January 11 continued
Jeff sent Gordon and John with Virgil to search for some rally car drivers that had lost their way in the Gobi desert during the first, and probably last, Beijing to Moscow race. Brains used the scanners in Thunderbird Five to pinpoint each of the three rally teams that had gotten turned around when their GPS systems went haywire. Scott tracked down one team and guided them back to the nearest check-in point. John used the Recovery vehicle to pull one of the teams off of a glacier in the mountains of the Gobi, while Gordon used Thunderbird Two's clamps to retrieve one still-occupied vehicle from a deep ravine.
"How they managed to live through it is beyond me, Father," Gordon said as he returned to Thunderbird Two's flight deck. "The side of the hovercar was smashed, but I guess the hoverjets provided some kind of cushion."
Alan stayed behind, Jeff deeming it too dangerous to send him out to a venue where he might be easily recognized. He spent some time practicing his putt on the small green that Jeff had installed near the house.
As the rescuers were on their way home, Eleanor brought some coffee in to Jeff and told him, "We need to talk."
Scott stretched and massaged the back of his neck. True, the rescue wasn't one of the hardest they'd ever had, but still, he was tired. He took off his sash and slung it across the back of his chair, then pulled off his turtleneck, and put it in his nearly empty hamper. He was about to remove his uniform pants when something on his bed caught his eye. Frowning, he walked over to pick it up. It was a sealed white envelope with his name on it. Opening it up, he found a sum of cash inside, and a note in his father's strong handwriting. The note said simply, "The bet is cancelled."
That's an interesting development, he thought as he pulled out the cash and transferred it to his wallet. Wonder what brought it on?
Gordon sauntered down the path to the beach, ready for his morning run with John. It's been great to get out there with him, he thought. We've really been able to catch up and talk.
To his surprise, it wasn't John tying his running shoes at the bottom of the path, it was his father.
"Dad?" Gordon asked, puzzled.
"I asked John if was all right for me to take his place today," Jeff explained. "Is that okay with you?"
"Uh, sure, Dad," Gordon replied. "You're welcome any time."
"Good," Jeff said with a grin. "Just go easy on the old man, okay?" He stood and looked over the beach left and right. "Which way do you usually go?"
"Out toward the northern beach," Gordon said, pointing to the right. He gave his father another puzzled look. "Dad... why do you want to run with me today?"
"John tells me you two have some good conversations on your runs. I've got some talking to do and for once, I'd rather do it away from the office."
Uh-oh! Now comes the 'confrontation' that Penelope he suggested he have, Gordon thought in dismay. And here I thought I'd been proving myself to him.
"Ready, son?" Jeff asked, walking out onto the pristine beach.
"Yeah, Dad." And the two of them began a jog toward the northern part of the island.
Gordon let Jeff set the pace and found that his father wasn't too much slower than John. They ran side by side down the firm, damp sand left behind by the waves. The younger man kept looking over at his father, checking to see that he wasn't getting too red or out of breath. But Jeff, who had kept up a fitness regimen ever since his days in the Air Force, handled the pace well.
They came to a pile of boulders that spilled out into the sea, marking the boundary between the wide beach of the western side of the island and the narrow strip of sand that sat at the bottom of the island's highest spot. Beyond the boulders, the sea was dotted with rocks and it was too dangerous to swim or surf. But a little way beyond that was the wider beach that faced north-northeast and had the best surfing to be found on their little piece of paradise. The ocean there was devoid of the obstacles to swimming and the strip of sand was wide. More importantly, there was a fresh water rivulet that trickled down a cut to the sea.
Gordon climbed the rocks, reaching a hand back to help Jeff, who was unfamiliar with the hand and foot holds of the barrier. Then he led the way to the other side, beginning the cool off process. Once free of the cliff that rose above their heads, the two men matched strides again, finally slowing down as they reached the small creek. Gordon took the lead again, guiding his father into the shade of some palm trees by the gurgling water.
