Endless Night || Heartless City Sequel
Chapter Eight – Induction
One Week Later…
Soo-min walked silently along the length of the ornate corridors in a section of the Vanity that was off-limits to her. Tonight was finally her night off, so she’d taken advantage of the free time to enter the club through the staff entrance before changing into attire more appropriate for a wealthy party-goer. Thank goodness the floors are carpeted, she thought, glancing at heavy wooden doors. It seemed that there was more money poured into this section than any previous one she’d been to. Maybe this was a sign that she was finally making some headway.
The past week had been absent of any leads. She had tried to pick up any clues from the drunken mumbling of guests or gossiping amongst the staff, but the staff policy was one of utmost discretion – even Shin had become unusually tight-lipped when Soo-min casually prodded him for information about “Vanity”. She didn’t want to raise suspicions so she dropped her line of questions. Besides, she’d caught Shin directing unreadable looks her way. It seemed he only accepted her explanation of disappearing a week before on the surface level. She’d been forced to drop her ”investigation” for the time being; if Shin caught her snooping, combined with the timing of her inquiries, she didn’t think she would be able to find a satisfactory excuse. Beneath his playful manner he was undeniably sharp.
She found herself growing more impatient with her self-imposed restriction with each day that passed. And I need to report in to Paksa, she refused to think of him as Shi-hyun. They had only had one brief meeting during the week, where he’d handed her a medical file on one of the victims with scribbling on the margins. Soo-min had warred with triumphant and dread as she read through the notes. They proved her theory that the deaths were due to the quality and not quantity of the drugs.
Now, he had given her two vital pieces of information: first, the names on the card that she had yet to attach faces to, and two, evidence that contaminated drugs was the reason behind all the “overdose” deaths. Her employee access had proven to be so far useless. She knew the deadline. If she didn’t come up with some evidence within the next week, then Paksa would end their tenuous “partnership” and disappear. She couldn’t let him do that, not when it was clear there was information he was still holding back. Of course, she was being a hypocrite because she was holding back her own growing suspicions about “Lilies”.
Soo-min rounded the corridor, which opened into a lobby. Intricate lattice work divided the room and she could see mahogany stained tables and plush chairs surrounded by decorative sculptures. Glancing at a corner she saw the long marble counter of a bar lit by burnished lamps. This area must be for meetings, she thought, maybe I could try to get a listening device in here. Although how she was going to do so, she had no idea.
The sound of distant voices pulled Soo-min out of her thoughts. Wincing at the sound of her heels hitting the now marbled floors, she moved towards a shadowed section and pressed herself against a wall.
“What orders did she give?” Two men rounded the corner, both dressed in black suits. Despite their appearance she didn’t think that they were guests.
“That Ji-hee be ready. The next client is an important one and The Madame doesn’t want there to be any issues.” The men continued their discussion as they moved past Soo-min’s hiding place and continued down the hall.
The Madame…Soo-min strained to hear the fading voices.
She followed after the owners, mindful of keeping her distance. She was too cautious though, because she lost track of them among the twisting corridors. She was turning around to backtrack before another set of voices traveling in her direction froze her in her steps. She couldn’t risk being caught, not this far within the club. Spying a door corridor few feet away, she made a dash for it and slipped inside.
“Who the hell are you?”
Soo-min turned, hand still on the latch, to see the same girl she’d run into the other night, the one who had been trying to take care of an injury in the ladies’ room. A Lily. She was standing in the middle of lavish suite, hands in the middle of adjusting her clothing, while she took in Soo-min’s unexpected appearance. Soo-min, for her own part, was trying to come up with an excuse that wouldn’t bring security running in. The girl’s eyes narrowed when her question went unanswered.
“I heard nothing about a second girl requested for entertainment, so what—”
The girl’s question was interrupted as the door opened, almost hitting Soo-min in the face. She moved quickly towards the center of the room, stopped only by the Lily’s catching of her arm.
“I don’t know who the hell you are but if you screw this up we’re both in trouble. For now follow my lead or I swear….” She hissed. Her grip relaxed as she gave a million-watt smile to the man who had entered the room, “Mr. Chairman! How are you doing today?”
Soo-min saw the Lily walk up to a round, elderly gentleman and brush a kiss against his cheek. He responded with a friendly pat on her cheek, before looking at Soo-min. He was old enough to be her grandfather, and the look he gave her sent shudders down her spine.
“Mr. Chairman, we have a special surprise for you tonight. We have some additional entertainment. This is…” The Lily paused.
“Mina. My name is Mina.” Soo-min forced a smile to her face. For a split second the Chairman’s face wavered and another face appeared in its place. Soo-min had thought she had forgotten what Busan’s son looked like, that she’d buried the memories of that night, but she recognized the same depraved look in the Chairman’s eyes. She needed to be very, very careful.
