It is not easy for one to be held at gunpoint, and it's even harder to come to terms with that experience. The human body is a miraculous thing, sometimes – it recovers from fatal wounding with little to no issues afterwards; parts can be torn off and reattached with very little loss of feeling; but the human mind... tends to hold on to things.
Anxiety is overestimating a threat and underestimating someone's ability to deal with it, and that goes for any situation, really, anything at all – but it doesn't feel right to wake up in the middle of the night, covered in sweat, with his heart going a million beats a minute and the feeling of a shotgun barrel being pressed against the back of his head.
It's been two weeks since the stand-off at the house, and Mike's still not quite over it.
He expects he won't be for quite some time.
But he's been in the game long enough to know what to do. He takes his pills to help him sleep, goes and sees the counselor that they've set up for him, and resolutely ignores Telemore Rise when he drives home after work every day.
Things are quiet. There's not been much in the way of murders in the last two weeks, and for Brokenwood, that's something. After the exhumation of Jayden Doyle's body, and Corina's burial, things are quiet.
There's a spate of burglaries, fracas down near the beach between a bunch of freedom campers, and Brokenwood Island loses a DOC hut to unsafe bacon cooking, but for Brokenwood, that's quiet.
He chose the 'murder capital' of New Zealand for a reason – or at least, it chose him for the same.
Mike's phone drags him from his slumber at 4.07am on Saturday morning – it's Kristen, and it's bad news.
He probably shouldn't be driving – he can feel the sleeping pills still making their way through his system, and he's groggy as all hell, but it's first thing in the morning and the roads are quiet. A light mist curls over the road, makes it harder to see, but he doesn't encounter a single car until he gets into town proper.
The Massey Apartments aren't apartments in the way that they'd be in the City, they've only three stories and a couple of units, complete with balconies, but it's the closest that Brokenwood has to a high-rise.
The first thing he notices is Jared, looking sick and more uncomfortable than he should be, sitting on the edge of a low wall near the entrance to the building. The second thing he notices is the body, her hair splayed out around her like wings on an angel, the pavement smeared with her blood.
“Jocelyn Sims.” Kristen says, and leans up on the edge of the Kingswood as he arrives. She's got an oversized keep cup of coffee clutched in one hand. “Thirty years of age – she was in that unit up there at the top.”
“Sims?” Mike asks. “Relation of yours?”
“Mmm, possibly?” Kristen muses. “It's not really a popular name, but I never met her at Christmas or anything if she was.”
The balcony three stories up extends slightly further out above the two balconies below it. It's not unreasonable to suggest...
“CIB doesn't think it's suspicious, considering the victim's background.” Kristen replies, at his unasked question. “But Gina will be able to tell us more. Do you want to go and do your... thing?”
“Well, I got out of bed for a reason.”
She just raises an eyebrow at him and goes back to her coffee. “Go wild. You've got a few minutes before the boys take her back to the station.”
He starts to move, before he remembers. “Jared?”
“He found the body.”
That's what he'd suspected. “I'll have to have a chat to him. Send him home and get him to come into the station later. He looks rough.”
“Will do.” Kristen says, and claps him on the shoulder as she goes.
It's spring, but his breath comes out in cold puffs as he kneels down next to Jocelyn. Her body is a gruesome sight – one of the worst he's seen in quite a while, with deep concussion marks around her head and neck. There's so much blood.
“Jocelyn, I'm Mike.” He says, and puts his hand on the ground beside her body. “Why don't you tell me what happened here? When you're ready.”
And in the cool morning air, peace at last, she tells him her story.
The fact that Kristen can make coffee now is very disconcerting, but Mike welcomes it when he gets into the station at 5.30, eyelids drooping. He could do with a nap in the back corner of his office, but he drags himself through the initial paperwork for ruling the case a suicide, before he dozes off at his desk, coffee forgotten.
He jolts awake, sharply, at about 7, his heart in his mouth, and has to take a second to feel around the base of his neck for a phantom shotgun barrel. God. He'd do anything for a proper rest.
Sipping at his coffee, he finds it cold and bitter – much like Kristen's older attempts at making it. Ugh. He pours the rest down the sink in the kitchenette and sets about brewing a fresh batch.
Breen, the only member of their team who didn't have to deal with waking up at the crack of dawn, swans in at about 8.55, looking chipper and far too happy for such a time on a Saturday morning. “Morning, sir!” He says, and then notices the look on Mike's face. “Been here for a while, I take it?”
“Since 5.30.” He replies, and swallows a mouthful of coffee the wrong way.
After spluttering for far too long – Breen had offered (threatened) to do the Heimlich Maneuver to save his life, but Mike had politely declined – he continues. “Suspected suicide, out at the Massey Apartments.”
“Jesus.” Breen replies, and moves over to sit at his desk. “Do we know who?”
“A Jocelyn Sims. Thirty, lived alone on the third floor.”
“Jesus.” Breen blanches, going even whiter than he usually is. “I know- knew her. Josie? A suicide? There's no way.”
“I think you better give me some more details.” Mike says, and goes to fetch his recorder and notebook from his desk.
The thing is – he'd thought the same. Josie hadn't told him much, but something about the circumstances of her death seemed wrong.
Sam didn't know Josie closely, but they'd met through Brokenwood's local online gaming group, which he'd joined for the sake of “getting to know the community a little better, and to get out of the house.” He'd only gone along a few times – when it was held at the local Internet Cafe, but it had not really been for him.
“Most of them are terrible.” Sam explains, “Incels, terrible nerd guys, you know the type – the kind of guys who don't ever really seem to wash.”
Mike doesn't, really, but he goes along with it for the sake of his note-taking. “Go on.”
“But Josie and some of the others were actually alright. We had a Civ 5 game that went on for most of a day but it felt like half an hour, it went so well. It was just fun for the sake of fun.”
Mike doesn't know what ' Civ ' is either, but he can Google it when Breen's not around. Interrupting Breen's train of thought – since he's beginning to stare off into space a little nostalgically - he asks, “Josie?”
“Yeah. Josie. She was so good at Civ , she had this fantastic strategy with Casimir III that we never really figured out. She wasn't just good at Civ , she was clever too.” Breen pats the table thoughtfully. “Why are you ruling it a suicide?”
