#1 Essence & Christian fiction bestselling author Patricia Haley teams up with national bestselling Gracie Hill in this edgy new drama series based on the biblical Apostle Paul and his journey from sinner to saint. Together Patricia and Gracie tackle matters of faith, church drama, religious hypocrisy, bitterness, and love in the Redeemed Series: Book #1- Relentless, Book #2-Redeemed).
Seemingly flush with success, everything isn't what it appears for the hard-hitting civil attorney, Maxwell Montgomery, who has his own way of tackling his demons from the past. His self-appointed journey to root out corruption in the church has cost him greatly, and the price continues to rise as his personal life completely spirals out of control. The estranged relationship with his family showed signs of reconciliation at the end of Relentless but it has since fizzled. His former love interest is engaged to someone else, and his troubles don't stop there. Maxwell is secretly battling an unexpected burden of guilt when he is forced into wondering if his insistent pursuits might have landed an innocent man in prison. Instead of dealing with his conscious, Maxwell shoves the emotions deep within and presses on to the next case. Along the way, he amasses quite a list of enemies, including his former paralegal who is desperately seeking retribution.
With the weight of his mission becoming too heavy to bear, Maxwell doesn't know where to turn or who to trust. Despite his high-flying lifestyle, his past finally catches up to him. Yet, Maxwell is still unwilling to surrender until an avoidable set of circumstances forces him to make a life-changing decision. Having fallen so far, his only shot at redemption is through God's mercy, but will the mighty Maxwell Montgomery forego his pride and accept it?
Activity inside the Philadelphia law firm, located in the heart of downtown, was often hectic, but today it seemed manageable.
“Make no mistake about it, he’s a snake, just like the rest of them,” Maxwell Montgomery rattled off as he reared back in his favorite chair, comfortably situated in his private office.
Garrett, his lead private investigator, didn’t respond immediately.
Maxwell carried on with his tirade. “You know I’m telling the truth.” The infamous civil attorney leapt to his feet and approached Garrett, who was sitting across the room. “Name one honest preacher that you know.” Not allowing Garrett ample time for a response, Maxwell continued. “See? You can’t think of one, not a single one,” he said, pointing at Garrett and bursting into a flurry of laughter. “Not one.”
“Whatever you say, boss.”
“Because you know I’m right,” he said, throwing a right jab into the air. “A bunch of self-righteous, moneygrubbing, power-hungry hypocrites, every one of them.” Maxwell sailed back to his chair in an animated fashion. “When you think about it, I shouldn’t complain. They’ve all been good to me.”
“How?” Garrett asked, seeming confused.
“Heck, look at this.” He tapped on a stack of files on his desk. “Case after case, they’ve made me a boatload of cash,” he said, rubbing his index finger and thumb together briskly.
Garrett’s head tilted to the side, and his lips tightened. “Can’t deny that.”
“I know you can’t. Man, these cats are a gold mine. Uncovering their sin is as easy as taking candy from a baby. I have more work than I can handle, going after these weasels.” He plopped into his seat and began tossing a foam stress ball into the air. “Some of these cases blow my mind. Remember the priest in Allentown who secretly had three sets of children and wouldn’t agree to pay child support for any of them?”
“I remember. One mother was a nursing student who was struggling to stay in school.”
“Yeah, and he wouldn’t pay her the measly five hundred dollars a month that she needed,” Maxwell said.
Garrett leaned forward and rubbed his head. “I bet if he could do it all over again, he’d gladly pay the five hundred, and probably even five thousand a month.”
“I bet he would too, because once I found out about his other two sets of children, who he’d conveniently hidden from the archdiocese, paying that skimpy child support was the least of his worries. Staying out of prison for messing around with a seventeen-year-old girl took precedence.”
“And the church wasn’t too happy about the kind of publicity you were threatening to send their way.”
“That’s right.” Maxwell chuckled. “I did put some heat on them.” He spun a little bit in his chair. “I love my job, and what’s great about it is that there are plenty more creeps out there begging for me to come after them. Take Bishop Jones. He practically dared me to bring him down, and that whole cast of characters at Greater Metropolitan.”
