put his mind at ease.”

This, of course, being the goal of every man and woman aboard The Festering Boil at that moment, everyone was happy to give George the Greek that opportunity. Once the crowd had cleared and he was left alone with Gabriel, he knelt down to be at eye level with the boy.

“What is it you want to know, lad?” George asked.

“Where’s Spencer? Why didn’t he come back?” Gabriel sniffled some at the question, but it was nice to have George there. He never scolded the boys for having feelings.

“Spencer is living in Port Royal now with a girl he met.” George searched the boy’s face to see his reaction and seeing only that he hadn’t finished the “why” part of the question, he continued. “He’s fallen in love and he thinks he and the girl will be happy together.”

“But why couldn’t he just bring her back here and be with her here like Lieutenant Keeling and Red Molly?” Gabriel asked.

“I don’t know the answer to that, son.” George admitted, “But he’s a man now and makes decisions for himself – we just hope he’ll be happy with his new girl.”

Not quite satisfied, Gabriel asked, “What is ‘falling in love?’”

George thought for a moment then asked, “What do you like to do more than anything else in the world?”

Gabriel smiled, “I like firing the cannons!”

A curious smile crept across George’s face. “Good! Now let’s say there was a place in Port Royal where you could fire your cannon all day long and people not only let you do it, they WANTED you to do it! Would you want to do that?”

Gabriel thought for a moment. “I would. But I would at least say ‘Goodbye.’”

George hit his own forehead with his hand. “Oh! He did, son. He did! He told me to tell you! I just now am getting around to passing it along to you. I’m sorry for the delay.”

“What did he say?” Gabriel asked.

“He asked me to give you this.” George straightened up and kissed the boy at the top of his forehead along his hairline. “And told me to tell you to take care of Cap’n Slappy for him. ‘He’ll need someone to know where he dropped his boots the night before.’ He said. ‘Tell Gabriel the Cap’n keeps a tin of chocolate biscuits at the bottom of the second drawer under his bunk – for his cabin boy – but he wants the boy to think he’s found them on his own and is being a bit of a sneak.”

Gabriel was stunned. “You mean I’m … I’m …”

“Cap’n Slappy’s new cabin boy. Aye! And a good one ye’ll be, too.”

Gabriel looked around at his precious cannons.

“Oh!” George continued, “And don’t think you’re getting out of your cannonade lessons! I’ll expect you at the same time every day for practice – we’re going to work twice as hard as ever!”

Gabriel was beaming.

“Now, run along and get your stuff out of Doc Burgess’ sick room – you’re moving to a closet off the Cap’n’s cabin.”

Gabriel began to run off, then stopped, turned around and came back and threw his arms around George’s waste in a bear hug. The Greek rested his hand on the boy’s head and said firmly, “Now run along boy – thar’s pirate work to do!”

Tuesday, November 22, 2005


A Pirate Tale 117 – Man overboard! (and a note)

(A note: Readers (if there are any) may be interested in learning the origin of the Bawdy Boys. We received an e-mail shortly after this year’s Talk Like a Pirate Day from a pirate by the name of Jay. Here’s part of what he had to say: “In November of 2003, I had a heart attack, a big one. In the emergency room I went into cardiac arrest, and, for all intent and purposes I died. I had no heartbeat or respiration for 45 minutes. At one point in the ordeal the doctor wanted to call my time of death, but a plucky little nurse refused to give up and continued to administer CPR … All of the emergency staff joined in to eventually get my heart started … because my heart was stopped for as long as it was, not enough blood got to my brain, causing a condition called ‘anoxic encephalophothy’ or "anoxia" for short, more commonly referred to as ‘brain damage.’ My brain damage had an interesting side effect. For several weeks I thought that I was a pirate. I belonged to a group of pirates who called themselves ‘The Bawdy Boys.’ The Bawdy Boys were apparently a very obnoxious, drunken and uncooperative group of miscreants. When medical personnel would ask me questions about who I was or where I was, I would reply in my best pirate voice that, ‘Aarrr! I be a bawdy boy!’ “

That was such an amazing tale that we asked to borrow the name, and Jay gave us permission. For the purposes of this story, the Bawdy Boys are a crew of miscreants so disreputable and untrustworthy that even the regular pirates, the Brethren of the Coast, will have nothing to do with them. They in turn, are trying their own evil plots to do in both legal authorities and the Brethren. It just seemed they were a ready-made set of bad guys to challenge the crew of the Festering Boil in this ongoing adventure. Thanks, Jay!)


“Man overboard!”

The call came from the starboard, sending crewmembers scuttling to the rail to peer back along the ship’s trail. About a quarter mile back, a figure bobbed in the waves, one hand gesturing frantically while struggling to keep his head above water.

