Tuesday, December 06, 2005


A Pirate Tale – part 120 “… Thus Hammacher Van Der Veel …”

Note: Many thanks to the Baroness Von Fortuna whose question of Strumpet the Monkey’s species presented a rather interesting dilemma which will be answered in this installment. Keep those comments coming!

The Festering Boil was anchored just a mile off shore from the fishing village on Skull Island. It was joined by the Dutch pirate ship, The Fire Fox. Both crews had gathered on the deck of the boil for a social hour and strategy session.

“As you are probably aware, there are at least 78 species of Old World Monkeys divided into two subfamilies--the Cercopithecinae--baboons, mandrills, guenons, and macaques, and the Colobinae--colobus, langurs, and probiscus monkeys.” Doc Burgess whispered as he stood next to Cap’n Slappy at the back of the crowd of Pirates listening to their guest speaker, Hammacher Van der Veel, the renowned Dutch pirate.

“No, Sawbones, I wasn’t aware of that – that’s why I asked you to sort it out.” Slappy whispered back.

Doc Burgess continued, “Since the dietary needs o' the herbivorous Colobinae, could not be met during long sea voyages, I feel it be safe to assume that Strumpet belongs to the genus Cercopithecinae. I cannot, however, picture in me mind's one good eye, a baboon squattin' atop the Cap'n’s head, irregardless o' the fact that this species is sexually dimorphic n' the females be only half the size o' the males. Male or female, a baboon can be as large as a rottweiler, and invariably owns a set o' potentially lethal, dagger-like fangs. In short, baboons make lousy pets and even worse head wear.”

“Perhaps she’s a mandrill?” Slappy whispered hopefully.

“She would be much, much larger with a brilliantly rainbow-like ass.” The doctor corrected.

At that moment, Salty Jim came to the Cap’n with a complaint. “Cap’n, someone has been rooting about in my garden for months and I’ve not been able to find the culprit.”

“Your garden?” Slappy tried to pretend that he knew about the garden but was testing Salty Jim to make sure that HE knew he knew.

Salty Jim chuckled, “You’re just joshin’ me, aren’t ye, Cap’n? You know, my hydroponic garden in the deepest portion of the ship’s stern. You authorized it in triplicate!” Salty Jim waved his copy of The Festering Boil’s Hull Usage Application form 37-G9.25/r.

“Ah, yes!” Slappy said happily, “The pink sheet! How’s your little slice of Eden coming, Jim?”

“Well, thank you sir. I’ve managed to simulate sunlight through a series of cylindrical tubes using Red Molly’s ‘Spinning Class’ on the deck above as a source of energy – the stationary bicycles generate more than …” Jim was cut off by a disinterested Cap’n Slappy.

“That’s more than fascinating Jim, but we’ve got a guest speaker. Shhhh.” Slappy tried not to sound overly dismissive – but he felt as though he was being a bad host.

“That’s just it, beggin’ the Cap’n’s pardon,” Jim soldiered on, “our guest requested corned beef wrapped in grape leaves – which I happen to have plenty of – or did, at least. When I went to check my vineyard was nearly defoliated. Also, my experiments on the reproductive cycles of insects indigenous to Africa have fallen short of expectations and I have developed a hypothesis as to ‘why’ this is so.” Jim glanced accusatorily at Strumpet as she sat on top of Slappy’s head munching on a grape leaf. He continued, “That monkey of yours has skewed my research, Cap’n!”

“Colobus abyssinicus!” Hammacher Van der Veel exclaimed as he cast his attention on the argument.

“Mbega Mweupe if you prefer the Swahili name to the scientific – or simply Colobus.”

“How can you tell?” Doc Burgess asked.

Hammacher Van der Veel paused, “How can you not? – thick black fur, a white mask around the face, a mantle of long white hair and long horse hair tail – it would be like not recognizing your own mother, Doctor!”

The assembled crowd laughed heartily at the idea of Doc Burgesses mother being a monkey.

“But how did you hear us whispering at the back while you were talking?” Slappy asked.

