Sunday, May 24, 2009


Chapter 26 - "Going Out Naked"

“Mon Capitaine.”

Luc Duvall spoke only loudly enough to be barely audible as he stood several paces away from Fifi LeFleur. The French pirate captain carefully scoured the port-side cityscape of Willemstad’s harbor.

“Mon Capitaine?”

Duvall spoke only slightly louder – half hoping not to disturb his mercurial commander with his probably all-too-petty concerns.

“In Dutch, Luc.” LeFleur said softly and deliberately – denoting full menace. “We’re working on our Dutch today.” He never broke his watch of the shore.

“With utmost ned-er-ig-heid” Luc carefully pronounced the word so as to impress the boss.

Humility” LeFleur spun around and looked at his bedraggled dogsbody with great affection and appreciation for his efforts. “That’s very good, Luc! You’ve learned the Dutch word for Humility! That will serve you well!”

“Merci – I mean, Dank u, mijn kapitein!” Duvall was ebullient with self-satisfaction.

“Splendid! Now, stop showing off and tell me what’s so urgent that you have to interrupt my surveillance of the bumbling Boilers and those hoop-skirted harlots with whom they are in cahoots!”

“Capitain LeFleur, it is probably nothing and if that’s the case then I volunteer to violently flog myself as you see fit, but I couldn’t help but noticing a pair of Dutch frigates loaded with marines and cannons and all manner of anti-piracy apparatus coming this way.”

LeFleur snapped his spyglass to attention and pointed it out to sea – true to Duvall’s word, two very dangerous looking Dutch frigates were making their way toward Curacao.

“Jean Pierre de la Muqueux!” LeFleur called out as if he feared some other de la Muqueux might mistakenly come a-running.

“Oui! – I mean, Yes! – I mean Ja! Mijn Kapitein!” panted de la Muqueux, breathless from his mad sprint from below decks.

“No time now for language lessons, Muqueux! The Dutch are coming and we need to move. Did somebody cover the name plate as I ordered?”

“Oui, mon capitaine – I saw it replaced myself!”

Fifi paused with a small but troubling concern. “And what, pray tell, is our disguise name for this harmless Dutch merchant vessel?”

Muqueux cast a desperate look at Duvall who looked up and whistled to nobody in particular.

Fifi registered their discomfort, but didn’t have time for it. “Damn it, Muqueux! Just tell me!”

A sheepish Muqueux confessed, “Neptune’s de Uitsteeksels van de Mens.”

There was an uncomfortably long silence finally broken by Duvall who translated.

Neptune’s Man Nipples, Captain.”

“I know.” LeFleur answered calmly.

There was another uncomfortably long pause before Fifi spoke again.

“Who …”

Muqueux and Duvall answered as one.


“Didn’t I recently kill him?” LeFleur asked calmly.

“Oui!” Muqueux replied.

“Ja!” Duvall corrected.

“Can I go back and kill him again?”

“Your rank and temperament certainly provide you with the right to do just as you please, Captain.” Muqueux answered with the wisdom of Solomon.

“Seems a bit of overkill, though.” Fifi confessed, finally smiling about the ridiculous name plate affixed to the back of his ship.

“The very definition of the word, Captain!” Muqueux chuckled in agreement.

“Why, your middle name could be, ‘Overkill’ Captain, couldn’t it?” Duvall joined in the laugh – but unfortunately squashed it in his attempt.

Fifi LeFleur stared at him for a moment – then decisively, “Take off your clothes!”

“Ce qui? – I mean, Wat?” Duvall was near panic – but the cold look on LeFleur’s face was all it took for him to start stripping. “Mama told me, ‘You’re always one verbal slip-up away from dropping from Dogsbody to Bugger-boy!’ and she was so right!” he thought to himself.

“Muqueux! Take command of – Neptune’s Man Nipples – and bring her around – as if we’re going out to sea. Then bring us in as close as you can to shore about a mile north of town. It should be getting dark by the time we arrive. I’ll swim ashore there with my nephew and dogsbody and we’ll sneak back into town and see what’s going on. You sail to the north end of the island – there’s a town there called, Westpunt. Keep quiet there for two weeks – if you don’t hear from us – sack the town and plunder what you can from this island! Do you understand me?”

“Oui! Mon Capitaine!” Muqueux snapped his heels and went off to do his duty.

“Hurray!” Luc Duvall thought to himself, “I’m back up to Dogsbody!”

“Duvall, go get us three havresacks for our clothes and small weapons.”

“Ja! Mijn Kapitein!” Duvall dashed away before his fortunes shifted again.

Young Jacques approached as Fifi LeFleur was beginning to disrobe.

He hesitated before speaking. “You wanted to see me, Captain?”

“Jacques! Nephew! My dear boy!” Fifi kissed both cheeks in greeting – as he did, his britches fell to his ankles. “You must call me ‘Uncle’ when it is just you and I!”

The young man hesitated as ‘Uncle Fifi’ stepped out of his trousers. “Uncle. I know we’re French, but …”

Fifi gave the boy a quizzical look before understanding the lad’s confusion. “Oh! This?” he made a self-sweeping gesture of his own near-nakedness. “No, lad! You misunderstand! We’re going for a swim!”

“Who, uncle?”

“Well, there’s me. Luc Duvall my faithful dogsbody.” He counted two on his fingers and pretended to forget the third. “Oh! Yes, of course! And YOU, my boy! You and I are going on our first raid together – as a family!”

“But we’ve gone on several raids together, uncle. I’ve been aboard your ship for months!”

“Not as my nephew, lad! Oh, this is going to be fun! We’ll swim ashore, spoil Cap’n Sloppy’s plan, get directions to the treasure from Ol’ Hamnquist and get out! Who knows? We might even get you laid!?!”

“I’ve been with women before, Uncle Fifi.”

“Yes! But not since I’ve known you!” Now nearly naked, Fifi became a bit self-conscious of his genitals – he held his boots in front of his dangly bits. “Ah, yes! The manly times we’ll have in Willemstad!”

Luc Duvall returned with three havresacks. He handed one to Jacques and began packing the other two with his and the captain’s clothes.

Jacques shrugged. “Aye-aye, Captain. But I should warn you, I’m not a strong swimmer.”

“That’s alright, lad! Neither am I! We’ll use Duvall here as a floatation device!”

Duvall nodded agreeably, but secretly wondered if that was a step above, below or lateral to the job of dogsbody.


“And just where the Hell do you think you’re going?” the marital tone caught Ol’ Chumbucket by surprise – even though it was coming out of his own mouth.

“I’m going to work!” Cap’n Slappy replied as he made some last minute adjustments on his blond page boy wig and coveralls in the tiny mirror in his cabin.

“With THAT on?” Ol’ Chumbucket’s overly broad gesture left Slappy searching the mirror for what he’d done wrong fashion-wise this time.

“What!? I’m dressed as a painter!” Cap’n Slappy’s tone was overly defensive, “Oh, sure, my costume is a bit houte couture but I had to get Salty Jim to make a few adjustments to accommodate my manly girth and provide ample opportunity for accessorizing. Have I committed some unforgiveable fashion faux pas?”

“And do you think a brace of six pistols is accessorizing that one might expect of a Dutch boy painter? – With a scraggly white beard?”

“Do you expect me to go naked?” Slappy seemed shocked and shaken to the core.

“No. That would be unpleasant for everybody – but I do expect you to go undetected!” Chumbucket removed Slappy’s pistols himself as he spoke. “And why are you wearing that ring?”

“My Precious? My Birthday Prezzie?” Slappy was back to his defensive tone. “Take away my pistols! Take away the two phosphorous grenades I’ve tucked away in the ample crotch of these coveralls!” (Ol’ Chumbucket merely glanced downward and winced at the idea of removing anything from that comically bulging crotch.) “But do not, I implore you, DO NOT take away this symbol of the unfaltering affection of my crew for their adoring father-figure … me!”

“Fine!” Ol’ Chumbucket acquiesced. “Wear the ring! But don’t you think you might get paint on it?”

“It’ll wash.” Slappy said as he headed for the door.

Ol’ Chumbucket stopped him – “WAIT!” Slappy turned around and rolled his eyes as if to say, “What now?” but let his body do the talking.

“YOU can't leave the ship! We’ve only got a skeleton crew – barely enough to set sail in the event of an emergency and most of them have little or no experience! I mean, with George in gaol and most of the crew in the work party, the next in the chain of command is Gabriel! And after Gabriel, it’s either Jonas Grumby or Miguel Magana! If you’ll recall, they’re actors who were pretending to be sailors – and they’ll be looking to young Gabriel for leadership!”

Slappy nodded. “He’s a good man!”

“He’s a CABIN BOY!” Ol’ Chumbucket snapped back.

“I know what this is about, old friend.” Cap’n Slappy said calmly – using his best annoying counselor tone.

“No you don’t.” Ol’ Chumbucket replied with equal calm – just hoping to avoid the topic altogether.

“Oh, yes I do! This is about Sally – You never futz over me unless you are heartbroken – and you’re never heartbroken unless it’s about Sally.”

Ol’ Chumbucket just shook his head – he knew any protestation would only make Slappy believe he was right – whether he was or wasn’t.

Slappy continued, “But my friend, she’s made up her mind. You need to let her go. Women …” Slappy thought for a moment – he wasn’t really sure where he was going with this. “Women are like the wind. They cannot be tamed. They cannot be predicted. And when they are broken, they stink.”

“Was that a fart joke?” Ol’ Chumbucket was trying to make sense of the jabbering spewing forth from the mind and mouth of Cap’n Slappy.

Slappy paused in thought. “Yes … AND No … with a dash of Perhaps.”

“I’ll take that under advisement.” Chumbucket offered Slappy’s favorite dismissive phrase back to him.

“Excellent!” Slappy approached his old friend with arms open wide. “I think this calls for a man-hug!”

“Really?!?” Ol’ Chumbucket replied.

“Oh, yeah.” Cap’n Slappy embraced Ol’ Chumbucket in a manly bear-hug that lingered uncomfortably long.

Finally, through squeezed lungs, Ol’ Chumbucket spoke, “Are those phosphorous grenades in your pants or are you just happy to see me?”

