Stories of Weird Mystery

Month: November 2020

Postcard Story: Getting Away

Living now on the gulf coast of Florida, Dan sometimes misses the gray, chilled Thanksgivings of what used to be home, but not too much. He got in all the gray chill he’d ever need nearly half a century ago on a single evening that ended his old life and started a new one.

Sometimes as he walks the beach in a pair of paint-spattered cargo shorts, he can see the end of this second life coming without much hope for a third, but he’s not greedy. He’s never been greedy, not for life or for fame or even for money. Once he needed $200,000 and that’s just what he asked for, not a penny more, which is probably why he got it.

The universe punishes greed, that’s one thing Dan has always believed, though not in a particularly religious way. It’s just inefficient, and a man with an excess of money is as much at a disadvantage for survival as a rabbit with an excess of food – slow and complacent and surprised when the owl swoops.

Dan usually stops around the same spot on the jetty each day to talk to the Fishing Blowhard among his PVC fishing pole holders and bucket of rancid-smelling shrimp. The Fishing Blowhard probably has a real name, but Dan hasn’t bothered to learn it because it couldn’t possibly be as descriptive.

The Fishing Blowhard is about Dan’s age, and the main problem with being old, Dan has found, is that other old people assume you’ve followed the same ruts your whole lives from the idealistic 50s to the hippie 60s to the hedonistic 70s to the greedy (yes) 80s to the head-scratching 90s when the computers and young people took over.

For instance, the Fishing Blowhard assumes that Dan was at Woodstock, even though neither of them were, and that they both narrowly escaped going to Vietnam, which Dan didn’t. The Fishing Blowhard also assumes that Dan’s back is crooked from the weight of decades of beer instead of a sudden impact on the aluminum underbelly of a 727 at 10,000 feet.

Lesson learned: it turns out that the CIA reinforced their aft airstairs from the wind during the drops over Laos while commercial carriers didn’t. That gives them a wicked bounce when you jump from the last step and into the night.

“Dan the Man!” cries the Fishing Blowhard in the same way every day as there’s a string to pull in the center of his spine. “Danbo! My beer buddy! Grab a brew and let’s scare the fish together!”

Dan peers into the cooler of mostly melted ice in which three cans of Old Milwaukee float like pale turds. He prefers bourbon but reaches in and takes one of the cans.

“You out here hiding from the hens and the chicks?” The Fishing Blowhard opens Dan’s beer for him. “Me, too. Fucking Thanksgiving turns the condo into a madhouse, all those women and kids bumping around the kitchen. I say leave them to it, right?”

Dan nods. Back in his little cottage on stilts, his wife is sitting out on the balcony with a David Baldacci novel while the oven does all the work.

“We did our part by bringing in the money, right?” says the Fishing Blowhard. “It’s their job to spend and eat it.”

Dan doesn’t remember Gretchen ever eating money, but maybe the Fishing Blowhard’s family has different ways.

“It used to be simple, didn’t it? A man, his wife, a couple of kids, you eat the bird and watch the game and take a nap. But then the kids have to have kids, and then there’s some idiot Democrat brother-in-law just out of rehab, and maybe an old bag from the church whose husband croaked on the riding lawnmower, and suddenly your home is an insane asylum.”

Dan’s family is small; he and Gretchen never had kids, never wanted any, and he has been content to watch his sister’s children grow up way better than they might have without $200,000 to move from Tacoma to Ontario where a psychopath couldn’t follow.

That’s what we used to call an extraction, Dan thinks.  

He doesn’t often imagine the Thanksgivings that might have happened with fucking Lonnie still sitting at the head of the table, screaming at Sandy and Gavin, maybe grabbing one of them by the arm and twisting like he’d seen more than once even with guests in the house. If he tries hard enough, he can imagine Janie, too, slowly caving in from the inside with her sinking eyes and rangy limbs while she watched her children fade from their hearts on outward.

“You know what I like about you, Danbo? You don’t say much. I’ve always thought that the real badasses in this world are the guys who don’t have to talk. You can just, you know, feel their badassery.”

“I’m not a badass,” Dan says.

A badass, especially one with certain kinds of friends, might have showed up one day while Janie and the kids were at the movies watching Black Beauty or Willy Wonka. He might have knocked and waited and when Lonnie answered, he’d have plugged him with one of those handy one-shot pistols they’d given to the ARVN guys in Vietnam.

But that would have been greedy, presuming to be the employee of justice. That’s what had lost them the war, and that’s what would have lost him his family because they track down murderers a lot more carefully than they do hijackers.  

“Get the fuck out,” the Fishing Blowhard says. “We’re all badasses if we’ve lived this long, am I right? You provide for a family, that makes you a badass.”

“Maybe so,” Dan says.

“I don’t know much about you, Dan, but I do know this: you’ve got the look of a dude who’s seen some shit. And you know what you deserve?”

Life in prison for air piracy? Dan wonders.

“You deserve to walk this beach on all the pretty days until they’re gone. That’s what I’d give you if it was up to me.”

