An hour later Steve and Ed were standing on the cliff coast, hidden behind a rock. Through binoculars Ed observed a trail leading from the beachside upwards. A group of people were there, transporting something from a motor boat to a cave.
"I don't like that at all. That's probably the 'Tiger gang'. More than likely they are hiding drugs or something in that cave."
"We should hurry up to catch them in the act."
The Sergeant nodded reluctantly. Steve understood well that Ed hesitated because that way he would not be able to keep those kids out of the judicial machinery anymore… But as he took a close look at the slope he saw that Ed's reluctance had probably a second reason: there were several terraces one would have to jump down, and with his back problem the Sergeant would not be able to do that, at least not right now.
"Ed, I think I can get there in time. Don't even try to do it yourself, it's too dangerous."
Brown hesitated again. "I'm responsible for you, Steve."
"I will be hidden from the view of the kids for most of my way. Perhaps you can find a way for yourself further up and follow me."
"I have already seen a possibility, but I will need a lot longer. Please – be careful and wait as long as possible until you go in to give me the time to catch up."
Steve nodded. Unlike Ed the other day he would have his gun to control the youngsters. Jumping down the first terrace he began his decent. It was more challenging than he had thought it would be. Steve was a skilled climber though, and he used all his agility and sportsmanship to get to that cave as fast as possible. Four yards above the cave he paused. The kids could perhaps have spotted him, but they were absorbed in their task at hand.
The dive downwards was high and dangerous. If he landed in a bad angle he would doubtlessly get hurt. Yet since it looked as if the transport was almost finished Steve didn't waver any longer and jumped. He landed hard, but perfectly well on his two feet. Instantly he pulled his gun.
"Police! Hands up and move towards the rocks!" he shouted, and frightened the kids receded as he had told them.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw a movement in the cave. Before he was able to react, a gun went off and a searing pain ripped through his right arm. With a clattering sound his gun hit the ground.
With a grim look on his face Ronny Longwaters stepped out of the cave. "Now, baby-cop – what are we going to do with you? You don't expect us to let you live as a witness against us, do you?"
The teenagers seemed to awaken from their numbness. They approached to the injured inspector.
Longwaters went on: "Max, pick up that gun!"
"Who, me?" asked startled one of the boys.
"Do you see another Max around here? Pick up the gun and shoot the bloody cop."
Max lingered, but took another step towards Steve.
Steve's heart skipped a beat: there was nothing he could do if the boy really wanted to shoot him.
Then he saw Ed Brown sneaking down onto the last terrace above them. He would not want to jump down there with his sore back, would he? What did he think he would accomplish with that?
Yet Ed let himself fall onto Longwaters, the impact throwing the heavier man to the ground. For a second Steve was unsure if one of them would get up – and if so, which one.
The boys only watched the scene, petrified.
Then Ed stood up, though clumsily. He kicked Longwaters' gun into the cave. The man didn't budge; he seemed to be dazed, if not unconscious.
Brown put his hands on his hips, pushing his jacket back, so that the kids could see that his gun rested safely in his belt and that he was not willing to use it.
"Look, Max," he addressed the boy next to Steve, "this is your decision now. You can pick up that gun on the ground and shoot my colleague and perhaps me too. Or you can leave it there and face the consequences of helping Longwaters with those drugs. This decision will influence your whole life. It will make you a criminal or a man who can take responsibility. What kind of life do you want?"
He took a step back to let Max room for his decision, but his eyes rested firmly on the boy's face.
For a moment Steve was unsure if Ed hadn't misjudged the situation again, but then his calm presence clinched it for the boy. He bent down, picked the gun up and surrendered it to Ed.
"I'm sorry, Sir. We didn't want anybody to get hurt. What happens now?"
"Now you put these manacles around Longwaters' wrists." He clicked them off his belt.
Only when this was done Ed stepped over to Steve. "Let me see your arm. How bad is it?"
