It’s midnight on Saturday, and in the lobby of the Napier Police Station someone has posted a poem on the reinforced glass panel that separates us from them.
I am the one where you fear to be
I have seen what you fear to see
I have done what you fear to do
All three things I have done for you
From behind the barrier a sole constable will listen to your complaint or your plea for help. If you have to wait, it’s because he’s drawn the short straw, and is alone in responding to officers on patrol, minding the over-night guests, and processing new admissions. He works in a windowless room behind a computer. Monitors showing the cells are stacked on a wall.
Things are quiet. The All Blacks have beaten France, and The Warriors are through to the final of the NRL.
“It’s unpredictable,” Sergeant Karl Bauerfeind says. “Last night we were fairly busy, but definitely, Saturday night, Sunday morning are generally our busiest times. We’ll know by two.” He’s riding with Matt tonight, and with two more cars, they are Napier’s Police rapid response team.
He pulls on his stab proof vest. He checks his web belt; room for the taser and pepper spray, but Matt’s carrying them tonight. Karl’s radio flickers, and a woman’s voice says an ambulance will be available in an hour for the incident in Maraenui.
It’s not uncommon to have all ambulances busy, especially in the early hours of Sunday, when the number of casualties pile up in proportion with the amount of alcohol that’s gone down.
In Hastings, ambulances are dispatched from the St John’s building in Eastbourne Street. At the main entrance a reminder of the ethos of St John’s is etched on a brass plaque: For the faith and in service of humanity.
Barry Wilson-Hunt and John Plastow don’t need reminding of why they love their work. “It’s a great job. You feel you’re doing something really useful,” says Barry.
John was a metallurgist first, then a banker on secondment from the UK to Wellington. That was over thirty years ago. He became a volunteer with the Ambulance Service, and soon it became his career. His Cornish accent has softened, but it’s still there.
They work a 13 hour shift, 6pm to 7am, and 60 seconds after the call comes in they’re on their way to Havelock at speed with lights flashing. Cars pull over. A man has fallen and dislocated his hip He’s a tough nut and declines painkillers even though he winces as he’s strapped into the gurney and lifted into the ambulance.
When they arrive at the hospital, 39 minutes have passed since they got the call, and John gives the case details to duty triage nurse Karene Chilton.
From her desk Karene has a view to the waiting patients and their carers. A woman who has recently had a hernia operation is showing anyone who’ll look, the scar across her stomach where her navel used to be, and she points out the inflammation around the wound that has brought her to Emergency. A mother with her baby brushes her away, but an elderly woman in her dressing gown and slippers is given a detailed description of the surgical procedure.
Two drunk men sporting smashed up faces loudly relate their tales of fighting. “You should meet my daughter,” says the older to the younger man. “She’d like you ‘cos you’re a lot like me.”
“We see it all here,” Karene says. “Trouble with drunk people is they take up a lot of our time, you know, it takes longer to explain things to them, and they can be uncooperative.”
Karene left school early, and spent a decade doing office work and paying off a mortgage before training at the EIT to do the job she’d wanted to do ever since spending four months in hospital when she was nine. “It’s a great feeling to see a patient going home with a smile on their face after seeing them so sick not long before.”
Back in Napier things are still quiet, and new partners Rob and Jarrod are on Bluff Hill checking on curfews. Jarrod is twenty-five and a few months into the job. Rob changed career at forty to follow a long-time desire to join the Police. He was involved in the operation after Len Snee was shot. A tribute to Len hangs on the wall outside the smoko room; a stark reminder that Police can die violently doing their job.
A call comes in to assist a Council noise control contractor removing a stereo. Karl and Matt are there already and the presence of four Police officers quickly sees a drunken surrender of the offending amplifier. The Council will collect the $200 retrieval fee.
On the way back to base Rob and Jarrod slowly patrol a route through Onekawa industrial area spotlighting windows and up the alleyways. In the city, they loop through the lane that serves the backdoors of the two busiest brothels in Napier. A man walking hurriedly turns his back to the passing car.
In Club Rendezvous, Ally Drake and her girls are having a steady night. Three of the five luxuriant bedrooms are occupied, while Kelly and Rachel chat at the bar with two Welshmen out for the World Cup. Serving drinks is Ally’s mother, Jude. “When Ally first said she wanted to go into this business, I was shocked. Then I got used to it, and now we’re partners.”
A nattily dressed man slips quietly in the door. He’s a regular and has a booking with Kelly. Knowing this client doesn’t like to mix, she moves quickly to the door leading to the rooms “I wont be long,” she says to the younger Welshman, who can’t take his eyes off her.
“It’s unpredictable,” says Kelly. “One night I did 13 jobs and didn’t take my knickers off. You know. They come in with their mates, and they’re just here for them, and they come out punching the air to impress their mates. But nothing happens. Then a week later I get 11 hard out jobs in a row.”