"Hmm. Been a while since I've been on this side of the island," Jeff admitted as he splashed his face with the fresh water. "I'd almost forgotten that the spring was here. I remember being really glad to have found it when I was doing my 'Robinson Crusoe' thing, courtesy of the WSA."
"I can't remember: how long did they leave you here?" Gordon asked as he rummaged around in a plastic storage chest near the stream. He took out a pair of empty bottles and handed one to his father. "Here's a purifying tablet to clear the water of possible nasties."
"I don't remember the spring that feeds this having any nasties," Jeff commented. "But it's still a good precaution. And, to answer your question, I was here for ten weeks."
"Wow! Mom must have been worried sick!"
"She was pretty worried, but the WSA assured her that this was part of my training and they were keeping an eye on me from afar." Jeff shook his head. "That was the longest ten weeks of my life!" He filled his bottle, popped in the tablet, shook the bottle well, then took a long drink. "Nothing like spring water to quench a man's thirst." He sat down with his back to a tree and stretched out his legs.
There was silence between the two for a long moment, then they said in unison, "So...." The unplanned duplication caused them both to chuckle, and Jeff gave a wave of his hand, indicating that Gordon speak first.
"So, what did you want to talk about, Dad?"
"This resolution of yours. You seem pretty serious about it. I'm a bit concerned because your brothers have been taking advantage of it and I don't like that." He glanced over at Gordon, who was sitting on a low stone. "Tell me, what brought this on? It's not like you to drop something that you so thoroughly enjoy so suddenly."
Gordon looked away, then blew out a breath. "Well, Dad, it's like this. I was on the terrace at Penelope's party and I overheard you and Penny talking. You were saying that you wished 'he' would see that his fooling around was being hurtful and would take things seriously. Penelope told you to confront him and then you moved away." Gordon looked down at the toes of his running shoes. "I figured you were talking about me. I do more 'fooling around' than anyone else in the family."
"Ah, I see." Jeff looked thoughtful. His gaze met Gordon's. "For the record, I was not talking to Penelope about you. I was discussing Alan and his recent treatment of Tin-Tin. The girl is deeply in love with him and this nonsense about his life being too dangerous to share with anyone has hurt her." Jeff snorted. "Of course our lives are dangerous! His life would be dangerous if he were racing! Scott's would be in the Air Force. I don't know why he has to insist on this now, when he's got the girl on a string."
He took another swig. "I had a talk with him yesterday on the subject. I don't know what good it did, but at least he knows where I stand."
"Oh," was all that Gordon could say. The fact that his father had not been talking about him was still settling in.
There was another silence. Then Jeff spoke again. "I want you to know that I am proud of you, Gordon. I've never been displeased with your work; you have always been the focused, consummate professional during rescues. And though your... ahem... pranks occasionally cause uproar in the household, I understand that they're one way that you deal with the pressures of our work. You keep your brothers on their toes and make us laugh when we really need it." He reached out and put a hand on Gordon's shoulder. "I don't mind the new, serious Gordon, but I do sort of miss the old, joking one."
Gordon thought about his father's words for a few minutes. Then he asked softly. "Is this your way of winning the bet, Dad?"
Jeff's eyes grew wide and he sat up suddenly, startled. "How did you find out about the bet?"
"I overheard you talking about it yesterday at breakfast," Gordon replied. "You said that you and John were the only ones left. What happened? The others dropped out?"
Jeff sighed. "No, the others lost. And it's a moot point anyway. I cancelled the bet last night and returned their wagers."
"Because it was wrong. Because I realized that though I said that you could do anything you put your mind to, I wasn't following that up with my own actions or attitude." It was Jeff's turn to look at his shoes. Then he locked gazes with Gordon. "I'm sorry, son. I should have known better. You fought your way back from near death, and that more than anything else should have told me that you could keep your resolution."
He took a deep breath. "I just want you to know that you don't have to keep the resolution to let me know how serious you are about things. Do you understand?"
"Yeah, I do," Gordon replied. "But it was... a shock to think you all figured I'd cave on this." And a shock to hear you apologize to me!
