An airplane packed with people is nauseating eight hours into the flight. Pocket-sized seats, stale air, and constant noise—mixed with alcohol and air pressures inflating intestinal gases—become bad and the mind snaps and goes into a tailspin.
When they were boarding earlier that morning, there was an air of confidence about them; they were on a dream vacation, moving to a new town, or landing that big deal. Now, it was about to become their trip to hell.
Whiski Prokopo didn’t mind the discomforts, for he was daydreaming about playing golf on his layover in Hawaii. Carrying two cover stories on a case with no leads wasn’t his idea of a great assignment, and he needed a break. A twenty-year veteran of the FBI, he was more than prepared to deal with a terrorist, being a six-foot-four black belt with a SIG P229 holstered to his back. Lost baggage, heavy turbulence, and delayed flights aside, the only perpetrators he had ever encountered while flying were a drunken marine that barfed on his lap, a malfunctioning toilet that dyed his backside blue, and a seatmate that didn’t have the courtesy to say she would be dead on arrival.
He was more than prepared, as long as it went down in business or tourist class—not first class, the most likely place for a hijacker to strike. First class—the only place where air marshals couldn’t sit!
Euripides too was more than prepared. He swung his arm around a flight attendant’s neck and squeezed, making her choke and struggle helplessly. Wrestling her into a headlock, he pointed a gun to her temple and shouted, “Surrender or she dies!” The first-class passengers gasped and dared not help her.
When Whiski heard a woman shriek, “He’s got a gun!” he looked up the aisle and saw the hijacker coming, threatening to kill the terrified flight attendant. He unbuckled but didn’t draw his pistol.
Ten shots max, he thought. Wait till he passes and then shoot him in the back five times. But that’ll blow my cover. I’ll have to ID myself, and they’ll find out everything. I’ll blow the whole damn operation.
Euripides stood with his back toward the galley and shouted again, “Surrender or she dies. I know you’re out there. Get up and fight, you pussies!”
It was the worst possible scenario—a terrorist hiding behind a hostage held at gunpoint. SOP for a cop on the street was to call for the SWAT team, but on an airplane at 35,000 feet over the Pacific, it was SOL. Whiski could aim for the hijacker’s head and do the job, but he was sure of only one thing—that blowing the hijacker’s brains out was not his job. He waited for an air marshal to make a move.
“I’ll give you ten seconds,” Euripides demanded, “or I’ll waste her.”
Thousands of air marshals, millions of miles, and nothing. And now this. What are they waiting for?
“Ten! Nine! Eight!”
Uncover infiltrators. Find bad air marshals. That’s all.
“Seven! Six! Five!”
I could save her life. Blow his head off!
“Three! Two! One!”
Euripides pulled the trigger but nothing happened. He let go of the flight attendant to pull back the slide on his Glock and chamber a round.
It’s my chance! I can’t ask for a better shot. Abort the mission and save her life!
Just as Whiski reached for his SIG, the flight attendant pushed Euripides away, and the pilot threw the plane into a nosedive, sending the hijacker tumbling to the floor. A passenger picked up the Glock and shot three rounds into his back, making him….
“YUCK!” John hears himself say in disgust.
“Excuse me?” the woman next to him says, thinking his exclamation is finger-pointing for something in the air, smelly, perhaps.
He replies, “Nothing. It’s not you. It’s the opening. It sinks.”
“The opening? Opening to what?”
“Most Wanted,” John acknowledges and points to the computer screen.
“Oh, I see,” she says, “Your book Most Wanted. I see. Say, then you must be John Barefoot. You were just on Oprah, weren’t you? Yesterday! How delightful, flying next to John Barefoot. Hi, I’m Marge Fornai.”
“Hi, Marge,” he says.
“I thought about reading it, but I dare say few people would rather read a book on a plane than watch a movie.”
“Well, I’m working on that too.”
“You mean a screenplay? Hollywood?”
“First a promo in Frisco.”
“Sounds exciting. What’s the book about?”
