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Beneath Our Feet

by shellgrip 

Posted: 17 August 2007
Word Count: 5966
Summary: We all dream of finding hidden treasure, but what if it was easy... ?

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“Bloody amateurs!” Simon thrust the paper accusingly in my direction and I let my pint sink back down to the bar as the pages landed on top of it.
“Two weeks! Two weeks they’d been playing with that piece of crap and they stumble across the ‘Find of the Century’!” Simon took the paper back from beneath my eyes before I’d read more than this headline and glanced at the photo of a young man and what was presumably his father posed happily either side of a small metal detector.
“Do you know how many years I’ve been walking the fields round here?”
I made a non-committal noise and chanced to raise my pint again as the paper was smoothed across the bar, Simon leaning over it and running his finger down the article.
“The finest collection of Roman silver found in over 60 years.” Simon paused. “A horde of the utmost importance.” He made a good stab at slamming the paper closed and tossed it onto a vacant stool then turned to me, his own pint forgotten.
“How is that fair? They don’t even know how to work it properly, stumbling around, waving it in the air and then they trip over that!”.
“It happens, you know that. I’m sure your time will come.” It was the wrong thing to say and I knew it as soon as I’d closed my mouth.
“Will it? When, exactly? Thirty years! Thirty years I’ve been detecting and in the last fifteen I’ve used the best gear money could buy. I’ve spent hours and hours every week pouring over maps and diaries, reading crappy stories and rumours to try and get the clues. These… people, just bought a piece of plastic shit from Woolworths and waved it around in the nearest piece of land.” Simon was almost shouting now and the barman wandered down in our direction. Seeing him, Simon took a sip of his pint and raised a hand in apology.
“But there’s more out there, much more,” I said, “and you can’t blame them for a spot of luck.”
“It shouldn’t be luck! There should be a process or a method that could be used to make a proper and methodical approach to recovering these treasures.” He paused again, staring at his reflection in the mirror behind the optics. “Let’s have a fag.”
We got up off our stools and wandered out into the garden where I perched on the edge of one of the tables and Simon paced around me, staring at the grass.
“Think of it, just how much stuff is down there?” he said, gesturing at the ground with a fall of ash. “Hundreds, thousands of years of dropping, breaking, burying and hiding, the ground must be literally rammed with it, so why is it so hard to find?”
“There’s a lot of ground.” I said, simply, “you found a fair few things out here I recall.” I made my own cigarette motion at the pub garden.
Simon stopped pacing and turned to me. “Oh yes, twenty-seven pence in small coins and a Canadian cent. I dined on that haul for months.”
“Yes, but there was a lot of separate items so, in a way, you’re right, it is everywhere. It just isn’t all gold.”
“But there must be tons of gold down there. Literally tons. All we need is some way to see a bigger picture.”
I put on my best quizzical look and he stopped again, facing me.
“The problem is that your normal detector can only sweep a narrow band as you walk along. If you’re careful and slow it can take hours to do a single small field and you’re still missing huge areas round the edges and where you’ve strayed off line briefly. You need a bigger picture, something that can show you an entire area so you’re not digging in the dark.”
“But you’d never see something as small as a coin or a ring if you looked at an entire field in one go.” I said, and instantly regretted it as Simon’s face took on a look I knew all too well. Simon could make the most intelligent man feel stupid and I am far from the most intelligent.
“Really?” He said, drawing on a fresh cigarette, “do you know how they find those planets?”
“What planets?”
“The one’s they’re finding hundreds of light years away.”
“No,” I said, though I had a fair idea.
“They do it by measuring changes in the frequency of the light from the star.”
I shrugged, encouraging him to continue.
“Imagine that. The planet orbiting the star influences it’s movement by a tiny, tiny fraction and they have gear that can measure what that infinitesimal movement does to the light coming from a star hundreds of light years away. It’s mind boggling. Do you really think that finding something the size of a coin would be that difficult?”
“But it’s not the same technology, is it? The wavelengths and… stuff are all different.”
“Yes, yes, but in principle there’s no reason why you shouldn’t make some kind of detector that works over a huge area.” Simon drew again on the cigarette then tossed it with remarkable accuracy into the ash bucket some ten feet to one side, as though proving his point.
Returning to the bar we were both silent for a while as I stared at the half-completed crossword and Simon simply stared into space. After some minutes I turned to check the spelling of ‘bourgeoisie’ (I sure boogie) and he interrupted my initial mutterings.
“I could do it, you know.”
“Do what?”
“Build a detector. Something that works from afar and could show you an entire field – an entire county at a time.”
He smiled and tapped his nose, regardless of the fact that I wouldn’t know where to start even if he laid out the plans and spent two hours explaining them.
“It wouldn’t be hard, just a matter of tuning.” He lifted his pint and drained it then stood up and retrieved his coat from the hook beneath the bar. “I need to go and work on it before the idea fades.”
“OK,” I said, “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
“Maybe, maybe not. We’ll see.” He turned and moved towards the door then looked back and said, “You can work it out”.
“Bourgeoisie. It’s an anagram. Work it out.”
Leaving me with colour rising in my cheeks he ducked through the doorway and pushed the door closed behind him.