Satisfaction washed over Maxwell as he recalled the case. He’d practiced law for fifteen years, and every single day throughout his career, Maxwell had dreamed of bringing down the mighty bishop Ellis Jones, the man who’d single-handedly destroyed the Montgomery household. Nearly three decades ago, his parents had been a cog in the mighty preacher’s wheel of deceit. The mere memory of this used to be painful and would ignite extreme disdain in Maxwell, but that was before the bishop was sent to prison last year. Now Maxwell reveled in the bishop’s predicament. Jones had lost his church, his freedom and, most importantly, his reputation.
Maxwell’s parents had suffered a similar fate when they blindly served as loyal church members under the pastor. Little did they know back then that their senior pastor was running a get-rich-quick scheme, which ultimately sucked money from the congregation. Instead of Jones taking responsibility when the scheme was uncovered, he let Deacon Paul Montgomery, Sr., and the church secretary, Ethel Montgomery, take the fall. They paid a high price. Besides losing their house and their money, Maxwell’s parents lost a son. Worst of all, Maxwell and his sister were left orphaned when their parents had to spend time in prison for fraud, while Jones spent every night with his family. Not anymore.
Maxwell squished the ball extra hard, feeling vindicated. “They all got exactly what they deserved. They’re locked up in hell.”
Garrett eased to the edge of his seat as his gaze plummeted to the floor. “Everybody, including Deacon Burton?”
Maxwell’s adrenaline careened through his body. He sent a searing stare in Garrett’s direction. “Yes, Deacon Burton too,” he said with such a jagged edge to his voice that it seemed to slice the air.
“If you say so.”
Garrett’s reply didn’t give Maxwell the validation that he would have appreciated, but it wasn’t required. He was at peace with the outcome. Maxwell had taken down a despicable clergyman who’d gotten away with so much for so long that he deserved a lifetime behind bars. If his staff were guilty by association, so be it. There were no regrets. Neither Garrett nor a band of church runners was going to change Maxwell’s mind. He pulled up to his desk and extracted a folder from the top of the pile.
“I can’t waste any more time on Greater Metropolitan. That case is done, and there’s a whole lot more work for us to do, which brings me to Faith Temple and Pastor Renaldo Harris.” His serious tone switched to a lighthearted one. With his thumb up, Maxwell extended his index finger and let his hand slowly rotate forward as he curled his other fingers inward, turning his hand into an imaginary gun. “The so-called mighty man is the next one in my crosshairs.” He shut his right eye and drew his imaginary pistol hand closer. “Pow, pow, and that will be the end of him.”
“I’m not so sure it’s going to be that easy,” Garrett replied. “I’ve been investigating this man and his ministry for seven months, and I haven’t found a single shred of impropriety.” Garrett scratched his head. “You’re not going to want to hear this, but we might have found an honest pastor in the Philly area.”
“Pu-lease! You’re just not looking in the right places.” Maxwell grimaced. “What’s got you spooked?”
“I’m being careful, unlike you, who’s turning this thing into something personal.”
“Personal?” Maxwell responded in a slightly elevated voice. “This is business. Always has been, always will be,” was the lie Maxwell uttered. Garrett grunted, but Maxwell wasn’t dissuaded. He hurriedly shifted the conversation away from himself. “Usually, you’re on top of your game, but looks like you’re slipping, my man.”
“One of us is slipping,” Garrett said and got up to leave.
Before Garrett reached the door, Maxwell asked, “Aren’t you forgetting something?”
The investigator froze, slid his hand into his pocket, and turned slowly.
“Well, do you have it?” Maxwell asked with slightly more force behind his words.
“Yeah, I have it.”
“Then what are you waiting on?” he said, beckoning for Garrett to approach the desk.
Garrett pulled a business card from his pocket. “I’m not sure this guy is legitimate. I haven’t gotten a chance to check him out yet. Give me a few days, and I’ll run the background check.”
He must be crazy, Maxwell thought as he kept beckoning for Garrett to come closer. Months of no credible leads, and Garrett expected him to wait around for a ridiculous background check. Maxwell was looking for a whistle-blower from Faith Temple, not a credible employee. He grabbed the card. “We’ll check him out and see where this goes.”
“There’s always a clown out there, seeking their fifteen minutes of fame. Don’t get duped by a liar,” Garrett commented.
“I’m not worried,” Maxwell replied as he toyed with the card. “Besides, I can live with a liar, so long as they can hold up under intense cross-examination in the courtroom.”
“So, basically, you don’t care about the truth?”
