Tiffany was used to seeing Taeyeon in her office these days. Sometimes she would return there during the course of the club’s business hours, after making her rounds to check on staff and greet some of the regulars, looking to relax and get the weight off her feet for a while. It was hard work to smile non-stop as if her face had no other function, even when the people she talked to were obnoxious or vulgar, or just not as interesting as they thought they were. But they were her customers and her employees, and she cared about doing her job well and taking good care of her business even though it was mostly in the hands of a criminal organisation.
Being owned by gangsters hadn’t made a huge difference yet. Every now and then the people at the rose tables would get little coloured bags beside their drinks, and it made them happy and relaxed, which Tiffany appreciated. Most of them were the more mature, sleek business types, but there were a few of the rougher thugs that made her feel uncomfortable with the way they eyed her employees, so any distraction was good even if it was a bag of drugs.
Taeyeon never told her what was in those little bags and she never let Tiffany go near them. It was obvious that they held different things at times; the shape of the bag showed if it held powder or pills, so Tiffany guessed sometimes they were ecstasy pills. All she knew was that despite how useful it was to satisfy the men at the rose tables, she would kill Taeyeon if some idiot thug overdosed in her club.
“Long night?” Taeyeon asked, briefly looking up from the screen of the laptop on the desk in front of her. She hadn’t used Tiffany’s laptop since Tiffany was arrested, choosing instead to bring her own.
Tiffany threw herself down on the couch against the wall, face first, and let out a huff that was absorbed by a cushion. “Yes. I’m so tired.”
Taeyeon glanced at the time. They were only halfway through the long night. She reached for her coffee and took a sip, taking the opportunity to run her gaze over Tiffany.
Tiffany turned her head to look in Taeyeon’s direction. “Not yet, and I’d like to keep it that way.”
Taeyeon smiled slightly. “Don’t worry. No men at the rose tables tonight.”
Tiffany returned the smile easily. “Good.”
They watched each other for a while, saying nothing. Eventually Taeyeon snapped her laptop shut and stood. Tiffany sat up and kept her eyes on Taeyeon as she stepped over to the couch. After a moment, she sat next to her and smiled properly.
“When’s the last time you talked to Yuri?”
Tiffany frowned. “What?”
“My boss thinks Yuri is a nice little pet detective to keep in his pocket. She acts like one of us, probably more than most of us do. I certainly never really felt like I fit in, but she’s right at home here.”
“So?” Tiffany shifted uncomfortable. “Why should I care?”
“She’ll be here tomorrow night,” said Taeyeon, glancing at her watch again, no longer smiling. “We need to meet with someone.”
“At a rose table?”
“Yes. But no drugs; at least, not that I know of. He may need some sweetening up. Anyway, since Yuri will be here, I think the three of us should have a little talk. You see, we all know about each other and what’s really going on here, and it’s time for us to be honest with each other.”
Tiffany searched Taeyeon’s face in an effort to get an idea of what she was thinking, but Taeyeon was good at being blank.
“Honest with each other,” Tiffany echoed. “But not with your boss?”
Taeyeon nodded. “Exactly.”
Tiffany stared at her. “And this is a good thing? Or bad? How should I be feeling about your suggestion to leave your boss uninformed of whatever we’ll be discussing?”
“He knows what we know so far,” Taeyeon said. “He doesn’t need to know what we’ll talk about. I doubt he’d want to know, anyway.”
Tiffany turned to better face Taeyeon, looking grim. “Okay, what’s going on? What will we be talking about that your boss won’t like? I don’t want to end up dead, Taeyeon. I like to think I’ve got a long life ahead of me with a chance of getting out of this hole I’m in and doing something better for myself without big criminal organisations owning me.”
“Don’t worry about my boss,” Taeyeon said firmly. “We’re just going to have a little chat.”
“I’m serious,” said Tiffany, reaching out to rest her arms on Taeyeon’s shoulders. She tilted her head to one side. “What are you looking to get out of our little chat?”
Taeyeon seemed surprised at Tiffany’s move, but decided not to comment on it. “It’s just a casual thing. Small talk.”
“Hmm.” Tiffany slipped a hand along the back of Taeyeon’s neck under the fall of her hair and her fingers went beneath Taeyeon’s t-shirt, stroking the soft skin over the bumps of her spine. “You’re not as simple as you seemed, are you? You’re not just following orders all the time.”
Taeyeon just watched her quietly.
“What are you planning?” Tiffany whispered, leaning closer. “You wanna do something dangerous?”
“Do you really think it’s a good idea to get so close to me?” Taeyeon replied. A smile tugged at her lips. “Don’t you think it’s a bit stupid to get involved with me? Especially if I’m planning something so dangerous.”
Tiffany winked. “Especially.”
She kissed Taeyeon slowly, as if to emphasize a point. And because she enjoyed it, too.
Taeyeon knew she looked a bit ruffled when she sat down at the table with the rose. She ran a hand over her hair, tucked it behind her ears, and swiftly wiped her mouth on the back of her hand just in case. She checked her watch and glanced at the door, which was visible from her side of the table; she had chosen it that way deliberately. All around her, the club went on with a life of its own. She fiddled with the drink coasters, and regulated her breathing.
