IN A TAXI en route to the airport from downtown, Cindy Bakersfeld leaned back against the rear seat and closed her eyes. She was neither aware, nor cared, that outside it was still snowing, nor that the taxi was moving slowly in heavy traffic. She was in no hurry. A wave of physical pleasure and contentment (Was the right word euphoria? Cindy wondered) swept over her.
The cause was Derek Eden.
Derek Eden, who had been at the Archidona Relief Fund cocktail party (Cindy still didn't know which Archidona); who had brought her a triple-strength Bourbon, which she hadn't drunk, then had propositioned her in the most unimaginative way. Derek Eden, until today only a slightly known Sun-Times reporter with a second-grade by-line; Derek Eden with the dissolute face, the casual air, the nondescript unpressed clothes; Derek Eden and his beat-up filthy-inside-and-out Chevrolet; Derek Eden, who had caught Cindy in a barriers-down moment, when she needed a man, any man, and she hadn't hoped for much; Derek Eden who had proved to be the finest and most exciting lover she had ever known.
Never, never before had Cindy experienced anyone like him. Oh, God!, she thought; if ever there was sensual, physical perfection, she attained it tonight. More to the point; now that she had known Derek Eden... dear Derek... she wanted him again---often. Fortunately, it was unmistakable that he now felt the same way about her.
Still leaning back in the rear of the taxi, she relived mentally the past two hours.
They had driven, in the awful old Chevrolet, from the Lake Michigan Inn to a smallish hotel near the Merchandise Mart. A doorman accepted the car disdainfully---Derek Eden didn't seem to notice---and inside, in the lobby, the night manager was waiting. Cindy gathered that one of the phone calls which her escort had made was to here. There was no formality of checking in, and the night manager showed them directly to a room on the eleventh floor. After leaving the key, and with a quick "goodnight," he left.
The room was so-so; old fashioned, spartan, and with cigarette burns on the furniture, but clean. It had a double bed. Beside the bed, on a table, was an unopened bottle of Scotch, some mixes and ice. A card on the liquor tray read, "With the manager's compliments"; Derek Eden inspected the card, then put it in his pocket.
When Cindy inquired, later on, Derek explained, "Sometimes a hotel will oblige the press. When they do, we don't make any promises; the paper wouldn't go for it. But maybe sometimes a reporter or a deskman will put the hotel's name in a story if it's an advantage; or if the story's a bad one---like a death; hotels hate that---we might leave it out. As I say, no promises. You do the best you can."
They had a drink, and chatted, then another, and during the second drink he began to kiss her. It was soon after that she became aware of the gentleness of his hands, which he passed through her hair quite a lot to begin with, in a way which she could feel through her entire body; then the hands began exploring slowly, oh, so slowly... and it was also then that Cindy began to realize this might be something special.
While he was undressing her, demonstrating a finesse which he had lacked earlier, he whispered, "Don't let's hurry, Cindy---either of us." But soon after, when they were in bed, and wonderfully warm, as Derek Eden promised in the car they would be, shehad wanted to hurry, and cried out, "Yes, yes!... Oh, please! I can't wait!" But he insisted gently, "Yes, you can. You must." And she obeyed him, being utterly, deliciously in his control, while he led her, as if by the hand like a child, close to the brink, then back a pace or two while they waited with a feeling like floating in air; then near once more, and back, and the same again and again, the bliss of it all near-unendurable; and finally when neither of them could wait longer, there was a shared crescendo like a hymn of heaven and a thousand sweet symphonies; and if Cindy had been able to choose a moment for dying, because nothing afterward could ever be that moment's equal, she would have chosen then.
Later, Cindy decided that one of the things she liked about Derek Eden was his total lack of humbug. Ten minutes after their supreme moment, at a point where Cindy's normal breathing was returning and her heart regaining its regular beat, Derek Eden propped himself on an elbow and lighted cigarettes for them both.
"We were great, Cindy." He smiled. "Let's play a return match soon, and lots of others after that." It was, Cindy realized, an admission of two things: that what they had experienced was solely physical, a sensual adventure, and neither should pretend that it was more; yet together they had attained that rare Nirvana, an absolute sexual compatibility. Now, what they had available, whenever needed, was a private physical paradise, to be nurtured and increasingly explored.
The arrangement suited Cindy.
She doubted if she and Derek Eden would have much in common outside a bedroom, and he was certainly no prize to be exhibited around the social circuit. Without even thinking about it, Cindy knew she would have more to lose than gain by being seen publicly in Derek's company. Besides, he had already intimated that his own marriage was solid, though Cindy guessed he wasn't getting as much sex at home as he needed, a condition with which she sympathized, being in the same situation herself.
