HE SIMPLY couldn't, Mel Bakersfeld decided, go downtown tonight.
Mel was in his office, in the mezzanine administrative suite. His fingers drummed thoughtfully on the surface of his desk, from where he had been telephoning, obtaining latest reports on the airport's operating status.
Runway three zero was still out of use, still blocked by the mired Aereo-Mexican jet. As a result, the general runway availability situation was now critical, and traffic delays---both in the air and on the ground---were worsening. The possibility of having to declare the airport closed, some time within the next few hours, was very real.
Meanwhile, aircraft takeoffs were continuing over Meadowood, which was a hornet's nest all its own. The airport switchboard, as well as air traffic control's, was being swamped with bitterly complaining calls from Meadowood householders---those who were at home. A good many others, Mel had been informed, were at the protest meeting he had heard about earlier this evening; and now there was a rumor---which the tower chief had passed along a few minutes ago---that some kind of public demonstration was being planned, to take place at the airport tonight.
Mel thought glumly: a bunch of demonstrators underfoot was all he needed.
One good thing was that the category three emergency had just been declared concluded, the air force KC-135 which caused it, having landed safely. But one emergency ended was no assurance another would not begin. Mel had not forgotten the vague unease, the presentiment of danger he had felt while on the airfield an hour ago. The feeling, impossible to define or justify, still bothered him. Yet even without it, the other circumstances were enough to require his remaining here.
Cindy, of course---still waiting for him at her charity whingding---would raise all hell. But she was angry, anyway, because he was going to be late; he would have to brace himself to absorb the extra wrath as a result of not appearing at all. He supposed he might as well get Cindy's first salvo over with. The slip of paper with the downtown number where he had reached his wife earlier was still in his pocket. He took it out, and dialed.
As before, it took several minutes for Cindy to come to the telephone, and when she did, surprisingly, there was none of the fire she had shown during their previous conversation, only an icy chill. She listened in silence to Mel's explanation---why it was essential he should remain at the airport. Because of the lack of argument, which he had not expected, he found himself floundering, with labored excuses not wholly convincing to himself. He stopped abruptly.
There was a pause before Cindy inquired coldly, "Have you finished?"
She sounded as if she were talking to someone distasteful and remote. "I'm not surprised, because I didn't expect you to come. When you said you would, I assumed as usual you were lying."
He said heatedly, "I wasn't lying, and it isn't as usual. I told you earlier tonight, how many times I've been..."
"I thought you said you'd finished."
Mel stopped. What was the use? He conceded wearily, "Go on."
"As I was trying to say when you interrupted---also as usual..."
"Cindy, for God's sake!"
"...knowing you were lying, gave me the chance to do some thinking." She paused. "You say you're staying at the airport."
"Considering that's what this conversation is all about..."
"Until midnight; perhaps all night."
"Then I'll come out there. You can expect me."
"Listen, Cindy, it's no good. This isn't the time or place."
"Then we'll make it the time. And for what I have to say to you, any place is good enough."
"Cindy, please be reasonable. I agree there are things we have to discuss, but not..."
Mel stopped, realizing he was talking to himself. Cindy had hung up.
He replaced his own phone and sat in the silent office, meditatively. Then, not quite knowing why, he picked up the telephone again and, for the second time tonight, dialed home. Earlier, Roberta had answered. This time it was Mrs. Sebastiani, their regular babysitter.
"I was just calling to check," Mel said. "Is everything all right? Are the girls in bed?"
"Roberta is, Mr. Bakersfeld. Libby's just going."
"May I speak to Libby?"
"Well... just for a moment, if you promise to be very quick."
Mrs. Sebastiani, Mel perceived, was her usual didactic self. When on duty she exacted obedience, not just from children, but from entire families. He sometimes wondered if the Sebastianis---there was a mousy husband who appeared occasionally---ever had emotional marriage problems. He suspected not. Mrs. Sebastiani would never permit it.
He heard the patter of Libby's feet approach the phone.
"Daddy," Libby said, "does our blood keep going round inside forever and ever?"
Libby's questions were always intriguingly different. She opened new subjects as if they were presents under a Christmas tree.
"Not forever, dear; nothing's forever. Just so long as you five. Your blood has been going around for seven years, ever since your heart started pumping."
"I can feel my heart," Libby said. "In my knee."
He was on the point of explaining that hearts were not in knees, and about pulses and arteries and veins, then changed his mind. There was plenty of time for all that. As long as you could feel your heart---wherever it seemed to be---that was the important thing. Libby had an instinct for essentials; at times he had the impression that her little hands reached up and gathered stars of truth.
