Part of the ‘Cazique of Poyais’ story – read more here
“I would not call myself an expert on the lumber business here, sir, by any stretch of the imagination,” began Daniel in response to Uncle Tito’s line of questioning, “but I know that some of the best mahogany comes from here. Why do you ask?”
“I assume you understand the true value of this lumber then, is the point I’m getting at. Even if, say, there was some work that needed to go with it.”
Daniel considered this carefully. He felt excited that this was likely going down the route he had been intending all along. If he could get the mahogany as well as this property and whatever cash was leftover, the Mercorda deal would make an excellent cornerstone to the overall con. He knew that there would be some difficulty in converting the mahogany into true money, but a little work never hurt anyone. How exactly to do this would be something that he’d have to fully understand from Uncle Tito, though. The working assumption was that by the the time her could monetise it, Uncle Tito had fallen too ill and lost too many connections to be able to properly do it, so he sat on it. Daniel would be sure to find out.
Veering off topic to Daniel’s dismay, Uncle Tito confessed as if to a priest, “I was eavesdropping on the two of them this morning. It is not something I am proud of, but there it is. Jose was so awe struck by your proposal that he stayed out all night dreaming of it. If you knew Jose, you would know that dreaming is not unusual. Being out all night, however, is not in his nature. Minimal drink, no women. Just work and dreams. In any event, his being out all night kept me awake, so I happened to be up when Noemi confronted Jose this morning.”
Uncle Tito chuckled to himself as he continued, “these kids. I’ll call them that as they’ll always be vulnerable kids who lost their parents to me. They think that because I’m sick, my hearing has gone too! Not the case. They spoke loud enough that I’m sure the neighbours heard them!”
Shaking his head at the thought of these two foolish young people, Uncle Tito looked a stationary Daniel Perez in the eyes. Uncle Tito’s eyes were filled with love and sorrow while Daniel’a stared back at him with an indifference of one who has no children. There was no judgment on either side, just lack of understanding.
Daniel thought it best to keep the narrative moving rather than be stared down by the old man and so asked, “what was it they said? Was there something shocking in it?”
“Nothing shocking,” Uncle Tito replied, vigorously shaking his head with a look of distaste at the question, “they couldn’t say anything the shocked me, Daniel. It’s that I felt heart broken. I could hear it in both their voices. The life they have here is not bad, but nor is it pedestrian. Not in the good ways at least. Their parents died when they were young. Snatched away from them before they could grow into individuals. Reminders of that past are everywhere, including in my eyes. I have their father’s eyes you see. Their life here is toil, sacrifice and reminders of death, without any reward or hope beyond it.”
“That is all heart breaking to hear, sir, but how is that your fault?”
“I was getting to that you impatient fool! They want a new life. Noemi won’t say it out loud. It’s in her voice though. The only thing, it appears that is holding them back is me and perhaps a small shortfall of funds.”
“You could go with them. My associates have a boat leaving here in not too long that could accommodate you appropriately, I promise,” Daniel said, holding back the concern from his voice.
“I can’t, I’m afraid. Forget my fragility for a moment. I would be another constant reminder and they would still need to look after me in London. They wouldn’t be free to pursue their lives as they wish. It wouldn’t be fair.”
Daniel took a gamble, “I guess they will have to stay here in Belize Town then, forever.”
“I won’t let them. You and me, we need to reach some sort of arrangement.”
“That, I’m sure we could do. What did you have in mind?”
Uncle Tito rose from his seat slowly without responding and made his way back to his room. He rummaged through his chest. His only real possession in life was the chest. It was filled of memories of his wilder youth. Sifting through faded papers he eventually found what he sought. An old map of Belize Town and the surrounding area, marked with several manuscript marks. He brought this back to the dining room and slapped it on the table on top of Daniel’s documents.
“What is this?” Daniel asked, guessing in any event that it was a map to Uncle Tito’s illicit assets.
“This is a ticket for my kids to get that new life you have spoken of.”
Uncle Tito left it like that and coughed a little. He looked pleased with himself possibly because of the pride in what he produced, but more likely because of his joy in making Daniel look so confused. He sat looking at Daniel, not saying a word. There was no intention of reacting first. This man could offer his niece and nephew a new life, sure, but Uncle Tito wouldn’t let him get away with a bargain from him as he suspected this was much less of a charity than he made out. Uncle Tito liked people to have to work for what they wanted.
It was a strange sensation for Daniel, not being in control. He was so used to talking to younger people and having them eat up his every word. More often than not, at least. This was something else. Was it a test? No, Uncle Tito didn’t quite seem the type. If he had considered this thing to be the fraud that it truly was, then Daniel would have been kicked out on his backside without another word. Then it dawned on him. This was a negotiation, of sorts at least.
