Tiffany slouched in the chair. The room was cold, and overly bright, with light blue stone walls and one painted door. She let out a lengthy sigh and crossed her arms over her chest. Her arms were most sensitive to the cold, because she was still wearing the sleeveless dress from the club. It was the middle of the night, and she was not happy.
The door opened and Yuri walked in, eyes carefully trained on an open folder in her hand, and she didn’t look at Tiffany until the door snapped shut behind her. Then she smiled.
“Well, well,” she said coyly, “you know if you want to talk to me, you can just call. No need for all this effort of getting arrested for,” she glanced at the writing in the folder, “internet fraud.” She raised her eyebrows. “That’s new.”
Tiffany grunted, unamused.
Yuri seated herself across from Tiffany, comfortable in her surroundings, seemingly unperturbed by the chill temperature. The folder lay open before her, and Tiffany saw a small picture of herself along with some print-outs of e-mails. She closed her eyes briefly, cursing Taeyeon.
“Okay look, I can explain,” she said, fixing an earnest stare on Yuri’s face. “I didn’t do it.”
Yuri laughed. “Hey don’t worry, Tiffany. You’re working for us. This is a good sign! You’re becoming part of their organisation.”
Silence followed her statement. Her smile dropped and she looked unsure.
“That is what this means, isn’t it?” she asked.
Tiffany sighed again. She ran a hand through her hair, and she shifted in her seat. Here and now she was presented with options; she could pretend that initiating these scams was part of some acceptance with the organisation Yuri was targeting, or she could admit Taeyeon was framing her for it on the orders of the big boss. Being framed most likely meant that the organisation knew she was reporting to the police. Telling Yuri she really didn’t do it would mean she was telling her that she had no cover, and the game was up. Pretending she did it would send her back to the mercy of Taeyeon and her boss.
Not really an enticing set of options.
Taeyeon didn’t seem so bad. A little messed up, all too willing to follow her orders, possibly nice but maybe not very sincere. After all, she was polite enough to Tiffany but she felt nothing about framing her, simply because she was ordered to. She offered to share her coffee but it was bitter and cold. Tiffany always saw her that way.
As for the big boss, this was him giving her a test, perhaps. If she took the fall for this, then she would seem like less of a threat. Surely he knew she was working for the cops, but if she didn’t turn Taeyeon in for this then he would think she wasn’t totally on the wrong side. And she may be allowed to live another day, so to speak.
So she gulped, and looked at Yuri again. “Yeah, okay, it was me. But can you please cut back on the detectives flashing their badges in my club and pounding on my office door? It’s a bad look, you know. Guys go there to watch women take off their clothes.”
Yuri laughed again, worry gone. “Whatever. You know this is how we do it. So listen, it’s clear to us already that the evidence we have on you isn’t concrete, so if this were to go to trial it would most likely be a waste of time. We’ll set you loose, but we’ll have to tail you. Ongoing investigation, and all that.”
“Well, hopefully I won’t give you enough cause to get a warrant for my laptop, right?” Tiffany said dryly. She was calmer now, reassured by Yuri’s attitude. She was almost one of them, and almost one of the others.
Yuri shrugged. “We do have the best computer forensics squad in the country.”
“Right. Am I free to go?”
“Sure, sure. We can’t keep you here. Need a ride?”
Tiffany grimaced. “Not from you and not from any other cop.” She paused. “I’ll call a friend to pick me up.”
Yuri nodded. She flicked through a few pages to the back of the folder. “Would that friend be Taeyeon, by any chance? How are you getting along with her?”
Tiffany squirmed uncomfortably. “She’s alright. Look, I’d really like to go. Can we leave the questioning for some other time? Give me a call or something.”
Yuri watched her for a moment, thoughts indiscernible, before smiling nonchalantly again and getting up to leave. “Sure,” she said again. “Follow me so you can make that call somewhere less unpleasant.”
Taeyeon didn’t seem surprised to get a call from Tiffany, and she arrived at the police station quickly. She must have already known where Tiffany had gone. They sat in the parking lot of the station for a while in silence after Tiffany got in.
Tiffany couldn’t figure out what Taeyeon was feeling. She must have guessed that Tiffany had taken the blame for the scams because otherwise she wouldn’t be in the car, but Taeyeon’s face was blank and she was quiet.
The wind outside started howling, signalling a pre-dawn storm in the darkness, and Taeyeon started the engine of the car. Then she sat unmoving again for a moment before turning to Tiffany.
“My boss isn’t happy with the way you treat some of your customers,” she said.
Tiffany blinked. “What?”
“That’s why he did this,” Taeyeon continued. “He wants you to provide some allowances for certain VIPs, and he wants you to know that you can’t take us lightly.”
“Who said I was taking you lightly? And what kind of allowances are we talking about? I already said –”
“Not that,” Taeyeon interrupted. She frowned. “Don’t worry about that. He means drugs. Give them drugs. The ones that sit at the tables with the roses and I talk to them sometimes. They’re important business partners for the organisation.”
“And he wants me to give them drugs?” Tiffany asked. “And he made you frame me for this other stuff so that I don’t disobey him? Why?”
