This story can best be set and imagined in the months following the excellent and thrilling fiction, "The Moonlight Killer" by Kaleen 1212

To Carol my wonderful beta and to Mom for not having talked me out of writing this ;-D

Fortunate Encounter

"A moment of humanity, tenderness and love in a cruel, violent world."

The parole hearing had lasted much longer then expected. At the last minute John Webster, attorney for the prosecution had come up with an unanticipated request.

Chief Ironside hadn't believed what he heard. Last time he had had Webster on the phone everything had seemed settled. He had assured the Chief that his clients had finally accepted the idea that Leroy Hamilton had paid his due to society and that there was no point in denying him his parole.

Leroy had been still a teenager when he had been sentenced to thirty-five years behind bars. Rebellious and difficult to handle the first year he had finally given up his resistance and had become a so called model prisoner.

Thanks to Ironside's intervention Leroy had been given the possibility to get an education and earn a degree that would allow him to find a job, once outside. It was his dream, so he had told the chief, to help other kids avoid making the mistakes he had made.

Like so many youngsters living in a marginal neighborhood Leroy had been befriended by some of Frisco's lowlifes. As usual every newcomer had had to prove himself if he wanted to be considered and accepted.

So one day, with shaking knees Leroy had entered that jewelry store. His hand had been trembling as he had brandished the gun they had given him. They had assured him it was nonoperational but nevertheless still frightening enough when pointed at someone's face. And he had believed them.

Unfortunately the jeweler had not been the least under that impression and quickly things had gotten out of hand. As Leroy, in panic, had tried to flee he had run into Janice Burrows who was on the way in. A struggle had followed and the gun had gone off leaving Janice to die on the spot. Leroy had frozen and less than a minute later, with the gun still in his hand, had been apprehended by two policemen who had happened to drive by at the very moment.

Ironside had always believed that it was worth every effort and every penny of taxpayers' money to get a kid like that back on track. To that end he had helped the warden set up a special program. So the Chief felt he had every right to be proud and satisfied each time a youngster saw himself offered a second chance in life.

After what the Chief would later describe as a totally futile debate an agreement had been reached and Leroy got his well deserved parole.

It was already way past 7 pm when Ironside started the drive back to his office. The sun had begun its descent and the Chief realized he probably wouldn't be home before dark. Fortunately he had rung his office before leaving the correctional facility telling them he was fine and that they should not wait for him.

In other words he for once was in no hurry and thought he might as well enjoy his drive through the hilly forested landscape. Meanwhile Ironside was thinking of Mark and what a fine young man he had become since he had picked him off of the streets.

Let's hope Leroy will find someone to stand by him when he returns to civilian life. Maybe that young girl, he thought. She had sought to visit Leroy on several occasions but got turned down every time. The reason for that was simple. She was an upper-class girl and her Dad had used his connections to make sure she was never allowed to see Leroy. Ironside had tried to intercede but had not insisted when he had learned her parents would have retaliated by relying on those same, powerful connections to deny Leroy each request for parole.

The Chief was so absorbed by his thoughts that he no longer focused on the road even though he knew he had to stay alert. It was not that long since he had learned to drive the van. It had taken him some time before he had decided to have it equipped so he could take place behind the wheel. Now at least he could go where he wanted to go without always having to rely on someone to drive him. It was like a part of freedom regained.

He cruised a winding road and here in between the trees darkness set in much quicker. A couple of deer jumped out of nowhere, crossing the road just in front of him. The Chief started and in a reflex brutally turned the wheel to the right. The van zig zagged dangerously and came to a halt with a smack against a huge tree stump in a small ditch on the right side of the road.

Lightly stunned by the hard impact he breathed deeply and fast, trying to regain his senses.

"Damned!" he cursed, "Damned! Flaming deer!"

He realized how fortunate he was. The obligatory seatbelt he so disliked prevented a stronger blow that would have thrown him completely out of his chair. As he tried to straighten up he felt a stinging pain in his lower ribs. Ironside grimaced as he rubbed his hand over his bruised lower ribcage. That's the wheel, he reasoned, must have bumped hard into it. He did some more examining and realized the rest of him seemed alright.

However he had to solve another major problem. How was he going to get out of the van? It was nose down in the ditch inclining to the left. He first tried to open the door on the driver's side. Impossible. It opened for only a few inches and then got stuck in the grass. Let's see if it works on the other side, Ironside said to himself as he tried, not without difficulty, to back away from the driver's spot. He reached to push the button that automatically opened the doors on the elevator side. There was the familiar humming as the doors started to open. Yet once again something was obstructing it. He looked at the half open doors but wasn't ready yet to resign himself to the fact that he was caught inside.

For a moment he thought he should try to get out via the rear doors. To reach these, due to the inclination of the car he saw no other option then to get out of his chair and drag himself to the back of the car.

He started visualizing how he could knot a rope around his chair, pull it towards him once he had reached the backdoors, lower it to the ground and then try to get into it. Yeah, that could work, he thought.

At that precise moment Anna Watson was heading back home. She had just delivered some milk, eggs and a couple of chickens to the Beasley's, an elderly couple, a few miles down the road.

It was almost totally dark by now. The headlights on her huge pick-up truck lit up the road ahead over a considerable distance.

"What the heck! What do we have over there? Looks like someone's in trouble." Anna Watson slowed down and passed the crashed vehicle. She saw there was light on the inside. She pulled over, got out of the car and crossed the road to the van.

"Hello there!" she called out. "Anybody hurt? Can I help?" She peeped inside. Great was her surprise as she noticed the wheelchair bound occupant. Anna immediately tried to open the door but like the Chief didn't manage to budge it. "You're alright in there?"

"Yes... I'm fine."

"I can't open the door! It gets stuck in the ground!" she shouted as she pulled on it with all her might.

"I know! The other side is stuck as well!" the Chief shouted back, " You'll have to try the backdoors!"

"Hold on! I have a better idea! I'll get you out in a minute !" Anna returned to her pick up. She started the engine, turned the car around and placed it behind the Chief's van. It wasn't the first time she had done this. Within seconds she had a tow bar hooked to the rear of the van and with her heavy duty pick-up effortlessly dragged it out of the ditch. As soon as it had all four wheels on the ground the elevator doors swung open completely and the elevator platform folded out. The Chief wheeled onto it and lowered himself to the ground.

"Nice device," Anna said admiringly as she watched him get out of the van.

"Robert Ironside," he presented himself. "I owe you a great debt. Miss ?"

"Oh... Watson. Anna Watson," she answered with a smile as they shook hands. "But... I'd prefer you just call me Anna."

"Alright. Anna it'll be."

She looked at him awaiting and when no reaction came she asked, "Aren't you going to joke about my name?"

"Should I?"

