Life is good, so it’s inevitably going to be fucked up. But before it does, I should at least enjoy it. It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to just sit around and enjoy myself. Now I’ve even got myself saddled with a kid now.
But I can still have a bit of fun. Like how I had Captain Flamebeard show up in port one day with his ship’s hold full of shiny goods. Gold, gemstones, and consumer electronics. “It’s the TV sets and computers that most people buy,” Flamebeard said when I stopped by the port to see his old-time pirate ship. “Most people don’t accept gold baubles for services.”
I handed him a bottle of plum wine, careful to keep it away from his beard of fire. If it fell in to a burning beard of fire, it’d burt out, out, out, and the flame would grow higher. And it’d burn, burn, burn, the beard of fire. The beard of fire. “We’re more than happy to take your stolen goods of all shapes and sizes here. I’m afraid there’s not much here for tourists, but we’re working on it.” I pointed at his ship. “Looks nice. Been awhile since I saw it fly off into the sunset.”
“Aye, she’s as seaworthy as she’s ever been, though I been lookin’ t’upgrade her cannons.” He pulled the cork out with his teeth and took a swig before offering it. I waved him off, then pulled out my own bottle to open up and sip on. “Any smiths in town know their way around fire and iron?”
I shrugged. “We might have a few people who know how to make your grape shot even graper.” He grimaced at that one. “And if that doesn’t work for you, Faustus sent me a…bird. They want to set up an outlet on the island.”
“A bird! I’d like to see a crow fly this far to deliver a message,” Flamebeard laughed and took another swig.
I shook my head. “Turns out they have magical messenger pelicans. Didn’t see it coming. Do you think they can do flamingoes?”
He had to stop drinking long enough to have a snort at that. Flamebeard and I werent’ exactly best buds last time we encountered each other, but he seemed to get my message loud and clear about this being a friendly port of call for criminals. I also made sure he knew I was personally enforcing the peace around here. That said, I didn’t mind if he and his guy shad themselves a cooling-off period ashore. They’re sailors. Gotta let them do some drinking, fighting, and whoring, or else what’s the point?
All the money, I guess. He paid me a personal port service fee out of a number of these gold coins and artifacts they had. They might have a lot more value than just the worthless yellow rock normally commands on Earth. They even helped me tutor Qiang on her math homework. She’s starting to understand that it’s easier to count in real time if you learn make things into tens and add the remainder. I like to think she’s growing up grounded for someone thrust into such a position.
It was there, teaching her to count on gold, that I was interrupted by furious knocking at my front door. Wondering who it could be so early in the day, I stepped outside in the Imperial bathrobe, wielding the Imperial brick tied to a string. “Ok, who the fuck’s on my lawn!”
I was met by a half dozen dirty men and women dressed like it was the Caribbean in the early 1700s. I grabbed one of the women who seemed a bit cleaner than most, even if she needed to clean her dreadlocks a bit. I pulled her by my side and said to the others out there. “I don’t know what you’re here for, but make it quick. I have a woman over,” here I nodded to the pirate I grabbed, “and it’s not going to be a good time for company.”
While that got a little bit of an “Oooh,” from some of them, one with a bandana covering up a bald spot on his head spoke above the others. “Cap’n Flamebeard needs you. Evil cultists kidnapped some of the crew! Someone said they was to sacrifice them to their heathen god and bring about the end of days!”
I took a moment to think. “Cultists… were any of them in overalls and packing shotguns?” I immediately thought of Old Man Hoodless and his people out at the Agriculture Mall. The nods from the pirates confirmed it. I sighed and turned to the pirate I’d nabbed, with her corset and tricorn. “Sorry, we’ll have to continue this after a visit to this funny farm outside of town, where life is wonderful all the time.” I started inside for my armor, then stopped and stepped back out. “What is your name, anyway?”
In a dark brown voice, she said, “Lola.”
Looks like the pretty pirate’s packing a pistol. Fun.
I got there ahead of all of them thanks to the roads not being so straightforward. Pretty good traffic for the island, all things considered. Maybe I’ll see if Flamebeard can mug a car shipper out of Japan, get some people something nice. Maybe I’ll hold a lottery for people who avoid tickets.
Anyway, I landed in front of the Agriculture Mall, where Captain Flamebeard had a slim, modern twenty-five pound howitzer on an old-fashioned cannon cart, aimed at the door of the compound. He waved his flaming sword at the Agriculture Mall’s fortified door which had so recently dealt with animal rights attacks. Slots were opened all over, with the cult’s shotguns sticking out. I mean, I expect the howitzer would get them in, but most of the pirates only had some cars for cover. One poor sod even yelled from the safety of his doorless, topless jeep. At least the pirates had some of their own guns among the cutlasses they wielded.
“Ok, that’s enough!” I yelled out, my helmet amplifying my voice. “The only one killing anybody around here tonight is me. Any volunteers?”
