Dumbstruck, Virgil followed his brother out of the restaurant. Waiting for them, Gordon asked suspiciously, "What did she say to you, Johnny?"
"She told him she'd be ready at eight tomorrow." Virgil revealed disgusted.
Gordon's jaw dropped dramatically. "What? When did you make a date with her? You never even went to the bathroom."
John just smiled enigmatically. Scott shook his head chuckling. Throwing his arm around John's neck, he pulled the younger man over and knuckle rubbed his head. "You sly dog, you! You should have said something. Save your poor brothers the effort."
"I wanted her to see what else was available. Makes me look all that much better."
The comment earned John a couple of punches in the arm, but the blond Tracy brother just smiled. The four young men paused to watch as their father completed his taxi to the end of the runway. Virgil said, "Five bucks says the wheels are off the runway before they hit YRC."
The hangar in question was impossibly close to the end of the runway and would require a very short run before wheels up. Both Scott and John shook their heads, neither willing to bet against their father's skill. Sure enough, they heard the jets whining to a high pitch before the brakes were released, and the little SportJet leapt into the air several feet before the indicated mark.
Smiling in satisfaction, the four brothers each went to their designated vehicles. Scott took Alan's SUV and led the way to the far side of the hangar, using a remote to open a garage-sized door. He drove his vehicle in followed by Virgil and Gordon. Parking in designated spaces, the brothers followed a set routine, signing off on a clipboard with mileage and gas levels. Together they headed for the door, arriving at the same time as John in the ten-seat executive jet.
Hopping aboard, there was a traffic jam, as all three tried to get into the cockpit. "Hey, you guys are just riding for ten feet back to the Lear. Get out of my way!" Gordon demanded.
Scott frowned, but gave way. Virgil, like Scott, didn't like giving up the cockpit to anyone, but realizing the sense in what Gordon said, stood back, crouching in the aisle to see out the front windscreen.
The jet trundled over to the other side of the hangar where the Lear jet beckoned. Scott gestured Virgil to proceed him out of the ten-seat, and when they both had disembarked, he carefully sealed the door, his eyes expertly scanning the jet to make sure there were no visible problems.
Satisfied, Scott moved over to the Lear Jet with Virgil throwing a thumb's up to John, visible in the cockpit. By unspoken agreement, Scott and Virgil waited watching as John taxied to the end of the runway. Virgil remarked dryly, "Five bucks says the wheels are still on the ground at Danaher."
Scott chuckled. The Danaher hangar was the last hangar and well beyond the point that a take off would have to be aborted if not wheels up. The two brothers watched critically as after a power build up the jet started to roll. Virgil sensed Scott next to him willing the plane into the air, and in truth, John had lifted off at just about the point that Virgil himself would have lifted off.
Satisfied that a crash was not imminent, the two eldest Tracy sons boarded the Lear jet. Together they went through the checklist, and headed to the end of the runway. "Care to bet on where I'll leave the runway?" Scott asked.
"Hell no. No matter what I say, you'll beat it, and I prefer to keep my breakfast right where it is, thank you very much."
Scott chuckled. "I can do smooth. Watch this."
As soon as he had his clearance, Scott sent the jet speeding down the runway. Virgil had to admit the takeoff was as smooth as glass. "Very nice. Very nice indeed."
"I call it my Grandma take off."
"Oh, ha ha." Virgil snorted. "When do you suppose John made that date?"
"Who knows? Probably on his way home from school."
"Damn blond. You know it's the hair, right? I mean, no self-respecting woman is going to pick John over me under normal circumstances, right?"
Scott glanced over, "Who are you trying to convince?"
"Oh, shut up."
Scott chuckled and turned back to his piloting. Virgil remained quiet, frowning slightly as he thought. After a while, Scott said quietly, "It is that blond hair, Virg. Tell you what, tomorrow let's go into Topeka, do a little night clubbing. I guarantee the girls will fall all over you. At least the ones that aren't in my lap, anyway."
Virgil smiled. "That sounds great, Scott. You're on."
Feeling better, Virgil spent the rest of the short trip gazing out the window. They were within five minutes of landing when they passed the slower ten-seat. As they reached the outer markers of their home strip, Virgil could see his father waiting at the hangar, watching their approach. "Dad alert."
"I see him." Scott said confidently. As the wheels touched down, Virgil thought not even their father could find fault with Scott's feather touch on the controls. Scott braked the jet to a stop, then quickly taxied to get out of the way of the larger jet coming in behind them.
