“Then the only thing you might do, Mrs. Guerrero, is to go out to the airport. Probably the flight hasn’t boarded yet; so if your husband is there, you could see him. Even if the flight has boarded, they might help you at the departure gate. But you’d have to hurry.”
“All right,” Inez said. “If that’s the only thing, I suppose I’d better try.” She had no idea how she would get to the airport–more than twenty miles away–in less than aa hour, in the storm.
“Just a moment.” Miss Young sounded hesitant, her voice more human, as if some of Inez’s distress had penetrated through the phones. “I really shouldn’t do this, Mrs. Guerrero, but I’ll give you a little tip.”
“At the airport, when you get to the departure gate, don’t say you think your husband is aboard. Say you know he’s aboard and you’d like to speak to him. If he isn’t, you’ll find out. If he is, it will make it easier for the gate agent to tell you what you want to know.”
“Thank you,” Inez said. “Thank you very much.”
“You’re entirely welcome, madam.” Miss Young was her machine-like self once more. “Good night, and thank you for calling Trans America.”
Replacing the telephone, Inez remembered something she had noticed coming in. A taxi was parked outside; now she saw the driver. In a yellow, peaked cap, he was at the drugstore soda fountain, in conversation with another man.
A taxi would be costly, but if she was to get to the airport by 11 P.M., it was probably the only means.
Inez crossed to the soda fountain and touched the driver on the arm. “Excuse me.”
The cab driver turned. “Yeah, waddya want?” He had a mean, flabby face, and needed a shave.
“I was wondering how much it would cost for a taxi to the airport.”
The driver inspected her through narrowed, calculating eyes. “From here, maybe nine, ten dollars on the meter.”
Inez turned away. It was too much–more than half the small amount of money she had remaining; and she was not even sure that D.O. would be on the flight.
“Hey, you! Hold it!” The cabbie downed a Coke he had been drinking and hurried after Inez. He caught her at the door. “How much dough ya got?”
“It isn’t that.” Inez shook her head. “It’s just… it’s more than I can afford.”
The cabbie snorted, “Suma you people think ya can get them kinda rides for peanuts. ‘S long drag out there.”
“Yes, I know.”
“Why yo u wanna go? Whyn’t yer get th’ bus?”
“It’s important; I have to be there… ought to be there… by eleven o’clock.”
“Here,” the cab driver said, “maybe it’s bargain night. I’ll take yer for seven, even.”
“Well…” Inez still hesitated. Seven dollars was most of what she had planned to offer the apartment landlord tomorrow in an attempt to appease him about the arrears of rent. She would have no wages from the coffee house until the end of next week.
The cab driver said impatiently, ” ‘S th’ best offer you’ll get. You wanna take it, or not?”
“Yes,” Inez said. “Yes, I’ll take it.”
While Inez climbed into the cab unaided, the driver smirked as he used a whisk broom to clear snow from the windshield and windows. When Inez approached him in the drugstore, he was already off duty and, since he lived near the airport, was about to dead-head home. Now, he had a fare. Also, he lied in declaring the meter fare to the airport to be nine or ten dollars; it was actually less than seven. But the lie made it possible to concoct what his passenger believed to be a deal, so now he could drive with his flag up, and pocket the seven dollars for himself. High-flagging was illegal, but no cop, the driver reasoned, would be likely to spot him on a lousy night like this.
Thus, the cab driver thought smugly, in a single move he had managed to cheat both this stupid old crone of a passenger and his son-of-a-bitch employer.
As they moved off, Inez asked anxiously, “Are you sure you can get there by eleven o’clock?”
Over his shoulder the driver snarled, “I said so, didn’t I, so lemme do the drivin’.”
Just the same, he conceded to himself, he was not certain that they would. The roads were bad, the other traffic slow. They might just make it, but it was going to be close.
THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES later, the taxi containing Inez was crawling tediously along the snowbound, still-plugged Kennedy Expressway. Sitting tensely on the back seat, her fingers working nervously, Inez was wondering how much longer the journey would last.
At the same moment, the airport bus containing the contingent of Flight Two passengers swung on to the departure ramp entrance at Lincoln International. The bus, after shaking itself free from the slow-moving traffic nearer town, had continued to make good time; now, the clock above the terminal showed a quarter to eleven.
As the bus stopped, D. O. Guerrero was first to alight.
“BRING ALONG that portable public address system,” Elliott Freemantle commanded. “We may be glad of it.”
The Meadowood community meeting in the Sunday school hall of Meadowood First Baptist Church was sizzling with excitement which Lawyer Freemantle had skillfully generated. The meeting was also about to move on to Lincoln International Airport.
