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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