Page 56 of Airport

Back in the passenger cabins, Demerest knew, Gwen Meighen and the other stewardesses would be serving a second round of drinks and, in first class, hot hors d’oeuvres on exclusive Rosenthal china.

“I warned you I had strong feelings,” Anson Harris said. “You don’t need a religion, to believe in human ethics.”

Demerest growled, “Or to have screwball ideas. Anyway, people who think like you are on the losing side. The trend is to make abortion easier; eventually, maybe, wide open and legal.”

“If it happens,” Harris said, “we’ll be a backward step nearer the Auschwitz ovens.”

“Nuts!” Demerest glanced up from the flight log, where he was recording their position, just reported. His irritability, seldom far below the surface, was beginning to show. “There are plenty of good arguments in favor of easy abortion–unwanted children who’ll be born to poverty and never get a chance; then the special cases–rape, incest, the mother’s health.”

“There are always special cases. It’s like saying, ‘okay, we’ll permit just a little murder, providing you make out a convincing argument.’ ” Harris shook his head, dissenting. “Then you talked about unwanted children. Well, they can be stopped by birth control. Nowadays everyone gets that opportunity, at every economic level. But if we slip up on that, and a human life starts growing, that’s a new human being, and we’ve no moral right to condemn it to death. As to what we’re born into, that’s a chance we all take without knowing it; but once we have life, good or bad, we’re entitled to keep it, and not many, however bad it is, would give it up. The answer to poverty isn’t to kill unborn babies, but to improve society.”

Harris considered, then went on, “As to economics, there are economic arguments for everything. It makes economic logic to kill mental deficients and mongoloids right after birth; to practice euthanasia on the terminally ill; to weed out old and useless people, the way they do in Africa, by leaving them in the jungle for hyenas to eat. But we don’t do it because we value human life and dignity. What I’m saying, Vernon, is that if we plan to progress we ought to value them a little more.”

The altimeters–one in front of each pilot–touched thirty-three thousand feet. They were at the top of their climb. Anson Harris eased the aircraft into level flight while Second Officer Jordan reached forward again to adjust the throttles.

Demerest said sourly to Harris, “Your trouble is cobwebs in the brain.” He realized he had started the discussion; now, angrily, he wished he hadn’t. To end the subject, he reached for the stewardess call button. “Let’s get some hors d’oeuvres before the first class passengers wolf them all.”

Harris nodded. “Good idea.”

A minute or two later, in response to the telephoned order, Gwen Meighen brought three plates of aromatic hors d’oeuvres, and coffee. On Trans America, as on most airlines, captains got the fastest service.

“Thanks, Gwen,” Vernon Demerest said; then, as she leaned forward to serve Anson Harris, his eyes confirmed what he already knew. Gwen’s waist was as slim as ever, no sign of anything yet; nor would there be, no matter what was going on inside. The heck with Harris and his old woman’s arguments! Of course Gwen would have an abortion–just as soon as they got back.

SOME SIXTY FEET aft of the flight deck, in the tourist cabin, Mrs. Ada Quonsett was engaged in spirited conversation with the passenger on her right, whom she had discovered was an amiable, middle-aged oboe player from the Chicago Symphony. “What a wonderful thing to be a musician, and so creative. My late husband loved classical music. He fiddled a little himself, though not professionally, of course.”

Mrs. Quonsett was feeling warmed by a Dry Sack sherry for which her oboist friend had paid, and he had just inquired if she would like another. Mrs. Quonsett beamed, “Well, it’s exceedingly kind of you, and perhaps I shouldn’t, but I really think I will.”

The passenger on her left–the man with the little sandy mustache and scrawny neck–had been less communicative; in fact, disappointing. Mrs. Quonsett’s several attempts at conversation had been rebuffed by monosyllabic answers, barely audible, while the man sat, mostly expressionless, still clasping his attaché case on his knees.

For a while, when they had all ordered drinks, Mrs. Quonsett wondered if the left-seat passenger might unbend. But he hadn’t. He accepted Scotch from the stewardess, paid for it with a lot of small change that he had to count out, then tossed the drink down almost in a gulp. Her own sherry mellowed Mrs. Quonsett immediately, so that she thought: Poor man, perhaps he has problems, and I shouldn’t bother him.

She noticed, however, that the scrawny-necked man came suddenly alert when the captain made his announcement, soon after takeoff, about their speed, course, time of flight and all those other things which Mrs. Quonsett rarely bothered listening to. The man on her left, though, scribbled notes on the back of an envelope and afterward got out one of those Chart Your Own Position maps, which the airline supplied, spreading it on top of his attaché case. He was studying the map now, and making pencil marks, in between glances at his watch. It all seemed rather silly and childish to Mrs. Quonsett, who was quite sure that there was a navigator up front, taking care of where the airplane ought to be, and when.

