Tuesday, August 25, 2009


Chapter 34 - "Divas and Devils"

“Go on, Luc, he says! You take these last meals to la prison! And make sure you get ol’ Hamnquist to tell us where his treasure is hidden! – PWAH!”

Luc Duvall spat as he pulled the cart of covered dinner trays across the cobblestone streets of Willemstad toward the gaol doing his most disrespectful impersonation of Fifi LeFleur.

“Imbecile! He says – TO ME! Imbecile! I cannot cater the most important opera-related social event of the year and be expected to feed a bunch of unappreciative condemned pirates!”

Luc spat again – PWAH!

He continued his one-sided interpretation of the conversation aloud as he struggled with his burden; “But mon capitaine! I thought condemned men could request their favorite dish for a last meal?”

“They can request anything they like – they’ll get fish tacos! You can make fish tacos, can’t you, Duvall – you stupid, stupid, stupido!?”

“Oui, mon capitaine! But so can the boy – why doesn’t he cover the prisoners so I can help you at the opera? I LOVE the opera!”

“And a pig may love Jesus, but I’m not taking one to church with me!” Duvall continued to mutter as he tugged the cart along.


“How many encores are they going to do, Uncle?”

“Just watch the table boy.” LeFleur spoke sharply to his nephew as he ventured away from the refreshment table and poked his head in at the back of the opera house.

On either side of the entry to the auditorium, Fifi saw faces he thought he recognized – pirate faces – Boiler faces. He took a good hard look at the Leading Lady on stage. She had held the audience in the palm of her meaty hand all night and she was feeding them like the greedy baby birds they were – none greedier than the governor himself – who now lead the standing ovation beside his rather mystified-looking bride-to-be.

As his eyes adjusted to the darkness he could see that most of the crew of The Festering Boil was filling the standing-room-only section applauding appreciatively if not enthusiastically. Two notable crewmates not in attendance were Cementhands McCormack and Ol’ Chumbucket. Unbeknownst to the pirate-turned-caterer, the two of them were drinking in a pub across the street from the opera house.

With the final ovation coming to a close, Governor Van Wubbeldinker made his way from his box to the front of the stage where he joined the leading lady. As he moved, a full regiment of his troops took up positions behind him on stage and up and down the aisles of the auditorium with reserves in the lobby. These security measures caused Fifi LeFleur enough discomfort that he retreated to his refreshment table.

“Oh, my!” the governor gushed, fanning his face with his open hand to ward off “the vapors” as he approached the grand dame. “My dear lady, you are a treasure to the world of opera!”

Cap’n Slappy, unsure about the level of disguise his veil provided when up close snapped his fan open and shielded his face from closer inspection.

“Oh, governor, you are too kind!” he extended his right hand as on offering to Van Wubbeldinker’s gentlemanly lips. The governor bent over to kiss the singer's hand, then froze. The ring – the very same ring Slappy had been given to quiet his bitter complaints about terrible birthday prezzies – was suddenly in the governors face.

The governor recognized it instantly, it had his family crest on it. The Governor looked up from nearly kissing the hand and with a swift motion snatched the veil from Slappy’s face. “I should have known!” although he really didn’t think he should have – he just wanted to appear less stupid. “This is no diva! This is that devil – Cap’n Slappy!”

Something kicked in for Slappy and without giving it a second thought, he snapped the fan shut and twirled it in his hand until he gripped it like a knife that he then punched into the governor’s chest – without the penetrating point, his weapon simply jolted the governor off of his feet and planted him unceremoniously on his backside.

There was a moment of shock – when everyone in the theater stood frozen – eyes on the governor who seemed the most surprised of anyone. Slappy seized this moment of hesitation and seeing no exit stage left or stage right, charged directly down stage toward the audience and leaped – in full courtesan costume – over the narrow orchestra pit and began sprinting up the aisle toward the lobby.

Unfortunately, the stage lights had blinded him to the number of soldiers that now stood in his escape route and after but that one moment’s shock and awe, they fell on him in overwhelming numbers. Not to be left out of the fracas, the Boilers in the house threw themselves headlong into the melee as innocent opera fans (if there IS such a thing as an innocent opera fan) moved away from what was quickly turning into a riot.

Nearly blind in the darkness, Two Patch had to feel his way into the fray, but once he got a feel of Dutch uniform, he latched on like a ferocious barnacle – biting off the ear of an unfortunate guardsman. And despite the restrictiveness of his costume, Slappy was in rare form – using his corset as armor protecting him from body blows.

He punched and head-butted his way up the narrow field of battle delivering savage beatings with his fists and forehead. As the brawl spilled into the lobby, all of the combatants had to contend with a nearly blinding change in the level of lighting. Fifi LeFleur and his nephew positioned themselves in front of the refreshment table – and whenever one of the fighters – pirate or soldier – came too near the goodies, they were met with a staggering blow from a rolling pin which LeFleur brought for just such intrusions into the refreshments.

