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Not Allowed To Die

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It was just after ten a.m. and the hospital building was wide awake and busy when one of the nurses who had taken over the day shift came to tell Miranda that Christian had arrived with Max’s parents. More than two visitors at a time were forbidden in the intensive care rooms, so Miranda went out into the waiting area at the end of the corridor to meet them. Herr and Frau Winter were there, talking quietly in German to Christian until Miranda entered the room, when they all looked up.

Gert Winter was a tall, broad-shouldered man in his sixties.   He had an air of determination about him but a genial face, which was currently drawn in anxiety. Miranda realised that Max had inherited not only his height and build but also his hair from his father, although Gert’s curls were now grey and his beer belly was far larger than his son’s. He looked like a successful businessman who enjoyed good food and beer.

Dorotea Winter was much shorter, a plump little woman with a round face. Her dark bobbed hair was well sprinkled with white hairs, though plenty of the dark brown still remained. At first glance her son did not resemble her much at all, until Doro looked up and Miranda recognised the clear, intelligent eyes, edged by laughter-creases, which were such a feature of Max’s face.

“Herr and Frau Winter?” Miranda said hesitantly. “I’m Max’s –“

But Frau Winter had already hurried across the room to clasp Miranda’s hands in hers. They were almost the same height. “I know who you are, my dear,” she said in excellent English. “You are Miranda. Max has told us so much about you.”

“He has?” Miranda blinked at her in surprise.

“Of course! I feel as if I know you already. But how is he? Christian told us as much as he could on the journey. Has there been any change?”

“No. He is stable – but he is very ill. I’m so sorry, Frau Winter –“

“Please, Miranda. My name is Doro. You poor girl, you look exhausted. Have you been here all night?”

“Yes, I wanted to stay until you arrived. To make sure there was someone here in case – in case - “

Doro Winter squeezed her hands, before releasing them. “I am glad you were here with him. And I am looking forward to talking to you, Miranda. But for now, we must go and see Max and I think you need to go home and sleep.”

“Oh, I did sleep – a little,” Miranda said quickly, surprised at the strength of her instant reaction against the idea of leaving the building. It felt like abandoning Max, even if it was to the care of his parents. What if he – she couldn’t think the actual words – what if something bad happens and I’m not here? She looked doubtfully towards the door which led back to the intensive care rooms.

“I can drive you home now, Miranda,” Christian offered. “And Inés asked me to say that, if you feel up to it when you have had some sleep, she wants you to stop by the police station later and write up your statement about yesterday.”

Miranda realised that she was outvoted. She collected her bag, found Max’s nurse and checked that the hospital had her mobile number. She introduced the nurse to Gert and Doro, watched them being led away to Max’s bedside, and followed Christian reluctantly towards the lift doors.

***

Even when she was in her own bed, with her window shutters closed against the bright midday sun, Miranda did not manage much sleep. Her mind was too full of jumbled thoughts, and she kept replaying the events of the previous day in the futile hope of changing the outcome. A hot shower had washed the final traces of Max’s blood from under her fingernails, but it couldn’t wash away that sick feeling in her stomach. She didn’t need to sleep, she needed to know

After trying to doze for a few hours, Miranda gave up, got up and dressed. Emptying out her shoulder bag, she discovered that she still had Max’s wallet and watch, which she put on one side to take to his apartment some time. She choked down some tea and toast and checked her phone for messages. There were no messages from the hospital, but a couple from Carmen checking on her and one from Inés asking if she was coming in to write her statement. Miranda sent back a short update to Carmen and a quick reply to Inés saying that she was on her way to the office.

There was a very subdued atmosphere in the office when she arrived. Normally her colleagues greeted her cheerfully enough on her arrival at work, if not with the warmth with which they welcomed Max. Today each person she met on her way down the corridor greeted her with a hushed voice and a kind, sympathetic manner. “Miranda. How are you? How are you bearing up? Is there any more news?” It’s almost the way you speak to a grieving relative, she thought with a shiver.

The office she shared with Max was unnaturally quiet, too. She tried not to look too often at his empty chair as she typed up her statement. When she had finished and saved it to the system, she printed off a copy and took it in to Inés, who read it and nodded without showing much reaction.

“Um, Inés – is it all right if I have one of the pool cars?” Miranda asked. “Max’s parents are at the hospital now. I – I thought I’d go back there and see if they needed a lift to his apartment later.”

“Of course.” Inés leaned back in her chair and regarded Miranda. Miranda had a nasty feeling – not for the first time in the last year – that Inés could see straight through her. “And I don’t expect to see you at work for a few days.” She saw Miranda opening her mouth to reply and added, “You had to fire your gun, so you’re off operational duty until the incident has been investigated, anyway. You’ll have to give evidence in person to the team investigating, but that won’t be for a day or two. I’ll call you when we need you. Until then, I don’t want to see you here. Go to the hospital. Do what you need to do. And keep me updated about Detective Winter, okay?”

