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 Post subject: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Wed Aug 02, 2017 6:59 pm 
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Part FIVE


Blood Atonement





“I could refer you to plenty of instances where men, have been righteously slain, in order to atone for their sins. I have seen scores and hundreds of people for whom there would have been a chance (in the last resurrection there will be) if their lives had been taken and their blood spilled on the ground as a smoking incense to the Almighty, but who are now angels to the devil, until our elder brother Jesus Christ raises them up—conquers death, hell, and the grave. I have known a great many men who have left this Church for whom there is no chance whatever for exaltation, but if their blood had been spilled, it would have been better for them. The wickedness and ignorance of the nations forbid this principle's being in full force, but the time will come when the law of God will be in full force.”

--Brigham Young, The Journal of Discourses, Vol. 4





- FORTY -


“Cal, come look at this!”

It was a May afternoon. There were hints of a thunderstorm hovering just south of town, and the sweet, grassy smell of alfalfa hung in the air. His brother, Orson, had checked out a book from the library. It was a big, square book with impossibly vivid colors, and Orson had it open on his lap. “Come look at this, Cal.”

He went and stood beside Orson and looked down at the image, which wasn’t a photograph, but a kind of cartoon. It was of a cat that didn’t have any fur on its side. Instead, there was a sort of window that looked in on the interior of the animal. He could see the places where the bone had been cut away so that you could see all the cat’s organs.

“Look,” said Orson. He pointed at the pink, shiny squiggles running through the cat’s stomach. “Those are its intestines,” he said, and then he laid his hand on his own stomach. “Humans have ‘em too. Right here.”

His hand went instinctively to his own abdomen, and he kept looking at the image. He’d gone fishing before, of course, and he’d helped clean the fish that they caught, but this was different somehow. “Is that really what’s inside of a cat?” he asked.

“Yeah, it shore is,” said Orson. “This is an anatomy book.” He riffled through the pages, and Calvin caught a glimpse of various animals and organs—wet, shining things that had been hidden away beneath the skin, muscle, fur, and bones of various creatures. He felt a mixture of curiosity and horror—God had put these things out of sight for a reason.

“Does Daddy know you have this book?”

“I dunno,” said Orson. “Why’s that matter? I’m sure he wouldn’t mind. He knows I want to be a doctor and you have to know anatomy if you want to be a doctor. Bishop Wight told me so.”

“Can I see the book?” he said.

“Later,” said Orson. “I’m looking at it now. You can have a turn later.”

He stood there for a while longer, standing in the dry, dusty shade beside the barn, the long, green rows of alfalfa stretching out from the base of the mountains, flies buzzing mindlessly about his head, and then he went inside, wondering if the picture book was right. He was the third youngest of 9 children, and he was seven years old. His uncle, Lyman, was the patriarch of the Church. His oldest brother, Hyrum, was on a mission to Mexico. His oldest sister, Jane, was married and she lived in Salt Lake. Most days he went to school at the little school house two miles away. He and his siblings walked to get there. Sister Matthews was the teacher. His favorite subject was Reading.

All the rest of the day, he waited patiently to see if Orson would put down the book. Ephraim and Jedediah asked him if he wanted to play stickball, but he said, “No,” because he wanted, more than anything he’d ever known, to look again at the pictures in Orson’s book. He was afraid of the things in it, but wanted so badly to look at them. There were secrets in the pictures and he wanted to know the truth about them. More than that, though, he wanted to know if the pictures were right. Did God really design things this way? As he lay in bed that night, he imagined a long row of cat bodies, limp and flat and empty, and he pictured God moving in a steady succession down the row, pausing at each body to carefully place a heart, a set of lungs, liver and kidneys, and the long, coiled ropes of intestines inside each cat body until it was plump and writhing and full of life. God would stitch the animals closed, just as Calvin had seen his sister Kathryn do with a ruptured doll, and then He would wave his hand and the jagged line of stitches would vanish, leaving only a smooth patch of skin and fur. When Calvin woke up the next morning, with the first rays of sunlight creeping like fingers around the edges of the curtain, his dreams were fresh in his mind.

He got up and got dressed and went into the kitchen and sat down on the bench at the long, communal table, which was actually an old picnic table from the park near the courthouse. On the table was a plate of Johnny cakes, a big pile of bacon, a giant bowl of scrambled eggs, and a jar of honey. At the head of the table, Daddy, with his broad, lined, red face, dressed in overalls and a plaid shirt, with the collar of his garments showing near his throat, led the family in prayer, giving thanks for the food, for the blessings of being able to feed and provide for the family, and asking Father in Heaven that the meal might give them with nourishment and strength. He said “Amen,” and everyone set about eating, the boys piling their plates high and the girls scolding them for their manners.

When breakfast was over, the girls cleared the table and the older boys left to go back to work, tending to the fields and the animals. There was no school this week, so Calvin, Orson, Wilford, and Rose were free to do as they pleased. Orson, 10 years old and strange, was still engrossed in his book. Little Wilford and Rose, 3 and 5 respectively, went into the family room to play with their toys—Rose led Wilford away by the hand. And then there was Calvin, at seven years old just on the cusp of baptism—his father had been asking him if he was ready, if he had been preparing himself. On the one hand, Calvin was excited for this, since he knew it would give him the gift of the Holy Ghost. On the other hand, he worried about its finality. Baptism offered a complete washing away of sins, and he worried that he might not be strong enough to avoid sinning again. A part of him wanted to wait until he felt confident that he wouldn’t sin any more. But eight was the age of accountability, and that was that. The thought of bringing any of this up with Daddy was unthinkable.

In any event, the rest of the day spread out before him like a long road. What would he do? Already he was bored. He went outside and looked at Orson, who had climbed up into the fork of a cottonwood tree to look at his book. Calvin resented him for refusing to share. Sharing was part of the gospel and Orson was sinning by not sharing. Sharp flickers of anger welled up in him and he squeezed his hands into tight little fists and he crunched his teeth together until they squeaked. It wasn’t fair! He thought about going to Mother, to tell her that Orson wouldn’t share, but he knew she wouldn’t listen. She would be too busy with her sewing, or with the laundry, or with some other dumb old thing. He waited a moment longer, his fists jammed into his pockets, and his anger subsided. Daddy had lectured him before about his “tantrums.” It was something, he’d said, that would need to be worked on prior to getting baptized.

He wandered down around the little path that had been worn in the grass along the barn. Off in the distance, he could see Daddy’s Model A pickup sending a thick ribbon of dust into the air. His older brothers were probably riding in the back. A part of him wished he were out in the fields with them—at least then he wouldn’t be so bored. But Mother had said that they were to go to school until they turned twelve and Daddy had agreed with her.

Behind the back of the barn, he came across one of the two dozen or so cats that loitered on the property. This one had orange and white striped fur and as Calvin stopped to look at it, it rubbed its face against the cuff of his overalls. He reached down and scratched behind its ears, and then he petted its side and it flopped over and he rubbed the longer fur on its stomach. With his fingers he poked at its belly, trying to feel around for the objects he’d seen in Orson’s book.

“What you got in there, kitty?” he said. Then he stood up and the cat looked at him. His heart was beating fast. It was warm there in the sun; droplets of dew clung to the long blades of grass beside the worn dirt path. “Why don’t you stay right there?” said Calvin to the cat, and he turned and darted away, off into the barn.

It wasn’t a big barn. Mostly it was used for storage. It had all of Daddy’s tools and things, and it was where the truck got parked when it wasn’t in use. There were workbenches and saws and drills and awls and things. Materials used to tend to things on the property, to repair the house, and things like that. On one of the benches was a thin, stiff, slightly curved knife that Jedediah and Orson both used to do wood carving. Jedediah had actually made a flute a year ago, and you could play real music on it, though the pitch was off. Calvin took the knife, and then he made his way back around to the rear of the barn.

The orange and white cat was still there, lying on its side in the sun, tapping its tail languidly against the dirt. He approached the cat carefully and it lifted up its head and mewed. It was then that he realized that it would probably fight back and he knew that he would have to kill it in order to see inside. It started to move into a position where it might spring away, but he pounced on it and caught it by the scruff and he held it down beneath his knee. It let out a low cry, and before it could begin to bellow, he put the sharp tip of the knife into its neck and worked quickly to cut through it. He was shaking a little bit, and the animal’s blood was warm and sticky on his hands. After he’d cut through the neck, he took his knee off the cat’s body and rolled the animal onto its side. His hands left a stain on its fur. He put the tip of the knife just below the cat’s ribcage and cut sideways, making an incision along the length of its abdomen. As he reached the area near the cat’s rear end, its viscera began to spill out of its body. Sure enough, there were the grayish pink cords of intestine, along with more blood and films of membrane.