The ship had already turned into the wind, luffing the sails, and a longboat was being lowered. Chumbucket turned his spyglass to the figure n the water,

“It’s Oscar,” he said. “Should have known. That boat better hurry, because he doesn’t look like much of a swimmer.”

No sooner had Chumbucket uttered these words than Oscar’s head dipped below a wave and failed to come back up. At the stern, Saucy Jenny kicked off her boots and dove into the water, her body knifing through the waves, then emerging to draw towards the spot with strong, even strokes. Behind her, a dozen sailors clambered down into the longboat to follow.

Aboard the Boil, glasses were trained on the spot where Oscar had disappeared. Jenny arrived at the scene, could be seen to take a deep breath, and flipped under. Seconds ticked away. The longboat pulled within 200 yards when her head again broke the water. She was apparently struggling with a weight that threatened to pull them both under.

The longboat pulled alongside and the two were hoisted aboard. By the time the boat had returned to the Boil, Oscar had had the water pumped from hi lungs and was sitting up, albeit not too steadily. He was bundled below to the sick berth.

“Well done, Jenny,” Slappy commended the woman. “Where’d you learn to swim like that?”

“Just now, in the water sir,” she replied.

“You mean …” Slappy paused, a look of incredulity on his face.

“Well, he was going down. Somebody had to do something.”

“Well done, lass,” Slappy managed. “Go get some dry things on and take the rest of the watch off. In fact, you ought to have Sawbones take a look at you, just in case.”

“Oh, Sawbones has been looking at me, I know that,” Jenny laughed. “But don’t worry, I can handle the old goat.” With a toss of her head, Jenny turned and went below.

“Well George, let’s get moving again,” Sappy said. “I’d like to be in Tortuga by the end of the week.”

“Aye aye, sir,” George replied.

“So why are we going to there?” Cementhands McCormack asked. “Isn’t Leech back on Port Royal?”

“We don’t know that, first of all,” Slappy said. “All we know for sure is that someone tall and thin was on the Scuppers, and it sure might have been Leech. If it WAS, we don’t know if he stayed aboard or not, or if he’s dead or not. But we do know something is up with the Tigershark, and we don’t know what.”

“So does that have to do with Tortuga?” Cementhands persisted. “You can’t think they’re still using Devil’s Rock, can you?”

Devil’s Rock, a barren spit of land in the vicinity of Tortuga, had been the Bawdy Boys island fortress, but they’d been cleaned out of there several years earlier by the British Navy, assisted by the Brethren of the Coast, particularly the crew of the Festering Boil.

“Frankly, I doubt it, but we’ve gotta start somewhere,” Ol’ Chumbucket said. “We may find something there. If we don’t, we’ll look elsewhere. The Caribbean’s a big sea, and they’ve gotta be somewhere.”

“Just so long as we don’t have to go all the way back to Madagascar,” McCormack said.

“No,” Slappy mused, whatever is going on is happening right here in our home waters. We’ve just gotta figure out what and where.”


Meanwhile, aboard the man o’war that had failed to stop the Boil from escaping, Abe McIlwain groaned.

“The bastards!” he roared. “That’s the seventh time the Festering Boil has killed me! Goddam ‘em! This is getting oooo-OW!!!”

“Oh, relax,” the ship’s surgeon said as he probed for the ball in the meaty portion of McIlwain’s buttocks. “You lost a lot of blood, but I’ve never met anyone who was killed by a shot to the arse. You already limped on that leg, so it’s not like it will hurt your dancing at all. You were lucky we were able to fish you out of the wreckage of that pirate ship. Give him more rum. LOT’S more rum.”

This last comment was directed at the man who was helping hold down the small man the surgeon was operating on. Where an anchor tattoo had decorated his cheek there was now a hole some three-quarters of an inch in diameter and gouts of blood squirted out every time he spoke. It was matched on the other side by an exit wound of approximately the same size and shape – the ball from Peddicord’s musket had hit one cheek and passed directly through his mouth, making him even uglier than he had been since the day he was born and rendering him even less articulate than ever. The doctor had had a brief chuckle over the fact that the two men had both been shot in the cheek, although with quite different results. Still, from a distant ship both would have appeared to have been shot dead.

Peddicord’s second shot, however, had run true, passing through the bridge of William Dedman’s nose and scrambling what few working brain cells the man had possessed. His sodden corpse was stretched out on the deck, and a man knelt over him, showing more emotion over the death of a pirate than you would normally expect to see.

The man gently lowered the ruined head to the deck, then turned to where the surgeon was probing Abe’s seriously damaged buttocks.

