073 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Lady

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It didn’t take long for us to get together and get coordinated. We were all primed to get going, itching to make some progress. To get shit done, basically. No time to waste time, and no rest for the weary.

Or the wicked, if I was still ruminating on Fillmore’s words.

Which I wasn’t.

More important things to focus on. Other, loftier goals that I’d rather put my energy towards. Set my sights on the horizon. Forward.

Ironic, in a sense, since my head was down, my eyes were closed, and we were moving backwards.

Though, in reality, the vehicle was moving in the right direction, and my perspective was skewed, thanks to where I was seated.

I had never been in a limo before.

We were going around, no real destination in mind, driving just to drive. It wasn’t something I considered very often, but I wondered how much gas we were using up, meandering so aimlessly. All those resources that were being wasted. Time, gas, money.

I could judge, but I couldn’t complain. It wasn’t up to me.

We were the guests.

From across the limousine, a man clapped his hands.

“I’m really, really glad you decided to take our invitation, despite our… disagreements, the other day.”

“Yes,” Lawrence said, “Despite.”

I kept an ear out, listening to the conversation, but not actively participating. I’d let Lawrence handle the bulk of the conversation, since it was supposed to be part of his responsibilities as the ‘face’ of the gang. I would have considered that as me not shouldering everything, but I’d imagine D having some words about that.

But, no use in putting mental stock on an imaginary conversation. Had to focus on the one going on now, in the moment.

“You really surprised me, when you came to visit. I thought you were a goner for sure. With everything that went down with The Chariot, and the Ghosts were never on an even keel, I would have suspected you’d go down. It would have been in a blaze of glory, but you’d go down.”

“There was a blaze, but something else came up from those ashes. Don’t count me out just yet.”

“Lesson learned.”

“And don’t forget, the Kung Fools came to me for help. Don’t act so high and mighty now.”

“Hey now, you know I had nothing to do with that, I wasn’t in charge at that time. And we’re rebranding, too, I’m sure you understand that.”

“I do, but it doesn’t matter. You’re in charge now, it’s still debt you inherited. Now it’s time to pay up.”

“Ever diligent, aren’t you? I have to say, you’ve changed from the last few times we’ve met. You’re much more uptight, now.”

“Am I? I’d say you changed too. I remember you being much more… meek. This… show? It’s more something I’d could see Bruce setting up, not you. You don’t even go by Donnie, anymore.”

“It’s not a show, Lawrence, I guarantee you it’s really real, out here. I have to do what it takes to survive. I’ve got people to protect, now, a war to get prepared for.”

“Do girls and expensive clubs count as surviving?”

“It’s all about image, Lawrence, if I show that I have everything under control, which I do, people will believe me, and believe the rest of my brothers and sisters aren’t to be fucked with. It may not look like it, but it is important.”

“I suppose I understand. I still want my money.”

“That diligence, again. I can see how you got to be the leader of your own gang so fast, but I did manage to catch up, didn’t I? You might even say I’ve surpassed you.”

“And what did I just say about being cocky? You just got lucky. People have a legitimately good reason to join your gang.”

“I wouldn’t call that me being lucky. Bruce got caught up in the undercurrent of hate and anger in the city, and he couldn’t keep his head above the water, so to speak. Drive-by, three months ago, to the day. Still fucking freaks me out that he’s gone.”

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

“It’s alright. I’m sure you felt something similar after what happened with your boss?”

“I… wasn’t as close to her as you were to yours. In the end, we weren’t really family.”

“I see, still a shame then. I rather liked Benny. Smart, strong, and not to mention, hot as fuck. I was kind of pulling for her, you know? That maybe one day, our groups would have had a better work relationship.”

“That’s why you should wipe the slate clean by paying this debt. Depending on how this goes, we can still succeed where our predecessors couldn’t. Together, we can build what they were unable to.”

“It is more shameful to distrust our friends than to be deceived by them. Confucius, or at least, that’s what an online search claims he said. I had disagreed with you before because I wanted to do you one better. I believe in goodwill, Lawrence, especially in these trying times. And you’re right about working together, I’ll need all the friends I can get. And I think I know the way to win you over, for good.”

“If you believe in goodwill as much as you claim, you’d stop wasting my time, and give back the money you owe us.”

“Oh, Lawrence, that’s why I brought you and your girl out here, tonight. I do have a surprise for you.”

