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|Like Selling Ice Cream|
-"You can still turn around, if you want to."
Jinora sighed. "No. I'm seeing this through, no matter what you say."
-"Have it your way," Korra said, and opened the door to Iroh's office. Jinora was surprised to see that Iroh was most certainly not the kind of man she was expecting. Instead, he was wearing a casual suit without a tie, a clean shave, immaculate haircut, and deep amber gold eyes. "Iroh, this is Jinora Gyatso, the girl I told you about."
He stood up from behind his desk, smiling as he shook Jinora's hand. "Korra told me plenty of things about you. I hope you can live up to that."
-"Likewise, but I will tell you that I'm not here for any fancy gangster stuff. I'm in it for the money, no other motives. I take it Korra laid out my terms?"
Iroh started laughing. "That's why everyone is in this game, but it's not what they say 'optional'," he said, while making quotation marks in the air with his fingers. "But yeah, she did. No pussy, no head, which I think is fair enough. But I will say this: you're either in or not, I won't have my people do things half-assed. What did Korra tell you?"
"That you do nasty stuff. She didn't go into any specifics."
-"And she was right to do so. If she told you, it would make run away screaming. Trust me on that kid, I have seen shit that would reduce you to tears straight away."
Jinora scoffed. "I doubt that. Lived here all my life, seen all kinds of stuff go down that would make most people lose their lunch, so please, don't patronize me."
Iroh sighed. "I'm not patronizing you, I'm warning you. I have to make certain investments in you, so I need to know that you can hold your own, at least so that I can make a little bit of a profit on you."
"I promise you, I can. What Korra told you is true: I need the money, and so I am seeing this through to the end. My imagination is quite... vivid, if you know what I mean, so I don't think I'll be in for that many surprises."
Korra stepped into the conversation. "Jinora, Iroh is kind of right here. There are some nasty things involved with this business."
"Korra, you explained that to me already, and I accept that risk." She paused for a moment. "Some things just have to be done, no matter if I like them or not. This is one of them."
Iroh carefully eyed her up from head to toe, probably looking to see any signs of her faltering. Apparently, he didn't find any, as he slowly nodded a few times. "Alright," he eventually said. "There are a couple of things we need to take care of before you go home again. First off, picture time." He pulled a camera from his desk, and pointed to a white space of wall. "You're going to need a fake ID to get into a lot of places where you can find people to sell to. Bars, nightclubs, you know what I'm talking about. If you're smart, you'll get friendly with bouncers and barmen, they are your best friends when scoping out the whos and whats."
Jinora put up a neutral face as Iroh took her picture, not entirely pleased with trusting that man. But for what he was, he seemed nice enough. "So how long before I can really get started?"
He thought for a moment, before turning to Korra. "When did you agree to The Triangle Club again?"
-"Friday," Korra said, clearly annoyed that Iroh was assuming Jinora could just tag along like this.
-"I can do that. Alright, Jinora, you tag along with Korra this Friday, she'll show you the ropes and the basic works of what it would take."
"Sounds good," Jinora said.
-"That's settled then. I guess I'll see you Friday again," he said. "Now if you would please leave me and Korra to discuss some last things, and then you can join in."
She nodded, and left them to it.
Korra watched Jinora close the door behind her, and wasn't any more certain that this had been the right choice. "So what did you think?" she asked.
-"I think she has potential. Why did you say she was in it again?"
"Her mother is forced to whore around in order to make ends meet, and she wants to put a stop to that."
-"Father out of the picture, I take it?"
Korra scoffed. "Yeah, but that's probably for the best. Her mother and I always tell her that Tenzin had big dreams for her, but truth be told, no one really knew him, or what his dreams were. He was quiet, timid, almost invisible. Her mother didn't think much of him, her mother's mother hated him. The man never even scratched the surface of life, it's probably best he died so young, he wasn't doin' much but takin' up space," she said, never taking her eyes off the door, but then she slowly started turning to Iroh. "But that doesn't make for a very powerful eulogy, now does it?"
