Thursday, April 30, 2009


The Curacao Caper: Chapter Eighteen - Color Me Pirate!

“It’s Purple!”

Wellington Peddicord’s temper was growing despite the fact that he was employing his storied two-pronged approach to anger management; deep slow breathing and imagining his Happy Place.

“And I say it’s Violet!”

Leftenant Keeling responded to rising tension as he always had, with icy self-assurance.



“Please.” Cementhands McCormack interrupted as he stepped between the two debaters and peered over the rail where one of two dozen ropes secured a member of the busy team of painters who now gave The Festering Boil a thick fresh coat of mystery color.

“How goes the work, Mister Grumby?”

Jonas Grumby looked up from his position just three feet above the waterline where he had partnered with his former shipmate, Miguel Magana, as they skillfully applied more paint to the hull of the moving ship.

“Painting is the easy part!” Grumby replied. “The trick was teaching the crew the mountaineering skill of rappelling off the side of the ship and painting with nice, even horizontal strokes.”

“Si!” Magana agreed. “Is good my years as stagecraft artist for the Organic Guerilla Theatre Troupe of the Swiss Alps is really pay off today, I can tell you! The ship, she is look – muy atractivo!”

Peddicord and Keeling joined McCormack at the rail; their debate still in question.
“Magana, my good man!” Peddicord called down, “What color are we painting the ship?”

“Can’t you see?” Miguel called back.

“Oh, yes! I can see! But Leftenant Keeling here seems to be colorblind!”

“I’m not colorblind!” Keeling called out in his own defense. “I just clearly have a keener sense of hue than my colleague! Go ahead, Miguel. Tell Welly what color this is!”

Magana examined the paint can in his hand carefully. He then leaped over a good seven feet and whispered something to Grumby, who also looked at the can and whispered back. Finally, after some discussion, he called back up.

Eggplant Sunrise!”

“There you have it, lads!” McCormack declared as he turned Keeling and Peddicord away from the rail and back toward the center of the ship. “Eggplant Sunrise.” McCormack paused as a look of distressing confusion passed across his face. “Really, Miguel? Eggplant Sunrise?”

“Si Senor Cementhands! She is this season’s most muy macho color for disguising a pirate ship when sneaking into a Dutch town to extract a Swedish pirate."

McCormack nodded in satisfied reassurance. “Well of course! EVERYBODY knows that!” Then, with a disdainful scowl pointedly toward Peddicord and Keeling he added, “Philistines!”

Keeling and Peddicord barely had time to compose a pithy rejoinder when the “All Hands On Freakin’ Deck” bell rang out. The best they could come up with on the spur of the moment was, “Spooner!” This was either a reference to McCormack’s famous charge of French cannons armed only with a soup spoon many years earlier or to the fact that he was, quite famously, a cuddler in his sleep.

The ropes around the rail of the ship jerked to and fro as their dangling occupants scampered up the side of the ship. Jonas Grumby dashed about to check on the progress of the job; casting his view from stem to stern and looking for missed spots. He gave a satisfied nod to Miguel indicating that the ship now had a fresh and disguising coat of eggplant sunrise. Then he quickly slapped an eye-patch over his perfectly good left eye. This caught McCormack’s attention.

“What happened to yer eye, lad?”

“Nothing, Mister McCormack, sir. I just thought that I would wear an eye-patch to look more … what’s the word I’m looking for?”

“Piratical?” Dogwatch suggested as he approached for the gathering amidships.

“Aye, Mister Dogwatch! ‘Piratical’ be the right word!” Grumby replied excitedly and in his best pirate voice.

“Don’t bother.” Dogwatch said in such a matter-of-fact tone, Grumby went from saucy to crestfallen in one breath.

“It’s not you, lad.” McCormack said in as comforting a voice as Cementhands McCormack could muster. “Dogwatch here speaks from experience about trying to be artificially piratical.”

Grumby and Magana cast their gaze at Dogwatch Watts in anticipation of an explanation. None was forthcoming, so McCormack filled in the blank.

“He spent his first six months aboard The Festering Boil wearing a fake peg-leg.”

Grumby and Magana gasped in shock. “You didn’t!”

Dogwatch gave McCormack the ol’ stink-eye. “Really?!? Really, McCormack? Do we have to bring this up? It’s not like I did an impression of a minor patron saint for nearly a whole adventure!” (As recorded in that epic adventure, "The Havana Caper.)
“It wasn’t an impression! It was a full-on POSESSION, Splinter!” McCormack’s voice had that unmistakable you’re-really-pissing-me-off-now quality to it.

Dogwatch was not backing down, “I’ll have you know that I was digging out slivers from my knee joint for three months following – but did I complain? No! I think I showed remarkable commitment to the bit!!!”

The heated exchange drew more disgruntled pirates into the fracas.

“What bit? You were a desperate attention-seeking respect-whore!”

“Me?!? What about you, Wellington Peddicord? If that even IS your real name! What’s with all the fancy-lad talk – pretending to be an Oxford don!”

“I went to Cambridge, you troglodyte! And what about you and your obsession with whip-play, ‘LEFT-TEN-ANT’ Keeling?”

“At least I HAVE a serviceable ship-board skill!”

“And BURGESS is from Oklahoma!”

“Bite me, McCormack!!! I’ve told you a thousand times! I’m from Tennessee!”

Without warning, a splash of cold sea water put a bracing end to the verbal melee. Ol’ Chumbucket stood above them on the quarter deck with the empty bucket – his hand extended toward young Gabriel for a second bucket should the need of it prove necessary. He made his demands clear; “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up! You sound like a bunch of caterwallin’ cluckmeisters! Natterin’ ninnies! A veritable xanthodontic zoo! Belly-achin’ Bickersons! Do you WANT to sound like a bunch o’ Belly-achin’ Bickersons?”

As one, the pirates replied with a muted and shame-filled, “No.”

“Well than, Shut Up!” He turned to Slappy at this point. “They’re all yours, Cap’n.”

“Thank ye, Mister Chumbucket! Skillfully done, sir. Skillfully done.”

Slappy pulled a prepared statement from a pocket in his great coat and adjusted his reading spectacles.

“Fellow pirates. We are embarked on a mission of some importance. It now seems apparent that the legendary formerly dead pirate captain, Horatio Hamnquist is not quite as dead as had been previously reported by even the most reliable of witnesses – yet. Unless plans are thwarted by a pack of unruly bastards who have proven themselves quite skilled at thwarting plans in the past, Hamnquist will hang – and even more importantly, the knowledge of his remarkable treasure will, both metaphorically and in actuality, have the living daylights choked out of it until its eyes bulge in their sockets and come popping out in a moment both fatal and hilarious.”

General murmuring from the crowd affirmed Slappy’s assertion that eyes popping out during a hanging were surprisingly funny.

“We must, as we have so many times before, use our courage and our cunning to intervene in this affair and in so intervening free either the pirate – or, failing that – free the secret of his vast fortune for our own safe-keeping.”

Cheers and hearty “Huzzahs!” sprang forth from the assembled crew.

“Stage one is nearly complete. Thanks to Misters Grumby and Magana – The Festering Boil has a nice fresh coat of …” Slappy looked hard at his own handwriting. “Eggplant Sunrise? Really?”

“Aye, Cap’n! It’s all the rage this season for …” Grumby was cut off by a gesture from Cap’n Slappy.

“Yes, yes, Grumby. I’ll take your word for it. – In addition, Black Butch and Salty Jim have been kind enough to remove The Festering Boil’s name plate and give her, albeit temporarily, a name more in keeping with the subterfuge of our mission.”

Here, Slappy gestured to where Butch and Jim stood proudly next to their newly painted name plate – covered with a sail. At the captain’s signal, the two beaming pirates drew back the sheet to reveal the ship’s new, yet temporary name;

Het Pulserende Mensdom

There was, for a brief moment, a hushed calm – one might think, a reverence – over the crowd until short bursts of laughter shattered the moment of reverent revelation into a shower of mocking profanity.

“The Hell you did!?!” Wellington Peddicord blasted in an explosion of shock and glee.

“Now, now, Welly.” McCormack chided in faux composure. “I feel this one growing on me!”

More laughter.

Even those who spoke no Dutch were beginning to piece it together. Miguel Magana, however, wasn’t afraid to admit that the joke was completely lost on him. He raised his hand and waited.
Slappy stopped laughing long enough to wipe a tear from his eye and call on the newly minted Spanish pirate.

“Si, Cap’n Slappy, sir. What is the joke?”

Slappy passed the question on to Butch – who seemed more than a little miffed that the crew thought this was such a funny name.

“I wanted the Dutch to know that even if we are not pirates, still, the heart of real adventurers throbs in our manly breasts! So we – me and Jim, here …” he gestured to where Salty Jim had been standing a few moments before – but now had blended into the crowd. Butch soldiered on bravely but alone. “WE – decided to name her, The Throbbing Manhood – only translated into Dutch.”

“So to sum up!” Cap’n Slappy intervened, “We are now all sailors aboard a big purple ship called, The Throbbing Manhood!”

“Eggplant Sunrise!”

“Thank ye, Mister Grumby – I stand corrected.” Slappy smiled for a moment before going on.

“Of course, all this is but the backdrop of our new story. Sailing in as pirates would just add more kindling to the Dutch Governor’s pirate pyre – and we’ve played out our Dutch Fishermen act. We needed something fresh – something new – something stolen – something BLUE!”

