Friday, March 31, 2006


A Pirate Tale – Part 143 “The Show Must. Must It?”

Cap’n Slappy stuffed himself into the tux he had rented from “Senor Jesus’ Casa de las Ropas de Lujo Para los Hombres Grandes.”

“Voor de liefde van de bakkebaarden van Molly!” Slappy growled as he tried to button his pants.

“Easy there, big fella!” Ol’ Chumbucket said smiling. “You’re gonna burst a blood vessel before you get those britches buttoned!”

“Senor Jesus just does not know how to outfit the portly gentleman.” Slappy huffed to himself. “I knew we were in trouble when he stapled two measuring tapes together to determine my waist size.”

Chumbucket said nothing – just sort of glanced up at the ceiling of Slappy’s cabin. He looked absolutely resplendent in his top hat and tails – his body type lent itself nicely to fancy dress.

Slappy ranted on. “And why in the name of Neptune’s Pajamas do I have to wear this monkey suit in the first place!?”

Stumpet, who had been sitting quietly on Slappy’s sea-chest squawked angrily at the phrase, “monkey suit.”

“It’s a figure o’ speech, darlin’! It’s not made out o’ monkeys!” Slappy snarked as if he was condescending to one of his many ex-wives.

“You know – an evening on the town will do you good.” Ol’ Chumbucket said as he twirled his cane in his left hand. “I’m beginning to think that you and that monkey need to spend some time apart.”

Slappy inhaled an enormous amount of air and sucked in his stomach – finally buttoning his trousers. He exhaled violently on Chumbucket’s comment about the monkey.

“Now see here, Old Man!” Slappy began but was immediately cut off by his friend.

“I’m just saying – a nice, civilized evening on the town – dressed to the teeth instead of armed to them may have an influential effect on the wenches – if ye get my drift?”

Slappy moved to his tiny mirror where he fumbled with his bow tie. “So, you’re saying I should leave the monkey on board tonight?”

Chumbucket replied, “It is customary for theatrical performances to be relatively ‘primate free’ unless you include the ‘concept art’ that comes from French Canadian acrobat troupes in the realm of theatrical performances.”
“I do not!” Cap’n Slappy asserted. After a moment in which he seemed to be lost in thought he asked, “This isn’t going to be one o’ those pouf-da shows like the French Canadian acrobat group – ‘Cirque du Swishybritches’?”

“Um. No. I think not.” Ol’ Chumbucket replied with a minimum of thought.

“Not that there’s anything the matter with the fancy lads.” Slappy was quick to add.

“Of course.” Chumbucket agreed.

“Some of our best friends are …” Slappy sashayed across the floor of his cabin to illustrate what he couldn’t bring himself to say.

“Yes. Yes they are.” Chumbucket replied, hoping the subject would soon change.

“I’m just not keen on acrobats.” Slappy said thoughtfully as he went back to work on his tie.

“Of course not.” Chumbucket said accommodatingly.

“…or French Canadians.” The captain added.

“Who is?” Chumbucket shrugged.

Slappy finally finished tying his tie and when he at last struggled into his tuxedo jacket he turned to his friend and asked, “How do I look?”

Without missing a beat, Ol’ Chumbucket replied, “Like a shockingly hairy walrus who is trying to disguise himself as a penguin.” Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket had long had an agreement; if one of them was foolish enough to concern himself with his appearance and ask, “How do I look?” the other would tell the complete and unadulterated truth.

Hearing Ol’ Chumbucket’s words only as a compliment, Cap’n Slappy strode past him through the doorway as he said, “Then let’s off to the theater!”

Most of the rest of the crew was already there – decked out in formal dress and hob-knobbing with the social elite of Maracaibo. A small skeleton crew stayed aboard The Festering Boil along with Doc Burgess and his still-sleeping patient, Cementhands McCormack.

The Opera House in Maracaibo seemed out of place. It was a palace – dedicated to the performing arts with marble columns, rich red carpeting and had carved wooden doors with gold leaf inlay.

As Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket stepped through the main entrance – all eyes turned toward them and the patrons broke into applause.
“Swanky digs!” Cap’n Slappy whispered out of the side of his mouth to his friend.

Lady Isabella quickly stepped up to greet her guest of honor. “Oh, my dear captain! How delightful it is that you can be here on the evening of our world premier!”

“Thank you, Lady Isabella – as the young people are keen on saying, ‘The delight is all mine!” Slappy smiled blissfully.

Lady Isabella demurred. “I was afraid you might be a teensie weensie bit angry with me for being a naughty girl and ‘borrowing’ your poems and having them not only published but set to music. But you don’t seem angry at all.”

“That is in large part due to my current level of inebriation which holds me now in a state of Zen-like bliss.” Slappy replied smilingly.

Lady Isabella seemed confused. The old pirate didn’t appear to be drunk. She looked to Ol’ Chumbucket for confirmation, but he, too, was smiling blissfully and just sort of nodded in agreement with Slappy.

Lady Isabella disapproved of public drunkenness – but neither of them seemed to be drunk and she disapproved of public disagreeability even more, so she smiled politely. “Well, that’s just fine, then. Shall I escort you to your box? You’ll be sitting with The Governor and myself for the performance”

“The performance of what?” Slappy asked genuinely.

Lady Isabella hesitated for a moment to see if he was kidding. Finally she answered. “The concert. Do you remember we’re doing a concert of your poems and my music?” She stared at Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket who just stared back smiling. “That’s why you’re dressed up for the evening and standing in the lobby of The Opera House. Does any of this ring a bell?”

Slappy looked dumbly at her for a moment – reflecting on how beautiful she was. Then, as if waking up he blurted out – “Poems! Ah, yes! My poems about my penis!” Several nearby patrons glanced over at Cap’n Slappy as he began to ramble. “PENIS POEMS! Particularly Private! Private Pirate Penis Poems!”

As Slappy began his alliterative rambling, his anger started to grow again. Seeing this, Ol’ Chumbucket produced a flask from his jacket pocket and unscrewing the top, handed it to his friend. Slappy took a long dram from the flask and handed it back to Ol’ Chumbucket who took a swig himself before returning it to the safety of his breast pocket.

Slappy was once again, calm and relaxed. “Thank you, Lady Isabella. We’d be delighted to join you and the governor now.”

A few moments later, they were sitting in The Governors Box just above the left side of the stage.

The orchestra was warming up and paused only when the conductor, Maestro Ulf Van Loewenhoffen strode majestically to the conductors stand in the orchestra pit. The audience applauded politely.

The eight large crystal chandeliers that hung over the house were lowered and teams of house staff busily snuffed out half the candles. The audience hushed as the teams paused with half the lights extinguished. Once the audience was sufficiently quiet, the rest of the candles were put out as the orchestra struck up the overture.

Don Taco nudged Cap’n Slappy in the upper arm. “This is exciting, no?”

“No.” Slappy agreed and was quickly handed the flask again. He drank and changed his answer. “I mean, yes.”

A portly singer stepped onto the stage dressed as a pirate. He had a lovely baritone voice and sang about going to sea.

“That’s from my pre-penis writings – this wench sure did her research!” Slappy whispered to Ol’ Chumbucket who shhhushed him quickly.

The music was sweeping and heroic. Cap’n Slappy found himself smiling despite the fact that the rum was wearing off.

Then, another singer stepped on stage. He was short and stubby but followed by another singer who was much taller and broad at the shoulders. Both men wore matching costumes – pink leotards with blue lines running up and down and a mushroom like helmet of a pinkish-purpleish hue.

“Those are my penises!” Cap’n Slappy said excitedly as he nudged Ol’ Chumbucket who once again “Shushhhed” him. But thought to himself, “Penises?”

The short stubby penis sang a song about the loneliness of sailing and weeks without any attention at all. Sniffles could be heard throughout the house.

Then, in a deeper, manlier voice, the larger penis sang a song about being delivered from the celibacy of life at sea.

I’ve been from Rome to Buenos Aires to Tahiti half by chance
And I’ve pillag-ed the villages from Ulm to Calais France
But I’ve never been suspended or up-ended in a trance
Like the time I saw a woodcut of two ladies with no pants.


What a sight it almost frights me and my feelings are so torn
What a splendid revelation it’s like I have been re-born
And the greatest thing about it is it greets me every morn
I’ve a woodcut of two ladies – Oh! I love my lesbian porn!

The singer continued with a few more verses until reaching the final one.

Now for all you lads and lasses don’t you fuss and don’t you fret
All my appetites are normal and they’ve not extinguished yet
If two ladies want to have me I will surely say, “You Bet!”
And I will not disappoint them, No! I’ll leave them nice and wet!

By the last time through, the audience was singing along with the giant penis. The critic from Pirattitude Monthly called it, “One of the greatest moments in theater history!”

Throughout the evening, the stage was populated by soloists who wore costumes befitting the piece they were singing. Perhaps the most unsettling moment came when the fellow playing Cap’n Slappy’s scrotum and testicles looking like a double hunchback wrapped in burlap stepped out on stage to sing, “Scratch Me!” Unfortunately, he slipped and fell backwards onto one of the inflated balloons that served as Cap’n Slappy’s left bollock. It popped loudly on impact and every man in the house winced in pain.

When the show ended, the entire house rose in a standing ovation. Lady Isabella hugged Cap’n Slappy who now seemed genuinely enthused about the whole thing. All was forgiven.

As they walked back to the ship, Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy discussed the performance. Both were impressed.

“I have a confession to make, Bucket.” Slappy said as they walked along.

“Your penis is not a six foot four inch Spanish baritone?” Chumbucket offered.

Slappy looked at him for a moment – as if he’d read his mind. “Hell, I’d be happy if it was a five foot four inch Norwegian boy soprano.”

There was a pause. Finally they continued their walk.

“That’s more information than I needed.” Ol’ Chumbucket said.

“The truth shall set you free.” Slappy countered.

“No.” Ol’ Chumbucket replied. “No it won’t.”

For the rest of the walk, they chatted about recent trade transactions and absinthe abuse in the English Rugby League.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


A Pirate Tale 142 – "Pop!"

Cap’n Slappy slept the sleep of the dead, a deep, dreamless slumber, so exhausted was he by the previous few days' exertions. For that reason it was with a great deal of difficulty that they woke him the next morning. Without going into details, the effort involved four of the loudest, strongest members of the crew (not including Cementhands, who was so done in by his recent efforts that he actually remained unconscious for the next week,) an empty barrel, a four-pound cannon, a box of ship’s biscuit and the Boil’s goat, Lance.

“WHAT!” Slappy demanded blearily as the goat was led away and the remains of the barrel were swept up and tossed overboard.

“You said you wanted everyone up by four bells of the morning watch, and that’s what just rang,” Ol’ Chumbucket. “Actually,” he added, checking his pocket watch, “it rang 20 minutes ago and we’re approaching five bells now, but it was the best we could do with you.”

“Did I give any indication why I wanted everyone up at such an ungodly hour?” Slappy asked.

“Not so much as a clue, but I feel sure it’ll come to you eventually.”

“I probably had a reason,” Slappy said. “Probably. What’s afoot?”

