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Permission To Be Happy

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“Are you really all right, Maxi? Do you have any pain still?”

“Mama – honestly – I’m okay.” Max tried to keep holding the phone to his ear with one hand, while trying to button his shirt with the other hand. He was going to be late for work if Doro kept him talking much longer.

“Are you sure you’re eating enough? You need to build up your strength,” his mother’s voice persisted from the other end of the line, back in Munich.

“Yes, I’m eating enough, Mama.”

“And you’re not working too hard? I don’t know if you should be back at work so soon.”

“The doctor said I could go back to work. I’m absolutely fine.” Max finished buttoning his shirt one-handed and took another swig of coffee, before looking round for his shoes.

“Well, don’t over-do things. You don’t want to set back your recovery.”

“I won’t, Mama, don’t worry.” He managed to get his shoes on without dropping the phone.

“And how is Miranda?” Doro asked. “I hope she is not working too hard.”

“Miranda is fine,” he replied, unable to keep the warmth from his voice as he spoke of her. “You know what’s she’s like, she always works hard.”

“Ask her to call me - I’d love to have a chat with her. And don’t forget to tell her, if she ever has any time off and she wants a holiday, we would love to see her here. I feel she needs looking after. She doesn’t have much family of her own.”

“I will give her your message, Mama. I’m sorry, but I have to go to work now. I’ll call you tomorrow. Love you. Say hi to Papa for me. Bye.”

Stuffing his phone into his pocket, Max looked again at his watch before snatching up his jacket, bag and car keys. A minute later he was in his car and setting off towards police headquarters. He had been spending at least five nights a week at Miranda’s apartment recently, but had spent the previous night at his own place after an evening with Christian.

“You’re never around lately,” Christian had complained. “Apart from my party, I’ve hardly seen you for days. I went round on Saturday to see if you wanted to watch the football and you weren’t even home. You can’t be working all the time. Have you got a new girlfriend?”

It was impossible to answer that question truthfully, so Max had agreed to spend the evening with his friend, watching highlights of the recent Bundesliga matches and sharing a few beers. Miranda had seemed quite happy to have an evening to herself for a change, and had said she had plenty of useful tasks to catch up on, but Max hoped that she had missed him a little, or even as much as he had missed her. He knew she needed her thinking space, and he did not want her to feel overwhelmed by their relationship but, if he could, he would like to have spent all his time with her.

Part of him still could not believe that they had finally reached this point. She had actually said that she loved him. And, even though she was resolute in keeping him at arms-length at work, their time together in private made it worth it. She was the most amazing woman he had ever met. Bossy, yes.   Prickly – assertive – sometimes, yes. To most people her controlled, professional, defensive exterior was all they ever saw, but he knew her better. Underneath that exterior she had so many insecurities and fears. His scars from the shooting were physical and visible, but her scars from her past were all on the inside. He wanted to be the person to heal those scars, and he would like to have been able to punish the people responsible for them. Had she ever really had the experience of being loved and cared for? He doubted it, having been touched by the way she seemed surprised, even grateful, every time he told or showed her how much he cared about her. He was grateful too, that she had finally lowered her guard enough to let him into her life, not just as a friend or colleague, but as someone she loved. He had already resolved to try to embed himself there so deeply that she would never want to let him go.

***

As Max had expected, Miranda was already at her desk when he arrived in the office, coffee mug in his hand. There were several other colleagues going in and out of the room at the time, plus Inés’s head was visible through her office door, so when Miranda lifted her head at his entry they merely smiled at each other.

“Good morning.”

Morgen.” Max slung his bag and jacket over the back of his chair, put down his coffee mug and walked round the desk to look over Miranda’s shoulder at her computer screen. “Is that more of the CCTV from the shopping centre?”

“Mm.” The Vega case having taken longer than anyone expected to wrap up, they were now only two days into their next investigation – the pickpocketing epidemic in one of the most popular shopping areas of Palma. It seemed to have been going on for a couple of months now and the uniformed police who patrolled the area had had no success in making any arrests. From all reports, an organised gang of teenage girls were responsible for the thefts. Some of the girls had been observed multiple times on the CCTV footage from the shops.

