Author's note: I was asked to do a sequel to 'Night flight' so here it is. Please don't ask for any more – this was painful enough to write. For those who follow my stories, this also links in with 'Chance meeting' and 'The birthday gift'.
Standard disclaimers still apply from Chapter 1.
The boys have been walking around on eggshells all day. They know all too well what day this is. It's evening now, so I am going to do what I've done this night for the last sixteen years – hole up in my room with a bottle of whisky and put Fur Elise on my personal headphones. You know, that's one piece of music that Virgil never plays? He must remember you playing that tune, and telling him about how you played it the day we met. I often wonder if the boys talk about you amongst themselves – I'm sure they do. Maybe one day I'll be able to talk to them about you. I just hope they don't realise that I talk to you like this, inside my head, and have done since the day you left us.
I can remember every detail of that day. I had dropped the older boys off at school. They were excited because I would be picking them up that afternoon on the way to the airport to collect you, and they wanted to tell you about all the things they had been doing over the weekend. I was on the way to take Alan to his playschool when the news bulletin on the car radio mentioned growing concern over a flight that had taken off from Buenos Aires the previous evening and was now reported missing. 'Missing' indeed! I had been in the airline business too long not to know what that particular euphemism meant. It took a minute for the plane's departure point to register, but when it did my heart skipped a beat. Then I paused, realising that your plane would not even have taken off yet. I glanced at my watch, trying to calculate the time difference – with luck I might even be able to catch you before you left your hotel I dropped Alan off and hurried to my office.
My PA, Jessica, greeted me as I came in. She had been with me a long time, and had a grandson about Alan's age, so we often compared notes on their antics. I picked up the pile of mail that she handed me and asked her to put a call through to your hotel. When the call came through I asked for my wife's room.
"I am sorry, Senor," said the voice at the other end, "but I think Senora Tracy has already checked out. Hold on please while I check with my colleague."
'Damn,' I thought, 'just missed you'.
Then came the words I will never forget. "That is correct, Senor. Senora Tracy checked out yesterday afternoon. She said something about catching an earlier flight."
An icy grip enveloped my heart. I phoned South American Airlines, who confirmed that, yes, there was an Lucille Tracy on the passenger list of the missing plane, and no, there was no further news as yet. With mounting panic I started phoning my airline agents in various parts of South America, and then further afield, to see what planes I had that could help in the search. Not a lot, it seemed – those that had the range were not suitable for flying low search patterns, and those that were did not have the range to get there. My old air force friends were not able to help either. "Sorry, Jeff," one of them had said, "but you know how touchy some governments can be about their airspace. If they ask us for help, that's one thing, but if we just go barging in we could start a small war!"
I don't know how long I sat there, clutching the telephone, trying to think of what I could do next. I had never felt so helpless. I had my own airline, for heaven's sake – you'd think I could do something! Eventually Jessica found me like that. "Come on, Jeff, I'm taking you home." You know, I think that is the only time she has ever used my first name? She must have called my mother, who collected the boys from school.
That was the longest night of my life. It was about ten hours before the news came through that wreckage had been sighted, and about another twelve before my worst fears were confirmed.
At the inquiry I made myself talk to the survivors. A stewardess told me "I am so sorry, Senor Tracy. We knew your wife was injured and we did what we could for her. But that night, it was so cold. We tried to keep the injured ones warm, but in the morning we saw she had gone." Another survivor told me how you kept saying "Tell Jeff he was right –please ask him to forgive me."
It took a long time for me to forgive you for being on that plane. I don't think I will ever forgive myself. I could have come with you – I wasn't so busy that I couldn't have spared a weekend. Then I would have been flying, not some commercial pilot who didn't even know you.
During the long wait that night I had started to form an idea. I could see the need for some sort of rescue service – a sort of high-tech version of the Red Cross. What was needed was an organisation that could deliver specialised rescue equipment where it was needed, swiftly, and without having to worry about government restrictions. It took ten years for the ingredients of my plan to come together, and another six before I saw my dream become reality.
International Rescue has been operating for a couple of months now. Lucille, you would be so proud if you could see your boys – all young men now – selflessly risking their own lives to save others. It will never bring you back, but if it gives your death some meaning it might make it easier for me to bear.
Tonight would have been our 30th wedding anniversary. Happy anniversary, my darling. I will love you always.