Heads I Win, Tails You Lose
Pain echoed through Ed's body. His hands were almost numb, and the fresh cuts on his body grated and burned with every movement. He wanted to curl up and pass out somewhere, and never have to do anything again.
The gun, his mind insisted. Get to the gun. You've got to get that gun.
He felt more detached from the situation than he had before. There was too much else going on, he could hardly believe what he was seeing: after everything he'd done, Ironside had still come to help him. And Eve was still alive, and Mark was fighting Richards.
Forcing himself to take a deep breath, Ed pushed away the waves of sickness that the slightest sound or motion caused. Lonnie had certainly known his job; Ed could only be thankful that Lonnie had been content to cause as much physical pain as possible with the knife rather than real damage, or he would never have been able to move at all.
Ed shuddered at the thought, the memory of the past few hours branded on his mind so deeply that he feared he'd never be free of it. He'd been completely at the mercy of men to whom the concept was meaningless. For a moment, the sensations were all too real; the quiet, indifferent voice of Richards, the smell of his own blood, and the feeling of the sharp-edge knife as it sliced in a smooth line through his skin and into the muscle underneath. Then there had been the look of utter fascination on the other man's face as he'd twisted the blade to open the wound to let the blood pour out. And then Lonnie had done it again. And again. And again. Ed had thought the pain would never end…
The sound of gunfire brought Ed's attention back to the present with a jolt.
Get to the gun! Get to the gun!
Lonnie's gun. He had seen it skittering across the floor as Mark had leaped to take on Richards. That was what he should be focusing on. It was lying close by, just beside the far wall, only a few feet away from where he was. He heard Richards talking, bragging, challenging Ironside, and Ed forced himself to move closer. But a few feet had never been so far away.
His body felt as if it belonged to someone else and was worked on strings and he had never felt so weak and light-headed before. His wrists were beginning to get some feeling back, but rather than helping, it was only more painful to move.
Everything seemed to be happening at half normal speed, and his progress was agonisingly slow. He could hear what was going on and he knew time was running out. Ironside needed him.
Again, the single thought made Ed shudder and he lurched to a halt, gasping for breath. In all his desperate praying, he had never imaging that anyone would actually come and find him. He was certain that he'd gone too far over the line for that, and the Chief would never forgive him. That he had misjudged the Chief filled him with more shame and sorrow. But this was his chance to get something right, even if it killed him.
Dragging himself forward as best he could, he crawled over to the crates, and the gun. He reached out to the weapon, knowing that he still had a duty to help, no matter what condition he was in. The feel of the handle was like satin and as slippery as oil, or ice. He gripped it as tightly as he could, afraid that if he let it go he wouldn't have the strength to pick it up again.
Lonnie's gun was a long-barrelled Colt, and seemed impossibly heavy when he heaved it up off the ground. So Ed braced his arm on a crate, using both hands to try and keep the weapon steady. It took all his concentration to aim it at Richards. The scene in front of him still pitched and swayed, but fortunately the figure of Richards moved in synchronisation. There was no room for error.
Richards was shouting something at the Chief. Then there was the strong, unmistakeable stink of gasoline, making the nausea even worse. Now Ed was kneeling upright, the blood seemed to rush from his head, making everything fuzzy around the edges, and he knew it was only a matter of time before the loss of so much blood took it's toll and he passed out.
Ed could take the shot now, and get it over with while he was still able to see the target, before he collapsed. And who would blame him for shooting the man down where he stood? But there was always a slim chance the Chief would talk him out of it. The gun wobbled very slightly, but Ed didn't pull the trigger. He just stayed as still as he could, holding his breath and forcing himself to wait.
A bottle smashed over the base of Ironside's wheelchair. The sudden, harsh crash of breaking glass made Ed flinch in pain, and the gun wobbled once more.
'Can you shoot me before it all goes up?' called Richards. Ed could see him flick the lighter once and a steady flame appeared at the top.
