Hubbard and Co.

shipyard

“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?

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When The Oil Ran Dry

The sandy, dusty air was as dry and hazy as an oven. The maroon coloured sky stood stark against the powdery orange dunes. The only thing separating the sky from the earth were 12 oil pickets. Tall, immense piston-like structures descending deep into the caverns of the earth. Deep into its bowels where the sludge of fermented trees and dinosaur bones was now treasured by modern man. Around the pistons stood a hut where 12 men lived inside. Stacked in bunkbeds and breathing the intense humming air conditioning – these men were the engineers. Monitors on the wall surrounded them notifying them of pump flow-rates, problems and maintenance due. Each of the team worked 8 hour shifts. Occasionally they would take a prepacked meal from the freezer and microwave it. A winding, bobbling track led over these dunes and down this came the odd water tanker and delivery truck bringing parts, supplies and taking members back home to their families. It was a tough isolated life that paid well for those cut out for it. For 3 months in the desert each year one could afford to pay for one’s wife and children in England, send them to a decent public school and spend the rest of their time walking the dog and enjoying the missus who would miss their company until she didn’t.

It was here that the problems began. Nobody but these engineers knew of the fate which would soon wreak havoc on the surrounding world.

It started with a gargling sound like a shower draining water away but louder and more metallic. Then the explosions began. the pumps, unable to extract any more oil created vacuum-like forces in the soil. This wrenched them downwards where the residue began to burst from the pipes and ignited in the midday heat.

The explosion created a crater, deep and wide with black gashes into the earth where ash and oil spewed.

The man in the hut were luckily of a sufficient distance to not be caught up in the blast. The kaboom woke the sleeping men and the four on their shift were left startled and in shock with flashing red screens. They hitched up the satellite phone and explained in jarred, hurried tones to their superiors of the dismal mess.

Emergency meetings were planned, the CEO’s secretary would be called – as would the Sheikh. The news was rushing over the business wires within hours. Journalists began to scribble columns. “The great oil explosion – a tragic disaster waiting to happen? Are more checks needed?” they would pen from high rise apartments.

The important men got together and pontificated about the best lawyers to send to make settlements and draft Non Disclosure Agreements with the engineers. A raft of safety inspectors would be hired in and a reputation management firm could cover up the media farce.

But the Earth had other plans. Tired of being sucked dry by her Western people to fuel their cars and petrochemical ways – she knew they had lost their way. They had pillaged the underside of her crust and she was not happy.

The next ripple was an earthquake erupting across the Western Coast of the USA. Los Angeles jiggled and the great phallic skyscrapers tumbled onto their sides. In San Francisco a giant crack emerged down Market Street and a giant canal of water divided the city. The freeways had crumbled into rubble. The devastation was vast and apocalyptic. Those who were a nuisance and drain upon the planet were swallowed up by Gaia. The telecommunication lines went down, as did the banking systems and television signals. The power soon left the grid and this left everybody deeply uncertain. Looting and riots consumed most of those left.

What now? What will we do? Phones didn’t work and couldn’t be charged. There nothing to look at and hog people’s attention. It was deeply unsettling to all involved. All they saw were the scenes of destruction, the grief, the loss of what they’d always known and relied on as cultural staples. Their livelihoods – gone. What now? What now? The surviving urban dwellers were utterly stumped. There was always a place to go, a place to be, people to see, things to do, things to eat, things to Instagram. But now – now what? They put on their shoes and walked. They left the city and headed out on the greatest adventure they’d never had. They strode through the rubblelands to the endless repeating suburbs. They marched on through the industrial wastelands until they found the vast luscious pastures where the mountains were pine-coated, where the sea opened out in sapphire sparkling blue, where the animals roamed freely.

As the days wore on they found nuts and berries to feast upon. Fruit was blossoming on the trees. People took their own patch of land and planted their own roots. Deep into the earth these roots grew and the earth gave back what the people needed. Communities were built, everyone pulled together and bonded through thick and thin. People could be people again. Fables were told of the great earthquakes and disasters of a more backwards time.

