A scene set

Daniel Perez sat patiently waiting at the local Belize Town tavern. It didn’t have a specific name, it was just known as the tavern. When many ships were in port it was a rowdy old place filled with the hollers and laughs of sailors finding their land legs. At this point in the early evening, it was calm and civilised type of place. Exactly as Daniel wanted it.

He was sitting at a table outside on his own which had several empty spots. Within sight was the water. A sight to the great beyond and the thought of opportunity. His view, however, was facing in towards the tavern. There was no reason for him to see into the great beyond. That was not where his imagination needed to fly. For his guests it was the perfect view though. This tavern, the view was just a prop. One to propel the imagination of his guests. Likewise, he had a thick leather case filled with his other props.

Daniel’s case contained various artefacts from London. At least, they were from his version of London. A few pieces of paper stamped here and there and apostilled. Deeds, they were commonly referred to. Others were called bonds. These had little coupons attached to them which would provide the beater cash upon redemption at the London Stock Exchange. Just as his teacher had said, the props had to connect with whatever wonderful story you were telling to legitimise it.

Daniel had never forgotten his conversation with MacGregor. Parts of it had served him well since the wars. Others had left him in jail for short stints. There were learnings within all those experiences that had lead him to this important point.

Several young people were bound to come a visit him at one point or another during the evening. They were supposed to roughly coincide if his calculations were correct. It wasn’t necessary that they all arrived at the same time though. It was all part of the plan that they had different reasons to come see him. Hopefully, they would all be filled with a deep searching for something beyond Belize Town. Something different and something exciting. Enough that it would make them part with whatever hard saved assets they or their families had tucked away.

The con was not so much of a con. That’s what Daniel told himself. One part of his plan was simply to reinforce ideas that already stood idle or bubbling in the minds of other people. Sure, he may make some money off of it, but these people were being sold something that they desperately wanted

It hadn’t been so long since he sat there sipping his one short glass of rum. He didn’t want to drink too much as he knew too well how loose the tongue could become under the influence, so he had paid the barmen a hefty tip to ensure his court wouldn’t be disturbed and the illusion destroyed. Soon he hoped that his targets may come. Each has a different hook that brought them there and each a reason why Daniel thought it worth having them there.

None of them had been to London or even outside of the greater Belize Town area. Ship hands were the only people that really travelled in these parts. The rest were just trying to make their living. A story that echoed across the Americas.

Daniel began to further set his scene. He reached into his case a plucked out a map of London. Easier for people to picture their future with a guide. Easier to be convinced. Easier to see. It was no good just to lie the map out in plain view. Better for things to lie waiting in plain sight.

Another sip of his rum and the scene was ready for his unwilling actors.

First walking up to him was a young, short man with dark hair. He had never actually met Daniel, but had come to the tavern at this time based on an advertisement he saw about town promising a quick fortune. Daniel had placed these in locations where the well to do wouldn’t see them and wouldn’t report them. The man introduced himself to Daniel, “Are you Mr. Perez, sir?”

“Yes indeed. I suppose you have seen my advertisement.”

Hesitantly, the man nodded in response.

“And who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”

With equal hesitation, the man responded, “My name is Michael, sir.”

This was no good. The young man was on his own, come to explore the mighty promises of a piece of paper, only to immediately mistrust the whole affair simply because there were no others who did the same. Daniel couldn’t let his enterprise fall flat on its face before even starting. He had to think fast.

His first instinct was to start is story. To begin weaving the fantasy. Immediately he knew this was pointless. The young man, Michael, would see through it for sure or else his imagination would be so dry having been starved of what imagination thrives on, the encouragement from others. Keep it simple. That was the trick.

Michael remained standing while Daniel sat. Daniel expected that his best gambit to retain Michael’s attention was to divert it from the subject at hand.

As calmly and nonchalantly as he could muster, Daniel asked, “Could I get you a drink, young master Michael.”

