Martin Day peeked through the doorway into his uncle’s workshop.
“C’n I talk t’ya, Unka Mac?”
“Certainly, Martin. Come in. What is it?”
Martin entered the workshop, his eyes fixed upon his own boots. He glanced up to his uncle’s face, then returned his gaze to the floor.
“You ‘ad a calluh at th’ shop t’day. Man callt Pembry.”
Martin looked up quickly to see his uncle’s face grow suddenly pale, his eyes widening.
“Who’s Giffud Hall’dee?” asked the young man, spitting the words out as fast as he could.
MacKnight Culdesac closed his eyes, took a deep slow breath, and exhaled with a sigh.
“Sit down, Martin. You need to hear the whole story.”
Martin sat on a stool at the workbench, close enough to his uncle to watch the older man’s expression but far enough away to be able to make a hasty exit should that be needed. Nervously biting his knuckle, he listened.
“When I was a child,” MacKnight began, “I was called Guilford Halliday. I was orphaned, and was taken in by a businessman named Jonathan Stillman. Stillman took in quite a number of unfortunates, educated us, and put us to work for him. He saved us from the streets and gave us a better life.
“Josiah Pembry was another of the boys at Stillman & Company. A very able student, he eventually took control of Stillman’s Weapons Division. He wanted me to work with him there, but I rather enjoyed building toys, watches, music boxes and other mechanical devices. They weren’t as profitable as the products from the Weapons Division, but they certainly lasted longer! Less likely to explode, you see,” he added with a lopsided smile.
“One day Pembry came to me with an idea for a Soldier’s Watch, a pocket watch that, on pressing an additional lever, would play a patriotic tune. The tune could easily be changed to suit the market, because one never knew what nations would need war supplies next. Stillman’s idea, I wast told. Since military suplies were typically the purview of the Weapons Division, I would be working for Pembry on this project. The plans included a counter which, when the patriotic tune had been played a specified number of times, would trigger an additional module which Pembry was to supply to me. It was to be a special ‘surprise’ for the poor soldier, to ‘cheer him after many days at war’, according to Pembry.
“When the first of these watches was complete and the ‘surprise’ package installed, Pembry was to show the watch to Stillman for his approval. So that Stillman might know of the ‘surprise’ packaged within the watch, I had set the counter to trigger the surprise on the second playing of the tune. Little did I know what trouble that bit of innitiative would cause me!”
“Wha’ happent? What was the ‘surprise’?” Martin had stopped gnawing his knuckles and was leaning forward on the edge of his stool, anxious for the story to continue.
“The ‘surprise’ was a miniature explosive, intended to remove the soldier and his fellows from the battlefield,” the older man continued. “They were to be subsidized by the oposing army. I should have expected something sinister like that, since it had came from Pembry and his Weapon’s Division. What I didn’t know was that he intended to use this device to kill Stillman and take over the company.”
Martin gasped and nearly fell from the stool.
“Of course, Pembry didn’t know that I had set the watch to trigger the ‘surprise’ on the second playing. He took the new Soldier’s Watch into old Stillman’s office and pressed the lever to play the patriotic tune. Stillman was pleased, and as soon as the tune had stopped, he pressed the lever again.
“The detonation failed to cause the destruction indended, but both Stillman and Pembry were severely injured in the explosion. I have been hiding from them since that day.”
“Wadduh we do now?” Concern was evident in Martin’s voice. “He knows where ya are, Unka Mac!” A puzled expression overtook his young face. “Should I call ya ‘Unka Giffud’?”
MacKnight shook his head. “Guilford Halliday no longer exists. I am MacKnight Culdesac.”
“Are ya really my uncle?”
It was MacKnight’s turn to stare at the floor. “I did have a sister, but when Stillman took me in, I lost touch with her. Your mother was about the right age. Whether she was my sister or not, you needed someone to be your family when she died. I was happy to be there to help, and I’ll be here for you as long as you need me.”
“Bu’ wadduh we do ’bout Pembry?”
Deep furrows appeared across MacKnight’s brow. “I don’t know yet.”