A Tall Ship Tale #46: Nuts To You

The series by Paul de Anguera continues.

Emma made her way aft from the galley to the H.M.S. Legume’s tall quarter-deck. She was carrying the Leica she had forced open and, as a peace offering, a tray of roasted peanuts. Sadly she handed the camera to Captain Quid. “I was wrong, sir; the letter was not hidden inside after all,” she admitted. “I found no film, either. In fact, I don’t believe Rita has ever used this camera!”

“Leica virgin,” Quid mused, idly scanning Cairo’s waterfront through the zoom lens. Were there an interloping pinnace, particularly his, it certainly would stand out from among the dun-colored dhows and fishing boats. He munched a handful of peanuts, then stopped suddenly; a puzzled frown furrowed his narrow forehead as a suspicion took shape inside. Suppose Rita Hentrack had given the letter to Yassar, her Egyptian personal servant, to conceal?

Quid looked around for someone to carry a message, but the only person nearby was Almo Sather. Not trusting Almo to remember a message long enough to deliver it, the Captain patted his pockets — but found nothing to write with. Then he remembered the snack Emma had brought. He arranged the remaining peanuts on the tray to spell out:


“Almo, carry this to Sir Hillary,” he instructed. “You’ll find him with Rita and Yassar in the wardroom.”

“Aye, aye, sir!” Almo said, saluting and nearly spilling the message. He backed away apologetically, missed a step, disengaged one of his left feet from a ringbolt and found himself on the main-deck. He started to salute again, but Quid waved him away impatiently. Belowdecks, Almo turned the tray over to Sir Hillary and limped sullenly away, consoling himself for his injured ankle and hurt pride with a few nuts which he was sure nobody would miss.

Sir Hillary scanned the somewhat disheveled message:


Sir Hillary, no mean cryptographer himself, nodded after a moment and called for the longboat to be launched. Not long afterwards, Quid noticed a small two-masted ship slip her moorings to ride the Nile out to sea. She was flying the former colonists’ ridiculous 15-striped flag. He trained Rita’s zoom lens on her, then called up to the masthead “What ship is that?”

The lookout’s brass telescope flashed in the tropical sun. “The brig Goober, out of Boston, sir” came the reply. Wondering what the Yankees were up to now, Quid struggled up the ratlines to the masthead and snatched the telescope to see for himself. He oriented it on the departing ship in time to recognize Rita and Yassar at the stern rail. They were waving.

Quid slid down to the deck, stomped into his cabin and sent for Sir Hillary. “How did your prisoners, who are quite likely American agents, come to be on an American ship?” he demanded. Sir Hillary’s mustache drooped in embarrassment, but his voice remained firm as he replied…

“Just following hors d’oeuvres, sir!”

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