- 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
"It'll move it," Mel said tersely. "Right now that's the important thing." There was, Mel knew, other motorized equipment in Airport Maintenance, capable of the same kind of brute force clearing job; but using the Conga Line units, already on the runways, would be surer and faster. He signed off, and replaced the radio mike.
Tomlinson said incredulously, "Move it! A six-million dollar airplane shoved sideways by snowplows! My God, you'll tear it to pieces! And afterward, the owners and insurers'll do the same to you."
"I wouldn't be surprised," Mel said. "Of course, a lot depends on your point of view. If the owners and insurers were on that other flight coming in, they might be cheering."
"Well," the reporter conceded, "I'll grant you there are some decisions take a lot of guts."
Tanya's hand reached down beside her and found Mel's. She said softly, emotion in her voice, "I'm cheering---for what you're doing now. Whatever happens after, I'll remember."
The plows and graders which Mel had summoned were coming into sight, traveling fast down the runway, roof beacons flashing.
"It may never happen." Mel squeezed Tanya's hand before releasing it, then opened the car door. "We've twenty minutes to hope it won't."
WHEN MEL Bakersfeld approached him, Joe Patroni was stomping his feet in an effort to be warm; the effort was largely unsuccessful despite the fleece-lined boots and heavy parka the TWA maintenance chief was wearing. Apart from the brief time Patroni had spent on the aircraft flight deck when the Aereo-Mexican captain and first officer departed, he had been continuously out in the storm since his arrival on the scene more than three hours ago. As well as being cold and physically tired from his various exertions of the day and night, his failure to move the stranded jet despite two attempts so far, had made his temper ready to erupt.
It almost did, at the news of Mel's intention.
With anyone else, Joe Patroni would have stormed and ranted. Because Mel was a close friend, Patrord removed the unlighted cigar he had been chewing, and eyed Mel unbelievingly. "Shove an undamaged airplane with snowplows! Are you out of your mind?"
"No," Mel said. "I'm out of runways."
Mel fell a momentary depression at the thought that no one in authority, other than himself, seemed to understand the urgency of clearing three zero, at any cost. Obviously, if he went ahead as he intended, there would be few who would support his action afterward. On the other hand, Mel had not the least doubt there would be plenty of people tomorrow with hindsight---including Aereo-Mexican officials---who would assert he could have done this or that, or that Flight Two should have landed on runway two five after all. Obviously his decision was to be a lonely one. It did not change Mel's conviction that it should be made.
At the sight of the assembled plows and graders, now deployed in line on the runway, to their right, Patroni dropped his cigar altogether. As he produced another he growled, "I'll save you from your own insanity. Keep those Dinky Toys of yours out of my hair and away from this airplane. In fifteen minutes, maybe less, I'll drive it out."
Mel shouted to make himself heard above the wind and roaring engines of vehicles around them. "Joe, let's be clear about one thing. When the tower tells us we're running out of time, that's it; there'll be no argument. People's lives are involved on the flight that's coming in. If you've engines running, they're to be shut down. At the same time all equipment and the men must move clear immediately. Make sure in advance that all your people understand. The plows will move on my order. If and when they do, they won't waste time."
Patroni nodded gloomily. Despite his outburst, Mel thought, the maintenance chief's usual cocky self-assurance seemed abated.
Mel returned to his car. Tanya and the reporter, huddled in their coats, had been standing outside, watching the work of digging around the aircraft. They got into the car with him, grateful for the warmth inside.
Once more, Mel called ground control on radio, this time asking for the tower watch chief. After a brief pause, the tower chief's voice came on the air.
In a few words Met explained his intention. What he sought from air traffic control now was an estimate of how long he could wait before ordering the plows and graders to move. Once they did, it would take only minutes to have the obstructing aircraft clear.
"The way it looks now," the tower chief said, "the flight in question will be here sooner than we thought. Chicago Center expects to hand over to our approach control in twelve minutes from now. After that we'll be controlling the flight for eight to ten minutes before landing, which would make time of touchdown, at latest, 0128."
Mel checked his watch in the dim light from the dash. It showed 1:01 A.M.
"A choice of which runway to use," the tower chief said, "will have to be made no later than five minutes before landing. After that, they'll be committed; we can't turn them."
So what it meant, Mel calculated, was that his own final decision must be made in another seventeen minutes, perhaps less, depending on the handover time from Chicago Center to Lincoln approach control. There was even less time remaining than he had told Joe Patroai.
Mel found he, too, was beginning to sweat.
