Vitamins, Supplements, Sport Nutrition

CHAPTER THREE. Fly a Crooked Sky

There is enchantment in a uniform, especially one that marks the wearer as a person of rare skills, courage or achievement.

A paratrooper’s wings tell of a special breed of soldier. A submariner’s dolphin denotes the unusual sailor. A policeman’s blue symbolizes authority. A forest ranger’s raiment evokes wilderness lore. Even a doorman’s gaudy garb stirs vague thoughts of pomp and royalty.

I felt great in my Pan Am pilot’s uniform as I walked into La Guardia Airport. I obviously was commanding respect and esteem. Men looked at me admiringly or enviously. Pretty women and girls smiled at me. Airport policemen nodded courteously. Pilots and stewardesses smiled, spoke to me or lifted a hand in greeting as they passed. Every man, woman and child who noticed me seemed warm and friendly.

It was heady stuff and I loved it. In fact, I became instantly addicted. During the next five years the uniform was my alter ego. I used it in the same manner a junkie shoots up on heroin. Whenever I felt lonely, depressed, rejected or doubtful of my own worth, I’d dress up in my pilot’s uniform and seek out a crowd. The uniform bought me respect and dignity. Without it on, at times, I felt useless and dejected. With it on, during such times, I felt like I was wearing Fortunatus» cap and walking in seven-league boots.

I milled with the crowd in La Guardia’s lobby that morning, glorying in my make-believe status. I fully intended to bluff my way aboard a flight to a distant city and start operating my check swindles there, but I delayed implementing my decision. I was having too much fun luxuriating in the attention and deference I was receiving.

I became hungry. I stepped into one of the airport’s many coffee shops, dropped onto a stool at the counter and ordered a sandwich and milk. I was almost finished eating when a TWA co-pilot sat down on a stool eater-cornered from me. He looked at me and nodded. He ordered coffee and a roll, then regarded me with mild curiosity.

«What’s Pan Am doing here at La Guardia?» he asked casually. Apparently, Pan Am did not fly out of La Guardia.

«Oh, I just deadheaded in from Frisco on the first flight I could catch,» I replied. «I’ll catch a chopper to Kennedy.»

«What kind of equipment you on?» he asked, biting into his roll.

My brains turned to ice cubes. I nearly freaked out. Equipment? What did he mean, equipment? Engines? Cockpit instruments? What? I couldn’t recall having heard the word before in connection with commercial airlines. I frantically searched for an answer for it was obviously a normal question for him to ask. I mentally reread the reminiscences of the veteran Pan Am captain, a little book I’d really liked and which I’d virtually adopted as a manual. I couldn’t recall his ever using the word «equipment.»

It had to have some significance, however. The TWA airman was looking at me, awaiting my reply. «General Electric,» I said hopefully. It was definitely not the right answer. His eyes went frosty and a guarded look crossed his features. «Oh,» he said, the friendliness gone from his voice. He busied himself with his coffee and roll. >

I gulped the rest of my milk and dropped three dollars on the counter, more than ample payment for my snack. I stood up and nodded to the TWA pilot. «So long,» I said, and headed for the door.

«Fruzhumtu,» he growled. I wasn’t sure of his exact words, but they sounded suspiciously like something I couldn’t actually do to myself.

Whatever, I knew I wasn’t sufficiently prepared to attempt a deadheading venture, despite all my prior work and research. It was evident that I needed a better command of airline terminology, among other things. As I was leaving the terminal, I noticed a TWA stewardess struggling with a heavy bag. «Can I help you?» I asked, reaching for the luggage.

She relinquished it readily. «Thanks,» she said with a grin. «That’s our crew bus just outside there.»

«Just get in?» I asked as we walked toward the bus.

She grimaced. «Yes, and I’m pooped. About half the people in our load were whiskey salesmen who’d been to a convention in Scotland, and you can imagine what that scene was like.»

I could, and laughed. «What kind of equipment are you on?» I asked on impulse.

«Seven-o-sevens, and I love «em,» she said as I heaved her suitcase aboard the bus. She paused at the bus door and stuck out her hand. «Thanks much, friend. I needed your muscles.»

