shunn: (Elder Shunn)
The great folks at Essay Fiesta have posted video of the memoir excerpt I read for them at the Book Cellar on April 19th. This is a segment from The Accidental Terrorist called "Gluttons for Punishment":



(Damn, that was over my time limit. Thank God I didn't exceed the YouTube limit of ten minutes.)

Essay Fiesta is a monthly reading series that benefits the Howard Brown Health Center, hosted by Keith Ecker and Alyson Lyon. Please come out to the Book Cellar in Chicago on the third Monday of every month to support the series.
I can't help myself. I have to share a couple more tidbits on the topic of health care. First is Johann Hari of The Independent, who takes the American right wing to damning task in yesterday's "Republicans, Religion and the Triumph of Unreason." Here are two of the almost amusing bits from a not-really-very-amusing article:

These increasingly frenzied claims have become so detached from reality that they often seem like black comedy. The right-wing magazine US Investors' Daily claimed that if Stephen Hawking had been British, he would have been allowed to die at birth by its "socialist" healthcare system. Hawking responded with a polite cough that he is British, and "I wouldn't be here without the NHS"...

For many of the people at the top of the party, this is merely cynical manipulation. One of Bush's former advisers, David Kuo, has said the President and Karl Rove would mock evangelicals as "nuts" as soon as they left the Oval Office. But the ordinary Republican base believe this stuff. They are being tricked into opposing their own interests through false fears and invented demons. Last week, one of the Republicans sent to disrupt a healthcare town hall started a fight and was injured—and then complained he had no health insurance. I didn't laugh; I wanted to weep.  [full article]
And Diane Francis at The Huffington Post makes the case that "LBJ Created Canada's Superior Health Care System":

As the health care establishment appears to be once again able to block any reasonable changes to America's sick health care system, it's important to note that, ironically, the "father" of Canada's universal, single-payer health care system was late President Lyndon B. Johnson. In 1964, his plan caused Canadian Prime Minister Lester Pearson to rush the same health care scheme into existence so that Ottawa was not beaten by the Americans, as was the case in 1934 with Social Security. As things turned out, LBJ compromised with the Republicans and scaled back his plan to a co-payer insurance for senior citizens, or Medicare. So it's hardly surprising that, again, a popular President cannot win out against the nasty tactics and enormous wealth of the medical vested interests.

And yet, today Canada's system is not only as good as America's, but better medically speaking, according to the World Health Organization. Even more dramatic, it is between 30 and 60% cheaper for procedures, medications and hospital stays. Despite compelling evidence, the status quo remains south of the border and American voters/media appear to be unaware of the need for change. There are billions in profits being made at the expense of Americans and the country's economy.  [full article]
Sleep well, kiddies!
Every time I hear someone on the radio going on about how there's nothing wrong with the American health care system, I get so mad I can't see straight. I always wonder out loud what that person would say if he lost his job and his health insurance, or if she suddenly couldn't get coverage for a life-threatening disease because of some innocuous "pre-existing condition."

I have pretty good health coverage, but that's only because my wife has a good job. I don't want to think about what would happen if she lost her job. COBRA coverage would be available for 18 months, of course, but it's as expensive as half a month's rent. And even with our coverage, it's a tremendous pain in the ass to negotiate the thicket of requirements you have to go through in order to consult a specialist, which both Laura and I are currently doing.

In fact, yesterday I had to cancel a long-standing appointment I was supposed to have this afternoon with the urologist I've been seeing (in a professional sense, not the sense of having an affair with, although he's cute in a reassuring-older-guy kinda way) this year. Why? Because Laura's insurance just changed to a new company, and my procedure would not be covered unless I could get a referral form from my primary-care physician, but that office wouldn't cough up the form because we haven't received our new insurance cards yet....

Fortunately it's not an urgent procedure, but if it had been I would be, to put it crudely, fucked. I can reschedule for a couple of months from now, but how much easier and more sensible would this all have been under a single-payer system? I don't know how anyone with serious health problems manages.

With all the hysteria out there about socialism from people who would prefer shooting themselves in the foot and bleeding to death over guaranteeing their own unbroken access to good medical care, it's a good time to compare our American health-care system with that of our big, scary, freedom-hating neighbor to the north. Those dangerously deluded Canadians, who just don't realize that the road to hell or at least totalitarianism is paved with ideas like the desirability of keeping everyone in the country healthy. Aaaagh!

Back in early 2008, Sara Robinson of the Campaign for America's Future, an American living in Canada, very handily debunked some of the top myths about the Canadian health-care system (starting with the myth that their medicine is "socialized"), but without skipping over some of the drawbacks of that system. Her two blog entries on the topic are well worth your time to read:

The fascinating thing is how, even a year and a half later, these tired old myths are still common currency in the health-care debate. Thanks for pointing me toward these articles goes to the fine Canadian writer Michael Libling, who says: "We watch the debate in your country with a mixture of horror and incredulity. The fear and ignorance is mind-boggling, as is the assorted bullshit we hear in reference to our health care system. I know of not a single Canadian who would trade our system for yours."

Straight up. But I would trade ours for theirs in a heartbeat.
I've mentioned here before, I think, that I'm in the process of applying for a pardon from Canada for my mischief conviction of almost 22 years ago. Really, "in the process" is perhaps putting it too strongly. I'm hung up on one particular step in the process, which is heading down to my local police station to be fingerprinted. I keep finding excuses to put this off—or not even bothering to find excuses. Maybe this isn't surprising, given the way my back prickles—even today, when I haven't done anything—every time I'm out walking and a police car cruises slowly past me.

I have to get over, though, if there's any prayer of making it to Montreal next year for Worldcon.
An occasional nightmare of mine, in Simpsovision:

But it would be great publicity )
And I seal up these records, after I have spoken a few words by way of exhortation unto you.
—Moroni 10:2
How, I ask, am I to wrap all this up?

Good question.

I suppose a roll call of the players in this little drama would not be out of order.

I haven't seen John Snow in person since the day we met at the border between Kingsgate, British Columbia, and Eastport, Idaho, in 1987. I attended one Canada Calgary Mission reunion a year or two after my return to Utah, mostly in the hope of connecting with him, but he wasn't there. I did chat with him on the phone a time or two in the years after our missions, and a few years ago I received a wedding invitation from him—but I had no way of getting to Fresno, California, to attend.

At the aforementioned mission reunion, however, I did connect with Vernon Vickers—the elder who failed to make it to the hump-day party at the border. He and I were practically the only two attendees who showed up without trophies—er, I mean wives or girlfriends. But that was fine. It gave us a chance to catch up on things.

In the time since the first run of Terror on Flight 789 debuted, however, I've received email from both Snow and Vickers—and, unsurprisingly and unfortunately, they're both teaching seminary in the Pacific Northwest. We've exchanged a few letters, but there's not all that much common ground these days.

Emma Steed used to send me cards at Christmas and Valentine's Day, but that ended after a couple of years. It's no excuse, but I don't do snail correspondence very well, and writing to me can easily be discouraging.

I received a wedding invitation from Kim Herzog before I'd even gotten home from my mission. I haven't seen her since Calgary, though we talked on the phone once while I was still stationed in Bonners Ferry.

I attended Monica Roper's wedding reception a several years back in Salt Lake City. The Tuttles were there. They seemed a bit bewildered by my long hair and beard, but they were quite friendly. I seem to recall that they were making plans to serve another mission, this time as a regular proselytizing couple.

President Aames was diagnosed with leukemia shortly after I was released from my mission, and he had to be released as mission president. He died a few months later.

Last I heard from Steve Summers, he was president of Master Muffler, a chain of muffler and brake shops in northern Utah. He inherited the position from his father. While I was still in Utah, I used to hear from him every once in a while—usually when he had a computer problem he needed help with. It's too bad our band never took off, but Steve tells me that he's trying to get a band of his own going again, which is a Good Thing.

Elder Finn ran across Terror on Flight 789 during its first run and sent me a few email messages, but our correspondence really didn't go anywhere. It turns out that he returned to the mission field some time after his mother's operation, completed his service, and returned home honorably. He now runs an electronics store and is still active in the Church, but I won't say more than that because he values his privacy on this issue. He did write to me rather breathlessly late in 1996 when the screenplay based on this story (written by Christopher J. Rivera, James Callan and me) was close to being optioned. But he hasn't written again since.

Katrina McCormick got married shortly after I returned from my mission, divorced late in 1996, and now lives in Alaska with a new husband. We've been in fairly regular contact since our ten-year high school reunion in 1994. It was later that year that Katrina and I got together for a chat at which she asked me some pretty tough questions about why I was choosing to stick with the Mormon Church despite the fact that it was making me so miserable. I consider that visit one of the turning points in my apostasy—a fact which will not surprise my father, who always thought "that girl" was a bad influence. Personally, I think she was one of the best influences, and one of the best friends.

My younger sister Seletha has followed my example and served a mission. She was sent to the Dominican Republic for eighteen months. She was shot at and kidnapped there on separate occasions, but those are her stories to tell.

At this writing, my brother Tim has served a mission in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, return home intact, and gotten himself into a Temple marriage, all in relatively short order. My brother Lee is currently serving a mission in Japan—curiously enough, speaking as much Portuguese as Japanese. I hope his mission doesn't turn out to be as exciting as Seletha's and mine were. I'm sure he hopes the opposite.

And what about me? What's happened to me?

I've changed. Brother, have I changed.

There are other pages here at my Web site that deal with that metamorphosis. Perhaps the most important change I've undergone, in light of the current narrative, is my new laissez-faire attitude toward other people's lives.

You can go your way. I'll go mine.

I won't interfere with your life, so long as it's not hurting anyone else, and I hope you'll extend me the same courtesy.

And should the day ever come when you're tempted to drop a bomb in the middle of someone else's life, I'd suggest that you stop and take stock and very seriously ask yourself if you're doing the right thing. And if you feel absolutely certain that you are, then I'd suggest with double seriousness that you think it all through again, because the person with perfect self-confidence is the person least likely to be troubled by questions of morality.

Certainly there are occasions when quick, decisive action is demanded—knocking someone out of the path of a speeding car, for instance. A friend of mine once told me, at the end of a messy and long-overdue divorce, that she wished I'd been there to call in a bomb threat at her wedding. But most situations aren't so cut-and-dried. Know what you're doing when you do it. I certainly didn't, that day eleven years ago in Calgary. I still don't, not entirely.

