“Uh, L-Lady Penelope?”
Penelope looked up from her tea and smiled at Brains. “Yes, Brains?”
He fidgeted a little. Of the Tracys who were at the long, formal breakfast table, only Gordon looked up with any interest. Brains did not want the family to know what he was up to; he wanted them to notice the changes as they came. But he knew that his next question would pique their curiosity.
“M-May I speak with you after breakfast?” He moistened his lips with his tongue before adding, “In, uh, private?”
Now Virgil and Scott were glancing his way, and Gordon directed his attention toward the aristocrat. Jeff was seemingly buried behind his newspaper, but Brains knew from experience that his employer was listening intently. Only Grandma wasn’t listening; she was having a quiet conversation with Tin-Tin and Kyrano. Alan was absent from the table; his hangover was such that he’d requested a dose of Parker’s famous hangover cure and a tray in his room.
“Why certainly, Brains,” Penelope replied with a gracious nod of her head. “Shall we meet in my study?”
“That would be f-fine, Lady Penelope,” Brains replied. Then he went back to his bacon and eggs, quivering inside because of what he was going to undertake.
The Tracy sons glanced at each other, then Scott, trying to sound casual, asked, “Hey, Brains? When are you going to tell us about this resolution you made?”
Brains looked up, his eyes wide behind his lenses. “I, uh, thought I’d told you. I’m keeping the r-resolution to myself.” He smiled slightly. “Don’t, uh, be concerned, Scott. You’ll figure it out s-soon.”
Before Scott could say anything else, Jeff jumped in. He lowered his newspaper and folded it to place it by his plate. “Now, boys, let Brains go about this resolution – whatever it may be – on his own. He’s said that if he needs help he’ll ask.”
“We’re just curious, Father,” Virgil said mildly.
“I u-understand your, uh, curiosity, Virgil,” Brains told him. “But as I said, you’ll f-figure it out eventually.”
“I’m a little more worried about Grandma’s resolution,” Gordon said, glancing over at Eleanor, who finished what she was saying to Kyrano and looked up. “It’d be terrible if we hardworking IR operatives had to go without something sweet to see us through the day.”
Eleanor briefly raised her eyes to the ceiling and shook her head slightly. “I didn’t say I was going to stop making sweets, Gordon. I said I wasn’t going to make as many. And Kyrano and I have been discussing ways to make your favorite desserts with less fat and less sugar… and hopefully reduced calories as well.”
“Well, that doesn’t sound so bad, now,” Gordon said, a pleased grin spreading over his face. “If anyone can figure that out, he can.”
“And maybe when Grandma won’t make dessert, Kyrano will,” Virgil added.
Kyrano shook his head. “No, Mr. Virgil. I have agreed not to ‘pick up the slack’ as far as sweets are concerned. I feel that to do so I would be undermining Mrs. Tracy’s resolution.”
“Tin-Tin?” Scott turned a pleading face in the young woman’s direction.
“Oh, Scott,” she said reproachfully. “You know better than to ask it of me! If Mrs. Tracy and my father have come to this agreement, I feel I should honor it as well.” She smiled at him. “It’s for your own good, you know.”
Virgil leaned over to murmur conspiratorially in his brother’s ear. “Don’t worry, Scott. If necessary, we can drop by Foxleyheath and Lil can whip up something sweet for us.”
“You will not bring Cook into this,” Penelope said sternly, gently patting her mouth with a pink linen napkin. “Now, if you will all pardon me…”
“Certainly, Penny,” Jeff replied.
She favored him with a sweet smile, then she glanced to the other end of the table, where Brains was finishing up his coffee. “I will be in my study, Brains.”
“I’ll b-be there momentarily, Lady Penelope,” Brains promised.
She nodded, and Parker pulled her chair out for her as she rose. “Have a lovely morning, everyone.”
“Good morning, Lady Penelope.” “Thanks, Penny. Same to you.” “See you later, Lady Penelope.” The Tracys’ wishes followed her as she left the room.
Brains hurriedly took a last gulp of his coffee, dripping a bit on his orange shirt. With an exasperated sputter and shake of his head, he dabbed at it with his napkin, only succeeding in smearing it a little. With a long-suffering sigh, he stood. “Please excuse m-me.”
