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The Black Letter

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It was a particularly busy night at work. For a while, things had been mercifully simple with fairly inoffensive clientele for once – largely birthday celebrations and groups of foreign ESL teachers in packs, saying goodbye to each other before taking a break before the fresh wave of student intake in a few months, but typically, it doesn’t last. The kinds of people that come to a nightclub like Millennium with the intent of going up the spiral staircase are a lot more complicated for you to handle. The wide low-step staircase leads to the more exclusive "Players Lounge" VIP rooms are typically reserved for those with excessive wealth to spend and want to talk where the hum of the music is lower and just a soft vibration beneath chandeliers in low-light.

 

Behind the bar, you smile when you spot one of your colleagues sweep in, having found the busser and taking drink mixing duties, you were back to sweeping through the tables and checking ice buckets.

 

“Ah, there she is!” a warm, loud voice cut through, making you suddenly force your limbs to relax. It’s difficult not to tense up completely when Wu Hyun Su is physically on the premises during business hours, but he’s been coming more and more often lately. In different sections are plush seating and raised tables with ice buckets of premium alcohol, each being served by various service hostesses. Skinny, gorgeous little waifs in tight dresses or cheongsams with heels that could carve glass and make glamour look effortless. Wu summarily dismisses his own that is catering to his booth in favour of you once he spots you leaving the bar to check tables.

 

“Come here! My friends want to see you,” he grins, putting out a cigarette in a small crystal tray at the edge of the high table.

 

Wu sits in one of the bigger seating areas, taking a majority of his sofa with just his presence, sitting spread-legged with his suit jacket draped across his shoulders to prevent alcohol spilling on his needlessly expensive American imported suits. He’s a far cry from the tacky, hair-slicked stereotypes of geondal – organized thugs – in Korean media, and usually looks like he’d just stepped away from a photoshoot. Neat, feathery black, back-combed hair and a sharp smile that is anything but kind, radiating a haughty attitude. He’s sat with a few other men in suits who are captivated by the cultural blend of the expat-heavy nightclub. You’re brought over and instantly gawked at, sticking out noticeably as considerably taller and wider set than the native staff. You’re also dressed differently from the tube dresses and cheongsams. Thicker set and tall figure adorned in an ostentatious red, halter-wrap-crop-top modified bedlah and matching sash skirt-belt that jingled as you walked, over an arguably too-Western black skirt that rode up your thighs slightly, and a matching, sheer veil under your nose to your chin with similar jingling gold coin-like articles from them – gaining the passing stares of the other VIPs as you made your way over.

 

In your hands is a fresh top up of premium imported vodka intended for an empty bucket, but he merely pats on the space beside his knee when you go to put it in the bucket.

 

“Join us, please,” it’s an order more than a question, and before you can reply, a pair of firm hands make their way to your waist and pull you down with a graceless clamber. Korean clubgoers are typically handsy, but usually not so forceful and take rejection easily. Wu presents no such options to you, and drags you almost directly onto his knee, but you just manage to place yourself half on the sofa for some control, holding the bottle almost protectively to your chest. Any tenseness you feel is stomped down in favour of a toothy smile and tucking some hair out of your face.

 

“How exotic!” the platinum-haired man exclaims, eyes raking all over your belly-dancing outfit which had the honour of being your chosen attire for days when Wu was coming in. He preferred having you out of your tube dresses and cocktail outfits in favour of something more exotifying – the customers seemed to prefer it that way too.

 

“Boss?” you speak to him in English, knowing that the novelty for guests is what makes your presence worth it. Wu rewards you with another smile, more of a smirk, and leans back, gesturing with a snap of his fingers to the closest empty glass. The other men at the booth are watching curiously, impressed by Wu’s well-spoken English in reply.

 

‘Ah, he’s showing off, that’s why I’m here.’ Your Korean is employment-passable rather than natural sounding, but you could speak it, so this was an effort to show how cultured he was, you assumed.

 

“This man put on the most wonderful show, you should have come,” he says, gesturing to the more handsome man in the room, with perfectly carved features, silver hair and eyes that shimmered like wet rubies under the lowlight of the booth. Of course, he looks like an actor of some sort – but you’d seen plenty of handsome men come and go, it’s only now that you remember Wu inviting you, and how you had to turn him down just so you could have more hours in the day to sleep. Wu’s hands are still at your hips, pressing in hard but unnoticeably, almost painfully.

