There wasn’t much Taeyeon could do about Daniel Lee. He was untouchable, and hard to keep an eye on. He was slippery and powerful. So it was unsurprising when she couldn’t find anyone else to monitor him on her behalf. No matter what she offered – free service, money, food, toys – no one was willing to take the risk of being caught spying on one of the biggest criminals in the country. Even Sooyoung had simply given her a look of disbelief. However, Taeyeon tried not to let this disappointment bring her spirits down. She was determined to establish two things about Lee; if he had a connection to Tiffany’s mother, and what he was up to.
And so she ended up hanging upside down by her legs from the bottom branch of a tree outside Lee’s hotel, squinting through a miniature set of binoculars, and holding her breath.
It wasn’t the most productive action, really, because she couldn’t even see into his room or anything, but it was the only option she could find after examining the area. All she got out of the position was a partially obscured view of the hallway, which had very mediocre lighting. In the five hour duration of her stay – during which time she had changed her position on the tree twenty times before recently realising this provided the best angle – she saw only two of Lee’s henchmen occasionally moving back and forth between their rooms and Lee’s, empty-handed and stone-faced. No sign of the man himself or any woman.
Taeyeon sighed. She half-heartedly pencilled another note onto the tiny pad of paper she kept tucked in her pocket. Ten minutes after the previous entry, she scribbled something vague about Man #2 returning to his room much the same as he was when he went to Lee’s room.
She checked the time on her watch again, eyeing the hands ticking away, and pondered. It would be better to set up some sort of camera in her exact location, but that was beyond difficult. She was in a tree. Trees were not known for offering accessibility to cameras of any size or shape.
She absently clicked her tongue. It was almost dinner time. She had been watching Lee since lunch time. She didn’t know what he had gotten up to during the few hours since she left with Tiffany this morning and the moment she arrived here again after it became clear there was no alternative but to return. Hyoyeon hadn’t shown up again, if she even left in the first place. Whatever Lee was doing in that room seemed pretty important. Or he was just playing games.
Taeyeon scoffed quietly to herself. This case had quickly become a big game. She didn’t know the rules but she knew she was being played.
First of all, she was being played by Tiffany. The charming, beautiful woman who held a grip on Taeyeon’s heart muscle before they even met face to face and whose every smile was a squeeze. She was hiding something big. She basically admitted that the whole case was a lie, didn’t she? Her reason for hiring Taeyeon, her objective for the investigation, who knew what else. And yet why wasn’t that already enough to make Taeyeon give up the case? As much as it seemed she was willing to go along with it because she perhaps had a tiny little crush on Tiffany, there was definitely something else about it. She felt as if, no matter the reason, finding this woman was important, and finding out what Daniel Lee was doing was also important.
A headache sprouted at the base of Taeyeon’s skull. She blinked a few times and shook her head, but perhaps it was just time to stop hanging upside down and go home.
Her phone vibrated insistently in her pocket before she had a chance to continue her train of thought. She carefully got it out and held it in front of her face. Her eyebrows rose at the sight of the caller ID, and she answered it.
“Hey detective, how’s it hangin’?”
Taeyeon nearly displaced herself from her position in the tree as she threw her head side to side to look around. “Hanging? What? Nothing’s hanging, I’m not hanging.”
On the other end of the call, Hyoyeon laughed. “You are so weird. It’s just an expression.”
Taeyeon didn’t calm down completely, still on alert as she kept her eyes wide open. “You’re pretty weird yourself. Why were you hanging around Daniel Lee this morning?”
“You are a persistent little investigator. That’s a good thing, by the way. Now listen, I could be on to something big. Do you want in on it?”
Taeyeon hesitated. A cool breeze built up, toying with the back of her jacket which hung down behind her head. The hallway in front of her, behind another branch, seemed deserted and silent.
“Well, you would have to be more specific before I agree to anything,” she said eventually.
“Let’s meet in person,” Hyoyeon said. “Where are you now? I’ll pick you up and we’ll go for coffee.”
Taeyeon didn’t say anything at first, very mindful of her current location. Then she cleared her throat and said, “Maybe not right at this very second, if you insist on meeting in person. I’m kind of busy at the moment. Tell me where and we can meet in an hour.”
“I’ll e-mail you some directions to a nice little café I’ve come to know well recently. Oh, and bring Tiffany.”
Taeyeon frowned. “Why would I bring Tiffany?”
“Just do it. It’s important, I promise.”
The effects of hanging upside down for an extended period of time were starting to get to Taeyeon’s head, or it was just the constant stress of the messy situation she was in. Either way, she just wanted to end the call and get down from the tree, and then she would have to go get Tiffany and meet Hyoyeon at that café.
“Okay, fine, send me the details and we’ll see you in an hour.”
“Excellent! You won’t regret this, detective.”
Taeyeon hung up quickly and began to untangle herself from the branches of the tree without falling and breaking her neck.
It wasn’t until she was standing upright with her shoes touching the grass, trying to catch her breath, that she realised something rather significant.
