Skyler pulled the truck over to the side of the gravel road and stepped out. He didn't have much of a cell signal to begin with, and he knew it was worse inside the truck. The call went through, and his father answered in a weary voice, "Hello?"
"Sorry to call, but I accidentally deleted that map you emailed me with the landmarks. I'm somewhere near the place, but I just can't find it."
"I'll send it again." There was a brief pause and he heard his father say, "Thanks. Your mother is sending it for me."
"Don't know how well I'm going to be able to cover this by myself. This is a huge property."
"Just do what you can. We have three days, and maybe some of us will get over this bug to come help."
Doubt it, Skyler thought. The stomach bug had been going around, and most people were out for a week once it caught up with them. "I'll do my best."
"You've been out with me enough to know what you're looking for. Narrow it down. I know there are going to be some valuable pieces there. Just got to dig that hole and pull them out." He groaned and said, "I've got to get off here."
"Okay, Dad. Email just came through. I'll get a coil to the soil."
"Keep me posted."
Skyler disconnected the call and checked the email. As soon as he saw the map, he felt like an idiot for forgetting an obvious landmark he'd passed only a mile or two back. The only consolation was that he hadn't missed the mark by too much, and should make it to the property with plenty of daylight.
This was his chance to prove himself to his father, and if he found anything, it would be a pretty good payday. The one advantage of working alone was that there was nobody to split the proceeds with other than the property owner — and the company cut, of course.
It was a good thing, because he was going to miss the Nude Day party at the lake. It had started out fairly tame three years ago when everyone was treating it as a joke. Last year, things had turned quite interesting when several girls had shed their tops shortly after arriving. Most of the crowd had ended up nude or seminude before it was over, and he'd hooked up with a hot blonde. From all indications, this year was going to be even bigger — and probably wilder.
Jumping back in the truck, he put the missed party out of his mind and managed a three-point turn on the narrow road. After only a few minutes, he reached the spot where a huge walnut tree stood at a fork in the road, and went the opposite way this time. Memory refreshed by the map, following the rest of the landmarks was simple enough. Having lost less than a half an hour, he pulled into the driveway.
The gray-haired woman who owned the property stepped out the front door of the house as he put the truck in park. She knew he was coming, and the large "Detecting History" banner on the side of the truck couldn't be missed. Skyler hopped out and made his way to where she stood at the top step of the porch.
"I see you found me," the woman remarked as he approached.
"It was a bit hit and miss for a few minutes, but yes. I'm Skyler. Dad told you that most of the crew is down sick, right?"
She nodded. "Yes. Your mother called me yesterday."
"They may be able to make out later, but for now, it's just me. I'm ready to get to work, though."
"Go right ahead, dear. I have some renters in a house over to the west. I'll give them a call and let them know you're here. I've already spoken with them, and they don't mind you looking there, so long as you don't dig up their flower gardens without asking. They're a bit odd, but good folks."
Skyler laughed. "I appreciate it. We've had renters walk up on us with loaded shotguns before because the landlord forgot to tell them we were coming."
"Hoping that word will get around that you've been here. I've had to call the police to chase off people out here without permission."
He shook his head. It was hardly the first time a property owner had mentioned scumbag, illegal diggers. "You're in an area where there might be Confederate artifacts. They're such big money that people are willing to risk it. If they know professionals have scoured the property, they usually don't bother coming back."
"That's good to hear. I was wondering, do you ever find things that have history, but just aren't worth a lot of money?"
"Yeah, that happens a lot."
"If you find anything like that, I'd like to see it. May be that I'll want to put it on a shelf or donate it to the local history museum."
"We can certainly do that. Unless it's pure junk, we always bring everything we find for you to see."
"Good then. I won't keep you any longer. Since you're by yourself, you can have more time to look if you need it."
Skyler grinned, knowing his father would be pleased to hear that. "If I have any luck, that might just come in handy. I'll go get my gear and get started."
"Just knock on the door if you need anything."
Already feeling digger fever, Skyler headed for the truck to suit up.