Everything else cleared away from his mind. All Ed could see was the small tongue of fire flickering in the darkness. Richards hand moved slightly forward, no more than an inch, towards the spilled gasoline. He was going to set the whole place on fire, and Ironside with it.
For one tiny fraction of a second, Ed doubted what he was going to do. That was the man who had kidnapped him, blackmailed him, and smiled as he'd been tortured.
But revenge was the last thing on his mind as Richards' lighter tilted down.
The flat sound of a shot made Ironside start, but it wasn't the sound so much as the direction.
Richards slumped down, the fire at his fingertips dying out as he fell. As he did, Mark moved forward as fast as he could. He stooped down, pulling the lighter from Richards' limp hand. Only then did he feel for a pulse.
Ironside looked away, already sure Richards was dead, and turned round to where the shot had come from.
Ed Brown was leaning against the wall, the gun gripped tightly in both hands and steadied by the edge of a crate. For a few seconds, he stayed like that, then his eyes closed and the gun slipped from his fingers, hitting the ground with a sharp crack. Ed slumped down.
Ironside stared at him in amazement.
'Richards is dead, Chief,' called Mark. 'It's over.'
Precisely on cue, there was a thudding noise from outside, and a few seconds later Carl Reese, gun drawn, appeared breathlessly through the door with five or six armed officers following him, and Eve just behind them.
'Chief!' shouted Reese. 'Chief!'
'Here, Carl,' said Ironside.
Reese and his men ran up, and Carl looked from the Chief, to Ed, to Richards and Mark, and back to Ironside.
'You're just in time,' said Ironside, a touch too coldly.
'Sorry Chief, we did the best we could. Trailing you from that distance wasn't easy.'
Ironside nodded, falling silent and watching as the other officers took over the scene. Eve cast a troubled glance at the Chief and Carl, but hurried over to Ed, kneeling down beside him and running her hand over his face. Ed didn't react.
Mark left Richards on the ground and joined her.
'Help me get him up,' said one of the officers.
Mark slipped his arm under Ed's shoulder and gently pulled him standing, Ed swayed, but supported by Mark, he didn't fall.
'Ambulance crew is on its way,' said an officer.
'Let's just get him out of here,' Mark replied.
Ironside watched in silence as they helped Ed slowly out of the building, with Eve following very close behind. Once they had gone, he felt an overwhelming sense of relief that, by some miracle, they were all still alive.
Only then did the Chief looked back to Reese.
'I see you got Eve's call then?' Ironside said.
'You sure play a close game,' Carl said. 'You had me worried for a few minutes. I would have give you good odds that they would have found her in the van.'
'Why should they?' Ironside asked. 'Richards knew I wouldn't take such an absurd risk with anyone but my own staff. They didn't even bother searching it.'
'So that's why you didn't want them to know she was ok.'
'She was my final ace, Carl,' he said with a sigh. 'My last chance. Without her we would all be dead.'
Carl looked down to Lonnie's body, then back to the Chief.
'Seems she might have played her last hand,' he said.
The thought had crossed Ironside's mind too. It had gone further than he'd though it would, though he'd always been aware of the possibility it would end in gunfire. It was a calculated risk. That had been the only flaw in his plan, and there had been no way to avoid it.
But Eve had been forced into killing Lonnie, just as Ed had been forced into shooting Richards. That they had been doing their jobs and protected others wasn't going to make the facts any easier to live with, especially not for Eve.
'And Richards really did a number on Ed,' said Carl. 'You think he'll be ok?'
'I hope so,' replied the Chief.
'What a mess,' muttered Carl.
Ironside nodded. It was indeed a mess, but it had almost been a lot messier. Instead of getting safely out with his people, the money and the missing evidence, the whole lot had almost gone up in flames, but for a cop who just didn't know when to quit.
With a sigh, he looked down at his watch. It was just after eight in the morning. Ironside reached over and handed the Property box to Carl.
'You had better get this to the courthouse, Carl,' he said. 'The clock is still ticking on the McDonald case.'
'Sure thing, Chief,' Reese replied, tucking it under his arm. 'You going to have a bath?'
