“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.
“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.
“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.'”