Winner of the 2010 Tracy Island Writers Forum "Clue" Challenge.

The Tracy family kept a low profile. Jeff Tracy was known as a recluse billionaire living in luxury with his family on an undisclosed secret island somewhere in the South Pacific.

International Rescue was even more low profile. They preferred to remain nameless, hopefully faceless, unrecognized, mysterious harbingers of hope and succor.

That the Tracys and International Rescue were one and the same had not occurred to the world and that was they way they wanted it.

Except for...the Paris Air Show.

The International Paris Air Show Paris Le Bourget was the premier and largest worldwide event dedicated to the aviation and space industry for over a century.

With over 2,000 exhibitors, 138,000 trade visitors, 3,000 journalists and 200 official delegations, the show indisputably remained a key point in the industry's economic cycle. It was the essential event for meeting aviation and space industry professionals, communicating expertise, presenting innovations and was a vital part of the aerospace industrys decision-making. It was the lifeblood of Tracy Industries Aeronautical branch, the meat and potatoes of the Tracy fortune. The fortune that invented and kept International Rescue running.

It was also the boys least favorite time. Jeff drove himself and everyone else around him hard. If they werent flying rescues they were involved in strategy meetings on who would cover what aspect of the show. Flying the Tracy birds was no problem. All of them were more or less cousins of the mighty Thunderbirds and as Alan succinctly put it, Fun to fly!

However, there were the less desirable jobs such as sales. Gordons less than quiet aside of Sucking up to the rich dudes was quelled by Scotts elbow in his ribs and a pinched look from his father.

Which you will not be involved in this time. Jeff looked pointedly at the redhead. There was a collective sigh of relief around the table. I want you to handle security.

Aye aye, Captain. Gordon threw a snappy salute to his father.

Gordon, the CEO of one the biggest companies in the world said sternly. Im an old Air Force officer, but I do know what keel hauling is.

Yes, sir. Gordon looked suitably chastised and started taking notes.

I thought I was going to do security. Virgil said mildly.

We have two super transporters coming out at once. Ill need you for demos and the engineering displays. Weve got a lot of military interest in both of them, though I hear Boeing is going to try to give us a run for it with their B-1050.

Ive seen some specs. Its not a bad bird, but ours is much better and with Brains new cost efficient fuel system we should wow the industry.

Wow is good, but we have to sell them as well, Scott added. By the way, where is Brains? I thought hed be sitting in with us.

He had a call come in from Paris. Jeff frowned slightly as he shuffled the papers on his desk.

Ill get him. Alan bounced to his feet and scampered out of the office before he could get assigned some nasty job in Paris. Last time he had been stuck with entertaining the young set children and teens of the big buyers. Some were okay, but others just out and out spoiled brats who never did a lick of work in their lives.

He was a terrorist. Well, after the events of the week were over he would be a terrorist. Just like his big brother Claude. Claude was called Wishbone Collins, known for one peccadillo he always added a wishbone to his bombs. The wiring on them was so fiendishly clever and twisted that you might as well just make a wish and cut. There werent too many people who had defused Wishbones bombs and survived to tell about it. Unfortunately, he had tried to blow up a submarine. He had been caught. Fiendishly tortured, and made to defuse his own bomb seconds before it blew. There had been international spies and a pet chinchilla mixed up in the story. Alas, Claude was now in a high security prison knitting afghans and writing fanfiction for Friends.

Clive Collins would do better, and he wouldnt get caught. The police hadnt got him yet for the five years worth of parking tickets, they surely werent going to catch him for his escapades into international terrorism. He gave an insane giggle (more like a rat sneezing) and started untangling the wires he would need for his great triumph. Paris would never be the same again.

Tracy Island was a relatively small community in a defined area. They all had their privacy and little hideaways, but a lot of things said or done were soon common knowledge if not at the dinner table, then surely by breakfast.

It wasnt as if he were eavesdropping, after all. Father had said it was a call from Paris, Alan just assumed it was a business call. However, it seemed it was a personal call, a very personal call.

He couldnt see the vidscreen who was calling, but he heard every word.

...catastrophe! Would you let people paint the Taj Mahal pink because it is so modern? Eh? Zo, zey put the Tour dEiffel in the teeny tiny lights and call it larte!

It was a ladys voice, very French, and very sultry. Alan edged in a little closer.

