Chapter 6: Elementary, My Dear Watson


Well, ma'am, at Elder Finn's little announcement you can be sure I was stunned and thrown into something of a panic. After all, to review a bit, my own experiences from the previous couple of months had taught me two big lessons—and taught them perhaps a bit too well.

The first lesson was that it's better to stick things out than to run away. The mission field wasn't always a miserable place, and in fact it could sometimes be really great—or so I had convinced myself. It was often very hard, but it was supposed to be hard, and I figured that there were also immeasurably wonderful experiences to be gained along the way. (Did those experiences outweigh the negative aspects of a mission? I certainly thought so at the time, though I would argue the other side now.) If nothing else—and this was a craven excuse, I know—staying on a mission was certainly preferable to facing humiliation and a sense of failure back home. Among many other things, the reactions of my family and friends to my own decampment had taught me this, and taught it well.

(As an aside, I wrote to Katrina shortly after being reassigned to Calgary, explaining what had happened, why I had tried to go home, and why I had decided to stay. She called me as soon as she got the letter. She was distraught. She was disappointed in me. She certainly hadn't intended to try to get me to come home, she said. So much for my amazing powers of perception, he said wryly.)

The second lesson I had learned was that if your companion wants to go home, you should do whatever is in your power to convince him otherwise. You should call the mission president immediately and let him know. You should use whatever techniques are necessary to buy enough time so that the president can at least talk with the missionary before he leaves. Free agency doesn't enter into the equation anywhere. Common sense and human decency play no role. Elder Dedman had unwittingly taught me this lesson. I wanted to do what was right, but I also didn't want to get into the kind of trouble that Dedman had bought himself for not doing more to keep me in Brooks. I hate confrontations with authority and will do almost anything to avoid them. To my eternal shame, this was true.

So with these two overriding imperatives zinging through my brain, I tried to talk Finn out of leaving. I asked what the problem was. He said that he hated his mission, and that he especially hated his companion. (He used plenty of colorful language to describe Elder McKay, in fact.) He also told me that his mother was about to have her foot amputated and that he wanted to be there for the operation.

I advised him that his family would probably rather have him stay on his mission than have him come home at a time like that.

"Did you grow up in the Church?" he asked me angrily.

"Yes," I said.

"Well, I didn't. It's only been six or seven years since we joined the Church. My family never pushed me to go on a mission. I didn't grow up thinking I'd go on one. I doubt they'll care one way or the other."

I asked him if he had prayed about his decision. He said he had. I asked him if he'd gotten an answer. He said, "Believe it or not, I have. And I'm going home."

Well, I'd said about the same thing to Elder Dedman back in Brooks the December before, and Finn convinced me about as well as I'd convinced Dedman.

He refused to pray with me about his decision on the spot, so I agreed reluctantly to drive him to the airport. After all, I certainly couldn't restrain him physically, and a missionary is supposed to remain with his companion at all times. (Not in the bathroom, of course, but you get the idea). By my interpretation of the White Bible, it would be better for me to go along and continue to try to dissuade him from his intentions than simply to abandon him.

I went to the phone, though, intending to try to call President Tuttle. Finn smiled. "Don't bother," he said. "The phone's off the hook in the bedroom. And you'll never get past me."

So I ended up helping Finn lug his suitcases down five flights of stairs and pack them into the trunk of the Aries K. What else could I do but play along and look for my first opportunity to break for a phone? The way Finn looked and acted, I knew I wouldn't stand much of a chance if I just broke and ran. He wasn't about to let me spoil his plans. If I were to have a prayer of keeping him in Calgary, I'd have to wait for the perfect moment.

We made the thirty-minute commute to the airport through late-afternoon traffic with Finn at the wheel. (I was along simply so that I could bring the car back, I suppose—or so that Finn could keep an eye on me until he boarded his plane.) As he drove, he told me how he had been plotting this move for a couple of weeks—ever since transfers, in fact. He had secretly spent hours and hours on the phone with a friend of his—whom I shall call "Z," as I never learned his name—from back home in Sacramento. According to Plan A, Z was to fly into Calgary that day, meet us, and then sit on me if necessary until he and Finn could catch their joint flight back to Sacramento. At the last minute, though, events conspired to prevent Z from making the trip. This meant Finn had to fall back to Plan B.

Plan B was to hope that I would help him get away.

If I wouldn't help, then Plan C was just to wing it.

The reason Finn had picked me for splits that day, he said, was because I had tried to run away myself. (How he had learned this, I don't know. I guess the rumor made it around after all.) If anyone was likely to sympathize with his position and give him time to get away, he reasoned, it would be me.

Sadly enough, he reasoned incorrectly. I had learned my lessons far too well. I was too afraid of the consequences of complicity to sit back and let him live his life the way he chose. I was incapable of the generosity with which Elder Dedman had treated me.

But I never really came out and told Finn that.

Elder Finn became downright chummy as we drove along, no longer acting threateningly as he had earlier. It was as if we were co-conspirators on some tremendous and dangerous adventure—as if, in his eyes, I would be going home vicariously through him, something I hadn't managed to do on my own. Quite a presumption, but one I wish had been true.

And then suddenly all pretense of vicariousness slipped out of the equation. "I have two plane reservations, you know," said Finn. "You can have one if you want."

In all honesty, I must report that I was tempted by this offer not one bit. Sure, being home would have been nice, but not under circumstances like those. I wasn't ready to go through all that post-Christmas grief again. I politely declined. I was very well-trained by then.

Finn shrugged, as if it were my loss and no skin off his nose. (But then, why would I have wanted to fly to Sacramento? That's a full time zone west of Kaysville, Utah. It didn't make a lick of sense.)

Conversationally, I tried to get Finn to tell me when his plane was leaving, what flight he was on, what airline he was flying. He only laughed. "I don't trust you quite that much yet," he said. "I don't think I'll be telling you that."

He drove a bit in silence, deep in thought. Maybe he really did want to answer my questions, at least subconsciously. Maybe he really did want me to stop him. I don't know. But I do know that what he said next gave everything away:

"I change planes at the worst possible airport, though."


"You're flying through Salt Lake City," I said.

Salt Lake City. Church headquarters. Look at what happened to me in Great Falls, Montana. A stake president caught up with me and very lovingly convinced me to turn back to Calgary. If that could happen to me in an insignificant outpost like Great Falls, just imagine what kind of guns could be brought to bear in a metropolis like Salt Lake City (a small metropolis, but a metropolis nonetheless), where the population is over half L.D.S. and where the Church has its general offices! I mean, not only is the place crawling with bishops and stake presidents and former mission presidents, but it's also got all the general authorities of the Church, plus twelve apostles and a prophet!

Finn was right; if he wanted to get away without running into anyone who would try to turn him back, he couldn't have picked a worse city for changing planes. Deep down I think he knew—even as I had learned about myself—that he could be turned back if only someone with the right arguments got to him. I certainly wasn't that person, but if such a person existed then he could no doubt be found in Salt Lake City.

It was indeed the worst airport for Finn to fly through. And knowing that, I had all the information I needed.

When we reached the airport, I would have to act fast.

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

About This Story

“Terror on Flight 789” is a very early, much shorter preliminary draft of what would eventually become my full-length memoir The Accidental Terrorist: Confessions of a Reluctant Missionary. If you enjoy this story, you'll like that thoroughly revised and expanded version even more. Available now!

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