Sunday, February 28, 2021

Upcoming Stories and Projects

This is a list of stories I'm working on or are in the midst of developing. Keep in mind that this list can and will change depending on what I'm interested in and whatever else is going on in my life. 

Currently Working On: 

Match Game 1973 - 1982
Novels/Novellas/Chapter Stories

Richard Dawson: Wild Wild Blank (Alternative Universe - Western)

Original Short Stories for Children

Stories inspired by childhood memories, including:

Painting someone else's fence.
Little kids running through other people's yards when Mom and Dad aren't looking.
Beach frolics - walking home from the beach as a child.

Coming Up Next: 

Match Game 1973 - 1982
Novels/Novellas/Chapter Stories

Gene Rayburn: Superhero Blank, Part I (Superhero/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

Joyce Bulifant: The Wizard of Blank (Alternative Universe - Fantasy/The Wizard of Oz)

Match Game 1973 - 1982
Short Stories

The Wedding
Missing scene between Brett and Jack Klugman after 1978 "wedding" episode.


Missing scene set after the 1981 Syndicated episode where Gene wore his "Old Man Perriwinkle" wig and mention he and Bill Cullen will be appearing in a local version of A Christmas Carol. Gene and Bill discuss their different views on acting and why Gene wants to get back into it.

In Development: 

Match Game 1973 - 1982
Novels/Novellas/Chapter Stories

Brett Somers: Murder Is Blank (Alternative Universe - Film Noir/Mystery/Thriller)

Richard Dawson: Spy Blank (Alternative Universe - Spy Thriller)
Richard Dawson: Singin' In the Blank (Alternative Universe - 1920's/Historical/Musical spoof)

Charles Nelson Reilly: Star Blank (Alternative Universe - Star Wars/Sci-Fi)
Charles Nelson Reilly: Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Blank (Horror - possible Alternative Universe)

Betty White & Allen Ludden: East of the Sun, West of Blank (Alternative Universe - Fairy Tales/Fantasy)

Gene Rayburn: A Christmas Blank (A Christmas Carol/Fantasy/Horror)
Gene Rayburn: Superhero Blank, Part II (Superhero/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)
Superhero Blank, Part III (Superhero/Fantasy/Sci-Fi)

Fannie Flagg/Ensemble - Freaky Blank (Fantasy)

Bill Daily
McLean Stevenson
Marcia Wallace
Nipsey Russell
Elaine Joyce

Introduction - A Gene Rayburn Story: Pirates of Blank

Growing up by the Jersey Shore, I've long been a fan of pirate yarns and nautical adventures. My sisters and I listened to high-seas stories, real and imagined, the way other kids heard fairy tales. We used to dream of digging up pirate treasure like the kids in The Goonies. We never did find treasure, but those stories stayed with me...and they've inspired many of my fanfics, including this one. 

It's June 1978, and Match Game host Gene Rayburn wishes he were in the middle of the ocean, or anywhere but CBS Television City in Burbank. Richard Dawson, formerly his best panelist, now the host of Family Feud, just finished his last day of taping. He behaved badly the whole week, barely playing the game and never enjoying it. Gene's fed up with him and tired of his boss Mark Goodson complaining to him about their falling ratings. He wonders what being a pirate would have been like, over two hundred years before...

Pirates of Blank, Prologue

Rated: PG-13 (violence, language)

Set: June 25th, 1978, directly after the taping of Richard Dawson's final episode.

This is a work of fiction. Match Game 1973-1982 is owned by Fremantle Media. All characters belong to their respective estates.  

“What in the heck was that?”

Richard Dawson glared at Gene Rayburn through dark glasses as he left his panelist's desk. “What was what? I did the show. That's what you all wanted, isn't it?”

“We wanted you to play the damn game!” the host of Match Game growled. “Not sit there like a stone, flipping up answers and doing nothing. This is supposed to be a comedy program!”

“Gene,” the shorter Englishman muttered, “I'm done here. Finished. I've had enough. Goodson should have let me go when I asked two years ago.”

“No!” Gene yelled as everyone began making their way off the stage. “Come back here! I'm still talking to you.” He stepped in front of him. “Richard, you're a good panelist. You're the best we have. You're handsome. You're smart. You can be a literal riot when you want to be. Why are you bailing out on us?”

“All I wanted was my own show. I got that.” Richard pushed past him. “Now, let me go.”

“Richard!” Gene followed him down the hall, past fellow panelists Brett Somers, Charles Nelson Reilly, and Joyce Bulifant. “Richard, just listen! I don't care if you have your own show. I'm glad you do. You deserve it! But while you're on this show, you should be behaving professionally and actually play the game!”

“I'm tired of playing the god-damn game. You play the game.” Richard grabbed the door to the men's dressing room. “Gene, enough. It's nothing against you, or any of you. I've done this for almost six years. I'm bloody tired of it. I have control on Feud. It's doing well in the ratings, better than this show is. You can continue to be the captain of a sinking ship if you want, but I'm bailing out while I can.”

Gene tried to stop him, but he found the door slammed in his face. “Damn it,” he growled as he banged on the door, “come out here and act professional, for once!”

“It seems to me,” commented Brett, “that you're acting less professional than he is right now.” She made a face. “Good riddance. He's been dragging the show down for months. We'll do five times better without his gloomy puss.”

Joyce frowned. “Gene, she's right. I like Richard. I really do. When he's in a good mood, he can be a nice guy, and a lot of fun to be around. He just...hasn't been in a good mood lately. He doesn't laugh or smile or do much of anything. He's not fun to sit next to anymore.”

“I'm of two minds about this.” Charles took off his glasses and wiped them on his scarf. “On one hand, Rich does have a point. They should have let him go when he asked the first time. It wouldn't have been any hardship to Mr. Goodson. On the other hand,” he sighed as he slid his huge lenses back up his nose, “he's behaving like a baby. He could have at least tried to play along, whether he liked it or not. I agree with Brett. He's being a brat, and we're better off without him.”

Dick Martin came up behind them, tugging at his shirt sleeves. “Charlie, did Richard lock you out? I really need to get in there. I told Dolly I'd meet her at a party in Hollywood an hour, and I left my cufflinks in the dressing room.”

A hand in a suit jacket stuck out and dropped a pair of pearly round objects in Dick's hands before popping back in. “Thanks, Rich.” He made a face. “Not to be blunt,” he went on in a softer voice, “but he's been a real prick lately. I know he wanted out, but he's being a jerk about it. Even Betty and Fannie are complaining. He's not the same guy I used to make jokes with on Laugh-In.”

“We've noticed.” Brett made a face. “I'm not worrying about him anymore. I have to drive my sons to their father's house for the weekend. If that undersized Lothario wants to throw a tantrum because he actually has to be here, that's on him.”

“I have kids to pick up, too,” Joyce admitted, “and I promised we'd all go out for ice cream after I got off.” She frowned at the look on Brett's face when she mentioned her ex-husband. “How's things going, Brett? I mean, after your divorce from Jack and everything. I know that was hard on you. My kids go to the same school as your son Adam.”

Brett's face fell. “Yeah, it was rough,” she said, looking at the ground. “If it wasn't for the boys and Leslie, I probably would have run as far away as possible by now. Excuse me,” she muttered. “I really have to get going.”

“Did I say something wrong?” Joyce frowned as the older woman took off down the hall.

Charles sighed. “Let's just say the divorce got very messy. It's the one thing she won't talk about...and you know she's upset when she won't talk about something.” He shrugged. “I told Gary Burghoff I'd meet him at the diner down the street for burgers. He just got back from filming MASH, and we're going to catch up on things. After that, I need to go over the lesson plans for my acting classes tomorrow.” He gently shook Gene's shoulder. “Gene, you can yell until you lose your voice. It's not going to change his mind.”

Richard finally stepped out, straightening his cuffs. “Don't you all have something to do?”

“Rich,” Dick started, “Dolly and I were wondering if you'd like to come to the party we're having tonight. Bring the boys. We're having a pirate theme. It'll be terrific. Dolly knows this great seafood place that can cut crab legs and make them look like swords.”

“Sorry, Dick. I'm too busy with my show. Family Feud's still going strong in the ratings. We'll be filming another all-star special soon.” He flashed the former Laugh-In host a smirk. “I might consider having you on. You could be a part of my crew.”

“Well, we'll see.” Dick shrugged. “I like it here, too. I'm not great at matching, but I enjoy playing the game.”

“Suit yourself,” Richard told him with a shrug. “You know, Gene,” he added with a smirk, “maybe you could appear on one of the All-Star specials we're doing. See how it feels to be under another captain's command.”

“No!” Gene snapped. “I'll never appear on that show, and I'm not taking commands from you! From now on, we are not speaking to each other.” He swore he saw Richard roll his eyes under those tinted sunglasses of his. “Are you sure you're wearing those because you have an eye infection?”

“I've told you all ten times,” the shorter man muttered, “it's nothing against the show or any of you. I've had to wear them on Feud this week, too.”

“I like them,” Joyce squeaked. “If there was only one lens, you'd kind of look like a pirate.”

“Thanks.” He glared at Gene. “Look, stop it. I've wanted my own show for years now. I got what I wanted. On Feud, I'm the one asking the questions. For once in my life, I'm the one everyone's looking up to.”

“I don't know, Rich,” Dick started warily. “I've heard things about the way you're acting on the set. They say you're turning into a real dictator. It's all in fun, you know.”

“Well,” Richard snarled, “maybe it isn't to me! Maybe this means a lot more to me than some game. Maybe it's a chance to finally have some respect from people who mean something. I'm going places, Dick. And right now,” he turned down the hall, “I'm going to ABC Studios to film MY show.”

Dick sighed. “That went well.”

“One of these days,” Charles grumbled, “he's going to figure out that there's a lot more to running a tight ship than just being the captain and giving orders.”

