Mike Shepherd is on holiday. Resoundingly, absolutely on holiday.
It’s mid-January, he’s had a busy and violent year - culminating in being held at gunpoint - and he’s at the beach to relax. Not to work.
He’s got a bach, he’s got a box of good wine and some books, and he’s going to live out his two weeks of leave doing nothing more than drinking his wine, eating well, and reading.
It’s a nice and sunny day, so he decides to take himself, his book, and his sunscreen down to the beach for a few hours. He doubts, but he might just come back with a little bit of a tan.
The beach is fairly empty when he gets there, so he sets out a towel, lathers himself liberally in his sunscreen, and opens his book.
Maybe 20 pages go by when he’s interrupted by a pair of short legs walking into one side of his peripheral vision, and kicking the sand about a bit.
A bit of it gets in his mouth.
He coughs, closes his book, and sits up, to find a girl, clothed in a rash shirt and swim shorts - who’s probably about six or seven - kicking the sand about next to him. Her blonde hair is wet from the sea, and she’s got a pair of massive green sunglasses perched on her head.
She’s also staring him down like he’s got the answer to life’s most poignant questions. This is a… worry. Mike is not necessarily great with kids.
“Mummy says you were in the… newspaper.” She says, looking down at him, almost accusingly. “And that you’re a police- off-offi- policeman.”
Well, Mike can absolutely blame the Brokenwood Courier for this one. He hadn’t wanted them to run the story - but ‘local policeman gets held at gunpoint’ was apparently big news. They’d put a picture of him on the front page.
Both Breen and Kristen had mocked him for it, which was honestly, fair enough.
“I am.” Mike says, shading his eyes with one hand. “Does your mother know you’re talking to me?”
“Yeah.” The girl pouts, and points off towards a woman sitting on a fold-up chair under a sun umbrella about twenty metres away. The woman waves, absentmindedly, in her daughter’s direction. “She’s boring. And she doesn’t care about me.”
“Really?” That, without any other context, is a little worrying.
Mike really doesn’t want to have to get CFS or anything down to the beach today… He’s supposed to be on holiday.
“Yeah.” The girl pouts even more. “Someone took the flag from my sandcastle, and it was really cool. Mum doesn’t care though. She wants to read her book.”
Her and me both, Mike thinks, but he levers himself up on one elbow, and tries to muster up a look of shock. “That’s… very sad… uh - what’s your name?”
“Clara.” Clara says, and wrinkles up her nose. “‘Cause you do police… stuff… can you help me find it? I bet it was Sammy. He’s real mean. Mum says that you’d know what to do, like you could find it and stuff, cause you’re a real de-detect-ive(?)”
Mike heaves a heavy sigh, and hates the woman sitting in the distance, just a little bit. But, he’s nothing if not good at adapting to change, and he’s fairly sure if he says no there’ll either be tears - or annoyance - on his hands. It’s probably just easier to help. “I can, Clara. When did you last see the flag?”
In the end, they find it about ten metres down the beach from the sandcastle - probably picked up by the wind. Clara’s mum thanks him, and even offers him a couple of ornate pastries from a fancy-looking cake container.
He mightn’t be good with children, but honestly, the whole endeavour is almost worth it.