IN THE BLOODY shambles which was the rear of the tourist cabin of Flight Two, Dr. Milton Compagno, general practitioner, was exerting the utmost of his professional skill in an attempt to save Gwen Meighen's life. He was not sure he would succeed.
When the initial explosion from D. O. Guerrero's dynamite bomb occurred, Gwen---next to Guerrero himself---was closest to the explosion's center.
In other circumstances she would have been killed instantly, as was D. O. Guerrero. Two things---for the moment---saved her.
Interposed between Gwen and the explosion were Guerrero's body and the aircraft toilet door. Neither was an effective shield, yet the two together were sufficient to delay the blast's initial force the fraction of a second.
Within that fractional time the airplane's skin ripped, and the second explosion---explosive decompression---occurred.
The dynamite blast still struck Gwen, hurling her backward, gravely injured and bleeding, but its force now had an opposing force---the outward rush of air through the hole in the fuselage at the aircraft's rear. The effect was as if two tornadoes met head on. An instant later the decompression triumphed, sweeping the original explosion out with it into the high-altitude, darkened night.
Despite the forcefulness of the explosion, injuries were not widespread.
Gwen Meighen, the most critically hurt, lay unconscious in the aisle. Next to her, the owlish young man who had emerged from the toilet and startled Guerrero, was wounded, bleeding badly, and dazed, but still on his feet and conscious. A half dozen passengers nearby sustained cuts and contusions from splinters and bomb fragments. Others were struck, and stunned or bruised by hurtling objects impelled toward the aircraft's rear by the explosive decompression, but none of the latter injuries was major.
At first, after decompression, all who were not secure in seats were impelled by suction toward the gaping hole in the aircraft's rear. From this danger, too, Gwen Meighen was in gravest peril. But she had fallen so that an arm---instinctively or accidentally---encircled a seat base. It prevented her from being dragged farther, and her body blocked others.
After the initial outrush of air, the suction lessened.
Now, thc greatest immediate danger for all---injured or not---was lack of oxygen.
Although oxygen masks dropped promptly from their housings, only a handful of passengers had grasped and put them on at once.
Before it was too late, however, a few people had acted. Stewardesses, responding to their training, and wherever they happened to be, seized masks and motioned others to do likewise. Three doctors, traveling with their wives as members of an off-season vacation tour, realized the need for speed, donned masks themselves and gave hasty instructions to those around them. Judy, the alert, eighteen-year-old niece of Customs Inspector Standish, placed a mask over the face of the baby in the seat beside her, as well as over her own. She then immediately signaled the baby's parents, and others across the aisle, to use oxygen. Mrs. Quonsett, the old lady stowaway, having observed oxygen demonstrations many times during her illegal flights, knew what to do. She took a mask herself and handed one to her friend, the oboe player, whom she pulled back into his seat beside her. Mrs. Quonsett had no idea if she was going to live or die, and found herself not greatly worried; but whatever happened, she intended to know what was going on until the very last moment.
Someone thrust a mask at the young man near Gwen who had been wounded. Though swaying, and scarcely aware of what was happening, he managed to hold it to his face.
Even so, barely half the passengers were on oxygen at the end of fifteen seconds--the critical time. By then, those not breathing oxygen were lapsing into drowsy stupor; in another fifteen seconds, most were unconscious.
Gwen Meighen received no oxygen, nor immediate help. The unconsciousness, caused by her injuries, deepened.
Then, on the flight deck, Anson Harris, accepting the risk of further structural damage and possible total destruction of the aircraft, made his decision for a high speed dive, saving Gwen and others from asphyxiation.
The dive began at twenty-eight thousand feet altitude; it ended, two and a half minutes later, at ten thousand feet.
A human being can survive without oxygen for three to four minutes without damage to the brain.
For the first half of the dive---for a minute and a quarter, down to nineteen thousand feet---the air continued to be rarefied, and insufficient to support life. Below that point, increasing amounts of oxygen were present and breathable.
At twelve thousand feet regular breathing was possible. By ten---with little time to spare, but enough---consciousness returned to all aboard Flight Two who had lost it, excepting Gwen. Many were unaware of having been unconscious at all.