He was trembling with excitement, and he dropped the woodworking knife and looked down at his red hands. “I killed it,” he whispered. “Orson’s book was right. It was right.” That was his first thought. He looked down at the remains of the animal, with its head barely attached to its body, and its guts and blood spilled out on the grass near the path. His next thought was that he would get in trouble for this. Of course he would be in trouble. Daddy would give him a whipping and mother wouldn’t let him have dessert for a month, maybe more. And it was stupid Orson’s fault; it was all his fault. If he would’ve just shared his book, this wouldn’t have happened. And Calvin’s hands were still red and hot and sticky, and he needed to wash them off, and so he took off running, heading in the direction of the irrigation stream that ran along the border of their property.

When he got there, he knelt down in the grass and leaned over and plunged his stained hands into the icy cold water as it rushed past. He rubbed his palms over the backs of his hands, and he interlaced his fingers to help get all the blood off. He’d seen Mother get after Jedediah for having grease in his fingernail beds, and so he knew that he would need to get those clean, too. He washed until he was sure that all the blood was gone, and then he straightened back up and flicked the excess water off of his hands and wrists. His skin felt numb and clammy because the water had been so cold.

As he neared the house, he made sure to swing far and wide of the cat. Maybe if he stayed away from it, it would rot away, and no one would notice it. Or maybe a coyote would come and take the remains away. It didn’t matter, just so long as he didn’t get in trouble for it.

Back inside, he went into the front room where Will and Rose were playing house. Rose had fashioned some kind of paper hat for Wilford to wear, and he was banging a pair of wooden blocks together. Calvin wanted to turn on the radio, but he knew Mother wouldn’t permit that. Finally he walked back to the bedroom he shared with Will, Orson, and Jedediah, and he climbed up into his bunk and tried unsuccessfully to go to sleep. It wasn’t until later in the afternoon, well after they’d all eaten lunch, that Rose’s screams alerted the rest of the family about the cat.

It turned out that Calvin had little to worry about. Ephraim was the first of the brothers to go and take a look, and immediately he blamed Orson. Of course it had been Orson, who was strange and withdrawn, Orson with his anatomy textbook from the library. Orson who refused to look you in the eye when you spoke to him; Orson, whom Daddy was always cruelest and roughest with. Only Orson, out of all the family members, was twisted enough to do that to an innocent animal for the sake of his own perverse curiosity. Before supper, Daddy took him out to the barn, bent him over the stump they used for chopping wood, and gave him several lashings with a leather strop. Calvin, whose bedroom window lay just opposite the barn, could hear Orson yelp with each lash.

After that the family sat down to dinner, save for Orson, who was sent to bed early. At night, when the four brothers lay in bed, Orson whispered up to Calvin: “I didn’t do it, Cal. I don’t know what happened. Did you do it? I don’t deserve to be punished for this. I didn’t do it.” He muttered this several times before Jedediah told him to shut up and go to sleep.

Then Calvin spoke up: “It’s your punishment, Orson. It’s your own fault for being selfish about how all you care about is that book. This is Heavenly Father teaching you a lesson.” After he’d said this, he felt a calm come over him. He’d heard the adults saying things from time to time about feeling the Spirit, how it came over them in the form of an intensely soothing or calming sensation, and Calvin imagined that he could hear the Holy Ghost whispering in his ear. “Soon I’ll be baptized,” he thought. “And the Holy Ghost will talk to me whenever I want.”

At length they could hear Orson crying softly in his lower bunk, and again Jedediah told him to shut up and go to sleep. “It’s no one’s fault but your own,” he said. “Now quit your blubbering and go to sleep. Or cover your head with your pillow or something so we don’t have to listen to you.”



Things weren’t the same after that, though. Mother refused to look at Orson the way she’d used to. It was clear that she and Daddy were worried about what he might do next, and Orson himself moped around the house greyly, sobbing and crying about the unfairness of his life. Even Kathryn, whom Daddy always said had a sweet nature, said that a light had gone out of Orson’s eyes. There were consultations with Church leaders and with Uncle Lyman, and eventually a decision was made to send Orson away to a boy’s school (or was it an orphanage?) that was run by the Church. The bishop and high councilmen agreed that Orson was strange. There had been murmurings in the congregation about him looking in untoward ways at some of the little girls, for instance, and it was known among the elders that boys who killed animals for pleasure like that were an accident waiting to happen, and so a decision was made to send him away. The people at the school would look after him and make sure that he didn’t get into any more trouble, and they would make sure that he was indoctrinated fully with the teachings of the gospel. Hopefully, with enough study and prayerful repentance on his part, he could be reformed, and if that happened, then maybe he could be let out and allowed to live a normal life. So one morning, all of them lined up and gave Orson a hug goodbye. When Calvin’s turn came, he put his arms around his older brother and Orson hugged him back stiffly. Then Daddy put him in the front seat of the Model A and drove him off to Ogden.

Meanwhile, the weeks swept past and Calvin was eventually baptized by his father in the irrigation ditch at the rear of the property, and all his sins were washed away. The men from the priesthood came over to witness the ordinance and to lay hands on him afterwards to give him the gift of the Holy Ghost. In that moment, he made a promise to himself that he never forgot, which was that he would always do his best to listen to the promptings of the Holy Ghost. The predicament with Orson and the cat, he now realized, was the result of him allowing his imagination to wander off into a bad place. It was that and the fact that Heavenly Father needed to punish Orson for his selfishness. Orson was like Laman and Lemuel in the Book of Mormon, with his hardened heart, and it was his own fault that he got sent away to that school. The lesson to be learned from it all, was that a person had to always control his thoughts so as to avoid being tempted by Satan. What Satan wanted was to take away a person’s free agency, which is what had happened to Orson. By controlling your own thoughts, you could control Satan’s ability to dictate your proneness to temptation. This was a lesson that C. Rigdon Pitt never forgot.


...Next time: The top floor of the Eldorado....

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Mon Aug 14, 2017 6:27 am 
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The weekends come and gone and no new addition to Chapter V? I'm crushed.

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Mon Aug 14, 2017 8:52 am 
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- FORTY-ONE -

The elevator bell dinged and Sam stepped out into the hallway on the top floor of the Eldorado and made his way down to the suite at the end of the hall. There was a faint odor of cigarette smoke on the air. When he reached the door he could hear voices—the sound of intoxicated people and merriment. He knocked and waited, and he could see someone looking through the peephole before Christian opened the door.

“Hi, Sam. It’s good to see you. We’re glad you could make it.”

He held the door and Sam went in. Sitting on a stool near the wetbar was plump, irascible Cathy, clutching a coffee cup filled with hot cocoa. She cracked a stony smile and waved to him as Christian closed and bolted the door behind him. Behind her were a series of windows that looked out towards a darkened and glittering north Reno, and beyond to the barely visible outlines of the Sierra. Sam looked around for Bennett, but didn’t see him.

Three weeks ago, he had gone with Ray to the gathering at Wardell Stewart’s house in Sparks. It had to some extent been a rehash of the ex-Mormon conference in Salt Lake, albeit on a smaller scale. The key difference was that the gathering had less of a flavor of recovery and healing. People seemed less interested in hearing each other’s stories, exchanging bonhomie, or commiserating. Instead, one got the sense that Bennett and the others were proactively looking for ways to bring about a change. There were mutterings among some of the people there about actually doing something to hold the Church accountable for its lies. But it was largely just a small-scale party atmosphere, with drinking, joking, ____, and complaining about different aspects of the Church.

But Sam’s main reason for going, apart from the camaraderie, was to find out what Bennett wanted from him. During a pause in the meeting, Bennett pulled him aside: “I need you to do me a favor, Sam” he’d said, and he laid out a series of tasks for Sam to accomplish. It involved Sam delivering a series of letters and packages to different people in Reno, Salt Lake, Las Vegas, and Sacramento. In some instances, the items were historical documents related to the Church in some way; in other instances, the boxes or envelopes were tightly sealed up, and Sam was given careful instructions to avoid looking at or examining the contents. It was all very cloak-and-dagger, and at first Sam questioned the bizarre secrecy surrounding all of it (were these items valuable? had they been stolen?), but it was paid work, and he knew that by doing it he would gain Bennett’s trust, which would mean a firmer entrée into this group of people who were quickly becoming his new friends—his new family.

