NIGHTMARE ON SHARK MOUNTAIN
The best thing to do,’ said the albino pirate, ‘is shave his belly with a rusty razor.’
‘That’s rubbish!’ said the pirate with gout. ‘You should soak him in a barrel until he grows flippers.’
‘You should put him in bed with the Captain’s daughter!’
‘You should stick a plaster on his back!’
The pirates were sat in the boat’s kitchen arguing over what the proper protocol was for dealing with a drunken pirate. After the debate about whether sea anemones made better pretend moustaches or better pretend eyebrows when you stuck them to your face, this was easily the pirates’ favourite topic of conversation. Discussions onboard a pirate boat usually escalated into violence without much prompting, and the albino pirate was just about to empty a carton of milk over the pirate with gout’s head when the door crashed open and into the kitchen strode the Pirate Captain himself.
Even in slippers and dressing gown, the Pirate Captain cut an imposing figure. If you were to compare him to a type of font – because whilst the pirates usually liked to compare people to types of tree, just recently they had taken to comparing people to other stuff as well, like fonts, or creatures, or makes of cheese – he would undoubtedly be Impact, or maybe Rockwell Extra Bold. His years of staring at the ocean had given him a nice even tan, and when asked to describe himself in letters to pen friends he would tend to note that he was ‘all teeth and curls’ but with ‘a pleasant, open face’.1 And most strikingly of all, he wore a great luxuriant beard that the pirates knew had inspired at least one book of epic poetry, because the Captain had personally dictated it on an adventure when it had been too rainy to get up to much else.
‘Sorry, Pirate Captain,’ said the albino pirate, who knew that they weren’t supposed to fight at the breakfast table. ‘We didn’t mean to disturb you. We were just discussing what the best thing to do with a drunken pirate is. You know how we can never seem to decide.’
The Pirate Captain looked thoughtful. ‘The best thing to do with a drunken pirate,’ he said firmly, ‘is to give him some strong black coffee.’
And with the argument settled, the Pirate Captain grabbed a tray of breakfast and strode back towards his office.
‘He’s right,’ said the pirate with gout. ‘That makes a lot more sense. I don’t actually know what “soaking him in a barrel until he grows flippers” even means.’
The Pirate Captain sat back down at the desk in his office, or ‘nerve centre’ as he had been trying to encourage the men to call it, on account of that sounding more exciting. The cabin was decorated with all kinds of maps, charts, calendars, trophies and at least half a dozen portraits. There was one of the Pirate Captain with a large white whale, the latter smiling weakly and waving its tail. There was a painting of him wearing a string vest and holding a ship’s wheel in each hand to draw attention to the musculature in his arms and chest; and another showed him from the rear, walking across a tennis court and scratching his behind. Then there were the gifts from the crew – a series of commemorative plates that depicted famous pirate haircuts, a wind chime made out of miniature cutlasses, a tea towel with ‘10 Facts About Pirates’ and so on. Even the Captain occasionally got tired of the persistent nautical theme, but he didn’t have the heart to tell the men to be a little more imaginative in future. His pirates genuinely loved him, in a manly, shoulder-punching kind of way, and in turn he felt a genuine affection towards his crew. He liked to think of himself as a kind of maritime goatherd, responsible for keeping his pirate goats fed with goat food and warding off wolves and that. The Captain was still working on the metaphor and hoped to share it with them all one day. It had occurred to him to try keeping some actual wolves hidden on the boat and then to set them free to give him an excuse to bring up the whole goatherd-analogy thing, but he wasn’t sure where you could get wolves from. He’d certainly never seen any for sale anywhere. The Captain made a mental note: ‘Ask number two where I can buy some wolves. Preferably ravening.’ Then he went back to reading nautical trivia off the side of his cereal box, because that was where he got most of his seafaring knowledge.
There was a tap at the door, and the pirate with a scarf and Jennifer came in looking excited. Jennifer had been with the pirates for a while now, and she was beginning to blend in. She’d lost some of her characteristic Victorian-lady traits, like wearing corsets that crushed your womb or having hysterical illnesses at the drop of a hat and, eager to be a good pirate, she’d also passed on some of her more charming habits to the crew – it was now a common sight to see pirates brushing their hair a hundred times before bed or self-consciously correcting their posture by walking about with a book on their head.
