Airframe Chapter 25

She waited for Malone.

Five minutes later, Jennifer Malone came in, slamming the door behind her. She was wearing a pair of flight test coveralls. Her face was washed, her hair pulled back.

And she was very angry.

’’I don't know what you think you proved up there,’’ she said. ’’You had your fun. Taped the show. Scared the shit out of me. I hope you enjoyed it, because it isn't going to change a f*king thing in our story. Barker is right. Your plane has slats problems, just like he says. The only thing he's missing is that the problem occurs when the autopilot's off. That's all your little exercise demonstrated today. But our story isn't changed. Your plane's a deathtrap. And by the time we air our story, you won't be able to sell one of those planes on Mars. We're going to bury your shitty little airplane, and we're going to bury you.’’

Casey did not speak. She thought: She's young. Young and stupid. The harshness of her own judgment surprised her. Perhaps she'd learned something from the tough older men at the plant. Men who knew about power, as opposed to posturing and strutting.

She let Malone rant awhile longer, and then she said, ’’Actually, you're not going to do any of that.’’

’’You f*king watch me.’’

’’The only thing you can do is report what actually happened on Flight 545. You may not want to do that.’’

’’You wait,’’ Malone said, hissing. ’’You f*king wait. It's a f*king deathtrap.’’

Casey sighed. ’’Sit down.’’

’’I'll be goddamned if I will - ’’

’’Did you ever wonder,’’ Casey said, ’’how a secretary at a video house in Glendale knew you were doing a story on Norton? Had your cell phone number, and knew to call you?’’

Malone was silent.

’’Did you ever wonder,’’ Casey said, ’’how Norton's attorney could have found out so quickly you had the tape? And then have gotten a sworn statement from the receptionist that she'd given it to you?'

Malone was silent.

’’Ed Fuller walked in the door of Video Imaging just a few minutes after you walked out, Ms. Malone. He was worried about running into you.’’

Malone frowned. ’’What is this?’’

’’Did you ever wonder,’’ Casey said, ’’why Ed Fuller was so insistent you sign a document saying you didn't obtain the tape from a Norton employee?’’

’’It's obvious. The tape's damaging. He doesn't want the company to be blamed.’’

’’Blamed by whom?'

’’By ... I don't know. The public.’’

’’You better sit down,’’ Casey said. She opened the file.

Slowly, Malone sat.

She frowned.

’’Wait a minute,’’ Malone said ’’You're saying that secretary didn't call me, about the tape?’’ Casey looked at her. ’’Then who called?'Malone said. Casey said nothing. ’’It was you!’’ Casey nodded.

’’You wanted me to have that tape?'’’Yes.’’ ’’Why?’’ Casey smiled

She handed Malone the first sheet of paper. ’’This is a parts inspection record, stamped off by a PMI at the FAA yesterday, for the number two inboard slats proximity sensor on Flight 545. The part is noted to be cracked and defective. The crack is old.’’

’’I'm not doing a parts story,’’ Malone said

’’No,’’ Casey said ’’You're not Because what flight test showed you today is that any competent pilot could have handled the slats warning initiated by the bad part All the pilot had to do is leave the plane in autopilot. But on Flight 545, he didn't.’’

Malone said, ’’We already checked that. The captain of 545 was an outstanding pilot.’’

’’That's right,’’ Casey said.

She passed her the next piece of paper.

’’This is the crew manifest submitted to the FAA with the flight plan, on the date of departure of Flight 545.’’

John Zhen Chang, Captain 5/7/51 M

Leu Zan Ping, First Officer 3/11/59 M

Richard Yong, First Officer 9/9/61 M

Gerhard Reimann, First Officer 7/23/49 M

Thomas Chang, First Officer 6/29/70 M

Henri Marchand, Engineer 4/25/69 M

Robert Sheng, Engineer 6/13/62 M

Malone glanced at it, pushed it aside. ’’And this is the crew manifest we got from Transpacific the day after the incident.’’

