It was getting late in Bloemfontein, and the darkness had fallen over a row of stuccoed houses with red, Spanish-tile roofs. Alex DuPlessis was still awake, having years ago adjusted his schedule so he could be online when most of the other members of the association would be home from work. It was nearing 11:00 pm in South Africa, and a few members on the American East Coast would be appearing within the hour. Alex didn’t mind waiting because he had other things to do. The Utah boys would have to wait until tomorrow.
Jean had gone to bed over an hour ago, having resigned herself early on in their marriage to knowing that Alex wasn’t available at this time of night. He tried to make it up to her most weekends, helping her tend the roses that made their front garden the envy of all the neighbors. Tomorrow was going to be a busy day, as he and the twins, William and Daniel, had promised to help Jean plant a new variety his friends had shipped from the Horticulture Department at BYU-Idaho. With luck and a lot of care, the roses would be in full bloom in time for the Rose Festival. He hated gardening, and roses were the worst, with their thorns and sickly sweet smell. The things we do for our loved ones.
After checking the windows and doors, switching on the alarm system, and looking outside to make sure all the streetlamps in the gated community were in service, Alex grabbed a stick of biltong and sat down at his desk to catch up on the day’s events. He quickly read through the latest messages on the board, pausing only occasionally to put a dirty apostate in his or her place. He then took a few moments to skim through the rants at MormonDiscourse, or as he preferred to call it, Outer Darkness, feeling his moral outrage swell with every insult these traitors dared hurl at the true church and its prophets. Finally, he checked his email and, after deleting an advert from a specialised nursery in Pretoria, opened the folder for the Short List–the super-secret closed list of “safe” MIC posters. He wiped his wire-rimmed glasses on his shirtsleeve and noticed immediately that his friends were still talking about “Sidious,” a relatively new poster on MormonDiscourse whose insulting posts had gained him a lot of fans among the crowd of yammering, sycophantic apostates.
Alex knew his friends had dealt with such people before, and he was confident they would ferret him out in the end, so he wasn’t particularly concerned with Sidious. At this point, all anyone knew about Sidious was that he was a business executive of some sort.
“The guy is nothing,” Dalton R. Kane, a religion professor at BYU, had written in his latest email to the group. “He thinks he’s hurting our feelings and is delusional enough to believe we actually care anything about him. Epic fail!” Alex smirked at Kane’s awkward attempt to appear “cool” to the younger generation of apologists.
“What I find most amusing,” Kane continued, “is the continuous refrain that we at the association have engaged in personal attacks and mocking of others. Why, I’m surprised I haven’t been arrested by now, knowing how despicably and cruelly I’ve behaved. Remind me to send flowers to the grieving widows of those whose souls I have so ruthlessly destroyed. Needless to say, it will be a cold day in the telestial kingdom when I allow myself to be lectured on morality by a half-wit apostate punk like him!”
After a few more paragraphs deriding Sidious’s recent posts (they’d begun calling him a “hillbilly economist”), Kane had closed with this:
“I couldn’t care less about this low-life yahoo! As Elder McConkie once said, ‘What does it matter if a few barking dogs snap at the heels of the weary travelers? The caravan moves on!’ I think we can all agree that the best course of action is to ignore this loser. He’s not worth any more effort on our part, and we should just forget about him. By the way, has there been any progress on unmasking him? Not that it matters to me.”
As lightning flashed in the distance over the Highveld, Alex stretched his arms over his head, yawned, and ran his fingers through his graying ginger hair. Regaining his focus, he opened an email from Tanner Scott, one of the rising generation of apologists. Tanner had become an avid participant on the MIC board as a teenager, where with youthful zeal he had joined in the attacks on posters who claimed to be “struggling” with church issues (everyone knew they were lying apostates). Some of the old guard had expressed hope that Tanner’s mission would have a moderating effect on him and motivate him to tone down the attacks, but Tanner came back to the board with renewed energy, seeming to relish every new opportunity to cut the wicked down to size. Alex had been happy to know that someone would be carrying on in this important work long after his generation had departed from the scene.
Tanner’s reply was unusually terse: “Our mutual friend is on the case. I will notify the group when progress has been made.” The lack of rhetorical flourishes told Alex that Tanner was deadly serious.
