IN THE MAIN terminal of Lincoln International, Lawyer Freemantle was puzzled.
It was most peculiar, he thought, that no one in authority had yet objected to the big, increasingly noisy demonstration of Meadowood residents who, at this moment, were monopolizing a large segment of the central concourse.
Earlier this evening, when Elliott Freemantle had asked the Negro police lieutenant for permission to hold a public censure meeting, he had been firmly refused. Yet here they were, with a curious crowd of spectators---and not a policeman in sight!
Freemantle thought again: it didn't make sense.
Yet what had happened was incredibly simple.
After the interview with the airport general manager, Bakersfeld, the delegation, led by Elliott Freemantle, had returned from the administrative mezzanine to the main concourse. There, the TV crews, whom Freemantle had talked with on the way in, had set up their equipment.
The remaining Meadowood residents---already at least five hundred strong, with more coming in---were gathering around the TV activity.
One of the television men told him, "We're ready if you are, Mr. Freemantle."
Two TV stations were represented, both planning separate film interviews for use tomorrow. With customary shrewdness, Freemantle had already inquired which TV shows the film was destined for, so that he could conduct himself accordingly. The first interview, he learned, was for a prime-time, popular show which liked controversy, liveliness, and even shock treatment. He was ready to supply all three.
The TV interviewer, a handsome young man with a Ronald Reagan haircut, asked, "Mr. Freemantle, why are you here?"
"Because this airport is a den of thieves."
"Will you explain that?"
"Certainly. The homeowners of Meadowood community are having thievery practiced on them. Thievery of their peace, their right to privacy, of their work-earned rest, and of their sleep. Thievery of enjoyment of their leisure; thievery of their mental and physical health, and of their children's health and welfare. All these things---basic rights under our Constitution---are being shamelessly stolen, without recompense or recognition, by the operators of Lincoln Airport."
The interviewer opened his mouth to smile, showing two rows of faultless teeth. "Counselor, those are fighting words."
"That's because my clients and I are in a fighting mood."
"Is that mood because of anything which has happened here tonight?"
"Yes, sir, We have seen demonstrated the callous indifference of this airport's management to my clients' problems."
"Just what are your plans?"
"In the courts---if necessary the highest court---we shall now seek closure of specific runways, even the entire airport during nighttime hours. In Europe, where they're more civilized about these things, Paris airport, for example, has a curfew. Failing that, we shall demand proper compensation for cruelly wronged homeowners."
"I assume that what you're doing at this moment means you're also seeking public support."
"Do you believe the public will support you?"
"If they don't, I invite them to spend twenty-four hours living in Meadowood---providing their eardrums and sanity will stand it."
"Surely, Counselor, airports have official programs of noise abatement."
"A sham, sir! A fake! A public lie! The general manager of this airport confessed to me tonight that even the paltry, so-called noise abatement measures are not being observed."
And so on.
Afterward, Elliott Freemantle wondered if he should have qualified the statement about noise abatement procedures---as Bakersfeld had done---by referring to exceptional conditions of tonight's storm. But semi-truth or not, the way he had said it was stronger, and Freemantle doubted if it would be challenged. Anyway, he had given good performances---in the second interview as well as the first. Also during both filmings, the cameras panned several times over the intent, expressive faces of the assembled Meadowood residents. Elliott Freemantle hoped that when they saw themselves on their home screens tomorrow, they would remember who had been responsible for all the attention they were receiving.
The number of Meadowooders who had followed him to the airport---as if he were their personal Pied Piper---astonished him. Attendance at the meeting in the Sunday school hall at Meadowood had been roughly six hundred. In view of the bad night and lateness of the hour, he had thought they would be doing well if half that number made the farther trek to the airport; but not only did most of the original crowd come; some must have telephoned friends and neighbors who had joined them. He had even had requests for more copies of the printed forms retaining himself as legal counsel, which he was happy to pass out. Some revised mental arithmetic convinced him that his first hope of a fee from Meadowood totaling twenty-five thousand doUars might well be exceeded.
