Page 22 of Airport


All this activity was strictly forbidden by regulations of all airlines–but it still went on.


Another thing stewardesses learned was that no inventory check of removable cabin equipment was ever made at the termination of a flight. One reason was that airlines simply didn’t have time; another, it was cheaper to accept some losses than make a fuss about them. Because of this, many stewardesses managed to acquire home furnishings–blankets, pillows, towels, linen napkins, glasses, silverware–in surprising quantity, and Vernon Demerest had been in stewardess nests where most items used in daily living seemed to have come from airline sources.

Gwen broke in on his thoughts. “What I was going to tell you, Vernon, is that I’m pregnant.”

It was said so casually that at first the words failed to register. He reacted blankly. “You’re what?”

“Pregnant–p-r-e-g-n…”

He snapped irritably, “I know how to spell it.” His mind wasitill groping. “Are you sure?”

Gwen laughed–her attractive silvery laugh–and sipped her tea. He sensed she was making fun of him. He was also aware that she had never looked more lovely and desirable than at this moment.

“That line you just said, darling,” she assured him, “is an old cliché. In every book I’ve ever read where there’s a scene like this, the man asks, ‘Are you sure?’ “

“Well, goddammit, Gwen!” His voice rose. “Are you?”

“Of course. Or I wouldn’t be telling you now.” She motioned to the cup in front of him. “More tea?”

“No!”

“What happened,” Gwen said calmly, “is perfectly simple. On that layover we had in San Francisco… you remember?–we stayed at that gorgeous hotel on Nob Hill; the one with the view. What was it called?”

“The Fairmont. Yes, I remember. Go on.”

“Well, I’m afraid I was careless. I’d quit taking pills because they were making me overweight; then I thought I didn’t need any other precautions that day, but it turned out I was wrong. Anyway, because I was careless, now I have a teensy-weensy little Vernon Demerest inside me who’s going to get bigger and bigger.”

There was a silence, then he said awkwardly, “I suppose I shouldn’t ask this…”

She interrupted. “Yes, you should. You’re entitled to ask.” Gwen’s deep dark eyes regarded him with open honesty. “What you want to know is, has there been anyone else, and am I positive it’s you? Right?”

“Look, Gwen…”

She reached out to touch his hand. “You don’t have to be ashamed of asking. I’d ask too, if things were the other way around.”

He gestured unhappily. “Forget it. I’m sorry.”

“But I want to tell you.” She was speaking more hurriedly now, a shade less confidently. “There hasn’t been anybody else; there couldn’t be. You see… I happen to love you.” For the first time her eyes were lowered. She went on, “I think I did… I know I did… love you, I mean–even before that time we had in San Francisco. When I’ve thought about it, I’ve been glad of that, because you ought to love someone if you’re to have his baby, don’t you think so?”

“Listen to me, Gwen.” He covered her hands with his own. Vernon Demerest’s hands were strong and sensitive, accustomed to responsibility and control, yet capable of precision and gentleness. They were gentle now. Women he cared about always had that effect on him, in contrast to the rough brusqueness with which he dealt with men. “We have to do some serious talking, and make some plans.” Now that the first surprise was over, his thoughts were becoming orderly. It was perfectly clear what needed to be done next.

“You don’t have to do anything.” Gwen’s head came up; her voice was under control. “And you can stop wondering whether I’m going to be difficult, or whether I’ll make things awkward for you. I won’t. I knew what I was getting into; that there was the chance this would happen. I didn’t really expect it to, but it has. I had to tell you tonight because the baby’s yours; it’s part of you; you ought to know. Now you do, I’m also telling you you don’t have to worry. I intend to work things out myself.”

“Don’t be ridiculous; of course I’ll help. You don’t imagine I’d walk away and ignore the whole bit.” The essential thing, he realized, was speed; the trick with unwanted fetuses was to get the little beggars early. He wondered if Gwen had any religious scruples about abortions. She had never mentioned having a religion, but sometimes the most unlikely people were devout. He asked her, “Are you Catholic?”

“No.”

Well, he reflected, that helped. Maybe, then, a quick flight to Sweden would be the thing; a few days there was all Gwen would need. Trans America would cooperate, as airlines always did, providing they were not officially involved–the word “abortion” could be hinted at, but must never be mentioned. That way, Gwen could fly deadhead on a Trans America flight to Paris, then go by Air France to Stockholm on a reciprocal employee pass. Of course, even when she got to Sweden, the medical fees would still be damnably expensive; tbcre was a jest among airline people that the Swedes took their overseas abortion customers to the clinic and the cleaners at the same time. The whole thing was cheaper in Japan, of course. Lots of airline stewardesses flew to Tokyo and got abortions there for fifty dollars. The abortions were supposed to be therapeutic, but Demerest mistrusted them; Sweden–or Switzerland–were more reliable. He had once declared: when he got a stewardess pregnant, she went first class.

