Elder Grolsch

June 9, 2014

Some of you may have noticed that I have received some comments from my MTC companion, whom I refer to in my book as Elder Grolsch. I don’t have any way to contact him, so I thought I’d just write my response here where he can see it.

Dear “Elder Grolsch,”

I was so happy to see your comments on my blog, as I don’t think I’ve seen you since we met for lunch at BYU some 28 years ago. I apologize if I treated you at all harshly in my book, but I was really trying to write the book as I experienced it, and the young kid that was me struggled with you and the situation we were in. Obviously, I can be a real dick and was often so with you and throughout my mission. I’m sorry for not trying harder to get along.

Looking back on it, I think we were both just in an impossible and stressful position. I’ve thought about you a lot and wonder if you were trying so hard to “go the extra mile” because you were struggling with whether you really believed in what we were doing. At the end of the mission, you told me you weren’t sure you believed in the church, and in the MTC I knew you were trying really hard to have that kind of “spiritual experience” that would give you the testimony you felt you needed. I feel like I did you a disservice because I was so concerned about acting the part of a missionary myself that I didn’t listen to you and didn’t pay much attention to what you needed as a person, not just as a missionary. I’m sorry for that and hope you can forgive me.

If I remember right, you told me that you had been under a lot of pressure from your parents and family to serve a mission, and as I’m nearing 50, I can understand how hard that must have been, especially if you weren’t sure it was the right thing to do. I never felt that overt pressure from my family, though it had been pounded into me from a young age that I had been “preserved” from death for a special mission for the Lord. That puts its own kind of pressure on a young man, and I really took that to heart.

It’s funny how those were only 2 years out of the 49 that have made up my life so far, and yet so much of who I am comes from that experience. My mission has affected my major in college, my career choices, and my choice of spouse. Do you find that the missionary experience contributed a lot to your adult life, even though you walked away from the church soon after we came home? I would imagine so, but I’m just curious.

As far as me being a money-sucking scab, that’s fair enough as far as it goes. I work for a company that does IT work for the federal government, but I like what I do. I’m good at it, and in my own small way I think I contribute to some good things the government does. But no, my career will not have any lasting effects when I’m dead and gone. I’m hoping my book will stick around, even though its sphere of influence is pretty small indeed. Sooner or later I’ll write something I’m as proud of as I am of my book.

Anyway, I hope life has been good to you so far. I again apologize for not being much of a companion to you and hope you can forgive me.

Take care,

John


The Revelator, Part IX

May 28, 2014

“Does this match my pants?” Craig called out as he held up a tie from the closet.

“Let me pick one for you,” Ana smiled. “You should be grateful I’m here because you don’t know anything about clothes. You’d probably go to work dressed like a hobo if it weren’t for me.”

“I know. What would I do without you?” He really needed to clear out his collection of ties. Some of them dated to the 80s, long before his mission. One tie was stamped with parts of the Book of Abraham facsimiles; it was hideous, but he’d received it from a BYU Egyptologist, a strange little man whose paper Craig had edited (truth be told he’d quietly rewritten it). Then there was the dark-blue tie with a repeated pattern of the president’s face drawn to resemble a monkey; Dalton Kane had brought several of them back from the county Republican convention and had handed them out at the last MIC conference. Craig didn’t know why he kept it, as he was never going to wear something like that.

Ana chose a conservative blue-and-red-striped tie and handed it to him. Craig quickly knotted it and then kissed Ana on his way out the door. He had received yet another phone call from the nursing home asking him to come and give a priesthood blessing to an elderly patient. They called him because he lived closest to the facility, and he had been there many times. Not that it had done much good, as every patient he had blessed had died within 24 hours. He had told Ana he should start calling himself the Angel of Death, but she hadn’t found that very funny. Maybe he was imagining things, but whenever he visited the nursing home, the patients visibly stiffened and sometimes recoiled, as if his presence were a bad omen. Some patients seemed genuinely terrified of him.

Her name was Annie Stephens, but everyone in the home called her “Sis.” She had been born without fully formed arms and legs and spoke with difficulty, so she had lived in a nursing home since her parents had passed away some thirty years before. She had made the best of her situation, and rather than sit back and lament her life, she had taken it upon herself to minister (if that was the right word for it) to all the other patients. She felt they were in a worse situation than she was because life in the home was just life for her; for most of the other patients, moving into the home was a final acknowledgment that death was near, with nothing but pain and decline in the meantime. The local LDS mission president had been so impressed with her that he had extended an informal calling to her as a service missionary and had issued her an official black name tag labeled “Sister Stephens.” From that time, some fifteen years before, she had insisted that everyone call her Sister Stephens, but it had eventually shortened to “Sis.”

Craig hoped that Sis’s illness wasn’t anything serious, as her death would be a blow to everyone at the home. He had met Sis on his first trip to give a blessing a few months after he and Ana had moved into the neighborhood, and he had always stopped in to visit for a few minutes whenever he was at the nursing home. She was the kind of person Craig wanted to be, and her example both shamed and motivated him to try harder to be a good person.

Sis looked irritated when Craig and Brother Gilbert entered the room. “I told them not to call you,” she said in a halting voice. “I’m not ready.” She was had an oxygen tube under her nose, which wasn’t that unusual, given the respiratory problems that had plagued her off and on for years. But there was also an IV drip in her arm. Not a good sign.

The room was full of photos of Sis with various patients, most of them long dead, and local church members whom she had befriended. On the rolling tray by the bed sat one of the potted roses Ana and the kids had made for the patients.

Brother Gilbert looked decidedly nervous. He had recently moved in and obviously didn’t have much experience with nursing homes. He reached out to shake Sis’s hand, and realizing that she didn’t have one, limply grasped the stump of her forearm and nodded.

Sis let out a wheezy chuckle. “It’s OK. Just pretend they’re flippers, like a seal.”

Craig leaned over and kissed her cheek. She always liked that. “What’s going on, Sister Stephens?”

“Oh, just some little infection or another,” she said. “Nothing to worry about. There’s plenty of folks here who need a blessing, but I’m not one of them right now.”