In fact I didn’t see Simon the next night, nor the night after than or the one after that. My texts and emails either went unanswered or were replied to simply with ‘I’m busy’. The days, then the weeks passed and although I missed our nightly attack on the Telegraph, in which I was usually little more than a spectator, I soon became bored by chasing him and resigned myself to never completing it again.
It was probably three months later, with the first frosts beginning, that I was staring mindlessly at ‘One’s got one’ (10 letters, third and seventh letter ‘o’) when he swept into the pub, looking tired but happy.
“It’s ready.” He said, reaching for the pint of London Pride that appeared on the bar next to him.
“What is?” I said, looking in confusion at the 10 letter space on the page.
Now my name’s Paul but Simon is known for occasional lapses in concentration so I let it pass. We sat in silence for a moment with Simon staring at the side of my face.
“Sorry,” I said, “what’s ready?”
“My High Altitude Resonant Imager.”
“Oh, HARI.”
There was another long pause.
“Sorry, what’s HARI exactly?”
“My detector, what I’ve been working on.”
It took several long seconds for my slightly cider dulled mind to reel back the weeks and eventually it clicked.
“Oh! Really?”
“Yes. And it’s here. Fancy a trip out?” Simon patted the rucksack that he’d brought in with him.
“What, now?”
“Well, in a minute,” he said, lifting the pint and gesturing with it. “Just this one mind, we’ll have to drive out there.”
“Out where?”
“To the site.”
“What site?”
Sensing that this could be a long and tiresome conversation, Simon took another sip and followed it with a deep breath while settling into his seat more securely.
“I’ve completed a test scan and identified a target, a small one, tiny, at the limits of the range. If that works, I know it’s ready.”
“Wouldn’t it be easier to start with something bigger?”
“No. If this is to work it has to be accurate and the best way to test that is to start with the hardest test there is.”
This seemed like an odd approach to me, but then I’m not a genius inventor.
“Come on, drink up, we might want to have time to come back and celebrate.” He drained his pint and picked up the rucksack, waiting expectantly. With reluctance I finished my own pint and dropped the Telegraph behind the bar.
“Apostrophe.” Simon said, as we moved towards the door.
“One’s got one.” He said, and we walked over to his car.