“Well, that cannot have been a part of Sloppy’s plan.” LeFleur whispered to his nephew.


“Now, let’s see if I have the plan straight.”

Cementhand McCormack began as he and Ol’ Chumbucket sipped their rum as they sat across the street from the opera house – watching the front doors for the first sign of satisfied patrons heading home.

“After Slappy’s critical success, he will insist on performing for the condemned pirate prisoners and, accompanied by his – or rather, her – entourage of off-duty Dutch boy painters …”

“Us” Ol’ Chumbucket clarified.

“Us” McCormack echoed before continuing, “… will gain access to the inner reaches of the gaol and after lulling the night shift of guards into a false sense of ease, we’ll overpower them and free not only Captain Hamnquist and our men, but all the other imprisoned pirates as well.”

“That seems only fair.” Ol’ Chumbucket nodded thoughtfully.

“Well, yes.” McCormack agreed. “Us pirates have got to stick together.”

No sooner had the words left his mouth but the doors of the opera house burst open – not with satisfied patrons, but with the struggling remnants of the bound and shackled dozen or so pirates and their leading lady as they were muscled into the street by the overwhelming numbers of Dutch soldiers.

McCormack began to get to his feet. "Well that can't be right can it?" he started to say. But Ol’ Chumbucket's hand on is arm stopped him.

“We can’t help them here – we can only join them.” He said calmly. “If we’re going to be of any use, we’re going to have to come up with another plan.”

“And soon!” McCormack added. “The wedding – and the hanging – are tomorrow!”

“I’m going to need help.” Ol’ Chumbucket confided, thinking out loud more than talking to McCormack.

“Well, what am I?” McCormack asked rather defensively and more than a little hurt.

“You’re now the temporary captain of The Festering Boil! You need to get back to her and sail her to Westpunt!”

“Gabriel can do that!” McCormack argued. “With those two actors for a crew?”

“They PLAYED sailors!”

Cementhands was not taking orders – he was giving them. “Here’s what we’re gonna do. I’m going to go tell the lad to sail north the Westpunt and meet you back here in a half hour! ONE HALF HOUR! Get whatever help you think might be …” McCormack struggled to finish the sentence, “… helpful! But be back here in four bells or by God I will attack that gaol myself – with a spoon!”

Ol’ Chumbucket watched as the big pirate dashed out of the pub. He looked across at the opera house where, through the open doors, he could see stunned opera-goers munching on reception cake and looking as if they’d survived a war – which they had.

In the middle of the crowd, he could see Mad Sally – and with a lover’s tunnel vision got up from his table and headed across the street. “ONE HALF HOUR!” he said to himself – “and whatever help might be … helpful.”


“Watch the table, garcon.” Fifi whispered to his nephew as he took off his server’s apron.

“Where are you going, uncle?”

“Just … watch the table and clean up when the reception is over. I’ll meet you back at the shop.”

Fifi made his way through the lobby toward the open front doors – arriving just as a familiar face appeared in the doorway. Fifi LeFleur and Ol’ Chumbucket recognized each other immediately as they nearly brushed shoulders passing each other – one entering while the other was exiting. They both froze without turning to look at the other while the awkwardness of the moment seized them – then, without a word – they decided that the business they were on trumped their curiosity about each other and they moved on without so much as a nod.

Through a forest of people, a single shaft of golden light seemed to guide Chumbucket to his beloved. He didn’t care that she was clearly engaged in a rather intense discussion with a well-dressed gentleman – his business was urgent and it was time for her to decide if she was friend or foe.

“Countess.” He interrupted. She held up a hand – not wanting to look at him or acknowledge his need at the moment.

“Countess Sonja.” He was more insistent. “This is important.”

“Of course it is, Ol’ Chumbucket, and Sally and I are ready to be of service.”

Bernard Jeffries spoke cordially – as if they were all old friends.

“Do I know you?” Chumbucket said with a snarl curling his upper lip.

“No.” Jeffries replied. “Not at all. But I know you – and I know you are here to get secrets from Captain Hamnquist. Miss Sally and I were just discussing a plan to breach the gaol without undue commotion – but we lack someone to play a large, blustery woman … and it seems one of our early candidates was just carted away in exactly that disguise. Do you know of anyone who might help?”

Ol’ Chumbucket looked suspiciously at his new advisor. “Perhaps. But we should probably continue this discussion across the street at the pub.” He then turned to Sally. “Can you pull yourself away from these festivities, Countess Sonja?” Sally smiled. “I’m a countess. I can do as I please.”


“Make sure you add cilantro to the mango chutney, Luc!” Duvall was finally within a block of the gaol – still spewing the bile of his earlier workplace dispute. “And not too much lemon! They’re already condemned, you needn’t add insult to injury!” PWAH!

Despite the weight of the cart and the bumpiness of the road, Luc Duvall took great satisfaction from the punctuating effect of a good spit.