“Those ARE phosphorous grenades in my pants AND I am always happy to see you!” Slappy backed away and held his mate by the upper shoulders at arm’s length. Then, with a hearty slap on his mate’s left shoulder, “From my extensive experience with women I’ve learned this – make a decision, take action and never, ever look back.”

"And you've been married seven times."

"And I've NEVER looked back," Slappy said with smile. "Except when they were chasing me with large pointy weapons."

With that bit of sage advice, Slappy turned on his heels and out the cabin door.

Ol’ Chumbucket thought for a minute or two and then made his way up to the deck in time to see Cap’n Slappy pass a young man on the dock – the two didn’t speak, but exchanged nods as they hurried on their respective ways. He perched himself on the rail next to the gang plank and watched as the young man approached the ship.

“I’m looking for a sailor who goes by ‘Ol’ Chumbucket’!” the young red-headed man called up to the man himself.

“State yer business, lad!” Chumbucket called back.

“My business is with Ol’ Chumbucket and no other!” the young man replied with calm defiance.

Ol’ Chumbucket smiled. “Ye’re speakin’ to him, lad.”

“Permission to come aboard!” the young man kept to protocol.

“Permission granted!”

Something about the way the young man came up the gang plank – the way he moved and carried himself reminded Ol’ Chumbucket of someone he recognized, but couldn't think why. The stranger's very walk proclaimed a confidence bordering on cockiness – but always thinking and taking great care not to make a mistake.

“I have a note for you, sir, from Countess Sonja …” Ol’ Chumbucket snatched the note away before the young man could finish his sentence and began to read it in the waning light of the setting sun.

“I’m to show you the way.” The young man said – clearly eager to be going.

“One moment, lad.” Ol’ Chumbucket called below deck for Gabriel who scurried up from the galley.

“Aye, sir!” The cabin boy said with a smart salute.

“Gabriel, you’re in charge until I return. Or until the captain returns. Or until anyone else returns, anyone else at all – do you understand me, lad?”

“Aye-aye, sir!” another crisp salute.

The young red-headed man gave a curious look at Gabriel and the man who was leaving this boy in charge.

Ol’ Chumbucket quickly explained as they went down the gang plank together. “It’s alright – he’s a dwarf.”

Gabriel overheard this comment and called after them, “I’m not a dwarf!” When they didn’t react, he called again to them as they walked along the dock, “I’M NOT A DWARF!”

Then he turned back to the ship and glanced up and down at her timbers and rigging and took in a deep, satisfied breath, “I’m a captain!”

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


Chapter 25

Mad Sally was a pirate. Always had been.

True, that was not always an easy position to maintain in what was typically considered a "man's field." She had long ago lost count of how many times big burly pirates, or even small wimpy ones, had taken it on themselves to "protect the womenfolk," which included her. Or the voyages where, every time it looked as if she'd finally be able to command her own ship, a group of macho he-man types had decided they had to take command.

Even most – not all, but most – of her crewmates had failed to see her as a pirate, let alone a leader among pirates. It was always, "Good fight, Sally, loved the way you cut down that squad of marines. Now someone should mop this deck," with pointed looks in her direction.

She'd had to take a variety of jobs when stuck ashore because a ship wouldn't sign her on. Everything from bar maid to bank teller to P.E. teacher at an all-girl school. Her field hockey team had been league champions three years in a row. Sally had always thought field hockey would be good training for buccaneering – sure pirates were fierce, but nothing compared to the ferocity of a group of young, gently-reared ladies sublimating the onslaught of puberty by rushing up and down a field with heavy wooden sticks.

But she was a pirate, it was in her blood. How could it not be? Her father had been one of the most feared pirates on the Spanish Main "back in the day." She had never wanted to trade on his name, which would have been useless anyway since he had disgraced the family. It was the family's dark, hidden shame. They never spoke of his treacherous act, preferring to tell people he'd become a gravy mopper in a whorehouse rather than admit the awful truth. And you certainly won't hear it here and now, because she's never told it so the author doesn't know it to relate it. And the author rather suspects that if he did repeat the story, heads would roll and one of them would probably be his.

So anyway, Mad Sally had jumped at the chance when she finally had the opportunity to seize her own ship and go on the account for herself. That she'd done so with an all-girl crew made up of some of the most formidable field hockey players she'd ever coached was all the better. That she'd had to leave behind friends, especially Ol' Chumbucket, was hard. And The Festering Boil was better than most in terms of its treatment of women. They had several aboard as members of the crew, all treated as equals, but still, there wasn't a single female officer and Slappy, despite his modern attitudes, still had a predilection to "protect the womenfolk" that he was only slowly overcoming. And even Chumbucket would have to admit he had a tendency to take over and make decisions that weren't his to make, based on being the male.

Chumbucket had been harder to leave behind. In fact, she'd almost invited him to come along, but knew he'd probably feel bound by loyalty to Slappy to stay aboard the Boil, might in fact even have warned them of her plans. Then she thought about hitting him hard on the head and bringing him along without asking. But that would have gone against the all-female pirate crew she'd been planning, so in the end he was lured ashore with the rest and Sally and her girls had taken the ship they had named The Poison Pearl and set off to write their own tale of adventure (as related in "The Diego Garcia Caper.") So far they'd done well, especially if you counted getting the Swedish crown jewels. They hadn't stolen them, not from Swedes, but they had figured out which Baltic sea rat had them and relieved him of them, along with his head.

Sally and Ol' Chumbucket had first met almost 30 years earlier, back before he was Ol' Chumbucket. He'd been using another name then, one of dozens he'd used in his career. In many ways they were opposites, she quick and intuitive and acting on the spur of the moment, he calculating and careful, always judging the odds before making a move. She always took pride and pleasure when she spurred him to acting without regarding the consequences and trust to luck and instinct. And he'd enjoyed debating the finer points of a plan until the two of them had worked it into a thing of beauty. They'd been together on most of the inhabited islands and many of the uninhabited ones, had had their share of scrapes and adventures and fights and romance. It was an on-again/off-again relationship, each pulled in some other direction, and yet their courses always brought them back together like a couple of bits of flotsam in a tidal eddy.

And now here he was and that was a problem, Sally thought. Here she had this carefully crafted plan – something she grudgingly admitted she'd learned from him – and had left nothing to chance. This would be an easy strike. Her crew was all set up in the wedding shop that would be the base of operations, she was ensconced in the suite at the governor's mansion, and all the pieces were in place. In two weeks would be the wedding ceremony, which was all part of the plan.

He'd obviously recognized her, she could see it in his eyes. Now what would he do about it? How would his actions affect the plan? And if Chumbucket was here the rest of the Boil's crew must be too – Cementhands had said as much, and though he wouldn't tell her why she could certainly guess. Which complicated things quite a bit.

And what about her? Here she was, captain of The Poison Pearl and a very successful rover in her own right, and everything was in place for a major coup. And suddenly all she could think about were those days, like the one when she and Chumbucket had captured that sloop, just the two of them, or the time they'd escaped from the tattoo parlor in Santiago with the Spanish on their heels, or the days sailing the blue Caribbean waters or the nights on the white sand beaches, the air redolent wth the scent of orchids.

She shook her head. No time for the past. There was a plan to put in motion. She'd just have to make sure Chumbucket was nowhere near when things started moving.

"I need you to deliver a note," Sally said to her companion.

"A note?"

"I haven' written it yet."

"To?" the redheaded young man asked.

"An old friend," she replied, knowing he'd know who she meant.

"Well, I've been looking forward to meeting this old friend of yours."

"Just be quiet and let me think about what to write."

Aboard The Festering Boil, the crew was in an uproar.

"Get everyone armed and we're going in to get them," Keeling said, fuming. "They can't just arrest George and Wellington."

"Of course they can. They did," Chumbucket said.

"So what do you propose we do then?" Black Butch snarled.

"Exactly what we were always planning to do. We're going to get into the gaol, find Hamnquist, get him or get the information …"

"And I still don't care much which," Slappy added.

"Right. Either way, we'll get George and Wellington then."

"You mean you want us to leave them there rotting in that pile of stones?" Red Molly asked.

Chumbucket glanced at Slappy. The two of them had already been over this, and Slappy had agreed. In fact, Slappy had been the one to cool Chumbucket from leading a raid on the gaol, which would have surprised everyone aboard had they known. They always assumed the captain was the hot-headed, impetuous one, and Ol' Chumbucket the plotter. But Slappy'd noticed something was bothering the older man, he didn't seem himself.

For that reason, the captain took the lead in the debate.

"If we do anything too soon, we'll tip the whole game. We're going to get one chance to pull this off. We don't want to give the game away early. First we have to get into the gaol and let the guards get used to us. We'll time it so that we're moving into the cell block the day of the big wedding. All the extra security will be there, not watching us. If we move now and we blow it, we'll never get a second chance. This is the way it has to be."

"We're just going to leave them there?" Dogwatch asked, incredulous.

"I'm afraid so," Slappy said. "But they'll be all right, it's less than two weeks. Besides, this way I'll be sure I know where at least two of my crew are."

"But wait," Leftenant Keeling said, a frown on his face. "The Dutch just arrested two 'Dutch painters' and incarcerated them as pirates. Isn't our cover blown?"

"I've sent Cementhands ashore to take care of that," Slappy said.

Cementhands was again standing in the government office. He'd endured the inevitable Dutch inquisition from the clerk, stoically waiting for the appearance of the Englishman he'd spoken to before. Eventually Bernard Jeffries was shown in.

"I just heard that a couple of pirates were arrested."

"Indeed," Jeffries said. "News travels fast, does it not?"

"Yes, it does. What's this I hear about them being disguised as men from my crew?"

Jeffries raised his eyebrow fractionally.

"Yes, very fast indeed. It is as you say. They were dressed as you, but underneath they were clearly pirates, as was quickly apparent from their tattoos."

Cementhands rolled up his sleeves to show his un-inked skin, while saying, "It's despicable what some of that rabble will try. I want to make sure they don't get off on some technicality. I'm here to press charges against them for masquerading as my representatives."

"Indeed? You wish to press charges?"

"Of course. My reputation is at stake. I can't have pirates parading around pretending to be me. Besides, I don't know if you've got any evidence on them for piracy. I heard they were arrested in a tavern and weren't actually doing any pirating at the time."

