Steve Harrison was headed to Costco from his Issaquah home the other week when he spotted some papers fluttering in the road and pulled over to investigate.
It was money. Lots of it. One $100 bill after another, spread across the pavement, some in small stacks. Harrison snatched them up in a bit of a frenzy, and then found something that stopped him short.
A wallet containing a license with the name and address of the man who was surely missing something: Michael King, who lived just a mile away.
Harrison gathered up his find and drove to Costco, where he pulled into a parking space and counted the bills: A hundred $100 bills, and three singles: $10,003.
He walked around the store, his mind reeling, the money a fat fold in his pocket. He paid for everything with his own money.
Back home, he called a neighbor and told him what had happened; the money he had found and the name on the driver’s license. Did he know Michael King?
“Yeah, I know him,” his friend said, then laughed. “Keep the money.”
Harrison, an engineer, couldn’t do that. He asked his friend to call King and ask if he was missing anything.
King didn’t even know the money was gone. He had left his wallet on the back bumper of his truck and drove off.
When Harrison called King to arrange a return, “He knew I was the guy saving his ass,” he said.
Still, King wasn’t terribly effusive. More embarrassed than anything.
“He was like, ‘Thank you, but I can’t give you any reward.’ Right off the bat,” Harrison remembered. “And I was like, ‘OK, let’s get this over with, shall we?'”
The two men agreed to meet at a nearby intersection, where Harrison handed over the cash and King handed him his reward:
A quart of homemade applesauce.
Harrison knows he could be dining on much finer fare, had he kept the cash. But that wasn’t even a question.
“I never took seriously the notion of keeping it,” he said. “It’s just simpler to do the right thing. Once I realized that there was an ID involved, I knew I would return the money.”
Still, is a jar of applesauce proper thanks for correcting a $10,000 mistake?
Harrison’s friend, Ken Sommers, compared the whole thing to a multiple-choice question on the NPR game show “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me.”
“The question would be, ‘A guy returns $10,000 in cash and what does he get?’ And all the answers are equally insane,” Sommers said. “But the right one is a jar of applesauce.”
There are no rules or etiquette around what someone deserves for saving a stranger from such a pricey blunder.
“Every day I read the paper, and people are so selfish,” Sommers said. “But here’s someone who did the right thing. And is applesauce a fine reward? If not, what is?
“You get good karma, I guess.”
The truth is, King couldn’t afford to pay Harrison anything. The money was for a business transaction that he preferred to keep private. Every dollar was spoken for.
“I just took the withdrawal that day, and I don’t know what compelled me to leave it on the bumper of the truck,” he said. “It was just a dipshit move. And I am just flabbergasted that it didn’t get picked up by somebody else.
“It would have crippled us to have that amount of money disappear on us.”
The applesauce, he said, was a meaningful gesture of thanks from the retired painting contractor and his family.
“It is made with love and care,” King said, “and (Harrison) showed me some love and care for making the effort to give the money back.”
It’s a “small thing,” King knows, but there are more gifts of thanks coming to Harrison that he hopes mean more than money. Halibut steaks. Homemade blackberry jam.
“I’m going to smoke a bunch of salmon this weekend and give him another reminder of ‘Hey, thanks a lot for what you’ve done for me.’ He deserves all the credit.
“I am willing to mow the guy’s lawn,” he continued. “I am definitely indebted to him. The honesty and the forthrightness … He could have just said, ‘Hey, I found your wallet.’
“It’s astounding that it got returned to me.”
So, how was the applesauce? Does it taste like 10,003 bucks?
“I haven’t had any yet,” Harrison said. “It’s at home in my fridge. But it better be good.”