"And now, Sir, we'd love to hear the whole story!"
It turned out that none of the farmers was capable of speaking French, and since Rebecca was asleep they needed another interpreter.
"Does the teacher understand English?" Joeri asked Burteli.
"No, I don't think so. But the pastor is smarter than the teacher. He's even been to university; I'm sure he will be able to translate. Hitsch, go get him!"
By the time Hitsch came back with the church minister of the valley, Eve hat returned, too, and the table was set with farmhouse bread, alp-cheese and air-dried sausages. But Ironside didn't get an opportunity to eat, he had to tell his part of the story, translated by the pastor, a friendly, gray-haired man:
"Yesterday, when Mark went to get the newspaper, I opened the window for some fresh air. I was studying the map of the region, when the telephone rang. Police-Director Mayer told me that he wanted to see me. It was urgent, he said. And since my speech at the reunion wasn't due until tomorrow afternoon, I agreed. He would send a driver to get me.
Only a few minutes later, a room-waiter knocked at the door. He brought a bottle of wine. It was a gift from the police Director, he said. But right behind him, two masked men stormed into my room. Obviously they had needed the room-waiter to get to me. They knocked the waiter out from behind and one od them pulled a gun on me and ordered me to come with them. I said that I had to go to the bathroom first, pretending that paraplegics had to do that very often.
There I looked for something to write. But the only suitable item I found was a little soap, and a box of cigarettes. Then I heard the two men talk about something in Dinhard. That was the same name as the one of the wine. In retrospect I think that they might have bought it when they spied out the place for the intended robbery. I had seen the name of the village on the map. I couldn't risk writing a message onto the mirror like I had intended, because they came too close: They placed the waiter under the heavy lamp to make him believe that he had hit his head and passed out. So I pretended to knock over the bottle with my arm and replaced it onto the map where that village was situated, hoping that Ed, Eve and Mark would get the message.
The two men put eye-patches onto my eyes and probably dark sunglasses. Presumably they took their masks off afterwards.
In a station wagon, there was a third man waiting. I can't imagine why they tried that foolish rubbery in Dinhard. They lost a lot of time driving in the wrong direction in order to mislead the police. I couldn't see where we were driving, but I overheard that they wanted to get to Avers the same evening. I remembered reading about Avers-Juf lying at 2126 meters altitude and managed to write A 2126 into my cigarette package with the soap and put it into the rear seat.
We took the train until Zurich. There, they stole a car, another station wagon, probably because of the wheelchair. Believe it or not – there wasn't enough fuel in the tank to get up to Avers, but they noticed that too late. Since they were afraid of being recognized, they didn't want to refuel. They decided to pass the night in the hotel "Rofflaschlucht", right where Avers valley begins, and intended to steal another car in the morning.
I heard the one they called Fink make a phone-call in the room next door. As you know, one can detect a phone number by counting the number of snaps when the dial plate turns back into place after dialing each number. The number was 051 37 28 91. Eve – call Directory assistance and ask whose phone number this is! You'll have to dial 11. That's the Swiss telephone information."
Eve threw in: „Let me make a guess. It's probably Schneider, the Vice-Director of Zurich police."
Ironside was surprised. "How would you know that?"
While Eve headed for to the phone, Mark explained what had happened when they had arrived at the hotel with the first two criminals.
Eve came back with a triumphant smile: "It's indeed the private number of Vice-Director Schneider!"
"Ed – then it's your job to inform Director Mayer!"
Reluctantly Ed got up to explain the whole situation to the police Director.
In the meantime, Ironside went on:
"There was a reunion of members of a Citroën-club. Because of the bad roads, they wanted to have a cup of coffee at hotel Rofflaschlucht, where we had passed the night, take a quick look at the waterfall and then drive back. My companions stole one of those old-timers and put me into it, leaving my wheelchair behind, because the trunk compartment was far too small. But we didn't get far: There had been a snow-slide during the night. We had to wait about four hours in a restaurant in a little village called Ausserferrera until the street was free. I later overheard the three of them talking about a cottage in Avers-Platta where we were supposed to hide. The cottage belonged to somebody they knew – I'd say Vice-Director Schneider. But Fink didn't know the way to Platta, and because of the high snow-walls he couldn't see a sign-post, so he went up too far, up to Avers-Juf. There, he was told that the branch-off to Platta was further down. And the rest of the story is common knowledge."