"Goodnight, my love."
Mel was still not sure why be had called, but he felt better for having done so.
As to Cindy, when she determined to do something she usually did it, so it was entirely likely that she would arrive at the airport later tonight. And perhaps she was right. There were fundamental things they had to settle, notably whether their hollow shell of a marriage was to continue for the children's sake, or not. At least they would have privacy here, out of hearing of Roberta and Libby, who had overheard too many of their fights before.
At the moment there was nothing specific for Mel to do, except be available. He went out from his office onto the executive mezzanine, looking down on the continued bustling activity of the main terminal concourse.
It would not be many years, Mel reflected, before airport concourses changed dramatically. Something would have to be done soon to revise the present inefficient way in which people boarded airplanes and got off them. Simply walking on and off, individually, was far too cumbersome and slow. As each year passed, individual airplanes cost more and more millions of dollars; at the same time, the cost of letting them stay idle on the ground grew greater. Aircraft designers, airline planners, were striving to arrange more flying hours, which produced revenue, and fewer ground hours, which produced none at all.
Already plans were afoot for "people-pods"---based on American Airline-type "igloos" now used for pre-loading air freight. Most other airlines had their own variants of the igloo system.
Freight igloos were self-contained compartments, shaped to fit tightly in a jet plane fuselage. Each igloo was pre-loaded with freight of associated shapes and sizes, and could be lifted to fuselage level, and stowed inside a jet, in minutes. Unlike conventional passenger planes, the inside of a jet freighter was usually a hollow shell. Nowadays when an all-cargo plane arrived at an airport freight terminal, igloos already in the airplane were off-loaded, and new ones put in. With a minimum of time and labor, an entire jet could be swiftly unloaded, reloaded, and be ready again for takeoff.
"People-pods" would be an adaptation of the same idea, and Mel had seen drawings of the type now contemplated. They would comprise small, comfortable cabin sections complete with seats, which passengers would step into at an airport check-in point. The pods would then be whisked on conveyor lines---similar to present baggage conveyor systems---to ramp positions. While their occupants remained seated, the people-pods would be slid into an aircraft which might have arrived only a few minutes earlier, but had already discharged other people-pods containing incoming passengers.
When the pods were loaded and in place, windows in them would correspond with windows in the aircraft fuselage. Doors at the end of each pod would fold back so that stewardesses and passengers could pass through to other sections. Galley compartments, complete with fresh food and fresh stewardesses, would be inserted as separate pods.
A refinement of the system might eventually allow boarding of people-pods downtown, or permit interline transfers by passengers without ever leaving their seats.
A related concept was a "sky lounge" already under development in Los Angeles. Each lounge, holding forty passengers, would be part-bus, part-helicopter. On local routes it could travel suburban or downtown streets under its own power, then, at a local heliport become a pod beneath an outsize helicopter---the entire unit whisked to and from an airport.
And these things would happen, Mel Bakersfeld reflected. Or if not those precisely, then something similar, and soon. A fascination, for those who worked in the aviation milieu, was the speed with which fantastic dreams came true.
A shout, abruptly, from the concourse below, broke into his thoughts.
"Hey, Bakersfeld! Hey up there!"
Mel searched with his eyes, seeking the source of the voice. Locating it was made more difficult by the fact that fifty or so faces, their owners curious about who was being called, had simultaneously swung up. A moment later he identified the caller. It was Egan Jeffers, a tall, lean Negro in light tan slacks and a short-sleeved shirt. One sinewy brown arm gestured urgently.
"You get down here, Bakersfeld. You hear me! You got troubles."
Mel smiled. Jeffers, who held the terminal shoeshine concession, was an airport character. With a challenging, broad grin across his homely features, he could make the most outrageous statements and somehow get away with it.
"I hear you, Egan Jeffers. How about you coming up instead?"
The grin widened. "Nuts to that, Bakersfeld! I'm a lessee and don't forget it."
"If I do, I suppose you'll read me the Civil Rights Act."
"You said it, Bakersfeld. Now haul your ass down here."
"And you watch your language in my airport." Still amused, Mel turned away from the mezzanine rail and headed for the staff elevator. At the main concourse level, Egan Jeffers was waiting.
Jeffers operated four shoeshine parlors within the terminal. As concessions went, it was not a major one, and the airport's parking, restaurant, and newsstand concessions produced revenues which were astronomical by comparison. But Egan Jeffers, a one-time curbside bootblack, blithely behaved as if he alone kept the airport solvent.
