Friday, April 19, 2013

Pirate Waters

"It is a glorious day to be sailing." thought Sir Robert Kaye while dabbing lightly at the perspiration on his forehead with his silk handkerchief. He had slept late and dined on the best of the provisions for breakfast. He fully expected to be arriving in Jamaica by tomorrow.

At the helm of the merchant ship stood Capt. William Mason who was in an unusually foul mood. The sailors on the ship knew it and tried to keep out of his way today. Those unfortunate enough to come near to him got commands and curses yelled at them.
"Check the shrouds for fraying, you indolent barnacle or you'll have my boot to eat and brine to drink!" shouted Capt. Mason at a sailor.

The captain was in a bad mood because his large merchant ship carried nothing but a strongbox full of gold and silver—and these were Pirate Waters.

What's more, Capt. Mason had been convinced to carry along an insufferable dandy, a gentleman from England, to drop off in Jamaica. Sir Kaye had made himself a general nuisance over the past few weeks, demanding deference from all on board and complaining about everything on the ship from the privy to the wine.

Capt. Mason's plan was one that was sure to reap incredible riches if he were successful. He would load up in Port Royal with as many barrels of molasses as he could cram onto the large ship. He would sell off the molasses in Newport, Rhode Island and return to England with double the amount of gold and silver in the strongbox now. He would switch off sailing crews at each port giving the men just enough money to get drunk for a couple of nights and then return to England with a skeleton crew and vast treasure.

But there were others that day that had treasure on their minds: two others in fact.

"Cap'n!" cried the boatswain "a ship's been spotted off starboard the last hour and heading for us."
"St. Elmo's fire!" swore the Captain. "Blow your pipe, Bo's'n, and get all hands on deck. We're going to open every sail and pull hard to port."

"What is the meaning of all this?" demanded Sir Robert Kaye. His leisurely deck stroll had been interrupted by sailors rushing around.

"Late to the ball are we, your Lordship?" mocked Capt. Mason. The humor was missed entirely by the dandy who replied, "Fashionably late."

Just then the first mate with his spyglass came running up. "Cap'n Mace, sir..."
"I already know—there's a ship off the starboard rail." the captain said cutting him off.
"No, Cap'n, sir. There's a ship also off port side of the stern and gaining hard on us." said the mate with panic in his voice.

"Great Neptune's beard!" blustered the captain. "We'll not outrun both in these winds. What colors are they flying?" asked the captain.

"Both black flags, Cap'n, sir. One with a sword and the other with an hour glass." said the mate.

"Roll out the cannons and stand by." ordered the captain.

"On my word, are we being attacked then?" bleated Sir Kaye.
"Not another word from you, you foppish silk stocking or you'll be stuffed in a barrel and rolled overboard!" said Capt. Mason red-faced.

"You are a foul-smelling, crude, ill-mannered beast!" retorted Sir Kaye.
Capt. Mason swung a meaty fist and narrowly missed Sir Kaye's head. Sir Kaye squealed and pranced away. Hours of dancing had honed his reflexes and agility which just saved him from a certain broken nose.

Both pirate ships approached quickly and easily overtook the slow-moving merchant ship. Capt. Mason and his crew stood on deck and braced for a bloody attack. The ships seemed to be racing each other.

"Hold your fire, lads," shouted Capt. Mason "or we'll be blown to splinters from both sides. We're out-gunned and we'll have to bargain." Capt. Mason had a bag of coins on him that might buy off the pirates and the rest was safely hidden in the bottom of the ship.

Both ships crashed up against the merchant ship simultaneously. A large man with a wild beard and a sword in hand jumped from his ship over the starboard rail and landed hard on the deck of the merchant ship. The man winced in pain as one of his ankles buckled. Nevertheless he roared, "I'm Captain Bill Booty! Surrender your ship or every man aboard will die by sword or sea—that is, after their teeth and toenails have been yanked from them."

Suddenly, another man swung from a grappling rope over to the deck of the merchant ship from the port side and landed with impressive finesse. As he landed lightly on the deck, he jerked a pistol from his belt with his right hand and took a large dagger from his clenched teeth with the left. "I am Captain Powder Jack, and I am commandeering this ship! Anyone who doesn't want to be blown to bits will cooperate." Already he had a smoldering wick on a cocked, matchlock pistol—ready to blast a ball into the first man to step forward.

"What are you doing here, you piece of whale vomit?" Bill Booty said.
"I'm taking this ship—so kindly sail off and I will spare your life." responded Powder Jack.
"Step aside, Jack, and watch how it's done. Besides... I got here first." sneered Bill Booty.
Jack ignored him.
"Anyways, I thought you were up in Charleston." continued Powder Jack, clearly annoyed.
"We drank them dry months ago. News travels slow." said Bill. "Speaking of which, didn't you have a girl down in Barbados?"
"Let's just say that I am not on good terms with the authorities there." said Jack.

