A Short Story by Daniel L Simmons
It was late afternoon when the Boeing 727 became airborne and climbed into the atmosphere. A bit behind schedule it was headed towards San Francisco from Seattle Sea-Tac airport. Flight attendant, Anita Turner was fastened into the jump seat just behind the last row. She could overhear the conversation of the two men seated near her. During the unintentional eavesdropping, Anita had determined the two men were FBI agents. She also had figured out that Bill was the name of the overweight agent with the stained tie. Tom was the less experienced, cocky, junior agent sitting in the aisle seat.
Anita was about to fall asleep listening to the dull shop-talk banter coming from the seats to her right; until Tom blurted out a figure of a Hundred Thousand Dollars. Such an ample figure pulled Anita from her slumbers. In 1971 the average house cost just $12,000 and a beautiful new car was priced around $2500. Anita listened, and she imagined what she could buy with that kind of cash.
Tom insisted,” I’m just saying, Wick, has no idea what is going on and that $100,000 is nothing to what a perp is going to try and extort.”
Bill defended the decision, “Listen, Tommy, Wick has been doing this job a long time, and he knows just how much money in marked bills we need on hand if we get a kidnapping attempt.”
Tom insisted with, “Wick is out of touch. What is he thinking? And that haircut, or lack of, he’s bald, and his hair grows straight out the sides like Bozo, he might as well wear big floppy shoes and a red ball on his nose. If I were him, I think I would choose to shave my head like Yul Brynner.”
Bill leaned in and glared at Tom, “Hopefully someday you’ll have to make that choice. Now shut up and let me eat my peanuts and read my Penthouse.”
The plane reached altitude, leveled, and the fasten seatbelt light chimed off. Anita unfastened, stood up and prepare service in the small rear galley. Bill also got up out of his seat and squeezed his large body past Tom. His belly grazed Tom’s dark aviator style sunglasses, pushing them to one side on his face. As Bill exited into the aisle, he reached into his suit pocket and retrieved a handkerchief. He then offered it to Tom.
Tom questioned, “What the hell is that for?”
Bill smiled and answered, “To wipe the wet from behind your ears.”
Tom looked up at Bill with despise. Bill then turned and made his way up the aisle to a vacant row of seats and sat comfortably in the middle chair.
Anita smiled at the comment as she prepared the service cart.
The flight touched down in San Francisco around 7:15 and Anita greeted passengers as they departed the plane. Smiling politely and thanking them for flying Northwest Orient as they left. Bill exited the plane, smiled kindly at her as he passed through the door. Tom right behind him coldly smirked from his dark sunglasses as he exited by Anita. She wondered why he still had them on. After her post-flight duties were done, she made her way through the airport and to the employee parking lot. She got in her car and headed toward the freeway on-ramp. Cruising onto the Bayshore Freeway, she headed towards San Jose. It was nice to be back home, and she looked forward to seeing her boyfriend, Johnny. An hour later she pulled into the driveway of the small one-bedroom bungalow. This little rental she occupied with her longtime boyfriend, Johnny Culver. But he preferred to go by J.C. Culver. That was his military moniker. He became accustomed to the sound of it and continued to use the name into his civilian life. But Anita preferred to call him Johnny.
As she came through the door, she smelled the late dinner Johnny had prepared. Dropping her bags by the door and kicking off her shoes she made her way to the kitchen. Johnny was busy making dinner, and with the loud radio blaring, he didn't hear her come in. She crept up behind him and startled him by wrapping her arms around his neck. His defense mechanism switched on as he karate kicked the garbage can next to the counter. The can hit the wall strewing garbage in the corner and splattering red tomato sauce on the white wall. An empty tomato paste can bounced around the kitchen floor and spun to a stop near Johnny's foot. He turned around to see Anita’s laughing smile. His shock melted into a smile of reunion, then a frown of contention.
Johnny scolded, “Why did you do that, look at this mess.”
Anita tried to lighten the situation, “Aren't you glad to see me?”
Johnny’s voice softened, “Yes, I’m always glad to see you.”
Anita smiled again and giggled, “Then kiss me.”
Johnny calmed down and kissed Anita. Anita went to change her clothes, and Johnny cleaned the kitchen then served dinner at the small two-chair table in the kitchen. During the meal, she told Johnny about her flight.
Anita wide-eyed, “There were two FBI agents on my flight from Seattle this evening.”
Johnny’s head was leaning over his plate, his fork swiftly shoveling spaghetti into his mouth. He intently looked up at Anita. A noodle protruding from his mouth. Which he quickly sucked in leaving a greasy red line of sauce running down his chin.
With a full mouth, Johnny’s voice interrogated Anita, “How do you know they were FBI agents?”
Anita smiled, “I looked at the passenger manifest before I got on the plane. They were listed as GC, government clearance.”
Johnny shook his head, “That just means they could be from any government agency.”
Defending her conclusion, “Well, I kind of pieced it together.”
Johnny tilted his head back down and started grazing on the spaghetti again, through the feeding frenzy he said, “How?”
Squinting her eyes, “I overheard them talking about ransom money, and how much marked money there was at the agency in Seattle. The money they used in case of a kidnapping or some other type of ransom attempt.”