“Well the rest of the crew is eating breakfast – you can’t believe it but Black Butch has been up all night getting his galley back in shape. Some people and their obsessions. And we’re getting under way.”

“Where to?”

“Don’t know. George has things well in hand and he seems to have some idea of what’s going on, so I thought it best to leave it to him. After you’ve found your galligaskins and had some coffee, we can talk to him about it.”

“My … what?” Slappy asked.

“Sorry. Pants,” Chumbucket said, by which Slappy knew the latest issue of Pirattitude Monthly must be out and Chumbucket had already committed to memory his favorite regular feature – “Toward A More Potent Piratical Vocabulary.”

A short time later, armed with a gigantic mug of coffee, Slappy found himself on the quarterdeck as he and Chumbucket compared notes with George.

“So we don’t know precisely what happened to Leech and the boys,” Slappy said. “We don’t know if they’re still alive or their bones are rotting at the base of that temple. Or, if they DID get away, whether they're still trapped in that valley somewhere. An awful lot of men appear to have found their way to their grave, but without going back and sorting through the corpses, I don’t think we’ll ever know exactly what happened.”

“Well, we do know that Leech and a handful of the Bawdy Boys survived,” George said.

“We do?” Slappy and Chumbucket said in unison.

“We do,” George attested. “We know it because we saw them, and almost got them.”

After Don Taco had explained about the missing ship, El Ladrón Travieso commanded by Juan Jimenez O’Shay, a three-ship convoy had gone out looking for him,

“We spread out as we sailed down the coast,” George explained. “Since the mutiny, the Tigershark is pretty badly under-manned. They barely have enough crew to work the ship, so we put them closest in to shore, about five miles, where they’d have less ocean to keep an eye on. Then Taco in El Castor Ocupado, 15 miles out from them, and us about 15 miles to seaward of Taco.”

The formation allowed the ships to covered about 50 miles of sea as they ran southeast, while the lookouts in the upper rigging could keep the next ship over in sight. The Boil and the Tigershark could not see each other, but both could see and be seen by El Castor.

“Just after noon the day before yesterday, we saw a signal go up on El Castor, and the ship turned inland. We of course turned in too, but we couldn’t see what they were heading for.”

“Apparently,” George continued, “El Ladron had laid up in a bay near here. Tigershark missed her because most of the men were scanning to seaward, just sailed on past without seeing her. El Ladron waited until she had passed, then came out behind and had the wind of her. O’Shay gave her a broadside that disabled the rudder and shot on past. Except that he apparently moved too soon. Taco and El Castor had come up alongside Tigershark and was helping take care of the damage when we came into view, still about five miles away. And there was El Ladron trying to work his way back into the southern part of the bay.”

“Mind you, at this point we still have no idea what was afoot or where you might be, but if O’Shay was here it was at least good odds that we were in more or less the right place. We were in a good position to cut them off, so we came down on the windward side of her and had her up on the rocks before they could come around to run or fight. The passage is pretty shoal over there. They ran out there guns but they were grounded and couldn’t bring anything to bear on us. It was fish in a barrel, we hit them with two broadsides, their flag came down and you could see their crew going over the side and scrambling for land. It was while we were rounding some of them up – no sign of O’Shay, by the way – that a cutter shot past that outcrop over there and headed out for open sea. I only caught a glimpse of them through the spyglass, but it was Leech, sure enough. I called our men back in and we got ready to chase, and we could have run them down. But that’s when McCormack showed up on the beach.”

"And thank Neptune and all the little Neptunettes that he did," Slappy said fervently.

Cementhands was in the last stages of the drug-induced delirium that had allowed him to find his way out of the Incans’ impenetrable maze. He was even less coherent than usual, but he made it clear by grunts, waving of hands and picking up Dogwatch by the throat and using him as a pointer, that they were to follow him, bringing food and water. Which led George and Sawbones into the jungle to find the missing party, but also allowed Leech and his cohort to get away.

“If I were them I’d have made straight for Caracas,” Chumbucket mused. “Once they get under the cannons of the fort there isn’t much we could do about it, and I don’t fancy our chances of the city authorities letting us just sail in and dock.”

“Not after that incident with the cheese and the commodore’s daughter two years ago,” Slappy agreed. “So what’s the plan?”

“Well, Gustafson has taken Tigershark to Barbados to pick up what crew he can and try to limp back to England …” George began.

“WHAT?” Slappy shouted for the second time that morning.

“Well, they got into trouble in the first place because they’re so badly undermanned. So he figured his first priority was to crew up a bit before he tries to take the ship home to England.”

“But the kid!” Slappy said. “Lt. Tharp! He’s still aboard with us! Toasty has to take him back. I don’t want him hanging around with us.”

“Toasty,” George observed, “is already gone.”

“Well, let’s catch up to him!

“Can’t. We have to head back to Maracaibo.”

“For the love of Uncle Zed’s truss, how come?”

“Partly to fill in Taco about what’s sitting on his doorstep.”

“And let the Spaniards wipe out one more group of natives and steal their gold? I hardly think so,” Slappy said.

“Well then to lie about what you found, because he’s getting ready to send out an expedition. But mostly we’ve got to get back because there’s to be a special concert given in your honor by none other than the lovely Lady Isabella.”

“A concert?” Slappy seemed confused. “When would I care about any music more sophisticated than a sea shanty?”

“But you have to go to this one. You’re the most honored guest.”

“I don’t get it. What’s the joke?

George grinned. “Because the music is based on the poetry Isabella found in your cabin.”

A blank look rested briefly on Slappy’s face, then was replaced by one of growing horror.

“Poetry!??!! My poetry????” he stammered. “MY PRIVATE LOG WITH MY POEMS ABOUT MY … ???!?”

Slappy turned and ran back to his cabin. His howl of anguish a moment later revealed that, yes, his private journal was indeed missing.

Chumbucket and George exchanged a laugh, then Chumbucket turned to seaward as the ship caught the wind and began moving briskly into the open waters.

“You know George, it was an amazing sight and I’m glad I went, but I’m much more glad that I’m back and survived it,” he said.

“I can imagine,” George t Greek agreed. “A whole city of gold? And two ships to carry it all away with. No wonder Leech thought this would change the balance of power between him and the Brotherhood.”

“I kind of wish I could see him right now,” Chumbucket said smiling. “He got pretty close to pulling it off, but in the end he had to run for his life with nothing more to show for it than what gold he could carry and the promise of teleportation.”

“Teleportation?” George laughed. “What a crazy bunch of nonsense. I’m sorry, did you just say ‘pop?’”

“No,” Chumbucket said. “I was about to ask if you had.”

The reason they said this is that both had clearly heard a sharp popping sound, no different than if you’d stuck your little finger in your cheek, puffed it out and made a popping noise. They turned around and there stood Queen Ahmaduitforye.

“Well, Ol’ Chumbucket, I’m happy to see you made it out of maze safely. I hate it when the king does that. Every time we get some new blood in, he’s spilling it all over the city, as if what the gods really want is a whole bunch of strangers crowding around the place. Just wanted to let you know that you can tell your friends anything you want. Our demolition crews have been hard at work and there are now NO passages into or out of the city. And by the time climbers try to get over those saw-toothed mountains ringing the city, we’ll have moved the whole thing anyway to some place even more remote.”

“So the only way out of the city now is this way.” She popped out, then popped back a second later. “Don’t worry about your enemy and his teleportation. That’s how he got out of the city, by the way, with three or his associates. But the limitations I had mentioned made it very difficult for him, and what I failed to tell him was how tiring it would be. Getting all three of his companions out along with the little bit of gold each could carry almost killed him, and it causes quite a lot of physical pain, and the farther he is from the city, the more it hurts to use the power. I’m not sure he’ll ever have the strength to do it again. So I wouldn’t too much about that.”

“Anyway, it was delightful meeting you. I might stop by to hear the concert because I love a good psalm to the penis, but after that I don’t expect you’ll be seeing me much anymore. So long, and, like you’re captain said, ‘Live long and prosper.’”


Monday, March 27, 2006


A Pirate Tale – Part 141 The Obfuscation Gambit

Cap’n Slappy had never been so happy that he had added an advanced vocabulary portion to the pre-test for employment aboard The Festering Boil as he as at that moment. It had been Ol’ Chumbucket’s idea – trying to improve the level of word usage amongst the crew – but it came in handy when surrounded by hostiles whose knowledge of the English language was that of a second language and not nearly as nuanced as an advanced native speaker.

“Ah!” Ol’ Chumbucket thought to himself, “The Obfuscation Gambit! Well played, old man!”

At the Captain’s toast, the Boilers knew exactly what to do. Black Butch and Wellington Peddicord splashed their narcotic-laced drinks into the faces of the guards standing between them and a large stained glass window – no doubt a reworking of something the missionaries had brought into the jungle to amaze and enlighten the natives – but had been reconfigured so that instead of picturing the archery death of St. Stephen, it now showed a happy Incan priest plucking the heart from an even happier-seeming missionary who was clearly under the effects of the afore-mentioned narcotic cocktail.

Realizing that young Tharp hadn’t been trained in The Obfuscation Gambit, Ol’ Chumbucket grabbed him by the scruff of his jacket and quite literally heaved him through the window. The brightly colored shards of glass crashed all around as the muted hues of the setting sun streamed into the chamber. Judging from the duration of the “Ahhh!” sound the young man made during his descent till the singular “thud” could be heard, they were a good twelve feet off the ground – and the ground sounded relatively soft. He then turned and grabbed Strumpet the Monkey who became startled by the commotion and quickly latched onto her rescuer.

Cap’n Slappy, Leftenant Keeling and Cementhands McCormack were the furthest from the window and as soon as the escape plan was announced, McCormack got, “that look,” that he gets just before he does something insane. Before Cap’n Slappy could say, “For the love of sweet baby Neptune’s itchy nipples,” McCormack tossed back the narcotic cocktail with the cheekiest of grins. Perhaps he was hoping to achieve that ever-illusive, “high” the kids are so keen on talking about or he may have been hoping to mitigate the physical agony they would be facing if they failed in their escape attempt – no one knew – and there was no time in the moment to debate his mood-altering choice.

Slappy grabbed a chair and smashed it into the nearest guard rendering him at the very least temporarily unconscious and no doubt changing the way he would pronounce words forever. Two stout wooden legs were all that remained of the chair and proved serviceable as clubs with which he managed to bludgeon his way to the window. The three other remaining pirates and the monkey had already gained egress and now only Slappy, Keeling and Cementhands remained in the palace.

Keeling reached for his whip which their captors hadn’t thought to confiscate – much to what would soon be their regret. He snapped his way toward the window holding off a full scale assault by the guards. Slappy quickly ordered him out the window and he was gone.

After slugging down his drink, Cementhands face shifted quickly from “that look” to “Berserker McCormack.” This was no end of relief for Cap’n Slappy who was now fending off four attackers in front of the window and calling for his friend to join in the fray. McCormack sized up the opposition and although he was sorely disappointed that their cutlery had been cleared away after the dessert course he did have a stout jewel-encrusted solid gold goblet in his hand – and he’d defeated larger armies with less.

