Monday, July 14, 2008


Curacao Caper – Chapter 6

“Bring me them Frenchies!” roared Cap’n Slappy as he stared down from the deck of The Festering Boil to the captured ship, Le Petit Mort, which was tied up alongside.

“I’m not sure there are any Frenchmen aboard,” said George the Greek, who’d overseen the capture. “There’s only a handful of men aboard, and they seem to be mostly English.

“Nonsense,” said Slappy. “That’s Fifi Le Fleur’s ship, isn’t it?”

“Aye,” George agreed.

“And Fifi Le Fleur is French, is he not, so ipso facto that must be a French ship,” the captain continued.

“Aye, that would seem almost a tautology,” George said, drawing a blank stare from the members of the crew within earshot. George sighed and put on his college professor voice.

“A tautology is a redundant repetition, or in this case an argument which contains the ‘proof’ of its validity within itself. E.G.: The Frenchman is French.”

“Ohhhhh,” the crew nodded with comprehension.

“ERGO!” Slappy continued with emphasis to re-establish who was playing the part of Socrates in this dialogue, “this is a French ship and the captain of Le Fleur’s ship is Le Fleur. And I want to see him now!”

George just shrugged and with a wave of his hand guided his captain over to the side of the captured vessel.

Huddled in the waist of the ship were eight men, much the worse for wear. Their faces had the lean and haggard look of men who had passed the “we’re short on water rations” phase some time ago and had reached the “fighting over each other’s urine” stage days past. Their clothes were torn and faded from the sun. Some of them showed signed of recent injuries. On the whole, they were as sorry a lot of stranded seamen as the Boil’s crew had seen in quite a while.

Slappy stood before them, with Ol’ Chumbucket as usual at his left shoulder, George at his right, and Cementhands McCormack close at hand in the hopes that there’d be trouble and he’d get some exercise in. But the men barely registered their presence.

With his arms akimbo, Slappy adopted his sternest expression as he stared down at them. Unfortunately, as he often did Slappy stood with his back to the sun which means the men were staring up at him into the glare, squinting against the harsh light of the Caribbean sun.

“They look awfully shifty eyed,” Slappy muttered to Chumbucket.

“Well yes,” said Chumbucket, who had seen this often before. “That would be ...”

“That would be that you Frenchies are trying to hide something from me, which ye can’t do! I’m too clever for ye by half! Now, which one of you is the man goes by the name o’ Fifi?”

They looked at each other uncomfortably, then squinted back into the sun.

“We’re not French, we’re English,” one of them offered.

“I’m Spanish,” one interjected.

“True, Miguel here is Spanish but he’s a good man in spite of that,” the speaker acknowledged. “We ESCAPED from Le Fleur ...”

“Escaped from him in his own ship?” Slappy said with scorn in his voice. “I don’t think so. “Look me in the eye and say that.”

“I can’t” the man said, trying to peer into the backlit face of his pirate interlocutor. “But I’m telling the truth.”

“We’ll just see about that,” Slappy said. “We have ways of getting at the truth.”

“But that IS the truth, I swear it,” said the man who seemed to be the spokesman for the group. “I’m Jonas Grumby, formerly sailing master of The Shifty Poltroon, and though I’ve seen better days, I’m a man of my word.”

“Well just see about that,” said Cap’n Slappy. “I have my ways of smokin’ out Frenchmen.”

Slappy’s voice dropped ominously as he turned toward Black Butch, the ship’s five star chef and the handiest man with a filleting and boning knife in the Caribbean.

“Butch?” the captain said. “Perhaps these men would like some ... cheese sandwiches!”

The surrounding pirates chortled with pleasure as phase one of Slappy’s patented “Unmask the Frenchies” plan went into effect. Butch came out of the galley with a plate of toasty cheese sandwiches – nothing fancy, mind you, just American singles* on white bread, toasted to a golden brown, a sprig of parsley on the plate for garnish.

“Watch this,” McCormack said under his breath to Saucy Jenny who, as a newer member of the crew had never seen ‘the cheese sandwich gambit.’ “No Frenchman worth his snails will be able to stand the bland cheese and the squishy, tasteless white bread. Slappy’ll have the truth out of ‘em in no time.”

But far from turning up their nose at the sandwiches Butch proffered, the ragtag group of captives, eyes gleaming, leapt for the plate and began devouring them.

“Everything alright?” Slappy asked with a slight hint of doubt in his voice. “Nothing you could suggest to improve them.”

“They’re great,” several of the sailors said through mouths stuffed with masticated cheese and bread.

“”Nothing you’d like to add, perhaps some Grey Poupon?”

“There’s one thing I could use,” one of the men said.

“What’s that?” Slappy asked, his eyes growing dark as his hand stole to the pistol in his waistband.

“More,” the man said. “Lots more. This is the first solid food I’ve had in days, and it’s delicious.”

“No, now,” Sawbones Burgess offered. “Don’t want to eat too much all at once. You’ll get sick.”

“Aye, quite right doctor,” Slappy said, recovering and giving the signal to launch part two of the plan. “Butch, these men could use something to wash this down with. Why don’t you bring up the special bottles?”

Butch gave a knowing look and scurried off to the hold.

“Nothing special, please cap’n,” Grumby said. “Some water to wash these fine vittles down would be great, or if you have such a thing as a bottle of rum aboard, that’d hit the spot.”

“A bottle of rum on a pirate ship?” Slappy asked in mock horror. “How could you even suggest something so uncouth? No, we’ve got something you’ll appreciate much more.”