He burst out laughing at this. "No, I suppose it doesn't. But are you completely sure we can trust this girl?"
Korra thought for a moment. "Yes," she firmly stated. "She smart and she's motivated, so once I get her up to speed on the what to do and what not to do, I think she would make a fine asset."
Iroh took his time to let her words sink in. "Alright, but if she turns out to be a dud, it's on you, you read?"
Korra nodded, and made a mental note to instruct Jinora extra well.
Three days later, it felt very real to Jinora all of a sudden. This is it. She was about to open the door for Korra to go out onto the streets together, and then she would really be in. She took a deep breath and opened up. "Hey Korra."
-"Evening. Want to get going?"
Jinora nodded. "Yeah." She turned around to her siblings. "Guys, I'm going out with Korra, and Ikki is in charge until mom gets back. Understand?" Ikki cheered, and Meelo and Rohan both groaned, signaling that they did. "Alright then."
-"Are you ready?" Korra asked upon Jinora stepping out. "This is you last chance. After tonight, there is no turning back anymore."
"I know. Let's do this."
-"Alright then, let's go," Korra said. She walked out again onto the street in the direction of her first address. "There are a few things you need to know, starting with this: selling drugs is like selling ice cream. You make calls, pound the pavement, and above all else, never use your own product. That is rule number one, Jinora. If I ever find you violating that rule, I will beat that sort of behavior out of you myself."
Jinora scoffed. "Yeah, no, I wasn't planning on doing that. I'm not stupid, Korra, I know what this stuff will do to you. You can trust me with that."
-"Good to know. Now, one thing you're going to need is this." She produced a small plastic card from her back pocket and handed it to Jinora. It was the fake ID Iroh had arranged for her. Apparently, her new name was Jin Sato, and she was just over 18 years old. Goody. I probably couldn't have thought of anything more generic if I tried. "I'm going to get you a few more things, but for now, this will have to do." Korra turned into a building, which was a sleazy old bar.
"What are we doing here?"
Korra smiled. "This is my first stop for the night. I have a few regulars in here. I want you to keep your eyes open, see if you notice anything odd."
She didn't really know what to make of this, so she just played along. Korra sat down at the bar, and Jinora just sat down next to her, and the barman walked over. "Evening Korra." He turned to face Jinora. "Who's your friend?"
-"Shiro, Jin, Jin, Shiro. We'll both have a beer."
Shiro raised an eyebrow. "Are you 18?"
Jinora confidently pulled out her new ID, which was good enough to convince him. "Coming right up," he said, and put two bottles on the bar, before walking off again.
-"Well, here's hoping your career is more successful than mine," Korra said, while holding up her bottle. Jinora picked up the one meant for her, and clinked it against Korra's. "Let's hope indeed." She took her first sip, and had a hard time not coughing it up again immediately, since it was unbelievably bitter.
Korra smiled upon seeing this. "Don't worry, it's something you have to learn to appreciate. So tell me, what have you noticed?"
Jinora didn't really know what to say to this. "Umm..." She looked around, trying to find anything about the other patrons that stood out. There was a guy in the corner alone at a table, nervously looking around. At the far end of the bar, there was a guy who already had more whiskey than was good for him. A couple of guys were laughing at a joke at a table in the distance. One guy was just gingerly sipping on his drink. "No, nothing that really seems unusual for a bar."
-"Wrong. That guy in the corner is waiting for me, but he's pretty obvious. Now what can you tell me about the guy closest to us at the bar?"
Jinora eyed him up closely, while Korra took another swig of her beer. "He could be a cop?"
She just smiled. "Wrong, he's just a normal guy. Cops always stand out more than that guy, and for that matter, they never show themselves around these parts anyway. Trust me, they are not your biggest concern."
"What do you mean?"
-"How often do you see a police car around here? Never. Even if you do, they always drive with the windows up and the doors locked. They only do it to let us know they still exist, but realistically, they are more scared of us than we are of them. If they try anything, they would be mobbed, and probably hung out to dry. Either that, or they would start a massive riot. If they wouldn't bother doing those little drive-throughs, no one would notice, much less care."