And if you do act, and you make the wrong choice—or even the right one—you'd better be ready to weather the fallout. (I'd suggest keeping a lockpick hidden in your orifice of choice.)

Because not everybody wants, or needs, to be saved.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
My path over the subsequent year took me from Bonners Ferry to Orofino, Idaho, to Pasco, Washington, and finally to Wenatchee, Washington—the town where I was promoted to zone leader, and where I would eventually die.

My release was scheduled for August 19, 1988, and I impatiently counted the days. Early in May of that year, I quietly became a double-digit midget—an important milestone in every missionary's career.

Now, most missionaries fly home when their missions are complete, and they are greeted by a veritable flotilla of friends and relatives at the airport, often bearing banners saying things like "Welcome Home, Daniel!" or "It's All Over, Elder!" or "Welcome Back to the Real World!" This is almost a stereotype of the typical missionary's homecoming, in fact—but it didn't happen for me. No, my family wanted to drive to Spokane to pick me up, then tour some of the areas where I'd served on the way back to Utah.

Now, I wasn't exactly keen on this idea—after all, I'd been a missionary for a good long time, and I was rather eager to be getting on home—but I went along with it. They were my family, after all. Family can push you around.

The days kept ticking away, and before you know it I was a single-digit midget. I turned twenty-one on Sunday, August 14, five days before my release, and the Lueders family of East Wenatchee—a very cool crew—threw me a spiff party. In a slow-motion replay of my last days in Calgary, I spent the next few days bidding farewell to investigators and members alike—and gathering a lot of illicit hugs along the way. The most memorable were one from a rather zaftig young foreign-exchange student from South Africa whom my companion Elder Gregerson and I were teaching, one from the enchanting young waitress who worked at the pizza parlor we frequented, and a doubly illicit and chummy one from Sister Barkdull, who was by then serving in the nearby town of Leavenworth.

On Thursday, August 18, I bid farewell to Elder Gregerson and boarded the mission van. With one of the apes at the wheel, we picked up other dying elders along the way to Spokane—including the hapless Elder Berenstein. There were eight or nine of us leaving the next day. When we reached Spokane, We each had an exit interview with President Aames (who advised us to go home and start seeking out that choice "eternal companion"), and then we gathered at the Aamess' scenic home for what was known in mission parlance as the "Last Supper"—a huge homecooked dinner that would be our final evening meal as missionaries.

My parents arrived at the mission home just before the Last Supper was to begin. My four youngest brothers and sisters had come with them to Spokane (I'm the oldest of eight), but my parents had left them back at their motel for the evening. Mom and Dad joined us for dinner, a boisterous and gleeful affair over which our favorite mission stories were swapped. Inevitably, mentions were made of my experience in Canada, and I bore the razzing with an easy smile.

After dinner we all gathered in the living room for a final testimony meeting, at which we would all be expected to stand and express our feelings about Jesus Christ, the Church, our missions, our families, and so on. (There was no graceful way out of this for any of us—but least of all for me, since my parents were in attendance, and they would be expecting to hear my testimony.) When it was my turn to bear my testimony, I took advantage of the opportunity to razz Elder Berenstein one final time about the way he had trashed me nearly a year and a half earlier. Berenstein turned red and muttered something about how he wished I'd stop bringing that up.

Finally, I started to feel badly about the way I kept doing that to him.

When we all had borne our testimonies, including my parents, President Aames stood to say a few words. He turned to me with a somewhat bewildered smile and said, "Elder Shunn, it would appear that more people than just you and me know about your experience in Canada."

I nodded, not feeling the least bit abashed. "It sort of got out, President."

President Aames looked around the room at the gathered elders. "You mean you all know about it?"

My friends all nodded. There wasn't a one of them who hadn't known for at least a year.

"Well," said the president, "that's news to me. And I thought it was supposed to stay a secret."

It was a pointed, if mild, rebuke—but it was rather too late for President Aames to punish me for my honesty. I mean, what was he going to do—send me home?

The next morning, my fellow elders set off for the airport and their short hops home. Me—I clambered into the family van and began the long and winding trip back to Utah.

The, well . . . the most interesting two years of my life were over, and all I had to take home with me was a box of snapshots, a head full of memories, and an international criminal record.

What a long, strange trip it was.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
The nice thing about being dumped by the girl back home is that you instantly become a member of a tight, supportive fraternity. I mean, statistically, less than ten percent of the girls who promise to wait for their missionaries actually end up doing so. Some elders will tell you that you haven't had the full mission experience until you've gotten a Dear John.

If that was true, then I was definitely part of the club now.

But all was not doom and gloom. In July, Elder Hull was transferred out of Bonners Ferry—an answer to a prayer if ever there was one—and Elder Tim "Bish" Bishop was transferred in. Sister Sullivan was transferred out of Sandpoint, and Sister Leslie "Oy" Oyler was transferred in. Libby, Montana, where not much had been accomplished, was closed to missionary work for the time being, and Sisters Sigmon and Parker were transferred elsewhere. Things were looking up.

Bish and I became best friends. (In 1990, I was best man at his wedding—and I even spent their wedding night next door to them in a Motel 6 in Rock Springs, Wyoming. But that's another story.) Our three months together in Bonners Ferry were all kinds of fun. We baptized only one person in all that time, but since she was a 91-year-old Russian Jew, it seemed to us like a spiritual coup of the first magnitude.

The best day of 1987, though, came on September 3—my hump day.

Elder Snow called me from Lethbridge, Alberta, in the waning days of August. He had been promoted to zone leader by then, and his territory covered much of southeastern British Columbia and southwestern Alberta. His current companion was Elder Vernon Vickers, who (if you recall from Chapter 3) had been my district leader in the M.T.C. Snow told me that my old M.T.C. companion, Elder Judd Nash, was serving in Creston, British Columbia—only ten or so miles north of the Idaho border. September 3 would be hump day not just for me but also for Vickers and Nash—so Snow suggested that the only sensible thing to do would be to get together at the border for a party.

This was too good an opportunity to miss. The only place where the Calgary mission bordered on the Spokane mission was right there to my north, on the boundary line between Idaho and British Columbia. Snow and I agreed to meet at noon that day in Eastport, Idaho—a greasy little spot in the road just this side of Canada—and have lunch together.

I was so excited I could stand it.

Bish and I invited Barkdull and Oy to come with us to the border, and the two of them readily agreed. We would call it a district activity and hold it in place of the district meeting we were supposed to have that day. What a keen idea.

But the night before the border party, I received a call from my zone leaders, Elders Choi and Cavaness, who served about seventy miles south of Bonners Ferry in beautiful Coeur d'Alene, Idaho.

"Elder Shunn," said Elder Choi, "we'd like to come up and do splits with you tomorrow if we could."

I panicked. Technically, the get-together we were going to have in Eastport the next day was against the rules. The Calgary elders would be breaking mission rules by crossing the border, and Bish and I would not only be misusing our proselytizing hours but also be bringing the sisters along on our misadventure, which could be, well . . . misconstrued. "Um," I said, "tomorrow wouldn't really be a good day for that. Maybe--"

"Oh, relax, Shunn," said Choi, a short, round, perpetually smiling Hawaiian fellow. "The sisters told us you're having a hump-day party at the border, and we wanted to come along. You wouldn't leave us out, would you?"

Of course not.

So the six of us—me, Bish, Barkdull, Oy, Choi, and Cavaness—ended up driving north together the next day. As we reached the main street of the tiny town of Eastport—the only street, really—we came within sight of the Canadian border checkpoint. I started to shake. Just being within spitting distance of the border made me unaccountably nervous. I knew that I could be arrested and locked up for a long time if I were caught on the wrong side of the border, and I didn't want to get anywhere close to it. It may have been an irrational fear, but hey, it's how I felt.

As we parked and walked toward the border, a blue Chevy Cavalier crossed over from Kingsgate, British Columbia, and parked near us. Snow and Nash emerged, along with two elders I didn't know. Snow and I exchanged manly hugs, and I shook hands with Nash. (He and I may have been companions at the M.T.C., but that didn't mean we'd been close.) I looked around then, somewhat distressed. "Where's Vickers?" I asked.

Snow grimaced. "A couple of elders in our zone are having a really hard time getting along," he said. "Vickers and I had to split off to take care of the situation, to keep them apart. He's stuck back in Cranbrook with one of them, and the other one's here with me. Vickers is really sorry he couldn't come. Actually, we're both pretty flippin' cheesed off about the whole situation."

Introductions were made all around, and the ten of us headed off to the Eastport Café—a pleasantly dim structure of rough-hewn logs—where we ordered lunch. The big attraction at the Eastport Café was their buffalo burgers, and that's what most of us ordered. We were a noisy, boisterous group, as most large gatherings of missionaries are, and the few other patrons eyed us strangely as we ate and talked and laughed.

Snow and I caught up on a lot of things. One of the first things he told me was that, just a few months before, the same female reporter from the Calgary Herald who had covered my trial, intrigued by the little glimpse she had gotten into missionary life, had accompanied two sister missionaries in Calgary on their rounds for forty-eight hours, then written a very favorable story about the whole experience. (Incidentally, this reminds me of how President Tuttle was mistaken that day in the courtroom when—as I reported in Chapter 26—he blamed the sloppy news stories from the Sun on the female reporter and gave the male reporter credit for the good ones in the Herald. In point of fact, it was the other way around. Draw your own conclusions.)

As we talked, I learned that Snow and Hering hadn't gotten along well at all after I left Calgary, and that Snow was now very happy in Lethbridge with Vickers as a companion. I learned that Grant and Pamela Worthingtinn were still active in the Church, and that they had already gotten one of their friends to join. I also learned some top-secret Calgary mission gossip—that an elder somewhere in northern Alberta (Cold Lake? Peace River? High Prairie?) had run off with the (married) ward Relief Society president. Wow! Scandal!

I caught Snow up on all that was happening with me—including my Dear John from Katrina—but it wasn't long before the conversation at the table turned toward my days as the Mad Bomber of Calgary. The story was by now general knowledge in the Spokane mission, and everyone present had questions they wanted to ask me about it.

Eventually, of course, Snow said, "Shunn, you've got to do the strip search for everyone!"

I was aghast. "Here? In the restaurant? In front of everybody?"

Snow pounded his silverware on the table and started a chant that the others at the table soon took up: "Strip search! Strip search! Strip search! Strip search!"