Lorrie Macafferty, the other female panelist on that day's taping, popped her sweet dimpled face in. “Has anyone seen Anson? He was supposed to pick me up, and he hasn't arrived yet. You'd think he would remember where everything is by now. Happy Days films here, too.”

“I'll take you to the parking lot,” Joyce told her gently. “My husband's always late, too. We can find them together.”

Gene was about to go to his own dressing room when he almost ran into their cue card boy Roger Dobowitz. “Sir,” he said quickly, shoving his glasses up his nose, “Mr. Goodman wanted you. Something about today's show and the job you're doing.”

“What does he want now?” Gene groaned. “I don't have the time to admire his new watch. I have to catch a plane home in three hours. I promised Helen we'd have breakfast as soon as I got in and slept off the jet lag.”

“It's not my fault, sir,” Roger stammered nervously as he lead him down the hall and over to the executive building. “It's about the show and the ratings.”

“I'm sorry, Roger.” The older host frowned. “It's nothing on you, but I can't control the ratings. I'm not the one who made that dumb time change. It's the executives at CBS he should be talking to, not me.”

“Well, he'll have to explain it to you himself.” Roger let him in to Goodman's plush office. “See you at the next taping? I hope,” he added under his breath.

Gene nodded, sounding more confident than he felt. “Yeah, Roger. You'll see me.”

“Gene!” Mark Goodson, a slender white-haired gentleman with a deceptively twinkly smile, resided behind an antique pine desk that took up nearly half of the room. Easily three times the size of his dressing room, it had expansive views of Burbank and the surrounding area. “I heard Richard Dawson's last taping went very well. He's going places, that man. Family Feud is a blockbuster! It's the biggest show on daytime TV right now. Too bad we can't get Match Game back on the same level.”

“We're still doing decently in the ratings,” Gene said pointedly. “We're the number two show on daytime TV. That's not bad. And the nighttime syndicated show is still a smash.”

“You were number one in daytime, until that time change.” Mark sighed and pointed to a painting in back of him. “Oh Gene, Gene. How many times have I told you to focus on the game at hand? All that comedy distracts from what the contestants are really there for, which is to play the game and win money. You just need to stand there and let them answer the questions.”

“And I've told you,” Gene reminded him pointedly, “that the game is a rotten format. It's boring. You can't just say 'Name a flavor of pudding' and expect people to be excited. We tried to play it straight twice, when the show first started in 1963, and again when this version began in 1973. In both cases, it almost ended with us off the air. We have to play it as comedy, or we have nothing to play!”

Goodson sighed and swiveled around to the painting behind him. It took up almost the entire length of the back of the room. “Look at this, Gene,” he said wistfully. The painting depicted something out of an Errol Flynn movie, with officers in blue coats with brass buttons fighting swarthy pirates with flamboyant ruffled collars and striped pants and hats with big feathers. “I just picked up this painting at an auction in Beverly Hills last week. Cost me over 200 thou. It's a genuine NC Wyeth. He specialized in pirate artwork.”

He sighed admiringly. “This is the kind of world I almost wish I was born into. Those officers knew how to keep order. They knew the rules, and if you disobeyed, they could use their blades in a gentlemanly duel, not have to send in lawyers and yes-men.”

Gene made a face. “From what I heard, a lot of those pirates were just doing their jobs. A dirty job, mind you, but a job. I'll bet they buried their treasure to keep it from being eaten by taxes and red tape. Most of the stories say government officials were even more corrupt then than they are now. They would have swiped the poor guys' livelihood, and I'll bet some of them did. Or they didn't give them the money they owed their families and the people on land, and they were just trying to make sure they got what was rightfully theirs.”

“Yes, but they stole and murdered and raped for that 'livelihood,'” Mark added. “If they'd been decent sailors who lived by the rules, they wouldn't have died young or made enemies.”

“Or had colorful, exciting lives we're still talking about three centuries later.”

“Gene,” Mark continued, his voice amiable but a bit darker, “all I ask is you tone down the shtick, and tell the others to do so as well. It may be just a game, but these people are here to make money.”

“Mr. Goodson,” Gene said shortly, “you can continue to monitor your shows your way, and I'll continue to host the show in the way I see fit. I don't tell you how to run a business, and you don't tell me how to do my job.”

“Why, Gene?” Mark shook his head. “Why do you always give me trouble? Why can't you be more like the Narz brothers? Or Bill Cullen. He's such a sweet, dear man, and he never acts up or moves around.”

“Metromedia just canceled Concentration. Jack Nartz will be out of work by the fall,” Gene grumbled. “Bill's a ham in his own way, but he can't move around. He has that bad leg. And I'm glad to hear Allen will be doing something again. Betty told me he's been driving her up the rafters since ABC pulled Password three years ago. But Mark,” he went on, “I'm not them. I'm not a professor-type. I'm an actor. Take me as I am or let me be.”

“And I'm your boss.” Mark shook his head. “I can see we're at a standstill here. Just...take what I said into consideration.”

“I'll do that,” Gene tried to keep the frustration out of his voice. “If you'll excuse me, I have to catch a plane in a few hours.”

“Oh, yes. Do that.” Mark had already picked up the phone, his back now turned dismissively on his host. “Give my love to Helen and your little girl Lynne!”

“Uh, yeah, Mr. Goodson,” Gene muttered, “I'll do that.” This probably wasn't the best time to tell him his “little girl” had just gotten out of college and was now working as a commercial artist in New York.

He stomped back to his dressing room, grateful it was empty. Bill Cullen was preparing to tape his new show The Love Experts and wouldn't be in until later. Bill was the nicest guy around, but he did like to talk, and for once, talking wasn't something Gene was in the mood for.

“Telling me how to do job!” Gene grumbled to himself as he undid his tie and threw it in his suitcase. “Where does he get off? Flashing that huge painting! Thinks he's so great because he's in charge. He may understand show business, but he doesn't understand Match Game...or me. Or us. If it were up to him, he'd have us sitting and behaving like good little girls and boys, and that would blow us all out of the water.”

“I need a distraction.” He switched on the tiny portable TV in the corner as he slid into shorts and a striped polo shirt. The bold opening credits of the old pirate movie The Spanish Main flickered into view on local station KCOP. Dashing blonde Paul Henried tried to reason with dastardly Colombian governor Walter Sleazak, only to be sentenced to death. “Isn't that a government official for you?” Gene grumbled as he tugged his suitcase shut. “Never wants to listen. Always think they know best.”

He couldn't help settling down to watch, even as he pulled on his shoes and socks. “That's right, man,” he told the screen firmly when Henreid escaped and became a notorious pirate, “that's the way to do it. Give it to 'em with both barrels.” He grinned as the robust blonde man infiltrated an incoming ship and flirted with fiery Maureen O'Hara. “And get the girl, too.”

“You know, I could have been a pirate,” Gene told the screen. “I was the captain of my fencing team in high school. I'm a good least, I can keep most people onstage from killing each other...and I know something about sailing. I bet I would have been a great pirate. Yeah,” he said to himself as he leaned back in the swivel chair by the lighted mirrors, “that's the life. Steal your dough, stick it to the boss, and anyone who argued gets keelhauled, or something. Yeah...”

In his mind, the scene grew wavy, fading from a slightly dingy dressing room in Burbank to the blue waters of the Caribbean...

Pirates of Blank, Part 1

The Marauder glided over the bottle green waters of the Atlantic like an ardent lover, cutting through tiny waves on a day with barely a cloud in the cerulean sky. Captain Gene Rayburn couldn't have been more content as he put his sword with the finely etched gold hilt through two burly buccaneers, back to back with his First Mate Richard Dawson.

He elbowed another man before dueling with two more, knocking them both overboard when they reached for his weapon. “That's what you get for trying to snitch a man's blade!” the slender captain yelled to the men over the side. “This blade was given to me by Captain Steve Allen, one of the greatest buccaneers of all time!”

“Are you sure you didn't invite these roustabouts to dinner?” Richard quipped as he took another huge fellow down.

“Are you kidding? The way they smell?” Gene ducked under one's man arm. “I wouldn't invite this crowd to the garbage dump off Brooklyn!”

Richard waved his hand at another lout's breath. “I think they've already had dinner there.” Despite his small stature, he easily rammed into the man, sending him sprawling. “Here you go, boys,” he told two of their people. “Get this piece of trash over the side.”

“In their boats, of course,” Gene smirked as he shoved the remaining men to the lifeboats. “Wouldn't want them to pollute the Atlantic worse than it already is!”

“I don't think they could make it any worse,” chuckled his third mate Charles Nelson Reilly as he tugged at his blue sailor's blouse with the outside seams. “The rest of the crew is secured, sir. They're tied up in the main cabin. The boys are taking them to their ship. Brett was with the ladies.”

“Where is she, anyway?” Richard asked, raising the one eyebrow not covered by a thick eye patch. “It shouldn't take that long to calm the ladies.”

“Perhaps,” Gene admitted warily...just as a sword poked into his back. “And perhaps, we have visitors.”

“Hello there, Gene,” said the man in the pale blue coat with the cross and circle trim who looked a great deal like him smirked. “Nice to see you again. Why don't you go get your own treasure?”

“Because it's going to a better place than into your bosses' pockets,” Gene said coolly, though he smiled at what seemed to him to be a mirror image. “Hello, Pete. Is that a sword in your pocket, or are you happy to see me?”

“Very amusing, Rayburn,” said his near-look-alike Captain Peter Marshall with a toothy grin. “We're keeping this little treasure. We stole it from some rich American boat down off the coast of New Jersey fair and square.”

“Yeah,” muttered Charles, “because everything's legal down there.”

The tall, doughy fellow with the big smile held his knife up to Charles. “All right, Reilly. You're coming quietly. And if you're a good boy, you might even get to come with me, you hamburger, you!”

