Canto Nineteen – The Log Book of the Reefer Mary Celeste
It would be two days before anything more could happen in the quest to understand about the Captain. Valerie finally found the time to visit Mary Philips’ house while Pidney was also there. None of the other Pirates proved available. Danny had a 4-H meeting to attend in the old Norwall School House, and Ray Zeffer also was in 4-H. 4-H Club was the center of farm-boy life in small farm towns in Iowa. Both the boys and the girls had their own division of the club. Heart, head, hands, and health, the 4-H’s were an international organization that encouraged youth development and prosperity through projects and learning goals. 4-H was to farmers what Boy Scouts were to the Army, Navy, and Marines… indoctrination into the secret cult of the tillers of the earth. Technically, the three Pirates meeting in the basement of the Philips’ house were supposed to be at the meeting too, at least Pidney was. The Norwall Pirates were also technically a 4-H softball team, so there were definite ties to things that couldn’t be ignored for long. Still, this secret meeting was temporarily more important.
“I’m glad creepy old Doble couldn’t come,” Pidney said. “I don’t trust him around you girls. He doesn’t go to 4-H meetings any more, but he apparently has more important things to do with himself anyway.”
“We have to consider him a Pirate, though,” said Mary. “He is the only remaining member of the original club.”
“Yeah, whatever.” Pid was frowning until he looked at Valerie. Then he smiled. “But I’m sure glad you could come, Val.”
Valerie smiled her thanks at the big Polack. He could be kinda dense at times, but Valerie was deeply in love with him anyway.
“I have the log book here,” Mary said, “and we can pick up reading where we left off.”
“About the mermaid?” said Pid.
“Yes, about the mermaid.”
“Chinooki,” reminded Val.
“Let me turn to the book mark,” said Mary.
The mermaid was a miraculous creature. Kooky actually had very little trouble catching her in the nets he used for catching prawns whenever we were near the island of Tahiti. It was like she wanted to be caught for some strange reason. And we soon discovered that keeping company with Chinooki was something every man aboard desired with a passion. Her singing voice charmed the men to sleep and suggestibility. The mermaid possessed every piece of scrimshaw, every golden ornament, and every valuable jewel on board the ship in very short order.
“Chinooki likes sweet mens,” Chinooki said so often we never stopped to think that it might have a double meaning.
Chuck Jones was the first man to disappear. Kooky later told me that Chinooki told him she ate the sweet man. But she could say practically any scary and awful thing, and then sing a sweet song, and everyone would smile and think she did no wrong. The cabin boy disappeared next, and Bob Clampett swore he saw the kid’s severed foot at the bottom of the oyster stew Cookie served that same night.
“I am becoming alarmed here at this story,” said Pidney. “Is this one of those things where you read the scary story in a book and then it comes true in real life?”
“It can’t be,” said Mary. “You know full well that Captain Noah Dettbarn was a fool and a liar long before he ever went to sea. He has a reputation in this little town, and the old folks all say that telling a lie is the same as telling a Noah.”
Mary continued reading aloud.
Chinooki was a favorite of every sailor aboard. She entertained us constantly with stories and songs. She could play Kooky’s ukulele, too, like a professional. She had us all dancing and singing along without being truly aware of what was going on. Crewmen kept turning up missing. Then, when Kooky started kissing her on the lips at every opportunity, I realized I needed to confront her. I think I owe Kooky for that, because if he hadn’t interrupted her songs with his kisses, I might never have returned to my senses.
“Chinooki,” I said, late one night at the aft rail, “you have to stop doing to us whatever it is that you have been doing to us.”
“Chinooki not know what you are meaning, nice Captain mans.”
“Don’t accuse her without all the facts,” Kooky said.
“The crew likes what Chinooki has been doing for us,” added Bob Clampett.
“Look around, Bob,” I said. “Where exactly is the rest of the crew?”
Bob looked all around the deck. There was a lot of nobody to count. His eyes got big and round. “Good Lord! You are right, Captain! Something is definitely wrong!”
“Ho ho! Sweet Bobs has seen through the glammer! Maybe silly Captain mans too!” said Chinooki. She then wobbled up to Bob using her fish tail to travel upright in the manner of a cobra. She put her silvery arms around his neck and gave him a big old smooch on the lips. Then she bit deeply into the side of his neck. Together they pitched backwards over the ship’s rail and fell into the ocean below. Poor Bob did not even have a chance to scream.
At that point in the story, poor Pidney was so pale, that Mary stopped reading, apparently afraid the big Polish football hero was about to pass out from fear.
“Don’t stop now!” Valerie insisted. “This old log book thing is getting really, really good.”