Chapter 14

Locked Up And Closed Down

Reporting back to Commissioner Randall was never going to be the easiest part of his job, but the Chief knew it would only get harder the longer he put it off. So as soon as he had completed his preliminary report, Ironside presented it to Dennis in person at the Commissioner's office.

Dennis read it slowly, deliberately taking his time and Ironside waited as calmly as he could.

'Well,' Randall said, sitting back in his chair. 'I have to say that overall, I'm impressed, Bob. Seven murders solved in one day, a violent gang apprehended with the minimum of fuss and effort, and eight men in custody. The Mayor will be delighted that they are off the streets.'

'Yes, Commissioner.' Ironside braced himself for more. Dennis was being far too nice about this! Then Randall leaned forward, his arms on his desk. The office was suddenly very quiet.

'But am I correct in saying that this was not a model operation?' the Commissioner said seriously. 'And I am not pleased, Bob. Are you?'

Ironside considered the question very carefully.

He was pleased that it was over, and he was pleased that they had the whole gang apprehended, from Peter Paxton all the way down to Carlson's chauffer. And he was also very pleased that they had arrived so quickly at the Gun Club, and that his two colleagues were still alive when they got there.

But he was not pleased that it had happened in the first place. In fact, he was furious at himself. He'd been too keen to act, and to quick to jump to conclusions. He'd underestimated Paxton, and Ed had very nearly been killed because of it.

That last fact was the most worrying part of this whole mess. They were just in time, judging by the extent of Ed's injuries and he wouldn't have lasted more than another few minutes, even high on Ephedrine. It had been that close; and that fact hurt and sickened Ironside just as much as seeing the pain that his protégé had suffered at the hands of people who murdered others for sport.

He shuddered slightly. A few more minutes and his error would have cost Ed's life.

The Commissioner closed the file he'd been looking at, but didn't put it down. Ironside could sense Randall watching him, but he made no attempt to reply. He could guess what Dennis was leading up to.

'Well, Bob,' said Randall with a sigh, 'apart from the arrests, there is the question of the actions of your people.' Ironside looked up expectantly. 'Sergeant Brown and Mark Sanger, just what are you going to do to them? It was only blind luck that got you there in time to bail them out. The undercover work was a mess, Bob. Their mess!'

'What do you mean?' said Ironside with a scowl. 'I was the one in charge of the operation. So it's technically my mess!'

The Commissioner stared at him for a moment longer then an amused smile spread over his face; a look that Ironside did not appreciate in the slightest.

'Alright, then,' said Randall. 'You take responsibility for their actions.'

'Of course I do!' snapped Ironside. 'And I should have known! I should never have left either of them in such vulnerable positions. So if anyone needs suspending over this, it's me.'

The amused smile suddenly vanished.

'Don't be ridiculous, Bob! I can't suspend you!'

'I was responsible for the operation,' Ironside reminded him. 'They were following my instructions, as best they could in the circumstances.'

Dennis raised the file and waved it at Ironside.

'As far as I can see it, Mark showed a flagrant disregard for those instructions, and Brown… well, I never would have expected a man with his record to be so easy to fool.'

'There was no way he could have known that it was a trap,' Ironside said quickly, favouring Randall with a scowl. 'He was doing his job, not wasting his energy on looking over his shoulder all the time when he should have been concentrating on Eve!'

'But his car is wrecked, Bob, through Brown's negligence,' Randall continued, in a very reasonable tone, a tone that Ironside had never liked. 'And police cars aren't cheap, you know.'

'Commissioner Randall…!'

'I've read Donally's report,' Dennis said, ignoring Ironside. 'I take it there is there something you want to add?'

Ironside furrowed his eyebrows, keeping his gaze fixed on the Commissioner.

'I'm sure you wouldn't want to punish someone for what something that was beyond their control, Dennis,' he said.

'Was it beyond his control?'

