NERVOUSLY, D. O. Guerrero lit another cigarette from the stub of his previous one. Despite his efforts to control the motion of his hands, they trembled visibly. He was agitated, tense, anxious. As he had earlier, while putting his dynamite bomb together, he could feel rivulets of perspiration on his face and beneath his shirt.
The cause of his distress was time---the time remaining between now and the departure of Flight Two. It was running out, remorselessly, like sand from an hourglass; and much---too much---of the sand was gone.
Guerrero was in a bus en route to the airport. Half an hour ago the bus had entered the Kennedy Expressway, from which point, normally, there would have been a swift, fifteen-minute ride to Lincoln International. But the expressway, like every other highway in the state, was impeded by the storm, and jammed with traffic. At moments the traffic was halted, at other times merely inching along.
Before departure from downtown, the dozen or so bus passengers---all destined for Flight Two---had been told of their flight's delay by one hour. Even so, at the present rate of progress, it appeared as if it might take another two hours, perhaps three, to get to the airport.
Others in the bus were worried, too.
Like D. O. Guerrero, they had checked in at the Trans America downtown terminal in the Loop. Then, they had been in plenty of time, but now, in view of the mounting delay, were wondering aloud whether Flight Two would wait for them indefinitely, or not.
The bus driver was not encouraging. In reply to questions, he declared that usually, if a bus from a downtown terminal was late, a flight was held until the bus arrived. But when conditions got really bad, like tonight, anything could happen. The airline might figure that the bus would be held up for hours more---as it could be---and that the flight should go. Also, the driver added, judging by the few people in the bus, it looked as if most passengers for Flight Two were out at the airport already. That often happened with international flights, he explained; relatives came to see passengers off, and drove them out by car.
The discussion went back and forth across the bus, though D. O. Guerrero, his spindly body hunched into his seat, took no part in it. Most of the other passengers appeared to be tourists, with the exception of a voluble Italian family---a man and woman with several children---who were talking animatedly in their own language.
"If I were you, folks, I wouldn't worry," the bus driver had announced a few minutes earlier. "The traffic ahead looks as if it's loosenin' up some. We might just make it."
So far, however, the speed of the bus had not increased.
D. O. Guerrero had a double seat section, three rows back from the driver, to himself. The all-important attache case was held securely on his lap. He eased forward, as he had done several times already, straining to peer ahead into the darkness beyond the bus; all he could see, through the twin arcs cleared by the big, slapping windshield wipers, was what appeared to be an endless string of vehicle lights, disappearing into the falling snow. Despite his sweating, his pale, thin lips were dry; he moistened them with his tongue.
For Guerrero, "just making it" to the airport in time for Flight Two would simply not do. He needed an extra ten or fifteen minutes, at least, to buy flight insurance. He cursed himself for not having gone out to the airport sooner, and bought the flight insurance he needed in plenty of time. In his original plan, purchasing the insurance at the last minute, and thus minimizing any chance of inquiry, seemed a good idea. What he had not foreseen was the kind of night this had turned out to be---though he ought to have foreseen it, remembering the time of year. It was just that kind of thing---overlooking some significant, variable factor---which had dogged D. O. Guerrero through his business enterprises, and time after time brought grandiose schemes to naught. The trouble was, he realized, whenever he made plans, he convinced himself that everything would go exactly as he hoped; therefore he failed to allow for the unexpected. More to the point, he thought bitterly, he never seemed able to learn from past experience.
He supposed that when he got to the airport---assuming Flight Two had not already left---he could go to the Trans America flight counter and announce himself as being present. Then he would insist on being allowed time to buy flight insurance before the flight took off. But it would involve the one thing he desperately wanted to avoid: drawing attention to himself, in the same way that he had drawn attention already---and for the stupidest omission he could possibly have made.
He had failed to bring any baggage, other than the small, slim attache case in which he was carrying the dynamite bomb.
At the check-in counter downtown the ticket agent had asked, "Is that your baggage, sir?" He pointed to a large pile of suitcases belonging to a man in line behind.
"No." D. O. Guerrero hesitated, then held up the small attache-briefcase. "I... er.... don't have anything except this."
The agent's eyebrows went up. "No baggage for a trip to Rome, sir? You really are traveling light." He motioned to the attache case. "Do you wish to check that?"