There was a noticeable pause, on Lawrence’s part.

“You do?”

“Now you’ve made go and ruin it! Oh well, fuck it. I know, I didn’t come across as very… generous, when you came by after so long, but, I was able to see the potential benefit of having a group like yours on our side of this fight. It took some convincing, but I was able to come around. I get the final word, but my people are allowed to have a say in the matter.”

“How benevolent.”

“I do try.”

The limo slowed as it prepared for a turn. I swayed, and I had to set my hands down beside me to catch myself from tipping over.

“And it’s exactly because I try, that I can be so… benevolent, as you so eloquently put it. You see, Lawrence, I didn’t want to just give you your money and be done with it, there’s no good business in that. But, if I treat you and your lovely plus-one to dinner at one of the most famous club and restaurant in town, get more acquainted with one another, and then give you the money with interest? I can’t think of a happier ending to your night than that, and you get to bring that bombshell with you back home.”

“It’s not like that. Wendy is a very valuable member of our team, and she carries as much authority as I do. I would highly advise you to not get on her bad side, trust me. Hell, it makes me uncomfortable, just having to bring it up.”

“Does it? Then that makes it even better, then. I almost envy you, having a beautiful, fierce woman like her at your side.”

“Again, it’s not like that. Really.”

“Like I said, I almost envy you. Why have one when you can have two?”

I heard Lawrence grumble something, but I couldn’t tell if it was supposed to be for me or not.

Either way, I lifted my head, opening my eyes by fraction. Glaring.

“Ah, the beauty awakens!”

My line of sight snapped to the source of the boisterous voice. Kim Dong-Yul.

A young man, around Lawrence in age, give or take a couple of years. Hard to pin down, exactly, it could get like that with Asian people, sometimes. His hair was styled in a trendy fashion, an undercut with the top part combed back, dyed blue. His clothes were just as flashy, a bright red jacket that was zipped up all the way. Though, I wasn’t sure if ‘zipped’ was the right word, I saw more straps and latches across the thing than an actual zipper. On the whole, it resembled a straitjacket. Experimental.

If I had to be subjected to wearing that myself, I would have purposed it as the grail piece, something the rest of the outfit revolved around. Dong-Yul didn’t seem to agree.

His pants were track pants. Neon green, with white stripes running up along the side. Brighter, yellow sneakers that made me think he was walking on two suns. Every piece was loud, every article of clothing fought and clashed against one another for attention. It was an eyesore, and the limo’s interior lights were dimmed. I wanted to close my eyes, again.

He was beaming as he looked me down, head cocked, his grills glistening even in the low light, cast in orange. His arms were around two girls, one on each side of him. They were both dressed similarly, both Korean in their features. Hats, blue hoodies, opened, showing off tank tops that exposed their stomachs. Grey, baggy sweatpants. Uniform enough that it had to be deliberate. Nobody wore those clothes with those colors without invoking a specific image.

Dong-Yul looked as if he was very pleased with himself, an air of self-satisfaction that was almost a put-on. At the very least, he seemed to be having the time of his life.

He had addressed me, and I was inclined to respond.

“Or you stirred a beast,” I warned.

“Oh, you are fierce, I like it.”

He didn’t take the hint.

“Glad you could finally join us, Miss Wendy,” Dong-Yul added. “I was worried that you weren’t into this arrangement, or even worse, bored.”

He flashed a wide grin, showing off the grills.

He spoke like someone who thought they held all the cards. A high level of confidence that bordered on arrogance, which brought to mind what Lawrence had said about him after the first, initial meeting.

Arrogant asshole.

Hearing him for myself, it sounded about right.

I gave a faint smile, more just to be cordial. For politeness sake.

“Bored? Never. I’m just taking advantage of the ride you’ve provided us. Just a little tired, is all.”

“And why might that be?”

I took note of the slight prodding.

“A lot of late nights, a lot of working. You know how it is, running a gang.”

Dong-Yul gestured in a way that I took as dismissive. He looked to the girls beside him, and nudged them to lean in closer. After a delay, they did.

“Maybe, but that’s why I have subordinates, let them do all the work. I don’t like getting my hands dirty.”

That… didn’t sit well with me.

“You’re in the wrong business if you’re unwilling to do what might be necessary,” I said.

He cocked his head again.