In a moment, he had joined Cap’n Slappy at the window and the two of them managed to defeat all of the guards who had surrounded the table during their dinner. Slappy noted that it looked all too easy for the big man as he moved as if he were enrapt in a grand ballet of death and serious injury. He twirled and leapt and with a fluid motion brought the goblet down hard on his opponents’ heads. At one point, Slappy just stood back and watched in amazement – entranced and horrified by the beauty of the violence. “Oh, this is going on his resume’ for sure!” The Cap’n thought to himself.

The whirling stopped and scattered about the scene were the mangled bodies of would-be guards. The King and his entourage were stupefied by the sheer unlikeliness of the scene they were witnessing. However, their countenance lifted when the doors flung open and hundreds more guards began streaming into the cavernous chamber. Below, Slappy could hear his men calling up to them – “C’mon! Let’s go! Hurry!” As the army approached, Slappy offered a polite suggestion to his giant friend.

“What say we go get some rum?”

McCormack was perfectly ready for the fight – but he was now in a highly suggestible state.

“Rum. Rum rummy-rum-rum-rummmmmmm. Yummmmmm. Rummmmm.”

McCormack seemed to be channeling a voice from somewhere else. He turned and headed toward the window. As soon as Slappy saw that he was coming, he made his leap and landed, face first, into the spongy lawn below. He realized that McCormack would be landing in the same spot, so he quickly rolled to his right as far as he could – which wasn’t more than a few feet as he was stopped by in impenetrable hedge.

Sure enough, a moment after Slappy splatted on the grass, McCormack launched himself from the window above. But instead of the ignoble “spread eagle” landing of the captain, he performed a perfect summersault in mid-air and, cat-like, landed on his feet which happened to be running even as they touched down.

There was no time for discussion, in order to keep the team together, they would have to immediately follow the big man as he ran through what turned out to be a thick, sprawling maze of hedges. Slappy managed to get himself up to his feet and running. They put a great distance between themselves and the Golden Palace in a matter of seconds.

In the chamber, Lord Kepenionye ordered the guards to give chase – but they only took orders from Kevin – who gave his boss a disbelieving glance.
“Now, let me get this straight – you want my men to chase after the most dangerous man we’ve ever seen in a maze known only as, “The Inescapable Maze of Despair, Atrophy, Insanity and Death” which was given that name because that is the order of agony that ends in demise for anyone who enters its garden-like confines?”

Lord Kepenionye reflected on this question for a moment. “Yes.”

“No!” King Wahchuwannadu overruled. All eyes turned to the king who thought for a moment. “I mean, seriously – what’s the point of having an ‘Inescapable Maze of Despair, Atrophy, Insanity and Death,’ if you never use it?”

Meanwhile, in The Inescapable Maze of Despair, Atrophy, Insanity and Death, our heroes had slowed from a sprint to a quick march. McCormack was focused and energetic – more than anyone had ever seen in him in the past. He also became chatty. “Did I ever tell you guys about the time I worked as a tennis coach at an all-girl school in Italy?”

He hadn’t, but he had their undivided attention for the next three hours as he guided them deeper and deeper into the maze.

The night fell, but even the darkness didn’t slow down their talkative guide. Finally, at the point of collapse, the others forced McCormack to stop and give them a break. Reluctantly, they made camp for the remainder of the night.

“I would worry about them coming after us,” Ol’ Chumbucket yawned as he stretched out on the grass, “but I’m so exhausted I think I would gladly offer up my heart for the gouging at this point rather than take another step.”

“Amen to that.” Black Butch confirmed.

Cap’n Slappy and Strumpet were already fast asleep – as was Wellington Peddicord.

Cementhands McCormack was indefatigable and paced back and forth – keeping watch while the others slept.

As the sun came up – McCormack was eager to be on the move again. He was now sweeping the bowl of his goblet with his finger and sucking it – rubbing it on his teeth.

“Hot Diggity Dog! Another day! Anyone up for a gallop?” Cementhands greeted his weary friends as they awoke.

In the absence of breakfast, they moved onward. The narrow hedges – too tall by far to gain any view over provided no hint and plenty of choices. Where one would stop and think, “Should we go right or left?” McCormack made sure decisions – even when logic seemed dead set against them.

“We’ve just made four right turns – that can’t be right!” Ol’ Chumbucket protested once to Cementhands.

“It’s right – four times!” the big man replied and strode ahead.

Two more days passed and as the sun set again, despair began to overwhelm the party – all, except McCormack who insisted they were very close and should not give up just yet!

“We’re almost there! Just a few hundred more yards!” Still giddy from the intoxicant – he was ready to go even as the others were ready to die.

“Not another step.” Slappy pleaded. “So hungry …” he trailed off as he began to fall asleep.

“We need food.” Chumbucket yawned – and the only source of water we’ve had since we entered this maze is whatever dew we could lick off the leaves.

“Perhaps this starvation will reduce the size of Cap’n Slappy’s man-boobs.” Black Butch murmured in half delirium.

“They’re only partially atrophied male pectorals and they’re ready to go at a moment’s notice!” Slappy shot back as he swooned.

“Where the hell did you get that?” Chumbucket chided.

“It was a line from a play I saw about contestants on a Japanese game show.” Slappy slurred as he fell asleep.

“What’s a ‘game show?’” Keeling asked.

Hearing no response – he, too fell asleep.

The sun was already high in the sky when they awoke the next morning.

“I give up!” Black Butch declared as he awoke from a dream where they were safely aboard The Festering Boil. “I don’t have the strength to move. My muscles have all gone slack.”

“And just have a look at our friend, Wellington.” Chumbucket whispered to Cap’n Slappy.

Wellington Peddicord was having a rather intense conversation with the hedge arguing the finer points of literary criticism.

“Where’s Cementhands?” Keeling looked up – the big man was no where to be seen.

The disappearance of Cementhands McCormack was a cause for concern and a source of panic for the remainder of the party. The sureness with which he navigated the maze was the only thing that gave the group any hope – if he was gone, they knew they would die.

“I believe we are in the throes of insanity.” Slappy whispered to Keeling and Ol’ Chumbucket.

“Why’s that, Mr. Kangaroo?” Keeling replied.

Ol’ Chumbucket gave him a sideways glance. “That’s Lord Kangaroo to you, Missy!”

“Stop it! Both of you! You can both just call me ‘Kanga.’ But that’s not important right now – I seem to be having a hallucination.” Cap’n Slappy continued. “Say ‘hello’ to our friend Cementhands McCormack, Doc Burgess and George the Greek.”

As he spoke, those real people – not a hallucination, but the real – honest to Poseidon people rounded the corner in the hedge maze carrying with them sacks of food and wineskins of water.

“Is it a picnic, then?” Ol’ Chumbucket asked wearily.

“Aye! A picnic it is!” George declared with joy. “Don’t ask us how we found you – we didn’t. Cementhands found us. He had us bring food, water and the sturdiest stretcher we could find.”

After a quick meal and refreshing water – they were up and moving. Sure enough, the exit from “The Inescapable Maze of Despair, Atrophy, Insanity and Death” was scant yards away. Outside the gate was a gift shop. The team purchased several, “I Survived The Inescapable Maze of Despair, Atrophy, Insanity and Death” T-shirts and Cap’n Slappy bought a spoon for his collection.

As they exited the gift shop, Cementhands McCormack asked the stretcher-bearers to set it on the ground. They did. He then laid himself down on the stretcher and said, “Don’t wake me up for a few days.” With that, he fell fast asleep still clutching his precious golden goblet.

Before evening, they were all back aboard The Festering Boil and never happier to be there than now.
“Much has happened,” George explained to Slappy – but I can begin explaining all that in the morning.

Slappy agreed and went to his cabin. “Oh!” he thought to himself. “In the morning, I shall write an epic poem about our adventure in the Lost City of Gold – but for tonight – just sleep.”

Friday, March 24, 2006


A Pirate Tale 140: The Far Door

Ol’ Chumbucket sighed. It was a deep sigh, a sigh from the very bottom of his soul.

“What’s the matter?” Cap’n Slappy asked, turning to his friend.

“Just once couldn’t we go to a lost ancient city and have it turn out to be just a lost ancient city? Just once?”

“We play the cards we’re dealt,” Slappy said.

“I know, I know,” Chumbucket conceded. He sighed again. “Teleportation? Jeez! It might as well have been a fucking time machine. What’s the difference?”

Slappy’s stern visage masked the fun he was having at his partner’s expense.

“So it might not have been just you expected when we came out of the tunnel, but here we are, so let’s try to make the best of it. At least they’re giving us dinner. We left most of our supplies on the other side of the waterfall, that’s something to be thankful for.”

The five pirates and one English officer had been given a room where they could prepare for the banquet. It was about halfway up the temple, with a balcony looking out over the golden city. Flanking the balcony on either side were statues of a local female deity, both made of gold – naturally – and their eyes were matched sets of dilithium crystals, their hands upraised, palm out, as they formed a V between their middle and ring fingers.

“You know, it seems like there’s something they weren’t telling us, maybe a lot,” Ol’ Chumbucket mused.

Slappy looked puzzled. “Like what?”

“Well, they said we ‘missed’ the Bawdy Boys, but where did they go? There’s not exactly a highway offramp. If Cementhands hadn’t fallen in the right place, we’d probably be heading back to Gibraltar by now. I figure they have one, maybe two other secret entrances to this valley that we don’t know about. We need to find ‘em.”

“Alright, that’d be a good start,” Slappy said. “What else?”

“Well, this teleportation business. What’s that? Have you seen any sign that these people have anything like that power? Or ANY magic?”

“Well the queen said she gave it to ‘em, and she certainly seemed all witchy.”

“Yes, but remember that one of the biggest exports from this area is coca leaves. Chewing on those will give you quite a buzz. All I’m saying is, I reserve judgment.”

”Seriously,” Chumbucket continued, “how much sense does it make that Leech and his pals went to all the trouble of suborning a British man o’war, setting booby traps all over the Caribbean, pounding Gibraltar into dust, and leading a party of mutineers through the jungle, if he was after was some kind of mystical power? He could have done that with a couple of guys and a rowboat. He must have expected he’d need all those other hands to carry a lot of something out. And they expect us to believe that he took the ‘gift’ and walked out of a valley with enough gold in it to buy the British Navy?”

Slappy looked nonplussed. “You’re no fun at all,” he objected. “It was cool.”

“Well, maybe that’s exactly what happened, but I’m not buying it until I have to.”

On the balcony, Tharp sat, still in shock at learning he was related to the pirate he had expressed contempt for. If Slappy was his uncle, then anything was possible. And that meant that that sailor on the Festering Boil, the one who looked so much like him, might …

No, some thoughts were best left unvoiced.

His reverie was broken by the return of Leftenant Keeling and Black Butch. The Boil’s chef had wanted to tour the kitchen where the banquet was being prepared.

“This is going to be something,” said Butch, who had worked in Europe’s best kitchens and had his own five-star restaurant in Port Royal before joining the Boil. “The goat is fresh and tender, the fish caught not 10 minutes ago. They use stone knives, but they still have an edge on them that lets them slice meat as thin as parchment. And it’s all cooked by chefs who have no reference to our own cuisine. They cook by their own rules with their own flavorings. It’ll be very different.”

