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Permission To Be Happy

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Miranda Blake ate her breakfast sitting on the balcony of her apartment. Her phone was on the table in front of her and she was reading the local news headlines. Specifically, she was reading the item about yesterday’s court appearance for the man who had shot her partner, Max Winter, three months earlier. The man had been remanded in custody again. Court cases progressed slowly, but since he was insisting on pleading not guilty to attempted murder there would one day be a trial, at which she and Max would have to give evidence. That was tedious, but the eventual guilty verdict was not in doubt.

Miranda looked up from her phone screen and gazed unseeingly across the blue waters of the harbour and the bobbing boats, thinking of all the events of the last three months. Max had been lucky to survive the shooting, spending days in intensive care after life-saving surgery. After his release from hospital he had spent a fortnight recuperating in his apartment until the doctors had been satisfied that his injured lung was healed enough for him to fly to stay with his parents in Munich. His friends Carmen and Christian had kept an eye on him during that fortnight, while Miranda had spent every evening and night at his apartment, reassuring his mother Doro that she would not let Max ignore doctor’s orders or do anything but rest.

It had been surprising how quickly they had got into a routine while she had been staying at Max’s apartment, Miranda reflected. She had expected to miss her privacy and her own space while she was spending two weeks sleeping on Max’s sofa, but she had actually found it quite easy to get used to this living arrangement. She had checked on Max every morning when she woke; usually he was still fast asleep, since despite being on the road to recovery he still slept much more than normal. If he was still asleep when she was ready to leave for work, she had left a glass of water and some fruit by his bedside for when he woke. If he had woken earlier, or if she was not working, they had had breakfast together.   She had become comfortable with walking around his apartment in the old T-shirt and pyjama shorts she had slept in. In the evenings they had watched films together, or read, or listened to music. Sometimes Miranda had worked on her laptop, and sometimes Christian or Carmen, or both, had come round for dinner. They had thoroughly domesticated conversations about the shopping list; about the need to buy milk or washing-up liquid. And they talked, of course – about all sorts of things. They didn’t even argue that much. It was all a lot less awkward than Miranda had expected. If she had been asked several months earlier, she would have said that Max would have been a deeply annoying flat-mate, but actually it had been…all right. Enjoyable, even. Almost like being married but without sharing a bed. And she was not going to let her imagination go there. Absolutely not.

In fact, after two weeks she had got so used to being there that it had almost come as a shock when those weeks were up and Max departed for Munich. Christian had driven him to the airport, while Miranda had tidied the apartment, cleaned out the fridge, locked up and gone home to her own place, which felt weirdly…empty. She was a very self-sufficient person who had always relished having her own space, but it had taken her a few days to get used to living alone again. Almost as if there was something missing.

Miranda had not worried about Max at all while he had been in Germany. He had kept in touch with texts, pictures and FaceTiming, and so had his mother, who had obviously enjoyed spoiling him rotten. There was no way Doro would have allowed him to overdo things or disregard the instructions about resting. In addition, Max had clearly been having a lovely time being stuffed with his mother’s cooking and catching up with friends and family who had flocked to the Winter home to check on his recovery after the shooting.

After three weeks in Munich, Max had returned to Mallorca for the remainder of his sick leave. At first he had enjoyed lazing around, sitting in the sun, reading and hanging out with his friends. Eventually he had got bored and started swimming, cycling, trying to rebuild his fitness and pestering Miranda and his other colleagues for gossip about the cases they were working on. This had progressed to pestering Inés to let him come back to work. (“I’m fine now, honestly!”) Inés, however, seconded by Miranda, had refused to allow him to return before his three-month check-up, even to do desk work.

Yesterday had been the day when Dr. Garza had examined his scars, listened to his lungs and said, “Well, providing you start gently and don’t do too much actual running around after criminals for the first few weeks, I don’t see why you shouldn’t go back to work.” Max had managed to restrain himself from hugging her, before sending Miranda a meme of Schwarzenegger as the Terminator with the caption, I’M BACK!

Today was his first day back at work, if only on desk duty.

Miranda picked up her cup and plate, rose from her chair and walked to her kitchen. Unless questioned at gunpoint, she would have been reluctant to admit that she had missed Max. But the office had been much too quiet without him.

***

Another robbery!” Inés slapped the report down on to the desk in front of her with a loud bang and glared around the crowded room. Her assembled officers exchanged quick glances, shuffled their feet and made a mutual decision to keep very quiet.

“This can’t go on! I’ve had all of you on this for the last two weeks and not only have you not identified a single suspect, there have been three more identical armed robberies during that time!” Inés had reached the stage where she paced up and down the office, waving her hands to make her point. “That makes ten in the last two months!” She jabbed a finger viciously in the direction of the nearest people, who happened to be Mateo and Federico. They flinched away from her. “What am I supposed to say to the Mayor? To the Press? Am I supposed to say that even though there have been ten armed robberies at places full of rich foreigners, my officers don’t have a clue?”  

No one answered, wisely believing her questions to be rhetorical.

She cast another accusing glare around the room. Max and Miranda had carefully positioned themselves towards the back of the crowd, near the door. Max caught Miranda’s eye and grimaced uneasily. Miranda raised her eyebrows and gave a small nod of agreement.

