The day I created Leonard Campbell Stevens, I played no sports. Fishing and listening to baseball games on my transistor radio were the only things close to being sports active for me. I fished to relax and have fun; so did Lenny, which is how we “met” in the first story I wrote.
Lenny’s first, middle and last names were a mix of my three names (although Leonard was a stretch of my middle one). His last name would change to Armstrong (along with other details) in 1972, but he was Lenny Stevens for two years. His personality was a combination of my two best friends—the three of us buddies since fifth grade. We were a combination of outdoorsy and rugged, curious and adventurous, and observing and taking mental notes for stories. Where one liked to hunt, trap and fish, the other two liked trudging through fields and woods and collecting curious looking bones and rocks. Curious and adventurous Lenny liked collecting rocks.
The Day I Met Lenny Stevens:
It was a pleasant sunny Sunday afternoon in September, sixty degrees and the blue sky mottled in places with clouds that looked like white cotton candy shreds. Church was over (for us both) and thirteen year old Lenny had just asked his parents for permission to go fishing at nearby East Myers Creek. Like me, Lenny lived in a town of creeks and bridges, so he had his favorite fishing holes. I knew which one he planned going to, so I beat him there and bobbed my fishing line beneath Cherry Street Bridge while I waited.
He gave me the once over after he slid down the embankment and entered the narrow strip of grassy underside below the steel bridge. I stood far enough away so I didn’t intrude on his spot.
“Hey,” he said, friendly but with a note of suspicion.
I said it back, then left him alone until he had casted his hook and bait to the deep middle and a few cars had rumbled by overhead.
“Fish here often?” I asked when the disturbed dirt and dust had settled.
“Yeah.” He played his line. “Never seen you around before.”
I considered how to answer his question. “Just visiting my grandparents,” I said after a moment. “They moved here recently.”
He seemed to accept my fib, so I told him my name and that I was from New Cambridge (another fictional town of mine, though bigger than Ridgewood and still under development inside my notebook). After we traded introductions, we didn’t speak again for several minutes.
I reeled in my hook from the dark creek bed that must have been either occupied by sleeping fish or unoccupied by any fish at all when I heard two boys talking above us. One had a tenor voice; the other baritone. Their words were muffled until the two came to the railing at my side of the bridge. Each sounded excited.
“How much do you think we got?” tenor asked. “Think we got a hundred or more?” His reflection rippled on the slow-moving water and I saw that he was tall and thin and wore a white shirt. Baritone was short and stocky and wore a red shirt. That’s all I could make out.
“We’ll count it when we get to my place,” baritone said.
“You’ll split it fifty-fifty,” tenor said. “Right? Fifty bucks is a lot of cash.”
“Come on,” baritone said hastily and stones plunked and splashed in the water to my immediate right as he pulled tenor away from the railing. Then the water settled and the voices muffled again as they trailed off.
“Sounds like they broke in somewhere and stole some money,” Lenny said. He had approached me while I eavesdropped and now stood at my side. Like me, he had reeled in his hook and sinker.
“And who are they?” I asked, intrigued by the mystery.
“Craig Coleman and Morty Twitchel.”
“Morty Twitchel?” I said, and said the name again, trying it out. Then I screwed up my nose. “What kind of name is that?”
“Morton, the squeaky moron. That’s what we call him sometimes. He’s probably the dumbest kid in Ridgewood.”
“I take it you two don’t get along.”
“Morty’s okay, he’s just terribly dumb and gullible. It’s Craig no one gets along with. Except for Morty. He and Craig are almost inseparable, which doesn’t make sense.”
Lenny removed his wet, lifeless worm and tossed it into the creek. “Craig’s dad stabbed and killed Morty’s dad in a bar fight at the Edge of Town Tavern last summer.”
“I didn’t think Ridgewood was a violent place,” I said, genuinely surprised.
“It can be. And now those two and their moms are best friends.” Lenny shook his head. “Go figure.”
He went to his tackle box. I followed.
“So where is this tavern?” I asked.
“On Lake Road toward Alice Lake,” he said while snapping a plastic lid on his can of worms. “Why?”
“Just curious.” I saw he was packing up and preparing to leave, so I went to my own tackle box and closed it up. My head was full of thoughts right then.
“Where are you going?” I asked when I caught up to Lenny. We were on the bridge by then and he was definitely heading toward town, away from home.
“Police station,” he said. “I figure if anyone reports a robbery, the cops should know to question Craig and Morty.”
I followed him to downtown and the station house next to the fire station, and waited outside the red brick building while he went in and reported what we had overheard. When he came out, he shrugged.
“Officer O’Conner wrote down the info I gave him, but he didn’t seem pleased. It made me feel like I was tattling.”
“Did you give him my name?” I asked.
“I didn’t mention you. I hope that’s okay. I figured it wouldn’t be right to involve an out-of-towner without his permission.”
I agreed with his logic and followed him to his house. He invited me in, but I declined his offer. I sensed it was suppertime and I’d have to get ready for evening church soon.
His mom called from the front door. “David and Amy were here. You’re supposed to call David as soon as you come in.”
“Dave and Amy Evans; my best friends,” Lenny said to me when I inquired.
We said our goodbyes then and I watched him hurry up the walk to the front door which his mom held open. She was pretty with long, light-colored auburn hair and a pleasant face. She smiled at me and I waved obediently at her until she and Lenny were out of sight.
I stopped writing for the day and considered what had happened, especially the surprises. Murder at the Edge of Town Tavern hadn’t been part of the Ridgewood I had scribbled in the pages of my notebook. And Craig and Morty had been just as surprising.
But Ridgewood wasn’t supposed to be a violent place. It was designed to be a peaceful, quaint conglomeration of my hometown Union City and nearby Canadohta Lake butted together.
What were my characters telling me?
I pondered the idea of murder happening so close to Alice Lake. Its name had a halcyon atmosphere, and it was supposed to be a quiet place located at the town’s southern side, named after Alice Myers, a grandmother to a deceased old man named Benjamin Myers who once lived on Myers Ridge. I had no idea yet who these people were when I created them and their namesakes on the maps I drew of the town. All I knew so far was that Ridgewood was somewhere in western Pennsylvania, located more than a hundred miles north of Pittsburgh and at least twenty miles west of the Allegheny River.
There was so much more to discover. And many notebooks to fill.