Darling! Calm d-down. Brains chuckled at her outrage. I - I suspect it wi-will be pretty.

But not as pretty as us together again, eh, mon coeur?

W-well, it all d-depends if I can b-borrow... Brains stutter was pronounced.

The lady responded with a tinkling laugh, Beg, cherie, or borrow, or steal. It will be you and me, eh? You and I will climb the heights together again. You will hold me up, we will move together. I will feel you strongly under me.

At this point, Alan fled, with his ears burning red. Too much information, he muttered to himself. Who would have thought Brains was arranging for an assignation in Paris? Come to think of it, Brains in any kind of assignation the poor man was so painfully shy around the opposite sex. Yet, there seemed to be some sort of history between the two of them. Very interesting.

Now, which one of his brothers would be the best to deliver this tasty bit of news to?

Clive Collins, future international terrorist, giggled triumphantly (sounding more like a frog choking on a fly) as his scale model project exceeded his expectations. He ducked as a barrage of nails flew from the panelling to stick to the prettily lit model of the Eiffel Tower. Clive The Magnetizer Collins was in business.

Alan came back to the meeting a little out of breath.

Alan, where is Brains? His father raised an eyebrow.

Uh, hes...ummm..., Alan blushed. Coming?

He was saved from more embarrasment by the engineer himself.

Sor-Sorry Im late. Brains looked flushed.

Are you all right? Jeff asked, raising the eyebrow further.

J-Just b-b-b-bus, ah, lots of work. He busied himself with some papers.

All right, where were we...? Jeff began when he was interrupted by Kyrano at the door.

Dinner is ready. he said softly. And Mrs. Tracy says, Come and get it or we throw it to the hogs. His message delivered deadpan, he bowed and left. All the men leapt to their feet; Grandma wasnt kidding when she threatened and it wouldnt do to keep her, or her food waiting.

Can I have a w-word with you? Brains caught at Jeffs arm as he was following the boys out of the room. Alan caught the movement out the corner of his eye and darted to the side of the open office door to listen in.

Of course, Brains. What is it? Jeff bestowed a rare smile on the young man.

I n-need some time off in P-paris, if thats all r-right with you. Brains looked down at his feet.

Brains. Anything you need or want you can have, as long as it is in my power to give you. I no, we owe you more than you can ever believe.

Brains blushed and removed his glasses to polish them on his shirt tail, a sure sign of emotional upheaval for him. I need to b-borrow a Th-th-thunderbird.

Of course, Jeff said calmly.

Ill paint her, of c-course. Be v-very careful. N-no one will... Brains raised his head from his serious scrubbing of his lenses, put the glasses on his nose and peered at Jeff with his mouth open. I can?

Brains. I trust you implicitly, if you need a Thunderbird you can have a Thunderbird. Now lets go eat before I have to fight off the hogs.

Alan scampered towards the dining room with one thought in his mind. Surely, Brains didnt want 3, did he? Paint her, would he? Over his dead body!

Alan told Gordon. Gordon talked to John on 5. John called up Scott, who worried over the whole thing with Virgil. All four Tracy men on the ground eyed Brains suspiciously and kept an eye out for paint brushes and other threatening moves.

Three days before they were to head off to Paris things came to a head in the lounge. Virgil had his head inside his beloved piano trying to tune an errant B string in the lower registers. Scott was trying to ignore the monotonous plunk, plunk, plink, plunk coming from his brother. Brains wandered through in white overalls liberally spattered with paint. Gordon came slinking in after him. You painting somethin? he asked accusingly.

Well, yeah! Brains looked at Gordon as if he was two sandwiches short of a picnic.

Virgil banged his head on the lid of the piano as he came up to peer at the scientist.

Is that pink? Virgils eyes narrowed. Cerise pink? He pointed at the liberally splotched overall.

N-n-no, its French P-pink. Brains gave a little smile and blushed. And...

Bleu de France. Virgil stalked over to stand over Brains threateningly.

Cornflower. Like her eyes, Brains retorted and then looked around nervously as if noticing for the first time that the three Tracy men were looking rather grim and moving into his personal space.

You painted one of our Thunderbirds, Scott said flatly.

Yes. Brains lifted his chin. He had Jeffs blessing on his special project.

Baby pink and blue. Gordon didnt think Thunderbird 4 was in any danger, but golly gee that was a trick even he wouldnt stoop to do.