Satisfied that the Sidious affair was under control, Alex tore off another chunk of biltong with his teeth and went back to his special project. Sidious might bother other members of the group, he thought, chewing the spicy dried meat, but there were weightier matters afoot. Somewhere out there, there is a mole of the blackest character … and I’m going to find him!
For several months, some dark soul had been sharing confidential communications from the MIC group with the scumbags on MormonDiscourse. Alex had begun a few days before to systematically review everything he knew about the apparent leaks. He started working backwards, noting the time of each “revelation” on the hated board, and correlating it to when the information had been discussed originally among his friends. So far, there didn’t seem to be a clear pattern. Sometimes the information went out hours after the relevant discussion, and at other times there was a lag of several days up to a few weeks. No revelations had appeared in the last four weeks, leading Alex to believe one would be forthcoming.
Next he went to the revelations themselves. The latest had disclosed the existence of the Short List, which Dr. Kane had organized in the first place to keep MIC secrets out of Sidious’s reach. Whoever the mole was, he (Alex was sure it was a male) knew more than he should about the group:
“My sources reveal to me that, in response to my earlier disclosures, a group of MIC posters has formed an exclusive email list to discuss recent leaks and to coordinate the apologetic programme with privacy and secrecy. Oops! Further revelations on the activities of this de facto apologetic junta will be forthcoming when fact can be separated from rumour.”
“A complete but ‘short list’ of group members may be difficult to compile, but my sources assure me that a partial roster will be in my hands shortly.”
Three weeks had passed, and Alex was becoming more worried about the breach in security. How much did the “revelator” know, and who was his source?
Strangely, no one else on the Short List seemed at all disturbed that the church’s enemies had discovered the list’s existence. Dr. Kane had said only that someone must have shared too much with a friend, which is why the revelations contained so few details. He asked that members be more circumspect and respect the group’s privacy. Everyone agreed, and attention went back to finding Sidious (the bastard!).
Alex thought how difficult it was now to track someone down. He missed the bygone days when you could more or less tell your friends from your foes online. Back in the mid-1990s, he had been going through a painful divorce and had sunk into depression. He was barely functioning then, managing only to get up in the morning and plod through another day of work before collapsing in his sister’s spare bedroom at the end of the day. Reading his scriptures had helped, but he had sat alone and discouraged each Sunday in church, telling anyone who asked that he just needed time to sort himself out. Still the depression weighed on him as a heavy yoke, until he had prayed with all his might for something to come into his life and give him meaning and purpose again. A few days later, he had stumbled across a listserv discussion group about Mormonism. Each day he read eloquent and scholarly defences of the gospel from such stalwarts as “cdowis” and “wenglund,” and more and more his blood boiled as he read the disgusting attacks hateful anti-Mormons made on the true church of Jesus Christ.
After several weeks of cautious lurking, he could abide no more, and his moral outrage poured out in denunciations of the despicable character of these evil enemies of God. All the anger and hurt from the last several months found a focus in those who would dare fight against the true church. Alex told himself he was defending truth, but deep inside he knew he had been chosen to cut the wicked down to stubble and humble the haughty. As the rage flowed out of him, the depression gradually dissipated, and he found himself invigorated by this unofficial but undeniable calling from God. He had been at it for nearly 20 years now. As the years passed, he had sometimes found it difficult to keep up the proper level of high dudgeon, but each time he felt the smallest twinge of empathy or kindness toward God’s enemies, he reminded himself that he simply could not allow the darkness and gloom to enclose him again. He surprised himself with his ability to draw on unknown reserves of bile until the encroaching sense of humanity had been suppressed.
An hour had passed, and still he had no leads as to the mole’s identity. He snatched the last bit of biltong from the desk and distractedly tried to pop it in his mouth. In his haste, he dropped the meat to the floor, upon which his beagle, Abish, lunged for it. He swatted at the dog’s nose with the back of his hand, and the dog yelped and retreated in fear.
“I’ve missed something,” Alex said aloud, retrieving the biltong from the floor and inserting it into his mouth. “I know I have. Sooner or later, though, I’ll get him.”