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.’”

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