“Finely tuned ears, Cap’n. When Hammacher Van der Veel was a child, he taught himself to know every windmill in Holland by the sound it made as the blades went round and round. Each windmill has a peculiar squeak and by the time he was eight, Hammacher Van der Veel knew them all! This was done in the event that should young Hammacher Van der Veel ever be kidnapped, blindfolded and held for ransom in a windmill, he would know precisely where he was and what he needed to do to escape.”

Slappy knew he would hate himself for asking but he had to. “And were you ever kidnapped?”

“Hammacher Van der Veel was kidnapped, blindfolded and held captive in a windmill twice before the age of eleven – but using his keen sense of hearing, he managed to escape both times. And thus, Hammacher Van der Veel thwarted the efforts of evil men to extort money from his ailing mother!” Van der Veel ended most of his stories with the phrase, “…and thus, Hammacher Van der Veel …” did something particularly amazing, blah, blah, blah … but his declaration never failed to raise a stirring round of applause from the undiscerning.

“Don’t you think he is the most amazing pirate ever?” Saucy Jenny asked Ol’ Chumbucket as the two of them took in his lecture and observations.

“He’s the ginchiest!” Ol’ Chumbucket said with a swing of his arm that emphasized his faux enthusiasm.

“Oh, pooh on you!” Jenny responded with schoolgirl devotion to her newest, bestest idol. “You’re just jealous of the many successes of Hammacher Van der Veel!”

Ol’ Chumbucket was about to strenuously protest that he was not jealous of a man who could not recount his own life story in first person but rather had resorted to a kind of individual mythology told with hyperbolic affect in third person. Jealous of a man who probably had his so-called life written by a staff of writers so deliriously disconnected to reality that they would feel perfectly grounded and at home in the wee hours of the morning in a Shanghai opium den.

He WAS about to strenuously protest, but he did not.

Once again, Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy were of a mind. Although everything they knew about Hammacher Van der Veel was either taken from the series Pirattitude Monthly had done on his life and times entitled, “… and thus Hammacher Van der Veel …” which recounted such incidents as killing a sea serpent with a severely disapproving gaze, navigating uncharted Pacific waters through the thickest fog of recorded history using nothing but his finely attuned sense of smell – apparently a result of his mastery over the senses – and a rather unusual story that ended, “ … and thus Hammacher Van der Veel defeated the Spanish Armada using nothing but his wits and the buoyancy of his childhood toy, an inflatable turtle named Alfred,” or from myriad bawdy shanties sung in pubs throughout the Caribbean.

One particular pub song had a chorus that went:

Hammacher Van der Veel
Makes all the Wenches Squeal!
Then he’ll give them all a roister
And the moist will be much moister
Screaming, “Hammacher Van der Veel!”

Of course the “screaming” was done in fake orgasm yell by both men and women.

Truth be told, Hammacher Van der Veel was a stunning man. Cap’n Slappy had long noted that “all Dutch pirates look the same – tall, blonde, muscular with piercing blue eyes, thick lips and brains that, like so much Dutch footwear, were seemingly made of wood and wood by-products.”

But this Dutch pirate was different. He had graduated from the world famous Wittenberg University by his seventeenth birthday and was a research fellow at Oxford where he excelled in both the arts and sciences. He became bored with academia and took to the sea where he quickly gained a reputation as a bold pirate and a master strategist.

Perhaps his most striking physical feature was the shockingly black mustache he wore that seemed to pop from his fair skin as if God had vandalized His own perfect Aryan creation with silly charcoal facial hair. If this was a curse of God, Hammacher Van der Veel wore it with pride and zest. He claimed that it’s presence on his lip was due to his mother’s mother being one quarter gypsy. “Some fortune tellers need a crystal ball, but Hammacher Van der Veel can see the future in the blackness of his mustachio!”

