David Nicholas Evans and his best friend Lenny were in the same grade at Ridgewood High, home of the Fighting Eagles. Dave began as my doppelganger before I gave him his own personality. He had blue eyes, medium brown hair, which turned dark and curly by 1973, and had a passion for drawing and writing. Unlike me, however, he didn’t elbow his way among four younger brothers at home. He had a twin sister, Amy Elizabeth Evans, whom we’ll meet later.
Dave was taller than Lenny and scrawny. (Like me, he would grow to 6’ 2” by his senior year.) His complexion was tanned year round and he almost exclusively wore T-shirts, blue jeans, and tennis shoes in summer, and flannel shirts and work boots in winter.
Friendly, enthusiastic and lively—and exceedingly talkative whenever the subjects were about baseball or art—Dave could argue vehemently for what he believed to be true. On the other hand, he preferred to be alone in his bedroom where he drew, read and wrote. He could spend hours drawing, reading or writing. The latter led to him writing articles for his school newspaper.
Unlike his creator, Dave played a better guitar, but not as well as his twin sister. With a fondness for music, he often hummed whenever he was absorbed in a task.
The Day I Met Dave Evans and Helped Lenny Become a Hero
He was humming an unfamiliar tune at a swampy outcropping along the eastern edge of Myers Ridge when Lenny, our leader, put up his right hand for us to stop. We were following a well-traveled deer path after leaving our bikes hidden in tall grass near Ridge Road.
“If there’s gold,” Lenny said, “this will be a good place to look.”
Dave and I followed until we stood at the edge of a cliff. Twenty feet below us, water trickled from the hillside and fell and splattered and fell again to Myers Creek far below. I got busy and helped Dave with a rope Lenny had brought. I tied my end to a young hornbeam tree, a hardwood tree we call ironwood back home, and Dave harnessed his end to Lenny. Then we helped lower him to where the water exited the side of Myers Ridge. I watched him dig around at the wet ground, pull up rocks, examine them closely, and toss them away. After ten minutes, the process became boring to watch, so I returned to the hornbeam tree to make sure my knot was holding. It was.
Past the tree where the ground turned swampy and muddy, I watched a red squirrel inspect the inedible raw leaves of a small patch of skunk cabbage, likely looking for the plants’ hard, pea-sized seeds to carry back to its nest. That’s when Dave called me back.
We hoisted a grinning Lenny to us and he proudly displayed a three-inch chunk of bright yellow rock. It was cold and heavy when I held it.
“Think there’s more?” Dave asked. His eyes were wide as he looked at the gold, then down at the cliff and back at the gold.
Lenny shrugged and blew into his hands. “Should have brought gloves,” he said before taking the rock away from me.
“What are you gonna do with it?” Dave asked.
Lenny shrugged again. “Melt it, maybe, and make a bracelet for my mom. I’ve been reading up on how to make jewelry.”
“Tomorrow,” Dave said, “I’m going down there and look for more.”
“Can’t,” Lenny said, frowning. “I have a dentist appointment after school. Besides, since it’s too dangerous to go in the mines, a better place to look would be down below in Myers Creek.” The frown deepened. “But the gold’s high density will have caused it to sink, so we’ll need some way to stay at the bottom and dig.”
“Do you mean like scuba diving?” This time I asked the questions. “Why don’t we inspect some of the sinkholes up here?”
Dave’s eyes widened again. “Are you crazy? Some of those caves are infested with rattlesnakes.”
“I’m not saying we go in the caves. I’m saying that the ground of the hole may reveal more gold. After all,” I puffed my chest, “virtually all the gold mankind has discovered is considered to have been deposited by meteorites which contained it. And since gold was found inside Myers Ridge, don’t you think there’d be more showing where the ground has broken away?”
“I don’t know,” Lenny said. “Sinkholes are as dangerous as the mines and caves. You never know when the ground is gonna collapse.”
“We could use your rope,” I suggested.
Lenny looked at his wristwatch. “I gotta get home. What’s your phone number? I’ll call and we’ll discuss this further.”
“No phone,” I lied. “But I’ll be in town this weekend.”
We decided to meet at noon on Saturday at the driveway where we met Dave. Then Lenny left Dave the rope and we said goodbye at the farmhouse’s driveway before Lenny and I headed south along Ridge Road, toward an intersection and Russell Road that would lead us back to Ridgewood. We had gone more than a quarter mile, perhaps 600 yards, when I spotted the flash of sunlight reflecting off the chrome of a green sedan off in a field to our left.
Lenny saw it too, so we stopped.
“That’s the road to one of the mines,” he said to me.
I knew the road was an abandoned one, hidden by a field of teasels, wild grasses and ragweed, having drawn it on one of my maps a week ago. The grasses were indented where a vehicle had passed recently.
“My Spidey sense is tingling,” Lenny said; I chuckled at the comic book reference, and then stopped short when I saw the car begin to back up to turn around.
“Hit the deck,” Lenny shouted. We dove for cover among daisy fleabane and a large clump of purple and yellow New England Astor. I pressed myself close to the ground and hoped the handlebar of my borrowed bike would go unnoticed by whoever was inside that car.
The driver stopped for nearly a minute when the green sedan reached Ridge Road. We were ten yards away and a horse-fly had found the back of my sweaty neck. I clenched my jaw as it bit into my skin and sucked my blood. I waited no more than thirty seconds after the car pulled away to slap at the fly.
When I raised my head and looked around, Lenny was scrambling his way down the overgrown road, heading toward the mine. I followed, groaning and moaning about the sting the fly had left me, until I remembered I controlled the events of my story. This caused me to pause and consider rewriting the fly’s visit.
My neck stopped hurting. I caught up to Lenny at the mouth of the cave someone had boarded up. We pulled the boards away easily and entered a musty smelling cavern that changed quickly to cool dampness and became darker the farther we went. We passed an old rail cart covered with burlap.
A thought came to me that we should look inside the cart. Then, as though he had read my mind, Lenny went to it and pulled away the empty burlap sacks.
We found 16-year-old Laurie Burnett bound and gagged inside. And the police caught the bad guys after Laurie identified them as associates at her father’s bank.
I shared my story with my English teacher, to which he challenged me to rewrite it as a story told by a third person, omnipotent author, and to write a sad ending. So, when Lenny bungled the rescue by getting caught by a third henchman and causing Laurie’s death during a daring escape in the revised climax, I got an A grade.
The story, however, seemed contrived, so I returned to writing “the truth” as a first person participant where Lenny stayed a hero and melted his gold into a bracelet for his mom, just as he planned.
Before the school year ended I created a fictional version of my dad’s parents and moved them into a top floor apartment in downtown Ridgewood. My grandfather—in reality and fiction—was a pensioner retired from the railroad, and my grandmother, likewise, worked part-time at the thrift store. Their presence as minor characters made life easier after Lenny and Dave insisted they meet the people I claimed to stay with.
Lenny and I visited Dave often at the farmhouse during high school. The place belonged to Dave’s dad, Parker Evans, who had separated from Dave’s mom earlier that year. Parker and his wife, Michelle, would reconcile and separate several times until finally divorcing in 1974, the year Dave and Amy turned 17. Before then, and before Parker sold the house and moved to Pittsburgh, Lenny and I spent a lot of time with Dave because Parker had three arcade size pinball machines in the house. It was a teenager’s dream come true to play pinball games free whenever the mood struck.