“Truth . . . Now, I guess that depends on whose truth you’re talking about.” Maxwell grinned. He didn’t fault Garrett for being naive. Maxwell had handled enough cases to know that sometimes the truth needed a nudge, and he was precisely the man to do the nudging. “I’ll catch up with you later,” he added, eager to end the meeting.
As soon as his office was empty, Maxwell called his administrative assistant. “I need you to drop everything and get a meeting set up with a potential client this afternoon.” He stared at the business card before him. “Let me know when you’re ready, and I’ll give you Mr. Layne’s number.”
”You’re schedule is pretty full this afternoon, all the way until seven thirty.”
He pinched his lips and then recanted his request demandingly. “This is top priority. Make it happen. Move my meetings around if you have to. Just get this guy into my office this afternoon.”
Maxwell cut her off and said, “Do you hear me? Get it done, no excuses. If he’s alive, I want him in my office. Send a limo, a paycheck, whatever is required to get him here. Do you understand?” He said this in a way that must have enabled her to process the information accurately, because his assistant didn’t offer any other resistance. Good for her, because Maxwell was growing weary of paying people who weren’t getting the job done. Betrayals weren’t to be tolerated in his world. He hadn’t allowed it from his own parents during his childhood in Chester, Pennsylvania. Twenty-some years later and nothing had changed, which suited him just fine.
Noon had come and gone. As 5:00 p.m. approached, Maxwell emerged from a conference room, with a young lady and a slightly older woman on his heels, as his assistant stood nearby, poised to interrupt.
“Don’t you worry one bit,” Maxwell told the women as he shook the older one’s hand. The younger woman was wiping her eyes with a tissue and sniffling. “I’ve seen this more times than I care to admit. Your granddaughter is not at fault, and I’ll see to it that the church administrator pays handsomely. He won’t do this to anyone else. I can promise you that,” Maxwell said, with bravado oozing. “Dry your eyes, young lady. You did the right thing in coming forward. I’ll take care of this.”
His assistant came a few steps closer but didn’t interrupt.
“We trust you, Mr. Montgomery,” the grandmother said, grabbing Maxwell’s hand. “At first we didn’t want to say anything, because I don’t feel quite right taking the church to court.”
Maxwell was used to his clients being reluctant to expose failures in the religious community. Some had even stated that suing the church and clergymen was the same as suing God. Maxwell didn’t agree, but it wouldn’t make a difference if he did. He wasn’t particularly interested in suing God, but Maxwell wasn’t running away from the challenge, either. With his assistant anxiously waiting to give him an update about his next meeting, Maxwell had to cut this wrap-up short.
“Trust me, you’re doing the right thing. Wrong is wrong, and your church leaders should know that better than anyone. I’ll be in touch next week,” he said, shaking their hands hastily and ushering them to the door.
Once they had left, Maxwell’s assistant rushed toward him. “Mr. Layne is in your office.”
“What? How long has he been waiting?” Maxwell asked, briskly walking toward his private office.
“About twenty minutes,” she answered, keeping stride with him.
“I told you this was top priority. You should have told me twenty minutes ago that he was here,” Maxwell muttered, lowering his voice to barely a whisper before he got to his office.
“I didn’t want to disturb your other meeting,” she stated timidly.
About a foot from his door, Maxwell faced her directly. “When I tell you something is a top priority, that means everything else comes second. Do you understand?”
“Yes, sir,” she said as her gaze dipped.
“Good, because if you want to keep your job here, you need to be clear on how I work and what I expect.” He placed his hand on the doorknob. “Are we clear?”
“Hold all my calls and cancel my remaining appointments.” The assistant nodded in affirmation. “Oh, and, uh, unless the building is burning down, don’t interrupt me, period.”
As Maxwell turned the knob, he turned on his convincing appeal, determined to capitalize on the lead sitting in his office. “Mr. Layne, thanks for taking time to meet with me,” Maxwell said as he closed the door.
The guy rose for the greeting.
“Sit, sit,” Maxwell said in a jovial fashion as he took a seat too. “I hope you didn’t have to take too much time from work to meet with me.”
“Oh no. I haven’t worked in almost two years, not since I left Faith Temple.”
“Yeah, and the lady who called me from your office said there was a hundred dollars in it for me if I could come in today. Is that true?”