A painful question and answer session in the car filled in the many gaps in my knowledge. Apparently the device, HARI, had been relatively simple to build and most of the problems had been in the tuning and the actual scanning. Simon had eventually settled on using hot air balloons rather than aircraft or satellites, pointing out that the expense was considerably lower. More time had been spent perfecting the ‘local device’ which Simon explained as being the way the items would be found on the ground – throwing a hand over his shoulder to indicate the rucksack.
Now, armed with a scan of a nearby field and with the ‘local’ programmed to find this tiny test item, we were on our way to see if it all worked.
I have to say I was more than a little nervous. Regardless of Simon’s considerable wealth, it seemed obvious that this venture hadn’t been cheap and try as I might to have faith in my friend, I couldn’t see anything but failure on the horizon. As we wound our way through the lanes of South Oxfordshire I wondered whether it was this sort of thing that lead people into spirals of depression and despair and whether I might need to do something. What, I couldn’t imagine.
Not long after my questions had dried to a trickle, we pulled off a narrow lane into a wide parking area next to a gate. The headlights picked out two steel posts blocking the entrance to a wide bridleway leading off into a narrow band of trees and shrubs that followed a low ridge. Of course, in Oxfordshire, almost all the ridges are low but this one did offer nice views towards the city and, in the West, the cooling towers of Didcot.
Simon retrieved his rucksack from the back seat and fumbled a torch from his jacket pocket, setting off along the path. Torchless, I followed as best I could, managing to step into all the puddles and muddy patches. After no more than a hundred meters or so Simon stopped, dropped the rucksack off his shoulder and rummaged around inside briefly. When he straightened he was holding what looked like a mobile phone and his face was lit suddenly by the glare from the screen as he switched it on.
“What’s that?” I said, praying hopelessly that he wouldn’t simply say ‘it’s my phone’.
“This,” he said, waving it in my direction, “is the local. This will lead us to the item.” Simon turned back to the device and continued poking at the screen with a small stylus.
“Umm, how’s that work then?” I asked, wondering briefly if Simon expected to be texted with clues as we wandered around the fields.
“GPS mainly. All built in. Wonderful little toy.”
“Of course,” he continued, preventing yet another possible disastrous blow to my ego, “GPS wouldn’t normally be sufficiently precise for our needs, not even now the Americans have stopped their stupid ‘selective availability’ but I’ve made a few… modifications.”
“Selective what?”
“Availability.” Simon sighed and dropped the phone (or whatever the hell it was) down by his side. “Up until May 2000 the Americans introduced a deliberate error into the positioning data available via GPS receivers. Not their own, military ones of course, just the ones used by the public. The error was completely random and could be anything up to fifty meters or so; you had no way of knowing if you were spot on or way out. Useless.” He began poking at the screen again.
“And now?”
“Now it’s better. Even cheap rubbish is usually within five meters but that’s still too big an error for what we need so I’ve had to tweak the software a little.”
“So how good is.. .that?” I said, gesturing in the darkness behind his back.
“Oh, I reckon it’s accurate down to about two or three.”
“Well, that still leaves a big area to dig. How big’s the thing we’re after?”
“Two or three centimetres.” Simon turned and smiled, his features oddly blue-lit from the side by the local. He was clearly pleased that I’d underestimated his genius, something that in fairness I’d never done.
There seemed no adequate answer to this claim and after a few seconds Simon bent to clip the rucksack shut then slung it over his shoulder again. “This way,” he said, pointing through a gap in the fence and out onto the field overlooking the view, “about a hundred metres or so.”
We passed between two tall oaks and out onto the field. The ground was firm and largely even, covered in scrubby grass and I before I had a chance to spend any time wondering about it’s use, Simon had stopped again, lowering the rucksack to the ground and kneeling alongside it, heedless of the damp.
“So far,” he said, “we’ve pretty much just used normal GPS accuracy but now we need to get precise.” He laid the local on the ground and fidgeted with it until it lay firm and level on the ground. Over his shoulder I could see the screen displayed a large blue arrow and a single counter that currently read ‘000.42’. It seemed reasonable to guess that this was a distance, probably in meters.
Pulling the stylus from his pocket, Simon poked at a menu and the screen changed to display simply the word ‘Calculating’. A few seconds later he stood and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.
“Now we wait.”
I lit my own and asked “So what are we looking for?”
“To be quite honest, I’m not certain what it is. With larger objects it’s often possible to take an educated guess at what you’re seeing – a sword, a coin, even rings if they lie at the right angle – but this is so small it’s just a tiny blob. I suspect it may be an earring.”
“An earring?” I took another pull on my cigarette, stared at the field and then up at the sky. “You’re going to find an earring in the middle of a field this size?”
“Yes, I think so. There’s something there that’s for sure. Of course, it may not be an earring but whatever it is it’s almost pure gold.”
There was a soft beep and we looked down at the local. The screen had changed back to the arrow and distance display but now the arrow was red and the distance showed ’46.9’.
“Forty-six or forty-seven centimetres that way.” Simon said, and reached into a side pocket of the rucksack to remove a tape measure.
“Hold this end would you Paul? It’s important that we don’t disturb the local now it has a fix, even a small turn would put the dig spot out.”
Simon opened the tape to roughly half a meter and locked it then held it gently over the top of the local, centring his end (the ‘zero’ end) over the very middle of the display. “Find forty-six centimetres and put your finger firmly onto the ground at exactly that point.” I did so, wondering briefly if I might actually touch this tiny gold object. “Good. Now let’s dig.”
Simon reeled in the tape and pushed a small tent peg in where my finger was (barely waiting for me to remove it first). The rucksack produced a sturdy trowel and he knelt and thrust this into the soil directly beneath the peg.
“It’s apparently eight centimetres down so we’ll dig down about five or six then go a bit carefully.”
I lit another cigarette and watched.

