The funeral was small. Sy “Cyclops” Petcher spent the end of his days at a dark corner table in the Triple Trout drinking discontinued ale the bartender had shipped in just for him. When the bar was closed in the mornings, Sy would sit outside the door in a chair engraved with “Cyclops” and scare school children with tales of sea monsters, pirates, and siren songs. They would scream and run away laughing to return the next morning for all of their favorites from the crazy old man with the eyepatch.
The bartender had removed his apron and hat, looking solemnly down at his feet as Sy’s casket was lowered into the ground. He never spoke a word to Sophia, nor her brother Oliver, the only family Sy had left. The nameless bartender laid a hand upon the cyclops chair he had placed at the foot of the coffin, as tribute, then slowly walked away, donning his hat, when the service ended.
It had been odd to look upon his face, both eyes closed. Grandpa Sy had worn an eyepatch ever since the accident, for as long as Sophia, or Sophie, could remember. She had been told many times the tale of the great storm that gave him a second chance and second sight.
Captain Petcher had always been known to exaggerate, claiming to have seen the world, but he’d never sailed outside of his fishing spot. He told fancy yarns to anyone at the Triple Trout who would buy him ale for a tale.
One August, a great hurricane blew up. Captain Sy refused to believe that the storm would be as devastating as predicted. He declared he’d braved worse, lived through tsunamis in the great Pacific, and could tell by the scent of the sea how bad a storm would be. He sailed out as usual, determined to catch all the fish his fellow fisherman were leaving behind.
The storm did, in fact, become great. His main mast broke in the gales. He’d tied himself to the boat and stood on deck, trying to reel in errant lines. The mast toppled, driving into his skull. If he hadn’t been tied securely, he’d have washed overboard.
Two days later he was rescued, touting that he had seen the future and would never open his eyes again. People chalked up his delusions to exposure and dehydration. After his recovery, he maintained that he needed an eyepatch. Without a medical reason to give him one, the doctors refused, but he bought himself one anyway.
He avowed that he could see the future with his right eye and kept it covered to not suffer the agonies of that knowledge.
Captain Petcher never went back out to sea. He became obsessed with drawing a complicated set of blueprints. At first, everyone thought he had taken his boat insurance money and was planning to design his own hurricane-proof craft. Those that saw his ‘blueprints’ however, knew them to be intricately interwoven lines with no discernable form. They left his house after a visit shaking their heads, convinced he had cracked.
After his masterpiece had been completed, he took to the Triple Trout. There were a few odd days when he would be absent, but most of the time he could be found in one of his two chairs drinking in his ale and reading his old books. Emerson was always his favorite.
Oliver picked up the engraved bar chair and said to Sophie, “Well, we can start with this chair.”
He meant to begin clearing out their grandfather’s house as soon as possible. He was needed back at his job hundreds of miles away.
After their mother died in a tragic car accident, Oliver, then 17, had focused on his studies, graduated high school, enrolled in a college across the country and moved away. Sophie had been left to care for her grandfather and herself for 3 years before she, too, went off to college. Sy had been in his blueprint stage then and hardly left the house. Sophie was happy Oliver had come to pay his respects, but felt rushed into putting the property up for sale.
The house appeared slightly neglected. The overgrown yard was mostly sand, rock, and beach grass. Sy lived up on a cliff overlooking the fishing grounds. The house was almost constantly buffeted by winds, soft or strong, and the paint had long worn away to a desolate gray. The floor creaked, the door squeaked, and there were loose tiles in the kitchen and bathroom. The realtor had toured it one hour before the funeral and declared it a ‘quaint fixer-upper with cottage charm’. Oliver had been pleased.
Other than the furniture, most of the small rooms were empty of trinkets and decorations. Sophie was grateful for that. The office, however, was a different story. Here grandpa had kept stacks of newspapers, ledgers of numbers, maps, ink pens, notebooks, and an old typewriter still fitted with a paper halfway full of columns of numbers like a substitute calculator.
“Tag all the things you think we can sell,” Oliver commanded, handing his sister a permanent marker and roll of masking tape. He hurried back to the living room furniture and tore off strips of tape upon which he’d written some arbitrary price to stick to each piece.
“Don’t worry about the prices,” he called out. “We can negotiate at the sale!”
After he’d marked a significant amount of things, he began moving them outside and setting up the yard.
