“I don’t mean passengers,” Ordway said. “The ones I’m talking about may cause us more trouble.”
He told Mel about the Meadowood mass meeting to protest airport noise; now the meeting had adjourned and most of its members were on their way to the airport. Lieutenant Ordway had learned about the meeting, and its intended follow-up, from a TV news crew which had requested permission to set up cameras inside the terminal. After talking with the TV people, Ordway telephoned a friend on the Tribune city desk downtown, who read him the gist of a news story which a reporter at the original meeting had just phoned in.
“Hell!” Mel grumbled. “Of all the nights to choose! As if we don’t have enough trouble already.”
“I guess that’s the idea; they’ll get noticed more that way. But I thought you’d better be warned because they’ll probably want to see you, and maybe someone from the FAA.”
Mel said sourly, “The FAA goes underground when they hear of something like this. They never come out until the all clear’s sounded.”
“How about you?” The policeman grinned. “You plan to start tunneling?”
“No. You can tell them I’ll meet a delegation of half a dozen, though even that’s a waste of time tonight. There’s nothing I can do.”
“You realize,” Ordway said, “that providing they don’t create a disturbance or damage property, there’s nothing I can do legally to keep the rest of them out.”
“Yes, I realize it, but I’m not going to talk to a mob, though just the same, let’s not look for trouble. Even if we get pushed around a little, make sure we don’t do any pushing ourselves unless we have to. Remember that the press will be here, and I don’t want to create any martyrs.”
“I already warned my men. They’ll make with the jokes and save the jujitsu.”
Mel had confidence in Ned Ordway. The policing of Lincoln International was handled by a self-administering detachment of the city force, and Lieutenant Ordway represented the best type of career policeman. He had been in charge of the airport police detail a year, and would probably move on to a more important assignment downtown soon. Mel would be sorry to see him go.
“Apart from this Meadowood thing,” Mel inquired, “how’s everything else been?” He was aware that Ordway’s force of a hundred policemen, like most others at the airport, had done extra hours of duty since the storm began.
“Mostly routine. More drunks than usual, and a couple of fist fights. But that figures because of all the flight delays and your busy bars.”
Mel grinned. “Don’t knock the bars. The airport takes a percentage from every drink, and we need the revenue.”
“So do airlines, I guess. At least judging by the passengers they try to sober up, so they can put them aboard. I have my usual beef about that.”
“Right. The moment a passenger in his cups shows up at an airline check-in counter, somebody from passenger relations gets assigned to pour coffee into him. Airlines never seem to learn that when the coffee’s in, all you have is a wide-awake drunk. Mostly, that’s when they call us.”
“You can handle it.”
Ordway’s men, Mel was aware, were expert at dealing with airport drunks, who were rarely charged unless they became obstreperous. Mostly they were salesmen and businessmen from out of town, sometimes exhausted after a grueling, competitive week, whom a few drinks on the way home hit hard. If flight crews wouldn’t allow them aboard–and captains, who had the last word on such matters, were usually adamant about it–the drunks were escorted to the police detention building and left to sober up. Later, they were allowed to go–usually sheepishly.
“Oh, there is one thing,” the police chief said. “The parking lot people think we have several more dumped cars. In this weather it’s hard to be sure, but we’ll check it out as soon as we can.”
Mel grimaced. Worthless cars abandoned on parking lots were currently a plague at every big city airport. Nowadays, when an old jalopy became useless, it was surprisingly hard to get rid of it. Scrap and salvage dealers were jammed to the limits of their yards and wanted no more–unless car owners paid. So an owner was faced with the alternatives of paying for disposal, renting storage, or finding a place to abandon his vehicle where it could not be traced back to him. Airports had become obvious dumping grounds.
The old cars were driven into airport parking lots, then license plates and other obvious identification quietly removed. Engine serial numbers could not be removed, of course, but the time and trouble involved in tracing them was never worth while. It was simpler for the airport to do what the ex-owner would not–pay for the car to be taken away and junked, and as quickly as possible sitice it was occupying revenue parking space. Recently, at Lincoln International, the monthly bill for old car disposal had become formidable.
Through the shifting throng in the concourse, Mel caught sight of Captain Vernon Demerest.
“Aside from that,” Ordway said genially, “we’re in great shape for your Meadowood visitors. I’ll let you know when they get here.” With a friendly nod, the policeman moved on.
Vernon Demerest–in Trans America uniform, his bearing confident as usual–was coming Mel’s way. Mel felt a surge of irritation, remembering the adverse snow committee report which he had heard about, but still hadn’t seen.
Demerest seemed disinclined to stop until Mel said, “Good evening, Vernon.”
