The most popular post on this blog, by far, is this little bit of Goonies fan fiction I wrote a few years back. In it, I describe a loosely plausible explanation for One Eyed Willie’s pirate ship winding up in Astoria, Oregon and imagine it as having been written by a grown up Mikey, who is now a history professor at Portland State University.
This thing has been viewed thousands of times and a day doesn’t pass where it doesn’t get 10-20 hits.
So, just on the off-chance somebody in Hollywood is reading this here blog (Hi! Check out my action-packed swashbuckling fantasy novels!), I figure it can’t hurt to whip up a quick, very rough treatment for a hypothetical Goonies sequel (it’s just a sketch, really). This is the age of 80s nostalgia, right? May as well see if I can cash in. So:
Open on a prison, present day. The guards come to a cell to escort the occupant out–it’s the day of his release. It’s Francis Fratelli, who managed to plea-bargain his way out of the death penalty by ratting out his mother and brother. His cell is a lunatic’s collage of newspaper clippings, history books, and computer printouts. Prominent in the center: a picture of Michael Walsh, PhD.
Michael is a single father raising an only daughter, Sarah. He lectures at the university and does his best to keep Sarah out of trouble, but Sarah is the definition of trouble. She is relentlessly curious, endlessly stubborn, and usually unsupervised. She finds her dad incredibly boring – there is literally nothing on this Earth more boring than history. “It’s all dead people and pointless places, Dad. It has literally no bearing on anyone’s life.”
Sarah is going to be a scientist. She is a chemistry whiz. This is how we meet her – she’s devised a stinkbomb that renders the entire teacher’s lounge at her Junior High school uninhabitable. Mikey has to pick her up from school and finds hazmat trucks out front. The principal implies she may be charged with some “light terrorism.”
Father and daughter fight on the way home. “You have so much potential,” he says. “And you’re wasting it.” She’s sent to her room without supper (“how 1984, dad – you’re such a nazi.”), and she promptly sneaks out. A dark and stormy night. Sarah meets up with her super-nerd friends, Milo and Kwan – they are entering their battlebot in a local battlebot arena against some super-geeks from the engineering department of the university. They lose, big time.
Back and the house, Mikey is alone. He’s going through a scrapbook, looking through old photos. We see some familiar faces from the first movie. Lightning flashes, the lights go out. The door bangs open. “Who’s there?”
A flashlight lights underneath Francis’s face. “What? No pictures of me?”
Sarah and the boys come home to find her father missing. Also missing: a bunch of stuff from his old trunk, the one he had from grandma’s house (we see Willie’s treasure map, news clippings from the events of the first movie, a book by her father about the treasure).
The cops are called. They want to take her to Uncle Brandt’s house. She has other ideas.
Sarah eludes the cops with the help of Milo and Kwan and head over to “Chunk’s Auto Mart.” That’s right: Uncle Chunk owns a car dealership outside of Portland. Clark (Mouth) is one of his salesmen. The kids explain what has happened. Sarah shows them the book: Her dad always insisted that, given the amount of treasure found aboard Willie’s ship, a significant portion of it had to have been moved off the ship at some point, as Willie’s own log indicates they should have had several tons more booty aboard. In other words: there’s more treasure, and Sarah thinks Francis Fratelli has kidnapped her dad to make him find it for him. She needs help to go after him. Well, more specifically, they need a car.
Chunk doesn’t give them a car. He offers to drive. Mouth agrees to come, too. Off they go.
But to where? Cut to Francis and Mikey on a dysfunctional road trip. They’re heading south, into California. Francis tells him how he blames “you kids” for the death of his family and the loss of his whole entire life, and how he thinks Mikey owes him. We learn that Mikey theorized the extra treasure was probably transported overland by sailors who abandoned Willie and tried to make their way south to Spanish California. Mikey never figured out where, though. Francis: “A billion dollars on gold bullion don’t just vanish, Mikey!” He waves a weather-beaten, oft-folded map of California at him with a big red circle around a settlement near San Deigo. A church – a huge mission, built by some “random Spaniards” a few years after Willie’s ship was entombed.
Sarah doesn’t know where they’re going, though. She reads her dad’s book in the back seat as they drive south. She starts to learn a lot more about his adventures as a kid from Chunk and Mouth. Chunk’s car breaks down at a gas station somewhere in California. While Mouth and Chunk argue and the nerds fix the car, Sarah sees a library across the street. She goes in. If she wants to find her dad, she needs to think like her dad. She figures out where her dad is being taken by going through some old land record books in the library.