"No, thank you." All D. O. Guerrero wanted at that moment was his airline ticket, and to get away from the counter, and secure an inconspicuous seat on the airport bus. But the agent glanced curiously at him a second time, and Guerrero knew that, from this moment onward, he would be remembered. He had stamped himself indelibly on the ticket agent's memory---all because he forgot to bring a suitcase, which he could so easily have done. Of course, the reason he had not done so was instinctive. D. O. Guerrero knew---as others did not---that Flight Two would never reach its destination; therefore no baggage was necessary. But he ought to have had baggage, as a cover. Now, at the inquiry which would inevitably follow the flight's loss, the fact that one passenger---himself---had boarded without baggage, would be remembered and commented on. It would underscore whatever other suspicions about D. O. Guerrero investigators might, by that time, have.
But if there were no wreckage, he reminded himself, what could they prove?
Nothing! The flight insurance people would have to pay.
Would the bus never get to the airport?
The children from the Italian family were running noisily up and down the aisle of the bus. A few seats back, the mother was still jabbering in Italian to the husband; she held a baby which was crying lustily. Neither the woman nor the man seemed aware of the baby's crying.
Guerrero's nerves were stretched and raw. He wanted to seize the baby and throttle it; to shout to the others, Shut up! Shut up!
Couldn't they sense?... Didn't the fools know that this was no time for stupid chattering?... No time, when Guerrero's whole future---at least, his family's future... the success of the plan so painstakingly worked out... everything, everything, was predicated on getting to the airport with time to spare.
One of the running children---a boy of five or six, with an attractive, intelligent face---stumbled in the aisle and fell sideways into the empty seat beside D. O. Guerrero. In regaining his balance, the boy's hand went out, striking the attache case still on Guerrero's lap. The case slipped sideways and Guerrero grabbed it. He managed to stop it before it fell, then turned to the child, his face contorted to a snarl, his hand raised to strike.
Wide-eyed, the boy regarded him. He said softly, "Scusi."
With an erfort, Guerrero controlled himself. Others in the bus might be watcbing. If he were not careful, be would draw attention to himself again. Groping for some of the words he had picked up from Italians who had worked for him on construction projects, he said awkwardly, "E troppo rumorosa."
The child nodded gravely. "Si." He stood where he was.
"All right," Guerrero said. "That's all. Get lost! Se ne vada!"
"Si," the boy said again. His eyes were uncomfortably direct, and for a moment Guerrero was reminded that this child, and others, would be aboard Flight Two. Well, it made no difference. There was no point in be coming sentimental; nothing would change his intentions now. Besides, when it happened, when he pulled the string of the attache case and the airplane ripped apart, everything would be over quickly, before anyone---especially the children-had time to know.
The boy turned away, and went back in the bus to his mother.
At last!---the bus was moving faster... now it was speeding up! Ahead, through the windshield, D. O. Guerrero could see that the traffic had thinned, other lights in front were moving quickly. They might... just might... arrive at the airport in time for him to buy flight insurance without any need to arouse attention. But it was going to be close. He hoped the insurance booth would not be busy.
He noticed that the children from the Italian family had returned to their seats, and he congratulated himself about not attracting attention a moment ago. If he had struck the child---as he almost had---people would have made a fuss. At least he had avoided that. It was still a pity that he had got himself noticed when checking in, though when he thought about it, he supposed that no irreparable harm had been done.
Or had it?
A new worry nagged him.
Supposing the ticket agent who had been curious about the absence of any baggage remembered the incident again, after the bus had gone. Guerrero knew he had appeared nervous at the time; supposing the agent had noticed, had later become suspicious. The agent would talk to someone else, a supervisor perhaps, who might already have telephoned the airport. Even at this moment, someone---the police?---might be waiting for the bus to arrive; to interrogate D. O. Guerrero; to open and inspect his single, small attache case with the damning evidence inside. For the first time Guerrero wondered what would happen if he were caught. It would mean arrest, imprisonment. Then he thought: before he would allow that to happen... if he were accosted, if exposure seemed imminent... he would pull the loop of string on the outside of the case and blow himself, along with everyone nearby, to pieces. His hand went out. Beneath the attache case handle he touched the loop of string and held it. It was reassuring... Now, for the moment, he would try to think of something else.
He wondered if Inez had yet found his note.
INEZ GUERRERO came tiredly into the miserable 51st Street apartment, and slipped off her shoes, which had been hurting, and her coat and kerchief, which were soaked from melted snow. She was aware of a cold coming, and an all-engulfing weariness. Her work as a waitress had been harder than usual today, the customers meaner, the tips smaller. Besides, she was not yet accustomed to it, which took a greater toll.
