On the edge
This story was my entry for the Tracy Island Writers Forum 'Rescue Me' challenge. My thanks to Purupuss and Red Hardy for their proofreading, to ITV as the current copyright holders and to Gerry Anderson and his team for creating the characters that are still just as alive to us all fifty years on.
The sleek limousine purred through the iron gates bearing the Tracy Industries logo, and Jeff looked around him with interest. This would be his first return visit to the new automotive engineering plant since he had acquired it the previous year.
As the car pulled up outside the main building that housed the company's offices, the main doors slid back and Jeff saw the slim figure of Stella May, the woman he had appointed as manager, emerge from the lobby.
Stella smiled as Jeff climbed out of the car. "Welcome to Chicago, Jeff. Did you have a good flight?"
"Very smooth, thank you, Stella. I hope you're enjoying your new position?"
"Well the weather's a bit different from Houston but I'm getting used to it now," she replied as she ushered him through the foyer and into an elevator. "I know you don't like to waste any time on these inspection tours so I've got the heads of department all waiting in the conference room to give you their reports, then I've left the afternoon free to take you around the plant."
Jeff nodded his satisfaction as he exited the elevator and followed her into a conference room. Some of the faces sitting around the table were familiar to him as they had worked for other branches of Tracy Industries, while others had been in place when he had taken over the company.
After introductions had been made, the meeting started. The plant specialised in the production of high performance automobiles and the reports from production, sales and marketing were all satisfactory.
However, when it came to research, it was obvious that things were not going so well. The head of R&D, Ray Murchison had been in his post when the company was taken over, and at the time Jeff had been happy to keep him. Now the overweight and fussily dressed man in the expensive business suit seemed flustered, flicking through his notes and taking a long time to say very little of any substance.
Jeff glanced down at his notes then up across the table, trying to put his employee at ease. "Don't worry, Mr Murchison, I'm fully aware that in research things don't work to a precise timetable, I'd just like an overview of what's been going on in your department. I remember I transferred Jerry Brent over to you, and he's an innovative designer, always full of new ideas; he might sometimes go off at a tangent but he's a hard worker and there's no-one who can improve engine performance like him."
Murchison scowled. "Mr. Brent was a good worker when he first arrived, but I don't know what's happened to him lately. His work has become erratic and recently he's been calling in sick at least once a week; I've already spoken to him about it but if he carries on in this way, I'll be putting him on a disciplinary charge."
Jeff frowned. He had known Brent for many years and this did not sound like him at all. "Has he got problems at home?"
Murchison threw up his hands. "I don't know - that's an HR problem; nothing to do with me!"
Jeff was starting to take a dislike to his head of research. "Mr Murchison, that's not how we do things at Tracy Industries! If one of my employees has a problem, I expect his manager to make it their business to find out why. I'll be touring the plant this afternoon; please tell Jerry that I'll drop in to have a word with him."
The meeting closed soon after and Jeff followed Stella to the canteen. She knew from experience that her employer was not the sort of manager who wanted to eat isolated from his staff.
A thoughtful architect had placed the catering facilities on the top floor of the office block and Jeff stopped at the window to admire the view which stretched west across the edge of the city towards the prairies.
Over lunch the conversation veered away from work. "How are you daughters doing? They must both be at college by now."
Stella beamed with pride. "Yes, Jayne is in her second year at med school and Elaine is studying to be an architect. How are your boys?"
Jeff gave a chuckle "Still giving their father grey hairs! Scott's just turned thirteen; his ambition now is to save enough money over the next few years to buy himself a Harley. And as for the two youngest ..."
Just then Stella's phone rang. She looked at it and said '"Excuse me, Jeff." As she listened the colour drained from her face. "He's what? Have you called 911? Yes, thank you." She turned towards her boss. "That was Security. There's a man on the roof; it looks like he's going to jump."
Jeff leapt to his feet. "Quick! How do I get up there?"
As he stepped through the access door Jeff found himself looking across a flat roof dotted with a series of air vents and bounded by a parapet at waist height. On this wall a figure sat hunched with his legs hanging over the drop. Jeff approached with caution, trying not to startle the man whose body language screamed conflict, as if he was steeling himself to make the final, fatal move.
As Jeff approached, a sudden gust of wind caused him to stumble. The figure twisted round at the noise and with a shock Jeff realised who it was. "Jerry?"
Jerry Brent's face was pale and covered in a sheen of sweat. The hands gripping the parapet were shaking and the eyes he turned towards Jeff were bloodshot and rimmed with tears. "Don't come any closer! I'll do it! I will! What have I got to live for now?"
Feeling he was playing a deadly game, Jeff froze. "Jerry, don't do this. Whatever's happened, this isn't the answer. There has to be a better way out."
Jerry shook his head. "You're going to fire me, and if that happens I'll lose my home and Marlene will never come back!"
"Who said I was going to fire you?"
