by Brian K. Asbury
Michael Fecktiffe leaped to his feet, dropping his rod over the side and nearly following it. For a second or two he perched perilously on the edge of the quay, windmilling his arms crazily to regain his balance. Finally, he lurched away from the edge to confront the newcomer.
“Well, thank you very much,” he said shrilly. “Nearly give me heart failure, why don’t you?” He glared at the little man in the brown boiler suit who stood there with an apologetic expression on his face and was about to launch into a tirade of abuse when he remembered. “My rod! My bloody rod!”
He dropped to his hands and knees and peered over the side. Fortunately, the rod had not dropped into the water but had snagged on a projecting bit of stone on the water side. He reached down and retrieved it, but the line was a tangled mess fit to confound a latter-day Alexander the Great.
“Look what you’ve done, you bloody hooligan! God, what a bloody mess! It’ll take me hours to untangle this lot — as if I’ve nothing better to do!”
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fecktiffe. I didn’t mean to startle you,” said the little man, peering at the tangled nylon spaghetti through bottle-bottom glasses.
“Oh, well, that’s all right, then,” said Michael, his voice dripping with sarcasm. “You’re sorry.” He picked the rod up and brandished it. “Sorry makes everything better, doesn’t it? If only Hitler had said sorry to the Poles. ‘Oh, that’s all right then, Herr Hitler, why don’t you come over to Warsaw yourself, and we’ll talk about it over a nice cup of tea.'”
“If I can do anything to make amends, Mr. Fecktiffe, then rest assured that I shall. But may I have a word with you?”
Michael blinked at him. “What about?” His eyes screwed up as he recognized the other man. “Don’t you run the cycle repair shop in the High Street?”
The little man smiled. “That’s right, Mr. Fecktiffe. Privet’s the name. Colin Privet of Privet’s Pedals.” He held out his hand.
Michael glared at the hand suspiciously. It was covered in oil. “Yes? What can I do for you?”
Colin Privet withdrew his hand sheepishly. “As a fellow local businessman, Mr. Fecktiffe, I was hoping I could count on your support.”
“My support? For what? A campaign to sabotage the nation’s angling community?”
Privet ignored the barb. “For the anniversary campaign, Mr. Fecktiffe.” He gestured out into the harbour, where an ancient-looking sailing ship was bobbing on the tide.
“Anniversary? Of what?”
“Of the Spanish Armada, Mr. Fecktiffe. 1588 and all that? England’s hearts-of-oak jack tars fending off the threat of King Philip and his mighty fleet of galleons?”
“As you may know, Mr. Fecktiffe, I have been newly elected as Chair of the Chamber of Commerce, and we intend to celebrate the four-hundredth anniversary of the rout of the Armada by sailing around the coast of England in this magnificent replica of Sir Francis Drake’s gallant ship, the Golden Hind.” He pointed again to the sailing ship in the harbour.
Michael regarded it suspiciously. The ship was a more or less permanent fixture in Brixham Harbour and had been for as long as he could remember, but he had never really noticed it before. “Is that what it is?” he said. “I thought it was just something to bring in the tourists — a museum attraction or something.”
“Well,” said Privet, “it is, I suppose. But the Golden Hind is perfectly seaworthy. It was, after all, used in a television series about Sir Francis Drake in the early 1960s.”
“Really? I remember that series.” Suddenly, Michael’s interest was aroused. The Adventures of Sir Francis Drake had been a favourite of his as a boy, along with a half-dozen or so similar historical adventure series that seemed to have been a craze among British TV production companies at the time. Robin Hood, William Tell, Sir Lancelot, Ivanhoe (with Roger Moore, no less, in the lead role!) — and was the deck of that ship really where the actor Terence Morgan had had all those wonderful adventures as Queen Elizabeth I’s favourite freebooter Drake?
“Mr. Fecktiffe? Mr. Fecktiffe?”
Michael’s eyes came back into focus. “What?”
“The anniversary campaign, Mr. Fecktiffe? I was asking you whether we could count on your support?”
“My support?” Michael felt himself come back down to earth with a bump. “Oh… I see! All right, how much?”
“Cash. How much do you expect me to part with to help fund this grandstanding gesture of yours?”
Privet adjusted his glasses. “Oh. No, no, no, no, no. You misunderstand me, Mr. Fecktiffe. I’m not after money.”
“You’re not? What are you after, then?”