“I’m here to sing for you, Mr. Chairman.” Soo-min moved away from the two and reached for a microphone. The Lily, Ji-hee, sat next to the Chairman and poured him a drink. Soo-min was relieved that she was able to get out of a few notes without any false starts. As the last notes rose from her throat, she was startled by the Chairman’s clapping.
“Another.” He reached for his drink and settled a hand on Ji-hee’s thigh.
Soo-min began again. “Another” turned into “another,” into “another”, and Soo-min begin to be afraid her voice would give out. As she began yet another song, the Chairman held up a hand,
“That’s enough.” He stood, Ji-hee rising along with him. “I assume she’s part of the continued entertainment?”
Ji-hee smiled and nodded.
“Good.” Soo-min stood frozen as The Chairman’s hand grasped her shoulder, the microphone gripped tightly in her hand. Shit shit shit…
“We’re so sorry Mr. Chairman! Unfortunately, Mina has another commitment and can’t stay any longer, but Ji-hee will be more than happy to see to your needs.” A voice announced. Soo-min hadn’t noticed that one of the assistants from earlier had entered the room.
“I’m not done with her!” The Chairman voiced in obvious displeasure.
“We are very, very sorry about this. We will make it up to you next time. Perhaps Bo-ra will be acceptable?”
Another woman, no girl, walked into the room. The girl walked over to The Chairman and Ji-hee and sat next to him, presenting him with another glass of liquor. The Chairman grumbled before turning his attentions to the new catch. For once, Soo-min was grateful for the fickle attentions of men.
“Come Mina.” The assistant looked at Soo-min, who felt herself wilt a bit at the expression in the man’s face. The sounds of The Chairman’s laughter mixed with the childlike giggle of two girls followed her out the door.
Apprehension grew within Soo-min as the man remained silent. They passed a few corridors before he stopped in front of a door, opened it, and walked through. Soo-min followed, trepidation running through her limbs. The only occupant in the room was a woman, who lifted a hand and motioned for Soo-min to sit. Soo-min chose to remain standing.
The room was dimly lit, but Soo-min could make out the woman’s cold, cutting beauty. She was impeccably attired and coiffed, not a strand of hair was out of place in that sleek chignon. She made Soo-min think of a diamond – brilliant and hard. Under the woman’s stare Soo-min felt a cold sweat breaking out on her skin. This was not someone who could be easily swayed by excuses. She needed to proceed very, very carefully.
“Explain yourself.” Soo-min shivered at the voice. “No excuses.”
“I didn’t mean to cause any problems. I simply got lost. The club is so big and I went down one corridor and then I heard voices and didn’t want to get in trouble so I hid in the room. It won’t happen again.”
“You’re right, it won’t happen again. You almost caused a major incident that would have embarrassed this club, not to mention the financial loss if the client had been displeased. You were warned from your first day on the job against stepping out of bounds.” The woman looked at Soo-min, an elegant eyebrow arching in disgust. “Your position at Vanity is terminated immediately. Your manager will be informed.” Her tone was final.
Soo-min felt panic rise within her, she clenched her hands to stop their trembling. If she was terminated, then not only would she lose any leads in the club, but her deal with Paksa Adeul would be jeopardized. She knew what his reaction would be if she let him know she was no longer employed by the club. He’d made it explicitly clear he didn’t give a damn about excuses or give second chances.
“I’d like to apply for a position with your girls.” She, herself, could not believe the words she had just spoken. She was desperate.
The woman stared at her icily.
There was no going back, no erasing those words. Soo-min pushed on, “You said ‘almost caused’, despite how everything went down, I did a good job tonight. The Chairman was taken by my singing.”
“And you think a little bit of singing qualifies you for a job here?” You have no clue where you are, you ignorant little fool.”
“I worked for Lee Jin-sook. I know exactly where I am. I know what is expected of someone in those circumstances.”
“I’m not interested.”
“Please give me a chance! Let me prove myself!”
“If you worked at Jin-sook’s then you know the rules. Don’t go poking around places you’re not supposed to. Experience at Jin-sook’s may have helped you slink away this time, but you’re fired.”
“You’re done here. You’re done with this club, you’re done working in this industry if I can help it. You have until tomorrow to pack up your things. If I see you at the club after tomorrow then, you won’t like the consequences. Understood?”
Soo-min felt her throat clog and heart sink to her knees. She dug her nails into her palms, honing in on the physical pain.
Soo-min left the room, struggling to fight the tears of frustration threatening to spill on to her cheeks. Stupid stupid…What will I do now?
There were very few individuals that understood the inner workings of Paksa Adeul’s mind. Only Soo, who’d stayed by his side for five years, knew of his ultimate intentions. To everyone else in this violent world, he was a drug lord who reigned supreme over his territory, his subordinates, and possessed no qualms about crushing anyone who stood in his way.