Maxwell hadn’t been made aware of the payment but had no problem with her tactics. As a matter of fact, he’d applaud her tenacity later. “Uh, yes, of course,” he stammered. “Cash or check?”
Mr. Layne squirmed. “Cash is king.”
“Cash it is,” Maxwell replied. “Now, let’s get down to business. What do you know about Pastor Harris and Faith Temple?”
The man leaned back. “How much time do you have?”
“As much as you need.” The possibility of getting incriminating evidence was too exhilarating for Maxwell, and he had trouble containing himself.
“I don’t half know where to begin.”
Maxwell wished there was a way to plop a memory stick in the man’s head to extract the necessary information and then send him on his way with the hundred dollars. Dreaming was a waste of time, and he knew it. Truth was, Maxwell could already tell this was going to be a painful extraction. He braced himself for the man’s long-winded recounting of the story, which seemed to be in the making.
“That Pastor Harris needs somebody to kick his behind.”
“Would that be you?” Maxwell asked.
“Nah, not me. He kind of has a restraining order against me. I can’t go near him.”
Maxwell struggled not to show any reaction. He didn’t know whether to burst out in laughter at Mr. Layne’s predicament or kick him out for being stupid. He’d reserve judgment until he heard more. “Do you mind telling me what happened between you and the pastor?”
“Long story short, Pastor Harris fired me because his wife had a soft spot for me.”
“You heard me right. I lost my forty-three-thousand-dollar-a-year job as director of music because that Pastor Renaldo Harris is the jealous type.”
Maxwell still couldn’t quite figure our Mr. Layne. Desperate to believe there was substance in his revelation, he was forced to block out the mounting red flags and kept listening.
“That man ruined my life. I’ve been unemployed for two years, while the pastor drives around in his fancy car. I thought the church would block my unemployment benefits, but they didn’t. I’ll admit that helped out for six months, but that ran out months ago. Since then I’ve been doing odd jobs here and there. Nothing permanent.” The man finally paused, but it was brief. “I can’t stand to be broke like this. Pastor Harris probably eats steak and lobster every weekend, while my family gets by on cereal, beans, and hot dogs.”
The story sounded eerily similar to Maxwell’s past. He knew too well how it felt to be starving while the church leader lived lavishly on the sacrifices of a bunch of gullible followers. Maxwell’s compassion kicked in. “You have a family?”
“A wife and three kids. I’m ashamed to say that my wife has been juggling two jobs to make ends meet while I’ve been out of work.”
“You haven’t been able to find any job in two years?” Maxwell asked.
Mr. Layne took offense. “None paying that kind of money. Pastor Harris robbed me of my blessing. That job was made for me, and he took it away, just because he could. This isn’t right, and there ought to be something I can do to get my job back. I know you’re that big-time attorney that helps people get paid. Think you can help me?”
Maxwell didn’t respond rapidly. His internal struggle was raging. Although in his desperation, he had committed to overlooking the red flags, his instincts didn’t allow him to be as accommodating. Something was off with Mr. Layne. Maxwell felt it, but he didn’t have anyone else sitting in his office with a beef against Faith Temple or, better yet, Pastor Harris. Maxwell lowered his expectations and played along. “I’ve been known to settle a few hefty civil cases when circumstances warrant that level of action. To be honest, Mr. Layne, as ethically and morally wrong as it might have been to fire you, Pennsylvania is an at-will employment state.”
Mr. Layne had a bewildered look, which Maxwell picked up on.
“Basically, that means an employer can fire you for no reason.”
“But that doesn’t make sense. How can you fire somebody when they have a family to take care of?”
Maxwell didn’t care to give Mr. Layne a legal course. “Doesn’t have to make sense. It’s the law. And unless your civil rights were violated when you got fired, I doubt that you have a case.”
“Seriously, you’re going to let him get away with this?”
“I’m sorry, but I don’t see how I can help you, unless your rights were violated.”
Mr. Layne pondered this. “Can we get him on anything else?”
“Anything . . . You know he’s not perfect. What if I know about some other stuff?”
The comment garnered Maxwell’s undivided attention. Now they were getting somewhere. “Are you talking about mismanagement of church funds, sexual harassment, fraud, or what?” Maxwell rattled off, along with a few more of the usual infractions.
There was a knock on the door. Maxwell ignored it.