 

‘You should have come when I asked,’ is what he really means.

 

The underlying abrasiveness of his kind words is there, you know how to read into everything Wu says for what it truly is. You ignore the pain and refill the glass Wu had drank from with the vodka still in hand and then set the bottle into the ice. Passing the glass to him, his hand stops the cup but doesn’t take hold, insistently pushing it into your chest. He wants to appear easygoing as well as cultured, so you take it and scoop in some ice with the tong-scoop left in the bucket, surprising the actor. Wu doesn’t seem to mind the intimacy of the shared cup, it’s as though he’s reinforcing his sense of ownership in a strange, subtle way. You pull down the veil to your neck and ignore Wu discreetly checking your lipstick – if he found your makeup or parts of your appearance sloppy too early into the night, it would be commented on.

 

“What a strong constitution!” Zen says as you immediately drink and without mixer, unsure if you can understand him. You reply in Korean which earns a beaming smile that would fluster most. Wu whispers something in your ear in English, something about making sure he has a good time, and that he wants repeat business from this man. You don’t question it, Wu has a habit of funding the arts and the opinions of people like this were very important to him, so you transition into an easy smile, falling back gently into your boss and ignoring the growing seed of discomfort in the bottom of your stomach. Wu always made you uneasy when he pulled you in this close, but he owned this club, dispensed your wages and by extension, owned your livelihood.

 

“Working for a man who puts so much time into his businesses requires a strong constitution, trust me,” you say, which earns a gentle snort from Wu as you begin sipping through the clear drink in your glass before the ice even turns it cold in your fingers. It’s a discreet insult, the kind only you’re brave enough to do and subtle enough to execute around Wu and not earn a backhand for. The tight hand that was still on your hip relaxed considerably as you slipped into conversation with the actor and his agent.

 

“Ah, it is a shame you could not have taken a break to come and see the show, I would have loved to have spot you in the crowd,” was that flirting? You’re not taken aback, flirting is a given in this industry and an unwritten part of your job description, but something about his forwardness and how he expected reciprocation kept you rather cool but friendly in response. Repeat business -you reminded yourself, feeling Wu’s intense stare at the back of your neck.

 

‘Do what you have to do’.

 

“Maybe you’ll see more of me, I don’t hear Wu speak so highly of new performers so often – so that’s recommendation enough to catch you next time, I would consider it like a Michelin star.” Ah, compliment the boss whilst conveying your familiarity with him by using his first name and opening up your body language, it’s little things – you learn his stage name is Zen when you give him your own, the name you hostess under.

 

“Saah-haa-rahhh,” he sounds it out slowly with a growing smile “-that’s a very pretty stage name, I didn’t know hostesses had those,”.

 

Wu cut in suddenly, offering Zen a conspiratorial look.

 

“My girls do, I prefer to keep them safe from.... overzealous admirers, it helps protect them out of work hours,” he said, smoothly conveying himself to be far kinder than he is.

 

“What a novel idea! Is that a problem you have very often?” surprisingly, the actor seems genuinely concerned, which is strange, because a lot of the clientele you’re used to are often so self-absorbed that you don’t get asked follow-up questions about things involving yourself very often unless it’s to get you into the bed sheets.

 

You give Zen a lazy shrug and the tightest smile, feeling like your teeth might crack from the force of it as you felt Wu’s hand on your back, subtly reminding you of his presence.

 

“Oh, no, Wu takes very good care of us,” you give an easy laugh that is brought out by the alcohol going directly to your head that’s making you feel even more loose and limber against your boss, who feels more and more like his bodily presence is holding you neatly in place. “-as I’m sure you are getting a feel for yourself, this is the good stuff,” you burst into a grin and slosh the drink in your cup slightly, which was just ice now, and begin topping up everyone’s glasses, namely yours and the agent’s – the others don’t seem to be keeping up and you’re easily leading the charge, but your words distract from noticing just how much you’re drinking.