When he had finished running all the errands, he met with Bennett in a dark corner of Hacienda del Sol, and Bennett said that he wanted to hire him as a sort of personal body guard. “It won’t be a full-time gig,” he explained. “The job will continue to consist of you making the sorts of deliveries you’ve been doing, and also some driving work, and possibly more, uh, physical protection of myself and the interests of our group.” Bennett wrote down a figure on a napkin and pushed it across the table, and of course there was no way Sam could turn him down. He had no other employment prospects, and the figure was beyond generous. They shook hands in agreement and Bennett stood up and buttoned his suit jacket and told Sam he would call him soon.

And so here he was. Not long after his meeting with Bennett, Christian had appeared at his door to given him an envelope with a check inside. It had been issued from something called the Mahan Foundation, with an address located in Seattle, WA. The check was for $7,500.00, and Sam regarded it as the easiest money he’d ever made.



“Come over and pull yourself up a seat, Sam,” said Cathy.

He went and sat down and Christian slid a Heineken across the counter to him.

“So how’ve you been?” said Cathy.

“Pretty good,” said Sam.

“They give you your papers yet? Last time I saw you you said they hadn’t come by yet.”

She was talking about his summons to the Church Court. “No,” he said. “I’m not sure that my old bishop even knows where I live.”

“Oh, I bet he does,” she said. “The Church always knows, or at least it tries to. They keep tabs on all of us as best they can. But the fact that you moved out of the ward boundaries has maybe thrown a monkey wrench into the whole works. The endless bureaucracy always comes back to hurt them.”

“Well,” said Sam, “it makes no difference to me. They can take their letter and shove it. They have no power over me.”

Cathy took a sip of her hot cocoa, looked away and nodded, and didn’t say anything more. To Sam’s left, Christian was leaning forward with his arms on the counter. There was another group of half-a-dozen people on the couch, watching a Suns/Jazz game on the big TV. Sam recognized LeTanya Michaels, Mike Howser, and Don Smith, but the others he didn’t know. One of them was a red-faced man who had a mustache and a big belly. He was wearing cowboy clothes—a turquoise bolo tie and boots and jeans, and he was holding a hat in his lap.

“Who’s that?” Sam asked, and Christian held up his thumb and first two fingers in a pinching gesture and rubbed them together, indicating money. “DeWitt Kelly,” he said. “An investor.”

Just then the door opened, and Bennett came into the room, looking dapper as always, but also slightly dazed. He immediately looked at Sam as he entered the room. “Well, well,” he said. “It appears that the party’s started in my absence. Good.” He moved over near the wet bar and patted Sam on the shoulder. “I’d just like a drink of water and then we’ll begin.”

The room had grown quiet, and one of the men on the sofa turned off the TV. Bennett tilted back his glass of water and set it down on the counter and he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand.

“Now, then,” he began. “I hope that in my absence, the appropriate introductions were made. If not, you can all take care of that later. I’m unfortunately a bit pressed for time and have to catch a plane before too much longer, but nonetheless I wanted to have this conversation before we meet up again. And this is to be at your house, is it not, Gary?”

“That’s correct, as far as I know.” Gary was sitting in an armchair by the lamp. He was a middle-aged guy with grey hair parted on the left-hand side. He was wearing a forest green sweater over a yellow collared shirt and he still very much looked like a life-long Mormon.

“We’ll try to hammer out something more concrete then, but in the meantime I wanted to hear people’s thoughts on where we go next.”

Bennett stood behind the wetbar with his hands resting on the countertop. He scanned the room. Finally Mike Howser lifted his hand.

“Maybe I’m barking up the wrong tree here,” he said, “but it seems to me that they were really rattled in the wake of the bombing.” He was a squat, bald man with a thick neck.

Everyone turned to look at him.

“I don’t know,” he said. “Maybe I’m still just too pissed off, but I vote that we take out as many of ‘em as we can. Go for the throat. You know?” Next to him, LeTanya Michaels looked appalled.

Cathy spoke up: “Not all of us here are looking to wipe the Church off the map.”

“You didn’t have anything to do with that, did you, Bennett?”

He didn’t hesitate or blink: “No, LeTanya. Absolutely not. I have no idea who was responsible for the bombing. I fully condemn that sort of thing, and I’m glad that the guy who did it is going to be spending the rest of his days in prison.” He paused and looked away. “All that said, I can sympathize somewhat with Mike’s desire to put a quick end to the Church and its leadership. But what I think all of us realize, including you, Mike, is that you cannot take out an entire faith by force.”

“That’s exactly right.” DeWitt Kelly, it turned out, had a booming, stentorian voice. His arms were crossed over his big chest. “Whatever harm or damage you inflict on the LDS Church—it’s got to be done on the basis of information.”

“Yes. Precisely. Thank you for bringing that up, Dewey,” said Bennett.

“The work the Mahan Foundation has been doing is helping,” DeWitt continued. “But I wonder if we might want to look into funding certain media ventures. TV spots, or something like that.”

“That’s certainly an interesting idea,” said Bennett.

Don Smith interjected: “What about our people in Salt Lake? What about our friends in the C.O.B.?”

“There’s that, too.” Bennett pressed his hands together. “Obviously, we are doing things. Things are in motion as we speak. The pivotal question for us now, is: How can we expedite the process?”

“Are we even certain that everybody’s on the same page?” said DeWitt.

“Oh, yes, I think we are,” said Bennett reflectively. “It’s really very simple, and I’ve sketched this out before a number of times, but our principal goal is simply this: We want to remove the Mormon Church’s ability to harm people. Whether that harm comes about from deceiving people, or by freighting them with undo guilt, or taking their money.” Sam could see a bit of a twitch near Bennett’s jaw. “I know I’ve expressed this before, but the LDS Church really does want to take over the world. You get any of the General Authorities on the record and he’ll deny it up and down, but this is written into the doctrine. Why else do they have an essentially professional missionary force of, what? 40, 50 thousand people? They want to convert the entire human race.”

“They won’t do that, obviously,” said DeWitt. “But they want to, and that alone ought to give any moralistic, thinking person pause.”

“It’s a scary thought,” said LaTanya.

No one said anything for a moment; the comment hung there in the room like an un-swatted fly.

“So,” Bennett said at last, “our task is to do what we can to prevent this from happening.”

Sam finally spoke up: “So, are we going to try and interfere with the missionary effort somehow?”

“In a sense, yes,” said Bennett. He was smiling wryly. “Think of it as a counter-missionary program.”

“The Church is able to recruit and maintain power by controlling information,” said Gary. “The main way the missionary effort works is by lying to people, or else controlling what they’re told, both during the conversion process and during a person’s time in Church.”

To Sam’s right, Cathy was nodding in agreement.

“I guess I’m not following,” said Sam.

“Everything in its time,” Bennett told him, quietly, and Sam couldn’t escape the sense that he’d heard this before, perhaps during his sessions early on with the missionaries, or during Sunday School.

“What we really need,” said DeWitt, “is a means of getting information out to people.”

“We’ve already got several publications in circulation,” said one of the women on the couch.

“That’s true, but that in and of itself presents a problem,” said Bennett. “Two problems, really. The first is a matter of circulation and the second has to do with the genetic fallacy.”

Gary was nodding. “It’s tough to get the information to investigators so that they can weigh both sides prior to conversion, and people who are already in the Church are conditioned to reject anything critical as ‘anti-Mormon’ lies.”

“And then there’s the P.R. angle,” said the woman whose name Sam didn’t know. “It’s not P.C. to publicly criticize religion.”

Gary kept nodding.

“Ah,” said Mike Hauser, who was red in the face, both with drink and with frustration. “I don’t like all this pussy-farting around, ‘scuse my French. My two cents is that we go after the Church by the balls. Go straight after the leaders, aggressively. String ‘em up.”

