Chapter 20: The Thousand-Dollar Kid


At long last, as I lounged on my bunk in the cell that now seemed so much like home (but only because I could barely remember ever living anywhere else), a guard unlocked the door to the cell and read four or five names from a list. Mine was one of the names. "Let's go!" he said. "Bail hearing!"

Those of us who had been named left the cell and joined a queue of about a dozen other inmates in the corridor outside. With a guard at the head of the line and one at the rear, we set off. Along the way, we stopped to let a few other inmates join us. Then we set off on a great, twisty backstage tour that would have had Willy Wonka turning mint-colored with envy.

We marched down corridors, around corners, up stairs, down stairs, into elevators, and through narrow spaces with pipes on the walls and ceilings until I was so thoroughly confused and lost that it almost seemed we were wandering through that M.C. Escher lithograph that has people walking on the undersides of staircases. The intention of all this wandering was, I'm certain, to make us lose track of where we were. I mean, how could we escape if we didn't know which way was out?

At one point we marched through the middle of the detention block where they kept convicts serving sentences of up to one year. Through the thick glass windows of their cells, I saw jumpsuited convicts playing poker, Monopoly, and Risk, with Sports Illustrated swimsuit models and Playboy centerfolds plastered on the walls all around them.

Didn't seem too bad in there.

After a while we came to a barred gate. One of the guards stuck a key into a switchbox beside it and the gate rumbled open. We were escorted into a yellow-painted corridor with high windows, then directed into a holding cell fronted with sliding bulletproof glass rather than bars. The room was about half the size of the holding cell where I'd sat for so long the previous night, and all twenty or so of us had to cram ourselves inside.

We waited there for at least half an hour, maybe longer.

Then the guards opened the sliding glass door, and we were escorted the rest of the way down the yellow corridor and around another corner. One of the guards opened a door in this corridor, and we were all herded through. We ended up in a long, high, narrow passageway—wide enough for an average-sized man to walk down it without scraping his shoulders on the walls, but only just. A long bench attached to one wall made that sort of experiment impossible, however. At the end of the passage was a metal door with no handle. The number 378 was painted in large brown numerals above the door.

And there we waited, some on the bench, some scrunched up on the floor, for a short while longer. It was a claustrophobic's worst nightmare.

The guys around me were a varied lot. There was a fat, wispy-bearded biker type who was continually laughing; a fellow who looked and smoked like Father Guido Sarducci; the hardened, fortyish guy who had been in the holding cell the previous night and who had also been in the cell with me overnight (and who could have been a cast member in any prison film I've ever seen, and who I will call Hard Guy from now on); a couple of the scowling Southeast Asian kids from the previous night; and assorted other thugs, hoods, losers, and vagrants. One sorry-looking guy wore his corduroy jacket with the collar turned up and looked like he was nursing one mother of a hangover.

As we waited to be summoned through the door, some of these guys talked and joked like they were old hands at the whole routine. The whole assemblage seemed to sort itself fairly readily into an odd pecking order, with the biker dude clearly at the top of the heap. He laughed and joked around and seemed to be having the time of his life, and no one gave him any crap. Guido Sarducci was up there near the top, too, as was Hard Guy. It was clear from the way they talked that many of them knew each other, and none of them were really surprised to find themselves where they were. At one point, someone low on the totem pole said something that got the Asians all riled up, and a fight almost broke out before Biker Dude got things calmed down.

All this time, no one talked to me, though it was clear that they were all aware of me—and aware that I was different from them.

After a while, the door labeled 378 opened up, and a guard summoned Guido Sarducci. Beyond the guard, through the open door, I could see a sumptuously appointed courtroom. It was as if we were actors in some old-fashioned legal drama waiting backstage for our cues. It was as if we were Rosencrantzes and Guildensterns, trapped in some gray shadowland while the dramatic action went on someplace else, awaiting the summons that would make us real—if only for a few moments.

When Guido Sarducci was gone and the door had closed behind him, Biker Dude finally deigned to speak to me. "Well, you sure don't look like you belong here," he said, chuckling. "What're you in for?"

I looked around, uncertain that he had really been addressing me. "I called in a bomb threat on an airplane," I said nervously.

Biker Dude laughed and laughed at that—but not in a cruel way. He seemed to find that genuinely funny. A lot of the other guys laughed, and I laughed, too. I started to relax a little.

Hard Guy just shook his head.

Guido Sarducci returned after a couple of minutes, smiling. He'd gotten a couple hundred dollars for bail. The guard in the doorway called my name. I stood up and threaded my way to the door like a red corpuscle inching through a clogged artery.

Strangely, when I think back on that courtroom, I don't see it from my own point of view. I see it instead from what I imagine must have been President Tuttle's point of view. He was the first person I saw when I stepped through the door, sitting in the gallery off beyond the railing, and the look on his face as I entered the room was one of shock and disbelief—and maybe even some anger. I see myself standing there to the left of the magistrate's bench, unshaven, hair mussed, suit coat rumpled, collar open, no tie, trousers riding low for lack of a belt, no name tag—and believe you me, it's a pretty pathetic sight.

I still don't know if Tuttle was angry at me or at the system, but I wanted to run to him and tell him that it wasn't my fault, that I looked like hammered shit because they'd taken away everything that would make me look presentable. But I didn't, of course. I just stood there with my hands clasped in front of me and my head slightly lowered, trying to look as pathetic and penitent as possible.

The judge asked if I was Donald William Shunn II, and I said that I was. Much of what followed is a blur to me. A prosecutor stood up in that great large walnut-paneled courtroom and proceeded to tick off the reasons I should be held without bail. Then Fred Harvey, looking distinguished in a muted blue suit, stood up and told the judge why it was wrong to hold a heretofore law-abiding boy like me in jail with hardened criminals when all I really wanted to do was be out preaching the gospel and all I had done was try to prevent a fellow laborer from making what I thought was a grave mistake. And so on and so forth.

It was an eloquent and passionate argument, and I felt chills as I listened. But at the same time I felt terribly guilty—because deep inside I know that I had done what I had done more out of fear of getting in trouble with President Tuttle than out of any concern for Elder Finn's soul. As Harvey laid all my virtues out before the court, I felt like an imposter.

When Harvey was finished, President Tuttle asked to speak for moment. He promised the court that, if I were released on bail, the mission would take full responsibility for seeing that I stayed in Calgary until my trial date, and that he would keep me at the mission office doing clerical work in the meantime.

When the arguments were complete, this judge who had been instructed by the Alberta Crown Prosecutor not to release me on bail deliberated for few moments, announced, "One thousand dollars bail," and rapped on the bench with his gavel.

I almost fell over. I was going to get out. I was going to get out!

I didn't get to see Tuttle's and Harvey's reactions, because the guard was already opening the door and pushing me back into the narrow, crowded passageway. "So what'd you get?" asked Biker Dude as I sat down and another inmate was called out.

"A thousand dollars."

It seemed like a ludicrously small amount to me, given the fact that I'd expected to be held with no bail at all, but the look on Biker Dude's face changed to one of shock. "A thousand dollars?"

I nodded, and people around me murmured. Biker Dude looked at me with something that could almost have been respect. "Now that is some serious bail money," he said. "Wow. You gonna make it?"

I shrugged nonchalantly. "Sure," I said. "No big deal."

But on the inside I was close to bursting with pride. I'd impressed the hell out of a slew of repeat offenders! I was Big Man in Jail, I was Leader of the Pack, I was King of Bunker Hill—for a short while, anyway.

And let me tell you, it felt sweet while it lasted.

The only one who didn't seem impressed was Hard Guy. And I'd have my run-in with him soon enough.

“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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