Very different, and very good. The meal was everything Butch had promised, strange, delicious and intoxicating with new smells and tastes. The six visitors, with Strumpet the monkey on Slappy’s shoulder, were placed at a special table, just a step below the royal table. The king was there and the queen, still looking pale and woozy. She barely smiled, hardly touched her food. Each of Slappy’s party was assisted by an attendant, a muscular man carrying one the stone knives and used it to help prepare the meal for the pirates, slicing meat and other delicacies in a blur of blades.

The banquet was held in the lowest hall of the golden temple. The vast room was an airy space, with wide-open windows, the weight of the edifice resting on slender pillars. The effect was as if the entire pyramid, which must have weighed thousands of tons, was almost floating just over their heads.

It was Butch’s well-trained nose that first detected the trouble. As the plates from the last course were cleared away, an urn was brought in and goblets were poured from it and placed before the guests of honor. Butch waved his goblet under his educated nose, gave a start, then inhaled the aroma more deeply. Looking sharply across the table, he gave a short hand gesture and the smallest shake of his head. All six goblets were place back on the table.

Stalling until he could get more information, Slappy rose to make a speech.

“Thank you my friends. Your hospitality has been spectacular, and I know we’ll start out on tomorrow’s journey with great energy.” The royal court and temple priests smiled at this remark.

“Before we depart I want to bless you with the words of one far wiser than me: Live long and prosper!” At this, several of the Incans smiled and copied the hand gesture of the statue of the goddess, the V made with middle and ring finger.

“In our travels we have received many honors, but none as lavish as this, although a few scantily clad dancing girls might have been a nice touch but please don’t take that as a criticism. Trust me, wherever we go we will pass on tales of our wonderful hosts in the Lost City of the Incas.”

That should have been an applause line, but instead there was an angry murmur. The king rose, silencing Slappy.

“You know, there may be a problem with translation here,” he said. “You keep referring to this as a LOST city, but it’s really our hidden city. C’mon! We didn’t just wander off and forget how to get back to Peru. After the Spanish wiped out our empire, we came here on purpose and hid our city in the hopes of remaining forever out of the eyes of Europeans. It’s hard to get in here and harder to get out of. So when you say you’ll talk about us everywhere, well, that confirms for me the wisdom of our law – Anyone who enters this valley will stay in this valley. Forever.”

The pronouncement took the guests by surprise. Even Strumpet the monkey stopped her chattering. At the royal dais, the queens’ face went even paler and her goblet cattered to the floor.

“What if we promise to never tell anyone?” Cementhands asked.

The king waved his hand. “Oh, you need not worry. You were made an honorary member. You can tell anyone you want, because you will not be leaving.”

Chumbucket suddenly shot to his feet.

“Wait a second. You told us the group we’d been following, the ones you gave ‘teleportation,’ had already left. How come they got to go but we don’t?”

“Ah, yes, I see, another problem with translation, I think,” the king said in embarrassment. “They have left. They were teleported away. The word teleport in your language comes from two Greek words – tele, which means far or distant, and port, for door. We showed them to the far door, just as tomorrow morning, we will do the same for you.”

The queen was shaking her head violently now and moaning, but the king ignored her other than to signal to two of the hulking attendants, who lifted her litter chair and carried her out.

“Teleport? You’re going to teleport us? Just what the hell does that mean? And what was all that business about 10 mile limits?” Chumbucket asked.

“Oh, it’s very simple. At the end of the meal – and please drink your goblets down to the bottom, sometimes the narcotic that will make this less terrifying for you doesn’t mix as well as it should – you will be taken to the chamber at the top of this temple. As the sun rises, our high priest will cut out your hearts and teleport you to the bottom of the temple. From there, your spirits will fly to the ‘far door,’ or as you say, the tele port, where you will commune with our gods. As to the 10 mile limit the queen mentioned, that was a little joke. As you may have noticed” (and indeed it was mentioned in Chapter 138, your author points out) “this valley is 10 miles on a side. That was the queen’s way of saying ‘ain’t nobody leavin’ here, even as a ghost.’”

“Wait,” Slappy said. You said the other group already got this ‘honor?’”

“Yes,” the king said. “They drank up before all the talk started, they got nice and stoned, took it all in stride. They had fun with it. Now, c’mon, drink up! Chin-chin!”

“So they’re all dead?”

“I think so. I mean to tell ya the truth I didn’t count. There were a lot of them and it took a while for everyone to get teleported, and we’d all been drinking. But it sure is big a heap o’bones down there at the bottom of the temple. I’ll tell you, I didn’t much like those guys. Seems like they never took their eyes off our gold, and the missus just hated them, said they had the blackest hearts she’d ever seen. That was one of the reasons we wanted to cut ‘em open, to see if they really were black. THAT was disappointing. They looked like normal, cut-out hearts to me, but what do I know? Still, in all the excitement and drinking and cocoa leaf chewing, we sort of lost track. If any of ‘em are left, they’ll never find their way out of the valley and we’ll teleport ‘em all eventually. But why ask me? You’ll be seeing them yourselves in just a few hours and you can take a head count then. But we’ve really got to get going now because it’s a long walk to the top of the temple and we’ve got to get started right as the sun is coming up or it messes up the gods. Trust me, you don’t want to get to the far door and have the gods waiting around, looking at their watches and making small talk just because you’re late. Drink up, guys.”

“But we’re not ready to go,” Slappy protested.

“Well, get ready, because you’re GOING!” the king said, clapping his hands. The attendants standing behind each of the guests of honor drew their stone knives and took a step toward the sailors.

Slappy gave a look to each of his comrades, picked up his glass, and signaled them all to stand.

“Very well. Lads, raise your glasses.” Six goblets were raised sky. “Gentlemen,” Slappy said, eyeing the window. “Time to defenestrate!”

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


A Pirate Tale – part 139 “The Gauntlet of Taunting!”

As the landing party was lead through a thick tunnel in the jungle foliage Cap’n Slappy turned to Ol’ Chumbucket and said, “I swear by Great Neptune’s Bollocks if there’s a time machine in here I’m going to take hostages.” He was quickly “shhhshed” by his friend.

“Welcome to our humble home.” The leader of the natives announced as they emerged from the tunnel into a city made of precious metals and stones – primarily gold! As they marched into the center of town toward The Golden Palace next to The Golden Temple just beyond The Golden Park with the suspicious-looking Golden Reflecting Pool, they couldn’t help but take notice of the architecture.

“Italianate, I think – judging from the shape of the flying buttresses.” Cap’n Slappy, who knew nothing of architecture but knew how to fake knowing things unless he was in the presence of someone who actually did, said with a knowing wave of his hand.

“Actually,” the leader of the natives spoke up, “our architectural influences would best be described as ‘Spania-Gothic with just a hint of Egyptian mysticism.’”

“Is he making this up?” Slappy whispered to Ol’ Chumbucket who rolled his eyes and shrugged his shoulders.

“El Dorado.” Butch whispered in amazement as he took in the beauty of the town.

The party was brought to an abrupt halt by their escorts.

“Alright.” The leader spoke again, this time rather sternly. “Let’s get this clear. This is NOT ‘El Dorado’ this is ‘La Parada Tonta!’ There is more than one ‘Lost City of Gold’ in South America, you know!”

Wellington Peddicord replied, “No. We didn’t know. We are new to South American tourism. Just how many ‘Lost Cities of Gold’ are there?”

The leader’s tone now softened and he realized that his guests were not trying to be offensive, they were just ignorant. He smiled, “You are in ‘Lost City of Gold Country’ my friends! Stop by our Visitor’s Center and they’ll give you a map so you can visit all of them. You’ll find it in a golden kiosk on the northwest corner of The Golden Park. Be sure to stop by the Wachyeeten Deli and take a box lunch!”

Cementhands whispered to Ol’ Chumbucket. “Well, now we know where they get all this gold – tourism. If you ask me – the whole ‘Lost City of Gold Industry’ has gone too commercial.”

Within minutes, the party was lead into the great hall of the palace. Seated majestically on his throne was King Wahchuwannadu – an imposing figure, nearly as large as Cementhands McCormack with a rich ceremonial headdress made of peacock feathers, leopard claws and, what else, gold. At his right sat Queen Ahmaduitforye – a powerful priestess and mystic. Standing off to one side was the first man to speak.

“I am Lord Kepenionye, Minister of the Department of Homeland Security. We have followed your movements since you left Maracaibo. The men you seek have come and gone – taking with them a great mystery.”

The landing party groaned in dismay – all except Cap’n Slappy who was still amazed that this town even had a Department of Homeland Security – and said so.

Lord Kepenionye fixed his gaze on the strangers. “Who, in their right mind, would have a city made entirely of gold and NOT have a Department of Homeland Security?”

Cap’n Slappy conceded the point. “So, tell us what this mystery is that they took with them.”

“I cannot.” Kepenionye replied. “If I did, it would no longer be a ‘mystery’ now, would it?”

Slappy didn’t like his snooty tone, but under the circumstances, diplomacy was the better part of valor.

“I will tell thee.” Queen Ahmaduitforye said, although she appeared to be exhausted. “Once a year, as Priestess of the Goddess whose name cannot be pronounced but who has exquisitely protruding nipples and pouty, full lips, I am able to grant unto a pilgrim a power of his or her choosing. This can make them a very powerful person – and in the case of the priest, it has.”

The hearts of the landing crew sank.

“But before I do so, I look into the heart of the recipient and qualify the gift with certain protections. And when I looked into the priest’s heart, I was very careful to do just that.”

“What sort of ‘protections’ does your Majesty mean?” Ol’ Chumbucket asked, respectfully.

“Since I gave him the gift of teleportation as he requested, I have limited his distance to ten miles and he may only teleport himself and whatever he is wearing or lifting. Also, if he is within twelve miles of any member of our tribe, or a member of one of the affiliated tribes of the Lost Cities of Gold region, we will be able to detect his presence in time to thwart his evil deeds.” She began to swoon in her chair, but was steadied by the hand of her husband, the King, who sat by her side. She righted her body and spoke again. “His was the blackest heart into which I have ever looked. I wish I could help you, but I will lack the strength to do so for another year.”

With that said, the King signaled for two ladies in waiting to come escort the Queen to her chambers so that she could rest.

“All this and now we know that that villain can just pop up behind us and kill us without our even knowing he’s there! And there’s not a damn thing we can do about it!” Lieutenant Tharp blurted out.

“You dare not swear in the presence of the King!” Kepenionye scolded.

Chumbucket shot an angry glance at the young Lieutenant. “Apologize.”

Tharp ignored the order.

Chumbucket repeated it – urgently. “Apologize!”

Tharp stiffened his posture. “I recognize no king but England’s.”

Cap’n Slappy stepped forward and bowed deeply before King Wahchuwannadu, “Begging your Majesty’s pardon, may I have a word with this simple youth?”

“We think you should.” Was his imperial answer.

Slappy grabbed young Lieutenant Tharp by his lapel and jerked him away from the others. If the young man had even had it in his mind to offer resistance, something in his survival instinct kept him from doing so.