‘Hello, Pirate Captain,’ said Jennifer.
‘Hello there,’ said the Captain. He pointed at his cereal box. ‘Did you know that, according to this, pirates wear patches to aid their view of the stars at night? Isn’t that something?’
‘The world of trivia is amazing,’ agreed the pirate with a scarf. ‘We’ve got the morning paper for you.’
‘Oh, well, just the cartoon section for me, thanks.’
‘I think you should see the front page, sir.’
The Captain glanced up at the paper Jennifer was holding and frowned. ‘“Communist Dingo Ate My Baby”?’
‘Next to that.’
Fishing his glasses out from under a sextant, the Pirate Captain began to read:
Admiral Sedgwick spoke exclusively to this newspaper about his horrific ordeal: ‘We were minding our own business, knocking about the ocean, when a huge flotilla of pirate ships sailed out of the fog. They swooped down like eagles in eye patches, waving cutlasses and gnashing their gold teeth.’
Though hopelessly outnumbered, our brave Admiral managed to get his officers to safety in a launch. The pirates were led by the ruthless Pirate Captain, who was described by eyewitnesses as all teeth and curls but with a pleasant, open face and devilish flashing eyes. He was accompanied by a cackling pirate wearing a scarf made from human skin. ‘When that hellhound gave the order to hole the ship, I looked into his eyes and saw a man without a soul,’ reports Admiral Sedgwick. Many fine sailors went to a watery grave.
The Pirate Captain, who is of indeterminate age and no fixed address, apparently took up pirating in a misguided attempt to impress a girl.
‘I like the bit about your eyes flashing,’ said Jennifer. ‘Can you actually make them flash on and off?’
‘When the mood takes me,’ said the Pirate Captain, looking pleased.
‘And is it true about you taking up pirating to impress a girl?’
‘Oh, sort of,’ said the Captain. ‘Truth is, I’m a little tired of telling that anecdote.’
‘Is that human skin?’
‘No,’ said the pirate with a scarf. ‘It’s chinchilla. Nice and warm.’
‘Funny thing is,’ said the Pirate Captain, knitting his bushy eyebrows together, ‘I don’t really remember us having an exciting sea battle yesterday.’
‘No, Captain,’ said the pirate with a scarf, picking a barnacle off the electroplated pirate with an accordion, who was stood in the corner of the office. ‘If you recall, we were going to have an exciting battle, but then you got chatting with that admiral and we decided it would be a lot less bother if we just had a competition to see who could eat the most crackers instead.’
‘Oh, yes,’ said the Captain, brightening. ‘That was good. Like at Christmas when the two armies play football with each other.’
‘But we were all so engrossed in the cracker contest that nobody was really paying attention to where the boats were going, and the Royal Navy boat ran straight into that iceberg.’
‘Aaaarrr. That was unfortunate. Cut through the bow like it was butter, didn’t it?’
‘You don’t suppose the bow was actually made from butter, though?’
‘No, sir. Butter is rarely used in naval construction.’
The Captain shook his head. ‘Icebergs. You know, if I didn’t already have that fiend Black Bellamy as a nemesis, I think the position could very well be taken by icebergs.’
‘They’re certainly a nuisance,’ said the pirate with a scarf.
‘I don’t like the way you can’t see their eyes,’ added the Captain grimly. ‘There’s something really malevolent about that, don’t you think?’
‘Um. Icebergs aren’t creatures, Pirate Captain.’
‘Well, what in the Pirate King’s name are they, then?’
‘It’s when water freezes.’
The Pirate Captain’s eyes widened. ‘This is what I like about life at sea. It’s one long voyage of discovery. Solid water! What will they think of next? Hopefully a pony who solves crimes. Anyhow, you’re quite right, I do remember now – we offered them a lift back to port, but he didn’t think it would do his reputation much good to be seen with the likes of us. You can see his point. Nice chap that admiral. I like to think that in a different life we might have been friends. Though, of course, in a different life we might both have been moths, or pigs, or something like that. Who’s to say?’
