Thin Ice


ellen_icon.gif liu_icon.gif song_icon.gif

Scene Title Thin Ice
Synopsis Fragile and delicate, thin ice is also a metaphor for traversing dangerous terrain.
Date August 12, 2009

The Lucky Monkey

After close, the store is quiet. Most of the interior lights flicker and then go out, leaving just the narrow strip that's left on 24/7 for security purposes; but it's still enough to make the interior of the shop visible through the window, thanks to the darkness outside. Ellen comes back up one of the side aisles from having killed the lights and done a last sweep to make sure there was no one lingering within. She heads for the front door, turning the sign to read: CLOSED, and then secures the deadbolt. She glances out into the street before turning back, now to head to the rear of the store and secure the door there.

Around a shelf and down an aisle towards the store's back side, Ellen finds the door ajar as she rounds the corner. The dim light of the alleyway's yellow streetlight spills in through the opening, along with a cool mist that is entirely out of place in the humid and sweltering back alleys of Chiantown, too low-lying to be steam from the nearby manhole.

"«I apologize for letting ourselves in,»" comes the polite tone of voice from a man standing by a glass cabinet lined with small ivory figurines. One of them is held in his hand, a tiny elephant. "«I hope you do not mind.»" The young man, no older than his mid twenties is too well dressed to be just a local thug. His black suit is trim against his frame, white undershurt partly unbuttoned with no necktie to speak of. He turns, dark eyes leveling on Ellen even as a deceptively warm smile spreads across his lips. "«It is a pleasure to finally meet you.»"

The we of this conversation sits in an antique chair near the shelves, younger than her brother, Song Ye sits with bare legs crossed and the black lace of her dress barely covering mid-thigh, white lage beneath it trailing down in irregular fringe to her knees. Far from her brother's sleek style, the laced corset and sleeveless top seems too youthful for someone of such a position of dignity. But in her eyes, equally as coal black as her brothers but full of none of his youthful mirth, there is no sign of amusement. Only animalistic curiosity with which she regards a tiny ball of ice that is rolled around in her bare palms, one that radiates a palpable chill and spills a cold, heavy mist down onto the floor.

"«Pretty flower,»" Song murmurs, glancing up at Ellen, "«do not trim her.»" The odd statement comes quietly, dismissed as off-handed rambling by her brother as he sets the ivory elephant down and moves over to stand between Ellen and the door, a hand held out in an offering so informal. "Liu Ye," he states flatly, a simple enough introduction. He is, clearly, not a man for tradition.
This is definitely not a normal part of the evening routine, and Ellen is quick to notice something amiss before she can even see the door, feeling that chill and hearing the ambient noises of the night far more clearly than she should. Her pace slows as she finishes walking that path, and yet still, somehow, for all her wariness, the sudden voice from by the figurines still makes her start. The rational inner voice trying to soothe that gut instinct, tell her that nothing is wrong, the wind simply blew it open, or she somehow forgot to close it last time she went out - only to be proven so very abruptly wrong.

She turns on her heel, graceful in spite of the startling, and regards the first speaker with a wide-eyed stare, which is then transferred to the woman as she speaks up with her own strange statement. Ellen's fright doesn't last too long, and recognition perhaps sets in even before Liu has formally introduced himself. Recovering swiftly, she nods her head in polite greeting, deference, even. "«The pleasure is all mine, I assure you,»" she replies. Of course, while the immediate fright may have passed the wariness remains.

"«Tsang speaks highly of you,»" Already referring to him in such a familiar manner, Liu eyes his untaken hand and tucks it into the pocket of his slacks casually. "«I wanted to talk to you about a few business opportunities that may be waiting for you. His high regard of your capability, and Tsang's long record of loyalty means we have certain expectations.»" Loyalty, the irony of the notion is somewhat sickening. The way Liu acts, he's either oblivious to Tsang Hao-Tung's true feelings, or enjoying a particular game of cat and mouse.

When Liu's hand returns from his pocket, it is holding a glass vial shedding a pale blue phosphorescent light, stopped with black rubber. He holds it out between two fingers. "«This is something you will be seeing a fair lot of in the coming weeks. You should familiarize yourself with it.»" There's a smile, faint and almost teasing. "«Don't worry, it's harmless to someone like you.»" Derrogatory as it sounds, Liu's expression does not change from his smile.

"«It's a drug, called Refrain. On people like myself, like my sister, it is a potent hallucinagenic. We're expanding our horizons,»" meaning away from simply dealing in hard drugs like heroin and cocaine, "«into other business avenues, and we would like to explore those opportunities here, within the comfort of a…»" Liu's eyes wander the shop, then settle back on Ellen, "«…a family business.»"

The way Liu presents himself is so much against the dignity and poise that his father, and the triad boss before he commanded himself. Even if known only in heresay, the great pride of the Flying Dragons has been turned into something less grand, something less regal. Something, ironically, mundane.
There's no real visible change in Ellen's expression as Liu speaks, and she does her best to remain neutral. Of course, she is not oblivious to Hao-Tung's true feelings about how things are being run now, and the comment on loyalty is flagged for later contemplation. Right now, she chooses to focus on the matter at hand, which appears to be a glowing blue vial. Her eyebrows lift just a little at his derogatory comment, though if she's in the least bit insulted, it doesn't show in her face. Without allowing herself to hesitate, she steps forward to take the vial when he holds it out, duly inspecting it but keeping most of her attention on the siblings. Whether or not the drug is harmless to her, she wouldn't imagine the same could be said for Liu or Song.

