'Pirates of the Caribbean' belongs to Disney

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James was finding the smells of 1873 Bombay almost stupefying in their intensity; an ever-changing olfactory kaleidoscope of floral perfumes, unwashed bodies, henna, burning cow dung, patchouli incense, oil-fried fish, sandalwood, open sewers, and just about every spice known to humankind.

The tropical sunlight was also formidable, but easier to screen out. Norrington adjusted the large beige umbrella to keep them both in the shade, maintaining his firm grip on the thick L-shaped handle, fashionably equipped with a small embedded compass. The passing flow of black-haired citizenry gave them no second glance. After all, there was nothing novel about the spectacle of an apparently well-to-do British merchant taking an afternoon constitutional on the arm of his veiled Indian... concubine. It did grate a bit, to know that's what every viewer was probably assuming. James had been raised to deplore such exploitation of women.

But of course the assumption was false. The sari-clad figure at his side was neither exploited nor a woman.

As he turned them towards the dock area, Norrington gave his companion a glance, squinting against the shouting colors. / Trust Sparrow to pick the most gaudily-hued fabric available- magenta and purple with gilt trim, no less! /

Said gaudy fabric was draped to conceal every square inch, excepting the brown feet, winking in copper-studded sandals, and the native-dark eyes. The latter met his merrily, their corners crinkling to denote a hidden grin. "Beautiful day for a stroll, isn't it, darling?" inquired a very false falsetto.

Shifting his own gaze forward, James muttered, "I do hope you're not planning to use that voice when we get there."

"Whatever you say, sweetheart!" Jack snuggled closer to his companion's side, emitting an authentically feminine giggle- rather in excess of what this masquerade required.

"What on earth's gotten into you?"

"You must forgive me, cousin. This particular sort o' garment always conjures up delightful recollections, related to the first occasion I ever wore one."

"I'm not sure I want to know..."

"Not to worry- you'll enjoy this yarn!" Sparrow spoke with that eager tone he employed when itching to relate an exploit. "'Tis how I rescued my Black Pearl from that thieving pestilence Barbossa, fer the second time."

It was a few more minutes' walk to the docks; they might as well pass the time with a story. "Do tell, then."

"This was right after I'd first located an' made use of the Aqua de Vida. Next on my list of priorities was the reclamation of my poor stolen ship. I returned to Tortuga, had a listen around, learned Hector'd recently taken a fine merchant prize an' was plannin' ta visit a pirate-tolerant Guadeloupe port ta spend the swag. I happened ta know he favored a certain establishment there; the 'Cinnamon Rose', which catered to his taste fer wenches on the dusky side..."

"No salacious details, please."

"Suffice ta say, I acquired a swathe like this- a nice bright red 'un- collected Gibbs, an' hired some fast transport to Guadeloupe. Locatin' the Pearl's berth there was easy as spottin' a black grouper amongst pompanos. Josh an' I kept a clandestine watch on her 'til evenin', when Barbossa disembarked all tarted up fer some R&R. I sent Gibbs aboard ta locate an' inform ez many of the crew as were likely ta welcome me back- Cotton, Marty, a couple ex-Marines- an' have 'em prepare to get the ship underway. Meantime, I took a short route to the aforementioned 'Rose'. Having gained the Madame's cooperation with a bit of shine across the palm, I ensconced meself in the parlor, all obscured within that rubyesque cloth. When Hector made his predicted appearance, I knew just which wiles ta employ ta catch 'is fancy. The sod always did have a weakness fer body language." Sparrow executed a demonstration shimmy.

"The man actually failed to recognize you?"

"He were a ways into his cups, havin' patronized one o' Guadeloupe's finer taverns on the way theer. The hook was, I offered 'im a substantial discount, on condition we conduct our business aboard that legendary vessel of his- I'd heard such tales about it! The tightfisted lecher were agreeable, so he escorted me back to the docks, and onto the Pearl's gangplank. An' when we were halfway across..." Jack's eye gleam suggested an authentic recollection, "... I body-slammed that mendacious cur into the drink!"

"You drowned him?"

"Oh no; I knew the rotter could swim. His most-recent mutiny hadn't involved leavin' me in life-threatening circumstances, so 'twould've been a tad disproportionate ta do 'im in. Anyways, when he broke the surface the look on his face was worth the restraint!

"I was already out of that red weed, wavin' it about to underscore my declaration. The one-an'-only rightful Captain of the Black Pearl had returned to claim his own, as he always would, no matter how many times she were unrighteously snatched from his possession. So Barbossa had best find hisself another vessel an' forget he'd ever heard of this one!"

James had no difficulty at all envisioning that scene.

"When I'd finished my say I bounded aboard, hollerin' the order to Cast Off. That git dodged the falling gang plank an' scrambled up onto the dock to stare after our departure. Didn't utter a word I could hear- too shocked, or resigned. Jus' stood theer, drippin' like a scarecrow in monsoon, watchin' me and my fair lady vanish into the night." A trace of regret invaded Sparrow's voice. "That were the last view I ever had of Barbossa."

