Main Betrayal of Faith

Betrayal of Faith

Can One Have Faith when Faith Itself is Corrupt?


SPOTLIGHT meets THE FIRM in this Award-Winning First Installment of the Zachary Blake Legal Thriller Series . . .


Zachary Blake—once Detroit's King of Justice, his partners stole his practice—his wife kicked him out and took everything. He spends his time getting plastered at the local strip club or hustling traffic cases. Things are about to change


The Coalition—the church's super-secret organization whose leader will stop at nothing to protect it. Will these evil actors thwart justice once again?


Jennifer Tracy—a woman of deep faith and grim determination whose children have fallen victim to a vicious predator. Will the unconscionable evil of The Coalition victimize Jennifer and her boys a second time?


The three converge in Detroit for the trial of the century.


This compelling and realistic courtroom action drama spins a web of greed, power, and unspeakable acts of betrayal—will victims and perpetrators get the justice they so richly deserve?

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BETRAYAL

OF

FAITH





MARK M. BELLO





A Zachary Blake Legal Thriller





Copyright 2016 Mark M. Bello All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced by any means, graphic, electronic, or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, taping or by any information storage retrieval system without the written permission of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews and other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters, names, incidents, organizations, and dialogue in this novel are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Because of the dynamic nature of the Internet, and web addresses or links contained in this book may have changed since publication and may no longer be valid. The views expressed in this work are solely those of the author.





Published by 8Grand Publications

Printed in the United States of America

ASIN: B07ZL16H3B





This book is dedicated to Betty, Dianne, and their sons, whose experiences and bravery inspired it; you are in my thoughts, still, after all these years.





TABLE OF CONTENTS


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chapter Twenty-Eight

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-One

Chapter Thirty-Two

Chapter Thirty-Three

Chapter Thirty-Four

Chapter Thirty-Five

Chapter Thirty-Six

Chapter Thirty-Seven

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-One

Chapter Forty-Two

Chapter Forty-Three

Chapter Forty-Four

Chapter Forty-Five

Chapter Forty-Six

Chapter For; ty-Seven

Chapter Forty-Eight

Chapter Forty-Nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-One

Chapter Fifty-Two

Chapter Fifty-Three

Chapter Fifty-Four

Chapter Fifty-Five

Chapter Fifty-Six

Chapter Fifty-Seven

Chapter Fifty-Eight

Chapter Fifty-Nine

Chapter Sixty

Chapter Sixty-One

Chapter Sixty-One

Chapter Sixty-Two

Epilogue



Betrayal of Justice

Other Books in the Series

About the Author





Chapter One




It was a beautiful spring day in Michigan. Flowers were beginning to bloom, and buds were blossoming on once-barren tree branches. The snow disappeared for another season, and the temperature climbed above sixty degrees for the first time. Jennifer Tracey drove her 2013 Chevy Tahoe south on Farmington Road toward the church. She thought, what a great weekend for a camping trip. The boys needed this. I hope they like Father Gerry.

She pulled into the parking lot of Our Lady of the Lakes Church and School, parked, exited the old truck, and headed for the rectory. 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. She was the first parent to arrive, not surprising considering she was a half-hour early.

Jennifer was excited to see the boys. This was their first overnight since Father Bill’s transfer. Father Bill was the only man the boys warmed up to since their dad, Jim, passed away. My God! Has it been three years already? She remembered the day of the accident like it was yesterday—a phone call from the plant with shocking news and the rush to Botsford Hospital. The family gathered for an all-night, prayer-dominated vigil until, finally, the doctor came out of surgery shaking his head—“I’m terribly sorry. We did all we could.”

She remembered trying to explain to the boys, nine and eleven, that their father was called to heaven and that God worked in mysterious ways. Jake, her sensitive nine-year-old, wanted to know if he could visit. Kenny, her eleven-year-old, sat stunned, staring at the sky with piercing green eyes, wondering why the Lord chose to take his father when he needed him most. Life seemed so unfair.

Jim’s loss was incredibly hard on the boys. They were bitter and sullen until they met Father Bill. Bill 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 something akin to a ‘substitute’ father. He took the boys 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 beginning to adjust to life without their father reasonably well. Then, one day last month, Father Bill came by the house and announced he’d been transferred to a parish in Virginia. He spent three years in Michigan, and it was time to move on. The boys may as well have heard Father Bill had died, like their dad. 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 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 nickname—less than a month. This camping trip was Gerry’s first chance to spend extended time with the boys away from parish responsibilities. Jennifer knew it would take some time, but she hoped 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. Jennifer could smell the fresh-cut grass, one of the beautiful smells of spring in Michigan.

Father Gerry came to the door and invited her in. Boys were 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 chirped.

“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’ll go fetch 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. Her boys were sullen, gloomy.

“Here they are, safe and sound,” Father Gerry reported. “Boys, say ‘hi’ to your mom.”

“Hi, Mom,” Kenny managed, his voice barely audible.

“Yeah, hi, Mom,” Jake grunted.

“What’s the matter with you guys?” Gerry inquired. “Did I tire you out that much?” To Jennifer, he advised, “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. “I’ll do just that.”

The Tracey family climbed 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 level increased.

“Did you guys have a good time?”

No answer.

“How was Father Gerry? He seems quite nice. Is he as good a camp director as Father Bill?”

No answer. Jennifer was almost in a panic.

She adjusted her rearview mirror to look at her two silent sons. Kenny was glaring at Jake fiercely with one finger to his lips, silently ordering him quiet. A single tear ran down Kenny’s cheek. The family drove home in silence. Something was terribly wrong.





Chapter Two




Father Gerry Bartholomew was enjoying a conversation with new Lakes members Spencer and Sherry Reed and their teenage boys, David and Justin. The Reeds lost a child to cancer and were trying to organize a charity event for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, where their Jeffrey lost his final battle with the dreaded disease. The family was touring the vast campus of Lakes, enjoying the beautiful spring weather. The boys were tossing a football. The ball eluded one of the boys and rolled up to Gerry. He 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,” Justin marveled. “Where did you learn to throw a football like that?”

“Oh,” Gerry explained, “I played 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—swimming, baseball, and choir. Can you guys sing? We also do a lot of charity work, especially with kids your age. Charity is one way God gives us to demonstrate our love and compassion for others. It is but one of the many miracles of pleasure 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. We’d love to have you join us.” Gerry was thoughtful and spiritual. When he spoke, one could almost hear the voice of God.

The boys promised to consider Gerry’s offer, and their parents were excited by the prospect of their boys participating. Gerry walked them to their car and waved as it disappeared down the road leading from the parish to the main highway.

Gerry Bartholomew was recently the assistant pastor of St. Patrick’s Parish in Ohio. He was thirty-six, approximately six feet tall and well built. He had dark brown, almost black eyes. One could hardly make out his pupils. He had long brown hair and a pale, almost milk-like complexion. He had two major passions: camping and teenagers. His sermons were powerful and memorable. He was charming—everywhere he’d been, parishioners loved him. The father of a fourteen-year-old boy once loaned him his camper to take his son and some other boys on an overnight camping trip. Activities and interactions with teenagers were the highlights of his priesthood.

Gerry didn’t want to leave Ohio or St. Patrick’s, but the church hierarchy decided it was time for him to move on. He fought reassignment. His work with parish teenagers was unappreciated and misunderstood. Gerry Bartholomew was sure he was going to be assigned out of parish work, perhaps to do charity work overseas, or to counsel the frail or sick.

In fact, his personnel records contained copious notes with strong recommendations that he receive these types of assignments. To his surprise, the notes 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 as well as Jacob and Kenneth Tracey. Gerry Bartholomew was beside himself with joy.





Chapter Three




“Order! Order!” the Voice commanded. “Come to order.”

The group of five men was silent almost immediately. The room was dimly lit, which kept its opulence from intruding on their meeting.

“We have assembled again because we have another crisis at the parish level.”

“What now?”

“Father Gerry has been active again.”

“Shit! When? Where?” The member was angry and perplexed.

“Gerry was recently transferred, wasn’t he?”

“Yes.”

“Wasn’t the placement supposed to be away from children?”

“Yes, it was.”

“Well, then what the hell happened?” Another member demanded.

“I don’t know—we’re still checking who made the placement and why.”

“This is disastrous. I presume the victim was male?”

“Victims, plural—two boys, fourteen and twelve, it happened on a camping retreat.”

“They sent Gerry on a camping retreat? Didn’t they read our report?” Unbelievable!

“Obviously not,” the Voice sighed.

“What do you propose?”

“I think we should stay calm and ascertain the facts before deciding on a course of action.”

“Makes sense.” Calm began to rule. The Voice was pleased common sense would prevail.

“Where did this happen?”

“In Farmington Hills, Michigan, the Detroit Division.”

“Does the pastor know?”

“He’s the one who contacted me. He overheard some kids.”

“Whom do we have in Detroit?”

“We have a top-notch investigating firm, Parks and Associates, and a silk-stocking law firm, Brodman, Longworth and Darling.”

“Get them on this. We need serious damage control this time.”

“We should have defrocked him after the first time.”

“The situation hasn’t changed. There’s still a shortage. We have too many parishes and too few priests. Besides, Gerry’s psychiatrist gave us the green light.”

“Yeah, as long as the placement didn’t involve kids,” a member snarled.

“It’s hard to place someone in parish work that avoids kids.”

“How about an all-girls school?”

“Funny.”

“No, seriously, why parish work? Why not a teaching position at a seminary or something?”

“I agree with you. Someone botched the placement. We’re looking into it. The mandate was clear, yet ignored, and the opposite occurred. The process is flawed. We need a detailed review.”

“Issues for another day. For now, get the law firm and the investigator together with the pastor. We escaped inexpensively on Gerry’s last one. If anyone discovers this placement followed that one, the sky’s the limit.”

“Whatever happens, the defense fund can handle it.”

“Has the Holy One been informed?”

“Didn’t see the need. Let’s have the specialists handle the situation and see where we are afterward.”

“Another ‘accident’ perhaps?” Heads turned to the speaker then back to the Voice. Would he agree?

“Premature at this point,” the Voice declared. “We’ll keep all options open. Agreed? All in favor?”

“Aye.”

“All opposed?”

Silence.





Chapter Four




Jennifer Tracey and her two sons lived in a small tri-level in Farmington Hills. Money was always tight but following Jim’s death and the subsequent lawsuit and settlement, the money dwindled, and it became increasingly difficult to make ends meet. Jennifer worked as an editor for a neighborhood newspaper and grossed about forty-five thousand per year. Her house payment, utilities, groceries, taxes, and religious school chewed up her spendable income.

