PORTLAND, OREGON - PRESENT DAY
Jack sat up, gasping for air, and turned on the night light located on the small cardboard box next to his bed.
Scrambling for his inhaler, he shoved it into his mouth and depressed the nozzle, inhaling long and deep. He breathed in a sufficient dose of the medicine, and it had the desired effect. Exhaling a bone-weary sigh of relief, he put it back in its place and reached for the water bottle sitting next to him.
The memory was fuzzy, like looking at a photo through grease-smudged reading glasses. There was something there, just beyond his grasp, that he couldn’t quite bring into focus. Faces he strained to remember. They came to him most often in his dreams. A presence and a warmth that would wash over and fill him with a sense of comfort and belonging unfamiliar to him in his waking life. Fleeting images of love and laughter, of family. And then, just as quickly as they appeared, they were gone.
These memories didn’t happen every night. They were sporadic, and he wasn’t quite sure what triggered them. But sometimes, like this night, he’d awaken with a jolt, hyperventilating, heart pounding, his dark hair soaked with perspiration and bedclothes clinging to every inch of his scrawny, pre-teen body. It could take several minutes just to get his breathing back under control. And more recently, a new sensation had amplified the experience. His hands tingled. No, burned—intensely. Not in the same way your arm might feel if you had been resting your head on it for too long. No, this was different. Normally the feeling would fade as he came to a fully awakened state, and he’d almost forget about it as the day wore on—until the experience repeated itself. But he knew, without a doubt, that whatever prompted these episodes most assuredly must also be the source of his chronic asthma attacks. It had been nine years since his parents died. And he knew that no matter how much time passed, he would never get over the loss.
Reaching again to his makeshift bedside table, he lifted his smartphone, and the screen burst to life, revealing the time; only 3:10 am.
With a groan, Jack flopped back down on his pancake of a pillow. It was too early to wake up, but after tonight’s dream, there was no way he was getting back to sleep.
Grabbing the phone, he threw back the dingy white sheet and thin plaid blanket covering his bed, then swung his feet out and onto the cold concrete floor.
Unlocking his phone, he tapped the icon for the calculator displayed prominently on the home screen and began working out a particularly difficult formula he’d been thinking about.
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A loud bling! startled Jack out of his mathematical delirium. He rubbed his eyes and frowned at the message preview that dropped down at the top of the screen:
What in the world is Bart doing up at…?
He shifted his gaze to look at the time in the upper right corner of the phone; 6:30am. His eyes flew open wide in surprise. But he recovered quickly. Truth be told, it never failed to amaze him how quickly time passed when he was working through math problems.
Rubbing his eyes and shoving his fingers through his bangs to get them out of the way, he began reading the text:
Meet me at Pop’s a few minutes before school? There’s something I wanna show you.
What’s so exciting that we have to meet before school? Jack replied, then watched for Bart’s response, which came almost immediately.
Just trust me. You’re going to want to see this!
Jack sighed. He knew Aunt Lizzie wouldn’t approve of him taking a detour before school, but what she didn’t know wouldn’t hurt her.
“Old Town China-Town - Northwest 2nd and Davis.” The robo-woman’s monotonous voice announced over the intercom.
Jack stuffed his phone into the side pocket of his thigh-length navy pea coat, grabbed his backpack, and stood up, gripping tightly to the handrail as the MAX car slowed, with a screech and a jerk, to a stop. When the doors slid open, he dashed out of the train, sprinted to the corner, looked both ways, and ran across the street. He could already see his friend, a block further down the road, waving enthusiastically in his direction.
A little taller and about twenty pounds chunkier than Jack, Bart was, he thought to himself, “a bit of a dork.” But that was one of the things he liked best about him. Standing there, shifting back and forth from one foot to the other, Bart was dressed in typical Portlander gear; red Converse tennis shoes, white cotton ankle socks, crunchy-looking khaki cargo shorts that came down to his calves, and a striped t-shirt. And, of course, he also wore a forest green ball cap with a bright yellow ‘O’ pegging him as a Ducks fan. Shaggy bits of sandy-colored hair had escaped from under the hat, almost completely covering his eyes. As Jack came closer, he could see two thin, white cords dangling from Bart’s ears and disappearing into his right front pants pocket.
“Hey! What took you so long?” Bart shouted as he moved to meet him at the corner. “I’ve been here for ten minutes already.” He motioned for Jack to follow and turned.
“There was some holdup at The Square,” Jack said, readjusting the strap of the backpack slung over his left shoulder as they walked.
“It probably would’ve been faster if I’d just gotten off the train and headed over on foot. Speaking of feet…” He bent over to retie a lace that had come loose on his two-tone leather Wingtips, then stood back up before continuing, “But I’m here now. What’s so exciting that we have to meet before school?”
