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She said shortly, “Yes.”

It was natural that Gwen did. Most stewardesses were aware of what airlines would do for them if they became pregnant, providing the stewardess herself agreed to certain conditions. Within Trans America the system was referred to familiarly as the “3-PPP.” Other airlines used differing names, and arrangements varied slightly, but the principle was the same.

“I’ve known girls who’ve used the 3-PPP,” Gwen said. “I didn’t think I’d ever need to.”

“Most of the others didn’t, I guess.” He added: “But you wouldn’t need to worry. It isn’t something that airlines advertise, and it all works quietly. How are we for time?”

Gwen held her wrist watch under the light of the dash. “We’re okay.”

He swung the Mercedes into a center lane carefully, judging his traction on the wet, snowy surface, and passed a lumbering utilities truck. Several men, probably an emergency crew, were clinging to the sides of the truck as it moved along. They looked weary, wet, and miserable. Demerest wondered what the men’s reaction would be if they knew that he and Gwen would be under warm Neapolitan sunshine only hours from now.

“I don’t know,” Gwen said; “I don’t know if I could ever do it.”

Like Demerest, Gwen knew the reasoning of management which lay behind airline pregnancy programs. No airline liked losing stewardesses for any reason. Their training was expensive; a qualified stewardess represented a big investment. Another thing: the right kind of girls, with good looks, style, and personality, were hard to find.

The way the programs worked was practical and simple. If a stewardess became pregnant, and did not plan to be married, obviously she could return to her job when her pregnancy was over, and usually her airline would be delighted to have her back. So, the arrangement was, she received official leave of absence, with her job seniority protected. As to her personal welfare, airline personnel departments had special sections which, among other things, would help make medical or nursing home arrangements, either where a girl lived or at some distant point, whichever she preferred. The airline helped psychologically, too, by letting the girl know that someone cared about her, and was looking out for her interest. A loan of money could sometimes be arranged. Afterward, if a stewardess who had had her child was diffident about returning to her original base, she would be quietly transferred to a new one of her own choosing.

In return for all this, the airline asked three assurances from the stewardess–hence the Three-Point Pregnancy Program.

First, the girl must keep the airline personnel department informed of her whereabouts at all times during her pregnancy.

Second, she must agree that her baby be surrendered for adoption immediately after birth. The girl would never know the baby’s adoptive parents; thus the child would pass out of her life entirely. However, the airline guaranteed that proper adoption procedures would be followed, with the baby being placed in a good home.

Third–at the outset of the three-point program the stewardess must inform the airline of the name of the child’s father. When she had done so, a representative from Personnel–experienced in such situations–promptly sought out the father with the objective of obtaining financial support for the girl. What the personnel man tried to obtain was a promise, in writing, of enough money to cover medical and nursing home expenses and, if possible, some or all of the stewardess’s lost wages. Airlines preferred such arrangements to be amiable and discreet. If they had to, though, they could get tough, using their considerable corporate influence to bring pressure on non-cooperating individuals.

It was seldom necessary to be tough where the father of a stewardess’s baby was a flying crew member–a captain, or first or second officer. In such cases, gentle company suasion, plus the father’s wish to keep the whole thing quiet, were usually enough. As to keeping quiet, the company obliged. Temporary support payments could be made in any reasonable way, or, if preferred, the airline made regular deductions from the employee’s pay checks. Just as considerately, to avoid awkward questions at home, such deductions appeared under the heading: “personal misc.”

All money received by these means was paid, in its entirety, to the pregnant stewardess. The airline deducted nothing for its own costs.

“The whole point about the program,” Demerest said, “is that you’re not alone, and there’s all kinds of help.”

He had been careful of one thing–to avoid any reference, so far, to abortion. That was a separate subject because no airline would, or could, become directly involved in abortion arrangements. Advice on the subject was frequently given unofficially to those who sought it–by stewardess supervisors who learned, through experience of others, how such arrangements could be made. Their objective, if a girl was determined on abortion, was to insure its performance under safe medical conditions, avoiding at all costs the dangerous and disreputable practitioners whom desperate people sometimes resorted to.

Gwen regarded her companion curiously. “Tell me one thing. How is it you know so much about all this?”

“I told you, I’m a union officer…”

“You’re part of the ALPA’s for pilots. You don’t have anything to do with stewardesses–not in that way, anyhow.”

“Maybe not directly.”

“Vernon, this has happened to you before… getting a stewardess pregnant… Vernon, hasn’t it?”

He nodded reluctantly. “Yes.”

