Chapter 2

Salty Old Fish, Derek Fish and the Surprise, a Children's Book

Derek plonked his school bag down, sank into his deep duvet and sighed with relief. Friday. It was Friday, and the final bell – just like the corridors and classrooms of his school – were now distant memories, well and truly cast into his mind’s waste bin. Smiling, he mentally pressed delete and welcomed in the weekend.
As usual he would begin his weekend by firing up his Xbox and slipping in his illegal copy of Halo 4. He knew he’d be in big trouble if his mum or dad found out that he had this violent first-person shooter game, but for Derek it was like therapy – each alien he wiped out was his way of wiping out the painful experiences that a week at school would bring. The constant mickey-taking, the pushing and prodding, the hiding of his belongings were just a few of the ways in which the bullies made his life miserable.
Josh Perkins was the ringleader. Every morning he and his little group of followers would wait for Derek to arrive. As soon as Derek’s mother had said her farewells and disappeared through the gates, Perkins would pounce, pushing and shoving him around the playground. It was Derek’s sandwiches that would go first, torn from his school bag and scattered across the playground. Next his textbooks would be hurled high into the sky, descending into puddles and mud. The horrible boys would then run off, stamping on the books and kicking the sandwiches, chuckling amongst themselves.
‘Tell anyone and you’re DEAD FISH.’ Perkins’ deathly warning would linger as Derek picked up his books and what was left of his lunch.
But today Derek didn’t get the chance to take his virtual medicine. A knock on the door prompted him to quickly slip the disc back into its hiding place under his bed – just as his mother opened the door and stepped in.
‘Derek, get yourself an overnight bag,’ she said, looking concerned. ‘Granny Fish has had an accident!’
‘An accident! What sort of accident?’
‘She’s had a fall, banged her head. Your father’s on his way home. We’ll be setting off as soon as he arrives.’
Father on his way home! Derek glanced at his watch. It’s only 3.30. It must be serious if dad was leaving the bank early.


Derek’s father gunned his BMW up the westbound ramp of the M4 and slipped into the Friday afternoon traffic that would take them out of the city and onto their two-hour journey to Portsmouth. His knuckles were white on the steering wheel.
‘Is Granny going to be okay?’ asked Derek.
‘Yes, she’ll be fine, don’t worry,’ replied Derek’s father, trying to hide his concern.
‘What happened?’
‘She collapsed. Worry I think. They’ve had some bad news.’
‘Bad news is a bit of an understatement, dear,’ interjected Derek’s mother.
‘Yes, you’re right. It’s not bad news. It’s terrible news!’
The car jolted suddenly, as Derek’s father slammed on the brakes to avoid a lane-hopping white van. ‘Idiot!’ his father cursed. Derek’s heart was in his mouth. The near miss with the van had somehow dramatically emphasised his father’s words, punching them home.
‘What terrible news?’ Derek blurted in response.
‘They might have to leave the Green Parrot!’ replied his father. ‘They’re being evicted. Something about a clause in the deeds that dad knew nothing about.’
‘A clause? What’s a clause?’
‘Trouble, that’s what a clause is,’ said Derek’s dad. ‘It means that something must be taken into account and it’s binding, legally.’
‘So what does it all mean?’ asked Derek.
‘I don’t know. Your grandfather was vague about it – not sure if he really knows himself. It seems they’ve never had the deeds. They’ve been locked away in some solicitor’s office for years. He said he’ll explain when we get there, when he’s had time to calm down.’
Derek sank back into the warm leather of the BMW’s rear seats, confused by the mixed feelings whirling around his head. On the one hand he was worried about his grandmother and her fall, and shocked about the possibility of his grandparents being forced out of their beloved home. On the other hand, he was excited about visiting his grandfather a week earlier than planned.
Derek loved the old man and loved visiting the Green Parrot, the pub his grandparents owned down in Portsmouth. It was the light on the horizon for Derek, the only piece of colour in his miserable life. His parents knew this and had increased the number of visits they made from a couple of times a year to close on twice a month. It was the only way they could get a smile to crack across their son’s face.
Overlooking Portsmouth harbour, the Green Parrot was full to the brim of old sailing paraphernalia. Ropes, barrels, rigging, cannon and cannon balls inhabited every conceivable nook and cranny of the place. His grandfather had told him that the dark panelling that lined the walls in the old part of the pub was from HMS Surprise, a ship captained by a distant relative called Erasmus. Derek loved the darkness of the place, the smell of the old wood, the way it seemed to creak and groan as if still at sea. Running his finger along the panelling, passing a door that, according to his grandfather, had once led into the captain’s cabin but now simply opened onto a brick wall, Derek often felt a strange tingling sensation in the tip of his finger. Sometimes, when the light was right, he was sure he could see movement under the bottom of the door, as if someone behind it had cast a shadow. A shiver would race down his spine as he opened it, not knowing what to expect, hoping that it might be another world where he could become a tall, handsome ship’s captain, fighting off pirates and sea monsters. Sadly for Derek, it was always a brick wall!
The Green Parrot was a place where he could forget about his troubles back home. But what Derek really loved most about his stays at the pub was his grandfather’s tales about Erasmus.
Erasmus Fish was a buccaneer who had sailed the oceans plundering Spanish galleons over three hundred-and-fifty years earlier. Although the Spanish called him a pirate, Derek’s grandfather insisted that Erasmus was acting with the full authority of the King of England. The king saw that it was a good way to wage war on his rival Spain and allowed these privateers, as they preferred to be known, to attack Spanish shipping – as long as the king had a share of the captured treasure.
Erasmus was one of the best, his seamanship second to none. He was a gentleman, loyal to his crew, sharing out equally the rewards of their conquests. In return, his men would follow him anywhere, and without question.
Derek’s grandfather would tell stories of how Erasmus, at the helm of his beloved Surprise, sailed around South America and up to the Caribbean, capturing great Spanish galleons and attacking numerous coastal towns occupied by the Spanish. He was a British hero! Derek revelled in the stories. However, Erasmus disappeared mysteriously in 1698. No one knew what had happened. He left the Surprise one day and never returned. Derek’s grandfather believed that he met his fate at the hands of his greatest rival, a nasty, unpleasant pirate known as Captain One Eye.


