Chapter 16: The Elder's New Clothes


After another immeasurable period of waiting, in even deeper despair than before, I heard a new guard come to my cell. "Visitors, Shunn," he said, unlocking the door. "Coupla fellows from your church. They've even got some different clothes for you."

Finally! Although I wasn't sure I liked the sound of that clothes thing . . .

The guard escorted me back down the corridor, then into an area of the cell block that I hadn't seen before. He led me into a tiny, dim room containing a table and a few chairs. I sat down in one of the chairs, and the guard locked me in.

A few minutes later, the door opened again. President Tuttle entered, followed by Fred Harvey, a tall, thin, fiftyish fellow with white hair. Harvey was the first counselor to the president of the Calgary South Stake—the stake in which Elder Snow and I worked. I'd met Harvey before, in correlation meetings between the missionaries and the stake presidency. I wasn't thrilled to see him, though. I'd been hoping that Elder Snow would accompany President Tuttle.

Tuttle was carrying one of my suits on a hanger, complete with white shirt, tie, belt, and name tag. Harvey had a pair of my dress shoes, with a pair of socks stuffed into one of them. Tuttle laid the suit out on the table, then gave me a big hug. "Sorry that Elder Snow couldn't come in, too. They would only let two of us in to see you, so he's waiting outside with Elder Herring, who's going to be his companion for the time being. You know President Harvey?"

I shook hands with Harvey, nodding. "How are you, Elder Shunn?" Harvey asked.

"I've been better."

"I don't know if you knew it," said President Tuttle, "but Fred here is a lawyer. When he found out what had happened, he offered his services to the mission, gratis. Do you want to change into this suit? You'll have your bail hearing in the morning, and I think it would be best if you looked as respectable as possible."

That was naïve of President Tuttle—as would soon become apparent—but how could he have known? He didn't have much experience with this sort of thing, missionaries in jail.

I really didn't want to be wearing an outfit that would set me any farther apart from the general run of inmates—but Tuttle was my mission president. You don't argue with your mission president. You obey your mission president, since he knows best.

This is called "blind obedience." It is a Bad Thing.

Tuttle and Harvey politely looked away as I changed. The guard—keeping an eye on us through the window in the door—didn't. I was certain those clothes had received a thorough going-over before they ever reached me, but the cops weren't taking any chances.

When I was all nattily turned out, the three of us seated ourselves at the table, me on one side, Tuttle and Harvey on the other. "I've got to be straight with you, Elder," said Harvey. "The reason you haven't seen the bail magistrate tonight is that orders have come down from the Alberta Crown Prosecutor's office. That's like a state attorney general in the U.S. The Crown Prosecutor himself is watching this one, and he says you're not to be released on bail. He wants to send a clear message that terrorism will not be tolerated in this province."

"Terrorism?" I said, blinking. "It wasn't terrorism. They arrested me for public mischief."

"I know, but the Crown Prosecutor sees it differently. Anyway, the magistrate has his orders: no bail. Of course," Harvey added, raising his eyebrows, "that doesn't mean we're not going to fight. You just need to be prepared for what could happen in there tomorrow morning."

The mention of morning knocked me over onto a different mental track. "What time is it, anyway?" I asked. "They took my watch, and I have no idea how long I've been in here."

"It's just after midnight," said President Tuttle. "We've been waiting out there since ten o'clock, but no one would let us see you until now."

I leaned back in my chair with a sinking feeling. The implications of what I had done sank deeper ever time I turned around. I was in a hell of lot more trouble than I ever thought.

President Harvey looked at his watch. "I'm afraid we really don't have much time, though. They're going to haul us out of here any minute."

"Before you go," I said suddenly and self-consciously, "I wonder if . . . if you both could give me a blessing."

As ordained holders of the priesthood, all three of us were empowered to give blessings—of counsel, of comfort, of healing, and so forth—in the name of God. (Not at all presumptuous, eh?) It is not at all unusual for a Mormon in as great an extremity as I was to ask for a blessing—which basically boils down to asking someone in authority for reassurance that everything is going to be all right.

(Some Mormons are so blessing-happy that they routinely ask family members or leaders for blessings over matters as insignificant as hangnails. I guess they're too paralyzed by normal life to attempt anything without the appropriate leave from on high. Myself, I was always rather shy about asking for blessings—maybe because, deep down, I felt silly doing it.)

President Tuttle readily agreed. He and Harvey came around the table, stood shoulder-to-shoulder behind me, and placed their hands on my head. Tuttle pronounced the blessing, in which he promised me that I would be cared for, assured me that I would emerge from my trial strengthened, counseled me to be patient, and confirmed that God really did love me and was mindful of what I was going through.

I felt better after the blessing. Not exactly chipper, but better. You see, President Tuttle was supposedly speaking the mind and will of God to me, and he said things were going to be fine. Or something that sounded remarkably like that. So there was nothing to worry about, right?


Shortly after the blessing, the guard opened the door and led Tuttle and Harvey away. Another guard came for me a few minutes later—but he didn't take me back to the holding cell. "You're going to get processed in," said this guard. "Into the real jail."

Boy, I couldn't wait.

The guard led me down yet another corridor, then up a flight of stairs, until we finally emerged into a wide foyer that resembled nothing so much as the waiting area at some government office—which I suppose, in a way, it was. There were benches against the wall, tiles on the floor, and a counter with a big record-keeping area behind it. The only difference here was that there was an armed policeman behind the counter, not some mere run-of-the-mill civil servant.

The guard escorted me to the counter. The cop there looked me over, then asked me to hand him my belt, my tie, and my name tag. I forked over the items with no argument, and then the cop asked to see one of my shoes. I removed one and handed it over. After inspecting the shoe, he returned it to me, saying I could keep it. I guess I'm lucky he let me keep the shoelaces. Walking certainly would have been difficult otherwise.

But now I no longer looked like a missionary. With my name tag missing, my shirt collar open, and my beltless pants sagging, I probably looked more like a cheap lounge singer with a bad tailor than anything else. Boy, was I ever going to impress that magistrate in the morning!

After I filled out some forms and signed away my accessories, the guard led me to a door to the left of the counter. When he unlocked this door, a huge and grim-face cop emerged. Did I say huge? I'm talking mountainously tall and fat. I mean, Everest had nothing on this guy.

"This way," he rumbled in chillingly sepulchral tones, turning back the way he had come.

I trailed that ambulatory boulder through the door—which slammed resoundingly shut behind me. Like a stone closing on a crypt.

“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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