What Ironside wanted to do most was go after his staff to see how they were, and to be with them at the hospital. But he knew they were in good hands, and there would be nothing he could do for them just yet. And he still had his job to do.
'No, Carl, I have to return the money to the Commissioner. Can't leave millions of dollars sitting around the marina, can I? Dennis would have my badge!'
Carl looked at him, his eyebrows raised.
'And then?' he asked.
Ironside scowled at the pointlessness of the question. Carl knew perfectly well where he desperately wanted to be.
'Maybe I'll have a quick bath!' he said with as much irony as he could. For the first time in many hours, Reese smiled
'I would at least change your clothes before going to the hospital,' he said turning away. 'You're a fire hazard!'
It had taken the Chief many hours longer than he'd thought to get free of the bureaucrats and get down to the hospital.
Mark was waiting for him in the foyer, and took him straight up to Ed's room, where the sergeant was lying peacefully, his eyes closed. There were cuts and bruises over his face, and a thick white bandage round his temple. Now he'd been cleaned up from all the blood, Ironside thought his injuries looked even worse, so clear against his ashen skin. His wrists had bandages as well, and there was a drip in his arm.
Eve was sitting by the bed, anxiously twisting the jewellery on her finger, her face drawn and her eyes puffy from crying. She barely looked up as he entered.
'Ed's been in surgery,' Mark told the Chief. 'That's all we've been told. They're waiting for the results of some tests.'
Then Mark gave Ironside a strange, pointed look, and glanced towards Eve.
'I'll be outside if you need me, Chief,' he said.
Once Mark had gone, Ironside rolled his chair over to beside Eve, and she shifted her seat slightly to let him get closer. Together they sat, next to Ed.
Eve reached out to put her hand on Ironside's arm. She was trembling.
After another fifteen minutes, the door opened and the doctor came in, the same one who had tended Eve earlier. He gave Ironside a thin disapproving smile, then looked at Eve.
'You, young lady, should be in a hospital bed yourself. It was irresponsible of you to discharge yourself so quickly.'
Eve looked up to the man, her face was blank but her eyes fixed on him with a cold stare.
'I know,' she said. 'But I had a job to do. A very important job.'
The doctor looked at Ironside.
'I suppose I have you to blame for Miss Whitfield's sudden absence from hospital, Chief?'
'It was my own decision, Doctor Smith,' said Eve frostily.
The doctor looked between them, but said nothing more.
'But what about Sergeant Brown?' asked Ironside. 'Do you have the test results? Will he be ok?'
The doctor flicked open his file and gave a worried frown.
'All things considered, he's a very fortunate young man. Trauma to the abdomen, back, upper torso, arms, the wrists, the face, all of which are consistent with a sustained knife attack and a beating. But we're sure there's no internal bleeding, which was what we were worried about. The tests came back clean and his blood pressure has stabilised. But he also has a very nasty concussion and he's lost a significant amount of blood.'
Eve's hand was still on Ironside's arm and, as the doctor spoke, her grip grew tighter and tighter.
'Frankly,' said the doctor, shutting his file with a snap, 'he's lucky to still be standing after all of that.'
'I know,' said Ironside quietly.
'Well, the good news is that he'll get better, Chief Ironside,' the doctor said. 'We've patched him up, the cuts are cleaned and stitched, and he's on morphine for the moment. The concussion is the worst injury, and that will heal itself with time. Physically, he'll be back fit for duty in a few of weeks. Four or five at most, assuming…'
The doctor stopped abruptly.
'Assuming what?' growled Ironside.
'I don't know what exactly happened to him, but it's not going to be easy to recover from an attack like that and still do his job, Chief Ironside.'
On his arm, Eve's hand suddenly dropped away.
Ironside wanted to argue, to tell the doctor that he didn't know Ed Brown at all, and he shouldn't make snap judgements. But he didn't say anything. The sheer brutality of what Richards had done was going to be very difficult for anyone to live with.
'If he wakes, you can speak to him, Chief, just not for too long. The concussion is severe and he needs as much rest as he can get.'