“Funny how these girls all try to look the same,” Max observed, as Miranda scrolled through more stills from the CCTV. It was true that all the girls in the pictures seemed to have very similar clothing, thin faces, hair which had been ruthlessly straightened and eyebrows which seemed to have been drawn on with a Sharpie. “Same hair, same make-up…that’s fashion for you, I guess.”

“Teenage girls will always try to fit in with their peers,” Miranda said.

“Did you?” Max wondered aloud, moving across to his own computer to boot it up.

“Not really. The popular girls thought I was boring because I worked hard at school. But then, I’ve got a career now and most of them are probably working in nail bars back in Aberystwyth.” Miranda shrugged, before looking across the desk and smiling suddenly. “I bet you were Mr. Cool when you were at school, weren’t you, Max?”  

“Well, not that cool. Don’t forget I was hanging around with Christian!” They were both still laughing at this remark when Inés emerged from her office.

“How nice that my officers have so much spare time for enjoying themselves,” she said, her arms folded and her tone acid. “I assume your good humour this morning means that you have already solved the pickpocketing case, no?”

Max rose hastily to his feet. “Almost, Inés. We were just going out to make some further enquiries, weren’t we, Miranda?”

“That’s right,” Miranda agreed, also rising from her chair and collecting up a sheaf of printed-out photographs to take with her. “We should be able to report back to you about our progress very soon, Inés.”

“I will look forward to that, Detective Blake.” Inés watched their exit from the office with a sceptical expression.

***

“Do you recognise any of these girls?” Miranda fanned out some pictures on the counter for the boutique owner to look at. The woman peered closely at the photographs, then shrugged.

“It’s hard to say. I sell clothes and accessories for teenagers. Most of my customers look like that.”

Miranda sighed. She and Max had spent a considerable amount of time interviewing shopkeepers in the area and showing photographs of their suspects to the locals, without much success. It was becoming so frustrating that Miranda almost yearned to be back at her desk going through Archie Donnelly’s dodgy financial transactions. Almost.

It took another hour of trudging around the shopping area making enquiries until Max and Miranda finally had a breakthrough. They took refuge in a coffee shop to rest their feet and regroup, and a middle-aged waitress brought their drinks to their table. As she set Miranda’s cup down in front of her, the woman’s eye fell on the sheaf of photographs which were spread out on the table between the two detectives. “You’ve got a picture of my neighbour’s daughter there,” she said in surprise.    

Max looked quickly up at the waitress. “Your neighbour’s daughter?” he asked. “Which picture is it?”

The woman put down Max’s cup and leaned across to point at one of the pictures – a girl with fairer hair than some of the others. “That’s Ana. Ana Muñoz. She lives in the flat upstairs from me. But why do you have a picture of her?”

“Palma police.” Max fished the badge he wore around his neck out of his shirt to show her. “We’re investigating some incidents of pickpocketing in this area. Please, sit down, Señora.”

By the time they had finished talking to the waitress, they had an address for Ana Muñoz. According to her neighbour, she was a difficult teenager who lived with her mother and younger siblings on the top floor of some run-down apartments not far away. She was frequently in trouble for playing truant from school, and her neighbours had often seen her hanging around on the streets, smoking or laughing with a group of other girls.

Neither Max nor Miranda were impressed with the grimy apartment where they found Ana Muñoz’s mother but, even though Ana was not at home, her mother was helpful. She was able to name several of the other girls in the CCTV photos, and complained that if Ana had been led into bad ways it was bound to be the fault of a dark-haired girl named Ramona. “She’s trouble, that one,” Señora Muñoz complained, pointing to the picture of Ramona. “Moved here from Madrid last year. My Ana was a good girl until she took up with her.”

The rest of the day was a busy one. Miranda summoned backup from the uniformed police to help track down and visit those of the other girls who had been identified from the photographs. Because all the suspects were minors, an appropriate adult had to be present when they were interviewed. Most of the girls crumbled when faced with police questioning and admitted to having taken part in the pickpocketing - some of them handing over various stolen goods which had been hidden in their bedrooms. Ana Muñoz, sulky-faced and uncooperative, continued to deny everything, and the ringleader, the girl called Ramona (no one seemed to know her last name) was nowhere to be found. With darkness falling, and the girls who had already been interviewed having been tearfully collected by their parents, Inés called a halt for the day. “You should be able to find this Ramona girl tomorrow,” she told Max and Miranda. “Someone in Palma must know where she lives, or what school she goes to.”

