- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
- All the Possibilities
- Black Rose
- The Great Train Robbery
- Blue Dahlia
- Carnal Innocence
- Dance Upon the Air
- High Noon
- Sacred Sins
- Face the Fire
- Holding the Dream
- A Man for Amanda
OVER MARTINSBURG, West Virginia---some thirty miles northwest of Washington Route Center---a private, four-place Beech Bonanza, at seven thousand feet, was leaving Airway V166 and entering Airway V44. The little Beech Bonanza, identifiable visually by its butterfly tail, was cruising at 175 mph, its destination Baltimore. It contained the Redfern family: Irving Redfern, a consulting engineer-economist, his wife Merry, and their two children---Jeremy, ten years old, and Valerie, nine.
Irving Redfern was a careful, thorough man. Today, because of favorable weather conditions, he could have flown using visual flight rules. However, he considered it more prudent to file an instrument flight plan and, since leaving his home airport of Charleston, West Virginia, had stayed on airways, remaining in touch with air traffic control. A few moments earlier, Washington Route Center had given him a new course on Airway V44. He had already turned on it and now his magnetic compass, which had been swinging slightly, was settling down nicely.
The Redferns were going to Baltimore partly for Irving Redfern's business, and partly for pleasure, which would include a family theatre outing tonight. While their father was concentrating on his flying, the children, with Merry, were chattering about what they would have for lunch at Friendship Airport.
The Washington Center controller who had given Irving Redfern his latest instructions was George Wallace, the almost-qualified trainee still filling in for Keith Bakersfeld. George had correctly identified the Redferns' Beechcraft on his radarscope, where it appeared as a bright green dot, though smaller and moving more slowly than most other traffic---at the moment principally airline jets. There was nothing closing up on the Beechcraft, however, which appeared to have plenty of airspace all around it. Perry Yount, the sector supervisor, had by now returned to the adjoining position. He was helping sort out the aftermath confusion now that the critical Northwest Orient 727 had been handed over safely to Washington National Airport approach control. Periodically, Perry glanced across at George and once called out, "Is everything okay?" George Wallace nodded, though he was beginning to sweat a little. Today's heavier noontime traffic seemed to be building up earlier than usual.
Unknown to George Wallace or Perry Yount or Irving Redfern, an Air National Guard T-33 jet trainer was flying---at the moment idly in circles---a few miles north of Airway V44. The T-33 was from Martin Airport, near Baltimore, and its National Guard pilot was an automobile salesman named Hank Neel.
Lieutenant Neel, who was fulfilling his part-time military training requirements, had been sent up solo for YFR proficiency flying. Because he had been cautioned to do only local flying in an authorized area northwest of Baltimore, no flight plan had been filed; therefore, Washington Air Route Center had no knowledge that the T-33 was in the air. This would not have mattered except that Neel had become bored with his assignment and was also a careless pilot. Looking out casually, as he held the jet trainer in lazy circles, he realized he had drifted south while practicing maneuvers, though in reality he had come a good deal farther than he imagined. He was so far south that several minutes ago the National Guard jet had entered George Wallace's radar control area and now appeared on Wallace's screen at Leesburg as a green dot, slightly larger than the Redfern family's Beech Bonanza. A more experienced controller would have recognized the dot instantly for what it was. George, however, still busy with other traffic, had not yet observed the extra, unidentified signal.
Lieutenant Neel, at fifteen thousand feet, decided he would finish his flying practice with some aerobatics---two loops, a couple of slow rolls---and then return to base. He swung the T-33 into a steep turn and circled again while he took the standard precaution of looking for other airplanes above and below. He was now even closer than before to Airway V44.
THE THING his wife failed to realize, Keith Bakersfeld thought, was that a man couldn't just quit his job irresponsibly, on a whim, even if he wanted to. Especially when the man had a family to support, children to educate. Especially when the job you possessed, the skills you so patiently acquired, had fitted you for nothing else. In some branches of government service, employees could leave and utilize their proficiency elsewhere. Air Traffic controllers could not. Their work had no counterpart in private industry; no one else wanted them.
Being trapped that way---which was what it amounted to, Keith recognized---was a disillusion which came with other disillusions. Money was one. When you were young, enthusiastic, wanting to be a part of aviation, the civil service pay scale of an air traffic controller seemed adequate or better. Only later did it become clear how inadequate---in relation to the job's awesome responsibility---that pay scale was. The two most skillful specialists involved in air traffic nowadays were pilots and controllers. Yet pilots earned thirty thousand dollars a year while a senior controller reached his ceiling at ten thousand. No one believed pilots should earn less. But even pilots, who were notoriously selfish in taking care of themselves, believed air traffic controllers should earn more.
