Today was the day, and Joanna feared her anxiety would evolve into a panic attack. What on earth had she been thinking when she okayed Alex’s plan? The problem was she didn’t think. Sam made a habit of bailing her out when a crisis occurred. The original plan focused on proving that Chip’s mental condition had been compromised. Now, Officer Ericson intended to question Chip about parole violations. Depending on Chip’s instability, the confrontation could become emotionally explosive.
Alex was supposed to check in at 5:00 pm. When he had not sent a text by 5:o6 pm, she began to pace. At 5:11 pm her phone vibrated. She read Alex’s message and relaxed. He was sitting at her Aunt Polly’s kitchen table waiting for her to finish icing the cake she baked for the Singletons. Her Aunt Polly promised to have him on the road by 5:30. He would text again when he reached the Singleton home.
While she was texting Alex a “Roger that” message, the doorbell rang. Officer Ericson was on time. She hurried to the front hall, checked the peep hole, and opened the door. She had to bite her tongue to keep from admonishing Officer Ericson for not being as timely in his investigation into Chip Singleton’s activities.
Ericson said, “You better grab a heavier coat, it’s cold as blazes tonight.”
She shivered. “And I don’t relish waiting in a cold car. Do you mind if we wait here until Alex texts? It is less than a fifteen-minute drive to the Singleton home.”
He shrugged. “Sounds good to me.”
She motioned him in. “There’s fresh coffee in the kitchen if you need to warm up.” She led him to the kitchen, poured a cup for herself, and said, “Help yourself.”
He poured coffee into a Styrofoam cup, doctored it with sugar and cream, and joined her at the table.
“I expected to see you arrive in a police car, not a Ford Fusion.”
“Unmarked cars are less conspicuous. The last few months have not been easy for Chip’s parents. I would like to keep this evening’s visit as unobtrusive as possible.”
“Are you bowing to the wishes of the city council and mayor, Officer Ericson?”
“Believe it or not, no. When I can, I protect the privacy of the innocent family members of felons.”
She couldn’t keep the sarcasm out of her voice. “It’s too bad the victims and their families so often go unprotected.”
“In a perfect world, there would be no crime.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Joanna said, “I am having second thoughts about going with you to the Singleton’s. Since I am not a trained law enforcement officer, I cannot subdue a suspect. My knowledge of mental health disorders is minimal. If the situation spirals out of control, I will be a complication you don’t need.”
“And yet you and McCord planned to go to the Singleton home unarmed.”
She wanted to tell him that their secret weapon was Sam, but she didn’t dare. “Isn’t it unusual for an officer to be accompanied by a civilian when a suspect is being interrogated?”
“Uncommon cases require uncommon methods.”
“What makes Chip’s case atypical?”
“In the eight years I have been an officer, there have been three murders in Fairview, two were drug related and one was the result of domestic violence. 95% of all the crimes committed in the area were drug and alcohol related. Poverty and physical or verbal abuse in the home are also contributing factors.
“I’ve known the Singleton’s for ten years. I met Martin and Gretchen through Chip during the years he played basketball on the Y team I coach. I didn’t witness any behavior issues or spot any red flags that would indicate a predisposition to crime.
“In addition to addressing the probation issues, tonight’s visit is a fishing expedition. I’m not sure Chip can survive being incarcerated with hardened criminals. I want to push for sending him to Clearwater, a facility in Georgia. The facility is a combination work farm, alcohol and drug treatment center, and center for treating mental health issues.
“Chip’s lawyer will need to make mental health issues part of Chip’s defense.”
“When Chip is forced to confront you, I hope he will react in way that will convince his parents that he is unstable. I understand your reluctance to deal with what could turn out to be an emotionally disturbing situation, but I hope you will reconsider.”
Joanna frowned. “I’m still reluctant, but I’ll go. I have another question. Were you shocked when Chip was arrested for selling drugs?”
“Yes. Definitely! Several of the college students who hang out at St. Matthews gym were on one of my teams. Occasionally, I stop by and join one of the pick-up games of hoops. Chip can be feisty on the court, but so can most of the other guys who are competitive.”
“Was your reluctance to investigate because you had ties to the family?”
“I did investigate, but I was in no hurry to make accusations. Upset family members can be quick to accuse officers of harassment or slander.”
“I can’t fault your concerns. I am surprised you have time to coach.”
“I find time to do the things that are important to me. I believe that sports keep kids busy and healthy. Selfishly, coaching can be an ego builder.”
“I have a similar view about keeping kids busy. I teach elementary school because I believe that mentally and physically strong children make mentally and physically strong adults.”
Both of their phones vibrated.
Ericson said, “Time to roll.”