Johnny again looked up as he wiped his mouth with the paper napkin. This time he asked slowly with heightened interest, “What else did they say?”
Anita smiled because this is where she pieced the whole conversation together, “They talked about their boss, Wick.”
Johnny looked puzzled, “Wick?”
Anita still smiling, “Harvey Wick, he’s the Seattle agency supervisor, he was on TV over that Serial Killer in Seattle. You remember James Canaday; he killed all those women. Well the FBI was called into the investigation. Well, when they caught him, Harvey Wick appeared on TV to tell how they caught him.”
Johnny was taking a long drink from his glass of milk. He looked back at Anita, a white mustache on his upper lip from the liquid. After swallowing, “Oh yah, I remember that too. What were they talking about? Any other murders?”
Anita, drawing a close to her conclusion, “They were talking about marked bills they kept for ransom. That the one hundred thousand dollars weren't enough money; that an extortionist would demand more. The younger agent complained that they needed more on hand.”
Johnny sat there a blank look wiped over his face. An idea had just overwhelmed his brain. There might as well have appeared a small light bulb floating above his head, accompanied by an audible ding.
Anita squinted and looked a Johnny, “Are you alright?”
J. C. Culver was a disgruntled airframe mechanic who worked for United Airlines. He knew airplanes top to bottom, in and out, left to right. If there was a problem, Johnny knew where to look. He first learned his trade when he joined the Air Force. Stationed in Germany, Johnny worked the flight line at Ramstein Air Base. He quickly learned his craft and was promoted several times during his deployment. After a couple of years there, he was forced into an honorable discharge due to a diagnosed medical condition. Johnny never told anyone of his state, trying to keep it a secret. After he returned to the U.S., he applied for a position at United Airlines. They somehow overlooked the military medical records when they hired him, more interested in his government clearance. Unfortunately, his quirkiness caught up to him, triggering United Airlines to force him into early retirement. Being pushed out into the cold again made Johnny bitter.
Anita came home in the early afternoon and found Johnny sitting on the sofa. In one hand he had his pink slip, in the other a check for severance pay.
Anita quickly noticed his distraught face, “What’s wrong, Johnny?”
Johnny found it hard to speak, “They let me go.”
Anita was panicked that the rent and bills would be piling up, “What are you going to do?”
At that moment Johnny’s demeanor changed from loss to anger. “I’ll tell you what I’m going to do; I’m going to get even with those bastards.” Johnny had a crazed look on his face. “The whole lot of those bastards.”
Anita was holding up her hands towards Johnny, “Calm down Johnny, take it easy, please, your starting to scare me.”
Johnny’s face changed back and reflected a more at eased composure, “Don’t worry honey, I have a plan.” With that, Johnny smiled and stood up.
Anita was unsure of what she was feeling, and a cold chill gave her an uneasy perception of turbulence ahead. The next few weeks, Anita observed Johnny, looking for signs of instability. But Johnny showed no signs of depression, anger or loss. In fact, he was happy go lucky and whistled around the house, plus he got a lot of yard work done. This fact alone made Anita happy. But money would soon become an issue, and it was hard to make ends meet with both of them working. She didn’t bring it up, not wanting to upset Johnny. The only odd thing that she noticed was a notebook that he spent most of his time writing in. He also kept it well hidden, because Anita went looking for it many times. He also made a lot of phone calls, mostly when Anita was gone. She did catch him on occasion, which made him abruptly hang up.
Anita would inquire, “Johnny, who were you talking with hon?”
Johnny would make up some story, “That was my old buddy Ned, you remember Ned, we were stationed in Germany together.”
Anita was puzzled, “I thought Ned was Dead?”
Johnny smiled and covered his story, “Different Ned honey. Different Ned.”
Everyday things went on uninterrupted for weeks and summer was drawing to an end. Anita had just come home from a seven-day work week traveling all around the U.S. and Mexico. She was exhausted. All she wanted to do was sleep, at least for two days straight. That wasn’t going to happen. Strung all over the floor were Johnny’s plans. In the middle of all those plans sat Johnny, cross-legged. He didn’t seem startled, not in any way trying to hide them. He almost looked proud of his accomplishment.
Johnny smiled at Anita's entrance, “Anita, I have something to show you.”
Whether or not she wanted to be, she was now an accomplice to a felony. Being a witness to this process, Anita had two choices. Unable to commit to one side or the other, she listened to his plans. Johnny was animated, excited, energized to the idea that lay before them on the floor. With great detail, he when through it step by step. He answered all of Anita’s questions and objections with reassurance. She was captivated, intrigued, no mesmerized. In the back of her head, she kept thinking about the hundred thousand dollars.
