The people who worked in
Portsmouth harbour were well used
to seeing unusual ships of every shape and size:- from giant sea grey
battleships down to pretty white sailing yachts... from tall ugly multi-decker
ferries which looked like they could capsize at any minute down to sleek low
profile speedboats which were the watery equivalents of
Harley-Davidsons. So when Captain
Feary's pirate ship sailed in through the wide harbour mouth very few heads were
turned. They had seen it all before. Even when the pirate ship swept elegantly
in to berth at Gunwharf Quays the
shop assistants and waiters in the shops and restaurants overlooking barely
blinked an eyelid.
True, they might have been more surprised if the
pirates' giant shark had been towing, but Sharky always cut the shark loose in
open water before they got into port. It was the pirates' secret engine and he
didn't want any other pirates nicking it. The shark always came back when they
returned to sea - attracted by Sharky's special shark slop soup. The pirate ship
always smelled a lot nicer after the buckets of stinky sharp soup were tossed
over the side. Sharky never said what was in it. The ingredients were secret.
The pirates never allowed him to do any of the cooking for them - just in case
he didn't know any other recipes.
Shivermitimbers as they came into dock. "They must have had a bad storm
here Cap'n. The old place be full of wrecks."
"That's cos a
lot of these here modern ships got no proper masts and sails" said Captain
Feary. "It don't signify nothing."
He got out the mobile
phone which Joanna had lent him. "Now, which button did she say I got to
press? Ah - this be her." It was scratched with a tiny cross. Joanna had
set it up to speed dial her home number. "When you hear me stop speaking -
you just say something" - she had told him. That way she would get the
message even if she was out at work. "Whatever you do, don't get off the
ship until I come along. I don't want you getting lost or arrested."
Captain Feary heard her voice coming through the phone and then settled down to
It wasn't more than half an hour before Joanna came alongside in
a rented jolly boat. As he stepped ashore and walked to the waiting car a little
boy said to his mother, "Look mum! That's a real pirate."
probably an actor from one of them films" she said and tugged him towards
the sign saying "Royal Naval
He tugged back. "But the pirate ship looks
She tugged back. "It's a replica." He tugged
again, but she retorted with "We're going to see some real old navy ships.
Now come along." She tugged harder.
The boy thought that the
pirate ship looked real enough but his pull weakened because his mother had
planted the seeds of doubt in his mind. Then he saw the pirate get into a car
with a lady. It wasn't a shiny limo but a muddy four by four, not the kind of
car he thought would greet a film star or a pirate. So he gave up the struggle
and his hand went limp. He was right about the pirate ship being real but his
mother was bigger and could always tug harder. So he got to see the
and Mary Rose as planned and would have
to wait till another day to see the pirate ship.
It was only a few
minutes drive to the imposing Tudor buildings in
Southsea which were the
headquarters of the venerable law firm of B and C. Joanna took Captain Feary
into reception and buzzed Andrew's secretary.
"You just wait here.
Sorry I can't wait" she said , already starting to feel itchy. "I've
got to get the car fumigated."
Joanna's husband, Andrew was still
recovering from his knee injury and had kept his work schedule light. So Captain
Feary was collected and escorted almost straight away to see the senior partner
in B and C. You can picture the scene when they met. Andrew on crutches, Captain
Feary in his best pirate suit with an eye patch and polished tricorner hat. The
only thing missing, thought Andrew's secretary, Marion, was a parrot squawking -
"pieces of eight."
"Is there anything I can get?"
"Er yes. Just that special tea that we discussed
earlier. I think I'll have a little glass as well."
Marion went to
get the bottles of rum and the two men sized each other up. Andrew held out his
hand. Captain Feary spat on his palm, wiped it on his coat to clean it and then
clasped Andrew's hand in a firm handshake.
said Andrew "Alexander's father. Jolly good to see you. Thanks for rescuing
my son." He squeezed hard.
White? I thought Alex said his name
were Woyte. My hearing ain't what it used to be - the Captain said to himself,
mentally pronouncing 'White' as 'Woyte' in a strong Hampshire accent just as
young Alex had done. Like all the young children who went to the village school
in Privett Alex had picked up a coarse rustic accent which only the passage of
time and later (more expensive) schools would eventually rub off.
