Actions

Work Header

Danced until we flat out falling into bed

Chapter Text

No. 1

He shows up at Mike‘s with a bottle of Merlot and an ambivalent sort of mood. The man is in the kitchen, just about done making dinner and Jared lets himself in as he‘s become used to.

                ‘Hey, neighbour.’ It‘s not quite as cheerful as usual, but he thinks Mike can guess why.

                ‘Jared. You hungry?’

                He‘s already had takeout (too preoccupied to make his way home until minutes earlier) but it actually smells pretty good. ‘What‘re you cooking?’

                They sit down for jerk chicken and rice which goes surprisingly well with the Merlot. ‘Didn't know you cooked.’

                ‘What, you think I only got married so someone would feed me?’

                ‘Eh...’

                Mike laughs. ‘Don‘t answer that. I like eating, so it‘s not a big leap to like cooking.’

                It‘s good, and Jared tells him so. ‘Maybe I should start showing up earlier in the evenings.’

                ‘Well, I wouldn’t mind the company. And it‘s never quite easy to work out portioning for just one.’

                Mike doesn't press him about it, but then again that‘s not his way. Mike is really good at getting people to talk by just listening at them. Jared‘s seen him do it enough times by now, with witnesses and so on. He’s no slouch when it comes to questioning, but Jared appreciates that he knows when to leave that attitude at work. And the thing is, Jared actually wants to talk about it.

                So he does, once they've moved over to the couch and topped up their glasses. ‘Guess that DNA test came back negative,’ he began. ‘Can‘t say I‘m disappointed, considering the kind of man Declan turned out to be. Never thought my father might be pākehā, anyhow.’ The joke falls half-flat, and the smile sits crooked on his face. Mike just Listens at him.

                ‘Don‘t see why auntie had to make such a fuss...’ He trails off, drowning the sentence in his wine glass.

                ‘You never wanted to know?’ Mike asks.

                ‘Of course I wanted to know, Mike!’

                Mike leans back in the face of his ire, and Jared makes a face. ‘Sorry about that, didn't mean to snap at you. But yeah, back when I was a kid. You wonder, don‘t you? And my mother apparently never told anyone. But that was when I was a kid, right? It‘s different now.’

                ‘You‘re mad at your aunt for looking into it without telling you?’

                Jared makes a face again. ‘A little, but that‘s not quite it. Suppose it‘s our priorities.’

                ‘How so?’

                Jared sighs. ‘Because she thought it was better for me to be acknowledged by a shithead of a potential father, than the alternative. Even when she hated him personally.’ He takes another sip, and savours the Merlot properly this time – the wine‘s too good to drink with inattention . ‘She tells me, “Jared, it‘s no good, to be missing half your whakapapa like that.” Well, I know the part of my lineage that matters, and I‘ve got more than enough mana to go around as is. I have the whānau.  That‘s enough for me. I‘m just disappointed it‘s not enough for her. I always thought she felt the same.’

                Mike makes a face of sympathy – a genuine one as far as Jared can tell. Most of his expressions seem genuine. Either that, or he‘s a terrific liar. But Jared can‘t quite believe that. And sitting here on the couch with him, it’s a nice break from the rest of the world. So they have a glass or two more, what with it being both their day off tomorrow, and Jared – unlike their previous evenings together - falls asleep on the couch.

                When he wakes up the next morning, someone (three guesses and the first two don‘t count) has draped a blanket over him. Mike‘s in the kitchen, frying eggs over toast. As ways to wake up with a hangover go, this one‘s not too bad.

 


 

No. 2

He doesn't mean to end up back on Mike‘s couch quite that soon, but the whole thing with Carly and Greg has him wired like a faulty electrical grid.

                ‘He had you at gunpoint,’ Mike says and hands him, unusually, a cup of tea rather than a glass of wine. Jared doesn't mind. He thinks he‘d like to be sober for this. ‘Of course it rattled you. Hell, I was scared stiff.’

                ‘That‘s not it, though,’ says Jared, and warms his hands on the mug. ‘Or, well, it is. Probably won‘t sleep great tonight, aye. But that was just the culmination of the whole thing.’

                ‘Of how he treated Carly?’

                ‘No man likes finding out he‘s been blind to his friend being an abusive bastard the whole time. Carly was right about that.’ He drinks his tea, and feels some of the sickness in his chest warm over.

                Mike sits down next to him; a heavy, comforting sort of presence. ‘You‘re thinking, if you had noticed sooner it wouldn't have come to this?’

                ‘Yeah. And I figure, you know, there were probably a bunch of signs I just ignored, because we were friends. Carly didn't deserve that. No-one does.’

                ‘Mm.’ Mark leans back on the sofa. ‘Are you going to get back together with her?’

                ‘Christ no! You didn't take me seriously on the balcony, did you?’

                ‘Oh, I knew you were lying to keep you both safe,’ Mike said, as if nothing else had ever occurred to him, and honestly Jared‘s glad of that. ‘But I thought maybe you might have changed your mind.’

                ‘Nah, mate. It‘s not like that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, as relationships went it was pretty good.  But I think it was probably a lot better in her memory than it really was. I can‘t begrudge her for it, but she doesn't need a Prince Charming as much as she needs, you know, counselling to recover from an abusive relationship.’

                Mike nods. ‘I‘m glad.’

                Jared frowns, bemused. ‘You are?’

                ‘I agree with you. I just think you made a good judgement call, is all.’

                ‘Thanks, I guess.’ The clock tells Jared it’s just past eleven. They’ve sat up talking over wine much later in the past, but he’s absolutely beat. And yet, the idea of making the trek over to his own house in the dark churns his stomach. Being held at gunpoint in your own house does that to you. He briefly considers playing the tough guy and doing it anyway, but he can see the future insomnia staring him in the face despite how tired he is. Besides, what does he have to prove to Mike?

                ‘Hey, uh, mind if I crash on your couch one more time? I know Greg isn’t getting out any time soon, but it would give me peace of mind.’

                ‘Of course.’ Mike gets up from the couch and clasps him on the shoulder. ‘I’ll get you some blankets.’

                ‘Sweet as.’ He stares down at his mug, sleep despite everything threatening to claim him.

                ‘You’re a good man, Jared Morehu.’ He’s surprised enough to look up at Mike, who is looking back at him from the doorway. ‘Don’t you forget it.’

                He manages a real smile this time. ‘Thanks, Mike.’

                Sleep, despite everything, is without nightmares.

 


 

The long hiatus – somewhere in the lower 10s.

Mike is something of an expert on dropping seamlessly out of other people’s lives. Maybe that’s why he doesn’t feel the difference straight away when someone does the same to him.

                After Jared’s time in the hospital it wasn’t unexpected that he’d take a break out of town. And okay, maybe the break stretches on for a bit, but Jared has always had so many plates spinning he deserves a holiday if anyone does. And then it goes on, and on, and suddenly it’s been six months and Mike looks up from his Malbec and wonders why the hell there’s no-one else there drinking it with him.

                His tendency not to keep in touch with people bites him in the ass. He has Jared’s number, but Jared hasn’t called him all this time. He ends up sending a text message that just says “Doing okay?” which feels woefully inadequate.

                The next morning he gets a reply of, “great, u?”

                He answers in the affirmative but doesn’t know what to say beyond that. So for the next six months he’ll send another message much like it, about every two weeks or so, and get much the same answer.

                So when Jared appears one night through the patio door with a bottle of wine as if he never left at all... Well, it takes a while to gear the conversation towards, ‘Where the hell have you been for the last year?’

                He doesn’t know how to say, You were always so... there, that I forgot to miss you. It wouldn’t sound great. Especially since that, from the minute Jared’s back in Brokenwood –  back in Mike’s house – it really feels as if he never did leave.

                Mike isn’t certain if that should be a relief, or something to worry about.

 


 

16 months later

Kristin is already making the coffee when Sam comes in to the office that Tuesday morning. Despite her sudden improvement in skill, he resists the urge to shy away until she’s drank it all herself. The memories of too many cups of coffee that were somehow as weak as tea yet as bitter as a tannery linger. She looks up before he can give into the urge, though.

                ‘Well, look at you with a bright and crispy morning face! Must have been nice to sleep in ‘till seven.’

                ‘I didn’t get called out,’ he objects. ‘What was it? I heard something about a car crash.’

                ‘Motorcycle crash, actually,’ she says. ‘On the highway east. No fatalities, but the victim is being kept under in the hospital. And, get this, a Jane Doe on the highway out of town, north.’

                ‘Any idea of the cause of death?’

                ‘That’s the thing, she isn’t dead, but in a coma. Woman in her seventies, head trauma, no identification. Just lying on the side of the road.’ Kristin throws up her hands. ‘Doctors say there’s no telling when she’ll wake up, if she’ll even survive.’

                And they’ve only just wrapped up the Corina Doyle case, too. Sam eyes her tense shoulders and red eyes. ‘How long have you been awake?’

                ‘Since 4:47.’

                He winces, and delicately points at the coffee pot. ‘And... that’s brew number..?’

                ‘Don’t ask.’

                He takes of his jacket and lays it on the back of his chair. ‘Want me to start on finding out who our Jane Doe is?’

                ‘Better you than me.’

Chapter Text

To start out with, Mike has a Reputation, at the station. And, then in town.  Well, it‘s not as if the man keeps quiet about his many ex-wives, although the exact number is something of an unknown quantity. All very Schrodinger-ish. Word spreads – especially once it makes it to Mrs. Marlowe‘s ears.

                And it takes even Jared a while to realize it‘s undeserved. Mike‘s no Casanova.  On the job, he tends to be a consummate professional. Never showing witnesses that kind of interest, even though plenty of them show interest towards him. If anything, he seems to have gone completely off the whole thing. Jared hasn’t known him to show an interest in... anyone, since he moved here. Unless he got busy while Jared was on his walk. And it’s taken many, many, many evenings together over a glass of wine, to come to the conclusion that if anything, Mike is committed to the point of lunacy. If he ventures into a relationship, it seems to be marriage or bust for him. Hence the many, many marriages, and absolutely zero (or so it seems) number of flings.

                He‘s not sure why it’s been on his mind. Jared pauses his regular post-Tai Chi jog down at the bench next to the coffee cart, and sits down. He watches a few familiar faces go through their own morning routines; Frodo serving the coffee; Kimberley indulgently stopping by to talk to him; Mrs. Levy walking her dog; Randy at the carpenter’s shop late on his way to work.

                He‘s only got to wait a couple of minutes before someone hands him his regular order over his left shoulder. He grins. ‘Good day, neighbour.’

                ‘Jared.’ Mike greets him, but doesn’t sit down. ‘What can you tell me about the word “takatāpui”?’

                Jared looks up from the coffee Mike just handed him, and squints. ‘Is this you asking, or Detective Shepherd?’

                ‘Me, if that makes a difference.’

                ‘This about a case?’

                ‘Person of interest Te Aroha Jackson used it to refer to our victim Hana Nair, carpenter. Hana is currently in an induced coma at the hospital after crashing her motorbike. Which, Ms. Jackson claims has been tampered with. I‘m just trying to find out if the word is relevant.’ He shrugs. ‘Really, I overheard her.’

                ‘I know both of them, see them at church sometimes. Must be very recent, right? Or everyone would be talking about it.’ Mike nods.

                ‘Hana going to make it?’

