Shergar Ch11 (1st draft)


MY photograph was in the Irish Times, right there on the front page, next to a story about Taoiseach negotiating a deal with the trade unions over a public sector pay freeze, whatever that meant. I wish I had worn my glasses. I only need them when I’m reading but they make me look clever. If you’re on the front page of the Irish Times it’s probably best that you look as clever as you can.

My dad was proud. He didn’t say so but I could tell, the way he way he held the front page up and squinted his eyes, like he was looking at a painting in a gallery. My brother Brendan had been in the sports pages but that was only in the results section. The print was so small my dad had to borrow my glasses to read it.

Jonathan was in the picture, too, even though he didn’t want to be. He said I deserved all the attention because I was the one who found the coin. My mum talked him into it. “Famous for a day,’’ she said. “It’ll be something to keep and show your grandchildren.”

It was the first time I had been back to the beach at Malahide since the famous day. The photographer was from Scotland and his name was Murdo. He was nice and a little mad, especially when he found out we didn’t bring the metal detector and we didn’t have the coin. It had been stored in the safe at the auctioneers in Dublin. He made us stand in front of each other with our noses touching. Jonathan’s breath smelled of toast. Under no circumstances were we to laugh, which I have to say was pretty hard.

“Page twenty-three here we come,’’ Murdo said, just loud enough so I could hear it.

Shows you what he knew.

Page one.

My mum and dad bought a dozen copies of the Times, put them in a box and stored it in the garage along with all the other stuff from my childhood.

We also made into the Star as well, page seven. The headline above the photograph said COINING IT IN. That’s exactly the same as the caption in the Times except the words were below the photograph and the letters were much smaller. Maybe the Irish Times and the Star weren’t so different after all.

THE thing about being famous no-one ever tells you about is just how nervous it makes you. You worry about what other people will say. Will they treat you differently? Should I tell people I was on the front page of the newspaper, or was it better to wait until they said something? I didn’t want anyone to think I was bragging. Most of all, I worried that I was going to close my eyes and when I opened them again all of this had been a crazy trick of my imagination. That there was no coin.

My mum and my dad went back to normal pretty quickly. My mum offered to make more toast. My dad read the rest of the paper I had told my mum about my the Apple watch and the trip to Barcelona and the video games but not my dad. It seemed as good a time as any because he was in a good mood. I hardly got a word out before my mum butted in. “Let’s see if anyone buys the coin first before we start thinking about how to spend the money,’’ she said.

That made me nervous, too. “But we’re in the newspaper.”

Jonathan knew more about this kind of stuff than any of us. “Don’t worry, this will sell,’’ he said. “You’ll be amazed at how many people there are in the world who are crazy about this kind of thing.”

Mr Edward Windsor phoned and spoke to my dad. I only heard one side of the conversation but it sounded crazy promising. Lots of “good” and “terrific” and at least one “my, that’s good news. Is that unusual?…(pause)…. Uh-hu”.

My dad would have been angry if he knew I was listening so when he hung up I didn’t say anything. He sat down at the table and picked up the paper. He didn’t say a word and probably never would have except for my mum.

“So?” she said.

He looked up. “So what?”

“The phone call? Was it about the auction?”

I worry about my dad and his memory sometimes. My mum says he’s fine, that he just has a lot on his mind. I hope so. I don’t want him to catch that forgetting disease that old people get.

“Oh yes, sorry,’’ he said. “The auction house is delighted with all the publicity. It’s the most they’ve have since they sold Éamon De Valera’s glasses.”

“That sounds promising,’’ my mum said.

“They’ve already had ten notifications of interest and a couple of offers.”

I’m only fourteen years old so forgive me for not knowing how this whole auction business worked. How could people bid for the coin when it wasn’t even on sale? The auction was three months away.

My mum said, “Offers? How?”

Jonathan butted in. “From people who don’t want to get involved in an auction.”

My dad was itching to get back to his newspaper. He always said his day didn’t start properly unless he knew what was going on in the world.

I couldn’t stop myself. “How much? How much are the offers.”

