Monday, January 28, 2008


The Curaçao Caper – Chapter 3

The cold steel poised above the exposed breast of Ol’ Chumbucket as if seeking exactly the right spot, then flashed forward, piercing his unresisting flesh. It withdrew, then raced forward again.

And again and again, slicing through the pirate’s skin over and over.

“This is really annoying,” Ol’ Chumbucket said to himself, then out loud, “C’mon Clay. How long is this gonna take?”

“Do you want art or do you want fast?” the tattoo artist asked, looking up from the diagram Chumbucket had sketched out to his work on the man’s chest. “You can’t have both.”

“Do your best work, but jeez this is annoying,” Chumbucket said. “That needle and all those little pricks.”

“All those little pricks,” Clay snorted. “That’s what my sister always complains about when she comes home from work at the sportin’ house. But don’t worry I always do my best work.”

“I know. That’s why I was so glad you came by. I wouldn’t have anyone else putting ink under my skin. Let’s just finish this up, okay? I’ve got work to do here.”

“And I’ve got a whole line of yer crewmen who want the best tattoos in the Caribbean.”

“In the world, my friend. In the world.”

It had been a happy meeting at sea. The Festering Boil, two days out of Port Royal, had spotted a sail and chased after it. But the vessel in question hadn’t tried to flee, instead making straight for the pirate ship. To everyone’s delight, it was Cap’n Clay and his floating parlor, Ye Olde Tattoo Shippe. Those crewmembers who still had any swag left and some undecorated skin were quick to line up. All except Cementhands, who scoffed as Sawbones Burgess showed off the tattoo of a bottle of leeches on his forearm.

“I don’t even need to advertise now,” Burgess, the ship’s doctor, had said proudly. “Everyone will be able to see exactly who I am.”

“And how handy it'll be. You'll be able to treat yerself when you start gushing puss and gangrene sets in.”

“Not from Clay!” Burgess protested. “He uses the cleanest tools I’ve ever seen. Why, his tattoo needle is cleaner than my surgical equipment.”

“With all due respect Sawbones, the officer’s privy on a Barbary slaver is cleaner than your surgical equipment.”

“Oh, you’re just afraid of getting stuck with a needle.”

“No, I just don’ see any reason to give the authorities anything to identify me with. You’ve heard the questions they ask – ‘Did he have any identifying marks? Any tattoos?’ This way anyone who thinks they need to send the police after me won’t have anything to go on. I’m anonymous, just a face in the crowd. I blend in completely.”

Sawbones just stared at the gigantic pirate in disbelief. Blend into the crowd? McCormack was at least six and a half feet tall and weighed more than 20 stone. With his wild eyes, unruly shock of hair and maniacal leer, “blend in” was the last thing McCormack would do, unless he was at a convention of fairy tale monsters.

“A face in a crowd? McCormack, you ARE a crowd,” Burgess said.

McCormack just shook his head.

“All I know is when the authorities start looking for me, they’ll have one less thing to identify me by.”

“That’s right,” Burgess retorted. “They’ll just have to look for the only sailor in the Caribbean without a tattoo!”

“Whaddaya think cap’n?” Dogwatch asked, showing off his new tattoo of a mermaid with implausibly large anatomical protrusions on her chest.

“Lovely,” Cap’n Slappy said with raised eyebrows. “I’m not sure she could swim with those, or even stay underwater very long, but she’s a beauty all right.”

“How about you, Slappy!” Clay called out as Chumbucket rose from the chair. “Should we do a little more work on yer magnum opus?”

“Not this time,” Slappy said with regret. “I’m afraid I’m a little short on cash just now. The holidays and all.”

Slappy had just the one tattoo, but it kept growing. It had started as a picture of the ship, The Festering Boil, under full sail, all the guns run out. Then a compass rose grew around it, with dolphins, mermaids and sea sprites dancing in and out of the waves. After that he asked for a ship’s wheel around all of that, rather like a frame. The wheel had been completed on his last visit with Cap’n Clay, and the tattoo artiste was eager to see what Slappy came up with next.