Five minutes into her job, Jude gives Kelly a call. “We take the girl’s safety seriously. If she doesn’t answer, we’re down there like a shot. And when this one’s twenty minutes is up, we make another call.”
Only women work at Club Rendezvous. “Having no men working – bouncers, barmen, or whatever – makes for a good atmosphere. The clients are more comfortable,” says Ally. “Like any service business we rely on word of mouth and repeat customers.”
Soon Kelly is back at the bar. The visitor from Wales has waited for her. His friend has gone off with Rachel.
People spill onto the street outside the bars in Ahuriri. Men raise their bottles to the passing Police, both as toast, and challenge. But there’s no trouble. In front of them, a Rav4 being driven slowly and erratically is showing the signs. They follow it to the Port, and the driver pulls over at the first flash of the blue light. The breath test is negative; a baker, new to Napier, is off to work and still finding his way around.
Beyond the barbed wire fence at the Port, the tugboats, Te Mata and Ahuriri, are making their way out of the harbour guiding the container ship Lyttleton on its way. She’s tested the Port’s efficiency by needing 700 container moves; a tough job for Bruce Browne and Jim McMartin. They work for different employers, but to be effective, sit side by side in the Len Hoogerbruug designed Port Authority building built in 1969.
Bruce is responsible for the containers stacked on site; deliveries and arrivals. Jim covers the containers onboard the ships. The monitors show him the plans and cross-sections of the Lyttleton’s cargo space, identifying where each container on the inventory is stacked. She’s a multi-port trader, so he has to make sure the containers that come off first, went on last. “When a container meant for one place ends up in another it can be very expensive,” Jim says, dryly.
On the wharf Greig Madden is perched 30 metres off the deck. He works two nights a week on a shift rotation. “There are nine of us,” he says. “We just do it.” Doing it is plucking and depositing containers from an enormous crane that has a maximum load of 38 tons, extended, but normally Greig works closer to the fulcrum, where he has up to 100 ton capacity.
A port is a dangerous work environment, and Health, Safety and Security advisor Paul Houston is responsible for maintaining the motto, ‘You will have a future as well as a past if you put safety first instead of last.’
As he drives cautiously along the wharfs, Paul sees two dark figures walking towards a ship. They should be wearing the compulsory fluorescent vests. He radio’s. A woman’s voice replies, “I see them. They’re crew. I’ll pick them up.”
“We transport all crew to and from the ships. It’s a safety issue,” says Paul. In front giant forklifts are at work. “We don’t have backing alarms on vehicles. It’s for the sake of the residents living on The Hill, but it’s dangerous if people are wandering around.”
Beyond the breakwater, one kilometre from shore, the tugboats are slipping their lines from the Lyttleton; another vessel quietly worked through the night, while nearby residents sleep.
Onshore, the dispatcher from Wellington is alerting a 111 call – “Twenty people fighting at a house party. Assaulted female made the call. Her name is …”
“Look what that f***in’ bitch did to me,” she says, showing Karl the bite marks, and scratches on her arms. She tells her story of jealousy and
miscomprehension. People leave quickly on Police command, but one of the unwelcome guests refuses.
“Is this your house?” Karl asks the complainant.
“Do you want this person to leave your property?”
“Yeah. She assaulted me, the bitch.”
Matt has come to the banned woman’s side, and suggests they walk to the road and talk. She calls over her shoulder. “Lying bitch. If I assaulted you, you’d be f***in’ dead.”
Patiently, Karl questions the caste of drunk women whose big night out has included being transported in a Hummer, and, “more shots than you’d f***in’ believe.”
Seems more than one of the women has had a go at the complainant. She’s crossed a boundary, but nobody’s saying exactly what it is, just vaguely, about pulling two men in a week.
Karl will make an arrest if he has to, but he knows that separating the feuding parties, and a good night sleep, is the best solution. It doesn’t take him long to find Aunty who has a lead role in the drama. He suggests Rob and Jarrod drive her home and she readily accepts. As they drop her off they hear an ambulance being called to an asthma sufferer in Havelock.
Havelock North is a town with two tales. In daylight there’s coffee, very good coffee, and world-class cafe cuisine, and more women’s shoe shops than Manhattan.
After dark it’s the party capital of Hawke’s Bay.
The Diva and Pipi crowds have their own homes to go to, but youth don’t, so they gather in The Village and party on the streets, unless there’s a real party on, where they can mass in their hundreds, rallied by text messages that cover the Bay.
John slows the ambulance, mindful that some of the revelers are incapable of judgment. When they reach the asthma sufferer she is distressed, but Barry calmly encourages her to concentrate only on her breathing, while checking her airflow and her blood pressure.