“It looks more like a map than a ticket,” Daniel said hoping to elicit an interesting response.
Instead he got the terse response of, “You are mistaken. This is their ticket. Together with the property and a bit of coin. Not all they have though.”
Daniel looked to be pondering the deal when really he was pondering the most tactful manner in which to get Uncle Tito to properly engage on what exactly the map was.
“This is a map to some sort of asset or coin then? It looks like it’s outside of Belize Town, a day’s walk or so, if ‘X’ marks the spot as I assume it does. What exactly is there?”
“That was the right question young man,” Uncle Tito said waving his index finger at Daniel, “and you will be pleased to know that it is indeed a map to an asset. I will be upfront and warn you that you will need to do a bit of work in order to monetise this asset.”
“I’m not shy of work, Tito. That’s why I’m in the position that I am in. What exactly are we talking about there though?”
“We’re talking about mahogany. When I used to help work some of the logging camps, we would find occasion for bits that were being floated down river to be shipped off to the world to simply disappear. My colleagues and I, who were in on it, told the powers that be that we simply lost some on the way. It was an expected cost of doing business. As such, it was difficult to flip the stock we had right away.”
Daniel looked puzzled and before he could explain why, Uncle Tito saw his face and noted, “We have liquidated some of the assets since that time, because, yes, it was a long time ago. Then some people died and there were less of us to share what amounted to a decent stash. We still couldn’t be conspicuous about it. They’d want to know why a bunch of nobodies suddenly were flush with cash. None of us could ever really find a good way to overcome that problem.”
“So you just sat on all of it?”
“Correct. Now I’m the last remaining alive of the group and can do what I will with the cache. You’ll have to get a group to collect it for you, but it should have to give you more than what you need. This, you must understand, is the rub.”
Things were getting interesting. The old man was trying to negotiate with Daniel. He actually thought there was something there! Nothing made Daniel feel better and he was only happy enough to play along.
“There’s work involved in it though. Risk as well. Others have promised me land and legally obtained assets. This is something altogether different. You must understand, this is still a deal for you and yours.”
Uncle Tito did not like the feeling of being played, being cheated. He shakily stood up in defiance and anger to look down on Daniel. His shaking frame, however, shattered any semblance of power, real and imagined. Still, he would not take his insult lying down. His niece and nephew needed him to do this.
“Stop insulting me you child. That lumber is worth more than the properties that you have offered. Don’t try and fool me with your additional costs or risks. You know full well that I’m right.”
An understatement in the extreme, Daniel considered. He wanted to concede, but he didn’t think that would do for Uncle Tito.
“Not just properties. I essentially threw in the highly lucrative bonds for free! I don’t see how you can possibly call that a bad deal. Not to mention passage to London!” Daniel exclaimed in an insulted tone.
“I mean not to insult you, boy, if you just give what’s properly owed in exchange for this map and what lies at the end of it. You said that you had some more properties. There must be something more suitable in there.”
Daniel pondered the idea, already knowing what he would offer. Would it be enough for Uncle Tito to accept though was another question. Since, technically, on paper, he had access to an unlimited supply of great and good properties in London, he could give Uncle Tito whatever he thought was fair. Suspicions would be raised then. Uncle Tito just needed something more.
“OK,” said Daniel, “I’ve got another property in Parsons Green. Slightly larger than the one I have here and with a small house on it. I can’t give more than that though. It’s my final offer.”
“Can I see the deeds?”
“Unfortunately, I didn’t see the negotiation going this way. I only brought the deeds that I spoke of with Jose. As you’ll understand, I have other business to attend to, but if you will agree the deal in principle, I can show you them tomorrow morning.”
Not wanting to be overly unreasonable, Uncle Tito agreed.
Daniel wasn’t quite sure about a final detail though and felt he had to pry, “what of you, Tito? What will you do without your house and without your niece and nephew?”
It was a good question. A kinder point would have been to continue to offer the use of the house for a short period. That may come, but Uncle Tito thought this was unlikely.
“I don’t have much longer left. The chances of me surviving that trip and having any quality of life in London are slim. Besides that, I’ll be holding back my darling niece and nephew. I think that I have come to a time in my life where I no longer serve much more than an emotional purpose. True, it is an important one. If I was not also a burden, I would think that emotional purpose was worth holding onto. For a time the burden of me was light. By the hour it becomes heavier and I cannot allow it to weigh down my family. I will not and that is all you will need to know.”
With that, Daniel knew his time in the court of Uncle Tito was up, so he packed all the items barring the map which were strewn across the table and left Uncle Tito to his quiet contemplation.