Season 2, Episode 12
As Malik watched Estelle Henderson corral her audience into cooperation time and again with aggressive aplomb, he felt a cocktail of surprise, respect, and intrigue about her stirring in his gut. The glass shattered when she addressed him directly, and he remembered that Malik Fadel is no-one’s lackey. ‘We should be real clear about a couple of things, since we just had someone offer up discreet weapons without any prior mention of playing around with guns.’ He locked Estelle with a stare, testing her, and felt the resistance like that of an old door; heavy, rust-hinged, and barricaded from within. ‘Firstly, I count six people in this room, only two of whom I know to have any experience with firearms, including myself. Unless…?’ He arched his eyebrows at Estelle quizzically, who replied simply by narrowing her deep-brown eyes and smiling tightly. ‘Okay. Three then, huh?’
‘Mum?’ Danika threw her hands over her face dramatically, and croaked out between them, ‘Why am I only now finding out my entire life is a bad spy movie?’
‘Oh, sweet. I didn’t want this life for you at all.’ Estelle hushed before turning her attention back to him, her expression hardening in a way he hoped was meant to be collegiate and professional, rather than hostile. ‘Relax, hotshot. I am not proposing giving a piece to my daughter. The carnage from the last time I saw her use a staple gun haunts me still.’
‘I was twelve!’ Danika protested.
‘And yet…’ Estelle continued, ‘Alternatives exist. I do think a time will come when you will need to defend yourself, my darling.’ Back to Malik. Again, the stony visage, the locked door. ‘And your second point…?’ she prompted.
‘Secondly, you can save your mysterious “connections” on my account.’ Malik didn’t skip a beat. ‘There’s nothing Brennan doesn’t already know in saying I can get my own at a moment’s notice, with which I’m much more comfortable anyway.’
‘Um…’ Through the stifling tension in the room, Taylor’s voice squeaked. ‘Why are we talking like we’re all preparing for an open firefight? We’re not, are we?’
Estelle and Malik shared a glance; he could tell she was carefully choosing her next words. ‘The possibility of one is not entirely remote, but it should not be our first recourse.’
‘It won’t be Hayden’s, either,’ he added. ‘His power over all of us comes from a complex network of allies, blackmail, and threats.’ He began to cast his eyes over those assembled, feeling almost as though he were addressing his own gang, save for the still-formidable presence of Estelle, who returned his gaze as though she were a driving instructor watching to see if her new student could execute a parallel park without mounting the kerb. Gathering over Taylor, he saw quivering apprehension. Over Grayson, resolve. Over Danika, the deep thought of having far too much to process at once. He still couldn’t quite bring himself to hold Brennan’s eyes for long. He sighed. ‘If we’re really all of one purpose here, that network is what we need to neutralise before we do anything silly. That means uncovering everyone he has waiting on a hair trigger to act in some way to wreck our lives, whether that’s by releasing compromising information, or by hurting someone we care about, and we need to do it without his noticing. Then we need to hit all of them at once, paralysing him, before openly moving in for the kill. It’s not simple or easy, but that’s the task.’
Following a moment of silence, during which most of the room became captivated by the assorted junk lining the walls in the room to avoid eye contact with each other, Grayson cleared his throat and made a show of cleaning wax from his ear. ‘Did I mishear something? When you said “kill” just now—’
‘You didn’t mishear anything, and I wasn’t being figurative.’ Malik snapped. He turned to Danika, who was staring back at him wide-eyed, mouth agape. ‘I’m sorry, Danni, but this is almost all I’ve been able to think about since Hayden came back and pointed a gun at me on Quarry Road, and no matter how I war-game it in my mind, I don’t see a way around it. If we are successful in what we are planning to do, then we will be taking from him everything he has obsessed over for most of his adult life. You understand what leaving him alive to plot revenge would mean, right?’
‘There has to be another way…,’ Danika whispered, almost to herself.
‘Well if there is,’ Malik retorted, ‘we don’t have a lot of time to think of it.’
A heavy cloud of impending consequence hung over the rest of the meeting, as everyone swapped intel freely. Estelle and Danika revealed the significance of their meeting place, as well as their connection to the Silvestri family. Taylor relayed her experience of staying hidden after running away with Justin, as well as what she learned from him about Hayden’s operations, much of which Brennan was able to corroborate.
When Malik pressed him on the question of who Hayden’s other contacts in town must be, Brennan chuckled fatalistically. ‘You would have to know this already mate, but Hayden’s far too careful to make us all aware of each other. First I even learned of Justin was after you ratted him out. I’ve been working my own angle a bit though, and I can tell ya this: he’s got the chief.’
He levelled a loaded look at Brennan. ‘Disappointing, but not surprising. Appreciate your candour, I suppose.’
‘Actually, it’s not what you’re thinking,’ Brennan replied. Aware that the others were becoming visibly lost, he said, ‘You mind if I speak openly on that matter?’
Malik hesitated only a moment. ‘Sure.’
‘What Hayden has on Chief Wall comes from Sterling Henderson, and it’s not the same as what you have. Your leverage is still safe.’
‘Huh.’ Malik looked Brennan up and down respectfully. ‘If you’re to be believed, Lamey, you have been hard at work.’
As the conspirators finally dispersed with much to think about, Estelle remained inside to chat with Danni’s grandmother some more. Danika elected for fresh air outside. While the inside of the shop had been a claustrophobic, hoarder’s paradise, the garden did much more to betray the family aesthetic; a rose bed, central water fountain, olive trees overhead, whith pebble paths, and concrete paving bordering each little plot. Malik found Danika staring at the fountain, and approached her from behind, casting her in his shadow in the blazing afternoon sun.