Should he warn Patroni again, informing him of the reduced time? Mel decided not. The maintenance chief was already directing operations at the fastest pace he could. Nothing would be gained by harassing him further.
"Mobile one to ground control," Mel radioed. "I'll need to be kept informed of exact status of the approaching flight. Can we hold this frequency clear?"
"Affirmative," the tower chief said. "We've already moved regular traffic to another frequency. We'll keep you informed."
Mel acknowledged and signed off.
Beside him, Tanya asked, "What happens now?"
"We wait." Mel checked his watch again.
A minute went by. Two.
Outside they could see men working, still digging feverishly near the front and on each side of the mired aircraft. With a flash of headlights, another truck arrived; men jumped down from its tailgate and hastened to join the others. Joe Patroni's stocky figure was moving constantly, instructing and exhorting.
The plows and graders were still in line, waiting. In a way, Mel thought, like vultures.
The reporter, Tomlinson, broke the silence inside the car.
"I was just thinking. When I was a kid, which isn't all that long ago, most of this place was fields. In summer there were cows and corn and barley. There was a grass airfield; small; nobody thought it would amount to much. If anyone traveled by air, they used the airport in the city."
"That's aviation," Tanya said. She felt a momentary relief at being able to think and talk of something other than what they were waiting for. She went on, "Somebody told me once that working in aviation makes a lifetime seem longer because everything changes so often and so fast."
Tomlinson objected, "Not everything's fast. With airports, the changes aren't fast enough. Isn't it true, Mr. Bakersfeld, that within three to four years there'll be chaos?"
"Chaos is always relative," Mel said; the focus of his mind was still on the scene he could see through the car windshield. "In a good many ways we manage to live with it."
"Aren't you dodging the question?"
"Yes," he conceded. "I suppose I am."
It was scarcely surprising, Mel thought. He was less concerned with aviation philosophy at this moment than with the immediacy of what was happening outside. But he sensed Tanya's need for a lessening of tension, even if illusory; his awareness of her feelings was part of the empathy they seemed increasingly to share. He reminded himself, too, that it was a Trans America flight they were waiting for, and which might land safely or might not. Tanya was a part of Trans America, had helped with the flight's departure. In a real sense, of the three of them she had the most direct involvement.
With an effort he concentrated on what Tomlinson had said.
"It's always been true," Mel declared, "that in aviation, progress in the air has been ahead of progress on the ground. We sometimes think we'll catch up; in the mid-1960s we almost did but by and large we never do. The best we can manage, it seems, is not to lag too far behind."
The reporter persisted, "What should we do about airports? What can we do?"
"We can think more freely, with more imagination, for one thing. We should get rid of the railway station mind."
"You believe we still have it?"
Mel nodded. "Unfortunately, in a good many places. All our early airports were imitation railway stations because designers had to draw on experience from somewhere, and railroad experience was all they had. Aftetward, the habit remained. It's the reason, nowadays, we have so many 'straight line' airports, where terminals stretch on and on, and passengers must walk for miles."
Tomlinson asked, "Isn't some of that changing?"
"Slowly, and in just a few places." As always, despite the pressures of the moment, Mel was warming to his theme. "A few airports are being built as circles---like doughnuts with car parking inside, instead of somewhere out beyond; with minimum distances for people to walk with aids like high-speed horizontal elevators; with airplanes brought close to passengers instead of the other way around. What it means is that airports are finally being thought of as special and distinct; also as units instead of separate components. Creative ideas, even outlandish ones, are being listened to. Los Angeles is proposing a big, offshore seadrome; Chicago, a man-made airport island in Lake Michigan; nobody's scoffing. American Airlines has a plan for a giant hydraulic lift to stack airplanes one above the other for loading and unloading. But the changes are slow, they're not coordinated; we build airports like an unimaginative, patchwork quilt. It's as if phone subscribers designed and made their own telephones, then plugged them into a world-wide system."
The radio cut abruptly across Mel's words. "Ground control to mobile one and city twenty-five. Chicago Center now estimates hand-off of the flight in question to Lincoln approach control will be 0117."
Mel's watch showed 1:06 A.m. The message meant that Flight Two was already a minute earlier than the tower chief had forecast. A minute less for Joe Patroni to work; only eleven minutes to Mel's own decision.
"Mobile one, is there any change in the status of runway three zero?"
"Negative; no change."
Mel wondered: was he cutting things too fine? He was tempted to direct the snowplows and graders to move now, then restrained himself. Responsibility was a two-way street, especially when it came to ordering the near-destruction of a six-million dollar aircraft on the ground. There was still a chance that Joe Patroni might make it, though with every second the possibility was lessening. In front of the stalled 707, Mel could see, some of the floodlights and other equipment were being moved clear. But the aircraft's engines had not yet been started.