“I could do a little work on credit, you can pay me later,” Clay said, drawing started glances from nearby pirates who knew thatYe Olde Tattoo Shipperarely if ever extended credit – especially not too pirates who more than likely would be dead before they ever got around the paying. There was only one way he’d do the work on credit – if the pirate in question agreed that if he failed to pay in a specified time period, Clay could take the tattoo back, and all the flesh it was attached to.

“No, not this time thanks,” Slappy said. “I remember when that ol’ loper from The Bloody Billwasn’t able to pay you on time and you took his bicep back.”

“Yeah, but I left him the lower arm,” Clay said reasonably.

“Lot of good it did Lefty, since it wasn’t attached no more.”

“I’m sure it made a right nice souvenir,” Clay said, grinning.

“Tell you what,” Chumbucket said,. “I’ve got a couple of coins left. I’ll treat you.”


“Yeah, sure. Why not? Let’s see what you can add.”

Slappy closed his eyes and thought about it. Suddenly a grim smile played around the corners of his mouth and he told Clay what he wanted. The artist nodded and went to work.

An hour later Slappy rose from the chair with satisfaction as Chumbucket handed over the doubloons to pay for the work.

“Let’s see it,” he said.

The tattoo was much the same, except now two hands were holding the spokes of the ship’s wheel (in the safety approved “two and ten o’clock” positions, of course.) And on the ring finger of the right hand gleamed a gold ring.

“There,” Slappy said with satisfaction. “If no one’s going to get me that ring I’ve been askin’ for, at last I can see it on my hand here in the artwork.”

“That’s your hand then?” Chumbucket asked. “How can anyone tell?”

“That’ll be the next part of the picture. I’ll have him make that me holding the wheel in a gale. Or a battle. Or something.”

“We’re going to need a lot more booty to pay for that,” Chumbucket said with a shrug. “But really, don’t you think you’re obsessing on this ring thing a little much? I’m no psychiatrist …”

“Of course you’re not, they haven’ been invented yet,” Slappy said.

“Right, anyway, I’m not one o those things, but it sure seems to me like it’s preying on your mind. It’s just a ring …”

“No, it’s just NOT a ring, because I don’t have one,” Slappy said.

“Sure, but unless you think some kind of mystical, malevolent spirit has poured his power and evil into a ring to enslave all the creatures of earth, and that if you possess that ring you’ll be able to use that power …”

“No, but that’s not a bad idea for a story,” Slappy said.

“Well then, I just don’t see the point.”

Slappy sighed.

“Maybe I don’t either. I admit it shouldn’t seem like a big deal, but I’ve been hinting around for the longest time, and at first it seemed like maybe the rest of you were just kind of dense, but now I’m beginning to take it personally.”

“Well, anyway, I think you ought to relax about it. But nice ink work,” Chumbucket said.

“Anyone else?” Clay said as he began gathering his equipment. He looked reverently at McCormack, whose vast expanse of unsullied skin offered a canvas worthy of his skills. On more than one occasion he’d offered Cementhands free ink if he’d let him do something magnificent, but the pirate had, as always, turned him down.

There were no more takers, so Clay and his staff went back aboardYe Olde Tattoo Shippe,which had been tied up astern, and prepared to cast off.

“Alright then, just remember the fundamental rules of tattoo maintenance. Take plenty of rum internally as an anesthetic, don’t let any Spaniards or Royal Navy blighters cut my work, and for the next couple of days try not to get so much piss on the new tattoos.”

“Oops!” said Dogwatch, who had been trying to urinate off the windward side of the ship.

“Any word of any shipping that needs our attention?” asked Slappy as he two ships began to drift apart.

“I hear tell of a lot of traffic between the towns off Panama,” Clay shouted. “They must be getting up a fleet back to Spain because there’s a lot of coasters shuttling back and forth. A few of the brethren are already on their way west to take advantage of ‘em.”

“Oh they are, are they?” Slappy said. “George! Let’s make sail! I want to be off the Santa Catalina in 10 days, and I don’t want any other brotherhood ships beating us there! It’s our turn to pick up a little booty!”

