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.’”


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