'Thank you, Doctor Smith.'
After the doctor left, Eve let out a long, shaky sigh.
'Oh, Chief, I've been so worried,' she said.
'It's not your fault, Eve,' he said. 'If anyone's responsible for this whole mess, it's me.'
'But if I hadn't been there, if he hadn't hit his head, or if he hadn't been trying to protect me, maybe he would have been ok.'
Ironside took her hand, and pressed it tightly between his own.
'There are too many ifs,' he said. 'Maybe if you hadn't been there, he would have been dead. Mark would have been. So would I.'
Eve looked away.
'So why is it your fault, then, Chief?' she asked after a moment.
'You're both my responsibility,' he said.
At the words, Ed turned in restless sleep, his eyelids flickering. He drew a deeper breath and shifted his shoulders.
'Ed?' said Eve eagerly.
Slowly, Ed opened his eyes. He looked at Eve, and gave a tiny, tired but heartfelt smile.
'Hey,' he whispered.
'Hey yourself,' she said. She reached out to take his hand in hers, not seeing him wince. But Ed didn't try to move it away.
'How do you feel?' she asked.
'Terrible.' His speech was very slow and over-pronounced, which was probably the effect of the painkillers he'd been given. He looked sluggishly up to Ironside, an expression of deep regret and distress on his face. 'Chief, I'm… I'm so sorry.'
Ironside accepted Ed's apology with a nod. How like him to apologise. But the Chief knew that was exactly what he needed to do; Ed had made some tough decisions, and borne a terrible responsibility. He'd put up a front of deceit and lies to save Eve and he had hated every single moment of it.
'I know, Ed,' he said softly. 'But I also know you had no choice. You did what was right, regardless of the cost. And you have no need to apologise for that.'
Ed's face twisted.
'Right?' he said. 'D-don't you want an explanation?'
'We have Lonnie McArthur's file, Ed,' the Chief told him. 'And Eve's statement. That is all the explanation we need.'
Ed closed his eyes for a moment, and an expression of relief crossed his face. Ironside imagined what it must have been like to be trapped into cooperating and incriminating himself only to be tortured anyway. If it had been the other way round, if he had had to betray his friends to save Eve, he would have had just as much self-loathing as Ed seemed to have at that moment.
'Don't understand,' Ed murmured, looking from Ironside to Eve and back again. 'Must've missed something. Lonnie? You know?'
Ironside felt the shudder run through Eve at the name.
'There'll be time for a full report later, when you're better,' Ironside said. 'But you've come through this mess with full marks, Sergeant.'
'Full marks?' Ed replied, looking even more confused. 'For theft? Conspiracy? Extortion?'
'For doing the right thing, Ed,' said Ironside. 'For saving Eve from a fate worse than death and most likely death itself. For being a good cop.'
'Well,' Ed replied, with an ironic half-laugh, 'don't feel much like a good cop just now.'
Eve shifted forward.
'I think you are,' she whispered.
Ed looked at Eve and smiled, and Ironside smiled too, pleased to see the warmth returning to his sergeant's face. Ironside could remember seeing the crushed, guilt-laden look Ed had given him when he though Eve was still dead. It had been absolutely necessary, but it had been a terrible thing to do to someone in such a weakened position.
'Thought you were dead,' Ed told her.
'Now it's my turn to be sorry, Ed,' said Ironside. 'But I had to keep you in the dark, as well as Richards.'
'I underst… know.' The brief shudder that went through Ed at the word was barely noticeable.
'And as for the charges of conspiracy, theft, forgery…' Ironside saw the shame reappear on Ed's face. 'I have the Commissioner's assurance that they have all been dropped.'
'We have all the evidence we need. Murray from Internal Affairs is satisfied. The Commissioner is satisfied. I'm satisfied. That's the end of it.'
'That is the end of it, as far as the Department's concerned.'
Ironside had feared he would have to pull a lot of strings to sort this case out as quickly and as quietly as he could, but the Commissioner had been most cooperative after the return of the money and the drugs and with all Ironside's staff still alive. Once Ironside had told him and Murray all the facts, he'd closed the case there and then.