Deserve. That’s a word that Dan doesn’t think much about. It’s hard to guess whether Northwest Orient Airlines stockholders deserved that $200,000 or Janie did, whether he deserved to notice the one dummy parachute instead of plunging at terminal velocity into the Earth, whether he deserved the strange thrill and privilege to be a man in a business suit flying with thousands of dollars strapped to his body above the Douglas firs and the winding streams, descending through the freezing mist to break only an ankle on the rocks.

Deserving means someone or something is doing the judging, the choosing, and if there’s one thing Dan knows, it’s that nobody deserves anything but sometimes they get it anyway.

And sometimes, we’re lucky enough to be the ones doing the giving.

Dan claps his hand on the Fishing Blowhard’s Hawaiian shirt spotted with Woodie wagons and says, “So far so good.”

The Fishing Blowhard raises his beer. “Here’s to getting away.”

Dan wonders, worries, but for only a moment because the Fishing Blowhard is only ever accidentally right, like most of us.

“Here’s to exactly that,” he says.

Uncle Dan Sure is Quiet around Thanksgiving

On November 24, 1971, a man calling himself Dan Cooper boarded a Northwest Orient flight from Portland International Airport to Seattle. Not long after take-off, he passed a note to a flight attendant claiming he had a bomb in his briefcase. He demanded $200,000, four parachutes, and a fuel truck standing by in Seattle.

He got them.

After releasing the passengers and refueling the plane, Cooper ordered the flight crew to take off again on a southeast course toward Mexico City. He had them fly low with the landing gear extended and the cabin unpressurized. The low speed and high drag burned through fuel more quickly than expected and so they altered course to refuel in Reno.

Long before they got there, though, an indicator light in the cockpit showed the aft stairs had been extended. A few minutes later, the tail of the plane jumped as though someone had taken his leave.

By most accounts, Cooper was a badass: he knew the terrain, he knew the equipment and tolerances for the 727 aircraft, he knew to have the interior lights darkened on landing to thwart police snipers. The trick with the air stairs had been used by military and CIA operatives during Vietnam. He was calm. He was friendly, paying for the bourbon and waters he ordered including a tip.

All they ever found were a torn placard from the 727’s rear exit in 1978 and three packets of the ransom cash buried under silt in the Columbia River in 1980. There was DNA on the tie but it hasn’t been matched to anyone. No one is sure if the money was deliberately buried or washed there.

Law enforcement likes to say that none of the ransom money has ever been spent, but when was the last time a clerk checked your twenty-dollar bill against the D.B. Cooper ransom cash serial number list? All Cooper would have to do was wait a year or two, go to some small town elsewhere in the country, deposit a few grand here and there in local banks and then write checks between them to accumulate it again.

Assuming that he made it, of course.

Of the parachutes Cooper did take, one was a training dummy — undeployable. It was accidentally included among the four. So it is possible that poor ol’ Cooper chose the wrong parachute, yanked on the cord, and came away with a plastic handle and ten inches of rope in his hands as he plummeted to the ground.

I like to imagine that Dan Cooper’s final word was, “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuccccccckkkkkkkkkkkkk!”

Unless, that is, the torn safety placard was the last thing Cooper managed to grab before being sucked out of the plane instead of executing a jump at all. In that case, his final word was, “Shhhhiiiiiiiiitttttttt!” followed quickly by the thump of his body against the tail of the plane.

Is he dead or alive? What’s my theory?

There are really just two possibilities.

  • Cooper died during the jump or soon after. The weather was bad, the temperatures were brutal, and the terrain was unforgiving — towering trees and sharp rocks.
  • Cooper somehow survived insane winds and cold, landed in the scary wilderness with only manageable injury, and avoided law enforcement for the next fifty years by spending his money wisely. If this is true, it makes him THE GREATEST AMERICAN WHO EVER LIVED. The SEALS who bagged Bin Laden look like Boy Scouts compared to this mother fucker.

I know which one I prefer. I prefer to think of an elderly man, a grandfather or great-grandfather now, who quietly reads the paper as grandchildren frolic around him on Thanksgiving and occasionally slips one a twenty-dollar bill.

“Get yourself something nice, kiddo,” he says.

And when some blowhard at a party brags about his golf score or shows off his Porsche or declares himself a captain of industry, this old man nods politely and absolutely does NOT say, “I jumped out of a fucking 727 with two hundred grand strapped to my waist. Now I build birdhouses.”

Then he watches his episode of In Search Of again with a bourbon and water.

Really, 2020? Edgar?

Yesterday, I took Edgar to the vet because he hadn’t eaten in over twelve hours and seemed lethargic. An X-ray found fluid around his lungs again (as in June) and we decided to drain it again. Edgar perked up after the procedure but went into cardiac arrest very quickly afterward. He died around noon while I was on a conference call two miles away.