Francis and Mikey arrive at the mission. It’s a museum now; they’re on a tour. Francis has a sledgehammer over one shoulder. No sign of any treasure, but when they reach the basement, they hang back. Francis goes to a water bubbler. “Remember this trick?” He smashes it with the bat, follows where the water drains. Sure enough, they find the lowest spot–at the back of the cellar. Behind a dusty old bookshelf, there’s an “X” carved into the wall. “Start digging, college boy.” Francis slaps the sledgehammer in Mikey’s hands.
The kids, Mouth, and Chunk arrive at the mission at dusk. Mouth and Chunk want to call the police, send them into the mission, and that’s it. Sarah says no way. “Walsh’s solve their own problems. I’m going in there to get out my dad – he’d go in there for you.” The nerds break out headlamps and their drone gear. Sarah has a few bottles of various chemical mixtures. They go into the mission. Reluctantly, Chunk and Mouth follow (Chunk: We’re seriously going to do this again? Mouth: Let’s just hope we don’t find Mikey dead in a fridge again, okay?).
The kids find the tunnel at the back of the cellar. It leads to the bottom of the mission well – more coins, but this time no wishes. Beyond is a deep pit, a waterfall dropping into an abyss. The nerds fly the drone down, headlights on – they find a hidden staircase. Chunk almost falls. Milo is scared of the dark. Sarah presses on.
At the bottom is a labyrinth of tunnels. No tracks, no way to know where they might have gone. Despair. But then Sarah notices a mark made in the wall – chalk from her dad’s coat pocket! It’s the chemical symbol for a compound Sarah knows. She figures out that the atomic numbers of each element are the turns they need to take. Her dad is talking to her with science! They race through the labyrinth, headlights bobbing.
Meanwhile, Mikey and Francis have reached the final challenge. A series of stone levers to be shifted around a table, each with a number on the top. Shift the stones into the right pattern and you can pass. Shift them into the wrong one, and you die. On the wall is a number – the solution. Mikey doesn’t know how to solve the puzzle. Neither does Francis. “Math! Fucking MATH?”
“They were engineers,” Mikey says. “What do you expect?”
A drone flies into the room. Francis shoots it. Then he gets an idea.
The kids and Mouth/Chunk are coming around a corner when they see Francis holding Mikey at gunpoint. “Hello, braniacs. Do exactly as I say, or the fat nerd gets it!”
Mouth mouths off. Francis shoots him in the leg, “You think I’m fucking around, here? You think this is some kiddie games? Do as I say, or I will kill every last one of you!”
In the puzzle room. Chunk is freaking out, babbling about how Francis has been in his nightmares. The nerds are hugging each other. Mouth is swearing as he hugs his wounded leg. Mikey is telling Sarah to get out of there – to call the cops, to run for safety. He’s angry that she came after him.
Sarah and Mikey fight. It all comes pouring out. How she felt abandoned after mom died. How he was never there for her except to punish her. How it seemed he never seemed to know her or care to. “But none of that’s true!” Mikey said. “It’s not true! You’re just like me. Just like me.”
Sarah nods, crying. “I get that now.”
Francis, pissed, orders her to start work on the trap. Sarah starts work with the nerds. They shoulder her out of the way–they’re the math nerds, anyway. Milo screws up, though–the chamber begins to flood, the exit is blocked. Kwan takes a shot next–fails. The ceiling begins to descend.
Mikey and Francis struggle with the gun. It goes flying. Chunk tries to find the gun in the rising water.
Sarah pushes the nerds out of the way. She moves the levers in a different direction. Success! Or so she assumes.
The floor falls away. Everybody drops into darkness. They land in a vast underground cistern. There is a dock here, and pieces of an old ship. On the shore are rows of big, heavy chests. Whooping in victory, Francis swims to his prize. Everybody else is busy trying to save Mouth, trying to get out of the water.
Francis knocks open the chests, one by one. Empty. Empty. Empty. Empty. “What? No! NO!”
Everybody else gets to shore. Mikey sees old writing on the wall–Spanish. “It’s another clue!” Francis screams.
Mouth reads it. “You who seek our treasure, know that you are too late. Gold belongs not in the ground, but in the hands of those around you.”
