Jose wandered slowly behind to the back of the tavern. It occurred to him that, while he had probably been absolutely everywhere in Belize Town, he did not think he had been to this exact location. Not half an hour after meeting this mysterious Mr. Perez and he was already finding himself in new locales with exciting new horizons.
He worried that they would in fact be out of reach, however. Jose had little of value in this world. It was not that he was frugal or wasteful with what he earned. There simply wasn’t much of it. His sister, Noemi, likely had some saved and their uncle, Tito, had some land. Tito had not worked in many years though, so it was Jose and Noemi that looked after him and in return they live in his house. It was not an obligation to them. He was their last family in this world and they would not let go of him. At times, Tito thought this was stupid. Why did they not go out in the world and build their own families? This was the common refrain of Tito.
Money was not a real blocker. It was just that it did not seem possible that Jose could afford all that Daniel offered. He was sure that it would come at a good price. Yet this good price was still likely to be out of the wildest hopes that he could possibly imagine.
Self deprecation was somewhat of a way with the Mercordas. Jose chastised himself for writing off his chances. Their chances, really, as he planned to take both Noemi and Tito with him, if this opportunity ever turned into something real. What was the use in writing it off before he had even had a conversation with Mr. Perez?
So, he waited patiently, sitting on a empty barrel, for Daniel to appear.
After a short period, though longer than Jose would have liked, Daniel appeared in the back alley behind the tavern. He maintained the same suave look he had about him during the entire presentation outside the tavern. Calm, collected and completely in control. At this moment, unlike previously, it was exactly how he felt.
Daniel looked at Jose. This was one of the young people he had been very interested in meeting. Enough that he had paid his boss to ensure that it happened. Few things can truly happen by chance, but they certainly need to appear so. That was a mantra of Daniel’s. What Jose didn’t really know, and precisely what Daniel was counting on, was that Tito Mercorda, Jose’s uncle, had ripped off some men a long time ago and been able to fetch some Mahogany off the back of some shipments coming at no price at all. Unfortunately, Tito became sick after and had been unable to ever rid himself of this. Along with the land he owned, Tito was actually, on paper, a wealthy man. It would have been impossible to con Tito, but there was a fighting chance with Jose.
“Hello young man. We didn’t ever properly get to introduce ourselves to each other. You may well have heard, but for forms sake, my name is Daniel Perez.”
“Jose Mercorda, sir. A pleasure to meet you.”
“Indeed it is. A pleasure to meet you as well. I must thank you again for bringing my coin purse back to me. I may have found it eventually, but you have saved me a great deal of trouble. Now, what can I do for you? Does my proposition interest you?”
Jose considered his position carefully before responding. In his mind, he knew there must be a way that he can convince this man, Daniel Perez, that they were like minded and therefore that he, Jose, was worthy of assistance. Worthy of a ticket to a better life.
It was a cruel quirk of fate that Daniel Perez was hoping that Jose would at least say something in the positive, so that he could lead him down the path to his eventual ruin. The others would likely follow and produce some profit, but Daniel suspected the most profit was to be had from the Mercordas. It was another cruel joke of life that they had no idea what they were really sitting on.
After a longer than expected pause, Jose looked up and said to Daniel, “Sir, have you ever been to St. John’s Church here in Belize Town?”
“I can’t say that I have,” responded Daniel, worrying about the conversation shifting towards things divine.
“Well, it’s a great church made during my lifetime. It must have taken half of my life to erect in full. I was always conscious of it being there and was always curious about it. Who decided to build it? Why did they choose that spot in Belize Town for it? Was it for the glory of those who built it or for the glory of God? All questions that I sit and still ponder while I sit outside of the church, looking at its different features. What really intrigues me though is not those questions or the answers to them, but how the thing was built and what it was built of. I know the answers to this in broad terms. Slaves and people of the town and church built it. An architect designed it. The bricks to make it were transported here from London. Some ship hands told me that the bricks were used as ballast on the way here.”
