I'm always happy to get an invitation to visit the Farnborough Air Show in England, especially when the person inviting me has box seat tickets with a great view of the airfield. There is nothing I enjoy more than looking skywards and watching the wealth of skill and technology on show.
I love the speed.
I love the formations.
It's the most exciting aerospace exhibition in the world...
...and even though it's been thirty years since my life depended on how well I handled myself in the jets, just the sight of one of those babies in full flight is enough to keep the fire burning in my gut for months.
I don't do it often enough, the boys keep telling me. Visit England, I mean, not relive the past and self-combust. They're always at me to take more time off...to enjoy myself away from the island...relax a little...have a laugh...fly over and spend a couple of days with Penny.
Their enthusiasm for my welfare tends to make me smile a bit when it starts. I'm sure they still think that I've got something going on with Penny. But unfortunately, while Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward might be one of the most beautiful, intelligent and resourceful women I know, and a man would have to be half-dead or completely crazy not to take advantage of it, the relationship that the two of us have will never be anything more than "strictly business."
I decided right from the beginning that there was no room in International Rescue for any personal involvement with my agents.
Besides, I snore...
...I can't stand tea
...and Parker really hates tropical islands.
Despite my self-imposed restrictions, the reaction around here when I announced that I was taking time off and spending it with Penny was nothing short of ridiculous. My plan to stay in England for five days and four nights was enough to get everyone in the villa going. They all knew that the major flying displays in Farnborough and the hype leading up to them only stretched over a two day period. What would be going on for the rest of the time? Was the old man finally letting his hair down to delve into some top secret agent's private business?
"Of course not," I'd found myself blurting out defensively, over dinner. "There are other places I need to go; that's all. "
"Sure there is, Dad."
"Err...that's right, sir."
"Yeah Dad; we all believe you."
Sometimes my three eldest around a table can be ten times worse than their younger brothers.
The truth of the matter was that I did have other places to go and those places didn't involve spending any time with Lady Penelope. I didn't feel the need to tell the boys what I'd planned or where I was headed. Like them, how I spend my time away from the island is no-one's business but my own. But, I really had to set the record straight when Gordon chimed in to point out that "Lady P" had CCTV installed and I'd better remember to wear my pyjamas.
"What's that supposed to mean?" I'd growled straight back and from the tone of my voice he knew "the old man" wasn't in the mood for any more of their joking. "I'm a guest in Lady Penelope's home, Gordon. Why wouldn't I be wearing pyjamas?"
Mother had been quite surprised at my gruff reaction and made a point of touching on it later that evening when she insisted that I stop "working myself into the grave for a while" and join her on the couch for some coffee.
She began with all her usual questions. Was I feeling a little tired or unwell when I sat down to dinner, tonight? Was I worried about leaving Scott in charge of International Rescue so soon after that terrible inferno in the Atlantic? Maybe there was something happening with one of her other grandsons that she should know about and hadn't been told?
"You know I tie myself up in knots over these things," she berated me. "It's just not like you to snap at one of your boys."
I grappled with the accuracy of Mother's observation but after a few moments went on to tell her that she was wrong on all three counts. No, I wasn't tired or unwell. No, I had absolutely nothing but the utmost respect for Scott's ability to run International Rescue in my absence. And no, if she really wanted to know the score about what was happening with her grandsons, number four had finally overstepped the mark with the wisecrack about the pyjamas.
"All right then, dear," she sighed, defeated by the logical explanation. "If you're sure there's nothing on your mind, I'll leave you to get started on your packing."
She extended a hand to relieve me of the empty cup. I smiled and reached over to gently squeeze her right shoulder.
"Honestly Ma, you worry too much."
"It's a mother's prerogative to worry," was all she said.
Then I happened to notice the freshly laundered pyjamas she had discreetly left on the end of my desk.
"Mother!" followed her all the way down the hall to the kitchen.
I've never seen a woman leave a room so fast.
Packing for the Air Show and five days in London was an exercise in frustration and one that I didn't will tell you that I've always hated performing even the most basic of domestic tasks.
After an hour and a half of matching socks to shirts to ties I was starting to ask myself why in the hell I didn't get Kyrano to do it. He actually enjoyed wasting time doing all this stuff.