“Hi.” The tone was indifferent.
“I hear that you’re an authority, now, on snow clearance.”
“You don’t have to be an authority,” Vernon Demerest said brusquely, “to know when there’s a lousy job being done.”
Mel made an effort to keep his tone moderate. “Have you any idea how much snow there’s been?”
“Probably better than you. Part of my job is studying weather reports.”
“Then you’re aware we’ve had ten inches of snow on the airport in the past twenty-four hours; to say nothing of what was there already.”
Demerest shrugged. “So clear it.”
“It’s what we’re doing.”
“The maximum recorded snowfall here–ever,” Mel persisted, “was twelve inches in the same period. That was an inundation, and everything closed down. This time we’ve come near to it, but we haven’t closed. We’ve fought to stay open, and we’ve managed it. There isn’t an airport anywhere that could have coped better than we have with this storm. We’ve had every piece of snow-moving machinery manned around the clock.”
“Maybe you haven’t got enough machinery.”
“Good God, Vernon! Nobody has enough equipment for the kind of storm we’ve had these past three days. Anybody could use more, but you don’t buy snow-clearing machinery for occasional maximum situations–not if you’ve any economic sense. You buy for optimums, then when an emergency hits, you use everything you have, deploying it to best advantage. That’s what my men have been doing, and they’ve done damned well!”
“Okay,” Demerest said, “you have your opinion, I have mine. I happen to think you’ve done an incompetent job. I’ve said so in my report.”
“I thought it was a committee report. Or did you elbow the others out so you could take a personal stab at me?”
“How the committee works is our business. The report is what matters. You’ll get your copy tomorrow.”
“Thanks a lot.” His brother-in-law, Mel noticed, had not bothered to deny that the report was directed personally. Mel went on, “Whatever it is you’ve written won’t change anything, but if it gives you satisfaction, it’ll have a nuisance value. Tomorrow I’ll have to waste time explaining how ignorant–in some areas–you really are.”
Mel had spoken heatedly, not bothering to conceal his anger, and for the first time Demerest grinned. “Got under your skin a little, eh? Well, that’s too bad about the nuisance value and your precious time. I’ll remember it tomorrow while I’m enjoying Italian sunshine.” Still grinning, he walked away.
He had not gone more than a few yards when the grin changed to a scowl.
The cause of Captain Demerest’s displeasure was the central lobby insurance booth–tonight, clearly doing a brisk business. It was a reminder that Demerest’s victory overr Mel Bakersfeld had been picayune, a pinprick only. A week from now, the adverse snow committee report would be forgotten, but the insurance counter would still be here. So the real victory was still with his smooth, smug brother-in-law, who had defeated Demerest’s arguments in front of the Board of Airport Commissioners, and made him look a fool.
Behind the insurance counters two young girls–one of them the big-breasted blonde–were rapidly writing policies for applicants, while another half dozen people waited in line. Most of those waiting were holding cash in their hands–representing more quick profits for the insurance companies, Demerest reflected sourly–and he had no doubt the automatic vending machines in various locations in the terminal were just as busy.
He wondered if any of his own Flight Two passengers-to-be were among those in line. He was tempted to inquire and, if so, do some proselytizing of his own; but he decided not. Vernon Demerest had tried the same thing once before–urging people at an insurance counter not to buy airport flight insurance, and telling them why; and afterward there had been complaints, resulting in a sharply worded reprimand to him from Trans America management. Though airlines did not like airport insurance vending any more than aircrews did, the airlines were subject to differing pressures which forced them to stay neutral. For one thing, airport managements claimed they needed the insurance companies’ revenue; if they didn’t get it from that source, they pointed out, maybe the airlines would have to make up the difference in higher landing fees. For another, airlines were not eager to offend passengers, who might resent not being able to buy insurance in a way they had become used to. Therefore the pilots alone had taken the initiative–along with the abuse.
Preoccupied with his thoughts, Captain Demerest had paused for a few seconds, watching the insurance booth activity. Now he saw a newcomer join the queue–a nervous-looking man–spindly and stoop-shouldered, and with a small, sandy mustache. The man carried a small attaché case and seemed to be worrying about the time; he cast frequent glances at the central lobby clock, comparing it with his own watch. He was clearly unhappy about the length of the line-up ahead of him.
Demerest thought disgustedly: the man had left himself with too little time; he should forget about insurance and get aboard his flight.
Then Demerest reminded himself: he should be back on the flight deck of Flight Two. He began to walk quickly toward the Trans America departure concourse; at any moment now the first boarding announcement would be made. Ah!–there it was.