Monday, November 15, 2010


The Curacao Caper – Chapter 42 "The Game's Afoot!"

“Well, Sloopy you go to the governor’s mansion and rescue your Scumbucket and Luc and I will find Hamnquist and the very mysterious Messier Jeffries.” LeFleur suggested confidently.

“Since when do I take orders from you, Froofie?”

Fifi LeFleur gasped at Slappy’s impromptu new nickname. Slappy was clearly satisfied with the reaction.

“You drop a Sloopy and a Scumbucket and you’ll get a Froofie every time!”

“Fine! No nicknames … Mortimer.” Fifi’s use of Slappy’s Christian name was a minor needling … but he knew he’d feel the sting nonetheless. “So, shall we both go after Ol’ Chumbucket first, then find Hamnquist?”

“No.” Slappy said decisively. “Ol’ Chumbucket can take care of himself. Let’s get Hamnquist out of Bernard Jeffries’ clutches – for I am sure that he’s up to no good!”

“When did you start talking like that, Mortimer?”

“Like what?”

“Like zee crime solving aristocrat in an apothecary shop penny novel?”

“Whatever do you mean?” Slappy replied, somewhat overly aghast.

“THAT!” Fifi declared – pointing an accusatory finger in Slappy’s direction. “Right there! You did it again!”

“Piffle!” Slappy shot back – pulling a monocle out of his pocket and placing it in his eye socket.

“WHAT!?!?” Fifi nearly screamed as he snatched the lens out of Slappy’s eye and held it in front of his face. “What is that!?!”

The monocle dangled a mere three inches from Slappy’s eyes – but he pretended to look right through it – without benefiting from its visual enhancement properties.

“My good sir,” Slappy said – with more of a British accent than he’d ever used before, “had I the aid of my sight enhancement apparatus I might be able to discern the answer to your query. Sadly, I seem to be lacking said device and am thus unable to elucidate your current conundrum.”

“Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!” Fifi had now lost all control and had smashed the eyepiece onto the cobblestones and was pouncing up and down on it – pulverizing the glass back into sand.

“No more clever name-play?” Slappy asked – showing the terms for their verbal armistice.

Fifi took a deep cleansing breath to regain his composure. “Agreed.” He extended his hand in formal agreement.

They shook on it and it was done … except for one last observation from Fifi.

“You were always a master of verbal drivel.”

“The Devil take me drivel! We’ve a former captain to find – and perhaps rescue … and then exploit for our own selfish purposes!” Slappy thought for a moment. “If I only had that old bloodhound. He could track anything!”

“Luc!” Fifi said with confidence.

“No. I’m pretty sure his name was Schnozzle!”

“No!” Fifi said, pointing at his man. “Luc! Reniflez-le dehors!”

Luc Duvall, who had been patiently waiting out the verbal boxing match between the two pirates rolled his eyes – then dutifully dropped to all fours and began crawling, hands and knees, over the cobblestones with his nose to the rocks – sniffing furiously.

“Watch this!” Fifi whispered to Slappy – like a proud dog owner. “When he gets the scent, he actually wags his ass!”

Within moments, Luc’s ass was wiggling with a vengeance. He sprang from his knees to his feet – but kept his hands to the ground so his nose was never far from the cobblestones and began moving at a rapid pace up the street toward the more dodgy side of town.

“Bon garçon, Luc! Trouvez le gentil homme!”

Slappy and Fifi followed Luc – at the quick-step.

Bernard Jeffries had taken Captain Hamnquist to the dodgiest inn in the dodgiest part of town. It was called, “The Ol’ Dodgy Inn,” because this area of town was so poor they couldn’t afford irony.

Jeffries had ordered a tall glass of warm, spiced rum be brought to the table for his friend.

“Do you remember me, old timer?” Jeffries busily scanned Hamnquist’s face for some glimmer of recognition – but he wasn’t seeing it.

“Are ye Mortimer?” he asked. “You’ve lost weight, lad! Do ye have a tapeworm by chance?”

“No. I’m not Mortimer.” Jeffries said impatiently. “Look at my face. You must remember something looking at my face!”