“Medical records say that she was on a variety of anti-depressants and other mood-altering prescription drugs at the time of her death, and she had attempted before.” He'd had a chance to look over the records CIB had pulled just before he'd fallen asleep, and it also seemed to fit, despite his discomfort with the ruling.
“Yeah, but most people are on anti-depressants.” Breen replies, eyes a little glazed over. “I mean look at the world, it's on fire, of course we're all sad. And the suicide attempt... that was years ago. She'd gotten- I mean, you don't get over that kind of thing, really, but she'd come to terms with it. She made that clear.”
“We'll get the autopsy results back from Gina and go from there, okay?” Mike says, gently, because Breen looks genuinely very upset. “Are you alright?”
“Yeah.” Breen replies, but he doesn't look it. “I'll get in contact with the next of kin.”
Mike lets him leave, because it'll probably keep his mind off things if he actually has something to do.
“Senior?” One of the newer cops, who he's not quite learned the name of yet, calls him to the front just after nine am. “I've got Jared Morehu for you.”
“I'll be right out.”
Jared looks rough. Discovering a body isn't an easy thing for anyone, and he's seen more than most. He's swathed in his jacket, jiggling a little bit in his seat, and the whole anxious energy thing is so very unlike him.
“You didn't need to come in so early.” Mike says, gently, and gestures towards the door. “Shall we go for a walk?”
The mist has cleared some from the roads around town, and there's people out and about now, walking their dogs, getting coffee from the coffee cart and meeting their friends for brunch.
Jocelyn Simms wouldn't be among them, though Mike briefly wonders what she would do if she was. Was she a latte kind of woman? Had she met up with friends on the weekend for eggs benedict at one of the new fancy cafes along the main strip? Would they notice her absence?
He buys Jared a coffee, because he recognises the look in his eyes. He's hungover, alongside everything else.
They sit together on a park bench, looking out towards Brokenwood Common.
Jared doesn't want to talk, or is too energised to think of how to start, so Mike just asks, “You found Jocelyn's body. What were you doing around the Massey Apartments at that time of the morning?”
“Right in with it, eh?” Jared replies, staring somewhere off into the middle distance, hands deep in the pockets of his swandri. “You don't beat around the bush.”
“As much as I wish we were doing this over a bottle of red back at my place, I think you want to talk.” Mike replies, carefully. “Why don't we get this over with and you can rest up.”
“Yeah.” Jared mutters. “I'll definitely be able to do a lot of resting after this morning.”
“I can organise someone for you to talk to-”
“Nah mate, I'll be okay.” Jared turns and gives him a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. “It's just – with Lesley, I saw her go down and all, and I swam out to her boat, but this was... a lot.”
It's strange to see Jared speechless. Jared knows words, can manipulate language in a way that so few people can, and it's odd to see him at a loss. But he gets it. He really does. Jocelyn Sims' death had been far more gruesome than most. “I understand. Why don't you tell me what you saw this morning?”
The Frog and Cheetah is full of the rugby crowd, as per usual, when Jared gets there around about ten on Friday night. He resolutely ignores Trudy, because her release from prison still irks him out, and buys a beer from Ray instead.
Some of his mates have abandoned their usual haunt for the new gastropub across town – perhaps prompted by their wives or girlfriends – but the usual suspects are hanging around: Kimberly and Frodo, Billy Franks and his newest fancy boyfriend from the City, Sam and Kristen, and he's even fairly sure he can see Kahu nursing a pint right at the very back.
In truth, he'd probably be more comfortable having a glass of red back home on his porch – with or without Mike - but sometimes he feels like it's good to stick his nose into town and get amongst all the local gossip from the source firsthand.
Mrs Marlowe also loves her gossip, but it tends to be a little distorted when he hears it from her end.
So he sits down at a table with Kristen, Sam, Kimberly and Frodo, grabs himself a pint of whatever doesn't break the bank, and settles in for the latest news.
“Did you hear that his new boyfriend's a lawyer.” Kimberly says, conspiratorialy, and jerks her head towards Billy's new boyfriend. “Like a big one. From the City. Real fancy and all that.”
“Is he.” Kristen doesn't really catch up on the gossip, so Jared's sure she's only really doing it for the companionship of the whole thing. “Did he do any cases we'd know about?”
“Oh, I don't know, and I don't really care.” Kimberly replies, with a shake of her stunning hair. “He's pretty though, don't you think?” She elbows Frodo, who looks like he honestly couldn't care less.
“Mhmm, suppose.” Frodo replies, and goes back to his pint.
Jared briefly wonders whether Frodo likes coming out on Friday nights at all, the way he carries on, head in a beer all night, but they all like Frodo, and it's not as though he's dragging the conversation down.
“Jared?” Kimberly asks, and snaps him from his reviere and back to the pub. “Do you?”
"Sorry, cuz, what were you saying?" He asks, because Kimberly's a good sport, and he does genuinely want to participate in the conversation even though he's not tipsy enough to appreciate it yet.
"I was saying," She says, and it's a little exasperated, because Jared tends to get caught in his own head more often than not. "Is there anyone you've got your eye on at the moment?"
"'Got my eye on'?" He quotes. "You sound like my uncle trying to give me the birds and the bees talk, Kimbs."
"Well, it's a little more subtle than what I could be saying." She replies, and scrunches her nose up at him. "Seriously, Jared. You've been single for, what- a few years, now?"
"I have no trouble with the wāhine in this town, Kimberly, you know that." And that is true. Just because he's not involved in anything a little more serious doesn't mean that he's not... involved with people.
"And what about the tāne of this town?" She asks, cheekily, and it's far too early in the evening for all this.
He rolls his eyes. "You can stop that train of thought right there, Kimbs. How's your love life, Kristen? I spotted Kahu just over there if you wanted to-"
"Kahu and I broke up for a reason." Kristen says, and nudges Sam in the ribs. "Not all of us can find the love of our life while we're still in high school."
"I was just... very lucky." Sam says, in the way where he's a little bit smug but not keen to elaborate on it. Very seriously, he says, "You'll find someone, Kris. There'll be other chess-playing introverts in this town somewhere."
"God, just shut up." She replies. "You know nothing about my interests."
"Well, that just isn't true." Sam says, mock aghast, "I spent..."
Jared tunes the pair of them out for the moment and sips at his beer. It's not as though he's especially been hiding his proclivities, or anything of the sort, really, but they're just not the most public knowledge, in the way that the Mayor's might be.
