Captain Bollytadger and The Foreign Badger
“Piracy is a crime!” The Captain’s words rang out around the port town of Zarajena, the silence was palpable, as his whole crew turned to him in shock, “… but the real crime would be letting all these people’s gold go to waste, eh lads!” he continued. A cheer erupted from the dozen pirates and, with Captain Bollytadger’s blessing, they proceeded to go about their unscrupulous piratey behaviour. Plundering, buccaneering, and yes, even the occasional sexual assault, but these were jolly pirates who always conducted their impish misdeeds with a smile on their face. It was hard to stay mad at them for too long, as the good townspeople of Zarajena would soon discover.
As his loyal crew descended on the shops and houses of the besieged port, Captain Bollytadger cast a glance at the locals, tied up next to him. Each one of them, from the town drunk to the parish priest, was looking on, aghast, at the destruction ensuing in front of their eyes. It gave Bollytadger immense joy to see the havoc that he and his men could wreak on a town in mere hours. The material rewards were there for all to see, gold, women, parrots, but what you could never countenance for was the feeling of superiority over a group of downtrodden workers as they are forced to sit idly by while you teach their pet parrot your pirate slang.
“Listen up, ye scurvy dawgs!” Captain Bollytadger’s voice boomed out across the locals.
“CAW! SCURVY DAWGS!” His new parrot echoed. Bollytadger grinned.
“Ye may be wondering why we saw fit to lay waste to yer humble town. Let me assure ye, ’twas nothing personal!”
“CAW! NOTHING PERSONAL!” The parrot was learning fast.
“Zarajena is a victim of its own success, unfortunately for ye. Word has spread, among pirates, of the prowess of the tailors and seamstresses of this place, the best in the Spanish West Indies apparently! Everywhere me and my fine fellas go, we hear tell of yer town as having the finest silks, yarns and cottons in all the known world. Did we hear right, ladies and gentlemen?”
As Bollytadger said this, a cohort of his men emerge out of the nearest shopfront with traditional Mexican ponchos on, surveying one another’s new threads, looking a damn sight better than they looked when they went in.
“Hey cap’n, look at me, ariba!” His first mate called to him, holding a fake moustache over his lip and doing a little jig.
“That’s a mighty fine garb, lad.” Captain Bollytadger turned to look intensely at the townsfolk, “Mighty fine.”
“CAW! MIGHTY FUN!” the new parrot squawked, clearly it would be some time until it fully picked up the language.
A local resident interjected “¡Please, gringo!¡You have the ponchos, we can’t offer you anything else, let us go back to our homes, ese!”
“Well, that seems like a hell of a deal, Pedro! But we didn’t come all this way for a few flea-ridden ponchos, no we didn’t!” Bollytadger taunts. His men now back behind him, join in the laughter. “I sailed all over, from Portsmouth to Puerto Rico, looking for your fabled town, because I believe ye can offer me something that no other pirate has ever laid their hands on…”
“CAW! HANDS ON!”
“I want yer secret.”
The whole town gasped, everyone was rapt by Captain Bollytadger’s stage presence and a threatening charisma that belied his cartoonish name.
“¿How do you know we’ve got a secret, white boy?” Another local pointed out, they were sassy, these prisoners. Bollytadger surveyed his addresser, a young boy, wearing the most gorgeous frilly jacket that teetered right on the line between camp and macho, and he clearly had a fiery latino temperament that not even hours of cannon fire could dampen.
“I know ye’ve got a secret, because no other wastrel in this archipelago would ever dream of wearing something as audacious and downright disrespectful as that smock ye’re sporting, scallywag!”
“CAW! SCALLYWAG! WALK THE PLANK!” An ad lib from the parrot, very impressive, thought Captain Bollytadger. He’d only been on his shoulder for ten minutes and he was already ad libbing like an MC.
“I know ye’ve got a secret, lad! I just don’t know what it is. A spinning wheel, a sewing machine, a colour chart?”
