"RENO, Nov. 25 -- Authorities in four Western states were searching a 500-mile corridor of mountains and river valleys tonight for a hijacker who parachuted from a jet airliner with $200,000 in ransom money."
—The New York Times, 1971
“You understand?” he asks, his colorless eyes staring over the top of his dark-rimmed, even darker-lensed sunglasses. He ogles her breasts, and his eyebrows (equally dark as his windsor hat and sideburns) wiggle up and down as his eyes (too bad she could not make out their color) crinkle in wellworn lines. A woman's magazine she'd been reading only seconds ago in the stewardess's seat called those crow's feet, Flo thinks. Flo nods.
“No funny business,” he adds, finishing the highball she brought him earlier, tonguing the ice clinking at the bottom of the cocktail glass. Flo wonders if he has a gun in his dark suit jacket or in the dark raincoat folded at his waist. He lights what must be his third or fourth cigarette since takeoff and smoke plumes from his pretty lips (his eyelashes too are the envy of any woman, Flo notes before he presses his glasses up his nose again). She nods a second time.
“Now trot up to the cabin, love, and give Captain Scott my demands. Nobody try and be a hero, see, or I'll do the job.” Flo nods one last time, then stands, unable to keep from glancing at the dark attaché case between the man's feet in which he'd just shown her the coiling wires, the batteries and red sticks of dynamite. She walks up the aisle of the 727 and hands out packets of gum for potential ear pain. There will be some unexpected turbulence, she thinks, praying under her breath to St. Bona of Pisa, the patron saint of air hostesses. She smiles at the passengers with a reassurance she does not feel, and when she reaches the door leading to the cockpit she turns and glances at the man to see if he is still watching her but cannot see his face. His face is obscured in the sunlit smoke coiling around his mouth, his features all but disappeared beneath the clouds pouring from the tip of the cigarette seething between his lips like an angry sun itself.
And the flaps have risen; they have accelerated to cruise speed; they are in the air.
"the perfect way is without difficulty,
strive hard, like D.B Cooper"
Irwin von Kulpe tinkers with his opera, rearranging scenes he has written on postcards laid across his bedspread. No: the whole thing is shot to pieces. Too drafty. He takes the manuscript outside and shoots it to pieces with his great grandpappy's antique .44 Colt Revolver. He feels better, slightly nasty, as he pours himself another cognac. He goes to the bathroom and urinates and reminds himself while hovering over the toilet to cancel his date tonight with the last-most-highly-regarded diva. He will stay in instead and meditate on how to better approach the character, the person, the spirit of D.B. Cooper, AKA Dan Cooper, AKA John Doe.
Irwin sharpens his pencils. Should Cooper be boozed and lewd, raunchy and reckless as the FBI insists, or meticulous—even debonair—as the flight attendants witnessed? He looks again at the French comics written and illustrated by Weinburg with their prototype hero, studying the splash pages of the pilot and paratrooper hurtling across an orange sky as a silver jet explodes behind his flailing limbs and twisted torso. Irwin pours another cognac and a hot bath with lots of pinkish blue bubbles and imagines bodies flung amongst the scorched metal, sparks of fire. Detritus? Debris? He cannot remember the right word. He contemplates motives while staring at his reddening toes:
Le Philosophe ou le chien?
Grudge against Northwest Orient? The FAA?
Die-hard nihilist? Shattered idealist?
Irwin drains the cognac and bath and returns to his desk with clean ears. He starts again, deciding in a moment of inspiration to scrap everything for something deeper, something more profound. What about staging for his precious acrobate du ciel? Fans for the wind? Invisible ropes to simulate freefall? He grows excited, rocking in his chair. Something tragicomic. Half-Beckett, half-Shakespeare. Sprinkle in a little Mozart. Give it the flavius maximus. Cooper as fallen angel, no, Cooper as falling angel, forever transfixed between heaven and earth. Yes!
