She was glad, though, that Patsy Smith would not be among the casualties.
There was a knock at the outer door. It opened, and Mel Bakersfeld leaned in. He was wearing fleece-lined boots and carrying a heavy topcoat. “I was coming by,” he told Tanya. “I can drop back later, if you like.”
“Please stay.” She smiled a welcome. “We’ve almost finished.”
She watched him as he walked to a chair across the room. He looked tired, Tanya thought.
She switched her attention back, filled in a voucher, and handed it to the girl. “Give this to the taxi dispatcher, Patsy, and he’ll send you home. Have a good night’s rest, and we’ll expect you back tomorrow, bright and breezy.”
When the girl bad gone, Tanya swung her chair around to face Mel’s. She said brightly, “Hullo.”
He put down a newspaper he had been glancing at, and grinned. “Hi!”
“You got my note?”
“I came to thank you for it. Though I might have made it here without.” Gesturing to the door through which the girl had gone, he asked, “What was all that about? Battle fatigue?”
“Yes.” She told him what had happened.
Mel laughed. “I’m tired, too. How about sending me off in a taxi?”
Tanya looked at him, inquiringly. Her eyes–a bright, clear blue–had a quality of directness. Her head was tilted, and an overhead light reflected red highlights from her hair. A slim figure, yet with a fullness which the trim airline uniform heightened… Mel was conscious, as at other times, of her desirability and warmth.
“I might consider it,” she said. “If the taxi goes to my place, and you let me cook you dinner. Say, a Lamb Casserole.”
He hesitated, weighing conflicting claims, then reluctantly shook his head. “I wish I could. But we’ve some trouble here, and afterward I have to be downtown.” He got up. “Let’s have coffee, anyway.”
Mel held the door open, and they went out into the bustling, noisy main concourse.
There was a press of people around the Trans America counter, even greater than when Mel had arrived. “I mustn’t take long,” Tanya said. “I’ve still two hours more on duty.”
As they threaded their way through the crowds and increasing piles of luggage, she moderated her normally brisk pace to Mel’s slower one. He was limping rather more than usual, she noticed. She found herself wanting to take his arm and help him, but supposed she had better not. She was still in Trans America uniform. Gossip spread fast enough without helping it actively. The two of them had been seen a good deal lately in each other’s company, and Tanya was sure that the airport rumor machine–which operated like a jungle telegraph with IBM speed–had already taken note. Probably it was assumed that she and Mel were bedding down together, though, as it happened, that much was untrue.
They were headed for the Cloud Captain’s Coffee Shop in the central lobby.
“About that Lamb Casserole,” Mel said. “Could we make it another night? Say, the day after tomorrow?”
The sudden invitation from Tanya had surprised him. Although they had had several dates together–for drinks or dinner–until now she had not suggested visiting her apartment. Of course, going there could be for dinner only. Still… there was always the possibility that it might not.
Lately, Mel had sensed that if their meetings away from the airport continued, there could be a natural and obvious progression. But he had moved cautiously, instinct warning him that an affair with Tanya would be no casual romance but a deeply emotional involvement for them both. A consideration, also, was his own problems with Cindy. Those were going to take a lot of working out, if they could be worked out at all, and there was a limit to the number of complications a man could handle at one time. It was a strange commentary, he thought, that when a marriage was secure it seemed easier to manage an affair than when the same marriage was shaky. Just the same, Tanya’s invitation seemed too enticing to pass up.
“The day after tomorrow is Sunday,” she pointed out. “But I’ll be off duty, and if you can manage it, I’ll have more time.”
Mel grinned. “Candies and wine?”
He had forgotten it would be Sunday. But he would have to come to the airport anyway because, even if the storm moved on, there would be aftereffects. As to Cindy, there had been several Sundays when she had been out, herself, without an announced reason.
Momentarily, Mel and Tanya separated as she dodged a hurrying, florid-faced man, followed by a redcap with a loaded luggage cart, topped by golf clubs and tennis rackets. Wherever that load was going, Tanya thought enviously, it was a long way south.
“Okay,” she said when they rejoined. “Candles and wine.”
As they entered the coffee shop, a pert hostess recognized Mel and ushered him, ahead of others, to a small table at the rear, marked RESERVED, which airport officials often used. About to sit down, he stumbled slightly and grasped Tanya’s arm. The observant hostess flicked her eyes over them both with a half-smfle. Rumor machine, stand by for a bulletin, Tanya thought.
Aloud, she said, “Did you ever see such crowds? This has been the wildest three days I remember.”