Those nine voices persuaded me, against my better judgment, to get up and do the strip-search pantomime one more time—in front of everyone in the café. The missionaries—especially Barkdull and Oyler—applauded lustily and laughed so hard I'm not sure why their sides didn't split. The other patrons simply stared at the whole bewildering spectacle.

After lunch, we went outside for the ritual picture-taking that happens at any large gathering of missionaries. We gathered near the international border to take pictures of each other. The border is marked by a line of stone pylons set perhaps twenty yards apart. The line of pylons runs right up the hills to either side of town, and the trees are cleared away for about ten feet on each side of the line. Someone took a picture of my five Spokane friends on the Canadian side of one of the pylons, with me staying firmly on the U.S. side. Another picture shows the nine other missionaries beckoning me across the border, like tempting demons.

Another picture shows me being dragged, kicking and screaming, across the border by four or five other elders. (Much to my dismay, however, I've lost this particular memento. Damn.)

That was a wild moment. Took me completely by surprise. As soon as they let go of me, I ran straight back to the good ol' U.S. of A. as fast as my little legs would carry me, heart pounding wildly.

Like I said, it was the best day of the whole year.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
It started innocently enough. Elder Summers, as zone leader, periodically went on splits with the district leaders he supervised. One day he made plans to split with Elder Berenstein, who was the district leader in Ellensburg, a college town fifty miles north of Yakima in the foothills of the Cascades.

Summers and I drove to Ellensburg in the morning. There, Summers picked up Elder Berenstein—a tall, thin, shy fellow with homey good looks and a cowlick in his hair that made him look like a deeply tanned scarecrow. They drove back toward Yakima, leaving me to spend the next twenty-four hours with Berenstein's companion, Elder Wally Brown.

Brown was a ruggedly good-looking swinger who had a fixation on Top Gun. He wore aviator sunglasses, planned to become a fighter pilot, and wanted to be Tom Cruise. Everyone called him Wally, because there were two Elder Browns in the mission.

Wally had only been out for two months, but he had the kind of dominant personality that made it all but impossible for me not to tag helplessly along on whatever mad errand he wanted to pursue. And what we did that night was to spend several hours hanging out with the two gorgeous college cheerleaders who lived in the apartment next door. Nothing untoward happened, but I was uncomfortable about the situation all evening long—while at the same time enjoying the thrill of doing something illicit. (What a mass of contradictions I am.)

The next morning, Summers and Berenstein returned. At about the same time, the postman brought Berenstein and Wally their mail. Wally sorted through it as the rest of us chatted. After a few minutes, Wally said, "Hey, Shunn, you transferred down from Calgary, right?"

I nodded. I had told him my cover story the previous night—illness, with the "mental" part left out.

"Did you know Sister J up there?"

I'll call her Sister J here, because—well, you know the drill by now. "Black woman?" I said. "Really pretty? Hasn't been out long?"

"That's the one," said Wally. "I just got a letter from her. She and I were in the M.T.C. together, and we were good friends there." Big surprise. "She says some elder up there in Calgary got thrown in jail for calling a bomb threat in on an airplane. She says the guy's companion was going home, and he was trying to stop him."

I didn't say anything. My cover was about to be blown for good. Boy, wouldn't that be a relief!

But Wally failed to put two and two together. "The guy went to jail and everything," he said, scanning the letter. "Can you believe that? Did you know this guy?"

Summers covered his mouth with his hand. I nodded. "Yeah, I knew him," I said.

That was when soft-spoken Berenstein piped up. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard!" he said. "I mean, can you believe how stupid someone would have to be to do something like that?"

Summers was trying hard not to laugh. I grew defensive. "Maybe he had a good reason," I said.

"Good reason, my foot," said Berenstein. "My gosh, the guy must have had the brains of a flea!" And so on.

Later, after my story had become general knowledge in the Spokane mission, I would take advantage of every opportunity I could to razz Berenstein about the way he had called me stupid to my face—without even knowing that it was me he was calling stupid. Berenstein was very, very embarrassed about the whole thing, and every time I mentioned it he turned bright red and said, "Jeez, Shunn, do you have to bring that up again? I've said I was sorry. Jeez."

It was a delightful and satisfying reaction.

After I'd been in Yakima for a few weeks, Elder Breinholt returned from his recuperative stay in Spokane—and he and Summers and I were thenceforth a threesome. He and Summers fought a lot, because Summers was a worker and Breinholt was a kicker. It was my misfortune to get along well with both Summers and Breinholt, so until May I was caught in the middle of a rather uncomfortable situation. Salvation came when I was transferred to the small town of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, and promoted to district leader.

Bonners Ferry is the last town of any size that you'll find as you travel north through Idaho. The population of the town is about two thousand, and it lies only thirty miles south of the Canadian border. "Now, I can trust you not to cross the border, can't I, Elder Shunn?" said President Aames when he phoned me with the news of the transfer and the promotion.

I laughed. "Absolutely," I said.

My new companion was Elder Rob Hull, a native of Glendale, California. He had been out on his mission a month longer than I had, and he acted resentful of the fact that I was the district leader and not him. To worsen matters, Hull was a topper, which made him all but insufferable. (For an example of his inconsiderate behavior, consider the simple farming family we were visiting one day. They were telling us about how exciting it had been the previous summer when they had visited the West Edmonton Mall—at the time, the world's largest indoor shopping mall. Hull's only comment was, "When they finish it, the Glendale Galleria back home is going to be even bigger." The asshole.)



Life with Hull might have driven me right 'round the bend had it not been for the fact that I loved Bonners Ferry. It was a beautiful little town, nestled high in the forested mountains of northern Idaho. I also liked my district quite a good deal. The district was unique in that it had only two elders. The other four missionaries in the district were sisters. Sister Sigmon and Sister Parker served seventy miles east of us in Libby, Montana, while Sister Sullivan and Sister Barkdull served forty miles south of us in Sandpoint, Idaho, on the shores of the beautiful Lake Pend Oreille. We got along pretty well, the six of us, and our district meetings were usually a lot of fun.

(I'm very pleased to be able to report that I've gotten back in touch with Lisa Barkdull as a result of this Web site. Even if nothing else, these pages have accomplished that much.)

Bonners Ferry would hold nothing but good memories for me if it weren't for something that happened late that first month. A letter arrived for me from Katrina, and the news was not good.

The strain of waiting for me had become too much for her.

I had thought I was immune—every missionary does—but I was wrong.

This was my Dear John letter.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
I spent the bulk of the next forty-eight hours hauling Snow and Hering around so that I could say goodbye to investigators, local members, and fellow missionaries. On Wednesday, Snow dumped Hering off on a split with someone or other, and he and I drove around town sightseeing. I took pictures of everything in sight—including the hookers who showed up to start working the downtown streets promptly at five in the evening.

One garishly dressed pimp, spying me with my camera pointed at his girls from the passenger window of our car, started yelling and cursing and running toward us. "Go, Snow, go," I shouted, rolling up the window. "Get us out of here!"

Snow put the pedal to the metal and drove.

God, what desperate fun we had!

The next day, all my goodbyes having been said, Snow and Hering helped me load my stuff—two suitcases, filled with all my worldly possessions—into the car, and we headed off to the airport.

President Tuttle must have been occupied with something important that morning. He didn't come to the airport to see me off. I guess I wasn't worth his attention now that I was leaving his jurisdiction.

Three other people were there to see me off, though. Agent Q was there to verify the fact that I had left the country. Constable X, the fellow from the R.C.M.P.'s Airport Precinct who had arrested me, was there to shake my hand and offer me the best of luck. And, most surprisingly of all, my old friend Stephen King was there.

Not the real Stephen King, of course, but rather the bearded Customs fellow in the orange windbreaker who resembled Stephen King. He was as snotty as ever. As I approached the Customs kiosk, he came up to me and said, "I heard you got off."

"I didn't get off," I said. "I went to jail and paid a fine."

He sniffed haughtily and looked away. "So you're leaving, eh?"

"That's right," I said.

"Where to?"

"Spokane."

"Are you still a missionary?"

"Yes."

"Well," he said, stroking his black beard. Then he nodded decisively and walked away.

That was the last I saw of him. Odd duck.

At the kiosk, I shook hands with Hering, then hugged Snow. "Take care, buckfart," he said, which was his brand of sentimentality.

Then I went through the Customs gate, headed down the concourse, and boarded my flight for Spokane. I couldn't have guessed it at the time, but less than six months later I would see Snow again.

The flight took only an hour. The Spokane apes met me at the airport and drove me back to the mission office, where I went into an orientation session with the greenies who had arrived from the M.T.C. the day before. I learned a lot of interesting things. I learned that the Spokane Mission covered eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and a tiny bit of western Montana. I learned that the mission rules were more strict in Spokane than they had been in Calgary. I learned that I really missed Calgary.

Then I was summoned into my new mission president's office for a little chat. President Aames was a short, pleasant-looking, soft-spoken, white-haired fellow whose outward geniality turned out to mask a frightening void in the area of human understanding. He was a retired pathologist. As one elder later explained to me, "Of course he can't relate to people. He spent his entire professional life in a windowless room full of dead bodies." It wasn't that President Aames didn't try to be understanding. It was that his attempts mostly went awry.

Aames asked me to repeat my entire bomb-threat experience to him, and I did so. When I was finished, he said, "I'd like you to keep all this between us, Elder Shunn. No one else knows why you've been transferred, not even my assistants."

"Okay," I said, assuming that there was a good reason for this, one which would be made clear to me.

President Aames didn't offer a reason. "You're to tell people that you were transferred because of illness," he went on. You might have expected a pathologist to provide me with a convincing disease which I could use as part of my cover—but he didn't. "If people's questions start getting too pointed, you can tell them that it was mental illness."

Yeah, right.

I didn't like the idea one bit, but I kept my mouth shut about it. I mean, first of all, the president was asking me to lie. Second of all, he wanted me to tell my fellow missionaries that I was sick in the head. I'm sure he thought he was protecting my best interests, but I felt as if I had been suddenly thrust into the starring rôle in some nightmarish play that I wanted no part of. "Let's all welcome our new friend Elder Shunn to the stage—fresh from his debut performance at the loony bin!"

No, thank you. But there didn't seem to be much choice.

My first assignment in the new mission was in Yakima, Washington, a town of about fifty thousand people in the hot, hot desert of south central Washington. My companion, Elder Steve Summers, was a zone leader. Together, he and his normal companion, Elder Jay Breinholt, supervised three districts of other missionaries—but Breinholt was in Spokane recuperating from a bout of appendicitis. I would fill in for Breinholt for the time being.