 

He asks a little about which country you’re from, and compliments your passable Korean, whilst you defer to Wu at every tasteful opportunity. It falls into the same boring conversation for you, you might service 2-3 VIP guests and even more non-VIP regular ones if there is a few empty booths and it’s always the same, despite living in Korea for two years, they all ask the same things. Where are you from? How do you like it here? Do you like Korean men? Very few of them spice it up, though when they do, it’s always an experience, for you, it feels mundane. Zen seems nice enough, if a little narcissistic, but Wu’s overbearing presence stops you fishing out any substantial, different conversation that you’d have with more regular VIPs. It seems like an eternity before Wu’s knee jostles you harshly and gets you to stand up – as you’ve been half-perched on him this entire time.

 

“How about a photo? I like to remember when I meet celebrities,” said Wu, fluffing the platinum-haired actor’s ego with ease. You take it to mean you’re taking the photo and take a few before Zen reaches out for you, smiling kindly at you.

 

“And one with the pretty hostess?” you have the nerve to look over your shoulder for someone else when he says it, earning a surprised laugh from Zen, who just makes a come-hither gesture and creates a gap between himself and his agent, taking the phone from you as you sit down. It seems he wants a more intimate selfie rather than a photo taken by Wu, so you put on your best smile and do your best not to look as obviously plastered as you feel.

 

You like to think you have it down to an art-form by now.

 

“Thank you, babe!” Zen grins and you ignore the over-familiarity. Over-familiarity is the name of the game in this business, and just smile back before rising to full height, ignoring the dull ache that returned in your feet and calves from the obscenely skinny and tall high heels.  

 

“Let me top you up, loves,” finally their glasses are empty and you’re able to walk around away from Wu’s hands, gracefully pouring and ignoring the none subtle leer of Zen’s agent as you bend over the table. High rolling clients was often synonymous with creepy old dudes, unfortunately, so you just flash him with a brilliant smile as he looks up from your chest to your eyes, blatantly caught but not berated, and slide his glass over to him with an acrylic nail.

 

This is par for the course, and neither Wu nor Zen seemed to notice, or be bothered if they were. Hostesses don't always work for a glamorous club like this and for the less upscale joints, you could certainly do worse, you’re considered fortunate, really. Hostesses learn a lot of hard facts about men, often dating older ones too, and how even the ‘nice’ ones can change under the influence of alcohol. The best thing you can do in this job is to get comfortably drunk and not think too hard about the men who come in with wedding rings still on their finger while pinching your thighs and backside so much you feel like a pin cushion by night’s end, or creepily pushing their erections against you when dancing. A lot of nights are repeated mundane conversations, refilling drinks, laughing at unfunny jokes and lighting cigarettes, finishing the night stinking of alcohol and ash. Unlike a lot of Western countries, clubs in South Korea are open every single day of the week until 6:00AM, and despite a ridiculously strenuous work culture, they live up to ‘work hard, play hard’ in every sense of the word, and you worked every God-given day of the week unless you were sick, or called away by Wu to do the same role for a private party.

 

It’s the most tiring existence you could have asked for.

 

Wu gets you dancing in those skinny heels of yours and surprisingly, the older agent is loosened up enough to start, it gets Zen laughing, and the rest of the night becomes a blur of hands on hips and alcohol sloshing wildly. Eventually, you’re called to another table as another hostess takes over once Zen is tired and wants to go home, you wave him off, and he makes a point to blow you a kiss, but you’re a little too drunk to register, eyes feeling extremely heavy as an older man leads you to his table.

 

‘Just three more hours...’

 

Time slips by like cigarette ash through your fingers – in a blur of men and soju. You’re lucky this place is billed heavier as a nightclub than a hostess club, as this treatment was only reserved for VIPs, and plenty of regular customers could be found bellow, it made the whole thing a lot more reputable feeling than most, and Wu liked having you in his other establishments at times, which had ‘club promoter’ added to your resume. You supposed you could be considered a successful hostess; people were beginning to call you a small-time ‘influencer’ because your videos of walking into luxury VIP suites and grinning besides businessmen who weren’t ashamed to be seen paying for your time. If you walked into a nightclub, it was a sure sign that the night was going to be a good one, and like an additional checkmark of quality to the venue itself. It had you spread all over Gangnam-gu in Wu’s businesses, like a walking advertisement, but your growing respectability didn’t make you any less of a target for lusty drunkards.