“Don’t you worry Mr. McIlwain. The doctor’ll have you back up soon enough. And then we’ll pay ‘em back for killing my brother.”

“Tha ee ii Cha-eee,” Livingood grunted, sending a stream of blood shooting in either direction.

“Eeeww!” the doctor said, shielding his patient from the spray of blood. “What did he say?”

“Said ‘That we will Charlie,’” said Charlie Dedman, nodding with determination.

“Christ!” McIlwain screeched as the doctor gave a twist with his probe and fetched forth a small, dull-colored ball of lead.

“That ought to take care of that,” the doctor said with satisfaction. “Let me close you up and we’ll see how you’re doing in the morning.”

“Doesn’t matter how I feel,” said McIlwain. “I’ve gotta get word to Leech that the Boil got out of harbor. He’ll want to know that. And he’ll want to make some plans.”


Aboard the Boil, Slappy bent over the sailor lying in Sawbones Burgess’ sick berth.

“So, Oscar, how’d ye come to fall overboard?” Slappy asked.

“Didn’t come to fall overboard,” Oscar said. “Came to be a pirate.”

“No, I meant, what happened? How’d you end up in the water?” Slappy said, reminding himself that he had to speak very directly with Oscar, upon who figures of speech were lost.

“Can’t rightly say, captain. I was dumpin’ a slop bucket for Black Butch over the side and felt a bump and the next thing ya know, I’m in the water.”

“You mean you fell in when the ship lurched?” Slappy asked, cognizant that the ship’s course had been fairly smooth but what felt smooth to a seasoned sailor might seem like rough going to a lubber like Oscar.

“No sir, nothing like that. A pair of hands grabbed me and gave me a push.”

“What? Are you saying you were pushed?”

Oscar gave a long thoughtful pause. Was the captain hard of hearing? He ran over the words he had said again.

“Yes,” he said, “I think I said I was pushed. I’m pretty sure I did.”

“Good God man!” Slappy said. “Who? Who pushed you? Are sure it wasn’t an accident?”

“Don’t know who,” Oscar said. “Didn’t see anyone. I thought I was alone at the rail. Someone musta come up behind me. Don’t have any way a knowin’ if it was a accident. You’d have to ask him.”

Further questions couldn’t get anything else out of Oscar, so after a few minutes Slappy left him to Burgess’ care and returned to the quarterdeck.

“How’s the patient?” Chumbucket asked lightly, but then he saw the look on Slappy’s face. “What’s the matter?”

“It may not have been Oscar’s own clumsiness. He thinks he got a help. Someone may have pushed him overboard.”

“A Jonah’s lift?” Chumbucket asked. “Why? And did he say who?”

“He says he doesn’t know who, and I suppose that’s quite possible. But it makes me wonder. There’s not a man or woman on this ship I wouldn’t trust with my life. So why would someone toss him overboard?”

“He must be mistaken,” Chumbucket said. “He’s not exactly the best seaman on the ship. He’s not even really someone you could call a seaman. He must have just fallen overboard.”

“Maybe,” Slappy said, sounding unconvinced. “But I imagine Felix was sure about his crew on the Bloody Scuppers, and that didn’t turn out too well for him. It’s just something else to worry about.”

Sunday, November 20, 2005


A Pirate Tale – Part 116 “Moon Running”

It was six bells of the middle watch and the moon hung motionless in the sky like the dried bones of hanged pirate on a windless day. Cap’n Slappy paced the deck.

“I knew I shouldn’t have sent to boy to the Wonder Wenches to fetch George and the others!”

“He’s not a boy anymore, Cap’n.” Chumbucket chided. “And he volunteered to go.”

Slappy nodded but refused to acknowledge further.

In short order, the leathery pounding sound of running men on cobblestone drifted toward the rail of The Festering Boil and Cap’n Slappy took a quick head count.

“Dammit!” he growled “He’s not with them!”

George sprinted up the gang plank and headed straight for the Cap’n. “The lad, Cap’n. The lad’s gone!”

Slappy stared deeply into George’s face and waited for an explanation.

“Madame Svetlana gave me this for you.” George handed Slappy a note and they moved to a lantern to read.

My Darling Captain Slappy,

Sometimes LOVE happens – even to the best raised children. Your Spencer has fallen in love with my Mahren and the two of them have fled to a secret part of the island where they hope to start a new life together. They have a chance at happiness and I firmly believe we should let them find their own way. Do not worry about the boy. I will help them when I can.

Yours Ever,


Slappy took in a deep breath, folded up the note and put it in his breast pocket.

“Cap’n, I’m sorry. I tried to …” George began but Slappy just put his hand in the Greek’s arm and shook his head.