Mr. Layne peered around the room, as if he were searching for notes on the wall, and then spoke. “Actually, I do know more, a lot more.” He started cracking his knuckles. “I didn’t want to put the pastor’s business out there, but there’s a whole lot more to tell if the money is right.”
There was a second knock on the door.
“Hmm,” Maxwell groaned. “Well, I’m definitely interested in hearing what you have to say.”
The knocking persisted.
“Excuse me for a second.” Maxwell was more than irritated. Unless the building was on fire, Mr. Layne wasn’t the only one who’d be in the unemployment line. Maxwell yanked the door open and stepped out, then eased the door shut behind him. “It doesn’t look like the building is on fire. So why are you interrupting me?”
His assistant struggled to speak up.
“I asked you a question. Why did you interrupt me after I gave you specific instructions not to bother me during this meeting?” He spewed his words like nails as his fury mounted.
“Your mother called and insisted that I let you know your father is back in the hospital.”
“I didn’t know what to do. She was very upset and begged me to get you on the phone. She was hoping you could come down to Delaware this evening.”
Maxwell shut his eyelids and rested his forehead in the palm of his hand. When would he catch a break from those people called family? As angry as he should have been, it wasn’t his assistant’s fault that his mother had stirred a panic. “It’s okay. Call her back and tell her I’ll stop by in the morning,” he said, sounding totally drained.
Just then Mr. Layne pulled the door open and pushed past Maxwell.
“Mr. Layne, we aren’t finished. Where are you going?”
A bit cagey, he replied, “The wife is going to be home in an hour. She’ll be wondering where I am if I’m not there. So I’m out of here.”
Maxwell wanted to scream amid the rising chaos. “I understand.”
“Yeah, you know how those wives can be,” Mr. Layne said, chuckling.
Actually, Maxwell had no idea and considered it a gift. “Go on home, and we’ll follow up with you. You’ll get a call either from me or from a man named Garrett in the next couple of days.”
“Cool. I’m glad to finally get some help. Money has been tight.” Mr. Layne cleared his throat. “Speaking of money, can I get my hundred dollars?”
“Sure. Wait here.” Maxwell went to get the money from the petty cash envelope in his desk drawer. When he returned, Mr. Layne snatched it out of his hand.
“Appreciate it,” he said, folding the five twenty-dollar bills and sliding them into his pocket. There was an awkward pause, and then Mr. Layne continued talking. “Mr. Montgomery, there’s no way I’m going to get home in time on the bus. You think I can get that limo to take me back home?”
“Why not?” Maxell turned to his assistant. “Can you arrange the ride for him?” he asked. “Tell them Mr. Layne is in a hurry, and I’ll pay extra.”
“I like the way you work,” Mr. Layne commented.
“Thanks again for coming in. We’ll be in touch,” Maxwell smirked and then retreated inside his office. He leaned his head against the door, wanting to vanish. Between Pastor Harris and his father, peace was nowhere to be found. Time stood still as Maxwell rested in the moment. Eventually, he’d move away from the door, call Garrett, and put him in touch with Mr. Layne. But for now, he’d cling to the imaginary solitude, which was evaporating with each breath.
Maxwell pressed the accelerator, anxious to get these last few miles behind him on his reluctant drive to Wilmington Hospital. It was 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday. He would have already been planted at his desk for at least two hours had his mother not pleaded with him to come to Delaware.
Why was his mother insistent about him coming to the hospital? Didn’t she know he had no interest in being there? He wasn’t willing to come and play the caring son role each time his father had a heart episode. A stable bridge hadn’t been built over the valley of distance between him and his father. He’d told his mother and sister to call him only in the case of a dire emergency. He doubted that this run fit the criteria. So why did he need to be at the hospital twice in the same month?
He looked into the distance, beyond the white dashed lines on the expressway. Far off in the haze, he could see the twenty-three years that had dawdled by since he’d run from the crowded two-bedroom apartment his parents called home. Back then he’d changed his name from Paul to Maxwell and cut his family out of his life.
The screaming siren and the flashing lights coming from an approaching ambulance rescued Maxwell from the memories lurking in his mind. He steered the car onto the shoulder and watched the ambulance whisk by. After a quick glance down at his watch, he pulled back onto the expressway and hit the accelerator, ignoring the speed limit. He had an urgent need to handle the hospital situation and get back to where he belonged.
