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Out here in the perimeter
By Daniel R. Vollaro

Remember that Frank Zappa song about the guy who teaches his asshole how to talk? That's what it's like here. I'm surrounded by talking assholes. --From the personal journal of Captain Franklin Scrim, USAF - February 12

MCCLELLAN AIR FORCE BASE, CA. -- An Air Force A-10 Thunderbolt aircraft assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron is overdue in returning to the base and is believed to have crashed sometime this evening. The aircraft was flying a routine training mission near the base when the aircraft separated from two others without warning and flew east towards Nevada.

The Air Force is continuing its search for the missing plane with rescue aircraft from the base and helicopters from the U.S. Customs Agency assisting.

The name of the pilot is being withheld pending notification of next of kin. --U.S. Air Force press release - February 13

I'll tell you this...
No eternal reward will forgive us now
For wasting the dawn.

--Jim Morrison, American Prayer
* * *

January 13 - Capt. Scrim's journal

Sometimes I lay here and think about what the papers would say about me if I crashed my plane at an air show or something. I know that's morbid, but I can't help it. I always think about that scene in Tom Sawyer where Tom and Huck spy on their own funeral. I try to tell myself everyone has fantasies like that, but I wonder if I'm just rationalizing. Sometimes I can even visualize my picture on TV if I was shot down over Bosnia or Iraq. I'm staring at it right now. It sits on the nightstand beside my bed. I'm standing under the nose of my plane with my right hand holding my helmet tucked under my arm like a football and the other caressing the barrel of my Gatling gun. The Air Force would say I had "a flawless record." That's what I have going for me now, a flawless record. I think all that means is I haven't fucked up any of their equipment yet.
* * *

A10 Thunderbolt stats (excerpted from the "Warthog Territory" site on the Worldwide Web)
Range: 800 miles (695 nautical miles)
Armament: One 30 mm GAU-8/A seven-barrel Gatling gun; up to 16,000 pounds (7,200 kilograms) of mixed ordnance on eight under-wing and three under-fuselage pylon stations, including 500 pounds (225 kilograms) of retarded bombs, 2,000 pounds (900 kilograms) of general-purpose bombs, incendiary and Rockeye II cluster bombs, combined effects munitions, Maverick missiles and laser-guided/electro-optically guided bombs; infrared countermeasure flares; electronic countermeasure chaff; jammer pods; 2.75-inch (6.99 centimeters) rockets; illumination flares and AIM-9 Sidewinder missiles.
Unit Cost: $8.8 million
Crew: One
* * *

January 18 - Capt. Scrim's journal

The visit from Mom and Dad was OK. Dad's like a little kid around all of this hardware. He was running around the hanger two days ago climbing all over everything. I think it brings him back to his salad days in the navy, when he served on the carrier. Mom is driving me nuts lately, and I was happy to see her go. Seems like while Dad is mellowing in his old age, Mom is getting tighter, and this religion thing is just the machinery she uses to turn the screw. If she knew how far from that whole scene I've drifted, she'd probably stroke out on me. I'd love to tell her I don't believe in hell anymore, or that I'm not sure Jesus is the messiah, but the words actually stop up in my throat. She's got this fuzzy image of me going to prayer meetings and youth group when I was seventeen; I'd feel guilty shattering that. But then I think people like my mother need to be slapped around by reality every once in a while otherwise they end up taking themselves too seriously. That's me, thanks to Mom's genes-- way too uptight. It's difficult for me to let things roll off; I hold on too tight. I play the tapes over and over again.

Major Treat knows my mom's a Christian, so at dinner not two hours after my folks left, he sat down with me and started asking about them. He was just boiling over to talk about Jesus, but I didn't give him the chance. Treat is harmless, but anymore gung-ho fuckers like him give me the willies. OK, we're here to do a job, and it's an important job, but Treat has the work all mixed up with religion, like God really cares how the squad rates in the live-fire exercises coming up next week.

