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Not Allowed To Die

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Dr. Garza’s voice was calm and patient. “Max, can you hear me?” He nodded. “We are going to take out the tube in your throat now. Be calm and keep still, and when it is out we will give you something to drink.” Her hands were gentle and deft, but Max flinched slightly as the tape holding the tube in place was pulled carefully away from his skin. “Sorry! Now take a deep breath in…that’s it…and now a big breath out…that’s great!” As he had breathed out, and then coughed, the tube had been quickly removed. “And breathe in and out for me again…Lovely!” She produced her stethoscope and listened to his chest again, before nodding in satisfaction.

As Dr. Garza stepped back, the nurse pressed the button to raise the head of the bed a little higher and passed Max a small cup of water. “Try to take a few sips. Your throat may be sore from the tube. Having a drink will make it easier to talk.”

He took the cup and sipped, swallowing experimentally a few times and moving his hand to rub his throat.

Doro had been watching him anxiously from one of the chairs near the bed. “How are you feeling now?” she asked, as Dr. Garza left the room with a nod to them.

He handed the cup back to the nurse, looked at his mother and smiled reassuringly. “I’m…okay, Mama. Bit…sore.” His voice was a little rasping, rusty after nearly a week of silence.  

Gert leaned forward and gave his son an encouraging pat on the arm, clearly restraining himself from making it a heartier slap in deference to the patient’s weakness. “You gave us a fright, you know?”

“I’m sorry…” Max took his mother’s hand. “Sorry to worry you…Mama.”

Doro smiled at him. “How many times, Maxi, have you got yourself into trouble and then said you were sorry to worry me?” That made him laugh a little, and the laughter was followed by coughing and wincing.

“Don’t try to talk too much at first,” warned the nurse, straightening the pillows behind his head. “Your lungs need to rest. You’ll find you get breathless very easily, but it will improve soon.”

Max glanced around the hospital room. “Miranda…she’s…not here…today?”

His mother shot a significant look at his father. “No. She did come in this morning, just for a little while, but you were asleep. She’s gone into the office today because your boss wanted her to talk to the people who are investigating how you got shot,” Doro explained. “She said she would come and see you later, though.”

“She looks out for you, your partner,” Gert commented, patting his son on the arm again.

Max nodded, and reached for the cup to take another few sips of water.  

***

“Hi.”

Miranda put her head around the door of the hospital room. Max had been moved from the intensive care unit to another ward. The television on the wall opposite was on showing a rolling news channel, but he was not really watching it, although his eyes were open.

“Hi.” He looked pleased to see her. “Come and…sit down.” He nodded towards the chair nearest to the bed.

“You were asleep when I stopped by this morning,” Miranda said, sitting down. “How are you feeling?”

“Okay. Tired.”

“Well, I suppose you’re allowed to feel tired, even though you were asleep for five days!” Miranda looked at the assortment of cards on the bedside table, most of them dwarfed by the huge Get Well card which Federico had got everyone at work to sign. “The doctor said you just have to rest and take things easy.”

“I know.”

“Do you have any pain?”

“Not really…Got me on…the good stuff.”   Talking was still hard work and made him breathless very quickly.

“Your mum texted me to say they wouldn’t be here this evening because they were going back to your apartment, doing some grocery shopping and having a rest,” Miranda said. “But you probably knew that.”

He nodded, and then his eyes crinkled in a smile. “You’re…friends…with my mother now?”

Miranda coloured a little. “I really like her. And your dad. They’re easy to talk to. You’re lucky to have parents like them.”

He nodded again. “I know…gave them a…hard time…when I was…younger, though.”

“I think they’ve forgiven you.”   Miranda paused, and looked towards the door. It was fairly unusual to find Max on his own. Doro and Gert spent a lot of time at the hospital, and there were usually nurses and doctors going in and out. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to speak to him in private about something she wanted to say. “Max – I wanted to apologise.”