“Not your fault, George.” Slappy said sadly. “I pushed him into ‘manhood’ too quickly. My fault entirely.”

Just then, Dogwatch returned from his errand breathing heavily. “We’re to meet The Bloody Scuppers in the harbor at eight bells!”

“Did you talk to Felix?” Ol’ Chumbucket asked.

“He’s the Cap’n, right?” Dogwatch panted. “Aye, he said, ‘Get back to your ship and tell Slappy to have the Festering Boil meet me in the harbor at eight bells!’”

Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket looked quizzically at each other. “Take a deep breath, Dogwatch.” Cap’n Slappy said calmly. “Think carefully, I need to know Felix’s exact words.”

Dogwatch took a deep breath and thought carefully. “Get back to your ship and tell Slappy to have the Festering Boil meet me in the harbor at eight bells.’ Those were his exact words, Cap’n!”

George said what Slappy and Chumbucket were thinking. “That wasn’t Felix! Dogwatch, what did he look like?”

“It’s hard to tell, Greek. He was standing at the rail as I stood on the dock and he had his back to the moon so he was all shape and darkness – no features.”

“How tall did he appear to be?” Chumbucket asked.

“Tall. More than six feet.” Dogwatch recalled.

“Leech!” Slappy spat. “Damn! I hate that … Leech!”

Chumbucket gave Slappy that, “Shall we?” look.

“Let’s do it!” Slappy ordered.

“All hands on deck!” Chumbucket called and in no time, the ship was abuzz with activity.

“Let’s have chain shot in the long nines – grape shot in the rest! We’re taking down their sails first, lads – then we’ll smash the hull!” George ordered as they loaded the cannons.

Dogwatch asked Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket, “How do you know it isn’t Felix I spoke to?”

“He’s five foot two and has no teeth in the top of his mouth – he avoids any words with S’s, - calls “ships” “da boat” and refers to the Cap’n here as, ‘Big Boy’.” Chumbucket explained.

Doc Burgess sidled up next to Cap’n Slappy. “I heard about the lad …”

“We’ve naught to do with that at the moment Sawbones.” Slappy replied simply.

“But he’s …” Burgess continued.

“Haven’t you got a patient to look to?” Slappy snapped.

“Wellington Peddicord is on the mend and readying himself for battle. I’m just saying …”

“Thank you, Doctor. That will be all.” Slappy said dismissively but not unkindly.

As Burgess walked away Cap’n Slappy called after him, “Perhaps we should all ready ourselves for battle. This could be a messy morning.”

In a matter of minutes, The Festering Boil was pulling away from the dock. Men crouched behind crates and cannons so as not to be visible in the moonlight.

“McIlwain called me a buffoon, did he?” Slappy asked Chumbucket.

After a momentary hesitation, Chumbucket replied, “Aye, Cap’n, that he did.”

Slappy paused then spoke matter-of-factly, “Dibs on killing him this time.”

McIlwain was not the best fighter they’d ever come up against. In fact, there were few who knew him who thought he was much of anything. Even among the Bawdy Boys he was little more than braggart and fool – more tolerated that thought of and certainly not anyone’s object of admiration with the possible exceptions of himself and his mother. (And even she reserved the right to change her mind.) But somehow, he had survived alternate battles with Cap’n Slappy, Cementhands McCormack, George the Greek, Blackbeard and Ol’ Chumbucket.

“I do believe it is your turn, Cap’n.” Chumbucket responded. There would be no pride taken in actually dispatching him – just relief. The same relief one would take in squashing a mosquito who has taken more than its fair share of blood from your neck.

“Good.” Slappy said. “We’ll see who is whose buffoon.”

The Blood Scuppers lay dead ahead silhouetted by the setting moon, much like her supposed Captain had when he attempted to deceive Dogwatch.

Cap’n Slappy felt a tugging at his coat. It was young Gabriel.

“Where’s Spencer, Cap’n?” the boy asked innocently.

“He’s all right, lad. He’s doing something in town. What do you need?” Slappy responded patiently.

“Well, he usually tells me what kind of ship it is when I can’t tell.” The boy pointed toward the horizon opposite The Bloody Scuppers where the sky was dark but visible only by the absence of stars, a ship lay in the distance.

George looked through his spyglass. “Aye, Cap’n. The boy’s right! It’s a Man-O’-War!”
“A trap!” Ol’ Chumbucket said with astonishment. “Who’d have thought the Bawdy Boys would be that clever!”

“George, when will we be in range to take out the sails on the Scupper?” Slappy asked urgently.

“We’ll need six hundred yards and it’s a long shot at that.” George answered.

“Make it so.” Slappy ordered and began loading his long musket.