«Glad I could help,» I said, and meant it. She was slim and elegant, with pixie features and auburn hair. Really attractive. Under other circumstances I would have pressed to know her better. I didn’t even ask her name. She was lovely, but she also knew everything there was to know about flying passengers from this place to that one, and a date with her might prove embarrassing.

Airline people manifestly loved to talk shop, and at the moment I obviously wasn’t ready to punch in at the factory. So equipment was an airplane, I mused, walking to my own bus. I felt a little stupid, but halfway back to Manhattan I burst out laughing as a thought came to mind. The TWA first officer was probably back in the pilot’s lounge by now, telling other TWA crewmen he’d just met a Pan Am jerk who flew washing machines.

I spent the next few days in the boneyard. In the past I’d found my best sources of information on airlines were airlines themselves, so I started calling the various carriers and pumping their people for information. I represented myself as a college student doing a paper on transportation, as an embryo book author or magazine writer, or as a cub reporter for one of the area’s dailies.

Generally I was referred to the airline’s public relations department. Airline PR people love to talk about their particular airline, I found. I quickly confirmed my suspicions that my aviation education was strictly elementary, but within a week I had zoomed through high school and was working on my bachelor’s degree.

The airline flacks, a lot of whom had been members of aircrews themselves, obligingly filled me in on a wealth of juicy facts and technical tidbits: the types of jets used by both American and foreign carriers, fuel capacities and speeds, altitudes, weight limits, passenger capacities, number of crewmen, weight limits and other such goodies.

I learned, for instance, that a large number of commercial airline pilots are drawn from the military. Those without an air force or naval aviation background had come up from small, bush-league airlines or were graduates of private flying schools such as Embry-Riddle, I was told.

Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida, is the most respected, and probably the largest, commercial flight-training school in the nation, I was informed. It’s the Notre Dame of the air. A kid out of high school, with no knowledge of aeronautics whatsoever, could enter ground school at Embry-Riddle and leave several years later able to fly any current jet liner.

«Those of our pilots who didn’t come to us from the air force or the navy came to us from Embry-Riddle,» said one airline flack pridefully.

I knew nothing about the military. I couldn’t tell a private from a vice admiral. So I awarded myself a scholarship to Embry-Riddle, graduated fantasy cum laude, and then gave myself a few years of mythical experience with Eastern Airlines.

As my knowledge of airlines and airline terminology broadened, my confidence returned. I opened a checking account in the name of Frank Williams, with a post-office box address, and when my order for two hundred personalized checks arrived general delivery, I tried cashing a few checks in my guise as an airline pilot.

It was like going on safari in the Bronx Zoo. Cashiers couldn’t get the money out of the tills fast enough. Most of them didn’t even ask for identification. I shoved my phony ID card and my ersatz pilot’s license in their faces anyway. I didn’t want my handiwork to go unnoticed. The first couple of checks I wrote were good. The others had all the value of bubble-gum wrappers.

I started hanging around La Guardia regularly, not with any intentions of catching a flight, but to meet airline personnel and to eavesdrop on airline talk. Testing my vocabulary, so to speak. I shunned Kennedy, since Pan Am operated out of there. I was afraid that the first Pan Am pilot I encountered at Kennedy would recognize me as a fraud, court-martial me on the spot and strip me of my wings and buttons.

At La Guardia I made out like a possum in a persimmon tree. Some books are judged by their covers, it seems, and in my uniform I was an immediate best seller. I’d walk into a coffee shop, where there would usually be a dozen or more pilots or other crewmen taking a break, and invariably someone would invite me to join him or them. More often it was them, for airline people tend to gaggle like geese. It was the same in cocktail lounges around the airport. I never took a drink in the bars, since I had yet to try alcohol and wasn’t sure how it would affect me, but no one questioned my abstinence.

Any pilot, I’d learned, could gracefully decline a drink by pleading the required «twelve hours between the bottle and the throttle.» It apparently never occurred to anyone that I’d never seen a throttle. I was always accepted at par value. I wore the uniform of a Pan Am pilot, therefore I must be a Pan Am pilot. Barnum would have loved airline people.

I didn’t do a lot of talking initially. I usually let the conversations flow around me, monitoring the words and phrases, and within a short time I was speaking airlinese like a native. La Guardia, for me, was the Berlitz of the air.