“Yes, of course.” Miranda backed out of the room. She tidied the desk she shared with Max before she left the office and headed downstairs to pick up a car from the pool of unmarked police vehicles.

***

When she walked back into the intensive care unit at about four in the afternoon, Doro Winter was at the coffee machine in the waiting area. Presumably Gert was in Max’s room.   Doro’s face broke into a tired but genuine smile as she saw Miranda.

“Miranda! Are you more rested now?” Without being asked, she seemed to know the question on Miranda’s lips. “There is no change. He is still under sedation of course. So, he is no better, but also no worse. That is good, ja?

“Yes.”

Doro seated herself on one of the plastic chairs and patted the seat next to her. Miranda sat down. “Gert can wait for his coffee. He has drunk too many cups today already. I want to talk to you. And to thank you, Miranda.”

“To thank me?” Miranda blurted out, surprised.

“Of course. Christian told us that you shot the man who shot Max.”

Miranda looked away, unable to meet Doro’s eyes. “But I wasn’t quick enough. If I’d been faster, if I’d thought about them being armed before we ran after them – he might not be in here like this.”

Max’s mother laid a firm hand on Miranda’s arm. “Miranda, if anyone rushed into danger without thinking, I expect it was my son.” Miranda stared at her, open-mouthed. “It is just the sort of thing he would do. And the important thing is that you stopped the man from shooting again. He could have hurt Max again – and hurt you too. And you looked after Max until the ambulance came, didn’t you? You didn’t leave him?”

“Of course not. He’s my partner. But I –“

Doro shook her head and patted Miranda’s arm again. “Miranda, let me tell you something. My son has been acting without thinking of the consequences ever since he could walk. I could tell you about the winter he was six, when he tried to use a plastic tray as a snowboard and went headfirst into a tree and knocked himself out. Or there was the time Christian dared him to jump off a bridge and he broke both his ankles.”

Despite her anxiety, Miranda felt her mouth twitching into a smile. “Christian told me that story once.”

“Yes, well, you see that as a mother I had to get used to Max doing crazy things. He was always very sorry afterwards for worrying me. That’s one reason I was anxious when he wanted to join the police force instead of going into Gert’s business. Of course Gert was disappointed, but I just thought there would be more opportunity for Max to get into danger. But I could see his heart was set on it, so I had to let him go.”

“He really loves it,” said Miranda. “And, even though he doesn’t always do things by the book, he’s very good at it.”

“I know.” Doro sighed. “Do you know, the last time I told him off about putting himself in danger, it was after that terrible siege that was on television. That crazy singer was holding you at gunpoint. Max said he had to go in because he was your partner and you knew he would have your back. And he said that he knew if he ever got himself into trouble you would always have his back.”

Unexpectedly, and rather to her horror because she never cried, Miranda found herself blinking back a few tears. “Max said that?”

“He did. And no matter what you think about yourself, Miranda, I know you had his back yesterday.” Doro stood up. “Now. Gert will be wondering where his coffee is. Let us take some in to him, because he wants to meet you properly. And I know you’ll want to see how Max is doing. I think we can get round their rules about having more than two visitors at once. If they try to tell us off, I’ll just pretend that I only speak German.”  

Miranda brushed the rogue tears away and found herself reluctantly smiling again. She got up and followed Doro’s determined little figure back to the coffee machine.

***

Miranda called Carmen the next morning, the second day after the shooting, with an update. “He seems a bit stronger. His colour looks better. They’re going to do some scans this morning, and they want to transfer him to Palma at lunchtime. The thoracic specialist is going to do the second operation this afternoon. Then he’ll be in the intensive care unit at Palma, still under sedation, until they decide it’s time to try to wake him up.”

“Well, it’s good that they think he’s strong enough for the journey. Are they still worried about brain damage?” Carmen asked.

“Yes, but they just won’t know about that until they try to wake him up.” There was a silence on the phone line as Miranda paused. “He still has to get through the second operation. They told us it would be complicated.”

“He’s tough, like Christian says. He will put up a good fight,” Carmen said, sounding as though she was trying to be positive.

There was another silence on the phone line. Then Miranda said, “You know, I keep thinking about a conversation Max and I had once about death. We were in a graveyard at the time. I remember it really clearly. Max said that death was nothing to be afraid of. That all the people in the graveyard were at peace now, and nothing could hurt them anymore.”

“He’s not going to die, Miranda,” Carmen said, very firmly.   “And I hope you’re not still blaming yourself for what happened. We can’t go back and change anything. All we can do now is support Max to get better – and he is going to get better.”