As if on cue, Black Butch hurried back on deck with a bottle wrapped in a towel. Carefully removing the wire around the top, he released the cork, which gave a report like a gunshot as it flew out of the neck of the bottle and ricocheted off Leftenant Keeling’s forehead.

“Watch that! You could put someone’s eye out,” Burgess remonstrated.

Butch mumbled something that no one quite caught, although those closest thought they heard something like “spoilsport” in there. Then the chef carefully filled eight long-stemmed glasses with the bubbling mixture and doled them out.

“Chin chin!” Slappy said with a wicked grin. As the men lifted the glasses to their parched lips, he added, “It’s champagne” in a tone that made clear the lower-case letter C at the beginning of the word, “a sparkling wine grown in the colony of New Jersey and every bit as good as that stuff they grow in the Champagne region of France.”

Slappy and his pirate band may have expected horrified exclamations of disgust and at least three or four spit takes,(“Oh, I do love a good spit take,” McCormack was always saying) but they seemed to pay no mind to his description and chugged it down, then looked around for more.

“Or, if you don’t have any more o’ that champ stuff, and you’ve got no wine, some gin would hit the spot nicely,” Grumby said.

“These men are made of sterner stuff than I thought,” Slappy whispered to Ol’ Chumbucket.

“Perhaps they’ve had special training,” he compadre suggested.

“That may be, but they ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Dogwatch!” the captain called. “Do your stuff!”

“What the hell is this?” Jenny asked Cementhands.

“Oh, this’ll be good. This’ll work for sure. No Frenchman can resist this gambit. If they crack a smile, we’ve got ‘em, they’re Frenchies for sure. And I expect they’ll be rolling on the deck.”

“Is it funny?” Jenny asked.

“No, it’s stupid, but for some reason the French think it’s flat-out, full-on hilarious.”

As McCormack was explaining, the ship’s navigator Dogwatch Watts reached into his pocket and pulled out some fake false teeth, which gave him a bucktoothed look. Then he mussed his hair, adopted a wide-eyed look and began waddling in small circles, his feet turned in at the ankles so that he appeared to be walking on the insides of his feet. While doing this, he began emitting a weird, high-pitched nasal monologue of nonsense.

“Oh la-a-ady, with the hair and the things on her chest, we don’t want to be at sea, on no la-a-dy, with the storms and the water and the pirates and all, Oh LA-ADY!”**

He kept up his prattle, all the time walking on his inner ankles, wobbling through the baffled sailors. The pirates leaned in, waiting for some sign that their captives were about to crack a smile and reveal their true, hidden Gallic sense of humor. But as the performance – if that’s the word we want – continued their baffled looks turned to alarm.

“Eh, captain?” Grumby said.

“Enjoying the show? Pretty funny, isn’t it?” Slappy replied.

“Er, no, well .. so it’s a show then? Me and the lads thought maybe that fella had a touch too much sun. Or maybe he wasn’t right in the head to begin with. I don’t know, but maybe that doc of yer’s oughta take a look at him.”

“Well, no. Wait. You don’t think this is funny?”

The man shook his head sadly.

“Cap’n, far be it from me to say ill of our benefactors who saved us from near death, then fed us like kings with those sammiches of yours and gave us something to drink, which wasn’t rum by a long shot, but better than drinking Miguel’s urine and the bubbles did sorta tickle my nose and I can’t say that about urine, but like I was saying, aren’t you ashamed of yerself, treating a poor half-witted devil what has no mind or control over himself as a figure of sport?”

An indignant look crossed the face of Dogwatch, whose act was petering out as he listened to this exchange,

“Now wait just a minute!” he protested. “I’m not halfwitted!”

“No, of course you’re not sonny,” Grumby said in a fatherly tone, speaking slowly and enunciating clearly.

“I’ll have you know I’m the navigator of this ship!”

“Course you are, laddie, course you navigate the great big boat all by yourself, except on the days when you’re captain, I’ll bet. Or maybe even the First Sea Lord, wouldn’t that be sumpin’?”

The rest of the Boils were grinning by now, and Slappy and Chumbucket each wore the slightly embarrassed looks of boys who’d been caught cheating on a test.

“Quite right, Mr. Grumby, quite right,” Slappy said. He turned to the surrounding crew and in the sternest voice he could muster under the circumstances, roared, “Alright you load of flea-ridden sea monkeys! Back to work, the lot of ye, or ye’ll be feelin’ me boot in yer backsides!”

The crew hastily jumped back to their normal routines, while Slappy approached the group of newcomers with outstretched hand.

“Now then sir, welcome aboard The Festering Boil. Tell me, if you would, how eight Englishmen – or, no, seven Englishmen and a Spaniard,” he hastily corrected as he saw Miguel’s look of objection – come to have commandeered the ship of such a notorious and depraved man as Fifi Le Fleur?”

“Well cap’n, that’s kind of a long story.”


* Editor’s note: Yes, we know there was no such thing as American cheese or singles in the period this takes place in, whatever that is. Yes, we know there was barely a place called America. They were referred to as “the colonies” in those days. Just go with us.

** It seemed so clear in our minds, but we recognize that the singularity that IS Jerry Lewis in his prime can’t quite be conveyed in words alone. So we apologize if that didn’t make much sensel. Go back and read it again, visualizing Lewis in, say, his “The Bellhop” days. For some reason, that shit just cracks the French up.

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