"It was a bit of a shock to me, too," Jeff admitted. "Especially from Alan. But you proved them, and me, wrong, and took a lot of garbage from them in the proving of it."
"John never did anything... except put his money into the wager," Gordon said ruefully.
"You're right. He didn't. And you'll probably want to talk to him and your other brothers. As will I," Jeff replied. He wiped his forearm across his brow, looking up and squinting. He glanced back at Gordon. "Do you have anything you need to say to me?"
Gordon thought for a moment. "Noooo, I don't think so right now."
"If you do think of something, come see me. I want the air totally cleared about this situation." Jeff got up from his sandy spot and brushed off his shorts. "Let's head back. The sun is getting high and I've got work to tend to back at the villa."
"Yes, sir." Gordon took the bottles and rinsed them out, putting them back in the storage cube.
"Nice idea that," Jeff said, indicating the cube. Gordon nodded his acknowledgement, and the two men began their trek back to the house.
Gordon came back inside from his swim, feeling refreshed. He met Tin-Tin in the hall, a stylus over one ear, a data pad in her hand, and her lab coat on, not watching where she was going.
"Hey, Tin-Tin," he said.
She looked up at him and smiled. "Hello, Gordon. How was your swim?"
"Great! And I had a good run with my Dad, too."
"Ah! That reminds me. Your grandmother wanted a word with you," Tin-Tin said absently.
"Thanks, Tin-Tin. I'll see her as soon as I get changed."
Once he was showered and dressed, Gordon went in search of Eleanor. He found her sipping lemonade in a shady spot outside the dining room, right below the wide balcony on the upper floor. He noticed, with amusement, that she had been expecting someone, for there was a second glass on the small table next to her.
"Hi, Grandma!" he said, leaning down to kiss her cheek.
She smiled and put a hand up to his face, returning the salute. "Hello there, Gordon," she said. "I see that Tin-Tin gave you my message."
"Yes, she did. And I see she gave you mine," he replied, sitting down and pouring himself a glass of lemonade. Just then, Tin-Tin, now dressed in a cool, sleeveless sun dress, came out from the dining room, a tall glass of lemonade in her hand. She joined the two who were sitting in the shade.
"Ah, good. Now that Tin-Tin's here, we can get started," Eleanor said. She fixed her gaze on her fourth grandson. "Now, you may not know this, but there's a wager on the books...."
Gordon held up a hand. "I know about it, Grandma. Dad and I had a long talk about it. He cancelled it last night."
"Ah!" Eleanor said, nodding. "I thought he might once I was through with him." She leaned towards him, as did Tin-Tin. "I've been thinking about this wager business and the hassle your brothers put you through over it. And I think it's a shame that you haven't gotten some of your own back."
"But Grandma," Gordon protested. "If you want to get technical about it, my brothers were getting some of their own back. And I can take it as well as dish it out."
"There's no doubt about that, Gordon," Tin-Tin piped up. "It's just that we're both upset that they took advantage of your resolution to do it. So," here the two women exchanged glances, "we have a little prank of our own to pull."
"Yes," Grandma said with a surprisingly wicked grin. "One that gets back at all of them at once. We have Brains's cooperation and we need a little from you as well."
"I don't know about this, Grandma," Gordon said. "You realize that they'll think I did it and that all their suspicions of me were true."
"Don't you worry about that, Gordon. We will make it very clear that we are the instigators... once the whole thing is over," Tin-Tin said. "Besides, I want to get in a poke at that Alan...."
Gordon sighed. "I don't suppose I have any choice here?"
"Not really," Eleanor said with a wink. "Not unless you want to get caught up in it."
"Nooo, I don't think I want that. Okay, Grandma, Tin-Tin. You can count me in. What do I need to do?" Gordon asked.
"All we need from you is a little play acting... and your uniform," Eleanor said with that wicked smile as she told her grandson what she wanted him to do.
The thirteenth had been a relatively quiet day at the Tracy household. Tin-Tin went shopping with John, a situation that did not sit well with Alan, who moped around the house while she was gone. Scott joined Gordon in the firing range for some practice, and handed him an envelope.
