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Authors: Geoffrey Gray

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Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper

BOOK: Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper
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Copyright © 2011 by Geoffrey Gray

All rights reserved.

Published in the United States by Crown Publishers, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.

www.crownpublishing.com

CROWN and the Crown colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Gray, Geoffrey.
Skyjack: the hunt for D.B. Cooper / Geoffrey Gray.
1. Cooper, D.B. 2. Hijacking of aircraft—United States. 3. Criminal investigation—United States. I. Title.
HE9803.Z7H5352 2011
364.15’52092—dc22 2010047655

eISBN: 978-0-307-45131-6

Map by David Lindroth
Jacket design by David Tran
Jacket photograph (man) by Getty Images
Endpaper maps: Courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric
Administration (NOAA)

v3.1

For Nana

CONTENTS

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Map

Epigraph

THE JUMP

Photo Insert

THE HUNT

THE CURSE

NOTES

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

About the Author

Bombproof and crowded with oxygen … terrace, volcallure at casa Cugat, Abbe Wants Cugie Gets.
We’re up against an enemy, a conspiracy. They are using any means. We are going to use any means. Is that clear?
—Richard Nixon

July 6, 2007
New York, New York

S
KIPP PORTEOUS WANTS
to talk and says can we meet and I say fine. He arrives in a suit that is South Beach white, and between the wide lapels is a T-shirt that is snug and black. He has leather sandals on his feet, no socks. His hair is curly and brown. His goatee is trimmed and gray in spots. He removes his sunglasses, which reveal hooded eyes, and gives the room a looky-loo.

The bistro is typical midtown Manhattan. A fruit basket of martinis on the menu—mango, peach, Lillet. The clatter of voices at the banquettes and the clank of dishes ricochet over the roar of lunch talk. In the gilded mirrors on the walls are reflections of Windsor knots, hair gel, six-figure cleavage.

I have dealt with Porteous before. He had a few story ideas; none worked. I can’t remember why now. Porteous was his own story, and maybe I should have written about him.

He used to be a preacher before he became a private investigator. In the late 1960s, Porteous ran a church in Los Angeles and worked the Sunset Strip with his Bible. He preached to hippies, the homeless, anybody who would listen to his salvation pitch. “Excuse me,” he would say, “if you died tonight, where would you spend eternity?”

The game for Porteous then was to win souls for the Church, until he lost his own. He saw corruption in the Church and started digging around. What he found was that he was good at digging around, often in disguise. Porteous liked undercover work so much he made a second career out of it. For a small-town sheriff, he bought drugs as a narc. For the FBI, he infiltrated gangs and groups wearing a wire. It was a decent living. The feds paid on time, and in cash.

His style is not tough-talking or pushy. Porteous has a holistic approach toward PI work. Some retired cops flash badges or guns. Porteous starts each investigative day with a meditation session.

He also hires mostly women to do PI work.

“Women have better instincts than men,” he told me when we first met.

Sherlock Investigations, his agency, had the gimmicky type of title that attracts a lot of attention on the Web. It snared me, and countless others needing help solving problems of an unusual kind. Like the disappearance of Captain Jack, an iguana that was stolen through an open window in Greenwich Village. Or the woman who called because she was convinced the actress Lily Tomlin was stalking her (she wasn’t). Or the man convinced his wife was having an affair with his father (she was). Or the runaway from Israel they found living under a bridge in Arizona. Or the mother from India who wanted to spy on the man her daughter was dating, and all the suspicious spouses and suits who are convinced (and wrongly so) that their phone receivers are tapped and their offices are bugged. Sin and paranoia form the backbone of his business.

It’s loud in the bistro and I can’t hear the private investigator so good. I lean over my
moules
, anxious to hear what case has come over Porteous’s transom. Another missing pet? Another teenage runaway? Gypsy scams?

Nope. It’s a new client, Lyle Christiansen.

His intel is sparse. From what the private detective has pieced together, Lyle Christiansen appears to be a kooky old man, an eccentric, and prodigious. He is eighty years old, and lives in Morris, Minnesota, a prairie town closer to Fargo, North Dakota, than it is to Minneapolis. Lyle grew up in Morris and worked for the post office there. In retirement, he has become an inventor. He is in the process of patenting a hodgepodge of household contraptions: the Yucky Cleaning Wand (it slips into the neck of a bottle to clean the tough-to-reach places), an egg
breaker that cracks eggs perfectly every time, and a shirt that disguises the appearance of suspenders (he finds them distasteful—in his version, you wear them on the inside of the shirt).

Christiansen’s wife, Donna, has a creative mind, too. Over the years she has assembled a collection of expressions, adages, sayings, idioms, clichés, and senseless American verbiage. The title of her book is
As Cute as a Bug’s Ear
. It has 2,270 entries, ranging from “As Bald as a Billiard Ball” to “You’ve Got it Made.”

Great. But so what? What’s the story here? Why would a retired post office worker and aspiring inventor from Bumblefuck, Minnesota, need the services of a Manhattan sleuth-for-hire like Porteous?

Porteous was puzzled too. The first e-mail he received from Christiansen was cryptic. It read:

Dear Good People at Sherlock Investigations
,
I would very much like to contact Nora Ephron, Movie Director of the movie, “Sleepless in Seattle”. I think she would be interested in what I have to say
.

The Sherlock employee who handled the note was Sherry Hart. Before she became an investigator, Hart tried to make it as a singer-songwriter and actress. Her training in the dramatic arts now helps with her undercover work. She’s handled hundreds of cases for Porteous, and as she read over Christiansen’s e-mail she thought,
Here we go. Another whackjob
. She wrote back:

We would not be able to give you a famous person’s address. If you want to write a letter to Ms. Ephron, we would deliver it to her ourselves. The fee would be $495. Proceed?

Proceed. Christiansen’s check and letter arrived shortly thereafter. Porteous handled the letter with caution, as if it contained a nuclear
code. He held the envelope to the light to examine it. He rotated the edges. He peered through the fibers of the paper and checked the pockets for powders.

The note was clean.

He read it. Lyle’s letter to Ephron was a pitch for a movie. Lyle wanted to base the film on the life and times of a person he knew. The language was vague. The person he knew was quiet and shy.
Bashful
was Lyle’s word. Mr. Bashful also happened to be a culprit to a major unsolved crime, Lyle said.

He also suggested a title for the film:
The Bashful Man in Seattle
. A tip of the hat to Nora Ephron’s blockbuster,
Sleepless in Seattle
.

Reading the bizarre note, Porteous did not attempt to understand it. He wasn’t getting paid to understand it. He hailed a cab to Ephron’s building on Park Avenue and approached the doorman.

“Nora Ephron live here?” he said.

“Yes,” the doorman said.

Porteous placed Lyle’s envelope in the doorman’s white-gloved hands. He then hailed a cab home. Easy money.

As the weeks passed, Lyle Christiansen was patient. Did Ephron know he was a retired civil servant living on little income, and paid so much money to send her a note? Ephron’s films were so warm and tender. How could she be so cold and rude as to not respond with a note of her own?

In her home on Park Avenue, Ephron did receive Christiansen’s letter. She saw his note on her kitchen counter and maybe later in the office. Or did it land in the wastebasket with her junk mail? She couldn’t be sure. It disappeared.

In Morris, Christiansen was flustered. He decided to write Ephron again. Did she not receive his first letter? Would Porteous deliver it for him? Whatever the fee was, he’d pay it.

BOOK: Skyjack: The Hunt for D. B. Cooper
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