                ‘The doctors think so. We haven’t confirmed yet if the bike was really tampered with. But preliminary investigation shows that there was air in the brake lines, which caused the brakes to stop working on the highway.’

                Jared frowns. ‘Doesn’t sound like a mistake Hana would make. She loves that bike.’

                ‘So Ms. Jackson said. Furthermore, the bike was apparently serviced just a couple of days ago.’ Mike shrugs. ‘Any leads at this point would be helpful.’

                ‘Fair.’ Jared relaxes incrementally. ‘Historically, takatāpui means something like “devoted partner of the same sex” but it‘s a lot broader than that these days. Covers all kinds of gender and sexual fluidity. Te Aroha and Hana are girlfriends.’

                ‘I see.’ Mike is frowning, which is uncomfortable, but before Jared can speculate he says, ‘Hell, I hope this doesn‘t turn out to be a hate crime. Always turns my stomach.’

                Jared can relate. ‘If it helps, I don‘t know anyone who held them ill will for that reason. Indian side of Hana‘s family seemed okay about it too.’

                ‘Really? People at church don‘t mind?’

                Jared bristles. ‘For your information, none of this was a problem until pākehā showed up and colonized us. My 80 year old aunties mind their manners better than most of the young crowd at Frog and Cheetah.’ Certainly better than Mrs. Marlowe tends to, with all her gossip about “homosexualists”. Okay, it wasn‘t all perfect, but maybe Jared gets a bit ticked off sometimes when white folks want a prize for being “woke”.

                Mike raises an eyebrow and nods in a conciliatory sort of way. He takes a sip of his own coffee. ‘I see. Sorry for making assumptions.’

                Jared shrugs in a way to indicate it‘s no big deal, folds his arms. Confrontation tends to make him uncomfortable.

                ‘So it means Hana is queer, essentially?’

                ‘It‘s a bit more complex than that,’ Jared finds himself explaining. ‘It‘s like, it acknowledges that who you are, as Māori, is inextricable from your gender and sexuality. It based in the fact that we have a long history and lineage of identity before we were ever colonized.’ He sips his coffee, and it’s good.

                ‘Are you?’

                ‘Am I what?’

                Mike meets his gaze with a steady one of his own. ‘Takatāpui.’

                ‘Why d‘you ask?’

                ‘Well, you said “we” a couple of times just then.’

                See, that’s why he prefers it when Mike just Listens instead of questioning him. Jared sniffs. ‘So I did. As it happens, yeah. I‘ve been known to like the tāne as much as the wahine. That a problem?’

                Mike laughs. ‘Only if I was a hypocrite.’

                Now Jared finds himself honestly surprised. He twists in his seat on the bench to look up at him. ‘For real?’

                ‘Jared, the only reason I don‘t leave a trail of ex husbands as well as ex wives is because I couldn‘t legally marry them.’ He shrugs. ‘Although I personally, I count civil unions as equally important.’

                Jared grins hugely and reaches up to slap him on the back. ‘You sly old dog! Told me that sooner, I could have set you up with some people!’

                Mike grimaces. ‘I’d rather you didn’t.’

                ‘Still, you gotta admit you‘re a bit of a dark horse, mate. Good luck on the case, give my best to Te Aroha. And Hana when she wakes up.’

                ‘About that,’ Mike says as he‘s about to leave. He looks embarrassed, but only for a split second, before the chance to put one over on his juniors gets the better of him

                ‘You wouldn‘t mind giving me a hand coming out to Sims and Breen, would you?’ Mike shrugs again. ‘Only, it‘s been so long by now that it would be a bit weird if I brought it up by myself.’

 


 

                ‘Te Aroha?’

                The tall woman stops in her tracks on her way out of the hospital, and looks at Jared there on the sidewalk like she doesn’t recognize him for a bit. ‘Oh, it’s you,’ she says after a second’s pause. ‘Sorry, I’m... distracted.’

                ‘I heard about what happened.’ He nods towards the hospital entrance, which is shifting into a different gear now that it’s gone five o’clock. ‘Were you visiting her?’

                ‘I was. Visiting hours are, um, over now, though.’

                Jared makes a face. ‘And they don’t let you stay longer?’

                Te Aroha gives a one-shouldered shrug. ‘We’re not married or anything, so no. Her dad did offer to fight a nurse on my behalf, but I convinced him not to. I’m just, uh, going back to catch some sleep.’

                ‘You walking?’

                She nods.

                ‘Let me give you a ride, aye? You look dead on your feet.’

                She must be tired, because she only nods, and follows Jared to his car. She gets in the passenger seat and stares blankly ahead as he starts the car, and drives towards the apartment she shares with Hana.

                ‘Don’t have your bike today?’

                She snaps awake, or at least aware. ‘No... It’s being inspected.’

                ‘By the police?’ Nod. ‘They think it’s been tampered with, too?’

                ‘That’s what they’re trying to find out.’ She blinks. ‘Wait, you said “too”. How do you know someone tampered with Hana’s motorcycle?’

                Jared tries to look innocent and shrugs. ‘Eh, I hear things.’

                ‘Well, that detective seemed to think it was possible. I’m glad he believed me that someone had put air in her brakes but... I don’t want it to be true.’

                ‘Aye?’ He looks over at her briefly before having to focus on the road again.

                ‘I don’t want there to be someone in the world who hates her so much that they tried to kill her. Random chance, at least, isn’t targeted.’

                Jared’s quiet for a while. ‘Yeah. Yeah, I feel that.’ He pauses the requisite number of seconds to make it sound as if it didn’t occur to him to ask until then. ‘Is there anyone who might? That you know of?’

                Te Aroha smiles, for the first time since he’s run into her. ‘A lot of people don’t like Hana.’

                Jared scoffs. ‘So she’s abrasive and a bit of an acquired taste – that’s no reason to hurt her!’

                ‘Mm. There is a couple that come to mind. My ex boyfriend, for one. He was real angry when I got together with Hana, even though it was months after I broke it off with him. I haven’t seen much of him lately, though. Then there’s that one co-worker Hana has – she nearly got him fired because he never followed safety protocols at the workshop. He’s got a grudge about that.’ She frowned.

                ‘Not convinced it was either of them, though?’

                ‘It’s more that I can’t see why they’d do anything about it now. I’d have expected it some years or months ago instead.’ She leans her forehead against the side window, and stares out until they arrive at hers.

                ‘Take care, will you? Best wishes to Hana.’

                ‘Thanks, Jared. She’d probably appreciate a visit, if she was conscious. Drop by if you like sometime.’ She not-quite staggers towards the door, and Jared watches to make sure she gets there okay. Then he gets out his phone to tell Mike what he’s found out. All anyone going past his car might hear would be the one-sided conversation.

                ‘...yeah. You might want to look into those two. Yeah. ... A barbeque? Sure, but it’s pretty short-notice. ... A date with Gina? Mike, if you need a wingman all you have to do is ask – I’m joking!’ Laughter. ‘I’ll save you, I’ll save you. Okay, I’ll see you there.’

 


 

Before taking off for Corina Doyle’s funeral, he calls Jared, Sims and Breen one after the other, because the last thing he wants to do now is to lead Gina on. But he‘s hoping she will get the hint and drop it without having him having to actually let her down verbally. Not that he alerts Sims and Breen as to the exact nature of this intervention. Also, Jared makes excellent barbeque and they tend to eat dinner together every week or thereabouts anyway. Surely it‘s his turn to cook by now.

                He does breathe easier once Gina leaves, her goodbyes a little fastidious. But it seems she actually had a good time. That‘s a relief. He likes her, and it would make work difficult if things got awkward between them.

                ‘I hope you know you owe us for this one,’ Kristin says, her legs slung over the arm of the patio chair and a beer in her hand.

                ‘For what? For inviting you to a delicious dinner? Drinks included,’ he says pointedly, eyeing the half a dozen beer cans she‘s emptied. Not that she looks anything but sober.

                ‘So we could third, fourth and fifth wheel on your date,’ Breen teases. He is definitely a little tipsy.

                ‘It wasn‘t a date. I was very emphatically not a date.’

                ‘Is this how you really ended up married however many times? Did you just feel too awkward saying “no” right up until after the pastor had asked for the “I do‘s”?’ Kristin raises a sarcastic eyebrow at him.

                ‘No,’ said Mike, mostly telling the truth. ‘I can be assertive. My ex –‘

                Jared, walking out on the patio with a fresh bottle of wine, rolls his eyes. ‘I know this one. Your ex partner whom you proposed to in the middle of the Auckland airport security checkpoint, yes? That the one you mean?’

                ‘Well, yes,’ Mike says begrudgingly.

                ‘I haven‘t heard that one,’ says Kristin, eyes twinkling devilishly as she zeroes in on fresh gossip from a source that’s usually so reticent.

                Jared laughs. ‘Because his job visa had expired and he was going back to the U.S.? And then you both got detained by airport security who thought you were doing an elaborate routine to distract from a smuggling operation, or something?’ He puts the bottle down on the table and pulls down the rolled-up sleeves of that nice yellow plaid shirt. This hides away his bare forearms, which is probably some kind of crime.

                ‘I maintain they were just annoyed we were holding up the line,’ Mike says. ‘It‘s not like we went through the security gate. Anyway, Simon bailed us out.’

                Out of the corner of his eye, he notices Breen‘s eyes briefly bugging out of his head. Kristin‘s got that distinct look of her face she gets every time he‘s succeeded in genuinely baffling her. Funny, he hadn‘t expected it from Sam, he‘s pretty sure the kid has gay friends on his rugby team. Maybe he‘s just surprised because he thinks his boss is, quote, “super old”.

                But they don‘t say anything, or maybe don‘t get the chance to, because Jared holds up the bottle he‘s brought with him and redirects the conversation. ‘Pinot Noir, anyone?’

 


 

Thursday, couple of day later, Jared decides to take Te Aroha up on her suggestion, and heads to the hospital during visiting hours, with a stop at the florist’s on the way. A nurse at the head desk directs him to the right room, which is empty anyone but Hana herself, looking even smaller than usual in that big white bed.

                He puts the sunflowers he’s brought with him in an empty vase next to several others, each bursting with colour and perfume to the point where the air feels sticky with pollen. He glances at the other bed in the room, which is occupied by a much older pākehā woman who seems to be asleep. There are no flowers or get-well cards on her table.

                He’s been told it’s a good idea to talk to coma patients because they can hear you, in theory at least. But he doesn’t know what to say beyond, ‘Got yourself this battered without fighting back? That’s not much like you, bro.’ He’s always admired that about her. She’s barely tall enough to reach his shoulder, but still she strode around the carpentry workshop she worked at like she owned it, and never took a nasty word without doling out her famously formidable left hook. It’s weird to see her lying there, slack and expressionless. A happy Hana – a lively Hana, was a Hana on a mission.

                ‘Oh – Jared! Hey.’ He turns to see Te Aroha and Mr. Nair, Hana’s father, entering the room.

                ‘Hey, cuz. Thought I’d take you up on it,’ he says with a grin.

                ‘I’d forgotten,’ Te Aroha says. ‘Oh, uh, Mr. Nair, this is our friend Jared.’