"Well … uh ... Watson …?" Anna repeated, "Sherlock Holmes... that should ring a bell ... no?"

"Haven't you yet heard that refrain enough?" Ironside asked, "I know I am fed up hearing some people refer to that flaming "Old Ironsides" battleship when I state my name."

Anna started laughing, "Looks like we both have the same problem. Anyway … nice to meet you Mr. Ironside."

"How did you end up in that ditch?"

"Some deer. They seemed to come out of nowhere and disappeared into nowhere," he growled.

"I doubt you'll find this a consolation but … you're not the first to get off the road because of these wild animals."

She walked back to her pick-up and got back with a powerful flashlight. "Let's see how much damage there is. Aha … just what I feared. We have a flat tire on this side. I suppose you have a spare one?"

"Sure do. I only hope you know someone who can change it for me?"

"I do," she answered, " What do we have here? Aha! Just what I was already afraid of. You have a flat on this side too. I don't suppose you have two spare tires?" she sounded amused as she popped her head from behind the van.

"Who does?" the Chief replied beginning to realize he seemed stuck for the night. "Looks like I'll have to find me a place to stay for the night. You don't happen to know a little motel nearby?"

"Nearby? You're almost in the middle of nowhere. You can stay at my place and I will not take a no for an answer. You're my guest. So that's settled then," Anna stated firmly.

"Unfortunately I can not risk trailing your car to my place. It could cause more damage. You should take out what you need and lock it up. I'll call a friend of mine. He can tow it to my place tomorrow and at the same time fix the flats. What do you think?"

"Seems like I have not much choice but to accept," Ironside sighed. "Alright then. Let's get moving."

It took him only a few minutes to gather some important items and a few things he would need to help him through the night and which were fortunately always at hand in the van, just in case. Having locked his vehicle he wheeled over to Anna who was waiting next to her pick up, passenger door opened.

He noticed the interrogative look on her face.

"Can you stand up?" she queried.

The Chief understood immediately what she was aiming. This was not the ordinary limo he could rather easily slide into. "As long as I can hold on to something and lean on it, I can stand. So …, if you can hold that door for me."

Ironside moved as close as possible. He grabbed the door and pulled himself to a full standing length.

"That's alright. You're just at the height of the passenger seat. Now trust me." She placed herself at his side, close to him. "Try to lay your right arm over my shoulder. Can you do that?" she asked. "Don't worry … I'm stronger than you think. Yes! That's it! I'm holding you. Now … just lean back. Alright! A little more. Yes! Just a bit more. Now let go of the door !There … there you are, you're seated." Anna smiled as she saw he was OK.

Relieved it had gone smoothly so far, Ironside hoisted himself further inside, while Anna folded his chair and put it on the truck bed.

"There we go. You'll see. There's no need to worry about anything. You'll be very comfortable at my place."

Ironside looked at this surprisingly energetic woman. A curly red head with a very expressive face and laughing eyes. Trimly built. Dressed in jeans and checked shirt with a leather vest that had lived its best days, she was the exact opposite from the women he knew in San Francisco. He estimated she had to be in her mid forties.

They had hardly hit the road that she looked in the rear mirror and with her right hand adjusted some curls. Ironside smiled.

"Stop that," she said dead serious, "I can hear you think: typically feminine. Still... I can assure you some curls were not in place." Then turning towards him, while gently sweeping away that ever rebellious curl asked, " Don't I look much better now?"

He tried to hide his smile but the twinkle in her eyes was irresistible. "Oh yes! That's sooo much better," he played the game along but added mumbling, "even if I do not see the difference."

Anna's answer was her warm irresistible laugh filling up the cabin. She didn't know why but she already liked the man sitting next to her. Maybe because he radiated such virility.

It took less then fifteen minutes to get to her house, situated beside an open creek in the middle of this vast mountainous, forested region. By the time they arrived it was completely dark.

Anna jumped out of the car and in the headlights he saw her climb a few steps leading to the porch and enter the house.

"Damned steps," Ironside sighed.

Lights went on inside and outside. Within seconds she hurried outside to help her guest out of the vehicle.

"What do you think?" she asked enthusiastically as she brought him his wheelchair.

"Nice place. Don't tell me you live here all alone. I won't believe it."

"Sure do. I'm a big girl you know."

Getting out of the truck indeed proved to be a little less difficult than getting in. Anna didn't miss the little hint of sadness in his eyes as she saw him look at the four steps leading up to the porch. She put her hand on his shoulder and repeated softly, "trust me."

"May I?" she asked as she stepped behind his chair and started pushing. Ironside turned his head slightly towards her and only nodded. Where was she taking him?

"It's this way." Anna lead him to the left side of the house where the porch continued halfway around. And there he saw it; a ramp who led up to the porch.

Surprised and intrigued Ironside asked,"Who's that for?"

Anna stepped from behind him and smiled satisfied. "My father had it built years ago when his older brother, who lived with us for a while, broke both legs after a nasty fall from a fruit tree. He had to use a chair for a while and that's when Dad had this fixed."

"I sure hadn't expected this. Now I understand why you were so confident when you invited me here."

Anna didn't say a word. She contented herself by looking at him with those naughty eyes which brightened up her face. Would he notice it that she fancied him?

"Well, what are we still waiting for? Or are we going to spend the night out here? Let's move up." the Chief started wheeling towards the ramp. Anna helped push him onto the porch and suppressed a laugh at his gruff reaction.

Anna now preceded him and held the entrance door wide open while he wheeled inside.

Ironside was surprised by what he saw. The interior proved to be rather spacious as if it had been thought of and designed for someone like him.

Anna ushered him into the living room. "Make yourself comfortable while I go put on something else. If you want something to drink you'll find it here." She opened the liquor cabinet. "I'm sure you can use one, so help yourself to whatever you fancy. I'll be with you in a minute."

At this he watched her walk out of the room and kept on looking even after she had disappeared from his view. Bob Ironside smiled. He liked her. No … he truly fancied her. Not since Barbara had a woman caught his attention the way Anna now did. But then he looked down upon his legs and shook his head, resigned. What was he thinking? She deserves better than you Bob. Just forget it. Let it go. He wheeled to the liquor cabinet and poured himself a glass of Bourbon to soothe the ache in his heart.

Ironside was about to fill his glass again when Anna returned. She had put on a dress, and had changed her boots for a so much more feminine high heel pump. A little touch of blush completed a most attractive appearance.

"I see you've helped yourself to some Bourbon. I prefer a glass of red wine, if you don't mind. There's a bottle open. There … on your left hand." she indicated as she walked towards him.

Anna sensed that she didn't leave him indifferent. The way he had looked at her. She was sure she had seen desire in those piercing blue eyes.