The whine of the metal detector in his ears caused Skyler to pause. It wasn't a huge hit, but he stopped to dig it anyway. The find was hardly treasure when he pulled from the earth, but it was yet another sign that the area had seen some combat during the Civil War. He slipped the carbine bullet into his pouch, put down a flag from the holster on his back, and continued on.
Eventually, he hoped to sweep the whole area, looking for more war artifacts, but for now, he was on the hunt for the real prize. Somewhere on the property, there had once stood a well-appointed home. It wasn't supposed to have been as large or opulent as a plantation house, but the owners were still wealthy. As best as his father's research could determine, it had been located on the west side of the property.
Not one to waste the steps, Skyler kept his detector in motion as he scanned the landscape, looking for clues that might point toward the location of the house.
Topping a rise, he did see a house, and assumed it was that of the renters the property owner had mentioned. A quick check of his GPS let him know that the entirety of the yard around the house should be within the larger property he had permission to dig.
When he looked back toward the house, he got a hit that registered on something other than the metal detector.
"Damn," he whispered as the two women walked out of the back door wearing short-shorts and bikini tops.
Even from a distance he could tell that they were both what his mother called blessed up top. One had flowing locks of golden blonde, while the other sported a shorter cut in light brown.
After drinking in the initial look, he returned to the task at hand. As good as the scenery was, the last thing he wanted to do was look like a creeper and get tossed off the property with next to nothing to show for it.
It was at least a little compensation for missing all the boobies he would have otherwise seen the next day at the lake.
The lay of the land had him excited. He was atop a rise that overlooked a lot of the countryside, and that was exactly the sort of view a wealthy person would choose to build their home. He was a little worried because his instincts were telling him that the best possible position was within the manicured section of the women's yard. Even though he had permission, someone who took such good care of their lawn wasn't likely to be happy with him digging it up.
Edging that direction, he kept his eyes open for signs of a foundation, and his detector in motion. Once again, a whine sounded in his headphones, and he pulled the shovel free of the loop on his belt.
This was a much stronger hit, and a little deeper. Cutting the turf so he could replace the sod had him chomping at the bit, but he kept his cool and meticulously excavated down to the depth indicated by his detector. The scrape of metal on metal let him know he was there. A little clearing with his fingers revealed a spherical, metal shape, and his nerves jumped on edge.
It appeared to be a cannonball, and he knew that some were both explosive and viable, despite all the years buried in the earth. Digging carefully, he looked for any sign of a fuse or detonator while steadily freeing his find from the grip of the soil.
"Did you find something?"
Skyler sat back and gasped, his heart pounding. He'd focused so much attention on the cannonball that he hadn't even noticed the two women approaching.
The blonde giggled and said, "I'm sorry. We didn't mean to scare you."
"It's okay. Just startled me," he said as he did his best not to stare. Now that they were closer, he could tell that the women were older, but still in great shape. Their exposed tummies were reasonably flat, and both had legs that went on for miles — well-displayed by their shorts. Their breasts looked even larger up close — bikini tops straining to hold them contained.
"So, what is that?" the brunette asked, pointing at the hole.
"It's a cannonball. I won't know for sure until I get it out of there, but I think it's a Confederate twelve-pounder."
"It won't explode, will it?" the blonde asked while taking a step back.
Skyler laughed. "That's part of why I freaked out when you snuck up on me — but no. I'm pretty sure this is a solid cannonball."
The brunette asked, "Is it worth a lot?"
"Could be worth as much as four or five hundred to the right collector."
Both women started at that revelation and the blonde asked, "Seriously?"
"Yeah. Civil war artifacts — especially Confederate ones — go for big money."
"That's insane," the brunette said while shaking her head. Then she smiled. "Guess we should introduce ourselves. Ms. Randall told us you would be out here. I'm Brenda, and this is Melissa."
"Oh, I love that name," Melissa remarked.
"Could we look at it?" Brenda asked.
Skyler nodded. "Sure. Let me finish getting it out of here." He turned back to the hole, glad for the reason to focus his attention anywhere but on the two sexy women. Despite his best effort to contain it, he was about half hard.
With most of the cannonball already exposed, it took him less than a minute to lift it from the hole.
