Denny Schwitzer of Alexandria didn't know what Lee Redfearn was talking about. Here was Redfearn on the phone a few days ago, telling Denny he had her wallet. But Denny looked in her purse, and her wallet was there.
"You must have the wrong person," she told him.
"Are you sure?" Redfearn asked. "There are all these checks in here with your name on them. And all these credit cards. And all these. . . ."
"Wait," said Denny. "Where did you say you were calling from?"
"The Pennsylvania Building," said Redfearn, who is the chief engineer there.
At that point, Denny Schwitzer realized her five-year wait was over.
In 1977, Denny was working as a legal secretary on the 12th floor of The Pennsylvania Building at 425 13th St. NW. She was doing some research in the legal library one morning when someone rang the doorbell of her firm's offices. Denny went to answer it. When she returned to the library, her purse was lying open on the floor. Her wallet had been stolen.
The usual hassles followed: cancel the credit cards, stop payment on the checks, get used to the idea that the family photos would never return. Luckily, there had been only $7 in the wallet, so Denny's financial loss was not great.
But in another way, her loss was huge. In her wallet, Denny had carried a good luck charm given to her by her great-grandmother, Emma Luthe, who lived in Germany. It was a penny wrapped in the leaf of a rose, and wrapped, in turn, with a prayer.
"It meant a great deal to me," said Denny, understandably. But when the wallet didn't turn up within a few days of its disappearance, Denny was forced to conclude that she'd never see the charm again.
She almost didn't, either, according to Lee Redfearn.
"I had gone down to the ladies room on the sixth floor to check a report of a leak," he said. "There's a slot in the wall where you could push trash in, or push it down from the floors above. I was shining the flashlight around, looking for the leak, and I said, 'Wait a minute, that can't be a wallet in there.' I almost gave up. I didn't believe it."
But a wallet it was, with plaster dust and Denny's name all over the contents. It also contained everything it contained in 1977, except the $7.
However, Lee Redfearn couldn't locate Denny right away. Denny no longer lives at the address listed on her old driver's license. Nor does she work for the same law firm.
It took Lee "eight or nine calls, I guess" to locate Denny through her mother. But he pooh-poohed any notion that he'd walked an exceptional number of miles to reunite Denny and her wallet.
"I know how it is," said Lee. "I've lost my wallet several times myself."
Denny Schwitzer pronounces herself "especially delighted" to recover the wallet. Why especially? Her great-grandmother died three years ago, Denny explained. "In a way," she said, "getting the charm back brings her back, too.