The large man stood in the pulpit. His voice rattled and ricocheted off the light-blue plaster walls as dust motes danced in colored light, the sun having worked its way over the white-oak and black-ash trees filtering its way through more than three-hundred-year-old stained glass.
I wasn’t paying the speaker much attention, my head elsewhere. I think his text was drawn from Mark, but I could be wrong. I had little to no bandwidth for anything other than what was always on my mind; like a tennis ball on a pitched floor it always rolled straight for the same corner.
The closing hymn had been sung, and I did my best to receive the benediction. Little social groups began to arrange, bundling in clusters across the front of the church. I slipped past my wife in the pew to file silently out the side door.
And then there he was, the large man, Martin Sanders, blocking my escape route.
“Shane, come here.”
I meagerly stepped forward.
“I feel like I need to tell you something.”
“What’s that, sir?” I did my best to look him in the eye.
“Time for what?”
“I don’t know, just…It’s time. I feel like God wanted me to tell you it’s time.”
“Okay…” I tried not to allow those two syllables to slide off my lips in the snarkiest manner possible, but something in me says I probably wasn’t too successful.
While we were still pulling out of the parking lot, my wife turned to me. “What did Martin have to say to you?
“Time for what?”
“That’s what I said.”
“That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.”
“I know, right?” I was angry. Hope, just a little bit of hope, was all I thought I needed. Instead I had gotten a few crumbs of vague uncertainty.
The phone rang as I was driving. My wife looked at the caller ID.
“Who is it?” She didn’t recognize the number. I answered the call.
“Hey, Bill. What’s up?” The sales manager from my dealership was on the other end of the line.
“You’re never gonna guess who just called me. The investigators from the Village of Walden. The family is bringing in the cash tomorrow, and they want to apologize to you in front of the cops, Louise, and the owners.”
“I know, right? It’s unbelievable, right?”
For the better part of three months I had been dealing with the accusation that I had stolen a $5,000 cash deposit on a Chevy Tahoe. Selling cars is a lot like treading water; it’s hard enough work without having that kind of indicting millstone hanging around your neck. So, aside from the general shame and aggravation of being blamed for something I hadn’t done, I was subjected to the humiliation and indignity of not being able to keep my head above water on the sales floor. It turns out people don’t like buying cars from desperate salespeople, so trust me when I say I could have used that cash if I had been dumb enough to take it.
The next morning I walked through the double glass doors of the dealership. I didn’t make eye contact with anyone on the floor. Bill hopped up from his desk inside the box and came out to meet me.
“They’re in Louise’s office.” He had that big stupid smile on his face. He walked me straight in.
Louise’s office wasn’t too big for being a general manager, but it was comfortable. The shades were drawn. They had already counted out the money; they were simply waiting for the opportunity to speak to me. One of the detectives started first.
“Thanks for coming in. I understand it’s your day off.” I nodded.
“The family has something they’d like to tell you.”
The husband stood quietly behind his wife as she took a small step forward. She had a crumpled Walmart shopping bag hanging from her hands.
“We’re awfully sorry. We… found the money”—she looked briefly to her husband and then back to me—“in an envelope in a bag in the back of our truck.”
That was the official story. The officers filled us in on all the details as the accusers walked silently through the showroom and out to their new Chevy Tahoe.
Two weeks before Christmas Day the detectives had reached out to the family. “Good news, we think we have enough evidence on the kid to have him locked up in time for the holidays.” Then they did what all good salespeople, and apparently good detectives, do. They gave them a back door out of their predicament. “You know, Shane has two little kids, and we’re coming up on Christmas. Maybe just look through your truck one more time and see if you didn’t leave the money in there by accident. It would be a shame for him to miss Christmas with his kids over a silly mistake, right?”
And then twenty-four hours went by. I heard once that when you plant apple seeds they have to sit in the ground for the whole winter before they burst through the soil. Apparently a conscience only needs a day to grow. They called the investigators, who in turn called Bill, my sales manager, to fess up about the mistake at precisely the same time I was standing sheepishly in front of the large man, Martin Sanders. I had suffered in silence; paralyzed by the stolen glances of those around me; unable to come to my own defense. I had finally come to terms with the fact that I would never get closure over this terrible ordeal. And yet God knew exactly when to swoop in and recover my dignity.
“Time for what?”