Bennett nodded in a concerned way: “Again, Mike: I sympathize with your perspective, but you have to realize that direct violence will undermine what we’re trying to accomplish. If we engage in physical attacks against the Church, we’ll been seen as being even worse than the anti-Mormon nutjobs that wave signs and burn copies of the Book of Mormon outside of General Conference. That’s not what we want to do, Mike.”

“____ it,” said Mike. “The Church won’t even admit that it does hurt anyone. To them, it’s all our fault, for sinning, or being weak, or whatever. ____ it,” he said. He stood up and went to get his coat. “There’s only so much of this pussy-farting around that a guy can take.”

Bennett watched him calmly. “Do you need a cab, Mike?”

Mike Hauser pulled on his coat and went around over to Bennett. “I hold nothing against you, Bennett, or anyone else in this room, but there’s only so much a guy can take. It’s like, ____ or get off the pot, you know what I mean?”

“I sympathize wholeheartedly,” said Bennett, and the two of them shook hands, and Bennett ushered him out the door. When he’d returned to his spot behind the wetbar, he said, “Well, then. Where was I?”

DeWitt spoke up. “The information, Bennett. That’s where we’re at. We’ve got to figure out where to go in terms of information.”

“Of course.” He nodded. “As Odette pointed out, we already have publications in circulation, but this just doesn’t seem like enough.” He took in a deep breath. “DeWitt, would you really be willing to fund an advertising campaign? A television advertising campaign?”

“You bet I would,” he said. “But it has to be done right. I’ve only just started to reach out to people who could help us put this together. I know some people down in southern California who might be able to work with us on this, but what you have to realize is that the Church has got its tentacles snaking around down there. They shut down a movie production on Mountain Meadows at one point, so we’ve got to tread carefully.”

“I know I already said this,” Don Smith piped up, “but what about our people at the C.O.B.? The big exoduses in the past came when information at the top was allowed to circulate more widely. I’m thinking of the Book of Abraham papyri in the 1960s, or Mark Hofmann’s forgeries. Those are the kinds of big, insider things that get the gears turning.”

Cathy spoke: “The books,” she said. “That’s the Holy Grail, as far as I’m concerned. The financials.” She had her hands on her knees, and she was rocking slightly. “The Brethren have had the financials closed and off-limits ever since the ‘50s. I know we got people working on it, but if we could get our hands on those financials, it would do us a world of good. There needs to be accountability, and the Church has got money pouring out its gills. There’s no need for God’s church to keep that stuff secret. Other churches don’t do that.”

“If one of our people is able to get us a copy of the financials, we’ll publish an analysis of it, sure,” said Bennett.

Gary was nodding, his eyes soft and brown behind his glasses. “That’s what we should aim to do. The more information we can get out there, the less convincing the Church will be to anybody save the most stalwart, dyed-in-the-wool ethnic Mormons.”

“You’d think that the crazy stuff that’s already out there would be enough,” said LaTanya. “All the stuff with polygamy, and blacks and the priesthood, and getting to have your own planet and all that stuff. You’d think that would be enough to send most people packing.”

“And yet it’s not,” said Don Smith. “The Church is growing at an incredibly rapid pace. I don’t think I need to bring up Rodney Stark’s numbers yet again.”
“No, you don’t,” said Cathy. “I’ve heard about that more than enough times. It makes me sick a little bit.”

“Well, then,” said Bennett, glancing at his watch. “I think that, in spite of some minor disagreements, we’ve made some headway here. Thank you to everyone for coming.”

“Who’s going to offer us a closing prayer?” said DeWitt, and everyone laughed.

Bennett leaned over toward Sam: “Would you mind walking me out?” he said, and Sam stood up to follow him. Then Bennett spoke quietly to Cathy: “Everything settled here?” and she stared back at him with a very level gaze and nodded slowly. “Farewell, everyone!” said Bennett, raising an arm in salute. “I’ll see all of you again at Gary’s in a week or so.”

Sam held the door open and they went out into the hallway. Bennett waited until they were in the elevator before he spoke.

“I suspected that Mike Howser would cave,” he said.

“What do you mean?” said Sam.

“In terms of what I’m trying to do, people have different levels of usefulness. And while a man like Mike Howser certainly has a lot of worth, a lot of value, he can only accomplish so much. He has his place. And as I’m sure you saw, he has something of a temper, and one has to be careful with something like that.”
“I can identify with his anger. I know it’s the right thing to say I’m glad the bomber got caught, but there’s a part of me that…”

“You don’t have to say it,” said Bennett. “I already knew that about you.” He was staring straight at Sam. Then he looked back away, at the elevator doors. “I wanted to thank you for all the work you’ve done for me. You’ve earned my trust, Sam, and I’d like for you to get a bit more deeply involved with what we’re doing here. We really have the power and the opportunity to do a genuine good here, as I’m sure you realize. With a man like DeWitt Kelly on board, we can begin to take things in a wholly new direction.”

Sam frowned. “I’m glad to have the work, Bennett, but I would be lying if I said that I understood exactly what it is you’re doing, or planning to do. And I sure as hell don’t know what role you expect me to play in all of it.”

The bell rang and the door opened into the lobby. “Walk with me,” said Bennett. They moved quickly into the noise, smoke, and dimness of the casino. “For now,” he said, raising his voice above the din of the slot machines, “you’ll just have to trust me when I say that we have to exercise caution, by which I mean that I can’t tell you everything. The less people who know, the better. We have to be careful.”

Bennett moved very fast—Sam almost had to jog to keep up with him, and then they were outside, on Virginia Street, the bone-colored neon lights pulsing in the chill November air, and Bennett was hailing a cab.

“You’re going to be absolutely vital to what we’re doing, Sam,” said Bennett. The taxi pulled up to the side of the curb, and the driver came around to hold the door open for Bennett. Sam and Bennett shook hands, and Sam could feel a wad of bills being pressed into his palm. “You’re vital, Sam.” He climbed into the taxi and rolled down the window. “I’ll see you at Gary’s real soon,” he said, and the car pulled away, and Sam watched it go, as it drove off past the flashing lights and the bright, happy throngs of people wandering the sidewalks outside the casinos.


...Next time: Lock and load...

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Wed Aug 23, 2017 5:35 pm 
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- FORTY-TWO -

There were twelve of them seated around the long table. They were all dressed in dark suits, white shirts, and simple, monochromatic silk ties. They ranged in age from 29 to 59, and all of them were in excellent physical shape. Two of them were bald; five of them had very short buzz-cuts, and the remaining five had medium-length haircuts that were parted to one side. The room they were sitting in was in an empty house in Holladay. Some of them knew each other from past work; some from various Church functions and responsibilities and callings. Each and every one of them held a temple recommend. Each had served a mission and had gotten married in the temple. All of them were fathers. Not a single one of them had ever reported paying anything less than a full tithe. They were steadfast in their faith. All of them had honorably fulfilled various callings within the Church, though none of them had ever received a calling such as this.

At the head of the table, President C. Rigdon Pitt held his arm to the square. “Brethren, this is the most profound service that you can give to the Church.” On either side of him were Elders Brotherton and Marshall. “What you are to do is commanded of you by the authority of the holy Melchezidek priesthood. As many of you may know, President Baylor is incapacitated. Nevertheless, the presence here of President Marshall should serve as a reminder that your calling today is handed down through both the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, of which I am president. Now, brothers, I ask that each of you raise your right arm to the square.”

Each of the men did this, and Pitt took them through the oath. He spoke, and they repeated what he said, vowing under penalty of death and the forsaking of eternal salvation to protect and guard the secrets of the Kingdom. When they were finished, Elder Pitt lowered his arm and everyone said, “Amen.”

“Now,” he said, “We will proceed with setting each of you apart. Elder Cook, you will be first.”

Rulon Cook scooted back his chair and went to the front of the room, where the three General Authorities had set up a chair. Cook went and sat down in it, and Elder Pitt laid both his hands on Cook’s head, and then Elders Marshall and Brotherton did the same. They all closed their eyes—including the remaining eleven men at the table—and Pitt set Cook apart and gave him a blessing. He called him to the office of protector and defender of the Kingdom and all that such a calling might entail. He asked that Heavenly Father bless Elder Cook with diligence, sharp and cunning intellect, with tenacity and deep perception. With courage, and with the noble humility of leadership. He asked, too, that the Lord look after and protect him in the face of danger.

“I say these things in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Amen,” said Pitt, and everyone said, “Amen.”

