Subterranean Press Magazine: Summer 2012
The Puce Whale: A Lucifer Jones Story by Mike Resnick
Things started out pretty well after I took my leave of Bora Bora. I hadn’t paddled more than twenty or thirty miles when I was picked up by a cargo ship that was headed for New Zealand. Now, I didn’t know nothing about New Zealand, except that it figured to have more modern plumbing than Old Zealand, so you can imagine my delight when I found out that it was next door to Australia, which was where I’d been making my way the past two or three years.
Another plus was that they all spoke English. Well, a kind of English, anyway. And still another plus was that most of ‘‘em were sportin’ men who enjoyed a game of cards with just enough money involved to make the game interesting.
Problem is, there was a minus mixed in with all them pluses, and that was they all knew how many aces there were in a deck, so when an extra one kind of accidentally slipped out of my sleeve and fell onto the table, they carted me off to the brig with nothing to keep me company but my well-worn copy of the Good Book, and told me they were letting me off at their next port. “Dumping me with the rest of the garbage” is how they put it.
Truth to tell, the next couple of weeks weren’t all that bad. I lost a quick dozen pounds trying to eat the prison grub, which made me more handsome than ever, and I spent my spare time reading about all the begattings and filling in the missing details in my mind’s eye.
Finally the day came when they put into port, and an hour or two later they unlocked me and kind of escorted me down the gangplank, which is to say they kept poking me in the back with their rifles, and suddenly I was off the ship and standing free and unfettered on a dirt road in front of a few taverns and a couple of eateries that smelled even worse, and a beat-up hotel that may have actually had some glass in its windows about the time Paul was strolling through Tarsus.
I wandered over to the nearest tavern, walked up to the bar, ordered the specialty of the day, managed to get the little umbrella, the worm and some of the insects out of it, and spotted an empty chair at a table over in the corner.
“Howdy, gents,” I said, walking over. “You mind if I join you?”
“Be our guest,” said one of them. “You’re a Yank, ain’t you?”
Actually there was probably some disagreement on that point. I’d started out as a Yank, but that was five continents, forty-three countries, and seven islands ago, none of which were inclined to ever let me return, so I just smiled and allowed that I was a man of the cloth who wandered the world spreading the word of the Lord.
“What the hell,” said another. “We can hardly turn a preacher away.”
I thanked him, and absolved him of any mortal sins he’d committed since sunrise.
“You know,” he said, “I think you’re gonna be a welcome addition to our little community.”
“Thanks, brother,” I said. “And perhaps one of you gents will tell me just where this community is.”
“It’s right here, in the bar.”
“I mean, what’s this particular land mass called?” I said. “I just now got off the boat what brung me, and I forgot to ask.”
“You’re in Fiji, Preacher,” was the reply. “More to the point you’re on Viti Levu, one of the two biggest islands in the group. The other’s Vanua Levu.”
“So these here Levy brothers own the two biggest islands, do they?” I said. I didn’t see no skull caps in the tavern, and I decided that it probably wouldn’t take too much work to convert ‘‘em all and maybe start getting some donations for the Tabernacle of Saint Luke, which didn’t put potential parishioners off their feed nearly so much as calling it the Tablernacle of Saint Lucifer.
“That’s Levu, not Levy,” said still another.
“You mean it ain’t just like a Southern Fiji pronunciation?” I asked.
The man frowned. “You know, I ain’t ever given it any serious thought until just now.” He paused. “Still, it’s been a long time since I’ve et blintzes and knishes, and I’m pretty sure it was on some other island.”
“I’ll worry about it tomorrow,” I said. “Right now I got a few weeks of bad grub to forget. Do you suppose I can order a twenty-ounce steak smothered in onions, with maybe a pint of ketchup to bring out the subtle nuances of its flavor?”
“Sure can,” said one of my new companions. “Provided you don’t mind if it looks, smells and tastes like undercooked pig.”
Even that sounded pretty good, given that I’d spent the past few weeks dining on dried crusts of bread and the occasional salamander sandwich when I was quick enough to catch one, so I ordered it, and imagined the onions and ketchup, and I also imagined that the beer I ordered wasn’t quite as clear and tasteless as water. Problem was, I also had to imagine the money I was supposed to pay for it with, and when the manager yelled for the police I decided I didn’t need to spend another few weeks in durance vile—and there ain’t a lot of durances much viler than you find on the Pacific islands—so I did my best impression of Jesse Owens and headed out the back while the gendarmes were coming in the front.
