Sunday, February 26, 2006


A Pirate Tale – Part 129 “Marco!” …“Pollo!”

Don Taco’s face was crestfallen. “Oh. Los Mariachi … say it not so!”

With a short, terse gesture of his pistolas, Los Mariachi motioned Don Taco and Cementhands McCormack to sit on a small divan – delicately upholstered in green and yellow striped silk – a Porras family heirloom. Florencio, who by now had scrambled to his desk, sat very still but when he saw the two men, one large and the other larger, about to sit on this piece of furniture, he motioned with upraised open hands and a pinched pained face that they should sit carefully. They did. The wood gave a creak under the weight of their substantial bottoms, but held as strongly as it had for over two hundred years.

Los Mariachi mocked Don Taco’s plea – “Oh. Los Mariachi … say it not so!” then spat on Florencio’s imported Persian rug. This was more than the little accountant could bear and he shot to his feet in protest. His one-man revolt, however, was quickly put down as Los Mariachi leveled one of the pistolas at his head. He sat back down without comment.

“You keep your little ferret hands where I can see them.” Los Mariachi demanded of the accountant who mouthed the words, “ferret hands” in disbelief.

Again, he returned to his mocking of Don Taco, “Los Mariachi – play me a tune! Not so sad, Los Mariachi! More festive! Play something that represents the soul in turmoil!”

Don Taco looked uneasily at his former companion and at the others in the room. “That was personal!”

“So personal that you took the time to learn my real name?” Los Mariachi was flushed with rage. “Go on! Tell me! What is my real name?”

Don Taco sat perfectly still for a moment – two perhaps. He glanced upward and to the right – as if trying to recall an important piece of information. This took several more moments. After a rather uncomfortable silence he finally spoke.

“I think it begins with a ‘B.’”

“Marco!” Los Mariachi exclaimed. “My name is Marco!”

“Barco?” Don Taco asked – still thinking there must be a “B” in there somewhere.

“Like the lounger?” Cementhands asked Don Taco without paying much heed to the frustrated gunman.

“MARCO!” Los Mariachi screamed. “My name is Marco Pollo!”

“Mark Chicken?” Cementhands translated in disbelief.
“It wasn’t a ‘B’ it was a ‘P’ after all!” Don Taco exclaimed with surprise and relief. “I am always mixing up my ‘Bs’ and my ‘Ps’ don’t you know!”

“SHUT UP! SHUT UP! BOTH OF YOU!” Marco Pollo screeched. “Or I will kill you now which is ahead of killing schedule, you stupidos!”

Florencio feverishly tidied up his desk as if preparing to leave. “Well, if I’m not needed, then I’ll just be on my way.” He began to stand and continued, “Feel free to use my office as long as you like.”

“Sit back down!” Marco Pollo demanded. “After I shoot them, I am going to beat you to death with my empty pistolas.”

“Oh!” Florencio seemed mildly surprised by this news, but took it in stride. “Well, then I suppose I should stay until you’re ready to do that.” That said, he sat back down and dutifully folded his hands on top of his desk.

“You know, Los Mariachi …” Don Taco began but was immediately cut off.

“Marco!” Marco insisted angrily followed by a response from Cementhands McCormack that sounded like a distant echo – “Pollo!”

Don Taco and Cementhands had a good laugh. Florencio tittered nervously.

“You think you are the funny britches, eh – Meester Big Man?” Marco snarled at McCormack while waving the pistola in his face.

“That was kinda funny – you have to admit.” McCormack answered matter-of-factly.

“Si, Los Mariach – I mean ‘Marco’ – that was pretty funny.” Don Taco agreed adding his own take on the children’s game – “Marco! … Pollo!”

“Que? You donne theen’ ‘Don Taco’ is a ridiculous name?” Marco sneered derisively. “Meester Taco? Why not Meester Chalupa? Or Meester Chimichanga?”