JOHN ZHEN CHANG, CAPTAIN 5/7/51

LEU ZAN PING, FIRST OFFICER 3/11/59

RICHARD YONG, FIRST OFFICER 9/9/61

GERHARD REIMANN, FIRST OFFICER 7/23/49

HENRI MARCHAND, ENGINEER 4/25/69

THOMAS CHANG, ENGINEER 6/29/70

ROBERT SHENG, ENGINEER 6/13/62

Malone scanned it, shrugged ’’It's the same.’’

’’No, it's not. In one, Thomas Chang is listed as a first officer. In the second list, he appears as an engineer.’’

Malone said, ’’A clerical error.’’

Casey shook her head. ’’No.’’

She passed another sheet.

’’This is a page from the Transpacific in-flight magazine, showing Captain John Chang and his family. It was sent to us by a Transpacific flight attendant, who wanted us to know the real story. You will notice his children are Erica and Thomas Chang. Thomas Chang is the pilot's son. He was among the flight crew of Flight 545.’’

Malone frowned.

’’The Changs are a family of pilots. Thomas Chang is a pilot, qualified on several commuter aircraft. He is not type certified to fly the N-22.’’

’’I don't believe this,’’ Malone said.

’’At the time of the incident,’’ Casey continued ’’the captain, John Chang, had left the cockpit and walked to the back of the plane for coffee. He was aft when the accident occurred, and severely injured. He underwent brain surgery in Vancouver two days ago. The hospital thought it was the first officer, but his identity has now been confirmed as John Zhen Chang.’’

Malone was shaking her head

Casey handed her a memo:

FROM: S. NIETO, FSR VANC

TO: C. SINGLETON, YUMA TEST FAC

HIGHLY CONFIDENTIAL

AUTHORITIES NOW CONFIRM THE POSTMORTEM IDENTIFICATION OF INJURED CREW MEMBER IN VANCOUVER HOSPITAL AS JOHN ZHEN CHANG THE CAPTAIN OF TRANSPACIFIC FLIGHT 545.

’’Chang wasn't in the cockpit,’’ Casey said. ’’He was in the back of the plane. His hat was found mere. So someone else was in the captain's chair, when the incident occurred.’’

Casey turned on the television, started the tape. ’’These are the concluding moments of the videotape which you obtained from the receptionist. You see the camera falling toward the front of the plane, and twisting to eventually lodge in the cockpit door. But before it does ... here!’’ She froze the frame. ’’You can see the flight deck.’’

’’I can't see much,’’ Malone said. ’’They're both looking away.’’

’’You can see that the pilot has extremely short hair,’’ Casey said. ’’Look at the picture. Thomas Chang has close-cropped hair.’’

Malone was shaking her head, strongly now. ’’I just don't believe this. That visual is not good enough, you have a three-quarter profile, it doesn't identify, it doesn't say anything.’’

’’Thomas Chang has a small stud in his ear. You can see it in this magazine photo. And on the video, you can see the same stud catch the light, right there.’’

Malone was silent.

Casey pushed another piece of paper across to her.

’’This is a translation of the Chinese voice communications in the cockpit as recorded on the tape you have. A great deal of it is unintelligible because of the cockpit alarms. But the relevant passage is marked for you.’’

0544:59 ALM stall stall stall

0545:00 F/O what (unintelligible) you

0545:01 CPTN am (unintelligible) correct the

0545:02 ALM stall stall stall

0545:03 F/O torn release die (unintelligible)

0545:04 CPTN what do (unintelligible) it

0545:11 F/O tommy (unintelligible) when

(unintelligible) must (unintel?ligible) the

Casey took the paper back. ’’That's not for you to keep, or refer to publicly. But it corroborates the videotape in your possession.’’

Malone said, in a stunned voice, ’’He let his kid fly the plane?’’

