I suppose it’s not terribly surprising that I forgot all about the notebook. Notebooks aren’t particularly memorable things at any time; nearly everybody has one. And this one was not only exceedingly ordinary, it had clearly seen better days. The only thing remotely unusual about it was its arrival.
A December squall was blowing in, and a flurry of pine needles, twigs, and dead leaves rained down on me as I neared the end of my morning walk. Just before the final corner, something hard plunked onto my head, knocked my glasses askew, and hit the ground with a soggy splat.
“Ow!” I exclaimed, looking up into the typically grey Seattle sky. The maple trees were bare and the cedar trees empty. No cars had passed me in the last several blocks, and I rarely met anyone else out walking at this time of the morning. Where had it come from? The only sign of life was the squirrel berating me from the top of the birch tree.
Pulling off my glove, I picked up the mysterious object and turned it over. It was a notebook. About the size of a package of index cards, its black suede cover was scuffed and water-stained. A broken piece of elastic trailed from one side and it was all held together by a wide, grainy rubber band. When I pulled at it it gave way, and some papers that had been folded inside fluttered out.
I looked in dismay at the contents of the notebook, now blowing about among the slush and puddles, and hastened to gather them up. An ATM slip dated July 7,2010…a parking slip…a receipt for tissues from a drug store that had gone out of business years ago…nothing out of the ordinary.
Folded neatly in thirds was a $20 bill. I glanced up again at the empty sky. Pennies from heaven? It was too thick to be just one bill; there were three edges. Nice! My little mishap had netted me $60! I unfolded the bills and froze in surprise. The two bills behind the 20 didn’t have Hamilton’s picture on them, and they had a lot of zeroes. Seriously? I’d never seen a $1000 bill; I was rarely in a position to even see $100 bills. I turned them over and over, wondering how I could tell whether they were real.
A loud HONK right behind me shattered my concentration, and my gloves and the notebook dropped as I whirled around.
“Rose…” I grumbled, pasting on a smile and waving as my neighbor’s new electric SUV glided silently past. She seemed to take a perverse delight in sneaking up behind me in her stealth-car, then honking just when I was most distracted. It was the third time this week.
Recalling my discovery, I hurriedly scanned the other papers. No more money. But still: $2020! I smirked. Something good associated with 2020.
Who would keep a 10-year-old drugstore receipt for tissues and a couple thousand-dollar bills in a ratty notebook? And more to the point: what should I do with it?
I peeked inside the front cover and found to my delight that there was no indication as to the identity of the owner on it or the papers. Well, if there was no name, then Finders Keepers. I began planning what I would do with my windfall, if it should turn out to be real. Money had been a little tight during the pandemic, and I was sure there was some pressing bill that would need almost all of it, but maybe there would be enough left for some fun money.
Shoving the papers into my coat pocket, I looked through the notebook, finding no clues. About half the pages were written on, but there was nothing extraordinary: to-do lists, shopping lists, appointments – the record of a typical life. But then, as I exultantly flipped through the last couple pages, something hard dropped out into my hand.
A drivers’ license.
The name on the license didn’t ring a bell, and the address was from Eastern Washington – hundreds of miles away. He had probably been visiting someone nearby and lost his notebook. Well, that settled it. I’d take it home and put out a notice on the Nextdoor app and hope the owner’s local friends wouldn’t see it.
Rounding the corner, I glanced across the street and rolled my eyes. There stood Rose’s garage - wide open - again. She’d been so eager to ambush me that she had once again forgotten to push the door close button. Since we lived next to the community park, it was not a good idea to leave one’s house open to all comers. I’d tried once to close her garage door myself, but it came down too fast for me to push the button by the inside stairs and get out
Juggling the notebook, money, and license, I pulled out my cellphone and called the non-emergency number. I explained the situation and asked for an officer to come check it out.
While I waited, I reassembled the notebook, taking care to put the wet papers between blank pages. A breeze blew hair into my face, and out of the corner of my eye I saw a flash of white. As I glanced over, a triangle of fabric floated down like a fall leaf and landed near my gloves. It was a piece of dirty nylon; apparently torn from a kite. What in the world? With a shrug I inserted it between the back page and the cover.
Shoving everything into my pocket, I waited to see if anything else unusual or valuable would come raining down, but the air remained empty. I turned and started back home just as the patrol car arrived. To my surprise, another pulled up behind the first. Two officers got out, and while the first one headed up the drive, the other leaned against his car, watching.
After checking the house, the officer pushed the inside button and sprinted to the door, ducking out just in the nick of time. I started to pass by, but then remembered the notebook and approached the patrol car.