Sophie marked items without thinking. One dollar, five, ten, fifty cents. Oliver rushed in and grabbed anything she’d marked and whisked it out to the yard with the precision of a man determined to meet a quota.
“My flight leaves at six thirty, so we need to end the sale tomorrow at four and load whatever didn’t sell into the box truck from the donation store.”
Sophie nodded. It would hurt less to do it quickly, not that she held her grandfather in high regard. Most people of the town gave her sympathy for having known him. They all thought he was a raving lunatic.
Sophie remembered the few times he would emerge from his office, beaming like he’d just found buried treasure, alleging that he’d made ‘another million dollar discovery’, dance a little happy jig, and don his hat to go drink to his good fortune. He would seem almost kind and loving, then. He’d tweak her nose like he used to when she was five, and tell her the future looked bright for them.
Sophie stared at a framed picture she found herself holding. It was the blueprint her grandpa had painstakingly drawn and labeled in his fine Captain’s handwriting. Every line was as precise as a map, every letter and number tiny and perfectly legible, though it made no sense to her. It was a fine work of art, if one were into that sort of thing.
“Give me that and stop wasting time!” barked Oliver.
He yanked the framed piece from his sister’s hands. Sophie had a sudden flashback to a moment when Oliver, scowling in the exact same manner, had yanked a filthy toy from her, “Don’t touch that!” he’d screamed. “You don’t know where it’s been!”
“What?” Oliver, disgruntled at being stopped in his momentum, snapped angrily.
Sophie did not have the energy to fight with him. “Nevermind.”
Oliver let out a low growl of exasperation and carried the frame outside.
The next day Oliver woke Sophie by knocking on her door at the little inn they were staying at for the weekend because the sympathetic owner knew their family. Oliver heard ‘for free’ and accepted for both of them.
“Time to get selling!”
Sophie pulled on some jeans and pulled a hoodie over her t-shirt. While it would get warmer later, the wind up on the cliff kept the mornings cooler than average.
The house hid in the mist, gray as the dew on the spiderwebs between the porch rails. Oliver uncovered the tables of items he’d thrown sheets over the night before. He scowled at books that had gotten damp and used the sheet to dry off any moisture clinging to furniture legs.
Sophie wandered around the items, seeing them as unloved, a paltry few pieces standing sadly in rows across the sandy, rocky lawn. Was this what life had to offer; you live, crazy, alone, and then your belongings are set out for scrutiny?
She took the coffee Oliver offered her and picked up a copy of Ralph Waldo Emerson from a table. She settled in a lawn chair to wait. The sun rose, burned off the mist, and the wind picked up. She read, “Build a better mousetrap and the world will beat a path to your door.”
A lone truck came to a stop.
“This looks promising.” Oliver perked up. “All prices are negotiable!”
The truck took off with a table and chairs. Oliver pocketed the meager cash. Two cars arrived, then a van. The first car left with kitchen gadgets and the second left without a word. The van lady chatted up a storm. She touched every single item and walked around the display three times before settling on a pair of lanterns and the framed old blueprint.
“This isn’t going as well as I’d hoped.” Oliver moped when another car came and went without buying anything.
“They all seem disappointed that the Cyclops had so little in the way of interesting things.” Sophie remarked.
“Cyclops.” Oliver shook his head.
It was nearing midday and sales had slowed down. Oliver grew more intolerable by the minute, grumping about the lack of customers and money flowing. His latest diatribe on the shortcomings of this house was interrupted by an SUV traveling at a slow speed. It came to a stop and the driver seemed to consider whether or not to get out.
“Oh, don’t tell me this guy is a drive-by shopper!” Oliver was fit to burst.
Fortunately, the driver decided to open his door and emerge. He was tall and well-built. He walked with caution, looking at the two of them in turns.
“Is this the home of Cyclops?”
“It was. He passed away. If you’ve come to gloat, buy something first.” Oliver snapped.
“I’m sorry to hear that. I’ve not come to gloat. I came for his… ability.”
Sophia’s ears perked up. “Ability?”
“Do you know who I am?”
“Someone who needs a set of brass barometers?” Oliver was sour.
“I am a famous quarterback, went to the Super Bowl last year?”
“Great! Can I interest you in this antique furniture?”
“Oliver! Let him speak!” Sophia never raised her voice to her brother. He closed his mouth and frustration colored his cheeks.