"Do you like what you see?" She turned around completely, eagerly awaiting some compliment.

"Your curls are again in a bit of a mess," he stated bluntly.

That's not what she'd expected. It got her confused. Could it be she was completely mistaken about this stranger?

For a moment he really made her doubt but when he took out the wine bottle, filled up a glass and handed it to her she knew better. Anna reached for the glass with both her hands making sure she could touch his hand in a gentle caress.

"You look great. I almost didn't recognize you," he finally admitted. Her delicate touch, it was so explicit that he realized he had to do something before he lost control. "Can I use your phone? I really need to let somebody know I will not be back tonight."

"It's right around the corner in the entrance hall. On the antique console."

Her disappointment unconcealed. "Is there somebody waiting for you in San Francisco?" Anna asked as she watched him wheel past her towards the hall.

Ironside stopped and turned around. "The people I work with are also my friends and even if they tend to be overprotective as far as I'm concerned I do not want them to worry."

"I understand. You're lucky to have such friends."

"Yes I do," he said and as he was about to continue to the phone he added, "And no … there is no Mrs. waiting."

Anna found her smile again.

Why had he admitted that? Restrain yourself or this will get out of hand. You don't want to disappoint or hurt this fine lady. Control yourself. Ironside reasoned. He took a deep breath and dialed. "Operator this is a long distance call. Can you get me through to 415 555 8341. Yes that's the San Francisco area. I'm holding …"

Ed answered. "Hello?"

"Ed! It's me."

"Chief ! Where are you? Mark went over to the office and you weren't in yet. He called me thinking I would know where you were and then we …

"Ed! Stop worrying! I'm alright. I had a little accident with the van and I..."

"Are you hurt? Tell me where you are and I'll come to pick ..."

"I'm alright Ed. Now calm down. I've been helped by a lovely lady and I'm now staying at her place. I'm in good hands and I'll be back at the office by noon tomorrow. Well that is if they have replaced the two flat tires on the van. Should anything come up I'll call you back. Night Ed!"

"Uh... night Chief!" But the line was already dead. Ed put down the receiver and slowly began to realize. A lovely lady, huh! Well I be damned. Good for you Chief. With a big smile on his face Ed again picked up the receiver and dialed Fran. This she had to hear and then he would fill in Mark.

Ironside returned to the living room where Anna was waiting.

'So … you think I'm a lovely lady," she said. "I didn't want to listen in but … well … I overheard that."

"Eavesdropping that's what I call it," Ironside said with an exaggerated frown on his forehead.

Anna began to see through him and again she burst into irresistible laughter. She won. His frown disappeared and he started laughing too.

"How about I prepare us something small to eat? Care to join me in the kitchen?"

Anne didn't need to ask twice and before he knew it she had been down to the cellar, had picked a fresh bottle of red wine and put it on the table in front of him. "The corkscrew is in the first drawer of that cupboard over there. The glasses are just above it, on the first shelve," she pointed out .

"At your service!" Ironside replied amused, as he wheeled over to the cupboard. "You always put your guests at work?" he asked as he returned to the kitchen table with the corkscrew and two glasses in his lap.

"Only when I feel they desperately want to make themselves useful."

"I'm not that desperate."

"Come on fill up those glasses while I finish the salad." When she noticed he didn't do it she looked up and saw he seemed to be listening to some noise coming from the outside.

"Can I have a glass?" she asked again.

"Oh... what?"

"A glass of wine. I'd like something to drink. Have one too. Just a few more minutes and we can eat."

" It sure looks appetizing," he admitted.

"A nice salad, some cheese and bread and butter. And … and a decent glass of wine."

"But … that's typically French . And you are definitely not French. Care to explain?"

Ironside sat listening as Anna, slicing some bread, began telling. "A long time ago I happened to volunteer to go to Vietnam. There I fell in love with a French officer. His father was the head of a military hospital. In other words this family had everything it took to live very decently. I spent a lot of time at his parents' home. That's where I developed a liking for French food. It still my preference and I only need to think about it to have my mouth watering." she added licking her lips.

While telling her story Anna watched her guest and sensed something was disturbing him. He tried hard to hide it but she could tell it was making him nervous. She pricked up her ears but didn't hear anything other than the usual noise made by the chickens in the courtyard, the crickets and the night owl.

"After Dien Bien Phu things went quickly. Most French returned to France. The Americans took over and I stayed for another couple of years. Well … I suppose I don't need to tell you how it ended. He and his family left and he promised he'd return for me. I received a few more letters and … that was it. I was young and I was … heartbroken," Anna sighed and paused. It was obvious it still hurt to think back of her lost love and what could have been if ...

Ironside backed away from the table and got around it towards her. "Sorry I made you remember," he said softly. "I shouldn't have insisted." He picked up the glass of wine she had deposed on the table and handed it to her.

Anna accepted the glass with a little smile. "To the past, to the future," she toasted and added, " to us … here... today."

She sure didn't make it easier on him. Nevertheless there was that little voice inside his head that told him to go for it no matter what. It was screaming louder than ever and before he realized he heard himself answer, "To us!"

More and more Anna began to see through him. She didn't want to rush it. To a certain point and not beyond, huh, she thought. Well Mr. Ironside, we'll see to it that that changes as from tonight.

"Let's eat," Bob Ironside suggested in what he felt was probably a vain effort to delay the inevitable but then again, maybe, just maybe he actually hoped for something to happen.

"Good idea. It's getting late and quite frankly... I'm starving. Why don't you start by filling up our glasses? She presented him the basket of bread. "I baked it myself."

They sat silent for a while as they enjoyed the simple but healthy meal.

"It's only the chickens you hear," Anna said suddenly without looking up. "I agree it's a sound you townspeople aren't used to but … still... no need to get nervous over that," she added laughing.

"No, of course not," Bob Ironside replied softly without conviction.

"Hey!" Anna looked up at him surprised by the tone. "Hey! Do I see sadness in those lovely blue eyes? It's not because of the chickens, or is it?"

Ironside didn't answer. He just shook his head.

"I don't believe you. What on earth! It is the chickens. I'd stake my life on it." Full of disbelief Anna stood up and came over to him. She leaned back against the table and with both her hands took his face and turned it towards her. She looked him in the eyes inquiringly. "Help me understand."

Her hands where warm and soft. It overwhelmed him with an unusual well-being.

Should he tell her? He usually kept everything to himself. He had always believed it to be for the best. Why bother others with his problems, his suffering?

The Chief swallowed and looked away. "It was a house, a bit like this one, only smaller, and also remote. I had gone there to … to relax."


"And … there were chickens in the courtyard, cackling and cackling. I finally managed to chase them into the henhouse."

