Action & Adventure

The Uncommon Thread


This book will launch on Jun 22, 2020. Currently, only those with the link can see it. 🔒

Paddy Duncan thinks he’s part of a quiet family of tailors. But when his grandfather is kidnapped, Paddy desperately begins searching for clues only to find that his family has been guarding a secret. It’s a scientific mystery so amazing, it has been changing the course of history, through espionage, for over two hundred years.

As he digs deeper, Paddy finds that Grandpa left him hidden messages, but instead of helping him find Grandpa, they instruct him to save another life that hangs in the balance. He discovers he is up against a long line of enemies whose sole aim is to destroy Duncan Tailoring, and Paddy feels entirely unprepared to thwart them. Yet, as one clue leads to another, Paddy learns that all the boyhood games Grandpa played with him--deciphering coded messages, untangling riddles, and making “memory pictures”--were not just for fun. They are tools without which he cannot hope to succeed.

Will he now decide to risk his life helping others in a dangerous world of espionage where he is a marked man? And all for the sake of the family legacy? It’s a chance to change the world forever.


It was no ordinary storm. Even though Paddy was inside and several blocks away, he could hear the iron clasp clanging loudly against the flagpole as if it sounded an alarm. If only he could have realized it was a harbinger of the terrible events about to happen.

The nor’easter had been building in strength off the coast for days before it descended on the seaside village of Weymouth, pounding it without mercy. Swirling coal-colored clouds appeared to be ripped apart by lightning that was so close it made Paddy’s hair stand on end. 

Storms fueled Paddy’s imagination, and the more violent, the better. He had hardly left the window seat for two days. His heart raced as he placed his hand on the vibrating window and listened to the shrieking winds. He closed his eyes, and he was sailing in first place in the America’s Cup, heading into treacherous seas. He could almost feel the salt spray on his face. 

The electricity periodically flickered, so the storm provided a welcome break from the monotony of cutting fabric, binding buttonholes, and endless hand stitching. A rattle outside made Paddy’s eyes dart up to the shop’s sign, shaking him from his imaginary adventures. The wind whipped the sign so wildly one could scarcely read the gold lettering that read: Duncan and Sons—Tailoring, which reminded him of the reality of his predicament. 

A cloud of foreboding had been growing in his mind about his future, and now that he’d graduated from high school, he could no longer avoid his dilemma. The swinging sign outside the shop was as irritating as his conscience, for it reminded him that “Duncan” was followed by “and Sons.” 

The shop had been built by Paddy’s grandfather, William Duncan, when he came to America from Dundee, Scotland, in 1960. Paddy’s father, Malcolm, took over the shop, and naturally, he expected his son to follow in his footsteps. Tailoring in the Duncan family dated back to 1775, so after 244 years, there was no little pressure on Paddy to continue the family legacy.

Paddy looked around at the tiny shop and imagined working there for the rest of his life. How could Papa be content to spend every day in this tiny place? The most exciting thing that has happened in the past decade was getting a new sewing machine. The prospect of staying four more years to get his journeyman’s certificate left him feeling as though someone was holding him underwater. Finally, he was fed up with his indecision and decided he needed to talk to someone. He couldn’t speak to Papa, and besides Grandpa, his friend David was the only other person he completely trusted to be honest with him. He had known David since seventh grade, and they had both been on track, wrestling, and sailing teams in high school.

Paddy spoke quietly into the phone so that Papa wouldn’t hear. “Hey, David. What’s going on?”

“I’m supposed to be filing college applications, but I can’t decide where to apply.”

“Same here,” replied Paddy.

“I thought you were going to become a journeyman.”

“I was . . . I am . . . ugh! That’s my problem. I can’t stand the idea of just staying here. I’m desperate to do something where I can travel, and I think I should get a degree first if I’m going to get the kind of job that lets me do that. But, if I say that to my dad, he might have a heart attack. He’s been so sad since my mom died.”

