Authors: Keith Thomson
We’re racing southbound by the stars, having got word of a pod
of sperm whales with a really fat straggler at 10° 21’ N and 66°
42’ W, near Venezuela. Please continue to keep your eyes peeled
in the event this is yet another false alarm (we’ve already had
three of those this week).
On that note, here’s the same info that’s going onto the
Wanted Poster I’m going to get printed up and posted at the
docks, plus a bit of extra explanation for any greenhorns among
you: He’s about 70 feet long and weighs about 60 tons, which
means he’d be pushing the max if they had Big & Tall stores
for sperm whales (this could be cause he’s off his nut and eats
stuff his kind aren’t supposed to—guys named Gus’s families for
instance). His skin’s battleship gray and like a prune in texture.
He’s got a big fat box-shape head 30 feet long, 15 feet high, and
10 across, with a blowhole on the top, just like in the cartoon
Now, here’s the key thing—even more key than the extra
boatload of blubber. Right smack between his eyes is a lighter-
color-of-gray scar a couple feet high in the shape of the letter “B,”
as in bastard. Sperm whales get scars like this from their favorite
snack, giant squids, who aren’t too pleased about becoming a
A lot of folks have written me asking me if I’ve got a name
for the whale. I’ve been calling him “Dickhead.” Everybody
always laughs and says that’s a witty reference. Hell if I know
I’d give more details—past sightings of him, stuff like that—
but I just got news over the blower that we’re being boarded by
pirates. So I’ve got to go deal with that. Meantime, folks, keep
posting sighting coordinates or whatever else you got on the
bastard. If I live through the night, I’ll be much obliged.
P.S. Flarq, my harpooner/scrimshawist has yet to lay eyes on the
bastard. But with me giving descriptions—the fish’s fat mug is
all but tattooed on my brain—he was able to do up this picture.
“Like a police scrimshaw,” Flarq said.
After my cook nearly cleavered me, getting myself a decent gun’d
been right atop my list of stuff to do. That I hadn’t got around
to it was particularly troublesome when a half-dozen pirates
boarded the yacht and, right as I finished typing up the last entry
and was going up to deal with them, my cabin door burst inward
and I found myself looking up the tunnel-sized barrel of a .357
Hoping the pirates would spare his life, one of my
trusty crewmen—the one they call Stupid George—had told
their captain about the fifty grand in cash stashed in my desk.
No doubt George subjected the matter to thorough analysis
and decided that the pirate credo that dead men tell no tales
belonged only to antiquity. If I had any doubt whether modern
pirates felt the same way, it disappeared a second later when the
pirate captain lined up my forehead in his sights and curled his
finger around the trigger.
I know a couple other things about pirates though.
“Don’t I get a last request?” I asked him.
He thought about it a moment. Trim, clean-shaven guy,
thirty maybe, with a haystack of white blond hair. Looked more
like a surfer than your classic pirate.
“Yeah, I guess,” he said. “Except it can’t be for me not to
“I’m okay with dying,” I said. “My request is to die like
He stared blank. “Dude who invented the car?”
He meant Studebaker. That’s not who I meant. So I found
myself giving the pirate about to shoot me in the head a brief
lesson in pirate history.
Stoertebeker was a German privateer captain who raised
his share of Hell in the North Sea around the 14th or 15th
century. Like most of his contemporaries, he eventually got
captured and taken to trial. At the trial, when he and his crew
were condemned to death, Stoertebeker made a funky last
request. He asked if he could be beheaded standing up while
his crew stood in a row beside him. He proposed that all of the
crewmen he could run past—after the hatchetman had done his
job—would be set free. Last requests being serious business, the
judge granted Stoertebeker’s.
The day of the execution, the crew was lined up and
Stoertebeker was decapitated. But before his blood-spurting,
headless body finally hit the dirt, he managed to stagger past
fourteen of his men, and they indeed got spared.
My young pirate captain was wowed by the tale of
“And if that wasn’t enough to make Stoertebeker a shoe-in
for the Pirate Hall of Fame,” I added, “he got his name ’cause to
join his crew, guys had to be able to chug a huge beaker of beer.
The name ‘Stoertebeker’ translates from Kraut as ‘a beaker in a
“Man, that’s so cool,” the pirate said, “We can definitely
He didn’t get a chance to finish agreeing to let me die like
Stoertebeker. Because—this was the moment I’d been waiting
for—I swung Duq the cook’s cleaver, which had been lodged in
my desk, and hacked the pirate’s gun arm clean off. I caught the
arm. As a result, I can cross getting myself a decent gun off the
Meanwhile, up on the quarter deck, Flarq had managed to
shishkabob three of the other pirates together with one harpoon.
When he reached for a second harpoon, the last two pirates
jumped the hell overboard and started swimming back to their
boat. If they were lucky, they got there. There’s lots of sharks in
these waters. We sent Stupid George to “chase the pirates.”
As for the pirate captain, he fell to my cabin floor so hard
it loosened a few nails. Fortunately for him, I know a thing about
tourniquetting off the blood when a guy’s been “dis-armed.”
I did it not so much for humanitarian reasons as to keep my
cabin from getting all blood-stained. He’s on deck, chained to
the starboard rail now. I’ll mull over his fate now as we get back
under weigh to seal the blubbery bastard’s.
P.S. Here’s a scrimshaw of my new .357 Magnum. At the rate
weapons are piling there, I’m going to have to convert my cabin
into the ship’s magazine.
