Chapter 17: If I Strip for You, Will You Leave Me Be?


I didn't realize it yet, but I was walking into one of the most harrowing nightmares of my life—one that, frighteningly enough, would have made me a true living legend in the Canada Calgary Mission if earlier events hadn't already made that certain.

After walking about halfway down a dim gray corridor, that cellulite orgy of a police officer I was following stopped beside a door that opened off to the left. He pointed into the room beyond—reminding me, despite his girth, of the Ghost of Christmas Future directing poor Scrooge's gaze toward his own tombstone. "In there," rumbled the cop.

I entered the room. It was a whitewashed box, maybe twelve feet square and eight feet high, with a naked light bulb dangling from the ceiling. The room was completely devoid of furnishings—without even a bench to sit on. The cell door was a massive slab of riveted, banded, whitewashed steel that opened inward. This couldn't be where I was slated to spend the night . . .

I was standing in the center of the cell, back to the cop, gawking like a fish, waiting for the door to slam, when he said, "Give me your jacket."

I turned. The cop was standing in the doorway, filling it. He had black hair and a typical cop's black mustache. His face was sweaty.

And he wore an expression of the coldest, deadest meanness I had ever seen.

Come on, I thought. What the hell is this? I had already given up half my wardrobe at the processing desk.

I must have hesitated, because the cop repeated the command in a resounding bark: "Your jacket! Now!"

So I took off my suit coat and handed it to him. I was still sufficiently befuddled that I didn't realize what was starting.

The cop ran his hands expertly through every pocket of my suit coat, felt every stitch of the lining. That's when it dawned on me.

The cop looked up from my jacket suddenly. "Everything else, too!" he ordered. "C'mon, strip!"

I felt myself shrivel, hollow with dread. The memory of every embarrassing moment in junior-high locker rooms came back to me then—my painful body-consciousness, the agony of undressing with other people around—and I realized that experience was going to suck in all the horror of those days in school and spew it back at me a hundred times magnified. For the first time that night, I was really and genuinely scared—icy-hands-in-the-gut, freon-blooded, testicle-retractingly terrified.

But I wasn't paralyzed. With shaking hands, I began to undress.

I handed the cop my clothes piece by piece, and he searched every square inch of them. My pants, my shirt, my socks, and—after another shouted prodding—my garments. When he was through with each item, he tossed it cavalierly up to drape over the top of the open door. He took each of my shoes, pounded the heels against the wall, crammed his baseball-mitt hands inside them like shoehorns, and dropped them to the floor.

I stood in front of him—naked, shivering—like a starved concentration-camp inmate facing the barrel of a machine gun, open lime pit at my back.

And then the cop said, "Run your fingers through your hair."

Well, okay, that sounded easy. I sort of ran the fingers of one hand quickly through my hair and let the hand drop back to my side.

The cop came closer. "Both hands!" he said. "Slowly!"

So I ran both hands through my hair while he watched—and while my heart thumped audibly in my chest. Never mind that my hair was too short to hide anything.

Next he had me fold down each of my ears so he could peer behind them. He looked inside each ear. He looked into my nostrils as I flared them. He looked into my mouth as I peeled back my lips and lifted my tongue.

Once it was determined that I was hiding nothing on or in my head—no sniggers, please—I had to lift up my arms so the sparse tufts there could be inspected. As if I could really hide a grenade or something in my armpit.

Then I had to prove that nothing was lurking down there in—well, there in the southern junglelands.

(I said no sniggers!)

Well, that wasn't so bad after all, I thought to myself when the examination was done. Certainly no worse than when I had to undress for a youngish lady doctor at the age of thirteen in order to get certified so I could go to Boy Scout camp.

The nightmare was over. I could start breathing again.

But no. Wait. The nightmare was just beginning.

The cop was pulling on a rubber glove.

That little voice of denial started up again. No, no, no, no, no . . .

"Turn around and bend over," said the cop.

Oh, shit. Numbly, I did what he told me.

"Now spread your cheeks."


"Spread your cheeks, now!"

From my bent-over position, I could see the cop—squatting like a big blob of lard plopped onto the floor, finger poised—upside-down between my legs. I strained those muscles back there as hard as I could, so hard that I trembled, trying to follow his instructions.

And the cop shouted, "Put your hands on your cheeks and SPREAD 'EM!"

I think I jumped a little at that. Quicker than a seven-ten split, I slapped my hands back on my ass and spread those cheeks wide.

I waited, as taut as a body on the rack, while the cop squinted and peered and squinted some more. I waited for what seemed like hours.

And then . . .

And then the cop said, "Okay, get dressed."

I was the Death Row inmate strapped into Old Sparky, the bowl already being lowered onto my shaved skull, when the stay comes down from the governor. I was the mugging victim on the business end of a .45 when the hammer falls and a little flag saying Bang! pops out and unfurls. I was the airline passenger who just learned the bomb threat holding up his flight was only a hoax. I felt like deflating right then and there, just slumping to the floor like a jellyfish, but somehow my hands cooperated and I managed to get my clothes back on without inordinate difficulty.

Then I followed the poor fat cop with the worst possible job in the world down a long corridor and around the corner, toward the place where I'd be spending the night.

“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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