DCI Sam Breen is splayed out in his chair when they come in, a whole mass of gangly limbs and ginger hair. There is a cup of cold coffee resting on the desk in front of him and he looks dead to the world.
Detective Kristen Simms is almost tempted to give one of the legs of his chair a kick as she walks past, but she decides that she isn’t quite that mean. That being said, though, she does drop a stack of letters onto the table in front of him with some ferocity, jostling the coffee and startling Breen awake.
After he blearily focuses on her, he says, “That was – really – uncalled for. You’ve finally decided to arrive, I see.”
“You should have taken the week off.” DSS Mike Shephard comes striding past, looking well-rested and as fresh as a daisy, quite unlike how Breen feels. “It’s common sense.”
“Yeah, well some of us have to pay rent.” Breen retorts, trying desperately to straighten his rumpled suit. He fixes Kristen with a glare. “Do you know how many times I went out to Brokenwood Beach last night to break up student parties? That spider nest isn’t fun at the best of times, but it’s worse on New Year’s Eve.”
“Should have taken the week off.” Kristen shrugs, and sits down opposite him. “It’s common sense, really. I had a great week up at Smith’s Bay. It was completely quiet. No students in sight.”
“Boring. You’ve missed out on all the excitement.” Breen sits up, and takes a swig of his discarded coffee. He either doesn’t notice its chilled state, or he doesn’t care. “This is the third suit I’ve worn in… like twelve hours? Vomit’s worse when it’s not yours.”
“Fun.” Kristen winces, but not in sympathy. “By the way,” She pushes the stack of letters towards him with a finger, “these are for you. They were waiting out the front this morning.”
“Is there any reason they’re almost entirely written on pink paper?”
“Is someone sweet on you, Breen?” Mike calls from his office, where he is, apparently, eavesdropping.
“It’s a bit early for Valentine’s, isn’t it?” Kristen remarks. She stands from the table and meanders over to the kitchenette, where there is a full pot of cold coffee waiting to meet her. She pours it out with a sigh and goes about brewing a new batch.
“Yeah.” From behind her, she can hear Breen tearing open envelopes. “Plus, there’d be no-one since Roxie left.”
From what Kristen knew, the pair had parted amicably after some sort of issue over a cat. She hadn’t want to press at the time, and she didn’t want to now. She hadn’t felt like it was her place.
“Well… this is bloody weird…” Breen says, sounding perplexed.
Breen holds a sheet of paper aloft, much like Hamlet with his skull, and reads, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I’m… wet as the weather… just thinking of you?”
Kristen snorts a laugh. “I take it the question mark wasn’t there in the original verse?” She’s not disgusted, as she’s definitely heard worse on the job, but it’s still pretty funny.
“Shut up.” Breen looks completely stricken. “Who the hell are these from?”
“Derek found ‘em on the doorstep about six this morning when he came in.” Kristen replies, turning back to pour herself a cup of coffee. She offers Breen and Mike some, but they both decline, much to her chagrin.
“Derek. Right. I’ll go and find him.” Breen pushes back his chair and goes to stand, when he looks at her and says, “…wait. You two aren’t fucking with me, right?”
“Nope.” She says, while Mike calls, “I’ve not been here all week!” from his office.
“I’m not fucking with you. Do you really think either of us possess the sheer emotive verbosity to write something like that?” She’s completely honest as she speaks. She’s not a wordsmith, and never has been. Plus, writing love letters to her co-worker semi-friend in aid of a joke seems like crossing a line. “What’s in the others?”
Breen pouts. “If I find out…” He points between her and the vague area that is Mike’s office, and leaves the rest of the threat unsaid.
“Sam, at six this morning I was sleeping. My cat can verify my whereabouts, but I don’t think you’ll want to get a statement from her.” Kristen says, tone serious although her words are somewhat jokey. “I’ll help you open them if you want.”
“Fine.” Breen huffs and takes the next letter from the top of the pile.
As Kristen sits, he tears it open, pulling a hot pink piece of paper free. He reads, “Roses are red, violets are blue; I’m slightly adhesive, so I’ll stick to you.”
“You’d think they would have started with that one. It’s less of an affront, don’t you think?” Kristen asks, and pulls a letter from the pile.
Breen murmurs in agreement as she tears it open.
She reads, “Roses are red, violets are blue, you’re a man, I’m a [BLANK], you know what to do.” She winces at the implications, “It does say ‘blank’, for the record.”
“That’s… uncomfortable. And it’s also not even a pick up line. It gets a C+.” Breen takes another letter and rips it open in one swift movement. Unfurling the paper, he rolls his eyes and says, “Roses are red, violets are fine, you be the six, and I’ll be the nine.”
“Hot.” Kristen comments.
“Yeah.” Breen looks pained at the thought, “This is really… not fun… for me, you know.”
“I know.” She’s not trying to be sadistic, but the letters really are interesting to her. It’s fairly rare that they get something in at the station that is this unexpected. “Three more. Come on, Breen.”
She takes the letter, this one in a light blue envelope. Tearing it open, she reads, “Roses are red, violets are blue, I cry myself to sleep… masturbating to you. For the record, that was the letter, not me.”
“I don’t know which is worse.” Breen pales visibly. “Did I mention that I’m not super fond of this?”
“Yeah.” Kristen replies, cheerfully.
He takes his last letter and she takes hers. They open them simultaneously, which allows for a very convenient and very shocked, “Oh my God,” to come from both of them.
The letter she has in front of her is not a love letter. It’s an outright, terrifying, threat. “You go.” She urges.
“Roses are red, violets are blue, but witches are green, and I’m coming for you.” Breen drops his last letter to the table, eyes widening. “What the fuck?”
“Look, Breen, you mightn’t want to hear this one –“Kristen starts.
“Just say it.” He runs a hand through his hair. “Go on.”
“…Corpses are red, (though the strangled look blue), look out Sam Breen, I’m coming for you.” She drops the letter to the table and looks up at him.
He blinks once, twice, and looks at her. He’s pale and visibly frightened. “Um. What?”
Chapter 2: A Whiteboard Meeting
“So.” Mike says, after he’s dragged the whiteboard over towards the table near them. “Can you think of anyone who might want to hurt you, Breen?”
“Well, aside from the whanau of all the people I’ve helped put in jail over the last few years,” Breen says dryly, “I can’t think of anyone, no.” He looks considerably less shaken now he’s taken a few more sips of his cold coffee.
“Good point.” Mike nods thoughtfully. “What about anyone closer to home? Friends, lovers?”
“Roxie?” Kristen asks, before she can stop herself.
Breen shoots her a sharp look. “She had to move back to England to look after her father. We both knew it wouldn’t work. We’re still friends.” He sighs, and scrubs a hand over his head again. “Don’t drag her into this, please.”
“Sorry…” She says, feeling a little bit ashamed for assuming. It’s not like she knew the facts, though.
“It’s fine.” Breen waves it off. “Just… put her on the bottom of the list. I know we can’t discount her without evidence but I know she wouldn’t do something like this.”
Mike writes ‘Roxie’ on the board near the bottom right hand corner without another word.
“Anyone else?” Kristen asks, “Girlfriends before Roxie? Frustrated parents? Mr Marlow from Brokenwood Art Gallery?”
“For the record, Kristen, I paid him for the repairs on his car.” Breen glares at her and takes another sip of his coffee, thinking. “I was with Shaun before Roxie, but this thing’s not really his style. It’s too pink, to start with. He was really weird with pink stuff when I dated him.” He muses, and places the cup down, having just realised that the coffee is cold.
Out of everything in the world that Kristen had expected him to say, this wasn’t expected. “Um…”
“What –“ Breen laughs slightly and looks faintly amused. “You… didn’t know? You’ve been here longer than I have.”
“Mike – did you know?” Kristen can’t help herself. It’s not every day that a fairly-close confidant comes out, after all. She turns to him with a pointed look.
“I don’t make a habit of speculating about the sexualities of my colleagues.” Mike says, with a rather pointed look.
Kristen shoulders her surprise for another day and says, “Sorry, Breen. Don’t mind me.”
Breen laughs, “It’s fine. Now we’ve finished surmising that I’m not one-hundred percent heterosexual, can we get on? As I was saying, Shaun’s not the sort of guy who would pull this sort of stunt. I don’t even think he can rhyme.”
“…You dated him.” Kristen says.
“I didn’t date him for his linguistic skills.” Breen says. “He’s a big ol’ rugby dude. He’d think that writing poems is ‘gay’.” He air quotes with a sigh. “Ridiculous. He’s the kind of guy who’d use gay as a slur on the pitch and then would jer-“
“Anyway.” Mike quickly interrupts him before the younger man says something he’d regret. “On the list, or no?”
“Yeah…” Breen replies, with a heavy sigh. “I didn’t think I pissed him off that much though.”
With a look of concern, Mike writes the man’s name on the board. “Alright, Breen. Who else?”
Over the next twenty minutes or so, Breen throws out names to write on the board. The owners of the names vary in gender, but all are linked to Breen in some sort of intimate way – that is, intimate enough to warrant writing love/hate letters to him.
“I guess this makes this a case then?” Breen asks, waving a hand at the assorted debris around the table and the whiteboard itself.
