The lawyer set the whole thing off, Ed Daly said later, that young bantam rooster of a lawyer representing Kaiser Industries. Kaiser had agreed to sell Daly a lush open parcel of Bay Area land, 503 undeveloped acres east of Oakland, and now the contract sat in Daly's office, awaiting signatures. Daly did not get to it. The Kaiser lawyer called: did Mr. Daly in fact intend to purchase the land?

"Questioned my sincerity," Daly mutters, low and slow. "If not my integrity."

Daly phoned his bank. He wanted one million five hundred, please. And he wanted it in the smallest denominations they had. One-dollar bills, if possible.

Daly's banker said he would have to settle for mostly tens and twenties.

A Brink's truck delivered the money, stacked and wrapped in a giant plastic bag. They counted it out in Daly's office. Then Daly got into the back of his Mercedes limousine, the money was put back in the Brink's truck, and Daly and his bag of bills drove to the offices of Kaiser Industries. They were admitted to the office of Edgar Kaiser Sr., then chairman of the board, and there, with the assistance of several strong Brink's guards, Edward J. Daly, president of 82-percent owner of World Airways Inc., dropped $1.5 million cash on Edgar Kaiser's desk.

They tell that story with some pleasure around World Airways; it happens to be true, and even the old man himself likes it. "Quite humorous," is what he says, in the slow, deep voice that rumbies out from behind the beard. There are others, legendary by now and also true: about his 3 a.m. telephone calls, his shotguns, his vodka, his wild 1975 mission to the collapsing cities of South Vietnam, his purebred Arabians, his peacocks, the enormous 500-pound pig that lumbers around behind the trailer house from which Daly conducts much of the business of World Airways. The pig's name is Dirty Eddie. Daly broke his left hand a while ago while trying to ride Dirty Eddie aroung the pigpen.

Every domestic travel agent who sludges through the morass of Supersaver, Superapex, Good Buy, Economy Class, Trans-Con, Cabin 2 and Supercoach owes a tip of the Excedrin bottle to the Oakland-based airline company called World Airways Inc. For the last three years, ever since the Civil Aeronautics Board finally broke tradition and approved the airline's cross-country airfares of $99 one way, World has been wreaking havoc with the long-distance airfares of what Ed Daly likes to call the American "cartels."

For a month this spring, during a World extravaganza that Daly introduced as "a loud raspberry in the face of inflation," you could fly to the West Coast for $69.99; the lunch-hour ticket lines in Washington wound down 16th Street.

Then Daly announced World's regular coast-to-coast airfare: $139.99.

Things went a little berserk after that.

TWA, whose lowest fare until that point had been a restricted $149 coast-to-coast, announced its new night coach -- $134, (TWA people say this had nothing to do with World.)

Eastern, which had just burst into the transcontinental market with its own low cross-country fare, matched TWA. So did American and United.

Then Eastern dropped its night coach to $99.

Then everybody else dropped their night coaches to $99.

Then American dropped its night coach altogether and said that until the end of June you could fly the new American cross-country fare coast-to-coast for $99 anytime you wanted.

So Ed Daly cut World's June cross-country fare to $88.

A Pan Am official desribing the airfare situation back in April used the word "nuthouse."

Daly does not think so. Daly thinks this is war. Daly and his airline, the fleet he built from two leased war surplus propeller planes, linked against the big boys.David and Goliath. They turned it into a whole advertising compaign. In the pictures David has a big nose, and a ducktail; the giant lies felled at his feet. Battle words pepper the World Airways copy. "The only way we can win the war is with your support," exhorts Daly in a full-page newspaper ad. ". . . If you want lowcost airfares to stay alive, then fly with World Airways. After all, it's your fight, too."

There is something perculiarly American about the Chicago-born businessman who for 30 years has run World Airways like a mostly benevolent dictatorship. wHe is impulsive, uninhibited, driven, foolhardy, lucky, occasionally foul-mouthed and kind when you least expect it. It is difficult to imagine Freddy Laker, knighted by the queen and all, injuring himself pigback or smashing the faces of South Vietnamese soldiers with a pistol butt; Edward Daly seems to revel in the regional mythology that fits him somewhere in between the chapters on Western gunslingers and eccentric multimillionaires.

His dramatic airlifts, usually conducted with Daly barking the orders, have carried Hungarian freedom fighters and Vietnamese babies and frightened Indochinese to refuge in the United ystates.