A cagey gleam flashed across Hamnquist's visage, but beyond that he said nothing.

"A moment ago, when I rescued you from those pirates ..."

"Rescued me? Is that what you did?" Hamnquist asked, his voice still dreamy.

"Of course. You were in gaol, and I was planning your rescue there, but then you were grabbed by that mob of pirates, and I was able to spirit you away while their attention was diverted by a pie fight."

"A pie fight? In the Caribbean?"

"Aye, a pie fight. Quite stirring, too, if you like that sort of thing."

"Who doesn't enjoy a good pie fight every now and then?" the grizzled old buccaner said.

The captain seemed to be taking an interest in the story, which Jeffries considered a hopeful sign. He pushed in that direction.

"Oh yes, it was magnificent. Cream filled the air like ... well, like cream filling. And I believe your captors got the better of your former captors, but for now I got the better of both, because I've got you out of both their clutches. Do you remember any of that?"

Hamnquist gazed slyly at Jeffries under half closed lids. Jeffries pushed on.

"Do you remember, when I first approached me, you called me a name? You called me my name, don't you remember?"

"Did I?" Hamnquist asked sleepily. "I seem to remember something about it, but it's all kind of a blur. I haven't really been as sharp as I used to be just lately. A couple of months in gaol will do that to a fellow, I understand."

"Well, perhaps, but you seemed to know me."

"Did I?" he repeated. Hamnquist leaned forward s if studying the man's face. "I'll say you look a little familiar, but I can't say I place you."

Jeffries sighed in exasperation. It didn't really matter to his job if Hamnquist knew him or not, didn't matter really if Hamnquist remembered anything. His job was just to deliver him to people who had their reasons.

"Drink up, old friend," he said. "We've got a long road ahead of us, or as long a road as you can have on an island. I don't suppose you're up to riding a horse, are you?"

Hamnquist took a long pull on his rum, then set it down with a satisfied smile.

"Another one of those and I'll be up for anything," he said.

Jeffries ordered another, aware that time was passing quickly. He had to be out of the city soon, before other parties could catch up with him. The drinks arrived and Hamnquist pulled his toward him, eyeing Jeffries over the rim.

"You know," he said casually, apparently intent on his rum, "You seem awfully interested in my well being considering I can't, at the moment, remember who you are."

"Well, who wouldn't be interested in a legendary pirate such as yourself."

'Legendary? You're mocking me. What have I done that was so legendary?"

Jeffries was quiet for a moment. Too much said and he might give away the game. Finally he just said, "Well, there are stories told in bars throughout the Caribbean, that you play a prominent part in."

Hamnquist snorted.

"I would imagine so," he said. "But you know, sometimes the stories have it wrong."

"How do you mean?"

"Sometimes what a man is said to have done looks different from another perspective. And sometimes there are other people involved who deserve more of the credit – or the blame."

"You mean like your former lieutenants, Slappy and Fifi?"

"Oh I'm sure they deserve far more credits for our exploits than they get. And there are others who might deserve more of the blame."

Hamnquist's voice changed suddenly, and for a moment Jeffries wondered if the old man had lost the train of conversation. The captain continued in a more casual vein.

"That governor here, Von Wubberdinker?"

"Wubbeldinker," Jeffries corrected automatically.

"Wubbeldinker. He showed an uncommon amount of interest in the exploits of one tired, washed up old pirate, don't you think?"

In fact Jeffries did think so, now that Hamnquist mentioned it. He had never pondered it much, since the governor's interest coincided with his own and gave him a plausible reason for his investigation. But now that Hamnquist mentioned it ...

"Yes, you know, that idiotic, bureaucratic boogeyman did show a surprising interest in you. Why do you suppose that was?"

But Hamnquist was happy enough to have planted the seed, and waved away the question. Jeffries decided he had pushed the issue far enough, and really was worried about the passing time.

"Drink up, and then we go."

Jeffries had been watching the front door, so he was surprised when a voice spoke up from behind him.

"The captain will go, but you’re staying here," a woman's voice said.

