Tuesday, June 16, 2009


Chapter 28 - "Scheming, Plotting and Fuming"

“Uncle, nobody is ever going to believe that we are caterers.”

Jacques fidgeted nervously with the cutlery they had used only moments before to dispatch the actual caterers whose identities they now assumed. He wasn’t sure whether to clean the knives or sharpen them so he just kind of handed them back and forth between his left and his right hands.

“Nobody would have believed that Duvall here would have made a suitable floatation device, but, in fact, he did! And besides – I’m an excellent chef. I would have opened a fancy Paris bistro if only I had the disposition to do so.”

As Le Fleur spoke, he busied himself with the making of dough for what would eventually an exquisite pastry.

His frustrated nephew tossed the bloody knives into a pot of water that was heating on the wood-burning oven. “What’s the matter, Uncle – not enough blood in the food services industry?”

“Quite the contrary, lad.” Le Fleur smiled, “I lacked the ruthlessness necessary to work in the restaurant business – piracy has nothing on kitchen work!”

Duvall smiled and nodded. “Did I really do a good job as a floatation device?”

“We’re all here, aren’t we?” Fifi replied matter-of-factly. “Nobody drowned, did they?”

“Oui, mon … chef?!?” Duvall replied sheepishly

Fifi raised one dangerous eyebrow – then, with a sudden clap of his hands declared with uncharacteristic glee, “That’s right! We no longer have to pretend to enjoy or even understand other languages! We’re French caterers now! We can be snotty to our customers in our own native tongue!”

“But mon uncle!” Jacques broke in. “What’s the point of us pretending to be caterers – French, Dutch or English? How does this help us accomplish our mission?”

Fifi Le Fleur raised a suspicious eyebrow. “Do you KNOW our mission, nephew?”

“Not really, uncle. But we didn’t jump ship, tromp through the jungle and ruthlessly murder two innocent Dutch caterers just so we could branch out into the food services industry, did we?”

Le Fleur smiled. “Our mission is to find out where the treasure of Horatio Hamnquist is – and as a condemned criminal what does he get the night before his hanging?”

Luc Duvall shot a hand into the air. “I know this one! I know this one mon capitane!”

“Monsieur Duvall? What is the correct answer?” Fifi pointed at him like a gleeful headmaster – proud of his eager student.

“A Last Meal!” Duvall elbowed young Jacques to register his victory.

“Oui!” Le Fleur nodded. “And as the only surviving caterer in Willemstad, who handles last meal duties?”

“Alright. I get it!” Jacques blurted impatiently over Duvall’s re-extended raised hand. “We cater the last meal and spring Hamnquist from prison.”

“At least until he tells us where the treasure is – unless he’s already told someone else.”

“Mon Capitaine!” Luc Duvall protested, “Who else would he tell? You were always the favorite of the Captain Hamnquist, no?”

“Oui.” Le Fleur replied thoughtfully. “It was either myself or ol’ Sloppy.”

Just then, the bell on the door jingled and announced the presence of their first customer. As the three of them looked up, their mouths fell open at the sight of the giant baby-like man in the doorway.

“Master says we need your services.”

“Now, let me get this straight.” Cap’n Slappy swirled the last few ounces of ale around the bottom of his tankard – as if he was hypnotizing himself into understanding. “Sally WANTS us to stick around Willemstad so she told you to get to get us to go to Westpunt?”

“Perhaps.” Ol’ Chumbucket replied, eyeing the last drops of rum in his glass. “Her meaning wasn’t altogether clear.”

“Well, I’m not going anywhere until we get our mates out o’ that prison!” Cementhands McCormack asserted.

“But if her game isn’t matrimony at the highest levels of Dutch colonial government, what is it?” Slappy soldiered on – trying to make meaning out of the meeting between his mate and his mate’s love-o’-his-life.

“Well, the marriage – or rather – the trappings of the marriage or some marital by-product is what she’s after.” Chumbucket was thinking out loud as much as he was talking to anybody else – this, of course, didn’t stop Cementhands McCormack from replying.

