Friday, October 31, 2008


The Curaçao Caper – Chapter 9

“What the hell is this?” Cap’n Slappy shouted as he stormed out of the captain’s private head, one hand clutching his unfastened trousers and the other waving the copy of Pirattitude Monthly over his head.

“Hamnquist is dead!” the captain shouted. “This is crazy! He couldn’t possibly be in a Curacao jail!”

Ol’ Chumbucket and Peddicord came sliding down the ratlines, joining a growing group of puzzled pirates gathering around their agitated captain.

“So you’ve seen the news,” Ol’ Chumbucket said nonchalantly, gesturing to the periodical.
“News?? This is something more akin to Wives-Tales Weekly than Pirattitude Monthly!” Cap’n Slappy shouted, waving the offending paper. The sudden gesture caused him to lose his grip on his pants, which fell below his knees. Slappy was so caught up in the confusing news item that he completely failed to notice that his boxers – featuring a print of an anthropomorphic cartoon octopus playing an accordion – were now flapping in the breeze.

“Look at this! Look at it!!”

“I’ve seen it,” Ol’ Chumbucket replied, referring both the article and Cap’n Slappy’s man-bloomers.

“And you didn’t tell me? Or you?” he shifted his ire to Cementhands McCormack and Sawbones Burgess, who were front and center in the growing crowd. “Et tu, McCormack?”

“You said you didn’t want anyone ruining the surprise,” Cementhands countered. “I really did feel like it was my duty to bring it your attention, but you gave a direct order not to give anything away. What could I do? Couldn’t disobey an order, and besides, I know how you like surprises.”

“Maybe, but I don’t want a freakin’ heart attack either,” Slappy sputtered.

“Let’s think this through, shall we?” Chumbucket offered.

“Oh, you and your thinking,” Cementhands said.

“It’s been known to help,” Ol’ Chumbucket said mildly.

“Not as much as a belaying pin to the side o’ the head,” Cementhands shot back.

“Aye, perhaps, but to the side of whose head? That’s what we need to think about,” Chumbucket said. “Captain, let’s look at that story, alright?”

“Alright, hold on, take it,” Slappy said, thrusting the copy of Pirattitude Monthly at his piratical partner.

“Very good, and you might …” Chumbucket said, indicating the captain’s trousers, which were now around his ankles.

“Great Neptune’s salty sack of man-globes!” Slappy sputtered in a near apoplectic state looking down at his trousers ensnarling his ankles. “How come no one mentioned THAT?”

McCormack didn’t answer, but gave a withering glance at Chumbucket and mouthed the word, “Spoilsport.”

“Alright then, here’s the offending item,” Chumbucket said, ignoring Cementhands and reading aloud. “’Retired buccaneering legend Captain Horatio ‘Horrible’ Hamnquist …’”

“Retired?” Slappy said. “Retired by being dead!”

Chumbucket continued reading over Slappy’s interruption.

“’… Hamnquist, once known as The Swedish Scourge , has been captured by the Royal Dutch garrison at Willemstad on Curacao, and after a one-hour trial has been sentenced to hang by the neck until he be dead. Hamnquist is now housed in the impregnable dungeon beneath Willemstad’s Government House until such time as his execution can be arranged.’ That’s odd,” Chumbucket said, interrupting the narrative. “Usually the hanging takes place within a day of the trial. In fact, if I remember my Curacao jurisprudence, there have been times when the execution was scheduled an hour before the trial began, just for efficiency.”

“Yeah, they’re big believers in ‘speedy justice,’” Sawbones said. “When a pirate gets caught down there, you can pretty much sign the death certificate right then and there because they don’t waste time, and they never let legal technicalities slow them down.”

“Even a technicality like, ‘Hamnquist has been dead almost twenty years?”’ Slappy said. “Let’s get back to the point. I was with Hamnquist when he died!”

“Now wait, did you actually see him die?” Chumbucket asked.

“Well, no, no one did,” Slappy admitted. “But that doesn’t make him not dead.”

“Tell us the story, why don’t you, and we’ll see if it sheds any light on this. Try not to leave out any details, no matter how seemingly unimportant.”

Slappy looked around, then shrugged. He had never talked too freely about the incident, partly because he hadn’t given up hope of tracking down the treasure, partly because the betrayal by his French then-shipmate Fifi still stung in a very personal way, and mostly because he assumed over the years he had babbled most of it out in various drunken ramblings that he didn’t really need to. Now he realized it was time, but he was still uncomfortable about giving away too much. Never one to shy away from storytelling, Slappy assumed the crouched stance of the professional spinner of yarns.