“He stole my line,” Richard muttered as he nudged Gene and pointed upwards. “Uh Captain, you might want to duck.”

“What?” He barely got down as four sets of shapely legs slammed into Marshall and his people, sending them flying overboard. “Brett?”

The slender woman with the shoulder-length black curls landed right next to Gene. “Hello, Captain!” Brett Somers gave him a smart salute. “My girls and I thought we'd give you a hand. Or better yet, a leg.”

Marcia Wallace dropped next to her, long legs akimbo in her tight black trousers. “Gene, Gene,” she grinned, “I sent Bill with Dick and the others to borrow the stuff on their ship. I think we could probably make better use of it than they can. I could use some new flowers for my hair myself.”

“Brett,” Joyce Bulifant called as she peered over the edge, “should we fish those guys out? Do you know if there's sharks in this part of the Atlantic?”

“Nahh, let them swim to shore.” Brett pulled out her own sword. “That'll teach Marshall twice about shoving us into a square!” She leaned into three men and let them run over the edge before turning to Richard. “By the way, where did you disappear to last night, Dickie, when we were all on shore leave? The men said you went to the wharf and didn't appear again until we shoved off.”

Richard flashed her one of his big smiles. “Oh, don't you worry about me. I was merely preparing The Family Fortunes for shoving off when we return to New York.”

“I'm going to miss you, Richard,” Gene told him with a catch in his voice. “The Family Fortunes is the gorgeous vessel I've ever seen. You'll do her proud, my boy.”

“You know,” Brett said as she raised an eyebrow, “you never told us where you got the money for that oversized bath toy. You always give your share from our raids to the poor or send it to your sons.”

“I had a benefactor,” Richard said shortly, crossing his arms. “What's this, an interrogation?”

“Calm down, Rich,” Charles added soothingly as he put a hand on his shoulder. “I was wondering, too. We have no doubt you'll be a great captain, but it does seem to be odd that you just bought it out of the blue.”

“Why?” Richard sneered. “Can't a man just purchase something he wants?”

“I think he'll be a fine captain,” Joyce broke in. “Maybe the Marauder and the Fortunes can go on raids together someday! Won't that be fun?”

“Um, yes, it would be,” Richard muttered doubtfully.

“Hey Captain!” Dick Martin, one of their more eager crew members, rolled a barrel onto their ship. “Look at what the boys and I found! There's enough rum here to celebrate every holiday for the next six years, and all our birthdays twice!” He flashed Joyce a grin. “Hey there Miss Cook, you think you could whip up a few party snacks to go with this?”

“I think I have enough flour for those little dough-wrapped sausage things,” Joyce admitted. “And if you guys haven't drunk all the beer, I could fry up some batter squid rings.”

“Sir!” Cabin boy Gary Burghoff dashed over the plank connecting the Star Squares with the Marauder. “Captain! You won't believe this, but they're loaded!” He held up a hand glittering with rings so large, the rocks nearly blinded him. “Chests and chests of huge gems and rings and tiaras and jewelry and gold and silver coins spilling all over the place! It'll buy us supplies for the next century!”

Gene grinned. “Net us a lot of repairs on the Marauder, too.”

“I always wanted a tiara,” Brett preened as she fluffed her silver-black hair.

“Please,” Charles lisped with a smirk. “You're enough of a queen as it is.”

“Pot calling kettle black,” Brett snipped back.

“Ahhh!” Portly Richard Paul wiggled his cigar between the two. “Feel the love in the air, now that we've cleared it of the other side, so to speak.”

“Captain!” Big Scoey Mitchlll, complete with cigar and open vest, sauntered over. “Marshall's people are all takin' a dive. 'Cept Miss Rose Marie. She said she'd walk back to the ship herself, an' I don't manhandle the ladies. My lady on land Claire would have my head.”

“This dude's just scared of her, that's all!” Scoey's assistant Jimmie Walker stumbled next to Gary, laden with necklaces and rings that were almost as gleaming as his teeth. “Hey man, can we keep some of these? Wouldn't mind impressin' a few of those dyn-o-mite ladies on land, if you know what I mean.”

“We'll divide the spoils when we shove off,” Gene told him, then turned to the last man coming off the ship. “Everyone here and accounted for, Officer Daily?”

“I think so,” the diminutive, worried-looking little man rambled. “Miss Rose-Marie said she'd swing back and pick up her people, if the sharks didn't get them. You don't want to know what she told me about sharks, sir. They're predatory animals that feed on blood and guts and swarm around their prey until there's nothing left but teeny little bones, and then they crunch those, and...”

“Bill, that's more than enough.” Gene made a face. “We're going to eat soon. I'd like to not turn green at the sight of my dinner.”

“All except for this little one.” Dick tugged a tiny, pretty girl by her arm. “Tried pulling a knife on me when I tried taking the last keg, sir. I think she's too cute for that kind of thing, even if she is wearing pants.”

“Oh honey,” Brett took the girl's arm more gently. “These idiots won't hurt you. They'd have to get past us first." She indicated herself, Marcia, and Joyce, “What are you doing on this ship? This isn't exactly a luxury passenger voyage with all the amenities!”

“Let me go!” The slender young woman sported a white shirt and navy trousers that were too big for her slender frame, a red rag tied around her short and sleek dark locks. “I'm trying to get to New York. My husband Anson is stationed there. I know he's on some American Navy ship. I just don't know which one. He didn't tell me before he left.”

“Don't worry, kid.” Marcia grinned. “You're among friends here. These guys try to get fresh, we know where to put our knees.”

Joyce patted her shoulder. “I'm the cook and clothes-repairer. They try anything, they don't get dinner and their pants fall apart.”

“Well, all right.” Lorrie gazed around oddly assorted group of men and women. “Are you sure you're pirates? You look more like the cast of The Beggar's Opera.”

“'Tis true that some of us were once players, my dear girl.” Gene kissed her hand. “With increasing costs of living on land, this is the only way some of us can make our living.”

Charles nudged Brett. “What about you? You never talk about where you came from. What's a chick like you doing in a place like this?”

“Well,” Brett said too quickly, “why don't I get the young lady settled in? We'll meet for dinner and to celebrate our big jackpot later.”

“I'm going to my room to work on navigating our way home,” Richard added as he made a face. “See that I'm not disturbed.”

“Geez,” grumbled Gary as the first mate sauntered off, “what's eating Rich? We just made a big haul. He should be excited!”

“Something's troubling that man,” Jimmie added, shaking his head. “Maybe we ought to, you know, talk to him.”

“Oh, don't mind Dickie.” Brett shook her head. “He's been in a mood lately, ever since he bought the Fortunes. Guess he thinks he's too good for us second-rate cutthroats now.”

“Third-rate!” Gary shot back.

“All right, all right, pipe down.” Gene waved his sword. “I'll put aside Richard's share of our spoils and the share for the people of the villages in New York. The rest will be split among all of you.” He sighed. “And I'll go talk to Richard and see if I can put him in a better humor.”

Richard Dawson had the second-largest state room on the ship. It was a near-mirror of his own, with a smaller bed and desk laden with charts, maps, a box of tea, and the few souvenirs of their spoils he chose to keep. “Who is it?” he muttered, not looking up from his work. “I'm busy.”

Gene frowned as he took the seat next to him. “Is something bothering you? You've been like this for months. The others are starting to notice. One minute, you'll be your old charming self. The next, you'll be moody, grumpy, angry over something or the other. I understand that you want to leave, but could you be a little better about it? Especially around the men.”

“Gene,” he started, “what do want me to do? It's nothing against you or the crew. There's other people who can give me what me want, and they actually manage to keep their money around for longer than five minutes.”

“Why do you think I left the Navy?” Gene made a face. “My bosses weren't paying me what I was owed, and those politicians on land weren't much better. Some people in the coastal villages are starving. I'm lucky I've been able to send money home to my wife and daughter.”

“I just...” he sighed. “I just wanted something of my own. Needed it. I couldn't stay under someone's command for much longer. I did what I had to. It'll be all over soon.”

His captain nodded. “I'm hoping we'll site land by tomorrow afternoon. Then, we'll take our shares, drop Lorrie off with her sailor, drop you off at the Family Fortunes, and that will be that.”

“Yes.” The smaller man's one good eye couldn't quite meet his. “Now, if you'd excuse me, I must see to these charts, unless you don't want to make it to port anytime soon.”

“Oh, yes.” He tried to grin. “How'd you like to meet Brett and Charles and me for dinner in my cabin? Joyce said she'd cook something special, and there's rum for those two drinkers and the best tea Captain Pete had in his stores for us intelligent sober people.”

Richard's nodded with that stiff grin. “I'm looking forward to it. I think you'll really enjoy that tea. I've added something to it that'll really give it a little...kick, so to speak. And now,” he added, “as soon as you go, I think I'll give the men a hand with the liquor barrels.”

“Want me to help?”

“No,” he said quickly, “that won't be necessary. I think the boys and I can handle it. You go figure out how we'll divide those spoils.”

Gene sighed. “All right. And Richard...”

“Yes, Captain?”

“Please,” he added quietly. “, or something. Our crew will think there's something wrong if you don't. At least look happy that you're here.” He gave him a glare, but his voice sounded cheery. “Or I'll grab the sides of your cheeks and make you smile myself!”

Richard's smile didn't reach his eyes. “And God forbid you should have to do that!”

Gene almost ran straight into Charles when he turned around to return to his cabin. “Gene,” he whispered, “I have to talk to you. There's something strange about Richard. When I was on land, I was making my way back to the ship from a...well, from a friend's house, when I saw him walking from the opposite direction. I don't think he saw me. I swear he looked like he just came from the officer's club at the Navy barracks. They're stationed down there, by the docks. They don't normally let notorious pirates enter.”

