As some of you may be aware, I recently encountered some issues with this website, fearing it would interrupt this blog. Luckily, things are back on track. I have made a couple of changes, however. As a backup, I’m also sending this serial fiction in my newsletter, so I have adjusted the schedule. This means The Dark Matter Between Our Hearts will now come out on the first Friday of the month (in most cases), while Well I’ll Be Damned will come out on the third Friday of the month.
You can now download e-Book copies of each episode by subscribing to my newsletter.
If you missed the last episode, you can read it here.
‘Okay, we’ll start now. Please state your name and address.’
Malik looked squarely at Police Officer Susan Matthews before answering. His surroundings he already knew by heart: four bare walls with peeling plaster, one window onto the street that muddied all incoming sunlight with years of grime, two folding chairs, and one trestle table – the latter being the most permanent furniture the room had ever seen, in Malik’s extensive experience. A single fluorescent lightbulb in the centre did its best, illuminating the table below and the cobwebbed ceiling above to a radius of about two metres before surrendering the further corners to darkness. Like the rest of Moonlake’s police station, its interview rooms were makeshift.
‘Malik Fadel. Address is 67 Kalbarri Crescent, Moonlake.’
‘Would you be prepared to give an account of your activities on the night of the 17th of February?’ Sue’s expression remained impassive, for the moment.
‘Sure.’ Malik delivered his deliberately casual affirmation while recalling the night in question.
‘You’re in quite the predicament now, Princess.’
‘Oh, I don’t know about that, Peasant.’ Danika had retorted with smug confidence as though she hadn’t been dressed like a female Bob the Builder themed strip show. ‘After all, I’m not the one sneaking around down here to consort with fellow criminals, am I?’ She’d gasped theatrically, her hand covering her mouth. ‘What if the police found out? That would be quite the predicament indeed.’
Malik had stared down at her, close enough to hear her quick, shallow breathing, the beams of torch light flickering on and off their faces, crating stark divisions of black and white. He processed her naked threat. There had been a teasing, singsong cadence to her words, confirming to him that not only did she know what he had just done there, she might have evidence of some sort and was completely confident that she was going to leave that cave unharmed, somehow. It had taken Malik a degree of control to stop himself from smirking as he realised Danika was still entirely in the dark, as it were, regarding his complex relationship with the local police, and he’d decided to play along a little to keep her that way by feigning a moment of panic. He spoke quickly. ‘Hey now, there’s no need to take things that far. We could work something out like…tell you what, you need that Lexus of yours serviced any time, just ask for me at the shop, it’s on me. I’ll even stop calling you Shortcake.’
That was when things became strange. Danika had looked up at Malik with a sudden longing in her eyes, her lips slightly parted. ‘You’d really do all that for me?’ The torch light glanced from her pupils and bathed her exposed skin in a soft, tender white. She’d reached out her hand to rest on Malik’s torso, gently turning his back towards the opening of the keyhole as she brought her mouth close to his, their noses almost touching. Holding his gaze, she’d breathed the words ‘There is one thing you could do for me…’ before breaking eye contact, looking furtively at the keyhole behind Malik.
Brought rudely back to his senses, Malik had torn himself from Danika with the sudden realisation; there’s still someone back there, recording all this! Using a torch he’d brought with him, he’d peered into every corner of the next chamber the beam of light would reach to satisfy himself that there was no one in there. To be certain, he’d listened at the keyhole carefully, but the only sound he heard had been Danika’s footsteps lightly splashing away, already with a rather good head start.
‘Just clarifying one detail, Malik…you said the ringtone that brought Ms. Danika to your attention was…?’
‘“Boss Bitch” by Doja Cat.’
Sue repeated the name under her breath while scribbling on the pad in front of her. ‘Thank you, Malik. You’ve been remarkably candid.’
‘Hey, why would I lie to you? You know what I do. Plus, I…sorta need a favour with all this.’
‘Of course you do. Why else would you even bother turning up to give a statement?’ Sue’s features showed a spark of amusement. ‘Please continue.’
‘OK.’ Malik took a breath. ‘I don’t know what evidence Danika might have presented you with, if any…’
‘Nor do I intend to divulge that information to you.’