“The notes are a direct threat on your life, Breen.” Mike says, “It’s New Years. It’s not like there’s much else to do.”
Breen snorts. “That’s easy for you to say, Senior, you just got back. You’re holding the entire student population of Brokenwood Camp Ground to quite high regard right now… That being said, though, thanks for this. I feel less likely that I’m going to be murdered in my sleep now.”
“Not a problem.” Mike says. “You two head out and try and find the people on this list. I’ll make a few calls, try and find a handwriting specialist, and all that.”
“Together?” Breen casts a wary look at the pair of them. “I can handle myself.”
“Not when you’re getting death threats.” Mike says, very pointedly. “Find those people, get them to write something, and compare the handwriting. Try not to get them to invoke their lawyers while you’re at it, eh?”
“Yes, Senior.” Breen looks like he might’ve rolled his eyes if they weren’t sitting next to their boss. He stands up and says, “Come on, Kristen.”
“Don’t worry, Sam, I don’t have cooties.” Kristen smirks at him. “I’m driving.” She grabs his keys and her wallet off the table and takes off towards the car, Breen complaining behind her.
“Play nicely, kids!” Mike calls, still seated at the table behind them.
Play nicely? She knows how to play nicely.
Chapter 3: An Intermediary Bakery
“So we’re just going to barge into your ex’s house on New Year’s Day?” Kristen asks, vaguely amused at the thought. “Everyone loves that. Especially ‘big rugby guys’.”
“Not my idea.” Breen mutters.
She looks away from the road for a moment and notices that he looks slightly green. “I take it you two didn’t part on the best of terms?” Focussing her attention back on the road ahead of them, she waits for his answer.
“Something like that.”
“I called him a hypocrite for calling people ‘fags’ on the pitch one too many times. He wasn’t the happiest.” Breen sighs again. “He was being a dick though. There’s no need to use language like that.”
“I’m surprised he could get over his hang ups to date another man.”
“It wasn’t… dating, per say.” Breen shifts awkwardly in his seat, “You probably don’t want the details.”
“Not really!” Kristen says cheerfully, her immediate glee stilted and awkward. “He works at Riverstone Bakery, right?”
“Last time I checked…” He shifts about uncomfortably again.
“…And when was that?”
“They sell good filled rolls, okay?” Breen mutters. “He was never actually there, but I had some good chats with his mum. She’s lovely. He’s… less so.”
“Sure thing.” Kristen laughs and takes a right. “You were sleeping with a rugby guy and then went out with Roxie? The whole 'fitness thing' seems like the only thing those two have in common.”
“We all have our tastes.” Breen replies. “It’s just that mine are less… specific.”
“Judging by the list of your exes on that board, yeah.” Kristen says.
The car passes the sign that reads ‘Welcome to Riverstone’. She can just see the sign for Riverstone Bakery in the distance, so she looks around for a park. It’s only just after nine in the morning on New Year's Day, so it’s not too hard. The sun shines down brightly overhead.
As she pulls into the park, Breen says, “Let me do all of the talking.”
“…Why…?” Kristen asks, and switches the engine off with a quick movement. She pulls her keys from the ignition and looks over at him as she unlatches her seatbelt.
“It’ll go faster if I do.” He says, and refuses to give her an answer better than that.
“Don’t you think you should be stepping away from this case and letting me run things?” Kristen asks, “It is about you, after all. Personal distance is important.” She gathers her bag from near the foot well and looks for her sunglasses inside.
“The person threatened me, Kristen.” Breen undoes his belt with a discontented huff.
“Which is exactly why I should be doing the talking. You’re too close.”
“It’s not a murder.” Breen replies. “I’m fine. I’m betting Mike sent you with me so I wouldn’t accidentally get murdered on my travels.”
“Of course.” She opens her door and steps out. Voice softening, she says, “Look. Fine. Whatever. You can talk to him, but I’m going to stay with you. You might be incredibly orange, but I’m not going to let you get assassinated by some maniac.”
Breen looks across the car and smirks at her, “That’s probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”
“Well, I do try to say nice things at least once a decade.” Kristen retorts, “You better hang around until the next one, Breen.” She slams her door shut and casts her gaze around for the bakery.
“It’s that way.” Breen points towards a small white shopfront several metres away. He doesn’t look happy about it, but he starts walking towards the shop.
Kristen locks the car and follows along behind him.
“You come all the way out here for filled rolls?” She asks him skeptically.
“Not exactly…” Breen huffs. “I’ve been trying to resolve things. It’s not like I want to get back with him or anything, but I can feel the waves of animosity he sends my way whenever Brokenwood plays Riverstone and I’d like them to stop. He’s never been here when I’ve come though.”
“Every time?” She asks, even more skeptically.
His silence is worrying.
“I might have walked past a couple of the times he was serving at the counter.” Breen admits sheepishly.
“A little counterproductive, don’t you think?” She asks.
“And you say that you’re going to be the one to talk in there?”
“It’s fine. Just… elbow me or something if I try to back out.” Breen huffs again.
“You don’t know how much power you’ve just given me.” Kristen snorts. “But, fine. Don’t back out.”
“Yeah.” He says nothing more.
The door jingles in a very small-town way as Breen pushes it open. The interior of the bakery is retro and charming, with old fashioned tables and lace curtains over the windows. Kristen feels like she has just stepped back in time.
The woman behind the counter is jolly-looking and all hair. Her lurid pink apron is frilly on the edges and reads ‘Be nice to me or I’ll poison your food’. Considering the circumstances, the irony stings.
She smiles widely when she spots them. “Samuel, dear, how are you?” Stepping around the counter, she opens her arms for a hug.
Kristen supposes that it is rather fortunate that the bakery is empty. “Samuel?” She mouths, somewhat surprised that Sam’s parents had named him after something Biblical. It really didn’t fit him.
Breen rolls his eyes at her and hugs the other woman awkwardly. He says, “I’m good, Mrs G. How are you and Shaun?”
“Oh well, you know that boy. Always so into his sports. I do wish he’d help around the bakery a little more.” Mrs G purses her lips and lets Breen go. “Who’s this then?” Her tone isn’t exactly judging towards Kristen, but it does hint of a bit of a protective streak.
“Kristen Simms.” She steps forward and offers a hand. “I’m a …friend of Bre- Sam’s. I’ve heard a lot about your filled rolls.”
Mrs G ignores the offered hand and says, “Don’t worry about the formalities then, dear. Any friend of Samuel’s is a friend of mine.”
Kristen withdraws her hand and replies, “That’s nice to hear. Sam and I were just in the area. Thought we’d stop in.”
“Not on official business, I hope!” Mrs G heads back around her counter. “I trust there’s been no unpleasant business around Riverstone?”
“Not at all, Mrs G.” Sam is quick to reassure her. “We were coming back from something in the city. I mentioned this place and we’re not on the clock right now so we decided to stop in.”
“I’m glad to hear that my reputation is still intact.” Mrs G smiles wider, if that’s even possible. “What can I do you for, then?”
“I’ll have one of the raspberry muffins.” Kristen says, after scanning the cabinet in front of her for a couple of seconds. “If it’s not too much trouble.”
“Of course not, honey.” Mrs G places the muffin into a bag, “What about you, Samuel? The chicken and cranberry filled roll?”
“You know me too well.” Breen smiles. “I must come in here too often!”
“Certainly not.” Mrs G fetches the filled roll from another section of the cabinet. “It was a pleasure seeing you in here when you and Shaun were an item.” She winks, conspiratorially.
“Yes, well…” Breen trails off, “Where is Shaun, anyway? I’ve been meaning to catch up with him, and since we’re in the area now’s as good a time as any.”
“Down at the rugby pitch.” Mrs G rolls her eyes. “As usual. He was barely about to wish me a Happy New Year this morning before he headed off to training.” She places the two paper bags onto the top of the cabinet. “Three fifty for the roll, two fifty for the muffin.”
“I’ve got this.” Breen has already taken his wallet out of his pocket and Kristen doesn’t have the heart to argue.
Plus, free food.
“On New Year’s Day too?” Kristen comments. “Rough. Surely some of the boys would be laid off with hangovers today.”
“Yes, well you know rugby players…” Mrs G sighs, “They’re ridiculously devoted, the lot of them.”
“Yeah.” Kristen replies, fondly remembering the time that Breen had said to Mike and her that he ‘only still played rugby because it was slightly more fun than running.’ “I’m sure they are.”
Mrs G hands Breen back his change. “That’s everything then, Samuel, dear?”
“Do you know when abouts Shaun finishes rugby practise today?” Breen takes the paper bags off the counter, peeks inside and hands Kristen hers.
After a quick look at the clock hanging on the wall, Mrs G says, “Supposedly in about ten minutes or so? Tenish? I won’t see him until this afternoon, though, knowing him.”
“Cheers, Mrs G.” Breen smiles at her. “I’ll pop in again soon!”
Kristen nods at her and the pair head off out of the shop.
“That woman is lovely, but I can’t stand being called Samuel.” Breen shakes his head, “Honestly, you’d think, after three years…”
“Are your parents the religious sort?” Kristen asks, wondering if she should start picking at her muffin on the way back to the car or if she should wait.
