Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Chapter 25

Mad Sally was a pirate. Always had been.

True, that was not always an easy position to maintain in what was typically considered a "man's field." She had long ago lost count of how many times big burly pirates, or even small wimpy ones, had taken it on themselves to "protect the womenfolk," which included her. Or the voyages where, every time it looked as if she'd finally be able to command her own ship, a group of macho he-man types had decided they had to take command.

Even most – not all, but most – of her crewmates had failed to see her as a pirate, let alone a leader among pirates. It was always, "Good fight, Sally, loved the way you cut down that squad of marines. Now someone should mop this deck," with pointed looks in her direction.

She'd had to take a variety of jobs when stuck ashore because a ship wouldn't sign her on. Everything from bar maid to bank teller to P.E. teacher at an all-girl school. Her field hockey team had been league champions three years in a row. Sally had always thought field hockey would be good training for buccaneering – sure pirates were fierce, but nothing compared to the ferocity of a group of young, gently-reared ladies sublimating the onslaught of puberty by rushing up and down a field with heavy wooden sticks.

But she was a pirate, it was in her blood. How could it not be? Her father had been one of the most feared pirates on the Spanish Main "back in the day." She had never wanted to trade on his name, which would have been useless anyway since he had disgraced the family. It was the family's dark, hidden shame. They never spoke of his treacherous act, preferring to tell people he'd become a gravy mopper in a whorehouse rather than admit the awful truth. And you certainly won't hear it here and now, because she's never told it so the author doesn't know it to relate it. And the author rather suspects that if he did repeat the story, heads would roll and one of them would probably be his.

So anyway, Mad Sally had jumped at the chance when she finally had the opportunity to seize her own ship and go on the account for herself. That she'd done so with an all-girl crew made up of some of the most formidable field hockey players she'd ever coached was all the better. That she'd had to leave behind friends, especially Ol' Chumbucket, was hard. And The Festering Boil was better than most in terms of its treatment of women. They had several aboard as members of the crew, all treated as equals, but still, there wasn't a single female officer and Slappy, despite his modern attitudes, still had a predilection to "protect the womenfolk" that he was only slowly overcoming. And even Chumbucket would have to admit he had a tendency to take over and make decisions that weren't his to make, based on being the male.

Chumbucket had been harder to leave behind. In fact, she'd almost invited him to come along, but knew he'd probably feel bound by loyalty to Slappy to stay aboard the Boil, might in fact even have warned them of her plans. Then she thought about hitting him hard on the head and bringing him along without asking. But that would have gone against the all-female pirate crew she'd been planning, so in the end he was lured ashore with the rest and Sally and her girls had taken the ship they had named The Poison Pearl and set off to write their own tale of adventure (as related in "The Diego Garcia Caper.") So far they'd done well, especially if you counted getting the Swedish crown jewels. They hadn't stolen them, not from Swedes, but they had figured out which Baltic sea rat had them and relieved him of them, along with his head.

Sally and Ol' Chumbucket had first met almost 30 years earlier, back before he was Ol' Chumbucket. He'd been using another name then, one of dozens he'd used in his career. In many ways they were opposites, she quick and intuitive and acting on the spur of the moment, he calculating and careful, always judging the odds before making a move. She always took pride and pleasure when she spurred him to acting without regarding the consequences and trust to luck and instinct. And he'd enjoyed debating the finer points of a plan until the two of them had worked it into a thing of beauty. They'd been together on most of the inhabited islands and many of the uninhabited ones, had had their share of scrapes and adventures and fights and romance. It was an on-again/off-again relationship, each pulled in some other direction, and yet their courses always brought them back together like a couple of bits of flotsam in a tidal eddy.

And now here he was and that was a problem, Sally thought. Here she had this carefully crafted plan – something she grudgingly admitted she'd learned from him – and had left nothing to chance. This would be an easy strike. Her crew was all set up in the wedding shop that would be the base of operations, she was ensconced in the suite at the governor's mansion, and all the pieces were in place. In two weeks would be the wedding ceremony, which was all part of the plan.

He'd obviously recognized her, she could see it in his eyes. Now what would he do about it? How would his actions affect the plan? And if Chumbucket was here the rest of the Boil's crew must be too – Cementhands had said as much, and though he wouldn't tell her why she could certainly guess. Which complicated things quite a bit.

And what about her? Here she was, captain of The Poison Pearl and a very successful rover in her own right, and everything was in place for a major coup. And suddenly all she could think about were those days, like the one when she and Chumbucket had captured that sloop, just the two of them, or the time they'd escaped from the tattoo parlor in Santiago with the Spanish on their heels, or the days sailing the blue Caribbean waters or the nights on the white sand beaches, the air redolent wth the scent of orchids.