After the TV interviews, the Tribune reporter, Tomlinson---who had been taking notes during the filming---inquired, "What comes next, Mr. Freemantle? Do you intend to stage some kind of demonstration here?"
Freemantle shook his head. "Unfortunately the management of this airport does not believe in free speech, and we have been denied the elementary privilege of a public meeting. However"---he indicated the assembled Meadowooders---"I do intend to report to these ladies and gentlemen."
"Isn't that the same thing as a public meeting?"
"No, it is not."
Just the same, Elliott Freemantle conceded to himself, it would be a fine distinction, especially since he had every intention of turning what followed into a public demonstration if he could. His objective was to get started with an aggressive speech, which the airport police would dutifully order him to stop. Freemantle had no intention of resisting, or of getting arrested. Merely being halted by the police---if possible in full oratorical flow---would establish him as a Meadowood martyr and, incidentally, create one more color story for tomorrow's papers. (The morning papers, he imagined, had already closed with the earlier reports about himself and Meadowood; editors of the afternoon editions would be grateful for a new lead.)
Even more important, Meadowood homeowners would be further convinced that they had hired a strong counsel and leader, well worth his fee---the first installment checks for which, Lawyer Freemantle hoped, would start flooding in right after tomorrow.
"We're all set to go," Floyd Zanetta, chairman of the earlier Meadowood meeting, reported.
While Freemantle and the Tribune newsman had been speaking, several of the Meadowood men had hastily assembled the portable p.a. system, brought from the Sunday school hall. One of the men now handed Freemantle a hand microphone. Using it, he began to address the crowd.
"My friends, we came here tonight in a mood of reason and with constructive thoughts. We sought to communicate that mood and thoughts to this airport's management, believing we had a real and urgent problem, worthy of careful consideration. On your behalf I attempted---in reasoned but firm terms---to make that problem known. I hoped to report back to you---at best, some promise of relief; at least, some sympathy and understanding. I regret to tell you that your delegation received none. Instead, we were accorded only hostility, abuse, and an uncaring, cynical assurance that in future the airport's noise above and around your homes is going to get worse."
There was a cry of outrage. Freemantle raised a hand. "Ask the others who were with me. They will tell you." He pointed to the front of the crowd. "Did this airport's general manager, or did he not, inform us that there was worse to come?" At first a shade reluctantly, then more definitely, those who had been in the delegation nodded.
Having skillfully misrepresented the honest frankness which Mel Bakersfeld had shown the delegation, Elliott Freemantle continued, "I see others, as well as my Meadowood friends and clients, who have stopped, with curiosity, to discover what is going on. We welcome their interest. Let me inform you..." He continued in his customary, haranguing style.
The crowd, sizable before, was now larger still, and continuing to grow. Travelers on their way to departure gates were having trouble getting through. Flight announcements were being drowned out by the noise. Among the Meadowooders, several had raised hastily scrawled signs which read: AIRLANES OR PEOPLE FIRST?... OUTLAW JETS FROM MEADOWOOD!... NIX NOXIOUS NOISE... MEADOWOOD PAYS TAXES TOO... IMPEACH LINCOLN!
Whenever Freemantle paused, the shouts and general uproar grew louder. A gray-haired man in a windbreaker yelled, "Let's give the airport a taste of their own noise." His words produced a roar of approval.
Without question, Elliott Freemantle's "report" had by now developed into a full-scale demonstration. At any moment, he expected, the police would intervene.
What Lawyer Freemantle did not know was that while the TV sessions were taking place and Meadowood residents assembling, the airport management's concern about Trans America Flight Two was beginning. Shortly after, every policeman in the terminal was concentrating on a search for Inez Guerrero, and thus the Meadowood demonstration escaped attention.
Even after Inez was found, Police Lieutenant Ordway remained occupied with the emergency session in Mel Bakersfeld's office.
As a result, after another fifteen minutes, Elliott Freemantle was becoming worried. Impressive as the demonstration was, unless halted officially, it would have little point. Where in God's name, he thought, were the airport police, and why weren't they doing their job?
It was then that Lieutenant Ordway and Mel Bakersfeld came down together from the administrative mezzanine.