“The night was black with considerable darkness … we’d had quite the haul that day thanks, in part, to the quick thinking of a dashing young pirate far too humble to recount for you the derring of his do. Cap’n Hamnquist was at the wheel. I, that same dashing young pirate, was on the quarterdeck with him, so was a young pimply-faced French teen, Fifi LeFleur. Suddenly with great suddenness, a monster wave slammed ferociously into the ship, snapping off the mainmast like a vicious nanny would snap a switch from an elm tree to torment her vulnerable charges! The ship and all souls aboard her were in grave peril. When I turned back, Hamnquist was gone and LaFleur was at the wheel.”

“You say Hamnquist was gone. How do you know he wasn’t just washed overboard by that wave?” Chumbucket asked.

“He might have been, except he had lashed himself to the wheel and he was a man who knew his knots. Later, right before the ship broke up, I had a chance to look at that rope. It had been cut.”

“Alright, so that seems pretty clear. What next?”

“Hamnquist had been carrying the map – what I assumed at the time was the only copy. But right before we abandoned ship I saw La Fleur shoving some papers into his coat. We might have saved the ship, but when I called for them, Fifi and two of his buddies were gone, just when we needed every hand. Then, when the ship was going down, we realized both longboats were missing.”


“Aye. It was pretty obvious. Not only did Fifi want to get away with the map … I mean, with the paper Hamnquist was holding, but he didn’t want any of the rest of us escaping with our lives to hamper his plans. He left us all to drown – and most of the crew did. I only managed to escape because I caught hold of a bit of wreckage and floated for a couple of days before George fished me out of the water.”

“Only too glad to help,” George said with a courtly bow.

“So Hamnquist is dead, and the evidence points to Fifi La Fleur as his killer,” Chumbucket said, summing up.

“Aye, AND Fifi left the rest of us to die, and then went back to … well, he used Hamnquist’s papers and went back where we’d left …” here, Slappy became less effusive and more evasive … “something valuable, and took it.”

“Well, I’m glad you didn’t leave out any details,” Ol’ Chumbucket said dryly. “But putting aside the whole question of what was La Fleur took or what was on the paper he stole from Hamnquist, let’s look at this news article again. It says Hamnquist is in jail in Willemstad, not at the bottom of the ocean.”

“Mistaken identity, has to be,” Sawbones said.

“Maybe,” Slappy agreed, “but it used to be pretty widely known that Captain Hamnquist had his family crest tattooed on his chest, along with his name and Brethren of the Coast ID number.”

“Why would he do that? You’re supposed to keep that secret,” McCormack protested.

“He could never remember it. Any time he had to fill out Brethren paperwork he always had to get half naked to get the number. It was hell going to the Sea Robbers Credit Union with him. But that’s not the point. The point is … it’s kind of hard to misidentify the guy.”

“Or more to the point, to misidentify someone else as him,” Chumbucket said.

“Unless,” said Dogwatch Watts, who had been silently observing throughout the conversation, “it was all part of an insidious plot – a PLOT!” Dogwatch leaped to his feet. “This madman has taken the guise of Hamnquist, even getting the tattoo, as part of a plot to overthrow the Dutch government by making them think they’d captured a legendary dead pirate and going through a legal rigmarole, then having to send him back to The Hague to sort out his identity. Once in The Netherlands, with the help of his confederates he’d overpower his guards, escape from his prison, and then destroy the Dutch Estates General in a fiery conflagration as part of his sinister plan to gain a foothold in Europe and eventually spread his influence across the entire continent!”

All eyes stared at him. No one made a sound. Several mouths hung agape, and even more eyebrows arched skyward.

“Or not,” said Dogwatch, sitting back down.

“No, that was a very nice try,” said Ol’ Chumbucket, who as always trying to encourage the younger pirates to exercise their imaginative powers, for no reason that anyone could think of. “That’s the kind of ‘out of the box’ thinking that will …” Ol’ Chumbucket’s voice trailed off into an incoherent collection of consonant and vowel sounds.

McCormack just stared at Chumbucket with a look that said, “Thinking?” as eloquently as words would have.

“Anyway, there’s not much we can do about it now,” Chumbucket said, firmly seizing the direction of the conversation. “This is last month’s issue. He must be dead by now, so we can just take care of our business here and then sail to Curacao and see if there’s anything else to learn.”

“No, he’s not dead,” Slappy said. “Didn’t you read the whole article?”

“I skimmed, I skimmed,” Chumbucket said defensively.