His eyebrows went up. “What for?”

“The day of the shooting. It was my fault. I heard the warning about the suspects being armed. I should have insisted we put on our vests. I should have been quicker when he pulled out his gun –“

Max reached out a hand and grasped her arm. “Stop.”

She stopped talking.

“I may have…holes in my memory,” he said, pausing frequently to get his breath, “but I know…one thing…for sure. This wasn’t…your fault.”

“That’s what Inés says. And your parents. But –“

“They’re right. You saved both…our lives.   And if one of us…had to get shot…I’m glad it was me.” Max was breathless again after this speech, but his eyes were very blue and serious. “Promise me, Miranda…never blame yourself again.”

She managed a half-smile. “I’ll try.”

“Good.” He released her arm, and his familiar smile lit up his face. He held out his hand to her. “Compañeros?”

She took the hand he offered. “Compañeros.”

For a moment they smiled at each other, until she let go of his hand as the nurse bustled into the room.

***

For some days after this, Max continued to sleep a lot, waking occasionally to exchange a few words with his friends and family and obediently swallow the food replacements and medications he was given. It was strange to see the normally ebullient and talkative Max so quiet, but Dr. Garza said that this was normal, that he needed to keep resting and healing, and that in another few days he would be feeling much more alert and able to hold longer conversations with his visitors.

Dr. Garza proved to be right. A week later Max was much brighter and feeling more up to receiving visitors. With his condition improving steadily, many friends and colleagues expressed a wish to check on him. Inés had been an early visitor, telling him off for getting himself shot but not sounding convincingly cross. She had even ordered Max to hurry up and get himself fit again, because she couldn’t concentrate on her work when the outer office was so unnaturally quiet.    

Miranda and Carmen visited him together one afternoon, on the day when the last dressing on his forehead had been removed, leaving a bright red scar which would fade with time. People would still be able to see it though, even if they couldn’t see the ugly puckered scar of the bullet wound in his back or the long curving line of the adjoining scar left by the surgeries.

“How did you get on this morning?” Miranda asked, while Carmen was kissing Max on both cheeks and telling him how much better he looked. The team who were investigating the shooting incident had visited Max in hospital that morning to take his statement. The man who had shot him had already made one appearance in court charged with attempted murder, illegal possession of a firearm, drug dealing and other charges.

“Okay.” He shrugged, and winced slightly. “I don’t think I was…much help. All I can remember is…following the Audi. I can’t even remember…the beach, apart from what…you’ve told me.” He was finding it easier to talk now, but it was still something of an effort and made him breathless if he talked too much.

“It doesn’t really matter, they’ve got plenty of evidence without your statement,” Miranda assured him.

“The man who shot you will go to prison for a long, long time,” said Carmen happily. “I wish I had seen Miranda shoot him.”

“It wasn’t really much fun, Carmen,” Miranda said flatly. She had been trying hard not to think about those moments on the seashore directly after Max had been shot, although she could still relive them very vividly if she closed her eyes and she had a feeling they might return to her in dreams for years to come.  

***

“Miranda, won’t you come and have dinner with us tonight?” Doro Winter asked one evening, as they were both leaving the hospital. “At the apartment? I feel like I haven’t seen much of you for the last few days, now that your boss has you back in the office most days. Please come and eat with us.”

Miranda hesitated, but faced with a compelling stare from Doro, she quickly gave in. “Of course. I’d love to.”

Miranda had never seen Max’s apartment as tidy as it was when she arrived that evening, a bottle of wine in her hand. Doro and Carmen between them had done so much cleaning since the shooting that Max might not recognise his home when he was finally allowed out of hospital. Gert greeted her genially at the door and took the bottle from her, making a few comments about Spanish wines as he did so. Having hung Miranda’s jacket up, he went on to chat about the white wines of Germany. Miranda thought she could tell where Max’s interest in wine had first been sparked.

