About a month after I bought the gun, I decided to clean it, inside and out. I found out that the loading mechanism was a chamber parallel to the barrel. This was a common technique for a while, as it allowed the gun the carry ammo for itself, like the modern clip. Most gunsmiths stopped using this particular design, however, because newer rounds had a tendency to fire accidentally, inside the cylinder, when one bullet pressed against the firing pin of the next. This difficulty was overcome by the advent of the vertical (parallel rather than serial) magazine.

Inside the cylinder I found a tightly rolled bundle of heavy-ass vellum.

My only real possession was an antique I found in my uncle’s closet after he died. My brothers and the rest of the family (immediate and extended) rushed with their lawyers to loot the old man’s accounts (foreign and domestic). Pens to paper, stamped and sealed, rebel yells pealing like bell laughter at a hurried wedding, greedy, pawing relatives, too busy for the old man alive, starved for his attention as he slept in a box. Nieces, nephews, and cousins thrice removed screamed along phone lines and via telegram about certificates of deposit and ‘he promised that to me.’ All I wanted was to root around in his study. I lived with my uncle for two summers following my grandfather’s death. My uncle, although no great fan of my grandfather, had implied that the presence of a child in the great house might make things easier for the extended families. This made very little sense to anyone, but the scent of the old man’s pockets quickly defeated any logical objections and I was sent to him.



Most of my days during those two summers were spent exploring the ever expanding borders of the estate. Of course, alternate plans were made for inclement weather—specifically in-house reconnaissance. I came to believe the house was larger than the estate proper, because outside I could at least see the borders of my environment. In the house, however, each corner rounded revealed a hornet’s nest of additional rooms, stairwells, foyers, and roccocoed hall furnishings-- all the structural accessories for which elder estates are known. When I happened into his private study, explorations of the house stopped. I was not punished and I am not certain he even knew, but nothing in or around the house could compete with the old man’s private study for sheer hypnotic power (although his alexandran hypnopaintings did reach a distant second). Whether or not he knew I was in digging in his closets, I managed to do it almost every afternoon for the entire summer.

Each panel in that study opened into some sort of secret chamber. A redwood inlay, rapped twice, might revolve a bit and reveal a likewise redwood cubbyhole. A slight indentation in the scrollwork, as big as a matchbook, might contain a ring and a hastily written note.* There were larger places though, and these held my interest more effectively than the nooks. It is a sad truth that as a child, I overlooked countless treasures in that study because they were too subtle or lacking in color, size, zip or pizzazz. I intended to correct this childhood oversight after my uncle’s death.



A detailed search of those rooms would, in my opinion, yield more interesting booty than all the accounts tracked by the attorneys. One of these closets, as it turned out, held the remnants of my uncles hunting and outdoor gear. Pith helmets, jodhpurs, and spears were certainly interesting and, in a collective lot with the rest of his safari goods, would have captured a comfortable sum on the open auction circuit. The only item which I searched in detail, however, was a glass case inlayed with silver—my uncle’s guns. There were guns located elsewhere in the room, of course—deer rifles, derringers and all the associated firearms of the gentleman adventurer, but the case held items altogether different. Pistols crafted of bone and hair, miniature grapeshots smelling of cinnamon and pre-maternal kitchen warmth, a series of concentric pipings culminating in what appeared to be a multi-tiered zip gun, a gold sighted twice-barrel shoot gun humming angrily in a scabbard made of crocodile hide. Even among these ballistic oddities there seemed a comfortable hierarchy, as all the barrels and stocks tilted in deference to the beast at the center of the case.

My first reaction to the thing was that it seemed too big, or at least out of proportion to the mortal weapons which attended it. I could almost fit my hand into the barrel, and not surprisingly, it was heavy as hell. After I hefted it out the cabinet, I noticed that although massive, its balance was nearly perfect—it favored a bit towards the barrel. The stock was shorter than I expected (This thing was less a hunting armament than a shoulder cannon.) and heavily knurled. This sort of stock carving is ubiquitous on firearms of all types. It aids the grip and allows the gunsmith a facile canvas for his marks. Most of the time there is a simple checkerboard or crisscross pattern, but my uncle’s gun was deeply and intricately grooved. Finally, the trigger was made of some shiny metal, precious to semiprecious, rather than steel. Close inspection cleared several mysteries. The barrel and chamber were

The thing that sparked my interest was the Uncle. When I was a boy, I created a fictitious Uncle for myself. During school vacations, when my friends were invariably skiing, fishing, or otherwise celebrating in the manner of all holidays, I was with my Uncle. I spent far too many afternoons exploring his house (which was, of course, a vast country estate) and chatting with his many fascinating friends and colleagues. I even began to keep a secret journal, devoted entirely to what I wished was happening in my life. I filled page after page with impossibly complicated scenarios I'd been part of during my time with the old man. In retrospect, I am not sure whether these lucid imaginings fall under "child's play" or "birth of a paranoiac fantasy." I guess it doesn't really matter.


1This calculation assumes the use of a single projectile. In truth, I have no idea what kind of ammo the thing uses, or used. It looks like it could fire anything from a croquet ball to a whiskey bottle filled with ball bearings. In the latter case, the target would be torn into many more than two pieces. The reader is free to extrapolate on the relative sizes of the parts and therefore, the exact fraction.