That shut up the pirates, so I walked on over to the compound door. “Knock, knock, kna-knock, knock!” I said, then rapped the door twice with my fist for the two bits. “Come on, Old Man, open up. I hear we have an incident here!” Behind me, Flamebeard was stepping ahead of his men to stand behind me.
Old Man Hoodless opened the door and raised his shotgun toward the pirate, who held his sword our, careful to avoid touching me with it. I held up my hands between both of them. “Gentlemen, let’s put down our weapons or I’ll tear you apart with my hands, alright?” I looked between them and they reluctantly lowered the offending items, Flamebeard’s extinguishing itself.
I turned to Hoodless, who had exited to reveal himself draped in crap-brown robes that looked course and itchy. “These no-good, dirty, rotten scoundrels are currently guests on our island. I hear you kidnapped one of them for a human sacrifice?”
“Well,” Old Man Hoodless scratched at his scruffy chin hairs. “Maybe I done did. You know how hard it is to get a good human sacrifice? We can’t just use any ol’ body!” He gestured with his gun hand off toward the city. “We don’t wanna take any of them folks. We got to live around them.”
“Well, that’s considerate, kinda, but I think we need to find another way here. This human sacrifice, is it on a deadline here? Ya know, is an eclipse needed or a certain day? Full moon? Anything like that?”
He shook his head. “Naw. Just tryin’ to summon infernal legal advice from the depths of Hades to handle this Cease and Desist from them damn Scientologists.” He reached to a fanny pack on the outside of his robe.
“Hard to reach the pockets?” I asked.
“Well, you know, I didn’t want nothin’ endangering the ritual. Nothing on under it.” He patted the material.
“Really? Looks hellaciously itchy.” I reached out. “May I?”
“Go ahead!” He held out his arm. “It’s really soft material.”
I stroked the sleeve. “Wow. That’s high-quality culting right there. Flamebeard, feel this.” I moved out of the way to let him feel. “Geez, is that from y’all? Where’d you get this?”
“I know a guy,” Hoodless said as the pirate also felt him up. “Maybe we can discuss tailoring another time. I’m really concerned about this Cease and Desist. This is Scientology, we’re talking about. Legend tells they captured a unicorn using the virgin blood of a sacred hunter-priestess of Artemis and bargained away its crimson life’s vigor for an Enochian contract the likes of which the planet has never seen.” The Old Man was practically foaming at the mouth by the end. Flamebeard had quietly stepped back to avoid splatter.
“Geez, even better than OJ Simpson?” I asked.
Old Man Hoodless wiped away his mouth. “Oh yes. After all, he only sacrificed the two people.”
Ba dum tish.
“Ok, so let’s get back on track here,” I said, smacking my palm with my fist. “This isn’t that time intensive, right? It can wait a few days?”
“I suppose,” grumbled Old Man Hoodless.
I turned to Flamebeard. “You’ve kidnapped people before, right?”
He stopped picking at one of his teeth with his sword and slipped the tooth back into his gums. “Yar, though it be more of a hostage situation than a kidnapping. Rich young bastards are worth a lot to the older bastard what spat ’em out.”
Somewhere, there’s a dyslexic or someone who didn’t grow up with English as a first language who is losing their mind right now. Between me, the hillbilly cult leader, and Captain Throwback, we’re beating the English language to death and lighting the body on fire.
I negotiated a deal. Flamebeard will go off and kidnap someone, preferably someone with a car I can use for the good driver lottery, and bring the unfortunate soul back to be sacrificed in a corn field pagan blood orgy in exchange for legal services to counter the Scientologist threat. Should be nice and simple. Though, before I left the cultists and crew to party with moonshine, I did pull Old Man Hoodless aside and ask him just what the Cease and Desist was all about.
“Well, we sometimes send people fruit baskets with some literature, an’ it turned out we done proselytized to a bunch of Scientologists that way. Scientology don’t take kindly to that, nosiree, so they threatened us. After that, it’s more I thought they was a bunch of assholes and sent ’em even more baskets. Then came the Cease and Desist.”
I grinned under my helmet. “I like you, Old Man. You’ve got the support of Ricca behind you, don’t worry.”
A small wrinkle did appear the next day, but I believe it just gave the plan a distinguished look. A ship was spotted off the coast. They didn’t hail us or approach the port. Looked like a big cruise liner.
I saw it from a high balcony at my residence, zooming in with my eyes to see one of the most generic naval insignias out there. My eyes immediately matched it to Sea Org, the paramilitary navy of Scientology.
From behind me stepped Lola, dressed in bedsheet if at all. “Hey baby,” she said, stepping up behind me and going in for a kiss that I turned my cheek into. Pirate chicks have some nasty breath. I don’t know if there are water restrictions that keep them from brushing so often, or if it’s just all the alcohol. Either way, I’d need to down quite a bit of rum to numb myself to the taste of trying that again. “What are you looking at?” she asked.
I pointed to the ship. “Well, I think I found your boss a good source of kidnap victims.”