“CEOs don’t clean and mop the floors. They sit at the top, calling the shots and making others move in their stead, you dig? I make the buildings they clean. People have been coming to me, now, flooding over in droves, to join together and fight for me. Who am I, if I’m not the one at the top, giving the orders? I can’t mingle with them, or even entertain that pretense, otherwise we all get lost. I have the vision, and they’re the means of making it real. I can’t do everything, so why even pretend that I can?”

I blinked.

In my heart, I had the feeling that he was wrong, but in my head, I couldn’t pick the proper words to say why. And I didn’t really want to put forth the proper effort and get into it. Not for him, not with him.

“Agree to disagree,” I said.

He clicked his tongue before answering, “Interesting.”

The limo rolled, steady. Music with deep bass and dark synths played in the background, the rapping too mumbled for me to make out or understand. It was easy to ignore and it was overall unobtrusive, but it did add to the atmosphere inside the vehicle. A subtle effect. With the smoke, the music, and the dim, it reminded me of the lounge in the Lunar Tower. The sort of relaxed, but privileged ambience that only a select few could enjoy. But it had been twisted, to fit Dong-Yul’s bargain version of that concept. The smoke was of weed, the music was commercial, and the lights periodically faded from one color to another.

And the limo, it wasn’t a fancy, luxury type. A cheap rental. The floor was carpeted, a little sticky, the seats vinyl, the limo itself wasn’t allowed much actual room for stretching. I could have seen myself being forced to ride in one for prom, if I ever stuck around at the school long enough for that event to come around. Well, not me. Her.

Dots. I’d need more if I wanted to connect them, and come to a conclusion.

“So, Miss Wendy, I’ve been meaning to ask, what are you exactly?”

Multiple ways I could have interpreted that question.

“You’re going to have to be more specific.”

“Race. Chinese, Vietnamese? I’d offer Korean, but I’m fairly confident I can rule that out.”

“Oh. None of the above, even including the one you ruled out. I’m Japanese, but even then, I’m only half.”

“That’s cool, that’s cool. There’s not a lot of people repping glorious Nippon in Stephenville, but there are a lot halves and mixed of different kinds, even among my people. It can be cool.”

Can be.

“Cool,” I said.

“Which side?” Dong-Yul asked. “Mom or Pops?”

More prodding.

“Mother’s side,” I breathed.

Dong-Yul seemed… disappointed, hearing that. His expression dropped for a split moment.

“I’m guessing you were born here?” he asked, his mixed reaction gone, as if it was never there to begin with.

“I was.”

“And your mother? Moved over from the motherland, right?”

“I suppose she did,” I answered, careful to not reveal too much about myself. The conversation had shifted over to me, in a way that made me wary. Not uncomfortable, but cautious.

“May I ask where? I apologize if I’m coming across as pushy, but getting to know my fellow brothers and sisters… it’s an interest of mine. You know how it is.”

I actually don’t.

“I wouldn’t know. I never found out.”

“You didn’t? Why not?”

I felt my glasses slip down my face. I fixed them.

“I never really… cared, I guess, about that sort of thing. It was never a concern of mine to find out.”

Dong-Yul quirked an eyebrow. “You guess? You have to know, Miss Wendy, or rather you should know. It’s an important thing, your heritage. Being part of a larger culture.”

“It’s only half of my heritage, less than half if I consider other things. Like this.”

I gestured at the interior of the limousine. The smoke and music and lights. The gang members.

“And there’s more important things to worry about than where someone came from,” I said. “For me, it’s irrelevant.”

I heard Lawrence grumble again.

“That is interesting,” Dong-Yul said. “I do agree, on one hand, your background doesn’t define everything about you, but on the other? For some, it’s all they have, and they can’t run away from home. I’d  agree that you can’t either.”

Dong-Yul shifted, finally removing his arms off the girls. I felt relieved for them.

“Pisses you off, doesn’t it?” he said, serious, leaning forward with his hands together. “I know you’re only half, but it’s not like they care, so you can relate. The struggle is still real.”

“Relate to what?”

Dong-Yul looked at me, shocked.

“All this shit, the injustice that’s been going on to a big chunk of the population in this city. Robbery, assault, murder, other stuff I don’t even want to say, it’s that bad. Literal hate crimes. It’s been happening, more and more, faster and faster, and nobody cares. Nobody gives a shit. Cops don’t, or they’re so slow with it that they might as well not even try, and all the media does is point and shake their heads, but they spin it as an unfortunate consequence of something else. A fucking bullet point of what they think is the much larger issue. No, all they really care about is the fucking Bluemoon.”

