From the top of the hill, Wendy stared down in awe at the bustling port city of Plees-Comagin. It was by far the biggest and busiest community she had ever seen, and she had been to Holdermayo. The blue-green water that surrounded the port seemed to stretch out forever, and the breeze blowing inland filled the air with the invigorating scent of the sea.
Baskin turned to Wendy with a smile.
“What do you think?”
Wendy returned the grin.
“Race you down the hill!”
“Wendy…”said Robin warningly but it was too late. Wendy was halfway down the hill and picking up speed.
“Where should we go first?” Wendy asked when Baskin and Robin finally caught up. Before either could answer, the red-head pointed to a dodgy-looking tavern across the town’s bustling main street. “How about there?”
“I don’t think so,” Baskin said apprehensively.
“Oh, please!” Wendy pleaded. “It looks just like the inns I’ve read about in adventure stories. The place is probably full of pirates and sailors and other exciting people!”
“And what do you suppose these ‘exciting people’ are going to do when two women and a girl walk in?”
“Let’s find out!” Wendy chirped as she began to weave her way through the crowded street toward the tavern.
Robin turned an exasperated look at Baskin.
“If we survive this trip, I’m demanding a raise in salary.”
The two women caught up with Wendy at the door of the tavern. Above them, a weather-beaten sign creaked in the breeze.
“‘Sam and Ella’s,’” Baskin read the faded words with a hint of distaste. “I hope that’s a joke.”
“All the same, order nothing,” Robin replied.
The three travelers entered the tavern. Once their eyes became accustomed to the dim lighting, they observed the long, low-ceilinged room crowded with rough wooden tables and chairs. On their left was a dingy bar lined with stools. The tavern was nearly empty except for the heavily bearded bartender who was serving a drink to a strange-looking man sitting at one of the tables. Both men looked up in mild astonishment.
“Well, blow me down,” said the man at the table, removing a corncob pipe from his mouth.
“I beg your pardon,” said Baskin in an offended tone.
“He don’t mean nothin’ by it,” said the bartender, lifting his large hands in a placating gesture. “That’s just the way he talks. He’s just surprised is all. Now, what can I do for you ladies?”
“Do you have any grog?” Wendy blurted out.
“Wendy!” Robin said in shock.
“Shiver me timbers!” said the man at the table.
“What on earth possessed you to ask that?” asked Baskin.
“Isn’t that what pirates drink at taverns?” Wendy inquired innocently. The bartender roared with laughter.
“That they do youngling, among other things. But you’ll find no pirates ‘round here. This place is strictly legitimate if you get my meanin’.”
“What about him?” asked Wendy, pointing to the tavern’s lone customer. “He looks a little shifty.”
“I yam what I yam,” said the man with a shrug.
“What does that mean?”
“Wendy,” Baskin sighed in exasperation. “Could you just pretend for five minutes that you have good manners?”
“I yam what I yam,” Wendy mimicked.
At that, the man at the table burst out with the strangest laugh Wendy had ever heard.
As one, the three travelers began to back away in concern. The bartender chuckled.
“He’s all right, ladies. Ol’ Popeye’ll do ya no harm.”
“Popeye?” Robin asked in confusion. Judging by his appearance, Popeye was anything but pop-eyed. In fact, he seemed to look at everything through a permanent squint. The next thing Robin noticed was that Popeye had the largest forearms she had ever seen. Identical anchor tattoos adorned each prodigious appendage.
“Are you sure?” Baskin asked warily. Popeye let out another barrage of “Gahs.”
“Well, I wouldn’t think a’crossin’ him, if that’s what you’re meanin,’” replied the bartender, idly scratching his beard. “He packs a wallop with them arms of his.”
“I never hitsk a lady,” said Popeye a little indignantly. “That would be disgusticating!”
“I like him!” she said, joining him at the table. Reluctantly, Baskin and Robin followed suit.
“So you’re not a pirate?” Wendy asked. Popeye shook his head and took a drag on his pipe.
“Not me, squirt. I’m Popeye the Sailor Man.”
“Oh,” said Wendy appreciatively, “a sailor! That’s exciting!” Suddenly, Popeye’s face fell. He removed his pipe and studied it.
“What’s wrong, Mr. Popeye?”
“Pirates,” interjected the bartender when Popeye made no motion to respond. “The villains sank his ship and left him with nothing. He’s had to find other work.”
“That’s terrible!” Wendy exclaimed, patting Popeye on the forearm. “What sort of work are you doing now?”
“I sells this,” Popeye said, reaching down beside his chair and producing a bucket with his name printed along its side. Wendy, Baskin, and Robin peered into the bucket.
“You’re selling fried chicken?” inquired Robin.
“I yam. It’s me pappy’s own recipe.”
“Can I try some?” asked Wendy.
“Helpsk yourself.” Before Baskin and Robin could protest, Wendy grabbed a chicken leg and began tearing into it. After a couple of bites, she stopped with look of confusion on her face.
“Wendy, are you all right?” Robin asked worriedly. “Is there something wrong with the chicken? Does it taste strange?”
“I knew it!” Baskin fumed. “‘Sam and Ella’s’ indeed.”
“What’s me and my wife’s name got to do with anything?” The bartender asked. Popeye just looked at Wendy and grinned, apparently expecting this reaction.
“The food is fine,” said Wendy. “Actually, it’s really good. It’s just that I feel a little funny. My arms are tingling.” Robin reached over and took one of Wendy’s arms, examining it closely. Baskin turned angrily to Popeye.
“What did you put in that chicken?”
Popeye continued to smile unconcernedly at Wendy.
“I bets you feelsk like hittin’ somethin’.”
“Yes…I do…” said Wendy quietly.
“You what?” Robin asked in astonishment, dropping Wendy’s arm.
Wendy rose from her chair, almost trance-like and walked over to an empty table.
Then she punched it. The table exploded into a shower of sawdust and broken boards. Baskin and Robin screamed. Popeye laughed. The bartender was far less amused.
“Aw now,” he complained, “them tables ain’t cheap!”
Wendy seemed to awaken from her trance and stared at the wreckage with wonder.
“Did I do that?”
“What…is…going…on?” Baskin spit out.
“Wendy,” Robin said, hurrying over, “your hand. It must be…” Wendy held her hand out. It showed no sign of injury.
“The tingling is gone too,” Wendy added. Popeye just nodded.
“I don’t understand this,” Baskin shook her head. “Eating chicken caused…that?” She gestured at the destroyed table.
“Ya see,” Popeye said, “I added a little somethin’ extra to me own recskipe. I feeds me chickens a special diet that makes ‘em strong. Someone eatin’ the chicken usually gets a burstin’ of power.”
“What on earth do you feed them?” Baskin exclaimed. “Magic potion?” Popeye laughed again.
“As I likes to say, ‘They’re strong to the finish ‘cause they eats their…spinach!’” With that, he pulled a tin can from his pocket and slammed it on the table.
“You just feed them spinach?” Robin asked perplexed as she picked up the can.
“Well, blow me down!” Wendy said with admiration.
“Spinach can’t possibly…”Baskin began.
“It’s no jest, Ma’am,” said the bartender gravely. “I’ve seen his chickens. They could beat a grown man in wrestling.”
“I think I’ll have another drumstick,” Wendy said reaching toward the bucket.
“NO!” Baskin, Robin, and the bartender shouted in unison.