“We’re ready to charter her” said the man with the tatty scarf. A sack of 200 dubloons schlossed onto the counter. The sun shone through the sack revealing the gleaming bounty. Behind the oak desk Mr Hubbard had seen all sorts of sea rats pass through his office. Hubbard and co. was the only establishment on the island that would lease boats for voyages across the 17 seas. Normally a young sailor would have to join the larger boat and become a deckhand. They’d be run ragged by the tyranical captain who’d shout them out of sleep and pay them a pittance. But here one could charter one’s own ship.
Merchants, pirates, treasure hunts and fisherman all came to Mr Hubbard for a vessel. The boats were in a sorry state. Sails were torn, the hulls were slightly leaky and God only knows if they would survive in a gale. But this was the way, this was the life for any ambitious sailor who wanted to become the stuff of legend.
Mr Hubbard was smart and sharp. He’d scalp at the top end, and tail at the bottom end. When a ship landed in the port he’d demand 10% of the cargo for the risk incurred. And for the men he didn’t trust, Hubbard would always ask for a large collateral. Crews would steal cannons and barrels of rum as they came into port. This would be stashed away somewhere until their employer voyaged onwards, then the crews would pass this onto Mr Hubbard – the ultimate pawnbroker. All sorts of goodies would be exchanged before Hubbard would accept a deal. Treasure maps, canonballs, gunpowder, ropes and even exotic birds were taken in case the crew foolishly decided to not return.
Then there was the tale of Mr Douglas who’d come straight from Liverpool. His swashbuckling face and fighting spirit had kindled a spark in Hubbard’s frozen heart. Hubbard saw part of his younger self waving his cutlass around in that office. With that he gave him a ship, a treasure map of a far off island and demanded a 50/50 split. If decided not to return, Hubbard would have a word with the island Governor to use their warships and track him down. Douglas with a cheeky grin in his eye accepted the terms and started rounding up the least troublesome deckhands he could muster from the tavern.
Their journey was reportedly long and hard. But almost, too easily, Mr Douglas had arrived on the island, dug up the treasure where it was expected to be and journeyed back with nothing but a lack of rum to contend with. On arrival, a stash of jewelry and coinage worth 2 million dubloons was added up. With this Mr Douglas built himself a large colonial house next to the town tavern. He’d host parties where he’d invite the town’s wenches in their filthy frocks, and spend his days slowly drinking and gambling away his fortune.
It was a risky business but this was where Mr Hubbard got his thrills. There were fisherman who were regular, easy, local customers. They’d bring back a few sardines, crabs and crayfish. But the excitement was with the big voyagers, the people who may or may not be trusted – the adventurers, the treasure seekers, the pirates. These were normally nasty pieces of work that Mr Hubbard was betting on, but it was a game Hubbard loved to play. Who would make it? Who would plunge to the dark depths of ocean? God only knew and it was up to Hubbard to let these voyages occur.
Now in front of him, he had a chunky fellow, four foot tall with grey overalls and hole-laden boots. His breath reeked of alcohol and made Hubbard wince but this was business and Hubbard had no passion for anything else since his wife had left for good on a boat to Sao Paulo. How the man had come up with 200 dubloons he did not know, but it was not his job to ask questions or turn down a client.
He made the man sign some papers. Why he bothered, Hubbard didn’t know – for the man in front of him wouldn’t be able to read. But he got him to mark an X at the end of the contract. They agreed on a two week lease time. He was shown to the smallest sailboat in the harbour. Mr Hubbard was regretting this deal, but the boat was probably worth more than the 200 dubloons he’d been given. So he untied the ropes from the mooring posts and waved goodbye to the ridiculously happy drunken fool.
It was now time to shut for the afternoon. For the boat business at least. He went upstairs to his office and ate a bowl of watery fish broth, then he walked to his warehouse on the edge of town.
“Purveyor of fine goods: Hubbard and sons.” said the sign in elegant writing outside. He looked up and down the street, there were a handful of waifs and strays. Inside was covered floor to ceiling with all kinds of nautical equipment. Diving masks, octopus-shaped lamps, harpoons, vintage rums ales and wines. In the back garden was the aviary where colourful plumes of birds were squawking about. His counter was a chest of drawers, salvaged from one of his ships that sunk in the harbour one night. He hummed and hawed… who would arrive here today?