“McIlwain?” Ol’ Chumbucket asked, smiling.

“Leech – if I can spot him.” Slappy replied in deadly earnest then, with a wink. “Failing that – McIlwain.”

Behind them, a deep voice with a rich Bristol accent asked, “How good a shot are you with that, Cap’n?”

“Ah! Mister Peddicord!” Cap’n Slappy replied, “Feeling better, are we?”

“Aye, Cap’n. Thanks to Mister Chumbucket here and the good doctor.” Wellington replied.

“Well, Mister Peddicord, to answer your question, I probably won’t win any shooting tournaments, but it’s a shot in the dark anyway, so I figure, ‘Why not?’” Slappy replied as he pounded the ball into place with his ramrod.

“With respects, Cap’n. I was the Channel Fleet Marine Marksman of the Year three years running. If that information can be of service, I stand ready to serve.” Wellington stood at attention in strict naval fashion.

Slappy looked at Ol’ Chumbucket and they exchanged smiles. Then, he tossed the musket to the young man and said, “I’ll find you a target. Stand by me and we’ll give you some practice.”

Dogwatch stood at the wheel while George marked down the inches until they were in range. He stood at midship and both the helm and the gunners waited for him to pull his raised fist down – that was the signal. It came with suddenness. Dogwatch pulled The Festering Boil hard to starboard and the cannons roared to life. The flames could be seen back in Port Royal as the sails were ripped to shreds and the masts of The Bloody Scuppers were cracked and broken.

The air was ripped by the sound of return fire both from The Scuppers and from the nearly invisible Man-O’-War that lurked in the darkness.

“Reload cannons! Heavy ball!” George ordered. The crew readied all the guns on both sides. Their survival depended on their speed and accuracy.

“Alright, Mister Dogwatch! Take us out of harbor!” Slappy ordered.

Of course, the problem was that between The Festering Boil and the mouth of the harbor lay two ships, heavily armed and closing the gap and the path to freedom lay between them. The faster ship, The Bloody Scuppers, however was now in no condition to give chase, so once they ran this gauntlet, they would be free for the time being. But they soon discovered that the guns aboard the Man-O’-War were very powerful.

Cannonballs make a distinct sound when they fly overhead and an even more distinct one when they hit the water. The Man-O’-War’s first barrage sailed just above the top of the mizzenmast of The Festering Boil and landed well beyond her port side with a sizzling splash.

“Full sails and full ahead Number One, if you please!” Cap’n Slappy called to George who echoed the call and within moments, the ships sails were in full billow and Dogwatch was pointing her, as best he could, toward the mouth of the harbor.

Now that the jig was up, The Bloody Scuppers under command of the mysterious non-lisping captain fired a volley of its own toward The Festering Boil, but it fell far short of its target as they were waiting for the Boil to get close in before opening fire and had set their charges accordingly.

Chumbucket’s spyglass scanned the deck of The Bloody Scuppers and settled on the grisly visage of poor Felix’s body hanging from a broken yardarm.

“Those bastards hanged Felix aboard his own ship!” Chumbucket declared between gritted teeth.

“Any sign of our fake captain?” Cap’n Slappy asked.

“No,” Chumbucket replied, but I see McIlwain dancing and taunting us from the quarterdeck.

“Do you mark him, Mister Peddicord?” Slappy asked.

“Aye, Cap’n!” Wellington answered.

“When the Greek calls for the guns, let him have it, Mister Peddicord.” Slappy ordered.

“Aye-Aye, Cap’n!” Wellington Peddicord took a deep breath and seemed to take himself into a very relaxed state that both Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket had never observed even in their most confident fighter, Cementhands McCormack, during battle.

Lieutenant Keeling, now on deck at Cap’n Slappy’s side observed that The Festering Boil would be ready with her guns while both ships were within one hundred yards but that the other ships wouldn’t be able to return fire for at least ninety seconds after that.

“Then we’d best not sit here admiring our marksmanship, don’t you think, Mister Peddicord?” Slappy asked.

“Cap’n knows best.” Was all that emanated from the deep resonant breast of the now focused marksman.

As they closed in on the tightest point of the passage, George lifted his fist and readied the signal. Wellington Peddicord watched both the signal and the target, which had now taken up a position standing on the rail, dropped its britches and was baring his arse toward the fleeing pirates. He spread his ass cheeks offering a none-too-rare glimpse of his anal orifice.

“FIRE!” George called as he brought his fist down once again. Both sides of The Festering Boil exploded in dotted flames and smoke as their projectiles hit home both on The Scuppers and the Man-O’-War.