 

“Keep the party going?” one of the men in a deep navy suit asks, he’s not bad looking, but too old to have a serious interest in someone your age, yet it doesn’t seem to deter him.

 

It just meant more higher end clientele felt like you were worth the risk of trying to take home. It was flattering sometimes, but now it was just a means to an end, chasing a more meaningful conversation. It isn’t even so much that though, if you think about it, you’re not chasing much from men, you’re just running away from something else. The loneliness of a small apartment, the usually empty fridge packed only with meagre corner store snacks and hangover cures. You pay so little attention to yourself that getting groceries is pointless, they go bad by the time you have enough energy to think about cooking with them in the day. It’s a bleak little place, the only comfort you took was in putting on fluffy sleepwear and throwing your heels across the room. You take home a decent amount of won but really, there’s nothing there. Your money goes on outfits, shoes and makeup to maintain your look but there’s little else left for you emotionally, you don't have time to spend the money meaningfully. It’s a surprisingly empty feeling life.

 

“Only Wu’s friends,” you slurred out, gently pushing the man back by putting both hands flat on his chest and smiling at him wolfishly. Wu’s stricter rules had stopped you washing up in so many strange places with no recollection of getting there, and he preferred not to have his upscale establishment gain any sort of reputation because he prefers businessmen being able to be unashamed of their presence in Millennium, as part of his media promotions.

 

You can’t remember the rest of the night.

 

The only signs you’d gotten of safely getting home was an emailed e-receipt on your mobile of a cab from Millennium direct to your apartment. The too-heavy gaudy South Asian earrings dragged your ears down as you laid on your back trying to sleep. You make it to your bed, barely, your shoes in two different corners of the room. At some point you’d thrown up in the night because the taste of it was still in the back of your throat and dripping down the side of your bed. With a wince, you coughed and choked it out off the side of the bed, resolving to clean it later. If later ever came.

 

It’s a miracle you didn’t choke on it in your sleep and die from a lack of air, luckily you’d turned on your side just enough to spare you that miserable fate. Both your eyes and head pounded in unison, your throat feeling sandpapered, mouth dry and lingering with the taste of vomit, and stomach churning like a cement mixer – it all made you really, really not want to get up.

 

  • tagged MillenniumOfficial x4 new photos with you added
  • tagged HandsomeZEN x1 new photo with you added

859 Loved this.

 

Checking your phone, you see yourself tagged in a bunch of photos on Instax and sigh, turning down the brightness on your screen with a small noise of displeasure. It’s too fucking bright. Glancing at the time, it’s 3:00PM, and you had social media posts to do, a voicemail from Wu, and notifications from club photographers.

 

‘Wu....’

 

Moving your hand down your hips, you looked down and saw some faint bruising from the night prior. You slept naked, not having the energy to do much besides take most of your clothes off and didn’t even wipe your makeup off, wiping it all over your pillow. It seems that the heavy-handed boss had left his mark.

 

The thought made your eyes water briefly, but you stubbornly blinked it back. The pay was good for so little, and you met a lot of high rollers, a little bit of roughhousing was just...expected, you told yourself.

 

Resentfully, you don’t rush to listen to Wu’s voicemail, it’s probably drunken bullshit like usual. Staggering awake, you made your way to your fridge and found it only had bottled drinks and cans of various recovery drinks for long nights out, which were a staple part of your diet now. You got a six-pack of Dawn 808s out and numbly walked across to your living room, feeling your feet throb and calves hurt. Looking down, you saw some light brown and red bruising from the new heels, and you persistently ached. It’s only when you turn to your apartment door that you notice something had been slid underneath it into your room.

 

Strange, most of your mail comes through the apartments pigeonhole system in the lobby, unless the landlord was directly sliding something under the door. It’s ominous, so quickly make your way to it and see that it’s a black bubble-envelope, just thin enough to get under the crack of the door. Picking it up, there seems to be something small, slightly heavy and rectangle shaped inside.

 

With some relief it’s not an annoying notice or something from the landlord, it might be something that was meant for your neighbour, but with no address on the front, you’d never know without checking. Taking it under your arm, you grab a furry bath gown to cover yourself and give you a small sensation of comfort as your eyes and head pounded, your stomach still feeling queasy. You’d overdone it maybe, but most nights were overdoing it. At least you’d actually gotten to your apartment and not the other side of South Korea (which has also happened...).