"And do you happen to know what became of him afterwards?"

"I had a reliable account. He gathered together those crewmen who'd been left ashore with him, an' that lot managed ta commandeer a worthy brig. The Carthage, if I recall right. I give the sod credit fer following sound advice; he left the Pearl an' myself alone from then on. 'Twas on board the Carthage that he died, two years later, when the Royal Navy finally caught up with him."

Jack's demeanor was unmistakably sad. "And you mourned for him."

"Not fer the blaggard hisself, so much ez what he represented," Sparrow clarified. "'Twas plain ta me that a world with no place for Hector Barbossa wouldn't have any more use fer Jack Sparrow. Not the original version, anyway."

"Was this when you first faked a demise?" James guessed.

"Aye. That narrative also has it's amusing aspects..."

"Then I'll look forward to hearing it another time." They were closing on their destination. Street odors were giving way to those of tar, brine, and drying seaweed.

A final turn 'round a rough brick wall brought Bombay Harbor into view. James couldn't help being moved at the sight of so many rigged masts. The Age of Sail might be in it's twilight days here, but it was still alive.

The pair approached a particular long berth, only to be confronted by a fierce-visaged guard with a curved sword under his sash, and a mustache nearly the size of his turban. A Shoorsaini, James recognized- nobody to take chances with.

"What business you? No business, no come!" the man gruffly informed them. But his aspect softened as Jack, using a far more convincing female voice, explained the situation in Hindi. This English Mahodaya would soon be making a voyage back to his native land, and wished to have a look at the available vessels. He only intended to make use of this dock's vantage point, not to board any of the berthed ships. His dutiful concubine would remind him, if necessary.

Norrington, staying in character, remained aloof from this conversation between subordinates. He did have to suppress an eyebrow arch, upon recognizing a less-than-flattering term.

The guard grunted and stepped from their path, waving permission. James gave the big man no acknowledgement in passing. As he and Jack proceeded down the pier James remarked, "I do know what 'kutte' means."

Sparrow wasn't the least bit abashed. "I included that fer authenticity. 'Tis only expected fer me ta express distain fer a foreigner who can't be bothered ta learn one word of the native tongue." His friend was in a position to know, Norrington conceded. "Anyway, you don't necessarily have ta regard it as an insult, considerin' yer fondness fer all things canine."

They soon reached the pier's furthest end. Jack took the umbrella as James reached into his frock coat pocket, extracting a small spy glass. Sparrow, shading eyes with his free hand, was already examining the adjacent ships. "I believe yon galleon is our soon-ta-be distressed damsel," he remarked, pointing eighty degrees to starboard.

Norrington peered through his spyglass, checking the name on the bow. "Quite correct- that's the Demeter." He looked over the full length of the elegant white-and-gold passenger vessel- clean sails, gracefully curved railings, gilded figurehead of a goddess bearing an armload of fruits.

James handed the spyglass to Sparrow, who made his own inspection. "A right fair lady she is! Much too proper ta be consortin' with the hagfish."

"Which is why we're here." The Commodore made a show of checking out some more passenger ships, during which he located a nearby storage shed on a short pier. "That should serve our purposes."

As they left the dock, his consort bestowed what James considered an overly flirtatious "Dhanyavaad!" on the guard. "Probably the high point of his day!" Jack blithely explained.

With seeming nonchalance, the two made their way towards the storage shed. After making a fast check for observers, they turned the structure's corner and quickly descended the embankment, slipping into the dark space beneath the pier. It was low-ceilinged and smelly, but the wet foundation stones provided sufficiently firm footing.

Jack grinned as he unwound the brilliant sari, uncovering a short gray wetsuit with a puffy belt, and two 'rebreather' face masks strapped to his chest. He detached these latter items, handing one to his colleague. James hung the mask around his own neck, then removed his frock coat, boots and breeches- he wore a similar wetsuit beneath, with a mesh bag attached to the belt. Norrington retrieved the spyglass from his coat pocket, wrapped the sari tight around this precious object, and slipped it into the mesh bag. From his other coat pocket he extracted a less-recognizable item; a set of brass knuckles with projecting claws, which he slipped over the fingers of his right hand.

Meanwhile, Sparrow furled and compressed the umbrella. Gripping the thick handle, he unscrewed the bent section to expose a wide drill bit. Brief finger pressure on the disguised shaft button verified it was functioning.

"Don't dig too deep- we don't want her taking water while she's still at dock," Norrington reminded.

"I assure you, Commodore; when it comes ta damaging ships, I'm never anxious ta do worse'en what's absolutely required."

The Operatives positioned their face masks over mouths and eyes, tightening the head straps. Both had originally learned to scuba dive with compressed-air tanks, but this more advanced technology, which extracted breathable oxygen directly from the water, was far more compact and discreet. As were their wide 'chambered nautilus' belts, which, like the eponymous cephalopod, could automatically adjust their content density to provide neutral buoyancy.