Some of my language books were absolutely gorgeous. I guess the stewardesses just weren’t that used to seeing a really young pilot, one that appeared to be an age peer. «Hel-looo!» one would say in passing, putting a pretty move on me, and the invitation in her voice would be unmistakable. I felt I could turn down only so many invitations without seeming to be rude, and I was soon dating several of the girls. I took them to dinner, to the theater, to the ballet, to the symphony, to night clubs and to movies. Also to my place or their place.

I loved them for their minds.

The rest of them was wonderful, too. But for the first time I was more interested in a girl’s knowledge of her work than in her body. I didn’t object, of course, if the one came with the other. A bedroom can be an excellent classroom.

I was an apt student. I mean, it takes a certain degree of academic concentration to learn all about airline travel-expense procedures, say, when someone is biting you on the shoulder and digging her fingernails into your back. It takes a dedicated pupil to say to a naked lady, «Gee, is this your flight manual? It’s a little different from the ones our stewardesses use.»

I picked their brains discreetly. I even spent a week in a Massachusetts mountain resort with three stewardesses, and not one of them was skeptical of my pilot’s status, although there were some doubts expressed concerning my stamina.

Don’t get the impression that stewardesses, as a group, are promiscuous. They aren’t. The myth that all stewardesses are passionate nymphs is just that, a myth. If anything, «stews» are more circumspect and discriminating in their sexual lives than women in other fields. The ones I knew were all intelligent, sophisticated and responsible young women, good in their jobs, and I didn’t make out en masse. The ones who were playmates would have hopped into bed with me had they been secretaries, nurses, bookkeepers or whatever. Stews are good people. I have very pleasant memories of the ones I met, and if some of the memories are more pleasant than others, they’re not necessarily sexually oriented.

I didn’t score at all with one I recall vividly. She was a Delta flight attendant whom I’d met during my initial studies of airline jargon. She had a car at the airport and offered to drive me back to Manhattan one afternoon.

«Would you drop me at the Plaza?» I requested as we walked through the lobby of the terminal. «I need to cash a check and I’m known there.» I wasn’t known there, but I intended to be.

The stewardess stopped and gestured at the dozens of airline ticket counters that lined every side of the huge lobby. There must be more than a hundred airlines that have ticket facilities at La Guardia. «Cash your check at one of those counters. Any one of them will take your check.»

«They will?» I said, somewhat surprised but managing to conceal the fact. «It’s a personal check and we don’t operate out of here, you know.»

She shrugged. «It doesn’t matter,» she said. «You’re a Pan Am pilot in uniform, and any airline here will take your personal check as a courtesy. They do that at Kennedy, don’t they?»

«I don’t know. I’ve never had occasion to cash a check at a ticket counter before,» I said truthfully.

American’s counter was the nearest. I walked over and confronted a ticket clerk who wasn’t busy. «Can you cash a $100 personal check for me?» I asked, checkbook in hand.

«Sure, be glad to,» he said, smiling, and took the bouncing beauty with barely a glance at it. He didn’t even ask me for identification.

I had occasion to cash checks at airline counters frequently thereafter. I worked La Guardia like a fox on a turkey ranch. The air facility was so immense that the risk of my being caught was minimal. I’d cash a check at the Eastern counter, for instance, then go to another section of the terminal and tap some other airline’s till. I was cautious. I never went back to the same counter twice. I worked a condensed version of the scam at Newark, and hit Teterboro a few elastic licks. I was producing rubber faster than a Ceylon planter.

Every gambler has a road game. Mine was hitting the hotels and motels where airline crews put up in transit. I even bought a round-trip airline ticket to Boston, an honest ticket paid for with dishonest money, and papered Logan Airport and its surrounding crew hostelries with scenic chits before scurrying back to New York.

Flushed with success, emboldened by the ease with which I passed myself off as a pilot, I decided I was finally ready for «Operation Deadhead.»

I’d been living in a walk-up flat on the West Side. I’d rented the small apartment under the name Frank Williams and I’d paid my rent punctually and in cash. The landlady, whom I saw only to tender the rent money, thought I worked in a stationery store. None of the other tenants knew me and I’d never appeared around the building in my pilot’s uniform. I had no telephone and I’d never received mail at the address.