‘Grandad? Grandad?’ shouted Derek as he raced along the hallway of the Green Parrot’s living accommodation.
‘In the attic,’ came back a gravelly voice. Derek raced up another flight of stairs and along another landing to where a pair of stepladders reached up through a hatch in the ceiling.
‘Have you seen your granny, lad?’ said his grandfather as he offered him a hand and helped him into the attic.
‘She told me to come and find you. I think she wanted to talk to mum and dad in private,’ replied Derek as he was hauled up into the attic. ‘Is Granny going to be okay?’
‘She’s through the worst of it now, so the doctor says. It was the fall that worried him the most. A bang on the head like that is very dangerous for an old lady. She’s on the mend now, though, that’s the main thing.’
‘Why are you up here?’ asked Derek.
‘Did your dad tell you the news?’
Derek nodded his head, not knowing what to say.
‘Came out of the blue it did, Derek. One day I was happy as Larry, preparing to open the pub as usual, have some good banter with the locals, and then boom! All gone! Ethel collapsed like a sail without wind. Straight down she went, banging her head on the fireplace.’
The old man shook his head, pausing briefly. Then he continued. ‘Thought I’d see my days out here, just like my old man and his before him. And his before him, come to that. Given us until Monday, they have.’
‘Monday! But that’s only three days away,’ blurted Derek, all of a sudden beginning to feel light-headed. He always felt light-headed just before the rage took hold and carried him away on an Incredible Hulk-like rampage.
‘Sit down and calm down, Derek,’ said his grandfather, recognising the signs. ‘I could really do with your help up here – I’ve got a lot of memories that need packing up. Look at this.’ He handed Derek a large key in an effort to calm him down. ‘Look at the engraving.’
Derek’s eyes ignited with delight as they fell upon the initials EF.
‘Erasmus Fish. It belonged to Erasmus!’ blurted out Derek, almost unable to contain himself. ‘Is there anything else?’
The old man winked. ‘Who knows?!’ He gestured around the large attic, stacked high with all manner of things. ‘Don’t know how on earth we’re gonna get through all this lot by Monday! Never thought it’d be me having to do this, either. Thought it’d be you and your dad after I’d gone!’
In his younger days, Derek’s grandfather had served on board HMS Valiant, a fast customs patrol boat that raced up and down the south coast of Britain chasing smugglers as they attempted to bring contraband into the country. He was everything you’d expect an old sailor to be. A shock of curly white hair, a wiry white beard and moustache and deep wrinkles that radiated out from his eyes when he smiled. A peaked, black cap, cocked slightly to the side, finished off his Captain Birds Eye look.
‘Why are they making you leave the Green Parrot?’ asked Derek as he rolled the key in his hand.
‘Property developers want it for houses. Prime location, they say.’ He wrapped up a plate in newspaper and placed it in a box.
‘Can’t you stop them?’
The old man shook his head. ‘They say there’s a clause in the deeds to the pub that says that any relative of Horatio Spatt can claim it if he so wishes. We can’t fight it in court. We haven’t any money. It costs a lot to fight a claim like that.’
‘Horatio Spatt!’ said Derek, his eyes widening. ‘But… but that’s Captain One Eye!’
Derek’s grandfather nodded. ‘Aye, it is too. He did away with Erasmus and now his relative is doing away with me and Ethel.’
‘His relative?’
‘Aye. It’s his property development company that wants the pub.’
‘I don’t understand all this. I thought Erasmus bought the pub all those years ago.’
