Wednesday, October 27, 2010


The Curacao Caper - Chapter 39

The guard led the way down the darkened hallway, trailed by the two monks and the enormous woman with the infant.

"Down one more flight o'stairs and through the door there. I'll let you in," he said, flourishing the large ring of heavy iron keys, "but when you're ready to leave, you'll have to be patient, the guard detail has been called to the cathedral, so there's only the one man left on the gate. You ring the bell and he'll come down when he can."

"Thank you, my good man," Griselda Slappy said as she pushed the bouncing perambulator down the stairs, each bounce drawing another colorful obscenity from the "baby" in the buggy. "Slappy will be so proud, his little itty bitty boy has such a robust vocabulary."

They went down the long, damp (but colorfully painted) gaol corridor and found themselves standing in front of a heavy cell door. The guard cocked his ear. From the other side came the muted sounds of scrambling and whispered voices, almost as if a surprise birthday party were in its last stages of being organized.

"He's coming. Everybody hide!" "Butch, get behind the door!" "Nobody make a sound!" "Remember, as soon as he steps through, bash him in the head."

Alright, so not every sound was like a surprise party, unless it was one of those really good parties where bashing the birthday boy in the head is the cool thing to do.

The guard motioned the four visitors back from the door, miming to them to keep quiet. He drew his pistol, turned the key in the lock, and pushed the door inwards.

"All right, ye piratey vermin," he said. "Everybody back against the far wall. You too, whoever it is waiting behind the door to bash me!"

Slinging the keys onto his belt, he shifted the pistol to his right hand and pulled a truncheon that he held in his left. Looking through the crack where the hinges met the wall, he snarled, "I see ya there, and there's enough room for me to shoot you through this crack, so just drop that club and ..."

The pirates in the cell didn't hear what he wanted done next, because the guard felt the cold steel of a knife pressed against the base of his skull and a voice sounding surprisingly like the baby in the buggy saying, "Drop the weapons fatso, and hug the floor."

The guard did so, but not without complaint.

"Mother says I'm just big boned."

"Well get yer big bones down on the floor and ye won't get hurt," Gabriel snarled.

"But I'm not fat."

"Of course yer not," Cementhands said, placing a ham-sized fist on the man's shoulder and forcing him down.

"Well he didn't have to get personal."

"And you don't have to get dead, it's really your call."

"Oh," the guard said in a small voice. "I see. Alright then, carry on."

McCormack picked up the man's weapons and kicked open the door, shouting, "Coming in! We've got the guard and there's no reason to whap anyone! So stand down, Butch!"

Cementhands turned to Gabriel.

"Nice work boy, now get down the hall and keep an eye on the door. We'll be coming right behind you!"

"I'm not goin' anywhere until I get this damn diaper off," Gabe grumbled.

"Well fine, but make sure no one bothers us. We've got to get collect all our friends, pick up the guest of honor – that bastard Hamnquist – and get out of here. So de-diaper yerself and take your position."

Cementhands pushed into the cell block where he was embraced by one pirate after another until he came to Cap'n Slappy. He gave him his usual half-assed salute and said, "Well cap'n, wanna get a move on?"

"Looking nice, Cementhands," the captain said in feigned nonchalance. "What are you supposed to be? The town's leading trollop? A pig wrestler?"

Cementhands smiled broadly.

"Both! I'm your wife, of course!"

Slappy shook his head. "That's an insult to however many wives I've had," he said. "Seven? Six? Whatever, they'd be insulted."

"Good thing they're not here then," McCormack replied. "And if you don't mind my sayin' so, we shouldn't be either. Let's get moving."

"Who's here with you?"

"Gabe's out in the hall keeping watch, and I've got the two actors here."

"What about Ol' Chumbucket?"

Back at the cathedral, Ol' Chumbucket guessed that his work there was done. The place was teeming with guards, there couldn't be more than a handful left in the gaol. Cementhands – and the rest of the crew once they were freed – could handle them easily, then get down to the ship, hopefully with Hamnquist or at least with Hamnquist's information about where the treasure was hidden.

All he had to do now was figure out how to get out.

From his perch at the railing of the choir loft he could see the horrified wedding guests sitting frozen in place while the front of the church filled with guards. There was plenty of room to the rear of the cathedral for him to run for the door and lose himself in the streets before making his way back to the ship. All he had to do was get past several score of guards who were crowding the front of the church and coming up the stairs behind him.

He glanced down to where Mad Sally, as the countess and royal bride, lay prone over the governor, with guards pulling at her to try to free him. Good. He glanced at the closest chandelier. There were five running down the nave, and it would have been possible to swing from one to the next all the way out except that he'd had to cut one down – the second – to get up here. The rope was still hanging down where the fixture had hung. It would have to do.

He climbed to the railing of the choir loft and eyed the first lighting fixture. He could leap to that, use his momentum to swing toward that second one's rope and slide down, hitting the floor running. He could hear footsteps running behind him, crouched and leaped.

He'd waited a fraction of a second too long. As he propelled himself into space a pair of hands clutched at him, grabbing his boot. The man lost his balance and flew out over the church, clinging to Ol' Chumbucket's left boot.

Ol' Chumbucket just barely caught the first chandelier, his fingers scrabbling for a hold. He'd lost his momentum, but at least he was hanging above the church. His pursuer still clung to his left leg. Chumbucket aimed a kick with his right foot and the man pinwheeled toward the floor, still clutching the boot.