Thursday, January 10, 2008


Chapter Two

The season wouldn’t be complete in Cap’n Slappy’s mind without The Cementhands McCormack Singers’ fine rendition of “The Twelve Pirate Days of Christmas.” It was performed with gusto – in both voice and sign language with several members of the chorale attempting what can only be described as “interpretive dance,” and culminated in a spectacular albeit wildly inappropriate fireworks display. By the time they got to the final verse it had seemed to take a full week to perform and the choir was flagging noticeably, but they gritted their teeth and belted out the final lines –

“On the twelfth pirate day of Christmas my captain gave to me …
Twelve savage beatings
Eleven saucy wenches
Ten brand new cannons
Nine disembowelings
Eight more saucy wenches
Seven Swaths of Swag
Six Spanish Sweaters
Five Gold Earrings!
Four friendly goats
Three French slaves
Two Turtle Shells
And a Parrot Who Will Perch Upon ME!

And after the traditional carol singing came the traditional debauchery to the point of death – and there was much rejoicing.
But Christmas on The Festering Boil was not without its more solemn observations of the Holiday. As the moon took its place in the night sky and the stars twinkled in the firmament, Ol’ Chumbucket held both hands up to silence the revelers – who then ceased their merriment and paid him heed. Every man and woman aboard knew it was now time for the recitation of, “Twas The Piratey Night Before Christmas.” Lanterns were held to illuminate Ol’ Chumbucket as he primed his throat with a swig from his rum flask and took in a deep cleansing breath before reciting– from memory;
Twas the night before Christmas and all through the ship
There was nothing to munch on – not even a chip.
The flagons were empty.
The rum was all gone.
All pirates were sober and would be till dawn.

(The crew moaned on cue – in keeping with tradition.)

With the crew in their hammocks I’d long hit the sack
For the watchmen were watchful, there’d be no attack.
When down on the wharf there arose such a ruckus
That I fell from my bunk on my back and my tuchus.
When what to my wondering eyes should appear
But Cementhands McCormack and four kegs of beer!

(The crew cheered on cue – in keeping with tradition.)

His nosey was rosey from having been drunk
But a selfish man, never – of us he had thunk.
He’d gambled with locals who weren’t that clever
“Such patsies!” he said, “I could pick them forever.”
Doubloons were still spilling from his big britches pockets.
“They gambled their watches, their bracelets and lockets!”
But then he had thoughts of his mates on the boat.
“What good are my winnings? To whom can I gloat?”
And then he remembered there was naught to drink
And this made him thoughtful – the big man would think.
“Well, it’s Christmas” he thought, “And there’s nothing to do –
Should I blow it on harlots? Nah – BOOZE FOR THE CREW!”

(In keeping with tradition, the crew recites the phrase, “BOOZE FOR THE CREW” with Ol’ Chumbucket followed by traditional raucous cheering)

So the big man bought kegs, he bought bottles, a flagon.
And he piled them up high in a little red wagon
That he dragged cross the cobblestone streets of the town
Some bottles fell off and the flagon fell down
But he grabbed the last bottle, in his pants he did tuck it.
“This one’s for the captain – and his pal, Chumbucket!”
What joy there arose when he finally arrived
For the lack of the drink made the crew feel deprived
Now they toasted and boasted, they guzzled and swilled
Had the wagon been bigger, they would have been killed
By alcohol poisoning – no doubt about it
But it wouldn’t be piratey Christmas without it.
And the big man, he bellowed before he got plastered,

(Here, the crew joined in the final line, followed by raucous cheering – in keeping with the holiday tradition.)


Cap’n Slappy approached Ol’ Chumbucket at the conclusion of the recitation – applauding as he came and wiping what appeared to be a tear from his rosy cheek. “That was lovely – as always!” he said as he shook hands with his friend. “How do you memorize all those words?”
Ol’ Chumbucket was about to describe in great detail his “process,” but Cap’n Slappy was moving on – “Sweet Baby Neptune in a bed of oysters! That was grand! The only thing that could make it grander would be a surprise gift of a lovely gold ring for the captain.”

