"Bloody Ben" Coffin in

The Ship Eaters

A 9-Chapter Pirate Adventure!

by Jeffrey Blair Latta

Previously: Five Navy ships vanish without a trace...a single message left behind...On the pirate's ship, the Devil's Daughter, Bloody Ben Coffin seizes command and sets Captain Scroggs adrift having won over the crew with a bogus tale about a lost treasure on an island guarded by an ancient civilization...But then in the night, two figures creep into his cabin...two figures who are not working together...as one hides behind the desk and the other cocks a pistol...

Chapter Three - Ratboy's Revenge

THERE WAS NO ROOM FOR THOUGHT. Even as Coffin heard the cocking of the flinklock, he hurled himself up and out of the bunk.

His cutlass was in his fist and moonlight flashed like lightning off the blade. His intruder was taken entirely by surprise; Coffin's attack landed them both on the boards in a tangled, fighting heap. For a moment, they struggled, rolling back and forth, Coffin's free hand gripping the other's wrist which held the pistol, forcing it above the man's head, then smashing it hard against the boards. The pistol tumbled from the intruder's grip, sliding away under the bunk.

Even so, Coffin's assassin fought on. They continued to roll back and forth, the silence broken only by desperately stolen breaths. The intruder was small but wiry, and Coffin found himself hard pressed to pin him down. Then, suddenly, the intruder's silk shirt burst open at the front and moonlight played on the smooth white breasts revealed.

"Sink me," he exclaimed, "you're a girl!"

A moment more the woman struggled, then, seeing the futility of it, went limp beneath him. Her chest heaved with her bitter panting, the light flashing off her fiercely gritted teeth. She hissed: "What if I am, damn you?"

Caught by surprise, it was a moment before a wry smile touched the pirate's lips. He chuckled deep in his throat.

"Now I recognize you. You're the one they call Ratboy. They claim you're mad and you speak to a rat you keep in a metal box around your neck."

He noticed she wasn't wearing the box at the moment. The girl nodded. "That's right, I am."

For a space, they lay together on the boards, neither speaking, both panting breathlessly. Then Coffin asked: "If I let you up, will you promise not to kill me? And to explain what this is all about?"

The girl nodded again, wordlessly. Still not entirely trusting her, Coffin climbed to his feet, then helped her up. She stepped quickly back and even quicker closed the front of her shirt. The action seemed oddly demure under the circumstances.

Coffin smiled. "All right then, girl, out with it. Tell me why you came in here to kill me."

The pirate hadn't forgotten that there was a second intruder crouched down behind his desk. He still gripped his cutlass and, as he spoke, he worked his way closer to the desk, every muscle hair-trigger ready.

"I didn't come here to kill you," the girl told him. "I came here to force you to take me where I want to go."

"And where would that be?"

"I can show you on that chart there." She gestured to the chart spread out on the desk. But then, before she could make good on her offer, a figure reared up suddenly from behind the desk and the air was split by a fiercesome cry. The second intruder was a black man, dressed in a checkered shirt and tarry breeches, a tasselled sash around his sturdy middle. Moonlight gleamed off his bald head, flashed off his snarling teeth.

Even though Coffin had being preparing for a fight, the sudden savagery of the attack caught him by surprise. He lost his cutlass in the first frantic collision. Then they grappled together, reeling back into one of the nine-pounders, sending Coffin tumbling backwards and into the wall. A dagger appeared in the attacker's fist. Coffin spun to one side as the blade thudded home in the beams at his back. He surged to his feet and threw himself into the fight once more. The attacker was a bigger man than Coffin, his muscles powerfully built, his chest deep. Still Coffin managed to heave him back so his head struck a deckhead lantern. Glass shattered on his bald dome spilling glistening blood into his narrowed eyes. It hardly even slowed him down.

The attacker roared as much with anger as with pain, then came on again. A massive knotted fist caught Coffin across the jaw, dazing him and sending him crashing into the sea-chest. He sat on the floor, shaking the spots from his eyes. Then a fist closed on his shirtfront and heaved him up like a fish on a line. He was thrown back against the wall and again the dagger flashed in the moonlight--


There was a flash. On the heels of the discharging pistol, the cabin suddenly filled with a pall of acrid smoke. Scarlet blood gushed from the attacker's lips and his eyes rolled white in his head. Even so, a final dying spasm saw the dagger blade buried in the boards only an inch from the hoop in Coffin's ear. The man slumped to the floor, dead.

Behind him, the girl slowly lowered the pistol, blue smoke dancing on the barrel. The weapon appeared far too large for her. She seemed amazed by what she had done, staring dumbly at the corpse of the man she had killed.

Grimly Coffin took the pistol from her hands even as urgent pounding rattled the door in its frame.

"Cap'n, sar! We heard pistol fire--are ye all right, sar?" It was Buckle. Without waiting for an answer, the quartermaster burst in the door and staggered over the coaming. He gaped as his eyes fell on the body lying at Coffin's feet.

"Do you know this man?" Coffin asked.

"No, sar. Not by sight. But we forced a fair number to join in our last stop in Kingston. He probably came on board then." Then his eyes fell on the girl--who once again was dressed as a boy. "Blimey, it's the Ratboy. Did he attack ye, sar?"

Coffin looked at the girl and considered a space in silence. Then he shook his head. "On the contrary, Mr. Buckle, the Ratboy here saved my scurvy hide!"