Brent's face twisted in a scowl. "Murchison told me. He said he had spoken to you about my behaviour recently and you'd said you would be coming to deal with me directly. He said my work had been so bad lately he'd be glad to be rid of me."
Jeff frowned. "Jerry, you should know me better than that! I said I wanted to come and see you, yes, but it wasn't to fire you. I wanted to find out what was wrong. Did you say Marlene has left you?"
Jeff could picture Jerry's wife, a petite blonde with a mass of curly golden hair. The couple had often come to the barbecue parties that Lucille used to arrange for the families of the Space Agency personnel. He remembered they had a little girl about the same age as Virgil.
Jerry's whole body seemed to sag and he wrung his hands together in anguish. "She walked out about three months ago. It's all my fault. I'd been so wrapped up in the new projects at work that I'd been putting in long hours, coming home late, working weekends. We had a huge fight, then I came home the next night to find the place deserted. She'd gone and taken Alice with her.
The house seemed so empty without her. I started to drink - it was the only way to numb the pain. Now it's got to the stage where I can't start work in the morning without a glass of whisky. Some days I can't make myself get out of bed at all. You don't know what it's like ..." His voice trailed off and his turned his tear-streaked face towards his employer. "But you do know, don't you? How did you cope after your wife died? How do you get over it?"
Jeff flinched as if he'd been struck. Even now, three years after Lucille's death, this was a subject he never broached; the wounds were still too raw. Taking a deep breath, he moved closer and perched on the inner edge of the parapet, trying hard not to think about the sheer drop behind him but wanting the physical proximity to convey what he couldn't put into words. Not trusting himself to look at his friend, Jeff stared down at his own hands. "You don't get over it, at least I haven't, and there are times I think I never will. But I carry on, taking one day at a time, because Lucille would never forgive me if I didn't. And of course, I have the boys. I see her in them all the time - in Virgil's skill at the piano, John's laugh, Alan's embraces.
There's one more thing that keeps me going too; I have a dream." Here he looked up at the man beside him. "Lucille died because when her airliner crashed the rescue services couldn't get to the crash site in time. If I ever make enough money I want to bankroll a rapid-response rescue service that can take men and machines anywhere in the world to prevent such situations happening again."
As he spoke, Jerry could see the way his employer's expression came alive. "That's some dream."
"Yes, it will take a lot of work; I'd have to find a base of operations, engineers to design and build the craft and equipment and a team to operate them, but it's an ambition that has kept me going through the darkest times, with the hope that no-one else would ever have to endure what my family did." He shot a sideways glance at the man beside him. "You could help, you know. I'll be needing good engineers."
"You'd take me on? In the state I'm in?"
"We can get you some help. Look at it this way; if you take my option, there's still a chance Marlene and Alice will come back. Your way," Jeff glanced behind him down the side of the building and shuddered, "there's no chance of seeing them again. Besides," he smiled as he helped his friend to his feet and led him away from the edge, "if I'm going to be rescuing people I might as well start with someone I know."
Jeff picked up his mail and began flicking through the envelopes; most were work-related but he paused when he came to a handwritten one with a Tennessee postmark. Curious as to who would be writing an old-fashioned letter to him from that part of the country, he slit it open and unfolded the page it contained.
You have no doubt heard by now through official channels that I have handed in my notice and will not be returning to Tracy Industries, but I wanted to write to you in person to bring you up to date on what has been happening in my life.
I don't have the words to thank you for what you did for me - how can 'thank you' cover saving a person's life? I understand I also need to thank you for paying the cost of my rehab.
I've been doing a lot of thinking over the past few months, re-evaluating my life and trying to make sense of what went wrong. I can see that I had got too caught up in the rat race, running faster and faster until it was inevitable that I would fly off the treadmill.
I have decided now to step away from this life and go back to something simpler; to focus on living rather than just existing. I've always been a city boy but I have country roots; when my maternal grandfather died, he left me a parcel of land in the Blue Ridge Mountains. There's a small cabin there - it's pretty basic, but it will be enough for me; I've got some savings and with that and living off the land, I'll have enough to get by.
Maybe I'll even be able to persuade Mar to come back - who knows?
I've also been thinking about what you told me about your 'great dream'; don't worry, I won't tell anyone else, but if there is any way a simple Tennessee woodsman can help you to bring this about then please let me know.
At my counsellor's suggestion, I am marking my new beginning by changing my name; I'm leaving behind the name that went with the old lifestyle and taking up my grandfather's surname. So I will sign off now, no longer Jerry Brent -
Note on canon:
The only canon we have on Jeremiah Tuttle is that Jeff knew him from 'the base' before he started International Rescue and (from the audio version of The impostors, narrated by Shane Rimmer) that he lived in Tennessee.
I had often wondered how a person from Jeremiah's background would have crossed Jeff's path; it is purely my own invention that he wasn't always as we see him in that episode.