"Quite so," said Jeffries as he reached below the counter. Cementhands stiffened, but all Jeffries brought out was a sheaf of government forms. "While that is the case, evidence isn't strictly necessary for our jurisprudence. But if you'd like to press charges, that will speed things up considerably. If you could fill out this form, and this one, and this one," he made several marks on the forms as he leafed through them, "and this one and this one, initialing here and signing here on the first page and the second to last, that should be sufficient."

"Great," Cementhands said, dipping a quill in the inkstand and beginning. "How long will they get if they're convicted of this?"

"Oh, they'll hang."

Cementhands paused, then kept writing.

"Really? For impersonating a painter?"

"Swift, certain, sadistic judgment is the hallmark of our legal system. It removes most of the questions and all of the incentive for committing crimes."

"How soon will they hang?"

"Oh, it will be a long process, I assure you. Two weeks."


"Yes, the governor's getting married in two weeks and has his heart set on a 24-noose hanging. We were two short, so this is something of a lucky break."

"Not for the pirates, I'm sure."

"No. It's a break for them but not so lucky. Perhaps next time they'll think twice about impersonating a painter."

"Ye-e-e-s," McCormack said, not sure if he was being put on. Then back to business. "This won't affect our relationship, will it?"

"I wondered if you'd be worried," Jeffries said. "No, the more I've thought about it, the more I think you're right. Our gaol, or jail if you prefer, is truly a depressing edifice, and nothing would make me happier than to see you in it … brightening it up with a fresh coat of paint. When can you start?"



Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Chapter 24 - "Best Laid Plans"

“Stack the bustles, darling! Let’s get as many as we can on this cartload!”

The deep, raspy voice of Grandmama Jeanette du Bonnier barreled down the gangplank from

The Poison Pearl to the women who hefted the cargo of wedding dresses and wedding dress accessories from the ship to the cart and then on to the little boutique they had purchased next to the gaol.

“It’s a corset, dear! It’s made of bone and meant to be ripped off and tossed aside – you can’t do any harm to it that God himself didn’t intend so, for God’s sake, just toss it on and grab another armful!”

These wenches were used to scampering up the rigging or waging a sea battle – but they did it in pants. Now, in the very civilized town of Curacao, women wore dresses – especially women who were opening a wedding dress specialty store.

Of course, Curacao was in the grip of wedding fever. The newspaper was filled with nothing but talk about the upcoming nuptials of the happy governor and his mysterious Swedish bride. Women from all over the island were intent on not letting this marital season pass without nailing down a firm commitment from their lovers and suitors.

“If he’s getting the milk for free, why buy the cow?” one woman remarked to her friend during a chat in a local coffee shop.

“Well, if he’s getting free milk from some other cow, I’ll be serving up a barbeque they’ll never forget!” Her friend replied.

Suffice it to say, the gentlemen of the island were less enthusiastic about the matrimonial frenzy.

They busied themselves with menial tasks long put off and a deluge of binge drinking.

“She keeps talking about cows and milk!” one man said to his mate during a drunken rant at a local ale house.

“Well if she expects me to become a dairy farmer, I’ll be serving up a barbeque she’ll never forget!” his friend replied.

“That doesn’t make one damn bit o’ sense!” the first man slobbered as he gestured broadly, sloshing his tankard about and spilling ale on his friend.

“Welllll!” his mate answered angrily “Neither does cows!”

At this point, the two men began a pushing match that quickly turned into a brawl.

At a corner table, Wellington Peddicord and George the Greek sat and enjoyed their frothy beverages and the floor show.

“It seems a bit early in the afternoon for a fight.” George observed.

“Yeah, and they’re not even forced to wear these ridiculous outfits.” Peddicord, or course, was making reference to the blue coveralls, blond page-boy wigs and floppy blue hats that they were required to wear when going into town – to prevent them from being spotted as pirates.

“They may be ridiculous, my friend,” George pointed out “but you have to admit, the plan is working like a charm!”

“I don’t know that I HAVE to admit anything. But I am growing fond of the wig!” Just as Wellington Peddicord was about to adjust his hair piece, a citizen landed on their table which held for just a moment as the man on his back glanced up at the two painters and smiled just before the legs of the table gave way and he went crashing to the floor.

“That was close.” said George, “I almost spilled some ale.”

The Dutchman at their feet rolled off the broken table top and staggered to his feet. Still wobbly, he tried to focus on the two men in front of him.

“Do I … Do I … Are you … Who are you?”

“We’re painters.” Peddicord answered in his well-practiced Dutch.

“Aye!” George chimed in, “We are two Dutch boy painters – he and I.”

The man leaned from side to side – staring hard at the black man in the blond wig.
“You don’t LOOK Dutch!”

Without a moment’s hesitation, Peddicord replied, “I’m from Haarlem.”

“Oh.” The man nodded – seemingly satisfied until he saw the olive-skinned Greek at his side.

“And you! Where are YOU from?”


The man looked momentarily confused.

“Athens, Dutchland.” George added confidently.

“Oh!” The man nodded – trying to pretend he knew where that was. “Beautiful scenery in Athens, no?”

“Yes.” George smiled, “It’s lovely this time of year!”

Suddenly, a bottle thrown from the midst of the fracas smashed into the side of the Dutchman’s head. He staggered for a moment, but regained his footing. “Excuse me.” He said politely before flinging himself headlong back into the fray.

“Athens, Dutchland?” Peddicord raised his eyebrows at the Greek. “That was a bit cheeky, don’t you think?”

“You wanna talk cheeky, mate? What was all that ‘Haarlem’ talk?”

“It’s at least a real place – IN A REAL PLACE! Where is this mythical ‘Dutchland’ of which you speak?”

“So, I panicked a bit! What do THEY call it?”


“Then why aren’t they ‘Holls?’”


“Aye! HOLLS! Why are they called, ‘DUTCH’ when they’re from HOLLAND?”

“By your logic,” Wellington was trying to calm down his Mediterranean mate, “people from England should be called, ‘Engs!’”

“Then, ‘Hollish!’” The Greek continued “Folks from China are called, ‘Chinese’ and folks from Spain are called, ‘Spaniards!’ At least the people from those countries have the self respect to include the name of their country in what they expect others to call them! I’d be perfectly happy with ‘Holliards’ or ‘Hollandaise’ or …”

“Hollandese” Peddicord corrected. “Hollandaise is a sauce.”

“I don’t care how saucy they are!” George was clearly getting drunker than he had thought – his voice was beginning to rise dramatically. “I’m just saying there’s nothing close to DUTCH in all of FRIGGIN’ HOLLAND!”

The fight stopped immediately and all eyes settled on the two Dutch boy painters sitting at the collapsed table in the corner of the room. Perhaps in the hopes that the crowd had attached its collective interest on something behind them, Wellington Peddicord whipped around in his chair and looked at the back wall of the ale house – nothing but old beer advertisements and a framed poster for an old production of the sequel to the musical that was a hit in the Copenhagen theater district, Yaagen Hoogen Two: Electric Boogaloo.

Unfortunately for our two Boilers, the spirit gum used to secure Peddicord’s blond wig to his head had become loose due to the humidity and Welly’s healthy sweat response. As he spun in the chair, his head-piece kept going long after the head had stopped and the wig and hat twisted and flipped to the floor three feet away.

“Piraat!!!” the roomful of Dutchmen now had a common enemy – for with his ingenious disguise now laid to waste, it was clear that the tall black man was no Dutch boy painter – but a fearsome buccaneer.

“Piraat!!!” George echoed as he pointed an accusatory finger at his mate. Peddicord was shocked by the betrayal – but not half as shocked as he would be only half-a-second later when The Greek smacked him hard in the side of the head with a detached table leg – knocking poor Wellington unconscious.

In truth, George was doing as he always does – turn a no-win situation into a long-odds chance at survival. He hoisted the stunned, lanky body of his companion onto his shoulders and began to make his way through the crowd.

“Pardon me fellow Hollandaiseians! I’ll just lug this sea-miscreant to the local jail and he’ll trouble the peace no longer!”

The crowd backed away to form a perfect passage to the front door of the ale house. George smiled as he saw the warm rays of the afternoon sun as it streamed through the open doorway. The weight of his comrade had shifted, so he squatted slightly to bounce him back into balance. As he made this adjustment, the daylight vanished – as if eclipsed by the moon.

But it was no moon that blocked the light – but rather a very, very, very large jailor.

“Hims is a big heavy black man, isn’t hims?”

The crowd parted even farther at the appearance of the big baby-faced jailor and a company of policemen – numbering more than twenty.

“I’m just taking this piraat to gaol, big fella. No need to keep you from your business – whatever that may be.” George grunted under the strain of his friend’s dead weight. “I’ll take it from here, citizen!”

“Hims is too big for little Greek man to carry all the way to prison. Let me help.”
George looked hard at the jailor. He knew he was dealing not only with a powerful opponent, but a smart one as well – despite the baby-talk. After a moment’s consideration, he nodded in agreement.

“You’re right, my friend, he’s an awfully big piraat.” George placed his hands under Peddicord’s thigh and between his shoulder blades – and with a quick squat-thrust weightlifting move, launched his limp mate toward the waiting arms of the big jailor who caught him out of the air and cradled him like a baby in his enormous arms.

Seeing his only chance, George took that moment when the big man’s arms were full of knocked-out pirate to land what would be an enlightening blow directly on the snout of the jailor. It was a good punch and might have killed a lesser man – George could feel the cartilage of the giant’s nose give way under the blow, but no reaction was registered. None.

A slight trickle of blood from the left nostril was all the damage George could see – and the jailor just smiled at the attempt.

The company of policemen charged en mass and George picked up a chair and smashed it over the first one – spinning on the second with the broken pieces and quickly disabling him with a blow to the tender groin region. The third and fourth didn’t fare as well as the jailor to George’s fists of fury – but the fifth through twelfth policemen tackled the lone pirate and after a half a minute of wrestling about on the floor, they had him bound in chains and shackles.

His wig and hat were lost in the scuffle and the on-lookers could now see that he, too, was clearly not a Dutch boy painter – but a dreaded “piraat!”

“Piraat!” somebody in the crowd shouted as if the point needed to be made vocally.

George found himself feeling a bit jealous of Wellington Peddicord as he was paraded up the street toward the gaol. He hated being in chains and hated the taunts of the townspeople as they lined the street to catch a glimpse of the ne’er-do-wells on their way to their comeuppances. “At least Welly is missing this scene.” He thought to himself.