We found the pod right where it’d been sighted the day before
yesterday. The whale bringing up the rear was very fat. But not
fat enough. Major let-down. Not just for me, but the whole crew,
particularly the harpooners, Flarq and the silo-sized Thesaurus
(that’s the name the poor sod’s folks stuck him with, but no
one’s fool enough to mock him), who were drooling for “a whirl”
as they put it. My feelings about sport-harpooning a slow and
innocent sperm whale aside, the special religious dispensation
whaling license, which cost me all I had in the world save pocket
change, allows me one whale and one whale only. So I had to ask
the harpooners to stand down.
They didn’t take too kindly to this. Thesaurus, as noted
earlier, looks like a building. But I’d take my chances against him
any day rather than square off with Flarq. Only a good death,
Flarq said, would lift their crappy spirits. If not a whale, he said,
then he wanted to do in our captive one-armed pirate.
This idea drew cheers from the rest of the crew (consisting
of Duq the cook and deckhands Moses and Stupid George
(when he dove overboard in pursuit of the pirates, George
landed on a lower deck, where ten hours later we found him
unconscious)). Duq proposed a keel-hauling—that’s where you tie
up a guy and drag him under the full length of the hull so that
he’ll drown, if lucky, or be shredded by barnacles.
The pirate, whose name was Nelson (after the great Limey
Admiral Horatio Nelson of all things), had tried to shoot my
head off. In these waters, keel-hauling was a relatively merciful
reprisal. Still, it didn’t sit right in my gut. But if was I to oppose
it, the crew would’ve mutinied for sure.
So I asked Nelson if he had any last requests.
“Yeah,” he said, “I’d like to join your crew and help you
get your whale.”
Everyone was surprised. Me most of all. “Why?” I asked
“I think your cause is noble,” he said, and the sincerity
he said it with was such that the crew’s hard features softened
some. “Also, I know these waters real good, and you seem
undermanned.” Indicating the stump where his left arm had
been, and then the one where my right’d hung before the
bastard chomped it off, he added, “I could be your right hand.”
At this, the men laughed, and their faces spoke the kind
of warmth for Nelson such brine-hardened folk can go a whole
lifetime without feeling. Still, though, they wanted to keel-haul
him. Thesaurus picked him up by the throat.
“One more thing,” Nelson begged. “I own a sporting
“Sporting house” is seafolk language for “brothel.”
Immediately, Thesaurus lowered Nelson to the deck, and the
others rushed over, hands extended, to welcome Nelson to the
I reckon that sometime during the voyage, Nelson will try
to murder us or worse. Still, all in all, he’s about as good a first
mate as I could’ve hoped to get.
But enough about him for now. A shrimper just radioed
that they sighted a pod of sperm a scant five leagues west, off the
coast of Venezuela, and one of the fish—the biggest—surfaced,
showing a scar between his eyes in the shape of a B as in bastard!
P.S. A self-scrimshaw of Flarq with his harpoon, which he takes
just about everywhere—almost. He leaves it outside men’s room
doors since recovering from the time he overestimated the ceiling
height of one of them.
So we were bounding over whitecaps. Just a couple leagues west
of the pod. All of a sudden, something bobbing to starboard
glinted in the setting sun and caught Thesaurus’s eye. He
whipped out a scope, took a look-see, then hollered up to the
bridge for me to cut the engines so’s he could fish whatever it
was out of the water.
I figured it had to be something real valuable. It was just a
life ring, maybe three foot in diameter—once upon a time. Now,
thanks to seaweed, it’d expanded by a foot. My guess: A few
months back, it was tossed overboard to save someone, in which
case it didn’t do the job.
Thesaurus inspected it and came to the same conclusion,
then said, gravely, “We must drop anchor for the night.” He then
flung the ring far from the yacht and explained, “It means that
our crew will number one fewer before nightfall.”
Dropping anchor would’ve meant stopping, which of
course would’ve meant flinging our chance at the blubbery
bastard over the rail too. Crazy, right?
Well, you’ve got to understand that no group’s
superstitions are stranger than sea folks’. (Save bridal parties
maybe. For them, just about anything that can go wrong on a
wedding day, from a thunder shower to a piano falling out of a
building and onto the uncle of the groom, means good luck.)
Our other harpooner, Flarq, believes a red sunset means a good
day on the morrow. Stupid George swears being hit by seagull
crap means good fortune—and most seamen would say he’s smart
in this case. Duq spits on the first fish he catches each morning
so’s to ensure luck the rest of the day. I happen to know that in
days gone by, Scottish sailors thought it was necessary to hoist
a male goat up to the masthead in order to get wind. And to
this day, many West Indians like my deckhand Moses think that
eating fish heads reduces your intelligence, cause fish don’t got
sense enough to avoid hooks.
If I tried to get Thesaurus to go against his superstition
about the life ring, he’d harpoon me through the head plain
and simple. And the crew would think poor of him if he
didn’t. Although the closest any of these guys ever goes to a
church is going to a whorehouse near a church, they hold their
superstitions more sacred than life.
At that moment though, if I let the bastard get away again,
I’d have needed a harpoon in the head to put me out of my
misery. So I confronted Thesaurus.
“Let me get this straight,” I said. “The life ring says one of
us is going to buy it today.”
“Yes, Captain.” Thesaurus has got a voice like a foghorn.
“Not matter what?”
“So what’s the point of stopping?”
“In case the ring is wrong.”
“So, either way then, what’s to lose by going whaling?”
“A good point y’have, Captain,” he said.
A few seconds later, the engines bubbled to life again and
we were back on our bastardward course. Sometimes, it’s just
good to talk stuff out.
P.S. Here’s a scrimshaw of Thesaurus.