Plans were about ready to be put into action. A few days before Johnny pulled the trigger, he made some purchases. Knowing he needed reliable transportation, he went to the local Chevrolet dealer to purchase a brand new Blaser. To his fortune, the credit report didn’t reflect his recent departure from United Airlines. He still looked employed on paper. He then went to Coyote Point Marina. He had called on a 35-foot sloop that was advertised, for sale. The sloop was white, the same color as Johnny’s sailboat but much more massive and 20 years newer. They looked remarkably the same, made by the same manufacturer and the same sail configurations. Only the mast was taller, the stern and bow were larger, but the boats looked remarkably the same, other than the proportions. Johnny quickly befriended the owner. Albert Bing, a retired dentist from San Diego. He had moved to San Jose when he retired so he could sail more. Now he was too old to sail by himself and needed to part with, what his wife called his love affair. Johnny became sympathetic to Albert’s heartbreak. In doing so, Johnny soon gained Alberts trust. Johnny explained that he had a deep desire to sail and wanted a larger boat. Albert and Johnny came to terms, agreeing on a price. He also gave Johnny permission to work on the vessel and “put things in order,” as he phrased it. Albert also agreed to let him, “try her out” before the purchase. Which meant Johnny was granted a free sail when it was convenient for him to do so. All Johnny had to do was leave his driver’s license and the keys to his automobile with the Marina Supervisor. Albert told Johnny he would leave word with him, that a J.C. Culver had permission to take out his beloved, for a trial run.
Johnny went right to work; he had written down the boat numbers of Alberts boat. He then drove to a nearby hardware store and purchased supplies. Then to the marina where his boat was stored. It wasn’t a beautiful marina like Coyote Point. Instead, it was in the rundown part of the old harbor docks where ships were once unloaded. Now it was a place of decline, rundown bars and drydocked old sailors. It still held some presence of the bustling days gone past. Johnny went to work unnoticed. Quickly removing the self-adhesive boat ID numbers and replacing them with the same ID numbers as Albert’s boat. As the next few days proceeded, Johnny was busy running back and forth from Alberts boat and to his own. He also spent time stocking Alberts boat with supplies and gear. When all things were in place, Johnny went to step two of his plan.
Johnny contacted an old friend who operated a skydiving business at Reid-Hillview Airport. Fred Dix not only ran Dix Skydiving but was somewhat of an innovator in the trade. Fred had made many improvements to the sport, making it safer, plus some cutting-edge advancements. Fred was working on things that later revolutionized skydiving for years to come. Fred was well known, and so were his projects. After being ripped off many times, Fred held his cards close to the vest. But Fred and Johnny were close friends and shared most everything. Besides, if you have created something great, there is an intense desire to share it. Their meeting when well, their friendship was re-solidified. Johnny left his old friend and headed across the tarmac to his new Blaser. Carrying a medium size duffle bag which he placed in the back with considerable care.
A few evenings later, Anita returned from what would be her last trip. With all things in place, Johnny and Anita packed a few necessities into the Blaser. The next morning the two headed to Portland Oregon. Arriving two days before Thanksgiving, the couple checked into a small motel. Johnny thought it best to stay ten miles from the Portland Airport. Not wanting to draw attention to the two of them. He didn’t want any harm to come to Anita but was angry about how he was treated in his past. Not only had United Airlines derailed the career that he loved, but the Airforce too had abused his civil rights. Never telling anyone of his history, Johnny had been a human guinea pig. A victim of a CIA and military collaborative brainwashing experiment. When he was stationed in Lockland Texas, he was held over after basic training. Because Johnny had no immediate family, he was the perfect candidate. In an abandoned warehouse off base, the chosen troops were exposed to a ten-week torment in mind control. Exposed to arduous mental and physical tasks which were exacerbated by daily doses of Lysergic acid diethylamide commonly known as LSD.
Johnny wanted retribution for his grievance. He also wanted all to know he was the mastermind to his concocted events to come. He needed to make some justification to the covert, clandestine ways of man. Johnny wanted to have his name go down in history to be a first. To be the one who got revenge on a government that was too big to care. But mostly he was excited to see if he could pull it off. Long before the term “Adeline Junkie” was coined, Johnny could have been the poster boy.
The next day Johnny woke up with a big appetite, he and Anita left the motel and headed to the local greasy spoon for a hearty breakfast. As they sat and had coffee, Johnny went over the plans one more time. Anita was confident and knew her role, and what she needed to do. Johnny was pleased with her attention to detail, feeling at ease that he could count on her. Details were Johnny’s wheelhouse, there was no place for knocking over a domino before its time. After leaving the dinner, the two-next stopped at a gas station. The attendant asked what fuel Johnny wanted and if the oil needed to be checked. After necessary instructions to the attendant, Johnny grabbed the garment bag hanging from the hook in the backseat. He then headed for the men’s room. Emerging a few minutes later he was dressed in a black suit, white shirt and a black tie held back by a mother of pearl tie clasp. He paid the attendant, started the Blaser and headed in the direction of the Portland International Airport.
Pulling in front of the airport, Johnny cautiously leaned forward and peered towards the bustling activity inside. He slid out of the driver’s seat, then opened the back door and retrieved his briefcase and his black fedora. Anita slid over into the driver’s seat, they slowly kissed. Johnny pulled back smiled, gave Anita a resurging wink, “See you on the other side.” He shut the door and headed towards the entrance. As Anita pulled away from the curb, Johnny turned, looking at Anita, he then touched the edge of his fedora with his index finger.