Then there was the realisation that my favourite black suit didn't fit. How could a man who was reasonably fit gain that much weight in the space of twelve weeks, I grumbled at the mirror.
One too many helpings of mother's pie stared back at me as the obvious answer to the question.
To make matters worse, I went on to discover that my only top hat had sustained a fatal blow on the top shelf of my closet. The Farnborough Air Show was no Royal Ascot but I knew Penny still expected me to come well prepared when it came to the wardrobe stakes. Now what was I going to do?
I stood looking down at the hat which was now only half its height, and then at the piles of discarded clothing that I'd been throwing everywhere but in my suitcase. It was hard not to laugh at the hapless bachelor I had become.
Lucille would have absolutely killed me.
Once I allowed the compartment containing her memory to leak, I found it hard not to think about how much I still miss her. It's been a long time now and I suppose time has healed me but every now and then I like to indulge myself a little and remember just how good those eleven short years were.
It was with those memories that I began to fold the selected items, one by one, into my suitcase. Thirty years ago when I'd been a brash young pilot, going to England meant throwing a few things in a bag and a five day pass to go see my girl.
Too bad this trip was to be nothing like that.
I'd give anything for the chance to spend one more day with her.
The flight to London proved strangely therapeutic. My private jet has always been a haven for future planning or somewhere to clear my head.
In the space of only a couple of hours in the air, I'd made the decision that it was time to open the Tracy Corporation check book once again. The lure of six new land deals was the main item on my agenda. I was glad that I'd woken up so early this morning to review the latest listings on the corporate property market.
I breathed deeply and went over my plans. The bottom line of the Tracy Corporation was certainly going to benefit from the four manufacturing plants in the Midwest I planned to save from closure. International Rescue would also have a few more isolated places to land courtesy of the two abandoned sheep stations that I'd purchase in outback Australia.
Scott kept in touch with me throughout the whole flight. Things were still quiet on the rescue front, he reported. He and Brains had just finished going over the specs for a brand new engine they were designing. The "boys" were currently down in the target gallery getting in some much needed firearms practice. Johnny, in particular, needed to brush up on his skills, despite his abhorrence of guns.
"I'll bet that little observation went down well," I mused, failing to stifle a sarcastic chuckle.
"It didn't sir, "relayed back from behind the clutter on my desk. "It took me nearly ten minutes to convince him that he was going to thank me the next time he found himself staring down the centre of a barrel."
I could only begin to imagine what Johns' reaction had been to that one.
"So, what happened?" I asked carefully, knowing full well what the answer was going to be.
The two dark brown eyebrows knitted in front of me, confirming exactly what I expected.
"What do you think happened, Dad? Stormed out of the lounge with the half assed comment that the guys should take a number or something for the chance to start kissing my picture!"
Less than thirty seconds later the screen in my jet turned black. I don't think Scott appreciated my fatherly advice that he needed to back off his brother while I was gone. I often wondered if I was doing the right thing when it came to those two. Leaving Scott in charge when John was home always seemed to backfire on me, somehow.
I knew Scott knew his stuff and tended to be far too blunt and assertive. I also knew John was as direct as he was talented and was far too self assured. They were too much like me, which was the root of the problem.
Thank goodness I could rely on Virgil's even temperament to keep the peace from in the middle.
A candlelit dinner under the chandeliers at Foxleyheath heralded the start of the two excitement-filled days that I planned to share with my London agent, Lady Penelope Creighton-Ward.
Penny was a wealthy, beautiful and fascinating woman who only loved the finer things in life. She drank from a crystal glass filled to the brim with vintage Pernod. Parker was motioned forward to top up my glass with the best Gaston de Casteljac cognac.
The maître de chai, "dear boy that he was," had absolutely insisted that she accept a "bottle of his finest" the last time she was in France, she explained to me. What else could a lady do but be gracious and agree?
"When was that, then?" I enquired with interest, my eyes briefly meeting hers over the top of my cognac.
She nodded at me benevolently.
"Last week, of course; the very moment I heard that my dear friend, Jeff Tracy, had agreed to come to my home and visit me."
Now it was her turn to hold my full attention over the top of the vintage Pernod. Lord, she was an attractive woman.