                Mr. Nair shakes his hand. ‘I keep telling her to call me George, but it seems it won’t stick,’ he says conspiratorially. Te Aroha wears the demeanour common to people who want to impress either their bosses or in-laws and can’t find a median between overt familiarity and excessive formality. Actually come to think of it, Jared’s pretty sure he’s seen the same look on Sam’s face around Commander Hughes. Thankfully, for Te Aroha’s sake, Mr. Nair seems more easy-going.

                ‘Nice of you to drop by,’ Mr. Nair says.

                ‘It’s no problem,’ Jared says. ‘But ah, won’t we wake up her roommate?’

                Te Aroha looks over to the woman in the other bed. ‘That won’t be an issue. Ms. Doe is in a coma, too. That’s why the nurses put them in the same room.’

                ‘Doe? As in ‘Jane Doe’?’

                ‘Yeah, heard she was found on the side of the highway, out cold. No-one knows who she is.’ She adjusts Hana’s blanket and pillow carefully, before sitting down on the chair next to the bed. Side to side, the difference between them is even more pronounced than when Hana is upright. Te Aroha is very tall and broad, while Hana is shorter than she looks and makes up for it with all the wiry strength of a small siege weapon. They complement each other, Jared thinks, in a way that’s kind of beautiful.

                Mr. Nair sighs, and leans against the bed. ‘Her mother isn’t too happy. She never liked how much time Hana spends on that motorcycle.’ Te Aroha only gives the smallest smile, and takes hold of Hana’s limp hand.

                ‘She’s not in town?’

                Mr. Nair huffs with both pride and frustration. ‘No, she’s forty hours overseas – geothermal engineering conference in Iceland.’

                Jared talks to the two of them for a bit, about other people who have visited, about Mr. Nair’s hobby of growing roses and about Te Aroha’s PhD research in the Brokenwood town archives, until he has to go. Mr. Nair – George, sends him a grateful kind of smile that crinkles the corners of his eyes. Before he goes though, he takes one of the sunflowers from the bouquet he brought for Hana, and leaves it in an excess vase on the mystery woman’s table. He doesn’t think Hana will mind.

 


     

                ‘Thanks, for the other day,’ Mike tells Jared later that day at the vineyard

                ‘It‘s not that hard, re-wiring a car radio,’ Jared says with a shrug. It wasn’t the first time he’d done it and it had been a quick fix.

                Mike’s brow furrows. ‘I‘m –  pretty sure it is... Not for that though. Or well, that too. I mean at the barbeque.’

                ‘Oh, that.’ Jared sticks the end of his shovel in the ground and leans on it. ‘Nah, man, I‘ve been there. I prefer people not to make a fuss, myself. They said anything?’

                ‘No – I‘m pretty sure Kristin thinks I already told her but she didn‘t notice. So she‘s furious she missed it but doesn‘t want to look unobservant. And Breen doesn‘t seem to care much.’

                ‘Sweet as. From the sound of it, seemed like you meant to bring it up sooner, though.’

                Mike shrugs, makes a face. ‘At first I was getting the lay of the land first and, well. It hasn’t been promising so far. Almost every single queer person I meet on a case is closeted, and ends up as an accessory to a crime at the very least. Worst case scenario, they’re the victim of a hate crime. Or they are the killer, often in response to a homophobic hate crime. Well, except for the Mayor.’ Actually, that’s been true of a disturbing ratio of their murder cases since he arrived. A notable exception being Poppy and Cleo.

                ‘Poor Reverend Green,’ Jared remarks. ‘He should move to our congregation instead.’

                ‘You really do know everything about everyone, don‘t you Jared,’ Mike say, shooting him a side-eyed grin.

                Jared wants to say that clearly he doesn‘t, since this whole thing managed to fly under his radar, but just grins back, and shrugs. ‘Hey, I just keep my eyes open. But Mike, you’re mostly meeting people on cases. Don’t you think that makes for the outside chance? Maybe you should start looking out for people outside of work.’ He doesn’t say that Mike really could do with connecting to anyone who isn’t his co-workers more. A nice, sunny afternoon like this one probably isn’t the place for that conversation. ‘Any progress on Hana’s case?’

                ‘Nothing so far, and we’ve been wrapping up Judy Neilson’s deal with the prosecutor’s office. You wouldn’t believe how long that kind of thing can take. Her co-worker, Randy Orson, had an alibi for the night the bike was supposedly tampered with.’

                ‘No other leads?’

                ‘Nothing. Well, unless – you wouldn‘t happen to know anything about Hana‘s father‘s beef with the local paintball league?’

                ‘He doesn‘t have beef with anyone, Mike, he‘s Hindu.’

                Mike gives him a look, though barely hiding his amusement. ‘You know what I mean.’

                ‘As it happens, yeah. Frodo and some of the folks at the Toad and Lion are in that league, and I heard they once had words at the bar. Not sure what about though.’

                ‘You‘re a treasure, Jared. See you around?’

                For some reason there‘s a question mark at the end of the sentence. ‘Yeah, see you Mike.’

 


 

Friday morning, Mike nods to the Officer on duty outside the hospital room, and opens the door straight onto an argument. Or, no – not an argument. An argument implies there’s more than one person involved. Technically there is, but Hana Nair has woken up, and is completely capable of having an argument all by herself.

                ‘-don’t need to be in a hospital, I’m fine!’

                ‘Honey, you were –‘

                ‘-in a crash, and got a broken leg and a billion bruises for my troubles, I know. And I’d be totally useless at home anyway. Ugh, fine. But I won’t enjoy it!’

                Mike clears his throat to draw the attention of the two women. ‘Ms. Nair?’

                Hana, somehow looking taller now that she’s awake, even while looking up at him from her hospital bed, frowns at him. ‘Are you a cop? Hardly illegal to get in a motorcycle crash, is it? I know for sure I had my helmet on, otherwise my brains would be all over highway 409.’

                ‘Yes, I am Detective Senior Sergeant Shepherd. I just need to get your statement about the crash. And at this stage, we are entertaining the possibility that what happened wasn’t simply an accident.’

                Hana frowns – well, more so than her apparent base state of frowning. ‘I do remember the brakes not working right at some point up on the highway. But it’s all a bit foggy - I suppose that would be the head trauma.’

                Just their luck – although that tidbit substantiates the theory that the brakes weren’t working prior to the crash. ‘There is evidence that someone pumped air into your brake lines.’ The way Gina had explained it, air in the brake lines meant that when the brakes were pulled, the air pockets would compress – unlike the brake fluid. Therefore the pressure wouldn’t be enough to push the piston into the brake pad, and the brakes would either work badly or not at all.

                ‘Fuck, really? I mean, I guess it would make sense, I had it serviced only last week, and the people at the garage have never done a substandard job before.’ Hana stares thoughtfully into the middle distance. ‘What about my bike?’

                ‘It’s currently been impounded as evidence but, er, it’s doubtful that it could be repaired in any case.’

                Hana’s eyes blazed. ‘Bastards! That’s going to be expensive to replace!’

                ‘So would your funeral have been if you’d died,’ Te Aroha says dryly, speaking up for the first time since Mike entered. He notices that despite the tone, she’s clutching Hana’s hand very tightly.

                Hana huffs. ‘Mm. Fair point. Any idea who did it?’  

                ‘Our inquiries are ongoing. Do you know of anyone who might have wished you harm?’

                ‘Pff, a bunch of people. But... probably not on the level of wanting to kill me.’

                Mike sits down in the chair at the foot of the bed. ‘Still... Any notable, recent disagreements?’

                She rattles off a few. None of them very convincing aside from a punch-up with her co-worker – the same one Jared had mentioned, Randy Orson – after work. ‘Look, if he wants to not wear a hardhat and get brained by a passing two-by-four, that’s his business. But he’s got no right putting others in danger by flaunting basic safety precautions all the time. Vita nearly lost his fingers on the circular saw one time because of him!’

                Mike notes all of it, although none of it has him very optimistic. Before he leaves, he glances at the Jane Doe in the next bed. She’s still in a coma, according to the nurses, from blunt force trauma to the back of the skull. There is a single sunflower, though, in a vase on the table next to her. It wasn’t here the last time he dropped by. A glance reveals it is likely from the same bouquet as one of many on Hana’s nightstand.

                Te Aroha trails him into the hallways as he leaves. ‘How come she could ride that far out of town without noticing the breaks not working? She left our apartment and headed to the highway, and there’s at least four stoplights on the way there. She wouldn’t run red lights.’

                Mike takes in her furrowed brow and her stubborn concern. ‘I’m told it can take a while before they would noticeably stop working. She might have pulled the brakes a few times before she drove up to the highway and been none the wiser.’

                ‘So... could it be that someone really wanted to make sure she’d picked up enough speed for it to be lethal by the time she noticed?’ Asks Te Aroha intently.

                ‘It’s... possible, yes.’

                ‘Oh.’ She is silent for a moment, and glances back through the door at her girlfriend who despite her previous energy is nodding off. ‘She was really very lucky. I was really very lucky. I don’t know what I’d have done if...’ She trails off.

                Mike pats her on the shoulder, just the once. ‘I’m glad you didn’t have to find out.’ He pauses, nods towards the room. ‘Lovely sunflowers, there. Any idea who left them?’

                ‘Oh, our friend Jared.’ Te Aroha smiles. ‘He’s always thoughtful.’

                He really is, Mike thinks, but doesn’t say out loud.

 


 

There‘s a new album playing on the stereo in Mike‘s apartment. And not just “new” as in “newly purchased,” but as in “released sometime in the last five years.”

                Kristin had made much fun of him for that, despite his protests. He didn‘t listen exclusively to old country and western. Parts of his collection were very up to date! That said, alright, maybe this was the most recent addition since Holly Collins. It just wasn‘t the same listening to her albums anymore, after she was murdered.

                ‘Rough day?’ He glances up from the desk, where he’s re-reading case reports, to find Jared leaning in through the porch door. His guest nods pointedly towards the stereo.

                Son of a bitch! Give me a drink! One more night, this can‘t be me –

                ‘Oh – not really, I just like the rhythm of it.’

                ‘Figures.’ Jared closes the door behind him and moves on over to the couch, with a stop next to the record player. ‘Any progress on the case? How did that paintball inquiry work out?’

                ‘Dead end, I’m afraid. And nothing’s come from talking to Te Aroha’s ex boyfriend. Apparently, the man’s gone to therapy and decided to stop taking out his issues on the people around him. Our best bet currently is the co-worker.’ Even though the man had an alibi when Breen had checked in on him at the workshop, he’d reported that Randy seemed terribly fidgety.

                ‘Fancy that.’ Jared picks up the CD case. ‘Don’t think I’ve heard you playing this one before.’

                ‘No, I heard him on the radio recently. Nathaniel Rateliff, he’s pretty good.’

                ‘Would that estimate have anything to do with the fact that you’d look identical to him if you grew a beard?’ Asks Jared, holding up the CD case with a grin.

                ‘I resent that remark,’ Mike replies. ‘Although you are correct. I don’t think I could pull it off, though.’

                Jared has an indulgent kind of grin on his face, and puts down the record sleeve. ‘Upbeat music to horribly tragic lyrics. I have to admit, I can’t see the appeal. It’s a bit of a whiplash, frankly.’

                ‘Not really, it’s just like life that way.’ He looks down at the report he’s reading, and decides he can finish it later. ‘Would you like a drink?’

