s they left ye olde skwirril shoppe, a comely wench approached the Captain and pressed a piece of paper into his hand. “From a friend”, she whispered, patting his lunch-box. Lorst let out a high-pitched scream, dropped the paper, and shrank back into the doorway. His newly acquired squirrel disappeared into his shirt.
“Wots up, Cap’n?” asked the gunner. “Yer be hembarrasin’ us’n all wiv yer girly axshuns.”
Wild-eyed, Lorst pointed a trembling finger at the crumpled paper.
“Billy Bones, Billy Bones. ‘Tis the black spot. Oi nivver thort oi’d be the one. ‘Tis Davy Jones’ fer me. Mebbe that’s why nobody has been spikken to us.”
Neufragios picked up the paper and unfolded it. “I can confirm, sir, that this is not a fictional literary device. It is a message from the Captain of the Madde Moggies Revenge. A certain lady by the name of Pieces O’Nine. It states: “Oi be expectin’ yer at th’ Benbow in Penny Street.”
Lorst’s mood lifted. “Arrr, Oi unnerstud thee last bit. Weigh anchor lads.”
Turning off the Gunwharf Road, the streets became narrow, cobbled, and slippery with the slime of refuse. The buildings were crammed together, and dark furtive alleys slinked away in all directions. Above them rose houses of blackened timber and peeling plaster. They were three or sometimes four storeys high, and each storey projected over the lower one.
In a street of some width, the effect would doubtless be picturesque. But most of the streets here were narrow lanes, and the projecting buildings from each side almost met at their top storeys, making the street itself gloomy and airless.
Penny Street was badly paved, and the middle of it was little better than an open sewer. The dirt, refuse and chamber-pot contents from the houses were thrown out into the street; one reason for the projection of the upper storeys. The pavement, such as it was, was raised at the sides of the road so as to make it possible to walk clear of too much mud.
It was a street of loud noises – hooves and raw coach wheels on the cobbles, the yells of traders, the brawling of apprentices, cries of “garde l’eau” and scuffles to keep to the wall and not be thrown into the oozy kennel.
“Oi don’t see a sign anywheres,” said the Captain.
Close by there was a loud, angry shout and the sound of breaking glass. A body flew out through a window, splashed through the open sewer in a shower of glass splinters and crumpled into an untidy heap onto the cobblestones.
Hackem glanced through the broken window. “I fink this must be it, Cap’n.”
The sailing master stepped forward and doffed his hat. The crumpled figure on the ground was female. “Greetings, madam”, he declared. “I am Señor N... Ooooof!!
Neufragios had also fallen to the ground. Hackem quickly put away his heavy leather cosh whilst a nearby accordionist looked somewhat disappointed.
Lorst nodded approvingly.
The wet and filthy pirate stood up and brushed herself down. “Cap’n Lorst! Oi be Pieces O’Nine. Welcome to thee Benbow. Oi has been expecting yer and has just ordered yer a cone-yak on Black Bart’s tab.”
She wiped away a trickle of blood from her lip. “As yer can see.”
Pieces invited the men into the Inn.
As they entered the dimly lit alehouse it was obvious that Lorst was not impressed.
Pieces noticed his scowl. “Yar. Oi knows. Dis place used to be a bit hoity-toity, but luckily it degenerated into a stinkin’ dive o’ notoriety and became very poppler. Tho’ it still has sum way to go afore it will feel truly cumfterbul.”
At that moment a storm-lantern was lit and directed towards the bar.
“Ohh, take a seat Cap’n, the entertainment is about to begin.”
“Laydeez and gennelmun, Oi is da M.C. Arseburn O’Leary. Perleese put yer hooks togevver an’ give it up for the faymus Oirish wench Betty Burke.”
Betty emerged from behind the bar.
fish,” gasped Halitosis Jack, “that’s the ugliest woman oi’ve ivver seen. She ‘as the thews o’ a Liverpule docker – and the beard to match.”
