Craig was pretty tired when he and Porter arrived home Saturday night, having sat through yet another two-hour stake priesthood meeting. Porter had looked miserable during the entire meeting, but what could anyone expect from a 13-year-old deacon? In his concluding talk. the stake president had urged priesthood holders to be more “spiritually proactive,” like Captain Moroni and his band of stripling warriors, who had not waited for the forces of evil to make the first move but had gone forward nobly and obediently “with exactness” to confront the adversary’s hosts. If anyone could make the scriptures sound like a middle-management training seminar, it was his stake president, who had made his fortune selling financial-planning services through multilevel marketing. If nothing else, he understood the market here in Utah.
If he was honest with himself, Craig wasn’t enjoying the meeting much more than Porter was. He did feel good about putting a stop to the group’s efforts to hurt Arlen. He wondered if he would have been so spiritually proactive if it had been someone less sympathetic than Arlen. Would he have stopped anyone from doing something like that to someone less deserving like Tanner Scott? Would he have stood on principle or simply have sat back and enjoyed watching the little shit squirm? Craig wasn’t sure he liked the answer to his question, so he tried to console himself that he’d done the right thing in this case, at least.
After the meeting, Craig and Porter sat in a booth at the frozen-custard stand near their home in Bountiful. The Turtle Sundae had looked good on the menu, but it was too much. He had barely managed half of it, and now his stomach was full and he felt a little queasy from sugar overload.
“How’s school?” Craig asked.
Porter shrugged. “OK, I guess.”
“Still enjoying the Latin class?” Craig knew that this was Porter’s favorite subject, and as he expected, Porter had talked excitedly for several minutes about Roman mythology and how much he was learning.
“I even translated a whole page of The Aeneid,” he said. “It was hard because, you know, it’s like poetic Latin, but I did it. I got an A.”
“Wow, I’m impressed,” Craig had said, and he genuinely was impressed. “Remind me what other classes you’re taking.”
“My Ecology class is fun,” Porter volunteered. “We finished the lifecycle unit a couple weeks ago, and now we’re working in the garden. I have two whole rows to myself: radishes, carrots, serrano peppers, and tomatoes. Huge tomatoes–at least they’re supposed to be when they’re ripe. Right now they’re just tiny little green balls where the yellow blooms were last week.”
“So, you like that class,” Craig said.
“Well, yeah, I guess so,” Porter said, frowning a little.
“You’re not sure?”
“Well, it’s just that there’s a bunch of guys in the class who are kind of jerks.”
“Are they picking on you?” Craig asked, suddenly a little worried. Middle school had been a nightmare for Craig, and he had always feared that Porter or one of the girls would have a similar experience.
“No, Dad, not on me,” Porter said. “But there’s this kid in our class, Loren, and they are pretty brutal with him. He’s kind of different, you know, and his name doesn’t help.”
“Tell me what’s going on.”
“Well, besides the vegetables, one part of the garden is flowers, and the teacher asked for a volunteer to take care of that section in addition to the rows they planted. Loren really wanted to do it, so she chose him. Since then these guys have been calling him names, like faggot and pussy, and knocking him down, tripping him–you know, that kind of stuff. Yesterday someone pushed him into a rose bush, and he had to go to the school nurse because he was bleeding.”
“Doesn’t the teacher know what’s going on?” Craig asked, incredulous.
“Yeah, she knows, but they wait till she’s not looking, and Loren won’t tell her who is doing it.”
“Have you tried to do anything about it?”
Porter stared down at his hot fudge sundae. “I don’t know what to do. Once I told them to leave him alone, and they just laughed and said I must be a faggot, too. I don’t want to get beat up, Dad. And besides, most of the guys are in my deacons quorum.”
“They are? Maybe I should have a talk with their parents.”
Porter looked horrified. “No, Dad, you can’t! That’ll just make things worse! I’ve been thinking about this a lot, and I’ll figure something out.”
After Porter and the girls had gone to bed, Craig logged into his email. The Short List folder was still empty. Perhaps reason and kindness had prevailed, and he could relax knowing the madness had finally ended. Then he saw it: an email from Alex DuPlessis with the subject “Who’s on the Lord’s side, who?”
He had never once received an email directly from DuPlessis unless it had been sent to the entire Short List. They had never been friends, and as long as he could remember, he had been dismayed and a little embarrassed at DuPlessis’s online behavior. With friends like him … he thought.