I found a small barn and shared a stall with a donkey until it was dark. We had a couple of tussles over his oats, which truth to tell were a lot tastier than my steak. Then the moon was high in the sky, and I walked back to the waterfront, where there were half a dozen ships docked, and I asked a watchman which ones were leaving before sunrise.
“Just that one,” he said, pointing to a beat-up hulk that didn’t seem to have no engine, but sported some sails that had so many stitches that you’d almost swear that all the original material was gone.
“Then that’s the ship for me,” I said, heading off for its gangplank.
“You sure you want that one?” he called after me. “Even if the hurricane hits tomorrow afternoon the way they’re predicting, you’re still better off here.”
I was going to ask him why he’d say something like that when my own personal hurricane rounded the corner a couple of blocks away, guns in hands, and I clambered up the gangplank and onto the ship before they could spot me.
“Howdy,” I said to the little man who greeted me when I reached the deck.
“Permission to come aboard,” he said..
“You got it,” I told him. “Where’s the bar?”
“No,” he said. “You’re supposed to say ‘Permission to come aboard?’”
“But I just guv you permission,” I explained patiently.
“Not me,” he said. “I’m already aboard.”
“OK, then—I take my permission back,” I said.
“Don’t understand me so fast,” he snapped. Suddenly he peered at me through the darkness. “Well, I’ll be damned!” he said. “Is that you, Lucifer?”
“At your service,” I said. “And whose service is that?”
He lit his flashlight and shone it on his face. “Ishmael Bledsoe. Don’t you remember me?”
“Of course I do,” I said. “You rode Equipoise, right?”
“No,” he said, looking kind of crestfallen. “The Dying Quail.”
“You rode The Dying Quail?” I said, frowning. “Didn’t he come in third in the Preakness?”
He signed deeply. “The ship, Lucifer. Off the West Coast of Africa. We mutinied and made you Captain. Don’t you remember?”
And suddenly it all came flooding back to me. Well, not flooding, exactly. But I remembered Ishmael, and his pal Luthor Christian, and the fact that we’d left Captain Roberts with a herd of hippos for companionship and a flock of crocodiles to keep them honest, and that just before I’d left my command and gone inland in South Africa I’d exercised my prerogatives as captain by marrying Ishmael and Luthor to three of the lady passengers in the religious equivalent of a five-man tag-team bout..
“Yeah, I remember now,” I said. “How are them pretty little wives of yours doing?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know. They sobered up and we never saw them again. Still, it was a nice three-day honeymoon.”
“Whatever became of Luthor?” I asked.
“Oh, we’re still mates. He’s down below.”
“Where’s your next port of call?”
“Who knows?” said Ishmael.
“I kinda thunk you might,” I said. “After all, a cargo ship’s supposed to know where it’s carrying its cargo to.”
“This ain’t no cargo ship, Lucifer,” he said. “It’s a whaler. And we ain’t got no itinerary. We just go wherever Captain Ahab wants.”
“Captain Ahab?” I repeated. “I think I read or heard about a Captain Ahab somewhere.”
Ishmael nodded. “So did he.”
“I don’t quite follow you,” I said.
“He was a seafaring man that married a woman named Jezebel, and one day someone teased him about how the Biblical Ahab had married Jezebel, so he started reading the Bible and changed his name. Then someone else handed him a copy of Moby Dick, and he decided now that he was Ahab that it was his mission to hunt down the Puce Whale.”
“I was with you right up to the end there,” I said. “But didn’t the guy in the book hunt for the White Whale?”
“Sure did,” agreed Ishmael. “So did we. But after three years of hunting, our Ahab concluded there ain’t no White Whale, so we’ve been after the Puce Whale instead. Had a really bad encounter with it last year, so now his blood’s up.”
Just then Luthor Christian came up on deck from wherever he’d been, and walked over and greeted me.
“How’s he doing?” asked Ishmael.
“Madder than ever,” answered Luthor. He turned to me. “We’re talking about the Captain.”
“What’s got him upset this time?” asked Ishmael.
“Same as usual,” said Luthor. “He’s furious because he couldn’t find a first officer in port.”