Half an hour later we were both standing and smoking. Simon was staring at the ground and I was trying to decide what to say. Twenty-five minutes of digging and scraping had produced nothing but soil and stones of varying sizes and my fears were being realised. The system didn’t work.
“It doesn’t mean it doesn’t work though, does it?” I said, defying the obvious, “I mean, maybe it works fine but just not for things this small.”
“No, no, you don’t understand how it the process and that’s simply not true.” Simon was as close to angry as I’d ever seen him and he seemed to realise this, raising his hand in apology. “It’s difficult to explain but I’d know if it didn’t work and if it works at all it will work regardless of the size.” He stared into space for a few seconds then turned to look at me. “Trust me, size really doesn’t matter.”
“But surely, anything like this must get more difficult the smaller the object.” “To some degree, yes, but this is well within the parameters of the system and I haven’t just walked out here on the first test you know.”
I didn’t know, of course, but had no time to say so.
“I’ve been here countless times in the last few weeks. Those posts,” Simon gestured towards the start of the path and his car, “make this spot ideal. They’re visible from the air – even in satellite photos, you can see them in Google Earth – and they make ideal reference points for calibration because they’re also metal.” He stopped and stared down at the now rather messy hole at our feet. “Last week I used the local to find one of those posts and it brought me right over the top of it. Spot on. I used the same set of scans to locate this object and if the posts were in the right place then this… thing, is as well.”
I waited what seemed an appropriate time then said, “Except it’s not.”
Simon didn’t answer and I began to wonder how long I’d have to wait before it became acceptable to suggest returning to the pub when I was struck by a sudden thought. “What about the spoil?”
“The spoil. I haven’t done anywhere near as much detecting as you have but isn’t it normal to check the spoil pile as you dig? You know, to make sure you haven’t missed what you were digging for.”
“Well, normally, yes. But we knew how far down to dig and stopped well short of there with the trowel, we can’t have missed it.”
“Could the depth be wrong?”
“No…” Simon began, then stopped and looked back down at the hole. “Mind you, altitude is the most unreliable element of the whole calculation and I did have some difficulties with certain soil types… It wouldn’t be much…”
“It wouldn’t have to be much.”
“No, just a few centimetres here or there.”
We both dropped gently to our knees by the hole and, with Simon holding the torch in one hand, began to probe the scattered earth around the hole.
The next ten minutes brought forth numerous cries of delight followed by moans of disappointment as small round stones proved to be nothing more exciting. Simon mumbled constantly under his breath, meaningless snatches of programming and procedure that meant nothing but which were presumably related to the calculation of depth. I was beginning to kick myself for rekindling a pointless enthusiasm when I noticed that his hands and lips had stopped moving, the torch pointed between his thumb and forefinger.
There, nestling in the damp soil was a single, tiny, gleam of reflected light. Slowly Simon brought his fingers together and lifted the object, transferring it to the palm of his other hand and switching the torch over at the same time. He brushed some loose soil away and blew softly across his hand.
It was no more than a child’s tear of gold. The tip blunted, broken and incomplete. It was, without doubt, exactly what Simon had said it would be. It was an earring.