Treat flew A10s in the Gulf War, which makes him like St. Francis around here. It really bugs me the way he makes sense of it all. He flew over the "Highway of Death" on the last day of the war. The Iraqis were fleeing north from Kuwait City, scared shitless, and our guys blasted anything that moved down there. I've seen the pictures; it was a goddamn turkey shoot. But Treat has the whole thing packaged up in a tidy Christian box. He once told me he cried like hell when it was all over, but that he took comfort in the knowledge that it was all somehow part of "God's plan." That's pretty convenient, isn't it? Blame it on God, so you or your country don't have to take responsibility. I'm not saying we should have stayed out of Kuwait, but let's not paste God's Grade-A inspection stamp on it either.

I could never say any of this around the base. They'd hang me for heresy or something. Cynicism is one of the seven deadly sins around here.
* * *

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- February 18 -- The mystery deepened Wednesday as Air Force search planes criss-crossed the Nevada desert searching for a missing A-10 attack plane, which disappeared nearly a week ago without a trace while on a training mission.

But while the Air Force remains tight-lipped about possible theories concerning the disappearance, officials are downplaying speculation that the pilot, now identified as Capt. Franklin Scrim, may have absconded with the $9 million aircraft and the four 500-pound bombs on board.

"We're looking into all reasonable scenarios. But so far, none of the evidence validates any of these wild hypotheses, like he was trying to steal the plane, or he was trying to bomb Vegas because of his religious convictions," said Staff Sgt. Richard Langley, a spokesman at McClellan Air Force Base near Sacramento, where Scrim was stationed.

Dear Mom and Dad,

It was great to get your letter and package yesterday. Thank you so much for sending that CD with all the Christmas music we talked about when you were here. Hearing those songs reminds me of home with you guys and Celia and Derek like nothing else. . . . The flying is going well. I love flying the A-10. Most everything we do is low level. I got to shoot the Gatling gun this week. It's a real blast. I'll be dropping live bombs soon. I can't wait. Love you, Frank. --E-mail to Mr. Clyde Scrim - January 24

Should we worry about this? You're damn right we should. We've got supposedly the best trained pilots in the world flying nine-million dollar warplanes bristling with bombs 400 miles off course into the wild blue yonder.

No, I don't think he was trying to steal the plane. My guess is that it was all over a woman. Think about the implications here: the president's mistress dumps him so he takes it out on Damascus with a nuke launched from the Arizona desert. Man breaks down but machine works flawlessly. That's the future, man. --"Captain Jack", radio talk show host from WGNQ, Sacramento.

* * *

January 26 - Capt. Scrim's journal

No one in this shithole understands me. I tried to talk to that asshole Quimby at dinner tonight about the movie Taxi Driver, but it was like serenading a bar of soap. And what really steams me is that he brought it up. He kept saying how excited he was because now they were showing Taxi Driver on TV, to which I replied, "I'll bet they cut out a lot." And he just stared at me like I was nuts and said, "what the fuck would they cut out." So I mentioned the bloodbath scene at the end, when Robert DiNiro goes after Jodi Foster, and he replies, "I didn't know she was in Taxi Driver. That girl with the big tits and the red hair is in it, right?" And then I figure out he was talking about the TV show, Taxi, not the Scorcese film. This would've been OK, except that when I pointed this out, he asked me what the movie was about, and in the middle of my explanation, he interrupts me and says, "Just tell me this: is there any titty?"

I should have just said, yes, Quimby, there's titty. Six months ago, I'd have just let it go, shook my head and not said anything, but now. . . . I should have changed the subject, but for some reason, I had this urge to tear him a new asshole. So I called him a "fucking moron." It just slipped out, but it felt really good, like a healthy sneeze. Quimby's not really stupid, not like Spinali anyway, but he likes to act like an idiot for some reason. He's one of these guys whose only criterion for art is A) does it have bouncing breasts, and B) how many explosions per minute.