“Right.” Inés took a few deep breaths. “This is what’s going to happen.   I’m sending a team out to each of the sites of the robberies again. Talk to every witness again. Search each location again. Check any CCTV again. If we’ve missed something, I want it found. And I want this case solved within the next week. No excuses!” She began to pick out specific officers from the crowd. “Romero, Salinas, I want you to go back to the yacht club where the first robbery happened.   Torres, Lozano, you go back to the Bulldog bar.”

The crowd of officers began to disperse as they were sent on their way. Eventually Inés’s gimlet eye alighted on Max and Miranda and she frowned a little. “Blake, you can go to the golf club with – maybe, Amador, when he gets back from court. Winter, you can make a start on reviewing the CCTV images –“

It was never wise to interrupt Inés when she was in this mood, but Max decided to stick his head above the parapet. “Inés, I could go with Miranda to the golf club. I’ve been tied to this desk for nearly two weeks now and I’m ready to get out there again. I really am.”

Inés swung her gaze on to Miranda. Miranda could feel Max’s eyes on her too, and although she was not looking at him, she knew exactly which pleading expression he was aiming at her. “It’s not as though we’d be doing any running around today, Inés. Mostly carrying out interviews and searching the crime scene again. I’m sure he’d be fine.”

Max held his breath. Inés gave him another hard look and then nodded brusquely. “Very well. Winter, go with Blake to the golf club. But don’t do anything stupid.”

“Thank you, Inés!” Max was effusive in his gratitude at being released from desk work. “And thank you, too, for backing me up,” he murmured more quietly to Miranda, as they closed down their computers and gathered up their jackets and bags.

“You’re welcome. And at least I won’t have to listen to your endless complaints about being bored.” Miranda led the way as they left the office.

***

Doing another meticulous search of the golf clubhouse where the eighth armed robbery had taken place and re-interviewing all the available witnesses was not the most exciting task, but Max was clearly delighted to be back in action and out of the office. He was smiling happily as he and Miranda exited the clubhouse to return to headquarters. “See, I’m totally fine. I can do my job. You can tell Inés that she doesn’t need to keep me tied to a desk any more, or wrapped up in cotton wool.”

Miranda followed him across the car park to the BMW. “Well, I don’t suppose Inés will take any notice of my recommendations, but at least I can tell your mother that you look perfectly well.”

“Is she still emailing you to check up on me?”

“Oh yes. I hear from her quite often. And she keeps sending me recipes. It’s very kind of her but I’m not sure why she thinks I need to learn to bake something called – what was it? – Vanilla something – Vanillakipper?”

Max stopped in his tracks and turned to her with an outraged expression.

Mama sent you her Vanillekipferl recipe? She won’t even give me that recipe! And I love those cookies. Mine are never as good as hers. You have to share it with me.”

Miranda raised a cool eyebrow as she got into the passenger seat of the BMW.   “If Doro won’t give it to you, I’m not sure I should be sharing it without her permission.”

“Well, make me some cookies then. Seriously, Miranda, they’re the best thing ever. Even better than her Pfeffernuesse, which are sensational.

“Her what?” Miranda put on her sunglasses as Max started the car. “It can’t be all that healthy stuffing yourself with cookies, Max.”

“I’m supposed to be building my strength up,” he protested. “I still weigh half a stone less than I did before I got shot. Even after three weeks in Munich with Mama’s cooking.”

“You’re probably healthier for weighing half a stone less. I thought you said you wanted to lose a few pounds, anyway?”

Max waved this jibe off with a dismissive sweep of his hand as he negotiated the BMW along the road back to Palma. “I’ve had a great idea. What are you doing on Sunday?”

“Probably going for a run first thing, buying some groceries, doing some laundry, catching up with my emails. Why?”

“I could come over, we could go and buy some ingredients while you’re doing your grocery shop, and we could bake some Vanillekipferl. It’ll be fun. Honestly, you’ll love them.”

Miranda hesitated, then thought what the hell, why not? Her Sundays were normally fairly dull. And it was clear that Max wasn’t going to give her any peace until he had either his recipe or his cookies. “Oh, all right then. If you must.”

“Great!” He looked delighted. “So, I’ve seen your kitchen; you haven’t got any proper equipment. I’ll bring over some baking trays, mixing bowls, scales and other things we’ll need.”

Miranda was forced to concede that there was a distinct lack of baking equipment in her kitchen. “At least I know how to work the oven…I think.”

Max rolled his eyes at her. “Do you ever use anything in your kitchen except the microwave?”

“Yes. The fridge and the sink,” she retorted.

***

“Mama told me to tell you you’re invited to visit them in Munich whenever you like.”

“That’s very kind of her.”

“She likes you because she thinks you keep me in line,” Max said, digging through the shopping bags to find the bag of flour.

“Well, someone has to,” Miranda called back as she ferreted inside her lower kitchen cabinets for a wire rack she was sure she had seen there once. “When she’s not there to do it.”

