Tuesday, July 26, 2011


The Curacao Caper, Chapter 45

(Okay. Let's get this going. We started this so long ago it's hard to remember when. We're going to finish, and we'll do so before August ends. So here we go.)

The cart trundled slowly up the hills. For Luc, the downhill was actually harder. If he hopped aboard and let it roll, there would be no way to steer. And if he stayed in the traces, the ungainly vehicle bore down on him from behind. All he could do was lean back and dig in his heels, throwing his weight against the cart to keep it from careening down the hill out of control, but try to get a little momentum going so getting to the top of the next didn't kill him.

In the back, Slappy was feeling guilty. He had volunteered several times to take a turn pulling, and could see from the look in his eyes that Luc thought that was a great idea. But Fifi wouldn't hear of it.

"Ah no, mon ami!" the French pirate said. "You insult poor Luc! On your ship is it not the custom for the crew to follow orders, to take pride in the performance of their duty? To try to prevent someone from doing his duty is to make him less of a man, no?"

Slappy thought he could see where Fifi was going.

"So to take Luc's work from him is to take his ... manhood from him?" Slappy asked.

"Precisement!" Fifi beamed. "If you attempted to deprive the good Luc of his work, you impugn his manhood. You would not try to sever his outil de l'amour and place it in your pocket, would you?"

Slappy didn't speak French but he was pretty sure what Fifi meant, especially with the descriptive hand gestures, and immediately denied any interest whatsoever in placing Luc's (or anyone else's) tool of love in his pocket.

"Of course not," Fifi continued. "Should you make the attempt he would have no recourse but to challenge you to a duel to the death! Is that not right, Luc?"

Panting as he pulled the cart up a low grade, Luc turned his head over his shoulder and said – "Perhaps I could ..." he paused to pant, then continued ... "overlook it just this once."

"No no no, my good Luc," Fifi protested. "Do not sell your manhood so cheaply. If Slappy attempts to usurp your rights, you will fight him to the death to prove yourself, I will insist on it, my friend!"

"Maybe if I just got out to walk – you know? Stretch my legs a bit?" Slappy attempted.

Fifi looked hurt.

"Mon ami! What has Luc done to cause you to insult him so?"

"Nothing!" Slappy shouted, "He's a great guy and he's doing a great job! Keep it up, Luc! Pull like the wind! I'll be back here enjoying the ride and the manly way you pull the cart."

Fifi beamed, while with a sigh and a pant, Luc continued pulling the cart up hill and down, though he had long lost the scent of their quarry.

Meanwhile, the Boil pulled out of Willemstad harbor as quickly as they could get Chumbucket on board. George had the ship beginning to move as the longboat pulled alongside, so the whole affair was rather like watching a cowboy jump onto a running horse, only on the water and of course there were no cowboys in the world at this point in history so no one watching was able to make the comparison. It was tricky, but in moments the ship was moving out of the harbor.

Ol' Chumbucket quickly filled in George the Greek about where they were headed and once the ship had cleared harbor the crew was called together so that everyone could get up to speed. It took some time for everyone get caught up with pieces of the story, what with different people being jailed at different times and missing parts of what had happened while painting, and everyone had a good laugh at Cap'n Slappy's operatic debut – a laugh they would repeat as soon as the captain had rejoined them – and at last everyone aboard was on board, so to speak.

Everyone except Cementhands, who looked piercingly at Ol' Chumbucket.

"So why exactly were you at the cathedral?" he asked.

"You know as well as I do," Chumbucket said, feigning indifference. "We needed a diversion to draw the guards from the jail. That seemed like the obvious way to go."

"I can think of half a dozen ways that didn't involve going into a church already packed with guards."

"I'm sure you can think of more than that. You attract guards and security people like a bleeding Spaniard dangled in the water attracts sharks. It just seemed like the best way to proceed."

McCormack continued staring, shaking his head slightly.

"And how did the governor's mansion end up exploding?"

"I'm not sure," Chumbucket admitted. "That wasn't me. Sally did something with a flaming ax, and then she and her crew ran out the back while I got blown through a window."

"But if you went to the church, how did you and Sally end up in the mansion?" Cementhands pressed. "And why were you and Sally together?"

Ol' Chumbucket was spared the need for further prevarication by a call from the masthead, where Two Patch had been posted as a sentry.

"Sail astern!" he called. "A ship is working its way out of harbor!"