Gradually, as initial shock wore off, passengers and the remaining stewardesses took stock of their situation. The stewardess who was second in seniority after Gwen---a pert blonde from Oak Lawn, Illinois---hurried toward the injured at the rear. Though her face paled, she called urgently, "Is there a doctor, please?"
"Yes, miss." Dr. Compagno had already moved from his seat without waiting to be called. A small, sharp-featured man who moved impatiently and talked quickly with a Brooklyn accent, he surveyed the scene hurriedly, conscious of the already biting cold, the wind streaming noisily through the gaping hole in the fuselage. Where the toilets and rear galley had been was a twisted mess of charred and bloodstained wood and metal. The back of the fuselage to the interior of the tail was open, with control wires and structural assemblies exposed.
The doctor raised his voice to make himself heard above the noise of wind and engines, constant and encompassing now that the cabin was no longer sealed.
"I suggest you move as many people as you can nearer the front. Keep everyone as warm as possible. We'll need blankets for those who are hurt."
The stewardess said doubtfully, "I'll try to find some." Many of the blankets normally stored in overhead racks had been swept out, along with passengers' extra clothing and other objects, in the whirlwind of decompression.
The two other doctors from Dr. Compagno's tour party joined him. One instructed another stewardess, "Bring us all the first aid equipment you have." Compagno---already on his knees beside Gwen---was the only one of the three with a medical bag.
Carrying a bag with emergency supplies wherever he went was characteristic of Milton Compagno. So was taking charge now, even though---as a G.P.---he was outranked professionally by the other two doctors who were internists.
Milton Compagno never considered himself off duty. Thirty-five years ago, as a young man who had fought an upward battle from a New York slum, he hung out a shingle in Chicago's Little Italy, near MHwaukee and Grand Avenues. Since then---as his wife told it, usually with resignation---the only time he ceased practicing medicine was while he slept. He enjoyed being needed. He acted as if his profession were a prize he had won, which, if not guarded, would slip away. He had never been known to refuse to see a patient at any hour, or to fail to make a house call if sent for. He never drove past an accident scene as did many of his medical brethren, fearing malpractice suits; he always stopped, got out of his car, and did what he could. He kept conscientiously up to date. Yet the more he worked, the more he seemed to thrive. He gave the impression of running through each day as if he planned to assuage the world's ailments in a lifetime, of which too little was left.
The journey to Rome---many years postponed---was to visit the birthplace of his parents. With his wife, Dr. Compagno was to be away a month, and because he was growing old, he had agreed that the time should be a total rest. Yet he fully anticipated that somewhere en route, or perhaps in Italy (never mind regulations about not being licensed) he would be needed. If so, he was ready. It did not surprise him that he was needed now.
He moved first to Gwen who was clearly most critical among those hurt. He told his colleagues, over his shoulder, "You attend to the others."
In the narrow aisle, Dr. Compagno turned Gwen over partially, leaning forward to detect if she was breathing. She was, but her breath was light and shallow. He called to the stewardess he had been speaking to, "I need oxygen down here." While the girl brought a portable bottle and mask, he checked Gwen's mouth for an unobstructed airway; there were smashed teeth, which he removed, and a good deal of blood; he made sure the bleeding was not preventing respiration. He told the stewardess, "Hold the mask in place." The oxygen hissed. Within a minute or two a vestige of color returned to Gwen's skin, which had been ominously white.
Meanwhile, he began to control bleeding, extensive around the face and chest. Working quickly, he used a hemostat to clamp off a facial artery---worst site of external hemorrhage---and pressure dressings elsewhere. He had already detected a probable fracture of the clavicle and left arm, which would need to be splinted later. He was distressed to see what appeared to be splinters from the explosion in the patient's left eye; he was less sure about the right.
Second Officer Jordan, having moved carefully around Dr. Compagno and Gwen, took charge of the remaining stewardesses and was supervising the movement of passengers forward in the aircraft. As many tourist passengers as possible were being moved into the first class section, some squeezed in, two to a seat, others directed to the small, semicircular first class lounge, where spare seats were available. Such extra clothing as remained was distributed among those who appeared to need it most, without regard to ownership. As always, in such situations, people showed a willingness to help one another, unselfishness, and even flashes of humor.
