October 21, 2009

My Uncle The Spy (Part I)

"(Important) families are like potatoes. The best parts are underground."
-- Francis Bacon

So it was with my uncle Neil...

He passed away a few years ago of a heart condition (that seems to run in our family) and I couldn't make it to his funeral that day for some insignificant reason or another. I've always felt bad for not going and not getting to see him the last few days of his life (but more about that later). Then before my aunt passed away last year of Parkinson's she gave our family some of the few remaining possessions that my uncle had kept around for a few years stored in a back closet, forgotten for years. The first item was a '50s era Army gas mask that is still usable in case of the next bio / nuclear attack. I thought it was cool and useful so I claimed it and use it mostly for a wardrobe prop for my short films.

But, the most mysterious item that was passed down to our family was a strange brown leather briefcase. It sat in the garage on top of my dad's tool cabinet until I happened to see it one day. I found a chair from the kitchen and retrieved it from the dark recesses of the shelf. It was slightly moldy, the hinges rusty with age. I noticed several stickers from moving companies and airlines that were still hanging on, the sticky all dried up and crumbling indicating that it was well traveled. I cleared a small area on my dad's work bench and attempted to open the clasps on the front to allow me to access the mysteries that were hidden within.

The first one flipped open so quickly that it startled me! I started to get excited about finding out what was inside, so I tried the second one and was disappointed to find that it was very rusty and wouldn't even budge. Luckily my dad's "cure-all" was within arms reach. I attached the tiny red straw to the nozzle and sprayed a quick burst of WD-40 into the lock mechanism. I wiggled the open button back and forth a little but no luck. The clasp was actually locked. How do I unlock this? Where is the key? I knew some locksmithing basics (not enough to do anything illegal unfortunately) and remembered that most (older) briefcase locks were kept locked with a simple 1-3 pin tumbler and there are not that many variations of that kind of key. Luckily this one looked and felt like a one pin.

I had an old key from another briefcase that I owned that had one pin. I already had a slight inclination that this key wouldn't work, but i was going to try it anyway. I slowly inserted the key into the keyhole. IT FIT! That was only the first step. As I slowly turned it, i heard a grinding sound. The key begrudgingly turned and finally, after some wiggling, got it all the way around clockwise. Could it be?! I tugged on the clasp button feeling the grinding of the small metal parts inside. The brass flap flipped open, also flipping some WD-40 in my eye. Small price to pay for the final revelation of the contents of the mysterious briefcase. I pulled the old key out and slowly raised the top of the moldy briefcase. As the sunlight from the garage window slowly leaked in to the inner bowels of the case, I heard a metallic scraping and then a sharp metal object sliced out at me from the darkness. I quickly drew my hand back noticing a small red cut on my finger as the top fell closed once again...

To be continued...

photo by Dunechaser

Disclaimer: This and the following blog posts are works of fiction written by myself (Josh Self) that are based on real facts both positive and sometimes not so positive from my uncle's real life and choices that he made. The events and characters in this story could have happened but more than likely happened differently than portrayed here. I would like to thank the family and relatives of Neil Self in advance for allowing this artistic liberty in the spirit of a tribute to his life and an attempt to keep his memory alive through story.

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