Adventures of the 'Randy Stag' by Brigantine

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Story notes: It was of course only a matter of time before I coughed up a pirate story. I've made our pirate ship a carrack, which is historically highly unlikely, as carracks, while handsome, heavily armed, and capable of carrying a lot of men, were not very fast, and of a deep draft, and therefore not a pirate's first choice, even assuming he could lay his hands on one. But man, they look really groovy in those old pirate movies.
Viggo has had the flu for two days so far. Two loooong days. He is achy and bored, and he's griping to himself that Bean's sofa is not nearly as comfortable as his own. After uselessly drowning himself in mate and stinking up Bean's house — and himself — with garlic-laden chicken soup he has finally acquiesced to Sean's pleas to " — fuckin' just take some Nyquil and sleep it off!"

While Bean is away for the day finishing an ad for O2 mobile phones Viggo, figuring that a couple of jolts should set him right has bellied up to the bar like a Real Man and swallowed a couple of capfuls of the foul green stuff. Now he's sprawled grumpily on the couch watching the menu come up for the DVD of "The Sea Hawk," starring Errol Flynn and he's starting to feel kind of weird — a dizzy, someone please get a grip on the horizon it's making me seasick, sort of weird. He pushes "Play" on the remote, feels woozier and oogier as the scene between King Philip of Spain and a smarmy Claude Rains plays out across Sean's large television screen, and is finally groaning by the time of the heaving black and white shot of the ocean. Maybe that second shot of green stuff wasn't such a good idea...


"What if I pay you for him?"

"Buy him off us, you mean?" Captain Noble rubs contemplatively at his chin.

Viggo stands nearby, feeling confused and rather naked, largely because he is utterly confused, and completely naked. He suppresses the urge to try to cover his private bits with his hands, quickly reasoning that this would only draw further attention to himself. As though that's possible.

He asks himself why Bean is dressed like a pirate, belatedly noting that he is standing on the quarterdeck of a pirate ship. Well, then. That explains fucking everything, doesn't it.

"We'd be getting ransom for him anyway," Noble points out, looking like a physics professor playing at being a privateer. "It's the only reason I'm not letting the men bugger him senseless."

"Bugger &#151; ?" starts Viggo, blushing from his naked toes to his wind-blown hair. This is when he notices the motley pirate crew waiting patiently and watching the proceedings from the main deck. Nothing like being naked in front of a crowd. Really, there's nothing like it.

"How 'bout if I win him off you?" Bean suggests.

"Yes, yes, win me off him!" Viggo urges nakedly.

Sean shoots him one of his <em>shut up</em> scowls, and Viggo shuts up and goes back to trying to figure out why he's nude on a pirate ship. He feels chilly, and inappropriate.

Somewhere past John's be-ringed ear a large ship is sinking. Viggo reads the name of the hapless vessel, inscribed in large, gold letters on the lowering side: 'Canadian Inquisition.' Viggo grunts interestedly. He hadn't expected that.

"Cards?" Captain John mulls. "Oo, I like that! Much more interesting. How about this &#151; you win, you get the lovely Danish carpenter free and clear. If <em>I</em> win, you either forfeit the handsome strumpet entirely, or &#151; "

Viggo bridles, "Hey, that's carpenter &#151; " Suddenly he realizes that that must be <em>his</em> ship sinking off the starboard stern. Well. Dang.

"Somehow I knew there was going to be an or," Bean smirks.

Jeez, Viggo can't help thinking, Bean's a dish and a half when he smirks like that.

"Or," Noble grins, "you pay me two hundred guineas for him, <em>and</em> I get to have you for the night."

"Oh, now!" Viggo protests jealously, but is once more ignored, as though he's the parrot, or whatever else gets ignored on a pirate ship; pleas for mercy, that sort of thing.

"Done," Bean agrees.

"Sean," Viggo bleats as a vast, walking cliché of a pirate and apparently Captain Noble's quartermaster clamps a large, sweaty paw over Viggo's shoulder and ushers him down the stairs, after the two captains.