His ex had said to him once, years ago, just after they'd gotten back from a pride parade in the City, and had been washing the rainbow paint off before they'd headed into town for a drink - "Coming out isn't a one-time thing. It's more of a spectrum. It doesn't ever really stop."
He'd not even really been out then, but it had stuck. Especially in a place like Brokenwood, where the old dears from the church social groups didn't have a 'problem' with queerness, but still frowned down at those who were too open about it, and the rugby lads didn't have a problem, either, but might still call him a poof behind his back.
The whole thing turns his stomach. He needs some fresh air.
He notices that Sam's wandered off during his musing, probably to go home to his missus and all. It's been a while since he's seen Roxy, and he makes a mental note to catch up with her sometime when he gets the chance, if she's even still in town.
It's spring, but it's still cool outside, so Jared perches on a wall away from where the smokers are hanging out and just looks out at the sky.
There's no cloud cover tonight, and the sky is full of thousands of little tiny stars. When he'd gone away for polytech, spent a year or so in the City, he'd always looked up at the sky and missed Brokenwood, with its clear skies and gorgeous nightscapes. It had always been too bright in the City to see much up above.
It's spring, but it certainly hasn't sprung yet. The chill nips at the end of his fingers, and it feels like a frost, which isn't good for the grapes, and it's certainly not good for the daffodils he'd hope would sprout up in his back garden, but there's nothing really to be done about either of those things. He'll just have to hope that the frost decides to leave them alone.
Kahu comes out and joins him after a few minutes. He sits down on the wall as well and shifts about uncomfortably, trying to find a perch as comfortable as the one Jared has, legs crossed and perfectly balanced.
"How do you do that, bro?" He asks, looking a little bit horrified at just how balanced Jared is on the wall.
"I'm just more zen than you, Kahu. It's not my fault that you can't balance like this."
"Whatever." Kahu finally seems to get his balance. "I saw you talking to the others in there. How's... everyone?"
"Kristen is doing well," He replies, because Kahu might care for the others, fleetingly, in the way that most people in a small town do, but it's obvious that his thoughts only lie in Kristen's direction. "She's not dating anyone, and she misses playing chess with someone, because the only other people who play chess in this town are in their 80s."
"Mhmm." Kahu replies, non-committally, and ignores the slight, though it's obvious that Jared's piqued his interest. "And what about you?"
"What about me?" Jared asks, though it's obvious what he's getting at.
"It's been a few years since Aroha..." Kahu lets the rest of his sentence hang in the air. "Cohabitation isn't something to be scared of."
"Yeah, yeah, cut it out." Jared rolls his eyes, good-naturedly. "You team up with the others to get my love life back on track, cuz? Cause I've had more than enough chat about it in the last twenty minutes."
"Maybe it's obvious."
"Maybe you should all stop prying."
Kahu laughs. "You're a hypocrite, Jared."
"Yeah, but in a nice, well-mannered way."
"Mhmm." He says, again. "Anyway. How's Uncle?"
Kahu wanders off home after a few minutes, clearly not willing to try his luck again with Kristen tonight, and Jared heads back inside, the air outside just a little too cold for him to spend much more time out there.
The rest of the night goes by faster than he expects, and he's walking in the direction of home with a few of the lads from the rugby club around 4am, politely tipsy, the night's chill ebbing away with the burn of alcohol in his veins.
He gets along with them well enough, though they're not mates and won't ever be – he doesn't like rugby enough for that – but they're a good chat to have on the way home, and the fact that they're about eight feet tall and built like brick walls is a reassurance when wandering rural roads in the dark.
It's Brokenwood, after all.
They peel off about a k away from his house, so he's forced to make the rest of the walk on his own. It's fine, really. The night is cool and clear, and there's not much in the way of human noise, so he just walks down the main road listening to the occasional sound of moreporks and the water sloshing against the backs of the Mahurangi.
The Massey Apartments are well-lit, despite the time of night, and he cuts through their carpark to save time. It's a little chilly, and the alcohol is wearing off - he really just wants to get home and get into bed as soon as he can.
Loud thumping from above gives him pause. He looks up, cognizant enough in his drink-addled brain, to see a figure leaning over a balcony at the top of the complex.
It's obvious, but clarity is sluggish in the middle of the night, but then he realises they're slipping.
"Wait- STOP." He yells, but it's too late, too slow, and the body slips, falls ungracefully, ungainly, a mass of humanity and hair in the night, and crashes to the ground right in front of him - silent in the fall, and in death.
Jared staggers back, horrified beyond belief, and vomits into a pot-plant by the entrance to the building. "Gods." He hisses out, and wipes his mouth.
She's not alive, he can tell that much, from the shape of her head, and the blood pooling around her chest, but he recognises her. They'd gone to school together, he'd not known her well, but he knew her well enough. "Josie. Shit."
He gets his phone from his pocket, dials clumsily, hands slipping all over the keyboard, and gets 111 on the line. He can hardly find his words.
"Jared." Mike turns to him, horrified, later that day. "I didn't know you'd witnessed it, if I had, I wouldn't have asked you-"
"I'm good." Jared forces a smile again, for Mike's sake, because he's seen enough trauma in the last few weeks. He doesn't need to worry about him in this case, when he's got enough to worry about already. "I'll take you up on that counselling offer later."
He hadn't slept when they'd taken him home.
He'd just sat up, staring out into the vineyard, watching the dawn crest over the vines as the sun rose, and gone through the motions of his morning.
He'd staggered to the bathroom to vomit once he'd noticed a spot of blood on his collar, probably just from shaving, but it sent him back to the Apartments, and back to Josie's body.
Shit. He'd never seen it coming.
"Jared." Mike says, and he's got a warm, caring hand on his wrist, and it's too much for right now. "You've gone off into the middle distance again."
"Sounds like me." Jared replies, and does his best to subtly shake him off, because his head hurts, and he wants to sleep. "Is that all you wanted to know? I'm sure security cameras have me at the Frog and Cheetah all night, and I wasn't in much of a state to do anything on my walk home."
"You're not a suspect." Mike says, automatically, like he'd not even thought about it. "Actually... you know the circumstances of the death. Why would you think it wasn't self inflicted?"
"Josie... I mean, I didn't know her that well, but it didn't seem like it. I heard things from her apartment when I was walking by - it's what made me stop - and... well, suicides like that, they're not... very common, are they? If someone wanted a way to go, that'd be one of the last things they'd choose."
