Season 2, Episode 10
‘So, what now?’
Of course, Malik had known the question was coming, as well as who would be the one to ask it. Damien Millard had only taken high school to the end of year ten, and so far as his attendance there went his focus was spent rather selectively on anything up the unspeakable violence end of the spectrum, to the detriment of anything involving subtlety or tact.
‘Ya mean what do we do now, as a merry band of small-town crooks?’ Malik half-sighed. The gang meeting had relocated back to the Space Studio Southside, where a mess of straps, furniture, and a few of Justin’s stray belongings littered the floor.
‘Hey, don’t let what that punk said get to you.’ Brian chimed in, standing up the table they had used to give Justin his severance package. ‘This is a small town, sure, but it’s our turf. We can take on any city-trash trying to muscle in.’
‘Yeah, well, about that,’ Tim mumbled. ‘The elephant in the room is that we need another source of income to keep doing anything much at all.’ He was sitting on the floor, and mostly staring at nothing and no-one in particular with his forehead cradled in one open palm. The implication of his complaint was well-known to everyone in the room; apart from what employment Malik could still wring out of Ginny’s, and the odd night shift Brian could pull at the service station he worked at, proceeds from the gang’s enterprises were the only kind of living any of them made.
‘The PCP’s done,’ Tim continued. ‘We got through the last of it in the week just gone and I can’t see us going back for more, right?’
‘Right,’ Malik confirmed. ‘Our supply line is torched and if any does find its way into town, I’m hoping to use that to flush out any of these gang contacts still hanging around. In a way, what Justin said today lines up perfectly with what Tony Silvestri threatened us with a while back: other gangs are on the move in Moonlake, probably looking to strike gold selling drugs to bored rich kids uptown. There’s more than enough loose cash running around up there to make this place valuable turf—it was probably only ever a matter of time before Moonlake came to the attention of the city gangs.’
‘Okay that’s cool and all,’ Damien grunted. ‘But how’re we gonna fund ourselves in a drug war if we’re not even in the game?’
‘Well, I have been considering something ever since I realised we’d need to ditch the angel dust.’ Malik paused, casting his eyes over the room and what remained of his gang. The scatter of splinters and specks of blood on the carpet, red on grey. Tim, Brian, Damien. Defeat, hope, and whatever was going on in Damo’s head. Grenade launchers, probably. Malik cleared his throat for the pitch that would reverse their declining fortunes and bring Moonlake back under their control. ‘Speaking of cashed-up rich kids, have any of you ever noticed just how many hotted-up cars there are in this town right now?’
In the excitement of the morning, Malik almost failed to notice when his phone pinged with a message from his boss at Ginny’s; a customer wanted a car service the same afternoon and had requested Malik by name. Unusual, but not unheard of, he thought as he responded in the affirmative after the gang meeting dispersed. Not like I can afford to be turning down any work right now.
The customer and his flashy, sporty blue Lancer were already waiting for him when he arrived at the shop just before two o’clock. William had already opened to allow them in; Malik could see his boss in the back taking inventory of tools and parts, a sure sign that he had long ago run clean out of profitable things to do. As he stepped out of his own car and recognition of the mystery customer dawned, he scrunched his face and tilted his head like a puppy trying to comprehend an unfamiliar offering of food. ‘Uhhh…hi?’ He inflected his greeting as a question to signify all the questions suddenly arising. ‘Grayson?’
‘Boo.’ Grayson replied flatly with mock-frightening hand gestures, then shrugged. ‘Car needs a service.’
‘You didn’t ask for a car service, bud,’ Malik retorted with his arms crossed. ‘You asked for me to service your car. So what gives?’
‘I want to talk to you about some mutual interests we have.’ Grayson’s tone was as confrontational as it had been at the party. It’s gonna take all my willpower not to lose my temper and end up right behind Chris in the dole queue.
