Chapter 1

"Your Honor! I am retired, and by the way, may I remind you that you are a judge, not a cop?!"

"I know, I know. But you also know Carl Reese. He's a good cop, but when he thinks that he has his case set he stops looking. The DA will bring the case to court and everything will be nice and easy. But in this case I think he is wrong. I want to avoid an error of judgment, and I don't want Carl to stand there as an idiot."

"Then tell Reese to keep investigating!"

"Chief – we don't have this kind of time. I can stall the trial for a few days, but that's it then. Please – I need you. It's about the freedom of a probably innocent man, it's about justice and maybe it's also about the peaceful coexistence of different religions in my town."

Ironside covered the mouthpiece and exchanged a glance with Katherine, who had understood most of the conversation, thanks to her excellent hearing.

"It's what you taught them, my dearest, isn't it? Justice and protecting the innocent, and giving people a chance to live in peace," said Katherine softly.

Ironside removed his hand. "I'm on my way. Have Diana prepare a decent dinner, I'll be hungry!" he barked and hung up.

Katherine smiled at her husband, who looked healthy, strong and much younger than his years. "Food is the last thing on your mind, but you couldn't let Mark get away too cheaply, am I right?"

Ironside frowned. "Katherine Ironside, you are an awful sharp woman! I'm glad that you are the only person in the world who can see through me. Don't you ever let anyone know what you know, you hear?"

"You love your 'children', don't you? You have to help them. You will see Diana and the girls as well. Give them my warm regards!"

"You are amazing, my love. I wonder how I deserve you."

"You don't deserve me," she joked. "I'm a gift, to be treasured every day and regaled with a nice present from San Francisco when you come back!"

Robert Ironside still loved San Francisco. Thanks to the technology boom the town was swelling with money. Some of the old spirit had vanished. In a way, Ironside missed the counterculture, the psychedelic music, even the Hippies. In retrospect they looked like a very colorful decoration to the town... or maybe more: part of its identity. Still the town had a lot going for itself, and above all there was Mark, his very dear friend, with his wonderful wife Diana and their lively teenage daughters.

Ironside settled in their guestroom. Mark had some up-to-date technical equipment at home, the best money could buy: television, computer, several modern phones, fax machine. Judge Sanger was no poor man; he could afford it, and he needed it for his work.

Ironside was still friends with Carl Reese, now Captain Reese, who had to conduct this investigation. Carl wasn't exactly thrilled about Ironside's offer to 'help', but ultimately he knew that the Chief would not just interfere, but actually ensure that justice be done.

Mark presented Ironside all the known facts:

There had been a bomb attempt on the Transamerica Pyramid, similar to the World Trade Center bombing in February*1. Yet Frederick Mason, a young police officer, had by chance found the bomb before it went off. He managed to separate the explosive actuator from the bomb. Only the actuator had exploded. Mason was now a hero, of course. He had saved the building and all its occupants.
But of course a lot of people almost panicked. What if he had not found the bomb or if he had been too late? Had there been hundreds of victims to that attack? The public wanted the guilty parties to be punished with the utmost rigor.

Avesda al Huq, the old imam of a fundamentalist Islamic community, confessed to being the mastermind behind this attack. His son Numan, the new imam, had placed the bomb, he said.
Numan denied it, but that was to be expected. Traces of dirt in the design of his tires proved that he had been near the Transamerica Pyramid recently, and since the recent World Trade Center bombing everybody knew about Islamic terrorism. Therefore Carl considered it as being proven that these militants associated with the Islamic extremist group Al Qaeda were responsible for the threat.

Yet Mark objected. "You may remember Avesda al Huq. He used to be a troublemaker. He would confess to anything smelling of revolution. But over the last couple of years he's become quiet. I think he is mentally ill. His son is different. He tried to maintain peace with everybody. There was even a minimal rapprochement and a culture of dialogue between his community and other religious groups, including Christians. Of course this could be a perfect camouflage, but personally I can't believe it. I think Numan is a good man – convinced of his religion, certainly, but he's perfectly entitled to that."

Ironside nodded. Mark had developed quite a good common sense. He trusted his instincts enough to at least doubt Reese's case. "This sounds like quite a job; lots of planning and money behind it. There has to be a cartel responsible, or one of the big mob bosses. What do we have to go on?"

Mark agreed. "Not much, unfortunately. The remote control was destroyed – looks like the work of a professional. The explosive used was dynamite. There was not enough of it to do any real damage to a building of this size though."