"Arrr," chortles the walking pirate cliché meaningfully, showing off the results of too many sweets and too little attention to dental hygiene.

Viggo smiles weakly and tries not to breathe through his nose. He really doesn't like the gleam in the quartermaster's eye. There's just the one eye of course, but it's got a nasty gleam in it that Viggo really doesn't like.

Bean finally acknowledges him with a quick wink, and Viggo remembers that Bean cheats at cards. Of course, so does John.

Some time later, captains Bean and Noble lay down their final hand of play. John swears good-naturedly. "Damn and blast! Was hoping to have your arse tonight, Sean!"

Bean laughs, "Maybe another time, John!"

The other man waves him off, "Oh, don't get me hoping. Two ships passing, and all that. At least I've got the loot from the 'Canadian Inquisition.' You would not believe what maple syrup and hockey players fetch on the market in Panama! Care for brunch?"

"Thank you, but no, it appears I've got a new crewman to see to, and I'd best get to it. He's lookin' a bit worse for the wear."

Viggo is tired and still stitchless as all heck, and after having apparently &#151; he admits his sense of time has gone fairly wonky here &#151; spent the last several hours waiting around to be won like a prize piglet he's feeling cranky and oppressed and wants to go home. He is more than ready to follow when Captain Bean comes to collect him. Sean leads him off of Captain Noble's vessel through ogling ranks of colorful and disappointed-looking ruffians, across an alarmingly shifty gangplank and onto Bean's own magnificent ship.

Bean's mate yelps out "Captain on deck!" in a loud, but surprisingly young voice.

Viggo blinks, "Elijah??"

Elijah's only response is to grin and yell gleefully, "Danish floozy on deck!"

"Hey!" Viggo protests.

"Hurrah!" The crew cheers, and Viggo feels suddenly uneasy again, until someone observes, "The Captain's finally gettin' some very fine arse!"

"Dammit, now look, I &#151; oh, well, thank you."

Sean points Viggo up the stairs to the gun deck, and on to the quarterdeck, then raises his arms to include his entire crew. "Welcome," he grins, full of pride of ownership, "to the 'Randy Stag'!"

The ship's crew interrupt their work to chorus enthusiastically, "The Randy STAAAAG!" sounding like something twenty-thousand leagues off of Broadway.

"Um," shivers Viggo.

"Cabin Boy!" Sean bellows, and it isn't but a few moments before a young fellow darts out from below and runs up onto the gun deck.

"Aye, Captain?"

"Billy??" Viggo goggles.

"Fetch our guest some Pirate Clothes, Mr. Boyd," Sean orders.

Billy darts back below, and Captain Bean looking, to Viggo's mind, particularly attractive in his billowy white shirt and his snug leggin's and tall boots, grins happily at Viggo and declares, "Now that you're here, mate, we can be off!"

"Oh?" Viggo wonders, his confusion deepening, but game for it, now that he's about to get dressed. Proper attire makes all the difference. "Where are we going?"

Sean takes a deep breath of brisk sea air, looks absolutely edible, and says, "Madre de las Flores!"

"Mother of the flowers? What's that? A city?"

"Nah, it's an exotic and mysterious island. There, we hope to find a priceless treasure!"

"Doubloons? Jewels?" Viggo guesses interestedly, gratefully accepting the regulation pirate garb from Billy, who watches him with open appreciation as he dresses. Viggo tries frowning threateningly at the young Scotsman, but his attempt at fierce disapproval seems to have no effect. He wonders when cotton boxer shorts with little Sheffield United insignias all over them became regulation pirate gear.

"Want any help with those trousers?" Billy offers.

"No," Viggo glowers.

"Good Christ," Sean replies, still on the earlier question. "Not ruddy fuckin' gold &#151; orchids!"

Viggo blinks, his hands stilling as he's tying up his shirtfront. "Orchids?" There are no tall boots for him, but then a fellow can't always have everything. Half the crew is barefoot, anyway. At least he's no longer bare-assed.

"Aye," Sean beams. "We're on the hunt for the legendary Blue-fronted dendrobium Yakstrangler."