Several minutes earlier the meeting in Mel's office had broken up. After the interrogation of Inez Guerrero and dispatch of the second warning message to Flight Two, there was nothing to be gained by retaining everyone together. Tanya Livingston, with the Trans America D.T.M. and chief pilot, returned anxiously to the airline's Offices in the terminal, to await any fresh news there. The others---with the exception of Inez Guerrero, who was being held for questioning by downtown police detectives---returned to their own bailiwicks. Tanya had promised to notify Customs Inspector Standish, who was distressed and anxious about his niece aboard Flight Two, immediately there was any new development.
Mel, not certain where he would keep his own vigil, left his office with Ned Ordway.
Ordway saw the Meadowood demonstration first and caught sight of Elliott Freemantle. "That damn lawyer! I told him there'd be no demonstrations here." He hurried toward the concourse crowd. "I'll break this up fast."
Alongside, Mel cautioned, "He may be counting on you doing that---just so he can be a hero."
As they came nearer, Ordway shouldering his way ahead through the crowd, Elliott Freemantle proclaimed, "Despite assurances from the airport management earlier this evening, heavy air traffic---deafening and shattering as always---is still continuing at this late hour. Even now..."
"Never mind that," Ned Ordway cut in brusquely. "I already told you there would be no demonstrations in this terminal."
"But, Lieutenant, I assure you this is not a demonstration." Freemantle still held the microphone, so that his words carried clearly. "All that's happened is that I granted a television interview after a meeting with the airport management---I might say a highly unsatisfactory meeting---then reported to these people..."
"Report some place else!" Ordway swung around, facing others nearest him. "Now, let's break this up!"
There were hostile glances and angry mutterings among the crowd. As the policeman turned back to Elliott Freemantle, photographers' flash bulbs popped. TV floodlights, which had been turned off, went bright once more as television cameras focused on the two. At last, Elliott Freemantle thought, everything was going just the way he wanted.
On the fringe of the crowd, Mel Bakersfeld was talking with one of the TV men and Tomlinson of the Tribune. The reporter was consulting his notes and reading a passage back. As he listened, Mel's face suffused with anger.
"Lieutenant," Elliott Freemantle was saying to Ned Ordway, "I have the greatest respect for you and for your uniform. Just the same, I'd like to point out that we did hold a meeting some place else tonight---at Meadowood---but because of noise from this airport, we couldn't hear ourselves."
Ordway snapped back, "I'm not here for a debate, Mr. Freemantle. If you don't do as I say, you'll be arrested. I'm ordering you to get this group out of here."
Someone in the crowd shouted, "Suppose we won't go?"
Another voice urged, "Let's stay here! They can't arrest all of us."
"No!" Elliott Freemantle held up a hand self-righteously. "Please listen to me! There will be no disorder; no disobedience. My friends and clients---this police officer has ordered us to desist and leave. We will comply with his order. We may consider it a grave restriction of free speech"... there were responsive cheers and booing... "but let it not be said that at any point we failed to respect the law." More crisply, he added, "I shall have a statement for the press outside."
"One moment!" Mel Bakersfeld's voice cut sharply across the heads of others. He thrust his way forward. "Freemantle, I'm interested to know what will be in that press statement of yours. Will it be more misrepresentation. Another dose of distorted law reports to delude people who don't know any better? Or just plain, old-fashioned fabrication which you're so expert at?"
Mel spoke loudly, his words carrying to those nearby. There was a buzz of interested reaction. People who had begun drifting away, stopped.
Elliott Freemantle reacted automatically. "That's a malicious, libelous statement!" An instant later, scenting danger, he shrugged. "However, I shall let it pass."
"Why? If it is libelous, you should know how to handle it." Mel faced the lawyer squarely. "Or perhaps you're afraid of it proving true."
"I'm afraid of nothing, Mr. Bakersfeld. The fact is, we've been told by this policeman that the party's over. Now, if you'll excuse me..."
"I said it was over for you," Ned Ordway pointed out. "What Mr. Bakersfeld does is something again. He has authority here." Ordway had moved beside Mel; together they blocked the lawyer's way.