On the word, “BLUE!” Pirate Jenny emerged from below deck dressed in blue denim overalls and a light blue shirt. She wore a blond, pageboy wig under a floppy blue cap propped just off the center of her head. In her left hand, she carried a paint can that featured the likeness of a Dutch Boy dressed exactly as she was – only without the hint of potentially unbridled sexuality. Her right hand held a paintbrush that had been dipped in blue paint. She strutted, more than walked, through the crowd which expanded and created an inner circle around which she danced and twirled while she smiled and winked at her cat-calling crewmates. This was Jenny’s moment to shine.

This spectacle was a bit too much for Cap’n Slappy. “Alright, ye animals! Quit yer ogling o’ the model!” Then, in a much softer tone he talked directly to her, “Thank ye, Jenny darlin’. That was splendid!”

“You mean you want us to look like sexy girls with paint cans?” Dogwatch asked.

“For the love o’ squid ink, man, NO!” Slappy snapped. “We’re goin’ in to Curacao as a team o’ Dutch painters – ye can see what they look like right on the can! The plan is foolproof!”

“Almost foolproof.” Ol’ Chumbucket warned as he cleared his throat. “There is the simple matter of our pirate tattoos.”

“Way ahead o’ ye on this one, ol’ chum!” Slappy replied with a satisfied smile and his sights fixed on Cementhands McCormack. “Yes we are former pirates turned painters under the guidance of a sainted Dutch painting master whose gentle leadership has turned us from our wicked ways and now we seek only to provide color in a dreary world. That man, of course, has no tattoos. He speaks fluent Dutch and has shown remarkable leadership qualities for years. That man will, for the duration of this mission, act not only as our painting master, but the captain of this ship – with all the rights and responsibilities thereof. All in favor say, ‘Aye!’”

“AYE!” came the nearly unanimous vote.

The lone dissenter, McCormack himself could only blurt out, “Oh, my throbbing manhood!”

Tuesday, April 21, 2009


The Curaçao Caper - Chapter 17

The knife sped through the air so fast that its end-over-end trajectory was a blur, hitting the wood point first and burying itself an inch deep with a satisfying "THUNK! Whirrrr!" as the handle oscillated, expending the remaining energy from its flight not more than a couple of inches from Cementhands' right ear.

"Jumping Jesus Christ!!!" he shouted, leaping to his feet. "What are you doing, Chumbucket! And why does everyone want to stick pointy things into me lately!"

Ol' Chumbucket did not seem overly bothered by remorse. He was still angry.

"Calm down. You know if I meant to hit you, by now we'd be calling you Squint or Scarface or something," he scowled. "How could you just leave here there?"

"Apology accepted," Cementhands offered. "And if by 'her' you mean Mad Sally," he paused so that Chumbucket could acknowledge his correctness, which he did with a curt nod of the head, "I'm not sure how I was supposed to have brought her here since A) she made it clear with her sword that she didn't want me to, B) she said she had some personal business to take care of on Curacao, Q) the Boil was leaving and I had to swim for it which L) I don't think I could have done with her under my arm and W) did I mention she kept poking me with a sword?"

Neither Chumbucket nor the rest of the crew of The Festering Boil bothered to correct McCormack on his alphabetization, if any of them had been capable of it. Instead they all gazed with differing levels of discontent back to the northwest. The crew was all gathered on the deck and, having presented Slappy with the ring which now glittered in its massive ringishness on his right hand, and were now discussing the day's activities and planning their next step. It was only after George had given a report on the booty taken from the hold of the Swedish ship that McCormack, who was either obviously eager to share some news or desperately had to go to the bathroom, was able to report on his encounter with Mad Sally.

"Wait, Mad Sally, you've mentioned her before," Saucy Jenny whispered to Red Molly.

"Before you joined the crew," Molly whispered back. "She and Ol' Chumbucket were an item."

Jenny's eyes showed no light of understanding.

"They had a thing."

Still nothing.

"They were doing it all over the ship, and when she left, Chumbucket was pretty broken up."

"Oooooh," Jenny said.

Ol' Chumbucket, meanwhile, reached past McCormack and wrenched his throwing knife from the wood of the railing, then in frustration plunged it back into the wood, wrenched it out again and plunged it in again.

"Chumbucket ol' pal," Cap'n Slappy said, his tone carefully neutral, "would you mind not carving up the ship like that? I suspect we're going to need her for a while longer."

"What? Oh, right, sorry. But what the hell? Mad Sally here? Disguised as some kind of noblewoman after two years of silence? And she didn't want me to know?"

"Well, if it makes any difference to you, I don't think she wanted me to know either, what with the way she kept poking that sword at me," Cementhands said.

"What the hell can she be up to?"

"Something personal, that's all she said."

"And," Slappy said, trying to steer the conversation away from Ol' Chumbucket's love life and back towards more practical channels. "what does this mean to our own plans?"

"Why does it make any difference at all to our plans," Dogwatch asked.

"Well, she said the ship she's on was bound for Curaçao. While I don't think she'd blow on us, the captain of that ship might notice that the pirates who plundered him were tied up nice and neat in Willemstad. Don't you think he'd mention that to somebody, like the governor maybe?" 'I say, your excellence, jolly lovely little island you've got here, and this tropical drink is smashing. By the way, I couldn't help notice a shipload of pirates in port. What say we go down to their ship with a squad of soldiers and hang them all? What's that you say? They've already tried to break into the gaol? Perfect! That'll make the hanging all the easier. By the way, do have any lutefisk around?' No, I think that would put a serious crimp in our plans."

"Well, we've got a head start on them," George offered.

"A day, maybe two, depending on how long they take to repair their rudder" Slappy agreed. "Since we don't know exactly how long we're going to need, I'm not comfortable chancing it. And remember, Fifi's not that far behind us, and there's that other ship as well."

"That other ship," as Slappy phrased it, was causing even more concern to the Swedish captain than it was to the pirates aboard The Festering Boil." No sooner had the pirates sailed away from Kejsardömen av Sverige than it and another ship sailed into view, their intentions unclear.

The captain had a crew feverishly working to jury rig a makeshift rudder so that he could turn the ship and defend it, while other sailors were making an estimate of what had been lost in the raid and a party had been sent to search the ship to assess any other damage or injury. That was the group that had found Ensign Ericcson unconscious in the passageway outside the countess's cabin, his arm obviously injured.

Past the smashed doorway to the cabin, the sailors found a Pieta-like tableau, only with the female figure, the countess, sprawled in the lap of the male - her manservant, who was fanning her face.

"She passed out when that brute of a pirate entered," said the red-headed man, who bore his own livid bruise on the side of his head. "I don't know if the coward took anything. Oh, she's coming around. Your highness!"

The countess's eyes blinked several times, rolled up in her head, then seemed to focus on the faces peering down with worry at her.

"Pirates!" she shrieked. "There were pirates down here! Seems as if the room was full of them!"

"Just one," said Erickson, who himself was slowly coming to, "but the room was certainly full of him."

"Can I go upstairs and get some fresh air?" the countess asked. "I don't think I could stay down here another minute. Pirates!"

"Upstairs? Oh, you mean topside, of course ma'am," the squad leader said. "I don't think the captain would mind you coming up and getting some air. But there are other ships in the area and it might not be completely safe yet."

The countess shot a look at her manservant, then the two of them, accompanied by Ericcson and the squad, went up on deck.

"Just stay here out of the way ma'am," the sailor said. "There's work to be done and there might be more trouble."

"Don't worry. I won't get in the way," she promised.

On the quarterdeck the captain and his first mate, Lieutenant Larsen, were watching the other ships. The ship that had approached from the west – Fifi's ship, although the Swedes had no way of knowing that – had sailed on without apparently even noticing the temporarily crippled merchant ship. The ship from the north, however, had sailed within a mile of Kejsardömen av Sverige before hauling in sails and now bobbed on the swell just out of reach, as if eyeing the situation and trying to decide what to do.

"Where's Ensign Ericcson," the captain bellowed.

"Here sir," he said, making his way to the captain with an effort that caused him to grimace with pain.

"Are you all right, lad?"

"Never better sir," he said. The salute he offered the captain caused him to gasp with pain, and his face went white.

"I don't think so," the captain said, not unkindly. "Before you go below to the surgeon, take a look at that ship over there." He passed the ensign his glass. "Is that the ship that's been following us? You're the only one who's seen it much at all."

Ericcson handled the glass clumsily with one hand, but eventually got it in his one good hand, wedged against the rail and a bulkhead, and stared long at the ship.

"It's hard to say, of course, but it could be, probably is," he said. "I can make out some lettering on the bow – The Poison Pearl, it seems to say."

"The Poison Pearl? That can't be a good omen," the captain said.

"There's movement aboard her, but I can't tell what they're doing, or what their intentions are."

"Oh damn!" a feminine voice exclaimed loudly.

"Who was that?" the captain asked. "The countess! Get her below decks immediately!"

But instead of following her escort below, she rushed to the railing, taking her shawl from around her shoulders and waving it in the air.

"Go away, you nasty pirates!" she shouted. "Go away!"

The sailors tried to restrain her, gently of course because she was a lady of high breeding, but she broke free and rushed back to the railing, waving her shawl with one hand and gesturing forcefully with the other.

"Go away, pirates! GO AWAY!!!"

"Please, countess, control yourself," the captain called, rushing down from the quarterdeck.

"I'm sorry for losing my poise," she told him, "but I think I've had quite enough of pirates for one day. For a lifetime."

She turned from the captain, then turned back to him and – to his huge astonishment – patted his cheek affectionately, chucked him under the chin, then turned back to the railing and once again gestured away, not just saying but clearly mouthing, Shooo! GO AWAY!"

Aboard The Poison Pearl, several glasses snapped shut.

"Well, she seems to be alright anyway. And she seems to want us to make ourselves invisible again," the first officer said.