Irwin urinates again and pours another cognac, thinking despite his excitement he must be careful as to how he proceeds. The fact remains that D.B. Cooper has no unified reality outside a meta-discourse capable of totalizing the imagos which surround his Gestalt—with ontological pretensions, Irwin chuckles as he flushes the toilet. He must strive to rise above the vulgar narrative and easily marketable noise.
The stood-up diva calls and leaves an angry, expletive-riddled message on Irwin's phone an hour later. He listens, realizing two thing: a) he is quite, quite drunk; and b) the diva realizes at last how far she has fallen. Irwin pours himself another cognac, if only to finish the bottle.
"get a good idea and stick with it.
Dog it, until it's done right. Consider D.B. Cooper"
The man calling himself Dan Cooper purchases a one-way ticket to Seattle on Flight 305 the day before Thanksgiving for twenty dollars. After buying the ticket, he sits in a diner at the Portland International Airport and orders two strips of hickory-smoked bacon, two strips of barbequed bacon, two strips of chickenfried bacon, two pieces of Canadian bacon, two strips of chocolate-covered bacon. Does he order turkey bacon? Absolutely not. Does he make conversation with the waitress with the lazy eye? No. The outlaw immortalized as Dan Cooper fries in his own cerebral grease. Still hungry, he orders (special, off the menu) angels on horseback—that is, oysters wrapped in bacon on a skewer smothered in bacon jam—and also egg pie bacon which he washes down with a bacon-flavored scotch he keeps in a silver flask in the inner pocket of his suit jacket. He relishes these cracklings more than a barding roast fowl. He marinates on a cherished line of poetry: O bobtailed angel, sweet Pegasus! He saturates in such versified sizzles, such lyrical drippings. Upon four-legged forest clouds the cowboy angel rides. Simmer on that.
After paying his bill (over which the FBI will puzzle for decades, and on which is drawn in red ink a single plump breast, which will prompt later psychologists to conjecture the culprit considers women pieces of delicious salted meat and nothing else), the swine with the handle Dan Cooper halts at a newsstand to buy a Wall Street Journal and a bag of extra crunchy, hot ranch-style pork rinds. He licks his fingers as he waits to board the 727 with a satisfied, near-insolent smacking of the lips.
"on s'engage et puis on voit,
comme le D.B. Cooper"
NO FUNNY BUSINESS
Two hours after takeoff, the 727 lands in Seattle and taxis down the runway, halting before several white vans and a couple fuel trucks. Tractors idle in the distance alongside heaps of gravel. The individual classified as Dan Cooper smooshes his face against the window of seat 18E and watches as the passengers are set free as he directed and driven off in vans. Fuel trucks reload the tanks, and he snubs a cigarette out with impatience when it takes longer than he calculated—precisely four thousand gallons per minute. The courier trucks arrive with the four parachutes he demanded plus the two hundred thousand dollars in used, unmarked twenty-dollar bills. Ten thousand bills, to be precise. He makes Tina, the other stewardess, count the bricks of cash as he smokes cigarettes and watches the FBI agents watch him behind the airport's dark windows.
Still virtuous in his vice, the desperado with the autograph Dan Cooper next orders lavish meals be brought onboard for the crew, necessitating the slaughtering of ten fat longhorns, twenty buffalo off the prairie, a hundred sheep, several jackrabbits, fallowdeer, and a dozen fatted fowl. Plus thirty measures of fine flour and threescore measures of buttered cornbread—not to mention the aromatic candles and bottles of wine and champagne. For himself the entity maintaining the illusory façade of Dan Cooper requests nothing but a vanilla sundae coated with maple syrup and sprinkled with bacon bits. He orders the pilot to prank call the air traffic controller at the local Air Force base. The airmen listen through their headphones to the choppy sound of his dubious laughter.
When the 727 takes off again, the life-form referring to itself as Dan Cooper is fully in control. His only weakness, Flo notes, is the ice-cream headache. He shares a merry feast of wisdom with the crew, and before long the flight attendants are both garbed in nothing but their cute little berets and pink satin bras and panties. The pilot and copilot are equally hysterical with laughter.
