Tuesday, December 21, 2010


The Curacao Caper - Chapter 44

Anyone who has ever been in close proximity to an exploding governor’s mansion will know that after the noise comes the rain of debris. This was Luc’s first state residence explosion – but it was Slappy’s third (actually, fourth, if you count the unfortunate events of the “party” at Henry Morgan’s celebrating the buccaneer's appoinment as lieutenant governor of Jamaica, but that sort of thing was pretty much par for the course for Henry.) Anyway, the point is the more experienced hands knew to brace for impact.

Fifi quickly used Luc as a shield to protect himself from falling bits of rock, glass and the tattered remnants of the governor’s wardrobe - mostly shoes. Slappy was hobbled not only by his apparent heart attack, but also the sight of a young Frenchman sprinting toward them yelling, “Observez dehors! Observez dehors! Attrapez l'homme en baiss!” He barely had time to think, “French is such an inconvenient language when you are running and trying to convey something urgent in a timely fashion.” Then he glanced up to see the sun blotted out by an object falling directly upon him.

A fog of powdered governor’s mansion was still wafting through the square when Slappy regained any semblance of consciousness. He could barely make out the shapes of Fifi and Luc hovering over him – joined by the young Frenchman he would come to learn was Fifi’s nephew, Jacques. The pressure on his chest was multiplied by … let’s say a factor of “n” … and he found each breath to be a lot more work than it should be. Slappy murmured. “Surely these are my last breaths.”

“No.” A familiar, albeit groggy voice whispered directly into his ear. “These aren’t your last breaths. And don’t call me ‘Shirley’.”

Cap’n Slappy’s initial relief was doubled. He recognized the voice immediately. It was his old, faithful pal, Ol’ Chumbucket – apparently alive and more well than not, and crushing him from above in a position that Slappy had always called, “Bouncy-Bouncy position number five – wench dominant.”

“How much do I owe ye, Luv?” Slappy quipped, trying to make light of their awkward position.
“It’s on the house.” Ol’ Chumbucket replied as he rolled himself off the portly pirate and began dusting himself off.

“No!” Jacques said with a boyish giggle. “The HOUSE is on you!”

The observation, while not nearly as funny as the young Frenchman believed, was entirely accurate. The explosion had blown nearly half of the upper floor of the mansion to – if not smithereens, and a neighborhood adjacent to it.

Fifi had been spared most of the brunt of the blast. His human shield, Luc, however, was not nearly so lucky. He had bits of glass and stone embedded in his baker’s smock – some piercing the skin. He also pulled a shoe out of the front of his pants. There was a moment of confusion as he reached down the front of his britches and began tugging at the foreign object – then group-wide befuddlement as to how a boot of that size had found its way into Fifi’s faithful dogsbody’s delicate nether regions – but Luc was quick to observe, “That’s a nice boot.”
He would have kept it if not for the fact that he couldn’t find the pair for it – and its previous owner had left his foot in it.

“Where’s Sally?” Slappy insisted as he shook Ol’ Chumbucket – clouds of dust falling like snow from his clothes and hair. Ol’ Chumbucket, still dazed from his flight and fortuitous landing, searched his memory for an answer – the shaking didn’t help this process, but it gave Slappy something to do.

“Ship,” Chumbucket finally said. “She’s headed for her ship.”

“Where’s Hamnquist?!?” Slappy continued his bone-rattling. Ol’ Chumbucket by now had completely come to and seized the pirate captain back and began a tremendous shaking of his own. The two gave the appearance of a pair of competitive dancers – each jousting the other to take the lead. Then came the slapping.

In an attempt to snap Slappy out of his death-grip-body-rattling, Ol’ Chumbucket let fly with a solid slap to the side of the fat man’s face. This froze the two of them for a moment – but only a moment, as Slappy returned the blow in kind. What followed was a series of tremendous slaps to the face – back and forth – back and forth. Luc and Jacques moved to break them up after the tenth or eleventh blow, but they were stopped by Fifi who was enjoying the show more than anything he had seen in seven years.

Finally, between slaps, Ol’ Chumbucket managed to yell, “Sally’s gone to meet her ship in Westpunt – I think Hamnquist is with her!”