The two girls traded looks, unknown to Dong-Yul. He was hunched over, hands together, staring at me right in the face.

“It doesn’t get you heated?” Dong-Yul asked, watching me very closely.

I knew I had to pick my words, very carefully.

“Of course it does. It’s fucked up, and it’s just plain wrong. Even in our territory, I’m doing what I can to protect the people there, and I’d do the same if I was in your position, race and skin color aside.”

I couldn’t discern any reaction from Dong-Yul.

“Interesting,” he said.

The real answer was much more complicated.

The racial tensions bubbling in the city were reaching the point of boiling over and exploding, and it wouldn’t be long before another incident escalated the situation up another notch. People from a specific portion of the population were getting targeted, hurt and maimed. It was true that there wasn’t any justice to be found, and if left unchecked, it could lead to another disaster, something not unlike what happened at the school. What happened with Harrian.

More complications.

D had advised that we shouldn’t stir the pot, and yet here we were. Here I was. I had exploited these tensions before, and we were going to exploit it one more time. But, Lawrence had a reason for wanting to put this gang back on the list, after meeting with Dong-Yul the first time.

Dong-Yul continued, without any further provocation.

“This is America, you feel? They never cared about us. They ignored us, kept us in the margins. And for a minute, we were even cool with it, we just kept our head down and we made our money, and so did they, even if it was a buck off our looks, and sometimes, our culture. And now, with all this shit coming out about Harrian Wong, and the Bluemoon, motherfuckers want to take us out as if it’s our fault? When we didn’t do nothing? Fuck that with chopsticks in both holes.”

The lights switched in color again, casting everyone in a soft red.

“These kids, they’ve been coming to me, wanting to be a part of something. Something bigger, that can fight back for them, protect them, when they can’t protect themselves. It’s us versus them, now, and I’ve got to do what I can to raise an army, make connections. It took some work, some attitude adjustments, but I think I’m getting somewhere, and it’s something I can be proud of. I’m done with people thinking we can be forgotten, or stepped on, or stolen from without any regard. It’s about time everyone hears us, and we’ll make them listen.”

His hands were shaking, his teeth clenched after concluding his monologue. Then, he moved, stiff, as if he was forcing himself to sit back and relax.

The limo waited at a light. The music, and the hum of the vehicle filled my ears as the silence lingered.

Tension.

His arms went back around the girls.

Lawrence had a reason for wanting to put this gang back on the list, and I was starting to see why.

Dong-Yul laughed, half-hearted.

“Man, I did not intend to get into a whole thing about it right now. It’s just, every new recruit I get, I have to hear their stories, how all these riots and offenses have been fucking them over, and their stories become my stories. My burden. What about you, Lawrence? It wasn’t always like this for you, right? It used to be okay.”

Lawrence nodded.

“I remember. No one gets into this life because they want to. I did, because it was easy, and I needed to survive. And then it becomes a little bit harder, responsibilities stack, and other stuff catches up to you. It’s a lot to wrangle. And then, all of a sudden, if you managed to survive long enough, you’re at the top, wondering how the fuck you’re going to keep it up, and keep it together.”

I gave a glance to Lawrence. Dong-Yul had said he had changed from the last time they met, but I didn’t have that frame of reference. Did he?

He didn’t look any different. Hair neat, clothes sharp, ready to go. He was the same Lawrence as I came to know him. But, he was still nursing some injuries, but it didn’t show. He was good at that.

Maybe he answered in that way to win some sympathy points with Dong-Yul? To appeal to his concerns, and make him think he still held the cards?

Either way, it worked. Dong-Yul seemed to relax some more, holding the girls tighter.

“I like that, Lawrence, I really do. It’s a shame we didn’t get to be proper partners back when we were still greenhorns. I think we could have worked well together.”

“Nothing’s impossible,” Lawrence said.

“Truly.”

I looked between Lawrence and Dong-Yul. In the moment, they looked like seasoned veterans, trading war stories, talking about how this life had changed them, and not necessarily for the better. I wondered how much going down this path would change me, and how much it had already. It would be impossible, and perhaps arrogant, to assume that I hadn’t changed at all. I had some hope that there was some good in there, though.