"You seem to know a lot about that sort of thing." Mike remarks, and he's still looking at Jared in that caring, worried way, in a way that really hits a little too close to home.
"Yeah." Jared stands, and takes his coffee. "I learned about that sort of thing at school. In health class. It was part of the curriculum."
That's not even close to the truth.
Mike wakes up on Sunday morning at about 5am, with one hell of a headache. He takes some Panadol, has a coffee, and opens up his curtains, deciding to face the day straight on. Maybe it's stress, but it's probably because he's still not sleeping properly. He'd only woken up twice with nightmares, but it had been twice too many.
Jared's lights are on across the vineyard, and he knows that Jared likes to sleep in - especially on a Sunday morning - so he grabs his phone and sends him a quick text. Texting is a new thing, and he really doesn't like it - phone calls are so much easier, and it's easier to get a handle on what mood someone's in over the phone - but he feels that it's a little rude to call someone first thing on a Sunday morning when he's not even sure if they're awake.
M: Penny for your thoughts?
The reply comes mere minutes later, when he's standing in the kitchen, considering whether to have breakfast before he goes into the station or not.
J: I hardly think they're worth that much
And then a follow-up.
J: why on earth are you awake
M: I was considering pancakes before going into work. Keen?
He wasn't, really, but his head hurts, and he wants something filling. Pancakes are a good start to a morning, even one that's shaping up to be as unpleasant as his is, and they're one of the best things that he can cook.
J: I am always keen for food I don't have to make myself
M: Come over, if you want.
J: yeah will be there in a few chur
Mike resolutely ignores the warmth in his chest at the thought, and sets about bustling around the kitchen for pancake ingredients. Before Jared's even turned up, the bright rays of dawn are poking in through his kitchen window, and his headache's dulling down to a faint beat behind his eyes.
He still feels unpleasant, a little groggy, and not as well-rested as he should be, but it's manageable, and that's more than enough.
Mike sets out the flour, baking powder, eggs, oats, sugar and milk, alongside bananas, maple syrup and a few other options for toppings. He's not the best cook - he'd been very fortunate to marry women who liked cooking and were good at it - but he can hold his own in a kitchen if need be, and pancakes are one of his best recipes.
Jared knocks on the sliding door when he's just about to crack the eggs, and he looks like hell. With dark bags under his eyes, and truly awful bedhead, it's obvious he's not slept especially well.
Mike worries about his friends, sometimes. Living people are sometimes a lot harder than those who can't speak any longer. It's obvious that Jared's hiding something from him, probably related to the horrifying scene that he'd found at the Massey Apartments, but he doesn't know what.
All he can do is wait and hope that he feels comfortable enough to talk about it.
People are tricky, sometimes.
And so are pancakes.
Jared's bought a punnet of strawberries across from his side of the vineyard. They're mismatched, some are a little small, but it's a lovely gift and Mike tells him so.
"It's not a problem." Jared replies, and he's not bashful about it at all. "They're the start of the summer crop. They've not been the best so far, just 'cause it's been so cold, but I think they're starting to get there."
"Regardless." Mike replies, and adds them to the pile of assorted toppings. "Thank you."
"Well, you're making the rest of the kai." Jared says, a little ruefully. "I figured I should at least contribute. Coffee? I'll make it."
"Please." He might be slowly coming to terms with the fact that he's up so early, but tiredness is still grasping at the corners of his eyes and he still reckons he might end up napping in his office a little later. Coffee, hopefully, will take the edge off.
They dance around each other a little in his small kitchen. It's a little strange to have someone else in there with him - he's spent six years alone in the place - but not unpleasant.
It's just another thing to get used to.
But soon enough, Jared's made coffee, and it's smelling out the place deliciously, and the pancakes are ready and stacked high on a plate on his kitchen island.
It's about a quarter past six, the sun is up, and the grass outside sparkles with a late spring frost. It's cool, too, but not cool enough that it's worth staying inside.
"Outside?" He asks.
"Absolutely." Jared replies, and gives him a bright smile that the comment definitely doesn't warrant.
And... it's nice. It's a nice feeling to be sharing his life with someone, making food in the morning, and sitting out watching the town wake up around them.
It's a little too domestic, somehow.
He doesn't really have the right to be thinking things like that about a friend, but the morning is calm and quiet, and he feels content.
Despite the headache.
He can chastise himself later.
"You fancy yourself a bit of a Masterchef then, eh, Mike?" Jared asks, and helps himself to another pancake, "cause these are good, bro."
"Well, I've had a lot of experience." He says, and grabs another one himself. "You live with enough people, you learn to make things that they like. One of my ex-wives really liked brunch."
"I'm glad that we're benefiting from the knowledge." Jared raises his coffee mug to him. "Cheers, Mike. To making a shit morning worth surviving."
"Cheers." Mike clinks his mug with his and drinks some of his coffee down. He doesn't want to bring up anything that Jared's going to skirt away from - like he obviously had during their chat yesterday morning, but the comment makes him curious. "A 'shit morning'?"
"Yeah." Jared pulls at the sleeves of his hoodie a bit. "Can't say I slept the best last night."
Maybe it's the time of the morning, maybe it's the headache, but he's a little more loose-lipped than he should be. "Welcome to the club."
"You too, huh?" Jared looks him over for a second. "The Jenny thing?"
"It's certainly been sticking around." That's the understatement of the century.
"I mean, it must have been pretty traumatic, for anyone - despite your job, you guys are human too." Jared points out, a forkful of pancake in one hand. "Neil give you anything?"
"Mmm." Jared wrinkles his nose. "Not for me. I'm all for medicine and all that but I've seen people become dependent on them and that's a scary thought. My auntie - she wasn't like my biological auntie, but I called her that anyway - she's a holistic healthcare practitioner, right? She teaches people about hauora when they're recovering from things, rather than just looking at the physical symptoms."
"Hauora?" Mike's sure he's heard the term before, but not necessarily in the way that Jared is using it.
"Yeah. Healthcare, but overall. It's a way that a lot of us look at it. Imagine your body's a wharenui, right? A whare needs all of its beams, the walls, the roof – it needs everything in balance and in the right place for it to stay upright. Your body's the same way.”
Mike spears a strawberry on his fork, genuinely interested. “Go on.”
