The Writer and The Word (01)byAdrian Leverkuhn©
British Airways flight 481, scheduled to depart at 11:20 hrs on the 29th of June, had long been fully booked. Indeed, it would this June day be packed to the rafters. Flight 481 was the late morning flight from London Heathrow, and was scheduled to arrive at Boston's Logan International Airport a bit past three in the afternoon. The Boeing 777-300, now sitting empty on the ramp, seemed to groan in anticipation of the massive load it would carry in just a few hours time. As the wing tanks filled with jet fuel, the wing tips drooped ominously. Literally tens of thousands of pounds of jet fuel would be needed to carry the almost 300 passengers across the northern Atlantic Ocean, and against the prevailing force of the westerly setting Jetstream.
It had been an unusually warm June, and the post-Wimbledon rush had set in; Heathrow was beset with summer holiday makers from America and Asia coming and going in a never ending stream. The post 9-11 atmosphere of increased security, and the interminable lines for security screening that had ensued, had created a newer, more modern version of Travelers Hell. This tense atmosphere, when combined with the overtaxed and failing air conditioning system in Terminal 3, frayed tempers for passengers and employees alike; malevolence grew like black fungus under rotting leaves.
A long black Mercedes Benz S 600 carefully slid through the chaotic snarl of traffic in front of Heathrow Terminal 3, and smoothly came to a stop in front of the British Airways International Departures entrance. The black-suited driver exited the driver's door on the right side of the automobile and gracefully moved to the right rear door and opened it. A pair of long black nylon sheathed legs drifted out of the car and returned to the land of mere mortals; an elegant black suited - and utterly feminine - form emerged from the car and stood in statuesque splendor, preening in peregrine glory. She struck the hand holding a black kid-leather Gucci carry-on, and walked purposefully into the terminal building.
Diane Westhoven did not like airports. Nor did she care for sweating, smelly throngs of herd-like tourists who had to be spoon fed information just to make it from their hotel buses to the check-in line at the World Traveler desk. What a nice name for coach class, she thought to herself. Make the cattle feel like millionaires for the six hour flight across the Atlantic, then shove them out the door and back into their pathetic little lives!
Diane Westhoven had never flown coach in her life! How dare you even imply such a thing!
She by-passed the throngs of cattle queuing up with their 229 dollar tickets and walked assuredly though quietly to the vacant First-Class check-in desk.
"Good Morning, Ms Westhoven," the check-in girl said. She had recognized the face instantly as it came into view. And she knew Ms Westhoven's reputation well. "Will you be returning to Boston today?"
"Well, good morning . . ." Diane Westhoven paused to look at the name tag on the crisp navy blue uniform, ". . . Jennifer. Yes, Logan, on 481."
Jennifer promptly handed Diane her boarding pass, having taken note that her baggage had been through checked from the Savoy. "Would you care for an escort through security this morning, Mam?"
"Yes, Jennifer, if you please."
Jennifer pushed a discreet button, signaling the security services that a VIP was at the counter, waiting to be escorted through screening. Of course, so escorted Diane Westhoven would by-pass all the screening lines used by the cattle, and be walked directly to the First Class Passenger's Lounge. An anonymous looking man in an anonymous looking suit arrived, and walked Diane Westhoven through an unmarked mahogany door behind the counter.
Jennifer Keating gave a huge sigh of relief. You didn't piss off Diane Westhoven and keep your job. She stood facing an empty counter . . .
Sumner Welles was not in quite the same line Ms Westhoven had been. He was in the World Traveler line, about 40 people were ahead of him, and most of them were friends and classmates of his from Harvard. To a one, all of the young men and women in this line shuffled huge backpacks along the polished white terrazzo floor in front of themselves, and, to a one, they were all dressed in walking shorts and t-shirts, dirty gray knee socks and truly massive hiking boots. To varying degrees, they were all - simply and utterly - filthy, and more than one of them hadn't bathed in over a week. Few people not with this group stood near them.