Nor was promotion---as in most other occupations---something an air traffic controller could look forward to. Senior supervisory posts were few; only a fortunate handful ever attained them.
And yet... unless you were reckless or uncaring---which controllers, by the nature of their work, were not---there was no way out. So there would be no quitting for himself, Keith decided. He must have another talk with Natalie; it was time she accepted that for better or worse, it was too late for change. He had no intention, at this stage, of scratching inadequately for some other kind of living.
He really must go back. Glancing at his watch, he realized guiltily that it was almost fifteen minutes since he left the control room. For part of the time he had been daydreaming---something he rarely did, and it was obviously the somniferous effect of the summer's day. Keith closed the washroom window. From the corridor outside, he hurried downward to the main control room.
HIGH OVER Frederick County, Maryland, Lieutenant Neel straightened up his National Guard T-33 and eased on forward trim. Neel had completed his somewhat casual inspection and had seen no other aircraft. Now, beginning his first loop and slow roll, he put the jet trainer into a steep dive.
ENTERING THE control room, Keith Bakersfeld was aware at once of an increased tempo. The hum of voices was louder than when he left. Other controllers were too preoccupied to glance up---as they had done earlier this morning---as he passed by them on the way to his own position. Keith scribbled a signature in the sector log and noted the time, then moved behind George Wallace, getting the picture, letting his eyes adjust to the control room semidarkness, in sharp contrast to the bright sunlight outside. George had murmured "Hi!" as Keith returned, then continued transmitting radio instructions to traffic. In a moment or two, when Keith had the picture, he would relieve George and slip into his seat. It had probably been good for George, Keith reasoned, to be on his own for a while; it would improve his confidence. From the adjoining sector console, Perry Yount had noted Keith's return.
Keith studied the radarscope and its moving pinpoints of light---the aircraft "targets" which George had identified, then noted on small movable markers on the screen. A bright green dot without identification caught Keith's eye. He asked George sharply, "What's the other traffic near the Beech Bonanza 403?"
LIEUTENANT NEEL had finished his first loop and slow roll. He had climbed back to fifteen thousand feet, and was still over Frederick County, though a little farther south. He leveled the T-33 jet, then put the nose down sharply and began a dive into a second loop.
"WHAT OTHER TRAFFIC...?" George Wallace's eyes followed Keith's across the radarscope. He gasped; then in a strangled voice---"My God!"
With a swift, single movement, Keith ripped the radio headset from George and shouldered him aside. Keith flung a frequency switch open, snapped a transmit button down. "Beech Bonanza NC-403, this is Washington Center. There is unidentified traffic to your left. Make an immediate right turn now!"
The National Guard T-33 was at the bottom of its dive. Lieutenant Neel pulled the control column back and, with full power on, began a fast, steep climb. Immediately above was the tiny Beech Bonanza, containing Irving Redfern and his family, cruising steadily on Airway V44.
IN THE CONTROL room... breathlessly... silently... praying hard... they watched the closing, bright green dots.
The radio crackled with a burst of static. "Washington Center, this is Beech..." Abruptly the transmission stopped.
IRVING REDFERN was a consulting engineer-economist. He was a competent amateur pilot, but not a commercial one.
An airline pilot, receiving the Washington Center message, would have flung his aircraft instantly into a steep right turn. He would have caught the urgency in Keith's voice, would have acted, without waiting to trim, or acknowledge, or---until later---question. An airline pilot would have ignored all minor consequences except the overriding urgency of escaping the nearby peril which the route center message unmistakably implied. Behind him, in the passenger cabin, scalding coffee might have spilled, meals scattered, even minor injuries resulted. Later there would have been complaints, apologies, denunciations, perhaps a Civil Aeronautics Board inquiry. But---with ordinary luck---there could have been survival. Quick action could have insured it. It would have insured it for the Redfern family, too.
