CAPTAIN VERNON DEMEREST stood back from the cupboard door he had opened, and emitted a long, low whistle.
He was still in the kitchen of Gwen Meighen's apartment on Stewardess Row. Gwen had not yet appeared after her shower and, while waiting, he had made tea as she suggested. It was while looking for cups and saucers that he had opened the cupboard door.
In front of him were four tightly packed shelves of bottles. All were miniature bottles of liquor---the ounce-and-a-half size which airlines served to passengers in flight. Most of the bottles had small airline labels above their brand names, and all were unopened. Making a quick calculation, Demerest estimated there were close to three hundred.
He had seen airline liquor in stewardesses' apartments before, but never quite so much at one time.
"We have some more stashed away in the bedroom," Gwen said brightly from behind him. "We've been saving them for a party. I think we've enough, don't you?"
She had come into the kitchen quietly, and he turned. As always since the beginning of their affair, he found the first sight of her enchanting and refreshing. Unusual for one who never lacked confidence with women, he had at such moments a heady sense of wonder that he had ever possessed Gwen at all. She was in a trim uniform skirt and blouse which made her seem even younger than she was. Her eager, high-cheekboned face was tilted upward, her rich black hair lustrous under the kitchen lights. Gwen's deep dark eyes regarded him with smiling, frank approval. "You can kiss me hard," she said. "I haven't put on makeup yet."
He smiled, her clear melodious English voice delighting him again. As girls from upper-crust British private schools somehow managed to do, Gwen had captured all that was best in English intonation and avoided the worst. At times, Vernon Dermerest encouraged Gwen to talk, merely for the joy of hearing her speak.
Not talking now, they held each other tightly, her lips responding eagerly to his.
After a minute or so, Gwen pushed herself away. "No!" she insisted firmly. "No, Vernon dear. Not here."
"Why not? We've time enough." There was a thickness to Demerest's voice, a rough impatience.
"Because I told you---I want to talk, and we don't have time for both." Gwen rearranged her blouse which had parted company with the skirt.
"Hell!" he grumbled. "You bring me to the boil, and then... Oh, all right; I'll wait till Naples." He kissed her more gently. "All the way to Europe you can think of me up there on the flight deck, turned to 'simmer.' "
"I'll bring you to the boil again. I promise." She laughed, and leaning close against him, passed her long slim fingers through his hair and around his face.
He groaned. "My God!---you're doing it right now."
"Then that's enough." Gwen took his hands, which were around her waist, and pushed them resolutely from her. Turning away, she moved to close the cupboard he bad been looking into.
"Hey, wait a minute. What about all those?" Demerest pointed to the miniature liquor bottles with their airline labels.
"Those?" Gwen surveyed the four crowded shelves, her eyebrows arched, then switched to an expression of injured innocence. "They're just a few little old leftovers that passengers didn't want. Surely, Captain, sir, you're not going to report me for possession of leftovers."
He said skeptically, "That many?"
"Of course." Gwen picked up a bottle of Beefeater gin, put it down and inspected a Canadian Club whisky. "One nice thing about airlines is, they always buy the best brands. Care for one now?"
He shook his head. "You know better than that."
"Yes, I do; but you shouldn't sound so disapproving."
"I just don't want you to get caught."
"Nobody gets caught, and almost everybody does it. Look---every first class passenger is entitled to two of these little bottles, but some passengers use only one, and there are always others who won't have any."
"The rules say you turn back all the unused ones."
"Oh, for heaven's sake! So we do---a couple for appearances, but the rest the girls divide between them. The same thing goes for wine that's left over." Gwen giggled. "We always like a passenger who asks for more wine near the end of a trip. That way, we can officially open a fresh bottle, pour off one glass.."
"I know. And take the rest home?"
"You want to see?" Gwen opened another cupboard door. Inside were a dozen filled wine bottles.
Demerest grinned. "I'll be damned."
"This isn't all mine. My roommate and one of the girls next door have been saving theirs for the party we're planning." She took his arm. "You'll come, won't you?"
"If I'm invited, I guess."
Gwen closed both cupboard doors. "You will be."
They sat down in the kitchen, and she poured the tea he had made. He watched admiringly while she did it. Gwen had a way of making even a casual session like this seem an occasion.