“Well, we at the Chamber of Commerce feel that local business should show solidarity behind the campaign to bring more tourists to Brixham, and, as a hotelier, you do have a vested interest in such.”
“Well, the planned voyage around the coast of England isn’t until next year, of course — the actual anniversary of the Armada. But we’d like to drum up support with a preliminary trip this year — just down the coast to Dartmouth, where Drake actually sailed from.”
“And we’d like as many of said local businessmen to be on her when we make the trip, Mr. Fecktiffe — including yourself, if you would. So how about it, Mr. Fecktiffe? Will you sail with me on the Golden Hind in the footsteps of Sir Francis Drake?”
Michael’s imagination went into overdrive as he pictured himself standing proudly on the prow of the Golden Hind as it cut smoothly through the waves. “Me?” he said dreamily. “You want me to captain this fine ship?”
Privet held up his hands. “Ah… ah… no. Not captain it, Mr. Fecktiffe.”
Once again Michael fell back to earth with a bump. His eyes narrowed as he stared at Privet. “Why not?”
“Um… we just want the local business community to be passengers, Mr. Fecktiffe. For publicity. We intend to hire a professional crew.”
“And who’s the captain? You?”
“Er… well…?” The panic in Privet’s eyes said yes, but he shuffled uncomfortably on the spot, as if struggling to think of a compromise. “Of course…” he said at length, “if you’re an accomplished sailor yourself…”
“An accomplished sailor?” said Michael. “Me?” His mind raced. “Er… yes. Of course I am. Don’t you know that, man? Have you got any idea to whom you are speaking?”
Privet’s brow furrowed. “No…?”
“I was winner of, the, er…” A voice started to scream inside Michael’s head that it was probably no use quoting anything Privet might have heard of. “…of… the… ah…”
“The Isle of Dogs annual yacht race,” Michael said, suddenly inspired. “Yes, that’s it. Won it seven years running — 1970 to 1977.”
“That would be eight years running, then.”
“Would it? Oh… ah… yes, of course. It wasn’t held in 1974 because of the, the, er… the miners’ strike.”
Privet looked doubtful. “The Isle of Dogs? Isn’t that in London?”
“Do you know London well, Mr. Privet?”
“Hardly at all.”
A wave of relief flowed over Michael. “Well, then, I’ll have you know that the Isle of Dogs race is regarded as perhaps the toughest in Britain.”
“Is it? I can’t say that I’ve ever heard of it,” said Privet, scratching his head.
“Really?” said Michael. “And you want to be captain of the Golden Hind. Well, well…”
“Tsk, tsk. Dearie me. Well, I suppose you know what you’re doing. I mean, if you have the backing and confidence of the Chamber of Commerce…”
“Well, to be honest, no firm decision has really been made as to who should be appointed to be captain…”
“Excellent! I mean, well, I’m sure you’ll make the right choice. Well, shall we take a look at this magnificent galleon of ours?” He set off around the quayside before Privet could answer.
The little man hurried up to catch him, but said nothing, evidently deep in thought. Gotcha! thought Michael. This is it! This is my opportunity to put Michael D. Fecktiffe in the spotlight, where I belong! In fact, he mused, if he could think of some way to put the ship in danger so that the Beefeater could come to its rescue, even better!
Even so, the little voice in the back of his mind kept trying to remind him that, first, there was no such thing as the Isle of Dogs Yacht Race; second, even if there were, it was actually impossible to sail around the Isle of Dogs, as it wasn’t a real island but just an area of London nestling in a loop of the Thames; and that (and this was the real biggie) third, he had never sailed anything in his life — in fact, he hated the sea with a vengeance and even got seasick on the Isle of Wight ferry.
However, he ignored the warnings as he basked in imagined glory, both for himself and for his costumed alter ego. He strode on purposefully around the harbour.
Michael stopped and looked back. Privet had stopped. “You’ve gone past the gangplank, Mr. Fecktiffe. It’s right here!”
Reddening slightly, Michael walked back and followed Privet up the gangplank onto the ship. His stomach lurched uncomfortably, despite the fact that the ship was moored securely in a harbour that was as calm as a millpond.
“Isn’t she a beauty?” said Privet. “And she’s authentic in every respect. Imagine, this is what Sir Francis Drake would have seen every time he boarded the original Golden Hind. Well, there would have been sailors, of course, but there will be, Mr. Fecktiffe. When we take her out to Dartmouth, there’ll be a full complement of crew on board in authentic period costume.”