"I hear you know about the wager," he said. "This was my portion of it. I want to reimburse you for the Speedos."
Gordon accepted the money without comment. Then they had an impromptu shooting match, which Gordon won hands down.
Now it was the fourteenth, the day that Jeff Tracy said his son would drop his resolution and play a prank on somebody. And, as luck would have it, the emergency signal went off.
John, Scott, Virgil, and Alan hurried to the lounge, followed more slowly by a limping Gordon.
Jeff noticed the odd gait immediately. "Gordon, why are you limping?"
Gordon grimaced as he stepped down from the study to the lounge floor. "Uh, it's nothing, really, Dad. Just a twinge in my back. I'll be fine. I'm ready to go."
"Not today, you're not. Off you go, Scott. John, you and Alan triple crew with Virgil. Take pod five with the Firefly and Fire Tender. Get moving, boys. Thunderbirds are go!"
Scott and Virgil headed for their respective Thunderbirds, while John and Alan went to the passenger elevator. Gordon sank into Thunderbird Three's sofa with a groan.
Eleanor and Tin-Tin came into the lounge. "What's going on, Jeff?" Eleanor asked.
"Refinery fire in Alaska," Jeff said tersely. "Mother, will you check over Gordon here? He says he's got a twinge but he's limping pretty badly."
"Of course, Jeff." She helped her grandson to his feet, and the two women led him out of the room--as far as the study. They sat where they could observe without being seen and waited for the Thunderbirds to launch.
As Thunderbird One moved down her track toward her launch pad, Scott opened his uniform storage area, and pulled out... his uniform?
In Thunderbird Two, Virgil decided to wait to toggle the switch that would bring his uniform storage capsule to light. Instead, he checked to see if his brothers were strapped into their seats, then opened up the cliffside hangar door. Steering the green cargo carrier out to its launch site, he activated the ramp and called back to the lounge, asked for clearance to launch.
"Thunderbird One hasn't launched yet," Jeff said. "Scott, what's the delay?"
"Uh, let Virgil go. I'll catch up to him," Scott said as he puzzled over why his shirt was too tight.
Jeff frowned. "It's not SOP, Scott."
"I know, Father," Scott said. "I'll be with him momentarily."
"Okay, Thunderbird Two, you're cleared for launch," Jeff told the pilot.
"F-A-B," Virgil replied. With the roar of the rear engines, the cargo carrier took to the sky.
Jeff got back to Thunderbird One. He opened communications with his oldest son. "What's the delay, Scott?"
"Uh, Father? I seem to have a wardrobe malfunction here...." Scott held up his uniform to the screen.
Jeff's jaw dropped. Scott had in his hands a brown leather sash. The shirt he wore was too small, and Jeff could see the waistband of Scott's boxers peeking out from the bottom of the screen.
"The shirt is too small, the pants are too tight, I've got Brains's sash and Gordon's hat. At least I have my own boots."
"Oh great. Do you have a spare on Thunderbird Two?"
"Then put your civvies back on and get going. I'll tell Virgil what's happened."
In the meanwhile, Virgil had taken the time to open up his uniform storage. He glanced at it, then did a double take. What the hell?
As Thunderbird Two leveled out, John and Alan headed for the crew's quarters, where their uniforms and spare civvies were kept. Alan stuck his hand in the closet, automatically pulling out the hanger on which his IR uniform was kept. Not being as familiar with it as Alan was, John stood before the closet, moving the hangers back and forth. He pulled out the one marked with his name.
"Uh, Alan? There's something wrong here...."
"Thunderbird Two to base. We have a problem," Virgil said as his screen flicked into life. "We've had a major uniform mix up. My pants are too short, the arms on the shirt are too short, and I have Scott's sash." He looked behind him. "John and Alan have similar problems. Alan's pants are too big, his shirt's too tight, and he has Gordon's sash. John's pants are too big and too short, and the shirt's too big. We do have our own boots. And none of us have our own hats."