When I packed and left the flat, there was no trail to follow. The best bell-mouthed hound in the Blue Ridge Mountains couldn’t have picked up my spoor.

I took a bus to La Guardia and went to Eastern’s operations office. There were three young men working behind the enclosure’s counter. «Yes, sir, can I help you?» one of them asked.

«I need to deadhead to Miami on your next flight, if you’ve got room,» I said, producing my sham Pan Am ID.

«We’ve got one going out in fifteen minutes, Mr. Williams,» he said. «Would you like to make that one, or wait until our afternoon flight? The jump seat’s open on either one.»

I didn’t want to tarry. «I’ll take this flight,» I said. «It’ll give me more time on the beach.»

He slid a pink form toward me. I’d never seen one before, but it was familiar because of my interview with the helpful Pan Am captain. The information elicited was minimal: name, company, employee number and position. I filled it out, handed it back to him and he popped off the top copy and handed it to me. I knew that was my boarding pass.

Then he picked up the telephone and asked for the FAA tower, and my stomach was suddenly full of yellow butterflies.

«This is Eastern,» he said. «We’ve got a jump on Flight 602 to Miami. Frank Williams, co-pilot, Pan Am.... Okay, thanks.» He hung up the telephone and nodded toward a door outside the glass window. «You can go through there, Mr. Williams. The aircraft is boarding at the gate to your left.»

It was a 727. Most of the passengers had already boarded. I handed my pink slip to the stewardess at the door to the aircraft and turned toward the cockpit like I’d been doing this for years. I felt cocky and debonair as I stowed my bag in the compartment indicated by the stewardess and squeezed through the small hatch into the cabin.

«Hi, I’m Frank Williams,» I said to the three men seated inside. They were busy with what I later learned was a check-off list, and ignored me except for nods of acceptance.

I looked around the instrument-crammed cabin and the butterflies started flying again. I didn’t see a jump seat, whatever a jump seat looked like. There were only three seats in the cockpit and all of them were occupied.

Then the flight engineer looked up and grinned. «Oh, sorry,» he said, reaching behind me and closing the cabin door. «Have a seat.»

As the door closed, a tiny seat attached to the floor clicked down. I eased down into the small perch, feeling the need for a cigarette. And I didn’t smoke.

No one said anything else to me until we were airborne. Then the captain, a ruddy-faced man with tints of silver in his brown hair, introduced himself, the-co-pilot and the flight engineer. «How long you been with Pan Am?» asked the captain, and I was aware from his tone that he was just making conversation.

«This is my eighth year,» I said, and wished immediately I’d said six.

None of the three evinced any surprise, however. It apparently was a tenure compatible with my rank. «What kind of equipment are you on?» queried the co-pilot.

«Seven-o-sevens,» I said. «I was on DC—8s until a couple of months ago.»

Although I felt like I was sitting on a bed of hot coals all the way to Miami, it was really ridiculously easy. I was asked where I had received my training and I said Embry-Riddle. I said Pan Am had hired me right out of school. After that, the conversation was desultory and indifferent and mostly among the three Eastern officers. Nothing else was directed toward me that might threaten my assumed status. At one point the co-pilot, who was handling traffic, handed me a pair of earphones and asked if I wanted to listen in, but I declined, saying I preferred a rock station. That brought a laugh. I did monitor their talk diligently, storing up the slang phrases that passed among them and noting how they used the airline jargon. They were all three married and a lot of their conversation centered around their families.

The stewardess who served the cabin was a cute little brunette. When I went to the toilet I stopped en route back to the cockpit and engaged her in a conversation. I learned she was laying over in Miami and before I returned to the cabin I had made a date with her for that night. She was staying with a girl friend who lived there.

I thanked the flying officers before deplaning. They casually wished me luck and the captain said the jump seat was generally available «anytime you need it.»

I’d never been to Miami before. I was impressed and excited by the colorful tropical vegetation and the palms around the terminal, the warm sun and the bright, clean air. The lack of tall buildings, the seeming openness of the landscape, the gaudy and casual attire of the people milling around the airport terminal made me feel like I’d been set down in a strange and wonderful land. I was inside the terminal before I realized I didn’t have the slightest idea where Pan Am housed its people in Miami. Well, there was an easy way to find out.