“At least most of the others have confessed everything,” said Max. “And handed over some of the things they took.”

“And told tales on their friends, too,” added Miranda. “I expect the rate of petty crime in the area will go down now.”

“Mm.” Inés nodded. “Of course, you still have to find the ringleader. But – good work so far. Now, I’m going home. All these weeping girls are reminding me too much of my nieces. Teenage girls. Hormones. Stupidity. Drama. Tears.” She shook her head. “I need a drink.”

***

“With any luck, we should be able to find that other girl and wrap up the case tomorrow,” Miranda said, dabbing moisturiser on to her face in front of the bathroom mirror.

“Can we not talk about work in bed?” Max complained.

“I’m not actually in bed,” Miranda pointed out. “I’m in the bathroom.”

“Near enough. I’ve had enough talk about juvenile delinquents for one day. I need a distraction.”

“Oh really?” Miranda raised an eyebrow as she turned off the bathroom light and walked into the bedroom. “Am I the distraction?”

“Of course.” He pulled back the duvet on her side of the bed and patted the mattress invitingly. “You’ve been working hard today, too. You need to forget about it. Arbeit allein macht nicht glücklich.

“Meaning?” Miranda sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I think you have a saying in English that means something similar. All work and no play…?”

“Makes Jack a dull boy, yes. All right, no more work discussion tonight.” She got into bed and reached out to the bedside cabinet to set the alarm on her phone. Max moved closer to her, against her back, and started playing with her hair. “What are you doing, Max?”

“Ich möchte dich nur zum Lächeln bringen.”

Miranda had recently discovered that she quite liked Max’s habit of murmuring German endearments in bed. “You know I don’t know what you’re talking about, don’t you?” she said, as she laid her phone down on the cabinet and switched off the lamp.

“Do you want me to translate?” he offered, kissing her shoulder, and she could feel him smiling against her skin.

“No, I know it’s something nice. I don’t need to know exactly what it means. I just like the sound of it.”

“Oh, you find it romantic?”

“I might do.”

“How about some poetry?” he suggested, and murmured, “Ich denke dein, wenn mir der Sonne schimmer, vom Meere strahlt.” He ran a gentle finger down her spine. “Ich denke dein, wenn sich Mondes flimmer, in Quellen malt.”

Miranda rolled over towards him and stroked his face. “I like that one.”

“It’s Goethe.”

“Of course it is. I’ve always wanted to find a man who could quote Goethe in bed.” She reached out and pulled the duvet tighter around them. “Goethe and Monty Python. What a combination.”

She could feel him shaking with laughter. “If you’re turned on by me speaking German, maybe you should teach me some Welsh,” he suggested.

“I’m not sure you need the encouragement, cariad.

***

“Yes, I’ve seen her,” said the barman, looking at the photograph of Ramona – Ramona Gil, aged fifteen, according to the latest information they had obtained from a local school. “She comes in here quite often, with an older guy. There was a bit of an argument last week because I wouldn’t serve her alcohol.”

“Oh, you don’t serve underage drinkers?” Max asked quizzically, looking around the rather seedy bar. He was willing to bet that that was just one of the laws which were sometimes overlooked in here. “That’s good to know.”

“Oh no, officer, we wouldn’t do that.” The barman looked righteous.

“So, do you know where we can find this girl?” Miranda interrupted.

The barman looked regretful. “No. Sorry. Hey, but I know where you can find the guy she hangs around with. He’s Italian, I think. Called Gio. Tall. Long hair. He works on one of the stalls in the little market down that way –“ He jerked a thumb to show them the direction. “The stall that sells junk jewellery, novelty T-shirts, all that crap the kids buy. He might be there now.”