He noticed With amusement that she produced cups from a pile in another cupboard, all bearing Trans America insignia. They were the kind the airline used in flight. He supposed he should not have been stuffy about the airline liquor bottles; after all, stewardess "perks" were nothing new. It was just that the size of the hoard amazed him.
All airline stewardesses, he was aware, discovered early in their careers that a little husbandry in airplane galleys could relieve their cost of living at home. Stewardesses learned to board their flights with personal hand baggage which was partially empty, using the space for surplus food---always of highest quality, since airlines purchased nothing but the best. A Thermos jug, brought aboard empty, was useful for carrying off spare liquids---cream or even decanted champagne. If a stewardess was really enterprising, Demerest was once assured, she could cut her weekly grocery bill in half. Only on international flights where, by law, all food---untouched or otherwise---was incinerated immediately after landing, were the girls more cautious.
All this activity was strictly forbidden by regulations of all airlines---but it still went on.
Another thing stewardesses learned was that no inventory check of removable cabin equipment was ever made at the termination of a flight. One reason was that airlines simply didn't have time; another, it was cheaper to accept some losses than make a fuss about them. Because of this, many stewardesses managed to acquire home furnishings---blankets, pillows, towels, linen napkins, glasses, silverware---in surprising quantity, and Vernon Demerest had been in stewardess nests where most items used in daily living seemed to have come from airline sources.
Gwen broke in on his thoughts. "What I was going to tell you, Vernon, is that I'm pregnant."
It was said so casually that at first the words failed to register. He reacted blankly. "You're what?"
He snapped irritably, "I know how to spell it." His mind wasitill groping. "Are you sure?"
Gwen laughed---her attractive silvery laugh---and sipped her tea. He sensed she was making fun of him. He was also aware that she had never looked more lovely and desirable than at this moment.
"That line you just said, darling," she assured him, "is an old cliche. In every book I've ever read where there's a scene like this, the man asks, 'Are you sure?' "
"Well, goddammit, Gwen!" His voice rose. "Are you?"
"Of course. Or I wouldn't be telling you now." She motioned to the cup in front of him. "More tea?"
"What happened," Gwen said calmly, "is perfectly simple. On that layover we had in San Francisco... you remember?---we stayed at that gorgeous hotel on Nob Hill; the one with the view. What was it called?"
"The Fairmont. Yes, I remember. Go on."
"Well, I'm afraid I was careless. I'd quit taking pills because they were making me overweight; then I thought I didn't need any other precautions that day, but it turned out I was wrong. Anyway, because I was careless, now I have a teensy-weensy little Vernon Demerest inside me who's going to get bigger and bigger."
There was a silence, then he said awkwardly, "I suppose I shouldn't ask this..."
She interrupted. "Yes, you should. You're entitled to ask." Gwen's deep dark eyes regarded him with open honesty. "What you want to know is, has there been anyone else, and am I positive it's you? Right?"
She reached out to touch his hand. "You don't have to be ashamed of asking. I'd ask too, if things were the other way around."
He gestured unhappily. "Forget it. I'm sorry."
"But I want to tell you." She was speaking more hurriedly now, a shade less confidently. "There hasn't been anybody else; there couldn't be. You see... I happen to love you." For the first time her eyes were lowered. She went on, "I think I did... I know I did... love you, I mean---even before that time we had in San Francisco. When I've thought about it, I've been glad of that, because you ought to love someone if you're to have his baby, don't you think so?"
"Listen to me, Gwen." He covered her hands with his own. Vernon Demerest's hands were strong and sensitive, accustomed to responsibility and control, yet capable of precision and gentleness. They were gentle now. Women he cared about always had that effect on him, in contrast to the rough brusqueness with which he dealt with men. "We have to do some serious talking, and make some plans." Now that the first surprise was over, his thoughts were becoming orderly. It was perfectly clear what needed to be done next.
"You don't have to do anything." Gwen's head came up; her voice was under control. "And you can stop wondering whether I'm going to be difficult, or whether I'll make things awkward for you. I won't. I knew what I was getting into; that there was the chance this would happen. I didn't really expect it to, but it has. I had to tell you tonight because the baby's yours; it's part of you; you ought to know. Now you do, I'm also telling you you don't have to worry. I intend to work things out myself."
"Don't be ridiculous; of course I'll help. You don't imagine I'd walk away and ignore the whole bit." The essential thing, he realized, was speed; the trick with unwanted fetuses was to get the little beggars early. He wondered if Gwen had any religious scruples about abortions. She had never mentioned having a religion, but sometimes the most unlikely people were devout. He asked her, "Are you Catholic?"