“And my father likes you because he admires your drive, your determination. He likes people who are as over-competitive as he is. I wouldn’t like to see the two of you playing Monopoly. There would be bloodshed.” Max found the flour and started to arrange ingredients and equipment on the counter.

Miranda laughed. “You should have seen me and my cousin Lauren playing Monopoly. I don’t think we ever finished a game. The board and all the money would get thrown across the room by whoever was losing.”

“She sounds as fiery as you. I’d like to meet her. And your father. When is he coming to visit you in Mallorca?”

“My father doesn’t really like hot places.” Miranda found the wire rack, decided that it definitely needed a wash, and squeezed past Max to get to the sink. Her kitchen was rather small for two people to work in at once, especially when one of them was the size of Max. “Right,” she said, changing the subject decisively. “What do we do first?”

Max placed a bowl on the scales and began to weigh the flour. “Watch and learn.”

Miranda enjoyed the baking afternoon more than she had expected. She didn’t often let herself relax and be playful, but their best banter always happened when she was in a good mood. She followed Max’s tuition on mixing biscuit dough and listened to his earnest explanation of why his mother used ground walnuts rather than ground almonds. When it was time to cut the rolls of dough into equal pieces, she asserted herself and insisted on measuring them accurately. She competed with Max to arrange the dough in the most perfect crescent shapes on the baking trays.

“They look pretty good,” she said, as Max closed the oven door on the first batch.

“They’re the best. Wait a little while and you’ll see.” He led the way from the kitchen into her living area and threw himself on to her sofa, spreading his arms out wide and putting his feet up on her coffee table, making himself thoroughly comfortable in her space. She followed him, batting his feet off the table.

“Do you mind? I use that for putting food on!”

Good-naturedly, he moved his feet and patted the sofa beside him. “Have a rest while the cookies are baking. Did you enjoy that? Wasn’t that fun?”

“Yes – I suppose it was,” she agreed.

He cast a glance around her living room, taking in the books on the bookshelf, a couple of framed pictures and a few ornaments dotted about. None of them had been there the last time he had been in her apartment, which had always been rather bare and impersonal. “You’ve got some new stuff.”

“The books and pictures and things? They’re not new. They’re things I left in storage in London when I moved. When I didn’t know if-“

“If you were staying here or going back?”

She nodded, pulling her sock-clad feet up on to the sofa and hugging her knees. “While you were in Munich, I popped back to London for a couple of days and closed down my storage locker. I got rid of some of the things, sent a few things to Dad to look after and brought the rest back here.”

He patted her feet absent-mindedly. “I like that photograph of the lighthouse. Where’s that?”

“It’s the Harbour Lighthouse in Aberystwyth. Where I grew up, you know, in Wales.”

“Aberystwyth.” He rolled the name on his tongue, tasting the pronunciation. “What’s it like?”

“Oh, Aber’s got everything.   A lighthouse, a castle, a funicular railway –“

“It hasn’t got you,” he pointed out.

She laughed in acknowledgement. “Well, maybe it didn’t have the excitement I was looking for. But you can’t talk; you couldn’t wait to get out of Munich!”

A heavenly smell drifted through the apartment from the direction of the oven.

“Oh my God, they smell good,” Miranda said.

Max patted her feet again and stood up to head for the kitchen. “I told you. Wait until you taste them.”

She let Max have free rein when it came to dusting the cooled Vanillekipferl with a mixture of icing sugar and vanilla sugar, even though a lot of the sugar seemed to end up coating her kitchen counter and floor. She found herself laughing a lot, too, and when they finally sampled the finished cookies she had to admit that Max had not exaggerated about their deliciousness.

“I’m just going to have one more,” Max said later, reaching for the fast-emptying plate.

“I think you’ve had about ten already, Max.”

“I can’t help myself; they’re so delicious.” He popped the vanilla crescent into his mouth and let it melt there with an expression of ecstasy on his face. “Mmm. So good.” His gaze fell on Miranda, and he spoke through a mouthful of crumbs. “You have some icing sugar on your face, did you know? Just – there.” He stroked her cheek lightly with his finger and Miranda caught her breath at his touch.

She was the most organised, logical, got-it-together person she knew, and it was maddening how just by touching her - or looking at her like that, as he sometimes did - he could make all rational thoughts flee temporarily from her brain. He wasn’t even her type. Okay, he was good-looking. And he made her laugh quite often. And he always remembered how she liked her coffee. And he knew a lot of interesting things about books and music and history, actually. And she didn’t particularly like it when other women they met tried to flirt with him. And he did have amazing eyes. And -  

And when he nearly died from a gunshot wound it felt as if the whole world was crashing down around me.

Miranda gave herself a little shake and told herself to snap out of it.   She must have been standing gaping like a goldfish for several seconds because Max was now giving her a quizzical look. She put up an impatient hand and wiped the icing sugar off her face. “Right,” she said briskly, “can we please clean up my kitchen now? Look at the state of it. Icing sugar everywhere. You can wash those things up and I’ll dry.” She picked up the plate which held the last three Vanillekipferl. “And I’ll put these in a safe place until we’ve finished.”

Tomorrow, Monday, they would be at work again, the search for the gang of armed robbers would resume and Inés would be back on the warpath. But today – today had been a good day.

***