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He was aware of Vernon Demerest looking at him critically.

"You're not wearing a regulation shirt."

For a moment, Captain Harris could not believe his colleague was serious. Then, as he realized he was, Harris's face suffused a deep plum red.

Regulation shirts were an irritant to Trans America pilots, as they were to pilots of other airlines. Obtainable through company sources, the official shirts cost nine dollars each, and were often ill fitting, their material of dubious quality. Though contrary to regulations, a much better shirt could be purchased independently for several dollars less, with the difference in appearance scarcely noticeable. Most pilots bought the unofficial shirts and wore them.�Vernon Demerest did too. On several occasions Anson Harris had heard Demerest speak disdainfully of the company's shirts and point to the superior quality of his own.

Captain Dernerest motioned to a waitress for coffee, then reassured Harris, "It's all right. I won't report on your wearing a non-reg shirt here. As long as you change it before you come on my flight."

Hold on!�Anson Harris told himself.�Dear God in heaven, give me strength not to blow, which is probably what the ornery son-of-a-bitch wants. But why? Why?

All right.�All right, he decided; indignity or not, he would change his unofficial shirt for a regulation one. He would not give Demerest the satisfaction of having a single miniscule check point on which to fault him. It would be difficult to get a company shirt tonight. He would probably have to borrow one---exchange shirts with some other captain or first officer. When he told them why, they would hardly believe him. He hardly believed it himself.

But when Demerest's own check flight came up...�the next, and all others from this moment on... let him beware.�Anson Harris had good friends among the supervisory pilots. Let Demerest be wearing a regulation shirt; let him hew to regulations in every other trifling way...�or else. Then Harris thought glumly: The foxy bastard will remember; he'll make sure he does.

"Hey, Anson!" Demerest seemed amused. "You've bitten off the end of your pipe."

And so he had.

Remembering, Vernon Demerest chuckled. Yes, it�would�be an easy flight tonight---for him.

His thoughts returned to the present as the apartment block elevator stopped at the third floor. He stepped into the carpeted corridor and turned to the left familiarly, heading for the apartment which Gwen Meighen shared with a stewardess of United Air Lines. The other girl, Demerest knew because Gwen had told him, was away on an overnight flight. On the apartment door bell he tapped out their usual signal, his initials in Morse... dit-dit-dit-dah dah-dit-dit... then went in, using the same key which opened the door below.

Gwen was in the shower. He could hear the water running. When he went to her bedroom door, she called out, "Vernon, is that you?" Even competing with the shower, her voice---with its flawless English accent, which he liked so much---sounded mellow and exciting. He thought: Small wonder Gwen had so much success with passengers. He had seen them appear to melt---the men especially---when her natural charm was turned toward them.



He called back, "Yes, honey."

Her filmy underthings were laid out on the bed---panties, sheer nylons; a transparent bra, flesh colored, with a girdle of the same material; a French silk, hand-embroidered slip. Gwen's uniform might be standard, but beneath it she believed in expensive individuality. His senses quickened; he moved his eyes away reluctantly.

"I'm glad you came early," she called again. "I want to have a talk before we leave."

"Sure, we've time."

"You can make tea, if you like."

"Okay."

She had converted him to the English habit of tea at all times of day, though he had scarcely ever drunk tea at all until knowing Gwen. But now he often asked for it at home, a request which puzzled Sarah, particularly when he insisted on it being correctly made---the pot warmed first, as Gwen had taught him, the water still boiling at the instant it touched the tea.

He went to the tiny kitchen, where he knew his way around, and put a kettle of water on the stove. He poured milk into a jug from a carton in the refrigerator, then drank some milk himself before putting the carton back. He would have preferred a Scotch and soda, but, like most pilots, abstained from liquor for twenty-four hours before a flight. Out of habit he checked his watch; it showed a few minutes before 8:00 P.M. At this moment, he realized, the sleek, long-range Boeing 707 jet which he would command on its five-thousand mile flight to Rome, was being readied for him at the airport.

He heard the shower stop. In the silence he began humming once again. Happily.�0 Sole Mio.

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THE BLUSTERING, biting wind across the airfield was as strong as ever, and still driving the heavily falling snow before it.

Inside his car, Mel Bakersfeld shivered. He was heading for runway one seven, left, which was being plowed, after leaving runway three zero and the stranded A

The injury had happened sixteen years ago off the coast of Korea when Mel had been a Navy pilot flying fighter missions from the carrier�Essex. Through the previous twelve hours (he remembered clearly, even now) he had had a presentiment of trouble coming. It wasn't fear---like others, he had learned to live with that; rather, a conviction that something fateful, possibly final, was moving inexorably toward him. Next day, in a dogfight with a MIG-15, Mel's Navy F9F-5 had been shot down into the sea.