“The execution has been delayed until the governor’s wedding,” Burgess said, taking the part from Chumbucket.

“Wedding? An execution for a wedding?”

“Yeah, here it is up here, in the engagements part of the listing.” Burgess adjusted his glasses, then began reading.

“’Roelof Van Wubbeldinker governor of the Dutch island of Curacao, announces his engagement to Countess Sonja av Sarasgalen. The countess will arrive in Curacao on the ship Kejsardömen av Sverige, due in port early next month …’ That could be any time now,” Burgess said.

“But what about Hamnquist?”

“Yeah, right. It’s right here. ‘In honor of his bride and to celebrate the nuptials, the Governor Van Wubbeldinker has ordered a two-week holiday commencing with her arrival on the island and ending with the marriage ceremony. A schedule of fetes, games, public spectacles, floggings and other entertainments is being arranged, concluding with a mass execution of all prisoners currently under sentence of death. At the moment, that amounts to only one man, Captain Horatio Hamnquist (see article below) but, given the alertness of the Dutch guard and the efficiency of the local legal system, the governor hopes to make it a 24-noose event.’”

“Wow! I’d like to see that!” said McCormack, his voice breaking out of the pack of excited murmurings that greeted the news,

“Well, who wouldn’t?” agreed Ol’ Chumbucket. “But that doesn’t get us any closer to understanding this conundrum – who is in the cell reserved for Hamnquist? And, perhaps more pointedly, what do we do about it?”

“What do you mean?” Slappy asked.

“Well, we are currently en route to track down Le Fleur and hold him accountable for his treasonous acts of two decades ago, along with a variety of other depravities against the brotherhood over the years. And now we’ve got this second mystery about Hamnquist. I’d hate to break off our search, but it seems like maybe Fifi can wait. We’ve got a definite deadline on the Hamnquist matter.” Chumbucket had emphasized the first syllable of deadline in an attempt at humor, pausing so that everyone could enjoy the sally. He was clearly miffed that no one had laughed, and went on a trifle stiffly.

“So what do we do? Any thoughts?”

“There’s you and you’re thinking again,” McCormack said. “It’s easy. If we hadn’t seen the magazine, we’d have gone after LaFleur. Reading this doesn’t change anything about that. So we do what we were planning to do! We’re chasing la Fleur, let’s find him and settle his hash.”

“And maybe miss out on learning about Hamnquist?”

McCormack shrugged his massive shoulders.

“And chase to Curacao for something that might not actually be of any use at all?”

“In fact,” George broke in, pointing aloft to where Two Patch was waving and pointing from his perch on the highest spar, “a trip to Curacao might have to wait. Two Patch has spotted something, and it might turn out to be our French friend!”

“Ship ahoy,” Two Patch’s voice drifted down to them. “Hull down, two points north of west!”

The crew rushed toward the bow, peering toward the blue Caribbean horizon. Sure enough, a sharp break in the line between sky and sea indicated they were closing on a ship.

“We’ll know in a few hours if it’s him,” Slappy said. “And if it is, I guarantee you no one will mistake him for my ‘friend.’”

Tuesday, October 14, 2008


The Curaçao Caper – Chapter 8

Dawn aboard Kejsardömen av Sverige, and Ensign Marck Ericsson was staring astern, trying to pierce the glare of the rising sun. His eyes narrowed and his hand shot out, finger pointing.

“There!” he said, “Right there. Hull down, two points north of east!”

The captain pulled out his telescope and stared long and hard at the horizon. He grunted.

“You have good eyes, youngster,” he said. “Or I have old ones. Even with this glass I can barely make it out.”

“Do you think it’s the same ship?” Ericsson asked.

The captain shrugged. “We’re getting into more crowded waters and there’ll be a lot of shipping out there. But yes, I think it’s the same one that’s followed us from the Baltic.”

In the months that Kejsardömen av Sverige had been at sea she’d been dogged by a ship that never got close enough to be identified. The captain, who’d been at sea longer than Ericsson had lived, had made more than two dozen crossings in his life and never seen anything like it.

“The Atlantic is a big ocean, you can go weeks without seeing another ship,” he had said midway through the passage. “Twice I’ve made voyages where we didn’t see another ship from Ireland to Virginia. If this isn’t the same ship, then the world’s economy must be booming, because I’ve never seen so much traffic out here.”