Doro had been exploring the food markets of Palma during the times when she wasn’t at the hospital. For dinner that evening, she had bought some fresh fish from the market and prepared it with some delicious crispy potato balls and a sauce she explained Gert was particularly fond of.

“Did you teach Max how to cook?” Miranda asked, after complimenting the food. She did not consider herself a foodie, like Max, but this meal was really delicious.

“Yes, he was always interested in food and cooking. He was helping me in the kitchen when he was just a little boy. He is better with savoury dishes, though. He always says he cannot get his cakes and biscuits to taste like mine.” Doro looked rather complacent.

Miranda smiled. “I can tell that you’re really close. He’s lucky to have a mother like you.”

Doro put extra potato balls on Miranda’s plate. She seemed to have a conviction that Miranda needed feeding up, but her blue eyes grew more serious as she said, “Max told us – your mother had died? I was very sorry to hear that.”

“Yes. But we weren’t very close. Not like you and Max.” Miranda paused. She did not often share personal stories about her past but, as she had noticed before, Doro was very easy to talk to. “My parents were quite strict. They always had very high expectations for me. Their relationship wasn’t great when I was growing up. They didn’t have fights but they would stop talking to each other. It made the atmosphere in the house – difficult. When I was twelve my Mam moved out. I know now that it wasn’t my fault, but I blamed myself at the time because that’s what children do. She moved quite a long way away and I didn’t see her much. She remarried, but Dad never has. I did get closer to my Dad after it was just the two of us, but he’s quite a reserved person. He finds it hard to show his emotions. Probably why I do too.” Miranda fell silent, surprised that she had shared so much.

“And then she died - ?” Doro prompted. There was a look of pity on her face.

“When I was at university. She had cancer. I didn’t even know she was ill until her husband phoned to say she had died, so I didn’t get to go and say goodbye.”

Doro pressed Miranda’s hand, and Gert looked at her very kindly.   There was a little silence, until Miranda shook her head and said, forcing a lighter tone, “Well, it’s all in the past now. But I can see how lucky Max was to have had parents like you.”

“Have you told him all this?” Doro wondered aloud, as she began to stack empty serving dishes. “About yourself?”

Miranda nodded. “Most of it – yes. We have a lot of time to talk, you know – all that sitting around together on surveillance or driving around the island to interview suspects.”

Doro nodded understandingly, and changed the subject by announcing that she had made a chocolate cake for dessert, and she hoped that Miranda still had room for it.

At the end of the meal, Gert insisted on driving Miranda home in Max’s BMW, although she had walked from her apartment before dinner and she protested that she could very easily walk back.

“I love this car,” Gert said, as he turned the key in the ignition. The evening air was warm and smelled of bougainvillea.   “It used to be mine, you know? I gave it to Max for his twenty-first birthday. I’m glad he takes good care of it.”

“He loves this car too,” said Miranda. She tilted her face to the warm breeze which was blowing through her hair, feeling sleepy and well-fed.

Gert drove for a short way through the twisting streets before saying, “Max – he’s like me in many ways. We always got on well, until he argued with me about his career. I wanted him to come into my business. It’s a good business. I’ve spent my life building it up, and I would have liked to hand it over to my only son. But it wasn’t what he wanted.” Gert braked at a junction. “Left or right here?”

“Left, then next right.”

The car moved forwards again. “I said some harsh things to Max when he first joined the police force, back in Munich. I was upset for a long time, yes, but Doro said it was more important for him to do what he loved, and I see that now. Max’s cousin Paul came into the business instead. Max says he doesn’t mind if I leave the business to Paul, but I’m not sure if he means it or not.”

“If he said it, he means it,” Miranda said. “He jokes a lot – but not about serious things.” She leaned forwards as the car hummed smoothly along the waterfront road. “It’s just down here – the next block.”