"Say that three times fast, I dare you." Viggo glares at Billy. "Really. You can go now."

Sean shouts to the main deck, "Set our course, Mr. Monaghan! East, nor'east toward the coast of Africa!"

Mr. Monaghan salutes smartly, barks out a repeat of the order, and Sean turns to Viggo with a fanatic gleam. "No one's ever seen the Blue-fronted dendrobium Yakstrangler," he enthuses. "It's an ancient legend! If we can bring one back we'll be famous! And wealthy! And I can add it to me greenhouse collection... " Bean's voice lowers to a reverent hush an abbess would approve of, "And eventually maybe do a nice cross between the Blue-fronted dendrobium Yakstrangler and my Weasel-cheeked Pink Phalaenopsis. Ohhhhh... " He leans on the railing, his eyes losing focus as he daydreams about steamy orchid sex.


Bean stares into the distance until Viggo waves a hand in front of his eyes. "Ack! What?" He looks deeply disappointed and a bit guilty, as though he's been caught out.

Viggo tries not to imagine. He points ahead. "What's that?"

Sean pulls out a brass telescope from a pocket Viggo didn't know he had and studies the speck to which Viggo has pointed. Viggo is studying Sean's trousers, trying to figure out where even the most resourceful tailor would fit pockets, let alone a telescope, in pants that tight. It's pretty obvious that Sean dresses left. Not that Viggo's complaining.

Sean grins, "Oi! Back off the engine, Mr. Wood! Merfolk ahead!"

"Engine?" Viggo repeats.

Sean looks at him as though he's a bit dim. "Evinrude," he explains, nodding toward the stern. "Jehsus y'don't think we're travelin' all the way across the Atlantic under sail alone, do you? Good Christ, it'd take weeks!"

Viggo briefly considers offering up an argument of romance over speed, but recognizes that tradition and the romance of the sea are nothing compared with the demands of orchid lust.

His attention is diverted by the tiny island coming up on their starboard side. It's hardly more than a great jumble of rocks, including three palm trees and a decent crop of clinging philodendrons. Relaxing in the forefront are several attractive young ladies, their lower halves melded into long, graceful, brightly scaled fish tails. They smile and giggle and flip their tails flirtatiously, twisting locks of long hair coyly about their fingers. Their womanly modesty is protected by bikini tops made of large seashells, which surprises Viggo not in the least.

"Ahoy, ladies!" Captain Bean greets from over the rail of the ship. His entire crew has joined him to starboard, and the ship is listing several degrees.

One of the seagirls squeals happily, "Looky girls, it's the 'Randy Stag'!"

The ship's crew takes a deep, collective breath and sings out operatically, "The Randy STAAAAG!"

Viggo cringes as though he's been shot at.

Suddenly the surf is interrupted as it laps against the skirts of the tiny island, and another mermaid joins the basking herd &#151; except, Viggo realizes, this isn't a mermaid, it's a merman. He squeaks, "Orlando??"

Orlando the merman settles himself on a warm rock next to a hot blonde, flips his attractive tail enthusiastically and beams at Captain Bean. "Beanie! You've come to visit!"

"Sorry lad, we mayn't linger. Just thought we'd say hullo on our way past."

"Aw, no time for noogies?" The merfolk look adorably disappointed.

There is an audible sigh of regret from the Randy Stag's crew.

Captain Bean flushes pinkly and glances sideways at Viggo's raised eyebrows, but recovers quickly. After all, he is the captain. Dauntless is his middle name. Really it's Mark, but just the same. "Er, no. You see, we're on our way to Great Adventure."

"What is it this time, Beanie? Silks? Spices?"

"Not at all," Bean corrects excitedly. "This time we're after rare orchids!"

"Oo, pretty!" The mergirls chirp and clap their little hands in delight.

Captain Bean takes a quick look at the sun high in the sky and says regretfully, "Have to go, I'm afraid. Day waning, and all that. Oh! Wait! Orlando, show Viggo that fantastic trick you can do!"

