“All right, Mr. Bakersfeld; if you say it’s okay. But it will take a few minutes to get the policies together.”
Mel heard the telephone put down, the girl apologize to someone at the insurance counter for the interruption. There was a rustling of papers, then another girl’s voice inquiring, “Is something wrong?”
Covering the telephone mouthpiece, Mel asked Tanya, “What’s that name you have–the man with the case?”
She consulted a slip of paper. “Guerrero, or it may be Buerrero; we had it spelled both ways.” She saw Mel start. “Initials D.O.”
Mel’s hand still cupped the telephone. His mind was concentrating. The woman who had been brought to his office half an hour ago was named Guerrero; he remembered Lieutenant Ordway saying so. She was the one whom the airport police had found wandering in the terminal. According to Ned Ordway, the woman was distressed and crying; the police couldn’t get any sense from her. Mel was going to try talking to her himself, but hadn’t gotten around to it. He had seen the woman on the point of leaving the outer office as the Meadowood delegation came in. Of course, there might be no connection…
Through the telephone, Mel could still hear voices at the insurance booth and, in the background, the noise of the main terminal concourse.
“Tanya,” he said quietly, “about twenty minutes ago there was a woman in the outside office–middle-aged, shabbily dressed; she looked wet and draggle-tailed. I believe she left when some other people came in, but she might be stiff around. If she’s anywhere outside, bring her in. In any case, if you find her, don’t let her get away from you.” Tanya looked puzzled. He added, “Her name is Mrs. Guerrero.”
As Tanya left the office, the girl clerk at the insurance booth came back on the line. “I have all those policies, Mr. Bakersfeld. Are you ready if I read the names?”
“Yes, Marj. Go ahead.”
He listened carefully. As a name near the end occurred, he had a sudden sense of tension. For the first time his voice was urgent. “Tell me about that policy. Did you write it?”
“No. That was one of Bunnie’s. I’ll let you speak to her.”
He listened to what the other girl had to say and asked two or three questions. Their exchange was brief. He broke the connection and was dialing another number as Tanya returned.
Though her eyes asked questions which for the moment he ignored, she reported immediately, “There’s no one on the mezzanine. There are still a million people down below, but you’d never pick anyone out. Should we page?”
“We can try, though I don’t have a lot of hope.” On the basis of what he had learned, Mel thought, not much was getting through to the Guerrero woman, so it was unlikely that a p.a. announcement would do so now. Also, by this time she could have left the airport and be halfway to the city. He reproached himself for not having tried to talk with her, as he had intended, but there had been the other things: the delegation from Meadowood; his anxiety about his brother, Keith–Mel remembered that he had considered going back to the control tower… well, that would have to wait now… then there had been Cindy. With a guilty start because he hadn’t noticed before, he realized that Cindy was gone.
He reached for the p.a. microphone on his desk and pushed it toward Tanya.
There was an answer from the number he had dialed, which was airport police headquarters. Mel said crisply, “I want Lieutenant Ordway. Is he still in the terminal?”
“Yes, sir.” The police desk sergeant was familiar with Mel’s voice.
“Find him as quickly as you can; I’ll hold. And by the way, what was the first name of a woman called Guerrero, whom one of your people picked up tonight? I think I know, but I want to make sure.”
“Just a minute, sir. I’ll look.” A moment later he said, “It’s Inez; Inez Guerrero. And we’ve already called the lieutenant on his beeper box.”
Mel was aware that Lieutenant Ordway, like many others at the airport, carried a pocket radio receiver which gave a “beep” signal if he was required urgently. Somewhere, at this moment, Ordway was undoubtedly hastening to a phone.
Mel gave brief instructions to Tanya, then pressed the “on” switch of the p.a. microphone, which overrode all others in the terminal. Through the open doors to the anteroom and mezzanine he heard an American Airlines flight departure announcement halt abruptly in mid-sentence. Only twice before, during the eight years of Mel’s tenure as airport general manager, had the mike and override switch been used. The first occasion–branded in Mel’s memory–had been to announce the death of President Kennedy; the second, a year later, was when a lost and crying child wandered directly into Mel’s office. Usually there were regular procedures for handling lost children, but that time Mel had used the mike himself to locate the frantic parents.
Now he nodded to Tanya to begin her announcement, remembering that he was not yet sure why they wanted the woman, Inez Guerrero, or even that–for certainthere was anything wrong at all. Yet instinct told him that there was; that something serious had happened, or was happening; and when you had a puzzle of that kind, the smart and urgent thing to do was gather all the pieces that you could, hoping that somehow, with help from other people, you could fit them together to make sense.