Daniel was getting slightly twitchy and nervous that Jose was veering too far of course. He was not here to help him build some sort of career, he was here to rob him. So, he interjected in between Jose’s breaths, “Fascinating, indeed my friend. Do you have interest in architecture?”
“Not at all, sir. Well, I have a passing admiration for it, but I have no skill in creativity. I would never make a good architect. It’s the idea that is magic to me. These bricks came half way across the world from London, where they were made, in order live out their existence as a church dedicated to St. John and most likely for the glory of God Almighty. Is that not amazing? And if they are able to that, then what is it that I can accomplish. I was made here, in Belize Town, but what if I was transported to London. Imagine what I could become there if these simple bricks can be transmuted into a great building here!”
Jose believe he had delivered his speech pitch perfect and Daniel couldn’t believe his luck. This person was absolutely desperate to make it to London, somewhere outside of where he was now. He may even make it, even though Daniel was going to fleece him completely.
“I see, my young friend,” Daniel began, “and I would very much like to be a conduit that assists you in reaching the heights that you seem to so desire. Your story is fascinating and it reminds me of how I felt once, while the wars still raged on. I see a worry on your face though, what is it?”
Of course, Daniel knew exactly what it was. Jose had so little to speak of in terms of wealth, so he was worried that he could not afford the deeds and bonds that Daniel spoke of. It was best to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth though.
“I’m afraid that I have so little to my name, sir. I could scrape together something, I’m sure. Will it be enough for you, I am not certain. So, before you respond, I appeal to your adventurous and generous spirit to find some way that will allow me to take part in this great dream that you have so warmly spoken of. Give me the chance to make it.”
Very good. The animal was snared and now Daniel just had to extract what had become rightfully his.
“I’m sure that we can find a way good friend. Let us just work through some preliminary details. First, do you have any family that would travel with you?”
“Yes, my twin sister Noemi would follow me anywhere and her spirit is stronger even than mine. She would take London by storm, no doubt,” Jose responded, beaming both of his sister and the possibility that they may actually be on their way to London in no time. He continued, “And my uncle, Tito, who lives with us. He is weak and sickly, but he must be able to make the journey. We couldn’t leave him behind.”
“It is a serious trip, you know. We can revisit this, but you must also understand that more people can me further cost.”
It had indeed occurred to him and so he said, “Again, I appeal to your generous spirit. We can muster what we will as a family and can travel without luxury. I simply ask that we can travel together.”
“Understood, my young friend. Understood. Second then, is what you have in mind for London. Where do you want to go, what do you plan to do?”
Jose had never thought that far ahead. Surely being there would be enough and then he would be able to discover what it was that he should do. If he had the bonds and the property from Daniel Perez, then he would have more than enough to last him while he figured this out. That, he reflected, did not sound like the best answer for this time, though, so he thought quickly and responded, “I always had in mind that I would set up my own shipping company. I have seen how it works here and believe that the only thing I lack is the starting capital. With the property you are so kindly offering at such value and the bonds in your associate’s company, I am sure that I will be able to manage this.”
There was nothing he would rather see the back of than the port, but it was all he really knew and so it made the most sense as a response. Looking at Daniel Perez, he believed that it had struck the right chord.
“And for the first part of my question, my young friend?”
“Well, I must admit, all I know of London is the map that you have just shown me and what some of the ship hands have told me from time to time. Nothing but mere anecdotes and here-say really. I was hoping that you could advise me on that.”
Too easy, but partially that made it more fun. Daniel removed the plan of London and its outlying areas from his case and laid it out on the ground as there was nothing obvious to use as a table. The two men crouched over it and began to study it. Both attempted to pretend they could see OK before conceding to themselves that it was impossible to make out any of the detail in this dimming light. So, Daniel walked quickly back into the tavern to fetch a lantern.