There was a pause as the Brethren took a few moments to recompose themselves, and to gather energy for the next blessing. “All right,” said Pitt. “Next will be Elder Odell Swift.”

Swift was a tall man—six-foot six—with streaks of grey at his temples, and he took his turn and rose and went to the front of the room, where Pitt, Brotherton, and Marshall set him apart and blessed him. They repeated this procedure for Mortenson, Higbee, Page, DuPlessis, and the rest of the men. When they were done, Pitt looked exhausted. A bit of his white, wispy hair stuck out from this side of his head, and the lines in his face seemed deeper. He turned to Elder Swift:

“Have the cases been brought over, Odell?”

“Yes, President Pitt,” and he signaled to Mintz and Lee. The two younger men hoisted a pair of old looking cases onto the table, and using a key, Swift unlocked both of them, undid the hasps, and flipped them open.

“You are to consider these a token of your calling,” said Elder Brotherton.

“These were designed by Brother Browning some decades ago. They are of such craftsmanship that they function as well now as they did then,” said Pitt. “Any work by Elder Browning can be trusted implicitly. He was held in very high regard by President Grant in the years leading up to World War II. His father journeyed across the plains with President Young, and he bore witness to the horrible persecution of those times. It is surely no coincidence that we are facing similar trials today. Similar kinds of persecution.”

Inside each case were six pistols, gleaming whitely in the low light. There was mother-of-pearl on the grips, and a series of symbols inlaid into the mother-of-pearl.

“They look like P-35s,” said Elder Lee.

“In effect, they are,” said Swift.

“Each of you is to take one,” said Pitt.

All twelve of the men took a gun, and they stood about the table, hefting the weapons, ejecting the magazines, and looking them over in the manner of serious-minded men with new toys.

Elder Rulon Cook, the eldest of the newly set-apart twelve, spoke up: “You are to use these, as necessary, in the course of carrying out our callings. The reasons have been explained to each of you.”

“Be diligent,” said Pitt. “You all are the protectors of the secrets of the priesthood. You are the defenders of the Kingdom. Each of you was selected carefully, after much prayerful consideration. You know your instructions, and I expect each of you to carry out your callings as you’ve been instructed.”

A stillness had again fallen over the room. The faces of the twelve were all turned to President Pitt, who was supporting himself slightly with the back of the chair that had been used to set the men apart.

“All right then,” he went on. “You know what to do. Elder Brotherton, would you mind offering us a closing prayer? And then we’ll be on our way.”



...Next Time: What they know...

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Wed Aug 23, 2017 8:03 pm 
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..Next Time: What they know...


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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Sat Aug 26, 2017 1:24 pm 
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- FORTY-THREE -

As Sam pulled up into the long driveway at Gary McMurrin’s house, it occurred to him briefly that he had stepped into a world that merely paralleled his life as a Mormon—at least the part involving all the meetings. He had left the Church and yet he hadn’t. How could he? When he had been a believing Mormon, the General Authorities had spoken of apostates who left the Church but who would never leave it alone, and it irked Sam to think that they were right. They hadn’t been truthful concerning the motivations or reasons behind this, but they were right enough to convince so many of the faithful that ex-members were obsessive and filled with hatred. But did Sam hate the Church? He still wasn’t sure.

Gary McMurrin’s stately house was located in a tony neighborhood in southwest Reno—in the older part of the city, and beyond the front gate the driveway was lined with tall poplars. Sam was unable to see the tops of them in the darkness, though through the windshield he could see the stars shining up above in the cold nighttime sky. There were several other cars parked out front of Gary’s house. Sam turned off the engine and got out and went inside.

Cathy Segal met him at the door and took his coat and gave him a big hug.

“Am I late?” he asked.

“Not really,” she said. “I don’t think they’ve gotten to the good stuff just yet.”

“Wow, this is a hell of a nice house.”

Sam wandered down the hall and into the big living room. Bennett, who was standing beside the fireplace, holding court, waved to him as he entered, and heads turned to look in response.

“Glad you could make it, Sam,” whispered Ray, who was sitting on a settee near the big French doors.

“Yes, good to see you,” said Bennett. He had his hands folded behind his back. He was just to the left of the fireplace, and the tongues of the flames cast strange shadows on the flagstone hearth he was standing on. “Actually,” he said, “our friend Ray here was proposing something very interesting.”

“It was really just a thought,” said Ray.

“A thought cribbed from Mark Hoffman,” said Cathy.

“Hoffman without the bombing part,” said Ray, flashing his strange smile.

“I guess I’m not following,” said Sam.

“He wants to re-write Church history,” Bennett explained.

“You want to forge documents and sell them to the Church?” said Sam to Ray.

Ray shrugged. “I just think that the best line of attack is to go after the problematic areas of Church history. I think that Hoffman—his psychopathy notwithstanding—had the right idea. The Church is based on the notion of continuing revelation, right? So who the hell knows what all things the early Brethren came up with. We can re-write the history so that it forces the Church’s hand. I mean, what if we were to ‘locate’”—he used his fingers to indicate scare quotes—“all the missing journal pages from Mountain Meadows? The Kate Carter materials? What if we ‘found’ a letter that directly implicated Brigham Young in the massacre? The General Authorities themselves don’t know what’s in the vaults. With all their responsibilities attending to the day-to-day of the Church, they don’t have time to go through all the old documents. Getting our hands on something deep—that would be devastating to the Church’s credibility. They’d at last have to admit fault.”

Gary, who seemed to be wearing the exact same thing as the last time Sam had seen him (albeit in different colors), chimed in: “Well you know, Ray, I really like your ideas, but I just wonder how feasible it is.”

Bennett was shaking his head. “The Church would never fall for it. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me, and the LDS Church doesn’t believe in feeling ashamed about anything.” On this last word, Bennett almost seemed to hiss.

Sam scanned the people who were sitting around the room—there were probably twenty people in total. He recognized Morris and LeTanya and Don Smith. Notably absent were Christian and DeWitt Kelly.

“But we’re getting a bit off-base here,” said Bennett. “So, I’ll turn it over to you, Gary.” Bennett went to sit down in the big leather chair near off in the corner and Gary took up his spot near the fireplace.

“All right,” he said. “Now I can’t confirm this with 100% certainty, but if my sources are to be believed, a fracture has developed in the highest levels of the Church. It’s long been believed that President Baylor’s health was deteriorating. Those of us who watched General Conference could see beyond any reasonable doubt that the man is not there all the way, mentally. But based on what I’ve been able to determine, the real truth is that he’s completely incapacitated, and the Church is keeping this a secret.”

A man unknown to Sam raised his hand.

“Yes, Bill?” said Gary.

“Why keep that a secret? The Church had no problem releasing the fact that Baylor was in the hospital after the bombing.”

“That’s a good question, Bill, and the answer is that I’m not entirely sure. What I suspect, though, is that a fracture has developed within the ranks. We all know who's next in line to be prophet—”

“A terrifying thought,” called out Cathy from the back. Some people muttered and made noises of assent in response, and Gary nodded in agreement.

“Anyways,” he went on. “It may be that the more reasonable elements within the Quorum of the Twelve are trying to delay his ascension to leadership in the Church.”

Ray spoke up: “If Baylor isn’t dead yet, Pitt can’t be ordained.”

“Are you sure that’s how it works?” said Morris. “What is the procedure for that, I wonder? Who runs the Church if the prophet is out of commission?”

“I don’t know for sure,” said Ray, “but I am confident in saying that Pitt can’t be ordained as prophet until Baylor is dead.”

“What it means, if it’s true,” said Bennett from his spot in the corner, “is that Church leadership is in a state of free-fall.”

“In the absence of Baylor, the First Presidency would be divided,” added Gary. “Marshall is a hard-line social conservative whereas Walker is more liberal.”

“Yeah, that never made sense to me,” said LeTanya, who was sitting by herself in a folding chair on the side of the room opposite from Sam. “I never understood why Baylor appointed Walker as 2nd Counselor.”

“It’s because Baylor is—or was—fair minded, or he tried to be,” said Ray. “Also I think that Walker has gotten more liberal as time’s gone on.”

“But the point is,” Bennett raised his voice. “If President Pitt has assumed power within the Church, legitimate or not, we may have to adjust our tactics and expedite some of our plans.”

