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Beneath Our Feet

by shellgrip 

Posted: 22 August 2007
Word Count: 5966
Summary: We all dream of finding that hidden treasure, but what if we could [i]know[/i] where it was...

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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

Buzzard at 21:22 on 23 August 2007  Report this post
Hi, Jon
I really liked this. I particularly liked the role reversal from the point where the narrator sees that the invention is a success. Ditto the shift from light to dark, which of course is so closely related. And you keep the reader hanging on really well, too, using the line-breaks to excellent suspenseful effect.

If I felt the story lacking anywhere, it was in the characterisation. From the very first section I wanted to know more about both characters' backgrounds. How had Simon made his money? What is their friendship based on? (Must be a little more than the crossword, isn't it, for Simon to share such knowledge and potential for riches?) Do neither of them have any life beyond each other? Fine if they don't — it better serves the story if they don't! — but I just wanted it acknowldeged, so that it didn't feel like a gap in what you the author, as opposed to the narrator, is offering us. How old are they? (For some reason They got younger to me as the story progressed. I was only able to put an age to them for sure when the BBC Micro came up, and then teh confirmation seemed too late.)

And this might be more a question of personal taste — but I'll go ahead and say it anyway! I'd like to have 'seen' more. The pub, the fields they visit, the narrator's home
. . . And perhaps 'heard' a little less, i.e. not quite so much dialogue. I just felt at times that rather than carrying the story forward it was holding it up somewhat. Simon's techy account of the system is one case in point. Because the tone is as light as it is, and the characters as stereotypical in their overblown smart guy/innocent (apparently!) acolyte relationship, I'm willing to suspend my disbelief in the invention, anyway. So I don't really feel I need to know how it works. But, like I say, that might just be me!

The only turn in the story that I wasn't keen on was the speed with which Simon turns around and allows himself to be convinced to go treasure hunting after claiming a change of heart. It works really well in being a humorous obstacle to the narrators emerging intentions, but just feels overcome slightly too easily. Would it not work just as well if Simon was more obviously teasing the narrator? I know he says 'Maybe I was hoping you'd change my mind', but it still wasn't clear to me if he had been teasing or was genuine. I don't buy all the gear being in the car if he wasn't teasing, but if he was then probably the 'When you were younger was there nothing . . .' part of their conversation is another example of superfluous dialogue.

On the whole, though, as I said, I do really like this story, the volte-face especially. I would be keen to see any alterations you do make.

Cheers for now

shellgrip at 17:09 on 24 August 2007  Report this post
Hi Clay, and thanks for the comments.

To be honest I'm not keen on expanding their characterisation as I don't really feel it would add anything to the story. I'm not a big fan of describing characters in detail when that detail plays no part in the story, preferring to (hopefully!) allow the backstory to build slowly and only to the point that is necessary. In earlier versions I had expanded on the descriptions of fields and environments but in a short story they seemed to just be baggage. If this were a novel then I'd certainly expect to establish the scene in greater detail but in a short... I'm not so sure.

In terms of ages, there's a clue right at the start in Simon's exclamation that he's been detecting for 30 years and I'd hoped that I'd established a familiarity between the two men that suggested they'd known each other for some time. Again, I'm not really that bothered if I don't pin their ages down. They're clearly adults and Simon is (I think) clearly older than Paul but beyond that I really don't feel it's necessary to expand. In a way, it's almost like an experiment in that I'm intrigued at the ages other readers have suggested for the two. Everyone has said that Simon is older but the absolute ages have varied quite a lot. It's something I'll look at though. Ironically, the BBC Micro comment wasn't intended as a marker of age but rather a tiny clue that Paul may not be as naive as he makes out. By the end of the story I wanted the reader to understand that Paul has been concealing his knowledge from day one and that maybe he always planned this.

The science bit is largely a reflection that this story was originally written as sci-fi (and was originally posted in that group). It's probably also a symptom of my earlier intentions that the 'twist' would be something of a more scientific nature where these elements of operation would be important. I'll review now that the ending (and genre) have changed!

One thing I do agree wholeheartedly with is that the final scene is rushed and needs some reworking. As you say, I think either Simon needs to be more clearly pulling Paul's leg or he needs greater persuasion. At the moment it is falling between those two bar stools. I'm leaning towards the greater persuasion route as this provides an opportunity to both conceal the twist and give us a little more insight into Paul.

Thanks again - I'll try and make some changes by the start of next week.


