Perfect Bound Soft Cover: $19.95
Perfect Bound Soft Cover: $19.95
Jennifer Tracey discovers that a priest has harmed her sons; she encounters the Coalition, a secret church organization that handle such incidents by any means necessary. She retains an attorney, who, through an unfortunate series of events, now works in a dingy one-room office, handling traffic cases. They discover that two Ohio families have disappeared after encounters with the same priest-the one person who may provide answers has died under mysterious circumstances. Religion, law, betrayal, mystery, faith, and love converge in Michigan for the trial of the century.
It was a beautiful spring day in Michigan. The flowers were just beginning to bloom and buds were blossoming on once-barren tree branches. The snow had disappeared for another season and the temperature had actually climbed above 60 degrees for the first time all year. Jennifer Tracey drove her 2006 Chevy Tahoe south on Farmington Road toward the church. “What a great weekend for a camping trip,” she said out loud. The boys needed this, she thought; I hope they liked Father Gerry.
She pulled into the parking lot of Our Lady of the Lakes Church and School. After settling on a parking space as close to the entrance as possible, she got out of the old wagon and headed for the rectory to pick up the kids. She spotted the group almost immediately. Actually, she spotted a bunch of backpacks, camping equipment, pop bottles, shoes, socks, and other debris strewn across the lawn of the rather impressive two-story brick home. Apparently, she was the first parent to arrive. She was not surprised; she was a half an hour early.
She was quite excited to see the boys. This was their first overnight since Father Bill’s transfer. And Father Bill was the only adult male that the boys warmed up to since their dad, Jim, passed away three years earlier. My God, she thought; had it been three years already? She remembered the day of the accident like it was yesterday; the phone call from the plant, the shocking news, the rush to Botsford Hospital, the all-night, prayer dominated, vigil; finally, the doctor coming out of surgery shaking his head and saying “I’m terribly sorry, we did all that we could.” She remembered telling the boys, then 9 and 11, that their father had been called to heaven. Jake, her sensitive 9 year old, wanted to know if he could visit. Kenny, always the more out-spoken of the two, sat stunned, staring at the sky with those piercing green eyes of his, asking, with heart, not voice, why the Lord had chosen to take his father at this time, when he needed him most. It was so unfair.
Jim’s loss had been terribly hard on the boys; they were bitter and sullen, until they met Father Bill. He had just transferred from a parish in Pennsylvania when Jim’s accident occurred. After Jim’s death, Bill made the boys his special project, and, in a short time, became their substitute father. He took them to Detroit Tiger ball games, played ball with them, took them camping, and even let them sleep overnight at the rectory. They became altar boys and were adjusting to life without their father, fairly well. Then, one day last month, Father Bill came by the house and announced that he had been transferred to a parish in Virginia. His three years in Michigan were up and it was time to move on. The boys may as well have heard that Father Bill had died. It was their father’s death all over again. Father Bill’s farewell ‘celebration’ was more like a wake. He took the boys aside and tried to explain that he was required to do God’s work wherever THE CHURCH sent him, He said that he’d try to visit as often as possible but the boys were unconvinced. The looks on their faces when Father Bill drove off were almost as sad as the day they heard the news of their father’s death.
That was why this outing with Father Gerry was so important. Gerry was Bill’s replacement and had been at Lakes (the parish’s nickname) less than a month. This camping trip was the first chance the boys got to spend any extended time with him, away from his parish responsibilities. Jennifer knew it would take some time, but she hoped that the boys would, at least, like him.
She climbed the porch steps and knocked on the door of the large bricked colonial. It was a typical suburban Michigan home; two stories with red, white and black reclaimed brick and white aluminum siding. The grounds were massive since the house stood on church property. The lot was heavily treed and the grass had been freshly trimmed. She could smell the fresh cut grass, one of the wonderful smells of spring in Michigan.
Father Gerry came to the door and invited her in. There were boys running all over the house, chasing each other. The noise was deafening. Jennifer scanned the crowd but could not locate Jake or Kenny.
“Nice to see you, again, Jenny,” Gerry said.
“Nice to see you too, Father. How was the outing?”
“The boys had a great time. They’re still having a great time as you can see. Jake and Kenny are in the backyard, I believe. I’ll go get them for you.”
“Oh, don’t trouble yourself, Father, you have your hands full here; I’ll get them.”
“No trouble at all, Jenny. Wait here. I’ll be right back with the boys.”
Jennifer would have preferred to get the boys, given the noise level in the house. Instead, she walked out onto the front porch to wait in the sunshine. In ‘no time’ (as Jake would say) Father Gerry appeared with her two sons. The contrast between Jake and Kenny and other boys was absolutely startling. They looked almost as they did on the occasion of their father’s death and Father Bill’s last day.
“Here they are, safe and sound,” said Father Gerry. “Boys, say ‘hi’ to your mom.”
