Monday, March 06, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 132

Walter Smelser sat in the bow of the Tigershark trying to read by the light of the lantern. It was a dark night with no moon, so he had to bend over and twist his head to allow as much light as possible to fall on the page.

But it was worth it, because it was page 3 of Pirattitude Monthly, and this month’s Page 3 Girl was a real looker. She was, according to the text accompanying the woodcut, Taffy Tidewater, 20, a salesgirl in a shop in Nassau. Her turn ons were listed as “at least six fingers per date, kittens, rum and long walks on the beach.” Turnoffs: “Squid breath and refusing to pay for services rendered.”

“Cor! Look at this one, mate,” he said to his fellow lookout. “I wouldn’t mind spending my shore leave with her.”

“There’s no such girl,” the other man snorted.

“What’re you talkin’ about?” Smelser said. “I’m lookin’ at her right here, aren’t I?”

“That’s woodcut, in’it?” retorted the man, who was known simply as Belch. “I knew a fella worked for Pirattitude Monthly. He said the fellas who do the woodcuts for the Page 3 just use the same body over and over and put a different head on it.”

“That’s a lie,” Walter said. He’d been regular Navy for six years, and resented how these newcomers affected an attitude of worldliness and knowing more about everything than anyone. Sure, they’d seen a lot, and most of Walter’s experience involved sailing into and out of foggy channel ports looking for smugglers. Still, it rankled.

“Oh now, no need to go on like that,” Belch was saying. “Everyone knows the press makes stuff up and sensationalizes everything. Look ‘ere, at this story on the cover. Hammacher Van der Veel and his ship Fire Fox bein’ sighted off Barbados, where Van der Veel is supposed to have won the “Best Pirate Moustache" contest. I know for a fact that the whole bloody ship got blowed up off Tortuga wif Van der Veel aboard, cuz we did the blowing, now didn’t we?”

Smelser had to admit that he’d heard quite a bit about that.

“And here’s a piece about O’Toole getting’ ready to divorce his third wife because she was seen with that pub singer, Blind Nick. And didn’t the Bawdy Boys leave old Felix hanging from his own yardarm in Port Royal? As a matter of fact, we did, din’t we?”

Again, Smelser had to agree that the rumors he’d been hearing certainly bore no relation to what he read in the paper.

“And what about this little item? ‘What pirate captain was seen dancing ‘til dawn in the company of newly appointed governor Don Taco, the governor’s crew of crack artillerymen, and some of the loveliest ladies in Maracaibo? None other than everyone’s favorite buccaneer bad boy Cap’n Slappy!’ Crack artillerymen? You saw how bad that lot was wif yer own eyes! Couldn’t fire four guns together. And I’ll bet the only dancin’ that clown Slappy did was him a’brushin’ off the snakes that we sent out after him and his boys. ‘Ooo! Snakes! Ick! Help’”

Belch pranced up and down, brushing at imagined snakes while continuing to squeal in falsetto, “Oooo! Help! Me don’t like the icky snakes!!” He raised his left hand like a serpent weaving in front of his face for a moment, then drove the hand at his throat. Belch gurgled as if in agony, and fell to the floor writhing in feigned death throes before kicking a couple of times and lying still. Smelser couldn’t stop himself from laughing. He had only been a “pirate” a short time himself, just in the few weeks since they’d taken over the ship and blown the shit out of Gibraltar, so his natural tendency was to disparage the breed, and Belch’s performance fit neatly with that inclination. He giggled. Then, abruptly, he sighed. Belch opened one eye and glared up at him from the deck.

“So what’s given you the mulligrubs?” he asked churlishly.

“Well, it’s true, I guess, that you can’t believe everything you read in the papers then, right?”

“’At’s my point, in’it?” said Belch. “’At’s what I’m doin’ rolling around down here. Load o’ shite, if you ask me.”

“So that means,” Smelser said, “that the girl ain’t real and I can’t spend a shore leave with her.”

“You couldn’t spend a shore leave with her even is she WAS real. Mug like you. No way she’d give you a roll.”

“But if she was real, I could pretend.”

“But she’s NOT real, so you’re chances are about the same either way, aren’t they, mate? So go ahead and pretend,” Belch said, rising to his feet.

That wasn’t the point, Smelser was about to respond. He wasn’t sure what the point was, but he was pretty sure that wasn’t it. He sighed again.

“What’s that?” Belch asked suddenly.

“Me. I was just sighing again. Sorry if it disturbed you.”

“No, not that. I thought I heard something. I mean something else besides you whining about not being able to make time with a pretend girl.”

