Page 46 of Airport


The contest was the reason why Bunnie had reacted so agreeably when D. O. Guerrero announced that he was on his way to Rome. At this moment Bunnie needed forty more points to win her objective in the present sales contest–an electric toothbrush. For a while tonight she had despaired of completing her total of points before the deadline, since insurance policies she had sold today were mostly for domestic flights; these produced lower premiums and earned fewer contest points. However, if a maximum size policy could be sold for an overseas flight, it would earn twenty-five contest poirts, bringing the remainder within easy reach. The question was: How big an insurance policy did this Rome passenger want and, assuming it was less than the maximum, could Bunnie Vorobioff sell him more?

Usually she could. Bunnie merely turned on her most sexy smile, which she had learned to use like an instant warming oven, leaned close to the customer so that her breasts bemused him, then announced how much more benefit could be had for an additional small sum of money. Most times the ploy worked and was the reason for Bunnie’s success as an insurance saleswoman.

When D. O. Guerrero had spelled out his name, she asked, “What kind of policy were you considering, sir?”

Guerrero swallowed. “Straight life–seventy-five thousand dollars.”

Now that he had said it, his mouth was dry. He had a sudden fear that his words had alerted everyone in the line-up; their eyes were boring into his back. His entire body was trembling; he was sure it would be noticed. To cover up, he lit a cigarette, but his hand was shaking so much that he had trouble bringing match and cigarette together. Fortunately, the girl, with her pen hovering over the entry “principal sum,” appeared not to notice.

Bunnie pronounced, “That would cost two dollars and fifty cents.”

“What?… Oh, yes.” Guerrero managed to light the cigarette, then dropped the match. He reached into his pocket for some of the small amount of money he had remaining.

“But it is quite a tiny policy.” Bunnie Vorobioff had still not marked in the principal sum. Now she leaned forward, bringing her breasts nearer to the customer. She could see him looking down at them with fascination; men always did. Some, she sensed at times, wanted to reach out and touch. Not this man, though.

“Tiny?” Guerrero’s speech was awkward, halting. “I thought… it was the biggest.”

Even to Bunnie, the man’s nervousness was now apparent. She supposed it was because he would be flying soon. She directed a dazzling smile across the counter.

“Oh no, sir; you could buy a three hundred thousand dollar policy. Most people do, and for just ten dollars premium. Really, it isn’t much to pay for all that protection, is it?” She kept her smile switched on; the response could mcan a difference of nearly twenty contest points; it might gain or lose her the electric toothbrush.

“You said… ten dollars?”

“That’s right–for three hundred thousand dollars.”

D. O. Guerrero thought: He hadn’t known. All along, he had believed that seventy-five thousand dollars was the top limit for airport-purchase insurance for an overseas flight. He had obtained the information from an insurance application blank which, a month or two ago, he had picked up at another airport. Now he remembered–the earlier blank came from an automatic vending machine. It had not occurred to him that over-the-counter policies could be that much greater.

Three hundred thousand dollars!

“Yes,” he said eagerly. “Please… yes.”

Bunnie beamed. “The full amount, Mr. Guerrero?”

He was about to nod assent when the supreme irony occurred to him. He probably did not possess ten dollars. He told Bunnie, “Miss… wait!” and began searching his pockets, pulling out whatever money he could find.

The people in line behind were becoming restive. The man who had objected to Guerrero to begin with, protested to Bunnie, “You said he’d just take a minute!”

Guerrero had found four dollars and seventy cents.

Two nights ago, when D. O. Guerrero and Inez had pooled their last remaining money, D.O. had taken eight dollars, plus small change, for himself. After pawning Inez’s ring and making the down payment on the Trans America ticket, there had been a few dollars left; he wasn’t sure how many, but since then he had paid for meals, subway fares, the airport bus… He had known that he would need two and a half dollars for flight insurance, and had kept it carefully in a separate pocket. But beyond that he hadn’t bothered, aware that once aboard Flight Two, money would be of no further use.

“If you don’t have cash,” Bunnie Vorobioff said, “you can give me a check.”

“I left my checkbook home.” It was a lie; there were checks in his pocket. But if he wrote a check, it would bounce and invalidate the insurance.

Bunnie persisted, “How about your Italian money, Mr. Guerrero? I can take lire and give you the proper rate.”

He muttered, “I don’t have Italian money,” then cursed himself for having said it. Downtown he had checked in without baggage for a flight to Rome. Now insanely, he had demonstrated before onlookers that he had no money, either American or Italian. Who would board an overseas flight unequipped and penniless, except someone who knew the flight would never reach its destination?

Then D. O. Guerrero reminded himself… except in his own mind… the two incidents–downtown and here–were unconnected. They would not be connected until afterward, and by then it wouldn’t matter.

He reasoned, as he had on the way out: It was not the strength of suspicion which was important. The crucial factor would still be the absence of wreckage, the absence of proof.