Gene slapped Charles on the back. “Pursuing a sailor, huh? Going up in the world, I see.” He shrugged. “I'll ask him about it tonight. Meanwhile, why don't you make sure Gary and Jimmie are scrubbing the decks and not tossing dice between moppings again?”

“All right, Gene,” Charles sighed. “But I still think there's something going on.” He turned to leave, but turned back around, his face flaming red. “And if you must know, it wasn't a sailor. It was the set painter for a theater on Pearl Street.”

“Oh go on, you old sea dog!” Gene gave him a hearty slap on the back that nearly sent him to the ground. “What you do on your off time is your own business. I just hope you had a lot of fun, whomever he was.”

“Yes,” Charles moaned dreamily, “I did. Oh, I did!” He frowned as Gene headed to direct some of the men in taking the treasure downstairs and went after Richard. He still didn't trust him...


Gene whistled as he and Brett prepared the table in his cabin. Everything was perfect. The slightly chipped plates were set with napkins made from sail cloth, on a flowered tablecloth that was once an old shawl of Brett's. Two glasses and two chipped stoneware mugs gleamed alongside the freshly polished silverware.

“Well, it's not exactly the finest pub in New York,” Brett admitted, “but it looks decent enough.”

“I think it's lovely, Brett,” Gene told her with a warm smile. “Almost as fancy as that little inn we stayed at in Encino Village...”

“Shh!” Brett elbowed him as Richard came in. “X-nay on the Encino-ay around the others!”

He rolled his eyes. “You two can break it up now. I've heard your bloody jokes. Half the ship knows.” Two bottles were under his arm. “Here. Brought the rum,” he settled the larger bottle in the center of the table, “and the tea leaves. Now, let's eat.”

“Captain Rayburn?” Gary Burghoff ducked nervously into the room. “There's a ship on the horizon. It's been out there for a while. I think it's following us.”

Gene winced as he heard attempts at singing behind Gary. “Well, why don't you go join them? Better yet, find Charles and tell him to join us. He was supposed to meet us here.”

“He went to check on those rum barrels, sir. He thought he smelled something in them, sir. Something he didn't trust.” Gary gulped as Gene and Richard glared at him. “I'll, er, go help him, Captain. I'll go right away. Besides, I think I hear Jimmie singing out there. If he keeps going on like that, those people out there may hear us, and we're not ready for another raid. I think.”

Brett raised an eyebrow. “What was all that about?”

“I haven't the foggiest.” Richard poured her rum. “Why don't we get started? I'm surprised Joyce hasn't been around with our meals yet.”

Even as Richard spoke, the doors opened. “Oh, hi folks.” Joyce carried a tray on her hip and another in her arms. “Here's dinner! I'll be ladling out the fish stew to the rest of the crew after I finish here. Then,” she yawned heavily, “I think I'll take a nap.” Her eyes were already half-shut. “I don't know what got into me. I was feeling fine earlier! Guess all the excitement with the raid and passing around the rum wore me out.”

“Let me help you there.” Richard jumped up, took the tray from her hip, and started placing biscuits on plates. “The men enjoy the rum? I added an extra...something of my own.”

“Uh-huh. I've never seen them drink so much. Dick and Rich Paul must have had a whole keg to themselves.” She yawned even more deeply, nearly dislocating her dainty jaw. “I hope all of you enjoy dinner. You have a good night! I'll serve dinner and get Lorrie settled in with us ladies.”

“Well,” Richard started, “shall I pour?” He took the tea pot first. “This is for you, Gene. And this,” he picked up the rum and let the dark liquid splash into Brett's glass, “is for the lady.”

“Shouldn't we wait for Charles?” Brett asked as she reached for her glass. “I wish he'd stop being late all the time.”

“No, I'm sure he's all right.” Richard settled down and began to ladle stew into his mouth. “Not bad. Not bad at all. Joyce outdid herself tonight.”

Gene sipped his tea. “He's probably keeping an eye out for that ship Gary mentioned. Wonder who it is?”

“Perhaps they're friendly,” Richard suggested. “We ought to swing over and greet them.”

“But what if they aren't?” Brett's glass of rum was already empty. “I don't think any of these idiots are up to fighting their way out of a burlap bag, let alone an enemy ship! What if it's the US Navy? We're not...” she yawned, “on their list of favorite people. Didn't Governor Goodson say he'd make you pay for raiding his ships?”

“I'm not worried about him. I can get around that.” Gene gulped his tea, smacking his lips in delight. “Where did you get this, Richard? It's really good. There's a hint of...raspberry, cinnamon, and maybe something...fruity...”

“Oh, here, there.” Richard shrugged and pushed his empty bowl aside. “Why don't you have more?” He filled Gene's cup before he even finished.

“You're awfully eager...” Brett yawned deeper as she sipped her second glass of rum, “for him to drink that.”

“I just want him to try it!” Richard insisted. “Why should I be the only person here who doesn't want a fogged brain?”

Gene frowned, rubbing his head. “I don't know about that, Rich,” he muttered, blinking as the smaller man suddenly went double. “I think there's two of you.”

“Dickie,” Brett said with a deeper yawn, “do you have...anything to do...with why I'm so tired? You were the last one...near the rum...”

“Well, you have had a busy day, Brett, what with that big raid and all.” Richard tugged her out of the seat and half-carried her to Gene's massive carved rosewood bed. “Why don't you go to sleep a little early? I'll get you up when my patron arrives.”

“Your...patron...” Brett's eyes were already closed. “What...about...Gene? The crew? Dickie...”

Richard put a finger on Brett's lips. “Mistress Klugman, please stop calling me that. I'm not one of your sons. I'm a grown man. I haven't gone by that name in over a decade.” She finally passed out on his shoulder, snoring heavily. He made a face as he lay her on the bed. “I'd rather direct your rum breath down here, where it won't knock out several fleets.”

“Mistress Klugman? Rich...wha...” Gene wished his head didn't feel so thick. His brain was heavier than the stew, and even harder to wade through. He swore he saw Richard bind Brett's wrists with his own sheets. “Wha...what are you doing?” His voice slurred until his words were barely discernible. “Why you doin' that?” He leaned on his hand, struggling hard to stay awake.

“Gene, don't make me do you, too,” Richard admonished lightly as he wound another sheet around Brett's ankles. “I'm working for someone else now, at least for the moment.”

“Rich...” Gene tried to growl, but his tongue was sandpaper. “Rich...I trusted you...stop...”

Gene rested his head on his arm just as Charles Nelson Reilly barreled into the state room. “Gene? Captain Rayburn? Gary and I saw Richard drop something in the rum. Didn't like the smell of it. Gary's trying to wake up Scoey and Dick. Someone has to steer the ship! That ship that was behind us is almost on top of us. I think they're a US Navy cruiser. We have to get out of here. These guys are in no condition to fight.” He frowned as Gene moaned under his arms. “Captain? Gene? Are you all right?”

“He's fine, Charlie.” Gene forced his eyelids open just in time to catch Richard whipping out a pistol. “You won't be if you keep moving. I'm afraid I'll have to figure out what to do with you.”

Charles just gazed over his shoulder, his eyes widening in horror. “Brett? What did you do to her? Why's she trussed up like she's going to be hauled on the wharf?” He gave Richard a lisp and coy smile. “I didn't think you liked things kinky!”

“I don't. Not here, anyway.” Richard shoved his gun at Charles' chest, pushing him back against the wall. “I'll keep you with me. Might be useful if one or two of the crew members are still awake. If they see us together, chatting normally, no one will suspect a thing.”

“They will if I scream for help. We'll need it. That Navy ship could be on us any second!”

“Of course, it will.” Richard gave him a wan smile. “I want them to come. I'm the navigator, remember? Directed the ship right to them. Promised my patron he could join the party!”

“What? But...” Charles' yelled angrily.

Anything else he wanted to say was muffled by Richard throwing his hand over his mouth. “Shush, Charlie. I don't want to hurt you. Now,” he turned him around roughly, “you're going to walk with me and to the wheel and steer this ship over to the Navy cruiser, and you're going to let them onboard. Don't bother trying to call for help. They're all sleeping..and if you yell for Gary or Jimmie, all three of you will end up full of lead.”

“Rich...” Gene slurred, “” He tried to move, but his limbs were heavier than the sandbags used for ballast. Nothing worked. The last thing he heard before falling into a drugged sleep was the small slam of Richard closing the door behind him.

Pirates of Blank, Part 2

“Ok, Rayburn! You're coming with us!” Something yanked at his back, but he pushed it back. He felt too warm...maybe a little stiff...

“Five more minutes, Helen,” he muttered. “Can't you just let a man sleep...yiiii!”

Cold water splashed over his head as he heard foghorn screams from across the room. “Wha...huh...” He raised his sore neck off his hands and found himself face-to-face with the biggest, hairiest soldier he'd ever seen. The fingers that yanked him to his feet were the size of sausages. “All right,” he grumbled, “I guess I'm awake now. You could have asked nicely.”

“Gene!” Brett screamed as a burly sailor threw her over his shoulder. “Damn it, you giant hunk of beef, put me down! Don't you have any manners? Would you treat your own mother this way? On second thought,” she added, looking down at his muscular backside, “don't answer that question. Hey, you don't have a bad back. Do you have a date for Friday night?”

“Brett,” Gene grumbled, “this is hardly the time to be asking these guys out.” He reached for his sword and managed to cut the belt off the nearest sailor, letting his pants fall down. “That's what you get for waking up a man before he's ready!”

He might have gotten the rest if he wasn't moving so slowly, thanks to that fog in his brain. Two sailors yanked his arms from behind, while another forced his sword out of his hand. “No! Give that back!” His attempts to fling out his legs ended with him being punched in the man parts and nearly ending up on the floor. “My old boss Captain Steve Allen gave that to me after our last raid together. You won't find anything like it anywhere! It was made specially for some rich governor in the Spanish colonies.”

