Page 48 of Airport


Strictly speaking, it was none of Harry Standish’s business.

Yet something… instinct, a sixth sense which Customs men developed, plus a personal connection, through Judy, with Flight Two… something kept the inspector watching, his eyes directed at the small attaché case which the spindly man still cradled.

THE FEELING of confidence which returned to D. O. Guerrero at the insurance counter had remained. As he approached gate forty-seven, observing that he was still in time for Flight Two, he had a conviction that most of his difficulties were over; from now on, he assured himself, everything would work out as he had foreseen. In keeping with this belief, there was no problem at the gate. As he had planned from the beginning, at this point he drew attention to the minor discrepancy between the name “Buerrero” on his ticket and “Guerrero” on his passport. Barely glancing at the passport, the gate agent corrected both the ticket and his passenger list, then apologized, “Sorry, sir; sometimes our reservation machines get careless.” Now, Guerrero noted with satisfaction, his name was recorded properly; later, when Flight Two was reported missing, there would be no doubt about his own identification.

“Have a pleasant flight, sir.” The gate agent returned his ticket folder and motioned toward the tourist section walkway.

As D. O. Guerrero went aboard, still holding his attaché case carefully, the starboard engines were already running.

His numbered seat–by a window in a three-seat seetion–had been allocated when he checked in downtown. A stewardess directed him to it. Another male passenger, already in the aisle seat, stood up partially as Guerrero squeezed by. The center seat, between them, was unoccupied.

D. O. Guerrero balanced his case cautiously on his knees as he strapped himself in. His seat was midway in the tourist section, on the left side. Elsewhere in the cabin, other passengers were still settling down, arranging hand baggage and clothing; a few people were blocking the center aisle. One of the stewardesses, her lips moving silently, and looking as if she wished everyone would keep still, was making a count of heads.

Relaxing for the first time since leaving the South Side apartment, D. O. Guerrero leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. His hands, steadier than at any other time this evening, were firmly on the attaché case. Without opening his eyes, his fingers groped under the handle and located the all-important loop of string. The feel of it was reassuring. He would sit precisely like this, he decided, when in approximately four hours from now he would pull the string, releasing the electrical current which would fire the massive charge of dynamite within the case. When the moment came, he wondered, how much would he have time to know? In answer, he reasoned: there would be an instant… one fleeting particle of a second only… when he would savor, triumphantly, the knowledge of success. Then, mercifully, no more…

Now that he was aboard and ready, he wished the flight would go. But when he opened his eyes, the same stewardess was still counting.

THERE WERE two stewardesses, at the moment, in the tourist cabin. The little old lady from San Diego, Mrs. Ada Quonsett, had been observing them both, intermittently, peering through the slightly opened door of a toilet where she was hiding.

The pre-takeoff head count by a stewardess, now being made, was something which Mrs. Quonsett knew about; she was also aware that this was the moment when anyone who was aboard illegally was closest to exposure. But if a stowaway could survive the count, chances were that she (or he) would not be detected until much later, if at all.

Fortunately, the stewardess now making the head count was not the one whom Mrs. Quonsett encountered when she came aboard.

Mrs. Quonsett had had a few anxious moments outside while she cautiously watched the redheaded passenger agent bitch, whom she had been distressed to find on duty at gate forty-seven. Fortunately, the woman had left just before the flight finished loading, and getting past the male gate agent proved easy.

After that, Mrs. Quonsett repeated her story about the wallet to the stewardess on duty at the aircraft doorway. The stewardess, who was trying to cope with queries from several other people milling in the entranceway, declined to accept the wallet when she learned there was “a lot of money in it”–a reaction Mrs. Quonsett had counted on. Also as expected, the little old lady was told she could take the wallet to her son herself, if she was quick.

The tall blond man who, all unknowingly, had been a “son” to Mrs. Quonsett, was getting into a seat near the front of the cabin. Mrs. Quonsett moved in his direction, but only briefly. She was watching covertly, waiting for the attention of the stewardess near the door to be diverted. Almost at once it was.

Mrs. Quonsett had left her plans flexible. There was a seat close by, which she could have occupied; however, a sudden movement by several passengers at once left a clear path to one of the aircraft toilets. A moment or two later, through the partially opened toilet door, she saw the original stewardess go forward out of sight and another stewardess begin the head count, starting at the front.

When the second stewardess–still counting–neared the back of the airplane, Mrs. Quonsett emerged from the toilet and walked quickly past with a muttered, “Excuse me.” She heard the stewardess cluck her tongue impatiently. Mrs. Quonsett sensed that she had now been included in the count–but that was all.

A few rows forward, on the left side, there was an unoccupied seat in the middle of a section of three. In her experience as an aerial stowaway, the little old lady from San Diego had learned to seek such seats because most passengers disliked them; therefore they were the last to be chosen from seat selection boards and, where an airplane was less than full, were usually left empty.