 

There’s no food in your home, and your existence, for someone with a decent wage, is rather pathetic. You put on your small television for some background noise at a low volume and settle into your sofa, deftly picking at the envelope.

 

“For fucks sake,” you mutter, rubbing sticky, day-old mascara out of your eyelashes in a clump. You looked, and felt, like garbage.

 

Par for the course in your life at this point.

 

Tipping the envelope, the contents spills into your lap suddenly. To your surprise, it’s a small, black android phone.

 

“What on Earth...?” you mutter to yourself, seeing if it even worked or had enough battery to turn on. It did, and after a few minutes, a nondescript background of greenery came into view and the whole thing was utterly cleaned of data. There are no phone numbers, no texts, no nothing, just a camera application, an empty memo application, the app store, and a singular standalone app in the centre of the screen that read “RFA”.

 

 

You rubbed your eyes and shot off a confused text off of your own phone to the group chat for the other nightclub workers, if someone had lost a phone in the course of the night and maybe someone who actually knew where you lived tried to return it? No...that seemed a little far-fetched and weird, someone slid this under your door with intent, but you aired on the thought that maybe someone tried to return it to someone on this floor and made a mistake with the apartment number.

 

In no rush to move in your intense hangover state, or pay attention to daytime TV, you click on the RFA application on the phone, only for the whole thing to freeze, before a strange looking window took up most of the screen, as though it was blocking the rest of the app from actual view.

 

 


 

{ RFA }

 

UNKNOWN:  I hope I returned this phone to the right place, if I haven’t, I’m very sorry. I have been trying to get it to the right owner for some time now.

 

UNKNOWN: I think you’re the right owner for this phone (:

 

UNKNOWN: Have fun...I’ll message you soon.

 

UNKNOWN HAS LOGGED OFF.

 

 

You stared blankly at the phone. You were too hungover for this shit. So you have an extra phone now? Maybe someone will do a Find My Device search for it – but seeing how sparse the phone is, you wonder if it’s actually registered anywhere.

 

Honestly the whole thing feels super sketchy.

 

Finishing your recovery drink and feeling far from recovered, you drew your knees up to your chest and watched as the chat window closed itself, exposing a rather beautiful, space-like background of moving, glittering stars and a few options. It looked like it had its own internal email and chat client, but one quick look on your own mobile in the app store shows you nothing.

 

This has gone from ‘super’ to ‘extremely’ sketchy.

 

Deciding that there’s nothing else to look at, no emails and no emergency contacts or a way of emailing or leaving an IM for ‘Unknown’ without clicking the ‘RFA CHAT’ button, you hit it, and get given a few options. Without hesitating, you scrawl in your stage name and wait, it turns out not for long, because it seemed a few people were using this thing.

 

Honestly this was just starting to seem like a strange, convoluted prank. Maybe you should just post the missing phone up on a board or something and look for takers, this Unknown guy obviously got his shit wrong.

 

RFA CHATROOM

ONLINE: Jumin Han, ZEN, Yoosung★, 707, Jaehee Kang

SAHARA HAS JOINED THE CHAT.

 

There’s some mindless chatter before people realise you’ve joined the chatroom, which, from profile photo alone seems to be largely men, and your own is just a black space.

 

Jumin Han: Who are you? Reveal yourself. Assistant Kang, why is there a stranger in our chatroom?

 

Well, that’s a little melodramatic, you’re the one who had some weirdo slide a phone under your door. There’s some speculation about someone downloading the application on two phones, and from all the fuss, you wager it’s private. Yikes.

 

You: What’s the big idea? Did I enter some private kink den chat? Someone slid a phone with only this app on it under my apartment door. I should be asking who YOU are. It has no contacts or anything. Did someone lose a phone and return it to the wrong place? If so, I can arrange a mail drop so you can pick it up.

 

There’s a flurry of activity after this and it’s enough to make your head hurt, you almost put the whole thing down because this shit is giving you a headache.

 

707: lololololol what makes you think this is a kink chat (;

 

You: You all just went on and on about how private this application is and I don’t see it in the app store. Most people I know only go so far to hide humiliating and private things. It’s fine, I don’t care if it is. I just want to know whose been in my apartment complex.

