Authors: Arthur Hailey
Tags: #Mystery, #Suspense, #Thriller, #Crime, #Adult, #Adventure, #Contemporary
As well as amusing him, the note had caused him to think. It was true, he realized–he
concentrated on facts and systems to the exclusion of people as individuals. He revised his speech notes, shifting the emphasis as Tanya suggested. The result was the most successful presentation he had ever made. It gained him an ovation and was widely reported internationally. Afterward he had telephoned Tanya to thank her. That was when they had started seeing each other.
The thought of Tanya’s first message was a reminder of the note she had sent this evening. “I appreciate that tip about the snow committee report, though I’m curious how you managed to see it before I have.”
“No mystery. It was typed in the Trans America office. I saw our Captain Demerest checking it, and chortling.”
“Vernon showed it to you?”
“No, but he had it spread out, and I’m adept to reading upside down. Which reminds me, you didn’t answer my question: Why does your brother-in-law dislike you?”
Mel grimaced. “I guess he knows I’m not overly keen on
“If you wanted to,” Tanya said, “you could tell him now. There’s the great man himself.” She nodded toward the cashier’s desk, and Mel turned his head.
Captain Vernon Dernerest of Trans America was counting out change as he paid a bill. A tall, broad-shouldered, striking figure, he towered above others around him. He was dressed informally in a Harris tweed jacket and impeccably creased slacks, yet managed to convey an impression of authority–like a Regular Army General, Mel thought, temporarily in civilian clothes. Demerest’s strong, aristocratic features were unsmiling as he addressed a four-striper Trans America captain–in uniform–who was with him. It appeared that Demerest was giving instructions; the other nodded. Captain Dermerest glanced briefly around the coffee shop and, observing Mel and Tanya, gave a curt, cool nod. Then, checking his watch, and with a final word to the other captain, he strode out.
“He appeared in a hurry,” Tanya said. “Though wherever he’s going, it won’t be for long. Captain D. is taking Flight Two to Rome tonight.”
Mel smiled. “
The Golden Argosy?
“No less. I see, sir, you read our advertising.”
“It’s hard not to.” Mel was aware, as were millions of others who admired the four-color double-page spreads in
, and other national magazines, that Trans America Fight Two–The Golden Argosy–was the airline’s crack, prestige flight. He also knew that only the line’s most senior captains ever commanded it.
“It seems to be agreed,” Mel said, “that Vernon is one of the finest pilots extant.”
“Oh yes, indeed. Extant and arrogant.” Tanya hesitated, then confided, “If you’re in a mood for gossip, you aren’t alone in not caring for your brother-in-law. I heard one of our mechanics say not long ago, he was sorry there weren’t propellers any more because he’d always hoped Captain Demerest would walk into one.”
Mel said sharply, “That’s a pretty savage thought.”
“I agree. Personally, I prefer what Mr. Youngquist, our president, is supposed to have said. I understand his instructions about Captain Demerest are: ‘Keep that bumptious bastard out of my hair, but book me on his flights.’ “
Mel chuckled. Knowing both men, he felt sure the sally was true. He should not have let himself be drawn into a discussion about Vernon Demerest, he realized, but news of the adverse snow report and the nuisance effect it would have, still rankled. He wondered idly where his brother-in-law was going at the moment, and if it involved one of his amorous adventures, of which–reportedly–there were a good many. Looking toward the central lobby, Mel saw that Captain Demerest had already been swallowed up in the crowds outside.
Across the table, Tanya smoothed her skirt with a swift stroking gesture which Mel had noticed before and liked. It was a feminine habit and a reminder that few women looked as good in uniform, which often seemed to have a de-sexing effect, but with Tanya worked the opposite way.
Some airlines, Mel knew, let their senior passenger agents out of uniform, but Trans America liked the authority which its jaunty blue and gold commanded. Two gold rings edged with white, on Tanya’s cuffs, proclaimed her Job and seniority.
As if surmising his thoughts, she volunteered, “I may be out of uniform soon.”
“Our District Transportation Manager is being transferred to New York. The Assistant D.T.M. is moving up, and I’ve applied for his job.”
He regarded her with a mixture of admiration and curiosity. “I believe you’ll get it. And that won’t be the end, either.”