The most remarkable shot, however, did not come from any cannon, but rather from the barrel of the musket Peddicord fired toward the unsuspecting McIlwain. Ol’ Chumbucket watched as the mini-ball struck dead center in his ass and killed him dead during mid-taunt.

“Bulls-eye!” Peddicord merely breathed the word as he began to quickly reload the musket. “Mr. Chumbucket, if you would be so kind as to select another target, I believe I have one more in me before we are out of range.”

Ol’ Chumbucket was still stunned by the telescopic image of McIlwain’s exploding ass, but he searched the deck for a second identifiable target. William Dedman and Charlton Livingood could be seen coming to the aid of their fallen comrade. His nearly white hair made Dedman the next logical target – the fact that he had been the one to take a pot shot at Chumbucket earlier made him an even more appealing one.

Forty-five seconds had passed and Wellington Peddicord had reloaded and was now looking for the target Ol’ Chumbucket had described. Dedman wasn’t difficult to spot and in two seconds, he was, as his name prophetically predicted, a “Dead Man.”

Chumbucket watched in amazement as the musket ball shattered Dedman’s nose and sink deeply into his head. “Jesus.” He whispered as he finally noticed Wellington Peddicord reloading for yet another attempt.

By now, The Festering Boil was picking up speed as she shot the gap between the two Bawdy Boys vessels en rout to the harbor mouth and the open sea.

“Gentlemen,” Slappy began, “We’re about thirty seconds from being in the middle of a cannonball storm. Good shooting Mister Peddicord, but you might want to take cover. You’ve got two more than I thought possible and …”

“One more, Cap’n, if you please. I hate to leave without a third.” Wellington Peddicord seemed quite adamant, so Slappy nodded at Chumbucket who looked for that third target. Sure enough, he landed on Charlton Livingood who was now incensed by the deaths of two of his best friends and was screaming at The Boil.

“Bald guy – same spot – small tattoo of skull on left cheek.” Chumbucket relayed to his shooter.

As Wellington Peddicord finished loading and positioned himself for the shot, The Festering Boil was now in the violent crossfire of both ships. While a few cannonballs strafed the deck of The Boil, most were overshot into each other’s hulls so the Man-O’-War did much more damage to The Bloody Scuppers and vice versa than either did to the speedy Boil.

None of this seemed to shake Wellington Peddicord’s concentration but the distance between the Boil and the now sinking Scuppers seemed impossibly far for any musket shot.

Using his long, thin ring finger as a site, he lifted the barrel of the musket high above the target and squeezed the trigger.

Through his spyglass, Ol’ Chumbucket watched Livingood’s rage turn blank as the skull tattoo on his cheek gave way to the musket ball. He stood motionless at the edge of the sinking ship as she listed. Without argument, his now dead body, dropped over the edge like a sack of discarded potatoes into the water below.

Now out of distance of any harm and with the only ship capable of giving chase going under, cheers went up from the deck of The Festering Boil. Wellington Peddicord stood up and tried to hand the musket back to Cap’n Slappy.

“No, Mister Peddicord. That tool is best left in your hands to use at your discretion. Welcome aboard, Mister Peddicord!” Slappy said as he shook hands with his newest crewman.

“Thank you, Cap’n – and Mister Chumbucket. Permission to drink rum now, sir!” Wellington said with a smile.

“Permission granted and in honor of your three shots, triple shares for all!” Slappy declared. “Next stop – Tortuga! We have some mysteries to solve!”

Friday, November 04, 2005


A Pirate Tale 115

The afternoon passed quietly aboard the Festering Boil. Ol’ Chumbucket left to reconnoiter the town, and the pirates who had celebrated their sudden – and for many, fleeting – wealth were slow to recover after the previous night’s gambol in Port Royal. But they were forced to rise and assume something akin to their sailorly duties so that the skeleton crew, including George the Greek, who had stayed aboard could have their own night on the town. Fortunately, the ship was tied up firmly to a dock, because if the hung-over crew had needed to sail it, there might have been problems.

After spending an hour on the quarterdeck trying to regain his strength, Cap’n Slappy returned to his cabin, where his friend, the madame Svetlana, displayed her amazing recuperative powers and spent the rest of the afternoon taking Slappy through an “erotic tour of Roberts Rules of Order.” This was done for old time’s sake, since Slappy had already spent his considerable share of the loot from the Spanish payroll ship – not to mention a considerable portion of his own vigor – on the previous night’s recreation. It was a testament to Svetlana’s considerable skills in the arts of love that she was able to keep Slappy’s “attention” for the full tour.

Those of the crew who could stand to eat had done so and the first dogwatch was ending before Slappy emerged once again, barely able to stand, to escort Svetlana to the railing. “Are you sure you can’t stay?” he asked her.