Then things get serious.
“The concept of femininity,” the apparition incorporating itself in the physical form of Dan Cooper explains to Flo and Tina, pulling lettuce and tomatoes off a BLT sandwich, unable to resist, “or femaleness, or womanliness—shells just as empty as manhood, really”—he glances meaningfully at the pilot and copilot, who nod thoughtfully—“will not be justified by a rhetoric of utility no more than one of idle beauty. The hope is not that women should serve the interests of a unicultural capitalist society, but rather a polymorphous humanity might rise up together in dignity and freedom.”
Intense fear and lamentations follow. All weep, smoke the hijacker's unfiltered cigarettes. Has he drugged them? Will he make them all jump with the parachutes he demanded and himself fly the plane to Mexico? He keeps opening his attaché case and pretending to touch the frayed wires together and blow them all to smithereens as they fly toward Santé Fe, New Mexico. Bang he says, snickering Bang bang bang. He stopped mixing bourbon in his water long ago.
“Je m'appelle Dan Cooper,” he intones piously. “Skypriest wise in the art of freefall, skilled in the ways of skyjack. The very essence of aerodynamos.”
The stewardesses both try to placate him, and he responds by taking them one by one to the lavatory. Both the pilot and copilot will not stop blushing when he makes them go next, and the would-be bomber is sweaty and redfaced every time the door swings open and one of the crew members is ejected. None speak of this experience later, not even to the authorities.
“Portmanteau is easy,” he says as they play Scrabble afterward. “Daredevil, for instance. Or mastermind.”
“Skydiver?” Tina floats.
“Air pirate,” the ignis fatuus masquerading as Dan Cooper says as he sets the plane to autopilot. The entire flight crew lies in a white smog at his feet and dark fumes billow from his head as though from a jack-o-lantern incandesced by waxy candles smoldering within its hollow grin.
"for exaltation comes neither from the east nor the west,
nor from the south, but from the heavens, like D.B. Cooper"
GO FORTH AND MULTIPLY
Stare long and hard at this composite drawing. Now this one. Recognize anything? Is it the gristled old man with the knee injury? You tell me. The tapdancer? The hopeless gambler? Face it, the hijacker listed on the Northwest Orient Airline's manifest as Dan Cooper is dead—at least we among Operation NORJACK believe he is dead, killed in that mad caper of his. At least, that is what our reports say. It is, in other words, our official position. Helicopters, both civilian and Army, searched in vain after he pitched himself to the blast. Whole companies of federal, state, and local police combed the forest between Portland and Seattle. Most likely the wind from the storm tore him to pieces before he ever hit ground. Give it up. The best have tried. We lost him somewhere in the sky and that's all there is to it.
Analyze the fingerprints on the cocktail glass, all the newfangled DNA. Interrogate all the old biddies who saw him descend with flares bursting at his feet, the little girls who stumbled on him huddled in doghouses and brought him wet sandwiches, the women who found him in their yards with shattered legs and nursed him back to health. Consider the dummy parachute—the dummy used it. All crackpots and deathbed confessors—consider ‘em. Read the letters sent newspapers and signed Dan Cooper. One postcard with letters cut from the Modesto Bee newspaper, which I carry here in my backpocket, said:
Thanks for the hospitality.
Was in a rut.
Study the only concrete evidence to ever emerge, the rotten money the boy found washed up on the stream north of the river. Digging parties along the bar have been for naught ever since. Treasure-hunters took whole fleets of submarines down in Lake Merwin to search for the lost booty—or at least the corpse of Dan Cooper tangled in a filthy, faded parachute—only to come up with nothing. Let me guess: you're D.B. Cooper. Hoo boy, that would make my day. Copycat criminals emerged too. What are you, a science fantasy writer or something? Leave it to us professionals. The CIA is trying to discredit the agency is all. Another postcard, delivered to The Oregonian, in a handwritten red ink, said:
Am alive and doing well in hometown P.O.
The system that beat the system.