Two years ago, when the Guerreros lived comfortably in a congenial home in the suburbs, Inez, though never beautiful, had been a pleasant-appearing, well-preserved woman. Since then, ravages of time and circumstance had come swiftly to her face, so that where once she seemed younger than she was, now she looked considerably older. Tonight, if Inez had been in a house of her own, she would have sought the solace of a hot bath, which always seemed to relax her in times of trouble---of which there had been plenty in the Guerreros' married life. Although there was a bathroom of sorts down the hall, which three apartments shared, it was unheated and drafty, with old paint peeling, and a gas water heater which had to be appeased with quarters. The thought of it defeated her. She decided she would sit still for a while in the shabby living room, then go to bed. She had no idea where her husband was.
It was some time before she noticed the note on the living-room table.
I won't be home for a few days. I'm going away. I expect to have some good news soon which will surprise you.
Few things surprised Inez where her husband was concerned; he had always been unpredictable and, more recently, irrational. Good news would certainly be a surprise, but she couldn't bring herself to believe that there would be any. Inez had watched too many of her husband's ambitious schemes totter and collapse to believe in the likelihood of one more possibility succeeding.
But the first part of the note puzzled her. Where was D.O. going "for a few days"? Equally mystifying: What did he intend to use for money? The night before last the Guerreros pooled the last of the money they had in the world. The total was twenty-six dollars and some cents. Besides the money, they had only one thing left worth pawning; it belonged to Inez---her mother's ring, and so far sne had resisted parting with it. It might have to go soon.
Of the twenty-six dollars-odd, Inez had taken eighteen, to use for food and as a token payment toward the rent. She had seen the desperation in D.O.'s face as he pocketed the remaining eight dollars and small change.
Inez decided to stop puzzling, and to go to bed as she had planned. She was too weary even to worry about how her children were faring, though she had not heard from her sister in Cleveland---with whom the children were staying---for more than a week. She turned out the single light in the living room and went into the cramped, shabby bedroom.
She had trouble finding her nightgown. Some of the contents of the rickety dressing chest seemed to have been moved around. Eventually she found the nightgown in a drawer with three of D.O.'s shirts; they were the last he had, so wherever he had gone, he had not taken a change of clothing. Under one of the shirts a folded sheet of yellow paper caught her eye. She took it out and opened it.
The yellow sheet was a printed form which had been filled in by typewriter; what Inez was holding was a carbon copy. When she saw what it was, she sat down, unbelieving, on the bed. To make sure she had not misunderstood, she read the contents of the form again.
It was a time-payment contract between Trans America Airlines and D. O. "Buerrero"---the name, she noticed, was misspelled. The contract acknowledged that "Buerrero" had received a round-trip ticket to Rome, economy class; that he had made a down payment of forty-seven dollars, and hereby promised to pay the balance of four hundred and twenty-seven dollars, plus interest, in installments over twenty-four months.
It didn't make sense.
Inez stared dazedly at the yellow form. Within her mind, questions chased one another.
Why did D.O. need an air ticket at all? And if a ticket, why to Rome? And what about the money? He couldn't possibly pay the installments, though that part, at least, was understandable. There had been plenty of other obligations D. O. Guerrero incurred that he couldn't meet; debts never disturbed him, as they did Inez. But apart from the debt, where had the forty-seven dollars down payment come from? The form acknowledged receipt; the money had been paid. Yet two nights ago, D.O. declared that he had no more money than they pooled, and whatever else he might do, Inez knew he never lied to her.
Yet that forty-seven dollars came from somewhere. Where?
Suddenly, she remembered the ring; it was gold with a single diamond in a platinum setting. Until a week or two ago, Inez wore it regularly, but recently her hands had swollen and she took the ring off, leaving it in a small box in one of the bedroom drawers. For the second time tonight she searched the drawers. The box was there--empty. Obviously, to get the forty-seven dollars, D.O. had pawned the ring.
Her first reaction was regret. To Inez, the ring had meant something; it was a last tenuous link between herself and the past, her scattered family, her dead mother whose memory she revered. More realistically: the ring, though not exceptionally valuable, had been a last resort. While it was there, there was the knowledge that however bad things became, the ring would always provide a few days more of living. Now it was gone, and along with it, the minor reassurance.
Yet knowing where the down payment came from for the airline ticket, still provided no answer to the question---why? Why an air journey? Why to Rome?