We sat for several pints in the pub, the tiny treasure between us on the bar. We had agreed not to speak too openly in the bar and when the pressure of speculation became too great we left and retired to my house, opening a bottle of single malt that I’d been saving for an unspecified occasion.
The next morning revealed that we’d drunk almost the entire bottle and it was mid-afternoon before I was able to function reasonably as a human being. Simon had left not long before dawn but had done so under something of a cloud.
With proof of the system’s abilities I saw no point in any delay. We should, as soon as possible, identify the largest and most valuable find in the nearby area and recover it. Every day that passed allowed other amateurs to stumble across these treasures and once we could prove what we could do, we’d be millionaires.
I was careful to always talk about what ‘we’ would do and become and Simon seemed not to object to this uninvited partnership.
However, he did not agree with my plans.
Simon was adamant that he would not be forced into a ‘rash action’. His plan, his only acceptable course of action was to complete as much of a survey as was possible of southern and central England. I joked that he shouldn’t stop there but cover the entire Earth but his serious consideration of this suggestion worried me and I attempted distraction by refilling his glass.
“No, there’s no need to go that far,” he had said, “central and southern England is where most of the accessible and important finds will be and beyond that the law of diminishing returns kicks in.”
“There are plenty of important finds all over Britain,” I’d said.
“Yes, of course, but in terms of recovery and accessibility, it’s here that’s the best place to make an impact.”
Simon’s plan was simple. He wanted to plot all of the major finds in the area and then recover them before telling anyone of his invention. He would not be known as the man who recovered one or two and led the way for others to recover the rest, he wanted them all.
I had to admire his greed but he denied the accusation.
“It’s not about greed. It’s not about money. I have all I could ever need. It’s about being proving beyond a shadow of any doubt that I and I alone have done this. Once the idea, the basics of the system are known, it won’t take long for others to build their own and to claim that they had them first or that they’d been working secretly already and had pre-dated my own. No. The only way to be sure is to collect them all.”
Even soaked in Islay malt I could understand some of this principle but it seemed a momentous task. “How many might there be?” I had said.
“I’ve no idea. Even the single scan that included this little miracle,” he said, prodding the earring where it lay on the table between us, “showed a couple of very promising large signals. We could be talking hundreds or thousands of hoardes.”
Thousands seemed quite probable at 3am and we sat in silence for a while.
“But how long would that take?”
“I don’t know. A month? Two? It’s collecting the scans that’s going to take the time. And examining them, that’s going to take the time as well. And digging them up, that’s quite time taking.”
In the morning, nursing half a glass of diet Coke that my body wanted but refused to drink, I reasoned that time would weaken his position. I’d work on him and he’d change his mind in a few days.