They had tried closing on the mysterious ship, tried course changes in the middle of the night watch, but each morning it was on the horizon. Once, during a patch of bad weather, they’d actually awoken to find it only half a mile off . The startled Swedes hesitated before wheeling their ship about, gun ports snapping open. By then the interloper had come about and vanished into the squall, the captain noting through his glass that the ship wasn’t a merchantman and had no name painted on its stern.

Now Kejsardömen av Sverige was less than a week from port, and the captain worried that if he was being shadowed, his pursuer was running out of time and ocean to do whatever he planned to do.

“Six days to Willemstad,” the captain said, half to himself, then to Ericsson, “And the watch has been doubled?”

“Aye sir.”

“Double it again.”

“Aye sir,” the ensign said.

“And ensign? Gunnery practice this afternoon. If he decides to try something, I want to be ready.”

“Aye sir,” the ensign said, then added, “Who do you suppose it could be? What are they after?”

“Countess Sonja!” the captain suddenly blurted, turning and seeing his honored passenger taking her morning walk. She and her servant, a lithe young man with red hair and a neatly trimmed red beard, had reached the foot of the six steps that led up to the quarterdeck, possibly overhearing some of the conversation about the interloper.

“Good day, milady,” the captain called. “How are you?”

“Holding my own, captain, though these rough seas still unsettle my stomach.”

The sailors suppressed smiles; the seas were flat, the lightest breeze stirring the canvas.

“Perhaps you’d like to come up to the quarterdeck and get better advantage of the air?” the captain asked.

“Permission to come aboard? Is that how you say it?” she asked, smiling at her cleverness.

The servant offered an arm to his lady, escorting her up the steps. As she reached the top, the ship gave a slight roll, and the noblewoman might have sprawled to the deck had Ericsson not stepped forward and caught her arm. The strength in her grip surprised him.

“Thank you, lieutenant,” she said, “the seas seem quite rough. I trust we’re not in danger of capsizing?”

“Ensign,” Ericsson reminded her, adding, “No, we’re safe.”

“What were you both staring at so intently?” she asked. “You seemed concerned.”
Ericsson began pointing toward the horizon, then paused.

“He’s gone!”

“Who’s gone?” the countess asked.

“We’re not sure,” the captain interjected. “There’s been a ship on the horizon coming and going. It’s odd, but probably nothing.”

“Probably?” the countess asked, a note of alarm in her voice.

“Oh, nothing for you to worry about, I’m sure,” the captain said, then changing the subject, asked, “Have you had your breakfast yet?”

It was the wrong question. The lady grew suddenly queasy, but she shook her head, swallowed hard, then smiled and said, “Not yet. All this time at sea and my stomach still has not accustomed itself. Perhaps I’ll go downstairs to my room and Johan can fetch me some tea and a bit of biscuit.”

“The very thing, I‘m sure, milady,” the captain said, giving a short bow of the head as the countess turned to go below. He and Ericsson watched the young servant escort the woman..

“On her way ‘downstairs’ to her ‘room,’” the captain said with a chuckle. “A lovely woman, but not a seasoned traveler.”

“No,” the ensign agreed.

“That being the case,” the captain said, his voice hardening, “be careful not to alarm her. Perhaps we’d best belay that gunnery practice. We’ll run a dummy drill, but no live firing. I wouldn’t want the noise of the guns to disturb her.”

“I’ll kill her,” Countess Sonja was saying below decks to her companion. “What is she playing at? I gave her explicit orders. What is she thinking?”

“I’m sure I don’t know,” Johan said. Though in public he always gave the impression of the perfect servant, he was now sprawled rather carelessly in the cabin’s one chair.

“How hard is it? I told her where to meet us, when, and what to do when she got there. What is this game of playing tag with us?”

“Probably just bored,” Johan said.

“Well, if she screws this up, I’ll make sure she’s not bored for a long, long time.”


Almost a thousand miles to the west, Ol’ Chumbucket was greeting the dawn from high up in the rigging of The Festering Boil. One leg over the spar and his back against the mast, it was a good place to watch the sun come up and try to remember exactly what had happened the night before while all the rum was being drunk.

The crew knew he liked the solitude, liked to have half an hour or so to clear his head, and respected it. So it was surprising when Wellington Peddicord, the black pirate from Bristol, came hand over hand along the backstay and swung up onto the spar. Feigning nonchalance, Peddicord made a show of inspecting a line and block.

“Morning!” Peddicord said casually.

Ol’ Chumbucket grunted.

“Quiet up here, i’n’it?”

“It was,” Chumbucket countered.

“Yeah, awful nice morning. I’ll just secure this and be about my business. Don’t let me bother you.”

“I won’t.”