The other two doctors were bandaging passengers who had received cuts, none excessively serious. The young man with glasses, who was behind Gwen at the moment of the explosion, had a deep gash in one arm, but it could be repaired and would heal. He had other minor cuts about the face and shoulders. For the time being, pressure dressings were applied to his injured arm, and he was given morphine, while being made as comfortable and warm as possible.
Both the medical attention and movement of passengers was being made more difficult by heavy buffeting which the aircraft, at its present low altitude, was taking from the storm. There was constant turbulence, punctuated every few minutes by violent pitching or sideways movements. Several passengers were finding airsickness added to their other troubles.
After reporting to the flight deck for the second time, Cy Jordan returned to Dr. Compagno.
"Doctor, Captain Demerest asked me to say he's grateful for everything you and the other doctors are doing. When you can spare a moment, he'd appreciate it if you'd come to the flight deck to tell him what to radio ahead about casualties."
"Hold this dressing," Dr. Compagno ordered. "Press down hard, right there. Now I want you to help me with a splint. We'll use one of those leather magazine covers, with a towel under it. Get the biggest cover you can find, and leave the magazine in."
A moment later: "I'll come when I can. You can say to your captain that I think, as soon as possible, he should make an announcement to the passengers. People are getting over their shock. They could use some reassurance."
"Yes, sir." Cy Jordan looked down at the still unconscious figure of Gwen, his normally mournful, hollow-cheeked face accentuated by concern. "Is there a chance for her, Doc?"
"There's a chance, son, though I wouldn't say it was the best. A lot depends on her own strength."
"I always figured she had a lot of that."
"A pretty girl, wasn't she?" Amid the torn flesh, blood, and dirty, tousled hair, it was difficult to be sure.
Compagno remained silent. Whatever happened, the girl on the floor would not be pretty any more---not without plastic surgery.
"I'll give the captain your message, sir." Looking a little sicker than before, Cy Jordan went forward to the flight deck.
Vernon Demerest's voice came calmly on the cabin p.a. system a few moments later.
"Ladies and gentlemen, this is Captain Demerest..." To overcome the roar of wind and engines, Cy Jordan had turned the volume control to "full." Each word rang clearly.
"You know we've had trouble---bad trouble. I won't attempt to minimize it. I won't make any jokes either, because up here on the flight deck we don't see anything that's funny, and I imagine you feel the same way. We've all come through an experience which none of us in the crew has ever had before, and I hope will never have again. But we have come through. Now, we have the airplane under control, we're turned around, and expect to land at Lincoln International in about three quarters of an hour."
In the two passenger cabins, where first and tourist class now mingled without distinction, movement and conversation stopped. Eyes instinctively went to the overhead speakers as everyone within hearing strained to miss nothing of what was said.
"You know, of course, that the airplane is damaged. But it's also true that the damage could have been a whole lot worse."
On the flight deck, with the p.a. mike in hand, Vernon Demerest wondered how specific---and how honest---he should be. On his own regular flights he always kept captain-to-passengers announcements to the barest terse minimum. He disapproved of "long-playing captains" who bombarded their captive audience with assorted commentaries from a flight's beginning to its end. He sensed, though, that this time he should say more, and that passengers were entitled to be told the true situation.
"I won't conceal from you," Demerest said into the microphone, "that we have a few problems still ahead of us. Our landing will be heavy, and we're not sure how the damage we've suffered will affect it. I'm telling you this because right after this announcement the crew will start giving instructions on how to sit, and how to brace yourselves, just before we land. Another thing you'll be told is how to get out of the airplane in a hurry, if we need to, right after landing. If that should happen, please act calmly but quickly, and obey instructions given you by any member of the crew.
"Let me assure you that on the ground everything necessary is being done to help us." Remembering their need for runway three zero, Demerest hoped it was true. He also decided there was no point in going into detail about the problem of the jammed stabilizer; most passengers wouldn't understand it anyway. With a touch of lightness in his voice, he added, "In one way you're lucky tonight because instead of one experienced captain on the flight deck, it just so happens you have two---Captain Harris and myself. We're a couple of ancient pelicans with more years of flying than we sometimes like to think about---except right now when all that combined experience comes in mighty useful. We'll be helping each other, along with Second Officer Jordan. who'll also be spending part of his time back with you. Please help us too. If you do, I promise you we'll come through this together---safely."