"Well, guess that solved itself. What would be my biggest concern though?"
-"Other gangbangers. Not everyone is as noble as Iroh's crew, so you need to be on the lookout for people who'll try to stick you up. Do remember this though: no amount of money is worth your life. Yeah, Iroh would be pissed if you come back empty-handed, but he'll get over it." Korra took the last swig of her beer. "Now watch and learn." She got up, and walked over to the guy in the corner. He took a couple of crumpled bills from his pocket, and Korra handed him a small pouch under the table. Shiro either didn't see it, but more likely, he didn't care. Korra and her *ahem* client both walked away from the table, Korra back to Jinora, and the other guy left.
"Just like that?" Jinora asked. It surprised her how quickly and simple it went, but then again, he was one of Korra's regulars.
She gave Jinora a cocky nod. "Just like that," she confirmed. "Come on, finish your beer, we got a couple of more stops like this one to make before we hit The Triangle Club. That is where I make my biggest deal, so that is the place we really want to go. Plus, it has the most pleasant view, so it's as good a place as any to finish the night."
Jinora tried to drink her beer quickly, but wasn't a well-practiced drinker like Korra. One of the guys from the group peeled off, and walked to them, taking the seat next to Korra. "Hey there, honey," he slyly said, but Korra clearly wasn't amused by this. Boy, if looks could kill, we would be calling a hearse, not an ambulance.
-"What?" she curtly replied.
-"Easy, I'm not here for that, but I was wondering... if you could hit me and my friends up?"
Kora raised an eyebrow at him. "Depends. Have you got cash?"
He produced a couple of yuan bills from his pocket, and Korra quickly counted them, nodding in confirmation. "This should be enough for the lot of you," she said, while taking two pouches out of her pocket.
-"Now who can I say hooked me up with this?"
A small grin appeared on Korra's face. "Tell 'em The Avatar came through for you. Other than that, we never did business."
The guy nodded, and walked back to his table, where he was met with a cheer from his friends.
Jinora put her bottle down again as Korra turned back to her. "Come on, we should get going. We can't stop like this at every place, so the next few are just business. Not to worry, I have a special deal with the owner of The Triangle Club. We can drink on his tab." Korra walked outside, and Jinora followed her.
"I'm pretty sure I don't want to drink anymore tonight. How drunk can I get before I won't remember what happened?"
Korra chuckled. "Don't worry, I won't let it get that far. But there is an unofficial rule, namely that you should at least make it a little bit enjoyable, unless you want to burn out before you hit twenty. We are doing this my way, or you can go back home."
Jinora thought for a bit. "Njalright. Whatever you say, I guess."
She felt Korra's calming hand on her shoulder. "Hey, if you really don't want to, you don't have to. It's still your call, and you shouldn't let me or anyone else tell you what to do. It's not, as they say, mandatory."
Jinora smiled. "Nah, you're probably right. I shouldn't get too worked up about something small like this, if what Iroh said is true."
-"It is. By the way, this is our next stop." Korra preceded Jinora into one of the shittiest looking buildings she had ever seen, and they quickly made a few more sales. Before Jinora really knew what was happening, they had spent an entire evening like this and they were on their merry way to The Triangle Club. Korra stopped her before they even reached the door. "Now Jin, there are two things you still need to know. One, this is not a nightclub, but a skin joint."
Jinora raised an eyebrow, but didn't say anything. She had a sneaking suspicion of this place already, and Korra just confirmed that suspicion. "And what is the second thing?" she asked, genuinely curious.
-"I think you'll find that out soon enough," was Korra's vague answer. Jinora threw her a chastising look, but Korra ignored that. She continued stepping towards the entrance of The Triangle Club.
Much to Jinora's surprise, the bouncer was female, but had a hard stoical look in her eyes that told Jinora she meant business. "Evening Korra. Here again for Varrick's shipment?"
-"Yeah. I'm taking Jin here with me, and she's eighteen, don't worry."