I walked up to the Pan Am ticket counter and the girl behind the counter, who was busy with passengers, excused herself and stepped over to face me. «Can I help you?» " she asked, looking at me curiously.

«Yes,» I said. «This is my first layover in Miami. I’m here on a replacement status. I normally don’t fly trips in here, and I came in such a hurry that no one told me where the hell we stay here. Where do we lay over here?»

«Oh, yes, sir, we stay at the Skyway Motel if it’s going to be less than twenty-four hours,» she responded, suddenly all aid and assistance.

«It will be,» I said.

«Well, it’s only a short distance,» she said. «You can wait on the crew bus or you can just take a cab over there. Are you going to take a cab?»

«I think so,» I replied. I knew I was going to take a cab. I wasn’t about to get on a bus full of real Pan Am flight people.

«Wait a minute, then,» she said and stepped over to her station. She opened a drawer and took out a claim-check-sized card and handed it to me. «Just give that to any of the cab drivers out front. Have a good stay.»

Damned if it wasn’t a ticket for a free cab ride, good with any Miami cab firm. Airline people lived in the proverbial land of milk and honey, I thought as I walked out of the terminal. I liked milk and I knew I was in the right hive when I checked in at the motel. I registered under my phony name and put down General Delivery, New York, as my address. The registration clerk took the card, glanced at it, then stamped «airline crew» in red ink across its face.

«I’ll be checking out in the morning,» I said.

She nodded. «All right. You can sign this now if you want, and you won’t have to stop by here in the morning.»

«I’ll just sign it in the morning,» I replied. «I might run up some charges tonight.» She shrugged and filed the card.

I didn’t see any Pan Am crewmen around the motel. If there were any around the pool, where a lively crowd was assembled, I drew no attention from them. In my room, I changed into casual attire and called the Eastern stewardess at the number she’d given me.

She picked me up in her friend’s car and we had a ball in the Miami Beach night spots. I didn’t put any moves on her, but I wasn’t being gallant. I was so turned on by the success of my first adventure as a bogus birdman that I forgot about it. By the time I remembered, she’d dropped me at the Skyway and gone home.

I checked out at 5:30 the next morning. There was only a sleepy-faced night clerk on duty when I entered the lobby. He took my key and gave me my room bill to sign.

«Can I get a check cashed?» I asked as I signed the tab.

«Sure, do you have your ID card?» he said.

I handed it to him and wrote out a check for $100, payable to the hotel. He copied the fictitious employee number from my fake ID card onto the back of the check and handed me back my ID and five $20 bills. I took a cab to the airport and an hour later deadheaded to Dallas on a Braniff flight. The Braniff flight officers were not inquisitive at all, but I had a few tense moments en route. I wasn’t aware that Pan Am didn’t fly out of Dallas. I was aware that deadheading pilots were always supposed to be on business.

«What the hell are you going to Dallas for?» the co-pilot asked in casually curious tones. I was searching for a reply when he gave me the answer. «You in on a charter or something?»

«Yeah, freight,» I said, knowing Pan Am had worldwide freight service, and the subject was dropped.

I stayed overnight at a motel used by flight crews of several airlines, stung the inn with a $100 bum check when I left in the morning and deadheaded to San Francisco immediately. It was a procedural pattern I followed, with variations, for the next two years. Modus operandi, the cops call it.

Mine was a ready-made scam, one for which the airlines, motels and hotels set themselves up. The hotels and motels around metropolitan or international airports considered it just good business, of course, when they entered into agreements with as many airlines as possible to house transit flight crews. It assured the hostelries of at least a minimum rate of occupancy, and no doubt most of the operators felt the presence of the pilots and stewardesses would attract other travelers seeking lodging. The airlines considered it a desirable arrangement because the carriers were guaranteed room space for their flight crews, even during conventions and other festive affairs when rooms were at a premium. I know from numerous conversations on the subject that the flight crews liked the plan whereby the airlines were billed directly for lodging and allotted meals. It simplified their expense-account bookkeeping.