"Oh?" Ironside raised an eyebrow. "And how does Reese explain this fact?"

"The mastermind behind it is a senile old man. He didn't know how much explosives would be needed."

Another raised eyebrow. "Nothing else?"

"Mason mentioned that he saw a blue Chrysler wagon leave the car deck. He called after the driver, hoping that he would get help from him, but the driver didn't hear him – or wouldn't listen. Understandably Mason didn't read the license plate. He's not even sure of the model of the car. The police put out an APB. The same day, a blue Chrysler wagon was spotted on a road which leads to the disposal site of the incineration plant, but neither could it be verified if it arrived there at all nor if it was the same car."

"Nothing else? That's pretty thin."

"Nothing – except that there is an old acquaintance of ours working at that disposal site: the autistic Afro-American Jeremy Wood*2. He collects rubbish there and tries to repair it. He could be a witness, but he doesn't want to talk to me."

"Jeremy? I remember him, but I doubt that he remembers me; he was only a boy back then. If you want a statement from him, get Ed Brown. He took care of Jeremy during the seventies. If to anybody, Jeremy may talk to him! I'll question that young imam first."

"Chief, couldn't you... I mean, you know how overworked Ed is. Eve tries to protect him like a mother hen protects her chickens, but I suppose she won't say no to you..."

Eve Brown was waiting for her husband, as so often. Her son Danny was sitting on a packed suitcase and reading one of Ed's old physics books from university, which he had randomly picked out on the bookshelf.
They were ready to leave for the mountains for a few days, but Ed had spent the night in the office. An emergency had come up, and obviously his deputy wasn't able to handle it on his own. He would be worn out after another sleepless night – the third in a row -, but fortunately Eve could do the driving. A few days off would do him good.

When the phone rang she was afraid that it would be Ed to announce that there was a further delay.

"Yes?" she answered somewhat anxiously therefore.

When she heard Ironside's full bass voice she was relieved.

As usual he didn't waste any time with small talk. "Hi, Eve! May I talk to Ed?"

"No, he's not here, but he's supposed to come home any moment."

"Eve, do you remember Jeremy Wood? He was an autistic boy, a witness in a case we stumbled upon in spring 1969. Now he may be a witness in an important case Mark has to deal with, but Mark can't get a statement from him. He won't talk to him and probably he won't remember me either. If I remember well, Jeremy trusted Ed back then. We need him to come down to San Francisco."

"I'll talk to Ed as soon as he arrives. Where can he reach you?"

"At Mark's."

Eve had looked forward to holidays in the mountains – their first as a family and as a married couple -, and for Danny it would be a wonderful experience. Would they have to cancel the holiday, like earlier this year their honeymoon? Ed used to joke that their wedding trip would only become more valuable, the longer they had to put it off.

Five minutes after the call had ended she heard Ed's car.

She explained the situation to him. "Jeremy must be in his thirties now. Mark says that he keeps roaming around the waste disposal site where a car which was involved in an important case may have been seen. He may have noticed something. You kept contact with him for some time after what happened in spring 1969, didn't you?"

"Yes, I did, until I moved away. I managed to get him into a school then, and he did fine, but after that he couldn't find a job because of his handicap. He started collecting garbage and repairing it. Last thing I heard was that his mother died a few years ago."

"What are you going to do, honey?"

Ed took a deep breath. Eve had learned to read his craggy features like an open book. He knew how much she had looked forward to this holiday, even though she would have preferred Paris or another glamorous town. For his and Danny's sake she had agreed to a camping trip in the mountains.

On the other hand – they could not let the Chief down. He had immediately dropped everything and hurried by when Eve had been abducted in September*3.

Mark had always been there for them as well. He had helped clear Suzanne from a murder charge last year*4.

"I can't do that to you. And Danny needs some quality time with us as well..."

"What about thinking of your needs for once?"

He hugged her tenderly. "No need to think of my needs. You do that for me all the time. Thank you, darling. What is your opinion about what we should do?"

"Let's go to San Francisco together. I'd like to see my parents and Diana and go shopping in my old home town. Maybe that's better than you being available on call!" she grinned almost mischievously.

Danny, who hadn't seemed to be listening, added, "At least there will be a real bed to sleep in without any ants."

*1 February 1993
*2 See ff story 'Brother against Brother'
*3 This story is titled 'One too much...'. It's not published yet.
*4 Suzanne Dwyer is Eve's daughter, see "The Return of Ironside"