Saturday, July 04, 2009


The Curaçao Caper - Chapter 29

"Any more of that Low Country Sunrise?"

"I think there's a quart of it down by the entrance."

"A quart? I've got three cells still to finish!"

"How about Irish Bog? There's still a lot of that."

"Are you kidding! That's green! Mix it with Low Country Sunrise? It'd make the prisoners puke!"

"Well, I don't know what else you can do."

"I'm going to go talk to McCormack."

Spencer turned from Red Molly and stomped back down the cell block, eventually finding Cementhands sprawled out in the floor of a cell recently painted a perky shade of yellow called Jamaica Jaundice. The young pirate prodded the snoring pirate with the toe of his boot.

McCormack lashed out with one hand as if trying to swat an annoying insect, but Spencer had too much experience waking sleeping pirates in general – this sleeping giant of a pirate in particular – to be caught. Jumping back, he launched another prod to the ribs, leaping back again just ahead of the sweeping paw McCormack aimed at where he'd been.

"Thi'd be'erbeimpornn." the man muttered.

"Wake up ye great fat git," Spencer said. "If you don't I'll have to try dashing water in yer face, and since there's no water in this cell, it'll probably mean I'll have to piss on ye."

"You wouldn't dare," the voice said, significantly more alert.

"Try me," Spencer said as his hand reached for the drawstring of his drawers.

"I'm awake, but don't expect to make the list of my top 25 friends in my diary," he muttered darkly.

"You keep a diary?"

"Well, it's more like a sheet of paper. On one side are the names of people I owe money to. On the other side is a list of my friends. Interestingly, they're pretty much exactly the same list," McCormack said as he stirred and began folding himself into a sitting position. "Now what's so damn important that you had to interrupt me in the middle of an important planning session?"

"A planning session is what that was?" Spencer asked.

"Aye, I was trying to decide what to do when we've finished painting this gaol and we still haven't found George or Welly or Hamnquist."

"Well, you'd better have come up with a plan quick," Spencer said. "We're running out of paint."

"Running out? How could that be?"

"We've been painting for a week!" Spencer said. "We're almost down to the dungeon level. And still no sign either of our guys or the captain's old friend."

"Yeah, well, the way they keep moving people around, it's hard to keep track of who's where. And then there’s Dogwatch and Sawbones claiming that women are tunneling around in here. I've been staking out this room – "

"While planning," Spencer added.

"Oh aye, of course, staking out AND planning, it's something I've decided to call multi-tasking."

"Multi … ?"

"Multitasking. I'm going to trademark the word and anytime anyone uses it, they'll owe me $27."

"Why would anyone use the word 'multitasking?'"

"You owe me $27."

"Look, all I'm saying is we need more paint."

McCormack patted the pockets of his pants and jacket as if looking for something, then turned to Spencer and offered an elaborate shrug.

"Sorry, don't seem to have any on me."

"Well what are we supposed to do?" Spencer fumed.

"Look, there's enough paint to finish the job."

"But there's not enough of anyone color to paint anything! I'm not sure there's enough paint to finish the lower level dungeon at all, and if we're not painting that, how do we justify going down there?"

McCormack sighed.

"Do I have to do all the thinking for everyone? No wonder Slappy put me in charge. If there's not enough paint of any one color? Then for the love of moldy cheese, mix 'em altogether."

"Mix 'em … ? And what would we call it?"

"Curacao Clot."

"That sounds horrid."

"You have any other ideas for getting more paint? Because we HAVE to get down to the lower level if we're going to find … "

There was a polite, perfectly modulated cough at the door.

"Mr. McCormack? I wonder if I might have a word."

The two pirates stopped talking and looked to the door, where the governor's assistant and valet, Bernard Jeffries, stood, his bearing indicating both important business and a reluctance to intrude, with the tilt of his head offering silent comment on how well the painting was going, the set of his shoulders and position of his feet testifying to the delightful meal he'd consumed a short time ago and his compliments to the chef, respectively, and something about the slant of his hips indicating how nice the weather was today.

"Ah, Mr. Jeffries. Come in, come in," McCormack said. "My congratulations to whoever taught you posture."

Jeffries acknowledged the compliment by a slight but unmistakable re-positioning of his feet.

McCormack dismissed Spencer with a regal wave of his hand.

"You can go now, and tell the crew to take a break. I'll deal with the situation momentarily. And now," he said as the young pirate left. "What can I do for you?”

Jeffries removed his hat as he ducked through the low doorway of the cell.

"I've come to ask if you can help us with a slight problem that's arisen," he said apologetically.

"A problem? Well, you know the old saying, there are no problems, only opportunities."

"Yes, a popular saying with salesmen, I believe. But in this case this problem might be an opportunity for most of the members of our opera company to take residence in these charmingly painted cells."

"Really? I've never been a big fan of the opera myself, too much singing in it for my taste, but gaol seems a bit harsh even for tenors. Perhaps you had better fill me in."

"Yes of course," Jeffries said. "Well, as you no doubt know, the governor's wedding is now just a week away. And part of the festivities commemorating the big day is a special presentation by the Curacao Opera Theatre?"

"Theatre? Or theater?" Cementhands asked.

"Theatre. We're nothing if not cosmopolitan here. In any case, the opera was preparing a presentation of Die Fledermausketeer. Perhaps you know of it?"

"Not by that name. Judging by the music I overheard while passing the opera house, I'd assumed …"

"Well yes. The music was adapted from the work of Donna Isabella de la Vaca Verde, the former wife of the governor of Maracaibo, Don Taco. She penned …"

"Former wife?" asked McCormack, surprised.