Mrs. Quonsett then returned her attention to the oboist who was explaining that not until recently, when he had been in a public seat during a Bruckner symphony performance, had he realized that at a moment when his section of the orchestra was going “pom-tiddey-pom-pom,” the cellos were sounding “ah-diddley-ah-dah.” He mouthed both passages in tune to illustrate his point.

“Really! How remarkably interesting; I’d never thought of that,” Mrs. Quonsett exclaimed. “My late husband would have so enjoyed meeting you, though of course you are very much younger.”

She was now well into the second sherry and enjoying herself thoroughly. She thought: she had chosen such a nice flight; such a fine airplane and crew, the stewardesses polite and helpful, and with delightful passengers, except for the man on her left, who didn’t really matter. Soon, dinner would be served and later, she had learned, there was to be a movie with Michael Caine, one of her favorite stars. What more could anyone possibly ask?

MRS. QUANSETT had been wrong in assuming that there was a navigator up front on the flight deck. There wasn’t. Trans America, like most major airlines, no longer carried navigators, even on overseas flights, because of the multitude of radar and radio systems available on modern jet aircraft. The pilots, aided by constant air route control surveillance, did what little navigation was needed.

However, had there been an old-time air navigator aboard Flight Two, his charted position of the aircraft would have been remarkably similar to that which D. O. Guerrero had achieved by rough-and-ready reckoning. Guerrero had estimated several minutes earlier that they were close to Detroit; the estimate was right. He knew, because the captain had said so in his announcement to passengers, that their subsequent course would take them over Montreal; Fredericton, New Brunswick; Cape Ray; and later St. John’s, Newfoundland. The captain had even been helpful enough to include the aircraft’s ground speed as well as airspeed, making Guerrero’s further calculations just as accurate.

The east coast of Newfoundland, D. O. Guerrero calculated, would be passed over in two-and-a-half hours from the present time. However, before then, the captain would probably make another position announcement, so the estimate could be revised if necessary. After that, as already planned, Guerrero would wait a further hour to ensure that the flight was well over the Atlantic Ocean before pulling the cord on his case and exploding the dynamite inside. At this moment, in anticipation, his fingers clasping the attaché case tensed.

Now that the time of culmination was so close, he wanted it to come quickly. Perhaps, after all, he thought, he would not wait the full time. Once they had left Newfoundland, really any time would do.

The shot of whisky had relaxed him. Although most of his earlier tension had disappeared on coming aboard, it had built up again soon after takeoff, particularly when the irritating old cat in the next seat had tried to start a conversation. D. O. Guerrero wanted no conversation, either now or later; in fact, no more communication with anyone else in this life. All that he wanted was to sit and dream–of three hundred thousand dollars, a larger sum than he had ever possessed at one time before, and which would be coming to Inez and the two children, he presumed, in a matter of days.

Right now he could have used another whisky, but had no money left to pay for it. After his unexpectedly large insurance purchase, there had been barely enough small change for the single drink; so he would have to do without.

As he had earlier, he closed his eyes. This time he was thinking of the effect on Inez and the children when they heard about the money. They ought to care about him for what he was doing, even though they wouldn’t know the whole of it–that he was sacrificing himself, giving his own life for them. But perhaps they might guess a little. If they did, he hoped they would be appreciative, although he wondered about that, knowing from experience that people could be surprisingly perverse in reactions to what was done on their behalf.

The strange thing was: In all his thoughts about Inez and the children, he couldn’t quite visualize their faces. It seemed almost as though he were thinking about people whom he had never really known.

He compromised by conjuring up visions of dollar signs, followed by threes, and endless zeros. After a while he must have dropped off to sleep because, when he opened his eyes a quick glance at his watch showed that it was twenty minutes later, and a stewardess was leaning over from the aisle. The stewardess–an attractive brunette who spoke with an English accent–was asking, “Are you ready for dinner, sir? If so, perhaps you’d like me to take your case.”


ALMOST FROM their initial moment of meeting, Mel Bakersfeld had formed an instinctive dislike of the lawyer, Elliott Freemantle, who was leading the delegation of Meadowood residents. Now, ten minutes or so after the delegation filed into Mel’s office, the dislike was sharpening to downright loathing.

It seemed as if the lawyer was deliberately being as obnoxious as possible. Even before the discussion opened, there had been Freemantle’s unpleasant remark about not wanting “a lot of doubletalk,” which Mel parried mildly, though resenting it. Since then, every rejoinder of Mel’s had been greeted with equal rudeness and skepticism. Mel’s instinct cautioned him that Freemantle was deliberately baiting him, hoping that Mel would lose his temper and make intemperate statements, with the press recording them. If it was the lawyer’s strategy, Mel had no intention of abetting it. With some difficulty, he continued to keep his own manner reasonable and polite.

Freemantle had protested what he termed, “the callous indifference of this airport’s management to the health and well-being of my clients, the good citizen families of Meadowood.”