I write more obituaries than anything else these days, it seems: my mother, my father, Norman, Nori, human society. I’m getting pretty good at it despite (or maybe because of) the basic selfishness of the task: “Look at me! I understand this person completely and can taxidermy them forever in words!”

I’m tired of being a literary taxidermist, but words are the only interesting way I express feelings.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t filming the bike ride I took yesterday after Edgar’s passing when, distracted and out of sorts, I squeezed the gear shifters instead of the brakes and smashed into a trash can at 15 miles per hour. It’s hard to beat the eloquence of being thrown into the middle of the street and landing on my back as a metaphor for how I feel about losing Edgar.

Maybe my reluctance to get up is even more eloquent.

I don’t much like living in a universe that finds it necessary to take Edgar away after only nine years. It seems petty. It seems small. You’d think one cat who happened to like rubbing against my face as though I was his favorite could get to live a little longer, but here we are.

Edgar was a wonderful cat with a lot of personality who loved people (but maybe me a little more). He yelled in the mornings and the evenings to be fed, and also sometimes randomly during the day like a mental patient arguing with the couch.

He groomed the other cats and Sylvia if they’d sit still. He glowered at us defiantly when he used the litter box. He shook his dry cat food in his jaws like he was trying to break its neck. He slept on my legs at night, or sometimes on top of the TV receiver or the laundry.

On the Thanksgiving after my mother died, he made sure to console each person around the table one by one.

He was, as we like to say about animals, a good boy. He was also (to me) a companion unlike any I’ve had, a constant source of love and encouragement: as long as I kept the kibble coming, I was still okay in his book.

I’ll miss him terribly. And I’ll miss who I was to him.

So You Managed to Rig the Election

First let me say my hat is off to you. That’s an ambitious achievement requiring the cooperation of hundreds of conspirators, and you’re clearly putting your Six Sigma project management certifications to good use. If you weren’t a black belt before, you should be one now.

Or a BLUE one, am I right?

Our demon prince is up by four million votes nationally, but it’s of course absurd that you’d have forged that many votes.

No, you were far more devious.

  • You convinced an innocent but adventurous foodie at the Wuhan wet market to eat a particularly sick-looking bat. Maybe you used a gun or just a nice orange pepper glaze, I don’t know.
  • With a worldwide network of agents, you guided the spread of the illness to your ultimate target, the United States.
  • There, the virus ran rampant and set up the chess board for your ultimate objective: a population worried enough by sickness to cast a large number of plausible mail-in votes for your manipulation.
  • But first, you needed the ultimate unstoppable candidate: an elderly milquetoast Washington insider with an unambitious legislative agenda and some slightly creepy behaviors toward women’s hair. Just, you know, to keep it plausible.
  • A candidate like that required the support of deeply angry and radical people, so you stoked the fires of racial hatred by encouraging the only ten racist police officers in America to act out their fantasies as visibly and violently as possible.
  • The ensuing protests unfolded in your perfectly orchestrated ballet of support for the only candidate who could truly advance our socialist agenda of white extermination: Joseph Biden.
  • You could have stopped there, but the cherry on top was finding a Black female prosecutor who will one day take the reins of government and drive our national chariot into total communism.
  • All you had to do next was generate thousands of ballots in a half dozen key states, each printed specially for a particular voting district.  
  • Then, offering day-old sandwiches from Jimmy John’s, you hired a hundred mentally-ill homeless people (also across six states) to carefully color in the correct circles for Joseph R. Biden.
  • Luckily, you had a sharp-eyed QA team checking each one and beating homeless men when they kept trying to fill out Jo Jorgensen by “accident.”
  • When it was all over, you herded most of them into a tunnel of rotating blades and rendered them into a delicious beige slurry for IAMS. (Net profit: $1.4 million.)
  • To cover your bets, you blackmailed several programmers hired by Siebold to embed pro-Biden glitches in the code of electronic voting machines. Luckily, the project owners were NOT Six Sigma-certified like you are and could not find the inserted code.
  • Election day almost went exactly as planned, but those plucky Trump voters managed to pry themselves from their sweat-soaked recliners to vote. We always underestimate the courage and conviction of the simple, God-fearing folk and we need to stop doing that.
  • So you had to bring in our crack teams of vote fraud specialists, already poised in the likeliest states for razor-thin margins: Georgia, Nevada, Arizona, and Pennsylvania.
  • You quickly printed more mail-in ballots for the inner city voting precincts from a company we later firebombed for total deniability.
  • Then your teams completed more ballots, sealed them, postmarked them with machines stolen from the post office, and slipped them unseen into the voting count centers while descending from wire harnesses.
  • To show their total commitment to endless silence for the cause, those teams then severed their own tongues and cut off their own fingers so they could never reveal their role.
  • Finally, after several days of completely smooth counting hidden away from the gaze of the entire world, our ballots tipped the balance to the dark prince was declared victorious.

It staggers the imagination, comrade. There will one day be statues in your honor, big concrete ones two hundred feet tall with stern jawlines.

But today, you must die and take your glory with you.

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