When Jennifer Tracey discovers that her new parish priest has harmed her two sons, she encounters the Coalition-a secret church organization tasked with the responsibility of taking care of these types of incidents quickly and quietly and by any means necessary. Jennifer decides to file a lawsuit against the priest and the church and seeks out an attorney, Zachary Blake, who handled her late husband's industrial death case. However, through an unfortunate series of events, Zachary has gone from the penthouse to the poorhouse, working out of a dingy one-room office, handling traffic cases. Although Jennifer has misgivings, she reluctantly retains him, and they call a press conference to announce their lawsuit. Zack hires an investigator, the infamous Micah Love, who travels to Ohio, where he discovers that two families have disappeared after an encounter with the same priest-and the one person who may provide some answers has died under mysterious circumstances. Religion, law, betrayal, mystery, intrigue, faith, and love converge in Michigan for the trial of the century. Will Zachary resurrect his troubled career and obtain the justice Jennifer seeks for her kids? Or will the church and the Coalition and its mysterious leader prevail in covering up the decadent acts of the priest and circumvent justice once again?
1. The Family 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 climbed above sixty 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 cheerfully. 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 exited the old truck and headed to 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 hour early. Jennifer 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 had warmed up to since their dad, Jim, had passed away three years earlier. My God, she thought. Has 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; and, finally, the doctor coming out of surgery, shaking his head sadly and saying, "I'm terribly sorry. We did all that we could." She remembered telling the boys, then nine and eleven, that their father had been called to heaven. Jake, her sensitive nine-year-old, wanted to know if he could visit. Kenny, always the more outspoken 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 Tigers ball games, played ball with them, took them camping, and even let them sleep overnight at the rectory. They became altar boys and were beginning to adjust to a life without their father. 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. They certainly treated it like another death. 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. Their somber faces, as Father Bill drove off, were reminiscent of those they had displayed when their father had passed away. Their experiences with death and departure made this outing with Father Gerry an event of significance. 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 had gotten 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 fresh-cut grass, one wonderful sign of spring blooming 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, upbeat. "Nice to see you too, Father," she replied pleasantly. "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 had 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 softly, his head tilted downward. "What's the matter with you guys?" asked Gerry. "Did I tire you out that much?" To Jennifer, he said, "I ran these kids ragged-hiking, calisthenics, canoeing, all-night stories, you name it. They're tired. Take them home, and put them to bed; they'll be fine in the morning." Jennifer was shocked; the other boys were none the worse for wear. What was wrong with hers? "Thank you, Father," she managed, somewhat distracted. "I'll do just that." The Tracey family got into the wagon, and Jennifer headed for home. The boys sat in the backseat together. Usually, they fought over who would sit in front. Jennifer's concern was building. "Did you guys have a good time?" She looked at them in her rearview mirror. No answer. "How was Father Gerry? He seems quite nice. Is he as good a camp director as Father Bill?" Concern was continuing to build, approaching panic. No answer. Jennifer looked again in her rearview at her two silent sons. 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 face. They drove in silence the rest of the way home. Something was terribly wrong.
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 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.
Well written legal novel. It grabs you in the very beginning and you can't put it down! Five stars!
Great first book by this wait joe. A lot of twists and turns and keeps you turning page after page to see where the author takes you. I must admit I was not sure if it was a true story ripped from the headlines or pure fiction, you will have to read it to find out!! I highly recommend!!!