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Permission To Be Happy

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Monday was the start of a tough week. Inés’s temper simmered just below boiling point every day that passed without resolution to the case of the armed robberies. She was not calmed by the lurid headlines in the newspapers which pointed out that the robbers were clearly targeting places frequented by rich foreigners – the yacht club, the golf club, exclusive bars and a luxury hotel amongst them. The Mayor had also expressed his displeasure with all this Bad Publicity for the island. With Inés demanding answers and arrests by the end of the week or else, her entire team kept their heads down, kept away from her office as much as possible and devoted themselves to chasing up every conceivable trace of a clue or a lead.

It was not until Tuesday that there was the first real glimmer of hope in solving the case. Miranda would have preferred it if she and Max could have been the ones to obtain the breakthrough, but she did not really grudge Mateo and Javier their luck in getting the crucial tip-off. A source of theirs in the Palma underworld had strongly suggested that a known gang leader from Madrid, now ensconced in his second home on the west coast of Mallorca, was involved in the robberies. His name was Eduardo Vega, and he was rumoured to be associating with Archie Donnelly. Donnelly was wanted for a string of violent organised crimes in the Dublin area, and his whereabouts had been unknown for the last eighteen months, so the Irish police and Interpol had expressed themselves very interested to know if he really was in Mallorca and involved with Vega’s gang.

Getting the names of some potential suspects led to more long hours of work for the Palma police. Any possible location where Vega, Donnelly or any of their known criminal contacts might be was placed under constant surveillance.   Minor associates of Vega were brought in and interrogated about what they knew. Hours were spent poring over computer records and CCTV looking for any connections. Max and Miranda found themselves doing long hours of surveillance as well as long hours sifting through information on their computers. Miranda reflected that both these tasks were tedious, but on the other hand they were not too physically taxing for Max, so perhaps it was just as well they were not spending much time actually running around chasing criminals.

On Thursday they managed to get a rare hour’s break at lunchtime when they were not required to be sitting in a car observing some gang member’s remote finca, or staring at a screen full of dodgy bank transactions.   Max suggested that they could use their free hour to get out into the sunshine and grab a coffee and a sandwich at one of the open-air cafés near the station. Miranda was not inclined to argue with this idea.

“I feel like we haven’t stopped this week,” she said, as the waitress placed coffee cups on the table in front of them and disappeared to fetch Max’s sandwich and her salad. “And my eyes have been staring at a screen so much this morning that everything’s starting to become a blur!”

Max nodded agreement. “I was just thinking I had escaped from desk duty but I seem to have spent most of my time there yesterday and today.”

Miranda rolled her shoulders a few times, stiff from sitting hunched over the computer. It felt good to get outside and feel the sun on her face. She looked around the square at the trickle of people walking, chatting, browsing shop windows or, like them, having lunch in the cafés. Then she looked back at Max, who was watching the waitress approaching with their food. Despite the boredom of the morning’s work he looked healthy enough today, not pale or tired. Cradling her coffee cup, Miranda mused that he ought to wear blue shirts, like the linen one he was currently wearing, more often. They suited him and made his eyes look incredibly blue. Although there was no way in hell she was ever going to tell him that.

For the next fifteen minutes Miranda concentrated on her food. She was just finishing her salad, and replying to a comment of Max’s about Christian’s upcoming birthday, when she noticed something odd out of the corner of her eye. Trained to observe what was going on around her, she had a strong feeling that someone was watching her. Across the square, a dark-haired young woman was standing in front of a shop window and seemed to be looking at them with some interest. Staring, even.

One result of the infamous Deutsche Musik siege had been that Miranda and Max’s faces had been plastered all over the television and newspapers at the time, which meant that they were sometimes recognised around the island since then. “Aren’t you the officers who were on television? Who saved Jürgen Kuhl?” Miranda, thanks to her distinctive blonde hair and the time she had spent on screen in Kuhl’s villa, tended to be recognised more often than Max. It did not happen every day, but Miranda found it annoying – it was potentially a hindrance to working as a detective if people spotted you as one too easily.

Perhaps this woman had recognised them from the Deutsche Musik incident? But she looked vaguely familiar to Miranda. Miranda looked steadily at the woman until their eyes met. The woman, realising she had been caught staring, looked a little embarrassed and started to cross the square towards them. Max realised that Miranda was looking at something beyond his shoulder and turned to see what it was, just as the woman reached them.

“I’m sorry,” she said with a friendly, apologetic smile. “I didn’t mean to stare at you – it’s just that I thought I recognised you.” She turned to Max. “Do you mind my asking – were you a patient at Hospital de Manacor a few months ago?”

“Yes,” Max answered. “Do I know you?”

“I’m a nurse in the intensive care unit,” she explained. “You’re the police officer who was shot on duty, aren’t you? I was one of your ITU nurses while you were there.”

“Of course, I thought I’d seen you before,” Miranda said. “Please, sit down. I’m Miranda Blake and this is Max Winter.”