I had the good grace to avert my eyes away first but in doing so needed to take a very large sip of the amber liquid I'd been aimlessly swirling around in my glass. A very good time to change the subject, I decided. The conversation then moved in the direction of more comfortable and neutral things. Her latest adventures were always interesting with the Farnborough Air Show and International Rescue providing very useful back-up whenever there was a lull in our exchanges.
But, as the stories were told and the candles burned down I became more and more intrigued, not only by the depth and complexity of Parker's criminal background but Penny's apparent reluctance to discuss it with me. I was puzzled, particularly when Parker had long since said his good nights and excused himself from the dining room. It wasn't as if he was going to overhear us.
Parker was good man; she eventually admitted with caution, despite the odd failing at times. The hardest worker she'd ever had in her service and second to none when it came down to the need for the utmost discretion. He had a past, of course, but then, didn't everyone? His past actually served her quite well these days. His underworld connections had gotten her out of more spots of bother than she cared to remember. Contrary to opinion, the world of espionage wasn't all glamour these days. It was actually a rather dangerous way for a lady to make a living.
"Take that scruffy chain smoker I mentioned earlier this evening," she said. "Now there's an example of Parker's more useful connections from the past. Last week he managed to get me in and out of the Prime Minister's offices before anyone was any the wiser...terribly resourceful fellow when it comes to disabling security cameras."
Even I wasn't game enough to ask what she was doing in the Prime Minister's offices or why she needed a chain smoking underworld connection to arrange to give her access. I always kept my distance when it came to Penny's undercover activities unless they were undertaken on behalf of International Rescue.
"Sounds like it," I shrugged.
I was instantly rewarded with that knowing half-smile of hers.
"Merely a little document photography, Jeff... you'll no doubt read about it in the papers. Such a terrible shame, too. He had all the makings of a reasonable politician. Oh well; c'est la vie, as they say."
The conversation between us ended there as I realised that I was pretty tired from the flight. We said our good nights and I retired to one of the upstairs guest rooms, still with the glass of cognac in my hand.
I looked around the magnificent room and saw that Parker had already taken the liberty of unpacking my things. I couldn't help but smirk and look around for the CCTV camera when I saw my pyjamas carefully laid out on the bed.
But the smirk soon faded when I realised that Parker had unpacked much more than just a few items of my clothing. The glass in my hand was drained in one gulp.
I didn't want anyone else to know the real reason that I'd accepted the invitation to England...
...because I still didn't know if I could go through with it.
The atmosphere at the Air Show was electric by the time we arrived in Farnborough and it was difficult for Lady Penelope's pink Rolls-Royce to manoeuvre through the record crowd.
Day One was to include a flying display of historical jets and I was both excited and delighted to learn from the steward at the entry gate that the USAF was heavily involved in putting the whole thing together.
Penny was in her element from the moment we arrived at the airfield. She was such a well known fashion icon that the photographers swarmed around the Rolls like vultures as Parker glided the vehicle to a stop. It wasn't an easy task for him to push them back so he could open the rear passenger door but once he did, they weren't disappointed as she stepped out, resplendent in a stunning new outfit.
I heard all the gasps from where I sat in the car. Like I said, a man would have to be half dead or completely crazy not to appreciate the curves of the stunning Lady Penelope. She posed for the photographers and charmed them all before excusing herself to make her way towards the VIP box for a well deserved glass of champagne.
"What would Farnborough be without a little celebration?" she teased them.
And here I was stupidly thinking that this was all about aircraft!
For my part, I was more than happy for Parker to drop me off back near the entrance to the airfield. I tend to keep a low profile these days when it comes to cameras and nosey reporters. Past experience has definitely taught me that it's easier for a man to remain undetected if he mingles. As mother says, being normal is the most wonderful disguise. I wish there was more of it in this world.
As I wandered alone through the massive exhibition halls, I was pleased to see that the technology we had back home in International Rescue far surpassed anything anyone was offering here. Thanks to Hackenbacker's undisputed brilliance, the aerospace arm of the Tracy Corporation was at least fifteen years ahead of its time. Maybe it was time to give him a raise, I mused silently. I'd do that the moment I returned to the island.
Then I heard the dreaded words that soon put an end to my anonymity.
"Don't you think that guy over there looks exactly like Jeff Tracy?"
I cringed and tried to move back into the crowd.