Feary at your service. 'T'were nothing. He's a good lad. Make a fine pirate."
hope not - thought Andrew - but didn't say anything.
squeezed back. It was a contest. Captain Feary could squeeze hard because of all
the exercise he got wielding his cutlass. Although we have seen in an
earlier story that
Andrew himself was a dab hand with a cutlass, his grip was not as strong as it
used to be. It had weakened from years of gripping the reins of a horse. But he
could still give as good as he got. They were still squeezing but hadn't
reached the crunchy stage when Marion came back wheeling a drinks trolley on
which stood a dozen assorted litre bottles of rum. The two men nodded to each
other and let go at the same time.
"Would you mind opening the
bottles Marion, and pouring please" Andrew said. His hand was feeling a bit
numb and he didn't think he could unscrew the tops. As previously instructed,
his secretary filled a vase with rum and also a small sherry glass. Then she
left both men on their own.
Andrew motioned to Captain Feary to take
the vase, as it needed two hands to lift, while he took up the glass for
"Your very good health" said Andrew raising his
drink for a toast.
They clinked glasses and as Andrew sipped his rum,
he watched in admiration as the pirate captain swallowed the whole contents of
the vase in one easy fluid motion. Feary thought the rum tasted good but was a
bit on the weak side. He gave a polite burp of satisfaction and shook the last
few drops out onto the carpet.
"Do help yourself to some more"
said Andrew "and take a seat."
Feary did help himself to a
refill but instead of sitting down, as expected, he paced slowly around Andrew's
office studying the old pictures on the walls and the faded patterns in the
wallpaper. It looked like he was searching for something.
There was a
small Victorian painting of a shepherd and nymphs hanging on the right of the
door frame. Feary put down his vase and carefully removed the painting. But he
wasn't looking at the artwork - but at the dark patch of wall behind - in the
centre of which there was a small black hole. With a grunt of satisfaction he
carefully replaced the picture, lining it up with the outline of the faded
wallpaper. Then he retrieved his drink and sat down.
intrigued by this odd behaviour. As far as he knew that painting had never been
moved in living memory - or even longer. The decor, including his desk, went
back into the mists of time. This room, with its furnishings, had always been
the office of the senior partner of B and C. It was a tradition of the old firm
- going back to the days of its founding.
"The old place ain't
changed much" said Feary at last, and then he genteelly and slowly sipped
just half a vase of rum while elegantly crooking his little finger out as if
drinking a cup of tea. Andrew waited for him to elaborate, but Feary seemed to
be enjoying a private joke. He smiled and remained silent for a minute or so.
Then he broke out of his reverie.
"The old place ain't changed
much" he said again. "I thought it might be when I came in. But the
street is all different. Couldn't be sure. But that mark behind the picture
Almost bursting with curiosity Andrew got to his feet
and hopped to the door. Then, leaning against the wall, he pulled the nymphs
aside and looked at the stain behind. He ran his finger along the dark patch in
"Bullet hole" said Feary, by way of explanation. "That
be the place where Mr B's bullet struck when he fought his duel with Mr C."
eased the picture back and started looking behind another one.
point in looking any further Mr Whoyte. The other ball went out the window. Mr
B and Mr C were both lousy shots. But they were the best lawyers a hard working
pirate like myself could ever wish for."
It was the old story -
Feary explained - of two young men smitten in love with the same girl. Matters
had come to such a head that the two founding partners of B and C fought a duel
over her, here in this office. Being lawyerly minded, they had first made out
signed statements to absolve whomsoever survived from any harmful consequences.
The surviving suitor would have a free rein to pursue the object of his
affections without intereference from the law and would also inherit the
business. They had both fired once and missed. One shot hit the wall, the other
went out the window killing a rat in the street.
On hearing the shots
their chief scribe rushed into the office to see what the commotion was all
about. On learning this information he agreed that the partners should both
reload and fire again, contiuning in this vein till they reached a terminal
"But wait a minute" said the scribe before
proceeding. "Pray tell me the wench's name."
Messrs B and C
both declined. Honour was involved. But the scribe pressed his case. "If
either of you is shot dead then the other is free to woo her. But what if both
of you are killed? She may never know what happened or why."
a good point" agreed both B and C who had been too emotionally involved to
think about this logical possibility. They told him the address of the lady in
"I think I know the address - but can you not tell me
the girl's name?"
"Trixy" said Mr B.
Dixy" said Mr C.
"I'm sure it was Trixy I saw you strolling
out on the beach with on Monday" said Mr B.
