Chapter 7: I Drop a Bomb of My Own


We pulled up in front of the airport before too much longer, Finn and I. It was a bit before five in the evening. We parked the car in a fifteen-minute zone right near the entrance, then hauled Finn's luggage inside the terminal. He got in line at the Western Airlines ticket counter. I set his bags down beside him in line, waited until his back was turned—and then made myself scarce.

If I was going to contact President Tuttle before Finn boarded his plane, this was my only chance. Finn was hardly likely to give up his place in line to come looking for me when he saw that I'd disappeared. At least, I hoped he wouldn't.

About halfway down the yawning airport terminal was a pair of escalators. I rode one up to the mezzanine overlooking the ticket counters, since there really wasn't anywhere else to go where Finn wouldn't have a line of sight to me from his place in line. And if he couldn't see me and what I was doing, I figured that it was less likely that he would come after me.

I found a bank of video monitors displaying arrival and departure times. Only one flight was bound for Salt Lake City any time soon: Western Flight 789, departing at 5:55 p.m. I had less than an hour to get President Tuttle out to the airport if there was going to be any chance of him talking Finn out of leaving.

Nearby were a stand of those tall, shiny, burnished metal cylinders that pass for telephone booths in trendy airports. I dropped a too-light Canadian quarter in the slot of the phone farthest from the railing, then dialed the number of the mission office.

There was no answer.

I knew President Tuttle himself wouldn't be there, since he was off somewhere conducting the leadership conference, but I was at least hoping that someone would be there to give me a phone number where he could be reached. You see, leadership conferences and other big meetings were rarely held at the mission office. The place just wasn't big enough. The conference was being held in a church building somewhere—but there were twenty L.D.S. meetinghouses in Calgary at the very least and I had no idea which might be the one. I could have called every church building in the phone book, but I would have run out of quarters long before running out of numbers.

So I racked my brain trying to remember phone numbers for the other elders I knew. I tried calling Elder Van Wagoner, but there was no answer at his apartment. Of course not. He and his companion were out having fun somewhere. It was p-day, after all—not day to waste sitting home by the phone.

I tried maybe three other numbers—all the ones I could remember—and I got no answer at any of them. Everyone was out playing, and the ones who weren't were of course at the leadership conference. And I didn't know where the hell the leadership conference was being held.

There was only one number left to try. I dialed up Doper, Weed, and Mad Dog. I mean—well, you know.

Sister Steed answered the phone. "L.D.S. missionaries," she said.

"Steed, this is Elder Shunn," I said. "I need your help."

Steed sounded wary. "Why?"

"I'm at the airport," I said, and the words began to tumble out in a rush. "Elder Finn's buying a plane ticket and he's about to fly home. I need--"

Steed's voice lashed out angrily. "That's not funny at all, Elder Shunn. Goodbye!"

"Wait wait wait wait wait!" I cried. "Don't hang up! I'm not joking!"

The line stayed open, but it seemed a close thing. I can't really blame Steed for her reaction; Snow and I had been engaged in something of a war of practical jokes with these three sisters for some time. I heard a babble of voices at the other end of the line and then a sharp, twangy "Gimme that!"

Sister Roper came on the line. "What's going on there, Elder Shunn?" I reacted to her peremptory tone as readily as I would have to any other authoritative voice. After I explained what was happening, she said, "That stupid little jerk. He makes me mad as hell. After all the times he's talked with us . . . Can you see him from where you are?"

I hadn't realized that Finn knew the sisters well at all—or that he had evidently been confiding in them. "No," I said. "I'm upstairs on the mezzanine."

"You mean you let him out of your sight?"

I winced. "I had to. I couldn't have called you otherwise."

"Well, go get him. Bring him to the phone. I want to give him a piece of my mind."

Time was running out as far as I was concerned, but Roper's tone brooked no disobedience. And who knew? If Roper could talk him into staying, then it was worth a try. "Hang on," I said, then put down the phone and headed for the escalators. (The mezzanine was deserted, so I had only a slight fear that someone would find the phone off the hook and hang it up.)

When I got down to the lobby, I spotted Finn in line at the Customs gate with about half a dozen people in front of him. He saw me coming toward him. His luggage was all around him, and a flight bag was slung over his shoulder. His face turned ugly. "I knew I couldn't trust, you, Shunn!" he spat. "I knew it, dammit! The second my back was turned, I knew you'd go and rat me out, you asshole!"

People were looking at us, but I tried to remain unperturbed. "I have Sister Roper on a pay phone upstairs," I said. "She wants to talk to you. She's waiting."