“Marital by-product? You mean, arguments? Broken dishes? Financial hardships?” Here the big man paused, “Children?”


“Then what is it she wants?”

“I don’t know!”

All three men downed the last of their drinks and held them aloft as a friendly buxom bar wench came by and collected their cups.

“Another round o’ the same, dearies?” she said with a wink toward McCormack.

“Aye, me saucy minx!” the big man replied “And put ‘em on his tab!” he added with a gesture toward Slappy.

“You’re welcome!” The captain snarled.

“Think nothing of it, Cap’n! It’s the least ye can do!” McCormack replied.

“And ye always do …” Ol’ Chumbucket started the familiar refrain to be joined by his mates for, “THE LEAST YE CAN DO!”

“Well,” Slappy continued to work on the problem at hand. “Whatever it is, it must have something to do with the dress shop they’re running over by the gaol. But it doesn’t really matter, now, does it?”

“What do you mean?” Chumbucket asked.

“We’re here to do what we’re here to do! To retrieve Hamnquist – or his secret – and now to free our own men! And we’re not chasing off to Westpunt until we have ‘em!”

Conversation stopped as the wench brought their next round to the table. Once she was gone, the three lifted their glasses in salute.

“To the mission!” Slappy declared.

“I thought we were going to paint the gaol?” McCormack asked in some confusion about this new, “mission” job.

“I think the ‘mission’ to which Cap’n Slappy refers,” Chumbucket explained carefully, “is a set of objectives designed to accomplish a larger task and not a far-flung institution of worship.” But as he finished his clarification, he could see the cheeky smile on McCormack’s face so he simply added, “You bastard.”

“Alright boys, let’s finish off these drinks and get back to work. Ol’ Chumbucket, get back to the ship and make sure young Gabriel hasn’t gotten into too much mischief whilst he’s had the helm.”

With an “Aye-aye!” the three swallowed down their drinks and headed out into the bright afternoon sun; Chumbucket to the wharf and McCormack and Slappy to the gaol.

As the Cap’n and McCormack passed the opera house, they were stopped in their tracks by some familiar refrains.

“Isn’t that music from that thing that Lady Isabella in Maracaibo wrote – using your penis poetry?” McCormack asked. (As recorded for posterity, or at least posteriors, in "The Maracaibo Caper." )

Cap’n Slappy was transfixed – as if being teleported back in time to the greatest artistic achievement of his life. He listened carefully and mouthed the words as they wafted through the air around them.

“Aye! That IS it, ISN’T it?” McCormack said with added emphasis. “Didn’t Lady Isabella turn the whole thing into an opera complete with big beautiful women in horny hats?”

“Valkyrie!” Slappy snapped impatiently, “And they’re not ‘Horny Hats!’ They’re WINGED helmets! And they choose the worthy battle-fallen for a place in Valhalla!”

“Alright!” McCormack relented “But you must admit that is YOUR poetry she’s singin’ isn’t it?”

Slappy paused and smiled. “Aye, that it is – but we can’t bask in the warm glow o’ the fine arts when we’ve got some paintin’ and plannin’ to do!”


“Where’s the captain and McCormack?” Keeling poked his head into the empty cell and asked Dogwatch as put a second coat of sea-foam green on the grey stone walls.

“It’s not my turn to watch ‘em.” Dogwatch’s reply was a bit more snippy than he had intended – he thought perhaps the paint fumes were getting to him. “Have you asked Jenny?”

“So it’s her turn to watch ‘em?” Keeling snipped back. Everyone’s nerves were frayed. Their plan to locate Hamnquist and their imprisoned mates, George the Greek and Wellington Peddicord, were being thwarted by the big jailor’s constant shuffling of his prisoners from cell to cell to ever deeper parts of this seeming bottomless gaol.

Both pirates took a moment to comport themselves – “My apologies, Mr. Watts.” Leftenant Keeling said showing his famous self-control. “These infernal paint fumes must be getting to me.”