Gaia repeated herself on many occasions, unsettling all of those who were not in sync with her. Eventually the villagers grew wealthy with layers of history, stories and family.

It was a time of plenty.

Manolo’s Watch

Granddad would argue with Grandma. Grandma would argue with her daughter. Her daughter would argue with her husband. Her husband would argue with her children. And her children would argue among themselves.

But Granddad and the children got along. He would take them in his old Santana Land Rover down from the hills to the beach. They would make sandcastles and splish splosh and bury Granddad under the sand.

One achingly hot day in July Granddad didn’t wake up from under the sand. The children prodded him and hit them with their spades when he didn’t respond.

They moved his eyelids up but he didn’t move. He was gone.

Then Manolo in his 10 year old wisdom unearthed Granddad’s chest pocket and took the sandy golden watch. He wrapped it up in a bundle of seaweed in his pocket and ran to his friend Alvarito’s house. They would often sit on the edge of a balcony on their family’s whitewashed fishing cottage. They would fight and wrestle. But today little Manolo was alone.

He climbed as high as he could on the ledge, he pulled a roof tile up, deposited the bundle and replaced the tile. He then raced downstairs to ask for some pesatas to phone his family from the phonebox.

Mum, Dad and Grandma arrived all supposedly devastated. They were all trying to outgrieve each other, but none of them seemed very sad. Grandad was extremely wrinkled and 102 after all. They had all fixated on finding the watch. They asked the other children – who truthfully hadn’t seen it. They looked up and down the beach – they started frantically digging a hole but it was fruitless.

Little Manolo joined them in their efforts and put on the performance of a lifetime when interrogated by his father. It was eventually assumed that a gypsy must have stolen it while the children were playing in the sea.

The years rolled on. Manolo grew up and married his teenage sweetheart. He did his national service in the Canary Islands. He returned home jobless and penniless to his wife who was shortly made pregnant. She fretted and worried about their fate. But he always calmly said “I have a plan”. She never believed him and would gossip to the street about her hopeless husband.

When things were at their most strained he made his escape. He took two autobuses to the seaside town that was now sprouting tall apartments and palm trees and foreign tourists. Alvarito’s house was far along enough not to be touched. He climbed on the roof that night, dislodged the tile and found the gold watch. He fumbled it into his pocket.

He slept peacefully on the beach under the stars and the lull of the Mediterranean waves.

When he returned home his wife gave him the usual complaints, gripes and groans before he could say a word. When she paused for breath he pulled the watch from his pocket and she stood back and laughed. They both did. The watch would be worth at least 100,000 pesatas. This would get them their own house, a bar and keep them off the streets.

They hugged and smiled at each other. Within minutes her contractions started and within hours their baby was born.

The Man With Many Passports

He flicked through his collection.

Jake Baker
Louis Dubois
Anthony Green
David Vasquez
Emilio de Silva

His photo was nearly the same in all of them. The dates of birth varied, as did the places of birth. The nationalities of the passports varied too.

It didn´t matter. For when he woke up in the morning he could pull out that ID, that piece of paper and wear that body for the day. He would adopt their mannerisms, their history, their character. He would wear their clothes, choose those friends and
inhabit that energy.

He fitted in wherever he went. He blended in like a master chameleon, he was more of the place than those who´d lived there forever. He knew the cities, the pathways with their labyrynthine passageways and grand avenues.

In the countryside, his brain had mapped the terrain with it´s rivets and goat tracks, knowing the strands of roads in that spiders web.

He was a cosmic glutton. He would eat not just the food, but the culture, the landscapes, the energies and people. He would lap it all up and lick his lips. Some of it was delicious and nutritious. Some of it was fetid and rotten and made him ill and puke.

But when he recovered he would go again. He would cover old ground, admiring it with ever greater detail and precision. He would look at the worms in the soil in the grass, to the trunk of the trees to the branches to the twigs, to the purple aura of the living wood. Then the sky. The blue tinted bubble that seperated him and his species from the dimension from whence they came.