Peddicord retied the line and reached for the ratlines as if to descend, then paused.

“You know, as long as I’m here, maybe you could tell me something.”

Chumbucket sighed, nodding at Peddicord to continue.

“Um, I’m just wondering, what are we doing?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean, chasing after this French guy. What’s this about? Why are we doing it?”

“Because Cap’n Slappy said to,” Chumbucket said, as if that explained everything.

“I know. It’s just that, we’d all agreed we were sailing out toward Santa Catalina to cruise for prizes – we voted – then all of a sudden Slappy says we’re off to chase some Frenchie.”

“You’re mad because of a breach of protocol?”

“No, I’m not mad, but …”

“You want to call it to a crew vote. Is that it?”

“No, I’m not …”

“Maybe you think you’ve got the votes to make yourself captain?”

“No!” the younger man said with desperation. “No, you know that’s not it!”

“Then what is it?”

“I’m just trying to figure out what we’re doing, or why we’re doing it. The crew didn’t decide this, Slappy did, and no one – not Keeling who’s such a stickler for the rules, not McCormack, not George, not anybody questioned it. You didn’t say anything. And I’m trying to figure out why.”

“Did you ask Slappy?”

“No. He’s in the head this morning, and he took that copy of Pirattitude Monthly, so I figured he’d be a while.”

“He wouldn’t have told you, anyway. He hasn’t told me, I’ve kind of pieced it together from stuff I’ve heard in bars and things he’s let slip. All I know for sure is that Slappy hates La Fleur, and you can’t sail with Slappy for long without knowing that, so most of us just went along without thinking about it. Besides, what’s the big deal? We’re still going after plunder.”

“Well yeah, but instead of Spanish merchantman we’re going after a heavily armed pirate. And I’m just curious why we’d do that.”

“Well, here’s what I’ve guessed, but remember, it happened three or four years before I came out to the Caribbean and met Slappy. You heard him mention that he met La Fleur at some kind of pirate retreat 20 years ago.”

“Yeah, I heard.”

“Well, after that they ended up crewmates.”


“Yes, they were both aboard Poxy Strumpet back when it was commanded by Captain Hamnquist …”

“Hamnquist?” Peddicord broke in, his brow creased in surprise. “Didn’t I …”

“Yes, yes you did, if you jumped in front of Slappy’s dibs on Pirattitude Monthly.”

“Well it was sitting there, he was asleep …”

“And you read it. No problem,” Chumbucket said, waving off the breach of dibs protocol. “Anyway, they’d both signed on with Hamnquist, and they made an incredible haul. Sprang on a pair of heavily loaded treasure galleons, ran ‘em up against the coast of some island wasn’t on the charts, tore ‘em up on the rocks. Captured so much gold they couldn’t bring it aboard their ship. After they’d ‘gotten rid of’ the Spanish crews, they took what they could carry, hauled the rest of the gold ashore and buried it.”

“Buried it? Buried the treasure? That’s weird,” Peddicord said.

“Aye, still, it’s what they did. Made a map, planned to sail for Tortuga. They’d get another ship to carry the gold without a lot of extra crew. Only on the way they ran into a storm. And Hamnquist was killed.”

“Killed? But I just read …”

“I know. But that was the story at the time. Hamnquist was at the wheel, then suddenly he was gone, pitched overboard everyone thought. And the map to the island was gone with him. Now that might just be bad luck, or it might have been something more. Slappy already didn’t trust La Fleur, so he was going to search the ship and everyone on it when the storm hits. Poxy Strumpet ends up on the bottom and very few men make it to the boats, mostly just La Fleur and a couple of his buddies. Slappy spent two days clinging to a piece of the mizzen before he was rescued by a Greek ship, Athena, where he met our friend George.

“Anyway, when I first shipped with Slappy he was obsessed with finding that island. And we did! The wreck of those two ships were there, that confirmed it. But we searched all over that island and the treasure was gone. Slappy’s convinced La Fleur took the map, took the treasure, and killed a lot of good pirates to cover up his crime.”

“And that’s why we’re after him,” Peddicord said.

“Aye. And if there’s a chance for a share in a treasure that big, I’ll go along for the ride, sure thing.”

“Me too. But,” Peddicord interrupted himself, “But what about what I read in Piratttude Monthly?”

Just then a roar broke from the direction of the captain’s head.

“Hamnquist!?!! What the freakin’ hell?!”

“Ah, I see Slappy just got to page 14, the ‘Weddings, Engagements and Hangings’ section,” Chumbucket said.

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