Page 2 of Runway Zero-Eight

Leaning back on the headrest of his seat, Spencer said, “Glad to have you around, Doctor. If I can’t sleep you can prescribe me a sedative.”

As he spoke the engines thundered to full power, the whole aircraft vibrating as it strained against the wheel brakes.

The doctor put his mouth to Spencer’s ear and bellowed, “A sedative would be no good in this racket. I never could understand why they have to make all this noise before take-off.”

Spencer nodded; then, when after a few seconds the roar had subsided sufficiently for him to make himself heard without much trouble, he said, “It’s the usual run-up for the engines. It’s always done before the plane actually starts its take-off. Each engine has two magnetos, in case one packs in during flight, and in the run-up each engine in turn is opened to full throttle and each of the mags tested separately. When the pilot has satisfied himself that they are running okay he takes off, but not before. Airlines have to be fussy that way, thank goodness.”

“You sound as though you knew a lot about it.”

“Not really. I used to fly fighters in the war but I’m pretty rusty now. Reckon I’ve forgotten most of it.”

“Here we go,” commented the doctor as the engine roar took on a deeper note. A powerful thrust in the backs of their seats told them the aircraft was gathering speed on the runway; almost immediately a slight lurch indicated that they were airborne and the engines settled back to a steady hum. Still climbing, the aircraft banked steeply and Spencer watched the receding airport lights as they rose steadily over the wingtip.

“You may unfasten your safety belts,” announced the public address. “Smoke if you wish.”

“Never sorry when that bit’s over,” grunted the doctor, releasing his catch and accepting a cigarette. “Thanks. By the way, I’m Baird, Bruno Baird.”

“Glad to know you, Doc. I’m Spencer, plain George Spencer, of the Fulbright Motor Company.”

For some time the two men lapsed into silence, absently watching their cigarette smoke rise slowly in the cabin until it was caught by the air-conditioning stream and sucked away. Spencer’s thoughts were somber. There would have to be some kind of a showdown when he got back to head office, he decided. Although he had explained the position on the telephone to the local Winnipeg man before calling a taxi for the airport, that order would take some holding on to now. It would have to be a big show in Vancouver to justify this snafu. It might be a good idea to use the whole thing as a lever for a pay raise when he got back. Or better yet, promotion. As a manager in the dealer sales division, which the old man had often mentioned but never got around to, Mary and he, Bobsie and little Kit, could get out of the house they had and move up Parkway Heights. Or pay off the bills — the new water tank, school fees, installments on the Olds and the deep freeze, hospital charges for Mary’s last pregnancy. Not both, Spencer reflected broodingly; not both, even on manager’s pay.

Dr. Baird, trying to decide whether to go to sleep or to take this excellent opportunity to catch up on the airmail edition of the B.M.J., in fact did neither and found himself instead thinking about the small-town surgery he had abandoned for a couple of days. Wonder how Evans will cope, he thought. Promising fellow, but absurdly young. Hope to goodness he remembers that Mrs. Lowrie has ordinary mist, expect, and not the patent medicine fiddle-me-rees she’s always agitating for. Still Doris would keep young Evans on the right track; doctors’ wives were wonderful like that. Had to be, by jiminy. That was a thing Lewis would have to learn in due time: to find the right woman. The doctor dozed a little and his cigarette burnt his fingers, promptly waking him up.

The couple in the seats across the aisle were still engrossed in their sports papers. To describe Joe Greer was to describe Hazel Greer: a pair who would be hard to imagine. Both had the rosy skin and the keen, clear eyes of the open air, both bent over the closely printed sheets as if the secrets of the universe were there displayed. “Barley sugar?” asked Joe when the airline tray came around. “Uh-huh,” replied Hazel. Then, munching steadily, down again went the two brown heads of hair.

The four in the seats behind were starting their third paper-enclosed round of rye. Three were of the usual type: beefy, argumentative, aggressive, out to enjoy themselves with all the customary restraints cast aside for two memorable days. The fourth was a short, thin, lean-featured man of lugubrious expression and indeterminate age who spoke with a full, round Lancashire accent. “’Ere’s t’Lions t’morrer,” he called, raising his paper cup in yet another toast to their heroes. His friends acknowledged the rubric solemnly. One of them, his coat lapel displaying a badge which appeared to depict a mangy alley cat in rampant mood but presumably represented the king of beasts himself, passed round his cigarette case and remarked, not for the first time, “Never thought we’d make it, though. When we had to wait at Toronto with that fog around, I said to myself, ‘Andy.’ I said, ‘this is one bit of hell-raising you’re going to have to miss.’ Still, we’re only a few hours late for all that and we can always sleep on the plane.”

“Not before we eat, though, I hope,” said one of the others. “I’m starving. When do they bring round the grub?”

“Should be along soon, I reckon. They usually serve dinner about eight, but everything’s been put behind with that holdup.”