Anyway, he started in on my "faggot" friends from home and my "pussy band" and one thing led to another and Treat and Riccardo were yanking us apart. I never gave the word faggot too much thought until today. No guy likes to be called a faggot --even gay guys don't like it much-- but it wasn't my manhood that was threatened as much as it was his stupidity and narrow-mindedness that bothered me. I don't exactly lose sleep over the gay rights issue; it was his general attitude that set me off. I feel like I'm back in high school sometimes running around with guys who still think it's cool to light their farts on fire.
* * *

It is inconceivable that Captain Scrim could have been incapacitated and flown his plane on a straight path to Lake Tahoe like he did. --A top Air Force official who asked not to be identified. Excerpted from a February 16 CNN report.

Scrim's behavior in the days leading up to the flight was impeccable. --Colonel William Simonetti, Scrim's commander. Excerpted from the Investigator's Report, transcript.

On the day after we crossed over into Kuwait, I was sent out with two other Hogs to relieve pressure on an infantry recon squad that got pinned down by five Iraqi tanks. We each had two Mavericks and everyone had a full gun. Those tanks were perched on a ridge, so we circled around and strafed the hilltop hard, then we came back with the Mavericks. The film tells the whole story; I got two confirmed tanks. I didn't see anything but the flash and smoke, but I know men died that day at my hand, and that's a hard thing to forget. I was shaking when we got back, but I know I didn't have any choice. Those Army guys were depending on me. I just know God's got a handle on all of it. I have faith in His plan. --Excerpted from a letter posted to the web page, Desert Storm Remembrances, March 12, 1997

Captain Scrim and I had a number of conversations about religion. I think he was searching for answers to some pretty basic questions. -- Major Earnest Treat, excerpted from the Investigator's Report, transcript.

* * *

January 27 - Capt. Scrim's journal

I thought about it again, this time in the air-- that's a switch. Lately, my mind wanders that place often-- what if? What if the plane was mine and not the taxpayers'? (Like it's really the taxpayers' either) How cool would it be to just fly off into the clouds, boom, gone. What if I just flew her out over the wilderness and flew and flew, right up to the end of the tank? My hand was on the stick, ready to make a move, and I jelled. When I first went up in my Uncle's Piper as a kid and he handed me the stick, I felt this unhinged physical freedom. My hand was glued to the stick, but everything else was soaring, like my soul had been released. That's what turned me on to flying in the first place, but with military aviation, it's focus, focus, focus. No time for daydreaming, but I miss that. I'd love to feel that way all the time, or even for a short time.

Lately, I feel like I don't have much control up there. I daydream about pulling hard right or left and dragging the fucker down to the deck. Where does that come from? I've never had thoughts like that before. They just pop into my head. Scary!

I'm having trouble sleeping, but I won't ask for a sedative. I don't want to make a big deal out of this-- they'll ground me, I'm sure.
* * *

Severe depression can bring on feelings of despair and hopelessness so powerful that the sufferer loses interest in life, becomes cut off from feeling pleasure and sexual arousal, and may be unable to get out of bed or eat for days at a time. But this illness may also cause other symptoms not easily recognized as depression: weight loss or gain; anxiety, irritability, or agitation; chronic indecisiveness; or sleep disturbances. --"Depression: Beyond the Blues", posted to the World-wide web, June 18, 1996.
* * *

January 30 - Capt. Scrim's journal

Another nightmare with my "comrades in arms" tonight. We took Riccardo out for his bachelor party. I stayed away from planning this thing; it was Quimby's gig, which explains a lot. We ended up at this strip joint in Sacramento, The Tyger's Tail. We were already blasted when we got there, and we ended up paying this dancer in a blond wig a lot of money to lap dance with Riccardo. Quimby sent Tall Boy around to collect singles and fives from everyone so we could keep her hanging around, and as I was digging out my wallet I had what I can only describe as a twinge of conscience. I know these women make good money and it's not technically a form of exploitation, but still, it felt sleazy to hand my money over to Tall Boy. So she started dancing in front of Riccardo again, so close I could smell her. We were all hovered around in a circle leering like a bunch of twelve-year-olds who just swiped a Penthouse from the local drugstore. I was feeling suddenly like I wanted to go home and hose myself off. So leaned over and whispered to Treat, "you know what, I can't help thinking, that's someone's sister."