“Don Taco is my name – I don’t know why anyone would find it humorous. Do you, Senor Cementhands?” Taco leaned toward Cementhands McCormack but before the big man could answer, Marco Pollo kicked over an end table.

“ENOUGH! Enough of this pittle-prattle! I’ll be rid of the both of you soon enough!” Marco Pollo could barely contain his rage at this point.

“Well, I wish you would hurry it up.” McCormack said, “I’ve got to be getting back to my ship – they’re expecting me.”

Marco Pollo allowed himself a moment to revel in his crappitude.

“Oh, my large friend, let me be the first to console you. Your comrades are no doubt dead by now – you see, I have many confederates in this village – who, like me, serve the interests of our common master. The Bawdy Boys will soon control the shipping lanes in and out of the New World. European powers will pay for our protection or find their ships looted, their towns pillaged and their women – well, let’s just say, what we do to their women will be the stuff of nightmares for generations!” with this, Marco Pollo laughed maniacally.

“You’ve seen Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy in battle, Marco Pollo.” Cementhands began, “Do you really think they will be that easily defeated by a bunch of pirate wannabes?”

This incensed Los Mariachi who nearly shot Cementhands in the head right then, but held off. “Oh! You almost tricked me into killing you early when it will be much sweeter to kill you after I show you the heads of your friends.”

There was no more talking for an hour. With each passing minute, Los Mariachi (a.k.a. Marco Pollo) seemed to lose confidence. He locked and double-checked the only door and peaked through the small sliding-door window – shutting it tightly after each peak. He checked the only window in the office over and over – which was slightly higher than the top of his head.

“You are not so sure about your confederates now, are you?” Don Taco asked – breaking an hour and a half of silence.

“They are the greatest assassins in the world – no silly, fat pirate captain and his bumbling crew will be able to withstand their attack!” Marco Pollo now seemed to be trying to convince himself.

Another half hour passed until footsteps were heard outside the window and at the door.

Marco Pollo’s eyes widened with alarm at first, but he smiled when he heard their voices.

“Marco! Marco Pollo! Let us in! We have a leetle surprise for you!”

Outside the window, he could see the tops of heads – and familiar bandanas – those of his confederates, bouncing up and down as their muffled voices penetrated the office walls and door. He peaked through the sliding door and quickly recognized the face of the head assassin. Los Mariachi gave a smile of relief that quickly turned to menace as he wheeled around to taunt his prisoners. With showman style, he placed his right hand on the doorknob as he addressed his prisoners.

“And now, gentlemen, the moment we’ve all been waiting for!”

As last words go, these weren’t bad. As he began turning the doorknob, Cementhands, who had also seen the face in the window, slammed his big left shoulder up against Don Taco, knocking him off the divan and – more importantly, out of range of the coming scatter shot. With remarkable speed, McCormack flung himself to the floor in the opposite direction as the door swung open.

As Marco Pollo turned to greet his comrades, his face froze in a contorted gesture of shock and despair as he saw his champion assassins' heads – five of them – bouncing up and down on the points of swords held by Ol’ Chumbucket, Leftenant Keeling, George, Dogwatch and Wellington Peddicord. He may, perhaps, have noticed Cap’n Slappy standing motionless and without expression on his face, his trusty blunderbuss leveled directly at Marco Pollo’s mid-section.

Without so much as an “Uh, oh.” The gun boomed to life scattering the contents of Marco Pollo’s abdomen all over Florencio’s finely appointed office. For a moment, the remains of Los Mariachi’s lifeless corpse stood stupidly in the doorway – his knees locked in the shock of the moment of his death – a hole stretching from the middle of his chest to his waist with bits of flesh, bone and cartilage on each side was all that held his upper body in its final standing position. This delicate structure could only last a moment as his sides twisted inward and his shoulders and head collapsed on the rest of the wreckage like an old building that had been skillfully imploded with dynamite.

The smoke from the blunderbuss whirled around the room as Cap’n Slappy stepped into the office and over the fallen corpse of Los Mariachi.