“But,” Dong-Yul said, glancing out the window, “We can discuss this further over dinner. We’re here.”

We were here.

The limousine slowed to a crawl, then stopped. The music outside drowned out any other sound inside.

Dong-Yul leaned out of his seat to get the door, opening it. He left, and the girls followed.

Followed by me and Lawrence.

We exchanged looks as we hopped out of the limo. Lawrence nodded, and I took that as a sign that the plan was still on. His hunch had solidified into something more concrete.

I nodded back, reaching for my phone.

Taking the occasional glance down to type, I read the neon sign flashing across the face of the building.

The Gonnishi.

Shaped like a Japanese temple, the roof was curved, extending past the building itself to function as a veranda. The bright, blinking lights caught the underside of the roof, revealing an intricate design of flowers and dragons etched into the architecture. It was a detail that would be probably go unnoticed by most, but it had somehow caught my eye.

The building itself was like a fusion of modern and traditional stylings. The outline and feel of the building resembled that old-temple look, but the actual design of it was sleek and minimalist in nature. Dark, smooth glass surfaces, metal fractals that spread out to resemble falling flowers. Cherry blossoms, mostly likely.

It would have been easy, to appropriate the architecture and style and come out with something tacky. But they didn’t. Whoever designed the place knew what they were doing.

And after being subjected to Dong-Yul’s ramblings, I could see why he picked this place to hold the meeting proper.

A long line snaked around the entrance of the Gonnishi, people waiting hours upon hours to get in. We bypassed the whole thing, Dong-Yul waving to the bouncers, and they let us in without a word being exchanged.

I sent a text, put my phone away, and walked into the building. I passed Lawrence a bit.

The inside of the Gonnishi was not unlike the outside, it even reminded me of the limo. Dark, with changing hues of primary colors. Pounding music, dancing people. It was a crowd, bustling, brushing up against each other as they moved to the music, or moved to get drinks.

Everyone stayed close as we walked, staying close to the edge.

I had caught up to the two girls that were with Dong-Yul, who was at the head of the group, leading the rest of us.

Too far, and too loud to hear me, even if I raised my voice.

“Hi,” I said.

They both turned, saw me, and made room for me to squeeze in between them. Compared to them, I was a dwarf, I realized.

“What’s up?” one of them asked. The girl to my left, now.

“I just wanted to say hi,” I repeated. “Dong-Yul never introduced you guys when you picked us up, and it kinda became awkward after that.”

“Oh, hi then.” The girl smiled. “I’m Jess.”

“Yuri,” the other girl said, to my right.

“And I’m Wendy,” I said, “But I’ve already mentioned that, but not to you guys.”

“I appreciate it,” Jess said.

“Is he always like that?” I asked. “Dong-Yul. I’m not going to lie and say it didn’t bug me, just a little, but something about it seemed… off. Calling me ‘beautiful’ and ‘fierce’ and all that crap, and the way he had you sit next to him. I don’t know, and maybe it isn’t my business, but it was just something that came to mind.”

Jess looked ahead, to Dong-Yul.

“No, he wasn’t. I’ve known him back when his brother was the leader.”

“Leader. That Bruce guy?”

“That Bruce guy. It’s kind of a sore spot for Donnie, which isn’t surprising, so we don’t really bring it up. But yeah, Lawrence was right, his death changed him. It was like whiplash.”

Yuri cut her off. “We probably shouldn’t be talking about this behind Donnie’s back, Jess.”

Jess frowned. “Right. Sorry, Wendy.”

“No, I’m sorry for asking, I was just curious.”

“It’s alright. Oh, restaurant’s this way.”

We changed directions, turning onto a set of stairs, going up. Dong-Yul walked up first.

The stairs were a bit narrow, so I fell back to let Jess and Yuri have room to move. Lawrence caught up to me.

“What was that about?” he asked.

“Nothing you don’t already know.”

He gave me a look.

“It’s true,” I reiterated. “It’s food for thought. If it’s any consolation, you were right about him. Them.”

“I was?” Lawrence scratched his head. “Not sure how to feel about that.”

“You should feel proud you managed to catch this in time. Now come on, let’s eat.”

For a third time, Lawrence grumbled.