Upon reaching the hospital, Maxwell parked his car, walked quickly inside, and headed straight for the information desk. Once he was equipped with the floor and room number for his father, he trudged to the elevator and got on when the doors slid open. When he stepped out of the elevator and onto the fifth floor, a nurse rushed past him. He hopped backward to keep her from slamming into him. There was some commotion at the end of the hallway: people were rushing around, their voices raised. He headed down the same hallway to room 524.
As he got closer to the room, he heard screaming and crying. A woman yelled out, “No, don’t take him! Don’t let him die!” Maxwell felt his heartbeat speed up and a surge of nervous energy pass through his body. Could it be his father’s room? Was his father dead? He took longer steps, refusing to allow his legs to break into a sprint. The screams got louder as he got closer. A doctor and two nurses pushing a defibrillator machine exited the room. Maxwell froze, sucked in a deep breath, and then his body was in motion again. When he reached the doorway, Maxwell was instantly relieved. The screams were coming from room 522. Maxwell swallowed hard as he brushed at the sleeve of his suit jacket.
He walked a few more steps and stopped outside room 524. The door was open. The room was empty, chilly, and quiet. Perplexed, Maxwell made an about-face and went directly to the nurses’ station.
“Paul Montgomery is supposed to be in room five twenty-four, but I can’t find him,” he told the nurses seated behind a long counter.
The male nurse asked, “Are you a relative?”
Maxwell hesitated, then answered, “He’s my father.”
The nurse glanced over a chart. “Looks like your father went to radiology for some pre-surgery tests.”
Surgery, Maxwell thought.
The nurse directed him to a waiting room around the corner. Maxwell’s eyes shot up to the big white clock on the wall behind the nurses’ station. The morning was advancing rapidly. Of course, no one else understood or cared that he had clients waiting for him back at the office. It was a reality he knew well. His priorities had never been considered when it came to his family.
Maxwell headed toward the waiting room. He stopped to collect himself before entering the room, and as he stood in the doorway, he saw his sister, Christine, staring out the window. Her back was turned to him, but he knew it was she standing there, twisting her hair around her finger, like she did when they were kids. He closed the door behind him, and she glanced over her shoulder.
A hard grin parted her lips. She rushed over to Maxwell and draped her arms around him. “I’m so glad you came. Mom and Dad need both of us.”
Maxwell gave her a half hug with one arm and pushed her back gently to break her hold on him. “Apparently, Mom felt that I needed to be here. She kept asking me to come and wouldn’t let up on the phone calls until I agreed.” He sighed. “So I’m here. But I won’t be for long.”
Christine took a step backward. Her glance scaled his tall figure from head to toe. “Of course you won’t. I’m so tired of this ridiculous ongoing battle that you keep fighting. Okay, so Mom and Dad made a mistake. They trusted Bishop Ellis Jones in what turned out to be a crooked real estate scheme. Haven’t they paid for that mistake?”
“Do you think they have?” Maxwell retorted.
“Yes, a thousand times over,” she answered. “You know they lost practically everything. They had to start over in a tiny apartment, but they made it. We made it.”
“Speak for yourself. The transition wasn’t easy for me,” he said, consciously controlling his delivery. “I had to struggle.”
“All this because they lost your college fund? So what,” she blurted, flailing her arms. “You got a full ride to college, anyway.” Christine brushed her hand over the jacket of Maxwell’s dark blue tailor-made suit. “Law school too.”
“What’s your point?”
“My point is that we survived. We’re here. Isn’t that a good enough reason to let this grudge go?”
Maxwell’s left cheek quivered at the same time that his nostrils widened and then deflated. “You can’t tell me how to feel. You don’t even know the whole story.” He jabbed his balled-up fist against his leg twice and darted to the window.
Christine followed him. “Okay, tell me what I don’t know.”
He thrust one hand into his pants pocket and braced the other against the large window frame. For a couple of minutes he was silent, until Christine touched his shoulder. He spun around to face her, and his feelings erupted. “You are right about my scholarship. It got me through college, no thanks to our parents.”
“Good for you. So why are you upset?”
“Because the scholarship covered tuition, a room, and books, and that was it. Food was on me. I had to eat noodles practically every day,” he ranted while pounding his fist into the palm of his other hand. “When I got tired of eating practically nothing, I had to tutor evenings and every weekend for food money. I didn’t have any home-cooked meals or weekend trips home to do laundry. And I darn sure didn’t have my parents screaming my name on graduation day. Why was that, Christine?”