Capt. Mason and his sailors did not know what to make of the two bickering pirates. It was obvious that the two ships that attacked them were not working together. In fact, Bill and Jack were old enemies since the days when they were urchins on the docks of London. They led rival groups of boys in street games and stole each other's girlfriends. When one joined the Royal Navy the other did as well but on a competing ship. When one turned pirate the other did as well. Each one lived to out-sail, out-curse, and out-plunder the other.

Sir Kaye picked this moment to approach the pirates. "Sirs, as a gentleman I demand to be ransomed."
"Pardon me, Milady. Are you sure you're not a woman under all those frills?" said Powder Jack.
"How gauche!" cried Sir Kaye and all on board had a laugh at his expense.
"Good one, Jack." said Bill still chuckling. "That's right your Ladyship, Jack and I have some business to tend to here."

"Fine," said Jack, "Your move, William—William Lily. You should have a beautiful lily on your flag rather than a stupid sword!"
"I've killed men for calling me, 'William' before—James, James Poudre. And now you, your ship, and this merchant will have to deal with me and the crew of the Salty Mermaid." he threatened.

"What crew?" asked Powder Jack.

"Don't be coy, Jack. The crew behind me, the Salty-blooming-Mermaid!" growled Bill. But while he was talking his ship had started to sail away.
"You better go catch them, then!" laughed Jack.
Bill turned around and saw that his crew had picked that moment to mutiny and sail away on his ship.

"Oy, oy! Come back you scurvy dogs!" yelled Bill. Calico Joe, his former first mate, was standing at the helm and grinning viciously as he sailed away."A curse on you, Calico Joe! You're nothing more than a hermit crab, scuttling off with me ship."

"I knew I should have watched that upstart closer." said Bill with a twinge of defeat in his voice. But suddenly he looked up and smiled towards Powder Jack's direction.

"Oh, what do we have here, now? Look out James, look behind you." said Bill.

"I'm not falling for your tricks, Bill." said Powder Jack. He kept his pistol trained on Bill but noticed that the sound of his men behind him was growing fainter. Finally, overcome by curiosity, Jack turned around to see his mutinous crew sailing off as well.

"Unbelievable!" Jack exclaimed and then he released a torrent of curses that were shocking—even coming from a pirate.

Bill Booty was hooting with laughter. When he caught his breath he asked Jack, "When's the last time you paid them?" and then burst into laughter again.

Pirates are notoriously superstitious and lazy. While both nervous crews had waited for the unconditional surrender of the merchant ship they weighed their odds of fighting two ships and decided to forego the hassle and sail away stranding the captains.

"It seems the odds are now in our favor, sirs." smirked Capt. Mason. "But feel free to kill each other if you like."
"Gladly!" said Powder Jack who leveled his pistol at Bill. But when he pulled the trigger, it blew up in his hand instead.

"Ouch, ooh, ooh, ouch!" said Powder Jack holding his blackened hand.

Bill Booty chuckled again, flicked his sword in a practice swing, and said, "I'll gut you, Jack, like a fresh fish." But when he took his first step he landed on his bad ankle again and fell down, rolling on the deck in pain while holding it.

Capt. Mason shook his head and yelled to his men. "Grab these two buffoons and lash them to the mast." It was not difficult for the sailors to grab the two ailing pirates. As a cruel joke the two were not tied to the mast back-to-back but facing each other. They were tied straddling the mast—hugging it and each other. They immediately began cursing each other.

Capt. Mason was finally in a good mood as a result of having narrowly avoided two pirate encounters without a scratch. "Tap the kegs o' rum, lads!" he sang out. "Let's drain 'em afore we reach Port Royal where we'll pick up fresh ones." A hearty cheer went up from the sailors.

*****
As night approached, most of the sailors stumbled around the deck drunk, singing, or gambling at cards. Arguments would break out when one of them was too far gone to read his cards right.

Everyone had forgotten about the two pirate captains that sat uncomfortably face-to-face with arms wrapped around the mast.

Powder Jack spoke first, "Well, Bill, if we don't get out of these ropes then we'll wind up with one around our necks as soon as we get to port. They don't take kindly to pirates in Port Royal."

"Shows what you know," said Bill Booty. "I've arranged for a full pardon from the governor there if I can come up with enough coin. I've been thinking about retiring lately and this ship was going to be me last plunder."

"Ha! You're flat broke now without ship or crew." said Jack.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that." said Bill slyly. "Er, I mean the part about being broke. Obviously, me ship has sailed. But I have a gold dagger with gems for the handle made by natives that's worth ten ships. I traded all me loot for it to have something I could stow in case of mutiny."

"How fortunate." said Jack flatly. "Wait a minute! You have a dagger on you—where? I think I can get a hand loose and cut these ropes."

"It's under me belt in front—near the nethers." said Bill.