Hyoyeon knew Tiffany’s name.
Sooyoung didn’t find it as pressing as Taeyeon did, shrugging her shoulders casually as they talked about it in Taeyeon’s apartment soon afterwards. Taeyeon was trying to change her clothes as fast as she could but got too close to dislocating a few limbs in her hurry, so she slowed down and explained when she left her bedroom.
“Thinking back to how Hyoyeon was when she saw Tiffany in the car, maybe there is a chance that she recognised her,” said Taeyeon, jamming her wrist in the sleeve of a new jacket. “But I don’t think it was mutual. It was more like Hyoyeon knew who Tiffany was and knew what she looked like, but it was the first time actually seeing her in person. And I don’t know about you, but that worries me more than just a little.”
“Well I’m not saying it isn’t weird, but she is a journalist,” Sooyoung replied, unhooking Taeyeon from her clothing. “Just see what she has to say when you go see her, maybe she’ll explain everything.”
Keys jingled somewhere in the pockets of Taeyeon’s other, discarded jacket as she hunted them down, shaking the clothing. She wasn’t happy about Hyoyeon’s little gameplay. She was starting to become more certain that she was the only person in this case who didn’t know what was going on, and it was getting on her nerves. She needed to know something, anything.
“Heard back from Yuri?” she asked Sooyoung shortly, and adjusted her glasses.
Sooyoung shook her head. “I’m starting to wonder if I should get worried or not, but it’s too soon.”
Taeyeon sighed. “I really need her to get that information for me and then come back and get the information here, too.”
“You’ll be okay,” Sooyoung said with a pat on Taeyeon’s shoulder and a smile. “You’re still alert and focused however frustrated you are. And you’re not letting your nerves get in the way. I’m sure you’ll get something soon. And if it turns out Tiffany’s not evil, then maybe you could ask her out on a date.”
Taeyeon gave her a pointed look. “There are so many things wrong with that suggestion; I’ll have to write you a list.”
Sooyoung shrugged again. “Okay, okay, just trying to provide you with something positive. Want me to come with you to meet Hyoyeon or will you be fine with Tiffany?”
But Taeyeon’s attention was diverted because right there on the table in front of her was a picture that jarred her. Specifically it was the cover photo of a magazine, bearing insignificant and airy article titles that blurred into nothingness. Taeyeon’s gaze latched on to the woman who posed with a wide smile; pretty, young, thin.
She pointed. “Who is that woman?”
Sooyoung blinked at the magazine. “That appears to be Yoona, the new face of the police force.”
Taeyeon frowned, peering closely at the woman. “You mean she’s a cop?”
“A detective in the drugs unit. She’s been getting quite a bit of media attention lately because of some big case she solved recently – she got a lot of compliments while the reporters interviewed her on the steps of the courthouse. The police are using this as a publicity opportunity, and it seems to be working.”
Taeyeon’s thoughts began to drift. It didn’t make any sense, and yet it struck her so solidly it had to be significant. But how?
“Are you okay?” Sooyoung asked, poking her on the arm.
“Her lipstick,” Taeyeon said. “Do you think there’s somewhere in the magazine that says what lipstick she is wearing in that photo?”
“Maybe, especially if she did a photo shoot. That magazine pays attention to fashion and stuff. I was just about to start reading it when you got here.”
Taeyeon turned to her, expression serious. “I need you to find out what lipstick she’s wearing, and if it’s the lipstick she usually wears day-to-day. If it’s Dior Addict Extreme shade 756 Fireworks and it’s the lipstick she always uses or if she’s started wearing it often recently, call me. I’m going to go get Tiffany and see what Hyoyeon has to say. And please do what you can to get hold of Yuri.”
She left her apartment in a rush, nearly tripping over her own feet on the way out the door. She checked her watch; half an hour until the meeting with Hyoyeon. She got out her phone as she left the building and dialled the number to Tiffany’s hotel room.
“Oh sorry, were you taking a nap? You sound a bit groggy.”
“Yeah, I dozed off for a bit, but don’t worry about it. What’s up, Taeyeon?”
Taeyeon was momentarily irrationally pleased at hearing Tiffany say her name while sounding sleepy and then she shook her head as she unlocked her car.
“Can you be ready in about ten minutes for me to pick you up? Hyoyeon would like to meet with us.”
“Oh? Okay, yeah, I’ll be ready. See you soon.”
Reason number one why Taeyeon could never ask Tiffany on a date: she may not be interested in women – and reason number one point five, she may not be interested in Taeyeon.
The rest of the drive to Tiffany’s hotel was spent mentally compiling the list of reasons why Taeyeon could never ask Tiffany out on a date. She was a client, she was out of Taeyeon’s league, Taeyeon had a tendency to be socially oblivious, Taeyeon may actually die of a heart attack no matter the response to her offer, and the result of the investigation could change everything. And even if they somehow magically ended up dating, it could end up as a disappointment, stressful, heart-breaking, or – actually she didn’t even know, it just didn’t seem possible to happen.