“Sorry about your friend.” Slappy offered to Don Taco – who was picking bits of his “friend” out of his uniform.

“Think nothing of it! He turned out to be a no-goodnik!” Taco said as Slappy helped him off the floor. He added sadly, “But I will miss the music.”

“God dammit! Cap’n!” McCormack was almost ungrateful about the rescue. “Do you need to use that scatter gun every time? You could have just run the bastard through and then Pencil-dick here, would just have to get a new carpet.”

”Florencio.” Florencio said politely and in a state of obvious shock. “It’s pronounced, ‘Flo-ren-si-o.’ Not ‘Pen-sil-dick.’ You weren’t even close.”

“McCormack!” Ol’ Chumbucket admonished, “You ungrateful bastard! We even worked in a meat-head puppet show and still – the rescue wasn’t good enough?”

“Don’t get me wrong!” the big man said defensively, “I enjoyed the severed-head puppet show very much – I’m just saying that the hand-cannon was a bit of overkill.”

“All right!” Cap’n Slappy said with determination, “We’ll post-mortem the rescue later, suffice it to say, The Bawdy Boys know we’re here and we’ve made them uncomfortable.”

“I don’t know about you fellas,” Dogwatch started with his head puppet pretending to speak for it, “But I’m perfectly comfortable.”

“Me too!” Keeling followed suit with his puppet. “I mean, it’s unseasonably warm, but what can you do about that?”

“I say! You chaps are dead sexy! I wanna kiss yer sweet gobs!” Wellington’s puppet chimed in as the three pushed their puppet heads together in what could only be described a macabre orgy of disembodied man-head-love.

In an uncharacteristic moment of levity, George began laughing hysterically. When he realized he was getting the stink-eye from Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket he defended the laughter – “It wouldn’t be nearly so funny if they hadn’t tried to kill us.”

This was a point that everyone could agree on.

“Alright children! Recess is over! Let’s get back to the ship – if the Bawdy Boys want us, let them come try us on the water!” Cap’n Slappy commanded and with that, the Meat Head Puppet Show was over.

“It appears that there is treachery in Maracaibo.” Don Taco mused as he spoke with Slappy on their way to the dock. “I must stay and see that they do not get a foothold here.”

As he spoke, a young boy of the village played his guitar in the shade of a shop awning nearby.

“For wherever there is injustice – I must fight for justice! Wherever there is cruelty, I must fight for niceness! Wherever there is some mean guy beating up some good guy who is smaller than the mean guy, I must fight the mean guy!” Don Taco was really building up a good speech when he noticed that the boy with the guitar captured the mood of his speech perfectly in music.

Ol’ Chumbucket pulled a bag of doubloons from his belt and handed it to Don Taco. He gestured toward the young boy and said, “His first month’s salary is on me.”

Don Taco and Cap’n Slappy smiled at Ol’ Chumbucket’s generous gesture. Don Taco vigorously shook their hands – especially Ol’ Chumbucket’s as he said, “You shall be known as Maracaibo’s first patron of the arts!”

Ol’ Chumbucket looked around at the dusty, dry village within the fort and said, without irony, “Great.”

Within minutes, The Festering Boil pulled out of the harbor and was headed south – across the lake toward Gibraltar.

Thursday, February 23, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 128

Florencio Porras, adjutant and administrative assistant to his Excellency Don Taco, governor of Maracaibo and viceroy of his majesty, the king of Spain, signed his name to another document and returned his quill pen to the holder, taking care that the plume extended precisely 45 degrees diagonally from the grid his mind’s eye could see clearly transecting the writing surface. He picked up the document, a report on the month’s consumption of wine by the palace guard, and placed it carefully in the tidy stack on the left corner of his immaculate desk. Then with equal care he took another document from the stack on the right and placed it precisely in front of him. “A report on the coffee trade through Maracaibo and surrounding ports for the previous six months,” he read. Excellent.