 


 

Probably circa no. 37

Nathaniel’s moved on to some other song, less upbeat and more sort of crooning. But it doesn’t detract from the fact the wine’s good and so’s Jared’s mood. It’s been a good day, is the thing, a good few days. No-one he knows has been murdered or arrested, and considering the Brokenwood crime record, he’ll count that as a win. Yeah, someone has it out for Hana, but she’s still alive, and he’s relieved as hell about that.

                The thing is, well, Mike is a little like the country music he listens to. Or, he’s a lot like the country music he listens to. There’s an upbeat to many of those almost comically sad songs that makes them very easy to nod along to carelessly. Until some line hits you just the right way, whacking you over the head with something so tragic in the middle of all the mellow, you just sit there waiting for someone to go ‘psych!’

                But they don’t.

                Mike’s an upbeat kind of guy, about as far from bad-tempered as Jared is. And he doesn’t, well, show sadness much. It’s not difficult to misconstrue it as him not carrying much of it around.

                So they’ve both moved over to the couch, talking over a very decent Petit Verdot and Mike answers an anecdote Jared shares about his family with one of his own. He begins it with, ‘I remember that time, at my wife’s funeral –‘

                And Jared’s expression kind of stalls, as does his brain, waiting for the prestige. For Mike to end the story in a way that means the first part was a joke or a misunderstanding, and not an open invitation to a depressive episode.

                Only, he doesn’t say “psych!”

                So he comes back to the conversation, and sees that Mike has trailed off, and is watching him in a very perceptive sort of way.

                ‘Er, sorry, mate, didn’t mean to zone out.’

                ‘Looks to me like you got too zoned in.’ Mike seems a little uncomfortable, but also like he’s trying very hard not to be. ‘Don’t worry about it, people tend to get like that when you show your “dead spouse” card.’

                And Jared sees through that discomfort –  well enough, he thinks, to offer some flippancy of his own. ‘They get like that about the “dead parents club” too,’ he quips. To his relief, Mike smiles, the stiffness gone from his shoulders. Okay, technically, it’s not as if Jared even knows if his father’s dead or alive, but it doesn’t really matter in the circumstances.

                ‘You’d think the most important fact about a person, once they pass away, becomes “dead”.’ He says. ‘I never get to talk about her outside of that, you know. People always get stuck on that part, and how sorry they are for your loss, et cetera.’ He’s not quite acerbic about it, but there’s a kind of amusement to his tone that Jared recognizes.

                ‘I remember when my koro passed away,’ Jared supplies, leaning back on the couch. ‘Rest his soul. I missed him, yeah. But what I really wanted to say at his funeral was, “You maniac, why did you decide to grow roses with a care regimen only an insomniac pensioner could keep up with? Now they’re my problem to deal with because no-one else in the whānau can be bothered with gardening!”’

                ‘And you still take care of them?’ Mike guesses.

                ‘Every other Sunday at auntie’s house for the last five years. You couldn’t cut through the briars with a chainsaw, and I’m sure he did it on purpose.’ He rolled his eyes. ‘Literal thorn in my side. But I can’t help but enjoy it. He taught me gardening, you know.’

                On the stereo, Nathaniel Rateliff croons on. Think of all the hours I spent in constant reflection / Well, it gets you down but, that don’t make it right...

                They ignore this, because it doesn’t reflect the whole scope of the situation.

                ‘For a full year after she died, I was hungry the whole time,’ Mike says. ‘And not because I was a useless bachelor who didn’t know how to cook. No, there was that tomato soup she used to make, and I just had a craving for it. But I could never make it the way she used to.’

                Jared watches his face. ‘D’you ever figure it out?’

                ‘Oh, yes. The trite answer would have been that it was special because she made it, but no. Turns out it was cinnamon. I mean, who puts cinnamon in tomato soup?’ Mike spreads his hands in defeat. ‘And it was delicious. Also had the benefit that I stopped stress-eating, which my therapist at the time was a big fan of. Although I think her suggestion of dieting was going overboard.’

                Jared privately agrees. And, even more privately, is aghast at the implication that reducing Mike down from that nice solid build would somehow be an improvement. His eyes, quite by accident, wander over the rest of his friend, with the kind of consideration he normally doesn’t let them get away with. Luckily, Mike doesn’t notice, but it’s a close thing, so he hurriedly takes a drink from his glass and haunts for something to keep the conversation neutral.

                ‘I’m glad Hana’s woken up,’ he says. ‘All of this is doing a number on Te Aroha. And her dad, too, but he can overnight at the hospital if he likes. I know she’s hardly sleeping.’

                Mike’s mouth quirks downward. ‘Visitation rights?’

                ‘Apparently she doesn’t qualify outside regular visiting hours, since they’re not married.’ Jared knows it’s no longer an impossibility built into the legal code. But he can relate to feeling bitter about it nonetheless.

                ‘I’ll have a word with the hospital. Hopefully she’ll be discharged soon anyway.’

                ‘Speaking of, any ideas about that Jane Doe she’s sharing a room with?’

                Mike sighs explosively. ‘Not even a little bit. No personal ID, fingerprints not in the system, no missing person report, nothing. She has a prosthetic leg that’s an expensive custom model, though, and I’ve got Breen working on tracking down the manufacturer to see who might have bought it.’

                ‘Huh. Reminds me of the Limping Lady.’

                Mike raises an eyebrow. ‘That’s a rather insensitive of you.’

                ‘Not like that, I mean the historical figure. Virginia Hall, World War II spy for the Allies. Nicknamed ‘the limping lady’ by the Nazis because she had a prosthetic leg. Which, incidentally, she named Cuthbert.’

                Mike blinks. ‘I’m sorry – Cuthbert?’

                ‘Ye-ah. She managed to stay undercover and anonymous for the whole war, too.’ Jared raises his glass in jest at Mike. ‘Maybe you’ve got a spy on your hands, that’s why she carries no ID.’

                ‘It would make as much sense as anything else at this point.’ Mike puts down his glass with a sigh. ‘I’ve got to turn in, it’s an early start tomorrow. You staying over?’

                Jared can feel the wine warming him still, and it’s a very comfortable couch, so it’s no great struggle. Besides, Mike makes good breakfast. ‘If you don’t mind.’

                ‘Not at all. I’ll get you some blankets.’

                ‘Cheers.’

                He watches in a mild haze as Mike walks over to the cupboard for blankets. He’s wearing that black suit of his today; black suit on black shirt. Although he’s taken the jacket off since coming home. It looks good on him, especially with the sleeves rolled up like that. Jared frowns and shakes his head a little. ‘Stop that,’ he mutters under his breath.

                ‘What was that?’ Mike asks.

                ‘Nothing.’

Chapter Text

It’s the subsequent Saturday, and Jared has found himself with a little extra free time, so he heads to the Brokenwood public library. Yesterday’s talk with Mike has reminded him there’s a new biography of Virginia Hall he’d like to check out. And he has some books on viticulture he’s a little late in returning.

                Apparently Gloria is off on a holiday, so a volunteer librarian is at the front desk. There’s a few of them. All retirees of the stricter sort, one or two who are in Mrs. Marlowe’s sewing circle. This time it’s Mrs. Levy, her purple-framed glasses on a beaded lanyard. She gives Jared a friendly smile, somewhat mitigated by the late date on his book returns. He’s not too worried; he’s pretty sure she’s got a soft spot for him since he got rid of a persistent aphid infestation in her rose garden a couple years ago. And what a garden it was, too. He’s heard she’s some kind of old-fashioned heiress or something, and her house certainly bears that out. Possibly that’s why she spends so much time in the library – from what he’s seen of rich people they get bored very easily.

                He strolls along the biographies section, but it seems someone (he would bet it was Mrs. Marlowe) beat him to it, so he pages through a few books looking for something that will spark his interest. He’s three pages into a memoir of Mika (the New Zealand one, not the British one) when a conversation at the edge of his hearing finally grabs his attention.

                ‘-you again! And here I thought that motorcycle habit finally presented its bill to you.’ Mrs. Levy’s voice is more acidic than he’s ever heard it, and that’s unusual enough, but it’s the answering voice that gets to him.

                ‘That wasn’t me,’ is Te Aroha’s tired reply. ‘Has my inter-library loan come through?’

                ‘I don’t see any record of it in the system,’ was the prim response. ‘And in any case, I don’t think it matters, because I’ve made it perfectly clear before that you are not wanted here.’

                ‘On what grounds.’ It’s too flat to qualify as a question.

                ‘Really, I think you know it’s not appropriate for your type to be seen in a public library – we have children visiting here, you know –‘

                ‘That’s funny, I don’t see any around right now.’

                ‘You know what I mean – and I certainly won’t have you talking back to me, you little –‘

                Jared carefully slides the book back into place, and walks swiftly between the stacks towards the front desk. ‘Everything alright?’ He asks.

                Mrs. Levy’s demeanour turns so fast, it’s almost like a light switch. Her face turns positively gooey in affability. ‘Oh, perfectly! Can I help you with something?’

                Jared – for a split second – considers not making an issue of it, but only very briefly, especially after glancing over at Te Aroha’s face. ‘Yeah – in fact you can start by apologizing to my friend here.’

                Mrs. Levy’s smile doesn’t falter, but it gets a bit strained. ‘I – I’m not sure what you mean –‘

                ‘Yes you do, because I heard everything you just said.’ Jared’s not often angry, but he has his limits. ‘Now if you don’t want me repeating all of it to your boss, you better retract it!’

                ‘Jared, don’t bother,’ Te Aroha takes his arm, and scowls at the woman, who is remarkably placid despite the confrontation. ‘The last person I want an apology from is her. Let’s go.’

                He lets her pull him out of the library and a little down the sidewalk, until he bursts. ‘How long has she been saying shit like that?!’

                ‘A couple of weeks,’ Te Aroha sighs.

                ‘And you haven’t reported her?’

                ‘Ms. Ginsberg been on holiday the whole time! And all the other volunteers either don’t believe me or think she’s in the right! You know what people are like!’ She sighs again. ‘I just need to put up with it until Ms. Ginsberg gets back, or until I finish my work in the archives. Or until Mrs. Levy croaks. One of three is bound to happen eventually.’

                ‘She should be fired.’

                ‘She doesn’t technically work there.’

                ‘Which should make firing her all the easier!’

                ‘In theory.’ Te Aroha’s shoulders slump, but she smiles. ‘Thanks for telling it to the old bitch, anyway.’

                Jared throws up his hands. ‘I’d do it again! I’m surprised Hana hasn’t come down to talk to her.’ And probably do a lot more than just talk, at that.

                ‘She was going to, before the accident.’ She looks back towards the library. ‘Look, I’m still gonna have to go back, to continue my archival research. I can tough it out a little longer, okay?’

                ‘Hey.’ He stops her before she can go back. ‘I’ll talk to some people. She won’t be volunteering there much longer if I can help it.’

                ‘Jared Morehu, are you going to contract a mob hit on an elderly lady on my behalf?’

                ‘No!’

                She throws back her head and laughs. ‘Well, it’s a nice thought all the same. After all, you do seem to know everyone.’

                Jared watches her go, and resists the urge to immediately call Mike. This needs more careful handling than can be put into a phone call.

                              


        

It’s a lull in the Hana Nair case. The Jane Doe case, of course, continues to endlessly flatline. The mystery woman’s fingerprints haven’t shown up in the system, and there continue to be no missing person reports matching her description. Sam’s email enquiries to the company that made her prosthetic leg have doubtlessly ended up in a spam filter somewhere. And since they’re on the other side of the world with a 12 hour time difference, he hasn’t been able to call them during office hours.