‘Who indeed, Captain.’
‘But if he had been a pig and I was a moth, it would be nice to suppose that we could still get along. You know . . . I’d flap my wing at him as I flew past and let him know when he had swill on his nose and so on. Having said that, the bit about me being “a man without a soul” is a little hurtful.’
‘I suspect he was probably trying to make things look a bit better to the newspapers than they actually were,’ said Jennifer. ‘Understandable, really.’
‘Aarrrr,’ said the Pirate Captain, reading through a bit more of the article. ‘I certainly wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of me if that’s the kind of behaviour I get up to. Look – at one point I decapitated six sailors with a single swing from my cutlass. And I had the strength “more of a lion than a mortal man”.’ The Captain made a lion noise.
‘But that’s not all, sir,’ said the pirate with a scarf, looking pleased. ‘Because you also got sent this parcel.’
In the Pirate Captain’s experience parcels had been a bit of a mixed blessing. He’d had good things come in parcels, like a nice T-shirt from Coney Island, a stuffed crow and a mug of hot tea, but he’d also had some bad things, like a pile of mouldy potatoes, a hideous porcelain horse and a gauntlet that had turned out to be haunted. Luckily, this was definitely one of the good kind of parcel because it contained a letter, some tins of hair pomade and a small chest of treasure.
‘Why are people sending us treasure, Captain?’ asked Jennifer, opening up the chest.
‘It’s from the good people at Perkins’ Gentlemen’s Pomade,’2 explained the Pirate Captain, waving the letter at them. ‘It seems that due to my new-found fame and notoriety they’re proposing to sponsor our adventures. All I have to do is occasionally mention what a fine product they produce and how I couldn’t live a day without it, that kind of thing, and in return they’ll send us a monthly stipend, in the form of jewels and gold doubloons and that.’
‘Oh, that is nice,’ said the pirate with a scarf. ‘There are too few heart-warming moments at sea.’
Jennifer tried on a tiara from the chest. It suited her. ‘What are you going to spend it on, Captain?’
‘How about some new sails?’ said the pirate with a scarf, practical as ever. He tried on a different tiara, but the emeralds clashed with his scarf. ‘Or portholes that don’t let the water in; that would be nice.’
‘I think we have to prioritise, number two,’ said the Captain gravely. ‘It’s all very well wanting luxuries like new sails or portholes with glass in them, but there are also much more pressing necessities. Like me getting a nice new coat.’
‘You only got that coat last week, Captain!’ said Jennifer with a frown. ‘For that pirate conclave in Nassau. I remember because Cut-throat Jenkins had exactly the same design. It was something of a social faux pas.’
‘Ah, but you see, it’s ruined. Probably in last night’s exciting sea battle,’ said the Pirate Captain. He held up the hem of his coat, where a tiny piece of stitching had come loose.
‘It’s only a small tear,’ said the pirate with a scarf. ‘I can mend that in no time. Remember that adventure where we set up a Bond Street fashion house and Black Bellamy had a rival fashion house and we competed in London Fashion Week?’
‘The one where my daring take on traditional tailoring took the fashion world by storm and Black Bellamy cheated by copying the exact same designs and managed to get them on to the catwalk just before we did?’
‘Yes, that’s the one. Anyway, I picked up quite a few sewing skills.’
‘That’s good of you, but I think this damage is beyond repair, number two.’ The Pirate Captain grabbed the bottom of his coat and tore it another foot and a half. ‘See? That could happen at any time. I definitely need a new one. So we’ll stop off in London, give the lads some shore leave and get me a new coat. Don’t worry, after that we’ll have some sort of adventure – hopefully something light involving a heist or a missing dinosaur skeleton. Or perhaps something to do with a barnyard. Have we ever had an adventure in a barnyard?’
‘I don’t think so, sir,’ said the pirate with a scarf.
Excerpted from The Pirates! In an Adventure with Communists by Gideon Defoe. Copyright © 2008 by Gideon Defoe. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.