Matthew watched the baby wave slide up the beach and cover the rocks like a gray blanket. It paused for a moment at its line of farthest advance and then gracefully receded into the sea, giving up the territory it had claimed. Another wave followed it and then another. Several waves later, one managed to advance farther up the beach than the others.
The tide was coming in. Matthew knew that the tide—the rising and falling of the level of the ocean—was caused by the gravity of the moon and sun. But reading about it and observing it in action were two different things. He was glad he was getting a chance to travel and see the world for himself.
He was in Palos Verdes, a beautiful peninsula in Southern California, near Los Angeles. He and his brother Mason were staying with their grandparents. Today they were exploring the wonders of Palos Verdes. And he could see a number of them from the top of this cliff. Not only the vast ocean below, but sailboats skimming over it, and the coastline, stretching north and then west past some of the most beautiful beaches Matthew had ever seen.
He thought he heard somebody calling. He looked around but he didn’t see anybody except Grandpa, Grandma and Mason, and they were 30 yards behind him, walking slowly, enjoying the warm summer air and the sea breeze. Maybe the sound he heard was the breeze itself, sighing as it rippled through the bushes that grew at the top of the cliff.
Then he heard it again. This time he was sure it was a person—a person calling for help. And it sounded as if it came from below the top of the cliff. Matthew stepped carefully to the very edge and looked straight down. The drop was nearly vertical here and he had to be careful that he didn’t slip and fall a hundred feet to the rocks below. That thought was enough to cause flip-flops in his stomach.
The cliff was nearly vertical, but not quite. And rocks jutted out at several places on the way down. The first of these places occurred about 10 feet below Matthew. He caught his breath. He could see a boy, lying there, precariously balanced. Balanced so precariously that he might fall off at any time.
“Help,” the boy called in a weak voice.
He didn’t see Matthew; he was face down. He didn’t move. Maybe he was hurt. How did he get there? He couldn’t have climbed down unless he was an expert rock climber.
“I’m going to get help,” Matthew shouted to him. “Hold on.”
The boy tried to lift his head and look at Matthew.
“Don’t move,” Matthew said, urgently. He was afraid that any movement the boy made would cause him to fall the rest of the way to the beach. “Stay where you are. Help is on the way.”
Now he had to put his words into action. Matthew ran toward Grandpa, Grandma and Mason, shouting, “There’s a boy over the cliff. I think he’s hurt.”
“Oh dear,” Grandma said. “I don’t have my cell phone with me. We’ll have to go to one of the houses over there and have them call 911.”
Matthew saw several large houses across the field and across a street.
“I’m fastest,” he said. “I’ll go.”
He set off at a run over the uneven ground, being careful not to trip over any cracks in the earth. He was panting when he reached the road. He remembered to look both ways before he crossed it. He ran up the long driveway to the nearest house. It was painted white and had several tall columns in front of it that reminded Matthew of pictures he had seen of the Parthenon in Greece.
Matthew found the doorbell beside the front door and pressed it twice to make sure it rang. He heard it chime inside the house. What seemed like an hour but was probably not more than 30 seconds passed until a man opened the door. He had white hair and looked about the same age as Grandpa.
“There’s a boy over the cliff,” Matthew said between pants. “I think he’s hurt.”
A look of concern came over the man’s face. He said, “I’ll call 911. Wait here.” He disappeared into the house.
Matthew wanted to run back to the cliff, but he waited for the man. Within two minutes the man came back to the door and said, “Take me to where the boy fell over.”
Matthew wondered how fast the man could go, but he was surprisingly spry. They made good time back to the cliff where Grandpa, Grandma and Mason were peering over the edge.
“Can you see him?” the man asked as they arrived at the cliff.
“Yes,” Grandpa said. “We’re telling him that help is coming so he won’t try to move. We’re afraid he might fall all the way to the bottom.”
The man came to the edge of the cliff and carefully looked over. He gasped. “Peter,” he said.
“Granddad, is that you?” the boy said.
“Yes. Don’t try to move. Help is on the way.”
And indeed, sirens sounded in the distance. In a short time several rescue vehicles appeared on the street. Then they drove through the field almost right to the edge of the cliff as the man and Grandpa directed them by waving their arms.
Matthew was amazed at how efficient they were. Uniformed men and women jumped out and unloaded equipment, including ropes and a stretcher. One of the men put on a harness and was lowered to Peter on a rope. He reassured Peter and checked his injuries.
The stretcher was attached to ropes and also lowered to Peter. A woman went down to join the man. Together they strapped him to the stretcher and he was carefully raised to the top of the cliff.
When Peter saw his granddad, he said, “I think I broke my arm.”
“Thank goodness you’re not hurt any worse than that,” his granddad said.
The rescue team placed a temporary splint on Peter’s arm and he was taken away by ambulance. The granddad thanked Matthew for finding Peter and summoning help. Then he went back to his house to get his car and follow Peter to the hospital.
The excitement was over and Grandpa and Grandma wanted to go home and eat lunch. Matthew was looking down at the spot where Peter had landed, being careful not to fall over himself. He spotted what looked like a large pad caught in a small bush just below the edge of the cliff. He picked it up and showed it to Grandma.