After a nice lunch of corned beef sans grape leaves, it was decided after some discussion that Cap’n Slappy would take The Festering Boil into the fishing village to gather information there while Hammacher Van der Veel would take The Fire Fox around the hilly out-cropping of rock that gave “Skull Island” it’s ominous name for indeed, the geological formation was very like that of a human skull.

Slappy argued that the Bawdy Boys’ hideout in the rocks could be rigged with dangerous booby traps and that perhaps the more experience crew of The Festering Boil should be the first to check it out while Hammacher Van der Veel could delight and amaze the denizens of the small fishing village. But the Dutchman was insistent, “My dear Cap’n Slappy,” he said with flowing, open gestures of respect, “my crew is well trained in the arts of munitions and explosives. Besides, your rustic charm will go much farther with these ‘rude mechanicals’ than my charismatic bombast.”

Slappy had no argument there and it was agreed.

The fifty or so citizens of the fishing village gathered nervously in the village square with what few belongings they could sacrifice; wooden dishes, down pillows, a silver necklace and a rather surprisingly large collection of paintings of old people praying. The long boat carrying Cap’n Slappy, Ol’ Chumbucket, Lieutenant Keeling, Dogwatch Watts and Cementhands McCormack pulled up onto the sand of the beach while The Festering Boil remained anchored several hundred yards out. The villagers could see The Fire Fox sail around the bend in the island toward the rock formation and they feared The Bawdy Boys had returned.

The spokesman for the villagers spoke to the pirates; “Welcome back friends, since your last stay, we have failed to accumulate enough wealth to buy anything nice for you to plunder, but we do have some dishes, this old watch chain and Ma Granger’s paintings – plus, Helga here has volunteered to be raped.” A large, homely young woman stepped forward and smiled demurely.

Cementhands McCormack also took a step forward as if he too would volunteer, but Ol’ Chumbucket, seemingly without seeing his friend move, extended his hand to catch the big man by the forearm and guide him back into line. A disappointed McCormack stepped back.

Slappy was insulted but sympathetic. What had those bastard Bawdy Boys done to these poor people? “My good man, there’ll be no looting of your goods.” Then, with a glance toward the large young woman, “Nor will there be any misconduct toward your … people.” Finally with a gesture toward the painting, “And we would not dream of coveting your works of fine art. No! We are no Bawdy Boys, but Brethren of the Coast who …”

Suddenly and explosion ripped through the air from the direction of the rock formation.

“Please excuse us.” Slappy said hastily as they hurried back to the long boat and then back to The Festering Boil. George had the ship ready to go when they brought the boat up and he had a team of ship repairmen ready to assist The Fire Fox in the event that the explosion had done her harm.

They made good time around the bend in the island to the opening of the Skull’s Mouth. The very top of the mast of The Fire Fox poked up from the waters in front of the entry to what appeared to be a cave. Her trademark jolly roger, a fox’s head with flames in the background. Flapped defiantly just above the surface of the deep, but it was clear that the ship had sunk and this was just the last gasp of her Dutch greatness.

The carpenters dropped their tools to the deck and the crew of The Festering Boil fell silent. They dropped anchor outside the cave mouth and scanned the wreckage for survivors. They found none. The only signs of humanity were the bobbing corpses of blonde buccaneers bathed in blood and brine.

Oscar, who had taken copious notes during Hammacher Van der Veel’s story telling session, was quite moved. He stepped up to the pot of cooling tar, dipped in his finger and dragged it across his upper lip. He then declared, “Thus Hammacher Van der Veel shall be honored and avenged!” One by one, the crew of The Festering Boil moved past the tar pot and dipped in a finger. Each, in turn, smeared the sticky blackness across his or her upper lip as a show of solidarity and devotion to the fallen hero.

At last, Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy took part in the solemn ceremony. But not without some serious mutual eye-rolling and Slappy’s whispered comment; “If I have trouble getting this tar out of my mustache, I’m going to be seriously pissed.”

But in keeping with the solemnity of the moment, Cap’n Slappy echoed Oscar’s declaration to the crew. “Thus Hammacher Van der Veel shall be honored and avenged!”

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