“A hijacking? A book about a hijacking on an airplane? How’d you manage that?”
“I have a good agent.”
For Marge, the encounter is sweet chance—engaging conversation with a best-selling author, eavesdropping on creativity in the raw, and revisiting the blissful days of poetry and love. For John though, being nice about her flattery just shy of flirtation, there’s no place for her in his screenplay. He is sure of that.
“I didn’t intend to be,” she says, although her mark is already on him. “You have to excuse me. What else would you expect from a former lit major?”
“Worship,” he says jokingly. Middle-aged, well doctored, and full of business, she is not a woman with whom he’d cheat on his wife.
“Then this must be your national tour?”
“Full blown,” he says. “I’ll be on the Tonight Show Thursday.”
“Oh, my God, how splendid.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. I have something urgent to tell you. Please do not be alarmed, but this plane is being hijacked. We are sorry that this has happened, but we will do everything in our power to ensure your safety. Foremost, we must listen to the demands of the hijacker. Please remain seated and do not do anything foolish. He has assured me that no one will be harmed if we obey his orders, so please be calm and wait for further instructions. We will do exactly as he says.”
“A hijacking?” John says. “On my plane? This can’t be. Do you see anyone? I can’t see anyone from this seat.”
Marge looks up and down the aisle. “I don’t see anyone,” she says. “Not even a flight attendant.” She looks back at him and says, “Are you frightened?”
“Do I look it? Maybe I should be, but I don’t feel frightened.”
“We’ve been so absorbed. Maybe he walked right past us, and we didn’t see him.”
Someone sitting behind—man or woman, the sound is universal—barfs in an air sickness bag, provoking Marge to say, “Good Lord.”
“This is not supposed to happen. I mean, I thought the brain scanners were foolproof. Supposed to weed out the criminal mind and the like.”
“Maybe it’s an inside job.”
“Either that or he’s got an invisible brain, or maybe a device that hides his intentions.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain again. The hijacker has informed me that he is not a hijacker. He states that…please bear with me as I read his note…that his name is Sky King. I am not now, never have been, and never will be a hijacker. And you can’t make me one. But if you don’t comply with my demands, everyone on this plane will go down. End quote. Ladies and gentlemen, do not mistake this. He has a weapon, and it is dangerous. It melted the lock on the flight-deck door. He will not harm us if we meet his demands. So, please remain seated, be calm, and wait for further instructions.”
“How dreadful,” Marge says. “Being hijacked.”
“By Sky King, no less.” John says. “It must be a practical joke.”
“I don’t think so, John. You heard what the captain said.”
“Regardless, I’m still likin’ it,” thinking there could be no better place to publicize his new book. It’s been a long drought for John and now a breakthrough. But whose story is it anyway?
“Listen to those people,” Marge says. “Will they ever...?”
“I’m likin’ it,” John says.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is Sky ‘Jack’ King speaking. There seems to be a misunderstanding that’s causing pandemonium on this plane. As the captain informed you, I am not a hijacker. You only think that I am, and I don’t believe what you think. If you don’t settle down, I’m going to get very upset.”
John begins to laugh.
“Stop it, John. You heard what he said.”
“That’s it,” Sky King announces. “Since you cannot control yourselves, you are all under arrest. And do you know why you cannot control yourselves? Because you suffer from the natural attitude. Your fearful times are your own creations. The leaders know this and exploit your fear with hyperbole, innuendo, and mystery. You are gutless, spiritless twerps, and one of the ringleaders of this conspiracy, a man sitting right beside you, is reaping a fortune. Yes, you know him. He’s the real hijacker. Take a good look at him.”
Marge looks curiously at John.
“What?” John says.
“Nothing,” Marge says.
