Chapter 14: I Make a Friend


Actually, we came to a pretty good accommodation fairly quickly, my fellow jailbirds and I. I'd just sit against the far wall pretending I wasn't there, and everyone else would ignore me.

Hey, it worked for me.

Of course, the first thing that happened when I entered the cell was that someone asked me for a cigarette. I said I didn't have one. Then someone asked me for matches. Again, I said I didn't have any. And the game of "Pretend the Pretty Little Teenager Isn't There" officially began.

As I say, that was fine by me.

I was in a completely alien environment. These were not the kind of people I had ever associated with. I wasn't comfortable around them. I didn't like them, instinctively. I was convinced that if I attracted their attention in any way, I would be in for big trouble—whether as their revenge upon the better-off classes or just out of sport, I don't know. All I know is what my paranoid gut told me. Stay on the bench, keep your head down, don't make eye contact, and for God's sake keep your mouth shut.

I did fine on all counts.

But as the evening progressed, I started going quietly bonkers. I had no wristwatch. I had no way of knowing how much time was passing. The mind plays funny enough tricks with time when you do have clocks available. When there's absolutely no reference point for judging the passage of time, the mind plays tricks that are a thousand times stranger. I suppose it wasn't too bad at first—but it was destined to grow much worse.

As the evening progressed in its maddening way, other arrestees circulated into and out of the cell. One or two guys would be brought in, then a couple would be taken out, then another would be brought in, and that's the way it went. Most of the ones being taken away were going to see the bail magistrate. After they left, they didn't return.

A lot of odd sorts rotated through the cell—the stereotypical aging biker-gang types, surly teenagers, some Southeast Asian hoods, a derelict or three—but not a single one that didn't frighten me, not a single one I would have cared to know. Hell of an attitude for a missionary, I know, but there it is. I just stayed on my bench and tried to be inconspicuous.

The thing most all of these societal cancers asked when first they arrived at the holding cell (and I must say that all these fellows struck me as familiar with the routine—repeat offenders, in other words) was whether anyone had a cigarette. Next they would ask for a match. Cigarettes were fairly common; matches weren't. Folks lit their smokes from other people's butts. Chain-smoking was the order of the day. If every cigarette went out at once, there might never be a way to relight them all. The Little Match Girl would have been named queen of the cell block if only she were unfortunate enough to be hauled in for loitering or vagrancy. Her product was precious, worth more than gold.

Sometime in the middle of this smoke-in, a guard came to the cell door and called my name. My heart leaped. Lots of names had been called since I was locked in, but never mine. This meant I was on my way to the bail hearing! One step closer to freedom!

The guard unlocked the door to let me out, and I followed him back down the corridor. "Where are we going?" I asked optimistically.

"To get you printed and photographed," he said sharply, as if I had no business speaking.

My spirits fell like a cannonball dropped through tissue paper, like a black hole dropped through anything. Only at that moment did it finally hit me that I was criminal. I was a real criminal. I was about to be booked. My fingerprints and mug shots were going into an actual book somewhere, to be filed away with all the rest of the common scum in Calgary. To someone glancing idly through the photos, there would be no distinction. I was one of Them.

With that cheerful thought for accompaniment, I followed the guard into a small divided room with a counter and a sink. On the counter was an ink pad and a fingerprint card. A short cop of late middle age with a sagging face and bristle-cut hair was seated there, waiting. He stood up, moved to the counter so his back was to me, then told me to stand directly behind him. I did, and he told me, rather angrily, to get closer. I did. Rather too much closer, I thought.

"Give me your left hand," said the cop. He raised his left arm a bit, and I put my hand through the gap between it and his body. He grabbed my hand and jerked, yanking me right up against his back, as close as two sardines in a can.

He took a better grip on my hand. With a series of short, sharp, and completely ungentle movements he slammed each of my fingers down on the stamp pad in turn, pounding each one onto the print card between. Pinky to pad, pinky to card, ring finger to pad, ring finger to card, middle finger to pad, and so on: whap! whap! whap! whap! whap! That fast. It was as if I were being handled by a piston-driven machine—one that didn't care if it hurt me.

Then my right hand, same thing, with brute efficiency.

"Okay, wash up," the print man said, pointing to the sink where there was a can of powdered soap. I scrubbed as hard as I could, but before I could get all the ink off, the print man said, "That's long enough," and tossed me a towel.

Then it was around the divider, where a slate was hung around my neck and I was photographed both head-on and from the side.

Then back to the cell, where my fingers were still stained with ink. Unclean hands. I'm damn sure they do that on purpose. Once you've entered a big-city jail, you're marked—and they don't let you forget it.

Time passed in its slippery, liquid way. More guys were hauled out of the cell. Before much longer, I was totally alone. I took advantage of the solitude to use the toilet. It was wonderful—the solitude, not the toilet. Comparatively, at least.

The peace lasted quite a while. But not quite long enough.

After an indeterminate period of non-time, there was a commotion from the end of the corridor. Angry voices. Barked orders. Vile cursing. Scuffling.

It became apparent in fairly short order that the cops were hauling some real bad-ass of a hardcase off to one of the holding cells. The guy sounded like he was on drugs. Violent. This might be interesting, I thought—the same way violence in a movie can be so fascinating.

Because it's not happening to you.

The sounds grew louder, and then the whole entourage came into view, passing my cell. Three cops had hold of a guy who was thrashing around, kicking, and screaming threats and profanity at the top of his lungs. The cops were doing their best to keep him under control—and just barely managing it. "Watch his legs!" shouted one of the cops, and another: "Get that door open! Quick!"

Wait a second, I thought. No, no, no, no, no. They wouldn't do that. No way.

But they would—and they did. The entourage had stopped right in front of me, and a guard was unlocking the door to my cell. It took all of them, but they managed to get their prisoner through the door and then shove him to the center of the cell. The guard shut the door again as fast as he could.

The instant he got his feet under him, the guy turned and slammed himself against the cell door, screaming, arms straining toward the taunting, departing cops.

When it became clear to him that his ranting wasn't getting him anywhere, he turned his back to the corridor. His face swung toward me—and there was still plenty of rage in his eyes.

It looked like he and I were about to become acquainted.

“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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