They carried the corpse of the black man away down into the orlop deck. Coffin figured he'd deal with that in the morning. Meanwhile, alone again in the stern cabin with the girl, she finally laid out her tale. And an incredible tale it was.

"My name is Anne Spotiswood. I live in St. John's, Antigua, where my father was a shipwright."


The girl nodded. She had taken off her bicorn hat, and even in the dim light, Coffin could see she was very beautiful. Her hair was cropped short, but it was raven black, framing her face like supple wings. It was amazing she had fooled these seadogs for so long. But it was her soft, feminine voice that most would have given her away. That, she explained, was why she pretended to be mad, talking to her rat--so no one would try to engage her in conversation.

"Six months ago," she explained, "ships began to go missing in the Caribbean. All were merchantmen. There were no storms, nor wreckage. They all simply vanished and always in the same area. Here."

She indicated on the chart. "No one could explain it except to suppose pirates were to blame. The Admiralty dispatched a squadron of six ships of the line to investigate the area. Later, they found one of those ships adrift with a solitary lieutenant still on board. The other five had simply vanished just like all the other ships. Without a trace."

Coffin frowned. "This lieutenant, didn't he have anything to say?"

She shook her head, her features grim. "The man had lost his mind. Something had scared him out of his wits. They found him hiding in the hold, his hair turned white with fear. All he could tell them was that the sea had come alive and eaten the ships." At Coffin's dubious look, she nodded. "That's what he said. It ate the ships."

For a moment, she was silent. A voice called out in the night, made incoherent by distance. Canvas boomed suddenly with the shifting wind. Timbers groaned. "They found a note pinned with a dagger to the door of the stern cabin. I don't know exactly what it said but whoever wrote it claimed responsibility for making all those ships disappear. He said he would make more ships disappear if he wasn't paid a ransom, a vast treasure to be buried on a certain island. He was to pick up the map to that treasure on a jetty in Port Royal."

Coffin was silent a space, considering all he had been told. Then he asked, "And you don't know who claimed credit for this scheme?"

She shook her head. "Whoever it was, it was a name that filled them with dread. They said it was impossible."

"Impossible? Maybe so, but they agreed to pay just the same."

"That's right."

"And how do you fit into this?"

"My father was sailing one of the ships that disappeared." A tear sparkled in the corner of her eye and she swallowed tightly. "I disguised myself as a boy and frequented the docks in Kingston, hoping to learn where this mysterious villain keeps his lair. I have friends in the Navy and they told me that this man must have a secret hideout in the area where the ships disappear. I thought someone must know something. If I could find out where it was, I planned to sail there and kill him--for my father."

Coffin blew out in disbelieve. "That's a pretty rough plan. A girl like you?"

"Nevertheless, I meant to try." Then a bitter note entered her voice. "But then I was knocked on the head and, when I awoke, I was aboard the Devil's Daughter with this hellish crew. They forced me to sign their pirate's articles, little realizing that I was a girl, or my true mission. Even though I still didn't know where the lair was, I decided to force Captain Scroggs to sail me into the area where the ships vanished. Then you took the ship..."

"And you decided you'd force me instead. Well, one thing I'll say for you, girl--you don't give up easily!"

"Well? What about it? Will you take me where I want to go?"

Coffin laughed, stroking his chin with one brown hand. "Well, now, first off, I'm not sure I believe a word you've just told me. Vanishing ships? A squadron of ships of the line? It sounds like a tall tale to me, and I've heard plenty in my time." Before the girl could object, he pressed on. "Anyway, we're sailing for an island of our own, or didn't you hear--a lost civilization that guards a fabulous treasure. I don't think I could convince the crew to make a detour, not even for you."

The girl scowled. "Damn you, I knew you'd say that."

"But I'll tell you what. I'll keep my weather eye pealed and maybe we'll find out what's been eating your ships, all the same. In the meantime, you and I had better make us a deal. I'll let you go so long as you promise not to try to attack me again. You can keep talking to your rat and hopefully the men won't suspect the truth. But if you do attack me again," his voice dropped suddenly, fierce and threatening, "I promise ye, girl, I'll feed you to the sharks so fast they'll choke--I'll finish you just the same as I'd do to any other man on this godforsaken tub!"

Recognizing there was no use in arguing the girl turned toward the door. But then, having a further thought, she turned back. "I don't think you understand what you're facing here." Her tone was suddenly low, ominous, and even Coffin felt a chill crawling at the back of his neck. "Whatever the name on that ransom note, whoever is behind this, he has somehow come into possession of some terrible monstrous weapon, a weapon against which there is no defence. And while he has that weapon, no ship, no, not even this 'godforsaken tub', is safe."

With that she stormed out leaving Coffin alone. He stood in silent reflection for several long minutes. Then, under his breath, he muttered with just the slightest hint of doubt, "The sea came alive and ate the ships..."

For just a moment, the night seemed to hold its breath. All was still.

Abruptly, there came a knock at the door. Coffin jumped, then scowled.

"Aye? Come in."

The door opened and the quartermaster leaned in. "Sorry to bother ye again, Cap'n, but I think ye'll want to be seeing this."

"What is it, Mr. Buckle?"

"That bloke what tried to do ye, sar. I was stowing his corpse down in the sickbay, like ye said and...well, sar, ye'd best come see for yerself!"

Previous episode: Footfalls at Midnight

Next episode: "Clear For Action!"

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The Ship Eaters is copyright 2001, Jeffrey Blair Latta.