U.S. CUSTOMS Inspector Harry Standish did not hear the announcement of Flight Two's impending departure, but knew it had been made. Flight announcements were not relayed to the Customs Hall, since only international arriving passengers came there, so Standish obtained his information on the telephone, from Trans America Airlines. He had been informed that Flight Two was beginning to load at gate forty-seven and would depart at its rescheduled time of 11 P.M.
Standish was watching the clock and would go to gate forty-seven in a few minutes, not on official business, but to say goodbye to his niece, Judy---his sister's child---who was leaving for a year's schooling in Europe. Standish had promised his sister, who lived in Denver, that he would see Judy off. Earlier this evening, in the terminal, he had spent some time with his niece---a pleasant, self-possessed girl of eighteen---and had said he would drop around for a final goodbye before her flight took off.
Meanwhile, Inspector Standish was trying to clear up a tiresome problem near the end of what had been an exceptionally harassing day.
"Madam," he said quietly to the haughty, angular woman whose several suitcases were spread open on the Customs inspection table between them, "are you quite sure you don't wish to change your story?"
She snapped back, "I suppose you're suggesting I should lie, when I've already told you the truth. Really!---you people are so officious, so disbelieving, I sometimes wonder if we're not living in a police state."
Harry Standish ignored the second remark, as Customs officers were trained to ignore the many insults they received, and answered politely, "I'm not suggesting anything, madam. I merely asked if you wished to amend your statement about these items---the dresses, the sweaters, and the fur coat."
The woman, whose American passport showed that she was Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman who lived in Evanston, and had just returned from a month in England, France, and Denmark, replied acidly, "No, I don't. Furthermore, when my husband's lawyer hears of this interrogation..."
"Yes madam," Harry Standish said. "In that case, I wonder if you'd mind signing this form. If you like, I'll explain it to you."
The dresses, sweaters, and fur coat were spread out on top of the suitcases. Mrs. Mossman had been wearing the coat---a sable jacket---until a few minutes ago when Inspector Standish arrived at Customs inspection station number eleven; he had asked her to take the coat off so that he could look at it more closely. Shortly before that, a red light on a wall panel near the center of the big Customs Hall had summoned Standish. The lights---one for each station---indicated that an inspecting officer had a problem and needed supervisory help.
Now, the young Customs man who had dealt with Mrs. Mossman originally was standing at Inspector Standish's side. Most of the other passengers, who had arrived aboard a Scandinavian Airlines DC-8 from Copenhagen had cleared Customs and had left. Only this well-dressed American woman posed a problem, insisting that all she had bought in Europe was some perfume, costume jewelry, and shoes. The total declared value was ninety dollars---ten dollars less than the free exemption she was allowed. The young officer had been suspicious.
"Why should I sign anything?" Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman demanded.
Standish glanced at an overhead clock; it was a quarter to eleven. He still had time to finish this and reach Flight Two before it left. He answered patiently, "To make things easier for yourself, madam. We're merely asking you to confirm in writing what you've already told us. You say the dresses were purchased..."
"How many times must I tell you? They were bought in Chicago and New York before I left for Europe; so were the sweaters. The coat was a gift---purchased in the United States. I received it six months ago."
Why, Harry Standish wondered, did people do it? All the statements just made, he knew with certainty, were lies.
To begin with, the dresses---six, all of good quality---had had their labels removed. No one did that innocently; women were usually proud of the labels in quality clothes. More to the point---the workmanship of the dresses was unmistakably French; so was the styling of the fur coat---though a Saks Fifth Avenue label had been sewn unskillfully in the coat lining. What people like Mrs. Mossman failed to realize was that a trained Customs man didn't need to see labels to know where garments originated. Cutting, stitching---even the way a zipper was put in---were like familiar handwriting, and equally distinctive.
The same thing was true of the three expensive sweaters. They also were without labels, and were unmistakably from Scotland, in typical British "drab" shades, not available in the United States. When a U.S. store ordered similar sweaters, the Scottish mills made them in much brighter colors, which the North American market favored. All this, and much else, Customs officers learned as part of their training.
Mrs. Mossman asked, "What happens if I sign the form?"
"Then you may go, madam."
"And take my things with me? All my things?"
"Supposing I refuse to sign?"
"Then we shall be obliged to detain you here while we continue the investigation."
There was the briefest hesitation, then: "Very well. You fill out the form; I'll sign."
"No, madam; you fill it out. Now here, please describe the items, and alongside where you say they were obtained. Please give the name of the stores; also from whom you received the fur coat as a gift..."