From his own point of view, it was a bloody nuisance that Gwen had got a bun in the oven at this particular time, just when he was building an extension on his house which, be remembered gloomily, had already gone over budget. Oh well, he would have to sell some stock–General Dynamics, probably; he had a nice capital gain there, and it was about time to take a profit. He would call his broker right after getting back from Rome–and Naples.

He asked, “You’re still coming to Naples with me?”

“Of course; I’ve been looking forward to it. Besides, I bought a new negligee. You’ll see it tomorrow night.”

He stood up from the table and grinned. “You’re a shameless hussy.”

“A shameless pregnant hussy who shamelessly loves you. Do you love me?”

She came to him, and he kissed her mouth, face, and an ear. He probed her pinna with his tongue, felt her arms tighten in response, then whispered, “Yes, I love you.” At the moment, he reflected, it was true.

“Vernon, dear.”

“Yes?”

Her cheek was soft against his. Her voice came, muffled, from his shoulder. “I mean what I said. You don’t have to help me. But if you really want to, that’s different.”

“I want to.” He decided he would sound her out about an abortion, on their way to the airport.

Gwen disengaged herself and glanced at her watch; it was 8:20. “It’s time, Captain, sir. We’d better go.”

“I GUESS YOU KNOW you really don’t have to worry,” Vernon Demerest said to Gwen as they drove. “Airlines are used to having their unmarried stewardesses get pregnant. It happens all the time. The last report I read, the national airline average was ten percent, per year.”

Their discussion, he noted approvingly, was becoming increasingly matter-of-fact. Good!–it was important to steer Gwen away from any emotional nonsense about this baby of hers. If she did become emotional, Demerest knew, all sorts of awkward things could happen, impeding commonsense.

He was handling the Mercedes carefully, with the delicate yet firm touch which was second nature to him when controlling any piece of machinery, including a car or airplane. The suburban streets, which were newly cleared when he drove from the airport to Gwen’s apartment, were thickly snow-covered again. Snow was still coming down continuously, and there were deepening drifts in wind-exposed places, away from the shelter of buildings. Captain Demerest warily skirted the larger drifts. He had no intention of getting stuck nor did he even want to get out of the car until the shelter of the enclosed Trans America parking lot was reached.

Curled into the leather bucket seat beside him, Gwen said incredulously, “Is that really true–that every year, ten out of every hundred stewardesses get pregnant?”

He assured her, “It varies slightly each year, but it’s usually pretty close. Oh, the pill has changed things a bit, but the way I hear it, not as much as you’d expect. As a union officer I have access to that kind of information.”

He waited for Gwen to comment. When she made none, he went on, “What you have to remember is that airline stewardesses are mostly young girls, from the country, or modest city homes. They’ve had a quiet upbringing, an average life. Suddenly, they have a glamour job; they travel, meet interesting people, stay in the best hotels. It’s their first taste of la dolce vita.” He grinned. “Once in a while that first taste leaves some sediment in the glass.”

“That’s a rotten thing to say!” For the first time since he had known her, Gwen’s temper flared. She said indignantly, “You sound so superior; just like a man. If I have any sediment in my glass, or in me, let me remind you that it’s yours, and even if we didn’t plan to leave it there, I think I’d find a better name for it than that. Also, if you’re lumping me together with all those girls you talked about from the country and ‘modest city homes,’ I don’t like that one damn bit either.”

There was heightened color in Gwen’s cheeks; her eyes flashed angrily.

“Hey!” he said. “I like your spirit.”

“Well, keep on saying things like you did just now, and you’ll see more of it.”

“Was I that bad?”

“You were insufferable.”

“Then I’m sorry.” Demerest slowed the car and stopped at a traffic light which shone with myriad red reflections through the falling snow. They waited in silence until, with Christmas card effect, the color winked to green. When they were moving again, he said carefully, “I didn’t mean to lump you with anybody, because you’re an exception. You’re a sophisticate who got careless, You said you did, yourself. I guess we were both careless.”

“All right.” Gwen’s anger was dissipating. “But don’t ever put me in bunches. I’m me; no one else.”

They were quiet for several moments, then Gwen said thoughtfully, “I suppose we could call him that.”

“Call who what?”

“You made me remember what I said earlier–about a little Vernon Demerest inside me. If we had a boy, we could call him Vernon Demerest, Junior, the way Americans do.”

He had never cared much for his own name. Now he began to say, “I wouldn’t want my son…” then stopped. This was dangerous ground.

“What I started to say, Gwen, was that airlines are used to this kind of thing. You know about the Three-Point Pregnancy Program?”

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