Did you miss the last episode? You can read it here.
This month, Malik attends the most awkward coffee date of his life….
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Season 2, Episode 2
Malik watched Brennan’s patrol car tear off into the night with a sense of resigned exhaustion but the firm, verging-on-painful pressure in his left shoulder reminded him that he was as far from relaxing as he had ever been.
The sun had long since set over the old quarry, and without any vehicle lights to illuminate the clearing, he stood alone in the pitch dark with the man he hated most in the entire world touching him. Life was not good.
Without making any sudden movements, he checked his backlit watch, partly because he was genuinely curious about how goddamn late it was, but mostly to provoke some kind of reaction from Hayden, who had not yet pulled any kind of weapon out as far as Malik could tell. Only 10:38. Feels later. He was rewarded with a faint huff of annoyance, audible only because they were so close, listening so intently.
‘No shortage of places to hide a body out here,’ Hayden observed casually.
‘Funny,’ Malik responded. ‘I was just thinkin’ the exact same thing.’
Hayden released him with a violent shove forward. As Malik whipped around to retaliate, he heard Hayden retrieve something from his jacket, and a mechanical click, before the light of a powerful torch blinded him. A second click, and he froze— unmistakeably the sound of the safety catch on a small pistol. He raised his hands to shoulder height, noticing a lingering pain where Hayden’s grip had been. Instinct told him to keep Hayden talking for as long as possible. ‘I think that’s the third gun I’ve had pulled on me today. Might be a personal best.’
‘Really? Rookie numbers,’ Hayden sneered. ‘We are going to reach an understanding about Danni tonight, Malik.’
‘Danni? You mean that moody slut who drove off with Brennan just now? Don’t worry about it. Already forgotten about her.’
Hayden released a single short chuckle, keeping the torch steadily on him. ‘We both know you don’t mean any of that, Malik. Just like we both know nobody is going to be killing anybody tonight.’ The safety catch clicked again, and clothing rustled. ‘There is only one substantial difference between us right now. Can you tell me what that is?’
‘It’s the gun, right? I bet it’s the gun.’
‘You need to stop playing dumb before I change my mind about murder,’ Hayden snapped. ‘The difference is that I see the world as it is, and you—’ Hayden found his eyes again with the torch beam for emphasis, ‘—are blind. You think so much has changed. You think you are stronger now. That you have plans. That you have control. But I always knew that at any time of my choosing I could come back and take what is mine, and you would be powerless to do any more than you could do all those years ago, watching mutely from outside that window. Nothing has changed.’
Malik couldn’t stop a warning growl from escaping his throat, but he made no move to swing wildly into the dark. ‘So? If this isn’t about killing me then what? Are you just going to stand there monologuing at me like a dollar-store Bond villain?’
‘Why not? You’re entirely in my power, so I’ll do as I please,’ Hayden replied flatly and closed the distance enough that Malik could see his shiny black shoes. ‘I’m getting to the good bit now. Here’s what you need to know. You’re going to keep a nice distance from Danni, and from me. If I think you’ve gotten too close to her, or anything happens to me, arrangements have already been made for unpleasant things to occur. Probably not to you, directly. More likely to people you care about. Now with that understood,’ Hayden lowered the torch at last and pointed it back down Quarry Road, ‘we should probably get going. It’s late.’
‘Huhwha?’ Blind hatred and shock clamoured for resolution in his mind. ‘That’s it?’
‘Of course!’ Hayden spoke as though a totally different person had taken control of his mouth; someone bright, friendly, and chatty. He could have just offered him a beer with that voice. ‘You look like you’ve had a long day, Malik. Go home. Get some sleep.’
He started walking toward his car in a daze before Hayden piped up again, ‘Oh, one more thing mate,’ Hayden lowered his voice again, the familiar menace returning, ‘You really ought to go see your mother. Soon.’
Malik awoke bathed in baffling sensations of sunlight and refreshment; he looked across at his bedside clock for answers. Well, that would explain it. It’s been a while since I last slept through two alarms for twelve hours solid. I should probably call work.
William answered the office phone with desperate excitement, which sobered sharply once he realised who was calling. ‘If you’re asking whether I need you here Malik, you may as well take the day. Alison’s here, and she’s mostly getting paid to play on her phone. Still not too much traffic since the story broke. We’ll regroup tomorrow, aye?’
After hanging up, he took stock of his physical state and decided his next priority would be a shower. Jets of hot water drained from his skin, carrying with them the dust, sweat, and exhaustion of the previous night. I have a demon to slay, and a free day to get started. Hot princess to rescue too, he thought with a twitch in both his lips and somewhere else. Dad doesn’t seem to be home; if his sorry arse can drag itself out to do something productive today, so can mine. But what? Hayden’s final words to him drafted through his brain, carrying an unwelcome chill to his bones amid the steam of the shower. Mum. Maybe the demon has a point.
He dressed as casually as he was able— which still involved coiffed hair, figure-hugging pants and a buttoned shirt— and picked up his phone to arrange the most awkward coffee date of his life.
‘Uh, just so I’m clear, why am I sitting in a car in a shopping centre carpark for a full hour today?’ Justin asked from the driver’s seat of his own car, communicating measured amounts of politeness and incredulity as he guided them to one of the parks furthest from the café Marwa had agreed to meet at. ‘You said “just watch”? What the hell are you expecting to go down outside a shopping mall in the middle of the day?’
