The weather had been overcast for the past two days, yet the seas had remained calm and the rain held off. Captain Asiago of the trade ship Penara considered himself lucky. However, it was more than the weather that proved to be favorable. There had been no sign of pirate activity on this voyage. Now only half a day away from Port Plees-Comagin, Asiago felt that his ship was finally in the clear. There had been a number of raids on ships recently. However, none of the attacks had occurred within a day’s sail of the port. The captain allowed himself a small sigh of relief.
A cry came from the crow’s nest above:
Asiago craned his neck to get a view of the man in the crow’s nest who was staring hard to stern through a telescope.
“What do you see, Semolina?”
“I can’t make out the details of the ship just yet, Captain. It appeared over the horizon just a moment ago.” Semolina was silent again as he continued to observe. Asiago looked out to sea and squinted, but he couldn’t make anything out with the naked eye. It was probably just another cargo ship trying to make it to the safety of the harbor.
“Can you see what colors the ship is flying?” Asiago called up.
“No sir,” replied Semolina. “It appears that…” He stopped short as he began to get a better view of the approaching ship. Judging by its build, it was clearly not a cargo or a trading vessel. It was also making very good speed.
“Captain…” Semolina spoke again, the apprehension noticeable in his voice.
“What is it?” Asiago asked.
Asiago felt his heart drop. Pirates? This close to Plees-Comagin?
“Are you certain, Semolina?”
Semolina no longer needed his telescope now. He could clearly see the oncoming ship. The entire vessel was painted a garish red color. A flag had been hauled up to the top of its mast and was snapping in the wind. It was a black flag with an orange fish skeleton grinning at its center. This was no ordinary, run-of-the mill pirate ship. Semolina let out a breath.
“Sir, it’s the Rosy Crustacean.”
“The Rosy Crustacean?” Asiago was stunned. “That’s Silverware’s ship!”
“Yes sir,” Semolina called back in a voice full of foreboding, “and he’s headed right for us!”
Horace the miller had been looking forward to this moment all day. After the long, hot hours of grinding grain, he was ready for a chance to relax with his family. They had all decided to go out to eat this evening. Horace, his wife and two sons made the short walk to their favorite restaurant Donny Moe’s Pizza. Horace was having a spirited debate with his boys about who would consume the most slices as they rounded the bend and the pizzeria fell into sight.
The little group came to a stop; something was wrong. Usually a boisterous place at this time of the evening, Donny Moe’s looked virtually deserted. In the fading light, Horace could make out two large, well-dressed men standing by the open front door. Slowly, the miller and his family approached. One of the men spotted them and held out a hand.
“Sorry folks, Donny Moe’s closed.”
“Closed?” asked Horace dubiously.
“Yeah,” the second man grunted, “closed.”
“I don’t understand,” Horace’s wife spoke up, “the door is open…
“Just who are you?” asked Horace, growing exasperated and increasingly hungry. “Are you some sort of health inspectors?”
The two men glanced at each other and laughed. “Yeah,” said the first man flashing another unpleasant grin, “we’re health inspectors all right.”
“Yeah,” the second man rumbled, “health inspectors.”
“And for the good of your family’s…health,” the first man continued, now with a slight edge to his voice, “we recommend that you eat someplace else.”
“But we want pizza!” the younger of the two boys blurted out before either parent could hush him.
“Well, you’re in luck kid,” said the second man. “There’s a great pizza joint that serves the best food in the kingdom.”
“There is?” the older boy now spoke up. “Where?”
The first man gestured toward the south. “Little Julius’. Just follow the road.”
“Little Julius’?” Horace sputtered indignantly. “That’s a five mile walk from here!”
“It’s a bit of a trip, I admit,” said the first man almost sounding sympathetic. “But don’t worry. Little Julius is planning to branch out real soon.”
The Penara didn’t even put up a fight. Captain Asiago knew a lost cause when saw one. He and his crew watched helplessly as the Rosy Crustacean pulled along his ship’s port side. Several ropes with grappling hooks were tossed from the pirate ship, latching onto the Penara. With a few heaves, a number of burly pirates hauled on the ropes and drew the ships together until they were touching. A dozen more pirates, armed with large fish forks, leapt over the railings and quickly surrounded the Penara’s crew. Long Jim Silverware then appeared, swaggering (or doing his best imitation of a swagger considering that one of his legs was wooden) across the Rosy Crustacean’s deck to the railing. He hopped across with practiced ease and approached Asiago.
“You be the captain, then?” Silverware growled.
Asiago straightened up and tried to keep his fear from showing.
“I am, and you’re wasting your time here, Silverware. We have no gold on board.”
