(Originally posted 18 May 2014 on tumblr)
How did you manage to get your phone stolen twice on the same trip?
Won asked me that very same question already, and I have absolutely no idea, Tan wrote back. Actually, he sort of shouted it a couple of times. At least none of the deals tanked on me?
Not on your end.
What did you want my help with, anyway?
Hyo-shin sighed. His twenty-minute break on set was not long enough to explain how disastrously his attempt at being a good person had gone. I already took care of it.
It wasn’t as if Tan could have done anything about the anger—directed at Young-do, at Rachel—or loathing—directed at himself—Hyo-shin had stewed in for the rest of the morning. Those emotions had made it difficult to pay attention in his classes, and it was only after he lost himself in work on set for a few hours that he could stomach the thought of eating.
(Hyo-shin also spent several hours kicking himself over emptying his wallet for Rachel and Young-do. He had withdrawn that money from his living expenses account before breakfast so he could deposit it into his private account. If he withdrew another 500,000 won out of the account in the next 48 hours, his parents would get a notification from the bank, and then his mother would either call or email to ask why he needed so much cash this week.)
Moon Chae-won’s fan club was supposed to be sending a food truck to the set tonight. It wasn’t due for another two hours, which was why Hyo-shin was sitting on an empty prop crate and halfway through his second protein bar. At least tonight’s overnight filming was in a studio and not in the mountains. Being hungry on top of being cold would have made his terrible day even more miserable.
Careful about how much you nag me, Hyo-shin sent back. The next phone thief might get the right idea about us if they see how tenderly you fret over me.
My love for you will endure any scandal, hyung.
Let’s hold off on this one for a little while longer. I’ve got another one in the works, and I’m not greedy enough to take all the headlines.
On a scale from one to secretly-running-away-to-join-the-army, just how concerned do I need to be?
You may need a new scale, Hyo-shin wrote. He shoved the last of the protein bar in his mouth. You have any time to meet me this week?
But the next text that popped up was not from Tan—it was from Eun-sang: You’re working tonight, right? Can you call when you have a minute? Any time before midnight is fine.
Hyo-shin checked the time, swallowed the last of his food, and dialed her number. She picked it up on the second ring. “I’ve got eight minutes for you,” he said in a quiet voice. They were filming not far from where he was taking his break, and the last thing he wanted was to be the cause of an NG. “Will that be enough?”
“That depends on your answer. Do you know a prosecutor by the name of Im Joon-hyuk?”
“Enough that if we were trapped in an elevator together we could make small talk until we were rescued.”
He could practically hear her smile on the other end of the line. “So you know almost nothing about him,” she teased.
“He is a rising star in the prosecutorial ranks, tragically single, and in possession of a criminally attractive face. What else do you need to know about a man?”
“I’d like to know who else he’s leaking information to.”
“You’re not going to tell me who that first person he’s leaking information to is, are you? Or even what the information is?”
“Nope. Not yet.”
“You’re a brat when you have a secret,” Hyo-shin said, but he was amused. He gathered up the empty protein bar wrappers and went in search of a garbage can. “Maybe I shouldn’t make you an offer, then.”
“You’re being cruel, sunbae. I’m just trying to do my job.”
“It’s one of my many charms.”
“Especially when you cave afterwards.”
He chuckled at her falsely sweet voice. “All right, you win, but this is the only time I will give you a shot like this.”
It would likely be his last opportunity to be able to do something like this—for her, or for anyone, depending on how this Saturday went.
“What is it?”
Hyo-shin pushed past that unsettling realization and tossed the wrappers in the trash. “Tomorrow night is an extremely tedious event—you remember the type—only it will have a higher ratio of lawyers and politicians to chaebols than you were used to when you were with Tan. I’ll take you as my plus one, introduce you to Prosecutor Im if you like, and identify as many people as I can that interact with him while we’re at the event.”
“What do you want in exchange?”
“Make me laugh twice during the party, and don’t wear dark gray or blue unless you want my parents to think we are a couple.”