"I told you she'd be fine," said another voice, this one in a rich alto in contrast to the higher voice of the first officer. "I know I'm just a guest aboard your ship, but Sally did give specific instructions not to interfere with the ship but just trail along."

"Just trail along and do what?" demanded the first officer petulantly.

"Oh, Maggie," said the second, older woman. "Always ready for action. Well, we've raced in to offer assistance, none seems to be needed, we have Sally's specific request for us to 'go away,' so perhaps we should follow her orders and do so. If I'm not very much mistaken, here comes a wind that will help us do just that. Yes - this should do nicely."

Out of nowhere a wind began blowing from the southeast, and before the sailors could complete raising the sails, The Poison Pearl began veering away from the scene. Back on the Swedish ship, the captain stared in bafflement, scratching his head.

"If they're an innocent ship, why didn't they come to our assistance," he puzzled. "If they are pirates, why didn't they attack while we're still helpless?"

"It's obvious," the countess said. "I told them to leave. Who wouldn't obey a lady when she orders them out of the room? That would be bad manners. Come," she gestured to her servant. "Take me back downstairs to my room. I need to see if those brigands stole any of my jewelry."

"Very good madam," the captain said with a bow. "It looks like we have a steerage again, so we'll be rather busy here."

The countess was assisted down the ladder into the passageway by her servant, and when they were alone she hissed at him, "Go see if our shipment in the cable tier is still there. If it's not, I'm not sure what we'll do."

Back on The Festering Boil, the crew was trying to figure out how to proceed. Keeling was summing up.

"We know we have to get to Willemstad, we know we have to break Hamnquist out of gaol …"

"Not necessarily," Slappy said.

"I thought that was the idea, to get him to lead us to the treasure."

"Look, if he's really there, then I've been living a lie for 20 years or so," Slappy said. "I just want to know where the treasure is. If we can get that without breaking him out, the Dutch can hang him for all I care."

"But we can't let 'The Man' hang a pirate, can we?" Wellington Peddicord asked, shocked.

"He may be a pirate, he may be a damn good one, but like I said, if he's in that gaol …" Slappy let his voice trail off.

"Anyway, we have to at least get into the gaol, whether we get Hamnquist out or not," Keeling continued.

"If it even IS Hamnquist, which may or may not be true," Sawbones Burgess added.

"Yes, well, anyway, I don't see anyway of finding out unless we go in and talk to the blighters. Any thoughts on how we'll do that?"

"Before that we have to decide how we're getting into port," George said. "As Slappy pointed out, as soon as those Swedes get there we'll be marked men."

"And women," said Saucy Jenny and Red Molly simultaneously.

"Right, marked men and women. So, any plans."

A muffled sound from the edge of the crowd get their attention. They all looked over to where Ol' Chumbucket was moping.

"What did you say, Chumbucket," Keeling asked.

"I said, 'Fishermen.' We pull out the nets – We still have 'em, don't we? – and do the Dutch fishermen dodge."

"Yeah, well, maybe not Dutch fishermen. Curaçao is a Dutch colony, after all," Keeling pointed out.

"Right you are Keeling," Slappy said. "That would probably be a mistake. Any ideas?"

"Irish fishermen," McCormack said. "Oooh! Top o' the mornin' to ye, lads and lassies! Faith and begorrah but these cod are magically delicious!"

Everyone just stared at the big man.

"Maybe you could be a mute fishermen," Burgess scowled.

"Well, maybe," Slappy said doubtfully. "Good thinking Chumbucket. Why don't you run below and check that we've still got the nets?"

"Aye, aye," Chumbucket said, rising with a sigh and dropping down a hatchway into the depths of the ship.

"Do you think he noticed?" Slappy asked after he was sure Chumbucket was gone.

"Noticed what?" Dogwatch asked.

"Cementhands, what was the name Sally said she was using?"

"Countess Sonja something or other."

Slappy reached into an inner pocket and brought out a worn bit of newsprint which he unfolded.

"Remember the item about the governor's upcoming marriage?"

"How could I forget," Cementhands said. "A 24-noose hanging? Wow. That'll be a record!"

"No, check out the name of the bride again."

They looked at the story in Slappy's hand.

"Countess Sonja av Sarasgalen."

"Shit," McCormack said.

They all sat silently for five minutes. Suddenly Slappy sat up straighter.

"George, what was on that list of booty?"

George got out the list and started reading.

"500 yards of silk from London?"

"No, farther down."

"30 barrels of French wine?"

"29 barrels," Cementhands said, belching and daubing at the purple stain on his shirt.

"No, keep reading."

"Four crates from Warsaw of amusing greeting cards suitable for all occasions?"

"No, that wasn't it either."

"200 gallons of paint from Antwerp?"

"Yeah. That might just do it," Slappy said, the germ of an idea growing in his head.

Thursday, April 16, 2009


The Curacao Caper: Chapter Sixteen "A View From the Taffrail or Of Popes and Potatoes."

Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy stood at the taffrail and watched as an overly turbulent wake was the only connection they believed they still had to Kejsardömen av Sverige as they put the pillaging literally behind them.

Young Spencer, clip-board in hand, and the even younger Gabriel approached as if they were taking an inventory of The Festering Boil to make sure she was still intact.
Spencer tapped the taffrail with his pencil.

“That one’s easy!” Gabriel protested.

“You still have to name it – it’s part of the exam.” Spencer replied in full headmaster voice.

“Unless you don’t want to rise above the rank of Cabin Boy to Apprentice Pirate Third Class …”

Gabriel’s confident demeanor was quickly replaced with the familiar grimace of one who is struggling to wrestle his memory of things names into submission. Then, the sudden relief of memory; “Taffrail!”

“Very good.” Spencer replied. “And we call it the Taffrail because …?”

Gabriel sighed and thought carefully – not wanting to lose the extra credit point.
“Because we make taffy here?”

Spencer shook his head slowly but smiled, “While that is technically true, we …”

The splash of a huge waterlogged hand slapped the top of the taffrail at the very center of the stern – above the rudder. In an instant, six pistols; two each from Ol’ Chumbucket, Cap’n Slappy and Spencer were cocked and leveled at the intruding appendage. Gabriel eased his boot knife out of its scabbard – just in case …

The hand found its grip and with a surge of force pulled the rest of the hulking figure up to its full height.

Cementhands McCormack heaved a sigh of relief at having reached the upper deck after having climbed the rudder to the top. A wreath of kelp festooned his enormous noggin like the crowning glory of a victorious Olympic athlete of ancient Greece. He registered disaffected nonchalance toward his startled shipmates and said only, “Evenin’” as he sloshed by in sopping wet clothes, barely pausing to remove his “hat” and place it on Gabriel’s head – as if he were putting it on a hat rack.

Weapons were tucked back away and the boys continued their tutoring session;

“And what do we call the barrel of water around which everyone gathers to refresh themselves and gossip?”

“Scuttlebutt! – BOOO-YAH!” Gabriel pumped his fist on the easy ones.

Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy watched as McCormack went below decks for a change of dry clothes and the boys went on their merry way. They glanced at each other without words and then turned back to the scene astern as The Festering Boil gathered speed from the wind and sliced through the water – closer and closer to Curacao.

Even in the dimming light of the waning day, the contrast in light between the upper deck and below decks can be startling. There are a few moments of near-blindness as the sailor’s eyes adjust to the under-deck surroundings.

McCormack had made the transition many, many times and was as skilled as any at finding his way around in the darkness – like a mole. He’d managed to steal a towel from Sawbones Burgess’ cupboard and was vigorously rubbing the saltwater out of his hair when he happened upon a crew meeting in the galley.

“Glad you could make it, Mister McCormack!” Leftenant Keeling’s greeting was equal parts welcoming and chiding without even a hint that the two might be in conflict one with the other.

“Thank ye, Leftenant Keeling.” McCormack screwed the towel into his right ear with his index finger.

“Think nothing of it, Mister McCormack.” Keeling replied before getting back to business. “So, the vote on the floor is in regards to item seven; the very nice ring taken in today’s action and the proposal that the ring be given to Cap’n Slappy as a gift from the crew …”
McCormack’s hand went up.

“The chair recognizes Cementhands McCormack.” Keeling acknowledged.

“Thank ye, madam chairpersonage.” McCormack started. “But as the keeper of the duty roster would you be so kind as to tell me who was responsible to take a head count after action to make sure all crew members were on board before we sailed away?”

“POINT OF ORDER! POINT OF ORDER!” came the cries from many of the assembled crew members – most vocally, Sawbones Burgess.

Leftenant Keeling held up his hands in a call for calm. Having managed these meetings for the past two years, he knew better than to hold to a strict interpretation of Roberts Rules of Order when McCormack went off on a tangent.

“Mister Burgess, we'll call this a point of personal privilege and allow it. Mister Watts, the duty roster for today’s action if you please?”

Dogwatch Watts handed Keeling a piece of paper that he quickly perused. “It appears that the after-action head count responsibility fell directly on your shoulders, Mister McCormack.”
Cementhands nodded, as if the information only confirmed what he already thought.

“Is everybody back?” he asked.

“Aye!” the group replied.

“Point of order! POINT OF DAMNED ORDER!” Sawbones screeched.

“Well …” McCormack said, holding a bit of a pause, “good.”

He turned to go but Keeling called after him.

“Don’t you want to vote on the gift to the captain?”

“It’s a ring?” McCormack asked.

“A very nice ring.” Keeling clarified.

“Will a portion of the ring’s value come out of the captain’s share leaving the crew with a reasonable share in the afternoon’s take without a hint of over-stinginess taking the sheen off the nature of the gift-giving?”

“That would be a fair assessment.” Keeling replied.

McCormack thought for a moment. “Then, AYE!”

