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!"

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