It was the same boot that Chumbucket had tucked his pistol. As the pirate began shifting his weight to swing himself toward the rope, the pistol fell out of the boot, hitting the floor with a crack as the guard hit the floor with a splat.

The shock caused the gun to fire, and despite the incredibly long, million-to-one odds, the pistol ball fired almost straight up, missing Ol' Chumbucket but hitting the eye bolt from which the light fixture was suspended. Instead of leaping nimbly for the rope as he'd planned, he found himself falling awkwardly toward the wedding guests, where several rich gentlemen broke his fall.

He ended up in the lap of a heavily jeweled woman who would have given Cementhands a run for his money for the title of "Oddest Looking Woman on the Island." But before he could sit up, he was surrounded by a ring of guards, each leveling a musket at his head.

"You see," he said to the shocked woman on whose lap he reposed, "this is why I don't ever work in churches. God always tips the odds against you."

He was quickly pulled to his feet and, with his arms pinned to his side, roughly forced back toward where the governor waited, having extricated himself from underneath his bride.

"Now what is the meaning of this?" the governor demanded. "How dare you interrupt my nuptials and possibly delay the wedding night I've been looking forward to so eagerly."

"Like I said, the lady is married to me."

"Impossible!" the governor said, "She's a member of the Scandinavian royal family, and you're a fool if you think you can stop me from marrying her."

"Maybe we should discuss this someplace more private," Ol' Chumbucket said with a nod toward the guests. "Because if you're trying to secure your own place in the succession, your marriage will have to be without a hint of suspicion."

"Suspicion? Suspicion of what?" the governor demanded.

Chumbucket just raised his eyebrows and nodded towards the guests again. The governor was nonplussed.

"Jiffy!" he called, looking for counsel. "I say, Jiffy! Now where did that man get off to?"

It was true. Jeffries seemed to have disappeared.

"How dare he run off?" The governor looked about as if wondering if there was anyone else he could ask for advice. Finally, he settled on his bride.

"I say my dear, what do you think we should do?"

Mad Sally was just getting to her feet. She didn't know what plan Chumbucket was working on, but he was blowing her's all to hell. She had pretended to faint in the hopes that it would give Chumbucket an opening to escape, but there he was, the big dummy, his hands bound and a dozen muskets pointing at him but chatting with the governor as if he was back on board the Festering Boil where he belonged.

Well, first things first. She needed to get them both out of the church and somewhere they could more easily escape. Then he and his pals could sail away while she rejoined her crew and finished what she had set out to do.

"This man's a fool and probably insane," she said with a sharp glance at Ol' Chumbucket as she sidled up to the governor. "But he's probably right about us finding a little privacy while we sort this out. Perhaps your chambers?"

The governor thought about the countess in his chambers and nodded his head vigorously.

"The very thing. Guard! Escort these two across the square to my personal chambers and don't let them out of your sight. I hope, my dear, that we'll soon have this sorted out and can continue on our happy way to our wedding night. If not, I'l be very unhappy. And guard! Bring the bishop."

"You!" he shouted to the guests. "All of you stay right here. No one is to leave! We'll be right back in just a minute. No one leaves, and no one tries to take back any of the wedding prezzies!"

Just then the governor caught sight of a figure in a recess of the church nave, a huge, hulking figure with an oddly shaped, bald head. He nodded to the figure, then turned back to Mad Sally.

"I'll join you shortly," he said "Just have to have a word with someone. Go!"

With that the guards roughly forced Chumbucket down the aisle. No hand was laid on Mad Sally, but it was made clear that retiring to the governor's quarters was not optional for her. She quickly scanned the crowd, and saw her young red-headed escort slipping out a side door.

"What were you thinking of?" she hissed at Ol' Chumbucket.

"Actually, at that very moment I was thinking of Santiago, and the tattoo parlor. Do you remember?"

"Of course I do. We barely escaped with our lives."

"Ah, but we did escape," he said. "And there was something else that night that might have missed your attention."


"Later," he said as the guard detachment led them across the square, past where the lizards were now surely finished with their business. Ahead was the governor's mansion. As they reached the steps, Chumbucket overheard Fifi’s nephew discussing with the hose staff the position of the table upon which the wedding cake would rest. Obviously the reception would be in here, he thought. That's something to think about, assuming he was still alive to do any thinking.

Meanwhile the governor was in conversation with the huge but oddly deformed, almost babyish guard from the gaol.

"What are you doing here?" he said. "You're supposed to keep an eye on the prisoners, especially that prisoner. We have to know what he knows."

"I sorry," the man lisped. "Thems said we was to go protect the governor and that's you and I goes to protect you."

"Well, protect my interests. Take a couple of men and get back to the gaol. I don't want those pirates slipping out while I get this taken care of. I have to be married to the countess, and I mean to do so today."

"But the mans said she's married to hims," the gargoyle of a guard said. "How can she marry you if she be married to hims?"

"Don't worry about that," the governor said. "Just get back to the gaol. If there's anything to this or any reason to think there might be a thin chance that there is, it's simple. Instead of marrying the virgin countess, I'll simply have to marry that man's widow instead. It works the same either way."

And the governor patted the misshapen man on the shoulder and smiled. It was a keen, cruel smile, something people who were used to the idiotic babblings and simpering smiles the governor usually showed the world would have been surprised to see.

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