I got along very well with Summers. We were both musicians. He played the guitar like a virtuoso, and had belonged to a popular local rock band back home in Utah. He and I eventually made plans to form our own band when we both got home, one which we would call Cornerstone. (It never happened, though we did get together to jam with some other friends for about two hours once.)

A tradition developed between Summers and me over the next few weeks. At night, after proselytizing hours, we'd often buy a bag of Santitas Tortilla Strips and a bottle of Pace Picante Sauce (Medium) and then not stop eating until both were gone. It was on one of these evenings of camaraderie that Summers started questioning me about my "disease."

I'd been awfully tightlipped about my situation, doing my best to follow President Aames's injunction, but I suddenly discovered two things. First, I couldn't stand lying to my new friend Summers. Second, I really needed to tell someone about what had happened to me.

So I spilled my guts—and Summers spent the time rolling on the floor laughing. He thought my story was the greatest thing he'd ever heard. He couldn't believe that President Aames had instructed me to pretend I was mentally ill instead of telling the true story.

But not everyone saw it in quite that way, as I was soon to learn.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
On Monday, March 9, I heard from my father that he had transferred a healthy sum of money from my savings account to my checking account—so Snow and his new companion Elder Hering and I drove downtown to get my fine paid.

A word about Elder Hering, and about threesomes in general. Anticipating the fact that I would soon be leaving the mission, President Tuttle had transferred Elder Hering into Calgary to be the third leg of our temporarily three-legged companionship. Elder Hering was a small fellow with a pinched, intense face. He was in his late twenties, far older than most male missionaries. He was also only a few months from going home, and he had never been a senior companion. To be subordinate to Snow, a district leader who had been out only six months, must have been a bitter pill for him. Hering had served in the U.S. Army—but they certainly hadn't taught him much in the way of hygiene there. He showered only rarely, and his garments had somehow gone from pristine white to pencil-lead gray.

Threesomes are strange things. I've been in a couple of them, and they don't often work very well. If you think that two Mormon missionaries on your doorstep is an imposing sight, then try three. And then there are the interpersonal relations. Sometimes two of the elders will get on well, leaving the third out in the cold. Sometime two elders will hate each other, leaving the third stuck in the middle.

Of course, sometimes all three get along pretty well—and this is what happened with Snow, Hering, and me. At least that's how it seemed to me. But more about that later.

After writing a check in U.S. funds from my American checking account and depositing it in my Canadian checking account, we all went to the courthouse. There, at an unimposing little frosted-glass window with a speaker grille, I wrote the biggest check I've ever written in my life—two thousand dollars Canadian. At the exchange rate of the time, that came out to a little over sixteen hundred U.S. dollars—still more than any check I've ever written.

There was surprisingly little fanfare to the whole exchange. I wrote the check and passed it to the unimpressed woman behind the glass, who passed me back a little bit of cash-register tape—my receipt. I still have that receipt tucked away somewhere, just an innocuous little strip of paper with a $2,000 total at the bottom. No indication that this was money being offered in payment of a fine that was ordered as a result of a felony conviction. Just a dumb old receipt.

I think I've been gypped in the memento department.

I felt rather empty leaving the courthouse—a little sick, even—but it wasn't many days hence when my father received a check from Loren Reed. Reed had gone out and solicited donations for my mission fund, as he had promised, and sent my father something around $2,150 in Canadian funds.

We turned a profit.

Don't ever tell me that crime doesn't pay.

But I digress. Back to March 9th.

Later in the day I was summoned to President Tuttle's office. He had received an envelope from Salt Lake City. Inside were my transfer papers—my destiny, my fate. I opened the envelope with trembling fingers, and out came another disappointment. I was on my way to the Washington Spokane Mission. I would fly there on the upcoming Thursday.

Ripped off again. With the entire United States to choose from, I was being sent to what struck me as the least exotic place in the whole country. I'd wanted to see the East Coast, or the South, or New England. Instead, I was staying in the West.

But I smothered my disappointment. President Tuttle congratulated me and told me I would be missed, and then Snow and Hering and I went on our way.

My immigration inquiry was scheduled for the next day. The way it had been explained to me, the inquiry would be conducted much like a trial, with an adjudicator, a prosecutor, and a defender. I would be permitted to have counsel present, or I could serve as my own defender.

Snow, Hering, and I arrived at the Canada Immigration building a few minutes before the inquiry was scheduled to begin. We were shown to a small room paneled in acoustic tile and harshly lit by fluorescents. A small dais rose at one end of the room, and two tables, each fitted with a microphone, faced it. The adjudicator was in the room already, and he told us that my companions could only remain if they were going to function as counsel. I said they were, and we all seated ourselves at the defense table.

When the prosecutor, an Immigration agent whom I will call Agent Q, arrived with his assistant, the adjudicator called the inquiry to order. He explained from the start that I would definitely have to leave Canada, having been convicted of a felony as a resident alien. The purpose of the inquiry was to determine how I would leave the country—whether I would be deported or simply receive a departure notice. Deportation would mean being forcibly placed on a plane back to the United States, never being able to return to Canada again, and possibly being denied entrance to other foreign countries on the basis of my immigration record. A departure notice would mean being politely asked by the government to leave of my own free will by a certain date, and then being eligible to apply for reentry three years from the date of my conviction.

Needless to say, the departure notice sounded best to me.

The adjudicator next outlined the course the inquiry was to take. First, each side would present its case. Next, each side would provide a brief summation of its arguments. Finally, each side would make a recommendation as to the disposition of the case.

The prosecution was to go first in each phase of the inquiry. Agent Q, as investigating agent, had researched the case well, and presented more facts about my crime than I knew myself. I didn't have much to add when it came to be my turn to speak, other than to stress the extenuating circumstances in my case—circumstances which had led Judge Fether to sentence me to time served and to state that he believed I would never be in trouble with the law again. I also pointed out that the Church had already made plans to transfer me back to the United States for the completion of my mission, and that I would be leaving for Spokane in two days—setting my back to Canada, as it were.

The prosecutor gave his summation, after which I gave mine—and unintentionally jumped the gun. "On the basis of these facts," I said, "I move that I be issued a departure notice."

"You've spoken out of turn," said the adjudicator. "Your recommendation is not supposed to come until after the prosecution have made theirs."

Agent Q, who had just catalogued all my sins in a harsh and unemotional way, stood up at that point and said, "Your Honor, my recommendation, on the basis of the facts I've presented, is . . . well, also for a departure notice."

The adjudicator raised his eyebrows. "Both sides seem to concur," he said. "I find in favor of a departure notice then. The defendant is required to return to the United States by this no later than this March fourteenth, this coming Saturday. Case closed."

The inquiry complete, I spent a rather pleasant half-hour with Agent Q as he drew up the requisite paperwork. Contrary to the hardline image he had projected during the inquiry, he was very friendly and affable sort of guy, and he wanted to hear all about my experience in jail. "You know," he said, "I have to go down to the jail all the time in my line of work. Every time those doors slam shut behind me, I get the eeriest feeling in the world, even though I know I'm only a visitor. I don't like being locked up. I can't imagine what it must have been like for you, not knowing whether or not you were even going to get out."

When the papers were finished, Agent Q shook my hand and wished me luck in Spokane. Quite a nice fellow.

As I left the building with Snow and Hering, I reflected that the Church had beat Canada Immigration to the punch. Elder Rex Reeve had told me that they didn't want my "criminal reputation" in Alberta to interfere with my missionary work, which was certainly a logical reason for transferring me. But the fact that I was already planning to leave the country on my own was undoubtedly a benefit to me in the inquiry. It meant I would be able to visit Canada again someday.

The three-year limit has long since expired, and I must confess that I haven't yet done the paperwork necessary for readmittance. It's a huge mess of red tape, and it involves seeking a pardon from the Canadian government. One of these days, I'll get around to doing it all.

Until then . . . well, there are worse places to be than the United States of America. That's for damn sure.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
Several rather interesting things happened in the subsequent days. First, a letter arrived for me from Canada Immigration. I was summoned to attend an "immigration inquiry" on Tuesday, March 10—a hearing at which it would be determined whether or not, as a convicted felon and resident alien, I would be allowed to remain in Canada.

Next, I noticed an interesting letter printed on the editorial page of the Calgary Herald. It read as follows:

Re "Missionary guilty in bomb hoax," Herald, Feb. 26.

    Donald William Shunn is described by his father as an ideal son and by defence [sic] lawyer [Fred Harvey] as an outstanding student . . .

    There was no punishment by his church. Does [sic] President [Matheson Tuttle] and his religion condone such atrocious behavior?

    Shunn was sentenced to one day in jail (and fined $2,000). As an occasional passenger on airline trips, I deeply resent and abhor this sentence—anxiety in flying is severe enough for me without this . . .

DOUG MacKENZIE, Calgary
Now, I dunno about you, but I'm rather suspicious of the name that was signed to the letter. I mean, Bob and Doug McKenzie—as played by Rick Moranis and Dave Thomas—were fictional characters from SCTV, Canada's answer to Saturday Night Live. (They even starred in their own marvelously awful movie, Strange Brew.) But Mr. MacKenzie's point is well taken—even if it made me want to spit nails when I first read it. The Church didn't issue so much as a one-paragraph statement saying that it does not condone lawbreaking. I received no ecclesiastical censure, not even as a perfunctory formality.

I don't know whether I should laugh or cry at that.

Well, the next interesting—and rather chilling—bit of news was a snatch of gossip I heard from my father, which had been passed along to him by President Tuttle. I forget whether my father told me this in a letter or in a phone call, but he stressed that he was only passing it along to me because he was afraid that I was taking the whole bomb-threat experience too lightly and that I wouldn't treat my deliverance from bondage seriously enough unless I knew the whole story.

I must admit that I can't vouch in any way for the veracity of what my father told me. I forget exactly how he said the story came to President Tuttle's ears, but it seems most probable to me that Fred Harvey passed it along to him. How Fred Harvey might have come by this information remains a complete mystery. (I hate to admit the possibility, but I suppose it's also possible that my father made the story up with the sole intention of frightening me into sobriety. I don't like the idea, but it's possible.)

Okay, you're saying, so quit with the disclaimers already and spill the beans!

As you wish. Here goes.

According to my (at best) third-hand information, Judge Josiah Fether picked up the phone on the evening of February 25th with the intention of seeking advice from another judge—a friend of his who lived somewhere in eastern Canada. "I have a problem," said Judge Fether. "I need to sentence a young man who phoned a false bomb threat in on an airliner."