Widowed at thirty-seven, she had platinum-blond hair, high cheekbones, and peaches-and-cream skin. She could pass for twenty-seven with signs of age beginning to show around her sparkling blue eyes. She had a broad, sensual mouth with full lips. At five foot three, her legs were slender and athletic from daily aerobics. Jim was the only man she’d ever been interested in. The couple met in high school and dated through college at Oakland University in Rochester, where she received her bachelor’s degree in English, and he received his in engineering.

Jennifer wanted to marry Jim from the moment they met, but he was the voice of reason. He wanted his degree and a good job first. Jim would support her without parental assistance; thank you very much. He was a very proud and good man. She missed him terribly. She was beautiful, and there were many potential suitors. However, the thought of dating made her cringe. A couple of dates ended with her apologizing to the men. They claimed to understand. She didn’t care either way.

The only thing she cared about was the welfare of her boys, Jim’s boys. Two weeks after the camping trip, they were still distraught.

She knocked on their bedroom door and walked in without an invitation.

“I didn’t hear anybody say, ‘Come in,’ did you, Jake?” snapped Kenny.

“Well . . . uh . . . I’m so sorry,” stammered Jennifer, surprised at her son’s tone.

“Yeah,” Jake grumbled, looking at his brother for direction.

Jennifer collected herself and scanned the room. It was a boys’ room, to be sure, but it’s disaster level at that moment irritated her almost as much as the boys’ attitude.

“Lose the attitude, gentlemen,” she ordered. “Are you going to spend the rest of your lives in this room? Why don’t you get out and enjoy the fresh spring air and sunshine? It’s a beautiful day! Why don’t you see if there is a pickup game at Lakes or something? You used to love the outdoors. Now I can’t get you to leave your room. And this room! It looks like a cyclone hit it! I want these games, cards, and balls picked up this instant!”

“How’s this?” Kenny scowled. He picked up a baseball and threw it at the wall, putting a large hole in the drywall. “See, I played baseball! Happy?”

Jake mimicked Kenny’s behavior and swiped at an active Monopoly board, scattering cards, player pieces, and Monopoly money all over the already disaster-zone bedroom.

“That’s enough!” cried Jennifer. “You boys are grounded until further notice. I want this room cleaned up immediately or no supper! And, Kenneth Tracey, you better think of ways to earn some money to pay for the repair of that wall!”

“Whatever,” Kenny snarled. “I didn’t want to go outside in the first place, and I sure as hell don’t want to go to Lakes.”

“Yeah,” Jake offered, attempting without success to equal his brother’s animus.

Jennifer left the room and slammed the door in utter frustration. What was going on with these two? They hadn’t been themselves since the camping trip. In fact, they hadn’t even unpacked their backpacks. She saw them, amid the rubble, in the corner of the room, opened but still fully packed. They loved the outdoors and church activities. Now she couldn’t get them to leave their bedroom—and the anger, the sadness . . .

Jake’s cheeks were often red and wet. Jennifer tried to comfort him. “Jake, honey, I love you. Please tell Mommy what’s wrong.”

Jake shook his head no. Jennifer reached out, hugged him, and looked into his eyes. There was a haunting sadness in his beautiful blue eyes, his mother’s eyes. These days, they exhibited only pain.

Kenny was quiet, aloof, and angry. Jennifer tried to talk to him, but he was combative. She observed him staring into space, scowling. She looked into his eyes, Jim’s eyes, and saw unbridled hatred. He spent hours in his room, speaking to no one, doing nothing. His anger was escalating. He threw a ball through his bedroom wall! His younger brother was trying to imitate him. Something was seriously wrong. But what could it be?

The boys’ antisocial antics were abrupt and inexplicable, but their origin was somehow related to their recent camping trip. The trip was the key. She was convinced. Maybe some camper embarrassed one of her sons in front of others. But why would such an incident make Jake so sad or Kenny so angry? She decided to visit Father Gerry to see if he could shed some light on the situation. She made the short drive to the church and found him tending the garden.

“Jenny!” Gerry chirped. “How nice to see you. I haven’t seen you or the boys in church lately.”

“Father,” Jennifer responded, getting right to the point, “I am very concerned about my boys. They’ve been acting very strangely since the camping trip. Jake is sad and tearful. Kenny explodes, tells me to leave him alone, and storms off to his room. They don’t do anything except go to school, come home and mope. Did you notice if anything bad happened on that trip?”

“Nothing I noticed,” Gerry considered. “Would you like me to talk to the boys?”

“Oh, yes, Father, that would normally be fine, but I can’t get either to come to church. I’ve been trying for two weeks.”

“That does sound serious,” Gerry pondered. “How about I come over to your house and talk to the boys?”

“Would you, Father? It wouldn’t be too much trouble? I’d be eternally grateful. Maybe they’ll open up for you. The past two weeks have been living hell, and I’m getting nowhere.”

“It’s no trouble at all. What time would you like me to come by?” He would talk to the boys and do what was necessary.

“Why don’t you come for dinner? I’m making their favorite, spaghetti and meatballs.”

“Why that’s my favorite too,” Gerry lied. “What time do you want me?”

“How’s six o’clock?”

“Sounds fine. I’ll be there. Do you need me to bring anything?”

“Just you . . . and . . . perhaps a prayer or two,” she smiled.

“Prayer helps whatever ails you. I’ll see you at six.”

“Bless you, Father, and thank you,” Jennifer sighed. She turned and walked to the car, feeling upbeat and hopeful for the first time in two weeks.

Gerry Bartholomew watched Jennifer’s van disappear down the road and cursed under his breath. These boys need to understand God loves them, wants them to enjoy the outdoors, and wants them to understand love of God is often demonstrated through love of man.

***

Gerry arrived for dinner promptly at six. Jennifer didn’t advise the boys of his impending visit. She hoped to surprise them. She took Gerry to the living room and invited him to sit. She called the boys to dinner. As had been their practice for the past two weeks, they were holed up in their bedroom playing board games or creating scrapbooks for their baseball card collections. They liked the security of their room these days. It was the only place they seemed remotely comfortable.

As the two boys bounded down the stairs, Kenny spotted Gerry and stopped dead in his tracks. He stuck out his arm sternly, like a traffic cop, stopping Jake on the stairs. Jake was terrified at the sight of Gerry and immediately hid behind his older brother.

“What’s he doing here?” Kenny demanded.

“I invited him to have dinner with us. You haven’t been to church in two weeks, and Father Gerry misses you. I made your favorite, spaghetti and meatballs. Come and eat.”

“We’re not hungry,” Kenny spoke for both of them. He and Jake then turned their backs and started back up the stairs.

“Kenny and Jake Tracey!” Jennifer cried. “You get back here this instant and eat your dinner! And apologize to Father Gerry! You're being rude, and I don’t like it! You’ve been moping around for two weeks now, and it’s breaking my heart, but I won’t let you take it out on Father Gerry!”

“You want us to say we’re sorry to him?” Kenny cried. Tears rolled down his cheeks.

“Right this instant!” Jennifer refused to soften her stance.

“He’s the one who should be sorry,” Kenny shouted, continuing to shield his brother. He and Jake turned away and started back up the stairs. Jennifer began to protest again, but Gerry stopped her.

“Let them go, Jenny,” he suggested. “I’ll go up and talk to them. Maybe I can get them to come down.”

“Oh, thank you, Father. Perhaps, you can find out what’s troubling them.”

“I’ll sure give it a try.”

She watched him go up the stairs, and something in the back of her mind was worried about the impending interaction. A few stray thoughts began to coalesce into an idea. What if the boys’ current behavior had its genesis on the camping trip with the man she sent upstairs? The boys were indeed not themselves. What does this have to do with Father Gerry? She shook those thoughts away and went back to preparing the dinner.

Gerry somehow persuaded the boys to come to the table. Dinner was uneventful. Jennifer and Gerry engaged in light conversation about nothing in particular. Kenny and Jake ate almost nothing in complete silence.

Shortly after dinner, Gerry arose to say goodbye. As he left leaving, with Jennifer’s attention momentarily elsewhere, he flashed the boys a sinister glare. Jennifer sent the boys upstairs to wash up for bedtime. After doing the dinner dishes, she started up the stairs toward the boys’ room. She heard the two boys talking.

“You’ve got to be brave, and you’ve got to be quiet,” she heard Kenny say.

“But I’m scared, Kenny,” Jake murmured. “Really scared.”

“I know, but I won’t ever let him hurt you again,” Kenny assured.

“You promise?” Jake managed.

“Cross my heart and hope to die,” Kenny promised.

“You can’t die, Kenny,” Jake panicked. “Daddy died, and Father Bill left us. Don’t leave me all alone.”

“I won’t die, Jake. I love you. I will never leave you alone.” He spoke in a calm voice well beyond his years.

“I love you too, Kenny,” sobbed Jake.

“Good, now get under the covers. Mom will be in to say goodnight.”

“Okay,” Jake calmed, regaining self-control.

Outside the door, Jennifer listened in horror. What was it? Someone hurt them. Who? Her thoughts were gathering, inching toward a conclusion, but she resisted. Did something happen at school? Was someone being bullied? The camping trip was fun, wasn’t it?

She decided that the boys needed professional help but not that night. That night, she would hug them, kiss them, and put them to bed. That night, she would simply love them with all her heart.





Chapter Five




The telephone rang in Father Jonathan Costigan’s private office. He answered, “Our Lady of the Lakes, Father Jon Costigan speaking.”

“Hello, Jon,” a deep male voice greeted him. “What’s the current status?”

Oh God, not him! This character was a member of the church hierarchy, partly responsible for Bartholomew’s transfer to his parish. They shoved this bastard down Jon’s throat. His identity was a mystery—clergymen who had contact with him referred to him, simply, as “the Voice.”

Jon wanted to appoint his own assistant pastor. When he protested this forced transfer, he was offered a transfer of his own, to a northern Canadian parish. His Lakes parishioners were the only ‘family’ Jon had. He had no choice but to accept Bartholomew.

Jon was disgusted the church would endanger his parish to accommodate a predator. He privately wished a church pastor had more authority. Alas, such was life in an organization as large and complex as the church. A parish priest, even the head pastor of a parish the size of Lakes, had little control. Am I not competent enough to interview and hire my own assistant?

“Well . . . Gerry visited the family last night. He convinced Jennifer to let him up to the boys’ room to talk to them in private. Little did Jennifer suspect that the problem is the priest,” Costigan snarled.

“Cut the theatrics, Jon. How did the meeting go?” The Voice wasn’t in the mood for a lecture from a subordinate.

“Gerry thinks it went well. Apparently, they had a nice chat about spirituality and acceptance of God’s love,” he grumbled.

“Get a grip, Jon.”

“I want this son of a bitch out of my parish, ASAP.”

“We can’t do that, Jon. Too soon, it will arouse suspicion.”