“Far from it.” Breen chuckles. “They’re both total hippies. They live up in that commune that operates up in the arse end of Brokenwood Island? I think my full name was a bet.”
“Hippie parents? I mean, Breen, I always thought you were a bit alternative, but I never knew-“
“Shut up.” Breen glares in a way that only seems mildly annoyed. “I’m glad I escaped. I’d have a full beard if I still lived there and frankly, considering the colour of my hair, that’d just be embarrassing.”
As the pair reach the car, Kristen says, “I’m surprised they let you leave.”
“Oh, it wasn’t easy. They disapprove of my choice of clothes so much.”
“Not suit types, are they?” She unlocks the car and pulls her door open with one hand.
“Definitely not. I have to camouflage myself as one of them whenever I want to go back there.” Breen opens his door as well and pauses, “I know where the rugby field is. Shouldn’t I drive? This is my car, after all.”
“Boring.” Kristen huffs, and thinks for a second. “You can drive if you promise to send me pictures next time you head back home.”
“Do you want to drive or not? I’m your Senior, I could impound your car.” Kristen winks at him and jingles the keys at him across the roof of the car.
“I’m pretty sure that’s illegal and without cause.” Breen says, but relents with a sigh. “Fine. I’ll send you pics. Gimme my keys back.”
“Pinky promise?” She extends her pinky across the car towards him.
“I can’t believe that you’re ranked higher than me.” Breen pouts, but relents again. “Fine.” He interlocks his pinky with hers and they shake them together.
Kristen tosses his keys over the car at him with her free hand and he just manages to catch them. She relinquishes his pinky with a self-satisfied smirk. “Come on then.” She crosses to the passenger side of the car gleefully.
“Why do I feel like I’ve agreed to something terrible?” Breen mutters, but heads over to the driver’s side.
“Can I show Mike these pictures?”
“Never.” Breen warns. “Don’t you dare, Kristen. He’d have a well-mannered field day.”
After several wrong turns – “To be fair, we’ve not played rugby on their pitch for at least two years.” – one sojourn to Google Maps – “It is literally marked on the map, Breen, look.” – and one prolonged silence, the pair finally make their way to the Riverstone rugby pitch, where it looks like practise is just wrapping up. Most of the men on the field are trudging towards the locker rooms, completely covered in mud. It’s a damp New Year’s morning.
“Apologies if this is rude or anything,” Kristen says, as she starts picking at her muffin. “But from what I’ve got from everyone’s descriptions of Shaun, he seems like a bit of an arse. Why’d you date him?”
“He’s not that bad… aside from the whole ‘constant slurs’ thing.” Breen muses, unwrapping the plastic wrap from around his filled roll. “He’s just very focused on his sport. Plus, he has a bit of an anger issue. Or, at least he did when I knew him.”
“Is that why you two broke up?” Kristen eats another chuck of the muffin. Sweetness bursts across her tongue, but in a good, not-cloying, way. “Shit, these are decent, eh.”
“I’ll tell Mrs G next time I’m in there.” Breen replies. “She’ll be pleased to hear it. Let’s put it this way. I wasn’t ever dating him for his verbosity and good conversational skills. He was an arse, yeah, but still.”
“Why were you dating him then?” She asks. “I’m not exactly a relationships expert, but there’s got to be some sort of chemistry between people.”
“…Do you really want me to answer that?” He side-eyes her, plastic wrap forgotten.
“It could be pertinent to your case.” She says, carefully.
“I doubt it.” Breen huffs. “The man was pretty good at fuckin’, you know. It was a mutually beneficial thing. Less… dating and more… not dating.”
Kristen blinks and backpedals quickly. She doesn’t need to know. She doesn’t need to know at all. “You know, I think we’ll leave any further details until we know that we need them for the case, eh.”
“Sure thing.” He chortles, clearly glad that he made her a little bit uncomfortable. “Oh wait, that’s him there.” He points to a shorter man emerging from the locker room. He’s carrying rugby boots under his arm, and has dark hair and a string of tattoos along one arm. He heads towards a rusty red ute two down from Breen’s car.
“Do you want to intercept him or should I?” Kristen asks, finishing off the last bite of her muffin. She’ll be definitely stopping back at Riverview Bakery if she’s ever in the area again.
Breen shoots her a look. “You really think that this guy will listen to someone he doesn’t know?” He asks, but doesn’t look like he’s expecting an answer. “You can come with me if you’re worried that he’s going to stab me with a syringe full of spider poison or whatever.”
“Well, since you asked nicely…” Kristen opens her door. “I’m not jumping in front of you to save your life if that is the case though. I’ll call an ambulance instead.”
“I wouldn’t expect any less, pardner.” Breen drawls, and opens his door as well.
As soon as they’re both out of the car, he locks up and jogs towards his ex.
Kristen watches with some amusement, following behind from a distance, as Breen scrambles for purchase on the wet ground. He ends up on the ground more than once before he gets to his destination.
He reaches the shorter man, who doesn’t appear to look too mad, and they talk for a moment.
When she finally reaches them (damn her for wearing her white sneakers to work that day, they’ll be ruined) she says, “Hey. Kristen Simms. Brokenwood Police,” and holds out a hand for Shaun to shake.
The shorter man is about her height up close, and doesn’t even look annoyed. He looked more perplexed than anything, and he definitely doesn’t seem like a stalker.
Then again, most criminals don’t look like criminals. Kristen knows that from experience.
“Shaun Glover.” The man takes her hand and shakes it.
She can feel a lot of calluses and rough skin underneath her palm and she’s pretty sure that those sort of hands don’t come from moonlighting as a baker.
“Is there a reason you two are here or…?” He looks between them quizzically, leaving the rest of his question unsaid.
“Business.” Breen interjects. “Not that it’s not… good to see you or anything.”
Shaun tucks the rugby boots further under his arm and then says, “Can we take it off the pitch? I’m wearing my good shoes. Mum will be pissed if I get mud on the carpet again.”
“Sure.” Breen agrees, and they follow Shaun back to his battered ute.
After they’re settled somewhat precariously on the back, Shaun says, “So. What’s this about? I didn’t think I needed to see anyone else after the counselling.”
“Counselling?” Kristen asks, half curious and half wondering if she’ll be able to get the mud stains out of her sneakers.
“Yeah?” Shaun says slowly. “I had to get counselling after things got a little bit rough after a match one day? It was about six months ago and the cops in Brokenwood decreed that I either got anger management counselling or spent a few months in the cells.”
“Did it help?” Breen asks.
“Yeah!” Shaun says, enthusiastically. “I’m a completely different man. I didn’t really see how my words were affecting people around me, but now I do. It feels so much better not to be angry all the time.”
“So… uh, in those fits of anger did you do anything you might have regretted…?” Kristen says, trying to skirt around the issue at hand in the hope that the man might give something away. She doesn’t really believe that Shaun could be the man that they’re looking for, but they do have to cover all bases in their investigation. Breen’s life could be at stake.
“…Look, instead of trying to force me to some sort of confession, why don’t you just tell me what you want?” Shaun sighs. “I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
Breen seems to decide for a moment. He pulls a pink piece of paper inside an evidence bag out of his pocket. “Did you write this, Shaun?”
He hands the letter over. Kristen can just see that it’s one of the least inflammatory ones – ‘Roses are red, violets are blue; I’m slightly adhesive, so I’ll stick to you,’ and so forth.
“What the fuck is this?” Shaun doesn’t sound angry, just really confused.
At this point, Kristen isn’t feeling much better. She had prepared for the worst in regards to Shaun, and it’s a relief to find someone who can actually hold a conversation. However, the situation has been jarring. It’s far more normal to be part of murder investigations in Brokenwood, and she hates that they’ve become her everyday now.
“An officer of ours has been sent a stack of these letters, culminating in direct threats to their life.” Kristen says smoothly, the half-truth springing remarkably fast to her lips.
“…And you’re asking me about it? I live in Riverstone, not Brokenwood.” Shaun says, waving the letter about wildly. “I have absolutely no motive. I only know one of your officers and it’s Sam- ah.”
“I got sent death threats, yeah…” Breen says, quietly. “Look, I didn’t want to drag you into this, Shaun, but we have to cover all bases. It’s procedure.”
“It’s bullshit.” Shaun says, looking annoyed. “Why would I do something like that? I loved you, you big egg!”
Even Kristen winces at the use of the word ‘loved’.
“Procedure.” Breen’s face is like stone. He says stiffly, “For the record, I didn’t want to mention your name, but we have to check everyone. It’s for your safety as well as mine.”
“Fine.” Shaun takes a deep breath. “Fine. Do what you need to do. What do you want?”
Kristen pulls her notebook and a pen from her pocket. “Can you copy the wording of that letter word for word? Write it in the way that you normally would, as naturally as possible.”
She opens the book to a clean page and passes it to Shaun along with the pen. He puts the evidence bag down on the floor of the ute and sets about copying the words off the page and onto her notebook.
She notices that he is a lefthander as he writes. He has an awkward way of writing, as he has to turn the notebook sideways to get the angle he wants.
When he is done, he snaps the notebook shut and hands it back to her with the pen placed on top. She takes the evidence bag back as well. “Are we done now, or do you have to interrogate me further?” His tone isn’t particularly annoyed, just somewhat tired. He looks drawn and weary, and Kristen notices the wrinkles at the edges of his eyes. He’s probably slightly older than he looks, but no less attractive. Past Breen had done well.
