“The Dark Matter Between Our Hearts” Episode 6

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Did you catch Episode 5 of Dark Matter? This month we delve deeper into the mind of our anti-hero, Malik. 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this story so far. Legitimate comments from non-spammers are always welcome and I’ll try to answer any questions you may have.

Episode 6

Various rumours circulating among Malik’s friends and associates placed the number of cops at the station in Moonlake discreetly on the payroll of Malik Enterprises Incorporated at anywhere between four and nine uniformed officers. The correct number, as Malik knew, was three, but he was not one to let an underwhelming truth get in the way of a useful lie. For Malik, the easiest mark of the three had been Brennan Lamey, who was his usual spotter at the only gym in town. A couple of years older than Malik, their shared history started when Brenno was among those kids in high school who could always be found on recess and lunch breaks holding a younger, weaker Malik to the ground, or against a wall, or down a toilet somewhere, and laying in with a few kicks or nasty names or both. Of course, it was not always Malik they singled out. Any ‘ethnic’ would do, and the others became preferable once Malik started to build muscle and fight back. Malik had some career-ending dirt on his old mate Brenno from the moment he joined the force and wasn’t about to let it go to waste. Oddly, being ‘chummy’ for a couple of years appeared to have almost entirely smoothed things over – the way they spoke between sets of reps, Malik often forgot the past.

‘I ran into Sam Rainer on the weekend.’ Brennan shared as they both took a break on a bench to rehydrate. ‘Remember that poor kid?’

Malik looked at the ceiling in recollection while drinking from his bottle. ‘Sure do. Wrong place, wrong time. He doin’ alright?’

‘Think so. Yeah, I guess he just couldn’t hack it bein’ part of a force that looks the other way on your account from time to time. He probably did the right thing quittin’. Not to mention accepting that extra payday from your good self to keep his trap shut.’ Brennan took a swig from his own bottle, then almost spat it back out with a sudden amused thought. ‘Oh, and you’ll never guess what he does now.’

Malik spent a few seconds thinking of the most annoying, sanctimonious, self-important job he could imagine. He settled on ‘…compliance?’

‘Way off. He’s a commercial radio presenter now.’

‘You’re right. I would never have guessed that.’ Another swig from the bottle. ‘Well, I hope he’s a little less stressed out these days.’

Brennan smiled, shaking his head. ‘Malik, people are the same wherever you put them. Sam’s just gone from one of the most dangerous civilian jobs in existence to a life where the single most stressful thing he has to deal with is what time of the day to whip out Khe Sanh. But do ya think he bitches any less?’ Brennan checked his watch as Malik laughed, and said ‘Oh shit sorry man, lost track. I need to get home.’ He locked Malik’s eyes with a look. ‘Thanks for pullin’ through in the end mate, appreciate it.’ At the vague reference to his business with Malik, he looked around in a way that would have looked conspicuous to any of his straight colleagues, had they been in attendance. ‘Later’.

Malik resisted the impulse to compound the error with a collegiate handshake, instead simply watching Brennan turn to leave. ‘Later.’

Malik still had a bit of endurance stuff to work on, so he stayed behind unaccompanied, allowing his mind to steel itself for the inevitable hours of unreasonable, entitled behaviour he knew awaited him the following day. Speaking of endurance.

As agreed, he had spent a good chunk of the morning picking out a few ex-showroom cars for Danika from the dealership across the road, letting them know he was probably going to get one of them sold, and moving them into Ginny’s car park for Her Highness’ convenience. Alison had looked them over with professional care even though with less than 50 kilometres on the clock between them there was almost certainly no need.

When Danika finally arrived, it was Chris who spotted her first. He caught Malik’s attention by shooting him an enquiring look while motioning to throw an imaginary dart at his board. Malik chuckled, shaking his head. ‘Appreciate the thought mate, but that’s not what today is about.’ Malik strode into the car park to greet Danika. Naturally, he ditched the ‘puppy-let-off-a-leash’ approach of the enthusiastic salesperson, opting instead to find a nearby column to slouch against, and make with the blue steel eyes until she came to him, which she did in a predictably self-righteous huff. Malik also noticed she was, surely deliberately, much more conservatively dressed than she was at either of their previous encounters. Malik had to admit to himself that she still rocked the job interview look. The reverie persisted a little after Danika reached him and started to say words, which were, best as he could approximate: ‘Bleh bleh fuel economy bleh bleh air conditioning bleh bleh NOT PINK bleh cup holders blah.’

Malik zoned back in as Danika finished ‘…and why is it just you here? I have to say I’d feel a lot more comfortable with Alison, if you wouldn’t mind.’

‘Oh, no problems at all!’ Malik reassured her and called Alison over.

Alison stomped out looking different. She wore her cap backwards. Her stride was wider than usual, and her mouth opened slackly. Malik noticed something else as she came close: Is that chewing gum? When she spoke to Danika, an aggressively broad voice came out that Malik had not heard the like of since Kath and Kim stopped airing. ‘Afternoon, luv. I’ve checked over these three for ya, they’re all purrin’ nicely. I’d actually recommend the Toyota for fuel economy, or the Lexus for comfort, but I don’t reckon you can go wrong here at all. Just let me know when you’ve made a choice and I’ll look after ya.’ At the end of her performance, during which she chewed her gum constantly, she gave Danika a head-tilt, winked, and snuck a quick look at her arse that was designed to be noticed, which it was.

Once Alison returned to her other work, Danika and Malik went through the finer details in an unspoken, surreal state of subdued shock. Danika chose the Lexus, in the end. After Danika drove away, Malik went to find Alison in the lunchroom, looming over her as she ate.

Eventually she looked up. ‘What?’

‘Don’t “what” me. What was all that with Danika?’

Alison tried to hold it together, but soon broke, peals of laughter erupting from her. Chris, also in the room, was applauding her respectfully. Eventually Malik gave in and started sniggering too. Alison’s mirth trailed off. ‘Aha…ha…ha. Whoo. Sorry about that, man, but I know what her lot thinks of me. How could I not?’

‘Okay, I get it. But you’re not, right?’

‘Of course not. You’ve seen my Tinder, I know that much…’

‘Please don’t bring that up again…’

Somewhat forgotten, Chris cut in. ‘I’m just gonna leave you kids to it. You have a nice lunch.’

As he left, Malik and Alison went on oblivious. ‘How did it not occur to you to look at a photo of MY FACE before sendin’ me like ten pics of ya ding-dong?’

‘It wasn’t ten.’ Malik paused, and snickered. ‘That was a pretty good show you put on, actually. Bravo.’

‘Well, what is it you always say? “Never let an underwhelming truth get in the way of a useful lie?”’

© 2021 L. STARLA