The Boils all raced to the railing, snapping open their glasses to look at who might be coming up behind them. It was a small boat, a sloop, but appeared to be outfitted for combat. The banner flying from the mainmast flapped open in the breeze, showing itself to be a Dutch flag with an insignia that indicated it was a government ship.

"I thought you said the governor was dead," Keeling said to Chumbucket.

"Probably dead," the older man corrected. "Almost certainly dead. I mean, he was laying on the table that blew up. So even if he's not completely dead, he's probably not up for a cruise."

"Well, whoever is using his boat, I don't want him passing us," George said. "In half an hour, if he's still behind us on the same course, we'll take a few minutes to discourage him, how about?"

Everyone gathered on the quarterdeck nodded in agreement. It was curious thing, but the full crew had never sailed together without Slappy, and no one had specifically been told to take charge, so the chain of command didn't exist. Even given a pirate's natural inclination to vote on everything, the crew had enough respect for each other that they faced the very real danger of constantly deferring to each other when instant action was needed.

There was another moment of silence, then Cementhands spoke up.

"How's this sound? George, you're in charge while we're sailing. Until we get to Westpunt your word is law. Once we get there and have to work out what to do, then Chumbucket, you be in charge. Sound good?"

The other pirates were nodding agreement, but Chumbucket stopped them.

"No, no, Leftenant Keeling, you be in charge of the tactical situation when we get there," he said.

"But why?" Keeling protested.

"We don't need strategic thinking, we all know what we're after and have a pretty good idea of what we're facing," Chumbucket said. "Under the circumstances, you'll be the best person to decide what we need to do if it comes to a fight."

"But don't you ..."

"No," Chumbucket said again. "You will know what to do, and will do it no matter what. Under the circumstances, I don't want to have to make those decisions if we end up fighting Poison Pearl."

There was a long pause while everyone digested that, then slowly some head nodding.

"All right then," Cementhands said. "George is in charge during the cruise, Keeling when we get to Westpunt. All agreed?"

The pirates shouted their approval.

"Anything else, or are we finished talking?" Cementhands said.

"One other thing," Chumbucket said. All eyes turned to him.

"Do we have any black paint left?"

Cementhands allowed as how black was the only color they did have left, after repainting the gaol.

"Then while we're moving, can we for the love of Neptune's salty bollocks change the color of this ship back to something a pirate would be proud to sail on?"

The others had almost forgotten the garishly hideous paint job they had performed to transform the Boil's appearance from pirate ship to painter's barge. It looked for all the world like a giant floating bruise.

"Cementhands!" George bellowed. "Get a crew of scrapers gong to remove the abomination of purple!"

"Aye aye, sir"

"And if we have time and it doesn't slow us down, we can start painting with the black as soon as they're finished. Double lookout in the rigging, keep an eye on the coast road for any traffic bound for Westpunt. Now let's get moving!"

The crew fell to work with a will. As they rounded the headlands north of Willemstad harbor, the mystery ship still on a similar course behind them, another sail was sighted ahead of them, hull up. It's course looked like it would take it a mile or so past the Boil's larboard side.

"Now what?" Chumbucket muttered, fixing his glass on the new ship. He stared for a full minute, then a grin split his face.

"George! Can we draw nearer without losing much speed?"

George made a quick calculation of the wind then nodded and ordered the course correction.

"It's Ye Olde Tattoo Shippe," Chumbucket explained. "I don't want to stop, but if we can pass within hailing distance I'd like to see if he knows anything."

Ten minutes later the Boil was closing within 200 feet of the tattoo artist's ship, which had backed sails to slow down. George ordered a similar arrangement and the two ships drifted towards each other.

"Ahoy Clay, you great lump o' pelican droppings!" Chumbucket shouted through the ship's hailing trumpet. "Where are ye bound?"

"Ahoy Ol' Chumbucket, you mouldering ol' gob of sputum," Clay's voice echoed back, just as loud though he didn't need to use a tube. "We're headed for Willemstad, though from the look of that column o' smoke, I don't know how much of it we'll find when we get there!"

"We left a few stones still standing for ye," Chumbucket shouted back. "What's yer business there?"

"Gotta pick up a package!" the inkman answered. "Have a commission to pick summat up and deliver it. What's it to ye?"

Chumbucket was interested, but the two ships were already beginning to drift apart, and George was showing impatience to be on his way.

"Nothing, nothing! Just wondering if you've seen any action up towards Westpunt!"

"Westpunt? Aye, great gathering o' ships up that way, and I don't mean fishing boats! Unless you have business that way, you might want to sheer off! It ought to be getting right lively up there soon!"

