Shergar ch 5
I HEARD my dad downstairs in the hallway after Jonathan and me were sent to bed. He was talking on the phone. It was late and he was speaking softly so I don’t know what was said but I guessed it must have been important because my dad is not the kind of person who thinks phones were invented to be used late at night except in emergencies.
When we got up for breakfast the next morning he was already at the table. He put the newspaper down and invited us both to take a seat.
I fastened down my imaginary ear hatches and got ready for a lecture, something about shaming the family’s good name by having the Guards come to our door and how we would be talk of the neighbourhood until someone else came along and gave the gossips something to whisper about. But would you believe it, he was more concerned about Jonathan and whether or not he was feeling okay after all “that business” last night.
Jonathan looked at my dad like he wanted to ask him if he was feeling okay. “I’m fine, thanks,’’ he said, taking a bite of his toast.
My dad would have done something crazy like have a stroke if I’d acted like that — like absolutely nothing had happened. Instead, he kept talking. “I spoke to your dad last night and we agreed is probably best if we stick with our original plan and you spend the rest of the summer,’’ he said. “I hope you are okay with that.”
Jonathan nodded. “Sounds good to me,” he said, like he was talking to me and not my dad.
At least he didn’t call him dude.
Now that everything was settled, my dad said Jonathan should call his own dad.
“He wants to talk to you, just to keep things straight,’’ he said. “There’s a phone in the hallway you can use.”
When Jonathan left the room my dad was more like his old self. His face got serious and his voice lower, almost to a whisper. He wasn’t angry with me, he just wanted me to know that things were going to be a bit tricky or the rest of the summer and he wanted to let me to know whose side I was on.
“I think we have our hands full with this boy,’’ he began.
“Jonathan, of course. Who did you think I meant?”
I wasn’t sure if having our hands full with Jonathan was a good thing or a bad thing but I didn’t want to ask.
“Okay,’’ I said.
He was pleased with this answer. “Your mum and I have already spoken about this this morning and we want you to keep an eye out for him. You’re going to be with him most of the time. If he gets up to any kind of untoward behaviour you just let us know and we can deal with it.”
Untoward behaviour. I knew what that meant, though not exactly.
“You mean like a spy?” I said.
My dad can be funny sometimes when he tries, even when he’s being serious. “No need to be so dramatic, Mr Bond,’’ he said. “We’d just like you to be watchful. He’s been having a tough time recently and we all need to look after him.”
THE Mindlab GX45000 is the Rolls Royce of metal detectors, the best the money can buy. It has pinpoint detection capability and welps like a scalded cat when it finds something. That’s because it has a DD-coil system, which as everyone knows is much better than the concentric-coil system. It can find stuff buried at least a foot under the ground. It can even tell you what kind of metal it has found — if it’s iron or silver or hopefully even gold, which is pretty brainy when you think about it. This is called the “discrimination” function. An actual button. Cheap metal detectors don’t have one. This important because if you’re not careful you can spend your entire life digging up rusty nails and old tin cans.
Jonathan told me a lot more about his metal detector but that’s about as much as I remember. I’m not exactly an electronic wizard when it comes to technology, I just like to play with stuff.
I’d never held one in my hands before. It hardly weighed anything, about as much as a golf club, which is crazy when you realise it cost more than two thousand pounds
He turned on the control panel, put a two-euro coin on the living floor and then hide it underneath a cushion.
The detector started to hum, like a fly buzzing around in the room next door. “Hover it about a foot above the ground and then slowly wave it across the top of the cushion,’’ he said.
I did what I was told and the detector gave out a high-pitched whelp. The LED screen on the control panel flashed up some numbers.
“What do these mean?”
Jonathan said, “It’s say you’ve found silver.”
Next we hid the coin underneath the sofa and I waved the metal detector thing — it’s called a wand, if you want to be techincal — over the the top of the sofa cushion. The detector made its sound again, even though it was on top of the sofa and the coin was two feet away.
“The sofa material isn’t very dense,’’ Jonathan said. “The less dense the material you are searching in, the greater the range of the Mindlab GX4500.”
That was pretty cool too.
My dad had gone to the council offices for a meeting. He was always going out for meetings or staying out late for meetings, even in the summer holidays.
It was just us two and my mum, who was upstairs making beds and doing other stuff mums do.
She came downstairs just when we were moving the sofa to get the two Euro coin back.
“You better not be making a mess of my living room,’’ she said.
She didn’t even notice the metal detector, not at first, and then she did. “Heavens above, what are you doing with that thing in the house.?”
Heavens above. My mom doesn’t talk like that in real life, only when we have visitors.
Jonathan told her some of the same stuff he told me about the Mindlab GX4500. She listened but I could tell she really wasn’t that interested. She was just waiting for him to stop talking so she could jump in and say that a metal detector must surely make life interesting but that perhaps living room wasn’t the best place for it.
