Page 59 of Airport


As to whatever else it was that Freemantle and the Meadowood people were “cooking up down below,” he would leave any worrying about that, Mel decided, to Lieutenant Ordway and his policemen.

05

WHEN MEL turned, after closing the door of his office as the Tribune reporter left, Cindy was standing, pulling on her gloves. She remarked acidly, “Fifteen things happening, I believe you said. Whatever the other fourteen are, I’m sure they’ll all take priority over me.”

“That was a figure of speech,” Mel protested, “as you know perfectly well. I already said I’m sorry. I didn’t know this was going to happen–at least, not all at once.”

“But you love it, don’t you? All of it. Much more than me, home, the children, a decent social life.”

“Ah!” Mel said. “I wondered when you’d get to that.” He stopped. “Oh, hell! Why are we fighting again? We settled everything, didn’t we? There’s no need to fight any more.”

“No,” Cindy said. She was suddenly subdued. “No, I suppose not.”

There was an uncertain silence. Mel broke it first.

“Look, getting a divorce is a pretty big thing for both of us; for Roberta and Libby, too. If you’ve any doubts…”

“Haven’t we been over that already?”

“Yes; but if you want to, we’ll go over it fifty times again.”

“I don’t want to.” Cindy shook her head decisively. “I haven’t any doubts. Nor have you, not really. Have you?”

“No,” Mel said. “I’m afraid I haven’t.”

Cindy started to say something, then stopped. She had been going to tell Mel about Lionel Urquhart, but decided against it. There was plenty of time for Mel to find that out for himself, later. As to Derek Eden, whom Cindy had been thinking about during most of the time that the Meadowood delegation had been in the office, she had no intention of disclosing his existence to Mel or Lionel.

There was a knock–light but definite–on the anteroom door.

“Oh, God!” Cindy muttered, “Isn’t there any privacy?”

Mel called out irritably, “Who is it?”

The door opened. “Just me,” Tanya Livingston said. “Mel, I need some advice…” As she saw Cindy, she stopped abruptly. “Excuse me. I thought you were alone.”

“He will be,” Cindy said. “In hardly any time at all.”

“Please, no!” Tanya flushed. “I can come back, Mrs. Bakersfeld. I didn’t know I was disturbing you.”

Cindy’s eyes flicked over Tanya, stiff in Trans America uniform.

“It’s probably time we were disturbed,” Cindy said. “After all, it’s been a good three minutes since the last people left, and that’s longer than we usually have together.” She swung toward Mel. “Isn’t it?”

He shook his head, without answering.

“By the way.” Cindy turned back to Tanya. “I’m curious about one thing. How you were so sure who I am.”

Momentarily, Tanya had lost her usual poise. Recovering it, she gave a small smile. “I suppose I guessed,”

Cindy’s eyebrows went up. “Am I supposed to do the same?” She glanced at Mel.

“No,” he said. He introduced them.

Mel was aware of Cindy appraising Tanya Livingston. He had not the slightest doubt that his wife was already forming some conclusion about Tanya and himself; Mel had long ago learned that Cindy’s instincts about men-women relationships were uncannily accurate. Besides, he was sure that his own introduction of Tanya had betrayed something. Husbands and wives were too familiar with each other’s nuances of speech for that not to happen. It would not even surprise him if Cindy guessed about his own and Tanya’s rendezvous for later tonight, though perhaps, he reflected, that was carrying imagination too far.

Well, whatever Cindy knew or guessed, he supposed it didn’t really matter. After all, she was the one who had asked for a divorce, so why should she object to someone else in Mel’s life, however much or little Tanya meant, and he wasn’t sure of that himself? But then, Mel reminded himself, that was a logical way of thinking. Women–including Cindy, and probably Tanya–were seldom logical.

The last thought proved right.

“How nice for you,” Cindy told him with pseudo sweetness, “that it isn’t just dull old delegations who come to you with problems.” She eyed Tanya. “You did say you have a problem?”

Tanya returned the inspection levelly. “I said I wanted some advice.”

“Oh, really! What kind of advice? Was it business, personal?… Or perhaps you’ve forgotten.”

“Cindy,” Mel said sharply, “that’s enough! You’ve no reason…”

“No reason for what? And why is it enough?” His wife’s voice was mocking; he had the impression that in a perverse way she was enjoying herself. “Aren’t you always telling me I don’t take enough interest in your problems? Now I’m all agog about your friend’s problem… that is, if there is one.”

Tanya said crisply, “It’s about Flight Two.” She added. “That’s Trans America’s flight to Rome, Mrs. Bakersfeld. It took off half an hour ago.”

Mel asked, “What about Flight Two?”

