"I... I'm not sure."
WITH ONE exception, those summoned to the airport general manager's office on the administrative mezzanine arrived there quickly. The calls made to them---some by Mel Bakersfeld, others by Tanya Livingston---had stressed urgency, and the need to leave whatever they were doing.
The District Transportation Manager of Trans America---Tanya's boss, Bert Weatherby---arrived first.
Lieutenant Ordway, having started his policemen searching for Inez Guerrero, though still not knowing why, was close behind. For the time being Ordway had abandoned to their own devices the sizable group of Meadowood residents, still milling in the main concourse, listening to Lawyer Freemantle expound their case before TV cameras.
As the D.T.M., Weatherby, entered Mel's office through the anteroom door, he inquired briskly, "Mel, what's all this about?"
"We're not sure, Bert, and we haven't a lot to go on yet, but there's a possibility there could be a bomb aboard your Flight Two."
The D.T.M. looked searchingly at Tanya, but wasted no time in asking why she was there. His gaze swung back to Mel. "Let's hear what you know."
Addressing both the D.T.M. and Ned Ordway, Mel summarized what was known or conjectured so far: the report of Customs Inspector Standish concerning the passenger with the attache case, clasped in a way which Standish---an experienced observer---believed to be suspicious; Tanya's identification of the man with the case as one D. O. Guerrero, or perhaps Buerrero; the downtown agent's revelation that Guerrero checked in without any baggage other than the small case already mentioned; Guerrero's purchase at the airport of three hundred thousand dollars' worth of flight insurance, which he barely had enough money to pay for, so that he appeared to be setting out on a five-thousand mile journey, not only without so much as a change of clothing, but also without funds; and finally---perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not---Mrs. Inez Guerrero, sole beneficiary of her husband's flight insurance policy, had been wandering through the terminal, apparently in great distress.
While Mel was speaking, Customs Inspector Harry Standish, still in uniform, came in, followed by Bunnie Vorobioff. Bunnie entered uncertainly, glancing questioningly around her at the unfamiliar people and surroundings. As the import of what Mel was saying sank in, she paled and appeared scared.
The one non-arrival was the gate agent who had been in charge at gate forty-seven when Flight Two left. A staff supervisor whom Tanya had spoken to a few minutes ago informed her that the agent was now off duty and on his way home. She gave instructions for a message to be left, and for the agent to check in by telephone as soon as he arrived. Tanya doubted if anything would be gained by bringing him back to the airport tonight; for one thing, she already knew that the agent did not remember Guerrero boarding. But someone else might want to question him by phone.
"I called everyone here who's involved so far," Mel informed the D.T.M., "in case you or someone else have questions. What we have to decide, I think---and it's mainly your decision---is whether or not we have enough to warn your captain of Flight Two." Mel was reminded again of what he had temporarily pushed from mind: that the flight was commanded by his brother-in-law, Vernon Demerest. Later, Mel knew, he might have to do some reconsidering about certain implications. But not yet.
"I'm thinking now." The D.T.M. looked grim; he swung to Tanya. "Whatever we decide, I want Operations in on this. Find out if Royce Kettering is still on the base. If so, get him here fast." Captain Kettering was Trans America's chief pilot at Lincoln International; it was he who earlier tonight had test-flown aircraft N-731-TA, before---as Flight Two, The Golden Argosy---it took off for Rome.
"Yes, sir," Tanya said.
While she was on one telephone, another rang. Mel answered.
It was the tower watch chief. "I have the report you wanted on Trans America Two." One of Mel's calls for a few minutes ago had been to air traffic control, requesting information on the flight's takeoff time and progress.
"Takeoff was 11:13 local time." Mel's eyes swung to a wall clock. It was now almost ten minutes after midnight; the flight had been airborne nearly an hour.
The tower chief continued, "Chicago Center handed off the flight to Cleveland Center at 12:27 EST, Cleveland handed it to Toronto at 01:03 EST; that's seven minutes ago. At the moment, Toronto Center reports the aircraft's position as near London, Ontario. I have more information---course, height, speed---if you want it."
"That's enough for now," Mel said. "Thanks."
"One other thing, Mr. Bakersfeld." The tower chief summarized Joe Patroni's latest bulletin about runway three zero; the runway would be out of use for at least another hour. Mel listened impatiently; at the moment, other things seemed more important.
When he hung up, Mel repeated the information about Flight Two's position to the D.T.M.
Tanya came off the other phone. She reported, "Operations found Captain Kettering. He's coming."
"That woman---the passenger's wife," the D.T.M. said. "What was her name?"
Ned Ordway answered. "Inez Guerrero."
"Where is she?"
"We don't know." The policeman explained that his men were searching the airport, although the woman might be gone. He added that city police headquarters had been alerted, and all buses from the airport to downtown were now being checked on arrival.