As the ambulance passes the 24-hour Mobil station, Deep Virk can be seen standing behind the reinforced glass service hatch that protects him from the customers. A tall man is stooping so he can be heard, while his friend slithers against the wall. “Everything is pre-paid,” says Deep.
A dinged Mitsubishi pulls up, and four women dressed all in black, with equally black hair, spill out. They want five pies and assorted drinks. And chocolate.
“There’s no takeaways or dairies open so they come here. After midnight can be like hell. They’re so drunk they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Deep left India three years ago. He was nineteen. He’s glad to have the job. “When it’s not busy I clean and stock up. It’s not boring, but it can be lonely.”
And about the new McDonald’s planned for next door, Deep says, “No difference. Probably drive-by at night, and we’re cheaper. Drunk people want cheap pies.”
At present, the nearest McDonald’s is in Heretaunga Street operated by Marcus and Lynette Pohio. It’s a model of fast food efficiency. They’re open 24/7. The nightshift begins at 10pm and ends at 6am.
“We have the initiator, the chaser, and the assembler; that’s buns, dressing, and quality,” says Charles Ranginui, who’s nineteen, and a duty manager. “School wasn’t for me, so I got a job here through the Youth Transition Service when I was thirteen.”
“At our busiest we’ll have eleven in the kitchen, 8 on the counter, and 8 on drive-through. Graveyard shift is 7 all up. It’s mostly Family Pack specials.”
Sheryl Tupou is a regular graveyard manager. She often works with her son and daughter on the same shift. It’s not uncommon to have close family members working together. “We have a mother, three daughters and a son-law, and several mothers and daughters,” says Charles. “We all work together as a family anyways, so it’s nice when real families are working together.”
When John and Barry arrive at A&E with the asthma patient, Karene has sad news for them. A young man with multiple health problems who they’ve assisted many times has died. “It’s rough,” Barry says, “We all got to know him and his family really well.”
The relationship between St John’s folk and hospital front line workers is a close one; they share the ups and downs. “If the ambulance crew say they’re concerned about a patient, I process them straight away. They know.” says Karene.
In Napier, 111 reports a breach of Protection Order. “The offender is on the property.” A woman answers the door. Her face is freshly bruised and elastoplast patches cover ripped skin from the last bashing. She knows Rob. He’s been here with her before. She tells him the offender is under the bed. He has over 60 convictions, and his assaults have seen her lose her children. Jarrod moves to cover the back of the house, and when Karl and Matt arrive, they call in a dog team in case the offender makes a run for it.
Minutes away Mike and Stein are on their way home. They’ve been a team for four years. Stein leads the way and pulls on the leash as she finds the bedroom door.
“Heal.” She crouches like a sprinter at the blocks. Another command, and Stein’s bark is full and fierce.
“Come out or I’ll let the dog off.” Silence. “One last chance before I let the dog off.” Silence. “Okay, have it your way.” Mike flicks the clip, but in the pause before he releases the catch a voice calls out from under the bed, “Okay, okay, I’m coming out.” The woman basher doesn’t resist and walks meekly to the car. Only when he’s safely cuffed in the back seat does he start yelling abuse. “He’ll go to court on Monday and we’ll oppose bail,” says Karl. “It’s important we give the victim a chance to make changes in her life.”
Back in Hastings, the Ambulance is rushing to a house in Camberley. A woman has a severe headache and neck pain with no apparent cause. John and Barry both think, ‘Meningitus?’ There’ve been clusters around the country. Before they can take the woman to Emergency, and pass on their concerns to Karene, they have to arrange for her children’s care. Her husband responds quickly to her call for help. He’s down the road celebrating the football victories with his mates.
In McDonald’s, Sheryl and her team are still revved-up from being hit with a sudden surge, where they were pushed to meet the under 2 minute, 10 second maximum wait time for drive-in customers.
At the port Greig is near to completing the stacking of the container ship Bahia. With 450 moves, controllers Jim and Bruce feel less stressed than the Lyttleton job.
Kelly in Club Rendezvous is still with the visitor from Wales. He’s paid for extra time, and he’s talking nostalgically about his homeland, and how Kelly would love it there. “I get lots of guys who fall in love and want to save me,” she says. “Trouble is, I don’t want their love, and I don’t need saving.”
The Police rapid response team are on their way to a brawl in Taradale, and as they pass by Pak ‘n Save, the brightly lit interior is spotted with figures packing the shelves, and next door a queue of cars snakes around the fringe of Burger King.
Deep Virk in Havelock watches two men, their trousers holding up their bums, start to scuffle on the forecourt.
Thanks to all the night folk who helped me with this story. Everything I’ve written is what I saw and heard on my nights out; however, my visits weren’t all on one night, and I’ve spliced here and there, like the Lyttleton sailed on a Tuesday, not Sunday morning, and I don’t know if the Welshman is one of the guys who wants to save Kelly.