“But why can’t we?”
If you’re a parent you’ve heard that question. It’s the plaintive whine of a child who’s being denied something she feels is perfectly reasonable and within her rights. With the unassailable logic employed by nine year olds, the child has concluded that the only obstacle standing between her and fulfillment of her deepest desire is the irrational obduracy or laziness of the parent being addressed.
“Because, sweetheart, we just can’t. I really don’t want to talk about it any further.” This response only confirms what the child already knew: the parent being addressed, in this case the father, has no defensible arguments to put forward.
“But ‘just can’t’ isn’t a reason. Mommy doesn’t mind.”
The activity that ‘Mommy doesn’t mind’ – and that claim needed checking on – was a harebrained excursion to the depths of the ocean or the darkest interior of a cave in search of lost treasure. Here’s the background:
Mary and Margaret, the two cutest little red-heads you’ll ever clap eyes on, had been introduced to treasure hunts via the non-stop birthday parties they’d been invited to that year. The parents of other 8 – 10 year olds seemed unable to come up with any entertainment other than to send the party attendees off in search of treasure, either with a map in hand, or written instructions, or notes on trees, or . . . whatever. The parents’ motives were transparent: the search for treasure kept the kids occupied and out of the house for two hours or longer. The host parents liked it. Our girls loved it.
But there was more. The twins’ favorite movie was Treasure Island which we had watched countless times on videotape. Their father, me, Max Brown, further fueled their enthusiasm with a foolish blunder. I told them about my own treasure hunting in Bangladesh which had yielded a tidy nest egg for the family to live off of in perpetuity. In the telling I minimized the dangers – I’d come within a gnat’s ass of being tortured to death – and inflated my cleverness and resolve. I made it sound exciting.
The upshot? The twins would never again know happiness until they had gone on their own, real, treasure hunt.
I was disinclined. Real treasure hunts are hard, people suffer, people die, and the closer you get to the treasure the more competitors show up, some of whom don’t play by the rules. It sounded like a terrible idea.
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Some people can’t stay out of trouble. Happily married, the father of two precocious nine year old girls, and comfortably off, Max Brown should have it easy. Not yet; that’s where the little girls come in. They maneuver Max and his wife into a dangerous treasure hunt through abandoned gold mines. As Max forewarns, “the closer you get to the treasure the more competitors show up, some of whom don’t play by the rules.”
The competitors in this case are seven Klansmen who believe that the object of the treasure hunt, a large cache of Confederate gold, is theirs to finance a second rebellion.
Set in northern Georgia, Max combats bears, snakes, and the Klan to protect those he loves. His most cunning and committed adversaries, though, turn out to be his own children.
The Klansman standing guard looked the other direction and I poured water on Sally’s face. No response. So much for the movies. But her pulse was still good. Sally, beloved life companion, I’m so very, very glad you’re alive. Now I need something more. She didn’t stir.
I checked the time. Three forty. Were they digging inside the mine?
Three fifty. My knees ached from crouching. When the guard looked the opposite direction again I eased onto my stomach and sighted through the scope. With the rifle resting on a solid branch I could hold him in the crosshairs. Maybe I could make this work. But this was Len, the guy who’d argued against killing the girls. He didn’t deserve to die.
At three fifty-five a head appeared from the mine entrance. “Hey, Len. Bring up them bags. We may of found somethin’.” Len laid his gun on the ground and headed down the path.
No indecision, Max. It’s your show now. I could slip through the opening, move quietly down the mineshaft and get the drop on the three Klansmen who were holding Skeeter and the twins captive. They’d be busy, excitedly digging up Beauregard’s treasure.
I didn’t have a plan for getting out again.
I stood for a few seconds while my knees got used to bearing weight, then ran across the gravel and peered into the mine. There was a distant glow of flashlights, but there seemed to be no one immediately inside the opening. Turning sideways I started to work my way in, rifle pointed down the shaft. I took one glance back toward the path, leaning out through the opening, to see if Len was returning. That slight movement saved my vision and perhaps my life.
The explosion was immense and hurled me out onto the gravel. Stunned, it took a minute to get to my knees. A cloud of dust continued out of the opening, which now seemed larger than before. The ground shook with a low vibration. Then everything was still.
They’d done it. They’d sealed my little girls in the mine. Or buried them under tons of rocks.