Jeffries head shot around but instead of a face to focus on, he found himself eye to eye – so to speak – with the barrel of a pistol.

"Very slowly, both hands on the table," said the voice, which Jeffries realized belonged to the woman he'd taken as a bar maid.

Jeffries did as he was told.

"Very nice. Now Captain Hamnquist, if you'd stand up and come around behind me."

"But my rum," Hamnquist said reasonably, his eyes scanning the room for an exit.

"Don't worry about that," the woman said. "We're taking you to someone who's been working hard to arrange your freedom."

"For that matter," Jeffries said, "I've been working just as hard for your freedom, and my employers have been trying to find you for more than 20 years."

"Your employers," Hamnquist said, rising from the table, "and don't doubt I've guessed who they are – are out of luck."

"I really don't think you want to cross them," Jeffries said. "They'll be very disappointed, and that makes them cranky."

"Well, they'll just have to get used to disappointment," the woman said. "Now, do you want to do this the easy way or the hard way?"

"Is the easy way the one where you go away and I take my pris ... my friend here and follow my plan?" he asked.

"No, this is the easy way."

Jeffries felt a sharp pain at the back of his head and collapsed, his arms sprawled across the table, his head in a puddle of spilled rum.

Anyone loitering outside the Ol' Dodgy Inn would have been surprised to see an odd looking trio coming up the narrow road from the harbor. One was a man of impressive girth. Another was a man of impressive shortness. The third was just impressive, making very quick time though he was bent half over, his face pressed against the cobblestones. Of course, anyone loitering in the neighborhood of the Ol' Dodgy Inn would have been surprised by muggers, pickpockets and various other ne'er-do-wells long before, it wasn't a neighborhood for loitering, so their approach went unobserved.

Luc started sniffing deeper, his whole body quivering. Suddenly he straightened out, rising up on his left foot while his right went out behind him to counterbalance the hand that shot out, pointing to the inn.

"Bon, Luc, bon!" Fifi said.

Slappy was impressed, and said so.

"How does he do that?" he asked.

"He is from Alsace," Fifi said, as if that explained things. Slappy decided to drop it.

"Shall we go inside and see if our old friend is there?"

"It would be safer than waiting out here for him to depart," Fifi agreed, registering the many alleys and shadows muggers could be hiding in.

"Fast or slow?"

"Oh, fast, by all mean," Fifi said, suiting his action to the words and flying at the door. Unfortunately, it was latched and being of diminutive stature, he bounced off. Picking himself up irritably he dusted himself off and gestured to Slappy.

Slappy did not bounce off. His foot didn't just open the door, it sent it flying across the room where it collided with Jeffries, who had just come to from the blow he'd taken to the head. He was trying to get to his feet and was unable to dodge the door because he had just discovered his wrists were secured by a rope that passed under the table and looped through the supports underneath. So he caught the door full in the face and was again out like a light.

"Place appears to be empty," Slappy said.

"No wait, Luc has the scent," Fifi said, as Luc, quivering with excitement, dashed over to the chair where Hamquist had been seated.

"So he was here," Fifi said. "But where did he go? And with who?"

"With 'whom.'" said a voice from under the remains of the door.


"Not what," said the voice, groggily. "And not who. 'With whom.' "With whom did Hamnquist leave?' And you might want to add, 'Whence did they go?'"

"To whence?" Slappy asked.

"No, not to whence. Whence means 'from or to what place.' The preposition is part of the meaning, so saying 'to whence' is redundant."

Slappy thought he knew only one person that persnickety about grammar and usage.

"Ol Chumbucket? Is that ... Is that you?"

"No." The word came in a long, slow groan. "Get this crap off me."

The "crap" – the remains of the door, table and a chair – were quickly pulled aside, revealing Jeffries, who now sported a lump on the front of his head to match the one on the back.

"Well, the governor's ami?" Fifi said.

"No, the governor's aide, and not that any longer," Jeffries said, trying to rise from the floor. Slappy's boot pinned him in place.

"And what were you doing here with Hamnquist, and what have you done with him?" Slappy asked.

