How a normal kid with an extraordinary talent became the world’s first, and perhaps last, evil mastermind.
I live in the mountains near Rico, Colorado. I found an elevated valley that hadn’t felt the foot of man since the early 1840s. I was close enough to pick up FM signals with a long wire antenna, so I could listen to the jazz programs on public radio from Gunnison. People don’t like me around because I won’t roll over and play dead. Just because I can find things that nobody else can is no reason to put a collar around my neck and make me their property.
I grew up near Savannah, Georgia. It seems like I’ve always been able to find things that people lost. Coins, glasses, rings--things like that. When I reached eight my folks turned me loose with a used Schwinn, and suddenly the world was my oyster. I rode around with an old army map case under my arm and a little garden trowel. I could see the history of things. It’s strange to sit down and let your eyes drift, then start seeing what happened in a place. Stone fences always seemed like good places to search. When Sherman roared through on his march to the sea everyone with half a mind buried a poke somewhere to keep it away from the Yankees. Lots of folks didn’t live long enough to dig it up afterwards and their secrets died with them. I carried some string and some old T-shirts in my bag because the years usually weren’t very gentle on leather pokes or even small chests. Some were tarred or greased and those held up, but most didn’t.
When I came home with handfuls of ten and twenty dollar gold pieces, the dirt still sticking to them, my folks like to have me taken to a priest to get the holy water treatment. Then we moved to a nicer place, a little brick house where I had my own bedroom.
When I came in for supper it was all, “What you find today, Alex?” All the money disappeared and I never saw it again. After a couple seasons I got tired of it. At dinner one night I put down my fork and said, “It’s been a long time since y’all asked how I was or such. Seems like I’m your step-child you send out to help the neighbors, without much home ‘o my own any more.”
It was dead quiet at the table while I excused myself and went to get ready for bed. I was sure sad when they didn’t come in to talk to me. I felt pretty lost.
From then on I built up a poke of my own. It was three for them and one for me. After a good summer’s finds I had a nice pile of $1, $2, $5, $10 and $20 gold pieces and a whole mess of gold rings, some with rubies and some with little diamonds. I heard some folk talk about old gold pieces just showin’ up out of nowhere. The way they talked made me nervous. I got length of canvas, needle and thread then taught myself to sew. Lord, but at first it was butt-ugly work. Soon I got better though. I stitched my initials in the canvas so that if someone made off with it I’d have something to say about it. I didn’t keep it at home, neither.
After a while there just wasn’t that much nearby left to find. I could only go so far on two wheels. Pa yelled a lot and, once he got drunk he beat me so bad that he busted my arm. The police took him away after that. Ma and I moved to Augusta where she got a job at the post office, sorting letters. I went back to school. I believe it was sixth grade.
I got a new Schwinn Varsity ten-speed! That was a nice bike. Once I learned the streets and trails outside of town I went back to my old tricks of bringing home the bacon. I woke up early every morning. If the weather was good I’d head off in a new direction or I went further along a path than I’d been before. I got chased out of some places by dogs but there was lots more territory to hunt. I kept everything I found that morning in a bread bag so that it wouldn’t smell or leave dirt, then wash up at school before class.
Momma smiled and hugged me every night after she got off of work. We’d spread a newspaper on the kitchen table and, using a bowl of water and a potato brush, we cleaned up my finds and patted them dry. She kept totals of what I’d found in a journal and put it all away in a bank box. I talked her into holding back some of it so as not to keep it all in one place. I didn’t trust like I used to. I guess that’s part of growing up.
I got sicker than the devil just after I started sprouting hair everywhere. I had a really high fever. Momma stayed home to sit with me and make sure I didn’t drown in an ice-cold tub of water. I must have been eleven pounds lighter and two inches taller when the fever broke. I also started being able to touch the things I could see at a distance.
It was 1965. Momma bought a five-year-old Chevy pickup truck, and gave a mechanic a lot of money to really give it hell. She put the jewelry aside, cleaned it up and sold it in dribs and drabs to every jeweler inside of fifty miles that had a care to dicker.
