I wanted to introduce another suspect as the air crash's saboteur, one who refused at the gate to walk down the ramp to board the doomed plane because she claimed to have gotten a premonition that it would crash. She would later remember something that occurred at the gate that would prove to be crucial in identifying the actual saboteur.
Here's the excerpt:
Through the opening the men could see the back of a blond-haired woman in a black leotard sitting cross-legged on the floor. . . . A murmuring sound emanated from the room as if she were speaking to someone. . . .
Off the screen and without makeup, the famous seductress's face seemed fresh and wholesome, her large eyes clear. She rose gracefully and approached them. The sex-symbol promotion upon which her early career had been built left her visitors unprepared for the intelligence in her voice.
"I usually meditate in the nude, so I thank you for telephoning first."
Clayton wondered how much more there could be to see. The deep V-neck of her leotard exposed large expanses of breast, and the nipples pressed visibly through the taut material.
"You were talking to someone?"
Both men looked stunned.
"Or trying to," she continued in explanation. "But he's probably holding off contacting me out of pure spite."
"You've heard from him since the crash?" asked Clayton sharply.
"No, have you?"
Clayton was confused. "Why would he contact me?"
"He was rather an admirer of the Bureau." Darlene gestured toward the large pillows spilled randomly about the floor. "Why don't you sit down?"
Clayton dropped clumsily onto a pillow after great exertion. Will followed with more grace, accustomed to lowering himself on the strength of his single full leg.
"I have a feeling we're not speaking the same language," Clayton said.
"His spirit must be quite confused. They often are, after an accident. It's difficult for them to make the transition when they've had so sudden and violent a passing."
Clayton took a deep breath. "Let's start again, Miss Valentine. Is your husband dead?"
"That's what your people told me. They found his physical body."
"Then who were you talking with before we came in?"
"I was trying to contact his spirit. He's probably wandering around out there."
"In confusion. Space and time don't exist in the spirit world. He's having difficulty making the transition, I just know it."
"Please, Miss Valentine, let's keep the conversation to this world. Was your marriage unhappy?"
"Unhappy enough for you to place a bomb aboard his plane?"
Her eyes snapped wide open in apparent astonishment. "Why would you think that?"
"Witnesses at the airport reported hearing you tell people the plane would crash."
"Yes, I knew it would happen. Oh, not the way you're thinking. I suddenly had a vision in my mind of the plane bursting into flames. It was terrible!"
Will spoke up for the first time, sarcasm edging into his voice. "You seem quite composed for someone who has just lost her husband so 'terribly.'"
"Once I could no longer stop him or all those others, it was clear to me that they were all meant to make the transition."
"Miss Valentine," Clayton interjected harshly, "the ramp agent told us that your husband walked aboard the plane with a large attaché case. Do you happen to know what was in it?"
"Of course, promotional materials for the interviews. Greater Good—the picture we just made together—opens around the country tomorrow, and we had a string of TV and newspaper interviews coming up. Denver was the first. We thought announcing the divorce right now would hurt the film."
Will bent forward, his prosecutorial training surfacing. "So you continued to live together—and hate each other. . . . Perhaps it was to your benefit to have him dead: more profits, no worry about dividing up community property." . . .
Her face grew very sorrowful and then began to twist in anguish.
"I'm so sad for you, Mr. Nye. I'm so sad for everyone who lost a loved one on the plane. You have so few real friends. You trust so few that each is particularly precious."
Her eyelids lifted. "I'm sorry. I really am."
Will realized that his fingernails were digging into his thighs and that he could not speak.
"Perhaps if your friend had been psychic," Darlene added, "he'd have been alive today."
FROM THE AUTHOR:
STALKING THE SKY (or Hawks, as it was first known) is the last of my novels to be issued digitally, in other words as an ebook. But it was actually the first published, and it launched my career with a rapidity that to this day seems almost a fantasy.
After writing 3 chapters and outlining the rest of the book, with great trepidation I sent the manuscript to Owen Laster at the William Morris Agency to whom I'd been introduced when he was just starting out as an agent and I was writing late at night and on weekends around my job as a movie-industry lawyer. By then head of the agency's Literary Department with very important clients, Owen graciously consented to read my manuscript and give me his thoughts. I had only the most secret hope that he would find it worth representing, especially at such an early stage in its development. He said he would get back to me in ten days. I would soon learn that Owen was meticulous about his promises and totally honest in his comments.
Exactly ten days later, he phoned me. He liked the book a lot and had given my manuscript to the publishing legend Phyllis Grann, who had just been elevated to head of the venerable publishing group Putnam. She had promised him she would reply in ten days. Ten days later to the day, Owen phoned me again, this time with the astonishing news that on the basis of the three chapters, Phyllis Grann wanted to buy the book and personally edit it. And by the way, she hadn't even read the outline. Choked with emotion, I managed to say my thanks and hang up. In twenty magical days, I had been transformed into an actual novelist.
That's when the hard work began. I had faked most of my airline knowledge for those three chapters, but knew I needed real research to fashion a story with the depth that many themes and plot lines required. Where to start?
Great confusion existed in the airline industry. The government was abolishing the airlines' monopolies over their routes and ushering in competition for them that would ultimately lower fares. Fortunately, Congress had undertaken exhaustive hearings that probed many aspects of the industry while considering its reorganization. From the U.S. Government Printing Office, I purchased and pored over the many thick volumes of transcripts. Another source of information were Wall Street analysts specializing in the airline industry, who were willing to explain their views of the industry and its future prospects. I even took a flying lesson to feel what it was like to guide a metal structure through air it was never meant to rise into. All the while, I was reading histories of various airlines and their founders.
