The young man and Elder Smith have been together for nearly three weeks. Elder Smith is about six feet with dishwater blond hair; he’s skinnier than the young man, soft spoken, and hardworking. He is from Montana and speaks slowly and deliberately. After a week of being together, the young man jokes that Smith might be even more monotone than he is–that draws a laugh.
The young man is one week from going home. Today, they have finished an appointment and are in their green Corolla. As they get in the car, the young man says, “So remind me again. You’re from Billings, Montana?”
Elder Smith is the driver. Normally, the senior companion is, but in a missionary’s last month, it goes to the junior. Smith gets into the car and turns it on. “That’s what I tell people because some people haven’t met anyone from Montana. But I’m actually from a smaller town about an hour away.”
Smith turns the a/c up, since their car has been baking in the fall southern California sun. He eases away from the curb.
The young man says, “Smaller than Billings, huh? So really small.”
“Yep,” says Smith.
They wind through some neighborhood streets. “So hunting and fishing. But what else do you for fun in a small place like that?”
Smith turns right onto a tree-lined street. “Well, uh, mostly hang with friends. Like, especially when it’s really cold.”
“Where would you hang out? Were there places in town?”
Smith nods and yawns. “Well, mainly, there was this one place called ‘The Store.'”
The young man looks out his passenger window at some of the palm trees and the smoggy haze around them. “The Store? What did they have there?”
Smith takes a left. “It was a gas station. But it also had, like, a deli and some tables and chairs. And they served ice cream and stuff.”
The young man whistles. “So you hung out at a gas station?”
“Yeah, I guess so.”
“With all your friends.”
The young man laughs. “So let me guess. You get some buddies together. You head into town to The Store. You each order a sandwich or maybe an ice cream.”
Smith nods again and half smiles. “Yeah, that’s pretty much it.”
“Then you all sit around at a couple of tiny tables and you tell stories about other hilarious times when you all were at The Store.”
Smith laughs out loud. “Yeah. That’s pretty much exactly it.”
“Like, you probably had a buddy named Mike, and you point at him and say, ‘Remember that time . . . and you were sitting over in that chair there.'”
Smith laughs again. “Yeah, that’s it. And yeah, I got a buddy named Mike.”
The young man laughs and says, “I love you, Elder Smith. You’re the best.”
Smith turns right on to a main street with heavy traffic and stoplights. The young man notices a young latino guy walking on the sidewalk.
“Man, that guy looks like Anthony,” he says.
“Who’s that?” says Smith, not taking his eyes off the road.
The young man stares until he can see his face. “Not him. Just walks exactly like him.” He turns back to the front. “Anthony was this dude I was teaching in Rosemead. El Monte Flores was trying to kill him.”
“Yeah? That’s not good.”
The young man lowers the back of the seat a bit and leans back. “Yeah. We were trying to get him hooked up with the priests in his ward to get him out of the situation as much as possible.”
“I was in El Monte for a few months,” says Smith. “EMF held us up and stole our bikes.”
“No kidding,” says the young man.
They approach an intersection, Smith gets in the left hand turn lane, and rolls to a stop at the front of the line.
“How do you know it was EMF?” says the young man.
The lights for the two right lanes turn green, but their light is still red. Traffic starts up and flows on both sides of them.
“Well,” says Smith in his low-key voice, “there were three guys. All Mexican dudes. They all had knives. Two of them were skinny and wearing wife-beaters. The third one was kind of a fat guy with no shirt and he had this tattoo across his stomach.”
The young man looks at him. “Which said what?”
Smith stares at the traffic light, leaves his left arm on the wheel, and indicates with his right hand across his stomach: “E-M-F.”
The young man cracks up. “So yeah, I guess it was EMF.”
The light turns from red to green, but unprotected. The young man sees a truck coming the opposite direction in the left lane and expects Smith to ease out into the intersection to allow it to pass. Instead, Smith turns left in front of the truck. The young man yells, “No!”
It’s too late. The young man leans down left, hears the screech of tires and the crunch of metal hitting metal and glass, and watches as the bumper of the F150 appears in the window just above him.
“Oh, man,” says Smith.
The young man is still tipped over across the center console since the truck bumper is just above him. “Dude, that wasn’t a protected left.”
“Are you okay, Elder Laws?” Smith says. “I’m so sorry.”
“Yep,” says the young man. “But let’s get out, okay?”
Smith opens his door and climbs out. The young man unbuckles, crawls across the driver’s seat, and climbs out. A white guy with a trimmed white beard and sunglasses is coming toward them.
“I mean, what the hell were you thinking?” he hollers, and the young man thinks it’s about to get tense.
But Smith just says, “I’m really sorry. I got mixed up.”
The older man softens and looks at the young man. “You hurt?”
“Nah, all good,” he says. “You weren’t going that fast by the time you hit us.”
“Y’all got paperwork?” the man says.
“Yeah,” says Smith. He goes back into the car to grab the insurance information. They hear sirens in the distance.
The young man says, “Hey, I’m gonna page the APs while you do this, okay?”
“Sure,” says Smith.
After the statements are made to the police and the young man has talked to the APs, the young man says to Smith, “You got the key?”
“Yeah,” says Smith. He fishes in is pocket and hands it over.
“Johnson and Stone are gonna meet us at our pad and take this one back to the mission office,” says the young man. “But you are a red dot now. No driving for you.”
Smith shakes his head. The passenger door is too damaged to open, so he crawls across the driver’s seat to the passenger side. The young man gets in and starts the car.
They’re both quiet as the young man eases the car through the light and starts back toward their apartment. Finally, the young man says, “So when you send home an old missionary, it’s called killing him. But you took it way too literally, Elder Smith.”
Smith laughs. “I’m really sorry, man. I don’t know what came over me.”
“We’re all good,” says the young man. “When we get back to the pad, we’ll pray and thank the Lord that we were spared worse and that I’ll still fly home in coach next week and not in a body bag.”