Immediately there was murmuring among the people in the room—a buzz of speculation, gossip, and wondering. Sam wasn’t entirely sure what Bennett was talking about. Apart from the things that had been mentioned both here and in Bennett’s suite at the Eldorado, Sam wasn’t aware of any specific “plans,” though it was clear that others were. Beside him, Ray was impassive, staring off into space, or perhaps at LeTanya’s bare, crossed legs. Sam thought he could hear a phone ringing, and then he saw Cathy slip away into another part of the house. Meanwhile, the din of the conversation rose up to fill the vaulted ceiling of Gary McMurrin’s living room. Cathy came back in and made a beeline for Gary, and then Gary followed her out. He was gone a few minutes, and when he returned, he looked pale. He went up to the front of the room and over to Bennett, and he leaned down and whispered something into his ear. Bennett stared at him for a moment, and then waved his hand at him, as if shooing him away, and he settled back into his chair, where his smooth, lineless face was hidden in the shadows.
Gary went back to his spot beside the fireplace and raised his hand for order. “I’m afraid I’ve got some alarming news,” he said. “I just got off the phone with one of our most important contacts in Salt Lake. As you know, this person held a crucial position in the Central Administration Building, and what I’ve learned is that this person has been dismissed.”

Morris spoke up: “Well, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything, does it?”

“That’s not the only thing,” said Gary. “Two of our people in the C.O.B. were fired earlier today as well.”

Bennett had leaned forward so that his face was in the light again. “Three in one day is a bit much to chalk up to coincidence,” he said.

In the fireplace, a log shifted position.

“What this means,” said Gary, “is that all of us are going to have to take a lot of precautions. We’re going to have to be a whole lot more careful in terms of what we do, where we go, and who we’re seen with.”

“That seems a little paranoid,” said Ray. “This is all sounding reminiscent of the time that Blake Yancy claimed that his phone had been tapped by the Church, and we all know what happened with Blake.”

“I don’t think it’s paranoid to be cautious,” said Gary. “The Church has far more power than any of us. It would be stupid to underestimate what the Brethren are capable of doing.”

Cathy, at the back of the room, had her fleshy arms crossed over her chest. “You got a temple recommend you’re interested in holding on to, dontcha, Ray? That alone ought to be enough to get you to listen to Gary.”

“Well, fine,” said Ray. “I’m not against caution, I just object to all this conspiracy theory stuff. All of us attended the conference back in October in broad daylight, did we not? Yes, I know this is different, but still. I mean, who knows what these firings are all about? Yeah, it does seem like kind of a coincidence, but so what? Do we really know what, if anything, it means?”

“Yes, we do know,” said Bennett. “It means that the Church knows about us.”



...Next time: the Elders close in....

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Sun Sep 03, 2017 7:00 pm 
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- FORTY-FOUR -


Elder Jarod B. Kreditor got off I-80 on the Virginia Street exit and turned right, in the direction of the university. His companion in the car was Elder Donald Higbee.

“What’s this guy’s name again?”

“Mahfouz,” said Higbee. “This is probably a dead end, but we’ll take a look nonetheless.”

Higbee was the senior of the two. He had spent 20 years with the CIA before he’d been asked to take a position with Church Security. As he and Kreditor had driven over from Salt Lake yesterday, they’d exchanged stories about their mission experiences. Higbee has served a Portuguese-speaking mission in Sao Paulo; Kreditor had been sent to the Pacific Northwest. Kreditor admitted that he was jealous about this. Everyone knew that it was more exciting, and more prestigious, to serve a mission in a foreign country, though Higbee was quick to reassure the younger man that all missions are the same in God’s eyes. The mere fact that he’d served should be reason enough to feel a quiet sense of pride. That may be true, Kreditor had said, but you at least got to learn a foreign language. After that, Higbee taught him to say a few phrases in Portuguese, one of which was mildly profane.

“Here” said Elder Higbee. “Pull over right up here.” He got out of the car and went over to the pay phone at the side of the road. He put in some change and stood talking for a few moments, and then he hung up and came back to the car. “Well, let’s go,” he said. “We drove over here for nothing.”

“He’s not in?”

“No,” said Higbee. “He’s in the middle of lecture. I guess we can try and catch him some other time, but I think our time would be better spent elsewhere.”

“Why did Rulon send us here anyways?”

“The man has his reasons.”

Kreditor waited for a break in the traffic and then he swung the car around and headed back down Virginia Street. They got on I-80 and drove into Sparks, got off on the Pyramid exit, and drove over to a somewhat weathered and leaf-strewn neighborhood near Reed High School. The early December light was bright but pale. At the end of a street was a plain, ranch-style house that had been converted into an office building. From the eave hung a sign that said “TAX SUPERMAN.” Kreditor and Higbee got out of the car and went up the broken concrete path and into the house.

At the front desk was a brown-haired girl. She was probably LDS, from the look of her, Higbee thought. Probably a member of Clark Hughes’s ward.

Higbee flashed a broad smile at the girl: “Is the boss in?” he said.

Just then Clark poked his head in through the doorway at the back of the room.

“Is that Don Higbee? My goodness. You get your butt on back here right this instant.” Clark Hughes had a deeply receded hairline and a big gut. He was wearing brown trousers and a yellow, short-sleeved shirt. Kreditor and Higbee went back into the room and Clark shut the door and locked it. Then they all sat down.
“So, it’s been a while, hasn’t it?” said Clark.

“It sure has, Clark,” said Higbee. “How’ve you been? How’s your family?”

“Oh, I can’t complain. How about you?”

“Same,” said Higbee. “Oh, and this is Jared Kreditor, by the way. He’s helping me out on this little snafu I told you about.”

“Oh, sure, sure,” said Clark Hughes. His expression grew serious and he nodded. “Just terrible, what happened to the prophet. These anti-Mormons—well, their hearts are just full of hate. Just pure spite and bile.”

Kreditor and Higbee nodded solemnly.

“So,” Clark went on, “I wasn’t quite sure what you are looking for. Good old Don, all tight-lipped. I guess it’s a matter of habit by now, huh?”

Higbee smiled: “Something like that.”

“Sure, sure. So, I have this for you. I don’t know how helpful it’s going to be, but I did the best with what you gave me.” He had taken a folder from a drawer in the metal filing cabinet near his knees. He opened it and flipped through the pages briefly and then handed it over to Kreditor. “So I guess the guy—the guy they caught… He must not have acted alone, huh? Well, I guess he couldn’t have. Right?”

Higbee smiled a thin, cold, impassive smile. “Now, Clark, you know I can’t tell you that. If there comes a time when I’m in a position to share more of the details with you, I will. But that time is not now.”

The disappointment on Clark Hughes’s face was obvious. “Well, all right, old buddy.”

They stood up to go and Clark shook both their hands. “It sure was good to see you again, Don. I wish we could have done lunch, but I understand you’re busy. I hope you catch the bastards who did this.”

“We will, Clark,” said Higbee. “We’re on the right side.”

“Sure, sure,” he said.



After leaving Clark’s office, Kreditor and Higbee followed up with a couple more contacts, and then they went and ate lunch at Carrow’s. As they ate, they looked over the documents that Clark had given them.

“Hey, what is this?” said Kreditor, holding up one of the sheets of paper. “The Mahan Foundation? Is this some kind of joke?”

Higbee raised his eyebrow. “Let me see that.” Kreditor passed it across the table. “I bet it’s a front,” he said. Then: “Surprise, surprise. DeWitt Kelly is on the Board of Directors.”

“Yeah, I saw that,” said Kreditor. “But he’s not our guy, is he?”

“No. LeGrand is taking care of Kelly.” He tapped his finger on the paper. “This here. This Gary McMurrin.” He looked up at Kreditor. “I think it’s in our interest to take a closer look at Brother McMurrin,” he said, and he took a long drink from his Sprite.



...Next Time: The tares begin to burn...

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2017 9:02 am 
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- FORTY-FIVE -



“Get to Zarahemla to pick up Baurak Ale,” said the voice. “It’s urgent.”

“Who the ____ is this?” said Sam.

“You know better than to ask that,” said the voice, and the line went dead.

Sam stood there holding the big, bulky mobile phone that Bennett had given him, and he tried the place the voice. It had been raspy and whispery. Maybe it was Don Smith? Or Gary? Regardless, something wasn’t right. “Baurak Ale” was one of several codenames Bennett had given himself, and “Zarahemla” was the group’s word for the suite at the Eldorado. So what was going on?