"That's easy," said this anonymous other judge, whom I will call Judge M. "As a deterrent to similar crimes, you need to sentence him to five years in prison. Precedents in similar cases make this clear."

"I haven't told you everything, though," Fether said. "The young man in question is a Mormon missionary. He was trying to prevent a fellow missionary from abandoning his calling."

"Well, that certainly changes things," Judge M said. "Fine him, and give him time served."

(Five years! The heart quails at the thought! Where would I be now if . . . ? No, it simply doesn't bear thinking about.)

You may have guessed the punchline to the story by now—that Judge M was a member of the Church.

Again, I simply have no idea how much credence to lend to this story. I mean, the prosecutors were only asking for a two-month sentence. Was I really in danger of receiving a jail term fully thirty times longer than what the prosecution recommended? Do I really have an anonymous judicial savior dwelling somewhere in the vast reaches of eastern Canada? If so, was he really a Mormon? What are the chances of that?

I don't know. The way in which my father warned me never to repeat the story tends to make me suspicious.

If there's any grain of truth to it, though, I like to think that Judge M was a wise and rational fellow who recognized that I was the product of an environment of intense indoctrination, and who didn't believe that I should serve hard time for a crime that my church tacitly condoned.

But who really knows? Not I. God, maybe. If I ever meet him, you can be sure I'll ask.

The final interesting bit of news was related to me in a phone call from President Tuttle on Friday, March 6. He called to let me know that I would be having an interview first thing the next morning with Rex Reeve, administrative head of the Church's Missionary Department and member of the First Quorum of the Seventy. Elder Reeve was to be in town the next few days for a local stake conference, and President Tuttle had (in his own humble words) sacrificed some of his own time with Elder Reeve in order to permit the great man to talk with me for a few minutes.

An audience with one of the Seventy is something of a rare thing. I was awed and frightened at the same time. What could Elder Reeve possibly want with me?

The next morning, Elder Snow and I traveled with President Tuttle to one of the local stake centers, where Elder Reeve awaited me in the stake president's office. President Tuttle had let me know that Elder Reeve was a very nice man and that I had nothing to worry about, and as the old man shook my hand, welcomed me into the office, and shut the door, I decided that President Tuttle had been correct. Elder Reeve was an extremely genial man of something below medium height. He must have been about—well, seventy years old, and he wore a benign, grandfatherly smile below his balding pate. He made me feel quite comfortable. He made me feel as if he were really and truly interested in me. He made me feel, somehow, as if he loved me. Nifty trick. "How are you, Elder?" he asked, inviting me to sit.

Genial as he was, Reeve was quite a busy man, and he came directly to the point. "Tell me in your own words about your experience last week, Elder," he said.

I did, very briefly.

Reeve listened attentively to my story. When I was finished, he nodded, as if I had confirmed something he had already expected. "You've lived through something remarkable, Elder," he said, "and you've been very blessed by the Lord. Tell me, do you want to finish your mission?"

"Yes, I do."

"Do you wish to stay in the Calgary Mission?"

I felt vaguely uneasy. I was finally beginning to enjoy being in the Calgary Mission. All my friends were there. It was becoming like home to me. "Yes, I do. Very much so."

Elder Reeve frowned. "Let me assure you that the Church has no plans to punish you in any way," he said, "but we feel that it will be best for you if you complete your mission for the Lord back in the United States."

It was funny. When I first received my mission call to Calgary, I was bitterly disappointed. I had hoped to be called to someplace exotic, like Greece or Thailand or Brazil or Australia. Now I would have given anything to stay in Calgary. But I merely nodded my head and acquiesced.

"I know it will be difficult for you, Elder," said Reeve, "but you'll be blessed for your acceptance of the Lord's will."

We knelt together and prayed, and then the interview was over.

That evening, Grant and Pamela Worthingtinn were baptized. Elder Snow dunked Grant and I dunked Pamela. It was a bittersweet evening. I knew those would probably be the last baptisms I racked up in Canada.

Canada's benefit, I guess.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
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 . . .

 Conviction
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.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
"Therefore," continued Judge Fether, "I hereby sentence you, Donald William Shunn the Second, to a fine of two thousand dollars, which fine must be paid from money you have earned yourself, and to one day in jail, retroactive. Case closed."

Judge Fether left the courtroom. I was escorted by the bailiff through the door at the back of the courtroom and into jail.

I was ecstatic. One day, retroactive. That meant that the time I had already served counted toward my sentence. That meant that, once the paperwork was complete, I would be free.

The paperwork, it turned out, took four hours to process.

In the meantime, all I had to do was wait. I was not locked up in a cell. I sat on a bench in the same reception area where I had waited two days earlier for my turn to see the free legal counsel. Other inmates were lounging and loitering all around me—mostly long-haired types with bad shaves and worse clothing. I could see only one other fellow in a suit—a businessman who looked very rumpled. He sat across the foyer from me with his head in his hands. I figured he had been arrested for drunkenness or some morals charge. He looked pretty thoroughly miserable.

I was not exactly miserable, but I was impatient to get out, and once again I felt far more conspicuous than I would have liked to have been. The milling inmates frequently looked at me with hostility, and I wondered if the guards would do anything to save me if some of them decided to beat me up.

Two rather scruffy and dangerous-looking fellows sat at the far end of the bench from me. After eyeing me for a few minutes, the nearer of the two leaned over with a smile and said, "How you doin'?"

"Fine," I said. "Just waiting to get out of here."

"What're you in for?"

I shrugged. A little white lie didn't seem out of order at this point. "Hijacking."

"No way," the fellow said, eyes widening. "What did you do?"

"I called in a bomb threat on an airplane."

"Oh, hey, you're the guy that's been on the news!"

I smiled and nodded. "That's right."

"Oh, man," he said, as excited as if he had just met his favorite sports hero. "I can't believe it. This is so great." He nudged his companion. "Hey, man," he said to his friend, "you gotta meet this fella over here. This is the guy who blows up planes."

The second man leaned forward to look past his friend. I got the distinct impression that he was on something.

"Hey," I said casually, by way of greeting.

"You're that guy, eh?" he asked.

I nodded.

"Cool," he said, and it sounded like he meant it.

Forget the bail hearing. This was my finest moment in custody.

I was a celebrity.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
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.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
Harvey spent the remainder of our strategy session quizzing me on my background. He was compiling a comprehensive list of all my positive accomplishments to use as evidence that I was a good boy and didn't deserve to go to jail. And he wanted everything—my Church positions, my Eagle Scout award, my tenure as high-school newspaper editor, my honor-society memberships, my full-tuition scholarship to the University of Utah, and so on and so forth, ad nauseam.

The trial was scheduled to start at two. The four of us—me, my dad, my mission president, and my lawyer—arrived at the courtroom about half an hour early. An audience began filtering in not long after that. One of Ezra Taft Benson's granddaughters lived not far from Elder Snow and me; her husband, a law student, showed up to watch. He told me he planned to write a paper about my trial, and he wished me good luck. Nice guy.

Prosecutor Rich arrived—a tall, thin man with a dark black beard who looked like he could have played the part of the supercilious jerk who always gets taken down a few pegs in your generic sort of movie comedy—and Fred Harvey went right over to talk to him. Harvey returned several minutes later with good news. "Rich went for our deal," he said. "He's agreed to drop the hijacking charge, so we'll go ahead and plead guilty to public mischief."

It was a relief—of a sort.

The courtroom kept filling up, and among the arrivals were a pair of reporters, a man and a woman, each with notepad in hand. The electronic journalists, with their cameras and microphones, had to remain outside the courtroom.

At the stroke of two o'clock, the bailiff called for quiet in the courtroom. We all rose as Judge Fether entered the room. His demeanor struck me as that of a crabby old man, which did not make me feel any better.

My name was called out by the bailiff, who then led me to a little enclosure at the right side of the courtroom—a legal sort of penalty box, or so it struck me. This was a special seat for the defendant, and I sat there for the duration of the trial, on display. After identifying myself for the court, I was never called upon to speak another word.

The judge read the charge of public mischief and asked my lawyer how we pled. "Guilty, Your Honor," said Harvey.

It was official. I was now a felon.

It felt rather odd.

The judge rapped the bench with his gavel as a bit of a murmur swept through the courtroom. "So noted. These proceedings now become a sentencing hearing," he said. "Prosecution, the floor is yours."

Prosecutor Rich rose and began explicating his case. "Your Honor," he said, "a crime with overtones of terrorism has been committed in this city. An airplane bearing eighty-one passengers was threatened with a bomb while still in the air. The plane was delayed for an hour and half while being searched for a bomb, affecting a total of one hundred ten passengers, most of whom missed their connecting flights. One elderly woman was so distraught by the incident that she refused to fly again at all. The total cost of this incident to Western Airlines was two thousand dollars."

Two thousand dollars? I thought, there in my little pen. Is that all? The figure sounded a little low to me. Not that I was going to argue about it, mind you. I was just curious.

"The defendant has not only pled guilty," continued Rich, "but he has confessed to this crime in three separate statements which, admittedly, all seem to be self-consistent. We are not here to discuss motives in this crime, though it is worth mentioning that the Western Air Cargo employee who received Mr. Shunn's phone call said in his statement to the police"—he flipped through a sheaf of papers he held in his hand—"that the caller, quote, 'sounded dead serious.'"

Well, of course I sounded serious. I'd done some theater and taken some classes. I knew how to act well enough that I could sound serious if wanted to sound serious.

"What we will attempt to show now," said Rich, "is why it will be in the best interests of the people of Alberta to impose a jail sentence of sixty days on the defendant." He proceeded to reel off a complex and somewhat compelling argument for why my imprisonment was necessary in order to deter other potential offenders from attempting similar pranks. "We cannot send a message that behavior like this will be greeted in this province with a mere slap on the wrist."

Rich went on like that for quite a while, shooting me venomous looks whenever he had the chance. I'm sure this is an unfair impression, but the man struck me as evil.

At last the prosecutor wound down, and it was the defense's turn. Harvey stood up began a passionate and eloquent argument. He agreed, yes, that an example did indeed need to be made—but I was the wrong offender to use. "We're talking about a young man," said Harvey, "who was convinced that a close friend of his was making the most grave mistake of his life. He selflessly risked his own freedom in a desperate attempt to prevent that grave mistake. This young man is not a criminal. He's a good-hearted citizen, one who made an error of judgment. Should we put a black mark, the stigma of prison, on his future for no better reason than that?"