“That was your choice.”
Maxwell yanked his hand out of his pants pocket and clapped his hands together loudly inches from Christine’s face. “When are you going to wake up and see that our father put the church before his own children? My father is—” He stopped abruptly. Maxwell’s heart rate soared. His palms were sweating, and he realized he had been shouting. The people in the waiting room had stopped talking and were fixated on him and Christine. He was mortified. Refusing to be a spectacle, he adjusted his tone.
Christine leaned in closer to Maxwell with gritted teeth and a scowl. “You’re right. I guess I didn’t know how much you were hurt. How could I? You left home at seventeen, during your last year of high school. You changed your name from Paul to Maxwell and left us behind like you never knew us, remember?” She sighed and kept her eyes shut for a short while before speaking again. Her tone eased. “Dad is having open heart surgery and a replacement pacemaker today. We don’t know how long he’s going to be with us.” She gently placed her hand on Maxwell’s shoulder. “Let’s worry about now and let the old stuff go. All that stuff happened over twenty years ago. Grow up and just let it go.”
Maxwell and Christine stood toe-to-toe, with only stale air between them. Suddenly his phone blared from his jacket pocket, signaling the end of this round. Christine snatched up her purse from the chair behind her, and with every step, her heels stabbed the tile floor as she exited the waiting room. Maxwell silenced his ringing phone and put it on vibrate after seeing his assistant’s number on the display. He loosened his tie, checked the wall clock and then his wristwatch. He walked swiftly back to room 524 to say his good-byes. When he got there, his mother was alone, talking on the phone. Her face blossomed as she stretched out her arm and extended an open palm to Maxwell. The moment he touched her hand, she folded him into her embrace. He stood there, stiff, staring at the empty bed. His mother wrapped up the call in seconds.
“I am so glad you came. I’ve missed you. The nurse is bringing your dad downstairs now. They just finished his tests. He will be going into surgery soon,” she told him.
Maxwell felt antsy. Being close to his folks was too much of a reminder. He had clawed his way to the top and wasn’t going to let them drag him back to the worst period in his life. “I can’t stay long. I have to get back to Philly.”
“You’re going to stay for the surgery, right? Your dad is having a special pacemaker put in this morning. I forget what they call it. Anyway, the one he has isn’t strong enough, because his heart has weakened since he had that massive heart attack last year.” She gripped his hand. “You have to stay.” She turned to check the doorway. “Did you see Christine?”
“I saw her. She’s around here somewhere.” Maxwell pulled his hand free and slid it into his pocket.
Shortly afterward, a nurse wheeled Paul Montgomery, Sr., into the room and helped him into bed. She advised them that he’d be going down for surgery in about twenty minutes, then left. Maxwell offered no greeting or acknowledgment of his father’s presence.
His mother broke the loud silence. “Paul, your son drove down for the surgery. Christine is here too,” she told her husband, rubbing his arm.
Paul Sr. responded, “Okay,” without looking in his son’s direction.
Maxwell dug his car keys out of his pocket. “I’ve got to get back to the office,” he announced as he turned to leave the room.
His mother grabbed his forearm and led him over to his father’s bedside. She squeezed Maxwell’s arm and rested her hand on top of her husband’s. “This has gone on too long. It’s time for our family to be whole again. That starts with the two of you.” Her gaze bounced between her husband and her son.
Maxwell didn’t make eye contact with his father. Instead, he glanced out the window and let his thoughts drift back in time. His mom couldn’t possibly think a hospital visit was going to turn into a family reunion. Memories, old hurts, disappointments, and anger pricked at Maxwell like needles underneath his skin. The heart monitor made a sharp beep and interrupted his time of reflection. He glanced at the squiggly lines that tracked his father’s heartbeat.
The phone in his pocket vibrated. He reached for it and read a text message from Garrett. Call me.
Maxwell excused himself. “I have to make a phone call,” he stated and then made a hasty dash to the waiting room. He pressed the number one on his speed dial. Garrett answered on the second ring.
“What’s going on, man?” Maxwell’s interest was apparent from the tone of his voice.
“Hey, how soon can we get together? I was able to check into Mr. Layne’s claims. You’ll be interested to hear what I’ve found out.”
“Gosh, that was fast. We just spoke last night, and you’ve already made contact?”