Airline pilots were conditioned by training and usage, to swift, sure reflexes. Irving Redfern was not. He was a precise, scholarly man, accustomed to think before acting, and to following correct procedures. His first thought was to acknowledge the Washington Center message. Thus, he used up two or three seconds---all the time he had. The National Guard T-33, swooping upward from the bottom of its loop, struck the Redferns' Beech Bonanza on the left side, slicing off the private aircraft's port wing with a single screeching rip of metal. The T-33, mortally damaged itself, continued upward briefly while its forward section disintegrated. Scarcely knowing what was happening---he had caught only the briefest glimpse of the other plane---Lieutenant Neel ejected and waited for his parachute to open. Far below, out of control and spinning crazily, the Beechcraft Bonanza, with the Redfern family still inside, was plummeting to earth.
KEITH'S HANDS were trembling as he tried again. "Beech Bonanza NC-403, this is Washington Center. Do you read?"
Beside Keith, George Wallace's lips moved silently. His face was drained of color.
As they watched in horror, the dots on the radarscope converged, blossomed suddenly, then faded.
Perry Yount, aware of something wrong, had joined them. "What is it?"
Keith's mouth was dry. "I think we've had a mid-air."
It was then it happened: the nightmarish sound which those who heard it wished that they had not, yet afterward would not be able to erase from memory.
IN THE PILOT'S SEAT of the doomed, spinning Beech Bonanza, Irving Redfern---perhaps involuntarily, perhaps as a last despairing act---pressed the transmit button of his microphone and held it down. The radio still worked.
AT WASHINGTON CENTER, the transmission was heard on a console speaker which Keith had switched in when his emergency transmissions began. At first there was a burst of static, then immediately a succession of piercing, frantic, chilling screams. Elsewhere in the control room, heads turned. Faces nearby paled. George Wallace was sobbing hysterically. Senior supervisors came hurrying from other sections.
Suddenly, above the screaming clearly, a single voice---terrified, forlorn, beseeching. At first, not every word was audible. Only later, when the tape recording of the last transmission was played and replayed many times, were the full words put together, the voice identified as that of Valerie Redfern, nine years old.
"...Mummy! Daddy!... Do something! I don't want to die... Oh, Gentle Jesus, I've been good... Please, I don't want..."
Mercifully, the transmission stopped.
The Beech Bonanza crashed and burned near the village of Lisbon, Maryland. What remained from the four bodies was unrecognizable and was buried in a common grave.
Lieutenant Neel landed safely by parachute, five miles away.
ALL THREE controllers involved in the tragedy---George Wallace, Keith Bakersfeld, Perry Yount---were at once suspended from duty, pending investigation.
Later, the trainee, George Wallace, was held technically not to blame, since he was not a qualified controller when the accident occurred. He was, however, dismissed from government service and barred forever for further employment in air traffic control.
The young Negro supervisor, Perry Yount, was held wholly responsible. The investigating board---taking days and weeks to play back tapes, examine evidence, and review decisions which Yount himself had had to make in seconds, under pressure---decided he should have spent less time on the emergency involving the Northwest Orient 727 and more in supervising George Wallace during the absence of Keith Bakersfeld. The fact that Perry Yount was doing double duty---which, had he been less cooperative, he could have refused---was ruled not relevant. Yount was officially reprimanded, and reduced in civil service grade.
Keith Bakersfeld was totally exonerated. The investigating board was at pains to point out that Keith had requested to be temporarily relieved from duty, that his request was reasonable, and he followed regulations in signing out and in. Furthermore, immediately on return, he perceived the possibility of a mid-air collision and tried to prevent it. For his quick thinking and action---though the attempt was unsuccessful----he was commended by the board.
The question of the length of Keith's absence from the control room did not arise initially. Near the end of the investigation---perceiving the way things were going for Perry Yount---Keith attempted to raise it himself, and to accept the major share of blame. His attempt was treated kindly, but it was clear that the investigating board regarded it as a chivalrous gesture---and no more. Keith's testimony, once its direction became clear, was cut off summarily. His attempted intervention was not referred to in the board's final report.
An independent Air National Guard inquiry produced evidence that Lieutenant Henry Neel had been guilty of contributory negligence in failing to remain in the vicinity of Middletown Air Base, and for allowing his T-33 to drift near Airway V44. However, since his actual position could not be proved conclusively, no charges were preferred. The lieutenant went on selling automobiles, and flying during weekends.