Leaving their more-expendable clothing items under a wet rock, the two waded into the moderate harbor surf. Jack used the umbrella's compass to get a bearing on their target, then they submerged and started kicking. The enveloping liquid coolness was certainly a relief.

As was usual for dock areas, the water wasn't the cleanest- it was, in fact, hazy with suspended particles, imparting an unappealing green-brown hue. But the tropical sun penetrated well enough to illuminate their way, past the treelike dock pilings and rocking hulks of moored ships. They swam for several minutes, keeping closer to the junk-strewn bottom than the flickering water surface, until the Demeter's great oblong hull loomed dead ahead.

They ascended, angling towards the pointed end of the barnacle-encrusted behemoth. Careful to remain a couple meters below the surface (which from this side resembled a restless quicksilver ceiling), they closed on the starboard bow. Jack ran hands over the timbers just aft of the keel, searching out a seam. Upon locating one, he patted the ship in an apologetic way, then applied the umbrella handle to the spot. James positioned himself close alongside, digging in his gripping claw to hold them both in place. They'd rehearsed this operation in a swimming pool mockup. In an underwater environment, drilling required two people; one to operate the drill and another to provide bracing.

Sparrow activated the device, sinking the rotating bit deep into the plank. Norrington pushed against the counter-circular forces threatening to dislodge them. Wood splinters and pulverized barnacles spewed into the surrounding water, clouding Jack's view, but he continued to work by feel. Three minutes later he shut off the drill, waving a hand to disperse the waterborne debris.

Both saboteurs examined the results. Sparrow had carved a rough oval indent into the timbers, about fifteen inches long and three deep. That weakened spot was invisible from inside the hull, or from the deck, but when the ship got up to speed the compromised seam would cave under the swell-pressure. The resulting leak would take in water fast enough to necessitate a return to port. Repairing the hole would require one day's effort; another would be spent accommodating the crew's opposition to disembarking on a Friday. That two-day delay would assure the Demeter's avoidance of the rather intense typhoon, currently brewing in the waters southwest of Ceylon. Her passengers would reach London behind schedule, but they'd all get there. Including one young woman, unknown to history, who would influence a vital future event.

Having judged the damage sufficient, the two Operatives followed the reverse compass heading back to the overhanging pier. Their clothing bundle was still where they'd left it. As he shrugged into his damp coat, James ducked to check the sky. "We should return now, while it's light enough to hide our Timenet."

Jack, seated on a boulder to replace his sandals, looked a bit disappointed. "We could wait a bit longer. If we activate the Timenet underwater, it'll be inconspicuous even after dark. Murphy did say it'll work there."

"He also said that's not the preferred exit strategy. 'A direct transition from water to air involves possibility of injury, as well as the certainty of an undignified landing.' Furthermore..." James drew forth the spyglass, tilting it to let the silk wrapping fall in a sodden heap, "... you haven't got a thing to wear."

Sparrow's pout would've done a thwarted preschooler proud. "You sabotaged my outerwear on purpose, ya bloody take-no-unnecessary-chances Navyman!"

"Perhaps I did. I really think we had sufficient sightseeing this morning." James proceeded to replace his breeches and boots. "I assume you took your pills?"

"Of course. I've no hankerin' fer any unauthorized passengers ta stow away in my innards."

"Then let's be on our way." Norrington slung both masks on his arm and stepped towards a large rock, spyglass in hand.

"Just a moment!" Sparrow bent to scoop up the dripping sari, hugging it to himself like a rescued cat.

James looked dubious. "Do you really think that's worth taking home? It's ruined with salt water!"

"Don't underestimate the capacities of dry-cleaners, cousin. After passing through theer hands, this bit o' cloth should be near good as new." Jack employed his best Kouros smile... so very like Essie's. The ex-pirate was as adept as she'd been, at coaxing James to let a matter slide.

"Very well. But please don't start traipsing around the house in that thing." The larger man drew his arm back, preparing to whack the spyglass to activate the Net.

"I was actually plannin' ta gift this to your fair lady. Theer's a fair chance 'twill look fetching on her, don't you think?"

James paused, struck by a vision of Meredith draped in those fluttering silk folds, bright colors shimmering with every movement of her long limbs... He cleared his throat. "Quite a high probability, Mr. Sparrow. I suppose you're right; such fine fabric is worth salvaging."

Jack slung the bunched garment over his neoprene-clad shoulder, teeth glinting in the light of the lowering sun. "Aye. We must give frugality it's due, ol' Commodore."

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Hindi translations:

Mahodaya - Gentleman.

Kutte- Dog. In most Indian cultures, any comparison with a dog is considered a serious insult.

Dhanyavaad - Thank You.

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The Shoorsaini, aka the Saini, are a warrior caste originating from northwest India. Under the British Raj they were frequently employed as guards and elite soldiers.

The hagfish, an eel-like relative of the lamprey, is an ocean scavenger found in deep waters.

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