Harvey went on to list all my accomplishments—making particular mention of the fact that I was supporting myself on my mission entirely through my own earnings, through money I had set aside specifically so that I could go forth and share the beliefs that were important to me. He went on for every bit as long as Rich had, perhaps even longer. He concluded with a plea for the idea that the imposition of a fine would be far-and-away a sufficient punishment for my mistake.

When Harvey was finished, President Tuttle asked to take the stand as a character witness. The judge permitted this with what seemed like some reluctance. Tuttle testified that I was a fine individual, and that the mission would bear full responsibility for my actions if I were released.

When President Tuttle was finished, my father asked to take the stand. After being sworn in, he told the judge what a perfect son I had been, how I had never given the family a single bit of trouble. In short, my father perjured himself.

But from the way he broke down in tears on the witness stand, I have no doubt that he actually believed what he was saying—at least for those few moments.

At last the defense rested. The judge turned to prosecution then and asked for a summation of their arguments. Rich rehashed his line about deterrence—but at the end of it, Judge Fether, scratching his head and looking confused, said, "Now, Mr. Rich, tell me again why a young man like this should be jailed? I'm not sure I follow you."

My heart leapt. I was giddy. The judge was on our side! He was going to let me off!

Rich sort of stumbled through a clarification of his arguments, then sat down. It was a poor showing.

Judge Fether then asked for a summation from the defense. When Harvey had finished and sat down again, the judge faced the courtroom solemnly. He was going to let me off. Everyone in the courtroom knew it. He had made the prosecutor sound like a vindictive, unreasoning, bloodthirsty zealot with that request for clarification.

But a strange expression clouded the judge's face. "I call a recess of twenty-four hours while I deliberate," he said. "This court will reconvene tomorrow afternoon at two, when I will render my decision. Court adjourned."

Then he rapped the bench with his gavel and left the room.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
The next morning—the day of the insanely expeditious trial—President Tuttle summoned my father and me to the mission home's book-lined study. The first thing he discussed with us—or rather, apprised us of his position on—was the matter of who would be allowed to attend the trial. It would be a public trial, of course—but other missionaries would only be permitted to attend with special permission from the president.

And Tuttle wasn't about to give anyone special permission. He wasn't going to let any of my compatriots anywhere near the trial.

 Headline: 'Missionary faces trial over hoax at airport'
Headline from Calgary Herald on February 25, 1987. Click image for facsimile of complete article.
"We don't want this thing to turn into a big media circus, with dozens of missionaries all over the place, talking to reporters," President Tuttle told us. "Proselyting will come to a standstill, and who knows what we'll end up looking like in the news."

In other words, loose lips sink ships. Missionaries could be trusted to carry the message of the Restored Gospel from door to door, but not to talk to reporters without looking silly.

"Elder Snow came to me in private," the president went on, "and asked if he could attend, since he's your companion. I wanted to say yes, but I couldn't. It would open a whole can of worms. If Elder Snow came, then I'd have to let Elder McKay come too since he was Elder Finn's companion, and if we let them both come, then every other missionary in the city will have to come too. I explained this to Elder Snow, and he very humbly agreed with me."

So in other words, I didn't get to have even one single friend come to my trial. I didn't say anything, but I didn't buy into the logic—not all of it, at any rate.

Still, I was buying into that obedience thing . . .

But the president wasn't finished. "The sisters," he said, "were a different matter."

I raised my eyebrows. "How so?"

"The three of them came to me yesterday afternoon," he said, "after they'd heard that I wasn't going to let anyone come to the trial. They were all weepy, doing their best to get my sympathies." President Tuttle made a wrinkled-up, mock-grieving face. "'Oh, President, President. You have to let us go to the trial. All this was our fault! If it wasn't for us, Elder Shunn wouldn't even be in any trouble! Oh, please, President.'

Headline: 'Flight delayed for pal' 
Headline from Calgary Sun on February 25, 1987. Click image for facsimile of rather more breathless article.
"And when I told them no—well, you know how headstrong Sister Roper can be. The way they were complaining, I was afraid the three of them would end up going anyway, against my wishes, so I pointed my finger at them and I said, in all seriousness, 'Sisters, if I catch sight of any one of you anywhere close to that trial, I will excommunicate the three of you just like that. Am I clear?'

"Well, that shut them up. They went as pale as ghosts. I tell you, they're effective missionaries, but sometimes some of them are almost more trouble than they're worth."

Well, the three of us had a good laugh over that, secure in our status as priesthood-bearing males.

What a revolting memory.

I mean, I'm sure it wouldn't have looked very good if the only missionaries in attendance at the trial were three weeping women—just think about the whole polygamy fiasco that still haunts the Church—but threatening the sisters with excommunication? I'd really like to know what would have happened had one or more of the three of them defied the president and gone to the trial anyway. If they'd gone in casual clothes instead of dresses and left their name tags off, what possible harm could have come of it? No reporter would have known to talk to them.

And that goes for the elders, too. Snow could have attended the trial in his p-day clothes, and no one would have been the wiser.

What it boils down to is this: I couldn't have any friends at my trial because it interfered with some Church bureaucrat's perceived ability to exercise his authority.

Do I think that sucks? Hell, yes.

The next items on the schedule were lunch and then a trip over to President Harvey's office for a bit of a legal powwow before the trial. First, however, President Tuttle suggested that it might not be inappropriate for my father to give me a blessing—father's blessings being generally judged in the Church as more efficacious than your garden-variety blessing.

Was I nervous about the trial? Hell, yes. Did I feel better after my father laid his hands on my head and told me that there would be guardian angels watching over me in the courtroom that day? Okay, yes, I did.

Was I horridly overeager to be reassured that everything would be okay? You bet your sweet bippy I was. Just like any kid who thinks his parents have the power to chase monsters away. But wishing doesn't make it so.

After the blessing was done, President Tuttle offered to buy lunch for my father and me, but my father declined. "We don't need to be a financial burden to you," he said.

"Nonsense," said Tuttle. "What else do you think tithing money is for?"

The president was trying to make a funny. My father was not amused. (He has a rather difficult time with people making light of "sacred" things. That includes the presidency of the United States—so long as a Republican is holding the office.) We ended up having lunch at Wendy's, where each of us paid his own way.

Then we headed over to Fred Harvey's law firm.

The first thing Harvey hit us with, once we were comfortably seated in his large but spartan office, was the simply bad news—as opposed, of course, to the really bad news. For our trial that day, we had drawn a judge named Josiah Fether. "He's impossible to read, Elder," said Harvey. "There are some judges on this circuit who'd throw this case out without a backward glance. There are other judges who'd lock you up and throw away the key without batting an eye. Judge Fether is neither one. He's unpredictable. You can never guess which way he's going to lean. Taking this case before him is risky. You might end up free this afternoon, or you might end up in the pokey."

Harvey had the accent of a southern Alberta farmer—remarkably similar to the accent of rural Mormon farmers in Utah and southern Idaho—and I didn't care for the self-conscious way he tossed out the word "pokey." He sounded like a kid trying out some bit of adult slang that he didn't really know how to properly use. The word seemed awkward, ominous, and out of place coming from his mouth.

"So," he continued, "we have an important decision to make. We can ask for a delay, in the hope that we'll draw a more sympathetic and predictable judge next time around. Of course, if we do that, we might actually draw a worse judge, so there's a risk there, too. Besides which, you wouldn't be able to leave Calgary until after the new trial date, which could be as much as six months from now. In the meantime, your work permit will be suspended, so you won't be able to proselytize. You'll have to just sit around twiddling your thumbs."

I'm naturally quite lazy, so that actually didn't sound so bad to me. In fact, it sounded pretty good to me—all but for the risk of getting a bad judge. My father spoke up before I could say anything, though. "Bill didn't come out on his mission to sit around and do nothing," he said. "He's here to work. Let's go ahead and go through with the trial today. Everything will be okay."

I wasn't entirely convinced of that, but I let it slide. President Tuttle spoke up in agreement, so I nodded as well.

I guess it didn't really matter that Harvey was representing me, a legal adult. The decisions were pretty much out of my hands.

So, with the simply bad news out of the way, it was time for the really bad news. Harvey informed us that the prosecution—under the direction of a fellow named Rich—were attempting to have me tried on charges of hijacking, rather than simple public mischief.

"Hijacking?" I asked incredulously. "How can they do that?"

"Let me ask you a question, Elder," Harvey said, "a very serious question. Where was the airplane when you made your bomb threat?"

I wrinkled my brow. "What do you mean, where was it? It was on the runway. Where else would it be?"

Harvey nodded, then went to one of his bookshelves. "It's good that you think so," he said, "but you're wrong. In fact, the airplane was in the air at the time you made your call. It was on its way from Edmonton to Calgary, and it was only scheduled to stay on the ground for ten or fifteen minutes—just time enough to take on passengers and luggage before continuing to Salt Lake City. The tower radioed the pilot and told him about the bomb threat, but he and his copilot decided not to tell the passengers until ten minutes later, after they were actually on the ground. They didn't want to panic the passengers."

He removed a thick book from the shelf and opened it to a marked page. "Here's the legal definition of hijacking in Canada," he said, handing me the book.

I read the highlighted passage. I don't recall the exact wording, but the law was worded ambiguously enough so that any threat made against an airplane still in the air—whether the person making the threat is on the plane or not—could be construed as hijacking.

And hijacking, the book said, carried a maximum sentence of life in prison.

My stomach did a belly flop. Things weren't looking good for the Mudville Nine.

"Now, based on what you've told me of your understanding of the plane's location," said Harvey, "we can fight this hijacking charge—but I'd rather not have to deal with it at all. What I propose is to offer a deal to Prosecutor Rich. If he goes with the hijacking charge, then we plead not guilty, and if you're found guilty, we appeal and keep appealing as high as we can go. We'll keep this case tied up for years if we have to. If he goes with the original charge of public mischief, however, we'll plead guilty—since you have, after all, made three separate confessions—and then the trial turns into a simple sentencing hearing. So, what do you want to do?"

After conferring, my father and I decided to follow Harvey's advice. I would plead guilty to a charge of public mischief—if the bargaining ploy worked.

"Good," said Harvey, who then grew very serious. "Now, once this goes into sentencing, the question at issue will be whether you get time in jail or merely a fine. We'll be arguing for a fine, but you can be sure that the prosecution will be asking for a stiff sentence—and public mischief carries a maximum sentence of ten years."

