chapter 54

On The Lam

    Well, if things don't always work out for the best, they don't necessarily

always work out for the worse, either. That was more or less the outcome

with Bob's airplane. All sorts of folks has been upset when that airplane

showed up missing that next morning, but within a week or so it all blew

over.

    Meanwhile, somebody had discovered the missing aircraft at Kingsville

and flown it to Hondo, where it found itself in the back of some big old

hanger, with a great big padlock on the door.

    I never really knew what happened. I do know that nobody was fooled

about Bob's insistence of innocence in the disappearance of his aircraft.

But then, everybody in that part of the world knew Bob, and nobody was

overly surprised, except for the Feds.

    The man from the EPA, who arrived bright and early at the reported

scene and was the first to discover that there was no airplane parked

anywhere along that road, wanted to get hold of the F.B.I., and call in the

Federal Marshall's office, etc. The DEA inspectors, who should have known

better, wanted to put Bob in jail.

    But the F.A.A. man from Corpus Christi, and the local sheriff, and the

local judge, and of course, the old Border Patrol hands, kind of figured that

the joke was on them, and didn't get all that upset about it. I think it was

one of the old Border Patrol pilots who managed to see that a lot of the

paperwork got misdirected. After all, they didn't want anything too serious

to happen to their best source of border intelligence.

    When the FAA inspector, who had known Bob for years, sarcastically

asked him why he didn't file a stolen aircraft report with the Webb County

Sheriff, Bob explained that, "... Well, maybe in time that old airplane will

just turn itself in."

    "Yeah, sure," said the FAA man.

    As for me, by that time I had a perfect alibi. The only person who could

actually implicate me in the crime was The Corpus Christi Kid, and he

wasn't talking. As a matter of fact, nobody ever asked him.

    For the first week of my exile I didn't have any idea in the world what

was going on. I didn't want to know. I didn't see anybody I knew, and

didn't make any phone calls. I figured that if anybody was looking for me,

they were going to have to come and find me. Actually, nobody was

looking for me. They were all sitting around The Old Laredo Airport and

laughing in their beer.

    My biggest concern was with my airplane. I had no way of knowing if it

had been discovered. I didn't know if it had been inspected and found to

be "... lacking certain items essential to the safety of flight." I didn't know

if it had been grounded. I didn't know if it had been impounded. I didn't

know if it had been gored to death by some 2000 pound Santa Gertrudis

bull.

    As it turned out, it had been stolen.

    After about a week, me and the Corpus Christi Kid sneaked back west

toward Laredo. But we were not on the way to Laredo. Our destination

was that same little Farm & Ranch road we had last visited. We were

carrying three five-gallon cans of gasoline.

    I intended to pour that 15 gallons of gas into my fuel tank and fly north

to Crystal City. There was a hanger there that I knew I could put her in

until I found out what was going on. I figured that if I could just get my

airplane stuck away somewhere where it would be safe, I could then figure

out what to do next.

    We didn't see a single other vehicle once we turned down that

lonesome little Farm & Ranch road. We pulled up to the gate that led back

to the little dirt strip where I had left my airplane. I knew the combination

to the lock on that gate, and once inside, we followed that little road for

over two miles back into the brush country. At the end of that little rut

road we found the dirt airstrip. But there was nothing on it.

    We headed for Laredo. I was worried sick. Every mile we got closer to

Laredo, the madder I got. That old beat-up airplane was just about the

only thing I owned in this world that was worth anything. It wasn't worth

much, but it was mine.

    On the outskirts of Laredo, I found a pay phone and called Bob's

number out at the airport. I wasn't going to admit to anybody that I was

back in town, not until I found out what was going on. Bob himself

answered the phone.

    He was in a great mood. The first thing he wanted to know was where I

was calling from. I had made up my mind to pretend to be calling from

Dallas, but instead, I just changed the subject.

    "Where the hell is my airplane?" I demanded.

    "How the hell should I know?" he replied.

    "Well, it sure as hell ain't where I left it!", I said.

    "Ain't where you left it?", Bob asked with mock surprise.

    "Hell no, it ain't where I left it! It's gone!", I hollered into the phone.

"It's gone from that strip where I left it parked, and YOU damned well

know where it is!"

    "Well, I'll be damned!," Bob said, his voice all phony. "I guess some

son-of-a-bitch done stole your airplane!"

    "Hey! Don't give me any of your bull-shit," I hollered into the phone. "I

want to know where my airplane is! You know, damnit! I know you know!

You know where it is and I damn well intend to find out! You can just

pack-up all your bull-shit and tell me what the hell's going on!

    "Ah, don't get all augured-in," Bob said. "Come on out to the airport.

Your beat-up old wreck of an airplane is just fine." I guess he knew all

along that I was in town.

    At the airport, Bob was tickled to death to see me. He had something

he wanted to show me. It was my airplane. She was tucked in the back of

his hanger just as snug as could be.

    I almost didn't recognize her at first. She had been washed, and even

waxed! Somebody had ground off all the layers of scale and crud that had

built up on her for years like rings on a tree. She even had a few dings

prettied-up here and there. My famous landing light/galvanized

tin/air-conditioning duct tape repair on the left wing had been completely

removed and fared in with as slick a repair as ever came out of a Boeing

Aircraft maintenance facility.

    I was happy to see her. She sure looked a lot better. But she still

smelled just as bad as ever.

    I never learned how my airplane got back to Laredo. I never asked. I

didn't want to know. I didn't want to talk about it. I was still sticking to my

story of being out of town for the last month. According to my story, my

airplane had never been anywhere near that little Farm & Ranch road in

the first place.

    But I sure was glad to see her tucked away in the back of that hangar.

    I know it wasn't Bob who flew her out. It could have been any number

of other guys. More than likely, it was some Border Patrol pilot. So if it

happens that whoever it was who stole my airplane back to Laredo

happens to be reading this story, I want you to know that I really

appreciated it.

    I never said it before, but "Thanks."

 

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