Rory Justice leads a relatively normal life as a conservative, divorced, middle-aged ad agency account executive. He doesn’t like to rock the boat, but that’s just what happens when his retired FBI agent father, on his deathbed, asks Rory to hand-deliver a sealed letter to the Las Vegas sheriff’s department. The letter details plans by a new Islamic State mafia running the casinos to destroy the city with an underground nuclear bomb.
Instead of delivering the letter warning Vegas of its impending doom, Rory tries to run. He mails the letter and jumps onto a cruise ship, only to find himself entangled in a series of horrific misfortunes. Rory is eventually brought back to Vegas, where he ends up helping FBI and police investigators who have forty days to uproot the mafia and the bomb they’ve planted before it destroys Sin City. In the process, he finds himself confronting the very low-lifes he abhors—prostitutes, gamblers, drug addicts and thugs—and falls in love with police lieutenant Susan McAfree, a tough yet vulnerable officer on his team. But can this new-found love outweigh the hate he feels for the sinners she lives among and works to save?
Full of intrigue, suspense, and a little romance, The Runaway Prophet delivers the message that you can try to run from God’s call, but you can’t hide and that sometimes, by rescuing other people, God rescues you in the process.
“Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs…Salvation comes from the Lord.”
- Jonah 2:8-9 (NIV)
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Now, ten years later, a divorced and single Rory still remembered his trip to Las Vegas as if it were yesterday. While most of his fellow employees had slept during the four-hour flight from Las Vegas back to Columbus, Rory had sat and smoldered, making a promise to himself that he would never go back to Vegas again, even if it meant getting fired.
Rory had also vowed to look for a new job, but as the years passed, he realized with increasing despair that it was out of the question. No one left a good job in the middle of an economic downturn, he had told himself, comforting himself with the knowledge that at least with the latest recession, the company cut out the trips to Vegas. Still, Rory felt like he was stuck in quicksand. Hopeless days turned into miserable years as he stuffed his feelings down like he stuffed his starched shirt into his dress pants, drove his Ford economy car to work, put in his time, and drove back again each night to his meager apartment.
Then the call came, and everything changed.
It was Rory's mother, Donna Justice. She got right to the point.
"Your father has taken a turn for the worse, Rory. He may not make it this time. He wants to see you."
Rory's father, Howard, had pulmonary fibrosis. He was diagnosed with the disease several years ago at the age of sixty-eight and was eventually forced to retire from his position as a special agent in the FBI. His health had deteriorated over the past few years, and he couldn't leave the house without taking his oxygen machine with him, and only then for short periods. Then to make matters worse, while he was hospitalized a few months ago he developed a bacterial infection known as Clostridium difficile, or "C-diff." His doctors had tried to battle it without much success, and the drugs for the infection ended up compromising the blood thinner he was taking, causing a stroke.
And just recently, Rory's mother told him that his father was suffering mild dementia.
"What about Daniel?" Rory asked his mom. Daniel Justice, Rory's older brother and only sibling, was a sergeant in the US Army who was stationed in Afghanistan in one of the last American divisions tasked with helping the post-war government retain its tenuous stronghold before the Americans departed the war-torn country to fend for itself. His mother told him she had called Daniel to tell him about his father's condition, and he was scheduled to depart within the next twenty-four hours.
Rory usually travelled to his parents' home in Bethesda, Maryland, a commuter town for many Washington DC employees, a half dozen times or more a year. Sometimes he felt resentment that his brother didn't have to take on the obligation of attending family gatherings such as holidays, birthdays, weddings, and funerals.CHAPTER 2
Daniel arrived at the Justice home a little over an hour after their father passed. Donna Justice insisted her husband's body stay where it was until her eldest son got home to see him.
Rory had called his brother to tell him that their dad hadn't made it. Daniel was angry in his anguish.
"Why couldn't he at least wait until I got there?" he wailed into the phone as he drove in the rental car straight from BWI airport.
"I'm sorry, Dan," Rory said. He could feel his brother's pain. "He said he loved you. Those were his last words. We're keeping him right where he is until you get here. Be careful."
Daniel Justice arrived in civilian clothes, immediately brushed past his mother and brother, ignored Pastor Dave, knelt down beside his father's bed, and broke down weeping.
"Dad, this is so unfair. I didn't even get to say goodbye," Daniel said between choked sobs. "Why didn't you wait?"
After a few moments, Pastor Dave broke the grief-strained silence. "Daniel?"
Rory's brother looked up, his tear-streaked face not registering his own name at first.
"I'm Dave Graybeal, pastor at your parents' church." The minister rose and firmly shook Daniel's hand, speaking evenly. "I know you're upset your father passed before you got here. I am really sorry that happened. It doesn't seem fair that God would take him like that. But your father knew you loved him — just like God knows the love in our hearts without us even needing to tell Him — and your name was the last word on his lips. It's hard to say why God chooses the timing He does, but rest assured your father is definitely in a better place, free from pain and suffering, smiling down on you at this very minute."
Those last words registered, and Daniel seemed to give up his anger. He nodded his thanks for the reassurance and smiled through his tears.