“Of course, Brains,” Eleanor said, nodding. “Have a good morning.”
“Th-Thank you, Mrs. Tracy. I will see you all, uh, later.”
“See you, Brains.” “Later!” “Have a good day, Brains.” The greetings of the family faded behind him as he bustled off toward Lady Penelope’s study.
“Now, Brains dear, why do you wish to consult me?”
Penelope sat in a comfortable upholstered chair, the creamy, flower-bedecked fabric showing her light blue sweater set and matching skirt to advantage. Brains perched on the edge of a similar chair, hands on his knees.
“W-Well, Lady Penelope, I f-first must ask you keep what I am about to ask a secret unless I, uh, tell you otherwise.”
“This certainly sounds intriguing.” She looked at him thoughtfully. “Would this have anything to do with your resolution?”
Brains nodded. “It would. It does.”
“Then I shall keep this just between us two,” Penelope said, smiling. Leaning forward slightly, she softened her voice, and asked, “How may I help?”
“Well, you see, Lady Penelope,” Brains began, matching the volume of his own voice to match hers. “I want to change my i-image. Become more suave and, uh, debonair, more attractive to the, uh, o-opposite sex. To do this, I must know what the well-dressed man is wearing these days. I f-figured that if anyone knew, it would be you.”
“Ah! I see,” Penny exclaimed softly. She sat back and looked at him critically for a long moment. “I have never felt that you were not well-dressed, Brains. That is to say, though you did not follow the current fashion trends, you have always had your own endearing and singular sense of style.” A refined eyebrow rose as she considered the orange shirt and brown trousers he now wore. “Though I should say that orange is not your color. It does not bring out your eyes.”
“See what I mean, Lady Penelope?” Brains said eagerly. “N-No one has ever told me that. I want to know what looks g-good on me, what will play up the, uh, features I do have that Ti… that p-people would find attractive. And not only in, uh, clothing, but in h-hair style and perhaps even f-fragrance…”
Penny stood, and motioned that the engineer should do the same. She stepped toward him, and murmured, “If I may?” as she took him by the shoulders. He was only an inch or so taller than her. She pushed his short bangs back and to the side with a few light flicks of her hand, and she hummed slightly as she did so. Then, holding folding one arm across her chest, and holding her chin with the other hand, she began to circle him. At first he turned to watch her, but she caught his eye, and said, “Please, stand still, and face the chair.”
He obeyed and she completed her circuit, a thoughtful frown on her features. Then she sighed audibly, a pleased noise, and said, “I think we may be able to find something that would do. I have a tailor in mind… unless you prefer to go with ready-made clothing.” She took her seat again, and indicated that he should sit again, too.
“Some of each, I should think,” Brains said. “I won’t be able to stay and w-wait for whatever I may order from the, uh, tailor, and it would be p-preferable to have new clothes to, uh, bring home.”
“Very good. As for your hair, I fear that you shall need more of it before a new style can be considered.”
“I, uh, thought as much. Perhaps I can f-find someone in New Zealand or e-even Australia…”
“Or perhaps you might visit here again in two month’s time,” Penny suggested. “Then I could help you decide on a flattering new ‘do.”
Brains nodded. “Yes. That’s a good idea.”
“Do you have any other ideas on the subject?”
The engineer looked thoughtful, his eyes focusing on a spot beyond Lady Penelope’s chair. “I am considering some orthodontic work, and perhaps something to eliminate my glasses.”
“Oh my!” Penelope put a hand to her mouth in shock. “I had no idea you wished to go so far!” She cocked her head to one side and gazed at him questioningly. “May I ask… does this have anything to do with Tin-Tin?”
Brains’s shoulders dropped. “John asked me the, uh, same question.” He shook his head emphatically. “No, this has n-nothing to do with her.”
Penny gave him a searching look, one that indicated that she didn’t believe him. Then, as if she’d decided to drop the subject, she said, “Well! We have a plan, and tomorrow we shall carry it out. In the morning, I will endeavor to secure an appointment with the tailor, but if I cannot, we will have to make other arrangements.”
“P-Perhaps I could stay for a few extra days,” he suggested.
“How would you broach the subject with Jeff?”