He expected that to earn a laugh from her, or at least a snarky comeback, but all Eun-sang said was, “What time is the party?”
Rachel knew the moment she was escorted to a private room instead of a table in the main dining area that the night at Vinga was going to be unpleasant for everyone involved. Young-do preferred to drink and dine in the open when he had company, unless there was some demand—like business or secrecy—that warranted additional layers between him and the rest of the world. He rarely went out to eat alone, so far as Rachel was aware.
The hostess moved to open the door; Rachel motioned for her to pause for a moment. She pitched her voice low to ask, “How long has he been here?”
“Nearly an hour,” the hostess said in an equally quiet, though carefully neutral, voice.
“What has he ordered?”
“One bottle of every brand of whiskey we had in stock, and he just had a fruit and cheese platter delivered to him a few minutes ago. Is there anything you’d like?”
Rachel sighed. “Find out if he drove himself here or not. If he did, get him a designated driver.” She opened her clutch purse and pulled out a handful of 50,000 won notes from the collection Hyo-shin had given them. “Pay him to wait. I’ll have Young-do out in two hours at the most.”
The hostess tucked the money away in a pocket before silently opening the door.
Rachel stepped inside without a backwards glance. “I can’t believe you came to Vinga and ordered whiskey. I didn’t even know they sold whiskey here.”
“Does my sacrilege offend you, sister?”
Young-do was not an entertaining drunk, not like Myung-soo, who got even chattier and remarkably uninhibited and juggled words and topics like a novice clown. It wasn’t that Young-do got surly, precisely—he didn’t get sloppy, he rarely slurred his words—it was more like everything about him intensified, stripped him until everything about him was raw and undiluted. It was like you could finally see just how much effort he put into keeping himself contained. He was one of the few people Rachel knew who could actually look menacing when he slouched, and right now he was lounging in a way that radiated the impression that he might snatch up any of the bottles on the table and hurl it against the wall if the right thing provoked him.
There wasn’t any water or ice on the table, which meant he was drinking his whiskey neat, and she preferred hers up. He had, at least, bothered to have the hostess bring a second glass for her. Coupled with the fact that there was still a centimeter or two of whiskey in his glass meant that he was, for now, nursing each drink instead of drinking to get wasted. Each of the bottles had been opened and sampled, if the level of the alcohol left in each was any indication. The food had barely been touched, so either he was drinking on an empty stomach, or else he had eaten dinner before he came.
Rachel took the seat across from him. She set her clutch on the table instead of the empty chair next to her as a signal she was ready to leave at any moment. The night at Vinga was supposed to be a way for her to relax after the ridiculousness of this morning and the stress of work and classes or perhaps strategize more with Young-do, not babysit him. “If I’d known you wanted whiskey, we could have gone somewhere with a proper selection.”
“It’s not terrible. Well, those two on the end are.” Young-do raised his glass in their direction. “I probably ought to have them pour those down the sink instead of saving the bottles for me.”
“Which one is the best?”
He considered the question for a moment before pointing out three of the bottles. “I’m trying to decide between these ones.”
Rachel turned those bottles around so she could see the labels, and then she picked up the two whiskeys Young-do had said were terrible. She set them at the side of the table, closer to Young-do, and then she took the four mediocre bottles and put them aside, closer to her, and out of his reach unless he sat up straight and made an effort to get to them.
“Let’s not waste our time on the things that are beneath us,” she said as she pulled the food to the center of the table.
That got a dark chuckle out of Young-do, but he said nothing until she had selected and started pouring herself some of the single malt Yamazaki. “Hyo-shin sunbae was a little behind the times. I got word today that my father’s release is a sure thing. He’ll be back in my life by the end of November.”
“Who told you?”
“Vice President Kwon.”
Rachel set the bottle down carefully. “He’s going to back you?”
“He said I was a better person than my father.” Young-do finally took a drink of the whiskey he was holding, and he didn’t drain the glass. “And that he’d rather work for me than him.”
“You didn’t believe that, did you?”