French Pink and Cornflower, Brains put in firmly. She asked for those colors specifically. To match her costume.

Whose costume? Alan came in munching on a swiped doughnut. Hey, youve been painting! Euuu, pink and blue? It better not be my Thunderbird!

Or mine! Virgil growled.

Wait, who is she, what is this about a costume, and which Thunderbird is going to Paris? Scotts voice cut through the babble and flying accusations.

Whats going on in here? Jeff Tracy strode into the lounge with his liberated doughnut. Stop badgering Brains. Hes taking Thunderbird 6 to Paris to help an old friend out.

Oh, 6! Alan said happily. As long as it wasnt any of the important birds.

Alan, all of our Thunderbirds are important. I think you boys owe an apology to Brains for your lack of trust.

N-not necessary, Mr. Tracy. Brains held his head up high and stalked out of the lounge.

Oh boy, Gordon breathed. Hes pissed.

So. Am. I. Jeff raised the feared eyebrow at his four sons who suddenly felt themselves reduced in age about ten years and caught stealing doughnuts.

Each one of them went especially to the young scientist and grovelled. He forgave them, but refused to give them any details about his old friend or why he needed the biplane.

Y-youll see on the opening d-day. Was his only clue and they had to be satisfied with that.

Brains left the island a day before the rest of the Tracys, flying the newly painted biplane to Auckland to be loaded into one of the big Tracy transport planes that was to be on show in Paris.

Tracy Aeronautic was housed in its own hangar and in a prime location near the gate, but far enough away from the main runway that sounds of planes and jets wouldnt drown out small talk or business deals. The Tracy men were all dressed neatly in suits and ties, though Virgil already had some grease on a cuff from a tussle with a stubborn bolt on one of the display engines. Gordon was made to put away the mirror sunglasses which he protested loudly had everything to do with handling security.

The weather was perfect for the opening day. Jet contrails added lines across the wispy white clouds that dotted an incredibly blue sky. The show began with the usual speeches in French and English by dignitaries representing the World Government and France. The crowd ooed and ahed with delight when the Patrouille de France, a precision flying team performed overhead with intricate stunts, loops, and dives.

Virgil nudged Scott with a sharp elbow. Youre drooling, he told the transfixed pilot.

Huh? Yeah, theyre great.

The show continued on with some great flying that had the Tracy boys itching to get into the air.

Brains is next, Jeff said and grinned as the small biplane took off.

Ladies and Gentlemen! If you will pay attention to the air you will see one of the last of the greatest wing walkers of all time. Madame Raymonde de Laroche!

Whats a wing walker? Alan asked.

Just watch, Jeff Tracy said in appreciation. This is a lost art. Very popular in the 20s. Thats the 1920s.

The little plane took off and there was a gasp from the crowd as it flew over the field to pluck a passenger from a car that was speeding down the runway. The slight figure threw off a coat to reveal a formfitting pink catsuit.

French pink, Virgil said admiringly. The woman may have had on a safety harness, but that didnt stop the crowd from gasping and oooing in awe as she did handstands, hung from the struts with one hand and stood proudly as the plane did a daring loop. When the little plane slid to a perfect landing the applause was deafening. The woman was bowing and blowing kisses to the audience as the plane taxied to stop near the Tracy hangar.

Brains was helping the lady to alight from her place on the wing, though it did not seem necessary for such an acrobat.

Madame de Laroche, m-may I present you to the Tracy f-family, Brains said proudly.

The woman pulled off her old fashioned leather flying helmet to reveal a thatch of silvery gray hair and a smiling lined face. Her trim body would have made a twenty year old girl envious, but she was obviously well past her fifties at least.

Enchant, madame, Jeff Tracy said with aplomb. May I offer you some champagne for your successful flight?

Mais oui, but you may call me Darling. My parents, you see, knew I would be quite lovable even as an enfant.

She turned to Brains. Ah, ma cheri, you were magnificent. She kissed the bemused young man on both cheeks. Georges was so proud of you, she said with her hands still cupping his blushing cheeks. I hope you know what a fine young man you have here. I bless the day we met.

Brains was now fiery red and looked down at his feet in embarrassment.

So, how did you meet? Gordon offered the lady a fine crystal glass of champagne.