“Who are you people? Who cares about arousing suspicion? I care about safety and welfare, especially of the children. Who is concerned for their well-being?” Jon demanded. He didn’t care about chain of command.

The Voice softened. “You do, Jon. All of us do. A mistake was made in this case. But, we must look at the bigger picture. A scandal would be very detrimental to the church and your parish. It would affect the future of all our children, not just these two. Do all we can to help the Tracey boys? Absolutely, but we must proceed in a very discreet manner. We must limit Gerry’s contact with children to only public events. This can’t happen again. I’m counting on you to keep him under control.”

“That is easier said than done, sir. He didn’t tell me he was leaving last night. I didn’t even know he was gone until I noticed the VW missing.”

“We knew he left and where he went. We’re watching him, Jon.”

“You guys seem to have all the answers. You have the situation under control. Why do you need me?”

“We need him observed at the parish. Carefully schedule his time and activities. Keep him away from kids. Can you do that, Jon?”

“I’ll do my best, but not for the likes of you. I’ll do it for the safety of the kids.”

“Very well then,” the Voice was placated. “We’ll keep in touch. And, Jon?”

“Yes?”

“Communication is a two-way street. Keep us informed.”

No answer.

“Jon?”

“Yes?”

“Can we count on you?”

“Yes.” Jon shuddered at the realization that these men, whoever they were, were probably powerful enough to expel him. Who would watch over the children then?

“Oh, and, Jon? Pay a visit to the Tracey family. Offer your assistance. Tell Jennifer Tracey that the church knows where the boys can get excellent psychological or psychiatric counseling. Convince her that we know good people and that we’ll pick up the bill.”

“Why would we do that? Won’t that arouse suspicion?” Jon was surprised by this sudden gesture of kindness.

“I think not. Besides, it’s the right thing to do. If we can get the boys to our mental health professionals rather than one of her choosing—a loose cannon, so to speak—we can monitor the boys’ progress much better.”

“You mean brainwash them,” Jon charged.

“You watch too much television, Jon. Brainwashing? Absurd. Concentrate on your duties.”

“Thanks for the advice. Are we finished?”

“For now, Jon. You’ll be hearing from us again. Good-bye. God bless.”

Father Jonathan Costigan hung up the phone and glanced at his watch. He had time before his seminar to drive over to Jennifer’s. He’d known her a long time, baptized both boys, and watched them grow. He knew Jim even longer and mourned with the family when God called him to heaven. Jon had always been there for the Tracey family, providing spiritual and friendly guidance when needed. Now, his superiors wanted him to spy on them and make sure they sought treatment from practitioners loyal to the church. He was to help brainwash them and assist in a cover-up.

He rationalized his assignment. The boys will get the help they need. A scandal would be harmful to all parishioners—adults and children. Perhaps if we can get them discreet counseling, it would be to everyone’s advantage.” Father Jonathan Costigan was a man trying to convince himself of the truth of a false assertion.





Chapter Six




“This is a special Sunday. We are pleased to officially welcome Father Gerry Bartholomew to the pulpit to deliver his first Sunday message to the congregation . . .”

Father Jon almost choked on his words. He’d been instructed to offer words of welcome to set the stage for Gerry’s first sermon. He was repulsed but did his job. Gerry sauntered to the pulpit, too cocky for Jon’s taste. Gerry raised his arms for quiet, and the congregation grew silent.

“Thank you, Father Jon, and thanks to all of you. I cherish my first opportunity to address you. I’d like to explain why I became a priest . . .” Gerry began.

“When I was young, I thought I’d finish school, grow up, go to college, get married, start a career, start and build a family. God chose another path for me, and I have never turned back or been sorry. I have a much larger family and many children whom I can help shape. Children are the Lord’s most precious creatures, and I humbly accept my role in shaping their hearts and minds. This vital work with children is the principal reason that I became a priest. Children represent our future, the future of any race or religion.

“Psalm 127:3 says, ‘Certainly sons are a gift from the LORD, the fruit of the womb, a reward.’ In other words, God blesses people with children and children are a blessing. The following verse 4 says, ‘Like arrows in the hand of a warrior are the sons born in one’s youth.” As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man; so are children of the youth.’ Again, the theme is that children are an asset and a blessing . . .

“In the Bible, God uses the simple but essential word children a remarkable 1,650 times. The term child is used another 190 times. Three of the Ten Commandments are devoted to sanctifying and safeguarding the family. It is safe to say that God loves children.

“How many parents enjoy the simple pleasure of watching their newborn child sleep? This is a profoundly boring activity, yet parents derive great delight from it. When you have your own baby, when the grumpiest among us observe the interaction of a small child with his or her parent—even the cranky heart becomes full of warmth.

“Children are amazing. All of us have a responsibility to treat them and handle them as blessings. As I gaze out at the congregation, I am pleased to see so many blessed children. You are, indeed, a blessing from God . . .

“It is easy to devote my ministry to children. Church doctrine precludes me from marrying. Priests are required to remain celibate. We will have no children of our own. Why? Because you are my family, your children are my children. The church endues the title of ‘Father’ on priests, and I am honored to be a ‘father’ to your children. I have wonderful, pleasurable activities and events planned for them. I enjoy sports, travel, camping, and preaching the gospel. Hopefully, I can provide spiritual guidance and enlightenment to your children, as they grow from child to teenager to adult. I especially enjoy being a role model to teenagers, counseling them, advising them, shaping and molding young minds, attitudes, and sharing the wonders and experiences of life.

“As children grow into teenagers, I plan to be, if you will permit me, an important part of their lives. Leave them to my care. Trust them to my embrace. As your children are a blessing to you, they are a blessing to me.

“Today, I invite you to focus on important ways to treat our precious children. First, we must give them understanding. They are gifts from God, miniature replicas of each of you. You want to see yourself? Look for yourself in your children. Children are warm, and they bring warmth to us. They have the ability to make parents and grandparents melt in their hands. We feel that warmth when a baby reaches out with his or her little hand and touches our faces or looks into our eyes. We melt when they first say, ‘Mommy’ or ‘Daddy.’ When they’re young, they’re not ashamed to hug or kiss their parents. I am a firm believer in and practitioner of hugs, in physical love, physical displays of affection.” Gerry flushed with desire. The congregation could not detect this subtle hint of his sinister nature.

“Parents teach their children. These are blessings because children are tomorrow’s teachers. And so it goes, generation to generation. Most of us live simple lives. There are no statues erected in our honor. But many of us will have children, and they will carry on our name and our legacy. This is the special blessing of ancestry.

“Grow closer, express more love to one another. Children and parents must develop trust in each other, a consequence of which is to grow in love. We want our kids to seek our advice rather than getting it on the streets from those of dubious character. Many teenagers view the home or the church as a prison cell, with parents and priests serving as their guards. However, many of their problems would be solved if they became closer to God and the church.

“If understanding is not found in the family, the safest place that a child knows, where can it be located? In Corinthians 13:11, the apostle Paul says, ‘When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things.’ If we want to reach our children, we must try to think as they do. We must put ourselves in their shoes.

“Second, we must communicate with our children. With both parents working in most twenty-first-century families, would you be surprised if I told you that moms spend less than an hour a day with their children and fathers less than a half-hour?

“Deuteronomy 4:7 says, ‘You shall teach them diligently unto your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down and when you rise up.’ Spend time with your children, talk about a quality life through spirituality. Parents and grandparents alike have a responsibility to teach children the principles of a quality life. Communication is an essential tool in exercising that responsibility.

“Here is a suggestion. Offer your children an hour a day of your time. Tell them that it is their time with you to do or say anything they want, go anywhere they want to go, play anything they want to play. And I will make you this promise—despite my busy schedule, any parent of any child who asks this of me; I will pledge an hour to you or your child. Parents and priests are busy. We are here, there, and everywhere, taking care of this crisis or that one. However, I urge you to make the one-hour pledge to your children and to honor the commitment. It is crucial they know you care, that you love them and will be there for them in times of need.

“Third, we must provide for our children. It is our responsibility as parents to provide a loving and happy home. It is most important to demonstrate relationships by example in a committed and happy marriage. In many ways, this example of commitment is even more important than the relationship between parent and child. We must provide food, clothing, and shelter, of course, but the atmosphere in which our children grow up is of the utmost importance. However, some marriages fall apart, even when husband and wife have the best of intentions going into them. If that fate falls upon you and your children, please call on me to counsel your sons, to guide them along the paths of righteousness and love, especially if this happens during their teenage years. Trust them to my loving care . . .” Would they? The parents must trust me.

“Fourth, we must set a good example for our children. In other words, we must not only talk the talk; we must walk the walk. If we expect our kids not to smoke, not to drink, and not to do drugs, we must refrain from those activities ourselves. Children will often do what they see others doing. What I would like to see is child after child deciding to seek the counsel of the Lord, through private and privileged counsel with me.

“Finally, number five is to love your children. Show them genuine affection. Children need to be loved, cared for, felt, and touched. I am pleased to help in this endeavor, as I am a very hands-on person. I pledge, with all my soul, in all that I do, to love your children. And studies show that physical love is important, even in the first days after birth. Research indicates that female infants less than a year old receive five times more physical affection than boys of the same age. Is that why younger boys have far more emotional and psychiatric problems than younger girls? A child growing up with physical contact will be more comfortable with themselves and others. I promise, with all my heart, to shower your children with affection, to guide them to a greater good, through love, touch, feel, the church, and the grace of God.”

Jennifer Tracey attended church services that morning. She dropped the boys off at her sister’s house and arrived early. She wasn’t aware that Father Gerry would be delivering his first sermon. These last statements compelled her to leave. She didn’t understand why but knew she must. She rose and walked up the aisle toward the exit. Gerry paused and watched her go. Heads turned. The sermon seemed to come to an abrupt halt. Jennifer walked out the door, and it clicked closed behind her. Gerry struggled to understand her departure and promptly lost his composure. He continued, more tentatively, as Jennifer exited the church building.

“Okay . . . now . . . uh . . . I would like to address the children . . .” Why is she leaving? Was it something I said? Did the boys say something to her? Shit!

“For you to remain blessed . . . for you to . . . uh . . . continue to be a gift from God, I have three suggestions: Try to learn about God from your parents, the church, Father Jon, and me, and, most important, read your Bible. Remember that, according to scripture, Jesus learned of God at the age of twelve. You can learn of God as well. Be grateful to God and your parents for all the nice things that happen in your life. Tell those who do nice things for you, including your parents, how much you appreciate their kindness. Learn to say a simple thank you when people do nice things. Food does not miraculously appear on your table at mealtime. How did your bed get made and your clothes folded and put away? Have you ever thought of saying thank you to your mom for simple acts of kindness? Give thanks for the kindnesses extended to you and the things you receive. Count your blessings.” Gerry was finding a stronger voice, more control, following Jennifer’s abrupt exit. I can finish this.