Demerest replaced the p.a. mike.
Without taking his eyes from the flight instruments, Anson Harris remarked, "That was pretty good. You should be in politics."
Demerest said sourly, "Nobody'd vote for me. Most times, people don't like plain talking and the truth." He was remembering bitterly the Board of Airport Commissioners meeting at Lincoln International where he urged curtailment of airport insurance vending. Plain speech there had proved disastrous. He wondered how the members of the Board, including his smooth, smug brother-in-law, would feet after learning about D. 0. Guerrero's purchase of insurance and his maniacal intention to destroy Flight Two. Probably, Demerest thought, they would be complacent as ever, except that now instead of saying It will never happen, they would say, Well, assuming Flight Two made it back safely, and whatever was said or wasn't, sure as hell he was going to create another big fight about airport insurance vending. The difference was: this time more people would listen. Tonight's near disaster, however it turned out, was certain to attract a lot of press attention; he would make the most of it. He would talk bluntly to reporters about flight insurance, about the Lincoln airport commissioners, and not least about his precious brother-in-law, Mel Bakersfeld. Trans America's public relations flacks would do their damnedest, of course, to keep him incommunicado "in the interests of company policy." Just let them try!
The radio crackled alive. "Trans America Two, this is Cleveland Center. Lincoln advises runway three zero still temporarily out of use. They are attempting to clear obstruction before you arrive. Failing that, will land you on two five."
Harris's face went grim as Demerest acknowledged. Runway two five was two thousand feet shorter, as well as narrower, and at the moment with a bad crosswind. Using it would compound the hazards they already faced.
Demerest's expression clearly reflected his reaction to the message.
They were still being thrown about severely by the storm. Most of Harris's time was occupied by holding the aircraft reasonably steady.
Demerest swung around to the second officer. "Cy, go back with the passengers again, and take charge. See that the girls demonstrate the landing drill, and that everybody understands it. Then pick some key people who look reliable. Make sure they know where emergency exits are and how to use them. If we run out of runway, which'll be for sure if we use two five, everything may come apart in a hurry. If that happens we'll all try to make it back there and help, but there may not be time."
"Yes, sir." Once more, Jordan eased out of his flight engineer's seat.
Demerest, still anxious for news of Gwen, would have preferred to go himself, but at this stage neither he nor Harris could leave the flight deck.
As Cy Jordan left, Dr. Compagno arrived. It was now easier to move into and from the flight deck, since Jordan had moved the smashed entrance door to one side.
Milton Compagno introduced himself briskly to Vernon Demerest. "Captain, I have the report of injuries you asked for."
"We're grateful to you, Doctor. If you hadn't been here..."
Compagno waved a hand in dismissal. "Let's do all that later." He opened a leather-covered notebook where a slim gold pencil marked a page. It was characteristic that he had already obtained names, and recorded injuries and treatment. "Your stewardess, Miss Meighen, is the most badly hurt. She has multiple lacerations of the face and chest, with considerable bleeding. There is a compound fracture of the left arm and, of course, shock. Also, please notify whoever is making arrangements on the ground that an ophthalmic surgeon should be available immediately."
Vernon Demerest, his face paler than usual, had been steeling himself to copy the doctor's information onto the flight log clipboard. Now, with sudden shock, he stopped.
"An ophthalmic surgeon! You mean... her eyes?"
"I'm afraid so," Dr. Compagno said gravely. He corrected himself. "At least, her left eye has splinters, whether wood or metal I've no means of knowing. It will require a specialist to decide if the retina is affected. The right eye, as far as I can tell, is unharmed."
"Oh, God!" Feeling physically sick, Demerest put a hand to his face.
Dr. Compagno shook his head. "It's too early to draw conclusions. Modem ophthalmic surgery can do extraordinary things. But time will be important."
"We'll send all you've told us on company radio," Anson Harris assured him. "They'll have time to be ready."