"If you were a real policeman," Freemantle objected, "you'd treat us both equally."
Mel said unexpectedly, "I think he's right." Ordway glanced at him curiously. "You should treat us both equally. And instead of closing this meeting, I think you should allow me the same privilege of talking to these people which Mr. Freemantle just had. That is, if you want to be a real policeman."
"I guess I want to be." The big Negro police lieutenant, towering above the other two, was grinning. "I'm beginning to see it your way---and Mr. Freemantle's."
Mel observed blandly to Elliott Freernantle, "You see, he's come around. Now, since we're all here, we may as well clear up a few things." He held out his hand. "Let me have that microphone."
Mel's anger of a minute or two ago was now less apparent. When the Tribune reporter, Tomlinson, had read back from his notes the gist of what Elliott Freemantle stated in his TV interviews and later, Met reacted heatedly. Both Tomlinson and the TV producer asked Mel to comment on what had been said. He assured them that he would.
"Oh no!" Freernantle shook his head decisively. The danger which he scented a few moments earlier was suddenly close and real. Once before, tonight, he had underestimated this man Bakersfeld; he had no intention of repeating that mistake. Freemantle himself now had the assembled Meadowood residents firmly under control; it was essential to his purpose that they remain that way. All he wanted at this moment was for everyone to disperse quickly.
He declared loftily, "More than enough has been said." Ignoring Mel, he passed the microphone to one of the Meadowood men and indicated the p.a. equipment. "Let's get all this apart and be on our way."
"I'll take that." Ned Ordway reached over and intercepted the microphone. "And leave the rest where it is." He nodded to several other policemen who had appeared on the fringes of the crowd. They moved in. While Freemantle watched helplessly, Ordway handed the microphone to Mel.
"Thank you." Mel faced the crowd of Meadowooders---many of their faces hostile---and others who, passing through the terminal, had stopped to listen. Though it was twenty minutes after midnight, and now Saturday morning, the heavy traffic in the main concourse showed no sign of lessening. Because of many delayed flights, pressures would probably continue through the remainder of the night, merging with a heightened weekend activity until schedules got back to normal. If one of the Meadowood objectives was to create a nuisance effect, Mel thought, it was succeeding. The extra thousand or so people were taxing available space in the concourse, arriving and departing passengers having to fight their way around like a flood tide encountering a sudden sandbank. Obviously the situation must not continue for more than a few minutes.
"I'll be brief," Mel said. He spoke into the microphone, telling them who and what he was.
"Earlier tonight I met a delegation representing all of you. I explained some of the airport's problems; also that we understood and sympathized with yours. I expected what I said to be passed along, if not exactly, then at least in substance. Instead, I find that I have been misrepresented and you have been deceived."
Elliott Freemantle emitted a roar of rage. "That's a lie!" His face was flushed. For the first time tonight his impeccably styled hair was disarrayed.
Lieutenant Ordway grasped the lawyer firmly by the arm. "Hush up, now! You had your turn."
In front of Mel a broadcast microphone had joined the hand mike he was using. The TV lights were on as he continued.
"Mr. Freemantle accuses me of lying. He's been strong in his use of words tonight." Mel consulted a note in his hand. "I understand they include 'thievery,' 'indifference,' that I met your delegation with 'hostility and abuse'; further, that the noise abatement measures we are trying to enforce are a 'sham, a fake, and a public lie.' Well, we'll see what you think about who's lying---or misrepresenting---and who is not."
He had made an error earlier, Mel realized, in speaking to the small delegation and not to this main group. His objectives had been to achieve understanding, yet avoid disruption in the terminal. Both objectives had failed.
But at least he would aim for understanding now.
"Let me outline this airport's policy on noise suppression."
For the second time tonight Mel described the operating limitations on pilots and their employer airlines. He added, "At normal times these restrictions are enforced. But in difficult weather, such as tonight's storm, pilots must be given leeway, and aircraft safety must come first."
As to runways: "Wherever possible we avoid takeoffs over Meadowood from runway two five." Yet, he explained, there was occasional need to use that runway when runway three zero was out of commission, as at present.
