Page 4 of Runway Zero-Eight

Dun shook his head. “Don’t disturb them now. Most of them are getting down to sleep. Let me know how she is in half an hour or so. The trouble is,” he added quietly as he turned to go, “we’ve got over four hours’ flying before we reach the coast.”

Making his way to the flight deck, he stopped for a moment to smile down at the sick woman. She attempted to smile back, but a sudden stab of pain closed her eyes and made her arch back against the seat. For a few seconds Dun stood studying her intently. Then he continued forward, closed the door of the flight deck behind him, and slid into his seat. He took off his peaked hat and put on the large earphones and then the boom microphone. Pete was flying manually. Scattered banks of cloud seemed to rush at the forward windows, envelop them momentarily, and then disappear.

“Cumulo-nimbus building up,” commented the first officer.

“Getting to the rough stuff, eh?” said Dun.

“Looks like it.”

“I’ll take it. We’d better try to climb on top. Ask for twenty thousand, will you?”

“Right.” Pete depressed a stud on his microphone attachment to transmit. “714 to Regina radio,” he called.

“Go ahead, 714,” crackled a voice in the earphones.

“We’re running into some weather. We’d like clearance for twenty thousand.”

“714. Stand by. I’ll ask ATC.”

“Thanks,” said Pete.

The captain peered into the cloudy turbulence ahead. “Better switch on the seat-belt sign, Pete,” he suggested, correcting with automatic concentration the tendency of the aircraft to bump and yaw.

“Okay.” Pete reached for the switch on the overhead panel. There was a brief shudder as the plane freed herself from a wall of cloud, only to plunge almost instantly into another.

“Flight 714,” came the voice on the radio. “ATC gives clearance for twenty thousand. Over.”

“714,” acknowledged Pete. “Thanks and out.”

“Let’s go,” said the captain. The note of the engines took on a deeper intensity as the deck began to tilt and the altimeter needle on the winking instrument panel steadily registered a climb of five hundred feet a minute. The long window wiper swished rhythmically in a broad sweep from side to side.

“Shan’t be sorry when we’re clear of this muck,” remarked the first officer. Dun didn’t answer, his eyes glued on the dials in front of him. Neither of the pilots heard the stewardess enter. She touched the captain on the shoulder.

“Captain,” she said urgently, but keeping her voice well under control. “That woman. She’s worse already. And I have another passenger sick now — one of the men.”

Dun did not turn to her. He stretched up an arm and switched on the landing lights. Ahead of them the sharp beams cut into driving rain and snow. He turned off the lights and began to adjust engine and de-icer switches.

“I can’t come right now, Janet,” he replied as he worked. “You’d better do as we said and see if you can find a doctor. And make sure all the seat belts are fastened. This may get pretty rough. I’ll come as soon as I can.”

“Yes, Captain.”

Emerging from the flight deck, Janet called out in a voice just loud enough to carry to the rows of passengers, “Fasten your safety belts, please. It may be getting a little bumpy.” She leaned over the first two passengers to her right, blinking up at her half-asleep. “Excuse me,” she said casually, “but do either of you gentlemen happen to be a doctor?”

The man nearest her shook his head. “Sorry, no,” he grunted. “Is there something wrong?”

“No, nothing serious.”

An exclamation of pain snapped her to attention. She hurried along the aisle to where the sick Mrs. Childer lay half-cradled in her husband’s arms, moaning with eyes closed, and partially doubled over. Janet knelt down swiftly and wiped the glistening sweat from the woman’s brow. Childer stared at her, his face creased with anxiety.

“What can we do, miss?” he asked her. “What d’you think it is?”

“Keep her warm,” said Janet. “I’m going to see if there’s a doctor on board.”

“A doctor? I just hope there is. What do we do if there isn’t?”

“Don’t worry, sir. I’ll be back straight away.” Janet got to her feet, looked down briefly at the suffering woman, and moved on to the next seats, repeating her question in a low voice. “Is someone ill?” she was asked. “Just feeling unwell. It sometimes happens, flying. I’m sorry to have disturbed you.”

A hand clutched at her arm. It was one of the whisky quartet, his face yellow and shining.

“Sorry, miss, to trouble you again. I’m feeling like hell. D’you think I could have a glass of water?”

“Yes, of course. I’m on my way now to get it.”

“I never felt like this before.” The man lay back and blew out his cheeks. One of his companions stirred opened his eyes and sat up. “What’s with you? he growled.”

“It’s my insides,” said the sick man. “Feels like they’re coming apart.” His hands clenched his stomach as another spasm shook him.

Janet shook Spencer gently by the shoulder. He opened one eye, then both. “I’m very sorry to wake you up, sir,” she said, “but is anyone here a doctor?”.

Spencer gathered himself. “A doctor? No. I guess not, miss.” She nodded and made to move on.