“Do you see what I mean?” Sky King says. “There’s violence in his eyes. You’ve taken his most exciting, heart-pounding, adrenaline-rushing commercial one too many times. I say stop it! Stop now and be free. Escape from his terrorism. Open your in-flight Internet and go to w w w dot bait and switch dot com. That’s one word, bait and switch. Use your seat number for the pass code to enter the site. I repeat, w w w dot bait and switch dot com followed by your seat number. You must read the whole story, otherwise, I’ll start this ship down a path you won’t live to regret. Cliché, I know, but I mean it. If you have difficulty opening the web site, ask your flight attendants for help. Thank you.”
John surrenders his book to the terrorist, types the web address into the portal, and the book opens quickly.
“ . ”
Dear Passengers & Crew of Pan Am Flight #2:
This is a book that you’re really going to love. It’s called “Bait and Switch.” Now, don’t worry. I’m not a pilot, and I’m not going to crash this plane into the White House. I'm just a simple air marshal who flew airplanes for a living. I did this for many years and millions of miles, working diligently as your guardian, protecting you while you slept, keeping the skies free from terrorists and not getting any credit for it. Then, when the airlines and the government thought they had the war against terror licked, they abolished my job and sent me down to Texas to patrol the border in a Jeep! It took some time for the bad guys to figure it out, but they did, and, some years later, they hijacked four planes, annihilated the Twin Towers, smashed up the Pentagon, and almost took out the Capitol had it not been for some brave passengers on United Flight 93. Total death toll was 2,995, billions of dollars in damage, and untold hours of suffering and mental anguish, all because the government and airlines were too cheap to fly sky marshals. Or was it more than just cheapness? Some say that sky marshals were grounded to lure the terrorists back out into the open. After all, don’t we always need a war to fight, an enemy to hate, and an international crisis to make heroes out of our politicians? To be sure, air marshals returned to duty after 9/11, but what about now, twelve years later? Déjà vu all over again! Do you think the new brain scanners are fail-safe? Did they stop me? And today’s date, 6/15/2013, does it add up to anything?
So, you see, I was a devoted air marshal and sacrificed my identity to an undercover persona that never got a wink of sleep. So now, on behalf of all my colleagues patrolling the border, I'm left with only one alternative. And that’s where you come in.
Take heart! This is not one of those novels for the recreationally challenged sold at airport newsstands. At least you better not think so, or else I’m going to slam this plane into the ocean and your bodies will be scattered for hundreds of miles of shark bait.
Bait and Switch
America’s Most Wanted Novel That Nobody Wants
by Sky “Jack” King
1/Foot in the Door
Andrea sat in an armless chair flanking two crew-cut Customs agents sitting at steel-gray desks joined face-to-face. A large, open window on the other side of the desks offered a beautiful view of Lake Erie. The agents ignored it and stared pensively at their subject, who was enjoying the view and a cool breeze that came gently.
“Cut yourself shaving?” right agent said with a short laugh.
Andrea felt the bandage for a moment, then ripped it off, squeezed it into a little ball, and threw it out the window, making the agents blink.
“Hmm, I see,” right agent said, now noticing a small scar on Andrea’s forehead.
“Good shot,” left agent said.
“You stated here that you were in the Army between sixty-seven and sixty-nine. Ever been to Vietnam?”
“Yes, I was there,” Andrea said.
“Were you a nurse?”
“No,” Andrea said. “I was a WAC enlisted. Long Binh.”
“Ever been wounded?”
Andrea’s face twitched. “Yes, I was, in a rocket attack.”
Left agent licked the tip of his pencil and wrote Virgin in his notebook.
“Ever smoke marijuana?” right agent asked.
One shoots righty, the other lefty, Andrea thought. Great cross-examination technique. They’re veterans too, most likely Korean War. If I lie, they won’t believe me. A trickle of perspiration provoked the response, “Yeah.”
The answer arrested the questioning for a moment, as though the agents had lost the reason for going on. Right agent lit a cigarette and flicked the match out the window. “So, you have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy, and now you’re a grad student at U.B.?”
“Yes,” Andrea said.
“Studying theater?” left agent said.
“I don’t see a conflict here,” right agent said, “but wouldn’t you say that it’s a little unusual, actor one day, sky marshal the next?”