Ironside now faced her and looked her straight in the eyes. He sighed despondently, "It was the last thing I did on my feet. Within seconds after I had returned to the porch bullets flew through the air. Next thing I knew... I woke up in the hospital and a flaming doc told me that I would never walk again."

"Bullets?" she repeated with a little voice.

"Yes, I got shot," Ironside revealed. "By the way, you haven't asked me yet what I do for a living. I'm a police officer."

He expected to hear the usual words of compassion, he so hated. Anna's reaction surprised him totally. He hadn't seen that coming.

She was clearly stunned but didn't ask for anything more. It didn't matter what he did for a living. Even if he had been a villain she couldn't care less. She stood up, pulled his chair away from the table, and sat down on his lap. She put one arm around his neck and let the fingers of her other hand gently slide down the lines of his strong featured face.

The way she looked at him. He could have sworn he saw a tear in her eyes. And when she bend over and allowed her lips to touch his he didn't push her back as he should have done. Instead he took her in his arms and squeezed her tight.

God, did that feel good. Holding a woman in his arms was something he hadn't done for a long time. It used to be so easy, such a normal gesture when he was still standing. He knew how much the ladies in distress loved to rest their head against his chest. They felt safe with him. This spontaneous simple way to comfort someone or show affection, even that simple gesture that damned bullet had made impossible for him.

Anna had put her head on his shoulder and whispered, "It's been ages since a man hold me tight like this."

Had he heard that right? How could that be? Such a nice, rather good looking woman. He believed her to have her male friends and certainly more than one suitor.

"Now … isn't that a bit exaggerated? I'm sure there's a flock of men hanging around to court you."

Anna chuckled at his remark. "You seem to forget we're miles away from the nearest and very small village. Almost every decent man over there I know is married and the few that are left are too young, too old, confirmed drunkards, troublemakers ..." she enumerated while she snuggled up in his arms.

"What category do I fit in?"

Anna sat up and gazed at him. "Let's see. Tactful, well mannered for a start. What else? Gentle, sensitive, likeable and … very attractive despite what I suspect you have some trouble believing that to be possible. So … shall we say that puts you in the category of the men I'd love to see court me. Does that answer the question?"

It obviously did as he pulled her near and this time took the initiative to kiss her. He held her in a warm embrace and she was not the least in a hurry to break it up.

They sat there for a while until she softly declared, "I like you very, very much, Robert Ironside," and ultimately ventured murmuring, "I want you."

Those three innocent words ripped him up. "No... no Anna. I can not. You don't know. I … I simply can not." His voice trailed off. What did she expect he had to offer her? Why did she ask him something he had consciously given up on, years ago. He had known all the pleasures of life. After his wife had died he had occasionally dated other women and even if each affair never lasted very long he had lived a full life. And he most probably still would if only there hadn't been that bullet.

"What are you afraid of?" she asked as she stood up from his lap.

"Please, don't insist. I'm not the right man for that. You deserve better."

"Better! What's better? I don't want better. It is you I want! You I want to lie down beside tonight."

She noticed that the pressure she was putting him under became more and more painful. She had to play it with finesse now, had to find a way to reason him, to make him understand that in her eyes he was as good a man as any other.

"Stop thinking, let your heart speak," she pleaded as she squat next to his chair and took his hand.

"Look …, I saw a lot and I learned a lot when I was in Asia. Remember? So, I'm not ignorant. I know exactly what an injury like yours implies."

At this Ironside looked down at her. It's all in the head, Mr. Ironside. Remember! It's all up there in the head. That was sister Agatha. One evening, years ago, when he was feeling particularly down she had come to see him in his hospital room. That night she had spend hours talking to him. Not only to comfort him but also by trying to talk sense even though she knew he wasn't ready for that, not at that early stage. That nun sure did know more about life then her habit gave away. Why did he recall those words here and now at this precise moment? Was it destiny?

Anna tightened her comforting grip as she noted the ache in his eyes. It moved her to witness the emotional fragility of this undoubtedly otherwise very tough big man.

"My demands are small. All I long for is some tenderness, some affectionate kisses and caresses. Just … just to feel the warmth of your body against mine. " She kissed the back of his hand. "Don't you long for that too? I'm sure you do," she added softly, smiling at him, her eyes hungering.

The most conflicting thoughts were whirling in his head, making him dizzy. What was wrong with him? Where had gone his innate hardheadedness? But finally yes, she was right, he longed for it too.

Ironside reached for Anna's arm and helped her get to her feet. He beckoned her to again sit down into his lap. She obeyed instantly. What happened next exceeded her most daring expectations.

"Now if this lady would care to show me the way to my room I'd gladly offer her a free ride."

Anna's reaction was instant. "OK for the ride." With stretched arm and finger pointing she indicated cheerfully, "To the entrance hall. Turn left and take the corridor on your right. It's the second door on the left. The first one being that to the bathroom."

She opened the door and reached for the light switch. By force of habit, Ironside grabbed the door frame on both sides to pull his chair inside.

The room was furnished with a double bed with a beautiful eye catching carved headboard. An antique wardrobe and a writing desk completed the scenery together with a rocking chair underneath the window. A few orchid plants stood resting awaiting a new flowering period.

A hunting trophy, a few photos from times gone by hung from the wall. All by all a sober but very neat interior.

"You like?" Anna asked as she got up.

"I see you like orchids." He wheeled towards the window to take a close look at the plants. "Aha! This one is beginning to develop a new stem. I just love orchids," he declared, "they're fascinating."

She leaned over his shoulder to take a closer look at where he indicated the new flowering stem was appearing.

She smelled nice. A soft flowery fragrance. While she studied the plant he studied her.

Anna felt his eyes riveted on her. She loved it and it excited her to realize she was getting him just where she wanted.

Ironside handed her the plant and wheeled over to the bed. He tested the mattress with this hand. "It looks alright. Not too soft. Otherwise I can guarantee you that you will have some trouble helping me out tomorrow morning," he joked. Their eyes met and they both realized they had gotten to the point of no return.

Bob Ironside finally took the decisive action. "I left that little bag I brought with me somewhere in the entrance. Can you get it for me? And then I will need to use the bathroom."

"Of course. But first let me get some fresh towels and if you should need anything else or … maybe … some help. Whatever it is you might need … just call. Come," she motioned, "Let me show you the bathroom first."

"I think I'll manage." Ironside said having seen there was just enough space for him to maneuver and also a couple of objects he could use to hold on to.

"I'll get those towels for you." Anna was back within seconds and handed them to him.

Ironside reached for her hand and kissed it, "Don't you dare run away now."

Anna shook her head. She was all animated, "I won't be going anywhere. I'll leave you to it now. Remember! Just call if … well … if you should need a hand after all. Take your time. "

She threw him a hand kiss and returned to the hall, leaned against the wall and closed her eyes. Her heart pounding fast, Anna Watson, forty six, felt like a schoolgirl on her first date.

