By David Guerra
I love a mystery.
One came my way a week ago Tuesday in the form of a frightened nanny and her young charge. She came tapping on my door just after my first cup of java.
“I’m sorry to bother you,” she said. “But I didn’t know who else to tell. I found something at the stop sign and I think it’s a crime scene.”
Intrigued, I followed her to the corner of our street. There in a neat pile was a stack of photographs, financial documents, home-burned CDs, a gym membership card and an expensive-looking leather wallet, empty. I recognized the items as something I’d seen the day before scattered on the other side of the road.
“Looks like someone dumped it out of a car window,” I said. “It happens all the time up here. Thieves steal mail or parcels and then toss out what they don’t want.”
“But these are someone’s photos,” she said. “I didn’t want to touch them, in case… well, you know.”
I picked through the pile, saturated from the neighbor’s sprinkler. “I’ll take these home and see if I can find the owner,” I said, scooping them up.
Soon, the hodge-podge of belongings were laid out on newspapers on my livingroom floor. I looked at each, piecing together my investigation.
Photographs of family members, grandpa with a grandchild. A trip to the Sierras with teenage friends. Records of rent collection for a property in Berkeley. Banking statements from Wells Fargo, but no name.
The only clue to identity was a membership to a gym franchise. It was a long shot, but I googled the name on the card. There was a Facebook account, with a man of color like many of the photos. He owned a local business, so I googled that. After bouncing around the internet for a while, I found a number his company. I reached an answering machine.
“My name is David. I’m trying to find Don. This is going to sound crazy but I found a bunch of photos and a wallet which may be his on the side of the road. I want to get them to the rightful owner. If you know Don, please have him contact me.”
Al came into the room and examined the drying photographs. “Why is someone’s life on our living room floor? These are analog photos.”
“I know. They are important to someone. They were on the side of the road. I’m trying to find the owner.”
Three hours later, Don stood on my front deck, looking at the collection of dried photos. He told me his sad tale.
His business van had been stolen, along with his tablet and a bunch of personal belongings. He’d been trying to work with the police to find the van, but to no avail. He’d lost hope of ever retrieving any of his belongings, especially the photos. I asked him about them.
He told me the story of the teen trip to Mono Lake with his mentor, the picture of his best friend from childhood, the special car a family member purchased, over a decade ago. He wiped his eyes and hugged me. He showed his girlfriend the pictures. He was especially touched that a stranger would pick up the pile, dry them and then go through the effort to find the owner.
“You’re a guardian angel,” he said as he gave me another hug.
“You had three guardian angels,” I said. “One who collected your things and put them by the corner. The nanny who found them and got me. And me, who found you.”
Mystery solved. And to a man named Don, that was an act of kindness that he will remember for a long time.