“Never mind. ’Ave a drink while you wait,” suggested the Lancashire man, who rejoiced in the nickname of ’Otpot, holding out the bottle of rye.

“Go easy, boy. We haven’t got too much.”

“Ah, there’s plenty more where this came from. Come on, now. It’ll help you sleep.”

The rest of the fifty-six passengers, who included three or four women, were reading or talking, all looking forward to the big game and excited to be on the last leg of their transcontinental journey. From the port window could be seen the twinkling blue and yellow lights of the last suburbs of Winnipeg, before they were swallowed in cloud as the aircraft climbed.

In the tiny but well-appointed galley Stewardess Janet Benson prepared for dinner, a belated meal that she should have served over two hours earlier. The mirror over the glassware cabinet reflected the exhilaration she always felt at the beginning of a flight, an exuberance which she was thankful to hide in the privacy of her own quarters. Taking from built-in cupboards the necessary napkins and cutlery, Janet hummed contentedly to herself. Waitressing was the least attractive part of a stewardess’ duties, and Janet knew that she was in for a very exhausting hour catering for the stomachs of a planeload of hungry people, but nevertheless she felt confident and happy. Many of her flying colleagues, if they could have watched the swing of her blond hair from beneath her airline cap and the movements of her trim body as she busied herself efficiently about the galley, would have given an appreciative sucking-in of breath and echoed her confidence. At twenty-one, Janet was just tasting life and finding it good.

Forward on the flight deck, the only sound was the steady drone and throb of the engines. Both pilots sat perfectly still except for an occasional leg or arm movement, their faces faintly illumined in the glow of light from the myriad dials on the instrument panels. From the earphones half covering their ears came the sudden crackle of conversation between another aircraft and the ground. Round their necks hung small boom microphones.

Captain Dunning stretched himself in his seat, flexing his muscles and blew out through the luxuriant growth of his mustache in an unconscious mannerism that his crew knew well. He looked older than his thirty-one years.

“How are the cylinder head temperatures on Number 3 engine, Pete?” he asked, his eyes flickering momentarily to the first officer.

Pete stirred and glanced at the panel. “Okay now, skip. I had it checked at Winnipeg but they couldn’t find anything wrong. Seems to have righted itself. It’s not heating up now.”

“Good.” Dun peered ahead at the night sky. A thin moon shone bleakly down on the banks of cloud. Shredded wisps of cotton wool lazily approached, to suddenly whisk by; or occasionally the ship would plunge into a tumble of gray-white cloud, to break free in a second or two like a spaniel leaving the water and shaking itself free of the clinging drops. “With a bit of luck it’ll be a clear run through,” he commented. “The met report was reasonable for a change. Not often you keep to the original flight plan on this joyride.”

“You said it,” agreed the first officer. “In a month or so’s time it’ll be a very different story.”

The aircraft began to bump and roll a little as she hit a succession of thermal currents and for a few minutes the captain concentrated on correcting her trim. Then he remarked, “Are you planning to take in this ball game in Vancouver, if there’s time to rest up first?”

The first officer hesitated before answering. “I don’t know yet,” he answered. “I’ll see how it works out.”

The captain looked sharply at him. “What d’you mean? See how what works out? If you’ve got your eyes on Janet, you can take them off again. She’s too young to come under the corrupting influence of a young Casanova like you.”

Few people looked less deserving of this description than the fresh-faced, thoughtful-eyed first officer, still in his twenties. “Go easy, skipper,” he protested, coloring. “I never corrupted anyone in my life.”

“Jeepers, that’s a likely story. Well, don’t aim to start with Janet.” The captain grinned. “Half the airlines personnel of Canada regard it as a permanent assignment to try to make her. Don’t make life hard for yourself, you chump.”

Twelve feet away from them, on the other side of a sliding door, the subject of their conversation was collecting orders for the evening meal.

“Would you like dinner now, sir?” she asked quietly, bending forward with a smile.

“Eh? What’s that? Oh, yes please.” Baird slipped back into the present and nudged Spencer who was practically asleep. “Wake up, there. Want some dinner?”

Spencer yawned and gathered himself together. “Dinner? I sure do. You’re late, miss, aren’t you? I thought I’d missed it long ago.”

“We were held up in Toronto, sir, and haven’t served dinner yet,” said Janet Benson. “What would you like? We’ve lamb chop or grilled salmon.”

“Er — yes, please.”

Janet’s smile tightened a little. “Which, sir?” she asked patiently.

Spencer came fully awake. “Oh, yes — I’m sorry, miss. I’ll have lamb.”

“Me too,” said Baird.

Back in the galley, Janet was fully occupied for the next half hour in preparing and serving meals. Eventually everyone who felt like eating had been served with a main course and she was free to pick up the telephone in the galley and press the intercom buzzer.

“Flight deck,” came the voice of Pete.

“I’m finally serving dinner,” said Janet. “Better late than never. What’ll it be — lamp chop or grilled salmon?”