Monday, October 25, 2010


The Curacao Caper - Chapter 38

At the main entrance to Willemstad's gaol stood an unusual looking party of four. Two men in monk's robes led the way, followed by a gigantic figure pushing a perambulator. Someone glancing at the large form would have assumed it was a woman – the biggest, oddest looking woman they had ever seen. Someone giving longer than a glance might have gone blind, but if they somehow managed to retain their eyesight they'd had probably said something like, "Wha ... wha... That's not right!" But they would have hurried on, even if they had nowhere to hurry to, because it wasn't an image you wanted to linger over.

"We're here to see my husband!" the vaguely female shape shrieked as she approached the guard's station.

"Your, er, husband?" the startled guard asked.

"Yes, my husband! I'm Griselda Slappy, and you're holding my husband."

"Wait," the guard said, trying hard not to look the alarming figure in the face. "You mean you're married to one of the pirates we're holding?"

"Yes, yes, the pirate. His fatal flaw," she said, dabbing her eyes with an enormous hanky which she then used to blow her nose so loud a foghorn would blush. "He's really a good man, a devoted husband and father, and," she lowered her voice and batted her eyes flirtatiously at the guard, "a terrific lover," said Griselda – who of course was really Cementhands McCormack.

The guard just looked at the figure before him and tried really, really hard not to let that image linger. Instead, he fell back on "duty."

"Who are these men?" he asked, pointing to Jonas Gumby and Miguel Magana, the erstwhile actors dressed in the monks' robes.

"Obviously these are men of the cloth here to save poor Slappy's soul before he pays the price for his life of crime," McCormack said. The two actors were deep into their roles and began making the sign of the cross and tossing blessings right and left. They even began talking in Latin, though neither man actually knew the language.

"Yes, well, but those pirates are going to be hung this afternoon. We can't bring them out into the yard."

"Of course not," Slappy's putative wife said. "We're going down to the cells."


"Were going down to the cells to make a last visit with my beloved, and shrive his soul."


"I think that's the word. Isn't that what you do, padre?"

"How would I know?" the first monk shrugged. The second elbowed him sharply, and he added, "We call it confessing, but yeah, you could probably call it shriving. Or saving if you'd rather. Bless you my son! Dominoes biscuitious."

"And what's in the cart?" the guard said.

"That's Slappy's son, L'il Slap," the wife said.

"Let's see."

Cementhands flicked back the blanket covering the buggy. The guard peered over the top.

"Carve a woodcut ye goat-bugerin’ bastard! It’ll last longer!" the figure in the buggy demanded.

The guard noticed something that had been overlooked in McCormack’s carefully choreographed plan. “Why is he smoking a cigar?”

McCormack snatched the cigar away and thrust it into his own mouth. “Damn it, L’il Slap! That’s Mama’s!” Then turning to the guard commented, “So inquisitive just like his dear Pop-Pop!”

“That’s a cigar you owe me … Mumsy!” Baby Gabriel growled.

"Isn't he sweet?" the proud mother beamed. "He's just learning to talk." McCormack's falsetto dropped into a conspiratorial whisper. "Of course, he hasn't been toilet trained yet, as you can see by his diaper."

"I don't need no diaper," Gabriel, as the baby said.

"Of course you do, you little shit!" McCormack said. "Look at that load you're carrying. I might have to change you before we go to see your father." Turning to the guard he asked, "You wouldn't happen to have a moist cloth, would you?"

The guard noticed the rather full nature of the diaper, and after whisking the blanket off he'd noticed a nose-wrinkling stench coming from the pram. He just wanted these people to go away. So he put his foot down.

"No changing diapers. No! If you're going down to the cells, you're going down right now!"

"But his father can't say goodbye to his son smelling like that! He may be a pirate, but he has some rights,"

"This kid's father doesn't smell much better," the harried guard said, reaching for his keys. "After a few days down there, those pirates won't notice a little odor coming from the kid. Get through this gate right now."

"Very well, let's go," McCormack said to his three companions.

They were ushered through the gate and directed down a flight of stairs to where another armed man guarded a door. Behind them they heard the main gate clang shut.

"It does rather smell down here," McCormack remarked to their escort. "But aren't the walls beautiful?"

But while McCormack continued his falsetto monologue, in the back of his mind he was thinking, "Alright Chumbucket. Time to do something to make these guards go away."

Ol' Chumbucket sat on a shaded bench in the center of Willemstad's small town square. To his back was the governor's mansion. In front of him at the other side of the square was the cathedral. To his left, just a few feet away, were a couple of lizards going through their mating ritual.