He managed a controlled ditching, but though unhurt himself, his left foot was trapped by a jammed rudder pedal. With the airplane sinking fast---an F9F-5 had the floating characteristics of a brick---Mel used a survival-kit hunting knife to slash desperately, wildly, at his foot and the pedal. Somehow, underwater, his foot came free. In intense pain, half-drowned, he surfaced.

He had spent the next eight hours in the sea before being picked up, unconscious. Later he learned he had severed the ligaments in front of his ankle, so that the foot extended from his leg in an almost straight line.

In time, Navy medics repaired the foot, though Mel had never flown---as a pilot---since then. But at intervals the pain still returned, reminding him that long ago, as on other later occasions, his instinct for trouble had been right. He had the same kind of instinct now.

Handling his car cautiously, being careful to retain his bearinp in the darkness and restricted visibility, Mel was nearing runway one seven, left. This was the runway which, the tower chief had indicated, Air Traffic Control would seek to use when the wind shifted as was forecast to happen soon.

At the moment, on the airfield, two runways were in use: one seven, right, and runway two five.

Lincoln International had five runways altogether. Through the past three days and nights they had represented the front line of the battle between the airport and the storm.

The longest and widest of the five was three zero, the runway now obstructed by Ad could not be seen from the other because of the earth's curvature.

Each of the other four runways was half a mile or so shorter, and less wide.

Without ceasing, since the storm began, the miles of runways had been plowed, vacuumed, brushed, and sanded. The motorized equipment---several million dollars' worth of roaring diesels---had stopped only minutes at a time, mainly for refueling or relieving crews. It was work which air travelers never saw at close hand because no aircraft used a fresh-cleared runway until the surface had been inspected and declared safe. Standards were exacting. Half an inch of slush or three inches of powdery snow were maximums allowable for jets. More than that would be sucked into engines and endanger operation.

It was a pity, Mel Bakersfeld reflected, that runway snow teams were not more on public view. The sight was spectacular and stirring. Even now, in storm and darkness, approaching the massed equipment from the rear, the effect was impressive. Giant columns of snow cascaded to the right in arcs of a hundred and fifty feet. The arcs were framed in vehicle searchlights, and shimmered from the added color of some twenty revolving beacons---one on the roof of each vehicle in the group.

Airport men called the group a Conga Line.

It had a head, a tail, a body, and an entourage, and it progressed down a runway with the precision of choreography.

A convoy leader was the head. He was a senior foreman from airport maintenance and drove an airport car---bright yellow, like all other equipment in the Line. The leader set the Conga Line pace, which was usually fast. He had two radios and remained permanently in touch with the Snow Desk and Air Traffic Control. By a system of lights, he could signal drivers following---green for "speed up," amber for "maintain pace," red for "slow down," and flashing red for "stop." He was required to carry in his head a detailed map of the airport, and must know precisely where he was, even on the darkest night, as now.

Behind the convoy leader, its driver, like an orchestra's first violinist, was the number one plow---tonight a mammoth Oshkosh with a big main blade ahead, and a wing blade to the side. To the rear of number one plow, and on its right, was number two. The first plow heaved the snow aside; the second accepted the load from the first and, adding more, heaved both lots farther.

Then came a Snowbiast, in echelon with the plows, six hundred roaring horsepower strong. A Snowblast cost sixty thousand dollars and was the Cadillac of snow clearance. With mighty blowers it engulfed the snow which both plows piled, and hurled it in a herculean arc beyond the runway's edge.

In a second echelon, farther to the right, were two more plows, a second Snowblast.

After the plows and Snowblasts came the graders---five in line abreast, with plow blades down to clear any mounds the front plows missed. The graders towed revolving brushes, each sixteen feet wide and independently diesel powered. The brushes scoured the runway surface like monstrous yard brooms.

Next were sanders. Where the eleven vehicles ahead had cleared, three hulking FWD trucks, with hoppers holding fourteen cubic yards apiece, spread sand out evenly.

The sand was special. Elsewhere around the airport, on roadways and areas which the public used, salt was added to the sand as a means of melting ice. But never for aeronautical areas. Salt corroded metal, shortening its life, and airplanes were treated with more respect than cars.

Last in the Conga Line itself---"tail-end Charlie"---was an assistant foreman in a second car. His job was to insure that the line stayed intact and to chivvy stragglers. He was in radio touch with the convoy leader, often out of sight ahead in snow and darkness.