His gifts are sudden, grand and sometimes noisy with the name of Daly: Christmas presents for every child in a neglected children's home, whole circus performances for neglected or delinquent children (complete with spending money, which was distributed to probation officers from yet another giant sack of bills). When he discovered the Mexico City Zoo had no giraffe, he ordered one shipped from San Diego; its truckbed voyage south was celebrated by both nations, and when the giraffe unfortunately expired en route, Daly sent down two more. (They made it.)

He is sworn at and sworn by with equal enthusiasm. A U.S. District Court jury last month awarded $52,000 to one of his former employes, and Alexandria woman named Bonnie Clark, after Clark charged sexual harassment, saying Daly patted her hip and patted her leg and finally left her alone when she promised to go to Reno with him. "Blackmail," Daly says, declining further elaboration. A World appeal in this lawsuit, plus an additional lawsuit against Daly personally, are still pending.

And Daly denies the following ever happened, but the story is famous at World anyway: One evening, people say, late at night, Daly came to the hangar to prepare for a flight on his private plane. He is supposed to have walked into the lunchroom, asked a mechanic for a cup of coffee, and then, in a tell-me-what-you-think sort of conversation (which melted finally into a singalong, according to one version of the story, with Daly joining into numbers like "Danny Boy" and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling"), handed one mechanic a hundred-dollar bill. The mechanic, possibly reluctant to play boss' pet before his fellow workers, handed it back. Daly, the story goes, laughed. He ripped the hundred-dollar bill to shreds. Then he passed out a handful of hundred-dollar bills, at random, before disappearing off into the night.

He is 57 now, pale and big, with deep creased pouches under red-rimmed eyes. His fingers tremble. His jowls sag. His left eye waters (he is soon to have a cataract removed). He will grant several audiences; during this, the first, he drinks vodka with carbonated grapefruit juice in the trailer house on the land he bought from Kaiser. He calls it Rancho Daly. Mostly it is just wide rolling hills, deep green now in spring, off a busy commuter highway. Daly's animals, all expect the Arabian horses, are in a pen behind the trailer, and sometimes during the long pauses in his sentences, the crowing of a rooster breaks the afternoon silence.

"The only way to survive," Daly says, very slowly, "is to work."

He laughs, and the sound is raspy and dry. His words are so slurred that it is hard to understand him at first.

"I'm not part of the country-club set," he says. "I don't play golf. I get as much exercise on the tennis court in one hour as I can playing 18 holes of golf five of the working days of the week." He says he has been up all night. He does this quite often, holed up in the trailer with only an aide or a security guard for company, poring over memos and figures and lists of World Airways statistics. His wife, who is an officer at World, travels a lot; just now she is in England, on the large and elegant houseboat the Dalys keep permanently moored on the Thames.

He says his last entirely work-free vacation was a week in Switzerland, 10 years ago. Even before his eye trouble, he rarely read novels. "You get engrossed in a novel," he says. "Five or six hours go by without your realizing it."

The idea of losing six hours offends him, and he seems proud of this. "I figure I'm a stronger man because of it," he says.

Meaning what?

"A man who has self-respect, not only for himself, but for others -- one who's unselfish, has a definite code of morals, and adheres to them, a man willing to stand up and fight for that which he believes, against all odds."

Daly likes saying "against all odds." He says it several times in conversation.

His heroes are men who stand up, all alone, against huge and awful enemies. He says one of his favorite Biblical stories was about David, not the Goliath-slaying David, but another lesser-known David, whose bravery represented "recognition of the freedom, or rights of the individual, against all odds. He fought, and was extremely successful, until the finale, when he was -- only by numbers -- defeated. And he was crucified, as was Christ."

(Efforts to locate Daly's particular David in the Bible met with considerable confusion, and no success.)

Daly also has a thing for the story of Father Damien, the 19th-century priest who ignored the counsel of his peers and ministered to lepers on the Hawaiian island of Molokai. As a child, Daly had three copies of Father Damien's autobiography.

Father Damien, like David, came to an unfortunate end. He contracted leprosy. There seems to be a lesson here somewhere.

"What's the lesson?" Daly lets out another laugh. "Don't lose."

