Mel glanced briefly at his brother-in-law who gave no sign beyond a scowl.
“The glaring weakness of all those arguments,” Mel maintained, “is that they are purely suppositional. It seems to me just as likely that someone planning such a crime would not be deterred by the absence of airport insurance, but would merely obtain their insurance elsewhere, which–as Vernon himself pointed out–is a simple thing to do.”
Expressed another way, Mel pointed out, flight insurance appeared only a secondary motive of would-be saboteurs, and not a prime reason for their crime. The real motives, when aerial sabotage occurred, were based on age-old human weaknesses—love triangles, greed, business failures, suicide.
As long as there had been human beings, Mel argued, it had proven impossible to eliminate these motives. Therefore, those concerned with aviation safety and sabotage prevention should seek, not to abolish airport flight insurance, but to strengthen other precautionary measures in the air and on the ground. One such measure was stricter control of the sale of dynamite–the principal tool used by most aerial saboteurs to date. Another proposal was development of “sniffer” devices to detect explosives in baggage. One such device, Mel informed the attentive Airport Commissioners, was already in experimental use.
A third idea–urged by flight insurance companies–was that passengers’ baggage be opened for examination before flight, in the same way that happened with Customs inspection now. However, Mel concluded, the last idea presented obvious difficulties.
There should be stricter enforcement, he claimed, of existing laws prohibiting the carrying of side arms on commercial airliners. And airplane design should be studied in relation to sabotage, with the objective that aircraft could better endure an internal explosion. In that connection, one idea–also advocated by the insurance vending companies–was for an inner skin of baggage compartments to be made stronger and heavier than at present, even at the price of increased weight and decreased airline revenue.
The FAA, Mel pointed out, had made a study of airport insurance and subsequently opposed any ban on airport sales. Mel glanced at Vernon Demerest, who was glowering. Both knew that the FAA “study” was a sore point with the airline pilots since it had been made by an insurance company executive–an aviation insurance man himself–whose impartiality was highly suspect.
There were several more points remaining in the insurance company notes which Mel had not yet touched on, but he decided he had said enough. Besides, some of the remaining arguments were less convincing. He even had serious doubts, now that he had made it, about the baggage compartment suggestion of a moment or two ago. Who would the extra weight be for, he wondered–the passengers, airlines, or mostly for the flight insurance companies? But the other arguments, he thought, were sound enough.
“So,” he concluded, “what we have to decide is whether, because of supposition and very little else, we should deprive the public of a service which they so obviously want.”
As Mel resumed his seat, Mildred Ackerman said promptly and emphatically, “I’d say no.” She shot Vernon Demerest a glance of triumph.
With minimum formality the other commissioners agreed, then adjourned, leaving other business until afternoon.
In the corridor outside, Vernon Demerest was waiting for Mel.
“Hi, Vernon!” Mel spoke quickly, making an effort at conciliation before his brother-in-law could speak. “No hard feelings, I hope. Even friends and relatives have to differ now and then.”
The “friends” was, of course, an overstatement. Mel Bakersfeld and Vernon Demerest had never liked each other, despite Demerest’s marriage to Mel’s sister, Sarah, and both men knew it; also, of late, the dislike had sharpened to open antagonism.
“You’re damn right there are hard feellings,” Demerest said. The peak of his anger had passed, but his eyes were hard.
The commissioners, now filing out from the Board room, looked curiously at them both. The commissioners were on their way to lunch. In a few minutes Mel would join them.
Demerest said contemptuously, “It’s easy for people like you–ground-bound, desk-tied, with penguins’ minds. If you were in the air as often as I am, you’d have a difforent point of view.”
Mel said sharply, “I wasn’t always flying a desk.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake! Don’t hand me that hero veteran crap. You’re at zero-feet now; the way you think shows it. If you weren’t, you’d see this insurance deal the way any self-respecting pilot does.”
“You’re sure you mean self-respecting, not self-adoring?” If Vernon wanted a slanging match, Mel decided, he could have one. There was no one else within hearing now. “The trouble with most of you pilots is you’ve become so used to thinking of yourselves as demigods and captains of the clouds, you’ve convinced yourselves your brains are something wonderful too. Well, except in a few specialized ways, they’re not. Sometimes I think the rest of what you have has addled through sitting up in that rarefied air too long while automatic pilots do the work. So when someone comes up with an honest opinion which happens to run counter to your own, you behave like spoiled little children.”
“I’ll let all that stuff go,” Demerest said, “though if anybody’s childish it’s you right now. What’s more to the point is that you’re dishonest.”
“Now look, Vernon…”
“An honest opinion, you said.” Demerest snorted in disgust. “Honest opinion, my eye! In there, you were using an insurance company poop sheet. You were reading from it! I could see from where I was sitting, and I know because I have a copy myself.” He touched the pile of books and papers he was carrying. “You didn’t even have the decency, or take the trouble, to prepare a case yourself.”