“Officer? I was walking this morning and I found this notebook. There’s money and a driver’s license in it. The license isn’t from around here. Could you take it to lost and found?”
He nodded and extended his gloved hand, and I regretfully handed over the notebook and all its contents.
“There’s quite a bit of money in there; I’m sure someone has reported it missing.”
The officer dutifully put everything in a plastic bag and took out his own, pristine notebook. “Let me get your contact information. If no-one claims it in 30 days, it’s yours.”
I gave him my particulars and watched as they drove away.
I’ll admit over the next month I did occasionally wonder about the mysterious little notebook. But as the holidays came and went my unusual morning walk receded into forgetfulness.
Sometime in February I listened to my long-neglected voicemails and heard a gruff voice saying, “This is the Kent Police. We have a check for you; please call us back at this number to set up an appointment to pick it up.”
Memories of the notebook rushed back into my mind. No-one had claimed it! I was going to get two thousand dollars! I quickly called the number and made arrangements for the next day.
I watched the clock all morning; anxious that I might get caught up in work and miss my appointment. Throwing on my coat, I sped down the hill to the police station hoping that I wouldn’t have to wait. My heart sank when I arrived; the parking lot was clogged with camera trucks and news vans and a crowd of people were waiting by the front door.
Terrific. Something big was going on. Normally I would have called to reschedule, but $2,000 is $2,000. So I parked along the street and slipped up to the door, avoiding the press of reporters.
When I gave my name, the desk attendant smiled and called, “Chief? She’s here.”
Suddenly the tiny room was full of uniformed officers, and fear gripped me as I tried to imagine what I had done. One of the officers took me by the arm and hauled me outside, where a wall of reporters faced us.
“This is the lady who found the notebook!” he proclaimed, and all around us cameras clicked.
Oh good Lord. A publicity stunt. All over a stupid notebook!
Another officer handed me a check the size of a poster-board. I held it up and managed a bewildered smile as a dozen people asked a hundred questions which I couldn’t hear, let alone respond to.
“Thank you!” said the older officer. “This is a triumphant day for our department, and a shining example of how police and the community can work together to bring about justice.”
There was a smattering of applause; I was pulled back into the building, and the door mercifully shut behind me.
“What,” I asked indignantly, “Was that all about?”
He chuckled. “Sorry, but this is the biggest thing to happen around here in ages.”
I shook my head. “I don’t have time for this. I have to be back at work in…” I picked up my wrist to check my watch and got my first look at the front of the poster.
“I…uh…I think somebody made a mistake,” I stammered.
The officer looked surprised. “What mistake?”
“There are too many 2s. The notebook I found had $2020 in it. This check says”…I pointed…“$22,020.”
“That’s right. $2020 from the notebook, and $20,000 for the reward.”
“That’s crazy!” I scoffed. “A $20,000 reward for a beat-up notebooks and a couple thousand bucks?”
“Well, it was really a reward for a little piece of fabric that was in the notebook. That’s what gave us the answer.”
“The answer to what?” I asked, dumbfounded. He rolled his eyes.
“Only the most mystifying unsolved crime in the last ten years...” he paused, looking at me with raised eyebrows.
I shrugged, and he sighed. “In 2010 a mystery man stole a small bag of rare thousand dollar bills. He slipped our noose and made it to the regional airport, where he had a plane waiting to fly to Spokane. But the plane crashed in the Cascades. Only a few of the bills were found at the scene. The rest of the money was never recovered.”
“I remember!” I exclaimed. “They said he must have survived the crash and hitched a ride out of the mountains. There were roadblocks all over the place - everybody was looking for him!”
“Yes, but we never found him, and after a while we stopped looking…until now. The bills you found were part of the stolen cache. The driver’s license gave us a name, but the fabric gave us the last piece of the puzzle.”
“That little piece of a kite?”
He shook his head. “No – that little piece of a parachute. The thief left a few of the bills in the plane as a red herring, then parachuted out. He must’ve landed in the trees and lost his notebook trying to get the parachute unsnagged. There was a reward for information leading to the recovery of the money, and using what you gave us we were able to track down and arrest the thief.”
The officer took away the poster-check and handed me a regular-sized one, shook my hand, and ushered me out a side door away from the reporters. I drove directly to the bank, handed the teller the check, and looked incredulously at my receipt. $22,020. I gave a lot of thought to what I should buy with my pennies from heaven. Suffice it to say that we put it to good use; but the very first thing I bought was a brand new little black notebook.
About the author
A wife and homeschool mom of six, Debbe spends her time as a Director in an Assisted Living building, where many fabulous stories are to be found. She is also a teacher and a chaplain. And she writes. A lot.