(So much Constable X's assurances that public mischief was a minor offense!)

"Now, I doubt that they'll ask for anything that high, but you need to be prepared for what will happen when the judge passes sentence. If he says you're going to the pokey, then you go right that instant—out the back door of the courtroom and right behind bars, without a chance to say goodbye to anybody." His mien darkened. "Elder . . . you need to be prepared to spend some time in the pokey."

It was that damned pokey again! The word rankled on me like fingernails on slate. It made me want to scream.

"Now, it won't necessarily be so bad there," Harvey said. "We can probably get you moved to the minimum-security prison at Spy Hill, which is where they put white-collar criminals, drunken businessmen, people like that. The second counselor in your mission presidency is a dentist there, and we can probably get you assigned as one of his orderlies . . ."

Harvey droned on, but I stopped hearing him as an awful horror began stealing over me. He and President Tuttle had been working behind the scenes to set all this up—this job at the Spy Hill prison. They were expecting me to do time in the frigging pokey!

I can't tell you how promising an omen that seemed.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
Fortunately, the president hadn't caught any part of my strip show. He only wanted to discuss some procedural matters with me—and when that was done he had a couple of surprises to spring on me.

"President Harvey has been working hard on getting things expedited, Elder," Tuttle told me. "Your trial is going to start tomorrow."

Well, knock me over with an oxygen molecule. Talk about swift justice!

But that wasn't the half of it. "I've already talked to your parents about the situation," Tuttle went on, "and I'm wondering if it might not be a good idea to have one or both of them here during the trial."

Now, that blindsided me. One of the rules of mission life is that friends and family from home can never come to visit you in the field. Such visits are a good way to make a missionary trunky and ruin his effectiveness.

I assured the president that I thought it was a good idea.

Now, I have to admit here that I'm not terribly close to either of my parents. I've always regretted that, and I'm a good deal closer to my mother than to my father, but it's been years and years since things were really good—since years and years before my mission. But if I was going to go through something like this, there really wasn't anyone besides my parents whose presence could project some illusory veneer of comfort and hope over the whole proceedings. (Well, maybe Katrina—but it was a sure bet the Church would never fly my girlfriend to Canada to be with me!) Thus my ready agreement.

President Tuttle called my father and explained his proposal while I listened in on an extension. My father agreed to fly up to Calgary that night, but he thought it would be best if my mother remained at home. "She's distraught enough as it is," he said. "Trying to last through an entire trial would be way too much strain on her."

Well, that was decided. With the phone conversation concluded, there remained the matter of figuring out what to do with me until my father arrived—in other words, what lucky fellow was going to have me for a companion for the rest of the day?

The problem was, my work visa was suspended due to my arrest. It was illegal for me to do any proselytizing. This meant that whomever I was partnered with would be unable to proselytize either. The solution was to partner me with the apes, who spent all day long working on administrative chores in the mission office. That way my presence wouldn't force some poor elder—or pair thereof—into an unproductive period of downtime.

So it was that I spent the rest of that afternoon toiling away at clerical tasks. At around five-thirty, I returned with the apes to their apartment for dinner. (And on a first date, too!)

After dinner, however, the three of us went out proselytizing. Okay, so technically I was breaking the law, but the apes are expected to proselytize during the evening hours, and they had a teaching appointment that night that they couldn't in good conscience break. (Here we go with that "higher law" thing again—but I suppose this infraction was pretty minor compared to the one I'd perpetrated the day before.)

The three of us drove over to the home of a couple that I judged to be in their late fifties or early sixties. I don't recall their names—are you surprised?—so I'll refer to them here as Brother and Sister Y. Sister Y was a member of the Church. Brother Y was not, but he was going through the discussions for what was apparently the fifth or sixth time in the past ten or so years.

Brother Y was what missionaries call an "eternal investigator." Often, eternal investigators are more interested in socializing than they are in learning—and that night was no exception. All Brother Y wanted to talk about was "that poor missionary on the news who got himself in trouble." Meaning me, of course.

But the apes and I didn't let on to my secret criminal identity. I had been told by President Tuttle to keep a low profile. If I were out and about drawing a lot of attention to myself, his reasoning went, it would take the focus of our work away from the Restored Gospel and place it in on me—something that would be quite counterproductive from a proselytizing standpoint.

So while Brother Y snapped his fingers and looked at the ceiling and said, "What was that young fellow's name? I heard it on the news. I know I did"—why, Elder Fearing and Elder Hardy and I did nothing to help jog his memory.

It wasn't quite the same as lying . . .

But Brother Y peered suddenly at my name tag and said, "Elder Shunn! That was it, wasn't it? I'm sure it was!"

"No, that wasn't it," said Elder Fearing.

"Are you sure?" Brother Y asked.

"Of course," said Elder Fearing.

It was pretty hard to keep a straight face, but I did. Couldn't blow my cover.

With that bit of dishonesty out of the way, the discussion went fairly smoothly. The apes drove me over to the mission home when we were finished. Sister Tuttle was there alone. She told us that President Tuttle had gone to the airport to pick up my father. The apes stayed at the house and to wait with me. I played the glossy black baby grand in the living room to pass the time.

I was a little on edge waiting for my father. I suppose it was back when I began the glidepath into my teenage years that he and I had started growing apart, and neither one of us had really understood the other in the time intervening. (Still don't.) I mean, I guess loved my father—or rather, I loved the occasionally visible father of my early childhood—but I didn't care to be around him very much. He was always overly critical of me—didn't openly approve of anything I did, no matter how well I did it—and in return I was overly critical of him. Two entirely different wavelengths, broadcasting signals that interfered without ever harmonizing.

When he arrived at the mission home, however, it was actually good to see him—though we didn't make much conversation. The Tuttles put us in the guest rooms in the basement. Before we retired to bed, my father dug a sealed envelope from out of his luggage. I recognized the handwriting on the front, and my heart rate started in on an upward spiral.

"Katrina brought this over before I left for the airport," he said, in that abrupt manner of his that meant he was uncomfortable with the subject he had been forced to bring up.

"Thanks," I said, trying not to prolong his discomfort.

"I don't think she's taking all this very seriously," he said without looking at me.

I shrugged, we said goodnight, and I went to my room.

My parents, you see, did not approve of Katrina. My father actively disliked her. Part of it had to do with a "feeling" of his that a marriage between her and me would never last. Part of it, I'm sure, had to do with jealousy.

Allow me to explain.

The previous September, my family had come to see me off at the Salt Lake International Airport when my fellow greenies and I were leaving the M.T.C. to fly to Canada. Katrina also came. Now, an obscure rule in the White Bible states that families coming to the airport to visit their departing loved ones can only do so up until thirty minutes before takeoff. (Why this rule exists, I have no idea. Maybe because lingering goodbyes have caused some elders to miss their flights?) Anyway, I told my family they had to leave at thirty minutes to flight time—which of course they did, since they wanted to help me keep the rules—and when they were gone, Katrina sneaked back to spend the remaining time before the flight alone with me.

I don't feel terribly bad about having done that. What I feel bad about is having told my parents about it later.

But I digress.

I took Katrina's letter to my room and got ready for bed. (I always savored the idea of her letters for a while before reading them.) When I was nice and comfortable, I slit the envelope and found, predictably, a Boynton greeting card within. In the note penned inside, Katrina told me how funny she thought the whole situation was, and how she didn't understand why my father was so stressed out about it. After all, she said, God doesn't let bad things happen to missionaries. She told me that she knew I'd be safe, and she repeated a couple of times that only someone like me could have gotten himself into such a crazy situation. She said she loved me and signed her name.

In point of fact, Katrina was wrong. Not about loving me, but about bad things happening to missionaries. In real life, bad things happen to missionaries all the time. I heard of a Mormon missionary in Spain who was accidentally shot and killed by a security guard. I heard of a missionary in England was kidnapped and repeatedly raped by a deranged woman. (I guess this was a bad thing.) A missionary I knew in British Columbia, through no fault of his own, lost control of his car on an icy road at only twenty miles per hour and struck and killed an old woman. A companion of mine, much later in my mission, was diagnosed as a paranoid schizophrenic and sent home. My sister Seletha was shot at and kidnapped on separate occasions on her mission in the Dominican Republic. Two missionaries in the Midwest were killed in a car accident a couple of years ago. More than one Mormon missionary has been murdered by (genuine) terrorists in South America. Sometimes missionaries stay safe. Sometimes they don't.

But hey, I don't blame her for thinking that way. She was trying very hard to be a good Mormon girl and think positive Mormon thoughts. And later she would come to the realization (far sooner than I did, in fact) that those positive Mormon thoughts were nothing but a cloud of aromatic smoke.

But again I digress.

For that night, I was glad to know that Katrina was so confident of my safety. I went to sleep with a head full of romantic imaginings, clutching the little plush Opus doll that Katrina had given me as a parting gift that bygone September day at the airport—scented with the Anaïs Anaïs she used to wear.

If I imagined hard enough, the fragrance made it almost seem as if she were there.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
Elder Eby drove me back to the mission office in his big tan sedan. He was a thin, white-haired old man in a polyester suit, and he seemed to wear a permanent expression of bemused perplexity. In fact, he resembled nothing so much as a slightly shorter version of Lloyd Bridges. We made small talk during the ride. Eby seemed somewhat unsure of how to treat me—a missionary who had just spent the night in jail.

Back at the deserted office, I was quite happy to let Elder Eby go back to his puttering around—excuse me, I meant his duties—while I retired to the meeting room, where I tried to relax by noodling around on the same piano I'd been playing when Elder Hardy tried to talk me into staying on my mission the previous December.

I was playing an original number of mine called "Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand" (named after the Samuel R. Delany novel) when Elders Fearing and Hardy—the apes—wandered into the meeting room. They were the first ones to return from the leadership conference. They waited until I finished my song—Elder Fearing was a fan of that particular number—and then after assuring themselves that I was all right and clapping me on the back and hugging me and all that guy stuff, they asked me what jail had been like.

"Pretty weird," I said. "Pretty scary. Lots of really scary people."

"Did you teach 'em any D's?" they asked. (See what I meant back in Chapter 15?)

"Almost," I said. "I was just starting the first D with this guy in my holding cell when the guards came and moved him to another cell."

"Bummer," they said, giving me high-fives nonetheless. ("A" for effort. Missionaries are very supportive of each other's efforts. Helps to tighten those invisible community chains—um, I mean bonds.)