“No need to apologize, Leftenant.” Dogwatch replied. “We’re all a bit batty from this. That big jailor bastard locks us in whenever he leaves the gaol so we’re like prisoners – only with a task.” He paused and backed away from the wall he was painting and gave it a careful glance. “What do you think? Another coat?”

“It’s hard to tell when you’re painting by torchlight.” Keeling confessed.

Butch stuck his head in – “I’m all out of Moonlight Peach and I’ve only painted two of my cell walls.”

Before Keeling could suggest a proper mixture of paints to match Moonlight Peach Sawbones Burgess wandered in adding his two cents worth;

“Cocoa Butter Morning” makes a splendid accent wall for most of the pallet.

“Isn’t that just brown?” Two-Patch chimed in – facing the wrong direction.

“That’s like saying, ‘Untainted Salmon’ is just ‘Moonlight Peach’ without the resonant ‘Turkish Sunlight’ overtones!” Burgess snapped, adding, “Besides, Two-Patch, you’re as blind as a bat!”

Two Patch slammed his paint can and brush to the floor and took a fighting stance – punching the air in front of him in hopes of landing one on the good doctor’s nose.

“You wouldn’t know your ‘Irish Shamrock’ from your ‘Blarney Castle Moss’ if it wasn’t written on the damn can, ye tonic peddlin’ Charlemagne!” Two Patch was now adding a vicious kick to his fighting repertoire.

“That’s ‘CHARLATAN’ you inbred, heat-seeking, ignorant freak o’ nature!”

The word, “nature” had barely passed Burgess’ lips when Two-Patch’s bony fist made contact and pushed that exclamation point back down Sawbone’s throat. The two men grappled to the floor where they provided some brief entertainment to the pirate painters who placed bets on which would come out ahead.

“Well, now that they’re wrestling, I’m putting my money on Two-Patch!” Keeling said as he handed a silver coin to Jenny who volunteered her services as bookie and referee.

The frenetic scene was sharply interrupted when a stone fell out of the cell wall behind them and the face of a lovely albeit dirty young woman poked through.

She directed her comment toward the eldest of the group – the now paint besplattered and somewhat battered Sawbones Burgess. “Horatio Hamnquist, I presume?”

Burgess disentangled himself from his sparring partner and stood to his feet – shaking wet paint from his arms and cleaning blood from his mouth. But he quickly assumed the bearing of a distinguished pirate of good breeding.

“That depends, Luv.”

“On what, Luv,” the young woman shot back now braced by strong suspicion, “does your identification depend?”

Without any hesitation, Doc Burgess replied, “Well, Luv, on whether this visit is professional or social.”

The young woman shuddered but otherwise held her composure. “This visit is strictly professional.”

“Well!” Burgess replied with a bit of a huff “In that case I am NOT the pirate Hamnquist as they move him constantly from cell to cell in order to thwart any escape attempts and all of your tunneling has been a waste … unless you can think of some way to salvage this happy accident.”

The young woman rolled her eyes derisively and turned back toward her confederates in the tunnel behind her. “He’s not here! They move him around!”

“He’s not here, they move him around!” echoed down the tunnel from different voices – all female. The faintest, most distant voice could be heard in a lower rougher tone, “Dammit! I knew this wouldn’t work!”

The young woman pointed at the dislodged stone on the floor with her eyes and cast a quick glance toward Dogwatch. “Would ye mind, Luv?” (This time, the word, “Luv” seemed truly flirtatious without a hint of derision.)

Dogwatch picked up the stone and placed it back in the wall where it belonged as the young woman eased herself backwards and just like that she was gone.

“Now I have to repaint that whole section!” he fumed to himself.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


The Curaçao Caper - Chapter 27

"Omigod!" the lookout on the Dutch frigate called out.

"What?" his fellow lookout asked.

"I … I thought I … saw something, over there," he pointed. "But no, there's nothing there," he said, his mind working overtime to deny the ghastly hued horror that was The Festering Boil.

"Are you sure?" the colleague asked.