The deadheading arrangement between airlines everywhere in the world was also a system based on good business practices. It was more than a courtesy. It afforded a maximum of mobility for pilots and co-pilots needed in emergency or essential situations.

However, supervision, auditing or other watchdog procedures concerning the agreements and arrangements were patently, at least during that period, lax, sloppy or nonexistent. Airport security, understandably, was minimal at the time. Terrorist raids on terminals and plane hijackings were yet to become the vogue. Airports, small cities that they are in themselves, had a low crime ratio, with theft the common problem.

No one, apparently, save under extreme circumstances, ever went behind the pink «jump» forms and checked out the requesting pilot’s bona fides. The deadheading form consisted of an original and two copies. I was given the original as a boarding pass and I gave that to the stewardess in charge of boarding. I knew the operations clerk always called the FAA tower to inform the tower operators that such-and-such flight would have a jump passenger aboard, but I didn’t know that a copy of the pink pass was given the FAA. Presumably, the third copy was kept in the operations files of the particular airline. An airline official who made a statement to police concerning my escapades offered what seemed to him a logical explanation:

«You simply don’t expect a man in a pilot’s uniform, with proper credentials and obvious knowledge of jump procedures, to be an impostor, dammit!»

But I have always suspected that the majority of the jump forms I filled out ended up in the trash, original and both copies.

There were other factors, too, that weighed the odds in my favor. I was not at first a big operator. I limited the checks I cashed at motels, hotels and airline counters to $100, and not infrequently I was told there wasn’t enough cash on hand to handle a check for more than $50 or $75. It always took several days for one of my worthless checks to traverse the clearing-house routes to New York, and by the time the check was returned stamped «insufficient funds,» I was a long time gone. The fact that I had a legitimate (on the face of it, at least) account had a bearing on my success also. The bank didn’t return my checks with the notation «worthless,» «fraudulent» or «forgery.» They merely sent them back marked «insufficient funds to cover.»

Airlines and hostelries do a volume business by check. Most of the checks returned to them because of insufficient funds aren’t attempts to defraud. It’s usually a bad case of the shorts on the part of the people who tendered the checks. In most instances, such persons are located and their checks are made good. In many cases involving checks I passed, the checks were first placed for collection before any attempt to locate me was made through Pan Am. In many other instances, I’m sure, the victimized business simply wrote off the loss and didn’t pursue the matter.

Those who did usually turned the matter over to local police, which further aided and abetted me. Very few police departments, if any, have a hot-check division or bunco squad that is adequately staffed, not even metropolitan forces.

And no detective on any police force is burdened with a case load heavier than the officer assigned to the check-fraud detail. Fraudulent check swindles are the most common of crimes, and the professional paperhanger is the wiliest of criminals, the hardest to nab. That’s true today and it was true then, and it’s no reflection on the abilities or determination of the officers involved. Their success ratio is admirable when you consider the number of complaints they handle daily. Such policemen usually work on priorities. Say a team of detectives is working on a bum-check operation involving phony payroll checks that’s bilking local merchants of $10,000 weekly, obviously the handiwork of a ring. They also have a complaint from a jeweler who lost a $3,000 ring to a hot-check artist. And one from a banker whose bank cashed a $7,500 counterfeit cashier’s check. Plus a few dozen cases involving resident forgers. Now they’re handed a complaint from a motel manager who says he lost $100 to a con artist posing as an airline pilot. The offense occurred two weeks past.

So what do the detectives do? They make the routine gestures, that’s what. They ascertain the man’s New York address is a phony. They learn Pan Am has no such pilot on its payroll. Maybe they go so far as to determine the impostor bilked the one airline out of a free ride to Chicago, Detroit, Philadelphia, Los Angeles or some other distant point. They put a message to whichever city is appropriate on the police teletype and pigeonhole the complaint for possible future reference, that’s what they do. They’ve done as much as they could.

And like the bumblebee, I kept flying and making honey on the side.

So it’s not too amazing that I could operate so freely and brazenly when you consider the last two factors in my hypothesis. The National Crime Information Center (NCIC) did not exist as a police tool during the period. Had I had to contend with the computerized police link, with its vast and awesome reservoir of criminal facts and figures, my career would probably have been shortened by years. And lastly, I was pioneering a scam that was so implausible, so seemingly impossible and so brass-balled blatant that it worked.