“AYE!” echoed the crew unanimously, with the exception of Sawbones Burgess who wearily protested, “Point of order! Oh, bugger! AYE!”

“The motion is passed unanimously. We’ll give the big baby his ring.”

The laughter carried to the upper deck – all the way back to the taffrail where Ol’ Chumbucket and Cap’n Slappy stood watching the scene of their most recent victory become a few dots on the distant waves.

“Sounds like the crew have voted you your prezzie.” Chumbucket said as he surveyed the three ships in the distance.

“It’s better that they voted on it.” Slappy smiled. “That way it’s from them – and they don’t think of me as a big baby.”

“Oh, of course they think of you as a big baby.” Ol’ Chumbucket admitted almost too easily. “But kind of a bad-ass big baby.”

Cap’n Slappy gave that some thought … ‘a bad-ass big baby.’ He could live with that.

“I feel kind of sorry for those Swedes.” Ol’ Chumbucket sighed as he watched the two new ships converge on its location. “Fifi may have a temporary truce with us, but he’s still a ruthless French bastard.”

“Aye,” Slappy agreed, “but he’s no scavenger. We’ve picked that goose clean and he’s not about to chew on the bones of our prey – no, he’ll sail right past them in pursuit of us. Our Swede friends have more to fear from that other ship, whoever they are.”

“It’s getting too dark to make them out. But true enough, the Swedes are at their mercy.” Ol’ Chumbucket said as he skillfully collapsed his spyglass without doing any self harm.

Slappy could only look on; jealous of his friend’s talent for staying clear of movable parts.


“Shall we board the Viking vessel, mon capitaine?” Luc Duvall called to the bridge where Fifi Le Fleur had command of the wheel and the course of his ship, La Petite Mort Deux. “And do you like moi alliteration? I sound like a British Buccaneer, no?”

“No!” Fifi replied sharply. “You sound like a silly French prat who wouldn’t know a Viking from a Viscount!”

“I am a Viscount!” Jean Pierre de la Muqueux called out as he entered the conversation.

“We know, Jean Pierre!” Fifi shot back quickly. “You gave us all those, Find the Viscount in the

Picture puzzles for Christmas and it was just a drawing of the crew with a big circle around the picture of you!”

“Oui! That was a terrible gift, Muqueux! PWAH!” Duval spat in disgust.

“No spitting on my ship, Luc!” Fifi reprimanded.

“Sorry, mon capitaine.” Duvall cast his gaze downward in shame.

Muqueux was defiant. “Well, it was still better than the potato you gave the crew!”

“Take that back!” Duvall demanded “That potato looked just like His Holiness Pope Innocent XI!”

“It really did!” Fifi agreed wholeheartedly.

“See?!?” Duvall pointed defiantly toward the captain. “Mon capitaine even thought so!”

“Maybe. JUST MAYBE! La pomme de terre …” Muqueux began but was cut off by Fifi.

“In English, Muqueux! You need the practice!”

Jean Pierre scrunched up his face and pronounced the word carefully, “The po-TA-tO you found looked a little bit – just a LITTLE BIT if the light was just right and it was sitting at the right angle and you happened to be very drunk it might look a little bit – like His Holiness Pope Clement IX – but your po-TA-to looked nothing like His Holiness Pope Innocent XI!”

“No, Jean Pierre, Luc was right, it was definitely the likeness of His Holiness Pope Innocent XI.”

Fifi was calm and self-assured – an excellent and persuasive demeanor for winning an argument.
Also, he was psychopathically violent when crossed – and Muqueuex knew it.

“I defer to mon capitaine’s better judgment in matters both papal and potatal.”

“Potatal?” Fifi questioned.

“That is a word, no?” Muqueux inquired.

“Oui!” Duvall voted … as if he had a vote.

“No.” Fifi replied, showing off his much more solid grasp of English. “I believe the word you are looking for, Jean Pierre, is, ‘potatoey.’”

“Po-ta-to-ey.” Muqueux and Duvall repeated – always keen to take in the captain’s English lessons.

Not ready to cede the argument, Muqueux made one last stand. “Still, a picture puzzle is better than a potato as a gift. No?”

“No.” Fifi replied. “Because the gift was not the potato. It was the miracle of a potato that looked like a pope!”

All three men paused to think about the miracle.

After their brief pause, they realized that they had sailed past the Swedish ship – keeping a course for Curacao.

“There go the Vikings!” Duvall pointed over the taffrail as they left the Swedish ship behind them.

“Shouldn’t we have plundered them, Capitaine?” Muqueux asked.

“I do not pick at the bones of Slappy’s prey – like a vulture, or a jackal or a worm!”

“Or a hyena!” Duvall added. “They say hyenas are famous for picking at bones!”

“Pigs too!” Muqueux was scanning his memory for scavengers, “and vultures!”

“I already said, ‘vultures!’” Fifi snapped.

“Did you?” Muqueux asked. “I didn’t hear you.”

“Then you should listen better, Muqueux.” Fifi’s tone bordered on menace. “It could mean the difference between life and death.”

There was a very long pause where the only sound was the wind in the sails and the sea splashing against the side of the ship.

A thought occurred to Muqueux. “Whatever happened to that potato?”

“I ate it.” Fifi replied proudly.

Duvall and Muqueux were shocked. “YOU ATE IT?!”

“Oui!” Fifi smiled defiantly.

After another long pause, the question had to be asked;

“How was it?” Muqueux inquired carefully.

“It was a little tough,” Fifi confessed. “But the flavor was infallible.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


The Curaçao Caper - Chapter 15

The door blew open – they almost always did after a blow from a five-foot long, three-inch thick iron bar wielded by the immense form of Cementhands McCormack.

"Everyone stand still, deliver the goods and we'll be on our way," Cementhands said as he followed the door into the ship's cabin. "No one needs to get hurt …"

"Except you if you take another step," said a voice from his side, as he felt the barrel of a pistol press into the side of his throat.

McCormack didn't react except for the slight rise of his left eyebrow – the eyebrow on the threatened side of his head.

"Heeeellooo," he said. "Let's not get all excited boy," he guessed from the timbre of the voice he'd heard. "Even if you shoot me – and I've been shot in the head before, it's very annoying – you've got a whole ship of the baddest bad-ass pirate to deal with. You can't like your chances against the whole crew, can you?"

"One at a time is all I need, and it looks like you're first," the disembodied voice said, pressing the barrel more firmly against McCormack.

While McCormack had, of course, been most marvelously focused on the pistol fixed to his neck, his eyes had taken in the cabin and registered the fact of a woman in the room, not cowering as they usually did but standing in the ready position with a rapier in her hand. He smiled pleasantly at her, and very, very slowly raised his right hand until the tip of his forefinger touched his forehead in a greeting.

At that moment a voice came from above them.

"McCormack! Move your great ass! Cap'n wants to get going as soon as we can!"

"Sure thing, Dogwatch!' McCormack said. "Just have to take care of something."

Even as he spoke, he'd thrown his right had down, creating momentum for his spin as his left hand flew up, knocking the pistol barrel away from his head just as the surprised young man's grip tightened on the trigger. The gun went off with a roar, the ball passing just behind McCormack's head and burying itself in the door frame.

McCormack completed his turn, collecting the lapels of the man's coat – he was young, McCormack could now see, with fiery red beard and hair. The man's eyes grew wide, but only for a second, as McCormack's left hand formed itself into a fist and came crashing back. The man's eyes registered stars, and he slumped to the floor.

McCormack spun back around to disarm the woman, but was surprised to find that in the seconds his back had been turned to him she had vaulted the bed and now stood before him with the point of her blade an inch from his chest – where his heart would be, he thought irrelevantly, "if pirate's had hearts."

His hand strayed to the grip of the knife in his belt, but she plunged the blade forward a precise inch and an eighth, drawing a tiny drop of blood, before withdrawing it as quickly as a snake.

"Don't Cementhands, you're not nearly quick enough."

Cementhands? How had she known his name? He looked closer at her and suddenly was lost in confusion.

It couldn't be her, could it?


It had been three days since The Festering Boil had left the Panama coast. Having weathered the northernmost point of South America they were beginning to swing around to head into the final leg to Curaçao.

Eight hours earlier the lookout on The Festering Boil had spotted the outline of a ship silhouetted against the rising sun on a path that would have converged with the Boil's in a few hours. But forty minutes later the other ship had altered course – undoubtedly the Boil had been harder to spot in the dark seas to the west. The ship had swung around and was making a run for it.

Aboard that ship, Kejsardömen av Sverige, the captain had quickly dismissed Ensign Marck Ericsson's angry retort.

"No, we are not going to turn into her and do battle, even if we do have the wind," he said sternly. "And no, it is not dereliction of duty or cowardice. This is not a naval vessel and I am not at liberty to endanger either our cargo or our passengers on the whim of a very junior officer."

"But if this is the ship that's been chasing us across the ocean …"

"Whether it is or isn't is beside the point. We're a little more than a day out of Willemstad and I for one will be delighted to get in and leave chasing pirates and phantoms to the Dutch navy."

Ericsson looked like he was about to protest again, but the captain's look suggested to him that silence would be more response. Instead he stared at the deck planking.

"Cheer up lad," the captain said. "If it is a pirate, it'll probably be faster than us and we'll get to fight it out anyway."

And that proved to be the case. Kejsardömen av Sverige was a good ship, big, stable and solid, but she was no match for the Boil in terms of speed. Shortly after noon the Boil began firing from the two bow chasers, and the fifth shot found the range, crashing through the mullioned window of the captain's cabin. The Swedish ship began to turn to offer a broadside, but a last shot from the bow guns took out the enemy's rudder. Suddenly the pirates were the only ship of the two able to maneuver, and as the Boil lined up a broadside from the other ship's stern quarter, the Swedish captain realized the game was up and struck his colors, to the consternation of Ensign Ericsson, who had been busy preparing to repel boarders.