“Thanks, Carmen,” Miranda said into the phone. “I’ve just spent too much time waiting around and thinking. Sometimes I need a friend like you to talk some sense into me.”

“Any time, Miranda,” said Carmen. “And when he does wake up, I’m going to come and visit him and tell him to stop doing stupid things. But, in the meantime, give him all our love.”

***

That afternoon, shortly after they had arrived at the hospital in Palma and Max had been settled into his room on the intensive care unit there - which was very similar to his room at the hospital in Manacor - Dr. Garza, the thoracic surgeon, came in to speak to his parents and Miranda. She was planning to operate within a few hours.

Dr. Garza seemed impossibly glamorous for a top thoracic surgeon. Her glossy black curls were fastened up in a sensible bun on the back of her head but she had the features of a supermodel. Miranda quickly realised that she had a brilliant mind. She drew diagrams for Max’s parents and Miranda, putting in arrows and explaining exactly what she would be doing during the second surgery, which seemed to consist mainly of repairing tiny little parts of the damaged lung and tidying up the wound in the chest cavity. “We have these special magnifying lenses,” she explained, “so that I can see what I’m doing. And the instruments I use have very tiny, fine parts so that I can do detailed work. The surgeon in Manacor had to work very quickly during the emergency surgery to close off blood vessels and save Señor Winter from losing any more blood. I can take my time a little today and make sure everything is as well repaired as I can get it.”

She had the air of one who knows exactly what they are doing, and her listeners found her immensely reassuring. When Max had been wheeled out of the intensive care unit and into the lift which would take him towards the operating theatre, Doro watched the lift doors close on the trolley and turned to Miranda and Gert. “We have several hours to wait. We may as well go to the visitor café and have a meal.”

As they sat down at a vacant table with their trays of food, Miranda reflected on how unexpectedly comfortable she felt spending time with Max’s parents. Normally, it took her a long time to warm up to new people and be able to chat easily with them. Max was an exception. From the start of their acquaintance he had not given her much of a choice about spending time with him and having long, frank conversations. He had always been happy to share his thoughts with her and tried to draw her into sharing her own confidences. People found him easy to talk to, which was always helpful to him in his job, and Miranda realised that his mother had the same gift. It was true that Miranda had been thrown together with his parents in extraordinary circumstances, but she was surprised at how natural it felt already to be sitting here with them. They treated her as if they had known her for much longer. She felt – she searched mentally for a word – included.  It was an unfamiliar and strangely warm feeling.

“So, what is Max like to work with? He talks a lot of nonsense, ja?” asked Gert, helping himself to a large forkful of pasta.

Miranda couldn’t help smiling again, despite the part of her mind which was wondering what was happening in the operating theatre. “Yes. A lot. But he’s good at his job, you know.”

“So are you, I hear.” Gert chewed heartily and swallowed, and reached out for his coffee to wash down the food. “He says you’re the best partner he’s ever had.”

Miranda found herself at a loss as to how to reply to this. She reverted to talking about Max. “He gets on with everyone at work – well, our boss, Inés, gets annoyed with him sometimes, but she gets annoyed with me too. And he’s good with people – when we have to interview people, he knows how to get them to open up. And he’s great at dealing with people who are upset – much better than me. And he’s – well, very tactile. He’s not afraid of showing his feelings.”

Doro Winter smiled. She reached into her shoulder bag, which was on the chair beside her, and pulled out a rubbed-looking brown leather wallet. “Pictures of my family. I never go anywhere without this.” She thumbed through a sheaf of small photographs of varying sizes and selected one, offering it to Miranda.

“Six years old.”

Miranda blinked and looked at the faded Polaroid. It was a photograph of a small, curly-headed boy, barefoot and beaming on a grassy lawn in jeans and a yellow T-shirt. His arms were opened wide as if trying to embrace the photographer. In his right hand he was waving some sort of cake or roll.

“We used to say that Max would try to hug the world if he could,” said Doro. “Hug it or feed it.”

“Yes, he loves food, and cooking for people too.” Miranda’s gaze was still on the photograph. Another memory had come to her mind. She could hear her own accusing voice echoing sharply in her ears, sniping at Max, months ago:

“Just because I don’t go around wearing my heart on my sleeve, and being overly tactile, and thinking every stranger’s just a friend I haven’t met yet, doesn’t make me inhuman, repressed or anti-social, okay?”

And she could hear Max’s reply. “Just to confirm – you were describing me, right?”