“Hi Mom,” Kenny managed, barely audible.
“Yeah, hi Mom,” said Jake, just as softly.
“What’s the matter with you guys?” asked Gerry. “Did I tire you out that much?”
To Jennifer: “I ran these kids ragged; hiking, calisthenics, canoeing, all night stories, you name it. They’re tired. Take them home, put them to bed; they’ll be fine in the morning.”
Jennifer was in shock. The other boys were none the worse for wear. What was wrong with hers?
“Thank you, Father,” she managed. “I’ll do just that.”
The Tracey family got into the wagon and Jennifer headed for home. The boys sat in the back seat together. Usually, they fought over who would sit in front.
“Did you guys have a good time?”
“How was Father Gerry? He seems quite nice. Is he as good a camp director as Father Bill?”
Jennifer looked at her two silent sons in her rear view mirror. Kenny was looking at Jake, fiercely, with one finger to his lips silently ordering him to be quiet. Jake had a single tear running down his cheek. They drove in silence the rest of the way home. Something was terribly wrong.
2. THE PRIEST
Father Gerry Bartholomew was enjoying his conversation with Spencer and Sherry Reed and their teenage boys, David and Justin. They were new members of Our Lady of the Lakes Parish in Farmington, Michigan, and Gerry was its new Assistant Pastor. The Reeds had lost a child, and were trying to organize a charity event for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where their Jeffrey, despite the valiant efforts of dedicated St. Jude nurses and doctors, lost his final battle with Cancer. They were touring the vast campus of “Lakes”, as the parish was known, enjoying the beautiful spring weather. The boys were tossing around a football. The ball had eluded one of the boys, and rolled up to Gerry, who picked it up and launched a perfect spiral to David. David glanced at Justin with an expression of surprise at Gerry’s ‘quarterbacking proficiency’.
“Nice throw,” said Justin, obviously impressed. “Where did you learn to throw a football like that?”
“Oh,” said Gerry. “We played a lot of football at the seminary and I coach our parish team in the local junior football league. You guys should try out. We have many other activities, including camping, my personal favorite, and swimming, baseball, choir, assuming you can sing a bit. And, of course, we do a lot of charity work, especially with kids your age. Charity is one of the many ways that God provides to demonstrate our love and compassion for others. It is but one of the many miracles of pleasure that God wants us to experience. After all, love of man is love of God; don’t you agree? Doing what we love makes us happy and I adore bonding with happy teenagers. We have a close-knit group. Much of my time here at Lakes is spent with our young people and I love it. I would love to have you join us.”
The boys promised to consider it and the parents were excited with the prospect of their boys participating in good, clean, fun in a pious environment. Gerry walked them to their car and waved as it disappeared down the road leading from the parish to the main highway.
Gerry Bartholomew, had recently been the Assistant Pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Ohio. He was thirty-six, approximately six feet tall and heavy-set. He had dark brown, almost black eyes; one could hardly make out the pupils. He had long, brown hair, hanging down, past his cheekbones and curled under. His complexion was very pale, almost milk-like. He had two major passions: camping and teenagers. He was very charming and spoke to parishioners on their level. His sermons were powerful and memorable. Everywhere he’d been, parishioners loved him. One father of a 14-year-old boy even loaned him his camper to take his son and some other boys on an overnight camping trip. These types of activities and interactions with teenagers were the highlights of his priesthood.
He did not want to leave Ohio or St. Patrick’s, but THE CHURCH, in its infinite wisdom had decided that it was time for him to move on. He fought against reassignment; he argued that his work with parish teenagers was unappreciated and that he was misunderstood. Gerry Bartholomew was certain that he was going to be assigned out of parish work, perhaps to do charity work overseas or to counsel the frail and the sick. In fact, his personnel file and records contained copious notes, with strong recommendations that he receive these types of assignments. To his surprise, the notes and records contained in his file were ignored. Gerry was placed at Our Lady of the Lakes. He was in Michigan. There were lush campsites all over the state, excellent sites within twenty-five miles of the parish. There, he met the Reed brothers. There he Jake and Kenneth Tracey. Gerry Bartholomew was beside himself with joy.
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Mark M. Bello has been a Michigan attorney for almost 40 years. He received his bachelor of arts in English literature from Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and his law degree from Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Lansing, Michigan. He and his spouse, Tobye, have four children and eight grandchildren and live in West Bloomfield, Michigan. His debut novel, featuring attorney Zachary Blake, pays tribute to actual Michigan cases he handled, the brave clients he represented and the many attorneys and clients who have fought their own "David vs. Goliath" battles with the same or similar institutional defendants. His 2nd Zachary Blake Betrayal Series novel, Betrayal of Justice, is the story of a young Muslim woman, falsely accused of a crime she did not commit, who becomes the obsession of a new, Islamophobic president hell-bent on "making America pure again".