I thought Treat, being a Christian, would sympathize with my sentiment. Instead, he shouts out to the others, "hey, Scrim's going soft on us over here."

That fucking hypocrite. Mr. weekly bible meeting, Mr. let's pray-before-we-fly like some goddamn bible-thumping college football coach from Tennessee, and this is what he does to me. I wouldn't be surprised to hear Spinali or White say something like that; it's in their nature. But why would a Christian act like that? My only guess is that he was uncomfortable as hell being there and that was his way of dealing with it, by overcompensating. Or maybe it's his whole 'all for one, one for all' thing. Maybe he figured we were all there together and it was bad form to break formation. Either way, I lost all respect for the guy. These born-agains are only nominally Christian as far as I'm concerned. They're so backassed when it comes to the social justice issues. Treat reminds me of my neighborhood during the Gulf War-- every other household was a member of our Assembly of God congregation and every one had an American flag flying from the front porch and a yellow ribbon wrapped around something. I don't remember a single person in that community ever expressing even a hint of discomfort over that war, not a single moral qualm. And my parents, for all their talk of Jesus the peacemaker, were the most gung-ho of all.
* * *

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- February 17 -- Air Force investigators now believe that missing pilot Captain Franklin Scrim deliberately flew his A10 fighter off course, senior Air Force officials told CNN.

He was really serious about his band. They played mostly Doors covers, a few clubs around the base, that's all. They called themselves "American Prayer" --really original. Actually, they sucked, but he was real gung-ho about it, maybe as much as he was about flying. They could have carved something good out with the base crowd. Guys around here are willing to support a guy in uniform, but no one wants to go to a bar and hear a bad Morrison knockoff. This is mostly an under-35 crowd. They want to hear something from this century. --Captain Edwin Quimby, excerpted from the Investigator's Report, transcript (listed as 'friend of Scrim's')

Scrim's band was OK. He played a wicked guitar solo, but he couldn't sing that well. Hell, neither could Morrison. I think he just fantasized about being this out-there doped-up freak because he was such a tight-ass himself. I think maybe if he wore a wig or something he would have been more convincing. But knowing the guy. . . and seeing him up there with his buzz-cut hair crooning those spacey lyrics. It was just a joke. The guy was regular Air Force all the way. --Lieutenant James 'Tall Boy' McGreedy, excerpted from the Investigator's Report, transcript.

A military station in the desert.
Can we resolve the past
Lurking jaws, joints of time?
The Base
To come of age in a dry place
--Jim Morrison, American Prayer

* * *

February 3 - Capt. Scrim's journal

We had practice tonight. I live for practice. It's the one time except maybe for flying I feel really good.

I know we're not great, but it's still a lot of fun. It's funny, I used to hate The Doors when I was in high school, but they grew on me. Morrison was awesome. He really didn't care what anyone thought about him; I wish I could be more like that. I wish I'd tried Peyote or acid in college, but it was ROTC all the way back then. The older I get, the less responsible my fantasies become. I dream about doing things that were inconceivable to me ten years ago.

I love to watch the expressions on the older guys when they watch us play; I mean the guys over fifty, the senior officers. I think maybe they go back and whisper about how I need another psyche evaluation. Most of the younger guys want to hear us play Social Distortion or Nirvana. Maybe when this Doors thing rides its course, we'll try some newer songs. . . .

