Jeff and Lou explain
Lou's face, framed in the vidphone's screen, took on a pleased and mischievous look. "Well, hello there, stranger! I see you got my letter."
"Yes, I did. And my sons have been telling me all about the impromptu visit from their honorary aunt," Jeff returned with a grin. "Now, Lou, there had to have been an easier way for you to pay us a visit...."
"You're probably right, Jeff, except for the fact that I had no idea you'd moved from Kansas to live on a rock in the middle of nowhere," she retorted with a raised eyebrow and a smile tugging at the ends of her mouth. Then she broke into a grin. "It's so good to see you."
"It's good to see you, too," Jeff replied. He moved his head to take in all of her features. "You're looking good, despite the gray hairs...."
Lou's mouth opened in shock and her eyes widened. "Look who's talking, Mr. More-Salt-Than-Pepper-In-His-Hair-And-A-Receding-Hairline!"
"Who, me?" Jeff exclaimed in mock surprise, running a hand through his hair again. Then both of them broke down and laughed.
"So, how was your trip? And how is your mother? And what all did the boys tell you about me?" Lou asked, the words tumbling out rapid-fire.
"My trip was profitable, but too long," Jeff replied. Then he sobered a touch. "My mother took sick while she was in the States and she's still not feeling up to par."
Lou's face softened, and she said sympathetically, "I'm sorry that she's not feeling well. You tell her for me to get well soon. That is," she added, "if she'll accept get well greetings from me."
"I'll see to it that she does," Jeff told her. "As for the boys, well, they had just gotten to the juicy part when I read your letter."
"Juicy part? What juicy part? I don't remember there being anything particularly juicy going on," Lou protested.
Suddenly, Jeff realized that their conversation was being watched with great interest by the rest of the household, and that he hadn't cut off communications with John in Thunderbird Five. He turned, and found that Scott had already dealt with the satellite situation and John's casual portrait was back in place.
"By juicy, Aunt Lucinda," Scott said as he came to stand beside Jeff, "Dad's talking about how I tried and tried to figure out where I had seen you before and couldn't." He shook a finger at her. "You said that you hadn't met me before."
"Ah, ah, ah, Scott," she replied with a grin, shaking her head and her finger back at him. "I said that if I had met a man as handsome as you, I was sure I'd remember him." Her grin widened and she winked at him. "And I would."
Scott groaned and passed his hand over his face. "Why didn't you tell me who you were? I was going crazy trying to figure it out!"
"Yeah!" Virgil piped up as he joined Scott at the vidphone. Jeff stepped back, his arms folded and a big smile on his face. "He had John and me going nuts, too!"
"Oh, Scott! I'm sorry," Lou said, contritely but with a twinkle in her eyes. "I just couldn't help myself. I just kept waiting and waiting for the penny to drop and it just wouldn't!" She focused her gaze beyond them, her eyes searching. "Where is John, anyway?"
"Uh, he's still out at one of the corporate offices," Jeff said quickly. "He'll be home in a day or so and I'll make sure you get to talk to him then."
"I bet Gordon and Alan are wondering what the hell we're talking about, and where this 'aunt' business comes from," Lou commented.
"Yes, we are!" Alan exclaimed as he came to take Virgil's place.
Gordon joined him, standing on the other side of Jeff. "Cough it up, Dad. How come we have an aunt when you've got no siblings?"
"The key word is 'honorary', boys," Lou told them.
"Yes," Jeff added. "Lucinda here was a good friend of ours when you two were just babies. We met her and her husband, Greg, when we were expecting you, Gordon. Your mother and Lou continued their friendship for years after Lucinda and Greg moved away."
"Really?" Alan asked, his interest piqued. "How did you meet?"
"Lucinda works for Interpol in their Intellectual Properties division. Her specialty is research and surveillance. In the early days of Tracy Industries I was having trouble with industrial piracy. Someone was taking our ideas and selling them to competitors overseas. Since the problem crossed international borders, it fell under Interpol's purview. Lucinda was the agent assigned to our case."
Gordon blinked. "You mean... she really is a secret agent?"
Lou laughed. "An agent, yes, but hardly secret. More like a law-enforcement officer, if you will. And, as I told you boys, that's all past now. I'm retired."
