Good morrow brethren, and indeed sisterthren , acolytes and aficionados, fellow time travellers and whimsy fanciers … (No madam, you either mistake me or you are making up your own jokes. Desist forthwith I pray you, or I shall have you shat on by my seagulls…) Where was I? Ah, yes, having captured the town of Goldcaster Sir Jasper Scabbard meets his captives in the Town Hall…
‘I thought that some appropriate refreshment for our leader would be in order.’ said Luther Speke, the quartermaster. ‘Ah, here comes our First Mate, fresh from his foray in the cellars.’
Rathbone held up an opened bottle of golden wine. Jasper swirled some in a large glass, held it up to the light, sniffed it, took a sip, and let it linger in his mouth for a moment.
‘Ummm… unpretentious. Provincial, but quite palatable in its way. A workaday wine for everyday quaffing.’
‘ “Best be jocund with the fruitful grape”.’ said the parrot.
You can’t drink that!’ said Rowley. ‘That’s the Mayor’s festival wine – kept for very special occasions.’
‘It may have escaped your notice,’ said Jasper, rather smugly Rowley thought, ‘But this is a special occasion, at least for us.’
‘ ‘An occasion rare and richly now enjoyed’ ‘ said the parrot. ”Get off your horse and drink your milk’.
‘And did I hear the word ‘Can’t’ ?’ said Jasper softly. He slowly leaned forward. ‘Now listen to me you miserable creatures. Get an eighteenth century life. Do you know what I call the times we live in?’
‘The Age of Reason?’ said Rowley. ‘The Age of Enlightenment?… The Age of Elegance?…’
‘No. This is the Age of Opportunity. Are you familiar with the phrase ‘Market Forces’ ?’
‘Er, no.’ said Rowley. ‘I do know, shall we say, a little about business, but have not before heard that expression.’
‘Its quite simple. There are two aspects to the concept. Firstly, where one does not have total control, then, by means of lies and deceit and appealing to the lowest and shallowest drives of humankind, people are manipulated and persuaded to buy what they don’t need and to crave for what they don’t have until, over time and at great cost, one has complete power over one’s potential victims. At that point they find they have no alternatives and are at your mercy and ready for total exploitation. When I have commercial objectives I prefer to dispense with the preliminary complications, expense, and hypocrisy, and so tend to go straight to the alternative approach.
‘The alternative approach?’
‘You are the Market and I am the Force. You have it; I want it; I’m stronger – I take it. Understand? I mind not that the rest of the town has fled. So much the better. Now I have a free hand, and what we want are the bells and the booty. Yes, I know all about your special bells.
Research you see, ever the key to success. Perhaps your friends will be prepared to pay a good ransom for your safe return before we leave. And if your friends are not prepared to pay to have you back.…’ He rubbed his hands together and laughed what was really quite a sinister laugh. ‘Who knows what may become of you..?’
‘So just you behave !’ he hissed, shaking an almost threatening finger at them. ‘We may treat you reasonably if you take good care not to offend us, but, be warned you feeble lot, we’re very easily offended, aren’t we lads?’
‘Not ‘alf !’
‘Easily – whatsit – offended , we are.’
‘Yus, we are… often.’
‘Ooo-ar, Jim Lad.’
‘Ooo-ar, Fred Lad.’
‘Jethro? Who’s Jethro?’
‘We ain’t got no Jethro.’
‘Ooo-ar, Clarence then…’
‘Ooo-ar, ma main man, innit…’
‘SHUT UP!’ shouted Jasper. ‘Good Grief, I’m encompassed about by nincompoops. Where was I?’
‘You were saying that you were easily offended?’ said Rowley helpfully.
‘Yes, er, thank you. I’m obliged to you sir. Well gentlemen, I have many matters to attend to, so…’ He switched on a Mark Three heavy duty, gloating, evil smile. ‘If you’ll excuse me, I rather think it’s dungeon time now. Take them away!’
‘ “Sweep on, you fat and greasy citizens.” ‘ said the parrot. ‘ “Down, down to hell, and say I sent you thither.” ‘
Stumbling, the prisoners were pushed and prodded along a passage and down cold stone steps into a cellar of the Town Hall, where the only light came from the small barred window at the level of the pavement outside and from the oil lamp held up by a very trim, very lively, and very dainty pirate.
‘Well hello! Welcome to the Jasper Scabbard Experience. My name’s Maurice, I’m your host today. (To be formal it’s Leading Seaman Maurice Dancer, but you can call me Morry – I just don’t care, me, I’m free and easy. Too free for my own good some say.) Anyway, I’m in charge of Customer Services and our Corporate Entertainment portfolio. I’ve been waiting here for you since soon after the fighting finished – seems like hours… Now I don’t think you’ve visited with us before have you? No? Well, let me tell you how it works. First you select a nice cold damp stone slab of your choice and crouch down on it. Alright? There we are – Lovely. Ooh, that is nice and cosy isn’t it – all huddled up together. Now you can think about any special dietary requirements you might have – anything special that you might need – nothing will be done about it, but there’s no charge for thinking. And a word of advice – do try and keep the praying and pleading for mercy to the absolute minimum, won’t you? It does so get on a person’s nerves. Well I’m desperately disappointed to have to leave you when we’ve only just become friends, but my pillaging shift is about to start. I’m off to do a bit of looting on my own account while there’s still something for a person to get his hands on – I love it, I do. Ooh, I’m so bold me, wicked and bold – You wouldn’t believe how bold I am when I’ve got my dander up. Anyway honky tonks, I can’t stay chatting here, much as I’d love to. Let me introduce you to the night shift…’ He gestured towards a huge grisly bearded pirate with a bushy moustache and gold rings in his ears who now stood in the doorway.
‘This is Blackheart Luke, who made thirty men walk the plank in Montego Bay.’
‘Lotta sharks in Montego Bay.’ leered Blackheart Luke.
Morry then pointed to another fat and greasy pirate wearing a grimy vest. He had slit eyes, a shaven head, tattoos of a swastika on one shoulder and a Union Jack on the other, and a shiny scarred hook in place of his right hand.
‘This is Steelclaw Hawkins, who lost his hand to a crocodile in the Zambesi River, and has been very spiteful ever since. He’s not nice to know, is our Steelclaw, are you chuck? (He’s got revolting habits with prisoners and doesn’t make friends easily.)
‘Any one want to shake hands?’ snarled Steelclaw.
‘These two will be, if you’re not careful, “looking after you.” They’ve foregone the night’s pillaging to be with you instead, and are understandably a teensy bit miffed so if there’s anything you need, anything at all, best hesitate to ask. Have a nice night, missing you already – Bysey-bye !’
Author of Dangerous Chimes, read more about Michael Macauley over here.