Tall Boy was bugging me about that militia newsletter again. He keeps asking me if I'll write something on the A10 because most of the guys who read it are real military buffs. He says, "I'd do it myself, but I'm a shitty writer." Like I'm William Faulkner. He gets really pissed when I say "militia" around him. He's always denying it. "'Right wing' and 'militia' are just labels invented by the liberal media," he says. I keep a tight lid on my politics around here, but some of these guys like Tall Boy and even Treat are openly recruiting for their groups. It really pisses me off.

I know Tall Boy's "Idaho Freedom Regulars" are genuine militia because of the rhetoric. I can spot it a mile away. In the last newsletter, they were going on about the welfare state and they mentioned that "our money" --meaning U.S. tax dollars taken from working white Americans --was being spent on "crack cocaine and illegitimate babies"-- which is code for nigger drug dealers and teenage coke whores who pump out babies just for the hell of it. It's all bullshit code so they don't get lumped in with the skinheads and the KKK, but anyone with half a brain knows what they're talking about.

Like I said, I'm tight-lipped about politics. If Tall Boy knew where I really stood, he'd leave me alone.
* * *

LAKE TAHOE, NEVADA (CNN) -- February 25 -- Air Force officials have confirmed that they are investigating three independent eyewitness accounts of the missing A10 crashing into Lake Tahoe on February 13. All three are civilians from the Lake Tahoe area. The Air Force has refused to release their names.

Now, on to the whole A10 Captain Scrim debacle, isn't it obvious? They disappeared not far from one of the hottest spots for UFO sightings in the country. Put two and two together. The plane was abducted baby, and the Air Force knows it. --Excerpted from Davy Crockett's Paranoid Web Page, Updated February 17

Excuse me Julia; hold on there. The Air Force is not going to tell you or me why Captain Scrim flew that plane into Lake Tahoe if it is at all embarrassing to the military. I don't care how many press releases they put up on the Internet; we are not going to know more than they want us to know. For God's sake, they kept the media off Grenada for two whole days during the '83 invasion, and they practically sanitized the entire Gulf War in '91. Do you think they care about your right to know what happened to Captain Scrim and the airplane your tax dollars paid for. --"Captain Jack", radio talk show host from WGNQ, Sacramento.
* * *

February 4 - Capt. Scrim's journal

Sometimes I think I've made a huge mistake coming here. I hate most of the bastards I work with, and if it wasn't for flying almost every day, I'd be goddamn suicidal. Riccardo's a good guy, kind of shy, but real friendly. He keeps to himself though. Ignoring his kooky political views, Tall Boy's basically harmless. They're not even his own opinions, that's the scary part. He's one of those guys who will follow Daddy into the voting booth until the day he dies. It's that asshole Quimby and his crew, White and Spinali, who really burn me up.

I had another run-in with Quimby, this time in the locker room. He was giving me grief about the strip bar again, calling me soft and asking me if I'd been to confession yet, so I told him he flies with one hand on his dick and the other covering his eyes. Quimby is a shaky pilot, and everyone knows it. In flight school, it took him three times to qualify for landing, and he's still skittish whenever he gets near the deck. Quimby was pissed, but he shut up after that. He knows I'm the better pilot.

I'm getting tired of my mother's re-conversion attempts-- the cards, the e-mails, the questions about church. She has no idea how deeply I've split with Christianity; or maybe she does. It's not that I don't believe in the possibility of God, I just can't accept the one she and Treat and the rest of the country seem to believe in. Treat usually invites me to his Tuesday bible study, but I never go. I don't won't sit there and listen to him pontificate about God's plan for all of us, like any of it makes sense. I've been reading the bible again lately, with new eyes. I'm reading Mark's Gospel, the earliest one-- I figure I'd start there. Strip away all the preaching and holy roller crap people are always laying on that book, and you're left with a very interesting story. That Jesus is not shaking his finger at "fornicators" as my mother calls them (embarrassing). He spends most of his time talking about the "kingdom", and I don't think he always means the afterlife either. He talks about evening the scales a lot too, about the meek inheriting the earth, which is the best explanation I have for why anyone would want to kill him in the first place.