Zhu Li suspiciously eye Jinora up, not in the least convinced by Korra. "I'm going to have to see some identification for that."
"Fair enough," Jinora confidently said, once again producing her ID card. The bouncer looked from the card to Jinora and back multiple times, but she ultimately did nod. She handed it back to Jinora, and turned to Korra. "I trust that you'll keep her out of trouble?"
-"Of course I will, Zhu Li."
"Alright, go on."
Korra nodded, and Zhu Li stepped aside to let the girls in. She first stepped to a locker, pulling a gun out of the pocket of her hoody, much to Jinora's shock. "Fuck, you've been walking around with that thing all this time?!"
-"Well, I've been glad that I did more than once, so yeah," she casually said while unloading the gun and putting it in a locker. "Like I said, other gangbangers are your biggest concern, and if they carry, well, the best defense is to carry yourself. It's one of the things I still have to go get you."
This really threw Jinora off her rocker. "What? Are you saying I have to get a gun?"
-"No, I'm going to get you one, and you are going to take it. I will not send you out there without proper protection, but now is not the time to discuss this. We have one more item of business." Korra walked into the club proper, and Jinora took the first sight in. It had a distinct pink-purple-ish glow to it, and there were bouncers at every corner. Unsurprisingly, the men were mostly huddled around the center stage, around the most popular girl. Even for her untrained eye, Jinora had to admit, that girl was quite sexy. Korra seemed to agree, she was practically drooling on the spot as she watched her dance. Guess that explains. Before trying to snap Korra out of it, Jinora took a closer look at the rest of the girls, when she saw something that she absolutely didn't want to see.
Opal was dancing on one of the smaller tables, wearing nothing more than the tiniest pair of panties Jinora had ever seen and a couple of pieces of electrical tape to cover her nipples. Fuckin' hell. "Damn it Korra! Why didn't you tell me Opal is a stripper here?!"
Korra snapped out of her trance and sighed. "Because you didn't need to know. I didn't know she was on tonight, I was kind of hoping she would have been back at our place now."
"And let me guess: the thing you didn't tell me was that you are secretly gay."
-"Wha... Was I staring at Asami?"
"Yeah you were, practically drooling. Now where are we supposed to go?"
Korra pointed to the back, where Jinora saw a man in a suit, making a small gesture towards them, presumably meant for Korra. They made their way through the crowd of men to the far side of the club, where the man directed them up the stairs into his office overlooking the club. He made himself comfortable on his desk chair, propping his feet up on his desk. "So, Korra, care to make the introductions?"
-"How rude of me," she sarcastically said. "Jin, this is Varrick, the owner of this joint and my most profitable client, Varrick, this is Jin, my new best friend."
-"Meaning you have to show her the works?"
Korra nodded. "I didn't make it up either." She reached into her backpack, and threw a large bag of pills onto Varrick's desk. "Anyway," she loudly continued. "I didn't come here to talk about how I spend my free time, I came here to make some money."
Varrick smiled. "Good point, but that's why were all here." He reached into a drawer of his desk, pulling out a large bundle of money and handed it to Korra. She counted it, and held out her hand to him, which he shook.
-"Pleasure doing business with you, Varrick."
-"Likewise, Avatar." He glanced at Jinora. "I take it you're gonna drink on my tab too?"
Jinora shuffled with her feet. "That was kind of the plan."
He thought for a while, twirling his mustache as he did. "Alright. One condition though: you two have to help the Fabulous Dealing Brothers. Make a few initial sales, send my patrons in the right direction, you know the drill. After that, the bar is all yours, and so is Asami." He smiled at Jinora again. "Want me to send a girl your way too?"
"No thanks, I'm good," Jinora said sarcastically while rolling her eyes.
-"Hey, there's no shame in batting for the other team." Varrick said. "But girls, it's time you stop putting this off, and start making me some money. Have a drink, send the Brothers my way, then you help them out." He held his hand out towards the door, gesturing for them to leave, which they did. When the door fell shut behind them, Jinora got curious. "Who are the Dealing Brothers?"
