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.”

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