Wednesday, December 07, 2005


A Pirate Tale – 121


Cap’n Slappy rubbed at his mustache with vexation, wincing as he scratched another dab of tar out, pulling hairs that made his eyes water. He glanced over and saw that Ol’ Chumbucket was having a similar problem.

Of all the crew aboard the Festering Boil, only George the Greek was immune from the need to peel the malodorous concoction off his lip, and he was absolved by the very simple expedient that he hadn’t put any there in the first place. George had more hair under his lip than most men have on their whole bodies, and while the locks on his head might have been going a bit gray, his mustache was still thick, black and luxuriant. It was also one of his chief sources of pride, so when the moment for him to make his pledge of vengeance, he had waved his hand over the tar, then taken a swipe at his nose. If anyone had noticed, they hadn’t dared say anything to him about it.

The Boil’s crew had searched the vicinity of Devil’s Rock but had not found any more booby traps. Unfortunately, they were also unable to find any clues as to where the Bawdy Boys were or what they were up to. The fairly extensive system of caves showed some sign of its former occupation by the Bawdy Boys, but nothing recent.

“Still, we searched here three years ago, the last time we had to kill those bastards, and there sure wasn’t a booby trap here then,” Cementhands opined, rubbing a knuckle across the tar under his own proboscis. “Whatever it was that sunk the Fox, it must have been planted in the last few months.”

“Right, so we know they’ve been back,” Sawbones Burgess agreed, wiping vigorously at his own nose with a handkerchief.

“No,” Chumbucket said, also still working the tar loose from his facial hair. “Shit! We know SOMEBODY was here, but we don’t know whom. Ow!”

“Quit being so fussy,” Slappy snapped. “Who else would it have been? Damn!”

“I’m just saying we shouldn’t jump – OW! – to any conclusions,” Chumbucket shot back. “A whole shipload of friends – Crap! – just got blown up this morning and – Damn! – we’re not going to help matters by leaping into action without thinking,”

“Crap!” Cementhands snarled in agreement.

Slappy took a step back. Just as he had feared, he was getting seriously pissed off and losing his temper because of the tar stuck in his ‘stache. He took a deep breath and was about to start over when his new cabin boy, Gabriel, came running up.

Unlike the older members of the crew, young Gabriel was seriously delighted to have something as manly as a mustache on his face, even if it was in fact tar. He had spent the afternoon repeatedly returning to the tar bucket to augment his faux facial fuzz. By now he happily wore a quarter-inch thick layer of the pungent material under his nose, and was getting a little high from the fumes.

On the quarterdeck all hands burst into laughter at the sight. One glimpse of Gabriel brimming with manliness and weaving slightly from his intoxicated state was enough to break the spell of peevishness.

“Look lad, perhaps you’d better lay off the tar,” Slappy said kindly. “One more layer and you’ll be closing off your airways.”

“Okay,” the lad said, sounding a little woozy. “But I can’t wait until I can grow my own. Then I’ll have one as thick as George’s.”

George smiled. “I don’t know lad. Ye’ve got to be Greek to have something as fine as this warming yer lip.” He stroked the long black bristles with affection. “Maybe you should talk to Butch about cooking you up some bull’s balls every night. Maybe that would help.”

“Bull’s what?” asked Gabriel, turning slightly green.

“Balls” George repeated.

“Testicles,” Chumbucket added.

“The dangly bits,” Cementhands tossed in helpfully.

“Erp,” said Gabriel, turning a more vivid shade of green and hastening to the rail.

“Well, that takes care of that, anyway,” Sawbones observed. “So what’s our next step?”

“I don’t see we have much choice,” Slappy said. “We’d best go back to the village and see if they know anything more. It’s either that or back to Port Royal. And we need to talk to Peddicord a bit more. How did he come to leave the Tigershark? He hasn’t given us any details on that yet.

“The wind’s against us now, so we’ll take the longboat back around the headland. George, you stand out to sea and bring her back in tomorrow morning.”

The currents were also running against them and the trip back around the island to the fishing village took longer than Slappy had hoped. Even with a dozen pirates pulling at the oars, the sun was settling behind them as the longboat eased past the rickety pier and ground ashore on the beach under the startled eyes of the fishermen who were preparing their gear for the morning.

“Welcome back!” their spokesman said warily. “Have you reconsidered whether you’d like to loot the village? I can have all the goods back here in no time.”

“No, no, nothing like that,” Slappy said as he eyed the tropical sunset. “We just wanted to talk a little, get a little information.”

The man seemed uncertain, but

Yes, they agreed, there was another ship at the island about six months ago. The oldest of the fishermen, Carlos, was certain of it, because that’s when the snook were running. The ship was big, they agreed, and had stayed three days but never came around the island to the village. The fishermen had stayed away, and not just because their fishing grounds were on the other side of the island. After their experiences sharing the island with the Bawdy Boys they were in no hurry to greet their new neighbors.

