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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