“It couldn’t hurt,” Craig said, trying to sound helpful.

“No, I guess not,” Sis sighed.

Craig bowed his head while Brother Gilbert anointed Sis’s head with the consecrated oil.

Then it was Craig’s turn. He always felt a little guilty pronouncing such blessings because he knew deep down that he didn’t believe any of this. It couldn’t hurt, though, and it would probably make Sis feel better. He place his hands on her head and immediately felt the heat of a high fever.

“We bless you that your body will receive the strength to remove the infection you have so that you may be fully restored to health.” No, that was wrong. As soon as the words left his mouth, he somehow knew Sis was going to die. But he couldn’t stop now and abruptly finished the blessing with a mumbled “nameofjesuschristamen.”

After dropping off Brother Gilbert, Craig drove home silently, wondering if he was going crazy. She’ll be fine, he told himself. You’re just overthinking things, as usual.

“Who’s sick?” Ana asked. “I hope the Angel of Death won’t be making an appearance tonight.” By now even she was finding some morbid humor in the whole thing.

“Oh, nothing like that,” Craig said. “It’s Sis. She has some kind of infection, but she says she’ll be fine.” He wanted to tell her about his impression, but he didn’t want to worry her.

“Oh, I hope she’s OK!” Ana said, clearly worried.

“She’ll be fine,” Craig said.

Later, at his computer, Craig read with shock DuPlessis’ attempt to “out” and discredit Sidious, though he was impressed with Jared Richards’ response. It took a lot of bravery to put yourself out there like this, but how had it come to this?

He opened an email from DuPlessis, which appeared to have been sent to every member of the Short List, as well as to a large number of current and past posters on the MIC board. True to form, Alex proclaimed himself the victim, whose only crime was that he had been forced to defend his privacy, and he decried the double-standard of the moderators at that wicked board.

From what Craig could see, no one had replied to Alex’s message. Probably they didn’t want to be associated with what he had done, and Craig couldn’t blame them. But Craig felt obligated. He hadn’t exactly pushed Alex to this, but he had done nothing to stop it, and once Tanner had become involved, Craig had sat back and subtly fanned the flames of paranoia and revenge.

He sent a brief note to DuPlessis expressing his dismay at the turn of events (outright condemnation would have seemed hypocritical) and closed with this:

“Whether you intended to do so or not, you crossed a line by using someone’s personal information against them. You owe him and everyone else on the board an apology.”

Then Craig noticed an email in the Short List folder. It was from Tanner Scott.

“Brethren,

“Just like I predicted, it did not take long to expose the mole in our ranks. I’ve suspected DuPlessis for a long time. He always seemed just a little too angry to be real, but now we know it was all just an act designed to make us believe he was on our side. I knew that if I fed him enough information, eventually he would make a mistake and reveal himself. The Sidious affair seems to have done the trick.

“As you know, I have a friend who is very good at tracking down information about just about anyone, friend or foe. For the last few months he’s been looking into several suspects, including DuPlessis. (Don’t be paranoid. My friend isn’t looking at anyone here anymore.) What he found was interesting, to say the least. It seems that Brother DuPlessis isn’t quite what he would like us to believe. Some of you may remember that four years ago, DuPlessis gave a paper at a MIC conference in Kirtland, Ohio, but was not around for the closing banquet. Attached you will find a few photographs taken at a ‘bar’ outside of Cleveland, taken that evening. Let’s just say that Alex’s wife and bishop will find them interesting. LOL.”

Craig felt physically ill. What had he done?

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Alex arrived home from work, exhausted. Jean was on her knees, digging in the front garden, and as he approached, he saw that with her bare hands she was tearing the rose bushes out by the roots and tossing them into a rubbish bin.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

Jean looked up at him, and from the dirty trails down her cheeks, he could see that she had been crying. Now, she looked at him stonefaced. “I’ve had a message from your friends.”

She reached her bloody hands into the pocket of her jacket and help up the printouts. They showed Alex with several men at a club in Ohio. His heart sank. How did they find out? He had been so careful.

“Its–it’s not what you think,” he stammered.

“Yes, it is,” she said, holding up the last photo, which showed Alex kissing a bare-chested black man who looked vaguely like Zanoxolo.

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The next morning, Craig wrote out a long apology, explaining exactly what he had done and why, and asking for forgiveness. Each time he had deleted it and started over, as it never sounded sincere and seemed only an attempt to excuse himself.

Ana walked into the room, carrying a small, potted rose.

“What’s that?” he asked.

“Sis passed away last night,” she said. “She wanted you to have it.” Only now did he notice that Ana had been crying.

He took the pot from her and looked at the delicate buds.

“Maybe Porter can teach me how to grow these things. I definitely need a new hobby.”

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Tanner Scott sat at his computer. The room was cluttered with textbooks and disassembled Xbox controllers. Pinned to the corkboard above the desk were several “Hi, I’m Tanner” nametags from association conferences and UVU’s “Life, the Universe, and Everything,” Next to a Taylor Swift poster (to which he had taped his wrist band from the concert last summer) was a framed certificate of appreciation from the association for “ongoing efforts to support our mission.”

His mother was calling him for dinner, but it could wait. He had received the most important email of his life, and he was going to savor the moment.

“Dear Tanner,

“You have done excellent work, as I knew you would. I’ve been telling everyone at the association that you have a bright future in our important work, and I have no reservations in saying that you will lead the rising generation in defending the faith.

“I am sorry that I could not tell you until after the fact about what we were doing, but you can understand how important it was to keep things close to the vest until we were sure. I can safely say we couldn’t have done this without you, and saying you had a secret ‘friend’ feeding you information was pure genius. It kept all the suspects off-guard.

“In the end, truth has prevailed, and good has triumphed over evil. Even if he hadn’t been guilty, I shudder to think that we had one of those people in our group. I feel we can now move forward, cleansed and renewed, almost as if the group has undergone a sort of baptism. I am personally grateful for your help in bringing about this revitalization. Now is not the time to sit back and let our enemies divide us, for together we have a bright future.

