Guerrero leaned back and closed his eyes. His hands were firmly on the attache case. His fingers touched the string. The feel of it was reassuring. He would sit precisely like this, he decided, when, approximately four hours from now, he pulled the string.
It was 11 p. m. Half running, half stumbling, a figure reached gate forty-seven. Helplessly, Inez Guerrero watched the airplane's lights recede.
Inez told her name to a policeman and asked him to take her to the airport office. A few minutes later she was in Mel Bakersfeld's, the airport's general manager's, office. Mel had already learned that a Guerrero was traveling light, having insured his life for three hundred thousand dollar.
Haltingly, Inez told him that she had come to the airport, hoping to see her husband before departure. She also said her husband had had some explosives in their apartment, but that the dynamite was gone.
Flight Two was twenty minutes out of Lincoln International. On ' a radio panel a yellow light came on. Second officer Harris answered: “This is Trans America Two". "Flight Two, this is Trans America dispatcher, Cleveland. I have a message for the captain from Lincoln International."
Demerest, the captain, pulled a notepad toward him as Harris said, "Go ahead, Cleveland". The message from Lincoln International read:
Captain, Trans America Flight Two. Unconfirmed possibility exists that passenger D. 0. Guerrero aboard your flight may have explosive device in his possession. Passenger with no luggage and apparently without funds insured himself heavily before departure. Was observed behaving suspiciously with attache case carried as hand baggage. Description follows...
Harris said, "We'll turn back, making a wide slow turn, so passengers won't notice. Then we shall ask Gwen to locate this fellow Alter that we play it by ear".
Demerest called in the stewardess. Gwen came in and Demerest said, "I want you to locate a passenger, without his knowing that you're looking for him". He handed her the message. Gwen read the message and said, "I know where he is already. In seat fourteen-A, by the window".
Demerest weighed possibilities. Then he said, "I have an idea. It may not work, but it's the best we have. Now listen..." He thought about the stowaway earlier detected by the stewardess and who by chance took her seat next to Guerrero.
In the tourist section stewardesses were removing dinner trays. Gwen came up to the lady sitting next to Guerrero. "Pardon me, madam. May I see your ticket?"
"Why, of course." Ada Quonsett traveling stowaway and not suspecting that the crew knew it, showed surprise. She opened her purse and pretended to search in it. "I'll find it in a moment."
"Will you really, Ada Quonsett?" Gwen saw her start at the use of her name. The little old lady sighed. "So you know who I am."
Gwen had not let herself look at the man she knew to be Guerrero, but she could tell that he was listening intently. He was still holding the attache case on his knees. She felt a sudden, icy-fear. She wanted to run but the moment of weakness passed and she said to Ada Quonsett. "You were caught earlier today as a stowaway, but you managed to slip away. Then, by lying, you got aboard this flight."
"Are we going to turn back?" Ada asked.
"No. But when we land in Italy you'll be handed over to the authorities. Now come with me. The captain wants to see.”
Her neighbour on the other side moved out to let Ada out. Gwen led her forward, feeling a lot of hostile glances from the passengers.
"Please come in," captain Demerest said. "Mrs. Quonsett," he said, "forget what happened outside just now. We wanted to have a plausible reason for bringing you here. We need your help. You've noticed the man sitting by the window?"
"Yes," she said. "He's a strange one. Won't talk to anybody and he has a little case he won’t let go of. I think he's worried about something."
"We're worried, too," Demerest said quietly. "We believe that in that case he has a bomb. That's why we need your help."
"Of course. Shall I see if I can get that case away?"
"No! Now, when you go back to the cabin..."
When he had explained, Ada smiled. "Oh, I can do that!"
"Mrs. Quonsett," Demerest said. "If we succeed this airline will give you a ticket to New York, and back, first class."
Ada was touched, she almost cried.
Back in the tourist cabin Gwen escorted Ada firmly to her seat. Demerest stood behind the curtain in the doorway. When the proper moment came, he would rush into the tourist cabin.
Standing in the aisle, Ada turned tearfully to Gwen. "I don't want to be handed over to the Italian police!" Gwen said unpleasantly, "You should have thought of that before. I'm telling you - get into your seat."
Gwen pushed Ada into her seat. "Sit down and be quiet."
Ada screamed, "You hurt me!" Several passengers were on their feet protesting. Guerrero continued to look straight ahead, his hands on the attache case. Ada began to wail. Gwen said coldly, "You're hysterical". Hating what she had to do, she slapped Ada across the face.
What happened next occurred so quickly that even those closest to the scene were uncertain of the sequence of events. Ada turned to Guerrero and begged, "Sir, please help me! Help me.” Guerrero ignored her. Apparently overcome by fear, she put her arms around his neck, "Please!"
Guerrero put up both hands to free himself. At the same instant, Gwen leaned forward, reached out, and in a single movement removed the attache case. Demerest hurried from behind the curtain and held his hand out for it.
But at that moment a man sitting across the aisle interfered.
It was Marcus Rathbone. He was a merchant in a small town, a self-important man. He didn't like Gwen's taking Guerrero's attache case. It was the violation of the rights of an ordinary traveler like himself.
Guerrero freed himself from Ada's grasp and moved to the aisle. Rathbone seized the case from Gwen and with a polite smile, held it out to Guerrero, who grabbed it and ran toward the aircraft's rear.
Demerest shouted desperately, "Stop that man! He has a bomb!”
At the end of the cabin Guerrero turned like a cornered animal.
Demerest shouted, "Guerrero, listen to me! Listen! We know who you are. We know about the insurance and the bomb. But your insurance is no good now. You will kill yourself for nothing. If you give me that case, I give you my word that no one in this airplane will harm you."
There was fear in Guerrero's eyes. Then he turned and entered the toilet. As he pulled at the string, he wondered if the bomb he had made would be a failure also.
In his last split second of life D. O. Guerrero learned that it was not.
The explosion aboard "The Golden Argosy" was monstrous. Guerrero died instantly. The aircraft's fuselage blew open at the rear.
At first, all who did not have their belts fastened were drawn toward the hole in the rear; but Gwen, who was badly injured, had fallen so that her body blocked the others.
Through good fortune all but Guerrero had survived. The blow didn't do much harm to the aircraft. Guerrero did not realise how reliable a jetliner was. Structural and mechanical systems duplicated each other, so that no single damage would result in destruction of the whole.
The pilot sent the aircraft down slowly.
At Lincoln International Mel received a message. The message read:
Flight Two had mid-air explosion. Structural damage and injuries. Now heading here for emergency landing, est. arrival 0130.
The Lincoln approach controller guided the plane as it descended. Then aircraft was down. Flight Two came to rest three feet from the runway's end.
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