Thursday, April 06, 2006


A Pirate Tale 146

The captain’s eyes grew wide with disbelief as the pirate ship bore down on him. “What now?” he wondered.

The Festering Boil pulled within very short pistol range and the ship heaved to. A swarm of pirates clambered into the longboats and were over in a trice, scrambling up the side of the ship they’d captured without firing a shot.

“¿Los caballeros, cómo puedo ayudarle?” he asked. “I am Captain Miranda of El Barco De Plátano and you are welcome aboard.”

“I’ll handle this,” Slappy said. “Donde est la … gold, what’s the word for gold? Oh yeah, donde est orina?”

“Orina?” The man was baffled. “You want to know where my urine is?”

“No, that’s not right,” Slappy said.

“The color’s almost right,” Chumbucket offered unhelpfully.

“Especially if you’ve been drinking,” George added, laughing.

“Knock it off. We’re supposed to be frightening, not comical. What’s the word for gold?”

“Gold? No, en español, gold is oro,” Miranda supplied.

“Excellent. Thank you. Donde est oro.”

“No, it’s ‘está,’ not est. ‘¿Dónde está la oro?’”

“Oh really? I thought it was ‘est,’” Slappy said.

“No, I think that’s French,” George said.

“Italian?” Chumbucket guessed.

“Belay that! This isn’t a linguistics seminar, it’s a pirate raid. Where’s the gold?”


“Si,” Slappy said, pointing his blunderbuss at the captain. “Gold.”

“We have no gold.”

“No gold? Impossible. This is a Spanish treasure ship.”

“No, I told you when you came aboard. This is El Barco De Plátano. The banana boat. We bring a shipment of bananas from Chagres to Caracas.”


“Si. Bananas. Plátanos.”

Slappy turned to look at George and Chumbucket reproachfully. George shuffled his feet.

“Well, I thought I smelled SOME thing.”

“Oh, si, the smell is very bad. I don’t think I’m gonna get these bananas to market. We got delayed by that damn treasure fleet.”

“What? The treasure fleet?” Slappy asked.

“Si. Off Santa Catalina.” Captain Miranda explained. Two days out of port they had run into a large flota, the treasure fleet. It was sorting itself out after a three-week stay at Panama and getting ready to run north for its rendezvous off Havana with the western arm of the fleet. Enmeshed among the fleet’s 50 ships of varying sizes and detained by the security screen, they had lost two weeks, allowing their cargo of fruit to get more ripe than was altogether desireable.

“Look at these,” Miranda complained. “They should still be green. Now they’re already ripe. By the time we get to Caracas they’ll be dark brown, and I don’t think Caracas will need THAT much banana bread. Would you fellows do me a favor and steal them from me? They’re ripe now. The owner will understand if they’ve been pirated, but he’ll fire me if I’m simply late and the fruit is spoiled. And all because of that fleet.”

“That’s excellent,” Slappy said, then added more cautiously, “I mean about the bananas. Not that we’re interested in the treasure fleet. Oh, no. Not us. We just love bananas. No need to mention to anyone that we even discussed the treasure fleet. No, I’m just happy to hear they’re on schedule. Not that I know their schedule. But I like bananas, so that worked out for us. Chumbucket? George? Go below and check the ship’s log. Try to get a fix on where and when the fleet was spotted. Not that we care.”

Meanwhile Slappy organized his crew to transfer the bananas from El Barco’s hold to the Festering Boil’s deck. The work was exhausting, the hold hot and fragrant with super-concentrated odor of ripe banana. In short order the load was transferred and George and Chumbucket came back on deck with satisfied smiles. “We have what we need.”

“Let’s be off then. Captain Miranda, you’ve been a most cooperative victim. Thanks for the bananas. Everyone back to the Boil!”

Aboard ship, Chumbucket had rolled out the chart and noted the spots both where the fleet had been and where the Boil was.

“Seems they’re a little behind schedule,” he observed.

“Perfect,” Slappy judged. “At their likely speed, it’ll take them the better part of three weeks to work up the coast and cross towards Cuba. We’re – what? – five days out of Port Royal. One day in port to pick up any additional news and maybe sign on a few more hands, and another five days to Punta el Cajon. We’ll be in position in plenty of time. This’ll work.”

“Aye, it should,” Chumbucket said cautiously. “If nothing untoward happens.”

“We’re just sailing to Jamaica,” Slappy protested. “What could possibly go wrong?”

A crash resounded from overhead. The two pirates didn’t say anything, just gave each other a look, then rose to go see how fate had rewarded Slappy’s question.

When they got on deck, they found George sitting amid a wreckage of bananas while Dogwatch gently tugged at his boot. They also found Leftenant Keeling, Wilford Glump and Oscar trying to hold back Wellington, who seemed to have his heart set on thrashing a red-faced Mandrake Tharp.