Well, he reflected, that helped. Maybe, then, a quick flight to Sweden would be the thing; a few days there was all Gwen would need. Trans America would cooperate, as airlines always did, providing they were not officially involved---the word "abortion" could be hinted at, but must never be mentioned. That way, Gwen could fly deadhead on a Trans America flight to Paris, then go by Air France to Stockholm on a reciprocal employee pass. Of course, even when she got to Sweden, the medical fees would still be damnably expensive; tbcre was a jest among airline people that the Swedes took their overseas abortion customers to the clinic and the cleaners at the same time. The whole thing was cheaper in Japan, of course. Lots of airline stewardesses flew to Tokyo and got abortions there for fifty dollars. The abortions were supposed to be therapeutic, but Demerest mistrusted them; Sweden---or Switzerland---were more reliable. He had once declared: when he got a stewardess pregnant, she went first class.
From his own point of view, it was a bloody nuisance that Gwen had got a bun in the oven at this particular time, just when he was building an extension on his house which, be remembered gloomily, had already gone over budget. Oh well, he would have to sell some stock---General Dynamics, probably; he had a nice capital gain there, and it was about time to take a profit. He would call his broker right after getting back from Rome---and Naples.
He asked, "You're still coming to Naples with me?"
"Of course; I've been looking forward to it. Besides, I bought a new negligee. You'll see it tomorrow night."
He stood up from the table and grinned. "You're a shameless hussy."
"A shameless pregnant hussy who shamelessly loves you. Do you love me?"
She came to him, and he kissed her mouth, face, and an ear. He probed her pinna with his tongue, felt her arms tighten in response, then whispered, "Yes, I love you." At the moment, he reflected, it was true.
Her cheek was soft against his. Her voice came, muffled, from his shoulder. "I mean what I said. You don't have to help me. But if you really want to, that's different."
"I want to." He decided he would sound her out about an abortion, on their way to the airport.
Gwen disengaged herself and glanced at her watch; it was 8:20. "It's time, Captain, sir. We'd better go."
"I GUESS YOU KNOW you really don't have to worry," Vernon Demerest said to Gwen as they drove. "Airlines are used to having their unmarried stewardesses get pregnant. It happens all the time. The last report I read, the national airline average was ten percent, per year."
Their discussion, he noted approvingly, was becoming increasingly matter-of-fact. Good!---it was important to steer Gwen away from any emotional nonsense about this baby of hers. If she did become emotional, Demerest knew, all sorts of awkward things could happen, impeding commonsense.
He was handling the Mercedes carefully, with the delicate yet firm touch which was second nature to him when controlling any piece of machinery, including a car or airplane. The suburban streets, which were newly cleared when he drove from the airport to Gwen's apartment, were thickly snow-covered again. Snow was still coming down continuously, and there were deepening drifts in wind-exposed places, away from the shelter of buildings. Captain Demerest warily skirted the larger drifts. He had no intention of getting stuck nor did he even want to get out of the car until the shelter of the enclosed Trans America parking lot was reached.
Curled into the leather bucket seat beside him, Gwen said incredulously, "Is that really true---that every year, ten out of every hundred stewardesses get pregnant?"
He assured her, "It varies slightly each year, but it's usually pretty close. Oh, the pill has changed things a bit, but the way I hear it, not as much as you'd expect. As a union officer I have access to that kind of information."
He waited for Gwen to comment. When she made none, he went on, "What you have to remember is that airline stewardesses are mostly young girls, from the country, or modest city homes. They've had a quiet upbringing, an average life. Suddenly, they have a glamour job; they travel, meet interesting people, stay in the best hotels. It's their first taste of la dolce vita." He grinned. "Once in a while that first taste leaves some sediment in the glass."
"That's a rotten thing to say!" For the first time since he had known her, Gwen's temper flared. She said indignantly, "You sound so superior; just like a man. If I have any sediment in my glass, or in me, let me remind you that it's yours, and even if we didn't plan to leave it there, I think I'd find a better name for it than that. Also, if you're lumping me together with all those girls you talked about from the country and 'modest city homes,' I don't like that one damn bit either."
There was heightened color in Gwen's cheeks; her eyes flashed angrily.
"Hey!" he said. "I like your spirit."