A switch occurred in Michael’s eyes and he unconsciously licked his lips. This was the right method for sure, Daniel knew.

“I’ve been sipping at this quite delicious rum if that is what you had in mind. Or I could purchase you something else?”

After the briefest of pauses, Michael hastily said, “Yes please, sir. A rum would sit quite nicely in my belly after a hard days work.”

Michael sat and awaited his drink eagerly. Daniel sighed of deep relief on the inside while he poured a generous glass for his new friend.

“Do you know where this rum comes from, my young friend?”

This time Michael hesitated, but pensively as if to consider where rum cane from, before responding, “No, sir, but I imagine in the Caribbean somewhere.”

“Indeed it does, young boy. This rum comes from Jamaica. Not too far out into sea from here, yet a completely different world.”

“How so?”

“A combination of many dramatic thing and some small and hard to adequately describe. For instance, logging is no industry there. You’d find it impossible to make a living there with those skills,” and after a short pause, Daniel queried, “What is it that you find yourself doing in Belize Town, Michael.”

“Oh, I’ve always been in these parts, sir. As long as I can remember. Now I oversee some of the slaves logging.”

“Well, in Jamaica you might be able to do something similar, but nothing to do with logging.”

As Michael thought on this, a group of three young men and two women arrived. Their relationships were not outwardly clear. One came forward tentatively and asked of both Daniel and Michael, “Is this the meeting?”

“Indeed it is. A meeting of minds, a meeting of opportunity. Is that what you all want?”

Tentatively, the man looked at his companions and then to Daniel and finally to Michael, searching for an answer to this question that hung in the air. Michael nodded along with rum in hand as if to signal his own agreement that it was exactly that he wanted. So, with that simple act of unconscious thought, the chain reaction began.

With a small smile on his face Daniel ushered the new arrivals to sit down around the table and began to serve them all drinks as they chatted amongst themselves. Five more people arrived and felt much more comfortable with the buzz about the meeting that they barely hesitated when joining. The natural course of human relationships and trust quickly at work.

Some had come because of the advertisements and others because Daniel has enticed their compatriots to usher them along. Just as Daniel was getting ready to take center stage, Jose arrived carrying the purse that Daniel left behind. Before Jose could reach him to give it back, Daniel had moved to the side of the table nearest to water and began his work.

Jose didn’t have seat in what now amounted to a small throng of young people ready to listen to Daniel Perez’ presentation. He stood to one side so as not to cause any raucous and disturb.

“…many people leave London in order to find opportunity in settlements. What are they running from? Why do the seek out these parts, I hear you ask. They lack land. In their minds, land is a fantasy. The unachievable dream is to own land. It is a life of work for oneself that they truly seek. Yet their lives are still filled with toil, sweat and eventually death. Will their heirs have more than them? Yes and that is a noble end.”

The mass gathered about Daniel, listening intently and staring out at the sea into the beyond were confused. They owned small plots of land here, all of them. It was their livelihoods and so was the additional toil. Life was not pure suffering for them, but they all wanted more. None could figure out how what Daniel told them could fix any of that.

“What does all this have to do with us, sir,” asked one of them.

“Nothing and everything. Their desires are not much different from most people. A desire for something better, first. If that doesn’t kill them and it’s still unachievable, a better life for whoever comes after them. Others have worse fates thrust upon them. A rarer few thrust fates upon others because they can and will it. The final, lucky group decide for themselves.”

These ideas hung in the air for these young people to absorb. There was little time to dream up such ideas in their own time, but hearing them made them seem so self evidently true. None, including Jose, could quite understand exactly what any of this had to do with them, but the idea of being in control of their own destinies was tantalising.

A moment had passed without Daniel saying a further word. His captive audience started to look at each other side to side, whispering. Questioning. This was his next cue.

“The old man hasn’t answered your question dear friend,” Daniel began, “and for this I am sorry, but I do get carried away with myself. Having fought in wars and lived to make my own life in this wide world, I can’t help myself. My mission is to ensure that others can do the same.”