Harry Standish thought: He would have to leave in a minute; it was ten to eleven now. He didn't want to reach Flight Two after the doors were closed. But first be had a hunch...
He waited while Mrs. Mossman completed the form and signed it.
Commencing tomorrow, an investigative officer would begin checking out the statement Mrs. Mossman had just made. The dresses and sweaters would be requisitioned and taken to the stores where she claimed they were purchased; the fur jacket would be shown to Saks Fifth Avenue, who would undoubtedly disown it... Mrs. Mossman---though she didn't know it yet---was in for a great deal of trouble, including some heavy Customs duty to be paid, and almost certainly a stiff fine.
"Madam," Inspector Standish said, "is there anything else you wish to declare?"
Mrs. Mossman snapped indignantly, "There certainly isn't!"
"You're sure?" It was Customs Bureau policy to give travelers the utmost opportunity to make voluntary declarations. People were not to be entrapped unless they brought it on themselves.
Not deigning to reply, Mrs. Mossman inclined her head disdainfully.
"In that case, madam," Inspector Standish said, "will you kindly open your handbag?"
For the first time the haughty woman betrayed uncertainty. "But surely, purses are never inspected. I've been through Customs many times..."
"Normally they are not. But we do have the right."
Asking to see the contents of a woman's handbag was a rarity; like a man's pockets, a handbag was considered personal and almost never looked into. But when an individual chose to be difficult, Customs men could be difficult too.
Reluctantly, Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman unclipped her purse.
Harry Standish inspected a lipstick and a gold compact. When he probed the powder in the compact, he extracted a diamond and ruby ring: he blew the powder on the ring away. There was a tube of hand lotion, partially used. Unrolling the tube, he could see that the bottom had been opened. When he pressed the tube near the top, there was something hard inside. He wondered when would-be smugglers would come up with something original. Such old tricks! He had seen them all many times.
Mrs. Mossman was noticeably pale. Her hauteur had disappeared.
"Madam," Inspector Standish said, "I have to leave for a short while, but I'll be back. In any case, this is going to take some time." He instructed the young Customs officer beside him, "Inspect everything else very carefully. Check the linings of the bag and cases, the seams and hems of all the clothes. Make a list. You know what to do."
He was leaving when Mrs. Mossman called after him. "Officer!"
He stopped. "Yes, madam."
"About the coat and dresses... perhaps I did make a mistake... I was confused. I did buy them, and there are some other things..."
Standish shook his head. What people never seemed to learn was that there had to be a cut-off point somewhere; after that, cooperation was too late. He saw that the young officer had found something else.
"Please!.... I beg of you... my husband..." As the Inspector turned away, the woman's face was white and drawn.
Walking briskly, Harry Standish used a short cut, below the public portion of the terminal, to reach Concourse "D" and gate forty-seven. As he went, he reflected on the foolishness of Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman and the many like her. Had she been honest about the coat and dresses, and declared them, the duty payable would not have been great, especially for someone who was clearly well-to-do. The young Customs officer, though noticing the sweaters, probably would not have bothered with them; and certainly her handbag would not have been inspected. Customs men were aware that most returning travelers did a little smuggling, and were often tolerant about it. Also, if asked, they would help people lump high-duty items under their duty-free exemption, charging duty on other articles which were entitled to lower rates.
The people who got nabbed, hit hard, and were sometimes prosecuted, were invariably the greedy ones like Mrs. Mossman, who tried to get away with everything. What had depressed Harry Standish today was the number of others of her kind.
He was relieved to see that the doors of Trans America Flight Two had not yet closed, and a few remaining passengers were still being checked in. His U.S. Customs uniform was a passport anywhere within the airport, and the busy gate agent barely glanced up as Inspector Standish went past. The gate agent, Standish noticed, was being helped by a red-headed woman passenger relations agent whom he knew as Mrs. Livingston.
The inspector entered the walkway to the tourist section; a stewardess was at the rear airplane doorway. He smiled. "I'll only be a moment. Don't take off with me aboard."
He found his niece, Judy, in an aisle seat of a three-seat section. She was keeping a baby amused, the baby belonging to a young couple in the two seats alongside. Like all airplane tourist sections, this one already seemed cramped and crowded, the seats oppressively close to one another. On the few air journeys Inspector Standish made himself, he traveled tourist, but always had a sense of claustrophobia. Tonight he didn't envy any of these people the monotonous ten-hour journey which lay ahead of them.