"And I'm sure it
was Dixy I saw you promenading down the street with on Tuesday" said Mr C.
didn't realise I had a deaf lugs for a partner" said Mr B.
I didn't realise that my partner was an imbecile" said Mr C.
both went to reload their pistols and were about to start shooting again when
the scribe bravely stepped between them.
"You're both making a
terrible mistake" he said. "Has either of your worships ever asked
your intended whether she has a twin sister?"
No they hadn't. And
they agreed to suspend the duel while they waited the outcome of this inquiry.
turned out" said Feary "Trixy and Dixy were twin sisters. Both pretty.
Both jealous. Trixy never told Mr B about Dixy and Dixy never told Mr C about
Trixy. Both feared the other sister might nab her man. But in the end it turned
out alright. Mr B and Mr C settled their quarrel, married the sisters and swore
never to let anything interfere with their partnership. And as a reminder lest
they forget - that mark in the wall where the bullet was lodged should never be
filled in. And sometimes when they were in their cups they said that the firm
of B and C would last as long as the hole in the wall remained."
a good story" said Andrew. "But what was your connection with the
original Messrs B and C?"
"They were my lawyers" said
Feary "and I entrusted them to keep me from hanging, leastways here in
Ponty, and to keepsafe some monies of mine."
The cellars beneath the old houses which joined to make up the head
office of B and C contained miles of archive shelving going back hundreds of
years. It had never been thought necessary to electrify the oldest passages when
the place was rewired in the 1960s, so it was not possible for the cleaners to
enter these dark recesses. Andrew had been taken to the start of the gloomy
tunnel which housed the oldest records when he had come to join the firm about
twenty years ago, and even then the entrance had looked dark and was festooned
with cobwebs. Like most lawyers, Andrew had a good memory so when he sent his
secretary down to find the oldest customer ledgers she could find he gave her
some practical advice.
"Marion, before you go down, take some
money from petty cash and buy a torch and a walking stick."
the stick for?" she asked, thinking - uneven floor.
clearing a path through the cobwebs" he said, then a kindly paternalistic
afterthought. "Oh, and when you come back - take the rest of the day off.
Go home and put in an expense claim for dry cleaning all your clothes."
you have ever had a kitten you'll know that when they are very little they
sometimes explore under furnitures that hasn't moved in years. When it
resurfaces it looks quite unlike the charming silky smooth creature which went
in to explore - covered in dust and cobwebs, dried moths and crinkly leaves. But
it looks happy because it's found a mysterious world where no one else has been.
It would be stretching the truth to say that Marion looked happy when she
re-emerged from the vaults. She looked quite unlike the smart legal secretary
who had set off on this errand and looked more like a human duster covered with
fluff and ickie bits. She had lost the walking stick which had got stuck in
something and wouldn't come out. But she had found the oldest ledger. When she
thumped it down on Andrew's desk the leather tome sent up a burst of dust. She
sneezed and a cloud of white puff hovered around her. Andrew and Captain Feary
stepped back out of the way.
"Thank you Marion. Take tomorrow off
as well" said Andrew. "And charge the firm for a hairdo and manicure
His secretary had a mummified moth in her hair as she would
find when she looked in a mirror and sticky white clods were clinging to her
"And buy a new pair of shoes too." Andrew believed in
keeping good staff relations. When she had gone he started leafing through the
"Ah here we have it. Pirates - accounts." Andrew
was surprised to see how many clients the old firm had in this category. Most of
the entries looked like any ledger - but where there was a final balance there
were little symbols against some of the names that he couldn't quite make out.
idea what these mean?" he asked Captain Feary, who couldn't read normal
writing but adjusted his eye patch before having a look see.
that be Mr B's symbol for - lost at sea. And that be Mr C's symbol for hung."
an interesting shorthand, yes I can see you're right. Yes here we have some
entries for a Captain F."
"That were my alias" said
Feary. So the law couldn't hold nothing against me."
ingenious" said Andrew. "Well it appears that we are holding for you a
box in our safe. It's been moved a few times in the last few hundred years, but
it should be quite easy to find. I'll need your signature though as proof of
identity." He handed the pirate a chit and a goose quill pen. Feary signed
his name with a flourish. Then Andrew compared the new signature with the old
one in the ledger. Apart from the colour, the old one being faded brown, and the
new one being jet black, the two X's looked identical. "No doubt about it"
said Andrew. "Do you want to check the contents? I'll go and fetch it,
then we can discuss what to do next."
