Tuesday, June 01, 2010


The Curacao Caper, Chapter 37

So here we are again, months after the last post. A lot of water under the bridge. But we are determined to finish the story now, if for no other reason than to satisfy Butch of South Carolina, our constant reader, who has been worried about the crew locked in the smelly - albeit freshly painted - gaol. The story has reached its climax and we're ready to push home to the closing.

We also want to take just a moment to pay tribute to our friend Sandy McCormack, the basis for the character of Cementhands McCormack. Sandy passed away earlier this year. The big guy was -- and we say this with no hyperbole or exaggeration - the funniest person either of us has ever known and a great friend. Here at Team Pirate we still miss him terribly, and probably will until we join him.

Chapter 37: Final Preparations

Ol’ Chumbucket peered intently at the face before him, the cold steel gleaming in his hand. The blade darted forward – then again, then again, aiming at the jugular. He drew blood

“Ouch!” he grimaced, looking in the mirror and seeing the red drop welling on his neck. He set the razor down and dabbed at the tiny cut with a rag, then satisfied, continued shaving.

He wasn’t removing the beard – God knows he didn’t want to know what his face looked like without the beard, regardless of how white and grizzled the whiskers were growing. He did want to trim it up, wanted to look his best. After all, this was a very special event he would be crashing.

He leaned closer to the mirror and studied his visage carefully. A little older looking – well, he had to admit he was a little older. Every year he could see somewhere in the mirror the ghost of the young man, mostly in the eyes, looking out from a face that seemed to him to be a stranger.

“Why do I feel so old today?” he asked the image. “What’s so different about today?”

Enough time wasted worrying about the long, slow crawl into old age, he said sternly. He’d better be on his toes or he wouldn’t get the chance to get any older. Straightening up, he quickly stripped off his boots, shirt, pants and hose and walked out on the deck of the Festering Boil. Ignoring any looks from any neighboring ships in the early morning light, he went to the gunnels, stepped up onto the railing, paused, then threw himself off into the water.

He came up sputtering, then floated on his back for a moment before shaking his head and swimming to the side of the ship. There hadn’t been much time for rest the last week, and he needed to get the cobwebs out. The warm, clear water of the Caribbean certainly helped.

Clambering up the side of the ship he called for help, then remembered that he was alone. Gabriel and the two actors had been called into town to help Cementhands with the escape, which was timed for 12:30 p.m. That gave Chumbucket a couple of hours to prepare himself, then set his part of the plan into action – keeping the governor’s soldiers occupied.

Drying off in the sun, he thought about Mad Sally and the times they had spent together all those years ago, island hopping, seeking adventure. He thought about the night in Santiago, and the tattoo parlor and the little trick he had played on her back then. He glanced at the tattoo on his chest. It was the same as it had been all those years ago, four lines of script and a small figure. He didn’t know why he’d had the crew of Ye Olde Tattoo Shippe add the frame, he had hardly thought about it in years. But it was there if he needed it.

And he would need it soon.

Dry, he went below to find something clean to wear. “Clean” certainly precluded anything from his own sea chest. He was able to rummage through the clothes of his shipmates and find a decent ensemble, if he weren’t too picky about exact fit, and he certainly wasn’t. A good sash would cover the defects. He studied himself in Sawbones Burgess’s mirror, the one the doctor used for rectal self-exams (“A man can’t be too careful about his colon,” the doc often said, whether anyone was listening or not.) Chumbucket set his tricorn at what he considered a rakish angle and studied his reflection. He looked acceptable, he decided. And unless you were really looking for them, you didn’t notice the bulges from the various pistols, saps and dirks he’d concealed about his body.

Wait, something was missing.

Whistling “The Wedding March,” even though Mendelssohn wouldn’t write it for another couple of hundred years, he went back down to his cabin and opened the sea chest. Dumping out the malodorous, stained pile of cloth he called his wardrobe onto the floor he opened the false bottom, then opened the hidden side pocket within that. From its recesses he removed a small bundle wrapped in oilskin, within which was a small cloth bundle. Opening that, he extracted a small item on a chain and put it around his neck. It had been perfect, Sally had marveled, as if nature itself had prepared it for them. They’d found the heart-shaped piece of coral on a Cuban beach. Time in the water had worn a small hole at the top, suitable for taking the gold chain from which it hung. It had also stained a red streak across the center, as if it had been pierced by the arrow of Eros.

