Tuesday, April 07, 2009


The Curaçao Caper - Chapter 13

"Ahoy the deck!" Two Patch shouted down from atop the main mast. "Here they come!"

On the quarterdeck George the Greek and Ol' Chumbucket shifted their gaze from the opposing ship to the coast. The two longboats were putting off from the shoreline and making for the ships as if racing in a regatta. The boat headed toward the French ship had gotten the earlier start, but the boat rowing toward the Boil was making up the distance fast. In the moments the two pirates allowed themselves to watch, the Boils had pulled even with the French boat and were taking the lead.

"George, get us under way," Chumbucket said. "I'm going to make sure the gun crews are ready in case something is up."

He turned and leaped down to the waist of the ship to consult with Keeling while George snapped orders at the maintopmen to turn the ship from a stationary object, bobbing in the long swell, to an ocean-going bird of prey, fast and powerful. Within two minutes of Two Patch's call the sails were snapping taut in the shifting winds and the ship began gliding away from Le Petit Mort Deux.

"Ummm, aren't we going to wait for the captain and the rest of them," Keeling asked nervously.

"No, of course not, we're going inshore to get them," Chumbucket replied.

It wasn't an idea unique to the Boil, he saw, as the French ship began raising sails and getting some headway going. But the French crew was not as familiar with their new ship as the Boils were with theirs, and progress was consequentially slower.

More importantly, Chumbucket noted, as the afternoon had worn on the wind had begun to shift as he'd expected. With the sun heading toward the horizon, the breeze that had blown from the east all day was now backing around to the opposite compass point. The land had been soaking up the sun all day and as the heat rose off the land it began generating a new current, one that gave the Boil the advantage of the wind.

The longboats had clawed their way out of the shallow water and were now gliding over the swell with long, measured strokes. The distance closed to about a quarter mile before George brought the helm hard over and the sails snapped around, bringing the ship in a long curve around the longboat coming up with the shore party now on their port side.

A line was tossed and Peddicord snagged it and secured it to a cleat on the bow, the landing party shipping their oars as The Festering Boil took the longboat in tow. Strong arms pulling it in closer to the side of the great ship and moments later a ladder was put over the side to enable the return of the prodigals.

Now boarding a ship from a small boat isn't as easy as climbing a flight of stairs with a cup of cocoa in hand on your way to bed, and with the large ship gaining speed with every passing moment, bumping and bouncing the smaller one in its wake it becomes exponentially harder. But these particular sailors had - shall we say - a fair amount of experience in boarding ships under adverse conditions, and Peddicord, McCormack, Dogwatch and Spencer were quickly on deck, turning to their tasks.

Below them, Slappy waited for Sawbones Burgess to make the climb. The older man waited - trying to time his leap to take advantage of the up swell. Waiting, timing, waiting, waiting.

"Oh for the love of Mama Burgess's soiled knickers," Slappy finally shouted. "Get moving!"

Burgess glanced reproachfully over his shoulder at the captain, grabbed the trailing ladder and leaped. He windmilled his feet in the air for a moment, desperately trying to find a rung to catch his heel on, then hung for a second like a gaffed fish, lost his grip and fell. A small space had opened momentarily between ship and boat and Burgess plunged into the salt water.

Fortunately Slappy had anticipated this and even as the waters closed over the doctor's head Slappy's left arm shot down and grabbed him by the collar. The two vessels closed with a bump, trapping Slappy's arm between them, then they parted again and with one heave he had pulled the sputtering Sawbones back into the longboat.

"Send over the boson's chair for this lubber," Slappy ordered the crew, and despite the doctor's protestations, the rig was swiftly lowered. Taking no notice of Burgess's complaints, Slappy swiftly stuffed him into the contrivance and signaled the deck crew to haul. Burgess rose into the air like a baby in a car seat and was dumped unceremoniously on the deck, squawking like a sea lion among the general laughter of the crew.

Slappy then paused on the longboat, timed his move and leaped at the ladder, grabbing it with both hands and clambering up the side of the ship. As he did he noticed immediately there was no strength in his left arm thanks to the blow it took from the ship and boat colliding, so he made the climb one handed.

He quickly made his way to the quarterdeck and nodded with approval as the ship took to the wind with every scrap of canvas flying up the masts and out over the spars.

"How are our friends doing?" Slappy asked Ol' Chumbucket, who had his glass trained on the French ship.

"Not so good. That ship is still pretty ungainly what with that high castle only half removed. Are we looking for a fight? We should be able to sail circles around 'em now that we've got the wind."

"Don't bother," Slappy said. "Dogwatch! Lay out a course for Curaçao! George, call the crew together."

Within minutes the crew was gathered in the waist of the ship. As usual, Slappy had chosen a spot to speak from which put his back to the sun, and the crew's blinking and bobbing of heads to keep the glare out of their eyes made the captain nervous.