It turned out that I was almost entirely wrong. Time didn’t so much weaken his position as make it more stubborn and unyielding. Once again he had withdrawn from our nightly meetings to attack the Telegraph and my emails were largely ignored. Time, he would say, it’s going to take some time.
I’d like to say that after a while I forgot about Simon and his invention but that would be untrue. My every waking moment was filled with visions of gold and silver coins heaped into piles around the house (my house, of course) and every bill I received seemed more trivial than the last. What was a few quid owed to the gas board when I’d soon be drowning in gold? Who cared if a few credit card payments got missed? I’d never need credit again and they’d be begging me to take one of the stupid things.
I’m not a man given to desperation but relief flooded my mind when I opened the door one night and saw Simon standing outside.
“Please tell me you’ve finished.” I said, before he could speak.
“I’ve finished.”
“It’s been six months.”
“I did say it would take some time but yes, it’s finished.”
To be honest, Simon looked terrible. He was never someone that would be described as ‘bronzed’ but his skin now held a pallor that might more appropriately be considered ‘leaden’. He was smiling though and for a few glorious moments, so was I.
“I’ve had a change of heart.”
“Look – can I come in?”
I nodded and held the door wide and we moved into the kitchen, standing awkwardly. Neither of us seemed to feel like sitting down.
“I’ve been thinking.” he said. “These aren’t just deposits of treasure, they’re archaeologically important. I can’t justify running around all over the country digging them up with a spade.”
“Why not? Everyone else does.” This conversation was taking a decidedly unhealthy turn.
“No one else is going to dig up all of them. No one else is going to keep it all a secret until it’s too late. I could cause terrible damage.”
“But what about what you said? What about the er… the making sure you’re the one that gets them all?”
“I was drunk and happy and excited. I’ve had time to think since then.”
“But all that work, all those years of looking…” This wasn’t good, not at all.
Simon looked around the kitchen and his eyes lingered on my growing pile of unopened mail. “When you were younger, was there ever something you wanted more than anything else in the world?”
I thought for a moment, trying to steady myself, “Well, I remember being desperate to own a BBC Micro at one point.”
Simon smiled, “I had one of those, had the graphics chip and everything. Did you get one?”
“Yes, in fact I think I’ve still got it in the loft somewhere. Might be worth a few quid now.”
“Was it everything you wanted?”
“Well, no not really. I had a lot of fun with it, played a lot of Defender; when I could get it to load that is.”
“And now it’s in your loft. Forgotten, covered in dust and its only place in your mind is as a possible source of beer money.”
This seemed uncommonly cruel for Simon but he smiled and raised a hand in apology. “I didn’t mean it that way, I was making a point.
“All my life I’ve been looking for these treasures but now that they’re here, right within my grasp, I find myself wondering whether I’ll really be happy when it’s all done and all I’ve got to show for it is more money than I need and the academic world treating me as a pariah.”
“No, no, you can’t mean that. Don’t you just want one, just once to see the earth fall back and show you a broken pot full of coins? Come on, how long have your waited to see that?”
I saw a chink in the armour and pressed home.
“Just one. Just one. After that you can do what you like but don’t give it all up without experiencing that. There must be something close by, something that you can remember for the rest of your life.”
“I suppose that one wouldn’t hurt. And in some ways I do need to run another test on the larger objects.”
“Let’s go then.” I said, and moved towards the door, pulling my coat from the back of a chair.
“No time like the present. Besides, I don’t want you to change your mind. Do we need to call round your house.”
“No,” he said, and smiled, “it’s all in the car.”
I frowned. “If you were giving it all up, why did you bring that down?”
“Maybe I was hoping you’d change my mind,” Simon said, and smiled as we walked towards the door.
As it happened, the site wasn’t far from the field where we had found the earring, what seemed like a hundred years before. Simon pulled over into a gateway, recovered a spade and a bucket from the boot and then lead the way across a stile and into the field beyond.
“It’s over by that large oak. Not terribly surprising, anything out in the centre of a field on open farmland would have been disinterred long ago.”
As we walked, I asked Simon if I could hold the local and then badgered him to show me how it worked. We were both tense with excitement and I stumbled several times, paying too much attention to the numbers counting down on the tiny screen. Once we were close I handed the local back to Simon and watched as he changed the mode to high precision. We smoked and waited as the minutes crawled by and both jumped a little at the tiny beep from the unit. Just twenty-two centimetres off to the local’s left. We were almost on top of it.
“How far down?” I asked.
“A way. Maybe eighteen inches.”
“You sure?” I said and smiled as he blushed a little.
“Yes, that’s all been tightened up now. Besides, I don’t think we’ll be missing this in the spoil pile.”
The earth was dry and harder than the field holding the earring but I was digging with adrenaline and within a couple of minutes I felt the spade strike a solid lump. We both dropped down by the hole and began to remove the earth more carefully using the smaller trowel and our hands.
There. Simon brushed away a clod of earth and sitting in the centre of the hole was a single coin, darkly yellow and unmistakably gold.
“May I?” I asked, and reached down before Simon could answer. I took the coin in my hands and shone my own torch on it, brushing the surface clear.
“Hmm, Constantius the second, 337-361AD gold solidus, somewhere around three hundred and fifty quid apiece. Very nice.”
Simon had stopped digging and risen to his feet with his own coin between the fingers of his right hand. “When did you become an expert in Roman gold coins?”
“Sometime in the last six months I’d say.” I gestured at the hole. “How many, d’you reckon?”
“Impossible to say but it’s a big signal. Got to be a few hundred, maybe thousands.” Simon dropped back down to the hole. “Perhaps we could widen the hole a little now we know where they are.”
“We might as well.” I picked up the spade from where it lay behind Simon’s feet and swung it around, bringing the edge of the blade down on the back of his head. After years of watching movies the real thing was surprisingly dull. There were no screams, no panic. Simon simply pitched forward, his face crushed against the earth on the far side of the hole, and lay still. I leant down and felt against the side of his neck for a pulse but as I did so he moaned gently and began to shift against the soil. I had to hit him quite a few times before I was absolutely certain.