In the last months of my adventures, I ran into a Continental captain with whom I had deadheaded a couple of times. It was a tense moment for me, but he dispelled it with the warmth of his greeting. Then he laughed and said, «You know, Frank, I was talking to a Delta stewardess a couple of months ago and she said you were a phony. I told her that was bullshit, that you’d handled the controls of my bird. What’d you do to that girl, boy, kick her out of bed?»

My adventures. The first few years that’s exactly what they were for me, adventures. Adventures in crime, of course, but adventures nonetheless.

I kept a notebook, a surreptitious journal in which I jotted down phrases, technical data, miscellaneous information, names, dates, places, telephone numbers, thoughts and a collection of other data I thought was necessary or might prove helpful.

It was a combination log, textbook, little black book, diary and airline bible, and the longer I operated, the thicker it became with entries. One of the first notations in the notebook is «glide scopes.» The term was mentioned on my second deadhead flight and I jotted it down as a reminder to learn what it meant. Glide scopes are runway approach lights used as landing guides. The journal is crammed with all sorts of trivia that was invaluable to me in my sham role. If you’re impersonating a pilot it helps to know things like the fuel consumption of a 707 in flight (2,000 gallons an hour), that planes flying west maintain altitudes at even-numbered levels (20,000 feet, 24,000 feet, etc.) while east-bound planes fly at odd-numbered altitudes (19,000 feet, 27,000 feet, etc.), or that all airports are identified by code (LAX, Los Angeles; JFK or LGA, New York, etc.).

Little things mean a lot to a big phony. The names of every flight crew I met, the type of equipment they flew, their route, their airline and their base went into the book as some of the more useful data.

Like I’d be deadheading on a National flight.

«Where you guys out of?»

«Oh, we’re Miami-based.»

A sneak look into my notebook, then: «Hey, how’s Red doing? One of you’s gotta know Red O’Day. How is that Irishman?»

All three knew Red O’Day. «Hey, you know Red, huh?»

«Yeah, I’ve deadheaded a couple of times with Red. He’s a great guy.»

Such exchanges reinforced my image as a pilot and usually averted the mild cross-examinations to which I’d been subjected at first.

Just by watching and listening I became adept in other things that enhanced my pose. After the second flight, whenever I was offered a pair of earphones with which to listen in on airline traffic, I always accepted, although a lot of pilots preferred a squawk box, in which case no earphones were needed.

I had to improvise a lot. Whenever I’d deadhead into a city not used by Pan Am, such as Dallas, and didn’t know which motels or hotels were used by airline crews, I’d simply walk up to the nearest airline ticket counter. «Listen, I’m here to work a charter that’s coming in tomorrow. Where do the airlines stay around here?» I’d ask.

I was always supplied with the name or names of a nearby inn or inns. I’d pick one, go there and register, and I was never challenged when I asked that Pan Am be billed for my lodging. All they asked was Pan Am’s address in New York.

At intervals I’d hole up in a city for two or three weeks for logistics purposes. I’d open an account in, say, a San Diego bank, or a Houston bank, giving the address of an apartment I’d rented for the occasion (I always rented a pad that could be had on a month-to-month basis), and when my little box of personalized checks arrived, I would pack up and take to the airways again.

I knew I was a hunted man, but I was never sure how closely I was being pursued or who was in the posse those first two years. Any traveling con man occasionally gets the jitters, certain he’s about to be collared, and I was no exception. Whenever I got a case of the whibbies, I’d go to earth like a fox.

Or with a fox. Some of the girls I dated came on pretty strong, making it apparent they thought I was marriage material. I had a standing invitation from several to visit them in their homes for a few days and get to know their parents. When I felt the need to hide out, I’d drop in on the nearest one and stay for a few days or a week, resting and relaxing. I hit it off well with the parents in every instance. None of them ever found out they were aiding and abetting a juvenile delinquent.

When I felt the situation was cool again, I’d take off, promising the particular girl that I’d return soon and we’d talk about our future. I never went back, of course. I was afraid of marriage.

Besides, my mother would not have permitted it. I was only seventeen.