“Don’t hand me any bilgewater about it being too late, or not wanting to go,” Elliott Freemantle had exhorted his audience of six hundred a few minutes earlier. He stood before them confidently, impeccable as ever in his elegant Blue Spruce suit and gleaming alligator shoes; not a single barber-styled hair was out of place, and he radiated confidence. The meeting was enthusiastically with him now, and the rougher tongued he was, it seemed, the more they liked him.
He continued, “And don’t let’s have a lot of footling excuses for not going. I don’t want to hear about baby-sitters, mothers-in-law left alone, or stews on the stove simmering, because I couldn’t care less; neither–at this moment–should you. If your car’s stuck in the snow, leave it there and ride in someone else’s. The point is: I’m going to the airport tonight, on your behalf, to make myself obnoxious.” He paused as another aircraft thundered overhead. “By God!–it’s time somebody did.” The last remark had caused applause and laughter.
“I need your support, and I want you there–all of you. Now I’ll ask you a plain, straight question: Are you coming?”
The hall resounded to a roar of, “Yes!” People were on their feet, cheering.
“All right,” Freemantle said, and the hall had hushed. “Let’s get a few things clear before we go.”
He had already told them, he pointed out, that legal proceedings must be the basis of any action to gain relief for Meadowood community from its overwhelming airport noise. Such legal proceedings, however, should not be the kind which nobody noticed, or which took place in some out-of-the-way, unpeopled courtroom. Instead, they must be conducted in the spotlight of public attention and public sympathy.
“How do we get that kind of attention and sympathy?” Lawyer Freemantle paused, then answered his own question.
“We get it by making our point of view known in such a way that it becomes newsworthy. Then, and only then, can the attention-getting media-press, radio, and television–feature our viewpoint prominently, in the kind of way we want.”
The press were good friends, he declared. “We do not ask them to share our point of view, merely to report it fairly, which–in my experience–they always do. But it helps our reporter friends if a cause can engender some drama; that way, they get a better story.”
The three reporters at the press table were grinning as Freemantle added, “We’ll see if we can stage some drama for them tonight.”
While Elliott Freemantle was speaking, he was also observing shrewdly the progress of the legal forms, retaining himself as legal counsel for individual homeowners, which were now circulating through the hall. Many of the forms–at least a hundred, he estimated–had been signed and passed forward. He had watched ballpoint pens appear, husbands and wives bend over the documents to sign jointly, thus committing each family to payment of a hundred dollars. Lawyer Freemantle did some happy calculation: a hundred completed retainers meant ten thousand dollars for himself. Not a bad fee for–so far–an evening’s work, and in the end the total fee would be a great deal more.
While the forms were still circulating, he decided, he would continue talking for a few minutes longer.
As to what was going to happen at the airport tonight, he instructed his listeners, they were to leave that to him. He hoped there would be a confrontation with the airport’s management; in any case, he intended to stage a demonstration–within the airport terminal–which people would remember.
“All I ask is that you stay together and that you raise your voices only when I tell you.”
Emphatically, he cautioned, there would be no disorder. No one must be able to say next day that the Meadowood anti-noise delegation violated any law.
“Of course”–Freemantle smiled suggestively–“we may get in the way and cause some inconvenience; I understand that the airport is extremely busy tonight. But we can’t help that.”
There was laughter again. He sensed that people were ready to go.
Still another aircraft reverberated overhead, and he waited until the sound had died.
“Very well! Let us be on our way!” Lawyer Freemantle raised his hands like a jet-age Moses, and mixquoted: “For I have promises to keep, with much ado before I sleep.”
The laughter changed to renewed cheering, and people began moving toward the doors.
It was then that he had noticed the portable p.a. system, borrowed from the Meadowood First Baptist Church, and instructed that it be brought along. Floyd Zanetta, the meeting’s chairman–virtually ignored since Elliott Freemantle eclipsed him in attention–hurried to comply.
Freemantle himself was stuffing signed retainer forms into his briefcase. A quick count showed that he had underestimated earlier–there were over a hundred and sixty forms, or more than sixteen thousand dollars’ worth of collectible fees. In addition, many who had come forward to shake his hand within the past few minutes, assured him they would mail their own forms, along with checks, in the morning. Lawyer Freemantle glowed.
He had no real plan as to what would happen at the airport, any more than he had arrived tonight with a fixed idea about how to take over this meeting. Elliott Freemantle disliked fixed ideas. He preferred to improvise, to get situations rolling, then direct them this way or that, to his own advantage. His freewheeling methods had worked once already this evening; he saw no reason why they should not do so again.
The main thing was to keep these Meadowood homeowners convinced that they had a dynamic leader who would eventually produce results. Furthermore, they must remain convinced until the four quarterly payments, which the legal retainer agreements called for, were made. After that, when Elliott Freemantle had his money in the bank, the opinions were less important.