Last night, after the meeting, Sam had come straight home, where he watched TV for an hour before falling asleep on his futon, and he’d slept like the dead, dreaming of nothing, which was a relief, since he’d been having sporadic nightmares ever since his separation from Emily, and his recent work with Bennett wasn’t helping. There was something else, too: something that Bennett and the rest of the group seemed to be holding back. Sam wondered if he was still being tested, if Bennett was still looking to sift people out like he’d done with Mike Hauser. Sam was under the impression that he was well within the inner circle, but that he wasn’t yet privy to whatever it was that Bennett was actually planning. Maybe this would be his final trial? He put on his shoes and his coat, zipping it up against the cold, and then he left his apartment.

Traffic was sparse on the way over to the Eldorado. There was a bank of dark clouds just beginning to billow over the crest of the Sierras. The weather report had said that snow was possible later in the evening. The skeletal trees lining the streets were trembling in the wind. Sam drove down Virginia Street and made his way around to the Eldorado’s parking garage. He found a spot close to the stairwell, and got out of the car.

He made his way across the casino floor, through the clouds of smoke and the noise of the slot machines, past the cocktail waitresses in their high heels and their sequined outfits. He was alone as he stepped into the elevator and rode it to the top floor. As it ascended, he felt himself tensing up. He edged over to the side of the elevator and waited for the doors to open all the way before he nudged his head around to look into the hall. It was empty save for a housekeeping cart parked near the far end of the north wing of the floor. Sam looked both ways and then went down the hall towards Bennett’s suite. He rapped on the door with the knuckles of his fingers, but there was no answer. A “DO NOT DISTURB” sign hung on the door handle. Sam knocked again, glancing briefly over his shoulder, and then he fished the key card out of his pocket and used it on the door, and let himself in.

The suite was dim inside, though it wasn’t totally dark. The blinds had been left open and the last, purplish remains of daylight shone through the window. The air in the suite seemed stale and sour, as if it hadn’t been cleaned in some time. Sam had never been able to figure out just what, exactly, the arrangement was with Bennett and this suite. The other night the group had acted as if meetings here were a regular occurrence, so did Bennett own the suite? Did he just rent it whenever he was in town, like a high roller?

Sam moved past the entryway, straining to listen for the smallest noise, but it was totally quiet inside. Was there someone here? Waiting for him? He half expected someone to spring out from behind the counter. He crept around the corner and looked into the main room, but it was deserted. Moving quickly, he made his way to the bedroom, but it was empty, too. Then he looked in the bathroom, even pushing back the shower curtain, just to be sure.

So what was this? He felt cold and wondered even more who had called him. The suite seemed totally empty, though something felt out of place. Sam went back into the bedroom and looked in the closet. There was a row of crisply pressed suits, all lined up and hanging and still in their thin, filmy plastic dry-cleaning sheaths, but they’d been pushed over to one side. Sam went to the dresser and opened up a drawer that contained dress socks and boxer shorts, and again, it was clear that someone had been rummaging around. But it was a careful rummaging. Back in his youth, he’d participated in a couple of home robberies, and the usual technique was to toss things upside down. It didn’t matter if you made a mess of things. The point was to get in and out as quickly as possible. This, though, seemed more cautious and calculating. Like someone wanted to leave only small but telling hints about their presence in the room. But who would’ve had access? Bennett and Sam both had keys. Cathy probably had a key. Maybe that was it. Maybe Bennett had to leave in a hurry, and Cathy had come by to pick up some of his things? But the person on the phone (had it been Christian?) had said to pick up Baurak Ale. Maybe this was all just some prank—yet another one of Bennett’s tests.

He went back out into the main room, and he caught a glimpse of something moving on the wall to his right, and his heart grabbed. Then he realized it was just the mirror, and that he’d seen his own reflection. And there was something else—some writing on the mirror:

MY LIFE IS THREATENED BY A LITTLE DOUGH-HEAD

“What in the ____?” he muttered. He stood there looking at it and then he went over and ran a finger through the final “D.” Was it Magic Marker? He took a final look around the room, which had grown even darker during the brief time he’d been looking around. Outside the neon was flickering to life across the city.
Sam walked quickly back to the foyer and peered out the peephole into the fish-eyed hallway. It was all clear, so he let himself out and shut the door quietly behind him. He stuffed his hands into the pockets of his coat and walked down the hall, past the rows of identical numbered doors. Halfway down he heard the bell of the elevator chime, and a few seconds later a pair of men in dark suits came around the corner, moving quickly. The older one had a salt-and-pepper buzzcut and the other had short, curly brown hair. Sam kept his eyes straight ahead as he passed them. When he reached the alcove that held the elevators, he turned to look in the men’s direction, and it was evident that they were headed for Bennett’s suite. He went into the alcove and punched the button for the elevator, and the LED display over the door showed that it was down at the ground floor. While he waited, he drifted back over near the hall and looked down towards Bennett’s suite. The two men were standing outside the door, talking, and one of them had what appeared to be a photo. Sam turned back to check the elevator display: 6th Floor. When he looked down the hall again, one of the men—the older one, with the buzzcut, was walking towards him purposefully, stuffing the photo or whatever it was into some inner pocket in his suit jacket. As he did this, Sam could clearly see the butt of a pistol tucked into a shoulder holster.

He spun and made a dash for the door that led to the stairwell, and in a flash he was scampering down the stairs as quickly as he could, clutching at the handrail to prevent himself from falling. When he’d gone several flights, he paused to listen for footfalls, but it was silent. All he heard was his own ragged breathing, the sound of his heart pushing blood past his ears. He edged over to the side of the stairwell and looked up. It was like being in a well or a cavern, looking up at the square spiral formed by the stairs, and then he saw the head of the man—a hard, oval-shaped head with gray, bristly hair, staring down at him from several flights up.

Sam tore off again, sprinting down the stairs two at a time. He didn’t stop until he reached the ground floor. He was panting as he pushed on the bar of the door and went out into the casino. He moved quickly, not quite running, so as not to attract any additional attention. He unzipped his coat and took it off and tucked it underneath his arm, and he made his way around the edge of the casino floor, looking over his shoulder periodically as he snaked through the rows of slot machines. As he neared the doors that led to the parking lot, he sat down at one of the machines and pretended to play as he took one final, more careful survey of the area. If the man followed him to his car, it would be more difficult to get away. He scanned the people roaming the floor: a man with a cowboy hat and a mustache; a drunk couple; a pair of cocktail waitresses; an old woman feeding nickels into a machine. There was no sign of the man in the suit, though. Very carefully, as if on quicksand, Sam got back up and went out of the casino and into the parking lot. He checked to see if anyone was watching, and then he sprinted over to his parked car.

As soon as he was in, he locked the door and fumbled to get the key into the ignition. The car roared to life, and he put it into gear and drove out of the parking structure, continuously checking his rearview mirror. When he was finally out on Virginia Street, he felt as if he could breathe normally again, though in the rearview, it seemed that something was happening. A crowd was gathering, and they were pointing up towards the main tower of the Eldorado. It was curious, but he was in no mood to check it out. He put his foot on the gas and made his way out of downtown Reno.

He drove for several blocks, watching his rearview, until he felt relatively certain that he was free of a tail. His first impulse was to try and find a payphone, and then he remembered that he’d left his cell phone back at his apartment. He would need to go back and get it.

It was dark by the time he arrived. Just as he pulled into his assigned spot, a black sedan drove up behind him and parked. He sat very still in the driver’s seat, staring intently at the rearview, until he saw the passenger-side door of the sedan open, and Christian climbed out. Sam shut off the engine and went to meet Christian.

“Jesus, you’re all right,” said Christian. “Hurry up and get in the car.”

“What in the ____ is going on?” said Sam.

“I’ll explain on the way. Just get in already. We have to clear out of here.”

“Clear out? Where are we going, Chris? I’m not doing ____ until someone tells me what the ____ is up.”

Christian stared at him. “Your phone,” he said. “Your phone. You have it on you?”

“It’s up in my apartment.”

“Come on then,” he said. “Let’s get it and go.”

They went up the stairs to Sam’s apartment, and once the door was shut, Christian said, “Were you followed?”