'Don't know what to say,' Ed murmured. He looked at the Chief with an unfathomable expression. 'Never thought you'd come to help me.'
Ironside felt he should have been surprised, or maybe even insulted, by that statement. But he wasn't. He looked at Ed with a calm, level gaze. He'd known, the moment he had come close enough to look Ed in the face, that he never expected to be rescued.
'You underestimated me, Sergeant Brown,' Ironside said with a smile.
'Never…' Ed stopped with a shudder, swallowing the rest of the sentence. 'Don't know what to say.'
'You shouldn't say anything,' said Ironside. 'You should rest.'
Ed nodded, but he didn't close his eyes. Instead, he pushed himself up slightly.
'They both dead?' he asked.
'Oh.' Ed looked away from the Chief, over towards the window and the wide sweeping view of the city. Beside him, Eve looked round at Ironside, her face lined with tears.
'Listen, Ed,' said the Chief. 'I'm not going to tell you it's all right. You did make the correct decision, but that doesn't mean it is the easy one. You killed him, Ed, but you didn't do it for revenge.'
There was silence for almost a minute, Ironside never took his eyes of his sergeant's face, seeing the turmoil of emotions he himself was feeling mirrored there.
'I know,' Ed replied eventually. 'I've killed before. But not like this. Maybe…'
'Maybe this, maybe that,' interrupted Ironside. 'Maybe anything. But you're a policeman, Ed, and a damn good one too. You've proved it today.'
There was a pause, then a small grin grew on Ed's lips as he looked round at his boss.
'Worth paying two million for?' he asked.
Ironside shook his head firmly, noting the look of confusion on Ed's face.
'No. You're worth paying a damn sight more.'
Ed gave a tired laugh. He looked much more weary and drawn than he had, even just a few minutes before.
'Thanks,' Ed murmured.
'I have your badge and your gun waiting for you,' Ironside said. 'As soon as you're out.'
Ed nodded very slightly, the effort of moving seeming to make him all the more tired.
'Thank you, Chief,' he said again. 'Thank you for everything.'
Ironside nodded. The other man was looking exhausted, and finding it hard to keep his eyes open.
'But there is one thing, Sergeant Brown,' Ironside said sternly.
'You ever swear at me like that again, you'll be busted back down to Patrolman so fast you'll get windburn. Do I make myself clear?'
'Sure,' Ed mumbled.
'Good. Now you can get some rest. That's an order.'
Ed looked at Eve, his eyelids drooping as sleep took hold. Very slowly he let go of her hand.
'Guessed,' he murmured. 'Say congratulations later.'
Then his eyes closed completely.
Ironside looked at Eve, who was blushing red around the top of her cheeks.
'We should go outside and let him sleep,' said Ironside.
With a nod, Eve rose and opened the door to let Ironside roll himself out. Together they walked down the short corridor to the waiting area nearby.
Eve sat down on one of the far away chairs, looking to the floor. There was something in the way she positioned herself that made him uncomfortable, that and the way she wouldn't look at him.
'What is it, Eve?' he asked, gently.
'You have something to say.'
'Chief, please don't make this any more difficult than it already is.'
She was twisting her jewellery as she spoke. When she looked up at him, her eyes were full of tears.
'You can say anything to me, Eve. You know that.'
Eve nodded nervously. She took a few moments to compose herself before she started to speak.
'Scott was here. He stayed with me while Ed was in surgery. And we had a long, long talk, and I told him everything.'
Ironside waited patiently, but he knew what she was going to say. He'd always been afraid that this would happen. This was the end.
'A few weeks ago, Scott asked me to marry him. I said yes.' Eve took a short, anxious breath, but didn't say anything more. She looked down to her hand, and the sparkling ring that she hadn't been wearing earlier. 'I haven't worn the ring before today. I was going to tell you all before, but somehow, I kept putting it off. A secret engagement seemed more romantic and…' She stopped.