Smelser opened his mouth to say something cutting, but couldn’t think of anything.

Belch leaned over the railing listening for whatever it was he’d heard. Smelser heard a thud and a popping sound rather like the sound made when a melon was dropped from a height of about six feet. He turned to Belch, whose body was now sagging over the railing.

“It sounded like a melon being dropped,” Smelser said. “You don’t suppose there are any melons about, do you? I’m getting’ a bit peckish.”

Belch did not respond. Smelser gave him a tug to get his attention. The thought of melons had made him hungry. What he saw next ruined any appetite he might have had.

Belch’s body fell back to the deck. His head, which had been not much to look at before, was now significantly less so. It was seriously caved in, with a lot of blood and brain matter oozing out. Smelser stared, but only for a second. His concentration was broken by the appearance of what looked like and in fact was a five-foot long iron bar, about three-inches in diameter, being wielded like a bat by an extremely large man who was surging over the side, followed by a dozen more figures armed more conventionally. A sudden sound from the rear of the ship indicated they probably weren’t the only midnight visitors to the Tigershark. The man drew back his cudgel, then paused as he saw the paper fluttering from Smelser’s frozen fingers.

“Oooo! It’s Taffy,” Cementhands McCormack said. He glared at Walter and said, “Fall to the deck as if I smacked you, okay?” Smelser was only too happy to comply. The pirate took the magazine from him and glanced at the picture. “So Taffy finally made page 3,” he said. “It’s what she always wanted.” Then he stormed aft with the rest of the cutting out party. Smelser was worried about the whole “ship being captured and maybe we’ll be hung, or maybe drawn and quartered” thing. But he couldn’t help smiling to himself.

So she WAS real. Maybe he’d be able to spend a shore leave with her yet! If he survived the night.


The combined party of pirates and 20 British sailors who had joined them had no problem in quickly securing the ship, which was manned by only two dozen sailors, a skeleton crew that mixed both seamen and Bawdy Boys, all of whom were dozing or drunk. Belch was the only casualty. Within minutes the last of the skeleton crew had been bound and sent below. Keeling, who had led the expedition, turned to Lt. Buckler.

“Lieutenant, the ship is yours,” he said. Buckler, who had uneasily deferred command of the raid to Keeling, smiled his thanks.

“Slappy should be here with the Boil within the hour and we can figure out what to do next,” Keeling said. “Whether we want to go into the jungle and hunt down Leech and the Bawdy Boys – and the rest of your crew – or just take the ships and strand them here, the decision will wait ‘til morning.”

Buckler nodded agreement. “First, he said, let’s see if we can find any sign of where Leech went. Why don’t you and your lot search the ship. I and a couple of my Marines want to ‘interview’ the crew and see if they have any idea what the Bawdy Boys plan is. If you have no objection.”

No, Keeling had none, knowing that after the mutiny, the weeks in the jungle, and retaking the ship, Buckler would be well motivated to extract any information from his former shipmates.

While Buckler and his men went below to question the mutineers Keeling he organized the activity above decks. The 24 pirates raised anchor and set sail to bring the ship out of the harbor for its rendezvous with the Festering Boil. Whether they stranded the Bawdy Boys or went in after them, it had been decided to take the Tigershark out of range in case anyone wanted to take her back.

With that done, he organized the pirates into search crews and they methodically began combing the ship for any sign of their enemy’s plans. Cementhands and his party started for the captain’s cabin, which they found locked. This was not a problem for Cementhands and his iron bar. Ten seconds later, the door was kindling.

He strode into the cabin, followed by Black Butch and Two Patch. To McCormack’s eyes it appeared empty, but Two Patch stiffened and began sniffing.

“Someone’s here,” he said. "Hidin' over there"

There was movement, and from behind the captain’s desk a form arose. Butch’s hand went immediately to his waistband from which he pulled a cleaver which he was ready to throw. McCormack stopped him.

The figure was a woman, and not just any woman. Flashing green eyes, dark hair in ringlets cascading to her shoulders, and a figure that would have prompted the engravers at Pirattitude Monthly to consider actually carving a new woodcut.

“Who the hell are you,” McCormack asked.

“I am Isabella de la Vaca Verde, daughter of the late governor of Maracaibo and fiancé to His Excellency Governor Don Taco. I insist you take me to my beloved immediately!”

(Thanks to our friends at Burcham’s Scrap Metal in Albany, Or., for helping us figure out how much a five-foot-long, three-inch in diameter metal bar would way – about 100 pounds. It’s heavy, but that just gives you an idea how big Cementhands is.)

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