The news spread fast that I had been seen in the exhibition halls. So did the ridiculous assumption that I was here to spend my money on the new aircraft. Once that got out I was the centre of attention. What choice did I have but to get the hell out of there and take my place beside Lady Penelope in the VIP box?
"I gather they've found out you're here," she said as I flopped down unhappily into my seat.
"Yeah, they have, "I grumbled, inhaling on the cigarette I'd lit to calm down. "I wish people would just leave me alone, Penny."
She continued to scan the sky with her bright pink binoculars. "Life is never easy for those of us with money."
"Tell me about it," I bit back unhappily.
I hated being appreciated for all the wrong reasons in this game.
At the conclusion of Day Two, I found myself alone in the back of the Rolls heading in the direction of Foxleyheath. Penny had been unexpectedly called away at the height of the program to attend to "a little unfinished business regarding the Prime Minister". Five hours later the business was still "unfinished" and Parker had been given the clear instruction to return me to the mansion so I could "adequately prepare for my departure for London the next morning."
For the first half an hour of the trip the conversation centred on the pleasantries. Parker asked after the health of Kyrano and my mother. I shared with him my enthusiasm for the new aircraft I'd seen followed by a few hair-raising stories about the old days when I was flying jets in the Air Force.
"Lucille really hated me acting so crazy back then," I admitted. "She was always worried something would go wrong whenever I went up there. But you know Parker, despite how she always felt about everything, she never once asked me to stop doing it. Follow your dreams if they make you happy, she used to say. Boy, I sure was lucky to have a girl like that."
Parker nodded his head, politely.
"I wish I'd 'ad the privilege of meeting 'er, Mr. Tracy," he replied.
I smiled fondly, remembering just how much I'd loved the woman with the magic smile and those beautiful chestnut curls.
"I wish you had too, Parker. She was one in a million, that girl."
Again, I received the attentive and polite nod of his head.
"So what about you, then?" I then asked, brightly.
"h'Err me, sir?"
He actually sounded surprised.
"Sure Parker," I joked. "Haven't you ever thought about jumping in the deep end yourself and getting married?"
I felt pretty bad when I saw his hands tighten noticeably on the steering wheel of the Rolls. It hadn't occurred to me that anyone would be uncomfortable about the thought of commiting to the right woman.
"It's OK, Parker," I began, feeling a bit uncomfortable in the silence. "You don't have to tell me anything about yourself if you don't..."
He interrupted me in a tone of quiet resignation.
"The answer's yes, sir. I did 'ave a woman once. But she, err...cut the ties, so to speak when h'I got the ten years in prison."
The information took me by surprise at first, but I guessed it was reasonable enough to assume that if any man got ten years, it wasn't practical to expect a woman to wait for him. Much as Lucille supported my career, I couldn't see her sticking around if I was gone that long, especially if I'd broken the law.
"I'm sorry to hear that," stumbled awkwardly from my mouth. "I know what it's like to have a good woman and then lose her."
"Yes sir," he acknowledged," my life has certainly been a most h'interesting ride."
He told me his story in so much detail that I could almost feel myself being transported back into the crooked world that had been his past. How, as a young man from a long line of family retainers, he'd been forced to look for other ways to "make a quid," when the entrepreneur who had engaged his services went bust, leaving him without a job.
Whitechapel back then was no place to be if you were a man without an income. The radical redevelopment of the area had bought with it a whole new class of person. If he couldn't pay the rent in full and on time each week, there were plenty of others who had the means to do so.
What else could he do but nurture a carefully hidden talent?
Safe breaking ...every English gentleman's sure-fire way to break the law and enjoy a violence free income.
When he'd first "opened up for business" in the middle of Whitechapel, the local coppers had absolutely no idea of who they were supposed to be looking for. Speculation soon spread that maybe an organised crime ring had moved in to take over the area. The investigation re-centred on the London underworld and the known criminals operating in and around nearby Bishopsgate.
The Met patrolled both areas in uniform and undercover. While they watched the bank vaults – he targeted the jewellery stores. When they staked out the jewellery stores – he hit the bank vaults. It appeared he was invincible and it didn't take long for him to become accustomed to the rewards of his new career choice.
"There was no more struggling to make h'ends meet for me Mr. Tracy."
Life in Whitechapel was good.
But then came the day when he met "Light-fingered" Fred, a hardened criminal with a record as "long as yer arm" who dreamed big, talked big and made big.