                After such an impressive lack of progress, Sam decides it would be a crime to spend his lunch break inside the station on a lovely Saturday like this. ‘Takeout?’ He asks Kristin, who’s been frowning at her monitor for the last twenty minutes.

                ‘Only if it’s Vietnamese.’

                ‘You drive a hard bargain,’ he replies, getting up from his chair and swinging his suit jacket over his shoulder.

                ‘No I don’t, I’ve seen you with those summer rolls.’ She gets up and grabs her car keys, and follows him.

                ‘What’s got you all preoccupied?’ He asks, once they’re sitting outside in the sun with their stir fry – and yes, summer rolls. He’s only human. ‘The case?’

                ‘No. I mean, partly. I’m starting to think our Jane Doe must have arrived in the country only recently. Pity she doesn’t have a tattoo of her own name.’ She frowns. ‘It’s about Shepherd.’

                ‘Where is he, by the way?’

                ‘Oh, right, you weren’t in – he’s gone to talk to Randy again about his whereabouts on the night of the accident.’

                ‘Ah, okay. What did he do this time? Really communicate with the dead?’

                ‘Not that I know of, but I wouldn’t put it past him. No, it’s just that I keep thinking back to that time we helped him get Gina off his back and... He real casually dropped it in the conversation that he’s not, you know, straight.’

                ‘Oh, yeah,’ mused Sam. ‘I’d forgotten about that.’

                ‘What? You looked even more surprised than me!’

                ‘Yeah, that he’s ever been the one doing the proposing.’ And the other stuff a little bit, but that had worn off by now.

                ‘That does sound unbelievable, doesn’t it...’ Kristin takes a bite out of the stir fry and only barely finishes chewing before she continues. ‘But the thing is, he talked about it like it was something that we were supposed to know already. So I thought I just hadn’t been paying attention, right? But I’ve been thinking back and I’m 100% sure he’s never mentioned an ex-husband before!’

                ‘To be fair, that wasn’t technically legal until a few years ago,’ Sam points out.

                ‘Yeah, but he’s never mentioned an ex-partner in that sense either. Not before that dinner, anyway.’

                Sam leans back contemplatively. ‘Well, it wasn’t really him who did, was it? Jared was the one who told the story, so he clearly knew. Anyway, why does this bother you? Am I going to have to cite you for workplace discrimination, hm?’

                ‘No,’ she says, rolling her eyes and elbowing him in the side, not very hard.

                ‘Hey, ow! That’s hurtful! Another citation for you!’

                ‘Stop it. Anyway, it’s stupid.’

                ‘I won’t tell,’ he says. ‘Scout’s honour.’

                ‘You were never a scout.’

                ‘I bet you were, though.’

                ‘Again, stop it.’

                He nudges her back. ‘Well?’

                She sighs. ‘It bugs me because I’m worried it means I might be missing other things, as a detective.’

                Sam is pretty sure that’s not all there is to it, though, so he doesn’t pile on more jokes.

                ‘And... Maybe I’m worried it was something we did, or said. You know, that made him not want to tell us sooner.’

                Sam blows out his cheeks. ‘Hm, I don’t know. He’s a pretty private sort of guy, right? I wouldn’t be surprised if this is the least of what he hasn’t told us.’

                ‘Fair.’ But something seems to distract her. ‘Hang on...’

                ‘What?’ Sam asks, when she doesn’t finish the sentence.

                ‘Randy Orson... He said he’d been at the Toad and Lion the night of the crash – but remember that whole business on Monday night? Someone – pretty sure it was Frodo – left the sink in the upstairs bathroom running and it flooded the whole floor. The fire department had to go in and deal with the water damage. The Toad and Lion would have been closed early!’

                ‘So Randy could easily have made it to Hana’s house in time to mess with the breaks – who would have noticed him slipping away when the fire department was evacuating the building?’

                ‘Call him in,’ Kristin says. ‘And check again with the patrons to make sure they really can vouch for his movements around that time. Oh – and, don’t go blabbing this to Mike, will you?’

                ‘Oh, don’t worry, he already knows you’re a total teacher’s pet.’

                ‘Just because you said that, I’m taking away your rolls.’

                ‘Wait no – no give them back, Kristin! Kristin!’

 


 

Brokenwood really wasn’t the kind of town where you’d expect high-octane car chases, but today had been full of surprises. Randy had booked it through the back door as soon as they questioned his alibi, and all of them had reacted automatically, chasing after him. Dogs and police officers had that in common. The reason for this hasty escape turned out to be the methamphetamines taped to the underside of the driver’s seat of his car.

                Randy hadn’t been indulging himself, but he’d used his position in the workshop to send shipments out to a wider distribution network in Auckland. As it turned out, it was easy enough to hide the drugs in the company’s bi-monthly cargo shipment. They’d caught him on the outskirts of town, when he hit a road work barrier on the 409 and drove straight into a ditch.

The crazy thing was, they’d probably never caught him if he hadn’t run. Never mind found out about his part in the distribution network if he hadn’t gone after Hana. Presumably he’d thought she was close to catching up with his activities and decided to deal with her.

                And the whole farce had been completely without casualties, right until the final homestretch. Who would have thought the injury in question would be something so undramatic as a twisted knee, too. Alright, a few surface scrapes as well, but by the way Mike was carrying on, the knee was the worst of it.

                And of course it had been Mike who got banged up, Kristin thought. Not that any of them got injured on the job a whole lot. But it felt like a foregone conclusion that if they did, Mike would be the one.

                At least there had been no torn ligaments, according to the X-ray tech at the hospital. That kind of thing could be hell to recover from. It was his left leg too, instead of his right. Kristin isn’t sure if it’s better that he injured the one he hadn’t broken once already, or worse. He bore it with a minimum of useless machismo as she supported him through the front door of his house. Unlike the time he broke his leg, he can move independently enough that he hadn’t been issued a wheelchair; just a set of crutches. Having let him down on the couch, she takes the takeout over to the kitchen isle.

                ‘Plates?’

                ‘Upper left cabinet.’ He props his injured leg up on the coffee table with a wince.

                She opens two before she gets to the right one. ‘Didn’t know you were fan of cooking. That’s an impressive spice cabinet.’

                ‘Is there something about me that just makes people assume I can’t cook?’ Mike retorts, looking offended.

                ‘Oh, just the single, middle aged man part of you. Don’t worry about it, you’re just a victim of statistics.’

                He accepts the plate of massaman from her and tucks in. They haven’t eaten since lunch, and it’s almost half past nine in the evening. The X-ray had taken longer than expected. Kristin takes off for the bathroom before eating hers. As she’s washing her hands, she notices a smudge of engine oil on her forehead like a half-assed Harry Potter scar in the mirror. Oh, that’s right, Randy had thrown things at them when they’d caught up with his crashed car in a futile attempt to book it on foot. Including a greasy rag that hit her right in the face, she recalls.

                It takes a fair amount of soap and scrubbing to get off, and she swears revenge on both Sam and Mike for not letting her know it was there.

                That’s when she notices something else, right next to the sink. Which... makes her pause.

                ‘Got tired of playing Simba?’ Mike grins as she returns to the living room.

                ‘Really?’ She picks up her plate. ‘Lion King is your pull? You could have given me a heads up.’

                ‘Breen agreed that it gave you a very action-hero sort of look.’

                She decides there and then that he deserves it. ‘Whose is it?’

                ‘Whose is what?’

                ‘The other toothbrush by your sink.’

                She feels very triumphant for a second, sure she’s about to finally catch him out with future ex-wife – or husband – number whatever. But he just swallows his curry before replying, ‘Jared’s.’

                She just barely manages to rein in the face journey this inspires. Up to a point. ‘Well... Congratulations.’

                He looks at her quizzically for a second, before he cottons on. ‘Honestly, you’re impossible sometimes. He stays on the couch occasionally when we’ve had a few drinks.’

                She gives up facial control completely. ‘Often enough that he has his own toothbrush? When he lives... Next door to you?’

                He ignores her, which is exactly in character, but also a mix of frustrating and hilarious. ‘Did you get any naan?’

                She finishes her dinner, and before she leaves says, ‘Remember those painkillers. And the doctor said to take it easy for at least three days before you come back in for a check-up.’

                Mike shifts on the couch with another wince. ‘Don’t have to tell me twice. I’ll try not to pull a Breen and start home decorating on day two out of boredom.’

                ‘Maybe Jared will keep you company,’ she says innocently. ‘Want me to call him for you?’

                ‘Stop that. And keep me updated on Randy’s interrogation.’

                ‘Yes, Senior.’ She opens the front door – and who does she immediately come face to face with, but Jared Morehu. Who is already reaching for the door handle, rather than raising his hand to knock.  

                ‘Oh, hey Kristin! How’s it?’

                ‘Jared, hello,’ she beams. ‘Mike’s in the living room.’

                ‘Ta,’ he says, stepping past her without pausing, and into the living room. ‘Mike, I heard what happened. You good?’

                ‘He’s twisted his knee and is on leave for three days minimum,’ Kristin supplies from behind him.

                ‘Jared, hi – Kristin was just leaving, weren’t you?’ Mike gives her a pointed look.

                She grins. ‘See you around Jared – and thanks for proving my point.’

                ‘Uh, you’re welcome?’ He replies, eyes darting questioningly from her to Mike and back again. Mike rolls his eyes.

                She leaves, and just as she does she hears from the living room:

                ‘I hope you didn’t bring wine, these painkillers aren’t compatible with alcohol.’

                ‘Nah, we’ll just have to settle for what’s on TV. Budge up, give me some room.’

                Kristin grins. Jared Morehu, huh? Well, at least Mike was being taken good care of.

 


 

No. 38

Jared wakes up uncomfortably early for a Sunday, and takes a second to find his bearings, before realizing he’s back on Mike’s couch. Oh, yeah. It hadn’t really been a question, to go home last night with Mike injured like that. They’d watched TV for a bit, but Mike had snoozed off pretty fast, and had refused to go off to bed, so... Oh. Oh. Yeah, that explained it.

                Jared finally figures out why he was sleeping sitting up, or sort of leaning all undignified back in his seat. And, importantly, against another warm body.

                He expected Mike to snore, but he doesn’t – and that thought floats past so quickly he almost misses it. He expected? When had he been thinking of Mike’s sleeping habits? Why were they even on his radar? It’s not like he’d been expecting to ever encounter them in the wild, as it were! Okay, so he stayed over a few times... few dozen times, maybe, but Mike always found his way to his room and Jared remained solidly on the couch! Now, they’re side-by-side, sort of turned inwards to each other.

                No, Mike doesn’t snore. Instead he breathes softly into the crook of Jared’s neck, and doesn’t even have the common decency to have bad morning breath. Jared can see the top of his curly head out of the corner of his eye. His back is definitely messed up in a way he’ll be feeling for the rest of the day but aside from that this is just... nice.

                And suddenly Jared has the realization that the upsetting thing isn’t that he’s fallen asleep against Mike – that’s happened between him and other friends a bunch of times. No, it’s that he would like to do it again, and preferably not on a couch.

                There’s simply no way he can get up without Mike falling over and waking up. So he sits up a little so that they’re not quite so pressed against each other, and gently shakes his shoulder. ‘Mike. Mike, wake up.’