Her eyebrows went up. “You think I might make vice-president?”
“I believe you could. That is, if it’s the kind of thing you want. To be the lady executive; all that.”
Tanya said softly, “I’m not sure if it’s what I want, or not.”
The waitress brought their order. When they were alone again, Tanya said, “Sometimes us working girls don’t get a lot of choice. If you’re not satisfied to stay in the job you have through pension time–and lots of us aren’t–the only way out is up.”
“You’re excluding marriage?”
She selected a piece of cinnamon toast. “I’m not excluding it. But it didn’t work for me once, and it may not again. Besides which, there aren’t many takers–eligible ones–for used bride with baby.”
“You might find an exception.”
“I might win the Irish Sweep. Speaking from experience, Mel dear, I can tell you that men like their women unencumbered. Ask my ex-husband. If you can find him, that is; I never could.”
“He left you after your baby was born?”
“Goodness, no! That way Roy would have had six months of responsibility. I think it was on a Thursday I told him I was pregnant; I couldn’t have kept it to myself much longer. On Friday when I came home from work, Roy’s clothes were gone. So was Roy.”
“You haven’t seen him since?”
She shook her head. “In the end, it made the divorce much simpler–desertion; no complications like another woman. I have to be fair, though. Roy wasn’t all bad. He didn’t empty our joint checking account, though he could have. I must admit I’ve sometimes wondered if it was kindness, or if he just forgot. Anyway, I had all that eighty dollars to myself.”
Mel said, “You’ve never mentioned that before.”
“Should I have?”
“For sympathy, maybe.”
She shook her head. “If you understood me better, you’d know the reason I’m telling you now is because I don’t need sympathy. Everything has worked out fine.” Tanya smiled. “I may even get to be an airline vice-president. You just said so.”
At an adjoining table, a woman said loudly, “Geez! Lookit the time!”
Instinctively, Mel did. It was three quarters of an hour since he had left Danny Farrow at the Snow Control Desk. Getting up from the table, he told Tanya, “Don’t go away. I have to make a call.”
There was a telephone at the cashier’s counter, and Mel dialed one of the Snow Desk unlisted numbers. Danny Farrow’s voice said, “Hold it,” then, a few moments later, returned on the line.
“I was going to call you,” Danny said. “I just had a report on that stuck 707 of Aéreo-Mexican.”
“You knew Mexican had asked TWA for help?”
“Well, they’ve got trucks, cranes, God knows what out there now. The runway and taxiway are blocked off completely, but they still haven’t shifted the damn airplane. The latest word is that TWA has sent for Joe Patroni.”
Mel acknowledged, “I’m glad to hear it, though I wish they’d done it sooner.”
Joe Patroni was airport maintenance chief for TWA, and a born troubleshooter. He was also a down-to-earth, dynamic character and a close crony of Mel’s.
“Apparently they tried to get Patroni right away,” Danny said. “But he was at home and the people here had trouble reaching him. Seems there’s a lot of phone lines down from the storm.”
“But he knows now. You’re sure of that?”
“TWA’s sure. They say he’s on his way.”
Mel calculated. He knew that Joe Patroni lived at Glen Ellyn, some twenty-five miles from the airport, and even with ideal driving conditions the journey took forty minutes. Tonight, with snowbound roads and crawling traffic, the airline maintenance chief would be lucky to make it in twice that time.
“If anyone can get that airplane moved tonight,” Mel conceded, “it’ll be Joe. But meanwhile I don’t want anybody sitting on his hands until he gets here. Make it clear to everyone that we need runway three zero usable, and urgently.” As well as the operational need, he remembered unhappily that flights must still be taking off over Meadowood. He wondered if the community meeting, which the tower chief had told him about, was yet in session.
“I’ve been telling ‘em,” Danny confirmed. “I’ll do it some more. Oh, a bit of good news–we found that United food truck.”
“The driver okay?”
“He was unconscious under the snow. Motor still running, and there was carbon monoxide, the way we figured. But they got an inhalator on him, and he’ll be all right.”
“Good! I’m going out on the field now to do some checking for myself. I’ll radio you from there.”
“Wrap up well,” Danny said. “I hear it’s a lousy night.”
Tanya was still at the table when Mel returned, though preparing to go.
