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.”

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