Whatever was between her and Tiffany had taken a drastic turn after that kiss the night before. Tiffany didn’t seem to have many concerns about the lack of wisdom in having any kind of relationship with Taeyeon, which almost didn’t surprise Taeyeon. After all, Tiffany was weird just like Taeyeon was weird, so maybe neither of them was as brainless as they seemed. Yet Taeyeon didn’t really know why Tiffany was so drawn to her, or why she was starting to feel the same. She didn’t expect to like that first kiss as much as she did, though she had assumed it would be good. It was addictive. Tiffany herself was becoming addictive to Taeyeon. It was something about her determination, quiet intelligence, and unforgiving balance between optimism and realism; and her little quirk of being recklessly interested in Taeyeon’s weirdness.
Yuri arrived first, slithering through the crowds of dancers and drinkers as smoothly as a shark in the depths of the ocean. She was already smiling as she sat down across from Taeyeon at the table.
“Good evening,” she said brightly. “Lovely night, don’t you think?”
Taeyeon raised an eyebrow, her contemplations about Tiffany banished from her mind. “Why are you so cheerful?”
“Just had a good day at work,” Yuri said, leaning back in her chair. “Made some progress with a certain pet project of mine.”
“Oh,” said Taeyeon, looking away. “Well, happy days, then.”
Yuri scanned the club. “Where’s Tiffany?”
Taeyeon looked at Yuri again. “In her office. Do you want a drink before our client arrives?”
“Not now. Maybe I’ll order something later.”
Taeyeon nodded, and they lapsed into silence. She watched Yuri out of the corner of her eye as she examined their surroundings.
“You and I should join her in her office after our meeting,” said Taeyeon. “Have a little chat.”
Yuri met her gaze. “Really? Alright then, let’s do that.”
When their client arrived, they spent time on pleasantries. He was visiting from out of town so they asked him if he had seen the tourist attractions, what he thought of the local offerings, and the way he leered at a passing waitress was more than enough of an answer. By the time they got down to business, Taeyeon was thoroughly fed up and certain he was going to try to milk them for all he could get in this deal.
“There was one part of the deal that I think could use something a bit more special,” he said, and gulped down the rest of his scotch.
Taeyeon tensed, resisting the urge to roll her eyes. Instead she turned her head away slightly to survey the area around them, leaving Yuri to remain diplomatic.
“Well, I’m sure you have some interesting thoughts about that,” said Yuri, flashing him a smile.
“It was nice of you to offer me some refreshment,” he continued, tapping his glass. “And snacks,” his tooth glinted as he grinned, “but I’m not hungry for that kind of snack.”
Taeyeon noticed Tiffany making her way around the club, tapping staff members on the shoulder and having a friendly talk with them, shaking hands with some people that looked perfectly at home here. Despite having inherited the ownership of the business, she was clearly more invested in it than Taeyeon expected when she first met her. She wondered if it would make it hard for Tiffany to leave it, and if she really cared if Tiffany couldn’t abandon it.
“This is a nice place,” the man remarked, eyeing some parts of it more than others.
Taeyeon tapped her fingers on the table and turned to look at him. “Is our deal not good enough for you?” She knew what game he was about to play and she had no patience for it.
He paled instantly when he noticed her expression. “No, certainly it’s a good deal, I’m honoured to receive such terms from someone with the calibre your boss has.”
“Then what’s your problem?” she snapped.
Yuri gave her a glance, obviously wondering if Taeyeon’s loss of temper was too risky.
He laughed, only half as nervous as he should have been. “Nothing, nothing. Just thought you might be able to help me enjoy this town a little more, that’s all.”
“Accept the terms you’ve been offered or you’ll be dragged out of this town like a bag of manure,” Taeyeon said, not blinking as she drilled into him. “I don’t have time to waste on what you want, and neither will my boss.”
He sat back, stunned. After a while he said, “Wow. Alright. Fine. Obviously I won’t let this opportunity pass me by. You have a deal. No need to be such a bitch about it.”
He left, shaking his head, and Taeyeon rolled her eyes. She tapped the table again, looking again at the spot where she had last seen Tiffany, but Tiffany was gone. She sighed.
“What’s wrong with you?” Yuri asked. “You just completely lost it on that guy. This is so unlike you.”
“Tiffany said she doesn’t want her employees to be prostitutes,” Taeyeon answered.
“So? You know we never would have let it go that far. You didn’t have to get so angry with him.”
Taeyeon shrugged, and stood up. “Come on. Let’s go talk with Tiffany.”
She was getting impatient. It was almost time to do what she had been planning for so long now. Since the moment she was employed by her boss she kept her eyes on what went on around her and began to from a dream and from that she chiselled a strategy. She never expected Tiffany, though. Never expected to be here at this club and to meet someone like Tiffany, and certainly never expected to be doing whatever they were doing together.
It was pretty stupid. She didn’t even know why they were doing it and that should have been warning enough. For years now Taeyeon had been quietly biding her time while she formulated plans, now Tiffany jumped in and scattered her thoughts. She was still on track, and she intended to continue down the path in front of her, but now her steps were more like skips because she was stumbling and looking away in a daze.
Taeyeon snapped back to reality, shaking herself from her contemplation. They were almost at Tiffany’s office, Yuri right behind her.
She knew what she had to do. Now she just had to do it.