"You, retired?" Jeff asked, surprised. "Never thought I'd see the day."
"Well, you have," Lou replied. "I am free of the daily grind. My unfortunate flight was my final duty to my employer."
"I can't see you just puttering around the house, Lou. You've been far too active. You'll drive poor Greg to distraction," Jeff commented. "By the way, how is he?"
Lou laughed ruefully. "Just like a man! You didn't happen to notice that, oh, it's been nine years now, I started signing the Christmas cards from just 'Lucinda', did you? Greg and I are divorced and have been for a while now. I'm surprised Lucy didn't tell you!"
"Uh, no, I don't remember her saying anything. Or notice the cards," Jeff admitted, his cheeks reddening. "Or if I did notice, I didn't attach too much importance to it."
"Uh huh," Lou said, smiling impishly, an eyebrow raised as she nodded her head slowly. "As I said, just like a man."
"So, what happened? Why did you two break up?" he asked, sitting back down at his desk and making himself comfortable.
Lou sighed, her demeanor turning weary and serious. "Oh, Jeff, it was such a dismal and sordid thing... the gist of it was that he had an affair and walked out on me. I'd rather not talk any more about it, at least not now. Maybe some other time."
"Okay. Some other time then," Jeff replied, giving her a sympathetic smile. "So, how'd you end up in North Carolina?"
"Well, it's central to my office and to a lot of my friends, and besides, I love the mountains. The city isn't too big and the people are friendly. Seemed like the perfect place to live once I was on my own," Lou explained. "Now, how did you end up on that beautiful island of yours?"
"Oh, so now it's a beautiful island?" Jeff teased. He glanced back at the rest of the household, who were still hanging on every word. "Well, I wanted to retire and get away from it all. I had found this... rock... when I was doing my astronaut training. In fact, I was abandoned here for several weeks. It seemed to fill the bill. Can't get much more 'away from it all' unless you went to live in a lunar or Martian colony. And with Tracy Industries as spread out as it is, I still need to be close to the action... as in, on the planet."
"Well, I wish I had been able to see more of it, but I really did want to get home," Lou said regretfully. Then her tone became impish again. "Though it would have been fun to see your face if you came home to find me occupying a guest room!"
"It was enough of a shock to get that letter!" Jeff shot back. "And to find out that one of our... ahem... 'beach finds' had actually gone home without trying to snare one of my sons!" He looked over at Scott. "Though Scott doesn't seem to remember the crush he had on you way back when."
Scott gave his father a piercing look. "Me? Crush? On Aunt Lucinda?"
Virgil had returned to the piano, and now he bounced up and down on the bench. "Oh yeah! That's right! Whenever you and Mother went out together, he would ask for his 'favorite babysitter', Aunt Lucinda!"
"That's not the half of it, Virgil," Lou said, smiling mischievously. "When Gordon was born, and it became clear to him that the stork had nothing to do with babies, he proposed to me!"
Scott frowned. "I did?" He shook his head. "I don't remember doing that."
"Oh, but I do!" Lou continued. "You asked me, and I quote: 'Aunt Lucinda, wanna get married and make some babies?'."
All eyes turned to Scott, whose face went white, then red, and then he buried it in his hands, shaking his head. "Oh, man. Now I remember."
The group in the room laughed, and Virgil slapped Scott on his shoulder, howling at his brother's embarrassment.
"And what did you say to him?" a grinning Jeff inquired.
"Oh, I told him that I was already married to Greg and I couldn't be married to two men at once. He seemed to take it in stride... for an eight-year-old," Lou explained.
Scott's head suddenly shot up, and a scheming look crossed his face. "Well, you're not the only one who has dirt to dish, Aunt Lucinda. My memory is getting better, and I seem to recall the incident with the lentil stew...."
Now it was Lou's turn to look disconcerted. She sat up straighter, and shook a finger at him, though everyone could see she was amused under it all. "Now, Scott Carpenter Tracy, I swore you to secrecy on that!"
"Tit for tat, Lou," he replied, grinning now.
"What's this about lentil stew?" Jeff asked, looking from the vidphone screen to his oldest son and back again.
Scott leaned back and put his hands behind his head. "Well, I remember that one night when Aunt Lucinda came to babysit, Mom had left a big pot of lentil stew on the stove for our dinner. Lou took one look at it, and spooned it out into bowls. She made us each take one bite, dumped the stew down the garbage disposal, and put the bowls in the dishwasher. Then, she called out for pizza!"
