“Cala! Thank the gods you’re here!” shouts Aliyah. “Hey Nate! How’s it hanging?”
As he moves to check on the bodies that lie scattered across the floor of the warehouse, Nataniel complains, “Did you touch these? Look at that lividity! Ay, Nuestra Señora de la Aparición! How many times have I told you not to touch the bodies?! I can always tell!”
“I did not touch them! I swear!” Aliyah shouts back with the easy familiarity of long friendship. “Hey, watch out for that crossbow bolt! It’s poisoned!”
“Mira, chica, I am a Doc-tor! I know poisons better than you know your own culo!”
Aliyah slaps her ass and points at the doctor. “Ha! You just stop thinking about meu cú and keep your mind on that poison, Nate!”
Cala sighs. “Do I have to get between the two of you?”
“Sorry, Cala…hey, um, I need to tell you something…” Aliyah grabs Cala’s elbow and pulls her away from the grumbling doctor as he examines the bodies, taking her around the corner of a pile of old boxes.
“Yeah. You really do need to tell me,” Cala whispers, then hisses, “what you’ve just gotten us both into, Allie!”
Aliyah looks at her sheepishly. “Oh, did Inspector Sky tell you, then?”
“You can bet he did! And you can also bet he’s going to find out about her soon enough!” Cala rubs her temple. “By the Prophet’s long beard, Aliyah! We’re not kids playing in the street anymore!”
“I know, Callie! But this is Saira! We thought she was dead…and now,” Aliyah pauses. “She needs our help!”
Cala stares at her in disbelief. “Our help, Allie? She didn’t just steal a loaf of bread! She’s killing people with steel and poison!”
Aliyah bends slightly to look imploringly into her best friend’s eyes. “Callie…she needs us! She’s in over her head again. Remember all the times she helped us? Remember how we swore to always be friends? Now she has this pearl thingy and she probably has no idea what to do with it.”
“Oh, stop looking at me like a soaked puppy! Wanna start whimpering too, while you’re at it?” Cala fumes.
In response, Aliyah pouts out her lower lip and whimpers like a dog, before bursting into laughter.
Cala puts a hand to her forehead as if she has a skull-splitting headache. “Who’d ever think I’ve raised nine brothers and sisters without learning to resist a pleading child?” she mutters. Looking back at Aliyah, she whispers, “What am I gonna do with you, Allie? Why won’t you see that Saira doesn’t want help from anyone?”
Aliyah drops the pouting and looks honestly sad. “She’d never say it, but you know she wants help. She needs it. And we can give it to her, but not with the other cops getting in our way. Come on, Callie…”
“Allah be merciful on me for not knowing to say no to this child… Oh, all right! I’ll help!”
Aliyah brightens and throws her arms around her best friend. “Oh, I knew you would! Thank you!”
“BUT!” Cala interrupts, stoically enduring the hug. “At the first sign of trouble, I’m going to Inspector Tuma-Sukai! There’s no way I’m gonna end up on the wrong side of one of those bolts!”
Aliyah looks wide-eyed at Cala. “Gosh, do you think he really would do that? Wait, can Inspector Sky even shoot lightning bolts? Is that something all gods can–”
“Aliyah Yashmin Kaur!” Cala snaps, invoking the Coporal’s rarely used middle name. “Will you focus?! And I was talking about crossbow bolts!”
“Ohhhhh, sorry…” Aliyah looks mildly embarrassed at her confusion. “Anyway…I’m gonna go explore our old hideouts. I bet I can find out where Saira’s holing up. And then…well…” Aliyah looks confused over what to do next.
“Then you leave her a message to meet us at the old place, and leave!” Cala rolls her eyes.
“Yeah…that sounds about right. But if she’s there…well I know I can’t talk her into turning herself in, but I know you and me together could talk her into giving us the pearl. When she knows how it’s hurting the neighborhood and all.”
“Aliyah…” Cala sounds worn out.
“Cala, she’s a good person at heart! You know that! Remember? That time she saved your life? Down at the waterfall?”
“I remember, I remember… Just… Don’t play hero.”
Aliyah looks down. “I know she went bad, Cala. And I know…I would’ve gone with her if it hadn’t been for you.” She touches Cala’s arm. “And I know how much it hurt when you couldn’t get her to turn away from her path. But maybe…this is a second chance?”
Cala shakes her head. “You can’t save them all, Allie.”
“I know…but we have to try. We promised, after all.”
Cala sighs. “OK, OK. I’ll stay with Nate while he does his thing. Go! I’ll cover for you.”
Aliyah grins broadly, her freckled brown face instantly transformed from plain to pretty by her smile. “Thank you, Callie. I’ll find her.”