“Be willing to experiment. Dare to try something different. Try to do things outside your comfort zone. I specialize in helping teenagers experience God’s love in unique ways, and I pledge to assist you in any way I can to achieve grace through love. I am here for you. I am a very valuable resource. Use me as often as you choose.

“Remember, dear family and friends; children are a blessing and the future leaders of our church, our community, our country, and our world. And they are the future leaders in the kingdom of God and heaven. Thank you, and God bless you and your precious children.”





Chapter Seven




Father Jon gave Jennifer two names and numbers. After talking with both clinics, she chose the Beacon-East Counseling Center in Birmingham, Michigan. She liked that Beacon-East had both psychologists and psychiatrists on staff. A Saturday appointment was scheduled for the weekend following her phone call. She was now driving east on Maple toward Birmingham.

Birmingham was an upscale suburb of Detroit. Upscale retailers chose Birmingham for a downtown location, especially following the retail abandonment of downtown Detroit after the 1967 riot. Birmingham has many fine retail shops, restaurants, coffeehouses, art galleries, and theaters.

The city also had many beautiful residential communities and office complexes contained within and surrounding its downtown. Beacon-East was located on Brown Street; two quick right turns from the corner of Maple and South Woodward, Downtown Birmingham’s main cross streets. Jennifer spotted the building and the clinic sign as soon as she turned onto Brown. She pulled the Tahoe into the parking lot of the clinic. The kids had not uttered a single word for the entire trip. This morning, she sat the boys down and told them they were going to see a doctor to find out why they were so upset. Neither was thrilled with the idea of seeing what Kenny called a “shrink,” but Mom insisted.

Beacon-East was an ultra-modern white-and-glass single-story office building. There were multiple psychiatrists and psychologists listed on the occupant roster. Their appointment was with Harold Rothenberg, M.D., Ph.D. Jennifer walked up to his office counter. A sliding glass window, adjacent a locked door, separated the waiting room from the clinic. The receptionist greeted her pleasantly and handed her a questionnaire to complete. The only highlighted portion of the questionnaire was payer and insurance information. She finished the form, returned it to the receptionist, and took a seat. Kenny and Jake busied themselves with a couple of Highlights magazines. She was grateful they were alone in the waiting room.

After a short wait, the locked door opened and a tall, balding man with a flowing white, Santa Claus–type beard asked them to follow him back. Jennifer rose, collected the kids, and followed the man to a smallish room that contained a tiny desk and chair, a recliner, and a couch. There were diplomas, association membership plaques, awards, and certification notices all over the walls. Jennifer took the recliner. The boys jumped on the couch. Santa Claus, to Jennifer’s surprise, introduced himself as Dr. Rothenberg and inquired, “What seems to be the problem? How can I help you?”

Jennifer told him about the camping trip, the boys’ school situation, and their recent strange behavior. In a series of questions and answers, Dr. Rothenberg also learned about Jim’s death and Father Bill’s sudden departure. After exchanging a few more questions for answers, Dr. Rothenberg asked Jennifer if he might talk to the boys alone. Kenny shrugged ‘I don’t care,’ and Jake was okay with whatever his brother wanted. Jennifer and Dr. Rothenberg rose. The doctor escorted Jennifer back to the waiting room and told her that he expected the session to last approximately forty-five minutes.

Forty-five minutes seemed like forever, and when the kids finally came out, Dr. Rothenberg summoned Jennifer in. The boys resumed their Highlights reading.

“Sit down, please, Mrs. Tracey.”

“Oh, call me Jenny, please,” she smiled, taking the recliner.

“Okay, Jenny. This is not a school-bullying situation. Your boys are extremely upset about something that happened on that camping trip. I could not get them to talk about the trip, but the mere mention of it sends Jake into hysterics. It may take several sessions to obtain their trust. I recommend twice per week sessions for now. Hopefully, we can build a trust relationship and learn as much as we can as soon as we can.”

“Sounds okay to me, Doctor.” He has a gentle nature. “May I ask you something?”

“Sure, anything.”

“Based on this session and seeing how upset they are, to use your term, do you have any preliminary thoughts on what may have caused their recent behavior? Do you know if they . . . what happened?”

“Fair question and one that I’d ask if these were my children. Any answer would be no more than a guess at this point. Hopefully, after a few sessions, we’ll have some answers.”

“Is there anything I can do at home?”

“Hugs, kisses, and lots of love,” Dr. Rothenberg smiled.

I like this man.

“Here’s my card. It has my office number, cell phone, and my home number. If anything happens and you need to talk, call me anytime, day or night.”

“Thanks again, Doctor. We’ll see you next week.” Jennifer was relieved.

“Good-bye, Jennifer.”

Almost immediately after Jennifer left the office, the telephone in Dr. Rothenberg’s office rang.

***

“Good morning, Dr. Rothenberg, here.”

“Good morning, Dr. Rothenberg,” the Voice chirped.

“What can I do for you?” Rothenberg grumbled.

“How did your session with the Tracey boys go?”

“How did you know the session was over?” Are these people monitoring my office?

“Nothing covert, Doctor. The appointment was for eleven. It’s now noon. You told me sessions last an hour,” The Voice reasoned. “So, again, how did the session go?”

“It went as expected. The boys don’t trust me and won’t for a while. Hopefully, in time, I’ll be able to gain their trust and be of some assistance to them and the church.” Rothenberg calmed. I am a professional. I need to behave like one.

“How much time?”

“It’s impossible to say. This varies from patient to patient. In this case, though, I have an advantage.”

“What’s that?”

“I already know what’s bothering them.”

“True, so what’s the prognosis?”

“These are tough cases. It may take months, even years, to resolve feelings of pain and betrayal. A priest is a father figure. The betrayal of trust is enormous, and it takes a long time to rebuild that trust. There are also sexual components. These will manifest themselves as the boys become more sexually aware. Time will tell whether this impacts their sexuality or how they respond to sexual situations. Degree is a factor. In this case, your team has advised that we are dealing with lower-level trauma. While that’s a positive, this is not an exact science and kids react to different things in different ways. Whatever the case, I will do my best to help them.”

“We know you will. That’s why we chose you. Keep me posted.” I will have measured control of this situation. He is loyal to the church.

“That, I cannot do.”

“What?” Have I lost control? The Voice was stunned.

“I cannot keep you posted.”

“No? Why not?”

“Doctor-patient privilege and confidentiality. It’s very similar to the priest-penitent privilege.”

“But the church retained your services, not the Tracey family. Doesn’t that change the privilege dynamic? After all, it’s our money.”

“The privilege belongs to the patient, regardless of who is paying the bill.”

The Voice silently seethed.

“Look,” Dr. Rothenberg continued, “I promised you when you retained me that I would do my very best to help these boys as discreetly as possible. I intend to keep that promise, but I will not violate doctor-patient confidentiality.”

“Understood, Doctor.” The Coalition would monitor all sessions anyway.

Somehow he makes ‘understood’ sound like ‘fuck you.’ “Anything else?” Rothenberg wondered.

“Not at this time, Doctor. Thank you and good-bye.”

“Good-bye.”





Chapter Eight




Jennifer sat in the pew and tried, without success, to let the weight of her children’s worries slide off her shoulders. She’d left the boys with her sister Lynne for the morning, hoping that a break from their home environment would help them. Jennifer looked for help from the church.

Father Gerry stood at the pulpit, in full regalia, looking down upon the congregation. His eyes didn’t meet Jennifer’s, but she hoped he’d noticed her. He began his sermon.

“Today, I would like to talk to you about relationships and anger. Often, we are the angriest at the people we know and love. Take, for example, the relationships between adults and teenagers. What makes a good parent in the eyes of a teen?

“Part of the answer is found in the example you set in your interactions with your spouse. Remember, your kids are watching. They watch, learn, and form their own concepts and opinions of marriage from your example.”

Jennifer hadn’t been thinking about her late husband or how much help he would have been during her boys’ current woes, but now she couldn’t avoid it. For a moment, she lost track of Gerry’s sermon. Suddenly, his voice intruded into her thoughts.

“If a son watches his father abuse his mother, will the son view this behavior as normal? Will he become an abuser? If a daughter observes the same behavior, will she assume that abusive relationships are acceptable?”

Jennifer was uncomfortable. She didn’t expect every sermon to contain a hopeful or uplifting message. At this moment, however, she wanted the priest to talk about something other than pain.

“There are no perfect adults. We sin constantly, and then forgive each other our sins. There are no perfect fathers, no perfect mothers, no perfect priests.”

Why did he have to say that? For the next few minutes, ‘no perfect priests’ was all she could hear. Gerry continued, but Jennifer lost all sense of his main point.

“Embrace the nuances of others, the imperfections of others. Nobody’s perfect, not even you, certainly not me. Psalm 127:3 says, ‘Behold, children are a gift of the Lord; the fruit of the womb is a reward.’”

She stared at the stained glass on the eastern windows. A shepherd, a flock of sheep, and an image of heaven shone with the light of the sun, which passed behind clouds and then emerged again as she watched. Did that mean something? Even when the sun was obscured, the colors shone brightly. Father Gerry was concluding his sermon.

“John 4:20 says, ‘If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.’ So settle things with those who have angered you before coming here to pray.

“Read in verses 25 to 26, Jesus also preached that we should settle disagreements without going to court. I couldn’t agree more. ‘Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court; do it while you are still with him on the way . . .’

“To Jesus, this type of resolution of differences is important. ‘Don’t wait,’ he says. ‘Do it now.’ Cast away your hostility and inherent desire to win at all costs. Ask God’s forgiveness and your adversary’s forgiveness for the harsh words spoken against him or her in anger. Love your children and others as you would love yourselves and your God. Resolve those differences that tear you up inside. Cast away your wrath. Respect each other. Love each other. Take care of each other and go with God. Amen.”

The sermon did not provide Jennifer what she was seeking, but it did provide her with the seed of an idea.





Chapter Nine




Dr. Rothenberg paused, reviewed his notes, and contemplated his approach. He was beginning his thirteenth session with the Tracey boys. The sessions took place over six weeks at two sessions per week. Phone calls from the Voice, after each session, were very troubling, frustrating him as much as the boys’ almost complete silence during therapy. He learned the boys hated church. They also disliked school, as it was part of the church. They were angry with their mother for making them go to school and for trying to make them go to church. They were angry with their father for dying and with Father Bill for leaving. They were mad with Father Jon for letting Bill leave and hiring Gerry to replace him. Most of all, they hated Father Gerry, without explanation. He decided today he would take a more direct approach.

Dr. Rothenberg prompted, “Your problems with Father Gerry seem to have developed on that camping trip. Did Gerry do anything on that trip to upset you?”

No answer. Jake glanced at Kenny, eyes pleading for direction.