“Cyclops really could see the future. He predicted the outcome of the game years before it happened. He knew the yard lengths of runs, the number of flags, even a deflected pass that bounced off two guys. I watched it all happen, just as he said.”
The quarterback walked over to a stack of ledgers and began thumbing through them.
“I’m really sorry that he’s gone. I was going to ask him about this season.”
He picked up one of the books and gasped. He fervently read through the pages, turning them quickly, skimming, interpreting the numbers.
“I’ll take this whole lot of books! How much do you want?”
“Now, hold on a minute!” Oliver saw a chance to get his money’s worth, at last. “If what you say is true, perhaps nothing here is for sale!”
“What?” Sophia and the football player asked in unison.
“He could have secrets about the future hidden everywhere!” Oliver jumped to his feet.
“Listen, if you let me take these, I’ll write you a check for ten thousand dollars.” The football player squared his shoulders, ready to haggle.
Sophia gasped. Ten thousand was a good deal in her opinion. She didn’t care about football. Those numbers in the books meant nothing to her. If he wanted to gamble on them, that was his loss.
“One hundred thousand and you can have the whole house!” Oliver countered.
“Now hold on just one minute!” A lady had pulled up in a red convertible and tried to jog over the sand and rocks in high heels and a pencil skirt. She was the realtor and carried a leather portfolio.
“You have a contract with Smith and Associates Realty.”
“I’ll sign whatever I need to, ma’am,” the quarterback said.
“Oh no, young man, we are going to do this the right way!”
A man had walked up behind the realtor and quarterback. He had gray hair, but was bald on top, and incredibly white teeth. He wore a casual suit and his wife came trotting over in a dress straight off the rack at Dressbarn.
“Allow me to introduce Senator Barnes. He is interested in buying this property.”
“Captain Petcher and I go way back. He correctly predicted I would win the race for the state Senate seat.”
“Sir, if I may, congratulations, but I’m really interested in this property.” The quarterback would not back down from this challenge.
“Didn’t you win the last Super Bowl?” The Senator squinted his eyes.
“Yes, yes, you are both winners, now can we get on with this? Let’s start the bidding at one hundred and fifty thousand.” Oliver rubbed his hands together.
“Bidding?” shrieked the realtor.
“The estate belongs to me, as the eldest grandson, correct?”
“Actually,” called out an amused voice, deep, with the command of a college professor, “the estate belongs to Sophia.”
Oliver’s jaw dropped.
“I’m Percival Holmes, Esquire, and the late Captain’s attorney. His will clearly states that the property and all contents are to go to Sophia Petcher; specifically, the framed print in his office.” The attorney gave a self-satisfied smile.
“The print was sold a few hours ago,” Sophia breathed in shock.
“Oh dear. That is unfortunate. His will specifically states that you must have it.”
“Why?” Oliver crossed his arms.
“Because he left this large envelope with instructions for Sophia that go with it.”
All eyes were on that envelope clearly marked with Sophia’s name in large calligraphy; the kind you see on old map titles.
“Grandpa Sy never had a visitor in over twenty years. Today the whole world shows up. What was that chatty woman’s name?” Sophia asked her brother.
“I don’t know, I don’t think she said.” Oliver shook his head.
“What did she look like?” asked the attorney as if he were taking a statement for the police.
“She was medium height, pear shaped, long straight brown hair, and she talked the whole time.”
“Did she walk with a limp?” asked the realtor. Everyone turned to look at her.
“I’ve lived here all my life. I know many of the residents. There are a few who fit that description. She has to be a local because only locals would come to a yard sale this far up the ridge.”
The attorney nodded in agreement.
“She did seem to lean heavily on one leg more than the other.” Sophia tried to remember everything about her and what she said.
“It’s Hatty McGill.” declared the realtor.
“Are you sure?” The attorney tilted his head down and raised his eyebrows.
“She fits the bill.”
“Do you know where she lives?” Sophia’s spirits had raised. This was turning out to be a treasure hunt. It wasn’t how her grandpa had planned, but it would have made him happy to see this story unfold into an adventure.
“She lives on Krill Street.”
Everyone moved to their respective vehicles. The attorney’s black mercedes was the last to follow the realtor. Sophie watched the Senator and his wife arguing in their white Cadillac, the windshield of the quarterback’s truck visible above them.