As he closed within just a few paces, he was overtaken with the jostling procession of Boilers being taken away to prison – led by the still defiant Cap’n Slappy.

“I swear by the mighty man-nipples of Poseidon the vengeful that if my bustle is ruined I will find you and stab you in your left eye while you sleep!”

He pulled the cart aside to make way for the new prisoners – Butch got a whiff of the cooking and couldn’t help making comment. “Do I smell too much cilantro in the mango chutney?”

“NO!” snapped Luc, “You smell just the right amount!”

It was at that moment that he realized he was now about fifteen last meals short.


As he stood on the street shaking with rage, he was joined by his boss.

“Luc! Luc! I am glad to find you out here!”

“We have to go make fifteen more meals!”

“I know, Luc.” LeFleur’s tone was conciliatory.

“They can’t keep adding pirates, can they?” Luc Duvall was near tears.

“It’s their gaol – they can do as they please.” LeFleur said as he put an arm around his little friend’s shoulder and turned him back toward their shop.

“What do we do now, mon capitaine?”

“We make fifteen more dinners and serve them – then, we break all of the pirates out of prison.”

“Just us?”

“Us – and perhaps some help.”

“I love you, mon capitaine.”

“Oui. Luc. I know.”

Monday, August 24, 2009


The Curacao Caper – Chapter 23

"Where could he be?" Mad Sally asked, not for the first time.

"I can go look again, if you think that would help, but he wasn't anywhere to be found between here and the jail the last two times I looked," her redheaded companion said.

Sally gave a short shake of her head. She had sent Ensign Ericsson to find out about Hamnquist six hours ago. He should have been back – must have been back – long ago, unless something had gone wrong. Sally could read the signs. Ericsson was devoted to her and wouldn't fail her short of death.

"He could have found out about the entire Hamnquist family and been back by now," she said.

"Certainly not the entire Hamnquist clan," Johan said, a wry smile on his face. "Although if he did, that might explain why he didn't come running back here."

Sally snorted.

"The point – and I did have one, is that the wedding day is hard upon us and I need to know where Hamnquist is. The girls haven't found him yet despite two weeks of digging. And I hope with all that time spent underground, they haven't forgotten they're supposed to be finishing my wedding gown."

"Does that really matter?"

"Of course it does. If I'm Countess Sonja – and as far as the world is concerned I am Countess Sonja – then I have to look the part. Can't go traipsing down the aisle looking like something that has been rolling around in the bilge. I have to be Countess Sonja until a few hours after the wedding – assuming we can find Hamnquist's cell."

"So you won't be needing a whole trousseau?" Johan asked, smiling impishly.

"Watch your mouth, boy!" Sally said with mock severity. "You're not so big that I couldn't still put you over my knee …"

"And spank me, yes, yes, I know. So, while we contemplate how ludicrous that might look, do you have anything for me to do while we await word from the virtuous ensign?"

"Yes, go down to the shop and see if the crew has had any luck -- no, forget that, luck has nothing to do with it. Tomorrow is the eve of my wedding. They can't fail, it's not an option. Remind them that everything we've been planning absolutely depends on them finding him."

"And Ensign Ericsson?"

"Stay away from the gaol. The last thing I need is for you to get locked up. I've got another idea for tracking him down. On your way out, ask Jeffries to step in for a minute, if you can find him."

Johan was about to agree to her request when there was a tap at the door. When he opened it, he found rather to his surprise that none other than Bernard Jeffries himself was there.

"Mr. Jeffries, what a delightful surprise," Sally said. "I was just asking Johan here to send for you, but you've been devilishly difficult to get hold of the last two weeks." Turning to her associate, she gave a dismissive wave of her hand. " That will be all, Johan, you have your assignment."

Johan bowed and backed out of the room, keeping one eye fixed firmly on the governor's valet and general factotum, then closed the door behind him.

"Indeed, your highness, then it's a happy coincidence that I stopped by," Jeffries said, bowing deferentially. "I admit I have been busy, what with the many plans for your coming happy nuptials now almost fulfilled. If I have been absent in your need, I claim the necessity of making sure your ceremony goes off without a hitch."

"Very kind of you, I'm sure," Sally said. "Kind and – careful? I don't think my beloved governor would take kindly to any hitches at this point."

"Quite right. So madam, if you have a moment, I would like to go over the program for the next two days," he said.

"Interesting, that's just what we were doing ourselves," Sally said.

Jeffries spread the schedule out on the table and they spent the next half hour going over everything planned for the next two days, a bewildering blizzard of parades, parties, soirees and balls, culminating of course in the wedding itself.

"It's amazing," Sally said, shaking her head. "How are we supposed to do all this I just, well it's what, a day and a half now?"

"Well your appearance and the governor's at most of these events is purely ceremonial, of course. You'll pop in to the Dutch Daughters of the New World tea, do a 10-minute meet and greet, then it's off to the Benevolent Order of Rope Chandlers Folk Art Festival for five minutes. It's all scheduled to run like clockwork."