“Did he speak to you in a mean or sarcastic way?”

“No,” Kenny grunted.

“Did he hit you?”

“No,” muttered Kenny. He was becoming uncomfortable.

“Did other boys do anything to cause anger?” Dr. Rothenberg probed.

“No,” repeated Kenny.

“Did Father Gerry put his hands on you in any way that made you uncomfortable?”

Does he know? I can’t tell him, can I? Can I trust this guy? Kenny folded his arms and engaged in internal debate. Jake’s eyes met Rothenberg’s for a brief moment.

“Do you boys know the difference between good touch and bad touch?” Rothenberg probed.

“Yes,” Kenny grumbled, and then he began to cry.

Jake began to cry as well, looking to his brother, silently urging him to unload their burden.

“What’s the difference?” Dr. Rothenberg pressed.

“I don’t want to discuss this,” Kenny groaned. Do I? The voice in his head grew louder.

“Why not?”

“Because it’s disgusting!”

“What’s disgusting?”

“Someone touching you in a bad way,”

“What way would he have to touch you for it to be bad?” Rothenberg was desperate.

“You know,” Kenny moaned.

“No, I don’t. Explain it to me,” Rothenberg prodded.

“I can’t,” Kenny grunted in anguish, tears rolling down his cheek.

“I can help you,” Rothenberg pleaded. “Please, you must trust me.”

“I don’t trust anyone from the church,” Kenny shouted.

“Do you think I want to hurt you?” Dr. Rothenberg inquired.

“I don’t know. I don’t know you that well. Do you want to hurt me?”

“No, Kenny, I don’t. Trust me, please! I want to help you,” pleaded Rothenberg.

“Bad touch is when he touches you in places he shouldn’t, your private parts!” Jake blurted. He screamed and broke into tears. “But he did more. He hurt me, and he hurt Kenny too.”

“Jake, no!” Kenny screamed.

Jake continued, tears flowing in droves. “I begged for him to stop. He wouldn’t stop. It was awful. I was bleeding and crying. He wouldn’t stop. He wouldn’t stop!” Jake broke down in uncontrollable sobbing. He buried himself in Kenny’s arms.

Rothenberg was dumbfounded, shocked speechless. He was retained to provide treatment in a fourth-degree fondling case. This was far worse. This is a first-degree case. These boys were raped! The floodgates opened—details were pouring out now. Father Gerry showered with them, forced them to wear nothing but nightshirts as they got into bed, and joined each one in turn.

“I knew we couldn’t trust you or anyone! Look what you’ve done to my brother!” Kenny charged.

Dr. Rothenberg corrected him. “No, Kenny. Gerry hurt your brother. It’s good to get this off his chest and talk about it. It can help you guys begin to heal.” He desperately tried to return them to a calmer state.

“We don’t need your help,” Kenny calmly grumbled.

“I think you do,” Dr. Rothenberg countered. “Did Gerry do this to you too, Kenny? You and Jake have done nothing wrong! This is all on Father Gerry.” I have to get them to trust me! “Kenny, what Jake just said, did Gerry do this to you too?” he prodded, sickened by the thought. Of course, he did; why wouldn’t he?

Trembling and ready to burst if he didn’t talk, Kenny screamed, “Yes!” Tears poured down his cheeks. “Just like Jake said! He wouldn’t stop. It hurt worse than anything! He got this stuff all over me, and I was bleeding. He told us, ‘The Lord loves clean bodies,’ and I’m bleeding all over the place! Then he took us into the shower, cleaned us off, and hurt us again! I hate him! We trusted him. He was our priest!” Kenny cried.

“Of course you trusted him,” Rothenberg agreed. “Why wouldn’t you?”

Both boys sobbed. Rothenberg got up from his chair, sat down between the boys on the couch, and held both of them in his arms. He was devastated and shocked at the scope of the priest’s conduct, enraged church officials deceived him, and a parish priest raped two young boys. He could not maintain the discretion the Voice requested and still serve justice.

This monster needs to be locked up. Where did this predator come from? Has he done this before? How many young boys has he traumatized? How could the church expose unsuspecting children to such a man? Gerry has to be stopped. Forget discretion! I’ll tell the Voice to fuck off. Rothenberg’s head was spinning.

He needed to calm the boys down and speak to their mother. Oh, my God! Jennifer! Her entire life, especially since her husband died, has been these boys and this church. To have both shattered in such a bizarre fashion . . . He found himself despising his work. Jennifer required the truth, but he dreaded the moment. She’d been through so much.

And what of these boys? Am I qualified to help them? I’ve never had a case like this one, this severe. His stomach was in turmoil, his mind filled with self-doubt. Could he find a way? He needed to facilitate the removal of Gerry from Lakes and into a treatment center. The Voice would not approve. Screw the fucking Voice!

Rothenberg was skating on thin ice. The Voice seemed to know his every move. Is my office being monitored? That must be it! God, am I paranoid? Get a grip, man! He needed an ally; someone he could discuss this with outside of the office. But whom could he trust in this situation?

Father Jon! Jon’s a good and decent man. He can’t be involved in this. How do I reach him without the Voice discovering the contact? If he’s monitoring my office, he’s tracking the church as well. Jennifer! I can reach him through Jennifer! Rothenberg realized at that moment that the boys had stopped crying and were staring at him.

“Well,” Rothenberg composed himself. “Are you guys okay?”

“Yes, Doc,” Jake had regained self-control.

“I g-guess so,” Kenny stuttered.

“Do you feel any better unloading all those secrets you’ve been keeping inside?” Rothenberg probed.

“I’m not sure . . .” Kenny hesitated.

“Father Gerry is evil. He did terrible things. Telling someone, getting this off your chest is a wonderful first step. Hopefully, I can help get you past this. We need to tell your mother, okay? She is very worried,” Rothenberg prodded.

“She’ll be angry,” Kenny argued. “She’ll be mad at me for not protecting Jake. That’s my job.”

Tough job for someone so young, Rothenberg reasoned. “No, she won’t, Kenny. Gerry took advantage. He’s the adult. What could you have done? Please, don’t blame yourself. That’s how guys like Gerry control little guys like you. He makes you believe you were bad, that you did something wrong. He told you not to tell, right? He said your Mom would be mad, and even God would be mad, right?”

“Yeah, he did,” Kenny admitted, surprised at Rothenberg’s insight.

“If you don’t want me to tell your mother, I won’t. You’re the boss.”

“I’m the boss?” Kenny straightened. “Then I don’t want you to tell her.”

“Why not?” Rothenberg was taken aback. He thought he had Kenny on track.

“Because she’ll be mad.”

“No, she won’t, Kenny. Trust me, please.” He knew it would be difficult for this abused, violated boy to trust a man after what he experienced. He believed the answer would be ‘no.’ Kenny surprised him.

“Okay,” Kenny agreed, “as long as you promise.”

“I promise,” Dr. Rothenberg assured him. “May I bring her in now?”

Kenny nodded, and Jake mimicked him as usual.

“Yes,” Kenny assented.

Kenny was beginning to trust him, something to build on. Rothenberg was buoyed.

***

The doctor left the room and returned with Jennifer. The Voice sat back to listen.

“We’ve had a breakthrough today, Jennifer,” Rothenberg began.

“That’s wonderful news, right?” Jennifer exclaimed. “What’s happened?”

“Sit down, please,” he motioned her to a spot on the couch between her two boys.

“Kenny and Jake have been sexually molested by Father Gerry,” he blurted. He could not sugar coat this.

Jennifer sat in silent shock. Her worst fears were being realized.

“Oh, my God, she screamed. Oh, dear God, no! How did this happen? How could a priest do something like this? Oh, my God, my babies! What did he do to you?” Jennifer was trembling.

She grabbed a boy in each arm and held on for dear life. She and the boys began to cry again. Jennifer’s perfectly applied makeup was running down her cheeks. When she realized that she was upsetting the boys, she tried to regain composure and tone down the hostility.

“From the boys’ description, there’s not much he didn’t do, I’m afraid.”

“How often did this happen?”

“Many times, but only during that weekend camping trip,” Rothenberg explained. The boys nodded assent.

“What are we going to do?” Jennifer demanded. My boys will get through this, won’t they?

“We are going to continue twice-per-week therapy sessions. The boys feel responsible, typical in child abuse cases. The abuser makes the victim feel guilty, which helps conceal his activities. It’s as if the victim is responsible for being chosen by his predator. That’s one of the many things we have to work on.”

“Gerry is a monster!” cried Jennifer. “Jake, Kenny, you have no reason to feel guilty or ashamed. He’s a priest, for God’s sakes! He betrayed your trust. He’s a terrible man and an even worse priest. He will be punished—I promise you that!”

“Jennifer, betrayal of trust is another issue we need to work on. Priests are often father figures, especially in a fatherless home. These acts are quasi-incestuous and create serious trust issues. The good news is the boys were not violated over a long period. Some molesters are able to obtain victims’ silence and assent to repeated assaults over months, even years. The victim is simply too afraid and ashamed to speak. Your boys trusted me, a relative stranger to them, with this secret. They’ve shown good reason and judgment. Progress over guilt and distrust in these cases is vital because they are major components of the victims’ syndrome. We need to continue to work on these two areas as well as channeling anger and pain. This is a breakthrough session.”

After an additional period of questions and answers, Rothenberg led the family out to the lobby. He uttered, “Good-bye,” and put his finger to his lips, gesturing for silence. To Jennifer’s surprise, he followed her and the children out of the front door. Once outside, Jennifer sent the boys to the car.

“Jennifer, I want you to call Father Jon and arrange a meeting somewhere other than your home or the church,” Rothenberg requested, scanning the area, his voice shrouded in mystery.

He was scaring her. Why did we come outside? What is he hiding? What is he afraid of? “Please call me Jenny. Everyone else does. Why the meeting?”

Rothenberg continued, ignoring her question. “When the meeting is set, drop off a note—don’t call—and let me know when and where. I’ll be there. Make sure Jon doesn’t put this in his appointment book. Tell him to make sure he isn’t followed, and don’t do or say anything about Gerry to anyone, including Jon, until we’ve had this meeting.”

“Okay, Doctor, but what’s this all about? What’s going on? Why are we talking about this out here in the parking lot?”

“I believe my office is being monitored,” he confided.

“What?” Jennifer was stunned at the revelation.

“Yes, and probably your house, Lakes, and the rectory.”

“But why? Who would do such a thing?” Jennifer puzzled, astonished.

“I’m not sure yet who they are or exactly what their function is. My sense is they minimize the impact of these kinds of events and limit damage to the church,” Rothenberg surmised.

“You have got to be kidding!” Her shock morphed into outrage.

“I wish I was. Will you schedule the meeting as discreetly as possible?”