The larger of the two anoles, the bright green male, puffed out his dewlap air sack, bobbed his head, and did what appeared to be push-ups. Then he and the female – smaller and dull colored – circled each other with quick, jerky motions, froze, and the male repeated his little dance. Then more circling, then more pushups. Suddenly, the male darted forward, pinning Mrs. Anole by grasping her neck in his jaws, and climbed atop her.

Chumbucket averted his eyes to give the lizards their privacy, whether they wanted it or not. He sighed.

If only relations between the sexes could be as easy among humans as it was among lizards, he thought morosely. The male poses, does some pushups and, if the female is impressed with the size of his dewlaps, they get it on, then they never see each other again. Well, he admitted to himself, sometimes it was that simple, especially in the taverns. But usually it got a lot more complicated – there would be a woman who somehow got under a man's skin, who he wanted to be with for more than a night (or a half hour or so) and things got a lot more complicated.

He shook his head and looked up towards the cathedral where a crowd was beginning to gather for the wedding between the governor and the "Swedish countess" who was really one of the craftiest pirates he'd ever known, himself included. In fact, she was a lot more than that.

"A LOT more complicated," he said, laughing at himself.

Right now it was pretty simple. Create a diversion so Cementhands, Gabriel and the two actors could get into the jail and free Slappy and the crew. And maybe get Hamnquist as well. Almost anything would do, a public disturbance, a rock through the stained glass window. Really almost anything. But he had other fish to fry as well. He hadn't explained his planned diversion to Cementhands, figuring he'd try to talk him out of it. But he knew it would work.

He rose from the bench and crossed the plaza to the cathedral, mixing in with the crowd that was gathering for the wedding.

"Bride's side or groom's?" one of the ushers asked as he went in through the big, heavy wooden doors.

"Bride's" he answered.

"Really?" came the surprised reply.


The usher leaned in and whispered in his ear.

"Everyone is sitting on the groom's side," he hissed. "Partly because she's from Sweden of course, so no one knows her ..."

"I do. I've known the ... er ... countess about as long as I've known anyone."

"Yes, well. The other reason is that the governor is sort of jealous and doesn't like the idea that someone might like someone else – even his bride – more than they do him."

"Perfect," Chumbucket said. Then, realizing the usher was looking at him quizzically, he hastily added, "Perfectly understandable, I mean. But still, I think I'll sit on the bride's side. Probably have a little more room to stretch my legs."

"You'll have room to stretch just about anything you want to," the usher said. "If you're sure, follow me."

Ol' Chumbucket found himself seated alone on the left side of the church. He chose a pew about a third of the way from the back, and took a seat squarely in the middle of it. On the right side, all of Curacao's gentry, wealthy and nouveau riche were crammed tightly into the packed pews. They all glared at Chumbucket. He nodded, smiled and gave a genial nod of his head, then turned his attention back toward the church, taking note of the exits, the windows, where the guards seemed to be stationed, and the ropes and pulleys that kept the chandeliers hanging above the nave of the church.

As the choir finished singing a choral piece there was movement at the front, and the governor came out of a side door and walked to the center of the altar area, his small, mincing steps making it look as if he were dancing. He looked over at the crowd on the "groom's side" and smiled widely, waving to a few people he could recognize. Then as he turned toward the back of the church, his gaze caught and fixed on Ol' Chumbucket sitting alone on the bride's side. His smile froze, and for a second it was as if he had forgotten what he was doing there, his lips pursed and his brow furrowing. Fortunately at that moment the organist hit the keys and began the wedding processional with a crash, and all eyes, including the governor's, snapped to the back of the church.

Chumbucket turned as well, and as usual, his breath caught in his throat as he took in the bride coming down the aisle on the arm of the young red-headed gentleman the pirate referred to as "Dave." She was gorgeous, her face beaming in what looked like a smile of pure joy. The only word that came into Chumbucket's head was "radiant." The sun beaming through the cathedral's great windows made her glow with a dazzling brilliance.

She gazed toward the altar, but her peripheral vision caught sight of Ol' Chumbucket. For half a beat her step faltered, but she quickly caught herself. Leaning over to her escort, she hissed, "What's he doing here."

The young man shrugged and whispered back, "It doesn't matter. We can't stop now. He's on his own."

Sally arrived at the front of the church, the governor held out his arm and the two stepped forward into the altar area, kneeling side by side. The congregation settled down as the impressive clergyman began babbling about marriage, a subject he seemed to know little about.

Ol' Chumbucket sat back, waiting for his cue. Finally, it came.

"If there be any here present who knows any just cause why these two should not be joined in holy matrimony, let him speak now or forever hold his peace."

There was the usual pregnant pause, as everyone glanced around nervously and self-consciously. Evidently there was no such person present.

But just before the minister could continue there was the sound of throat clearing, then a polite voice called out, "Excuse me, sorry, but I've got a reason."