She shook her head. No time for the past. There was a plan to put in motion. She'd just have to make sure Chumbucket was nowhere near when things started moving.

"I need you to deliver a note," Sally said to her companion.

"A note?"

"I haven' written it yet."

"To?" the redheaded young man asked.

"An old friend," she replied, knowing he'd know who she meant.

"Well, I've been looking forward to meeting this old friend of yours."

"Just be quiet and let me think about what to write."

Aboard The Festering Boil, the crew was in an uproar.

"Get everyone armed and we're going in to get them," Keeling said, fuming. "They can't just arrest George and Wellington."

"Of course they can. They did," Chumbucket said.

"So what do you propose we do then?" Black Butch snarled.

"Exactly what we were always planning to do. We're going to get into the gaol, find Hamnquist, get him or get the information …"

"And I still don't care much which," Slappy added.

"Right. Either way, we'll get George and Wellington then."

"You mean you want us to leave them there rotting in that pile of stones?" Red Molly asked.

Chumbucket glanced at Slappy. The two of them had already been over this, and Slappy had agreed. In fact, Slappy had been the one to cool Chumbucket from leading a raid on the gaol, which would have surprised everyone aboard had they known. They always assumed the captain was the hot-headed, impetuous one, and Ol' Chumbucket the plotter. But Slappy'd noticed something was bothering the older man, he didn't seem himself.

For that reason, the captain took the lead in the debate.

"If we do anything too soon, we'll tip the whole game. We're going to get one chance to pull this off. We don't want to give the game away early. First we have to get into the gaol and let the guards get used to us. We'll time it so that we're moving into the cell block the day of the big wedding. All the extra security will be there, not watching us. If we move now and we blow it, we'll never get a second chance. This is the way it has to be."

"We're just going to leave them there?" Dogwatch asked, incredulous.

"I'm afraid so," Slappy said. "But they'll be all right, it's less than two weeks. Besides, this way I'll be sure I know where at least two of my crew are."

"But wait," Leftenant Keeling said, a frown on his face. "The Dutch just arrested two 'Dutch painters' and incarcerated them as pirates. Isn't our cover blown?"

"I've sent Cementhands ashore to take care of that," Slappy said.

Cementhands was again standing in the government office. He'd endured the inevitable Dutch inquisition from the clerk, stoically waiting for the appearance of the Englishman he'd spoken to before. Eventually Bernard Jeffries was shown in.

"I just heard that a couple of pirates were arrested."

"Indeed," Jeffries said. "News travels fast, does it not?"

"Yes, it does. What's this I hear about them being disguised as men from my crew?"

Jeffries raised his eyebrow fractionally.

"Yes, very fast indeed. It is as you say. They were dressed as you, but underneath they were clearly pirates, as was quickly apparent from their tattoos."

Cementhands rolled up his sleeves to show his un-inked skin, while saying, "It's despicable what some of that rabble will try. I want to make sure they don't get off on some technicality. I'm here to press charges against them for masquerading as my representatives."

"Indeed? You wish to press charges?"

"Of course. My reputation is at stake. I can't have pirates parading around pretending to be me. Besides, I don't know if you've got any evidence on them for piracy. I heard they were arrested in a tavern and weren't actually doing any pirating at the time."

"Quite so," said Jeffries as he reached below the counter. Cementhands stiffened, but all Jeffries brought out was a sheaf of government forms. "While that is the case, evidence isn't strictly necessary for our jurisprudence. But if you'd like to press charges, that will speed things up considerably. If you could fill out this form, and this one, and this one," he made several marks on the forms as he leafed through them, "and this one and this one, initialing here and signing here on the first page and the second to last, that should be sufficient."

"Great," Cementhands said, dipping a quill in the inkstand and beginning. "How long will they get if they're convicted of this?"

"Oh, they'll hang."

Cementhands paused, then kept writing.

"Really? For impersonating a painter?"

"Swift, certain, sadistic judgment is the hallmark of our legal system. It removes most of the questions and all of the incentive for committing crimes."

"How soon will they hang?"

"Oh, it will be a long process, I assure you. Two weeks."


"Yes, the governor's getting married in two weeks and has his heart set on a 24-noose hanging. We were two short, so this is something of a lucky break."

"Not for the pirates, I'm sure."

"No. It's a break for them but not so lucky. Perhaps next time they'll think twice about impersonating a painter."

"Ye-e-e-s," McCormack said, not sure if he was being put on. Then back to business. "This won't affect our relationship, will it?"

"I wondered if you'd be worried," Jeffries said. "No, the more I've thought about it, the more I think you're right. Our gaol, or jail if you prefer, is truly a depressing edifice, and nothing would make me happier than to see you in it … brightening it up with a fresh coat of paint. When can you start?"



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