I feel cheated here, deprived of soul mates. I know it's terribly uncharitable and arrogant to feel superior to these guys, but Quimby and White and Spinali leave me no choice sometimes. The other day, when we were training with the Gatling again, I flew in right behind that meathead Spinali and thought how easy it would be to blast his tail out from under him. Fucking Spinali. Quimby shits and Spinali picks the corn out for him.

I wonder what it would be like to fly in combat with those guys. We'd probably bury the hatchet because we had to. Treat says all the petty bullshit evaporates when you're faced with the real thing, but I still wonder. I've read stories about our guys fragging each other in Vietnam. That was real enough.
* * *

MCCLELLAN AIR FORCE BASE, CA. -- A U.S. Navy diving team has confirmed reports that missing pilot Capt. Franklin Scrim crashed his plane into Lake Tahoe last month. Divers photographed the wreckage at 50 feet. Preliminary reports indicate that Capt. Scrim's body is still in the plane.

The divers also reported that the aircraft's four 500-pound bombs appear to be still attached to their bomb racks. The aircraft is lying bottom up on the muddy floor of Lake Tahoe. --U.S. Air Force press release, March 1.

Franklin was an all-American boy. He loved flying more than anything. He liked everything about military aviation. That was his passion. --Tom Yardley, Franklin Scrim's uncle, excerpted from the New York Times.

Scrim was an all right guy. He was wound up a little tight I guess. I wouldn't exactly call him a regular guy. -- Captain John Spinali, excerpted from the Investigator's Report, transcript.
* * *

February 9 - Capt. Scrim's journal

I realized something today. The military's not my problem; it's a lot bigger than that. I'm going to meet Quimby and Spinali wherever I go in this country.

I wish I could focus on the good things in my life, but lately, I can't seem to cheer up. I read back over the last four months of entries and found almost nothing positive. All I do is bitch and gripe about people, like some frumpy housewife on the Jenny Jones show. My life seems corrosive somehow, and I hate the fact that I'm letting my inferiors get to me.

Lately, I can't get that night in Sacramento out of my head. I actually had a dream about that stripper last night. She followed us back to the base after closing and sat beside my bed smoking a cigarette while I tried to sleep. She was wearing a shiny black rubber suit, like an S&M queen, and one side of her head was smashed in. She didn't actually do anything; she just stared at me with her one good eye. I can't stop thinking about her, isn't that stupid. It's like her spirit followed me home. I can smell her sometimes even, that mealy stench of sweat barely overwhelming a dab of perfume. She must have made $200 dollars on us alone that night. I think about her lying in bed that night remembering us, and I can't decide whether she thinks we're pathetic losers or just another bunch of guys, indistinguishable from the rest. Is she in control? Quimby, the asshole, is always saying those dancers were all abused as children, but what does he know? I don't know, but either way, she's America to me. She jiggles her tits for cold cash or because she's so fucking beaten down she thinks people will love her for it. And the whole time she wears a platinum blond wig. That's the kicker. Every shameless woman in this country thinks she's Marilyn Monroe for some reason.
* * *

Sir, I will confirm what I already told you: He fired his weapon over my wing, one short burst. I heard the bullets zip by the cockpit to the left. I snapped my head back and caught the last of the muzzle flash. There is no doubt in my mind about that, sir. None whatsoever. --Captain Edwin Quimby, excerpted from the Investigator's Report, transcript.
* * *

February 10 - Capt. Scrim's journal

Thoughts come in short bursts today, full of anxiety. I daydream about the gravity well, the black hole, sucking and sucking. Heart pounding, no reason. I'm just lying here. Imagine the worst you've felt, for days, so long you forget what a good one looks like. I want to rip out my own eyes. I want to fucking blast White and Spinali into ten-thousand frags. I hate this place, but it's not going to beat me.
* * *

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- March 3 -- Air Force officials are still trying to determine why an A-10 attack plane flew miles off-course last month and crashed into Lake Tahoe.

