IT'S a treasure map!'' Beezer exclaimed.
He, Paulie, and I had been riding our skateboards down a side street, the warm spring afternoon sun on our faces, when something caught Beezer's eye. It was a piece of paper wrapped in plastic sticking up out of the sewer behind his house - a shiny golden flag that made him stop.
Only it wasn't a flag, but an old map, a piece of thick cord around its middle. In no time we had the thing spread out on the sidewalk, using a couple of rocks to hold it down.
''It sure looks old,'' Paulie said.
That it did. Old and prune-wrinkly and ripped almost in half. It even had the musty smell of something that had been locked away for a while. The writing was smudged and faded in spots. There were pictures on it, too, a crisscross of dotted lines, and a big red ''X'' mark.
''Which way's up?'' I wanted to know.
''I think it goes like this,'' Beezer guessed.
He turned the map until the word Bunglesnoot appeared at the top. At least that's what I think it said. It was hard to read.
''Bungle ... snoot?'' Paulie made a face. ''What's that?''
''Let's find out,'' Beezer said.
For a moment or so the three of us studied the map, looking for clues, a point of reference from which to start. At first none of the drawings made any sense to me - buildings and houses with names on them, people's names I didn't recognize.
Cars and delivery vans went by on the street.
I had an idea.
''Maybe it's a different town,'' I said with a shrug.
''Or a different neighborhood,'' Paulie put in.
But Beezer, who was a year older, thought otherwise.
''I have a feeling it's right around here,'' he said. ''This is where we found the map.... Hey, look! Isn't this a picture of the giant oak tree across from the bus station? The one with a fence around it to keep kids from climbing. Bet it is. Come on!''
I grabbed his arm. ''Right, and this thing in the corner's not a street. It's the stream that runs alongside the new library. Wait! Here's the old library.''
''They tore that down before we were born,'' Paulie said.
Way before. All that was left now was a plaque.
How old was the treasure map anyway?
A few minutes later, toting shovels, we were spreading the map out beneath the bus station oak tree, the site of the old library at our backs, the stream up ahead. Between us and the stream was an empty parking lot.
''What now?'' Paulie wondered. ''We can't dig through cement.''
He was right about that. Even Beezer looked stumped.
''Let's step off the 35 paces it says,'' I suggested.
''Sure,'' Beezer said with a shrug. ''You never know.''
We did, and ended up smack in the middle of the lot.
''What now?'' Paulie asked again.
''We might be off some in our direction,'' Beezer told us. ''We need a third point of reference. See?''
He took the map out again to look at.
''What's this circle mean?''
We all looked the same way and saw the same thing: a stone boundary marker leaning against a rickety fence. Our pacing had been off line by about a dozen feet. Still parking lot, alas!
But Beezer gave a shout, ''Look! Another sewer!''
We might not need our shovels after all. Together we had the heavy lid off and were staring into the dark. Unafraid, Beezer stuck his hand inside and felt around. Nothing. Just gunk and slime.
''Smell that?'' Paulie said.
Sniff. Sniff. Sniff.
''The sewer smells like the map,'' I said excitedly.
''We're on the trail,'' Beezer put in.
I was taller than Beezer and my arms were longer. ''Let me try,'' I offered, down on my hands and knees and holding my breath. The two of them grabbed onto my belt and ankles so I wouldn't fall in, but there was no chance of that. Besides, I could see the bottom four feet below.
It took me a minute but ... I found it! On a ledge was a rusty metal cereal-sized container turned pea-green with moisture and age, with the word Bunglesnoot scratched on top. Whatever it meant we were about to find out.
''We did it! We did it!''
Our happy words rang out.
''Stand back,'' Beezer ordered, using his shovel to pry open the lid. It came loose easily with a metallic snap.
Inside was a package wrapped in the same plastic as the treasure map, the same heavy cord knotted at the top.
I was so excited I could barely breathe. What fabulous riches awaited us? My imagination soared.
Beezer removed the package.
''Open it up,'' Paulie and I said at the same time.
Beezer did and dumped out the contents. Buttons, marbles, multicolored beads, pins, thimbles, metal slugs punched full of holes, a few pennies, and a bent spoon came rattling out and rolling across the parking lot.
Our mouths fell open.
''Some treasure,'' Beezer said with a laugh. ''Some fortune. Some booty. Some pirate's loot.''
Paulie, always good with words, shook his head. ''Hey, guys, I got it. It's a little kid's idea of a treasure, right? Buttons, beads, pins. A little kid who can't spell. Bunglesnoot. Bundles ... of ... loot.''
It was as good a guess as any!