Becca at 17:33 on 25 August 2007  Report this post
Hi Jon,
I did like your two characters, and I think this story is clever. I liked the end: 'Capital losses cause early bereavement.’ 12 letters.
Why, ‘decapitation’, what else?'
Yet I do lean towards Clay's view of it. I was actually deeply shocked at the moment the MC did what he did to Simon, I really wasn't expecting it. And, although you might not want to make that less of a shock, I do feel that the MC is very cryptic, and that revealling a bit more of his psychology would give the story 'edge'. Perhaps also, it ends to abruptly? I've been thinking about it a lot today, and trying to figure out what feels as if it's missing in this story, and I see why Clay talks about characterisation. If you didn't want to go in that direction maybe something else you could do to create more 'tension' in it - it feels as if it's very much on the same level all the way through - would be to work a bit on creating more friction between them. Your MC could be a cold hearted sociopath, did you mean him to be that?
I do like the story's premise, but I wonder if the technical aspects need to be pushed a little into the background.

shellgrip at 13:48 on 29 August 2007  Report this post
Hi Becca and thanks for the comments.

It seems clear that characterisation is an issue for everyone that's commented but I'll admit I'm having problems with this. I can generate back stories for both characters but when I try to include it into the story it seems forced and unnecessary. I can certainly drop some bits and pieces in here and there and perhaps that's all it needs.

Yes, the ending is very abrupt and I'm aware I need to work on it. To be honest, in the reworked version it's possible that there will be greater glimpses of character towards this ending and so there may be two birds killed with one stone.

As I mentioned to Clay, this was originally an SF short and I'm not certain SF readers would have an issue with the technical aspects (in fact, the only comment I have on the SF posting actually liked the technical stuff!). I guess I may have to consider genre and whether a final version should weaken the technical side and become 'merely' a short story or to retain them and market as SF...

I'll have another read through and try to incorporate all the comments I've had and re-post.

Thanks again and watch this space!


Account Closed at 14:04 on 29 August 2007  Report this post
Jon, I've just wwmailed you,

Account Closed at 16:37 on 29 August 2007  Report this post
Hi Jon,

I thought this was brilliant - really loved it. Just some basics first, but I loved how it started - straight in, loads of energy - , I thought it was very smoothly written, with excellent dialogue and a great dynamic between the characters. I thought the pacing was spot on, and the way each section was structured very good – felt just right.

I loved the characterisations, and really didn’t feel I needed any more on them (sorry to confuse things by disagreeing with Buzzard!). I wasn’t bothered about their ages and, actually, didn’t particularly see Simon as older; I just saw them as the sort of tense, stressed out, sarcastic genius and his rather nebbisch side kick. Again, disagreeing with B, and it is down to personal preference, but I didn’t want any more description of place, or any less dialogue – that was what made it for me – gave it masses of energy and humour. In this respect, there were loads of nice touches:

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.”

The wavelengths and… stuff are all different.”
– liked the . . and stuff
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.

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.
– great – you just know he’s misunderstood before it’s explained.
(there are others I really liked, too, but no point in quoting them all back to you)
- and loved how S tells him the crossword answer each time

Just some small things:
Yes, yes, but in principle there’s no reason why
– wondered if italicizing ‘in principle’ might work (in keeping with his condescension towards P – dunno, maybe not)

The system didn’t work.
“It doesn’t mean it doesn’t work though, does it?” I said, defying the obvious, -
loved this, except I’d cut defying the obvious - I think it’s funnier without.

- and in the same vein -
I waited what seemed an appropriate time then said, “Except it’s not.”
– loved that too

but had done so under something of a cloud.
– wasn’t sure what/why

“No time like the present. Besides, I don’t want you to change your mind. Do we need to call round your house.”
– I think the bit in bold weakens it a bit, that his impatience is shown better with the 2 phrases before and after.

I agree that Simon’s being persuaded to go after all didn’t quite work. The lines that jarred to me were:
“No,” he said, and smiled,
“it’s all in the car.”
“Maybe I was hoping you’d change my mind,” Simon said, and smiled as we walked towards the door.

- the smiles didn't feel right. I agree you need some other way of getting him to change his mind.

There are some nice clues planted to Paul’s murderous intentions:
This conversation was taking a decidedly unhealthy turn

This wasn’t good, not at all

I asked Simon if I could hold the local and then badgered him to show me how it worked
– an a-oh moment
“When did you become an expert in Roman gold coins?”
“Sometime in the last six months I’d say
- so, actually, the murder wasn’t a shock to me, I thought it was well seeded

Aaah, hate disagreeing with others’ comments, makes me all nervous – and I could be completely wrong! - but am hoping you don't change it too much!

shellgrip at 13:39 on 22 November 2007  Report this post
Hi Poppy,

Thanks for the detailed reply and my sincere apologies for the unacceptable delay in those thanks - they're really helpful comments.

I know it's an old excuse but I really have been completely snowed under with work and once again WW has had to take a back seat. I'm going to try and redraft the story taking into account all the comments but I wouldn't hold your breath... there goes the phone again...

Thanks again and don't worry about disagreeing with others, people are always saying I'm disagreeable.


tusker at 11:47 on 26 January 2008  Report this post
Hi Jon,
A great story. No nit picks but wish the swine could get his comeuppance.


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