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.

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