Aaliyah looked at the interview room’s solitary clock for the hundredth time – it had barely moved.
Her tongue still felt swollen and raw from the spike stitched through it despite the hours she’d been under lock and key. But that was nothing to the beating she’d received, just lying still made her groan even now. Only the lies she’d spun had stopped the boots from landing. The Makatu’s slim metal pin was so good at the deceptions the words had spilled forth like a song, and her tongue had grown tired not just swollen after all the work she’d made it do.
‘How long are they going to keep me in here?’ asked Aaliyah hoping the fetish would give her a clue. But there was no answering rustle from the metal staple in her mouth, not this time.
At least she could see straight again. The pain had sunk to a sullen ache with every passing moment as her bruises ripened and now she could walk the confines of the room to see how bad the damage was. She remembered something her mother used to say.
‘Ugly on the inside, ugly on the outside,’ muttered Aaliyah thinking about her captors.
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. It hadn’t exactly done wonders for the secret in her mouth either. She’d been spitting blood even before they caught her. 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 she’d grown hoarse from shouting at them to stop.
The episode when they’d come from her had been just as nasty, but 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 ten and this was her brothers first brush with the law. She shuddered; the thwap of titanium hitting flesh wasn’t something she’d forget in a hurry.
‘Didn’t have much time for politeness once the surveillance cameras weren’t there, 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 Paul 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 but her voice bounced around the empty cell sounding hollow and without conviction despite the words she said.
‘It’ll be alright we’ll walk out of here.’
She tried again.
‘They’ve got nothing on us.’
Aaliyah jumped as the door opened and her tongue sprung from the old woman’s gift like a guilty finger caught where it shouldn’t be.
‘Webb, that’s your last name isn’t it?’ said the smaller of the two cops 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. His colleague was staying quiet waiting to play bad cop for his pal.
‘I was scared.’
‘If you’ve done nothing wrong you’ve nothing to worry about have you?.’
‘I’ve never been in trouble before.’
The Makatu trembled with the deceit.
‘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.
It looked like the Makatu could recognise lies as well as tell them.
‘I don’t like getting into trouble. It’s not what nice girls do,’ said Aaliyah quickly.
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. He was talking as if he’d read the words somewhere and not understood what they meant.
But she could see by their faces they weren’t listening to her anymore, not really her. There was another voice whispering in their ears, and the Makatu was alive in her mouth like it had stolen their lies to use as her own.
‘Punished…? No, that’s not what we’re going to do,’ said the first with a confused air and his companion was no better. Whatever the Makatu was doing it was clear it was easily a match for the feebleminded.
‘Not anymore,’ said the big man.
The vacant look hadn’t gone from them yet, and Aaliyah’s was fighting hard to keep her grin to herself as the Makatu bounced and quivered with the fun of it. She’s just a little girl, and so stupid too to have got herself into so much trouble. She made sure she shows it.
‘Please,’ said Aaliyah and let a tear fall from her eye as she recited a quick 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 shook 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,’ said the first. ‘We don’t care; this is just our job.’
The more talkative of of the two looked like he wanted to punch himself in the face, like the words he’s said made 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?’ said the copper with a resigned air as he surrendered to the Makatu’s charms. It’s his bad luck he can’t keep his mouth shut thought Aaliyah with a viscous edge of pleasure.
But she still 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.’
‘Yes, we are,’ answered Aaliyah and even the Makatu kicks hard at that. ‘But I think I need to leave now. You’ll let me do that?’
She concentrated on breathing, slow, and deep, letting the interrogation room’s stale air fill her. It would be alright, the Makatu had her back.
‘Please…. will you tell us what you were doing there?’ said her new friend. ‘I’m so sorry to have to ask.’
His partner shrugged, ‘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 try and find him?’ said Aaliyah with one raised eyebrow. ‘It’s very important.’
She lets the Makatu put the emphasis it needed into the words, pleased as she watched the results.
‘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 at the warehouses back.
Aaliyah wondered whether to try another tear or two, and decided 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, although 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 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,’ said Aaliayh for once deciding to risk saying what was really on her mind.
For a moment she thought she’d gone too far as something they’re fighting hard not to show burrowed beneath their faces.
‘Just don’t play there,’ said 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,’ said the big cop.
The Maori had been right then; there were secrets to be found amongst the ruins thinks Aaliyah to herself.
‘Just don’t play there.’
The small copper looks like he’s coming back to himself a little. Aaliyah supressed a shudder. Looks like she’d found the limit of what the Makatu could do.
‘…and don’t mess with anything in there either. Its dangerous.’
‘We won’t, I swear.’ There was no time to waste. ‘Can’t you let us go now? My Mum will be worried, and we weren’t doing anything wrong were we? The pair looked at each other then back at her. ‘We won’t go back,’ said Aaliyah with all thoughts of smiling long gone. ‘You can trust us.’
She winced internally, the statement was pushing it to say the least.
‘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 squeezed her shoulder, soft and urgent like he wanted something more than just to look into her eyes.
‘You can come back any time. We’ll wait.’
It’s over surprisingly fast. It turned out their captors had 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, with one hand rasied to stop the sun burning his eyes now his cap was gone.
‘The usual crap; they’ll have forgotten us already. The Makatu will make sure of that. But, we’re on to something that’s for sure,’ says Aaliyah letting the light wash over her as the sun came out from behind the clouds. She took stock of her brothers – one’s limping and the other’s nursing his arm.
‘We got off lightly,’ she’s talking to Rinse, but she’s not so pleased with the answer.
His eyes dart sideways and for a moment she wanted 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, and it’s on our side.’
Aaliyah stroked Alot’s battered cheek. He’s too young for this, but there was no one else; no one else she trusted anyway. There hadn’t been much time to be picky, not with Mum so ill.
‘They bought it, though,’ said Rinse with relief in his eyes, ‘and now we know the Maori’s telling the truth.’
‘About what’s in there?’ said Aaliyah. ‘Maybe, all we found was that hole; there’s no way they’d have let us go otherwise.’
Her jaw was feeling heavy now, the words that had moved 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. The Maori said what Mum needed to keep the illness at bay was hidden beyond its depths and she’s a determined girl. But Aaliyah’s tired. The metal drags in her mouth, sour like lead now the life was gone.
‘At least the Makatu worked,’ it’s Rinse again. ‘We can use that if Mum gets worse. Get her treatment some other way. Maybe even from a real Doctor.’
Aaliyah’s head swivelled to one side, ‘You don’t say? That Maori’s good enough. She’s clever. What do you think about what happened?’
‘I think we better find what she told us about before they block the place up,’ said Rinse and they set off across the roads shabby tarmac. ‘It’s the only way we’ll help Mum.’
They better hope there’s still time thought Aaliyah, although she keeps her mouth shut. She could do it on her own if she had to she supposes. She never noticed the expression on Rinse’s face as he watched her back and probed his teeth with his tongue.
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