The Realtor turned off the cliffside road onto a series of side roads that skirted the small town and ended up on Krill Street far inland in the tree-covered hills. The house they stopped in front of was hidden behind piles of stuff. It was as if the house’s contents had busted its seams and spilled out into the yard. Appliances, flower pots, a canoe, and crates of who-knows-what filled the front porch. An old slide, two motorcycle bodies, and a rusted swingset supported more boxes and sacks that hadn’t weathered the winter snowmelt well.
The Senator’s wife frowned and cowered beside the car as if afraid to catch something if she crossed the broken chain link fence into the McGill property. The realtor kept her head high as she marched smartly through the gate and up to the cluttered porch.
“Hatty! Hatty McGill! Are you home?” She knocked loudly.
A dirty van drove slowly past the parade of parked vehicles on the side of the road and turned into the driveway. The realtor stepped down to meet Hatty at her driver’s side door.
“What’s going on?”
“Hatty, I’m Patty Smith of Smith and Associates Realty.”
“Oh, my house isn’t for sale.”
“No, we’re not here about your house.”
“You went to the yard sale at old Cyclops’ place this morning, correct?”
“You bought a framed print.”
“It’s lovely!” Hatty gave a brief smile and her eyes lit up.
“I’m sorry, but it wasn’t supposed to be sold.”
The attorney had approached. Hatty scowled at him in his suit. “Yes, Ms. McGill, I’m afraid that property belongs to Miss Sophia Petcher.”
“I bought it from her, so it’s mine fair and square!”
Sophia stepped forward, “I’ll give you your money back.”
“I’m not selling it!”
Senator Barnes opened the van’s rear hatch.
“Thief! Citizen’s arrest! Breaking and entering! Get out of my van! I’m calling my lawyer.”
“I am a lawyer, Ms. McGill. Mr. Senator, please get out of her van. Now, Hatty, I can draw up paperwork that proves the print belongs to Miss Sophia, and we can go to court, but I’m afraid the legal fees will be much more than you would feel comfortable with. My professional suggestion is that you hand over the print and we all leave.” Perceval used a calm tone and spoke rationally to Hatty, but she was having none of it.
“All of you can leave right now!”
“Everyone back up. Give me some space with Hatty.” Sophia suddenly commanded the scene, eyes only on the angry woman.
“Let’s go inside.”
Hatty looked at her soft and friendly face. She saw that Sophia wore a t-shirt and jeans with rips, having removed her hoodie in the car. Sophia looked normal, safe. She nodded and led the way. “Just you!” she warned the others.
They stepped into a kitchen with barely any room for a person to walk. Towers of dirty dishes covered the windows above the sink, faucet dripping. Piles of canned goods filled one corner. Behind them were newspapers and boxes filled with mysteries.
“Hatty, did you know my grandfather?”
“Sydney and I went to school together.”
“So, you feel like you knew him better than anyone.”
“Yes! I was his friend before all this eyepatch nonsense.”
“Hatty, I want you to have something, something special, to remember Sy, but I need the print right now. Can you let me have it? I’ll help you find the perfect thing to remember him by, and not anything with Cyclops on it.”
Hatty stared into Sophie’s innocent face. “I suppose you knew him second best, seeing as how you lived with him for a while. He adored you and your brother, before.”
“I believe you are right.”
Hatty took a deep breath and led the way to the back of her van. She opened the hatch and handed over the framed print, dislodging many of her other purchases from the morning.
The onlookers watched in silence as the object of all their hopes was securely grasped by its rightful owner’s hands.
“Miss Sophia Petcher, I bestow upon you the envelope entrusted to you by your grandfather.” Perceval Holmes handed Sophie the package and walked to his car. His job was finished.
Sophie stared at the envelope. Something stirred in her she hadn’t felt since before her mother’s accident; hope.
“Young lady, I’m not sure you understand the full potential of what you currently possess. Now, I’m in a place to offer you a host of resources in exchange for that print.”
The Senator’s flowery words would not trap Sophia. She shut herself in the car and ripped open the envelope. She emerged with a large smile on her face.
“Sir, I appreciate the offer, but after some consideration, nothing is for sale.”
“Well, what was in the envelope? Did he at least say what the print was?” the quarterback fingered his championship ring. The Senator and his wife, Oliver, and the realtor all leaned in to hear her next words.
Her mouth curled into smile before she continued, “It’s a mousetrap. He built a better mousetrap.”