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.”

Comments: Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?