A little more blush wouldn't harm, she thought as she quickly glanced in a mirror on her way to the kitchen.

Loaded with a few candles, the bottle of wine and something small to nibble she returned to his room. She lit the candles and poured out two glasses of wine. That should do it to unwind the atmosphere. Anna looked around to see if there was anything she had omitted. She heard he was still busy in the bathroom.

Damn, she had completely forgotten to call Andy. Once he had run a little garage in the village and was the only one likely to be able to get those flat tires on the van fixed by tomorrow. Anna hurried out of the room and dialed the local bar. She knew it was the place Andy could always be found at this hour of the night. He was indeed around and in a few words she filled him in. "OK then? Aha ... Yes … You're sure? Yes, that'll do … So I can rely on you to deliver that van to my place sometime tomorrow morning. Thanks Andy," she sighed relieved.

While she was on the phone Ironside had returned to his room. The writing desk immediately caught his attention. On it Anna had deposed the burning candles, the two glasses filled up, ready to drink, the little bowl with some cheese biscuits. He smiled at the sight of it all. It seemed like ages since a woman had gone to so much trouble trying to please him. He wheeled over to it and was about to take a biscuit when he heard her softly knock.

"May I come in?"

"It's open!"

For the first time this evening, not really knowing what to expect, she felt a little ill at ease when she pushed open that door. He sat next to the writing desk and offered her a glass as soon as she entered. Anna took it and settled on the bed. She just looked at him admiringly, and again it struck her how virile she found this stranger. That wheelchair not in the least altered that perception.

Yet something in his demeanor had changed, that much she could tell.

Robert Ironside was well aware that no matter how much this fine lady had proven to be in charge what she awaited now was for the man to take the initiative. Strangely enough he no longer felt as embarrassed as a few hours ago when he first suspected she had plans for him, for them.

No word had been spoken yet. He put down his glass and wheeled towards Anna sitting on the bed's foot end. He parked alongside and took the already emptied glass out of her hand and reached down to tuck it away safely underneath the bed.

Anna remained silent. She just looked at him, longing, allowing him to completely take control of the situation. When he gently placed his hand underneath her chin and leaned in to kiss her she closed her eyes and enjoyed.

As she let her fingers softly play along his neck and ears, Anna felt his body react to her caresses for his kisses became more intense, his breathing quicker and the embrace stronger.

She just loved it when he started kissing her neck and timidly let his hand slide down her breast. "Oh yes ... yes... don't stop," Anna murmured sensually. She too moved her body closer but the armrest got in the way. Ironside winced as she tried to pull him closer. Anna let go, "What did I do?" she asked startled.

"Oh … it's not you," he sniggered, "I just forgot about my ribs." He rubbed his painful side. "I must have hurt them when I went of the road. And this damned armrest just reminded me of it."

Anna wavered before suggesting, "Why don't you let me help you into bed. You ... well … I mean we … we would be much more comfortable. Don't you think?"

Ironside answered by maneuvering his chair towards the right side of the bed. He removed the left armrest and initiated the transfer.

Anna just didn't want to stand there watching, realizing that if she wanted to keep the already palpable magic alive she had to participate. She quickly went to retrieve some extra cushions from the closet. Bob Ironside sat on the bed, leaning on both hands to keep his balance. She knelt down and gently started taking off his shoes. She felt how he observed her but she didn't raise her eyes. She got to her feet, and with a smooth gesture carefully lifted his lifeless legs onto the bed. Only then did she allow her eyes to meet his. They revealed a strange mix of emotions.

Anna understood that hesitation right now was not an option. She got onto the bed, grabbed the cushions and started to amass them behind him. That done, she sat on her knees, facing him. With a languorous kiss on his forehead she pushed him backwards into the cushions.

"Isn't that better? Or shall I get you some more?"

"These will suffice." He rubbed his back in the stack of pillows. " I'm quite comfortable this way. Thanks."

She started to undo the rest of the buttons on his shirt but he grabbed her wrists to stop her.

"Are you sure you want to go through with this? You don't know anything about me?" he attempted a last time.

"What more is there to know? We're adults. We both want this and that is all that matters," she replied with such a conviction that he loosened his grip.

She was right. He really wanted this too. More then he was willing to admit to himself.

Anna meaningfully turned her back at him, " Here, help me unzip this."

Ironside no longer hesitated and slowly pulled down the zipper.

While she allowed her dress to slip down sensually she made eyes at him over her shoulder.

Hesitantly at first, his hands, barely touching her skin, followed the shape of her arms and chest downward.

The delicacy of his caress made her shiver with pleasure. Anna leaned back onto his chest, breathing slowly and profoundly as he continued caressing the soft skin of her arms and shoulders. His touch was subtle, his kisses all over her ear and neck passionate.

When she slowly turned over and resumed unbuttoning his shirt he let her carry on. He could hardly believe how sensitive he was to the affectionate playful approach with which she helped him out of his shirt and undershirt. Never before had a woman, simply by undressing and caressing him, aroused him the way she did. What he felt today was unbelievably intense more than anything he'd ever known before. Anna buried her head into his massive chest and hastily removed her bra so she could press her naked body against his. This got him all stirred up. Chief Ironside closed his eyes and took a slow, long, deep breath and allowed his imagination to take over.

Soon his thoughts however drifted towards the only woman he had ever loved since his accident. Where was she now? Did she ever think about it, how it hurt him to watch her time and again walk in and out of his life. He had imagined all sort of reasons why she kept silent. Maybe he hadn't been forward enough. Still, every time there was that one reason that surfaced. Maybe ... just maybe, not withstanding her denial, she wasn't that keen anymore on building her life around a man in a wheelchair. On this painful reminder he opened his eyes and looked tenderly upon the red hair who lay peacefully resting on his chest. He smiled and for the time being, forgot all about Barbara.

"Are you sleeping?" he whispered.

"No, I'm listening to your heart beating. Boom, boom, boom … It's galloping."

"I wonder. How can that be?"

Anna raised her head and chuckled, her eyes jubilated. She crawled upright and sat spread legged on her knees across his lap, facing him, smiling invitingly.

"You're beautiful. You know that?" He delicately started to massage her breasts. She moaned with pleasure. Feeling and seeing her body move in ecstasy aroused him to the highest point. When he noticed she had begun loosening his pants Ironside let her carry on.

"Let me take those off for the night," she finally suggested while getting off his lap.

She had expected him to refuse and waited. Anna was well aware that by asking him to expose the crippled part of his body to her, a perfect stranger, he would have to surmount that one immense obstacle called self-image. She wasn't sure he was ready for it but she had made up her mind she would do everything in her power to help him cross that bridge.