“It must come pretty easily to you, knocking up stewardesses–those gullible country girls you were talking about. Or were they mostly from ‘modest city homes’?” Gwen’s voice was bitter. “How many have there been altogether? Two dozen, a dozen? Just give me an idea in round figures”

He sighed. “One; only one.”

He had been incredibly lucky, of course. It could have been many more, but his answer was the truth. Well… almost the truth; there was that other time, and the miscarriage, but that shouldn’t count.

Outside the car, traffic density was increasing as they neared the airport, now less than a quarter mile away. The bright lights of the great terminal, though dimmed tonight by snow, still filled the sky.

Gwen said, “The other girl who got pregnant. I don’t want to know her name…”

“I wouldn’t tell you.”

“Did she use the thingummy–tbe three-point program?”

“Yes.”

“Did you help her?”

He answered impatiently, “I said earlier–wbat kind of a man do you think I am? Of course I helped her. If you must know, the company made deductions from my pay checks. That’s how I knew about the way it’s done.”

Gwen smiled. ” ‘Personal misc.?’ “

“Yes.”

“Did your wife ever know?”

He hesitated before answering. “No.”

“What happened to the baby?”

“It was adopted.”

“What was it?”

“Just a baby.”

“You know perfectly well what I mean. Was it a boy or a girl?”

“A girl, I think.”

“You think.”

“I know. It was a girl.”

Gwen’s questioning made him vaguely uncomfortable. It revived memories he would as soon forget.

They were silent as Vernon Demerest swung the Mercedes into the airport’s wide and imposing main entry. High above the entry, soaring and floodlighted, were the futuristic parabolic arches–acclaimed achievement of a world-wide design contest–symbolizing, so it was said, the noble dreams of aviation. Ahead was an impressive, serpentine complex of roads, interchanges, flyovers, and tunnels, designed to keep the airport’s unceasing vehicular traffic flowing at high speed, though tonight the effects of the three-day storm were making progress slower than usual. Great mounds of snow were occupying normally usable road space. Snowplows and dump trucks, trying to keep remaining areas open, were adding their own confusion.

After several brief hold-ups, Demerest turned onto the service road which would bring them to the Trans America main hangar area, where they would leave the car and take a crew bus to the terminal.

Gwen stirred beside him. “Vernon.”

“Yes.”

“Thank you for being honest with me.” She reached out touching his nearer hand on the steering wheel. “I’ll be all right. I expect it was just a bit much, all at once. And I do want to go with you to Naples.”

He nodded and smiled, then took his hand off the wheel and clasped Gwen’s tightly. “We’ll have a great time, and I promise we’ll both remember it.”

He would do his best, he decided, to ensure the promise came true. For himself, it would not be difficult. He had been more attracted to Gwen, had felt more loving in her company, and closer in spirit, than with anyone else he remembered. If it were not for his marriage… He wondered, not for the first time, about breaking with Sarah, and marrying Gwen. Then he pushed the thought away. He had known too many others of his profession who had suffered upheaval–pilots who forsook wives of many years, for younger women. More often than not, all the men had in the end were shattered hopes and heavy alimony.

Sometime during their trip, though, either in Rome or Naples, he must have another serious discussion with Gwen. Their talk, so far, had not gone exactly as he would have liked, nor had the question of an abortion yet been raised.

Meanwhile–the thought of Rome reminded him–there was the more immediate matter of his command of Trans America Flight Two.

03

THE KEY was to room 224 of the O’Hagan Inn.

In the semidarkened locker area adjoining the air traffic control radar room, Keith Bakersfeld realized he had been staring at the key and its identifying plastic tag for several minutes. Or had it been seconds only? It might have been. Just lately, like so much else, the passage of time seemed inconstant and disoriented. Sometimes at home recently, Natalie had found him standing quite still, looking into nothingness. And when she had asked, with concern, Why are you there?, only then had he become awakened to where he was, and had resumed movement and conscious thinking.

What had happened, he supposed–then and a moment ago–was that his worn, weary mind had switched itself off. Somewhere inside the brain’s intricacies–of blood vessels, sinew, stored thought, and emotion–was a tiny switch, a self-defense mechanism like a thermal cutout in an electric motor, which worked when the motor was running too hot and needed to be saved from burning itself out. The difference, though, between a motor and a human brain, was that a motor stayed out of action if it needed to.

A brain would not.

The floodlights outside, on the face of the control tower, still reflected enough light inward through the locker room’s single window for Keith to see. Not that he needed to see. Seated on one of the wooden benches, the sandwiches Natalie had made, untouched, beside him, he was doing nothing more than holding the O’Hagan Inn key and thinking, reflecting on the paradox of the human brain.

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