Then the penny dropped for Jose and he asked, “You are saying their is a greater opportunity for us beyond Belize Town, sir?”

That was the question. The trigger to properly delve into what he, humble Daniel Perez, had to offer to these fine young folk.

“There is. Beyond these waters you can seize control of a different destiny.”

Eyes were wide at the thought, but also the cost. Daniel had just explained to them how hard it was to control your own destiny and how few managed to do so. In the face of all of this, how could they possibly do what he says?

“I know, I know. It is a daunting thought and task. As I said, my mission is to help. I haven’t gather the older or the professionals amongst your town, but you. The young and unattached. Those who have the will power necessary if only they got a boost. I am that boost.”

Daniel reached into his case and brought out a large folding map of a city which he spread out on the table, securing each corner with artefacts. A bag of coins in one corner, a compass in another, an engraved silver flask and finally his dagger pinning down the final corner. The group bunched in closer to the table so they could all have a proper view of the map. A map that none of them understood or recognised. It looked like a sprawl of jungle with paths cutting through it. It was of course, a sort of jungle, being a map of London.

“I present to you, the city of London and its outlying areas, Westminster and the Borough of Southwark. This map is a couple of years old with the forethought to include planned new buildings and streets showing the ever improving capital city. Darton, the man who drew up this plan, was wise enough to do so. Look at all of these areas marked in yellow. This is the colour and she of opportunity. What lies in wait fro those in London if they have the correct means.”

Why a map of London. Were not all those people trying to escape London for the settlements? It made no sense to the majority gathered around the table, even though the idea of the city was interesting to some.

“What is so great about London, sir, that we should want to go there?” Asked one, but truly on behalf of all.

Daniel Perez paused to dwell on this question. The tension of an unknown, of soul searching before answering, had a good effect on the touch points in peoples imaginations and hearts. He had, of course, never actually been to London. His lengthy conversation with the General, Sir MacGregor, was the only real detail he had about London and when he was speaking to him the knowledge would have been several years out of date. Still, MacGregor enjoyed very much talking and he did not hold back once Daniel had moved the subject away from his conning techniques.

London was a fantastic idea though, even though Daniel knew very little of it. Besides MacGregor’s anecdotes, Daniel had also managed to obtain this very good map of London from a Captain that he was gambling with. As soon as he saw it he knew that it would serve as a cornerstone to his plan.

After his small, reflective pause, Daniel responded with flair, “Ordinarily, there would be no great reason for you to want to go there or indeed for you to even be able to go there. However, I have the means to gain you access to the best that London has to offer and in turn this will as a matter of fact mean that you have access tot the very best that the world has to offer. Is that not something great, my friend? I think it is.”

Still sceptical, the one youth asked, “What of the weather and of the space? How can these be overcome? I’m not convinced.”

“Then, please, I beg that you do not allow me to wasted any more of your time young man.”

Not quite the answer that people expected, which only increased Daniel’s credibility. The young man was quite embarrassed by the quick rebuke that cast aside his doubts and decided it was best that he wander off. Daniel could not have asked for a better turn of events.

“Good bye, young man. Please do look me up if you’d like to hear more. Now, all the better for the rest of you as there will be one less person in competition.”

There it was, what Daniel considered his piece de resistance. Not exactly in line with MacGregor’s desire to maximise volume with his charm and conviction, but he liked it nonetheless. Con a few people for all they had and ensure competition so that it doesn’t come back to bite you big time. He also felt that it would get people even more interested, which was very much becoming the case here. It was written plainly on their faces even though they didn’t know what it was. They worried. They feared. That they would miss out.

He looked around at their faces, with a sad face. This is what he wanted to them to see. His glee on the inside was not suitable for public consumption.

“Yes, I’m afraid that, though I wish that I could help each and every one of you. It simply isn’t the case that I can. With anything in life, I must distribute what I have as I consider most fair. You may not agree with my final determination and you may even be angry with me. These are all things that I have considered and that I am willing to live with.”