"Uncle Harry!" Judy said. "I thought you weren't going to make it." She handed the baby back to its mother.
"I just came to say God bless!" he told her. "Have a good year, and when you come back don't try any smuggling."
She laughed. "I won't. Goodbye, Uncle Harry."
His niece put her face up to be kissed, and be bussed her affectionately. He felt good about Judy. He had a feeling she would not grow up to be a Mrs. Mossman.
Leaving the aircraft, with a friendly nod to the stewardesses, the Customs inspector paused a moment at the concourse gate, watching. The last moments before departure of any flight, especially one for some far distant place, always fascinated him, as it did many people. The final call... "Trans America Airlines announce the immediate departure of Flight Two, The Golden Argosy..." was just coming over the p.a. system.
The knot of people waiting to board had been reduced to two. The redheaded passenger agent, Mrs. Livingston, was gathering up her papers as the regular gate agent dealt with the last arrival but one---a tall blond man, hatless, and wearing a camel-hair coat. Now, the blond man left the agent's desk and entered the tourist section walkway. Mrs. Livingston left too, walking away from the departure gate, toward the main section of the terminal.
While he had been watching, Inspector Standish was aware, almost subconsciously, of someone else nearby, facing a window which looked away from the departure gate. Now the figure turned. He saw that it was an old lady; she appeared small, demure, and frail. She was dressed primly in black in an old-fashioned style, and carried a black beaded purse. She looked as if she needed somebody to take care of her, and he wondered why someone so old, and apparently alone, was here so late at night.
Moving with surprising spryness, the old lady crossed to where the Trans America ticket agent was dealing with the last Flight Two passenger. Standish heard some, though not all, of what was said; the old lady's words were punctuated by noise from outside, from the aircraft engines, which were being started. "Excuse... my son just boarded... blond hair, no hat, camel-hair coat... forgot his wallet... all his money." The old lady, Standish observed, was holding what looked like a man's billfold.
The gate agent glanced up impatiently. He appeared harassed; gate men usually were at the last moments of departure. The agent put out his hand to take the wallet, then, observing the old lady, changed his mind and said something quickly. He pointed to the tourist boarding walkway and Standish heard, "Ask a stewardess." The old lady smiled and nodded, and entered the walkway. A moment later she was out of sight.
All that Customs Inspector Standish had observed had taken only moments---perhaps less than a minute. Now, he saw a newcomer arrive---a stoop-shouldered, spindly man, hurrying down Concourse "D" toward gate forty-seven. The man had a gaunt face and a slight sandy mustache. He was carrying a small attache case.
Standish had been about to turn away, but something about the man attracted his attention. It was the way the newcomer was holding his case---under his arm, protectively. Harry Standish had watched people, many times, doing the same thing as they came through Customs. It was a giveaway that whatever was inside the case was something they wanted to conceal. If this man had been coming in from overseas, Standish would have had him open the case, and would have examined its contents. But the man was goingout of the United States.
Strictly speaking, it was none of Harry Standish's business.
Yet something... instinct, a sixth sense which Customs men developed, plus a personal connection, through Judy, with Flight Two... something kept the inspector watching, his eyes directed at the small attache case which the spindly man still cradled.
THE FEELING of confidence which returned to D. O. Guerrero at the insurance counter had remained. As he approached gate forty-seven, observing that he was still in time for Flight Two, he had a conviction that most of his difficulties were over; from now on, he assured himself, everything would work out as he had foreseen. In keeping with this belief, there was no problem at the gate. As he had planned from the beginning, at this point he drew attention to the minor discrepancy between the name "Buerrero" on his ticket and "Guerrero" on his passport. Barely glancing at the passport, the gate agent corrected both the ticket and his passenger list, then apologized, "Sorry, sir; sometimes our reservation machines get careless." Now, Guerrero noted with satisfaction, his name was recorded properly; later, when Flight Two was reported missing, there would be no doubt about his own identification.
"Have a pleasant flight, sir." The gate agent returned his ticket folder and motioned toward the tourist section walkway.
As D. O. Guerrero went aboard, still holding his attache case carefully, the starboard engines were already running.
His numbered seat---by a window in a three-seat seetion---had been allocated when he checked in downtown. A stewardess directed him to it. Another male passenger, already in the aisle seat, stood up partially as Guerrero squeezed by. The center seat, between them, was unoccupied.