"Those creative people," Tomlinson queried, "the ones you were talking about. Who are they?"
With only half his mind, Mel acknowledged, "It's hard to make a list."
He was watching the scene outside. The remainder of the vehicles and equipment in front of the stalled Aereo-Mexican 707 had now been moved clear, and Joe Patroni's stocky, snow-covered figure was climbing the boarding ramp, positioned near the aircraft's nose. Near the top, Patroni stopped, turned, and gestured; he appeared to be shouting to others below. Now Patroni opened the front fuselage door and went inside; almost at once another, slighter figure climbed the ramp and followed him. The aircraft door slammed. Others below trundled the ramp away.
Inside the car, the reporter asked again, "Mr. Bakersfeld, could you name a few of those people---the most imaginative ones about airports and the future?"
"Yes," Tanya said, "couldn't you?"
Mel thought: it would be like a parlor game while the house was burning. All right, he decided if Tanya wanted him to, he would play.
"I can think of some," Mel said. "Fox of Los Angeles; Joseph Foster of Houston, now with ATA of America. Alan Boyd in government; and Thomas Sullivan, Port of New York Authority. In the airlines: Halaby of Pan Am; Herb Godfrey of United. In Canada, John C. Parkin, In Europe---Pierre Cot of Air France; Count Castell in Germany. There are others."
"Including Mel Bakersfeld," Tanya injected. "Aren't you forgetting him?"
Tomlinson, who had been making notes, grunted. "I already put him down. It goes without saying."
Mel smiled. But did it, he wondered, go without saying? Once, not long ago, the statement would have been true; but he knew that on the national scene he had slipped from view. When that happened, when you left the mainstream for whatever reason, you were apt to be forgotten quickly; and later, even if you wanted to, sometimes you never did get back. It was not that he was doing a less important job at Lincoln International, or doing it less well; as an airport general manager, Mel knew he was as good as ever, probably better. But the big contribution which he had once seemed likely to make no longer was in view. He realized that this was the second time tonight the same thought had occurred to him. Did it matter? Did he care? He decided; Yes, he did!
"Look!" Tanya cried out. "They're starting the engines."
The reporter's head came up; Mel felt his own excitement sharpen.
Behind number three engine of the Aereo-Mexican 707, a puff of white-gray smoke appeared. Briefly it intensified, then whirled away as the engine fired and held. Now snow was streaming rearward in the jet blast.
A second puff of smoke appeared behind number four engine, a moment later to be whisked away, snow following.
"Ground control to mobile one and city twenty-five." Within the car the radio voice was so unexpected that Mel felt Tanya give a startled jump beside him. "Chicago Center advises revised handoff time of the flight in question will be... 0116 seven minutes from now."
Flight Two, Mel realized, was still coming in faster than expected. It meant they had lost another minute.
Again Mel held his watch near the light of the dash.
On the soft ground near the opposite side of the runway from their car, Patroni now had number two engine started. Number one followed. Mel said softly, "They could still make it." Then he remembered that all engines had been started twice before tonight, and both attempts to blast the stuck airplane free had failed.
In front of the mired 707 a solitary figure with flashlight signal wands had moved out ahead to where he could be seen from the aircraft flight deck. The man with the wands was holding them above his head, indicating "all clear." Mel could hear and feel the jet engines' thrum, but sensed they had not yet been advanced in power.
Six minutes left. Why hadn't Patroni opened up?
Tanya said tensely, "I don't think I can bear the waiting."
The reporter shifted in his seat. "I'm sweating too."
Joe Patroni was opening up! This was it! Mel could hear and feel the greater all-encom passing roar of engines. Behind the stalled Aereo-Mexican jet, great gusts of snow were blowing wildly into the darkness beyond the runway lights.
"Mobile one," the radio demanded sharply, "this is ground control. Is there any change in status of runway three zero?"
Patroni, Mel calculated by his watch, had three minutes left.
"The airplane's still stuck." Tanya was peering intently through the car windshield. "They're using all the engines, but it isn't moving."
It was straining forward, though; that much Mel could see, even through the blowing snow. But Tanya was right. The aircraft wasn't moving.
The snowplows and heavy graders had shifted closer together, their beacons flashing brightly.
"Hold it!" Mel said on radio. "Hold it! Don't commit that flight coming in to runway two five. One way or the other, there'll be a change in three zero status any moment now."
He switched the car radio to Snow Desk frequency, ready to activate the plows.
- 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