One of the blondes wiggles excitedly, the resulting mammary tremors eliciting a sort of low, yearning groan from the pirate crew. "Oh Seanie! He's ever so good at it now &#151; he's been <em>practicing!</em>"

"Look here," Orlando says, thrusting out what Viggo supposes are his hips.

Thus securing the attention of the entire crew of the 'Randy Stag' and all of the excitable mergirls, Orlando springs forth his blatantly human male anatomy from within the cover of his colorful green scales &#151; then he draws the entire set of merfamily jewels back inside and all are completely hidden, without any apparent assistance from any of Orlando's other parts. He grins triumphantly at Viggo and repeats the trick. "In... Out... In... Out... In... "

The mergirls squeal with glee, and the crew of the 'Randy Stag' cheers appreciatively.

Sean laughs and slaps at the railing, "Ain't that grand? The entire kit is retractable, goolies and all!"

Though initially taken aback by such an eccentric demonstration, Viggo is forced to admit that Orlando's is on the whole a very practical skill, especially for one living in the open ocean, where all sorts of sharp-toothed sea creatures possess that regrettable inclination to lunge thoughtlessly at dangling objects. Now that he thinks of it, only a short time ago he rather wished <em>his</em> tackle had been retractable. He offers the talented young merman his heartfelt congratulations.

With expressions of regret and promises to return from the crew, and wishes for success from the merfolk, the 'Randy Stag' gets under way again, her beautiful white sails billowing gracefully out with the firm caress of the ocean breeze, and the Evinrude motor below at the stern chugging away faithfully.


Not long after their encounter with the agreeable merfolk, Viggo stands near the rail on the gun deck, watching the sea pass away beneath the ship. Now and then he makes out the dark shapes of swift porpoises chasing alongside the ship, and occasionally a sleek dorsal fin breaks the surface. Something is tickling his ankle, and he rubs at it with the bare toe of his other foot. The sensation desists for a little while, but soon his daydreaming is interrupted again, and this time he has the distinct sensation of something warm and furry attempting to crawl up his trousers. He flinches with a startled squawk and vigorously shakes out his left leg.

Captain Bean rouses himself from his own reverie, most probably involving orchids doing something vulgar. "What's wrong?"

Viggo points accusingly at a small, grey and white animal that has scampered off and hidden behind the helmsman's booted heel. "That little critter just tried to crawl up my leg!"

Sean chuckles, "That's only Emmet. He don't mean any harm."


"Ship's rabbit, o'course."

Viggo reproaches, "He was licking my ankle in an impure manner."

"Aye," Sean agrees phlegmatically. "He does that."

Viggo scowls at Emmet, who peers out from behind the helmsman's buckle-adorned left boot and smirks apologetically. Viggo rubs at his eyes, wondering if he's coming down with some sort of horrible tropical fever.

Elijah shouts out, "Captain! Ship off the port bow!"

Bean pulls out his magic telescope.

Viggo wonders if Bean's trousers work on a principal similar to Doctor Who's trench coat, or the Tardis &#151; sleek and attractively bum-hugging on the outside, but possessing magical pockets able to hold all sorts of useful items. Viggo's lurid extrapolation on what else Captain Sean undoubtedly keeps inside his magical pants is cut short by a hail from the approaching ship.

Mr. Wood orders the engineer to cut back on the Evinrude as the proud vessel pulls alongside, and Viggo crosses to the port side rail with Sean, who hails the other ship's captain with a friendly, "Avast, ye god-awful old lecher! What sort o' trouble have you been up to?"

Viggo leans over the rail, trying to get a look at the name of the new ship. Up near the bow of the handsome vessel he can just make out, in large, cursive red letters, 'Sly Balrog,' and assures himself that yes, he's finally succumbed to a hideous tropical disease.

"By heaven," greets a deep, melodious voice, "it's the 'Randy Stag'!"

Sean's crew warbles dramatically, "The Randy STAAAAG!"

Viggo winces and clutches at the railing for support.

The captain of the 'Sly Balrog' accosts Captain Bean, "Sean, my darling young whoreson, how have you been? Gracious! Shiver my timbers and all that charming nonsense, where'd you get the Danish strumpet? He's gorgeous!"

