Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The Curaçao Caper - Chapter 15

The door blew open – they almost always did after a blow from a five-foot long, three-inch thick iron bar wielded by the immense form of Cementhands McCormack.

"Everyone stand still, deliver the goods and we'll be on our way," Cementhands said as he followed the door into the ship's cabin. "No one needs to get hurt …"

"Except you if you take another step," said a voice from his side, as he felt the barrel of a pistol press into the side of his throat.

McCormack didn't react except for the slight rise of his left eyebrow – the eyebrow on the threatened side of his head.

"Heeeellooo," he said. "Let's not get all excited boy," he guessed from the timbre of the voice he'd heard. "Even if you shoot me – and I've been shot in the head before, it's very annoying – you've got a whole ship of the baddest bad-ass pirate to deal with. You can't like your chances against the whole crew, can you?"

"One at a time is all I need, and it looks like you're first," the disembodied voice said, pressing the barrel more firmly against McCormack.

While McCormack had, of course, been most marvelously focused on the pistol fixed to his neck, his eyes had taken in the cabin and registered the fact of a woman in the room, not cowering as they usually did but standing in the ready position with a rapier in her hand. He smiled pleasantly at her, and very, very slowly raised his right hand until the tip of his forefinger touched his forehead in a greeting.

At that moment a voice came from above them.

"McCormack! Move your great ass! Cap'n wants to get going as soon as we can!"

"Sure thing, Dogwatch!' McCormack said. "Just have to take care of something."

Even as he spoke, he'd thrown his right had down, creating momentum for his spin as his left hand flew up, knocking the pistol barrel away from his head just as the surprised young man's grip tightened on the trigger. The gun went off with a roar, the ball passing just behind McCormack's head and burying itself in the door frame.

McCormack completed his turn, collecting the lapels of the man's coat – he was young, McCormack could now see, with fiery red beard and hair. The man's eyes grew wide, but only for a second, as McCormack's left hand formed itself into a fist and came crashing back. The man's eyes registered stars, and he slumped to the floor.

McCormack spun back around to disarm the woman, but was surprised to find that in the seconds his back had been turned to him she had vaulted the bed and now stood before him with the point of her blade an inch from his chest – where his heart would be, he thought irrelevantly, "if pirate's had hearts."

His hand strayed to the grip of the knife in his belt, but she plunged the blade forward a precise inch and an eighth, drawing a tiny drop of blood, before withdrawing it as quickly as a snake.

"Don't Cementhands, you're not nearly quick enough."

Cementhands? How had she known his name? He looked closer at her and suddenly was lost in confusion.

It couldn't be her, could it?


It had been three days since The Festering Boil had left the Panama coast. Having weathered the northernmost point of South America they were beginning to swing around to head into the final leg to Curaçao.

Eight hours earlier the lookout on The Festering Boil had spotted the outline of a ship silhouetted against the rising sun on a path that would have converged with the Boil's in a few hours. But forty minutes later the other ship had altered course – undoubtedly the Boil had been harder to spot in the dark seas to the west. The ship had swung around and was making a run for it.

Aboard that ship, Kejsardömen av Sverige, the captain had quickly dismissed Ensign Marck Ericsson's angry retort.

"No, we are not going to turn into her and do battle, even if we do have the wind," he said sternly. "And no, it is not dereliction of duty or cowardice. This is not a naval vessel and I am not at liberty to endanger either our cargo or our passengers on the whim of a very junior officer."

"But if this is the ship that's been chasing us across the ocean …"

"Whether it is or isn't is beside the point. We're a little more than a day out of Willemstad and I for one will be delighted to get in and leave chasing pirates and phantoms to the Dutch navy."

Ericsson looked like he was about to protest again, but the captain's look suggested to him that silence would be more response. Instead he stared at the deck planking.

"Cheer up lad," the captain said. "If it is a pirate, it'll probably be faster than us and we'll get to fight it out anyway."