A faintly disagreeable aroma wafted in from the window, disturbing his studious concentration on the report. Damn and vexation!. There was so much to do, so many documents to read and sign. How could he be expected to concentrate with such petty annoyances? He pushed his chair back precisely 12 inches, stood, and walked the eight paces from his desk to the window, which he closed firmly. He took his handkerchief, as always scented with menthol to guard against the offensive odors which often seemed to present themselves in this humid, stifling city. He breathed in, breathed out. The familiar, antiseptic smell calmed him as it always did. Eight paces and 12 inches later he was back at his desk, losing himself in the romance of carefully calculated columns of numbers. His eyes scanned the neat parade of figures, and he frowned once as he noticed an error in the arithmetic. Reaching for his pen, he quickly corrected the figure before replacing his pen, again at a precise angle so that his desk was as neatly ordered as a palace changing of the guard.

A noise from the antechamber drew his attention. What was this? Was he not to be allowed to get about his official business? He stood, and drawing himself to his full 5-foot, 2-inch stature, marched the 14 paces to the door.

He only managed 13 of them. The door burst open, sending Florencio Porras flying backwards at least six of those paces where he landed in a crumpled heap. Above him stood Cementhands McCormack. On any day the pirate was an imposing figure. Angry, he could fill a room, even one as palatial as the adjutant’s office. Now Cementhands was angry enough that he actually seemed to fill both this room and a couple of adjacent ones. He reached down with one ham-sized fist and grabbed the target of his wrath by the frilly lapels of his coat and raised him to eye level, which left the dapper little man’s feet dangling more than a foot above the floor.

“Who paid you?” McCormack bellowed.

“Mpphhgh!” Florencio said, his eyes wide with terror.

“I said who paid you?” Cementhands asked again, his grip tightening on the lapels.

“Mpphhgh!” the governor’s aide repeated, adding, “Rrrggglikkk flurrrddlt!!!!!” by way of further explanation.

“Don’t give me any of that double talk! Now I’m gonna ask you one more time, who paid you?” McCormack drew back a fist the size of Portugal for further emphasis.

Blood was spurting from Florencio’s nose, which had born the brunt of the door. Fortunately, his coat and vest were a bright magenta, so they might be salvageable. Florencio was pretty sure his face wouldn’t be, so he repeated, ““Mpphhgh!”

“I don’t think he can breathe,” came a voice from the doorway, arresting his fist just before McCormack could launch it at the little man. “That might explain why he’s not answering your question. I’d suggest letting go of him.”

McCormack did so, and the bureaucrat dropped to the floor like a gunnysack of unrelated kitchen utensils. McCormack turned around to see Don Taco, who was calmly waving away a squad of solders who seemed just as happy not to have to try restraining the angry giant.

“So, before we repeat the question of who besides me is paying my little friend here, perhaps you could explain to me what it is you think he’s been paid for and why it was necessary to rearrange his face. And perhaps that will give him time to find his voice.”

McCormack looked from the governor to his aide, then back to the governor.

“It’s about a snake,” he said.

“A snake.”

McCormack took a deep breath, which coincidentally was exactly what Florencio was trying to do. McCormack noticed the little man trying to crawl towards the relative safety of his desk, so he moved his foot slightly, pinning the man’s ankle to the tiles. Florencio whimpered. McCormack paid no attention to him, turning back to the governor and explaining about his breakfast meeting with the snake, which had nearly struck Sawbones Burgess, and how he had dispatched the serpent with his cutlery.

“Very resourceful,” Taco commended him. “You’re quite right, the cobra does not belong here. Believe it or not, the surrounding jungles have even more amazing reptile life than any you’ve yet found in your travels.”

McCormack tried to interrupt and bring the discussion back to the issue at hand – or foot in this case – but Taco was on a roll.