Once inside Johnny looked around for the Northwest Orient ticket counter. Spotting it, he headed in that direction. Being second in line he waited for the businessman ahead of him to buy his ticket. He noticed the lady at the ticket counter helping him. She had a large Beehive hair doo, with pencils sticking out in many directions. Chomping on what seemed like a giant wad of gum. She would ask questions and she seemed to be getting irritated. The businessman had trouble understanding what she was saying and had to have her repeat the questions several times. The man also was getting annoyed, when she was done he grabbed his ticket out of her hand. As he left, Johnny walked up to the counter. Reaching the counter, Johnny noticed the name tag on her lapel; it said L. Flatbottom. Johnny smiled at the name, and this relieved some of his nervousness. L. Flatbottom smiled at Johnny, still chomping on the wad of gum.
The gum made popping noises, and she chewed and smiled. “Where you headed, sir?”
Johnny smiled keeping the fedora rim tilted to limit eye contact, “I need a ticket to Seattle on your 2 o’clock flight.”
L. Flatbottom leaned over the counter looking over the top of the cat eye glasses, “What’s your name, sir?”
Lifting the rim of his hat and looking her directly in the eyes. “Culver, J.C. Culver.”
L. Flatbottom asked another question, but Johnny didn’t understand and asked her to repeat it. She came back with a short, “Where would you like to be seated, Mr. Carter? The plane is not full, so, it’s your choice.”
Johnny frowned, “That’s Culver, do you have something in the very back?”
L. Flatbottom, “Okay Mr. Clarke, there’s a seat in the very last row, in fact, it looks like you have that whole row all to yourself. How is that?”
Johnny stated clearly, speaking very slowly, “The name is Culver, and yes that will work.”
L. Flatbottom continued writing, filling in forms then stated, “Mr. Conner that will be nineteen dollars and forty-five cents.
Johnny talked through his teeth, “Culver.” At the same time pushing a creased twenty-dollar bill across the counter at her.
L. Flatbottom slid the ticket back across the counter topped with a nickel and a half dollar. Smiled and forced out a, “Thank You, Mr. Corbett.” The last syllables of the name caused the gum to fly out of her mouth and land on the plane ticket. L. Flatbottom reached out and retrieved the gum leaving a wet spot on the ticket. She then returned the gum to her mouth, smiled and yelled, “Next!”
Johnny walked away from the counter and looked down at the ticket in his hand. In the passenger name was written, D. B. Cooper.
Johnny made his way through the airport, stopping just before he reached his departure gate. Needing to compose himself he sat down on a padded bench just across from the men’s room. Johnny took off his fedora and sat it next to him. Pulling out a hanker chef he wiped his brow. Feeling the nervousness building in his stomach, he needed to calm himself. Sitting there with his face buried in his hands, Johnny contemplated the next few hours. His life was going to change forever, how it would turn out was just a coin toss. Johnny felt someone sit down next to him, out of the corner of his eye he could see a white shirt with a blue flower print. Completely removing his hands from his face, he could then see clearly. Sitting next to him was a large man in an aloha shirt, eating a salami sandwich. His fedora was also sandwiched, between the man and the bench. He might as well give the last rights to his fedora; there would be no reviving it. The smell of the salami and his nervousness stomach made him feel ill. Johnny stood up, retrieving his precious briefcase, he headed for the men’s room. He washed the perspiration from his face in the sink. Looking up Johnny watched the water drip off his face in the mirror. This could be the last time he might look himself in the eye as a freeman, feeling an empty falling feeling, or worse, a dead one.
Johnny rushed out of the men’s room just in time to board his plane. Smiling he handed his ticket to the tall, attractive brunette at the boarding counter; she smiled back as he proceeded down the steps and across the tarmac towards the stairs lowered from the rear of the plane. Walking up the steps and into the rear of the aircraft, he was greeted by Florence Schaffner.
Florence smiled politely, “Sir, may I get you something to drink before takeoff?”
Johnny still feeling nervous, obliged, “Bourbon and water please.”
Once seated, Florence returned with Johnny’s drink. He thanked her, then reached into his shirt pocket retrieving a package of Lucky Strikes. Knocking one of the non-filtered smokes from the pack, Johnny placed it into his mouth. He then pulled out his lighter taking the cigarette from his mouth and briskly tapped it against the side of the lighter. He placed it back in his mouth, lit the cigarette and inhaled deeply. Exhausting the smoke from his lungs, Johnny hoisted the iced drink to his lips and took a long pull of the elixir, swallowed, then let out a satisfying, “Ahhh.” Not at all thinking about his plan, he let the alcohol relax him. He enjoyed this moment as the other passengers boarded the plane and got settled.
The plane was cleared for takeoff and taxied onto the runway. At 2:50 pm the aircraft accelerated down the long strip of asphalt and became airborne. Florence Schaffner was seated in the jump seat just behind Johnny, but close to him. Johnny reached into the right-side pocket in his suit and retrieved the well-worded note written in black felt tip pen. He handed the piece of paper to Flight attendant Schaffner. With the note wedged between his middle and index fingers, he stretched to offer her the imminent threat. Florence smiled, took the note, then slipped it into her purse sitting next to her on the floor. Being hit on continually by male passengers, she just assumed it was another offer of sexual conquest.