                Mike snorts, and then seems to pull towards consciousness with a great deal of effort. ‘Wazza?’ He mumbles.

                ‘It’s early morning. You should probably move to bed.’ Jared swallows. ‘Do you need a hand?’

                Mike sits up properly and blinks at him a few times. ‘It’s you?’

                ‘Er... Yes?’ Oh God, was Mike expecting someone else? That could get terrible real fast.

                ‘Oh.’ He looks a little more alert now, bright eyes focused on Jared. ‘How early?’

                ‘Sevenish. C’mon, don’t go getting up, you could do with the sleep. Especially after leaving your leg up on the table all night.’

                Mike looks about to object, but winces. ‘Fair point. What about you?’

                ‘I’ve got church in a couple hours, I might as well get up. I’ll drop by later, though. Need a hand?’

                ‘I’ve got it.’ He levers himself upright on his crutch, and moves over to the hallway with remarkable speed. Jared supposes he got plenty of practice when he broke his leg. Mike lingers in the hallway though, half-turns around. ‘Thanks for staying.’

                ‘It’s no problem.’ He waits until Mike’s safely made it to his room, and tries to stretch the kinks out of his back. Then he hurries out into the early morning cold, and stops on the doorstep. Takes a deep breath, lets it go. Shakes his head. Hurries home.

 


 

Sunday service is over, and people are filing out of the old wood Presbyterian church Jared’s been going to since before he can remember. Well... aside from a brief period when his auntie Tina had a spat with the vicar at the time when he was nine. She’d retracted all assistance from the church’s women’s group as a result, too, and the rest of the group followed her. Since any church lived and died on aunties and grannies willing to take care of events and catering, the vicar didn’t last long. Apparently the man felt “called to the mission” and left town in a hurry. His replacement had gotten along with them much better, if memory served, and so remained vicar until he died.

                Jared’s on his way down the church steps when he hears a voice calling out for him in Te Reo. ‘Moko, give your kuia a hand, will you. These steps get taller every time I come here.’ He turns to find kuia Ana unsteadily making her way down the church steps, leaning on her stick. He hurries back up to offer her his arm.

                ‘Mm. Much better. Now, don’t loiter, I want to get first go at the sausage rolls down at the community center.’

                ‘Yes, kuia.’ To their left, they see Te Aroha carrying Hana down the steps, piggy-back. Hana is exclaiming loudly about accessibility and lack thereof and Te Aorha wears an indulgent smile. She deposits Hana in the wheelchair waiting for her at the bottom of the steps, on account of her broken leg.

                ‘Mm. Perhaps it is long past time I have a word with the vicar,’ kuia Ana remarks. ‘I too would like not to be inconvenienced by these blasted steps every time.’

                ‘Not a bad idea,’ Jared agrees. ‘Although Hana might forget her complaining once her cast is off.’ They reach the end of the stairs and kuia Ana still leans against him as they walk towards the community center. Jared respects kaumātua on principle, but kuia Ana has a special place in his heart. He’d heard that before he was even born, not everyone in the congregation was okay with their kids and neighbours coming out. To be fair, some still weren’t. But kuia Ana wouldn’t stand for that sort of attitude. “They are part of the whānau,’ she declared, and that was that.

                ‘No, no. She is a firebrand, that girl. And she’ll have her wahine on the case within the week. Mm. They remind me of my aunties, you know. Back when I was young.’

                Jared, knowing kuia Ana is 92 years old, considers how long ago those aunties must have been born. ‘Oh, do they?’

                ‘A couple of them, aye, back when I was, oh, ten or twelve. I always thought they were ancient, but at my age you find out 60 is no age at all.’

                ‘Sixty? But you cannot be a day older than fifty-nine, kuia,’ Jared says with a smile.

                She whacks him in the shin with her stick. ‘Cheeky boy. But they are quite alike. Different iwi, but Hana might as well have been my auntie Toka reborn. They were spouses, mm, lived in my uncle’s house. I believe they mothered some of my auntie Hine’s children as well, after she passed away.’

                Jared finds himself staring down at the tiny elder, still holding onto his arm. ‘You never mentioned them before.’

                ‘Haven’t I? A shame, I have so many family members I have outlived, I can’t seem to pass on all of them at once.’

                It’s not the first such story he’s heard but honestly? He never gets tired of it. ‘Mind telling me more?’

                She gives him a shrewd yet warm look, and nods. ‘I think I shall.’

 


 

It’s almost seven in the evening, and she still hasn’t left the station, when Kristin’s phone rings and she answers without looking at the caller ID. ‘Kristin Sims – Jared? Woah, okay, okay, we’ll be right there. Okay, don’t go anywhere.’

                She hangs up and Breen raises an eyebrow at her. ‘What is it? Did Mike get bored and hunt down a criminal while on crutches?’

                ‘No – Jared’s at Ms. Jackson’s and Ms. Nair’s flat, and he says whoever tampered with the first bike has come back for Te Aroha’s.’

                Breen’s second eyebrow joins its brother. ‘Better hurry, then.’

                When they get there, Jared’s standing out on the sidewalk, while Te Aroha and Hana are over by the front door. Jared looks like he’s trying not to pace, and he comes to meet them halfway as they exit the car.

                ‘Jared,’ Kristin greets him. ‘How come you’re here?’

                ‘I gave them a ride home earlier and stayed for coffee,’ he volunteers. ‘Since Hana’s leg is still broken and they don’t have a car. I happened to glance over to Te Aroha’s bike as I was leaving and...’ He gestures towards the Kawasaki sitting in the driveway. Kristin moves closer, and notices a puddle of blue fluid next to the bike.

                ‘I checked,’ Jared volunteers. ‘The screw cap for the brake fluid reservoir is loose. Someone was bleeding the brake fluid, and pumping air into the brake lines, like they did with Hana’s bike.’

                ‘You touched it?’ Kristin says sharply.

                ‘Easy on, not with my bare hands, I’m not an idiot.’

                ‘And you’re sure this is recent?’

                ‘Te Aroha would never leave it like that. She said she didn’t when she last checked on it, this morning. And you folks had her bike checked out when you first thought Hana’s had been tampered with.’ Jared rubs the bridge of his nose. ‘I’ve been keeping an eye out, just in case.’

                ‘I see. Did you see anyone tamper with the bike?’

                ‘No-one. But since they didn’t finish up properly, maybe they got spooked as I was leaving and ran off.’

                ‘We’ll still need a statement from you. Sorry. And the two of them.’

                ‘It’s okay, I get it.’

                ‘Is it true?’ Hana has wheeled over, Te Aroha behind her. ‘Someone tried to ruin her brakes, too?’

                Kristin nods carefully. ‘It certainly looks that way.’

                Hana grits her teeth, and Te Aroha clenches her fists, glaring wordlessly down at the pavement. Hana spits, ‘And you have no idea who’s doing this? It can’t have been Randy, can it, because you arrested him yesterday!’

                ‘We will do our best to find out, and to keep you safe,’ Kristin says, trying to reassure, knowing it’s not enough.

                Hana won’t be mollified, and for good reason. ‘What good has that done so far? You people are supposed to figure this kind of shit out! If you can’t, then what good are you?’

                Kristin isn’t sure she has the answer to that.

 


 

No. 39

Almost two hours later, Mike meets him at the door, because for once, Jared knocks. He takes in the look on his face and his heavy posture, and nods him inside.

                ‘I heard from Sims,’ he says, as Jared goes to collapse on the couch, then stops himself and sits down on a kitchen chair instead. ‘They were lucky you were there.’

                ‘They shouldn’t have to be lucky, Mike,’ Jared mutters, dragging a hand across his face. ‘They just as easily could have been unlucky, and then, in the morning...’ He swallows down the nausea.

                There is the sound of liquid being poured into a cup, and a moment later, Mike sets down a mug of tea on the table in front of him.

                ‘Guess we’re back to square one, with Randy in the clear. For the murder attempt, anyway.’ He sits down across from Jared, with a grunt due to his injured leg. ‘Unless he had an accomplice. Why go for Te Aroha though? Revenge, maybe?’

                ‘Maybe...’ Jared steadies himself, wraps his hands around the mug. ‘Maybe we’ve been approaching this wrong the whole time...’

                ‘How do you mean?’

                ‘We’ve been assuming whoever it was had it out for Hana, and have been looking for people with motive to kill her. But what if whoever’s behind it didn’t mean to tamper with her bike? What if they meant to tamper with Te Aroha’s bike all along?’

                Mike frowns. ‘You mean, they mixed up the bikes? When one is a Kawasaki and the other is a Ducati?’

                ‘Maybe whoever it doesn’t know that much about motorbikes. I mean, they’re both blue – for all we know the vandal couldn’t tell them apart.’

                ‘They did know enough to be able to tamper with the brakes, though.’

                Jared shrugs. ‘You can learn that online, easy enough.’

                Mike taps the table with his fingers. ‘Hang on – I think Te Aroha said in her statement that she wasn’t home, the evening Hana’s bike must have been tampered with.’

                Jared frowns. ‘No, she was visiting her cousin in Riverside. So... only one bike would have been in the driveway...’

                ‘So the perpetrator might not have known that both of them owned motorcycles – they see a blue bike next to the house where Te Aroha lives, and they assume it has to be the right one.’ Mike pauses. ‘Why try again now, though?’

                ‘Well, Hana’s name wasn’t in the paper, was it? Just the fact that a 29 year old woman got into a motorcycle accident on the highway, the same night as that bike was tampered with. And Te Aroha hasn’t spent much time outside the hospital – maybe they didn’t know they got the wrong person until recently?’

                ‘It’s a theory, certainly.’ Mike frowns in the direction of his leg. ‘I’ll let Sims and Breen know. There’s relatively little I can do about it right now, as much as I hate to admit it. And unless our vandal graduates to more direct attempts at murder, Te Aroha and Hana should be safe for the night.’ He hesitates, before asking, ‘Will you –‘ Meaning to ask if Jared wants to stay with his friends for the night to keep an eye out for the two of them.

                But Jared nods and says, ‘Yeah, I’ll stay here for the night.’ He takes a deep breath, as if letting go of the cloud of anxious energy that’s been humming through him since he came through the door. ‘Someone’s gotta keep an eye on you, make sure you take your medicine. Plus, that couch is really growing on me.’ He grins. Mike is really, terribly relieved and not sure how to feel about it.

                So he just smiles back, and nods to the cupboard where he keeps the blankets. ‘You know the drill.’

Chapter Text

It’s in the bathroom next morning, when Jared wonders if the toothbrush is an overkill. He doesn’t stay over that often, really. It’s just that he really hates that early-morning mouthfeel. But its presence could probably be... Misconstrued. He shakes off the thought, because who is going to notice an extra toothbrush anyway?

                Mike’s shower is pretty nice – Gary, rest his soul, had liked to spend money on renovations, and the water’s good and hot. It’s exactly what he needs to get his mind right. He’d had the sense to bring a change of clothes, but not much else, so he has a lend of Mike’s bodywash. Sandalwood, huh? He’d always assumed it was cologne.

                He towels off, thankful he did at least bring hair gel – a man has to have some standards – and realizes he left some of his stuff back in the living room. Mike evidently hears him exiting the bathroom, because he waves him over where he’s sitting at his desk, nose deep in his case notes. ‘What did you say Te Aroha’s PhD research was about?’