The sailor laughed in his face. “Then it shouldn't belong to a second rate bilge rat like you.”

“Third-rate!” Brett called from over the other sailor's shoulder as he carried her to the main deck.

Lights from dozens of torches made Gene's eyes blink. Sailors tied his men together, even as they yawned and grumbled and complained about hangovers. The three women were shoved behind them, with Marcia growling that they'd get a knife in the gut if they touched them while trying to protect a wide-eyed Lorrie.

“Quite a motley assortment we have here, Captain Rayburn.” The diminutive snow haired dignitary in the fine sea-blue Naval uniform and huge feathered cap flashed his own pearly whites. “Is this a pirate ship or the chorus line from a bargain-basement company of a comic opera?” He buffed the cufflinks on his immaculate white silk sleeves with the huge ruffles. “Like them, Captain? Real pearls, imported from the Caribbean. Cost me five hundred dollars at a market in Boston.”

“Still showing off your valuables, I see, Governor Goodson.” Gene sneered. “How'd you like my crew to rip off some of those valuables? They might do better on the open market providing food for the villages you stiff than holding that rag you're wearing together.”

“Gene, Gene.” Goodson shook his head with a mock-exasperated sigh. “When are you going to learn to behave? I never had this problem with any of my other captains. If you'd just do what you're told and stand in place, we wouldn't be having this conversation.”

“I'm not like that, Governor.” Gene's voice lowered dangerously. “I actually pay my people what they're worth, and I enjoy my work. How much are you paying these wharf mongers of yours?”

Goodson glared daggers at him. “None of your business.”

There was a commotion as the sailor dropped Brett, her ankles now free, on the deck. “Hello, Mark,” she purred. “What brings you this way? Decided you liked the view?”

“Charming as always, Mistress Klugman,” Goodman chuckled as he lifted her chin hard. “I'm certainly glad my new partner gave me the exact coordinates of your location. How long did you think you could hide from your husband?”

She made a face. “Until the end of time would have been nice.”

Charles gasped as Richard shoved him into the crowd. “You have a husband?”

“Oh, yes.” Goodson held out a slightly tattered scroll. “Dr. Jack Klugman, a prominent coroner from Philadelphia, is offering a substantial reward for his wife's return or any news of her whereabouts.”

“He's a compulsive gambler who lost half his money in back rooms at Philly taverns!” she snarled. “He probably wants me back just so he can have more money to lose. Besides, all we ever did was fight. I took my sons and went home. My boys are with their sister and grandparents in Maine Territory.”

“Gentlemen,” Goodson proclaimed, “untie this lovely lady. She'll be our guest on this return voyage.”

“On one condition.” Brett stood firm. “The women stay with me. I don't want any of your gorillas touching a hair on their heads. If I see even one false eyelash out of place...”

“Of course.” Goodson gallantly kissed her hand. “Each and every one will be brought to New York completely unharmed. I wouldn't dream of hurting ladies of your quality.”

“What about the rest of us?” Bill Daily called from where he and the men were lashed tightly together on the deck. “Do we get to stay with Gene?”

Scoey tugged his hand out to flick the ashes from his cigar on the deck. “Yeah, man. Are we under arrest, or are we just going to stand here and look pretty?”

Goodson walked up and down the deck, looking the entire crowd over like he was inspecting the mast on a ship. “I thought of making you join my crew, but now I see you wouldn't be fit to shine their boots. Think I'll take you all back to land and put you on trial for piracy and grand theft larceny. You'll be lucky if you don't end up being sent to the sugar plantations in the Caribbean. They could use strong backs like yours.”

Scoey's dark eyes were hot, raging coals. “Not on your life, little man. Never again.”

“Don't worry, Scoey,” Gene insisted. “I won't let that happen.”

One of the men dragged Lorrie out from behind Marcia. “Hey General, look what I found! Isn't this a tasty little morsel?”

“No!” Brett tried to lunge for him, but two men yanked her back. “She's just a baby! Get your hands off her!”

“Hey!” One of the tallest and lankiest of the sailors, with thick black hair under his jaunty white cap, pushed his way through the others. “Don't manhandle her! She's my wife!”

“Anson!” Lorrie ran to his arms as the other sailors whistled. “What are you doing here?”

He wrapped his long limbs hard around her slender torso. “I work on this ship. What are you doing here?”

“I hadn't heard from you in months, so I went to find you.” She gave him a deep kiss.

“We were at sea, sweetheart!” He blushed as several sailors and all of Gene's crew whistled. “Um, I think we'd better save this for later, when we're alone.”

“Well,” Goodson chuckled, “isn't this touching?”

“Leave them alone, Mark!” Gene grumbled, struggling against the burly sailors. “They're kids in love. Weren't you ever a kid in love?”

“Oh, I have no interest in them. We'll return her to land as soon as we can.” He turned to Gene with a smile that closely resembled that of a hungry shark. “You, however, interest me a great deal. I've wanted you on trial for a long time. You and those stage rejects of yours will dangle on the end of a hangman's noose the moment we get to land.”

“Richard,” Charles wailed as the sailors grabbed him from his arms and yanked his arms behind his back, “what's going on? Why are you doing this?” He gulped. The way the sailors looked at him made him feel like a piece of steak they wanted to stick a fork into.

Goodson nearly fell over laughing. “You mean you don't know? He hasn't told you?” He patted Richard on the shoulder. “This is the newest captain in my fleet, the head of the schooner Family Fortunes...which I helped bankroll, of course. You even did me a favor, picking up the gold and jewels stolen from the Casa Del Internationale. I'll be able to return them to their real owners for a nice, fat reward.”

“Which I'm sure will go right in your pocket,” Marcia muttered.

“Oh, yes.” Goodman chuckled. “He told me all about the little raid you planned on the Star Squares. Saves me the trouble of having to chase them.”

“This is your patron, Rich?” Gene hissed. “Him?”

“You betrayed us all, you little bastard!” Brett shrieked. “I ought to knock you back to the hell you came from!” Three sailors threw their guns in front of her face before she could get near him.

Richard made a face. “It was the only way I could get my own ship. I didn't have enough money, and I wanted out. Goodson promised me the rest of the money for the Fortunes if I turned all of you in.”

“Damn it, Rich,” Dick grumbled angrily as he tried to get at him, “this is not my idea of a fun party! How could you do this? I thought you were our friend!”

“Charles!” Gary ducked under legs and ran towards the sailors holding onto his former teacher. “Let him go!” One of the sailors easily picked him up and hauled him off the deck. “Don't you touch him, you god-damn assholes, or I'll send you into the next seven layers of hell!” The diminutive youth threw out a litany of curses to their lineage at the top of his considerable lungs.

“Man, Rich, you're a traitor!” Jimmie added as he swung from the crow's next, shaking a bony fist. “The Black Prince ought to personally see to it that you have a knuckle sandwich for a midnight snack!”

“You know, Rayburn” Mark added, “I don't think I'll keep you with them. You'll just encourage their antics. I think it's time I got rid of you.” He tapped his polished boot on a long piece of wood. “Perfect. Why don't we give the great pirate captain a taste of his own medicine and make him walk the plank?”

“Hey, now,” Richard growled, “that wasn't part of the deal! They were all supposed to go to land and stand trial, including Gene. You promised you wouldn't hurt them!”

“I changed my mind.” Goodson snorted. “Make sure he can't move his arms and legs. I don't want anyone finding the body.”

“Oh no, you don't.” Brett growled, trying to jump at him. “If anyone on land finds out you've done this...”

“Who will they believe?” Goodson chuckled. “Me, or an older woman and a group of sadistic sea thieves?”

“Damn it, Goodson, so help me,” Gene snarled as two of the sailors wound rope tightly around his torso, lashing his arms to his body, and then even rougher around his knees, “when I get out of this, I'll come back and hit you so hard, your nose will land half-way across the Atlantic!”

“If you get out of this,” Goodson reminded him, “which I doubt you will.” One of the soldiers handed him Gene's sword. “Thank you. What fine craftsmanship! Just beautiful. Belonged to your old friend Captain Allen, didn't it, Rayburn? I enjoyed destroying his ship the Tonight several years ago,” he pointed the blade at Gene's back, “and now, I'll equally enjoy getting rid of his protege and his leaky tub.”

“Don't even think about it.” Gene struggled, trying to loosen the ropes. “I've worked hard on this ship! We all have. You can't just blow it out from under us!”

“What I do with this ship is the least of your worries, Rayburn.”

Two of the sailors forced Gene onto the narrow piece of wood jutting over the choppy Atlantic water. “Goodson,” he growled, turning around, “I swear I will come back and haunt you until the end of your days. You will never be able to get away from me! Wherever you turn, I'll be there!”

“And I'll wait up for it!” Goodson grinned and poked him harder with the sword. “Good bye, Rayburn! Say hello to the fishes for me!”

With his knees tied, Gene could barely move. He finally stumbled down the plank, looking down at those green waters and the blustery cold winds. He gulped, then held his breath, bent his knees, and attempted a dive that ended up more like a rather messy belly-flop.

Pirates of Blank, Part 3

Coooollld! The water was freezing cold and moving whip-fast under his bound legs. He barely managed a few gasps before sinking below the waves. Once he recovered from the initial shock, he kicked out his legs, trying to shake off the ropes.

He turned around to try to swim back to his ship...just in time to hear the explosion. The Marauder went up in a burst of flames and noise that could be heard for miles. One of the broken boards landed hard on his head as he fought to escape the heavy undertow. After he yelped, he draped himself over it, hoping in his heart that all his crew got off the ship before it was blown to bits.

He was too tired to fight now. The board drifted along with the tide, with him barely hanging on. Wind blew him further out to sea, even as he got splinters from clutching that piece of wood for dear life. The air was too frigid...and warm...had it ever been so warm? Or cold. Wind stung his high cheekbones and blew his stiffly drying hair into his eyes. He tried screaming for help, but all that emerged was a scratchy bleat.