"We gotta contract, me and this airport. Check?"
"Down in all that fancy rig-y-marole it says I got the ex-clu-sive right to shine shoes in these here premises. Ex-clu-sive. Check?"
"Like I said, man, you got trouble. Follow me, Bakersfeld."
They crossed the main concourse to a lower level escalator which Jeffers descended in long strides, two steps at a time. He waved genially to several people as they passed. Less athletically, favoring his weaker foot, Mel followed.
At the foot of the escalator, near the group of car-rental booths occupied by Hertz, Avis, and National, Egan Jeffers gestured. "There it is, Bakersfeld! Look at it! Taking the shoe polish outa the mouths of me and the boys who work for me."
Mel inspected the cause of complaint. At the Avis counter a bold display card read:
A SHINE WHILE YOU SIGN With Our Compliments * * * We're Trying Harder Still!
Beneath, at floor level, was a rotating electric shoe polisher, positioned so that anyone standing at the counter could do what the notice said.
Mel was half amused; the other half of his mind accepted Egan Jeffers' complaint. Half-kidding or not, Jeffers was within his rights. His contract spelled out that no one else at the airport could shine shoes, just as Jeffers himself could not rent cars or sell newspapers. Each concessionaire received the same kind of protection in return for the substantial portion of his profits which the airport appropriated for itself.
With Egan Jeffers watching, Mel crossed to the car-rental booth. He consulted his pocket panic list---a slim booklet containing private telephone numbers of senior airport personnel. The Avis manager was listed. The girl behind the counter switched on an automatic smile as he approached. Mel instructed her, "Let me use your phone."
She protested, "Sir, it's not a public..."
"I'm the airport manager." Mel reached across, picked up the telephone and dialed. Not being recognized in his own airport was a frequent experience. Most of Mel's work kept him behind scenes, away from public areas, so that those who worked there seldom saw him.
Listening to the ringing tone, he wished that other problems could be settled as swiftly and simply as this one was going to be.
It took a dozen rings, then several minutes more of waiting, before the Avis manager's voice came on the line. "Ken Kingsley here."
"I might have needed a car," Mel said. "Where were you?"
"Playing with my kid's trains. Take my mind off automobiles---and people who call me about them."
"Must be great to have a boy," Mel said. "I just have girls. Is your boy mechanically minded?"
"An eight-year-old genius. Any time you need him to run that toy airport of yours, let me know."
"Sure will, Ken." Mel winked at Egan Jeffers. "There is one thing he might do now. He could set up a shoeshine machine at home. I happen to know where there's one surplus. So do you."
There was a silence, then the Avis manager sighed. "Why is it you guys always want to stifle a little honest sales promotion?"
"Mostly because we're mean and ornery. But we can make it stick. Remember that contract clause?---any change in display space must have prior approval of airport management. Then there's the one about not infringing on other lessees' business."
"I get it," Kingsley said. "Egan Jeffers has been beefing."
"Let's say he isn't cheering."
"Okay, you win. I'll tell my people to yank the damn thing. Is there any fat rush?"
"Not really," Mel said. "Any time in the next half hour will do."
But he could hear the Avis man chuckling as he hung up.
Egan Jeffers nodded approvingly, his wide grin still in place. Mel brooded: I'm the friendly airport fun man; I make everybody happy. He wished he could do the same thing for himself.
"You handled that A-OK, Bakersfeld," Jeffers said. "Just stay on the ball so it don't happen again." At a businesslike pace, still beaming, he headed for the "up" escalator.
Mel followed more slowly. On the main concourse level, at the Trans America counters, a milling crowd was in front of two positions marked:
Special Check-in Flight Two - The Golden Argosy Rome Nonstop
Nearby, Tanya Livingston was talking animatedly with a group of passengers. She signaled Mel and, after a moment or two, came over to join him.
"I mustn't stop; it's like a madhouse here. I thought you were going downtown."
"My plans changed," Mel said. "For that matter, I thought you were going off duty."
"The D.T.M. asked if I'd stay. We're trying to get The Golden Argosy away on time. It's supposed to be for prestige, though I suspect the real reason is, Captain Demerest doesn't like to be kept waiting."
"You're letting prejudice carry you away." Mel grinned. "Though sometimes I do, too."
Tanya gestured down the concourse to a raised platform with a circular counter surrounding it, a few yards from where they were standing. "That's what your big fight with your brother-in-law was all about; why Captain Demerest is so mad at you. Isn't it?"
