Aaliyah looked at the interview room’s solitary clock. It had barely moved.
Her tongue felt swollen and uncomfortable from the spike stitched through it despite the hours they’d had her under lock and key; and her mouth had been full of blood even before they caught her. But that had been nothing to the beating she’d received, just lying still made her groan after that. Only the lies she’d spun had stopped them. The Makatu’s slim metal pin was so good at the deceptions the words were like a song, and her mouth had grown tired after all the work she’d made it do. The charm preferred some over others, as the coppers had found to their frustration.
‘How long are you going to keep me in here?’
But there was no answering rustle from the metal staple in her tongue, not this time.
Aaliyah blinked, at least she could see straight again. The pain had sunk to a sullen ache with every passing moment as her bruises ripened. She’d walked the confines of the room to see how bad the damage was but the kicking made even that sore.
‘Ugly on the inside, ugly on the outside.’
The men had had faces like wire; pale from lack of light, and the going over they’d given her had been professional like they’d done it a thousand times before. It hadn’t exactly done wonders for the secret in her mouth. Aaliyah wondered how many more coppers the station held, and shuddered. They’d dealt with her brother’s first and the screams and shouts had been enough to make her skin crawl until her voice had grown hoarse from shouting answers.
That was a nasty thought, although it did have its plus side. If the law was prepared to ignore the rules Aaliyah and her siblings must have found what they were looking for.
‘Please Alot, just keep your gob shut like we told you.’
She raised her eyes to heaven and muttered a quick prayer.
Rinse knew to say nothing but Alot was only eight and this was her brothers first brush with the law. She shuddered; the thwap of titanium hitting flesh wasn’t something she’d forget.
‘Didn’t have much time for politeness once we were out of sight of the cameras did you? Not like when you found us.’
She felt the thing in her mouth tremble and remembered the operation that had put it there. The slick feel of something foreign sliding through her had been a bit like that time she’d kissed Anchor from down the block. Aaliyah shivered, enjoying the warm wet taste of the metal in her mouth. With a bit of luck, it would keep her from telling the cops what they’d found in the building. That was better left hovering behind her eyes where it was safe.
She decided to try cheering herself up. ‘It’ll be alright we’ll walk out of here. They’ve got nothing on us,’ and jumped as the door opened. Her tongue sprung from the old woman’s gift like a guilty finger caught where it shouldn’t be. One of the men was huge.
‘Webb, that’s your last name isn’t it?’ said the smaller of the two with a smile and Aaliyah had to force herself not to turn away. It was like looking at radiation grin. All that was missing was the crackle of a geiger counter.
‘That’s the name my Mother gave me,’ she said to hide her nerves.
‘Why didn’t you tell us the truth earlier?’ the copper continued. The other man stayed quiet waiting to play bad cop for his pal.
‘I was scared.’
‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve nothing to worry about do you?.’
‘I’ve never been in trouble before.’
The Makatu trembled with Aaliyah’s deceit. It liked that one, it felt like a bull frog croaking in her mouth.
‘You’re not in trouble. We just want to help,’ said the copper and the spike through her tongue spread ice through her like a balm. She could do better.
‘I don’t like getting into trouble. It’s not what nice girls do,’ said Aaliyah.
That at least was partially true, but what made her blood flow quicker than a spring tide was getting out of it. She thought back – the old Maori who’d performed the operation had had a kind face even when she’d stabbed the fetish through her tongue and Aaliyah had to admit she’d asked her to do it. She’d known she’d need help if things went wrong. If Aaliyah concentrated she could still hear the soft hum of the migrant’s voice as she’d sung while she worked.
‘Nobody, deserves to be punished for something they haven’t done,’ said the copper looming in the corner. His head nearly touched the ceiling and there was a furrow on his brow that almost made Aaliyah laugh. It looked like he’d read the words somewhere and not understood what they meant.
But she can see by their faces they’re not listening to her anymore, not really her. There’s another voice whispering in their ears, and the Makatu is alive in her mouth like its stolen their lies to use as her own.
‘Punished…? No, that’s not what we’re going to do,’ says the first with a confused air and his companion’s no better.
‘Not anymore,’ says the big man.
The vacant look hasn’t gone from them yet, and Aaliyah’s fighting hard to keep her grin to herself. The Makatu’s bouncing and quivering with the fun of it. She’s just a little girl, and so stupid too to have got herself into so much trouble. She makes sure she shows it.
‘Please,’ says Aaliyah and lets a single tear fall from her eye. She utters a quick nonsense prayer in her head. If the spike had a breaking point, she didn’t want to find it.
‘You’ve just made a mistake.’ It’s the copper with the radioactive grin again, ‘a silly mistake, kids are always doing that.’
His colleague shakes his head, ‘You shouldn’t get your friends in trouble because of us. We wouldn’t want that.’
‘Don’t tell us what you found if you don’t want to,’ says the first. ‘We don’t care; its only our job.’
The more talkative of of the two looks like he wants to punch himself in the face, like the words he’s saying make him sick. Anger and disbelief chase themselves in equal measure as his jaw cracks and Aaliyah steps back.
‘We’re all friends here aren’t we?’ says the copper. Looks like he can’t keep his mouth shut after all.
But Aaliyah wants to check.
‘You’re not going to hurt me again?’
