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 …”