"Yes, yes, I'm sure. But what's that ship over there? The one on the horizon making way?"

The eye of every lookout on the two Dutch warships swung over to Le Petit Mort Deux as the ship unfurled its sails and started moving out under a growing spread of canvas.

"Ahoy the deck," the first one shouted down from the mast trees where they perched. "Ship making sail due west."

On the quarterdeck of the Dutch ship the captain gave Le Petit Mort Deux a good long look, then motioned to his subordinate.

"Run up a signal to De Jongen van het Deeg to pursue that ship," he said. "If they can board her, find out who she is. He's got a head start, but at the very least he should make sure whoever she is, she's safely on her way out of our waters. I don't want anything marring the next two weeks."

The first mate nodded his assent, saluted and stepped away. Within moments, signal flags were flying up the mast. Those signals were acknowledged and the smaller ship, De Jongen van het Deeg, began wheeling around to pursue. Even though it was the faster of the two, the captain doubted it would be able to catch the fleeing ship, which looked at least as fast and was picking up speed with a good head start. Still, it would soon be away from Willemstad, and that was all the captain cared about.

Two weeks of quiet, he said to himself. That's not too much to ask. Just two weeks of quiet, and then he could head back to the low country and worry about nothing more than a few channel smugglers. He could get away from the hot, humid, crowded streets of this Caribbean hell hole.

The hot, humid, crowded streets of what the captain thought of as a hell hole looked like just one more Caribbean port city to Ol' Chumbucket as he walked beside his young guide through the fetid air of the main road. They matched strides in silence. Chumbucket was a little surprised when they walked right past the governor's mansion, which he half expected would be their goal, and on into the city. Past the taverns Chumbucket thought looked like apt places for pirates to meet in secret, past the market place where vendors and customers jostled and haggled over the prices of vegetable rotting in the bright sunshine.

They turned a corner at the square that fronted the opera house, where the company was practicing a special production in honor of the impending nuptials. The two men passed along behind the building, where the squeal of saws and pounding of hammers competed with the screaming of the set designer. Then up a small lane where the buildings were crowded more closely together, the covered upper floor balconies practically reaching out towards each other, closing out all but a small slit of the sky over their heads.

"So how long have you worked for Sally?" Ol' Chumbucket asked casually as the red-headed young man led him through maze of streets. The younger man's head turned just slightly, but he kept going without breaking stride.

"I'm sorry. I thought I told you. I am the personal attendant of Countess Sonja av Sarasgalen …"

"Save it," Chumbucket said, not even looking up. "Call her whatever you want. How long have you known Sally?"

"I have worked for the same person for quite a while now," the man said.

"And you're name is?"

"Known to my employer, sir" the red-head said in his most assuring tone.

"I see," said Ol' Chumbucket. He glanced at the younger man. He carried himself with the easy insolence of youth, with a patrician air. That might be the role he was playing, Chumbucket admitted, but might simply be arrogance. Slim, his red beard neatly trimmed, not quite as tall as the older pirate – and Chumbucket was not a tall man. But under the thin veneer of propriety and hostility, Chumbucket could sense a competence, and maybe even a menace. The man smiled at him, but it was a smile that went no further than his mouth. It never reached his eyes.

"Mind if I call you Dave?" Chumbucket asked as they turned off the thoroughfare into an alley.

This took the other by surprise.

"Dave? Why Dave?"

"Well I've got to call you something don't I? I've known several Dave's," Chumbucket continued conversationally. "One of the them was a complete jerk, tried to kill me more times than I care to think about, but the other two were really nice guys. One of them was an accountant, so there's that, but otherwise he was alright. No, wait. I think that was me. That's right. I used the name David when I was trying to pull that scam on the Bank of London. It would have worked too, except for the damn cats."


"Oh yeah. Cats. Never get involved in a con with a partner who has more than three cats. That became my motto, my rule to live by, and I've never strayed from it since."


"Yeah. So anyway, I'll call you Dave, alright?"

"Call me whatever you like. It doesn't matter. I'm just taking you to see the countess and then we're done."