"We do our best for you," Mel insisted, "and we are not indifferent, as has been alleged. But we are in business as an airport and we cannot escape our basic responsibilities, plus our concern for aviation safety."
The hostility among his audience was still apparent, but now there was interest as well.
Elliott Freemantle---glaring at Mel and fuming---was aware of the interest too.
"From what I've heard," Mel said, "Mr. Freemantle chose not to pass on some observations I offered to your delegation on the general subject of airport noise. My remarks were made"---he consulted his notes again, not in 'uncaring cynicism,' as has been suggested, but in an attempt at honest frankness. I intend to share that frankness with you here."
Now, as earlier, Mel admitted there was little more in the area of noise reduction which could be done; glum expressions appeared when he described the expected greater noise from new aircraft soon to be in use. But he sensed there was appreciation for objective honesty. Beyond a few scattered remarks, there were no interruptions, his words remaining audible above the background noises of the terminal.
"There are two other things which I did not mention to your delegation, but now I intend to." Mel's voice hardened. "I doubt if you will like them."
The first point, he informed them, concerned Meadowood community.
"Twelve years ago your community didn't exist. It was a parcel of empty land---of low value until the airport's growth and closeness sent surrounding values soaring. To that extent your Meadowood is like thousands of communities which have mushroomed around airports everywhere in the world."
A woman shouted, "When we came to live here, we didn't know about jet noise."
"But we did!" Mel pointed a finger at the woman. "Airport managements knew that jet airplanes were coming, and knew what jet noise would be like, and we warned people, and local zoning commissions, and pleaded with them in countless Meadowoods not to build homes. I wasn't at this airport then, but there are records and pictures in our files. This airport put up signs where Meadowood is now: AIRPLANES WILL TAKE OFF AND LAND OVER THIS ROUTE. Other airports did the same. And everywhere the signs appeared, real estate developers and salesmen tore them down. Then they sold land and houses to people like you, keeping quiet about the noise to come, and airport expansion plans---which usually they knew of---and I guess in the end the real estate people outwitted us all."
This time there was no rejoinder, only a sea of thoughtful faces, and Mel guessed that what he had said had struck home. He had a sense of keen regret. These were not antagonists whom he wanted to defeat. They were decent people with a real and pressing problem; neighbors for whom he wished he could do more.
He caught sight of Elliott Freemantle's sneering features. "Bakersfeld, I suppose you think that's pretty clever." The lawyer turned away, shouting over nearer heads without benefit of amplifier. "Don't believe all that! You're being softened up! If you stick with me, we'll take these airport people, and we'll take them good!"
"In case any of you didn't hear," Mel said into the microphone, "that was Mr. Freemantle advising you to stick with him. I have something to say about that, too."
He told the now attentive crowd, "Many people---people like you---have had advantage taken of them by being sold land or homes in areas which should not have been developed, or should have been developed for industrial use where airport noise doesn't matter. You haven't lost out entirely, because you have your land and homes; but chances are, their values have decreased."
A man said gloomily, "Damn right!"
"Now there's another scheme afoot to part you from your money. Lawyers all over North America are hot-footing it to airport dormitory communities because 'thar's gold in that thar noise.' "
Lawyer Freemantle, his face flushed and distorted, shrilled, "You say one more word---I'll sue you!"
"For what" Mel shot back. "Or have you guessed already what I'm going to say?" Well, he thought, maybe Freemantle would launch a libel action later, though he doubted it. Either way, Mel felt some of his old recklessness---a decision for plain speaking, and never mind the consequences---take command. It was a feeling which, in the past year or two, he had experienced rarely.
"Residents in the communities I spoke of," Mel argued, "are being assured that airports can be sued---successfully. Homeowners near airports are being promised there's a pot of dollars at every runway's end. Well, I'm not saying airports can't be sued, nor am I saying there aren't some fine, sound lawyers engaged in anti-airport litigation. What I'm warning you is that there are a good many of the other kind, too."
The same woman who had called out before asked---more mildly this time---"How are we supposed to know which is which?"