There was dead silence in the cathedral, then the sound of a slight groan as the bride's head dropped in disbelief. The clergyman was so startled he didn't know what to do. This had never happened before. The words were a formality, no one ever objected. It added a nice touch of suspense to a ceremony that was otherwise a foregone conclusion, but no one ever said anything.

Until now.

The governor was not so constrained. He stared incredulously at Ol' Chumbucket, then wailed, "Jiffy!"

Jeffries was himself caught by surprise. He hadn't been in the church, he was on the front steps preparing the release of 200 doves – pigeons actually but who would know the difference? – when he heard his name called. That wasn't right. He dashed into the church through the side door and saw his employer pointing to a lone figure.

"That man is spoiling everything," the governor wailed.

Jeffries began walking briskly toward the offending figure before he recognized who it was. He also recognized that Ol' Chumbucket had withdrawn a pistol from his boot, cocked it and pointed it at Jeffries' chest.

"Just hold it right there friend," Ol' Chumbucket said. "This is between me and the groom – well, really the groom can go to hell as far as I'm concerned. He just can't marry the bride. This is between her and me."

Jeffries took a couple of steps closer and hissed, sotto voce, "You really don't need to do this. Everything's under control."

"Really?" Chumbucket said. "I hate it when everything's under control. So boring."

The bride stood and turned toward him. Chumbucket couldn't read her look, and it had nothing to do with her veil. She was obviously thinking furiously, but struggling to maintain her composure.

"I'm sure you're mistaken sir, whoever you are, and if you'd just step outside with Jeffries here I'm sure you can straighten it all out between you," she said.

"No can do, dear," the pirate said. "I've already raised my voice, and I'm sure at this point the bishop quivering over there next to you won't continue until he's had an explanation. So even if I am mistaken – and I'm not often mistaken – the wedding can't go forward just yet. Right, your holy eminence?"

The bishop gulped and shrugged, giving a nod toward the governor that indicated he'd happily overlook almost anything if the man ordered him to. But Chumbucket didn't give him time to say so and began advancing up the aisle.

The main detachment of guards in the vestibule had now filled the back of the nave and was closing in on this "person" who was fouling up the carefully timed wedding. Ol' Chumbucket leaped onto the seat of the pew and, balancing himself on the pew's back, hopped from bench to bench, advancing toward the front of the church, where the governor drew back, alarmed. The guards split up, half continuing up the main aisle, half from the side. Another contingent of guards filled the sacristy area, stepping between the governor and this madman.

Chumbucket kept his eyes on the guards closing in on him, and leaped for one of the pillars lining the sides of the church, where the ropes holding the chandeliers in place were fastened. He dropped his pistol back into his boots and drew his cutlass, and as the guards rushed him he hacked at the rope, grabbing it as the blade tore through the hemp. As the chandelier crashed to the floor, scattering the guards, its weight pulled Chumbucket up, swinging him towards the front of the church where he landed in the choir loft overlooking the altar.

The captain of the guard turned to his aide and shouted, "Run to the gaol, get the rest of the guards. We need backup. Now!"

That was all Ol' Chumbucket needed to hear, and thanks to the excellent acoustics of the building he heard it. With the guards being pulled from the gaol he could beat a retreat at this point and McCormack could do the rest. But there wasn't really anywhere to go yet, he'd need to split them up more. Besides, he had a little more to say.

"I'm very sorry, gov, but you can't marry the lady there."

"And why not?" demanded the governor, who presented a much bolder persona when surrounded by guards. "She loves me and I love her, and she's rich, so why can't I marry her?"

"I'm afraid she's already married," Chumbucket said.

There were 500 guests crammed onto the groom's side of the church, plus 20 members of the wedding party, plus 28 guards actually in the church. That's 548 people, each with a jaw, and all 548 jaws gaped open, none more widely agape than Mad Sally's.

"I knew you were insane," she shouted at Chumbucket. "But I never knew you were crazy."

"Sorry, ma'am, but it's true," Ol' Chumbucket said.

"And I suppose you have papers to prove this preposterous claim of a previous marriage?" the governor asked.

"Papers? No, not exactly. But there's this – he held out the piece of coral on the chain around his neck. Sally managed not to gasp audibly, but she blanched. "And this."

Ol' Chumbucket pulled open his shirt, exposing the tattoo on his chest, noting as he did so that the guards were edging closer.

The governor guffawed.

"And a rock and a tattoo are somehow supposed to prove that this woman – this noblewoman, a member of the Scandinavian royal family – is married? To who?"

"To whom would be correct, not to who," Ol' Chumbucket chided. "And the answer is simple."

"To me."

The countess threw her hand to her head and swooned, falling backwards into the arms of the startled governor, who toppled backwards, falling to the floor with Mad Sally on top of him.

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