“Hey cabron, you don’t want our secret. Trust me. It’s more trouble than it’s worth. You’re better off just taking the pesos.” An old chorizo-maker suggested.
“Oh, I’ll take the pesos! Don’t ye worry about the pesos! I’ve got all the pesos that yer micro-economy could ever produce! But I want yer secret, and if ye think it causes too many problems, then I’ll happily take it off yer hands and save ye the trouble.” Bollytadger proffered. The old man gave Captain Bollytadger a glare that cut right through him.
“Very well hombre, you cut me free, and I’ll get you your secret.”
Nobody moved. The night waited on these two new adversaries as they stared each other down, sizing one another up, the silence was ear-piercing.
Having already had his ears pierced, as most pirates did at the time, Bollytadger wilfully obliged.
“Sandy! Dancer! Cut this man free!” The two toughest pirates, marched and danced respectively, over to the old man, pulled out their cutlasses, and parted the ropes that bound him. The old man dragged himself up to his feet and ambled his way over to a nearby storefront, he made his way behind the counter and disappeared out of sight. Bollytadger waited. And waited. All the prisoners were now looking at him expectantly so he had to avoid making eye contact and look straight ahead to where the old man had gone. At one point, he glanced over to check whether they were still staring at him and accidentally made eye contact with a young woman. “I’m sure he’ll be right back out.” Captain Bollytodger muttered, kicking the ground.
After much more awkward waiting, the gentile emerged from his store, wearing an overlarge coat that, while mysterious and somewhat suspicious, Captain Bollytadger had to admit really brought out the colour in the man’s eyes and looked exceptional with the emerald trousers and black boots that he donned.
“Took ye long enough! I’m the one with the peg leg, sunshine!” Bollytodger cried, amidst uproarious laughs and hoots from the crew, all of whom were now assembled around Bollytadger and the prisoners.
“Sorry, captain, you’ll see why.” The old man called back, holding firmly onto his chest. He clearly had something hidden in his coat, something that Bollytadger and the crew of The Topless Mermaid had been looking for all their life. The old man came back into the crowd, got right up in Captain Bollytadger’s face, and looked him square in the eyes. “Captain, if I give you this; the secret of our modest town’s immodest success, do I have your word that you will put Zarajena to your rudder and leave my neighbours and their families unharmed?”
“That depends on what yer secret is, if it’s not up to scratch, we may need to make retributions.” Captain Bollytadger retorted, moving his face closer, the two men now practically nose to nose. After a long pause, “Very well, old timer, we’ll leave your town in our wake, we’ve done enough plundering here. Ye have my word.”
That seemed enough to satisfy the old man; he reached into his coat to retrieve the bustling lump from inside. Captain Bollytadger was taken aback, as what emerged was not a sewing machine at all but a live, and quite irate, animal. He hoisted up the badger by his armpits and presented it to the Captain.
“This badger is the reason why our town has never made ill use out of any textile, why everyone you see here is a poor worker, yet looks better than the richest nobleman. This badger may look like a normal badger, but treat him well and whoever has the bravery to be his steward will receive nothing but the most flawless fashion advice. Your deepest foes will go green with envy. Trust me on that.” The old man said, his voice carried through the watching crowd.
Captain Bollytadger was astounded, this simply couldn’t be true. But as he looked around at the well-dressed townsfolk, the evidence was plain to see.
“How does he know fashion? He is but a mere badger!” Bollytadger queried.
“CAW! MERE BADGER!” The parrot echoed, clearly threatened by the emergence of another potential furry(/feathery) friend for the captain.
“¡Who you calling a mere badger, ese!” The badger said in a strong Mexican accent. A startled Bollytadger jumped back.
“He can talk!” Bollytadger exclaimed, looking from the badger to the old man.
“He can do more than just talk, hombre.” The old man replied.
“I’ll be the judge of that.” Said Bollytadger.
