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.”

Dear Mr. Bucket,

Truly enjoyed this chapter especially the part where Cementhands finally was in charge. Did you notice that when he was in charge nothing went wrong?

I'm just saying.

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