Melissa reached out and touched the cannonball when he held it out. "Wow. That's been right here under our noses all those years."
"Hard to believe," Brenda agreed.
"In pretty good shape, too. Doesn't look like it's been fired, and from the crudity of the casting seam, I'm pretty sure it's Confederate."
Brenda grinned. "You sure know a lot about this for a guy your age."
"I've been going out with my Dad since I was old enough to walk. It's all he ever talks about, so it's hard not to pick stuff up."
Melissa snapped her fingers. "You know, we found some weird metal stuff when we were digging part of our garden."
"It looked a little like the top of a really fancy fence," Brenda added.
"Like fencing?" Skyler asked, growing excited. "Do you still have it? Know where you found it?"
The brunette shrugged. "Sure. We used it as decoration in the flower patch where we found it. Do you want to see it?"
"Absolutely. The main thing I'm looking for is the spot where a house once stood on the property. If you found fencing, that's a good sign that the house was close."
Melissa made a beckoning gesture. "Come on. We'll show you."
Skyler sat down the cannonball, as it was too big for his pouch, and quickly planted a flag near the hole before following the pair toward their house. Though he certainly took notice of their swaying, sexy butts, excitement over the potential find kept his arousal in check.
"It's right here," Brenda said when they reached the flowers.
"Oh yeah. Wrought iron, and the right time period. This is exactly what I'm looking for."
"I found it right in the middle," Brenda supplied. "Is it worth anything?"
Skyler shook his head. "Not really. A bigger, intact piece could be, but that one's too broken. A fence here means that the house was probably nearby, though. Do you mind if I go get my truck and park it in your drive? That will make it a lot easier to get to my equipment."
Both women shrugged and Melissa answered, "That's fine."
"I'll be back in a little bit, then," Skyler said before hurrying back toward the east.
Once over the edge of the hill, he kicked into a jog. With the possibility of finding the house in reach, he couldn't wait. Even the brief delay to inform the land owner that he was moving his truck with her renter's permission felt like hours. Upon parking the truck, he still had to retrieve the heavy cannonball. Then — finally — he headed to work.
The pair had pulled up lawn chairs and a large umbrella near their flower garden, and were sipping what he assumed were mixed drinks.
"So what now?" Melissa asked.
"I'm just going to sweep the area and see if I can find more pieces of fence. If I can find a corner or establish a perimeter, I might be able to guess where the house was, and then move in with the GPR."
Brenda's eyebrows quirked upward. "GPR?"
"Ground penetrating radar," Skyler explained. "That should let me narrow down the dig site by showing me anomalies in the soil."
Melissa gave a shake of her blonde locks. "Whatever that means."
Skyler joined in their laughter as he mentally planned his grid.
Luck was with him, and in only ten minutes, he found another chunk of the ornate, wrought-iron fence. Like the other, it was worth little more than scrap, but it told him he was on the right track. Several small hits popped up while he scanned, but he marked them with flags rather than digging immediately.
Time rolled by unnoticed as he hunted, excited by the pattern established by the flags and the spots where he had excavated. Making his fourth pass between the flower garden and the edge of the grid, he got a strong signal in his headphones and knelt to dig.
Skyler's heart raced when he saw what looked to be the top of a gate. A minute or so later, he couldn't resist a yes of triumph.
"What is it?" the brunette asked while leaning in his direction.
Excitement evident in his voice, he answered, "Hinges. Found a gate. Time to get the GPR."
"Oh," Melissa said while rolling her eyes. "The way you reacted, we thought you'd found pirates' treasure or something."
Skyler chuckled. "It could be a signpost pointing to treasure," he said as he walked back toward them.
"Well, good luck," Brenda said. She was wearing a rather large grin.
On the way past, it would have been almost impossible to notice that the two women were checking him out. Keep it under control, man, he thought. Looking didn't mean it was going anywhere else, and it was a dangerous situation even if they had such inclinations.
He couldn't resist a look back when he reached the truck, though. Older women had always been his weakness, ever since his first time had been with a woman ten years older.
