The meeting had dragged on longer than one of those never-ending priesthood leadership training broadcasts, at least to Alex it felt like it. He stole a glance at his watch while the finance officer reviewed each section of the power company’s quarterly report: tariff income from business and residential users, operational and maintenance expenditures, consumption rates, outages and failures, and so on and so forth. He could recite the figures for his department almost from memory. It had been a good quarter, as his work on fault-tolerance had reduced downtime and had unexpectedly made it easier to discover illegal taps into the system. Management had been pleased when he had reported the data a week before, and he had been duly flattered by their praise. He hoped that this meeting would give him a chance to shine in front of the important people. But after nearly three hours in a conference room, he was now just bored. If he’d been in a darkened chapel watching the video feed from Salt Lake, he would have discreetly fired up his smartphone and caught up with the boards, but he was stuck here.
He knew from long experience that the taps were a result of squatters, who usually occupied land that wasn’t theirs and stole services, such as water and electricity, from the good citizens who were paying for them. These people were shameless, and he was glad he had helped catch them. I caught them, he thought, smiling. And I’ll find out who has betrayed us. After all, such people were all the same, abusing the trust of decent people, and it was up to people like him to make things right.
The finance officer was still droning along in a soft voice that seemed to clash with his broad shoulders and Afrikaner accent. He paused occasionally to push his gray-plastic-rimmed glasses up to the bridge of his nose, but each time they slid back to their original resting place halfway down his bell-shaped nose. On his lapel, the man wore a tiny pink rosebud.
Alex wished he could be just about anywhere else, as outside of this stuffy conference room, things were really starting to move. Tanner had shared some news the night before: His mysterious friend had confirmed Sidious’ identity as one Jared Richards of Sandy, Utah. Further investigation revealed that Jared’s CPA license had been suspended a few years ago for underreporting a client’s tax liability. The client had been audited and fined by the US government, and they had sued Richards. Jared hadn’t contested the suspension, but he had prevailed in the subsequent lawsuit, showing pretty conclusively that his clients had hidden income from him. It didn’t matter, though. He had been officially censured by the Board of Accountancy. Alex smirked. Who am I to say it wasn’t intentional fraud?
Alex had asked Craig’s advice, which had been that they should hold onto the information for possible future use but not allow this to distract them from the task at hand: finding out who was feeding the revelator.
He had been lost in thought when he heard the finance officer discuss the ongoing fight against illegal taps. Here it comes, he thought, straightening himself up and preparing himself to humbly receive everyone’s thanks and congratulations.
“Fortunately, our efforts at improving fault-tolerance have helped us more easily discover illegal taps into the electrical grid,” the man said, his wispy blond mustache fluttering with each word. “Moving on …”
That’s it? He tried hard not to show any outward emotion, though he could feel his face flushing. The meeting lasted another half-hour, and it had taken that long for Alex to settle himself. He left the room silently, hoping to get out while he was still calm.
In the corridor, the finance officer had shaken his hand. “Thank you for attending. I’m not sure that you needed to be there, but I appreciated the support.”
“My pleasure, sir,” Alex said, forcing a smile. He wanted to shove the rosebud down the man’s throat.
“Your department did a wonderful job tracking down those taps. It just shows you what can be accomplished when we work as a team.” With that the man had walked away.
Jean noticed his sour mood when he walked in from the front garden. “How was your day, dearest?”
“I’d rather not talk about it,” he grumbled, hoping that by now she knew when not to press things.
“I’m sorry, dear,” she said sympathetically. “I’ve been in the garden all day. Perhaps you could join me tomorrow. It would do you a world of good. Besides, the roses are needing a little attention, as am I.”
“Mmm-Hmm,” he said absently.
He sat at the table and opened the laptop to his email. An unusually large number of messages from his fellow apologists sat in the Inbox. The first read simply, “What gives?” Inside was a link to the MormonDiscourse board.
“Secret Combinations Afoot?” had read the title of the revelator’s latest post.
“A strange thing has happened to the Short List email list. Its steady current of peer-reviewed gossip and faith-promoting blackmail has all but disappeared, my sources tell me. Nothing has been distributed to the list for several weeks, which appears to confirm my last report about its activities and suggests that the boys in the apologetics club may no longer trust each other. Members of the late, lamented list have, however, been communicating with each other individually and through back channels in an effort to rebuild the group and try to uncover the mole(s). One has to admire their resilience!
“Oddly, however, one member of the group, junior-executive hatemonger Alex DuPlessis, has cut off all forms of communication to the rest of the group. My sources tell me that the normally spittle-flecked South African’s total silence has unnerved more than a few people. They worry that he may be planning some sort of revenge on the rest of the group for having spilled the beans about his clumsy attempt to use MD posters’ sex lives against them. Some suspect that DuPlessis might be leading a smaller, even more exclusive list, though what its purpose might be no one can guess. One source, who naturally requested anonymity, stated, ‘DuPlessis is capable of anything. He doesn’t care who gets hurt, as long as he can protect his position. Heaven help us all if he turns on us.’