“That’s a sketchbook,” Grandma said. She opened it up. “Look, somebody was drawing a picture of the cliff.”
Mason looked at the picture. “That’s what the cliff looks like from right here,” he said. “Maybe Peter was drawing it.”
“I’ll take it and return it to him,” Matthew said.
* * * *
“Thank you for returning my sketchbook,” Peter said with a smile. “I was going to look for it today. And thank you for telling my granddad that I had fallen off the cliff.”
“I didn’t know he was your granddad,” Matthew said. “This was the first house I came to.”
It was the next day. Grandpa had driven Matthew and Mason to the big white house. When Peter’s granddad opened the door, he invited them to come in. Grandpa had to run some errands so they decided that Matthew and Mason would keep Peter company until he came back.
“I’m staying with my granddad for a month,” Peter said. “My grandmother died three years ago and Granddad lives in this big house all alone. I came to keep him company while my parents take a business trip to Europe.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Matthew said. “Mason and I are staying with our grandpa and grandma, but it’s only for a week. But I like it here in California. I want to live here someday.”
“I do too. Would you like to sign my cast?”
Peter had a white cast on his broken arm. Matthew and Mason signed it with a marking pen.
“Were you drawing a picture of the cliff when you fell?” Mason asked.
“Yes. By the way, you didn’t happen to find a skateboard on top of the cliff, did you?”
Matthew and Mason looked at each other.
“I didn’t see any skateboard,” Matthew said. “Did you have one with you?”
“Yes. Of course I couldn’t use it by the cliff, but I was thinking of going to another spot later, and riding the skateboard is faster than walking. Well, somebody must have taken it. To most people, a skateboard is more valuable than a sketchbook.”
“So you were drawing when you fell over the cliff?” Matthew asked. He tried to picture how that could happen.
“Yes. I was sitting at the edge with my legs hanging over. It was a stupid thing to do because I get wrapped up in my drawing and forget where I am.”
“Do you remember what happened?” Mason asked.
“It’s coming back to me. I leaned forward a little to see the spot where the cliff starts to curve around. I heard a noise behind me. Something hit me in the back. Wait. I didn’t fall. I was pushed!”
“Are you sure?” Matthew asked. This was a different kettle of fish.
“Yes.” Peter became excited. “I heard a noise just before I was pushed. Somebody was behind me. I was turning around to see who it was when it happened. I guess the shock of the fall wiped out my memory.”
“Did you see anybody at all before you fell—er, were pushed?” Matthew asked.
Peter thought for a minute. “I saw two people—two boys. Not at the same time. I saw the first one as I was walking through the field toward the cliff. He was walking along the edge of the cliff. I thought I recognized him. When he came closer I remembered who he was. I stayed with my granddad most of last summer. I played in a summer soccer league. The boy played for another team. Our teams played each other in the last league game. We knocked them out of the playoffs. I don’t mean to brag, but I scored the winning goal. After the game he was upset and said some bad things to me.”
“Did you talk to him today?” Mason asked.
“No, because when he saw who I was he turned around and walked away from me. I didn’t see where he went after that.”
“Who was the other boy?” Matthew asked.
“I don’t know him, but he was also about our age. I remember his hair was dark and shaggy. He needed a haircut. I’ve never seen him before. He came from the same direction as the first boy and walked past me and kept going.”
“Do you know the name of the boy you played against?”
Mason piped up. “You should tell the police. If you were pushed, that’s a crime. Attempted murder.”
“I guess you’re right,” Peter said, thoughtfully. “I’ll tell Granddad when he gets home.”
“Meanwhile,” Matthew said, “can you remember anything more about the first boy?”
They ate some cookies while Peter thought. Finally, his face brightened and he said, “I know where he lives. We drove past his house one day last summer and he was outside. It’s not very far from here—less than a mile.”
“It’s a beautiful day for a walk,” Mason said.
“But before we go there we should check the cliff,” Matthew said. “Maybe the skateboard is hidden in a bush.”
They all agreed. Peter put his arm in a sling so that he would keep it still and protect it while he walked. He left a note for his granddad, telling him where they were going. Then they crossed the street and went to the cliff. They searched diligently but couldn’t find the errant skateboard. Then they set off for the house of the boy. Peter took them around several corners and up a hill until they approached a yellow house.
“That’s where he lives,” Peter said, pointing at the house. “What should we do?”
“Ring the doorbell,” Matthew said. “Tell him your skateboard is missing and ask him if he saw it. We’ll see if he acts guilty. But don’t say you were pushed. That’ll make the situation too explosive.”
They went up the driveway. A garage door was open. Matthew walked up to the garage and looked inside. He saw a bike and a number of balls, including a soccer ball. It was obvious that a boy lived here. Then he saw a skateboard.
“Look,” Matthew said to Peter. “Is that your skateboard?”
Peter looked at it and shook his head. “Mine’s darker and the wheels look different.”
“What do you guys want?” a voice behind them asked.
They turned around and saw a boy about the age of Peter and Matthew. He had an athletic build. Matthew would bet that he was a good soccer player.