Yes, Derek Eden was someone to be treasured---but not to become involved with emotionally. She would treasure him. Cindy resolved not to be demanding, nor let their love-making become too frequent. A single session like tonight's would last Cindy a long time, and could be relived just by thinking about it. Play a little hard-to-get, she told herself; see to it that Derek Eden went on wanting her as much as she wanted him. That way, the whole thing could last for years.
Cindy's discovery of Derek had also, in a strange way, provided her with a freedom she had not possessed before.
Now that she had better-than-average sex available as it were, on a separate shelf, she could view the choice between Mel and Lionel Urquhart more objectively.
Her marriage to Mel had, in some ways, already terminated. Mentally and sexually they were estranged; their slightest disagreement resulted in bitter quarreling. All that Mel appeared to think about nowadays was his damned airport. Each day, it seemed, thrust Mel and Cindy farther apart.
Lionel, who was satisfactory in all respects except in bed, wanted divorces all around so that he could marry Cindy.
Mel detested Cindy's social ambitions. Not only would he do nothing to advance them; he impeded them. Lionel, on the other hand, was well established in Illinois society, saw nothing unusual in Cindy's social aims and would, and could, help her fulfill them.
Until now, Cindy's choice had been complicated by the remembrance of her fifteen years of marriage to Mel and the good times together, mental and physical, they had once enjoyed. She had hoped vaguely that the past---including the satisfactions of sex---might somehow be rekindled. It was, she admitted to herself, a delusive hope.
Lionel, as a sexual partner, had little or nothing to offer. Neither---at least for Cindy, any more---had Mel.
But if sex were eliminated---an elimination which Derek Eden, like a secretly stabled stallion, had now made possible---Lionel, as a competitor to Mel, came out far ahead.
In the taxi, Cindy opened her eyes and mused.
She wouldn't make any firm decision until she had talked with Mel. Cindy didn't like decisions, anyway, and invariably put them off until they could be delayed no longer. Also, there were still imponderables involved: the children; memories of the years with Mel, which hadn't all been bad; and when you once cared deeply for someone, you never shook it off entirely. But she was glad she had decided, after all, to come out here tonight.
For the first time since leaving downtown Cindy leaned forward, peering out into the darkness to see if she could determine where they were. She couldn't. Through misted windows she could see snow and many other cars, all moving slowly. She guessed they were on the Kennedy Expressway, but that was all.
She was aware of the cab driver's eyes watching her in his rear-view mirror. Cindy had no idea what kind of man the driver was; she hadn't taken notice when she got into the cab back at the hotel, which she and Derek left separately since they decided they might as well start being discreet immediately. Anyway, tonight all faces and bodies merged into the face and body of Derek Eden.
"That's Portage Park over there, madam," the driver said. "We're getting close to the airport. Won't be long."
"Lotsa traffic going out there besides us. Guess those airport people must have had their problems, what with the big storm and all."
Who the hell cares?, Cindy thought. And didn't anyone ever think or talk of anything besides that cruddy airport? But she kept quiet.
At the main terminal entrance Cindy paid off the cab and hurried inside to avoid wet snow which gusted under canopies and swirled along sidewalks. She threaded the crowds in the main concourse, moving around one sizable group which seemed to intend some kind of demonstration because several people were helping assemble a portable public address system. A Negro police lieutenant, whom Cindy had met several times with Mel, was talking to two or three men from the group who appeared to be leaders. The policeman was shaking his head vigorously. Not really curious---nothing about this place really interested her---Cindy moved on, heading for the airport administrative offices on the mezzanine.
Lights were on in all the offices, though most were unoccupied and there was none of the clatter of typewriters or hum of conversation, as during daytime working hours. At least some people, Cindy thought, had sense enough to go home at night.
The only person in sight was a middle-aged woman, in drab clothes, in the anteroom to Mel's office. She was seated on a settee from where she seemed to be looking vacantly into space, and took no notice as Cindy came in. The woman's eyes were red as if she had been crying. Judging by her clothes and shoes, which were sodden, she had been outside in the storm.
Cindy gave the other woman only a mildly curious glance before going into Mel's office. The office was empty, and Cindy sat down in a chair to wait. After a few moments she closed her eyes and resumed her pleasant thoughts about Derek Eden.
Mel hurried in---he was limping more than usual, Cindy noticed---about ten minutes later.