***

“I’m pleased with the surgery we did and the repairs we accomplished,” Dr. Garza said. “If he begins to heal well in the next couple of days, and there are no infections or complications, I want to start reducing the sedation so that we can try to wake him up. You understand, we still don’t know for sure if the blood loss and oxygen loss caused any damage to the brain. But, we will hope for the best. He is a fit and active man, he had immediate resuscitation from the paramedics when he stopped breathing, he has had the best of care since the shooting – all these things are in his favour. But, ultimately, there is no way for us to know about any permanent damage until he is awake.”

On the fifth day after the shooting, Dr. Garza kept her word and gave instructions for the intravenous sedation to be gradually stopped, leaving only pain relief being administered. When Miranda arrived at the hospital that evening, Doro was in Max’s room, talking to the nurse on duty, and Gert had gone in search of yet more coffee.

“Ah, Miranda!” Doro greeted her. “The nurse says that she thinks Max is showing some signs of waking up.”

The nurse nodded to Miranda, who was a familiar face to her by this time. “It’s true. He’s been gradually getting more restless since we started lifting the sedation. See, he moved his head on the pillow a little.”

“Yes, I saw it,” confirmed Doro. She chatted with Miranda for a few more minutes, both of them keeping an eye on Max for any signs of movement. It was not much longer before their attention was arrested as his head moved restlessly on the pillow.

Max’s eyelids flickered and lifted, and for the first time in those five long days his blue eyes opened, closed and opened again. He looked at nothing in particular for a few moments, and then at the ceiling above him. He moved his jaw slightly as if trying to speak, but the intubation tube wouldn’t let him. Doro and Miranda both stood quickly and moved to opposite sides of the bed, leaning in above him so that he could see them more easily. His eyes gradually focused, widened in recognition, and flickered from one to the other in confusion. His brain was clearly trying to work out what on earth could have happened to put Miranda and his mother in the same room.

“Maxi?” Doro bent and kissed his cheek, beaming. “Ich bin hier. Mach dir keine Sorgen. Du bist im Krankenhaus. Papa ist auch hier, Maxi. Alles wir gut.” She lifted his hand and kissed that too. His face lightened, and he tried to smile at his mother around the tube. Feebly but unmistakeably, he squeezed her fingers as she held his hand.

Miranda smiled as she watched this exchange. She touched his shoulder gently. “Hi Max. We’ve been waiting for you to wake up.”

His eyes crinkled in a smile as he looked from his mother to his partner. With an obvious effort, he lifted the hand nearest to Miranda a few inches off the blanket, stretching his fingers towards her. Miranda took his hand and laced her fingers through his, exchanging a gentle squeeze. He recognises us, she thought. The relief was like letting go of a breath she hadn’t known she was holding. He’s not brain-damaged, he’s still Max. He knows who we are.

“Ich werde gehen und deinen Papa holen,” Doro declared happily, stepping back from the bed.

“Oh, I can go and tell Gert, if you’d like to stay with Max,” Miranda offered at once, knowing how precious every moment with her son must seem to Doro. But when she tried to unclasp her hand from Max’s, he tightened his grip a little, so that she paused. “I’ll go and get your dad, Max. And then I’ll come back.”

He moved his head slightly in a slow nod, and released her fingers. Miranda stood, returned Doro’s smile and left the room in search of Gert, who was standing by the coffee machine in the corridor chatting to one of the nurses. When she told Gert that Max was awake and had recognised them, he took her by surprise when he enveloped her in a bear-hug, kissed her heartily on the cheek and held her away from him by her shoulders, beaming. He hurried away to Max’s room, while Miranda stood in a slight daze, her hand to her cheek where she had been kissed. A small, surprised smile on her face, she took out her phone and called Carmen and then Inés, asking them to spread the good news amongst Max’s friends and colleagues.

After that, she went back to Max and his parents and the medical staff who had come hurrying to check on him. He was able to nod and shake his head to answer questions, and they told him a simple version of what had happened to put him in hospital, but he was obviously still very weak, and after only a few more minutes he had fallen asleep again. Dr. Garza, however, said that all the signs were good. He had regained consciousness and showed no signs yet of brain damage. Although his road to a full recovery would still be a long one, the worst fears were over, and the sick feeling in Miranda’s stomach had disappeared completely for the first time in five days.

Leaving his parents watching over the sleeping Max, Miranda returned from the hospital to her apartment that evening and ate her supper sitting at the little table on her balcony, looking out at the expensive yachts moored in the marina.

I wish I was religious, she thought to herself. I feel like saying a prayer of thanks to someone.

She got up and walked into her bedroom, where the icon of St. Nicholas hung on the wall. She might never know for certain whether she owned the genuine priceless icon or the copy, but whenever she looked at it she thought affectionately of Father Santiago. She looked at the icon and said out loud, “Thank you.”

Later she went to bed and, for the first time since the shooting, slept peacefully all through the night.

***