"Give it a rest, ensign," the captain said glumly. "We can't maneuver. They'll just knock us apart at their leisure, then scoop up what they can right before we go down. It's sort of the understanding with the owners that I should avoid letting the ship sink if it's at all possible. Make sure our passengers are locked up tight, let these brigands help themselves to what's in the hold, and they'll be out of here. First drink's on me when we get to Willemstad."

Ericsson didn't feel inclined to drinking with the captain but he followed orders, posting himself as guard outside the door where Countess Sonja and her manservant were locked in.

The pirates swarmed over the ship, but busy as they were with the contents of the hold, a rich haul of wines and fabrics, it was an hour before any of them ventured below decks into the area or the sleeping compartments.

McCormack has been sent below to reconnoiter and see what else of value might be below. Stepping into the passageway, he saw the young officer standing rigidly at the doorway. As he approached, hefting the iron bar that was his favorite weapon, the man unslung his sword and swished it through the air as if limbering up, then took the ready position. His eyes grew larger as he saw McCormack's bulk heading toward him, more than filling the passageway, but he held his ground, even as the behemoth uttered a shriek and began charging at full speed, his iron bar held forward like a jousting lance.

Ericcson tried to parry the bar, thinking it must be of wood because who could hold a 100-pound bar of iron straight out from his body. Who indeed? The blade clanged harmlessly to the side, then the end of the bar caught Ericcson in the shoulder, breaking the clavicle and sending the ensign's unconscious form pinwheeling down the corridor.

"Damn," McCormack had thought. "I hate it when I don't hit 'em square. Ruins the whole effect." He turned his attention to the door.


On the quarterdeck of the Boil, Slappy was watching the loading of the booty when Two Patch called down from atop the foremast.

"Ship on the horizon!"

"Where away?" shouted Slappy.

"Two points east of due north, hull down, but she seems to be heading this direction!" came the response.

"Damn, getting crowded out here. How's a pirate supposed to work?" Slappy grumbled to himself. Then to Chumbucket who was in the waist of the ship supervising the loading, he shouted, "Ahoy Chumbucket! We may have company. Let's wrap this up and be on our way."

"Aye," replied Chumbucket, who had heard Two Patch's report as well as anyone. "I'll get across and roust the crew out."

His actions were interrupted by George the Greek, who had been on the deck of the Swedish ship. George grabbed one of the lines slung between the two ships and swung back over to the pirate vessel.

"C'mon Chumbucket, you have to see this," he said with a grin.

"I was just going over to get the crew, we've got to get moving. I'll be back in …"

"No, you don't want to miss this. Dogwatch! Get over there and get the crew back on the double. We're finished with her. Especially when the captain sees what we've got for him here."

"Aye aye!" Dogwatch shouted and headed back to collect the last of the pirates.

George, flanked by Chumbucket, Keeling and Swabones Burgess, all wearing absurdly large grins, strode up to the quarterdeck and addressed the captain.

"Cap'n Slappy, what is it ye'r always on us about?"

Slappy looked nonplussed at the sudden decision of the officers to lose their minds, but decided it would be quicker to play along.

"What am I always on ye about? How about, let's pillage and plunder a ship and get on with it before two or three days have passed?"

"No, not even warm," George said. "What is it ye've always wanted?"

"A crew that's only pirate insane, instead of totally insane."

"Ye'll never get that, impractical. Try again? What is it that you constantly complain that you don't have?"

"Any semblance of my right mind after dealing all day with you blighters?"

"Time is up and our judge is stumped," George said in a rich baritone that would have done a game-show host proud if there were any game-show hosts in that century, or the next couple for that matter. "Cap'n Slappy, it is our great privilege to present to you this token of our esteem, and I might add the esteem of the Swedish people for the governor of Curacao on the occasion of his wedding, but since he's not ever going to get it, fuck him, this is for you."

George held out a small box that he'd been concealing behind his back. Slappy opened it and – hardened pirate though he was – gasped.

The box contained a large gold ring. A LARGE gold ring, ornately engraved and bearing a large white diamond. The governor, whatever his weak points might be, must have been a large and strong man, because the ring was massive enough that most people would have trouble raising the hand that bore it. Either that or the Swedes were making a joke and had enjoyed imagining the governor trying to lift the thing. But that's a lot of gold for a joke, and the Swedes aren't famous for their ironic humor.

Slappy stared in amazement at the gaudy bauble for a full moment. Finally he turned away.

"You know I can't accept it. All booty is to be divided equally among the crew. We'll melt it down or something."

"The hell we will," George said, snapping the box shut. "I'll talk to the crew. This'll be on your finger before the sun sets."

The argument might have gone on longer, but at that moment Two Patch called down again, now reporting what might be a sail to the west.

"And that ship to the north is definitely heading this way, almost hull up now."

"Damn! It's getting as crowded as the waiting room at the Saucy Strumpet!" Slappy said. "All right lads! Let's get going! Dogwatch! Are all the Boils accounted for?"

"All but Cementhands sir, he's somewheres below."



"I am the Countess Sonja av Sarasgalen of Malmo, Sweden, if you don' mind."

"But before that you were Mad Sally." This time it wasn't a question.

"Shut up. There isn't much time. Is Chumbucket aboard?"

"I don't know, he wasn't with the original boarding party."

"You can't tell him I'm here."

"Sorry, but no way. How can I not tell him?"

"I can make it worth your while. Remember right before I left the Boil, the note said I was going to look for the stolen Swedish crown jewels. Well, I found them."

(This was all related in the first of The Festering Boil sagas, "The Diego Garcia Caper."

"That's great Sally …"

"Countess Sonja, please."

"Fine, Countess Sonja, but what are you doing here, and how can I NOT tell Ol' Chumbucket about seeing you?"

"I'm here on my own business, has nothing to do with the Boil or Chumbucket or anything. It's a personal matter. And if you tell Chumbucket, he'll just get all … Chumbuckety."

Cementhands had to grin at that.

"Yeah, he does that. You know, he took it kinda hard when you left."

"It wasn't easy for me either, and I will be back. I just have some personal business I have to take …."

"You have to take care of - yeah, I got that. So how does Mr. Sleepy here fit in?" he asked, poking his comatose assailant with his toe. "A new 'friend' to take your mind off Chumbucket?"

Sally's icy cold look was all Cementhands needed to know he'd stepped over the line.

"Right. Sorry. Didn't mean anything by it."

"He's part of my crew, and he's got work to do when we get to Willemstad. Will he be okay?"

"Him? Probably. I didn't hit him as hard as I usually do. It was my 'nighty night' punch, not my 'I could swear you used to have a face' punch."

"Good. How is Ol' Chumbucket?"

"Fine. Never better. Not as much fun as he used to be, spends more time alone up the mainmast, moping, staring out to sea. You know, the usual."

"I said I was sorry. But I have to do something. When it's all finished, I'll try to get back in touch. Until then we'll have to go our separate ways."

"Well, if you're going to Willemstad that might be a problem. That's where we're heading."


"We have – How did you put it? – personal business we have to take care of."

"Damn. This complicates things." Sally leaned in closer to Cementhands, the point of her blade pressing against the cloth of his shirt.

"Are you sure there's nothing I can do to convince you not to mention to anyone that I'm here?"

She pressed the blade a tiny bit tighter.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


The Curacao Caper Chapter 14 - A Smoldering Soufflé of Just Desserts and Pencil-Thin Mustaches


Black Butch, the Dutchman and ship’s chef of The Festering Boil brought his enormous meat cleaver down with a satisfyingly squishy THUNK as he dismembered the eighth and final leg on what was, only a few minutes before, a perfectly harmless dead octopus. Still at the peak of distemper, he buried the uppermost business end of the cleaver’s blade deep into the chopping block and with the dexterity of a rage-filled ninja, stealthily produced a very sharp knife and began sectioning the legs into medallions of rubbery octopus-cutlets.

Ol’ Chumbucket, having heard the early portion of Butch’s rant entered the galley with care;
“I heard the rumpus and thought that Slappy must have been taking cooking lessons again.”
Butch stopped for a moment and looked up – his eyes still burning red with rage. Ol’ Chumbucket soldiered on bravely; “… come to find out it only SOUNDED like the cap’n – what with the creative torrent of randomly selected profanity.”

Butch softened his gaze and Ol’ Chumbucket could see profound disappointment where there had most recently been what appeared to be demonic possession.

“Beggin’ Mister Chumbucket’s pardon – but when you see a sign that says, Quiet! Soufflé in oven! Seriously! No Monkey Business and THIS MEANS YOU! Don’t you think that any numbskull would know that it is incumbent upon him or her to maintain a calm demeanor in the general vicinity of the afore-mentioned sign?”

Ol’ Chumbucket thought for a moment. His inner smart-ass wanted to respond with any of the following;

“Is this a trick question?”
“Define ‘Numbskull’ and cite seventeen examples.”
“Just what kind of ‘Business’ were you assuming a ‘Monkey’ would do?”

But when he saw Butch’s still-flaring nostrils, he decided that a more straightforward response would be in order.

“I would think, Butch, that anyone reading the sign would know that quiet was called-for.” Then added, “But you know, old friend, that more than half the crew can’t read.” He hoped this possibility might assuage the culinary artist’s wrath.

“Mister McCormack can read just fine.” Butch muttered as he returned to his rhythmic cutting.

“Yes.” Chumbucket agreed with a sigh. “Yes he can.”