At that, the pirate laughed.
“It’s not gold that I be seekin’ matey.”
“Look,” continued Asiago, “all we’re carrying is food…”
“Aye, we know.”
“That’s why we’re here after all.”
Asiago was confused; pirates that plunder food? Surely Long Jim Silverware had better things to do with his time.
“If you and your crew are hungry,” ventured Asiago, “I’m sure that we could have our cook…” The rest of his sentence was drowned out by the chorus of piratical laughter, which was not the most pleasant of sounds.
“Yar!” said Silverware, wiping a tear from his eye. “I’m sure we all appreciate the offer of a free meal.”
There was general murmuring among the pirates containing many “Yars,” “Arghs,” and one bookish buccaneer who blurted “That would be splendid!”
“Unfortunately,” Silverware continued, his hands raised in an apologetic gesture, “we got a job to do.”
The crew of the Penara were quickly herded onto several life boats on the starboard side and lowered to the sea. A shout from one of his crewmen drew Asiago’s gaze upward. Thick smoke was starting to curl above the doomed ship. They’re setting my ship on fire, he thought, but why? Silverware leaned over the edge.
“I ain’t a cruel man, Cap’n. I know the port be a short journey from here. Start rowin’ and you’ll be there by nightfall.”
Now the smoke was starting to billow and Asiago could smell the food below decks as it was being cooked by the fires that were set.
“Why are you doing this?” Asiago shouted up at Silverware. “This makes no sense at all! What have you gained?”
The pirate captain flashed a mysterious smile.
“Arr, I believe the term be… ‘deferred gratification.’” He made a move to go, but then turned back and peered down at Penara’s crew. “Oh yeah…Hail Julius!”
Then he disappeared from view.
As the rowboats pulled away and Captain Asiago watched his ship burn, he couldn’t decide if he were more shocked at the recent turn of events, or the fact that Silverware actually knew what “deferred gratification” meant.
“Why are you doing this?” the owner of Donny Moe’s Pizza hollered at the diminutive, toga-clad figure seated at a table before him. The two “health inspectors” stood to either side of the little man, looking menacing.
“Well, I thought it would be obvious,” said Little Julius as he reached for a slice of the pizza the owner was forced to make for his unwanted guest. He took a bite and chewed thoughtfully. “You know,” Little Julius said finally, “this is rather good. You’ve got to tell me your recipe.”
“I have a good business here! There’s no reason for you to chase away my customers!”
“Oh, but I have an excellent reason for doing so. You said it yourself: you have a good business. As a businessman, I have taken an interest in your success.”
“But you already have a restaurant!”
“Yes, and now I want two. Do you have any breadsticks, by the way?”
The owner was stunned. The operating of two restaurants by one person was an unusual, though not unheard of practice in Dryvethru. However, if one wanted to expand, they simply had to build a second restaurant. The hijacking of a competitor was, well… unethical.
“You are perhaps worried about your job,” said Little Julius as he wiped his hands on a napkin. “Fear not. Once I take ownership of your establishment, you can remain employed here if you like.”
“Once you take ownership?!” the owner cried. “What makes you think that I would hand over my restaurant to you?”
“Tell me,” Little Julius said, coolly examining his fingernails, “how are your supplies holding out?” This stopped the owner short. In truth, his supplies were running low and the ingredients that he had ordered were now three days late in arriving. This was odd; the supply ships came into Port Plees-Comagin as regular as clockwork.
“My supplies are fine, and fresh food is on its way, so…”
“Are you sure that your food is coming?”
“Of course,” said the owner a little less certain. The little man in the toga seemed awfully smug. What did he know?
“I wouldn’t be too sure,” replied Little Julius with a small smile. “I mean, something might have happened to, say, the ship that was carrying your order. After all, there have been reports of pirate attacks lately. Perhaps your ship was one of the unfortunates.”
“But that’s ridiculous! Why in the world would pirates attack a cargo ship full of food?”
Little Julius shrugged. “Who knows with pirates? My point is, don’t pin your hopes on being resupplied any time soon.”
The owner wanted to keep arguing but he knew it was pointless. Somehow, Little Julius had found a way to block off any incoming supplies. In the meantime, his two rent-a-thugs would chase off all customers. The soon-to-be former owner of Donny Moe’s Pizza was beaten. Sensing this resignation, Little Julius snapped his fingers and one of his men produced a rolled-up parchment which he handed over.
“All you have to do is sign this,” said Little Julius unrolling the document, “and your problems will be at an end.” The owner glanced at the contract which promised to hand over his restaurant to this stubby little man.