Monday, January 30, 2006


A Pirate Tale – Part 125 “A simple story of love, intrigue, betrayal, revenge, love and intrigue!”

“What the Devil?!?” Slappy managed to blurt out after a moment of dumbfounded silence.

Don Taco laughed with his whole body – hands on hips, torso and head tossing first backward, then, forward, then back again like a cartoon mouse while Los Mariachi played joyfully amusing music.

Cap’n Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket and the rest of the gathered crew joined in the laughter – shyly at first, then, with full enthusiasm. It was good to see a comrade in this unknown territory.

“To finish the Cap’n’s thought,” Ol’ Chumbucket began, “What the Devil are you doing here, Don Taco?”

After a few last gasps of laughter, the Spaniard wiped tears from his eyes. “Whoo!” he gasped, “You guys should have seen the looks on your silly pirate faces! It was …” he glanced at Los Mariachi, “how you say …?”

“Precious.” Los Mariachi said with a flat deadpan that didn’t seem to match the word at all.

“PRECIOUS!!! That’s perfect! Aye! It was PRECIOUS!” Don Taco clapped his hands and kissed Los Mariachi on the forehead – congratulating him for his grasp of just the right English word. Then, he turned to his friends from The Festering Boil and said, “You want to know how Don Taco is now the Governor of Maracaibo, no?”

“No!” declared Doc Burgess – suddenly realizing his mistake, he changed his answer – “Yes!”

Resplendent in his military governor’s uniform, Don Taco sashayed over to the good doctor grabbed him firmly by his cheeks with both hands and kissed him full on the mouth. Still pinching Sawbones’ cheeks, Don Taco declared, “Oh, Doctore’! I think I missed you most of all!”

Then, with a flourish, he released the doctor’s face and faced his still-stunned audience. “The story I am about to convey is perhaps the single most incredible story of all time. The events that have brought me to this moment in time are as remarkable and miraculous as the famous Hanging Whorehouses of Madrid or the Temple to St. Vanessa, The Patron Saint of Nipples in Barcelona! This story must be told slowly, in tiny pieces, so that your minds will not bobble with confusion!”

“Boggle.” Los Mariachi corrected.

“Boggle?” Don Taco asked, innocently – trying to make sure he pronounced it correctly.

“Boggle.” Los Mariachi affirmed.

“You see!?” Don Taco continued, “Just thinking about the story has made my mind …” he glanced briefly at Los Mariachi – whose eyebrows raised in anticipation, “ … boggle.”

Los Mariachi smiled his approval.

Leftenant Keeling tried bravely to keep the story coming. “…and this would be the story of …”

Don Taco broke free from basking in his skillful use of word knowledge to continue, “A simple story of love, intrigue, betrayal, revenge, love and intrigue!”

“You said ‘love and intrigue’ twice.” Ol’ Chumbucket pointed out matter-of-factly.

“That is because there is so much of it! So much love! So much intrigue! I could have said it four or five times – but that would be padding the story!” Don Taco stopped and looked thoughtful for a moment. The moment turned into a minute – which then ran into a period of time in which one might be fearful of one’s life draining away if nothing were to happen soon.

Finally, Cap’n Slappy gently prodded the governor along. “And this story began …” This cued Los Mariachi to begin playing – which seemed to have an entrancing effect on Don Taco – who now spilled the story forth with only the occasional correction from his guitar-playing amigo.

“…the day we last saw ye!” Don Taco picked up his cue – finally. “As we sailed out of Sao Paulo after the Pirate Olympics, I noticed five ships runnin’ hard at my heels! Knowing instinctively that they meant me ill will, I ran hard for the open sea – hoping to shake them off. After three days, it was clear that they gaining on us. Fortune, however, was not finished smiling on Don Taco and we ran headlong into a flotilla of Spanish war ships. We quickly dropped our pirate flag – raised our standard of Spain and called for our comrades to turn their guns on the infidels – which they were more than happy to oblige. Only one of these ships escaped, but they weren’t regular pirates – they had no honor. They called themselves, ‘The Booby Boys!’”

“Bawdy Boys.” Los Mariachi corrected.

“Boogie?” Don Taco asked.

“Bawdy.” Los Mariachi reaffirmed.

“Bawdy.” Don Taco corrected himself and continued. “I was taken aboard the Spanish galleon bringing the King’s Governor to the outpost of Maracaibo – unfortunately for the King and his Governor, the man took ill and died the day before we came aboard. His daughter, the beautiful Isabella, took a fancy to yours truly and after three weeks of concentrated flirtation and obligatory mourning, convinced the military Capitan that I should be named successor to her father’s position.”