“Eight thousand Euros,’’ my dad said. “And the other is for seven and a half thousand.”

It felt like someone had punched my stomach, but in a good way. My mum laughed but only through her nose, so it wasn’t like a proper laugh. ‘Eight thousand Euros,’’ she said. “‘And when were you going to tell us about this?”

My dad looked offended, the way my brother does when he claims to have done nothing wrong but realises that maybe he has. “Sorry, Edward said we should just ignore those because they’re from people just trying their luck. We sit tight and wait for the auction proper.”

“We do?” my mum said. “Eight thousand euros is a lot of money.”

Amen to that.

My dad shook his head. “Edward said because of all the interest he thinks it might go for as much as twenty thousand Euros.”

Even Jonathan was impressed. He flicked me on the arm with his finger. “Not bad for a little coin you found on the beach, kiddo,’’ he said.

He was only two years older than me and he called me kiddo. I didn’t like it, and that’s just the honest truth, but it was Jonathan so I just let it go.

THE OTHER thing no-one tells you about being famous is it doesn’t last very long. At least not the kind of fame that happens after you find a rare coin and then get your photograph on the front page of the Irish Times.

We stopped at the Spar on the way to the pitch-and-putt to buy some chocolate even though we could have bought chocolate at the clubhouse. The real reason was because we wanted to see the pile of newspapers sitting on the shelf with our faces staring back at us. Mr Boyce, who owns the shop, made a fuss when he saw me but he still made us pay for our Mars bars.

No-one at the pitch-and-putt course said a word. Jonathan said it was amazing how few people look at newspapers and I guess he’s right. I don’t blame them either. All that ink makes your hands dirty.

I saw Sam later that day. He hadn’t seen the paper either but once I showed him he was really happy for me, especially when I told him in top secret someone had already bid eight thousand Euros and when the auction started for real we might get double that.

“What are you going to do with the money?” he said.

That was what people were most interested in. I’m not complaining but you would think they might have asked me some other stuff too, like how come a crazy old 20p coin turned out to be worth so much money. Only one person asked me about that.

The day after the newspaper came out I was on a radio show called The Last Word. I was very nervous but the host told me not to worry because the interview was being recorded and if I said something wrong I could start again. I told him the story about how just five hundred coins were made and only given to telephone engineers. I didn’t even make a mistake so I only had to tell him once. When he finally asked about the money I said I wanted to go to Barcelona to watch Messi play. I knew my dad would be listening. I thought maybe he would let me go if he knew the whole world knew that’s what I wanted to do, otherwise people would think he was being mean to his son.

We listened to the interview in the kitchen. It was weird hearing my own voice. I sounded very young but also funny. My mum said I was very articulate. My dad said, “Let’s see how everything pans out before thinking about Lionel Messi.”. Which was his way of saying no.

NOTHING happened for a few weeks and then everything happened. Everything.

I’LL start with the nothing, which wasn’t really nothing if you want to know the honest truth. What I mean is nothing incredible happened. We just stayed in Ballytermin, playing pitch-and-putt until it was dark and hanging around the park with Sam and a few others. We played soccer some nights. I think Jonathan was bored, although he didn’t say he was. He just didn’t talk as much as he used to. Maybe he had just run out of things to teach me, or maybe he just got fed up with me because I wasn’t as clever as he was. I’ll admit I don’t understand a lot of things the first time round, especially if they’re complicated, but ask anybody who knows me and they’ll tell you I usually get there in the end.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying Jonathan stopped being nice to me or that we weren’t friends any more, only that sometimes it felt like he wanted to be left alone. I understood. My brother was like that sometimes. I bet he would have liked my brother better than me. They were the same age, almost.

The one thing he still liked to do, even with me around, was prospecting with the metal detector. I swear there wasn’t a single corner of Ballytermin that we didn’t cover. Sam came with us a few times. He found a watch in the long grass over by the Connaghan wood — a proper watch, too, one that actually worked. It was just lying in the grass, so technically he didn’t need the metal detector to find it. Still, he was very happy and we were very happy for him.