“The mission!” Sarah smiles. “They used it to build the mission! To sink this huge well! To help people!”
But we aren’t out of it yet. Francis is beyond angry – he’s irrational. The past 30 years of his life, wasted. And all because of some stupid smart-ass kid! If he can’t have money, he’ll settle for revenge. He pulls a knife and comes after Mikey. They struggle. In the commotion, the dock breaks loose from its moorings. The current in the cistern is pulling them away from shore. Sarah leaps after her dad. The three of them swirl into the dark, beneath stalactites and past whirlpools.
Francis gets a hold of Sarah, puts a knife to her throat. “Last thing I want you to see, Walsh – you killed my family, I kill yours!”
Sarah reaches to her belt and throws a bag of something in Frances’s face. He screams. Mikey pushes him off the side. Down he goes, howling. He’s gone.
The dock emerges from underground. They are in a stream, running through the old center of town. Everything Willie’s men built – a community. “I take it back,” Sarah says. “History isn’t boring.”
“What was in that bag?” he asks.
“Itching powder.” Sarah says with a laugh.
“I take it back,” Mikey answers. “You haven’t wasted anything.”
The police are on the shore, helping them out. Francis is also dragged from the river, headed back to jail. Their friends find their way out on the river, too. All is well, lesson learned.
They go home.
The common image of the famed pirate Wilfredo Guzman, or “One-Eyed Willie”, is that of a ruthless and cunning buccaneer, defying the English fleet and amassing a grand fortune only to be discovered centuries later in the caves near Astoria, Oregon. What history tells us about the man, however, paints a significantly different picture. As Willy’s ship, Inferno, flees up the California coast in 1632, pursued by a Spanish (not English) fleet sent to capture him, we come to understand that this fearsome pirate was a desperate man on the run and just barely in control of his crew. The acts that resulted in his death, made so famous by their sheer perversity, merely underscore this fact.
To understand Wilfredo Guzman, one also has to understand the Spain of the early 17th century. Despite the wealth of silver and gold crossing the Atlantic into royal coffers, Spain was a nation in significant debt, having taken on significant loans to pursue wars against both the English and Dutch. Though the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) bolstered Spanish confidence in their armies, the Castilian economy essentially collapsed under the weight of its debt in 1627. Many portions of the army (and navy) were forced to pay themselves, as tax collection was fruitless and the Spanish armies too far flung.
Here, we can see where Guzman fits. A Spanish naval officer by diction and evident training, he likely found himself without the means to maintain his ship or pay for his crew. Accordingly, driven by a bitterness that we can only speculate upon, he and his ship went rogue, turned to piracy, and began to raid Spain’s own treasure fleets. As has been extracted from Guzman’s own log, he was “taking his due” – payment for service that he had given the crown, but that the crown had refused to pay for.
Spanish captains in the 17th century possessed top secret knowledge, very much akin to naval captains of today. In the 17th century, before the development of longitude and good maps, crossing the Pacific Ocean could be a suicidal venture. The Spanish had discovered the ideal latitude for crossing the ocean without starving to death, and this latitude was a state secret entrusted only to its naval captains. This, along with working knowledge of how Spanish treasure fleets operated, their common routes, and the rest of it, was the primary factor in “One-Eyed Willy’s” success. He was a threat to the Spanish crown unlike any other – one of their own, turned against them – so it is hardly surprising that Phillip IV commissioned a fleet of five ships of the line to hunt Guzman down.
Guzman’s own log records how they finally caught him. Taking on stores in California prior to heading west to raid in the Philippines, the five Spanish vessels found Guzman and Inferno unprepared for a fight. That they escaped prior to being caught and destroyed at anchor is a testament to Guzman’s crew, but without sufficient stores to cross the Pacific and the Spanish approaching from the south, his direction of flight was clear – north, along the coast. He had to know where it would all end, as did his crew.
