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“But nothing!” Cindy could feel the short fuse of her temper burning. “You counted on something turning up to prevent you, the way it always does. So that you could weasel out and have an alibi; so you could convince yourself, even if you don’t convince me, because I think you’re a liar and a fake.”

“Take it easy, Cindy.”

“I won’t take it easy.”

They glared at each other.

What happened to them, Mel wondered, that they had come to this?–squabbling like ill-bred children; dealing in pettiness; exchanging vicious gibes; and in all of it, he himself no better than Cindy. Something happened when they quarreled which demeaned them both. He wondered if it was always this way when things were sour with two people who had lived together for a long time. Was it because they knew, and therefore could probe painfully, each other’s weaknesses? He had once heard someone say that a disintegrating marriage brought out the worst in both partners. In his own and Cindy’s case it was certainly true.

He tried to speak more reasonably. “I don’t think I’m a liar, or a fake. But maybe you have a point about my counting on something turning up, enough to keep me away from the social things, which you know I hate. I just hadn’t thought of it that way.”

When Cindy remained silent, he went on, “You can believe it or not, but I did intend to meet you tonight downtown–at least I think so. Maybe I didn’t really, the way you said; I don’t know. But I do know that I didn’t arrange the storm, and, since it started, a lot of things have happened that–for real this time–have kept me here.” He nodded toward the outer office. “One of them is that woman sitting out there. I told Lieutenant Ordway I’d talk to her. She seems to be in some sort of trouble.”

“Your wife’s in trouble,” Cindy said. “The woman out there can wait.”

He nodded. “All right.”

“We’ve had it,” Cindy said. “You and me. Haven’t we?”

He waited before answering, not wanting to be hasty, yet realizing that now this had come up, it would be foolish to avoid the truth. “Yes,” he said finally. “I’m afraid we have.”

Cindy shot back, “If only you’d change! If you’d see things my way. It’s always been what you want to do, or don’t. If you’d only do what I want…”

“Like being out six nights a week in black tie, and white tie on the seventh?”

“Well, why not?” Emotionally, imperiously, Cindy faced him. He bad always admired her in that kind of spunky mood, even when it was directed at himself. Even now…

“I guess I could say the same kind of thing,” he told her. “About changing; all that. The trouble is, people don’t change–not in what they are basically; they adapt. It’s that–two people adapting to each other–that marriage is supposed to be about.”

“The adapting doesn’t have to be one-sided.”

“It hasn’t been with us,” Mel argued, “no matter what you think. I’ve tried to adapt; I guess you have, too. I don’t know who’s made the most effort; obviously I think it’s me, and you think it’s you. The main thing is: though we’ve given it plenty of time to work, it hasn’t.”

Cindy said slowly, “I suppose you’re right. About the last bit, anyway. I’ve been thinking the same way too.” She stopped, then added, “I think I want a divorce.”

“You’d better be quite sure. It’s fairly important.” Even now, Mel thought, Cindy was hedging about a decision, waiting for him to help her with it. If what they had been saying were less serious, he would have smiled.

“I’m sure,” Cindy said. She repeated, with more conviction. “Yes, I’m sure.”

Mel said quietly, “Then I think it’s the right decision for us both.”

For a second Cindy hesitated. “You’re sure, too?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’m sure.”

The lack of argument, the quickness of the exchange, seemed to bother Cindy. She asked, “Then we’ve made a decision?”

“Yes.”

They still faced each other, but their anger was gone.

“Oh hell!” Mel moved, as if to take a pace forward. “I’m sorry, Cindy.”

“I’m sorry, too.” Cindy stayed where she was. Her voice was more assured. “But it’s the most sensible thing, isn’t it?”

He nodded. “Yes. I guess it is.”

It was over now. Both knew it. Only details remained to be attended to.

Cindy was already making plans. “I shall have custody of Roberta and Libby, of course, though you’ll always be able to see them. I’ll never be difficult about that.”

“I didn’t expect you would be.”

Yes, Mel mused, it was logical that the girls would go with their mother. He would miss them both, Libby especially. No outside meetings, however frequent, could ever be a substitute for living in the same house day by day. He remembered his talks with his younger daughter on the telephone tonight; what was it Libby had wanted the first time? A map of February. Well, he had one now; it showed some unexpected detours.

“And I’ll have to get a lawyer,” Cindy said. “I’ll let you know who it is.”

He nodded, wondering if all marriages went on to terminate so matter-of-factly once the decision to end them had been made. He supposed it was the civilized way of doing things. At any rate, Cindy seemed to have regained her composure with remarkable speed. Seated in the chair she had been occupying earlier, she was inspecting her face in a compact, repairing her make-up. He even had the impression that her thoughts had moved away from here; at the corners of her mouth there was the hint of a smile. In situations like this, Mel thought, women were supposed to be more emotional than men, but Cindy didn’t show any signs of it, yet he himself was close to tears.