Still seated on the bed, Inez applied herself to thinking carefully. For the moment, she ignored her tiredness.
Inez was not a highly intelligent woman. If she had been, probably she would not have endured marriage to D. O. Guerrero for almost twenty years; and even now, if better equipped mentally, she would have been more than a coffee-house waitress at a paltry wage. But occasionally, through slow, careful reasoning aided by instinct, Inez could reach right conclusions. Especially where her husband was concerned.
Now, instinct more than reason warned her that D. O. Guerrero was in trouble---more serious trouble than they had yet encountered. Two things convinced her: his irrationality of late, and the length of his intended journey; in the Guerrero's present circumstances, only some monumental, desperate undertaking could require a trip to Rome. She went to the living room and returned with the note, which she read again. Over the years there had been many notes; Inez sensed that this one did not mean what it said.
Beyond that, her reasoning failed to go. But she had the feeling, a conviction growing as each minute passed, that there must be something, ought to be something, she should do.
It did not occur to Inez to abdicate entirely; to abandon D.O. to the outcome of whatever new folly he might have begun. She was essentially a simple soul with an uncomplicated nature. Eighteen years ago she accepted D. O. Guerrero "for better or worse." That it had turned out to be mostly "worse" did not, as Inez saw it, change her responsibility as a wife.
Her cautious, measured reasoning continued. She supposed the first thing to do was find out if D.O. had already left by air; if not, perhaps there was time to stop him. Inez had no idea how much of a start D.O. had, or how many hours ago his note to her was written. She looked again at the yellow time-payment form; it said nothing about when the flight would be, or its departure time, though she could telephone the airline---Trans America. As quickly as she could, Inez began putting on the clothes which, a few minutes earlier, she had taken off.
Her outdoor shoes hurt her feet again, and her coat was still sodden and uncomfortable as she went down the narrow stairs from the apartment to the street. In the mean lower hallway, snow had blown under the outer door and covered the bare boards of the floor. Outside, Inez saw, the snow was even deeper than when she came in. The cold, bleak wind assaulted her as she left the building's shelter, whipping more snow into her face.
There was no telephone in the Guerreros' apartment, and although Inez could have used a pay phone in the lunch counter on the lower floor, she wanted to avoid a meeting with the proprietor, who was also the building landlord. He had threatened eviction tomorrow if the Guerreros' arrears of rent were not paid in full. That was something else which Inez had pushed from her mind tonight, and which---if D.O. failed to return by morning---she would have to face alone.
A drugstore, with a pay phone, was a block and a half away. Picking her way through deep snow on uncleared sidewalks, Inez headed there.
The time was a quarter to ten.
The drugstore telephone was in use by two teen-age girls, and Inez waited almost ten minutes for it to be free. Then, when she dialed the Trans America number, a recording informed her that all lines to Reservations were busy, and would she please wait. She waited while the recording repeated itself several times before a brisk woman's voice declared that she was Miss Young, and could she help?
"Please," Inez said, "I want to ask about flights to Rome."
As if a button had been pressed, Miss Young replied that Trans America had direct non-stop flights from Lincoln International to Rome on Tuesdays and Fridays; through New York there were connections daily, and did the caller wish to make a reservation now?
"No," Inez said. "No, I'm not going. It's about my husband. Did you say there was one on Fridays... a flight... tonight?"
"Yes, madam---our Flight Two, The Golden Argosy. It departs at ten o'clock local time, except that tonight the flight has been delayed one hour, due to weather conditions."
Inez could see the drugstore clock. By now, it was nearly five past ten.
She said quickly, "You mean the flight hasn't gone yet?"
"No, madam, not yet."
"Please..." As she often did, Inez found herself groping for words. "Please, it's important for me to find out if my husband is on that flight. His name is D. O. Guerrero, and..."
"I'm sorry; we're not permitted to give out that information." Miss Young was polite but firm.
"I don't think you understand, miss. It's my husband I'm asking about. This is his wife."
"I do unjerstand, Mrs. Guerrero, and I'm sorry; but it's a company rule."
Miss Young, and others like her, were well drilled in the rule and understood its reason. Many businessmen took secrctaries or mistresses along on air trips, listing them as wives, to take advantage of family plan fare reductions. In the past, a few suspicious, genuine wives had checked up, causing trouble for the airlines' customers---the men. Later, it was the men who complained bitterly about breaches of confidence, with the result that airlines nowadays made a policy of not disclosing passenger names.