“Attention please,” Tanya was saying in her clear, unaffected voice, now audible in every comer of the terminal. “Will Mrs. Inez Guerrero, or Buerrero, please come immediately to the airport general manager’s office on the administrative mezzanine of the main terminal building. Ask any airline or airport representative to direct you. I will repeat…”
There was a click in Mel’s telephone. Lieutenant Ordway came on the line.
“We want that woman,” Mel told him. “The one who was here–Guerrero. We’re announcing…”
“I know,” Ordway said. “I can hear.”
“We need her urgently; I’ll explain later. For now, take my word…”
“I already have. When did you last see her?”
“In my outer office. When she was with you.”
“Okay. Anything else?”
“Only that this may be big. I suggest you drop everything; use all your men. And whether you find her or not, get up here soon.”
“Right.” There was another click as Ordway hung up.
Tanya had finished her announcement; she pushed the “off” button of the microphone. Outside, Mel could hear another announcement begin, “Attention Mr. Lester Mainwaring. Will Mr. Mainwaring and all members of his party report immediately to the main terminal entrance?”
“Lester Mainwaring” was an airport code name for policeman.” Normally, such an announcement meant that the nearest policeman on duty was to go wherever the message designated. “All members of his party” meant every policeman in the terminal. Most airports had similar systems to alert their police without the public being made aware.
Ordway was wasting no time. Undoubtedly he would brief his men about Inez Guerrero as they reported to the main entrance.
“Call your D.T.M.,” Mel instructed Tanya. “Ask him to come to this office as quickly as he can. Tell him it’s important.” Partly to himself, he added, “We’ll start by getting everybody here.”
Tanya made the call, then reported, “He’s on his way.” Her voice betrayed nervousness.
Mel had gone to the office door. He closed it.
“You still haven’t told me,” Tanya said, “what it was you found out.”
Mel chose his words carefully.
“Your man Guerrero, the one with no luggage except the little attaché case, and whom you think might have a bomb aboard Flight Two, took out a flight insurance policy just before takeoff for three hundred thousand dollars. The beneficiary is Inez Guerrero. He paid for it with what looked like his last small change.”
“My God!” Tanya’s face went white. She whispered, “Oh, dear God… no!”
THERE WERE TIMES–tonight was one–when Joe Patroni was grateful that he worked in the maintenance bailiwick of aviation, and not in sales.
The thought occurred to him as he surveyed the busy activity of digging beneath, and around the mired Aéreo-Mexican jet which continued to block runway three zero.
As Patroni saw it, airline sales forces–in which category he lumped all front office staff and executives–comprised inflatable rubber people who connived against each other like fretful children. On the other hand, Patroni was convinced that those in engineering and maintenance departments behaved like mature adults. Maintenance men (Joe was apt to argue), even when employed by competing airlines, worked closely and harmoniously, sharing their information, experience, and even secrets for the common good.
As Joe Patroni sometimes confided privately to his friends, an example of this unofficial sharing was the pooling of information which came to maintenance men regularly through conferences held by individual airlines.
Patroni’s employers, like most major scheduled airlines, had daily telephone conferences–known as “briefings”–during which all regional headquarters, bases, and outfield stations were connected through a continent-wide closed-circuit hookup. Directed by a head office vice-president, the briefings were, in fact, critiques and information exchanges on the way the airline had operated during the past twenty-four hours. Senior people throughout the company’s system talked freely and frankly with one another. Operations and sales departments each had their own daily briefing; so did maintenance–the latter, in Patroni’s opinion, by far the most important.
During the maintenance sessions, in which Joe Patroni took part five days a week, stations reported one by one. Where delays in service–for mechanical reasons–had occurred the previous day, those in charge were required to account for them. Nobody bothered making excuses. As Patroni put it: “If you goofed, you say so.” Accidents or failures of equipment, even minor, were reported; the objective, to pool knowledge and prevent recurrence. At next Monday’s session, Patroni would report tonight’s experience with the Aéreo-Mexican 707, and his success or failure, however it turned out. The daily discussions were strictly no-nonsense, largely because the maintenance men were tough cookies who knew they couldn’t fool one another.
After each official conference–and usually unknown to senior managements–unofficial ones began. Patroni and others would exchange telephone calls with cronies in maintenance departments of competing airlines. They would compare notes about one another’s daily conferences, passing on what information seemed worth while. Rarely was any intelligence withheld.
With more urgent matters–especially those affecting safety–word was passed from airline to airline in the same way, but without the day’s delay. If Delta, for example, had a rotor blade failure on a DC-9 in flight, maintenance departments of Eastern, TWA, Continental, and others using DC-9s, were told within hours; the information might help prevent similar failures on other aircraft. Later, photographs of the disassembled engine, and a technical report, would follow. If they wished, foremen and mechanics from other airlines could widen their knowledge by dropping over for a look-see at the failed part, and any engine damage.