While Jose crouched alone, with a window into this new world that he was reaching for, he reflected. His uncle was a great man and would not want to deny anything to him or his sister. It had always beens one of his guiding principles for interactions with the twins. There was likely something linked with the fact that the twins had lost their parents at a relatively young age and been handed over to uncle Tito for care. Tito knew it was impossible for him to replace their parents, so he simply promised himself that he would not deny them anything that was within his reach. This was the key. If something was out of reach, he would explain to them both why that was and hope that they would not stay angry at him for long. Luckily for Tito, Jose and Noemi were two very understanding young children who quickly understood the realities of their situation and they did not pester Tito for much. When they did, he knew it was something important and he did his utmost to help him. At times, he even cut a few corners for them.
Jose was snapped out of his reflection with the sound and sight of Daniel making his way back to the map. He carried the promised lantern in his right hand and walked quickly yet suavely towards Jose. As he placed down the lantern he noted, “Not that great at all, but I’m sure we will need to meet again to discuss things in more detail and perhaps then we can find a time in the middle of the day instead. Still, I can give you a much better overview with this lantern.”
Gesturing to the left side of the map, Daniel noted, “Over here you have Hyde Park, Kensington, Little Chelsea and the areas of Bayswater and Craven Hill. All very lovely, but little going on in the way of the port business that you speak of. There isn’t much there at the moment and it can take some time to get into the heart of the action. Still, it depends on exactly what you have in mind for your new life as I do have a handful of lovely plots of land on this side. Unfortunately, this map does not extend to the area where I have some of the most affordable plots. There is a place called Parson’s Green which lies just beyond here, still North of the River Thames.”
Nodding along, Jose interjected, “That could indeed be ideal. What is this Parson’s Green like?”
“As the name suggests, it is very green indeed. There is a small parish church in the vicinity, but unlike your St. John’s church here, it was built some century ago or more.”
“I like the sound of this very much. The fact that you refer to it as affordable also soothes my heart. Would there be anything on this land?”
“That, I’m afraid, is part of the catch with this one. The plot is not large, but is enough for a small house with room to grow your own vegetables. Unfortunately, currently there are no vegetables growing there and not even the foundations of a house. I imagine, with the money you could receive for redeeming the bonds I will give you that you could build a great house. As you can understand, that won’t happen quickly though.”
This sounded both fantastic and far from ideal. Jose probed further, “Yes, not great, but let me hold that one as I think there could be something great in it for me eventually. Are there not some smaller properties closer to the docks where we could live?”
“If you look over here, beyond London City (which is marked out by this red line here) you will see a number of dock yards. Here for the West India Company and over here for the East India Company,” Daniel said as he quickly prodded at sections of the dimly lit map.
“Would there be affordable properties there?”
“There aren’t many residential properties there, as such. You see here though, where there is the London Docks? They are still in the process of considering to build this intended dock. For all I know, it could have commenced already. I digress though. Do you see this street here – Fox Lane? There is a small flat here that I have the deeds to. It is a two bedroom place, so you could just about fit your whole family”
Daniel rummaged through his bag, looking intently through the different stacks of deeds. The Fox Lane property was in here somewhere, but it wasn’t going to come out tonight. That would be too much too soon. Fox Lane was actually one of the more interesting deeds that Daniel had obtained. It, unlike the Parson’s Green land, was in fact a true deed for a leasehold. The shame for Jose was that this leasehold was only for 25 years. Starting from 1797. Which meant that by the time that Jose managed to get over to London, the lease would be up. He finally looked up at JOSE with disappointed eyes, “it really is a lovely property. They both are. I just seem to have left them with my other possessions.”
Disappointment was written all over Jose’s face, but Daniel was quick to comfort, “I think this is for the best, though, as it is almost impossible to see anything on this map and you wouldn’t have been able to properly review the deeds. I tell you what, why don’t I come and see you and your family for breakfast in the morning?”
Hope returned to Jose’s face briefly before he remembered that they had not properly discussed price. So he inquired, delicately, “this all sounds incredible, sir, but what will you expect in return?”
Daniel gave a smile that in better light may have been construed by Jose as sinister and said, “We will find a way, my young friend. I promise you, we will find a way.”