’’Yes,’’ Casey said. ’’John Chang permitted a pilot who was not type certified to fly the N-22. As a result, fifty-six people were injured and four people died - including John Chang himself. We believe that the aircraft was on autopilot, and Chang left his son momentarily in charge of the flight. That was when the disagree warning occurred, and the son extended the slats to clear it But the son panicked, overcorrected, and porpoised. Eventually we believe Thomas Chang was knocked unconscious by the severe movements of the airplane, and the autopilot took over.’’

Malone said, ’’On a commercial flight, some guy lets his f*king kid fly the plane?’’

’’Yes,’’ Casey said.

’’That's the story?'

’’Yes,’’ Casey said. ’’And you have the tape in your possession that proves it. Therefore you are aware of the facts. Mr. Reardon stated on camera that both he and his colleagues in New York have watched the tape in its entirety. So you have seen this shot of the cockpit. I have now informed you what that shot represents. We have provided you with corroborating evidence - not all the evidence, there's more. We have also demonstrated in flight test that there is nothing wrong with the aircraft itself.’’

’’Not everyone agrees...’’ she began.

’’This is no longer a matter of opinion, Ms. Malone. It is a matter of fact. You are undeniably in possession of the facts. If Newsline does not report these facts, which you are now aware of, and if it makes any suggestion whatsoever that there is anything wrong with the N-22 aircraft based on this incident, we will sue you for reckless disregard and malicious intent. Ed Fuller is very conservative, but he thinks we will certainly win. Because you acquired the tape that proves our case. Now, would you like Mr. Fuller to call Mr. Shenk and explain the situation, or would you prefer to do it yourself?’’

Malone said nothing.

’’Ms. Malone?’’

’’Where's a phone?’’ she said.

’’There's one in the corner.’’

Malone got up, and walked over to the phone. Casey headed for the door.

’’Jesus Christ,’’ Malone said, shaking her head. ’’The guy lets his kid fly a plane full of people? I mean, how can that happen?’’

Casey shrugged. ’’He loves his son. We believe he's allowed him to fly on other occasions. But there's a reason why commercial pilots are required to train extensively on specific equipment, to be type certified. He didn't know what he was doing, and he got caught.’’ Casey closed the door, and thought: And so did you.

YUMA

10:05 A.M.

’’Jesus f*king Christ,’’ kon*** Shenk said. ’’I got a hole in the show the size of Afghanistan and you're telling me you've got a bad parts story? Featuring Yellow Peril Pilots? Is that what you're telling me, Jennifer? Because I'm not going to run with that. I'll get murdered. I'm not going to be the Pat Buchanan of the airwaves. F*k that noise.’’

’’kon***,’’ she said. ’’It doesn't really play that way. It's a family tragedy, the guy loves his son, and - ’’

’’But I can't use it,’’ Shenk said. ’’He's Chinese. I can't even go near it.’’

’’The kid killed four people and injured fifty-six - ’’

’’What difference does that make? I'm very disappointed in you, Jennifer,’’ he said. ’’Very, very disappointed. Do you realize what this means? This means I have to go with the gimp Little League segment.’’

’’kon***,’’ she said. ’’I didn't cause the accident, I'm just reporting the story ...’’

’’Wait a minute. What fresh bullshit is this?’’

’’kon***, I - ’’

’’You're reporting your ineptitude, is what you're reporting,’’ Shenk said. ’’You f*ked up, Jennifer. You had a hot story, a story I wanted, a story about a crappy American product, and two days later you come back with some horseshit about a whack. It's not the airplane, it's the pilot. And maintenance. And bad parts.’’

’’kon*** - ’’

’’I warned you, I didn't want bad parts. You f*ked this one to death, Jennifer. We'll talk Monday.’’ And he hung up.

GLENDALE

ll:00 p.m.

Newsline's closing credits were running when Casey's phone rang. An unfamiliar, gruff voice said, ’’Casey Singleton?’’

’’Speaking.’’

’’Hal Edgarton here.’’

’’How are you, sir?’’

’’I'm in Hong Kong, and I've just been told by one of my board members that Newsline did not run a Norton story tonight.’’

’’That's right, sir.’’