Any study of piracy during its heyday in the 17th and early 18th centuries shows how precarious it was to be a captain of a vessel of cutthroats and thieves. While Guzman may have begun his pirate adventures with a crew of loyal Spanish sailors, by 1632 the dynamic had changed. Loyal, God-fearing Spanish subjects had been largely replaced with the kind of mercenaries and reavers suited to this lifestyle. If Guzman set sail with a crew of loyal subjects, he now found himself the master of a crew of jackals. What’s more, Guzman was notoriously stingy with Spanish gold and silver, stating in his log that “I cannot bear to see this coin spent by so lowly an example of men as God has seen fit to inflict upon the Earth.” It may be that Guzman was hording the wealth scored from Spanish galleons for some grander purpose – perhaps even as a means of buying his way back into the good graces of the King – but his crew knew he was holding out on them, and they weren’t happy about it. At the prospect of facing a hopeless flight north, one can imagine their enthusiasm for Guzman and his leadership waned even further.
It was probably a demand of the crew, then, that Guzman attempt to take shelter in the cave near Astoria. It was a desperate tactic, to be sure – akin to backing oneself into an alley and pointing your lone gun at the entrance. Due to the comparatively shallow draft of Inferno, only it could negotiate the waters near the inlet, so any bombardment from the Spanish would have to be conducted over long range and Guzman’s crew, being the better gunners, might have stood a chance of outshooting them. There was an even better chance, of course, of the Spanish failing to see them at all and merely passing by. Again, Guzman’s log explains how it all came to pass:
August 9, 1632
No sooner have we dropped anchor than some portion of the men decide to abandon ship. Led by Marstrom and Diego. I will not permit the boats to be lowered, not in the face of the enemy who, even now, was less than a mile distant on the other side of the point. That fool Diego took a shot at me. Killed him and the rest, but it was too late. The report must have been heard by the Spanish. They came to finish us.
The Spanish, seeing Willie holed up in a cave on a distant and savage shore, saw a better solution than sinking the Inferno. They merely blew up the cave, collapsing it on top of him, and left him for dead.
Fate, though, had spared the ship actual damage. Guzman and his mutinous crew were simply trapped. This is where the legend really takes off. Long has it been supposed that One-Eyed Willy and his crew spent years thusly entombed, burrowing like moles in the earth. This, however, seems unlikely given the state of their provision and the onset of winter a few months after their capture. Likely, the actual story is more compact. The natural cave systems surrounding ‘Willie’s Inlet’ would have already been intact and escape would have been a mere matter of exploration and the occasional application of gunpowder (a substance they had no lack of). But even when gaining the surface, where to then? Orgeon was well beyond any European settlement or trading post. Guzman and his crew faced a wilderness full of savages and wild animals as well as a cold northwestern winter. They had no ship to escape with and very little likelihood of encountering any such ship in the near future. They were marooned, as surely as if they had been left on a desert island.
It was in the name of defense that Guzman convinced his crew to construct the elaborate series of booby traps that protected the way to his ship. Someone aboard – possibly Guzman, but more likely one of his more trustworthy officers – was an engineer by training, and so the great work began, probably taking some months and probably lasting through the winter. Exposure, disease, and starvation probably took its share of the crew, which likely suited Guzman just fine, as his plan was never survival. He writes in his log that he would rather die than be reduced to living ‘in a hut with savages’ and swears that he would ‘sail once more’. This, incidentally, was Guzman’s last entry in his log, dated in late March, 1633.
By this point, the map had been made, the key fashioned, and they had been allowed to escape from the tunnels of the pirates – and on purpose, mind you. Guzman wanted to be found, and nowhere is this more evident than in the quality of the map itself – a map drawn not in the scratchy hand of a buccaneer, but in the careful, meticulous detail of a naval officer. It included sounding depths of the surrounding waters, a near perfect representation of the Astoria coastline, and all the other indications that it was Guzman’s map to a treasure that he had no need to find himself, as he lived with it.
The winter must have made it clear to Guzman that he would never sail Inferno under his own direction again. Too many crew had either died or abandoned him and, very likely, the last few tried to make off with the treasure, and so Guzman and his inner circle killed them all. It is they that were found in the captain’s cabin, gathered around the table, piled with gold. These last vestiges of Spanish nobility, possibly his lieutenants from his naval days. Analysis of the cups on the table implies they may have drank poison together – one last drink. One wonders what they discussed. They must have been aware of Guzman’s plan at that point – his final laugh in the face of his royal Spanish enemies.
That final slap of defiance, however, seems to have come far later than Guzman probably suspected. It was not until 1985 that a few of my friends and I finally gave Willy that moment he wanted: the Inferno sailing out from its supposed tomb, proud and beautiful, in defiance of a Spanish king now several centuries dead.
~Professor Michael Walsh, PhD, Portland State University