David listened and was quiet for a few moments before commenting. “You know, when my dad left for Afghanistan, I told him I wanted to be a Marine just like him. But he knew that I’m wired to be an engineer. Before he shipped out, he told me that each person has to find their own way. So, who knows? Maybe you aren’t supposed to be a tailor. Maybe you should have a job where you travel for now. Then later, if you want to settle down, you might return to tailoring someday. If that’s what you decide, hopefully, your dad will eventually understand.”

Paddy was quiet as he let David’s words soak in. He knew he had a long way to go to summon up the courage to tell Papa what he wanted. 

“Thanks, man. I’ll think about that. Hey, good luck with picking a college. Maybe you should just go with the one with the best track team.”

“Ha! That makes the decision a lot easier!”

“Talk to you later, okay?”

“Okay. See ya around,” replied David.

Paddy’s thoughts drove him from the window seat to his bedroom upstairs. He moved his grandfather’s latest cryptography challenge off his bed and flopped down. As he lay there, his eyes roamed over his many posters of faraway places like Finland, Brazil, and Australia. Finally, his gaze rested on the many pins covering the world map over his dresser. He swore he would visit all the marked countries someday. Dangerous thoughts he’d entertained over the past few weeks crept back into his mind. He imagined himself hitching a ride on one of the freighters that frequented the port of Boston or taking a walk and simply letting his feet keep going to see where his path might lead. 

Though he knew it was silly, his desperation made him close his eyes and listen. He half hoped to hear some message in the storm that would guide him. The swirling wind as it shrieked against the clapboards of the shop seemed to be urging him to abandon the safety he knew and embrace the unknown. It was as if Nature herself agreed with the longing in his heart, and for a few moments, he thought he could faintly hear a chorus of voices carried on the wind, calling, “Be free!”

Papa calling interrupted his thoughts. “Paddy, come down. I’ve set up some oil lamps so we can keep working.”

Paddy sighed, grabbed his thimble from his dresser, and descended the stairs slowly, the thud of his footsteps echoing his frustration. 

As he entered the shop, Papa peered over his glasses and remarked, “Storms are no excuse not to meet deadlines. When the shop is yours one day, your reputation will depend on keeping your word.” Papa went back to his stitching, his arthritic hands, and his hunched posture, making him appear twenty years older. He insisted on working in his suit and tie. He had an old-fashioned sense of propriety and said that wearing a suit put him in the mind frame to work hard.

“What were you doing upstairs? Reading again? You’ve read more books in your few years than most people have in a lifetime. If you devoted that time to tailoring . . .”

“Grandpa says it’s good to have a thirsty soul.”

“That sounds like him,” he muttered. “What books have you read lately?”

Paddy hesitated. “Les Misérables, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book called De/Cipher, about cryptanalysis . . .” He decided to stop with the last three rather than reinforce Papa’s accusation. 

Paddy settled into a chair and began hemming the sleeves of a morning coat for the mayor of Weymouth. His thoughts drifted to Grandpa’s library in his cottage behind the shop. Paddy borrowed a book at least once or twice a week. He understood that the price for borrowing a book was to agree to quizzes from Grandpa on all sorts of details about its contents. To Grandpa, each work of literature was a work of art, not just to be read but to be experienced. He often bought new books on his business travels, so there was a constant supply. 

Paddy couldn’t say whether his desire to travel made him want to read about faraway places, or whether so much reading made him want to travel, but Grandpa loved his enthusiasm. He used Paddy’s fascination with other countries to teach him foreign languages. As a result, Paddy could speak five fluently and two others reasonably well, though he never thought that his talent was extraordinary. 

“Son,” said Papa, “Go get your grandpa. It’s probably safer if he stays here tonight rather than in that old cottage. This storm is getting worse.” 

“I checked on him earlier. He was napping in his chair. I think he was dreaming.”

“Well, they won’t be happy dreams if the storm rips his roof off. Honestly, we need to get someone to come to take a look at it. That roof has got to be well over fifty years old.”

