Once again, I was back in the hospital bed. This time, though, instead of Max beside me, it was Boss opposite me.
"I'm assuming we're agreed that Max is not to visit you after that episode."
It wasn't a question, but I nodded anyway. "Absolutely."
This was followed by a heavy silence.
Against my wishes, and probably because of some sort of bribe, a couple of the nurses had called Boss almost as soon as they saw me collapse. He'd arrived within twenty minutes with a warning that if I got out of bed again, he'd assign a body guard to me who wouldn't allow me out of the room.
"When will I be discharged?" I decided to cut into the silence, exposing the subject hanging in the air.
"When you've returned to full health."
"That will be at least six weeks from now."
"Yes, and hopefully this case will have finally come to a close."
"Sir." I pushed myself fully upright. He turned off his earpiece, a rare and serious occurrence. "Sir, I can't abandon this case."
"You should have abandoned this case as soon as you saw his file, McAnderson. You, and especially you, should know that no agent can take on a case which involved a personal affiliation."
I had no argument against that. At least, not one that would change his mind. "You let me continue even though you knew."
"I trusted you not to let it affect your treatment of the case. Something which I'm inclined away from doing again. You have made constant mistakes. You didn't recognise this man, even when he was in front of you. Your friend Harriet, who you should not have been discussing cases with anyway, was more perceptive than you were. Now she, Max and you are all injured. Not to mention Joe, our main suspect - and I'll have words with Max about this too - is in critical condition at the hand of our detective, which hugely compromises the legitimacy of the charges against him." He stood up from his chair and walked across the room, to the window. "You also got drunk while on call, and god knows what would have happened if Max hadn't been there."
I took a sip of water, knowing what he was about to say. It was horrible. He was right about everything and there was nothing I could do about it. "I'm sorry."
"Briony, I wish I didn't have to do this, but you've left me with nothing else to do. You may return on a part-time basis in time. However, until this case is finished and you are back to full health," he took a breath. "McAnderson, I am removing you from service. Until further notice."
Once again, silence fell.
Boss looked drained as he turned his earpiece back on. He muttered something, turned it back off, and then took out his mobile. "Briony, you have to accept the removal. I expect you to do so once I've finished this call."
When Boss left the room, a doctor came in to check on me. She informed me that Harriet was waiting to visit but had been turned away until I asked for her. Then she left.
I've been removed.
Like fuck u have.
Boss's going to talk to you about beating up Joe.
Shit. Hope ur ok. Gotta go.
The replies from him were unusually quick, always within thirty seconds. It had me questioning what he was actually doing. Would he really risk taking out his phone and texting in the middle of pretending to be... well, Joe? And if so, who was Boss talking to? Because I had assumed it was Max.
Boss returned to the room. "Briony."
"I accept my removal."
"Good. Now, Max has for some reason had to leave his post. I didn't catch why because he seemed quite panicked so I'm going to get him. I will not be bringing him back here. I request that you be separated for at least two days, but it's up to you whether or not you obey that. I'm also required to decide on an exact time you'll be removed for, so I'll tell Max what that is. Harriet is currently under interrogation. You are not to talk with her."
He shut the door behind him.
So it was Max on the phone? How was he texting me? And then it dawned on me that Max was the sort of person who'd have two phones. But in that case, who was the one who had the other number, me or Boss?
After a quick check, I discovered it was me. In fact, I had two phone numbers for him. One under the title Maximus and the other under the title of Max. I had no idea when he'd done that, but I could imagine the smug look on his face as he'd entered his preferred name. It made me smile. I was probably saved in his phone as 'Brainy'. Actually, I definitely was. There really was no doubt about it. I'd given him my number before we were friends. Huh. Friends. if only it was that easy.
I started to text him, but after a moment's thought I decided to go for the other number to show him I'd found out his little secret.
Boss is on his way x
It took me a second to type the kiss but I remembered his very first text to me, which had included one, and hoped he'd take it as a reference to that instead of what it was: a weak attempt to show affection.
And then I just sat and waited for something to happen.