As they passed the newly-opened dress shop next to the gaolhouse, he locked eyes with an attractive shop girl moving inventory from the cart into the boutique. She looked very familiar – and he could see that she, too recognized him from somewhere. She quickly broke from the scene and rushed into the shop. The sounds of heavy renovation – hammering and digging – swept out onto the street from the store.

“Thems pretty girls making big shop for wedding dresses.” The big jailor commented as if to a friend who was new to town and was seeing the sights rather than being locked away. “Pretty, pretty girls with pretty, pretty dresses!”

Daylight gave way to torchlight as they marched deeper into the gaol. Down a winding stairwell, they were led into a darkened cell. The jailor gently laid Wellington Peddicord on a stone slab and shackled his wrist to the wall. Likewise, George found himself being chained to the opposite wall – and for the first time noticed a shadowy figure sitting at the only table in the room.

The jailor walked over to the table and lit a candle that had gone out some time ago. As the match was struck, George knew exactly who they had found.

“Cap’n Hamnquist, I presume.”

“Aye!” Hamnquist replied, “And you must be Slappy’s first mate – the one they call, ‘The Greek.’”

Thursday, May 14, 2009


The Curacao Caper - Chapter 23

Every afternoon Gov. Roelof Van Wubbeldinker stood atop the scaffold, scanning the horizon.

“Is that them?" he asked.

Bernard Jeffries, the governor's valet and personal assistant, sighed. They'd gone through this every day for two weeks.

"Begging your lordship’s pardon,” Jeffries replied with a voice that was wearying of the routine, "to which ship are you referring now?"

"That one over there, to the left, just coming in."

Jeffries turned his glass and found the ship in question. He paused.

Finally: "You know my lord, that very well might be."

"Oh goodie!" the governor chortled.

The ship in question was flying the Swedish flag, and was certainly large enough to have made the crossing.
As it crossed in front of the fort it fired a single gun, the traditional salute from ship to shore. A single gun answered it from the parapet.

Inside half an hour the answer was clear. Jeffries could now see the name of the ship as it dropped anchor in the roads just off Willemstad.

"Kejsardömen av Sverige," Jeffries read aloud.

"And that's the ship carrying my bride?" the governor asked.

"Yes, milord. That is the ship bearing your lovely bride, Countess Sonja av Sarasgalen. Perhaps we should retire to your office to make preparations for her arrival."

"But I want to be here when she comes ashore!" Wubbeldinker pouted, stamping his foot petulantly.

"And so you shall, you mad incurable romantic you," Jeffries said, taking his master firmly by the elbow and steering him back in the direction of Government House. "For none from that ship will set foot on land until we signal them permission, which we won't do until all is ready."

They were now hurrying up the hill toward the government office building with Jeffries reminding the governor of the sequence of events that had to be set in motion now that the ship was in harbor, what had been planned for the coming fortnight of festivities culminating in the wedding, followed by the mass hanging.

"Oh, I love a party!" the governor panted. "Tell me again what comes next."

Jeffries sighed – he'd done that quite a lot since coming to work for the governor – and repeated his initial instructions.

"First we must alert the honor guard and mass them in the square. We should also send a team down to the quay to make sure the bunting is fresh and the decorations looking their loveliest."

"Or heads will roll," Wubbeldinker said.

"Absolutely. Or heads will roll. Your carriage will bring you down to the waterfront, with suitable escort, 15 minutes before their longboat pulls up to the quay. As soon as her highness's foot touches the ground the band will strike up a suitable Swedish tune – I believe they've picked out a lively number called 'Mama Mia.'"

"But that's Italian isn't it?"

"You would think so, but no, it's quite Swedish. Abba - I mean – About that time, a volley will be fired from the fort. You will say a few words of welcome and your bride-to-be will be whisked away to the quarters reserved and lovingly prepared for her."

"Will there be opportunity for a little pre-wedding carnality in the carriage?"

"No sir, sadly protocol demands that the countess have her own carriage."

The governor looked put out, but he didn't say anything.

"Then begins the glorious round of activities – tonight's banquet, tomorrow's arts fair in the park, the concert, the 5K run, the mimes, the public floggings of the mimes. It will be quite the social whirl."

They had reached Government House by now, and Jeffries set about putting his plans into action.

On board The Festering Boil, the crew had been discussing Cementhands' success that morning in securing the painting contract, and everyone was preparing for the upcoming work detail.

"Cementhands," Slappy said. "You, Keeling, Spencer and Chumbucket get down to the jail to 'take measurements' and get the lay of the land. See what's going to be the best way to spirit Hamnquist out of his cell. If it turns out not to be practical, at least see if there'll be an opportunity to talk to him and convince him to get the information we need."

"Why do I have to go?" Cementhands whined. "You said I'd be the foreman of this little adventure, and so far I seem to be doing all the work."

"Fluent in Dutch, remember," Keeling whispered to him, a little snootily, McCormack thought.

While the planning was going on all crew members were aware of the ship that had just arrived, and everyone stopped what they were doing to watch it drop anchor.

"Yeah, those are our Swedish friends," George observed. "Hope the paint job is good enough to keep them from recognizing us."

As it happened, the paint job was having a curious effect on all the shipping in the harbor and people ashore. The ghastly mottled eggplant shade, fading like a bruise toward the stern, stood out so much that every eye was immediately drawn to it, but so horrifying for a ship that every mind immediately blanked it out as the unholy abomination that it was. The Boil, in that sense, had become almost invisible, with every subconscious mind working overtime to deny what the eye couldn't help but see. Already two fishing boats had nearly come to grief, colliding with the ship that their masters hadn't been able to make themselves see. Only cries from the alert lookouts on The Boil had prevented catastrophes.

In fact, the lookouts and officers on Kejsardömen av Sverige had glimpsed it only long enough to think to themselves, "Ohmigod! What happened to that ship," before they too had blanked it out of their conscious field of view and never identified it as the pirate ship that had sacked them only two days before.

The only lookouts who had noted and registered the ship were too far away to receive the full effect. La Petite Mort Deux was holding station just within sight of the harbor, far enough out that it couldn't be spotted or identified from shore, and just barely close enough that its lookouts in the masts could keep track of comings and goings.

A call from the lookout to the deck had brought Fifi scurrying up the ratlines to see for himself. He was 30 years older than the boy who had first gone to sea with nothing more than an empty sea chest and a desire for a wide vista to practice the sadistic streak he was already nurturing, but he still prided himself on his skills as a seaman and was able to eschew the lubber hole and fly up the rigging.

The lookout handed over his spyglass and pointed out the odd looking ship, which was – in this odd case – far enough away to be visible.

"Sacre bleu!" Fifi muttered.

"No," the lookout said, 'Sacre aubergine,' I think."

"Eggplant?" shouted Fifi. "Who the hell paints their ship eggplant? It's a monstrosity! Now, keep an eye peeled for Slappy and The Boil."

"Say," thought the lookout, "Slappy and the Boil would be a good name for a band!"

And thus even Fifi was deceived by the paint job.

Two hours later a longboat put off from The Boil with the shore party designated by Cap'n Slappy a few paragraphs ago. They were on their way to get the lay of the land and, just perhaps, check out a couple of the taverns that Cementhands had mentioned.

They found the jail easily enough and though it had all been a ruse to gain entrance, they quickly agreed it was the grayest, most demoralizing building they had ever seen, even for a jail. Just looking at it depressed them. Knowing that on the morrow they'd be going inside to take measurements made it even more depressing.

"You know, as long as we're here, maybe we should throw a coat of mauve over it," Spencer said with a sigh.

"Don't even talk to me," Cementhands said. "I'm too depressed."

Keeling didn't say anything; he just groaned.

"Remember being in the jail in Havana?" Chumbucket asked no one in particular.

"Yeah," one of them, but no one in particular, answered.

"Or being lost in the jungles of South America and almost certain to die?"


"Or waiting in Sao Paolo for the Portuguese to come and capture us all?"

"Oh yeah."

"I miss those times, don't you?"

"I know what you mean."

They all sighed.

They stared at the pile of gray stones, various melancholy thoughts and random nightmarish images floating around their heads. That's how depressing the outside of the jail was.

"And if it looks this bad on the outside," Spencer said.

"Yeah, imagine how bad it is on the inside," Chumbucket finished for him.

Keeling groaned again. McCormack muttered something that might have been "Yaagen Hoogen" but probably wasn't.

The moment was broken at last by a shriek of pain and terror emanating from the building in front of them. It was horrifying, but at last it was a human sound, and the four of them shook themselves off and felt a little better.

"Well at least there seems to be a window, that's something," Keeling said.

"C'mon lads," Chumbucket said, "let's go find those taverns Cementhands here was talking about."

"Oh, aye! Down to the waterfront," Cementhands said with a grin. "I'll lead ya, and remember that the first one there gets free drinks all night."

They argued about just how much free drinking McCormack would – or could – do, while ambling back to the water. As they approached they noticed the crowds getting thicker, and they could hear the sound of a brass band tuning up. By the time they got to the square by the pier, the crowd was shoulder to shoulder and the band was playing a peppy little dance tune.

"What's going on?" Chumbucket asked Cementhands, the only one of the four tall enough to see over the crowd.

"Looks like some kind of reviewing stand, something's happening. Yeah, there's a pudgy guy with a silly smile in his face, and it looks like a boat's pulling in. The pudgy guy is dancing? No, he's just sort of hopping from foot to foot like he can't wait for something. Probably has to take a leak."

"Okay," McCormack continued as the four disguised pirates worked their way deeper into the crowd, "not the longboat's tied up and some people are getting out, and …"

Cementhands paused and cast a nervous look at his companions.

"What?" Spencer said, "What's going on?"

"Ummm, some people got out of the boat and it looks like they're getting a big welcome. Probably the tourism commission trying to make everyone feel really special so they'll get repeat business. You know how these feather merchants are. Nothing to see here. C'mon, the tavern's over this way."

McCormack forced his way to the edge of the crowd, which was roaring approval at something the more normal-sized pirates couldn't see. Through the cheering they caught occasional words floating from the speaker's platform, "welcome" and "festivities" and "beautiful" several times. But nothing that made sense.