"But what if the clock runs down?"

"I've built two naps in the schedule for you, here and here," he said, pointing to the chart.

"Ten minutes and another five?"

"Well yes, I admit we're counting on the legendary stamina of royalty," Jeffries conceded.

"How about this three-hour block of time at the opera house?"

"Oh, that's a must. The governor insisted on this one."

"But opera?"

"You'll forgive my saying so," Jeffries said, a penetrating look in his eye, "but your love of opera is well known on both sides of the great ocean. Countess Sonja, patron of the arts, devotee of Euterpe, muse of music, 'the giver of delight. She – that is, you – would never miss the chance to see a performance by Madame Maxine, the extraordinary coloratura who is scheduled to sing tomorrow night. Although, if I may, she may not be at her best. Still, Countess Sonja would never miss such a performance. It really promises to be something quite ... different."

"What? No, of course not," Sally said, slightly flustered. "I was only thinking that such a large block of time might be put to a more productive use. I might be willing to sacrifice the performance to be sure I'm rested for my wedding night to come. Certainly that's worth something."

"Ah, but how does one place a value on something as ephemeral as the arts?" Jeffries asked. "No, I'm afraid the governor your beloved has gone to quite a lot of effort to arrange the performance – which is to say I have gone to quite a lot of effort at his request, and the opera will be the highlight of the entire proceeding."

"You know, Mr. Jeffries, having recently been the subject of an attack by a pirate ship," Sally said, "with the yelling and the cannon fire and the crashes and the bangs and the screams, I was put in mind of some of the operas I've seen. And I was just wondering, how are a pirate attack and an opera any different?"

Jeffries looked blankly at Sally for a long moment, then blinked.

"Well, we sell tickets to opera," he said.

"Ah, I see."

"Anyway, after the opera you'll get a good long break before the morning's activities, say four hours of sleep unless you have to awaken early for something elaborate like putting on a wedding gown – oh, yes, I see, well, two hours of sleep anyway. Before the morning processional through town so that all the citizens can see you and cheer and feel included in the joyous day, followed by the bridal breakfast, the puppet show, the festive flogging, and then on to the cathedral to prepare for the wedding at noon. The hangings are to begin precisely at 3 p.m., and the reception at 4:15. You and your husband retire at 8 p.m., if you can hold off his ardor that long, to commence a night of, if you'll pardon my saying, connubial bliss."

"Yes, I can pardon it. I can honestly say I look forward to nothing more earnestly than the wedding night itself, when all the plans come to fruition," Sally said with a look that was unreadable to Jeffries, even if he had wanted to read it. The ideas of the governor and connubial anything were images that Jeffries endeavored with all his heart and soul to keep separate.

"Well," Sally said, "You seem to have thought of everything."

"Yes, only one tiny flaw in the planning which is being rectified as we speak."


"I'm afraid the baker who was commissioned to prepare your wedding cake has turned out not to be available."

"Really? How could he turn down such a commission?"

"He didn't turn it down," Jeffries said. "He was run over by a dray wagon. But never fear. There's a company of chefs who are already doing work for the government, and I've sent to them to request this additional service from them."

Across town, in the caterer's shop a howl of protest was heard

"This is absurd!" Fifi shouted at the man Jeffries had sent to order the cake. "I'm already preparing two dozen last meals and a wedding feast. How can I possibly do this as well?"

"Oh, uncle," Jacques said. "How hard can one cake be?"

Thursday, August 13, 2009


Chapter 32 – The Roar of the Diva and the Smell of the Pirate

“I can’t breathe!”

“Did you say, ‘TIGHTER!’? I thought I heard you say – ‘TIGHTER!’”

“Stop! I’m almost dead!”

“So? ‘Almost’ isn’t actually ‘dead’ now, is it?”

The ingénue at the dressing room door signaled for two of the contract painters to come hither for assistance.

“Somebody is killing somebody in there.” She whispered in a breathless panic.

The two painters listened at the door.

“Sweet Neptune’s swollen scrotum! If I could get to me blunderbuss I’d ventilate yer spleen!

“That’s no way for the leading lady to talk!”

The sound of scuffling and a flying make-up stool smashing into 76 splintered pieces against the door sent the sneak-listeners back three paces.

“Don’t worry miss,” said Jonas Grumby confidently. That’s just Cap …” Grumby took a sharp jab to the ribs from his ever-present mate Miguel Magana.

“Ah …” Miguel thought quickly in two languages for a way to cover his mate’s faux pas of identification exposure. “Ah … capa … ella!” He sighed with relief. “It is, how you say, an a capella warmer up!”

“Warm up!” Grumby corrected, adding his own theatrical knowledge.

The two newly-minted pirate painters looked at each other in some disbelief over the fact that the young actress didn’t know of Madame Bubbles Maxime’s unfortunate accident – which, incidentally, would have proven fatal to a horse – but divas, as every reader will know, are made of sterner stuff. Still, given the penchant for gossip in a theater community, the pretty flower of thespian maidenhood must have been particularly dense – even my ingénue standards - not to catch wind of the casting change.