“We’re done. Can I get your number for further inquiries?” Breen says, but stutters on the last couple of words in his sentence.
Shaun snorts bitterly. “For further inquiries, huh? For the record, it’s the same one I’ve had for years. Do you still remember it or should I tell you again?”
“Yeah… Yeah, I still remember it.” Breen says, quietly. He sighs, disappointment palatable in his face. “Thanks, Shaun. I’ll… I’ll see you later.” He slides off the back of the truck.
“See you.” Shaun replies, then says, slowly, “Look, if you’re not with anyone… at the moment, or whatever… give me a call. We should… talk.”
Breen looks genuinely shocked for a moment and then shakes it off. “Yeah. Maybe. Coming, Kristen?”
“Yes.” She clambers off the truck as well and her shoes squelch as they hit the ground. That’s never a good sign. “Thanks, Shaun.” She nods at him and they head off back to Breen’s car.
She notices how mud covered they both are just before they climb into the car itself.
“You don’t by any chance have any towels in the back, do you?” She asks, “We’re both pretty filthy.”
“Nah.” Breen purses his lips for a second and then decides. “It’s okay. I’ll clean the car this weekend. I don’t have much else to do.”
“Do you have another suit in the back?” She asks, thinking, “My house is on the way to the station. We could pop in and clean up a bit before we meet back with Mike. He’ll call us if there’s anything urgent and we haven’t heard yet.”
“My fourth suit in twenty-four hours.” Breen complains, “Dry cleaning is going to be a bitch this week. But yeah, I do. Or, at least the makings of one. I like your plan.”
“Good. I feel filthy.” She says. “You driving, or should I?”
“For the sake of the driver’s side foot well, I’ll drive.” Breen remarks. “I don’t think your shoes could be any muddier.”
“I don’t know…” Kristen muses, and walks around to the passenger side. “I did spend New Years at Rhythm and Vines a few years ago when it bucketed down all weekend. That was pretty muddy.”
“Oh, shit, I remember that.” Breen opens his driver’s door. “It looked hellish.”
“It was. Even through the alcohol haze I remember a lot of mud in places it shouldn’t have been.” She climbs into the car as well, and silently prays for the safety of the carpet underfoot. There’s really nothing she can do about it though.
“Charming.” Breen remarks, wiping a muddy hand on his suit before he inserts the key into the ignition. “Let’s go.”
As he drives, Kristen notices his gaze drifting over to the filled roll on the dash forlornly.
“I can drive if you want to attack that.” Kristen says, “You look like you’re about to jump that thing.”
“I’m fine.” Breen squares his shoulders. “I’m a cop. I can resist a little bit of temptation.”
“Sure.” She says dryly, and then barrels into her next question, “Are you going to call him?”
“What?” He swerves and nearly drives the car off the road.
She says another silent thanks for the fact that they’re in the middle of the country and no-one is about.
“Please don’t kill us with your driving.” Kristen says, “But are you going to call him? He seemed like he was really into the idea of you having his number.”
“Nope.” Breen says cheerfully. Too cheerfully.
“Are you being faux-happy right now while you try to figure out what to say?” She asks innocently.
“Nope!” Breen says, even more cheerfully, his eyes glued to the road. “I’m the picture of sincerity right now.”
“Yeah, and I just saw a flying pig.” Kristen mutters under her breath. “Look, he’s single, you’re single, you obviously still have a thing for him – why don’t you go for it?”
“There are so many reasons why that is a bad idea.” Breen grits his teeth. “Do you really want me to list them for you?”
“Fine. Number one. We broke up for a reason. His temper was getting to me and he was being a total arse to lots of people.”
“He’s had therapy and he says he’s changed.”
“Yeah, he says he’s changed. We don’t know that he has. Him saying something doesn’t make it true.” Breen explains. “He could still be a total arse.”
“Which you don’t know because you don’t want to talk to him.” Kristen adds. “He could be telling the truth.”
“In this profession I’ve learned not to trust what people say unless there’s evidence to prove it.” Breen swerves the car to the left suddenly and parks. He turns to look at her and says, “If we’re going to talk about this, let’s talk about it.”
“Okay.” Kristen says. “What are your other reasons?”
“Two, I’m not going to be one of those people.”
“Those… people?” She asks.
“One of those ‘oh, I just came out and got out of a relationship, now I’ll date people who are completely wrong with me because I’m finally free’, etc, etc, etc.” He mutters.
“I’m pretty sure that you’re generalising a lot of people there.” Kristen replies. She pats him on the arm. “As long as you’re not dating literal criminals and still coming to work, I’m not going to judge who you date. Mike doesn’t care. It’s not really our business.”
“You know the station rumour mill will be up and running within hours of the news.”
“No it won’t.” Kristen tries to sound sincere, although she knows that Breen is right. Gossip does a bored police station make. “What are your other reasons?”
Breen slumps back into his seat after a moment. “I don’t have any, okay? I just don’t think it’s a good idea. The commute is bad, for a start.”
“It’s… like forty-five minutes, Sam. There’s worse commutes.” Kristen laughs, “Look. I’ll lay off. Leave it until we know he’s not the one sending you those threats and then think about it.”
“Ugh…” Breen moans. “Maybe. Can we go now? I don’t need the wrath of Bad Cop Kristen Simms to come down me today.”
“Bad Cop Kristen Simms would be a terrible television show.” Kristen replies, “And you’re the one driving. I’m pretty sure you control when we go.” She smirks at him as he pulls the car away from the curb.
Chapter 4: A Sleepy Office Table
When they arrive at her place, she pulls her shoes off at the door and looks at them with a fair amount of regret. Even if she does brush the dirt off when it dries, they’ll never be the same again. Serves her right, though for wearing white shoes on a damp day.
Breen beelines straight for the shower with his clean suit in hand, and tracks mud onto the carpet as he does so. She would complain, but then again, the carpet is brown so it probably won’t show. It’s better than blood, at least.
She drops her shoes by the door with a sigh and sets about finding something that is less caked with mud. Considering the circumstances, she’ll probably be out in the mud later, so she grabs a pair of her scruffier sneakers and clothes that she doesn’t particularly love. She’ll be less ‘well-maintained’ than Breen, but at least she won’t ruin anything else that she likes.
Breen re-joins her after a few minutes, looking damp in the hair department but annoyingly well-groomed otherwise. “Your water pressure is better than mine.” He complains, but there’s no malice in it.
“Maybe if you spent less money on video games and more on your bathroom you’d have good water pressure too.” Kristen teases. “Get out of the way while I shower. Don’t put anything muddy on anything expensive-looking.”
“Sure thing, mum .” He retorts as she walks past him. “Should I just sit on the couch and not touch anything?”
“If you like.” She replies, and goes to have her shower.
Her black cat, Jasper (she had never been that original with names) is perched in Breen’s lap when she returns. He’s patting her absentmindedly with one hand and checking his phone with the other.
She’s towelling her hair dry as he looks up.
“I got a call from Mike.” He says, looking puzzled.
“He got the handwriting expert in – first thing in the morning on a public holiday, too.” Breen explains, “The handwriting’s probably a man’s. Lefthander too.”
“…Like… Shaun?” Kristen doesn’t want to jump to conclusions too fast, but it is important to note down case-related revelations when necessary.
“Yeah.” Breen huffs. He looks tired. “I don’t think he could do anything like this. No matter how bad he used to be.”
“We’ve just started this investigation.” She reminds him. “It’s not likely.”
“Yeah…” He doesn’t look any happier. “Also, I got a text from a withheld number.”
“What did it say?”
“Something something, you’re barking up the wrong tree something ‘I was watching you at the rugby field’ and stuff like that.” Breen winces. “Not indirectly a death threat though, so there is that.”
"Well, who's got that number?" She asks, trying to hide how worried she is.
Breen doesn't seem unduly concerned, but instead rather tired. She wonders if the whole thing is getting to him.
"Not many people." He replies, scratching Jasper under the chin. "The phone's new. I buggered my last one on Boxing Day when I had too many beers."
"So what, like a week ago?" She asks. "How many people did you give your number to?"
"Maybe ten or so?" He says. "I'm not sure. I had to import all my contacts from the cloud and then I did put it on Facebook..."
"You're an idiot." She nods, and punches him lightly in the shoulder. "Are you friends with Shaun on Facebook?"
"He doesn't have one, as far as I know. And it's not like the status was public."
"Come on." Kristen shakes her head. "Why do I think that when we get back to the station that Mike's going to make us sift through your Facebook friends?"
Jasper protests as Breen moves her off his lap. "Sorry, buddy." He strokes her on her head. "I'll come back another day."
"Promising things to my cat?" She teases, "She doesn't forget a promise."
"Sure." Breen shoots her a strange look, "Shall we go?"
It's barely half past eleven by the time they get back to the station. It's busier inside now, with multiple people sitting in the waiting room, and the main room a hub of activity. One person in the waiting room is holding a bloodied handkerchief to her nose, and Kristen is fairly sure that she can see someone with a cast on.
"What happened?" Kristen asks Mike as she quite literally runs into him in the hallway.