“Not that I know of,” said Sam.

“Did you see anyone there?”

“There were two guys in suits.”

“Did they see you?”

“Yeah, man. One of them came after me.”

“____. Are you positive that you weren’t followed?”

“Yeah, Chris, as best I can tell, yeah. I wish you would tell me what the ____ is up. I get in there and there is this bizarre message written on the mirror. What in the hell is a little ‘dough-head’?”

Christian moved around the apartment, scanning everything as if looking for bugs. “I’ll explain later,” he said. “Get your phone, and get a few things—stuff to travel with. And hurry.” Sam did as he was told. He got a duffel bag from the closet and tossed some clothes and toiletries into it.

“Where’s your phone?”

“It’s over there.” He pointed.

“Okay, good. Get it and let’s go.”

They went back outside into the cold and Sam locked the door behind them as Christian went down the stairs. Sam got into the back seat of the car and saw that Don Smith was driving.

“Hey there, Sam,” he said, as he put the car in gear.

“Hi, Don.”

“All right,” said Christian. “Let’s go.”

Don put the car in gear and they were off. Sam sat in the backseat, still feeling somewhat dazed. Christian spun around in the seat to face him.

“Look—I’m sorry to be so brusque. But things are kind of in turmoil at the moment.”

“Yeah I gathered that much,” said Sam. “Now would you mind telling me what the hell is going on?”



...Next time: "Shake my hand..."

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Fri Sep 08, 2017 9:54 am 
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AWESOME, Bob! This was a nail-biter.

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 Post subject: Re: A Great and Dreadful Day, Part V: Blood Atonement
PostPosted: Thu Sep 14, 2017 10:08 am 
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- FORTY-SIX -

Elder Kreditor watched Elder Higbee disappear after the big man in the coat, and then he fished in his pocket for the card that Mabel had given them and he used it on the door. He went inside and left the door open a crack so that Higbee could get in when he returned. The suite was dark inside but Kreditor could make out the shapes of furniture thanks to the ambient light cast upwards by the street-level casinos several stories below. He took a step forward and a strange feeling came over him—it was, he knew, a prompting from the Holy Ghost, and he felt dark and frightened, and his hand went for the gun under his arm. He felt around on the wall for the light switch and when he found it he flipped it on. He blinked in the new light and then went forward a couple of steps so that he could see into the main area of the suite. Behind him, the door clicked shut.

He spun around. Standing there in the doorway was a man Kreditor had never seen before, though he nonetheless seemed familiar. Elder Kreditor turned around just in time to see the man slip something round and shiny into the pocket of his zip-up jacket. The man had smooth, lineless olive skin, and his long black hair was pulled back in a ponytail.

“I wonder if I’m in the right place,” the man said. He had a curious smile.

Kreditor’s fingers were wrapped around the butt of the gun. “Who are you?” he said.

“I’ve often wondered the same thing myself.” He held out his hand, gesturing for Kreditor to move into the other room. “Shall we?”

“What’s your name?” said Kreditor.

“Don’t you know?”

“I’ve never seen you before in my life.”

“Are you certain of that? Why don’t you ask yourself a bit more deeply, Elder.” He took a step forward, and Kreditor went backwards two steps. “Listen more closely to the whisperings of the Spirit.”

“How did you get in here?”

He laughed. “The same way you did, Elder. I walked in through the door.” His eyes were green, and on account of his hair and his skin tone he looked ethnic—a Mexican, maybe, or an Indian. “So what are you doing here, Elder? Were you looking for me?”

“What? Are you? Who are you? Is this your suite?”

“Well that depends, Elder. Am I dead?” He took another step forward, and Kreditor again took two steps back.

“Are you what?”

“Am I dead, Elder?” He was smiling broadly. “If you died and were resurrected, how would you know? Suppose you died and went on to exaltation in the Celestial Kingdom. Suppose that, after a certain point, you chose to restore yourself and your kingdom to the exact condition it had been in when you were mortal. If you did that, how would you be able to tell the difference?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“If you were transfigured, or if you were given the opportunity to tarry a while—what would be the difference between that and dying? These all lie along the same continuum, don’t they?”

Kreditor could feel the beginnings of a light sweat. He unsheathed his gun and pointed it at the man, but it didn’t have any effect. The man took another step forward; Kreditor stepped back again, moving to the side to avoid a chair. “You’re an apostate,” he said.

“No, no, my dear Elder. You’re wrong about that. You and your beloved church are the ones in a state of apostasy.”

“That’s bull. You want to destroy the Church. You’re full of hate. I know exactly what you are.”

He laughed, and it echoed through the suite in a flat and affectless way. “You don’t know the first thing. I’m doing more to save the Church than you ever could. You’re weak, and you’re a pawn.”

“That’s not true,” he said. “All my accounts are in order.” His gun hand was shaking. “You know nothing about me.” The man took another step forward.

“Tell me, Elder: Do you serve God? Or do you serve Satan?”

“Stay back,” said Kreditor, and he raised the gun.

“Why don’t you offer to shake my hand? See if I’ll do it.”

Beads of sweat shone on Kreditor’s forehead.

The stranger held out his hand. “See if you feel anything,” he said. He was smiling, unblinkingly, his teeth impossibly straight and white—like dentures.

Kreditor’s eyes darted back and forth, from the man’s outstretched arm, to his face. He lowered his gun arm slightly, and the man charged. He was lightning fast, and Kreditor had no time to react. He felt himself being pushed back with full force. The stranger’s arms were around him, pinning his own arms to his side, and he went stumbling backwards. It was like being hit by a train. Back, back he went, until he hit with a blunt thud against the large plate glass window overlooking downtown Reno, and then he felt it give way and shatter, the broken glass ringing out and tinkling in the cold night air. He and the man were falling.

Elder Kreditor had heard at some point during his life that time literally slowed down in moments like this, and it turned out to be true. He could feel tiny bits of glass in his hair, on his face and in his eyelashes, and he was aware of his breath being squeezed out of him by the stranger’s arms, and for a few brief moments, he could make out the flicker of dim stars in the scar-like break in the clouds. As he fell—so, so slowly—he caught sight of the Eldorado’s neon sign, bright and clear in the dark night, and he saw the open, lighted maw of the suite that he’d just been shoved out of. He wanted to flail, to move his arms and legs and to try and rotate and position himself so that he could maybe land in such a way so as to save himself, but the stranger held him fast, and there was nothing for him to do but cast his gaze skywards, and to dream of reuniting with his Father in Heaven.



The people on Virginia Street who saw it happen said that they heard it first—meaning that they heard the sound of breaking glass, though the sound came from an unaccountable direction. Two or three people said that they had actually seen something falling, something limp and entangled and silhouetted against the glossy dark side of the building. At least three dozen people saw the aftermath of what had happened. The man in the suit was literally split open by the fall.

There were disagreements about the other man—indeed there was some confusion as to whether there had ever been another man at all. Several people suggested that this other man had fallen out of the window with the guy in the suit. Others were convinced that he’d been standing there on the sidewalk and had been hit by the body as it fell. One woman thought that the man had jumped out of the way just in time to save himself from being crushed by the weight of the body. Still others said there was no second man. It was the suited guy and nobody else. Police were unsure what to believe; the casino’s closed-circuit cameras had failed to record the fall, and they of course knew how human memory tends be so fallible. Nevertheless, there was unanimous agreement that, if there had been a second person, no one could have survived a fall from that height.

But what if he used this guy to break his fall? That was the speculation from one of the junior M.E.s.

Even so, was the reply.

As witnesses were interviewed, other details emerged. One man thought that the suited guy—the guy who died from the fall—had been holding a gun—a silvery looking gun with a white handle. A woman thought that it was the alleged other person who had been holding the gun, though she allowed that it could have been that this alleged other person had taken the gun from the hand of the man in the suit. The biggest problem with all the witness reports, not surprisingly, was this alleged second man. None of the people could recall what happened to him in the wake of the fall. One person claimed to have seen him stand up and dust himself off, but everyone (or, to be more precise, everyone who claimed to have seen him) was fuzzy on how or when he left the scene of the accident, provided, of course that he had ever existed in the first place.

But the police weren’t able to interview everybody. If they had, there is a good chance that they would have been able to learn the full truth about what happened, though it’s impossible to know if they would have believed it.


...Next time: They collect themselves...

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