“¡I’m not sure how much I’d trust the judgement of a pirate captain who doesn’t even wear a shirt with a ruffled collar!” The badger bit back. He was evidently a bit rough around the edges, the time in the man’s shop must have been spent trying to convince the squat little mammal to offer his services for protection of the town.
“Sorry, sir badger.” Captain Bollytadger said, rather more softly. “This is why my men and I need yer help. Ye can clearly tell that we don’t know the first thing about fashion ourselves, but all my life, all I have wanted is to be the most prestigious pirate in the Atlantic and I can’t do that if I turn up to every battle looking like I just came from a fancy-dress competition. Please… how can I improve my look?”
“CAW! IMPROVE MY LOOK!”
“Quiet, ye damn bird!” Bollytadger shouted.
The badger looked, unsure, at the old chorizo-maker, a man he had loved and trusted for many years, the chorizo-maker nodded, and the badger sighed.
“It’s too late in the summer for bright colours, gringo. You wanna get rid of that red bandana before I go loco and tear it off you myself.” Immediately, Bollytadger removed his captain’s hat and untied the bandana underneath, throwing it into the shackled crowd, who cowered from it and tried to avoid touching the sweaty cloth.
“Oh badger, what, pray tell, should I replace it with? Unfit garment that it is.” Bollytadger said.
“¡Earth tones, cabron! A forest green or cinnamon brown bandana would give you some real class.” Bollytadger turned around to his men, who were looking to him, awaiting instructions.
“Well?! Did ye hear the badger or have ye got barnacles in yer ears?! Get me an earth tones bandana!” He bellowed. The crew scrambled back into the shops they had been pillaging, looking for a bandana that would fit the bill. Sandy found one first, and rushed over to the captain, placing it gingerly in his hands and bowing out. Captain Bollytadger wrapped it around his head and tied it neatly in a knot at the back. Then put his captain’s hat back on top of it. It was immediately obvious what a difference the colour switch had made. “How do I look?” He asked.
“You look amazing cap’n!” A crew member replied.
“I can’t believe you’ve only changed the one thing, it’s like a whole new vibe!”
“It really ties the look together, like you’re a salty dog, but at the same time, not above having a sit-down dinner with another captain to discuss the finer things!”
Captain Bollytadger said nothing, he was clearly surveying the crew’s faces with great interest, sceptical, deliberating on the sincerity of the comments. He turned to look at the badger, who by this point was giving an enthusiastic double thumbs-up to the new look.
“Arrr…” The crowd listened with bated breath. “That be EXACTLY what I was going for!” A cheer erupted from pirates and prisoners alike and the crewmates got to work, freeing the hostages in between pouring flagons of ale, to celebrate their new acquisition. “I think ye will fit in just fine with us, lad.” Captain Bollytadger said to the foreign badger, as he took him into his arms. “Just fine. Welcome to the crew of The Topless Mermaid!”
As the festivities began and the relief of the captain poured through his no-longer-captive audience, the old chorizo-maker came in closer to Bollytadger.
“One more thing, hombre.” He said softly. “Blessed though you may be with the gift that this badger possesses, you should be forewarned, there is another side to his magic. Should the badger ever lose its trademark Casio wristwatch, a terrible, terrible fate shall befall he who stole it.” This startled Bollytadger, who looked down at the badger and indeed did see on his left wrist a fine black Casio watch, the only accessory the badger himself was sporting. It did look like a beautiful accessory, but the captain saw no reason he would want to take it from his new associate.
“Consider me forewarned, old man! Is there anything else I need to know?” Bollytadger asked. The old timer shook his head as he retreated away from the captain, back towards his loved ones. Bollytadger and his crew made merry for some time, but amidst the drunken haze of the night, kept their word to the man and slunk back to The Topless Mermaid with good cheer, ready to make sail in the morning.
Chapter 2 of Captain Bollytadger and The Foreign Badger, Dead Frenchmen Tell No Tales, is out next Friday, 30th September.
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