The secret to loving lunch

This is a story I wrote about the different types of lunch – those you loathe and love, those you endure and those you relish. it’s partially a story about the corporate grind and part a story of my love of food and cooking.

The story

The rumbling began dull and low, then spun back on itself to a gurgle, before finally resting after a final deep sound that must be what a full stop would sound like if it had a sound. Frank was determined not to look up from his laptop to acknowledge the unsettlingly loud noise that signalled to his entire pod in the open plan office that he had waited far too long to go for his lunch break. Some of his colleagues noticed it, but others were plugged into their headphones and probably wouldn’t have heard the fire alarm if it went off. One that did was Frank’s office confidant, Ashley, who came over to his desk and said, “spare us all your pleas of ignorance Frank and go get something to eat – it’s way past lunchtime and I know that email can wait.”

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Part of the ‘Cazique of Poyais’ story – read more here

A third ship full of emigrants has now arrived in Belize Town onboard the Mexican Eagle and Major-General Edward Codd, often just referred to as General Codd, was less impressed with every group that cane ashore. His immediate disgust was for the man who had most likely planned and instigated this scheme that had left so many dead and more close to destitution. The details were yet unknown, but General Codd was determined to find the extent of it.

As soon as he had understood the background to these suffering Poyais ‘settlers’, he quickly decided on his course of action. First, he immediately quickly despatched word to his superiors in Britain, advising them of the fate that had befallen the Poyais ‘settlers’. He hesitated to use the word for there was nothing to settle, but it was the most accurate word for the unfortunate souls. Second, he did what any good superintendent would do when faced with an uncertain set of facts and true tragedy. An investigation was immediately opened to lay open the true situation of the imaginary State of Poyais and the unfortunate settlers.

It was on this second course of action that now brought Lieutenant Levearson to his office. Levearson was on the older side for a Lieutenant and acted more like a sergeant in how he dealt with his men out in this remote part of the empire. There was surely work to be done, but it never strained the resources.

Levearson stood at ease in front of General Codd’s desk awaiting instructions which he knew were in relation to the Poyais settlers. The scenes had been relatively benign as people had arrived on the Mexican Eagle’s ferry service from what they called Poyais, but the officials of Belize Town knew as part of King George Frederic’a domain and also as a disease ridden swamp. Now strain was starting to show in places. The hospital was full with the Poyais Settlers and the Town was overcapacity by some margin. Some of the duped wished to stay in the new world where they still very much intended to make a new life while others had lost those they depended on and were likely to receive no quarter from any of the Belize Town inhabitants. Crowd control was underway and discipline being strictly kept in light of numbers, so it puzzled Levearson as to exactly what was required of him.

“I’ve opened an investigation, Lieutenant. We must discover how this all happened and report back on it. Use any men you can spare without jeopardising the safety of the town.”

“Sir, of course. How far shall I investigate, Sir?”

“As you see fit based on the people’a accounts here. I suspect we may not fully get to the bottom of this all, but it’s what must be done.”

“Of course, Sir. I’ll be on my way then.”

Levearson turned and left General Codd’s office with his new task and the pride and satisfaction of someone chosen for a great new project. He knew that the tavern would be the first place to stop. Where else did people talk freely and openly without fear? Fear is tucked away in a dark recess, quarantined by alcohol and the adrenaline of human interaction. Anger reins free and from there truths and half truths flow. As long as he could soak up this initial information it would give him a good start to his investigation. Formalities, of course, would have to follow, but Levearson never thought those formalities could get to the heart of the matter.

It was still early in the afternoon. The sun hung still quite high in the sky, basking it’s radiant heat down upon the inhabitants of Belize Town. For those newer arrivals, unused to the heat and with nothing to do, the tavern by the waterfront offered them their only solace. All they had saved for their future sat in the bank of some impostor who sold them a tall tale. This was the view of most, so they rubbed what little pennies they had left in life together to conjure up one of many elixirs that helped a person forget.

The Belize Town tavern could hold only a few people on the inside, but it had the great advantage of the waterfront. It was nothing special by any standard, that is sure. Still, when the time was right the certain Belize Town residents enjoyed it and so did visiting sailors. There had been known to be small problems here and there in the past, particularly when any unscrupulous bunch of sailors were about. All in all it was ok.

Now, with this influx of the depressed and downtrodden souls, it was at bursting point. Fights broke out at random as anger flared to the surface and was pointed and whatever direction was available.

As Levearson walked in with his right hand man, Smith, they knew they would hit jackpot here in terms of material. The question was how much was truth and how much just pure anger.

The happier lot were out on the waterfront, so they made their way into the darker depths of the tavern to find a table in the corner where they could quietly over hear the general murmurs of discontent more clearly. Before they could even order a drink, they heard a couple lamenting their fortunes.

“How could this have happened, John?” Asked a young woman to a young man who sat head in hands sipping a rum.

“God’s will or something like that, that’s all. Why do you keep bugging me about it?”

“Your brother died out there on that god forsaken land and his wife lies in that wretched hospital here with a fever that may never pass!”

