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Not Allowed To Die

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Miranda was allowed to travel in the ambulance, although she felt powerless not being able to do anything to help. All that she could do was to keep out of the way and watch the bustle of activity as the paramedics cut through clothing, slapped on emergency dressings and, most frightening of all, began resuscitation when Max stopped breathing halfway to the nearest hospital in Manacor. When they arrived at the emergency department, a small crowd of pre-alerted medics were waiting for them at the doors of the ambulance bay. Miranda scrambled out of the vehicle and jogged behind as the trolley was pushed quickly inside the building and through the swing doors of the “resus room”, where she could not follow. A kindly nurse stopped her and offered her a chair in the waiting area, offered her coffee, offered to direct her to a bathroom where she could wash Max’s blood off her hands – but she had to repeat her offers several times before she got a response. Miranda, staring fixedly at the closed doors of the resuscitation room, did not seem to hear her.

By the time Inés arrived from Palma forty-five minutes later and hurried into the waiting area, Miranda had taken a seat and was holding, but not drinking, the cup of bitter hospital coffee which the kindly nurse had pressed upon her. She had washed her hands but her yellow shirt was still heavily bloodstained. She was pale and hollow-eyed as she looked up at the sound of Inés’s quick footsteps and sympathetic exclamations.

“Miranda! I came as soon as they notified me – what’s the situation now? Is he – is he- ?” Her voice trailed off as she met Miranda’s eyes with a look of fearful enquiry.

“He’s still alive,” Miranda said flatly. “He stopped breathing in the ambulance but they got him back. He was in there for ages – “ she nodded towards the resuscitation room “- but they’ve taken him up to surgery now. They said it couldn’t wait.”

Inés sucked in a shocked hiss of breath and took a seat beside Miranda. “And you? Are you hurt?” She nodded to the bloodstains on Miranda’s shirt.

“I’m fine.” Miranda’s voice was still flat and expressionless. “This is all Max’s.” She looked up at Inés, made as if to speak, paused, then said, “It all happened so fast – I lost sight of the suspect – I wasn’t quick enough when I saw the gun –“

Inés leaned over to put a hand on her shoulder, and Miranda was too shaken to flinch away from the physical contact as she normally would have done. “Miranda, you’re good at your job. You know that, I know that. Sometimes things just happen and we can’t stop them.”

“But they told us one of them might be armed – I should have been more prepared – we could have put our vests on - I should have had my gun out, ready –“

Inés let her ramble on, blaming herself, for a few minutes. She had a feeling that talking about what had happened was probably some form of release from the awful tension of waiting. There would be time enough later for Miranda to give her formal statement about the day’s events.

Eventually, as Miranda paused, Inés interjected, “I called Max’s parents before I came here. The office is finding them a flight from Munich. They are hoping to get here early tomorrow.”

“His parents?” Miranda raised her head quickly. “Yes, of course. I didn’t think – I haven’t contacted anyone.” She fumbled in her trouser pocket for her phone. “I should call Christian. And Carmen.”

“Carmen? His ex-girlfriend? I thought she broke up with him?”

“Yes, she did. But she’s still a good friend. She’d want to know. And Christian is his best friend.”

“Then call them.” Inés’s own phone rang at that moment. She spoke rapidly in Spanish for a minute before ending the call and saying, “The office has booked a flight for Detective Winter’s parents. They will land at ten past nine tomorrow morning.” She put her phone away and looked at Miranda. “Now. You will make your calls and I will go and ask the nurses if they can find you another shirt to wear. And I will get us both some more coffee. I will even try to get a ridiculously weak one just for you, Miranda. With sugar in it for shock.”

That won her the ghost of a smile from Miranda. “Thank you, Inés.”

“Anything for my officers.” Inés swept out of the room.

***

By the time Christian and Carmen arrived together at the hospital in Manacor, Miranda had been given a blue scrub top to replace her bloodstained shirt. She had changed in the nearest bathroom, throwing her ruined yellow blouse in the bin. She was shocked by a glimpse of her pallid face in the mirror. She had made an effort to pull herself together, but it was hard to do so when her usually cool and organised mind was such a jumble of confusion and dread.

Christian’s usual cheerful grin was missing from his face and he looked more serious than Miranda had ever seen him. Carmen was slightly tear-stained but she looked calm, if anxious. When she saw Miranda she hurried straight to her and embraced her, and once again Miranda passively accepted the physical contact without flinching away.

Miranda! How is Max?”

“He’s still in surgery. It’s – really bad, Carmen. They don’t know if he’s going to make it.”

“Of course he will make it.” Christian spoke bracingly, but sounded as though he was trying to reassure himself as much as his friends. “Max Winter is a strong guy. We Münchner are tough. He’ll be okay.”

“Did you say his parents were coming?” Carmen asked Miranda.

“Yes, tomorrow morning. Their flight lands in Palma at ten past nine. Inés is sending someone to collect them and bring them here.”

“No, I will do it,” said Christian quickly. “I’d like to. They know me. It will be better.” He turned away to speak to Inés, who had been making another work-related phone call in the corner of the waiting room. Quietly, Carmen took a seat beside Miranda and pressed her hand in a comforting way.

It was another long hour before the surgeon finally came into the waiting room to update them on Max’s condition. He was a thin, grey-haired man with a tired face.

“Are you the partner of Señor Winter?” he asked Miranda. She opened her mouth to clarify that she was only his work partner, but she was forestalled.

Yes, she is,” said Carmen and Inés in chorus, and Carmen added, “Please tell us. How is he?”

The surgeon took a seat facing them and leaned forward to speak. “I have to tell you that Señor Winter’s condition is still critical, but we have stabilised him for now.”

He could almost feel the sigh of relief which went around the room as he spoke.