 

There’s a fair bit of confusion after this, and vehement denials from everyone apart from the user ‘707’ about it being a kink chat. Frankly, you don’t care and would like a greasy breakfast and more sleep before the next shift. You mention something about ‘Unknown’ and find a way to screenshot the dead chat window before sending it and letting them figure out that you genuinely didn’t know what was going on, with strange demands to ‘confess’ to stealing the phone or app or whatever, and reveal your identity, you half wanted to just chuck the thing in the bin and be done with it, but curiosity easily won out.

 

707: I traced the phone geo-location pings, someone went to Rika’s apartment and left her phone with this person. They aren’t lying about that.

 

Yoosung★: Who was in Rika’s apartment?!

 

You: Who was in MY apartment!

 

707: well... I know where you live now, but it wasn’t me!

 

There seems to be some squabbling, until someone brings up the Unknown again, and it is ‘agreed’ that you can keep the phone, strangely, because they want this ‘707’ person to try and trace them the next time they message, and they promised that they would.

 

Jumin Han: Quit shitting around, so someone left the phone with you – but who exactly ARE you?

Jumin Han: Reveal yourself, stranger.

Jumin Han: If you don’t reveal yourself, you will pay.

 

Okay, this pissed you off, how uppity – you were trying to get this bizarre mishandled phone back to the right place, and this weird maybe-kink den chat of suspicious people are grilling you intensely as though you’d stumbled into Area 51.

 

You: There are very few *men* left on this Earth who can threaten me, and I assure you, you are not one of them.

 

Wu would have been raging if someone had said something like that to you, or any of his girls. It’s at this moment, you see a familiar face in the icon of a person who jumps in, which makes your head hurt even more.

 

ZEN: Stranger you will pay? Lmfaooo ~*so scary*~

ZEN: Stranger has some sass haha, that’s a girly thing isn’t it? You’re a girl! I bet you are :D

 

Yoosung★: A girl :O !!?

 

You don’t reply, and just hold your breath before clicking his photo, and then comparing it to the one uploaded on your Instax profile the night prior.

 

707: I want you to let us know as soon as Unknown is messaging. Please keep hold of everything until then, the phone and this app.

707: it is a necessary evil lololol

 

Jumin Han: Yes, but we’re getting off topic also. Stranger, reveal yourself. I will not ask again.

 

ZEN: One of my fans?~

ZEN: Something about you is familiar...

 

No fucking shit. You wonder if you could silence all this by uploading a photo, but the attitude of Jumin Han in particular was getting on your nerves, Zen knows who you are, it would probably dissuade some of all the strange suspicion levied at you.

 

You: Zen, I know who you are, and you actually know who I am. I’ll upload a photo if this camera works, and then maybe you can tell me what the fuck is going on, who the hell came into my apartment complex and who the rest of you shady people are.

You: For God’s sake, I’m a woman who lives alone and some weirdo puts an empty black envelope with a phone in it through the door and I’m suspicious?

 

Jaehee Kang: I did not consider that, and Luciel can validate the claim about the phone, just not who got it to you, or that you didn’t get it yourself by doing something...nefarious to get into Rika’s apartment.

 

You: I don’t know who Rika is but I could probably get my apartment’s corridor security tape and you’ll see it’s not me? Or maybe if that Rika girl’s place has some, check hers. I was just trying to do a good thing and get this phone back to the right person.

You: I’m too hungover for this bullshit....

 

Jaehee Kang: I...can appreciate that if what you’re saying is true, that it might be a little scary.

 

Yoosung★: 707 can hack the cameras! But I believe her 😊

 

Jumin Han: You’re just saying that because she’s a girl.

Jumin Han: What do you mean you know Zen? Explain yourself. Now.

 

Wanting to shut this guy up and still feeling like liquid garbage, you take a front-facing selfie after wiping your makeup off your face and flattening your messy hair down, honestly, you think you look pretty rough and it shows, your eyes are tired but your face is otherwise pretty, just haggard with exhaustion.

 

IMG_UPLOAD01.JPG

 

Yoosung★: OMG!!! IT IZ A GIRL!

 

You promptly pass out to a flurry of incoming messages, the last one you see, being an incredulous one from the musical actor of last night.

 

ZEN: You’re THAT Sahara..?!

 


 

To be Continued.