Chapter 26: King Solomon Mimed


President Tuttle was determined to keep me away from reporters. I don't remember exactly how it was done—I have to admit that I was rather numb—but somehow I got out of the courtroom without facing a single camera or microphone.

"I can't believe it," President Tuttle kept saying as the four of us left the building. "He was on the verge of letting you go. He was just about to let you go with a fine, and then he pulled back. The Spirit was working on him, and then he hardened himself."

"He's in a difficult position," said President Harvey. "He knows what the right thing to do is. What he doesn't know is what the smartest legal thing to do is. He's about to set a precedent. There's never been a case like this in Canada before. Next time it happens, the judge involved is going to go to the casebooks and see how Fether decided in The Crown v. Shunn. Judge Fether has quite a task in front of him. Now all we can do is pray that he talks to the right people."

"Talks to the right people?" I asked.

Harvey nodded. "Tonight, when Judge Fether goes to hang out wherever it is that judges hang out after work, he's going to be asking for advice. He's going to get with his other judge friends, and he's going to ask what they would decide in his position. So like I say, let's pray he talks to the right people."

Outside the court building, we all went our separate ways.

My father and I had dinner that evening at a Chi-Chi's not far from the mission office. I was fond of that restaurant, but I had a hard time enjoying my meal. I knew it could very well be the last time for months that I ate a meal in a restaurant.

Worse than that realization, though, was the fact that I kept hearing people at the other tables talking about me. They weren't really talking about me, of course, but I was so paranoid about the press I'd been getting that I kept mishearing little snatches of conversation. Repeatedly, I thought I heard people at the surrounding tables saying "Elder Shunn" and "bomb threat" and "missionary" and "airplane" and "prison." I felt like I was going crazy.

And I was also feeling guilty about the fact that my father had lied about me on the witness stand, and about the fact that Harvey had misrepresented my motives for trying to stop Elder Finn. I really hadn't done it out of love and concern. I had done it to keep from getting in trouble with President Tuttle.

Maybe I really deserved to go to prison.

I spent the evening at the Tuttles' piano, composing music to the song I was writing for Katrina, "Turn Off the Storm." I'm still proud of the snatches of music I wrote that night—but I've never quite been able to finish that song. Go figure.

Headline: 'Missionary guilty in bomb hoax'
Headline from Calgary Herald on February 26, 1987. Click image for facsimile of complete article.
The next morning, my father and I went sightseeing around Calgary. President Tuttle let us use his car, a huge white Chevy Celebrity luxury sedan. I got to drive because I was insured on mission-owned vehicles, and my father was not. I was so out of things, though, that I nearly got us into what could have been a terrible accident. Downtown Calgary has what are known as transit-only streets—streets with tracks and electric wires, on which only city buses and electric "C" trains are allowed to run.

The transit-only streets are clearly marked, but I still managed to turn down one.

I didn't realize what I had done until I saw that there was no traffic on the street—and that there were train tracks beneath us. "Oh, crap," I said. I gunned the engine, speeding down the block to the next corner, where I honked and sped through an intersection crowded with people as I turned back onto a regular street. Pedestrians scattered in every direction. I'm lucky I didn't hurt anyone.

Headline: 'Teen pleads guilty' 
Headline from Calgary Sun on February 26, 1987. Click image for facsimile of complete article.
Of course, my father didn't know what was going on. "What in the world was all that?" he said, white-faced, holding onto the armrests.

"Transit-only street," I said. "We weren't supposed to be on it. We're lucky there wasn't a train just then."

My father was silent for quite a while. We had decided to drive back to the mission office when suddenly, as we idled at a red light, he burst into racking sobs. I had never seen him cry so hard before.

"What's the matter?" I asked.

"You're mother is praying for you right now," he said. "I can feel it. You're going to be okay."

A phone call home when we reached the mission office seemed to indicate that my father had been right. My mother had been praying for me fairly recently, or so she said.

(Okay, time out. Now, a lot of you true believers out there are scratching your heads right now and asking, "How could that silly boy possibly deny the validity of the L.D.S. Church after an experience like that?" Easy. Even if there was some kind of strange psychic link right then between my parents—something I'm admittedly at a loss to explain—it no more proves the truthfulness of Mormonism than the fact that I can get television signals from Paris proves that Jerry Lewis is the king of France. It's oranges and apples. The two halves of the argument are totally unrelated. I mean what if my parents had been Catholics? Or Shintoists? Or wiccans? Or New Age bubbleheads? Do you see where the whole argument breaks down?)

The sense of comfort I derived from my father's "revelation" had faded by the time I arrived at the court building that afternoon. The dreaded "pokey" seemed less than a crone's throw away. Tuttle pointed across the courtroom to the two reporters who had been there the day before. "Look at those two," he said. "That man's been giving us pretty fair coverage in the Herald, but the woman—boy, that woman from the Sun is something else. The most sloppy, inaccurate, biased, sensational excuse for news you've ever read. I'd like to have a few words with her about truth in journalism."

He didn't get the chance, though. Judge Fether entered the courtroom and seated himself at the bench. All rose. All sat.

"This has not been an easy decision," he said, "but I have reached one. Before I render it, though, I'd like to briefly review the needs that this sentencing must satisfy. First, there is the issue of deterrence. The sentence must be harsh enough that others will be discouraged from committing similar crimes. At the same time, however, this court has no desire to ruin the life of an upstanding young man who has no previous criminal record, and who, in my opinion, will never be brought before another court of law in his life, whether it be in this country or in any other."

Judge Fether surveyed the courtroom with what seemed a deliberately Solomonic portentousness. "I have therefore decided that, in order to satisfy both needs, a fine and a jail sentence are in order."

I think I died in that instant. I know my heart stopped beating.

“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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