‘Top marks for intrigue, I guess. I’ll bite.’ Aware that they were chatting in full view of the street, he cocked his head in the direction of the office. ‘This way.’ He took William’s usual chair in front of the computer and directed Grayson to the old couch lining the wall, eyeing him the entire way in case he pulled out a phone. ‘So?’
‘First up, you should know Elise is out of hospital. She had a severe initial reaction to the PCP but she hasn’t been medicated for a couple of days, and hasn’t displayed any clear symptoms of withdrawal during that time. The doctors think it’s safe for her to monitor her condition from home for now.’
‘That’s good to hear.’ He had meant to keep his guard up for the entire conversation but couldn’t help letting a little genuine relief slip through.
Grayson continued, pushing out every single word even as though they tasted of sour milk. ‘I can’t be happy about what you guys were doing, but she says the overdose wasn’t your doing. I believe her.’
As per his earlier suspicions, Malik considered the possibility that Hayden had sent Grayson here to set something up, or to goad him into revealing something. Close to the chest is best, but Justin’s already been rumbled. Hayden will find out about that soon for sure, if he hasn’t already. ‘That’s nice. I’ve kept my word, for what it’s worth. I’ve stopped dealing dust, and the culprit in Elise’s case has been unmasked and dealt with.’ When Grayson started with alarm, he felt compelled to add, ‘not with murder.’
‘If I asked who, would you tell me?’
‘No. Sorry, but recent events have me short of trust.’
‘Yeah, I can see that,’ Grayson said bitterly. ‘But really? Me? What makes you think I’d be running recon for Hayden Archer? He’s got nothing to blackmail me with, he’s already snatched my girl….’
Malik’s eyes flared at the suggestion of Danika. ‘Who said anything about recon, Marshall? I sure didn’t. You already seem to know a bit about how Hayden operates for someone who, only two days ago, seemed completely ignorant of how things work in this fucked up town.’
‘Well, I was,’ Grayson protested. ‘Elise…filled me in on a few things since.’
‘Elise doesn’t know everything,’ Malik retorted. ‘But yeah, she wouldn’t be totally unfamiliar with his past work.’ He leaned forward in William’s swivel chair, which creaked like a coffin lid. ‘I’ll tell you why I can’t trust you. I know you’re clean. I know you’re not ambitious about material wealth, and those two things would make you a pretty hard target for Hayden’s usual methods of blackmail. I know you think Hayden already got what he wanted when he made off with Danni, and I think you’re probably brave enough not to be cowed by threats to your own safety.’ Malik paused, as much to recover from all the compliments he had just paid to a walking romance novel trope as to catch his breath. ‘But he can still threaten the people you love. Elise. Your other family here. Danika too, right?’
Grayson’s eyes fell to Malik’s feet; his stern expression telling Malik all he needed to know. ‘I don’t know what she is doing. One moment, we’re communicating like a normal courting couple, going through normal couple things, albeit a bit slow. Next minute, this Hayden weirdo turns up, I don’t hear from her a couple of days, and suddenly I’m looking at engagement photos? I don’t think I’m overreacting if I find that a little too clean and quick. Then I look at those photos, and I hear what Elise has to say about what… sorta guy this Hayden is, and yeah, a couple of tumblers fall into place.’
‘What’s so special about the engagement snaps?’ Malik asked, puzzled. I didn’t notice anything….
‘Oh, it’s not evidence,’ Grayson conceded. ‘But dude, did you see her in them? I don’t think I’m just acting like a bitter cucked ex when I notice her smile doesn’t reach her eyes at all. I had to look twice to make sure I wasn’t looking at a wax effigy or a blow-up doll. Something is off.’ He raised his eyes to meet Malik’s.
So this is what blue steel looks like when it’s not trying to sell you belts and jeans in a men’s fashion catalogue. Respect, I guess.
‘I already know I’m out of this game,’ Grayson growled. ‘I don’t think I got to know Danni all that well, but I did figure out she’s got some damage I probably can’t help her with.’
