The airplane slammed down layer by layer into the regions of the atmosphere through which non-supersonic jets ordinarily fly, trembling and pitching and making sounds to which even veteran air travelers were unaccustomed in 1978. The digital Mach Meter had dipped below the magic number of 1.00 only a few moments earlier, and only a few moments earlier still there was a bright sky and daylight behind the aircraft, a glorious pink color off our beam to the North, and a murky English night directly ahead. Now it was pitch black on all sides.
This was a trip by Concorde from New York City to London, and London lay directly ahead. We would be on the ground shortly, at ten o'clock at night, having left JFK International Airport only three hours and change earlier, on a hot summer's morning. I had been cheated out of a day in the life, it seemed. Where had the day gone?
It began in Massachusetts, where I live on a farm which doubles as a recording studio. Long View Farm, it's called. The day continued at the offices of ALSG a student travel company which I have owned and operated ever since my years as a graduate student in New Haven. My last day in the office before a trip is always a busy one, and this morning was no exception. Questions to answer, checks to sign, disputes to settle, schedules to set it went on and on. I had to fight my way out of the office and onto the tarmac. An assistant would travel with me to New York City, steno pad at the ready.
Frau Mueller blew me a kiss at JFK as I disappeared behind the soft felt ropes which divide the voyagers-to-be from their wishers-well. She had accompanied me from Worcester in our brand new twin-engine airplane, 75 X-Ray, taking notes on outstanding projects, and on the various foci of my current displeasure, which were many.
For a start, my student travel company was falling apart, divided from within by factions who would stay with me, and soldier on, and those who were fed up with the way things were going, and who would leave with prejudice, taking everything of value to which they thought themselves entitled. It was your classic corporate mutiny. Avarice, ambition, jealousy, sex, intrigue, and a great deal of money was involved. I was the founding father and current ruler of the roost; the Frau was my assistant. My executive secretary, if you will. In the end she too defected to the ranks of the young Turks, and is presently happily married to one of them, and the proud mother of two Turklets who are younger still. Her real name was not Frau, but Suki instead.
"I'll be your substitute," she shouted after me as I hustled down the corridor in the BA terminal in New York City.
This was a humorous thing to have said at the time, since Long View was in the midst of promoting a 45 RPM record called "Substitute" which featured that expression as a refrain, and since Suki and I were not just boss and assistant, but lovers too, and since I was a somewhat married man expecting the birth of my second child, who turned out to be my son David. The Frau always had a way with words, just as I have always had a way with words. I still think sometimes about Frau Mueller, and about those days in 1978 when I felt my life was falling apart around me. That's no doubt why I'm here at the computer now, many years later, trying to unscramble those days by writing about them.
But that takes us too far, too quickly. Let's concentrate instead on the events of that month of July, which for all practical purposes began with my arrival at Heathrow Airport, late at night, on a supersonic aircraft which, even after its long taxi to the landing gate, was too hot for its disembarking passengers to touch.
I'm Gil Markle, and these are The Pamphili Papers.1
That's what I called them then: The Pamphili Papers. At other times I've called them The Tobago Papers. Here you have them all as Travel Agent!