Viggo yips, "Ian??"

Captain Ian blinks, "Do I know you, lovely boy?"

"Er, well... " Not in this universe, no, and Viggo finds himself somewhat tongue-tied.

"I won him off of Noble," Sean boasts.

"Good for you!" Ian congratulates, looking immensely handsome in a neat white shirt and a green velvet vest with gleaming gold buttons down the front. "John cheats, you know."

Bean looks a bit cagey and pulls at one ear lobe. "Ehm, yes... "

"Ah," Captain MacKellan purrs elegantly. "Just the same, I hope your charming harlot is as good a roll in the bunk as he appears!"

"I &#151; har &#151; hey!" Viggo blushes furiously, but is distracted from further comment by Emmet's latest attempt at crawling up his trouser leg. He scoops up the determined rabbit, who immediately tries to burrow into his shirt.

"Sean, Sean! Look at what I won!" enthuses a feminine voice.

Viggo nearly drops the wriggling bunny. "Miranda??" He stares, slack-jawed. "Karl??"

Karl, standing arse-naked between Miranda and Ian and looking terrifically confused, yelps eagerly, "Viggo??"

"I won him at the knife-throwing booth," Miranda explains, entirely adorable in her big pink shirt, form-fitting trousers and a large, black tri-corn hat with a fluffy white feather in it. "Bloody stupid carnies, didn't think I could hit a ruddy bull's eye eight times in a row. Psshht." She ruffles Karl's hair. "Isn't he a love?"

"Viggo!" Karl pleads, "Where are we? What's happening?"

Sean offers Miranda a congratulatory leer. "Well done, y'horrible young hound! Plans for him, I hope?"

Miranda rolls her eyes, giggling, "Coo, er!"

"Haven't a fucking clue," Viggo admits to Karl.

Karl makes a desperate sort of gurgle, like a dying duck with regrets.

"We've been to Pleasure Island of course," Ian explains to Sean. "Really, it's been too long since we last visited. The crew needed a distraction desperately. You know how all that looting and pillaging becomes so tiresome after a while. Where are you off to, my handsome lad?"

"Just go with it, Karl." Viggo tries to sound reassuring. "It might be fun. She's cute. Dangerous, and likely not quite right in the head, but very cute."

"We're headed for Madre de las Flores," Sean says eagerly. "We're bound for Adventure!"

"Go with it??" Karl squeaks. "I'm bugger-all nudders, and given away for a prize at a pirate carny game, and all you can say is that she's cute??"

Viggo shrugs apologetically.

Ian blesses, "The impulsiveness of youth! Have a lovely time adventuring, then! Will we see you in Tortuga at Christmas?"

"Wouldn't miss it," Sean insists, and turns to yell at Elijah, "Get us on our way, Mr. Wood!"

Elijah shouts, the Evinrude begins to chug and purr toward the Ivory Coast, and Ian shouts a similar order to his mate.

"Have a wonderful time with your handsome Danish trollop," Ian waves.

"Hey, I'm not &#151; " Viggo starts indignantly, then gives it up resignedly, scritching Emmet between the ears as the affectionate rodent settles comfortably inside the front of his shirt.

"Viggo!" Karl wails as the two ships part company, the 'Sly Balrog' to the warm southwest, and the 'Randy Stag' to the adventurous east.

Viggo waves back, trying to appear as though he's got it all under control. "Just lie back and think of New Zealand, Karl!" Which perhaps isn't his finest, but he's working on the spur of the moment, after all.

Miranda grabs Karl by the back of the head and kisses him soundly, leaving him wide-eyed and a bit breathless, and Viggo reassures himself that in the long run his friend shouldn't have much to complain about. The Miranda Viggo knows is not the sort to share, and the weather will get warmer the closer they come to the Caribbean.


Round about tea time, as Captain Bean and Viggo are sitting on a rather breezy poop deck, and Sean is passing Viggo a ham sandwich while trying to explain the intricacies of lagoon football and lecturing somewhat heatedly on why it's unfair to use a dolphin as a goal keeper, the lookout hollers, "Land ho!"