‘You probably don’t have much longer before he tries to check in on you again, right?’
She shrugged. ‘Probably. He likes to keep us on our toes, so he’s not about to settle into a predictable routine of behaviour.’ She shuddered, seeming to recall something unpleasant, then finally turned to face him. ‘Did you want something from me?’
‘Yeah.’ He took a step closer to her, coming within breath’s reach. He searched her eyes, which answered him with an indignant challenge. ‘I need to be sure of something.’ He made to close the last inches between them, only to crash into her mouth with surprising force as she did the same, responding to the unbearable, unspoken pull between them. Teeth knocked together and lips locked, tightening and searching each other desperately as uncontrolled, ragged breaths escaped and their hands blindly seized each other’s clothing in white-knuckled fists.
After a time unchecked, Danika pulled away, her summer dress askew, her face flushed with desire. ‘So?’ she rasped. ‘Are you sure now?’
He snarled and put his sunglasses on as he steadied his breath. He brought his mouth close to her ear and whispered roughly before turning to leave. ‘You had better taste that good when you’re mine.’
In the oven heat of yet another overcast summer evening, Malik met with his gang in the carpark of the gym. The place was empty save from their cars, that of the gym’s owner, and a white Corolla.
Damien approached first. ‘Been a while since you could make time for a workout, huh?’
‘Still can’t, really.’ Malik pressed against the fatigue in his eyes. ‘This one has to double as a meeting.’
‘Sure, but we’re not really alone in there.’ Tim cocked his head towards the gym’s front door, from which emanated the occasional thud and grunt of a woman expressing her frustration against one of the punching bags. ‘We gonna have to clear out whoever that is first?’
Malik, already headed for the door, spoke over his shoulder. ‘That’s actually up to her.’ He pushed through the door and stepped inside. ‘’Sup, Alison?’
Already glistening with sweat and red in her broad face, Alison Crane blew a lock of hair out of her eyes as she looked up. ‘You know exactly what’s up with me, muscle-head. I’m not here for pleasantries.’
He levelled a serious expression at her as the rest of the gang filed in behind him, all besides Brian having enough shame to at least pretend not to ogle her in her figure-hugging black activewear. ‘Good. This probably won’t be pleasant.’
Brian’s head swivelled slowly toward Malik, eyes wide, as the implication filtered through to him at last. ‘Hey what, she’s…joining? Are we gonna initiate her…properly?’
‘Why wouldn’t we?’ Malik replied, still focussed on Alison. ‘Trust is earned, after all. That means: in the ring. With Damien. Three rounds, no gloves.’
‘We made an exception for Tim.’ Brian pointed out. ‘Alternative trial?’
‘Yeah, we shouldn’t do that again,’ Tim interjected, wincing. ‘Eating all those dehydrated chickpeas ended up doing more damage to my insides than Damo would have.’
‘Didn’t mean shit with Justin, anyway,’ Brian mumbled bitterly.
‘…still get fuckin’ nervous around hummus…,’ continued the broadcast from planet Tim.
Alison raised an eyebrow at Malik. ‘These guys are for real, huh?’
‘Every dribbled word,’ Malik confirmed. ‘Justin was the normal one. Thinkin’ back, that in itself should have raised more red flags than it did. Anyway…you in?’
‘Yeah we can quit stalling now,’ Alison shot back quickly. Damien took the cue to make his way up to the ring in the far corner of the building.
‘Hey you’re not—’ Brian started. Alison made a show of putting the back of her hand to her forehead in a delicate fainting motion.
‘If Sir Lancelot here is quite done trying to save me.’ She strode past Damien, shoulder-checking him on the way. Damien smirked.
In the flickering fluorescence of the gym’s seating area, five beer bottles clinked their necks together. ‘Not bad for a girl!’ Damien toasted.
‘Damien Millard,’ Alison drawled after sculling half her bottle in one go. ‘Always could count on you to say the quiet part out loud.’
‘You already knew she could fight,’ Brian said to Damien half-accusingly.
‘She started karate same time I did,’ Damien recollected. ‘Didn’t stick it out as long, but I got to see her get pretty good.’ He turned to Alison. ‘You’re not too rusty.’
Alison shrugged. ‘I go jogging at night. It’s come in handy more than once.’ She grimaced, gingerly pressing spots on her back and chest. ‘I think you bruised a tit.’
‘Cost of admission.’ Damien grinned mercilessly. ‘Just ask Brian.’
‘You don’t get to call them that anymore, mince-brains,’ Brian retorted. ‘I’ve dealt with the puppy fat.’
‘Wasn’t expecting you to go all out like that either, Crane.’ Damien said, finishing his drink. ‘After all, you didn’t need to win, you just needed to keep gettin’ back up.’ He cast a side-eye at Malik. ‘Just hope everything’s okay at home, you know. Reminded me of a bout I had recently.’
‘So what’s the game, boss?’ Tim cut in. ‘I know we’re down a guy, and Alison’s obviously great, but I know you wouldn’t have gone recruiting without an immediate goal. So, what is it?’
‘Okay, I guess they’re ready for the big reveal.’ Malik leaned forward. ‘We need income, and we’re gonna get it on the highway out west. We’re gonna start drumming up interest in some drag races we’ll be running, using local contacts as well as some people from an out-of-town car club Alison knows. We’ll be taking bets. Also—’ He looked up at Alison. ‘We’ll definitely have some scores to settle with our guests.’
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