Gert pulled the BMW into the kerb where she indicated, and put out his hand to grasp hers as he said goodnight. “I’m glad we have got to know you, Detective Miranda. Sleep well.”

***

As the days in hospital went by, Max was able to talk more without becoming breathless, and stay awake for longer periods. When he did not have visitors, and there was nothing watchable on the television, he began to complain of boredom. Dr. Garza warned him that if he felt bored she would step up his sessions with the physiotherapist, which would keep him out of mischief. Max suspected that the physiotherapist enjoyed inflicting pain on him, so he was not anxious to increase their time together. Another thing he had started complaining about was the hospital food. Max loved his food and was unimpressed with the meals he was currently being offered. One evening he was pushing the remains of his dinner around the plate with a fork, looking at it with distaste, when Miranda arrived for a visit. They had been chatting for a while before he noticed her taking something from her pocket, putting it in her mouth and chewing it.

“What are you eating? I’m sick of this hospital food. It’s so –“ he searched for a descriptive word – “mushy.”

“It’s one of Carmen’s sesame biscuits. She keeps giving me snacks. She’s decided I haven’t been eating enough.” Miranda pulled the paper bag out of her jacket pocket to show him. “I’d give you one, but I don’t want to get into trouble with your doctor if it turns out you’re only allowed to eat mush.”

He gave her the pleading puppy-dog look. “Just one? Please?”

Miranda sighed and handed over a biscuit. Max crunched it with an expression of bliss on his face. “Can I have another?”

“I thought you said just one?”

“You’re a cruel woman, Blake. Okay,” Max sighed. Then he grinned. “Anyway, Christian’s promised to sneak me in some bierocks from the German deli near the station.”

“If you really think eating those disgusting-smelling things will do you any good, go right ahead,” Miranda snapped.

Max threw his head back on the pillow and cast up his eyes. “Oh, thank God.”

“For what?” Miranda was taken aback.

“You’re arguing with me and glaring at me again like normal. You were being so nice to me, I was scared I must be dying or something.”

“Ugh, Max.” Miranda didn’t know whether to laugh, glare or throw something at him. In the end, she got up and said, “Well, I must be going.”

His hand shot out and caught her by the wrist. “Come and see me after work tomorrow. Please? I miss arguing with you.”

She looked down at his fingers wrapped around her wrist, before looking up to give him a smile which was unusually unguarded. “All right, Max. I promise to come and argue with you tomorrow.”

***

The next day Max’s parents came to say goodbye to him, for now. They were scheduled to return to Germany to attend his cousin Svenja’s wedding the following weekend, and Max, who knew how much his mother had been looking forward to this huge family occasion, had insisted that they did not cancel on his account. “I’m fine now,” he had assured them. “Getting better every day. And I’m sure you have a lovely new outfit for the wedding, Mama, that shouldn’t go to waste.”

“Maybe,” Doro had said reluctantly, “but remember, as soon as they let you out of here and give you permission to fly, you’re coming home to Munich for a while so I can look after you and build up your strength.”

“Yes, Mama. I promise. You can pamper me and feed me as much Bienenstich as you like. But for now, go to Svenja’s wedding and have fun. Don’t you trust the beautiful nurses to look after me?”

His mother laughed and patted him on the cheek. “Wait till I get you home, Maxi. I’m only leaving you because Miranda’s promised to report back to me if you don’t follow the doctor’s orders. I trust her.”

Max flung up his hands in protest. “Now all the women in my life are ganging up on me!” Doro laughed again and left the room to go and have a word with the nurse at the ward reception desk. When she had gone, Gert came and sat down heavily in the bedside chair and gave his son a long steady look that made Max feel suddenly apprehensive.

“So,” Gert said after a weighty pause. “Who would have thought it? My son and an Englishwoman.”

“Don’t let Miranda hear you call her English,” Max said lightly, trying to deflect the conversation. “She’s Welsh. Apparently it’s not okay to call a Welsh person English.” He pulled a comical face.