The walk in safe was on the
ground floor due to the fact it was so heavy, it had not been thought advisable
to place it any higher or prudent to locate it any lower. Andrew had the key
and the combination and he was quickly able to find a small box marked with the
registration numbers from the ledger. It was very heavy and he had to call for
assistance to have it carried back to his office. The box was placed on his desk
and inside was another smaller box which was black and made of iron. It was
"I have the key" said Feary. He reached under his
shirt and pulled it out. It was sticky and wouldn't turn. So Feary dipped the
key in his rum. That seemed to loosen the mechanism. "An old pirate trick"
he said. "When you're at sea things often rust up."
shall have to remember it" said Andrew.
The key turned with a
click but the lid stayed stuck. Feary turned the box so that its hinged side
was sitting on the desk. Then looked around the office.
I borrow this?" he said lifting a legal tome from the shelves.
my guest" said Andrew.
Feary took out a dagger from underneath his
coat and inserted the wicked blade into the crack of the box under the lock.
need to ease her a bit" he said by way of explanation. Then he wacked the
handle of the dagger with the book. The blade spun around and flew across the
room burying itself in the carpet. But it had done its work. The lid was open.
And out poured a heap of gold coins.
"Very impressive" said
Andrew. "I'll have to remember that trick too - when I have trouble
opening a tin of biscuits."
Feary pulled his knife out of the
carpet and put the heavy book tidily back on the shelf.
"Are you going to count them?" said Andrew.
need." said Feary putting the spilt gleaming disks back into the chest. "I
knows the count off by heart. One hundred and twenty four gold sovereigns and a
few small trinkets."
He picked out the largest diamond Andrew
had ever seen in his life, dipped it in his rum to wash it and wiped it on his
sleeve. He held it up to his good eye facing the light from the window. "It
were my pension. Not sure what it's worth now." He put the diamond back and
relocked the case.
"Quite a lot I should think. Not as currency -
but the gold must be worth a small fortune. Normally that would create some
difficulty. You can't just walk into a bank and say I've got a stash of gold
that's mysteriously appeared out of nowhere. We've got new laws aimed at money
laundering so the banks would immediately notify the authorities. But, as your
gold has been locked in our vaults these last few hundred years, and we've
got the records to prove it - there shouldn't be any trouble at all. Your pirate
gold through the miracle of bookkeeping and the passage of time has become
"I'm pleased to hear it - but that brings me to
a painful matter" said Feary suddenly realising that his vase was nearly
"Oh do help yourself. There's plenty more. And I'll have
another drop too."
"Thankee" said Feary. But he
struggled with opening the new bottle's screw top which hadn't been invented in
his day. So he got out his knife again stabbed a hole in the cap and twisted
it round to create a good sized pouring hole. Before pouring he swished the
contents of his vase round and emptied the dregs on the floor.
he said. "Your wife told me about they little buggers. Don't want to catch
no germs off that dirty old diamond."
"A wise precaution"
said Andrew. "Cheers." And they had another toast to each other's
"Yes, Joanna, she said I should talk to thee about
two important matters, the first of which is - what be our chances of getting
off being hung? In my day it used to take a goodly amount of gold to pay off
the judge - on account of the pirating we done. We was famous pirates me and
the lads. And the more famous we were the more it cost to get let off. I mean
would the contents of that little box there be enough to get a pardon for me and
my crew?" At this he winked. "Or would it just be enough to get one
of us off? If you catch my drift. I needs to know."
doesn't go on how famous you are any more. The law has moved on in that respect.
Knowing you were coming I looked up the law on piracy etc. But it wasn't very
clear on all the particulars of your case. So I took the liberty of talking to
a retired judge, good friend of mine. We go hunting together from time to
time. Anonymously of course, I didn't mention your name, just said it was
hypothetical. I said - what if someone turns up out of the blue after stealing
a bunch of ships and treasure and making the passengers walk the plank and
all that sort of thing - where does he stand with regard to the law?
- we don't hang 'em any more. He says. But it sounds very much like a clear case
of piracy to me. Probably mean life imprisonment. No chance of parole.
- says I - just what I thinking - but there is a complicating factor.
on - he says.
What if? - He turns up. Admits it all - no doubt about
it - just the sort of chap who would do it. But what if there was a legal
loophole involved. Could he get an amnesty - and get off scot free?