‘That’s right, just watch.’ Malik’s eyes were already scanning the surrounds. Like any supermarket complex in an Australian country town in Summer, it was a vista of open space, bitumen, and abandoned revegetation attempts; the view shimmered in the heat haze. ‘Hayden already knows too much about things I ain’t told hardly anyone. I would love to know how.’
‘He’s got Brenno by the pubes, right?’
‘Brenno shouldn’t know anything about this. Eyes up.’ Malik stepped out of the car.
When he closed in on the shaded outdoor café seating area and spotted his mother, he was immediately struck by how different she looked. Marwa Fadel had always shown a little more skin in the way she dressed than her husband had been totally comfortable with and had never gone out without at least applying foundation to her face. But the woman who stood to greet him—wrapping him in a tight hug—dressed in loose-fitting short sleeves. No makeup whatsoever encumbered her big bright smile. In her embrace, he noticed her muscles seemed more relaxed than usual. She appeared at ease in a way he had never seen her at home.
‘My boy. Sit, order a drink.’
He walked back to her table with her, and involuntarily raised his eyebrows at the open beer she had already started on. He knew this café was licensed and traded more like a pub in the evenings, and he knew his mother had never particularly cared for her nominal faith’s observances regarding alcohol, but beer in the middle of the day was still unusual.
After he bought a cola and they both sat, she sighed. ‘You must have questions. I will do my best. Know that I still love you and I want to work things out with your father. But I cannot be with him anymore.’
‘I’m not going to ask why now, so suddenly,’ he offered. His phone rang, and he ignored it. ‘I know I haven’t really been paying… attention at home, and even I could tell something was a bit off. But….’ He floundered, ‘Is this really final? And where have you gone? How are you living now? If Dad can’t see you, can I?’
‘Child, I am so sorry. It must have been a shock for you, learning from your father…. I can only imagine what kind of state you found him in.’
‘A bottle deep in your anniversary wine.’
‘Oh dear. You know your father never drinks, he is a good Muslim, he never even wanted that stuff kept in the house.’
‘I think I’ve seen him like that once before. He gets all overshare-y so I heard his life story again.’ He fixed on his mother’s eyes over his drink. ‘Only this time, he added in the bit about how he met you.’
Marwa dropped her eyes to the table, but her voice betrayed tears as she spoke. ‘Your father may have been the only good man I ever met in the old country, and I am so sorry to you both. You know, he still misses Iraq sometimes. Calls it “home.” I was never at home there. I love this country. For all that I had to learn a new language, endure more surveillance on my home, endure the racist suspicions of a few strangers, still I am safer and happier here. I am more able to be myself.’
‘Yeah, I probably had a little to do with the whole surveillance thing once we started living here,’ he admitted. ‘What with my… activities.’
‘Even before that,’ Marwa countered. ‘Chief Wall has never welcomed us. In the beginning, he made the patrols and marked cars obvious and intrusive, probably hoping we would take the hint and leave. But after you started doing…,’ Marwa indicated with a wave and a grimace she wanted no part of any knowledge of his activities, ‘whatever it is you are doing, it became more covert. I believe the local police still watch that house. Even now.’ Marwa finished her drink.
‘Even now.’ He kept his expression as neutral as he could manage. ‘I have a really awkward question for you, Mum. Are you ready?’
‘I will do my best. That was my second beer.’
‘Okay.’ He exhaled heavily. ‘There’s someone else, right? You’re seeing someone else.’
‘What? You mean Omar didn’t even mention that?’ Marwa took a second to recover from her outburst. ‘Yes. There is someone else and I am staying with them now.’
‘Who? Do I get to meet this fine fella? If his name’s Chris Tanner I swear to—’
‘This is the part I had been fearing the most,’ Marwa confessed in a small voice. ‘I am sorry. But I am not ready to share that person with you. Yet. I will, I promise. I just need time.’
Feeling at a loose end, he chose to notice his phone as it rang again: Elise Marshall’s number. ‘Uh, Mum, sorry, I really need to get this.’ He answered, ‘Elise?’
‘Sorry, just me. Grayson.’
‘Oh. Well if you’re calling me from Elise’s phone—’
‘Yeah, she’s feeling up to talking, and she wants to see you in person against anything resembling better judgement. I’m just indulging her.’
‘You’re a champ, mate,’ Malik deadpanned.
‘Think nothing of it.’ Grayson mirrored Malik’s tone. ‘I’ll be here, but I’ll play nice if you will.’
‘Deal. See ya.’ Malik rang off.
‘You have somewhere to be, I suppose. How is Elise? She is a nice girl,’ Marwa hinted in the way of hopeful mothers everywhere. He guiltily decided to spare her the details. ‘She’s alright. We hope. I’m gonna go see her. Mum, I-I don’t understand what’s happening with you, but I will wait, okay? I love you and I’m sorry if I haven’t said that at all in like… the last five years, okay?’
They parted with one slightly damp hug, not speaking any further words. As he returned to Justin’s car he asked, ‘Anything to report?’
‘Not what I’d call conclusive, sorry,’ Justin replied. ‘Paul from that rugby team we tangled with stepped out of the supermarket and looked curious, but he didn’t stick around. A patrol car made a couple of passes around the street as well, but I didn’t get a good look at who was inside. No one I recognised, anyway.’
‘Hm. Long shot, I guess. At least I know where I’m going next.’
‘Elise is up, and probably wants to see me make up with her cousin over tea and biscuits.’
Copyright © 2022 L. Starla & J. Wake
Stay tuned for Season 2, Episode 3, coming 9th September 2022.
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