"Yer skills are world class, Nosey. Yer just need to toughen up a bit and get to know the right people."
And Fred certainly knew all the right people.
The "right people" from the London underworld soon dragged him into a world that still gave him reason to be ashamed. Where gentlemen were no longer gentlemen and where a gun did all the talking and could silence anyone in less than a split second. He was lucky that "milady" had caught him trying to steal her car a few years back and "convinced" him that it was in his best interests to work for her.
"Mr. Tracy, if she 'adnt, I'd probably be on the bottom of the Thames right now."
He saw my surprised expression through the rear vision mirror.
"Told yer h'it was an h'interesting ride, sir," he added.
He remembered the night when he was first arrested. It was a Thursday, it was August, it was dark and it was raining. Originally he'd been planning to pull off a quiet little safe job not all that far from his home. The rent was due to be paid in a couple of days and the job hardly presented him with a challenge. He told the missus that he'd be home before dinner. Who else could work for thirty minutes and made five hundred quid?
"h'I told her old Nosey Parker, that's who."
His target had opened up on Whitechapel High Street only a couple of weeks before the hit. It had terrible coffee but was doing far too well not to share the profit with "the much less fortunate."
A little bit of sweet talk and "a three pound pot" had helped him work out the quickest way to break into the building. He even knew the location of the safe before he saw the bottom of the first cup. The "friendly staff" wasn't all that discreet when it came to divulging information.
It was like...
"Now, 'ow do they say that where you come from, Mr. Tracy?"
"I believe the phrase is "like taking candy from a baby, Parker," I said, filling in the gap.
"Yes sir. That's h'it. The job was like taking candy from a baby."
The whole thing should have gone off without a hitch. In less than ten minutes he'd disabled the alarm, cracked open the safe, grabbed the cash and was giving things the once over to make sure he'd left no prints. He'd then made his exit by the front door and was brazenly walking down Whitechapel High Street whistling on the way to his car.
It was only when the police car hit the brakes and the siren went on that he realised he'd forgotten something important...
Not too many Whitechapel residents walked around at night wearing a black balaclava and carrying a bag of money.
In hindsight he'd wished that he had fled on foot, but he knew the coppers would go over his car and soon work out where to find him. Maybe if he hadn't been so deeply involved in the underworld at the time, he might have even tried to call their bluff. A dark, wet night was a good reason to wear a balaclava now wasn't it?
All that would have been left to explain was the five hundred quid...
He remembered jumping behind the wheel of his car in a panic as the police tried to turn around in the middle of the slippery traffic-laden street. With a squeal of tyres, he headed off at speed down the centre of Whitechapel High Street, frantically trying to control the car with one hand and rummaging around for the headlights and the windscreen wipers with the other. Cold air surged in from all sides of the car as all four windows went up and down in response to his desperate attempts to find them.
Finally the windscreen cleared and he saw the escape route clearly enough to accelerate. He saw the blue light behind him and put his foot flat to the floor.
If he'd been thinking straight he would have realised that he had no idea where he was going and no real escape plan in mind. Just shake off "old Bill" and do all the hard thinking later. He remembered vowing loudly that he was going to go straight. This was no way for a man to spend his nights.
The traffic lights were kind to him until he reached the set outside the art gallery. The sequence had begun to change as he hurtled towards the intersection. They were green, they were orange... he remembered swallowing hard and leaning forward... only a few seconds more and he'd make it through before they turned red.
Then, without warning some stupid old geezer dressed all in black decided to walk out onto the road. A woman shouted. He hit the brakes and swerved. He remembered a scream, the car spinning wildly, the bang, the swirling descent into darkness...
...and when he finally came to a few minutes later, the worst pain in his legs "'h'any man could h'ever 'ave."
A young woman was peering anxiously through the half open window. He was half in a daze but he could tell by her accent that she wasn't from his part of London. She was frantically begging him to assure her that he was going to be all right. She wanted to know if he'd broken anything.
"I kept me sense of humour, Mr Tracy, "he said. "When she h'asked if she could do h'anything to help me h'I said, yes, please, Miss, h'as long as you don't take off the balaclava. h'It's a little chilly, you see."