It wasn't quite, and Mark narrated his point of view in his unique way, so that there remained no doubt that he was actually the hero of the whole adventure.
Ed returned and sat down at Rebecca's bedside again.
Everyone else had to tell their own experiences now, and for every newcomer to the restaurant, the whole story had to be re-told. A bottle of wine was brought in and farmers and police officers drank to close friendship with one another. It didn't matter that the wine was cheap and acid – it served its purpose.
The pastor observed the quiet young man beside the cockle stove. He stood up and rested his hand on Ed's good shoulder. "Are you all right, son?" he asked in his low, caring voice.
Ed smiled. "Yes Sir, I'm fine. I'm glad that the Chief is safe and that I don't have to carry the responsibility anymore."
"He's quite a man, your Chief, isn't he?"
"You can tell that again!" Ed answered, proud to be a member of Ironside's staff.
The cuckoo clock at the wall already showed midnight when the company finally decided to leave.
Eve went up to her and Rebecca's room to prepare the bed for the child. But she came back shortly afterwards. "It's so cold up in the bedroom. I'm afraid that Rebecca will wake up if we put her to bed."
Ed shook his head: "I'll stay here with her."
When everybody had gone out, the door of the lounge reopened and Trina came in. She laid a blanket around Ed's shoulders. Her voice sounded a lot softer now, almost motherly: "It might get chilly towards dawn. Good night."
Then Ed was alone with the sleeping child.
Hours later a sound made him jump. "No, please, I'll be good, please, don't ..."
In her sleep, Rebecca was speaking Swiss-German and Ed didn't understand every word, but nevertheless he was worried. Something had to be very wrong here. The events of the day seemed to have disturbed the child, or perhaps brought up bad memories.
Carefully he tried to wake her up, softly talking to her. Nevertheless she was startled and sat up abruptly, staring at Ed with fear in her eyes.
Spontaneously he took her in his arms, trying to calm her down.
After she had stopped shivering he asked her sensitively:
"Who hurt you? Your parents? And don't tell me that there's nothing."
"No – not really. It's probably just my imagination."
"Do you think that they don't love you?"
"No! I'm sure they do. But look – when I was born, they already had a girl and a boy, both of them a lot older than me. They wanted to build a house and had - still have - to work hard for that. They needed a third child about as bad as toothache. You have to understand them. I'm just a burden for them. All of us would be a lot better off if I didn't exist."
For a moment, Ed was at a loss for words. How could he help this sensitive child? In certain points she was probably only too right. But perhaps he could try to re-frame her view of herself.
He sat her onto his left knee and braced himself for a nightly theological disquisition.
"Listen, Rebecca – to begin with: I'm very happy that you exist, and not only because you probably saved our lives today. You're a very special little girl.
Secondly: You said that you go to Sunday-school. Then you know the Good Lord, and that he has created the world and everything – the people, too, don't you?"
She nodded earnestly.
"So – if your parents didn't actually want a third child, who do you think wanted, that you were born?"
"You mean – the Lord himself wanted me to be?"
The sun seemed to rise in the small face. She didn't say a word but pressed her head against Ed's shoulder and tried to embrace his chest under the sling with her thin arms. Ed would never forget the joy he felt – a little girl had found a reason to live.
Carefully he laid her back onto the couch, and a minute later she was sound asleep.
Ed heard the enervating "peekaboo" of the cuckoo clock at the wall every hour. Right after the seven o'clock peekaboo there was the sound of footsteps, and he was relieved that the night was finally over. He was expecting to see Anna-Babali and hoping for some breakfast. But when the door opened, it was police-Director Mayer who came in – with dark circles around the eyes and obviously depressed. He must have been on his way since three o'clock in the morning.
Ed got up, stretched his long limbs and cramped back as good as possible in the low-ceilinged room and greeted Mayer friendly. Now that Ironside was safe, there was no reason not to be friendly.
"Where are the captives?" Mayer wanted to know. He just threw a glance at Ed's arm, but didn't say a word, feeling somehow guilty and embarrassed.
