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:
“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
“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.