Mad Sally was always more of a romantic than Ol’ Chumbucket and tended in those days to see signs, omens and portents when it pleased her to. Ol’ Chumbucket reserved his emotions for Sally herself, and since it made her happy for him to have worn it during their time together, he happily did so. Today was the first time it had been around his neck in more than a decade.

Ol’ Chumbucket decided not to waste time counting the actual number of years, it would only depress him, he decided. Right now he had a date to keep. He gave one more glance into the mirror, reset his hat so that the angle was just so, and saluted his image.

“It’s show time,” he said to no one in particular.

The pirate ship was not the only place in the town where preparations were under way.

At the catering shop, with the sign “Under New Management” still slightly damp to the touch, so it was accompanied by a “Wet Paint” sign, Jacques was searching feverishly through the larder.

“All those new victims!” he snarled. “All those extra last meals! What am I supposed to feed them? We’re all out of fish tacos!”

Luc sat on a stool in the corner – his head in his hands. “All I did was say, ‘Hallo! Pirates!’ And I might have said something about how stinky they were … and then, it was all a blur … hands and arms … grabbing … twisting …” Luc began to cry – but regained his composure. “… and I found myself coming back here with an order for thirty more fish tacos.” He stared at the wall like it was a thousand miles away. “So many … so many stinky pirates!”

Fifi shook his head in disgust. He was busying himself with an icing bag, putting the last, delicate touches on the very special wedding cake that had been ordered and chuckling to himself. The cake would be much more special than his clients had asked for.

“Uncle!” Jacques repeated louder, trying to get his captain’s attention. “What am I supposed to give them for a last meal?”

Fifi was silent, his lips pursed in concentration as he created the last in the ring of florets that circled his domed creation, then stepped back and invited his nephew’s attention.

“A thing of beauty, non?” he asked.

“Yes, yes it’s lovely, but that doesn’t solve my problem.”

“And you know the best part?” Fifi continued.

“Yes, I know that you’ve created the ultimate wedding cake, a tribute to both your culinary skills and talents as an arsonist. I know. We’ve discussed this before,” Jacques said. “Now can you tell me what I can serve Sloppy and his men for a last meal?”

“No, the best part, as I’ve told you but you insist on fixating on the least of our problems, is linguistic. Because in our language this type of domed, chilled dessert is called a bombe, as you well know, but in English the word means an explosive, as it does in Dutch. So this will be the perfect creation both for our plans and for the English pirates and their Dutch captors.”

Jacques stared at his uncle.

“No, it’s great,” Fifi said. “Maybe the best trick I’ve ever played. Because I’m delivering them a bombe, but they’re getting a bomb. Get it?”

“I get it.”

“And the explosion at the governor’s reception will be just the thing we need to cover our escape.”

“I get it,” Jacques said. “But we were ordered to provide those additional last meals, and if we don’t, we might well end up in the gaol ourselves.”

“Stop worrying. Here,” Fifi said. “Take that roast.”

“The one for the reception? The governor won’t like that.”

“The governor will soon be dead,” Fifi snapped. “But I didn’t mean to take the whole thing. Slice it really, really thin, slice it like paper. Cover the plates with that. It doesn’t have to be a good last meal. It just needs to look like a last meal.”

“What about the vegetable?” Jacques asked sulkily.

“What about it?”

“We don’t have any. We put all the peas we had to pad out the fish tacos.”

“Well, that’s their tough luck, isn’t it,” Fifi said. “If anyone asks, just tell them there’s no peas for the wicked.”

Down the street at the dress shop, the crew that had sailed into Curacao behind Sally were putting the finishing touches on the wedding dress for “Countess Sonja.” Delicate lace was being tacked into place, the last bit of beadwork was being applied.

Bludgeons and various sharp implements being sewn into cunningly disguised recesses.

“Thank God bustles are in this year or we’d never had gotten that boarding ax to her,” one of the seamstresses said.

“The Empire waist will really flatter her figure, and leave plenty of room for this blunderbuss,” the other said.

“Let’s finish up here, girls!” the redheaded young man snapped. “We have to be at the cathedral in 20 minutes.”