“Your friend in Christ,

“The ‘fat old blowhard.'”

The End


The Revelator, Part VIII

May 22, 2014

Part VIII

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.

“Alex DuPlessis.”

“I demand my right to privacy, the same as anyone else on this board.” He could feel his face flushing again.

“Alex DuPlessis.”

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.


The Revelator, Part VII

May 20, 2014

Craig was beginning to think this was all pointless. What exactly was he supposed to be gleaning from the emails Alex was forwarding him from Tanner? The kid alternated between bravado and a weird, almost childlike, deference to DuPlessis. Nothing had been leaked so far, but then Craig hadn’t expected anything. After all, the revelator was busy spying on Tanner Scott at the behest of Alex DuPlessis. Wrap your head around that, he thought. It felt strange just thinking about it, as if he were Bérenger watching the people around him mutate, only these guys were turning into angry, paranoid cranks afraid of their own Inboxes. I’d rather be a rhinoceros, Craig thought.

He’d had a long day full of meetings (Mormons like their meetings, don’t they?), and stuck in traffic on traffic on Beck Street near the refineries, he had noticed that the clutch on the BMW had begun to chatter. As he stepped out of the car into the hot garage, he could smell it: the pressure plate was going. He’d bought the car during the first of what now seemed like an endless series of midlife crises. Oh, well, that one had just saddled him with a hefty car payment and a ruined clutch. This latest one had turned his world upside down.

Ana had left a note saying she was off with the girls getting some potting soil for a Young Women’s service project. Craig never seemed to have time for such things anymore.

He sat down at the kitchen table, opened the laptop, and started reading the surreal exchanges between Tanner and DuPlessis. Each email to or from Tanner had been dutifully forwarded to Craig, with relevant portions highlighted in yellow. He felt like a zoologist observing the grooming rituals of a pair of chimps in the wild.

He never knew how to respond to these reports, so he would limit himself to brief comments such as “keep up the good work” or expressions of gratitude that DuPlessis had given him the honor of working with him.

“Whatcha doing, Dad?” Porter asked.

“Nothing that can’t wait,” Craig smiled, snapping the laptop shut. “What’s up with you?”

“Nothing much,” Porter shrugged.

“How’s the garden going?”

“The tomatoes are much bigger, and the serranos are starting to look like real peppers–tiny, dark green ones, but they finally look like they should.”

“That’s a good sign,” Craig said. “How’s your friend–Loren, was it?”

“Much better. I think I’ve figured out how to deal with those guys.” Porter grabbed a cookie from a bag in the pantry.

“Oh? How’d you do that?” Craig took a couple from the bag, too. Ana wouldn’t be happy that he was blowing his diet, but then a good father had to make sacrifices when opportunities for father-son bonding arose.

“I just figured I’d make it more painful for them than it is for Loren. I’m bigger than any of those guys, and they know they’d get caught if they ganged up on me. So, I decided to take them on, one at a time. Every time someone bothered Loren, I bothered him. Whoever knocked him down got knocked down. By yours truly.” He seemed pleased.

“Don’t they tell the teacher?” Craig took a pair of glasses from the cupboard, retrieved a jug of milk from the fridge, and filled both glasses.

“They would, but then everyone would say they were the pussies. The funny thing about it is that Loren is actually pretty strong, and pretty soon he realized he didn’t need me anymore. Still, they’re not going to take both of us on, so we stick together.” He dunked his cookie into the milk.

“Well, officially, I can’t condone any physical violence, but I’m proud of you for standing up for Loren. I know what it’s like to be bullied when there’s no one around to help.” Craig dunked his cookie, for good measure.

“We’ve become friends, Dad. I thought he was weird, but he’s just quiet. Really funny when he does talk, though. I’ve been helping him with the flowers because there’s too much work for just one person. I even brought some roses home for Mom after school.” He pointed at a Mason jar with half a dozen pink roses on the counter. “I never knew you had to give them so much attention and care. My teacher says if you don’t prune and water and fertilize them just right, they grow wild, and the flowers are small and kind of ugly.”

“These are beautiful. You guys must be pretty good at it.”

“Yeah, just don’t tell anyone. I have a reputation to protect.” Porter laughed, taking another cookie from the bag. Craig took one, too. For the boy, he said to himself.

Later he opened yet another long rant from Tanner about how the “good guys” might have taken a few lumps, but they’d come back in fighting form. Craig had long believed that Tanner had never been able to distinguish between religious faith and team sports. Being an apologist was for him like being a season-ticket holder to BYU football, though very few BYU fans engaged in the kind of trash-talking and taunting that Tanner did. Suddenly it hit him: Tanner was a child, with the temperament and maturity of a pre-teen. He would gladly put Porter up against him any day. Tanner bullied those he perceived as weak, but Porter would defend them every time. It was Tanner who was weak, he could see that much.

He had taken a risk having DuPlessis invite Tanner first, but rather than proceed carefully, as Craig would have done, DuPlessis seemed to be egging him on every time he flew off the handle. Was DuPlessis actually feeding the kid’s rage? It sure seemed like it.

When Tanner speculated about the leaker, naming names, DuPlessis encouraged him. “Yes, I’ve never been convinced he was entirely on our side. Maybe your friend can find out more about him for us.” He had even agreed when Tanner suggested that Dalton Kane could possibly be the mole. DuPlessis had seemed almost delighted when Tanner referred to Kane as “that fat old blowhard.”

At the same time, DuPlessis went out of his way to stroke Tanner’s ego. “I reached out to you because I know I can trust you. You’re not like the older guys, who have divided loyalties because over the years they’ve become too friendly with the enemy. You’ve always stayed on the right side of the line.”

Apparently sensing that Craig might not approve of all this, DuPlessis had written, “I have to make him believe he’s safe with me. Until then, he will always have his guard up. We’ve got to convince him we aren’t setting him up.”