“Needless to say, I was thrilled to finally be recognized to be up to a position worthy of my talents. But as we approached Maracaibo, the captain of the ship I was on broke away from the flotilla. This Captain, Juan Jimenez O’Shay – the Spanish-Irish son of jewel thief had recently been assigned to his post by the Governor of Gibraltar – an almost mythical city to the south of Maracaibo and home to the notorious bunch we’ve already discussed – the Bawdy boys. At any rape, he …”

“Rate.” Los Mariachi broke in.

“What did I say?” Don Taco insisted – but Los Mariachi refused to repeat mistakes – believing, rightly so, that it reinforces the undesirable behavior.

“Rate.” Los Mariachi repeated with an emphasis on the “t.”

“Rate.” Don Taco repeated somewhat impatiently.

“The Bawdy Boys ran off with my ship and my beautiful, beautiful Isabella after knocking me unconscious and dumping me in the ocean. Were it not for the courage of my guitar-playing comrade here and his enormous, unsinkable instrument …”

Cap’n Slappy and Ol’ Chumbucket gave each other a grinning glance that was interrupted by the whispering Doc Burgess. “I think he means the guitar you perverts.”

“… I surely would have drowned. As it is, I wish I had. Without my Isabella, I can hardly eat.” Then, with a sudden shift in mood, he clapped his hands together. “Let’s have dinner!” Don Taco declared as he led them into a beautiful dinning hall and a table set as if for foreign dignitaries.

As they ate, something seemed to be troubling Leftenant Keeling. He kept counting his fingers. Finally he spoke up. “Don Taco, I mean no disrespect, but I must point out that your simple story of love, intrigue, betrayal, revenge, love and intrigue seems to trail off just after the betrayal and before any revenge.”

Don Taco’s face was filled with love and compassion for the young Leftenant, as he stood and came toward where Keeling was seated, whispering over and over to himself, “please don’t kiss me, please don’t kiss me, please don’t kiss me …” To which Slappy gave a scolding look and reminded him that, “When in Rome …”

Finally, Don Taco kissed Leftenant Keeling on the forehead. “You are a good listener! Some people, like Don Taco, are gifted story tellers, but you, Leftenant Keeling, are a gifted listener.”

“Si! My simple story of love, intrigue, betrayal, revenge, love and intrigue! DOES stop after betrayal! But it is merely a chapter break. The next chapter has yet to be written. This is why I am so happy to see you, my friends!”

“Oh – oh!” Ol’ Chumbucket whispered to Cap’n Slappy, “Here it comes.”

Don Taco climbed onto the dining table as Los Mariachi played intensely on his guitar. “You, my friends, are going to help me write my chapter of Revenge!”

There was a moment of deadly silence. All eyes landed on Cap’n Slappy. He looked from face to face, not sure what they were expecting him to say. Finally he just said, “Okay!”

Don Taco joyfully leaped off the table and rushed toward Slappy who, avoiding the lips, took the Spaniard in a powerful bear hug. “Manly hug!” Slappy declared, “Yes! A Manly Hug!” as he patted the Governor of Maracaibo on the back.

Thursday, January 12, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 124

The sun was well on its way toward the zenith when the Festering Boil finally rounded the headlands and entered the strait leading to Lago de Maracaibo and the city whose fort protected the mouth of that large lake – almost an inland sea – that protruded into the heart of Venezuela like a polyp.

Since the crew’s big musical number, Mother Nature had turned against the pirate crew – the bitch – sending a variety of squalls and minor storms as the ship proceeded south from Tortuga. Most troublesome, the wind had turned against them. Instead of the week of smooth sailing they had hoped for, they had spent 10 seemingly endless days tacking to make any headway. When they finally arrived off the strait, everyone aboard was tired and testy and the tide and the wind were both against them. By the time those had turned, Cap’n Slappy decided to wait until morning so they didn’t have to make the unfamiliar passage in the dark.

Finally they entered the strait under courses and topsails, with their ersatz Dutch flag fluttering from transom and Cementhands McCormack on the bow sprit, miming his international, “Nobody here but us harmless fishermen,” routine. The weather finally decided to cooperate, and the Boil sailed through the passage under bright skies and a light but steady breeze off the beam. They had just rounded the headland and could see the city ahead on the southwest. George the Greek was at the helm, with Slappy in his usual spot along the portside rail. George glanced at the hourglass as the last grains of sand ran through and called to Dogwatch, “Six bells – ring it!” Dogwatch Watts reached for the cord attached to the clapper. As he tugged it, all hell broke loose.