Finally came the entourage---a standby plow, in case one faltered in the Line; a service truck with a detail of mechanics; refueling tankers---diesel and gasoline; and---when summoned by radio at appointed times---a coffee and doughnut wagon.

Mel accelerated around the entourage and positioned his car alongside the assistant foreman's. His arrival was noticed. He heard the convoy leader notified by radio, "Mr. Bakersfeld just joined us."

The Line was moving fast---close to forty miles an hour instead of its usual twenty-five. The leader had probably speeded up because of the expected wind shift and the need to have the runway open soon.

Switching his radio to ATC ground frequency, Mel heard the convoy leader call the tower, "...on one seven, left, approaching intersection with runway two five. Request clearance over intersection."

Runway two five was an active runway, now in use.

"Convoy leader from ground control, hold short of the intersection. We have two flights on final approach. You may not, repeat, not, cross runway intersection. Acknowledge."

The voice from the tower was apologetic. Up there, they understood the difficulty of stopping a rolling Conga Line, and getting it started again. But the approaching flights had undoubtedly made a tricky instrument descent and now were close to landing, one behind the other, Only a desperate emergency would justify sending them round again on such a night.

Ahead of Mel, red lights were going on, flashing commandingly as the Conga Line slowed and stopped.

The assistant foreman, a cheerful young Negro, jumped from his car and came across to Mel's. As he opened the door, the wind swept in, but could only be felt, not heard, above the encompassing roar of idling diesels. The assistant put his mouth against Mel's ear. "Say, Mr. B., how's about joining the Line? One of the boys'll take care of your car."

Mel grinned. The pleasure he got, whenever he could spare time, from riding and occasionally handling heavy motorized equipment was well known around the airport. Why not? he reasoned. He had come out to inspect the snow clearance as a result of the adverse report by Vernon Demerest's Airlines Snow Committee. Clearly, the report was unjustified, and everything was going well. But maybe he should watch a few minutes longer from a ringside perch.

Nodding agreement, he shouted, "Okay, I'll ride the second Snowblast."

"Yessir!"

The assistant foreman, carrying a hand searchlight and leaning against the wind, preceded Mel past the now stationary lines of sand trucks and brushes. Mel observed that already fresh snow was starting to cover the runway area cleared only moments ago, To the rear, a figure ducked from a service truck and hastened to Mel's car.

"Better hurry, Mr. B. It's only a short stop." The young Negro flashed his light at the Snowblast cab, then held it steady, illuminating the way, as Mel clambered up. High above, the Snowblast driver opened the cab door and held it while Mel eased inside. On the way up, his impaired foot pained him sharply, but there was no time to wait. Ahead, the flashing red lights had already changed to green, and presumably the two approaching aircraft had now landed and were past the intersection. The Conga Line must hurry across before the next landing, perhaps only a minute or two away. Glancing to the rear, Mel could see the assistant foreman sprinting back toward his tail-end-Charlie car.

The Snowblast was already moving, picking up speed with a deep-throated roar. Its driver glanced sideways as Mel slipped into one of the two soft, padded seats.

"Hi, Mr. Bakersfeld."

"How are you, Will?" Mel recognized the man, who, when there was no snow emergency, was employed by the airport as a payroll clerk.

"I'm pretty good, sir. Tired some."

The driver was holding position carefully behind the third and fourth plows, their beacon lights just visible. Already the Snowblast's huge auger blades were engorging snow, cramming it to the blower. Once more, a continuous white stream was arcing outward, clear of the runway.

Up here was like the bridge of a ship. The driver held his main control wheel lightly, like a helmsman. A multitude of dials and levers, glowing in the darkness, were arranged for fingertip control. Circular, high-speed windshield wipers---as on a ship---provided ports of clear vision through encrusted snow.

"I guess everyone's tired," Mel said. "All I can tell you is that this can't last forever."

He watched the forward speed needle climb---from twenty-five to thirty, thirty to thirty-five. Swinging in his seat, Mel surveyed outside. From this position, at the center of the Conga Line, he could see the lights and shapes of the other vehicles. He noted approvingly that the formation was exact.

A few years ago, in a storm like this, an airport would have closed completely. Now it didn't, mainly because ground facilities---in this one area---had caught up with progress in the air. But of how many areas of aviation could the same thing be said? Mel reflected ruefully: very few.

"Oh, well," the driver said, "it makes a change from working an adding machine, and the longer this keeps up, the more extra pay there'll be when it's over." He touched a lever, tilting the cab forward to inspect the auger blades. With another control he adjusted the blades, then releveled the cab. "I don't have to do this; you know that, Mr. Bakersfeld, I volunteer. But I kinda like it out here. It's sort of..." He hesitated. "I dunno."