The wound was still bleeding. "It's only a graze, I think. I was lucky that Longwaters is a bad shot," Steve smiled, although somewhat forcedly. He didn't want to sound like a wimp. To him it was evident that the Sergeant was in pain too, but being older and used to it he seemed better capable of hiding it. He didn't bring up the subject though. Brown needed all his authority to master the situation. If Longwaters and the boys knew that neither of the two police officers was quite at his best they might still get into trouble.
"Can you drive a boat with your left hand?" asked Ed.
Steve could, and after Ed had dressed Steve's arm, they went back to town with the whole group of youngsters and the prisoner. Only Steve knew that the Sergeant didn't just rest his back against the side of the boat because he thought that it looked cool…
Reaching the marina Ed sent Steve to a doctor, after he had called for back-up.
When Steve came back to headquarters with his right arm in a sling Brown was just finishing the formalities around Longwaters' arrest. He looked much better already. The 'Tiger gang' had been questioned and sent home.
Together they went up to Ironside's office.
As it was to be expected the Chief listened to the Sergeant's report very critically.
"What took you so long? You were almost too late to catch the gang dead to rights. Only minutes later and we wouldn't have any proof."
Ed nodded. The ringing of the phone spared him an answer though: He had to go down to the garage to hand over the keys of the boat they had used.
Steve was full of indignation about this - in his eyes - unjust accusation. He made use of being alone with the feared Chief.
"Sir, with all due respect – you were not there! Sergeant Brown did his duty and more than that. He got the youngsters to the point of considering what was right or wrong, and they chose to do the more difficult, but honest thing. Don't you think he has earned some recognition instead of just criticism?"
Ironside smiled inwardly about the Inspector's indignation, yet this didn't show on his face when he grumbled: "Stop improving my character, young man!"
When Ed came back, Ltd. Mike Stone was with him.
After they had welcomed one another, relieved that everybody was still more or less intact, Ironside went back to the cringeworthy interrogation of his Sergeant.
"Now why did you stay back and let a rookie go ahead? You were the one in charge!" he attacked Brown. "You were lucky that nothing worse happened to him."
"I'm very sorry that you were hit, Steve," said Ed softly, and after a close look at his new friend, "…and I have to confess to something. It's this back-problem I brought home from 'nam. I can carry heavy weights and do almost everything. It's just when I get hit, or when I do some movements like jumps… Well, that's why." He didn't look up.
That way he didn't catch that Ironside looked relieved, not angry, although his voice still sounded enraged.
"Don't you think I read your medical file when you started working with me? I knew that from the beginning. I always hoped that one day you would trust me enough to tell me. Why do you think I chose you to work with me? Because you were a knight in shining armor, or because of your impressive fighting qualities? Forget it!"
"So it was because I brought you a bottle of whiskey when you were in the hospital?" Ed made an attempt to make light of the situation, since he was already feeling embarrassed.
"Exactly that!" shouted Ironside, unable to hide the sparkle in his eyes.
When everybody broke out in laughter he added: "I wondered how long Ed would take to understand that I want people with brains around me… considering that normally there is nothing wrong with his quick wits. Normally!"
Mark was about to serve some chili, but Steve started to hum and haw. "Well, as a matter of fact… I was intending to go on a date… Ed, I thought if you are feeling well enough to drive… my girlfriend Robin…"
"…She happens to have a sister?" asked Ironside acridly.
Thirty seconds later the two 'Casanovas' were out of the door.
While Mark had retreated into his room to do his homework the more seasoned gentlemen enjoyed themselves with a glass of Ironside's best bourbon.
Mike thought of how good a team the two young officers were: The tall and the shorter one, the dark and the light-haired, the introverted and the outgoing, the quiet and the agile one… and yet so similar: the new generation of college-educated, bright and still modest young men.
"They are quite a couple of boys, our boys, aren't they?"
Ironside nodded, grinning widely: "Yes, they are. But don't ever repeat that when they can hear it!"
Author's note: This story interferes with the personal "fanon" in my Ironside stories on .
Thanks again, dear Jodm, for correcting the worst of my mistakes! Thank you, dear readers, for reading and reviewing!