“Just a moment, though,” he stopped her. “I seem to remember — yes, of course he is. This gentleman beside me is a doctor.”

“Oh, thank goodness,” breathed the stewardess. “Would you wake him, please?”

“Sure.” Spencer looked up at her as he nudged the recumbent form next to him. “Someone’s ill, huh?”

“Feeling a little unwell,” said Janet.

“Come on, Doc, wake up,” Spencer said heartily. The doctor shook his head, grunted, then snapped awake. “Seems that you’ve got your night call after all.”

“Are you a doctor, sir?” asked Janet anxiously.

“Yes. Yes, I’m Dr. Baird. Why, what’s wrong?”

“We have two passengers who are quite sick. Would you take a look at them, please?”

“Sick? Yes, certainly.”

Spencer stood up to let the doctor out. “Where are they?” Baird asked, rubbing his eyes.

“I think you’d better see the woman first, Doctor,” said Janet, leading the way and at the same time calling out quietly, “Fasten your seat belts, please,” as she passed along.

Mrs. Childer was now as prostrate as the seat allowed. Shivers of pain racked her body. She breathed heavily, with long, shuddering gasps. Her hair was wet with sweat.

Baird stood studying her for a moment. Then he knelt and took her wrist.

“This gentleman is a doctor,” said Janet.

“Am I glad to see you, Doctor,” Childer said fervently.

The woman opened her eyes. “Doctor…” She made an effort to speak, her lips trembling.

“Just relax,” said Baird, his eyes on his watch. He released her wrist, felt in his jacket and took out a pocket flashlight. “Open your eyes wide,” he ordered gently and examined each eye in turn in the bright pencil of light. “Now. Any pain?” The woman nodded. “Where? Here? Or here?” As he palpated her abdomen, she stiffened suddenly, choking back a cry of pain. He replaced the blanket, felt her forehead, then stood up. “Is this lady your wife?” he asked Childer.

“Yes, Doctor.”

“Has she complained of anything in addition to the pain?”

“She’s been very sick, throwing up everything.”

“When did it start?”

“Not long, I guess.” Childer looked helplessly at Janet. “It’s all come on suddenly.”

Baird nodded reflectively. He moved away, taking Janet by the arm and speaking very quietly so as not to be overheard by the nearby passengers who were staring up at them.

“Have you given her anything?” he inquired.

“Only aspirin and water,” replied Janet. “That reminds me. I promised a glass of water to the man who’s sick—”

“Wait,” said Baird crisply. His sleepiness had vanished now. He was alert and authoritative. “Where did you learn your nursing?”

Janet colored at his tone. “Why, at the airline training school, but—”

“Never mind. But it’s not much use giving aspirin to anyone who is actually vomiting — you’ll make ’em worse. Strictly water only.”

“I — I’m sorry, Doctor,” Janet stammered.

“I think you’d better go to the captain,” said Baird. “Please tell him we should land at once. This woman has to be gotten to a hospital. Ask to have an ambulance waiting.”

“Do you know what’s wrong?”

“I can’t make a proper diagnosis here. But it’s serious enough to land at the nearest city with hospital facilities. You can tell the captain that.”

“Very well, Doctor. While I’m gone, will you take a look at the other sick passenger? He’s complaining of the same sickness and pains.”

Baird looked at her sharply. “The same pains, you say? Where is he?”

Janet led him forward to where the sick man sat, bent over, retching, supported by his friend in the next seat. Baird crouched down to look at his face.

“I’m a doctor. Will you put your head back, please?” As he made a quick examination, he asked, “What have you had to eat in the last twenty-four hours?”

“Just the usual things,” muttered the man, all the strength appearing to have been drained from him. “Breakfast,” he said weakly, “bacon and eggs… salad for lunch… a sandwich at the airport… then dinner here.” A trickle of saliva ran disregarded down his chin. “It’s this pain, Doctor. And my eyes.”

“What about your eyes?” asked Baird quickly.

“Can’t seem to focus. I keep seeing double.”

His companion seemed to find it amusing. “That rye has got a real kick, yes sir,” he exclaimed.

“Be quiet,” said Baird. He rose, to find Janet and the captain standing beside him. “Keep him warm — get more blankets round him,” he told Janet. The captain motioned him to follow down to the galley. Immediately they were alone, Baird demanded, “How quickly can we land, Captain?”

“That’s the trouble,” said Dun briefly. “We can’t.”

Baird stared at him. “Why?”

“It’s the weather. I’ve just checked by radio. There’s low cloud and fog right over the prairies this side of the mountains. Calgary’s shut in completely. We’ll have to go through to the coast.”

Baird thought for a moment. “What about turning back?” he asked.

Dun shook his head, his face taut in the soft glow of the lights. “That’s out, too. Winnipeg closed down with fog shortly after we left. Anyway, it’ll be quicker now to go on.”