It was a customary question to ask at interviews, like why do you want to become an actor when you studied accounting? And, Andrea was prepared to give a customary answer, like they didn’t teach sky-marshaling in college, or philosophy taught me critical thinking. Instead, Andrea pulled out a slip of paper, placed it on the desk, and said, “I was inspired by this.” On the paper was written: Un simple voyage de Paris à Londres en avion nous donne une révélation du monde que notre imagination ne pouvait nous faire pressentir. H. Matisse
“It’s French,” right agent said, handing the paper to his partner, who too was lost.
“Don’t let it scare you,” Andrea said. “You don’t have to know French to understand it. Look at the words; many are the same in English. Simple. Voyage. Paris. London, Avion. I’m sure that you know avion means airplane. Then there’s revelation, which is the same in English. Monde is world. Notre is our, as in Notre Dame. Imagination, the same also. Ne, which is not. Pressentir, which is presentation or reveal. Now put it all together.”
Andrea waited a moment for a response but, not getting one, said, “A simple trip from Paris to London on an airplane gives us a revelation of the world that our imagination could not reveal.”
“Do you like acting?” right agent said. “You know, sky marshals work undercover and have to develop a cover story.”
“I can speak like a man,” Andrea said. “Want to hear?”
“Go right ahead.”
“Well, we don’t know exactly how Mark Twain sounded, but you’ll get the idea.” Andrea made a loud gargling sound, and then said, ‘Everyone complains about the weather, but no one ever does anything about it.”
“Hey, how’d you do that?” left agent asked.
“Lots of practice,” Andrea said.
“Ever been to the Caribbean?” left agent asked.
“No,” Andrea said.
“Ever get pregnant during your enlistment?”
Andrea thought the question was foul but, realizing that a pregnant sky marshal was somewhat disadvantaged, said, “No.”
Left agent wrote Islands after Virgin in his notebook.
“You see, I can’t get pregnant,” Andrea said.
“You what?” left agent said.
“I can’t get pregnant, because I’m not a woman,” Andrea said. “I’m a man.”
Right agent flipped through Andrea’s file and, when he found the DD-214, said, “I’ll be damned. So you are. Andrew D’Oria. That’s you?”
“I had my name changed,” Andrea said.
“But not your sex,” right agent said.
“Not my sex,” Andrea said.
“Certainly one way to get your foot in the door,” left agent said.
“We’ll be in touch with you, Mister High,” right agent said.
If Andrea had showed up as a man, they would have never hired him. But they did, precisely because he didn’t look like a man. And because his letter of acceptance was addressed to Miss Andrea High, he had no choice but to keep his successful persona going.
“ . ”
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the captain speaking. Please give Mister King your undivided attention.”
“Ladies and gentlemen, I see that you have all visited my site and are reading my book. As a token of my hospitality, I have ordered the captain to land at the nearest airport, refuel the plane for the long haul, and provide each one of you first-class service, which means first-class meals and drinks for everyone. Over a thousand first-class meals, can you dig? I hope you will enjoy yourselves. So, you see, like the captain said, there’s no need to worry. I’m not a terrorist or a suicidal maniac. I want to live just like you. So, cooperate and graduate. Cliché again, but you get the point.
“Once the plane is refueled, you will have approximately fourteen hours of flying time. A seven-ninety-seven blended-wing with great gas mileage! Isn’t that cool? Well, she better because we’ll be flying over the Atlantic. We won’t be going San Franward after all. It’s a backward town anyway. We’ll be going forward to no place in particular. The destination is up to you. So, sit back and relax.
“Before you indulge, there’s something you need to know. The story you are reading has been rejected by scores of publishers. I’m embarrassed to say how many times, so don’t even ask. I lost hope until I came up with the idea to self-publish. But don’t get me wrong. I’m not blaming the book trade. Book marketers might know more about human nature than writers and so-called intellectuals. This occurred to me when I sold several copies of Bait and Switch on eBay for two dollars and ninety-nine cents. They went like hotcakes. They were only uncorrected proofs, but when I listed the final version, the one that had all the right notes in it, no one wanted to buy it. Imagine that, for only five dollars more, a much better book and no one wanted it.