This made it official: Despite his well-known ego and self-proclaimed wit, DuPlessis was, well, quite an idiot. If any of the exchanges with Tanner ever made their way to Kane and the others, DuPlessis would be finished as an apologist. From Craig’s position, DuPlessis was risking everything–his reputation, his position among the apologists, and his most valued friendships–and there was no potential reward for the risk. The best DuPlessis could hope for would be that no one would ever find out about his plan. But it was plain that DuPlessis not only didn’t realize the risks he had taken but had not understood how foolish the “plan,” if it could be called that, was. For now, however, Craig let him play at puppetmaster, hoping that Tanner wouldn’t shoot his mouth off at the wrong moment.

It needs to be more painful for them, he thought.

“How long do you plan on keeping Tanner in the dark?” he had asked DuPlessis after he had received another email of play-by-play commentary on Tanner’s rising zeal.

“One month is enough,” DuPlessis had replied. Craig wondered how he had arrived at this arbitrary time limit, but then nothing DuPlessis was doing made any sense. Well, that wasn’t entirely true. It made perfect sense if DuPlessis were an angry dimwit, which he was, of course.

After three weeks, Tanner had pretty much attacked the characters of every member of the Short List, including Craig.

“I’ve met Craig,” Tanner had written. “I don’t like him. He tries so hard to be ‘nice,’ but we all know it’s an act. I don’t even know who invited him to the list in the first place. I wouldn’t have, anyway. The condescending bastard.”

Craig had met Tanner exactly twice, first at a dinner honoring Dalton Kane, when Tanner had sat across from Craig and had talked for two hours straight. Amused, Craig had let him talk, interjecting only to nod at appropriate moments. And then there had been the night he’d seen him at the church before the Young Women in Excellence program. As far as he could recollect, he’d never communicated directly with Tanner by email, phone, or any other way. Oh, well, he thought. Not exactly the kind of friend I want to have.

Ana looked over his shoulder. “I thought you were done with that stuff. You promised.” She set some bags from Home Depot and one from VerDon’s Crafts on the counter.

“I know I did,” he said, sheepishly. “It’s a long story, but I have to stop some bad things from happening.”

“What bad things?” she asked.

He tried to explain it all, from the attack on Arlen to Tanner’s mysterious friend to the collapse of the list. But it all sounded so silly, like the plot from an old episodes of The Avengers, a cheesy British spy show he’d watched as a boy after school. Only he wasn’t Steed, and he didn’t think Dalton Kane would look very good in a leather catsuit. He told her about Porter’s class and how he felt he was in the same position to do something about the bullies, but he didn’t sound convincing, not even to himself.

“I don’t understand any of it,” Ana said. “Those people are nuts. I’ve been telling you to walk away from that for years, but you never listen.”

“I know,” Craig said. “I’m sorry.”

“Do you really think something bad is going to happen?”

“Not if I can help it,” he said.

“You’re like children,” she said, shaking her head in disgust and walking away. “Time to grow up!”

She and the girls went out to the backyard to work on their project. Even Porter went out to help.

Craig went back to the emails, feeling a little slimy by the time he finished. He went out to the back patio to see how the project was coming. Porter was putting the last of the miniature rose plants into small ceramic pots.

“They’re for a program at the nursing home.” Ana said. Once a quarter, each ward in the stake was assigned to provide a “family night” at a nursing home within the stake boundaries. Craig had always thought the place was depressing, but the flowers might cheer things up until the next time the Angel of Death came calling.

As they loaded the trays of flowers into the back of the SUV, Craig wondered why he couldn’t force himself to be interested in something worthwhile. A few years before he had briefly volunteered as a Spanish translator at the county’s free medical clinic, but his schedule kept changing and he couldn’t keep it up. The only constant in his life, it seemed, was his obsessive-compulsive participation in these pointless message boards.

Tanner’s tirade continued over the next week, and Craig was starting to get bored. A child throwing a sustained tantrum isn’t interesting even at the beginning, and once the tantrum has reached its peak, even the most attentive parent learns to tune it out. Craig had stopped caring what Tanner was saying, but he wondered how long Tanner could sustain the ranting. Surely, he’d get tired eventually. Then he reminded himself that DuPlessis had maintained an unmatched level of righteous fury for some twenty years without interruption. Once, an apologist, trying to be charitable, suggested that DuPlessis may not have started out angry and nasty but had been pushed to it by constant attacks from anti-Mormons.

No, Craig had been there when DuPlessis had arrived on the old listserv boards, as angry and spiteful as he would ever be. Nothing had changed since then. Craig had been fresh out of grad school then and was still dating Ana. Since then he’d landed his dream job, married and had four beautiful children, and had lost his faith along the way. But had anything really changed for him, either?

Maybe it was time to give DuPlessis’ plan a little nudge to shake things up a little.


The Revelator, Part VI

May 19, 2014

“Have we any apricot jam left?” Alex called from the breakfast table.

“No, dear heart,” Jean called from the kitchen. “I’ve put what we have left out on the table for you.”

Alex stared at the two jars. “Green Fig Conserve.” What is that? he thought. He recognized the other jar: Jean’s rose-hip jam. Pushing the jars away in disgust, he buttered his toast and ate it quietly as he logged into his email account.

A week had passed, and things were already moving. As he had made clear to Craig, they needed to take their time.

Tanner was in, just as Alex had expected him to be. All it had taken was a subtle appeal to his vanity, the same way it had with Craig. Most people were pretty easy, weren’t they? Alex understood human nature, and he prided himself on being unmoved by such things, though heaven knows others had tried many times. But he wasn’t in it for personal glory–though there had been quite a lot of that, he had to admit–no, it was only the glory of God and the progress of truth that mattered to Alex.

The note from Tanner was predictably long, his enthusiasm and apparent anger rising with each sentence. Good, thought Alex. People make mistakes when they’re angry. Perhaps Craig had been right to invite Tanner first.

There wasn’t much of interest in the email, mostly Tanner pledging his loyalty and cursing their enemies, but buried in all that had been a couple of sentences Alex had almost missed:

“My friend has a tentative identity for Sidious, a name and address, though he has not yet confirmed this information. Be assured that, if my friend is correct, Jared Richards of Sandy, Utah, will wish he’d never crossed us.”