"Well, keep on saying things like you did just now, and you'll see more of it."
"Was I that bad?"
"You were insufferable."
"Then I'm sorry." Demerest slowed the car and stopped at a traffic light which shone with myriad red reflections through the falling snow. They waited in silence until, with Christmas card effect, the color winked to green. When they were moving again, he said carefully, "I didn't mean to lump you with anybody, because you're an exception. You're a sophisticate who got careless, You said you did, yourself. I guess we were both careless."
"All right." Gwen's anger was dissipating. "But don't ever put me in bunches. I'm me; no one else."
They were quiet for several moments, then Gwen said thoughtfully, "I suppose we could call him that."
"Call who what?"
"You made me remember what I said earlier---about a little Vernon Demerest inside me. If we had a boy, we could call him Vernon Demerest, Junior, the way Americans do."
He had never cared much for his own name. Now he began to say, "I wouldn't want my son..." then stopped. This was dangerous ground.
"What I started to say, Gwen, was that airlines are used to this kind of thing. You know about the Three-Point Pregnancy Program?"
She said shortly, "Yes."
It was natural that Gwen did. Most stewardesses were aware of what airlines would do for them if they became pregnant, providing the stewardess herself agreed to certain conditions. Within Trans America the system was referred to familiarly as the "3-PPP." Other airlines used differing names, and arrangements varied slightly, but the principle was the same.
"I've known girls who've used the 3-PPP," Gwen said. "I didn't think I'd ever need to."
"Most of the others didn't, I guess." He added: "But you wouldn't need to worry. It isn't something that airlines advertise, and it all works quietly. How are we for time?"
Gwen held her wrist watch under the light of the dash. "We're okay."
He swung the Mercedes into a center lane carefully, judging his traction on the wet, snowy surface, and passed a lumbering utilities truck. Several men, probably an emergency crew, were clinging to the sides of the truck as it moved along. They looked weary, wet, and miserable. Demerest wondered what the men's reaction would be if they knew that he and Gwen would be under warm Neapolitan sunshine only hours from now.
"I don't know," Gwen said; "I don't know if I could ever do it."
Like Demerest, Gwen knew the reasoning of management which lay behind airline pregnancy programs. No airline liked losing stewardesses for any reason. Their training was expensive; a qualified stewardess represented a big investment. Another thing: the right kind of girls, with good looks, style, and personality, were hard to find.
The way the programs worked was practical and simple. If a stewardess became pregnant, and did not plan to be married, obviously she could return to her job when her pregnancy was over, and usually her airline would be delighted to have her back. So, the arrangement was, she received official leave of absence, with her job seniority protected. As to her personal welfare, airline personnel departments had special sections which, among other things, would help make medical or nursing home arrangements, either where a girl lived or at some distant point, whichever she preferred. The airline helped psychologically, too, by letting the girl know that someone cared about her, and was looking out for her interest. A loan of money could sometimes be arranged. Afterward, if a stewardess who had had her child was diffident about returning to her original base, she would be quietly transferred to a new one of her own choosing.
In return for all this, the airline asked three assurances from the stewardess---hence the Three-Point Pregnancy Program.
First, the girl must keep the airline personnel department informed of her whereabouts at all times during her pregnancy.
Second, she must agree that her baby be surrendered for adoption immediately after birth. The girl would never know the baby's adoptive parents; thus the child would pass out of her life entirely. However, the airline guaranteed that proper adoption procedures would be followed, with the baby being placed in a good home.
Third---at the outset of the three-point program the stewardess must inform the airline of the name of the child's father. When she had done so, a representative from Personnel---experienced in such situations---promptly sought out the father with the objective of obtaining financial support for the girl. What the personnel man tried to obtain was a promise, in writing, of enough money to cover medical and nursing home expenses and, if possible, some or all of the stewardess's lost wages. Airlines preferred such arrangements to be amiable and discreet. If they had to, though, they could get tough, using their considerable corporate influence to bring pressure on non-cooperating individuals.
It was seldom necessary to be tough where the father of a stewardess's baby was a flying crew member---a captain, or first or second officer. In such cases, gentle company suasion, plus the father's wish to keep the whole thing quiet, were usually enough. As to keeping quiet, the company obliged. Temporary support payments could be made in any reasonable way, or, if preferred, the airline made regular deductions from the employee's pay checks. Just as considerately, to avoid awkward questions at home, such deductions appeared under the heading: "personal misc."