And that proved to be the case. Kejsardömen av Sverige was a good ship, big, stable and solid, but she was no match for the Boil in terms of speed. Shortly after noon the Boil began firing from the two bow chasers, and the fifth shot found the range, crashing through the mullioned window of the captain's cabin. The Swedish ship began to turn to offer a broadside, but a last shot from the bow guns took out the enemy's rudder. Suddenly the pirates were the only ship of the two able to maneuver, and as the Boil lined up a broadside from the other ship's stern quarter, the Swedish captain realized the game was up and struck his colors, to the consternation of Ensign Ericsson, who had been busy preparing to repel boarders.

"Give it a rest, ensign," the captain said glumly. "We can't maneuver. They'll just knock us apart at their leisure, then scoop up what they can right before we go down. It's sort of the understanding with the owners that I should avoid letting the ship sink if it's at all possible. Make sure our passengers are locked up tight, let these brigands help themselves to what's in the hold, and they'll be out of here. First drink's on me when we get to Willemstad."

Ericsson didn't feel inclined to drinking with the captain but he followed orders, posting himself as guard outside the door where Countess Sonja and her manservant were locked in.

The pirates swarmed over the ship, but busy as they were with the contents of the hold, a rich haul of wines and fabrics, it was an hour before any of them ventured below decks into the area or the sleeping compartments.

McCormack has been sent below to reconnoiter and see what else of value might be below. Stepping into the passageway, he saw the young officer standing rigidly at the doorway. As he approached, hefting the iron bar that was his favorite weapon, the man unslung his sword and swished it through the air as if limbering up, then took the ready position. His eyes grew larger as he saw McCormack's bulk heading toward him, more than filling the passageway, but he held his ground, even as the behemoth uttered a shriek and began charging at full speed, his iron bar held forward like a jousting lance.

Ericcson tried to parry the bar, thinking it must be of wood because who could hold a 100-pound bar of iron straight out from his body. Who indeed? The blade clanged harmlessly to the side, then the end of the bar caught Ericcson in the shoulder, breaking the clavicle and sending the ensign's unconscious form pinwheeling down the corridor.

"Damn," McCormack had thought. "I hate it when I don't hit 'em square. Ruins the whole effect." He turned his attention to the door.


On the quarterdeck of the Boil, Slappy was watching the loading of the booty when Two Patch called down from atop the foremast.

"Ship on the horizon!"

"Where away?" shouted Slappy.

"Two points east of due north, hull down, but she seems to be heading this direction!" came the response.

"Damn, getting crowded out here. How's a pirate supposed to work?" Slappy grumbled to himself. Then to Chumbucket who was in the waist of the ship supervising the loading, he shouted, "Ahoy Chumbucket! We may have company. Let's wrap this up and be on our way."

"Aye," replied Chumbucket, who had heard Two Patch's report as well as anyone. "I'll get across and roust the crew out."

His actions were interrupted by George the Greek, who had been on the deck of the Swedish ship. George grabbed one of the lines slung between the two ships and swung back over to the pirate vessel.

"C'mon Chumbucket, you have to see this," he said with a grin.

"I was just going over to get the crew, we've got to get moving. I'll be back in …"

"No, you don't want to miss this. Dogwatch! Get over there and get the crew back on the double. We're finished with her. Especially when the captain sees what we've got for him here."

"Aye aye!" Dogwatch shouted and headed back to collect the last of the pirates.

George, flanked by Chumbucket, Keeling and Swabones Burgess, all wearing absurdly large grins, strode up to the quarterdeck and addressed the captain.

"Cap'n Slappy, what is it ye'r always on us about?"

Slappy looked nonplussed at the sudden decision of the officers to lose their minds, but decided it would be quicker to play along.

"What am I always on ye about? How about, let's pillage and plunder a ship and get on with it before two or three days have passed?"

"No, not even warm," George said. "What is it ye've always wanted?"

"A crew that's only pirate insane, instead of totally insane."

"Ye'll never get that, impractical. Try again? What is it that you constantly complain that you don't have?"

