Page 57 of Airport

Mel replied quietly that neither the airport nor the airlines using it had been callous or indifferent. “On the contrary, we have recognized that a genuine problem about noise exists, and have done our best to deal with it.”

“Then your best, sir, is a miserable, weak effort! And you’ve done what?” Lawyer Freemantle declared, “So far as my clients and I can see–and hear–you’ve done no more than make empty promises which amount to nothing. It’s perfectly evident–and the reason we intend to proceed to law–is that no one around here really gives a damn.”

The accusation was untrue, Mel countered. There had been a planned program of avoiding takeoffs on runway two five–which pointed directly at Meadowood–whenever an alternate runway could be used. Thus, two five was used mostly for landings only, creating little noise for Meadowood, even though entailing a loss in operating efficiency for the airport. In addition, pilots of all airlines had instructions to use noise abatement procedures after any takeoff in the general direction of Meadowood, on whatever runway, including turns away from Meadowood immediately after leaving the ground. Air traffic control had cooperated in all objectives.

Mel added, “What you should realize, Mr. Freemantle, is that this is by no means the first meeting we have had with local residents. We’ve discussed our mutual problems many times.”

Elliott Freemantle snapped, “Perhaps at the other times there was not enough plain speaking.”

“Whether that’s true or not, you seem to be making up for it now.”

“We intend to make up for a good deal–of lost time, wasted effort and bad faith, the latter not on my clients’ part”

Mel decided not to respond. There was nothing to be gained, for either side, by this kind of harangue–except, perhaps, publicity for Elliott Freemantle. Mel observed that the reporters’ pencils were racing; one thing which the lawyer clearly understood was what made lively copy for the press.

As soon as he decently could, Mel resolved, he would cut this session short. He was acutely conscious of Cindy, still seated where she had been when the delegation came in, though now appearing bored, which was characteristic of Cindy whenever anything came up involving airport affairs. This time, however, Mel sympathized with her. In view of the seriousness of what they had been discussing, he was finding this whole Meadowood business an intrusion himself.

In Mel’s mind, too, was his recurring concern for Keith. He wondered how things were with his brother, over in air traffic control. Should he have insisted that Keith quit work for tonight, and pursued their discussion which–until the tower watch chief’s intervention cut it off–had seemed to be getting somewhere? Even now, perhaps, it was not too late… But then there was Cindy, who certainly had a right to be considered ahead of Keith; and now this waspish lawyer, Freemantle, still ranting on…

“Since you chose to mention the so-called noise abatement procedures,” Elliott Freemantle inquired sarcastically, “may I ask what happened to them tonight?”

Mel sighed. “We’ve had a storm for three days.” His glance took in the others in the delegation. “I’m sure you’re all aware of it. It’s created emergency situations.” He explained the blockage of runway three zero, the temporary need for takeoffs on runway two five, with the inevitable effect on Meadowood.

“That’s all very well,” one of the other men said. He was a heavy-jowled, balding man whom Mel had met at other discussions about airport noise. “We know about the storm, Mr. Bakersfeld. But if you’ve living directly underneath, knowing why airplanes are coming over doesn’t make anyone feel better, storm or not. By the way, my name is Floyd Zanetta. I was chairman of the meeting…”

Elliott Freernantle cut in smoothly. “If you’ll excuse me, there’s another point before we go on.” Obviously the lawyer had no intention of relinquishing control of the delegation, even briefly. He addressed Mel, with a sideways glance at the press. “It isn’t solely noise that’s filling homes and ears of Meadowood, though that’s bad enough–shattering nerves, destroying health, depriving children of their needed sleep. But there is a physical invasion…”

This time Mel interrupted. “Are you seriously suggesting that as an alternative to what’s happened tonight, the airport should close down?”

“Not only am I suggesting that you do it; we may compel you. A moment ago I spoke of a physical invasion. It is that which I will prove, before the courts, on behalf of my clients. And we will win!”

The other members of the delegation, including Floyd Zanetta, gave approving nods.

While waiting for his last words to sink home, Elliott Freemantle deliberated. He supposed he had gone almost far enough. It was disappointing that the airport general manager hadn’t blown a fuse, as Freernantle had been carefully goading him to do. The technique was one which he had used before, frequently with success, and it was a good technique because people who lost their tempers invariably came off worse in press reports, which wag what Freemantle was mainly concerned about. But Bakersfeld, though clearly annoyed, had been too smart to fall for that ploy. Well, never mind, Elliott Freemantle thought; he had been successful just the same. He, too, had seen the reporters industriously getting his words down–words which (with the sneer and hectoring tone removed) would read well in print; even better, he believed, than his earlier speech at the Meadowood meeting.

