Actions

Work Header

Not Allowed To Die

Chapter Text

Max Winter’s classic BMW hummed along the road back towards Palma. He and Miranda Blake had just completed a long afternoon’s work on their new case. A German billionaire whose gated mansion overlooked the sea near Porto Cristo had reported the pilfering of antiques and valuables from his home. Expensive items had been disappearing, one at a time, for several months, and the German billionaire suspected that one of his staff was responsible.   Max and Miranda had duly taken details of the stolen items, inspected the locations from which they had gone missing and interviewed sundry members of the billionaire’s staff. They had noticed that the housekeeper had the same unusual surname as a well-known local petty crook and they were planning to look into any possible connections.  

In the late afternoon Max had started complaining of hunger and trying to wrap up interviews more quickly. At the same time, Miranda had had enough of being told how to do her job by the complaining, charmless billionaire. Rather than argue with Max, she had been ready to agree to his suggestion that the next part of the investigation could wait until tomorrow. Once he knew that they were heading home and that his evening meal would be coming soon, Max had quickly cheered up. He was playing upbeat music and talking about food as they sped away from Porto Cristo.

“Christian says that new fusion restaurant near my place is amazing,” he enthused.

“Fusion isn’t even an actual cuisine,” Miranda said sceptically. “A fusion restaurant is just one that can’t make up its mind about what it wants to be.”

“Not at all, they have adventurous chefs who dare to mix flavours and cultures,” Max insisted. “You should open your mind, Miranda, and give something new a try. I’m thinking of going there tonight, want to come?”

“No thanks, I’m busy tonight.”

“Doing what? Your laundry? Rearranging your wardrobe in alphabetical order? Feeding the stray dog you don’t even like?”

Apart from an indignant glare and compressed lips, Miranda refused to rise to this provocation.

“Well, enjoy your busy evening,” Max continued, when he didn’t get an answer. “Think of me enjoying a delicious meal, and -“

He was interrupted by a crackle from the police radio, which was tucked into a car pocket in front of Miranda. “Calling all mobile units, any units in the vicinity of the 4020 road near Manacor please respond.”

Max and Miranda exchanged a startled glance, and Miranda reached for the radio. After muting Max’s cheerful CD, she pressed the police radio’s transmit button. “This is Detective Blake. Detective Winter and I are right here on the 4020; we’ve just left Porto Cristo going in the direction of Manacor.”

“Thank you for responding, Detective. A uniformed team have requested assistance. They were making an arrest of some suspected drug dealers who escaped from them. The suspects were last seen driving towards Porto Cristo approximately ten minutes ago. They must be heading right for you. Uniform are in pursuit, but some way back. They have lost visual contact with the suspects.”

“Can you describe the car, please?”

“Silver Audi, two men inside, damage to driver’s side headlight, registration ends with YRH. There’s a possibility one man may be armed.”

“We’ll watch out for them.”

“Thank you, Detective. Will advise Uniform you are in the area.”

Max looked at the few cars which were passing them in the opposite direction. “This is going to make us really late for dinner,” he complained.

It was only a minute later that Miranda said, “There – look!” Coming towards them, at a noticeably high speed, was a silver Audi. As it approached, they could see the damage to the headlight. “YRH, two men,” said Miranda, as the car sped past. “That’s them.”

The road happened to be clear of all other traffic at that moment, allowing Max to swing the BMW into a swift U-turn. He pressed his foot down on the accelerator and set off in pursuit of the Audi.  Miranda got back on the radio.

“Detective Blake here. We have a visual on the silver Audi, two men inside, registration ending in YRH. Now in pursuit of them, heading towards Porto Cristo on the 4020.”

They followed the silver Audi as it sped down the road ahead, rapidly approaching the big roundabout on the outskirts of Porto Cristo. The driver of the Audi went into the roundabout a little too fast and took a sharp right, tyres squealing, avoiding the town and turning onto a long straight stretch of road which ran parallel to the coast. Max swung the steering wheel of the BMW round, negotiated the roundabout and increased speed again to catch up with the Audi. Miranda was hanging on to the side of the car with one hand and holding the radio with the other to give brief radio updates on their location.

On this straight road both cars could really accelerate. The Audi swerved dangerously to overtake a truck. Max waited for a gap in the traffic, got past the truck and set off in pursuit again. Miranda saw the Audi’s passenger turn to look at the BMW. “He’s seen us,” she said.

“Yes. Stick the light on.” Miranda reached for the blue light they hardly ever used, pulled it out, leaned forward around the windscreen to stick the magnetic light onto the bonnet in front of her and switched it on. The blue light began to flash, confirming to the Audi’s occupants that they were being followed by an unmarked police car.

“They’re not stopping.” At the sight of the flashing light, the Audi’s driver had accelerated still more.

“Scheisse.”

“At least they’re not shooting at us. Maybe they’re not armed after all?”