Parker laughed bitterly at his own pathetic joke but all I could do was sit in the back seat, shocked. What he had just told me had completely disabled my senses. I started telling myself that it couldn't be true.
"What did she look like? This young woman who helped?" I asked.
Parker shrugged in the front seat, oblivious to the reason for the question.
"She was a bit of orl right; I remember that much, sir. Pretty forthright too, h'as I recall. Kept tellin' the coppers in no h'uncertain terms that they needed to call a h'ambulance first to deal with me two broken legs."
"But was she hurt?"
Parker shook his head as he slowed down the Rolls, ready to turn into the driveway of Foxleyheath Manor.
"No sir. I was the only one who ended in the h'ambulance but I did get three extra years for nearly killing her and the old geezer. That's the main reason I don't let Milady drive 'er own car, you h'understand. She doesn't keep 'er mind h'on the job."
When the Rolls came to stop and he opened my door, I sat motionless on the plush velvet seat.
"You orl right Mr Tracy? "he enquired, hesitantly. "h'If you don't mind me saying, you look a little pale at the moment."
I had to think about that. I wasn't exactly sure how I was feeling.
"Parker," I said, "somehow I think you may have actually had the privilege of meeting my Lucille. Come inside... I think I have something to show you."
I remember being so angry when she returned home from London and casually mentioned that she'd nearly been hit by an out of control vehicle after leaving the Whitechapel Art Gallery. By a criminal on the run from the police, no less; I'd slammed down my hat and completely sounded off, furious that she seemed so calm. What was she still doing there two hours after the gallery closed, anyway?
"I told you that the curator couldn't help it, Jeff. He had back to back meetings all day. If I wanted to see him I had to be patient and wait."
I became even angrier when I heard that an elderly man had also been involved. I swore I was going to fly over there right then and there and shake some intelligence into the thoughtless ass.
"It's a long way to fly when you haven't had any dinner," she'd said. Again, she was so infuriatingly calm.
"I don't find that the least bit funny Lucille," I'd glowered, snatching the hat back up and striding in the direction of our bedroom.
When I'd finally settled down long enough to think rationally about it, I'd blamed her artwork for the near miss at the gallery. I knew that having a painting on display in the Whitechapel Art Gallery meant everything in the world to her but...
"... don't you realise how I'd be feeling right now if I'd lost you in that crash? Jesus, Lucy, we've only been married two months. I wanted us to last a little longer than that!"
"Jeff, stop. You didn't lose me, OK?"
Those words were enough to set me off all over again. Why did she always have to be so damn right all the time and so freaking sensible about everything?
It escalated into the first real argument of our marriage. The tone of both our voices changed. She'd snapped back that she was glad that at least one of us was being sensible because the way I was carrying on was absolutely ridiculous. I'd told her that she was completely missing the point and didn't seem to understand that nothing hanging in some art gallery on the other side of the world would ever be enough to compensate me if I lost her. Sure it was fine to follow a dream and all but not if it meant losing your life in the process. Why didn't she just get it and admit that I was right?
Maybe if I'd been a little less absorbed with myself, I'd have realised what I was saying. Even the look of stunned disbelief on her face didn't register with me. All I could think about was how I'd manage to cope with something that didn't even happen.
"The thing is, Jeff, I do get it." I'd never heard such coldness in her voice. "Every time you take off in one of your jets, I get it."
And with that she'd walked away.
Those words weighed heavily on my mind as Parker began to read something private that I wasn't particularly proud of. It was something that reminded me that my career and motherhood had never allowed Lucille to make another trip to the Whitechapel Art Gallery.
She never got to achieve her ultimate dream as an artist.
And to be honest, it was all my fault.
****METROPOLITAN POLICE SERVICE -STATEMENT OF WITNESS****
11 August 1995
Lucille A. Tracy states:
I am 22 years old, a former English citizen and amateur artist. I now permanently reside in the United States of America. My place of residence is in Houston, Texas.
I am currently in England for a three day period and am due to return to the United States on Saturday 13 August 1995.
I do not know the defendant in this matter.
I recall certain events on Thursday 11 August 1995.
At about 7.50pm I was standing at the traffic lights outside the Whitechapel Art Gallery when I observed a car travelling along Whitechapel High Street at what I believe to be excessive speed.
The car appeared to be travelling at a speed of at least one hundred miles an hour.