Of course, Freemantle realized, this whole proceeding was just an exercise in semantics. Nothing would come of it. Even if the airport manager, Bakersfeld, could be persuaded to their point of view–a highly unlikely happening–there was little or nothing he could do about it. The airport was a fact of life and nothing would alter the reality of it being where and how it was. No, the value of being here at all tonight was partly in gaining public attention, but principally (from Lawyer Freemantle’s viewpoint) to convince the Meadowood populace that they had a stalwart champion, so that those legal retainer forms (as well as checks) would keep on flowing into the offices of Freemantle and Sye.

It was a pity, Freemantle thought, that the remainder of the crowd from Meadowood, who were waiting downstairs, could not have heard him up here, dishing out the rough stuff–on their behalf–to Bakersfeld. But they would read about it in tomorrow’s papers; also, Elliott Freemantle was not at all convinced that what was happening here and now would be the last Meadowood item on tonight’s airport agenda. He had already promised the TV crews, who were waiting down below because they couldn’t make it in here with their equipment, a statement when this present session was over. He had hopes that by now–because he had suggested it–the TV cameras would be set up in the main terminal concourse, and even though that Negro police lieutenant had forbidden any demonstration there, Freemantle had an idea that the TV session, astutely managed, might well develop into one.

Elliott Freemantle’s statement of a moment ago had concerned legal action–the action which, he had assured Meadowood residents earlier this evening, would be his principal activity on their behalf. “My business is law,” he had told them. “Law and nothing else.” It was not true, of course; but then, Elliott Freemantle’s policies were apt to back and fill as expediency demanded.

“What legal action you take,” Mel Bakersfeld pointed out, “is naturally your own affair. All the same, I would remind you that the courts have upheld the rights of airports to operate, despite adjoining communities, as a matter of public convenience and necessity.”

Freemantle’s eyebrows shot up. “I didn’t realize that you are a lawyer too.”

“I’m not a lawyer. I’m also quite sure you’re aware of it.”

“Well, for a moment I was beginning to wonder.” Elliott Freemantle smirked. “Because I am, you see, and with some experience in these matters. Furthermore, I assure you that there are legal precedents in my clients’ favor.” As he had at the meeting earlier, he rattled off the impressive-sounding list of cases–U.S. v. Causby, Griggs v. County of Allegheny, Thornburg v. Port of Portland, Martin v. Port of Seattle.

Mel was amused, though he didn’t show it. The cases were familiar to him. He also knew of others, which had produced drastically different judgments, and which Elliott Freemantle was either unaware of or had cagily avoided mentioning. Mel suspected the latter, but had no intention of getting into a legal debate. The place for that, if and when it happened, was in court.

However, Mel saw no reason why the lawyer–whom he now disliked even more intensely–should have everything his own way. Speaking to the delegation generally, Mel explained his reason for avoiding legal issues, but added, “Since we are all here, there are some things I would like to say to you on the subject of airports and noise generally.”

Cindy, he observed, was yawning.

Freemantle responded instantly. “I doubt if that will be necessary. The next step so far as we are concerned…”

“Oh!” For the first time Mel dispensed with mildness, and bore down heavily. “Am I to understand that after I’ve listened patiently to you, you and your group are not prepared to extend the same courtesy?”

The delegate, Zanetta, who had spoken before, glanced at the others. “I do think we ought…”

Mel said sharply, “Let Mr. Freemantle answer.”

“There’s really no need”–the lawyer smiled suavely–“for anyone to raise their voice, or be discourteous.”

“In that case, why have you been doing both those things ever since you came in?”

“I’m not aware…”

“Well, I am aware.”

“Aren’t you losing your temper, Mr. Bakersfeld?”

“No,” Mel smiled. “I’m sorry to disappoint you, but I’m not.” He was conscious of having seized an advantage, catching the lawyer by surprise. Now he went on, “You’ve had a good deal to say, Mr. Freemantle, and not much of it politely. But there are a few things I’d like to get on the record, too. Also, I’m sure the press will be interested in both sides even if no one else is.”

“Oh, we’re interested all right. It’s just that we’ve heard all the wishy-washy excuses already.” As usual, Elliott Freemantle was recovering fast. But he admitted to himself that he had been lulled by Bakersfeld’s earlier mild manner, so that the sharp counterattack caught him unawares. He realized that the airport general manager was more astute than he appeared.

“I didn’t say anything about excuses,” Mel pointed out. “I suggested a review of airport noise situations generally.”

Freemantle shrugged. The last thing he wanted was to open up some new approach which might be newsworthy and, therefore, divert attention from himself. At the moment, though, he didn’t see how he could prevent it.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Mel began, “when you first came here tonight something was said about plain, blunt speaking on both sides. Mr. Freemantle has had his turn at that; now I will be equally candid.”