Time lost all meaning in the middle of the Atlantic. He had no idea how long he drifted along with the tides. Could have been days, hours, even minutes. Sore arms continued to hold onto the waterlogged piece of wood. Maybe it was his imagination, but a huge shadow suddenly seemed to blanket the waters around him. He looked up, just in time to bump into something wooden...a ship's hull. As his eyes roved over the side, they caught the words The Golden Medley painted in elaborate scroll on the side.

“H...hello?” His raspy voice shook like a piece of dry seaweed battered helplessly by a wave. “”

Voices babbled on the deck, but he was too tired to make them out. He barely noticed when wheels squeaked and lowered a lifeboat into the water. Two strong arms wrapped in the white blouses favored by buccaneers managed to haul him over the side. “Gene?” a voice called to him. “Gene? What the hell are you doing here? Are you all right?”

“I'll t...tell you,” he rasped with chattering teeth. “J...just get me o...onboard, a...and t...then, we'll talk!” That was the last thing he remembered before he passed out in the bottom of the lifeboat.


He never felt so warm. Smooth satin slipped over his arms as a cool, damp cloth pressed over his head. His dark eyes fluttered open as a small hand stroked his cheek.

“You're awake!” gasped a British accent in delight. “Oh, thank heavens! You had a terrible fever for a while there. We weren't sure you were going to pull through.”

“Where am I?” He rasped as he took stock of his surroundings. “How did I end up here?”

“You're in the captain's quarters on The Golden Medley. We fished you out of Atlantic almost a week ago.” A beautiful young woman with thick chestnut hair and a slender, boyish figure gently patted his head with a cool wet piece of cloth. “Captain Kennedy is on deck, but he'll be so happy that you're all right.” Her voice dropped sadly. “We...heard...what happened to the Marauder. It was bloody hard to miss! By the time we went to help the survivors, the only one we could find was you.”

Gene frowned. “I have no idea what happened to the others. Goodson wanted them to stand trial, so I presume they survived.” His eyes roamed over her slender figure, encased in a tight laced bodice. “But at least I woke up to a nice view.”

“Oh, I'm Dolly Martin.” The woman gave him a wan smile. “At least I know my husband Dick is all right. The governor wouldn't miss a chance to bring cutthroats to trial if it'll enhance his reputation and his pocketbook.”

Gene made a face. “So I've noticed. I guess he thought I was expendable.”

“Gene?” Captain Tom Kennedy came in, sporting what had once been the blue uniform of an American Naval officer stripped of its decorations. “You were in pretty bad shape for a while. How are you feeling now, old friend?”

“Better, now that I'm off that plank. The next time I see planks of wood, they'd better be the deck of a ship.” He grinned as Tom sat next to him. “You seem to be doing well enough for yourself.”

“Thanks. We had a couple of good raids up north. Shared the loot with the crews under two new buccaneers from Canada. Very smart boys. Captain Trebek of The High Rollers and Captain Perry of The Card Sharks. Those two are going to go far, if they can avoid the Royal Canadian Navy.” Despite his praise, the wide grin didn't meet his eyes. “Then I came back down here and found they blew two of the best pirates in the business out of the water. The Marauder...and The Concentration.”

Gene patted the younger man's arm. “I'm sorry about your brother, Tom. We heard the noise, but by the time we arrived on the scene, there was nothing left but splinters. We searched for an hour and couldn't find anyone.”

Tom narrowed his eyes. “Jack's alive. He told me the last time I talked to him on land he just stole thousands of dollars worth of gold bullion and jewels from a Spanish cruiser and buried it on the coast of New Jersey. Goodson wants to return the treasure to the Spaniards and get the reward...and Jack is the only one who knows where it's hidden. Goodson's not going to blow up the only person who can tell him where a treasure that could pay for his salary six times over is.”

“I presume he stole the money from my most recent raid, too. The question is,” Gene sighed, “how do we get my money and my sword back, and make sure no one steals your brother's loot?”

Kennedy leaned closer, his eyes shining. “Word on land is that Goodson's currently off the coast of Delaware, near Lewes. Guess he figures he can hang low until he brings our crews to New York or Philadelphia for trial.”

“We'll be arriving off Cape Island within the next few days,” Dolly added.

Gene made a face. “Dolly, you and Dick were friendly with Brett. Did you know she's the runaway wife of a rich doctor? I had no clue. She told us she was from Maine Territory and her husband left her and her children high and dry in Philly.”

Dolly sighed. “Dick knew her better than me, but he did tell me about her the last time I saw him. The part about her kids is true. She abandoned him, though. They argued constantly, sometimes knock-down, drag-out scream fests. I think she got tired of it. Her drinking and his gambling didn't help matters.”

He made a face. “Why didn't she tell me? I wouldn't let it get around. She's a wonderful sailor and a very capable woman.”

“She trusted you. Mostly, anyway.” She made a face. “She was afraid one of the crew would talk. The fewer people who knew, the better.”

“No one trusts me anymore!” Gene grumbled. “Brett didn't trust me. Richard threw me over for Goodson. What the hell did I do to these people?” He wrinkled his nose. “And I want my sword back! Captain Steve Allen gave me that sword. It's the best I ever had. Goodson will probably give it back to the Spaniards or melt it down. Or worse, keep it for himself.”

Kennedy frowned. “Word in the taverns in New York is Dawson's getting arrogant. He's a dictator on The Family Fortunes, lords his power over his crew. I'm not sure he'll be much of a help.” He leaned into the other three. “Gene, we'll get them back. Your sword, too. We'll be pulling alongside the Todman by early tomorrow morning.”

“And I'm going to help you.” Gene swung his bare legs off the bed, wrapping the blanket around the rest of him. “This is my crew. There's no way you're leaving me out. Even if I do end up standing trial, at least I'll be with them.”

“We weren't going to say no.” Kennedy chuckled. “We know how stubborn you are. Besides, we could use all the help we can get.”

“Captain Kennedy?” The man who stuck his head in had shaggy dark hair, a large grin and a slightly too-big nose, and carried a pad of paper. “You know, the boys are getting restless. Doc McLean can only stitch up so many of them before they drink all the liquor he uses for antiseptics. By the way, how's the patient? Oh, and I need the exact coordinates for Goodson's ship, so I can get as close as possible without us getting blown out of the water like the Marauder did.”

“He's fine, Robert, as you can see.” Tom nodded at Gene. “Tell the boys we'll be joining them shortly. I'll give you the coordinates after dinner. Oh, and Gene, this is Robert Walden, our navigator. Just hired a few weeks ago.”

“Nice to meet you.” Gene reached for the nearest shirt as Robert turned bright crimson, Dolly whistled, and Tom snickered. “Um, I think I'd better get dressed first. Then we'll make a plan.”

“Right.” Robert turned around quickly. “I'll just go tell the boys we'll be getting ready. By the way, sir, once you're...dressed...I need to talk to you.”

“Yeah.” Gene barely held the blanket over him. “We can do that.”

“Well,” Tom chuckled, “why don't we go feed the animals out there, then prepare the men to board the Todman and show Goodson who's really in charge of the seas.”

As soon as the others left, Gene dressed quickly and headed out the door to join the mess line before the crew devoured everything in sight. “Sir?” Robert Walden stepped out of the navigator's cabin, “may I have a word with you?”

“Well, all right,” Gene grumbled. “But make it fast. I'm starving!”

“Sir,” he said softly, “I know Charles Nelson Reilly was one of your men. He used to be my teacher years ago on land. He was one of the best teachers I ever had. I'm worried about what Goodson will do to him.”

Gene made a face. “He was still standing, last I saw, but I don't like the way the sailors looked at him. Young man, I swear, we'll rescue him and the others before those sides of beef lay a fingernail on his toupee.”

“That's not all.” His nasal New York accent lowered to a whisper as he whipped out a paper and quill. “I have been a navigator before, but I'm really a reporter for the New York Tribune. I'm working on a story for my boss Edward Asner about corruption in the Navy and how they're dealing with pirates. He said I should get a hands-on view of the situation. I overheard Kennedy talking to one of his men about his plans for dealing with Goodson at a tavern near the Tribune's office. Signed on with him right then and there.”

Gene couldn't help his eyes flitting to the food line. “Look, why don't we make this quick. You help me free my crew and get a new boat, and I'll help you get the real lowdown on Goodson. Now,” he handed him a bowl, “let's get dinner, before it goes down the gullet of those savages out there.”

Robert grinned widely. “Sure, sir!”

Pirates of Blank, Part 4

It was late in the evening when they drifted alongside the sleek vessel known as the SS Todman. Goodson's flagship shined in the dim moonlight, the pride of the US Naval fleet. Men in sailor uniforms stood at attention on-deck, stoic in their spotless dark blue uniform.

“Hold back, men!” whispered Tom as they all ducked into cabins or squatted on-deck. “We want them to think we're a ghost ship, not something real.” Tattered fabric bits hung from the real sails. Cannons were covered in a veneer of red dust to appear rusty and dull.

“That's all well and fine,” grumbled lanky young sailor Bart Braverman, “but do we have to wear the cut-out sheets?”

McLean, the silver-haired ship doctor, poked his head out of his sheet. “I feel like laundry down here. We aren't going to scare those guys. They'll just stick us in a basket and rinse us the next time we go to shore.”

“Shhhh!” Sharon Farrell stuck her curly yellow head out. “Do you want them to recognize us?”

Tom waved his hand as the boats scraped against each other. “Enough, all of you! All right, everyone. Let's get over the side.”

Sharon landed gracefully on the other deck, barely ruffling her sheet. “If anyone tries anything, go flat and pretend to be laundry.”

“They'd better not try stepping on me,” grumbled Dolly under her sheet. “I just washed these this afternoon!”

