There is a pretty girl in his dream. She is standing in a brightly lit room, looking towards him with a calm expression, But she's not smiling. She is just standing there. Looking. Waiting.
Ed stands close by, watching her.
He doesn't move. It feels like he can't. He's fixed in place, unable to move if he wanted to.
They look at each other. Then there is a waft of smoke, the smell of burning tar and oil fills his nose, and he fights the urge to be sick. The overwhelming smell fills his nose and down the back of his throat, the taste is like blood mixed with vinegar
His vision tilts to one side, sliding out of focus.
Only now does the girl move. Through the blur Ed sees her lifts her arms. The left one is missing below the elbow, and blood streams from the wound. Her face is red against the dark of the paintwork behind, her orange top was streaked with her own blood.
Ed wants to take a step towards her, to warn her, to help her, to try and do something to save her. But he can't move. Something is stopping him from moving. The smell increases in strength, and he feels it burning the back of his throat as he tries to breathe. Something is holding him down.
The girl is gone.
With no warning a billowing flame erupts from his left, and somewhere far away, there is the dull blare of an alarm…
Ed woke with a start, his heart pounding as if he had just run the full length of a football field at top speed, and drenched in sweat.
His telephone was ringing.
For a few more seconds, he still couldn't move, fixed to the bed with fear and shock, the smell still in his nostrils, and nausea threatening to overwhelm him. His body ached much, much more than yesterday. He'd never have believed he could ache so much, not even in Vietnam had he ever felt like this.
But the phone kept on ringing, and ringing and ringing. Only one man would have persisted like that, so Ed levered himself over onto his side and made a grab for the telephone.
'Brown,' he slurred. The clock by his bed showed it was just after six in the morning, and Ed suppressed a shiver. Why would the Chief be calling so early? What had happened? He hadn't anticipated that more things would go wrong.'What's wrong?'
'Ed!' Of course it was the Chief, and he sounded anxious.
'What's wrong?' repeated Ed, a spike of panic starting in his chest. The Chief wouldn't call this early unless there was something really wrong.
'I was just wondering if you were alright,' said the Chief.
'You woke me at six to ask that!' replied Ed, sounding a lot more angry than he'd meant to.
'Six? No! Ed, it's just about half past noon.'
'What?' Ed looked back to his clock, this time seeing the hands the correct way round. He stared at it for a few moments before slowly leaning forward and resting his aching head in his free hand. He'd never overslept before.
'Chief, I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. I'm on my way.'
'Take it easy, Ed,' Ironside started to say.
'No, I'm on my w…'
'Sergeant Brown!' Ironside said sharply. 'There's no need to rush. Mark and I will be there to pick you up in about an hour. It's on our way.'
Ed was silent for a few seconds. Arguing with the Chief was never easy, and though Ed rarely backed out of a confrontation, he didn't feel able to try and change Ironside's mind. Besides, he could do with a lift.
'Yeah Chief. Thanks,' he mumbled. His car was currently out of commission, and he couldn't drive with his strained arm, even if he wanted to.
'We have a lot to catch up on,' said the Chief. 'I'll need your help.'
'Sure, Chief.' He was pleased at the words, but somehow Ed couldn't help feeling that the Chief was just saying that to try and cheer him up.
'We'll be there in a hour,' Ironside reminded him. The phone clicked.
Ed replaced the receiver, and rolled slowly back on his bed to stare up at the ceiling. In truth, the very last thing he wanted to do at the moment was go anywhere, and do anything. The memory of his nightmare was still fresh and as vivid as it had been while he was dreaming. He didn't want to think about it, but somehow he couldn't help it. He had let that girl down. He was a cop; he was supposed to be there to protect people. He'd never missed anything like that before. How had he missed the signs? How? It was his job to know the signs of danger, he had to know to keep alive on the streets of the city. How could he have made such a big mistake?
He knew what Ironside, or Fran, or Mark would say: that he'd done everything he could. But that didn't help.