On learning of the investigating board's decision, the supervisor, Perry Yount, suffered a nervous collapse. He was hospitalized and placed under psychiatric care. He appeared to be moving toward recovery when he received by mail, from an anonymous source, a printed bulletin of a California rightwing group opposing---among other things---Negro civil rights. The bulletin contained a viciously biased account of the Redfern tragedy. It portrayed Perry Yount as an incompetent, bumbling dullard, indifferent to his responsibilities, and uncaring about the Redfern family's death. The entire incident, the bulletin argued, should be a warning to "bleeding heart liberals" who aided Negroes in attaining responsible positions for which they were not mentally equipped. A "housecleaning" was urged of other Negroes employed in air traffic control, "before the same thing happens again."
At any other time, a man of Perry Yount's intelligence would have dismissed the bulletin as a maniacal diatribe, which it was. But because of his condition, he suffered a relapse after reading it, and might have remained under treatment indefinitely if a government review board had not refused to pay hospital bills for his care, maintaining that his mental illness had not been caused through government employment. Yount was discharged from the hospital but did not return to air traffic control. When Keith Bakersfeld last heard of him, he was working in a Baltimore waterfront bar, and drinking heavily.
George Wallace disappeared from sight. There were rumors that the former trainee controller had re-enlisted---in the U.S. Army Infantry, not the Air Force---and was now in serious trouble with the Military Police. According to stories, Wallace repeatedly started fist fights and brawls in which he appeared to go out of his way to bring physical punishment on himself. The rumors were not confirmed.
For Keith Bakersfeld, it seemed for a while as if life would go on as usual. When the investigation ended, his temporary suspension was lifted; his qualifications and government service rating remained intact. He returned to work at Leesburg. Colleagues, aware that Keith's experience could easily have been their own, were friendly and sympathetic. His work, at first, went well enough.
After his abortive attempt to raise the subject before the investigating board, Keith confided to no one---not even to Natalie---the fact of his washroom loitering that fateful day. Yet the secret knowledge was seldom far from the forefront of his mind.
At home, Natalie was understanding and, as always, loving. She sensed that Keith had undergone a traumatic shock from which he would need time to recover, and she attempted to meet his moods---to talk or be animated when he felt like it, to stay silent when he did not. In quiet, private sessions Natalie explained to the boys, Brian and Theo, why they, too, should show consideration for their father.
In an abstracted way, Keith understood and appreciated what Natalie was trying to do. Her method might eventually have succeeded, except for one thing---an air traffic controller needed sleep. Keith was getting little sleep and, some nights, none.
On the occasions he did sleep, he had a persistent dream in which the scene in the Washington Center control room, moments before the mid-air collision, was re-created... the merging pinpoints of light on the radarscope... Keith's last desperate message... the screams; the voice of little Valerie Redfern...
Sometimes the dream had variations. When Keith tried to move toward the radarscope to seize George Wallace's radio headset and transmit a warning, Keith's limbs resisted, and would change position only with frustrating slowness, as if the air surrounding them were heavy sludge. His mind warned frantically: If he could only move freely, the tragedy could be averted.... Although his body strained and fought, he always reached his goal too late. At other times he attained the headset, but his voice would fail. He knew that if he could articulate words, a warning would suffice, the situation could be saved. His mind would race, his lungs and larynx strain, but no sound came.
But even with variations, the dream always ended the same way---with the Beech Bonanza's last radio transmission as he heard it so many times during the inquiry, on the played-back tape. And afterward, with Natalie asleep beside him, he would lie awake, thinking, remembering, longing for the impossible---to change the shape of things past. Later still, he would resist sleep, fighting for wakefulness, so he would not endure the torture of the dream again.
It was then that in the loneliness of night, his conscience would remind him of the stolen, wasted minutes in the route center washroom; crucial minutes when he could have returned to duty, and should have done, but through idleness and self-concern had failed to do so. Keith knew---as others did not---that the real responsibility for the Redfern tragedy was his own, not Perry Yount's. Perry had been a circumstantial sacrifice, a technical victim. Perry had been Keith's friend, had trusted Keith that day to be conscientious, to come back to the control room as quickly as he could. Yet Keith, though knowing his friend was standing double duty, aware of the extra pressures on him, had been twice as long as he needed to be, and had let Perry down; so in the end, Perry Yount stood accused and convicted in Keith's place.
Perry for Keith---a sacrificial goat.
But Perry, though grievously wronged, was still alive. The Redfern family was dead. Dead because Keith doodled mentally, dallying in the sunshine, leaving a semi-experienced trainee too long with responsibilities which were rightly Keith's, and for which Keith was better qualified. There could be no question that had he returned sooner, he would have spotted the intruding T33 long before it neared the Redferns' plane. The proof was that he had spotted it when he did return---too late to be of use.