Seeing the ten-seat on approach, Scott paused, and the two brothers watched with a critical eye as John brought the bigger, heavier jet in. Virgil heard Scott suck in a breath as the jet drifted off the center line, but before either young man could say anything, the line was corrected, perhaps a bit jerkily, and then the jet was down, and braking. Both Scott and Virgil let out held breaths.
Scott completed his taxi, parking the Lear on its accustomed spot in the hangar. Together, he and Virgil made short work of the post flight checklist, and they disembarked just as the ten-seat was rumbling into the hangar. In silent accord, both brothers headed for the ten-seat to help unload.
Virgil was a bit surprised when Alan came bouncing up, all smiles. "Hey, guess what you guys? Dad's going to let me go to NASCAR camp over Christmas vacation! He said if I was going to drive like a maniac, he would see to it that I learned to do it safely!"
Virgil's eyebrows went up, but Scott frowned. "You won't be home for Christmas?"
"Yeah, I will. It starts on the 26th and runs for five days, so I won't miss Christmas or New Years. God, I can't believe it! Oh, I gotta go tell Gordy!" The excited teenager, barely gave the ten-seat jet a chance to come to a full stop before he was unsealing and opening the door.
Jeff walked up and Scott and Virgil just stared at him. Seeing the looks on his eldest sons' faces, his eyebrows rose questioningly. "What?"
"You're sending Alan to NASCAR camp?"
Jeff ducked his head. "Well, he needs to learn how to drive safely, and God knows, I don't have the time or patience."
Virgil and Scott looked at each other, and it was Scott who replied. "If I had pulled a stunt like that when I was sixteen, you would have whaled the tar out of me."
Virgil nodded, but Jeff just smiled. "Well, first off, he's seventeen, not sixteen. And secondly, you would never have done anything so foolish, either of you. And thirdly, the truth is, I had already gotten that NASCAR package for his Christmas present. I just figured if I let him know now, he'll toe the line at least until Christmas, and that's worth its weight in gold."
Scott and Virgil both chuckled. Alan came out of the plane talking excitedly to Gordon and John who both followed him. When the three youngest Tracys saw their father and brothers standing there, they stopped dead in their tracks. They glanced uneasily at one another then John stepped forward. "Um, you guys can head on home, we'll unload the jet."
Nothing raised red flags quicker than a Tracy son willing to do a job that would normally be shared. Jeff asked bluntly, "Why?"
Gordon just grinned. "Because we have unwrapped Christmas presents here."
Scott shook his head, "Guys, are you forgetting, Virgil and I helped you load this stuff?"
"Yeah, but that was when we were in a hurry to get into the restaurant. You didn't have time to peek."
Scott sighed. "All right, but we're going to help with that Nuclear Cooker at least. If Virg and I are helping to pay for it, we're going to be damn sure you clods don't drop it."
John nodded agreement, and Gordon and Alan shrugged, so it was with the help of all five brothers and their father that the bulky box was lifted down and shifted to a storage area. Jeff inspected the colorful logo on the side of the box and said. "Well, I guess I'd better get Mom some of the cookware that works with this thing."
"Already covered, Dad." John grinned.
Jeff frowned looking into the heavily loaded cargo hold. "Maybe I'd better stick around. I wouldn't want to duplicate any gifts that you boys got."
"No deal, Dad. You can tell us what you have in mind and we'll tell you if we got it." John stated emphatically, arms folded across his chest.
"Yeah, nice try, Dad. We all know you just want to shake the boxes, see what you got." Alan grinned.
Jeff adopted an air of superiority. "That is the last thing on my mind."
All five sons laughed at the statement, and Virgil said, "Come on, Dad, Scott and I will race you home."
Jeff's eyes lit up. He nodded and casually threw an arm over Virgil's shoulder. "Well, I guess I shouldn't complain if those three are actually willing to work. Let's go and get some beer, boys."
Jeff led the way, still holding onto Virgil, Scott trailing behind. When they reached the hangar door, Jeff paused. "We'd better close this up. It's mighty cold out there." He hit a control on the wall and stood back. Virgil frowned slightly, and started forward to get through the door before it shut completely. Jeff stopped him with a hand on his arm. "No, son, we'll go out through the side door."
"Okay, Dad." Virgil sighed and watched as the big clamshell doors closed completely.