Eventually, he forced himself to struggle out of bed. He was still wearing yesterday's clothes, and he stripped off, dumping the dusty clothes in the laundry, noticing for the first time the mess and the grim and the thin lines of dry blood on his once-white shirt. Then he showered, feeling the bruises on his body rather than seeing them. He stood in the shower, the hot water running over him, staring at the wall, trying to understand.
How had he survived?
He had tried to avoid thinking about that. How come he had gotten up off the floor and walked out, when that girl had been blown to pieces and virtually vaporised?
How had that happened?
He'd no idea that there was something that powerful, and that specific. It was impossible. It seemed impossible. Had he imagined the whole thing?
Time passed in fits and starts, and Ed suddenly realised he'd been standing still in the shower for over half and hour and the water was cold. Forcing himself to focus, he was out of the shower, dried and dressed in about ten minutes, and fixing his gun securely on his belt before replacing his arm in its sling.
It wasn't the first time he'd had doubts about his chosen profession. He'd always wanted to be a policeman, he'd made up his mind for sure by the time he was discharged from the Marines. He'd never thought he'd be lucky enough, or good enough, to get to work with the Chief of Detectives in San Francisco, Robert T Ironside. And he was proud of his work. Until yesterday.
How could he see it as anything but a failure? That girl was dead because he was too slow.
A fresh pang of guilt swept over him. Somewhere, out in the world, her parents were probably still alive, waiting for a call from their little girl. Somewhere, they would be worrying, and waiting. He could imagine her father, pacing the floor by the telephone, her mother sitting on the settee close by, twisting her hands with worry.
But their little girl was never going to call again. Instead, the police were going to knock on the door, and they were going to tell them that she was dead, and that he'd failed to keep her safe. How was he ever going to live with that failure?
There was a sharp knock at the door, and Ed suddenly moved, looking around at the clock. It was well over an hour since Ironside had called. Where had the time gone?
He moved as swiftly to the door, yanking it open. Mark was there, looking anxious.
'Hey, man!' he said. 'Chief sent me up. You cool?'
It took a great deal of Ed's self-control not to reply with an unpleasant remark. He nodded slightly.
'You know, man, you don't look cool,' said Mark.
'Thanks!' snapped Ed. 'That's just what I needed to hear at the moment.'
Mark and Ed usually got on well, not counting all the times Ed had run him in and locked him up in the days before he worked for the Chief and was still a small-time hood on the streets. But, just for a moment, Ed felt like taking a swing at him. He closed his eyes, trying to keep his anger under some sort of control.
'Look, man, we've gotta go. We can't keep the Chief waiting, you know what he's like!'
Mark smiled in a warm way, and Ed found himself smiling back, the simmering anger fading as quickly as it had grown.
Ironside said nothing as Ed climbed into the van in the front, beside Mark.
He looked much, much worse than he had the day before. He was pale, his normally perfect hairstyle was slightly ruffled, his tie was squint under the sling and there was a nervous, almost shaky edge to his outward demeanour.
He needed Ed Brown: Mark was a good aide, but he wasn't a cop. Fran was a good cop, but she wasn't as good as Ed; she didn't have Ed's experience, and she didn't have Ed's nerve either.
This case had begun to get complicated. He needed his staff at their peak. But looking at Ed Brown this afternoon, Ironside doubted for a moment if he would ever be at his peak again. He opened his mouth to say something, but shut it again just as quickly. There was nothing to be gained by saying anything at the moment.
There was silence in the van, and not a particularly companionable one at that.
'Where are we going now?' asked Mark, turned to look at Ironside as he spoke.
'Frank wants to see us,' said Ironside.
'He's not at the Lab?'
'No,' said Ironside. 'He's at the Kingston Building, with all of his staff I might add. He wanted us all there too.'
Ironside saw Ed's shoulders lift, then fall. He was sure they were shaking as well.