“Why the drugs or why the arrest?”
They stared at each other for a long time. Tiffany wanted to ask if the boss actually knew about her duplicity, but she was afraid to mention it. If Taeyeon wasn’t going to talk about it, it was better that Tiffany didn’t either.
“You know what, never mind,” she said eventually. “I don’t care. I’ll do it, it’s fine. Let’s just get out of here.”
Taeyeon didn’t say anything. She manoeuvred the car onto the street.
A light drizzle of rain started, the thin veil of water hitting the windshield of the car softly but enough to make Taeyeon put the wipers on at the lowest setting. They made their way through the empty, orange-lit streets in silence. It was tense. Tiffany was getting nervous.
“Do you do everything your boss tells you to?”
Taeyeon glanced at her, eyes glinting in the light from outside. She didn’t answer at first, and then she said, “Why are you so nervous?”
Tiffany looked away, deliberately staring at the storefronts they drove past. “I’m not nervous.”
“And I’m not an idiot,” Taeyeon said. She didn’t go further.
In a way, it could have been an answer to Tiffany’s first question, too. She looked at Taeyeon again, wondering. Of course there was room for more under the exterior she was shown; not just a lackey following orders but someone with a dangerous darkness inside. Like cold, bitter coffee. Tiffany frowned; she needed to stop comparing Taeyeon to that coffee.
“Do you have any hobbies?” she asked, feeling her anxiety ebb away purely because Taeyeon hadn’t tried to kill her yet. “What do you do for fun?”
Taeyeon slowed the car to a halt at a red light, and frowned at her. “What?”
“Well sometimes you seem just like a normal person,” Tiffany said, still looking at her. “Until I see you doing something illegal or being kind of scary. So surely you do some normal stuff too, right?”
Taeyeon blinked at her. “Crime is pretty normal.”
Tiffany rolled her eyes, turning to face forward. “Okay, never mind. Just making conversation.”
They sat without speaking again, and drove on when the light changed.
Music was pumping a heartbeat for the club when they arrived and the bouncers grinded out their cigarettes at the sight of the familiar car. They nodded respectfully at Tiffany and didn’t hesitate before doing the same for Taeyeon as she followed. Inside, it smelled of people and alcohol, and a few cigarettes that made trails of smoke through the flashing red and gold lights.
On the way to her office, with Taeyeon tight on her heels, Tiffany took notice of those special tables marked with red roses. Tonight there were two of them occupied. One seemed like a businessman, the other a thug. She held back a sigh, and jumped when she felt a hand on her back.
“You’re good at not asking questions,” Taeyeon said into her ear, not bothering to lower her voice under the loud music. “And sometimes that gets you all the answers.”
Tiffany stopped, trying to seem casual as she turned to Taeyeon and leaned closer. Maybe someone would think she was getting too intimate with Taeyeon, and maybe it would seem like they were having a conversation in a noisy place.
Taeyeon glanced around, furtive for the first time since Tiffany met her. She followed Taeyeon’s line of sight and saw the men at the rose tables both keeping an eye on them.
“Not allowed to get close to me?” asked Tiffany, smiling at Taeyeon. “Would your boss disapprove? I find you so interesting though. A little creepy maybe, but interesting.”
“Thanks,” Taeyeon muttered. “He knows.”
“He knows I find you interesting?”
Taeyeon moved closer and tilted her head, breath brushing over the line of Tiffany’s jaw as she said, “He knows about you and Yuri.”
Tiffany froze, the blood draining from her face. She pulled back slightly to look at Taeyeon, whose expression was empty.
After a moment, Tiffany glanced at the rose tables again; only the thug-looking man was still watching them as he took a sip from his drink.
Tiffany rested her arms on Taeyeon’s shoulders and leaned closer again, but she found she couldn’t speak. She didn’t know what to say or what to do. She felt like asking questions, finding out more but she couldn’t.
“Are you afraid?” Taeyeon asked. She didn’t move to return Tiffany’s embrace, but rested their cheeks together.
Suddenly Tiffany felt angry. She tightened her grip on Taeyeon, making them sway slightly. “Do you want me to be? You little freak.”
Taeyeon didn’t respond. Tiffany closed her eyes, taking a moment to wish that everything would be gone when she opened them. Taeyeon’s body was warm against hers as they got closer in the dark corner of the club, and she wondered if she could get Taeyeon in trouble by making it look like they were kissing.
“I have to go meet with the men at the rose tables,” Taeyeon said. “You’re good at not asking questions.”
“Have any more answers for me?” Tiffany replied, keeping Taeyeon from moving.
“When my boss wants you to know you shouldn’t take us lightly, there’s a reason,” Taeyeon murmured. “We hurt people, and we make them cry, we make them beg, whether they’re begging for their lives or their deaths. We break. We shatter. We make people bleed what they owe us.”
Taeyeon pulled away, stepping back and detaching herself from Tiffany. In the fluctuating red and gold lighting that pooled the club, Taeyeon’s face was hard to decipher and her eyes changed with the things they reflected. But she smiled, a slight and secretive smile, before turning and disappearing into the belly of the club.
Tiffany felt cold.