“Taha tinana – that's physical things – often damage done to your physical body, but also concepts like respect. Taha hinengaro is about mental wellness. The other two are probably less discussed in medical clinics; taha wairua, spirituality – that doesn't have to be a religion or anything, just a spiritual awareness, and taha whānau, your relationships with your family – once again, not necessarily your family by blood – but how you relate and care for those who you see as your family. If something's unbalanced or neglected then your whole sense of self is thrown off, and you might become unwell. It's thinking about the whole, rather than just singular aspects.”
Mike thinks about the idea for a few minutes. “I like it. It makes a lot of sense.”
“Yeah, I tend to agree.” Jared chuckles, and reaches for his coffee mug again. “Until she says that I'm neglecting my taha whānau because I don't go up north to visit her enough, and it'll negatively affect me in the long run. Whānau, honestly. What can you do?”
"I've barely seen mine in a few years so I wouldn't really know." Mike replies, though the whole thing reminds him of his sister, and of the phone call, and of the hostage situation.
Jared must see his face drop a little. "Biological or not, Mike, I'd hope you'd see some of us here as family, or at the very least, mildly tolerable."
"I've been here six years." Mike gives him a long-suffering look. "If I didn't find you at least mildly tolerable I would have taken the Kingswood back to the City long ago."
"Well, that's good to know." Jared clasps him on the hand, across the table, just for a moment. "Sweet pancakes, by the way. I know I said that earlier but it bears repeating. They are really good."
"You're far too kind."
"Nah, I just believe in thanking people for what they're worth." Jared puts his fork down, sits back and pulls his legs up onto his chair, colour coming back to his face. "What's the best thing that you can cook?"
"I could do a full Christmas roast a few years back, complete with all the trimmings." Mike says, remembering it fondly. "I didn't get to make them much, because they were a once a year occasion, but they were magnificent."
"I bet." Jared replies. "Did you teach yourself or learn from someone else? My mum taught me to cook, but I was always around the rest of the whanau so I just picked things up."
"It was more of a survival tactic." Mike admits, a little more quietly, slight panic hanging in the pit of his stomach, because the moment feels right, but he can hardly ever tell. "One of my ex-partners - he was hopeless in the kitchen. Could hardly tell a kumara and a potato apart. Deciding who's going to make Christmas dinner is less of a decision when one of you can't cook at all."
"Huh." Jared replies, eyes widening a little at the admission, but not saying anything in response. He ponders for a second, then looks up at Mike, a wide grin stretching across his face. "Are you saying you were a bit of a kept man, Mike? I never thought I'd see the day."
"Don't push it." Mike says, but the tension is broken, and the panic disipates as fast as it came. He's relieved, far more than he expected, because it's not easy just saying that kind of thing to anyone, not matter how well he knows them, and he doesn't want to ruin what he has with Jared.
The moment is lost. "What's the best thing you can cook?"
Jared finds out that Josie's death has been ruled a homicide late on Sunday evening, which means it's splashed all over the front couple of pages of the Courier the next morning.
It's disgusting to see, and he almost can't believe it. For a town as rocked by death as Brokenwood is, he'd expect there to be less of a media frenzy once a new one turns up.
Mike finds him on a park bench just outside the old theatre clubrooms, with a copy of the paper clutched in his hand. He also doesn't look happy.
“Vultures.” Jared says, and gestures at the paper. “It's only been two days.”
“I can't say I'm happy about this.” Mike replies, and slumps down next to him with all the poise of an irritated goose. “I have no idea where they got the tip-off, and now the killer knows that we know.”
“Well, it wasn't from me.” Jared says, “And honestly, who would I tell?”
“I know it wasn't you, Jared.” Mike turns to him, distractedly, and suddenly switches topics abruptly in his usual way, “If you wanted to kill someone, how would you do it?”
“I would throw them in my koro's pigpen.” Jared says, far too quickly for such a nice and sunny day. “Pigs like meat.”
“That was... concise.” Mike says, and almost, almost raises an eyebrow at him. “Do you do a lot of thinking about murder in your spare time?”
“You grow up in Brokenwood, you see a lot of it.” Jared shrugs, though really, he'd not come up with the solution himself at all. Sometime a few years back, probably even before Mike had rolled into town and stolen Jared's heart, they'd had a murder mystery party, and that had been how the murder had been committed.
He'd not even been the one to put the puzzle together in the end. Kristen had solved it, which wasn't very surprising.
“Mhmmm.” Mike hmms, and sits back against the wood of the bench, newspaper still clutched in one hand. “Josie didn't commit suicide.”
“I know.” Jared reminds him, gently, though the idea still sends a spear of memory – bloody, brutal memory – through his head and he has to take a second to remember his train of thought. “It's all over the paper. And Mrs Marlowe told me yesterday night at the evening service at the church.”
“How'd she find out?”
Mrs Marlowe hadn't scrimped on the details, either, saying something about 'knives' and how it all felt very much like a Poirot, but he didn't know how much of that was true. She always seemed to add another layer to her stories that often turned out to be false.
Mike leaps up from his seat, suddenly energised. “Thanks, Jared. I think Jean and I need to have a well-deserved talk.”
“No problem!” Jared yells at Mike's retreating back. “I'll just- thanks!”
Stabbing is the theme of the hour, and Breen is knee-deep in history books, looking for the exact weapon used to create the puncture wound in Josie's chest.
Mike hadn't spotted it on Saturday morning, since Josie had fallen face up, and the wound was in her back, but it's a curious sight.
It's not a traditional weapon, not a knife or anything they've seen before – it seems like some kind of arrow, judging by the size and shape, but it doesn't match with any kind of standard hunting arrow that the Bloodsports shop sells, and the wound's a little wide at the head for anything modern.
It's all very strange, and clearly meant to make a point.
When he'd spoken to Jean, she'd really not been very helpful as to where she'd found out about the death.
“Oh, I don't remember, dear.” She'd said. “I think it was one of those young people who stay inside a lot – they mentioned it to me off-hand, like they didn't really mean to.”
When pressed, she'd had even less to say.
“I simply don't remember, dear. Do excuse me, I need to head to my kombucha-making class.”
Which hadn't helped.
Mike had sent Kristen off to interview their people of interest - of which there really weren't many; a couple of Josie's close friends, her brother, who worked on a farm on the outskirts of town, and a few of her coworkers. He was also in the process of getting a list of names of the people who had spent time at the gaming club – though Breen wasn't being very helpful around that, as he had no clue who was presently part of it.