"Mako and Bolin." Korra smiled. "Basically muscle for the highest bidder, and for the longest time now, Varrick has been the highest bidder. There is not a lot of shit that will scare those two off, so they do all of his dirty work. The bouncers are kept on a leash, but those two don't play by the same rules, hence why they handle the... extra business that I provide them with."
Jinora smiled, and Korra opened the door to let them back into the main area of the club. Korra signaled two guys to go to Varrick's office, and Jinora saw the tallest of the two nod. After this, she made a beeline for the bar, holding up two fingers to the barman. He quickly delivered two shots to the ladies, and Korra leaned in to warn Jinora. "This is strong stuff, so brace yourself." Even though she had prepared herself for the worst, it turned out not to be so bad. Sure, it was hideously sweet, but at least it didn't feel like someone had poured lighter fluid down her throat.
"You said it was strong stuff, but this doesn't feel strong at all."
Korra scoffed. "Yeah, that's just because of the sugar. You'll start to feel it in a moment, trust me on that."
Jinora decided not to argue with Korra on that, given that she would probably be right. They hung around for a while, and she was indeed starting to feel a little woozy, when she noticed the girl who was dancing center-stage earlier was walking towards them. She wrapped an arm around Korra, and whispered something in her ear that made her blush. Jinora figured she must have offered Korra a lap dance of sorts, but she declined. For now, at least.
The girl walked off again, moving on to some middle-aged guy who was about twenty kilos too heavy. Jinora felt Korra tapping on her shoulder, signaling that the Fabulous Dealing Brothers were ready for them. They went back to the quiet hallway of Varrick's office, where they could talk things out. Korra quickly introduced her to Mako and Bolin, and gave her some last minute instructions.
-"Remember, 30 yuans per bag, no other deals. Just get me or Bolin to tell them off if they try anything you don't want them to," Mako reassured Jinora. "Let's start you off with... let's say five bags, sounds fair?"
She nodded, taking the tiny bags from him. There were two pills in each of them, and she had to sell them in a packed club. But it could be a lot worse. In here, she had three people watching her back, as the Fabulous Dealing Brothers seemed trustworthy, not to mention the bouncers if anyone would try anything stupid. "Let's do this."
-"Just hang back by the far wall, I'll send a few your way. Money is going to the same place regardless of who makes it." Korra smiled, and put a reassuring hand on her shoulder. "Well, let's make your first sale. Just keep your head down and eyes open, and you'll be fine."
"I will. Thanks, Korra." They all walked out, making their way through the club in all cardinal directions. Jinora would hang back by a wall overlooking the bar, but out of the line of sight of the speakers, meaning the music wasn't so ear-strummingly loud over there, which was a nice change of pace. It didn't take long before the first guy walked up to her. He looked like he was in his early twenties, and really, he was quite handsome. Could be a lot worse.
-"You don't look like you work here," he slyly opened.
"Only off the record." She was acting confident, but in reality, her heart was pounding in her chest. To say that she was nervous would be a bit of an understatement.
This got the guy smiling. "So you're one of those? You can hit me up?" Jinora gave him a small nod at this. "How much would it cost me?"
"30 for two. Non-negotiable."
He nodded, pulling out the money out of his pocket, looking around carefully before handing it over. Jinora took one of the bags out of the pocket of her hoodie, and discreetly slipped it into his hand. He smiled, gave her a wink, and was on his way again.
Jinora let out a breath she didn't realize she was holding. Holy shit. This is actually what it's like. It felt exhilarating to actually being making some progress in her plan, even if she would have to give up all the money at the end of the evening again. Or maybe it was from actually breaking the law. She had always been a goody-two shoes, keeping up her grades, going to bed early, and eating her vegetables. But now here she was, dealing drugs in a strip club under a false name for a man she wouldn't trust in a million years. Maybe that was the more exciting part about this.
She sure hoped it wasn't.