The bathroom in Daly's World headquarters office has a mink-covered toilet seat (presented to him by a group of his employes), stall with seven golden shower heads positioned at various heights, Italian marble floors, a golden plumber's helper, a cabinet filled with crystal drinking glasses, and a refrigerator stocked with Daly's brands of liquor. He favors Pinch, and Tanqueray, and Smirnoff's. Among people who know him, and reporters who have covered him, his drinking is legendary. It is possible that in his constant testing of those around him, Daly feigns or exaggerates drunkenness; in any case, there are many people who say they have watched him conduct meetings, long conversations and complicated business when he looked to be thoroughly inebriated.

Invariably, people say, he recalls everything to next day. "I don't care how blotto he seemed," says a former World employe. "If he was falling down drunk, you could not take advantage of him at that point."

One former World executive recalls sitting through a dinner with some visiting Koreans and seeing Daly look so drunk that he was helped to the table. They spoke of hotel arrangements, a baseball game, specific details for the Koreans. The executive thought to himself: Daly will never remember any of this. The next morning at 10, Daly's secretary was on the telephone: Had the hotel arrangements been made? Would he need tickets to the ball game?

In the second interview, as he sits behind his grand wooden office desk and asks for a glass of ice water, Daly is asked how much he drinks.

"Never counted the ounces," he says.

Was he drunk during the first interview?

"No," Daly says.

Has he conducted business while inebriated?

"No," Daly says.

Thirty years ago, when World Airways was a gloomy little enterprise consisting of two leased war surplus planes and a $250,000 debt, a poorer but apparently no humbler Ed Daly laid out $50,000 cash to buy the whole operation. (It is said, although Daly denies it, that the money came from some well-invested gambling wins.) Daly, chemical engineering major and former semi-pro boxer from South Chicago, had never run a company before, but over the next six years he managed to finagle the financial backing he needed for reconstructing airplanes and expanding the fleet.

In 1956, the United States government awarded World a Military Air Service Contract allowing the airline to carry military personnel to trans-Pacific destinations. And there are those who have argued, in subsequent years, that Ed Daly built his company on the war in Vietnam. World established a fixed route between Travis Air Force Base and Saigon, and by 1970 the combination of military service and international civilian charters had pushed World's complement to 15 jets and 1,347 employes. At Christmas 1970, Daly dropped the price of the round-trip Saigon-West Coast flight from $950 to $350; according to World's records, 23,000 Vietnam soliders used the reduced rates for two-week leaves during the following year.

There were soliders and ammunition and food supplies in World's military service planes, and when the South toppled, Daly flew to Saigon, "against all odds," he probably said somewhere along the way, to pull out whom he could. It was March 1975, the final weeks for the American embassy in Saigon. Daily is said to have blustered, pushed and bullied (one official, recalling the month, said Daly was "labeled in almost every hallway he walked in as 'that stupid a---'"); by the time it was over, television broadcasts and breathless dispatches had managed to sear into the national consciousness the image of Edward J. Daly, his shirt open and flapping around his bare chest, beating frenzied South Vietnamese solidiers off the lowered steps of his 727, the last American flight out of Da Nang, as it lifted off with a dead body trapped in the wheel compartment.

It was foolhardy, it was brave, and it was timed in perfect counterpoint to the helplessness of the failing American mission in Vietnam. Daly looked like he was accomplishing something, as our great dumb giant of a nation rolled unsteadily away. When he declared after the Da Nang flight that he would rescue 400 Vietnamese orphans, it hardly mattered that he was only able finally to take 57, because he did it with such swashbuckling flair: late at night, in a DC-8 with restraining nets but no seats, World Airways pilot Ken Healy taxied a cargo hold full of astonished children onto a runway reportedly threatened with imminent attack by the Viet Cong. "Don't take off, don't take off," the control tower radioed. Somebody killed the runway lights. Healy sent a quick and final message back to the frantic tower at the airport.

"Just watch me," he is reported to have said, and the baby plane roared off into the darkness above Saigon.

A visitor to the World Airways office is handed a 20-page reprint of the exultant press that followed Ed Daly home for Vietnam. "Mr. ed lifts OUT WAR BABES." "World Airways' Ed Daly: Pistol Packin' Millionaire." "The Bravest Man in South Vietnam." Joseph Knowland, then editor of the Oakland Tribune, wrote a front-page editorial studded with italicized references to Don Quixote. George F. Will's column that week, reprinted all over the country, began: "Breathes there a man with soul so dead, who hasn't to himself said, 'Right on, Edward Daly!'"