Mel suggested, "Elemental?"

"I guess so." The driver laughed. "Maybe I'm snow happy."

"No, Will, I don't believe you are." Mel swung forward, facing the way the Conga Line was moving. It�was�elemental here. More to the point, amid the airfield's loneliness there was a feeling of closeness to aviation, the real aviation which in its simplest sense was man against the elements. You lost that kind of feeling if you stayed too long in terminals and airline office buildings; there, the extraneous, non-essential things confused you. Maybe all of us in aviation management, Mel thought, should stand at the distant end of a runway once in a while, and feel the wind on our faces. It could help to separate detail from fundamentals It might even ventilate our brains as well.

Sometimes in the past Mel had gone out onto the airfield when he needed to think, to reason quietly and alone. He had not expected to tonight, but found himself doing so now... wondering, speculating, as he had so often in recent days, about the airport's future and his own.

LESS THAN�a lustrum ago, the airport was considered among the world's finest and most modern. Delegations inspected it admiringly. Civic politicians were given to pointing with pride and would huff and puff about "air leadership" and "a symbol of the jet age." Nowadays the politicians still huffed and puffed, but with less reason. What most failed to realize was that Lincoln International, like a surprising number of other major airports, was close to becoming a whited sepulcher.

Mel Bakersfeld pondered the phrase�whited sepulcher�while riding in darkness down runway one seven, left. It was an apt definition, he thought. The airport's deficiencies were serious and basic, yet, since they were mostly out of public view, only insiders were aware of them.

Travelers and visitors at Lincoln International saw principally the main passenger terminal---a brightly lighted, air-conditioned Taj Mahal. Of gleaming glass and chrome, the terminal was impressively spacious, its thronged concourses adjoining elegant waiting areas. Opulent service facilities ringed the passenger area. Six specialty restaurants ranged from a gourmet dining room, with gold-edged china and matching prices, to a grab-it-and-run hot dog counter. Bars, cozily darkened or stand-up and neon lit, were plentiful as toilets. While waiting for a flight, and without ever leaving the terminal, a visitor could shop, rent a room and bed, and take a steam bath with massage, have his hair cut, suit pressed, shoes shined, or even die and have his burial arranged by Holy Ghost Memorial Gardens which maintained a sales office on the lower concourse.

Judged by its terminal alone, the airport was still spectacular. Where its deficiencies lay were in operating areas, notably runways and taxiways.

Few of the eighty thousand passengers who flew in and out each day were aware of how inadequate---and therefore hazardous---the runway system had become. Even a year previously, runways and taxiways were barely sufficient; now, they were dangerously over-taxed. In normally busy periods, on two main runways, a takeoff or landing occurred every thirty seconds. The Meadowood situation, and the consideration the airport showed to community residents, made it necessary, at peak periods, to use an alternative runway which bisected one of the other two. As a result, aircraft took off and landed on converging courses, and there were moments when air traffic controllers held their breath and prayed. Only last week Keith Bakersfeld, Mel's brother, had predicted grimly, "Okay, so we stay on our toes in the tower, and we cope with the hairy ones, and we haven't brought two airplanes together at that intersection yet. But someday there'll be a second's inattention or misjudgment, and one of us will. I hope to God it isn't me because when it happens it'll be the Grand Canyon all over again."

The intersection Keith had spoken of was the one which the Conga Line had just passed over. In the cab of the Snowblast, Mel glanced to the rear. The Conga Line was well clear of the intersection now, and, through a momentary gap in the snow, airplane navigation lights were visible on the other runway, moving swiftly as a flight took off. Then, incredibly, there were more lights only a few yards behind as another flight landed, it seemed at the same instant.

The Snowblast driver had turned his head also. He whistled. "Those two were pretty close."

Mel nodded. They�had�been close, exceptionally so, and for an instant his flesh had prickled with alarm. Obviously, what had happened was that an air traffic controller, instructing the pilots of both airplanes by radio, had cut tolerances exceedingly fine. As usual, the controller's skilled judgment had proven right, though only just. The two flights were safe---one now in the air, the other on the ground. But it was the need for a multiplicity of such hairbreadth judgments which created an unceasing hazard.