The friends stopped their slap fight that very moment and looked at each other dumbly. Slappy thought for a moment.

“George and Cementhands no doubt heard the explosion and are getting ready to leave harbor – as per our standard ‘Set Sail When the Town Blows Up’ protocol!”

The five of them simultaneously began sprinting toward the wharf. Slappy, of course, trailed far behind – still not sure if he was having a heart attack and wanting to be medically prudent.

As the youngest and least abused of the company, Jacques was first to the wharf. Sailors lined the rails of all the ships in harbor – and there were quite a few in town for the celebration of the wedding that wouldn't be happening – staring and pointing at the plume of smoke that rose from the center of the town. Several ships were beginning to make sail, based on the notion that a gigantic explosion was probably going to kill the spirit of fun in town and not wanting to have to answer questions from the authority. Hardly anyone knew what had happened, but that wouldn't stop the authorities from demanding answers.

"Where's the Boil?

Jacques pointed, and their eyes all followed his finger beyond the edge of the wharf where the Festering Boil was turning toward the wind. Jacques sprinted toward the end of the pier, waving frantically to get the attention of anyone on the pirate ship who might be watching the shore. Ol' Chumbucket, Fifi and Luc, with Slappy bringing up the rear, clutching his chest.

Aboard the Boil, George the Greek was getting the ship under way, He didn't like it, didn't like leaving his captain and shipmate in the town and was reasonably certain the blast that had hurled chunks of masonry into the harbor had something to do with them. But he had his orders, and he was carrying them out. Then, having done so, he could turn the ship and come back to settle scores.

"Heave and let fly!" he shouted in a voice that sounded like a foghorn. The crew responded, drawing the headsail tight. It caught the wind and cracked open with a sound like a gunshot. The ship began to move.

"George!" Red Molly shouted. "Slappy and Chumbucket!"

"It can't be helped," he said, scowling. "Slappy said to leave if they weren't back."

"No!" she shouted. "They're back! Look!"

George didn't look. He trusted Molly enough to know she wouldn't make a mistake like that, and didn't waste a second to verify her report.

"Heave to!" he shouted. "Cementhands, get a longboat in the water!"

From the pier the five men could see the ship coming to a halt and moments later a longboat dropped over the side. As men scrambled down and unshipped the oars, Slappy sat and breathed deeply.

"You alright?" Chumbucket asked with concern. Unbelievably, it had been less than 10 minutes since the governor's mansion had dissolved in a fiery blast, and he hadn't had the chance to notice his friend's condition.

"Yeah, yeah, I'm fine," Slappy said. "Just got a bit of a stitch in my side. A little weasel grease and I'll be right as rain. So, where's Sally's ship?"

"It's already up in Westpunt," Chumbucket said. "At least that's my guess."

"Then how is she getting Hamnquist to it?"

"If I was a betting man, and I am ..." Chumbucket started, but Slappy interrupted.

"Not a good one," he said. It was an old issue between them.

"Maybe, but I've never tried to draw to an inside straight," Chumbucket replied mockingly.

"And the time I managed it I won forty doubloons, now didn't I?"

"And the other dozen or so times I've seen you try it, you lost your shirt."

"Yeah, well I never liked that shirt. Made my ass look fat."

"No, your enormous ass makes your ass look fat," Chumbucket said. It might not have been a funny line, but it was a standard bit of dialogue between them and they both stuck to the script for the sake of tradition.

Fifi, standing beside them watching with growing disgust, threw up his hands.

"If all you English types are this stupid, I absolutely do not understand how you won the Hundred Year's War." Then, before Slappy could say something offensive about French military ability or Chumbucket could point out the interesting (only to him) historical fact that the Hundred Years War was actually a series of wars that covered a span of 116 years, Fifi stomped his foot and forced their attention back to the matter at hand.

"Westpunt," he said. "If her ship is there, how will she reach it? Another ship?"

"Probably not," sad Chumbucket, crestfallen at not being able to display his freakish love of arcane facts. "If I were a betting man ..." He eyed Slappy, but Fifi was on his guard.

"No! No betting! How is she getting there?"

"Horses. Or maybe a wagon. Probably a wagon, now that I think of it. I don't know if she can ride, but Hamnquist is an older man, and he's been in gaol for months. Probably not up for a ride."