"When she was here," Mel explained, "we had no idea..."
The D.T.M. grunted. "We were all slow." He glanced at Tanya, then at Customs Inspector Standish, who so far had not spoken. The D.T.M., Tanya knew, was remembering ruefully his own instructions to "Forget it!"
Now he informed her, "We'll have to tell the captain of the flight something. He's entitled to know as much as we do, even though so far we're only guessing."
Tanya asked, "Shouldn't we send a description of Guerrero? Captain Demerest may want to have him identified without his knowing."
"If you do," Mel pointed out, "we can help. There are people here who've seen the man."
"All right," the D.T.M. acknowledged, "we'll work on that. Meanwhile, Tanya, call our dispatcher. Tell him there's an important message coming in a few minutes, and to get a Selcal circuit hooked into Flight Two. I want this kept private, not broadcast for everybody. At least, not yet."
Tanya returned to the telephone.
Mel asked Bunnie, "Are you Miss Vorobioff?"
As she nodded nervously, the eyes of the others turned to her. Automatically, those of the men dropped to Bunnie's capacious breasts; the D.T.M. seemed about to whistle, but changed his mind.
Mel said, "You realize which man we're talking about?"
"I... I'm not sure."
"It's a man named D. O. Guerrero. You sold him an insurance policy tonight, didn't you?"
Bunnie nodded again. "Yes."
"When you wrote the policy, did you get a good look at him?"
She shook her head. "Not really." Her voice was low. She moistened her lips.
Mel seemed surprised. "I thought on the phone..."
"There were many other people," Bunnie said defensively.
"But you told me you remembered this one."
"It was someone else."
"And you don't recall the man Guerrero?"
Mel looked baffled.
"Let me, Mr. Bakersfeld." Ned Ordway took a pace forward; he put his face near the girl's. "You're afraid of getting involved, aren't you?" Ordway's voice was a harsh, policeman's voice, not at all the gentle tone he used earlier tonight with Inez Guerrero.
Bunnie flinched, but didn't answer.
Ordway persisted, "Well, aren't you? Answer me."
"I don't know."
"Yes, you do! You're afraid to help anyone for fear of what it might do to you. I know your kind." Ordway spat out the words contemptuously. This was a savage, tough side of the lieutenant's nature which Mel had never seen before. "Now you hear me, baby. If it's trouble you're scared of, you're buying it right now. The way to get out of trouble---if you can---is to answer questions. And answer fast! We're running out of time."
Bunnie trembled. She had learned to fear police interrogation in the grim school of Eastern Europe. It was a conditioning never totally erased. Ordway had recognized the signs.
"Miss Vorobioff," Mel said. "There are almost two hundred people aboard the airplane we're concerned with. They may be in great danger. Now, I'll ask you again. Did you get a good look at the man Guerrero?"
Slowly, Bunnie nodded. "Yes."
"Describe him, please."
She did so, haltingly at first, then with more confidence.
While the others listened, a picture of D. O. Guerrero emerged: gaunt and spindly; a pale, sallow face with protruding jaw; long scrawny neck; thin lips; a small sandy mustache; nervous hands with restless fingers. When she got down to it, Bunnie Vorobioff proved herself a keen observer.
The D.T.M., now seated at Mel's desk, wrote the description, incorporating it with a message for Flight Two which lie was drafting.
When Burmie came to the part about D. O. Guerrero barely having enough money---and no Italian money; the man's nervous tension, the fumbling with dimes and pennies; his excitement on discovering a five-dollar bill in an inside pocket, the D.T.M. looked up with a mixture of disgust and horror. "My God! And you still issued a policy. Are you people mad?"
"I thought..." Bunnie started to say.
"You thought! But you didn't do anything, did you?"
Her face drained and white, Bunnie Vorobioff shook her head.
Mel reminded the D.T.M., "Bert, we're wasting time."
"I know, I know! Just the same..." The D.T.M. clenched the pencil he had been using. He muttered, "It isn't just her, or even the people who employ her. It's us---the airlines; we're as much to blame. We agree with the pilots about airport flight insurance, but haven't the guts to say so. We let them do our dirty work..."
Mel said tersely to Customs Inspector Standish, "Harry, is there anything you'd add to the description of Guerrero?"
"No," Standish said. "I wasn't as near to him as this young lady, and she saw some things I didn't. But I did watch the way he held the case, as you know, and I'd say this: If what you think is in there really is, don't anyone try to grab that case away from him."
"So what do you suggest?"
The Customs man shook his head. "I'm no expert, so I can't tell you; except, I guess you'd have to get it by some kind of trickery. But if it's a bomb, it has to be self-contained in the case, and that means somewhere there's a trigger, and the chances are it'll be the kind of trigger he can get to quickly. He's possessive about the case now. If someone tried to take it away, he'd figure he was found out and had nothing to lose." Standish added grimly, "A trigger finger can get mighty itchy."