“Are you missing one?” I asked.
“Been missing one since he read that damned book,” answered Luthor. “He won’t have no first officer that ain’t named Starbuck.”
“Well, if we get lucky and finally run into Moby Duke again, maybe he’ll calm down,” said Ishmael.
“Don’t you mean Moby Dick?” I said.
Luthor shook his head. “That name’s been tooken, so this one’s Moby Duke. Makes more sense anyway. Duke kind of smacks of royalty.”
“What about Moby?” I asked.
“I don’t know what it meant in the book, but it’s Fijian for ‘Really Big Mutha’,” said Ishmael.
“So if you ain’t interested in going whaling, Lucifer,” said Luthor, “you’d better get off the boat now. We’re always short of help, and I wouldn’t put it past the Captain to cast off just to make sure you had to stay with the Peapod.”
“Ain’t that supposed to be the Pequod?” I asked.
“Yeah,” agreed Ishmael. “But no one on board can spell Pequod.”
Suddenly we heard a thump-thump-thumnp sound.
“That’ll be the Captain, coming up from his cabin,” said Luthor. “If you’re gonna leave, Lucifer, you’d better do it quick.”
I was about to clamber down the gangplank, but I took a quick look first, and saw the local gendarmes hanging around the dock, still looking for me.
“I ain’t never hunted for whales before,” I announced. “Might be an interesting couple of days’ experience.”
“A couple of days?” repeated Ishmael. “Lucifer, this is our first port in seven months!”
I looked down at the dock again. Three of them had their guns out.
“What’s a few months when you’re having fun?” I said.
“I hope you make friends easy with deck swabbers and fish gutters,” said Luthor.
“Here he is,” announced Ishmael softly.
I looked, and saw a large bearded man climbing slowly and painfully up onto the deck. When he was all the way up I saw that he had two peg legs made of ivory, a patch over one eye, and a gleaming metal hook for a left hand.
“Moby Duke did all of that, and he’s still after him?” I said, impressed by his courage.
“Naw,” said Ishmael. “Jezebel did that. See that little scar on the pinky of his right hand? Moby Duke did that.”
“Is Jezebel onboard?” I asked, looking around.
“No,” said Luthor. “Why do you think he put out to sea?”
Ahab kept approaching us, walking right up to me and staring at me out of his one eye.
“I don’t recall seeing you onboard,” he said ominously.
“We just recruited him,” said Luthor.
“Who told you to get more useless deck hands?” demanded Ahab.
“No one, Captain Ahab, sir,” said Ishmael. “But since his name’s Starbuck…”
Ahab’s whole attitude changed. “Is that really your name?” he demanded.
“Yes, sir,” I said, snapping off a salute and trying not to blink too much when my thumb accidentally poked me in the eye. “Lucifer Starbuck at your service.”
“Fine,” he said. “From this moment on, you’re the First Officer of the Peapod.”
“What’s the job pay?” I asked.
Suddenly Ishmael and Luthor began looking very nervous.
“We don’t care about money on this ship,” he said sternly. “We’re on a holy mission of hate and vengeance.”
“How much would it pay if some of us were in it for profit?” I said.
Ishmael, who was standing behind me, actually nailed me with a kidney punch.
“Not that it matters, as long as we cater to all that hate and bloodlust,” I continued, trying to catch my breath and focus my eyes.
“Have you had any experience whaling?” asked Ahab.
Luthor was standing behind him, nodding his head vigorously.
“Sure have,” I said.
“Good,” said Ahab. “I seek the Puce Whale. Do you know anything about him?”
“No,” I said. “I’ve spent all my time hunting for the Magenta, Mauve and Pistachio Whales.”
“Poor cousins of Moby Duke,” he said contemptuously.
“So you think he’s in these here waters, do you?” I asked.
“He must be,” answered Ahab. “He’s not anywhere in the rest of the world.”
“Maybe he’s dead,” I said.
“He can’t be!” bellowed Ahab. “I will have my vengeance!”
I was going to ask just how much vengeance he needed for a little bite on the pinky when I thought better of it. “Well, helping seriously annoyed captains claim their just and terrible vengeance against unthinking animals that didn’t know no better is one of the best things I do,” I told him. “Not only that, but me being a man of the cloth and all, I’ll bless your harpoons and offer a touching funeral service every time Moby Duke sends another member of your crew down to the ocean floor.”