“The bullet penetrated his chest cavity and grazed one of his lungs, which collapsed. He is very, very lucky that it missed his heart. We have repaired the pneumothorax and re-inflated the lung, but he lost a great deal of blood. He will need another surgery to complete the repairs, but we decided it was better to get him stabilised today and wait until he is a little stronger for that. We’d like to transfer him to Palma when we think he can stand the journey, as Dr. Garza, the thoracic surgeon there, is the best on the island. I have consulted her by telephone and she is willing to attempt the second surgery.”

“And – will he make a full recovery?” Inés asked, since both Miranda and Carmen seemed speechless.

The doctor made a face to signify uncertainty. “It’s too early to say. You must understand that he has very serious injuries. I should tell you that there is a possibility that the loss of blood and lack of oxygen may have led to some damage to the brain, but we can’t tell yet. We’ll be keeping him under sedation for some days.”

“He hit his head, too,” said Miranda, almost in a whisper.

“Yes, but the head injury is not serious, I think. He has no skull fracture and, if he does have a little concussion, any symptoms will probably resolve themselves during the time he is under sedation. But, as I said, it’s too early to assess his brain function.” The doctor rose from his seat. “He will be cared for in the intensive care unit here until we think he is strong enough for the transfer to Palma. I will make sure you are updated on his condition, but while he is here only one or two close family members may visit at a time – that includes yourself, of course,” he said, with a nod to Miranda as he headed for the door.

The group in the waiting room sat together for another couple of hours. Inés fetched yet more cups of coffee and Christian found the visitors’ café and brought back a selection of sandwiches, which nobody except himself really felt like eating. Later, Christian stood up, stretched and said that he should probably go home and get a few hours’ sleep if he was going to be at the airport to meet Herr and Frau Winter when they landed. Carmen said that, since she would not be allowed to see Max, she would go back to Palma with Christian. Inés said that she had better leave too, since she would have much to do the next day dealing with the aftermath of the shooting. They all seemed to take for granted that Miranda would be staying at the hospital overnight. Carmen even offered to make sure that Miranda’s stray dog was fed.

Before they left, one of the nurses came in to say that Max was settled in one of the intensive care rooms now, and that Miranda could come and see him if she wished. She had brought Miranda a small plastic bag which contained Max’s keys, wallet and watch. Carmen asked for the key of his apartment and said she would go and make sure it was clean and tidy for Max’s parents, if they chose to stay there while they were in Mallorca. Inés took the key of the BMW and said that she would arrange for police officers to collect the car from Porto Cristo and return it to Max’s apartment. Until then, it had not even occurred to Miranda that Max’s beloved car must still be parked in that dead-end street by the sea.

***

Miranda dozed in a chair by the window of the private room in the intensive care unit. Every now and then she woke with a jerk and looked around her in confusion before remembering where she was. The third time she woke, she sat up with a dry mouth and a crick in her neck. The heavy, sick feeling of fear in her stomach had been there ever since the moment when she had heard the gunshot.

The patients on this unit were ill enough to each have their own nurse watching over them, taking observations and monitoring their vital signs. Max’s nurse had spent most of the night sitting quietly on a chair by the bed. She had exchanged very few words with Miranda, beyond giving her several sympathetic smiles. The lights in the room had been dimmed a little during the night, and now the grey light of early dawn was starting to filter through the closed window blinds.

Miranda blinked and checked her watch against the clock on the wall. It was five a.m. Hazily, she had the thought that only twelve hours ago she and Max had been bickering about fusion food. Now they were here, in this over-heated, antiseptic-smelling room with the high hospital bed, the machines which bleeped and clicked and the screens across which numbers and lines flickered. Max lay in the bed, connected up to those machines, with an intubation tube in his throat and various drips and tubes attached to him. Thanks to the ventilator, his chest rose and fell steadily - the only sign of movement about him.

As Miranda rolled her stiff shoulders and rubbed her eyes, the nurse wrote down another set of observations, rose from her chair, nodded to Miranda and left the room.

Miranda stood up, walked across to the bed and looked down at Max. There were shadows and lines below his closed eyes, and his eyelashes looked very long. The sprinkling of grey hairs in his beard was more noticeable than usual. There was a large dressing on one side of his forehead where his head had hit the rocks. Beside him, the heart monitor kept up a steady, reassuring blip, blip and there was a quiet hiss and click as the ventilator kept the air going in and out through the tube in his throat.

Miranda sat down on the nurse’s chair and hesitantly reached out towards Max’s right arm, which was nearest to her. There was some sort of drip attached to the back of his hand, with a piece of surgical tape holding it in place. She avoided touching the drip, but gently laid her fingers on the exposed skin of his forearm, brushing over the freckles and sun-bleached hairs. He was warm. Alive. For now.

Miranda had always tried to keep her life under tight control. It was true that in her job the unexpected often happened, but she was trained to react to most possible situations. Whatever happened, she usually felt secure knowing that she had the skills and abilities to regain control of events. But the events of the last twelve hours had spiralled hopelessly beyond her control. From the rocky cove to the ambulance, and from the hospital waiting room to the intensive care unit, she felt as though she was on some sort of nightmarish rollercoaster and could not get off.

“Oh, Max,” she said quietly, squeezing his arm a little. “I’m so sorry. If I’d been quicker – if I’d been more prepared –“ She broke off, and sighed. “I can’t change things now, but I’m sorry. And you have to get better, do you hear me? I know you can do it, because you’re strong. And your mum and dad are coming. You have to get better for them.” She paused again. “And for me. You might drive me crazy sometimes, but I’ve got used to you being around, and I’m not sure what I’d do without my compañero. So you’re not allowed to die on me, do you understand?”  

The ventilator continued to hiss and click steadily, and the clock on the wall ticked away the minutes.