Georges, my husband, the slightly sad smile gave them the clue that he was no longer amongst the living, and I had engine trouble and landed on a small farm where this little one was staying. A foster home, yes. But not very nice people. Even though he was only eight, he helped us repair our plane and we gave him a ride as a reward. He was so happy. We much enjoyed his company. We came as much as we could to visit. And we would have been happy to have him as our own, but we were not, she gave an expressive Gallic shrug, allowed. We were old.

Brains smiled sweetly. Darling and George were my family until I was taken in by the professor. I learned a lot about planes from them, he continued.

Zo, Darling said, her accent thickening with emotion. You are good to my petit? She looked as if she would take them all on if the wrong answer was given.

He is as one of my own sons, Jeff said solemnly and Scott and the others nodded.

As he was for us. She sighed and then smiled brilliantly at all of them. But as George always said, When once you have tasted flight, you will forever walk the earth with your eyes turned skyward, for there you have been, and there you will always long to return.*

The rest of the day was pleasantly spent, meeting and greeting old friends and customers. Many were quite impressed by Madame de Laroche and she told many amusing stories about the early aviators. It soon became clear that the irrepressible lady was nearing her nineties, a very well preserved nineties.

The big event of the evening was a special light show involving the Eiffel Tower. Thousands of lights had been carefully strung over the massive 324-meter-tall iron structure. Computers linked to the lights would provide a stunning light show guaranteed to be seen even from space.

The Tracys had decided to avoid the crowd and were going to enjoy the direct HD-3D telecast in the Tracy exhibition hangar.

Clive Collins was orchestrating his own show from behind the scenes. He giggled fiendishly (sounding like a cat in heat) as he set up his own circuitry from an anonymous looking van. He would turn the Eiffel Tower into the worlds largest electro-magnet. The iron core and the lighting wires would make for the battery coil, he would just add a lot more electricity and voila, Paris would be at his mercy!

The results were spectacular and well beyond Clives greatest dreams, actually so well beyond them that his van, which had been parked a discreet 200 meters away, was pulled through the air to be affixed magnetically to the south leg of the mighty tower. It was joined by five television broadcasting vans, ten police cars, and over 100 bicycles. People were nailed to the tower by watches and belts. Luckily the elevators had hydraulic safety systems if power ever went out, so the four lifts didnt fall, but froze in place. All over the Eiffel Tower the lights began to explode, causing great dismay and panic. Emergency vehicles moved in to render aid and assistance, but were also caught in the magnetic trap.

The Tracys watched in horror as the catastrophe unfolded before their eyes. A news helicopter, circling the area, was reporting frantically.

No...not so close! Scott shouted at the vid. There was a mutual cry of horror as others realized that the chopper was caught in the magnetic grip of the now deadly symbol of France. It crashed with a crunch on the upper level and hung there like a dead moth on a porch light.

Father! Weve got to do something! Scott demanded.

Brains, what can we do? The rest of the Tracys looked to the scientist.

We dont have the Thunderbirds, Gordon said.

We do have the T-5000. Can it withstand the magnetic pull? Virgil asked, referring to the big Tracy transporter they were selling.

I believe if we ad-adjust the degausser and circle the Eiffel T-tower we can weaken the magnetic f-field enough to get some of the people out of the cars and v-vans that are st-stuck.

Good idea! Scott, you Alan and Gordon get to the danger zone and start organizing ground rescue. Good thing the uniforms are always with us. Virgil, take the T-5000. Brains, it might be best if you stay here, just in case. Jeff gave the orders. Thunderbirds are Go!

Brains was already working at his computer, frowning over the numbers. N-not g-good, he muttered to himself. Pushing his glasses up on his nose, he realized that he was alone, except for Jeff who was on his wrist com to John.

It wasnt Thunderbird 2 by a long shot, but Virgil still had the T-5000 well in hand. He approached the familiar landmark slowly. He wasnt even half a kilometer from the mighty iron structure when he began to feel the strong magnetic pull. The controls bucked in his hand. He fired reverse thrusters, but the pull was too strong. The worlds biggest electro-magnet was pulling him to join the cars, motorbikes, emergency vehicles, and dozens of hapless cyclists that now decorated the Eiffel tower. He had the de-gauser turned on full, but was unable to get close enough to have any effect.

T-5000 whats your status? Jeff called him on the radio.

Not good, the magnetic pull is too much. If I take it any closer Ill get caught.