It was surprisingly easy for her to get through the five bags that Mako had given her. Each one felt weird to her, like she was working against everything she had accomplished in her life so far, but that same excited feeling was constantly there. When she went to Mako for more though, he turned her away, saying that he and Bolin would take care of the rest, and that she should be hitting up the bar with Korra, so they both handed over the money to Mako, and made for the bar.
-"To a successful first night," Korra said, holding up her tiny glass. Jinora clinked hers against it, and threw back the sickeningly sweet liquid in one gulp, and put the glass back down. "I'll say," she smirked in response. Korra briefly checked her phone for the time, noticing that it was already late.
-"What do you say, time to go home?"
Jinora was feeling pretty light-headed from all of the alcohol, and decided that Korra was probably right. She should head home before she got completely shit-faced. Korra ordered them each a bottle of water, making sure they could drink something, helping to prevent the hangover. She got her gun back from the locker, and they started making their way back to the den.
When they walked back into Iroh's office, he looked almost surprised to see that Jinora was still with Korra. He quickly pulled himself together though, straightening his face and giving an appreciative nod. "So... You actually made it through the evening."
Jinora simply smiled, and gave him a confident nod. "Of course I did. Didn't Korra tell you that I see things through once I'm committed?"
-"Of course she did, otherwise you wouldn't even have been here. I only deal with people who take things like this seriously."
He eyed her up, but once again, she didn't falter. The tension between them was rising, so Korra decided to break them up before Jinora said something stupid. "So Iroh, I have your money," she said, throwing the bundle of cash Varrick gave her onto his desk, along with the money she made from the other deals. He looked away from Jinora just a little too late to feel natural to her, she could feel that, even with the numbing effects of the alcohol. After counting the money, he handed Korra a part of it, tucking the rest away safely.
-"I think this concludes our business for tonight. Now ladies, if you'd please," Iroh said, gesturing to the door, not so subtly telling them to fuck off. When they were outside again, Jinora scoffed.
"I thought you said he was a decent guy? He's an asshole!"
-"Hmm, I probably should have said that he is decent, dot dot dot, for a drugdealer." Korra stopped her by the shoulder, grabbing both of them firmly, looking her straight in the eyes. "Jinora, I want you to remember this very carefully. Iroh is a bastard. When people get in his way, he doesn't send them an angry letter, he kills them. Whenever you're around him, you need to keep both eyes open, and never, ever, turn your back on him. He will not hesitate to put a bullet in you if you are the one to get in his way. He won't do that quickly, but he will do it of he thinks that is what's necessary."
For the first time, Jinora felt a pang of fear go through her. "How can I prevent that?"
-"By not getting on his bad side. You do what he says, when he says, and you should be good. It's why I am still in business with him."
"By being his bitch, basically."
Korra's eyes sharpened. "I'm no one's bitch. I know the terms on which I am working with him, and he sticks to them too. Likewise, you said you're not in here to sell yourself, which he won't force you to do, but if you try to screw him over, he will come after you, or worse. But if you stay on his good side, you've got nothing to worry about. He might have a temper and mood swings, but he is never beyond reasonable."
Jinora sighed, not feeling so confident with her decision to join Korra anymore, but she wasn't about to let her on to that little fact. "Alright. I guess I just have to keep my head down."
-"Just take it easy, and you have nothing to worry about." They were nearly back at Jinora's apartment, where they would split again. The rest of the way there was silent, with a bit of tension hanging between the girls.
When they did arrive, Jinora turned to Korra once again. "Look, Korra, I... I wanted to say thanks, for taking me along with this. For being cool with it."
Korra sighed. "You didn't really give me a choice. Like I said, I'm not going to let you go out there without someone covering your ass. Now you get to bed, and I'll be in touch."
She walked off again, and Jinora went back inside as quietly as possible. She hung her clothes in the bathroom, considering they probably smelled like smoke, sweat, and beer, and she wouldn't want to disturb Ikki and her mom too much with that. She slipped back into her room, not bothering with pajamas, instead keeping it to her simple tank top and panties. The night had been long, and the morning was promising to be bad.
For the collective works of the author, go here.