The stairs led up to a second level, a balcony-like area that overlooked the dance floor. It was its own separate section, though, with windows that closed each part from one another.

Another bouncer let us through.

The bouncing music and heavy bass immediately gave way to silence. It wasn’t a complete absence of sound, it would have been impossible with the booming club below, but there was a certain stillness that made me not want to speak above a whisper.

The restaurant part of the Gonnishi.

Of the modern and traditional dichotomy that made up the club, the latter had won out here. It looked like a fancy Japanese restaurant, with soft, padded mats and an earthy texture and color to everything. Wooden tables, bamboo stems that ran up the wall, as if they supported the ceiling.

No one else around, I noticed. Either this place was exclusive, or Dong-Yul had strings that he could pull.

Dong-Yul was talking with a server, and had them take us to our booth. The smell grew stronger, and more foul, as we approached.

It was as every bit appetizing for humans as it was not for me. I had to fight my instincts on wanting to avoid it and run the other way. Every step was harder than the last.

Like rotting, melting cow guts.

The meat glistened on the hot metal surface, and we took our seats around the grill.

“This is teppanyaki. Best of the fucking best. I made sure they started prepping before we got here,” Dong-Yul said, “So now we don’t have to wait. You’re welcome.”

“Thank you,” Lawrence said, eyeing the food. I could tell he was actually looking forward to having a taste.

Me, on the other hand? Not so much. I’d cut off my own finger.

The cook on the other side of the grill handed each of us a plate, utensils, and a bowl of rice. With his different sets of spatulas, he slid the meat around, cooking it, making sure it looked alright.

It looked… alright, I supposed.

I steeled myself.

One by one, everyone started getting their pick of the meat, setting it on the rice and blowing on it to cool down. Dong-Yul, Jess, and Yuri used chopsticks. Lawrence was stuck using a fork.

“Ah man, Lawrence, please tell me you’re kidding!” Dong-Yul joked.

“Shut up. I never got around to it.”

“Holy shit, you’re really not kidding.”

“I said shut up!”

Lawrence was keeping Dong-Yul, which was good.

For my part, I grabbed the chopsticks, and picked up a piece of charred beef.

I hadn’t used these before, not me. I let my hands move on their own, operating on muscle memory.

Her memory.

I gulped.

“So, Lawrence, what do you think?”

“Tastes great, Dong-Yul, thank you for the treat.”

“Anytime, my man.”

“Actually…”

“Yes?”

“You mentioned earlier about raising an army, and making connections. Preparing for war. Is that just rhetoric, deterrence, or do you really mean to go all the way?”

“Everything is everything, Lawrence. I want to build something that shows everyone that we can’t be pushed around and stomped down anymore. If it means having to throw some weight around to show I mean business, then I’ll do that. If it means striking before we get struck again, then fine.”

“All without getting your own hands dirty?”

“Someone has to call the shots, and someone else has to follow through. But we’ll all be cleansed of this, soon enough. I’ll bring in the tsunami, raise the tides, and all the boats we came in on. Everyone else can get caught in the undertow.”

“Dong-Yul, Donnie, I say this as a colleague, that kind of approach won’t-”

I coughed, choking.

All heads turned to me.

“Wendy!”

I sputtered, gagging. Shaking as I hacked food out from my mouth, making a mess of the surface in front of me.

The meat was terrible, I could barely call it food. More like burnt rubber, and it wasn’t even dry. It was covered in slime and a mucus that made the thing slide down my throat, only making it that much easier for it to slide back up.

I grabbed from a napkin while I was still convulsing, trying to wipe some spit and slime from my mouth. I got some of it.

Crap, taste like crap.

“Wendy, you okay?”

A girl’s voice, sounded like Yuri?

I shook my head, still shaking.

I tried to vocalize, but the taste had arrested that ability from me.

I felt hands grab for me.

Didn’t fight as I was brought to my feet, my seat pulled away from me. The hands were for support.

I forced my eyes to open. Lights hurt a bit as they came in.

Lawrence.

He was holding me up, looking at me with a concern I wasn’t used to.

“Hey, you alright?”

Time passed before I could reply.

“Choked,” I managed to strain out.

“Find a restroom, clean yourself off. Hey Donnie, there a restroom here?”

“There’s one on the bottom floor.”

“Don’t you have something up here? She can’t go down there by herself.”

“Why not?”