"Why are they always so shifty eyed?" Slappy asked in an aside to Ol' Chumbucket.

"Not shifty eyed, they're just averting their gaze in deference to the almost godlike esteem in which they hold you," Chumbucket made up on the spot.

"Really? Godlike?" Slappy smiled at the thought. “Godlike ye say? Excellent!” Slappy sized his men up again in light of Ol’ Chumbucket’s considerably doting appraisal. Despite this, he remained concerned. “Then why does it look like they're plotting a mutiny?"

"No, no, nothing like that, perish the thought," Chumbucket improvised. "They've just been badly divided over what to get you for a wedding gift."

"A wedding gift?" Slappy said. "What the hell! I'm not getting married again - Am I?"

"Oh no, of course not. Seven is enough for anyone, I'm sure. But they don't want to get caught unprepared if you do suddenly announce your impending nuptials. But don't you have something you wanted to say to the crew?"

"Did I? Oh, yes, right. Of course.” Then, with the voice of pronouncement, “Avast there ye swabs! We'll not be going into battle today."

There was a groan of disappointment from the crew, especially from the small group of entrepreneurs who had printed up a dozen "My Ship Sank Fifi LeFleur and All I Got Was This Lousy Poofy Shirt" shirts.

"Don't fret," Slappy reassured, them, "And none of yer shifty-eyed plotting, either. No, now, we'll probably get around to sinking him, so save those novelty shirts because I for one will be wanting one, if ye've got one in my size. But for now, speed is of the essence. We've gotta get to Curaçao before they can string up a certain former pirate captain who, if it's who I think it is, may be able to lead us to more gold since - well, when was it we captured that treasure ship and thought we'd all retire, but then we got captured and we only got away because the gold was on the other ship and she tore out her bottom on the reef?"

Several sailors consulted their diaries and day planners, and it was several minutes before they'd all agreed Cap'n Slappy was discussing the episode known to pirate literature lovers as "The Havana Caper."

"Whew!" They all thought to themselves. “That was a lot of gold.”

"Maybe more," Sappy added.

"Double whew!"

"But we've gotta get to Willemstad before they can string him up. Dogwatch, how fast can we get there."

Dogwatch Watts, the ship's navigator, had been wrestling with the charts since he got back on board. Now he looked up.

"I've got good news and bad news."

Slappy sighed.

"What's the good news," he asked.

"If the wind holds and nothing gets in our way we should be able to get there inside of five days," Dogwatch replied.

"Alright then, give me the bad news. What's the punchline?"

"No punchline. It's just that we'll have to cut the corner pretty sharp to knock off the miles, and that means we'll be passing right close to a whole lot of Spanish towns, and probably a whole bunch of Spanish navy ships. We'll be passing by within sight of Barranquilla and Santa Marta, not too far from Nombre de Dios, and right across the inlet that leads to Maracaibo."

"No, we're not stopping at Maracaibo," Chumbucket broke in adamantly. "I've had enough of Maracaibo. No more."

He was still put out over the intrusion of magic into the day-to-day activities of pirates, something that had occurred in the adventure now referred to by a certain type of historian (the not so picky about facts type) as
"The Maracaibo Caper."

"Don't worry, we don't have time to stop in at Maracaibo, although the governor does put on a pretty good feast," Slappy said thoughtfully. "But - No! On to Curaçao! Let's do everything we can to keep this ship flying east and ready to do battle when we get there."

"And," he added. "A nice coffee maker or perhaps a silver place setting always makes a thoughtful wedding gift. Crew dismissed!"

The crew just stood there looking at him, perplexed. Wedding gift?

"I said dismissed!"

The crew went back to their tasks as the ship's officers gathered on the quarterdeck.

"So what did happen on land?" Chumbucket asked, glancing back where, in the distance, he could just make out Le Petit Mort getting under way. "Why are we suddenly not planning to kill the French fop?"

"Or did you already kill him and now we don't have to?" George asked.

"No, he wouldn't keep that secret," Keeling said. "He'd have come back boasting."

Slappy looked troubled, but the crew's chiding finally got him to open up.

"It's just that Fifi might not need killing quite as much as I thought all those years," Slappy said.

"No?" Chumbucket asked, his eyebrows raised.

"Oh, we'll probably get around to it. But right now we have to look up our former mutual captain and ask him a few questions. The 'death' of Captain Hamnquist might not have been what we both thought. I might have been blaming the wrong person all these years."

Meanwhile, back on Le Petit Mort, a similar conversation was going on at they watched the Boil escaping into the horizon.

"Get the rest of this debris cleared and we'll show them who's got a fast ship," LeFleur said. "Let them have their head start."

"But what about Hamnquist?" de la Muqueux asked.

"I don't know," Fifi said in the first sign of self-doubt his crew had ever seen. "I'm still trying to wrap my tete around the idea that maybe Slappy didn't kill Hamnquist after all."

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