“I have seen – with my own eyes I have seen! – a snakeskin that was fully 18 feet long and would have covered a snake as big around as your …” Taco eyed McCormack, then shifted gears, “as big around as my own thigh! And I have heard reports from those coming up from the jungles of Brazil, reports of beasts much larger and more deadly than that!”

McCormack had known Taco long enough not to put any credence in his stories of giant jungle snakes – 18 feet long? No way! – and waited until the tide of the governor’s enthusiastic exposition began to ebb. Finally he found an opening and threw in, “So anyway, I had seen the snake come slithering from a nearby shed – didn’t realize what it was at first – so I went to investigate. Sure enough, there was a basket there that the snake had obviously come from.”

“And what makes you think our little friend – would you mind not standing on him like that, it seems to hurt – had anything to do with this lethal beast?”

“Yes!” gasped Florencio, “Why do you come to me with this?”

“Because in the shed, there was the strong smell of menthol!”

“That … that proves nothing!” Florencio said.

“It proves you were there!”

“No!” Florencio scrabbled across the floor toward his files. “There are many shipments of menthol into the town, look!” he dug through the files. “Look, three months ago, four pounds of menthol aboard the trade galleon El Cerdo del Mar! I’m sure I can find it …”

McCormack grabbed the report and with his massive arm sent it and the carefully arranged contents of the desktop flying, reducing the adjutant to incoherent whimpering.

“It proves you were the one who set the snake loose!”

“No,” Porras protested. “No it proves nothing!”

Taco looked grave. “I’m afraid it does look bad,” he said. “Even if there are others in the city who use menthol, it certainly seems more than a coincidence that its trace was found where this slithering destroyer was released. Certainly we know of no one else who both uses the material and is close to me and my friends.”

Florencio Porras looked from Taco’s stern face to McCormack’s volcanic one. He gulped.

“You must believe me!” he whined. “I had no idea what was in the box. He just told me to take it to where your guests were dining and open it. A gift, he said, a small practical joke. When I opened the box and saw what it as – ¡Madre de cabras! – I am afraid I had to change my pantaloons! I had no idea! You must believe me!”

“WHO?” McCormack bellowed. “Who told you to deliver it?”

“It was him! It was him” Florencio shrieked.

The door closed quietly behind them.

“It pains me that things have gone this far, mi gobernador querido. It would have been much better if the snake had done its work and none were the wiser.”

McCormack and Don Taco turned. Standing there was the governor’s constant companion, Los Mariachi. But he wasn’t carrying his guitar. Instead each hand held a large dueling pistol, the flintlocks cocked, the barrels pointing at them.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006


A Pirate Tale – Part 127 "The Messenger of Maracaibo"

“‘The pleasures o’ the port!’ says he!” Cementhands McCormack chortled over his sausage, egg and cheese breakfast biscuit at a little bistro in the town square. “I’ve not had a decent drop o’ rum since we set foot in this wee watery berg!”

“Oh, the rum’s not that bad – and there are some very attractive wenches hereabouts.” Slappy retorted. “And I’ll be jiggered if this isn’t the best coffee I’ve had in years!” Slappy took another sip of his coffee – black and very hot. “Damn! That’s good coffee! And your breakfast sandwich looks like a very tasty treat indeed!”

“The cholesterol in that sandwich would drop a horse.” Sawbones Burgess observed.

“Don’t speak ill of horsies!” McCormack blurted spitting bits of sausage, egg, cheese and biscuit on his companions. “Besides, at least I know what’s going to kill me. Do you know what’s going to kill you, Doctor?”

“Your breath.” Sawbones was in a rare zone where he was shooting zingers left and right and landing every one.

“Erroneous!” McCormack declared in another shower of food particles. “Erroneous! Our good Doctor is in error … and in peril.”

Chumbucket tried to quiet the discord. “There’s no peril here Cementhands! Just calm down or you will choke on your tasty breakfast treat.”