Robert Ironside remained silent. After what seemed like ages, he looked fixedly at her. "I'll need your help on this. If I try to lift myself up a little can you pull them down?"

"Sure I can," Anna replied simply, "when you're ready."

Ironside sought for the hardest place and pushed himself up, while Anna attempted to lower his pants to his thighs.

"Done," she sighed satisfied. Without awaiting his approval she eased his pants further down and carefully removed each trouser leg. Subsequently Anna covered his legs with the sheets. She believed it would at this point make him feel less embarrassed and without hesitation returned to his waiting arms.

"Squeeze me tight. Kiss me. Set me on fire like you just did." Her eyes implored him. She was craving for his tenderness.

Before she knew it he again had her sitting in his lap and he resumed passionately kissing her all over. While she allowed him to take her to higher grounds she impulsively reached underneath the sheets and began gently caressing his thighs and upper legs.

"That's useless." He questioned her with his eyes "You know that I don't feel a thing down there."

"Yes … I know."

"Then why? Curiosity?"

"No! God no! It was instinctive. Sorry if I upset you." Anna kissed the palm of his hand.

"You haven't upset me. It's me. I'm the problem here. I'm not used to have a woman ..." he didn't finish his sentence and sounded so sad she almost could feel his pain.

"Maybe you can't feel it but … you can see it," she said encouragingly.

"Yeah, I can see it." Ironside shrugged, "Ain't that great. I can see it."

"Well then? You know how it felt … before. You remember that don't you? Why no let your memory do the rest? Give it a chance! You might be surprised," she incited him.

"Forget it! I'm just a cripple and that … that's a fact."

"Your memory isn't crippled!"

Ironside was perplexed by her firm, instant reply.

"It's all up there!" Anna tapped her knuckles on his forehead. "There … and nowhere else!"

She sighed. How could she get through to him? She began to fear she had messed up, had put him under too much pressure.

Ironside scrutinized her. What was she doing to him? It was one and all chaos in his head. Anna was right, at least that much he was certain of. His body had already gotten the message, but his mind still resisted obstinately. He took a deep breath. Meanwhile the sight of her attractive naked body again sent electricity up his wounded spine. Like a bolt out of the blue it exploded with full intensity above injury level. It was the answer he needed.

Anna noticed his gaze brightening up and a contented smile reappearing on his face.

Her heart started beating faster. Could it be she had succeeded? She gave him an inquisitive look.

"You sure are one of a kind," he admitted. "Once you've set your mind on something you don't give in do you?

"Come here. Let me hold you again." He threw open both arms in a wide inviting gesture.

Anna didn't need to be asked twice and hurried back to his waiting arms eager to please him and fondle him. "Can you forgive me? I hurt you. I didn't mean to. I ..."

"Ssssssssss." Bob Ironside pressed his lips onto hers. "I should thank you for having dared telling it like it is."

"You're not mad at me?"

He shook his head and looked at her tenderly. "How could I? You're such a lovable person. In fact you helped me recall something another quite special woman already told me years ago." Ironside chuckled as he was thinking of sister Agatha.

"Who was she?" Anna wanted to know.

"A nun and … she would have made a great sergeant," he added with a laugh.

Anna didn't feel like talking anymore. All she wanted to do for the rest of the night was to waste herself away into his arms, and allow him to inundate her with his warm, passionate kisses. Feel his hands and fingers all over her at the quest of the smallest sensitive spot. She wasn't disappointed. Bob Ironside was a thoughtful, wonderful lover and she … well … she helped him rediscover some of the sensations and pleasures he thought lost forever.

The candle flames continued performing their hypnotic dance ritual. Ironside didn't know how late it was and quite frankly he couldn't care less.

Anna lay sleeping, all cuddled up in his arms, her head resting against his chest that was softly caressed by her warm breath every time she exhaled. He didn't dare to move afraid it would wake her, afraid he would wake up and discover it was all only a dream, a most beautiful dream. A mild muscle spasm came to remind him he wasn't dreaming and even though it hurt he smiled as he looked upon that amazing woman that lay resting in his arms.

Ironside couldn't resist placing a little affectionate kiss on Anna's head. She moved and sleepily opened her eyes.

"I didn't mean to wake you," he whispered.

"Did I sleep long?" she almost apologized.

"No. Ten minutes maybe. I don't mind. I love to watch you sleep."

"How aaa … bout you?" Anna yawned as she crawled upright.

"Don't you mind about me. I'm not much of a sleeper."

"But you must sleep. You have a road to travel tomorrow. "

"Come on, let me help you get into a more comfortable position and anyway even if you don't sleep it's primordial you change your position. And right now!" she said resolutely.

Ironside smiled. Even that she knows, he thought.

"Right side or left?"

"Usually right but ... not tonight. I want to be able to see you when I open my eyes."

Ironside took the time to stretch his back. Sitting upright he grabbed his right leg and lifted it over his left before he could then turn over onto his left side. As soon as he lay comfortable she hauled the sheets up, tucked him in and hastily slipped again under the sheets too. Anna nestled herself with her back cozily against him and immediately reached for his arm to squeeze and hold her tight.

Ironside gently nibbled her ear.

"Waaahhhhh … that itches," she giggled and he felt her double up. "Stop it! Ooohhh it makes my flesh creep."

"That's the idea," Ironside whispered.

"Oh come on're not being serious. You really need to sleep now. At least a little bit." Anna reached for the little lamp on the bedside table.

Ironside held her arm. "Don't. Unless the light does bother you? If not, then please just leave it on so I can see you and admire you whenever I open my eyes."

"No, I don't mind … I don't mind at all. Sleep well Robert Ironside." Anna turned around to intensely kiss him good night and then again cuddled up in his lap.

"Goodnight, my lovely Anna."

Before he realized it she had already fallen asleep and he listened to her soft snoring.

He hadn't felt so relaxed and serene since … since … well he just couldn't remember since when. If it wasn't his body that caused him trouble and kept him awake, it was something on his mind, a case he was working on that kept him from sleeping. But here tonight with this heavenly creature resting in his arms everything else seemed of no importance.

Totally at peace Chief Ironside finally closed his eyes and fell asleep as well.

It was a little over seven am when Andy, afraid Anna might have overlooked some problems drove up to where the vehicle had been abandoned. He took a closer look but had to conclude that there was indeed probably nothing more to it then just those two flat tires that Anna had mentioned.

Andy walked around it in admiration. He hadn't seen anything like it before. This sure was a very special van. Not something that was within everyone's means. And then there was that kind of elevator and the most strange of it all he thought was that there was no driver seat.

He knew Anna. Always ready to help. But who the hell had she taken home this time.

