Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Catala - Chapter 6: You Bring Me Good Fortune

The rum, which the officers and men of the Zee had drunk, had been poisoned. Don Pedro, since coming on board the "Marte", had been dropping the lethal snake venom from a phial into the keg of rum. He had studied the sequence of the kegs of rum. His men had false bottoms on their tin cups. They were only pretending to drink and smack their lips. It was an illusion. They swallowed air. The venom came from the black mamba of Mozambique, a Portuguese colony in Southern Africa with a coastline on the Indian Ocean. The snake was also given the name of “Seven steps” for that was all a man could do before dying. Two fearsome black mambas were kept in iron cages down on the hold of the Marte.

"It is a humane way of killing them," declared Don Pedro. His men agreed." It is not honorable to abandon men on their ships without food or water."

"Witnesses could not be allowed to live. Surely, they would talk, once they were free and betray us to the authorities."

Don Pedro never failed to remind them. This was an excellent way of keeping his men in line, without the need of constant threats. Fear was an important concomitant to running a tight pirate ship like the Marte.

"In a few years we can all retire, build villas in Spain or Portugal, or perhaps the Philippines. We can live splendidly forever with new identities - like the grandees we deserve to be," Don Pedro promised.

Thirty-foot planks connected the Zee with the pirate ship Marte. Don Pedro walked across to his ship just in time to hear the first mate yell, "Hoist her up!" The catala (cockatoo) had quieted down.

"Hah! You HIJO DEL CONO, you're becoming hoarse." Then he had an afterthought." What if he or it never got its voice back?" He'd slice the bird and feed it to the baby crocodiles, which abounded in Southeast Asia. That would not happen. Today was his lucky day. The Zee was their biggest prize yet. None of his men were killed, maimed or wounded except for that fool Lupo who behaved stupidly, so that did not count.

The image of the sorcerer Kungku in the island of Nias, covered with the stone amulets of the catala flashed before his eyes.

The cage had landed without incident on the deck of the Marte. He knew what he was going to do. His ship would be renamed "the Catala" in honor of the cockatoo who had brought him "the good eye.”

Catala is an original name. Don Pedro de Freitas had made up his mind. “Enough of these hoity-toity Roman and Latin words. Catala it is, he said resolutely.

"Capitan! The Zee is listing badly" reported Renzo.

"Make sure the ship sinks completely into the sea, before we sail away."

These things were said and acted upon repeatedly. That’s how Don Pedro avoided capture, by being methodical and disciplined. So far, every ship they had attacked had sank without a trace.

"They vanished, like ghosts," whispered the sailors in taverns and bordellos throughout Asia. Lloyd’s of London began demanding high premiums in order to insure ships bound for the Orient, in particular, the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca.

"Hey bastard!" Don Pedro addressed the cockatoo, standing close to the cage. "Yes! I mean you, son of a turtle's cloaca. I am going to re-christen this ship "The Catala." And you will fetch me and my men a big pot of gold, maybe even gems."

The Catala glared at Don Pedro contemptuously and shrieked to the heavens.

"Shut up!" he commanded. "Save your voice. You're here for the duration, just like all of us. Learn to talk. Show me what you can do ... or else I'll feed you to the tiburones (sharks)."

The catala had stopped its wailing but continued in its loathsome gaze. He wasn’t happy with what had befallen him.

I hate being in this prison made of bamboo. I will never get used to it. Never!!

Author's note: The oil painting shown above is a Still Life painted by Juriaen van Streeck (1632-1687/Dutch) It hangs at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow

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