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.”

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