Sources told CNN that Air Force investigators are focusing on an exotic dance club in Sacramento where Scrim was known to frequent and where he may have maintained a relationship with one of the dancers. Witnesses saw him with the dancer two days before the fatal flight. It had also been rumored that Scrim may have been homosexual or had AIDS, but toxicology reports reveal he was not HIV positive, and investigators say they have no evidence to suggest he was gay.

Was he gay? I don't know sir. --Captain Edwin Quimby, from the Investigator's Report, transcript.

* * *

February 11 - Capt. Scrim's journal
This is a goddamn nightmare. I can't believe what happened.

I went to see that stripper last night. It's crazy, I know, but I had to talk to her. It was bugging me so much I couldn't sleep. I kept turning her over in my head, wondering what was really going on with her. It was this itch I had to scratch. So I went back there, and I paid her $20 to sit at a table with me. I let her dance for about a minute because I wanted to see if I'd got aroused. I never get a hard-on in those places, because I'm always thinking about how fucking pathetic the whole scene is. And I didn't this time either. I guess part of me wished I would, because then I might feel more in synch with the world. But then I think, are Spinali or White really turned on by this, or are they just playing out the same old tape that got programmed into all of us when we were boys? So she did her thing, but I wasn't really paying much attention. After a minute, I asked her to sit down, and then I asked her why she danced? "The money," she said. She made this shrugging motion, like she was dismissing the whole thing, but I could tell she was concealing something, so I asked her, "do you ever feel dirty doing this?" She was starting to get pissed, but she answered anyway. "No, I'm proud of my body, why wouldn't I want to show it off." I looked at her body more carefully then. She was thin --I could see her ribs-- but she had nice full breasts and her ass was perky and round. She was nothing extraordinary. I kept trying to justify the $200 in my mind, or the $20 for that matter.

Then I asked her, "would you fantasize about doing this even if you weren't getting paid?" She took off as soon as I said it. I know she thought I was a pervert just trying to get my kicks, but for $20 she could have answered a few more questions.

So about ten minutes later, I paid another dancer, a very attractive black girl, to lap dance for me. I let her go for about two minutes, then I asked her over the music if she ever fantasized about dancing naked when she was a teenager. "Hell yes," she said, just like that. Bingo! I asked her why, and she said, "it gives me a thrill. It's like a buzz." These fraternity guys were waving money at her and blowing kisses from across the runway, so she leaned over and said, 'I'll be back' and shimmied over to them.

I stayed around until closing and watched her dance. Sometime around 2 a.m., she came over and asked me if I wanted to get some coffee. I imagined what Spinali and White would say if they were here. They're always fantasizing about hanging out with strippers after hours. They're always saying it doesn't happen in the real world, only in movies. So there I was ten minutes later, in a coffee shop with a stripper named Tami talking about my life.

She asked why I became a pilot. I told her that when I saw Top Gun as a kid, I was so jazzed up about flying I went out and bought every F-14 model ever made and spent weeks assembling them in my room. She said she thought Tom Cruise is a cocky asshole who probably sucks in a relationship. "Arrogant men can't give you anything," she said. I told her flying was a buzz to me; she understood that. I told her I disliked women who are turned on by pilots, because they usually live in a fantasy world when it comes to men, and it's almost impossible to live up to their expectations. I told her I was in a Doors cover band. She thought that was really hilarious.

It was easy to talk to her. I figured out pretty quickly that Tami is just a friendly girl. I think she trusted me, that's why we were sitting there in the first place.

So after we got comfortable, I asked her what percentage of guys get aroused by her dancing did she think? She thought this was funny. "I'd say less than fifty percent, but I don't know for sure."

"So why do they come to the bar if it's not a turn-on?" I asked.