“I’m Rosa Fuentes,” the nurse told them, moving a spare chair from another table to join them at theirs.  

“I’m afraid I don’t remember being in Manacor, although I know I was there,” Max said. “I woke up in hospital in Palma some time later.”

“That’s right, they transferred you there for more surgery,” Rosa agreed. “I’m so happy to see you’ve made a good recovery.”

Max gave her one of his most charming smiles. “Thanks to all the amazing medical staff like you. I’m very grateful, believe me.”

“Oh, we were only doing our jobs.” The nurse looked at Miranda. “I remembered you quite well when I saw you just now, and then I realised who you were with. It was such a nice surprise.” She turned back to Max. “It’s so wonderful to see one of our ITU patients up and around again. We only tend to see people going through their worst times. It was so worrying for your partner and family. I remember your parents, too; they were lovely.”

“They’re back home in Germany now, but I’ll be sure to tell them about meeting you,” Max promised.

“Oh, good. Of course, I saw more of your partner – Miranda, is it? – because she was there all that first night when you had surgery and were admitted to ITU. I was your night nurse.”

Miranda looked down at her plate and clenched her hands under the table. That first awful night in the hospital in Manacor was a time she had been trying very hard to put out of her mind, and she was still not sure she could chat happily about it. She listened as Max made amiable conversation about his recovery with Rosa for a few more minutes, until the nurse realised that she had to hurry to meet a friend and waved them a cheerful goodbye.

When they got back into the car after lunch to head off for yet another boring surveillance shift, Max did not start the engine immediately. Instead he sat still for a moment, before turning to Miranda.

“I realise I’ve never really said thank you. For staying with me in the hospital and watching out for me. Even the days I can’t remember – I know you were there. Thank you.” He leaned over and gave her upper arm a short squeeze, and Miranda found herself without words to reply as their eyes met. For a wild moment she thought he was going to try to kiss her, and her brain stuttered over how she would react if he did. But he just smiled into her eyes before he released her arm, sat up straight and turned the key in the car’s ignition.

***

It was Friday evening, and the investigation into the armed robberies had finally reached a key point. One of Eduardo Vega’s minions had taken a deal for immunity and provided information about a planned eleventh robbery – on the Casino in Palma this time. He had also been able to give full details about where they would find the key players in the gang, where the arms and ammunition used in the robberies were stored, and where the proceeds from the previous ten robberies could be found. Inés had been quick to order a major operation which involved surrounding the property where the gang were preparing for the Casino raid. Every member of her team had a part to play and as dusk fell, they moved in.

For once, the operation went like clockwork. Within an hour of the police assault on the property, all the major players in the gang were under arrest, including Vega and the elusive Archie Donnelly. Most of the lesser gang members had also been rounded up, and a large proportion of the loot from the robberies had been found at the remote house where Donnelly had been hiding out.   Very few shots had been fired during the operation and no officers had been injured. As the convoy of vehicles made its way back to Palma, Inés was positively purring with satisfaction. She had even pledged to give most of her team the weekend off – once they had finished all their paperwork, of course.

By the time Max and Miranda had done their share of processing the arrested gang members into custody and filling in forms and reports, it had been dark for hours outside the office window and Miranda was tired and hungry and very grateful that she was not one of the team who had to return the next day to question the suspects. Looking across at Max, who had his elbows on their shared desk and was resting his chin in his hands, eyes half-closed, she realised that he was drained with weariness. The lines on his forehead were deeper than usual and he looked older. If she felt worn out by this week’s work, Miranda mused, then he must be exhausted. However many times he claimed to be fine and back to normal, it took a long time to regain full health and fitness after such a serious injury.

She shut down her computer and slapped her hands on the desk resolutely. The noise made Max raise his head and blink at her. “Come on,” said Miranda. “It’s been a long day. Time to go home.”

He rose wearily from his chair, looking relieved. “Yes. It’s late. I’ll drop you off.”

The short drive back to Miranda’s apartment was very quiet. Neither of them had the energy to say much. When Max parked the BMW outside her building they both sat in silence for a few moments, before Miranda made a spur-of-the-moment decision.

“Max. You look totally exhausted,” she said, adding, “and I know I am,” before he could attempt a denial. “Why don’t you just come in and eat with me? Saves you having to make something when you get home. I know, I know, I can’t cook, but I’ve got frozen pizza so it won’t take long.”

He looked surprised, but pleased. “Okay, sure. Thanks.” They both got out of the car, collected their bags and made their way up the stairs to Miranda’s apartment. For once, there was no sign of the stray dog which hung around on a regular basis, which meant that it must already have been fed by one of the other neighbours it scrounged from.

Max was dozing on the sofa by the time Miranda carried the hot pizza into her living area and put it on the coffee table, but he was quickly awoken by the delicious smell and moved over to make room for her to sit down. Miranda had opened the cheap bottle of red which was the only wine she had in her kitchen, and she was prepared for jibes about its low quality, but Max seemed content to eat her pizza and drink her wine without any complaints. Perhaps he was too tired to quibble about vintages.