Sumner Welles was the last member of his group in this line. He brought up the rear of the line, just as he had been doing for the past three weeks as the little group had hiked, climbed, and camped in the Scottish Highlands. He rounded up stragglers. Kept the weaker ones in tow, kept flagging spirits up. He would be a senior this coming year, and had been escorting a group of in-coming first year students on a freshman orientation trip. He was a brilliant student, and was assured entry in Harvard Law if for no other reason than his father, grandfather, and great grandfather had all matriculated from John Harvard's little college in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and each had passed on to Harvard Law.
Sumner was one of those rare people who never tried to impress people. He didn't have to. People anywhere would look at him - and in some alpha-male kind of way - they knew he was a man of substance, a force to be reckoned with. People in general respected him, without even knowing why or how they came to feel that way. Women young and old gravitated toward him, while lesser men gave way to him. As people passed through the concourse that June morning, their eyes would unconsciously move to look at Sumner Welles. They would instantly receive the startling impression of having looked an eagle in the eyes.
Sumner was also one helluva nice guy. He'd been an excellent tutor to incoming freshmen, an editor of The Crimson his junior year. When scholarship kids on campus needed help to fly home for vacations or to buy some necessity, they received help, anonymously, but from Sumner. And while people knew, Sumner really could have cared less. He thought the world had been remarkably generous to his family, and that it was his duty to reach out and help his fellow man when they reached out for help.
But let's be frank here . . . Sumner's family's holdings in the Americas, Europe, and Asia were reported by Fortune Magazine to be worth somewhere in the vicinity of twenty billion dollars. Buying some kid a ticket on Delta wasn't going to break the Welles family bank. No matter which Welles family bank it happened to be.
The kids in the World Traveler line ground their way to the counter one by one, got their boarding passes, and shuffled off to the security queues on the other side of the automatic sliding, frosted-glass doors. The girl in the line ahead of Sumner was, as she had been for three weeks now, overtly flirting with Sumner, and as she had for several days noted, was making absolutely no progress toward 'getting to know him better'. She stepped up to the counter, was processed and moved off toward the frosted glass doors. The doors hissed open as she approached, and hissed after she had passed.
Sumner approached the counter and handed over his passport to the blond-haired girl standing behind the blue laminate wall. She had yet to look up at him from her post; she looked at the passport photo as he told her his name and destination. Then she looked up. And gasped audibly. She went moist between the thighs almost immediately, and stammered out a very polite "Good Morning, sir."
"Good morning to you to, Angela. You keeping cool in there?" Sumner was so nice he probably wasn't aware of the little double entendres he tossed out to people as he made his way through life. Who knows, maybe he wasn't aware. But, perhaps you'll want make up your own mind about that . . .
Angela did catch his little play on words, however, and instantly turned deep red from her chest to her face, and she had to force herself not to give in too his delicately understated awareness of her reaction to him and so ruin the moment.
But, and this is important, all Sumner had noticed was that the girl behind the counter was world class cute; she had those luminous English eyes that you could swim in. He caught himself staring at her face, but he felt like he was caught in a whirlpool.
"Oh!" she said, looking at the little display built into the counter-top. "I'm sorry Mr Welles, but it seems we're over-booked today. I'm afraid there are no seats available until . . . no, wait, seat 2b just came up. I don't suppose you'd mind sitting up in First today?" she asked playfully.
"Is that all you've got? I really want to keep with my group." He was enthralled with her face, wanted to look at her for as long as he could. "Could you check again?"
She tapped away at her keyboard . . . "I'm sorry sir, that's all that's available. And I'm afraid you can't switch seats with someone else once it's been assigned to you. Part of the new security regulations, you know."
Sumner blinked rapidly several times. "That's it then?"
"I'm afraid so, sir. Unless you want to wait for the four thirty flight."
He seemed to think a minute. "Well, 2b or not 2b, that is the question. Right?"
Angela laughed, then it just came out - "My god, you're gorgeous!" - before she could catch herself; then the poor girl exploded into shades of purple and crimson Sumner was sure had never existed in nature until this very moment. He thought she was the most charming women he had ever seen in his life . . .
