“So what do you suggest?”
The Customs man shook his head. “I’m no expert, so I can’t tell you; except, I guess you’d have to get it by some kind of trickery. But if it’s a bomb, it has to be self-contained in the case, and that means somewhere there’s a trigger, and the chances are it’ll be the kind of trigger he can get to quickly. He’s possessive about the case now. If someone tried to take it away, he’d figure he was found out and had nothing to lose.” Standish added grimly, “A trigger finger can get mighty itchy.”
“Of course,” Mel said, “we still don’t know if the man’s an ordinary eccentric, and all he’s got in there are his pajamas.”
“If you’re asking my opinion,” the Customs inspector said, “I don’t think so. I wish I did, because I’ve got a niece on that flight.”
Standish had been conjecturing unhappily: If anything went wrong, how in God’s name would he break the news to his sister in Denver? He remembered his last sight of Judy: that sweet young girl, playing with the baby from the next seat. She had kissed him. Goodbye, Uncle Harry! Now, he wished desperately that he had been more definite, had acted more responsibly, about the man with the attaché case.
Well, Standish thought, though it might be late, at least he would be definite now.
“I’d like to say something else.” Tle eyes of the others swung to him.
“I have to tell you this because we haven’t time to waste on modesty: I’m a good judge of people, mostly on first sight, and usually I can smell the bad ones. It’s an instinct, and don’t ask me how it works because I couldn’t tell you, except that in my job some of us get to be that way. I spotted that man tonight, and I said he was ‘suspicious’; I used that word because I was thinking of smuggling, which is the way I’m trained. Now, knowing what we do–even little as it is–I’d make it stronger. The man Guerrero is dangerous.” Standish eyed the Trans America D.T.M. “Mr. Weatherby–get that word ‘dangerous’ across to your people in the air.”
“I intend to, Inspector.” The D.T.M. looked up from his writing. Most of what Standish had been saying was already included in the message for Flight Two.
Tanya, still on the telephone, was talking with Trans America’s New York dispatcher by tie line. “Yes, it will be a long message. Will you put someone on to copy, please?”
A sharp knock sounded on the office door and a tall man with a seamed, weatherworn face and sharp blue eyes came in from the anteroom. He carried a heavy topcoat and wore a blue serge suit which might have been a uniform, but wasn’t. The newcomer nodded to Mel, but before either could speak, the D.T.M. cut in.
“Royce, thanks for coming quickly. We seem to have some trouble.” He held out the notepad on which he had been writing.
Captain Kettering, the base chief pilot for Trans America, read the draft message carefully, his only reaction a tightening at the mouth as his eyes moved down the page. Like many others, including the D.T.M., it was unusual for the chief pilot to be at the airport this late at night. But exigencies of the three-day storm, with the need for frequent operating decisions, had kept him here.
The second telephone rang, cutting through the temporary silence. Mel answered it, then motioned to Ned Ordway who took the receiver.
Captain Kettering finished reading. The D.T.M. asked, “Do you agree to sending that? We’ve dispatch standing by with a Selcal hook-up.”
Kettering nodded. “Yes, but I’d like you to add: ‘Suggest return or alternate landing at captain’s discretion,’ and have the dispatcher give them the latest weather.”
“Of course,” The D.T.M. penciled in the extra words, then passed the pad to Tanya. She began dictating the message.
Captain Kettering glanced at the others in the room. “Is that everything we know?”
“Yes,” Mel said. “It is, so far.”
“We may know more soon,” Lieutenant Ordway said. He had returned from the telephone. “We just found Guerrero’s wife.”
THE MESSAGE from D.T.M. Lincoln International was addressed, CAPTAIN, TRANS AMERICA FLIGHT TWO, and began:
UNCONFIRMED POSSIBILITY EXISTS THAT MALE TOURIST PASSENGER D. O. GUERRERO AB0ARD YOUR FLIGHT MAY HAVE EXPLOSIVE DEVICE IN HIS POSSESSION. PASSENGER WITH NO LUGGAGE AND APPARENTLY WITHOUT FUNDS INSURED SELF HEAVILY BEFORE DEPARTURE. WAS OBSERVED BEHAVING SUSPICIOUSLY WITH ATTACHE TYPE BRIEFCASE CARRIED AS HAND BAGGAGE. DESCRIPTION FOLLOWS…
As the D.T.M. had foreseen, it took several minutes for a connection to be established, through company radio, with Flight Two. Since the earlier Selcal message to the flight, concerning its stowaway Mrs. Ada Quonsett, the aircraft had moved out of Trans America’s Cleveland dispatch area into that of New York. Now, company messages must be passed through a New York dispatcher for relaying to the flight.
The message, as Tanya dictated it, was being typed by a girl clerk in New York. Alongside the clerk a Trans America dispatcher read the first few lines, then reached for a direct phone to an operator at ARINC–a private communications network maintained cooperatively by all major airlines.