“Shh!” Robert Walden waved a sheet-covered hand, indicating two sailors keeping watch on-deck. He and McLean grabbed the duo, getting them on the ground with the help of the knock-out drops McLean carried in his pocket. “All right, the others have to be around here somewhere.”

“Wait!” Gene peered out of his sheet into the rapidly setting sun. “I think these fellows might be able to help us.” He grabbed the larger of the two with the thicker beard. “Sir, have you heard anything about the whereabouts of a Miss Brett Somers?”

Gene reeled back when the big fellow breathed on him. He definitely smelled half a case of good brandy, among other things. “Oh, her?” He hiccuped. “Thought her name was Mrs. Audrey Klugman. Guess it's the same lady. She's havin' dinner with the boss. My friend and I, we just brought her there. The ladies got her all dressed up in some fancy lacy thing. His cabin is thataway.” He pointed towards the ends of the ship behind them.

“Thank you, sir. You may take your nap now.” Gene let him fall back and snore. “If she's with Goodson, we can kill two birds with one stone.”

“I have an idea.” Bart tugged the other fellow's shirt over his head. “Two of us can pass as sailors and see if we can get information out of Goodson or his crew. No one will notice sailors roaming around.”

Gene started stripping the larger man with the silver beard, who snored on his lap. “Whew! I don't want to know how many kegs this guy had with dinner. His clothes reek with rum.”

As they changed under their sheets, McLean and Tom knocked out two more sailors who came to check up on them, wailing softly like ghosts until they came close. “I liked Sharon's idea from earlier.” McLean pulled off one of the moaning men's boots. “We'll pose as sailors picking up laundry. There's no way we can keep up this ghost act forever.”

Dolly flipped off her sheet and knotted it around her waist and bosom to resemble a tight dress. “No one will ask a lady in a dress that shows this much cleavage any questions.”

“I like it!” Sharon wound the sheet around her body, too, making sure it lifted her own chest. “If anyone asks, we'll say we' from the nearby harbor.”

“Ladies of a certain type,” Dolly added with a grin. Gene couldn't suppress a whistle as she turned around for her snickering audience. Sharon pulled up a little skirt, revealing an expanse of slender tanned leg.

Gene took Sharon's arm and Tom took Dolly's as they inched along in the shadows, now carrying their sheets or draping them around their shoulders. Everyone scuttled along the deck in the lengthening shadows, jumping or knocking out sailors when they turned to check out the “ghosts” floating by.

“Shhhh!” Gene waved the others behind his sheet, stopping by the window to the largest cabin. “I think I hear voices over there!”

“How are we going to get in?” Dolly made a face as she yanked at the door. “It's bloody locked!”

Gene eyed the lower sail. “I think I know.” He took her sheet and Robert's and tied them together, then tied a knot at the end.

“I hear her!” Betty leaned in to listen. “Gene, hurry up! Tom, McLean, see if you can break the lock on the door. I'll take the side way in.”

As Gene tightened the knot on the sheets, he swore he heard voices drifting from the cabin. “Welcome, Mrs. Klugman,” Goodson purred. “Sit down. Enjoy the meal. We have the finest cook anywhere on the high seas, hired straight from New York.”

“You know, I think I will try it,” Brett rasped as porcelain dishware and silver tureens clinked. “This beef stew smells amazing. You can just taste the spices. You're a lucky man, to have such a wonderful cook. It's been a long time since I've had a fine dinner with a real gentleman. I don't count my, er, husband as a gentleman, or those ruffians I used to work with. I'm glad to be rid of them. The girls and I are better off with men who don't consider it to be open season on your buns.”

“I don't know how you put up with them for so long.” Goodson chuckled. “Rayburn was one of my best captains, once upon a time. his way...authoritative, strong-minded. Trouble is, he couldn't respect the law. Insisted on doing things his own way, making a comedy out of everything, giving my money to the locals. But the law, my dear,” he purred as knives scraped against porcelain, “is the law. The law is everything.”

“Especially,” Brett rumbled alluringly, “if it's your law.”

Gene threw the sheets up, managing to catch it on the end of the sails. He'd just swung up against the walls as Goodson went on. “Of course, my dear. It's how you play the game. There's no game if there's no law. The law must be obeyed.”

“Naturally.” Her foghorn contralto dropped to a deep purr. “I know about playing the game, Governor. I've played it for a long time.”

Even as something swished through fabric, he took hold of the sails and grinned at the others. “I'm going in after Brett. I'll let you guys in when I get there. Later, folks!”

Of course, the last thing he expected was to mistime his swing. Or for the sheets to go beyond the cabin's window. Or for the sheet to rip and him to crash through the window behind it, sending him flying into a map tacked onto the back wall.

“Gene? That was some entrance, old friend.” Someone whipped off the map before Gene could struggle out from under it. “You know, if you wanted to come in, you could have knocked. I would have opened it for you.”

Bill Cullen leaned on his one good leg, his wooden peg-leg thumping as he moved back to his chair. “Bill? How in the hell did I end up in here? Where's Brett?”

“Oh, she's fine.” Bill helped him sit shakily on the other chair. “She's dealing with Goodson. I already had a talk with Mrs. Klugman.”

Gene took a deep breath and exhaled noisily. “I don't know why I did that. I don't know how I did that!” He frowned as Bill rubbed his back. “What are you doing here, anyway? Thought you were working with your buddy Captain Stewart on The Winner's Circle.”

“I enjoyed working with that ship, but it got to be too much.” Bill's hand reflexively went down to his wooden leg. “I let Bob's protege Dick Clark take over. Good man. He's older than you think, but he has more youth and vitality than men a decade under him. He'll be there for a long time.”

He nodded at the map crumpled under Gene. “I'm working for Tom. Jack is my brother-in-law, and a dear friend of mine. I have no personal animosity against Goodson, but I'm not going to let him abuse Jack, either.” He stumped over to a door in the back of the room. “When you need to get in, why don't you just do what normal people do and ask someone?”

“Thanks, old friend.” He gave Bill a pat on the shoulder, then dove into the room head-first with a scream that would have frightened the blade off a swordfish.

It didn't do much for the occupants of the room. “Gene?” Brett looked up from the wickedly sharp knife she held on Goodson. “What the hell are you doing here? I thought you went swimming!” The knife seemed more than a little out of place with the silk and lace-trimmed gown she wore, her black hair piled on her head with combs made of pearl and alabaster.

Gene made a face as he got to his feet. “I came here to save you! The others are behind the door.”

“Is that what that god-awful racket back there is?” Brett nodded at Goodson and handed Gene the knife. “Keep this on him. Make sure he doesn't move. I'll let the others in.”

“You do know, of course,” Goodson chuckled amiably, “that I can no longer guarantee protection for the rest of your female crew and Reilly.”

Brett made a face. “I wouldn't have trusted you to do it, anyway. The girls and I planned this jailbreak since we got on this leaky tub. Gene, get the keys.”

Goodson slid them out before Gene could reach into his pocket. “I'll do it. That's the last place I want your hands.”

“Thank you.” Gene immediately let the others in...and they nearly tumbled head-first into the room. “Well, that was graceful. Alert the entire ship to our presence, why don't you?”

Tom untangled himself from the pile well before anyone else did. “All right, Goodson, talk.” He took the knife from Gene and aimed it at the Governor's gullet. “Where's my brother?”

Goodson smirked a little. “I'm not telling you. However, I'm glad you're here. I knew you'd fall for this. The moment I raise my voice, every man on this ship will come running.”

“You'll do no such thing, Mark.” Bill Cullen pulled a gun from his pocket and aimed it straight at the governor's chest, even as he continued to smile sheepishly. “I'm sorry to do this to you. I actually like you, and you are my boss. What I don't like is how you treat your captains.”

“So it's mutiny.” Goodson raised an eyebrow. “You're the last person I expected to turn against me.”

“Mark, it's nothing against you,” Bill admitted amiably. “I just like my brother-in-law more.”

“Then you won't mind,” Mark chuckled, “if I do this.” He grabbed at Bill's hand, forcing the gun to the ceiling. Brett and Gene jumped at him, but jumped back as the gun fired, sending splinters of wood and wood pieces flying through the room.

“Damn it,” Robert yelled as sailors dashed in, “we've got company!”

“I have an idea.” McLean leaned out the window and managed to pull the sheet rope in. “Hey Bart, get the other side!” They pulled it across the door just in time for three sailors to run right into it, landing on the table with a blinding crash.

Dolly pushed around the mess, grabbed the knife, and pointed it at Goodman's chin. (Which was all she could manage, being fairly small in stature.) “Where's my Dick? Er, where's my husband?”

“Ma'am, could you please remove that?” Goodson pushed her knife away. “You shouldn't be playing with those. Matter of fact, neither should I. I have other things to do, like have a long-overdue chat with Captain Narz.” He pulled a sword with a gem-trimmed gold handle out of his dresser. “If you want this, Rayburn,” he snapped, “you'll have to come and get it!” He quickly shimmied under the sheet and dashed across the deck, past more of his men.

“Damn it to all hell!” growled Brett. “Not only did he not tell us where Jack and the others are, we don't know where Charles is, either. He's not with the other men. Goodson practically boasted that to me.”

“Gene!” One of the sailors went flying as a diminutive body flung itself into him. “I know where Jack and the others are. I can take you there.” Richard Dawson got to his feet, holding his own sword on the sea dog on the floor. “It'll serve Goodson right for lying to me and breaking his promise."

“You bastard!” Brett angrily launched herself at him before he could prepare himself, landing them both on the floor. “You're just as big of a liar as he is! All you care about is yourself and your god-damn blasted ship! I ought to shove that entire dinner down your throat sideways, including the bones from the chicken!”

Richard Dawson fought against her, his eye patch slightly askew from the fall. “Brett, if you'll just get off me, I'll explain...”