"The only riding I've ever known him to do was at Lolly's Sportn' House and Pleasure Palace back on Tortuga back in the day," Slappy said.

"Agreed," Fifi said. "And what route do they take?"

"Coast road or the hills," Chumbucket said. "It's about 30 miles by the coast road, but it's probably pretty heavily patrolled, and they'd be exposed from the sea the whole way. The other road's a little longer and goes up into the hills – hence the name 'Hill Road.' Either way, they won't reach Westpunt before nightfall, and probably not before morning if they take the hills."

"Then we'll take that road as well," Fifi said.

"When we have a nice, comfortable ship right in front of us?" Chumbucket asked in surprise.

"My own ship is already waiting off Westpunt," Fifi said, "But we do not know what we'll find when we get there. Certainly Sally's ship, and mine. And others? No, you take the ship to Westpunt," he said to Chumbucket. "Slappy, Jacques and I will pursue. Perhaps we will catch her on the road and relieve her of Hamnquist. But if we do not, we'll be close behind, and when she gets to the beach she'll be caught between an anvil and a hammer."

"While I'll happily play the hammer tomorrow," Slappy said, "would you mind if I rested my pegs right now?"

“Rest zem on ze road, silly pirate!” he turned to his servant. "Luc, trouvez un chariot!"

Luc sighed and shuffled off, returning a few moments later with a small donkey cart.

"As you see," Fifi said, "There's not much room. So Shumbucket, if you would go aboard and take command of things from the sea. Follow the coast road and you'll be able to spot them. Otherwise join forces with my ship off Westpunt and bottle them up, as we follow our prey into the hills."

"Sounds like a plan," Ol' Chumbucket agreed, "but I see one little problem."

"Oh? What's that?" Fifi said, looking perplexed.

"You have a donkey cart, but no donkey."

"Ah, that is nothing!" Fifi said. "Luc!"

In a moment, Slappy, Fifi and Jacques were loading into the cart and Luc began pulling.

They were still in view, passing north on the strand, when the longboat grated onto the sand in front of Ol' Chumbucket.

"Nice work," Cementhands commented, pointing to where the pillar of dust and smoke was just beginning to settle. "How'd you do that?"

"Long story," Chumbucket said.

"Where's Hamnquist, and where's the captain going with those French guys?"

"Longer story. Back to the ship. By the way, Cementhands," he added as the crew plied their oars, "Do you know how long the Hundred Years War lasted?"

Cementhands rolled his eyes.

The cart proceeded to the north end of town to where the roads branched off, one route following the coast to the northwest, the other due north up into the hills. Luc's exquisitely tuned nose actually caught a tiny whiff of their quarry trailing up into the hill, but he began to pull the cart toward the left.

"Luc!" Fifi admonished. "Didn't you hear me say we are taking the hill road?"

Luc sighed, then began dragging the front of the cart back around toward the hills.

"Oiu, mon capitane," he said.

"And quickly! Double time!"

Luc picked up the pace, but it wasn't easy on the hilly road. Curacao was not mountainous by any means, but a hill is a hill, and a cart with three men, one of them quite a large man, was a pain in the ass.

“Mon Capitain! Couldn’t Jacques help me pull ze cart?” He cast an accusatory glance in Cap’n Slappy’s direction. “Some of you are not so svelte as you once were.”

“Luc! Strike yourself for such a suggestion!” Fifi snapped. Luc obeyed. Fifi held Jacques hands aloft – as if they were a sacred relic. “Did you not see ze cake he decorated?”

“Ze one with ze bomba in it?” Luc asked wryly.

“Oui! His frosting was a work of beauty! MAGNIFIQUE! You would not have me force Michelangelo to pull wagons would you, Luc!?!”

“No, mon Capitain. No.” Luc slumped as he pulled the heavy wagon over the dirt road and into the hills.

Back in town, the giant baby-man jailor was deputizing a search crew. With his master dead and the master's assistant missing, he probably lacked any legal authority to do so, but such a thought never occurred to hm.

“Thems is naughty-naughty pirates! I want to find them all!”

A hand went up among his eager, would-be pirate hunters.

