Page 63 of Airport


She realized dimly that sometime soon she would have to move on, and knew that tonight especially it would entail an effort. But for a while, she thought, she would sit here quietly, where she was.

08

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WITH ONE exception, those summoned to the airport general manager’s office on the administrative mezzanine arrived there quickly. The calls made to them–some by Mel Bakersfeld, others by Tanya Livingston–had stressed urgency, and the need to leave whatever they were doing.

The District Transportation Manager of Trans America–Tanya’s boss, Bert Weatherby–arrived first.

Lieutenant Ordway, having started his policemen searching for Inez Guerrero, though still not knowing why, was close behind. For the time being Ordway had abandoned to their own devices the sizable group of Meadowood residents, still milling in the main concourse, listening to Lawyer Freemantle expound their case before TV cameras.

As the D.T.M., Weatherby, entered Mel’s office through the anteroom door, he inquired briskly, “Mel, what’s all this about?”

“We’re not sure, Bert, and we haven’t a lot to go on yet, but there’s a possibility there could be a bomb aboard your Flight Two.”

The D.T.M. looked searchingly at Tanya, but wasted no time in asking why she was there. His gaze swung back to Mel. “Let’s hear what you know.”

Addressing both the D.T.M. and Ned Ordway, Mel summarized what was known or conjectured so far: the report of Customs Inspector Standish concerning the passenger with the attaché case, clasped in a way which Standish–an experienced observer–believed to be suspicious; Tanya’s identification of the man with the case as one D. O. Guerrero, or perhaps Buerrero; the downtown agent’s revelation that Guerrero checked in without any baggage other than the small case already mentioned; Guerrero’s purchase at the airport of three hundred thousand dollars’ worth of flight insurance, which he barely had enough money to pay for, so that he appeared to be setting out on a five-thousand mile journey, not only without so much as a change of clothing, but also without funds; and finally–perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not–Mrs. Inez Guerrero, sole beneficiary of her husband’s flight insurance policy, had been wandering through the terminal, apparently in great distress.

While Mel was speaking, Customs Inspector Harry Standish, still in uniform, came in, followed by Bunnie Vorobioff. Bunnie entered uncertainly, glancing questioningly around her at the unfamiliar people and surroundings. As the import of what Mel was saying sank in, she paled and appeared scared.

The one non-arrival was the gate agent who had been in charge at gate forty-seven when Flight Two left. A staff supervisor whom Tanya had spoken to a few minutes ago informed her that the agent was now off duty and on his way home. She gave instructions for a message to be left, and for the agent to check in by telephone as soon as he arrived. Tanya doubted if anything would be gained by bringing him back to the airport tonight; for one thing, she already knew that the agent did not remember Guerrero boarding. But someone else might want to question him by phone.

“I called everyone here who’s involved so far,” Mel informed the D.T.M., “in case you or someone else have questions. What we have to decide, I think–and it’s mainly your decision–is whether or not we have enough to warn your captain of Flight Two.” Mel was reminded again of what he had temporarily pushed from mind: that the flight was commanded by his brother-in-law, Vernon Demerest. Later, Mel knew, he might have to do some reconsidering about certain implications. But not yet.

“I’m thinking now.” The D.T.M. looked grim; he swung to Tanya. “Whatever we decide, I want Operations in on this. Find out if Royce Kettering is still on the base. If so, get him here fast.” Captain Kettering was Trans America’s chief pilot at Lincoln International; it was he who earlier tonight had test-flown aircraft N-731-TA, before–as Flight Two, The Golden Argosy–it took off for Rome.

“Yes, sir,” Tanya said.

While she was on one telephone, another rang. Mel answered.

It was the tower watch chief. “I have the report you wanted on Trans America Two.” One of Mel’s calls for a few minutes ago had been to air traffic control, requesting information on the flight’s takeoff time and progress.

“Go ahead.”

“Takeoff was 11:13 local time.” Mel’s eyes swung to a wall clock. It was now almost ten minutes after midnight; the flight had been airborne nearly an hour.

The tower chief continued, “Chicago Center handed off the flight to Cleveland Center at 12:27 EST, Cleveland handed it to Toronto at 01:03 EST; that’s seven minutes ago. At the moment, Toronto Center reports the aircraft’s position as near London, Ontario. I have more information–course, height, speed–if you want it.”

“That’s enough for now,” Mel said. “Thanks.”

“One other thing, Mr. Bakersfeld.” The tower chief summarized Joe Patroni’s latest bulletin about runway three zero; the runway would be out of use for at least another hour. Mel listened impatiently; at the moment, other things seemed more important.

When he hung up, Mel repeated the information about Flight Two’s position to the D.T.M.

Tanya came off the other phone. She reported, “Operations found Captain Kettering. He’s coming.”

“That woman–the passenger’s wife,” the D.T.M. said. “What was her name?”