What do we know about this lowlife classified in our case-files as Dan Cooper? Well. We know a lot, actually. Let's start with the facts. Where else? He was left-handed, judging by the placement of the mother-of-pearl pin in his tie. He was crazy as billy hell, that is most certainly a goddamn fact. He was a chainsmoker. His father was a ruined prizefighter. His mother spent a lot of time in the kitchen cooking, cleaning and canning. That is the gospel truth. He washed the money in Las Vegas or Atlantic City; he put the money in a safety deposit box in Vancouver; he gave the money to a young filmmaker who used the cash to fund his first cult classic. Either that or he gave the money to a startup shoe company in Oregon that used the money to create some really impressive hiking gear. Consider the irony. It was D.B. Cooper who designed the Swoosh.
Why, on certain nights, if you lay on the top of a certain hill in Woodland, Washington, I have even heard it told that you can hear Dan Cooper's ghost shouting in the wind, his voice in the wind, his laughter mocking us all in the wind, and if you look up during lightning storms you will sometimes see him landing—thousands of Coopers coming down with parachutes billowing like a surprise military invasion—dynamite popping and crackling and thunder applauding their phantasmagoric and myriad descent. Some of these Coopers fall in Washington, others south of the river. Some die, others live. Some bury the money while others run like hell with canvas sacks thrown over their shoulders.
And in beds across America, as men turn in to sleep beside their girlfriends or wives or secret lovers, every one of them discovers the truth suddenly and confesses to the crime in an urgent whisper, they admit it absolutely, they swear to their loved ones that they are, in all earnesty, indeed, in fact, in truth, the one, the only, the infamous criminal known to us all forever as Dan Cooper. Just tell no one.
Plan ahead for early retirement income
P.S. your composite drawings are a rather crude portrayal of my dashing looks!
Love, D.B. Cooper
CHUTES AND LADDERS
(Excerpt from a draft of Irwin von Kulpe's adaptation of the critically acclaimed opera, Parachute Bound)
Ext. Expanse of blue sky, cloudless, a sheer rock wall and crag jutting above a cratered plain. The sun is a pinhole of scorching light. Behind, in the distance, Mount St. Helens seethes.
Hanging from the crag on a tangled red parachute, D.B. COOPER swings, shoeless and with disarrayed sunglasses. Twenty-dollar bills occasionally flutter from the sky above, a mocking rain, and two vultures perch on the ledge from which he hangs to watch him writhing uselessly in his straps. Both vultures have bright green eyes.
Whither have I blown? Whither have I landed?
The sky is deep, and I am blown across its vast expanse,
The wind surges me far from home, but what foul rock is this?
Enter J. EDGAR HOOVER and ROMAN SOLDIERS. J. EDGAR wears the armor of Pontius Pilate and a red cape.
(beside himself with delight)
Behold us at the extreme verge of earth, a waste
of perfect solitude, untrod, inimical to man:
this thine work, commissioned by our corporate overlords,
With bonds unbreakable to bind this evildoer!
(writhing in stuck chute, turns his face to the sky)
Alas! That I should live to curse the works
of my own hands, like some self-made scarecrow,
this parachute billows me to and fro,
and all sorts of calamities endured.
The ROMAN SOLDIERS rise on firemen's ladders, trying to grab COOPER as he kicks away.
Swipe hard! Clinch tighter! That rogue's cunning
can untwist links seemingly untwistable!
(gazing down suddenly, with wide arms and imploring eyes)
America! Behold your son, behold your father!
“be nice to people on your way up, like D.B. Cooper,
because you just might meet them on your way down”
Beauty is a kind of corpse, Paul Valery said, or something like it, but certainly this would not be the case for the phantasm begarbed in the imperfect guise of Dan Cooper (coming apart, admittedly, at the seams) and plummeting to earth. He plunges through the sky like a stone flung from a slingshot, two hundred thousand dollars in a bag held tightly to his chest and his attaché case falling beside him, keeping pace despite all laws of physics. His penny loafers are sucked away in the ferocious wind and he lights a cigarette before he slips into a thunder cloud, throwing an ironic glance to the side like Wile E. Coyote. Lightning rattles, sparks, crackles in the fillings between his teeth.