"Oh!" He appeared surprised when he saw Cindy, and went back to close the door. "I really didn't think you'd come."
"I suppose you'd have preferred me not to."
Mel shook his head. "I still don't think there's anything to be gained by it---at least, not for what you seem to have in mind." He looked at his wife appraisingly, wondering what her real purpose was in coming here tonight. He had learned long ago that Cindy's motives were usually complicated, and frequently quite different from what they appeared to be. He had to admit, though, that she looked her best tonight; positively glamorous, with a kind of radiance about her. Unfortunately, the glamour no longer affected him personally.
"Suppose you tell. me," Cindy said, "what you think I have in mind."
He shrugged. "I got the impression that what you wanted was a fight. It occurred to me that we had enough of them at home without arranging another here."
"Perhaps we'll have to arrange something here; since you're hardly ever home any more."
"I might be home, if the atmosphere were more congenial."
They had been talking for just a few seconds, Cindy realized, and already were sniping at each other. It seemed impossible nowadays for the two of them to hold a conversation without that happening.
Just the same, she could not resist answering, "Oh, really! That isn't usually the reason you give for not being at home. You're always claiming how all-fired important it is for you to be here at the airport---if necessary, twenty-four hours a day. So many important things---or so you say---are always happening."
Mel said curtly, "Tonight they are."
"But not other times?"
"If you're asking if I've sometimes stayed here in preference to coming home, the answer's yes."
"At least this is the first time you've been honest about it."
"Even when I do come home, you insist on dragging me to some stupid stuffed-shirt affair like tonight's."
His wife said angrily, "So you never did intend to come tonight!"
"Yes, I did. I told you so. But..."
"But nothing!" Cindy could feel the short fuse of her temper burning. "You counted on something turning up to prevent you, the way it always does. So that you could weasel out and have an alibi; so you could convince yourself, even if you don't convince me, because I think you're a liar and a fake."
"Take it easy, Cindy."
"I won't take it easy."
They glared at each other.
What happened to them, Mel wondered, that they had come to this?---squabbling like ill-bred children; dealing in pettiness; exchanging vicious gibes; and in all of it, he himself no better than Cindy. Something happened when they quarreled which demeaned them both. He wondered if it was always this way when things were sour with two people who had lived together for a long time. Was it because they knew, and therefore could probe painfully, each other's weaknesses? He had once heard someone say that a disintegrating marriage brought out the worst in both partners. In his own and Cindy's case it was certainly true.
He tried to speak more reasonably. "I don't think I'm a liar, or a fake. But maybe you have a point about my counting on something turning up, enough to keep me away from the social things, which you know I hate. I just hadn't thought of it that way."
When Cindy remained silent, he went on, "You can believe it or not, but I did intend to meet you tonight downtown---at least I think so. Maybe I didn't really, the way you said; I don't know. But I do know that I didn't arrange the storm, and, since it started, a lot of things have happened that---for real this time---have kept me here." He nodded toward the outer office. "One of them is that woman sitting out there. I told Lieutenant Ordway I'd talk to her. She seems to be in some sort of trouble."
"Your wife's in trouble," Cindy said. "The woman out there can wait."
He nodded. "All right."
"We've had it," Cindy said. "You and me. Haven't we?"
He waited before answering, not wanting to be hasty, yet realizing that now this had come up, it would be foolish to avoid the truth. "Yes," he said finally. "I'm afraid we have."
Cindy shot back, "If only you'd change! If you'd see things my way. It's always been what you want to do, or don't. If you'd only do what I want..."
"Like being out six nights a week in black tie, and white tie on the seventh?"
"Well, why not?" Emotionally, imperiously, Cindy faced him. He bad always admired her in that kind of spunky mood, even when it was directed at himself. Even now...
"I guess I could say the same kind of thing," he told her. "About changing; all that. The trouble is, people don't change---not in what they are basically; they adapt. It's that---two people adapting to each other---that marriage is supposed to be about."
"The adapting doesn't have to be one-sided."
"It hasn't been with us," Mel argued, "no matter what you think. I've tried to adapt; I guess you have, too. I don't know who's made the most effort; obviously I think it's me, and you think it's you. The main thing is: though we've given it plenty of time to work, it hasn't."
Cindy said slowly, "I suppose you're right. About the last bit, anyway. I've been thinking the same way too." She stopped, then added, "I think I want a divorce."
"You'd better be quite sure. It's fairly important." Even now, Mel thought, Cindy was hedging about a decision, waiting for him to help her with it. If what they had been saying were less serious, he would have smiled.