They had worked their way almost out of the plaza, with just another knot of people and a carriage to get past before they could retreat to the tavern McCormack was heading for, when there was one more loud round cheering from the crowd and some serious jostling from the center, rippling out in their direction.

"Make way you lot, make way," a harsh voice shouted. "Make a hole there, clear the way."

A detachment of soldiers forced their way through the throng, elbowing people out of the way to form a corridor and apparently heading straight for the pirates. McCormack pushed his way forward to get out of their way, followed quickly by Spencer and Keeling.

Ol' Chumbucket was right behind them but just as he stepped towards the safety of Cementhands' lee, the crowd reeled backwards at the soldiers' insistent push, knocking into the pirate and knocking him to his knees. He started to rise when a cudgel struck him across his back, knocking him flat on his stomach.

"Out of the way, you riffraff," a voice snarled, a hand grabbing for his shoulder.

Rising to one knee Ol' Chumbucket pushed back and grabbed the hand, twisting, then pushing so the man released his grasp and fell backwards. Then Ol' Chumbucket looked up.

And directly into the eyes of Mad Sally.

Oh, she was dressed with more class for a pirate wench, silk gown, pearl earrings peeking out from the cloud of red hair, diamonds dripping into her ample décolletage, a fashionable hat perched on her head. But it was her.

She stared back. Neither said a word.

The soldier Chumbucket had shaken off grabbed him again, angrily twisting him to the ground. Chumbucket let himself be taken down, then used the impetus and a twist of his body to send the soldier sailing over his head.

Chumbucket rose to his feet, then doffed his painter's cap and swept into a low bow.

"My pardons, Countess. Your carriage awaits."

Sally looked as if she wanted to say something, but caught herself. Taking the arm of the young, redheaded man at her side, she stepped up into the carriage.

The soldier regained his feet and turned on Chumbucket with a snarl, but the "Dutch painter" maintained his deep bow, and at a sharp command from the sergeant the guard turned and took his position behind the coach, which started off.

The last thing Chumbucket saw as it rattled across the cobbled square was Mad Sally's face staring out the back window at him.

Monday, May 11, 2009


Chapter Twenty-two: "Here There Be Monsters"

In the darkness, a voice.

“’allo? Is anybody here? ‘al-low-sie-wosie? I am calling, you … yoo-hoo! ‘allo?”

Another voice replies. This voice is deeper, a bit raspy, with just the hint of a Swedish accent.

“Go away or I will kill you.”

A pause. The first voice replies – losing much, but not all, of its baby-talk quality.


The raspy voice replied, “Do you mean, ‘two’ as in the number two? Or ‘too’ as in ‘also,’ meaning that I will kill you also, as I killed the jailor before you?”

“And how many killings would that make?”


Another pause. The raspy-voiced Swede continues. “So, whether you said, ‘Too?’ Or ‘Two?’ it would apply with equal accuracy to either the number of killings, once I finish you off, of course; or to the fact that I will kill you as well as I killed your predecessor.”

“But you killed him VERY WELL INDEED! Seldom have I seen a jailor as dead as he was! You big snuggly-wuggly silly pirate killing man, you!”

The baby-talk had gotten on Horatio Hamnquist’s last nerve. As he spoke, he could see and hear the striking and sparking of a match as his jailor tried to light a lantern in the darkness. “And as thoroughly as I killed him, I’m going to take my time with you and enjoy every single …”

The match struck true and in a flash, the cell was illuminated by a lantern held by what appeared to be the Colossus of ancient Rhodes. In his time as a pirate he’d heard stories of men who had muscles coming out of other muscles packed tightly in a container of spare muscles. Hell, he’d seen Cementhands McCormack naked in the sauna at Madame Luzatski’s House of Spankings. But he had never been as thunderstruck by the sight of a human physique as he now was. Atop this mountain of man-muscle rested a round, hairless head with the face of a baby. A very big baby, indeed, but an innocent-looking baby nonetheless.

The thing about darkness is that it lifts evenly. The unknown and the known – illumination puts them all on equal footing. As clearly as Hamnquist could see the big baby man, he could also be seen; a filthy shipwreck of a human being dashed and shackled against the stone wall of his cell. A three-day-old meal of rotting fish, moldy bread and a wormy potato sat on the table just six feet away. But with all of his limbs in shackles, this feast may as well have been in Stockholm for all the good it did Horatio Hamnquist. The sight of the man-mountain set aside his personal discomforts. In his amazement, he could only think to utter one thing;

“Yaagen Hoogen!”

“You watch that salty-talk, Mister sassy-pants!” The jailor scolded. “This is not a brothel or an English house of parliament!”

The big baby-man jailor scrunched up his face in a mimic of childlike annoyance. “Hims is just a grumpy-bumpy ‘cause hims is hungry!”

Still in shock, mouth agape, Hamnquist nodded in hypnotic agreement. He noticed a small basket sitting at the jailor’s feet. He must have set it down to light his match.

“That’s right! Mmmmmmm! Nummy-yummy-num-nums!”

When the basket was opened, Hamnquist could see bread and cheese and – even more importantly – a bottle of water.

“Hims is a thirsty pirate, no?”

Hamnquist nodded desperately.

“Sippy-sip. Just sippy-sip – no fast drinkies – just slow. Slooooow.”

The water was fresh and even cool. Not that it mattered. After three days without water in a hot, pitch black cell designed for isolation, Hamnquist would have been grateful for a rusty cup of tepid swamp water and urine full of maggots. His gulps of fresh water put out the fire in Hamnquist’s throat and he savored every swallow.

Kindnesses were rare in the Caribbean – even among friends. A part of the old pirate – a part that he had long thought dead – wanted to cry.

“Oooo … hims gotta save some water to wash down the num-nummy food!”

The gigantic jailor took a knife from the basket and sliced a chunk of cheese and placed it on a piece of bread he had torn from the loaf. He then proceeded to ball the cheese into the bread and made a game of feeding the Swede.

“BOOM! Here comes the cannonball!!!”

He pinched the ball of cheese and bread in his right hand and pretended it had been shot from the basket as he guided it gently into Hamnquist’s mouth.

“YAY! Hims took a direct hit! Oh, my! What’s hims gonna to do?!”

Whereas Hamnquist had seen better floor shows with better meals, he was relieved to at last have the taste of food in his mouth. He was a man of epicurean enjoyments – life had always been a smorgasbord of experiences – delightful and disgusting. The old pirate had soaked in both, but it was clear that had he always been given the choice, he would choose a soft, warm, sandy beach, a bottle of good rum, fine food and pretty wenches.

After seven or eight “cannonballs” and another long drink of water, the jailor pulled a sheet of paper, an inkwell and a sharpened quill from the basket and set them on the table.

“Master says, ‘Tell Mister Hamnquist that the food and company will improve exponentially when he draws me the map I thrice requested.’ But he says it very grumpy to me – I say it happier to you.”

The jailor’s impersonation of “Master’s” voice had a familiar ring in Hamnquist’s ears. He couldn’t place it exactly and God only knows what was lost in the translation, but he knew that he and “Master” had met before.

“And does ‘Master’ say what he wants me to draw a map of? Perhaps ‘Master’ would like a map of my uncle’s farm near Borgholm.”

The jailor scrunched up his face in disappointment. “I don’t think Master would like a map of your uncle’s farm near Borgholm. Master says, ‘He knows perfectly well what map I want therefore convey to Mister Hamnquist in the most serious of tones that I will brook no further shenanigans.’ But if you’d like to draw a map of your uncle’s farm to get started, I’ll color it while you make the map for Master.”

Hamnquist thought for a moment.

“What’s in it for me?”

“Master says, “Tell Hamnquist that if he draws me the map I want – and if it’s real – I’ll make sure the hangman does a good job and he gets a clean snap! If he trifles with me, I’ll make sure the hanging goes …” here, Master wanted me to make a dramatic pause and then use my big, quiet, scary voice before saying, ‘POORLY.’”

“Just who is this, ‘Master’ fellow?”

“Master says, ‘Never you mind who I am! Suffice it to say that I am a man of no small ability and in a position to make your final days on this earth pleasant or unpleasant based on your cooperation!’ and then he gives you one of these.”

With that, the huge jailor gave what appeared to be a wink – but looked more like a facial tick.

Hamnquist raised an eyebrow. “Was that a wink?”

More facial ticking. Hamnquist continued.

“I’ll take that as a wink. Did ‘Master’ give you answers to all of my potential questions?”

“Master says, ‘Do not doubt my thoroughness or the ability of this simple gargantuan monster to parrot back my answers to any conceivable question of importance to me. Ah, yes. Being a pirate, you must understand the relationship one has with his parrot.’”

“But,” Hamnquist retorted “parrots responses are random mimicry because the birds lack the understanding for interactive discourse! HA! I’ve got you now, haven’t I?!?”

“Master says, ‘Are parrots as random as you assert? Or are they simply stubbornly oppositional to the very concept of inter-species communication? Be that as it may, I believe this response, planned long in advance, supports my assertion of thoroughness and the seriousness of my request.’”

Realizing that trying to outwit this enormous man-puppet was a pointless game, Hamnquist surrendered, “Well, I can’t very well make a map if I’m shackled to this wall, now, can I?”

The big jailor smiled. “Hims is a good pirate! Let’s unlock thems nasty shackles, shall we?”

As the jailor was bent over, working on unleashing the pirate from his chains, Hamnquist noticed the open cell door and the knife, carelessly stuck into the wheel of cheese in the basket. He relaxed his body while each limb was freed from its confines. He wanted to give no hint about the violence he was planning. The old pirate felt a tinge of guilt for planning to kill the one person who had been kind, albeit obnoxiously babyish with him, but self-preservation is strong motivation to perform harsh and deadly tasks.

The moment the last shackle was unlocked; Hamnquist leaped toward the knife and plucked it from the cheese. He then lunged at the huge jailor with a violent fury.

But Hamnquist hadn’t counted on two things; the weakness of his body after being chained to a wall without food or drink for three days and the quick reflexes of his super-sized opponent. As if catching a thrown snake out of the air, the jailor gripped Hamnquist’s forearm and giving it a twist wrapped the offending appendage behind the pirate’s back as if they were dancing a promenade.