“A man of the cloth?” he said.
“Me and God are like two peas in a pod,” I assured him. “Any mortal sinning that gets done, I’m here to forgive and absolve it.”
“Just mortal sinning?” he asked.
“I leave them little venereal sins to lesser preachers,” I said.
“So if I killed the creature who gave me these legs, you could absolve me?”
“Sure,” I said. “Though for the life of me I don’t know what you got against ivory carvers.”
He just stared at me as best he could with one eye covered and the moon behind a cloud, and then he wandered back to wherever he’d come from.
“Well, that’s that,” I said. “Has the First Officer got his own cabin?”
“Aboard the Peapod?” said Ishmael with a laugh. “No such luck.”
“What does he have that separates him from common sea scum like yourselves, meaning no offense?” I asked.
“A mattress,” said Luthor. “Well, what’s left of one, anyway.”
“I was thinking of maybe a private suite with its own bathroom, and maybe a balcony overlooking the sea,” I said.
“Them’s good thoughts,” agreed Ishmael.
“Yeah,” said Luthor. “Hang onto ‘‘em until the next time we serve on a boat that’s got all them luxuries, like private rooms and indoor plumbing and breakfast and dinner and all that other stuff.”
So they took me below and led me to my mattress, with might have worked a little better if it had been on something, like, say, a bed, and had come with peripherals, like maybe a blanket or a pillow or something, but the only extra I had was a great big ugly something what was sitting right in the middle of the mattress.
“What the hell is that?” I said.
“Oh, that’s just Squeeze, Ahab’s pet octopus,” said Luthor. “He hangs out here because he likes it damp and you’re right next to a leak.”
I looked at Squeeze and Squeeze looked at me, and somehow I could just tell that he wasn’t much into sharing.
I drew an imaginary line across the mattress. “This half’s mine,” I announced.
“I don’t think he understands English,” said Luthor.
“You know,” I said, “I don’t actually need a mattress, me being a manly man what’s used to hardship and hard ships.”
“You don’t have any choice,” said Luthor. “All the floor space is reserved.” He pointed to an open patch about fifteen feet away. “That’s mine.”
Suddenly a strange sound came to my ears.
“I thunk this was a sailing ship,” I said.
“It is,” answered Luthor.
“But I hear a motor purring, and none too gently at that,” I said.
“Nah,” said Luthor. “That’s just the crew snoring.”
I lowered myself gently to the mattress. Squeeze kind of glared at me but didn’t say nothing, which was just as well since I don’t speak octopus any more than he spoke English.
Every time part of me wound up on what he figured was his half of the mattress he slapped me with one of his legs, of which he had an awful lot, and every time he sprawled over on my side I’d slap him right back, and we spent an energetic half hour before we both fell asleep. Whenever I started snoring he’d lay a leg across my nose, but outside of that we spent a relatively peaceful few hours until someone woke me up by screaming “That she blows!” in a right excited tone of voice.
“I didn’t know we had any women on board,” I said, sitting up.
“Get up, Lucifer,” said Luthor, who was sharing the floor with a bunch of roaches and a few lizards. “That means we’ve spotted Moby Duke!”
“It’s awfully early in the day,” I said as Squeeze went back to sleep and began snoring. “How do you know it ain’t some other whale?”
“Ain’t no one onboard with the guts to alert Ahab about some other whale.”
I got up and began following him to the staircase what led to the deck, but as I walked I felt a little constricted.
“Looks like you’ve made a friend,” noted Luthor.
I looked down, and Squeeze was hugging my left leg with everything he had except maybe his eyeballs.
“How do I get him off?” I said.
“We ain’t got time for that, Lucifer,” said Ishmael from the top of the stairs. “We got to get into a boat quick.”
“Quick or slow, what’s the difference?” I muttered as I began climbing up to the deck. “How long can it take to unwrap a octopus?”
“Three of the boats got serious problems staying afloat, and the fourth ain’t got no harpoons.”
So I clambered up the rest of the stairs like unto a monkey, and I could tell that even Squeeze was impressed. I followed Ishmael and Luthor to a little wooden boat, four more guys joined us, and pretty soon we were heading out to where they’d spotted Moby Duke.
