Cover by Preston Ford

   This page updated 7/24/18

Spyglass House   vol 1
     The Jewels of Norpur

    by Peter E. Abresch
    The day he lost his job, Rex Barney received, in a disbursement of a will, one skeleton key shaped like a telescope. Big deal. He'd rather have money. But the key is his entry to the exclusive Spyglass House, a private club built on the fault line of time and space, where each side-door opens onto an alternate world.
    So it is when Rex stumbles out into a 19th century Indjia, a land of snake charmers and elephants, steam engines and sailing ships. He falls in with two genteel ladies who promise him sweetmeats, card tricks, and other entertainment if he will accompany them on the train to Norpur and join in an endeavor to steal a stash of royal jewels--rubies, diamonds, emeralds the size of a thumbnail--worth enough to escape steamy clutches of Baybom, and live large in Londoon and Pariie.
    It sounds like great fun until he is shanghaied aboard a tall ship, runs into pirates seeking to separate head from body, treks through mangrove swamps infested with snakes and mosquitoes, and faces jungle people who are out looking for stew meat.
    Oh yeah, great fun if he can hang onto his own jewels.
        And the key to get back into Spyglass House.

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Spyglass House


     I arrived home to see a UPS package outside my apartment door.
     Already it had not been one of my best days.
     I had just been laid off. Me and a few hundred others, redundant from the merger of two firms. Got a severance check for one month's pay, but time would eat that up.
     Yeah, right, like in one month, duh.
     I stared down at the UPS label and there was my name, Rex Barney, unemployed. Well, it didn't say unemployed. Still, I was big time expecting no package a lot. And if someone wanted me to pay for it, they would be big time wanting a lot.
     Maybe it was one of those things that says, you may already have won, and I already won.
     Since I had my hands full with a box of personal stuff from cleaning out my desk, which I balanced against the jamb to get my key in the lock, I kicked the UPS package inside, crossed the living room of my-one bedroom apartment, and dropped the personal stuff on a four-person table in the dinette area. Then I shrugged off my parka and brushed my black hair back off my forehead.
     Overdue for a haircut.
     Let it go until after I got a job or get one now for the interviews?
     I liberated a Miller Lite from the fridge, popped the top, and took a couple of long swallows as I stared out the window.
     If I got interviews.
     Off in the distance naked trees circled the Washington Monument, late afternoon sun putting a sheen on the surface of the Potomac River. Down below a figure jogged along the sidewalk, puffs of white breath in the gelid air. Thought about it–change clothes, hit the bricks, work out the stress–decided not.
     Ten hours ago I was thinking about leaving the cold and flying down to the Caribbean for a short vacation. Still tempted. Leave my problems behind for a few days, but everything I had gleaned off the Internet had warned against that. I'd carry my unemployment with me, I'd lose valuable time seeking a re-employment, and I'd be squandering my economic resources when I should be hoarding them.
     I took another swig of beer, marched into the bedroom-cum office and powered on my laptop.
     I had two days until the weekend and according to my morning research, networking was the key. First I updated my resumé. Physical stuff hadn't changed, still the same six feet one inch as when I graduated college, my eyes–surprise–still green, and my weight hovered at 185 thanks to jogging and the gym. But I had to account for changing jobs and receiving promotions which took some creative wording and reworking. Afterwards I emailed it to everyone I could think of, even an old girlfriend in California who had decided she'd rather have sex with a bed post–her words–then a relationship with me. When I finished, two beers down and three hours gone, I was cold, tired, stiff, discouraged, famished.
     My freezer contained a DiGiorno pizza–it's not delivery, it's a freaking pizza–I stuck it in the microwave and turned back to the window. The streets deserted now. Spotlights on distant downtown buildings, the Capitol, White House, Lincoln Memorial, set them aglow against the black pool of night. I glanced at my watch.
     Welcome to Thursday, my first day of unemployment.
     I rested my butt on the windowsill and scanned the apartment. The furniture–various tables, lamps, couch and two easy chairs–was a mismatch of things I had picked up in the years since finishing school, some left behind by girlfriends when they moved on, a couple of pieces from my mom's place when she died. Except for the entertainment center which I had purchased myself. Altogether it wasn't worth much, but I'd hate to see it stacked up outside on the sidewalk.
     One experience like that was more than enough to last a life time.
     It forever stripped away all sense of security for me and my mom. Fortunately a distant uncle had showed up at the last minute, paid all the back rent and loaned my mom some money to get us back on our feet. We still had to cart everything back up to the apartment, but, thank God, we weren't out on the street.
     Thinking about it now plunged my self-esteem into the pit.
     On the other hand, something had always popped up at the last minute to save me from financial disaster. Like that distant uncle who I had never heard of before nor since. And when I had just about given up all hope of going to college, I got some obscure scholarship that paid my way.
     Where did that come from?
     I spun around to the UPS package by the door.
     The microwave pinged.
     I pulled out the pizza, filling the room with an aroma of tomatoes and cheese and dough that set my mouth watering, cut it up, bit into a slice, burned the roof of my mouth and cooled it off with a slug of Miller Lite. I took another bite, more careful this time, and crossed to the package on the floor.
     Rex Barney right there on the label.
     Obviously it was meant for me.
     Who could have sent it?
     Maybe if I opened it I'd find out.
     I shook the box. Nothing rattled. I set it on the table and alternated between gobbling pizza and ripping off the packing. Inside, protected by bubble-wrap, I found a miniature strongbox, like the kind stagecoach drivers in old timey western movies are always throwing down to the bad guys with guns and bandana masks. Only instead of the rusty iron used for the handle and corner reinforcements, these were of polished metal. And in place of the rough, scarred sides, this had surfaces of a burnished light green wood I had never seen before, with swirls of thick red grain twisted into grotesque shapes.
     I could think of only one purpose for taking so much care with such a strongbox.
     It was made to hold gold bars or precious stones.
     I unhooked its clasp and opened it.
     Two strips of clear packing tape held a number ten envelope, face side down, on the inside of the lid, and two more strips secured a four inch, old time skeleton key to the bottom.
     I'd a rather had gold bars or precious stones.