Alex smiled. That bit of good news might even get me through sacrament meeting, he thought.

Later, Alex sat with his phone and thought how best to reply to Tanner’s message.

Jean nudged him sharply with her elbow. She whispered, almost hissing, “Put that away, and pay attention! Sister Niekirk has put a lot of effort into the lesson.”

They sat in the Relief Society room, where a large woman stood in a frock that was obviously designed for someone much younger. She was clearly nervous, her carefully sprayed hair starting to wilt a little while tiny beads of sweat forced their way through what Alex imagined were several layers of makeup. On the table in front of her, several pages of notes were spread out, along with a tattered lesson manual. In the midst of the sprawl stood an elegant crystal vase holding several pink roses carefully arranged.

Typical, Alex thought, smirking. They never get to the meat of the doctrine, but at least they have their floral arrangement.

“… the meek: for they shall inherit the earth,” she was saying.

It was a nice thought, Alex had to admit, but the meek always ended up like Arlen Compton. People who want light discipline are unlikely to inherit the earth, he chuckled to himself.

He had once felt meek, though it was more fear than meekness. At 19 he had dutifully submitted his mission papers and had been called to, of all places, Córdoba, Argentina. He had spent two months in the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, USA, where he had felt completely disoriented. Most of the missionaries were kind to him, but others could sense his fear. They mocked his accent, apparently mistaking him for a posh Englishman. But mostly he had just been overwhelmed. He had thought he understood the doctrines of the church, but the others, mostly from Utah and Idaho, seemed to belong to a different religion than the one he had known in South Africa.

Each week they had walked up the hill to the temple, where he once again recoiled when he had to pantomime having his throat cut or his heart torn out as “penalties” for not keeping the temple covenants secret. The food did not agree with him, and the long hours had exhausted him mentally and physically. And, no matter how hard he tried, he could not keep up with the others in learning Spanish. At a low point, he had heard his instructor tell his companion, “Just try and encourage him. He just doesn’t have the talent or intelligence to pick up the language or the discussions easily. Keep him in your prayers.”

When he arrived in Argentina, his American companion had told him, “I’m out of here in a month, so don’t give me any crap.” They had done very little missionary work, and Elder DuPlessis had spent most of his time memorizing the discussions. But with almost no interaction with real Argentinians, he hadn’t really learned the language. When he did give a discussion, he rattled through it quickly, leading some investigators to laugh at him. “¡Mirá, hablá castellano, che!”

Early on, he had felt humiliated by Catholics and Evangelicals who obviously knew more about the Bible than he did, and he had sputtered angrily when he could not counter their attacks.

“Don’t worry about it,” his companion had said. “You’re not going to convert anyone by bashing.”

No, but he would never let them get the upper hand again. The rest of his mission he had worked harder than he had thought possible, and eventually he could carry on a conversation in Spanish, though some people still made fun of his accent. But no one could touch his knowledge of the gospel. He had pored over the scriptures, reading them through twice in English, twice in Spanish, and every siesta, while his companions had slept, he had systematically studied gospel topics according to the official, church-published Topical Guide and Bible Dictionary. He had even managed to get a full set of Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation.

He had come home with a nearly encyclopedic knowledge of the gospel and a fondness for dulce de leche and yerba mate.

“Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.” Sister Niekirk’s voice interrupted his thoughts. “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.”

Sometimes he thought the Savior must have had MIC in mind when he had said those words on the Galilean mount two thousand years before. Alex and his fellow-defenders had been sorely persecuted, but he knew that a great reward in heaven would await him if he could just endure to the end.

He looked to his right and saw that the two sister missionaries, both American, were staring into their scriptures. He wasn’t entirely sure, but one of them–definitely the better-looking one, he thought–looked as if she were sleeping. She didn’t have Jean’s elbow to keep her focused.

After priesthood meeting–a yawner about magnifying your calling–Alex had made his way out to the carpark, where Jean and the boys waited next to the car.

“I don’t know why you lock it,” Jean said, obviously unhappy that she’d been made to wait in the heat. “No one is going to steal a ten-year-old Ford.”

Alex started the car in silence.

As they rounded the corner onto Walter Sisulu Road (the name still irritated Alex), Jean turned and said brightly, “Wasn’t that a lovely Gospel Doctrine lesson from Sister Niekirk?”

“Oh, yes, lovely,” he agreed absently.

“What was your favorite part?” Jean asked.

“So much of it was wonderful,” he lied. “I couldn’t possibly choose a favorite. What part did you like best?”

“That last part about loving our enemies and doing good to people who hate us. The world would be so much better a place if we could all learn to do that, don’t you think, dear?”

“Yes, yes,” he said, thinking. “I am convinced that we show our love best when we combat hate and error with truth. Standing boldly for the truth, no matter the consequence–that is the greatest love we can show.”

Jean shook her head, “No, Alex, I don’t think that’s it at all. We are to turn the other cheek and pray for our enemies. Jesus never said anything about fighting back.”

“Allowing people to remain in ignorance of the truth is not love,” Alex said, glaring at his wife.

She sat silently for several minutes. As they neared the last turn before the gate, she smiled brightly. “Weren’t those flowers beautiful? Sister Niekirk said she’d be happy to give me a cutting. They’re a lighter shade than the Love Knot but darker than the new ones your friends sent us. They’ll make a perfect transition between them.”

Alex braked to a stop at the gate.

“Hello, sir! Glorious day, isn’t it?” Zanoxolo said, grinning broadly. “And you, Ma’am, you’re looking radiant this afternoon!”

“Just open the gate,” Alex said, staring straight ahead. Jean gave him a dirty look, but he pretended not to notice.


The Revelator, Part IV

May 15, 2014

Alex sat at the kitchen table, grumbling to himself about having to eat such unsatisfactory fare. Most Saturdays Jean rose early to cook a hot breakfast for him and the boys, and today of all days he had expected something showing a little more gratitude. He and the boys would be working in the rose beds all day, and they would need real sustenance. Couldn’t she understand that?