All money received by these means was paid, in its entirety, to the pregnant stewardess. The airline deducted nothing for its own costs.
"The whole point about the program," Demerest said, "is that you're not alone, and there's all kinds of help."
He had been careful of one thing---to avoid any reference, so far, to abortion. That was a separate subject because no airline would, or could, become directly involved in abortion arrangements. Advice on the subject was frequently given unofficially to those who sought it---by stewardess supervisors who learned, through experience of others, how such arrangements could be made. Their objective, if a girl was determined on abortion, was to insure its performance under safe medical conditions, avoiding at all costs the dangerous and disreputable practitioners whom desperate people sometimes resorted to.
Gwen regarded her companion curiously. "Tell me one thing. How is it you know so much about all this?"
"I told you, I'm a union officer..."
"You're part of the ALPA's for pilots. You don't have anything to do with stewardesses---not in that way, anyhow."
"Maybe not directly."
"Vernon, this has happened to you before... getting a stewardess pregnant... Vernon, hasn't it?"
He nodded reluctantly. "Yes."
"It must come pretty easily to you, knocking up stewardesses---those gullible country girls you were talking about. Or were they mostly from 'modest city homes'?" Gwen's voice was bitter. "How many have there been altogether? Two dozen, a dozen? Just give me an idea in round figures"
He sighed. "One; only one."
He had been incredibly lucky, of course. It could have been many more, but his answer was the truth. Well... almost the truth; there was that other time, and the miscarriage, but that shouldn't count.
Outside the car, traffic density was increasing as they neared the airport, now less than a quarter mile away. The bright lights of the great terminal, though dimmed tonight by snow, still filled the sky.
Gwen said, "The other girl who got pregnant. I don't want to know her name..."
"I wouldn't tell you."
"Did she use the thingummy---tbe three-point program?"
"Did you help her?"
He answered impatiently, "I said earlier---wbat kind of a man do you think I am? Of course I helped her. If you must know, the company made deductions from my pay checks. That's how I knew about the way it's done."
Gwen smiled. " 'Personal misc.?' "
"Did your wife ever know?"
He hesitated before answering. "No."
"What happened to the baby?"
"It was adopted."
"What was it?"
"Just a baby."
"You know perfectly well what I mean. Was it a boy or a girl?"
"A girl, I think."
"I know. It was a girl."
Gwen's questioning made him vaguely uncomfortable. It revived memories he would as soon forget.
They were silent as Vernon Demerest swung the Mercedes into the airport's wide and imposing main entry. High above the entry, soaring and floodlighted, were the futuristic parabolic arches---acclaimed achievement of a world-wide design contest---symbolizing, so it was said, the noble dreams of aviation. Ahead was an impressive, serpentine complex of roads, interchanges, flyovers, and tunnels, designed to keep the airport's unceasing vehicular traffic flowing at high speed, though tonight the effects of the three-day storm were making progress slower than usual. Great mounds of snow were occupying normally usable road space. Snowplows and dump trucks, trying to keep remaining areas open, were adding their own confusion.
After several brief hold-ups, Demerest turned onto the service road which would bring them to the Trans America main hangar area, where they would leave the car and take a crew bus to the terminal.
Gwen stirred beside him. "Vernon."
"Thank you for being honest with me." She reached out touching his nearer hand on the steering wheel. "I'll be all right. I expect it was just a bit much, all at once. And I do want to go with you to Naples."
He nodded and smiled, then took his hand off the wheel and clasped Gwen's tightly. "We'll have a great time, and I promise we'll both remember it."
He would do his best, he decided, to ensure the promise came true. For himself, it would not be difficult. He had been more attracted to Gwen, had felt more loving in her company, and closer in spirit, than with anyone else he remembered. If it were not for his marriage... He wondered, not for the first time, about breaking with Sarah, and marrying Gwen. Then he pushed the thought away. He had known too many others of his profession who had suffered upheaval---pilots who forsook wives of many years, for younger women. More often than not, all the men had in the end were shattered hopes and heavy alimony.
Sometime during their trip, though, either in Rome or Naples, he must have another serious discussion with Gwen. Their talk, so far, had not gone exactly as he would have liked, nor had the question of an abortion yet been raised.
Meanwhile---the thought of Rome reminded him---there was the more immediate matter of his command of Trans America Flight Two.