The girl stopped at a doorway. "This is your room, Mr. Heyward." As she spoke, the aircraft moved forward, beginning to taxi. At the unexpected movement, Heyward stumbled. "Oops!" Avril put out her arm, steadying him, and for a moment they were close. He was conscious of long slim fingers, bronze-orange polished nails, a light firm touch and a waft of perfume.
She kept her hand on his arm. "I'd better strap you in for takeoff. The captain always goes quickly. Mr. Quartermain doesn't like lingering at airports."
He had a quick impression of a small, sumptuous parlor into which the girl led him, then he was seated on a softly comfortable settee while the fingers he had already become aware of deftly fastened a strap around his waist. Even through the strap he could feel the fingers moving. The sensation was not disagreeable.
"There!" The aircraft was taxying fast now. Avril said, "If you don't mind, I'll stay until we're airborne." She sat beside him on the settee and fastened a strap herself.
"No," Roscoe Heyward said. He felt absurdly dazed. "I don't mind at all."
Looking around, he took in more details. The parlor or cabin, such as he had seen on no aircraft before, had been designed to make efficient but luxurious use of space. Three of the walls were paneled in teak, with carved Q motifs embellished in gold leaf. The fourth wall was almost entirely mirror, ingeniously making the compartment seem larger than it was. Recessed into the wall on. his left was a compactly organized office bureau, including a telephone console and glass-shielded teletype. Nearby a small bar was stocked with an array of miniature bottles. Built into the mirror wall, which faced Heyward and Avril, was a TV screen with duplicate sets of controls, reachable from either side of the settee. A folding door behind was presumably to a bathrooms
"Would you like to watch our takeoff' Avril asked. Without waiting for an answer, she touched the TV controls nearest her and a picture, clear and in color, sprang to life. Obviously a camera was in the aircraft nose and, on the screen, they could see a taxiway leading to a wide runway, the latter coming fully into view as the 707 swung onto it. With no time wasted, the aircraft moved forward, simultaneously the runway began to rush beneath them, then the remainder of it tilted downward as the big jet angled up and they were airborne. Roscoe Heyward had a sense of soaring, not merely because of the TV image. With only sky and clouds ahead, Avril snapped it off.
"The regular TV channels are there if you need them," she informed him, then motioned to the teleprinter. "Over there you can get the Dow Jones, AP, UPI, or Telex. Just phone the flight deck and they'll feed in whichever you say."
Heyward observed cautiously, "All this is a little beyond my normal experience."
"I know. It has that effect on people sometimes, though it's surprising how quickly everyone adapts." Again the direct look and dazzling smile. "We have four of these private cabins and each one converts to a bedroom quite easily. You just push some buttons. I’ll show you if you like." ~ He shook his head. "It seems unnecessary now." "Whatever you wish, Mr. Heyward."
She released her seat belt and stood up. "If you want Mr. Austin, he's in the cabin immediately behind. Up forward is the main lounge you're invited to when you're ready, then there's a dining room, offices, and beyond that Mr. Quartermain's private apartment."
"Thank you for the geography." Heyward removed his rimless glasses and took out a handkerchief to wipe them.
"Oh, please let me do thatl" Gently but finely Avril took the glasses from his hand, produced a square of silk and polished them. Then she replaced the glasses on his face, her fingers traveling lightly behind his ears in doing so. Heyward had a feeling he should protest, but didn't.
"My job on this trip, Mr. Heyward, is to take care of you exclusively and make sure you have everything you want."
Was it imagination, he wondered,or had the girl placed subtle emphasis on the word "everything"? He reminded himself sharply that he hoped not. If she had, the implication would be shocking.
'Two other things," Avril said. Gorgeous and slender, she had moved to the doorway, preparing to leave. "If you want me for anything at all, please press button number seven on the telephone."
Heyward answered gruffly, 'Thank you, young lady, but I doubt if I'll do that."
She seemed unperturbed. "And the other thing: On the way to the Bahamas we'll be landing in Washington briefly. The Vice-President is joining us there." "A Vice-President from Supranational?"
Her eyes were cocking. "No, silly. The Vice-President of the United States."
Some Sfteen minutes later, Big George Quartermain demanded of Roscoe Heyward, "For Chrissakesl Whatinhellzat you're drinking? Mother's milk?
"It's lemonade." Heyward held up his glass, inspecting the insipid liquid. "I rather enjoy it.
The Supranational chairman shrugged his massive shoulders. "Every addict to his own poison. Girls taking care of you both?"
"No complaints from this quarter," the Honorable Harold Austin offered with a chuckle. Like the others, he was reclining comfortably in the 707's splendidly appointed main lounge with the blonde, who had revealed her name as Rhetta, curled on the rug at his feet.
Avril said sweetly, "We're trying our best." She was standing behind Heyward's chair and let a hand travel lightly across his back. He felt her angers touch the base of his neck, linger momentarily, then move on.
Moments earlier, G. G. Quartermain had come into the lounge, resplendent in a crimson towel robe with white piping, the inevitable Q embroidered largely. Like a Roman senator, he was attended by acolytes a hardfaced, silent man in gym whites, presumably the masseur, and still another hostess in trim beige uniform, her features delicately Japanese. The masseur and the girl supervised Big George's entry into a broad, throne-like chair, clearly reserved for him Then a third figure the original majordomo as if by magic produced a chilled martini and eased it into G. G. Quartermain's awaiting hand.
Even more than on previous occasions they had met, Heyward decided, the name "Big George" seemed apposite in every way. Physically their host was a mountain of a man at least six and a half feet in height, his chest, arms, and torso like a village blacksmith's. His head was half the size again of most other men's and his facial features matched prominent, large eyes, swift-moving and darkly shrewd, the mouth wide-lipped and strong, as accustomed to issuing commands as a Marine drill sergeant's, though on larger issues. Equally clearly, surface joviality could be banished instantly by powerful displeasure.
Yet he stopped short of coarseness, nor was there any sign of overweight or nab. Through the enfolding towel robe, muscles bulged. Heyward observed, too, that Big George's face betrayed no fat layers, his massive chin no jowls. His belly appeared flat and taut.
As to other bigness, his corporate reach and appetite were reported daily in the business press. And his living style aboard this twelve-million-dollar airplane was unabashedly royal.
The masseur and majordomo quietly disappeared. Replacing them, like one more character emerging on stage, was a chef a pale, worried pencil of a man, immaculate in kitchen whites with a high chef's hat which brushed the cabin ceiling. Heyward wondered just how big the onboard staff was. Later, he learned it totaled sixteen.
The chef stood stiffly beside Big George's chair, proffering an out-size black leather folder embossed with a golden Q. Big George ignored him.
"That trouble at your bank." Quartermain addressed Roscoe Heyward. "Demonstrations. All the rest. Is everything settled? Are you solid?"
"We were always solid," Heyward answered. 'That was never in question." "The market didn't think so."
"Since when was the stock market an accurate barometer of anything?"
Big George smiled fleetingly, then swung to the petite Japanese hostess. "Moonbeam, get me the latest quote on FMA.
"Yes, Mister Q." the girl said. She went out by a forward door.
Big George nodded in the direction she had gone. "Still can't get that tongue of hers around Quartermain. Always calls me 'Mister Q.' " He grinned at the others. "Manages nicely elsewhere, though."
Roscoe Heyward said quickly, "The reports you heard about our bank concerned a trifling incident, magnified beyond importance. It happened also at a time of management transition."