                Jared wanders over to the table, picking up his shirt on the way and leaving yesterday’s clothes on the couch. ‘Uh, she does history. Specifically archival research on the depiction of Māori and other Pacific islander groups in mid-20th century news media.’ They’d talked about it before, and then some more at the girls’ flat last night, before he’d meant to leave. Jared does like history, but he salutes archivists for having the patience to go through sometimes literal receipts to get at the tiny grains of information that make up the big picture.

                Mike taps his pencil against the paper. ‘Hm... Would probably ruffle some feathers, but I can’t see anyone trying to kill her over it.’

                Jared shrugs. ‘You never know, there’s some crazy racist people out there.’

                Mike nods, glancing up at him. Then he pauses. Then he says, ‘Do we know anyone who might, given that kind of motive?’

                Jared makes a face, leans his hands on his hips. ‘Not that I can think of, at least not for quite that reason.’

                Mike nods again. Then he says, ‘Jared, mind if I ask you a question?’

                ‘Mm, yeah, go ahead.’

                ‘Where the hell is your shirt?’

                Jared looks down baffled, and raises said shirt in his right hand. ‘It’s right here.’

                Mike nods amicably, and says, ‘Right, maybe I should better have phrased that as, ‘Jared, why the hell aren’t you wearing your shirt?’’

                It dawns on Jared that Mike has stopped looking at him and is in fact looking everywhere else. Everywhere, that is to say, that isn’t Jared’s bare chest. A devilish grin slowly spreads over the shirtless man’s face. ‘Aw, Mike –

                ‘Stop it.’

                ‘- do you mean to say –‘

                ‘Don’t.’

                ‘ – that I’ve flustered you?’ Now the grin is threatening to let the top of his head fall off.

                Mike sends him a look that says “don’t push it”, and replies, ‘I have eyes, Jared,’ before glancing down to his chest and then up again, eyebrow raised with a... a look in his eye.

                Jared very suddenly and inexplicably feels his mouth dry up. He looks down, clears his throat, turns away. ‘Right.’

                He definitely fumbles a bit as he can’t pull his shirt down over his head fast enough.

                Behind him, Mike’s gone awfully quiet. ‘Look –‘ He starts.

                ‘The volunteer librarian!’ Jared blurts out.

                ‘What?’

                ‘She has it out for Te Aroha. I heard her laying into her at the library just the other day. Some prejudiced crap. Mrs. Levy, I mean.’

                He doesn’t see Mike’s surprise on his face because he still hasn’t turned around, but he can hear it in his voice well enough. ‘The heiress? I didn’t know she volunteered at the library – didn’t her family make a fortune in stocks? I remember her husband passing away just a handful of years ago.’

                Jared valiantly searches for something to contribute to this train of inquiry, but is saved by the bell – or rather the knock. Someone is at the patio door, which still has its curtains drawn, impatiently knocking.

                ‘I’ll get it,’ he volunteers, and hurries to the door. He expects to find Kristin, or Sam. But once the door’s open he finds instead Te Aroha, staring at him in surprise. And Hana, incessantly knocking on the doorjamb from her borrowed wheelchair.

                ‘You’re here?’ Te Aroha exclaims, half confusion, half suspicion.

                ‘That’s my line!’ Jared replies.

                ‘We’re here to see Detective Shepherd,’ Hana states, and wheels herself past him. Jared moves out of the way in a hurry – it’s either that or get mowed down. Te Aroha follows her, giving Jared a weird look as she passes, and Jared finds himself at the back of the train.

                In the living/dining room, Mike gets up from his seat as they approach, leaning on his crutch. ‘Ms. Nair, Ms. Jackson – how come you’re here?’

                ‘We talked to your deputies, or whatever they’re called,’ Hana retorts. ‘Saying we wanted to help find out who’s after us. But after they took our statement they sent us away, saying it’s a “police investigation” and that we could “rely on them”.’ She does the accompanying air quotes with all the verve of a disgruntled general.

                ‘And we heard you were injured at home, so we thought we’d come ask you,’ Te Aroha supplies.

                ‘Seeing as you probably know as much as those yahoos at the station,’ Hana adds.

                ‘Did you just use the word “yahoos” without irony?’ Jared asks.

                Te Aroha gives him an unusually merciless onceover. ‘And you, Jared Morehu, could have saved us some time if you’d told us you were in on this whole thing.’

                ‘I’m not part of the investigation,’ Jared objects. ‘We’re neighbours!’

                Te Aroha gives him a long, slow blink. ‘I bet.’ She has noticed his clothes from yesterday thrown over the back of the couch.

                ‘If we can all just – ‘Mike has eased himself back into his seat, and raises both his hands placatingly. ‘Look, I get that you want to find out whoever’s been trying to kill you, but I’m not on the investigation currently. You really should take Detectives’ Sims and Breen’s advice on this.’

                ‘Really?’ Hana gestures to the pile of files and case notes on the table next to him. ‘Then what are those? Sudoku?’

                Mike gives her a long look, which on other people usually meant that somewhere a fuse was burning short. On him, though, it meant he was making a decision. ‘Have a seat, both of you. Jared, mind brewing us some coffee?’

 


 

                ‘As a matter of fact,’ Mike starts, once they’ve sat down at the dining table, ‘We do have a possible point of inquiry. There is a chance whoever is behind this never meant to target Hana, but mean to target you.’ He nods to Te Aroha.

                Te Aroha chews her lip. ‘I think you may be right.’

                ‘Really? Why do you suspect that?’

                She shrugs, frowns. ‘Little things. There have been a couple of times where I’ve thought someone was watching me outside our flat, but I brushed it off as paranoia. I just don’t know why anyone would try to kill me like that.’

                ‘Mm.’ Mike accepts his mug of coffee from Jared, and glances up briefly to nod his thanks. ‘Jared tells me that one of the volunteers at the local library has been harassing you?’

                Hana slams her palm on the table. ‘That sour, lemon-faced bitch! I thought she’d finally left you alone?’

                ‘Hardly,’ Te Aroha scoffs. ‘She started right back up as soon as I went back to the archives. It started a few weeks ago. Every other time I’ve been there, she’s been on my back, saying it’s “inappropriate” for “my sort” to be there. And worse. Never was sure if she was being racist or homophobic, actually.’

                ‘May be the second,’ Jared supplies, considering she’d always affected niceness around him. After all, it’s not a widely known fact that he’s not straight. Unless it was that Mrs. Levy thought he was safely working-class but hated the idea of a Māori girl getting a tertiary education.

                ‘I still think you should have let me fucking deck her,’ Hana sniffs, folding her arms.

                ‘Sweetheart, as much as you’d like to, you can’t fucking deck everyone who’s mean to me.’

                ‘Not with that attitude.’

                ‘I do remember something she said,’ Jared volunteers. ‘At the library the other day. Remember how she thought it was you who had been in an accident on the highway?’

                ‘What would make her think that?’ Mike asks. ‘The papers never got out any details except that the driver was a woman in her late 20s.’

                Jared shrugs. ‘Could have heard it on the grapewine.’

                Mike sighs. ‘Sometimes literally, in this town...’

                ‘Actually...’ Te Aroha frowns, and leans back in her seat. ‘I didn’t think much of it at the time, but I don’t think she started her vitriol until I began going through the old newspaper archives. It was funny because I’d been there before and don’t think she paid me much attention before that. In fact, I swear I went a couple of times to the library just to pick up a few novels and she didn’t so much as look at me.’

                Mike is looking at her intently, now. Jared, at his elbow, can almost hear the wheels spinning in his head. ‘Do you remember which newspaper?’

                ‘Hang on.’ Te Aroha delves into her bag, and pulls out a thick notebook crammed with post-it notes. Flipping through the pages, she trails her index finger down a page. ‘The... Brokenwood Gazette.’

                ‘What are you thinking, Mike?’ Jared prompts him.

                ‘This may be far-fetched but... Maybe there’s something in that archive that Mrs. Levy, or an accomplice, really doesn’t want anyone to find out.’

                Hana frowns. ‘If that’s the case, couldn’t they just destroy the information so no-one could find it?’

                Mike falters. ‘You may be right...’

                ‘...Actually...’

                All three of them look at Te Aroha, who is staring pensively down at her notebook.

                ‘Yes?’ Jared prompts.

                ‘There’s been something strange for the last couple of weeks,’ she says slowly. ‘There were two editions of that paper – one from 1957, one from 1962 – that I’ve been trying to get my hands on. And my request for an inter-library loan keeps getting lost in the system, no matter how many times I re-do it.’

                ‘They didn’t have those editions in the archives?’

                ‘They did,’ Te Aroha nods vigorously. ‘I made a list of all the ones I thought would be relevant to go through. But when I came to look at them, they’d been lent out – except you can’t normally borrow materials from the archives and leave the building with them! You’re supposed to photocopy the parts you need, or read them in the library – ‘

                ‘And, am I right guessing that they were lent out right after you started going through issues of The Brokenwood Gazette?’ Mike asks.

                ‘Yes.’ Now, Te Aroha looks grim, but determined, and it’s mirrored on Hana’s face.

                Then, she slumps back in her chair. ‘Pity we can’t read them to find out. The archives are the only place you can find back-issues that old. And we share ours with Riverside, so it’s not like there’s another archive within an hour’s drive where we could check.’

                Jared suddenly feels a solution bubble up from the depths of his mind. ‘Actually,’ he says slowly, ‘I think I might know where to look.’

 


 

                 ‘Thanks again, Mrs. Marlowe,’ Mike says as the four of them pile into her front room, mercifully accessible to both wheelchairs and crutches.

                ‘Jean, please,’ she says. ‘I’m just glad they’ll be useful to someone – my friend Edward, you know him, he asked me to keep them for him after he moved to the rest home. You’ll find them up here in the attic, Jared dear,’ she says.

                ‘Thanks, Mrs. M.’

                Mrs. Marlowe leans over to whisper conspicuously to Mike. ‘Is this in any way related to that “accident” on the highway north just over a week ago?’

                Before he can give his customary no-comment reply, Hana, who has only just moved past into the hallway, answers. ‘Sure is! How do you feel about taking the law into your own hands, Mrs. Marlowe?’

                ‘Oh my! How exciting!’ Mrs. Marlowe totters after her. ‘This will be just like back when me and my friend Geraldine delivered those gangbangers to the police in the 70s!’

                Mike settles for, ‘Hopefully not quite.' Overhead, in the attic, he can hear Jared and Te Aroha walking around, along with their muffled speech.

                The three of them gather at the bottom of the ladder to the attic. ‘Found anything?’ Mike shouts up to them. There’s the sound of cursing, and footsteps, and Jared’s head appears upside down through the hatch. His hair is already gray with dust. ‘We may have a problem,’ he says, and coughs. ‘There is... a lot of newspapers. Like, a lot.

                ‘You think it will need all four of us to go through them?’

                ‘Oh, do let me help!’ Says Mrs. Marlowe. ‘After all, I don’t have to go to my Brazilian jiu-jitsu class until 5pm.’

                ‘You don’t mind us using your place to do it?’ Mike asks.

                She waves a hand. ‘I always meant to KonMari the lot anyway,’ she says. ‘I doubt it’s going to spark poor Edward much joy from here on out.’