(Here, Slappy paused – hoping this subtle hint might be just the cue the crew needed to spring what he had hoped would be the long-awaited and often hinted at gift he dreamt of. When nothing happened, he sighed heavily. It was now time for his annual Christmas address.)
“Yes, well, perhaps next year. At any rate, let me just say, it’s been quite a year what with attaining great riches during the Havana Caper only to lose those same riches at caper’s end! Still, we pirate on – in hopes that one day, there will come a bright and glorious morning on which we will find ourselves awash in treasure without the subsequent loss of said treasure due to unfortunate circumstances. It would appear, even to the most casual of observers that our Deus Ex Machina seems to be a relentless harpy – keeping us from the happy endings of a wealth nature that would allow fellows such as ourselves to pay for another sort of happy ending at Madam Bordeaux’s International House of Spankings.”

(A general harrumph of agreement burbled through the assemblage – and several, “Oh, I love the IHOS!” could be heard amongst the murmur.)

Cap’n Slappy continued, “And whereas we require a modicum of discipline in our carnal peccadilloes, so shall we ever seek to raise the level of discipline in our practice of the piratical arts.”
At this line, Leftenant Keeling shouted an approving “Huzzah!”
“Not a discipline of the flesh!” (Keeling moaned in disappointment.) “But a discipline of the mind! A discipline of the spirit!” (general sounds of bewilderment rumbled throughout the gathered pirates) “And, alright, a discipline of the flesh!”
Keeling cheered again.
“May our disciplined efforts in the coming year produce the sort of wealth acquisition that has, thus far, eluded us and may we all, on this day next year, remember who it was that inspired us to break out of our slump and award him accordingly with a lovely gold ring!”
The sound of crickets could be heard over the confused silence of the pirates. Cap’n Slappy sighed again.
“Oh, bugger-all. Let’s just have a good year, shall we, and try not to get ourselves killed. Merry Christmas!”
A cheer went up from the crew who knew that for all of Cap’n Slappy’s talk of discipline, his message would soon be forgotten and life on The Festering Boil would go on as it always had – barely contained chaos on the high seas.
Suddenly, George the Greek rushed over with an urgent message for the captain. “The natives … (he panted) … they’re restless!”
Sure enough, the glow of torches, the unmistakable shimmering of well-polished pronged farm implements reflecting the torchlight and the guttural murmur of discontented Port Royalists could be glimpsed coming toward the general direction of the wharf.
“Who’s been a naughty pirate?” Cap’n Slappy asked the crew in general – not expecting the deluge of confessions that sprang, like curse words from a child afflicted with Tourette’s syndrome, from various crew members gathered for the celebration.
“I cheated the inn-keeper at cards!”
“I cheated the cooper at dice!”
“I deflowered the blacksmith’s daughter!”
“Me too!”
“Aye! I did that – twice!”
Cap’n Slappy shook his head, recognizing that last voice – “McCormack!”
They continued,
“I convinced a drunk to marry a pig!”
“I deflowered that pig!”
“I punched the mayor in the face!”
Ol’ Chumbucket was aghast – “Why did you do that?”
“He used the word ‘mute’ when he meant ‘moot’!”
“And he described something that is simply uncommon as being, ‘very unique!’ ”
“Well, he was asking for it then, wasn’t he?” Ol’ Chumbucket asserted. “On behalf of the English language, I thank you for your vigorous defense.”

