‘The most exciting way to start an adventure,’ said the albino pirate, ‘would be to open in the sinister lair of the International Crime League, eavesdropping as they plotted their most audacious crime yet – the theft of the Queen’s brain!’
‘That’s ridiculous,’ said the pirate with gout. ‘The most exciting way to start an adventure would be to wake up inside a room, next to a dead body, two pieces of coal, and an unexplained carrot – but there’s apparently no way in or out of the room!’
‘How about finding yourself in a regular-looking café... but then, when you open the door – it turns out you’re in space!’
‘What if, overnight, plants started walking backwards.’
Soon all the pirate crew joined in the argument about what the most exciting way to start an adventure might be. Usually this would escalate from polite to heated to vociferous before you could say ‘guts everywhere’, ‘arterial spray’ or ‘horrific splatter pattern’, but today, because the pirates were sitting in the vestibule of a fusty Swiss bank and one of the bank clerks was giving them a stern look, they decided it was probably best to keep the noise down. The albino pirate stopped waggling his cutlass at the pirate with bedroom eyes and stared at a pot plant instead. The pirate with gout picked up a magazine and went back to reading an article about dividends. The pirate with a scarf gazed out of the window to where the pirate boat lay parked on the rain-drenched, achingly dull shore of Lake Geneva, thought a bit about the nature of irony, and yawned.
Inside the bank manager’s office the Pirate Captain tipped back in his chair, swung his boots onto the big mahogany desk and did his most winning smile, which involved showing off all of his teeth, even the molars. His years at sea had left him tanned and weathered – but weathered in a good way, like an antique globe or a vintage fireplace, not in a bad way‑ like Val Kilmer or a mouldy coffee cup‑ and if you were to compare him to a type of gastropod–which was the latest thing his crew tended to compare him to–he’d probably be a luxuriantly bearded conch, or maybe a whelk with a pleasant, open face. The Captain wasn’t keen on being compared to types of gastropod, so he’d been trying to persuade them to compare him to other things instead.
He hadn’t had much luck so far. The crew were adamant that he had a lot more in common with whelks. The Captain pointed out that unlike whelks–which use a large muscular foot to pin down their lobster prey–he had two large muscular feet, didn’t care for shellfish as much as people made out, and lacked any kind of extendable proboscis tipped with a sharp radula at all, but once the pirates had something in their heads it was hard to shake it. X.
‘So, I was thinking that a thousand doubloons should do the trick,’ said the Captain, pointedly not scratching his shell, because he wasn’t much like a whelk. ‘I realise that sounds like quite a lot, but you know how day-to-day expenses can mount up. As it happens, I made a list, in case you don’t.’ He pulled a napkin from his coat pocket. ‘Let’s see: Spare bits of rope – thirty-five doubloons. Press-ganging – that’s fifty. New hats – that’s another fifty.’ The Captain tapped his tricorn. ‘Might seem frivolous to you, but it’s important to keep up with the latest season’s fashions in order to maintain the lads’ respect. You can’t put a value on respect. Where was I? Ah, yes: Christmas presents for Scurvy Jake, twenty-five... new barbecue... forty... and the rest is “sundries”.’
The bank manager, who like most people in his income bracket was made mostly of jowls, peered over his half-moon spectacles. ‘Eight hundred doubloons for “sundries”?’
‘Can’t get by without the sundries. Say the word a few times, it’s very satisfying. “Sundries”.’
‘Pirate Captain. In today’s wintry financial climate, credit is not so readily available as it once was.’
‘Ah, no, of course. The markets,’ said the Pirate Captain, with a conspiratorial nod. He had recently taken to dropping phrases like ‘the markets’ into conversation to give the impression he understood economic matters. The bank manager pulled a face as sober as his suit.
‘And your account is now nine thousand doubloons in the red.’
‘Is red the good colour? I can never remember.’
‘No, Captain. Red is not the good colour. We’ve been trying to contact you for several months regarding this matter, but you don’t appear to have replied to any of our letters.’
‘Ah. If you think I was avoiding them, then you’re wrong. I actually didn’t even open those letters because I assumed they were birthday cards. And, thanks to a clerical error, you thought I had a birthday twice a month.’ The Captain helped himself to a complimentary mint from the little tray on the manager’s desk, and did his winning grin again. ‘I’m doing my winning grin again,’ he explained. ‘I don’t know whether you’ve noticed, but if you look closely you’ll see I’ve had tiny grinning faces carved into some of my gold teeth to make it an even more winning grin than it would otherwise be. So. How about this loan, then?’
‘Sorry, Pirate Captain,’ said the bank manager. ‘I’m afraid that this time, we really won’t be able to oblige.’
The Captain puffed out his hairy cheeks and tried another tack.
‘Look, you have to understand – piracy isn’t like other jobs. One minute you’re swimming in pearls and eating diamonds instead of cereal, the next you’re clinging to a raft made from dead pygmies without a penny to your name. The thing we’re dealing with here is what I believe your sort refer to as “a temporary liquidity issue”.’
‘I’m well aware of the piracy business model,’ said the bank manager, wobbling his jowls sympathetically. ‘After all, we pride ourselves on being the bank of choice for... the more unsavoury professions.’ He gestured at the wall, which was covered in pictures of famous pirates, gangsters, deposed dictators and other bank managers.
‘It just doesn’t seem like piracy is a very lucrative career for you, Pirate Captain. Have you considered doing something else? I hear plumbing is surprisingly well paid. People will always need plumbers.’
The Pirate Captain leapt to his feet as if he’d found a jellyfish in his boot. ‘You insult me, sir! I am a pirate to the core! If you cut me in half – this is a metaphor by the way, so don’t actually do it – if you cut me in half you wouldn’t find intestines and bits of spine and blood. No! It would be more like a stick of seaside rock and running through that rock would be the words “ONE HUNDRED PER CENT PIRATE” in big bold letters. I’d never give up the pirating life! Never!’
‘I heard you were a beekeeper for a while.’
The Captain sat back down. ‘That was different. And, anyway, it turns out there’s no money in bees either. People aren’t ready for my avant-garde take on honey.’
The bank manager tapped a pencil on his desk and adopted the conciliatory tone that works well with toddlers when they’ve been told they can’t eat glue.
‘Shall we talk about repayment terms?’
‘Sorry. I’m afraid you’ve got my blood up now, and I find it impossible to think about money when I’m having an emotion. I demand to see my lawyer!’
‘This really isn’t a legal matter, Pirate Captain.’
The Pirate Captain tossed his beard about and waved his arms. ‘Oh, it’s all becoming clear to me! Shall I tell you what the problem is? It’s that you don’t know what it is to live and laugh and love and run a man through! You’ve never tasted the salty air on your tongue or waved heartily at a mermaid! It would be impolite to call you a shrivelled little bean counter who wouldn’t know drama if it kissed you on the mouth, but nonetheless – I’m afraid that’s exactly what you are. You people have no flair, no romance, no sense of adventure! Everything’s just numbers for you! Well, you can’t reduce passion and flair and eating ham to numbers, sir! Good day to you!’
And with that he swept out of the room, slamming the door behind him. The bank manager shook his head and made a weary note in his ledger. A few moments later the door creaked open and the Pirate Captain crept back in, picked up a handful of the complimentary mints and crept back out again.
Excerpted from The Pirates!: In an Adventure with the Romantics by Gideon Defoe. Copyright © 2012 by Gideon Defoe. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.