However, the whole thing was beginning to elude him. He just couldn't get a grasp on the killer's motives. Josie, for the most part, seemed like a clever, healthy, kind woman, who didn't have much in the way of enemies.
Brokenwood. It always seems to be the quiet ones.
He's got a splitting headache by noon, so he heads out into the town to recover a sense of perspective and get a fresh eye on things.
The Brokenwood 24/7 Internet Cafe (and Gaming Centre) - the addition is added in brackets, with Sharpie, on the sign - is on the main drag, right above a pie shop, and he eyes it a little warily before heading inside.
Signs up the narrow staircase proclaim 'the fastest internet in Brokenwood', 'private viewing booths' and 'Netflix, but for free!', but they all look a little like they were made in the late nineties, so Mike isn't sure how accurate and potentially copyright-infringing they might be.
The room is grim. Mike doesn't love computers, isn't really a fan of modern technology invading personal spaces, but even he can agree that he prefers to use his laptop at home on the couch as opposed to the Internet Cafe.
He doesn't know how Breen tolerates the space long enough to play games in it.
The room is harshly lit with white strip halogen lights stuck to the ceiling at varying intervals. At the very end is a large photocopier/printer duo. There's three rows of computers, all old, all rough-looking, with six computers to each row. The place is nearly deserted, with only two other occupants - one man, squinting at a bright spreadsheet in one corner, and the attendant, who is reclining in an office chair and snoring slightly, with his feet propped up the end of his desk.
'Gaming centre'? Really? The whole place is lifeless, and absolutely reeks of body odor and cheap air freshener used to cover up said body odor.
He steps over to the desk and feels very silly about waking the man up, but he does it regardless. He clears his throat, which really, is a mistake. The inhale of air he takes in is something he immediately regrets.
"Excuse me?" He asks.
He's seen a lot of dead bodies in his life, but none that snore before.
"Excuse me?" He asks, a little louder.
The man in the back thumps on his computer's hard drive and gives him an angry look.
Tough crowd. "Excuse me?" He asks, again, and this time he gently shakes the man by his shoulder.
The man immediately flips his chair back and wakes. "Sir, I-I wasn't sleeping!" His bleary, red eyes refocus and he notices Mike. Smoothing his hair down, he says sheepishly. "I wasn't sleeping. I was just resting my eyes."
"I'm not here to tell you off." Mike says, gently, and holds up his badge. "I'm DCI Mike Shepherd, with the Brokenwood Police. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions?"
The attendant sits up, eyes wide, and tries in vain to straighten up his hoodie. "Yeah. Uh. Totally. Sure. Absolutely, officer. Go ahead. I've got nothing to hide."
Mike politely ignores the smell of weed coming out of the man's pores and asks, "What's your name?"
"Jason... uh. Jones."
"Jason Jones?" Mike replies, skeptical, because the whole thing sounds a little like he's making it up. "Do you have any ID on you?"
"Yep. Uh. One sec." He fiddles around in the drawers of the desk and tosses an 18+ card in Mike's direction. "Jason Jones."
"Huh." Mike looks at the ID, which appears to be legit, with some surprise.
However, Jason still looks cagey, which really doesn't help matters. "I'm not in trouble, am I?"
Mike just wants to move things along, so he decides to speed things up in a slightly unorthodox way. "For the sake of expediency, why don't we both ignore the fact that you're definitely high right now, and you just answer my questions instead?"
Jason's eyes goggle, just for a second. "Uh. Yes. Let's just... do that."
"Good." Mike takes a seat in front of him. "What's your job here, Jason?"
"I'm... just the day attendant." Jason replies, slowly, still looking suspicious. "I look after the place weekdays, between nine and five. I sell internet vouchers, things like that. Do you know we have the fastest internet in the town?"
"Yeah, we get a bunch of kids in on the weekend, you know - the real esports kind of demographic, who don't have good enough internet out in the wops to play properly, and they spend all day here and wrack up a fortune in bills."
Mike doesn't know, really, but the term 'esports' is just another thing he can Google when he's not talking to a person of interest. "What kind of games do they play?"
"DOTA, Starcraft, Overwatch - things like that." Jason shrugs, "I'm barely ever here on the weekend, and they're not really my kind of jam."
Jason gives him a strange look. "Civilisation's not an esports game. It's turn-based strategy. Logic based, things like that. Kids like fast-paced games these days."
"Right." Mike feels a little like the conversation's going nowhere, and suddenly very, very old. "Do you know Jocelyn Simms?"
"Josie?" Jason says. "Yeah, I know her. Bloody legend she is at Civ, eh. Why?"
"I'm currently working a case involving her, and I got pointed in your direction. I heard she had a group that used to get together and play here?"
Jason snorts. "Yeah, man. 'Used to'. They didn't like the vibe this place had, had to go off and find their own den after a couple of weeks. 's fair enough, too. This place is kinda shit."
"Why do you work here, then?" Mike asks, curiously. "That's not relevant to the case, by the way, I'm just interested."
"What other kind of job lets you sit on your arse all day on the internet and pays you twenty-five bucks an hour for the privilege?" Jason shrugs. "Sometimes I might have to reboot the servers or fix a fried screen, but that very rarely happens, and for the most part I just sit on Reddit or work on my screenplay or something. It's cool."
Mike isn't even going to remark on that can of worms. "Well, thank you anyway, Jason. Perhaps don't let other people catch you sleeping on the job?"
"Mhmm." Jason replies, non-committally. "I make no promises."
It's a dead end, so Mike decides to head off back into town. His headache's gone, for the most part, but he feels a little at a loss. The case is eluding him - he feels like there's something obvious he's missing, but he can't put his finger on it.
"Oh yeah." Jason says, calling after him just as he's about to go down the stairs. "Josie's club. I just remembered, I know where they meet now. Want the address?"
"Please." Mike notes down the address. "Thanks."
"No problem, mate." Jason says, and leans back in his chair and shuts his eyes. "No problem."
The address Jason gives him turns out to be one for the local library, which Mike doesn't actually spend a lot of time in, despite his love for books. He only has to ask at the desk about the gaming group, before the woman behind the counter rolls her eyes and says, "Yes, they spend a lot of time in that one," and gestures towards a smaller room off to the side.