A roar of cannon and a pall of smoke shattered the late morning air, sending the shocked pirates to their battle stations – all except McCormack, who was so startled by the cacophony that he plummeted off the bowsprit. Fortunately he fell starboard and George had thrown the wheel over to larboard, so he managed to mostly avoid having the keel run over him. He grabbed the line thrown to him and struggled back up the side, not too much the worse for wear, as the crew reefed sails and stared toward the city.

“What the hell?” Chumbucket asked as he emerged from below decks.

“Beats me,” Slappy said. “We haven’t been hit, but man, that’s a lot of guns.”

“Are they shooting at us?”

“I don’t think so,” Slappy said, scanning the sea. “We’re not really in range yet, and the splashes all seem to be far ahead of us, at least half a mile. It looks – Christ!!!”

His oath was in response to a second salvo of fire from the fort, as the cloud of smoke drifted over the harbor, obscuring the city.

“Well, one thing is clear. They’re obviously shooting live shots,” George said as he watched the balls splash into the water, again almost half a mile ahead of them.

“And either they’re not shooting at us, or they’re really the worst shots I’ve ever seen,” Chumbucket added.

“Well, just in case it’s the latter, let’s get ready,” Slappy said. “All hands, man the guns! Rig for action! And somebody get me a drink!”

The flurry of activity quickly cleared the decks, and long before seven bells were rung the ship was ready for battle, if that’s what was in the offing. Each of the 24 four-pounders on the gundeck was loaded and ready to fire, and barrels of axes and cutlasses were distributed along the deck. Meanwhile George had brought the ship about and was standing off from the fort. By this time the smoke had begun clearing and Leftenant Keeling focused his glass on the battlements.

“Sir, there’s somebody signaling. He’s waving a flag of some sort.”

All eyes turned to the fort, where a figure was waving a large flag, quartered in red and white.

“Heading into danger? I guess so,” Slappy said. Now what’s this?”

From the fort’s tower, signal flags were heading skyward. Keeling read them off.

“L-O S-I-E-N-T-O. Lo Siento. It’s Spanish for ‘Sorry about that,’ more or less.”

Slappy grimaced. “I should hope so. What else?”

“They want us to stand to and they’re sending out a boat.”

A half hour later a small harbor boat pulled up alongside the Boil and one of its occupants, a small, tastefully dressed man, scrambled aboard. The pirates couldn’t help noticing that he brought with him a contingent of a dozen armed soldiers.

“Allow me to introduce myself,” the newcomer said, bowing. “I am Florencio Porras, adjutant and administrative assistant to his excellency the governor of Maracaibo and viceroy of his majesty, the king of Espana.”

The man withdrew a large handkerchief from his breast pocket and used it to flick a speck of dust off his spotless coat. All the sailors caught the scent of menthol as he fluttered the cloth, then held it near his face, as if he were trying not to show offense at the rather intense odor of the ship.

“Yeah, well, great to meet you Flo,” Slappy said. If the man were offended by the casual address, he showed it only by a very slight widening of the eyes. “Look, why were you shooting at us?”

“Ah no, senor, the governor was afraid you would think that. You happened to arrive right as we began our daily live gunnery practice, which begins at 11. Our men have been noticeably lax in their training, and the governor, in the way of all men who are assigned to a new post, wishes to impose some – how do you say? Escupida y pulimento?”

“Spit and polish, yes, that’s right,” Keeling offered.

Florencio seemed disgusted at the notion, but went on.

“To apologize, the governor would like to invite you, capitan, and your officers to dine with him in Maracaibo.”

“No, no, that’s far too much of an honor for an old Dutch fishing captain such as myself, being as I’m Dutch and like to catch fish,” Slappy said, pointing to the wooden shoes he had donned as the boat was pulling alongside. “I’m just looking for some new fishing grounds and thought I’d check out your lake, you see, hoping I could catch some small-mouth wall-eyed something or others. So I really couldn’t …

“It saddens me to say, capitan, that the governor thought you might wish to decline the honor. Which is why I have brought along your special ‘honor guard.’ And of course, with our gunnery now much improved, there is no point in trying to pass on southward without the governor’s permission. No, on the whole I really think it would be much the better if you and your men came with me.”

Chumbucket signaled with a jerk of his head to Slappy that he thought they should go. Pulling the captain aside, he whispered, “We might as well. We don’t even know if the Bawdy Boys came this way. Maybe we can get some news in the city.”

“But we’re pirates, remember?” Slappy hissed back with a glance at the soldiers. “Or did my shoes fool you, too?”

“Look, we could probably take out the guards,” Chumbucket shot back. “But if we can’t make it to Gibraltar, what was the point of coming here? We might as well go.”

Slappy turned back the dapper adjutant.

