Ed reacted instantly. He gently, but irresistibly and very quickly pulled Belinda away from where they had been standing, in a direction where he remembered some open space. Nevertheless he stepped on somebody's toes – toes that definitely hadn't been there seconds earlier. After the first shock, Belinda started to scream. Through all the uproar around them Ed tried to comfort her: "Belinda, calm down, it's me, Sergeant Brown, I'm here to protect you. Nothing will happen to you!" The result of his efforts was that she turned towards him and started to kick and scratch him. It took all his strength to restrain her without hurting or further upsetting her. Then the lights came back on as abruptly as they had gone out.
Belinda looked confused, to say the least.
Ed's first glance went to her décolleté – the diamond was still there. Then he gently guided the distressed girl towards the kitchen. She shouldn't face her grandmother's censorious guests right now.
"Would you like a cup of coffee?" he asked her. She shook her head and helped herself to a double bourbon. After finishing that one in a few sips she poured another one. In the meantime Ed pressed his handkerchief onto the deepest of his scratches, trying to protect his rented dinner jacket from getting soiled. He was already too late for the shirt, though.
It was only now that Belinda noticed the blood on his neck. "Good heavens, did I do that?"
"Don't worry, it's nothing. You were very upset, of course."
"I am terribly sorry about that!" she exclaimed and filled a second glass with a good measure out of the bottle in her right hand.
Ed thanked her but didn't drink. Ironside would knock the stuffing out of him if anything should happen and he had been drinking on duty.
From the door to the garden, the old gardener and man-servant glanced into the kitchen. Ed held him back:
"Do you know what happened? Was it a short-circuit fault?"
"No, I don't know. The main fuse was removed. I just had to put it back to get the lights turned on."
Now the other door was opening, the one to the big hall, where most of the guests were sitting or standing around. Their discussions were a lot louder and more agitated than before the interruption. Cynthia's confidante entered, glad to find Belinda unharmed.
"Please my dear, come to see your grandmother at once. She's very worried because she couldn't find you anywhere!"
Obediently Belinda headed towards her grandmother's seat. Ed had no choice but to go with her – she was his responsibility. But he was mortified because of those scratches. The bleeding had already stopped, but he had no possibility to hide them. Sighing he followed Belinda.
Cynthia Ruthledge was obviously relieved to see her granddaughter – and the diamond – safe and sound. But no twinkle in her little eyes, no motion in her wrinkled face betrayed her feelings towards Sergeant Brown. However Ed felt in his back the stinging looks of Mrs. DeWitte and Mrs. Rehnquist and all the other appalled guests, and he could read their minds: That he had taken advantage of the darkness to lay his hands on a young woman, and that fortunately she had been able to defend herself...
It was horrible.
Of course nobody said a single word.
Belinda felt his embarrassment. "I'll go get your drink," she murmured and headed towards the kitchen.
Never forgetting his job, Ed intended to follow her. But Mrs. Ruthledge kept him back. In a low, but somehow intensive voice she said: "Be careful, Sergeant!"
Because he couldn't read her face, Ed didn't know what to make of her words. Did she threaten him to leave her granddaughter alone? Did she want to remind him what his position was?
Before he could come to a conclusion, Belinda was back with their glasses.
"That's very kind of you, but I'm not allowed to drink while on duty." More than ever Ed had to keep a clear head.
Obviously trying to put the pitiable Sergeant out of his misery, Belinda took his hand:
"Let's go out in the garden to get some fresh air!"
Ed was very thankful for that proposition.
The cool night air helped him cool down indeed.
Out of the blue he was attacked. Somebody jumped onto his back, someone else hit him in the stomach. Ed knew how to handle himself, but with two adversaries he had his hands full. Soon he was rolling around with one of them in a flower bed – it felt like roses – with the other one kicking against his shinbones in an attempt to stop him. Belinda was screaming again.
Between her cries he heard another sound: The squeaking of a wheelchair! He knew that sound exactly. Ironside had reminded Mark repeatedly to grease his wheels, but like Ed himself, Mark had always been busy with other tasks.
Then there was Belinda's voice: "Jimmy, there's somebody coming – take it and run, there will be no third chance!"
At the same instant, a strong flashlight went on. Out of the flower bed Ed could see a gun pointed at Belinda and the man whom she had called Jimmy... and in her hand, outstretched towards Jimmy, like a freeze-frame in a film, she was holding - the Ruthledge diamond!
Instantly, Ed was on his feet. With one quick movement he took the necklace out of Belinda's hand and turned her arm around. "Thank you, Mark!" he gasped.
Somebody pushed a button and the whole garden was illuminated. Bringing his still squeaking wheelchair to a stop, Chief Ironside looked reproachfully at his tattered Sergeant. The tuxedo was in shreds. "Didn't I send you here to protect a young lady and her jewelry at a festivity? This doesn't really look like you did, does it?"
For a moment, Ed was speechless. Then he figured out that the Chief was putting him on - again. Poker-faced he answered:
"At one point I had to decide whether to protect the diamond or the lady. I chose the diamond. Less screaming and scratching."
The intruder in the flower bed got up and started to back out. "Let the two of them go!" ordered the Chief. "Nothing has been stolen, has there?" Mark lowered his gun and immediately both intruders took their heels.
Ed let go of Belinda's arm, but not of the diamond. Ironside asked her:
"By the way – what were those three chances?"
Belinda had given up. Dejected she explained: "The first was the power outage. Sgt. Brown pulled me away from the spot where the burglary was planned to take place in the dark, so that Jimmy couldn't take the necklace. The second was the one in the garden and the third would have been the soporific in Sgt. Brown's drink. When he was more or less drugged out I should have invited him upstairs. But he refused the drink."
"Belinda – you're the heiress of the Ruthledge fortune and therefore of the necklace too, aren't you? Why did you go through the trouble of trying to have it stolen?"
On the veranda of the Ruthledge mansion, Cynthia Ruthledge appeared.
"Because I still haven't changed my will: The one that dedicates half of my fortune to the police widows fund and the other half to the town's animal shelter. And it will stay that way until I'm convinced that my granddaughter earns it. Today she didn't convince me."
For once, Ironside was at a loss for words. "This must be a terrible shock for you, Cynthia!" he said, because he couldn't think of anything sensible.
"My dear Robert, I know my granddaughter perfectly well. I wanted to put her loyalty to the test. But I couldn't risk the Ruthledge diamond, could I? So I asked you for help, and you sent your highly capable Sergeant. I am very grateful. And I'm sure that my insurance company will gladly take care of the bill for Sgt. Brown's rented suit!" -
Back in the office, Ironside patted Ed on his back hard enough to make the young man flinch: "Okay, Sergeant, you were right from the beginning with your hunch that something was wrong with Belinda Ruthledge, and I'm glad that I believed you – which I actually did, even if you didn't believe I would. Explain to us: What observations and what logical deductions was that hunch based on?"
Ed squirmed. "Er, well - yes. Observations. Deductions. Well, actually I suppose I just didn't like her perfume!"
Author's final note:
This little comedy is dedicated to Don Galloway, the fine actor who played Ed Brown.
Perhaps it's just me, but I have the impression that he might have been a fine person too – and quick-witty and humorous. Perhaps he would have liked playing this episode: Over-acting just a little, the way he played "Pinkerton" in "Grizzly Adams".
Promise: In my next story there will be more "Ironside"!