“Why don’t you go outside and give it a spin round the garden?” she said. ‘And after that maybe you can take Jonathan down to the pitch and putt.”
WE WERE in the back garden when it started to rain. We didn’t find the Covenant of the Lost Ark but we did collect two bottle tops, some nails and a fifty cent coin that must have fallen from the pocket of a pair of trousers my mum hung on drying line. IT was thrilling when detector bleeped. My mind soared, imagining the priceless treasure we had found.
Jonathan didn’t turn on the discrimination mode until the detector beeped over a spot right in the middle of the lawn.
“Let’s find out if it’s anything worth digging up,’’ he said.
“Well, the detector is able to tell what what kind of metal is down there”
He waved the wand over the same spot on the grass and it didn’t make a sound. “Just as I thought — iron. Another nail, probably,’’ he said. “I don’t think your mum would like it if we dug up the lawn just to get a nail.”
He was right. My mum spent hours pruning flowers and trimming the edge of the grass with tiny scissors. She’d won prizes for her garden.
It didn’t matter that we just found worthless (except for the fifty cent coin). Jonathan said it was all about the hunt. The possibilities. The unknown. He said prospecting was a bit like fishing. There was a lot waiting around in the hope of finding something big. In fishing it was a salmon. In treasure hunting, it was Roman coins of medieval gold. He told me a story about the Shrewsbury Horde and a farmer in England who dug up 1,5000 Viking silver coins worth five million pounds.
“Maybe we’ll find something like that,” I said.
He smiled but not much. “Maybe we will. But not around here.”
THE rain was too heavy to play pitch and putt. I like golf a lot and even I didn’t want to play. Jonathan said golf was a sport for old men in cardigans so you can imagine how happy he was not to play. Instead, we played FIFA17. It was Jonathan’s first time so I had to show him what controls did what. I didn’t let him win the first game but I didn’t exactly try my absolute best, just to be friendly. The second game was a draw. He won the third game 11–2. Then my mum came downstairs and made a big fuss about us playing video games instead of doing something useful with our lives.
“The world needs saving and you two are sitting on your bums,’’ she said.
She was only messing but she was a little bit serious too. My mum is like that — nice but sometimes serious.
“There’s nothing else to do,’’ I said. ‘It’s raining.”
The truth was the rain had almost stopped. Jonathan didn’t pretend otherwise.
“Let’s go on a treasure hunt,’’ he said.
When he said it like that, it sounded amazing.
“You mean like the English farmer who found the Viking coins?” I said.
He laughed. “I suppose so. Not sure we’ll find five million quid’s worth of loot, though.”
MY MUM came up with the idea of going to the beach at Malahide. “It’ll blow the cobwebs out,” she said.
I pretended this was the worst idea in history but I knew we would be going anyway. My mum is the opposite of the other mums, who just think they should just stay indoors all the time and do mum stuff like telling everyone else in the house to pick their dirty clothes up off the floor. She likes to do things and she likes to get other people to do things, especially me.
“How do you know you hate it unless you try it.”
If I had eaten a bar of chocolate every time she told me that I’d be the fattest fourteen year old in Ireland.
Jonathan said the beach was a perfect place for treasure hunts.
I didn’t want to sit in the car for an hour. My mum wouldn’t let us play on the iPad because she never does. She wanted us to do something demented, like have a conversation about what’s going on in the news in Syria or somewhere crazy like that.
“What about going to Gallion’s Grotto? I bet there’s all sorts of treasure buried there,’’ I said.
Jonathan shook his head. “Too much footfall over time. The place will just be covered in trash.”
I didn’t know what footfall was but nodded like I understood.
“The thing about the beach is that people are always losing stuff there like jewellery and watches and then it’s quickly covered up by the sand,’’ Jonathan said. “I found a diamond engagement ring once at the beach in Margate.”
My mum got all sad about this. “The poor woman — she must have been distraught when she found out she had lost her ring.”
Jonathan shook his head. “She got it back. I handed it into the police station and they got it back to her,’’ he said. “She gave me a reward. A hundred pounds.”
Supposing he had saved a million orphans in Africa, Jonathan couldn’t have been more in my mum’s good books after he told this story. I thought he might have made it up just to impress her but the look on his face told me otherwise. It didn’t occur to Jonathan to make stuff up. He wasn’t like that.
JONATHAN asked if he could drive, which made my mum laugh.
“You’re only sixteen. You don’t have a licence,’’ she said.
“I know, but I can drive. They teach us at school,” he replied.
My my mum wasn’t impressed. “What kind of school is that, where they they teach underage children to drive?”
“St Martin’s Preparatory School for Boys,’’ he said. “ I started learning when I was twelve. They have school cars that they let us drive around the grounds.”
This school sounded a lot cooler than my school. “Why don’t they teach us how to drive at St Eunan’s?”
My mum thought this was gas. “Can you imagine you and your friends driving cars up and down Donegal Street? The damage you would cause. It would be like that film you’ve watched a hundred times, what’s it called..?”