Mel flushed. His brother-in-law had caught him out. He should have prepared his own case, or at least adapted the insurance company’s notes and had them retyped. It was true he had been busier than usual for several days before the meeting, but that was no excuse.
“Some day you may regret this,” Vernon Demerest said. “If you do, and I’m around, I’ll be the one to remind you of today. Until then, I can do without seeing you any more than I have to.”
Before Mel could reply, his brother-in-law had turned and gone.
REMEMBERING now, with Tanya beside him in the main terminal concourse, Mel wondered–as he had several times since–if he could not have handled the clash with Vernon a good deal better. He had an uneasy feeling that he had behaved badly. He could still have differed with his brother-in-law; even now Mel saw no reason to change his point of view. But he could have done it more good-naturedly, avoiding the tactlessness which was a part of Vernon Demerest’s makeup, but not of Mel’s.
There had been no confrontation, since that day, between the two of them; the near-encounter with Demerest in the airport coffee shop tonight had been Mel’s first sight of his brother-in-law since the airport commissioners’ meeting. Mel had never been close to his older sister, Sarah, and they seldom visited each other’s homes. Yet sooner or later, Mel and Vernon Demerest would have to meet, if not to resolve their differences, at least to shelve them. And, Mel thought, judging by the strongly worded snow committee report–unquestionably inspired by Vernon’s antagonism–the sooner it happened, the better.
“I wouldn’t have mentioned the insurance bit,” Tanya said, “if I’d known it would send you so far away from me.”
Though the recollections which had flashed through his mind occupied only seconds of time, Mel was conscious once again of Tanya’s perceptiveness concerning himself. No one else that he could remember had ever had quite the same facility for divining his thoughts. It argued an instinctive closeness between them.
He was aware of Tanya watching his face, her eyes gentle, understanding, but beyond the gentleness was a woman’s strength and a sensuality which instinct told him could leap to flame. Suddenly, he wanted their closeness to become closer still.
“You didn’t send me far away,” Mel answered. “You brought me nearer. At this moment I want you very much.” As their eyes met directly, he added, “In every way.”
Tanya was characteristically frank. “I want you too.” She smiled slightly. “I have for a long time.”
His impulse was to suggest that they both leave now, and find some quiet place together… Tanya’s apartment perhaps… and hang the consequences! Then Mel accepted what he already knew; he couldn’t go. Not yet.
“We’ll meet later,” he told her. “Tonight. I’m not sure how much later, but we will. Don’t go home without me.” He wanted to reach out, and seize and hold her, and press her body to his, but the traffic of the concourse was all around them.
She reached out, her fingertips resting lightly on his hand. The sense of contact was electric. “I’ll wait,” Tanya said. “I’ll wait as long as you want.”
A moment later she moved away, and was instantly swallowed up in the press of passengers around the Trans America counters.
DESPITE HER forcefulness when she had talked with Mel a half-hour earlier, Cindy Bakersfeld was uncertain what to do next. She wished there were someone she could trust to advise her. Should she go to the airport tonight, or not?
Alone and lonely, with the cocktail party babel of the Friends of the Archidona Children’s Relief Fund around her, Cindy brooded uneasily over the two courses of action she could take. Through most of the evening, until now, she had moved from group to group, chatting animatedly, meeting people she knew, or wanted to. But for some reason tonight–rather more than usual–Cindy was aware of being here unaccompanied. For the past few minutes she had been standing thoughtfully, preoccupied, by herself.
She reasoned again: She didn’t feel like going unescorted into dinner, which would begin soon. So on the one hand she could go home; on the other, she could seek out Mel and face a fight.
On the telephone with Mel she had insisted she would go to the airport and confront him. But if she went, Cindy realized, it would mean a showdown–almost certainly irreversible and final–between them both. Commonsense told her that sooner or later the showdown must come, so better to have it now and done with; and there were other related matters which had to be resolved. Yet fifteen years of marriage were not to be shrugged off lightly like a disposable plastic raincoat. No matter how many deficiencies and disagreements there were–and Cindy could think of plenty–when two people lived together that long, there were connecting strands between them which it would be painful to sever.
Even now, Cindy believed, their marriage could be salvaged if both of them tried hard enough. The point was: Did they want to? Cindy was convinced she did–if Mel would meet some of her conditions, though in the past he had refused to, and she doubted very much if he would ever change as much as she would like. Yet without some changes, continuing to live together as they were would be intolerable. Lately there had not even been the consolation of sex which once upon a time made up for other inadequacies. Something had gone wrong there too, though Cindy was not sure what. Mel still excited her sexually; even now, just thinking about him in that way was enough to arouse her, and at this moment she was conscious of her body stirring. But somehow, when the opportunity was there, their mental separation inhibited them both. The result–at least in Cindy–was frustration, anger, and later a sexual appetite so strong that she had to have a man. Any man.