'Of course it was!' Ironside growled. 'Ed should have had more cover. And that miscalculation was mine, not his.'

'Nevertheless, the car was in his care when it was stolen, Bob. The rules clearly state that it should come out of his pay-check.'

'It didn't the last time this happened.'

'Bob, that was different,' snapped Randall. 'He was forced off the road by a car thief.'

'As I understand it, this was about the same. He was targeted. That he got to the curb before they stuck was just a credit to his driving. Should he be penalised for that?'

There was a thoughtful silence and Ironside watched the Commissioner shift in his chair.

'Ok, Bob,' Randall said at last. 'But what about the rest of it? You can't possibly argue that he wasn't at fault.'

'The gang wanted a cop. They chose him. I don't think he had much option.'

There was a short but decidedly frosty pause as the two men glared at each other.

'I understand how you feel, Bob, but in this case that is immaterial,' said Randall firmly. 'He's not fit for active duty.'

'What the flamin'…'

'In any case, he's not been cleared by the doctors. I had the hospital on the telephone an hour ago. A dislocated jaw, mild concussion, plus the effects of a prolonged fight, not to mention enough Phenyl Ephedrine in his system to keep him awake from now until next Tuesday! He needs time to recover.'

'But…!'

'And he's not going to be cleared until he has recovered,' said Dennis loudly. 'Properly recovered, mind you, Bob! So you can cope without him for a couple of weeks. And that's my final word!'

'Weeks?'

'Yes, Bob, weeks. I don't want you bullying him into returning early.' Dennis gave Ironside a particularly knowing look. 'It's for his own good.'

'But what am I going to tell him?' snapped Ironside, only just managing to control his temper. 'He was suspended for surviving!'

'Oh, for goodness sake, it's not a suspension. Let him have a rest, Bob,' said Dennis crossly. 'The Lord knows he deserves it! No one should go through something like that. Let him take some time off.'

'Ed doesn't need some time off, he needs to get back to work to take his mind of it!'

'That's immaterial as he's not fit for active duty. Doctor's orders!' Randall said.

'But…!'

'No! He rests until he's cleared by the doctors for work. As I said, it's my final word!' Randall slapped the file he was holding down on the desk, peering at Ironside over the top of his glasses. 'And then there's Mark…'

'Mark Sanger is my problem, not yours,' growled Ironside. 'He doesn't work for the department, he works for me.'

'He was on an undercover assignment supervised by the police force.'

'Informal only, Dennis.'

'That's not how I remember it!'

'He did it of his own choice. He was the one on the scene. He was the one who understood best what the choices were.' Dennis opened his mouth to say something, but Ironside got there first. 'And he acted with my full support.'

Dennis closed his mouth then shook his head with a resigned sigh, as if he understood that there were some arguments that he could never win, especially when it came to Ironside's staff.

'And just where are Mark and Ed?' the Commissioner asked.

'I imagine they're waiting for me back at my office,' Ironside said at last. 'Assuming the hospital's finished with them.'

'Have you spoken with either of them?'

'I've had the main details from Mark, that's all,' Ironside replied. There was a moment's hesitation before he added, 'I haven't had the chance to speak to Ed yet.'

That was a small bending of the truth. He couldn't have spoken to Ed at the time, not in that stark, seedy little room where he'd had almost died. Seeing that place for himself, Ironside couldn't speak to anyone, such was his disgust and fury: Disgust at the people who'd done this, not just to Ed, but to the others who had already died in there like animals brought in for entertainment; and fury at himself for letting him face this situation without proper backup. Ed, and Mark as well, had trusted that Ironside knew what he was doing; and this time they'd been wrong.

The Commissioner was waiting for him to say something. For one last time, the two men looked at each other.

'You have a success, Commissioner,' Ironside reminded him. 'A violent, dangerous gang apprehended for the cost of some overtime and a police car. The Mayor will be very pleased, so why don't you concentrate on that and let me handle the rest of the details, in my own way?'