The road had curved around towards the coast and in the distance they could see the shimmering blue of the Balearic Sea and a cluster of seafront homes and apartments. A smaller roundabout was ahead. The Audi checked its speed before heading straight across, with the BMW close behind it.

“He doesn’t know where he’s going,” said Miranda. “He’s just going to get stuck in all those streets of houses down by Cala Magrana.”

“Maybe they’re planning to dump the car and run for it.” All Max’s concentration was on the road ahead.

The road had split into a network of residential streets – red-roofed villas, apartments, gardens, parked cars and a few residents turning to look curiously at the two cars travelling so fast. The Audi rounded another corner into a dead-end street and screeched to a halt. At the end of the street, a footpath led down towards a rocky cove and the blue, blue sea. As the Audi’s occupants jumped from the car and sprinted for the footpath, Max slammed on his brakes and Miranda threw open her door.

“They’re out of the car, on foot heading down towards the cove. We’re in pursuit,” she shouted into the radio, as Max snatched his keys from the ignition, jumped from the car and ran.

“Received. Thank you, Detective. Uniform should be with you very soon – two teams on their way.”

There was no sight or sound of the uniformed police yet as Miranda dropped the radio and raced after Max.

If the suspects had been hoping to get away by running along the beach, they had made a terrible mistake. Sloping slabs of rock scattered with pebbles led down to the water and huge boulders lined the way on each side. There was no sandy beach here. The only way to escape was to slither across the stones to the water’s edge and try to clamber over the large rocks which lined the coast. One of the men from the Audi had reached the shoreline, turned right and was desperately slipping and sliding over the rocks in an attempt to climb round to the next cove. Max, pebbles flying under his feet, was gaining on him fast.

“Palma police! Stop!”

The second man seemed to have disappeared. Miranda paused and looked around, but could not see him. Was he further ahead? Had he already made it along the rocks and around the corner, out of her sight? She hurried forward again, trying to catch up with Max and the man he had almost reached. At last, she could hear the sound of police sirens growing louder behind her. They would soon have plenty of backup in the pursuit of the suspects.

It was at that moment she saw the second man. He must have got ahead, and dodged behind one of the huge boulders on the right-hand side, near the water’s edge. As Max ran past that boulder, the man stepped out suddenly behind him. Before she could react, Miranda saw a handgun extended and heard the shot. Not the sharp crack of a small pistol, but the deep boom of a much larger-calibre weapon. The sound echoed off the rocks in all directions.

As if in slow motion, her warning shout barely on her lips, Miranda saw Max stopped and spun around by the force of the bullet hitting him in the back. He did not make a sound or raise a hand before he went down. A brief expression of surprise crossed his face as he crumpled and fell forwards, his head striking the rocks beneath him.

“Max!”

The man who had shot Max must have heard Miranda cry out, because he whipped round and saw her behind him. He raised the gun again, but this time Miranda was faster. A wave of white-hot fury and shock surged through her, but her trained instinct kicked in. She pulled her own gun from its holster and fired into the shoulder of the man who had shot Max. His weapon flew from his hand and clattered away among the rocks, while he screamed and wrapped his injured arm around his torso in agony.

The sounds of shouts and running feet scattering the pebbles nearby alerted Miranda to the uniformed police units who had finally arrived. Four Spanish officers skidded to a horrified halt beside her as they took in the scene – Miranda ashen and aghast with the gun in her hand, the shooter writhing in pain on the ground beyond her and, another few metres further away, Max face-down, unmoving, with a horrible red stain spreading fast across the back of his shirt.

Miranda let her Spanish colleagues take custody of the shooter, grab his weapon, chase the other suspect over the rocks and make urgent calls for more backup and an ambulance. She had sprung into action, holstering her gun automatically before flying across the stones towards Max, throwing herself down on her knees, feeling for a pulse in his neck and calling his name.

“Max! Max! It’s okay - the ambulance is coming, Max – can you hear me?”

There was a faint, thready pulse in his sun-browned neck. His breaths were fast and shallow - the breaths of someone losing blood, going into shock, gasping for oxygen. He was unconscious and his lips were becoming blue-tinged. More blood was pooling on the stones below the wound on his head.

Miranda felt a hand on her shoulder. It was a young uniformed officer she knew was called Mateo. “Better not to move him – the ambulancia will be here soon. But we can try to stop the bleeding – here –“ He pulled off his light jacket and held it out to Miranda.   His partner was already running back to their vehicle for the first aid kit, to find some dressings or bandages or anything they could press on to that awful wound to try to staunch the blood. The warm blood which kept welling up through Miranda’s numb fingers as she pressed the fabric of Mateo’s jacket down on to Max’s back with all the strength she could still summon.

It felt like a year, but was in fact less than ten minutes, before they heard the wailing siren of the approaching ambulance.

***

Chapter Text

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.

Chapter Text

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.

***

Chapter Text

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.

***