Thursday, April 16, 2009


The Curacao Caper: Chapter Sixteen "A View From the Taffrail or Of Popes and Potatoes."

Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy stood at the taffrail and watched as an overly turbulent wake was the only connection they believed they still had to Kejsardömen av Sverige as they put the pillaging literally behind them.

Young Spencer, clip-board in hand, and the even younger Gabriel approached as if they were taking an inventory of The Festering Boil to make sure she was still intact.
Spencer tapped the taffrail with his pencil.

“That one’s easy!” Gabriel protested.

“You still have to name it – it’s part of the exam.” Spencer replied in full headmaster voice.

“Unless you don’t want to rise above the rank of Cabin Boy to Apprentice Pirate Third Class …”

Gabriel’s confident demeanor was quickly replaced with the familiar grimace of one who is struggling to wrestle his memory of things names into submission. Then, the sudden relief of memory; “Taffrail!”

“Very good.” Spencer replied. “And we call it the Taffrail because …?”

Gabriel sighed and thought carefully – not wanting to lose the extra credit point.
“Because we make taffy here?”

Spencer shook his head slowly but smiled, “While that is technically true, we …”

The splash of a huge waterlogged hand slapped the top of the taffrail at the very center of the stern – above the rudder. In an instant, six pistols; two each from Ol’ Chumbucket, Cap’n Slappy and Spencer were cocked and leveled at the intruding appendage. Gabriel eased his boot knife out of its scabbard – just in case …

The hand found its grip and with a surge of force pulled the rest of the hulking figure up to its full height.

Cementhands McCormack heaved a sigh of relief at having reached the upper deck after having climbed the rudder to the top. A wreath of kelp festooned his enormous noggin like the crowning glory of a victorious Olympic athlete of ancient Greece. He registered disaffected nonchalance toward his startled shipmates and said only, “Evenin’” as he sloshed by in sopping wet clothes, barely pausing to remove his “hat” and place it on Gabriel’s head – as if he were putting it on a hat rack.

Weapons were tucked back away and the boys continued their tutoring session;

“And what do we call the barrel of water around which everyone gathers to refresh themselves and gossip?”

“Scuttlebutt! – BOOO-YAH!” Gabriel pumped his fist on the easy ones.

Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy watched as McCormack went below decks for a change of dry clothes and the boys went on their merry way. They glanced at each other without words and then turned back to the scene astern as The Festering Boil gathered speed from the wind and sliced through the water – closer and closer to Curacao.

Even in the dimming light of the waning day, the contrast in light between the upper deck and below decks can be startling. There are a few moments of near-blindness as the sailor’s eyes adjust to the under-deck surroundings.

McCormack had made the transition many, many times and was as skilled as any at finding his way around in the darkness – like a mole. He’d managed to steal a towel from Sawbones Burgess’ cupboard and was vigorously rubbing the saltwater out of his hair when he happened upon a crew meeting in the galley.

“Glad you could make it, Mister McCormack!” Leftenant Keeling’s greeting was equal parts welcoming and chiding without even a hint that the two might be in conflict one with the other.

“Thank ye, Leftenant Keeling.” McCormack screwed the towel into his right ear with his index finger.

“Think nothing of it, Mister McCormack.” Keeling replied before getting back to business. “So, the vote on the floor is in regards to item seven; the very nice ring taken in today’s action and the proposal that the ring be given to Cap’n Slappy as a gift from the crew …”
McCormack’s hand went up.

“The chair recognizes Cementhands McCormack.” Keeling acknowledged.

“Thank ye, madam chairpersonage.” McCormack started. “But as the keeper of the duty roster would you be so kind as to tell me who was responsible to take a head count after action to make sure all crew members were on board before we sailed away?”

“POINT OF ORDER! POINT OF ORDER!” came the cries from many of the assembled crew members – most vocally, Sawbones Burgess.

Leftenant Keeling held up his hands in a call for calm. Having managed these meetings for the past two years, he knew better than to hold to a strict interpretation of Roberts Rules of Order when McCormack went off on a tangent.

“Mister Burgess, we'll call this a point of personal privilege and allow it. Mister Watts, the duty roster for today’s action if you please?”

Dogwatch Watts handed Keeling a piece of paper that he quickly perused. “It appears that the after-action head count responsibility fell directly on your shoulders, Mister McCormack.”
Cementhands nodded, as if the information only confirmed what he already thought.

“Is everybody back?” he asked.

“Aye!” the group replied.

“Point of order! POINT OF DAMNED ORDER!” Sawbones screeched.

“Well …” McCormack said, holding a bit of a pause, “good.”

He turned to go but Keeling called after him.

“Don’t you want to vote on the gift to the captain?”

“It’s a ring?” McCormack asked.

“A very nice ring.” Keeling clarified.

“Will a portion of the ring’s value come out of the captain’s share leaving the crew with a reasonable share in the afternoon’s take without a hint of over-stinginess taking the sheen off the nature of the gift-giving?”

“That would be a fair assessment.” Keeling replied.

McCormack thought for a moment. “Then, AYE!”

“AYE!” echoed the crew unanimously, with the exception of Sawbones Burgess who wearily protested, “Point of order! Oh, bugger! AYE!”

“The motion is passed unanimously. We’ll give the big baby his ring.”

