The morning sun, muted by the gauzy haze of L.A. smog, shone down on the early-morning stillness of Jolla Verde beach. A few women in jogging suits with ponytails pulled through baseball caps ran across the fine white sand. Later in the day, when the sun blazed hot and the rest of the city had come to life, the women would be dressed in much, much less, but since these few weren’t, they were of no interest to Nelson Maxwell, who instead focused on his ancient metal detector.
Nelson, dressed in baggy jeans, a bright red windbreaker, and an L.A. Rams cap, made his way methodically from the north end of Jolla Verde to the south, focusing on the small swatch of sand just above the high tide line. A sweep of this beach had become a Saturday morning ritual for him. Every Saturday for four years. He’d made a few noteworthy discoveries in his time – a Kennedy half-dollar once, a watch with a built-in calculator another time – but he’d never found it. He didn’t know precisely what it was. But he knew in his heart of hearts that one day he’d find it, and it would be the coolest thing anyone had ever seen.
As his mind drifted with thoughts of things yet to be discovered, his metal detector suddenly squealed its high-pitched tone through his headphones, startling him.
“Found something, boy?” he whispered with a small grin.
He took a step back to the spot he’d just passed and made a slow pass over the area. The metal detector squealed again.
Nelson gently placed the detector in the sand next to him, took off the headphones, and knelt down. Carefully he brushed away the sand to see what he’d found.
When he saw the sharp tip of it, he thought the detector had somehow registered a piece of broken glass; Lord knew there was plenty of it scattered on the beach. But as he dug a little deeper, his heart began to beat a little faster. Before he could help it, the thought leapt into his head: This is it.
He pulled the object out of the sand and dusted it off. It was a four-sided triangle with markings on each side. And he couldn’t be positive, but it appeared it might be made of gold.
“Wow,” he muttered as he turned it over and over in his fingers. “Wow.”
He admired the exquisite craftsmanship. Carved on one side of it was a mouth, on another an eye, on the next a fist, and the fourth … well he had no idea what it might be. He couldn’t even guess how old the thing was, or how long it might have been buried there.
Nelson stood and brushed the sand off his jeans. He put the object in his fanny pack, gathered up his gear, and headed back the way he’d come. There was no need to search further. He’d found something cool, and that was more than enough for one day.
Had he not been so transfixed on his discovery, had the thought entered his mind to continue digging, just a little deeper on that very spot, Nelson no doubt would have discovered the skeletal remains of ancient fingers below the object, trying to hold on to it, keep it safe, keep it from passing on to anyone else.
But he didn’t. And now it was his.