“Fine, Dave."

"And I will call you … ?"

"Whenever you have a message for me," Ol' Chumbucket said as his guide led them down an alley.

"This way," the younger man said. "Through that arch. You'll find her there. I'll wait out here and keep an eye on things."

Ol' Chumbucket had been watching for tails and was relatively certain they hadn't been followed, but if this young pup wanted to protect their back, who was he to cavil? He just nodded, said, "See ya later, Dave," and went through the arch.

Directly ahead of him was a brick wall. Likewise to his left. To his right was another archway, and since that was the only way to go, he went. Passing through it, he found himself in a small patio area with a pair of small tables and chairs and dozens of plants hanging from the louvered panels that made up the ceiling. The air was redolent with the smell of exotic flowers growing in many of the pots.

Very lovely, Chumbucket thought. But where's Sally?

She didn't seem to be in the patio area. There was a French door across the patio, but when Chumbucket tried it, it was locked. Normally that would not pose a problem, but peering through the glass panes of the door into the room beyond he saw no point. The room was empty.

He turned back toward the arch he'd entered, planning to demand from "Dave" an explanation.

And there she was.

He stopped and stared. She looked good. And not just because, as a countess, she was clean, beautifully dressed, carefully coiffed and draped in jewelry. It was much more than that. Her eyes shone with confidence, a liveliness, a strength that he hadn't seen since their early days together. He'd feel kind of bad about that if he thought about it, if he'd been part of whatever had dimmed that light before. But it was there now, and he stared.

It was she who eventually broke the silence.

"How have you been?" she asked.

"Oh, you know. Busy. Pillaging, plundering, escaping with my life now and again. The usual. I must say you're looking good," he continued. "Being a countess seems to agree with you."

"Being a captain, you mean."

"Captain, countess, whatever."

"I'd have to say you're right, as far as that goes. It's been a good couple of years as captain of my own ship."

"Has it now?"

"Oh yes. I always knew I could, and it's nice to know I was right. Command suits me. So … "

Courtesy almost required she make some idle return of the compliment, but in truth, Sally thought Ol' Chumbucket looked like hell. He looked tired, his once neatly timed beard was scraggly, he wasn't quite the young, trim, vibrant corsair she'd been remembering. “Well, we all get older,” she told herself.

"No, really Sally," Chumbucket said. "You look great."

"Enough idle chit chat," she said, getting down to brass tacks. "We have business to discuss."


"Aye. Personal business."

She indicated a chair at one of the tables. Chumbucket thought about pulling out a chair for her, the whole chivalry thing, but decided, "Hell. This is business. Let her get her own damn chair." He pulled one out and sat in it. She took the chair at the opposite side of the small table.

"Let's get down to it then," she said. "What are you and the Boil doing in Curacao?"

"I could ask you the same thing, and I wouldn't get a better answer than you'll get from me."

"Personal business?"

"Aye, personal business. But in our line of work, isn't all business personal?"

She smiled at that.

"Yes, yes I suppose it is."

"So, what? You're here to get married, I understand." He says this very flat, totally devoid of emotion.

"Let's say I'm here for a wedding."

"Well, that's an interesting distinction. And what's all this countess business? I don't remember any royalty or titles in your background, unless you were holding out on me all those years."

"Oh, there's a real Countess Sonja. She's 92 years old, remarkably healthy for her age. Must be those daily swims in the fiords. For reasons that will stay between her and me, we made this arrangement. I needed the title for the wedding."

"But why marry the idiot governor of an obscure Dutch colony on the edge of the map? I don't get it," Chumbucket said.

"And you don't need to. But I do have something for you."

"I'm all ears."

"My crew and I will be here for a short while, then we'll be leaving very suddenly."

"Ah, so the wedding is the point, not the governor."

"Didn't I just say that?"

"Words to that effect, but never mind. Go on."

"It will be worth the Boil's time to give us a little assistance in our departure."

"Oh really. But we have our own business to attend to."

Sally sighed. He just refused to make this easy.