“Girls?” snarled one of the seamstresses. “Who are you calling girls, Johan?”

He sighed.

“I beg your pardon if I’ve offended by suggesting that I noticed you aren’t big smelly oafs.”

“Mateys would do,” the other seamstress said. “Or jolly tars. There are plenty of appellations you could have chosen that don’t imply a distinction based on gender-specific characteristics that are completely irrelevant.”

“Although they can be lots of fun,” the first added.

“Alright, true, they can be lots of fun,” the second conceded. “But they’re still irrelevant to an individual’s ability to do the work of either a pirate or a seamstress.”

“Oh yes,” the first agreed. “Quite irrelevant in that regard.”

“Fine, mateys,” Johan snorted. “We now have 18 minutes to get the dress to the cathedral for the bride, and since it’s a 12 minute walk, you fellas had better sew like the wind.”

“We’ll never get these closure attached in six minutes!” said the first seamstress in shock.

“Not if you keep talking about it instead of sewing,” John said.

“Nothing to worry about,” the second said. “Look, just wrap it up and we’ll carry it over. We can sew her into the dress over there.”

“Sew her … ?”

“Into the dress. No problem.”

Johan shrugged and nodded, trying to get things moving and banish from his mind circumstance when a pirate was more likely to be “sewn into” something – when a slain seaman was sewn into his hammock with a cannonball at his feet for that last ride. His relationship with Mad Sally wouldn’t countenance that kind of thinking.

“Like I said, get a move on,” he snarled.

In the backroom of the pub, Cementhands was explaining to his three confederates their parts in the plan as he struggled into a corset.

“So I’m Slappy’s wife, Griselda, does everyone understand that?”

Jonas Grumby and Miguel Magana, the erstwhile actors cum pirates (and your authors wish we didn’t have to point it out but we assume most of our readers have their minds in the gutters so we’ll just say it - cum (pronounced coom) comes from the Latin and means “together with or in combination with” so there is nothing nasty in the description, as there might be if you used the short-u vowel sound. It merely points out that the two men are actors along with being pirates. Everyone got it? Good. Who said a pirate adventure story can’t be educational as well as entertaining. But wait. Where were we? Alright, got it) The two men were having trouble concentrating on McCormack’s words, because the sight of him slipping – if that’s the right word and it probably isn’t – into a dress with enough fabric for a small circus tent was rather distracting.

“I’m sorry, what did you say?” Grumby asked.

Cementhands gave him a jovial slap across the back of his head which sent him flying across the room.

“Try to listen up. I’m Slappy’s wife, Griselda.”

“You’re Slappy’s wife, Griselda,” the both chanted, horrified at the mental image.

“That’s right. You two are the clergymen I’ve brought along to save his soul.”

“Save his soul,” they chanted.

“And Gabe, you’re my little boy, Slappy’s pride and joy, here to wish your daddy farewell.”

“Don’t you think that’s kind of stupid,” Gabe snapped.

“Kind of stupid,” Gumby and Magana chanted.

“What do you mean?”

“You and Slappy are the two biggest people I’ve ever seen,” Gabe said. “I’m a kid. I’m little. How could I possibly be your child?”

“Did I mention you’re only two years old?”

“Two? I’m a baby?”


“No! I won’t be a baby!”

“Won’t be a baby,” the two men chanted.

“But that way we can hide the explosives in your baby buggy, and the fuse in your diaper.”

“DIAPER!!!!” Gabe shouted, outraged. “What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Well, two year old often still wear diapers, especially boys. Takes boys a lot longer to get the hang of hygiene. I’m still working on it, to tell the truth.”

“I WON’T wear a diaper, you can’t make me.” Gabe said.

“You’d be surprised what I can make you do,” McCormack said. “But look, this is just a bit of acting, and acting’s easy, right fellas?”

“Right fellas,” they both muttered.

Cementhands sighed and smacked Jonas on the back of the head again. His eyes uncrossed.

“I said, acting’s easy, right fellas?”

“Oh no, not so I would say. First you have to learn your lines and study your part, and then you have to find the emotional center, and you’ve gotta develop a sense memory and …”

McCormack smacked the man on the back of the head again and his eyes re-crossed.

“Look, you’re a smart, mature lad, aren’t you.”