This minister is really good, Rory thought. He knows just what to say, and he seems sincere. I wonder if I should ask him about the letter. Rory's musings were interrupted when a driver from the funeral home showed up, ready to transport Howard Justice's body to the morgue.
Pastor Dave and the family held hands in a circle around the deceased and said the Lord's Prayer before they bid a final, tearful farewell.
Donna and her two sons went to the kitchen to have some coffee and to make plans for the funeral.
The funeral service was held following a family wake at Bethesda United Methodist Church. Pastor Dave officiated and talked about Howard in glowing terms, calling him a man of deep convictions who served his country, his community, and his family.
The church was packed full with six hundred people as past and present FBI employees, members of the congregation and a host of friends and family came to pay their respects. A former FBI agent who had worked closely with Howard read a letter from Kathleen Tower, the President of the United States, and Daniel, looking especially sharp in his military dress uniform, delivered the eulogy.
Daniel sat next to his wife and their two sons who were both among the pallbearers in addition to three young men from the church and Rory's son Rick.
Rory sat alone, wedged between his mother and Daniel. He had noticed at one point during the service that Rick was sitting in the back of the church with his mother and sister. Rory had found out from his mom the day before that Rick had accepted her request to be a pallbearer, and that his ex-wife and daughter would also be attending.
Even though Rory knew that Haley would be there, the knowledge didn't lessen the stab of resentment he felt toward his ex-wife as he walked with his mom on his arm behind the casket into the vestibule and saw her standing at the back of the church.
Haley was gorgeous as usual, dressed in a simple navy sheath with a single strand of pearls, her long brunette hair loose on her shoulders.
The look she gave him with her cool gray-blue eyes betrayed the animosity she still felt for Rory, and he quickly diverted his gaze straight ahead, concentrating on supporting his mom and holding it together.
His twenty-year-old daughter Riley had grown to look as beautiful as her mother. She didn't even glance at him but instead looked down and away when he passed by. Rory hadn't seen her or Rick for the past two years, ever since Riley had turned eighteen and decided she no longer wished to see her father again.
It wasn't for my lack of trying. After all these years, Rory still felt the sting of bitterness from his divorce and the estrangement from his kids.
Rory had met Haley in a creative writing class at Ohio State. He liked her the minute he set eyes on her, and when he found out she was struggling with her assignments, he offered to tutor her since creative writing came easily to him. Homework sessions turned into dating, and soon they were a couple.
Haley had planned to stay on at Ohio State's Moritz College of Law to get her Juris Doctor degree, while Rory took the job at the Dispatch after graduation. They moved into a tiny apartment off campus, and Haley's first semester was underway when she got pregnant with Rick.
Her ultra conservative, well-to-do parents from northern New Jersey virtually disowned her, telling her she could pay for her own education or drop out now that she was pregnant.
Despite some misgivings from a few friends who thought Haley was too "high maintenance," Rory decided to do the right thing, and one cold November morning, he married Haley at the local courthouse.
Haley stayed in school while Rory worked sixty hours a week at the Dispatch and as a waiter on the weekends at a local restaurant. Rick was born just after Haley finished her finals that May.
Soon the young couple sank into debt, simply because Rory didn't make enough to cover all the bills and pay for formula, baby food, diapers and all of the things an infant required. Once Rick was a year old, they agreed that Haley would take a break from law school and work as a legal secretary until they had saved enough for her to finish her degree.
When she got pregnant with Riley a few months later, everything seemed to change. It was a difficult pregnancy and delivery, and the post-partum blues Haley experienced never completely dissipated, turning into full-blown depression.
Haley decided she could never go back to school now that she had two toddlers to raise. She was miserable and filled with resentment over her family's rejection, her lost law career, her stifled daily existence with two kids in the small ranch house they had managed to purchase, and living what she considered a poor lifestyle.
She returned to work as a legal secretary for several years but when she found out Rory had interviewed for the higher paying job at AdExecs, she told him she wanted to take a leave of absence from her job to stay home with the kids, that they needed her to run them to sports practices and the like. Rory later found out Haley had lied to him, that she had actually been fired because her depression had caused her to miss too much time at work. A few more part-time jobs came and went, and then Haley stopped working altogether, claiming she had developed back pain in addition to her clinical depression.
Meanwhile, Rory worked two jobs on top of managing the household duties and running the kids to after-school activities as well as dentist and doctor appointments.
Rory eventually gave up pleading and complaining and harassing his wife to get a job, meanwhile watching his paychecks, his pension and his 401K dwindle away to nothing as their debt climbed. Heated arguments gave way to a stone wall of silence over time and they hadn't been intimate in over a year before Rory took off for his trip to Vegas.
When Rory returned home, his pent up guilt only made him more on edge and what little tolerance he had for his wife's laziness and lack of motivation crumbled. He moved his clothes into the basement and the two slept in separate rooms.
One day Haley called Rory at work to tell him she needed him to take Rick to soccer practice and Chad Weeks answered. Rory was in a meeting and Chad happened to be in Rory's office looking for a file.