“Now listen here, boy.” Slappy seethed, “Your father – my brother – asked me to redeliver you to his bosom safely and with all of your parts in tact. Were it not for the fact that you are my nephew – …”

The young man began to argue, but Slappy stomped on his objection and continued on.

“…I would offer you up as a human sacrifice and dance a little happy human sacrifice dance whilst doing so. But you are my nephew and as such, I love you but if you do not apologize graciously to this king who is being more than fair with you, I will most assuredly put my foot up your arse and break it off in your bung hole. Now, I can get by just fine with half a foot – how do you think your life will be with my size eleven-wide piggies lodged inextricably in your shit-chute?”

Young Tharp was stunned – no man had ever spoken to him that way before – none, that is, except his grandfather who, even as he stared at this pirate, seemed to have been reborn as a buccaneer. Word for word, this was the exact same threat that his grandfather had made when he caught the boy mistreating the family dog.

Still in a state of shock, he moved forward and bowed before the king. “I beg your Majesty’s pardon both for my ignorance and for my arrogance.”

King Wahchuwannadu smiled and waved his hand over the whole scene as if to erase it from memory. “You are forgiven as though you have never offended.”

Cementhands McCormack was touched by the King’s sentiment. “Oh, that’s very nice.”

Chumbucket took a step forward and cleared his throat. “Pardon me, your Majesty. I realize that we are still a year away from the possibility of being granted a special power by Her Majesty, Queen … uh … well … the Queen. But it would honor us greatly and keep our enemy from sneaking up and doing us harm if we might be made citizens of your community and thus sense this false priest’s evil presence from … how far was it?”

“Twelve miles.” Lord Kepenionye replied.

“Twelve miles.” Chumbucket echoed.

The King summoned Lord Kepenionye and the leader of the group that had discovered the landing party to his throne where they discussed the request. Lord Kepenionye frowned as he gave the reply.

“My Chief of Field Operations here, Kevin, assures us that you are a good sort. But admission into the tribe comes at a very high price. If you are willing to pay it, we will make those of you who survive, full members entitled to wear the Golden Amulet of Cheesidorpryze: God of Bling.”

Slappy was still stunned by the Chief of Field Operations rather normal name. “His name is Kevin?”

“Yeah. Hey guys.” Kevin said with a shy wave of his hand.

Slappy continued, “Not Imagonnahumpya? Or Whassatfunkysmell?”

Lord Kepenionye seemed confused but unshaken. “No. Kevin’s name is ‘Kevin.’ It’s a perfectly normal Incan name.”

Slappy shook it off and returned to the business at hand. “What perils must we face in order to become members of your tribe and wear the Bling?”

As Lord Kepenionye named the peril, the flames in the torches behind him seemed to gasp with fear, “You all must run …The Gauntlet of Taunting!”

Immediately horns were blown and the landing party was gently ushered into the town square, where the townspeople stood on either side of a track that stretched nearly sixty meters. There were murmurings and whisperings until King Wahchuwannadu raised his hands and silenced the crowd.

He then called upon the people. “These men have asked to join our tribe and now willingly submit themselves to endure The Gauntlet of Taunting!” Another murmur went up from the crowd, but the King thrust his arms into the air, once again silencing them. “Save it for the taunting part!” then he continued, “They will run the sixty meters and endure your most magnificent insults and slurs without comment. And when they are finished, they will join you in taunting their fellows. Let us begin with the dark man!”

“Always picking on the Negro.” Wellington Peddicord muttered to himself as he poised himself at the starting line.

Kevin was the official starter. “Ready. Steady. Go!”

Peddicord’s feet propelled him down the track at such blazing speed, the crowd stood dumbfounded until he had nearly crossed the finish line. Finally someone yelled, “He is a very swift black man!” At the end, he turned around and repeated the swift performance back to the start of the line.

“Oh, yeah!” Peddicord cried triumphantly as he pounded his chest. “Bring on the next contestant and let the taunting begin!”

Next up was Black Butch who Peddicord taunted for being able to burn hard boiled eggs. The locals, trying to pick up the cue, said things like. “He is a man who enjoys eggs! How many eggs did you enjoy today, Man?”

Cementhands McCormack went next and simply jogged along as people commented that he was indeed a large man with a large head. “How large is your head?” One villager yelled. Another, cleverer villager made a joke about an eclipse. “Your head could block out the sun!” Cap’n Slappy silently fumed, “His head is smaller than mine – surely they will come up with better taunts for my gigantic cranium!”

Lieutenant Tharp was mercilessly chided by his mates as having a potty mouth which the villagers misunderstood completely. “There is something wrong with your mouth!” They yelled. “Perhaps you think your mouth is ill-shapen!”

“I hope I can endure this.” Ol’ Chumbucket said jokingly to Slappy just before he ran the gauntlet himself. As he stood at the starting line awaiting Kevin’s signal, he smiled at one of the pretty maidens in the line. “Oh! You are one who likes to lay with the ladies, aren’t you?” “You are a very sex man!” Someone else chided. “You want to have sex with me!” Another attractive woman mocked. Ol’ Chumbucket just about slowed down to enjoy this sort of taunting. After enduring many taunts of a severe nature during staff meetings, these good-natured people who thought they were being rude was a welcome change of pace.

Finally, Cap’n Slappy stood at the starting line with Strumpet the Monkey on his shoulder. “It’s just observations – nothing hurtful.” He told himself as he prepared to run the Gauntlet of Taunting.

“Ready. Steady. Go!” Kevin waved him on.

Cap’n Slappy was not a graceful runner and hefting his own considerable weight plus that of a moderately large monkey did not enhance either his style or his speed. “That pirate has a monkey coming out of his shoulder!” One old woman yelled. “That monkey has a fat pirate coming out of his ass!” A young man noted. “Fat!” Slappy thought as he struggled along. “Both the man and the monkey have unusually large bottoms!” A young woman taunted. “Oh, now, that wasn’t necessary. What about my very large head?” Slappy thought to himself, but refocused his attention on the finish line – half way there!

“Say, Cap’n Big-Ass! Does your monkey have a saddle?” An elderly man in a funny hat called out. “Keep going” Slappy thought. Almost there!

From the finish line he could hear a chant lead by Cementhands and Ol’ Chumbucket. “Dumb-Fuck! Dumb-Fuck! Dumb-Fuck!”

“Next Staff Meeting.” Slappy thought to himself. “Oh, there will be brave tauntings at the next staff meeting!” Finally, he crossed the line and the village let up a big cheer.

King Wahchuwannadu once again raised his hands and silenced the crowd. “That was the fiercest taunting I’ve ever heard. It is a wonder any of you survived!” Then, he lined them all up – including Strumpet the Monkey and presented them each with their very own Golden Amulet of Cheesidorpryze: God of Bling and declared that they were citizens of La Parada Tonta and entitled to all of the rights, privileges and powers bestowed including one weekend a year in their village time-share in Belize.”

“And now, to make amends for such a ruthless taunting, we must prepare you a magnificent feast and let you rest in the most comfortable beds in the city – you have much to do tomorrow, we know, but for tonight – eat, drink and sleep!”

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 138

Ol’ Chumbucket dove, following his companions. He wasn’t much of a swimmer, but he easily found the opening and forced his way in. The current from the waterfall at his back helped propel him forward and within seconds he broke the surface in a small rocky chamber. On a nearby ledge Cap’n Slappy and Lt. Tharp were still redistributing their gear. He dog paddled over to them and Slappy leaned down, reached out a hand and helped him out.

“The others have gone on ahead,” Slappy said. “There’s not room enough in here for more than a couple. You go on Tharp,” he said to the younger man. “Chumbucket and I will be along shortly.”

Tharp took his leave without so much as a word.

“Annoying, persnickety little shit,” Slappy muttered. “Just like his old man. I wish we hadn’t brought him along. Just sent him back to his daddy with the Tigershark and be done with him.”

“It’s not exactly a joyful family reunion, is it,” Chumbucket observed.

Slappy hissed at him to be quiet.

“He doesn’t know I’m his … his you-know-what, and I don’t want him to know just now, so keep yer voice down,” the pirate said. “If there comes a time were it might do some good to let him know who the black sheep of the family is, we’ll save it for then. Otherwise let his daddy take care of it.”

The two were now ready to follow up the path, which was carved out of the rock and twisted sharply uphill.

“Speaking of daddy,” Chumbucket said, “Has the boy made any mention of Dogwatch?”

“Not a word.”

“Strange, they couldn’t have missed the resemblance. They couldn’t look more alike, yet neither has said anything.”

Slappy frowned. “Well, we’ve been busy. And this one certainly doesn’t want to entertain the idea that the admiral may have spread the family tradition outside the bounds of church sanctions.”

“What about Dogwatch?” Chumbucket said. “Hasn’t he said anything?”

“I’m not sure he noticed.”

Five more minutes of climbing and the passageway leveled off, running 100 feet more or less straight before they came to the opening where McCormack had called to them less than half an hour earlier. The passage widened out into a small room where Cementhands, Tharp and Keeling waited for them. Strumpet the monkey saw Slappy and leaped from McCormack’s arms and resumed her usual spot on Slappy’s shoulder.

“There you are, and about time,” McCormack said. “Butch and Welly have gone on ahead to scout things out. Take a couple of minutes and then we’ll move out.”

Gasping for breath after the climb, Slappy eyed McCormack askance.

“And then we’ll move out? When did I die and make you captain?”

“No need to get testy,” McCormack rejoined. “Take three minutes if you need it. It’s just that when I got here I was alone, so I was senior ranking officer and therefore in command. You resume command when we set out, but until then, I think I’m still in charge.”

“You WERE ranking officer,” Slappy pointed out, “You’re not now.”

“But under the articles of the ship, the commanding officer doesn’t relinquish command unless there’s an election or we go into a new phase of operation, which will happen when we set out again. So until then, I’m still in command. Sit your ass down and catch your breath, dumbfuck.”

Slappy’s eye bulged and he opened his mouth to argue, but Chumbucket waved him down.

“Save it,” he said to the captain. “No one’s ever bested McCormack in a fair fight, an unfair fight, or an argument over the rules, and I doubt it’s going to happen today.”

“Well spoken, Mr. Bucket,” Cementhands said. “After you catch your own breath perhaps you’ll come over here and help me get my boots on.”

Five minutes later they were all back on their feet. Cementhands graciously “ceded command” back to Slappy, they checked out the corpse of a Royal Marine they’d been sharing the chamber with – he’d had his throat slit three weeks earlier and now looked “unpleasant” – then resumed climbing. The tunnel became much steeper now, and they were reduced almost to crawling on hands and knees on the slanting floor.

They arrived at the top, where they found Wellington Peddicord and Black Butch awaiting them. The tunnel broke out into a valley ringed on all sides by towering hills. They sprawled on the rock escarpment staring down into the valley below, a verdant triangle about ten miles on a side. The surrounding hills completely closed it off from the outside world.

And at its center was a city. Its streets seemed to run in geometric precision, a grid with a golden temple at its focus. The rays of the setting sun glinted off the temple, giving a tint of blood red to the gleaming monument.