Almost as quickly as the storm within the dressing room began, it came to an abrupt end when the door swooped open to reveal Cap’n Slappy in the guise of Madame Bubble Maxime in the costume of Scheherazade Svetlana MacTrollop – the half Persian, half Russian, half Scottish courtesan with a heart of gold who dances and sings and performs unspeakable sexual acts her way into a king’s heart. The sheer veil strung delicately across the pirate captain’s face just below the eyes and draping itself on his weathered nose only barely obscured his thick, manly beard. The rest of the costume – an engineering feat in itself – was a cluster-fuck of delicate silks firmly attached to a supporting structure of bone and leather corsets and support garments that fundamentally reshaped Slappy’s body into what, under only the most charitable of inebriated imaginations might be considered a “female-like form.”

At the sight of the young woman, Slappy snapped a black-laced Spanish fan that he held in his hand open in front of his face in an attempt to aid the beard-covering effect of the veil. The sweating, hulking presence of Cementhands McCormack behind the diva added mystery to the already surreal scene.

“Oh my!” Slappy declared as only a southern belle of good breeding might, “declare.” “Who is this delectable little morsel?” His men half expected him to go on to say that he was getting, “the vapors.”

“Madame Maxine,” the girl began, “I’m Chastity.” There was a long pause without any sign of recognition on the part of Cap’n Slappy as the Diva. Chastity added clues. “Your daughter?”

Slappy immediately wheeled around and struck McCormack several times with his fan while the big man shielded himself from the blows with his hands and arms. “I TOLD you this would happen – you brute, man, you!!!”

He wasn’t sure what he was trying to do – but he was, above all, stalling until he could think of something – and nothing made Cap’n Slappy think as much as delivering a savage beating.

“… from Act III!” the girl clarified. “I play your daughter – the one you rescue from Corsican revolutionaries?!”

Slappy turned back slowly and dramatically – his unveiled eyes covered with a greenish-blue eye-shadow and lashes thick with mascara – wide open and suddenly welcoming.

“OF COURSE YOU ARE! I didn’t recognize you with your clothes on!” The girl looked suddenly confused and Slappy shifted quickly. “What I mean to say, child, is that I didn’t recognize you out of costume!”

“Are you all right, Madame Maxine?” the sweet young thing was genuinely concerned for the older actress.

“Of course I am, my darling!” Slappy’s southern belle accent began to gather just a hint of Transylvanian to it. He gave the young woman a big hug – letting his hands drift down her back to just above her shapely buttocks. “Aren’t you just the prettiest thing? Do you have a lover, dearie?”

“No Madame.” The girl answered demurely.

“Well, we shall have to remedy that forthwith!” Slappy turned her toward the company dressing rooms in preparation for his dismissal. “But for now I need you to run along and don’t worry so much about a crusty old woman such as meself.”

The “meself” was almost a dead give-away, but Slappy punctuated his dismissal with a sudden and decisive grabbing of her tushy – adding a strong squeeze to assist the acceleration of Chastity’s exit.

With a jump and a squeal, the girl was on her way.

“Can I go back to jail now?” McCormack asked then he whispered. “I think we are very close to the cell in question.”

“But of course, kind sir!” Slappy fanned himself delicately, still in character even though the only people around him knew him as Cap’n Slappy and not, Madame Bubbles Maxime. He then dropped all pretenses and spoke as himself.

“And let’s see if we can get to our men and Hamnquist before they dance with Jack Ketch!”

McCormack knuckled his forehead, British Navy style, and snapped to attention. “Aye-aye – mega-bitch!”

“And the next time you put me in something this tight – bring some damn, weasel grease!”

The smattering of Boilers that remained in the theater – painting scenery and designing spectacular lighting effects – just stared open-mouthed for a few moments more at their captain before he broke their trance.

“If ye carve a wood-cut, it’ll last longer!” Slappy snapped. Then with the quiet dignity of an aging actress, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a dress rehearsal to attend.”


“Mister Ericson, would you be a love …?”

Such is the beginning of life-changing conversations.

Ericson had hung up his uniform shortly after being personally assigned to Countess Sonja’s protection and now dressed himself in civilian clothing – well armed civilian clothing, to be sure, but civilian nonetheless. He saw himself as a “citizen/guardian.” So when she asked him to check on the welfare of the pirate Hamnquist in the Curacao Gaol, he believed with all his heart that he had found in her, a guiding goddess of social reform.

“Sure,” he thought to himself, “Pirates ought to be offered the benefits of a fair trial and if found guilty, then hung. Especially that giant pirate who hit me over the head! But their stay in prison before the hanging ought to be humane. These,” the fore-thinking social progressive Marck Ericson believed, “are the hallmarks of a civilized society!”