Tanya was pointing to the airport's insurance-vending booth. A dozen or more people were ranged around the circular counter, most of them completing application forms for air trip insurance. Behind the counter, two attractive girls, one a striking blonde with big breasts, were busy writing policies.
"Yes," Mel acknowledged, "that was most of our trouble---at least, recently. Vernon and the Air Line Pilots Association think we should abolish insurance booths at airports, and insurance policy vending machines. I don't. The two of us had a battle about it in front of the Board of Airport Commissioners. What Vernon didn't like, and still doesn't, is that I won."
"I heard," Tanya looked at Mel searchingly. "Some of us don't agree with you. This time we think Captain Demerest is right."
Mel shook his head. "Then we'll have to disagree. I've been over it all so many times; Vernon's arguments just don't make sense."
They hadn't made any more sense---in Mel's opinion---that day a month ago, at Lincoln International, when Vernon Demerest had appeared before an Airport Commissioners meeting. Vernon requested the hearing, and had represented the Air Line Pilots Association, which was waging a campaign to outlaw insurance vending at airports everywhere.
Mel remembered the details of the session clearly.
It was a regular Board of Airport Commissioners meeting, on a Wednesday morning in the airport board room. Ali five commissioners were present: Mrs. Mildred Ackerman, an attractive brunette housewife who was rumored to be a mistress of the mayor, hence her appointment; and her four male colleagues---a university professor, who was Board chairman, two local businessmen, and a retired union official.
The Board room was a mahogany paneled chamber, in the terminal, on the executive mezzanine. At one end, on a raised platform, the commissioners sat in reclining leather chairs behind a handsome elliptical-shaped table. At a lower level was a second table, less elaborate. Here Mel Bakersfeld presided, flanked by his department heads. Alongside was a press table and, at the rear, a section for the public, since Board meetings were nominally open. The public section was rarely occupied.
Today the only outsider, apart from commissioners and staff, was Captain Vernon Demerest, smartly attired in Trans America uniform, his four gold stripes of rank bright under the overhead lights. He sat waiting in the public section, with books and papers spread over two other chairs beside him. Courteously, the Board elected to hear Captain Demerest first, ahead of its regular business.
Demerest rose. He addressed the Board with his usual self-assurance, and referred only occasionally to his notes. He was appearing, he explained, on behalf of the Air Line Pilots Association, of which he was a local council chairman. However, the views he would expound were equally his own, and were shared by most pilots of all airlines.
The commissioners settled back in their reclining chairs to listen.
Airport insurance vending, Demerest began, was a ridiculous, archaic hangover from flying's early days. The very presence of insurance booths and machines, their prominence in airport concourses, were insults to commercial aviation, which bad a finer safety record, in relation to miles traveled, than any other form of transportation.
In a railway station or bus depot, or on boarding an ocean liner, or driving his own car from a parking garage, did a departing traveler have special insurance policies, against death and mutilation, thrust beneath his nose with subtle sales pressure? Of course not!
Then why aviation?
Demerest answered his own question. The reason, he declared, was that insurance companies knew a rich bonanza when they saw it, "and never mind the consequences."
Commercial aviation was still sufficiently new so that many people thought of traveling by air as hazardous, despite the provable fact that an individual was safer in a commercial airliner than in his own home. This inherent mistrust of flying was magnified on the exceedingly rare occasions when an airline accident occurred. The impact was dramatic, and obscured the fact that far more deaths and injuries occurred in other, more accepted ways.
The truth about the safety of flying, Demerest pointed out, was attested by insurance companies themselves. Airline pilots, whose exposure to air travel was far greater than that of passengers, could buy standard life insurance at regular rates and, through their own group plans, at even lower rates than the general populace.
Yet other insurance companies, abetted by greedy airport managements, and with the docile acquiescence of airlines, continued to batten on the fears and gullibility of air travelers.
Listening, at the staff table, Mel conceded mentally that his brother-in-law was making a lucid presentation, though the reference to "greedy airport managements" had been unwise. The remark had produced frowns from several of the five commissioners, including Mrs. Ackerman.
Vernon Demerest seemed not to notice. "Now, madam and gentlemen, we come to the most significant, the vital point."
This, he declared, was the very real danger, to every air passenger and to all flying crews, created by irresponsible, casual sales of insurance policies at airport counters, and by vending machines... "policies promising vast sums, fortunes, in return for a mere few dollars' premium."
