Home > Airframe(13)

Author: Michael Crichton

"Maybe the sign doesn't work."

"Look up." With a ping, the seat-belt sign came on above their heads.

"Maybe the announcement doesn't - "

Burne's amplified voice said, "Working, working, you better believe it's working." The PA clicked off.

Dan Greene, the chubby operations inspector from the IFSDO, came on board, puffing from the climb up the metal stairs. "Hey, guys, I got your certificate to ferry the plane to Burbank. I figured you want to take the bird to the plant."

"Yeah, we do," Casey said.

"Hey, Dan," Kenny Burne called. "Nice job keeping the flight crew here."

"Fuck you," Greene said. "I had my guy at the gate a minute after the plane arrived. The crew was already gone." He turned to Casey. "They get the stiff out?"

"Not yet, Dan. He's wedged in pretty tight."

"We got the other dead bodies off, and sent the seriously injured to Westside hospitals. Here's the list." He handed a sheet of paper to Casey. "Only a few are still at the 'port infirmary."

Casey said, "How many are still here?"

"Six or seven. Including a couple of stewardesses."

Casey said, "Can I talk to them?"

"Don't see why not," Greene said.

Casey said, "Van? How much longer?"

"Figure an hour, minimum."

"Okay," she said. "I'm going to take the car."

"And take fucking Clarence Darrow with you," Bume said.


10:42 A.M.

Driving in the van, Richman gave a long exhale. "Jeez," he said. "Are they always so friendly?"

Casey shrugged. "They're engineers," she said. She was thinking, What did he expect? He must have dealt with engineers at GM. "Emotionally, they're all thirteen years old, stuck at the age just before boys stop playing with toys, because they've discovered girls. They're all still playing with toys. They have poor social skills, dress badly - but they're extremely intelligent and well trained, and they are very arrogant in their way. Outsiders are definitely not allowed to play."

"Especially lawyers ..."

"Anybody. They're like chess masters. They don't waste time with amateurs. And they're under a lot of pressure now."

"You're not an engineer?"

"Me? No. And I'm a woman. And I'm from QA. Three reasons why I don't count Now Marder's made me IRT liaison to the press, which is another strike. The engineers all hate the press."

"Will there be press on this?"

"Probably not," she said. "It's a foreign carrier, foreigners died, the incident didn't occur in the United States. And they don't have visuals. They won't pay any attention."

"But it seems so serious..."

"Serious isn't a criterion," she said. "Last year, there were twenty-five accidents involving substantial airframe damage. Twenty-three occurred overseas. Which ones do you remember?"

Richman frowned.

"The crash in Abu Dhabi that killed fifty-six people?" Casey said. "The crash in Indonesia that killed two hundred? Bogota, that killed a hundred and fifty-three? You remember any of those?"

"No," Richman said, "but wasn't there something in Atlanta?"

"That's right," she said. "A DC-9 in Atlanta. How many people were killed? None. How many were injured? None. Why do you remember it? Because there was film at eleven."

The van left the runway, went through the chain-link gate, and out onto the street. They turned onto Sepulveda, and headed toward the rounded blue contours of the Centinela Hospital.

"Anyway," Casey said. "We have other things to worry about now." She handed Richman a tape recorder, clipped a microphone to his lapel, and told him what they were going to do.


12:06 P.M.

"You want to know what happened?" the bearded man said, in an irritable voice. His name was Bennett; he was forty years old, a distributor for Guess jeans; he had gone to Hong Kong to visit the factory; he went four times a year, and always flew Transpacific. Now he was sitting up in bed, in one of the curtained-off infirmary cubicles. His head and right arm were bandaged. "The plane almost crashed, that's what happened."

"I see," Casey said. "I was wondering if - "

"Who the hell are you people, anyway?' he said.

She handed him her card, introduced herself again.

"Norton Aircraft? What do you have to do with it?"

"We build the airplane, Mr. Bennett."

"That piece of shit? Fuck you, lady." He threw the card back at her. "Get the fuck out of here, both of you."

"Mr. Bennett - "

"Go on, get out! Get out!"

Outside the curtained cubicle, Casey looked at Richman. "I have a way with people," she said ruefully.

Casey went to the next cubicle, and paused. Behind the curtain, she heard Chinese being spoken rapidly, first a woman's voice, and then a man's voice responding.

She decided to move on to the next bed. She opened the curtains and saw a sleeping Chinese woman in a plaster neck brace. A nurse in the room looked up, held her finger to her lips. Casey went on to the next cubicle.

It was one of the flight attendants, a twenty-eight-year-old woman named Kay Liang. She had a large abrasion on her face and neck, the skin raw and red. She sat in a chair by the empty bed, thumbing through a six-month-old issue of Vogue. She explained that she had remained in the hospital to stay with Sha-Yan Hao, another stewardess, who was in the next cubicle.

"She is my cousin," she said. "I'm afraid she was hurt badly. They will not let me be in the room with her." She spoke English well, with a British accent.

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