Page 65 of Airport


Ordway swung sternly back to Inez. He had the yellow printed sheet in hand. “Why did you agree to this when you knew your husband was defrauding?”

She protested, “I didn’t know.”

“Then how is it you have this paper now?”

Haltingly, she related how she had found it earlier this evening, and had come to the airport, hoping to intercept her husband before departure.

“So until tonight you had no idea that he was going?”

“No, sir.”

“Anywhere at all?”

Inez shook her head.

“Even now, can you think of any reason for him going?”

She looked bewildered. “No.”

“Does your husband ever do irrational things?”

Inez hesitated.

“Well,” Ordway said, “does he?”

“Sometimes, lately…”

“He has been irrational?”

A whisper. “Yes.”

“Violent?”

Reluctantly, Inez nodded.

“Your husband was carrying a case tonight,” Ordway said quietly. “A small attaché case, and he seemed specialty cautious about it. Have you any idea what might be inside?”

“No, sir.”

“Inez, you said your husband was a contractor–a building contractor. In the course of his work did he ever use explosives?”

The question had been put so casually and without preamble, that those listening seemed scarcely aware it had been asked. But as its import dawned, there was a sudden tenseness in the room.

“Oh, yes,” Inez said. “Often.”

Ordway paused perceptibly before asking, “Does your husband know a lot about explosives?”

“I think so. He always liked using them. But…” Abruptly, she stopped.

“But what, Inez?”

Suddenly there was a nervousness to Inez Guerrero’s speech which had not been there before. “But… he handles them very carefully.” Her eyes moved around the room. “Please… what is this about?”

Ordway said softly, “You have an idea, Inez; haven’t you?”

When she didn’t answer, almost;with indifference he asked, “Where are you living?”

She gave the address of the South Side apartment and he wrote it down. “Is that where your husband was this afternoon; earlier this evening?”

Thoroughly frightened now, she nodded.

Ordway turned to Tanya. Without raising his voice, he asked, “Get a line open, please, to police headquarters downtown; this extension”–he scribbled a number on a pad. “Ask them to hold.”

Tanya went quickly to Mel’s desk.

Ordway asked Inez, “Did your husband have any explosives in the apartment?” As she hesitated, he bore in with sudden toughness. “You’ve told the truth so far; don’t lie to me now! Did he?”

“Yes.”

“What kind of explosives?”

“Some dynamite… and caps… They were left over.”

“From his contracting work?”

“Yes.”

“Did he ever say anything about them? Give a reason for keeping them?”

Inez shook her head. “Only, that… if you knew how to handle them… they were safe.”

“Where were the explosives kept?”

“Just in a drawer.”

“In a drawer where?”

“The bedroom.” An expression of sudden shock crossed Inez Guerrero’s face. Ordway spotted it.

“You thought of something then! What was it?”

“Nothing!” Panic was in her eyes and voice.

“Yes, you did!” Ned Ordway leaned forward, close to Inez, his face aggressive. For the second time in this room tonight he exhibited nothing of kindness; only the rough, tough savagery of a policeman who needed an answer and would get it. He shouted, “Don’t try holding back or lying! It won’t work. Tell me what it was you thought.” As Inez whimpered: “Never mind that! Tell me!”

“Tonight… I didn’t think of it before… the things…”

“The dynamite and caps?”

“Yes.”

“You’re wasting time! What about them?”

Inez whispered, “They were gone!”

Tanya said quietly, “I have your call, Lieutenant. They’re holding.”

No one among the others spoke.

Ordway nodded, his eyes still fixed on Inez. “Did you know that tonight, before your husband’s flight took off, he insured himself heavily–very heavily indeed–naming you as beneficiary?”

“No, sir. I swear I don’t know anything…”

“I believe you,” Ordway said. He stopped, considering, and when he spoke again his voice grated harshly.

“Inez Guerrero, listen to me carefully. We believe your husband has those explosives, which you’ve told us about, with him tonight. We think be carried them onto that Rome flight, and, since there can be no other explanation for having them there, that he intends to destroy the airplane, killing himself and everyone else aboard. Now, I’ve one more question, and before you answer, think carefully, and remember those other people–innocent people, including children–who are on that flight, too. Inez, you know your husband; you know him as well as anyone alive. Could he… for the insurance money; for you… could he do what I have just said?”

Tears streamed down Inez Guerrero’s face. She seemed near collapse, but nodded slowly.

“Yes.” Her voice was choked. “Yes, I think he could.”

Ned Ordway turned away. He took the telephone from Tanya and began speaking rapidly in a low tone. He gave information, interspersed with several requests.

Once Ordway paused, swinging back to Inez Guerrero. “Your apartment is going to be searched, and we’ll get a warrant if necessary. But it will be easier if you consent. Do you?”

Inez nodded dully.

“Okay,” Ordway said into the telephone, “she agrees.” A minute or so later he hung up.