"Damn you, Shunn! Tell that bitch I don't want to talk to her! And get away from me! Leave me alone, you rat!"

Well, what could I say in the face of that? Knowing that precious time was slipping away, I turned away sadly and trotted back up the escalator to the phone. It was still off the hook. "Roper?" I said.

"Is he coming?" she asked anxiously.

"No, he said he didn't want to talk to you."

There was silence.

"Roper," I said, "you've got to find out where the leadership conference is, then get hold of President Tuttle and get him down here."

"Okay," she said. "I'll do what I can. Do you have a number there at that pay phone?" I read off the number for her, and then she said, "I'll call you back in fifteen minutes and let you know what's going on."

After hanging up, I went to the railing of the mezzanine and scanned the lobby. The Customs line had shrunk, and Finn was nowhere to be seen.

I spent the next twenty minutes in a controlled but very nervous state of apprehension. Near the pay phones was a coin-operated trivia-game machine, where I played off only one quarter and got the high score. (There was nothing else I could do, and I had to force the time to pass somehow.)

After twenty minutes, the phone still hadn't rung, so I called the sisters back. Roper answered. "Elder Shunn?" she said.


"I've been trying to call! Why didn't you answer the phone?"

Actually, this was something I'd been fearing. "This must be the kind of pay phone you can't call in to," I said. "I waited here the whole time, but I never heard it ring."

"Well, anyway, I got through to President Tuttle," said Roper. "He's on his way to the airport now. He's bringing Elder Bruce with him."

"Good," I said. Elder Bruce, you may remember, was Elder Finn's first companion, and the two of them were very close. Bruce had been transferred to Edmonton, as I mentioned before, but being a zone leader he was in Calgary for the leadership conference. If anyone could talk Finn into staying, it would be Bruce. President Tuttle had made an shrewd choice. I felt a little better

"How long until Finn's flight leaves?" Roper asked.

It was just past five-thirty by my watch. "About twenty-five minutes," I said.

"How's the traffic on the way out?" she asked.

I felt a sinking feeling. The traffic hadn't been so bad before five, but it would be getting snarled up now. "I don't know," I said.

"Do you think they'll get there in time?"

"It depends on where they're coming from," I said, but I didn't hold out much hope. "It'll probably be close."

"Then you need to call the airline, Elder Shunn," she said, in that authoritative voice of hers. "Ask them to hold the flight."

I squinted at the phone in annoyance. "That's ridiculous! They won't delay a flight just because someone asks them to."

"You have to try," said Roper. "We have to do all we can. And what can it hurt? Just do it and then call me back to let me know what's going on."

I hung up, already deep in thought. I paced around the mezzanine, gears turning furiously. First, I was certain that Elder Finn was making a big mistake. I thought I knew the kind of hell that would be waiting for him when he arrived home unexpectedly. Next, I believed it was vitally important for me, as Sister Roper had said, to do everything I could to keep Elder Finn from leaving, at least until President Tuttle and Elder Bruce could get there. It was important not just for the sake of my own peace of mind—I mean, what if I had the ability to keep him in Calgary and then failed to use it?—but also because I knew how much trouble Dedman had gotten into for not stopping me. Finally, I did have the means to stop Finn—I knew I had the means. The seed of an idea had germinated in my mind even before Finn and I reached the airport, and I had spent the last half hour dutifully ignoring its promptings. There was no way the airline would ever delay a flight just because someone asked—but then, the tone Roper had used when telling me to do this, the way she had approached the subject, her entire manner, all suggested that this was not her own idea, but rather a message relayed from President Tuttle as a contingency against his own late arrival . . .

I was no longer thinking clearly at all, but I knew I had only one chance to stop Finn from leaving and that I'd better take it before I started thinking logically again and talked myself out of it.

I went back to the phone and opened the directory to the Western Airlines section. Most of the listings were toll-free 800-numbers for reservations and the like—many of which probably went straight to the Western offices in Salt Lake City. I could spot only one listing under the Western heading with a number I definitely recognized as local—the listing for Western Air Cargo.

I plugged a quarter into the slot and dialed the number, hands shaking. There were two distant rings followed by a click, and then a small tinny voice said, "Western Air Cargo. May I help you?"

I have a telephone voice which is different from my normal speaking voice. It is rich and deep and resonant. People are constantly complimenting me on what a beautiful voice I have on the phone and asking me if I work in radio. My rich telephone voice didn't quaver in the least as I spoke the following words:

"There's a bomb in a suitcase on Flight 789."

I hung up the phone. The die was cast.

“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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