The man, John, stood up shock straight and looked about to hit the woman, but then quickly receded, seeing little point.

The woman continued, “it was that man who came and spoke in the town hall selling his bonds and plots of land. That Gregor MacGregor. It’s his fault all of this is.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about woman! He was an honourable man he was. Served in the army in both Europe and here in South America. It was his bloody agents. That Colonel Cook and those bankers. Sir MacGregor owned the land alright, but it was those bankers who tarted it up so we would buy those bonds as well.”

The woman was incredulous, staring at her husband, “Are you telling me that ‘Sir’ MacGrgegor is completely blameless. That he didn’t know what this land was like, this Poyais that he so ‘humbly’ decreed himself ‘Prince’ over? You’re mad you are!”

“He just sold us the land, woman. He hadn’t been there himself. It was that Captain Thomas Strangeways that wrote the book talking about this place as the land of milk and honey. He’s the bastard that’s duped us all, Sir MacGregor included!”

“You are a classic fool, you are. Blame the agents and everyone else but the man who perpetrated the crime and the man stupid enough to fall for the con.”

John couldn’t take it any more. Criticism is not taken well by most and it hurts more coming from those you love in the moments when you feel powerless. Stranded, for want of a better term, on the other side of a great ocean with none of the opportunity that had been promised to him and in turn he promised to his loved ones. They were barren husks of people sparring an endless battle of blame and hatred. There was no real blame. Circumstances had simply stacked up against them to the point that they toppled all over, leaving John’s brother dead, his sister in-law terminally sick and him and his wife clawing on to whatever semblance of a future they had. Anger was all they really had in this moment as they weren’t strong enough to let love see them through. Perhaps their love wasn’t strong enough to begin with.

His wife, the young lady made to speak again, but before she could, John slammed his fists on the table and stood up in a rage looking down upon her with a fire and passion she had never seen and said, “Enough, woman. I will hear no more of this. Sit here quietly or get out of my face.”

This was hardly a decision for the young woman who promptly stood up and retreated quickly out of the tavern, leaving John to sip at his rum in horrible contemplation.

Levearson made a decision quickly and him and Smith followed the young woman out the door. They would find out more from this scorned and neglected woman than any of the drunken fools wallowing in their own self pity and bad fortune. They decided it was best to see where exactly she was going.

The young woman, more angry and determined than sad and confused, was clearly the stronger of the couple and was prepared to weather this particular storm by fighting rather than hiding. She made her way along the waterside and then cut in which made it obvious to the following investigators where exactly she was going. Before they could each make their guess, there it came into sight, the small Belize Town hospital. It was nothing special, but carried all of the standard care facilities and tools that were commonly available. The key issue now is as that no one had ever designed it to care for the hundreds that now sat within it harbouring some tropical disease or the other.

As dangerous as it was entering a hospital, the young lady went straight in. Likely to see the sister in law that she had spoken of with her husband. Levearson and Smith hesitated outside. Both military men, they did not properly fear death, but rather the thought of going to a disease than in combat. You could stop another person from stabbing you or shooting you. They were both well trained in that. How to stop yourself from catching a disease was trickier. Sure, they could both walk in to the hospital and then walk back out again without anything. There was also the very distinct possibility of becoming ill.

“One of us will have to go in,” Levearson said, “We need to get to the bottom of what happened in ‘Poyais’ and it seems more likely we’ll get it out of this woman than any of those louts down in the tavern.”

Smith had a resigned look about him. He was the type that would follow orders. He made an attempt at something different though and said, “Surely there are others that aren’t swilling around in a tavern that we can find and reach out to. This seems like an unnecessary danger.”

“It is a danger, but I’m not sure about unnecessary. We need to find out what happened. It’s our duty. I’m not convinced that this young woman will provide us with everything. Now that I think about it though, it’s likely that the people most willing to speak are those sitting on death’s door in this hospital.”

“I see,” replied Smith, “into the hornet’s nest then.”

“No,” said Levearson, “Just me. I won’t endanger you if you don’t want to go in. It is important though, so I will be. If you don’t want to come, find me someone who can help me out. I worry that you may catch something in any event.”

Levearson wasn’t doing it on purpose, but he had just hit Smith’s button. There was no way that he was going to let Levearson go into the hospital on his own now.

The eagle from Mexico

Part of the ‘Cazique of Poyais’ story – read more here

The backdrop of Belize Town was idyllic when considered in contrast to the foggy drear of a European city. When gaining in one thing, there was typically something lacking. A narrower set of opportunities for the inhabitants. The disease that bred so well in such conditions. Abundance came in certain areas but not as a whole.

In dreams, land was filled with abundance to serve the people’s needs. It was filled with milk and honey that could be sold and allow a person to grow fat and old without ever feeling pain or worry and above all else, with a minimal of effort. This was out there somewhere, but mostly in dreams. The land felt otherwise. It demand sweat and toil, sometimes blood, before yielding any of the abundance it had to offer. These were small sacrifices for great things. A reminder that nothing comes without work in one form or another from someone.