Holding Hamnquist’s body in place, the jailor tugged the arm upward to the point of breaking. “Hims should drop the nasty knife so hims doesn’t get hims arm snapped like a dried twig.” The jailor’s baby talk was as calm as it had been from the moment he entered the cell. "Hims will dangle from the noose just as prettily with a broken arm as a whole one."

Hamnquist dropped the knife to the floor and the pressure on his arm was released.

The jailor gently guided Hamnquist to the table, sat him down and dipped the quill into the inkwell before handing it to the defeated pirate. He then moved around to sit at the other side of the table and watch the prisoner work on his map.

Hamnquist sighed and began to draw what appeared to be a chain of islands in a sea. He occasionally glanced up at his smiling captor across the table. The flickering fire in the lantern made his face look like a child on Christmas Eve – full of wonder and magic.

“Is hims drawing water?” asked the jailor.

“Yes. ‘Hims’ is drawing water.” Hamnquist replied.

The jailor folded his arms on the table and rested his chin on his thick forearms as he watched the drawing progress.

“Here there be monsters.” The jailor said softly.

“Pardon?” Hamnquist looked up from his work.

The jailor sat up and waved his hand over the paper – as if looking for something that really should be there, but wasn’t.

“Where will hims put ‘Here there be monsters’ so we know where the scary monsters be?” His baby face showed deep concern about this point.

Hamnquist smiled. It was the first time in months that anything had genuinely amused him. He carefully found a spot on the map to draw a sea serpent undulating in the waves and encircled the image with the words, “Here there be monsters.”

The jailor gave a satisfied smile. “Now we know.”

Hamnquist nodded and returned to his drawing. But after only a couple of strokes and squiggles he looked up at the jailor again.

“You know what the truth is, lad?”

The jailor shook his head.

“There be monsters everywhere.”

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


Chapter 21 - Or - Hoofdstuk Eenentwintig

"Yaagen Hoogen. Yaagen Hoogen. Yaagen Hoogen."

"What?" Keeling asked Cementhands, who was chanting the phrase over and over.

"Yaagen Hoogen. Yaagen Hoogen. Yaagen Hoogen." Cementhands held up his fingers, indicating he was counting on them and Keeling would just have to wait until he was done.

"Yaagen Hoogen. Yaagen Hoogen. Yaagen Hoogen. Yaagen Hoogen." Cementhands paused, looking at his fingers, then added, "Yaagen Hoogen. You were saying?"

"I was just wonder what you were saying."

"I was saying 'Yaagen Hoogen.' You might want to have Sawbones Burgess check your ears."

"No, I don't think that'll be necessary, I heard that you were saying Yaagen Hoogen."

"Oh, good. Just as well. You never know what Sawbones is likely to do if you go in complaining you can't hear. Might look in your ears. Might stick a duck in them. Might do something worse."

"A duck?"

"You never know with Sawbones."

"Good point," Keeling said, hoping that by agreeing he might be able to get the conversation on track. "My point was, why were you saying 'Yaagen Hoogen?'"

"Practicing my Dutch."


"Right. You heard Cap'n Slappy. The plan, yea verily, even our very lives, hinge on my fluency in Dutch, and the fact that I have no tattoos."

"I remember that," Keeling said. "I remember thinking, 'I don't have many tattoos, and I know a little Dutch.'"

"Not many tattoos is not the same as none, is it," McCormack asked, offering a pitying smile. "And a little Dutch is not the same as being fluent, is it?"

"No and no. So, enlighten me, please. What does 'Yaagen Hoogen' mean?"

"It means, 'Yaagen Raising.'"

"Yaagen Raising?"

"Aye. Yaagen Raising." McCormack smiled.

"And what does 'Yaagen Raising' mean?"

"That I don't know. It's English, and no one ever said I was fluent in English."

"Though you have spoken it all your life."

"Almost all," McCormack conceded. "Didn't speak it at all the first year or so. But yeah, after that, pretty much constantly."

"Well, that's honest of you to admit. But 'Yaagen Hoogen?'" Keeling said.

"Aye, and a Yaagen Hoogen to you."

"I'm just going to go chat with the captain now," Keeling said.

Keeling found the captain and first mate, George the Greek, sprawled on the poop, an empty bottle of rum between them. He saluted, asked his question, and waited for the answer. When it came, it was this:

"Yaagen Hoogen?"

"That's right," Keeling said. "I thought you said he was fluent in Dutch."

"I did say that," Slappy said. "I wonder why."

"Because we've heard him speak Dutch," George said. "Fluently."

"That's right! Relax Keeling," Slappy reassured him. "We've heard him speak Dutch. He's fluent."

"Begging the captain's pardon," Keeling said, "but you yourself don't speak Dutch except the occasional profanity when you've injured yourself."

"Quite true. I don't even know how I know Dutch profanity. It's one of those mysteries, like women.” A flash of memory washed over Slappy’s face. “Wait! Now I remember! I learned what Dutch I know consorting with prostitutes in Holland. That was the other filthy thing they did with their mouths. Ah! Mystery solved!"

Keeling tried to shake the image from his brain as he soldiered on. "And you, George, you don't speak Dutch either?"

"Not a word. Not even Yaagen Hoogen."

"If neither of you speak Dutch, how do you know that's what he was speaking?" Keeling asked.

"Excellent question! George, how do we know that McCormack was speaking Dutch?"

George thought for a long minute, then a smile creased his face.

"He told us it was Dutch!" George said.

"By God, you're right! He did! Excellent work, my Aegean amigo! Drink up!" the captain said, slapping the first mate on the back.

"I would, but we seem to be out!"

"Blast St. Boniface’s bitter bollocks! I knew that was going to be a problem."

"Er, captain," Keeling said. "You did say McCormack's fluency in Dutch is vital to the plan?"

"Are you still worrying? Lighten up! We have a serious problem here, what with the total failure of rum to appear magically in my mouth."

"Just seeking reassurance, sir."

"Then consider yourself reassured. George and I have work to do here. Dismissed! Or, as they say in The Hague, "Yaagen Hoogen!'"

Somehow, Keeling was not sufficiently reassured. So much so that, the next morning, he volunteered to join Cementhands on his trip into Willemstad to get the lay of the land, and maybe start throwing some sand in the gears, as Slappy had suggested. Coming along with them was the ship's cook, Black Butch the Dutchman, because after all, a Dutchman wouldn't be a bad thing to have along in the Dutch Antilles.

The three pirates, dressed in paint spattered blue denim overalls, strolled down the street. McCormack's pageboy wig was pulled down as tightly on his giant cranium as it could be, a billed painter's cap topping the ensemble. The effect was rather as if a long-haired cat, say a Persian, had taken refuge on his head and was trying unsuccessfully to hide under the hat.

Their way took them past four or five bars, but Keeling and Butch were able to keep McCormack going on the straight and narrow with very few stops in those taverns – four or five at most. But eventually they found themselves standing in front of Government House, weaving slightly.

"Ready to go?" Keeling asked Cementhands.

The giant pirate belched, releasing the strong smell of rum, nodded and mumbled something that might have been "Yaagen Hoogen," and pushed open the door.

They found themselves standing in a small anteroom which was bisected by a counter, behind which stood a small man peering at them over a pair of reading glasses. He said something to them in what was probably Dutch, but could have been ancient Etruscan for all Keeling could make out.

Cementhands just stood, smiling and glassy eyed.

The man repeated himself.

Still nothing from Cementhands.

Behind him, Keeling whispered into Butch's ear, "Say something."

"Say what? I don't speak Dutch," Butch said.

"But we call you Black Butch the Dutchman."

"That's right, you do, but that doesn't mean I speak Dutch."


"I'm from the Carolinas. Not much Dutch up there. I speak pretty good French though," Butch whispered back.

"French? What good will that do?"

"Not much," Butch said.

Cementhands continued to smile at the clerk, who was growing visibly nervous at the sight of the mute giant. The man reached under the counter as if looking for a baseball bat, but as baseball wouldn't be invented for more than a century hence, he was disappointed in that regard. Instead he repeated his question. Keeling sighed, and smacked Cementhands on the back of the head.

It seemed to help. Cementhand's eyes lost their glassy, fixed stare and focused on the clerk. He squared his shoulders, took a step forward and said, "Yaagen Hoogen mijn goede mens! Mag ik aan uw werkgever spreken?." (Yaagen Raising, my good man. Can I speak to your boss?)

The man looked at him as if he couldn't quite make out the words for the accent. Cementhands immediately apologized.

"Gratie me, maar ik heb een toespraakbeletsel. (Pardon me, but I have a speech impediment.) Het is een voorwaarde genoemd luie tong. (It is a condition called lazy tongue.)"

"Luie tong?" the clerk asked, puzzled.

Cementhands and the man continued to chatter back and forth, Cementhands not eloquently but gamely. Though Keeling couldn't understand the clerk, the man was clearly adamant about something, and getting more worked up.

Finally Cementhands turned away and whispered to his companions, "He says his boss is out and wants us to leave. What now?"

"Tell him what we want," Keeling hissed.

"Hamnquist? Tell him we want Hamnquist?"

"No, of course not. The paint story."

"Oh, right." Cementhands turned back to the clerk.

"Kunnen wij uw gevangenis schilderen?" (Can we paint your jail?) De studies tonen een aardige mauve cel of de gedempte pastelkleuren maken gevangenen volgzamer, gemakkelijker te controleren." (Studies show a nice mauve cell or muted pastels make prisoners more docile, easier to control.)

The clerk looked as if he was seriously considering inventing baseball a century or so early just so he could have a bat to defend himself from this madman, which would have made baseball The Netherlands' national pastime instead of America's, changing the future in ways it's best not to contemplate. Fortunately for baseball fans across the U.S., at that moment the door behind the counter opened quietly and a man stepped into the office, his head cocked to one side as if he'd been listening at the keyhole and didn't quite understand what he'd heard.

"That will be all, Hans," the man who entered said in Dutch to the clerk. "I'll take it from here. Why don't you have an early lunch? I believe they have some delicious lunch specials down at De Bokken van de Ster. You should hurry."

"Dank u de heer," the clerk said. "Ik kan niet berekenen wat deze reuzedwaas zegt. (Thank you sir. I cannot figure out what this giant fool is saying.) Hij spreekt het Nederlands zoals een piraat! (He speaks Dutch like a pirate!)"