As the noisy clinking of hooks and stamping of feet died down, Arseburn continued. “Betty will be singin’ thee foine Oirish chantey ‘Mo Ghile Mear’ which she sez is abaht some posh covey by the name o’ Bonnie Prince Charlie.”
An angry roar erupted from a table in the darkest corner of the inn.
Pieces nudged Lorst and grinned. “This shud be gude. Daftbeaker‘ll ‘ave a corronry.”
“Damn yer gizzards, Arseburn.” Daftbeaker jumped up onto the table and waved his cutlass wildly. “Oi’ll choke those wurds down yer throat, yer false-tongued bilge-suckin’ weevil.”
Betty ducked down behind the bar and began to remove the grog bottles to a safe place, which mostly seemed to be her own apron pocket.
“What maggot’s burrowin’ under your periwig, Daftbeaker?” retorted Arseburn.
“That Prince Charlie is a jug-eared tosspot who sells overpriced biskits an’ I won’t ‘ave his name menchuned ‘ere.”
“Sit down,” shouted O’Leary, drawing out a stiletto, “or I’ll peel yer skin like a mango.”
In an instant, Daftbeaker and his entire crew joined with O’Leary and his ‘doormen’. The fracas lasted hardly five minutes before both sides retired happy amongst the blood, spilt grog and broken furniture.
“Well,” said Pieces. “Oi fink we is all cumfterbul now.”
Pieces ushered the men into a back room.
“Oi’ve telt everybody about thee bath-towel o’ Mosey,” said Pieces. “An’ thaars a kew fer havin’ a skeet at it.”
“It’s a very small kew,” said Lorst dismally. “P’raps we shud’ve brought La Bouche. Oi fink the kew would be longer then.
Ahh well, open the lunch-box, Jack.”
Halitosis Jack prised open the lid of the ‘Little Princess’® lunch box and jumped back in shock. The towel was not there.
“A plague on yer scurvy head, Jack Hackem, yer fergot the towel!” thundered Lorst. “Ye’ve got no more brain than a sea-turtle.”
“Nay, Cap’n, nay!” protested the gunner. “It were there. I garrantee it. Yon lunch-box ain’t bin out o’ my care since we… Ohh! … except fur a breef moment outside the skwirril shoppe.”
Me towel’s been stole! Sum thievin’ blaggerd must’ve taken it. The crime must’ve occurred at about the time of the death of Arfur."
“Oos Arfur?” asked O’Nine
“Arfur. Me ‘ole parrit.”
“Oh, … aye.”
“Barkeep,” shouted the Captain, “bring me a mug of 100% proof Sangreal. I need to soothe me nerves.”
Lorst takes a big gulp of the fiery liquid.
“Who cud’ve done this?”
Pieces O’Nine moved closer to Lorst and lowered her voice. “Cap’n,” she said conspiratorially, “Oi suspects it may have bin the Covinous, also known as ‘the deceitful’, a sect devoted to spreading misinformation about the FSM. If they ‘eard about the bath-towel they wud want to remove it to prevent us from proovin’ that his noodleyness exists.
Oi thinks the best place to start is the Domus Monasteriense
, a hospice for pasta pilgrims just down the street. The sect members often leave signs to their members which tell which way they have gone.
Seek out their mark.”
Cap’n Lorst stood and drew his cutlass.
“Shipmates, we have a quest. We must seek the Mark of the Covinous.”*Captain Oswald (Odd) Stoatfondler.
Leader, sole member and martyr of the Jack Bean Uprising of ’45, an attempt to introduce jack beans (canavalia) and fish heads as a delicacy. The beans turned out to be psychoactive. Oswald died when he dived off the Round Tower in Broad Street, insisting that his pink tutu and fairy wings would keep him aloft.
*Bodkins – small frilly knickers. Found on Oswald’s body after his fatal leap.