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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