"Then I'd better give you the rest."
Mechanically, Demerest wrote down the remainder of the doctor's report. Compared with Gwen's injuries, those of other passengers were slight.
"I'd better get back," Dr. Compagno said. "To see if there's any change."
Demerest said abruptly, "Don't go."
The doctor stopped, his expression curious.
"Gwen... that is, Miss Meighen..." Demerest's voice sounded strained and awkward, even to himself. "She was... is... pregnant. Does it make any difference?"
He saw Anson Harris glance sideways in startled surprise.
The doctor answered, a shade defensively, "I had no means of knowing. The pregnancy can't be very far advanced."
"No," Demerest avoided the other man's eyes. "It isn't." A few minutes earlier he had resolved not to ask the question. Then he decided that he had to know.
Milton Compagno considered. "It will make no difference to her own ability to recover, of course. As to the child, the mother was not deprived of oxygen long enough to do harm... no one was. She has no abdominal injuries." He stopped, then went on fussily, "So there should be no effect. Providing Miss Meighen survives---and with prompt hospital treatment her chances are fair to good---the baby should be born normally."
Demerest nodded without speaking. Dr. Compagno, after a moment's hesitation, left.
Briefly, between the two captains, there was a silence. Anson Harris broke it. "Vernon, I'd like to rest before I make the landing. Will you fly for a while?"
Demerest nodded, his hands and feet moving automatically to the controls. He was grateful for the absence of questioning or comment about Gwen. Whatever Harris was thinking or wondering, he had the decency to keep it to himself.
Harris reached for the clipboard containing Dr. Compagno's information. "I'll send that." He switched radio receivers to call Trans America dispatch.
For Vernon Demerest the act of flying was a physical relief after the shock and emotion of what he had just heard. Possibly Harris had considered that, possibly not. Either way, it made sense that whoever was in command for the landing should conserve his energies.
As to the landing, hazardous as it was going to be, Anson Harris obviously assumed he would make it. Demerest---on the basis of Harris's performance so far---saw no reason why he should not.
Harris completed his radio call, then eased his seat rearward and allowed his body to rest.
Beside him, Vernon Demerest tried to concentrate solely on flying. He did not succeed. To a pilot of experience and skill, total concentration during level flight---even in difficult circumstances, as now---was neither usual nor necessary. Though he tried to banish or postpone them, thoughts of Gwen persisted.
Gwen... whose chance of remaining alive was "fair to good," who tonight had been bright and beautiful and full of promise, would never go to Naples now, as they had planned... Gwen, who an hour or two ago had told him in her clear, sweet English voice,I happen to love you... Gwen, whom he loved in return, despite himself, and why not face it?...
With grief and anguish he visualized her---injured, unconscious, and carrying his child; the child he urged her to dispose of like an unwanted litter... She had replied with spirit, I was wondering when you'd get around to it... Later she had been troubled. It's a gift... that's great and wonderful. Then suddenly, in our kind of situation you're faced with ending it all, of squandering what was given.
But eventually, after his persuading, she conceded, Well, I suppose in the end I'll do what's sensible. I'll have an abortion.
There would be no abortion now, In the kind of hospital Gwen was going to, it would not be permitted unless as a direct choice between saving the mother or the unborn child. From what Dr. Compagno had said, there seemed no likelihood of that; and afterward it would be too late.
So if Gwen came through, the baby would be born. Was he relieved or sorry? Vernon Demerest wasn't sure.
He remembered something else, though, that Gwen had said. The difference between you and me is that you've had a child... whatever happens there's always someone, somewhere that's you again.
She had been speaking of the child whom he had never known, even by name; the girl child, born in the limbo of the Trans America 3-PPP arrangements, who had disappeared from sight immediately and forever. Tonight, under questioning, he admitted that sometimes he wondered about her. What he had not admitted was that he wondered, and remembered, more often than he cared to.