"Look, these aren't mutually exclusive things. I think you can help us and still do whatever it is you're here to do."

"You think?"

"You couldn't possibly be here for the reason I'm here."

"True, the governor really isn't my type."

Sally snorted with exasperation.

"Look. It's simple. What we're doing will require us to sail out of here very quickly. You might have noticed a couple of Dutch warships sailing into the harbor today?"

"Yea, I saw them. What about 'em?"

"It would be helpful if, on my wedding night, those two ships were chasing pirates headed, shall we say, toward the town of Westpunt."

"Westpunt. Really?"

"I'm just saying."

"You're not saying much."

"I can't."

"And why would we do this? Note I said 'we,'" he added, cutting off hr response. "I'm just one member of the crew. I can't act unilaterally or make any promises."

"I know that, but you can explain to Slappy and between the two of you I'm sure you can convince the crew."

"But why should we?"

"How about 'for old time's sake?'"

Chumbucket smiled ruefully.

"When you get to be my age, 'old time' covers a lot of ground. Would this be like old times on Tortuga, and Barbados, and in Santiago? Or old times like when you missed our dinner appointment in Mossel Bay?"

"I left you a note."

"Yes you did. A very stirring declaration of independence, as I recall."

"I explained it all then and I'm not going to apologize for it now. I did what I had to do. I'd do it again."

"I'm sure you would."

"That doesn't mean it was easy."

"Well, I certainly would hope it wasn't. I'd hate to think it was easy to leave me in the lurch."

"I'm sorry if you were hurt."

"But not sorry you hurt me."

Sally glared at him. He glared at her. They glared, the two of them.

It was Sally who broke the standoff.

"Look. We need those Dutch ships out of port and up the coast to Westpunt. Can the Boil help with that?"

"I'll take it under advisement," he said, in one of the classic dismissive phrases.

"In other words no."

"No, I'll talk to Slappy about it. Maybe a cruise to Westpunt is exactly what's needed for our plan to succeed. But you haven't given me much to work with. What am I supposed to say?"

"You're clever. You'll think of something."

"Well, I'll consider it and get back to you."

"I'll send my aide down tomorrow to see if you have anything for me."

"Your aide. Yes. Interesting fellow. I'll look forward to seeing Dave in the morning."


Chumbucket gave a short, never-mind shake of his head, and rose.

"Then I take it we're done here?"

"Are we ever done?" Sally asked, rising.

"Depends on what you mean by done. For now, you probably have to get back to your boyfriend at the mansion, and I've got to do something or other, probably pretty squalid. I'll let you know where things stand tomorrow."

Sally rose and took a half step toward him, as if she wanted to say something, then turned and headed towards the exit. Pausing under the archway she turned back.

"I have missed you," she said.

"And me you," he said, "but what difference does that make?"

"Maybe none."

"Maybe. See you later. And Dave."

She gave him a perplexed look, then turned and walked away.

Taking the arm of her servant Johan, she headed out into the street. Once out of sight, she turned and asked, "Dave?"

"He likes to talk, doesn't he?"

"What did you think of him."

"Like I said, he likes to talk."

"Aye, he's good at it, too. But don't let that fool you. He can be very dangerous."

"So is he going to do what you asked?"

"Oh no. I'm sure he won't. That's why I asked him to do the opposite of what we need. If I want him to stay in Willemstad and keep Westpunt clear, the best way to ensure it is to ask him to go to Westpunt."

"There's a phrase for that," the young man – whom readers may recall is really named Johan, not Dave – mused. He dug into his academic background, then with a self-satisfied smile said, "oppositional defiant."

"I'd have called it being a suspicious asshole, but yours has a nicer ring. Let's get back to the mansion before we're missed."

Ol' Chumbucket remained a few moments longer, breathing the floral scented air deeply. Then he put his hat on, gave it a sharp tap, and headed out. At the archway he paused, looked back at the table, and smiled as he turned and walked away.

"Oh Sally. Just how stupid do you think I've become?"

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