“Thus far, Brother DuPlessis has not been available for comment.”
He knew he shouldn’t feel rattled, but he couldn’t help it. It was just vague enough to suggest a stab in the dark, but what if it wasn’t? What could the revelator know, and how? He began composing an email he could send to the entire group, assuring them of his friendship and loyalty and pledging that he would do his utmost to uncover whoever was doing them such harm.
But wouldn’t that make Alex seem desperate and guilty? Would he believe a denial like that? No, probably not. So, what to do? How to stop this from ruining everything? Craig will know what to do, he thought.
Craig’s response was brief and sensible. He warned Alex that sending out a mass email to the entire group would jeopardize the plan they had set in motion with Tanner. “Keep calm, and stay the course,” Craig wrote. “I will contact our friends individually and tell them what I know of your honesty and integrity.”
He knew he could count on Craig. What a brilliant move it had been to involve Craig in the plan.
Checking the MD board again, he noted that the swine were once again discussing him by name, spreading the most malicious kinds of character assassination. He knew he should just stay out of it, but he couldn’t resist. He started typing.
“It seems you lot cannot last more than a week or two without sullying my name and dragging it through your loathsome sty. The accusations made against me, once again, are so vile and outrageous that they do not merit comment. I would, however, ask that the moderators remove all references to my name in accordance to the stated board rules. I shall now leave you to resume your disgusting hog-pile.”
Barely three minutes later, Sidious/Jared had responded. “Give me a break. Everyone here knows your name, Alex DuPlessis. You yourself have used it here, so stop having a fake hissy-fit. It just makes you look worse than you already are. We may be a sty, but we’re not the ones peeking in someone else’s bedroom. You have no basis by which to judge anyone here, as no one here has sunk as low as you have. So, go crawl back under your rock and save the histrionics for someone who gives a damn.”
He thinks he can get to me, Alex thought. Not a chance. He typed, “Again, I respectfully request that my name be removed from this board.”
Sidious had responded, “Alex DuPlessis.”
“Stop using my name, you swine.” He couldn’t believe this mental midget had managed the self-discipline to become an accountant.
“I demand my right to privacy, the same as anyone else on this board.” He could feel his face flushing again.
The scumbag was taunting him. Well, I know more about you than you imagine, Alex thought. He composed the message carefully.
“Through sad experience, I have learned that my personal information and privacy must be guarded with vigilance. Anti-Mormon posters here and elsewhere have long shown that they will try whatever they can to destroy me and anyone else who dares stand up for truth. That you are willing to use my personal information to attack me shows the depths of your depravity.
“How would you feel if someone shared your information on a place like this? Would it trouble you if someone brought up a certain Mr. Richards who was disciplined by a professional licensing board for possible fraudulent behavior? Would you be fine with such things being discussed freely here?”
That will shut him up, he thought, smirking.
He ate his steak and potatoes quietly that evening. Jean tried to make conversation about her rose cuttings, but Alex’s mind was somewhere far away.
“The boys are doing wonderfully in football, aren’t they?” Jean said cheerfully.
“Yes, Mum,” said William. “Mr. Zanoxolo has been teaching us how to pass the ball while running at full speed.’
Alex looked up. “I’ve told you I’m going to show you how to do it myself! I don’t want you going to anyone else but me!”
The three of them stared at him.
“Please, forgive me,” he said, feeling ashamed. “It’s been a rough day. Tell me about your football practices.” He tried his best to listen attentively as they talked about how much they had learned. William insisted he was a much better player than Daniel. “I have more natural talent,” William had said. “Mr. Zanoxolo told me so.”
“I’m sorry I haven’t been there,” Alex said apologetically. He looked up and tried to sound cheerful. “I promise I’ll spend some time with you every evening until you’ve learned all I know. Except Sundays, of course.”
He meant it, and he hoped the boys knew he meant it.
As Jean put the dishes into the dishwasher, Alex looked in on the board again. He opened Sidious’ response and was shocked at what he read.
“What Brother DuPlessis has written is true. My name is Jared Richards, and I live in Sandy, Utah. Four years ago my license was suspended by the Board of Accountants of my state when I was accused of possible fraud by some clients.” He went on to describe in detail the complaint against him, the decision by the licensing board, and the subsequent lawsuit. He even went so far as to provide links to the board’s decision and the court record of the lawsuit against him.
The post had concluded. “Obviously, this episode wasn’t the highlight of my professional life, or my personal life, for that matter. But I own what happened, and I refused to make any excuses. If anyone has questions about any of this, I will answer them as long as doing so doesn’t hurt anyone else.”
The board had then erupted in condemnations of Alex’s actions. All the words he had used–swine, scumbag, depraved, disgusting–came right back at him, even from people he had previously thought were reasonable.
He needed to respond, so he clicked Reply. A message popped up:
You have been suspended from further participation on the board for violations of board rules. We will meet and discuss whether the suspension will be temporary or permanent. We expect all posters to behave with at least minimal civility, and we will not tolerate such invasions of other posters’ private lives. You will receive an email within the next day advising you of our decision. –The MD Moderating Team.