"What I was doing is none of your business and what I did, if you must know, was lose him."

"Lose him? Did he escape you?"

"He had help. A bar maid with a gun."

"And why did you bring him here?"

"As I said, that's my business."

Fifi cocked a pistol and pointed it Jeffries.

"I think we will make it ours," he said.

Jeffries looked at the two and shrugged.

"You're both pirates, both members of the brotherhood, is that not so?"

"Oui," Fifi said.

"Well, I am a member," Slappy said, "although I'm not sure I'm up to date on my dues, what with one thing and another and being in gaol here and for a while in Havana. But yeah, sure."

"Well then, I'm deputizing you ..." Jeffries began, but both his questioners broke into laughter.

"Depu... What? No, I don't think you understand," Slappy said.

"But I'm an authorized agent of the Brotherhood of the Coast and I'm here to bring Hamnquist to the council where he can stand trial for his crimes against us all, to wit, the theft of that massive treasure and leaving his crew to drown. And as said agent, I have the authority to ..."

"You have the authority to shut up," Slappy said. "As the sole surviving members of the crew, Fifi and I are planning to track the old boy down and exact all the vengeance anyone's going to need. And that treasure is ours."

"Well, 'ours' as long as our temporary entente lasts," Fifi said. "After all," he shrugged apologetically. "Pirates."

"True, but either way, we're not joining you."

"You don't want me to report you to the brotherhood, do you?" Jeffries asked.

"Like I said, my dues are late," Slappy said, "so me membership is temporarily suspended, you might say."

"And I am a French person and have my own union," Fifi said.

"Then there is no room for cooperation?" Jeffries asked.

"None," the two replied in unison.

"Even though I think I know which way they headed, and know where you can find your friend Chumbucket?"

That was too much for Slappy. He'd bandy words with Jeffries all day, just for fun. But mention of his friend was over the line. He reached down and grabbed Jeffries by the shirt front, lifting his head about a foot from the ground – just enough space for a good bounce, he figured.

"Ol' Chumbucket. Where is he?"

Jeffries had thought the point would make a nice bargaining chip. Now, looking at Slappy's fist – which looked roughly the size of a good beef roast – inches in front of his face, he decided it would make a better gift.

"The governor's mansion," he said quickly. "He and Mad Sally were locked in a room just off the main office, upstairs, right above the great hall."

Slappy turned towards Fifi.

"How much time did you say we had before ..."

"Thirty minutes, but that was 15 minutes ago," Fifi said.


Slappy dropped Jeffries – and because he was halfway to the door missed the chance to see he'd been right it was the perfect distance for a good cranial bounce.

Cap'n Slappy was not fleet of foot. He's not like those wispy lads who can run from sun up to sun down. And he didn't normally need to be. He was a pirate captain. His was a job where the beef to back up a good head butt was much more to be prized.

But he ran now as he hadn't run since his fifth wife had chased him with a boarding ax and a ravening badger. He was down the street and around the corner before Fifi could get through the doorway.

Fifi caught up with him at the edge of the town square, where he was crouched behind a bench. (As it happened, the very bench on which Chumbucket had sat while observing the lizard mating rituals, although the lizards were long gone – she with a load of fertile eggs, he with a satisfied smile.) From within they could hear a crash and a long, wailing scream.

"Something's going on in there," Slappy said still breathing hard and now bathed in sweat. "But I can't wait, I've gotta go in, as soon as this heart attack passes."

"Well mon ami, you'd best hurry," Fifi said, looking up at the clock tower. "You have exactly 10 minutes before the bomb goes off."

"Ten minutes? You're sure?" Slappy asked, getting ready to run for the door.

"Yes, the bomb goes off in exactly ..."

The front of the governor's mansion erupted in a roar of fire and smoke, the windows shattering and sending shards of glass and wooden mullion through the air at them. Fortunately the concussion had already knocked Slappy and Fifi off their feet, so the deadly debris passed harmlessly if noisily overhead.

"Ten minutes?" Slappy asked, surprised to notice he couldn't hear his own voice over the ringing in his ears.

"Unless something goes wrong," Fifi said.

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