. . . and as Sumner was a decisive sort of fellow, he made up his mind about this sort of thing rather quickly. He took out his passport wallet and slipped a business card into his hand. He leaned forward quickly, invading the young woman's space without thought or care, and said to her in quietly reassuring tones, "And you've got the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen in my life. If you ever come to Boston, please give me a ring, would you?" He handed her the card, squeezed her hand as if to reassure her that he felt much the same way she did.
It was against every rule in the British Airways book, she knew, which does not at all account for why she replied, "How about next weekend, then?"
Again, decisiveness was one of Sumner's defining traits.
"My email address is on the card. Let me know when to pick you up."
"Well, Mr Welles, here are your boarding documents," she said, still flushing. She then lowered her voice to a politely conspiratorial level and said, "Friday afternoon, 'bout three thirty on 481, O.K.?"
Sumner took the documents, and her hand, which he clasped lightly. "I'll see you Friday. And I promise I'll be there." And then he was off through the frosted-glass doors himself.
Diane Westhoven was settling into seat 2a, a flute of decidedly inferior Champagne resting on her nylon clad knee. The reclining leather couchette, complete with on board audio-video entertainment system, internet access, and telephone, was wide enough to hold two Diane Westhovens, perhaps a third if you really wanted to force the matter. Her hands were clasped together in her lap, and she looked out the window at the worker-ants down below loading baggage and running about madly in excited non-purpose.
A rather shabbily dressed young man came down the left aisle toward the front of the now-swollen Boeing, and stopped at the vacant seat next to Diane Westhoven's, who looked up at the scabrous thing standing there in all of it's bohemian glory with almost open contempt just waiting to ooze from her mouth. But she looked at the young man, and caught herself. 'Oh, my!' she said to herself, 'this could be fun! Delicious!' She caught herself licking her lips.
Sumner Welles looked at the woman in the window seat, and his standard taxonomy kicked into classification mode. 'Nouveau riche, post menopausal, married three times, smart as a box of rocks, high maintenance . . .' But he caught himself, recognized her face from somewhere, and unconsciously dropped into his best Beacon Hill Brahman. That is to say, he dropped into his usual normal, polite, though somewhat reserved way of being when meeting a stranger. He put his camera bag into the overhead, then asked with a wry show of humor, "Is this seat taken, my lady?"
"Oh, by all means," the woman said. "Be my guest, kind sir." Take that!
Sumner sat down, and the rather pungent nature of his current aromatic state filled the air around rows one through four.
Diane Westhoven wrinkled her nose and looked away to the tarmac tableau outside her window, and shook her head in disgust. 'They'll let anyone up here these days,' she said under her breath, but just loud enough for the young man to hear.
Flight 481 taxied toward the beginning of the runway and turned at fairly high speed on to the active and went to full throttle. The flight crew wanted to use every inch of runway; the big Boeing was loaded well up to it's maximum gross take-off weight, and it was hot outside on the ground. It thundered down the runway, but seemed to pick up speed slowly.
Sumner looked at his watch as the 777 started down the runway; timing the takeoff was, he knew, the best way for a passenger to get an early indication that something was wrong. He had heard many professional pilots tell him that anything over forty seconds was the time to pucker up that asshole and hang on tight.
The jetliner hurtled down the runway and began to rotate with about 15oo feet of runway left, and climbed ever so slowly into the sky just short of the grass at the runway's end; the ride felt very, very rough. Instead of climbing steeply away from the ground, the Boeing was barely gaining altitude.
Sumner looked down at the woman next to him; her white knuckled fingers were digging into his wrist. Any harder, he thought, and she'll draw blood. He put his other hand on top of hers and gave her straining hand a reassuring touch.
She looked over at him with almost wild-eyed terror tearing at her face. The jet took an especially big sinking bump and she opened her hand to his, and clung to it fiercely.
"Ah, ladies and gentlemen, this is First Officer Andrews up here on the flight deck. We're a little heavy today, and it's going to take a while to climb up out of this messy air down near the ground. Sorry about the ride, but we should begin to feel a smoother ride in about five minutes or so. We anticipate arriving at Boston's Logan Airport . . ."
"My God in heaven! You mean to tell me," Diane Westhoven exclaimed incredulously, "that was a normal take-off?" The jet jumped and banked to the left. Her hand was still fused in the young man's welcoming grasp.