Five years ago, recovering from bullet wounds courtesy of Commissioner Min, Shi-hyun had bitterly acknowledged the truth behind Chairman Jo’s final words – ”It is never finished”. The Chairman’s death was a hollow triumph. Other, higher powers behind him still lived on. Until these powers were toppled, then Busan’s drug organization would remain intact and the status quo would remain. For this grim fact, for the desire to avenge Safari, and for the years of his life that he had already sacrificed to his mission, Paksa Adeul had decided to wage his own war against those higher powers, a group he had named ‘The Syndicate.’
He was done being someone else’s lap dog, of operating under rules of an organization that was just as corrupt as the underground world. The police made it more than clear that he was nothing more than tool to be thrown away when it became useless. They’d all but broken him, and as a consolation prize, gave him fresh new papers and an order to “disappear.” So Shi-hyun had followed orders for the last time. He left Korea and went abroad to Japan. However, he had no intention of living as a ghost. Jung Shi-hyun believed in dispensing his own brand of justice. With him had gone Soo who refused to be left behind. He was a ‘dead man’ and he made Shi-hyun realize that if he really wanted to take down the higher powers, he couldn’t do it alone. Shi-hyun had taken a bit of time to prepare himself, to tie up the loose ends of his former life. Eight months later, when he saw that Jin-sook was headed for a brighter future, he finally turned and headed back into the darkness, this time on his own volition.
Using the notoriety of his name and reputation, he’d constructed a drug empire from scratch. By building up his own manufacturing business in Japan, he would challenge The Syndicate’s power by poaching its clients until the revenue streams died out. He’d used the knowledge and skills gathered during his eight years as an undercover, but this time no authority checked him. He would root out The Syndicate, one by one, and destroy them.
These streets would belong to him.
Soo-min packed up the last of her things from her locker. She hadn’t been able to tell Shin, instead choosing the coward’s way out and letting another staff member inform him of her leaving. She was disappointed enough in herself; she couldn’t deal with his disappointment on top of it. Closing the locker, she sighed before straightening her shoulders. She’d spoken with Paksa briefly last night but hadn’t informed him of this latest development. She didn’t want to face his reaction yet. She wasn’t willing to lose that hard-earned deal.
Soo-min looked up as a man entered the staff area, calling out her name.
“Yes, that’s me. How can I help you?”
“You’re needed immediately. Come with me.” The man grasped Soo-min’s arm and started walking. Soo-min scrambled to keep her balance, caught unaware by his hold and the order. The man was silent as they moved through corridors, walking so quickly Soo-min almost stumbled. He stopped suddenly in front of a door, then turned the latch and pushed Soo-min in.
Trying to regain her bearings, Soo-min’s eyes adjusted to a dimly lit room. There were two seated occupants. She recognized the woman from the previous night and to her surprise recognized the other occupant as well. Her eyes widened. Of all the random coincidences. ”Old Fashioned?”
“You wanted a chance to apply. Here’s your test. Imagine my surprise when I found out the two of you are acquainted,” The woman spoke, glancing from the man’s shadowed figure to Soo-min’s startled expression, “However, there’s a difference between serving drinks at a bar to serving a client here.”
“That’s what I’m to do? Serve a client? That’s the test?”
“Yes. You worked at Jin-sook’s so I presume you know how to ‘serve’ a client.” The woman stood, she was apparently leaving. “This is Min-jin, better known as ‘Seoli. Frost.’ He’s not easy to please. Oh, and I will be watching.”
Feeling a blush paint her cheeks, Soo-min turned towards Min-jin, ‘Seoli,’ completely, who watched her with an inscrutable expression. Stay calm, stay calm, Soo-min thought in half-panic as she felt nervousness start to crawl up her throat. She was thankful for the cover the darkened room provided.
“Sit here,” Min-jin’s deep voice echoed through the room. He indicated to the place next to him with a nod of his head. “I don’t bite, much. Unless you ask me to.” His eyes assessed her reaction, mockingly.
Her blush furthering blooming at his words, Soo-min sat next to him, concealing the trembling of her hands by smoothing them over her dress. “Can I pour you a drink? I’m afraid I can’t make you an ‘Old Fashioned’ here.” She forced a teasing lilt into her voice as she reached for the bottle of liquor on the table and poured.
“Whiskey is fine,” he replied and lifted the glass from Soo-min’s hands and took a drink. Soo-min had never taken the opportunity to properly observe Seoli; the bar was dimly lit so his features had always been half shielded. Now, she was startled to realize that he was attractive, but carved into his features was an untouchable arrogance. Frost indeed, she thought, he looks unapproachable and completely unimpressed.