D. O. Guerrero balanced his case cautiously on his knees as he strapped himself in. His seat was midway in the tourist section, on the left side. Elsewhere in the cabin, other passengers were still settling down, arranging hand baggage and clothing; a few people were blocking the center aisle. One of the stewardesses, her lips moving silently, and looking as if she wished everyone would keep still, was making a count of heads.
Relaxing for the first time since leaving the South Side apartment, D. O. Guerrero leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes. His hands, steadier than at any other time this evening, were firmly on the attache case. Without opening his eyes, his fingers groped under the handle and located the all-important loop of string. The feel of it was reassuring. He would sit precisely like this, he decided, when in approximately four hours from now he would pull the string, releasing the electrical current which would fire the massive charge of dynamite within the case. When the moment came, he wondered, how much would he have time to know? In answer, he reasoned: there would be an instant... one fleeting particle of a second only... when he would savor, triumphantly, the knowledge of success. Then, mercifully, no more...
Now that he was aboard and ready, he wished the flight would go. But when he opened his eyes, the same stewardess was still counting.
THERE WERE two stewardesses, at the moment, in the tourist cabin. The little old lady from San Diego, Mrs. Ada Quonsett, had been observing them both, intermittently, peering through the slightly opened door of a toilet where she was hiding.
The pre-takeoff head count by a stewardess, now being made, was something which Mrs. Quonsett knew about; she was also aware that this was the moment when anyone who was aboard illegally was closest to exposure. But if a stowaway could survive the count, chances were that she (or he) would not be detected until much later, if at all.
Fortunately, the stewardess now making the head count was not the one whom Mrs. Quonsett encountered when she came aboard.
Mrs. Quonsett had had a few anxious moments outside while she cautiously watched the redheaded passenger agent bitch, whom she had been distressed to find on duty at gate forty-seven. Fortunately, the woman had left just before the flight finished loading, and getting past the male gate agent proved easy.
After that, Mrs. Quonsett repeated her story about the wallet to the stewardess on duty at the aircraft doorway. The stewardess, who was trying to cope with queries from several other people milling in the entranceway, declined to accept the wallet when she learned there was "a lot of money in it"---a reaction Mrs. Quonsett had counted on. Also as expected, the little old lady was told she could take the wallet to her son herself, if she was quick.
The tall blond man who, all unknowingly, had been a "son" to Mrs. Quonsett, was getting into a seat near the front of the cabin. Mrs. Quonsett moved in his direction, but only briefly. She was watching covertly, waiting for the attention of the stewardess near the door to be diverted. Almost at once it was.
Mrs. Quonsett had left her plans flexible. There was a seat close by, which she could have occupied; however, a sudden movement by several passengers at once left a clear path to one of the aircraft toilets. A moment or two later, through the partially opened toilet door, she saw the original stewardess go forward out of sight and another stewardess begin the head count, starting at the front.
When the second stewardess---still counting---neared the back of the airplane, Mrs. Quonsett emerged from the toilet and walked quickly past with a muttered, "Excuse me." She heard the stewardess cluck her tongue impatiently. Mrs. Quonsett sensed that she had now been included in the count---but that was all.
A few rows forward, on the left side, there was an unoccupied seat in the middle of a section of three. In her experience as an aerial stowaway, the little old lady from San Diego had learned to seek such seats because most passengers disliked them; therefore they were the last to be chosen from seat selection boards and, where an airplane was less than full, were usually left empty.
Once in the seat, Mrs. Quonsett kept her head down, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. She had no illusion that she could avoid discovery indefinitely. At Rome there would be Immigration and Customs formalities, making it impossible for her to walk away unimpeded, as she was accustomed to doing after her illegal flights to New York; but, with luck, she would have the thrill of reaching Italy, plus an agreeable journey back. Meanwhile, on this flight, there would be a good meal, a movie, and, later, perhaps, a pleasant conversation with her two seat companions.
Ada Ouonsett wondered about her seat companions. She had noticed that both were men, but for the time being avoided looking at the man on her right since it would mean turning her face toward the aisle and the stewardesses, both of whom were now moving back and forth, making another head count. Mrs. Quonsett took covert stock, however, of the man on her left, a survey made easier by the fact that he was reclining and had his eyes closed. He was a gaunt, thin man, she observed, with a sallow face and scrawny neck, who looked as if a hearty meal might do him good. He had a small sandy mustache.
On his knees, Mrs. Quonsett noticed, the man on her left had in attache case and, despite the fact that his eyes were closed, he was holding it firmly.
The stewardesses had finished their head count. Now a third stewardess appeared from the first class compartment forward, and the three of them were holding a hurried consultation.