But Cementhands would not be silenced and before anyone could stop him, he picked up a knife from the table and threw it with remarkable velocity toward the ship’s doctor. Burgess sat frozen as the knife whizzed past his chin in a downward trajectory just over Burgess’ lap – missing his thigh by only an inch or two.

Shouts of “Now see here!” and “What’s all this then!” and “Good God McCormack – did you get a bad slab of sausage there?” were instantly stifled the moment one and all could see exactly what had been the big man’s real target – an Indian cobra caught mid-strike – which now lay at Burgess’ feet with the knife plunged into its open mouth and its head pinned to the dirt. The tail of the large snake flicked violently in its death throes as it thrashed from its pivot head for a few moments and then fell as silent as the men gathered for breakfast.

McCormack was the first to move. He simply returned to the deliciousness of his breakfast sandwich as if nothing had just happened.

Slappy poked the dead snake with his boot before retrieving the knife. He wiped the blade off on his pants leg and tossed the weapon back to McCormack who caught it one-handed without looking while taking a sip of his coffee.

“Thank you, Cementhands.” Burgess said in a state of shock.

“Don’t mention it.” Cementhands replied, wiping his mouth and continuing on with his meal.

Chumbucket looked hard at the snake that Cap’n Slappy now held up to examine. “He came half way around the planet just to die here.”

“How’s that?” Slappy asked – still somewhat entranced by the violence of the morning’s events.

“That snake. It’s not native. It’s Indian.” Chumbucket replied.

“You mean …” and here Two Patch made a gesture of moving his open hand to and from his lips as he made a ‘woooo’ sound – a nasty stereotype of indigenous people’s war whoops. He was quickly whapped on the back of the head by Leftenant Keeling.

“No.” Chumbucket replied calmly now that discipline had been meted out. “Indian as in ‘from India’ Indian.”

“Well then how did it get here?” Wellington Peddicord asked.

“Maybe he swam?” Oscar thought out loud.

“Snakes don’t swim.” Gabriel said hopefully although he wasn’t too sure.

“Some do, lad. Some swim just fine.” Doc Burgess was now coming out of his near-death trance and was ready to give a science lecture.

“Cobras do not swim from India to South America.” Ol’ Chumbucket declared definitively.

“Ol’ Chumbucket is right.” Cap’n Slappy spoke up. “This one sailed.”

There was general confusion around the table – comments like, “I didn’t know snakes could navigate.” And “What? Do they sail about in little snakey boats?” and “Coo! The Cap’n’s gone loonytoons he has!” dominated the cacophony.

“My friends,” Slappy said forcefully to break through the din, “This snake was brought here by ship – to serve its masters as an assassin.”

“But why Sawbones?” Chumbucket questioned. The doctor shrugged defensively as if in protest. Chumbucket explained, “Not that he isn’t important – but why him? Why any of us?”

“I don’t know.” Slappy replied. “Dozens of people passed us by as we enjoyed a delightful breakfast and sterling conversation. Any one of them may have sent this snake on its mission. I don’t think they had a specific target in mind – they just wanted to send some sort of message.”

“Who?” Gabriel asked.

“The Bawdy Boys – or an emissary of theirs to be sure.” Slappy replied. “They wanted to deliver a message of deadly earnest and I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if this snake doesn’t have many brothers and sisters at their disposal.”

“Does.” Ol’ Chumbucket corrected.

“What?” Slappy asked.

“Does have many brothers and sisters. Or more correctly just, ‘has many brothers and sisters.” Chumbucket explained.

“What did I say?” Slappy asked.

“Doesn’t.” Chumbucket replied.

“I didn’t.” Slappy argued.

“You did.” Chumbucket stuck to his guns.

“Well, that’s wrong then, isn’t it?” Slappy conceded.

“Yes. Yes, that’s wrong. If you think there are more snakes out there, that’s wrong.” Chumbucket clarified.

“Right!” Slappy declared. “My point is we should be on the look-out for more snakes bearing deadly messages from the Bawdy Boys.”