Johnny noticed what she had done and calmly told her, “Miss, I think you should read that.”
Florence reached back into her purse and pulled the note from it. Thinking to herself, she was going to have to decline in some way politely. As Florence opened the carefully folded note exposing the contrasting black letters on the stark white paper. At the precise moment, she read the message; a loud ding announced the plane had reached altitude simultaneously turning off the fasten seat belt light. Florence looked at Johnny, then again at the note, then back at Johnny’s gentle gaze. Florence’s eyes grew wide; with a short gasp she acted out of breath. A cold chill ran over Florence; she was about to panic, struggling to keep her emotional equilibrium. Johnny quietly coxed Florence to sit next to him. He moved to the window seat, and she sat in the aisle seat. Johnny reached down pulling his briefcase into his lap. Unlatching it and opening the lid exposed eight red round tubes taped four on top of four. Wired to a more significant round cylindrical battery. Horror fill Florence’s eyes, she wanted to scream, “He Has A Bomb.” She bit down hard on her lip to stop. There was a piece of black tape between two contactors; the tape protruded out of the opening of the briefcase. Johnny quickly shut the briefcase and looked at Florence.
Johnny, not wanting the other passengers to hear, quietly indicated, “Miss, if this piece of tape is pulled it will activate the device. Do you understand?”
Florence, nervously replied, “Yes.”
Johnny then went into specific detail of what he wanted. He required $200,000 in negotiable American currency. Also, four parachutes, two primary each outfitted with reserve parachutes. He also requested a refueling truck be waiting for them at the Seattle-Tacoma airport. But it must be in a secluded well-lit area. Johnny went on to tell Florence that the crew needed to prepare the plane for a flight to Mexico City. Johnny had Florence repeat his request, not just once but twice to make sure she had the instructions correct. Florence was then told to inform the flight crew without causing any suspicion to the other passengers. Florence made her way to the front of the plane, requesting senior flight attendant Alice Hancock to join her in the cockpit.
Florence went over the previous events and described the device Johnny had in his briefcase. No excited comments were made, and the crew immediately when into a trained emergency mode. Pilot William Scott, whom the crew called “Scotty” radioed the Seattle tower and went over the demands. A call immediately when out to Donald Nyrop, the president of Northwest Orients Airlines. Donald told everyone involved to follow all demands to the letter. Simultaneously calls also when out to the Seattle Police and the Seattle office of the FBI, alerting all, of the hijacking of Flight 305. Harvey Wick, the FBI supervisor, was in his office when the act of terrorism was reported to him. Not even questioning the issue he put in a call to Seattle-First National Bank. This bank was where the FBI had their $100,000 in marked bills. Wick’s only problem at this point was, where was he going to find another $100,000 to meet the hijacker's demands. Wick discussed the situation with Miner Baker, president of Seattle-First National Bank. Baker told Wick he would find a way. Baker then called several local banks to put together a second $100,000 in twenty-dollar bills.
Florence made her way to the back of the plane. She noticed that Johnny had put on his dark sunglasses. She asked if he wanted anything and Johnny politely requested another bourbon and water. Florence soon returned with his drink wrapped in a paper napkin. Johnny tried to pay Florence for the drink, but she refused. Florence returned later with an update of the demands. Johnny was told that the money, refueling truck and military parachutes from McChord AFB were all ready. Johnny told Florence he wanted civilian parachutes instead, with manually operated ripcords. He did not military issued. Military parachutes were most likely tethered and opened the parachute as the jumper exited the plane. Florence was ordered back to the cockpit to inform the pilot of the change. She soon returned and assured Johnny the change would be made.
The plane touched down at the Seattle-Tacoma airport and was directed to taxi to an area near a Boeing warehouse. No other airplanes or vehicles or personnel were at the location. Just a refueling truck accompanied by an attendant. The plane taxied to a position near the fuel truck but left the engines running, as to Johnny’s instructions. The attendant refused to refuel the aircraft, he could not with the engines running. Johnny disagreed, but allowed the pilot to shut down the engines. Scotty had told the passengers that the plane had some mechanical problems that needed to be addressed before they could depart. Meanwhile, time was running out for Harvey Wick and the FBI. They were still waiting for the required second $100,000 in twenty-dollar bills. Then a call came in; the money was ready. Both the marked bills and the second $100,000 were now available for pickup. Wick’s men were standing by and headed for Seattle-First National Bank’s main branch. Wick needed to delay; the delivery was taking time, they needed a stall. Wick relayed the information to the tower. The tower told Scotty of the situation and a plan. Copilot Rataczak went to the back of the plane and informed Johnny that a second fuel truck was needed for the extended flight to Mexico City. Thus, giving the agents a delay.
The money was picked up by the FBI agents, and they were in route to the airport. Wick still needed more time for them to arrive. A third fuel truck was brought in to top off the tanks. Johnny agreed to the delay. The money arrived and Northwest Orient’s Seattle operations manager, Al Lee drove out to the plane to deliver the demanded goods. Al approached the rear stairs of the plane and handed off the knapsack full of cash and then the parachutes to flight attendant Mucklow. Johnny had Mucklow place the knapsack in the seat next to him. He inspected the contents. Satisfied that all was in place, he then allowed all the passengers to deplane along with Schaffner and Hancock. Mucklow was requested to stay.