Pull back, Virgil. A transporter that size crashing into the tower would be catastrophic. Set down far enough away and see if you can help the others on the ground. They spoke cautiously on the radio, as they were not in the usual mode of transport. I hear International Rescue may come to help, Jeff added wryly.

Great! Virgil thankfully turned the large craft away from the stricken tower. Two would have handled the stress and may have done the job, but they would have to do the best they could from the ground and hope Brains would come up with a better solution. Whatever it would be, it couldnt be done from the air.

Brains, however, had an idea up his sleeve. Only he would need special help. He made a quick, impassioned call on his phone and then went to work on a super de-gauser gun.

Jeff was already pulling up a map of Paris on the big screen and making notations and talking to Scott who was organizing rescue teams on foot. Their watch coms, fortunately, were made of carbonite alloy, which was not metallic, but they had to leave off their belts and other metal equipment. It was down and gritty rescue work. Gordon had already made his way up to the first platform after running up the long flight of stairs. Even though he was in great shape, the others could hear that he was winded.

He and other rescue personnel had to break windows to extract hysterical, traumatized and injured people out of the cars. Rope pulleys and portable plastic stokes were used to ferry the non-ambulatory patients to horse drawn carriages that had been rounded up from the Champs Elyse to carry people safely out of the magnetic field to waiting ambulances. It was a rescue that was stretching their ingenuity to the limits.

News helicopters were circling around a kilometer away, so it startled everyone when the sound of a plane was heard coming closer. In the fitful light of the moon and the ambient light of the great city, a shadowy form came flying in towards the tower.

Its Brains and Thunderbird 6! Gordon called excitedly into his com to his brothers on the ground. And Darling! he added excitedly.

Who are you calling darling? Alan retorted, but grinned as he recognized the wing walker standing proudly in the wind aiming some sort of device at the tower. With a groan and a creak the magnetic hold began to loosen gradually. The elevators began moving slowly down their tracks and bicycles began to drop off the tower like fleas off a dying dog. The biplane flew in ever tighter circles, its wings sometimes parallel to the tower itself.

That is some kind of flying, Scott said admiringly to Virgil.

Sure is. I think Brains could teach us a thing or two, Virgil replied. Think we can teach Alan to wing walk?

Well just tie Alan on one wing and Gordon on the other. Balance them out, Scott grinned.

A gibbering Clive (who sounded like a goat eating a tin can) was being firmly led away by two very stern police officers. Dont torture me anymore. Its my brothers fault! Hes the trouble maker, not me! Once in an uncomfortable French jail his story would grow with the telling until no one was quite sure what happened, even Clive himself.

The heroes of the hour were, of course, International Rescue, but as they always disappeared after rescues, and were unavailable for press conferences, the media had to do with Madame de Laroche. She was immediately hailed as a national heroine at the ripe age of 91. Brains had asked her not to mention him at all and whispered something in her ear which made her smile and kiss him soundly on both cheeks. She spoke then only of Georges, her late husband and what a great pilot he was, so it was not surprising that the press somehow got the story wrong.

The rest of the Paris Air Show was satisfactory for business, with the Tracys netting quite a few good contracts, including beating out the Boeing for the World Government contract for the big transporter, the T-5000. Even though it had failed to demagnetize the Eiffel Tower, the military had been impressed with its maneuverability and use in the rescue situation afterwards. International Rescue would find T-5000s being used at many rescue sites in the future.

As for Darling de Laroche, she was destined not to be the last of the wing walkers, as wing walking became a very popular new extreme sport, ably taught by the sprightly nonagenarian herself. She died the next year, joining her beloved Georges. She took with her to the grave the secret entrusted to her from a man she would have been proud to call son. He was the man who helped create International Rescue, her petit.

*Leonardo da Vinci

Author's Notes:

I named Darling after Raymonde de Laroche, first woman to get a pilots license.

Born 22 August 1882, Elise Raymonde Deroche was the daughter of a plumber.

As a young woman she became an actress and used the stage name "Raymonde de Laroche". Flight Magazine erroneously added the title of "Baroness" in reporting her first flight, and it stuck.

In 1909, while the Baroness Raymonde de la Roche was dining with Charles Voisin, he suggested that she learn to fly an airplane.

Taught by Voisin himself at Chalons, she received the first pilot's licence awarded to a woman on March 8, 1910.

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