Season 2, Episode 8
Justin Burrows’ face was a mess, and Malik had barely even started yet. Malik leaned in over him, close enough to spit in his discoloured, swollen left eye with every sibilant syllable. ‘Run that one by me again mate, but this time do try to keep in mind what happens when you play dumb. Once more, when did you start working for Hayden Archer?’
Damien, Brian, and Tim all sat nearby in the large room, which Tim’s Dad had once used as a hobby music studio, before Tim suggested using some of the gang’s proceeds to buy it for their own use as a hideout and storehouse. For Malik, it possessed two big selling points: it was on a large Southside block police didn’t trouble themselves patrolling, and the sound insulation was so thorough that Tim had taken to calling it “Space”, reasoning that in it, no one could hear you scream.
A trickle of blood had found its way from Justin’s forehead into his mouth. He couldn’t wipe it away with his hands, since the guys had strapped all his limbs to the chair he was sitting in. He spat it out instead. ‘Since your mother. You can’t prove shi—OOF!’
Malik withdrew his fist from where he had planted it, just beneath Justin’s ribcage, and casually turned to Tim. ‘You didn’t find anything on the phone from Justin’s bedside, right?’
‘Nothing linking him to Hayden or anyone else suspicious, sir, no.’
‘Thought not.’ Malik turned to Justin, whose eyes were darting furiously as if preparing to escape on their own, leaving the rest of his body behind. ‘Get his bag.’
At that, Justin’s eyes widened, and suddenly focussed on the worn old hiking backpack as Brian fished it out from the pile he had made of everything he’d pulled out of Justin’s car while the others had been announcing their surprise visit to his house first thing that morning.
‘Search the lining,’ Malik ordered, without breaking Justin’s eye contact. Tiny, involuntary spasms broke out all over his captive as the sounds of zippers and cutting fabric carried on behind him.
Eventually, Justin sighed audibly and hid his eyes. Malik knew without needing to turn around, or hear any more, what Brian had found. He simply put his hand out behind him expectantly, until Brian dropped another mobile phone into it, one Malik had never seen before. He examined it, then held it up for Justin to see clearly. ‘I don’t know how much useful information your real boss trusted you with,’ Malik began, using Justin’s thumb to unlock it before handing it off to Tim to pore over, ‘but I guess we’re about to find out, huh?’
His defiance snuffed down to the embers, Justin mumbled, ‘You don’t know what you’re getting yourselves into.’
‘That a fact?’ Malik retorted. ‘You feel like elaborating now?’
‘You guys are fuckin’ monsters, but this is still just a small gang in a small town. What you’re doing now is gonna drop you right in the middle of a war between professionals.’
While Malik tried to feign nonchalance at Justin’s quite genuine warning, he turned to Tim. ‘Any joy with that one?’
‘I wouldn’t call it that,’ Tim answered, eyes still glued to the screen of Justin’s other phone in apparent horror. ‘I’m gonna be physically sick. Dude’s been filling one very obvious contact in on everything we’ve been doing for weeks. There’s even correspondence of our finances on here. The flow of information is very one-way, but this does confirm that the order to mess around with Elise came from this contact.’
‘Huh.’ Malik wandered into the middle of the room to pick up a small table. ‘I guess we’re done here.’
‘Yeah…?’ Justin sounded hopeful, but eyed Malik warily as he returned with the table and let it fall on its side with a crash right next to Justin’s chair.
‘Yeah. I can respect your spirit and your eventual candour with us. And it’s not like everything you ever did was against our interests. You did some good work for us, Justin. Thank you.’ Malik bent down and began to release the restraint on Justin’s right arm, while Justin stared in speechless disbelief.
‘Of course,’ Malik went on, ‘your actions did put Elise Marshall in hospital, and it coulda been a lot worse. So, I’m thinkin‘….’ Malik finished releasing the strap on Justin’s arm but held it in a vice grip in his own hand. ‘Hospital is where you should be.’
Malik planted Justin’s hand up against the upturned table, bracing it but leaving the elbow joint exposed. He turned to Damien, who had been watching everything play out; silent and expressionless, waiting for his moment. Malik motioned to Justin’s arm.
Having done Justin the final courtesy of driving him to Moonlake Hospital’s emergency entrance before throwing him out of the car on his broken arm, what remained of Malik’s crew decided to debrief in his car, pulling it over with the engine running for the air conditioning. Damien was the first to speak, summing up the general mood with an exaggerated exhale. ‘Well, fuck.’
‘I had no idea until this morning,’ Brian said with his eyes fixed on the back seat footwell in front of him. ‘Guess Elise must’ve told you something?’
‘She put me on the trail,’ Malik confirmed, not quite ready to share everything he had learned the previous night. ‘Seeing that photo of Justin in the act at that party was enough to make me lose my shit, but it was really just a matter of losing trust. Once I realised I couldn’t trust him, the question of how Hayden could have been so across our operations to a level of detail even Brennan couldn’t have known about answered itself.’
‘I did think it was odd seein‘ Brennan on Quarry Road just as shit was about to go down,’ Brian mused. ‘Cops don’t patrol there, and he wouldn’t’ve known.’
