The French foreign office

…some work in progress from the Cazique of Poyais story…

Jose was, deep in his heart, a bureaucrat. His one foray outside of that world, the world of records and procedures, had lead him to where he stood today. Perhaps, ultimately, a better place than he was, but with all of the risk and pain that came with the journey there. If he had stayed, walking by and staring at St John’s Church, he would have continued to stare in wonderment. To ask questions generally and to question his life. If he walked by that same Church now, he would only wonder how he thought of it as such a, well, wonder. An easy thing to say when you have seen Notre Dame. There was nothing bureaucratic about his current life.

The entry was formulaic. He strolled up to the front desk, wearing his best set of clothes, and politely asked in his very best mock French, “Where is the passport office?”

The pale, dark haired bureaucrat looked up from his papers and eyed up Jose. A foreigner, for sure, but a respectable one and so he responded with his own question, “Do you have an appointment?”

It had occurred to Jose to make an appointment, but he had no clue who to make an appointment with.

“No — may I speak in English?”

Jose was losing the man, but he reluctantly nodded.

“I come on quite urgent business. It is my strong suspicion that there is a scam ongoing that I have seen occur in England.”

The bureaucrat’s ears pricked up. He did not say anything, though his head nodded as if to urge Jose on. To coax a bit more out of him.

After a brief pause and almost imperceptible sigh, Jose continued, “While the English victims to this particular scam did not apply for passports, I believe that their French counterparts have. No one in government would believe me or even listen to me, but the proof lies directly here in the passport office. If anyone can do anything, it is them.”

The bureaucrat looked back down at his papers. His English was ok, and he understood everything that was being said. Was it worth a potential reprimand to send this man through? On balance, he felt he could deal with it. No love lost with this foreigner. If he was correct though, then the bureaucrat felt he could be entitled to a title such as ‘the man who saved so and so’. It made him feel good.

“You may go. Third floor — Jacques Marc will show you.”

With that, a young man appeared seemingly out of thin air to escort Jose to the passport office. The boy was slim and youthful, wearing an age behind his eyes. There was pain hiding in the depths of his soul, a soul being sucked out by his job. Without a word he lead Jose up the stairs to the passport office. Jose didn’t bother to try and engage him. He focussed on the next conversation.

The passport office had another reception. Jacques Marc handed Jose off and briefly explained the situation. This next gatekeeper looked Jose up and down and then proceeded to leave him standing in the reception, without so much as a ‘hello’. Jose wondered if he would be spending his entire time in this reception or if they would deem him worthy of an interview in a proper office. It didn’t matter so much as long as the message was received and acted upon.

As he waited, Jose studied the paintings on the wall. There was a scene from the revolution, a portrait of some statesman, a sprawling scene of Paris from some vantage point. By the desk of the gatekeeper, the French flag hung, limp without the aid of the wind, standing ineffectual guard over the gatekeepers papers. Jose looked to see if there was anything of interest, but it was all gibberish to him.

Continuing to pace, rather than sit in one of the waiting chairs, Jose considered something they hadn’t yet thought of. What if the French foreign office ignored his warnings? Conceivably they could still get the money from Lehuby. What of MacGregor though. Was he the type to hunt them to the ends of the earth? Even if not, the thought would haunt their waking moments. There would be know respite without some conclusion. These flooding thoughts brought about a similar flood from his poles. His back was now slick with sweat and beads dropped from his brow. As each moment went by his discomfort increased exponentially.

When he thought he might not be able to stand anymore, the gatekeeper returned, with another man in tow. Not an auspicious start. They didn’t trust him or respect him enough to welcome him in to an office.

“May I present Monsieur De’Ratan, person in charge of issuance of passports for the greater Paris region,” the gatekeeper said with a small bow of the head.

“A pleasure,” said De’Ratan, “what is it exactly that I can be of service with, Mr…”

“Johnson, Percival Johnson,” it was only in the moment he said it that Jose decided to use a fake name, in a mild panic.

“Well, Mr. Johnson, how can we assist you?”

“It’s more that I am hoping to assist you. I grew up on the other side of the world, in British Honduras, so I know the area very well.”

The two Frenchman looked at each other in confusion, but Jose pressed ahead.

“I have heard of a company, the Nouvelle Neustrie, extolling the virtues of a particular country that I have never heard of.”

“Really?” Asked De’Ratan, “to what end?”

“The company is backed by a man from Scotland, a Sir Gregor MacGregor, who has done this once before in England. He sent hundreds to a spot on the map which he claimed to be Poyais. There is indeed land there, but it is swampland owned by a nearby chieftain. The lands are worthless but being sold to these people as settlement land. Worse, they don’t even actually own the land they are selling.”

“This is awful, but why have you come here?”

“Well, sir, as I explained to your colleague downstairs, I did not know who to properly discuss this with. The police would not necessarily have listened to a stranger off the street without clear evidence.”

Before Jose could continue, De’Ratan interjected, “well, if you have no evidence, what good is it to come to us?”

“You have the evidence, sir.”

Intrigued, De’Ratan urged Jose on with widened eyes and a tilt of the head.

“I know that several of these would be victims have had the diligence to apply for passports in order to travel to Poyais. Something their British counterparts did not do. So, on the one hand, your department should have a handful of applications for passports to travel to a land which I can assure you exists in no Atlas you have on file and on the other hand you will have my testimony and this.”

Jose handed over the shortened pamphlet on Poyais that was being distributed.

“This,” Jose explained, “when linked with the passport applications, is the evidence you need to pursue the orchestrator, Mr Lehuby, and the mastermind, Sir Gregor MacGregor.”

Both De’Ratan and the gatekeeper looked through the pamphlet and pondered Jose’s words. The word ‘poyais’ must have triggered something with them as they seemed to be taking things seriously.

“Please wait here,” De’Ratan said, as he returned whence he came, pamphlet in tow, leaving Jose standing with the gatekeeper watching over him.

Jose was about to sit down and rest, but he was slick with sweat and decided against the idea of essentially sitting down in his own sweat and doing god knows what to the upholstery on the waiting room chair. It didn’t seem worth the benefit. Avoiding eye contact with the gatekeeper, he looked around and continued to take in the paintings.

The gatekeeper remained silent, simply watching Jose’s every twitch and movement. Waiting for something that would call him to action. Something that would never conceivably occur. It was all he knew to do. Jose’s obvious discomfort just amplified the feeling that he was doing his job well.

Lacking a seat and absorbing the watchful gaze of the gatekeeper made the wait for De’Ratan feel like an eternity to Jose. In fact, it was about fifteen minutes. A remarkable turnaround time in such a bureaucratic institution as the French foreign office.

“I made enquiries with my team here, Mr Johnson, and they confirmed they had received the passport applications you mentioned. There was already some initial concern about them as none of my team had heard of Poyais. Your corroborating evidence means that we must take action.”

Relief washed over Jose, his mission complete, he responded with a lengthier response then he originally intended, “thank you, sir, it means a lot to me. I was in British Honduras when the survivors of the Poyais scheme in Britain cane ashore. It was an awful sight, to see such hopeful and hardworking people who were willing to fight for the prize of a better life abroad to be reduced to such a state because of the greed of one man. This doesn’t repair their pain and loss, but it may at least bring these scanners to justice.”

Without another word, Jose was escorted out of the building with great relief and the thanks of De’Ratan. His reward would come elsewhere.

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