Once past the introductions, Haley innocently asked Chad how Las Vegas was.
"It was great, but that's all I can say," Chad said slyly, baiting his colleague's wife. For several years, even before Vegas, Chad had held a secret resentment that the boss favored Rory. While he had a cubicle, Rory had an office. While Rory had an expense account, Chad had none. And Chad just couldn't figure out why, since he felt he was clearly more ambitious and more in tune with the AdExecs' cutthroat culture and loose morals than Rory would ever be.
"Did my husband behave out there?" Haley was now curious.
"I wouldn't know, he left the party, uh, early to, um, borrow my room."
"Was he alone?"
"You'll have to ask him yourself Mrs. Justice. As they say, 'what happens in Vegas' ..."
"I know," Haley snapped. "Please just tell him to call me."
Haley was waiting for Rory when he got home with Rick that night after soccer practice, arms crossed and ready for a confrontation.
Rory, tired, off-guard and defenseless, wearily told her the truth.
They didn't speak for a week, although Rory tried repeatedly to apologize. He finally talked Haley into going with him to see a marriage counselor. But time and again, they sat through sessions where Haley ended up arguing that the therapist was simply taking Rory's side.
Rory also took his wife to see the family doctor for her increasing back pain. But after numerous tests and scans, nothing was found, and she seemed to only get worse. Rory saw the prescription bottles in their bathroom multiply and empty and felt helpless to do anything about it. He knew his wife was abusing pain pills but when he asked her, she would turn on him, blaming him for causing her stress that added to her back pain.
Still feeling guilty about the affair, Rory eventually stopped asking.
Haley also started chain smoking and drinking several glasses of wine each day.
One doctor refused to write another prescription for pain meds, and Haley threatened to sue him. The physician pulled Rory aside after the visit to speak to him privately while Haley used the restroom. "Your wife doesn't need to see me for pain pills, Rory," he said. "She needs to see a psychiatrist."
It got to the point where almost every day when Rory returned home from work, he found Haley sleeping, the house a mess and nothing prepared for dinner. The kids would tell him they were starving, and he would have to drop his briefcase, pull off his tie and whip up something in a pan or heat up something he had cooked the night before. They frequently had breakfast for dinner because it was easy.
Then one night Rory came home from a particularly long workday and exploded.
Haley happened to be awake and was sitting outside on the porch drinking coffee and smoking a cigarette.
"What's for dinner?" Rory asked, knowing the answer.
"I don't know; what did you bring us?" Haley replied flippantly.
"Mom, Dad, Ricky's pulling my hair," they heard Riley scream from her room.
Haley evasively took another drag from her cigarette while Rory stood before her, dressed in his suit and tie, clutching his briefcase in anger.
"Aren't you going to go see what's wrong?" he asked, struggling to keep his voice level.
"Why don't you?" his wife challenged, peering up at him without blinking, her eyes glazed with disinterest and defiance.
"Because I've been working hard for the past nine hours to pay for the little bit of food we have in this house, which, need I remind you, I shopped and paid for, then I sat in traffic to get home, knowing that my worthless no-good wife hasn't made any dinner even though she's been home all day with nothing better to do than drink coffee and smoke cigarettes and watch television and sleep."
"You're just a big bully and a nag," Haley retorted, grinding out her cigarette, crossing her legs, and sitting back in the patio chair.
"Mom!" Riley shrieked, and then their daughter was standing before them, her face red and tear-streaked. She threw herself into her mother's arms. Rick ran up next carrying a few torn loose-leaf papers in his hands.
"That little brat ripped my homework on purpose!" Rick was on the verge of tears. "Dad, can you help me redo it tonight? And punish her?"
"Maybe your mother can help you while I'm cooking dinner," he offered.
"I'm no good at math," Haley countered. "Besides, why don't we just order a pizza?"
"Yay!" the kids chimed in unison, forgetting their battle for a moment.
Rory clenched his teeth, resisting the urge to hit his wife in the head with his briefcase. "We don't have the money for that," he snarled.
"Dad, we never eat out or get takeout," Rick said.
"Maybe if your lazy mother got a job, we would be able to!" he hollered.
Haley sat holding Riley in her lap. "How dare you speak to me that way?" she said icily.
"Dad, that wasn't nice," Rick said, sidling up to his mother.
"Yeah, dad, that was mean," Riley chimed in her girlish voice.
Rory stood helplessly, fighting tears of anger and hatred, feeling betrayed and defeated. He took a deep breath and counted to five, his insides on fire.
"You're right." He exhaled. "I will call for a pizza."
When the pizza delivery boy arrived twenty minutes later, Rory was gone. He had left a twenty-dollar bill for the pizza and a note to Haley telling her he was done.
Haley had apparently squirreled away part of their savings over time and used the money to hire a crackerjack attorney. As a result, she ended up not only with full custody of the children but the house and half of his paycheck each month for child support, plus half of what little was left of his pension and retirement fund.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Runaway Prophet"
Copyright © 2016 Michele Chynoweth.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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