“Damn straight I’m smart and mature,” Gabriel said.

“And you’ve seen lots of babies.”

“I wouldn’t say lots of babies, but I’ve seen some in my time,” the boy conceded reluctantly.

“Well, a smart man can play dumb, but a dumb man can’t play smart, so I figure it. And if you’re mature, you can play immature, but a baby could never learn to play a grownup, now could he?”

“Don’t see how.”

“Good then. It’s just acting. And everyone will see that you’re using your amazing maturity and intelligence to play someone who lacks those qualities, while someone who lacks them – like a baby – could never play you.”

Gabriel turned it over in his mind and couldn’t see any holes in the logic.

“Alright then,” he finally said glumly, but added sharply, “But I’m still not wearing a diaper!”

Cementhands sighed and shook his head. He put his hand on Gabe’s shoulder.

“Now let’s think this through. You’re mature, and you have complete control of your bladder and sphincter, follow me? But a person who’s incontinent could never play a person who isn’t, right?”

At his desk, which overlooked the main street of the city, Bernard Jeffries was going over the last arrangements as his employer, Governor Van Wubbeldinker, admired himself in the mirror. So many details to make sure of, so many things that had to go like clockwork, Jeffries thought. The governor’s voice interrupted him.

“Which do you think, Bernard?” he asked.

“Which do I think what of?” Jeffries said without looking up.

“My suit, for the wedding.”

Jeffries glanced over to where the governor was holding first one, then another suit of wedding clothes in front of him and studying the effect in the mirror.

“Which do you think? The blue? Or the mauve?”

“The blue, sir.”

“Really? The blue?”

“Yes sir. With the gold waistcoat.”

The governor continued switching the two suits in front of him.

“You know, I am one of the lucky ones, whose skin tone really works well with mauve.”

“Yes sir, your luck is legendary,” Jeffries said, his eyes on the papers before him.

The governor cleared his throat and gasped a whispered, “Your Lordship,” as a friendly reminder to his subordinate to address him properly.

“Not everyone can wear mauve, you know, Jiffy.”

“No indeed Your Lordship. I would think not one man in ten thousand.”

“Ten thousand?” The governor’s voice sounded a trifle miffed. “I would have thought much greater odds than that. One in ten million, maybe.”

“No doubt you are correct milord; I am, after all, a secretary and general assistant, not a mathematician.”

“Nor are you a fashion maven such as I am,” the governor said. “No, not one man in ten million, I’m sure of it. I am one of the lucky ones.”

“Indeed, milord. And yet you’re to wear the blue suit with the gold waistcoat.”

“I am?”

“Yes milord. The bride’s dress contains accents of pink and the two …”

He did not get the chance to finish the sentence, because the governor shuddered at the thought of mauve and pink.

“Perhaps she could wear something else?” the governor asked hopefully.

“I don’t possibly see how,” Jeffries said patiently. “Her dress has been made especially for her, at great expense and effort, for this very day, whereas you have the blue suit in your hand. Besides, you know how brides get about their bridal gowns. Deprive her of that when the wedding is just an hour away and she’s likely to sulk all day.”

“Do you think?”

“Most assuredly. Not at all the mood one wants to create on one’s wedding night.”

“No. no. Quite right.” Van Wubbeldinker replied as he drank in his own reflection in the full length mirror and gave a couple of practice thrusts with his pelvis. “The countess has been so connubially coy that I’ve been in quite the heated frenzy. I am so looking forward to our wedding night.”

“Indeed sir. Which is why I suggest you put on the blue suit with the gold waistcoat now. We have so little time left before the ceremony.”

All right,” the governor agreed, slipping on the waistcoat.

“You know,” he added, looking at himself again in the mirror, “I’m also one of the few who can pull off gold as well. That’s even trickier. Probably not more than one man in a hundred million.”

“Oh, that is droll sir!” Jeffries said. “The idea of there being one hundred million men on the planet.”

“Whatever,” the governor said. “All I meant was, I love gold.”

“As do we all, sir. As do we all. But not everyone can wear it like you.”

This seemed to mollify the governor, who began dressing in earnest. Jeffries sighed and rose from his desk. He knew that in just a moment he’d be required to help the fat git with his stockings.

And there was all that planning to go over again. All those preparations.

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