Michael said nothing. He was starting to realize the folly of letting his imagination get the better of him as he fought to control his heaving guts.
Privet, however, was now in his element. He wandered around the deck, rolling back tarpaulins and opening hatches as he showed Michael where everything was and how it had been painstakingly reconstructed from plans and paintings from the Elizabethan period. Throwing back a large hatch, he peered down it and said, “This, of course, leads to the crew quarters. Very cramped, you might think, but I’m sure you know how comfortable hammocks are. We’ll get some great publicity shots of you and your fellow tradesmen lounging in them below decks to promote the venture.”
He turned, beaming, to face Michael, but his face suddenly changed to an expression of abject terror. “Guh… guh…!” He pointed skyward, then toppled over backward and fell down the open hatch.
“Privet?” said Michael, moving to the hatchway. “Are you all right, man?”
He was suddenly aware that he was casting a deep shadow, and that the light around the shadow was a brilliant emerald green. He straightened slowly, not daring to look behind him.
And suddenly a voice said, “Say, buddy, I’m looking for your local super-heroes, but I got a tad lost. Can ya tell me where I can find some?”
Michael whirled about in alarm, but what he saw almost made him follow Privet down the open hatch. Only at the last instant did he remember that there was nothing but air behind his feet, and for the second time in just a few minutes he found himself waving his arms around to keep his balance.
Strangely, the bizarre creature that had alighted on the deck copied his movements. “This sure is a strange way of greeting, mister, but OK, if that’s what you do in these parts!” It proceeded to crazily windmill its hairy arms — or were they forelegs? “I gotta say, though, sniffing each other’s butts is a lot less tiring!”
Michael stared incredulously. The creature was a little short of six feet tall and was covered in unkempt, reddish-brown fur. It was wearing what could vaguely be described as emerald-green pyjamas with a black waistcoat. It had a tail and a wet-looking black nose. It also had a distinctly canine smell.
“You’re a dog!” exclaimed Michael.
“Hey, you’re not so bad yerself!” the creature said cheerfully, punching Michael playfully on the shoulder. This was the final impetus that sent Michael sprawling backward into the open hatchway. However, he did not, as he expected, fall. Something caught him as he toppled back — something green and shining, and emanating from a glowing green band around the dog-creature’s right paw.
“Oops. Sorry ’bout that, mister,” the creature said, using the green energy to deposit Michael on another part of the deck, safely away from open hatchways.
My God, thought Michael. That’s a power ring — well, sort of, anyway. Whatever this… this hairy monstrosity is, it’s a Green Lantern! Yes! There is the Green Lantern symbol on its chest!
The creature released Michael and waved its arms around again. “The name’s G’nort Esplanade G’neesmacher,” he said. “What’s yours?”
“Um… I’m… I’m… I’m…” stammered Michael, unsure of what to say.
G’nort grinned. “Well, Mr. Umimimime, how’s about it? You know where I can find some of Earth’s super-heroes? ‘Cause I’m on an important mission, here, and I might need a bit of help. Kilowog said I shouldn’t go on missions on my own, ’cause I’m incontinent. Dunno who told him that.” He scratched behind his ear. “I think that was the word he used, anyways.”
Michael continued to stare at him. “Super-heroes?”
“Yeah. I got a list here of the guys I should contact.” G’nort reached inside his vest and produced a crumpled and stained ball of paper, which he proceeded to smooth out and then peer at myopically.
“Let’s see — never could read my own handwriting… er… Supperman? You know a Supperman?” Michael shook his head numbly. G’nort continued. “Can’t read this… looks like Wonder Bosom… no? How’s about Buttman and Ritalin? Hikeman? Feuerstein? The Fleas? No, on second thoughts, I don’t like the sound of him at all. How’s about…?”
“The Beefeater!” said Michael hurriedly, finding his voice at last.
“The Beefeater! England’s greatest hero! I know where to find him!”
“Sounds good to me,” said G’nort. “So where can we find this guy?”
“I…” Michael looked across to his car, parked at the end of the street leading into the harbour. His Beefeater costume and sceptre were waiting for him in the boot. “I can contact him. You wait here and just give me a few minutes, all right?”
“OK, Mr. Umimimime — anything you say. Just one thing, though,” he added as Michael started for the gangplank.
“Is there a bathroom around here? I really gotta go!”