“The only one who went out to see anything was the padre, and he didn’t report anything strange. Just that there was a ship, but that they’d be leaving.”

“Padre?” Chumbucket asked. “Where is this padre? Can we speak to him?”

“Oh, no, he died three months ago.”

“Died? How did he die?”

“Oh, he was a very old man. There was no mystery there. The mystery was that he lasted as long as he did.”

“Did he tell anyone about the ship? Write any letters or reports?”

“Not that I know of. You might ask the new padre.”

The men explained that the new priest had arrived about six weeks ago, “when Lars caught the tarpon,” and could be found at the cathedral. The men pointed the way, which was a superfluous gesture considering the village had only 20 small houses and one track that could be called a street, running straight from the pier up into the hills. Still, the men were eager to be rid of the pates so they could stop answering questions. And it’s not like the “cathedral” stood out. No, this wasn’t some large adobe church like in those Clint Eastwood movies, nor was it a giant gothic gymnasium. What it was was:

A shack. The pirates could tell which one was the cathedral because it had a cross painted on the side and, when they pointed to it and looked back to the beach, the watching fishermen nodded enthusiastically. Slappy reached out and knocked on the door.

“And who’d be pounding on me door at this hour of the evening?” an angry and familiar voice called. “Don’t you know I’m reciting me fackin’ vespers?”

“What the hell?” Slappy asked. The door opened.

“Well Slappy me lad! It’s to be seeing you again. Are ye here to be confessed and saved?” asked Father Seamus Casey.

“Casey? What are you doing here?”

“I’m the facking pastor of this fine parish, don’t ye know,” the priest said.

“But, wha … how … How did you get here? We left you in South Africa,” Slappy said with shock.

“No we didn’t. Did we?” Chumbucket said, equally perturbed by the priest’s sudden reappearance. “Wasn’t he aboard for the Atlantic crossing? Or was he?”

The two thought about it, and probably would have gone back to check previous installments of this story to refresh their memories, but the ever-loquacious Father Casey spared them the trouble.

“Weil of course I left Mossel Bay with ye, lads. And it was a fine voyage across the great ocean, although I must say I was a little miffed that I wasn’t chosen to handle the marriage ceremony of Leftenant Keeling and his winsome bride, although no hard feelings against ye, Slappy lad. Now come on in, the both o ye, and have a wee drop o’ something to ward off the night chill.” The two pirates went into the ramshackle church, leaving their 10 crewmembers outside in the night air, which the breeze had cooled to about 80 degrees. They accepted the “wee drop” of Irish whisky while the priest filled the silence with the music of his voice as he told of how he arrived on the tiny island outpost.

“I enjoyed those games ye all played in Brazil and converted some of the heathen over to the Lord. After ye all left fackin’ Sao Paolo in such a hurry, I spent a little time with the fackin’ archbishop of Rio, who was kind enough to send my to Costa Rica where I was the guest of the archbishop there and he a fine man he is, despite bein’ Spanish which I won’t hold against him, bein’ as we’re both in the trade don’t ye know.”

That’s the gist of what he said. It actually took much longer.

Apparently Casey had insisted in long, in-depth discussions on the needs of the church in the Caribbean, because after three days his host had suddenly taken sick and couldn’t receive visitors. Casey had cooled his heels on the island for a couple of weeks until word came in that the priest on Devil’s Rock had passed away and the archbishop, “a sainted man, don’t ye know,” assigned Casey to the post.

“Aye, and me not even bein’ Spanish, God be praised, but he didn’t let our differin’ nationalities stand in the way and I quickly accepted the task, because we’re all toilin’ in the Lord’s vineyard, don’t ye see, and if the Lord wants to make some of the people on Earth Spanish until the day of judgment when he consigns them all to the fiery pits of hell, who am I to say no?”

The long and short of it was that Casey was now ensconced in the small village. He did not know the former priest, didn’t know anything about his death or any visitors. There was, however, a trunk of the old priest’s belongings out back that they were welcome to look through.

Casey continued talking as the two pirates quickly went through the box. There wasn’t much – this was a man to whom the vow of poverty apparently applied in spades. A few books, a picture of a kitten with big eyes, a small hand mirror, some breath mints, three pairs of argyle socks.

Chumbucket dropped the trunk with disgust. In doing so, he jarred loose a scrap of paper that ad been wedged into the lid to keep it from rattling. Slappy picked it up and glanced at it. Suddenly he sat up sharply and pointed to the card.

“Look at this,” he said.

“A picture postcard,” Chumbucket said, unimpressed. “Sunset on the beach at Gibraltar. So?”

“Look at the back.”

Chumbucket read aloud, “To Father Sierra, thanks for the herring. From your friends on HMS Tigershark.”

“I guess we know our next stop,” Slappy said. “I hope George is able to bring the ship in at first light.”

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