‘Fine. For the moment, I think she’s still ignorant of how things work here.’ Malik made hand gestures between the two of them. ‘I’d like to keep it that way for as long as possible, so…’
‘A go-slow on the paperwork? I think we can manage that. I should be getting back to the front desk now, if you have nothing more to say…’
‘Actually…’ Malik began. ‘There is something I’m a little curious about. You didn’t used to cooperate with me like this, when we first met, and I was in and out of here all the time for…this and that…’
‘Drugs charges, Malik. Often charges of assault as well.’ Sue looked levelly at Malik down her thick-rimmed glasses. ‘You want to know why I now enable your behaviour just like the other two Maliketeers at this station, even though you have nothing to blackmail me with?’
‘Hey whoa, who snitched?’ Malik blurted. ‘And… “Maliketeers”? Please tell me you don’t call yourselves that.’
‘That’s my concoction.’ Sue beamed. ‘It hasn’t caught on yet. Particularly not with our chief.’
I’ll bet it hasn’t. Moonlake’s Chief of Police had been speaking with Sue at her usual seat at the front desk when Malik had presented to the station that day. Because Malik couldn’t help himself, he’d greeted him with ‘Mornin’ chief. How was Prague?’ At the reference to his regular holiday destination, he’d given Malik one distasteful glare and said ‘I’ll take the desk for a bit now, Sue. It’s probably better if you take this interview than me.’
‘To answer your questions, Malik,’ Sue continued, ‘No one snitched, as you say. I was guessing.’ She raised a triumphant eyebrow. ‘But I know now. As for my reasons, I simply realised what you were doing, and decided it would be preferable to go with the status quo. Do you happen to remember who was running amok in Moonlake before your lot made its appearance?’
‘Huh?’ Malik cast his mind back about three years. ‘You mean those skinheads?’
‘I suppose what with one thing and another you never got a chance to discuss your ideological differences at length.’ Sue remarked drily. ‘But those “skinheads,” as you say, were card-carrying Neo-Nazis. Fourth-Reich fanciers. And far more than a rubber stamp of a police station like this one could hope to deal with.’ Sue sighed, and her worried, tired countenance reminded Malik of the first time he’d ever seen her; slim face lined with shallow wrinkles, messy blonde hair streaked with grey, eyes dead from exhaustion. ‘The streets of Moonlake are not safe, by any means, but they are safer than they were, with them pushed underground.’
Not for the first time in the last half hour, Malik felt glad he’d had Sue for the interview, and not the hostile, awkward silences that would have accompanied an interview with Police Chief Fred Wall. Not that the result would have been any different, of course. Not with the unwilling leader of the Maliketeers.
As Malik walked toward the front door of the station, head still spinning with new information, he noticed a familiar young woman ahead of him, walking strangely. He sped up to catch her at the door. When he saw her face, recognition took a couple of seconds. ‘Elise?’
Elise Marshall’s skin, normally a fair pink, was pallid, her expression gaunt and morose. She stared uncomprehending at Malik for almost five seconds, then smiled widely, if weakly. ‘Oh, hey Malik.’ She grunted, then took a moment to clear her throat. ‘Might’ve gone a little overboard on your stuff yesterday. Just woke up in here.’ She motioned to the station just as they walked out the door.
‘Yeah. You must’ve.’ Malik observed lamely. ‘Hey, was there anyone with you yesterday?’
‘I fuckin’ hope so.’ Elise started to cradle her head, as if the overcast sunlight was still too much. ‘I’ll need ‘em to tell me what I did. Hey…’ her expression suddenly brightened a few more degrees, still short of her usual by a long way. ‘Havin’ another party at my place next weekend. You’re in, right?’
‘Wouldn’t miss it.’ How could I say no?
After the police station in the morning and the afternoon working at the shop, Malik came home—much more spent than usual—to find his mother getting ready to go out for the evening. ‘Hi, Mum. You look nice. Er…where’s Dad?’
‘Oh! He speaks!’ Malik’s mother, Marwa, clapped her hands together, her eyes alive with mirth. ‘Your father is working late again. It’s fine. I thank you for noticing, by the way.’ She struck a glamorous pose to accentuate her makeup and attire. ‘But it’s nothing special. A woman just likes to look nice sometimes, for herself. And in this country, I can, so why not! Oh, yoga is starting up again, Tuesday nights.’ She motioned to the wall clock. ‘And with that…’ Marwa gave Malik a familial kiss on the cheek before grabbing her bag on the way out the front door.
Malik decided on an early night, not even waiting for his father to get home. Thoughts assaulted him before overwhelming him to sleep.
I need to find something on Danika before she makes any real trouble.
Neo-Nazis? The hell?
Elise looked awful. Was that really just a hangover?
Hang on – who the hell does yoga in a miniskirt?