Bart was already standing in front of the familiar destination. Flanagan’s Hobby Shop was owned by his dad, Bill Flanagan, and it was their favorite hangout. Jack spent most days after class with his best friend, helping in the family store. In exchange, ‘Pop’, paid them a small weekly allowance for their assistance. This was a good deal for Bill, since the boys spent most of that money buying some cool new items that they wanted from the store.
Grabbing hold of the key on the ring at the end of the purple plastic spiral band he always wore around his wrist, Bart inserted it into the lock on the old, sage-green, and glass door and opened.
“Just you wait, Jack! This is going to blow your mind!” Bart said as he walked in and flipped the light switch on the wall just inside.
Flooding the long, narrow space, the light revealed floor-to-ceiling shelves lining the walls on either side of the shop, each one filled to overflowing with fanciful-looking merchandise of all shapes and sizes. Art kits, race car, hot-rod, and airplane models to assemble, tiny, square glass bottles of brightly colored paints in every shade of the rainbow, glues, tools, books, and wooden boxes filled with X-acto knives… Jack loved being here. This special little shop made him feel he had been transported to another place and time. A place that stimulated his imagination, and the cares of the world withered away, leaving him only with dreams of possibility.
Bart confidently made his way to the back of the store, where a thick, burgundy drape hung from the top of the doorframe down to the floor. Jack glanced at the ‘Employees Only’ sign posted on the wall, before following him through and into a part of the shop very few people were permitted to see.
The room stretched back with workbenches and shelves crammed to the gills with all kinds of supplies lining both walls. They passed a dark, open staircase leading down to…Jack didn’t really know where…before Bart came to a stop in front of an old mahogany door. He turned to look at Jack with a twinkle in his eye,
“Pop keeps his office locked, but he told me it’s ok if I take you in to show you this thing he discovered last night.” Spinning back around, Bart inserted the same key into the lock and turned the knob. There were no windows in this part of the building, so it was pitch black inside, the only illumination coming from the outer office. Jack squinted toward the far side of the room where Bart fumbled for the switch on a green glass and brass lamp sitting on top of an old, roll-top desk. Turning it on, he motioned for Jack to join him.
“Close the door behind you, just in case,” he said, and Jack complied before continuing on to stand beside his friend.
“Dude, what’s all the mystery about?” Jack asked. “You make it seem like your dad has some kind of national treasure hidden back here or something,” he laughed nervously.
“Well, that’s not such a stretch,” Bart said, lifting the lid on the wooden desk to reveal the inner surface, drawers, and cubby-holes filled to bursting with papers, pens, receipts, and…
Jack’s eyes were immediately drawn to the singular most interesting item of all. There, sitting in plain view, was a shiny, golden telescope. Jack could see that there were lots of unusual symbols engraved all over the exterior of it and wondered what, if anything, they meant
Picking the treasure up carefully and holding it nimbly in both hands, Bart turned to face Jack.
“My dad thinks this…” he started, a little too dramatically for Jack’s taste, “might have belonged to Joseph ‘Bunko’ Kelly.”
Bart widened his eyes for emphasis, but Jack only stared back at him with a blank, inquisitive look on his face.
He waited for Bart to go on, but their stare-off continued. Finally, Jack asked: “And who is that, precisely?”
Bart’s jaw dropped.
“What? You’ve never heard of the Kidnapping King of Portland? Are you serious?” He said, setting the glass back down on the desk.
“You know this shop sits on top of the old Shanghai Tunnels, right?” He didn’t wait for Jack to respond before hurrying on. “Well, Bunko Kelly is only the most famous kidnapper of them all. He supposedly smuggled over two-thousand men out of this place. His guys drugged unsuspecting sailors, then hustled them out through the secret underground passageways and onto ships waiting in the harbor. Crazy, huh?”
He finished and turned to once again pick up the telescope. Looking at Jack, he held it out in his direction.
“You wanna check it out?”
“Wow…” Jack said, reaching out to take hold of it. “And your dad really thinks this thing might be his?”
The moment his fingers grasped the telescope, a burning sensation shot, like a lightning bolt, up his arm, filling his head with a blaze of light that electrified his brain, blinding him to the world around him. Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, he was looking out across a massive expanse of midnight blue water, salt air filling his nostrils, his feet steady but unfamiliar, as the slippery surface on which he stood rocked violently back and forth with the movement of waves. Looking down to his hands, he could see the telescope grasped in both of them, but to his surprise, those weren’t his hands he was gazing at. They were much larger than his own and older, with hair on the knuckles and a gold ring with a big, black stone displayed prominently on the ring finger of the right hand.
Jack dropped the telescope at once and immediately found himself back in Bill’s office, sprawled on the floor, looking up at Bart, who was frantically shaking his right arm.
“Jack! Jack! What in the world?”