Here he was torn by the curiosity of the story behind the emotional storm and an almost equally strong desire to slink away. Curiosity, as it so often does, won the day.

“So …” Chumbucket began gingerly. “What did that big galoot do?”

Without looking up, Butch seethed out two words. “He danced.”

Ol’ Chumbucket’s well-intentioned attempt at humor containment immediately backfired. The laugh that exploded from his tightly clinched lips sounded more like a face-fart than a spontaneous expression of genuine amusement.

“You think this is funny?!?” Butch pointed with his knife – anyone else might have felt threatened, but Ol’ Chumbucket knew he meant no harm.

“Yes!” Chumbucket answered confidently. “And so will you in a day or two. But tell me, what sort of ‘dancing’ was the big man doing?”


Chumbucket face-farted again.

“And when I told him that his merriment would destroy the Soufflé de banana de chocolat flambeau that I was baking for the captain’s wedding party, he refused to abate – rather, he kicked it up a notch and started Morris dancing his way around the galley – banging pots with wooden spoons and using my dead octopuses as festive May Day streamers!”
Ol’ Chumbucket took a seat, gasping as he laughed while picturing the general mayhem of the scene.

“You think this is funny!?!” Butch turned and snatched a white ceramic dish from the oven and tossed it on the table in front of Ol’ Chumbucket. “Look at this! This is not a soufflé! This is a chocolate, banana, rum-soaked abomination!!!”

Chumbucket swooped a pinky finger through the goo and delivered the contents into his mouth. He smiled and moaned slightly. “Damn, but that’s a tasty abomination!”

Butch snatched it back as if it was a mistreated child. “It’s supposed to be flambeaued! How am I supposed to flambeau this? You tell me! How!?!”

“Is this a trick question?” Ol’ Chumbucket felt the satisfaction of finally getting a wise-ass crack off. He then produced a match from a container he kept in his boot and with a sweeping, fluid movement lit it and tossed it into the pan. As if in slow motion, Butch rushed to try to block the flame before it reached its target, with a prolonged, “NOOOO!!!” But he was too late.

There was, for the flash of a moment, a fireball that nearly filled the room. It had the same effect passing one’s finger through a candle flame might produce on any exposed skin; a painless blackening of the skin leaving the imprint of the flame's caress.

With the experience of one who has been in this situation before, Butch touched his eyebrows to make sure they were still in place – they were.

“Damn,” Ol’ Chumbucket remarked calmly. “Was gunpowder one of your ingredients?”

“There might have been some in the rum.” Butch replied, just glad to have retained all of his facial hair. “It was from the captain’s own stock – it being for his wedding and all.”

“Cap’n Slappy’s not getting married.” Ol’ Chumbucket said reassuringly adding, “ … for the eighth time.”

“I thought this would be ten?” Butch questioned.

“Who can keep count?” Chumbucket joked. “We barely have readers aboard this ship – do you think we have anyone who can calculate the number of bad decisions the captain has made when it comes to matters of his own heart?”

“Aye.” Butch agreed, letting go of the anger over his confectionary crisis. “But ye have to love the hopeless romantic in him.”

“I’ll leave the ‘loving’ to the seemingly endless parade of wenches who pass through the cap’n’s boudoir on their way to the altar … as for the hopeless romantic …? I see little difference between a hopeless romantic and a befuddled drunk except that when the befuddled drunk wakes up in the morning his headache will be the only life challenge with which he must contend.”

Butch blinked a couple of times trying to catch up with Ol’ Chumbucket’s train of thought then simply said, “So, no wedding?”

“No wedding.” Chumbucket turned to leave but paused for a moment. “But seriously, Butch – my compliments on the soufflé.”

Butch broke a piece off the now smoldering pile of charred goo on the table and tasted it. “Yeah. It needs a new name – but the secret is the flambeau.”

“Everything tastes better when it’s been put to the torch.” Chumbucket remarked as he went to see what other crises were in need of aversion.


“I heard a rumpus in the galley a short time back – do you know what was going on?” Slappy asked Cementhands McCormack.

“I have no idea.” McCormack answered straight-faced and breathless from his exuberant capering a few moments prior.


“Capitaine! Le bateau part!” Luc Duvall, a willowy wisp of a pirate in a blue and white horizontally striped shirt with a black beret perched at a jaunty angle atop his over-sized head called back across the deck. He punctuated his wide-eyed pronouncement by popping his mouth with a swift slap of his open palm.

“Luc, mon ami.” Fifi replied as he moved toward his comrade near the bow of Le Petit Mort Deaux “How many times must I remind you? If we are going to strike fear into the English, we must learn to do so in their mother tongue!”

“Oui, Luc! We must give them their mother’s tongue!” Jean Pierre de la Muqueux, Fifi’s ever-present shadow added with misplaced emphasis on the word, “mother’s.”

Fifi winced, but let it pass knowing from his own experience how difficult second language acquisition can be.

“My friends, it does not matter that Le Festering Boil, she is a faster ship. No. It matters not one little tit who arrives in Curacao first – only who comes with a better plan. Sloppy is a good reactor, but at the planning? He is not so good. If it proves true that he did not kill Capitaine Hamnquist all those years ago and the old fellow is still alive and knows where the treasure is, we will win … because we are the smartipantses, no?”

“Oui, mon Capitaine!” Duvall and De la Muqueux snapped to attention and saluted smartly.

Le Fleur took the spyglass from Duvall and searched the horizon for The Festering Boil’s sails catching a brief glimpse just before they vanished in the distance.

After a long silence, Luc Duvall asked, “Did nobody notice my mustache? I’ve trimmed it.”

“Oui, Luc. It looks good.” De la Muqueux replied with an honest nod of the head.

“She is pencil-thin, no?” Luc continued to search for a compliment from the captain.

“Oui, Luc.” De la Muqueux said, adding, “The pencil-thinness of your mustache de-emphasizes the vast expanse of your head size while creating the appearance that your lips are not so freakishly invisible as they are.”

Luc smiled and nodded, but kept glancing toward Fifi whose focus on the horizon continued long after watching the Boil sail out of sight.

“Mon Capitaine? Do you like my mustache? She is pencil-thin, no?!”

“Oui, Luc.” Fifi closed up the spyglass without incident and handed it back to Duvall. “I noticed your mustache and it is very pencil-thin. But I will not compliment you on it – if I did I would have to compliment De la Muqueux here on losing four pounds last month.”

“Merci beaucoup, mon Capitaine.” de la Muqueux.

“That was not a compliment – I was simply illustrating my point! I notice everything and I compliment nothing. If you like it, grand! But I cannot go from, ‘Your hair smells so nice.’ To ‘Let’s disembowel the prisoners.’ This is too much of a leap.”

Fifi could see that both his crewmen were terribly disappointed, so he softened.
“But your mustache really brings your face together in a nice way and dropping those four pounds makes you look ten years younger.”

Luc and Jean Pierre beamed.

“Now, get back to work,” Fifi snapped, “before I cut out your livers and feed them to the sharks!”


“Sink me, Jiffy!” Governor Roelof Van Wubbeldinker blurted as he scanned the horizon with his spyglass while standing atop the newly-built scaffold overlooking the harbor in Willemstad.

“Where are they?”

“Begging your lordship’s pardon,” Bernard Jeffries replied with the patient stamina of a parent whose child has asked, “Are we there yet?” for the fourth time in the last three minutes. “As was pointed out to your lordship only this morning, the Swedish vessel carrying your betrothed is not due in for another five to six days.”

“And how many days ago was this morning, Jiffy?”

Jeffries was surprised that Van Wubbledinker’s questions still had the power to catch him off guard.

“If my calculations are correct, your lordship, that would be zero days ago.”

“Blast! Are you telling me, old bean, that time is going backwards again?!?”

Once again, Jeffries regretted the time two years earlier when he convinced the governor that his holiday in Havana had gone longer than expected because time had temporarily been reversed.

“No, your lordship. It just seems to be moving ahead more slowly than usual. I am confident that when the Countess and her entourage arrive, the speed with which time passes will once again be set aright and move in a much more predictable manner.”

“But when will they get here, Jiffy?”

Jeffries sighed heavily. “Five to six days, milord.”

Van Wubbledinker returned to scanning the water with his spyglass. “Well, I don’t see them anywhere.”

Bernard Jeffries sighed again and glanced at the workmen putting the finishing touches on the trap door that would be used in the up-coming hanging and fantasized about a tragic industrial accident befalling the beloved governor of Curacao.

He smiled.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009


The Curaçao Caper - Chapter 13

"Ahoy the deck!" Two Patch shouted down from atop the main mast. "Here they come!"

On the quarterdeck George the Greek and Ol' Chumbucket shifted their gaze from the opposing ship to the coast. The two longboats were putting off from the shoreline and making for the ships as if racing in a regatta. The boat headed toward the French ship had gotten the earlier start, but the boat rowing toward the Boil was making up the distance fast. In the moments the two pirates allowed themselves to watch, the Boils had pulled even with the French boat and were taking the lead.

"George, get us under way," Chumbucket said. "I'm going to make sure the gun crews are ready in case something is up."

He turned and leaped down to the waist of the ship to consult with Keeling while George snapped orders at the maintopmen to turn the ship from a stationary object, bobbing in the long swell, to an ocean-going bird of prey, fast and powerful. Within two minutes of Two Patch's call the sails were snapping taut in the shifting winds and the ship began gliding away from Le Petit Mort Deux.

"Ummm, aren't we going to wait for the captain and the rest of them," Keeling asked nervously.

"No, of course not, we're going inshore to get them," Chumbucket replied.

