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Airport

Arthur Hailey

 

Mel went down from the control tower to his office. The office was silent and  empty. He took a heavy coat and boots out of a cupboard near his big desk.

He was not really on duty at the airport tonight, but because of the storm he had  stayed on to help. Otherwise he would have been at home with Cindy and the children. Or would he?

It's hard to know the truth about yourself, he thought. If there had been no storm he would probably have found some other excuse for not going home. He didn't seem to go home immediately after work very often these days. Of course, the airport  kept him very busy, but - to be honest - it also offered an escape from his endless quarrels with Cindy.

Oh God! He had just noticed a note that his secretary had left on his desk, reminding him that he had promised to go to a party with Cindy that evening. Cindy hated to miss a party if she knew that any important people were going to be there.

He still had two hours. He could finish what he had to do here in time to get to the party - but he would be late.

He phoned his home number. Roberta, his older daughter, answered.

'Hi,' he said,' this is your Dad.'

'Yes, I know,' she said coldly.

'How was school today?'

'We had more than one class, Father. Which one are you asking me about?'

Mel sighed. There were days when he felt that his home life had become unbearable. Did all thirteen-year-old girls talk to their fathers like this? He loved both his daughters very much.  There were times when he thought that his marriage had only lasted as long as it had because of them. It hurt him to hear Roberta speak so coldly. But who was to blame for her behaviour? Perhaps she had seen her parents quarrelling too often.

'Is your mother at home?' he asked.

'She went out. She hopes you'll try not to be late for the party for once.'

She was clearly repeating Cindy's words.

'If your mother calls, tell her I'll be a little late,' Mel said. There was no answer, so he asked: 'Did you hear me?'

'Yes,' Roberta said. 'Have you finished? I have homework to do.'

'No,' Mel told her, 'I haven't finished.  Don't talk to me like that, Roberta. I won't allow it.'

'Of course, Father.'

'And don't call me Father! '

'Yes, Father.'

Mel almost laughed, but instead he asked: 'Is everything all right at home?'

'Yes. Libby wants to talk to you.'

'In a minute. I have something else to tell you first. Because of the storm, I'll probably sleep at the airport tonight.'

Again there was no answer. Then Roberta said: 'Will you speak to Libby now?'

'Yes, please. Good night, Robbie.'

'Good night.'

The telephone changed hands, and he heard a small childish voice say: 'Daddy, Daddy! Guess what happened today!' Libby always sounded so excited with life.

'Let me think,' Mel said. 'I know. You had fun in the snow today'

'Yes, I did. But it wasn't that.'

'Then you'll have to tell me.'

'Well, for homework we have to write down all the good things that we think will happen next month.'

She was so happy and trouble-free. Mel wondered how long she would remain like this.

'That's nice,' he said, 'I like that.'

'Daddy, Daddy! Will you help me?'

'If  I can.'

'I want a map of February.'

He understood what she meant, and told her to look at the calendar on his desk. He needed a map of February himself, he thought.

He heard her small feet running from the room. Someone else put the telephone down without speaking.

Mel walked out of his office carrying his coat. From here he could look down over the crowded hall of the main terminal building. He could not see a single empty seat. Every information desk was surrounded by a crowd of impatient or worried people.

The ticket agents were working under severe pressure. As he watched, one of them was speaking calmly to a young man who had lost his temper and was shouting at her. Looking down at another desk, he saw an agent quietly finding a seat on a plane for an important businessman.

Nobody looked up and saw Mel. Most passengers never gave a thought to the large number of people necessary to keep an airport running. Of course, if people knew more about the airport, they would also know more about its dangers and weaknesses. Perhaps it was better for them not to know about these things.

He walked towards Tanya's office.

'Evening, Mr Bakersfeld,' someone said. 'Are you looking for Mrs Livingston?'

'Yes, I am.'

So people were putting their names together already! Mel wondered what they were saying about his friendship with Tanya.

'She's in her office, Mr Bakersfeld. We had a little problem. She's taking care of it now.'