"I've got it, I've got it," my friend said last week. She was certain she could locate that hidden case of Canadian Club, target of the biggest promotional treasure-hunt in town.

It was a perfect day and almost lunchtime. So, on my urging, we left our office and headed for Key Bridge, which we had decided was the answer to the last of an elaborate set of clues given in magazines and on local radio stations.

It didn't seem to matter that we had ignored the first dozen clues, which directed searchers to a famous monument, the site of a past scandal and onto a three-stop Metro ride. I only realized the omission after a $2.90 cab ride to Georgetown.

But my friend was certain that "the spot with three banks" in the final set of clues must be the Wisconsin Avenue and M Street corner where the National, the Riggs and the Rive Gauche meet. Clever, clever.

The clues said: "From the highest bank, go in the direction of a bridge. When you've reached it, walk back 100 paces and you'll be right over the hidden treasure."

"That just has to be Key Bridge," she said. When we got there, we started pacing and arrived on a descending pathway leading past a park at the foot of the bridge.

"It must be down there," I said as I pushed through some thick, thorny brush. Through the foliage, on a ridge below us, we could barely make out an old tattered blue blanket. Nearby in the park (really nothing but a dusty plot) we could see six derelicts drinking, chatting and snoozing.

My friend stood back, keeping a half-eye on the group.

"I think . . . I think somebody lives down there," I whispered, suddenly frozen in my tracks.

"You're damn right somebody lives down here," a grisly voice boomed back from under the blanket.

"Leeee-aaaaaah." my friend screamed, jumping back at least 50 paces.

Might as well try a different direction.

A hundred more paces, north this time. Another blanket. It too was tattered and dirty. I poked it with a stick.

"Leeeee-aaaaaah," my friend said, very softly this time. A one-eyed man was approaching. He brushed past us, unzipped his fly and relieved himself in the bushes 10 feet from where we stood.

We froze again, our faces flushed. Then horror turned to embarrassment as the man with the black eye-patch strolled back up to the curb where he and two drinking buddies had been monitoring our curious goings-on.

They thought we were tourists and in slurred words asked if they could help us. We said no. They told us that we were in the wrong part of town.

"Thank you, thank you," we said curtly. If only they didn't know what we knew: That a whole case of Canadian Club was only feet away.

Or so we thought.

But after an hour of unsuccessful prowling, we decided to leave. The bums had begun to stare and look quizzically at each other, all the while passing around a brown paper bag. If there had been a case of liquor there, we thought, it was long gone.