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Unusual for Mel, whose policy declarations were normally brief and concise, he had gone on for some time.

Lionel, on the other hand, thought the whole thing was a good idea.

Lionel was Lionel Urquhart. At the moment he hovered alongside Cindy’s life in the shape of a question mark.

Curiously, it was Mel who had brought Cindy and Lionel together to begin with. Mel had introduced them at a civic luncheon which Lionel was attending because of something architectural he had done for the city, and Mel was there because of the airport. The two men had known each other casually for years.

Afterward, Lionel telephoned Cindy, and they met a few times for luncheons and dinners, then more frequently, and eventually for the ultimate intimacy between a man and a woman.

Unlike many people who made a practice of extra-marital sex, Lionel had taken the experience extremely seriously. He lived alone, having been separated from his wife for several years, but was not divorced. Now he wanted to get a divorce, and have Cindy do the same, so they could marry. By this time, he knew that Cindy’s own marriage was shaky.

Lionel and his estranged wife had never had children–a fact, he confided to Cindy, that he greatly regretted. It was not too late, he declared, for Cindy and himself to have a child if they married soon. Also, he would be more than happy to provide a home for Roberta and Libby, and would do his best to be a substitute father.

Cindy had put off a decision for several reasons. Principally, she hoped that relations between herself and Mel would improve, making their marriage closer to what it used to be. She could not say with assurance that she was still in love with Mel; love, Cindy found, was something you became more skeptical about as you grew older. But at least she was used to Mel. He was there; so were Roberta and Libby; and, like many women, Cindy dreaded a major upheaval in her life.

Initially, too, she believed that a divorce and remarriage would be damaging to her socially. On this point, however, she had now changed her mind. Plenty of people had divorces without dropping out of sight socially, even temporarily, and one saw wives with old husbands one week, new ones the next. Cindy even had the impression sometimes that not to have been divorced, at least once, was somewhat square.

It was possible that marriage to Lionel might improve Cindy’s status socially. Lionel was much more amenable to partying and entertaining than Mel. Also, the Urquharts were an old, respected city family. Lionel’s mother still presided, dowager-like, over a decaying mansion near the Drake Hotel, where an antique butler ushered visitors in, and an arthritic maid brought afternoon tea on a silver tray. Lionel had taken Cindy there for tea one day. Afterward he reported that Cindy had made a good impression, and he was sure he could persuade his mother to sponsor Roberta and Libby as debutantes when the time came.

There and then–because her differences with Mel had grown even more intense–Cindy might have plunged ahead, committing herself to Lionel, except for one thing. Sexually, Lionel was a dying duck.

He tried hard, and occasionally he managed to surprise her, but most of the times they made love he was like a clock whose mainspring is running down. He said gloomily one night, after an abortive session in the bedroom of his apartment, which had been frustrating for both of them, “You should have known me when I was eighteen; I was a young ram.” Unfortunately, Lionel was now a long way from eighteen; he was forty-eight.

Cindy envisaged that if she married Lionel, such limited sex as they now enjoyed as lovers would drift into nothingness when they came to live together. Of course, Lionel would try to make up in other ways–he was kind, generous, considerate–but was that enough? Cindy was far from being on the wane sexually; she had always been strongly sensual, and lately her desire and sexual appetite seemed to have grown. But even if Lionel failed in that area, she wasn’t batting any better with Mel right now, so what was the difference? Overall, Lionel would give her more.

Perhaps the answer was to marry Lionel Urquhart and do some bedding down on the side. The latter might be difficult, especially when she was newly married, but if she was cautious it could be managed. Other people she knew of–men and women, some in high places–did the same thing to keep themselves satiated physicaUy, and their marriages intact. After all, she had succceded in deceiving Mel. He might suspect her in a general sense, but Cindy was positive that Mel had no definite knowledge about Lionel or anyone else.

Now, how about tonight? Should she go to the airport for a showdown with Mel, as she had considered earlier? Or should she let herself get involved for the evening with this newspaperman, Derek Eden, who was standing beside her waiting for an answer to his question.

It occurred to Cindy that perhaps she could manage both.

She smiled at Derek Eden. “Tell me again. What was it you said?”

“I said it was noisy in here.”

“Yes, it is.”

“I wondered if we might skip the dinner and go somewhere quieter.”

Cindy could have laughed aloud. Instead, she nodded. “All right.”

She glanced around at the other hosts and guests of the Archidona Children’s Relief Fund press party. The photographers had stopped taking pictures; so there was really no point in staying any longer. She could slip out quietly, and not be noticed.

Derek Eden asked, “Do you have a car here, Cindy?”

“No, do you?” Because of the weather, Cindy had come in a taxi.

“Yes.”

“All right,” she said, “I won’t leave here with you. But if you’re waiting in your car, outside, I’ll come through the main doors in fifteen minutes.”

“Better make it twenty minutes. I’ll need to make a couple of phone calls.”

“Very well.”