Paddy put on his raincoat and ran down the brick walkway to the cottage, the gale almost knocking him down several times. Wind and sleet whipped into his eyes, cutting his cheeks and stealing his breath. With a gasp, he pushed on the cottage door and lunged inside.

Grandpa was sleeping soundly in his old plaid recliner, his tall frame making the chair look too small for him. Paddy shook him gently by the shoulder. “Grandpa?”

“Hmm? What? Oh, it’s you, Paddy.” 

“Papa says the storm is getting worse, and he wants you to stay in the big house tonight. He’s worried about the roof of this old place.”

“The roof? Nonsense. This place has weathered every Weymouth storm for . . . well, for many years. Besides, I replace the roof ridge every ten years. You tell him I’m fine right here.” He closed his eyes again.

“Have you had supper?”

Grandpa peeked over his round glasses. “Oh, you are kind to ask, but I ate hours ago. Now you go on back to the house. Tell your papa not to worry. I’m snug as a bug.” 

Paddy stoked the fire and added some wood. It was the only heat source in the cottage, but Grandpa had built it well. It took up the entire corner of the living room, and the stones radiated heat long after the fire went out. 

“Well, I’m coming back to check on you again before I go to bed, just to be sure.”

“No need, but suit yourself. I’ll be fine.” 

Paddy’s eyes scanned the floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and he thought if he couldn’t go on a real adventure, at least by reading, he could sail away in his imagination. 

“Do you mind if I borrow a book while I’m here?”

“You know the answer to that,” Grandpa mumbled, with his eyes still closed. “I never mind.” 

Paddy ran his hand over the worn spines of the familiar books. Most of them were like old friends; he’d spent so much time with them. He found three he liked best and spent a few minutes trying to decide which one to borrow. 

“Grandpa? Which of these do you recommend?” 

“You haven’t read Travels in some time. That would be my choice.” 

Gulliver’s Travels it is then.” Grandpa called the book Travels because it was the first edition from 1724 which was then titled Travels Into Several Remote Nations of the World.

“So, have you decided whether you will be staying?” asked Grandpa as he straightened in his chair. He could tell Paddy had something on his mind.

Paddy sighed, flopped into a chair, and studied Grandpa’s face for a clue to his thoughts. But Grandpa had already given his opinion—this was a decision Paddy had to make alone. 

“No, I haven’t. I’m stuck right where I was two weeks ago when you asked me.”

“I tried on lots of lives before I chose this one,” Grandpa said, with a faraway look in his eyes. “If you only think about the obstacles instead of what gives you a sense of purpose, you won’t get very far. We don’t know what we are capable of until we push past our fears. Your mama used to say, ‘All good decisions are made from a balance between the wisdom of the mind and the passion of the heart.’”

The storm had entirely retreated by morning. Despite the raging gale, Weymouth awoke with barely a blade of grass out of place, so hardy was the village and its residents. Paddy was already working when Papa came down to the shop.

“Did Grandpa come to the house last night?”

“No, I checked on him before bed, and he insisted he was fine in the cottage. You know him,” replied Paddy.

“It was pure nostalgia that made him recreate his dad’s cottage—thatched roof and all. I doubt we can find anyone in the entire state of Massachusetts who knows how to work on a thatched roof.”

“Maybe Weymouth is a lot like Dundee. Grandpa’s roof seems to fare better in bad storms than the ones around us,” observed Paddy.

Papa grumbled his disagreement and began cutting fabric for a vest.

“Good morning!” Grandpa said cheerfully as he entered the shop. His smile deepened the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes. Paddy thought he looked a bit like Abraham Lincoln with his high cheekbones and deeply set eyes. He still had thick red hair, though the speckles of gray increased with each passing year. The weathered skin of his broad forehead had wrinkles that Paddy could read like a map to know when he was deep in thought.

“Morning, Grandpa. How did you sleep?” asked Paddy.

“Like a baby!” he exclaimed, settling his tall, thin frame into a chair by the fireplace.

“Where are you going on your next trip?” asked Paddy.

“Oh, just a quick stop in Paris to see the new silk coming off the line, then I’ll stop in Dublin on my way home.” 