“I have half a mind to let her throttle you to death,” Gene growled. “You sold us out at the first opportunity! I almost got killed taking a bath in the Atlantic, Charles may be dead, and it's all because of you!”

Robert and Bart finally wrestled Brett off the diminutive ship captain. “I'd let him talk,” Tom warned. “He's been here longer than we have.”

“That's...right...” Richard puffed as he rolled over. “Bill...and I...can take Jack and the men. They're in...the hold. Charles...being held...elsewhere...”

“He's in a separate cabin, but I don't know which one.” Brett made a face. “We can get the other ladies out next. They're in the cabin next to Bill's. They're being held to make sure I cooperate.”

Bill held out a set of dangling keys. “As navigator of the ship, I have my own copy of these. Surprised Mark didn't think of taking them before he left. I think he's aware I'm not on his side anymore.”

“You get the ladies out,” Richard ordered, directing the men to gather the remaining sheets. “We'll deal with these blokes.” He nodded at the sailors, most of whom were just coming to after being hit with wine bottles. The two men wrapped the sheets around them until they could barely move.

“All right,” Brett grumbled as she stormed out of the room. “But so help me, Dickie...Richard, if you're trying to lure us into some kind of trap...”

“Just in case,” Gene added, frowning, “I think one of us had better keep an eye on him.”

Robert took his arm. “I've wanted to have a chat with you, anyway. You and Captain Cullen are the only pirates who worked with Goodson and didn't end up on the short end of a noose. I want to hear everything about his operations.”

“Let me help with that.” Dolly Martin took his other arm. “He's my fellow Brit...and I need to have a talk with him about abandoning my Dick.” Her brown eyes and wide white teeth gleamed nastily in the waning candlelight.

“Ok, let me at 'em!” Marcia growled the moment she and the other women emerged from their cabin. “Where's Goodson? I want to shove my knee in places where the sun don't shine, if you know what I mean.”

“Where's Anson?” Lorrie wiped blood-shot eyes. “They...they won't let me see him. The governor says I'll be a distraction to him...he has too much work to do...”

Gene put an arm around her. “Don't worry. We'll find him, just as soon as we rescue Jack and the crew and Charles.” He grabbed one of the sailors on the floor. “Take their uniforms. Ladies,” he handed Marcia a sheet, “try to look alluring.”

Richard doubled over laughing. “You idiots will never pass for normal sailors. The ladies maybe, but...”

“We don't have a choice, Rich.” Gene tugged on the sailor's shirt, even though it was about a size too small for him. “Well,” he grumbled as he tried to cover his bare mid-drift, “lead the way, Captain Dawson! And no funny business. You lead us into a trap, Miss Wallace has my permission to kick you in places where the sun doesn't shine.”

Marcia glared at him. “And I'll do it, too!”

“Very well. Are you all quite done?” Richard sighed as he gazed at the motley assortment, half wearing sailor uniforms that were too big or small, half wearing sheets tied around their mid-drifts. “This will have to do. Hopefully, most of the crew is too busy to really look hard.”

Robert and Dolly stayed with Richard as he lead them across the main deck and down into the hold. The only problem they had was from two sailors standing guard near the stern, one of whom took one look at Dolly and Sharon and tried to proposition them. He stopped when his face met Gene's fist; the other one wasn't moving too well after Dolly's knee ended up in his private parts.

“Shh!” Richard waved his hands as he lead them into the black bowels of the ship. “We can't let Goodson know I'm here, or Bill, for that matter. He'll call the rest of these lovely blokes on us quick as a wink.”

As they went further into the hold, Gene heard a familiar voice over the murmur of grumbles and complaints. “Goodson, I've told you. You aren't getting your hands on that treasure.”

Tom stopped so suddenly, Gene ended up running into his back. “Tom,” he muttered, “could you warn people when you do that?”

He glared at him. “We need to get the drop on him. I don't want him hurting Jack.”

Goodson was too intent on his prisoner to hear them. “It's too bad, Captain Narz. We could have worked together, you and me. After all, you've been one of the most notorious pirates on the Atlantic for a long time. I could have provided for your retirement.”

Jack's angry look was just as heated as his younger siblings as he glared at the captain from an iron cage. “Provided for my hanging, you mean. You'll never let any of us enjoy those spoils, unless we sell out to you like Dawson did.”

Richard winced as as Goodson chuckled. “Dawson came to his senses, Captain. He realized how much easier it is to work with the law than fight it.”

“I'm not like Richard,” Jack growled. “I was going to use my share of that treasure to retire...but I wanted to give the rest to my brother and our family. I have no desire to end my life dangling on the end of the rope, and I don't want Tom to, either.”

“Ah yes, that brother of yours.” Goodson leaned in closer, his white teeth gleaming in the twilight. “Did I mention your brother is here? My crew are dealing with him and his men as we speak.”

“Are you going to toss him overboard too,” called Scoey Mitchilll from one of the cages behind them, “or are you going to treat him like a jail bird?”

“He wouldn't toss Tom overboard.” Jack glared at him. “Not if he wants me to talk.”

“Maybe I will.” Goodson grinned easily. “Maybe I will feed Kennedy to the fishes, like I did Rayburn. Or I could always let my boys decide. They do enjoy a good flogging.”

“Hello there, Governor.” Richard strolled in, smirking widely. “Look at what I dragged in.” He grabbed Tom by the arm. “Found him upstairs, brawling with your boys, but we took care of him.” He looked over his shoulder at the others. “Right, men?”

“Uh, yes.” Bart, who held up a pair of sailor's trousers that were too big for him, nodded. “Uh, yes, sir. Absolutely. We got him! And this guy, too!” He shoved Gene out front.

“Hey!” Gene made a face. “Is everyone turning me in now?”

“I've had enough of your ordering me around and your hambone acting!” Richard yelled...even as he gave Gene a tiny wink. “I've wanted my own command for a long time, and you never listened to me! You never heard me! I've watched, and I've learned, and I'm ready to take over my own ship!”

Gene knew an opening when he heard one. “You could have told me, not dumped me in the Atlantic! Do you know how cold it was in there?”

“Enough, both of you!” Brett yelled. “I'm about ready to knock you both overboard, starting with the traitor over there!” She lunged for Richard, her hands ready to wrap around his neck again.

“Mrs. Klugman,” Goodson reached for her arm, still smiling. “I'll deal with Captain Rayburn. Captain Dawson, if you please...”

For the first time in weeks, Gene saw Richard's familiar roguish smile. “Why certainly, Governor! On the count of three, boys. One...two...”

The moment he said “three,” he and Gene turned and hit Goodson at the same time in the chin! Gene grabbed him by the collar when he went down stunned. “All right, Governor,” he growled, shaking him, “where's the keys to those cages?”

Goodson never lost his composure, still giving him that bland smile. “I'm not telling you. I will, however, call my men to handle the lot of you, including Dawson. I should have known you couldn't trust a pirate.”

“Now you figure that out.” Richard easily lifted the keys from his pockets. “Used to do a little all-purpose pick-pocketing with an underground regiment during the Revolution. Here, Tom,” he tossed the keys to the taller man, “get your brother out.”

Dolly ran to her husband as soon as everyone tumbled out of the cages. “Dick!” she laughed as he picked her up and spun her around. “You crazy goose!”

“I never thought I'd see you again.” He laughed and dipped her. “We need to celebrate this. How about we raid the wine cellar next and see what they have on this tub for a party?”

“Later, dear,” Dolly murmured as he nibbled at her neck. “We have an audience, including the Governor of New York.”

“Now that we've found Jack,” Gene continued as he shook Goodson like a rag doll, “where's the rest of my crew? Everyone is here but Charles and Gary.”

“They're with my men,” Goodson gasped, his teeth rattling. “Boys thought they'd make a little sport of them, then dump them overboard. The little one in particular is far too feisty. Almost took out three of my men before we subdued him. They should be on the deck by now, having fun.”

“Fine!” Gene pushed him away. “Take us to them!”

Scoey slid out his own wicked-sharp knife as Jack tossed them weapons. “And if you don't, little man,” he ran a finger down the shining blade, “we could part that fancy hair of yours the hard way.”

Brett smirked. “You know, I think we ladies will hang back a bit. We'll meet you boys upstairs.” She nodded at Marcia, who grinned back. Sharon giggled, while Joyce gave her a big grin. “I have my own ideas on how to deal with Goodson's men in uniform.”

“Except me.” Lorrie tugged the smallest sailor's blouse over her head. “My husband's with Goodson's men. He's being watched every minute. We need to find him, too.”

“I'll stay with the ladies.” Bill Cullen leaned against a barrel of rum. “I'm no fighter. I'm better off helping them plan their next move.”

“Do we really have to take those guys on?” Bill Daily rambled as he tried to hitch up a pair of pants that were way too big. “Scoey and Richard Paul are the only ones who are as big as them. I don't know about the rest of you, but I don't want to be flattened like a pancake.”

Richard Paul tried to yank an officer's jacket around his ample belly. “Worst comes to worst, we could always send you and Brett to talk them to death.”

“You know, I could tell my boys none of you are with me,” Goodson reminded them, “and that will be the end of that.”

Robert Walden blocked him from leaving, shoving a pad of paper and a quill pen in his face. “I have a million questions I want to ask you about how you run things here and what your plans are for defeating the pirate fleet on the Atlantic. I've heard things about the kickbacks you give your higher-ups in New York, if you know what I mean.”

“Um, you know, Gene,” Goodson's blue eyes widened, sending him quickly back to his former officer. “I suddenly have this incredible need to show you my new mother-of-pearl cufflinks. Had them specially ordered from the emperor of China.”

Richard Dawson grabbed his other arm. “We don't want to hear it, Goodson. Answer this nice young man's questions and take us upstairs, before Gene and Officer Mitchilll decide to make you into tomorrow's party platters.”