"Whose sash does John have?"
"Uh, yours, Dad."
Jeff huffed. "Hmm. I wonder if Gordon was really hurt...." He looked up at Virgil. "What about the spare uniforms?"
Virgil shook his head. "They're not here."
Jeff sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Well, sort it out as close as you can. And tell John that he's not to wear my sash!"
"F-A-B. Thunderbird Two out."
"GORDON COOPER TRACY!" Jeff bellowed.
Eleanor stepped down into the lounge. "He's gone, probably to the pool," she said, a smile on her face.
Jeff scowled at her. "Did you hear what he did?"
She approached her son. "I heard. But he didn't do it."
"What?! Then who...?" Comprehension dawned on Jeff's face. "Mother...?"
"Yes, son?" she said sweetly.
Jeff huffed, an exasperated sound. "What are the boys going to do? They can't go out with their clothes like--like that!"
"They won't, Jeff," Eleanor said, her eyes twinkling merrily. "The spares are hidden in Thunderbird Two. I'll tell you where once they're fifteen minutes from the Danger Zone."
"But Scott! What about him?"
"His uniform is hidden in Thunderbird One. Same deal applies."
"But--why?" Jeff asked in a plaintive voice.
"Why?" Eleanor said. "Because this was the best way that Tin-Tin and I could think of to pull a prank on all of you at once. I was very upset that you and the boys thought so little of Gordon's resolution. And Tin-Tin? She was very disappointed with the boys and their pranks. So now we've 'expressed our displeasure' so to speak." She crossed her arms. "Gordon's only part in this was making sure he did not go out on the mission."
"So the limp was faked," Jeff said, shaking his head. He gave his mother a long-suffering sigh. She stepped over to him, putting her hand on his arm.
"I haven't forgotten what you were like when you were a boy, Jeff. If I told the boys some of the pranks you pulled, they'd never believe me!"
Jeff began to chuckle. "Either that or you'd give Gordon a lot of new ideas." He bent over and kissed her on the cheek. "Tell me where the uniforms are, Mother. Please?"
"Oh, all right," Eleanor replied. "You know I can't resist when you turn your charm.
Gordon floated on the surface of the pool, imagining his brothers trying to put on the mixed up uniforms. The picture of Scott wearing Brains's shirt kept coming up and he chuckled. He heard someone dive in, and felt the ripples caused by their impact with the water. Then he was grabbed by the waist from below and pulled under!
He broke free and came to the surface, sputtering. Tin-Tin stood in the shallow end of the pool, giggling.
"Oh, you want to play dirty, huh?" he said, advancing on her with a gleeful expression.
She backed away, holding her hands in front of her, saying, "Oh no, you don't! Gordon! Don't you dare!"
He chased her, shrieking, up to the flagstones and once around the pool before she dove in ahead of him. He followed, and managed to grab an ankle and pull her under once she had surfaced from her dive. This time, she came up sputtering and pushing her drenched hair out of her face.
"Gotcha!" Gordon said. "Truce?"
Tin-Tin laughed. "Okay. Truce." She made her way over to the side of the pool and hoisted herself up, sitting so that her legs dangled in the water. Gordon joined her, putting his arms on the edge and letting the rest of his body float.
"So, what's going on with Alan?" he asked.
She sighed, then smiled. "Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I've decided that if he doesn't want to share his life with me, good riddance."
"Have you told him this?"
"Not yet. I think that I'll let my actions do the talking for the time being. The way he's done with me."
"You going to date other men?"
"You mean like Eddie? No, I don't think so. Not for a while anyway." She glanced down at him. "How about you? Will you go back to your old, practical joker ways?"
He looked off into the greenery that ringed the pool. "I don't know yet. It depends on if I get really inspired or not. At least I know that I don't have to be serious to gain Dad's approval. He's approved of me all along."
"Of course he has. He just needs to tell you more often."
Gordon looked up at her, and smiled. "You want to take a run on the beach?"
She returned the smile. "Sounds like a plan to me."