Boss returned to the hospital at midnight, turned on the light in my room and wordlessly held the door open. He stood there and watched me scramble to get my things (not that there was much) and gestured for me to follow him.
It was eerie in the place with only a few of the lights on. The sound of my crutches against the floor echoed off the walls.
"Boss, what are you-?"
"I'm taking you home," he said. His face was indecipherable. Once we got outside, he opened the passenger side of the car for me to get in. "Briony," he said after a pause.
"This is my car," I said.
"Yes, but you're in no fit state to drive, so get in," he touched his ear, telling me that the conversation was being listened to. However, once we were inside the car, he discarded his earpiece into the back seat. "Before you make a comment on that, I go off the radar all the time. And so do you. I'll explain in a few minutes."
I didn't dare question him. We travelled in silence for half an hour.
"Right," he said. "What I'm about to tell you, you must never repeat to anyone else. Aside from Max, because he is your case partner. Feel free to interrupt at any point."
"You dismissed me from service."
"I also said you could do what you want, Briony. We'll get to that." He looked at me sideways. "It had to be your car because right now, you're driving yourself home, after discharging yourself from the hospital."
"Sir, they just heard you talking to me."
"Inside the hospital as far as they know. I could've been anywhere. They could only hear my voice. Also, your car isn't bugged-"
"What?" I said, not because I thought my car should be bugged, but because I had never even considered that it might be. "Is Max's car bugged?"
"Max's car has cameras and microphones."
"Does he know?"
"You'd have to ask him. I assume that he does. Now. Officially, you are actually still part of the SIS. And you and Max have been the only ones with access to the files on this case. In fact, you know more about Joe in one instance than we have ever been able to find out."
I shifted in my seat. The truth be told, I felt like I knew nothing about Joe. I knew less now than I had at the start of our relationship. Why did he even need to rob banks? I couldn't imagine it was drug money. And why did he have to fake his own death? Couldn't he have just broken up with me?
"Anyway. I want you back on the case."
"Is everyone's car bugged except mine?"
"Briony, do you think you're old enough to have had enough training and experience to be one of the key minds in this company?"
"I'll take that as a possible yes. What about Joe? He was discussed in Max's car more than once. You knew."
"Yes, but I only had a suspicion. I don't monitor his car all the time. I couldn't act on just suspicion."
"No disrespect, Sir, but we wouldn't exist without suspicion. I mean, we call people who might be involved suspects."
"You sounded exactly like Max just then," he parked the car. "Yes, I knew, but I thought it would help with the case. So far, it has both helped and hindered it."
"We're at Max's house."
"Yes we are. I was attempting to go where you'd go if you'd just checked yourself out of hospital. I'm going to walk home." He got out of the car and walked away.
After a minute, I also got out of the car. It was chilly outside.
Max's front door was slightly ajar. A lamp was on inside the house.
I stepped inside, shut the door behind me and went straight to bed.
The light woke me up and I immediately knew someone else had been in the house. The heating had been switched on and the bedroom blind was open. I could smell food.
I proceeded with caution. Max stood in the centre of his living room, wearing a pair of dungarees and a green polo shirt. In his hand was a plastic bag full of glass.
"You'd think they might clean up the crime scene themselves," he smiled. "Are you gonna help or what?"
There was a lot of blood on his carpet. In the end, I just grabbed it from one corner of the room and pulled it up.
"Max, am I seriously looking at this?"
"You have laminate flooring underneath your carpet."
"Yeah, so that should the situation arise where I needed to hastily dispose of the carpet then I wouldn't have to worry about getting another one. Use a knife if you're going to do that. It makes it easier."
"You have way too much money."
It didn't take too long after that. Just a bullet wound in the wall. There was no hope for the sofa where Joe had been sitting, but Max put the cushion covers in the washing machine anyway.
The whole place smelt of soapy water, bleach and disinfectant. We sat on the floor.
"I didn't make you food. I wasn't sure when you were gonna wake up."
Very suddenly, a wave of annoyance came upon me. "I don't care about breakfast, Max."
"I didn't care massively about tidying my living room but you turned up at my house unannounced so y'know."
"You got here after me. Max, couldn't you have taken just one second to reply to my texts, or my calls, or that stupid fucking voice message I left?"
"I think you're stressed because you've been through trauma."
"Oh, well done, Sherlock. But I'm also stressed because I was worrying about you and you didn't even bother to send me a quick text? I mean, just an 'I'm okay' would've sufficed."
He laughed and looked at me with disbelief. "You were worried? You were worried? When I heard you collapse over the phone and was prevented from going back to the hospital? When I had a stupid idea in my head that if you breathed in the wrong direction it might happen again? When I get home late at night and you're in my bed 'cause you discharged yourself from hospital way too early and I have no idea what to do? I mean, I was in two minds whether you were going to even wake up this morning."
"Max, you know I didn't discharge myself from the hospital. You could've just texted me back."
"I know." I stood up, intending to stretch, and then decided against it when my ribs started to twinge. "Where did you sleep last night?"
"On my bedroom floor. I thought you'd need some space."
"You'd have slept in the bed with me?"
"Why not? We're friends, aren't we?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
He smiled and shook his head as he stood up. He held my head to his chest and then wrapped his arms around me in a careful cuddle. "You guess so. All this happens and you guess we're friends."