Daniel paused to see if someone would ask the final question, the one he had been waiting for. It didn’t come, however. This was OK. All had gone so closely to plan that it wasn’t a problem to have to push them over the finishing line. His unwitting actors had already helped to set the stage so much.

“Looking at all your faces filled with equal measures of hope and confusion, I know that there is one question that you are all simply to modest to ask: ‘What is it that you have to offer?’ There is a very good answer,” he said as he furnished out a set of deeds that he had stored in his case, “and these are the key.”

The bewildered faces of those gathered made him sigh a slight bit of relief. His forger had been good enough, but you never knew if anyone would actually know what a proper deed looked like. Daniel himself had only seen a certain handful of a certain type, so it was a bit of a gamble, but one he had chosen carefully to take. It was always a risk. So was his entire enterprise.

“They are deeds. Paper that means the bearer owns the land or property described within them. The property that these deeds describe are all in London and its surroundings. This is the gift that I have for you: I will subsidise your purchasing of these by giving them to you at a major discount. On top of that, I have contacts with many of the Captains who travel between here and London and I will ensure that you have affordable passage to your new homes.”

Excitement and despair filled the eyes of all around. Even with the help of Daniel Perez, this seemed like a dream too far. Michael, who had first sat with Daniel, asked, as if behalf of all of them gathered, “How can we afford this, sir? It seems a step too far for us with so little.”

“Two ways. First, you will give me what you can, including any small plots of land that you may have here. Any wood or other valuables that you have access to. Any coin that you have. Second, my true gift to you will be these bonds with a face value of One Thousand Pounds Sterling from the Mercantile General Composite Company. This is a company of my associates in London and they are worth potentially more than the paper they are written on as the company is of such good repute. Some bonds are worthless, but these you can sell on to almost any man in the street at perhaps a small discount for the convenience. Together these pieces of paper along and a short passage across the Atlantic and you will have a new and prosperous life.”

Michael continued to speak for the assembled group, “What if our savings. Everything we have is worth so little?”

“I will speak to each of you to understand your situations. Ultimately, I may not be able to help you now. I will not forget you though, as I have saved up this stock of deeds and bonds. You may returns when you have the right amount.”

Michael looked around at the others and then quickly said, “Please, sir, allow me to be the first to put myself forward. If we can find somewhere more private, I will explain everything that I have.”

This was followed by a throng of interested young people waving their hands and trying to get Daniel to notice them. Exactly as he had planned. There were no assets in the bank, but step one of his plan was an exemplary success. He raised his hand and asked the assembled to be quiet.

“Please, my friends, I will speak to each of you in turn. I promise you. Let me speak to our friend Michael here and if you would all write down your names, I will take you one at a time.”

With that he took Michael by the arm and began walking him to a quieter part of the tavern.

Jose panicked. How would he be able to sleep without knowing what it was that he might have in store for his future. Having stayed slightly beyond the major group, he now quickly made his way to Daniel. “Mr. Perez, Mr. Perez! Please, I have something of yours that you left down at the docks.”

Excellent, Daniel thought to himself. The young boy with the unknown fortune had taken the bait. Musn’t be to eager though. “Yes, my young friend, I will see you all, but please write your name down with the others,” he said as partially dismissively as he possibly could, withholding his pleasure.

“But, sir, I have the bag of coins that you left down at the docks.”

Daniel made a play of checking around in his pockets and then said, in the most aloof fashion he could muster, “It appears that you are absolutely correct. I am eternally grateful to you.”

With that he gestured for Jose to give him the purse. He began walking away and then turned back to Jose. In a whisper, he said, “Meet me around back and I will come and speak to you just after Michael. I’m afraid to let you cut so brazenly would not do well for the others. You understand, I hope?”

Jose nodded and then wandered off as Daniel took Michael into the tavern.

Both felt that they had gotten the best of the interaction.

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