"I'm sure," Cindy said. She repeated, with more conviction. "Yes, I'm sure."
Mel said quietly, "Then I think it's the right decision for us both."
For a second Cindy hesitated. "You're sure, too?"
"Yes," he said. "I'm sure."
The lack of argument, the quickness of the exchange, seemed to bother Cindy. She asked, "Then we've made a decision?"
They still faced each other, but their anger was gone.
"Oh hell!" Mel moved, as if to take a pace forward. "I'm sorry, Cindy."
"I'm sorry, too." Cindy stayed where she was. Her voice was more assured. "But it's the most sensible thing, isn't it?"
He nodded. "Yes. I guess it is."
It was over now. Both knew it. Only details remained to be attended to.
Cindy was already making plans. "I shall have custody of Roberta and Libby, of course, though you'll always be able to see them. I'll never be difficult about that."
"I didn't expect you would be."
Yes, Mel mused, it was logical that the girls would go with their mother. He would miss them both, Libby especially. No outside meetings, however frequent, could ever be a substitute for living in the same house day by day. He remembered his talks with his younger daughter on the telephone tonight; what was it Libby had wanted the first time? A map of February. Well, he had one now; it showed some unexpected detours.
"And I'll have to get a lawyer," Cindy said. "I'll let you know who it is."
He nodded, wondering if all marriages went on to terminate so matter-of-factly once the decision to end them had been made. He supposed it was the civilized way of doing things. At any rate, Cindy seemed to have regained her composure with remarkable speed. Seated in the chair she had been occupying earlier, she was inspecting her face in a compact, repairing her make-up. He even had the impression that her thoughts had moved away from here; at the corners of her mouth there was the hint of a smile. In situations like this, Mel thought, women were supposed to be more emotional than men, but Cindy didn't show any signs of it, yet he himself was close to tears.
He was aware of sounds---voices and people moving---in the office outside. There was a knock. Mel called, "Come in."
It was Lieutenant Ordway. He entered, closing the door behind him. When he saw Cindy, he said, "Oh, excuse me, Mrs. Bakersfeld."
Cindy glanced up, then away, without answering. Ordway, sensitive to atmosphere, stood hesitantly. "Perhaps I should come back."
Mel asked, "What is it, Ned?"
"It's the anti-noise demonstration; those Meadowood people. There are a couple of hundred in the main concourse; more coming in. They all wanted to see you, but I've talked them into sending a delegation, the way you suggested. They selected half a dozen, and there are three newspaper reporters; I said the reporters could come too." The policeman nodded toward the anteroom. "They're all waiting outside."
He would have to see the delegation, Mel knew. He had never felt less like talking to anyone.
"Cindy," he pleaded, "this won't take long. Will you wait?" When she didn't answer, he added, "Please!"
She continued to ignore them both.
"Look," Ordway said, "if this is a bad time, I'll tell these people they'll have to come back some other day."
Mel shook his head. The commitment had been made; it was his own suggestion. "You'd better bring them in." As the policeman turned away, Mel added, "Oh, I haven't talked to that woman... I've forgotten her name."
"Guerrero," Ordway said. "And you don't have to. She looked as if she was leaving when I came in."
A few moments later the half dozen people from Meadowood---four men and two women---began filing in. The press trio followed. One of the reporters was from the Tribune---an alert, youngish man named Tomlinson who usually covered the airport and general aviation beat for his paper; Mel knew him well and respected his accuracy and fairness. Tomlinson's by-line also appeared occasionally in national magazines, The other two reporters were also known slightly to Mel---one a young man from the Sun-Times, the other an older woman from a local weekly.
Through the open doorway, Mel could see Lieutenant Ordway talking to the woman outside, Mrs. Guerrero, who was standing, fastening her coat.
Cindy remained where she was.
"Good evening." Mel introduced himself, then motioned to settees and chairs around his office. "Please sit down."
"Okay, we will," one of the men in the delegation said. He was expensively well-dressed, with precisely combed, gray-streaked hair, and seemed to be the group's leader. "But I'll tell you we're not here to get cozy. We've some plain, blunt things to say and we expect the same kind of answers, not a lot of double-talk."
"I'll try not to give you that. Will you tell me who you are?"
"My name is Elliott Freemantle. I'm a lawyer. I represent these people, and all the others down below."
"All right, Mr. Freemantle," Mel said. "Why don't you begin?"
The door to the anteroom was still open. The woman who had been outside, Mel noticed, had gone. Now, Ned Ordway came in, closing the office door.