The smaller copper’s smile was even worse than before like he’d tear his tongue out if he could.
‘Of course not we’re friends,’ he says.
‘Yes, we are,’ answers Aaliyah and even the Makatu kicks a little at that, ‘I think I need to see a Doctor now. You’ll let me do that?’
She breathes slow, and deep, letting the interrogation room’s stale air fill her. It would be alright, the Makatu had her back.
‘But, please…. will you tell us what you were doing there?’ says her friend. ‘I’m so sorry to have to ask.’
His partner shrugs, ‘Orders; you understand don’t you? It’s just what we do. Not who we really are.’
Aaliyah nodded, she knew when to be generous. She watched the larger of the pair’s eyes narrow as the Makatu crackled like fire. She better give them something.
‘We were looking for my Mum’s cat.’
‘In the middle of the night?’
‘He’s been gone for days, probably starving by now. You could look for him?’ says Aaliyah with one raised eyebrow. ‘It’s very important.’
‘We’re pushed for time.’ The small copper looks like he’s ready to explode he’s beaming so much. ‘But of course we will. We’re friends. You know it’s dangerous in there don’t you?’
He was probably right, but falling masonry and treacherous stairs had been the last thing on their minds once they’d found the hole hidden in the warehouse.
Aaliyah wondered whether to try another tear or two, and decides against it. She’s had enough of unnecessary dramatics. She’d put her trust in the old dear and her gift. She had her pride, and the lies are flowing so fast she’s not sure she could stop them if she tried.
‘We’re really sorry,’ say’s Aaliyah. ‘I was supposed to keep an eye on him. I’m going to be in so much trouble.’
She kept what the old Maori had told her to herself. From start to finish the cops had had the air of knowing more about the warehouse’s and what was in its cellar than they let on. No one got busted for trespass by CID.
‘Why’re you so interested anyway? The place is empty,’ says Aaliayh
For a moment she thought she’d got them as something they’re fighting hard not to show burrows beneath their faces.
‘Just don’t play there,’ says the first.
‘Never,’ the huge man slowly shakes his head. ‘You might get hurt.’
‘That’s right,’ continues his companion. ‘It’s dangerous. We’ll find your missing cat for you. These things are better left to professionals.’
‘That warehouse should be demolished if you ask me. It’s a health hazard,’ says the big cop.
The Maori had been right then; there were secrets to be found amongst the ruins thinks Aaliyah to herself.
‘Look, just don’t play there,’ the small copper looks like he’s coming back to himself a little. Aaliyah supresses a shudder, ‘and don’t mess with anything in there either. Its dangerous.’
‘We won’t, I swear.’ There’s no time to waste. ‘Can’t you let us go now? We need to see the doctor, and we weren’t doing anything wrong were we? The pair looked at each other then back at her. ‘We won’t go back,’ says Aaliyah all thoughts of smiling are gone now. ‘You can trust us.’
She gulps at the room’s stale air.
‘We’re going to let you go. Of course we’re going to let you go.’
The copper with that radioactive grin reached over and squeezes her shoulder, soft and urgent like he wants something more than just to look into her eyes.
‘You can come back any time. We’ll wait,’ he says.
It’s over surprisingly fast. It turns out their captors have more pressing matters than their three new friends after all. There’s no charges brought or official record. Instead Aaliayah and her brothers carry their bruises back onto the street with their lesson duly learned.
‘Alright Aaliyah, what did they say?
That was Rinse, he’d raised one hand to stop the sun burning his eyes now his cap was gone.
‘The usual crap; they’ll have forgotten us already. But, we’re on to something that’s for sure,’ says Aaliyah letting the light wash over her as the sun comes out from behind the clouds. She takes stock of her brothers: two black eyes and one nose smeared across its owner’s face.
‘We got off lightly,’ she says to Rinse.
His eyes dart sideways as he answers and for a moment she wants to ask him what’s up, what’s the problem, but Alot’s too quick. He gets there first.
‘The Makatu didn’t make you rat on us did it Aaliyah?’
‘No, don’t be silly. It’s special.’
Aaliyah strokes Alot’s battered cheek. He’s too young for this, but there’s no one else; no one else she trusts anyway. There hadn’t been much time to be picky, not with Mum so ill.
‘They bought it, though,’ says Rinse with relief in his eyes, ‘and now we know the Maori’s telling the truth.’
‘About what’s in there?’ says Aaliyah. ‘Maybe, all we found was that hole; there’s no way they’d have let us go otherwise.’
Her jaw feels heavy now, the words that had filled it a distant memory. Only the expressions on the coppers faces stick in her mind. They knew what the hole hid even if they wouldn’t say. She’d go back, with or without her brothers. But she’s tired now. The metal drags in her mouth, sour like lead now the life is gone.
‘At least the Makatu worked,’ it’s Rinse again. ‘We can use that if Mum gets worse. Get her treatment some other way.’
Aaliyah’s head swivels to one side, ‘You don’t say? That Maori’s clever. What did you think about the rest?’
‘I think we better find what she told us about before they block the place up,’ says Rinse and they set off across the roads shabby tarmac. There was still plenty of time. Aaliyah could do it on her own if she had to. She never notices the expression on Rinse’s face as he watches her back and probes his teeth with his tongue.
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