"It's difficult without a program; in other words, unless you happen to know some airport law. If you don't, you can be bamboozled by a one-sided list of legal precedents." Mel hesitated only briefly before adding, "I've heard a few specific law decisions mentioned tonight. If you wish, I'll tell you another side to them."
A man at the front said, "Let's hear your version, mister."
Several people were looking curiously at Elliott Freemantle.
Mel had hesitated, realizing that this had already gone on longer than he intended. He supposed, though, that a few minutes more would make no difference.
On the fringes of the crowd he caught sight of Tanya Livingston.
"The legal cases which you and I have both heard referred to glibly," Mel said, "are old hat to people who ran airports. The first, I think, was U.S. v. Causby."
That particular case---a pillar of Lawyer Freemantle's presentation to the Meadowood group---was, Mel explained, a decision more than twenty years old. "It concerned a chicken farmer and military airplanes. The airplanes repeatedly flew over the farmer's house, as low as sixty-seven feet---a whole lot lower than any airplane ever comes near Meadowood. The chickens were frightened; some died."
After years of litigation the case found its way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Mel pointed out: "The total damages awarded were less than four hundred dollars---the value of the dead chickens."
He added, "There was no pot of dollars for the farmer, nor is there---in that legal precedent---for you."
Mel could see Elliott Freemantle, his face alternately crimson and white with rage. Ned Ordway was once more holding the lawyer by the arm.
"There is one legal case," Mel observed, "which Mr. Freemantle has chosen not to mention. It's an important one---also involving a Supreme Court ruling---and well known. Unfortunately for Mr. Freemantle, it doesn't support his arguments, but runs counter to them."
The case, he explained, was Batten v. Batten in which, in 1963, the Supreme Court ruled that only an actual "physical invasion" created liability. Noise alone was not enough.
Mel continued, "Another ruling, along the same lines, was Loma Portal Civic Club v. American Airlines---a 1964 decision of the California Supreme Court." In this, he reported, the Court ruled that property owners were not entitled to restrict the flight of aircraft over houses near an airport. Public interest in continuance of air travel, the California court laid down, was paramount and overwhelming...
Mel had quoted the legal cases unhesitatingly, without reference to notes. Clearly his audience was impressed. Now he smiled. "Legal precedents are like statistics. If you manipulate them, you can prove anything." He added, "You don't have to take my word for what I've told you. Look it up. It's all on record."
A woman near Elliott Freemantle grumbled at him, "You didn't tell us all that. You just gave your side."
Some of the hostility directed at Mel earlier was now being transferred toward the lawyer.
Freemantle shrugged. After all, he decided, he still had more than a hundred and sixty signed retainer forms, which he had been careful to transfer to a locked bag in the trunk of his car. Nothing that was said here could undo the fact of those.
A moment or two later he began to wonder.
Mel Bakersfeld was being asked by several people about legal contract forms which they had signed this evening. Their voices betrayed doubt. Obviously Mel's manner, as well as what he said, had made a strong impression. The crowd was dividing into small groups, most in animated discussion.
"I've been asked about a certain contract," Mel announced. Within the crowd, other voices silenced as he added, "I think you know the contract I mean. I have seen a copy of it."
Elliott Freemantle pushed forward. "So what! You aren't a lawyer; we've settled that once before. Therefore you're no authority on contracts." This time Freemantle was close enough to the microphone for his words to carry.
Mel snapped back, "I live with contracts! Every lessee in this airport---from the biggest airline to a headache pill concessionaire---operates under a contract approved by me, and negotiated by my staff."
He swung back to the crowd. "Mr. Freemantle points out, correctly, that I am not a lawyer; so I'll give you a businessman's advice. In certain circumstances the contracts you signed tonight could be enforceable. A contract is a contract. You could be taken to debtor's court; the money might be collected. But my opinion is that, providing you serve proper notice immediately, neither thing will happen. For one thing, you have received no goods; no service has been rendered. For another, each of you would have to be sued separately." Mel smiled. "That, in itself, would be an undertaking.
