Puzzled, Alex stared at the locked door. In the past, when he dropped by to speak to Will Drummond, the senior pastor of the church, the sanctuary and offices were open to the public. True, the days when churches didn’t have to be concerned about petty crime were long gone, but Pastor Drummond fiercely hung on to the tradition of an open sanctuary. A light in the entryway lead him to believe that Logan Cox, or his administrative assistant, was still on the premises. He pushed the doorbell. Seconds later Logan appeared, unlocked the door, and motioned him in.
As Alex entered he greeted Logan with a handshake. “When you called, I was visiting with Polly Sherman. I didn’t want to discuss Chip Singleton in her presence, so I decided to take a chance that you would still be in your office. I apologize for not giving you a head’s up.”
“No apology necessary. I’m glad you are here. I called because I am at my wit’s end, Alex. Yesterday, I phoned the police station and chatted with Officer Ericson about the traffic incident involving Joanna Avery. He informed me that Chip Singleton cannot be charged without concrete evidence. My understanding was that a witness had identified Chip as the perpetrator. Officer Ericson informed me that the witness was anonymous. That his statement was considered circumstantial evidence. What I don’t understand is why the witness’ statement, along with the fact that Chip was recently arrested for dealing drugs, is not enough evidence to justify questioning Chip. What am I missing?”
“My guess is that the police are hesitant to question Chip unless they can build a solid case against him. Martin pulled more than a few strings to keep Chip out of jail after he was picked up for drug dealing. If the police question Chip before they have concrete evidence that Chip is guilty of pushing Joanna into the street, Martin will use his influence to see that a few heads roll. Joanna has accepted, that unless Chip confesses, he will never be charged.”
Logan shook his head in obvious frustration. “If a person can commit a crime without consequences, what is his or her motivation for stopping? I moved out of the city to get away from crime. It is a sad state of affairs that people are no longer safe in their own communities.”
“Am I correct in assuming that there have been theft issues here at the church?”
“Unfortunately, yes. A series of thefts and vandalism issues lead me to believe that Chip hasn’t satisfied his grudge, if that is what is driving him. I realize that the majority of the local churches keep their doors locked, but St. Matthews has never found it necessary. Last year one theft occurred, and the pastoral staff knew that the thief was an underprivileged kid who had been hanging out at the gym. In contrast to last years’ petty crimes, the last two months have been a crime wave. A TV and camera were stolen two weeks ago, the bathroom wall was defaced last week, and two fuses disappeared out of the fuse box this week. A gym locker was broken into and two basketballs were punctured. Outside the building the air was let out of the tires on two cars and two containers of flowers were overturned.
“It is almost as if a truculent youngster went on a rampage. The church can easily absorb the losses, and repair the damage, but if Chip’s temper tantrum escalates, will he do something as extreme as burn the church or hurt one of the church members? I am particularly concerned about the youngsters who hang out at the gym. I don’t want to lock the doors to them. I don’t think Chip will hurt one of them, but I can’t afford to take a chance.
“The church is now locking all of our doors except the gym—a policy that unfortunately discourages people from using the church as a prayer center.”
“Has Chip been spotted in the area?”
“No, but I don’t believe in coincidences. Who knows what he will do next. My fear is not just for Chip’s victims, I am concerned for him. Chip has issues, but he also has potential. If he receives the help he needs, everyone will benefit. If he is not stopped, a tragedy is going to occur.”
“Still, if you don’t have proof that Chip is responsible, your hands are tied.”
“I blame myself for not paying attention to changes I saw in Chip’s behavior. If I had addressed his issues, maybe none of this would have happened.”
“Many of life’s issues would never occur if foresight was as accurate as hindsight.”
Alex said, “I have been formulating a plan for several days, but I don’t want to move forward until I’m sure that it will work. Give me a day or two to tie up a few loose ends, and I will get back to you. Part of my problem is that I don’t know Chip. I don’t want to cause irreputable damage to him, but neither do I want to enable bad behavior. Enabling is not an act of love.”
Logan nodded. “I concur. When all of this started, I talked to several friends of Gretchen, Chip’s mother. She told one of the ladies in her Bible Study group that Chip struggled with grades last semester. He was able to breeze through high school without exerting much effort. College has been a challenge.
“Martin has bragged about Chip’s brilliance. Maybe Chip is unable to live up to his dad’s expectations.”
In his line of work, Alex heard enough stories about dad’s unrealistic expectations for their sons to recognize a red flag when he saw one. Dads and moms were often at odds about how to handle their children’s actions. And moms were frequently more realistic about their children’s strengths and weaknesses.
Alex had seen Martin in action. He was a take-charge kind of guy. He couldn’t abide failure. He said, “Failure to excel could certainly be a contributing factor to the changes in Chip. I don’t claim to be an authority, but I have read that stress can trigger the onset of some mental disorders. If, on the other hand, Chip’s issue is not a mental health issue, then my bet is that either drugs or alcohol are involved. Both conditions can be addressed.”
“Chip has always been ego driven. It is unlikely that he will admit to addiction or a mental disorder. Recently, he was shunned by one of his friends at one of the drive-ins in town. I was told that Chip didn’t handle the situation well.”
“Can Gretchen be convinced that her son needs help?”
Logan said, “Maybe. It is worth a try. I’m not welcome at their home. If I showed up at their door, it would do more harm than good.”
“Let me speak to Joanna and her dad. If we can come up with a plan to gain entrance to their home, I will give you a call.”
“Before you go, there is another issue you should know about. Melanie Soames dropped by for a chat yesterday. She has concerns about Joanna’s safety. Now that Joanna’s driving restriction is being lifted, Joanna intends to resume all the activities she gave up after her injuries. One of those activities is jogging at Miller Park. As beautiful as the park’s jogging trail is, there are sections that are isolated.
“If she is going to be out and about, someone needs to remind her that she should stick to a buddy system until the Chip issue is resolved.”
“If Joanna will listen to anyone, it’s her dad. He rarely makes a request. When he does, Joanna usually abides by his wishes.”
“Good. That’s one less thing for me to worry about." He paused before adding, “Melanie was right. She said that Joanna was lucky to have you in her life. I agree with her.”
“It goes both ways, Logan. Joanna is a bright, talented, and compassionate woman.”
“How long have you two been dating?”
“We are not dating. We are friends. Joanna doesn’t date.”
Logan frowned. “Never?”
“Rarely. Her fiancé married another woman. I was warned by Joanna’s Aunt Polly and her dad that she has trust issues.”
“So, you are interested. Be patient, Alex. The best relationships are based on a foundation of friendship.”
“I am counting on it.