Something dark swept across Young-do’s face, but it was gone in a moment. “I have paid him enough that I ought to believe in him a little. At least when it comes to the company. My father wouldn’t trust anyone to serve as his double agent, so Vice President Kwon has either become arrogant in the last six years or he has actually thrown his lot in with me. He’s arranged for me to meet a Prosecutor Im tomorrow evening.”
“Then why are you like this tonight?”
Young-do swirled the last of the whiskey in his glass and didn’t answer. His gaze was on something other than the way the alcohol caught the light.
Rachel settled in to out-wait him by starting in on the food. He had clearly expected her to order wine, based on the selection of fruit and cheese in front of her. Little else but the aged cheddar would actually pair well with the whiskey he had ordered. At least he had waited to have the food delivered until just before she arrived—she wouldn’t have touched it if it had been left out for an hour.
She had gotten through several slices of mangos and apples and a scattering of cheeses either in cubes or spread on artisan crackers before Young-do drank the rest of his glass in one long, impatient swallow. He straightened up so he could set his empty glass on the table and meet her eyes. It was unmistakably a challenge, and Rachel kept her smile locked behind her carefully blank face.
“Are you going to drink with me or not?” he demanded.
“I haven’t figured out yet whether I’d be better off sober or smashed for this conversation. You ought to be celebrating that you have gotten the vice president on your side, and yet you’re sulking in here. Are you still upset over what Hyo-shin sunbae said this morning?”
She wasn’t sure if she could believe that answer. She was still frustrated about what had happened over breakfast, and it hadn’t even been her secret that had been spilled or her trust that had been betrayed. “Then what?”
Young-do broke eye contact first so he could pour himself another glass of the Irish whiskey. “Cha Eun-sang called me today.”
Rachel set her fork down.
“She asked about my father’s release and my contact in the prosecutor’s office.”
“Hyo-shin sunbae must have told her.”
“I don’t think so. She mentioned her boss, not him.”
“Then who is she working for?”
Young-do didn’t smile, precisely, and it wasn’t self-satisfied enough to be a smirk. “YBS Broadcasting, if it’s the right Cha Eun-sang. It took a while to look her up online, and I didn’t have anyone confirm it for me. Why does she have to have such a common name?”
Rachel finally reached for her glass of single malt, though she had enough control of her anger to limit herself to a sip and not a gulp. It still burned on its way down.
Young-do was smirking now. “I’m glad I’m not the only one she has this effect on.”
“I can’t believe you’re still not over her,” Rachel snapped. Her fingers had a tight grip on the glass. It was either that or dump its contents over his head for his sheer idiocy. “Choi Young-do, you cannot afford to let your unresolved teenage angst distract you from your father’s release from prison. You have a month and a half at most—he has to find out soon, if he hasn’t already, that he is getting out. Have you even assigned anyone to see if he’s tried to contact other members of the board? The major shareholders? Have you talked to any of them? Have you done anything today besides wallow over a woman who isn’t good enough for you?”
“You have it backwards, sister.” There was a dangerous edge to that endearment. “I’m the one who isn’t good enough for her.”
Rachel scoffed at that. “Are you going to be as stupid as Kim Tan now? Worse, even, since you’ve apparently been carrying a torch for her the last six years, and he at least came to his senses and let her go.”
“Then what does that make you for giving Lee Hyo-shin a ride and agreeing to two dates with him before he even mentioned my father?”
She took two deep breaths before she spoke, and it was not an insubstantial victory that her voice emerged smooth and cold. “You’re drunk, Young-do. We should call it a night.”
For a moment, she wasn’t sure that he was going to take the out she was offering him, but in the end he stood up. “You’re right,” he said, and it was clear the concession cost him no small amount of pride. “I’ll let you know how my meeting with Prosecutor Im goes.”
“I’ll take care of the bill. I’ve arranged for a designated driver, too.”
Young-do smiled slightly then, and it took away the tightness in her chest. It wasn’t one of his rare, unguarded smiles, but it was absent the malice from a few seconds ago. That was the best she could ask for under the circumstances. “What would I do without my sister?”