The man on Mrs. Quonsett's left had opened his eyes. He was still gripping the case tightly. The little old lady from San Diego---an habitually curious soul---wondered what was inside.
WALKING BACK toward the Customs Hall---this time through the passenger section of the terminal---Inspector Harry Standish was still thinking about the man with the attache case. Standish could not have questioned the man; outside a Customs enclosure a Customs officer had no right to interrogate anyone, unless believing they had evaded Customs inspection. The man at the departure gate quite obviously had not.
What Standish could do, of course, was telegraph the man's description to Italian Customs, advising that he might be carrying contraband. But Standish doubted if he would. There was little cooperation between Customs departments internationally, only an intense professional rivalry. Even vith Canadian Customs, close at hand, the same thing was true; incidents were on record where U.S. Customs had been tipped of that illegal diamond shipments were being smuggled into Canada, but---as a matter of policy---Canadian authorities were never told. Instead, U.S. agents spotted the suspects on arrival in Canada and tailed them, only making an arrest if they crossed the United States border. The U.S. reasoning was: the country which seized that kind of contraband kept it all, and Customs departments were averse to sharing loot.
No, Inspector Standish decided, there would be no telegram to Italy. He would, however, tell Trans America Airlines of his doubts and leave a decision to them.
Ahead of him he had seen Mrs. Livingston, the passenger relations agent who had been at the Flight Two departure gate. She was talking with a Skycap and a group of passengers. Harry Standish waited until the Skycap and passengers had gone.
"Hullo, Mr. Standish," Tanya said. "I hope things are quieter in Customs than around here."
"They aren't," he told her, remembering Mrs. Harriet Du Barry Mossman, no doubt still being questioned in the Customs Hall.
As Tanya waited for him to speak again, Standish hesitated. Sometimes he wondered if he was becoming too much the super sleuth, too aware of the keenness of his instincts. Most times, though, his instincts proved right.
"I was watching your Flight Two load," Standish said. "There was something bothered me." He described the gaunt, spindly man and the suspicious way he had been clasping an attache case.
"Do you think he's smuggling something?"
Inspector Standish smiled. "If he were arriving from abroad, instead of leaving, I'd find out. All I can tell Von, Mrs. Livingston, is that there's something in that case which he'd prefer other people not to know about."
Tanya said thoughtfully, "I don't quite know what I can do." Even if the man was smuggling she was not convinced it was the airline's business.
"Probably there's nothing to do. But you people cooperate with us, so I thought I'd pass the information on."
"Thank you, Mr. Standish. I'll report it to our D.T.M., and perhaps he'll want to notify the captain."
As the Customs inspector left, Tanya glanced at the overhead terminal clock; it showed a minute to eleven. Heading for Trans America Administration on the executive mezzanine, she reasoned: it was too late now to catch Flight Two at the departure gate; if the flight had not yet left the gate, it certainly would within the next few moments. She wondered if the District Transportation Manager was in his office. If the D.T.M. thought the information important, he might notify Captain Demerest by radio while Flight Two was still on the ground and taxiing. Tanya hurried.
The D.T.M. was not in his office, but Peter Coakley was.
Tanya snapped, "What are you doing here?"
The Young Trans America agent, whom the little old lady from San Diego had eluded, described sheepishly what had happened.
Peter Coakley had already received one dressing down. The doctor, summoned to the women's washroom on a fool's errand, had been articulate and wrathful. Young Coakley clearly expected more of the same from Mrs. Livingston. He was not disappointed.
Tanya exploded, "Damn, damn, damn!" She remonstrated, "Didn't I warn you she had a barrelful of tricks?"
"Yes, you did, Mrs. Livingston. I guess I..."
"Never mind that now! Get on the phone to each of our gates. Warn them to be on the lookout for an old, innocent-looking woman in black---you know the description. She's trying for New York, but may go a roundabout way. If she's located, the gate agent is to detain her and call here. She is not to be allowed on any flight, no matter what she says. While you're doing that, I'll call the other airlines."
There were several telephones in the office. Peter Coakley took one, Tanya another.
She knew by memory the airport numbers of TWA, American, United, and Northwest; all four airlines had direct New York flights. Talking first with her opposite number in TWA, Jenny Henline, she could hear Peter Coakley saying, "Yes, very old... in black... when you see her, you won't believe it..."
A contest of minds had developed, Tanya realized, between herself and the ingenious, slippery Ada Quonsett. Who, in the end, Tanya wondered, would outwit the other?