He drove back to his closed up garage and started looking for a matching tire. He wasn't sure he would find the identical tire but he still had quite a number of tires left. He went through them and came up with a tire that might do or that would at least permit to get home safely.

Andy loaded them into his tow truck and headed back to the broken down van up in the forested hills. He thought it best to tow the van up to Anna's place and change the tires once over there.

When he arrived at the farm it surprised him not to see Anna.

At this hour of the day she usually was already running around feeding her chickens or she could be found in her herb garden picking the few young weeds that had cropped up.

He got out of his truck and scrutinized the deserted courtyard. A little worried he walked around the house. Not a sound. He scratched his head. Should he knock or not? No. Anna was a big girl. She wouldn't do anything foolish.

He returned to his truck and took out the material he needed to start changing the tires. Well at least one of them for the van was locked and the other spare tire was inside.

Andy gazed one last time at the house. Still no sign of life.

How about I make a bit of noise. He flashed a naughty smile at the thought of it. And so very intentionally he threw his material down harder, tapped more forcefully to loosen the bolts and ultimately sang at the top of his voice, but false, with the songs on his car radio. Andy chuckled. This was bound to attract her attention.

Chief Ironside woke up to the strange metallic noises and the surprising singing that was coming from the courtyard. Anna was still asleep. He tried to figure out what he heard.

"Anna … Anna …" he gently shook her shoulder, "Anna … wake up. There's someone outside."

"What?… where ?… huh? … wha … what is it?"

"There is someone outside. Probably the man you contacted to have my car fixed."

"Andy ..." she replied sleepily.

"Andy! My god!" she sat up with a start, "I just forgot about him."

"I have to get up and go meet him," she said, looking somewhat disappointed at Ironside.

He took her by the arm and pulled her down. "Not before I've kissed you a good morning."

"Stay in bed. It 'll only take me a few minutes and I'll be back to help you get out and dressed. You'll wait for me?"

"I'll wait."

She hurried out of the bedroom, into the bathroom, washed her face, jumped into her usual clothes and went outside to cheerfully meet Andy.

Once she had left the room Ironside rolled over onto his back.

"Aauuwch!" His ribs still hurt and he rubbed them carefully. He grimaced as he laboriously worked himself into a sitting position.

In a hurry Anna came back into the room. "He needs your car keys to get to the spare tire."

"They're in my pocket, in my vest ... on that chair over there."

She searched his pockets and retrieved the set of keys. "One more second and I'll be all yours again," she winked and ran out.

Amused Ironside watched her run to and fro. She sure was a bundle of energy.

When she finally returned to the room she plopped down onto the bed.

"Pffffffffffff … hold me!" and she leaned against him.

"Well … for a hectic start," he kissed her tenderly.

"I hope you were able to sleep a little. I did. I slept well. I felt so secure in your arms," she admitted tenderly looking up at him.

"I usually don't have a sound sleep but I had a very, very good night. The best I had in years. I wonder who's responsible for that? Have you got any idea?"

They looked into each other's eyes and finally burst with laughter before falling into an ultimate warm embrace.

"Anna … I absolutely have to get out of bed now."

She got up awaiting his directions, "You just tell me what I can do."

Ironside gave her some instructions. While she assisted him dressing up partially he attentively observed her gestures. He indeed loved to see her hands on him, just there where he could no longer feel any of it.

"Ready for the transfer? Go on! I'm holding the chair."

"You'll have to excuse me but I really need to ..."

"Do what you have to do. As I already said just take your time while I'll prepare us a nice breakfast and then I'll also go check on Andy."

"I'll join you in the kitchen once I'm finished. I know the way," Ironside said as he wheeled past her on his way to the bathroom.

Merry, Anna headed for the kitchen to put on the kettle. She set the table, something she in the morning rarely did for her alone.

She could see Andy from the window and figured he was almost done. Anna sighed as she realized this spelt the end to a most enchanting encounter.

She was determined not to embarrass her visitor and would keep her distance when Andy came in.

"I see you managed," Andy heard Anna say from a distance.

"Yep. A few more turns of the handle and that's that." Andy straightened up and cleaned his dirty hands with a rag. "Finished!"

"Nice job Andy. I knew I could count on you."

"Anything for you Anna. Anything … you just name it love," he said closing in on her but halted as he noticed someone coming out of the house.

"That's your guest?" he looked at Anna, flabbergasted. "Yeah! But of course ... that explains this very special van."

"Hi there!" he called out and stuck his hand up to greet the stranger on the porch. "I hope he didn't try anything," he whispered to Anna, "A woman all alone up here. It's tempting."

"My God! Sounds like someone is a little jealous here," she replied amused.

"Damn no!" he laughed " Haha … what can he be good at? A cripple. As long as you take in that kind of guys I know I still have all my chances." He bent forward to kiss her but she stepped back, angry.

Her gesture surprised him. "Well … are we being touchy today, my dear?"

"You're always welcome in my house Andy! But ... I expect nothing less from you then to respect whoever is my guest." she railed.

"Geee … OK! Got the message." He stepped back holding up both hands. "I surrender."

"Will you at least present me your … precious guest?"

Anna threw him a look and showed him her heels before finally calling after him, "Well … are you coming or not?"

Andy caught up on her and she introduced him to the Chief. As they shook hands Andy started explaining, "I didn't manage to find the exact same tire sir, but you can rest assured it will allow you to drive back to … to ..." he looked at the Chief for a clue.

"San Francisco."

" … to San Francisco, without you having to worry about a thing. You have Andy's word on that."

"I'm very glad you took the time to help me on my way again. Next time I know what to watch out for. Those deer really jumped out of nowhere." Ironside reached for his wallet. " How much do I owe you."

Anna standing behind the Chief signed Andy not to ask anything.

"Leave it. Anyway the tire is not new and … well … it's always a pleasure to come to the rescue of this beautiful, lovely lady." His eyes spoke volumes.

"Oh Andy … knock it off, you know I'm not interested."

Ironside watched him and understood that this Andy was one of those suitors she had definitely ruled out. Robert Ironside sure wasn't a jealous man. However on this particular occasion it brought him such an indescribable satisfaction to realize that Anna had preferred him to this able bodied man.

"I can't accept that. I'm already very happy that Mrs. Watson," he turned his chair around to face her, "has graciously allowed me to stay here for the night. I surely do not want to take advantage of her and your goodness."

Andy now stood behind him and couldn't see the tenderness with which Ironside looked at Anna.

He had called her Mrs. Watson. He obviously pursued the same objective she had in mind. No need to let Andy suspect anything.

"No Mr. Ironside. I … I see it as my Christian duty to help wherever and whenever my help is being required. And Andy can vow for that. Huh … Andy?"

Andy only nodded.