"A bunch of campers got into a pitched battle at the campground." Mike gives her an exasperated look. "Take a couple of them and try to figure out why they did it, would you?"
"But Breen...?" She asks.
"I'll make him do the filing. He'll be away from strangers, and he'll get to do paperwork. I can't think of anything he'd rather do." Mike says. "Find anything out?"
"Aside from the fact that we probably wasted a good two hours when we could have been helping here, and also that Breen is a suit-wearing idiot, no." Kristen says. "I'll talk to you later?"
"Yes, yes." Mike waves her on as he spots someone else being led into the hallway. "Mrs Green! I'm here to help you with your problem. Do you know who..."
His voice fades away as he leads the elderly woman into an interrogation room. Kristen continues her walk along the corridor and decides to get to work. Somebody's got to.
About lunchtime, after she's helped unravel the whole mess - apparently someone used someone else's barbeque and the situation devolved into a punching match from there - she meets up with Mike and Breen back in Mike's office.
Breen looks even more worn out than he had done earlier and even Mike has lost his well-rested sheen.
"I'm never crossing that woman, let me tell you." Breen is saying. "She'd probably be able to murder me without a second thought."
Mike laughs. "Mrs Green is a lovely woman when you get to know her, Breen."
"Yeah." Breen shivers. "You can say that, you old charmer. Elderly women love you."
"Mrs Green is a distinguished campsite owner and she's not that old." Mike says. "Kristen! We can get started now you're here."
"I will not make the comment I was going to make about certain people's ages." Breen says, "Because I think that's safer. Anyway. Any progress on who wants to murder slash hook up with me? I guess? This stalker is remarkably inconsistent." He seems oddly jovial about the whole thing.
"You seem rather calm about the whole thing." Kristen says, leaning up against the window of the office.
"Yeah, well I've decided that impending doom is exciting. Plus, I haven't slept for many hours and I think I'm just feeling it right now." Breen replies calmly.
"Don't... over do it." Mike warns. "We get careless when we're tired. I don't want you taking risks."
"I'm fine." Breen waves a hand. "Let's just find this guy."
"What do we know then?" Mike asks. He pulls a smaller whiteboard up behind his desk and starts writing on it.
"He's male, or they've got really masculine handwriting." Kristen comments. "Left handed."
Mike writes that on the board. "The handwriting expert also said that the person might have a slight hand tremor or something like that. Not someone who does much work with their hands."
"Or," Breen adds, "Someone who does. Like a person who types for a living or something."
"True." Mike adds that onto the board, "But not someone who does much handwriting. That's why the script is all over the place."
"And I got this text." Breen gets his phone out of his pocket and reads, "'You're barking up the wrong tree, honey. I hope you enjoyed Riverstone. I've always loved watching rugby players. I bet you're wondering how I got this number.' Except it's in text language, rather than full words."
"We can assume that the person is younger then." Kristen says.
"A lot of older people use text language though." Breen says, "It's more of a trend for younger people to type without punctuation or capitalisation. It's faster."
"True." She concedes. "I don't know then. You said the number was withheld?"
"Yeah." Breen sighs. "I haven't seen many of those for a while. That's pretty much a dead end."
"We've got a John Doe, presumably male, who's a lefthander and injured." Mike says. He taps the whiteboard thoughtfully with the end of the marker. "Who has your cell phone number, Breen?"
"All of my Facebook friends and anyone who wanted to get it from them." Breen says bluntly. "I'm an idiot. I know. It's just easier than messaging thirty odd people who want my new number."
"Seriously?" Mike asks, looking incredulous. "I don't want to read you the riot act, Breen, but you should know better."
"Yeah, yeah, I know." Breen huffs. "I'm dumb. The fact that we're pretty sure the person is a guy, and the left handed thing helps though. I know most of my friends on Facebook. It shouldn't be hard to sift through the five hundred or so and figure out likely candidates."
"You are a law enforcement officer." Mike says gently, "How do you not know everyone that you're friends with on Facebook?"
"I've got those weird friends who just comment on my stuff and they've got like one mutual friend with me. I thought most people had those?" Breen asks, looking vaguely bemused.
"Can confirm." Kristen agrees, "I love those odd British people."
Mike laughs in a way that seems more confused than anything else. "If there's one thing I really don't get about your generation," he says, "It is your complete lack of privacy."
"I call it 'selective compliments'." Breen says, "But you're probably right."
“So all we need to do is narrow down Breen’s friend list?” Kristen says, drumming her fingers on the edge of the doorframe. “Doesn’t sound too hard.”
“Don’t count your chickens before they are hatched.” Mike warns.
She tries very hard not to retort with a ‘yes dad’ because that is inappropriate towards her Senior even if said Senior is just Mike.
“Sorry.” Kristen says. “Should we get onto that then?”
“Yes.” Mike replies, casting his gaze between the pair of them. “I want to see if I can pull security footage from the front of the building – see if there’s any angles that cover where the letters were dropped off. It might make it easier.”
“Yeah.” Breen sighs. “Thanks, Senior. Let’s go, Kristen.” He opens the door and indicates for her to follow him through it.
She waves him off. “I’ll be there in a moment. I’ve got a couple of things I need to do first.”
Breen shrugs, “Okay,” and wanders off towards one of their spare interview rooms with his laptop in hand.
Mike fixes her with a beady-eyed look. “Is there something you wanted to say?”
“Do you think he’s alright?” She indicates at Breen’s disappearing back. “He’s taking this whole thing… weirdly.”
“You spent two hours in a car with him this morning. What do you think?” Mike settles back in his chair and steeples his hands in front of him.
“I don’t know.” She knows she sounds frustrated, but she can’t seem to stop it. She and Breen aren ’t exactly friends , but she does care about his wellbeing. “He seems uppity. He’s jumping about from one mood to another with no worry about the consequences. I don’t know if I even still trust his judgement.”
“That’s not ideal, no.” Mike replies, after a few moments of thought. “Keep an eye on him and let me know if anything changes. Don’t let him drive. He’s really the only person who knows who might have possible gotten his phone number, so I really can’t take him off of the case.”
She nods. “Okay… but if he gets worse…”
“He won’t.” Mike says. “We’ll find this person by the end of the day.”
She doesn’t believe him, but she thanks him and leaves his office anyway. She’s not going to get anything done if she just hangs onto Mike for support.
Breen doesn’t have his head in his hands when she finds him. He’s got his head on the table instead, and he’s snoring lightly. She drags a chair over to settle down beside him and the movement is enough to startle him awake.
“I wasn’t sleeping!” He blurts, in a bold-faced lie.
“Sure.” She replies, “Should we get onto this then?”
“Yeah.” Breen taps the trackpad and his screen lights up to show his Facebook page. It’s about as Breen-y as she had expected, which means it’s not very interesting at all.
“I’ll read names out, you write them down?” He says.
“Sure.” She pulls her notebook and pen from the back pocket of her jeans.
They commence their work in almost complete silence. The quiet is not uncomfortable, but it’s not really comfortable either. It rests in neutral ground and is broken every so often by Breen’s reading of a name, and the clicking of Kristen’s pen.
When they’re done, they have a list of about ten names, and Kristen has learned more about Breen’s Facebook friends than she ever wanted to know.
Mike barges in a couple of minutes later, when any of Kristen’s attempts at conversation have lapsed into silence. She’s pretty sure that Breen is asleep again, but it’s probably not because of her.
“Why are you in here?” Mike asks, looking around the small room in something akin to contempt. “It’s worse than a cave in here.”
Breen had chosen the darkest and dimmest interview room. “His fault.” She jerks her thumb at the sleeping man. “I don’t know why he came in here, but we did get things narrowed down a bit.”
“Good.” Mike praises. “Do you think I should send him home?”
“Do you think that’ll seem like a defeat to him?” She asks.
“Do I what huh?” Breen wakes up again and blinks slowly. He jerks upright and tries to brush his suit back to something that looks vaguely composed as soon as he notices Mike. “Senior!”
“Calm down, Breen. Don’t worry about it.” Mike waves a hand in a conciliatory way.
“Don’t worry about it.” Mike settles down in the third chair in the room. “I found the security camera footage.”
“And?” Breen asks, leaning forward slightly.
“It’s really not great. The figure is wearing a hoodie, and the cameras don’t have a wide enough view to catch a face from any angle.”
“Oh.” Breen slumps back into his chair. “That’s fine. I guess. Thanks for trying though.”
“Now we’ve got a list of people,” Kristen says, “What do we do now?”
“Call them all in, I guess.” Mike says, “To be honest, I’ve never had one of these cases come so close to home before. The letters are far more graphic than I usually get too. I’m at a bit of a loss.”
“Well if you’re at a loss, then what the hell am I going to do…?” Breen mutters, under his breath.
Mike and Kristen exchange worried glances but neither of them say anything.
“We’ll find the guy, Breen.” Kristen says. “It’ll work out.”
“Yes, and for the moment, Sam,” Mike says, “I want you to go home. Sleep this off. You’re no help here if you’re falling asleep at your desk.”
“Yes, Sir…” Breen moans quietly, still apparently rather checked out of life. “Thank you.”
“I’ll organise protection to drive you home and stay at your place.” Mike says. He pats Breen on the shoulder and stands up. “We’ll sort this out, Breen. Don’t worry.”