It wasn't an idea unique to the Boil, he saw, as the French ship began raising sails and getting some headway going. But the French crew was not as familiar with their new ship as the Boils were with theirs, and progress was consequentially slower.

More importantly, Chumbucket noted, as the afternoon had worn on the wind had begun to shift as he'd expected. With the sun heading toward the horizon, the breeze that had blown from the east all day was now backing around to the opposite compass point. The land had been soaking up the sun all day and as the heat rose off the land it began generating a new current, one that gave the Boil the advantage of the wind.

The longboats had clawed their way out of the shallow water and were now gliding over the swell with long, measured strokes. The distance closed to about a quarter mile before George brought the helm hard over and the sails snapped around, bringing the ship in a long curve around the longboat coming up with the shore party now on their port side.

A line was tossed and Peddicord snagged it and secured it to a cleat on the bow, the landing party shipping their oars as The Festering Boil took the longboat in tow. Strong arms pulling it in closer to the side of the great ship and moments later a ladder was put over the side to enable the return of the prodigals.

Now boarding a ship from a small boat isn't as easy as climbing a flight of stairs with a cup of cocoa in hand on your way to bed, and with the large ship gaining speed with every passing moment, bumping and bouncing the smaller one in its wake it becomes exponentially harder. But these particular sailors had - shall we say - a fair amount of experience in boarding ships under adverse conditions, and Peddicord, McCormack, Dogwatch and Spencer were quickly on deck, turning to their tasks.

Below them, Slappy waited for Sawbones Burgess to make the climb. The older man waited - trying to time his leap to take advantage of the up swell. Waiting, timing, waiting, waiting.

"Oh for the love of Mama Burgess's soiled knickers," Slappy finally shouted. "Get moving!"

Burgess glanced reproachfully over his shoulder at the captain, grabbed the trailing ladder and leaped. He windmilled his feet in the air for a moment, desperately trying to find a rung to catch his heel on, then hung for a second like a gaffed fish, lost his grip and fell. A small space had opened momentarily between ship and boat and Burgess plunged into the salt water.

Fortunately Slappy had anticipated this and even as the waters closed over the doctor's head Slappy's left arm shot down and grabbed him by the collar. The two vessels closed with a bump, trapping Slappy's arm between them, then they parted again and with one heave he had pulled the sputtering Sawbones back into the longboat.

"Send over the boson's chair for this lubber," Slappy ordered the crew, and despite the doctor's protestations, the rig was swiftly lowered. Taking no notice of Burgess's complaints, Slappy swiftly stuffed him into the contrivance and signaled the deck crew to haul. Burgess rose into the air like a baby in a car seat and was dumped unceremoniously on the deck, squawking like a sea lion among the general laughter of the crew.

Slappy then paused on the longboat, timed his move and leaped at the ladder, grabbing it with both hands and clambering up the side of the ship. As he did he noticed immediately there was no strength in his left arm thanks to the blow it took from the ship and boat colliding, so he made the climb one handed.

He quickly made his way to the quarterdeck and nodded with approval as the ship took to the wind with every scrap of canvas flying up the masts and out over the spars.

"How are our friends doing?" Slappy asked Ol' Chumbucket, who had his glass trained on the French ship.

"Not so good. That ship is still pretty ungainly what with that high castle only half removed. Are we looking for a fight? We should be able to sail circles around 'em now that we've got the wind."

"Don't bother," Slappy said. "Dogwatch! Lay out a course for Curaçao! George, call the crew together."

Within minutes the crew was gathered in the waist of the ship. As usual, Slappy had chosen a spot to speak from which put his back to the sun, and the crew's blinking and bobbing of heads to keep the glare out of their eyes made the captain nervous.

"Why are they always so shifty eyed?" Slappy asked in an aside to Ol' Chumbucket.

"Not shifty eyed, they're just averting their gaze in deference to the almost godlike esteem in which they hold you," Chumbucket made up on the spot.

"Really? Godlike?" Slappy smiled at the thought. “Godlike ye say? Excellent!” Slappy sized his men up again in light of Ol’ Chumbucket’s considerably doting appraisal. Despite this, he remained concerned. “Then why does it look like they're plotting a mutiny?"

"No, no, nothing like that, perish the thought," Chumbucket improvised. "They've just been badly divided over what to get you for a wedding gift."

"A wedding gift?" Slappy said. "What the hell! I'm not getting married again - Am I?"

"Oh no, of course not. Seven is enough for anyone, I'm sure. But they don't want to get caught unprepared if you do suddenly announce your impending nuptials. But don't you have something you wanted to say to the crew?"

"Did I? Oh, yes, right. Of course.” Then, with the voice of pronouncement, “Avast there ye swabs! We'll not be going into battle today."

There was a groan of disappointment from the crew, especially from the small group of entrepreneurs who had printed up a dozen "My Ship Sank Fifi LeFleur and All I Got Was This Lousy Poofy Shirt" shirts.

"Don't fret," Slappy reassured, them, "And none of yer shifty-eyed plotting, either. No, now, we'll probably get around to sinking him, so save those novelty shirts because I for one will be wanting one, if ye've got one in my size. But for now, speed is of the essence. We've gotta get to Curaçao before they can string up a certain former pirate captain who, if it's who I think it is, may be able to lead us to more gold since - well, when was it we captured that treasure ship and thought we'd all retire, but then we got captured and we only got away because the gold was on the other ship and she tore out her bottom on the reef?"

Several sailors consulted their diaries and day planners, and it was several minutes before they'd all agreed Cap'n Slappy was discussing the episode known to pirate literature lovers as "The Havana Caper."

"Whew!" They all thought to themselves. “That was a lot of gold.”

"Maybe more," Sappy added.

"Double whew!"

"But we've gotta get to Willemstad before they can string him up. Dogwatch, how fast can we get there."

Dogwatch Watts, the ship's navigator, had been wrestling with the charts since he got back on board. Now he looked up.

"I've got good news and bad news."

Slappy sighed.

"What's the good news," he asked.

"If the wind holds and nothing gets in our way we should be able to get there inside of five days," Dogwatch replied.

"Alright then, give me the bad news. What's the punchline?"

"No punchline. It's just that we'll have to cut the corner pretty sharp to knock off the miles, and that means we'll be passing right close to a whole lot of Spanish towns, and probably a whole bunch of Spanish navy ships. We'll be passing by within sight of Barranquilla and Santa Marta, not too far from Nombre de Dios, and right across the inlet that leads to Maracaibo."

"No, we're not stopping at Maracaibo," Chumbucket broke in adamantly. "I've had enough of Maracaibo. No more."

He was still put out over the intrusion of magic into the day-to-day activities of pirates, something that had occurred in the adventure now referred to by a certain type of historian (the not so picky about facts type) as
"The Maracaibo Caper."

"Don't worry, we don't have time to stop in at Maracaibo, although the governor does put on a pretty good feast," Slappy said thoughtfully. "But - No! On to Curaçao! Let's do everything we can to keep this ship flying east and ready to do battle when we get there."

"And," he added. "A nice coffee maker or perhaps a silver place setting always makes a thoughtful wedding gift. Crew dismissed!"

The crew just stood there looking at him, perplexed. Wedding gift?

"I said dismissed!"

The crew went back to their tasks as the ship's officers gathered on the quarterdeck.

"So what did happen on land?" Chumbucket asked, glancing back where, in the distance, he could just make out Le Petit Mort getting under way. "Why are we suddenly not planning to kill the French fop?"

"Or did you already kill him and now we don't have to?" George asked.

"No, he wouldn't keep that secret," Keeling said. "He'd have come back boasting."

Slappy looked troubled, but the crew's chiding finally got him to open up.

"It's just that Fifi might not need killing quite as much as I thought all those years," Slappy said.

"No?" Chumbucket asked, his eyebrows raised.

"Oh, we'll probably get around to it. But right now we have to look up our former mutual captain and ask him a few questions. The 'death' of Captain Hamnquist might not have been what we both thought. I might have been blaming the wrong person all these years."

Meanwhile, back on Le Petit Mort, a similar conversation was going on at they watched the Boil escaping into the horizon.

"Get the rest of this debris cleared and we'll show them who's got a fast ship," LeFleur said. "Let them have their head start."

"But what about Hamnquist?" de la Muqueux asked.

"I don't know," Fifi said in the first sign of self-doubt his crew had ever seen. "I'm still trying to wrap my tete around the idea that maybe Slappy didn't kill Hamnquist after all."

Sunday, April 05, 2009


Chapter Twelve - Beach Blanket Broohah-PWAH!

“I could use a little help.”

Spencer gasped for breath as he strained against the oars pulling the longboat through the surf toward the beach. “I mean, seriously. I’m pulling for six and some of us aren’t as svelte as we used to be.”

Facing the stern, he could see the look on Cap’n Slappy’s face which was, appropriately to the location, also stern. And he could feel the stare of Cementhands McCormack’s icy gaze like a frozen rope of loathing belayed firmly to the back of his head.

“You’re doing fine.” Wellington Peddicord said in his most encouraging tone of voice. “Besides, this is a great work-out for your deltoids and lats.”

“Besides that …” McCormack added. “You’re young and need to suffer a little in order to grow some character.”

Spencer’s mimic-face belied his contempt for the advice of his elders. This almost brought a smile to Cap’n Slappy – but he maintained what he considered a visage appropriately serious for the situation.

Sawbones took his cue from the captain.

“How about a little less talking and a little more getting your game faces on?”

Dogwatch proceeded to contort his face into wildly disproportionate and misguided versions of what he considered a “game face” to be.

Wellington Peddicord was simultaneously fascinated and concerned about Dogwatch’s facial tics and brought them to Sawbones’ attention. “Doctor, is there anything you can do to help this poor man?”