The man with many passports had a lonely existence. But he could be anyone he could invent. And knowing that, he was never alone.

The Childsnatcher

“Your honour…” he told the courtroom

“The toddler was running towards me in terror. His mother was attrocious – an utter wildebeast of a woman!

“I’d seen them several occasions at the library. She was always shouting at him to shut up and stop crying – but I simply don’t blame the child for crying when faced with that every day.”

“She would give him bottles of cola and sweets to shut him down for 5 minutes but it would start up again.”

“Since learning to walk he was trying to escape – and you could see the fear in this poor boy’s eyes. You could see the anguish, frustration and anger of having to please that tyrant for another 16 years. Anything was better.”

“We treat children and babies as dumb and stupid in our culture. But they know. OH BOY, do they know. They know what’s good for them. They know what’s toxic. They are wise and instinctual and in tune with their bodies, emotions and surroundings. Most unlike us adults who are self-conscious and emotionally constipated.”

“So yes… I took him.”

“The mother couldn’t catch up with my running because she smoked 40 fags a day. But let me tell you what we did. We went to the park, the sandpit, the river, the zoo and we had the most magnificent day out! I’d never seen that boy happier. He fed the goats. He talked to the lemurs. He pretended to be a pirate on his ship. He’s an extraordinarily creative and clever boy.”

“He’d always wailed and wailed because he knew there was something better and I simply listened to his need.”

“Now I know I’m making you uncomfortable in your chair and the jury box. You’re shifting and shuffling and muffling your ears. How dare he steal a child? How dare he take someone’s little baby and let it be free!? you rage in indignation.

“You caught me red-handed and I’m as guilty as charged.”

“But let me tell you, if giving a child a slice of happiness in this barbaric hostile world is a crime – then lock me up and throw away the key.”

“If you want to give me a fine. Then fine.”

“But whatever you do – don’t give me community service. Because I’ve already done it for you.”

Order Of The Crossed Keys – Chapter 2

Second class was sparse. There was no access to the buffet car, no complimentary wine and every furnishing had been selected for it’s minimised cost. The gaslight was yellow and dim. The seats solid hard wood, chosen for their durability over comfort.

M. Allegro still had no knowledge of why or where he was going. He’d simply told his deputy that he would be gone for the weekend. The envelope had contained nothing more than two railway tickets, and with that – he’d raced to the Gare de L’est.

The railway snaked and writhed around the mountainsides, this way and that, through miraculously-built tunnels, over modern steel viaducts and through dense snow-dusted forest. It bridged rivers, some trickles, some torrents. It merged remote villages along its many stops where sprinklings of passengers would board and leave. Mail was unloaded and reloaded. Small cargoes of eggs, hay and cheese were brought on and off the freight carriages. Chickens clucked as their cages were lifted on and off. Bottles of ale and wine clinked on the platform as their wooden boxes were put down.

These railways were the arteries and veins, spidering across the continent, weaving Europe together.

The November gale whistled through the pine trees against the windows. M. Allegro watched the local villagers in their grubby rags, mist rising from their mouths as they spoke in bizarre and unfathomable dialects. He watched the barrowboys pocket the odd jam jar and croissant. He noticed the conductor overcharging the fare, pocketing the difference. He saw the girl on the seat opposite, beautiful with curly blonde hair, yet her face etched with the scars of poverty. He noticed the young soot-faced driver, get off part way and embrace his wife and boy before reboarding his steed. He saw it all, just as he did at work. Of course saying nothing and doing nothing. Merely, observing.

He observed because he was puzzled. Everyone he saw and met and knew, he could understand. He would see their class, their life story, their manner of behaviour unfurling a story before his eyes. He knew the words that they would probably say before they even said them. He could forsee disaster, often preventing the disaster. He could forsee the miraculous and set about enabling miracles for his guests. But here, as he chugged through the deep valleys of the alps he was utterly baffled.