"It's like a shortcut to manhood," Tami replied. "It's like a drug-- it gets you someplace good in a hurry, without paying the regular tolls."

"So, real men don't go to titty bars then," I said. And she said, "No, all sorts of men watch me dance. The feeling's just a substitute for the real thing, that's all I'm saying."

It was fun and innocent and even tender. We walked out of the diner together, arm in arm, laughing like old friends. She wrote her phone number down on the back of a bank statement. "I don't date white guys," she said. "But we can go out for coffee anytime." She hugged me and kissed me on the cheek as the bus was pulling up. "Don't be so sad all the time," she said, pinching my cheek. I waved goodbye and stepped on the bus. And who was sitting there but White, drunk off his ass. He saw the whole thing.

"Je-sus H. Christ," he shouted before the door closed behind me. "Mr. Clean's hanging out with hookers now."

She heard him --the bastard-- and as we were driving away, I could see her hang her head in shame.

There was no explaining it to him. I didn't even try.
* * *

Investigators are looking at several theories, including one that Scrim, described as a 'gung-ho pilot,' may have committed suicide by flying his plane into Lake Tahoe or may have been attempting to steal the plane for an Idaho-based militia group. --From the Los Angeles Times, March 5.

Franklin wanted to fly jets ever since he saw the movie Top Gun. --Clyde Quimby, excerpted from a May 14 60 Minutes interview

I don't know what the hell he was doing in that club, but he left with one of the strippers, I can tell you that. --Lieutenant Gregory "Bulldog" White, from the Investigator's Report, transcript.

* * *

February 12 - Capt. Scrim's journal

I have to fly with those fuckheads Spinali and Quimby tomorrow on the big bomb run. They just posted the roster. I almost lost it when I saw the assignment. I had this urge to rip the whole bulletin board down and stomp it to bits. What is wrong with me lately? I'm losing my shit.

I almost went into the Colonel's office to tell him what's going on, but I nixed that. I'm not getting grounded because of them. I can keep it together, I think. I'm a better pilot than both of those shitheads combined.

They've been riding me all day about Tami. They just don't know when to let up. I notice Spinali just mouths everything Quimby says. Not an original bone in his body.

Quimby and Spinali. We've got a few Quimby's running around this world and about a billion Spinali's slobbering all over his feet. And maybe a few Scrims who'd like nuke the whole stinking lot from the air.
    * * *

    I heard Quimby shouting at Captain Scrim in the com at that point. He was cursing, calling him a moron, and that's when he broke formation. . . . No, sir, I can't confirm that Captain Scrim fired his weapon. I wish I could, but I can't. -- Captain John Spinali, excerpted from the Investigator's Report, transcript.
      * * *
        February 13 - Capt. Scrim's journal

        I'm broken open, tender and raw on the inside. I don't want to fly today-- first time in my life. My friend, the end. Nothing works out the way you think it will.
        * * *

        It is still uncertain whether the short burst from Captain Scrim's Gatling gun was intentional or accidental, but this event probably precipitated his breaking formation. His recent troubled relationships with Captains Quimby and Spinali non-withstanding, there is no hard evidence to confirm that he fired intentionally. There is no evidence to corroborate Captain Quimby's testimony that the weapon was fired at all. No further radio transmissions were received from Captain Scrim after he broke formation. --From the Investigator's Report.

        Predictions #3 - Dated February 7 - A military fighter plane, possibly an A10 Warthog or F-14 Tomcat, will crash sometime this month. The pilot is upset over a failed relationship and will commit suicide in his aircraft. --Excerpted from Marvelous Marvin's Psychic Edge web page - "hot predictions that came true" - posted February 28.

        Wandering, wandering in hopeless night
        Out here in the perimeter there are no stars
        Out here we is stoned

        --Jim Morrison, American Prayer

        Copyright 1998, Daniel R. Vollaro, First North American serial rights

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