Page 38 of Airport


Anson Harris said, “Hear what?”

“We’re delayed an hour. The gate agent just had word.”

“Damn!” Vernon Demerest said. “Goddam!”

“Apparently,” Gwen said, “a lot of passengers are on their way, but have been held up–I guess because of the snow. Some have phoned in, and Departure Control decided to allow them extra time.”

Anson Harris asked, “Is boarding being delayed too?”

“Yes, Captain. The flight hasn’t been announced. It won’t be for another half-hour, at least.”

Harris shrugged. “Oh, well; we might as well relax.” He moved toward the flight deck.

Gwen volunteered, “I can bring you all coffee, if you like.”

“I’ll get coffee in the terminal,” Vernon Demerest said. He nodded to Gwen. “Why don’t you come with me?”

She hesitated. “Well, I could.”

“Go ahead,” Harris said. “One of the other girls can bring mine, and there’s plenty of time.”

A minute or two later, Gwen walked beside Vernon Demerest, her heels clicking as she kept pace with his strides down the Trans America departure wing. They were heading for the main terminal concourse.

Demerest was thinking: the hour’s delay might not be a bad thing, after all. Until this moment, with the essential business of Flight Two to think about, he had pushed all thoughts of Gwen’s pregnancy from his mind. But, over coffee and a cigarette, there would be a chance to continue the discussion they had begun earlier. Perhaps, now, the subject which he had not broached before–an abortion–could be brought into the open.

08

NERVOUSLY, D. O. Guerrero lit another cigarette from the stub of his previous one. Despite his efforts to control the motion of his hands, they trembled visibly. He was agitated, tense, anxious. As he had earlier, while putting his dynamite bomb together, he could feel rivulets of perspiration on his face and beneath his shirt.

The cause of his distress was time–the time remaining between now and the departure of Flight Two. It was running out, remorselessly, like sand from an hourglass; and much–too much–of the sand was gone.

Guerrero was in a bus en route to the airport. Half an hour ago the bus had entered the Kennedy Expressway, from which point, normally, there would have been a swift, fifteen-minute ride to Lincoln International. But the expressway, like every other highway in the state, was impeded by the storm, and jammed with traffic. At moments the traffic was halted, at other times merely inching along.

Before departure from downtown, the dozen or so bus passengers–all destined for Flight Two–had been told of their flight’s delay by one hour. Even so, at the present rate of progress, it appeared as if it might take another two hours, perhaps three, to get to the airport.

Others in the bus were worried, too.

Like D. O. Guerrero, they had checked in at the Trans America downtown terminal in the Loop. Then, they had been in plenty of time, but now, in view of the mounting delay, were wondering aloud whether Flight Two would wait for them indefinitely, or not.

The bus driver was not encouraging. In reply to questions, he declared that usually, if a bus from a downtown terminal was late, a flight was held until the bus arrived. But when conditions got really bad, like tonight, anything could happen. The airline might figure that the bus would be held up for hours more–as it could be–and that the flight should go. Also, the driver added, judging by the few people in the bus, it looked as if most passengers for Flight Two were out at the airport already. That often happened with international flights, he explained; relatives came to see passengers off, and drove them out by car.

The discussion went back and forth across the bus, though D. O. Guerrero, his spindly body hunched into his seat, took no part in it. Most of the other passengers appeared to be tourists, with the exception of a voluble Italian family–a man and woman with several children–who were talking animatedly in their own language.

“If I were you, folks, I wouldn’t worry,” the bus driver had announced a few minutes earlier. “The traffic ahead looks as if it’s loosenin’ up some. We might just make it.”

So far, however, the speed of the bus had not increased.

D. O. Guerrero had a double seat section, three rows back from the driver, to himself. The all-important attaché case was held securely on his lap. He eased forward, as he had done several times already, straining to peer ahead into the darkness beyond the bus; all he could see, through the twin arcs cleared by the big, slapping windshield wipers, was what appeared to be an endless string of vehicle lights, disappearing into the falling snow. Despite his sweating, his pale, thin lips were dry; he moistened them with his tongue.

For Guerrero, “just making it” to the airport in time for Flight Two would simply not do. He needed an extra ten or fifteen minutes, at least, to buy flight insurance. He cursed himself for not having gone out to the airport sooner, and bought the flight insurance he needed in plenty of time. In his original plan, purchasing the insurance at the last minute, and thus minimizing any chance of inquiry, seemed a good idea. What he had not foreseen was the kind of night this had turned out to be–though he ought to have foreseen it, remembering the time of year. It was just that kind of thing–overlooking some significant, variable factor–which had dogged D. O. Guerrero through his business enterprises, and time after time brought grandiose schemes to naught. The trouble was, he realized, whenever he made plans, he convinced himself that everything would go exactly as he hoped; therefore he failed to allow for the unexpected. More to the point, he thought bitterly, he never seemed able to learn from past experience.