“On second thought, we’d be delighted to have lunch with the gov.”

An hour later the small craft pulled alongside the pier, bearing the adjutant, the ‘honor guard,’ Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket, Sawbones Burgess, Keeling and George. They soldiers fell in around them at port arms, and they marched up the hill toward the governor’s house where they were shown into a large, well-appointed room.

“I will tell the governor you have arrived,” Florencio said, bowing as he closed the door.

“He didn’t lock it,” Slappy noted, hopefully.

“He didn’t need to, with those soldiers all over the place,” Sawbones muttered.

Chumbucket was examining the contents of the credenza when the door reopened, admitting Florencio. The pirate deftly pocketed a small gold snuff box he’d been admiring.

Florencio cleared his throat, then intoned: “It is my privilege to present the governor of Maracaibo, and at the pleasure of his must royal and puissant majesty the king of Spain, his royal viceroy. Gentlemen,” from somewhere in the hall there was a ringing guitar flourish, “Governor Don Taco.”

Five jaws dropped to the floor as their old comrade Don Taco strode into the room, trailed by his ever-present Los Mariachi.

“My friends,” he greeted them. “Oh no, you didn’t bring along Black Butch? I was counting on a decent meal. My cook here is for shit.” He looked over the credenza, then turned to his adjutant.

“Florencio, where the hell did I leave my snuff?”

Tuesday, January 03, 2006


A Pirate Tale – 123

One after the other, the 32 guns of the starboard brace fired a rolling broadside, as impressive for it’s impeccable timing as for its sheer power. Each yard of the mighty ship was perfectly squared, every man aboard at his station in his white ducks or glistening officer’s uniform.

On the quarterdeck of HMS Tigershark, Lieutenant Buckler snapped his watch shut with satisfaction. The salute had gone perfectly, as he reported to his captain. The captain, however, seemed as oblivious to the officer’s report as he had been to the thunder of the guns. With a distracted air, Commodore William Bracknell Toasty waved one hand, which might have been a signal to continue or might have been an effort to ward off a mosquito.

From the fort guarding the port of Maracaibo, a ragged volley returned the ship’s salute. Buckler counted the shots. Only 14, not even half the salute the ship had fired. Normally, such an insult to the Royal Navy would have required some action, up to and including a landing party to spike the guns. Toasty, however, seemed to take no notice. His eyes – glazed under half closed, swollen lids – didn’t seem to be registering.

“Sir, shall I have Mister Manley bring the ship in closer to offer the garrison a more forceful signal of our presence?” he asked. As had become usual, it wasn’t the captain who responded, but the parson. With a simpering look, he leaned toward the captain as if listening to the frail man whisper orders, then righted himself and turned to Buckler.

“No, the commodore is sensible to the lack of courtesy displayed by the Spaniards, but wants to continue south to Gibraltar without delay,” “Rev.” Leech said.

“Is that the captain’s orders?” Bucker asked, ignoring the man of the cloth and looking directly at Toasty. The captain made no response. “Captain?”

Leech put his hand on Toasty’s shoulder and dropped his head until his eyes were level with the captain’s. “Captain Toasty,” he said sharply. “Are those your orders?”

The captain’s eyes flickered, then seemed to register for a moment.

“Oh, eh, what? “

“Your orders. Shall we sail on?”

“Oh, yes, by al means. Sail on.”

Buckler gave one despairing look at the captain, then turned and gave the orders.

“Come captain,” Leech purred. “Let’s get you back to your cabin and give you another dose of your medicine. Then perhaps the Duchess will come up and sit with you for a while.” The captain’s eye’s showed a glimmer of interest as Leech led him away.

Down on the gun deck, Abe McIlwain watched Maracaibo fall astern. He had been surprised, to say the least, to find himself assigned as a master gunner’s mate. “If me old dad could see me now, he’d die o shame,” McIlwain had said on getting the assignment from Leech. “I guess it’s a good thing I killed him all those years ago.”

He had just finished taking part in firing the salute, and felt a curious tingle of pleasure and pride that his gun crew had performed flawlessly. It was a crew entirely made up of members of the Bawdy Boys, all men who knew and had fought alongside each other for years. They were hardly regular Navy, but enough of them had served under the Union Jack for them to at least look the part.

“Why can’t we take the ship now?” Dedman asked. “We’re past Maracaibo, and we can take Gibraltar with just our lads.”

“Look, it‘s none o’ your business why Leech gave us the orders he did,” McIlwain snapped back. “Maybe we could take Gibraltar and maybe we couldn’t, but it’s what comes next that’s important.”

“Well, when the time comes, I’m gonna enjoy taking care of that bastard Buckler,” Dedman said.

