“Not really pirates!” Captain Brannigan, Felix, and Shmee all yelled at the same time.

They looked at each other in surprise. Then the captain stared at Stuart. “What do ya mean?”

Stuart put his hands on his hips and stared right back. “I thought pirates were supposed to be these ferocious criminals. You don't sound ferocious to me. In fact, you don't sound like you know what you're doing at all! I don't think you're pirates!” he said again.

Captain Brannigan hesitated for a moment, uncertain. “Well, uh, of course we're pirates! Aren't we, ye... uh, ye scurvy gentlemen?”

“Uh, yeah. We're pirates.” Shmee saluted again with his left hand.

“Fierce ones!” Felix added. “Yep, real fierce.”

Shmee said, “Oh, yes, we're very fierce.” Then he growled. But he didn't sound fierce at all. Shmee sounded like a sleepy puppy.

Stuart was getting angry. It was the same way he always felt when his mom said he was too young to understand something. He understood just fine!

He said, “Look, if you're pirates, I'm a wet hen. You don't even know how to properly interrogate, I-N-T-E-R-R-O-G-A-T-E, a prisoner!” He spelled it out to make sure they understood.

“We don't?” asked Felix.

“What's `interrogate?'” asked Shmee.

“Squawk?” asked the toucan.

Stuart slapped a hand to his forehead. He couldn't believe this was happening to him. “Interrogate means to ask a prisoner questions!” he said.

“We know how to do that,” Captain Brannigan insisted.

“No you don't!” Stuart insisted right back. “Real pirates wave their cutlasses until the prisoners beg for mercy. They make prisoners walk the plank over shark-infested waters.”

Felix looked around. “What's a cutlass?”

Captain Brannigan turned to Shmee. “We don't have any handy planks just lying around, do we, Shmee? Have you seen any planks?”

Shmee shook his head back and forth. “No sir, Captain, nary a one.” Then he paused to consider. “At least, not one that's not already part of the ship. Should I order a plank to be pulled off?”

“No!” yelled Stuart before the captain could answer. “Do you want us to sink?”

“Oh! Of course, you're right. We might sink. I hadn't thought of that. Sorry,” Shmee apologized.

Stuart sighed. “And you don't know what a cutlass is?”

All three men shook their heads.

Stuart explained, “It's a big, sharp sword. And I don't suppose you have any treasure on board?”

They shook their heads again.

Stuart put his hands back on his hips. “No planks, no swords, no treasure. What kind of pirates are you, anyway?”

“Desperate pirates, that's what kind,” Shmee wailed.

“Shmee!” Captain Brannigan whispered quickly. “Sh! He's not supposed to know. It's all part of the plan. Remember?”

Shmee leaned in to whisper at the captain, “Oh, that's right. Sorry, Captain.” Then he winked.

Stuart was more than angry by now. He was downright disgusted. “That's it. What's going on here? Why was I kidnapped? What plan is he talking about?”

Felix poked his elbow into Captain Brannigan's ribs. “Oh, Captain, let's tell him. He's awfully smart, and he's been such a good sport about everything so far.”

Captain Brannigan sighed. “Oh, all right.” He pushed away Felix's elbow and looked at Stuart. “Stuart Onionbean,” he began, speaking in a loud, noble voice, “what I'm about to tell you is strictly secret and must not be repeated to anyone.” He leaned in close to Stuart and whispered, “We're not really pirates.”

Stuart jumped back. “I already knew that!” he said crossly. Then he paused to scratch his head. “But if you're not pirates, then why did you say you were the Captain Brannigan, the fiercest pirate sailing the seven seas?”

Captain Brannigan smiled. He looked pleased with himself. “The first rule of pretending to be a pirate is to pretend to be a really mean one!”

Suddenly Stuart understood. “Oh I get it,” he said. “You'll have a lot less trouble with other ships if you have a fierce reputation.”

Felix grinned and poked his elbow into the captain's ribs again. “See, I told you he was smart. That's why I chose him in the first place.”

“Wait,” Stuart said. “Chose me for what?”

Captain Brannigan sighed. “Stuart, we need your help,” he said.

“My help?”

The captain went on. “You see, we have to find the Morgenstern Treasure or we're going to lose the family farm.”

“A treasure?” asked Stuart. “Lose the farm?” This was getting confusing.

Captain Brannigan nodded. “That treasure is full of diamonds, rubies, sapphire rings, gold doubloons, silver coins... it's so big it will pay off all the taxes on the farm!”

Felix interrupted, “And there are a lot of taxes.”

The captain said, “Yes. We have Morgenstern's original treasure map, and we are pretty sure we know the location of the Island of Em.”

“That's where the treasure is buried,” said Shmee.

“The island of what?” asked Stuart. Had the captain used a letter, or was the name of the island in some kind of code?

“Em, as in Mary,” said Shmee.

“Or mansion,” said Felix.

“Or Morgenstern?” guessed Stuart.

“Squawk!” nodded the toucan.

“But we have a problem,” said Captain Brannigan. “We're not pirates. We're farmers!”

“Yeah,” said Shmee. “We don't know how to be the fierce pirates that sail the high seas.”

Felix added, “Or look for adventures and treasures to steal.”

Captain Brannigan bobbed his pirate hat. “Stuart, can you teach us how to be good pirates?”

Felix asked, “And how to read a compass?”

“And a map?” Shmee asked.

Stuart looked at them in amazement. “We're sailing on a pirate ship in the middle of the ocean, and nobody on board knows how to read a compass?”

Captain Brannigan laughed and slapped Stuart on the back. “Oh ho ho, you silly lad! We're not sailing yet! Why, we're still safe in harbor. Do you think I'd set sail without knowing how to work a pirate ship?”

Felix tapped the captain on the shoulder. “Uh, Captain, you'd better look again. We're surrounded by water.”

Shmee snapped his fingers. “That's what I was supposed to report to ye! Captain, we've rather accidentally set sail!”

Captain Brannigan, Stuart, Felix, and Shmee ran to the rail of the ship. They all looked out at the sun sparkling off the deep blue of the ocean. There was no land in sight.

Captain Brannigan gasped.

Felix said, “The sun sparkles are kind of pretty.”

Shmee squinted. “If you don't look at them too long.”

“I wonder where we are?” asked Felix.

“Squawk!” said the toucan.

“Oh, brother,” groaned Stuart.

Go on to Chapter 4.

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