Chapter 11: Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch . . .


I didn't discover what was happening with such other players in our story as Elder Finn and President Tuttle until some time later, but for the sake of variety (if nothing else) perhaps we should drop in on them now and see what they were up to while I was being taken into custody.

Call it bad luck, bad timing, bad karma, a bad hair day or whatever, but it seems that President Tuttle and Elder Bruce arrived at the airport just barely not in the nick of time. As they later related it to me, they showed up at a bit past six. After a quick canvass of the nearly empty airport terminal, they approached the Customs gate, which by then was closed down for the evening. They were certain that I would be waiting for them somewhere nearby.

Elder Bruce, who was younger, stronger, more virile (I presume), and had better eyesight, peered into the ill-lit depths of the sterile Customs area and said, "Hey, President. Isn't that Elder Shunn way off down there?"

President Tuttle looked as hard as he could, but saw only a couple of dark figures disappearing through some door or into some side passage. He shook his head. "I don't know," he said. "I can't tell."

"Well, I'm pretty sure that was him," said Bruce, "but he's gone now."

Of course, what Bruce saw was most likely me being escorted to the office of Constable X, where I would shortly make my full confession. But the way it seemed to Bruce and Tuttle at the time was that I might be flying the coop again myself. After all, what else would I be doing in the sterile Customs area other than heading off to catch a plane?

I probably gave President Tuttle a fresh gray hair right then and there—and, as I've said, I was destined to give him a whole lot more before the whole affair was ended.

Fairly soon—after a bit of shouting, I think—Tuttle and Bruce managed to attract someone to the Customs gate. Unfortunately, it was my old friend—the surly, bearded Stephen King lookalike in the orange windbreaker. After a hurried explanation of why they needed to get inside the Customs area, the bearded man very rudely told them to forget it.

But President Tuttle wasn't giving up yet. He asked if Beardman would mind relaying a message to Elder Finn—in whatever departure lounge the boy might be, well, lounging—asking him to come out front and chat for a few minutes. Reluctantly, Beardman did as he was asked—and no doubt took great relish in returning to inform Tuttle that Elder Finn had expressed a desire never to see or speak with him again.

Well sir, even this didn't deter President Tuttle a single whit. (Mormons, you know, are notoriously persistent. Kind of like pit bulls.) He and Bruce sauntered innocently away from the Customs gate, and Beardman went back to whatever it was that he did for a living. As soon as the coast was clear, though, Tuttle crept back to the gate and (with difficulty, I can only imagine) climbed over it. He had apparently gotten quite a good distance into the Customs area and was trying to figure out where to go from there when Beardman and a security officer spotted him. Accompanied by Beardman's shouts of "This is a sterile area! This is a sterile area!", the security officer rather roughly escorted President Tuttle back out the Customs gate, with a warning that if he tried anything like that again he would be arrested.

(Um, have I mentioned the Mormon pursuit of a higher law anywhere here before?)

I guess there wasn't much else for Tuttle and Bruce to do at that point but leave the terminal. And that was when they noticed the Aries K assigned to Finn and McKay still parked outside in a fifteen-minute loading zone (without a parking ticket, amazingly enough). That about cinched it up for them; I was long gone as far as they were concerned.

But then again . . . but then again . . .

Why would Finn and I park the car in a fifteen-minute zone if we were both about to fly out? Wouldn't it have made more sense to leave the car in the parking garage and spare the mission the cost of a parking ticket or of a possible impound? The parked car only made sense if I thought I would be returning to it fairly soon, and in that case . . . where the hell was I?

Meanwhile, Elder Snow (in the company of some other elder, of course—gotta stay with that companion!) had returned to our apartment from the interrupted leadership conference to get some dinner. Once President Tuttle had contacted him to see if I was there at the apartment, Snow was able to report that none of my clothes, possessions, or luggage was missing. If I had gone home, then I was certainly traveling light.

Six-thirty came and went, and the Bray family—with whom (and particularly with their delectable daughter Heidi) Elder Finn and I were to have had a d.a. that evening—called the apartment to see where I was. It was then that Snow knew something was very wrong.

He knew I would never have missed that dinner appointment without a damned serious reason. He knew I was in trouble.

Of course, there's quite a difference between knowing that Elder Shunn is in trouble and knowing what to do to help him. Elder Snow called President Tuttle, and suddenly a search by all the missionaries in Calgary was on. The sun had gone down by then, of course—this was winter, and quite far north—and Snow was unreasonably convinced that someone was going to find me dead in a ditch somewhere in the dark.

This all-out search may have seemed reasonable at the time, but by my lights it was exactly the wrong thing to do—as we will see before much longer.

But what of poor Elder Finn? When last I saw him, he was in line at the Customs gate cursing my name to high heaven. What was he doing all this time? Well, as he was sitting in the departure lounge, waiting for his flight to be called and minding his own business, there was a nasty surprise waiting for him just around the corner.

Travel with me to the cockpit of Western Flight 789. The time is 5:35 p.m. We are en route from Edmonton, ten minutes away from a landing at Calgary International Airport, where we will have only a scant ten minutes to take on luggage and a few additional passengers. There are eighty-one passengers already on board.

Suddenly the Calgary tower radios the pilot. "An anonymous caller claims there's a bomb in a suitcase on your plane," says the tower. "Please proceed directly to the emergency runway and evacuate the plane immediately upon landing. Traffic is being diverted to clear your way."

(If you don't see the implications for me yet in this, then stick around for further installments. It's bad.)

Within ten minutes, the plane is on the ground, and only then does the pilot inform the passengers that there has been a bomb threat and they must evacuate. No point in worrying anyone needlessly while the plane is still in the air in case the threat is just a hoax, right?

Well, eventually these eighty-one passengers stumble into the departure lounge, where they and the twenty-nine or so new passengers who were to join them are informed that there will be a delay while the aircraft is searched. This is the first that Finn has heard of the bomb threat—and he is immediately certain, no doubt, that it was my doing. The profanity begins again—no doubt.

Before much longer, the airport police—having just learned that a Mormon missionary is responsible for the bomb hoax and that another missionary is somehow involved, but not yet having my full confession in hand—come looking for Elder Finn.

And they haul him off and grill him mercilessly for the next hour and half, shouting things like "You and your other Mormon friend are in this together, aren't you?!" and "What are you two trying to do, huh?!" and "What's the game here, anyway?!" and generally being mean, vindictive sons of bitches.

This used to provide my only satisfaction when I thought about Elder Finn's part in this whole sorry episode. From my current vantage, I feel as though I used to be every bit as mean and vindictive as those cops.

Of course, there was no other satisfaction for me to be had. When the plane was declared clean and the passengers were at last allowed to reboard, the cops had to let Finn go. They had nothing on him. And the plane with its 109 passengers (one woman was so distraught by the bomb scare that she refused to get back on board) finally left, ninety minutes behind schedule. Only a handful of these passengers made their connecting flights in Salt Lake City.

One of them, of course, was Elder Finn.

I had gotten myself arrested for no reason.

So Finn made it home—the lucky stiff—despite all I did. I say good for him. But where did that leave me?

“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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