She made a mental note to write those reasons down and tape them to the wall by her bed, and she parked outside Tiffany’s hotel.
When Tiffany walked out, the list just disappeared.
She wasn’t wearing anything spectacular, it was clear she had been asleep ten minutes ago, and she wasn’t even smiling yet, but she still took Taeyeon’s breath away. Taeyeon closed her eyes and groaned briefly at herself.
Tiffany spotted the car and got in the passenger seat, looking happy.
“So what’s this meeting with Hyoyeon about?” she asked after they greeted each other and Taeyeon merged with the traffic.
“Something big, apparently, but she won’t say what,” Taeyeon replied, keeping her eyes on the road as she hesitated before continuing, “And she asked for you by name.”
“Oh? That’s odd,” Tiffany commented.
Completely casual tone of voice, no nervousness, no hesitation, body language relaxed – Taeyeon was inclined to believe her.
“You can’t think of a reason why she would know you?” Taeyeon questioned, sounding uncertain. “Or would this be another thing that you can’t tell me the truth about yet?”
Tiffany sighed. “Look, Taeyeon, I like to think we’re getting to know each other quite well, don’t you?”
Taeyeon blinked. “Ah, well, I don’t know, maybe a little?”
“We’re getting along well,” Tiffany decided. “So I hope you understand how badly I feel about what’s going on. Not about getting to know you, I don’t feel bad about that, I mean I feel bad about how secretive I’m being – I don’t want you to feel like I’m playing games. When there’s something I can’t tell you yet, I won’t lie.”
Taeyeon stared at Tiffany for almost too long before redirecting her gaze to the road ahead. She gulped silently and panicked. What was she supposed to say in response to that? She felt herself slowly warming up. She became a little more confident that whatever Tiffany was hiding about the case, she was still a good person, and this was great and bad. Right at that moment, mostly bad.
“And like I said, you’ll probably find out the truth yourself soon.”
“Why can’t you just tell me, then?”
Taeyeon almost bit her tongue when the words slipped out, but she really wanted to know. Tiffany sighed again, sounding like she was struggling to find words.
“I can’t really explain it. Just give me time, okay? I really am grateful for everything you’re doing for me,” she said softly, and rested her hand on Taeyeon’s arm.
The car nearly swerved with the shock that went through Taeyeon’s body.
“I hope we can be good friends.”
A high pitched noise briefly keened from Taeyeon’s throat. Then she coughed and turned the steering wheel as smoothly as she could, causing Tiffany’s hand to leave her arm.
“That would be great. Okay, here we are.”
She slowed the car to a stop outside the café that Hyoyeon had directed her to, and they both frowned at it through the window.
“It seems to be closed,” Tiffany observed. “Are you sure this is the right place?”
Taeyeon already had her phone out, tapping into her e-mails. “I think so. Maybe she forgot it would be closed by now?”
Before she could get to the right e-mail, her phone alerted her to a call and she almost dropped it in surprise.
“Hey, it’s me. I have really important info for you.”
“That’s great, but are you okay? We haven’t heard from you in a while, we were getting worried.”
“Yeah, I’m fine. I decided to look into your request before I got back to you or Sooyoung and let me tell you, it has been a wild ride. But listen, this information is huge. Where are you now?”
Taeyeon glanced at Tiffany, who was politely looking around outside. “I was about to meet with Hyoyeon about something. What’s up?”
“Tiffany hired you to find her mother, right?”
“Well, it was hard to get the documents – her family must be quite powerful – but here’s the thing; Tiffany’s mother died several years ago.”
Taeyeon froze. “Excuse me? What?”
“Tiffany’s biological mother died when she was still a kid, and her father has never remarried. There’s no one else who could be considered her mother, and her real mother is dead. I don’t know who she wants you to look for over there but it can’t be her mother.”
“And you’re absolutely certain of this information?” Taeyeon asked carefully, watching the quiet Tiffany out of the corner of her eye and trying not to hold her breath.
“One hundred percent.”
Taeyeon exhaled slowly. “This…. is problematic. Thanks Yuri, I gotta go. And please come home.”
She hung up before Yuri could answer and put her phone away, no longer caring about Hyoyeon’s e-mail. She placed her hands on the steering wheel and gritted her teeth for a moment, staring straight ahead.
She hated confrontation.
Tiffany knew something was up, but she also knew Taeyeon would either tell her eventually or avoid answering her if she asked about it, so she sat in silence and stared at the sign on the café door.
The car was quiet as they both sat, and Taeyeon tried to think of a way to formulate the sentences she needed to speak. How does one ask someone what the hell they think they are doing?
And then Tiffany spoke.
“Hey, is your fridge on?”
Taeyeon blinked, and blinked again, and turned her head to look at her. “Um, yes. Yes, I think it is.”
“Well then you better go catch it!”
Taeyeon stared. Tiffany stared back, before babbling profusely, “Ah, I meant to say is your fridge running, I said it wrong, I’m so sorry, I just wanted to ease the tension, you seemed so stressed, but I got all nervous because I -”
And then the café exploded.