"And I work for the airline," Pickering said.
"No kidding? What do you do?"
"I'm in administration," Pickering said.
That was not the whole truth. Trans-Global Airways was a wholly owned subsidiary of the Pacific & Far East Shipping Corporation. When the Wall Street Journal, in a story about Trans-Global, mentioned P&FE, it used the phrase "privately held." The Pickering family owned P&FE, and Fleming Pickering, pater familias, was chairman of the board.
"So you're on a business trip?" the horse's ass asked.
"That's right," Pickering said, smiling with an effort.
That wasn't exactly true, either.
While it was true that he was going to Tokyo to participate in a conference between a dozen shipping companies - both air and what now had become "surface"- serving the Far East, it was also true that he was going to spend as little time as possible actually conferring with anyone. He was instead going to spend some time with a young couple - a Marine captain and his wife - who were stationed in Tokyo. He had never told either of them, but he regarded both of them as his children, although there was no blood connection.
When Pickering had been a young man, being groomed to take over P&FE from his father, Captain Richard Pickering, his father had told him over and over the basic rule of success as a mariner or a businessman: Find capable subordinates, give them a clear mission, and then get out of their way and let them do their jobs.
Fleming Pickering had capable subordinates who knew what he expected of them. And - very likely, he thought, because he did not get in their way and let them do their jobs - they did their jobs very well; in his opinion, far better than their peers elsewhere in the shipping business
They would do the conferring in Tokyo, and he would not get in their way.
What had happened was, the previous Wednesday, Chairman of the Board Pickering had, as was his custom, arrived at his San Francisco office at precisely 9 A.M.
It was an impressive office, occupying the southwest quarter of the upper (tenth) story of the P&FE Building. In some ways, it was museumlike:
There were four glass cases. Two of the four held precisely crafted models of each of the ninety-one vessels of the P&FE fleet, all built to the same scale, and each about two feet in length. There were tankers, bulk-carriers, freighters, and one passenger liner.
The other two glass cases held far larger models. In one was a six-foot-long, exquisitely detailed model of the clipper ship Pacific Princess (Richard Pickering, Master), which had set - and still held - the San Francisco-Shanghai speed record for sailing vessels. The other glass case held a thirteen-foot-long model of the 51,000-ton SS Pacific Princess (Fleming Pickering, Master), a sleek passenger ship that had set - and still held - the San Francisco-Shanghai speed record on her maiden voyage in 1941.
Hanging on nearly invisible wires above the clipper's glass case was a model of a Chance Vought CORSAIR F4U fighter aircraft. It had been built by the same firm of craftsmen who had built the ship models, and, like them, was correct in every detail. The legend "MARINES" was painted in large letters on the fuselage. Below it was lettered VMF-229, and below the cockpit window was the legend "M.S. Pickering, Major, USMCR" and nine small representations of the Japanese battle flag, each signifying an enemy aircraft downed by Major Pickering.
Suspended above the glass case holding the model of the SS Pacific Princess, there was a model of the Trans-Global Airways Lockheed Model L049 Constellation San Francisco, a four-engined triple-tailed airliner, in which TGA Chief Pilot Captain Malcolm S. Pickering had set two world's records, one for fastest commercial aviation flight between San Francisco and Honolulu, and the other for fastest commercial aviation flight time between Honolulu and Shanghai. The latter record was probably going to be on the books for some time, because the Chinese Communists were now in Shanghai, and American airlines were no longer welcome to land.
Reprinted from Under Fire by W.E.B. Griffin by permission of G. P. Putnams Sons, a member of Penguin Putnam Inc. Copyright © January 2002, W.E.B. Griffin. All rights reserved. This excerpt, or any parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.
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