"Can't do it! We have business! How about you? Care to join us for the fun?"

"Love nothing better!" Clay said, his voice now fading as the distance between the two ships grew. "But it's a matter of honor! My business is to the south!"

"Good luck to ye!" Chumbucket shouted.

"And to ye!" Clay boomed in return "Smooth sailin' and rich plunder!"

Chumbucket turned back to George.

"Well, now we know something is going on up there. We'd best hurry and join the party before it's too late."

"Aye," George said. "I thought you'd never ask! Arright you lubbers!" he shouted to the topmast jacks already busy in the rigging. "Haul her head around and hang every scrap o' canvas we've got!"

He glanced over his shoulder and saw the other ship still lagging behind, but on the same course – north to Westpunt. There was no time to deal with the interloper now, he grumbled, but the time would surely come.

On Ye Olde Tattoo Shippe, Clay watched the Boil's sails blossom as the ship picked up speed.

"Fair winds to ye," he murmured to himself. "And with luck you'll find what ye need, even if you don't find what ye want."

Back on the road leading across the island, dusk was settling. Luc, with only a brief pause for rest, continued to pad uphill and down, pulling the trio of pirates behind him. He was laboring up a rise when Fifi stood in the cart behind him and pointed excitedly ahead.

"We are almost there!" he said. "Atop that rise we should be able to see the sea, and the road stretching down to it."

Even as he spoke, Slappy caught a sound and looked behind him.

"Something's coming," he said. "Sounds like hooves."

They all strained to hear and in the wind brought the sound to them, the thud of approaching horse hooves.

"Make haste, good Luc!" Fifi called. "Get us to the top of that rise and we will see about greeting these people on our tail."

Luc doubled his pace and the cart quickly reached the crest. The roadway stretched out below them, with the sea sparkling at the bottom.

"Quick, turn the cart sideways to block the path," Fifi ordered. He jumped to the ground, loosening his sword in its scabbard as he studied the terrain. To the left the path fell away to a series of low cliffs. To the right there was a small berm they might shelter behind. Fifi quickly laid out his plan.

"Is that clear?" he asked, the sound of the hoofbeats now growing nearer. "Slappy? Is that clear?"

Slappy was staring out at the sea before them, a puzzled expression on his face. He pulled a small spyglass from his pouch and stared out to see, his lips pursed.

"Slappy!" Fifi shouted. "Our visitors are almost upon us! Does my plan meet with your approval?"

"What? Oh, yeah, yes, of course," Slappy said. "It's just that ..."


"Well, I see your ship below, anchored in the bay. And there are three other ships to the northwest closing on them, all flying Dutch flags. They've got the wind and they'll be attacking your crew any minute."

Fifi looked concerned, but the rapidly approaching hoofbeats held his attention. He scowled at Slappy.

"What of it?" the Frenchman said. "We'll deal with these riders, then go down and put a stop to the Dutch fleet. What else?"

"Well," Slappy said. "That's all I see. No sign of Sally's ship, Poisoned Pearl. No sign of anyone ahead of us on the road. Either they got here way ahead of us and flew the coop ..."

"Impossible," Fifi said in a comical French accent. "Le Petit Morte Deux has been here two weeks. There was no coop flying!"

"Then the only other possibility is we've come the wrong way," Slappy said, drawing a groan from Luc.

"But we know Mme. Sally started out on the hill road," Fifi complained.

"Yes, but we assumed she stayed on it to meet her ship. Apparently that's not what she did. If she did, I don't know where she might have gone."

Fifi swore.

"Les women!" he said, shaking a fist at the sky. "It is never possible to know what they want, is it my friend? But enough. It sounds as if the riders will be here shortly. Shall we greet them?"

The pounding of hooves was louder. In seconds the riders would be round the curve and reach the top of the rise.

Slappy suddenly snapped out of his fog of thought.

“Turn the cart.”

“What?” Fifi seemed surprised – Slappy was deviating from the script? But then he remembered, “It was a ‘Slappy thing’ to do.”

Luc positioned the cart – like a sled at the top of a snow-covered hill – and Slappy climbed aboard. He stood in the cart, staring at his beloved blunderbuss – happy to have it in his hand before another battle. But then he surprised everyone, perhaps even himself, by tossing it to Fifi.

“But Mortimer!” Fifi laughed – a little nervously. “What shall you do for ze weapon?”

Slappy grinned and bounced his eyebrows – almost gleeful at the task before him.

“I’ll do like I’ve always done, Fifi. I’ll use me head.”

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