Dennis' shoulders sagged and his expression grew grumpy and exasperated, a clear sign to Ironside that the Commissioner had given up arguing.

'Do you have to make things so difficult for me all the time?' Randall asked at last.

'You've got the easy part this time,' Ironside said. 'Besides, you wouldn't expect anything else, would you?'

-xxx-


Only Mark was in the Chief's office when Ed arrived back from the hospital. He walked unsteadily down the steps, for once using the railing, towards the seat. Mark watched him, not saying anything as he walked over to the table and sank slowly and painfully down into one of the chairs.

He wasn't even sure that being here was a good idea. Half of his face was still numb, but the rest of him, his abdomen chest and neck, as well as his arms, ached like he'd been working-out for twenty-four hours straight. Worse than that, though his body was exhausted he knew he couldn't sleep; he was far too jumpy to sleep even though he longed to close his eyes and rest.

But no matter how he felt, he knew he had to face the Chief's wrath, and he wanted it to be sooner, rather than later.

As they sat, Mark and Ed looked at each other in silence. Earlier at the Gun Club, after Ironside had arrived, Ed couldn't be sure of what had happened, as most of the events were a blur. But the Chief had clearly been furious and before Ed could say anything to his boss, or to Mark, other people had gotten in his way, helping him out of the room and off towards the hospital.

Ed's gaze finally came to rest on the bandage on Mark's hand.

'You ok?' he asked as last.

'What? This?' Mark replied lifting his hand. 'Just bruised, nothing bad. I can't make coffee for a while.' There was a momentary pause and Mark looked away before adding: 'Hey man… you know, I'm sorry about hitting you. Are we cool?'

Ed nodded slowly. It had been a tough call, he'd had seen it on Mark's face. If the situation had been reversed Ed knew he would have found it just as difficult.

'You did what you had to do,' he replied.

'That doesn't make me feel any better, man,' Mark said. 'This undercover gig is not as easy as it looks from the outside.'

'No,' Ed replied. There was a pause. 'I wondered if you'd go through with it. But if you hadn't, we'd both be dead.'

Mark nodded, but didn't look Ed in the eye.

'As I said, it is not as easy as it looks.'

There was another pause, Ed feeling suddenly nervous as he contemplated asking his next question.

'You spoken to the Chief?'

Mark nodded slowly and Ed's discomfort grew more acute.

'Man, was that a conversation I would have passed on!' Mark said with great feeling. 'Just got down the basics, he was not in the mood to hear about anything else.'

Ed nodded, swallowing hard, his mouth dry.

'Did he say anything? Anything, y'know, about…?'

'He knew how they found you, if that's what you mean,' Mark said. 'They had the full story from the chauffer.' There was a hesitation in his tone that made Ed wondered what else Mark knew.

'And?'

'And he found your police car under a utility pole too. He really wasn't happy about that. The keys were in the ignition!'

Ed swore to himself, grateful that the bruising on his face hid the fact that he turned red. He'd been far too careless.

'The Chief's gonna bust me so far down the ranks, I'll never see daylight again,' Ed murmured leaning forward to put his head in his hands.

'It's not gonna be that bad,' said Mark. Ed looked up, his eyebrows raised. 'Is it?'

'Let's just say that I'd rather take another of your punches than face the Chief over this.'

Mark frowned at that statement, and Ed regretted mentioning it.

'Not that I want to get on the wrong end of a punch like that again!' he said as lightly as he could.

'You know, it's a good job you didn't move, or I might have missed,' Mark said seriously.

'Missed?'

'I might have broken your nose, man! Or worse!'

Ed winced, aware that he'd gotten off lightly. It had been bad enough getting out of the hospital as it was, he was still technically high on the uppers he'd been given, and had enough pain medication to rival a drug store. It was only his slightly squint but winning smile, and some fast talking that had stopped him being kept in there overnight for observation.