“So, here’s my suggestion. Join a social networking service and tweet the world with a minute-by-minute of what’s going on here. You will have more fans in ten minutes than anyone has had in a lifetime. But don’t forget to read my book.”
“ . ”
The original sky marshal had the greatest powers ever conferred upon a United States law enforcement officer. He could search suspects without a warrant, arrest anyone for false information, and kill anyone for attempting to—even in the slightest way—skyjack an American aircraft. And since the basic policy was to shoot first and ask questions later, the emphasis of the four-week training course was on marksmanship.
The solidity and precision of the police revolver implied that the laws it enforced were also solid and precise. Fitting snuggly in Andrea’s hand, it was the one and only thing he needed, the categorical imperative, the real defender of the law. Not the least bit charitable, it could take away a lot more than it could give. He fell in love with it.
Though this wasn’t the first time he held a gun, he felt nervous on the firing range. He had to first qualify with the standard four-inch revolver in order to receive the coveted two-inch S&W Chief’s special. This shiny, stainless-steel revolver was small and, for men, could be hidden easily inside a belly band and covered by a tie—now fashionably wide—even with one’s suit jacket off. For the four women in the class, concealment was a troubling issue. Those that didn’t qualify with the two-inch had to carry the four-inch in a large purse, a most difficult method of concealment in the tight cabin of an airplane.
The Treasury style of combat, which had evolved over decades fighting bootleggers, counterfeiters, and assassins, was significantly different from the FBI. Not only did Treasury agents carry more powerful weapons, they were trained to use maximum firepower in a face-to-face shootout with an assailant. To fire all the rounds at once rather than take careful aim with one shot at a time was the best technique the sky marshal could use to stop a skyjacker. It was, one instructor remarked, similar to the difference between the Marines’ stress on marksmanship and ammo conservation and the Army’s stress on putting maximum lead on the target.
Andrea scored big on the target and combat ranges using both pistols. The other three women qualified, but only with the four-inch. They were not preferred flying partners.
The government’s attempt to understand air piracy struck Andrea as Hegelian, the goal being to resist the temptation to analyze skyjacker personalities and to concentrate on the history and statistics of skyjacking. In fact, the FAA instructors spoke of air piracy as a virulent disease, which had hit the world in waves—1961-62, 1964-65, and, most recently, 1968-69, when it reached epidemic proportions of four skyjackings per month. The language was amusing but pragmatic, and lacked philosophical insight.
“The airlines and several members of the FAA Task Force set up by the President to develop a plan of attack against air piracy were negative toward the epidemiological model for fear that it would be distorted by the media and deter travelers away from flying. Especially notorious was the government’s eagerness to use its law enforcement authority to deter skyjacking by putting undercover agents aboard U.S. flag-carrying aircraft and conducting searchers of passengers at airports. As one official put it, ‘We cannot afford to have gun battles between sky marshals and hijackers. Shootouts are okay at the O.K. Corral, but not in a crowded airplane five thousand feet over Los Angeles.’ More acceptable to these critics was the development of a profile that could be used by the airlines to identify potential skyjackers and deter air piracy before it gets airborne.
“After analyzing various data and facts about prior air piracies, the Task Force came up with the skyjacker profile. Initial tests of the profile proved promising. It screened out ninety-nine-point-five percent of air passengers, leaving just point-five percent as potential suspects that were interrogated and searched and found to be carrying weapons, fleeing justice, or just mentally deranged. The airlines couldn’t have been more pleased.
“Then in September nineteen-seventy, a new wave hit, a shock-wave felt around the world that made the Cuban skyjackings look like games of cops and robbers. The PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) dubbed it Black September, and their destination—an abandoned airstrip in the Jordanian desert, Revolution Airport.”