Demerest continued heatedly: "The system---if you choose to dignify a public disservice by calling it a system... and most pilots don't---offers a gilt-edged, open invitation to maniacs and criminals to engage in sabotage and mass murder. Their objectives need be only the simplest: personal reward for themselves or their expected beneficiaries."
"Captain!" The woman commissioner, Mrs. Ackerman, was leaning forward in her chair. From her voice and expression, Mel guessed she was doing a slow burn about the "greedy airport managements" remark. "Captain, we're hearing a whole lot of your opinions. Do you have any facts to back up all this?"
"Indeed I do, madam. There are many facts."
Vernon Demerest had prepared his case thoroughly. Using charts and graphs, he demonstrated that known in-flight disasters caused by bombings or other acts of violence averaged one and one half per year. Motives varied, but a consistent, prevalent cause was financial gain from flight insurance. As well, there had been additional bombing attempts which either failed or were prevented, and other disasters where sabotage was suspected but not proved.
He named classic incidents: Canadian Pacific Airlines, 1949 and 1965; Western Airlines, 1957; National Airlines, 1960 and a suspected sabotage in 1959; two Mexican airlines, 1952 and 1953; Venezuelan Airlines, 1960; Continental Airlines, 1962; Pacific Air Lines, 1964; United Air Lines, 1950, 1955, and a suspected sabotage in 1965. In nine of the thirteen incidents, all passengers and crew members perished.
It was true, of course, that where sabotage was exposed, any insurance policies which had been taken out by those involved were automatically invalidated. In short: sabotage didn't pay, and normal, informed people were aware of this. They also knew that even after an air disastcr from which there were no survivors, providing wreckage was located, it was possible to tell whether an explosion had occurred and, usually, by what means.
But it was not normal people, Demerest reminded the commissioners, who committed bombings or savage acts of violence. It was the abnormal, the psychopaths, the criminally insane, the conscienceless mass killers. Those kind of people were seldom well-informed, and even if they were, the pyschopathic mind had a way of perceiving only what it wanted to, of bending facts to suit what it was convenient to believe.
Mrs. Ackerman made an interjection again; this time her hostility to Demerest was unmistakable. "I'm not sure any of us, even you, Captain, have qualifications to discuss what goes on in the mind of psychopaths."
"I wasn't discussing it," Demerest said impatiently. "In any case, that isn't the point."
"Pardon me, you were discussing it. And I happen to think it is the point."
Vernon Demerest flushed. He was accustomed to command, not to being questioned. His temper, never far below the surface, flashed. "Madam, are you normally stupid or just being deliberately obtuse?"
The Board chairman rapped sharply with his gavel, and Mel Bakersfeld resisted the urge to laugh.
Well, Mel thought, we might as well finish right now. Vernon should stick to flying, which he was good at, and avoid diplomacy, where he had just struck out. The chances of the Airport Board doing anything which Captain Demerest wanted were, at this moment, minus nil---at least unless Mel helped Demerest out. For a moment he wondered if he should. He suspected Demerest realized he had gone too far. However, there was still time to turn what had just happened into a joke which everyone could laugh at, including Mildred Ackerman. Mel had a knack for doing that kind of thing, for making differences amenable, at the same time saving face for those on both sides. Also, he knew he was a favorite of Millie Ackerman's; they got on well together, and she always listened attentively to anything Mel might say.
Then he decided: the hell with it. He doubted if his brother-in-law would do the same thing if their situations were reversed. Let Vernon get out of the mess himself. In any case, Mel was going to have his own say in a few minutes' time.
"Captain Demerest," the Board chairman observed coldly, "that last remark is uncalled for, out of order, and you will please withdraw it."
Demerest's features were still flushed. Momentarily he hesitated, then nodded. "Very well, I withdraw it." He glanced at Mrs. Ackerman. "I beg the lady's pardon. Perhaps she can understand that this is a subject which I, like most commercial flying crews, feel strongly about. When there's something which seems to me so obvious..." He left the sentence incomplete.
Mrs. Ackerman was glaring. The apology, such as it was, Mel thought, had been handled badly. Now it was too late to smooth things over, even if he wanted to.
One of the other commissioners asked, "Captain, what exactly do you want from us?"
Demerest took a pace forward. His voice became persuasive. "I'm appealing to you for abolition of insurance machines and over-the-counter insurance vending at this airport, and a promise that you will refuse to rent space, ever again, for the same purpose."
"You'd abolish insurance sales entirely?"
"At airports---yes. I may say, madam and gentlemen, that the Air Line Pilots Association is urging other airports to do the same thing. We're also asking Congress to take action to make airport insurance sales illegal."