The ARINC operator–at another location in New York–set up a second circuit between himself and Trans America dispatch, then punched into a transmitter keyboard a four-letter code, AGFG, specifically assigned to aircraft N-731-TA. Once more, like a telephone call to a single number on a party line, an alerting signal would be received aboard Flight Two only.
A few moments later the voice of Captain Vernon Demerest, responding from high above Ontario, Canada, was audible in New York. “This is Trans America Two answering Selcal.”
“Trans America Two, this is New York dispatch. We have an important message. Advise when ready to copy.”
A brief’ pause, then Demerest again. “Okay, New York. Go ahead.”
“CAPTAIN, FLIGHT TWO,” the dispatcher began. “UNCONFIRMED POSSIBILITY EXISTS…”
INEZ HAD still been sitting quietly, in her corner near the food counter, when she felt her shoulder shaken.
“Inez Guerrero! Are you Mrs. Guerrero?”
She looked up. It took several seconds to collect her thoughts, which had been vague and drifting, but she realized that it was a policeman who was standing over her.
He shook her again and repeated the question.
Inez managed to nod. She became aware that this was a different policeman from the earlier one. This one was white, and neither as gentle nor as softly spoken as the other.
“Let’s move it, lady!” The policeman tightened his grip on her shoulder in a way which hurt, and pulled her abruptly to her feet. “You hear me?–let’s go! They’re screamin’ for you upstairs, and every cop in the joint’s bin searchin’ for you.”
Ten minutes later, in Mel’s office, Inez was the pivot of attention. She occupied a chair in the room’s center to which she had been guided on arrival. Lieutenant Ordway faced her. The policeman who had escorted Inez in was gone.
The others who had been present earlier–Mel, Tanya, Customs Inspector Standish, Bunnie Vorobioff, the Trans America D.T.M., Weatherby, and the chief pilot, Captain Kettering, were ranged about the room. All had remained at Mel’s request.
“Mrs. Guerrero,” Ned Ordway said. “Why is your husband going to Rome?”
Inez stared back bleakly and didn’t answer. The policeman’s voice sharpened, though not unkindly. “Mrs. Guerrero, please listen to me carefully. There are some important questions which I have to ask. They concern your husband, and I need your help. Do you understand?”
“I… I’m not sure.”
“You don’t have to be sure about why I’m asking the questions. There’ll be time for that later. What I want you to do is help me by answering. Will you? Please.”
The D.T.M. cut in urgently. “Lieutenant, we haven’t got all night. That air-plane is moving away from us at six hundred miles an hour. If we have to, let’s get tough.”
“Leave this to me, Mr. Weatherby,” Ordway said sharply. “If we all start shouting, it’ll take a lot more time to get a great deal less.”
The D.T.M. continued to look impatient, but kept quiet.
“Inez,” Ordway said; “…is it okay if I call you Inez?”
“Inez, will you answer my questions?”
“Yes… if I can.”
“Why is your husband going to Rome?”
Her voice was strained, barely more than a whisper. “I don’t know.”
“Do you have friends there; relatives?”
“No… There is a distant cousin in Milan, but we have never seen him.”
“Do your husband and the cousin correspond?”
“Can you think of any reason why your husband would go to visit the cousin–suddenly?”
“There is no reason.”
Tanya interjected, “In any case, Lieutenant, if anyone was going to Milan they wouldn’t use our Rome flight. They’d fly Alitalia, which is direct and cbeaper–and Alitalia has a flight tonight, too.”
Ordway nodded. “We can probably rule out the cousin.” He asked Inez, “Does your husband have business in Italy?”
She shook her head.
“What is your husband’s business?”
“He is… was… a contractor.”
“What kind of contractor?”
Slowly but perceptibly, Inez’s grasp of things was coming back. “He built buildings, houses, developments.”
“You said ‘was.’ Why isn’t he a contractor now?”
“Things… went wrong.”
“You mean financially?”
“Yes, but… why are you asking?”
“Please believe me, Inez,” Ordway said, “I’ve a good reason. It concerns your husband’s safety, as well as others’. Will you take my word?”
She looked up. Her eyes met his. “All right.”
“Is your husband in financial trouble now?”
She hesitated only briefly. “Yes.”
Inez nodded slowly.
“Is he broke? In debt?”
Again a whisper.” Yes.”
“Then where did he get money for his fare to Rome?”
“I think…” Inez started to say something about her ring which D.O. had pawned, then remembered the Trans America Airlines time payment contract. She took the now-creased yellow sheet from her purse and gave it to Ordway who glanced over it. The D.T.M. joined him.
“It’s made out to ‘Buerrero,’ ” the D.T.M. said. “Though the signature could be anything.”
Tanya pointed out, “Buerrero is the name we had at first on the flight manifest.”
Ned Ordway shook his head. “It isn’t important now, but it’s an old trick if anyone has a lousy credit rating. They use a wrong first letter so the bad rating won’t show up in inquiry–at least, not in a hurry. Later, if the mistake’s discovered, it can be blamed on whoever filled out the form.”