I didn’t know what film she was talking about but I knew what she meant.
“Crashing cars on Donegal Street would be fun,’’ I said.
Jonathan said, “I crashed a car once and broke my collar bone. It hurt like hell.”
“My God, were you all right?” my mum said, and then when Jonathan replied that he was: “And you want to drive us to Malahide? I don’t think so.”
She agreed that the best place for Jonathan was in the back seat with me.
The metal detector sat in the space between us, our long skinny friend.
We talked about what was going on the Syria and when that got boring, which was pretty quickly to tell the truth, we talked about what Jonathan and if he had any brothers or sisters.
He was an only child. His mother had a baby who died from some of coughing fit before it was even a year old. The baby’s name was Caroline and his mum never forgave herself for not bringing a healthier baby into the world and that was why his mum and dad got divorced. This was an awful lot of personal information about Jonathan’s family. I felt sorry for his mum and his dead baby sister but I wish he hadn’t told us any of it. Nothing bad had ever happened to my family but even if it had I would never have told anybody and I bet you’d be the same too. It’s private.
I didn’t know what to say and neither did my mum. She stared ahead, watching a black van coming towards us on the opposite side of the road. There was silence until eventually she said,”So tell me Jonathan, what are your interests?”
‘What do you mean?” he said.
“What do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have any passions?” She eyed me up in the rear view mirror. “Cillian likes to play on his Playstation. He’d like to break the world record for non-stop Playstation playing. Isn’t that right Cillian?”
My mum teased me sometimes and I liked when she did it. She was my mum and all but sometimes it didn’t feel like that. It felt like she was my sister, just like Brendan was my brother. She was better than Brendan though. She didn’t knuckle me on the head or steal my headphones or any of that stuff.
Jonathan laughed, which was okay by me, but then was serious.
“Military history,’’ he said. “I’m passionate about military history. That’s what led me to prospecting with this.” He tapped the metal detector with the back of his hand.
I had never met anyone before who was passionate about something super intelligent like military history. But I had never met anyone like Jonathan.
Come to think of it, he even looked like a young soldier. Not just any kind, but the officer kind, with strong blue eyes and wavy, sand-coloured hair. He could have been a tank commander in another life, rolling his tank through Sahara Desert in search of the Nazis.
I guess it won’t come as a surprise if I tell you I didn’t know much about military history, not even the Irish kind. I knew we’d fought against the English a bunch of times and I knew there was a First World War and a second one, too. But please don’t ask me to name a general or give you directions to the nearest battlefield.
I couldn’t think of anything intelligent to say about military history so I didn’t say anything at all.
This was fine, because my mum and Jonathan talked about it enough for twenty people.
Apparently, he had once found the buckle from a Roman soldier’s belt in the grounds of ancient fort on the border with Wales. It was a nice artifact, he said, but not exactly worth a fortune. Even if it was it wouldn’t have mattered. Real prospectors aren’t interested in uncovering history not making money. He gave the buckle to a museum — not a big one in London but small one in the town next to where he found it.
“Very generous,’’ my mum said.
It was easy to see she was impressed by all Jonathan’s stories about going to battlefields in Wales and France and Belgium and other places. I wasn’t jealous. I think what she was trying to do was let him know everything was fine, that what happened with Eoin Leonard and the Guards coming to our door was forgotten about. That he wasn’t in anyone’s bad books.
The rain stopped. I stared out of the car window for a while, watching the countryside go by and wondering how Leonard was feeling today, if his nuts had swollen to the size of two basketballs. My mum and Jonathan jawed on. The best thing about that was it made the journey to Malahide go a hundred times faster than usual. Conversations are like a time machine sometimes.
SO WE got to the beach and parked the car. First things first, we wrapped up in jackets and hats scarfs like we are heading off the Arctic for a month. It was July but felt like November.
The sun is like make-up for a town like Malahide. It makes everything look better than it really is. There was no sun so everything looked like it was really was — peeling paint, scraps of litter chasing each other up the road, cigarette ends scrunched into the pavement outside a pub called McFadden’s. The sky looked like a big grey desert, stretching for mile and miles. The beach was the colour of concrete.
There weren’t many people around. An older couple walking arm-in-arm on the opposite side of the road from where we parked watched Jonathan take the metal detector out of its carry bag. He put me in charge of the rucksack that came with it. Inside was the battery pack, an extra battery and three grey felt collection pouches (small, medium and large) where we could put our treasure.
We walked along the promenade. People stared. They had never seen a metal detector before. I’m not going to lie. I felt exotic.
Jonathan stopped at the set of stairs leading down to the beach and surveyed the scene. My mum and I were already down on the sand.
“Come on, let’s get started,’’ I said.
He shook his head and laughed. “Wait on,’’ he said. “We don’t just run around like headless chickens. That’s not how prospecting works. We need to make a plan.”
So we made a plan. And then all of our lives changed forever.