The instructor passed around a photo of an Arab woman holding an AK-47 assault rifle. “And this is the mastermind of it all—Leila Khaled. She was arrested in London after a failed attempt to hijack an El Al flight and fly it to Revolution Airport. Four airplanes were taken. A TWA, a Swiss Air, a BOAC, and a Pan Am seven-four-seven that was too large for the desert airstrip but landed in Cairo where it was destroyed by a bomb. Overall, six hundred people were hijacked and the world watched for days as three airliners full of passengers sat helpless in the burning desert sun. President Nixon ordered the Eighty-second Airborne Division on alert, civil war broke out in Jordan, and Israeli tank battalions massed on its borders with Jordan. Negotiations in Cairo between PLO leader Arafat, King Hussein of Jordan, and Abdul Nasser led to Khaled’s release in exchange for all passengers held captive in the desert on three aircraft.
“Especially disturbing was how Khaled and her partner went undisclosed on the El Al flight, and how her other two partners, who had been refused boarding on that same flight, were able to get first-class tickets on a Pan Am flight. The quick thinking pilot of the El Al plane, who went into a nosedive that shook up Khaled enough for the Israeli guards to capture her and shoot her accomplice contrasted sharply with the defenseless Pan Am seven-forty-seven on which two commandoes broke into the cockpit wielding handguns and grenades.”
After hearing this story, none of the sky marshals in the class doubted their importance. But Andrea wrote in the margins of his notebook, Waves are deceptions and phenomena, not things in themselves. Gov’t psychologists and criminologists have no clue.
As important as the job was in deterring international blackmail against the United States, the sky marshals had to work undercover while protecting its citizens. While writing his own cover story, Andrea saw an immense irony in it. If the profile was a sham and didn’t work, how would his cover story—the inverse profile—work?
His first love—philosophy—promised little for his future, but he had chosen to major in it anyway. He bore it as a sacrifice, a cross permanently strapped to his back, the directionless burden of twenty-five centuries that blocked his life from sunlight. Now he would be able to live it in a single word. He knew all the facts, the philosophers and their ideas; now he could bring them to life, not in a classroom of apathetic adolescents, but in the world of corporate executives and dignitaries—the rich and famous. He was not about to have, but to be!
Everyone had heard of existentialism; it was easy to grasp. Throw the words alienation and anguish into the conversation and you were hip. But phenomenology wasn’t hip. It was pure philosophy, and only those that had suffered through two thousand five hundred years of philosophy—not literature—could hope to understand it. It would be his cover story of a cover story, his reason for being, which no one knew anything about.
“I’m a doxologist,” he said during a role-playing session in front of the class. His male voice shocked everyone, even the instructors. Now there were only three females in the room. Andrea wore a fake mustache to make him look even more professorial. “You might not have ever heard this, but it’s a real profession without which no other professions would exist. That’s why you’ve never heard of it.”
“Interesting,” his seatmate said. “What exactly do you do?”
“I’m a believer of all professions. Take the physics experiment that shows how consciousness determines whether a photon of light is a wave or a particle. It can be both at the same time, which puzzles modern science, but in the lab it has been shown to be a particle only when set up for observation. When seen by a conscious observer, it exists. Otherwise it remains a wave and not measurable in space and time.”
The class gave his performance a standing ovation. The instructor praised his cover story as “the most likely to succeed at stopping an unwanted conversation dead in space and time.” The class laughed, giving it merit unintended.
The physical training sessions were little more than aerobics exercises, and the so-called martial arts training was not as rigorous and demanding as portrayed by the media. The Vietnam veterans in the class, especially those with Special Forces and combat experience, thought it was makeshift, practicing the snap-kick ad nauseam until the knees began to burn. The training had obviously been modified, since this was the first class with female trainees, none of whom looked capable of overpowering a skyjacker. And neither did Andrea, who was on the lighter side of being a middleweight. Sky marshals were not supposed to be all heavyweights anyway. They were supposed to look like ordinary passengers and represent the full spectrum of weights, heights, colors, and ages normally found in an airline terminal. He had to team up with someone big and tough enough to back him up, if for some reason guns were not an option.