He and Scott followed their father to the side door. Jeff opened the door and turned, holding something up for his sons to see. It had barely registered that Jeff was holding the keys to the Sportster, before the older man cackled and threw them hard over his son's heads, deep into the hangar. With a maniacal laugh, Jeff slammed the door in Virgil's startled face.
Scott reacted fast, diving for the door, yelling over his shoulder, "Get the keys!"
Virgil. belatedly realizing his father meant to win the race at all costs, swore and scuttled after the keys. Scooping them up he ran for the door, his younger brothers cheering him on. His hand was on the doorknob when he heard the roar of his father's Bugatti. Jerking the door open, he was just in time to see his father pull away, Scott in the passenger seat, grinning and waving.
Jaw dropping at the betrayal, he ran to the Sportster, determined to beat the pants off of them. He shifted up through the gears in record time, and though he got close, the red Bugatti pulled up to the house before him. Shutting the Sportster down, Virgil sat breathing hard, grinning like an idiot. Despite the loss, the drive had been exhilarating.
He was still sitting there when Scott tapped on the driver's side window. Rolling it down, Virgil cried, "Traitor!"
"Aw, Virg, I couldn't help it. He blackmailed me."
"Blackmail? What do you mean?"
"He said if I got in the car, he'd let me drive it while I was here."
Virgil got out of the Sportster. In a deadly tone, he stated, "You picked a car over me."
"Virgil, look at that." Scott pointed at the generic rent a car standing next to the sleek Bugatti. "Which would you want to be seen in?"
Virgil tried to maintain a severe expression, but after a moment, smiled shaking his head. "It's called a bribe, not blackmail, Scott."
Scott grinned winningly, "I prefer to think I would never accept a bribe at your expense, little brother. Blackmail, I have no choice."
Virgil laughed shaking his head. He'd been subject to this kind of logic before, and knew there was no argument he could offer that would succeed. Scott slapped him on the shoulder. "Come on, let's go help Grandma before she comes looking for us."
The two brothers headed up the porch stairs and into the house, Scott calling out, "Grandma, we're home!"
Entering the kitchen, they found their father at the sink, washing the family's good china. Virgil moved over to start drying. Ruth was at the farm table, and called Scott over, putting him to work polishing the silverware.
The three men fell into the familiar holiday chores and when the younger sons came in an hour later, they too got to work, Gordon ironing the napkins and tablecloth, John running the vacuum, and Alan doing general fetching and carrying. Virgil reflected that it was probably an unusual way to do a holiday, but they were so used to it, that Scott had written and complained last year when he was stuck on base, and had nothing to do but watch football on TV.
After an hour of work, the house was sparkling, the table set, and the smell of roasted turkey and pumpkin pies wafted throughout. Virgil went upstairs to take a shower and clean up. As he was putting on a clean shirt and sports jacket, he looked over at his rumpled bed, and made himself a promise to lock his door when he went to bed that night.
He came out of his bedroom, and headed for the stairs. He was surprised to see Scott, standing frozen at the bottom of the stairs looking out at something in the living room. Curious, he trotted down the stairs, Scott saying as he came down, "Okay, this is seriously freaking me out."
Virgil reached his brother and peered into the living room at an odd sight. Their three younger brothers were lined up on the sofa, each intently staring off into space, their hands and arms waving in strange patterns in unison. Each of the young men had a round metal piece complete with blinking light attached at their temples, and a small seemingly innocuous box on the coffee table in front of him.
Jeff came up from behind, declaring, "My God, we've been invaded by the pod people."
Virgil sighed, "I wanted to be a pod person, but they couldn't get me one." Raising his voice, he called, "Johnny, I want to try."
John seemed to refocus his eyes, and nodding said, "Okay, after dinner."
Ruth entered the room, and saw her grandson's movements and pursed her lips. "Alright, boys, dinner is ready, put your toys away."
A Tracy never had to be told twice where food was concerned, and all three young men made an identical waving motion before pulling off the temple receiver and jumping to their feet. "Okay Grandma!"
Virgil stood back for a moment watching as his family preceded him into the dining room. It was hard not to feel at least a little melancholy. He supposed this would be the last Thanksgiving with them all together, at least here on the farm. He tried to imagine his brothers married with kids and homes of their own, and a life where they only saw one another once or twice a year.
He shook his head at the thought, and decided that whatever the future would bring, he would enjoy the present now. Scott looked up from his place next to his father and smiled. "Come on, Virg, let's eat."
Smiling, Virgil joined his family.