When the plane was empty except for the flight crew and Mucklow, Johnny gave his final instructions. The aircraft was to take off with a southeast heading towards Mexico City. They were to fly at minimum airspeed without stalling the plane. A maximum altitude of 10,000 feet. Landing gear to remain deployed in the landing /takeoff position. To keep the flaps lowered to a 15-degree position. The cabin was to remain unpressurized throughout the flight. Johnny’s last demand was that the rear stairs be extended during takeoff and continue to be down and extended during the flight. Pilot Scott insisted that this could not be done because of safety to the takeoff and landing. Johnny disagreed but allowed the crew to close the stair telling them he would deploy it during the flight.
All was ready and at 7:40 pm the 727 became airborne and headed in the direction of Mexico City. All that remained on the plane were flight attendant Mucklow, pilot Scott, a fight engineer Anderson and co-pilot Rataczak. Soon after the plane was in route, Johnny checked the time from takeoff. He needed to work fast, his window of time to depart the plane was getting close. Johnny told Mucklow to join the flight crew in the cabin. Johnny followed her to the cockpit, and once she was inside, he placed a piece of tape over the sight glass in the cabin door. Johnny needed to work fast. He went directly to the back of the plane, quickly going to work. First, Johnny located the plastic cover that was over the water-landing inflatable raft. Once he removed the Girk Bar, the cover came off, but inside there wasn’t any raft. Instead was the carefully placed cargo Johnny had Anita put there on her last flight from Seattle to Portland a few days before. He pulled the small duffle bag out and unzipped the full length of it. Methodically removing the contents and placing them on the floor of the plane in order. After everything was laid out, Johnny picked up the sky jumper suit. Not just any suit but the one his friend Fred Dix had designed. From the end of the long sleeve to the waist was webbing on both sides. Then from one ankle to the other and all the way up to the crotch of the suit was also webbed. He struggled a bit to work the jumpsuit over his clothes. He then pulled a special light nylon bag out. He then opened the money knapsack. It was apparent to Johnny what money was marked and what was not. He pulled the neatly taped together plastic bag out of the knapsack. It was a perfect square of cash, neatly taped. He sat this bundle to the side. The second see-through plastic bag had loose banded small packets of twenty-dollar bills in it. This money bag he placed into the special nylon bag which he securely strapped to his left leg with a tether.
Next Johnny went to the controls of the rear stairs, checked his watch, he had just 15 minutes before he was in the drop zone. He quickly lowered the rear boarding stairs. A loud whistling sound filled the cabin. Pilot Scott noticed that it had been deployed by an indicator light. With that Johnny grabbed one of the parachutes and tossed it out the gaping hole. The chute bounced off the first step, twirled then hitting a step third from the bottom. As it came off the second bounce, it was sucked into the screeching abyss with intense velocity. This violent reaction ran a chill up Johnny’s spine. He quickly went back to the carefully packed supplies and snatched up the parachute supplied by his friend Fred Dix. He slipped it on quickly out of terror from the sight of the bouncing chute he had just sent to its demise. He then slipped on the full-face helmet then slid on the leather gloves which snapped to the jumpsuit. Now he was fully outfitted, except the tie and clasp were now poking him in the chest. He unzipped the jumpsuit enough to jerk off the fake tie and threw it into a seat. He looked at his watch. He was now in the jump zone.
The bundle of marked bills was sitting on the floor next to the last row of seats. Johnny gave the bundle a quick kick, and it too sailed out the gaping hole left by the lowered stairs. As it exited, it hit the tail section of the plane making a thud as it also disappeared into the wet night. Johnny then made his way onto the steps, carefully backing down the stairs his back to the unknown. Both hands on the rails he stepped one foot at a time. The rain pelted him and the wind whipped around him. This turbulence made it very difficult to hang on to the wet handrails. He eased one foot down a step and then the trailing foot would follow, dragging the nylon bag full of money. He stepped onto the second to last step, knowing this by counting each step as he descended. Johnny’s left foot with the nylon money bag strapped to it followed. Not yet ready to make his jump, the swirling vortex caught ahold of the nylon bag and jerked Johnny’s hands from the railing. Now, Johnny too was sucked into the wet nights unknown.
On Thanksgiving morning, Fred Dix woke up late. He went out to the paper box and retrieved the morning paper. Sitting down with his coffee at the kitchen table; Fred slipped off the rubber band that held the paper and unrolled it. Turning to upright it, he noticed a police sketch with the heading above it. Northwest Orient Plane Hijacked! He read further. A man going by the name D.B. Cooper purchased a ticket in Portland with a destination of Seattle. Soon after takeoff, he made his ransom demand by a note that was given to one of the crew. The sketch looked somewhat familiar; it looked a little like his friend Johnny. But Johnny had bushier hair, and this rendering looked like the suspect had thin hair. The face wasn’t quite right either. Fred wondered, did his old military buddy do it. Then Fred saw an image in his mind. It was the embroidered name tag on Johnny’s military fatigues, J. C. Culver. Fred scoffed, “The crazy bastard, I wonder if he lived?”