"Of course," Mel said, "we still don't know if the man's an ordinary eccentric, and all he's got in there are his pajamas."
"If you're asking my opinion," the Customs inspector said, "I don't think so. I wish I did, because I've got a niece on that flight."
Standish had been conjecturing unhappily: If anything went wrong, how in God's name would he break the news to his sister in Denver? He remembered his last sight of Judy: that sweet young girl, playing with the baby from the next seat. She had kissed him.Goodbye, Uncle Harry! Now, he wished desperately that he had been more definite, had acted more responsibly, about the man with the attache case.
Well, Standish thought, though it might be late, at least he would be definite now.
"I'd like to say something else." Tle eyes of the others swung to him.
"I have to tell you this because we haven't time to waste on modesty: I'm a good judge of people, mostly on first sight, and usually I can smell the bad ones. It's an instinct, and don't ask me how it works because I couldn't tell you, except that in my job some of us get to be that way. I spotted that man tonight, and I said he was 'suspicious'; I used that word because I was thinking of smuggling, which is the way I'm trained. Now, knowing what we do---even little as it is---I'd make it stronger. The man Guerrero is dangerous." Standish eyed the Trans America D.T.M. "Mr. Weatherby---get that word 'dangerous' across to your people in the air."
"I intend to, Inspector." The D.T.M. looked up from his writing. Most of what Standish had been saying was already included in the message for Flight Two.
Tanya, still on the telephone, was talking with Trans America's New York dispatcher by tie line. "Yes, it will be a long message. Will you put someone on to copy, please?"
A sharp knock sounded on the office door and a tall man with a seamed, weatherworn face and sharp blue eyes came in from the anteroom. He carried a heavy topcoat and wore a blue serge suit which might have been a uniform, but wasn't. The newcomer nodded to Mel, but before either could speak, the D.T.M. cut in.
"Royce, thanks for coming quickly. We seem to have some trouble." He held out the notepad on which he had been writing.
Captain Kettering, the base chief pilot for Trans America, read the draft message carefully, his only reaction a tightening at the mouth as his eyes moved down the page. Like many others, including the D.T.M., it was unusual for the chief pilot to be at the airport this late at night. But exigencies of the three-day storm, with the need for frequent operating decisions, had kept him here.
The second telephone rang, cutting through the temporary silence. Mel answered it, then motioned to Ned Ordway who took the receiver.
Captain Kettering finished reading. The D.T.M. asked, "Do you agree to sending that? We've dispatch standing by with a Selcal hook-up."
Kettering nodded. "Yes, but I'd like you to add: 'Suggest return or alternate landing at captain's discretion,' and have the dispatcher give them the latest weather."
"Of course," The D.T.M. penciled in the extra words, then passed the pad to Tanya. She began dictating the message.
Captain Kettering glanced at the others in the room. "Is that everything we know?"
"Yes," Mel said. "It is, so far."
"We may know more soon," Lieutenant Ordway said. He had returned from the telephone. "We just found Guerrero's wife."
THE MESSAGE from D.T.M. Lincoln International was addressed, CAPTAIN, TRANS AMERICA FLIGHT TWO, and began:
UNCONFIRMED POSSIBILITY EXISTS THAT MALE TOURIST PASSENGER D. O. GUERRERO AB0ARD YOUR FLIGHT MAY HAVE EXPLOSIVE DEVICE IN HIS POSSESSION. PASSENGER WITH NO LUGGAGE AND APPARENTLY WITHOUT FUNDS INSURED SELF HEAVILY BEFORE DEPARTURE. WAS OBSERVED BEHAVING SUSPICIOUSLY WITH ATTACHE TYPE BRIEFCASE CARRIED AS HAND BAGGAGE. DESCRIPTION FOLLOWS...
As the D.T.M. had foreseen, it took several minutes for a connection to be established, through company radio, with Flight Two. Since the earlier Selcal message to the flight, concerning its stowaway Mrs. Ada Quonsett, the aircraft had moved out of Trans America's Cleveland dispatch area into that of New York. Now, company messages must be passed through a New York dispatcher for relaying to the flight.
The message, as Tanya dictated it, was being typed by a girl clerk in New York. Alongside the clerk a Trans America dispatcher read the first few lines, then reached for a direct phone to an operator at ARINC---a private communications network maintained cooperatively by all major airlines.
The ARINC operator---at another location in New York---set up a second circuit between himself and Trans America dispatch, then punched into a transmitter keyboard a four-letter code, AGFG, specifically assigned to aircraft N-731-TA. Once more, like a telephone call to a single number on a party line, an alerting signal would be received aboard Flight Two only.
A few moments later the voice of Captain Vernon Demerest, responding from high above Ontario, Canada, was audible in New York. "This is Trans America Two answering Selcal."