Daly also keeps on hand a short film composed of television footage from the Da Nang flight. "Keep it around for reference," Daly says. He likes to show the film to new employes and reporters.

"The film, we found, has helped the media a great deal in determining what the company is all about, besides being an airline" Daly says. "We have met our civic obligations on a worldwide basis. We're active Americans, Americans willing to spread, uh, perpetrate the American philosophy among those nations who differ from our own . . . I doubt that there's a day that goes by that we're not involved in something."

He flies, most of the time, in the "Jolly Green Giant," a green Convair propeller plane emblazoned with a shamrock on the tail, a leprechaun on the side and a long list of landing spots (Mofti, bamako, malta, beirut, SHARJAH, ABUDHABI). Flight attendants call it the "Green Pickle." "Working the pickle" is the operative term for duty on the plane, and judging by interviews with five flight attendants, it is not exactly one of the high points of an average tenure at World. A flight attendant, by now 10 years into her World career, tells of the early 1970s flight when Daly, riding with his secretary on an otherwise empty 727 from Tokyo to Saigon, asked the attendant to take off his boots. The attendant, a black woman in her late 20s, found this demeaning and refused to do it.

"Are you too proud to take off my boots?" she says Daly asked.

"It's not my job," the flight attendant said. Daly fired her on the spot. The plane landed in Okinawa, and the woman was kicked off; she telephoned union officials to tell them what had happened, and the firing was never officially carried out. (Daly does not deny this happened, but says he relieved her of duty temporarily; it was her attitude that bothered him, he says. Under the circumstances, he said, he would have taken off a flight attendant's boots if she had asked him to.)

There is another now-famous story at World about the two flight attendants who were fired, officially, because Daly wanted steak sauce with his dinner and there was none on the plane. When a reporter, nosing around for the true meaning of this, asked a Teamsters official whether the firing was really some kind of retribution against union organizers, the Teamsters man laughed out loud. "No," he said. "It was the A-1 sauce."

Daly expects fierce, resilient loyalty from the people who work for him -- and more often than not, even as they roll their eyes and put up with his mean side and tell outrageous stories about him, he gets it. Every executive at the company has learned to adjust to the sudden jolt of the telephone in the darkness, the quiet voice of the dispatcher saying, "Mr. Daly will be calling you in 10 minutes," the urgent effort to wake up quickly and finally the rumbling voice of the old man himself.

What about this new order, he will say. How much did we bid? What are the specifications on this particular plane? One former World executive remembers the time Daly called at 4 in the morning, livid; Daly had just driven onto the company parking lot and discovered that someone had repainted the stripes. Who in hell, Daly cried, had ordered such a thing? He wanted it put back the way it was, he said. And he wanted it done that morning.

Then Daly's voice went suddenly gentle and gruff. He asked whether the executive's family was recovering from the death of one of the children. Daly had already summoned medical specialists to help, at his own expense; was there anything he could do now? "He says to me, 'By God, if I ever find out I could have done something, and you didn't tell me about it,'" says the executive, who has now escaped to the comparative tranquillity of another airline, and gets a little wistful reminiscing about his old boss.

"Hell on wheels," the executive says. "He'll drive you to your grave, but he'll buy the biggest wreath of flowers. He's that kind of guy."

And there is a former longtime aide; a black man we will call P., who recalls quite clearly the afternoon he left the company. Daly was apparently outraged because P. had not attended to him quickly enough. "You haven't got the brains of that f---ing hog out there," he said.

P. had worked 15 years for World Airways, the last 10 of them directly for its president. He had protected Daly, rubbed his back, talked to him late into the nights when Daly would rumble, slow and crusty, "Hey, I need some company over here." Daly had taught him never to let his head hang down because he was a black man -- "not to take no crap off nobody," P. says now. "To me, that's good teaching."

So P. looked Daly in the eye and told him he would not tolerate verbal abuse. "If you don't like it," he says Daly answered, "get in your truck and get the hell out of here."

And he did. "Adios, mother -----," said P. He drove down the road out of Rancho Daly and onto the freeway west. He has never gone back. But if the old man needed him tomorrow -- if Ed Daly plunged neck-deep into one more insane adventure, and cursed and fought and ignored rules and got shot at, and wanted a little help pulling himself out -- P. would go, just like that, no questions asked.