He supposed that when he got to the airport–assuming Flight Two had not already left–he could go to the Trans America flight counter and announce himself as being present. Then he would insist on being allowed time to buy flight insurance before the flight took off. But it would involve the one thing he desperately wanted to avoid: drawing attention to himself, in the same way that he had drawn attention already–and for the stupidest omission he could possibly have made.

He had failed to bring any baggage, other than the small, slim attaché case in which he was carrying the dynamite bomb.

At the check-in counter downtown the ticket agent had asked, “Is that your baggage, sir?” He pointed to a large pile of suitcases belonging to a man in line behind.

“No.” D. O. Guerrero hesitated, then held up the small attaché-briefcase. “I… er…. don’t have anything except this.”

The agent’s eyebrows went up. “No baggage for a trip to Rome, sir? You really are traveling light.” He motioned to the attaché case. “Do you wish to check that?”

“No, thank you.” All D. O. Guerrero wanted at that moment was his airline ticket, and to get away from the counter, and secure an inconspicuous seat on the airport bus. But the agent glanced curiously at him a second time, and Guerrero knew that, from this moment onward, he would be remembered. He had stamped himself indelibly on the ticket agent’s memory–all because he forgot to bring a suitcase, which he could so easily have done. Of course, the reason he had not done so was instinctive. D. O. Guerrero knew–as others did not–that Flight Two would never reach its destination; therefore no baggage was necessary. But he ought to have had baggage, as a cover. Now, at the inquiry which would inevitably follow the flight’s loss, the fact that one passenger–himself–had boarded without baggage, would be remembered and commented on. It would underscore whatever other suspicions about D. O. Guerrero investigators might, by that time, have.

But if there were no wreckage, he reminded himself, what could they prove?

Nothing! The flight insurance people would have to pay.

Would the bus never get to the airport?

The children from the Italian family were running noisily up and down the aisle of the bus. A few seats back, the mother was still jabbering in Italian to the husband; she held a baby which was crying lustily. Neither the woman nor the man seemed aware of the baby’s crying.

Guerrero’s nerves were stretched and raw. He wanted to seize the baby and throttle it; to shout to the others, Shut up! Shut up!

Couldn’t they sense?… Didn’t the fools know that this was no time for stupid chattering?… No time, when Guerrero’s whole future–at least, his family’s future… the success of the plan so painstakingly worked out… everything, everything, was predicated on getting to the airport with time to spare.

One of the running children–a boy of five or six, with an attractive, intelligent face–stumbled in the aisle and fell sideways into the empty seat beside D. O. Guerrero. In regaining his balance, the boy’s hand went out, striking the attaché case still on Guerrero’s lap. The case slipped sideways and Guerrero grabbed it. He managed to stop it before it fell, then turned to the child, his face contorted to a snarl, his hand raised to strike.

Wide-eyed, the boy regarded him. He said softly, “Scusi.”

With an erfort, Guerrero controlled himself. Others in the bus might be watcbing. If he were not careful, be would draw attention to himself again. Groping for some of the words he had picked up from Italians who had worked for him on construction projects, he said awkwardly, “E troppo rumorosa.”

The child nodded gravely. “Si.” He stood where he was.

“All right,” Guerrero said. “That’s all. Get lost! Se ne vada!”

“Si,” the boy said again. His eyes were uncomfortably direct, and for a moment Guerrero was reminded that this child, and others, would be aboard Flight Two. Well, it made no difference. There was no point in be coming sentimental; nothing would change his intentions now. Besides, when it happened, when he pulled the string of the attaché case and the airplane ripped apart, everything would be over quickly, before anyone–especially the children-had time to know.

The boy turned away, and went back in the bus to his mother.

At last!–the bus was moving faster… now it was speeding up! Ahead, through the windshield, D. O. Guerrero could see that the traffic had thinned, other lights in front were moving quickly. They might… just might… arrive at the airport in time for him to buy flight insurance without any need to arouse attention. But it was going to be close. He hoped the insurance booth would not be busy.

He noticed that the children from the Italian family had returned to their seats, and he congratulated himself about not attracting attention a moment ago. If he had struck the child–as he almost had–people would have made a fuss. At least he had avoided that. It was still a pity that he had got himself noticed when checking in, though when he thought about it, he supposed that no irreparable harm had been done.

Or had it?

A new worry nagged him.

Supposing the ticket agent who had been curious about the absence of any baggage remembered the incident again, after the bus had gone. Guerrero knew he had appeared nervous at the time; supposing the agent had noticed, had later become suspicious. The agent would talk to someone else, a supervisor perhaps, who might already have telephoned the airport. Even at this moment, someone–the police?–might be waiting for the bus to arrive; to interrogate D. O. Guerrero; to open and inspect his single, small attaché case with the damning evidence inside. For the first time Guerrero wondered what would happen if he were caught. It would mean arrest, imprisonment. Then he thought: before he would allow that to happen… if he were accosted, if exposure seemed imminent… he would pull the loop of string on the outside of the case and blow himself, along with everyone nearby, to pieces. His hand went out. Beneath the attaché case handle he touched the loop of string and held it. It was reassuring… Now, for the moment, he would try to think of something else.

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