Brains stopped, and frowned. “I could perhaps, uh, plead a need for r-rest. I have been working hard lately, perfecting, uh, Braman and upgrading Thunderbird Five’s language f-filters.”
“Hmm.” Penny nodded slowly. “You might also suggest a short sabbatical to see Sir Jeremy. He was unable to attend my party due to a problem with his latest creation.”
“Ah, that’s a b-better excuse,” he said with a nod and a smile. “I’ll tell Mr. T-Tracy right away.”
“You should perhaps speak with Sir Jeremy first,” she told him. “Be sure to have all your ducks in a row.”
“I will, Lady, uh, Penelope,” he promised.
“So, guys? What do you think of Brains’s decision to stay behind?” Gordon asked as he looked at the cards in his hand.
“If Sir Jeremy needs his expertise, who are we to say no?” Virgil commented. “One, please.”
Scott picked up his cards and looked at them. “I still think it sounded fishy. Give me two.”
“What do you mean, Scott?” Alan asked, frowning. He glanced at his cards, and held up a finger. “I need one.”
“Well,” Scott began, “he spent a lot of time out running around with Lady Penelope yesterday, even though it was Dad’s birthday. Then there were all those packages…”
“So he went shopping. Big deal,” Alan replied. He tossed a few chips into the kitty. “I’m in.”
“He never just ‘goes shopping’.” Scott dropped a number of chips in. “I’ll see you, and raise you five.”
“Scott’s right,” Virgil said. “And those were not parcels from electronics stores either.” He put his chips in and said, “I’m in, and I’ll raise you another five.”
“Did you actually get a look at the packages?” Gordon asked. He perused his cards, eyes narrowing, reached out, pulled his hand back, then reached again to add his chips to the pile. “I’ll see that, and raise you ten.”
Scott and Alan glanced at their brother expectantly. Virgil raised an eyebrow at Gordon’s bet, then turned his attention back to his cards. “As a matter of fact, I did. Most were from Harrods,” he said.
“Hmph. Harrods. I’ll admit that doesn’t sound like Brains.” Alan considered his cards. “Okay. I’m in, and I’ll add another ten.” The others turned their attention to their youngest brother. “What? I’m good for it.”
Scott shook his head. “I’m in,” he said, peering at his cards. “So, Virge, what you’re telling us is that Brains went shopping for clothes, is that it?”
“Looked like it to me,” Virgil said. “I’m in and raise you five.” He shook his head. “Why did he go shopping for more clothes? He’s not a dubious fashion plate, like Alan over there.”
“Hey!” Alan protested.
“There’s no reason why the man can’t go shopping for clothes,” Eleanor piped up. She sat nearby, her pen moving over the crossword puzzle she held. “Lands’ sakes, the way you boys are going on you’d think he’d done something criminal. And to tell the truth, I think he’s worn a few of his things nearly to rags.”
“You’ve got a point, Grandma,” Gordon said. “But why did he stay behind?”
“Perhaps to do what he told us he would,” Kyrano said, pulling his seat into an upright position. “I am sure Sir Jeremy would appreciate Mr. Brains’s opinion on his project.”
“Did we wake you, Kyrano?” Virgil asked, sounding apologetic.
“No, Mr. Virgil. The change in the plane’s engines did so. I believe we are ready to land.”
“We’re on final approach, everyone.” Jeff’s voice sounded through the cabin intercom. “Buckle in.”
“Then I call,” Gordon said, laying down his cards. “Read ’em and weep. Four of a kind.”
Their landing was smooth, and Scott gave Tin-Tin a thumbs up as she climbed from the cockpit. “Nice job!”
“Thank you, Scott,” she said. “Flying with your father is easier than flying with you. He doesn’t constantly look at the instruments and clench his fists in his lap.”
“No, he folds his arms and dares you with his eyes to make a mistake,” Alan said as he pulled luggage from the hold. “Hey! I just thought of something. How’s Brains going to get home, anyway?”
“Commercial flight to Melbourne next week. One of us will have to pick him up,” Jeff said as he activated the antigravity float to carry their luggage up to the villa. “Don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m famished.”
“I will prepare a light repast, Mr. Tracy,” Kyrano said as he and Eleanor headed for the lift.
“We’ll be up soon,” Jeff told them.
“Dessert, Grandma?” Scott called hopefully after the pair.