“Yeah…” Breen stands up as well, and wavers on his feet. “Thanks. I guess.” He staggers towards the door, but doesn’t quite fall.
Kristen stands from the table as well and watches as Mike helps Breen out of the room and down the hallway.
So much for a ‘new beginning’ of the year. This was something she hadn’t expected at all.
Chapter 5: A Narrowing of Suspects
“Breen’s safely in bed at home.” Mike re-joins her twenty minutes later. “Drove him there myself. Anderson and Foxglove are on duty and will stay with him.”
Kristen nods. Both James Anderson and Julie Foxglove are capable, intelligent cops. Neither of them would let anything harm Breen. “Good.”
“Now, let me see this list.”
Kristen hands it over without a word.
Mike scans it for a couple of moments and then frowns. “There’s two of our men on this list.”
“Well yeah, I did consider omitting them but ‘guilty until proven innocent’ mentality, so on and so forth.” Kristen explained, “But they’re male, probably about the right age, and lefthanders. I thought it was best that I left them in the line-up.”
“Yes.” Mike agrees. “Good. Why don’t you get us some coffee from down the road and I’ll start on the whiteboard?”
“…I mean, I can make it?” Kristen says.
“No!” His reply is oddly forceful. “I mean, no. Sorry, Kristen, I’m just not feeling home brewed coffee today, eh? I like the frothy milk at the coffee cart and I think I need something extra strong considering the day we’ve had already.”
“Fair enough.” Kristen replies, and does as she is told.
She bumps into Jared Morehu on the way back from the coffee cart. The Maori man is dressed in plaid and looks pleased to see her.
“Kristen! Hey! I take it Mike’s too bogged down to get his own so you’re playing servant this arvo, eh?” Jared’s good mood is infectious and she can feel the pressures of the day already lifting off her shoulders.
“Something like that.” She huffs. “He didn’t want me to make coffee so –“
“That’s Mike for ya. The guy really likes spending money on the good stuff.” Jared shrugs, “Don’t take it personally. What are you guys up to today?”
“You know that I can’t tell you that.” She settles down on a bench. Apparently her quick walk back to the station isn’t going to be so quick after all.
“I might be able to help you.” Jared points out. He’s probably right. The man knows more about Brokenwood than anyone she’s ever met.
“Police work is supposed to be secret, Jared.” She can feel her resolve wavering and she doesn’t like it.
He sits next to her. “Yeah… but… is it serious? Is someone’s life in danger, and will the investigation go faster if I help you?”
“You know I can’t tell you-”
“Come on, Kristen. Is it bad?” He looks a bit like an eager puppy, and it worries her that she is drawing comparisons like that.
“It could be bad, yes.” She sighs. Jared’s a right hander, for starters, so he was discounted off Breen’s list of Facebook friends. Plus, the man might actually be able to help.
“Go on then. Tell me.”
“…Okay.” She wonders what the cops up in the city would think about this arrangement that Mike and Jared seem to have. She’s not going to tell them, but she bets they wouldn’t be happy. “Breen’s got a stalker. A pretty dangerous one too, it seems.”
Whatever Jared was expecting her to say, it clearly wasn’t that. “…A stalker? Breen? Some babe’s taking it a little too far, I take it?” He laughs. “I wouldn’t have guessed. I suppose breaking it off with Roxie gave someone a good idea.”
“Mmmm…” She says, non-committedly. “More of a male-shaped person taking things a little too far, but you’re basically there.” She takes a sip of coffee. It’s already a lot cooler than it should be.
“Okay.” Jared nods thoughtfully. “Breen swing that way then?”
“Normally I’d not spread stuff like that about,” Kristen replies, “But he genuinely doesn’t seem to care if people know he swings all of the ways.”
Jared nods again. “Nice.”
“I guess.” Kristen really can’t tell how the man is taking the news. Presumably okay, she hopes, but she can’t really tell. “So. Threatening notes. Stalking. We’re looking for a left handed guy, with a hand injury or problem, and also friends with Breen on Facebook. Any ideas?”
“There’s a newish guy at the Frog and Cheetah.” Jared replies, after a moment or two of thinking. “He’s been here a couple of months and I know he’s got a hand issue cause he spilled a drink on me one time. I think he’s a lefty?” He squints in thought. “Think his name’s Jake? Jack? John. Can’t remember. It was a hot drink and he was weird. I left that place damn quickly after that.”
“Jake… Cartwright?” Kristen recalls a name from the shortlist that she and Breen had made earlier in the day. “Maori, long dark hair, attractive?”
Jared gives her a searching look and nudges her with his elbow. “That’d be the one. Attractive? Does a brother have to grow his hair out to get a chance in the Kristen Simms camp?”
“That’s enough, Jared.” She stands, shaking her head at his gall. “The Kristen Simms camp is firmly closed. I said ‘attractive’ because he is? I guess? It’s a good way to identify people. Thanks for the tip off though.”
“No problem.” Jared stands up. “I’ll catch you later. Do you want me to ask around, see if anyone’s been weird about Breen lately?”
“It’s fine, Jared, we can handle it.” Kristen nods, “Thanks. See you.”
He salutes her with one finger and saunters off in the direction of the coffee cart. Then, he turns and yells, “Remind Breen he owes me a tenner when you see him next, ay? “
She holds a thumb up at him instead of yelling back and decides not to ask why. She doesn’t think she needs to know. Some things are better left unknown.
She places the cup on Mike’s desk when she arrives back at the station. He’s deep in the middle of writing something and she’s not even sure if he realises that she’s in the room.
She turns to leave when he says from behind her, “You took a while.”
“Really?” He asks, curiously.
She turns back and he’s still writing away at the desk.
“I also ran into Jared. Do you know Jake Cartwright?” She asks.
He looks up at her for the first time. “The new kid at the Frog and Cheetah?”
“Yes.” Kristen raises her eyebrows at him. “I might have heard that he fits the specifications of our guy.”
“I don’t know much about him.” Mike says, “He’s worth checking up on though. Seems like a quiet guy, keeps to himself.”
“You’d think working in the most popular bar in Brokenwood wouldn’t be the best job for someone like that.” Kristen muses. The Frog and Cheetah could get rowdy on a Saturday night. “I wonder how Breen knows him.”
“I don’t know.” Mike replies, “You should go and see him though. The Cheetah should be open by now, and there will be plenty of people around. It’s not a risk.”
Kristen looks at the analogue clock in the corner of Mike’s office. It’s two-thirty. “Okay. If there isn’t anything else I should be doing here?”
“It’s remarkably quiet aside from angry campers.” Mike replies, already writing again. “I’ll call you if anything changes.”
“…Bye then.” Kristen mutters, and leaves.
The Frog and Cheetah is about half full of jubilant patrons ringing in the New Year when she arrives. She struggles to see over the crowd – she is short, it’s always been an issue – but just manages to spot the man who looks like Jake Cartwright. He’s perched behind the bar and appears to be shorter than she expected.
As she pushes her way through the crowd she gets an elbow in her ribs. She remembers why she stopped coming to the Frog and Cheetah a few years back, and it wasn’t because of the drinks. It wasn’t the most salubrious bar, but Brokenwood seemed to like it well enough.
Jake walks over to her when she reaches the counter. “Anything I can get you?” He asks. His manner is pleasant, if a little rushed.
“Kristen Simms, Brokenwood Police.” She says, pulling her ID out of her pocket and showing it to him. “Can we have a chat?”
He rolls his eyes dramatically. “Now’s not the best time… but fine.” He moves over to the other bartender, a short brunette woman who bears some relation to him, and says some words to her.
Kristen can’t hear exactly what is said over the din of the bar.
Jake returns to her. “We’ll go out the back.”
“Okay.” She replies. She’s not entirely happy to go somewhere with someone who could be threatening her co-worker, but it’s not like she has much of a choice
Jake ducks out from underneath the bar and leads her out to the back of the Frog and Cheetah. It’s quieter with a couple of walls between them and the bar itself, but the seclusion is making her uncomfortable. She shouldn’t be unduly worried about someone who has made absolutely no threats towards her or her life, but yet, she’s uncomfortable.
“What’s this about?” Jake leans against one of the walls and folds his arms, looking far more annoyed now that they’re not with paying customers.
“You’re Jake Cartwright, yes?”
“Yep.” He pops the ‘p’. “Why’d you drag me away from the bar?”
She settles against the opposite wall. “Do you know Sam Breen? He’s a ginger guy, six footish?”
“Yeah, he’s a mate from school?” Jake replies, looking less antagonistic and more confused, “Why? What’s he done? I thought he worked with you lot.”
“Yes, he does.” Kristen replies, “I’m following up some leads in regards to threats made against him. We’re looking for a left handed man, about your age, with a hand tremor and access to Bre- Sam’s Facebook page.”
“And you think that I… made these threats to Sam or whatever?” Jake asks incredulously. “He’s a cool guy. Why would I threaten him?” He folds his arms even tighter. “Do I need to call my family’s lawyer?”
“You fit the profile, Jake.” Kristen replies, being quick to reassure him. There is nothing she needs less than a lawyer poking about. “We’re just making inquiries right now. Nothing is concrete, and I’m definitely not accusing you of anything.”