Peter seemed to be at a loss for words, so Matthew said, “Peter lost his skateboard at the cliff yesterday. We wondered if you had seen it.”
“That’s my skateboard,” the boy said, looking past them into the garage. “Why would I know anything about your skateboard?”
“You were walking along the cliff yesterday morning,” Peter said, having recovered his voice, “just before I, er, fell off. My skateboard is missing.”
“If you fell off the cliff, you’re lucky to be alive,” the boy said. “I do remember seeing you now. That was just about the time I had to turn around and go home. I didn’t see your skateboard.”
“We played soccer against each other last summer,” Peter said.
The boy looked at him carefully. “Now that you mention it, you do look familiar. I had forgotten all about it. My name is Fred, by the way.” He sounded friendlier.
“I’m Peter, and this is Matthew and Mason,” Peter said.
They all shook hands.
“Fred,” Matthew said, “When you were walking back, did you see another boy? With dark, shaggy hair?” He looked at Peter for confirmation. Peter nodded at the description.
“You mean Jason,” Fred said. “Yeah, he was on the cliff too.”
“He passed me,” Peter said. “I wonder if he took my skateboard.”
“He’s got a reputation for being a kleptomaniac,” Fred said.
“Do you know where he lives?” Mason asked.
“As a matter of fact, I do. Do you want to go to his house? I’ll take you there. I think he took something of mine one time, so he’s not at the top of my list of friends.”
All four of them set off together. On the way, Peter told Fred more details about falling off the cliff. He didn’t say he was pushed. They talked about the soccer game last summer. Fred didn’t seem to have any animosity toward Peter for beating his team.
After a bit they came to a house that Fred said was where Jason lived. The garage was closed. They went up to the front door and rang the doorbell. A woman opened the door. She might be Jason’s mother.
“Hi,” Fred said with a smile. “My name is Fred. I’m a—well, I’m a friend of Jason. Is he here?”
She looked at the four of them and then said, “I’ll get him.”
She went into the house and called for Jason. In a minute he appeared at the door. He looked surprised to see them. He had dark, shaggy hair, just as Peter had said.
“Jason,” Fred said. “We need to talk to you. Come on outside.”
Jason obviously didn’t want to come outside. He stared at Peter. He looked at his cast. He looked at the others and then stared at Peter some more, as if he couldn’t believe what he saw.
Matthew thought he behaved suspiciously. They had to get Jason outside. Matthew backed away from the door and motioned for the other three to do the same, so that they wouldn’t look so intimidating. Finally, Jason stepped outside and closed the door behind him.
“I saw you on the cliff yesterday,” Fred said.
“Yeah? I saw you too,” Jason said. “So what?”
“This is Peter,” Fred said, pointing to Peter. “He was on the cliff too. You walked right by him. He lost his skateboard there.”
Jason didn’t say anything, but Matthew saw a scared look in his eyes. He said, “May we take a look in your garage?”
“Do you have a search warrant?” Jason asked with a sneer in his voice.
“We have something better,” Matthew said. “We have your mom. If we tell her the story, we’re sure she’ll let us look.”
Jason appeared to be undecided and fearful. He said, “I didn’t know it was your skateboard. I thought somebody had left it there. I’ll get it.”
He went along the walk to the garage and pressed some numbers on a keypad. A door opened. He walked inside, retrieved the skateboard, and handed it to Peter.
“Thank you,” Peter said. “There’s one more thing. Why did you push me off the cliff?”
Jason got a wild look in his eyes. He looked as if he wanted to escape, but the four of them had him virtually surrounded. He said, “I—I…” He tried again. “It wasn’t intentional. Actually, I did know it was your skateboard. I was trying to not make any noise, so you wouldn’t hear me. You were concentrating on your drawing. When I bent down to pick up the skateboard my foot slipped. I reached my hand out to steady myself and hit you in the back by mistake. When you went over the cliff I was so scared I took the skateboard and ran.”
The four of them looked at Jason.
“Do you believe that?” Mason asked Peter.
“I—I don’t know.”
“Here’s the situation,” Matthew said. “You can tell the police about this. Jason will be arrested and he may be put on trial. It’s a cinch he’ll be pulled out of school and his life turned upside down. You’ll have to testify against him. Or you can believe him when he says it was an accident and not say anything to the police. Life will go on as before, and we hope that Jason will have learned a lesson.”
“I have; I have learned my lesson,” Jason said. He was pleading. “Please don’t tell the police. And please don’t tell my mom.”
Peter thought for awhile. Jason put his hands together as if praying to him.
Finally, Peter said, “All right, I won’t say anything. But if I ever hear about you stealing anything again, the whole story of the cliff will come out.”
“I won’t,” Jason said. “I swear I’ll never take anything that doesn’t belong to me.”
As they walked away, the four new friends reflected on what had happened.
Mason had to laugh. He said, “Peter, you did a great job of convincing Jason that you would turn him in if he steals anything. It’s a good thing he doesn’t realize that you’re only going to be here for a month.”
They all laughed.
Matthew said, “I think Jason is going to be walking the straight and narrow path of goodness for a long time.”