Sweet Thyme Baby – 21


Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.


(Start at the Beginning of Sweet Thyme Baby)

(Click here to read Section 20 first)


Lance sat at his gun metal gray desk in his office at the Cabrillo Community Church with his elbows on the accounts ledger spread open before him on the green blotter. He chewed the inside of his cheek and tasted blood as he scanned the predictable monthly expenses – telephone and electric, the lease on the copy machine and the computer he still had not mastered, the mingy pittance paid out in wages, money for the government, the outlay for Christian education and an occasional good deed.


A special shaded column on the far right of the ledger showed that Cabrillo Community Church had long term debt in the sum of almost two hundred thousand dollars – most of which had been incurred since the death of Lance’s father. There had been the unavoidable reroofing the year before, and the San Diego Fire Marshall had laid down the law about new fire doors. There was dry rot in the Sunday school bathroom and the floor had to be replaced. Termites and mold, a dozen large and small expenses had run the church’s credit line as high as it could go. The CCC had reached its borrowing limit. Month-to-month, the church would not have lasted long without the income from its endowment. Forty-two thousand dollars wisely invested by Lance’s father had grown to almost a million. A million dollars sounded good but when you came right down to it, it wasn’t much.


Lance wondered what that million dollars would look like in a briefcase. He imagined lining the packets up snugly as paving stones. He imagined dropping the briefcase on Joel’s desk, the click of the lock as he opened it up for him, and the ink and paper smell of cold cash.


Lance turned his chair around and stared out the window, through the horizontal slats of the blinds and across the street at the Ryan’s garden behind its iron javelin fence. The fog lingered there, a shimmering white web between the shrubs and trees. That morning the growth seemed more rampant than usual, the vines draping the fence more twisted. The air rippled and he saw himself held against the iron uprights, caught by lianas as thick as rope. They strapped his legs and arms; shoots and tendrils snaked toward his throat. He blinked, the picture vanished.


He was getting as fanciful as Hamish.


The telephone rang once and a minute later Mrs. Ross, the day’s volunteer secretary, poked her head in.


“That was Mr. Galbraith on the phone, Pastor.”


If Lance had a boss, someone through whom he cleared major decisions, that boss was Mort Galbraith, the Senior Elder on the CCC Board of Elders and the church’s chief financial officer.


“He said to tell you he’ll be meeting with other elders midweek. You can expect an answer before the weekend.”


“Call him back,” Lance said. “Tell him I’m going to act on the assumption they’ll give me a yes vote. Time’s important here. You tell him that.”


He could not touch principal without a two-thirds majority of the Committee of Elders.


That morning Mort Galbraith had been grumpier than usual. He had three words for Lance. “Can’t touch principal.”


Lance had responded without thinking, calling Mort a coward. The sound that came out the man’s fat little mouth when he heard this reminded Lance of the way his car jerked and chugged in low gear. Lance quickly laughed like the word was a joke, sweetened up his voice, and said things like, “We gotta spend money to make money” and “If we don’t move into the future, the CCC will be stalled in the past,” and “It isn’t enough to be a church anymore, the CCC has to be an engine for the community.”


Mort laughed back at him. “Trust me, Pastor, you’ve got all you can handle right here, right now, without this plan of yours. Think about Sunday’s sermon. Think about making it interesting.”


Lance’s gut twisted with the memory, and a coppery taste watered his mouth. It occurred to him that if Mort did not go along with his plans to buy land and build a Christian conference center, it would be easy to murder him. This was an unspeakable thought, but that morning it wormed its way into a niche in Lance’s brain, and like a broken string of dental floss that resists the probing of tongue and toothpick, it would not be dislodged. There were oleander bushes all over Cabrillo Point. Lance could make a tea for Mort, could pry his jaw open, hold his nose and force him to drink…


Galbraith said, “Are you listening to me, Pastor?”