Matt Bando, who pranced around the training room taunting, “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee!” was just the man. An ex-infantry company commander from the 101st Airborne Division who had seen heavy combat in Vietnam, he was more than ready for action.
As a gesture of friendship, Andrea drove Bando into Arlington to try out an Italian restaurant recommended by the school. His male persona had worked so well in class that he decided to keep it going. Besides, it felt good being himself once again.
Bando liked Andrea for being a Vietnam veteran and a sharpshooter, and, for a woman, not wimpy. But when they sat at the table, he sensed something lost about her. Then, realizing what it was, he said, “For a moment there I thought you were wearing a mustache.”
Andrea’s fingers searched his face, and his eyes hunted for it around the table, but it was gone. He laughed about it and sat back, which gave Bando a better look at him. There was that small hollow on his forehead, now darkened by an overhead lamp, which needed explanation. “I’ve seen a lot of weird wounds, but that one takes the cake. It’s as big as Travolta’s chin cleft. Where’d it happen?”
“Cu Chi. Not-so-friendly fire.”
“Out of the blue….”
“Yeah, out of the blue, but I wasn’t in the Air Force. What about you?” Andrea pointed to Bando’s hand, which was missing its little finger. Bando made a fist that nonetheless was rock solid. “How’d you get a commission?”
“ROTC,” Bando said. “Brooklyn College. Where’d you go to school?”
“SUNY at Buffalo. Was into theater when I got word about this job.”
Andrea’s voice sounded distant and frail, like he was recuperating from a bad cold. It annoyed Bando. “That was a great stunt you pulled in class the other day. How do you do that, sound like a man?”
“Takes a lot of practice. Most actors try a falsetto, but that doesn’t work. Well, it’s good for laughs like Tony Curtis and Jack Lemon in Some Like It Hot, but not for real.”
“But that’s a man sounding like a woman. How do you sound like a man?”
“There’s a way to adjust your voice box so that you can sound that way.”
“Yeah, but your hands are a dead giveaway,” Bando said.
“Yeah, and your neck. You have no Adam’s apple. And your round eyes and face.”
As he was contemplating the suggestion, a guy from a nearby table kicked his chair and said, “Hey, what you lookin’ at?”
“What?” Andrea said.
“My girl said you’re eyeballing her.”
Thinking that this was just a bully wanting to show off for his date, Andrea said, “I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Then why did you look at her?”
“I might have glanced that way, but it wasn’t what you think,” Andrea conceded. “I thought I knew her, that’s all.”
“Then keep your eyes to yourself,” the guy said and returned to his table.
“Why do pretty girls go out with shitheads like that?” Bando said.
“Self preservation,” Andrea said.
The sight of the hot, juicy pizza made Bando salivate. He turned to the girl and grinned like the Cheshire cat. Then he waved at her.
“What’d you do that for?” Andrea said.
Again the guy came over to the table and, without saying a word, flipped a piece onto Andrea’s shirt. “Okay, bitch, apologize!”
Andrea sat motionless with the pizza on his lap, afraid to stand up and defend himself. He had never been in a street fight and doubted that the little he had learned in class would help him beat this madman. His heart started to pound uncontrollably.
“Hey, I said apologize, chicken-shit.”
Andrea knew his fear was showing, and, no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t stop his heart from pounding. Nonetheless, he stood up, hoping that Bando would take the blame.
Bando waited to see how far Andrea would go and, when he started to take a defensive stance, he stood up and said, “Hold it, badass! I’m the one you want.”
The guy sized up Bando, and said, “So, you’re the asshole’s been hittin’ on my girl.”
“You’re the asshole,” Bando said.
Badass lunged forward with a punch but missed, letting Bando push him to the floor. “So, you really want to fight?” Bando said. “Let’s go for it! In the back. The men’s room.”