’’I'm very pleased,’’ he said. ’’I wonder why they didn't run it?’’

’’I have no idea,’’ Casey said.

’’Well, whatever you did, it was obviously effective,’’ Edgarton said. ’’I'm leaving for Beijing in a few hours, to sign the sales agreement. John Marder was supposed to meet me there, but I'm told that, for some reason, he hasn't left California.’’

’’I don't know anything about that,’’ she said.

’’Good,’’ Edgarton said. ’’Glad to hear it. We'll be making some changes at Norton in the next few days. Meanwhile I wanted to congratulate you, Casey. You've been under a lot of pressure. You've done an outstanding job.’’

’’Thank you, sir.’’

’’Hal.’’

’’Thank you, Hal.’’

’’My secretary will call to arrange lunch when I get back,’’ he said. ’’Keep up the good work.’’

Edgarton hung up, and then there were other calls. From Mike Lee, congratulating her, in guarded tones. Asking how she managed to kill the story. She said she had nothing to do with it, that Newsline for some reason had decided not to run it.

Then there were more calls, from Doherty, and Burne, and Ron Smith. And Norma, who said, ’’Honey, I'm proud of you.’’

And finally Teddy Rawley, who said he happened to be in the neighborhood, and wondered what she was doing.

’’I'm really tired,’’ Casey said ’’Another time, okay?’’

’’Aw, babe. It was a great day. Your day.’’

’’Yeah, Teddy. But I'm really tired.’’

She took her phone off the hook, and went to bed.

GLENDALE

Sunday, 5:45 P.M.

It was a clear evening. She was standing outside her bungalow, in the twilight, when Amos came up with his dog. The dog slobbered on her hand.

’’So,’’ Amos said. ’’You dodged a bullet.’’

’’Yes,’’ she said. ’’I guess so.’’

’’Whole plant's talking. Everyone's saying you stood up to Marder. Wouldn't lie about 545. That true?’’

’’More or less.’’

’’Then you were stupid,’’ Amos said. ’’You should have lied. They lie. It's just a question of whose lie gets on the air.’’

’’Amos...’’

’’Your father was a journalist;you think there's some kind of truth to be told. There isn't. Not for years, kid. I watched those scum on the Aloha incident. All they wanted was the gory details. Stewardess gets sucked out of the plane, did she die before she hit the water? Was she still alive? That's all they wanted to know.’’

’’Amos,’’ she said. She wanted him to stop.

’’I know,’’ he said. ’’That's entertainment. But I'm telling you, Casey. You were lucky this time. You might not be as lucky next time. So don't let this become a habit. Remember: they make the rules. And the game's got nothing to do with accuracy, or the facts, or reality. It's just a circus.’’

She wasn't going to argue with him. She petted the dog.

’’Fact is,’’ Amos said, ’’everything's changing. Used to be - in the old days - the media image roughly corresponded to reality. But now it's all reversed. The media image is the reality, and by comparison day-to-day life seems to lack excitement. So now day-to-day life is false, and the media image is true. Sometimes I look around my living room, and the most real thing in the room is the television. It's bright and vivid, and the rest of my life looks drab. So I turn the damn thing off. That does it every time. Get my life back.’’

Casey continued to pet the dog. She saw headlights in the darkening night swing around the corner, and come up the street toward them. She walked to the curb.

’’Well, I'm rambling,’’ Amos said.

’’Good night, Amos,’’ she said.

The car came to a stop. The door flung open.

’’Mom!’’

Her daughter jumped into her arms, wrapping her legs around her. ’’Oh, Mom, I missed you!’’

’’Me too, honey,’’ she said. ’’Me too.’’

Jim got out of the car, handed Casey the backpack. In the near darkness, she couldn't really see his face.

’’Good night,’’ he said to her.

’’Good night, Jim,’’ she said.

Her daughter took her hand. They started back inside. It was growing dark, and the air was cool. When she looked up, she saw the straight contrail of a passenger jet. It was so high, it was still in daylight, a thin white streak across the darkening sky.


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