Of course, Ericson would have done anything the Countess asked of him. Everything about her – her grace and refinement, her beauty and intelligence and above all, her maiden-like innocence were all he could ever hope for in a wife. He fairly ached to think of her with another man – such a delicate flower of womanhood deserved only the best. He knew she was above his station in life, but surely she could do better than this clown of a governor!

He brushed the thoughts from his mind as he approached the gaol door just as another visitor was arriving.

The large man opened the door for Ericson who glanced up at the face of his helpful doorman.

“Thank you.”

“Think nothing of it.”

The polite exchange had been automatically spoken by the parts of the two men’s brains that apparently had nothing to do with facial recognition. But rest assured, those parts were in perfect working order as the following exchange will show;

“Oh, my god it’s you!”

“Sweet baby Jesus! Are you still alive?”


(CLUNK - the sound of a Cementhands McCormack fist pounding down upon an ensign’s skull)

Three jailors came rushing to the front door of the gaol.

“What’s going on here?!?”

McCormack had to think quickly. “PIRATE!” he cried out in faux shock as he pointed toward the unconscious Ericson whose sword and pistols were exposed by his open greatcoat. “That man is a pirate! He was coming here to free his pirate friends!”

“He didn’t count on the constant vigilance of our painting staff!” Jailor #1 declared confidently.

Jailor #2 quickly added, “I’ve never seen such conscientious painters – always asking questions about the gaol security and what prisoners are in what cells …”

Jailor #1 and Jailor #2 looked at Jailor #3 – expecting him to add a line. Jailor #3 just stared back angrily before finally speaking.

“What!? You both summed up painter vigilance so well, I have nothing to add, thank you very much for stepping all over my only line!”

McCormack shrugged off the surreal jailor psychodrama and scooped Ericson up into his arms – like a big, well-armed baby.

“What say you boys lead me to your pirate cell and we can drop this one off with the others?”

The three jailors relieved the ensign of his weapons and lead McCormack into the darkest, most dungeon-like part of the jail. The unpainted section.

As Jailor #1 unlocked the door to a large cell, Jailors #2 and #3 took up positions on either side of the door with blunderbusses full of deadly shrapnel.

McCormack’s eyes quickly adjusted to the darkness as he scanned the faces in the dungeon for some sign of familiarity. Suddenly he felt someone taking Ericson off of his hands – it was Wellington Peddicord.

“Good to see ye, mate.” Cementhands whispered.

“Likewise,” replied Peddicord – clearly exhausted. “Have ye come to spring us out?”

“Soon. Where’s George and Hamnquist?”

“Hamnquist is kept in a separate cell just down the hall. George is with him today, but they rotate us in and out of there and they move him around – but always in one of those cells down the hall.”

Just then, the room got brighter – the giant head jailor stood at the cell door with a large torch.

“Why is the big Dutch boy painter in the pirate cell?” His voice was oddly menacing for its baby-like quality.

“He caught a pirate, boss!” Jailor #3 said proudly, having finally got a line in edgewise.

“Did hims?” the giant jailor approached McCormack – the effect was startling in that it made McCormack look small – probably for the first time since he was a two-year-old.

The giant jailor held his torch up so he could see the sleeping Ericson now in Peddicord’s arms – he stuck out his lower lip. “Hims got a bump on the noggin. Didn’t hims?”

“Yes.” McCormack replied. “But he’ll be just fine in an hour or so.”

The giant jailor stepped closer to McCormack – uncomfortably close. He began sniffing him – like a bloodhound on the scent of a criminal.

“Hims smells like a pirate.”

McCormack stood perfectly still and calmly replied, “Well hims has been carrying a pirate – so hims has pirate stink all of hims – doesn’t hims?”

The giant jailor looked long and hard at McCormack. He hadn’t ever had anybody feed him back his own speech impediment and he didn’t much care for the sound of it. The two men stood toe-to-toe. Neither would back down.

McCormack wondered if this might come to a head right here. He wasn’t sure he could take the big man – but he knew damn well he could make the big man remember him. He also knew that any fight would trigger a riot which would set off the blunderbusses – killing many perfectly guilty pirates but calling in Neptune-only-knows how many jailor reserves.

The whole thing could have been a big mess – very quickly. But charm had always been McCormack’s most effective weapon. “Well, I should get back to painting and get this pirate smell off o’ me!”

The giant jailor smiled and he and his jailors escorted McCormack out of the cell – but not before McCormack offered these words of comfort to the prisoners.

“Despair yer lives, lads! Nobody is coming for you – certainly not before the wedding day when you’ll all hang for bein’ the theivin’ cutthroats ye be! Despair! Despair!”

His voice rang down the corridor to the secret cell where George the Greek could hear him – and smile.

Thursday, August 06, 2009


The Curacao Caper – Chapter 31

“Now, how do I paint clouds?” Cap’n Slappy asked.

Oscar breathed a sigh.