The room in question appears to be a study room. It's probably only a few meters by a few metres, and it's completely full to the brim with nerds.
He might be pre-judging, but that's a little what it looks like. They all have laptops, laid out on desks around the room, and he's fairly sure there's about six of them. They look up when he comes in, and one of them, who's probably in their mid-20s, looks up at him and says, "This room's booked."
"I can see that." Mike says, and pulls out his badge again. "I'm DCI Mike Shepherd. I was wondering if I could ask you a few questions."
"We're in the middle of a game." One of the others - he can't physically see the speaker, because of their gigantic laptop that's making sounds approximate to the pitch and tone of a jet engine, but he thinks they have green hair. "Can you come back?"
"When?" He asks, because he doesn't particularly want to go back to the station yet anyway, and now he's found the gaming group - or at least, he thinks he has - he doesn't want to let up.
"Ten minutes?" The gamer shrugs. "Maybe?"
"You better still be here when I get back." Mike agrees, and wanders back out into the library. He busies himself with a book about online gaming - it was written in 2012, but he feels that it doesn't hurt to at least try to understand it - while he waits, and heads back to the side room after fifteen minutes or so have passed.
He didn't expect the kids to have done a runner, so he's surprised to see that the room's completely empty when he gets back.
"Oh, for the love of-" Mike hisses, and darts back out of the side room. After a quick look around the library, he realises that the kids have skedaddled.
He returns to the librarian at the desk, vaguely irritated. After flashing his badge at her, he asks, "Is there anything you would be able to tell me about the gaming group? I'd like to have a chat with them, but they've run off."
"They're not in trouble, are they, detective?" The woman asks, looking worried. "They're ratbags, usually, but they're effectively harmless." She blinks at him through her gigantic glasses, and he is reminded, rather terrifyingly, of a caricature of a human-like rat from a children's book.
"No, they're not in trouble." Mike assures her, though that's not strictly true. "I just need to have a chat with them. Do you know where they might be?"
"Well, I can look up the room booking for you." The librarian says. "If you'd like?"
"If you could, yes."
She busies herself typing away at her computer for a moment or two, and Mike takes the moment to look around the rest of the library. He almost feels bad for barely passing by in the six years he's been in town, but in his defense, he's had a lot on.
"Ah, yes." She says, and pushes her glasses up. "James Rannells. It's usually him who books the room. I don't know his personal address, but his mum lives out at 3 Harris Road. She might know where he is."
"Thanks." Mike says, honestly. "I appreciate it."
Before he leaves the library, he goes back into the side room and has a proper look about inside. There's masses of papers stuck up on the walls - gaming guides, maps, and so forth - and for the first time, he truly appreciates the scope of the whole thing. It's an interest for a lot of people, even if he doesn't really understand it.
Harris Road is on the way back to the station, so he picks up lunch from a bakery nearby and hops back into the Kingswood, humming along to the nearest Tami Nielsen CD on the way there.
The raspberry danish is delicious, and he reckons he'll swing past the same bakery next time he's in the area (and not before). If he ate danishes as much as he liked he'd never have room for wine – and logically, chats with Jared - and honestly, that'd be a tragedy.
James Rannells's mum's house is small, middle-class – the kind of Kiwi standard model of house that fills the streets nationwide, with nothing particularly spectacular about it. It does, however, have a bright pink door.
Mike stares at it for a moment, then shrugs. If anything, it livens the place up a bit. Nothing wrong with sticking out if one wants to.
He presses the doorbell, and inside the house, a dog starts barking.
“QUIET, Emmie. Shut up!” A woman yells from inside the house, and he hears footsteps walking towards the door, before it swings open.
The woman inside is violently redheaded, and liberally coated in crystals. They hang over her ears, swing around her neck in a long chain, and she's even wearing some in her hair. “Yes?” She asks, smiling sweetly at Mike. “Can I help you?”
“Uh. Yes.” Mike says, blinking away his surprise. “I'm looking for James Rannells?”
“Who's asking?” A note of suspicion creeps into the woman's voice, and she pulls the door shut slightly.
“It's nothing bad.” Mike says, and flashes his badge for the third time that day. “I'm DCI Shepherd from the Brokenwood Police, Mrs... Rannells?”
“Ms.” Ms Rannells says, looking unimpressed. “Go on.”
“Ms.” Mike says, and clears his throat. “I'm, uh, following up on a lead surrounding a death in the city. James potentially has some information that could make my job a whole lot easier.”
The woman's frown deepens. “James isn't in trouble?”
“No.” Mike replies, trying his hardest to be calm and collected, to nullify any potential fallout from the situation, in case his interaction with James' mother comes back to bite him. “I'm just looking for some names. I'd really appreciate it if you could point me in the direction of James, if he's around.”
“Fine.” The woman says, “But you can't come in. I don't want your... aura polluting the place, Detective, if you don't mind.”
Her voice belies no chance of an argument.
“That's not a problem.” Mike says, easily. “My polluting aura and I will just wait out here. Take as long as you like.”
“Mhmm.” The woman says, and shuts the door.
“JAMESON RANNELLS!” She yells, still far too close to the door.
“WHY IS THERE A BLOODY PIG AT THE DOOR?”
Mike winces, again.
He understands why people don't like the police, especially in New Zealand, and especially in an area of New Zealand that's been so unstable politically in the past, but even so.
“I CAN'T BELIEVE YOU, JAMESON. SITTING ON YOUR ARSE ALL DAY ON YOUR COMPUTER – YOU'RE KILLING YOUR SPERM COUNT AND YOUR POSITIVE ENERGY WITH THAT THING – JAMESON? JAMES?”
Mike leans in, just a little, because it sounds like something's gone wrong in the house - which is when he hears the abrupt smash of glass, and the sound of a body dropping to the ground to his left. Emmie, from inside the house, goes absolutely spare at the sound.
He leans around the side of the porch to see one Jameson Rannells, green hair and all, jumping out a high bathroom window, dropping to the ground along the side of the house, and hoofing it over his back fence.
“YOU BLOODY KID, HOW COULD YOU?” Jameson's mum screams, sticking her head out of the bathroom window. “WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST OPEN IT?”
“Sorry, mum!” Jameson yells, from beyond the back fence. “I didn't mean to!”
Mike gives chase, but it's obvious by the time that he reaches the small alley beyond the house that Jameson's disappeared.