After they entered the men’s room, Andrea listened intently for the fight but heard nothing. Then, after a few minutes, the guy came out, walked over to his girl, had a few words, and then walked out of the restaurant. Andrea rushed to the door and opened it. Bando came out grinning and said, “Okay, now’s your turn. Go clean up.”
“Clean up?” Andrea said. “What happened?”
Bando tightened his belt and said, “Nothing.”
“Nothing? What do you mean nothing?”
“Exactly what I said. Take a look.”
Andrea went inside cautiously. On the wall above the urinal was a framed poster titled 101 Best Quotes from Gangster Movies. Above the toilet was a picture of The Godfather captioned, I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse. Dumbfounded, he cleaned off his shirt and went back out to the table where Bando was telling the girl about how the Army Rangers had taught him to kill Viet Cong barehanded, and that she was lucky he had let her boyfriend live to see another day.
On the drive back to Fort Belvoir, Andrea felt distraught by the whole incident. He had never been so frightened, not even in Vietnam where his life was constantly in danger. He had been a hero in war, but now was shown-up by a punk in a restaurant. He couldn’t recall ever being as panicky. During mortar and rocket attacks, his heart was always calm and steady. The difference puzzled him. He was, nonetheless, sure he had a good friend and partner. He asked him, “So, how did you do it? I mean, like a piece of magic.”
“Get badass to back down.”
“I just pulled out my little Willy. Mister Badass took one look at it and decided it was too much for him to handle.”
“Your little what?”
Bando leaned back in the seat, pulled out a black pistol, and said, “My Willy P-P.”
“I see,” Andrea said. “A bait and switch,” which made Bando grin.
Since sky marshals were officially Customs Security Officers, they had to be trained in narcotics identification as well. Andrea’s eyes lit up when he heard the instructor say, “And this, ladies and gentlemen, is hashish, which has a euphoric effect on the user ten times greater than marijuana. It takes six hundred and twenty-five pounds of marijuana to yield one pound of hashish. And as promised, we will light some up so that you all will recognize the unmistakable odor.”
When the smoke drifted around the classroom, noisome to some but familiar to others, Andrea thought it was a test to expose the former heads in the class, fearing a stigma would appear on his forehead saying—Junkie! When the instructor held up a half-inch capsule and said, “LSD is an odorless, tasteless, and colorless organic compound that is the most powerful of all hallucinogens,” he was sure that his dream of flying first class for a living was about to drift out the window with the marijuana smoke.
Bando turned around in his seat and gave Andrea the biggest shit-eatin’ grin he had ever seen. Andrea smiled back, but he couldn’t be sure of being fully sanctioned until the powers that be swore him in on graduation day.
Of all the tests given during the final week, the one Andrea dreaded the most was disarming a skyjacker one-on-one. His only chance of succeeding was to drop back in line and hope that after taking the abuse of a dozen students, the man playing the role would be softened up enough to let the gun fly out of his hand with just the slightest punch. After all, how many heavy wallops on the knuckles could he take?
Andrea opened the door and saw the hulk standing in the center of the room, surely the biggest agent in the Secret Service called in especially to play the role of the skyjacker. He closed the door and walked forward, ready to throw in the towel. Up close, the agent looked big enough to shield the President and Vice President combined. He shouted, “It’s a good day to die,” and flashed a gun as if he were throwing a punch, palm down and knuckles up.
The knuckles! The vulnerable knuckles were facing the ceiling and not lined up for Andrea to throw a hook and crack open the grip as he had been taught. In desperation, he threw a hammer punch—sort of an overhand bolo—that hit squarely on the agent’s hand, making the pistol pop out and fall to the floor. Andrea reached down and picked it up, not knowing whether he had actually knocked it out of the agent’s hand or had just shown the proper technique to do so. He didn’t stop to ask and was satisfied passing the test and eventually graduating from the school.
“ . ”
“Looks like we’re coming in for a landing.” Marge says. “I wonder where we are?”
“End of chapter one,” John says. “Boring, isn’t it?”
“It’s got a neat twist.”