“Sir, with all due respect, you don’t. I’ll paint the clouds. You’re a little – “ he thought of saying heavy handed, but decided against it – “a little too important for painting clouds.”

“Then could I help Jim paint the interior walls of the library set?” Slappy asked. “All those book spines? I love making up obscene titles for the books.”

Oscar sighed again. They had been working on the sets for the Curacao Opera Theatre for two days and Slappy had proved that as a set painter he was an excellent pirate. They had put him to work mixing paints and “standing guard to make sure the brushes don’t get stolen,” but now they were down to the last couple of flats that needed special work, and Slappy was clearly tired of guarding the paint brushes.

Oscar was about to ask Salty Jim and Black Butch what job they could assign the captain to so that he’d be kept busy but out of the way when they suddenly heard a high, piercing scream. This wasn’t too surprising since the singers had been rehearsing night and day to get ready for the big performance. In point of fact, all that warbling and caterwauling was getting on the pirates’ nerves. But this shriek had something different to it, a note of pain or terror or both that was immediately recognizable to a crew of cutthroats and instantly got their attention.

All eyes turned to the hallway that led to the rehearsal hall. There was a long moment of silence, then an excited babble of voices broke out from that direction, accompanied by a noise that might have been sobbing, or might have been the noise made when sea lions mate.

“Anyone think we should check that out?” Salty Jim asked, adjusting his focus from the faux bookshelf he was painting.

“Cap’n Slappy, do you think you could reconnoiter and find out what’s going on?” Oscar quickly said.

“Of course,” Slappy said, “if you don’t think I’m needed here?”

“We’ll struggle along without you sir,” Butch said. Butch was just finishing repairing the faux marble the captain had tried to paint.

“I’m sure the brushes will be safe for a few minutes,” Jim added.

“Alright then, but don’t blame me if we end up missing a few.”

“Oh no sir, we won’t at all,” Oscar said.

Cap’n Slappy gave a curt nod and headed down the dark passageway. He was unable to see the other pirates smiling with relief.

At the end of the passage was a large double door which was suddenly thrown open and from which the babble of voices was coming. He sidled up to it and peered in.
At the center of the room there was a crowd huddled around something on the floor. Something within that circle was the source of the sobbing. All the people huddled around were offering advice.

“Help her up!”

“”Keep her still!”

“Elevate her leg.”

“Put her head between her knees!”

“Make her walk around on it to keep it from swelling!”

“Are you crazy? Where’s the weasel grease?”

“We should bleed her a little.”

“Ice! Put some ice on it!”

“No, you fool. Not ice! A hot compress.”

“Hot compress? What kind of a butcher are you?”

“At least I’m not suggesting ice. What an idiotic suggestion. That could kill her!”

“Don’t be stupid! I may not be a doctor but at least I’ve played one twice.”

“Excuse me,” Sappy broke in, “but why don’t you all shut the hell up and tell me what the fuck is the matter?” Slappy asked.

The opera singers stopped, shocked by the language. Then they all started babbling at once, trying to explain how the injury had happened. It seemed the unfortunate victim, a diva with a very wide range and a huge repertoire, and body to match, had either fallen or tripped or stumbled (or, let’s face it, these are theater people, been pushed) as she was in mid-warble and tumbled over the second tenor, who had toppled off the platform and landed on the music director’s ample lap.

The tenor had a large florid bruise on his forehead and the music director was still gasping for breath, but the real problem was the soprano, who was clutching her lower leg in two hands the size of oven mitts.

“You see, it’s sprained,” one of the singers said. “She just needs to walk it off.”

“Never sprained,” said another. “She’s pulled one of those ligament things. She’ll need a brace.”

“Excuse me,” Slappy said, “I’m no doctor and I’ve never played one, except once when we were trying to evade a company of Spanish cavalry and I had to pretend to be the hygiene inspector in a bawdy house, but that’s a long time ago and I don't want to bore you with a long story, but I’m pretty sure the broken end of a bone isn’t supposed to be sticking out of her leg like that.”

“No, you’re quite right,” said another voice. Slappy turned and saw the governor’s aide, Bernard Jeffries, standing in the doorway.

“I wasn't able to complete my medical training, mother so wanted me to be a doctor but it just wasn't in the cards. Still, I distinctly recall the anatomy professor pointing out that skin and pointy things don't mix, whether the pointy end is sticking in from outside or out from the inside."

Another screech – decidedly non-musical – came from the supine soprano, who glared at the others in the room.

"It's fucking broken, you twits! God! You all make me sick! Get me off the floor and get me a doctor!"

There was a lot more, but readers will get the drift.

"Yes indeed madam," Jeffries consoled, eyeing her bulk. "It looks terribly painful and we will get you up off the floor just as soon as we can rig a block and tackle. I've sent for the carpenters. In the meantime, perhaps you'd like to try a little remedy I often carry around in this flask. It won't fix the leg, but enough of it ought to take the edge off the pain."

She snatched at the proffered flask and drained it at a single pull.