Ned Ordway answered. “Inez Guerrero.”

“Where is she?”

“We don’t know.” The policeman explained that his men were searching the airport, although the woman might be gone. He added that city police headquarters had been alerted, and all buses from the airport to downtown were now being checked on arrival.

“When she was here,” Mel explained, “we had no idea…”

The D.T.M. grunted. “We were all slow.” He glanced at Tanya, then at Customs Inspector Standish, who so far had not spoken. The D.T.M., Tanya knew, was remembering ruefully his own instructions to “Forget it!”

Now he informed her, “We’ll have to tell the captain of the flight something. He’s entitled to know as much as we do, even though so far we’re only guessing.”

Tanya asked, “Shouldn’t we send a description of Guerrero? Captain Demerest may want to have him identified without his knowing.”

“If you do,” Mel pointed out, “we can help. There are people here who’ve seen the man.”

“All right,” the D.T.M. acknowledged, “we’ll work on that. Meanwhile, Tanya, call our dispatcher. Tell him there’s an important message coming in a few minutes, and to get a Selcal circuit hooked into Flight Two. I want this kept private, not broadcast for everybody. At least, not yet.”

Tanya returned to the telephone.

Mel asked Bunnie, “Are you Miss Vorobioff?”

As she nodded nervously, the eyes of the others turned to her. Automatically, those of the men dropped to Bunnie’s capacious breasts; the D.T.M. seemed about to whistle, but changed his mind.

Mel said, “You realize which man we’re talking about?”

“I… I’m not sure.”

“It’s a man named D. O. Guerrero. You sold him an insurance policy tonight, didn’t you?”

Bunnie nodded again. “Yes.”

“When you wrote the policy, did you get a good look at him?”

She shook her head. “Not really.” Her voice was low. She moistened her lips.

Mel seemed surprised. “I thought on the phone…”

“There were many other people,” Bunnie said defensively.

“But you told me you remembered this one.”

“It was someone else.”

“And you don’t recall the man Guerrero?”

“No.”

Mel looked baffled.

“Let me, Mr. Bakersfeld.” Ned Ordway took a pace forward; he put his face near the girl’s. “You’re afraid of getting involved, aren’t you?” Ordway’s voice was a harsh, policeman’s voice, not at all the gentle tone he used earlier tonight with Inez Guerrero.

Bunnie flinched, but didn’t answer.

Ordway persisted, “Well, aren’t you? Answer me.”

“I don’t know.”

“Yes, you do! You’re afraid to help anyone for fear of what it might do to you. I know your kind.” Ordway spat out the words contemptuously. This was a savage, tough side of the lieutenant’s nature which Mel had never seen before. “Now you hear me, baby. If it’s trouble you’re scared of, you’re buying it right now. The way to get out of trouble–if you can–is to answer questions. And answer fast! We’re running out of time.”

Bunnie trembled. She had learned to fear police interrogation in the grim school of Eastern Europe. It was a conditioning never totally erased. Ordway had recognized the signs.

“Miss Vorobioff,” Mel said. “There are almost two hundred people aboard the airplane we’re concerned with. They may be in great danger. Now, I’ll ask you again. Did you get a good look at the man Guerrero?”

Slowly, Bunnie nodded. “Yes.”

“Describe him, please.”

She did so, haltingly at first, then with more confidence.

While the others listened, a picture of D. O. Guerrero emerged: gaunt and spindly; a pale, sallow face with protruding jaw; long scrawny neck; thin lips; a small sandy mustache; nervous hands with restless fingers. When she got down to it, Bunnie Vorobioff proved herself a keen observer.

The D.T.M., now seated at Mel’s desk, wrote the description, incorporating it with a message for Flight Two which lie was drafting.

When Burmie came to the part about D. O. Guerrero barely having enough money–and no Italian money; the man’s nervous tension, the fumbling with dimes and pennies; his excitement on discovering a five-dollar bill in an inside pocket, the D.T.M. looked up with a mixture of disgust and horror. “My God! And you still issued a policy. Are you people mad?”

“I thought…” Bunnie started to say.

“You thought! But you didn’t do anything, did you?”

Her face drained and white, Bunnie Vorobioff shook her head.

Mel reminded the D.T.M., “Bert, we’re wasting time.”

“I know, I know! Just the same…” The D.T.M. clenched the pencil he had been using. He muttered, “It isn’t just her, or even the people who employ her. It’s us–the airlines; we’re as much to blame. We agree with the pilots about airport flight insurance, but haven’t the guts to say so. We let them do our dirty work…”

Mel said tersely to Customs Inspector Standish, “Harry, is there anything you’d add to the description of Guerrero?”

“No,” Standish said. “I wasn’t as near to him as this young lady, and she saw some things I didn’t. But I did watch the way he held the case, as you know, and I’d say this: If what you think is in there really is, don’t anyone try to grab that case away from him.”

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