No, Lance had not been listening, He had been seeing Mort dead, planning the elder’s agonized death and enjoying every grizzly detail. Just a few days earlier, such thoughts – the glee! – would have been impossible.  What had come over Lance? After the meeting with Mort he had gone into the church and prayed, begging forgiveness for his evil thoughts; but they persisted, and were hard to fight when he kept remembering the sound of Mort’s voice laying down the law as if Lance were a boy.


“This is no time for grandiosity, Pastor. You need to spend more time looking at the facts and figures. If you did, you’d know there’s a chance the CCC won’t even be here in five years unless we figure a way to increase stewardship.”


“Tell them we’ll shut our doors if they don’t pony up.”


Galbraith’s wet mouth gaped like a tide pool creature.


“Baptists tell them they’ll go to hell if they don’t give big. Why can’t we?” Lance smiled his Boy Scout smile. “I respect your caution, Mort. God knows, I couldn’t do this job without you.”


Lance did not believe this, but he knew Galbraith did; and that morning, empowered by the great plan that had come to him as he slept in Ryan’s Garden, he did not mind lying. Joel had once told him that a man must say and do things repugnant to him in order to win the world for Christ.


Alone now, Lance remembered his incredible eloquence and wished someone else had been there to hear him and put out the word.


“Mort, my friend, a church is like a nation. There are times in history when destiny calls it to do great things. Imagine what would have happened if this country hadn’t been willing to vest its resources in the Marshall Plan. Hard to believe now, but there were people back in the Forties who opposed the scheme. And what about Alaska? Suppose we hadn’t found the money in our treasury to buy up all that land, land most folks called useless wilderness a hundred fifty years ago. But the men who bought it had vision and vision is what’s called for now. I’ve prayed on this, Mort, and I am Spirit Led in this endeavor, my friend.”


Mort had opened his neatly folded handkerchief and wiped the top of his bald head.


“Mort, this plan will put the CCC on the map. It will make us count for something in this city. It might even mean a place for you in city government.”


“I’m not a politician, Pastor, I’m a CPA. And my rule is always the same. You don’t touch principal.”


“That’s what you think now, but when the Power and the Glory call upon us to act, the rules go out the window. Then we are no longer pastors, politicians or CPAs. We don’t know what we are until we heed the call, heed the call with all our resources. Mind and body and material. This is our time in history, Mort. This is our moment when we are called to be more than we appear, greater, more powerful.”


“I never heard you talk this way, Lance.”  The trapped expression on Mort Galbraith’s face had made Lance bite his cheek to keep from grinning. “You may feel called to be more than what you are, whatever that means. But I knew your father and I know how hard it was for him to come up with that money…”


More about the damn principal. Blablablab. Lance wanted to punch the man in the middle of his self-satisfied face.  Poison him with oleander. Push him off the bluffs onto the rocks.


“Mort, I have a friend. I bet you know him. He’s the pastor of the El Cajon Community Church. Joel Jackson?” Galbraith’s eyes widened slightly. Joel was Somebody. And the man who called him a friend, he was also Somebody. “Joel agrees with me that this is the way the CCC should go. As a matter of fact, he envies us this opportunity. And he wants in on it. Do you know what that would mean, Mort? A man of Joel Jackson’s stature?” Lance had leaned back and folded his arms across his chest. “I appreciate your opinion, I wouldn’t have come to you with this if I didn’t. And I thank you for being sensitive to my dad’s point of view. But I’m the pastor now and I believe I know what is right for the Cabrillo Community Church.”


In years to come — when the CCC was a force in church and government, when governors and world leaders consulted their friend Lance Whitby, when giants of diplomacy and business turned to the CCC — Mort would tell folks he always knew the Christian Conference Center was a bright scheme and worth any risk. All through his old age, Mort would dine out on the morning’s conversation and that was all right with Lance. So long as he signed the check.


Copyright © 2012 by Drusilla Campbell. All Rights Reserved.


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