"That was . . . rather exciting, wouldn't you say?" Sumner Welles said. "Frankly, I'd have just as soon have an appendectomy."
Diane looked over at the young man and burst out laughing. She started to laugh harder, almost hysterically, and passed the point of no return. She started to cry she was laughing so hard, and was soon gasping for breath. Sumner felt the release and caught the laughter that floated through the air; he started laughing to blow off the dread and tension that had filled his mind with near terror only moments ago.
Laughter is often, and was at this moment becoming very contagious. Diane's laughter spread first to nearby rows, then like an avalanche, huge waling choruses of knee-slapping shrieks built and rolled through first class, then cascaded into business class.
The people in coach must have groused that they were passing out too much free booze up front.
"Well, I suppose you may have your hand back now," Diane said, "but I must admit, I was rather enjoying it."
"Next time we start to crash, it's all yours, Mam."
"Diane, please call me Diane. And thank you, I'll keep that in mind."
"Sumner Welles, a pleasure to meet you." She took his hand again, this time more gently.
She always reacted to this question with schizoid partitions: one compartment detested her fame, her frank notoriety; the other compartment would have perished without recognition of her accomplishments. Her fame had sustained her, in any event, socially as well as sexually as she had aged well into her 50s.
"Yes, the very same . . ." she said.
Sumner held his tongue, barely. Diane Westhoven had been a joke in Lit classes at Harvard; they had in fact been required reading as examples of 20th-Century Trash. The Trends in American Literature class had read three of her works to compare the psuedo-psycho-babble of her awkward prose with the dangerously elegant prose of DeSade, whom she, apparently, fancied herself the legitimate heir to. She wrote trashy romance novels with a very dark undercurrent of sado-masochism running through the vapid action, and her works had catalyzed the resurgence of a watered down psuedo-S&M lifestyle - as it was regarded by those who presided over such things - throughout suburban bedrooms all around America, and beyond. Her pernicious books had sold millions, principally to jaded women, according to his Harvard prof, with very low self-esteem. Victoria's Secret, on the other hand, hand made billions.
"It's an honor to meet you, Ms Westhoven," he said with utterly transparent charm.
"I have to ask, Sumner, what have you been up to, and just why in God's name do you smell like a goat!?"
Sumner felt himself laughing again with this remark. He told her of escorting the Harvard freshmen, the climbing and camping, the less than primitive conditions they had been living in for three weeks. He mentioned the over-booking and the last minute seat change, and she took on an icy demeanor for a moment, then recovered. She asked polite questions, and was, he thought, a very good listener. After several minutes of talking with her, he realized he was enjoying himself. She had, however, steered the conversation toward the girls on the trip, and hinted at wanting to know might have happened between boys and girls in the dark of night; obviously, Sumner thought, she was fishing for an opening to begin proselytizing the S&M thing. He had nothing he wanted to share, however, and the conversation had languished.
The jet had been climbing for a half hour, and finally leveled off; the flight crew turned off the seat belt light and anxious, green-faced people dashed for the toilets. Sumner excused himself, and headed back and check on his charges in the back of the jet.
Diane had enjoyed the young man immensely, thought he was charming in his Ivy-league preppy-snobbish sort of way. But there was so much more there, she thought, toying with the germ of an idea.
Diane Westhoven played-out her fantasies, then recounted them in fictionalized form, interpreting them from the perspective that only intellectualizing from a safe distance would provide. She saw in Sumner Welles an ideal next play-thing, saw the outline of her next book forming in the air before her eyes. She reclined her seat, the leg rests rose into position under her silky calves, and she closed her eyes behind huge black sunglasses, a smile forming on her face as she fit the puzzle-pieces of her plan into place.
Sumner strode back to coach, ignoring the stares that seemed to form in the air and follow in his wake. All of the other members of his group were gathered across the last four rows at the back of the jet. Even he could tell as he approached the group that the smells of hygiene ignored too long went beyond the merely potent and were truly offensive. He really shouldn't have allowed this to happen, he thought. He walked up to his co-chaperone and best friend, Marc Tutwiler, and pulled him up, lead him to the very back of the jet by the galley and wash-rooms.