No, he wasn’t going to take the bait. He dragged the message into the Trash folder, and opened the latest epistle–the subject read “It hath been bloggethed”–from his verbose cousin, who clogged up his Inbox with huge photo files and links to political web sites. In the photos, her triplets looked pretty much the same as they had in last week’s photos, and he knew better than to click “Welcome to Obama’s World.”
With nothing of interest to read, he let his mind wander to Porter’s situation with his classmate. Craig wondered what he would have done at that age. Right, he remembered. He wouldn’t have done anything because by seventh grade he was trying hard to be invisible so boys like that would forget he existed and would leave him alone. He would have stood by and watched them terrorize Arlen. No, that wasn’t right.
He thought again of Arlen, of DuPlessis, and of the whole mess. He’d stopped them this time, but what was stopping them from starting again right where they left off? Sure, the Short List was no more, but it wouldn’t be difficult to replace it pretty quickly.
He opened the email.
“We have been friends for many years now, and I’ve always held you in the highest regard.” He had? Since when?
“No matter what the enemies of truth have thrown at us, you have stood firm and strong in defense of the gospel.” Until he had apostatized, that is.
“And in all that time I have never once seen you compromise your standards or character.” That was nice of him to say, but then it was a little unnerving to have someone like DuPlessis’s ringing endorsement of his character.
“In you I see a kindred spirit who is dedicated to honourably and faithfully”–here Craig actually snorted–“upholding the cause of truth and righteousness.”
With the obligatory flattery over, DuPlessis had arrived at his point:
“I have treasured the associations I’ve had with so many scholars and others who have given of their time to put forward solid and convincing evidence supporting our doctrines and scriptures. Recent events, I fear, have disrupted the synergistic relationship we have had as a group, and my first priority is to re-establish the bonds of trust so that we may go forward, working together again in this great cause.”
I knew it, Craig thought. He’s already trying to resurrect the Short List.
“it is with your high character and sound judgment in mind that I have prayerfully decided to ask you to work with me to discover the identity of the person who has done us so much harm. My plan is simple:
“1. We will work together as a team of two–a companionship, you might say–and invite one former member of the Short List to communicate with us. Every communication each of us receives from that person will be blind-copied to the other so that the other person is not aware that he is talking to both of us.
“2. Only if and when that person has proven he can be trusted will we invite him into our group, and the process will begin with another member.
“3. If we follow this procedure with exactness we will be able to build a trusted core membership strong enough to shoulder the burden of apologetics until it is time to pass it on to the rising generation.
“As a token of my trust in you, I will leave it to you to choose the first member.
“We have no time to waste, and I await your response anxiously.
“Your brother in Christ,
“Alex B. DuPlessis”
Craig sat back, speechless. Could DuPlessis really be that stupid? It was one thing to treat an Internet message board as if it were a dead drop in East Berlin during the Cold War, but any fool could see how ridiculous DuPlessis’s plan was on the face of it.
He was tempted to write something like “Oh, brother,” but he thought again of Arlen and began to type:
“Dear Brother DuPlessis,
“I share your dismay with what has happened to the list and our friends, and I am willing to assist you in any way I can to bring to light the work we have done and will continue to do. In many years online, you have proven yourself capable of anything required to protect and defend the church and its members. Many times I have seen you do what I would never be able to do in correcting error and standing for truth.
“Your plan’s strength is its simplicity. Sometimes it is the most simple-minded approach that produces the best results, and I believe your plan will bear fruit if we adhere to it strictly. As you note, we must place full trust in each other or risk failure. I pledge all the trust you have earned, and I hope it will be returned in kind.
“I have pondered over whom we should invite first, and it strikes me that from the beginning we must have a pipeline of information, a conduit if you will. Despite his youth and relative inexperience, our most reliable source of information has always been Tanner Scott. Like me, you may worry that he can be temperamental, but he more than makes up for it with his zeal. I’ve always felt he was spiritually proactive, much like one of Captain Moroni’s stripling warriors. Like them, he does not wait for our enemies to come to us but anticipates and often frustrates their moves against us. I feel strongly that we must be bold from the start, and I believe Tanner will be of invaluable service to us.
“I am confident that together we can do great things.
“Craig R. Meyers”
Craig was almost embarrassed when he read through the email. Surely, DuPlessis was too smart to fall for such horseshit. Maybe asking for Tanner was going too far, as even DuPlessis had to know that a hotheaded kid was no asset to anyone. But if it were going to end in a spectacular flameout, they would need Tanner’s unbridled zeal and total lack of perspective.
Craig sighed and clicked “Send.”