The Lost Wallet - 2015
Yesterday afternoon I parked at a nearby Winn Dixie grocery store, then retrieved a red-and-black shopping cart off the grass in front of my car, something I always do to make it more efficient for all. I absolutely hate it when unthinking and uncaring shoppers leave them blocking the handicapped spaces, having a daughter who must either run into them or just park farther away because of them.
On the shelf of this shopping cart was a small black purse and an orange cell phone, overlooked when the shopper put her groceries in her car. She even missed them when she nosed the cart up over the cement curb and onto the grass. Amazingly, she had not yet returned to retrieve them in what must have been several minutes since she drove away.
I knew what to do, having done this before. I pushed the cart to the Winn Dixie portico and waited for a woman returning to the lot who was driving like a maniac. Her phone was password-protected so I could not redial her last call to try to reach someone who might somehow advise her that her phone and purse were safe. So while I waited, I inspected her purse for ways to locate the owner. Her nearly 40 credit-type cards included AARP and everything you could imagine. According to her Florida driver’s license she was a pleasant, middle-aged, jolly-looking, black lady, who lived not far away.
I waited and pondered, with little else to do but be patient. In a few minutes a call came in and it was “Byron,” a sturdy-looking black man in the caller-ID photo. I laughed as I answered, “Hell-o, By-ron!”
This was quite a surprise to him, as I knew it would be. I probably didn’t sound anything like his wife. His first thoughts might have been that she was being robbed or held hostage. So I gave him a few seconds to stumble about with words like, who-the-hell-are-you, but he was nice about it, more caught-off-guard than anything else. I laughed some more and let him in on what was going on, mentioning who I was, what I used to do for a living (carried a badge), how I found, not just Crystalle’s phone, but also her purse, and that I was waiting to observe her wildly driving through the Winn Dixie parking lot any second now.
Byron was overjoyed and said he would drive right over. I was trying to figure the percentages of how many others would have skulked away with the ID—then “stolen-ID”—or those who might have turned it in to the Winn Dixie office. Not to disparage my favorite local grocery store, but there could also be someone of little integrity behind the counter, and I felt more comfortable with making a personal presentation and returning the errant purse and phone to their owner.
While I was on the phone with Byron, I didn’t notice a white Kia, not haphazardly driven at all, pull into the lot and park a good distance away. She had done that to be able to cover all of the shopping carts in the aisle of cars where she had last parked, but she did not find her missing belongings. She calmly walked, not ten feet from me, and entered the store.
With hindsight, her brain was certainly doing summersaults, because I was not that far away and I was talking on her orange phone, and with her black purse under my arm.
Soon after I got off the phone with Byron, the phone in my hand rang with a lively tune, but no caller ID named. I slid my finger across the screen to answer it, and, out of the corner of my eye, I saw emerge from the store a manager wearing a red apron—and Crystalle!
In seconds we were together. With her phone in my left hand and her purse in my right, I extended them to her. A more relieved expression on a previously exasperated face would be hard to find!
I laughed, not trying to increase her distress, but wanted to add a lightness to the scene, which, had now been resolved.
I told her I had been waiting for her and had spoken with her husband, who had called and was on his way. Actually, while I was speaking with Byron, he had already begun moving in our direction. Just after Crystalle reached me, his big white pickup truck came nosing into the Winn Dixie loading area.
She, of course, had not been in contact with her husband—no phone—so her surprise was increased when we, all three, converged. “What? But how?” she stammered.
It was a good meeting, but I did admonish her that she had way too many credit cards and IDs in her purse so she might have, literally, given away the farm, had someone else found her goodies. Think, I told her, of how many days and weeks it would have taken to replace them all!
She felt appropriately reprimanded, with downcast eyes, but very happy to have this episode behind her, and so was I. I had gone there to buy groceries and about 20 minutes had already passed.
Byron had been beside himself, but it had been over for him before it began, while his wife had been the one in disarray and despair. He was very grateful for what he termed my “patience” and the outcome. I gave him a minute on my “sense of justice,” which included whatever I could do for his wife when I found her possessions, even though it was unbeknownst to her at the time. He understood that one doesn’t do this for profit, but rather to make things right in the universe.
Crystalle was not exactly a “damsel,” but she was certainly in distress, and taking over the role of the “Dudley Do-Right” wasn’t a bad thing. You don’t have to be a retired FBI agent to do such things—and shouldn’t we all do this, quite naturally? My thoughts, anyway. And you don’t have to believe in karma but, for me, it was a good feeling
In all the hubbub of the lost wallet incident it didn’t occur to me, right away, to recall an event from just a couple of weeks before. With some colleagues, I had waited on a cushioned bench in a steakhouse for a booth for dinner. In my cargo pants, the lower-left, baggy pocket had held my cell phone and retired FBI credentials. After we were led to our table and all were seated, our waitress arrived and asked if one of us was named “Wayne.” I admitted the truth, and she produced my credentials, which had fallen out of my pocket back in the waiting area. With the weight of my Galaxy 5 phone also in there, I had not realized the credentials had slipped out. Losing them is an absolute disaster—“melancholy” was the term we used in the FBI—as all current and former FBI agents would attest.
It was the manager who had pieced it together to get them back to me. How do you pay back a debt like that? There really is no way, not under those circumstances, besides a heartfelt “Thank you,” which he appreciated.
And then a thought occurred to me. My good deed with Crystalle’s lost wallet was not the beginning of a pair of karma moments, but rather the conclusion, the follow-up to what the steakhouse manager had done for me. They were bookends around two potential disasters, making two completely unconnected people whole again. What goes around truly does come around….
Wayne A. Barnes
February 15, 2015