“Look,” Cap’n Slappy cut off this shipboard confessional, “Let’s just say, you’ve all be very naughty and the rest of Christmas has been cancelled. We’ll set sail immediately.”
“You can’t cancel Christmas, Cap’n.” Salty Jim pointed out matter-of-factly.
“I’m the captain, aren’t I – I can cancel anything I bloody well, want.” Slappy shot back.
“No. You don’t understand my meaning. Christmas is over. It’s now Boxing Day. You can cancel Boxing Day if you like.”
Salty Jim felt that this was a fair compromise.
“But when will we pack away the Christmas decoration if not on Boxing Day?” Dogwatch asked innocently.
“Twelfth Night?” Spencer suggested.
“You can’t leave the Christmas decorations up until Twelfth Night!” Sawbones Burgess declared.
By now, the mob from Port Royal was within a couple of blocks of the pier and looking ever-so-surly.
“For the love of Sweet Poseidon’s salty bollocks!” Ol’ Chumbucket cried out in exasperation, “This – this sprig of mistletoe tacked to the mizzen is the totality of our festive décor!” He then snatched it off the mast and stuffed it in his pocket. “There! Boxing Day’s over! Can we shove off now?”
As he said the words, “shove off,” the crewmen who had gone down to the dock, freed the ship which immediately pulled away from her berth. Those crewmen then scampered up the ropes and back onto the deck as the townspeople reached the dockside. The mayor – black-eyed and bandaged – held a long piece of paper aloft and called out, “Cap’n Slappy! We have a list of grievances here, signed by some of our most upstanding citizens against various elements of your crew! We wish to discuss them point-by-point in search of retributary remunerations!”
“RETRIBUTARY?” Slappy called out – “Are you sure that’s a word?”
“No, sir!” The mayor called out, “I’m not! But if you’re leaving, the whole point of the document is probably mute!”
Several crewmen surged toward the deck in hopes of issuing a hail of verbal taunts – but they were quickly restrained. Ol’ Chumbucket called after the mayor – “Then let us never speak of this again!”

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


The Curaçao Caper – Chapter 1

All was quiet as the great wooden ship churned its way south towards the warm water of the Caribbean. The crew of the Swedish merchant ship, Kejsardömen av Sverige, had enjoyed their Christmas celebration, singing, drinking and eating a variety of ethnic dishes that were all too rare at sea.

Their distinguished passenger had not seemed to enjoy the meal, refusing anything. Those few sailors who thought it odd that a member of the Swedish aristocracy didn’t enjoy Swedish delicacies, especially after weeks and weeks of typical seagoing fare, shrugged it off. Such traditional dishes as lye-soaked lutefisk, the boiled crayfish known as kräftskivor. and the spicy sausages called falukorv (traditionally made from oxen that had dropped dead from overwork) was probably only suited to peasants, they told themselves. The rich probably ate much differently – fancy foods the crew couldn’t even imagine. Even the captain’s table probably paled in comparison to the banquets the passenger was used to. And there was the sea sickness factor as well. Though they’d left Sweden more than six weeks ago, some stomachs just never seemed to adjust.

“Oh well,” the sailors had decided. “More for us.”

The party had gone on quite late, but finally the last song had been sung, the last toast drunk and the last drunken sailor had tottered off to the fo’c’sle. All was silent save the slap of the waves on the hull, the hum of the wind in the rigging, and the unsteady tread of the watch as he made his rounds accompanied by the bottle of akvavit, the potent, caraway flavored alcohol that the captain had allowed in honor of the holy day.

Deep below decks a careful listener (had there been any on the ship) might have heard the softest tread of a pair of feet. This would have been followed by a rattling, a muffled oath, then a click and the slightest squeak of a hinge as a hatch opened and closed. The midnight prowler seemed to know just where the cargo in question was stored. The crates and trunks – carefully marked with signs only two people would have noticed – were undisturbed. All was as it should be, carefully sealed. Satisfied that all was in order, the intruder exited the hold, carefully relocking the passageway before starting up towards the stateroom. Suddenly the dark figure froze as a voice called out a challenge.

“Who goes there?” Ensign Marck Ericsson asked.

The figure stepped into the light of Ericsson’s lantern, and the young officer who had the command of the night watch instantly relaxed, his stern expression fading into puzzlement.

“Countess Sonja?” he asked the woman who stood before him. “What are you doing down here in the middle of the night?”
The woman looked embarrassed, her face turning almost as red as her fiery hair.

“Thank God you found me!” she gasped. “My stomach was still feeling a little queasy, but when I went to look for … well, you know, I’m afraid I got lost. I’ve been wandering around downstairs for almost an hour. Can you help me back to my stateroom?”