“The lost city of the Incas, I presume,” Chumbucket breathed.

A sound snapped their attention back to the moment. The pirates looked down and saw a group of a dozen short, powerfully built men ascending the hill toward them.

“Cap’n?” said Leftenant Keeling, who was guarding their rear. They turned and saw another two dozen in a semi-circle above them. The natives were pointing a variety of weapons at them as they approached

“And these would be the lost Incans, I presume,” Slappy said. “Anyone know any Incan?”

No one did, so Slappy stepped forward with his arms wide, hands turned palm upward in the universal sign of “I’d rather you not kill me.” The natives stopped, but didn’t lower their weapons.

“Anyone have any thoughts on how to communicate with them?”

“You could try speaking to us,” one near the front said.

“You speak English?” Slappy gawked.

“Apparently.” He cleared his throat. “O podríamos conversar en español – Nous pourrions parler Français, bien que mon Français soit peu un incertain – Mein Deutsch ist nicht gut. I’d say we’re best if we continue in English.”

Slappy just stared. Lt. Tharp continued facing the natives, but whispered out of the corner of his mouth to Black Butch, “I can reach my pistol. If you distract them we can take out the leader and frighten the rest of them with our guns.”

Before Butch could register just how stupid an idea that was, the leader of the group turned his attention to Tharp.

“That would be foolish young man. Even if you took me out, my companions would cut you down, which would be unfortunate for you. We may appear to be superstitious savages to you, and perhaps we are, but we are not unfamiliar with your weapons,” he said, drawing his own pistol. “I’d suggest you come with us down to the city.”

Back in Maracaibo, George was hurrying toward the harbor to get the Festering Boil under way. Gustafson’s alarm had been cryptic, just the warning that the Slappy’s reconnaissance party might be facing serious peril, which certainly wasn’t surprising news under the circumstances. George didn’t know the nature of that danger, but he didn’t need to. It was enough to know there was danger.

He had caught up with Red Molly and sent her to scout out crewmembers in the nearby watering holes, and was just about to clamber up the ship’s gangway when he was halted by the sound of his name. He turned to scan the crowd on the pier, but didn’t recognize anyone.

“¡ Senor Jorge! ¡ Jorge el Griego ! ¡Senor Jorge! ¡Un minuto, por favor!!”

A moment later George had to laugh when he realized why he hadn’t seen the person hailing him. Florencio Porras, all five-feet, two inches of him, separated himself from the throng of stevedores and seamen towering over him and hurried to meet him.

“The governor wants you back at the palace, pronto!” Florencio said.

“But we’ve got to go. Gustafson said, and we all agreed, that we had to get back to help the shore party.”

“There’s something that his Excelencia just realized. Trust me, it makes a difference. Come back and we’ll work out the details.”

Exasperated at losing time and tide, George almost resisted, but in the end agreed to come back. Giving orders to Dogwatch to get the ship ready to sail the moment he returned, he followed Florencio back to the governor’s mansion. When he got there, he found the Don Taco at dinner, a lavish banquet with Captain Gustafson, Lt. Buckler and Isabella at table. A place had been set for George as well.

“Come in, my friend, you’ve missed your soup, but there’s an excellent saddle of beef that’s just been served, there’s a fruit and cheese course still to come, and we have something quite excellent for dessert.”

George was non-plussed. “Excuse me, but we’re in hurry. If I get back to the ship right now I can still catch the tide running south to Gibraltar.”

“But that’s not the direction you need to be running. Sit, my friend,” Taco said as a look of bewilderment spread across George’s face. “Trust me. Have dinner, there’s plenty of time.”

Taco was unyielding, so George sat. The beef was every bit as good as Taco had promised, but Taco refused to talk about the impending danger while his “fragile Isabella” was present. Instead they talked at length about the poems Isabella had found in Slappy’s journals, mostly about Cap’n Slappy’s private parts, a subject George was not comfortable discussing, especially when the dessert proved to be a large Spotted Dick.

Finally Isabella excused herself to go back to her harpsichord, where she was continuing to set Slappy’s poems to music. Taco lit a cigar and turned to business.

“Now, senor George, we know that there is danger lurking, but we haven’t considered whence it comes.”

“Wherever it’s coming from, shouldn’t we get down there to help out?”

“Yes, you should go, but where?” Taco asked with a satisfied smile. “Think. How many ships were at Gibraltar when you got there?”

“Besides the Tigershark, a half dozen hulks, mostly luggers and coasters, tied up at the pier. They’d all been ransacked, two of ‘em were sunk. A couple of barques in the harbor under the guns of the Tigershark. That was it.”

“Don’t you see, there’s one ship missing?”


“Si. You may recall that I sailed to Maracaibo on a royal galleon with my predecessor, the late almost gobernador of Maracaibo and his beautiful daughter, Isabella, my betrothed. The ship was El Ladrón Travieso, commanded by Capitan Juan Jimenez O’Shay. When O’Shay had me tossed overboard, he proceeded on to Gibraltar, where my Isabella was transferred to the Tigershark. And so we have to wonder – What happened to O’Shay and his ship? They must be somewhere. They might well have slipped out past the guns of this fort and made it back to the open sea where they’re waiting – for what?”

(For readers who don’t recall what Taco’s talking about, go back and read Episode 125. It’s a funny one, with lots of jokes about mispronouncing English words.)

“And your friends are no longer AT Gibraltar,” Taco continued. “They have walked inland. We can’t be sure of what direction, but if the Bawdy Boys have a ship unaccounted for, we can guess that they’ve gone either east or north, which would eventually take them back to the coast. So instead of sailing south to Gibraltar, I’d suggest you, the Tigershark and myself in the ship owned by Florencio that he has so kindly offered to lend me, El Castor Ocupado, all set sail together. We can stretch our net across the northern coast and work our way southeast to see if we can’t scout out O’Shay. Where he is, I suggest we might find his friends, the Bawdy Boys, and our own friends as well.”

“If they’re still alive,” George said grimly.

“Aye, if they live.”

Friday, March 17, 2006


A Pirate Tale – Part 137 “Dead Ringers

Delicate fingers moved up and down the grand harpsichord’s keyboard – plucking a lovely melody from its strings. After only a couple of days, Isabella de la Vaca Verde had now made herself at home in the Governor’s mansion.

Among her many considerable talents, music was chief. She even took time to give young Los Mariachi – Dos several music lessons as well as honing his rather blunt observational skills in order to facilitate a keener sense of mood which he could then impose upon his music.

“Do you see the butler talking to the head housekeeper?” She whispered during one of his lessons.

“Si, Senora.” Young Los Mariachi – Dos whispered back.

The servants appeared to the boy to be having a rather stern conversation about the finer points of bed-making. The boy strummed out a sort of military march as if to emphasize the butler’s lecture and the head housekeeper’s rebuttal.

Isabella placed her hand gently over the boy’s strumming fingers to stop the tune. “Look closer.” She whispered. “He never looks her in the eye – in fact, his eyes dart uncomfortably away when she looks at him, but then, his gaze quickly returns to that little wisp of her hair that refuses to be pulled into the bun on the back of her head and dangles temptingly down her forehead into her eyes. As for her, she clinches her fists but also moves them toward his coat – like eagle talons. What you see as anger is really her passion.”

The boy looked dumbly at Isabella.

“They are in love.” She finally explained when it was clear that he wasn’t going to get it – ever. “The argument is an excuse to talk to each other because they are both so painfully shy. Play a love song and watch them.”

They boy’s fingers began to pluck out a bittersweet and beautiful melody. He and Isabella watched silently as the waves of music reached the arguing couple. Then, without warning, a smile crept across the butler’s face – it was received and echoed by the head housekeeper. As the music splashed against them, they relaxed and began looking at each other. After a few moments, he gently pushed that strand of hair out of her eyes and she, in turn, smoothed out the lapel of his coat and straitened his tie.

Isabella looked at the young man as he played. “This ability to change the behavior of people with your music – do you know what that’s called?”

The boy thought for a moment. “Magic?” he asked.

Without disagreement, Isabella reframed the word. “Power.”

But now she sat alone at the harpsichord trying to create something powerful herself. On the music stand in front of her, one of the newly minted collections of Cap’n Slappy’s poetry was flipped open to a poem that she was trying to put to music.

You’re my source of joy and mirth
Much more trouble than your worth
Still, you’ve been with me since birth
A goodly length – impressive girth.

You’re a satisfying lodger
You’re a doer not a dodger
Hope you work when I’m a codger
I love you – my Jolly Roger!

“How could one man write so many poems about his penis?” Isabella wondered to herself. Still, there she was, writing music for Cap’n Slappy’s musings. “There’s something ‘earthy’ about it – something that, I think, will resonate with other vulgar men like this ‘Slappy’ fellow. And I am trying to write a musical play that will make men WANT to take their wives to the theater and see it.” She tried to explain to Don Taco that morning at breakfast – he still didn’t understand.

But as she mused over the music best suited to capture the exuberance of “I love you – my Jolly Roger!” Don Taco, Lieutenant Buckler and George the Greek hurried past the conservatory toward the front door of the mansion. They were on their way to meet someone who had just arrived in town.

The dusty bedraggled figures that stood outside the Governor’s mansion stood at crisp attention as the door was open. Both men were thin and gaunt – but the taller of the two carried himself with a practiced dignity while the shorter seemed to be his assistant. Don Taco thought they were vagrants seeking a hand out. “Friends, the ‘Scraps for Chaps’ program doesn’t open until after I’ve had my dinner. You can stop by the kitchen door, that’s in the back, and tell Chef Pedro, ‘The Governor sent me.’”

The taller man fixed his gaze on Lieutenant Buckler and as he did, Buckler’s eyes widened as a wave of shock spread over his face. The words stuck in his mouth but the tall man cleared the dust from his throat to clarify the situation. “I’m Captain Theodore Gustafson of His Majesty’s Ship, Tigershark and this worthy gentleman is Seaman Second Class Smelser.” Smelser offered up as crisp a salute as a man who hadn’t eaten or slept for four days as they marched through the jungle could.

Buckler stepped forward to examine the tall man’s face more carefully. As a harsh realization sunk in, he let forth with a whispered exclamation. “Dear God!”

“Mind the taking of the Lord’s name in vain, if you please Mister Buckler.” The tall man snapped briskly.

“Aye-aye, Captain. I’m sorry sir.” Buckler replied automatically and knew, right then, that this man was, in fact, Captain Theodore Gustafson.

“But sir, you – or whoever we thought was you – died of the fever and was buried at sea less than a week ago.” Buckler explained.

“And you,” George began to explain Smelser’s death but thought it best not to be overly descriptive. “Similarly passed away peacefully ...” Buckler shot George a disbelieving glance but George carried on. “ … in your sleep.”

“Gentlemen, I assure you that we are, as you may clearly see for yourselves, very much alive are we not, Smelser?” Captain Gustafson declared.

“Aye-aye, Captain! I’m so alive I could dance a happy jig!” Smelser said wearily.

