Ironside: The Ruthledge Diamond
Guarding the Ruthledge diamond should be no problem at all, should it?
Disclaimer: I don't own Ironside and his people.
Author's note: As I declared, my English skills are far too bad to write comedies. But I couldn't help writing this one, sorry!
The ballroom of the Ruthledge mansion was lit festively. The candelabras were electric now, but everything else seemed to belong to another century. On the long tables covered with the finest linen, exquisite dishes were ready, arranged in a most appetizing way. Naturally, the wines matched the taste of the most elderly, distinguished gentlemen who were present.
Everybody who was anybody had gathered here tonight. Mrs. Cynthia Ruthledge, born in 1875 and therefore 92 years old now, did not give a ball very often anymore. But when she did, it was like time-travelling seventy years back: Back to a time when the ladies had no other duty than to be beautiful and charming, and when the gentlemen were still gentlemen.
Today was Cynthia's granddaughter Belinda's 25th birthday, and it was celebrated like 25th birthdays had been celebrated since 1900, since Cynthia's own 25th birthday.
Sitting at a table in a corner of the ballroom, Mrs. DeWitte and Mrs. Rehnquist, both in their seventies, were enjoying themselves. Mrs. DeWitte took a sip of her sherry. For the umpteenth time she glanced at Belinda and her mysterious companion. Belinda looked superb in her golden dress and golden high heels.
The famous Ruthledge diamond dazzled so much at Belinda's neck that it seemed to belong there. But Mrs. DeWitte knew better. She put down her glass and addressed Mrs. Rehnquist:
"Cynthia will be delighted that Belinda finally seems to have grown out her bad habits. Last time I saw her she was wearing an orange and green poncho, and she was in the company of a hippie!"
Mrs. Rehnquist, who was used to shouting at her deaf husband, answered audibly through the entire ballroom: "At least she seems to have found a suitable young companion now."
Mr. Rehnquist, sitting opposite, was glad that for once he didn't need to pretend listening or even understanding. The young man at Belinda's side aroused fond memories: Not unlike himself at the same age he was tall and slim, had brown eyes and brown hair, an earnest face and impeccable manners.
Strangely enough it looked as if the young man had been growing very recently. One would have thought that he was in his late twenties already, and at that age people didn't usually grow any more, did they? But his trousers were definitely a little too short, weren't they?
"Nobody seems to know him. Where is he from?" Mrs. DeWitte wondered.
"I don't know either – but the two will make a beautiful couple!" Mrs. Rehnquist exclaimed with her stentorian voice.
Hardly noticeably, the young man in question winced at those words.
Three days before:
Chief Ironside was in a bad mood. That wasn't unusual but this time, Ed knew the reason behind the Chief's grumpiness: Eve was away with her parents, in Paris or St Tropez or Venice. Eve was so to speak Ironside's antidepressant, his stimulant and his muse in personal union, and now he was suffering of withdrawal. They all were.
And then, there was this impossible assignment: To guard the Ruthledge diamond at the festivity of Belinda Ruthledge's 25th birthday. Ironside hadn't been able to say no since Cynthia Ruthledge had been his mother's godmother. And anyway, you didn't say no to Mrs. Ruthledge, not even if your name was Robert T. Ironside.
But being Chief Robert T. Ironside, you had the possibility to delegate unpleasant obligations to your subordinates. And that's exactly what the Chief did: He put his Sergeant in charge of it.
"The insurance policy notes that the diamond is worth $370,000. But in reality it's probably a lot more," he reminded Ed.
The Sergeant wasn't pleased at all. He knew that he would feel awfully out of place – not to mention that Saturday was supposed to be his first free evening in weeks.
"Oh, come on, all you have to do is to take a beautiful young lady out. Isn't that what you would have done anyway if you'd had the evening off?" the Chief chastised him.
Ed thought that it was probably going to be the other way round: The young lady taking him in...
"But the Ruthledges...," he whined, "...will my best black suit be adequate?"
"Of course not. Go rent a tuxedo somewhere if you can't afford to buy one."
Giving up, Ed took the Chief's advice. He had to admit that the tuxedo looked indeed very elegant. The only problem was that the trousers were too short for his long legs.
But they would have to do as there were none in exactly his size. People would in general be looking up to his 6 feet 2 and not down to his shoes, where they could have seen an inch of definitely not-so-elegant socks. At least he hoped so.
On Friday, Ed met Belinda Ruthledge, Mrs. Ruthledge's granddaughter. She was indeed a beautiful young woman: Shapely, sexy, with a perfectly oval face, long blond hair and big blue eyes. But Ed, who always appreciated a beautiful girl, didn't feel at ease around her. It wasn't just because she was a Ruthledge. Eve Whitfield was a member of a wealthy family too. But there was something about Belinda which Ed couldn't place right away: Was it boredom or weariness that he saw in her eyes?
There was no time for speculations right now. She showed him the rooms of the mansion where the festivity would take place. He should be prepared for a possible burglary, so he had to know the place.
"To be inconspicuous you will play my boyfriend," Belinda ordered.
Ed had been expecting that, but he still didn't like it. It wasn't just that he liked to choose his girls himself. It was that uneasy feeling, like a smell of trouble...
Back at the office, he said so to the Chief: "Sir, I'm worried. Something's just not right. Can't you go there yourself, or at least send Mark with me?"
"That's flaming nonsense. You won't tell me that a Detective Sergeant needs help to guard a flaming necklace? And even less my Sergeant? – Anyway, you're there only because a nice lady of 92 years is afraid of ghosts."
And that's how Sergeant Ed Brown happened to stand in a rented tuxedo with trousers too short for him next to a beautiful woman in a ballroom, wishing he was a thousand miles away.
Actually he had no reason to complain. Belinda was being very nice towards him. Repeatedly, her eyes rested on his face longer than necessary. When nobody seemed to be watching (as if anybody would stop staring at them...), her arm brushed lightly over his, or her hip touched his, or her hand rested on his back for a second. Ed tried hard to avoid any direct contact, but to no avail. Then she stunned him, whispering: "I've always dreamed of a man like you."
Ed knew that he probably should have been flattered. But his uneasy feeling was growing by the minute, and the smell of trouble was getting insupportable.
And that's when the lights went out.
Author's note 2:
Thanks to my wonderful beta-reader lemonpig73! Thanks to bluesybelge, who found her for me! Thanks to all you kind reviewers! Behind the huge walls of snow around our house I can hardly imagine that there are so many nice people out there...