They drove in silence, whether Ed was uncomfortable with it, Ironside couldn't tell. Ironside himself was uncomfortable, worry about his sergeant aside as, on the telephone, Frank had sounded most unhappy about something. And Frank was not the sort of man to ever get unhappy about his job.
They arrived at the Kingston Building, and Mark parked the van. The area was less of a mess than it had been the day before. Already there had been some work to clear up the debris, and workmen were still busy. Ed's smashed up Ford had been towed away, for which Ironside was extremely grateful. There were a number of people milling around, more than there had been the day before. By the time the Chief had extracted himself from the van, he had spotted Frank by the back wall, talking to a young woman in a yellow hard hat. After only a moment's pause, he started to roll himself forward, with Mark taking up the strain by pushing behind. Ed was silent at his side. Ironside made a conscious effort not to watch Ed all the time, trying to give the other man some space.
Frank came towards them as soon as they started moving, walking over the precariously balanced bits of masonry with the ease of a man who knew his way around a bomb site.
'Afternoon, Chief,' he said, nodding at both Mark and Ed.
'What do you have for us, Frank?' Ironside asked, glaring up at the other man. 'Good or not good?'
Frank gave his usual non-committal shrug, but no smile.
'That depends on what you mean by good.'
'You don't have to be evasive,' said Ironside gruffly. 'I want to know what you've found.'
Frank shrugged again.
'What!' Ed spoke with a surprising amount of anger in his voice, and Ironside turned to look up at his Sergeant in surprise.
'We've had the whole area searched by our top teams, and no one found anything that is even close to being from a human body. No clothes. No remains. Nothing.'
A snarl had formed on Ed's lip but he appeared to be struggling to start the next sentence. Ironside made sure he never got the chance to say whatever it was, as it was going to be something he would eventually regret!
Ironside's voice made Ed jerk round, and for a moment Ironside could see the confusion, panic and anger in the other man's eyes. Then a moment later, it was gone. Ironside looked back at Frank, who was eyeing Ed with suspicion.
'Frank, what is going on?'
'We've not found anything like you asked us to look for,' Frank said, frowning at Ironside. 'And if it was anyone else but you, Chief, you'd have a lot of explaining to do to the Commissioner. But...' He left the word hanging for a moment, as he glanced at the scattered remains of the building behind him. 'We found something else, something a lot worse.'
Ironside shifted forward in his seat, waiting for more.
'The explosion wasn't possible.' Frank looked at Ed again, this time with confusion. 'We've proved that. What happened here can't have happened.'
'But it did happen,' said Ironside, pointing to the fractured building. 'That certainly happened!'
'I know,' said Frank shaking his head. 'That's my problem. The only solution is that there was a whole new kind of explosive being used. And I'm at a loss.'
'I don't see what's wrong,' said Mark.
'Explosions are symmetrical. You set off a bomb and you get a round crater, yes?'
'Ok, in a building, you've got walls and things and furniture to get in the way, but it is still symmetrical. Ok? But this one isn't. This one is highly directional, with the main force going through the face of the building, and virtually nothing the other way. There is no known way of configuring conventional explosives to behave like that. No way. I'd stake my life on it.'
Although the choice of words left a lot to be desired, Ironside appreciated the sentiment. And Frank was right, this was a whole lots worse. But Mark looked from Frank to Ironside, a frown on his face.
'New explosives? What's the deal?' he asked.
Ironside looked down to the ground before speaking.
'Something that can blow the front off a building, but leave it standing? Something that can destroy a area the size of a football field, but leave furniture intact? Something powerful, and deadly and very accurate? Something we know nothing about? Used to blow up a school building in the middle of San Francisco?'
Mark drew a deep breath, realising what the Chief was trying to say. Ironside looked round at them, with a grim sense of foreboding in his heart.
'Gentlemen,' he said softly. 'I think this is just the start.'
A/N Apologies for the delay, but we should get there in the end! With Extra fish going to Realmlife : )