“Fine. Fine.” Jake huffs. “What do you want me to do? My sister can’t handle a crowd that size on her own for too long.”
“Where were you last night?” Kristen asks. She takes her notebook and pen out of her pocket, poised to take notes.
“I was here until we shut at two. I live next door so it’s not much of a walk. Then I went to bed and didn’t leave the house until we reopened at ten.” He explains, shifting his weight back and forth on his feet.
“Can anyone confirm your whereabouts?”
“The CCTV over the bar can confirm I was here until just after two.” Jake replies, “And I was with my missus until just before ten this morning. I’ll give you Sandy’s number. You can call her and check if you want. I’m pretty sure the CCTV outside here covers the front of my house too.”
“Cheers.” Kristen copies the information and the number down. “One more thing. If I read you a sentence can you copy it down? I need to see your handwriting.”
“Um… sure?” Jake looks down at his hands, “It won’t be good looking though. I have carpal tunnel in my writing hand.”
“I bet that causes some trouble in the bar.” Kristen says. She turns to a blank page in her notebook and hands it and the pen over.
“I mostly handle money and cocktails.” Jake replies, taking the items. “I poured a drink over a guy once so I can’t collect glasses any more. At least with money and cocktails I can rely mostly on my right hand.”
She nods. “Right. Ready?”
He leans the notebook on a packing crate and says, “Yeah. Go on.”
“Roses are red-” She starts, and then pauses.
“Violets are blue-”
He scribbles more. “Yeah.”
“I’m slightly adhesive so I’ll stick to you.” She quotes, verbatim. It’s the only one she’s bothered to memorise. There’s no need to get people to copy out smut.
He winces, and finishes writing. “There. Happy?” He hands the pen and notebook back to her after a moment.
“Yes, thanks.” She looks at the writing. Although there are similarities to the John Doe’s writing, it’s definitely not the same. She’s reasonably certain that Jake isn’t the man that she’s looking for, but still… “Can I get a copy of your CCTV footage from last night?”
Jake huffs again but gestures for her to follow him.
When she arrives back at the station the waiting room is full.
“Why didn’t you call me?” She hisses to Mike who is rolling up a Pride flag and looking more calm t han she feels.
“They only came in a minute ago.” He replies. He indicates out in the waiting room. “The guys on the left are a bunch of very angry men who took offense to the guys on the right displaying this Pride flag on their campervan.”
Now that Kristen looks, the waiting room does appear to be decidedly mutinous.
“Good.” She says. “Anything I can do to help with this?”
“I’m pretty sure we’re covered.” Mike replies. “Go and find the proper whiteboard and write up our list of suspects. I’ll meet you in a few.”
“Sure thing, boss.”
Upon dragging the whiteboard out to a space behind Breen’s desk, writing all the names on it, and then crossing out two, she discovers that they’re only down to eight suspects. It’s not ideal, but getting two off of the list is better than nothing.
She wonders if they’re even going at this the right way.
The rest of the names, bar two, are people that she doesn’t really know. There’s the owner of a local café, ‘Bean and Gone’ (it backs onto a graveyard), a dairy farmer, two actors who only spend weekends in Brokenwood, a gardener and a radio DJ. She wonders how they all managed to get serious visible hand injuries.
The final two people are cops. They work in their police station.
She doesn’t know how she missed them the first time. It’s not like she knows the two men well – only vague conversations at Christmas parties and such, but still, she cannot believe she missed them. She spent hours today driving around the city and the man she was looking for could have been in the building the whole time.
Mike appears out of nowhere a minute or so later. He has a long bandaid on one cheek.
“Trouble in paradise?” She asks mildly. It’s not nearly the worst injury she’s ever seen him have.
“One of the bigots decided to get a little frisky.” Mike rubs his cheek and takes a seat at Breen’s desk. He spins the office chair around to face her. “Apparently redneck Kiwis don’t cut their nails.”
“Ouch.” She winces in sympathy.
“It’s fine.” He shrugs. “So, what do you have to show me?”
She outlines her suspects quickly. “…Shaun’s handwriting doesn’t fit and he was home with his mum last night. Jake was at the bar until two and then went home. The CCTV at the Frog and Cheetah covers both the front and the back of his house, so he couldn’t have left either. We’ve got these eight left.”
Kristen waves a hand at the names on the whiteboard.
“Stevens… yes, Lucas… Wells… I take it the Paul Anderson and Luke Bryant are our Paul Anderson and Luke Bryant?” Mike asks, looking bemused.
“Yes.” She replies. “I haven’t yet gotten to them.”
“Paul’s off until tomorrow.” Mike explains, “And I’m fairly sure that Luke is in the capital until next week. You can interview them both when they get back but I don’t believe that either of them could have had the ability to be here and plant the notes.”
“But shouldn’t I ca-”
“Start with those closer to home first, Kristen.” He is about to say more when a female officer who Kristen doesn’t know runs up to him. “Sir, there’s been an altercation across the road!”
Mike huffs, and stands up. “Back to the grind.” He points at the board. “Try Patrick Stevens first. The gardener.”
After much phone calling, a glitchy Skype session and two texts from Breen, she’s certain that Patrick Stevens is not the one. He’s in Paris, for starters. She gets him to hold up his laptop, and over Skype she can see the Eiffel Tower.
“Sorry for the interruption,” She smiles, feeling worn down and slightly melancholy. If only she’d taken another week of leave… “Have a nice night!”
“You too!” Patrick disconnects the call.
She slumps back in her seat, frustrated. Down to seven.
A few more phone calls and some Googling allows her to discover that Will Anaru is in New York on an acting job. She’s even more jealous. She gets him to stand in front of a street sign holding a flower to double check.
When the photo comes through as an attachment on her computer, she stares for almost a minute straight.
The guy seems endearing. She might be keeping the photo.
He is, however, not the man she’s looking for.
She tries the other actor and gets stuck on a phone loop with the voicemail from his agency. She wishes it wasn’t New Year’s Day. She drinks a lot of coffee.
Mike walks past several times, always escorting different people. Kristen doesn’t know who they are, where they are going, or if they are from the ‘altercation across the road’.
She doesn’t even realise that it is five pm until Mike drops something on the desk in front of her. By this point, she’s knocked another suspect off the list – the radio DJ – and her head is hurting.
The only suspects she’s got left are:
Nick Wells – the owner of ‘Bean and Gone’,
Douglas Smith – the dairy farmer,
Lucas Lily – the other actor that she hadn’t managed to get hold of,
Paul Anderson – one of the police officers,
Luke Bryant – the other police officer.
At least she’s managed to narrow down the list as much as she has.
She tries to focus on Mike, but her gaze is incredibly blurry. The object in front of her is food. Simple, easy, microwavable but still edible food.
She thinks she might cry.
“Thank you. So much.” She says.
“It’s fine.” Mike says, “Breen called in.”
“He asked if you wouldn’t mind hanging out at his place tonight. Apparently he’s worked himself up into a bit of a state.” Mike looks faintly amused.
“Why’d he call you and ask you to tell me that?” She pokes through the box. There’s enough food in it for two.
“I think he was wanting me to ‘order’ you to.” Mike continues, “Which I wouldn’t do, for the record.”
“I appreciate that.” She stands. The room wavers around her for a moment, but it soon stabilises. “I’ll crash at his. It’s fine. I’ve got spare clothes and such in my car, anyway. Do you think you could send someone over to feed my cat?”
“Will do. Are you sure you can drive?” He asks, looking concerned.
“Yes. I’m good.” Kristen replies. She brushes her hair back from her face where it’s gotten loose from hours of work. “I can drive fine. I’ll text you when I get to Breen’s if you want.”
“I’d like that, thanks.”
“Good. Those are the people I’ve narrowed our John Doe down to.” She waves a hand at the whiteboard where the names of the five remaining suspects are prominently displayed. “I’ll catch up with the rest of them tomorrow, if I can, but I’m pretty confident it can’t be any of the other five. The people who are out of town might have an accomplice delivering the letters but I managed to check most of their handwriting as well.”
“Good.” Mike takes a cursory look at the board. “You’ve done well, Kristen. Thanks.”
“All in a day’s work, Mike.” She lifts the box from the table. “Cheers for this. I’ll text you.”
She can feel his eyes on her back as she walks out of the room, legs stiff from her cramped work position.
Chapter 6: An End
She greets the two people standing guard outside Breen’s front door as she arrives.
“Thanks you two.” She says, “Is he alright?”
“A little frantic, but nothing major.” Anderson says.
“He sounded worried, but I think anyone would be.” Foxglove agrees. “It’s probably best that you’re here.”
“Yes, so I’m told.” Kristen walks past them and into the house.
She places the box down in the kitchen and wanders around the building until she finds Breen, flat on his back on the couch.
“Afternoon.” She says, none too gently. She has a reputation to uphold, even if she has spent the entirety of the day working her butt off for Breen’s benefit. “How was your day off work?”
“Well, considering the texts I keep on getting, not great.” Breen sighs. He sounds like he has completely given up. “There’s not that many variations of ‘I’m going to have forced sex with you and then murder you’, and I’ve seen all of them this afternoon.”