I recall that the traffic light in front of the gallery began to change from green to red at least thirty seconds before the car reached the pedestrian crossing. The car showed no signs of slowing down to obey the traffic signal. I then heard a siren and remained on the kerb.
An elderly person, unknown to me, failed to observe that a police chase was in progress. He stepped out onto Whitechapel High Street in response to the green pedestrian signal.
I recall yelling out to the elderly person; "Wait."
The car travelling at high speed began to brake to avoid hitting the elderly person. In doing so, the driver lost control of the car and it spun several times before hitting the kerb. The car narrowly missed me before coming to rest. Both myself and the elderly person were unharmed.
I immediately heard moaning coming from inside the car and ran forward to render some assistance. I recall the driver of the car saying; "yes, please, miss, as long as you don't take off the balaclava. It's a little chilly, you see."
The police arrived a few minutes later and I heard one of the constables speaking to the driver. I recall the words; "We've caught you red-handed this time," "Don't even think about it," "Cockney bastard** and **"Arrest."
I have had no further dealings in this matter."
When Parker finally finished reading the statement he swallowed and held out the page in my direction.
"Blimey, Mr. Tracy, I'm so sorry about that, sir. But like h'I said in the car, it was a bit of an h'accident, you see..."
I stopped him in mid-sentence. There was no need to apologise to me anymore.
"It's OK, Parker," I said, and I really did mean it. "I don't want anyone to be sorry that they had the chance to meet my Lucille."
It was with a nervous stomach that I stood outside the Whitechapel Art Gallery, with her old red leather portfolio in my hands. My appointment with the curator was at 9.15. I sure hoped I was able to pull this off.
I ran my thumb fondly over the textured exterior of the portfolio; the gold edges, the ornate stitching. Way back then, it had been a clumsy gift of love to ease the disappointment of rejection when the gallery had declined to display her work.
"They said to submit something new for their exhibition next year," she'd sighed dejectedly. "But with a baby coming now I just won't have the time... and you're always so busy with the launching..."
"Yeah I know," I'd admitted. I didn't even offer to try to help her out.
I suppose it's been kind of selfish of me to hold on to this part of her for so long. The beauty inside her that she expressed through her art deserved to be shared with everyone and not just me. My only excuse is that when a man is hurting and left alone to raise five boys, he doesn't have the time to see the beauty in anything. It was easier to throw everything that reminded me of her in the attic and try to just get on with things.
I was so glad the move to Tracy Island had made me realise exactly what I was missing.
"Mr. Tracy, may I say that your own art collection is amazing," the curator had enthused last year as our fund-raising meeting in my New York offices drew to an amicable close.
"Thank you," I'd said acknowledging the unique pieces decorating the southern wall of the office. "My late wife was a very talented artist."
"I most certainly agree. Do you mind?"
I'd watched stone-faced as he ran his hand over one of her more intricate canvasses and then asked me if he could take a smaller one back to show to the gallery selection committee. I'd declined, of course, without explanation. My memories of Lucille belonged to me and even now I can still be the most terribly selfish person.
It seemed rather ironic that the Whitechapel Art Gallery had sought me out to help with their funding shortfall when they knew that I had absolutely no idea about art. I know a heck of a lot about engineering and flying aircraft but that's where my talents end, I'm afraid.
I'd written him a check and wished the gallery well, promising I would call by the next time I came to London and view their latest exhibition. I had no intention of ever going there of course. I'd written the check purely because art had been a passion of Lucille's and I liked doing things that I knew would have made her happy.
The gallery doors were open now, and the offer was in my hand. It was slightly tattered from all my clutching and pacing but I knew Lucille wouldn't mind. All I had to do was to go on in there and explain why this honour had taken me nearly ten long months to accept.
"She was a bit of orl right; let me tell you that Mr. Tracy."
As I walked through the door and shook the hand of the curator, Parker's words echoed back to me. So did the words of the statement I'd discovered in her portfolio when I finally realised that it was wrong to deny her something she had wanted more than anything else in this life.
My Lucille was more than just a little all right and I wanted everyone who came into this gallery in the next few months, not only to know it but to truly appreciate it.
"Good afternoon, sir," I heard myself saying. "I'm here to personally discuss your gallery's generous offer to display one of my late wife's works..."