“Bruce, this is John,” the caller said. “Bad news. We’re over here at the church, and the police are here. Somebody broke in, Bruce. They stole the music instruments. They’re all gone. All of it. My drum set, the keyboard, Dave’s guitar. They even took Dan’s bass. I’m afraid it might be my fault, Pastor. After you left, Dave, Andy, and I went down the street to grab a bite to eat. I think I might have left the back door unlocked while we were gone. The police say a neighbor saw an older man with a white beard getting into a moving van parked in the church lot about a half hour ago. Some woman was driving the truck. The police are checking it out, but . . .”
“OK, John,“ Pastor Bruce said excitedly. “I’ll grab Carol and the kids, and we’ll be right there.”
Pastor Bruce slumped down in a kitchen chair as he hung up the phone. The chicken leg no longer looked all that appetizing. He took another drink of milk and then walked slowly up the stairs to break the news to Carol.
Now I have to be totally honest with you here and tell you that Pastor Bruce was pretty angry when he heard the news about the break-in. Music was such an important part of every service at the church, and without any instruments, it was pretty difficult to imagine having much of a church service, let alone at Christmas. While the thought of a Christmas program without music kept the entire Dodson family pretty quiet as they packed into their van, it was made worse by the unspoken worry that rolled around Pastor Bruce’s mind. While he never spoke it out, he wondered if Nick might somehow be involved with the church break-in?
Hopefully the police report was wrong, but Pastor Bruce just couldn’t shake his unspoken fear that somehow Nick would not be at the midnight service like he promised. Maybe he had terribly underestimated Nick’s situation. Why had he chosen to trust this total stranger he had met only a few hours earlier at the shelter? While Nick seemed like a very nice, caring man, maybe Pastor Bruce had been way too trusting of him. Well, time will tell. But now, the big question is what to do with the Christmas Eve candlelight service?
By the time the Dodsons pulled into the church parking lot, Bruce and Carol had pretty much decided that the program had to go on as planned. Sure, it would be hard to pull off the entire service without the instruments, but fortunately, the Dodson’s were pretty fair singers. With the help of Andy, who was a good singer as well, Pastor Bruce hoped the congregation could make it through at least Joy to the World and Silent Night.
John, the drummer, was the first to speak. “I’m so sorry, Pastor. I never thought this would happen. Do you suppose that Nick guy had something to do with this?”
“John, shame on you.” Carol snapped back. “How could a musician with that much talent be so evil?”
“Well, guys, I guess we’ll know in about twenty minutes.” Pastor Bruce said. “People are starting to arrive. Let’s get our heads together here and see what we can come up with without the instruments.”
Pastor Bruce and Andy huddled over in the corner, attempting to put together a tentative program that was long on talk and short on music. Edward and Joy were standing with Carol at the door of the church, handing out candy canes and programs to all the parishioners. At about eleven-forty five, in walks Nick. Joy was the first to say hello.
“Howdy, Joy.” Nick replied with a smile. “Merry Christmas, everyone. Hope I’m not too late. I ended up talking to some of the folks down at the shelter, and well, you know me and people!”
Halfway across the room, Pastor Bruce noticed that Nick had just walked in. He was admittedly surprised to see Nick. “Maybe he’s returning to the scene of the crime,” Pastor Bruce thought to himself, “just so no one would suspect him.”
Pastor Bruce walked down the aisle to the back of the church, meeting Nick near the last pew.
“Well, Nick, bad news.” Pastor Bruce said with his voice near a whisper.
“Bad news? What’s up?” Nick replied.
“The church had a break-in tonight. All the music instruments are gone. Including the bass.”
“No, Pastor, no. How in the world? . . .”
Pastor Bruce cut Nick off, “The police said a neighbor saw an older man with a beard getting into a truck. Some gal was driving. You didn’t see anything, did you Nick?”
“Pastor, you know I was over at the shelter. You don’t suspect me, do you?”
“Of course not, Nick,” Pastor Bruce said, turning his attention to the growing crowd. “Just asking. I suppose if we don’t have any instruments tonight, you won’t need to stick around if you don’t want to.”
“Pastor, I just don’t know what to say.” Nick replied. “I really hope the folks that stole those instruments get their just deserts. There is way too much lack of caring in this whole world. Stealing musical instruments from a church. Just think of it. Coal people. That’s what we call ’em up north. Just bad ole coal people. Seems like there are more coal people every year, don’t it, Pastor.”
“You’ll have to excuse me, Nick. We have a service to plan.”