Just a few leagues ahead, an emerald vision in Sean's magic telescope, lies a nifty-looking little island, all covered with lush jungle; palm trees, ferns, and great, spreading trees that create a broad, shady canopy. If they're going to find the Blue-fronted dendrobium Yakstrangler, Sean says, this is the sort of island they'll surely find it on.

The 'Randy Stag' veers neatly into the perfect, horseshoe harbor of turquoise surf and white, sandy beach &#151; which is quite a trick, given the draft on a ship the size of the 'Randy Stag' &#151; and Sean's crew debarks onto a long wharf. At the landward end of the wharf sits a small bamboo and palm frond hut, lording over a turnstile, which blocks the span of the wharf. Over the window of the little hut a white-painted signboard hand-lettered in red reads, "Entry to Madre de las Flores = 2 Spanish pieces of eight, or $.50 Canadian."

The lean, middle-aged man presiding over the turnstile fee sports a garish Hawaiian shirt, horn-rimmed glasses, a shock of unruly white hair, and bears a remarkable resemblance to David Cronenberg. Viggo blinks and says, "David??"

"Shh," David mutters, "I'm on vacation. Two pieces of eight, please."

Captain Bean digs a jingly velvet purse out of one pocket of his magic trousers and measures out two shiny pieces of eight for each of his crewmen. Cronenberg allows them through the turnstile one by one. As Sean and Viggo pass by David advises them of the lovely gift shop in the lobby of the restaurant.

Viggo spots a long, heavy stairway, apparently built of old ships' parts leading up to the cliff overlooking the white sandy beach and the little bamboo hut. Squatting there near the edge is the restaurant, a large sign near the door proclaiming in large, gold-painted letters, "The Effulgent Whelk, exclusive home of the Yakstrangler cocktail."

Sean makes a disgusted noise.

David pulls Viggo aside, hissing, "Avoid the poached cod."

"Thank you."

"What have you got in your shirt?"

"Ship's rabbit."

"Ah," says David. "That's all right, then."

"What did you think I had?"

"Lemmings." Cronenberg points to a sign at the end of the wharf, which reads in large, officious-looking letters, No Lemmings Allowed.

"They swarm," explains Cronenberg. "You bring in a couple of the innocuous-looking little bastard as pets, and the next thing you know, they're rushing by the thousands up to the top of the cliff there and jumping off it. Upsets the restaurant customers something awful."

Viggo edges as quickly as civility will allow toward the crew of the 'Randy Stag,' gathered at the tree line. "Right. Right, of course. Um, see you David."

"You look <em>great</em>, by the way," David assures, waving Viggo on encouragingly. "Perfect Danish strumpet. Role of a lifetime, I swear!"

"I am not &#151; "

But David has turned away in order to attend to a freshly debarked crowd of boisterous little old ladies having just arrived in a charming Portugese caravel whose identity has largely been obscured by a ragged canvas banner awkwardly hung between a couple of portholes, and reading in messy black letters, "crew locked below deck please alert constable."

Eyeing Cronenberg suspiciously, Captain Bean grasps Viggo by the back of his shirt collar and swiftly ushers him into the mysterious jungle of Madre de las Flores.

"Ack," protests Viggo, scrambling to keep up.

"No extraneous flirting," Sean orders menacingly.

"He was warning me about the lemmings!" Viggo insists, trying not to think about how sexy Sean is when he's doing Menacing. "And the poached cod."

Sean lets go of Viggo's collar, growling, "Grrmf," in that particular way that Viggo thinks is super neat, and Viggo impulsively kisses him on the end of his nose.

"Oh 'ey," the Captain scolds, blushing fetchingly. "Not in front o' the rabbit!"


As they trek through the verdant darkness Viggo searches the jungle canopy for the sources of all that racket the jungle is making. Darned noisy place, a jungle. Monkeys, exotic birds, large, heavy things blundering through the underbrush &#151; not to mention the pirates.