Ordway told the D.T.M. and Mel, “We’ll collect the evidence in the apartment, if there’s any there. Apart from that, at the moment, there isn’t a lot we can do.”

The D.T.M. said grimly, “There isn’t a lot any of us can do, except maybe pray.” His face strained and gray, he began writing a new message for Flight Two.

09

THE HOT hors d’oeuvres, which Captain Vernon Demerest had called for, had been served to the pilots of Flight Two. The appetizing assortment on a tray, brought by one of the stewardesses from the first class galley, was disappearing fast. Demerest grunted appreciatively as he bit into a lobster-and-mushroom tartlet garnished with Parmesan cheese.

As usual, the stewardesses were pursuing their campaign to fatten the skinny young second officer, Cy Jordan. Surreptitiously they had slipped him a few extra hors d’oeuvres on a separate plate behind the two captains and now, while Jordan fiddled with fuel crossfeed valves, his cheeks bulged with chicken livers in bacon.

Soon, all three pilots, relaxing in turn in the dimly lighted cockpit, would be brought the same delectable entree and dessert which the airline served its first class passengers. The only things the passengers would get, which the crew did not, were table wine and champagne.

Trans America, like most airlines, worked hard at providing an excellent cuisine aloft. There were some who argued that airlines–even international airlines–should concern themselves solely with transportation, gear their in-flight service to commuter standards, and dispense with frills, including meals of any higher quality than a box lunch. Others, however, believed that too much of modem travel had become established at box lunch level, and welcomed the touch of style and elegance which good airborne meals provided. Airlines received remarkably few complaints about food service. Most passengers–tourist and first class–welcomed the meals as a diversion and consumed them zestfully.

Vernon Demerest, searching out with his tongue the last succulent particles of lobster, was thinking much the same thing. At that moment the Selcal call chime sounded loudly in the cockpit and the radio panel warning light flashed on.

Anson Harris’s eyebrows went up. A single call on Selcal was out of the ordinary; two within less than an hour were exceptional.

“What we need,” Cy Jordan said from behind, “is an unlisted number.”

Demerest reached out to switch radios. “I’ll get it.”

After the mutual identification between Flight Two and New York dispatch, Vernon Demerest began writing on a message pad under a hooded light. The message was from D.T.M. Lincoln International, and began: UNCONFIRMED POSSIBILITY EXISTS… As the wording progressed, Demerest’s features, in the light’s reflection, tautened. At the end he acknowledged briefly and signed off without comment.

Demerest handed the message pad to Anson Harris, who read it, leaning toward a light beside him. Harris whistled softly. He passed the pad over his shoulder to Cy Jordan.

The Selcal message ended: SUGGEST RETURN OR ALTERNATE LANDING AT CAPTAIN’S DISCRETION.

As both captains knew, there was a question of command to be decided. Although Anson Harris had been flying tonight as captain, with Demerest performing first officer duty, Vernon Demerest–as check pilot–had overriding authority if he chose to exercise it.

Now, in response to Harris’s questioning glance, Demcrest said brusquely, “You’re in the left seat. What are we waiting for?”

Harris considered only briefly, then announced, “We’ll turn back, but making a wide slow turn; that way, passengers shouldn’t notice. Then we’ll have Gwen Meighen locate this guy they’re worried about, because it’s a sure thing one of us can’t show up in the cabin, or we’ll alert him.” He shrugged. “After that, I guess we play it by ear.”

“Okay,” Demerest assented. “You get us faced around; I’ll handle the cabin end.” He depressed the stewardess call button, using a three-ring code to summon Gwen.

On a radio frequency he had been using earlier, Anson Harris called air route control. He announced laconically, “This is Trans America Two. We seem to have a problem here. Request clearance back to Lincoln, and radar vector from present position to Lincoln.”

Harris’s swift reasoning had already ruled out landing at an alternate air-port. Ottawa, Toronto, and Detroit, they had been informed at briefing, were closed to air traffic because of the storm. Besides, to deal with the man they were concerned about back in the cabin, the crew of Flight Two needed time. Returning to Lincoln International would provide it.

He had no doubt that Demerest had reached the same conclusion.

From Toronto Air Route Center, more than six miles below, a controller’s voice responded. “Trans America Two, Roger.” A brief pause, then: “You may begin a left turn now to heading two seven zero. Stand by for an altitude change.”

“Roger, Toronto. We are commencing the turn. We’d like to make it wide and gradual.”

“Trans America Two. A wide turn approved.”

The exchange was low key, as such exchanges usually were. Both in the air and on the ground there was mutual awareness that most would be gained by calm, least by dramatics or excitement. By the nature of Flight Two’s request, the ground controller was instantly aware that an emergency–real or potential–existed. Jetliners, in flight at cruising altitude, did not abruptly reverse course without a major reason. But the controller also knew that if and when the captain was ready, he would officially declare an emergency and report its cause. Until then, the controller would not waste the time of the crew–undoubtedly occupied with urgent business of their own–by asking needless questions.

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