Ask Sam

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Chapter 28

Joanna stood at the door and watched Alex’s car pull into her driveway mere seconds after she waved goodbye to her Aunt Polly. Alex got out of his car, removed a pizza box from the backseat, and hurried up the walkway leading to the front steps. She opened the storm door and greeted him, “Br-r-r. It’s cold out here.”

“The weatherman on WPAT is predicting snow.”

Joanna stepped aside and motioned him in. “I hope he’s wrong. I am not ready for boots and heavy winter coats.

“When I get these casts off, I am going to invited you over and cook a three-course dinner for you.”

“What’s not to like about pizza? It’s easy clean-up and its tasty.” He put the box on the kitchen bar. “Have a seat and I will get drinks for us.”

“The only thing I have is soda and tea.”

“Soda is fine with me. What would you like?”

“I’ll have the same.” There are paper plates in the pantry.”

When he joined her at the bar she asked, “How was your training session.”

“Routine. The session was my last until the end of January.”

“How will you send your time during the holidays?”

“I have two speeches scheduled and a column to write, but the rest of my time will be spent working on a combination book of fiction and nonfiction. Instead of the coffee table book about tobacco barns, cotton gins and mills, I’ve been working on a fictionalized account of the Wade Clemmons family.”

“The history of Fairview will be factual, but the story of the family members will be fiction. The basic facts about the family members will be true to life, but as I am sure you are aware, Wade and his descendants kept their personal lives private. Their thoughts and daily activities will be speculation. Over the years, there have been rumors about semi-scandalous behavior, but no facts to back up those rumors. To add a little flavor, I may or may not include a few of the rumors. My main objective is to share some of Fairview’s early history.”

Joanna took a final bite of pizza and pushed the paper plate aside. “Sounds fascinating.”

Alex stood, collected the paper plates and napkins, put them in the trash, closed the pizza box, and turned toward Joanna. “I assume from our phone conversation that Sam was here earlier today.”

“I had three visitors today. My neighbor Josh, Sam, and Aunt Polly. All three contributed information about Chip Singleton. Josh has been doing odd jobs for me since the accident. After he raked and bagged the leaves this morning, we had an interesting conversation. Yesterday, he saw a black Chevvy truck parked in front of my house. A young man in his late teens, or early twenties, got out of the truck and strolled down the driveway toward the back of the house. Josh told the guy that the owner wasn’t home, but that he would be happy to give her a message. The man claimed to be looking for his dog. His story didn’t compute because he was wearing a backpack, and he didn’t look in any of the neighbors’ yards.

“Josh’s description fit Chip.”

“Did Josh get the license number?”

“No. Instead of pulling into my driveway to turn around, the man backed down to the corner.

“Sam heard part of our conversation. He surmised that Chip had cans of spray paint in his backpack.”

“It’s possible. He and a couple of his buddies were responsible for the graffiti on the warehouse on Madison Street.”

Joanna said, “From seven thirty in the morning until two-thirty or three in the afternoon, my neighborhood is vulnerable. Parents are on the job, and their children are in school.”

“Now that he has been seen in your neighborhood, he probably won’t return. He is still rational enough to take precautions.”

“Sam made a similar statement. He had reservations about your plan. Not the plan, but his part in the plan. There is a complication.”

“What kind of complication?”

“In Sam’s world, imaginary friends are called travelers. There are two types of travelers, short term, and long term. The short missions are six months to five years. The long missions are five to ten years. Each traveler is issued a given amount of fuel, a substance called Zolotex, depending on the mission. Sam was able to extend his mission by using the Zolotex sparingly. He appeared when there was a crisis in my life, but otherwise, it was months and even years between visits.

“After I moved back to Fairview, he hung around more. He dropped hints that he needed to end his mission, but I didn’t take him seriously.”

“So, what you are saying is that he’s almost out of fuel.”

She nodded.

“How long does he have?”

“An hour or less.”

“We may be able to work with that if we plan carefully. I called Officer Ericson to ask about the statis of Chip’s probation. He has been late to the last two appointments with his probation officer. He might be able to come up with a convincing excuse for being late, but he will have a difficult time explaining why he was on the St. Matthews church campus the day of the thefts and vandalism. Three youngers reported seeing him. There was an even more damning offense. He was spotted by a police officer coming out of Ozzie’s with a known drug dealer.”

“I can add one more offense to the list. After Sam left, I checked my messages. An anonymous email contained a photograph of a coffin. The message read, ’Snitches need to watch their backs.”

’Did you send the email to your dad?”

“I did, and he forwarded it to his hacker. He will be in touch.”

“You should also give Ericson a call.”

“I will. If the police have enough evidence to pick Chip up, why do we have to move forward with your plan?”

“The police need witnesses to build an airtight case. Ericson wants us to play good cop/bad cop. I will be the good cop. Ten minutes after I arrive at the Singleton’s home, he will knock on their door. He wants you to accompany him.”


“He wants to observe Chip’s face when Chip sees you. My personal opinion? I don’t think Chip will be able to look you in the eye.”

“I have some good news. Aunt Polly has come up with a sure way to get you invited into the Singleton home.”

“I’m all ears.”

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