"Trans America Two, this is New York dispatch. We have an important message. Advise when ready to copy."
A brief' pause, then Demerest again. "Okay, New York. Go ahead."
"CAPTAIN, FLIGHT TWO," the dispatcher began. "UNCONFIRMED POSSIBILITY EXISTS..."
INEZ HAD still been sitting quietly, in her corner near the food counter, when she felt her shoulder shaken.
"Inez Guerrero! Are you Mrs. Guerrero?"
She looked up. It took several seconds to collect her thoughts, which had been vague and drifting, but she realized that it was a policeman who was standing over her.
He shook her again and repeated the question.
Inez managed to nod. She became aware that this was a different policeman from the earlier one. This one was white, and neither as gentle nor as softly spoken as the other.
"Let's move it, lady!" The policeman tightened his grip on her shoulder in a way which hurt, and pulled her abruptly to her feet. "You hear me?---let's go! They're screamin' for you upstairs, and every cop in the joint's bin searchin' for you."
Ten minutes later, in Mel's office, Inez was the pivot of attention. She occupied a chair in the room's center to which she had been guided on arrival. Lieutenant Ordway faced her. The policeman who had escorted Inez in was gone.
The others who had been present earlier---Mel, Tanya, Customs Inspector Standish, Bunnie Vorobioff, the Trans America D.T.M., Weatherby, and the chief pilot, Captain Kettering, were ranged about the room. All had remained at Mel's request.
"Mrs. Guerrero," Ned Ordway said. "Why is your husband going to Rome?"
Inez stared back bleakly and didn't answer. The policeman's voice sharpened, though not unkindly. "Mrs. Guerrero, please listen to me carefully. There are some important questions which I have to ask. They concern your husband, and I need your help. Do you understand?"
"You don't have to be sure about why I'm asking the questions. There'll be time for that later. What I want you to do is help me by answering. Will you? Please."
The D.T.M. cut in urgently. "Lieutenant, we haven't got all night. That air-plane is moving away from us at six hundred miles an hour. If we have to, let's get tough."
"Leave this to me, Mr. Weatherby," Ordway said sharply. "If we all start shouting, it'll take a lot more time to get a great deal less."
The D.T.M. continued to look impatient, but kept quiet.
"Inez," Ordway said; "...is it okay if I call you Inez?"
"Inez, will you answer my questions?"
"Yes... if I can."
"Why is your husband going to Rome?"
Her voice was strained, barely more than a whisper. "I don't know."
"Do you have friends there; relatives?"
"No... There is a distant cousin in Milan, but we have never seen him."
"Do your husband and the cousin correspond?"
"Can you think of any reason why your husband would go to visit the cousin---suddenly?"
"There is no reason."
Tanya interjected, "In any case, Lieutenant, if anyone was going to Milan they wouldn't use our Rome flight. They'd fly Alitalia, which is direct and cbeaper---and Alitalia has a flight tonight, too."
Ordway nodded. "We can probably rule out the cousin." He asked Inez, "Does your husband have business in Italy?"
She shook her head.
"What is your husband's business?"
"He is... was... a contractor."
"What kind of contractor?"
Slowly but perceptibly, Inez's grasp of things was coming back. "He built buildings, houses, developments."
"You said 'was.' Why isn't he a contractor now?"
"Things... went wrong."
"You mean financially?"
"Yes, but... why are you asking?"
"Please believe me, Inez," Ordway said, "I've a good reason. It concerns your husband's safety, as well as others'. Will you take my word?"
She looked up. Her eyes met his. "All right."
"Is your husband in financial trouble now?"
She hesitated only briefly. "Yes."
Inez nodded slowly.
"Is he broke? In debt?"
Again a whisper." Yes."
"Then where did he get money for his fare to Rome?"
"I think..." Inez started to say something about her ring which D.O. had pawned, then remembered the Trans America Airlines time payment contract. She took the now-creased yellow sheet from her purse and gave it to Ordway who glanced over it. The D.T.M. joined him.
"It's made out to 'Buerrero,' " the D.T.M. said. "Though the signature could be anything."
Tanya pointed out, "Buerrero is the name we had at first on the flight manifest."
Ned Ordway shook his head. "It isn't important now, but it's an old trick if anyone has a lousy credit rating. They use a wrong first letter so the bad rating won't show up in inquiry---at least, not in a hurry. Later, if the mistake's discovered, it can be blamed on whoever filled out the form."
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?"
"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?"
"Well," Ordway said, "does he?"
"He has been irrational?"
A whisper. "Yes."
Reluctantly, Inez nodded.
"Your husband was carrying a case tonight," Ordway said quietly. "A small attache case, and he seemed specialty cautious about it. Have you any idea what might be inside?"
"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?"
"What kind of explosives?"
"Some dynamite... and caps... They were left over."
"From his contracting work?"
"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?"
"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.