"In the meantime, we'll all need to prepare ourselves."

"Prepare ourselves?" Slappy actually voiced the questions, but most of the singers had a look on their face as if they, too, were wondering what he meant."

"You know, all the usual things. Getting our affairs in order, making out a will if you haven't already, perhaps seeing the priest down the street and making a last confession. That sort of thing."

There was a shocked hush. Slappy was the first to break the silence.

"And why would we do that?"

"Oh, so we'll be prepared to meet our maker. The governor gets married in two days. The night before his wedding he expects to see an opera production featuring Madam Bubbles Maxime, the lady on the floor there. Unless there are some miracle medical cures I'm not familiar with, the governor is going to be extremely disappointed with the opera company, and when he's extremely disappointed, bad things happen to the disappointers."

The singers, who had been trying to console Madam Maxime, stopped and started trying to console themselves.

"Well, why can't you just put another singer in her place?" Slappy asked.

"Clearly you've never heard Madame Maxine sing," Jeffries said with a sad shake of his head. "She's one of a kind."

"No wait, that might work," the second tenor said. "In this production she wears a veil throughout, so no one will know it's not her."

"But no one sings like her," Jeffries said.

"Oh, I've been hearing her sing, alright," Slappy said. "The other guys in the paint crew said it sounds like me when I snore. Not that I snore. I don't. That's a total lie. Certainly I'd know if I snored, wouldn't I?"

Jeffries looked at Slappy for a long moment, a look on his face as if an idea were flickering to life behind those eyes. But then it was snuffed out, and he shook his head sadly.

"No. No it would never work. There's the costumes, for one thing."

"What would never work? What about the costumes?"

"Well, as you see, Madame Maxime is a … what's the word I should use? … she's a distinctive looking woman."

Slappy glanced at the large woman on the floor licking the last traces of brandy from the rim of Jeffries' flask.

"Distinctive is a good word," he said. "A build like that works for a pirate captain, but on a woman …"

"And then there's her height. Well, actually she's about your height."

"A little tall for a woman, I suppose," Slappy said, "but given her girth it just makes her look solid."

"Yes, solid. That's the word we want. But of course, there are the words. It would have to be someone who knows the words of this musical piece by heart."

"Well, that's a problem for you," Slappy said. "Even if I hadn't been listening to her rehearse for two days, I doubt anyone around here knows the poems these songs are based on as well as I do."

"You're familiar with the work?"

Slappy totally missed the avid look on Jeffries' face or he never would have answered truthfully here.

"Oh, I'm afraid I do. Know 'em by heart, know 'em like I know .. well, my own poetry."

"Well that's settled then," Jeffries said.

"What's settled?"

"You'll play the lead tomorrow night. You'll sing the role Madame Maxime was going to present. You're the right build, and with the veil the governor will never know the difference."

"Fuck you."

"No, really. This will work."

"I don't care if it will work. It's ridiculous. I'm not going to dress up like a woman and sing an opera. It's crazy."

The opera singers were gathered around, hope growing in faces where moments ago there was none.

"Crazy like a fox," the bass said.

"Yes, really it's an uncanny resemblance," the baritone agreed.

"No! I'm not doing it!" Slappy shouted.

"But I'd be ever so grateful and would show my appreciation, repeatedly, to the man who saved my life," the mezzo soprano said.

"Well …" Slappy said, eyeing the mezzo, who wasn't bad. Then – "No!"

"But sir," Jeffries said, "consider that you have the opportunity to save all these people's lives. Plus your own."

"Why mine?" Slappy said. "I'm not a member of the Curacao Opera Theatre."

"Not technically, but I did put your name and that of all your colleagues in the program," Jeffries said, holding up a copy. "Just my way of saying 'Thank you' for all your hard work painting the set."

"Well this is my way of saying 'Fuck you' for setting me up like this."

"Oh now, you know the saying – The show must go on!" Jeffries said, striking a stirring pose.

"I don't know if it must, but I guess this time it will," Slappy said, not with any relish.

"Then you'll do it?"

"What choice do I have?"

"Oh none, I assure you."

"Then I guess there's nothing else to discuss. Someone had better go over the blocking with me."

"What blocking? This is opera, and you're the diva. You stand wherever you bloody well want to and sing."

At that moment there was a knock. They all turned and saw Butch standing in the doorway. He cleared his throat loudly, then beckoned several times with his head.

"I think that friend of yours has some kind of tic," Jeffries said.

"Probably just needs to inventory the brushes. I'll just be a minute."

Slappy walked towards the pirate chef and in a loud, cheerful voice said, "Well, Butch! How's the set painting going?"

"Just about finished cap…. I mean, Caspar. Not captain. Why would I call a painter captain? Anyway, we're just about done."

"Good thing, because you'll never guess who's going on tomorrow night."

He reached the doorway and Butch leaned in towards him and whispered.

"Just thought you should know. McCormack thinks he's found George and Wellington's cell."

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