"Any semblance of my right mind after dealing all day with you blighters?"

"Time is up and our judge is stumped," George said in a rich baritone that would have done a game-show host proud if there were any game-show hosts in that century, or the next couple for that matter. "Cap'n Slappy, it is our great privilege to present to you this token of our esteem, and I might add the esteem of the Swedish people for the governor of Curacao on the occasion of his wedding, but since he's not ever going to get it, fuck him, this is for you."

George held out a small box that he'd been concealing behind his back. Slappy opened it and – hardened pirate though he was – gasped.

The box contained a large gold ring. A LARGE gold ring, ornately engraved and bearing a large white diamond. The governor, whatever his weak points might be, must have been a large and strong man, because the ring was massive enough that most people would have trouble raising the hand that bore it. Either that or the Swedes were making a joke and had enjoyed imagining the governor trying to lift the thing. But that's a lot of gold for a joke, and the Swedes aren't famous for their ironic humor.

Slappy stared in amazement at the gaudy bauble for a full moment. Finally he turned away.

"You know I can't accept it. All booty is to be divided equally among the crew. We'll melt it down or something."

"The hell we will," George said, snapping the box shut. "I'll talk to the crew. This'll be on your finger before the sun sets."

The argument might have gone on longer, but at that moment Two Patch called down again, now reporting what might be a sail to the west.

"And that ship to the north is definitely heading this way, almost hull up now."

"Damn! It's getting as crowded as the waiting room at the Saucy Strumpet!" Slappy said. "All right lads! Let's get going! Dogwatch! Are all the Boils accounted for?"

"All but Cementhands sir, he's somewheres below."



"I am the Countess Sonja av Sarasgalen of Malmo, Sweden, if you don' mind."

"But before that you were Mad Sally." This time it wasn't a question.

"Shut up. There isn't much time. Is Chumbucket aboard?"

"I don't know, he wasn't with the original boarding party."

"You can't tell him I'm here."

"Sorry, but no way. How can I not tell him?"

"I can make it worth your while. Remember right before I left the Boil, the note said I was going to look for the stolen Swedish crown jewels. Well, I found them."

(This was all related in the first of The Festering Boil sagas, "The Diego Garcia Caper."

"That's great Sally …"

"Countess Sonja, please."

"Fine, Countess Sonja, but what are you doing here, and how can I NOT tell Ol' Chumbucket about seeing you?"

"I'm here on my own business, has nothing to do with the Boil or Chumbucket or anything. It's a personal matter. And if you tell Chumbucket, he'll just get all … Chumbuckety."

Cementhands had to grin at that.

"Yeah, he does that. You know, he took it kinda hard when you left."

"It wasn't easy for me either, and I will be back. I just have some personal business I have to take …."

"You have to take care of - yeah, I got that. So how does Mr. Sleepy here fit in?" he asked, poking his comatose assailant with his toe. "A new 'friend' to take your mind off Chumbucket?"

Sally's icy cold look was all Cementhands needed to know he'd stepped over the line.

"Right. Sorry. Didn't mean anything by it."

"He's part of my crew, and he's got work to do when we get to Willemstad. Will he be okay?"

"Him? Probably. I didn't hit him as hard as I usually do. It was my 'nighty night' punch, not my 'I could swear you used to have a face' punch."

"Good. How is Ol' Chumbucket?"

"Fine. Never better. Not as much fun as he used to be, spends more time alone up the mainmast, moping, staring out to sea. You know, the usual."

"I said I was sorry. But I have to do something. When it's all finished, I'll try to get back in touch. Until then we'll have to go our separate ways."

"Well, if you're going to Willemstad that might be a problem. That's where we're heading."


"We have – How did you put it? – personal business we have to take care of."

"Damn. This complicates things." Sally leaned in closer to Cementhands, the point of her blade pressing against the cloth of his shirt.

"Are you sure there's nothing I can do to convince you not to mention to anyone that I'm here?"

She pressed the blade a tiny bit tighter.

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