When Johnny lost his grip on the stair railing, he was sucked into the swirling storm. The sensation was intense; Johnny was now at the mercy of nature’s horrific powers, tossed in the turbulence. He tumbled out of control, unable to see anything, then he stopped his panic as much as he could. He remembered his friend’s instructions, ‘in a high altitude jump in bad weather, roll into a ball until you gain your bearings.’ It was only seconds after being swept from the stairs, Johnny remembered this and instinctively tucked his legs to his chest wrapping his arms around them. Falling like a human cannonball, plummeting towards earth. Johnny found it hard to breathe, maybe from the position or from his excited state. But the adrenaline surged through his body making him feel super-human. He dropped below the cloud cover, and he could see lights. First, he extended his arms, but the spinning didn’t stop. Then he stretched his legs, not spreading them. When he had stopped spinning, he spread his legs, and the webbing snapped full of air. He immediately slowed. He now glided through the air somewhat like a flying squirrel would, jumping from tree to tree.
Johnny could now see the lights of Vancouver, a bustling glow in the distance; this gave him a reference, he was close to the point of opening his parachute. He could see the lights on the highway, must be I-5 he surmised. Still trying to pinpoint proximity to his rendezvous point. Then he spotted it, just in time to save him from plunging into the earth. He pulled the cord on the parachute. It unraveled and jerked him from his decent. The parachute was a new design, and Fred had given him some special instructions of its performance. Fred called it a gliding chute, it was square or a bit rectangle in design but gave Johnny incredible maneuverability. He could maintain altitude or make the parachute dive towards the desired direction. There a few miles ahead there was the grassy remote airstrip. One that only hunters would fly into, on hunting excursions. At the end of the runway, he could see the emergency flashers of yellow. Then the signal flash that caught Johnny’s eye to the location. It was three consecutive flashes of the high-beams headlights on the Blaser. Coming close to the treetops, Johnny pulled back on the tether, lifting him and the parachute over the treetops and then he swooped down just above the runway. Feeling agile with the newly designed parachute, Johnny came to a walking landing about ten yards from the Blaser. Anita came running out to meet him, she was laughing and crying at the same time. With her arms around Johnny, her fears and anxieties dissipated into relief.
Johnny kissed her, then ordered her to quickly help him gather up the parachute and pack it back into the pack the best they could. When all were gathered and placed in the back of the Blaser, Johnny removed the jumpsuit and packed it into a duffle bag. After all, was accounted for, Johnny and Anita headed for I-5 and back to the small motel they had checked into the night before. They arrived sometime after midnight; he turned into the gravel parking lot. He pulled up in front of the small little cabin at the roadside motel. Exhausted, they both fell asleep on top of the bed without removing their clothes.
The next morning Johnny was awakened by a knock at the door. Panicked, he jumped to his feet still in his wrinkled black suit. Unknowing what to expect as Johnny opened the door, he could feel the blood surging in his neck. As he slowly opened the door, Johnny could see the motel desk clerk.
The clerk smiled, “Happy Thanksgiving sir.”
Johnny looked around the parking lot for police, “Thank you, can I help you?”
The clerk still smiling, “I brought you the paper and your bill, sir, you are checking out today right?”
Johnny relived, “Yes, yes we are, thanks for the paper.” The clerk still standing on the stoop, Johnny added, “anything else I can help you with?”
The clerk raised his eyebrows, “Well, that D. B. Cooper guy?”
Johnny became flush, and a bit light-headed, “What?”
The clerk smiled, “He hijacked an airplane, got $200,000 in cash, it’s all over the news, you can read about it in the paper. That’s a lot of loot! The guy must have had some big cojones. That’s all I got to say.”
Johnny relived it wasn’t the police knocking at his door, smiled, “Yes, big cojones, you bet, thanks.” Johnny nodded at the clerk and shut the door.
On the front page was an unremarkable most inaccurate caricature of D. B. Cooper. The only thing they had right was the color of his suit. Hard to confuse black. Johnny smiled at the picture. The commotion woke Anita. Johnny showed Anita the picture on the front page.
Anita, rubbing one eye, yawning, squinted the other eye to see, “Who is that?” She asked.
Johnny smiled, “Exactly.”
Johnny and Anita took their time getting ready to leave. After a shower, shave and change of clothes, Johnny was prepared to hit the road. Anita took a little longer. Johnny put the suitcases in the Blaser paid the motel tab and headed the Blaser towards the local greasy spoon for breakfast. As they ate breakfast the news was blaring from a black and white TV sitting on top of the dessert refrigerator. The TV kept flashing the imperfect sketch of D. B. Cooper, the now infamous hijacker. The waitress came up to the table where Johnny and Anita were sitting.
Popping the gum in her mouth, she asked, “Anything else hon?”
Johnny smiled looking the waitress directly in the eye to see if she could make a connection, “No, just the check.”
She smiled at Johnny, “you bet hon.” She tore off the bill from her order pad and handed it to him.