“Papa, what do you think about my going along with Grandpa on his next trip? I could help him and learn about how he works with fabric vendors.” It wasn’t the first time Paddy had thought of going with Grandpa, but it was the first time he’d had enough courage to ask Papa about it.

Papa looked up from his sewing machine slowly. He looked over at Grandpa with an oddly stern expression for what seemed like several minutes and then fixed his eyes on Paddy. The tension in the room was palpable as Papa spoke slowly, “I’m going to say this only once. You will never go on a purchasing trip with your grandfather. It’s too dangerous.” 

Papa closed his eyes for a moment as if he wished he could take back his words. 

“What’s dangerous about it?” Paddy expected some opposition, but he was not prepared for Papa to say it was dangerous. He felt his stomach tighten and his pulse quicken as he scrambled to think of what to say next. “I want to learn more about the purchasing side of the business, and it’s a perfect time now that I’ve finished school . . .”

“I’ll not discuss it further. I promised your mother I would keep you safe . . .” His voice faded, and his expression looked as if he remembered something painful.

Paddy glanced at Grandpa, hoping for support, but Grandpa closed his eyes, put his head back against the armchair, and kept silent. Paddy stared down at his hemming, unable to keep working. Papa’s tone made him feel punished, and he wanted to retreat to his room. He had agonized for weeks trying to find a way to say he didn’t want to stay and run the shop, and traveling with Grandpa seemed the perfect answer. He had to try again. 

He walked slowly across the room and put his hand on Papa’s shoulder. 

“Papa, I’ll be fine. I’m eighteen now. I can help Grandpa with lifting the fabric boxes and keeping the purchase records. Wouldn’t that be helpful? We might get home sooner with two people doing the scouting.” 

Papa dropped his handwork on the table and stood up, backing away from Paddy. His eyes opened wide, and his mouth twisted into a fearful grimace. He put up both hands as though he wanted to keep Paddy at a distance and froze where he stood for several moments. 

“I knew this day would come.” His voice trembled as he turned his eyes to look squarely at Grandpa. “Go ahead and tell him, but know this”—he waved his knobby finger at Grandpa as though scolding him—“I hold you responsible for his safety, and I will never forgive you if something happens to him.” Papa stormed out of the shop and upstairs to his bedroom.

Paddy was angry at himself that he hadn’t found a better way to present his plan. It hurt him that Papa still treated him like a child, but most of all, he was confused by Papa’s angry response. He’d never heard his father that upset before. Paddy sat on the floor in front of Grandpa and silently waited. Grandpa seemed deep in thought as he sat looking at his old, worn hands.

Finally, he spoke. “Paddy, there is so much to tell you—about my trips, your mother, your heritage . . . but when I do, some of it will be hard to understand and maybe even harder to believe. I promise you that I will tell you everything as your papa has instructed, but it will take some time to explain it. Will you be patient and trust me?” 

Paddy looked at him, still confused, and after several moments, he replied, “Of course, Grandpa.” 

“If you don’t mind, we’ll discuss it tomorrow evening after work. I have several phone calls and errands to run today.”

“Grandpa, please. What’s wrong with Papa? I don’t think I can wait . . .”

Grandpa’s deep-green eyes were full of understanding. He patted him on the shoulder and then rested his hand there for what seemed like a full minute. He whispered, “It’s best, Son. Be patient; it’ll all make sense soon.” As he trudged out the back door to the cottage, his shadow on the garden wall cast an image of a much younger, stronger man. Paddy could tell by the lines on his forehead that he was troubled. It seemed a deep sadness had settled upon him, and Paddy was determined to find out why.

About the author

Laurie Douglass is a writer who is inspired by science, history, mystery, and other cultures. She enjoys reading and writing fiction and poetry and loves to weave references to classic literature into her work. Laurie lives in Maryland with her husband and their sweet therapy dog, Grant. view profile

Published on April 14, 2020

Published by

80000 words

Worked with a Reedsy professional 🏆

Genre: Action & Adventure

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