The laughter carried to the upper deck – all the way back to the taffrail where Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy stood watching the scene of their most recent victory become a few dots on the distant waves.

“Sounds like the crew have voted you your prezzie.” Chumbucket said as he surveyed the three ships in the distance.

“It’s better that they voted on it.” Slappy smiled. “That way it’s from them – and they don’t think of me as a big baby.”

“Oh, of course they think of you as a big baby.” Ol’ Chumbucket admitted almost too easily. “But kind of a bad-ass big baby.”

Cap’n Slappy gave that some thought … ‘a bad-ass big baby.’ He could live with that.

“I feel kind of sorry for those Swedes.” Ol’ Chumbucket sighed as he watched the two new ships converge on its location. “Fifi may have a temporary truce with us, but he’s still a ruthless French bastard.”

“Aye,” Slappy agreed, “but he’s no scavenger. We’ve picked that goose clean and he’s not about to chew on the bones of our prey – no, he’ll sail right past them in pursuit of us. Our Swede friends have more to fear from that other ship, whoever they are.”

“It’s getting too dark to make them out. But true enough, the Swedes are at their mercy.” Ol’ Chumbucket said as he skillfully collapsed his spyglass without doing any self harm.

Slappy could only look on; jealous of his friend’s talent for staying clear of movable parts.


“Shall we board the Viking vessel, mon capitaine?” Luc Duvall called to the bridge where Fifi Le Fleur had command of the wheel and the course of his ship, La Petite Mort Deux. “And do you like moi alliteration? I sound like a British Buccaneer, no?”

“No!” Fifi replied sharply. “You sound like a silly French prat who wouldn’t know a Viking from a Viscount!”

“I am a Viscount!” Jean Pierre de la Muqueux called out as he entered the conversation.

“We know, Jean Pierre!” Fifi shot back quickly. “You gave us all those, Find the Viscount in the

Picture puzzles for Christmas and it was just a drawing of the crew with a big circle around the picture of you!”

“Oui! That was a terrible gift, Muqueux! PWAH!” Duval spat in disgust.

“No spitting on my ship, Luc!” Fifi reprimanded.

“Sorry, mon capitaine.” Duvall cast his gaze downward in shame.

Muqueux was defiant. “Well, it was still better than the potato you gave the crew!”

“Take that back!” Duvall demanded “That potato looked just like His Holiness Pope Innocent XI!”

“It really did!” Fifi agreed wholeheartedly.

“See?!?” Duvall pointed defiantly toward the captain. “Mon capitaine even thought so!”

“Maybe. JUST MAYBE! La pomme de terre …” Muqueux began but was cut off by Fifi.

“In English, Muqueux! You need the practice!”

Jean Pierre scrunched up his face and pronounced the word carefully, “The po-TA-tO you found looked a little bit – just a LITTLE BIT if the light was just right and it was sitting at the right angle and you happened to be very drunk it might look a little bit – like His Holiness Pope Clement IX – but your po-TA-to looked nothing like His Holiness Pope Innocent XI!”

“No, Jean Pierre, Luc was right, it was definitely the likeness of His Holiness Pope Innocent XI.”

Fifi was calm and self-assured – an excellent and persuasive demeanor for winning an argument.
Also, he was psychopathically violent when crossed – and Muqueuex knew it.

“I defer to mon capitaine’s better judgment in matters both papal and potatal.”

“Potatal?” Fifi questioned.

“That is a word, no?” Muqueux inquired.

“Oui!” Duvall voted … as if he had a vote.

“No.” Fifi replied, showing off his much more solid grasp of English. “I believe the word you are looking for, Jean Pierre, is, ‘potatoey.’”

“Po-ta-to-ey.” Muqueux and Duvall repeated – always keen to take in the captain’s English lessons.

Not ready to cede the argument, Muqueux made one last stand. “Still, a picture puzzle is better than a potato as a gift. No?”

“No.” Fifi replied. “Because the gift was not the potato. It was the miracle of a potato that looked like a pope!”

All three men paused to think about the miracle.

After their brief pause, they realized that they had sailed past the Swedish ship – keeping a course for Curacao.

“There go the Vikings!” Duvall pointed over the taffrail as they left the Swedish ship behind them.

“Shouldn’t we have plundered them, Capitaine?” Muqueux asked.

“I do not pick at the bones of Slappy’s prey – like a vulture, or a jackal or a worm!”

“Or a hyena!” Duvall added. “They say hyenas are famous for picking at bones!”

“Pigs too!” Muqueux was scanning his memory for scavengers, “and vultures!”

“I already said, ‘vultures!’” Fifi snapped.

“Did you?” Muqueux asked. “I didn’t hear you.”

“Then you should listen better, Muqueux.” Fifi’s tone bordered on menace. “It could mean the difference between life and death.”

There was a very long pause where the only sound was the wind in the sails and the sea splashing against the side of the ship.

A thought occurred to Muqueux. “Whatever happened to that potato?”

“I ate it.” Fifi replied proudly.

Duvall and Muqueux were shocked. “YOU ATE IT?!”

“Oui!” Fifi smiled defiantly.

After another long pause, the question had to be asked;

“How was it?” Muqueux inquired carefully.

“It was a little tough,” Fifi confessed. “But the flavor was infallible.”

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