He was aware of sounds–voices and people moving–in the office outside. There was a knock. Mel called, “Come in.”

It was Lieutenant Ordway. He entered, closing the door behind him. When he saw Cindy, he said, “Oh, excuse me, Mrs. Bakersfeld.”

Cindy glanced up, then away, without answering. Ordway, sensitive to atmosphere, stood hesitantly. “Perhaps I should come back.”

Mel asked, “What is it, Ned?”

“It’s the anti-noise demonstration; those Meadowood people. There are a couple of hundred in the main concourse; more coming in. They all wanted to see you, but I’ve talked them into sending a delegation, the way you suggested. They selected half a dozen, and there are three newspaper reporters; I said the reporters could come too.” The policeman nodded toward the anteroom. “They’re all waiting outside.”

He would have to see the delegation, Mel knew. He had never felt less like talking to anyone.

“Cindy,” he pleaded, “this won’t take long. Will you wait?” When she didn’t answer, he added, “Please!”

She continued to ignore them both.

“Look,” Ordway said, “if this is a bad time, I’ll tell these people they’ll have to come back some other day.”

Mel shook his head. The commitment had been made; it was his own suggestion. “You’d better bring them in.” As the policeman turned away, Mel added, “Oh, I haven’t talked to that woman… I’ve forgotten her name.”

“Guerrero,” Ordway said. “And you don’t have to. She looked as if she was leaving when I came in.”

A few moments later the half dozen people from Meadowood–four men and two women–began filing in. The press trio followed. One of the reporters was from the Tribune–an alert, youngish man named Tomlinson who usually covered the airport and general aviation beat for his paper; Mel knew him well and respected his accuracy and fairness. Tomlinson’s by-line also appeared occasionally in national magazines, The other two reporters were also known slightly to Mel–one a young man from the Sun-Times, the other an older woman from a local weekly.

Through the open doorway, Mel could see Lieutenant Ordway talking to the woman outside, Mrs. Guerrero, who was standing, fastening her coat.

Cindy remained where she was.

“Good evening.” Mel introduced himself, then motioned to settees and chairs around his office. “Please sit down.”

“Okay, we will,” one of the men in the delegation said. He was expensively well-dressed, with precisely combed, gray-streaked hair, and seemed to be the group’s leader. “But I’ll tell you we’re not here to get cozy. We’ve some plain, blunt things to say and we expect the same kind of answers, not a lot of double-talk.”

“I’ll try not to give you that. Will you tell me who you are?”

“My name is Elliott Freemantle. I’m a lawyer. I represent these people, and all the others down below.”

“All right, Mr. Freemantle,” Mel said. “Why don’t you begin?”

The door to the anteroom was still open. The woman who had been outside, Mel noticed, had gone. Now, Ned Ordway came in, closing the office door.

03

TRANS AMERICA Airlines Flight Two was twenty minutes out of Lincoln International, and in a steady climb which would continue until reaching thirty-three thousand feet near Detroit, in eleven more minutes. Already the flight was on its airway and great circle course for Rome. For the past several minutes the aircraft had been in smooth air, the storm clouds and accompanying turbulence now far below. A three-quarter moon hung above and ahead like a lopsided lantern; all around, the stars were sharp and clear.

On the flight deck, initial pressures were over. Captain Harris had made a progress announcement to the passengers over the p.a. system. The three pilots were settling down to routines of their long flight.

Under the second officer’s table, behind Captain Harris and Demerest, a chime sounded loudly. At the same instant, on a radio panel forward of the throttles, an amber light winked on. Both chime and light indicated a radio call on Selcal radio system through which most airliners could be called individually, as if by private telephone. Each aircraft, of Trans America and other major airlines, had its own separate call code, transmitted and received automatically. The signals which had just been actuated for aircraft N-731-TA would be seen or heard on no other flight.

Anson Harris switched from the radio to which he bad been listening on air route control frequency, and acknowledged, “This is Trans America Two.”

“Flight Two, this is Trans America dispatcher, Cleveland. I have a message for the captain from D.T.M., LIA. Advise when ready to copy.”

Vernon Demerest, Harris observed, had also changed radio frequencies. Now Demerest pulled a notepad toward him and nodded.

Harris instructed, “We’re ready, Cleveland. Go ahead.”

The message was that which Tanya Livingston had written concerning Flight Two’s stowaway, Mrs. Ada Quonsett. As it progressed, with the description of the little old lady from San Diego, both captains began smiling. The message ended by asking confirmation that Mrs. Quonsett was aboard.

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