Around and around... over and over in the night... as if committed to a treadmill... Keith's mind labored on, self-torturing, sick with grief, recrimination. Eventually he would sleep from exhaustion, usually to dream, and to awake again.
In daytime, as well as night, the memory of the Redferns persisted. Irving Redfern, his wife, their children---though Keith had never known them---haunted him. The presence of Keith's own children, Brian and Theo---alive and well---appeared a personal reproach. Keith's own living, breathing, seemed to him an accusation.
The effect of sleepless nights, the mental turmoil, showed quickly in his work. His reactions were slow, decisions hesitant. A couple of times, under pressure, Keith "lost the picture" and had to be helped. Afterward he realized he had been under close surveillance. His superiors knew from experience what might happen, had half-expected some such signs of strain.
Informal, friendly talks followed, in upper-level offices, which achieved nothing. Later, on a suggestion from Washington, and with Keith's consent, he was transferred from the East Coast to the Midwest---to Lincoln International for control tower duty. A change of locale, it was believed, would prove therapeutic. Officialdom, with a touch of humanity, was also aware that Keith's older brother, Mel, was general manager at Lincoln; perhaps Mel Bakersfeld's influence would be steadying too. Natalie, though loving Maryland, made the transition without complaint.
The idea hadn't worked.
Keith's sense of guilt persisted; so did the nightmares, which grew, and took on other patterns, though always the basic one remained. He slept only with the aid of barbiturates prescribed by a physician friend of Mel's.
Mel understood part of his brother's problem, but not all; Keith still kept the secret knowledge of his washroom dawdling at Leesburg solely to himself. Later, watching Keith's deterioration, Mel urged him to seek psychiatric help, but Keith refused. His reasoning was simple. Why should he seek some panacea, some ritualistic mumbo-jumbo to insulate his guilt, when the guilt was real, when nothing in heaven or earth or clinical psychiatry could ever change it?
Keith's dejection deepened until even Natalie's resilient nature rebelled against his moods. Though aware that he slept badly, Natalie had no knowledge of his dreams. One day she inquired in anger and impatience, "Are we supposed to wear hair shirts for the rest of our lives? Are we never to have fun again, to laugh the way we used to? If you intend to go on this way, you'd better understand one thing---I don't, and I won't let Brian and Theo grow up around this kind of misery either."
When Keith hadn't answered, Natalie went on, "I've told you before: our lives, our marriage, the children, are more important than your work. If you can't take that kind of work any more---and why should you if it's that demanding?---then give it up now, get something else. I know what you always tell me: the money'll be less; you'd throw away your pension. But that isn't everything; we'd manage somehow. I'll take all the hardship you can give me, Keith Bakersfeld, and maybe I'd complain a little, but not much, because anything would be better than the way we are right now." She had been close to tears, but managed to finish. "I'm warning you I can't take much more. If you're going on like this, it may have to be alone."
It was the only time Natalie had hinted at the possibility of their marriage breaking up. It was also the first time Keith considered suicide.
Later, his idea hardened to resolve.
THE DOOR of the darkened locker room opened. A switch snapped on. Keith was back again in the control tower at Lincoln International, blinking in the overhead light's glare.
Another tower controller, taking his own work break, was coming in. Keith put away his untouched sandwiches, closed his locker, and walked back toward the radar room. The other man glanced at him curiously. Neither spoke.
Keith wondered if the crisis involving the Air Force KC-135, which had had radio failure, had ended yet. Chances were, it had; that the aircraft and its crew had landed safely. He hoped so. He hoped that something good, for someone, would survive this night.
As he went in, he touched the O'Hagan Inn key in his pocket to be sure, once again, that it was there. He would need it soon.
- The Loners
- The Saints
- Tome of the Undergates
- Black Halo
- The Skybound Sea
- If You Stay
- If You Leave
- Until We Burn
- Before We Fall
- Every Last Kiss
- Suspiciously Obedient
- Random Acts of Crazy
- Random Acts of Trust
- Her First Billionaire
- Her Second Billionaire
- Her Two Billionaires
- Her Two Billionaires and a Baby
- His Majesty's Dragon
- Throne of Jade
- Black Powder War
- Victory of Eagles
- Tongues of Serpents
- Empire of Ivory
- Crucible of Gold