Suddenly, a shot rings out. The entire pirate column ducks for cover. Dom has landed on Viggo's head, something with a multitude of legs has promptly become interested in the back of Viggo's neck, and he can't see what's happening.

Someone from the back of the column snaps, "Oi, watch how you 'andle your musket then, eh?"

"It war'n't my musket!"

"Oh, arrr, what's that smell?"


"Gor, wot a stench, what've you been eating?"

"I said I were sorry!"

"You made me soil my armor!"

"Armor? Who are you?"

"Oh... Excuse me. My mistake."

Viggo can just make out the telltale thrashing of a man in chain mail buggering off through the bracken, followed by what seems to be the sounds of two coconut shells clopping together.

Sean demands of no one and everyone, "What the hell was that all about?"

"Dom, fucking get off my head!"


About the ninth time Elijah jabs Sean in the backside with his cutlass to keep him from wasting the day mooning over some gaudy tropical flower, and just as the two of them seem about to come to blows, a spine-jangling call rings out through the trees, rather like something from Tarzan of the Jungle, except that when its maker swings elegantly into the branches of a large tree at the side of the path and hails the travelers, it is not Johnny Weissmuller, but Cate Blanchett, Queen of the Jungle, in an attractive faux leopard skin bikini. She addresses Bean distractedly, "Have you seen my monkey? Small, furry chap, partial to a little red cap, like the bellboys wear at the Saint George."

Bean answers respectfully, "No ma'am, I'm sorry, we haven't seen a monkey in a bellboy's cap."

Cate the Jungle Queen utters an unladylike expletive, and accuses, "The little bastard's run off with my mobile phone! What are you lot doing here, anyway?"

"Eh, lookin' for... plants... " Sean hedges.

Cate rolls her eyes at him. "Oh, you're <em>not</em> after that stupid Blue-fronted dendrobium Yakstrangler legend, really!"

"In fact we are," Captain Bean admits with the indignant asperity of a dedicated orchid fancier. "Ehm... could you tell us the quickest way to the other side of the island?"

She regards him narrowly. "I suppose you're thinking you'll discover the Garden of the Sacred Mouse."

"Er... " Sean says uneasily.

Cate sighs. "Secret entrance, little bit of paradise, giant golden statue of Lord Ganesha and his faithful rodent friend?"

"M'yes," Sean agrees. "That's it."

"Never heard of it."

"Oi, come on!"

"Very well," Queen Cate allows. "Go talk to the Mysterious Old Lady Who Lives in the cave by the Bridge of Avoidance. I'm not promising she'll actually help you, but the bridge is the shortest way across the island."

"Thank you kindly," Sean offers, but the Queen of the Jungle merely leaps nimbly from her perch and swings across the path.

The sound of her voice shouting, "Nigel, you ruddy little perisher, if I find out you're making daytime calls to Tanzania again &#151; " fades as she disappears into the mystery of the jungle.

The orchid search party at last approaches what they presume, by the large yellow sign reading "Penguin Crossing," with "Penguin Crossing" scratched out and "Bridge of Avoidance" written in with thick, black marker to be, in fact, the Bridge of Avoidance. A mysterious figure, shrouded in a long, grey cloak blocks their path.

Sean clears his throat politely, "Excuse me, but are you the Mysterious Old Lady who lives in the cave by the Bridge of Avoidance?"

"Some call me by that name," declares a sultry voice from within the shadow of the cloak. Suddenly the hood is thrown back, and an attractive young brunette beams at the pirates, "Hi, it's me!"

Viggo yelps, "Sandra?"

The not especially mysterious and not at all old woman who looks an awful lot like Sandra Bullock inquires, "Do I know you?"

"Er, no," Viggo says, remembering he's in an alternate universe, and feeling like a complete nimrod.

"We'd like to cross the bridge," Sean says, getting to the point.

"Oh, well then you're going to have to answer some questions," Sandra tells them. "Follow me."