“To tell the truth”–Tanya hesitated–“I’m not really sure.”

“Go ahead,” Cindy said. “Think of something.”

Mel snapped, “Oh, shut up!” He addressed Tanya, “What is it?”

Tanya glanced at Cindy, then told him of her conversation with Customs Inspector Standish. She described the man with the suspiciously held attaché case, whom Standish suspected of smuggling.

“He went aboard Flight Two?”

“Yes.”

“Then even if your man was smuggling,” Mel pointed out, “it would be into Italy. The U.S. Customs people don’t worry about that. They let other countries look out for themselves.”

“I know. That’s the way our D.T.M. saw it.” Tanya described the exchange between herself and the District Transportation Manager, ending with the latter’s irritable but firm instruction, “Forget it!”

Mel looked puzzled. “Then I don’t see why…”

“I told you I’m not sure, and maybe this is all silly. But I kept thinking about it, so I started checking.”

“Checking what?”

Both of them had forgotten Cindy.

“Inspector Standish,” Tanya said, “told me that the man–the one with the attaché case–was almost the last to board the flight. He must have been because I was at the gate, and I missed seeing an old woman…” She corrected herself. “That part doesn’t matter. Anyway, a few minutes ago I got hold of the gate agent for Flight Two and we went over the manifest and tickets together. He couldn’t remember the man with the case, but we narrowed it down to five names.”

“And then?”

“Just on a hunch I called our check-in counters to see if anyone remembered anything about any of those five people. At the airport counters, nobody did. But downtown, one of the agents did remember the man–the one with the case. So I know his name; the description fits… everything.”

“I still don’t see what’s so extraordinary. He had to check in somewhere. So he checked in downtown.”

“The reason the agent remembered him,” Tanya said, “is that he didn’t have any baggage, except the little case. Also, the agent said, he was extremely nervous.”

“Lots of people are nervous…” Abruptly Mel stopped. He frowned. “No baggage! For a flight to Rome!”

“That’s right. Except for the little bag the man was carrying, the one Inspector Standish noticed. The agent downtown called it a briefcase.”

“But nobody goes on that kind of journey without baggage. It doesn’t make sense.”

“That’s what I thought.” Again Tanya hesitated. “It doesn’t make sense unless…”

“Unless what?”

“Unless you happen to know already that the flight you’re on will never get to where it’s supposed to be going. If you knew that, you’d also know that you wouldn’t need any baggage.”

“Tanya,” Mel said softly, “what are you trying to say?”

She answered uncomfortably, “I’m not sure; that’s why I came to you. When I think about it, it seems silly and melodramatic, only…”

“Go on.”

“Well, supposing that man we’ve been talking about isn’t smuggling at all; at least, in the way we’ve all assumed. Supposing the reason for him not having any luggage, for being nervous, for holding the case the way Inspector Standish noticed… suppose instead of having some sort of contraband in there… he has a bomb.”

Their eyes held each other’s steadily. Mel’s mind was speculating, assessing possibilities. To him, also, the idea which Tanya had just raised seemed ridiculous and remote. Yet… in the past, occasionally, such things had happened. The question was: How could you decide if this was another time? The more he thought about it, the more he realized that the entire episode of the man with the attaché case could so easily be innocent; in fact, probably was. If that proved true after a fuss had been created, whoever began the fuss would have made a fool of himself. It was human not to want to do that; yet, with the safety of an airplane and passengers involved, did making a fool of oneself matter? Obviously not. On the other hand, there ought to be a stronger reason for the drastic actions which a bomb scare would involve than merely a possibility, plus a hunch. Was there, Mel wondered, some way conceivably in which a stronger hint, even corroboration, might be found?

Offhand, be couldn’t think of one.

But there was something he could check. It was a long shot, but all that was needed was a phone call. He supposed that seeing Vernon Demerest tonight, with the reminder of the clash before the Board of Airport Commissioners, had made him think of it.

For the second time this evening, Mel consulted his pocket panic-list of telephone numbers. Then, using an internal airport telephone on his desk, he dialed the insurance vending booth in the main concourse. The girl clerk who answered was a long-time employee whom Mel knew well.

“Marj,” he said, when he had identified himself, “have you written many policies tonight on the Trans America Flight Two?”

“A few more than usual, Mr. Bakersfeld. But then we have on all flights; this kind of weather always does that. On Flight Two, I’ve had about a dozen, and I know Bunnie–that’s the other girl on with me–has written some as well.”

“What I’d like you to do,” Mel told her, “is read me all the names and policy amounts.” As he sensed the girl hesitate, “If I have to, I’ll call your district manager and get authority. But you know he’ll give it to me, and I’d like you to take my word that this is important. Doing it this way, you can save me time.”

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