Surprisingly, despite his latest gaffe, he discovered he was growing more confident.

He added some dimes and pennies to the pile of change on the insurance counter. Then, miraculously, in an inside pocket, he found a five-dollar bill.

Not concealing his excitement, Guerrero exclaimed, “That’s it! I have enough!” There was even a dollar or so in small change left over.

But even Bunnie Vorobioff was doubtful now. Instead of writing the three hundred thousand dollar policy which the man was waiting for, she hesitated.

While he had searched his pockets, she had been watching the customer’s face.

It was strange, of course, that this man was going overseas without money, but, after all, that was his own business; there could be plenty of reasons for it. What really bothered her was his eyes; they held a hint of frenzy, desperation. Both were qualities which Bunnie Vorobioff recognized from her past. She had seen them in others. At moments–though it seemed long ago–she had been close to them herself.

Bunnie’s insurance company employers had a standing instruction: If a purchaser of flight insurance seemed irrational, unusually excited, or was drunk, the fact was to be reported to the airline on which he was traveling. The question for Bunnie was: Was this an occasion to invoke the rule?

She wasn’t sure.

The company standing instruction was sometimes discussed, among themselves, by flight insurance sales clerks. Some of the girls resented or ignored it, arguing that they were hired to sell insurance, not to act as unpaid, unqualified psychologists. Others pointed out that many people who bought flight insurance at an airport were nervous to begin with; how could anyone, without special training, decide where nervousness ended and irrationality began? Bunnie herself had never reported a keyed-up passenger, though she knew a girl who had, and the passenger turned out to be an airline vice president, excited because his wife was going to have a baby. There had been all kinds of trouble over that.

Still Bunnie hesitated. She had covered her hesitation by counting the man’s money on the counter. Now she wondered if Marj, the other clerk working beside her, had noticed anything unusual. Apparently not. Marj was busy writing a policy, earning her contest points.

In the end, it was Bunnie Vorobioff’s past which swayed her decision. Her formative years… occupied Europe, her flight to the West, the Berlin Wall… had taught her survival, and conditioned her to something else: to curb curiosity, and not to ask unnecessary questions. Ouestions had a way of leading to involvement, and involvment–in other people’s problems–was something to be avoided when one had problems of one’s own.

Without further questioning, at the same time solving her problem of how to win an electric toothbrush, Bunnie Vorobioff wrote a flight insurance policy, for three hundred thousand dollars, on D. O. Guerrero’s life.

Guerrero mailed the policy to his wife, Inez, on his way to gate forty-seven and Flight Two.

13

U.S. CUSTOMS Inspector Harry Standish did not hear the announcement of Flight Two’s impending departure, but knew it had been made. Flight announcements were not relayed to the Customs Hall, since only international arriving passengers came there, so Standish obtained his information on the telephone, from Trans America Airlines. He had been informed that Flight Two was beginning to load at gate forty-seven and would depart at its rescheduled time of 11 P.M.

Standish was watching the clock and would go to gate forty-seven in a few minutes, not on official business, but to say goodbye to his niece, Judy–his sister’s child–who was leaving for a year’s schooling in Europe. Standish had promised his sister, who lived in Denver, that he would see Judy off. Earlier this evening, in the terminal, he had spent some time with his niece–a pleasant, self-possessed girl of eighteen–and had said he would drop around for a final goodbye before her flight took off.

Meanwhile, Inspector Standish was trying to clear up a tiresome problem near the end of what had been an exceptionally harassing day.

“Madam,” he said quietly to the haughty, angular woman whose several suitcases were spread open on the Customs inspection table between them, “are you quite sure you don’t wish to change your story?”

She snapped back, “I suppose you’re suggesting I should lie, when I’ve already told you the truth. Really!–you people are so officious, so disbelieving, I sometimes wonder if we’re not living in a police state.”

Harry Standish ignored the second remark, as Customs officers were trained to ignore the many insults they received, and answered politely, “I’m not suggesting anything, madam. I merely asked if you wished to amend your statement about these items–the dresses, the sweaters, and the fur coat.”

The woman, whose American passport showed that she was Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman who lived in Evanston, and had just returned from a month in England, France, and Denmark, replied acidly, “No, I don’t. Furthermore, when my husband’s lawyer hears of this interrogation…”

“Yes madam,” Harry Standish said. “In that case, I wonder if you’d mind signing this form. If you like, I’ll explain it to you.”

The dresses, sweaters, and fur coat were spread out on top of the suitcases. Mrs. Mossman had been wearing the coat–a sable jacket–until a few minutes ago when Inspector Standish arrived at Customs inspection station number eleven; he had asked her to take the coat off so that he could look at it more closely. Shortly before that, a red light on a wall panel near the center of the big Customs Hall had summoned Standish. The lights–one for each station–indicated that an inspecting officer had a problem and needed supervisory help.

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