“Thanks!” Max hurried after Miranda, who was already on her way out of the door. They threaded their way through the crowds of busy shoppers towards the little square where a few market stalls were set up. The stall selling cakes and sweets seemed to have the biggest crowd around it, but there were a number of people browsing at the stall festooned with brightly-coloured T-shirts and piled high with sparkly cheap jewellery and accessories. There were two men serving customers behind the stall. One was a middle-aged man with a balding head. The other was a tall, skinny young man with long, rather greasy-looking black hair and sunglasses. Something about the look of him suggested to both detectives’ experienced eyes that he might have a drug habit.  

“Are you Gio?” Miranda asked, leaning towards him across the stall. When he nodded, she produced her badge. “Palma police. We’re looking for a girl called Ramona Gil. Apparently you know her?”

At the word police Gio had stepped back in alarm, raising his hands defensively. “I don’t want to get involved with anything! I’m clean now, man! I don’t deal any more!”

Max gave him a very unimpressed look. “We’re not looking for you, we’re just looking for Ramona Gil. Do you know where she is or not?”

“I know her, yeah, but I haven’t seen her for a couple of days.” Miranda noticed the way Gio’s eyes darted from side to side, as though he was looking around for someone while he was talking to them. As Max continued to question him, Miranda looked across the square, in the direction of Gio’s constant glances. On the far side of the square was an alleyway, which was a short cut through to another main shopping street. As Miranda scanned the area, her eye was caught by a figure who emerged from this alleyway, started to head across to the market stalls, then suddenly did an about-turn and hurried away again. She was a slim, dark-haired girl and Miranda recognised her immediately from the CCTV photographs. It looked as though Ramona had been on her way to see Gio and had changed her mind on seeing him talking to Max and Miranda.

“Max! She’s over there!” was all Miranda said, before taking off in pursuit across the square. She dodged in and out of the shoppers to get to the alleyway, where Ramona had disappeared as soon as she realised that Miranda was chasing her. The foul-smelling alleyway was twisting and so narrow that Miranda could have touched both sides at once easily. Ramona was not slow, but Miranda was fit, determined and had more practical footwear for running. She could hear the thudding of Max’s feet as he chased behind her, some way back. As Ramona reached the end of the alleyway, Miranda was only a few metres from her.

The alleyway opened out abruptly into an even busier shopping street, and Ramona was briefly held up by the crowd. She shoved her way between indignant shoppers and Miranda barrelled after her without too much concern for politeness. “Police! Let me through!”

She would have caught Ramona within a few seconds anyway, but at that moment the girl tripped over the leg of a passer-by and fell sprawling on the street. Miranda gave her no chance to get up again, kneeling quickly to push the girl down. Ramona was not going quietly, shouting and swearing as she twisted furiously to try to get out of Miranda’s hold. Miranda held her down with one hand and a knee on the girl’s back as she reached for her handcuffs. The handcuffs caught on her pocket for a second, and while she was distracted Ramona gave one last heave to try to escape. She managed to half-turn towards Miranda and in the same second something silver flashed in the light.

“She’s got a knife, Miranda!” Max’s voice behind her, breathless and hoarse.

Miranda jerked herself away from the blade just in time for it to miss her chest, but there was a sharp jet of pain as the knife sliced down the inside of her forearm. She ignored the blood running down and making her hand slippery as she yanked the knife from the girl’s fingers and threw it away from them. She shoved the teenager hard towards the ground, just as Max flung himself down next to them and grabbed Ramona’s hands behind her back. “Don’t move!” he hissed at the girl as he clicked his own handcuffs on to her wrists. As soon as she was immobile he turned to Miranda, looking in horror at the blood dripping from the gash in her arm on to the ground. “Miranda! Liebchen -”

“I’m okay, I’m okay.” This was not really true, but she thought she would be. Pressure and elevation, she remembered from a first-aid course, as she pressed on the wound with her other hand and tried to slow the bleeding by holding up her arm. It did not seem to hurt that much; perhaps it was adrenalin. “I don’t think it’s as bad as it looks.” She was impressed that she managed to sound calmer than she felt. “The radio’s in my jacket pocket, could you call so I don’t get blood all over it?”

“For sure.” Still looking very shaken, Max used the hand which wasn’t holding Ramona down to pull out the radio and call for backup and an ambulance.