Nobody he’d met had seen what he’d see. Nobody he had met knew what he knew. Yet that man, who had sloped into the lobby of the Chateau Rouge had looked at him in the same way Allegro looked at his guests. And he was stringing him up to the Alps, 7 hours on the train, for what? To converse with him? Surely a quiet cafe in Paris would have sufficed. Or a strolling meeting through the Bois de Boulogne. But no. Here he was being taken in cattle class to the mountains.

Surely the man wasn’t a homosexuelle. No, perish the thought. So why here and why now? The only clue he really had to go on was the crossed keys seal, now broken and unsealed. He circled through increasingly far fetched possibilities, before returning to the dim carriage and the mountainscapes passing by.

The gentle tugs and rhythms of the train had sent him into slumber. He awoke at his destination and indeed the end of the line. The greasy conductor was tapping on the shoulder and it was time to get off. As he put his suitcase onto the platform he took a deep breath of the pure, crisp, clean mountain air. The crisp silence cut through the even crisper air and left him rather confused. He looked around, still coming-to in the moonlight. He blinked and sniffled. He was the only passenger here. He looked into the empty, unattended stone station with its empty, unattended cafe. He passed through the other side, to the road. The village was well presented, wood and stone houses adorned the slopes, wood smoke drifting into the snowy peaks, bright white in the moonlight. There was an inn with glowing golden light and as he approached it, he noticed the hotel.

It was small, humble, modest. There could be no more than 12 rooms burried into the mountainside, almost cave like. He waited for the peasant and donkey cart to pass in front of him before crossing the road and entering.

As he closed the wooden door of the reception cabin, his eyes met with the volumptuous beaming mountain lady in charge.

“We’re delighted you made it! I said to Geoff we ought to approach our new members straightforwardly. But you see, he always loves spinning mysteries.

Unaccustomed to the warm welcome and still in the daze of awakening, Allegro smiled and stood back.

“Give me your coat, he’s waiting in the lobby for you.”

The Nut Preservation Society

“I really fancy some nuts” he said, flailing around the kitchen. He opened and closed various cupboards before staring into the mess.

“Nutmeg? No that won’t do”

“Walnuts, got those from Spain – they’re about 50 years old. No won’t touch them.”

“Oh look hazelnuts”

He turned the packet over to reveal the use-by date was 2011.

“Oh they’ve gone.” And instead of throwing them in the bin, he put them back in the cupboard.


Meanwhile in China the squirrel was a holy revered creature of the chinese ecosystem. It was admired for it’s ability to stash through good times and survive tough winters.

Now a new fad had arisen catering for China’s new zillionaires. Following the real-estate boom, many Chinese businessmen and women had become rich beyond their wildest dreams.

However they were now cursed with wealth. Racked with fear, the fear of loss, the fear of poverty and the shame of being caught out – they hoarded. Officials were looking into claims of corruption and bribery of local mayors. It was time to hide the wealth and play it modest before the investigators caught up.

London property – that had been done.

Manhattan property – that had been done.

English football clubs – that was nearly done. And there was a good chance you’d be caught.

Gold bullion – very heavy and not much upside.

Bitcoin – well, that could be stolen in seconds and transactions were becoming traceable.

It was in this all-consuming melee of fear and greed that Mr. Ling was able to create a thriving black market for ancient nuts.

In his hyper-secure facility in the Siberian wilderness, were bunkers and bunkers full of ancient valuable nuts. These rare vintage nuts could always fetch a steep price on the international nut auction market – or so he told his clients.

Of course it was a good investment. “You’d be nutty nut to” he joked.

The clients and money flowed in in torrents. Mr Ling was importing rare cashews, walnuts, chestnuts, brazils, peanuts from all around the world. They would then be stashed in nets and cages and sent down in the elevator shaft to be stashed away.


5 years later adverts were appearing on TV in the Western world – “Cash for nuts!” they exclaimed. Many people were rediscovering forgotten nuts at the back of their kitchen cupboards. They’d send them off in envelopes and get cheques that they’d blow on bingo, the pub and trips to “Lanzarotty”.

It was at this point the ancient wisdom of Dad had paid off.