The other news was I decided I wanted a metal detector for my next birthday. Jonathan said there wasn’t any point in going a top-of-line model because it would be too complicated for me and have a lot of functions would be ‘redundant for my purposes’. I wasn’t exactly sure what he meant but I agreed with him, which was just as well because my mom said I couldn’t spent more than a hundred Euros.

Jonathan said I should get a Bounty Hunter Tracker 1 detector, the cheapest we could find. “Everybody has to start somewhere.”

It arrived two days before my birthday, by which time I decided I wanted a pair of wireless headphones and not a metal detector.

I could tell by the weight of the box it was flimsy and would probably break after a week, knowing my luck. At least my mum was excited for me. She said I could open the box even though it wasn’t even my birthday yet.

Once I actually had the thing in my hands I felt a bit better. As far as I knew I was the only person in Ballytermin with my own metal detector, except Jonathan of course but he was going home to England in three weeks so he didn’t count.

It was easy to operate. You just turned it on and off you went.

My mum took it for a spin around the kitchen. She placed a spoon on the floor and waved the wand over the top of it, which set the alarm off.

Woop, woop!

It wasn’t exactly deafening.

“Look, it works,’’ she said.

Her enthusiasm was for my benefit. She knew me better than anyone and could tell I’d changed my mind about the metal detector. I felt a guilty so I played along with the excitement even though I wasn’t exactly thrilled to death. Jonathan didn’t notice any of this. It was strictly family business, if you know what I mean.

“Let’s not get too carried away here,’’ he said. “We should see if it actually works when, you know, the metal isn’t just lying there on the floor where we can see it.”

My mum said we should try the garden but we had prospected every inch of it and knew for a fact there was nothing there.

“Okay,’’ she said. “Let’s try the field.”

I DON’T think I’ve mentioned the field before so the first thing you should know is that it wasn’t field. It was just a piece of land behind our house about a quarter the size of a soccer pitch. The road to Dublin ran along the side opposite our garden.Once upon a time the council looked after it, cutting the grass and picking up the sweet wrappers and coke cans people left behind. I called it the Battlefield back then because that’s where me and my brother played war games with our toy guns. I don’t do that any more because I’m older and I don’t like war.

The council gave up on the Battlefield about the same time as I did. My parents weren’t happy about this and neither were the neighbours. It was an eyesore, a place where people dumped all kinds of rubbish, like shopping baskets stolen from the Spar and, one time, an old fridge. The grass — it was more like weeds, really — sometimes reached waist height. Every so often Mr Darcy, who lives two doors along from us and has one of those petrol grass-cutters that would slice your fingers off is a nano-second, cut it all away. He must have been out there recently, otherwise my mum would never have led us out there that day.

The Bounty Hunter Tracker 1 didn’t have the discrimination mode function so the alarm went off virtually every step she took. It was hopeless unless you were an avid collector of old nails and the ring-pulls from beer cans. We could have been there all week digging up random scraps of worthless metal.

My mum found the bullet casing, although it was Jonathan who realised what it was. To her it just looked like another piece of junk. Me, too.

“Can we go back to the house. It’s going to rain,’’ I said.

My mum told me not to be daft. Jonathan wasn’t listening. He was preoccupied with what my mum had uncovered. It was a small cylinder, about half the length of my middle finger and skinnier. It was rusty and coated in mud but once he cleaned it with a bit of spit and his shirt sleeve it came out a dull brown.

The way he examined it, like he couldn’t believe what he was seeing, I thought something crazy had happened again. “Is it gold?”

“No, it’s copper-plated,’’ he said.

My mum stopped scanning. She looked scared.

“A bullet casing,’’ he said. He showed it to me. “Look.”

I didn’t know what I was looking for until he pointed to some markings on the underside of the cylinder. I could hardly make them out.

“That’s a serial number,’’ he said. “And that is a Russian stamp.”

“What is it?” my mum said.

Jonathan looked straight at her. His face beamed with pride. “If I’m not mistaken, it’s a bullet casing from a Kalashnikov rifle.”

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