Ask Sam

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Chapter 14

Joanna almost dropped her keys when a whisper came from out of the shadows, “I’m on the screened porch. Why don’t you join me?”

Angry, she muttered, “Sam, why can’t you knock on my door like a civilized person?”

“I heard that.”

She was sorely tempted to ignore him until he apologized for scaring her socks off, but Sam never apologized. He assumed, as past experience had taught him, she would be curious about why he was at her house. He never showed up unless she was in trouble or he had information. She was curious, but at the same time filled with dread. She was too busy at Crow’s Nest and with illustrations for Judy to get involved with his crime fighting schemes. She worried about the consequences of their actions while he wandered off to who knows where.

She dragged her feet back to the kitchen, placed the pastry items from Gina’s Pastry Shoppe in freezer bags and put the bags in the freezer. Then, she poured a tall glass of tea and grabbed a pack of peanut butter filled crackers before joining Sam on the screened porch. Good or bad, it was time to face the music.

He was in the lounger. Before he could speak, she demanded, “What were you doing at the parking lot behind Cricket’s Nest, Sam?”

“Don’t I always show up when you need support?”

“If you were there to support me, why didn’t you stay?”

“I wasn’t needed so I left.”

“Were you hanging around when the vandal slashed my tires?”

“No, but I have an idea who did the deed, and it wasn’t Rhonda West. She is in Florida.”

“That’s a relief because I didn’t give Officer Ericson Rhonda’s name, and I’ve been wondering if I should have.”

“God gave you instincts for a reason, Joanna. How many times did you see Danny when he was staying with Logan and Beth Cox?”

She was puzzled by the change of topic. “Three.”

“Was one or more of those times at the gym?”

Joanna’s hand flew to her mouth. “Chip Singleton didn’t cross my mind. Does he have a reputation for being quick-tempered?’

“He is a vindictive coward, who feels entitled because of his family’s wealth. He learned from a master. His dad has a reputation for avenging anyone who crosses him. He tried to get the deacons at St. Matthews to fire Logan, but they voted to keep him on. So, the Singleton family moved their membership to another church. Good riddance, I say.

“A few of Chips friends are still in Logan’s church group, so it is unlikely Chip will slash Logan’s tires or vandalize Logan’s home. He is still trying to hang onto his good guy image.

“He can’t get to me, so who does that leave next in line?”

“Moi. Do you think he is angry enough to strike out again?”

“I will keep my eye on him for a few days. If he makes on wrong move, I’ll be in touch.”

“It’s incidents like the tire slashing that I’ve feared. My fear has increased with every anonymous call I have made to the police. Vandalism is bad enough, but if my name is any way tied to a scandal or criminal act, my teaching job will be in jeopardy. Consider that possibility before you ask me to make another call, Sam.”

There was a long pause before he spoke. “I promise not to ask you to make another phone call.” He paused before continuing, “What am I supposed to do when I have information that can prevent a crime? Keep quiet?”

“Don’t hang out at Barney’s.”

“Danny never went to Barney’s. Neither did Rhonda or Chip Singleton.”

“I feel torn, Sam. I like helping people, but I don’t like being put in harm’s way.”

“Who does? How is your weekend lining up?”

“I am having lunch with Dad on Sunday. So much has been going on that I have been neglecting him.”

“It’s ironic, Joanna, for years you complained about your dad being unavailable. Now that he lives less than twenty miles from your front door, you rarely call him and visit even less.”

Joanna snapped, “Are you my conscious now, Sam?”

“Calm down. Everyone needs a nudge from a friend now and again.”

Joanna took a moment to organize her thoughts. “Despite my efforts, old habits keep creeping back in to annoy me. It took years to teach myself not to miss him, not to have expectations. When I was younger I prayed that he would finally wake up and notice me. Especially after Mom died. Now, because of our history, I sometimes forget that he is close by and that he has changed. Last week, I had free time, plenty of time to drive out to see him. But then I thought why bother, he will be on the phone or on the computer. It wasn’t until an hour later that I remembered that he rarely uses either these days.”

“You can’t undo the past, Joanna. Give him a break. The man lived out of a suitcase for years, and that could not have been easy.”

“You are throwing hard punches tonight, Sam!” She loved her dad, she did, but she feared getting attached. The only person she completely trusted was her Aunt Polly. She had been there for Joanna through the hard times and the good times. “Sam, are you aware that Dad gets one or two calls a week about consulting jobs.”

He shrugged. “I am not surprised. Your dad does not do anything halfway.”

“He is still a young man. He could bring in the big bucks for another ten years. The opportunities must be tempting.”

“Why does he need more money? Your Aunt Polly is set for life, and you can manage very well on your income. For the sake of argument, let’s say your dad Charles is drawn back into his old life. Doesn’t it make sense to spend time with him while he is in town? I bet he would love it if you surprised him with a loaf of your Aunt Polly’s banana bread or some of her chocolate chip cookies. You could pack up your art supplies and spend a day at the cabin working on your illustrations. You could go kayaking with him. Make memories with him.”

“Good advice. I would talk to him Sunday, but Alex McCord is going to join us for lunch.”

“Hm-m. Your dad is publicity shy. Is he aware that Alex is a columnist for the Times?”

“Dad reads the Times. Besides, Alex has collected enough stories for the next six months. He is interested in all kinds of folk art, not just decoys. I am positive that an article about local artists and craftsmen would be a sales booster. Dad might go for that angle.

“I don’t usually take visitors to see Dad, so I hope that he doesn’t see Alex as a contender for my affections. If he does, Alex is in for an afternoon of in-depth questioning.”

“Your dad might have found his match in Alex. So, does this mean you have finally stop denying your interest in Alex?”

“Circumstances keep throwing us together, so yes he is becoming a good friend. He has traits I admire, but I am not searching for a soulmate, Sam. Alex is probably what most women consider husband material, but I’m leery of men who are perfect on paper.”

Sam laughed. “Fun-ny. There is not a man alive who doesn’t have flaws, Joanna. I understand that you are referring to outward appearances. Don’t make the mistake of comparing Alex to Matthew.”

“Physically there is no resemblance, but in some ways they are very much alike.”

“Matthew was a boy. He was nineteen years old when you met. Still a kid. If you had met him five or six years later, there is strong possibility that you would be married to him. He was young and inexperienced, and both of you paid a price.

“Alex, on the other hand is a man. He has seen enough of life to know what he wants and who he wants. He would never make the mistake Matthew made. You would do well to remember that.”

“So many men seem to think that variety is the spice of life. I prefer loyalty.”

“I haven’t seen your dad with a young honey on his arm.”

“Dad’s the exception.”

“What about Your Aunt Polly’s opinion? She likes Alex, and her instincts are usually spot on.”

“You found fault with every boy and man I dated until Matthew came along. Are you mellowing, Sam?”

“If you remember, Joanna, I suggested that you wait to marry Matthew. Who knows, maybe I am partial to Alex because he has dark hair, blue eyes and an athletic physique like someone I know.”

Joanna chuckled. “I never realized you were a narcissist, Sam.”

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