“Eschew hyperbole, young Smelser, if you please. You are, in fact, exhausted. We both are, and would like nothing better than to be invited into the house, offered bathing accommodations a few morsels and a spot of tea and a comfortable chair from which we may recount the strange occurrences that have brought us to this moment and your front door, Governor.” Captain Gustafson remained at pin-point attention as he awaited a reply from Don Taco.

Taco had never seen a British captain in full “polite mode” and quickly snapped into action putting his house staff at the disposal of his two guests and an hour and a half later, they were all seated, along with Isabella and young Los Mariachi - Dos in the parlor, clean, well-groomed and sipping tea.

Captain Gustafson now spoke clearly and relaxed. “Have any of you ever heard the term, ‘Doppelganger’?” Looking around and seeing heads shaking in confusion he continued. “A Doppelganger is a look-alike imposter who supplants the role of a person. The Bawdy Boys have such a large network of villains and ne’er-do-wells that they can find an adequate double for almost anyone. Between this resource and Davy Leech’s eerie ability to impose his will through the power of suggestion and the misuse of chemicals they managed to do what he had done during his days as a Drury Lane Theatrical Producer – replace a character actor in a long-running show with one who looks similar without the audience seeing the incongruity. This was first accomplished when Rick Largent replaced Rick Bork in a play about a man who had married a witch who had power in the twitch of her nose.”

“I saw that play several times!” George blurted out, “Do you mean to tell me that the character ‘Aaron’ was played by two completely different men?”

“I do.” Captain Gustafson said ominously.
“Amazing!” George replied as he sat back to ponder the deception.

“For a while,” Gustafson continued, “Leech endeavored to control me through the drugs and his power of suggestion, but I was able, finally, to break free of his grasp in a private scene that involved examining my commendations for heroism and, most of all, the reaffirmation of my love for The Tigershark and His Majesty’s navy.”

“Leech must have seen my rebellion coming as he had already begun his Doppelganger test program on poor Smelser, here, locking the lad away in one of the many hidden compartments aboard The Tigershark while his imposter, a particularly nasty pirate, insinuated himself on the crew. In fact, they had so deeply infiltrated the crew, I had no idea not only who remained faithful to His Majesty – but, in fact, who remained himself.”

With that, Gustafson scanned Lieutenant Buckler carefully with his eyes.

He continued. “While Leech had familiarized himself with some of the secret compartments aboard my ship, there were many with which he was starkly unfamiliar. The secret passageway out of my cabin, for one. One of their weaknesses is their need to instill fear before they kill. Had they simply come into my cabin and gutted me like a flounder, I wouldn’t be here today to tell this story – and neither would young Smelser. But they had to get a look at my face when they showed me the imposter who would be taking my place at the helm of my beloved ship – then, leave me alone to think about my certain fate. That was my opportunity and I took full advantage of it. I stumbled upon Smelser quite by accident, but once he was under my protection, we managed for several week to evade detection by stealing food and water and remaining very, very quiet until we reached the shores of Gibraltar where we slipped into the water under cover of night and swam to shore where we hid ourselves in the jungle.”

Here, Gustafson became very solemn. “I watched in horror as those monsters used my ship to savagely bombard the innocent, peaceful people of that village. It was horrible. Horrible.”

“The Captain wept like a baby.” Smelser added, sympathetically.

“No need to garnish the story with superfluous ‘extras’ Seaman Second Class Smelser, if you please.” The Captain gently chided.

“Aye-aye, Captain. Sorry Captain.” Smelser replied.

“No need to apologize, Smelser. The moment was … affective.” Captain Gustafson choked back the emotion even as he remembered it.

“But sir,” Buckler said, “A small group of your loyal friends also escaped and hid ourselves in the jungle. Did you not see us?”

“I did.” Gustafson admitted, “But you were caring for the imposter and I had no idea where your loyalties lay. Then, you were joined by pirates I hadn’t seen before – my suspicion deepened. But my heart was truly gladdened when you retook The Tigershark without so much as a scratch on her hull.”

“Then you watched your own funerals?” Buckler asked – almost horrified by the thought.

“What funeral?” Smelser, how now showed a bit of anger, replied, “You dumped my body over the edge and turned me into crab food!”

“Remember, good man, that it was your Doppelganger – not you.” Captain Gustafson reminded him.

“Aye, he may have been me ‘ringer’ but they thought it was me.” Smelser was still miffed, but he started to smile. “And now he’s me ‘dead ringer.’” With that, he chuckled to himself.

“Well I thought my Doppelganger’s send off was splendid and I only hope mine is half as pleasant. ‘Keep it short!’ I say – that’s the watchword!” Gustafson said commandingly.

“We then watched the ships sail north as the landing party with Lieutenant Tharp headed south into the jungle. We had to make a decision about which way to go – we decided to ‘follow the Shark.’ So, we trudged northward through the jungle and finally came upon a friendly fisherman who brought us safely to Maracaibo and here we are but we mustn’t stay long.”

“Why’s that, Captain?” Governor Taco asked.

“Because your landing party is in grave danger. We must return and find them before the Bawdy Boys do.”

With that said, Los Mariachi – Dos strummed what would come to be known as, “the chord of mystery and intrigue.”

Wednesday, March 15, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 136

Ol’ Chumbucket had the lead as the pirates followed the snaking path through the jungle and up into the foothills, and he didn’t like it. Not that he minded the danger or feared getting them lost. The trail was clearly marked by a growing amount of gear discarded by the group of Bawdy Boys and mutineers that had passed this way three weeks earlier. It was impossible to miss.

But when he had the point he had to keep his eyes on the trail, which meant he couldn’t read. When he was back in the line he offered a curious sight, stumping along the trail, bent down under the supplies strapped to his back, one eye on the person ahead of him and one on the book he was reading. He had brought two along with him, Petruccio Ubaldini’s account of the Spanish Armada and a book that was quite popular in the humor stalls, “Why the Lord, in His infinite Wisdom and Mercy, has chosen to place upon Man’s breast the mark of Womanly Succor, and other heretical doubts you would relate to your confessor only under the duress of copious amounts of daemon rum.” As he walked in line he seemed lost in the text, although he never put a foot wrong or bumped into anyone except when they stopped to rest, when he inevitably walked up Slappy’s back.

But now, on their third day on the trail, it was his turn to go on ahead, and he had to keep both eyes firmly on the path. The going had become more steadily uphill and special care had to be taken. Plus, though they had seen no sign of it, they had to be wary of any booby traps that the Bawdy Boys might have left in their wake. The path now ran alongside a stream that boiled down the slope in a narrow channel. The crew straggled down the path – Ol’ Chumbucket, Black Butch, Leftenant Keeling, Peddicord, Lt. Tharp, Slappy and Cementhands. Strumpet the monkey, as ever, perched on Slappy’s shoulder adding her weight but providing no additional assistance.

The stream by now had turned into a torrent, and the path snaked through the jungle so fiendishly that Cementhands at the back of the line could never see where Chumbucket was at the head. And all the pirates noticed that, though the dense foliage muted the sound they made so much so that conversation was impossible, as they drew nearer to the mountains ahead, a roaring sound was filling the forest.

Black Butch stumped stolidly down the trail, never complaining though he had insisted on carrying more than his fair share of the equipment and almost all the food. He looked down to negotiate a tricky spot where a stream cut across their path. When he looked up, Ol’ Chumbucket had disappeared around the next bend. He hurried to close the distance, but when he turned the sharp corner, Ol’ Chumbucket was nowhere to be seen. He hurried to the next bend, turned sharply right at a cluster of trees, and walked squarely into the lead pirate, who was staring up at the blank face of a cliff. Repeating Butch’s maneuver, Leftenant Keeling slammed squarely into the back of Butch. Wellington Peddicord then smacked squarely into Keeling, Tharp into Peddicord, Slappy into Tharp and Cementhands into Slappy with a force sufficient to knock the whole company down like so many bowling pins.

It would have reminded them all of a train coming to an abrupt halt, except that trains wouldn’t be invented for more than a century so they were denied that bit of comical metaphor. Instead they all lay for a moment where they had fallen.

“Door de sardines van Heilige Thomas!” Slappy swore. “What the hell happened?”

“The path is gone,” said Ol’ Chumbucket from the front of the chain reaction.

“What do you mean it’s gone?” Tharp asked in his most persnickety voice. “How can a path be gone?”

“Look ahead. You see if you can find it.”

They did look. They couldn’t find it. The path ran on only another dozen feet through a clearing, straight into the face of a cliff that towered more than a hundred feet above them. To their right, they could see the source of the roar that filled the jungle, a waterfall that poured down the side of the cliff and wreathed the area in mist. The fall plunged straight down the vertical drop, landing in a foaming pool at the base of the cliff. Over the centuries the force of the water had carved a small basin in the rock, which held the seething torrent before it streamed down the foothills in cataract.

At the end of the path there was only a sheer, gray wall of rock. Before it was a pile of abandoned equipment, rather like the last offering of the Bawdy Boys before disappearing off the face of the Earth.

“See to your powder,” Slappy warned, mindful of the moisture in the air. “Then let’s fan out and see where they went. They couldn’t have just disappeared.”

“I know where they went,” Cementhands said. “I’ve read about something like this Watch and learn boys. Watch and learn.”

The giant pirate drew himself up and walked straight toward the waterfall. He paused to doff his boots and gear, setting it right next to the pile of gear left by their predecessors, which seemed a good omen. This was the easiest way to access the pool. Then wading almost waist high (which would be chest high on the rest of the group) he walked straight into the base of the falls.

And went shooting out into the churning pool. Peddicord tossed a length of rope he’d been carrying and the rest of the team managed to pull McCormack ashore before he went got carried off down the stream.

“Must have picked the wrong spot,” McCormack muttered, and walked back into the face of the falls, only this time slightly to the left. It didn’t matter, the results were the same. He was again fished from the pool, and walked straight back into the falls, again with the same result. The process was repeated three more times. The other sailors were getting pretty good at extricating him, and he seemed undaunted as once more he rose to plunge into the cascading water. But Slappy stopped him.

“What exactly are you doing?” the captain asked. “What are you looking for?”

“The secret entrance,” Cementhands said. “In every book I’ve read – both of ‘em – there’s always a secret entrance hidden behind a waterfall. It never fails.”

“Perhaps this time it did,” Tharp sneered. “What did your investigations” – he managed to spin the word hard enough to imply a serious deficiency in McCormack’s brainpower – “reveal whilst underwater?”

McCormack glowered, but had to admit that in his repeated inundations he had discovered nothing more yielding than a moss-covered wall of granite. “I don’t understand it,” he said, shaking his damp head. “There must be a secret entrance in there somewhere!”

“Before we repeat the process, why don’t we look around and see if anything less wet first?” Chumbucket suggested.

They spread out and scoured the clearing, which extended about thirty feet along the base of the cliff. It didn’t take long. There was no sign of a secret tunnel, no break in the foliage that bordered the clearing, and no sign of any path.

“It makes no sense!” Slappy said with exasperation. “They obviously came this far. They couldn’t have flow out of here.”

Undaunted, McCormack decided to try again. Before anyone could stop him he waded directly into the center of the falls. Again, he shot out straight into the basin. Again Peddicord threw his line. This time, McCormack didn’t grab on.