Inez began, "Isn't there any way..."
"There really isn't."
"Do I understand," Miss Young inquired, "that you think your husband might be leaving on Flight Two, but you're not sure?"
"Yes, that's right."
"Then the only thing you might do, Mrs. Guerrero, is to go out to the airport. Probably the flight hasn't boarded yet; so if your husband is there, you could see him. Even if the flight has boarded, they might help you at the departure gate. But you'd have to hurry."
"All right," Inez said. "If that's the only thing, I suppose I'd better try." She had no idea how she would get to the airport---more than twenty miles away---in less than aa hour, in the storm.
"Just a moment." Miss Young sounded hesitant, her voice more human, as if some of Inez's distress had penetrated through the phones. "I really shouldn't do this, Mrs. Guerrero, but I'll give you a little tip."
"At the airport, when you get to the departure gate, don't say you think your husband is aboard. Say you know he's aboard and you'd like to speak to him. If he isn't, you'll find out. If he is, it will make it easier for the gate agent to tell you what you want to know."
"Thank you," Inez said. "Thank you very much."
"You're entirely welcome, madam." Miss Young was her machine-like self once more. "Good night, and thank you for calling Trans America."
Replacing the telephone, Inez remembered something she had noticed coming in. A taxi was parked outside; now she saw the driver. In a yellow, peaked cap, he was at the drugstore soda fountain, in conversation with another man.
A taxi would be costly, but if she was to get to the airport by 11 P.M., it was probably the only means.
Inez crossed to the soda fountain and touched the driver on the arm. "Excuse me."
The cab driver turned. "Yeah, waddya want?" He had a mean, flabby face, and needed a shave.
"I was wondering how much it would cost for a taxi to the airport."
The driver inspected her through narrowed, calculating eyes. "From here, maybe nine, ten dollars on the meter."
Inez turned away. It was too much---more than half the small amount of money she had remaining; and she was not even sure that D.O. would be on the flight.
"Hey, you! Hold it!" The cabbie downed a Coke he had been drinking and hurried after Inez. He caught her at the door. "How much dough ya got?"
"It isn't that." Inez shook her head. "It's just... it's more than I can afford."
The cabbie snorted, "Suma you people think ya can get them kinda rides for peanuts. 'S long drag out there."
"Yes, I know."
"Why yo u wanna go? Whyn't yer get th' bus?"
"It's important; I have to be there... ought to be there... by eleven o'clock."
"Here," the cab driver said, "maybe it's bargain night. I'll take yer for seven, even."
"Well..." Inez still hesitated. Seven dollars was most of what she had planned to offer the apartment landlord tomorrow in an attempt to appease him about the arrears of rent. She would have no wages from the coffee house until the end of next week.
The cab driver said impatiently, " 'S th' best offer you'll get. You wanna take it, or not?"
"Yes," Inez said. "Yes, I'll take it."
While Inez climbed into the cab unaided, the driver smirked as he used a whisk broom to clear snow from the windshield and windows. When Inez approached him in the drugstore, he was already off duty and, since he lived near the airport, was about to dead-head home. Now, he had a fare. Also, he lied in declaring the meter fare to the airport to be nine or ten dollars; it was actually less than seven. But the lie made it possible to concoct what his passenger believed to be a deal, so now he could drive with his flag up, and pocket the seven dollars for himself. High-flagging was illegal, but no cop, the driver reasoned, would be likely to spot him on a lousy night like this.
Thus, the cab driver thought smugly, in a single move he had managed to cheat both this stupid old crone of a passenger and his son-of-a-bitch employer.
As they moved off, Inez asked anxiously, "Are you sure you can get there by eleven o'clock?"
Over his shoulder the driver snarled, "I said so, didn't I, so lemme do the drivin'."
Just the same, he conceded to himself, he was not certain that they would. The roads were bad, the other traffic slow. They might just make it, but it was going to be close.
THIRTY-FIVE MINUTES later, the taxi containing Inez was crawling tediously along the snowbound, still-plugged Kennedy Expressway. Sitting tensely on the back seat, her fingers working nervously, Inez was wondering how much longer the journey would last.
At the same moment, the airport bus containing the contingent of Flight Two passengers swung on to the departure ramp entrance at Lincoln International. The bus, after shaking itself free from the slow-moving traffic nearer town, had continued to make good time; now, the clock above the terminal showed a quarter to eleven.
As the bus stopped, D. O. Guerrero was first to alight.