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.

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