Gert was not to be deflected. “No matter. What I can see is that you care for her very much – and she cares for you.”

Max plucked at the bedclothes uncomfortably, not meeting his father’s eyes. “She’s my partner, Papa. You always look out for your partner. Anyway, Miranda doesn’t –“

“Doesn’t what? Doesn’t care for you? Max, I’ve seen that girl sitting with you for hours when you were unconscious. And I’ve seen her face when she was telling us about your injuries. Don’t tell me that girl doesn’t have feelings for you, because I won’t believe you.”

“She doesn’t do relationships, Papa. She just – doesn’t.”

“You could have fooled me. I don’t know what you call what the two of you have, but to me it looks exactly like a relationship. Maybe you’re in one without even knowing it.” Gert paused. “And what’s more,” he added, “your mother and I like her. We think she’s good for you.”

Max groaned in mortification.  “Please, Papa. Whatever you do, stay out of my love life.”

***

Doro and Gert had long departed to catch their flight to Munich by the time Miranda arrived at the hospital that evening. She had brought with her some books Max had asked her to collect from his apartment. When she walked in, Max was sitting on the bedside chair.

“Hey, you’re out of bed! That’s good.” She moved a jug of water along the bedside table so that she could put down the small pile of books.

“Not very far. But I can do this now, look.” He demonstrated moving himself from the chair to the side of the bed and back again, before sighing wearily and lying full-length on the bed once more, a little breathless. “I’m as weak as a kitten. The physiotherapist has been torturing me this afternoon. I’m exhausted.”

“But you’ll get there,” Miranda said encouragingly. She sat down on the chair. “Look, Carmen has sent you your very own bag of sesame biscuits. And I watered your plants when I picked up your books - although they didn’t really need it, your mum has been taking amazing care of them.”

“Thanks.” He put his hands behind his head and sighed. “I’m bored. Tell me about work. What’s happening?”

“Not much. Another team has cleared up the case of the billionaire’s stolen antiques. Do you remember that?” He nodded. “As we suspected, the housekeeper was passing them on to her son to fence. Since you’re not there, Inés has got me reviewing cold cases, going through witness statements and finding out if anything’s been kept in evidence that might be DNA tested. Most of the team are working on a really boring immigration case involving a packaging company and their illegal workers. I don’t think we’re missing much by not being on that one. And Federico's complaining about a case he was sent to where a farmworker drowned in a slurry pit up near Pollensa. He says he can’t get the smell of it out of his nose.”

Max smiled, but still looked wistful. “Tell me about some of the cold cases. I need entertaining.”

“You’re supposed to be resting, not thinking about work.” But she leaned forwards and began to tell him about the unsolved case of a woman who had gone missing from Palma fifteen years before. And while she talked, Max studied her affectionately – the swing of her straight blonde hair and the gestures of her hands as she described something – the animation of her eyes and mouth – and he smiled as he watched and listened to her, until fatigue overcame him and his eyes closed.

When she realised he was asleep, Miranda stopped speaking, looked at the peaceful expression on his face, sighed, and got up to leave as quietly as she could.

***

“They’re letting Max out of hospital on Friday,” Miranda reported to Inés, three weeks to the day since the shooting. “But Dr. Garza won’t let him fly to Munich for another two weeks – because you have to make sure a pneumothorax is healed enough before you can go in a pressurised aircraft. So he’s going to have to rest up in his apartment for the first two weeks of sick leave, before he can go to stay with his parents.”

“Will he be all right by himself?” Inés asked. “I know what Winter is like; he’ll probably try to do something stupid and make himself ill again.”

Miranda looked a little embarrassed and failed to meet Inés’s gimlet-sharp eyes. “Carmen and Christian are going to take turns keeping an eye on him during the daytime, and I’ve offered to stay there at night.”

There was a pause.