“Certainly ma’am,” the ensign said, ignoring her use of the word “downstairs” instead of the nautically correct “below decks.” The elegant noblewoman was clearly a lubber, he thought to himself, offering her his arm. “You’ve been lost below for an hour? How horrible for you. Even I would have trouble finding my way down there in the dark.”

“Oh, you’ve no idea,” the countess said. The officer could feel her tremble as he took her shoulder to steer her aft. “I was afraid I’d end up like that Flying Frenchman …”

“You mean Dutchman,” he gently corrected.

“Flying Dutchman? Yes, Dutchman,” she said. “Forgive my being so silly about these things. But I was afraid I’d be wandering down there forever, never to see the sun again. Then, after every turn got me more lost, I was mostly just afraid.”

“Don’t worry ma’am, we’re almost back to your stateroom now.”

“Oh lieutenant …”

“Ensign, ma’am, I’m just an ensign.”

“You’re a lifesaver is what you are. You won’t mention this to the captain will you? I’m afraid I’d feel so silly that …”
“No harm done ma’am. It’ll be as if it never happened. You have my word as an officer.”

“And a gentleman, I’m sure,” the countess said, favoring him with a smile that melted the young man.

“And here’s your cabin. If you need anything ma’am, and your servant isn’t available, go up to the quarterdeck, not below.”

“Of course. Upstairs it is. I’ll remember that next time. Good night.”

“Good night ma’am.” The young officer snapped his heels together and offered a low bow, then took a step back, turned and resumed his rounds.

The countess stepped back into her room, dropping the latch on the door with one hand while tossing the stiletto she’d had concealed in the other hand on the shelf beside her bed.

“Well, I’m glad I didn’t have to use that,” she said to herself. “He seems like a nice boy.”


Meanwhile, several hundred miles away, the holiday party on The Festering Boil, the sleek, black ship tied up to the dock of Port Royal, had taken a contentious turn. Amid much laughter and carousing, a giant pirate was looking for the present from his captain which he was sure had to be around there somewhere.

“Am I getting warmer or colder?” he asked playfully.

“You’re getting drunk is what you’re getting,” Cap’n Slappy said. “I’m telling you, Cementhands, there’s no present hidden for you anywhere.”

“Of course there is. There’s ALWAYS a hidden prezzie for me.”

“I TOLD you, Cementhands. Those cannons everyone unwrapped came out of my personal booty and it’s my gift to the entire crew! It’s a group present. And since you’re a part of the group just sit down, enjoy it and stop being a prat!”

“Well you sure don’t know much about the Christmas spirit,” Cementhands McCormack sniffed.

“Now don’t get all sulky” Slappy snapped. “I bought them guns as a gift for the crew, you bastard, and they were all I could afford so don’t expect anything from me in your stocking!”

“No, no. You’re quite right, I’m sure. Just because this is the first Christmas since I started sailing with you that I didn’t get a prezzie, and I’ve been a VERY good boy this year, and I did get you that wonderful present.”

“Mittens! You got me mittens again!”

“Well what did you want? Socks and underwear?” Cementhands asked.

“You got me mittens! AGAIN! We’re in the Caribbean for the love of cheese! I ask ye, have you ever seen me wear mittens?”

“No, and what does it say about YOU, when I go to all the trouble each year to knit you these mittens and you NEVER wear them. How’s that supposed to make me feel?”

“Well, if I wear ‘em, it’s gonna make ME feel as if me hands are on fire. It’s 85 degrees!” Slappy said.

“Fine. Now I know how you really feel about me. I’ve only risked my life for you … how many times? And bailed the whole crew out just a month ago, but I guess that doesn’t mean …”

“Fine!” Slappy bellowed. He muttered to himself, “Every Christmas I drop subtle little hints like, ‘God Damn! It would be nice to get a gold ring for Christmas this year instead of another pair of mittens you great stupid git!” but even as he muttered, he pulled the mittens out of his gun belt and tugged them over his hands. “Look! I’m wearing the mittens! Are you satisfied?”