“Just be patient,” McIlwain said. “In another week we can say goodbye to the flag and Buckler and all the Jack Tars who are so happy to serve him,” McIlwain muttered in reply. “And after we’re done with Gibraltar, maybe we’ll take a stop in at Maracaibo and see what’s what. I wasn’t much scared by their gunnery.”

One person had been scared by that gunnery. Unfortunately, that person was the newly appointed governor of the town. Since his recent arrival he had been worried about the town’s readiness. Now, from the fort above the harbor, he was actively concerned as he watched the ship sailing impassively away. He was furious that his gun crews had done such a ragged job of returning the ship’s salute, but knew that the poorly trained men had done the best they could. While he couldn’t blame them for the laxness that had prevailed prior to his arrival, he also knew that had the British decided to press the matter he would have been unable to repel them. The port looked a lot stringer than it actually was these days.

“Florencio,” he called, summoning his new adjutant. “I want the town alerted to the fact that starting tomorrow we’ll be holding gunnery practice an hour every day from 11 to noon. It might get a little noisy, and those who can get away from the harbor at the time will probably want to do so.

“Si, your excellency.”

“And I want to form militia companies in the town, for homeland defense. Get that organized for me. And let’s send another message to Hispaniola seeing if they have any spare soldiers that can be sent down here.”

“Si, your excellency.”

“I don’t know what the British think they’re doing sailing down Lago de Maracaibo as if they own my lake, but by the time they come sailing back, I want this town ready to compel them to stop and answer my questions,” he said. “I’m the governor here now, and I expect that to mean something.

From behind the new governor, a chord rang out from a nearby guitar, a flourish both dramatic and defiant.

The Festering Boil had cleared the windward strait and was heading south toward the South American coast. The wind was fair, and if it held up, it shouldn’t take more than a week to reach Maracaibo.

On the gun deck, Cementhands McCormack looked with satisfaction at the newly swabbed deck. Neatness was not one of the abiding virtues in the pirate world, but every now and then a sailor just had to get out the mops and holystones and clean something. It was in the blood.

McCormack beamed at the gleaming deck, and a song rose in his throat.

“Oh gold and jewels and booty are a pirates chief delight.
Buccaneering is a great life, when there’s plund’ring to be done.
You prove yer mettle every time you get into a fight,
Cuz a pirate’s just a sailor ‘til he kills someone.”

From somewhere aboard, a chorus echoed, “Yes a pirate’s just a sailor ‘til he kills someone.”

A string section appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and the music swelled as McCormack, joined by Dogwatch Watts and Leftenant Keeling in three-part harmony, sang a second verse.

“We’ve sailed the Spanish Main and we’ve sunk many a ship,
We’re happiest when our enemies are fallin’.
We send ‘em all to Davey Jones, they don’t enjoy the trip,
For a pirate’s just a sailor ‘til he’s keelhalin’.
Yes a pirate’s just a sailor ‘til he’s keelhalin’.”

As the brass section came in, carrying the melody, a dozen pirates slid down the ratlines to the poopdeck, where they performed a series of pas de deux and grand jetes. The trio of McCormack, Watts and Keeling swung up to the quarterdeck, where they marked time with a series of jazz squares. Then, with the wind snapping in the rigging and the sun gleaming cinematically on the horizon, McCormack stepped forward for another chorus.

“With cannon or with blunderbuss, with cutlass or with dirk,
We fight until the enemy’s colors have been struck.
The light of battle burns ‘til we’ve finished up our work …”

A door slammed open and Cap’n Slappy came out on deck.

“McCormack! What the fuck!?!!” the captain bellowed.

Dancers scattered below deck or back up the masts, the orchestra dematerialized as fast as it had appeared, and Watts and Keeling suddenly became deeply involved in taking the ship’s position.

“Yes sir?” McCormack asked innocently.

“What the blazes was THAT all about?” he asked.

“Just a musical number sir.”

“A what?”

“A musical number,” McCormack said. “You know, singing, dancing. It breaks the action and provides an enhanced – one might almost say melodramatic – feeling of the characters’ mood.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“It’s all part of my manifesto for a new theater.”

Slappy looked puzzled for a minute. Finally he sighed.

“Look, will you just keep I down? I’m holding the best hand I’ve had in five years, and Chumbucket and Sawbones Burgess have just raised me. I’d like to be able to concentrate on my cards.”

“Yes sir. No trouble cap’n,” McCormack said. The sailor turned, picked up his bucket and emptied it over the side, whistling the final chorus of the song as he did so.

Slappy shook his head, then turned back to his cabin.

“What a ship! A musical number?”

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?