Engulfed in a nebulous obscurity, he is beset by explosions of mocking laughter which rock him, and his parachute becomes a rocket; a comet; a flung snotball. He is sprung upon by the sphinx, the chimera, a unicorn (O bobtailed angel, sweet Pegasus!), all bursting in rapid succession from his attaché case and fluttering away. He tangles with his duende. He dabbles in such dragon prose. Mephistopheles manifests in the lightning, surrounded by gryllos with nightmarish metallic teeth. The void roars. Man and demon riddle for the [tetradedral] soul underlying the mirage of Dan Cooper as it hurtles toward oblivion. The sky-bandit proves by algebra how not only a single camel but a whole caravan of dromedaries slips through threading needles every day in similar leaps of blind faith.
—If the angular momentum, the personage self-baptized as Dan Cooper insists, say
C = r × p = r × (mv)
where r is my position from the plane, denoted p, then both radial and momentum vectors—
—You are forgetting torque, my friend, the wingéd imp interrupts, taking a drag off his cigarette before flicking it away. Simple torque. Thus:
R = R1 + r1
V = V1 + v1
as well as:
torque, or thwart => Old Norse þvert “across” => originally neuter of thverr “to transverse” => proto-Germanic thwerkhaz (cf. Gothic þwairhs, “angry”) => Latin torquēre altered from therkh from Persian Indo-European twerk / twork “to twist”
and, lest we forget, despite all appearances (only consider Hegel's concept of bad infinity):
∞ ≠ n + 1
so that the total angular momentum as which you plunge from the Holy Plentitude—
—Is irreversible. I am neither my sides nor my angles, the abyss dressed as Dan Cooper insists. The Spirit brought me here. Schrödinger's cat must have its day, otherwise
ΔΘ1Δ J1 ≥ π/2
would be meaningless gibberish instead of accepted scripture, no matter how many Bloch spheres you have displaying your eigenvectors!
Mephistopheles roars with pain, his tail suddenly on fire. He bounds off like an unhappy cat, thunder crashing behind him.
The escape artist with the nom de plume Dan Cooper falls from the clouds into cool sweet rain (with the faintest taste of lemonade). His parachute is still closed, but his free hand hovers over the ripcord.
“tho Cooper did frieth in his own grease,
Still koude songs of chute sing and well delight,
Hyt is not al gold that glareth,
For he was a loot-snatching perfight knight”
OUT WITH THE MOOLAH
The smooth operator with the nom de crime Dan Cooper stands in the unpressurized aftstairs already opened and carefully removes his black tie flapping with the gale. The plane genuflects. Around his chest is strapped one of the parachutes and lashed to his back another for backup, just in case. He hurls his penny loafers into the whipping air outside and replaces his shoes with brand-new skydiving boots he brought onboard in a brown paper bag. Using a can of shoeshine, he draws a rudimentary but powerful glyph across his forehead, a sign that will someday become synonymous with both victory and exploitation. The ransom money is strapped to his body via nylon cords torn from another gutted chute. He still wears his hat and jacket, the evil genius of him, as he checks the altimeter on his wristwatch and sees the plane exactly at ten thousand feet. Precisely as planned. At one hundred seventy knots, the Air Force fighters scrambled from the local base will be too fast to intercept him.
He belches. His burp tastes like maple syrup. A sign betraying anxiety perhaps? We will never know. He can smell the faint lemon taste in the beckoning rain, and closing his eyes, he raises his hands and swoons into the zero visibility storm with that stomachless feeling that reminds him of rollercoasters as a child, or tumbling over the jungles of Vietnam erupting with gunfire at midnight, or his days as an acrobat in the circus when cameras flashed in the darkness all around him.
And so the seemingly-enfleshed spirit of Dan Cooper, AKA D.B. Cooper, AKA John Doe is falling; he remains falling, however obstinately; he is in the air.