A piercing whistle shatters the silence in my bedroom. I run to the window and lean out. Zack’s down below, his baseball cap on backwards as usual, his legs knobby-kneed under his cut-offs. He shouts: ‘Marcus! Come quick, see what I got!’ He's holding a strange-looking object on a pole.
I put a finger to my lips, then point to the house behind me. I signal, palm held outwards, 'wait'. I listen for a second. The sounds of fighting can be hearddownstairs: raised voices, the crash of china, a slamming door. Out the window is less of a risk than the stairs. I launch myself at the branch of the old apple tree. I hang on, scraping my knuckles, and shin down the gnarled trunk.
I jump to the ground, dusting my shorts. I look at the weird object in Zack's hand. Then I notice he has a black eye. "What happened to you?"
Zack dismisses the question. "It's nothing. Just get a load of this."
It's a metal pole with a handle and a round thing at the end, like a flat metal doughnut.
"What is it?" I ask.
"It's a metal detector. Today we're going fishing for money."
I must have looked pretty dumb, because he says: "C'mon, we'll go in the shallows under the pier. Here, you can carry this."
He hands me a trowel. I follow him.
Zack is my hero. He's older, smarter, and a lot braver than me. He has the most brilliant ideas.
We walk towards the beach.
Every day, that summer, we tried to make money. Saving up so we could run away. We washed cars, dug for clams, made lemonade with lemons Zack stole from the market. We ran errands, bagged groceries. More often than not, we fished. We both loved fishing and shrimping; what we caught, we sold to our friends' mothers.
I run to catch him up. "So, how's it work?"
"You'll see. It’s cool."
"Where'd you get it?" I'm panting, trying to keep up with his longer legs.
"My dad let me borrow it."
I must look incredulous, because he says: "He feels bad for blacking my eye. He's not used it yet. He bought it cheap off a friend 'cos it's old and the headphones are broken."
"Can you put it in water?"
"Yeah, the coil's waterproof. Dad says it’s pulse induction technology, whatever that is. Its more than five hundred bucks new. We'd better not break it, or he'll black more than my eye."
Zack's father is not good with drink. His mom smokes pot to be able to stomach him.
We're at the beach. We jump off the seawall and kick off our shoes: the sand feels warm between my toes.
"Let's go," Zack says. "People are always dropping coins and things at the beach."
The metal detector has a curved bit where you put your arm like on a crutch, and a small control box lower down. Zack pushes a red button on it and a little light comes on. He starts moving the round thing he calls a coil over the sand. After a while it beeps. We both fall to our knees and scramble in the sand.
"Here’s one!" Zack holds up a dime, as happy as if he's discovered a chest of pirate treasure.
"Can I have a go?" I ask.
"Sure. Just keep the coil steady."
Beep, beep. Most of the time we find rubbish. Flattened metal cans, a rusty fork; a spring from a beach chair. We dig with the trowel, we sift sand through our hands. A few coins go into our pockets. Not many.
At this rate we'll never get away, I think. We need more than what we're making, and we're working flat out. We’ve got our plan all worked out: we'll catch the bus to the city, and get jobs at McDonald's. At least, Zack will, he's almost 16. I don't know if they hire 14 year olds, but Zack says never mind, we'll find something. But we're a long way from having enough for the bus tickets, and we have to go while it's still summer, Zack says. In case we can't find a place to stay and have to sleep in a park or something for a while. We have sleeping bags.
Zack is moving towards the shallows under the pier. He says, "People sometimes drop coins off the top, for luck. And they lose rings and stuff when they swim."
We wade in the sea, ankle deep. He weaves the coil over the sandy bottom. The control box crackles.
"It's the salt water," says Zack. "Dad said it would do that."
I wonder how he still speaks to him. I don't know if I would. My own parents have never touched me, they're too busy hitting each other. Most of the time, they don't even know I'm there. They sure won't miss me when I'm gone.
The detector beeps. We plunge our arms in water. Jewelry! A single, silver hoop earring. Beep, beep. More soda cans, a rusty toy truck, a bent spoon.
"Now we have a set!" Zack laughs, pulling the old fork from his pocket. We're not getting rich, but it's fun.
"Ten more minutes," says Zack. "I'm getting hungry. We've enough for hot dogs."
We do, but that's it. We won't have saved anything.
The metal detector beeps again. I plunge my hand underneath the coil, scrabble about, and bring up a handful of sand. The glint of gold. I sift the sand through my fingers.
"A ring!" Zack shouts. "A gold ring!"
He grabs it and rinses it off. It has a small stone on it. We stare, awed.
"I think it's a diamond," I whisper.
We look at each other.
We're sitting on the seawall, licking ketchup off our fingers. The dogs were delicious. The ring is deep in Zack's back pocket. We're debating a plan of action.
"It must be worth something," Zack says.
"Yeah, but if we take it to the pawn shop, they might think it we stole it and call our parents. Or the police.” I’m getting anxious. “I think we should take it in, it's the right thing to do."
"You could be right," says Zack, but I can see he doesn’t like it. "Maybe it’s dangerous to try and sell it. Let's take it to the police. There might be a reward." His face lights up again.
We jump off the wall, shaking the sand off our shorts.
The police station is empty. No drunks or crimes on such a beautiful, sunny morning. The cop at the desk is bored. He barely looks at the ring. He picks up the phone.
"Oh, ...ok," he says. "l'll call her."
He dials another number. There is a high voice at the other end, we hear it cackling. "Ok," he says again. "I'll tell them to wait." He looks at us, still bored. "The lady who posted a lost ring, she says to wait for her. She's coming right over. "
We sit on a bench, swinging our legs, sipping cans of soda the cop has given us. It's hot. A couple of flies are buzzing above our heads. We wait.
The door bursts open. A lady walks in, teetering on high heels. She has yellow curls and red lipstick.
She talks to the cop at the desk; takes a look at the ring. "It's mine!" she screeches. "It's my ring. I thought I'd never see it again. I'm so happy."
She looks in our direction. "Are these the kids who found it? Thank you, thank you."
We get up and she hugs both of us; she smells of flowers. She says, "I can't tell you how grateful I am. This is my engagement ring. It means the world to me."
"How did you lose it?" asks Zack, cheeky as always.
She blushes. "I’ll confess. We had a fight, and I threw it off the pier. Then we made up and my fiancé went to look for it, but he couldn't find it."
She slips it on her finger. Where it would stay, I think, just until the next fight. She's taking her wallet out of her bag, peeling out some notes. "Here, guys, we posted a reward. $300. One-fifty each. Go buy some new bikes or something, you deserve it." She blows us a kiss, smiles at the cop, and walks out, wafting perfume.
"Aren't you the lucky sods," says the cop sourly.
Zack pockets the money and we walk out.
"So, can we get our tickets now?" I ask. Thinking of the war zone at home, I'm ready to board that bus at once.
"Let's get this baby back first. Did you know she's called a Sand Shark?" Zack pats the metal pole. He smiles his gap-toothed smile. "Then we can get packing."
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