Malik scratched his head. ‘Man, this has been enlightening, won’t lie,’ he admitted. ‘But I still can’t for the life of me work out what you came to me for help with.’
‘Fuck, I dunno either.’ Grayson sighed. ‘Maybe I just thought things would start to make more sense if I could speak to you.’
‘Sorry to disappoint.’ He leant back in the chair, folded his arms, and reconsidered the pitiful sight before him. What’s the harm? Once Hayden speaks to Justin, he’ll know the rest anyway. ‘Actually, maybe you have earned a little something from me.’
‘The guy who put your cousin in hospital is Justin Burrows. He was a member of my gang until this morning, when I sacked him and broke his arm. He was directed to do what he did by Hayden Archer, without my knowledge. Believe me or don’t, that’s your business.’
Grayson sat in silent contemplation for a few seconds before offering his opinion. ‘I believe you about one thing. What a fucked-up town.’ He shook his head. ‘Things are starting to add up, though. I would love to be a part of taking down that son of a bitch.’
Malik looked at the roof and blew out a long breath expressively. ‘You’ve got a fair ol’ punch for an amateur,’ he said, stroking the right side of his face, ‘but Hayden’s a couple of leagues outside your swing, mate.’
‘Oh, I’ve heard enough. I’m not about to try and walk up to him and clock him in the head until he promises to be a good boy. But I figure that if he doesn’t pay any attention to me because he thinks he’s already got me beat, figures we hate each other too much to form any kind of alliance—’
‘Which we do,’ Malik clarified.
‘Without question,’ Grayson agreed before continuing, ‘—and still allows me a degree of access to Danni as a friend….’
Malik’s poker face shattered as his eyebrows almost left his face in involuntary surprise.
‘Heh, knew it,’ Grayson gloated. ‘That’s not a privilege you enjoy at the moment, huh? Well, have a think about it, mate. I’m sure you’ll find a way for me to be of use.’
Malik huffed and started for the office door. ‘Bit to think about,’ he called over his shoulder. ‘I should have a look at your car.’
Malik couldn’t help but notice as he worked on Grayson’s car that it had definitely been serviced not more than a month ago, confirming further the flimsiness of his pretence. He was done very quickly, and as he watched the Lancer roll out, another somewhat unexpected visitor rolled in. He knew the unremarkable white Corolla well.
Alison parked erratically, stumbled out, and slammed her door furiously. Upon noticing him, she hesitated, then set her face in a scowl. ‘You! Look the fuck at this!’ She closed the distance between them in a storm of angry strides with her phone already displaying the offending image, which she thrust under his nose. ‘Look familiar?’
He looked. He understood. ‘Clyde?’
‘Clyde!’ She near-shrieked. At this distance, he observed her red, puffy eyes and a rogue tear streaking down her cheek. The photo showed Clyde, her black, turbo-fitted ’94 Toyota Celica that she kept garaged at home, and never drove to work. Tyres, slashed. Windscreen, smashed. On the driver’s door…
‘Dyke,’ he read sadly. ‘You can just about make out the penmanship.’
‘They broke in…through the house,’ she sobbed. ‘They didn’t even do anything in the house. Straight for the car. Did this. Left.’
With a compassion for a victim of crime he didn’t often exercise, he drew Alison into a hug. He gave her a moment to stop shuddering before speaking. ‘You going to the police about it?’
‘I guess,’ she mumbled. ‘Probably sounds absurd to you, but I’m normal.’
‘I know.’ He softly let her go. ‘But I can see how angry you are. Is there any chance I could persuade you of the benefits of a more…direct approach?’
She stepped back, and he waited to see how his gambit would play. He watched as her eyes hardened from shock into resolve. ‘Fuck yes.’
‘Marvellous.’ He grinned, wicked and wide. ‘I’m hiring. A vacancy opened this morning. And I know just the event to bring these rats out of their burrows.’
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