“Do you have any preference? I mean where we’ll go?”

“That’s entirely up to you.”

He hesitated, then said, “Would you like dinner first?”

She thought amusedly: the “first” was a message–to make quite sure she understood what she was getting into.

“No,” Cindy said. “I haven’t time. I have to be somewhere else later.”

She saw Derek Eden’s eyes glance down, then return to her face. She sensed the intake of his breath, and had the impression that he was marveling at his own good fortune. “You’re the greatest,” he said. “I’ll only believe my good luck when you come out through those doors.”

With that, he turned away and slipped quietly from the La Salle Salon. A quarter of an hour later, unnoticed, Cindy followed him.

She collected her coat and, as she left the Lake Michigan Inn, drew it closely around her. Outside it was still snowing, and an icy, shrieking wind swept across the open spaces of the Lakeshore and the Outer Drive. The weather made Cindy remember the airport. A few minutes ago she had made a firm resolve: she would still go there, later tonight; but it was early yet–not quite half-past nine–and there was plenty of time–for everything.

A porter forsook the shelter of the Inn doorway and touched his hat. “Taxi, ma’am?”

“I don’t think so.”

At that moment the lights of a car in the parking lot came on. It moved forward, skidding once on the loose snow, then came toward the door where Cindy was waiting. The car was a Chevrolet, several models old. She could see Derek Eden at the wheel.

The porter held the car door open and Cindy got in. As the door slammed closed, Derek Eden said, “Sorry about the car being cold. I had to call the paper, then make some arrangements for us. I got here just ahead of you.”

Cindy shivered, and pulled her coat even tighter. “Wherever we’re going, I hope it’s warm.”

Derek Eden reached across and took her hand. Since the hand was resting on her knee, he held that too. Briefly she felt his fingers move, then he returned his hand to the wheel. He said softly, “You’ll be warm. I promise.”

07

FORTY-FIVE MINUTES before its scheduled departure time of 10 P.M., Trans America Airline Flight Two - The Golden Argosy, Captain Vernon Demerest commanding–was in the final stages of preparation for its five-thousand-mile, non-stop journey to Rome.

General preparations for the flight had been under way for months and weeks and days. Others, more immediate, had continued for the past twenty-four hours.

An airline flight from any major terminal is, in effect, like a river joining the sea. Before it reaches the sea, a river is fed by tributaries, originating far back in time and distance, each tributary joined along its length by others, either greater or smaller. At length, at the river’s mouth, the river itself is the sum of everything which flowed into it. Translated into aviation terms, the river at the sea is an airliner at its moment of takeoff.

The aircraft for Flight Two was a Boeing 707-320B Intercontinental Jetliner, registered number N-731-TA. It was powered by four Pratt & Whitney turbofan jet engines, providing a cruising speed of six hundred and five miles per hour. The aircraft’s range, at maximum weight, was six thousand miles, or the straight line distance from Iceland to Hong Kong. It carried a hundred and ninety-nine passengers and twenty-five thousand U.S. gallons of fuel–enough to fill a good-size swimming pool. The aircraft’s cost to Trans America Airlines was six and a half rtillion dollars.

The day before yesterday N-731-TA had flown from Düsseldorf, Germany, and, two hours out from Lincoln International, an engine overheated. As a precaution, the captain ordered it shut down. None of the aircraft’s passengers were aware that they were operating with three engines instead of four; if necessary, the aircraft could have flown on one. Nor was the flight even late arriving.

Trans America Maintenance, however, was advised by company radio. As a result, a crew of mechanics was waiting, and whisked the airplane to a hangar as soon as passengers and freight were disembarked. Even while taxiing to the hangar, diagnostic specialists were at work, seeking out the airplane’s trouble, which they located quickly.

A pneumatic duct–a stainless steel pipe around the affected engine–had cracked and broken in flight. The immediate procedure was for the engine to be removed and a replacement installed. That was relatively simple. More complicated was the fact that for several minutes before the overheating engine was shut down, extremely hot air must have escaped into the engine nacelle. This heat could conceivably have damaged one hundred and eight pairs of wires from the aircraft’s electrical system.

Close examination of the wires showed that while some had been heated, none apparently had suffered damage. If a similar condition had occurred within an automobile, bus, or truck, the vehicle would have been put back into service without question. But airlines took no such chances. It was decided that all one hundred and eight pairs of wires must be replaced.

The work of replacement was highly skilled, but exacting and tcdious because only two men at a time could operate in the confined space of the engine nacelle. Moreover, cach pair of wires must be identified, then connected painstakingly to Cannon plugs. A non-stop, day-and-night effort was planned, with teams of electrical mechanics relieving each other.

The entire job would cost Trans America Airlines thousands of dollars in skilled man-hours and lost revenue while the big aircraft was unproductive on the ground. But the loss was accepted without question, as all airlines accepted such losses in pursuit of high safety standards.

Source: www.StudyNovels.com