Chapter 28: John Snow, Spin Doctor

Four hours later, I was released. This time my father was waiting right there to greet me as I stepped out of the elevator. "We could have had you out hours ago," he said as we went outside. "I kept going up to the clerk and asking if your paperwork had come through yet, and he kept saying it hadn't, and then the shifts changed at six and I asked the new guy and he found the paperwork right off the bat and got you out. The first guy was just deliberately sitting on your paperwork, doing nothing. He probably would have kept you in there all night if he could have."

Give a pinhead a little power . . .

My official conviction record. Click image for complete facsimile.
My father flew home that evening—but not until resolutions had been provided to a couple of interesting problems. First, my father was concerned that the mission might initiate excommunication procedures against me, owing to the fact that I had been convicted of a felony. After all, that used to be standard practice in the Church. But President Tuttle quite thoroughly assured my father that there were no plans afoot to excommunicate me, laying that particular specter to rest.

Second, we learned from my mother something that she had learned from our stake president back home in Kaysville, Hank Clearmountain. If you remember your ancient history (Chapter 3, to be precise), you remember that Clearmountain was a commercial pilot—captain of the Western Airlines fleet, in fact. President Clearmountain let slip to my mother that the loss figure which Western Airlines had provided to the Canadian authorities—two thousand dollars—was fudged. By one entire decimal place. In actual fact, my bomb threat had cost Western twenty thousand dollars, not the mere two thousand that they had reported. Dewey had used his influence to swing that one.

It was a good thing, too—even if it smacks a little of conspiracy. The judge based his fine on the amount of money I had cost the airline. If I'd had to pay a $20,000 fine instead . . . well, let's just not think about it.

Headline: 'Missionary gets day's jail, $2,000 fine for bomb hoax' 
Headline from Calgary Herald on February 27, 1987. Click image for facsimile of complete article.
The next day, Friday, was a regular sort of a missionary day at long last. Among our other visits, Elder Snow and I, reunited as companions, dropped in on Grant and Pamela Worthingtinn, a veddy interestink couple we had been teaching for a few weeks.

Grant Worthingtinn was a stout, stubble-jawed fellow in his early fifties, with an East European accent and a rather murky past. (My personal theory is that he had exchanged his real name for an Anglo-sounding one when he came to Canada—though, sadly, he wasn't sure quite how to spell it correctly. Grant never did let slip his origins.) His wife Pamela was, I assume, a native Canadian, and she was in her late thirties.

The Worthingtinns had for months been searching for a church in which to raise their two-year-old daughter, and had almost given up when they saw a television commercial for the L.D.S. Church and decided to have one more go at it. They grabbed their local phone book, and before you know it Snow and I were leading them step by step down the path to Church membership. As investigators, they were golden.

(Of course, all was not roses and caviar. Grant was having a lot of difficulty quitting his cigarette habit—a non-negotiable prerequisite to baptism. One evening shortly after telling us he had completely and utterly quit smoking, Grant happened past as Elder Snow and I were visiting with several other missionaries on a residential streetcorner. He was out for his evening walk, he said—and if he happened to smell like cigarettes, it was only because the healthful exercise was flushing the nicotine right through his pores and out of his system. And there's this bridge down the street from me . . .)

Anyway, Grant and Pamela had stopped taking the discussions when I got arrested. They told Elder Snow that they would not continue until I was out of jail, because they didn't want to learn unless I could help to teach them. (Talk about boosting a missionary's self-esteem!) They were very happy to see me when Snow and I stopped by—so much so that we were able to commit them to being baptized eight days hence—on Saturday, March 7.

Having saved some souls and bolstered our monthly numbers, Snow and I were in awfully good spirits as we strolled into the local meetinghouse that evening for the ward party that was being held there. Not only were we going to have a baptism soon, but I was a free man—a hero, no less. Earlier that day, we had learned from the apes that nonmembers had been calling the mission office all week long to expressing their support for me and their hope that I wouldn't have to go to jail.

In other words, I had people of all faiths on my side—which was a very nice feeling for a member of a beleaguered and mostly outcast little Christian sect. I was on Cloud Ten or Eleven.