There was the sound of the elevator, and Mark and Ed both tensed, looking at each other.

'Brace yourself, here he comes,' Mark said.

They looked to the door, but even before it opened, Ed could see that it wasn't Ironside; it was Eve. She opened the door with a push and stalked over to them, standing with her hands on her hips.

'Well?' she demanded.

Ed tried his best to smile at her.

'Hey!'

'Don't "hey" me, Edward Brown!' she snapped 'What are you doing here? Don't think I don't know what the doctors said!'

'Well, news does travel fast in this department.'

'You should have gone home. The Chief's not going to fire you if you take a little time off, you know! Not after…' she stopped abruptly, not looking at Ed's face.

'Does the not-being-fired part come with a guarantee?' Ed asked, filling in the awkward silence.

'Well, no. I suppose not but…'

'Then I'll take my chances here.'

The uneasy silence held for a few seconds, then Eve smiled back at him. She put her hand on his shoulder, leaving it there as she sat down in the seat next to him.

'I am pleased you're ok,' she said. 'You are, aren't you?'

'The doc said I'd live,' Ed replied.

'But you look terrible,' she said.

'Thanks, that's just what I needed to hear.'

Ed caught sight of Mark giving a slight smirk out of the corner of his eye. Eve saw it too, as she turned to glare at Mark.

'And as for you!' she said, her glare returning. 'Did you ever hear of such a thing as calling-in when undercover?'

Before he could answer, there was the sound of the elevator again, and Mark and Ed looked at each other. Ed drew a deep breath, bracing himself for the worst.

-xxx-


By the time Ironside arrived back at the office, it was almost dark. Surprisingly, it was quiet, and at first he expected it to be empty, but for Eve. But as he rolled himself through the door, he saw Mark and Ed sitting at opposite ends of the table, not looking at each other, with Eve sitting between them, angled protectively near Ed as if to try and shield him from the Chief's wrath.

Not breaking the silence, Ironside rolled down the ramp and over to between Eve and Mark. Then he glanced around the table at the three others, his face stern.

'Ok,' said the Chief calmly, looking at Ed, then Mark. 'I have just come from the Commissioner's office. And now I want a proper explanation of this mess,' Neither man spoke, so Ironside rounded on Mark first.

'You, Mr Sanger!'

'Chief?' Mark didn't return his stony glare, but looked away to the floor.

'You're job, the one I gave you, was recognisance only! I did not tell you to go so deep undercover that no one could find you! You risked yourself, and risked blowing the whole operation if you were discovered. You were supposed to just be gathering information.'

'Yes, Chief,' Mark murmured, not looking up.

'You can't possibly expect me to be pleased with that!'

'Well, it crossed my mind that…'

'That you endangered yourself in such a reckless way is what worries me the most, Mr Sanger!' Ironside said, his voice rising.

'It was a calculated risk, man!' Mark replied, this time glaring back. 'What else was I supposed to do? It was going down, with or without me!'

As Mark and Ironside face each other, the tension that had gathered dissolved into the silence.

'I know,' the Chief said more quietly. 'And the fact that you can through it relatively unscathed is a credit to your ingenuity.' There was a momentary pause as Mark's gaze change to one of surprise. 'And then there's the fact that your actions undoubtedly saved your colleague's life.'

'Chief?'

'Mark, I should never have put you in that position. You should not have had to act, and if you had been properly covered, you wouldn't have had to. It would never have gone this far.'

'Chief?' Mark's expression was bordering on the grateful, and that was as much as Ironside could stand.

'And as for you!' Ironside turned to scowl at Ed.

For the first time in the conversation, Ed looked up him. Even after a trip to the hospital, he was still a mess, his face covered in small cuts and bruises. But by far the most noticeable injury was across his left eye, half-closed with a livid bruise that was already turning purple. And it must have hurt like hell!

'I'm sorry for messing up, Chief,' Ed murmured, his voice sounding slurred. 'It was a mistake.'