Sandra the bridge keeper leads them around to the beginning of the bridge. There is a small clearing, with a quaint little storybook cottage set well back against the deep verdure of the jungle, and a tidy garden with roses, and zinnias and a set of white wicker lawn furniture on the patio. A ceramic garden gnome leers at Viggo from under a large forsythia.

"This," Sandra says, pointing at a disreputable-looking rope and plank bridge as it spans the vast chasm, "is the shortest way between here and the other side of the island. Answer my questions, and you can cross. Otherwise, you have to take the Path of Eternal Annoyance, which is <em>there</em>."

Elijah wants to know, "Um, why do they call it the Path of Eternal Annoyance?"

"Because it's lined with magazine salesmen and pushy phone operators offering credit cards with no interest for the first three months, changing to 19.6 percent at the end of the introductory period."

Billy swoons, murmuring about usury laws while Elijah fans him frantically.

The Bridge of Avoidance looks more rickety and wind-swept by the moment.

"Right, look," Bean turns to his men. "If the whole lot of us have to each answer a question to get across it'll take us all fuckin' afternoon, so except for Viggo, Elijah and Dom, the rest of you hike back to the 'Randy Stag' &#151; "

Bean's crew belts out merrily, "The Randy STAAAAG!" for no apparent reason.

"My goodness," says Sandra.

Viggo quivers and tries not to wail openly. His head feels melty.

" &#151; maybe stop off at that restaurant we saw at the beach, and get yourselves some supper &#151;"

Happy murmurs begin about sautéed prawns, cold ale and warm waiters. Someone mentions an unfortunate rumour about the poached cod.

"&#151; and prepare to shove off in a hurry."

"You're in a rush?" Sandra wonders.

Bean shrugs. "Ain't that the way all these adventures end, with a big, hurried finish?"

"Gee, I guess you have a point."

The pirate crew begin their journey back to the beach, happily singing whaling chanteys as they disappear back into the jungle, which is rather odd, given that they're pirates, not whalers, and Bean turns to the bridge keeper. "Right, then. Pose your questions, lass."

Sandra giggles. "He's so cute when he says 'lass'!"

"He really is," Viggo agrees, smirking at Bean's embarrassed snort.

"Get <em>on</em>," the pirate captain grumps.

Sandra the bridge keeper throws off her cloak, revealing cut-off shorts and a "Save the Rainforest" t-shirt. She pulls out a stopwatch and turns to Elijah. "What's a seven-letter word for a pirate's weapon of choice? You have nine seconds."

"Oh that's easy," the first mate grins, flashing his dimples at the bridge keeper. "Torpedo!"

Sandra clicks her stopwatch with a satisfied nod. "Thank you!" She pulls a folded newspaper out of her back pocket, digs in a pocket for a stub of a pencil, and writes inside the little squares, "T-o-r-p-e-d-o... "

She addresses Dom, "Who tops, you or Elijah?"

"Elijah - d'oh! Sorry!"

"Ha! I knew it!" Sandra bounces gleefully.

"Do-ommm!" Elijah wails.

Bean scowls frighteningly, "Not on duty, I hope!"

Viggo seriously considers kissing him again.

Dom and Elijah gulp, "No Sir!"

Sandra the bridge keeper waves at Sean, "Okay Captain, here's your question: What's the national flower of Madagascar?"

"Madagascar hasn't got a national flower," Bean sniffs, "it's not an independent state yet."

"Really?" Sandra pulls out an encyclopedia from behind a topiary shaped like Saint Paul's and begins to rummage. "By golly, he's right. Well done, Captain!"

While Sean gloats Sandra offers the last question to Viggo. "What is the square root of thirteen?"

Viggo's Adam's apple joggles. "What??"

"Nine seconds," Sandra warns.

"Three point six zero five," Emmet whispers from inside Viggo's shirt. "There is no exact square root for a prime number."

"I'm sick, I'm sick," Viggo moans.

And then the volcano explodes.

"Bugger," Captain Bean comments flatly.


Viggo jolts awake, sits up, cracks his forehead on the underside of the coffee table, and flops back down onto Sean's library floor, where he has apparently landed after rolling off of the sofa.
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