"What would be the point of doing that in the United States, when air travel is international?"
Demerest smiled faintly. "This campaign is international, too."
"We have the active support of pilots' groups in forty-eight other countries. Most believe that if an example were set in North America, either by the U.S. or Canada, others would follow."
The same commissioner said skeptically, "I'd say you're all expecting quite a lot."
"Surely," the chairman interjected, "the public is entitled to buy air travel iniurance if they want it."
Demerest nodded agreement. "Of course. No one is saying they can't."
"Yes, you are." It was Mrs. Ackerman again.
The muscles around Demerest's mouth tightened. "Madam, anyone can get all the travel insurance he wants. All he needs have is the elementary foresight to make arrangements in advance---through any insurance broker or even a travel agency." His glance took in the other commissioners. "Nowadays a good many people carry a blanket accident policy for travel; then they make all the trips they want, and they're insured permanently. There are plenty of ways of doing it. As an example, the major credit card companies---Diners, American Express, Carte Blanche---all offer permanent travel insurance to their card holders; it can be renewed automatically each year, and billed."
Most businessmen who traveled, Demerest pointed out, had at least one of the credit cards he had named, so abolition of airport insurance need impose no hardship nor inconvenience on business people.
"And with all these blanket policies, the rates are low. I know, because I have that kind of policy myself."
Vernon Demerest paused, then continued, "The important thing about all these insurance policies is that they go through channels. The applications are handled by experienced people; a day or so elapses between an application and the issuance of the policy. Because of this, there is a far better chance of the psychotic, the maniac, the unbalanced individual being noticed, his intentions questioned.
"Another thing to remember---an insane or unbalanced person is a creature of impulse. Where flight insurance is concerned, this impulse is catered to by the quickie, no-questions-asked policies available from airport vending machines and at insurance counters."
"I think we all get the point you're making," the chairman said sharply. "You're beginning to repeat yourself, Captain."
Mrs. Ackerman nodded. "I agree. Personally, I'd like to hear what Mr. Bakersfeld has to say."
The eyes of the commissioners swung toward Mel. He acknowledged. "Yes, I do have some observations. But I'd prefer to wait until Captain Demerest is completely finished."
"He's finished," Mildred Ackerman said. "We just decided."
One of the other commissioners laughed, and the chairman rapped with his gravel. "Yes, I really think so... If you please, Mr. Bakersfeld."
As Mel rose, Vernon Demerest returned, glowering, to his seat.
"I may as well make it clear," Mel began, "that I take the opposite point of view to just about everything Vernon has said. I guess you could call it a family disagreement."
The commissioners, who were aware of Mel's relationship by marriage to Vernon Demerest, smiled, and already, Mel sensed, the tension of a few minutes earlier had lessened. He was used to these meetings and knew that informality was always the best approach. Vernon could have found that out, too---if he had taken the trouble to inquire.
"There are several points we ought to think about," Mel continued. "First, let's face up to the fact that most people have always had an inherent fear of flying, and I'm convinced that feeling will always exist, no matter how much progress we make, and however much we improve our safety record. Incidentally, the one point on which I agree with Vernon is that our safety record is exceedingly good already."
He went on: Because of this inherent fear, many passengers felt more comfortable, more reassured, with air trip insurance. They wanted it. They also wanted it to be obtainable at airports, a fact proven by the enormous volume of sales from vending machines and airport insurance booths. It was a matter of freedom that passengers should have the right, and the opportunity, to buy insurance or not. As for getting the insurance ahead of time, the plain fact was that most people didn't think of it. Besides, Mel added, if flight insurance were sold this way, a great deal of revenue to airports---including Lincoln International---would be lost. At the mention of airport revenue, Mel smiled. The airport commissioners smiled with him.
That was the crux of it, of course, Mel realized. Revenue from the insurance concessions was too important to lose. At Lincoln International, the airport gained half a million dollars annually from commissions on insurance sales, though few purchasers realized that the airport appropriated twenty-five cents from every premium dollar. Yet insurance represented the fourth largest concession, with only parking, restaurants, and auto rentals producing larger sums for the airport's coffers. At other big airports, insurance revenue was similar or higher. It was all very well, Mel reflected, for Vernon Demerest to talk about "greedy airport managements," but that kind of money had a way of talking, too.
Mel decided not to put his thoughts into speech. His single brief reference to revenue was enough. The commissioners, who were familiar with the airport's financial affairs, would get the point.