“Hold on,” he said, “I’m coming, too.”
She motioned to his untouched sandwich. “How about dinner? If that’s what it was.”
“This will do for now.” He bolted a mouthful, washed it down hastily with coffee, and picked up his topcoat. “Anyway, I’m having dinner downtown.”
As Mel paid their check, two Trans America ticket agents entered the coffee shop. One was the supervising agent whom Mel had spoken to earlier. Observing Tanya, he came across.
“Excuse me, Mr. Bakersfeld… Mrs. Livingston, the D.T.M.‘s looking for you. He has another problem.”
Mel pocketed his change from the cashier. “Let me guess. Somebody else threw a timetable.”
“No, sir.” The agent grinned. “I reckon if there’s another thrown this evening it’ll be by me. This one’s a stowaway–on Flight 80 from Los Angeles.”
“Is that all?” Tanya appeared surprised. Aerial stowaways–though all airlines had them–were seldom a cause of great concern.
“The way I hear it,” the agent said, “this one’s a dilly. There’s been a radio message from the captain, and a security guard has gone to the gate to meet the flight. Anyway, Mrs. Livingston, whatever the trouble is, they’re calling for you.” With a friendly nod, he went off to rejoin his companion.
Mel walked with Tanya from the coffee shop into the central lobby. They stopped at the elevator which would take Mel to the basement garage where his car was parked.
“Drive carefully out there,” she cautioned. “Don’t get in the way of any airplanes.”
“If I do, I’m sure you’ll hear about it.” He shrugged into the heavy topcoat. “Your stowaway sounds interesting. I’ll try to drop by before I leave, to find out what it’s all about.” He hesitated, then added, “It’ll give me a reason to see you again tonight.”
They were close together. As one, each reached out and their hands touched. Tanya said softly, “Who needs a reason?”
In the elevator, going down, he could still feel the warm smoothness of her flesh, and hear her voice.
–as Mel Bakersfeld had learned–was on his way to the airport from his home at Glen Ellyn. The cocky, stocky Italian-American, who was airport maintenance chief for TWA, had left his suburban, ranch-style bungalow by automobile some twenty minutes earlier. The going was exceedingly slow, as Mel had guessed it would be.
At the moment, Joe Patroni’s Buick Wildcat was halted in a traffic tie-up. Behind and ahead, as far as visibility extended, were other vehicles, also stopped. While waiting, his actions illuminated by the taillights of the car in front, Patroni lit a fresh cigar.
Legends had grown up around Joe Patroni; some professional, others personal.
He had begun his working life as a grease monkey in a garage. Soon after, he won the garage from his employer in a dice game, so that at the end of the game they reversed roles. As a result, young Joe became heir to various bad debts, including one which made him owner of an ancient, decrepit Waco biplane. With a mixture of resourcefulness and sheer mechanical ability, he repaired the airplane, then flew it successfully–without benefit of flying lessons, which he could not afford.
The airplane and its mechanical functioning absorbed Joe Patroni completely–so much so, that he enticed his former employer into another dice game and allowed him to win the garage back. Joe thereupon quit the garage and took a job as an airline mechanic. He studied at night school, became a lead mechanic, then a foreman with a reputation as a top-notch troubleshooter. His crew could change an engine faster than an airplane manufacturer said it could be done; and with absolute reliability. After a while, whenever there was pressure, or a difficult repair job, the word went out:
get Joe Patroni.
A contributing reason for his success was that he never wasted time on diplomacy. Instead, he went directly to the point, both with people and airplanes. He also had a total disregard for rank, and was equally forthright with everyone, including the airline’s senior executives.
On one occasion, still talked about when airline men reminisced, Joe Patroni walked off his job and, without word to anyone, or prior consultation, rode an airplane to New York. He carried a package with him. On arrival, he went by bus and subway to the airline’s Olympian headquarters in midtown Manhattan where, without announcement or preamble, he strode into the president’s office. Opening the package, he deposited an oily, disassembled carburetor on the immaculate presidential desk.
The president, who had never heard of Joe Patroni, and whom no one ever got to see without prior appointment, was apoplectic until Joe told him, “If you want to lose some airplanes in flight, throw me out of here. If you don’t, sit down and listen.”