“Oh Slappy my darling, you know I have to get back to work,” she said smiling. “I see several new ships here in port, so Wonder Wenches will be busy tonight. Besides, I think you might do better with some rest instead of another spin through parliamentary etiquette.”

Slappy ruefully had to agree that this as so, but insisted that she not walk through the harbor district unescorted. Oscar and Saucy Jenny were sent to accompany her, with the reminder that the ship was slated to sail with the tide at 5 a.m. They clambered down to the docks and Slappy watched as they vanished into the maze of warehouses and seedy shops. It was then he noticed in the fading light a small, familiar-looking figure sitting alone on an adjacent pier, apparently staring out to sea.

“Spencer!” he called out. The figure made no response or in any way indicated he had seen. In a louder voice, the one that could be heard over the cannon’s roar, he called again.


The lad looked up, rather like a man waking out of a dream. He stared toward the Boil for several seconds before he seemed to focus on the captain. Then, with a wave of his hand, he stood and worked his way over to the ship, climbing aboard nimbly.

“Cabin Boy Spencer le Hammer reporting for duty,” he said with the slightest trace of irony in his voice. “What can I do for you captain? Pour you some rum? Clean out your chamber pot?”

“Stand down, boy, and stow that attitude,” Slappy growled. “Here’s something you can do. Get your gear and stow it up in the fo’c’sle. You’re not a cabin boy anymore, you’re a man, and you’re going to be serving before the mast with the rest of the crew.”

“Aye aye, sir,” Spencer said, turning to go.

Slappy had really expected more of a reaction. Maybe not hoots, hollers and cartwheels, but something.”

“Are ye all right lad?”

Spencer paused, his lip almost trembling.

“It’s … well, it’s women sir.”

“Oh lord, boy! Is that all? Look, lad, you’ve got the rest of your life to wrestle with women, and to wrestle with yer feelings about them. And the truth is, on your dying day, you won’t understand ‘em one bit better than you do right now.”

“But cap’n,” the boy-turned-man said. “It was so wonderful, so incredible. I think love her but …”

“Spencer loves someone’s butt?” Cementhands interjected, approaching the captain.

“You be quiet, McCormack!” Slappy was surprised that it wasn’t him saying it. It was Spencer, staring up defiantly at the giant pirate like a terrier facing a wolfhound. “Just don’t say anything!”

“Look, I’m sorry kid! I was just saying …”

“Well don’t,” Spencer repeated quietly but firmly.

“Look lad,” Slappy broke in. “Perhaps you and I can have a talk about this over a late dinner. I’ll be happy to share my knowledge of women, although lord knows it doesn’t really amount to much in the end, despite my somewhat broader experience.”

Cementhands, who was mortified that he had upset the young man, had to interject again.

“That’ll have to wait, Cap’n. You’re needed at the bow. Someone’s coming – fast.”

Slappy quickly made his way to the bow. He could definitely hear feet pounding down the dock, and a moment later a figure appeared out the gathering darkness.

It was Red Molly coming at a dead run. Rather than running down the length of the ship to the boarding ladder, she leaped for the first hawser and scrambled up the side, throwing herself over the railing and barely maintaining her footing as she landed.

“Captain!” she gasped. “Get Sawbones quick, and we ought to get some armed men on the railings!”

“What’s going on?” Slappy asked. “Where’s Keeling?” Molly and Keeling had gone into town the night before for their honeymoon, and Keeling was nothing if not punctual.

“He’s helping Chumbucket. He’s been shot!”

The news galvanized the crew into action. By the time Keeling and Chumbucket appeared on the dock, the rail was lined with well-armed pirates. The pair quickly approached the ship, Chumbucket leaning on Keeling’s arm. Willing hands quickly helped them aboard, careful not to disturb his upper arm, which was red with blood.

“I’m okay,” Chumbucket said. “It’s not serious.”

“I’ll be the judge of that,” Sawbones Burgess said, tearing away the bloodstained sleeve.

“Damn, that was my good shirt,” Chumbucket grimaced.

“Teach you not to wear good clothes,” Slappy said. “It’s always best to leave the good suit hanging in your cabin and never, never wear it. Now what’s this about? What happened?”

“It’s my own damn fault,” Chumbucket said through gritted teeth while Burgess poured rum on his arm to clean it off. The doctor then handed him the rum and told him to take a good swallow. “This next bit will hurt a little,” Burgess said. Chumbucket just nodded, and Sawbones inserted a finger in the wound, looking for the ball. In the lamplight, Chumbucket’s face went white.

Burgess continued to probe for a full minute before finally saying with satisfaction, “Good. The ball seems to have passed through the meaty part without breaking the bone. It’s gonna hurt like hell for a couple of days ... ”

“It hurts like hell now,” the patient interjected.