For the moment she had forgotten both her conversation with Customs Inspector Standish and her intention to locate the D.T.M.
ABOARD FLIGHT Two, Captain Vernon Demerest fumed, "What in hell's the holdup?"
Engines numbers three and four, on the starboard side of aircraft N-731-TA, were running. Throughout the airplane their subdued but powerful jet thrumming could be felt.
The pilots had received ramp supervisor's clearance by interphone, several minutes ago, to start three and four, but were still awaiting clearance to start engines one and two, which were on the boarding side and normally not activated until all doors were closed. A red panel light had winked off a minute or two earlier, indicating that the rear fuselage door was closed and secure; immediately after, the rear boarding walkway was withdrawn. But another bright red light, still glowing, showed that the forward cabin door had not been closed, and a glance backward through the cockpit windows confirmed that the front boarding walkway was still in place.
Swinging around in his right-hand seat, Captain Demerest instructed Second Officer Jordan, "Open the door."
Cy Jordan was seated behind the other two pilots at a complex panel of instruments and engine controls. Now he half rose and, extending his long, lean figure, released the flight deck door which opened outward. Through the doorway, in the forward passenger section, they could see a half dozen figures in Trans America uniform, Gwen Meighen among them.
"Gwen!" Demerest called. As she came into the flight deck, "What the devil's happening?"
Gwen looked worried. "The tourist passenger count won't tally. We've made it twice; we still can't agree with the manifest and tickets."
"Is the ramp supervisor there?"
"Yes, he's checking our count now."
"I want to see him."
At this stage of any airline flight there was always a problem of divided authority. Nominally the captain was already in command, but he could neither start engines nor taxi away without authorization from the ramp supervisor. Both the captain and ramp chief had the same objective---to make an on-schedule departure. However, their differing duties sometimes produced a clash.
A moment later, the uniformed ramp supervisor, a single silver stripe denoting his rank, arrived on the flight deck.
"Look, chum," Demerest said, "I know you've got problems, but so have we. How much longer do we sit here?"
"I've just ordered a ticket recheck, captain. Tbere's one more passenger in the tourist section than there ought to be."
"All right," Demerest said. "Now I'll tell you something. Every second we sit here we're burning fuel on three and four, which you gave the okay to start... precious fuel which we need in the air tonight. So unless this airplane leaves right now, I'm shutting everything down and we'll send for Fueling to top off our tanks. There's another thing you ought to know: air traffic control just told us they have a temporary gap in traffic. If we taxi out right away, we can be off the ground fast; in ten minutes from now that may have changed. Now, you make the decision. What's it to be?"
Torn between dual responsibilities, the ramp supervisor hesitaited. He knew the captain was right about burning fuel; yet to stop engines now, and top off tanks, would mean a further half hour's costly delay on top of the hour which Flight Two was late already. On the other hand, this was an important international flight on which the head count and ticket collection ought to agree. If there was really an unauthorized person aboard, and he was found and taken off, later the ramp supervisor could justify his decision to hold. But if the difference in tallies turned out to be a clerical error---as it might---the D.T.M. would roast him alive.
He made the obvious decision. Calling through the flight deck door, he ordered, "Cancel the ticket recheck. This flight is leaving now."
As the flight deck door closed, a grinning Anson Harris was on the interphone to a crewman on the ground below. "Clear to start two?"
The reply rattled back, "Okay to start two."
The forward fuselage door was closed and secured; in the cockpit, its red indicator light winked out.
Number two engine fired and held at a steady roar.
"Okay to start one?"
"Okay to start one."
The forward boarding walkway, like a severed umbilical cord, was gliding back toward the terminal.
Vernon Demerest was calling ground control on radio for permission to taxi.
Number one engine fired and held.
In the left seat, Captain Harris, who would taxi out and fly the takeoff, had his feet braced on the rudder pedal toe brakes.
It was still snowing hard.
"Trans America Flight Two from ground control. You are clear to taxi..."
The engine tempo quickened.
Demerest thought: Rome... and Naples... here we come!
IT WAS 11 P.M., Central Standard Time.
In Concourse "D," half running, half stumbling, a figure reached gate forty-seven.
Even if there had been breath to ask, questions were unneeded.
The boarding ramps were closed. Portable signs denoting the departure of Flight Two, The Golden Argosy, were being taken down. A taxiing aircraft was leaving the gate.
Helplessly, not knowing what she should do next, Inez Guerrero, watched the airplane's lights recede.