Johnny and Anita drove all day to get back to San Jose. Pulling up in the driveway of the small bungalow Johnny turned off the engine. Both were wary of the past 48 hours. They quickly unloaded the Blaser, Anita went to the kitchen and began preparing a quick dinner. Tired they ate quietly, then after the dishes were done they both retired to the bedroom. Hungry for sleep they lost consciousness as soon as they slid into bed. The next morning brought many duties to accomplish. They packed only the basic needed necessities; Johnny had already prepared all they would need. The got in the Blaser and drove from San Jose to the old rundown shipyard where he kept his boat. Johnny had taught Anita how to sail, and she had taken to it quite naturally. Johnny prepped the boat after they had arrived. Then he instructed her where to head the boat, to a spot just one mile offshore. A heading due west, straight out from the Golden Gate Bridge. Anita understood, and Johnny helped to untie the boat. He watched as she started the small four-cylinder motor and headed towards San Francisco Bay. She looked back at Johnny; he thought how beautiful she looked with that white scarf blowing from around her neck.
Johnny jumped into the Blaser and drove to Coyote Point Marina. He parked in a spot near the Marina office. Walking in the door, Johnny asked the for the Marina Supervisor. One of the marina hands, named Petey, told Johnny he would get him. A few minutes later the Marina Supervisor, a guy named James Fleck, greeted Johnny. Johnny explained he was there to try out a 35-foot sloop owned by an Albert Bing. James had recalled Albert stopping by and informing him of a J. C. Culver who was going to try out the boat.
James commented, “That’s an especially lovely boat, and in pristine condition, if I had the means I would have purchased it when Albert first put her up for sale.”
Johnny was showing the same enthusiasm, “She is a gem, that she is.”
James back to business, “I need your driver’s license and the keys to your car.” Turning a sheet of paper and pushing it across the counter James requested, “Sign here.”
Johnny agreed and scribbled on the indicated line. James slid the paper back across the counter and gasped at what was written on the paper. His eyes widened, and he looked back of at Johnny who was quietly standing there. Johnny turned his head a bit and looked at the sheet; he had inadvertently written in the space, ‘D. B. Cooper. A cold sweat broke out on his forehead his armpits and hands felt clammy. Johnny could not speak.
Then James burst out laughing, “You’re a funny guy Mr. Culver. That’s a good one; I’ll have to tell the wife about that one.” James reached into the drawer and pulled out a bottle of white-out. Brushing over the mistake, at the same time shaking his head and chuckling.
James shoved the paper back to Johnny, “Okay, your real John Handcock this time.” James still smiling. James looked and the dock hand standing on the other side of the counter, “Petey would you help Mr. Culver untie the boat?” Petey agreed, and he and Johnny headed for the sloop, Johnny still feeling uneasy.
Johnny started the motor as Petey pushed off the bow. It was now noon as Johnny too pointed the sloop towards the open San Francisco Bay. Johnny had both sails open, catching the wind as he passed under the Golden Gate Bridge, the breeze was brisk and just a slight chill, but the sun was bright making a beautiful day for a sail. The quiet solitude gave Johnny time to think over everything that he had been through the past few days. Then Johnny went over all the evidence of his plot. Had he taken care of everything that tied him to the hijacking. The only thing that was a possible untidy detail was his friend Fred Cox. But his friendship ran deep with Fred. They had both went through basic training together. They had both endured the ten weeks of brainwashing hell. Reborn as brothers, neither of them could turn their backs on that. Johnny concluded, his secret was safe.
Johnny arrived at the one-mile mark, and there was Anita, she had dropped her sails and rocked idly in the rolling ocean. She waved as he approached, dropping his sails. He pulled on to the starboard side of the smaller craft. They both caught the others boat; quickly lashing the vessels together.
Anita smiled, “Howdy maty.” Kissing him, holding hands over the gap between the boats.
Johnny hoisted the sails and changed course to a southerly direction. Once he established the heading, he turned over the helm to Anita. Thus, freeing Johnny to move to the smaller craft to put the last part of his plan into action. He boarded the smaller boat and went to the cabin, carefully hanging small one-gallon cans full of gasoline from the ceiling of the cabin. Making sure the parachute would be the first to go. Johnny had devised a way to light a small oil lamp so that it would burn for about half an hour before the paraffin wax holding it together would melt causing the flame to ignite the dripping oil, causing the parachute to catch fire. Soon the sun would be setting, and they were approaching the seawall cliffs between the town of Pescadero and the Pigeon Point Lighthouse. Johnny made one more boarding onto his old boat. He hoisted the sails, then tied the rudder with a rope to head the boat towards shore. He then lit the oil lamp, kissed his hand, then touched the doorway of the cabin. Johnny almost choked as he said, “Goodbye old girl.” Johnny then returned to the larger boat and quickly cut loose the smaller craft. As the sun set and the sky darkened he and Anita lost site of the boat in the dark until they then saw the flash and after a few seconds heard the explosion. The boat would have broken in half, sinking the center and only the foam filled bow and stern would be left floating. Eventually, the ruminants would wash against the jagged cliffs. The paper would later publish the unfortunate boating accident and show photographs of the two people that had lost their lives off the coast of California. Buried on page nine.