“Do you want them ‘Dead or Alive’?”

The giant baby-man thought for a moment and replied. “I want them alive … so I can make them dead.”

Thursday, December 02, 2010


The Curacao Caper – Chapter 43

Minutes earlier in the governor's mansion:

A shot rang out.

Everyone in the entryway standoff – the governor, Mad Sally, Ol' Chumbucket, the guards – froze, looking up, surprised. Then they all looked down, and satisfied that they weren't bleeding anywhere, looked around again for the source of the shot.

At the entrance to the main hall a cloud of white smoke cleared and revealed a young, redheaded man dropping the pistol he'd just fired into the ceiling and drawing a second, which he aimed at Gov. Wubbeldinker.

"Jack!" said Mad Sally with relief at the appearance of her escort.

"Dave," said Ol' Chumbucket with annoyance at the appearance of the young upstart.

"What the hell!" shouted the governor, with wet pants at the appearance of a person with a gun pointed at him.

"The lady and I will be leaving," said the man known by a variety of names but it was apparently Jack, since that's what Mad Sally had called him in that unguarded moment. "And I guess this guy too," he added, nodding his head at Ol' Chumbucket.

"I don't think so," the governor said, trying to recover his control. 'You'll notice you're outnumbered."

"It only takes one ball to kill you," Jack said.

"Maybe," the governor said diffidently, "but that means my guards are at least six times more likely to kill you."

"Or not," Jack said, adding, "Ladies?"

The guards, who Chumbucket had thought looked little young, took two steps forward, executed a neat about face, and leveled their muskets at the governor. The wet stain on his trousers grew – by a factor of six, appropriately.

"Now then, your Excellency, I think we'll be leaving," the redheaded young man said.

Wubbeldinker gawped. It might not be a real word, but it's what he did.

"Hold on just a second Jack," Mad Sally said, stepping toward the nonplussed (but truly pissed) governor. "Have the girls got Hamnquist?"

"I sent them to the inn where you arranged the rendezvous," the youth said. "They should have him by now."

"Then let's head for ..." she glanced at Ol' Chumbucket and decided not to reveal all her cards, "the place where we're to meet them."

"Aye, ma'am."

"But before we go ..." Sally took another step forward until she was eyeball to eyeball with the governor. At this proximity, she could actually smell the urine that pooled now at his feet. The man must have been eating asparagus, she thought, wrinkling her nose in disgust.

"You ruined the reputation of a man who means a great deal to me," she hissed at him. "You terrorized me and my mother, and forced him to do something he's never been forgiven for. And I will have my revenge."

Wubbeldinker flnched and whimpered as she hefted the boarding axe, which still trailed streamers torn from her wedding dress.

"You know," she said. "I've never understood why people always assume that the perfect vengeance is to kill someone."

Jack sighed and glanced at his watch.

"Could we hurry this up?" he asked. "That shot should be drawing any guards who are left."

"In a moment," Sally said, then turned her attention back to the craven figure in front of her. "I could kill you. I could make you scream with pain. Or I could do something worse. I could let you live."

The governor said nothing, but dropped to his knees.

"I'm going to leave you here, soaked in your own piss and crawling like the rat you are. For the rest of your life you'll know you're a coward, a thief, a black-hearted traitor and a writhing piece of filth. And everyone else will know it too. I've already taken the steps to be sure that everyone will know – the citizens of this island, your government in Amsterdam, the Brotherhood and even the officials of the other governments – England, France, Spain, Denmark, Sweden. There's nowhere you can go where you won't be greeted with scorn and derision, laughed at, mocked, hated. Officials will think you're worse than a pirate, the pirate community will know you're lower than the lowest thing you can think of. And all because you kidnapped the family of a man who had shown you nothing but kindness. Threatened them with rape and torture if he didn't deliver to you a treasure you didn't deserve. I'm going to enjoy thinking about your miserable excuse for a life, and I hope you live a long, long time, wallowing in self-pity – because no one else on this globe is going to pity you, and that's a fact."

Jack glanced nervously out the front door.

"Really, I think we need to go now."

"One more minute," Sally said, keeping her steel gaze locked on the governor. "Stand up!" she barked.

The governor cringed.