At this point, Cementhands, who had just finished the last of his coffee, wiped his mouth on his sleeve and got up from the table and began to stride swiftly toward a shed several yards to the southwest.

“Where are you going?” Slappy demanded.

“I’m tired of waiting for more messages; I’m off to get the messenger. I’ll be back in two shakes of a snake’s tail.” His tone told his comrades that this was a mission best taken alone – so they ordered another round of coffee and waited.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 126

The remains of their dinner lay cooling on the table, congealing in grease and beginning to draw flies in impressive and disgusting numbers, as the pirates and their host pored over a chart of the region and traded notes.

Don Taco quickly confirmed that a large British warship had passed through almost two weeks earlier.

“Whatever they were doing, they have probably already done, because it would not take long to sail the length of the lake. I haven’t seen them return, and my gunners are now ready for them when they do. I also have not seen any other traffic coming north from Gibraltar, not even the fishermen, and that puzzles me.”

“We still don’t know what they were planning down there, although it seems safe to assume that they were rendezvousing with O’Shay,” Chumbucket said. “This map isn’t very detailed. What’s down there in Gibraltar?”

“Not much, from what my reports tell me,” Taco shrugged. “I haven’t been there myself yet, of course. I’ve only been here three weeks. Florencio?”

The dapper adjutant to the governor snapped to attention, delighted to display his usefulness.

“Not much there, I’m afraid. It’s mostly a collecting point, a gateway to the interior where trade and tribute are gathered for shipment back to Spain. The town has more warehouses than people, and no opera houses, of course. The population – mostly laborers – fluctuates wildly depending on how close we are to the arrival of the treasure fleet.”

“Is the fleet in?” Slappy asked, drawing a chuckle from Don Taco.

“No, no, my friend, no treasure-filled galleons for you today.”

“It’s not that,” Slappy said. “Well, not completely that. I’m just trying to figure out what’s down there that’s so all-fired important to the Bawdy Boys.”

“Well, I guess I won’t be giving away too much information to tell you that the fleet sailed some six weeks ago,” Taco said carefully, balancing his responsibilities as royal governor with his inclinations as a recent pirate. “And there shouldn’t be much left in the warehouses. So if they were hoping for a major haul, they’ve been very much disappointed.”

“This doesn’t make sense then,” Chumbucket complained. “They have two ships that between them have enough firepower to handle anything the Spanish has in the Caribbean. Why do they need it if there’s nothing down there?”

“Is there nothing down there, or is there something that seems like nothing because we do not know what it is and therefore think it‘s nothing when it’s really something, or maybe even some THINGS,” Taco asked, raising one eyebrow to indicate how deeply he had thought and how subtle a point it was. “After all, there are many kids of somethings, and some of these may even be nothings but that doesn’t they’re not something.”

The pirates, Florencio and even Los Mariachi stopped and stared at the governor for almost a full minute as he beamed at them with pride. Finally, Sawbones Burgess broke the silence.

“What the fuck?”

“I was just saying,” said the governor, “that somethings … “

“Stop!” said Slappy. “We heard it and I’m sure it’s fascinating but it’s also totally beside the point.”

“No, actually it kind of makes sense,” Leftenant Keeling said. “See, we know they went down there but we don’t know why, so while it LOOKS like nothing to us, they’re there so it evidently must be something.”

“Si, my handsome young friend,” Taco beamed with a pride that couldn’t have been more complete had it been his own son supplying the answer (which was actually possible since Taco was some 18 years older than Keeling, and he got around a lot, but let’s not even entertain the thought for now.)

“But what the hell is the point?” George the Greek grumbled.

“The point is that we know they went down there for something but we don’t know what, so it’s not nothing or even no thing. It might even be several things,” Taco explained.

Slappy saw that Burgess was about to re-enter the fray, and slammed his large fist on the table to forestall further conversation.

“Look, how’s this for a point? We’ll go down there and see what the hell they’re up to.”