“Max’s mother said she’d be happier if she knew there was someone there with him to make sure he follows the doctor’s orders and rests,” Miranda added, rather defensively.

Another pause.

“There’s a sofa I can sleep on.” Miranda sounded even more defensive. “Max says he doesn’t mind. It won’t be for very long, after all.” When she looked up, Inés was looking at her with a very strange expression. “What is it, Inés?”

Inés leaned back in her chair and shook her head. “Why do you make life so difficult for yourself, Miranda? Why don’t you just give yourself permission to be happy?”

Miranda’s mouth fell open in surprise.

“It is allowed, you know,” Inés continued. “And if everything that’s just happened has shown you anything, it should be that everything can change in a moment, and you should make the most of what you have while you have it.”

Miranda closed her mouth again. She had absolutely no answer to that.

***

When Max finally left the hospital on Friday, he bade a fond farewell to his nurses, who looked genuinely sorry to be losing one of their favourite patients. Acting on Max’s request, Miranda had purchased a huge box of chocolates which he presented to the ward staff to share.

“It feels so weird to be wearing shoes again,” Max commented, as Christian drove him and Miranda away from the hospital. Carmen was waiting to welcome them at Max’s apartment, which was still incredibly clean and tidy. A light but appetising meal was waiting on the table for their arrival, and Max looked delighted to see it. He had already had a joyful reunion with his car, stroking the side of the BMW affectionately when he found it parked in its space beneath his apartment.

The four of them ate together companionably. They did not speak about the shooting. Miranda told a few more stories about the cold cases she was investigating. Christian shared a few scandalous anecdotes about some of the clients he had been chauffeuring around the island lately. Max joined Christian in teasing Carmen for information about how it was going with her boyfriend of three months, David, but Carmen refused to be drawn, except to say that David was an electrician and much more reliable at keeping his appointments with her than some people she could mention.

It was still only eight o’clock when they finished eating, but Max had yawned quite a few times in the later stages of the meal. He was clearly delighted to be out of hospital and back with his friends, talking and laughing, but he still had much less than his usual stamina.

“I will wash these things up before I go home,” Carmen said, stacking dishes and cutlery. “Christian, will you carry that tray for me, please?”

“I’ll help you,” Max offered, also standing up.

“No you won’t,” Miranda said firmly. “You look tired and you’re supposed to be resting. Dr. Garza said not to overdo it.”

“But it’s –“

“Bed. Now.” She pointed a commanding finger towards the bedroom door.

“My friend, I’d advise you to just say Yes dear,” Christian called in a mocking tone from the kitchen.

Max raised his hands in a gesture of surrender. “Okay, okay, I’m going.”

He walked slowly into the bedroom with Miranda following behind him, and collapsed on to the bed, kicking off his shoes. “Oh, it feels so good to be out of the hospital and back in my own bed.” He hugged a pillow contentedly. “I can’t wait to get back to normal.”

Miranda stared at him from the doorway. Normal?

With any luck, after a few more months of recovery, Max would be passed as fit to go back to work. One day they would be able to share an office together again, to drive around the island together again and to solve crimes together again.

But did she want everything to be the same as it had been before?

Miranda thought about all she had lived through in the past few weeks. Her terror at the moment when Max had collapsed in front of her. The awful feeling of fear during the first few days in the intensive care units. Her realisation that the prospect of life without him was something she did not even want to contemplate. Her new relationship with his parents, who had made her feel so welcome and included in their lives. Yes, the shooting had been a terrible thing, but it had made her confront new possibilities. Possibilities she had once closed herself off from, but which now seemed more…well, possible.

There were conversations to be had, confessions to be made and even risks to be taken, but she knew now that they could not go back, but had to go forward.

“Why don’t you just give yourself permission to be happy, Miranda?” Inés had asked.

“Perhaps I will, soon,” Miranda murmured to herself, as she turned away from the bedroom door and went to join Christian and Carmen in the kitchen.

***