"The worst thing about jail, though, is not knowing what time it is," I said.

"Didn't you have your watch?" asked Elder Fearing.

"No, they took it from me," I said.

"No way."

"Yes way. They took my tie and my belt and my name tag, too."

"You're kidding," said Elder Hardy. "Did you get fingerprinted and stuff?"

"Sure," I said, beginning to revel in their obvious amazement and admiration. "They took my fingerprints and my mug shots, and they strip-searched me, too."

"No way!" said Fearing. "You mean they . . ."

I nodded, and when the apes asked for clarification, I proceeded to pantomime the entire strip-search process—from running my hands through the hair on my head right down to . . . well, having the cop yell at me and slapping my hands on my ass and spreading my cheeks.

Fearing and Hardy thought this was the most hilarious thing they had ever seen. They didn't stop laughing for what seemed like hours.

After sobering up, Elder Fearing said, "You know, Elder Shunn, everyone's been awfully worried about you. In fact, Sister Tuttle had planned a great big breakfast for us at the leadership conference this morning, but everyone voted to skip it and fast for you instead, so you could get out of jail. A lot of people here love you."

I was touched. Fasting is a serious business, not to be undertaken lightly. The fact that a few dozen ravenous young missionaries had voted to fast for my deliverance from bondage meant a whole lot to me. A whole lot.

Of course, it probably had nothing to do with my release, but I was still touched.

Elder Snow showed up before much longer, partnered with Runaway McKay. I was very happy to see him, and he to see me. We exchanged manly hugs, and Snow asked me the requisite question: "Teach any D's in jail?"

Before I could answer, though, the apes, barely able to conceal their excitement, said, "Shunn, you've got to do the strip-search thing for McKay and Snow!"

After a certain amount of embarrassed resistance, I caved in to pressure. I did the pantomime again, narrating it in as entertaining a manner as possible. More elders filtered in as I was doing it, returning from the leadership conference, and before long I had a huge audience, all hooting and laughing and applauding with great relish.

Thinking back on things, it seems almost as if I did nothing all that afternoon but repeatedly run through the strip-search routine. It was a big hit.

Now, you must understand that missionaries are great appreciaters of anything that smacks of good, clean vulgarity. I'm not talking about downright raunchiness—well, maybe a bit of that—or about anything pornographic. But you have to remember that elders are, for the most part, still boys, living in an artificially "pure" environment. Anything the slightest bit blue (or brown, to be brutally frank) provides a welcome bit of relief from the pressure of their white-bread, button-down, Book-of-Mormon-thumping image. A simple fart, timed correctly, has the power to reduce any room full of missionaries to masses of jelly quivering in disabling paroxysms of laughter. Thus the perennial popularity of my strip-search pantomime.

But more on that later. Much later.

Having learned that I was out of jail and in one piece, Sisters Roper, Steed, and Herzog hurried over to the mission office to greet me. As soon as they saw me, they started to cry—so much in unison that it seemed their waterworks must have been tied together with invisible piping. They would have hugged me nearly to death—had hugging me actually been permitted.

"Oh, Elder Shunn," said Doper—er, Roper. "We're so sorry. This is all our fault. If only we hadn't . . ."

"No, no, sisters," I said, trying to quiet them. "It wasn't your fault at all. You were just trying to help. The bomb threat was all my idea."

Of course, I did blame them for at least part of my predicament, but I wasn't about to say so. After all, I had something of a crush on Sister Roper, and something more than a crush on Sister Herzog. No fool I. (Yeah, right.)

After they had calmed down and inquired about whether or not I had taught any D's in jail, someone spilled the beans about the strip search. I was forced to go through the whole thing again for the benefit of the sisters. Very self-consciously, I might add. With the guys, it was one thing, but with the sisters . . . (Ah, well. A steppingstone along the path of enlightenment in chauvinistic matters.)

Of course, it was right then, at the conclusion of the pantomime, that President Tuttle showed up and summoned me to his office.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789
When all the bail determinations were finished, we were taken back to our cells, this time by a more direct route. Then there was another eternity to suffer through before my papers were finally processed and I could leave.

At one point, a guard came to the cell and unlocked the door—but he had come for Hard Guy, not for me.

It seemed like hours went by. Lunch came, which I don't remember very clearly. It seems as if we were served chipped beef on toast—or "shit on a shingle," as some call it—but I may be remembering incorrectly. What I do recall clearly is my cellmates having a serious lunchtime debate over whether the liquid in the styrofoam cups was meant to be coffee or tea. No one could make an authoritative determination.

I was only partway through my abominable meal when another guard came to the door of the cell. "Shunn!" he called. "Let's go!"

"Yes!" I said. I pushed my plate over to the fellow next to me. "Here, finish this. I'm outta here!"

And this time I really was. Sort of.

 Tag from bag of personal effects
A facsimile of the tag from the bag that held my personal effects.
The guard took me back out to that old familiar upstairs waiting area. I signed some papers at the processing counter, and my personal effects were all returned to me in a big plastic bag. A tag wired to the bag identified the contents as mine. "Okay, that's it," said the cop behind the counter. "I'll buzz you through that door over there. Then you'll go to the end of the hall and take a right, and you'll find an elevator there that'll take you down to the lobby. Then you're free."

Ah, the beauty of freedom. Just take the elevator down, hop in President Tuttle's car, and off I would go, free. I could taste the sweetness of it already.

The exit door buzzed, and I opened it. I walked down a hall filled with offices, then took a right as I had been instructed. The elevator was straight ahead, as advertised.

As I entered the small lounge area in which the elevator was situated, I saw that Hard Guy was sitting there on a chrome-and-vinyl couch. There were two women with him, one to either side. He had an arm around each one. The women were dressed more provocatively than my lady detective had been the previous night, and their make-up and hairdos fairly screamed out the name of the world's oldest profession! I was suddenly very curious to know what Hard Guy had been picked up for.

(I'm not being sarcastic there at all. Prostitution is legal in Alberta, as long as tricks aren't actively solicited. If you want some, you have to make the approach yourself.)

As I pressed the button to summon the elevator car, Hard Guy leaned over and whispered something to one of the women. She giggled. He was smiling nastily. I wondered what he had said.

The elevator arrived. I stepped into the car, eager to be gone, and pressed the button for the lobby. Just as the elevator doors began to close, the woman whom Hard Guy had whispered to yelled, "Look out! There's a bomb in the elevator!"

I turned red. The elevator doors closed, cutting off the miscreant trio's cruel laughter.

When I exited the elevator, I found myself on the street side of the Remand Center (rather than on the alley side, where I had entered the previous evening). The lobby I faced was wide and vast, with at least a dozen couches and twice as many employees servicing visitors from behind a long marble counter. I looked around, trying to spot President Tuttle, but I couldn't see him. By the clock on the wall it was just past one in the afternoon.

I found a restroom where I could put on my tie, my belt, and my name tag—all of which were wadded up in the plastic bag I carried with me. When I emerged a few minutes later, looking only somewhat more respectable, there was still no sign of President Tuttle.

This was beginning to annoy me. Where in the world was he?

I dug some coins out of my plastic bag and found a pay phone. I dialed up the mission office. "Canada Calgary Mission," said an elderly voice. "Elder Eby speaking. May I help you?"

Besides young elders and sisters, there is a third class of missionaries to whom you have not yet been introduced—senior couples. When they reach retirement age, most older couples in the L.D.S. Church are strenuously encouraged to serve missions together—though relatively few of them actually go. The few who do are generally not held to the same long proselyting hours as the younger missionaries, and sometimes they are called to work as office staff. This was the case with Elder and Sister Eby, a sweet old couple who hailed from somewhere rural, to judge from their hayseed accents.

"Elder Eby, this is Elder Shunn," I said. "Do you know where President Tuttle is?"

"Well, he just went out to lunch, I believe."

"What do you mean, he just went out to lunch? I thought he was here, waiting to pick me up."

"Where exactly are you, Elder Shunn?"

I tried not to let my frustration show. "I'm downtown. I just got out of jail. There's no one here to pick me up."

"It's good you got out, Elder. Are you doing okay?"

"I'm fine, but I'm stranded here with no one to pick me up."

"Well," said Elder Eby, "all I know is that President Tuttle came back after your hearing because they said it would take some time to get you all processed and released. He's really a very busy man, you know, Elder Shunn. There are a lot of things that demand his attention. We still have a leadership conference going on, you know."

I sagged against the phone. "Is there anyone else there who can come get me?"

"I'm the only one here, and I have to stay and man the phones. I'll send someone down as soon as I can, though."

"Okay. Thanks very much, Elder Eby."

I hung up. I was still in jail, if you stretch the meaning of the word to include not being able to get to where you want to be.

I had no idea how long it would be until someone came for me, and I didn't dare take a bus to the office because I might not get there until someone had already left to come and get me. To kill time, I walked down the street and bought a copy of the Calgary Herald, which I took back to the lobby of the Remand Center to read.

Photo of airplane on runway 
Photo from the front page of the Calgary Herald City Section, February 24, 1987. Click for more.
There it was, on the front page of the Herald's City section—a huge color photo of a jetliner sitting on a runway at the Calgary Airport. It was nearing sunset in the picture; a ruddy radiance bathed the long line of fire engines and police cars parked behind the plane. There wasn't a full story with the photo, just a lengthy caption, which read as follows:

Bomb threat sends crews into action

Emergency vehicles lined up behind a ... plane which was delayed 1½ hours at Calgary International Airport Monday night because of a bomb threat. The flight, with 118 passengers listed, was bound for the U.S. No bomb was found in a police search. Donald William Shunn, 19, of the 3100 block of Heritage Dr. S.E., was charged with public mischief in the incident.
I was stunned. I was outraged. I was frightened. What business did the papers have printing my address? What if some psycho who'd been on the plane decided to track me down and exact vengeance for the delayed flight?

 Article: 'Bomb threat a hoax'
Article from Calgary Sun, February 24, 1987. Click for more.
I went back out to the newspaper machines and bought a copy of the Calgary Sun, the city's other daily. The Herald was a respectable paper. The Sun was little better than a tabloid, with breathless, exclamatory headlines and a girl in skimpy lingerie every day on page three (in full color on Sundays). I found my story—"Bomb threat a hoax"—back on the seventh or eighth page. The Sun article gave my exact address.

Disgusted, I sat in the lobby fuming for the better part of an hour, until Elder Eby wandered through the front doors looking bewildered and rather lost.


Crossposted from Terror on Flight 789

April 2014

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