The pizza and wine seemed to revive him.

“Thanks for this, Miranda,” he said, as he polished off the final slice of pizza – he had eaten about three slices more than she had managed. “I really didn’t have much energy left for cooking tonight. You’re a lifesaver.”

“You’re welcome. I have to look after my compañero, after all.” She raised her eyebrows and smiled a little to show she was joking.

Max didn’t smile back. He put his wine glass down carefully on the table and turned sideways on the sofa, closer to her. His eyes were unusually serious.

“I wish you would let me look after you, sometimes.”

Something inside Miranda shuddered to a halt. Were they having this conversation now? She had known it was coming sooner rather than later, but she was still unprepared.

She looked away. “I don’t need to be looked after, Max. I can take care of myself.” She meant to sound confident, but ended up sounding rather desolate.

“I know you can. You’re so strong, Miranda. But everyone deserves to have someone else care for them too. Don’t you ever want that? Let me care for you.”

His last words were murmured very low, right into her ear. Miranda closed her eyes for a dizzy moment – was it the wine, the fatigue or something else causing the dizziness? – and tried to regain her mental balance.

“I know you don’t do relationships,” he went on. “But we already have – something – don’t we? And after all that we’ve been through together – don’t you think you could give me a chance to prove that it could work? You and me, I mean.”

She still couldn’t look at him. There was a long silence while she twisted her hands in her lap and tried to assemble her thoughts into words.  

“At least you haven’t thrown me out yet,” he said at last, with a shadow of a laugh. “That’s a good sign.”

She put her hand out to him quickly, placing it over his hand which was resting on his knee. “Max, give me a minute – I want to explain.”

“Okay.” He waited patiently.

“It’s – complicated.”

“You once told me, nothing’s simple where feelings are involved,” he quoted.

She still couldn’t look at him but, somehow, she had found the words she was looking for. “The thing is - well, you know how difficult it is for me to show my emotions. To let people in. I’ve always been scared of doing that. Probably because of what happened with my parents. I’ve never wanted to let anyone get too close – close enough to hurt me.   That’s why I’ve never had what you’d call a relationship. Sex, yes. I’d meet someone and spend the night with them, but it was just a physical thing. They didn’t really know me, and I didn’t know them, and that was fine. If they started to develop feelings for me, wanted to get to know me better, I always ended it. Letting someone know all of me – it felt like too much of a risk.”

She paused. He didn’t say anything, but his hand was motionless and warm under hers. She searched for more words, and found them. “But you, Max – you already know me.   If I was with you – there wouldn’t be anything I could hide from you. It would be everything or nothing. And I don’t know if I’m brave enough to risk it.”

He stood up then, and gently pulled her to her feet facing him. They were very close together but she stared resolutely at her coffee table, still unable to look up and meet his eyes. He spent so much of their time together joking and teasing her, but when he was serious she found him very difficult to resist.  

“I don’t just know you,” he said, and she knew from his tone how much he meant it. “I love you, Miranda.”

She had a good idea of how he must be looking at her, and she suspected that if she did look up she would let him kiss her, and that was something which could not be undone. “I know,” she said. “And I‘m pretty sure – especially after how I felt when you got shot - I love you too. But I’m still scared of what could happen if -”

He put his hand under her chin and tilted her face up towards him until their eyes finally met. The way he was looking at her made her shiver. “Don’t be scared,” he said in a whisper.   “You’re the bravest person I know.” She closed her eyes as he kissed her, very gently. It was hardly more than a touch of lips, as if he was afraid that she would, even now, pull away.

When the kiss ended, she let herself lean forward against him, and they stood for a long moment holding each other in silence, her head pressed against his shoulder and his face buried in her blonde hair. She inhaled the smell of his shirt and felt some long-tight tension in herself relax at last.

Eventually she broke the silence, murmuring, “I’m so tired, Max.”

They both knew that her words had more than one meaning. She was tired, yes – exhausted, after their long week at work. But she was also utterly, utterly tired of fighting against something she didn’t want to fight against any more.

“Let’s sleep, then. We can talk some more tomorrow.”

They had two whole days off now, Miranda remembered wearily, and she found it surprisingly easy to put work out of her mind. By wordless agreement they left both their phones in the living room, on silent. Max took her hand and led her into her bedroom and she went, unresistingly. They took off their shoes but did not undress. They took turns to use Miranda’s bathroom before they crawled under the duvet together and Max put his arms around her again. He stroked the hair away from her eyes as they lay with their faces close together.

“It’s okay. Everything will be okay now. Go to sleep, Miranda,” he whispered.

“All right. Goodnight, Max,” she whispered back, her exhausted brain unable to think of anything else to say. She only knew that she trusted him and so, somehow, everything would be okay. He kissed her cheek gently, and she closed her eyes and fell asleep.  For once, she did not dream.

***