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January 2014, vol 9, no 4

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Steven Carter

Scotch on the Rocks

He flew KC-97 air refueling tankers in Viet Nam. The ’97 could handle three thirsty F4C Phantoms at a time—not too shabby for a medium-sized airplane.

Sitting next to me at the Bigfork Inn Bar, hair and mustache gone white, he doesn’t have a pilot’s faraway gaze anymore; but you can tell he’s a ghost—not of the living, but the dead.

He’d been “killed” in 1975, when the war ended and, mustered back to the U.S., he picked up—then put down—the pieces of a former life.

It wasn’t easy: in fact, impossible. He’s one of those souls who are sent here to do one thing and one thing only, it doesn’t matter what. The sense of a destiny is what matters, and this guy is, was, possessed by it.

He wound up in Bigfork, a stranger in a strange land, having gone through two marriages; no kids, no family, in spite of all a moderate drinker (in his position I’d be a total lush).

He avoids eye contact with me.

—Fine. Looking into his eyes is like looking at the bottom of an ocean.

Yesterday afternoon, working on his second Scotch, he tells me: “Sometimes we’d fly so high you could see stars in broad daylight.”

Supple sky
Of jet contrails