***

The doctor in the emergency room was just finishing the application of the neat bandage when Max came back into the cubicle with two coffee cups in his hands. Miranda was sitting on the side of the bed, feeling wrung-out with fatigue and glad that she would soon be able to escape from the hospital. They seemed to have been there for hours, although she had actually been treated fairly quickly. By the time the ambulance had left the scene, Mateo, Javier and several uniformed colleagues had arrived to mop up the aftermath of Ramona Gil’s arrest and take the teenager into custody.   Whatever specific offences they decided to charge her with, assault on a police officer was a lot more likely than pickpocketing to get her a spell in youth custody.

“There.” The young doctor had completed the dressing. “Now, just remember what I said about keeping it clean, and we’ll make an appointment for you to get it checked by your own doctor in a week’s time – to make sure it hasn’t got infected or anything. We can give you some painkillers to take home, if you like.”

“I don’t think I’ll need those. It throbs a bit now the local anaesthetic’s wearing off, but it’s not too bad.” Miranda carefully pulled her jacket sleeve over the bandaged arm. “Lucky I’m not left-handed.”

Max handed her one of the coffee cups as the doctor left the cubicle. “We can get a cab home when you’ve had this. I put some sugar in it for shock.”

“Thanks.” She smiled at him. “Don’t look so worried, I’m fine, honestly.”

“Hey, I’m allowed to be worried about you if some juvenile delinquent tries to stab you.” He sat down facing her and patted her knee. “But I’m going to take good care of you.”

“Are you?” Having someone who actually cared about you gave you a rather lovely, warm, secure feeling, Miranda discovered.

Ja, of course.” Putting down his coffee cup on a nearby cupboard, he leaned in towards her and kissed her softly on the lips. Miranda smiled, put her own coffee down and cupped the back of his head with her hand to pull him a little closer for a longer kiss.

“Ahem.”

Max and Miranda jerked apart and looked, startled, towards the cubicle entrance where Inés was standing, regarding them with a satirical eye. “I came to see how you were doing after your injury, Detective Blake,” she said dryly. “But I see that you’re in good hands.”

“Um – Inés – I should explain –“ Miranda was mortified to find herself blushing at having been caught by their boss.

“Really, that’s not necessary.” Inés was clearly enjoying herself. “You don’t need to tell me that your relationship with Detective Winter has been a little – ah, closer – for, let me see, nearly three weeks, is it?”

“How did you –?”

“I’m not a trained investigator for nothing, Detective Winter. If you don’t want me to know about your personal life, you shouldn’t come to work smelling like Miranda’s shower gel, and she shouldn’t come to work looking so happy.” Inés nodded in satisfaction at their astounded faces. “I don’t have a problem with it as long as it doesn’t affect your work.”

“No. Of course not, Inés,” Miranda stammered.

“And so - how is your arm?”

“Oh.” Miranda managed to regain some self-possession. “It’s not too bad. Eight stitches. They said I might have a scar, but it should heal all right.”

“Good. But don’t even think about coming back to work until Monday. Oh, and –“ Inés was on the point of departing, but turned back to say, “-could you try to stay out of hospital for a while, both of you? Thank you so much.”

***

It was a Friday evening, several weeks later. The office had been busy in the intervening time, with many more cases to be dealt with, and the fast-healing scar on Miranda’s arm was the only memento of the pickpocketing case.

Max had gone from work to Joan’s Bar to meet Christian, who had invited him for a quick beer and a catch-up. Christian claimed that he had a date with a gorgeous woman later, if that was to be believed, and Max was planning to head over to Miranda’s apartment for dinner. It was her turn to cook, which probably meant they would end up having a takeaway. Max did not mind. He had been looking through her kitchen cupboards yesterday and had noticed that they seemed to be well-stocked with his favourite brands of German crisps and beer. The fact that Miranda now thought of him when she did her grocery shopping had to be a good sign, he thought. Even if she still wasn’t ready for anyone except Inés to know about their relationship.

Sipping his beer contentedly, he made a few responses to Christian’s remarks about the upcoming Bayern vs. Dortmund match in the Bundesliga, but most of his mind was anticipating the evening to come and thinking about plans for his weekend with Miranda. While driving back to the office from an interview earlier, they had talked about possibly going up to the north of the island for lunch on Sunday. They would find somewhere scenic on the coast, where they would not see anyone they knew and could relax. Maybe, while they were wandering round some little harbour, she would even let him hold her hand and kiss her in public –

It was at this moment that Max’s attention was recalled by Christian, who for some reason was nudging Max in the ribs and tapping his finger on the side of his nose in a gesture of secrecy. “Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody.”