He consulted his notes. They were notes which one of the insurance companies doing business at Lincoln International had supplied him with yesterday. Mel had not asked for the notes, nor had he mentioned to anyone outside his own office that today's insurance debate was coming up. But the insurance people had somehow learned, and it was extraordinary how they always did---then acted promptly to protect their interests.
Mel would not have used the notes if they had run counter to his own honestly held opinions. Fortunately, they did not.
"Now," Mel said, "about sabotage---potential and otherwise." He was aware of the board members listening intently.
"Vernon has talked quite a lot about that---but I must say, having listened carefully, that most of his remarks seemed to me to be overstatements. Actually, the proven incidents of air disasters because of insurance-inspired bombings have been very few."
In the spectator section, Captain Demerest shot to his feet. "Great God!---how many disasters do we need to have?"
The chairman rapped sharply with his gavel. "Captain... if you please!"
Mel waited until Demerest subsided, then continued calmly, "Since the question has been asked, the answer is 'none.' A more pertinent question is: Might not the disasters still have occurred, even if airport-purchased insurance had not been available?"
Mel paused, to let his point sink home, before continuing.
"It can be argued, of course, that if airport insurance had not been available, the disasters we are talking about might never have happened at all. In other words, these were crimes of impulse, triggered by the ease with which airport insurance can be bought. Similarly, it can be contended that even if the crimes were contemplated in advance, they might not have been carried through had flight insurance been less readily available. Those, I think, are Vernon's arguments---and the ALPA's."
Mel glanced briefly at his brother-in-law who gave no sign beyond a scowl.
"The glaring weakness of all those arguments," Mel maintained, "is that they are purely suppositional. It seems to me just as likely that someone planning such a crime would not be deterred by the absence of airport insurance, but would merely obtain their insurance elsewhere, which---as Vernon himself pointed out---is a simple thing to do."
Expressed another way, Mel pointed out, flight insurance appeared only a secondary motive of would-be saboteurs, and not a prime reason for their crime. The real motives, when aerial sabotage occurred, were based on age-old human weaknesses--love triangles, greed, business failures, suicide.
As long as there had been human beings, Mel argued, it had proven impossible to eliminate these motives. Therefore, those concerned with aviation safety and sabotage prevention should seek, not to abolish airport flight insurance, but to strengthen other precautionary measures in the air and on the ground. One such measure was stricter control of the sale of dynamite---the principal tool used by most aerial saboteurs to date. Another proposal was development of "sniffer" devices to detect explosives in baggage. One such device, Mel informed the attentive Airport Commissioners, was already in experimental use.
A third idea---urged by flight insurance companies---was that passengers' baggage be opened for examination before flight, in the same way that happened with Customs inspection now. However, Mel concluded, the last idea presented obvious difficulties.
There should be stricter enforcement, he claimed, of existing laws prohibiting the carrying of side arms on commercial airliners. And airplane design should be studied in relation to sabotage, with the objective that aircraft could better endure an internal explosion. In that connection, one idea---also advocated by the insurance vending companies---was for an inner skin of baggage compartments to be made stronger and heavier than at present, even at the price of increased weight and decreased airline revenue.
The FAA, Mel pointed out, had made a study of airport insurance and subsequently opposed any ban on airport sales. Mel glanced at Vernon Demerest, who was glowering. Both knew that the FAA "study" was a sore point with the airline pilots since it had been made by an insurance company executive---an aviation insurance man himself---whose impartiality was highly suspect.
There were several more points remaining in the insurance company notes which Mel had not yet touched on, but he decided he had said enough. Besides, some of the remaining arguments were less convincing. He even had serious doubts, now that he had made it, about the baggage compartment suggestion of a moment or two ago. Who would the extra weight be for, he wondered---the passengers, airlines, or mostly for the flight insurance companies? But the other arguments, he thought, were sound enough.
"So," he concluded, "what we have to decide is whether, because of supposition and very little else, we should deprive the public of a service which they so obviously want."
As Mel resumed his seat, Mildred Ackerman said promptly and emphatically, "I'd say no." She shot Vernon Demerest a glance of triumph.
With minimum formality the other commissioners agreed, then adjourned, leaving other business until afternoon.
In the corridor outside, Vernon Demerest was waiting for Mel.
"Hi, Vernon!" Mel spoke quickly, making an effort at conciliation before his brother-in-law could speak. "No hard feelings, I hope. Even friends and relatives have to differ now and then."
The "friends" was, of course, an overstatement. Mel Bakersfeld and Vernon Demerest had never liked each other, despite Demerest's marriage to Mel's sister, Sarah, and both men knew it; also, of late, the dislike had sharpened to open antagonism.