"Well, as good as," Jeffries said, the slightly bowlegged stance he adopted along with the set of his chin revealing that he hated spreading gossip of a personal nature. "It seems that at about the same time she married the governor she came to public attention for the quite unusual oratorio she had written. She was becoming famous and yearned for a continental tour, but Governor Taco was occupied with affairs of state. She threw herself into her music, adapting the string of songs into the opera we are to present tonight, but it wasn't well received and her reputation suffered. She blamed the governor and, well, they are now estranged. Technically still married, last I heard, but no longer the devoted, loving couple they once were. The governor, I am given to understand, is inconsolable."

"He would be. He's a sentimental guy and loves music as much as anyone."

"You know him?"

"We've met," McCormack said, remembering a long Atlantic crossing made longer by the fact that Don Taco would be better named Don Talkative. "But how does this involve us?"

"Well, the singers and orchestra are all ready to perform, but the technical work is seriously behind schedule. As you may not know, I've also been named technical director of the COT, and we have a very ambitious set we've been working on. But it's not finished, and I fear we'll never get it painted in time. And the governor is, well, let's call him a passionate fan of opera and a severe critic when things don't meet his exacting standards. And since you and your crew are painters …"

"You were wondering if we'd come and paint the set."

"Yes, I confess that's what I'd hoped to ask. But I know how busy you are, so maybe I'll just see …"

Well, it's not just the time, but we have barely enough paint for this job."

"Oh, that's not an issue. The theater has a small ocean of paint available. Theatrical pigments in every hue."

"Oceans of paint? Every hue?"

"Oh yes, that won't be an issue. You could paint the entire set twice and not make a dent in the quantities of paint the opera has on hand."

"Really now," McCormack said, thinking. "I'll tell you what. I can lend you a handful of painters. A week to the opening you said?"

"No. A week to the wedding. Six days to the 'wedding eve," festivities, which include the opera."

"Well then, we'd better get right on it. If you want to get back to the opera house, I'll send you some painters. You'll be very impressed with what they can do."

"No doubt," Jeffries said, though the slight wrinkle of his nose and extension of his left pinky expressed the slightest bit of doubt.

"No, really! We've got a couple of guys who can do wonders, and we'll send enough others to make sure the job gets done on time."

"Well, if you're sure."

"Of course I'm sure. Don't give it another thought," McCormack said, slapping Jeffries on the back in a friendly way, so friendly that it merely knocked the man into a wall instead of dislocating his shoulder. "You trot back to the opera house and I'll have some painters on their way right behind you."

"That's good of you," Jeffries said, virtually every inch of his body showing the relief he felt at the thought that maybe he wouldn't be sent to gaol for a subpar opera.

He made his way quickly out of the cell block, so quickly that McCormack didn't see that one physical manifestation that Jeffries had hoped to mask. He had his fingers crossed.

McCormack headed out to the main corridor where Spencer had gathered the remaining dribs and drabs of various colors together and enlisted other Boils to help him mix them into Curacao Clot.

"Hold on their little fella," McCormack said. "Belay that conglomerating of colors!"

"What's up, McCormack?" asked Cap'n Slappy, who been about to pour Anguilla Avacado and Martinique Mist together.

McCormack quickly filled the rest of the team in.

"And that way we can get all the paint we'll need to finish this job," he concluded.

Slappy seemed unconvinced.

"You' know, McCormack, it's not like we're real painters here. If we don't do a thoroughly professional job, all we really care about is finding the guys and Hamnquist."

"And if we don't at least act like professionals," McCormack countered, "we'll never get down to the lowest level and find them. That's where they've got to be. For all this switching prisoners here and there, I haven't seen any sign in any cell that our boys are up here."

"Up here" was a relative term. They were three floors below the surface, a good 40 feet. But "up here" was adequate when comparing it to "down there." They had seen the heavy oaken door, and even gotten a glimpse down the dark, narrow staircase that seemed to disappear into the gloom. A glimpse was all; their mutant shaped overseer had quickly slammed it as if the heavy door were no more than a sheet of paper.

"So why don't we send a squad over to the opera house, do a quick job on their set, acquire enough paint to finish this job, and get on with it?" McCormack said.

"Who do you think I should send?" Slappy asked.

"Well, Oscar and Salty Jim, for sure. They have more … what's the word I want here? … ‘creative’ spark than your average pirate. Butch ..."

"Butch? He's a cook?"

"He's creative. And say five more. And you should lead them."

"Me? What the hell for? Why not you?"

"I'm the foreman. I have to stay here," McCormack said patiently. "It's not like I wanted the job, but if I have to be here, that's just the way it is. Why? Are you afraid to go over to the opera house?"

"Of course not! Me? Afraid??!?"

"No offense meant," McCormack quickly assured him. "I just thought with the songs being based on your personal," McCormack managed to put so much spin on the word personal that if it had been a baseball it wouldn't have just curved, it would have done flips, "poetry that you'd be uneasy being around when they're rehearsing. You don't want to look weak in the eyes of the crew, do you?"

"I'm not afraid of anything. Except clowns of course," Slappy admitted.

"Of course. Who isn't? Creepy." McCormack shuddered, then got back to business. "So if there's no personal reason not to, you'll lead the squad over?"

The captain glared at his subordinate, trying to figure out how he'd been maneuvered into this. He looked over at where the rest of the crew was waiting on his decision. Damn!

"Of course," he said. "Let's go."

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