His unknown daughter was eleven years old; Demerest knew her birthday, though he tried not to remember it, but always did, wishing the same thing each year: that there was something he could do--- even a simple thing like sending a greeting... He supposed it was because he and Sarah had never had a child (though both had wanted children) whose birthday he could share... At other times he asked himself questions to which he knew there could be no answers: Where was his daughter? What was she like? Was she happy? Sometimes he looked at children in the streets; if their ages seemed right, he speculated on whether, by merest chance... then chided himself for foolishness. Occasionally the thought haunted him that his daughter might be ill-treated, or need help which he had no knowledge or means to give... At the instinctive reminder, now, Vernon Demerest's hands tightened on the control yoke.
For the first time he realized: he could never endure the same uncertainty again. His own nature demanded positiveness. He could, and would, have gone through with the abortion because that was final, definite; moreover, nothing Anson Harris had said earlier on that subject had changed his mind. True, he might have doubts, or even sorrow, afterward. But he would know.
The overhead radio speaker cut abruptly through his thoughts. "Trans America Two, this is Cleveland Center. Turn left on heading two zero five. Begin descent, when ready, to six thousand. Advise when leaving ten."
Demerest's hand pulled back all four throttles to begin losing altitude. He reset the flight path indicator and eased into the turn.
"Trans America Two coming on course two zero five," Anson Harris was advising Cleveland. "We are leaving ten thousand now."
The buffeting increased as they descended, but with every minute they were nearer destination and the hope of safety. They were also nearing the air route boundary point where, at any moment, Cleveland would hand them over to Chicago Center. After that, there would be thirty minutes flying before entering the approach control of Lincoln friternational.
Harris said quietly, "Vernon, I guess you know how badly I feel about Gwen." He hesitated. "Whatever's between the two of you is none of my business, but if there's anything I can do as a friend..."
"There's nothing," Demerest said. He had no intention of unburdening himself to Anson Harris, who was a competent pilot, but still, in Demerest's eyes, an old maid.
Demerest regretted now that he had revealed as much as he did a few minutes ago, but emotion got the better of him---something which happened rarely. Now, he let his face resume a scowl, his shield against disclosing personal feelings.
"Passing through eight thousand feet," Anson Harris told air route control.
Demerest continued to hold the aircraft in a steady descent, on course. His eyes swept the flight instruments in consistent sequence.
He remembered something about the child---his child---who had been born eleven years ago. For weeks before the birth, he debated with himself whether he should confess his infidelity to Sarah, with the suggestion that they adopt the baby as their own. In the end, his courage had failed him. He dreaded his wife's shocked reaction; he feared that Sarah would never accept the child, whose presence she would regard as a permanent reproach.
Long after, and too late, he realized he had done Sarali an injustice. True, she would have been shocked and hurt, just as she would be shocked and hurt now, if she learned about Gwen. But afterward, in a short time, Sarah's habit of coping would have taken over. For all Sarah's placidity and what Demerest thought of as her dullness, despite her suburban bourgeois activities---the curling Club and amateur oil painting---his wife had a core of sane solidity. He supposed it was why they had stayed married; why, even now, he could not contemplate divorce.
Sarah would have worked something out. She would have made him squirm and suffer for a while, perhaps for a long time. But she would have agreed to the adoption, and the one who would not have suffered at all would have been the child. Sarah would have seen to that; she was that kind of person. He thought: if only...
Demerest said aloud, "Life's full of goddamned 'if onlys.' "
He leveled out at six thousand feet, advancing the throttles to maintain speed. The jet whine rose in pitch.
Harris had been busy changing radio frequencies and---now they had passed the handoff point---reporting to Chicago Center. He asked, "Did you say something?" Demerest shook his head.
The storm's turbulence was as bad as ever, the aircraft still being thrown around.
"Trans America Two, we have you in radar contact," a new voice from Chicago Center rasped.
Harris was still attending to communications.
Vernon Demerest reasoned: So far as Gwen was concerned, he might just as well make a decision now.
All right, he decided; he would face Sarah's tears and denunciations, and perhaps her anger, but he would tell her about Gwen.
He would admit his responsibdity for Gwen's pregnancy.
At home, the resulting hysteria might last several days and the aftereffects for weeks or even months, during which time he would suffer mightily. But when the worst was over they would work something out. Strangely---and he supposed it showed his confidence in Sarah---he had not the slightest doubt they would.