“So how big is this here whale?” I asked.
“Oh, he’s fully-grown,” said Ishmael.
“Truth to tell, I ain’t never seen a whale before,” I continued. “Is he as big as a elephant?”
“He could eat an elephant for breakfast,” said Luthor. “Biggest elephant I ever saw went about six tons. Moby Duke tops a hundred tons.”
I thunk about that for a minute, and then started getting up. “Well, it’s sure been nice visiting with you fellers after all these years,” I said, “but Squeeze here is getting too dry, so I’m just gonna dive in over the side and swim him back to the Peapod where he’ll be nice and comfortable again.”
I slung a leg over the side of the boat. It happened to be the leg that Squeeze had fallen in love with. He took one look down and started clambering up my body, and didn’t stop until he was sitting on top of my head, clutching my ears and chin with a few of his arms.
“Smart octopus,” said one of the guys who was rowing. He pointed to the water, then pulled his finger back just before a shark came to the surface with every intention of biting it off all the way up to the shoulder.
Squeeze stayed where he was for a few minutes, which was okay by me since he was doubling as a sunshade, but finally he figured out that I wasn’t going into the ocean after all and he strolled down my chest and hip and latched onto his favorite leg again.
“So why is Captain Ahab so all-fired anxious to meet Moby Duke in mortal combat?” I asked. “I mean, if his wife did all that other stuff, and Moby Duke just nicked him on the pinky…”
Another of the men who was working the oars learned forward and smiled. “You ever seen Moby Duke before?” he asked.
“Can’t say that I have, brother,” I answered him.
“You ever seen Jezebel?”
“Well, I seen ‘‘em both,” he said, “and believe me, I’d much rather go up against Moby Duke.” All the others nodded vigorously in agreement.
“Okay,” I said. “we’re going after the third most dangerous type of critter in the world, after the captain’s wife and aggressive redheads named Thelma. I’m kind of new to the wholesale slaughter business, so perhaps you guys can teach me what to do if, God forbid, we actually catch up with him.”
“Well, each boat has a bunch of rowers,” said Luthor. “You’re excluded, since you’re the First Officer. And each boat has a harpooner. And that’s it.”
“Who’s the harpooner on this boat?” I asked.
“Ain’t none of us real good at it, so we take turns.” Suddenly his face lit up. “I nominate Mr. Starbuck to be the harpooner for today’s hunt.”
Everyone agreed, so I picked up a harpoon from where it lay at the bottom of the boat. Squeeze felt it with an arm or two to make sure it was nothing to eat and then went back to trying to cut off the circulation in my leg.,
“Okay,” I said. “This here is the harpoon. Where’s the gun I shoot it out of?”
“What gun?” said Ishmael. “We row right next to Moby Duke, and then you hurl the damned thing into him.”
“Okay,” I said. “Hard to miss at point-blank range. And this kills him instantly, right?”
“Hell, no,” said Luthor. “He’ll drag us halfway to California, whacking at us with his tail, and maybe diving down a mile or two and pulling us after him.”
I allowed myself the luxury of an amused chuckle. “Sounds like fun,” I said. “But seriously, how long does it take him to die? Five seconds? Ten?”
“I’ve known one or two to die in under ten hours,” said one of the guys working the oars. “But something as powerful as Moby Duke…”
“Enough kidding,” I said, starting to get a little hot under the collar. “If I’m gonna kill this critter before he swallows the boat, I gotta have some serious answers.”
“We’re being serious, Lucifer,” said Ishmael. “This is how we hunt whales.”
“Why do I think if there was a scoreboard over the ocean, it’d read Whales 872, People 0?” I said bitterly.
“Cheer up,” said Luthor, looking at Moby Duke through a spyglass. “He’s two miles ahead of us, and this is the closest we’ve been to him in months.”
“Mind if I take a look?” I asked.
“Be my guest,” he said, handing it to me.
I put it to my eye and looked dead ahead. For a minute I didn’t see nothing but a great big island that didn’t have no vegetation. Then the island yawned and began swimming, and I realized I was looking at Moby Duke.
“That has got to be the ugliest critter I ever laid eyes on,” I said, handing the spyglass back to Luthor. “Well, except for a girl named Daphne I knew back in Moline, Illinois.”
“Oh-oh,” said Luthor ominously.