“Tell anybody what?” Max said, taking a gulp of his beer and trying to sound very very casual and unconcerned, despite major forebodings.

“That you finally got it together with everyone’s favourite ice queen. How did you manage to melt her?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Christian.” Max hoped he didn’t look uncomfortable with this line of conversation, but it is very difficult to simulate an unconcerned facial expression in front of someone who has known you since you were ten.

Ja, of course you don’t, Max.” Christian continued to grin and wink.

Max took another gulp of his beer and, knowing he was going to regret saying this, asked, “So what is it you think you know, exactly?”

Christian sighed the happy sigh of one who is about to deliver a coup-de-grâce. “Well, it could be that I am an even greater detective than the famous Max Winter –“

Max sighed too, but not happily.

“- or it could be that I was driving a client home from the casino last night and my route took me past Miranda’s apartment, where I happened to notice your car parked outside her building. At 3 a.m…” Christian paused for effect.

Max sighed again. Busted. Luckily there was no one else he knew in earshot, and it was Carmen’s night off.

“Of course, it could just be that you lent her your beloved car for the night. Out-of-character, but possible. Or it could be that you had a very important case to discuss and you were so engrossed in your work discussion that you stayed there all night. With the lights off.” Christian was just having fun now.

“Sod off, Christian. And don’t forget, I have a gun, Miranda has a gun, and if you’re not scared of me, you should be scared of her. If you go round telling people-”

Christian leaned away from him, holding his hands up. “Okay, okay, don’t worry. You can trust me. I said, I won’t breathe a word. Why are you so worried about anyone finding out, anyway? We all know you’ve been crazy about each other for months. I think it’s great if you’ve got together. Miranda’s an amazing woman – although what she sees in you –“

Max had no idea what to say in reply to this but he did know, from long experience, that Christian was terrible at keeping secrets. Whatever Miranda wished, their altered relationship was going to become public knowledge sooner rather than later. Max drained his beer glass and stood up.

“I have to go. I’ll see you around, Christian. And –“ he fixed his friend with a steely eye – “if I find out you’ve been spreading stories-“

“Hey, my lips are sealed, Max,” Christian assured him. He was grinning again, though. It was very irritating.

***

“Christian knows,” Max said, at lunchtime on Sunday when they were seated at an open-air restaurant table overlooking a ridiculously scenic harbour. He hadn’t raised the subject earlier in the weekend because he didn’t want to spoil Miranda’s pleasure, not when she was looking so happy and relaxed in his company. It made him feel warm inside to see her glow like that, and to believe himself to be responsible for it.

“Knows what?” Miranda fished about with her fork in her delicious bowlful of seafood and speared a king prawn. Below them, boats bobbed about on the blue water. Above them, seabirds screeched.

“Knows about you and me. No, no, I didn’t say anything. He was driving a client home on Thursday night at three o’clock in the morning. He went past your apartment and recognised my car parked outside.”

Miranda’s fork had frozen in mid-air at his first words, but now she sighed and laid it down in the bowl. “Oh well. I suppose something like that was bound to happen sooner or later.”

“You don’t mind?” he asked in surprise.

“Not as much as I thought I would. I suppose it’s silly, really. I don’t know how I thought we could keep it quiet for long. And I know you don’t like having to pretend at work. Although you’ve done a pretty good job so far,” she added, being fair. “But Inés knows already, and if Christian knows – well –“

Max reached across the table and took both her hands in his. “Can we tell everyone now? I really want to. And think how happy Mama and Papa are going to be. You know they want you to come and visit Munich. We both have leave owing, even after my sick leave. We could go.”

Miranda squeezed his hands and smiled into his hopeful face. She had come so far already; she might as well surrender completely. “I’d like that,” she said. “And one day I’ll take you to Wales. Dwi’n caru chdi, Max.”

“I don’t know what that means,” said Max, “but I like the sound of it.”

***

THE END

***