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Bodega Bay was for years home, happily, to journalist extraordinaire Peter Laufer and his wife, writer Sheila Swan Laufer.

Their bittersweet departure from Sonoma County in 2010 came upon Peter’s appointment to a prestigious chair at the University of Oregon. But the Laufers do come home on occasion and only days ago were in Santa Rosa when a most upsetting and odd and ultimately reaffirming thing happened.

They were at Goji Kitchen, savoring an Asian Fusion dinner paired with lively conversation with old friend James Loughborough, a Sonoma County deputy public defender.

While updating James on the life and teaching career of their son, Michael, Sheila pulled her purse around from the back of her chair and removed the wallet in which she believed she had one of Michael’s cards from Menlo College.

But she couldn’t find the card. Mere moments after she’d hung her purse on the chairback, she reached for it again, planning to search it further.

THE PURSE wasn’t there.

Peter and James leapt up and ran out of the restaurant, hoping to spot the thief or perhaps find Sheila’s purse, had it been quickly discarded. No luck.

Peter dialed 911 on his cellphone. It was startling how quickly SRPD Officer Andrew Van Gundy arrived.

While Sheila spoke with the young officer, Peter palmed his cellphone to read a new text. His and Sheila’s credit card company was asking if they approved an attempted $1,500 purchase from a Target store, apparently the one a short distance to the west at Coddingtown Mall.

OFFICER VAN GUNDY radioed a request for the nearest officer or officers to get to the Target store.

Minutes later, Peter received a text notifying him that someone was trying to use one of Sheila’s credit cards for a $1,500 purchase at the city’s other Target store. It appeared that the thief or thieves was attempting to purchase $500 gift cards.

Despite their best efforts, police weren’t able to catch the crook or crooks. Sheila canceled all her credit cards.

SHE AND PETER went to pay for dinner and Ben Chang, a co-owner of Goji Kitchen, feeling awful that the purse snatch occurred there, insisted on covering the tab.

The next day, the Laufers were driving in Oregon, toward their place in Eugene, when Sheila received a call from her son, the new head of the math department at Menlo College.

“Mom,” Michael told her, “I have your purse.”

Michael then elaborated that, in fact, he did not have physical possession of the purse but he’d received a phone from the person in Santa Rosa who had it. That person works at the Marshalls store on Santa Rosa Avenue, near the second Target.

The purse, with most everything of Sheila’s still in it but the credit cards, had been found inside Marshalls — hanging among the store’s selection of purses. An employee found in it Michael’s business card, the one Sheila had searched for at dinner, and phoned him.

James Loughborough later picked up the purse and shipped it to Sheila, who is astonished and grateful to him and to Officer Van Gundy and to Ben Chang and the workers at Marshalls.

She likes that purse; bought it years ago at Point Reyes Station.

Chris Smith is at 707-521-5211 and chris.smith@pressdemocrat.com.

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