                Te Aroha also appears in the hatch, her long hair twice as dusty. ‘I think we better bring them downstairs so we can all work on them. Let me be in charge? I’m something of an expert at how to go through lots and lots of documents efficiently.’

                ‘Be my guest,’ Mike says. He takes a step back to the entryway, balancing on one crutch, to call the station on his cellphone. Meanwhile, Jared and Te Aroha carry stacks and stacks of newspapers down to the living room, where Mrs. Marlowe has very sensibly laid down some dust sheets. Soon, there are five toddler sized stacks on the table.

                ‘Kristin Sims,’ is the reply on her desk landline.

                ‘Sims, I need you to do me a background on Mrs. Leticia Levy.’ He explains the situation as concisely as he can. She is, understandably, exasperated.

                ‘They came to your house? I thought we’d convinced them to let us handle it!’              

                ‘Mm. Look, I’m not certain this will lead anywhere, but it’s the best thing I can come up with at the moment. And at the very least it will keep the two of them out of harm’s way. You two can get on with processing Randy and the mountain of drugs he’s dropped in our laps.’ Not to mention getting the names of his contacts in the distribution network out of him.

                ‘Fair enough. You know, when I suggested you hang out with Jared to keep from getting bored, this isn’t what I had in mind.

                Mike ignores this. ‘Did any witnesses see anyone suspicious around Te Aroha’s bike last night?’

                ‘None so far. We’ve knocked on all surrounding doors.’

‘Let me know if you find anything.’

                ‘That goes double for you.

                At the dining table, Te Aroha has them each pick a stack of papers. Then, she stands at the head of the table, bracing her hands against the hardwood. ‘Alright. Me and Jared picked out all the stacks that contained copies of The Brokenwood Gazette. It ran from 1949 to 1987, and it was a daily issue. Thankfully, we don’t have to read through every single one. We just need to find two editions in this sea of paper. The March 30th issue from 1957, and the October 8th issue from 1962. Mrs. Marlowe, do you think Edward really collected every single edition?’

                ‘Oh, yes,’ Mrs. Marlowe replies. ‘He picked up the habit from his father. Not just the Gazette, either.’

                ‘That leaves us roughly 2700 papers to go through, each,’ Hana comments. She rolls her eyes. ‘This is going to take hours, isn’t it?’

                ‘I’ll make the coffee,’ says Mrs. Marlowe.

 


 

It really does take hours. They are slowed down by everything from the condition of some of the papers (faded, crackling, eaten by pests) to the size of the font the release dates are in. This means some of them are faster than others – Mrs. Marlowe is a real trooper, but even with her glasses on, it’s not easy to read. Mike is definitely squinting more than he’s comfortable with. If he wasn’t set on leaving the two of them at the station to focus on the unexpected Randy Orson drug case, Mike might have recruited Breen to help them out. He always seemed to have a knack for this kind of grind. There’s not much talking to start with, just coughing (from the dust) and the occasional aborted gasp as they find a paper from the right year, but not the right exact date.

                ‘Babe, you know I already admire what you do,’ Hana says sometime around the first hour mark. ‘But remind me to do it more. I have no idea how you don’t go crazy doing this all day.’

                ‘It’s not usually this bad,’ Te Aroha says. Her stack is noticeably lower than the rest. She smirks. ‘But I wouldn’t mind more flattery.’

                Jared holds up a front page. ‘1962, October ninth. I got so excited there for a second. Why aren’t these in any type of order, aye?’

                ‘Have you met my friend Edward?’ Mrs. Marlowe replies. ‘Not exactly the tidiest mind.’

                ‘I think we could all do with a break,’ Mike says, just as his phone buzzes in his pocket. Mrs. Marlowe goes off to the kitchen while the other three slump back in their seats. Mike gets up to answer his phone. ‘Shepherd.’

                ‘Hey, boss. Got that background you asked for.’

                ‘Breen.’ He takes a step out in the hallway, vaguely aware of the conversation in the dining room. ‘What have you got?’

                ‘Leticia Levy née Bourgeois –‘

                ‘That was really her name before marriage?’

                ‘You better believe it. Born March 27th, 1939, Heiress of the Bourgeois family fortune. Dad made a fortune on the stock market in the 40s, built that giant house on Kauri Road. Mom was a ‘socialite’, whatever that means. Leticia went to the finest boarding school for girls in England. While she’s away, her parents die in a boating accident off the coast of Rangitoto Island. Travel being what it was at the time, she’s makes it back to the country months after the funeral, but ends up finishing her education in Hamilton. Then she returns to Brokenwood for good at age 26. Marries CEO Gerard Levy a few years later. He died of a heart attack four years ago.’

                Mike’s brow furrows. ‘Any indication those deaths might have been suspicious?’

                ‘None. Gerard apparently had a heart condition, and the Bourgeoises didn’t know how to swim.’

                ‘Hm. Thanks anyway. Let me know if there are any other developments.’

                ‘Will do. Paperpushing going slow?’

                ‘Extremely.’ The voices in the background become briefly coherent during this lull in the conversation.

                ‘So, Jared – your uncle Walter know you’re involved with the cops? Can’t imagine he’d be a fan.’ Hana’s idly curious voice asks.

                ‘It got him out of trouble more than once, so he hasn’t complained too much to me yet,’ Jared replies. It’s hard to tell his inflection from the next room over.

                ‘Mm.’ Hana concedes, then adds, ‘Didn’t know you were partial to bears,’ as if she’s commenting on the weather.

                There is some outraged squawking from Jared.

                ‘What? It’s not like I said you had bad taste or anything.’

                ‘Give him a break, honey, let him think he’s being subtle.’

                ‘ – let us know if you find anything out, right? I don’t think you’re equipped to arrest a potential murderer without backup at the moment.’

                Mike is jolted with some force back into the conversation. ‘Yup. Don’t worry about it. It’ll be a while, in any case.’

                He hangs up, prays to god that his face isn’t red, and re-enters the dining room.

                ‘Any luck?’ He asks Jared, who has apparently kept flipping through his stack and adding to the pile next to his chair on the floor.

                Jared clears his throat. ‘None, just thought it might shave some minutes off – hey!’ He stares a second down on the header, before grabbing it and slapping it down on the middle of the table where they can all see. In tiny, bold letters beneath the masthead are the words, “October 8th, 1962”.

                ‘This is it!’ He flips the paper open and starts rapidly ruffling through the pages.

                ‘Hey!’ Te Aroha exclaims, reaching out to stop him. ‘Don’t be hasty, we don’t know what we’re looking for, it might be easy to miss –‘

                ‘How about this?’ Jared stops at page 12 and thumps the headline with this finger. “Bourgeois heiress returns to Brokenwood months after family funeral”.

                They all crowd around him to look over his shoulder, including Mrs. Marlowe, who has heard the commotion and come through from the kitchen. It’s a full-page story, accompanied by a much younger Leticia-then-Bourgeois looking very tragic in a black veil, although her face is clear enough. The article contains much of the information Breen had just given Mike, and he says so.

                ‘What about this, though?’ Te Aroha points out. ‘It says “The young heiress, after authorities were not able to contact her at her boarding school in England, unexpectedly returned to the country four months after her parents’ funeral.” Surely it didn’t take four months to get from England to New Zealand back in 1962? And why was she so difficult to contact? Surely she wouldn’t be hard to find at a prestigious school for rich girls?’

                ‘Moreover, what about this is worth killing for?’ Asks Hana, frowning at the newspaper.

                ‘Mrs. Marlowe, do you remember this in the papers at the time?’ Jared asks.

                Mrs. Marlowe sighs. ‘I wasn’t in Brokenwood at the time, dear. I was away practicing nursing. But in any case, nobody had much to do with the Burgeoises. Well, they were so far up the economic ladder you needed a telescope just to spot them! I do remember hearing that young Leticia only stayed in town for the reading of the will, which of course bequeathed all her parents’ money and property to her. Then she left and wasn’t seen in Brokenwood for several years.’ She folded her hands in front of her face, looking thoughtful. ‘I had heard she was a very quiet girl before her parents died, but she certainly seems to have blossomed since then. I have never known Leticia Levy to be anything but outspoken.’

                ‘You can say that again,’ Hana mutters.

                ‘This does tell us one thing,’ Mike says slowly. ‘Which is that we may very well be on the right track.’

                ‘If that’s the case, this is only half the story,’ Te Aroha says. ‘If we find the other missing issue, we might get to the bottom of things. Considering our rate so far, it’s going to take us at least...’ She looks at the stacks of paper with a critical eye. ‘At least another hour.’

                There is a general groaning, but they get to it, now with a clear goal in mind. Mrs. Marlowe sets down the plate of sandwiches she’s made up and everyone digs in one-handed as they flip through more papers, until steadily the piles on the floor are taller than the ones on the table.

                Mike’s phone goes off about an hour later, and he answers without bothering to stop sorting. ‘Please tell me you have something?’

                ‘Not what you’re hoping for,’ Kristin replies. ‘It’s actually got to do with our Jane Doe.’

                ‘What? You finally ID’d her?’

                ‘Not in so many words,’ she replies carefully. ‘No, her fingerprints finally pinged in the database. But, uh. We can’t access the file.

                ‘...Why not?’

                ‘Because... someone, somewhere, probably very high up the ladder... Has made the file completely classified. As in, we can’t even put a name to her. It’s just a serial number.’

                ‘...right.’ That could be bad news. ‘I’ll give Hughes a call. Did you get my email regarding what we found here?’

                ‘Yup. Odd. It’s pretty much the same stuff we were able to find just by looking into her parent’s death. It’s not exactly something that’s a big secret.’

                ‘Yes...’

                After he hangs up, he notes the lack of development in Jane Doe case out loud. ‘Your ex-roommate is certainly mysterious,’ he tells Hana.

                ‘Maybe my “spy” theory will hold out,’ Jared jokes.

                ‘I’ll believe anything at this point.’

 


              

  It’s almost an hour and a half later, when they find the second issue. Hana has fallen asleep and has been carefully moved onto Mrs. Marlowe’s couch (“I told her not to overdo it,” Te Aroha tsks while draping a blanket over her). Mrs. Marlowe has started eyeing the wall clock, mindful of her 5pm class. They’re down to the last couple dozen newspapers in each stack, Te Aroha getting frantic that it may not be there after all, the rest of them flagging.

                It’s Te Aroha who finds it – she’s already through her own stack and moved on to Hana’s – the second-to-last paper in the pile.

                Throwing her own advice to the wind, she nearly tears it open, flipping through it so fast it’s a wonder she can even read what’s on the pages. In fact, she nearly misses the article, but it only just catches her eye. This time, everyone but Hana – still sleeping – crowd around her to see.

                The headline is “Heiress’s lavish 18th birthday celebration” and the short article goes on to say something about a huge party held by the Bourgeoises for their only child. But the article is not what immediately catches the eye. That honour goes to the photograph of the birthday girl herself, looking faintly miserable in too much lace.

                ‘That’s... not...’ Mrs. Marlowe trails off.

                ‘That’s not Mrs. Levy,’ Jared finishes, staring bewildered at the photo.

                ‘No, it isn’t,’ Mike says. ‘But we know who this is.’

                ‘We do?’

                ‘I’d recognize her anywhere, even over fifty years older,’ says Te Aroha. ‘After all, I’ve seen her face every day for the last week.’