As he dunked the hard rusk into his steaming cup of rooibos, he opened the browser on his laptop to the MIC message board. He noticed straightaway that a thread posted the day before with the startling title “Sex Scandal at MDB?” had been locked immediately. Intrigued, he navigated to the MormonDiscourse board, only to find a new post from the revelator:

“As promised, I have a partial roster for the secret ‘short list’ of MIC posters. I can confirm that the following individuals are definitely involved in the group: Dalton Kane, Steven Marsden, Reid Gordon, Tanner Scott, and Alex DuPlessis. Others will be named at a later date.

“My sources tell me that this group’s activities have been fairly benign, limited as they are to discussions of scripture studies, BYU sports, and the sex lives of MormonDiscourse posters. A recent discussion, for example, focused on using a private investigator to reveal intimate details of MDB posters’ sex lives, after which the group decided that anonymously informing posters’ bishops would be, in the words of Brother DuPlessis, ‘the most honourable course of action.’ It is not known if refreshments were served.

“Stay tuned for more of the wacky world of the Short List.”

The response at the Short List was predictable: outrage and disgust that one of their number had betrayed them and given ammunition to their enemies.

“Someone has hacked us!” Tanner Scott was sure of it. “I’m on it. They’ll regret ever calling me ‘Bieber, Junior.’ I know a little about hacking, you know, and it won’t take me long to find those motherfuckers!”

Alex grimaced slightly at the foul language, but Tanner was just a kid, so such lapses could be forgiven.

Reid Gordon sounded worried. “I knew I shouldn’t have used my work address for the group, but I thought it would be safe. what if they contact my boss? He would never understand. I could get fired.”

Dalton Kane vowed to get to the bottom of this. “It is clear that an enemy hath done this, and I am sad to say, it is an enemy among our very ranks. This is deeply, deeply troubling. I am routinely accused of despicable behavior, but this, brethren, this is what real evil looks like. I do not know how or when, but the traitor will be exposed. Mark my words.”

The outrage soon gave way to panic, with several posters echoing Gordon’s concern that they could all be at risk. What else could the revelator know about them? Then, as if the members had all come to the same horrified conclusion at the same time, the list had gone silent. Not a single email had been received for more than 8 hours, which was surely a new record. It was as if the Short List had simply closed its doors for business.

“Come on, dear heart, it’s time to get to work on the garden!” Jean called cheerfully as she strode into the kitchen wearing a broad-brimmed hat, modest shorts, a DA campaign t-shirt, and work gloves. The twins looked up from their video game as she called out, “You too, boys! Let’s go!”

Alex didn’t move a muscle. “Can’t it wait, love? I’ve got some important work to take care of,” he said through clenched teeth.

Jean frowned and wagged her finger at him in mock scolding. “You promised, my dear! A promise is a promise, after all.”

“Come on, boys, you heard your mother!” he snapped at William and Daniel. They shrugged and shuffled out the door ahead of him.

At such times, Alex had to remind himself that Jean’s constantly pleasant demeanour was a good thing. Fifteen years younger than Alex, she had been instantly drawn to him when they met at the district centre’s chapel between broadcast sessions of general conference. He had impressed her with his keen intellect and, of course, his unfailing devotion to the gospel. Still, he had always felt she had married beneath her. A convert to the church in her teens, she had embraced the church’s teaching that within each of us was a spark of the divine, and that we could, with faith and diligence, become just like our Father and Mother in Heaven. As she immersed herself more and more into the gospel and the church, she felt strong enough to shed the weight of shame and inadequacy she had felt as a child. Her parents had, it seemed, been constitutionally incapable of giving her any praise or approval. They continually criticised her appearance, her marks in school, her behavior, and anything about her that they found objectionable–and that was almost everything.

Alex, like everyone else who met Jean, was instantly taken by her cheerful and positive outlook on life. He had never met anyone before who so genuinely believed that everything in life would turn out for good, no matter how difficult things could get. Unlike his first wife, Jean made him want to be a better person, not just for her, but for himself, too. The cynical part of him had initially been unable to accept that someone could be so genuinely good, but try as he might, the more he dug beneath the surface, the more goodness he found.

Jean was confused when he tried to explain his important work for the association, but she had felt she shouldn’t stand in the way of what Alex thought was right. She always said he was brilliant–he couldn’t help but acknowledge that he was much her intellectual superior–and he told her that the church needed such men to stand for the right. He told her not to worry herself over things she couldn’t possibly understand, and eventually she had learned to live with his evening work.

The sun shone brightly as Alex trudged into the front garden. A security guard smiled and waved from his air-conditioned booth at the community’s main gate just a few metres from their garden. They young man’s name was Zanoxolo, and Jean had befriended him some time ago, although Alex had warned her that it was never a good idea to get too chummy with the help. But good-natured Jean had ignored his advice, and soon she and Zanoxolo had become fast friends. When the garden was in full bloom, Zanoxolo often wore one of Jean’s flowers in the lapel of his dark-blue uniform jacket. She often took him fresh produce from their back garden and gave him a few jars of whatever they had canned that year. His favorite, he said, was the rose-hip marmalade Jean made every year when the blooms had faded. Zanoxolo had never tasted anything like it, he said. “Like heaven on earth.” They always had more than enough of the marmalade because Alex couldn’t stand the stuff.

Jean explained that the garden as it stood was a little too crowded to accommodate the new plant, which had somehow survived the long journey from Idaho relatively unscathed. It was downright miraculous, she said. Kneeling by the plant closest to the front walk, she showed Alex how best to cut the branches back and then to check for disease or signs of weakness. As she snipped off a stem, she became slightly emotional. “I don’t know why, but I always feel a little cruel and guilty when I cut back my beautiful plants.” She knew it was silly, she said, but she felt a motherly connection to each plant, knowing how she had nurtured and developed them to a beautiful maturity. At least one would have to go, she told him, her voice breaking slightly again. to make room for the new plant.

