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.”

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