The old city had been good to Maxwell Blake. Like all of its residents, he was a proud man that had been fashioned by the heritage of the city, and was equally proud of that city's heritage. Nobody really knew when the city of Fellwell was actually founded. Some claimed it started centuries ago as just a couple of shacks at the cross roads of the only two major roads in the district. Others said that traders just got tired of travelling and set up shop at the centre of their business. Regardless of the stories, the city had been around for longer than people could actually determine, and its history seemed even more colourful than the people who lived in it.
Several times Fellwell looked like it wasn't going to survive. The city had been rebuilt many times over the generations, and each rebuilding had strengthened the resolve and independence of its citizens. One of the old stories even had a band of musicians over-running and destroying the city back in the days when it was fortified. Maxwell liked such stories, even though he was skeptical about them - they were good for business, and that meant it was good for Maxwell.
Not too many years ago, Maxwell had small but profitable building and construction company which concentrated in the old part of the city. Although the business was running well, he was a little envious of the construction companies that won the contracts for the new buildings - they were making some real money in Maxwell's eyes. But that was all before the conservationists started making noises about losing the old city. At first he opposed them. All they did was disrupt work at his construction sites and rarely at anyone else's. As if it wasn't bad enough that he had the smallest share of the construction business in Fellwell, even what he did have was under threat due to the actions of some mis-directed "do-gooders".
Then his business mind clicked into action. Before too long, the City Council had passed an ordnance which decreed that any structure connected with history more than 50 years old was automatically under an Historical Preservation Order. These structures had to be licenced, and of course, properly maintained to preserve their historical significance. Needless to say, Maxwell made sure that the council knew that his company was the only one that could be licenced to work on these historical sites as his company was the only one with the necessary experience. Furthermore, it was important that only licenced builders performed work on these sites to prevent accidents that future generations may resent.
The council did decide to subsidise any such work so that the cost was not too much for the owners, and after some difficult negotiations, they also convinced Maxwell's company to provide the licencing and enforcement agency to the council at no cost. It was not until Maxwell and his companies were entrenched that the Fellwell City Council realised that Maxwell had engineered these negotiations to give him everything he needed to create a monopoly.
Every time a light bulb needed replacing, Maxwell's men replaced it. Every time a door squeaked, Maxwell's men oiled it. And every time, Maxwell was handsomely rewarded for protecting the city's heritage. The Licencing Agency was also very vigorous in it's research, and uncovered so many connections to the past that even the Conservationists who started the movement were surprised. Before too long, all of the buildings in the old part of the city were under Preservation Orders, which meant that Maxwell's company was the only one that could maintain them. Of course Maxwell's people did a good job. After all that was why he charged so much, wasn't it?
Then the Licencing Agency cast its net further. "Surprisingly" it found that even some of the new buildings currently under construction were on sites of historical significance. Once the Preservation Order was applied, there was no alternative - Maxwell's companies had to take over and finish off the construction. One by one, Maxwell's competitors folded, and now there were only a few construction companies still left in business. Yes, the old city had been good to Maxwell, and he constantly researched the history of Fellwell to make sure that nothing that was rightfully his slipped out of his grasp.
Unfortunately for Maxwell, his success didn't bring the acclaim that he was expecting. Few of his old friends remained, and his dealings with the council now were much more formal and business-like than the co-operative atmosphere that had existed before the conservationists appeared. He had even been abused and assaulted by demonstrators on several occasions. He put up with that because the conservationists had tried the same thing initially, but that had turned around. However for the moment he had to keep a low profile. Every public appearance these days seemed to turn nasty, and for the benefit of the company image, the less he appeared in public the better.
One day he was standing at the window of his office taking a break from his current research into the city's history, when he noticed a large crowd coming up the street towards his building. "Not again", he thought, "It was only last week that the demonstrators tried to force their way into this building. What do they want this time?" He phoned security to make sure they were on to it.
"Yes Mr. Blake, we are aware of that crowd."
"Steven, do you know what they are after?"
"Not yet sir, but we are working on it. This one is a bit different to all the others, sir."
"It seems that they have a new leader, and they're not as violent as last week, sir."
Maxwell hung up the phone and checked on the progress of the crowd from his window. Yes, they certainly did seem less violent than last week, but there was easily double the numbers. Maybe they thought there was safety in numbers. Suddenly the crowd turned off the street and moved away from Maxwell's building. He grew very suspicious and concerned. He couldn't figure it out and that bothered him. The phone rang and Steven was back on the phone.
"I'm not sure, boss, but I think we are OK. The new leader is that fellow Jesus who has been touring around the country and if the reports are correct, that isn't a demonstration crowd but some sort of hero worship."
"I have heard a bit about this Jesus fellow, and actually I wouldn't mind meeting him. Some of the things he has been reported as saying may help with research for the licencing agency. Whether he is right or not doesn't matter as long as the people believe him. Can you get him up here as soon as possible please? Nobody told me he was coming to Fellwell."
"Mr. Blake, I don't think we will be able to get him to come here. He's not that sort of person. He prefers to be with the ordinary people and avoids the dignitaries. Apparently he snubbed the City Council at Chooslum in a big way last week. I don't think I need to remind you that these crowds are the people you are trying to avoid."
