I was at the post office late this afternoon when the phone rang. Tied up, I could not answer. A few minutes later, I retrieved the message.
“Hello, my name is Joe Smith and I am calling about a wallet. There was a note in the wallet signed by you, with your number. I would like to get the wallet back to its owner. Please return my call.”
I was intrigued. I knew of no one who would carry a note from me in their wallet. I knew of no one who was missing their wallet. So I dialed the number.
Mr. Smith’s voice was deep, filled with gravel, dust, and smoke. He might have been 40. He might have been 70.
“I was at Wal-Mart this morning and found a wallet on the floor in the back of the store. There was a driver’s license, a credit card, and some other I.D. There was a $20 bill. There was a note in the wallet from you to the boy who owns the wallet. It was handwritten. Your business card was also in the wallet.”
The boy’s name rang a bell. A young kid I represent in a far-off county. I had no clue as to how his wallet became lost and found in a Walmart in Smith County, a hundred and twenty miles away. The kid has serious problems. He is in jail because he would not or could not follow simple bond conditions. Keeping him out of prison is going to be tough.
“I called information,” said Mr. 40/70. “Tracked down his address on his license. Called his credit card company to report the card. But I cannot find him.”
I remembered. The young client was out on bond but got picked up on another charge. In the jail he went. I have left him there on purpose to dry out, to shake him up, and indoctrinate him in the bitter realities of making these types of mistakes. He has a court date next month in which I expect to take care of his four misdemeanor cases. Resolving his four or five felony cases, however, will be more difficult, starting with a hearing next week. I had a vague memory of writing the kid a note months earlier when a family member of his and I were with him in far-off county.
“What does the note say?” I asked. I have been bogged down in trial cases and appeals in the day, composing a major orchestral-choral work at night. The first thing that goes when I am sleep deprived is my memory. I had no idea what I wrote.
“The note is basically six bullet points,” said Mr. 40/70. He recited:
“Never talk to the police.”
“Always demand a lawyer if the police want to talk to you.”
“Never fight the police, but never give them permission to search you or your car or your house or any other thing.”
“Remember the above rules as if your life depends on it, because it does.”
“Call me. I will come rescue you as long as you do not lie to me. Read the previous sentence again.”
“Do not lose this note.”
I felt Mr. Smith smile over the phone. “I like that last point,” he said. “Sounds like the kid does not follow rules too well.” He paused. “That was me once upon a time.”
Memory came back. I remembered scribbling on scrap paper during a crisis the boy was going through months ago. I remembered stressed-out people. I remembered a brutal day.
The boy’s family cast him out. He is on his own, except for me. It is my job to save him if I can.
Mr. 40/70 said he would mail everything to me. I thanked him for being a good Samaritan, for trying to find the boy, and for contacting me.
I will return the wallet to the boy when I see him next week.
And the lost note.