"One more thing." He looked directly at Elliott Freemantle. "I do not believe that any court would look favorably on a total legal fee in the region of fifteen thousand dollars for legal service which, at best, was nebulous."
The man who had spoken earlier asked, "So what do we do?"
"If you've genuinely changed your mind, I suggest that today or tomorrow you write a letter. Address it to Mr. Freemantle. In it, state that you no longer want legal representation as arranged, and why. Be sure to keep a copy. Again, in my opinion---that's the last you'll ever hear."
Mel had been blunter than he at first intended, and he bad also been excessively reckless, he supposed, in going quite this far. If Elliott Freernantle chose, he could certainly make trouble. In a matter in which the airport---and therefore Mel---had active interest, Mel had interposed between clients and lawyer, casting doubt upon the latter's probity. Judging by the hatred in the lawyer's eyes, he would be delighted to do any harm to Mel he could. Yet instinct told Mel that the last thing Freemantle wanted was a searching public scrutiny of his client recruiting methods and working babits. A trial judge, sensitive about legal ethics, might ask awkward questions, later still, so might the Bar Association, which safeguarded the legal profession's standards. The more Mel thought about it, the less inclined he was to worry.
Though Mel didn't know it, Elliott Freemantle had reached the same conclusion.
Whatever else Freemantle might be, he was a pragmatist. He had long ago recognized that in life there were gambits which you won, others that you lost. Sometimes the loss was sudden and illogical. A chance, a quirk, a nettle in the grass, could turn an almost-grasped success into mortifying defeat. Fortunately for people like Freemantle, the reverse was sometimes true.
The airport manager, Bakersfeld, had proven to be a nettle---carelessly grasped---which should have been avoided. Even after their first brush, which Elliott Freemantle now realized could have been a warning to him, he had continued to underestimate his opponent by remaining at the airport instead of quitting while ahead. Another thing Freemantle had discovered too late was that Bakersfeld, while shrewd, was a gambler too. Only a gambler would have gone out on such a limb as Bakersfeld had a moment ago. And only Elliott Freemantle---at this point---knew that Bakersfeld had won.
Freemantle was aware that the Bar Association might regard this night's activity unfavorably. More to the point: He had had a brush with an association investigating committee once already, and had no intention of provoking another.
Bakersfeld had been right, Elliott Freemantle thought. There would be no attempted debt collecting, through the courts, on the basis of the signed legal retainer forms. The hazards were too great, the spoils uncertain.
He would not give up entirely, of course. Tomorrow, Freemantle decided, he would draft a letter to all Meadowood residents who had signed the forms; in it he would do his best to persuade them that retention of himself as legal counsel, at the individual fee specified, should continue. He doubted, though, if many would respond. The suspicion which Bakersfeld had effectively implanted---damn his guts!---was too great. There might be some small pickings left, from a few people who would be willing to continue, and later it would be necessary to decide if they were worth while. But the prospect of a big killing was gone.
Something else, though, he supposed, would turn up soon. It always had.
Ned Ordway and several other policemen were now dispersing the crowd; normal traffic through the concourse was resuming. The portable p.a. system was at last being disassembled and removed.
Mel Bakersfeld noticed that Tanya, whom he had caught sight of a moment or two ago, was making her way in his direction.
A woman--one of the Meadowood residents whom Mel had noticed several times before---confronted him. She had a strong intelligent face and shoulder-length brown hair.
"Mr. Bakersfeld," the woman said quietly. "We've all talked a lot, and we understand a few things better than we did. But I still haven't heard anything that I can tell my children when they cry, and ask why the noise won't stop so they can sleep."
Mel shook his head regretfully. In a few words the woman bad pointed up the futility of everything which had happened tonight. He knew he had no answer for her. He doubted---while airports and dwellings remained in proximity---if there would ever be one.
He was still wondering what to say when Tanya handed him a folded sheet of paper.
Opening it, he read the message which showed signs of being hastily typed:
flight 2 had mid-air explosion. structural damage & injuries. now heading here 4 emergency landing, est. arrival 0130. capt. says must have runway three zero. tower reports runway still blocked.