“Yeah.” Breen thumps his head down into the back of the couch. “There’s not much I can do about them though, because they are evidence. Plus, I’m bored as hell and I want to be out finding this guy instead of being a sitting duck here.”
“Well, on a lighter note, we’ve narrowed the bastard down to one of five people.” She sits cross-legged on the floor next to him. “Nick Wells, Douglas Smith, Lucas Lily, Paul Anderson and Luke Bryant. Any of them really stick out to you?”
“Paul’s an odd guy.” Breen says immediately, “Go with him.”
“Why…?” Kristen asks.
“School… acquaintance. He’s always been strange.” Breen replies, craning his head to look at her.
“The thing is-” Kristen begins removing her sneakers. “Paul’s out of town. Mike said. He and Luke are supposed to be at the bottom of our list because they’re not currently in the area and would have had trouble actually getting to the station.”
“…Well… try Nick next then.” Breen says with a frown, “I know I annoyed him a bit in high school.”
“Will do.” She says. “Tomorrow. Do you really want me to stay over?”
Breen sighs. “…If you wouldn’t mind. I know I’m compromising my ‘oh, I’m so badass’ thing-”
“Don’t worry, you didn’t ever have that anyway.” Kristen teases. She places her shoes in front of her and points them towards him.
“Rude.” Breen continues. “It’s freaky, being here alone, just waiting.” He rubs a hand over his face with a sigh.
“I get it.” She says. “I’ll stay. Don’t freak out on me, eh.”
“I can’t make any promises.” Breen heaves himself up off the couch with a groan. “Did you bring food?” He heads towards the kitchen without a pause.
“Courtesy of Mike, yeah.” She rubs her eyes, suddenly realising how tired she is. It’s been a pretty busy day - considering. “Don’t expect me to make it for you though.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it.”
It is later in the night when she wakes, faint consciousness filtering through the fog in her head. Something is wrong, and she doesn’t know what.
From her blanketed position on Breen’s couch, the silence is unnerving. Too unnerving. She reaches out from beneath the blankets and flicks the switch of a table lamp nearby on and off a couple of times.
It’s either a power cut, or the power’s been cut. Knowing her life, the latter is more likely.
She climbs to her feet and fetches her sidearm from her bag. Considering the situation, she can’t be too careful. There is no noise outside, but she doesn’t have the time to check on Foxglove and Anderson right now. Later, she thinks.
If there is a later.
Heading towards Breen’s room, she notices that his door is slightly ajar. The sight is worrying, because she saw Breen close his door fully because he went to bed. She stumbles. Her head feels fuzzy. She wonders if she’s been drugged.
She pokes her head in, and sees nothing. The pale dark of the middle of the night makes things hard to see by, but she can tell Breen isn’t in there. Neither is anyone else.
Fuck’s sake. “Breen?!” She calls, and immediately regrets it. Stupid. If there is an intruder, now they know she’s awake and moving about.
There’s no vocal reply, not really, but she hears a muffled groan that doesn’t sound good. It sounds like it’s coming from the bathroom. She draws her firearm and peeks around the corner of the door to a sight that she never would have expected. Her vision swims in front of her, but there's no mistaking what she sees.
There’s too much blood in the bathtub, and Breen is pale and wan within. There’s another figure, shrouded in the half-light, who she can’t quite make out. The sight is enough to make her gasp quietly, however, and she immediately regrets it.
There’s another figure crouched in front of her friend, and he turns at her noise. Through the dark, she can just make out a face.
“Paul?” It’s Paul. Paul Anderson. One of their own. “What are you doing?”
She has to resort to her training. Despite whatever she is feeling inside, she’s been trained for situations just like this.
“Kristen!” Paul says, not looking at all worried. “I was wondering if you’d wake up. That metabolism, huh?” Everything he says is nonchalant, polite. It’s like they’re having a friendly conversation.
“Something like that…” Kristen works to keep her voice even, but continues to train her gun on him. “Would you mind stepping away from Breen, Paul?”
“Careful, Kristen. Remember your hostage situation training.” Paul murmurs. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to monologue. Too predictable. Instead-”
He draws a flick knife out of his hoodie pocket. It barely glints in the half-light.
“Drop the knife, Paul.” She solidifies her stance. “What do you want from us?”
“I don’t want anything from you, Kristen.” He flips the knife open, and before she can do anything, he plunges it into Breen’s upper thigh.
What is even more shocking is the sheer lack of movement or noise that Breen makes.
She fires her gun, the bullet plunging straight into Paul’s shoulder, shaking the knife from his grip and throwing him back towards the wall. She holsters her weapon, spins him around, grasps him by the wrists and cuffs him. She nearly sags as she completes the movement but she manages to hold steady.
“Paul Anderson, I’m arresting you on charges of assault towards a police officer. You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defense if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do or say may be given in evidence.”
He sneers at her as she cuffs him to a drainpipe and calls the police.
Everything happens very quickly after that.
Later, when Breen’s been carted off to hospital, and she’s leant against the edge of a police car, wrapped in a shock blanket, Mike arrives.
“Paul…” He sighs and rubs a hand over his hair. “Twenty years of service to the Brokenwood Police and all. Why would he do something like this?”
“Your guess is as good as mine.” The night wind picks up and she tugs the blanket further around herself. “He certainly didn’t make much sense.” She’s pissed off. Even though she knows, realistically, that she couldn’t have stopped Paul before he did anything to Breen, she’s still mad. She should have seen it. It had been a flimsy alibi, at best.
“How are you?” Mike asks, leaning against the car next to her.
“Groggy.” She replies. “I think Paul slipped me something. Have to wait until the blood tests come back to see though.”
He eyes her for a moment. “How are you, really?”
She takes a second to consider. She is talking to her boss after all. “...Annoyed I didn’t see it. I should have. He was one of the only people who had access to the scene, and I couldn’t get hold of him. Breen wouldn’t have been hurt if I’d seen the connection.”
“And if I hadn’t been so busy with those campers then I might have followed up Paul a little bit faster. I mightn’t have sent Breen home.” Mike interjects, smiling ruefully at her. “Point is, we both made mistakes. Breen’s going to be fine. Foxglove and Anderson are tired, but alive. You caught the guy. Let’s say that we don’t ever do this again?”
She yawns. “That sounds like a good idea.”
Chapter 7: A Beginning
“-I was so sure of it.”
Kristen walks into Breen’s hospital room the next morning to catch the tail-end of a conversation between the officer and Jared. Breen looks tired and pale, but not too worse for wear.
“Nice to see everyone’s looking alright. How’d you get in here, Jared?” Kristen asks, settling down in the second chair next to the bed.
“Said I was family.” Jared collects his belongings from around him and moves to stand up.
She looks between the pair. “Look, I don’t exactly want to explain the obvious but -”
“Actually, it was charm and good looks.” Jared winks and stands up. “See you later, Sam. Cheers, Kristen.” He gives them both a wave and heads out the door.
She raises an eyebrow at Breen who deigns to say nothing.
“Good to see that you’re alive and kicking.” She says, settling her hands in her lap. She doesn’t quite know where to look.
“Thanks to you, or so I’m told.” Breen nods. “Appreciate that, by the way. Living’s pretty fun. I like that I can keep on doing that.”
“No problem.” She taps her fingers together, still avoiding his gaze. “Would have liked this thing not to have happened, to be completely honest.”
“It’s not all bad.”
She looks up at him sharply. “Really? 15 flesh wounds, one of which was on your arse? I can’t say you’re sitting very comfortably right now.”
Breen chuckles. “Not at all. I got literally stabbed in the back, Kristen. Surely there’s a police award for that.”
She sighs. “You’re incorrigible. You were bleeding out less than twelve hours ago, and now you’re making jokes. What’s the upside of being in the hospital?”
“Hot nurses.” Breen waggles his eyebrows at her and she snorts.
“I repeat the ‘incorrigible’ thing… Still, it’s good you’re not dead.”
“Shall we arm wrestle so you keep your tough-girl reputation after admitting that, or are you fine with that?”
She raises her head and glares at him. “No. Because you’ll tear your stitches. I’m due back at the station in a few minutes, anyway. Gotta wrap up the case.”
Breen settles back in his bed and winces as he does so. “Any idea of why he decided to take out his frustration on me yet?”
“From what I’ve heard, it could be a couple of things.” She had heard from Mike earlier in the morning, and the list was brief. “His partner’s just died suddenly, so it could be a psychotic break. Also, you did jail a member of his family a couple of months back. Could be revenge. Either way, the charges are still attempted first-degree murder and stalking.”
“So you’re saying we might never know?” Breen winces again. “Damn. I really wanted to know why someone would stalk me.”
“I’ve no idea.”
“Aside from the good looks and great personality.” Breen waves a hand about his face and bites back a moan of pain. “I might be a little bit… stabbed… right now, but the point still stands.”
“Sure thing.” She rolls her eyes and stands up. “Hurry up and recover, eh? I’m not doing your paperwork forever.”
“I’ll try.” He looks pained for a moment, then says, “Look, Kristen. I’m really serious. Thank you for stopping that guy.”
“...No problem, Sam.” She goes to leave, but turns back to him and says, “You should totally text Shaun, by the way.”
“Not in a million years.”
But he does. Just... not at this exact moment.