Mel had pointed out the hazard frequently to the Board of Airport Commissioners and to members of City Council, who controlled airport financing, As well as immediate construction of more runways and taxiways, Mel had urged purchase of additional land around the airport for long term development. There had been plenty of discussion, and sometimes angry argument, as a result. A few Board and Council members saw things the way Mel did, but others took a strongly counter view. It was hard to convince people that a modern jetport, built in the late 1950s, could so quickly have become inadequate to the point of danger. It made no difference that the same was true of other centers---New York, San Francisco, Chicago, and elsewhere; there were certain things which politicians simply did not want to see.

Mel thought: maybe Keith was right. Perhaps it would take another big disaster to arouse public awareness, just as the 1956 Grand Canyon disaster had spurred President Eisenhower and the Eighty-fourth Congress to revamp the airways. Yet, ironically, there was seldom any difficulty in getting money for non-operational improvements. A proposal to triple-deck all parking lots had won city approval without dissent. But that was something which the public---including those who had votes---could see and touch. Runways and taxiways were different. A single new runway cost several million dollars and took two years to build, yet few people other than pilots, air traffic controllers, and airport management, ever knew how good or bad a runway system was.

But at Lincoln International a showdown was coming soon. It had to. In recent weeks, Mel had sensed the signs, and when it happened the choice would be clear---between advancement on the ground, matching new achievements in the air, or impotently drifting backward. In aviation, there was never a status quo.

There was another factor.

As well as the airport's future, Mel's personal future was at stake. Whichever way airport policies veered, so would his own prestige advance or lessen in places where it counted most.

Only a short time ago, Mel Bakersfeld had been a national spokesman for ground logistics of aviation, had been touted as the rising young genius in aviation management. Then, abruptly, a single, calamitous event had wrought a change. Now, four years later, the future was no longer clear, and there were doubts and questioning about Mel Bakersfeld, in others' minds as well as in his own.

The event which caused the change was the John F. Kennedy assassination.

"Here's the end of the runway, Mr. Bakersfeld. You riding back with us, or what?" The voice of the Snowblast driver broke in on Mel's reverie.

"Hm?"

The man repeated his question. Ahead of them, once more, warning lights were flashing on, the Conga Line showing. Half the width of a runway was cleared at one time. Now, the Line would reverse itself and go back the way it had come, clearing the remaining portion. Allowing for stops and starts, it took forty-five minutes to an hour to plow and sand a single runway.

"No," Mel said. "I'll get off here."

"Right, sir." The driver directed a signal light at the assistant foreman's car which promptly swung out of line. A few moments later, as Mel clambered down, his own car was waiting. From other plows and trucks, crews were descending and hurrying to the coffee wagon.

Driving back toward the terminal, Mel radioed the Snow Desk, confirming to Danny Farrow that runway one seven, left, would be usable shortly. Then, switching to ATC ground control, he turned the volume low, the subdued, level voices a background to his thoughts.

In the Snowblast cab he had been reminded of the event which, of all others he remembered, had struck with greatest impact.

It had been four years ago.

He thought, startled, was it really that long ago?---four years since the gray November afternoon when, dazedly, he had pulled the p.a. microphone across his desk toward him---the microphone, rarely used, which overrode all others in the terminal---and cutting in on a flight arrival bulletin, had announced to concourses which swiftly hushed, the shattering news which seconds earlier had flashed from Dallas.

His eyes, as he spoke then, had been on the photograph on the facing wall across his office, the photograph whose inscription read:�To my friend Mel Bakersfeld, concerned, as I am, with attenuating the surly bonds of earth---John F. Kennedy.

The photograph still remained, as did many memories.

The memories began, for Mel, with a speech he had made in Washington, D.C.

At the time, as well as airport general manager, he had been president of the Airport Operators Council---the youngest leader, ever, of that small but influential body linking major airports of the world. AOC headquarters was in Washington, and Mel flew there frequently.

His speech was to a national planning congress.

Aviation, Mel Bakersfeld had pointed out, was the only truly successful international undertaking. It transcended ideological boundaries as well as the merely geographic. Because it was a means of intermingling diverse populations at ever-diminishing cost, it offered the most practical means to world understanding yet devised by man.

Even more significant was aerial commerce. Movement of freight by air, already mammoth in extent, was destined to be greater still. The new, giant jet airplanes, to be in service by the early 1970s, would be the fastest and cheapest cargo carriers in human history; within a decade, oceangoing ships might be dry-dock museum pieces, pushed out of business in the same way that passenger airplanes had clobbered the�Queen Mary�and�Elizabeth.�The effect could be a new, world-wide argosy of trade, with prosperity for now impoverished nations. Technologically, Mel reminded his audience, the airborne segment of aviation offered these things, and more, within the lifetimes of today's middle-aged people.


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