The new arrival waited until the clerk had left, then turned to the men in the waiting area.

He smiled, nodded his head slightly, and said in perfect English, "May I be of service? My name is Bernard Jeffries, personal assistant to his Excellency the governor."

"Er …" Cementhands said, not sure how to take this turn of events. "Uh …"

"Well said sir," Jeffries said. "I couldn't have put it better myself. Now, did you ask something about our jail."

"Yes," blurted out Keeling, delighted to have a chance to take part in the conversation. "Yes, we'd like to paint …"

Cementhands cut him off curtly.

"I'll handle this, if you don't mind." He turned back to Jeffries. "Underlings. Always butting in. Now, as I as saying, we'd like to paint your jail. Jails are very depressing, and that leads to prisoners dying before you can execute them."

"Always a disappointment to the lover of public entertainment," Jeffries agreed.

"Yes, and those who don’t' die are always trying to break out."

"Not out of our jail, I assure you."

"No? Well, maybe. But I'll bet it takes a lot of effort, lots of guards and things. Gets kinda expensive."

"It is not an insignificant part of our municipal budget," Jeffries conceded.

McCormack ran that sentence back in his head a couple of times to make sure the man had agreed with him, then plunged on.

"Studies show that a jail painted in a soothing color, muted pastels … er … you know, like pink or …"

"Pink?" Jeffries right eyebrow rose a precise three millimeters, just enough to show doubt without actually being rude.

"Yeah, pink. Gotta problem with pink?"

Jeffries denied having any such problem.

"Well, a color like that, it's soothing, ya know," McCormack continued. "Reminds prisoners of their mommas or something. Anywho, it solves both problems. They don't die 'til you kill 'em, and they're happier, so they don't try to break out all the time. You can relax a little, let your hair down, save a few doubloons in overtime for the guards."

"Well, as to relaxing our hair, we here on Curacao find eternal vigilance is the price of being free from crime. But, it's an interesting idea. So you wish to paint our jail pink?"

"Well, pink or baby blue. We've got a lotta that, too."

"But not much in the purple or violet range, I'd hazard."

McCormack looked at Jeffries, but said nothing.

"Well and good then, shall we discuss your fee?"

"Fee? Oh, no charge."

Cementhands reeled as Keeling clouted him behind the ear.

"I mean, of course, our large, hefty fee, because we are professional painters, we paint things for money, sure. Wouldn't make any sense for us to come in and just start painting things for free like pirates. Nope. Not us. We charge. A lot!"

Jeffries named a price. McCormack, not actually being a professional painter, had no way of knowing if it was reasonable, screwed up his face as if considering, then agreed.

"You've got yourself a deal!" he said, a smile splitting his face. "I'll get my crew of professional painters who are always paid for painting things and certainly aren't pirates down to the jail right away and we'll get started."

"Not today, I think," Jeffries demurred. "There will be some planning to do first, matters we must attend to. An important visitor is arriving, and we'll need all our spare personnel for that."

"Oh, don't worry about the prisoners," McCormack said, his tone light. "We'll guarantee as part of our service that no one will escape."

"That's as may be, but I should arrange to move some of the more high-security risk prisoners to other quarters."

"Don't worry. We'll be on guard. So when should I have a crew over to the jail?"

"Does three mornings hence suit you?"

"Right down to the ground," McCormack agreed. Perhaps I can send a couple of guys over early to get some measurements?"

"I don't see why not," Jeffries said, jotting a few words on a piece of paper and handing it over. "This is a pass, hand it to the main guard at the fort and he'll take care of you. I look forward to having you and your men in our jail."

McCormack did a double take, but the man seemed as friendly and helpful as before, so they shook hands and the pirates turned to leave.

"Pleasure doing business with you sir," Jeffries said. "And, if I may, 'Yaagen Hoogen' to you!"

Sunday, May 03, 2009


The Curacao Caper: Chapter Twenty - "A Nasty Knot"

Fifi LeFleur was fixated on a single knot.

As La Petit Mort Deux sliced her way through the choppy waters of the Caribbean – only a day’s sail out of Curacao – he couldn’t take his eyes off of a single knot that he thought had been shabbily tied.

The wind slapped at the twisted and frayed clump of hemp rope that secured a small section of the foresail to its yardarm. LeFleur seemed hypnotized by this small piece of shoddy work. Those who had sailed with him for years knew that this would be a good time to put distance between themselves and the darkening pirate.

His first words were spoken softly and to nobody in particular.

“Who tied this knot?”

His pirates backed away and shot dreadful glances toward one another.

“Did I not speak clearly? I want to know who tied this knot!”

LeFleur’s voice began to rise, like hot lava in a volcano on the verge of spewing forth its contents of molten death.

The French pirates backed away from a handsome young man who was frozen in fear. He could not breathe in enough air to answer. He started to lift his hand in confession.

“You?” LeFleur’s voice was cold and sharp – like broken ice. He walked over and gave the knot a tug. It unraveled in his hand. The pirate captain turned quickly toward the young man. “Do you have any idea how much time your carelessness has cost us?”

The boy looked down at the deck – not daring to meet LeFleur’s eyes. “Non, mon capitaine.”


“Oui – I mean, yes, my captain.”

LeFleur took a deep breath to calm down. “Allow me to repeat my question; Do you have any idea how much time your carelessness has cost us?”

“No, captain, I do not.”

Fifi offered a satisfied smile. “Very good. You spoke English very well.” The young man glanced up briefly to thank the captain for the compliment, but was stopped by LeFleur’s upraised hand. “That knot. That … jumble of rope … cost us at least twenty minutes every day when speed was very, VERY important to us.”

“I’m very sorry, captain.”

Fifi looked into the boy’s face as if he was rummaging through the lad’s soul – there was something familiar there that he couldn’t place. But he offered the young man a smile.

“I forgive you.”

Everyone heaved a sigh of relief – if only for a moment.

“But.” LeFleur continued patiently. “Due to your sorely lacking seamanship skills, it appears the only thing you can offer this crew by way of value is the opportunity to learn a lesson.”

LeFleur drew a pistol from his brace and motioned the young man toward the starboard rail of the ship. The young man’s face offered only a desperate expression of fear but he complied without a word.

“Jean Pierre de la Muqueux?” Fifi barked.

“Yes, my captain?” Muqueux replied sharply.

“Will you please inform me when twenty minutes has passed, Muqueux? I want to impress upon the crew what twenty wasted minutes feels like.”

“Yes, of course, my captain.”

Muqueux turned an hourglass near the wheel and made a mental note of the time.

The young man stood facing the vast expanse of ocean – trying not to tremble as he listened to Fifi LeFleur lecture his sailors on the importance of knot-tying. He knew that the end of the lecture marked the end of his life. Would LeFleur shoot him in the back of the head and toss his body into the Caribbean or he would save the shot and simply force him to jump? Which was preferable? Shooting or drowning?

There is something about your final moment on earth that creates a keen awareness of what you have done and what you will be missing when life is gone. The young French pirate thought about his childhood dog, a girl he knew in Calais, red wine and freshly baked bread. Beyond that, he couldn’t think of much else.

Part of him wished he could turn into a turtle and simply tuck in behind his protective and pistol-proof shell – perhaps flop into the water and swim away to wherever it is turtles go to meet young attractive girl-turtles. Part of him wished the twenty minutes would simply conclude and it could all be over; the dogs, the girls, the wine, the bread, the turtles and the fucking knot-tying.

His hand started to shake involuntarily.

He could see a seagull in the distance – land was not far away. “The seagull would live to see land again,” he thought to himself, “and all that I shall ever see again is this water, the blue sky and that seagull.”

He smiled.

Not only did he smile, he became aware that he was smiling. His hand stopped trembling and it all just seemed to fit together. The knot, the pistol at the back of his head, the horizon and the seagull – all of it, every last bit of it and all that ever was or would ever be – he was about to become a part of it.

All of it.

“Tout le lui.”

The words just seem to fall out of his mouth – barely a whisper.

“What was that?” LeFleur stopped his lecture on knots abruptly and cocked the hammer on his pistol.

The young pirate answered without any hint of fear.

Tout le lui – All of it, uncle.”

“Uncle?!” Fifi LeFleur grabbed the young pirate by the shoulder and spun him away from the sea to face his tormentor. “Did you call me, uncle, boy?”

“Oui – Yes, uncle. I …”

Fifi cut off the young man. “Jacques?” the darkness seemed to lift immediately – he searched the young man’s face carefully; amazed that he had not seen it earlier. “You are my little sister, Bernadette’s boy?”

“Yes, Uncle.”

“But …” LeFleur seemed pleased but confused, “how long have you been aboard my ship – why didn’t you tell me?”

“I came aboard when you were in Martinique. I came to the Caribbean to make a name for myself – to seek my own fortune. Mother had told me about you – how brave you are and how famous you are back in France. I wanted to serve aboard your ship.”

“But why didn’t you tell me?” Fifi seemed uncharacteristically hurt.

“I wanted to make my own way – I wanted no special consideration – and I ask for none now.”

A well-practiced coldness came over LeFleur’s face. He replied without a hint of the warmth he had effused only three seconds before. “Very well.” He pressed the barrel of his pistol against the young man’s forehead.

The boy’s face didn’t shift. He had accepted his appointment with death and was unafraid even now. Instead, it was his captain who faltered.

“Not like this!” Fifi was showing signs of frustration. “I cannot do it like this! Turn around!”

The young pirate turned around – once again facing the horizon and the seagull. He was calm. He was ready.

It was LeFleur who now trembled.

Fifi pulled the pistol back down. “I can’t.” He sighed heavily. “I cannot in good conscience kill my baby sister’s little boy.”

The crew breathed a collective sigh of relief.

Muqueux held his breath as the last of the sand trickled through the hour glass – LeFleur saw this and shook his head at his first mate.

“Still.” Fifi continued coldly, “We have the matter of shoddy knot tying and someone must be held accountable. So, Nephew – you choose.”

“What, uncle?” Jacques was confused by the order.

Fifi spoke clearly and cruelly. “You choose who should die in your place.”

Jacques’ calm acceptance was now expelled – in its place was internal panic.

“No, Uncle. I can’t”

“Your crime must be punished – somebody must pay.” Fifi was still teaching a lesson.