Mel glanced around the packed coffee shop, its bedlam of voices punctuated by the clatter of dishes. He nodded toward the outer door through which they could both see a moving, surging swarm of people. “If you think this is a big horde tonight, wait until the civil version of the C-5A goes into service.”
“I know–we can barely cope with the 747s; but a thousand passengers arriving all at once at a check-in counter… God help us!” Tanya shuddered. “Can you imagine what it’ll be like when they collect their baggage? I don’t even want to think about it.”
“Nor do a good many other people–who ought to be thinking about it, right now.” He was amused to find that their conversation had already drifted into aviation. Airplanes and airlines held a fascination for Tanya, and she liked talking about them. So did Mel, which was one of the reasons he enjoyed her company.
“Which people aren’t thinking?”
“Those who control policy on the ground–airport and air traffic. Most are acting as if today’s jets will fly forever. They seem to believe that if everybody keeps quiet and still, the new, big airplanes will go away and not bother us. That way we needn’t have ground facilities to match them.”
Tanya said thoughtfully, “But there’s a lot of building at airports. Wherever you go, you see it.”
Mel offered her a cigarette and she shook her head negatively. He lit one for himself before answering.
“Mostly the building going on is patchwork–changes and additions to airports built in the 1950s or early ‘60s. There’s little that’s farseeing. There are exceptions–Los Angeles is one; Tampa, Florida, and Dallas–Fort Worth are others; they’ll be the first few airports in the world ready for the new mammoth jets and supersonics. Kansas City, Houston, and Toronto look good; San Francisco has a plan, though it may get sunk politicatly. In North America there’s not much else that’s impressive.”
“How about Europe?”
“Europe is routine,” Mel said, “except for Paris–the new Nord airport to replace Le Bourget will be among the finest yet. London is the kind of inefficient mess which only the English can create.” He paused, considering. “We shouldn’t knock other countries, though; back home is bad enough. New York is frightening, even with changes being made at Kennedy; there simply isn’t enough airspace above New York–I’m thinking of traveling there by train in future. Washington, D.C., is floundering–Washington National’s a Black Hole of Calcutta; Dulles was a giant step sideways. And Chicago will wake up one day to find it let itself get twenty years behind.” He stopped, considering. “You remember a few years ago, when the jets first started flying–what conditions were like at airports which had been designed for DC-4s and Constellations.”
“I remember,” Tanya said. “I worked at one. On normal days you couldn’t move for the crowds; on busy days you couldn’t breathe. We used to say it was like holding the World Series in a sand lot.”
“What’s coming in the 1970s,” Mel predicted, “is going to be worse, far worse. And not just people congestion. We’ll be choking on other things, too.”
“Such as what?”
“Airways and traffic control for one, but that’s another whole story. The really big thing, which most airport planning hasn’t caught on to yet is that we’re moving toward the day–fast–when air freight business will be bigger than passenger traffic. The same thing’s been true with every form of transportation, starting with the birchbark canoe. To begin with, people are carried, plus a little freight; but before long, there’s more freight than people. In airline business we’re already closer to that than is generally known. When freight does get to be top dog–as will happen in the next ten years or so–a lot of our present airport ideas will be obsolete. If you want a sign of the way things are moving, watch some of the young men who are going into airline management now. Not long ago, hardly anybody wanted to work in air freight departments; it was backroorn stuff; passenger business had the glamour. Not any more! Now the bright boys are heading for air freight. They know that’s where the future and the big promotions lie.”
Tanya laughed. “I’ll be old-fashioned and stick with people. Somehow freight…”
A waitress came to their table. “The special’s off, and if we get many more people in here tonight, there won’t be much else either.”
They ordered coffee, Tanya cinnamon toast, and Mel a fried egg sandwich.
When the waitress had gone, Mel grinned. “I guess I started to make a speech. I’m sorry.”
“Maybe you need the practice.” She regarded him curiously. “You haven’t made many lately.”
“I’m not president of the Airport Operators Council any more. I don’t get to Washington as much, or other places either.” But it was not the whole reason for not making speeches and being less in the public eye. He suspected Tanya knew it.
Curiously, it was a speech of Mel’s which had brought them together to begin with. At one of the rare interline meetings which airlines held, he had talked about coming developments in aviation, and the lag in ground organization compared with progress in the air. He had used the occasion as a dry run for a speech he intended to deliver at a national forum a week or so later. Tanya had been among the Trans America contingent, and next day had sent him one of her lower case notes:
spch great. all’v us earthside slaves
cheering u 4 admitting airport policy-
makers asleep at drawing boards.
somebody needed 2 say it. mind
suggestion? wd all be more alive if
fewer fax, more abt people….
passenger, once inside belly (air
plane or whale, remember jonah?)