     I peeled off the envelope and turned it over. Embossed in the address return was Abacrombie, Wannamaker, Wintergarden, and Ford, Attorneys-at-Law, Marblehead, Massachusetts. Hand-scrawled across the envelope's face was Rex Barney. I guess it was for me. I tore it open to find a single sheet of paper inside.

Dear Mr. Barney,
     The enclosed items were left to you in settlement of the estate of Adrian Wolfchek. As directed in the will, the receiving of these articles neither recognizes nor denies nor in any way stipulates a paternal relationship between the said Adrian Wolfchek and the receiver, Rex Barney.
     The delay of over ten years in the delivery of the enclosed items resulted in another stipulation of the will, that it be probated and settled before this disbursement. The final litigation was completed on 4 January last.
     Because of the length of time it has taken for these procedures to be completed, and the death of the principle partner privy to Adrian Wolfchek's verbal instructions, nothing is known about the enclosed items other than the items themselves.
     If this office may be of further assistance, please do not hesitate to call on us.
Babbo Begum,
Associate, Abacrombie, Wannamaker, Wintergarden, and Ford

     I read the letter again, and again.
     What shook me was not the mention of the items. What items? There was only one key–but the implication that despite the disclaimers, someone, if not the man himself, thought Adrian Wolfchek was my father.
     I didn't have a father.
     Well, I did. It wasn't a virgin birth, after all. But my mom had known almost nothing about him. In my teens she had finally admitted that it had been a weekend thing, and while I had inherited my handsome face–her words–thick black hair, and strong body from him, she could remember little else, had no recollection of his name, and no way of informing him of my existence.
     And now here was a law firm implying he knew about me.
     Was I really Rex Wolfchek?
     The name really didn't fit and I wasn't changing it this late in the day.
     My pizza had grown cold and my beer warm while I was engrossed in this thought. I lay the letter aside and went back to the wooden box. I peeled the four inch skeleton key off the bottom to find a white business card embossed in black:

Spyglass House
2017 Crow's Nest Lane
Widow's Walk, Maine

     I searched the box, inside out, looked for a hidden compartment, but what I saw was what I got. I studied the key to find the shaft was molded in the form of a telescope with a loop for a key ring at one end and the key plate with three large indentations on the other.
     Like I say, a skeleton key.
     Wouldn't be hard to pick the corresponding lock.
     I dropped the key and the card in the strongbox, closed it, rubbed my hand over the smooth top, and noticed a thin strand of gold had been inserted within each red grain that swirled around in the green wood. Someone had gone through a lot of trouble building it.
     Then I folded the last two pieces of pizza, one on top of the other and carried it and the letter back to my computer, suddenly energized by curiosity.
     I could find nothing on a Spyglass House in Maine, but two hours later–my eyes bugging out my head–I had pieced most of the story of Adrian Wolfchek together.
     The original family fortune had been in timber and shipbuilding, but the family, always seeming to catch the wave, had branched out into import/export, then banking, and finally, Adrian Wolfchek had led them into electronics and computers. His estate was rumored to be worth somewhere between one hundred and fifty to two hundred million dollars, split between three different wives and five half-siblings–if indeed he was my father–after lawsuits and counter lawsuits had dragged through the courts for ten years.
     Suddenly things didn't look so bad.
     I was the possible son of a millionaire.
     After a few minutes of sports cars and sailboats dancing in my head, I locked on the key word, possible.
     A lot of good possible was going to get me, especially after the will had been settled.
     I stared at the picture of the man, trying to see a resemblance between him and me, or between the distant uncle that had come to our rescue so long ago, but my tired brain was shutting down.
     I closed my computer and crawled into bed.


        Spyglass House, October 2013 252 pages US $12.95 in paperback
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