“Excellent my friend,” said Taco. “We join forces once again!”

“What? You’re coming with us,” Chumbucket asked with dismay. They had only gotten rid of Taco and his nonstop conversation a couple of months ago and he had been enjoying the peace and quiet, even punctuated as it was by cannon fire from time to time.

“Better than that!” Taco said. “As royal governor and viceroy I have a fleet at my command.”

“A fleet? Excellent,” said Slappy, who enjoyed the idea of overwhelming superiority as much as the next man. “How soon can they be ready to sail?”

“Eighteen months,” said Taco.

“A year and a half?”

“Si. That is for the flagship. We laid the keel the day after I arrived and she should be ready to sail within 18 months. Maybe a little sooner if we pay for a lot of overtime, but I’m the governor now and really can’t bust the budget like in my pirate days.” Taco looked a little sheepish.

“How many actual ships afloat do you have that could leave right away?”

Taco’s eyes narrowed as he did the mental calculations, reviewing the status of each ship under his command, then turned back to Slappy.


“So we’re still talking about us going down there by ourselves to check things out.”

Chumbucket raised a finger of caution. “Which I’d suggest we do rather quietly, because between the two ships we KNOW they have, they outgun us almost five to one. I’m not saying we shouldn’t go, obviously we should. But we shouldn’t just storm in and start shooting.”

Sappy was about to reassure Chumbucket that he wouldn’t throw his weight around needlessly, not without doing some reconnoitering first, but he was broken off by a small cough. Florencio cleared his throat.

“Your most excellent highness, might I mention that there is one ship in harbor that you could take, a trim seaworthy craft that mounts 18 cannon and six swivel guns. It’s no match for the ships of your foes, but it would certainly help. And I’m sure the owner would be happy to let you borrow it in return for valuable favors.”

Taco grinned and winked conspiratorially at Slappy. “That’s the best part of this job. I get to give out valuable favors. Well, the second best art, after my beloved.”

Turning to his adjutant, he asked, “And who is the owner of this fine ship?”

Florencio looked at his shoes with a becoming touch of embarrassment as he said, “I do.”


“Yes your excellency. My personal yacht. I would be happy to put it to your service.”

“Excellent my fine fellow! Then you will sail with us to investigate these miscreants and help me rescue by beautiful Isabella, the love of my hart, the apple of my – how you say? – eye?”

“Oh no sir, I have not the desire to sail into danger. But I’d happily supply my ship for you to do so.”

“Florencio! You are too good to me!” Taco said, striding over to the diminutive aide and planting a kiss on both his cheeks as Los Mariachi strummed a heroic tune. “What can I do to reward you for this sacrifice?”

“Oh, it is only a little thing, your excellency. Just name me temporary governor in your absence, and if you’d be so good as to sign this order appointing me viceroy for life in the case of your tragic and untimely demise.”

“Oh, Florencio, what a good man you are! Thinking only of the needs of my people who will be desolated should they lose their leader! And happily I will do those things. But fear not, for I do not doubt for a moment that, with my able comrades from the Festering Boil, we will quickly destroy these vermin.”

“Excuse me,” Chumbucket corrected. “I think you mean quickly see what these vermin are up to and, if the situation allows, take steps to destroy those vermin, if it is within our powers to do safely.”

“Yes, precisely what I meant although my way was certainly more flamboyant.”

“Precisely my point,” Chumbucket said. “Style is nice. Living is better.”

Don Taco drew his sword and raised it into the air, bidding them to do the same.”

“Gentlemen! Tomorrow we sail off to meet our destiny!’

“Actually, sir, in two days,” Florencio suggested. “The ship needs to be spruced up, the crew recalled from shore leave, supplies laid in, and there’s a matter of this paperwork for you to take care of.”

“Yes” Taco said, undeterred. “Gentlemen! In two days we sail to meet our destiny. In the meantime, I offer you the pleasures of the port!”

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