“I choose me, Uncle. I am responsible. I should be the one who pays.”

“Not an option, I’m afraid, my boy!” LeFleur gestured toward the hourglass. “Look, lad. Time’s up. Choose one of your mates or I’ll kill two at random.”

“But Uncle!”

“Shall I make it three!!!?” LeFleur was on the edge of rage and leveled his pistol toward the assembled pirates as he pulled a second pistol from the braces.


Jacques was near tears. Although he had always found the Irishman to be a bully and a thug and was more than a little put off by his coarse jokes and naughty limericks, he didn’t think the man deserved to die.

“FACK!” Toby O’Malley called out defiantly. “O’ Course! Let’s kill the Irishman – by all, fackin’ means! It’s just what Katherine O’Malley’s little boy gets for throwin’ in his lot with a pack o’ Froggies!”

Fifi leveled the pistol at O’Malley while the others backed away.

“Wait! Wait just a goddamn minute, ye crazy Frog!” O’Malley made his way to the rail – where a moment before young Jacques had come to terms with Life and Eternity. “Ye don’t want to get yer fackin’ deck all messy with chunks o’ brain and skull scratchin’ and stainin’ up the woodwork, do ye?”

Fifi had always liked the Irishman. And he liked him now more than ever.

“You, I will miss, O’Malley.” Fifi said kindly. “You have always had the … how do you Irish say it? The ‘Touch o’ the poet’ about you.”

“And you, Cap’n LeFleur, are beyond a doubt, the bat-shittiest mad man I’ve ever had the misfortune to know and I hope that one day, some enterprisin’ young pirate shoves a blunderbuss up yer arse and blow’s ye to kingdom come!”

“I’m sorry, O’Malley.” The young pirate muttered.

“Save it for confession, lad.” O’Malley said as he broke off a chunk of tobacco and shoved it deep into his mouth – working it around with what was left of his back teeth. He then turned to the boy and offered him some absolution in spite of himself. “Ye were almost free o’ the trials and tribulations o’ this life, lad. I think, in the long run, my fate is happier than yours will be.”

Fifi was laughing now.

“Do you see?!” he said with a broad gesture to his men. “Did I not tell you? They are a poetic people, the Irish, and they die very well! Remember this when your turn comes. You’re watching a master at work!”

O’Malley shook his head in disgust. “Oh, for fack’s sake!” He spat a juicy spew of brown tobacco juice over the side of the ship and looked out to where the seagull was now joined by several others – their ‘caws’ providing a requiem chorus for the proceedings. O’Malley muttered to himself. “Fackin’ seagulls.”

“Do you have any last words my friend?” Fifi wanted this moment to last forever.

“Aim straight, Poodle! Don’t make a fackin’ mess o’ it!”

The sharp crack of the pistol shot scattered the seagulls.

O’Malley’s body fell like a marionette whose strings had all been cut at once. The flow of blood from his head trailed behind him and splashed like a glass of wine tossed into the sea.

Fifi’s distemper seemed to disappear in the sacrifice. “Well, go on! Get back to work – I want us in harbor when the bordellos open!” He then turned to his nephew. “Come along, boy. I’ll show you how to tie a proper knot.”

Le Petit Mort Deux continued on her course for Curacao leaving the corpse of Toby O’Malley bobbing in her wake. The seagulls circled his remains – waiting for more distance between themselves and the ship before they could begin their feast.

Friday, May 01, 2009


The Curacao Caper - Chapter 19

"All right then, that's the plan," Cap'n Slappy said. "Anyone have any thoughts, suggestions, additions or dirty jokes?"

The entire crew of the Boil looked around expectantly, but since they'd all been sailing together for some time now there had been no opportunity to learn any new dirty jokes, and the one about the pirate, the charwoman and the rabbi's duck, funny though it was, had lost a lot of its humor value by the 30th or 40th telling.

"No one?" Slappy asked.

"How are we going to proceed once we get ashore," asked Keeling, who was always one to want the details nailed down.

"Well, the painter disguise will get us into port," said Slappy. "Then we'll probably wing it to get into the gaol."

The look on Keeling's face told volumes about how happy he was about "winging it." Waiting for an opportunity was simply not the same thing as having a plan, in his book. But the rest of the crew merely nodded and shrugged.

"Aye," Cap'n Slappy said. "We'll muck around, see what happens, try to throw a little sand in the works and take advantage of the confusion."

"Standard operating procedure, then?" Dogwatch said.

"That's right," Slappy agreed. "So, no objections? We ought to be in sight of the island before sunset, so let's finish preparations. Are we all agreed?"

"Aye!" shouted the pirate crew, voting their assent.

"To work then!"

The pirates hustled off to finish their preparations. Ol' Chumbucket turned to go with them when he felt a heavy blow to his shoulder, which he realized was just Cementhands gently tapping him to get his attention.

"Yes?" Chumbucket responded.


"What do you mean?"

"No, what do you mean, xanthodontic?" Cementhands asked.

"Oh, that, just an effort to raise the level of my chastising. I can only call you slovenly and childish so many times before it starts to lose its sting, don't you see?"

"Sure, but what I really see is that you've been spending time with the "30 Days to A More Powerful, More Piratey Vocabulary" feature in Pirattitude Monthly again."

"Well, yeah," Chumbucket said, blushing slightly like a schoolboy who'd been caught at something.

"Is there some reason you don't just use simple, monosyllabic words that everyone can understand?"

"Well, mostly I do," Chumbucket protested. "In that last instance, there was 'caterwallin’ cluckmeisters' and 'natterin’ ninnies,' not" – Chumbucket held up his hand to forestall Cementhands' protest – "not that any of those are monosyllabic, but they certainly were understandable. I threw in xanthodontic because in the context – in the context – of the diatribe it clearly was not a compliment. I figured it might pique your interest and get one of you to look it up in the ship's dictionary."

"The ship has a dictionary?"

"Probably. Somewhere," Chumbucket said, flustered. "If nothing else, maybe one of you would be so interested that you'd find the ship's dictionary, which would benefit the whole crew."

"Or maybe one of us will just shake you until the definition pops out of your head," Cementhands said, his hand still resting on the other pirate's shoulder grasping the fabric of the shirt more tightly.

"No need," Ol' Chumbucket said hurriedly. "'Xanthodontic.' From the Greek xantho, for yellow, and dontic, relating to teeth. Xanthodontic. Yellow-toothed."

Cementhands considered for a moment, then a grin split his face.

"Xanthodontic. Yeah, that's pretty good. Xanthodontic." His mouth formed the word several more times, as if he were rehearsing it to make sure he remembered it. "Xanthodontic."

His hand lifted from Chumbucket's shoulder and he nodded his head.

"I like it."

"Glad to hear that," Ol' Chumbucket said, the fingers of his right hand probing his left shoulder to see if there was any permanent damage.

"Yeah, I like it," Cementhands said, turning away and looking for someone to try it on. "Hey, Sawbones!"

"Use it wisely, my pantagruelian pirate pal," Chumbucket said to himself.

The work in disguising the Boil had hit a snag. They'd picked Eggplant Sunrise, or Eggplant Surprise, as Cementhands insisted on calling it, because there was more of that color than any other. But though the bow was fully purplish (or violety, depending on which pirate you asked) and the black sides and red piping were covered down to the waterline, they'd started running out as they worked their way back to the fan tail. Grumby had tried thinning the paint, first with red, but that made it an even more violent shade of purple ("ultra-violent violet?" Keeling had asked, earning a baleful stare from Peddicord) and then with white, which made it more pink. Towards the stern the thinner paint hadn't covered as well, and the whole stern of the ship was still black.

"Well, it'll have to do," Slappy finally agreed with reluctance. "We have to have some paint leftover to carry off our disguise, and we're running out of time anyway."

The captain pointed to the southeast, where the first interruption of the horizon indicated the island was almost in sight.

"We've got to get everyone in costume. As long as we keep the bow pointed toward the shore, they won't notice," Slappy said, his tone indicating he was trying as much to convince himself as the crew.

Within the hour it was clear that they were indeed approaching the island. Three hours later, with the sun dipping toward the horizon, they were approaching the harbor.

Viewing it through his spyglass, Slappy's eyes lingered over the massive edifice at the waterfront.

"What is that? A stage? The skeleton of a new warehouse?"

"No," George the Greek said grimly. "Looks like one huge scaffold."

"A 24-noose scaffold," Chumbucket nodded.

"Well, let's try to avoid an appearance on it, shall we?" Slappy said, slamming his glass closed with predictable results, followed by the predictable string of Dutch profanity.

On shore, Governor Roelof Van Wubbeldinker stood atop the scaffold, scanning the horizon with his own spyglass and dancing a small, impatient jig, like a child who really has to take a leak.

“Is that them?" he asked.

“Begging your lordship’s pardon,” Bernard Jeffries replied with voice of someone who has been through this every evening for the last month," That ship appears to be flying a Dutch flag."

"Is the ship mine?"

"Our nation's, milord," Jeffries said with a sigh.

"Well, I must say, it doesn't represent our nation very well," sniffed the governor. "Have you ever seen such an ugly ship? Who would paint a ship that color? It looks like that vile vegetable I was served for dinner the other day."

"Eggplant, yes sir. A deep, rich purplish color."

"Purple? Oh no, I'd say more a violet, wouldn't you?"

"As you say sir. I understand that shade is all the rage thi … Oh my!"

The exclamation from the usually unflappable Jeffries was brought about when the ship, negotiating the tricky harbor mouth, was caught by an errant gust of wind on its rear quarter and slued to port, exposing the uneven painting that ran aft.

There was something about that ship that caught Jeffries' attention. It couldn't be the color, he thought. He'd never seen a ship painted that color. No one had ever seen a ship painted that color. But what as it?

"Oh, look at that!" the governor said, clapping his hands with pleasure. "It's purple AND violet, and black and red, all fading towards the end. It looks exactly like a giant floating bruise!"

Click! The connection closed in Jeffries' mind. He stared

The governor giggled, and it was only the sound of that giggle, a sound that horrified Jeffries as much as any sound on the planet, that snapped the valet back to the moment.

"Yes sir, very apt. A giant floating bruise." Jeffries paused, then said more to himself than anyone else, "Or perhaps a boil. A giant, floating festering boil."

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