While leaning on the railing out on my back deck this morning, enjoying the fresh autumn chill, I couldn’t help but notice construction starting on two more new homes across the canyon. As I sipped my coffee, my mind wandered back to an earlier time when I first moved out here to my little hilltop oasis. The view was a bit different then. I remember being able to pick out only four distant houses hidden among the cedar and oak woods covering these hills that mark the eastern edge of what is known as the Texas Hill Country. Now it would be almost impossible to count the large and expensive homes that have popped up above the golf course over there. At night, the once dark country view has been replaced by a more urban view with twinkling lights. Not a bad view, just noticeably different.
When my gaze wandered over to the little cement bird bath I set up years ago in the small grassy area next to my home, I got to thinking about how my little world here on this hill has also changed in the thirteen years since I arrived. It’s nowhere near as crowded with homes as the hillside subdivision across the canyon, but I do have a few neighbors now. When I first moved here my place was the only home on the cul-de-sac. Where cement driveways now lead to three houses there were only two little dirt roads leading off into the woods down the hill. It was very quiet most of the time and a bit spooky at night. But odd as it may seem, there was actually more traffic on our one block dead-end street back then. At night the red glow of taillights would light up my windows as cars would turn around or even sometimes disappear down one of the dirt roads. After dark this was a popular place to hide out for a little under-age drinking and probably sometimes worse activities. During the daytime, it attracted a different crowd, mostly folks with dirt bikes and four-wheelers. The quiet countryside would often echo with the high whine of small engines. The worst part was that one of those popular dirt trails led right down the hill onto my property. I remember a couple of times hearing voices and looking out to discover off-road vehicles being rolled off the back of a pickup parked right out front. That was too much. I put up posted signs. They were mostly ignored. During that time, there was one particular neighborhood teenager that would most frequently speed down the road and roar right past me standing there on my porch glaring at him. He knew he could be long gone before I could do anything. But then one day our little confrontation took a surprising turn, and that leads me to my little story—you knew it would eventually, right?
At that time, my grown son lived across town. He came over one day and told me his best friend was getting married. I knew the young couple. They had visited along with my son a few times. They were looking for a place to have the wedding, but couldn’t afford to rent a large enough space to accommodate the bride’s large extended family and all their friends. My son suggested offering my place and I thought it was a great idea. The bride’s mom came over and checked things out and we were all set. I got a kick out of how excited and appreciative they all were. It turned out the date for the ceremony was set for a weekend when I had planned to be out of town. So, unfortunately, I missed the actual event. According to my son it was quite a shindig. The family had rented 150 folding chairs and every one had been occupied during the ceremony. They had even rigged lights and sound and danced on my driveway until two AM. By the time I got home, however, my son was alone at the house and everything had been cleared away. It was then, while I was making a quick scan for anything out of place, I found the wallet.
It was a plain brown leather man’s wallet. Someone in the wedding party must have dropped it on the small table upstairs or left it there while changing. I opened it and found a driver’s license. I glanced at the address, thinking I should be able to look up a number for the owner. Much to my amazement, the address was right there in my neighborhood, a couple of streets away. It struck me as odd that someone here knew the couple, but when I looked at the photo on the ID it really shook me up. Grinning back at me was a slightly younger looking version of the teenager with the four-wheeler. The smile wasn’t quite as cocky, but it was the same kid. What was he doing here, inside my house? Had he actually crashed the wedding party? The more I thought about it, the more likely that seemed. From what I had heard there were beer kegs and a lot of food. Who would have thought to check anyone’s age? The nineteen year old wouldn’t have stood out that much from all the twenty-something’s at the party. I just could not believe the nerve of the young man. Before calling his parents, I asked my son to check with his friends to see if they had seen him. When he later showed the license around, the groom said he thought he did see someone that looked like the photo. He didn’t know the guy, but then there were a lot of the bride’s family there he would not know. All right—gotcha! The next night I put in the call and talked to the boy’s mother. My accusation that he had crashed a party of strangers really surprised her. She said he had lost his wallet, but she thought he had mentioned that a few days earlier. Still, as the parent of a teenage boy, she couldn’t be totally sure of what he had been up to. She promised me her husband and son would come by the next evening to get to the bottom of it all.
Early that next day, a few more facts came to light. My son called and said that one of his friends had told him he found the wallet on the trail down the hill. He was the one who quietly left it on the table in the house. He swore that he had not removed anything from it. I opened the wallet and counted fifteen dollars still inside. That made me feel pretty good about my son’s friend, but it also gave me a moment to look closer at the bills. They felt funny. Looking closer I could see a light coating of bluish mold. If the kid had dropped it outside during the party, mold was unlikely to have grown in just two days time. A couple of hours before confronting the teen and his dad, I was starting to rethink my theory. I walked down the dirt road to the area where the wallet had been found. Right away I spotted a small cheap bracelet on the ground. The teen usually rode alone, but I did remember about a week earlier seeing a girl on the back. The bracelet was a few feet away from a long narrow scrape in the gravel, which pointed directly back uphill to a familiar rather abrupt drop off in the dirt road. It was suddenly obvious what had happened. There had been some crashing all right, but not the kind I had imagined. The wallet had been there exposed to the elements for a while.
Once the boy and his dad arrived, we worked things out fairly quickly. I admitted that I wasn’t quite as upset as I would have been if he had actually crashed the party, but I had very clear evidence that he had been riding on my property without permission. The fact that he could have been injured added to my concern. Who knows now days? Someone might sue me for having a dangerous trail on my land. The boy seemed very pleased to have his license back, as well as the fifteen dollars. He said he really didn’t know when he had lost it and was having a hassle trying to get his license replaced. He and his dad both promised he would not ride down that particular hill again. We shook hands and he thanked me for returning his wallet.
After that evening, I only saw the young man one more time. Probably about a year later I was mowing weeds when I looked up to see a four-wheeler pull to a stop on the cul-de-sac. He waited for me to look up and recognize him and then waved. He must have been twenty by then and didn’t look so much like a kid anymore. When I smiled and waved back he turned the machine around and slowly drove away on the public road. That little smile was stuck on my face for a while that day.
Norm Brown is the author of the suspense novel Carpet Ride, published by Secondwind Publishing, LLC.