I really don’t know why so many killers get caught. Disposing of the body was simple and rather appropriate, buried in the same hole that revealed his first big find. Of course, it had to be made a bit bigger but that just made sure I got every last coin. I drove his car into a rather disreputable area of Oxford and left it in a dimly lit side street, confident it would be stolen and burned out within a matter of hours, the SatNav left as a lure, flashing in the windscreen. I walked into town and caught a train home, my rucksack on the seat beside me. The gold I collected from its hiding place some days later, transferring it to an unused corner of the garage.
The police came round, of course, some weeks later when an overenthusiastic postman commented on the piling mail behind his door. It was a simple untruth to claim that I hadn’t seen Simon in months. That I’d spent those months pestering everyone and anyone in the village for information about him served me well and they seemed easily satisfied that I had no idea of his whereabouts.
Ironically, it was Simon himself who provided the ultimate method of releasing the find to the world. In his will he had left his metal detector to me, his long term crossword buddy and I cried real tears of joy as I explained to the papers how happy he would have been that it was his equipment that had led to the wondrous find (nowhere near it’s real origin).
In the months waiting for Simon it had occurred to me that there was a third option to our argument. Tell no one.
If the system was released to the world the fame and fortune of the finder would quickly fade, the value of the finds diminish. Our names would soon be forgotten and the world would move on.
Over the coming years I would make a number of startling finds. I would be careful, of course, to prepare diligent research to back each of them, and to be certain that I demonstrated a proper measure of fruitless searches yielding nothing but junk.
I would probably still use Simon’s metal detector, maybe erect a monument in honour of my missing friend at the site of one of the hoards.
I might even make guest appearances at clubs and join them on group outings, suggesting a location and allowing one of their number to stumble in the right direction.
I’m not a greedy man.
Sitting now in the pub, I returned the once-more friendly smile of the landlord as he refreshed my pint and chuckled a little as I read nine across.
‘Capital losses cause early bereavement.’ 12 letters.
Why, ‘decapitation’, what else?

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Comments by other Members

toshi at 17:36 on 24 August 2007  Report this post
Hi Jon,

Finally managed to read your story. I enjoyed reading it, although to tell you the truth I thought you were leading up to some exciting alien find rather than a murder! So that was a real surprise. I found all the background about GPS and satellite tracking very convincing and intriguing which kept me motivated to read on and find out where exactly this story was going.

However I do have one criticism - your characters did not come across very strongly. I could not understand what Simon's motivation for developing the device was - although when I looked back I saw that it was he who was angry that someone else was finding things at the beginning, after that he did not seem to show much enthusiasm for actually finding things at all. I began to think his motivation was purely whether he could develop such a device. Then the "I" character seemed to lack any personality at all at times, which might be true of most people, but doesn't always make for gripping reading. I think you need to fill in a bit more detail on their real lives - they came across as not actually having any, whether it was work, other friends, or even just other hobbies, especially the "I". You could have at least hinted at excessive greed, a callousness or else a murderous tendency. Coming completely out of the blue like that does shock the reader, but it does not necessarily satisfy them if they can't look back and feel there were clues to this they might have missed. Perhaps a bit more urgency or feverishness while they are digging, or else while he might agree with Simon all the time, his private "voice" could be more malevolent and pushy?

Of course these are only my impressions from reading the story through once. My two other suggestions are that you could capitalise "local" as it sometimes came across as part of the sentence it appeared in. Secondly, I liked the crossword clues which kept appearing. I wondered if you should start with one of those, setting that theme up right from the beginning, then move into Simon's complaints about the other finds.

I hope this may be some help. Thanks very much for posting. As you've probably noticed, Sci-fi has gone from thriving to really rather dead over the past six months, so I am hoping with you back it will reinvigorate itself.

Best wishes

PS I am sorry about any typos in this. I still have to pack for my holiday tomorrow and am in a total panic now trying to get everything done!

shellgrip at 13:41 on 29 August 2007  Report this post
Hi Toshi and thanks for the comments.

Other comments the Short Story group have suggested weak characterisation but to be honest I'm in two minds about this. To an extent, the shallow characters are deliberate precisely because the ending has to be such a shock. There are clues to the deception being played by Paul (the narrator) but they're pretty small. For example, the paragraph where he is talking about bills is intended to indicate an increasing personal debt, the remark about the BBC Micro an indication that he may have more computer knowledge than is at first apparent and so on. To be honest, whenever I've tried to write in more character detail it just seems 'stuck in' and irrelevant. Having said this, I'm aware that the ending is rushed and when re-written there will almost certainly be more noticeable clues to the direction of his thoughts.

You're actually spot on about the ending - that was my original plan! Well, to be honest, the story was written to about half-way and I didn't have an ending. I'd thought of some sort of discovery but felt this was a bit of a cliche and also more than a little obvious. I also couldn't think of anything really good for him to discover! This ending came to me in a flash one afternoon and it seemed much more interesting. However, I do wonder if it's left the story a little disjointed and I'll need to think on that.

Yep, capitalisation for the Local is a good idea and I'll do that.

I'm not sure about starting with the crossword. I kind of like the explosive start but I'll certainly look at it!

Have a good holiday and thanks again!


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