“This was a quick one.”
The news was encouraging. Finally, Maxwell had a ray of hope shining into his otherwise gloomy start to a day. He was energized and ready to wield a hefty dose of justice to the most deserving man in the area. Pastor Harris, senior pastor and founder of Faith Temple, was arguably the most respected clergyman in the tristate area. In seven years the ministry had grown from twenty people meeting in the basement of a local beauty salon to a multimillion-dollar operation with a facility the size of a small community college.
Maxwell couldn’t wait to do to Pastor Harris what he’d done successfully to many others, and that was to shove those greedy hypocrites out of their despicable pulpits and into bankruptcy, at the very least, and even prison. Maxwell wasn’t choosy. He’d gladly take either. His last case against Greater Metropolitan and the big-time bishop there had resulted in both. Maxwell was pleased. If his luck continued, the same fate awaited Faith Temple. Maxwell was intent on heaping as much disgrace onto Pastor Harris as he could. Garrett’s call had him invigorated and ready to dash back for the update.
“I’m tied up with something at the moment, but I expect it to wrap up shortly. I’ll call you as soon as I can break away, and we can meet at my office,” Maxwell informed him. He ended the call, then dialed his assistant to get his messages before going back to his father’s room.
Against his personal preference, he stayed at the hospital until his father’s three-hour surgery was completed. The moment they found out Paul Sr. was in recovery, it was time for Maxwell to leave. His mother was unable to convince him to stay a minute longer. He had been out of his comfort zone for far too long. He needed to put the hospital in his rearview mirror and reestablished the twenty-mile buffer separating him from his family. Once he was behind the wheel, Maxwell pressed down on the accelerator, intent on getting far away from the Montgomery family clutches. His restlessness dissipated as he crossed the state line. He was close to home and was relieved to be back on his own turf. His first love, work, was waiting.
Now that you have read Redeemed, consider the following discussion
Why did Maxell have Nicole's fiancé investigated? Did he want them to break up? Did he simply want to make sure Nicole was marrying a good guy?
Is there a future for Maxwell and Nicole?
Did Maxwell commit a crime when he hired a prostitute to tempt Pastor Harris into adultery? Since Pastor Harris didn't take the bait, does that excuse Maxwell's actions?
Maxwell wanted to collect evidence against Pastor Harris by any means necessary. Do you think such drastic measures are taken in real life to reach a guilty verdict in a criminal or civil case? Discuss local and national cases for which there were allegations of misused or abused authority.
Maxwell was estranged from his sister and his parents. Yet his sister and his mother called him often. He didn't like it. Do you think they were being pushy or doing the right thing by constantly reaching out to him?
Who do you think the mystery person was behind the threats Maxwell received? Point out threats in the story and state why you think the culprit is this particular person.
Maxwell harbored bitter animosity toward his dad for the devastating choice he made to trust Pastor Ellis Jones, but that was over twenty years ago. Ultimately, he got over his father's mistake. Maxwell was successful and financially independent. So why did he struggle so much with forgiving his father?
Mrs. Burton was a Christian. Even though her husband was murdered and she was grieving his death, should she have displayed such anger and an unforgiving attitude toward Maxwell? Forgiveness is a foundational truth and a necessity in our Christian walk. How do we forgive in tragic circumstances, such as Deacon Burton's imprisonment and murder?
Do you believe that Pastor Harris's prayer and around-the-clock prayer vigil had anything to do with Tyree's recovery? Discuss your faith and the power of prayer.
Maxwell seemed to be softening as a result of Tyree's accident. Do you think his change will last? State why or why not.
Throughout the story, Maxwell battled with the guilt associated with helping to send an innocent man to prison. At first he denied the implications of his actions. When that didn't work, he tried to justify his actions. When that failed as well, his next step was to make restitution by setting up trust funds for the innocent man's family. Do you think that will resolve his guilt? If not, what will?
Note: The Redeemed Drama Series is loosely based on the biblical leader and apostle Paul. Originally named Saul, he was known as someone who was committed to persecuting the church. It seemed that this would be his legacy, but God had other plans for him. Saul had an encounter with God on the road to Damascus, and this altered his philosophy, and he became a faithful believer. His name was changed to Paul, and he repented. He spent the rest of his life preaching the good news of salvation and deliverance, through the acceptance of Jesus Christ, to a list of struggling churches (New Testament).