“Comms?” He gets back to his car, puffing slightly, and radios in to the station. “Put out an APB for Jameson – James – Rannells, green hair, about six foot, with a massive laptop case with him. Last seen around Mahurangi East.”
He doesn't know why James has run off, but it doesn't seem good.
“I think,” Mike says, affixing Jameson's mum a stern look through the shards of her broken bathroom window, “you and I need to have a chat.”
She doesn't even have the good grace to look even a little upset at the thought.
This bloody case.
Jared's a little bit sleepy, considering the horror of the last few days, but he's not going to pass on spending some time with Mike, especially in his hour of need. The middle of a case always seems to be the most challenging time for him, and he likes to lend a hand where he can.
"How does no-one in this bloody town know anything about this gaming group?" Mike says, sounding far more irritated than he normally does about a case that's only a few days old.
"'This bloody town'?" Jared parrots, and sits down opposite him, vaguely irritated at the implication. "I know they're eluding you and all, cuz, but no need to paint them all with the same brush."
"Yeah- yeah, you're right." Mike says, and picks up the bottle sitting between them. "It's just been a day, is all. What are we drinking?"
"Milton Te Arai Merlot." Jared replies, looking at the bottle a little fondly. "It's from down on the East Coast. I've got a few cuzzies around there - they snuck a few bottles for me a couple Christmases back. Perks of the job, I suppose."
Mike fixes him with a mock-aghast look. "Are we drinking contraband wine, Jared? I'm shocked."
"Yeah, yeah- stop." Jared cracks the bottle and pours it into the two glasses sitting between them. "It's far from contraband. Some of the vineyards are a little lenient about these kind of things. It was very kind of them, and it's a good vintage, so stop complaining."
It's not contraband, not really - he'd never bring such a thing in front of Mike, for starters - but he'd been lucky to get it. His cuzzies had thoroughly extolled the virtues of such a good pour, and by the looks of things, they were right.
"I would never."
Jared rolls his eyes and raises his glass for a toast. "Drink your wine," he says, but there's nothing remotely irritated in it. He finds it very hard to be annoyed with Mike.
They clink glasses, and Jared takes a sip.
It's good, full-bodied and rich in exactly the way that he was hoping. "Bloody Wiremu was right." He says, pleased beyond belief. "I really thought he was pissing about like usual, but he was right. I suppose I'll have to make it up to him somehow."
"Send him a bottle from our vines if we ever get that up and running, eh." Mike replies, and the strangest thing is, he's not really kidding.
Jared's managed to get a pretty strong barometer of Mike's moods over the last few years, and it doesn't seem like a joke, at all. However, it's a little too soon, a little too fast. He plays it off a little, makes a joke to lighten the air. "Our vines, Mike? You've gotta muck in a bit to make that claim."
"I promise that I'll dig a few holes eventually." Mike replies, and nurses his own wine for a moment. "Once I've solved this case."
"I'm going to hold you to that." Jared replies. "I'll make sure of it. Get you out in the gumboots and everything."
"I don't have any gumboots." Mike says, suddenly coy. "Sorry. I might just have to pass that up."
"Well, you can borrow some of mine." Jared replies, not letting go. It feels a little like a verbal spar, a suddenly joyous moment under all of the nonsense they've seen recently. He relishes in it. "I'm sure I've got some that'll weather a city boy wandering about in them for a few hours."
"I've lived here for six years ." Mike places his glass down on the table, firmly, thoroughly mock-aghast. "How dare you."
"Mmm, but you're not really from Brokenwood until you've passed out in the ditch in the front of the pharmacy with a bunch of stolen road cones after a 21st gone wrong." Jared says, because it's true. "And been woken up by Mrs Marlowe offering you an early-morning cheese roll."
"Is that a common occurrence?" Mike asks, façade suddenly gone, and he sounds genuinely interested all of a sudden. "Enough for it to become folklore?"
"Well, I can't speak for everyone." Jared sits back in his chair and thinks for a moment. "But it certainly did for me. I did a yardie of red wine at my 21st, and thoroughly regretted it."
"You're always had such a refined palate?"
Jared snorts. "Hardly. It was cheap stuff, the cheapest I could get at Liquorland, and I couldn't drink for months afterwards. My cuzzies mocked me enough for it that eventually I made them give me some of the good stuff. Now, it's basically all I drink."
Mike hmmms for a second, rather thoughtfully. "Well, I'm glad you did. Perhaps not for the sake of your liver, but for the sake of our chats."
"I like spending time with you too, Mike." Jared grins at him, a smidge bashfully. He likes Mike, and not just in the way that he has since the beginning. It's nice to have someone who likes books, and cleverness, and good, honest talk, in his life.
He feels very thankful about it all, sometimes.
"Actually." Mike leans forward again and steeples his hands together. "Sam and Kristen... Did they both end up in the ditch during their 21sts?"
“Well, I can't speak for Kristen, because she's probably too sensible.” Jared leans forward, conspiratorially. “Sam, though. I have... stories.”
“Well, he's definitely still got a street sign that he stole that night from Samuel Close, up by Telemore Rise? It's in his garage.” Jared admits, with a little bit of sass. “Is that a crime? I hope that isn't a crime.”
“I had a man on narcotics lie to my face today.” Mike says, tiredly, “And I didn't do anything about it. I'm not going to caution Breen because of a street sign.”
“Well, good.” Jared says, “because it's been there for eleven years and they replaced it almost straight away anyway. He's got a lot of things in that garage.”
“How do you know?”
“Because we're mates, Mike. I spend a fair amount of time around there, watching Sam pretend that he's still got a girlfriend.”
“What-” And Mike reels back a little at that one, but fortunately Jared interrupts before he's got the chance to say anything more.
“Wow, look at the time.” Jared backpedals, thoroughly, and doesn't even look at his phone for the time. “The night's flown by. I've got to leave in a bit, you know, with all the terrible sleeping and all, got to get to bed early to make sure I get some rest. Tell me about this case, before you go. I might be able to help you out.”
There is an entire can of worms in his sentence that he really hopes Mike doesn't go into. It's neither the time nor the place to articulate exactly why Brokenwood is so weird.
Mike, fortunately, leaves it. “The case is not going so well...”
The evening flows by with a small amount of case solving, but mostly a lot of good wine and pleasant company, and Mike doesn't ask about the Breen thing, which is probably for the best.