“You really like them then?” McCormack said in a tone that surprised Slappy with its neediness.

“Yes, yes, love ‘em. The best mittens you’ve made me yet.”

“Well, I figured that, since they’re the first you’ve ever put on.”

Slappy decided that the conversation had gone far enough – he’d never be able to one up McCormack. So he reached for his flask and held it out to the massive pirate.

“Merry Christmas, Cementhands.”

“For me? Oh, thank you captain! It’s just what I wanted! A flask! Half full of rum!”

“No! I was just offering you a drink! I wasn’t gi … Oh never mind. Merry Christmas.”

While Cementhands might have been miffed, the rest of the crew was having a great Christmas, if for no other reason than just a month earlier they’d have bet they wouldn’t live to see it. The adventure (chronicled in “The Havana Caper”) had left the crew poor but appreciative of the chance to wake up each morning. As a result, Christmas gifts had been few and inexpensive, but all the more gratefully received as a result. Black Butch, the five star chef who was the ship’s cook, had outdone himself again in whipping up a holiday feast, and there was always plenty of rum.

And everyone except McCormack had oohed and aahed when the wrapping paper and ribbon had come off the mysterious bulk that “Santa” had left on the deck. The two new nine-pounders stood in all their bronze glory, surrounded by the remains of colored paper and bows the crew had eagerly torn off them, ready to be wrestled into the bow as “chasers” – guns that could hurl iron at ships as The Festering Boil pursued them instead of the ship having to slue to one side or the other to fire a broadside.

The two nine-pounders returned the Boil’s armaments to its full compliment of destruction. In its recent escapade, most of the ship’s guns had been spiked, leaving it with plenty of powder and shot but only four working guns. After escaping from the trap laid for it in Havana they’d had a lot of hard work to re-arm. Salty Jim, the ship’s carpenter and general handyman, had been able to re-tap eight of the spiked guns. The Brotherhood of the Coast had donated another ten in gratitude for the Boil’s crew having put a stop to both the evil plot and the potential alliance between England and Spain, either of which would have spelled the end of the golden age of piracy. Thus armed, the Boil had been able to capture a pair of merchantmen that had yielded little in booty but supplied another pair of four-pounders.

The crew stood in an admiring circle around the two gleaming guns, one or another venturing to run a hand tenderly across its bronze barrel and sigh.

“A wonderful present,” Ol’ Chumbucket acknowledged to Cap’n Slappy. “How in the world could you afford them?”

“I can’t,” Slappy said. “I had to use all my share of the booty from those two ships, sell my stake in that ‘home for wayward women’ on Tortuga, and borrow a little from Keeling.”

“You sold your share of Diana’s Doxie Domicile? I thought that was your retirement nest egg? I hope you at least got to keep your ‘owner’s’ privileges when you’re in port.”

“No, I’m afraid I’m out of the fallen women business, at least for now.”

“Damn! And I sold my cutlass to buy you a box of prophylactic devices for when you visit the place,” Chumbucket said.

“You’re kidding! And I used by last couple of shillings to get you this jar of Ol’ Doc Stevens’ Cutlass Polish, endorsed by Sir Nigel.”

The two old shipmates looked at each other, then burst out laughing.

“Wow. That’d almost make a story, the kind of tale you’d read to the family at the holidays,” Chumbucket said.

“Maybe, but it’ll have to be written by a better author than either of us,” Slappy agreed. “But wait, here comes my favorite part of the holiday. Cementhands is ready.”

On the deck, McCormack was organizing the crew into their choir positions.

“Basses on the left. Then tenors, altos and sopranos! Let’s go people! We want to get going before New Years!’

The crew finally found their positions and hummed and hawed until their voices were more or less warmed up.

“Alright then, everyone ready?” McCormack asked.

“What are we singing,” Sawbones asked.

“You’re not singing, you’re just croaking as usual. The rest of us are singing ‘The Twelve Pirate Days of Christmas.’ And a one and a two …”

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