“I’ll do whatever you say, Doctor, anything, if it will help Jake and Kenny . . . but . . . shouldn’t we call the police?” Jennifer wanted these bastards to pay for what they did.

“At this point, I think we can wait. Let’s see how this plays out. Hopefully, we can prevent other boys from becoming victims. And remember, your initial conversation with Father Jon will probably be monitored. I’m not sure we can trust him,” Rothenberg warned.

“Who? Father Jon? Of course, we can trust him,” Jennifer assured.

“He knew about the boys, Jenny. He’s the one who retained me. We need to find out everything he knows.” Rothenberg whispered. He knew this would jar Jennifer’s psyche.

“Father Jon knew all along and said nothing?” Her face drained of color. She swooned, caught herself, and regained her balance by placing her hand against the wall.

“Apparently so, but we’ve both known Jon a long time. He’s a good man, and my instincts tell me there were reasons for his silence. I want to know what they were and whether he’ll help us before anyone else gets hurt, okay?”

“I don’t believe this. He sat in my kitchen, ate my food, and recommended treatment for this ‘unknown’ condition when he knew, all along, that the boys were sexually abused?” Jennifer was nonplussed, betrayed by a good friend.

“Don’t judge him yet. He may have a perfectly good explanation.”

“He had better.” What explanation could there be?

“Then you’ll arrange the meet?”

“Of course. If we can prevent one more child from going through what my kids are going through, it will be worth it,” she decided.

“You are a remarkable woman, Jennifer. Go ahead now. The boys are waiting.”

“Thank you for all you’ve done, Doctor.”

“You’re welcome.”

Rothenberg breathed a sigh of relief as he watched them exit the parking lot. She still has her faith. The church brought him this case, but those behind this cover-up were not his patients. They are my patients’ enemies, and I will fight them with every fiber of my being. This meant exposing Father Gerry and getting him into a treatment program or a jail cell, anywhere away from teenage boys. Jon would assist. Rothenberg was sure of it.





Chapter Ten




The telephone rang. Rothenberg answered. He knew who was on the other end of the line.

“How did the session go, Dr. Rothenberg?”

“It went very well. Today was a breakthrough day in their treatment,” Rothenberg seethed.

“How so?”

“I am not at liberty to say.”

Defiance? “Do you have any sense for how long treatment will continue?” The Voice inquired.

“This will be a long-term project. Most child abuse victims have feelings of repressed anger, guilt, and a sense of betrayal, especially when the abuser is known to them, or as in this case, is a trusted figure. Getting in touch with those feelings and positively channeling them is one key. Reestablishing trust relationships is another. How long the process takes is anyone’s guess.”

“Does the mother know about the abuse?” The Voice tested. Will he lie?

“Yes, she does. She was informed today. She handled it well. I was able to persuade her that discretion would be helpful to treatment. Nobody wants the boys to become a public spectacle.”

“Did she buy it?” The Voice wondered.

“Yes, she bought it,” Rothenberg grumbled. The more he spoke to this ‘Voice,’ the more he despised the man. “It’s true. Publicity may have a negative effect on treatment.”

Antagonism in his voice? “That makes sense. Did she agree to keep things quiet?” The Voice inquired.

“Yes, she did. Anything else? I have a patient to see,” Rothenberg snapped, dismissing the man.

“No, thank you again, Doctor. I’ll talk to you soon.” And fuck you, too.

“Good-bye.”

The Voice turned to face the other men in the room. They’d heard the conversation.

“So, what do you think?”

“I think Dr. Rothenberg is helping those boys, which is, after all, what he was retained to do. I also think he’s done an adequate job keeping this quiet, so far. Still, I’m uneasy about him. I don’t trust him. We need to maintain surveillance and keep Parks probing for skeletons.”

“Anything found in his closet?”

“No. Doctor Rothenberg is either a sincere man or a saint. We haven’t found a thing.”

“Keep looking.”

“Oh, we will.”

“What about the mother? She knows now. She could be dangerous.”

“Her home and Rothenberg’s office are bugged. Parks will maintain twenty-four-hour surveillance on her and the doc.”

“Very well, then. We’re adjourned.”





Chapter Eleven




Pastor Jonathan Costigan was finishing up his sermon for Sunday when his private telephone rang.

“Our Lady of the Lakes, Father Jon speaking.”

“Hi, Father Jon. This is Jenny Tracey. How are you?” She fought hard to sound pleasant.

“Jenny! How nice to hear from you. I’m fine, thank you; how are you and the boys?”

“Better, I think. Thank you for asking.”

“I presume you didn’t call just to say ‘hello.’ What’s up?”

“I need to see you, Father. It’s important.”

“What about?” Jon was curious.

“I’d rather not go into it over the phone if you don’t mind.”

“Say no more, Jenny. When would you like to do it?”

“Would now be too inconvenient?”

This must be important. Jon completed writing his Sunday sermon and had a couple of hours.

“Now would be fine. Your place or mine?”

“Would you mind coming here?”

“Not a problem, Jenny. I’ll be right over.”

“Thanks very much, Father. God bless you.” She bit her tongue.

Father Jon drove the old van the short distance to the Tracey home. As he approached the front door, he heard classical music playing at a deafening volume. Before he could knock, Jennifer appeared at the door and stepped onto the porch.

“Let’s take a walk, Father,” uttered Jennifer, nudging him down the stairs.

She passed him by, ambled down the steps and up the sidewalk. He turned to follow her. Curious behavior.

Jennifer looked up and down her street for suspicious people or cars. When they reached the end of her walkway, she turned up the city sidewalk and continued walking away from her home. Father Jon was bewildered by her behavior but said nothing.

“I believe my house has been bugged, Father, the church and rectory at Lakes, as well. Dr. Rothenberg says his office is also monitored. That’s the reason for the loud music and this walk. With these precautions, I doubt they can hear us.”

“What in heaven’s name are you talking about, Jenny?”

“You know perfectly well what I’m talking about. The question, before we go any further, is whose side are you on? Can I trust you?”

“Of course you can trust me, Jenny.” Jon was confused and upset. “What’s this all about? And who’s doing all this monitoring you’re talking about?” What the hell is going on?

“I was hoping you could tell me, Father. Dr. Rothenberg tells me that whoever it is told you to retain him to counsel the boys.”

Now he understood. Rothenberg told Jenny about the Voice and the Coalition, but why? What happened to cause him to cross the Voice? This was a dangerous move—there might be consequences.

“Rothenberg told you this?”

“Yes, Father. Someone is trying to cover up Father Gerry’s abuse of my two sons. Since you retained the doctor at this person’s request, it stands to reason you’re also involved in this cover-up.”

Jon felt incredibly guilty. It was not that way. He had to make her understand he only wanted to help her without jeopardizing his church.

“Jenny, listen to me. I am not involved in any ‘cover-up.’ Yes, when I found out about your boys and Father Gerry, I called the division office. And, yes, this ‘someone’ you refer to returned my call and requested I keep this matter quiet. This man works in some capacity with the church hierarchy. He felt it would be in everyone’s best interest to prevent this from becoming a scandal, and I agreed. What if they removed me and left Gerry in place? I needed to go along to protect not only your kids but also any other child from Gerry’s misbehavior. I insisted the boys receive treatment as a condition of my silence, which is why they were referred to Dr. Rothenberg.” She has this all wrong!

“How long have you known?”

“Shortly after the boys came home from the camping trip. I overheard some of the kids talking about someone spending the whole weekend alone with Gerry. When I saw the boys on their return, I put two and two together and reported it to division almost immediately.”

“But you chose not to tell their own mother?” Jennifer shook with rage.

“I was told not to, Jen. I was afraid if I didn’t go along, I’d be replaced and unable to protect the children. I’m terribly ashamed. You have an absolute right to be angry, but I thought it was in their best interest.” He was frantic.

“And the church,” Jennifer charged.

“Yes, and the church. A scandal could destroy all that I have worked for. Am I wrong for even considering it? Gerry was at Lakes for a short while. No one from division gave me any reason to distrust him. I couldn’t let him bring down my parish. I couldn’t let this Voice decide the best interests of one of my kids. I needed to be silent to ensure he trusted me. Now, all I can say is I’m sorry.” Jon felt terrible.

Jennifer would not let him off the hook. “But, Father, when you came to my house and offered to pay for counseling, you knew the boys were molested and kept it to yourself?”

“Yes, Jen, that’s true. It sounds awful now, but I honestly thought it was in everyone’s best interest to keep this quiet.”

“Even from me?” Jennifer cried. “How could you? I have been in agony for over a month, trying to figure out what was wrong, and you knew? I’ve known you for most of my life. How can I ever forgive you? Did you think I would run to the press?”

“You’re right, Jenny. I’m so sorry. I thought what I was doing was best for all concerned. M-may I ask you a question?”

“Go ahead,” she sniffled.

“Why do you think we are being monitored?”

“Dr. Rothenberg says that this man—this Voice—calls him. He knows way more than he should unless he monitors the boys’ sessions. I don’t know if my house or Lakes is bugged, but the doctor thinks they must be. He wants to meet us at a private location. He thinks you can be trusted. I’m not so sure.”

“Jenny, what can I do to convince you? I would never deliberately do anything to harm Kenny and Jake.”

“Do you know what that animal did to my sons, Father?”

Jon was very embarrassed, almost red-faced, but he answered her question. “According to Mr. Voice, there was, perhaps, some inappropriate touching. Is that what you mean?”

“He raped them, Father,” Jennifer revealed.

“Oh, my God!” Jon was stunned. “Jenny, I s-swear, I-I didn’t know!”

Jennifer fell into Jon’s arms and sobbed. After what seemed like several minutes, she broke the embrace, took out a tissue, and dried her eyes.

“Dr. Rothenberg says I can trust you, Father. I don’t know if I agree, but I trust him. If you cross my kids or me again—”

“Jen, I swear, you can trust me. What’s the plan?”

“Meet with Dr. Rothenberg and me. We must be discreet because we may be followed. Dr. Rothenberg doesn’t want this shady ‘Voice’ fellow to know we’ve met.”

“You can count on me from this moment forward. Where and when?”

“Tomorrow is Saturday. How about lunch somewhere?”

“Tomorrow and lunch are both fine.”

“How about the Little Daddy’s on Northwestern Highway, say 1 p.m.?”

“That’s fine.”

“You must be discreet. Someone will try and follow you.”

“I understand. I’ll do my best.”

“You need to do better than your best. You need to lose them.”

“I will, Jenny.”

“And make sure you are careful when using the phone. I’m sure it’s tapped.”

“Unbelievable! I understand.”

“Can I count on you?”

“Absolutely.”

They walked toward the van in silence. When Jon got to the driver’s side door, he stopped and studied Jennifer. “I’m truly, truly sorry, Jenny.”