Global Universal, the fictional company at the center of STALKING THE SKY, and its men and women employees are characteristic of major airlines built upon the vision of a pioneer. Ben Buck, its bigger-than-life CEO, is patterned after several of the early barnstormers who went on to found great airlines along air routes that began to crisscross the sky in the 1920s and 30s. One of the early entrepreneurs was Juan Trippe, who raised money from his Yale classmates to found Pan American World Airways, which was granted a monopoly on international routes but forbidden to establish domestic ones. Pan Am's initial flight—from southern Florida to Havana, Cuba—occurred on October 19, 1927. A flight on that route aboard one of its famed Flying Clipper seaplanes many years later figures in the mysterious past of one of the novel's characters. But that Havana flight resonates personally for me: I was only a toddler when my parents took me on it, but it remains among my most vivid early memories. I had an opportunity to talk to Juan Trippe when he was in retirement and reclining in a bathrobe beside the swimming pool at New York City's Yale Club, ironically the kind of venue where he raised much of his original funding. I'm pretty sure he had no clue how soon his beloved Pan Am would go bankrupt as airlines with the strong domestic business Pan Am was forbidden from building introduced international flights that sliced away huge hunks of Pan Am's clientele. It was clear that Ben Buck and Global Universal's other executives had to be involved in devising a plan to compete in air transportation's new age. As the book opens, his leadership is also threatened by the takeover initiative of a feared corporate raider. Most critically, tragedy has just struck Global Universal: One of its 747s has crashed. Sabotage is soon suspected. The public's trust in the airline is wavering. Entrusted by Buck with the twin tasks of mounting a defense against the takeover and working with the FBI to track down the unknown murderer of the doomed jetliner's passengers is the book's protagonist, Will Nye, a young lawyer and former jet-fighter pilot. So, onto my reading list went books and articles describing and analyzing various air transport crashes and the investigative procedures employed by the National Transportation Safety Board and the FBI. I devoured them while trying to devise the means a murderer would use to destroy an airliner in flight and how the investigators would go about tracking down the killer. Certainly a bomb of some sort had to be employed, but how does one make a bomb to accomplish that and how does one place it in the absolutely precise place to disable a giant aircraft built to survive a multitude of in-air mishaps? Long days of harried thought resulted in a solution that sounded workable, but I had to be convinced it would work in actual practice. On a flight during a vacation trip with my wife, I entered the jetliner's lavatory and, filled with trepidation that at any moment I would be seized as a terrorist, went through enough of the steps my murderer would be taking—minus an actual bomb—to the point that I was sure the terrible act was achievable. With great relief on several counts, I returned, sweating, to my seat. One postscript about all that research, on which my wife always felt I had tarried too long: Novels are difficult to publicize on radio and TV. Because my book was filled with factual information about airlines and air safety, I was promoted as an expert in those fields and was able to get a lot of mileage out of reviews like the one that said the book read as "contemporary as today's headlines." I went on a book tour, speaking at bookstores and department-store book parties, and was interviewed on TV and radio. One very enjoyable night was spent in Washington chatting on air with Larry King and his callers. Years later, he and I had an enjoyable lunch to discuss how he might write a book about his experiences. A few years after the book's publication, I received a phone call from someone at Boston's public station, WGBH. A jetliner had just skidded off the runway at Logan Airport. She wanted to know if I would go on an hour-long show to discuss aircraft safety issues. I agreed. As my plane was landing at that airport, I could even see that disabled plane beside the runway. At the TV studio, I was unexpectedly informed that I would be engaging in a debate with the head of the pilot's union, an expert on air safety who would be phoning in. Anxiety struck like the clapper on Big Ben! This guy was a real expert! The last time I had felt that kind of pressure was when I took the bar exam, but this was worse because I was about to debate matters I knew only from books, books I had not looked at in a long while.
For nearly the entire hour, I more or less held my own until my opponent—for that was who he had become—pounced upon my remark that areas of American aircraft manufacture and practice might be examined for improvement. To make his argument, he claimed that the crash of a Turkish Airline Douglas DC-10 soon after its takeoff from Paris was an example of American engineering undermined by the incompetence of other countries. That disaster, he asserted, had been caused by an Air France worker who could not read the instructions on the proper closing of the plane's cargo door because he was illiterate. The implication was that I did not know what I was saying and was way out of my depth. I felt flayed alive and left for dead.
But after what felt like hours of silent terror, out of some tiny crevice of my memory facts I had read years before about that crash miraculously swam up into my consciousness. Triumphantly, I retorted that far from being illiterate, the man spoke 4 languages and read 7 more. The problem was not that he could not read, but that a plane being loaded at a French airport in Paris by French personnel did not also have the directions written on the cargo door in French, a failure on the part of the airline. Far more pivotal in causing the disaster, however, was the defect in the door's locking mechanism, a failure by the American aircraft manufacturer.
At that moment, the TV program mercifully ended, and I raced from the studio pursued by fears that another lethal question might somehow slither up into the studio from infernal sources unknown.
As my return shuttle to New York was lifting off from Logan, I carefully avoided the sight of the airliner still sitting to the side of the runway. I had come out of retirement for one last bout, and bleeding, Rocky-like, had miraculously struck a knockout blow in the last round, but my career as an airline accident expert was definitely at an end.
New York, NY