“What’s the matter?” I asked.
He pointed dead ahead. “I think he heard you.”
We all looked where Luthor was pointing, and sure enough Moby Duke had changed course and was racing hell for leather right toward us. Squeeze took one quick peek and immediately crawled around to latch himself onto my back.
“Brace yourself, men!” said Ishmael. “He looks like he’s got every intention of sending us down to Davy Jones’ Locker!”
Now, I didn’t know what Davy Jones’ Locker was, but I figured it was something with a bunch of old clothes in it, and to me Moby Duke looked like he was more intent on eating the boat and all its inhabitants in one big gulp then sending us to a second-hand clothing shop, but this didn’t seem like the time to argue it, so I decided to just remember about Davy Jones’ Locker if we lived through the next ten minutes, and maybe find out where it was and pick up a fresh change of clothes, since I’d been wearing the ones I had on for maybe six or seven months.
Luthor handed me a harpoon. “Get ready, Lucifer!” he said.
I looked at the harpoon, and I looked at all hundred tons of Moby Duke bearing down on us. “Actually, now that I get a better look at him, he’s a handsome, manly whale!” I yelled at the top of my lungs. “And I’ll harpoon the first man who says otherwise!”
Maybe his ears were underwater, but he didn’t alter his course one iota, and pretty soon he was fifty yards away from us, and then thirty, and then ten.
“Throw it now, Lucifer!” yelled Ishmael, so I closed my eyes and flang the harpoon as hard as I could.
Then I heard two sounds I hadn’t never heard before. One was kind of a super-loud cracking sound, and the next was a ear-shattering wet blubbery scream of agony, neither of which seemed to be coming from inside the boat.
“Well, I’ll be damned!” said Luthor.
“What happened?” I asked.
“He busted a tooth biting on the harpoon, and now he’s crying like a baby. Well, a baby whale.”
Suddenly I felt a real sharp breeze, and I realize that he was racing away hell for leather, and tugging us after him.
“I guess he swallowed the damned thing after he bit it,” said Ishmael, pulling out a knife. “I better cut us loose before he sounds.”
“He’s already sounding,” I said. “I ain’t never heard a whale whimper at the top of his lungs before.”
“Sounding means diving, Lucifer,” said Ishmael as Moby Duke took a big breath and headed for the ocean floor a couple of miles down, just as Ishmael cut the line.
“Ahab ain’t gonna like that we let him get away,” said one of the men.
“We could stay out here a few hours and give him time to cool down,” suggested another.
“And maybe run into a whale with a toothache?” said the first. “I’ll take my chances with the captain.”
As we returned to the Peapod Ahab was standing at the top of the rope ladder, his face red with fury.
“Mr. Christian!” he bellowed.
“Sir?” said Luthor as he clambered onto the deck.
“I saw how close you were to Moby Duke,” he said. “How could you possibly miss?”
“I didn’t miss,” I said, speaking up. “I hit him front and center. It was just bad luck that he had his mouth open at the time.”
He glared at me for a few seconds, then turned to the rest of the crew. “Lift anchor!” he yelled. “Follow that whale!”
Well, we followed Moby Duke, and we followed him, and then we followed him some more, and I began wondering if he was getting as sick and tired of a seafood diet as I was. The days were long and hot, the nights were short and hot, and I could tell that even Squeeze was getting bored.
Then one day we saw a passenger ship off in the distance, waving a distress flag.
“Who the hell’s that?” demanded Ahab.
Ishmael looked through his spyglass. “It’s the Raquel, sir.”
“What seems to be the trouble?”
“I’ll get out the flags and signal her, sir,” offered Luthor, and a minute later he was waving these little flags in a special way that asked the Raquel what was wrong.
An officer on the deck of the Raquel got out his own flags and responded vigorously.
“Well?” said Ahab.
“I think he flunked semaphore school, sir,” said Ishmael, staring through the spyglass.
“What did he answer?” demanded Ahab
“Roughly translated, sir,” said Ishmael, “his entire message is: I had one grunch but the eggplant over there.”
“Maybe it’s a code,” suggested Ahab, frowning.
“I’ll ask, sir,” said Luthor, waving his flags.
“I don’t think so, sir,” said Ishmael after a moment.
“What was his response?” asked Ahab.
