Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Bogus Hijack

In February 2018, Paperback Warrior published a feature article exposing that the author of “The D..C. Man” series of men’s adventure novels, “James P. Cody, ” was actually a former Roman Catholic Priest named Peter T. Rohrbach. There were four D.C. Man books published in 1974 and 1975, and they were thought to be the only genre writing that Rohrbach undertook using the Cody pseudonym before his 2004 death.

However, further investigation revealed that Rohrbach sold a short story called “The Bogus Hijack” that was printed in the December 1970 edition of Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine under the Cody pen name. Placing this story into the timeline of his life, Fr. Rohrbach left the priesthood in 1966 and married in September 1970. This story likely would have been his first fiction sale as a married man free from the bonds of the priesthood.

First, some historical context for the short story: Skyjackings were fairly common in 1970 and did not have the dire consequences we associate with a mid-air takeover today. Fifty years ago, it was almost always some goofball looking to go to Cuba with a gaggle of inconvenienced Americans and an expensive jetliner along for the ride.

“The Bogus Hijack” is an enjoyable 14-page story told by an air traveler named Tom embarking on a Florida vacation with his family. At one point during the flight, our protagonist notices a Hispanic man walking closely behind a flight attendant toward the cockpit. After the pair disappears behind the first-class curtain, Tom whispers to his wife that he suspects the plane is about to be hijacked. Sure enough, they are now en route to Havana with little fanfare.

Upon arrival in Cuba, the hijacker is taken away while the passengers - including Tom and his family - are taken off the plane by local authorities and placed in a waiting area. While waiting at the airport, everyone is treated well and allowed to use the bathroom while the plane refuels. Soon thereafter, the passengers are reloaded and on their way to Miami no worse for wear.

However, our hero Tom notices something odd. One of the passengers on the unplanned flight from Havana to Miami isn’t the same person who landed with the other passengers in Havana. Did a switch occur in the airport bathroom to smuggle someone into the U.S.? Was this a real hijacking or a Trojan horse designed to smuggle a spy into America? The suspense later increases when Tom spots the suspicious passenger in Miami and disrupts his family vacation to tail the fellow - much to his wife’s annoyance.

“The Bogus Hijack” was a delightful little story of an everyman who stumbles into a world of intrigue that was clearly written by Rohrbach to be consistent with the Alfred Hitchcock brand. It never appeared in any of the Hitchcock anthologies, so if you want to read it, you’ll need to find it in the original magazine through collector’s channels.

For my part, I was glad to read the story and pass my copy of the magazine along to Rohrbach’s only daughter - now an adult - who was unaware that her dad had sold a story to the digest bearing Hitchcock’s name. I hope she enjoys the story as much as I did.