May have to find an excuse to drop back by here after the dig, he thought. His thoughts wandered, imagining the pair showing up at the lake for the Nude Day party — getting in the spirit and out of their clothes.
The lure of history awaiting him beneath the soil was enough to put him back on course after a few seconds of musing. He set up the GPR and rolled it toward where he'd found the gate.
Working straight west from the gate, he ran a grid creeping north. At each turn, he let his eyes fall briefly on the two sexy women. They were chatting, drinking, and quite often looking his way. It made it a little hard to concentrate on what he was doing, but it was fun nonetheless.
He'd just made a turn near where he believed the fence line was when the screen showed what looked like disturbances and voids about two feet down. It was too small to be a privy, and intriguing enough that he stopped, rather than planting a flag and continuing on, as had been his intention.
The last time he'd seen a similar anomaly, his father had dug up ceramic jars filled with coins from the teens and 20s — including a pair of gold double-eagles in remarkable condition.
Searching for the house could wait. The find was too intriguing for him to pass by and return to later. Pushing the GPR ahead, he walked toward the pair of women, who stopped talking and met his gaze.
"Think I found something, but I'm going to have to dig a pretty significant hole to get to it. I know Ms. Randall said you were okay with that, but I thought I should say something. I'll save the sod and do my best to replace it to where you can barely tell anything happened."
Melissa sat up straighter and looked past him. "Is it near where the... Whatever you called it is?"
"Right behind it," Skyler answered, doing his best to ignore how her change in posture lifted her already eye-catching breasts.
Brenda waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. "You can't even see that part of the yard for the flowers. We only mow back that far to help keep the weeds at bay. Go for it."
"Go right ahead," Melissa agreed.
Skyler gave a nod and said, "Thanks," before heading back to the truck for a real shovel. The small folding one on his belt simply wasn't suited to the bulk of the task.
It was hot, sweaty work under the July sun. After what felt like an eternity, he pulled out a tape measure and determined that the hole was deep enough. A little experimentation proved that it was wide enough for him to work. A quick sweep of the metal detector gave him a powerful hit, and he couldn't help a grin. Switching the shovel for a trowel, he began carefully clearing away the soil from whatever lay beneath.
"Oh, fuck yeah," Skyler muttered when he uncovered the first spoon. Brushing away the dirt, he was almost certain it was sterling silver. A few more scrapes of the earth turned up another, and then a fork. From the way they were laying, he guessed that they'd once been wrapped in cloth, which had long ago succumbed to the ravages of time.
Piece after piece emerged from the earth, each one increasing his excitement. There were chunks of mother-of-pearl and flakes of gold, which once had probably adorned objects that had corroded or decayed over the years. It had all the hallmarks of a cache buried by homeowners to prevent looting by soldiers during the war. In this case, the ruse had worked, but the owner had never returned to retrieve the valuables.
Skyler heard a gasp as he excavated a silver broach and looked up to see Melissa standing above him. She called out, "Brenda, come look," and then asked, "Is that silver?"
He answered, "At least silver plated. I'm pretty sure it's pure sterling, though."
"Is there more?"
He laughed, unable to contain his excitement as he brushed the dirt off the brooch. "It just keeps coming."
"Oh my god," Brenda exclaimed when she saw the items laying at the edge of the hole.
"Can we look at them?" Melissa asked.
"Just be careful. They can't really get much more tarnished than they are right now, anyway."
Skyler had already pulled a full set of silver flatware for five and several other items out of the cache when his trowel revealed something curious. A little more exploration confirmed that there was an ornate silver box about a foot long buried beneath the other objects. His mind aflame with the possibility of double-eagles and antique jewelry, he began to dig down around the edges of the box.
"Oh, wow," Brenda remarked. "That's beautiful. What is it?"
"Not sure just yet," Skyler answered as he continued to work. "Looks like it's silver, and really well made. Could be a jewelry box."
Melissa knelt down next to the hole and said, "Hurry up and get it out. I want to see."
"Believe me, so do I." It was at that point that he discovered that the box was about four inches in depth — about the same as its width. "Found the bottom. Almost there. Hmm. It looks like someone sealed the seam with wax. That's promising."