“Give me three grouse and a skyscraper to go,” read Ishmael.
“The current’s drawing us closer, sir,” said Luthor. “We can yell across to each other in another minute or two.”
“Ahoy!” cried the other captain when they were with earshot. “Thank goodness you’ve come! We’re in a bad way!”
“Have you seen Moby Duke?” hollered Ahab.
“Have I seen Molly Duck?” said the captain. “We’re sending out an S.O.S. and you’re making jokes? Heave to and help us!”
Ahab shook his head. “I seek the Puce Whale!”
“You can’t leave us stranded here, damn it!” insisted the captain. “That’s what she did!”
“That’s what who did?” demanded Ahab.
“The woman that did this to us. All that happened was the bartender put a little extra vermouth in her martini and she went berserk. Practically tore the whole engine room apart.”
A strange look crossed over Ahab’s face. “This woman!” he said. “Can you describe her?”
“You ever see Primo Carnera?” said the captain. “Kind of like a clean-shaven bull gorilla, but uglier? Well, she looked pretty much like him, only bigger.”
“Jezebel!” whispered Ahab.
“So I’m stranded here with seventy passengers,” said the captain. “Be a Christian and give us your help.”
“I seek—” began Ahab when Ishmael tugged gently at his sleeve. .
“Uh, sir…” he said hesitantly.
“What?” demanded Ahab.
“He may or may not still be alive, but we won our confrontation with Moby Duke.”
“Sure,” Luthor chimed in. “Thanks to Lucifer he ran away whining and blubbering like a baby. He’ll never be the monster he once was.”
“Seems a waste to go after a critter we’ve already beat,” I said, adding my argument to the others.
Ahab was quiet for maybe half a minute, his brow creased in thought.
“You’re right,” he said at last,.
“So we can save the Raquel?” said Ishmael.
Ahab shook his head distractedly. Then he leaned over the rail in the Raquel‘s direction. “Was this woman named Jezebel?”
“How did you know that?” asked the captain, surprised.
“Which way did she go, and what was she wearing?” demanded Ahab.
“She took our one motorized speedboat and headed due east, toward California, or maybe Chile,” said the captain. “And she was wearing a red dress. Now will you help us?”
“I wish I could,” said Ahab. “But”—and now his voice became even louder and more forceful as he struck an heroic pose—”“I seek the Crimson Whale!” He turned to his helmsman. “Set a new course: due east.”
Well, I couldn’t go due east, because wherever we put into port, from Alaska all the way down to Patagonia, it was run by a government with which I’d had some minor misunderstanding and wasn’t allowed to ever set foot on their land mass again.
“Been nice knowing all you men,” I said, jumping over the side and swimming toward the Raquel. A minute later I found Ishmael and Luthor swimming on each side of me.
“What in blazes are you two doing here?” I asked. “Don’t you belong back on the Peapod?”
“We didn’t mind it as long as it was going after Moby Duke,” said Ishmael. “After all, it’s a whaling boat and he’s a whale.”
“But going after Jezebel is more than we bargained for,” added Luthor with a shudder. “If you never hear of the Peapod again, that’ll mean he caught up with her.”
We swum for an hour or two, and finally the Raquel fished us out of the sea, and it turned out that Luthor and Ishmael knew just enough about ships that they was able to patch the engine to where it actually started running, and I couldn’t have been happier when I found out that it was bound for Australia. I didn’t quite make it there, as you’ll see in the next exciting episode, but at least I lived to tell the story, which was touch-and-go when I was getting a close-up look at Moby Duke’s tonsils.
I borrowed a razor and guv myself my first shave in months, nicking myself only six or seven times (with only three of them requiring bandages,). Then I went to the dining hall for some grub, and wowed a number of young ladies with the recitation of my feats of derring-do, which most of you have doubtless read ten or twelve times and committed to memory by now.
I picked out the prettiest one and we walked along the deck, feeling the cool night air, and when the moment was absolutely right I invited her to come back to my cabin with me.
“Lucifer,” she said, “you’re a charming raconteur, even if English is your first language, and I pride myself on being a liberated woman who’s as kinky as the next girl.” She paused and looked at me kind of regretfully. “But I’ll be damned if I’m going to bed with any man who wears an octopus on his leg.”
The rest of the voyage didn’t go much better.