He says. Eyebrows lifting. What loophole? Piracy is piracy. He's going to jail.
Bollocks to an amnesty. Not with any court I know. I know the law's been going
soft but murder is murder. And from what you hinted at on the phone earlier
this chap's done a lot of murdering. If he came into my old court he'd get hard
labour too and a good flogging.
But what if - this anonymous chap I'm
talking about - was doing it in sixteen hundred and something - when pirating
was the normal thing for a chap like him to do. No doubt they'd hang him if
they found him then?
No question about it -says the judge. Probably
wouldn't even get to court - if the navy got him at sea. String him up in a
OK, now let's suppose that this pirate was frozen in a block of
ice - but then he wakes up a few hundred years later - walks openly down the
high street and says - I was this here pirate in sixteen hundred and something
and I admit I did wrong - but I'm not going to sin no more. Can the law touch
Interesting - says the judge.
Very - say I.
Says the judge.
Well he's not walking the streets of Portsmouth today.
But he might be soon. And he'd like to know how safe it would be to walk about
without fear of getting arrested.
How do you know he won't go back to
being a pirate again?
I think he could be persuaded that his old
trade wouldn't work today. Instead I could help set him up in a new trade and
he could see out his days as a reformed character.
Hm - says the
judge. So you'd be willing to give him the benefit of the doubt.
done a good deed already - says I. Saved a boy from drowning.
commendable - says the judge. But the law is blind. There's only one sentence
for murder and the statute of limitations doesn't apply.
Just what I
thought - says I. Doesn't matter how many years ago a murder was committed, it's
still murder. Doesn't matter if you're an old age pensioner you're still liable
to be prosecuted.
Except - says the judge.
Except? - says I.
- says the judge. Did any of them get frozen too? If there aren't any witnesses
- everything else is circumstantial.
Yes - but there's still the
problem of the evidence - says I.
But you know I don't think much
evidence collected even fifty years ago would stand up to the rigourous tests
we apply in the courts today. If the evidence in this case goes back hundreds of
years I think it's more a case for the history books than the law courts. No I
think you'd better tell your pirate friend when he sails in that provided he
keeps his nose clean from now on the crown prosecution service won't touch him.
sure he'll be relieved to hear that. But there are a few minor complications
remaining - says I.
What if he did a few minor
misdemeanours since he thawed out like making someone walk the plank and
firing cannon balls at a nuclear submarine?
I've heard rumours about
some funny goings on with a submarine and battleship from my navy contacts -
says the judge. The navy won't take up the case. They'd be a laughing stock.
what if someone was accidentally made to walk the plank and then got eaten by a
Can't prosecute the shark - says the judge. It's just death by
natural causes. But your anonymous pirate friend should start feeding his shark
fish or beef. No more people.
Thank you - says I.
Is that it?
Says the judge. You know Andrew I look forward to meeting this mysterious client
of yours. I'll tell you what. When your hypothetical pirate comes to Portsmouth
bring him down to my club. Sounds like an interesting chap."
what do all that legal prattle mean?" said Feary. "We be in the
clear or no?"
"No witnesses!" said Andrew. "You be
in the clear - to use your vernacular - unless your crew mates want to testify
against each other."
Captain Feary laughed. "I be their
Captain. My lads'll say whatever I tells 'em. "
will that be?"
"I'll tell 'em that our pirating days they be
over. That we're going to become law abiding Hampshire squires of the parish and
keep our noses clean."
"Let's drink to that" said
Andrew. And so they did. And when the rum ran out they took a taxi back to the
pirate ship and carried on the celebration there.
The next day Andrew
woke on the deck with a headache. At some stage during the evening before - he
had lost his crutches. He looked up and saw them tied to the top of the mast.
did those get there?" he said to himself.
"Thee did that
thyself." Said Feary patting him on the shoulder. "When you started
drinking our rum you said it made you feel better. You climbed up the mast like
a barrel monkey and tied the crutches to the forsal. And then you scrambled down
and celebrated being able to walk better. But the walking better didn't last
long before ye fell over again like the rest of us."
Andrew got to
his feet. They were a bit unsteady. But the pain from his knee injury had gone.
you still have my wife's mobile phone?" he asked. The Captain handed it
"Joanna? It's Andrew. Everything's sorted out with the
pirates, my knee's better and I'm coming home."
going back to office today then?" she asked.