Stop, thief. Or not.

by Andrea Mulder-Slater

When I was 14 years old, someone snuck into my mother's office, plucked the wallet from her purse and walked out the door.

Evidently, the thief was a nomadic gypsy or a migrating goose, because for several months following the robbery, we received widespread phone calls from distant strangers who had stumbled across my mom's personal belongings in ditches, on sidewalks and in public restrooms.

The whole experience made me queasy, angry and – apparently – supernatural.

I say this because from that day on, I became a wallet magnet as the damn things started appearing around me like fruit flies in the science lab at my high school.

My teenage years were spent tripping over lost pocketbooks – at the park, on the street and in parking lots. It was truly inexplicable. So much so, that my parents started to question my acquisitions.

“Tell us again how you ‘found’ this wallet? (and please don’t say you took it out of someone’s car, back pocket or house).” 

But I wasn’t stealing. Honestly. I was just living in a community where people had absolutely no concept of keeping their personal belongings on their person. Also, I was a wallet genie – dare I say… the “chosen one”.

Folks were always thrilled to get their misplaced money back and the resulting rewards were generous. One fruitful summer, my wallet-finding job netted me $14 in bills, $2.80 in change, a bag of potato chips and a $10 gift certificate – for a restaurant in Georgia, 1500 kms away.

Okay – maybe I just thought the compensations were princely. Remember, I was a rural route kid, who grew up without cable TV. It’s all relative.

But then, as quick as it began, my stint as a lost wallet detector ended and my billfold radar remained dormant - until many (many) years later, when I moved across the country and had a baby.

Evidently, my kiddo inherited my aptitude for honing in on misplaced credit cards and teeny, tiny family photos. Together, she and I found wallets like dogs find deer poop as we strolled down the streets of our sleepy little town. She would point to the forlorn leather cases on the ground; I would pick them up, return them to their rightful owners and call it a day. Strangely enough, the rewards didn’t follow. But we didn’t care – we were crusaders.

Then, the inevitable happened. We were witness to a crime.

A wallet crime.

My mom, aunt, sleeping daughter and I were stopped at a gas station on our way back to Canada from the US. The station was situated next to the border crossing with a clear view of the bridge that traverses a river and connects two countries.

There were several people lined up waiting for the pumps that day, but one girl in particular caught my eye. She was sitting in her car, alternating her glance between her lap and the security cameras on the exterior of the convenience store. Then, she got out of her vehicle and headed for the trashcan.

“Stop!” I shouted at my mom as she began to drive away from the station – our gas pumped and paid for.

“Why?” she said, pulling into a parking spot.

“That girl” I whispered, “She just shoved something into the garbage bin. It’s a wallet. I can feel it.”

My heart raced as I ran through all of the crime drama shows I’d ever watched. I asked my aunt to go into the store under the pretense of needing to use the washroom – you know, so we wouldn’t draw attention to ourselves.

“Pretend we’re waiting for her.” I said to my mom we watched Wilma wander inside.

“We are waiting for her,” sighed Jan as she looked at the crazy in my eyes.

Meanwhile, I wrote down the girl’s license plate and waited for her to drive off, across the bridge, towards the border. Then, I nonchalantly made my move.

“I knew it!” I shouted as I rescued the wallet from the outdoor wastebasket.

It was a well-worn billfold… light brown with some flowers carved into the leather. I opened it up to search for the name of poor, violated owner.

It was empty. Almost.

Everything had been removed -- except for a Walmart® receipt for a pack of Lifesavers®, a Life & Style magazine, a bottle of nail polish and… a black Buxton® three fold clutch.

As it happened, the only felony committed that day was a crafty cross-border shopper, switching her old wallet out for a new one, before heading through customs.

It was a little more difficult to explain to the gas station attendant and a gaggle of fellow customers why I was throwing that same wallet in the trash a few moments later. Also, I am no longer allowed to purchase gas - or use the washroom - at any and all CITGO locations. At least for another year.

No, really.

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