The pirates and Tharp ran to the edge of the water, but there was no trace of McCormack, and he was of a size that there should have been a lot of trace. Chumbucket backtracked down the stream to see if he might have been swept out of the pool, but could advance only about fifty feet before the steepness of the stream stopped him. Back at the falls, the pirates with growing alarm were calling his name, and Peddicord wrapped the rope around himself to have the others lower him into the churning pond.

Slappy anchored the rope, while Butch and Keeling prepared to lower him. Cementhands had been under for more than 10 minutes, but they couldn’t give up. Peddicord took a deep breath and prepared to dive.

“Yoo hoo! Fellas!” came a familiar voice.

“Cementhands! Where the hell are you!” Slappy shouted.

“Up here guys!” Six heads swiveled up. About halfway up the cliff a large head appeared beside the waterfall and a massive hand waved.”

“How did you get there?”

“I had it wrong!” Cementhands shouted. The tunnel isn’t behind the falls. It’s opposite the falls, under the back of the pool! I’d have found it the first time if you guys hadn’t kept rescuing me.”

“What are you talking about?” Slappy shouted.

“Just drop into the pool and dive straight to the base of the overhang,” he shouted. “It’s a tight fit, but you swim underground for about 10 seconds, then come up in a cave. It comes up here, and keeps going straight up the cliff! C’mon up! Oh, and there’s a dead guy here. Looks like another Marine. Hurry on up! And bring my boots. These rocks are killing my feet.!”

It took a few minutes for the party to parcel out what little equipment they’d be able to take, leaving the rest in the mound with the gear left by their quarry. They wrapped their firearms and powder as carefully as they could in leather and brought what little they could carry while swimming. The hardest part was deciding what to do with Strumpet. She couldn't or wouldn't hold her breath. When Slappy tried to wrap her in cloth and stuff her in his shirt, she screeched like a banshee. Finally, the captain held her on his shoulder and lowered himself into the water, As it rose, Strumpet took refuge on his head. Finally, he submerged, an Strumpet leaped back to shore. Spotting McCormack on the tiny ledge art way up the clff, she scrambled up the rocky face and had joined him there before the whole party had disappeared into the pool.

Chumbucket was last to go. He gave a rueful glance to the pile of discarded gear. He wouldn’t be able to bring either of his books.

Monday, March 13, 2006


A Pirate Tale – Part 135 “Pirate Laureate”

Captain Theodore Gustafson’s health took a turn for the worse. It was decided to bring him aboard his own ship, The HMS Tigershark, where if this was to be his last moment on earth, he could at least spend it in a familiar environment. Sawbones Burgess accompanied his patient working tirelessly to stave off the inevitable. Within hours of the departure of the landing party into the jungle and the trek back to Maracaibo, Gustafson passed from this life to the next. Lieutenant Buckler thanked the doctor for his service and a brief burial into the depths of Lake Maracaibo was performed with the crews of both His Majesty’s vessel and the pirate ship, The Festering Boil anchored for the honors.

The Boil was now under the command of George the Greek, which was not unusual, but with Ol’ Chumbucket, Cementhands McCormack and Leftenant Keeling joining Cap’n Slappy in the jungle, the new temporary second in command fell to Dogwatch Watts who now practiced his command voice in front of young Gabriel in the hopes that the boy could give him what pointers he could.

“You look constipated. Is that what you’re going for?” the boy asked.

“That’s my ‘stern but fair’ face.” Dogwatch replied. “Let me try it again.” He cleared his throat and reformed his ‘constipated’ face. “Now, see here – you lot! I’m not a man to be trifled with!”

“You shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition.” Gabe offered.

“I didn’t!” argued Dogwatch.

“You did.” countered the boy. “You said, ‘I’m not a man to be trifled with!’ and ‘with’ is a preposition.”

“Alright, my smarty, you tell me how you would say it!” Dogwatch sniffed.

“I wouldn’t.”

“You wouldn’t?”

“I wouldn’t.” The boy asserted. “I would simply behave in a way that left them with that impression.”

“How’s that?” Dogwatch was now curious to know.

“Well, when someone new challenges Cap’n Slappy’s authority, he beats them savagely with his fists and forehead.” Gabriel stated matter-of-factly.

“When?” Dogwatch asked.

“When what?” Gabriel shot back.

“When did you ever see Cap’n Slappy beat a member o’ this crew with his fists and forehead.” Dogwatch searched his own memory for such an occurrence.

Both of them sat for a while in silence. They had both witnessed Cap’n Slappy in battle and had a vivid recollection of his epic struggle against his identical Spanish cousin, Slappista in the waters of the Indian Ocean but neither could recall him ever having made good on his threat to beat an unyielding crew member savagely with his fists and forehead.

“Well, we know he could do it, so he never has to!” Dogwatch finally discovered.

“Exactly!” the boy’s realization was now a life lesson.

“But how will I get that kind of authority?” Dogwatch worried aloud.

“Because,” George’s voice boomed into their conversation, “If anyone has a problem with you – they have a problem with me – and I WILL deliver that savage beating with MY fists and forehead.”

And there was no doubt that he could if he wanted to – so with George’s authority, Dogwatch felt more assured of his own command.

Meanwhile, Red Molly helped Isabella de la Vaca Verde settle into her temporary quarters in the Captain’s Cabin aboard The Festering Boil for their two-day trip to Maracaibo to be reunited with her betrothed, Don Taco.

Isabella was sure that she was now in the living quarters of her brave, beloved Chumbucket – surely he was the captain of this ship! She breathed in the smell of his bed – a bit more pungent than she had thought – but still, it was certain that a man slept here. Then, she looked through his closet at his shirts – also pungent and quite a bit larger than she had thought her beloved would wear. “Perhaps he dresses in layers for those cold nights at sea?”

Finally, she came across a book of poems. “This!” she thought, “This will give me insight into the soul of The Chumbucket!”

The first one didn’t leave her with much promise;

Oh! Breasts I’ve Known!

Oh, round and pert and pouty breasts.
You burst your bodice and break your vest!
Your cleavage forms a nice “face nest!”
I’m close to heaven when I’m close to your chest!
Oh, boobs of plenty – boobs of girth!
No price to place upon their worth.
I’ve lived to suckle you from birth
The Slappy Happiest place on earth!

I give each nipple a little tweak
And then the magic words I speak.
“I’m dialing Tokyo!” radio freak!
Lactating knobs may actually leak.

And up and down you bouncy-bouncy
Pronounce my lust – pro-nouncy-nouncy.
You flit and flounce – yes, flouncy-flouncy
Each three pounds one ounce – ouncy-ouncy!

Oh, breasts I’ve loved and breasts I’ve known
My fondness for you is still shown
While standing up and more-so, prone
With me you’ll never be alone.

Isabella quickly slammed the book shut and tried to remember what it was that attracted her to Chumbucket – the captain of The Festering Boil!

At that moment, Red Molly knocked on the cabin door. “I’ve brought you some tea.”

Isabella quickly ushered her into the room and invited her to share in the tea – and some gossip. She tried to be subtle.

“So, this is Cap’n Chumbucket’s quarters?” She said wistfully.

Red Molly snorted with laughter. “Cap’n Chumbucket, is it?” Then she thought for a moment. “No. This is Cap’n Slappy’s quarters. Nobody is allowed to enter Cap’n Chumbucket’s quarters – not even Cap’n Slappy.”

This was true – except for the “Cap’n Chumbucket” part – although, when Molly really thought about it, she realized that Ol’ Chumbucket was subordinate to no one – in a sense, he was more than a captain – untitled and with his room locked tightly – a man of considerable mystery.

As she conveyed this to Isabella, the young woman became even more enamored with Ol’ Chumbucket. “More than a captain.” She repeated as if trying to understand what that would be.

George the Greek poked his head into the cabin while the ladies had tea, “Pardon the interruption, ladies, but the funeral for Captain Gustafson is over and I wanted to let you know we will be under way presently.”

After he left, Isabella began to wonder about herself. “He’s very attractive as well, our current captain.”

Red Molly smiled, “Yes. Yes, George is a very attractive man. Pardon my forwardness, but have you traveled much by sea?”

Isabella seemed taken aback by the question at first, but answered truthfully. “Si. All the way from Spain. There were so many gorgeous sailors and then when I met Don Taco …” All of a sudden she was struck with a realization. “The rocking of a ship makes me …” She searched for the word in English, but Molly filled in the blank for her –


“Si. Horny.” But even the realization that her attractions were fueled by sea travel could not sate her lust. “Then I must find a way to stay on a ship forever!”

The two women laughed and Molly left Isabella alone to rest – and to continue to read Cap’n Slappy’s poetry. She found it impossible to ignore – like a carriage wreck. One poem entitled, My Penis Has A Name, created a whole stanza based on rhyming words and phrases with the word, spelunker.

When Molly returned the next day with tea, Isabella asked her to help her with the English words she didn’t understand – like radio and spelunker.

Molly became animated – like she was sharing one of the major ship’s secrets. “When we were on Diego Garcia, Cap’n Slappy entered a mysterious cave which was a portal to the future. These poems – crude though they may be – are his memoirs of those travels – like the French mystic, Nostradamus – only Cap’n Slappy HAS seen the future. Those mysterious words are future words that only he – and a few of the crew – understand.”

This piqued Isabella’s interest even more and she spent the balance of the voyage to Maracaibo deeply ensconced in the poetry of Cap’n Slappy making notes in the margins as she read.

“Cap’n Slappy’s bellybutton lint as a metaphor for corruption in the military industrial complex. Brilliant!”

Word of their arrival in Maracaibo spread quickly and Don Taco arranged for the town band to meet his bride-to-be as she disembarked the Boil. Word was sent to Isabella that they had arrived safely in Maracaibo – but she remained in the captain’s cabin.

Don Taco checked his dress uniform and straightened the little tie on his new musical accompanist, “Los Mariachi – Dos,” the little band stood at attention, trumpets at lips, ready to play. But nobody emerged from the room.

Finally, the door opened and Isabella stepped onto the deck, she was so focused on the book in her hand, she barely heard the band playing a nice “welcome home” tune and her betrothed’s beaming when unnoticed.

After an awkward moment, Don Taco spoke, “My darling! Welcome home to Maracaibo!”

She looked at Don Taco and asked, “Does Maracaibo have a Poet Laureate?”

Don Taco seemed confused, but answered honestly. “No, my dove, why do you ask?”

“I think Cap’n Slappy should be named Maracaibo’s Poet Laureate.” She replied.

Don Taco looked thunderstruck – then he smiled and finally began to laugh. “No, no no, my little peach – your English is not so good. It’s pronounced, PI-RATE not PO-ET. And I don’t think there is such a thing as a Pirate Laureate.”

Isabella shook her head as she looked around the dusty little fort that was now her domain. She held the book in front of Don Taco’s face. “This book will put this little dust bowl on the map – put your printers to work on it.” With that, she escorted herself to her quarters in the Governor’s mansion – Don Taco dutifully following behind after a quick stop at the book binder and print shop.

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