‘Right, and he didn’t tell Hayden anything he wouldn’t have already known,’ Malik supplied. ‘The intel went from Justin to Hayden, and Hayden tipped-off to Brennan. Brenno was probably only there to help Hayden coordinate the precise timing of his grand entrance, and for a little extra muscle if he thought he needed it.’
‘Yeah, that lines up with the text chat on here.’ Tim hadn’t so much as glanced up from Justin’s incriminating device any more than had been necessary to navigate to the back seat of Malik’s car. ‘Promise I’ll let someone else have a go in a minute, but I’ve found something else on here that looks cluey. It might be to do with whatever Hayden had over Justin in the first place.’
Damien snort-laughed. ‘He was blackmailin‘ ‘im?’
‘Hayden doesn’t do friends,’ Malik spoke sharply. ‘There are people he can use, and people he can’t. That’s it.’ He held a hand out to Tim. ‘I know you’re invested, but may I?’
‘O-Oh, yeah.’ Tim relinquished the phone. ‘That message right there is what I’m talking about.’
Malik read it. ‘Okay. So, we assume this is Hayden threatening Justin.’ Aloud, ‘It goes without saying, but if you ever get it into your head to tip Malik off about anything, your pretty little prize will be quite lost to you.’
‘Pretty little prize,’ Brian echoed. ‘That a chick?’
‘One presumes,’ Malik answered coolly. He recalled a detail from his conversation with Kamran the night before, and a theory formed. Sergeant Matthews may be quite pleased, if I’m right.
‘Whatever,’ Damien grunted. ‘I still don’t regret breakin‘ ‘im. Thought you went pretty easy on ‘im, considering.’
‘Considering he was a mole?’
‘Well, that,’ Tim interjected, ‘and… we all figured you’d be in a pretty foul mood after the news.’
‘You better not be talking about what I think you are,’ Malik warned.
‘The guy’s been back in town for like three seconds, and he’s already got right into Danni’s pants like neither of ‘em ever left!’ Brian almost whooped. ‘Sorry if you thought you were hidin‘ it well bro, but we know you’re still into her.’
Malik knew denial would look not just weak, but stupid. These people aren’t Justin. They actually know me. Fuck it, they could probably see it before I could. ‘Gonna have to take a raincheck on this topic, guys.’
Tim, arms already spread wide, wasn’t having any of it. ‘Who needs a huuuuuug?’
‘I’ll strap you into the goddamn chair next.’
Twelve years ago
‘Shit, that was nasty. You okay?’ A young blonde-haired boy asked as he approached another boy, who was slightly smaller and with jet-black hair, but about the same age, and sitting by the bed of a small creek near Moonlake’s main street, with running water from recent winter rains.
The black-haired boy did not respond, but the blonde one didn’t hesitate to sit down right next to him. At the invasion of personal space, Black-hair winced, then slowly turned to face the intruder. If what Blonde had witnessed only seconds ago had not been instructive enough, Black’s battered visage told the gruesome story in full; several cuts to the hands and face and a bleeding (if not broken) nose made it difficult to tell in some places where the blood was coming from. His eyes were puffed and swollen from punches and thrown rocks, and it was obvious he had been crying despite his efforts not to. His school shirt had been torn half-off, and his pants hung loose at his waist, scuffed and missing the belt.
‘Stupid question, I guess,’ Blonde conceded as Black continued to stare at him wordlessly. ‘But what if I said I could make them leave you alone?’
Despite his misshapen features, Black allowed a shaft of surprise through his wary expression. He finally spoke, his throat still tight from sobbing. ‘You can fight?’
‘Fight? Not five kids. Paul on his own could lift me up and throw me down the creek.’ Blonde pulled a device out of his pocket. ‘I had something different in mind. Check this out.’
Blonde hit play on a video on his mobile phone, further intriguing Black. ‘Is that…an iPhone?’
‘The latest. Real good camera. Now watch.’
Black watched. ‘You recorded…my beating.’
‘Well, I could hardly step in. Next best thing. See, these kids are all rich. Most of them already have older brothers and sisters going to the private high school uptown, closer to where they live. That’s what their parents want for them. That’s where they’re headed. Unless…certain people become aware of this video.’
Suspicion returned to Black’s expression. Blonde continued. ‘That school has crazy entry conditions. They check all your reports from earlier schools. You need good grades. If they see anything on there like an expulsion or even a suspension, they’ll throw your application straight in the bin.’
Though Black’s face was still a mess, he had managed to regain his composure a little, and was thinking hard. ‘Our school would do that? Even for something that happened after hours?’
‘Like I said, it’s a real good camera, right? You can see all the faces, but even more importantly, you can make out the uniforms. I don’t think they’d risk it.’
‘Me either,’ Black finally agreed. ‘There’s just one thing about this that still doesn’t make any sense to me.’
‘Mmm?’ Blonde raised an eyebrow on his clean, handsome face.
‘You. I don’t know you. Who even are you? Why would you do any of this for me?’
‘Well…’ For the first time, Blonde seemed unsure of how to respond. ‘…truth is I…I’m not all that good at making friends either, so…’ He scratched his head nervously. ‘What’s your name?’
Black blinked back fresh tears that seemed to be coming from another place entirely. ‘Malik. Malik Fadel.’
Blonde grinned widely and shook Malik’s hand. ‘Hayden Archer. Pleased to meet you, friend.’
Copyright © 2022 L. Starla & J. Wake