‘So did I. We’ve been living here all these years thinking that this is all ours – but it ain’t and it never has been. Erasmus must have struck a deal with old One Eye just before he disappeared. It seems odd he’d do such a thing, though.’
‘Have you seen the deeds? These property developers might be lying!’ said Derek.
‘Yep ’fraid I have. Read Erasmus’s words with my very own eyes and it’s his signature alright.’
The old man lowered his head and sighed. ‘I’ll be sad to see this place go.’ Then he added, in a brighter tone, ‘You going to help me pack up some of these things, then?’
An hour later, covered in dust and cobwebs, Derek was reaching into a darkened recess under the eaves of the roof rafters. ‘There’s something back here, Grandad,’ he said as his outstretched fingertips touched a cold, hard object. ‘I just can’t quite reach it!’ He squeezed himself further under the rafters. ‘Got it,’ he announced jubilantly after much grunting and groaning.
Helped out by his grandfather, Derek held the object up to the bright, single light bulb that hung from the apex of the roof rafters. ‘It’s a book,’ he said, wiping away a thick layer of dust from its cover.
‘Well I’ll be!’ said Grandfather Fish. ‘I haven’t seen that for years. It’s Erasmus’s journal. Your great grandfather, god bless his soul, hid this from me when I turned ten. Said something about forces at work that weren’t friendly to young Fish. I remember his words clearly.
‘What did he mean?’
‘He never did fully explain. Just tore it out of my hands and hid it, promising to tell me all when I turned fourteen?’
‘Fourteen!’ exclaimed Derek. ‘Why fourteen?’
‘He said that was when it would be safe for me. ‘Don’t go searching for it – you’ll leave it well alone, if you know what’s good for you,’ he said to me.’
‘Did you try and find it?’
‘Not likely. I daren’t disobey my father. I would’ve been thrashed to kingdom come if I’d so much as glanced upon it.’
‘Did you ever find out why he didn’t want you to read it?’
‘Nah, forgot all about it, lad. I was too interested in footy and girls by the time I was fourteen. No time for a dusty old journal. This is the first time I’ve seen it since that day. My father must have hidden it just where you found it. It’s been there for over sixty years.’
‘Don’t you think it’s strange that he said it would be safe to read it at fourteen?’ said Derek.
‘Why’s that, lad?’ replied his grandfather as he stuffed newspaper into a china cup.
‘Well you didn’t grow until you were fourteen and neither did dad. And I haven’t grown since I was ten, and that was the age that you were when your dad took it away from you. Don’t you think that’s odd?’
‘Well I suppose it does seem a little strange, but more a coincidence than anything sinister I think. My father was a superstitious man, as were all seamen in his day. I wouldn’t hold much to his rantings.’
Derek persisted with his line of thought.
‘I don’t think it is a coincidence. Your dad took this off you and said you can’t read it until you’re fourteen. Why fourteen? What is it about fourteen? Dad told me that all Fish boys have been small until fourteen – every generation. Perhaps there’s an explanation in here! Perhaps it explains why we’ve been cursed. Dad’s always said there’s a curse on the Fish family.’
‘I doubt it’s anything like that,’ said Grandfather Fish, smiling at Derek’s enthusiasm. ‘It’s probably more to do with the rum language Erasmus would’ve used when he wrote it rather than anything else. Dad didn’t like bad language.’
‘Can I open it?’ asked Derek.
‘Don’t see why not. What harm can it do, eh?’
Derek felt the hair on his neck stand on end as he opened the leather-bound cover and read the handwritten words on the first page.

 The Journal of Erasmus Fish
Adventurer and Privateer
Captain of the Surprise

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Fish Tales -Derek Fish and The Surprise - A Children's Book