“I know you are, Father,” she placated him.

“I will never let you or the boys down again. I want these bastards to rot in hell.”

“Father Jon,” she scolded with a wry smile, looking up to the sky. “Such language!”





Chapter Twelve




Little Daddy’s is a nice little Coney Island restaurant on Northwestern Highway where Farmington Hills borders Southfield. Jennifer and Father Jon drove separately to different stores, parked, entered the respective store, and quickly exited through the back door.

Uber drivers, summoned by phone, awaited them and drove them to the restaurant. This ‘sleight of hand’ was Father Jon’s idea. Jennifer felt like an actress in a James Bond movie, but she appreciated the subterfuge. For his part, Dr. Rothenberg drove around town, made various stops, studied his surroundings, made sudden U-turns, doubled back, and slipped into alleys. It was exhilarating. Surely he gave the slip to anyone who might be following.

Jennifer and Father Jon were seated by the time Rothenberg arrived. Each had a drink of some sort. Rothenberg greeted them and sat down. A waiter approached, and Rothenberg ordered a Diet Coke. After an exchange of pleasantries, the waiter returned with his drink and took their food orders.

“They have good Coney’s here,” Rothenberg advised. “If you like salad, the Tommy’s is the best.”

A real connoisseur, thought Jennifer. At the waiter’s suggestion, they ordered a gyro appetizer, several Coney dogs, and a Tommy’s for two, since the orders were huge. After taking their order, the waiter left them alone.

“Thank you for coming, Father,” started Rothenberg. “I’m very concerned about the direction in which the church is taking this incident. My contact remains unknown and is more concerned with keeping this quiet than he is with getting Father Gerry into treatment or making sure his conduct is not repeated.”

“I have the same sense,” Father Jon admitted. “When he instructed me to retain a therapist, he was more concerned about your loyalty to the church than about your credentials and competence. I was concerned about both, so I made sure that the man chosen was highly competent.”

“Thanks for the compliment. I am now convinced this is not the best course for the church, nor is it the best course for the boys. If we remain quiet about this, I am positive Gerry will be transferred, and the parents and children in his new parish will not be advised,” Rothenberg warned.

“I think you’re spot on, Doctor,” Jon agreed. “According to national research on this issue, these cases are disturbingly prevalent. The church’s strategy in dealing with these cases is consistent and unfortunate. The priest is privately counseled, released from treatment, and then quietly transferred to a new parish in a new town without warning. We can’t derail this policy nationally, but we can try to prevent it in this case.”

“How?” Jennifer wondered.

“I say we turn this over to the Farmington Police and prosecute Bartholomew. I’m confident Gerry’s done this before; the church must have covered it up. If we prosecute him publicly and notify the press, the church will be unable to transfer him without any new parish knowing his history,” Jon posited.

“What makes you think he’s done this before? He’s not been prosecuted. I’d bet the church could even bury prosecutions if it wants to,” Rothenberg suggested.

“You may be right. I have been involved in some sensitive cases where the prosecutor made a plea arrangement that included sealing the file.”

“What do you mean ‘sealing the file’?” Jennifer wondered.

“The otherwise public record is made private by a judge. If you go to the records to check under the particular criminal’s name, nothing appears. He has no record, so far as the public is concerned.”

“So, if a molester arranges to have his file sealed in exchange for a guilty plea, he could be transferred by the church, and if the pastor of the new church wanted to check his record, he wouldn’t have one?” Jennifer exclaimed.

“Yes, which may be what happened here.”

“What can we do about preventing Gerry from doing this again?” Jennifer challenged.

“I like Jon’s idea. Publicity should prevent that. Here’s what I suggest. Pursue criminal charges and notify the press. Jennifer raises holy hell if any proposed plea bargain includes a sealed conviction. Jennifer and the boys file a civil case against Father Gerry and the church. They make this lawsuit very public too. Jon testifies Gerry was transferred to Lakes without any prior warning even though the church was aware. What judge would permit a sealed result under those circumstances?”

“I’m willing to testify he was transferred without my being knowledge of prior conduct, but I don’t know for sure if there was prior conduct or the church knew of his propensities,” Jon cautioned.

“A great lawyer will take care of that. If presented with evidence the church knew, covered it up and transferred him anyway, would you testify?”

“Absolutely.”

Jennifer remained quiet and listened, intrigued by the conversation. She was impressed with Rothenberg’s two-prong attack. Criminal and civil charges would publicly expose Father Gerry and the church’s policy toward pedophile priests. But, is this right for my family? The plan was centered on publicity. Would the boys have to testify? Newspaper reporters would hound them. What would things be like at school? Kids could be so cruel. Would the boys be subjected to cruel jokes about sexual desires and preferences? Was her imagination carrying her away, or were these realistic fears?

“Jenny? Jenny?” Rothenberg interrupted her thoughts.

“Yes?”

“You were a million miles away. Penny for your thoughts?” Rothenberg requested.

“I was wondering about the boys. You originally told me publicity might be harmful. I see reporters, schoolyard jokes and bullies. I can see how your suggestions will help prevent Gerry from doing this again, but not at the expense of my kids. I’m extremely worried. I don’t want any progress they’ve made in therapy to be ruined by publicity.”

“Your concerns are well-founded, Jenny. I certainly did say publicity could be harmful. But I’ve been treating these boys for almost two months now, and I have concluded they’re strong young men. Their anger with Bartholomew is appropriate, yet they continue to blame themselves. I now believe successful criminal and civil outcomes in these cases, prison for Gerry, and a large damages award for the boys, would clarify these issues and assuage their guilt feelings. A guilty verdict in the criminal case and a large civil verdict or settlement would be double vindication for the boys. I am almost certain they will be okay with pursuing the civil case. However, to be on the safe side, I suggest you include them in your decision-making. Considering their current trust level, they should have a voice.”

“How do you mean?”

“Tell them what we propose. We want to proceed in a very public way, and neighbors and classmates will know what happened. We also tell them Gerry has probably done this to others who most likely agreed to confidential settlements and sealed files. Our strategy prevents this from ever happening again. We seek their prior approval to proceed. We involve them every step of the way.”

“That’s an excellent idea,” Father Jon agreed. “If they have full input and approve the plan, they will be better equipped to handle the publicity. If we go ahead without their permission and they experience ridicule, we will be three more grown-ups who went behind their backs and violated their trust.”

“Exactly,” Rothenberg concurred.

“I’m apprehensive about this,” Jennifer countered. “Aren’t they too young? Haven’t these events made them too fragile for this kind of exposure or publicity? They are teenagers! Can you imagine how embarrassing it is to admit you’ve had sex with your priest? How can they face their classmates and friends? Will the trial and publicity make it clear this is all on the priest? He is the criminal and the boys his victims. I am sick with worry over this.”

“Again, Jenny, I am not going to tell you there’s no risk. But the boys are angry. If the priest goes to prison, there is vindication, a very public statement that the priest is a criminal predator and the boys are victims. They didn’t have sex with their priest. Their priest raped them! It’s a big difference, no? In the civil case, a large verdict will buttress what happens in the criminal case. A verdict will not only punish the church for concealing these crimes, but it will also serve as further evidence the boys were helpless victims.”

Jennifer remained skeptical. However, she appreciated Rothenberg had gone to the trouble of developing this strategy. Her heart ached with concern for her sons’ wellbeing.

“I’m still not convinced, but I agree we cannot and will not proceed without talking to the boys, getting their input, answering their questions, and putting them at ease. Their willingness or unwillingness to proceed is absolute. If the boys say ‘no,’ then it’s ‘no,’ and we continue treatment and devise an alternate plan that does not directly affect them. If they say ‘yes’ after a detailed explanation of the plan and all its negatives, then we proceed, with extreme caution.

“Sounds like a plan. I couldn’t have said it better myself. I am pleased to participate in the discussion at whatever level you want me to. I agree we should proceed with great care and caution. Also, be prepared to pull the plug if things get too ugly for the boys to handle. Does anyone have any thoughts on a lawyer for the civil case?” Rothenberg added.

Jennifer placed her hand on her chin, deliberating. “The only lawyer I know is the man who handled my husband’s accident. He specialized in accident and injury cases and did a terrific job. I felt he cared about my husband and family. It took a while, but we got all the law allowed. He sat down and educated me, so I was comfortable with my decision. I was very impressed.” She smiled at the memory.

“He sounds like our man. What’s his name?”

“Zachary Blake.”

“Where’s he located?” Rothenberg inquired.

“At the time, he had offices in the Southfield Town Center. I presume he’s still there. If not, I’m sure he’s listed.”

“Are you comfortable calling him about this, Jenny, or would you like me to contact him for you?” Rothenberg offered.

“No, I’ll do it.”

“Make sure you tell him you already have a supportive psychiatrist with a Ph.D. in your hip pocket. Lawyers love it when they can present treating doctors rather than the bought-and-paid-for ‘whore’ doctors they keep on their payroll,” Rothenberg noted.

“What do you mean?” Jennifer wondered. Is he serious or trying to be funny?

“Many personal injury lawyers have doctors they do business with regularly. These doctors treat clients and do what they can to support their cases. Defense lawyers do the same thing, and judges get tired of seeing the same guys on every case. If a case involves these docs, the case has less credibility. In this case, we won’t need these doctors. You have me.” Rothenberg smiled.

“In other words, I should tell Mr. Blake we already have a ‘whore’ and won’t need one of his?” Jennifer laughed.

Father Jon smiled and wagged his index finger at Jennifer. Rothenberg laughed. “It’s great to see you laugh, Jenny.”

“It’s nice to laugh,” Jennifer admitted. “I hope the last laugh is ours.”

The food arrived. The appetizer was terrific, especially the tzatziki sauce. The Coney’s were, as most Detroiters knew, a guilty pleasure, and the Tommy’s was indeed the best. Jennifer even enjoyed the company. At long last, there was a reason for optimism.





Chapter Thirteen




There comes a time in the life of every attorney when he or she has two fundamental questions: Why do I need this shit? Is this why I went to law school? Zachary Blake was half asleep in a district courtroom, a victim of ‘hurry up and wait’ syndrome. A judge might order thirty or so lawyers and clients to appear in court at 9:00 a.m. and begins to call their cases, one by one. If you’re called first, great, but what if you’re thirtieth? You’re in court all day, hence ‘hurry up and wait’ and ‘why do I need this shit?’ Zack awoke with a snort when he heard his name called.

“Are we interrupting your late-morning nap, Mr. Blake?” District Court Judge Emma Pearl inquired, with a harsh tone and an insistent expression. “Your client and I are waiting.”

“Sorry, Your Honor. I was going over the file. I just received the assignment,” Blake stammered.

“You’re wasting the court’s time, Mr. Blake. How does your client plead?” Judge Pearl demanded.