"Yeah! I remember that!" Virgil piped up. "She put the empty pizza boxes in her car, made sure the trash was taken out and made us swear not to tell Mother about the pizza! I think I heard her telling Mom how delicious the stew was. And when we were asked if we'd eaten any, we all said 'yes' because, after all, we had!"
"It was like some big secret campaign to eat pizza and not hurt anyone's feelings," Scott added. He looked over at Lou and grinned. "I'm remembering more and more now. You were a fun babysitter. Too bad we didn't see much of... your husband... at the time."
"Yeah. He didn't like to be called 'Uncle' Greg, as I remember," Virgil agreed, nodding his head.
Jeff shook his as he turned his attention fully back to Lou. "The things you learn about your kids as they grow up! I seem to remember the lentil stew; Lucy fretted that you wouldn't like it." He leaned in close as if imparting something confidential. "And truth to tell, I wasn't that fond of it myself. But I never told her that."
Lou laughed. "You are incorrigible, Jeff Tracy. Poor Lucille!" Then she smiled at him. "Lucy'd be proud, you know. You two raised wonderful boys."
Jeff looked down and cleared his throat. "Well, yeah, I'd like to think so."
"She would be," Lou said firmly. "The way they--and Brains and Tin-Tin, of course--took care of me... well, sir, you'd be proud of that yourself . It's a measure of how well you and Lucy raised them that they could do what they did for what seemed like a total stranger. And she'd be proud of the way you've kept the family together since her death."
Jeff said nothing, just looked down.
Lou took this as a cue to wrap up the conversation. "Well, it's getting late here, and though I don't have to actually go to work tomorrow, I do need to replace all of my identification and I expect that will take a good portion of the day. Plus, my four furry tyrants won't let me sleep beyond eight. So, I'll say goodbye... for now." She looked beyond Jeff. "Goodbye everybody! And thank you all again for what you did for me." Turning her focus to Jeff, she said. "Listen, Jeff. Next time you're in the States, look me up. It's been great touching base with you and I'd love the opportunity to catch up."
Jeff returned his gaze to her, and a slight smile brightened his face. "Sure, Lou. I'd like that. I see that you put your address on the letter, too. Next time I'm Stateside, I'll make time to visit. I promise."
"I'll hold you to that, Jeff Tracy." Lou wagged a finger at him. "My porch light is on for you, and no one else."
"It's been good talking to you, Lou. Take care."
"You, too, Jeff. Goodbye for now."
The vidphone call ended and Jeff sat back in his chair, looking thoughtful. He sat that way for a long time, then he glanced up to see that almost everyone had left the lounge. Only Virgil sat at the piano, playing something that Jeff didn't immediately recognize.
"Where did everyone go?" Jeff asked.
"Kyrano's gone to prepare dinner. Tin-Tin said she'd check in on Grandma. Scott's helping Gordon with maintenance on Thunderbird Four. Said something about it being his fault that Gords went out to find Lou's plane. Alan's getting Three ready for the flight to Five to pick up John. I think Brains is back in the lab." Virgil answered, still playing softly.
"Thanks," Jeff said distractedly. He looked lost in thought again, then frowned. "Refresh my memory, Virgil. What did Gordon say he found that indicated sabotage?"
Virgil stopped playing. "Well, there were two indicators. One was that the black box was gone. Nobody is going to be able to tell what happened except for whoever took it."
"What was the other one?"
Virgil hesitated, then said solemnly, "The fuel gauge. It was reading full. He said that she should have used some fuel by the time she reached that point, and John commented that once the power was out on the plane, the gauge should have gone back to reading empty anyway."
"Hmm." Jeff took up a pencil and tapped it against his chin. "Who found Lou on the beach?"
"Scott and Gordon."
Jeff got up and stretched. "I think I'll have a word with them. There's something about this whole situation that I don't like." He smiled softly. "Still, it was good to talk to her again. It's been a long time."
He strode from the lounge, and Virgil's eyes followed him. Then the pianist took out a worn piece of sheet music.
I need to copy this again, Virgil thought as he began to play the music his mother had composed and entitled, "My Love".