She watched him finish his drink and automatically moved to pour him another. As she handed the drink to him, she felt his cool fingers brush against her own. At the unexpected sensation, she almost dropped the glass, but his fingers skillfully plucked it from her hands just in time.
“Careful, now. I don’t want to end up wearing my drink.” Min-jin’s snide remark opened tiny cracks in Soo-min’s confidence. When he handed the glass back to her, she slid her fingers along his. His hand twitched so subtly she almost missed it. So he’s a human being after all. Before she could think about her next action, he had lifted his other hand and ran a finger across the pulse of her wrist. He’s experienced with this. He could play on emotions, playing them like a violin to get the desired reaction. Min-jin set the drink aside, fingers still wrapped around her wrist, stroking and brushing her skin. His movements contradicted the lack of expression on his face. He looked like an impartial observer, a scientist clinically noting reactions. Soo-min refused to be a test subject.
She lifted her hand and placed it on his shoulder, feeling the muscles stir beneath her fingertips. This close in proximity he seemed…familiar. They have the same eyes, she realized as she looked into their dark depths. A memory rose up from the recesses of her mind. She had been in this position once. Five years ago. The past clouded over, wrapped itself around her, and the scene flickered and shifted. The cool night air washed over her, and that mysterious, intriguing man was staring at her with an expression that made her heartbeat quicken. He wrapped his hand behind her neck, fingers tangling in her hair, and stroked his thumb along the line of her jaw. She felt herself being pulled slowly closer.
She kept her eyes fixed on his. He expected her to yield to him. Her lips felt dry and she parted them to run her tongue along their edges. His eyes locked in on her movement and the flash that suddenly leapt in his eyes caused her breath to catch. Suddenly, he jerked her forwards and closed the distance between them, pressing his mouth against hers, swallowing her gasp. His fingers coaxed her mouth to open more and his lips increased their pressure. Soo-min felt herself being swept away, her eyes closing…
“It’s not me you’re looking at.” The sudden sound of Min-jin’s voice felt like a bucket of ice-cold water being poured over her. Soo-min’s eyes snapped open and she pulled back. Her face paled when she realized where she was and who was in front of her. To her horror she felt tears gather in the corners of her eyes. She rapidly blinked to prevent them from spilling. Min-jin removed his hand from the back of her neck with a final caress and stood up, heading towards the door.
“Go back to where you belong Mina.” He spoke her name for the first time. Soo-min’s head dropped down and she suddenly wanted to cry at her weakness.
She’d been defeated by her memories.
“Mina?” A woman’s voice pulled Soo-min from her miserable thoughts. She’d left the club yesterday in such a state that she’d forgotten to retrieve her items from her locker. She hadn’t called Paksa last night. She wasn’t ready to confess to her failure yet.
“Yes? Can I help you?”
“A moment of your time please.” The woman motioned for Soo-min to leave her locker. Soo-min stepped away and followed the woman into a quiet section of the club. “Can I help you?” She repeated.
“From next week on, you’ll be using another entrance and you’ll be reporting to Mistress Sang-hee, who will teach you everything you need to know. You need to undergo quite a bit of training.” The woman gave Soo-min an encouraging smile, “But first, you’re going to need to come tomorrow at around 5pm to the entrance I told you about. You need to get this.” The woman hiked up the skirt of her dress, exposing her thigh and the Lily tattoo that Soo-min now recognized.
“It’s not so painful, don’t worry!” She misread Soo-min’s widening eyes as fear.
“Wait, Does this mean I didn’t fail?” Soo-min could hardly believe what she was hearing.
“Oh, you failed all right.” The woman laughed at Soo-min’s dumbfounded expression.
“It’s what happens afterwards that ultimately determines whether you pass or not. You didn’t break, and Seoli… well, he wasn’t completely detached, for the first time.” She laughed again at the shocked look on Soo-min’s face, “Not that he’d ever confess to it, but you’ll discover there are no secrets here.”
“And,” she continued, “He gave you your ‘Lily’ name. You’ll find that out next week when you officially start work.”
She looked at Soo-min. Her smile died on her lips.
“Welcome to the real Vanity, Mina.”
Author’s Note: Steam, as promised! I just never specified with *who.* I don’t obey the rules of K-Dramaland regardless, so nebulous characters don’t sit well with me. I can’t tell you how many edits and discussions this Chapter went through regarding “How Soo-min becomes a LIly.” Making that particular plot point plausible took enough time that I’m now slightly behind in writing, so I need to go finish the rest of Chapter 9! Thanks as always to lilahozi for the endless hours of editing, even though you probably want to tear your hair out at my “waxing poetic.” Now the real fun begins! And there’s obviously more steam coming, I’m an ‘equal opportunity’ romantic… As always, comments are appreciated!