'And…?' The Chief leaned forward, drawing as close to her as he could while in that flamin' chair.
'I wasn't sure, before. I thought I might stay. And now…'
'And now…?' repeated the Chief.
'And now,' said Eve, 'I've decided. I'm not going to be working for the Police Department afterwards.'
'Eve…' started Ironside.
'I know what you're going to say,' she said quickly. 'I've been through this all before. But I've done my job and I've seen this case all the way through to the end. But I can't do it any more. You once told me the price you pay for your badge gets higher every year. This year, it's been too high.'
Ironside watched as tears rolled down her cheeks, an immense feeling of loss in his heart.
'It's not just because of Richards,' she told him. 'Or Lonnie. Pressure makes a good cop, or breaks a bad one, isn't that what you've always said?'
'You are a good cop, Eve,' he said.
'But there's only so much pressure a good cop can take before they break too, Chief.' She looked earnestly at him. 'This might not have been enough to break Ed, or you. But it was enough to break me.'
'I've been on your staff for four years. I've known you and Ed much longer than that. But I love Scott, the way I once loved you.'
That was the first time either of them had said it. And it was likely to be the last, as well.
'I can't put Scott through that sort of horror. I won't. It isn't fair on either of us.'
'No, Robert!' she said, rising and turned to face him for the first time in the whole conversation. 'No. Not this time. There is no sudden cure, there is nothing you can say. You can't talk me out of this.'
'I'm not going to try,' he said.
Eve looked almost surprised for a moment then a soft smile lit up her face.
'You can make your own decisions, Eve,' Ironside said. 'You always have. And whatever your decisions is, you have my blessing, and full support.'
'Robert,' she said. 'Thank you.'
She leaned forward and kissed him on the forehead.
They looked at each other for a long moment, neither with anything more they could say. Then Eve turned and walked off down the corridor. Ironside watched her leave, the way her skirt swished as she walked, the rise of her step, the tilt of her shoulders.
There were many things he regretted in his life, though he had always tried not to look back, only forwards.
He would never be able to walk. And he would never be able to replace her.
Ed Brown walked slowly down the steps of Ironside's office with his hands in his pockets and his head high, looking even more smart than usual in his full tuxedo. He stopped by the desk, and perched himself comfortably on the edge, giving the Chief a cheerful grin.
'I take it you have some news?' Ironside said, looking up from the paperwork on the desk.
'Jury's back in record time,' he said. 'And McDonald has gone down for twenty-five to life!'
Ironside looked up at the happy, relaxed face of his friend, and smiled back. The bruising had gone after the first week, and there was only the faintest of scars on his lip, but nothing that had damaged his natural good looks.
Underneath, that was a different matter. Ironside knew that his sergeant slept badly now, and he knew that there was still a long way to go. But Ed would pull through.
'So it's a good day for a celebration?' asked Ed.
'It's a good day for a wedding,' said Ironside.
'Mark's downstairs with the van. Everything's set.'
'And you have the present?
'Yes, we have the present. Chief, it's all taken care of. So all you have to do is relax and enjoy yourself.'
Ironside nodded. It was all taken care of. With a sigh, he thought once again about the events of a few months ago, wondering if he had made the correct choices, wondering if this could have had a different ending.
Richards had won, in a sense. He'd succeeded in damaging his team and taking something very precious away. But the rest of his team survived, and were the stronger for it. He looked up to the man leaning on the table, feeling a paternal pride that he would never say. Ed returned his gaze.
'We'd better get going now, we wouldn't want to be late,' Ed remarked. 'We can't let Eve down, can we?'
Ironside noted the choice of words with an inward smile.
'Then let's go, Ed! We can't be late for her wedding.'
Author's Notes -
And now I can say a very heartfelt thanks to all of you lovely readers and reviewers for your support with this, and wish you a very Happy New Year.
It is my plan to start the next long Ironside story sometime around the beginning of February. I've really enjoyed working to some sort of schedule, and I will most likely do it again with the next one…
Ironside: The Madness Of Kings – coming February 2009 – Rated M.