Together they went down to the cellar. Mayer drew his gun while Ed opened the door to the boiler room. The three men were quietly sitting together, none of them made any attempt to get out, although they had been untied.
"Fink – follow me," Mayer ordered. His voice revealed his disappointment about his assistant. He wanted to talk to him in private – unsure about their present relationship.
Ed went back to the lounge. When he passed the kitchen, there was the sound of voices and the lovely smell of coffee. That banished every thought about Fink and Mayer of Ed's mind and filled him with pleasant anticipation. Eve was coming down the stairs in an equally cheerful mood. But how did she manage to look neat as a pin after this whole ordeal? Normally earnest and neatly dressed Ed himself with his five o'clock shadow, the damaged shirt, his bandaged arm in the black sling and his happy-go-lucky smile looked like a very young, carefree pirate. Eve smiled approvingly and linked arms with him.
In the lounge they met Rebecca, who was already walking around, although with a bit of a limping. She would be all right in a little while. Mark and the Chief, equally unshaven, for none of them had been able to bring along a sewing bag, were ready for breakfast. Ironside had slept in a ground floor room because there was no elevator. He was relieved to see Ed and the child hale and hearty, but as usual he tried to hide his feelings under a mask of grumpiness. But his friends knew anyway, and Rebecca wasn't impressed at all, but seemed to feel the soft hart under the hard shell.
Anna-Babali came in, bringing bread, butter, jam and later coffee and milk. That's what Swiss people considered as breakfast – the only alternative to "Roeschti". The relief of being safe and together made the meal much more enjoyable than expected. And then, the coffee was surprisingly good and strong, the dark bread was fresh and the strawberry jam tasted even better than at home.
When they were at their second cup of coffee, Mayer and Fink came in. Fink was stooping, he seemingly didn't dare to stand straight. Both of them were offered seats and some coffee.
Mayer looked somewhat relieved. "Of course I will have to verify Fink's statement, but it seems that he was forced into that whole affair by my Vice-Director. He will be relegated, but he might get a second chance in the police department. That depends partly on you, Sgt. Brown: Will you press charges against him because of physical injury?"
"No, I won't." Ed smiled, although slightly squint. "But I'll have to work out for our next encounter."
Fink understood his embarrassment. Ashamed he admitted: "This time, the conditions were hardly fair, not to mention the different weight class. I'm very sorry about your arm."
Mark threw in: "Oh, from time to time he has to be reminded that good old Mark Sanger's always ready to rescue him!"
Ironside wasn't satisfied. "But what was behind the whole matter? What was Vice-Director Schneider's intention?"
"The Italian Mafia must have learned about the criminalist's congress. Most of the European police Directors were invited – and you, Bob. The Mafia considered this as a chance to work without their most prominent adversaries. In the meantime we've heard of big bank robberies, art theft and other crimes in Rome, Paris and London. It seems that the Mob in San Francisco needed more time, so they corrupted Schneider. It was never intended that you should be harmed, though. Now Fink's girlfriend has a dark past, drugs and so on. Schneider threatened to reveal that, if Fink wouldn't help abducting you. Fink asked his buddies from his boxing-club for help – and those wanted to finish their previously planned job in Dinhard first, because they were under pressure themselves, having gambling debts they couldn't pay back in time. -
I suggest that you leave our beautiful country soon after your speech this afternoon: There will be some work waiting for you at home, I suppose."
A finally shaven Ironside in his best suit impressed his audience at the congress with an inspiring speech. His wheelchair had been picked up on their way down to Zurich. Apart from a few new scratches it had overcome the whole ordeal unharmed like Ironside and his team.
Eve, Ed and Mark answered questions. There was a lot of praise and back-slapping – except for Ed: With his sling, everybody handled him with kid gloves, especially the ladies, as Mark noticed mockingly.
Business as Usual
Immediately afterwards they took Rebecca home: A child with a new self-esteem and joy of life. Then they flew back to San Francisco.
They had barely been able to open the door of Ironside's apartment-office when the phone rang. It was Commissioner Randall. "Bob – it's incredible. As soon as you'd left for Switzerland, the crime-rate seemed to escalate, and there were rumors of a really big thing, whatever that might be. I absolutely need you on the case of ..."