Alex did the best he could to stay focused on the roses, but his mind kept wandering back to the Short List. He had been right to worry, he thought, while the rest of those buffoons had been distracted by Sidious. As he snapped off a large branch, he wondered how he could keep the lines of communication open without exposing anything else to the revelator.

“Alex! Be careful, dear! You’re cutting too much out!” Jean shouted, interrupting his thoughts. She caught herself and said much more softly and sweetly, “I don’t mean to be critical, but please do try to be more careful.”

“Sorry, dear. I’m afraid I haven’t the knack for this sort of thing.” He tried to sound cheerful, but he thought it came out a little forced. Jean winced slightly, and then her smile returned.

“You mustn’t get discouraged,” Jean smiled broadly. “One plant at a time, one stem at a time, and you’ll get there.”

That’s it! he thought. One at a time, I’ll pluck away the branches and get to the root.

He worked for what seemed like hours, pausing only when Daniel appeard with two glasses of cold lemonade.

“Who’s the other one for?”

Daniel smiled. “Mum says we need to take care of Mr. Zanaxolo. He’s our friend.”

Alex couldn’t but feel a little guilty as he watched Daniel hand the glass to the grinning security guard. He knew he should be grateful, as Zanaxolo had been teaching his boys some advanced football skills. Even if Alex had possessed the talent, he knew he didn’t have the time for such things. He had sacrificed a great deal for the association, but it was a cause he believed in. He raised his glass toward Zanaxolo, who raised his in return. Cheers, mate.

That evening, Alex sat with his laptop, wondering where to start. First, he knew he had to contain some of the damage on MormonDiscourse, where numerous apostates had feigned outrage over his actions. Somehow, his well-intentioned efforts to help a Latter-day Saint sister in real danger had been twisted into a tawdry tale of sexual blackmail. This could not be allowed to stand.

Although his fingers were still stinging from multiple thorn pricks, he began typing a new post on MormonDiscourse:

“Although I am loath to wade into this cesspool of the worst humanity has to offer, I must risk having some of the contamination rub off on me to set the record straight.

“Recently, in violation of the board’s rules, my name has been used without my permission. Most decent human beings understand the need for anonymity on the Internet, and the continued ‘outing’ of my personal, private information by several people here is unacceptable, although entirely within character. I would try to reason with your better selves, but alas, I’m afraid you don’t have any better selves.”

That was a good start, he chuckled to himself. This wasn’t the first time he had complained about his name being used here. It happened a few times a year, and he had taken the opportunity each time to condemn this outrageous invasion of privacy in the strongest terms. Yes, he was well aware that his name was widely known on that board and elsewhere, and he himself had acknowledged his identity on MormonDiscourses. Still, it was the principle of the thing, and board policy had been violated. Besides, it gave him another chance to drop in and vituperate the apostate horde. He so enjoyed watching them gnash their teeth helplessly.

He cracked his knuckles and continued:

“Under normal circumstances, I would be inclined to let such a dastardly deed pass without comment; however, in an unexpected and diabolically clever twist I hadn’t thought you riff-raff capable of, my name has now been associated with a lie of the darkest hue. Only the most deranged and foaming-mouthed anti-Mormon could ever imagine me capable of delving into other people’s most intimate lives, let alone using such information to hurt other people. I am left to consider that the purveyors of this devilish fabrication have devised it because such a scheme of blackmail is something they would do if they had the chance.”

It was perfect. He hadn’t actually denied the accusation, and at the same time he had masterfully turned a potentially embarrassing episode into yet another display of the depths to which the Lord’s enemies would sink in their campaign to ruin lives.

Besides, whoever leaked the information could not possibly prove the accusation without revealing poor Arlen’s situation. They wouldn’t do that, would they? No, they were much lesser beings than he, but even they would never sink that low.

One branch at a time, he remembered. Now he just needed to find a secure and trusted channel for sharing information. Surely someone on the Short List had remained untainted by the recent discussion and could be counted on for absolute discretion and confidentiality. He looked over the list carefully and, after a quick prayer, made his choice.

He began typing: “Dear Craig …”


The Revelator, Part III

May 15, 2014

It had been two weeks since his lunch with Jack, and Craig had thus far succeeded in avoiding apologetics in all its forms. He had stayed off the boards and the Short List, and he was starting to feel less of a pull to go back. His wife, Ana, had for a long time pleaded with him to disengage. She had a very simple and sincere faith, and she believed that spending so much time on “trivialities” distracted people from the important parts of the gospel. Besides, she had begun to believe that the apologists were wolves in sheep’s clothing, bent on destroying testimonies, not salvaging them. She wondered if they hadn’t been partly successful with Craig, and she was naturally quite pleased when he told her of his plans to walk away from that mess.

“I’ve prayed for this for a long time,” she said, hugging him tightly and kissing the side of his neck. “Sometimes it feels like I’ve lost you to those men. I want you back. I need you more than they do.”

Craig had been surprised at how much more productive he had become without the distraction of the Short List. Each day he noted that the Short List folder in Outlook was filling rapidly–93 unread messages already–and he wondered what they could possibly be talking about. But each rise in the number reinforced in Craig’s mind that he had made the right choice in walking away. It had been good timing because he suddenly had a lot on his plate at work.

He’d barely made a deadline to get a report to his boss, working an hour late before sending it off. He would check in later to make sure his boss had approved the report. Walking to his car, Craig called Ana to tell her he was late and would have to meet the family at the church for tonight’s “Young Women in Excellence” meeting. He knew how hard Eliza had worked on her project, and he wasn’t going to miss it. Craig was just finishing his Double-Double as he pulled into the parking lot. Eliza had recently taken a class in floral design, and for her project she would be displaying a carefully designed arrangement to show off her developing talent.

As he opened the meetinghouse door, he saw Tanner Scott dressed in an uncomfortable-looking suit and sitting in a chair in the foyer. What the hell was he doing here?

“Craig!” Tanner said cheerfully. “Where have you been, bro? We thought maybe you were in an accident or something.”

“No, just busy,” Craig replied, hoping to make a quick getaway.