Once in the seat, Mrs. Quonsett kept her head down, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. She had no illusion that she could avoid discovery indefinitely. At Rome there would be Immigration and Customs formalities, making it impossible for her to walk away unimpeded, as she was accustomed to doing after her illegal flights to New York; but, with luck, she would have the thrill of reaching Italy, plus an agreeable journey back. Meanwhile, on this flight, there would be a good meal, a movie, and, later, perhaps, a pleasant conversation with her two seat companions.

Ada Ouonsett wondered about her seat companions. She had noticed that both were men, but for the time being avoided looking at the man on her right since it would mean turning her face toward the aisle and the stewardesses, both of whom were now moving back and forth, making another head count. Mrs. Quonsett took covert stock, however, of the man on her left, a survey made easier by the fact that he was reclining and had his eyes closed. He was a gaunt, thin man, she observed, with a sallow face and scrawny neck, who looked as if a hearty meal might do him good. He had a small sandy mustache.

On his knees, Mrs. Quonsett noticed, the man on her left had in attaché case and, despite the fact that his eyes were closed, he was holding it firmly.

The stewardesses had finished their head count. Now a third stewardess appeared from the first class compartment forward, and the three of them were holding a hurried consultation.

The man on Mrs. Quonsett’s left had opened his eyes. He was still gripping the case tightly. The little old lady from San Diego–an habitually curious soul–wondered what was inside.

WALKING BACK toward the Customs Hall–this time through the passenger section of the terminal–Inspector Harry Standish was still thinking about the man with the attaché case. Standish could not have questioned the man; outside a Customs enclosure a Customs officer had no right to interrogate anyone, unless believing they had evaded Customs inspection. The man at the departure gate quite obviously had not.

What Standish could do, of course, was telegraph the man’s description to Italian Customs, advising that he might be carrying contraband. But Standish doubted if he would. There was little cooperation between Customs departments internationally, only an intense professional rivalry. Even vith Canadian Customs, close at hand, the same thing was true; incidents were on record where U.S. Customs had been tipped of that illegal diamond shipments were being smuggled into Canada, but–as a matter of policy–Canadian authorities were never told. Instead, U.S. agents spotted the suspects on arrival in Canada and tailed them, only making an arrest if they crossed the United States border. The U.S. reasoning was: the country which seized that kind of contraband kept it all, and Customs departments were averse to sharing loot.

No, Inspector Standish decided, there would be no telegram to Italy. He would, however, tell Trans America Airlines of his doubts and leave a decision to them.

Ahead of him he had seen Mrs. Livingston, the passenger relations agent who had been at the Flight Two departure gate. She was talking with a Skycap and a group of passengers. Harry Standish waited until the Skycap and passengers had gone.

“Hullo, Mr. Standish,” Tanya said. “I hope things are quieter in Customs than around here.”

“They aren’t,” he told her, remembering Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman, no doubt still being questioned in the Customs Hall.

As Tanya waited for him to speak again, Standish hesitated. Sometimes he wondered if he was becoming too much the super sleuth, too aware of the keenness of his instincts. Most times, though, his instincts proved right.

“I was watching your Flight Two load,” Standish said. “There was something bothered me.” He described the gaunt, spindly man and the suspicious way he had been clasping an attaché case.

“Do you think he’s smuggling something?”

Inspector Standish smiled. “If he were arriving from abroad, instead of leaving, I’d find out. All I can tell Von, Mrs. Livingston, is that there’s something in that case which he’d prefer other people not to know about.”

Tanya said thoughtfully, “I don’t quite know what I can do.” Even if the man was smuggling she was not convinced it was the airline’s business.

“Probably there’s nothing to do. But you people cooperate with us, so I thought I’d pass the information on.”

“Thank you, Mr. Standish. I’ll report it to our D.T.M., and perhaps he’ll want to notify the captain.”

As the Customs inspector left, Tanya glanced at the overhead terminal clock; it showed a minute to eleven. Heading for Trans America Administration on the executive mezzanine, she reasoned: it was too late now to catch Flight Two at the departure gate; if the flight had not yet left the gate, it certainly would within the next few moments. She wondered if the District Transportation Manager was in his office. If the D.T.M. thought the information important, he might notify Captain Demerest by radio while Flight Two was still on the ground and taxiing. Tanya hurried.

The D.T.M. was not in his office, but Peter Coakley was.

Tanya snapped, “What are you doing here?”

The Young Trans America agent, whom the little old lady from San Diego had eluded, described sheepishly what had happened.

Peter Coakley had already received one dressing down. The doctor, summoned to the women’s washroom on a fool’s errand, had been articulate and wrathful. Young Coakley clearly expected more of the same from Mrs. Livingston. He was not disappointed.

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