There's a pause when he finishes, not as though she has nothing to say, but as though this is all so common place that she doesn't need to rush in with questions or explanations. When she speaks, she keeps her tone level. "«I'm sure you will find your expectations are not disappointed. I would be honoured to assist you with this goal. Expanding horizons seems prudent in this changing environment.»" Which seems to apply to both of their family businesses, really. While Hao-Tung might be a stickler for the old ways, Ellen isn't so much. And any hang ups she might have are kept well hidden, of course.

"«Doctor Bao-Wei Cong is producing this drug for us,»" Liu states simply, letting both hands slide into the pockets of his slacks as he watches Ellen's scrutiny of the vial. "«You will be working with one of the good Doctor's intermediaries, a woman named Ling Chao. She is Refrain's primary runner, and will be bringing by shipments of the drug to safeguard here, until distributors can come and pick up their pre-arranged supplies. You will never, under any circumstances, be dealing with individuals outside of the Dragons without it being cleared with you.»" Perhaps that's meant to be a comforting notion, in some sense of clannish camraderie.

Turning to look back at his sister, making certain she — like an unchaperoned feline — hasn't gotten herself into something, Liu gives pause to the discussion for a moment. Only upon seeing Song still pulling and plucking at the sphere of ice, which now more closely resembles a flower than a sphere, does his focus settle on Ellen again. "«Provided you are comfortable with this arrangement, other commodities may eventually be brought in here before being shipped out to Staten Island. Secondly…»" Liu's tongue rolls over his teeth, "«Do you have the staff to open a second store?»" It's an odd question, one that comes with a raise of his brows.
Ellen merely nods to show that she has taken in this information, filing away those contact names for future reference. It all seems rather surprisingly straight-forward, really. Though she has been around long enough to know that often those things that seem simple are deceptively less so. Still, there's no reluctance, no hesitance now. In for a penny, in for a pound, and she is committed to this course of action at this point. As Liu sees to his sister, Ellie takes the opportunity to give the vial a second look, holding it gingerly, whatever she might have been told about its potential danger to those 'like her'.

But the study is kept brief and her attention returns to him promptly when he faces her again. His question gets a small indication of surprise from her, her own eyebrows lifting but with a different meaning than his own. It is only her and her parents currently running the store, and of course, her plans did not involve getting them mixed up in this. Still, never one to turn away from potential opportunity, she answers almost without hesitation, "«If a second store is needed, I could see to attaining the staff necessary.»"

"«A sister store on Staten Island would be beneficial. Especially in the neighborhood of the Rookery. There ar emany unoccupied buildings, ones that can be, ah,»" Liu searches for the proper wording, one hand tapping at his lower lip, "«procured at your request. Find one, and have Tseng inform us of its location and it will be yours.»" There's something of an earnest smile offered by the young Triad boss, though it is quick to fade when he hears his sister rise up from her chair with a scuff of the legs on the hardwood floor.

One of Liu's dark brows stays raised as he follows Song's motions, watching the strange young sister approach Ellen in the same way someone might approach an unfamiliar animal, wide-eyed and in halting motions. In her hand, she holds a tiny and delicate flower sculpted entirely out of ice, with paper-thin petals. It's held out between two fingers, and then of all things she's trying to thread it behind one of Ellen's ears.

Sister.»" Liu reprimands her as she starts to reach out, and Song's expression turns feline and languid, eyes lidding halfway as she gives her brother an askance stare. No words are exchanged, only the flower twirled between pale fingers as Song takes a step back, and Liu tries to compose himself again, turning focus back to Ellen.

"«I apologize for her behavior. She can be… peculiar at times.»" The same is often said of Liu, frankly.
"«Thank you. That is most generous,»" Ellen replies, nodding her head again at that offer. Of course, she does get that it isn't merely generosity that inspires him, but still, it is probably more than she could ever do on her own. Which was part of the idea in going down this slippery slope in the first place.

As Song begins that odd approach, Ellie goes almost perfectly still, almost as if, to her, Song is the unfamiliar animal, and one wrong move might trigger a fight or flight - and she isn't sure she wants to see the results of either. Though, of course, the ice is not the most pleasant thing to have behind her ear, Ellen makes no move to stop it from happening, resigned to this bizarreness until Liu speaks up and brings it to a halt.

A small smile is offered to both of them as she gives her head a slow shake. "«No need to apologize,»" she replies, in a tone meant to suggest she has a trying family of her own - if not to nearly the same degree. To Song, there's a slight pause, before she adds: "«The flower is quite beautiful.»"

"Fragile," she unusually states in English, letting the rose drop out from her fingers to shatter into tiny pieces on the floor. Her eyes maintain an uncomfortable contact on Ellen's, and it's at this point it's clear Liu's had about enough of his sister's attitude. One hand reaches out to firmly grasp her shoulder, and he motions to the door with a nod of his head. The wordless exchange is not misconstrued, but the feral stare Song gives to her brother comes with an eventual sigh of resignation. When her eyes meet Ellen's, again, it comes with her parting words. "The prettier they are, the more easily they break."

Her eyes sweep away, down to the floor, then over to the door as her boots scuff and clunk across the hardwood on the way through the open door and out to the humid alley, the cold mist following at her ankles while she walks. Liu closes his eyes, shaking his head slowly before turning attention back to the proprietor of the store. "«Contact me when you are ready with your choice of secondary business, and I will send someone over to handle the, ah, paperwork with you.»" There's a slight inclination of Liu's head as he looks around the shop one last time, then hesitates and turns his attention back to Ellen once more.

"«If there is anything else you need, do not hesitate to ask…»" Liu's shoulders rise in a shrug, as if to exemplify the simplicity of the offer, "«You are family now.»" As if that, in a way, explains it all.

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