“But it should heal,” the doctor finished. “Drink a little more of this,” he added, passing him the rum. “Take it internally as often as needed for pain.”

With that out of the way, Slappy crowded forward to try to get more answers.

“So who shot you? What is this about?”

“Like I said, my fault. I was following someone and forgot to look out to see if he had any friends.”

Slappy sighed. There Chumbucket went again, telling the story in his backward, mystery writer way.

“Oscar’s notes referred to the man on the Bloody Scuppers who gave him the hat from the Tigershark as Abe McI. He described the man to me as short, thin, sallow, with a limp and a glass eye.”

“Abe McIlwain of the Bawdy Boys,” Slappy said. “Didn’t you kill him?”

“Apparently not. Since the Scupper was in port I thought it would be worth looking up Abe. I found him at the Saucy Strumpet.” The Strumpet was a low-dive. The fact that even most pirates didn’t even like to frequent it spoke volumes about just how low it was.

“I spotted him without him spotting me. I waited to see if anyone was going to meet him, but he just drank alone for an hour, then as it started to get dark he got up and left. I followed him, and a damn curious tour it was through half of Port Royal. I see now he was just trying to see if anyone was following. I was sure he didn’t see me, but apparently someone did.

“I decided to go up and pay my respects. I waited until we were alone on the street and came up behind him,” Chumbucket recalled. “I said, ‘Hello Abe!’ in my friendliest voice.”

McIlwain must have known he had support nearby, for the sight of the pirate who had almost killed him several years earlier should have made him wet himself. Instead he had smiled casually and answered, “Hello Chum. Still hanging around with that buffoon Slappy? What brings you to Port Royal?”

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” Chumbucket had replied. “I was a little surprised to hear about you on the Scuppers. What with you being dead and all. Did you really sign on a Brethren ship? What would Davey Leech think of that if he were here?”

At the mention of Leech, the leader of the Bawdy Boys, McIlwain’s smile got colder and more menacing, if that were possible.

“Davey Leech may be closer than you think, mate, and if I were you I’d clear out of the Caribbean and head home to England, because things are about to get much hotter here.”

“Oh really?” Chumbucket said, pressing closer to the rogue and letting dropping his hand toward his sash, where he kept a dagger. “The last I saw of your mister Leech he was running away from a fight, leaving you and some of your friends to deal with us on your own.”

“Right. Too bad for you you didn’t finish the job,” McIlwain spat.

“An oversight I won’t repeat if the chance comes. Right now I just want to know what you were doing on O’Toole’s ship, and what you know about the Tigershark.”

“Oh, Captain O’Toole took pity on a poor sailor down on his luck, the fool, and may find he’s got more trouble on his crew than he knows about. As for the Tigershark, ye’ll be hearing a lot more about that ship and soon – or you would if you weren’t going to be dead in a few seconds.”

With that, McIlwain lashed out with his boot, from which a knife blade suddenly protruded. Chumbucket had dealt with that trick of McIlwain’s before and leapt back, grabbing the shorter man’s heel and pushing back sharply. His assailant went over backwards. His own dagger was out of his sash and he shifted his balance to lunge, but the crack of a pistol and a tearing pain in his upper arm knocked him over backwards.

Chumbucket scrambled to his feet, clutching his arm. McIlwain was also rising, and from across the street he could see two large, menacing figures advancing towards him.

“It was Dedman and Livingood,” Chumbucket explained to Slappy. “Under the circumstances I thought discretion would be the better part of valor and took to my heels. They gave chase. It was a good thing I happened across Keeling and Red Molly.”

“We were just heading back to the ship when we heard him coming,” Keeling said, taking over the story. “I saw Chumbucket running, but obviously in trouble, then three fellows chasing him. We’d left our cutlasses aboard ship, but Molly had the cat o’nine tails (“On their honeymoon?” Cementhands said to no one in particular.) and lashed out with it. It wrapped around the one fellow’s legs a sent him crashing into the other. I dealt with the third one.” Keeling rubbed his knuckles as he said this. “Then we took Chumbucket and got back here as fast as we could.”

“Quite right,” Slappy said. “So what do we do now? Get a party together and go find them?”

“I don’t think so,” Chumbucket said. “We need to figure out what they’re up to. Whatever it is, they apparently were able to take over a British man o’war, so whatever it is must be bigger than us. I think we need to sail as planned when the tide turns, and head for Tortuga. It would be a good idea to send out a party to collect George and the others.”

“Right,” said Slappy. “And I think we want to send a message to the Bloody Scuppers. Felix ought to know something’s going on aboard his ship.”

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