"Stand up, I said," she repeated. He rose slowly to his feet, and she took a step back, staring at him with a cold smile on her face.

"I want to remember you just the way you are."

She stared at him, letting her gaze run up and down. Then she laughed.

"And you thought you were going to be married to me! Let's go, girls."

Sally turned and crossed towards the door where Jack waited. The girls from her crew kept their muskets aimed at the governor while they backed away. Sally, looking every bit the pirate captain despite the fact that she was wearing a torn, tattered wedding dress, turned towards Ol' Chumbucket.

"You should get down to the harbor and get aboard the Boil," she said. I imagine they're getting ready to sail, but they'll probably be looking for you."

"Wait a second," he replied. "I'm not going anywhere without Hamnquist."

"Oh yes you are," she said with a steely gaze. "I've got the captain, and I'm keeping him. It's been fun, as always, and there's certainly a lot to think about before the next time we meet, but for now ..." She cocked her head and gave a mock salute. "Ta ta! Now let's go, girls."

The half dozen pirates formed up in ranks, maintaining their disguise as guards, and headed out the door. But their progress halted immediately as a hail of musket balls tore into the building's exterior.

"I think those soldiers I was taking about have arrived," Jack said, as he calmly aimed his pistol at the gathering out front and fired. "Back door, I think."

"Aye," Sally said. "Bonnie, Crow, come with me. You four watch the soldiers. If they start to advance fire a volley then follow us out back."

She started down the back hallway. Ol' Chumbucket took a step towards her, but she shook her head.

"Not this time, luv," she said. "We're going alone. If I were you I'd find a side window. You'll be safe."

"I'm going where you're going," he replied firmly.

"The hell you – Duck!"

In the confusion, Wubbeldinker had withdrawn a derringer from his waistcoat and aimed it in the general direction of the fleeing pirates. The shot flew over Chumbucket's head. Jack had pushed Sally down, knocking over a table that held a lantern. It hit the floor and smashed, the pool of kerosene catching fire.

Sally pushed her redheaded escort aside and snatched up her axe, which had fallen into the flames. Without pause or thought she held it aloft – the remnants of wedding dress now alight, turning it into a faming torch – and hurled it toward the governor.

It wooshed through the air, burning brighter as it flew end over end across the room, and hit the governor squarely in the chest. He staggered backwards, the blood competing with the flames over which would be the most spectacular effect, and collapsed on the table that held the wedding cake that had been so carefully prepared by Fifi. The flames began to spread across the table toward the desert.

"Damn, I wanted him to live," Sally said. "Oh well, that's not bad either."

Then she looked down at Jack, who was struggling to his feet, clutching his arm from which blood was beginning to seep

"You're hurt!" she said with alarm.

"I'll be alright," he muttered through clenched teeth. "It hit me in the arm, but I don't think it broke the bone. We'll take care of it later."

The four pirates stationed at the front door fired their volley and drew back towards the hallway. Evidently the real guards were making their move.

"Let's go, everyone. Now!" their captain ordered. Ol' Chumbucket stared after her with admiration.

"Sally!" he shouted.

"I'm serious, Chumbucket. Don't follow." she jerked her head toward the window. "Go!"

"Wait – just wanted to say," he looked over at the table where the governor sprawled, flames licking at his corpse, "that was awesome!"

She smiled.

"Thanks. But I'm serious. Don't follow."

You know I'll come after you."

"Yes, but will you catch me?"

She blew him a kiss and disappeared down the hallway. Chumbucket ran toward a window and raised it.

Several things happened almost simultaneously.

-- Ol' Chumbucket got one leg over the window sill.

-- The real guards burst through the front entrance and saw the man from the church – Ol' Chumbucket – halfway out the window.

-- They began to turn to shoot at him.

-- The flames on the table reached Fifi's "bombe"

-- The cake exploded with a roar, blowing away the front of the building, the guards, and the mortal remains of Gov. Governor Roelof Van Wubbeldinker – which was turned into so much scorched, shredded meat.

–– Chumbucket was blown through the window.

"So this is flying," Chumbucket thought as he rocketed through the air. "Not as fun as I'd have thought."

Then he hit something or something hit him and the very bright afternoon went dark for him.

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