chapter 7

The Big Bluff

    The afternoon that I bought N-6662Z, or as I was later wildly accused

of doing, "stole her," I flew straight to Laredo. Bob wasn't overly                                                   

impressed with my purchase.

    "I told you these early model Pawnees burn like a hay stack, didn't I"

he prodded?

    "Yeah," I said.

    He had no comment and started walking around my new airplane with a

sour look on his face.

    "That's how much money I had," I explained.

    "Yeah, yeah," he said. Bob was no stranger to the fundamental

correlation between aircraft safety and money.

    Of course, I was not cavalier on the issue of aircraft safety either. But I

knew full well that many a man before me had gone to work in an A Model

Pawnee. And I knew that this particular airplane had carried other men

through several seasons of agriculture flying and never hurt a one of

them. She had led a long and hazardous life, but she had never been

crashed, not even once. I was convinced that she would treat me well, as

long as I treated her well. I fully appreciated the fact that the Pawnee just

wasn't the kind of airplane a man would want to go around crashing in.

    As it turned out, 62 Zulu safely carried me in and out of many a tight

spot over the next few years. She never let me down, not even once. She

never betrayed me a single time, no matter how thoroughly she was

tempted. In the end, she met her death when I betrayed her.

    But those things were unknown that long-ago summer day, and as Bob

continued his inspection, he hollered at somebody to bring him a writing

tablet. He then went about the job of composing a list of all the things he

found wrong with my new airplane. It was a pretty long list.

    I spent the better part of the next week repairing, adjusting, cleaning,

oiling, painting, and replacing all kinds of nit-picking parts and repairing

problems from one end of that airplane to the other.

    But before I was to do all these things, I was destined to have one more

conversation with the voice in San Antonio. Sure enough, he put in a call

to me at the airport about an hour after dark that same day.

    He was mad. Actually, he was in a screaming rage. He immediately

informed me that he personally knew the sheriff of Webb County (Laredo

is in Webb County). He promised me that I was going to spend that very

night, and many more nights, in the Webb County Jail. He cussed a great

deal, and was in a general all-around way not very polite to me. He didn't

call me "sir" even once. He accused me of "stealing his airplane" about ten

times. He screamed at me that stealing aircraft was a felony "of the

highest order," a serious "federal offense," and that the aircraft would be

"confiscated" at the time of my arrest.

    The guy had me worried. Bad. I was pretty sure that all his raving was

mostly hot air, but then again .... And I had to admit to myself that I

actually hadn't got permission to fly off in that airplane.... but just then I

was starting to feel a little bit guilty, I thought ".... Hey, that's my

airplane! I got a signed Bill of Sale! I paid five thousand, five hundred

United States dollars for that Pawnee! That's my airplane! I oughta' just

tell this guy to go to hell!"

    But what if the Webb County Sheriff really was on his way out to the

airport? I sure didn't want to spend the night in jail. My first thought was

to get in the airplane and fly her to Cotulla before the sheriff showed up.

Then I decided that that would only get the sheriff all worked up, and have

him putting out teletype messages all over South Texas about a "stolen

airplane."

    "Ah Ha!" I thought, "I'll fly her across the border to Nuevo Laredo." But

no, that was not a good idea either. Why create an international incident?

And besides, I could end up in a Mexican jail.

    Finally, I took heart and decided that I would "bluff him out." Problem

was, I didn't have any idea in the world about how to go about bluffing

him out. All the time I was trying to figure out what I was going to do, the

voice from San Antonio never stopped ranting and raving.

    All of a sudden, I realized that he was asking me questions. Actually, it

was only one question he was asking me, but he kept repeating it over

and over. He was insisting, over and over, that I knew perfectly well "not

to remove the aircraft from the premises. .... you knew that, didn't you?

Well, didn't you?.... You knew perfectly well you weren't supposed to fly

that airplane, didn't you? You knew damn good and well that that check

had to clear the bank first, didn't you? .... well, dammit, you knew that!,

didn't you?"

    I didn't tell him I did. I didn't tell him I didn't. I just kept quiet. Keeping

quiet was really no big problem, since there weren't any gaps for me to

talk in anyway. By then I was so worried, and mad, and flustered, that I

was ready to try anything, no matter how desperate. Without in the least

bit thinking about it, I suddenly hollered back at the guy, "You call the

sheriff on me and I'll put a stop-payment on that check!"

    This turned out to be just exactly the right thing to say.

    There was a little spell of silence, and then he screamed at me as loud

as he could, "I'll tell you one thing Buddy-Boy, you put a stop-payment on

that check and I promise you, by gawd, you'll get to know, real quick,

what the inside of a jailhouse looks like."

    He threatened me for a bit more, but I could tell that the wind had gone

out of his argument. Finally, he hung up with a loud bang. I was a bit

rattled by this whole conversation, and when Bob asked me what was

going on, I explained the whole thing to him. I kind of hinted that I had

"bluffed the guy out."

   Bob wasn't a bit impressed one way or the other. "You got the airplane,

don'tcha", he asked? "You got a bill of sale, don'tcha? He's got your

money, don't he? What's the big deal, anyway?" As it turned out, it was

Bob who had the last thing to say about the whole transaction.

 

He said, "Screw that old son-of-a-bitch."

And I never heard another word about it.

 

********

 

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