Maxwell's brain went into overdrive. As always, he had ulterior motives for wanting to see Jesus. Even though he told his security chief the story about having research information, he was very interested in the man himself. He had heard the way the Jesus had snubbed the council leaders at Chooslum and parts of what he had been telling the crowds, and it was really the latter he wanted to hear because it reached out to the loneliness he felt. He mentally went down the street the crowd was now travelling, and brightened when he remembered the mall it became, and particularly the pedestrian overpass. It was a chance worth taking.
"Steven, do you know the pedestrian overpass in the mall that links Brown?s to Stetlin's?"
"Well let's get over to there and wait for them."
Quickly Maxwell and his security chief went to his car in the basement. While they drove over to the car park at Brown's, Maxwell checked the recorder to make sure it worked correctly. They managed to avoid the crowds in the car park and the shop, and quickly went to the pedestrian overpass itself. The overpass was covered and protected from the elements, but there were some viewing platforms along its length which were open to the mall itself. Maxwell and Steven stationed themselves at the platform just offset from the middle of the overpass.
It was strange. Not one person had made a disparaging remark to Maxwell at all, and there was a strange calmness in the air. It unsettled Maxwell. What had changed that the chants were no longer abusing him? The crowd came up into the mall area itself, and Maxwell cursed as he realised it was on the other side of the mall.
"Quick, let's get over to one of the other platforms or we won't hear him."
"Don't worry about it, Mr. Blake. They have changed direction and they are coming straight at us now. I'll hold the recorder if you want to stand back just out of view of the crowd."
"OK, just make sure you get everything he says, right?"
Maxwell slipped back into relative safety away from the viewing platform, but made sure that he could see both Steven and the coming crowd. The crowd was noticeably different. "Why couldn't they behave like that before?", he wondered. He actually had heard a lot about Jesus, and a lot of what he said, and pondered over them all. He remembered Jesus' statement about loving God and your fellow man, and looked at the way the crowd responded to him, and started wondering if that had something to do with his loneliness. He could remember a time, a long time ago when he wasn't so lonely. He was so deep in thought that he actually jumped when he heard his name being called.
"Maxwell Blake. Maxwell Blake I know you're up there just behind the window." Jesus called out.
Maxwell didn't know what to do. He wanted to meet this man and maybe Jesus would tell him how to stop being so lonely, but mett him in front of a crowd like this? He could hear the crowd getting excited. They could sense blood, and clearly expected Jesus to confront him the same way he confronted those Chooslum councillors. Still, he did want to meet the man - even he felt the peace that surrounded Jesus.
Slowly, but making sure the crowd didn't see his nervousness, he moved out in full view. The crowd roared and urged Jesus to really blast Maxwell. Jesus motioned for quiet and a deathly hush came over everyone. No-one wanted to miss a word. The camera men couldn't decide whether to focus on Jesus or on Maxwell. The journalists went into frenzy. They were already writing the headlines; "Shreds torn Off the Rip Off Master"; "Blake Blasted, Crowds Cheered"
"Maxwell," Jesus said, "come down here immediately. I must go to your place today."
The crowd was stunned. Maxwell was even more stunned. This was the man they said wouldn't come to see him. Maybe Jesus wasn't more show than go. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus was actually who he said he was. Maxwell pondered for a long time. The cameras were now well and truly focussed on him waiting for his response. Panic started setting in. What would he do? He thought about the crowds. He thought about what Jesus said in other places. He thought about his company. He thought about his own life. He looked at the crowd and recognised people that he had put out of work, and noted that they were happy with Jesus, even while their cursed ex-employer was standing right in fromt of them.. His decision was made.
"Wait there, I'll be down as soon as I can."
Maxwell walked back across the overpass and the crowd went wild, starting to turn on Jesus. They felt betrayed. After all, how could someone who preached honesty and integrity even be associated with the likes of Maxwell Blake. How could Jesus even be in the same place as Fellwell's biggest liar and manipulator?
Maxwell appeared at the entrance to Brown's and walked over to Jesus. The crowd could barely contain their disgust, and even the reporters seemed too stunned to take notes. Maxwell and Jesus stood face to face. After an awkward pause they shook hands, and the crowd gasped.
"Jesus," Maxwell started, "I have heard the reports about you, and haven't really understood them. Now that I have met you, I can see that you are God as you claim. You know that I have a successful business, and you know how I got that way, yet you still wanted to talk with me!"
He stopped, and looked around at the crowd noting all the people in it that he personally had robbed through over charging or under payments.
"You reporters, you want a headline? Then get over here and get this down clearly. That's right, get those cameras rolling and get this down for prosterity. I'm serious about this. Are you all ready?"
The cameras and reporters jostled each other for position - this really was news with a capital "N". Finally, when everyone nodded, he continued.
"I now understand the wrong that I have done - fully understand it, and I won't do that again. Never again will my company overcharge it's customers, and all contractors and employees will be paid fairly. To prove that I am serious in this, I will sell all the buildings my company owns in the new part of town, which is about half of our assets, and donate the proceeds to whatever charities Jesus nominates. As well, anyone that my company- ah - anyone that I have cheated, can put a claim into our office and I will repay it with interest of 400%.?
There wasn't a dry eye in the crowd. The camera men were relying on auto-focussing and hoping they had the cameras pointed in the right direction. Jesus stepped up beside Maxwell and put his arm around his shoulder.
"Maxwell, today, you and your family have been redeemed and saved from your sins."
Turning to the crowd, Jesus said, "I came to this city to redeem people, and this man has shown himself as worthy of redemption as anyone else. Anyone else who considers themselves in need of redemption I will treat exactly the same way."Copyright Darryl Severn 1999