Noemi certainly knew hard work and how to spot those that knew it’s true value and which didn’t. Always surprising to her was that her brother, Jose, was one who did not understand the true value. He did work hard and long. The anomaly was that he didn’t understand why this work was so good for him or even that what he did was constituted as hard work. It was just his state he was suspended in between dreaming sessions.

So it was that Jose had no clue how to trade his hard work for more. His toil in Mr. Carston’s office went largely unnoticed and severely under appreciated. It never dawned on Jose that what he did was so invaluable that he could probably increase his quality of life through a simple conversation. There it was ad though. He did not know the value of what he did and so he hatched alternative plans for his future. Mr, Carston would just have to do on his own for sometime.

When they had a chance, Jose and Noemi would meet for a bite to eat in the middle of the day. It wasn’t really lunch as such as it was sharing a piece of bread. It allowed them to meet down by the port briefly and at least see each other to discuss anything in their minds. Jose would often expound on a thought he had. Noemi would dream and sometimes talk of her dreams. They would mostly encourage each other, but Noemi was smart and practical. Hard work could eventually get them somewhere, she would always temper the discussions with. It was her mantra and one that Jose tried to live by. Then, the problem for Jose was that he didn’t really understand the value of that hard work, even if he did do it.

Today there was only one topic of discussion, which was what I exactly to do about Daniel Perez’s offer. First, they discussed the assumptions. They had to assume that whatever they mustered together in terms of assets was enough. Then, it had to be clear that Tito could come. Both talked less than normal. There was so much to say and yet so little in the time.

Staring out to sea, Jose said, “what if this is simply the thing we’ve been waiting for? There is a wider world out there. London wasn’t the top of my list or anything, but only because I never thought there was any opportunity there. Now there is.”

“We think there is. What if we sit on the land and rot?”

“Possible. Also possible here. Neither of our work is secure, you know. What if your employer got a slave. What then for you?”

“Don’t play that one with me. Let’s talk about the real issue. What of Uncle Tito? Here we know we can take care of him. We won’t both lose our jobs at the same time, so we will always be able to take care of him.”

It had dwelled on Jose since the moment he knew of the opportunity. Uncle Tito gave and never asked for anything in return. He wanted the best for his ‘kids’ regardless of what happened to him. Jose knew that he could never forsake him. That was it, but he hadn’t mustered the courage to admit it to himself. There was no way that he could leave here without Uncle Tito.

“He can come with us. I am certain of that. We can make it work better for all of us. Think of all those who have made the crossing in much worse states than he would. They made it.”

“Healthier people, Jose. To start with, at least. This isn’t to be taken lightly and Uncle Tito won’t tell us anything that we don’t want to hear. He will just go along with it.”

This was all true and painful to hear. There was no perfect solution. It was the pain of the human condition. Of their very existence. They had weathered it once with the death of their parents, but only because Uncle Tito was there.

Both sat in silent consideration on the pier. There was no clear solution.

As ever in life, something cane along that distracted them completely from the matter at hand while also putting it in to sharp focus. A young man came running down the pier shouting.

“The Mexican Eagle inbound carrying settlers from the opposite end of the bay! Disaster struck! They are all to lodge here until passage back to London can be secured!”

Noemi took the young man by his arm to try and make some sense of the matter.

“What’s this you speak of?”

“Settlers to a land called Poyais, miss.”

“That’s not really much of an explanation now, is it?”

“No, I guess not,” said the young man, dumbfounded.

“Go on then, boy, we don’t have all day here!”

“Yes, miss. Well, you see, the Mexican Eagle is an official ship of British Honduras. It happened upon a large group of would be settlers on the Mosquito Coast. They had bought the land off some man in Scotland who called himself Prince and the land Poyais. The Mosquito King who had granted the land did not look kindly upon this when he heard of it and had ordered them all off his land.”

“That’s horrible. How could such a thing happen?” Asked Jose aghast.

“Apparently, the two ships that brought them there in the first place ran off with most of their stores. On top of that, they had been lied to about the climate. This Scotsman who duped them even told them there was a working town their bigger than Belize Town! Can you believe it!?”

“How many of them are there?” Noemi asked, still in shock at such dastardliness.

“Some hundred or more coming back here. Many are still sick with fever and no one knows how many people have died. Apparently there are other settlers enroute from Leith that are having to be diverted. It’s certainly going to be full here for some time.”

“How will the hospital cope? They’ve never had to deal with anything like it,” Noemi started, “I must get back there brother and see what I can do.”

Without the possibility of a word from Jose, she was gone and he was alone on the young man that brought them this news.

“The poor sufferers,” Jose mused, “funny how things can change in such a short moment.”

“Indeed,” said the boy as he too made his way off down the waterfront shouting his news to all that would listen.

Jose sat pensively for a moment looking out to the sea where he could now make out an approaching ship that must have been the Mexican Eagle. How can someone survive such hardship, he thought. It was a question he asked himself about what may come in London, if they decided to go. The unknown is always at least one part scary, but then, wherever you happen to be and whatever you are doing, the future is always unknown.

Tito’s sacrifice

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.