Blake charged through the swinging door, leading from the gallery to the litigants’ tables and the judge’s bench. He stumbled as he crossed the threshold, dressed in wrinkled, stained tan dress pants and a faux suede jacket. His shirt was coming out of his pants. The top button was undone, and his tie was pulled up into what could only be called a chokehold in a failed attempt to hide the fact that the top button was missing. He stomped up to the podium. “What . . . what’s the charge, Your Honor?”

“You don’t know, Mr. Blake?” She was incredulous.

“I just got the file, Your Honor. I haven’t really had the chance to acquaint myself with the details.” Blake frantically flipped through pages in a file.

“When exactly did you receive the file, Mr. Blake? Arraignment call was at nine, it is now close to eleven. You’ve had the file for two hours.” Judge Pearl was about to explode.

Exactly, bitch, hurry up and wait for two fucking hours! Blake opened his mouth to speak, but the judge usurped him and turned to his client, an accused drunk driver who spent the night in the city jail. He awaited arraignment and a bail hearing.

Suddenly polite and cherubic, Judge Pearl addressed the defendant, a voting citizen. “ Mr. Jordan, have you had a chance to meet with your attorney?”

“No, Your Honor. Is this the guy?” Jordan sneered at the disheveled Blake.

“Yes, Mr. Jordan—this is your assigned attorney. You’ve indicated you can’t afford an attorney. Is that correct?” Judge Pearl inquired.

“Yes, that is correct, Your Honor . . . but . . .”

“But what, Mr. Jordan?” Judge Pearl growled.

“Can’t I choose a lawyer, like from a list or something?”

“No, sir, you can’t. How long have you been here in the courthouse this morning, sir?” She bristled.

“Almost two hours, Your Honor,” Jordan estimated.

Judge Pearl turned to her court clerk, the person in charge of doling out the morning court assignments. “Mr. Roman, what time was the file provided to Mr. Blake?”

Roman flipped through his assignments ledger and responded, without looking up, “Eight-thirty, Your Honor.”

Judge Pearl turned to Blake and fumed, “Mr. Blake, you have had this file for two and a half hours. You’ve not met with the client, nor have you not familiarized yourself with the charges. While the city pays fixed fees for these court assignments, they are important, and there is a long list of attorneys who are happy to remain in the court’s good graces and pleased to receive their assignments. Apparently, you are not one of them.”

Judge Pearl again turned to her clerk. “Mr. Roman, you are hereby instructed to remove Mr. Blake’s name from my roster of assigned counsel,” she ordered.

Turning to the voting citizen, Zachary’s soon-to-be-former client, she instantly adopted a pleasant demeanor. “Mr. Jordan, please accept the court’s profound apologies. We will get you new counsel. Have a seat in the gallery for a few minutes, and Mr. Roman will get you reassigned.

“Mr. Blake, you are relieved of this assignment and dismissed from this proceeding. Your name is hereby removed from my assignment list. We’ll hold this case in abeyance to allow newly assigned counsel to get up to snuff and then we will recall it. That’s it for now. Mr. Roman, please call the next case.”

“But, Your Honor, I waited two hours—” Judge Pearl abruptly interrupted Zachary Blake. “Mr. Blake!” she shouted. “One more word from you and I will find you in contempt.” She shook her finger at him like a mother scolding a child.

Blake turned meekly from the bench. The gallery, made up primarily of other attorneys, whispered, muttered, and snickered. They pointed at him and whispered to each other, hand over mouth. Zachary waded through them, enduring their snickers and taunts in utter humiliation.

He exited the courtroom and walked dejectedly to his car. He started it up, drove to the nearest tavern, and proceeded to get very drunk. How has it come to this?

Three years earlier, Zachary Blake was managing partner of Blake, Geiringer, and Schwartz, a law firm that specialized exclusively in personal injury litigation. At its peak, the firm handled over three thousand files. There were four associates—non-partner attorneys—two paralegals, six secretaries, an investigator, and a receptionist.

The main office was on the seventeenth floor of the prestigious Town Center office complex in Southfield, Michigan, a quartet of gold and black glass and steel high-rises that existed primarily for tenants to boast they paid the highest rent in the tri-county area. Each partner had a southern view office on the seventeenth floor of the complex’s tallest building.

Since the building sat on the John C. Lodge Freeway, the main thoroughfare from Detroit’s northwest suburbs to downtown Detroit, tenants clamored to pay a premium for office space facing southeast, high enough to see the downtown Detroit skyline, approximately twenty miles away. Zachary Blake occupied the firm’s largest office, which, naturally, faced southeast. He had a key to the executive lounge and health club and an executive parking space in the underground garage. He wore fifteen-hundred-dollar suits and dined in the city’s finest restaurants. Life was good.

Unfortunately, while Blake earned his success in the early days, with multiple trials and high six and seven-figure verdicts, his partners began to ask, first quietly, and then rather loudly, “What have you done for me lately?”

Zack was at the country club more than he was at the office. He pawned more and better cases off on his partners and associates. This would have been acceptable if Zack was still bringing in high-dollar cases, but he wasn’t. His referral sources were evaporating—lawyers and former clients were annoyed Zack wasn’t personally handling those cases. He missed appointments, ignored business contacts, and became detached and arrogant. In short, he became a liability.

On that fateful day three years ago, Blake arrived at the office at 7:30 a.m., as was his habit. He was greeted by an Oakland County sheriff’s deputy, who served him with a lawsuit filed by his partners, alleging violations of the Michigan Partnership Act. He was also served with an injunction, ordering him to remove himself from the premises and preventing him from removing any personal property, including his own office files. The deputy escorted him from the building while obscenities and choice expletives were shouted from all corners of the office.

His now ex-partners planned their coup well. They had signed letters from firm clients, transferring their files to the new law firm of Geiringer & Schwartz. The court ordered Blake to cease and desist from working on their cases. Since the three men were once longtime friends, there was no written partnership agreement—leave it to lawyers to have nothing in writing.

When the dust settled, Zachary retained fifty files and quantum meruit in those that remained with the firm.

“You’ll land on your feet, Zack,” David Schwartz assured when Zack arrived to pick up his fifty files.

“Fuck you!” Zack roared. “I made this firm. I taught you guys everything you know. I gave both of you your first jobs out of law school and taught you how to handle PI files, how to treat clients, and how to deal with opposing attorneys. I demonstrated how to handle judges and clerks and how to try cases. This traitorous palace coup is how you thank me? Fuck the both of you!”

“Look in the mirror, asshole. You brought this on yourself!” cried Schwartz, with the umbrage of a mistreated child addressing his abusive parent. “Yes, you taught us everything, and we appreciate it. We’ve always appreciated you. But you haven’t been that Zack Blake in almost a decade. How long are we supposed to carry your dead weight? Five years? Ten? We can’t do it anymore, financially, or emotionally. You’re a shit example for the associates and the support staff. It’s time for the inmates to run the asylum. Seriously, Zack, we are grateful for everything, but it is time for you to go. If you didn’t see this coming, you must be totally blind, and I’m really sorry,” he bewailed.

Blake was having none of it. “Fuck you, fuck Geiringer, fuck the associates, fuck the staff, and fuck the horses all of you rode in on. You’ll never make it without me.” He spat all over Schwartz.

“Well, then, that will be our mistake and our misfortune. We wish you nothing but the best.” Schwartz folded his arms across his chest, signaling the ‘meeting’ and conversation were over.

Blake exploded. “Bullshit!” He screamed, again expelling saliva into Schwartz’s face. “You hope I fall on my face. Admit it, you ungrateful prick. Well, I won’t give you the fucking satisfaction! Have a nice death.”

Zachary Blake gathered up his small box of files and stormed out of the offices where he once reigned supreme. As Blake walked away, Swartz pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, wiped spittle from his face, shook his head, turned and returned to his office. It was time to move on. His decision to part company with his former hero and mentor was appropriate. Still, Zack taught him everything he knew in this business. David was ambivalent about how this decision would affect Zack. He fervently hoped Blake would land on his feet.

From time to time, Blake received a small check from the new law firm of Geiringer and Schwartz. He couldn’t blame himself. In Zack’s mind, his former partners were fucking him, big-time. But he lacked the inertia to pursue what he was owed. “Let them keep the fucking money,” he grumbled. “At least I’m rid of them.”

That final surrender was his first of many. Shortly after the palace coup, Blake made some bad stock investments and lost what little money he had left. His ‘retirement’ land deal investment turned sour. He couldn’t pay the mortgage payments on his huge Bloomfield Hills home, and it fell into foreclosure. Blake and his wife put the home up for sale and sold it for less than full value. When the moving van showed up, so did a process server, with the divorce complaint from Zack’s wife. She didn’t want much, only the proceeds from the sale of the house, the three kids, all the furniture, and what was left of the bank account. A temporary support order demanded child support of $1,000 per week. She got it all.

Zack slept through most of the ride from the bar to his office. It was a short trip north on the John C. Lodge Freeway from Downtown Detroit to Zack’s office on Eight Mile Road, the highway that separated Detroit from its suburbs and made famous by Eminem. Upon becoming Detroit’s first black mayor in the 1970s, Coleman Young told all the pimps, pushers, and prostitutes to “hit Eight Mile Road.” That warning was one of the few things Young ever did to combat crime.

On the trip up the Lodge, Zack’s Uber passed through old, poverty-stricken, predominately black neighborhoods. Many homes were abandoned; some were falling down from decay or abuse, some were boarded up, and many featured iron bars on their windows. The driver passed through pockets of stately homes and well-kept neighborhoods where residents were proud of and attentive to their homes and gardens. The new mayor announced projects to light every streetlight, reduce criminal activity, tear down abandoned houses, rebuild neighborhoods, and solve the problems of a failing public school system. He was certainly trying, and the residents were responding positively.

Southfield, which bordered Eight Mile Road, and other northern suburban communities were now integrated. The line between the city and its suburbs was blurring. Blake and his fifty files—his wife didn’t ask for a cut of the fees—had relocated to a small, one-room office in the low-rent district. A client would push open the door, and there would be Blake—no receptionist, no secretary, no copier, just Blake, an old desk, and a couple of worn side chairs for clients to whine in.

Blake had a secondhand computer on his desk with antiquated word-processing software. His caseload dwindled, and he always took the first dime offered to settle those cases he had left, donating all dollars generated to his ex-wife for child support. He was now hustling traffic cases and two hundred dollar juvenile assignments from Oakland and Wayne County Juvenile Courts. But, as Judge Emma Pearl noted earlier that morning, Blake was no longer capable of providing quality representation for cases usually reserved for rookies.

When he wasn’t at the office, he could be found at the local pool halls, taverns, or strip clubs that lined Eight Mile on the Detroit side. He would pick up an occasional criminal case