Lawrence had brought his voice down, but Dong-Yul would have been able to pick it up.

“She’s not even eighteen.”

“Lawrence, what? Wait, wait, I think we do have one up here. Yeah? Yeah, they’re saying we do.”

Lawrence took his hands off me, leaving me to stand on my own. I managed.

“I, I am so sorry,” I said, legitimately feeling embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to…”

“No big,” Dong-Yul said, “You can excuse yourself if you have to.”

“Yeah,” Lawrence said. “Go, and come back once it’s sorted out.”

“Okay,” I said, blinking, nodding. A signal.

Taking another napkin with me, I turned to go, leaving Lawrence with Dong-Yul, heading through a door across the restaurant by someone who looked like they worked there.

I stumbled out, finding myself in a hall in the back of the club. The music was loud again. I was reminded of the Lunar, which gave me a sinking feeling, but not by much. The walls were black, here, marked by stickers and phone numbers written in chalk. Names of people who were here before.

The door clicked behind me. I looked to see another bouncer. An Asian guy, well over six feet.

“I’ll let you in when you come back,” he said. “There’s another longue area here that connects the club and the restaurant, but you can’t come in unless you came out through here.”

“Got it, thanks for letting me know. Um, where’s the lady’s room?”

“Down the hall, take a right, it’s at the back of the lounge.”

“I… I was told there was a private one.”

I showed him the napkin.

“I kind of need the privacy. Dong-Yul said it was okay.”

The bouncer took a breath.

“Down the hall, take a left. There’s a number pad, but just keep pressing the ‘one’ key until it unlocks.”

I bowed, slight.

“Thank you so much.”

I continued on, down the hall, taking a left. I walked, and kept walking. The hallway was long. Passing employees, keeping my head down, I found the door to the private restroom.

I pressed the one key. After four presses, a light turned green, and a mechanism fell into place.

I let myself in.

The restroom was pretty big for just one person. The walls and floors were clean, the mirror without any spots, and the smell wasn’t as bad as the food.

Wiping my mouth again, suppressing the urge to vomit, I walked straight over to the mirror.

I washed my face, rinsing my chin, cleaning myself off. Trying to wash that taste out of my mouth.

Crap. I knew it would taste bad, but it was even worse than I ever expected. My stomach was shuddering, twisting and turning, as if it had its own volition, trying to get out of me. I put my thoughts away from that as I grabbed for more paper towels to dry myself.

I dabbed on spots on my face, making sure I didn’t make a streak across my glasses. Some of it was guesswork, as I tried to avoid looking directly at my own face, my own eyes.

I heard something shift. Above me.

I turned and looked up.

“Yo,” I said.

A panel had been taking out of the ceiling, and a face was staring back at me. There was little to no lighting up there, so the shadows made the image creepier than it actually was.

Though, having a face staring from above, while in the restroom… Definitely creepy.

Point taken.

“Yo,” D said back, whispering a bit.

Her face retreated into the dark, but only for a moment. From the hole in the ceiling, feet popped out, and the rest of her followed as she dropped down.

“Oof!” she sounded, involuntary.

She bounced back to her feet, fixing the strap around her.

“It’s about flipping time you showed up. Do you know how gross to be sitting up there, waiting until you came over. People coming in, doing one of two things. Ew. Gosh.”

“There’s other stuff you could have been doing,” I said. “Like scoping out the rest of the club.”

“I did that, but there’s only so much I could get done without sticking my neck out too much.”

“Did you find anything, um, interesting?”

“I did, yes. I don’t hate to admit it, because I get to be proud of my L-Boy, but yeah, his hunch was right, it’s definitely a thing.”

I thought back to what Dong-Yul had said, his piece on fighting and armies and war, making everyone listen.

“Definitely a thing,” I said.

“It’s not just that, either. I checked around, and found… well, here.”

D took off the bag, giving it to me. I took it, feeling the weight of it. It gave a me a certain comfort.

With her hands free, D had her tablet out, flipping through it as she talked.

“You know in those martial arts movies, where one guy goes into a room and takes out, like, a hundred other guys?”

“Yeah?” I asked.

D stopped flipping through the tablet, and flipped it around, making it face me.

I looked at the picture, at D, the picture, and back to D.

She was completely serious.

“Yeah…”

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7 thoughts on “073 – Crouching Tiger, Hidden Lady

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