"The nethers!" shuddered Jack. "Let's get one thing straight, Bill. If we get out of these ropes and fight to take the ship together I get three-quarters of the plunder we find."

"You'll get half, you greedy son of a sea-witch." said Bill.

"Fine," said Jack, "but you'll also get me a hook for my hand, I think I'm going to lose it."

"You blew your own hand off!" said Bill incredulously.

"Aye, trying to shoot you." retorted Jack.

"Alright, it's a deal then. Just grab the dagger in me pants." said Bill.

Jack shook his good hand free from a poorly tied knot and reached for the front of Bill's pants. He hesitated though, unsure if this was one of Bill's dirty jokes.

"Careful!" cried Bill. Fortunately, Jack found the dagger without incident and began sawing at the ropes.

"This dagger is as dull as a spoon." Jack complained.

"It's a blooming ceremonial dagger made o' gold! What did you expect?" said Bill.

Finally, the ropes gave way and the two pirates were able to stand and stretch in the dark. They had little trouble stepping over passed-out sailors along the deck who didn't make it to their hammocks. Most were snoring. "This is like fishing in a barrel." muttered Jack.

The two pirates casually strolled to the captain's quarters and tied up the sleeping captain. (Some unfortunate, sober sailor had been left to mind the tiller.) Grabbing their sword and dagger from the corner they went out on deck again and went down below to see what they could find.

"No cargo!" exclaimed Jack. "You know what that means..."
"A strongbox full o' gold." finished Bill.

They searched the bottom of the ship and easily found the strongbox because, after all, they were pirate captains and used to hiding treasure from their own men.

When they broke open the box they were astonished by the large mound of gold doubloons and silver pieces o' eight.

"Kings may rule the countries but it's merchants what has all the money." exclaimed Bill. "This will set me up good for retirement."
"Why don't you join me, me old hearty."

Jack was surprised by Bill's sudden friendliness but said, "I've got a few more years at sea in me."

"I tell you what, Jack. You can keep this ship and the crew if they'll have you as long as you get me and me gold into Port Royal safely." said Bill jovially.

"Agreed." said Jack.

That night both pirates slept in the captain's quarters with Capt. Mason uncomfortably tied, gagged, and shoved in the corner.

In the morning, the pirates got the drop on the hung-over sailors. They kicked them in the ribs to wake them and told them to line up or be run through by the sword pointed at their nose.

Capt. Mason was now propped up on deck against the mast but still tied and gagged.

Before Powder Jack could announce that he was the new captain of the ship and that all who opposed him would be killed on the spot, the first mate ran up to him and Bill.

"Begging your pardon, Captains, sirs, but I represent the crew. We would happily serve as pirates under you if you would spare our lives." said the mate. "We've heard stories that Capt. Mason skims his crew and we would rather have pirate pay."

"Well, crew, you're as smart as you are ugly," said Powder Jack. "We accept!"
"Three mutinies in two days might be a new record for me" mused Bill Booty.

The first command under Captain Powder Jack was to maroon Capt. Mason and Sir Kaye on a small island nearby. The island was not much more than a sandbar with a clump of palms. Both men were protesting vigorously when the crew left them with a paddle, a canoe, and one week's provisions. If they paddled hard on the sea and worked together they could make it to Jamaica in a week. Frankly, the crew was happy to be rid of both.

The next task was to get the notorious pirate Bill Booty safely into Port Royal—nothing that a little forgery couldn't accomplish. The ship's papers were changed from "Captain William Mason" to "Captain William Lily" with the help of an ink blot or two.

The ship sailed into port and cleared customs without a hitch. A day later, Bill Booty whistled as he walked down the road to the harbor in new clothes. He was carrying a silver hook in a bag as a gift to Powder Jack who was on the ship in the bay.

However, there was a public hanging near the docks and a large crowd blocked his way. Suddenly, Bill saw Calico Joe, his old first mate, standing on the scaffold and Calico Joe saw him.

Calico Joe began to yell, "Bill Booty! Bloody Bill Booty! You cur, you pirate! You belong up here with me." The priest backed away from the condemned man and all in the crowd turned to look at Bill.

Bill smiled and said loudly, "You mistake me, sir, for a friend. But I am Captain William Lily and I have papers to prove it. Me ship lies in the harbor and is recently sold to the Honorable James Poudre who is weighing anchor soon for Barbados."

"Liar!" cried Calico Joe, causing murmurs in the crowd.

Bill gave a humoring chuckle and said, "Everyone knows that pirates lie and betray their friends. That man has clearly been proved a pirate and is therefore a liar. Death to pirates!"

"Hear, hear." murmured those in the crowd and the executioner snapped the hood down over Calico Joe's head muffling the rest of his protests.

*****
And that's the tale of how Bill Booty retired, Powder Jack got a new crew, ship, and hook for his hand, and how Capt. Mason and Sir Kaye worked out their differences.

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