'You're flamin' well right it was a mistake, Sergeant Brown! I had you on duty because I thought you were competent enough to handle it, not get taken out like some rookie on his first stakeout!'

'Chief, that's not fair,' chipped in Eve. 'Ed wasn't to know.'

Much to Ironside's surprise, Ed beat him to the reply.

'But he's right,' the sergeant said. 'I should have been paying more attention. I got so caught up in it that I didn't keep a good enough eye on what else was going on around me. I was an easy target. Too easy.'

'Well, at least it's not a mistake you're likely to make again.'

'No.' There was real feeling behind that word.

There was silence for a few moments, Ed looking down at the table. But Ironside knew he had to say more.

'Even so, Ed, you are not to come in tomorrow,' said Ironside.

'What?' the word was just a whisper, but loaded with emotion.

'Don't make me call it a suspension, Sergeant Brown!'

'But…'

'Not tomorrow, or the next day. Or the day after that.' Clearly upset, Ed opened his mouth to say something, but no sound came out. 'In fact, I have the assurance from the Commissioner that you will not be needed here until after the weekend!'

Ed stared back down at the table.

'Are you sure you want me back at all?' he asked eventually.

'Don't be stupid Ed, of course I do!' said Ironside shortly. There was a slight pause before the Chief spoke again. 'I shouldn't have let you get into that situation in the first place. And I'm sorry.'

Ed looked at him, and gave an almost imperceptible nod. He started to say something, most likely something nice, but Ironside cut him off with a scowl.

'Besides, Sergeant Brown, I don't want you hanging around my office looking like you've been in some bar brawl! And it was the Commissioner's orders. He called it time to recover, or something equally as ridiculous.'

'Time to recover?' Ed was looking at him warily, but Ironside returned his gaze, leaning forwards.

'It doesn't matter as you've not been cleared for active duty. I would think after having to fight for your life you would welcome a short rest,' he said. 'You worked two double shifts and unpaid overtime on this case. You're due a break.'

Ed looked genuinely surprised, and grateful with it. Ironside hated it when people looked grateful, especially when he was the one who'd landed them in trouble in the first place.

'A break, that's all?' echoed Ed. 'Not a demotion? Not a suspension?'

'Unless you want a suspension, Sergeant Brown?'

'N-no, I just thought that…'

'You can do your thinking on your own time, Ed,' Ironside said. 'You've got five days off, that would be plenty of time to think all you want. Monday morning, I expect you back here, good to go. That understood?'

Ed nodded but only slightly, as if it hurt to move his head too far.

'Yes, Chief!' he said.

'That's settled then,' Ironside said, looking around at his friends, a small smile on his face. 'Meantime, since my aide saw fit to take himself off on his own for two days,' Ironside glared at Mark, 'and his replacement had an offer he couldn't refuse,' Ironside glared at Ed, 'we don't have any dinner.'

'Dinner?' asked Eve.

'Dinner. I think my expenses would stand a little celebration, now we're all back in one piece.'

Ed's smile was slightly squint due to the bruise, but the warmth in it was clear enough.

'You do want dinner?' Ironside asked his three staff members with mock seriousness. 'Don't you?'

'Sure man!'

'Yes, Chief!'

Only Ed didn't reply.

'No dinner for you, Ed?' Ironside asked with a wry smile.

Sergeant Brown carefully shook his head.

'If it's steak, then I don't think I can't chew it.'

A wide grin spread across Ironside's face.

'Don't worry, you don't have to chew chilli!' The Chief looked around the table, more pleased and proud of his staff than he could ever tell them.

'Well,' he said grumpily, wheeling himself away from the table. 'What are we waiting for? Let's go!'

-xxx-


The End!


And it only remains for me to thank everyone who has been kind enough to leave reviews/give me feedback on this story. I have loved doing it.

NEXT - DEADLY GAME (Rated M) finally posted!