[Exerpt from Taxi Dancer.]

Her thighs were firm, like an athlete’s. Just above one knee on the inside of her left thigh, there was a small scar, a long thin wisp of pink that curled almost like a swimming snake. Actually the color was more magenta than pink, he decided, like the gills of a cuthroat trout flushed for spawning. Magenta was an unusual color, even rare, for human scar tissue. South knew about scars; they spoke eloquently about their owners. Athletes had them. So too did firemen and cops and race drivers. But no profession had scars like fighter pilots.

Taxi DancerĀ  Jelly Roll Jessup brought the farm at McConnell, South remembered. Melted down to the ultimate: liquid scar. The trick in scar acquisition was to get just enough for effect; too much and you ended up like Jelly Roll, too formless to identify. With Jessup the body-bagging detail had to take a long smoke break until the fleshy droplets cooled sufficiently to be picked up. The medics had used spatulas from the mess hall to put the pieces in the rubber bag.

Merchant did better than Jessup. His left ear had melted down to the skull, leaving only the stump of an earlobe, and his eyebrows had refused to grow back after the accident. It had been a bad cockpit fire, but Merchant ahd gotten out with minimal real damage and some great scar tissue. Now Merchant loved to greet FNGs (Fucking New Guys0 by pointing to his face and hissing, “You’re in the clubhouse, asshole, but you ain’t joined the club yet.” They understood.

Jasper Loo — called “Chan” by his comrades in the wing — was another case, somewhere between Merchant and Jessup in the scar hierarchy. It had taken four hundred stitches and experimental plastic staples to put a face back on Chan’s skull and, to be sure, the sawbones who’d done the work was no artist. Loo’s new face was a patchwork quilt of discolored flesh squares sewn to the muscles to approximate a human countenance. Even so, Loo didn’t seem to mind. He was used to it now, and he said split-tails — especially young nurses– were fascinated by his deformity. The pilots were not so accepting. In the stag bar Chan was not allowed to stand in direct light; they insisted he stand in shadows, lest he give them all nightmares. It was a joke. Sort of.

Jack Pasko’s situation was about right. He’d lost his nose in a high-speed, high altitude punch-out and he still swore that the nose had stayed right beside him, at arm’s length, but too slippery to catch, as he free-fell from the ejection altitude to eighteen thousand feet when the aneroid in his chute inflated and automatically put him under the silk.

The surgeon built a new nose for Pasko, using a chunk of flesh from his left buttock. The surgery had gone well, bu there had been a post-operative infection and problems with healing so that one corner of his left nostril containedĀ  a humped flap of skin and made it look like there were three entrances to his nose. The Flight Medicine Section wanted to fix the oddity, but Pasko — ever pragmatic — refused. His breathing was normal, his oxygen mask fit fine, and undoubtedly there’d be more damage before the tour was over. The docs could just wait and fix the whole mess at once.

South especially admired Milette. His bottom lip resembled the battlements of a Norman castle. The surgeon who had done the job had worked in poor light and the mouth had been such a mess that his nurse kept leaving the room to puke in a steel basin. Given the circumstances, Milette felt lucky to have any bottom lip and besides, the jagged V’s in it provided him with handy cigarette holders.

“Can’t bitch, he said. “It’s there. It works. Everything else is gravy.”

South and the Taxi Dancers knew about scars. But in their vast storehouse of such information, South could recall no previous specimen of a magenta hue. The discovery increased his interest in the secretary’s thigh.

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