Eleanor shook her head and just kept walking.
Brains opened the closet in his room at Lady Penelope’s, and shook his head. I’ve never had this many clothes! So many choices!
Shopping with Lady Penelope had been an adventure. He’d had no idea that one could visit as many stores as they did in the few hours they had allotted for the trip. The salesclerks at their first stop, Harrods, had been helpful about what fabrics would wear well in a tropical climate. Fortunately, since it was January, a lot of the new spring fashions were available, a phenomenon that had always puzzled him. He purchased a few sweaters because since he was staying at Foxleyheath for the week. One of the items he insisted on was a brown tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows, a piece of clothing that Brains had always wanted, but never purchased for himself. He suggested to Penelope that perhaps he should buy a pipe to complete his image of a “professor” but she gently talked him out of it.
“Hiram, dear, you are planning to fix your smile, are you not? Then you will not want to sully it with nasty tobacco stains.”
He had to admit she had a point.
Now, what to wear… what to wear? The unfamiliar question delighted him as he eyed his new wardrobe critically. He chose a collared shirt, simple and plain, in a medium blue, and a pair of well-pressed black trousers. To this he added a burgundy colored sweater vest, and a coordinating paisley bow tie. Lady Penelope had tried to get him to change over to the more traditional four-in-hand tie, but on this point he had been adamant.
“It’s p-part of my ‘endearing and, uh, singular sense of style’ that you m-mentioned.”
She had chuckled and said, “Touché.”
He cleaned his glasses, and put them on, making a face in the mirror as he saw them. Those will go, he promised himself.
There was a knock on the door, and Brains said, “Yes?” as he pulled his new favorite jacket from its hanger.
Parker’s voice called, “Milady sent me to tell you that breakfast h’is served.”
“Th-Thank you, Parker. I will be down, uh, momentarily.”
The shopping trip had an added bonus for Brains; he was in desperate need of new underwear and socks. The way things went at the island there had never seemed to be a good time to shop for them. Penelope had been on hand to point out the trouser socks and other more stylish footwear, but politely made herself scarce when it came to purchasing the underthings. Still, her influence must have lingered, because Brains ended up buying fancy boxers, feeling a thrill as he did so. It had felt and still felt like he was pampering himself, treating himself to things he’d never have considered wearing before.
He found the new black shoes he’d bought. They were polished to a high gloss, courtesy of Parker. Brains had turned his nose up at the traditional wingtips, and had chosen a pair of smooth toed shoes, brown loafers, and some new athletic shoes. “I intend to find a new, uh, sport,” he had explained to his hostess.
“Those may not be adequate, depending on the sport you choose,” Penny had warned him.
“I kn-know, but I’ve got to, uh, start somewhere,” he’d replied with a shrug.
His shoes tied, his clothes neat, Brains gave his hair a last combing, trying to push his very short bangs to one side. One more tug to straighten his tie, and he left his room, his jacket folded over one arm.
“G-Good morning, Lady Penelope,” he said cheerfully, smiling brightly.
“Good morning, Brains,” Penny replied, looking him up and down critically. “You’ve chosen a well-balanced ensemble this morning. The tie brings all the colors together. Very good.”
“Thank you,” he said, sitting to her right. “I had so much to ch-choose from that I had a hard time deciding what to w-wear.” He chuckled. “I’ve never had that, uh, problem before.”
“You will get used to it. After all, you will have even more to choose from once we see the tailor this morning,” she told him, glancing up to thank Parker as he brought her a sectioned grapefruit. “Sir Jeremy is expecting you at four. Perhaps you should pack an overnight case; the weather report calls for snow.”
“Snow!” Brains rubbed his hands together in gleeful anticipation. “I haven’t s-seen any snow for, uh, ages!”
Penelope gazed at him, trying to understand where his enthusiasm was coming from. “This is quite the adventure for you, isn’t it?” she asked.
He nodded vigorously. “Oh, yes, Lady P-Penelope. I’m very e-e-excited about the possibilities in this, uh, resolution of mine.”
She smiled at him indulgently. “I hope you find the results to be worth the effort you are putting forth.”
Her smile reminded him of Tin-Tin, and the Starlight Roof. He took a sharp breath, and smiled back. “I hope so, t-too.”