A MAN'S ALTER EGO is nothing more than his favorite image of himself. The mirror
in my room in the Windsor Hotel in Paris reflected my favorite image of me--a
darkly handsome young airline pilot, smooth-skinned, bull-shouldered and
immaculately groomed. Modesty is not one of my virtues. At the time, virtue was
not one of my virtues.
Satisfied with my appearance, I picked up my bag, left the room and two minutes later was standing in front of the cashier's cage.
"Good morning, Captain," said the cashier in warm tones. The markings on my uniform identified me as a first officer, a co-pilot, but the French are like that. They tend to overestimate everything save their women, wine and art.
I signed the hotel bill she slid across the counter, started to turn away, then wheeled back, taking a payroll check from the inside pocket of my jacket. "Oh, can you cash this for me? Your Paris night life nearly wiped me out and it'll be another week before I'm home." I smiled ruefully.
She picked up the Pan American World Airways check and looked at the amount. "I'm sure we can, Captain, but I must get the manager to approve a check this large," she said. She stepped into an office behind her and was back in a moment, displaying a pleased smile. She handed me the check to endorse.
"I assume you want American dollars?" she asked, and without waiting for my reply counted out $786.73 in Yankee currency and coin. I pushed back two $50 bills. "I would appreciate it if you would take care of the necessary people, since I was so careless," I said, smiling.
She beamed. "Of course, Captain. You are very kind," she said. "Have a safe flight and please come back to see us."
I took a cab to Orly, instructing the driver to let me off at the TWA entrance. I by-passed the TWA ticket counter in the lobby and presented my FAA license and Pan Am ID card to the TWA operations officer. He checked his manifest. "Okay, First Officer Frank Williams, deadheading to Rome. Gotcha. Fill this out, please." He handed me the familiar pink form for nonrevenue passengers and I penned in the pertinent data. I picked up my bag and walked to the customs gate marked "crew members only." I started to heft my bag to the counter top but the inspector, a wizened old man with a wispy mustache, recognized me and waved me through.
A young boy fell in beside me as I walked to the plane, gazing with unabashed admiration at my uniform with its burnished gold stripes and other adornments.
"You the pilot?" he asked. He was English from his accent.
"Nah, just a passenger like you," I replied. "I fly for Pan Am."
"You fly 707s?"
I shook my head. "Used to," I said. "Right now I'm on DC-8s." I like kids. This one reminded me of myself a few years past.
An attractive blond stewardess met me as I stepped aboard and helped me to stow my gear in the crew's luggage bin. "We've got a full load this trip, Mr. Williams," she said. "You beat out two other guys for the jump seat. I'll be serving the cabin."
"Just milk for me," I said. "And don't worry about that if you get busy. Hitchhikers aren't entitled to anything more than the ride."
I ducked into the cabin. The pilot, co-pilot and flight engineer were making their pre-takeoff equipment and instrument check but they paused courteously at my entrance. "Hi, Frank Williams, Pan Am, and don't let me interrupt you," I said.
"Gary Giles," said the pilot, sticking out his hand. He nodded toward the other two men. "Bill Austin, number two, and Jim Wright. Good to have you with us." I shook hands with the other two airmen and dropped into the jump seat, leaving them to their work.
We were airborne within twenty minutes. Giles took the 707 up to 30,000 feet, checked his instruments, cleared with the Orly tower and then uncoiled himself from his seat. He appraised me with casual thoroughness and then indicated his chair. "Why don't you fly this bird for a while, Frank," he said. "I'll go back and mingle with the paying passengers."
Excerpted from Catch Me If You Can by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding Copyright© 2000 by Frank Abagnale, Jr. with Stan Redding. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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