The main events at that evening's party were a potluck dinner and a ward talent show. The shindig had been scheduled at least a month before my arrest, but from my reception you would have thought the whole thing had been thrown exclusively in my honor. It took Elder Snow and me at least fifteen minutes to get from the front doors of the church to the cultural hall—where the food was—thanks to the mob that surrounded us the instant we set foot in the building. Everyone there, it seemed, had to take a turn slapping me on the back, shaking my hand, or mussing my hair. The bishop's wife—a woman at least twice as wide as I was—gathered me up in a smothering hug and wouldn't let me go. I soaked up the adulation like a sponge.

 Headline: 'Bomb hoax costly:  Mormon fined $2,000'
Headline from Calgary Sun on February 27, 1987. Click image for facsimile of complete article.
Snow and I spotted the Brays in the crowd. This was the family with whom I had been scheduled to have dinner on Monday night—the dinner appointment I'd missed due to my arrest. Their 17-year-old daughter Heidi was looking particularly lovely and ethereal that evening, but it was their 15-year-old son who took me by the arm and insisted on introducing me to all the non-Mormon friends he had invited to the ward party—especially the female ones. "Hey, everyone," he would say, "this is my pal Elder Shunn. He's the one who got arrested this week!"

I think the girls were impressed. I hope young Master Bray reaped the benefits of my fame.

Snow and I reached the serving tables sometime before starvation could claim us, and we ate our fill a couple of times over. As we were loitering near the exit after dinner, we were approached by Loren Reed, a tall, gaunt, stern, and distinguished-looking fellow in his sixties. He and his wife had invited us to their quietly opulent home for dinner more than once—including one night when we left chez Reed so stuffed that we could scarcely waddle back to the car—and they had always treated us well. Reed was regarded as one of the ward's "wise old men," and his slow, measured, deep-voiced speech reinforced this view. He also had a lot of money, with which he was quite generous.

"I understand, Elder, that you're faced with a rather sizable fine," he said.

I nodded, mouth suddenly dry, alarm bells ringing inside my head. My brain froze and my extremities went numb. I've never been very good in situations where great tact and diplomacy are required, but this one had me panicked worse than most. The next minute seemed to pass like a dream. Like a very bad dream.

"Two thousand dollars?" he said.

I nodded again.

"Well, some of us here in the ward would like to take up a collection and pay your fine for you, Elder."

Brother Reed smiled gently, expecting, I'm sure, my undying gratitude. Now, I'm not saying that he was a falsely pious man—in fact, I think he was probably just the opposite. But in my experience, the anciens riches are trained to expect certain sorts of behavior in response to their generosity. The reply that jumped from my lips must have struck him like an insult, like a slap in the face:

"I can't take any money from you."

Reed recoiled, a shocked and almost indignant look on his face. My head was floating somewhere in the orbit of Saturn; I was trapped in the sort of nightmare where my body won't obey any command I give it. I was physically incapable of explaining to Brother Reed the why of why I couldn't take his money. The judge's stricture on the payment of my fine seemed like a totally alien concept, one I could never communicate no matter how I tried.

But Elder Snow, smooth-talking politico that he was, stepped right into the void left by the departure of my brain. "What Elder Shunn means to say," Snow purred, taking Brother Reed's arm, "is that the judge insisted that the fine be paid out of money that he had earned himself. Your offer is very generous and very much appreciated, but Elder Shunn might possibly get in more trouble with the law if he accepts any assistance in paying his fine."

Elder Snow kept sweet-talking Brother Reed, while I tried to keep from melting into a puddle of slime. Brother Reed, allowing himself to be mollified, finally suggested that perhaps he and his associates in the ward could make a donation to my mission fund instead, after I had paid the fine myself. Snow allowed that such a course of action would probably work marvelously well.

Happy again, Brother Reed sauntered off, and Snow and I stepped out into the hall. I needed a drink of water and some air. "You saved my bacon," I told Snow. "I don't know what happened to me. My mind went blank. I didn't have the first idea what to say."

"No prob," said Snow, falling back into his everyday patois. "You've been under a shazzload of pressure this week. I can't blame you for being a little out of it." He smiled. "Just let me do the talking here for a while. I can handle these buckfarts for you."

"Great," I said. "The burden is all yours."

Gosh, it was nice to have a manager.  

“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!