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?"

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