I started filling a second canvas money belt. I made one for Momma, too. She gave me a long look when I laid it in her hands, then just nodded. I was fourteen, almost fifteen. Come the week ends we’d go drivin’. The first time I had her stop near a stone wall at the roadside, she about threw a fit. She just watched me as I pulled the rocks away from a collapsed section of wall. I talked as I worked. “They had three wagons and were only a couple days ahead of the Union soldiers. A wheel hit a big rock and it broke free of the hub. It was done for. They moved what they could to the other two wagons and buried what they couldn’t fetch with ‘em between the roots of a big sycamore that stood right here.” I motioned where the big tree had stood. “They used the roots as an out-house to keep anyone from diggin’ there, then fled the advancing army.” I grunted as I pried the chest up from between the stones. “And here it’s laid, ever since that day in the fall of 1864.”
The iron hinges and latch had decayed to red flakes. I pried the lid off with the truck’s tire iron to reveal four long leather sacks, each the size of a child’s fore-arm. I gently rolled each one into an old T-shirt and tied it closed like a sausage, then looked up at Ma with a grin. Her eyes were as big as saucers. “It’s one thing to understand that you can do it, but to watch--that makes a big difference!” I said, “It’s like magic. Every time it happens I can’t help but think that it’s a blessing.”
Once we got it home out came the newspapers again. It was all coins, mostly silver with a few one, three and five dollar gold pieces added in. I said, “They were grain millers. Pretty rich for the time. They burned their mill before the Union got there so the soldiers and their animals would have less to eat.”
We agreed to tuck away the golds in our money belts while leaving the silver for the bank boxes.
We visited old plantation sites, just driving up the old overgrown lanes and exploring. Nobody ever complained. We kept a couple cameras and some rolls of film with us in case someone got too curious, like the police.
Over the next few years we worked our way north-west towards Atlanta, following Sherman’s march to the Sea, but backwards.
We worked out a story to tell folk--I was a dowser. It wasn’t unknown, but it was unusual. I found that I was able to seek out springs and figure where to dig for water.
Slowly--slowly but surely--I learned to push, pull and twist the things I could see at a distance. It was a fine day when I was able to pull a potato out of a field without turning it to mush. I grinned like a fool when I managed to spring open a master lock without touching it. I figured that I’d better keep my big mouth shut in case I learned how to open up a safe. I didn’t want anyone remembering the guy that could spring a lock by looking at it.
I was nineteen when we moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee. We hired an attorney to tell us how to sell the overload of what I’d found without us gettin’ taxed to death or gettin’ sued for dowsing’ for coins on abandoned property. By then we had three big heavy bank boxes full of gold and silver pieces. It was 1974 and the price of gold was going nuts while minted gold and silver coins brought in even more. We found an auction house that dealt in gold coins and such--Sotheby’s. When we poured a couple coffee cans full of gold and silver pieces on the table in front of the man in the pretty suit, he screamed like a little girl. Ma and I glanced at each other and grinned. Yep, we got his attention. Ma reached out and tapped his nose. “We have about eight to ten times this in bank boxes.” He just looked at her like she said they stopped making ice cream. Finally he came out of it, and reached out to look at a few coins. I stopped him. “Nothin’ doin’. Jacket off and roll up your sleeves first.” He blushed like a schoolboy, but did what I asked. After making a few stacks he sat back and said, “I’ve got to go find a partner. Please excuse me.”
He left behind a curtain and we heard a heavy door open, then close. I said, “We’ve got the holding corporation ready, like the lawyer said. I don’t want to sell everything at once. I think we’ll get more if we insist on a cut for the house--five or seven percent, no more.” Ma said, “We’ll start lower. It’s a huge potential for income. Raw gold traded at $832.00 an ounce this morning.” I warned, “The market is bouncing all over. It could take over a year to get the most from holding auctions all over. Sotheby’s deals in England and Europe too.”
I spoke the way I was taught in school. I figured that they were listening and didn’t want to come across as an easy target.
We screwed up. We trusted the government to obey the law.
.... There is more of this story ...