“He tried to kill George!” Wellington shouted.

“I did not,” Tharp retorted hotly.

“Relax Wellington,” George said. “He wasn’t trying to kill me. He just was being a prat.”

“Would someone tell me what’s going on?” Slappy roared.

The crew had been working to get the bananas, hundreds and hundreds of them still on their long stalks, stowed below, out of the sun. It wasn’t fun work. Tharp had stood with his back to the rail, watching and occasionally grabbing another banana to eat.

“You know boy,” George had said. “We could use a hand getting these stowed.”

“You certainly could,” Tharp said laconically, staring back at George.

George waited, took a deep breath, then spoke again, firmly.

“Perhaps you’d be willing to help,” he said.

“Perhaps not. That looks fairly menial. The sort of thing a gentleman isn’t cut out for. Perhaps when I see something more in my line I’ll pitch in,” Tharp said.

“George’s eyes narrowed. “You know, this isn’t a cruise ship and I’m not Julie your cruise director. “

“I know precisely what type of ship this is, and that’s why I’m not willing to lend a hand,” Tharp said. He had hissed this at George, but those nearby, though they may not have caught the words, were certainly aware of the tone.

Tharp didn’t care. He had smiled at George, turned, tossing the peel of his banana over his shoulder as he did so, and walked away. George strode after him to correct the damage the young man’s attitude might do before the crew took such a dislike to him that someone helped him overboard. But as he followed he stepped on the discarded banana peel just as the ship gave a slight roll. His foot shot out from under him and he caromed across the deck into Dogwatch and Wellington, each of whom had a stalk with a hundred or more bananas slung over his back. They both toppled over and bananas and both sailors ended up on top of George.

Dogwatch got George’s boot off and Sawbones Burgess was bending down examining his ankle. “It’s sprained, but it doesn’t look broken. Just stay off it for a couple of days and you should be fine before we reach Port Royal,” the doctor said.

“Cap’n, want me to dispose of this excess baggage,” Wellington said, jerking his thumb at Tharp for emphasis although his tone had made it clear enough he wasn’t talking about bananas.

“No, now, just stop,” George said. “He didn’t mean any harm, and no permanent damage was done. I’m fine.” George stood, and almost immediately sat back down with a grimace of pain. “Well, maybe in a couple of days.”

“Get to yer cabin and I’ll be down with the rum,” Slappy told the mate. “In the meantime, we’re short a valuable hand. I won’t speak of fault, but you’re clearly the reason lad. So you’re going to help out in his stead. Dogwatch! Get Lt. Tharp a mop and a holystone. The rest of you finish stowing this fruit below. Tharp, you will see to it that the spoiled bananas are dumped overboard, and the deck swabbed and holystoned until it shines. And when I say you’ll see to it, Imean you’ll do it. Understood? Since you’re a member of the navy, you should have a great appreciation for how a deck can be made to sparkle. And, to keep your interest in your work, I’ll have Leftenant Keeling keep an eye on you. Keeling, make sure to bring your cat. Everyone understand? ”

Tharp’s mouth opened once or twice, but no sound came out. He looked at Slappy’s stern visage (he hadn’t seen such a look since his father the admiral had last rebuked him for a trifle – maybe there was something to this uncle business after all.) Then he looked at the rest of the crew staring at him sullenly, and noticed Keeling unlimbering his whip.

“Hand me the mop,” Tharp said.


**Personal and Private Log of Mandrake Bulwer Pondicherry Tharp**

Well, it didn’t take long for the crew to show their colors. After they stole a cargo from those poor merchants, they tried to press me into service to conceal their ill-gotten cargo. I naturally resisted, but the brutes forced me into helping. It was my lot to cover up the commission of their crime by removing any trace of the act from the decks. As difficult as it was, I like to think I handled it in a fashion that would do credit to the service. The deck gleamed like that of a first-rate man o’war when I was finished. But oh! My back!

Even their leader, Slappy, behaved detestably. If what he says about our relationship is true he really ought to have been willing to take my side, but no, he was as bad as the rest of them, forcing me into menial labor. I ask no special privileges. As an officer of the English Navy I have certainly done my share of hard work at sea. But I draw the line at participating in felonies. Not that that mattered to any of them, especially Slappy. I guess blood isn’t everything. He certainly seems to have fallen to a level far below the station of his supposed birth.

I do regret that my falling out today involved George, the master and first mate of this ship. He seems a good sort, for a Greek, solid and reliable, and from what I’ve seen, a surprisingly good seaman. Yet he couldn’t see that my actions were based on principle, not self-interest. Still, I somehow want him to like me.

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