No one knows what it’s like to be the bad man, to be the sad man

Eight thousand feet down, the Sacramento Valley shines beneath me, a living emerald quilt. Lakes shimmer in the brilliant haze. From here, the cars are white blood cells, coursing through the veins of Calaveras County.

Adam Wilt is the amiable pilot of this Cessna C177A N30304, vintage 1969, with all the Populuxe design hipness of the period. The vinyl dashboard is crinkled and cracked from years of sun and air, and the windshield is streaked with hairline scratches, but the ashtrays are clean and the wings are unmarked. The fat-ass engine growls and hauls us through the fog.

“We’re at cruising altitude,” says Adam. “I would say it’s OK for you to get up and walk around the cabin, but I’d have to get out first.”

“I’ll bet you’ve used that joke before,” I said.

Adam looked chastened. “No, I haven’t,” he said. Mountains, fields, trees, sky: everywhere, luscious and thrilling hues of green and blue.

We met Josh and Tasha at the airport, who greeted us like old friends. They smiled and corralled us into their van, loaded with props, sunscreens, a tent, a power generator, and a gregarious chihuahua named Dieter.

In half an hour we are at a lush, open, green pasture that goes by the quaint name N 57 deg 36.657′, E 120 deg 53.387′. Dave Kellum, the director, introduces me to the costume: a green industrial plastic slicker, black coveralls, black shirt and tie, gas mask, and bowler top hat, filled with several bags of ice to keep me cool. The suit plus full-face gas mask plus balaclava plus bowler hat plus galoshes plus slicker plus backpack weighs in excess of eighty pounds.

I stand in front of the camera. Grips reflect fill lights on my sweltering head. I blink and become Geoffrey Done.

“Son of a bitch,” I whisper. I raise the pistol towards the mechanical eye, two-hand grip —

Bang! Cut! “Okay, next set-up,” says Dave, and four people scramble to rearrange my costume.

Six hours and fourteen set-ups. At the end of a productive day, Adam and I are back in the Cardinal, floating at one hundred twenty miles an hour into a picture-perfect west-coast sunset.