“You must be here for the Young Women thing. Bo-ring!” Craig gave him a look of disapproval. “Oh, right, you have a daughter that age. What is she, 13, now?”

“She’s 16,” Craig said, trying to look annoyed–which he was.

“Uh, sorry, dude,” Tanner said, sheepishly. “You’ve totally missed out. All that stuff about perversion and everything. You gotta come back.”

“Excuse me?” Craig asked. Perversion?

“Oh, ya, we got some really juicy stuff on Arlen. I can’t wait to see how it plays out.” Just then the door to a nearby bishop’s office opened. “Can’t talk now, dude. Interview. Later!” With that Tanner was gone.

Craig hurried down the hallway and entered the Relief Society room, where a few dozen people walked around several displays of arts and crafts, where beaming young women explained their displays and how they related to the Young Women values. In the corner Eliza looked radiant in front of a beautiful arrangement of pink roses on a table. A tastefully decorated placard read:

“Individual Worth.”

“I am of infinite worth with my own divine mission, which I will strive to fulfill (D&C 18:10).”

“Hi, Daddy,” Eliza said, giving him a brief hug. She looked so much like her mother, especially her deep green eyes, except she had Craig’s dark hair.

“You look beautiful, as does your display,” Craig told her. “I knew you had talent, but this is amazing. I’m so proud of you.”

“Glad you could make it,” Ana said, taking hold of his hand and leading him to a chair. “I wasn’t sure you would.”

“I would never miss anything like this,” Craig said, though they both knew he had in the past.

“It’s enough to know you’re trying,” Ana whispered as the bishop stood up to begin the meeting.

She held his hand through the meeting as the young women rose, one after another, to present their projects and explain their importance of values in their lives. Craig looked down the row at his four children. Eliza sat nervously winding a strand of her hair around her finger as she silently rehearsed her lines, but Sarah and Noemi seemed completely absorbed in watching these older, more mature girls explain the values of the Young Women program, which they would someday experience for themselves. Porter, who was 13, was clearly not enjoying the program. Craig watched him fidgeting in his seat, rolling his eyes every time one of the young women used a word like “blessing” or “special.” Feeling some pity for his son, Craig handed him his cell phone, trying hard not to make it too noticeable.

Porter’s face showed a mixture of gratitude and relief. Ana had given him a look of mild disappointment, but soon Porter was busy playing Ridiculous Fishing, having tuned out the rest of the meeting. Craig wondered if that’s what had happened to him: he had pushed aside the good, positive things in life to focus on a narrow and ultimately meaningless game. In his zeal to defend his faith, he had forgotten about the values he had been raised with. Maybe Ana was right, and religion was less about Native American DNA and more about individual worth and divine potential.

Later that night, Craig logged into his computer to check on the report from work. As he had hoped, his boss had approved the report without changes–he was kind of lazy that way–and had simply forwarded it to the client.

The Short List box now had 107 unread messages. Craig’s mind returned to his brief encounter with Tanner. What could he have meant by “perversion,” and what did Arlen have to do with it?

Craig had long admired Arlen, a long-time LDS poster on MIC who taught humanities at a small college somewhere in Kansas. Arlen found LDS church history and doctrine fascinating and could always be counted on for insight into just about any topic. He frequently reminded people that he had a testimony that the gospel was true, but he made it clear he was not interested in defending the orthodox, correlated position. Many times he had angered Dr. Kane and his friends at the association by publishing essays that poked holes in their apologetic works. Alex and a few of the others had begun taunting him for his lack of commitment to the gospel, saying he was obviously too lazy to choose a side and stick with it. Arlen had been unapologetic–no pun intended–and said he was comfortable with his faith and was happy to let others believe as they pleased. He was, he said, interested solely in the truth.

What did they have on Arlen, and what were they going to do about it? He had to know, so he opened the Short List folder.

The first few messages involved snarky jokes about Sidious, and then the bombshell dropped.

“To: Short List

“From: Tanner Scott

“Gentlemen,

“As you all know, a friend of mine has been working on identifying Sidious’ IRL identity, and he is making progress, I believe. In the course of his investigations, he has discovered some information that may be useful to members of the list.

“Many of you are aware of Arlen Compton, who pretends to be a believer but constantly undermines all our efforts to bring scholarly light to the study of Mormon scripture and history. While not one of our main suspects for Sidious, Arlen has remained a ‘person of interest,’ so to speak, for obvious reasons.

“As you all know, last year Arlen confided in a fellow Short Lister that he had separated from his wife for a brief period of time. Out of sensitivity for Arlen and his family, this information was shared only with members of our group and a few others. However, in the course of his investigations, my friend has discovered that Arlen engaged in some fairly sleazy activities during that period.

“In September of last year, Arlen used his personal email address to join a ‘fetish’ dating site, where he listed his interests as ‘handcuffs and light discipline,’ among other things too disgusting to share here. My friend has found no direct evidence that Arlen ever met up with anyone from that site, but he has shared with me a few pieces of ‘erotic fiction’ that Arlen posted on the site’s message board. (I will make copies available to anyone who is interested in verifying my friend’s findings.) Arlen’s participation in that site appears to have ended several weeks before he reconciled with his wife and returned home, though we cannot be sure.

“Our concern, of course, ought to be for Arlen’s lovely wife and family, who are probably unaware of his activities. If he did indulge himself at that time, he may well have put his wife at risk of AIDS and other STDs. I personally feel morally conflicted because this is something his wife should know.

“What say ye, brethren?”

Craig felt physically ill. He had long known some of these guys were capable of a lot, but he hadn’t imagined they go this far. Shaken, he continued reading.

“To: Short List

“From: Alex DuPlessis

“There can be no question, we have a moral responsibility to let Arlen’s wife know of the dangers to which she has been exposed. The most honourable course of action would be an anonymous email to Arlen’s bishop. Perhaps then he can get his fill of ‘light discipline.’ If no one else will do the right thing, I will.”

Several members had responded to Alex’s email, but they spoke only of making sure that nothing could be traced back to the group.

They hadn’t as yet contacted Arlen’s bishop, so the revelator would have to act quickly.


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