"Say ... Andy, I'm sure there are more important things you have to do this morning. I don't want to keep you much longer so … if you've finished with the car."

"If I didn't know you better Anna I'd say you just wanne get rid of me."

"Matter of fact … I do!" she replied unabashed.

Andy looked at her dumbfounded and shook his head in disbelief. "That was quite clear. Thank you my dear. Got the message. That'll teach me to be always at your beck and call."

He grumpily saluted Ironside and gave him a look that left no doubt about it. Andy was no dupe.

"Next time ... you can call someone else." Andy fumed as he swiftly walked back to his truck and drove off in a huge cloud of dust.

"Why did you do that?" Ironside took her by the arm. " You at least could have invited him in for a cup of coffee."

"He was getting on my nerves. He wouldn't have left otherwise. Don't you worry about him. He'll get over it."

She installed herself in his lap and hugged his neck, "I just didn't want him to go spoil those very last moments we might ever have together. You can understand that don't you?"

"Oh Anna," he kissed her, "you're not making it any easier. Let's go inside. I could do with a nice cup of coffee before I leave." He wheeled back inside with Anna on his knees, holding on to him like a child.

As they entered the kitchen she noticed his little bag. It lay waiting on the table.

"That coffee smells good. I like it strong and if possible made in a pot that doesn't get washed out with soap each time it's been used." Ironside revealed.

"You're kidding me. Although … I know it is being said about tea to be improving its flavor but coffee..."

"Believe me," he added with a twinkle, " although even my staff isn't convinced … yet."

They laughed but it was obvious they both tried to hide their real feelings. Saying goodbye was painful.

Ironside had emptied his coffee and sighed as he put down his cup.

"Well, dear Anna. It's time for me to say goodbye. I have work to do and my staff is waiting for me at the office. If I leave now I should be in San Francisco around eleven."

" Will you give me a call? I'd like to know if you got home safely."

"Yes … I will." Ironside moved his chair away from the table and got next to her.

"Au revoir my sweet, lovely Anna. Meeting you and learning to know you has been a blessing." and he leaned in for an ultimate passionate kiss.

God, this was tougher then he had expected and he took a deep breath.

"Well … I'm afraid that, as they say, all good things must come to an end. Will you see me out?

Anna just watched him and nodded, a lump in her throat.

Ironside got hold of his bag, dropped it on his knees and slowly made his way to the entrance and out onto the porch.

Anna followed one step behind and watched him ease his chair down the ramp. His van stood waiting in front of the house. The sand in the courtyard slowed him. Anna hurried down the ramp, caught up on him and started pushing. She didn't notice how much it instantly drew a smile on his face.

The Chief activated the system that made the doors swing open and lower the platform to ground level, ready for him to roll onto. According to what had become routine he maneuvered onto it in reverse.

"I just follow this little road and at the intersection I turn right. That's what you told me."

"Yes. Once you've made it to the main road it's always straight ahead up to where you have the possibility to deviate towards the highway a few miles ahead. I'd consider that option if I were you."

Ironside reached for her hand and kissed it. "Thank you ... for everything." He pushed the button. Slowly the platform lifted him up and he got into the van. Anna was like frozen as she watched him get behind the steering wheel with his chair. He firmly locked the brakes on his wheels and buckled up.

Bob Ironside looked over his shoulder towards where Anna had been standing but she was nowhere in sight, when suddenly the door passenger side was being pulled open. Anna got onto the seat, clutched him and kissed him with burning passion before hurrying out of the van and running off to the house and disappearing inside.

He knew she hurt badly, because so did he, but there was unfortunately nothing he could do about it.

Ironside started the engine and after a few seconds of hesitation and a last glance in the rear mirror finally got on his way.

Anna was crying unashamedly. However then she heard him start the engine and wanted to hurry out but her feet felt as lead.

By the time she had made it to the door all she saw was the back of his van disappearing behind the trees. She stood and watched until long after the sound of the motor had died down. When she finally returned inside the house seemed so empty. Hardly twelve hours at his side had sufficed to turn her life upside down. She wandered off to where they had spent the night, a magical night.

On her pillow lay, beside his business card, a flower he had taken out of the vase in the entrance.

This was more then she could take and Anna once again broke down in tears, squeezing tight his pillow.

"I wonder what's keeping him so long? Ed, didn't he tell you he would be back this morning?" Fran asked visibly worried.

"He said he'd be back before noon. It's hardly ten thirty. Stop worrying Fran. He sounded alright when I had him on the phone last night." Ed tried to reassure her.

"Yes … but that was last night. Maybe he didn't get his car fixed or maybe he broke down again, or then he ..."

"Don't get paranoid. We are talking about Chief Robert T. Ironside, not a kid. Should anything have gone wrong he would have called. By the way Fran did you manage to finish that report he so urgently needed?

"You mean the one he wanted me deliver to him the day before yesterday?" she said with a very explicit little smile.

"Yes … that one." Ed laughed.

"I already put it on his desk. Right on top of all the rest. He can't miss it."

"It better come up to his expectations for I suspect he will be in a terrible mood. You know how he hates it when things get delayed ..."

"When he gets delayed," they said in choir and chuckled.

"Ed! Listen! Do I hear the elevator? That must be him." Fran rose to her feet and headed for the door. She opened it the exact moment the chief reached for the doorknob.

"Good morning Chief!" she said cheerfully.

"Morning Fran. Morning Ed." Ironside greeted them sharply, handed her his little bag and headed straight to his desk.

"It's on top of all the rest." Fran pointed out from a distance, anticipating the Chief's demand.

"Thank you Officer Belding. I hope you didn't leave out anything."

Ed and Fran looked at each other and sighed. He indeed was in a terrible mood.

"Can't a man get a decent cup of coffee in here?" he thundered as he browsed the report.

"Oh … sure … I'll get it." Ed hurried to the kitchen. The Chiefs mood was even worse than he had expected. Ed wondered what could have gone wrong. He didn't dare ask.

After a little while Chief Ironside reached for the phone and started dialing the number he had written down on a small piece of paper he had just retrieved from his pocket.

"Hello, Anna? It's me. I'm back in San Francisco, fit and well. Yes … Aha … So did I … No, no regrets, none … Of course I'd love that but … I honestly don't know. Forget? … how could …

Yes … Promise? … Goodbye Anna." Slowly he put down the receiver and flashed a smile that painted a thousand pictures.

Ironside felt the staring eyes of Ed and Fran in his neck. With a jerk he reversed his chair and faced them with a stare that could chill to the bone.

"Alright. Shoot!"

The surprise was total and neither Ed or Fran managed to utter anything more then, " Well … uh … what? … you ...Anna? ..."

"Good! That's settled then. So ... back to work."

Ironside watched them walk back to their place, annoyed, and he … he smiled, happy.