“My healing skills are limited to the application of weasel grease and amputations.”

Peddicord looked over Dogwatch and his amazing techniforming dream face and asked, “What would you cut off to make this stop?”

With one voice, the rest of the mini-crew of The Festering Boil’s dinghy replied, “His head!”

This put an end to the facial exercises and the conversation until the bottom of the small boat touched sand on the beach.

“Sawbones, you stay here at the boat with Spencer. If this is a trap, I want you and the boy to set out for the ship – that’s the signal for Ol’ Chumbucket and George to blast the shit out o’ the Froggie boat! I’m taking ‘the face’ and the wrecking crew with me.”

“I’m ‘the face,’ aren’t I?” asked Dogwatch, hopefully.

Cementhands patted him a little too hard on the head. “Well it was either that or ‘Admiral Twitchy.’”

With that, the four of them strolled down the beach to where a small stream no more than the width of yard tricked down from the jungle to meet the sea.

Fifi LeFleur and his First Mate, Viscount Jean Pierre de la Muqueux along with two other French pirates stood on the other side of the little spit of water. It was clear that the four of them had dressed for the occasion – shitty chic. Del la Muqueux dressed as he had during his visit to The Festering Boil as did LeFleur’s other officers – once handsome clothes badly mangled by foul weather, sea battles and bad manners.

As for LeFleur himself, he had somehow acquired a French admiral’s uniform that fit him to near perfection. Had Slappy’s heart not been filled with loathing for his former shipmate, he might have been impressed with his bearing. As it was, the two groups stood astride the stream and just stared at each other for at least two intensely silent minutes. Each man sizing up his opposite in the event that violence may be the outcome of the meeting.

Finally, Cap’n Slappy broke the stalemate.

“Hello, Poodle.”

De la Muqueux went for his sword – as he did, Cementhands palmed the handle of his enormous pistol. But as quickly as they moved, their hands were stayed by the quick intervention of their respective leaders. LeFleur rested his hand on the butt-end of the sword handle before his first mate could draw it from his sash and Slappy simply held his hand up and all froze – for the moment.

It was now Fifi’s turn.

“Come now, Sloppy – (it was unclear if he mispronounced the captain’s name on purpose, or if he was just really, really French) – we are, how you say, ‘Grown-Ups?’No?”

“No.” Slappy replied, “But go on.”

“You still make the jokes, do you not?” With that, LeFleur laughed … if you can call it a laugh. He sort of said words that sound like laughter – if you were describing laughter to a linguist from a land without jesters or comedians or even a clumsy juggler. “A-hah. Ah-Hah. A-ha-ha-ha.”

“Oh, Sloppy, I have been telling my men about how you always make the funnies – by calling me ‘The Poodle’ and making the poo-poo noises from your derrière and how the English think that is so very … how you say, ‘Ooo-mer-ous?’ No?”

“No.” Slappy sighed. “It is not, ‘ooo-mer-ous,’ – it’s fackin’ HI-Larious! But you do not appreciate the olfactorious observational arts. So, what in the name of Poseidon’s slippery scrotum do you want, Fifi?”

“MOI!?!?!?!?” The added and fluctuating punctuations gave an operatic quality to Fifi’s sustained personal pronoun of protestation.

“Oui!!!! Vous!!!!” Cap’n Slappy’s mock echo lacked the sing-song quality, but was pitch perfect.

“What are you talking about, Meester Sloppy?!?” Fifi intoned defensively. “It was YOU …!”

Fifi was interrupted by his first mate, De la Muqueux who whispered something in the irritable pirate’s ear.

“Ce qui?” The look on Fifi’s face was fatigued with annoyance.

More whispering.

Cap’n Slappy glanced one by one at his companions while they waited for the hushed conversation on the other side of the water run-off to come to some conclusion. Each of them rolled their eyes in response. No eye-rolling bigger and more comical than that of the big man, Cementhands McCormack.

“Fifi,” Slappy finally interrupted at the point of his own exasperation, “What in the name of Neptune’s salty man-nipples of mystery are we doing here?”

Fifi sighed hard. It was the kind of sigh that expels air that has been sitting in a person’s lungs since his seventh birthday.

“Sloppy. I do, how you say, ‘ape-olo-zhize’ for my well-intentioned albeit ‘Maggie Meddler’ of a first mate who led you to believe that we should speak …”

“Damn yer Froggie eyes, Fifi!” Slappy snarled, seizing the advantage. “Thar’s been somethin’ I’ve been meanin’ to say to ye and I’ll be hornswoggled by a randy manatee if I don’t say it now!”

Fifi looked stricken for a moment, then rallied with ferocity equal to the portly pirate captain. “Is that so, Monsieur Smartipantalon!? Well, let me assure you that I, too have some things to say to you and believe me when I tell you that they are very cross and angry words that will no doubt make you cry!”

De la Muqueux recognized his moment and interjected a rather sheepish, “I told you that the two of you should talk this out!”

“SHUT UP!” Slappy and Fifi bellowed in momentary accord.

“Well?!” Slappy’s blood settled only to a seething simmer as he waited to hear what his old shipmate and favorite subject for violent fantasy had to say.

“You go first.” Fifi snarled, “I incest!”

There was a general look of revulsion and confusion on the faces of the Boilers on the scene as the asked themselves if they had just heard the French captain correctly.

“You what?” Cementhands McCormack inquired while the others grimaced and shook their heads in disbelief.

“I was talking to your captain, huge man-boy!” Fifi scoffed. “I incest for him to go first.”

“Who you callin’ ‘Man-Boy’!?!” Wellington Peddicord was no longer amused.

“Look! You chorus boys to Sloppy should know your place! Were it not for this raging river between us, I should have my men come over and give you all the good thrashing!” Fifi’s threat was bold and it looked like he meant it as well.

“You mean this ‘river’? Here?!?” Peddicord was itching for a fight.

“Oui!” Fifi nodded, “And you should thank whatever devil you pray to that it is there protecting you from my wrath!”

Without a word, Slappy and his men took the seven or eight steps necessary to walk over the trickle of water that ran into the sea and stood toe-to-toe with the French pirates.

“You mean that ‘river’ back there?” McCormack pointed with his thumb over his right shoulder – behind them.

Fifi’s eyes flashed with rage.

“You have invaded French soil and have added to your previous outrages with this insolence! – PWAH!” (The “PWAH!” of course, being the famous French spit-punctuation directed near but not on the foot of the perceived transgressor. By tradition, this was followed immediately by the group spit of Fifi’s subordinates.)

“PWAH!” spat Fifi’s subordinates.

“Outrages!?! HAH!” Slappy snorted in equal parts defiance and derision standing arms akimbo, fists on hips. “It is your long string of outrages that have brought us to this place and hurled us precipitously toward this grudge war! – PWAH!” (Slappy returned spit for spit followed sharply – albeit moistly – by his men.)

“PWAH!” spat Slappy’s men.

“Grudge war!?! HAH! – If there is a grudge war between us, it is YOU who started it with your treachery! – PWAH!”

“PWAH!” spat Fifi’s men.

“Treachery!?! HAH!” Slappy shot back “You who wrote the book on treachery and are the poster boy for betrayal! – PWAH!”

“PWAH!” spat the Boilers.

“POSTER BOY!?! HAH!” Fifi’s body now shook with apoplectic furor. “That is very funny coming from you when you are a famous media whore with your commercial endorsement of a chain of moderately-priced brothels and your frequent editorializing in Pirattitude Monthly! – PWAH!”

“PWAH!” spat Fifi’s men.

“Editorializing?!? HAH!” Slappy inched closer to Fifi so that their beards almost touched. “I write observational puff pieces for a rag that can’t get its facts straight as evidenced by the fact that they claim Captain Hamnquist is to be hanged in Curacao when you and I both know that YOU murdered him many years ago! – PWAH!”

“PWAH!” spat the Boilers

The spitting suddenly came to a halt and Fifi stood for a moment – dumbfounded.

“Wait. Wait. Wait.” He said hurriedly collecting his thoughts as if the very reason for his existence had sharply turned completely around.

“YOU think that I … KILLED Capitan Hamnquist?” Fifi seemed genuinely hurt by the presumption of guilt. “PWAH.” He spat – but it was the spittle of one whose heart was broken – very weak … more like focused drool.

“Pwah.” Trickled Fifi’s men in weakened solidarity with their leader.

Slappy seemed momentarily confused. His rage at Fifi had been fueled by years of assumptions based on circumstantial evidence. Perhaps Hamnquist had ordered the long boats lowered in a moment of panic and had asked Fifi to cut him loose from the wheel. Perhaps the two had been separated from each other by a large wave. And perhaps, Fifi had assumed all these years that Slappy had murdered their sailing master.

“So, you didn’t?”

“No! Did you?”

“No!” Slappy thought for a moment more before adding. “That means that Ol’ Hamnquist either has the treasure or at least them map!”

“But he won’t have either long if he hangs.” Fifi added.

There is always a moment before a great race that the two top contenders look at each other and know that the prize can only go to the swiftest. With the animosity now abated, there was no need for violence. Both pirate captains realized now that the competition would be one of speed – and cunning. And both felt that he had the upper hand.

“Last one to Curacao is a rotten oeuf!” Fifi called out as he and his men swiftly turned and scampered toward their long boat.

“Oeuf?” Dogwatch gasped as Slappy and his Boilers raced in the other direction toward their own dinghy.

“EGG!” Peddicord and McCormack replied as their boots splashed back through the tiny river that ran down to the sea. When they reached the boat their momentum barely slowed as they pushed her into the surf. Like a well-oiled machine each of them leaped into the skiff by turns and all six men grabbed oars and rowed like champions.

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