"You're damn right there are hard feellings," Demerest said. The peak of his anger had passed, but his eyes were hard.
The commissioners, now filing out from the Board room, looked curiously at them both. The commissioners were on their way to lunch. In a few minutes Mel would join them.
Demerest said contemptuously, "It's easy for people like you---ground-bound, desk-tied, with penguins' minds. If you were in the air as often as I am, you'd have a difforent point of view."
Mel said sharply, "I wasn't always flying a desk."
"Oh, for Christ's sake! Don't hand me that hero veteran crap. You're at zero-feet now; the way you think shows it. If you weren't, you'd see this insurance deal the way any self-respecting pilot does."
"You're sure you mean self-respecting, not self-adoring?" If Vernon wanted a slanging match, Mel decided, he could have one. There was no one else within hearing now. "The trouble with most of you pilots is you've become so used to thinking of yourselves as demigods and captains of the clouds, you've convinced yourselves your brains are something wonderful too. Well, except in a few specialized ways, they're not. Sometimes I think the rest of what you have has addled through sitting up in that rarefied air too long while automatic pilots do the work. So when someone comes up with an honest opinion which happens to run counter to your own, you behave like spoiled little children."
"I'll let all that stuff go," Demerest said, "though if anybody's childish it's you right now. What's more to the point is that you're dishonest."
"Now look, Vernon..."
"An honest opinion, you said." Demerest snorted in disgust. "Honest opinion, my eye! In there, you were using an insurance company poop sheet. You were reading from it! I could see from where I was sitting, and I know because I have a copy myself." He touched the pile of books and papers he was carrying. "You didn't even have the decency, or take the trouble, to prepare a case yourself."
Mel flushed. His brother-in-law had caught him out. He should have prepared his own case, or at least adapted the insurance company's notes and had them retyped. It was true he had been busier than usual for several days before the meeting, but that was no excuse.
"Some day you may regret this," Vernon Demerest said. "If you do, and I'm around, I'll be the one to remind you of today. Until then, I can do without seeing you any more than I have to."
Before Mel could reply, his brother-in-law had turned and gone.
REMEMBERING now, with Tanya beside him in the main terminal concourse, Mel wondered---as he had several times since---if he could not have handled the clash with Vernon a good deal better. He had an uneasy feeling that he had behaved badly. He could still have differed with his brother-in-law; even now Mel saw no reason to change his point of view. But he could have done it more good-naturedly, avoiding the tactlessness which was a part of Vernon Demerest's makeup, but not of Mel's.
There had been no confrontation, since that day, between the two of them; the near-encounter with Demerest in the airport coffee shop tonight had been Mel's first sight of his brother-in-law since the airport commissioners' meeting. Mel had never been close to his older sister, Sarah, and they seldom visited each other's homes. Yet sooner or later, Mel and Vernon Demerest would have to meet, if not to resolve their differences, at least to shelve them. And, Mel thought, judging by the strongly worded snow committee report---unquestionably inspired by Vernon's antagonism---the sooner it happened, the better.
"I wouldn't have mentioned the insurance bit," Tanya said, "if I'd known it would send you so far away from me."
Though the recollections which had flashed through his mind occupied only seconds of time, Mel was conscious once again of Tanya's perceptiveness concerning himself. No one else that he could remember had ever had quite the same facility for divining his thoughts. It argued an instinctive closeness between them.
He was aware of Tanya watching his face, her eyes gentle, understanding, but beyond the gentleness was a woman's strength and a sensuality which instinct told him could leap to flame. Suddenly, he wanted their closeness to become closer still.
"You didn't send me far away," Mel answered. "You brought me nearer. At this moment I want you very much." As their eyes met directly, he added, "In every way."
Tanya was characteristically frank. "I want you too." She smiled slightly. "I have for a long time."
His impulse was to suggest that they both leave now, and find some quiet place together... Tanya's apartment perhaps... and hang the consequences! Then Mel accepted what he already knew; he couldn't go. Not yet.
"We'll meet later," he told her. "Tonight. I'm not sure how much later, but we will. Don't go home without me." He wanted to reach out, and seize and hold her, and press her body to his, but the traffic of the concourse was all around them.
She reached out, her fingertips resting lightly on his hand. The sense of contact was electric. "I'll wait," Tanya said. "I'll wait as long as you want."
A moment later she moved away, and was instantly swallowed up in the press of passengers around the Trans America counters.