He had no idea what they might do, and a good deal would depend on Gwen. Despite what the doctor had just said about the seriousness of Gwen's injuries, Demerest had a conviction she would come through. Gwen had spunk and courage; even unconsciously she would fight to live, and eventually, whatever impairment she suffered, would adjust to it. She would also have her own ideas about the baby. She might not give it up easily or at all. Gwen was not one to be pushed around, or to be told what to do. She did her own thinking.
The result might be that he would have two women on his hands---plus child---instead of one. That would take some working out!
It would also pose the question: just how far would Sarah go?
God!---what a mess.
But now that his own first decision was taken, he had the conviction that something good might result. He reflected grimly: For all it was going to cost him, in anguish and hard cash, it better had.
The unwinding altimeter showed they were passing through five thousand feet.
There would be the child, of course. Already be was beginning to think of that part in a new and different way. Naturally, he wouldn't let himself get sickly sentimental, the way some people---Anson Harris, for example---were about children; but it would be his child, after all. The experience would certainly be new.
What was it Gwen had said in the car on their way to the airport tonight?... a little Vernon Demerest inside me. If we had a boy we could call him Vernon Demerest, Junior, the way Americans do.
Maybe it wasn't such a bad idea. He chuckled.
Harris glanced sideways. "What are you laughing at?"
Demerest exploded. "I'm not laughing! Why the hell would I laugh? What is there for any of us to laugh about?"
Harris shrugged, "I thought I heard you."
"That's the second time you've heard things that didn't happen. After this check ride I suggest you have an ear checkup."
"There's no need to be unpleasant."
"Isn't there? Isn't there?" Demerest came angrily alert. "Maybe what this whole situation needs is for someone to get unpleasant."
"If that's true," Harris said, "there's no one better qualified than you."
"Then when you're through with damnfool questions, start flying again, and let me talk to those duffers on the ground."
Anson Harris slid his seat forward. "If you want to, why not?" He nodded. "I have it."
Relinquishing the controls, Demerest reached for the radio mike. He felt better, stronger, for a decision taken. Now he would contend with more immediate things. He let his voice grate harshly. "Chicago Center, this is Captain Demerest of Trans America Two. Are you still listening down there, or have you taken sleeping pills and quit?"
"This is Chicago Center, Captain. We're listening, and no one's quit." The controllers voice held a note of reproach; Demerest ignored it.
"Then why in blazes aren't we getting action? This flight is in serious trouble. We need help."
"Stand by, please." There was a pause, then a new voice. "This is Chicago Center supervisor. Captain, Trans America Two, I heard your last transmission. Please understand we're doing everything we can. Before you came into our area we had a dozen people working, clearing other traffic. They're still doing it. We're giving you priority, a clear radio frequency, and a straight-in course for Lincoln."
Demerest barked, "It isn't enough." He paused, holding down the mike button, then continued. "Chicago supervisor, listen carefully. A straight-in course to Lincoln is no good if it ends on runway two five, or any runway except three zero. Don't tell me three zero's out of use; I've heard it already, and I know why. Now, write this down, and see that Lincoln understands it too: This airplane is heavily loaded; we'll be landing very fast. As well as that, we've structural damage including unserviceable stabilizer trim and doubtful rudder control. If we're broutzht in on two five, there'll be a broken airplane and dead people before the next hour is over. So call Lincoln, mister, and turn the screws. Tell them I don't care how they do it---they can blow apart what's blocking three zero if they have to---but we need that runway. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Trans America Two, we understand very well." The supervisor's voice was unruffled, but a shade more human than before. "Your message is being passed to Lincoln now."
"Good." Demerest held the transmit button down again. "I have another message. This one is to Mel Bakersfeld, airport General manager at Lincoln. Give him the previous message, then add this---personal from his brother-in-law: 'You helped make this trouble, you bastard, by not listening to me about airport flight insurance. Now you owe it to me and all others on this flight to climb off your penguin's butt and get that runway clear.' "
This time the supervisor's voice was doubtful. "Trans America Two, we've copied your message. Captain, are you sure you want us to use those words?"
"Chicago Center," Demerest's voice slammed back, "you're damn right you'll use those words! I'm ordering you to send that message---fast, and loud, and clear."